Re-Telling and Re-Taleing with @CatRambo and @RachelSwirsky

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Every time I sell a story (in this case “One Quiet Night” in Volume 2 of Mosaics), I like to use the money to do something which will help me as a writer. This normally means taking a class that I think will help me, either from a networking perspective, a skills one or just because it’s something I want to do.

There were eight of us, plus Cat and Rachel which really pushed G+ to its limits. Bandwidth issues aside though, it was a fun two hours. I’m a mythology nerd of the highest order and this was an excuse to start thinking about stories I’d like to retell and the ways in which to do them. I’ve been a fan of Rachel’s since reading her story “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” and loved her recent story in Uncanny, she’s also known for her reworkings of stories and fairy tales.

I always enjoy classes like this, coming out with at least one idea and the vast scope of re-telling stories was much bigger than I expecting (from things like Romeo and Juliet, which is a retelling of the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe (one of my favourites), going all the way through to modern fan fiction and satirical works like Scalzi’s Redshirts (which takes the piss out of Star Trek incredibly well).

I came out of the class with an idea for a sci fi retelling of Pandora’s box (which I’m sure is popular) and a Persephone story. As usual with Cat’s classes, they leave you with this desire to write (even if my own mood isn’t exactly conducive to doing that right now). Both Cat, who was the quiet host, and Rachel are excellent teachers and this is an excellent class, especially as the final section addressed cultural appropriation and how to handle unhappy people convinced you’ve nicked their cultural heritage for your own purposes.

Rachel also recommended the Writing the Other class which seems to me to be a natural compliment to this class. That’s definitely a class I’m looking at taking, even if it won’t be for a while.

It was a fantastic evening, even if we ran over time-wise and the video didn’t work (again eight people is a lot for any Hangout to deal with). I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the class write as well as doing some myself when my mood picks up.

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Check Out My New Author Photo!

© Adriano Leme Photography
© Adriano Leme Photography

My friend Adriano—of Adriano Leme Photography (and the designer of my Ashteraiverse/publisher logo)—has been helping me shoot some new author pictures. We might do some more but this one is my favourite of the batch so far. I get to wear my hat and look … well in my head I look like someone plotting, which I am.

Me. Hat. Computer. Done.

Oh and FYI, I always plot. Sometimes a new book, sometimes world domination.

I’ve been meaning to get new headshots done for the last couple of months. Mary Robinette Kowal recommends authors get photos done every couple of years. My last ones were done by a classmate with an SLR and my dog. Now I want to stand on my own two feet, so to speak, rather than being Uni’s silent partner (trust me, she’s the bigger of the two of us, with the larger ego).

Oh and, for fun, here’s my other favourite shot:

© Adriano Leme Photography
© Adriano Leme Photography

 

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Happy Spring!

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As the days get warmer, as the sun comes out, I inevitably start feeling better, both mentally and physically. I’m commuting most of the week and spending large amounts of time with The Naked Dog (I can’t really call her my Furball as she’s been shawn for the spring) in Starbucks working. I’m still on a short story streak (Asha really does like them) and have been working on a particularly emotional story called “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” that I sent off to an anthology call yesterday.

Oh and I’ve watching Dark Souls III playthroughs, doing Zumba and napping.

So, as today is Good Friday (aka the One Bank Holiday which isn’t on a Monday), I went into the city for breakfast with my BFF, Mhairi and her guide dog, Bramble (the one whose hugs are like dog valium). Then I bought a hat.

Apparently all I needed to complete my transformation into Asha was a hat. Who knew?

(BTW this is not a selfie; Mhairi took it. Not bad attempt either.)

We’d finished breakfast and were heading for coffee but, as it’s Easter, there was this market just by Cafe Rouge selling things like food, bread, jewellery, crepes (CREPES … and I had no room left). Oh and hats.

Funny story: I only found out what a milliner is a couple of months ago. I was in Mary Robinette Kowal’s class and she was brainstorming ideas. She came up with something like ‘a milliner who assassinates people with oranges’ and I was mentally going: WTF? A word I don’t know??? (and I know many just not this one). I actually had to google the definition and discovered milliners are the name for people who make hats. I related this story to Mhairi and the stall owner as I tried on hats, who reminded me of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. That bit I knew: he was a hat maker who went mad from the mercury used to make hats.

But he’s never called a milliner.

I pointed this out. Mhairi laughed at me. Nicely.

I ended up buying this rather nice hate (and mentally swearing at the expense). Lots of people have told me it suits me and I really think it does, even if it means I’m going to have to wear my hair either braided or bound back out of my face. Normally I wear headbands and those get in the way of the hat sits.

