Sunday, October 19, 2008

Satirica Is Here!

It’s here! The Satirica Anthology, featuring my story “The Babies at Nae-Long,” is out and on shelves! In hardback and everything! Here, Have some picturey goodness:

Ooooh! Aaaaah! Pretty spiff-looking, no?

So yeah, I disappear for a month at a time and then I just waltz back into your life, no “hi, how ya doin’” no “I love you and missed you,” not even an explanation for where I’ve been, just shillin’ my filthy wares all across the internet. That appears to be how I roll. But okay, a brief where-I’ve-been: China for awhile, which was awesome. More on that to come. Then back here, to the law mines, desperately trying to catch up on mountains of work before I returned to feed the blog monster. I grant that took a little more time than I expected, but I am back in full force now. I doubt I’ll be able to catch up on all the great blogging I’ve missed, though, so if you have big news that I missed, please tell me in a comment or message!

Okay, so back to the antho. For those who missed earlier discussion, Satirica is an anthology that looks to examine social problems and realities in our society through a satirical lens (but in the original sense of satire, i.e, social critique, not in the “humorous” sense. My story, especially, is not very funny). It’s full of a lot of great up-and-coming authors, and a few more established names, as well.

My own work aside, I’ve really enjoyed all the stories in this and am ecstatic to be a part of it. Roy Dudgeon has done a great job putting it together, and I am forever in his debt. Each story is interesting, unique, and will hopefully go a long way toward making you think about society in general, the human condition, and the world around us. Also, it’s big: 24 stories = more bang for your buck. And who doesn’t like bang?

Anyway, Satirica is currently available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. I saw the other day that Amazon was already nearly sold out and going back for more copies, which is a big hooray, but I think they're ordered up again. I will likely grab a few myself, and maybe give one or two away here? Would there be any interest in that? Let me know.

So there, with a bang (aforementioned good thing), I am back and promise to be a good little community-member from here on out! Coming soon-- the terror of vacation summary!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion: Spamdemonium Edittion (LJ X-Post)

As of June 1, the first issue of the third year of Jim Baen’s Universe Magazine went live, including my story, Spamdemonium. For any of you who don’t know Baen’s Universe, it’s a professional-level, SFWA recognized speculative fiction magazine founded by the late SF novel publisher Jim Baen and edited by world-renowned SF authors Eric Flint and Mike Resnick (who, I learned this weekend, has garnered more Hugo nominations for short fiction than any other author in history). Baen’s goal has been to put out quality fiction that’s actually fun to read; stories that could compete for the audience’s beer money.

Spamdemonium is my first ever professional level sale, and I’m super proud to have it in Baen’s. What’s even more awesome is that they’ve had artist Kip Ayers draw not one but two new illustrations for it. Sweet! Kip does a fantastic job of capturing the mood.

Anyway, if you’ve got the time and the change, check it out! It’s only $6.00 for the issue, which also has a ton of great stories from such names as Jay Lake, M. Allen Ford, Eugie Foster, and Eric Flint himself, so you’re really getting your money’s worth. Here’s the link, and the link directly to my story, where you can read the first half as a teaser.

Monday, June 02, 2008

x-post from LJ: Con Report

Last week, carrie_ryanand I were fortunate enough to stumble upon the fact that ConCarolinas, which we discovered the week after it happened last year, was scheduled for this very weekend just about 15 minutes from our house. I had never been to a con before, and I always wanted to, but honestly I've been a little nervous about them. I am not so much the how-you-say social animal, though I am the how-you-say extreme dork, so there was some conflict (con-flict. Get it?) there. Fortunately, with ConCarolinas nearby, we could easily go together and sample without committing to the whole thing. And this is what we did.

We didn’t make Friday, mostly on account of work (though we were both pretty upset to learn that we missed a panel on authors discussing thirteen ways the apocalypse could happen). Saturday, we mosied down for an 11 o’clock panel on novel writing (good stuff), stayed for a panel on the opening scene of your book (very good stuff), hit up a “first five-pages” workshop (could have used some work, but a few gems), did lunch and general con-stuff till 4, and then, the undoubted highlight, became zombies.

