Saturday, December 30, 2006

Love and Space Fright in Steel City

Well, a little more love from a couple of editors. Julia and Stefani are the co-editors of the Steel City Review a new lit journal published out of Pittsburgh, which to my scientific delight states that:
We are interested in publishing stories that explore techy, mechanical, dry and scientific issues by providing them with juicy plots and characters we'd like to chat with. Weare interested in stories featuring implements, code, machines, procedures, and expertise; academics and workers; masters and rebels.


I saw that and thought of another story which I wrote a few years ago but never found a place for (this one not a flash piece). So I sent them Space Fright four days ago, and today they emailed to say that they would "love to publish it" in the April issue. What a thrill. I hope that they realise how much it means to me to have an editor not only accept a story but to use the word "love". I will sleep sweetly tonight.

They also made my day by saying that they'd seen my stories on LabLit and the Entelechy Journal and are "honored" that I sent them my work. Blimey. It's quite a strange feeling, my writing is out there, people are seeing it in different places, looking at the name of the author, forming an impression about me. It's all new to me, all of this. But somehow everything seems to be falling into place.
A good way to start a new year.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Chemistry at Hiss Quarterly

Good news: just had a lovely email from the folks at Hiss Quarterly accepting my short short, Chemistry, for their next issue. Nothing better than a publication telling you they "love" your story. This is a flash piece I wrote years ago, had hanging around at the back of the drawer, never quite knowing what to do with it. Then I saw Hiss' call for subs on the subject of "Birds&Bees" and it felt like a fit.

Made my day.

Makes all those rejections worthwhile.

It'll be up there Feb 1st. Thanks, Hiss.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Snow!

It's snowing in Jerusalem.... only two days after Xmas. The entire city has come to a standstill over a few flakes. What fun!

Monday, December 18, 2006

back on track

It's a beautiful sunny day and, despite being woken rather earlier than I am used to by drilling right outside our house, I am in a great mood and feeling productive and creative again. I am attempting to adapt one of my short stories into a one-act play which will probably be around ten minutes long. I didn't know until I did a one-act play course a few months ago that there were such gems as ten-minute plays, the stage's version of short stories. Actually, I discovered an even shorter form: one-page plays, flash drama! What a joy!

Anyhow, adapting my story is a very interesting and enlightening process, trimming away the fat, so to speak - seeing what I can show and imply without directly telling the audience everything. The thought that actors might become the characters I have created is intoxicating - the flesh-and-blood realisation of my story. But whereas in the short story you have to put a certain amount down on the page, on the stage you can have silences, just movement. I worry: have I put in too few words or too many Will they know what the hell is going on? I've been thinking about what I would want to see as a member of the audience.

And also, as someone who has done quite a bit of acting in am-dram, I am trying not to force too much down the actors' throats but leave it open to their interpretation without overwhelming them with stage directions (assuming it ever gets put on!). The play should get the story across clearly enough without me having to state that a character is embarassed at a certain point, or flirty.

The power of words.

We'll see how it goes. I find it very hard to read it in script form and imagine how it will look, but one of the writing communities I have joined has a scriptwriting section so I will post it up there and open myself to their critique.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bitterness, Guilt and Shame

Part of me is ashamed to even write this blog, but I think it may help so I will get it onto the page. I went out for some fresh air and ended up sitting in a local cafe with a cup of tea and the latest issue of the Stinging Fly. As is my wont, I turned first to the Contributors Page, and took a look at where the 22 writers were coming from and who'd done what. One writer's name was familiar from something else I had read today, so I decided to Google her on my cellphone (yes, fancy one with Internet, just adds to time wasted). Through various digressions from this author etc.., I ended up on Fish Publishing's Alumni page, where they have followed up on those who have won or being finalists in their competitions, to see where the accolade took them next.

As I read the descriptions of how each writer had gone on to win more, to be published, to release collections, etc.. etc..., I found to my disgust that a wave of bitterness was rising up inside me. It swelled until I became, frankly, distressed. I desperately didn't want to read of other writers' achievements and feel bitter, so my ensuing guilt and shame compounded the feeling. I stopped, switched off the phone, and sat there with my tea, thinking about why I was feeling this way.

I quickly realised that it was not that I was reading about their success and thinking

"Why them??"

but that what was buzzing through my brain was:

"When me? When me??"

The mere asking of that question then opened the floodgates and what came rushing through was "you, you'll never get there, you'll never make it, they're great writers, who do you think you are, why do you even bother", a whole stream of self-doubt and flagellation.

