Writers, Love Your Beta Readers!

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One of the ways for writers to get their name out there, in the BIG WORLD OF FICTION, is to write short stories and then get them published in anthologies and magazines.  This has been the way of writers for a long time, even with diminished printing opportunities and the rise of e-books.  But, writers still have to find venues. You can search them out yourself, join a mailing list for writers, or you can follow around other writers.

I’ve been on one of those writer’s mailing lists for a while, but I always seem to be working on something other that the promoted style/genre.  The only time I had used one of the suggested publishers, I didn’t even get a response to my submission.  But, still, I always browse it, to see if anything jumps out at me.  Toward the end of June, something did…

A call for noble-bright fairy tales for a short story anthology came up, and best of all IT PAID FOR THE STORY!  I had the time and a story in mind, so I decided to finish up an old, neglected project.  But, since I only had a month, I had to figure out a way to get a critical eye on it, and not my own.  Ten revisions, a couple of months apart, was not going to work. So, I contacted five people I have beta read for, and asked for a huge favor.

It was a crunched together Franken-story, made of former blog posts with pictures removed and a long part that had only ever been written in longhand, and not even in the correct order, yet.  It was messy, and not even proofread with in the meager skills I do have. Sending it was uncomfortable.  Like wearing-your-underwear-on-the-outside-while-in-public uncomfortable, and not in a cool or sexy superhero way.

So my beta-friends read for me, and sent back notes with a superhero-like quickness, giving me extra time to mull over their thoughts.  I was able to spackle up some plot holes, give a few explanations and descriptions that were missing, and rewrite some awkward passages that I knew were awkward (but, still, needed to be told).

BUT, there came a point that I realized the rest of the suggestions really were opinions.  Their questions and observations, while good, were from the point of view of themselves as writers. Things they would have addressed if they were the one writing the story.  And it was MY story.  So, I sent a mental hug for their time and effort, promised myself to send more “thank you” emails, and got to work with final edits and proofreading.  I was able to submit two days before the deadline.

And I realize that once again, here on my blog, I’m not just preaching to the choir (by talking about writing to writers), I’m preaching to the preachers, rabbis, ministers, and priestesses.  If you are an experienced writer, and have already gone through all this, I hope I gave you a moment of nostalgia.  If you are going through this now, know that you are not alone, and I hope you will find and keep some good readers.  If you have yet to go through finding and synching with other writers, for better or worse, then you are forewarned.  It’s a stressful experience, even when it’s a good one.

For now, I keep writing and working on other projects, and try to ignore the waiting period for acceptance/rejection clicking along…

Urg.

 

 

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Writers Shaming Writers

 

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Ya’ll made me get out my angry eyes!

Are we really still doing this?  Are we really still shaming other writers for writing Erotica?  Or for exploring erotic themes in another genre? Horror or romance?  Sci-fi or Fantasy?  Mainstream or Lit?  For putting sex in all the genres?  Really?

 

Yes, there is “trash” out there.  Yes, a lot of it is self-published, but not all of it.  Yes, bestsellers usually have an 8th grade reading level.  Yes, there are writers who publish monthly in their chosen genre, and some who slave over a manuscript for ten or more years before putting it out there.  Most of us fall somewhere in between.

But, considering modern culture, that we are all living through, are we really shaming other writers for including sex in their books?  In the era of #metoo, Times Up, and actual consequences for sexual predators in high places?  When I am following at least two writer friends who are undergoing transitions?  When I know tons of writers expanding and challenging what the changing sexuality, gender roles, and relationships mean to them, personally, and in our wider society?

Writers and artists are the natural mirror to the world they live in.  Unless you are deliberately turning a blind eye to it, our society is undergoing a deep transition.

You complain about the rise in sales of Romance and Erotica, but don’t wonder why it’s happening? You complain about so many writers, across every genre, now including sexual relationships in their books, and don’t make the connection?  You complain about the surge of fan fiction using established characters to tell the missing stories in our culture, and you don’t realize we tell ourselves the stories we need, in whatever way feels safe? Are you kidding me?

We all know the scapegoats in this little campaign of suppression, and the memes are shared ad nauseam.  Some patently false, if you had bothered to read the books in question.  Don’t pretend it’s about the quality of writing, when so many other books are just as bad and they escape the vitriol heaped upon stories aimed at women.

You aren’t interested in sex?  Gender roles?  Relationships? That is a valid opinion!  Plenty of books don’t contain any, so enjoy your reading time.  Do you also hate dragons, make a point to shame other writers for using them, and then work to malign any book containing them? Of course not!  Because that is your opinion, and you are adult enough to understand the world isn’t based around your opinions. (Also, because dragons are cool, and sex is, too!)

If you pay attention to the culture of writers, you know being an asshole to another writer can hurt your reputation and sales.  Maybe nobody called you out, when you shamed another writer, or book, or entire genre, but we take notice.  Writers notice everything.

I’m sure it was just a joke, right?  I’m sure we deserved it, right?  Maybe we shouldn’t be so sensitive?  Right?

