Monthly Archives: February 2008

Blog Chain Links

It has been a very painful couple of weeks at work, but I think the worst of it has passed. I won a motion I’ve been fighting for months at the Daley Center yesterday; I greatly prefer winning to losing, so I’ve been in a much better mood since last night.

I expect to be able to post a bit more regularly, and will try to get some work done on Meet the Larssons. I’m also working on a short story at the same time; I’ll add a progress bar soon. The working title for the short is “Test Tube Beneficiary,” but I suspect that’s a title only a lawyer could love.

“Love” is a little strong. Actually, I regard the working title with mild distaste, if anything.

On that note, let us segue to the permalinks for all the entries in the February (Mostly) Absolute Write Blog Chain:

The Unfocused Life

Auria Cortes

Spontaneous Derivation

Organized Chaos

The Writer’s Round-About

Spynotes

Williebee

My Path to Publication

Even in a little thing

Spittin’ (out words) Like a Llama

A Thoughtful Life

Life in Scribbletown

For the First Time

Polenth’s Quill

Many thanks to all who participated with an entry or a comment to one of the entries. This was my first time initiating a chain, and it was a l0t of fun.

The Blog Chain Is Complete.

The February (Mostly) Absolute Write Blog Chain is complete.  Check out the final post here.  Many thanks to all who participated.  I will try to post the permalinks to all of the entries this evening.  Many thanks to all who participated.

Rejection Slip Review: Lessons Learned

This is the way time slips away from me: it has already been two weeks since I posted my last rejection slips, promising to come back with a post about what I’ve learned from reviewing them 16 years after I stopped submitting. (If you’re looking for the posts with scans of and about the rejection slips themselves, the first one is here, the second one is here, and the last one is here.) Let’s get the most important lesson out of the way, because I think we all got the same message from the Aboriginal Science Fiction rejection slips:

1. Don’t write in Alpha Centaurian.

Writing in Alpha Centaurian is a bad idea, and not just because most word processors have serious trouble rendering the 7,462 life-sized, animated pictograms that make up the standard Alpha Centuarian alphabet. I think perhaps the editor of Aboriginal S.F. was attempting to use humor to make a larger point: your writing, if you intend to submit it to an editor of a publication anywhere in the English-speaking world, should evidence some familiarity with the English language. You do not want to suffer from, as the editor of Asimov’s put it in his form rejection letter, “an obvious lack of basic English compositional skills on the part of the author.”

If that box had been checked on my rejections, I think I would have been too embarrassed to post them, even anonymously.

2. You’re going to get rejected when you don’t think you deserve it.

When I started this little trip on the Way-Back Machine, I had no intention of reviewing the stories I had written; I was interested in the rejections, mostly as a trophies from my misspent youth. Some people have their high school football jerseys, or science fair awards; I have rejection slips.

Digging through my files for the rejections without at least glancing at the stories themselves was nearly impossible, though, and looking back, I can identify numerous flaws in each just from memory, without reading more than the title. The question now isn’t why they were rejected; it’s why they weren’t rejected and the rejection slip stamped “AND DON’T COME BACK.”

Yet when I wrote these stories and submitted them to various magazines, I don’t remember thinking they were clunkers. I didn’t finish “The Laws of Chaos” in my sophomore year of high school and think, “Man, what a godawful cliché, and badly written to boot. I wonder how much Fantasy & Science Fiction will pay me for it?” No, with my limited experience at the time, I thought the story was pretty good.

As I start writing again, I am trying to hold onto this thought. I should not expect everyone — or anyone — to like something that I have written just because I like it. But I think the corollary is also true: just because I’m convinced that something I’ve written is crap, doesn’t mean that everyone — or anyone — else will think so. I need to keep my expectations reasonable and have a certain measure of humility about my work (especially considering that I’m coming back to fiction after a 15 year absence and by my own admission everything I wrote before my hiatus is awful), but I shouldn’t try to be my own critic. There are plenty of other people willing to take that role, such as Mrs. Unfocused.

3. Try, try again.

For more than 15 years, I guaranteed that I would never be a published author, because I simply stopped writing, let alone submitting anything for publication. I kept thinking of myself as a someday writer, as in someday, I’ll sit down and write something. I always thought of myself as a writer, which was odd, because I never wrote anything. I’d jot down story ideas, as if I might soon write them up, but I never, ever did.