I paid for my tea and walked slowly home, forming this blog post in my head, knowing I needed to get it all out there. What do I make of this? On the one hand, I definitely do not want to write in order to win things, to see my name on a myriad of publications, to make money. I want to write because I need to write, because I feel ill if I don't, because what I write makes me laugh, moves me.

Yet.

Yet, I have a Word document on my hard drive, a table with a list of everything I have submitted stories to, and all the upcoming deadlines, and that list is growing, I add to it daily, and daily I check through the publications, the competitions, to see if they've announced, I check several times a day, I constantly refresh the pages to make sure they are up to date, I click and click - and it is making me crazy. This isn't what it is about. It isn't, is it?

And I have an agent. Well, I have been in touch with an agent for a few years. But nothing is moving on that front. I know it is because she believes I am not ready, my material isn't ready. And I know she's right. I don't have enough stories I love passionately to put in a collection. But still... I feel a rush, I want it now, I want it all.

So, do I delete this document? Do I forget about the agent? Do I stop sending off stories? Do I shut myself off from potential readers and just write?

I feel I am in a real transition period now - a few months ago, three or so, I stopped working as a journalist to try and write short stories full time. I am now a full time short story writer. This means I write for two hours a day, on the good days, but the joy of it is that I don't have a head full of editors clamouring for articles, of people I have to phone and interview, of technologies I have to look up on the Internet and try to understand. No, all that is in my head are stories, characters, ideas. And it's bliss.

So perhaps I need the bitterness and the guilt and the self-doubt to push me, because no-one else is pushing me. Perhaps in moderation the negativity will keep prodding me to do it. Moderation, that is the key. I have to keep positive. I have to have other writers around me, physically and spiritually, in person and on line.

I feel a little better now. Not fully. It's still inside me, all of it. It will take a while to dissipate. Maybe I can turn it into something, maybe I can work with it. We will see.

I imagine I am not the only writer who feels this way. Of course not. If anyone is out there and has some words of advice, wants to tell me to quit whining and just get on with it, be my guest! I need it!

Most overrated books

Ah, nice to see Prospect magazine giving people a chance to bitch about books . I was happy to see Saturday by Ian McEwan in there, I personally found it unreadable. Sadly, the list of underrated books was very thin on fiction, and short story collections were non-existent. Funny, since they are pretty much the definition of underrated in England, it seems.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

quick note on writing and health

PS I was feeling really crappy this morning, sore throat, stuffed up head... but after my 45-minutes writing with V, I am feeling so much better, my head has cleared, I feel a certain clarity and focus, my throat isn't bothering me anymore.

This isn't a scientific claim, but I don't believe the two are unrelated. Writing might just be good for your health.

Maybe.

remote writing karma

I have just had the wonderfully surreal and extremely productive experience of writing together with my friend V, although we are in different countries. She suggested that we pick a time, and then write for 45 minutes using a list of prompts that she prepared, weaving each one into the story until we had used them all. I just finished my 45 minutes and sent her my offering.

While I was writing, I really sensed that we were working in the same space, I felt that energy that comes from writers writing in close proximity. When I first read through the prompts, I was a little taken aback and unsure what would come - but a full and contained 928 word story emerged, with a beginning, middle and end. I don't think it's my best work, but it wasn't there an hour ago and now it is in the world, and that is something worth celebrating, no?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rewriting

I have had a revelation.

Rewriting.

Yes, I am of course not as naive as to assume that the first words that get put on a page are it, and should never be messed with. But I hadn't quite realised - or, let's say, allowed myself to realise - how much a writer can "mess with" a story, draft after draft. This revelation came about thanks to a book called
Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction by David Michael Kaplan which my friend Vanessa highly recommended. This book gave me permission to do things I had never imagined to the stories I felt needed work - change everything, kill characters, switch a character's sex, change the place, the time, the voice, the plot. I don't know why, but just reading the open few pages of the introduction to the book liberated me to try all sorts of things I had never tried.

Now, one of my new favourite pastimes is taking a story I wrote a few years ago, a story a few thousand words in length, a story parts of which I liked but which always irked me (like the story I thought was poignant but other people found hysterically funny), and rewrite the story in under 300 words. Make it flash.

Wow, this really works!

I've done this with two stories now, and it is amazing what comes out. A whole new twist emerged in both cases, which made them far more interesting than the longer, more cumbersome version.

I love flash fiction, I believe you can say almost everything in 250 words, so I am not now going to try and "scale up" these stories, even though I would like more words for my eventual collection, but that's another story for another post. But these stories make me happy just the (brief) way they are.

Thank you David Michael Kaplan.
Thank you Vanessa.
Thank you all for your attention.
Post over.