This afternoon I finally sat down and edited “One Quiet Night”. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been putting it off, apparently—regardless of my name—I still hate editing. It’s like pulling teeth and actually, I’d put it off so long I had to get the file re-sent as it had expired. That’s just embarrassing. Anyway, I cracked my knuckles, spoke to Shannon and then engaged the Kung Fu Panda 3 OST (it’s a freaking awesome movie BTW). I think it took me two hours to do and, as usual, once you start things don’t feel quite as difficult. I’m sitting on the draft overnight and will then send it off with the blurb I’ve not yet written.

Actually, let’s do that now:

It only takes one quiet night for humanity to die …

Everyone expects zombies and nuclear fire to herald the destruction of the Earth but the end, at least in this tale, comes much more quietly. Your daughter is sick, the entire world is dying, and there’s nothing you can do.

Yes, you.

Step into the shoes of a single mother whose daughter doesn’t just have a simple bug but is one of millions afflicting with a terrifying virus which is quietly decimating humanity.

And you’re not the only one watching her die.

I like it.

Also, hey, on the fly! Go me!

In other news I’ve had a couple of rejections, which is fine. I’m sending out stories as fast as I can and trying to revise the last few in my ‘to revise’ pile. I also have about five which need finishing, particularly as there are at least two anthology calls coming up I want to respond to. I’m now treating said rejections as excuses to, occasionally, rework a story and as a badge of honour, not a negative thing. Rejections make you stronger and I’m now at the point where I get to call C.C. Finlay of F&SF ‘Charlie’ after he’s rejected like four of my stories.

This is a major thing, if my other writer friends are to be believed.

And yeah, I’m still sending him stories.

One day he will accept one, I know it.

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Mission Statement (March 2016)

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This is an updated version of a post I published on my original site which, as I’m now Asha, deserved to be reposted and updated to reflect my new persona.

Susan Kaye Quinn has written an awesome book, The Indie Author Survival Guide, which I recommend to all my own mentees and she’s now writing the third edition of. I got chatting to Susan last year because my problem isn’t the writing, outside of my Kickstarter campaigns and giving books away for free while they were free on KDP Select, I have a horrible time selling them. The covers are gorgeous, the editing top notch but shifting copies is hard, particularly in paperback. Yet, as she kindly reminded me, there’s a difference between publishing books and running a business.

For example, I was able to give away over 500 copies via freebies/Kickstarter which means people are reading my books. I don’t write for the money, rather I do it for the stories and the love of getting them from my head into people’s hands.

Susan asked me if I’d done a Mission Statement, which is one of the exercises she outlines in her books. I hadn’t but I decided to do it and now I’m updating it. The exercise is still useful as it clarifies your desires and becomes a reminder of what you want to achieve that you can amend as needed.

So without further ado:

Mission statement (2.0)

I want to use my skills from ten years of journalism, my innate curiosity and desire to question to write short and long form projects focusing on sci fi, fantasy and speculative fiction. I want to establish a multiverse which includes elements of the above and binds novels, serials and short stories together into a cohesive whole but also explore new forms of writing and standalones which are of high enough quality to be submitted to anthologies and magazines.

Most importantly, I would like to get stories out there. This is not about money but rather about establishing a fanbase and a dialogue with people who enjoy reading my work. I will continue using Kickstarter and Patreon as these seem to be good ways to engage but also ensure funding goals are met which will allow me to publish several novels/serials/shorts per year.

I would like write at least one short story per month on top of any other projects and submit it to one of a number of my favourite short fiction markets (Lightspeed, Uncanny, BCS etc) in the hope of making a sale. The more stories, the more chances and the odds might be low but they are worth it.

Due to my health and disabilities, I might not be able to teach professionally but I would still like to help new writers on their journey, to mentor people so they don’t have to make the mistakes I did and help push the idea that if you’re going to publish, then make sure you do it well. I want to inspire other people and prove that anyone can be an author but that doing it well will only help their careers.

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Why I’m Applying for Escalator 2016

© The Writers' Centre, Norwich
© The Writers’ Centre, Norwich

Every year, my local writing institution The Writers’ Centre do a mentorship competition called Escalator. Last time they age-locked it (boo!) but this year they’ve one again opened it to all of the writers in the East of England who aren’t in academic study. The deadline is this Friday and, initially, I wasn’t going to apply but it’s a fiver to enter and, this time, I’m eligible to do so (previously I was too old or studying).

My main focus for this week, aside from confirming my Campbell Award eligibility, is to put in my application to the Writers’ Centre. I’m going to focus on my next novel project which deals with sexuality, gender, cataclysms, social upheaval and artificial intelligence. I have more than enough to show off a couple of thousand words for an excerpt and I’m at the point where biographies and outlining my influences are pretty easy to do.