Yes, zombies. Who doesn’t love zombification? Clearly not us at the Davis-Ryan household. So when we saw the Bringing Out Your Inner Zombie panel, complete with zombie make-over, we knew we had found Our People. And yes, we have pictures (taken post-facto, unfortunately):

Unfortunately, we did not get pictures of the mini-zombie walk which followed the panel, but suffice it to say that from now on I cannot ever say that I have never shambled around a crowded convention center pretending to be a member of the living dead. It was a proud moment for us all. Looking forward to the big walk in October!

So over all con impressions: we had a great time. I gather it was fairly small by con standards, but there were still plenty of people there and lots of fun to be had. I also got to meet the illustrious Mike Resnick, celebrated author and editor at Baen’s Universe (speaking of which, check out the table of contents for this month’s issue. Lower. Lower. Under Introducing. Right there, that’s it! John Parke Davis-- ayup, that’s me! More on this later.), if only briefly. I am now a con-vert (yes, the puns can keep going), though I don’t think I would have had nearly as good a time alone, and I don’t know if I’m totally ready for one that took up the entire weekend-- it was nice to be able to pop in for most of Saturday then pop out and go home when we were ready.

Oh, and did I mention Zombie Board/Card Games? Yes, we bought those. Lots of them. If you’re ever at our house, you will be forced to play them. Because zombies are awesome!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On Carrie Rocking and the Selection Process

X-Post from LJ, which I have come to enjoy more and more these days. I feel like a traitor, but it's true:
Just a quick post to point everyone to this blog by Carrie's agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystal & Goderich. He has some fantastic things to say about Carrie's book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, all of which are totally one-hundred percent true. I was blown away by FHT the moment carrie read me the opening line, and I continue to love it through today. I'm super-excited to see it doing well so far (with a year to go before publication-- almost exactly now) and getting the buzz it deserves. Melissa Marr (whose next book, Ink Exchange, is about to hit stores) also had a great post/review on it, which if you haven't seen, you should.

Another thing I like about Jim's post is that he tells us straight up how he reads: to reject. According to Jim, he reads the first 50 pages of manuscripts with the idea that he will reject them, and looking for a reason why. I have always thought this was the case with editors/agents, but this is the first time I've ever seen one own up to it. Most act as though they read each story with an open heart and mind, but I just don't believe it. How could they not read to reject? With that much material coming across their desks, with the fact that 90% of it is unpublishable and 95-98% won't make it pass the first cut, how could they not pick up the next story/book expecting to send it out with a form letter? Is this unfair? To some stories, probably. But ultimately, it results in most of the wheat getting separated from the chaff, so I think it's probably a necessary evil that helps the end reader get the best product in the long run.

Now granted, the writing community doesn't want to hear that their work isn't getting any charity, but I think it's really important to know this, and actually ought to make us feel better and write better. First, the "feel better" part: If the reader is really approaching your writing with a perfectly open mind, the way you approach a book on the shelf or a story in a magazine, and they don't like it, that says something bad about your writing. If they're approaching it with a mind looking to reject, well, that doesn't necessarily mean your piece was bad. It just means they viewed everything that could have been viewed as either a craft choice or a mistake (the way ee cummings could be viewed as either a mold-breaking genius or an idiot who didn't know punctuation, for example) in the worst light possible, and you didn't make it through that level of review.

Personally, I believe this is the main reason published authors often have an easier time selling-- they can get away with things that an unpubbed author can't, because the editor/agent, and also the end reader, knows them well enough to trust that when they do something that might normally be considered "wrong," they're doing it intentionally.

Second, why this should make us write better: we have to understand that we aren't getting any freebies. Our writing has to be on top of its game 100%. If you're like me, you've read something you've written, liked it, but seen something in it that you think "well, maybe that could be viewed some other way, but it's fine, everyone will get it." My guess is that this type of thing has cut short the career of many could-be-published stories, mine among them. So now we have to write tightly, to make sure everything is in its right place and as perfect as it can be, and in general, doesn't that make for a better story? I know it's made me a better editor of my own work.

Anyway, thank you Jim McCarthy for giving me a reason to believe my own crazy conspiracy-theory mentally-constructed view of the publishing industry (oh, and see here for a good discussion of all the reasons you should never believe a word I say). And thank you for pulling carrie's book out of the slush and recognizing it for the real gem that it is, and for being awesome to her the way she deserves. Thank you so much for that. You rock.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thoughts on Rejection

Recently, a few things on the blogosphere have got me thinking about my semi-abandoned ventures into short story writing. I’ve spoken very negatively about short story writing as a career move in the past, and I still stand by those sentiments-- if you want to make any kind of actual attempt at writing as a viable career path, I honestly believe you have to be some kind of masochist to go the short story route. Not that the novel route isn’t difficult in its own right, but the short story path is just inefficient-- it’s like the difference between walking to China and dragging yourself there with your lips.