None of that is the fault of the editors who rejected my work. Not one of them discouraged me in any way from submitting again or from continuing to write. It was my own inability to stay focused on any particular goal, even if it was one I really, really wanted to achieve, that led me away from doing what, in my head, I always wanted to do. It has taken me until now, staring over the precipice at 40, to realize that if I don’t start, I’ll never get there.

Mur Lafferty, of the I Should Be Writing podcast, said in one of her recent episodes (I’m paraphrasing), “I may not be the best writer, but if the best writer gives up and I’m still in there plugging away, I’m the one who’s going to make the sale.” I can live with that, and meantime, I can actually write the stories that go with all of the ideas I’ve been noting on index cards all this time.

New Beginning

As I predicted, I have had almost no time to work on Meet the Larssons this weekend. I did spend a few minutes blog-surfing last night, though, and spotted Arachne Jericho’s post recommending Storytellers Unplugged, which is a group blog by an interesting collection of writers, editors, booksellers, and other publishing professionals about writing and the business of writing and publishing. It’s good stuff, which you should be reading if writing fiction is the monkey on your back.

In particular, this post, by author Joe Nassise, prompted me to write a completely new opening to Meet the Larssons, which I did just before I went to bed. It’s much, much better than the original opening chapter, which I never liked. So that’s a relief.

Response to Weekend Assignment # 203: Road Trip!

This week, work grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and gave me a good, hard shake. Now that the week is over and the long, President’s Day weekend has finally arrived, I’ve got documents to crunch through this weekend on three different cases before Tuesday. I had intended to take a couple of days off from blogging to work on the novel. Instead, I’ve written a whopping 704 words since Sunday night. Yippee. I’d like to get 2500 words written by Monday night, to take my word count up to 35K, but I think that’s unlikely.

What I need, of course, is a ROAD TRIP. The kind where you get in the car with your significant other or your buds, throw a backpack in the trunk, and just drive. These days, our road trips are a little more planning-intensive, requiring car seats, DVDs, CDs, laptops, chargers, toys, books, markers, etc., etc. They’re still great, just slightly less spontaneous.

This week, Karen over at Outpost Mavarin has given us the freedom to go on any road trip we want, so long as it’s a driving trip. If we could take the time, where would I drag my Unfocused Family? I’m assuming that this is supposed to be a three-day weekend kind of trip, not a two-week, Brady Bunch-style, driving trip to the Grand Canyon. But that still leaves a lot of territory to potentially cover. Milwaukee? Great museums and public garden, I love the brewery tours, and it is home to my favorite bar in the entire world. Cleveland? I’ve never been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so that might be fun, and educational for the kids. St. Louis? I guess we could see the Gateway Arch, but I used to have a number of cases in and around St. Louis, and I never really warmed up to the town. Bad memories, I guess. Springfield? Detroit?

Any of those would be real possibilities, but if you handed me a three-day pass for the trip, I’d really like to take the Unfocused Family to Louisville, Kentucky. Shortly after we graduated from college, Mrs. Unfocused (then the Unfocused Girlfriend) and I took a trip to Louisville for a few days. We were going through a bit of a rough patch, as unemployed recent college grads can, and decided that a weekend away together was what we needed. Unfortunately, neither of us knew how to drive, so it had to be somewhere we could get to relatively quickly by train or bus (since we also did not have enough money for plane tickets).

We worked off of an old copy of Let’s Go America, and finally decided on Louisville. We took an overnight Greyhound bus (an experience in itself, which I would not care to repeat), and spent a wonderful few days seeing Louisville on foot and by bus.  If were to go back, this time with our own car and the kids, I’m not sure what we would do differently.  We would take them to Churchill Downs, and Colonel Sanders’s grave, and whatever else there is to see, like this, but best of all would be the chance for Mrs. Unfocused and me to revisit the place where, 17 years ago, we decided we had to make things work, and set the foundation our marriage four years later.  And to get another Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby mint julep glass to replace the one Unfocused Junior broke a couple of years ago.

That’s enough lollygagging for me.  I’ve got work to do, the Family Tae Kwon Do class (if no one’s sick this week) and then maybe a little time for Meet the Larssons. Have a good, long weekend, and if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to check out the February Blog Chain.

February Blog Chain Entry: On Balance

This is my entry for the February Blog Chain. Our theme is BALANCE, and each blogger in the chain will incorporate into his or entry an element from the previous blog post in the chain. I’m first this time.

