Monday, August 19, 2013

What the Sea Refuses, by Brian Dolton

One of the things that I always counsel aspiring writers is that this is no business to be in if you're one of those people who likes instant gratification.

I now have the perfect example of that.

I started getting serious about writing fiction around 2005. No, that'swhat-the-sea-refuses not quite true; I had been serious about writing it for at least twelve years before that. But I started getting serious about letting other people read it around 2005. I started getting serious about thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could get paid for letting other people read it.

So in October 2005 I sent out my very first ever submission, to a new market that had just been announced - Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. The story was a short piece called "The Box Of Beautiful Things", featuring a pseudo-Chinese conjuror named Yi Qin.

To my amazed delight, the following June, it was accepted, and published shortly thereafter. The fact that I had sold to a professional magazine right out of the gate was not something I had ever expected. But I had already started sending out a few other stories. In May 2006 I submitted two other stories featuring the same character. One - "The Man Who Was Never Afraid" - went to Abyss and Apex, the other was called "What The Sea Refuses" and went to Black Gate.

They were accepted, too. That meant I had sold three of my first six what-the-sea-refusessubmissions. It has, of course, become harder and harder ever since, but that's another story. I was lucky; I hit the right markets with the right stories and it gave me the confidence (I am not, by nature, a self-confident person) to keep going even through long, lean spells of rejection after rejection after rejection.

But: back to that Black Gate sale. Black Gate was a beautiful magazine; great production values, and its emphasis on "adventure fantasy" seemed to match perfectly with much of what I was writing at the time. It published some great authors and great stories and I was very pleased to sell to it.

What it was not, however, was fast.

Over the next couple of years I sold two further Yi Qin stories to Black Gate. As you may guess, this was a symptom that they stocked up on inventory. It was 2009 when I sold the third story there, but the first had yet to be published. Because one of the other stories was chronologically earlier in Yi Qin's life - and served as a much better introduction to her - the schedule was reorganised. So "What Chains Bind Us" was published in Black Gate issue 15, with "What The Sea Refuses" scheduled for issue 16.

Unfortunately... issue 15 turned out to be the last print issue published by Black Gate.

what-the-sea-refusesThey continued publishing fiction, but were doing so only through their website (which, incidentally, I heartily recommend; they have a raft of contributors and are one of my favourite collective blog sites in genre). Publisher John O'Neill - who I met at WFC 2011 and who is an exceptionally pleasant person - put them on the schedule but also very kindly offered me the option of delaying them to see if I could sell them elsewhere.

So I sent "What The Sea Refuses" to IGMS, where I had tried and failed to repeat my success with "The Box Of Beautiful Things". I knew "What The Refuses", at almost 11000 words, would be a tough sell, so I trimmed it down to around 9700 and submitted it. And waited.

And then I got the response from Edmund, who really liked it... except that it was too long He suggested editing it down to somewhere around 6000 or 7000 words. He also wanted some changes to the ending and a couple of other tweaks.

I looked at the 9700 words. I am - as this blog post indicates - a naturally wordy writer. And Yi Qin is a creature of careful precision, of delicacy, of subtlety.

It was not easy. I ended up with about 7500 words. I hadn't shaved off any of the plot, I'd done the changes to the ending (which is definitely an improvement from the original; a distinct increase in tension, which is always good), and I was exhausted. I sent it to Edmund and wondered if I'd done enough.

The rest, of course, you know. I'd done enough. There was a quick round of line edits, a couple of clarifications, some removal of commas (I do overuse commas, oh yes), some subtle shifts of emphasis and tone. But it was a sale.

So a story I wrote in 2005 finally sees publication in 2013.

I'm very pleased to see it - I've always loved this story.

But, oh, what a long strange road it's been.

--Brian Dolton

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Three Seconds, by Jonas David

‘Three Seconds’ started as a quick post for my personal blog. At the time I was trying to write a little story or scene every few days, justThreeSeconds about whatever came into my head. I had this thought about people trapped in a void and the things they might argue about over the aeons.

As I wrote, though, they became more than human, and came to represent certain parts of our own behavior: creation, destruction and restraint.

Tessa is the passion for creation that we all have, the driving desire to imagine, develop and explore new ideas. She is creation with abandon the part of us all that when considering any project wants to throw caution aside and just do it.

The POV character is the necessary need for destruction--the willingness to let go of old projects that have stagnated, the ability to edit, or kill of a character-- that little part in all of us that sees a beautiful stained glass window and wants to smash it.

To me, Alec represents that part of us all that says 'I can't do it', the self-critical--even self-loathing, sometimes--internal voice that judges everything we do so much more harshly than our peers.

The message as I planned it, was that we should defeat that part of ThreeSecondsourselves that holds back, and just create. Whether it be music or writing or cooking or coding, creating--even if you end up creating something broken, or of terrible quality--is always better than sitting around wondering if you are good enough, better than worrying so much about everything being perfect that you never create anything at all.

In my early days of writing this happened to me all too often. I'd come up with an idea, but instead of writing it I'd think 'someone's done this before' or 'I won't be able to do it well enough' or any other number of self-critical things, and instead of even trying, I'd toss the idea aside. Or, in the rare times that I thought the idea was unique enough and that I could do it well, I'd end up focusing so much on every minute detail of everything being figured out beforehand that I'd never start writing.

I think it’s important for any creative person to defeat this part of themselves. Realize that no idea is perfectly unique, and anything you create is going to have flaws, and not everyone is going to like everything you do. Once you can accept these truths and get past them, you’ll find your passion unleashed.

Defeat your own restraint, and your world will explode with universes of creation!

--Jonas David