I’ve applied before and know it’s a long shot but I met quite a few recipients of the program at a Writer’s Development Day I went to in October which covered subjects like crowdfunding and applying for Arts Council grants. I now understand I’m in a much better position. Last time I’d only just published my debut novel. Now I have publications behind me, I have things achieved and I’m submitting short stories to markets with disturbing regularly. I’m not really a newbie anymore, or at least I’m more enticing to invest and could use the mentoring and exposure.

From the people I met, it seems almost like you need to prove that you’re serious by investing in your career. This is fine because it sorts the wheat from the chaff and the people playing at author and those who write because they love to tell stories. I’m not a great marketer, I’m too busy writing, but this is partly why the Escalator program appeals to me, it’s all about meeting other authors, getting noticed and networking. Plus, if you don’t apply, you’ll never know and I’m all for making use of opportunity.

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How to Become a Short Story Writer

Writing a Short Story2

Someone I know wanted to know how one becomes a short story writer (aka someone who submits stories to real markets/bears their soul and waits for it to be ripped to shreds). I think I’ve covered it all in this handy flowchart, if not let me know and I’ll update it.

So how do you become a short story writer? Or, rather, a published one?

I’ve only sold four stories, all to anthologies, so I’m in no way an expert. I’m just passing on what I’ve learned so far.

  • Write a short story

This is the hard one. You actually need an idea that you can encapsulate in around 5ooo words (technically the SFWA upper cap is 75oo but many magazines say up to 6k, while others will let you submit up to 10k. It depends on the market). The subject depends on your own preferences (mine is speculative fiction, fantasy and SF) and Submissions Grinder is an important way to find the right market, as is reading the publication you’re submitting too (many of whom make their content available online for free).

  • Let it rest

Think of your story like a cooked joint of meat, you want to let it settle so that the meat is nice and juicy. In this case it’s so that you can re-read the story and catch mistakes/problems in the narrative. Cat Rambo recommends at least a week (I try for three to four) before revisiting a finished story.

  • Edit

Revisit the story; edit it, rewrite it, fix it. Then let it rest again, or send it out to be beta-read/critiqued.

  • Critique it

If you’ve got access to beta-readers or a crit group, use them. Yes it’s supposed to feel like someone is scooping your heart out with a spoon but don’t worry, all will be the better for it. Just hang on in there. If your crit group are harsh it’s because the story needs it. If they’re actually mean, leave.

  • Submit the story

Submission Grinder is a good way to find markets, as is reading them. You email, they respond acknowledging reciept and then you wait. And wait. And wait. Some markets your submit just because they have a fast rejection times, others take a while. Be patient.

  • Rejected

Rinse and repeat. Then do it again. Break out the wine and chocolate.

  • Acceptance.

Rare and fabled; break out the wine and chocolate.

  • Get a contract

Sign it, celebrate. This makes it real.

  • Rewrite requests

Tinker, accept all changes. Wine and chocolate. Contract.

  • Publication

Go you.

  • Write a short story

Haven’t we been here before?

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The Art of Rejectomancy

 

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When I first started thinking about submitting to pro markets (aka sci fi and fantasy magazines), my friend Shannon recommended I record the data in Duotrope (and, when it when paid-for, she directed me to The Submission Grinder, which does much the same and is free). Rejectomancy was a term I first came across when I joined the Codex writers’ forum, though the leader of our crit group, Frances, likens rejections to a perverse but logical RPG that she calls CentiBrads where you level up and get bonus points when you hit fifty or one hundred of the little buggers.

At first I didn’t get why but, now, at the end of my first six months of actually submitting stuff I totally get why. Half the time I can’t remember where I submit stories so I rely on the Grinder to tell me. That’s what my main page looks like; a list of markets, stories and how they fared and money made. It’s not actually 100% accurate as both my recent sales have been to non-listed markets (and there’s the rub; to log the data, the market has to be listed and Future Chronicles aren’t).

I have maybe a dozen nearly done/final revision stories. I estimate a month of work will see me with a nice pile to submit to places. The odd might not be in my favour but I’m still determined to try, even if all I get are form/personal rejections. At the same time I have final edits on A Star Filled Sea to finish for my Kickstarter backers. I can easily balance out the work but once I get this production line on short stories up and running, it should make my life easier.

I got a rejection yesterday which is fine because two of my friends didn’t and I’m starting to review the idea of a rejection as a positive; a chance to revise/tighten a story or just submit to a new market. My crit group reminds me, quite realistically, that just because Market A subjected Story B then it doesn’t mean the story is flawed, just that the editor at Market A didn’t think it fit them. That’s fine, not every pair of trousers or shoes fits you, sometimes you have to get to the fourth pair.

I need a Post It with that scribbled on it, it’s a surprisingly hard thing to remember. And very important.

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