That said, I think I learned an awful lot in the nearly two years I spent trying to sell short stories, and I think that for the most part, these things have made me a better writer. First, the technical aspect: you learn how to take rejection. When I was just beginning submitting, I believed that editors were the anointed gatekeepers to the realms of all things wonderful and desirable, and once I could show them that I knew the Secret of Writing (don’t ask me what I thought that was-- I didn’t know, I just believed I had it) by offering a publishable story, they would recognize me and admit me into the ranks of the sanctified Published. And so I sent my stories out, eager and excited, and I got them back, sometimes flat-out rejected, sometimes with ‘good, but...'s, and sometimes with ‘die in a fire and never darken my doorstep again's. And each time one of those came, it hit me like a blow to the gut, that tumbling feeling of infinite falling, like the ground has given way and there’s nothing but a pit of failure awaiting you for the rest of forever.

But I persevered. I believed in my writing. I kept editing and sending out. And I made a sale or two. The sales seemed like they should usher me into the club, but they didn’t change a thing, and each rejection made me question myself more and more. Did I just suck? Were these stories I was so proud of really awful? If not, why else did they keep getting thrown away so callously? Then I got a rejection from Gordon Van Gelder at F&SF, to me one of the holy grails of short fiction selling. For those who aren’t plugged into the short fiction markets, getting to Gordon is an accomplishment in and of itself-- J.J. Adams, the cruel F&SF slush god, bars the gates and guards them closely (of the six or so stories I’ve sent them since, not a one has made it to Gordon’s desk). The rejection basically read along the lines of “nothing wrong with this story, but ultimately I decided it wasn’t for us.”

And that was all there was to it. He read it, said “this is a fine story,” and decided not to publish it. It seemed so unfair... I had written a story that was publishable! Publishable in his magazine! His magazine, which could (I believed) pole-vault my career to new heights! How could I not get in? How could they just deny me like that?

So I did what any good writer would do: I sulked on it for awhile. But it made me really think about these magazines for awhile, and the way they’re run. And finally it dawned on me that editors were just readers who happened to publish their favorite pieces. Nothing less, nothing more. And we’re all going to encounter readers who don’t like what we write at one time or another. And (hopefully) we will find the readers who do love what we write, and we will find readers all across the spectrum in between. Submitting to an editor/agent is choosing one reader at random (well, with some education, hopefully), and betting that they will be one of the ones who likes the story.

But it’s more than that. Because the editor/agent is doing more than looking for something that they can recognize as meeting a certain X level of proficiency or entertainment-- they’re looking for something they are going to put their own name on. Something they can take ownership in. Something they want connected with them personally, and something that expresses something about them personally (because why would you put your name on something if you weren’t invested in it?) Basically, when we submit, we’re hoping not only that the editor/agent will like it, but that they will be such a big fan, they will want everyone to think about them when they think about your story.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but that makes the rejection process go a lot easier. The editors, the agents, they aren’t rejecting me, they’re just saying that they aren’t the perfect audience for my story. And maybe the perfect audience won’t have their own publishing house, but it doesn’t make the story worse for it; it’s just happenstance. That’s the nature of rejection-- sometimes things just don’t find the right ears for them, no matter how good they are. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means you have to keep writing until the right piece hits the right place at the right time. And it will happen. T
hat near miss finallly did catch the right ear, ending up getting published in Ideomancer, which I think was the perfect home for it. So just give it time, and don’t give up.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On Writing Again

It feels good to be writing again, even if I am essentially wandering through the desert of words, searching for hidden plot oases, and stumbling upon innumerable mirages along the way. Right now, I’m approximately three chapters in, and my process appears to have two-steps. Step One: Write in a flurry Sunday night until a chapter is written. Step Two: spend the rest of the week trying to figure out what the hell happens next. Given that my chapters are extraordinarily short (about 2,000 words), and that I’m shooting for about 70,000 total, I should be done in a mere 32 weeks. Wow. When I crest 10k, I might even invest in a word meter. Fancy!