(Where have I heard that before?)

Don’t shame other writers.

 

 

Daydreaming “In Calabria”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeter S. Beagle published “The Last Unicorn” in 1968.  He was twenty-nine.  I was born the same year, so that book was not immediately on my reading list.

In fact, I did not discover the story until the 1982 animated film.  It would not be an exaggeration to say it helped shape my life.  It was one of many films and books that molded my view of the world, including my fascination and love for animation, movies, storytelling, myths, and fairy tales.  I never grew out of those first loves, and over time I learned that was a fine thing.  I still dream of the Red Bull, waves of unicorns coming in on the tide, human folly, and a unicorn’s regret.

I was in my twenties before I got a hold of a copy of the book he had written.  It was sublime.  I found more of Mr. Beagle’s books in my thirties and forties, but not all, to my current embarrassment.  The books I read were all very fine things.  He’s not a rock-star author, nor a household name, but I adore his command of language.  His prose weaves a subtle spell created from ethereal mists and hard labor.

I was shocked to find his latest work, “In Calabria,” in my local library’s new arrivals, but in a pleasant way.  I honestly didn’t realize he was still writing at 78.  This is a new goal for me, to be still publishable at that age, even if it’s too late to match being published in my twenties.

So, I’m currently in book-dream-land.  It’s a timely vacation, since I am at a point in my life where I need help believing in the intangible magics, like love, justice, and hope.  Writer whining, unhelpful suggestions, and ridiculous posturing will be lacking this week, and maybe, that is a fine thing, too.

Happy writing, and please support your local library!

Writer’s Crack!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriter’s crack is real!  No, this isn’t about the pants-sliding-down-while-you-type crack, like the plumber’s crack of comedy gold.  We’re talking about things that put you into a frenzy to write a newly inspired story.  Every writer has triggers, and if you’re lucky you can find them and use them to get out of a slump.

A couple of years ago, while browsing through a used book store, I found a book about English fairy tales and–of course–purchased it.  (That’s it, up on the need-to-read shelf.  The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evens-Wentz.)  The subject has always fascinated me; it was not my first, and certainly not my last such book.  Some weeks later, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I had a moment to crack it open.  The introduction (Yes, I read introductions, prologues, glossaries, appendices, and maps.) was both pleasantly surprising and completely cringe-worthy, in the way of dusty, old, and almost forgotten books.  Apparently, I had in my hand a recent reissue of a book that JRR Tolkien had referenced for his world building.  Even more pleased with my lucky find, and hopefully under the influence of a little mystical foresight, I happily delved into the first chapter…

AND FIRMLY SHUT IT, bookmarked on chapter two.  The after images in my head, while my body lay snugly anchored on my couch with the book clasped in unmoving hands, spun like leaves heralding the start of a stormy spring.  The stories!  Characters!  Battles!  Lighting, tempests, swords, grief, love, fear, and loss that is an ache that pierces to the soul’s depth.

I held completely still.  The overfull brain must not be disturbed.  A new/old world sloshed against the sides of it.  For a dry and dated tome, first published in 1911, it held a surprising lushness.

I was aware of movement deep in my psyche.  There was something lurking in my mind.  Lurking like an elder god and getting called to the surface.  The Leviathan rises, or worse…

Unfortunately, I already had three multi-book story arcs that had been clawing at the insides of my skull, rudely pushing each other out of line and snarling to be first.  I closed that wonderful book HARD–like the doors of Tartarus–just to preserve my soul from the punishments I likely deserved.  It contained the breath of Titans snoring, and (as anyone who has lived with a chronic snorer learns) I heard the sound of something nearing an awakening.

It sits on my shelf, unobtrusively, but whispering to me I quiet moments.  I know that like Pandora, I am doomed to open it…

Eventually.  For now, it sits.  It’s writer’s crack, or something like.

Hopefully, a story is really in there, but I think I may need to be a more experienced writer to do it justice.  It’s not the only story I have saved for later in my career.  For now, I have my other stories that I am currently passionate about, and willing to learn on.

This past weekend I added three more of The Lost Library book series to my shelf, risking collusion among them.  Myths are my weakness, and my wellspring.  I–apparently–like to live dangerously.

And that, folks, is about as close as I get to a written book review.  Not an Amazon review (I’ll do those anytime for books I like, especially for independent authors), but an actual blog review.  It’s not my thing, and lots of other people do a really good job of them.  And despite the heavy-handed use of metaphor in this post, it really doesn’t begin to describe what was happening to my brain.

But, I am curious if this has ever happened to any of you?

“What if?” Genre and the Storyteller

“What if?”

“What if dragons existed?”  If you are a writer, you have probably written Fantasy.  “What if we could genetically engineer dragons?” Now you’re edging to Sci-Fi.  “What if someone was secretly making dragons?” Sounds like a Mystery.  “What if they killed to protect that secret?” Ok, a Murder Mystery. “What if that dragon was also part human?”  Paranormal.  “What if the chip implanted in the dragon’s brain controlled the change?” Cyberpunk.  “What if it was funny how it was always the worst timing?”  Humor.  “What if I fell in love with that dragon-human?”  Romance.  “What if the sex was…”  Ok, now were looking at Erotica.  (Somehow, I always end up there.)