I’ve been practicing law for almost 13 years now, and by last year, I had allowed all of my other interests to fall by the wayside. We dropped our theater subscription when Junior (our second child) was born, and around the same time I dropped off the board of the small theater company I had been involved with. I haven’t taken a French class since 1997. By the fall of 2006, I had even stopped watching television. When Mrs. Unfocused had trouble sleeping, I would tell her about my day. I had conversations at parties and bored myself.

Great — now I sound like Rodney Dangerfield.

The point is, I had gotten into a mental rut. During the week, I went to work, came home, had dinner with the family if I got home early enough, helped put the kids to bed, then worked for another three hours. I might go for a run or go to the gym, but that was about it. Finally, I got to the end of the year and found that I had the luxury of taking some time at home; I would still have to work a few hours each day, but I could manage it so that I wouldn’t have to come in at all.

I took the opportunity, and in that time I started this blog. It was partly the result of a November visit from an old college friend, who suggested that the Mrs. and I start a blog together (we’re still talking about a joint blog, but she has had other projects on her mind), partly the Mrs. telling me to just go ahead and do it, and partly my own attempt to start writing again for pleasure. I needed to engage the creative part of my brain again, if only to convince myself that I was not as dull as I was beginning to think I was.

Creating the blog was relatively easy, and I found that I was perfectly happy to blather on ad nauseum. Lucky you, reader. More importantly, I felt the beginning of that balance I had been looking for, between solving other people’s problems at work and thinking through situations on my own, for no better reason than that I found them interesting.

Then on January 2, after my first day back at work since before Christmas, over a glass of wine with Mrs. Unfocused after the kids had gone to bed, I rattled off a complete synopsis of Meet the Larssons. I started knocking out some notes on the computer, and ending up spending the next several hours writing down the idea, ending up with four or five pages of typed notes and a hand-drawn organizational chart for the structure of the business discussed in the novel.

Since then, I have let the novel and the blog take over whatever free mental space I had. For a while, it was the novel. For the last week or two, the honeymoon has been over for the novel (I’m not done yet? What the hell!), and I’m more obsessed with the blog: how many hits today? any new comments? why is my Technorati authority stuck at 4? I’m sleeping less than I was when all I did was work, because when it was just work, I wanted to put it down and go to sleep. Now, it takes a real effort of will to close the laptop.

As I write this, I can see why it is so easy to get sucked in by the blog, and comparatively hard to work on the novel. It isn’t that the novel is harder to write; on the contrary, the novel is much easier to write than these blog posts. I know where the novel is going and largely how to get there; on the blog, it’s a different topic every day, and most of the time I have no idea what I’m going to write about until I sit down and start typing. No, the reason why the blog is so hard to resist and the novel is so easy to put down is that there is no feedback on the novel. I keep checking my word count (I hit 30K on Friday, on the train home from work) and updating it on the little graphic on the sidebar, because that’s the only way I have to keep score, and frankly, it’s pretty damn unsatisfying. With the blog, I have page views. Comments. Mrs. Unfocused even reads it, and I can ask her to give me comments on posts before I publish them, which is handy. But I would be uncomfortable showing anyone the incomplete pile of mush that Meet the Larssons is now. So there’s no feedback, no reward. My little lizard brain likes rewards, and it doesn’t think very far ahead. Maybe I need to promise myself a new toy when I hit 50K words, just to give myself something to work towards.

Don’t get me wrong: between the blogging and the novel, as well as the time I’ve taken just to spend with the Mrs. and the Unfocused offspring, the last seven weeks have been terrific. I’m going to spend a little less time on the blog this week in order to spend more time on the novel, but I doubt I’ll get any more sleep. And I’ll still keep checking those page views and comments, just to keep score.

Up next in the chain is Auria Cortes; remember to check out her blog over the next few days to see what she makes of this topic.

February Blog Chain

Welcome to the February blog chain, consisting mostly — but not entirely — of people who hang around on the Blogging forum at AbsoluteWrite.com. This month’s topic: BALANCE. The members of the chain are:

The Unfocused Life

Auria Cortes

Spontaneous Derivation

Organized Chaos

The Writer’s Round-About

Spynotes

Williebee

Even in a Little Thing

Spittin’ (out words) Like a Llama

A Thoughtful Life

Life in Scribbletown

My Path to Publication

For the First Time

Green Diva

Polenth’s Quill

I’ll post the first entry in the chain soon.  In the meantime, feel free to visit some of the other links in the chain just to see who they are, and speculate about what their contributions to the chain will look like.