So, you’re all likely not wondering how I managed to get out of my prior writing funk and got geared up to go again. I will tell you-- the biggest thing for me came from removing the pressure. I had been pushing myself hard to break into the short-story market, and each time I hit a success, I would just push myself even harder. Nothing I wrote, none of my ideas made me happy. And writing in general didn’t make me happy. I wanted to be “there” so badly that I wasn’t focused on the work.

Sometime around mid-January, I got a very nice but still devastating rejection for a story of my from Talebones, where it had been on hold for some time… it was a “near miss” for one of my best story, which has received several of those (including one from Writers of the Future.) I got a little depressed-- it seemed I was just getting tons of so-close-but-yet-so-fars, and it really frustrated me thinking that maybe if Jim Van Pelt hadn’t been such a good writer, I might be out there right now! And then it occurred to me that I didn’t want to do this anymore.

Not writing, but writing for publication. And by that I don’t mean attempting to get my writing published, I mean attempting to write things that are publishable, at least in the short fiction market. My motivation to publish had gotten out of control, and the constant stream of rejections that are the incident of short fiction writing wasn’t helping. It was squashing my ability to write at all. But I still wanted to be published. And I certainly still wanted to write.

So here’s what I did: I put a moratorium on short story submissions. Nothing can go out for at least six months. Then I decided to write a novel, if the story idea came, and I decided that I wouldn’t write it for publication. I have gathered from many folks that their first novel didn’t sell, and this makes a lot of sense to me: my first short story didn’t sell, and wasn’t even close to selling. You have to go around the block at least once to learn the form. So that’s what this guy is all about. And once I set the ground rules, presto-bango, the story came!

That said, I’m very excited about the idea, and can’t wait to see where it goes. It’s nice to have that feeling again. It’s a young adult, probably due to all the YA I’ve been reading to stay in touch with Carrie’s market. I never considered YA to be my thing, and this very well may not stay that way, but the idea just didn’t quite click until I imagined it that way. We’ll see what happens-- frankly, my goal right now is to do the best I can on this one, but primarily just to figure out what long-form writing is all about. Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Good News, Everyone!

I don’t know who amongst you doesn’t already know this, because I am, as they say in France “le behind the times,” but Carrie and I are engaged! Woo-Hoo!!!!!! It’s been four long years and some change in the coming, but well worth the wait. I really honestly can’t express in words how amazing my life is because of this woman. I can’t imagine it without her, and frankly, I don’t want to, and so I’m not going to-- I’m going to spend the rest of it with her. If you don’t know Carrie, you should get to know her. She’s honestly the most caring, wonderful, intelligent, funny, all around awesome person I’ve ever met. And did I mention that she’s a hot-hot-hot YA author and a high-powered trusts and estates attorney all at the same time? She is. And she agreed to marry me, of all people! Did I mention “Woo-Hoo?”

So the deets in quick: we go to Williamsburg every year circa Valentine’s Day. The reasoning for this is arcane, but essentially boils down to the fact that the first year I wanted to surprise her with a fun trip she wouldn’t be expecting, and it worked out so well we decided to keep going back. We do this every year, and each year is awesome. I decided in early January that this was the place and the time to get ‘er done, and the specific place was the one place we always, always go back to and have a fantastic time at-- the Winery. Let me make this clear right now for the world: we are winos, and the Williamsburg Winery provides it high-quality and cheap. I heartily recommend all their whites as the best value money can buy (the reds less so, but still good).

So yes, we got engaged in a wine cellar. I strongly recommend this method to the gentlemen (and/or trend-bucking ladies)-- the wine curbs your anxiety and lowers her resolve, the perfect one-two punch. I stammered out some words that went much better in my head but which she was kind enough to immediately forget, went down on one knee, produced the box, and, as our awesome tour guide Bill looked on, we got engaged! One more time with the Woo-Hoo! No idea when the wedding will be, but now it’s pretty much assured to be some time!

In other news, I have officially, if temporarily, divorced myself from short story writing for reasons discussed in more detail here. That said, I am now working on my first novel. I don’t necessarily have high hopes; I consider this more of a learning experience than an actual attempt to create something salable. I’m really excited about it, though, and excited to be writing again, and that’s what’s really important to me right now. I promised I wouldn’t say anything here until I finished Chapter 2, which I did today (and which is why I've been absent for awhile). I think I’ll talk in more length about the process that took me from total not-writing to writing regularly again some other time, but I think that deserves its own post-- right now I just wanted to let the world know that I’m back in the game, baby