Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interview forthcoming

I've known this for a few days now, but in today's email from Every Day Poets is the list of February's poems (including one of mine late in the month), and within the comments from the editors is this:
Nicholas is preparing to interview our most read poets for November and December, Vanessa Gebbie and Daniel Ausema. You’ll be able to read those interviews in March.
I haven't received the interview questions yet, but it should be fun. So stay tuned!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Partial rejection

I had a partial request from an agent and it recently came back declined...and I'm not sure if that's more demoralizing than simply getting the initial query rejected or less. If the query is rejected, you can tell yourself that you probably just didn't get the brilliance of the novel you slaved away at effectively conveyed in the letter. Now getting the partial request is a huge ego boost, especially if it's a different agent in the agency than the one you addressed the query to, writing back surprisingly fast that he's intrigued by it. But then when the partial does get rejected, you can't hide behind self-delusions as easily. The fault is in the writing itself.

It's not all gloom, of course. Getting the partial is a good indication that the idea isn't ridiculously unmarketable or overused. So that's good. And I have high hopes that one of the other agencies I've queried will have a different opinion.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bar Book Club

We had our latest book club at Coopersmith Pub & Brewery on Thursday.

Beer of choice: Cask-conditioned Punjabi Pale Ale.

Book: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace. It was a great book, I thought, full of the fantastic not for its own sake but in support of the themes of the book, father-son relationships, the way we tell stories, etc. It let to some good discussions, mostly centered on the father-son theme. One scene that I especially liked involved the father having to pass through a particular town if he wanted to leave the small town where he grew up. Most people from the small town never managed to get past it, never managed to leave home...and while the specifics of it are very fantastic, that central idea seems so true to my experience growing up in a small town. And even my impression of the more suburban and urban friends from high school, actually.

We also talked a lot about the question of how much the stories are actually the stories that the father had told and how much are just the son's attempts to recreate his father's life through his own imagination.

We had quite a diverse selection for the next month and ended up going with Dead Souls by Ian Rankin.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Eye Color

In honor of MLK, would it be all right to say that I dream of a day when my fantasy characters are not judged of their worthiness to fulfill a prophecy based on the color of their eyes? I'm so sick of "striking" blue eyes and "brilliant" blue eyes and permutations of that. It's not that I dislike blue eyes--I have them, in fact, and I don't know if they're strikingly so or not, but in some pictures they certainly jump out. It's just that every time a character's eye color is mentioned, it seems that it's blue, or once in a while green, especially paired with red hair. My son has the most beautiful hazel eyes, shading toward brown as he gets older (I don't know yet what color my daughter's eyes will be). Why must so many writers point out their character's blue eyes, or why must the fact of their blue eyes be so significant?

To be fair, my fantasy characters are unlikely to ever be the subject of a prophecy at all because I shy away from that, but the point remains--blue eyes far too often signify "good" or "trustworthy" or "important" in fantasy stories. When that assumption is broken, when no ranking is implied by eye color of any type, then go back to having blue-eyed heroes and heroines when there's a reason for it. Until then, question yourself everytime you're tempted to mention a character's eye color.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Writing the Real World

The short story I'm currently working on is set in the real world in more-or-less contemporary times (there are some hints that it's near-future). This is strange territory for me. In the past few years, I can think of a couple of flash pieces that are set at least partly in today's real world and one magical realism short story that references real world countries. In that last, though, the real world countries are exotic locales to the narrator, and his--mundane to him--village might as well be an invented world to our perspective. And in the flash pieces, the this-world-ness is pretty low-key, not especially important. Otherwise everything I've done going back quite a few years has been unapologetically other-world (whether evoking past, future, or something tangentially bizarre).

The story I'm working on now, though, draws deeply from its setting. I've mentioned before how much I value setting and why that typically translates into secondary world. So it's interesting to take that same focus and train it on the real world. It nearly qualifies as regional fiction (though still certainly fantasy of a sort).