“What if?”  The great question every writer has the urge to answer.  I think most people have that question on their mind at times, but it is the storyteller who picks at it, explores it, turns it inside out and upside down. The medium may change; keyboard, paintbrush, instrument, or something completely different.  My current medium is words, and I am still learning the feel of them.  What words will help the reader understand the questions I am asking.

“What if?” is the question.  The only question.  Genre is just the flavoring; an easy handle to sort it, and to quickly find potential readers.  Genre is slippery, and constantly changing, from moment to moment, and person to person.  The words to describe stories have changed their meaning.  You can look them up in the Dictionary (and I have), but the battle to define genres is hot and messy and confusing.  Sub-genres have bread more sub-genres, like bacteria dividing. (How does that song go?)

“What if?” is the catalyst.  The Hero never leaves home without it.  It is the constant companion.  It is the writer’s companion, too.  The part of the mind that can’t resist banging things together to see what happens.  Did you make a hole, a mess, an ending?  Or did you make something new: an idea, an element, or start a brand new person?  “What if it was both?”  The results can be unexpected.  Proceed at your own risk.

“What if?” I could express my worldview in my writing?  It’s joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure, hope and despair.

“What if?”

Sexism Reflected in the Writer’s Mirror

I read an article/blog two weeks ago about Sexism in Fantasy stories that has really bothered me. I left it pinned to the top of my Facebook feed, so I could re-read it a couple of times, while trying to figure out what was bothering me. You can read it there, or I’ll try to post a link…

http://mythcreants.com/blog/five-signs-your-story-is-sexist/?platform=hootsuite    Yes?  No?  Whatever, just go check it out on my Facebook page, I’ll sort it out later.

What bothers me is not just this individual article/blog, but the way so many people are pointing fingers at books, blaming them for perpetuating the ills of modern society.  Even the students of higher learning–the place you go to expand and challenge yourself–have started protesting the books assigned for the course by the teacher. It made them uncomfortable.

The above article/blog continued the finger pointing, and because it hit on one of my favorite genres it caught my attention.  I have read the books it was accusing of sexism, and I had opinions. Opinions somewhat similar to the blogger in some ways, but widely dissimilar in others.  If you really tried to follow this blogger’s suggestions, you would have to not include females in your story at all, for fear of making them too trope-y.  But that would be sexist, so maybe you could make all of your characters females.  But, wait, isn’t that sexist, too?

I guess I don’t like being told to play it safe.  It made me uncomfortable.

Also, allowances weren’t made for the age of some of the books, and it’s unfair to expect writers of past generations to have the same sensitivities as a modern writer.  We are going through a very painful stage of growth as a society, trying to understand the deep hooks of misogyny, and how to pull them out without doing more damage than they are causing.

I admit it, I have hot buttons, too.  (Skinny-shaming is a big one for me.)  A trip through ‘multi-media land’ makes me unhappy on a daily basis, with advertising, memes and all forms of entertainment subtly–and not so subtly–trying to maintain the status quo.  I think the point of no return-to-the-kitchen has been passed, and we must all work together to redefine ourselves as humans, not a specific gender of human.

Meanwhile, let’s explore what makes us uncomfortable.  Discomfort is where you find your internal boundaries.  What direction does your moral compass point?  Is it a fair direction, for EVERYBODY?  Do your boundaries allow humans to be free, or force them to conform to your personal view of the world?  Has a book or other story made you feel uncomfortable?  How did that make you feel about the writer?  Were you angry someone wrote such trash?

Banning books has always been a questionable behavior for me.  You are giving free publicity to something you seem to hate, somehow unaware that you’re working against your actual wants; for people to not read THAT book.

You know… THAT book.  The one with sex, or magic, or rape, or swords, or homosexuality, or dragons, or bondage, or aliens, or death, or drugs, or war, or slavery, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or icky-ism, or something-ism, or we-don’t-talk-about-that-ism.

Often, the words beginning the protest are, “I haven’t read the book, but…”  Please, stop. With those words, you have lost all credibility, and I really don’t care what your uninformed opinion is. Writing and reading are subtle arts, and reading a line or two does not convey the place of those lines IN a story.  If this concept is too advanced for you, maybe you shouldn’t be the one trying to decide what other people can read.

The writer’s mirror reflects our society.  That is its job.  To show you the past, the now, and the future.  What we were, who we are, and what we could be. Some writers show the positive side of society, some the negative, but most seem to show a mix of both. Setting, character, plot, and technique all are tools of the writer trying to tell a story.  I believe every story is telling us something important, and needs to be told.  We need to listen.  We need to be made uncomfortable.  I hope I will make my readers uncomfortable.

For now, I will polish the mirror.