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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Writer's Continuing Education, Part 1

A lot's happened in the last few weeks, not necessarily on the publication front - though I hope to have news there soon with three different short stories, if I'm really lucky, a fourth - but definitely when it comes to me as a writer.   Some of it more stuff I've learned, insightful conversations I've had, and some developments with the New York pitch that's more of a sideways step, not a step back, at all.

First, last weekend I had an awesome time at Kelli Owen and Bob Ford's place down in York, celebrating Bob's 40th birthday.  I got to hang with some friends I haven't seen in awhile, and of course Brian Keene's roast of Bob was just about the funniest thing I've heard, ever.  Everyone had a great time, and I was truly sorry to leave the next day (but of course happy to be on the road back to Abby and the kids.  Funny how that works, huh?).

Anyway, as always, the best part of the celebration was talking to Brian and J. F. Gonzalez and Drew Williams about the history and current state of the genre.  I love hanging with my friends, but maybe because I'm also a teacher and still consider myself a student, a babe in the woods, I'm hungry for knowledge.   Listening to these guys talk is like a mobile MFA, but even better.
See, as I've blogged several times, I'm in the middle of this HUGE learning curve.   About a year ago, I embarked on a "journey" past my usual bounds of King, Koontz, Straub and the standard Leisure Authors (many of whom are fine writers, indeed), to explore the greats: Charles Grant, T. M. Wright, Karl Wagner, the Whispers anthologies, and so many others.  

I feel like an entire world has been opened to me, one featuring - sorry, no offense intended - far better writers than are currently active in the small press and midlist today.   This was only furthered a few months ago by an awesome evening spent with F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone and Stuart David Schiff.

I also mourn for the way it used to be.   I've heard so much about the "old days" in the last two years, that I can't help but feel that with some of the good things that have developed, (and I struggle at naming just what those good things are), we've lost a lot more.  Obviously, I need to continue on and keep writing, because the industry is what it is, but still.   I feel like I'm absorbing all this rich, great history, but getting here just in time to see it all thrown overboard.

BUT, this hasn't deadened my writing .  Actually, it's sharpened it.  Honed it, not only from a craft perspective, but also regarding WHAT it is I want to write.  Because the market has become what it is, because POD publishing has opened the floodgates to mediocre small presses publishing mediocre writers that shouldn't be published yet or at ALL, I've become very picky about what it is I want to write.   

Which is not to say I've become all "artistic" and won't touch certain projects with a ten foot pole.  The thing is: I only want to write things I can get behind totally.  Things that come from WITHIN.  It's almost come to the point where I really DON'T care anymore about where I get published or when, and that's not to say that I don't care about quality or the quality of the publisher I work with.

What it means is this: I've abandoned a lot of the half-baked ideas I had about pitching this novel to this small press publisher, this novella to this publisher, this short story here, answering this anthology call there.  If I'm going to get up at 3 AM every single morning, it's going to be because of SOMETHING INSIDE ME that will not allow me to sleep in.  It's going to be because the story is screaming so loudly in my ear, I CAN'T ignore it.

I feel like - at the behest of all this reading I've been doing, all the conversations I've had in the past two years - that his is the course for me.  To write FOR ME.  Which is not to excuse quality writing and stories, because I think that's used as an excuse for poor writing: "Oh, I don't care if the audience doesn't like mash-up novels with bigfoot zombie vampires from Mars, I'm writing for me."

What I mean is this: I'm writing what my SOUL (yes, soul) tells me I should.  What my heart feels. That's what I write.  That's why I get up at 3AM in the morning.  And of course, I push myself to perfect my craft every single day, because I also don't care one whit how "original" the story is, or "innovative".  If the story isn't finely crafted, I couldn't care a less.

The below Bradbury snippet puts it into nice words, especially towards the end.  More on the deal with the New York house in a day or so.

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