I'm drawing a lot on my childhood for that. Not for the story itself, but for the setting. So it's fun to revisit in my thoughts the fields of my hometown, to treat them seriously--neither mocking nor romanticizing. I frequently use my experiences to add texture and realism to my writing, but there it's drastically transformed and often at the level of character motivation and memory. It's fun and quite different to take my knowledge of where I grew up and use it right on the surface of the story.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not suddenly going to become a different type of writer. I expect the next story I do will be firmly in some invented landscape--though perhaps I'll be a bit more open to this-world stories. But I think this is teaching me something about using vividly individual details to bring another layer to the writing. I don't know exactly what or exactly how it will translate into other writing, but once I get done, I intend to look through what I've written and see how it might carry over.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"The Last Great Clown Hunt"

Gotta love this story from the November/December issue of Weird Tales: "The Great Clown Hunt" by Chris Furst. It's truly bizarre, full of humor...but not light fantasy at all, at least not what I think when I hear that label. There's something quite moving about it, about the clowns and their rebellion and...well, better you go read it instead of me telling you what it's about.
The next Italo Calvino*?

After being told that his mommy misses him and stating that he misses her too, my son asked, "What if Mommy were split in two and the two parts went away from each you think she would miss herself?"

*Calvino has a novella called The Cloven Viscount about a man who is split in two by a cannonball during a battle and each half returns home, each half trying to live according to its nature. The English edition I have of it has it paired with The Nonexistent Knight, which is also a fun story.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Basketball League

Tonight was our second game of basketball. We lost. Badly. Well, supposedly the other team ran the score up to 90-something last week, so at least we kept them to 76. Right? Doesn't seem like a great accomplishment. I remember this team from two years ago, though. I would be the shortest player on their team...yet there was some debate if I should be the one to take the opening jump for our team. There's a rec league and a competitive league, and for the life of me I cannot understand why they bother signing up for the rec league. I'm sure we won't be among the best teams in the league, but I don't see any teams likely to give them a difficult game at all.

So what's the fun in dominating every week like that? I just don't get it. Big fish in small pond syndrome, I guess.

I don't talk sports much here--I'm not the typical plop down and watch every game kind of person. But I love to play just about any sport. Soccer/football is certainly at the top, with Ultimate (frisbee) close behind, but I do like playing basketball and volleyball a lot too...and really anything that doesn't require too much expensive equipment (or expensive course fees) to play.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I see it come up often about this approach or that being stifling to a writer's creativity. Most often it comes in response to the question of how much outlining or planning a novel should have. There's a part of me that's sympathetic in theory--it certainly fits with what preconceived notions I had before really trying to write. Now, though, I've written everything from completely on the fly to following a very detailed plan, and I think the claim is silly.

I'm not saying an outline is always the answer. I stand completely behind most of the stories that I've written without planning (just as I do behind those with). But there's nothing inherently stifling about that kind of planning. There are at least two reasons why. First, creativity can enter the planning stage just as well as it can while writing. Characters and events can surprise you at any stage of the process. And second, the outline (at least when I've used one) is never a rigid one. If something comes up as you write, nothing prevents you from changing the way the story goes because of that.

Now in some of the most recent conversations I've been in on, the argument gets couched in slightly different words--I would find it stifling, they say. It's hard to argue that. After all, there's a strong chance they would. But at the same time, the way it's worded I get the impression that they dismiss the idea out of hand without giving it any consideration at all. I'm a strong believer in trying new things, new ways, new approaches to writing and seeing what happens. Those stifled ones might find their work coming alive like never before if they planned. Or maybe they wouldn't...but they'd still learn something from the experience. Also, the wording seems to cast a judgment of disdain on the whole process of planning, as if those writers who do outline their work can't possibly meet, for one example, the character-centric kind of stories they prefer. A character can come alive and be just as dynamic regardless of how the writer approached the story. A poorly written character will remain poorly written whether the writer planned everything or let everything develop as it went.

So don't mind me while I detail the exact character arcs of my next story...or while I discover them as I write...or whatever other approach I decide to try next to continue to challenge myself.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A second poem at Every Day Poets

My poem "The Romantic and the Pragmatist, Biking" is up today at Every Day Poets. This is another relatively old poem, though this time not one from a college creative writing class. It was originally a longer, more involved juxtaposition that belabored the two approaches, but I ended up decided to leave most of it unstated and aim for a more minimalist-poetry approach. One version was even shorter, as a haiku...or at least in the superficial, syllable-counting definition of haiku, but I couldn't quite get it to feel right as a true haiku, even with removing the strict syllable count.

I'm not sure how much it comes across, but the intent was that neither the romantic nor the pragmatist was supposed to be presented as better in some absolute way, but simply that sometimes I'm each--dreaming of flying or simply pedaling so hard I practically am flying.

(Happy New Year, by the way!)