It turns out that you, the reader, are a secret Targaryen!

After mentioning George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire a few weeks back, I’ll report here that I have finished (caught up?) with the series as it currently stands.  While the level of quality is pretty consistent, A Feast for Crows did have its issues, all of which have been pointed out before, and so I won’t waste my time discussing them here.  If you poke around on fan communities you will likely find that my opinions are the ones most generally held; hooray for the law of averages.  That said, considering that each book up until this point has been pretty much 1000 pages, and A Dance with Dragons looks like it might end up being that long or perhaps some sort of quantum novel that exists in a perpetual state of unending, my fears about the series as a whole still stand.  I very much doubt that GRRM can or will bring a satisfactory conclusion to such a substantial amount of reading — and we’ve still go two more theoretical books of buildup, people.

In other news, my own time observing the ASoIaF fan community has been amusing, apart from confusion at the sheer spiteful indignation of fans that the author is perceived to be withholding A Dance with Dragons from them.  Anyway, while reading the books I was pleased to note instances of rather elliptical storytelling that strike me as being indebted to Gene Wolfe’s fantastic Book of the New Sun.  Now, admittedly, GRRM isn’t at all as elliptical as Wolfe, but hilariously, the fan response is much the same.  If you’ve read New Sun and any of the appropriate compendiums or mailing lists, you’ll know discussion of the book’s infuriatingly opaque narrative results in some pretty crazy interpretations, none of which I will go over in any detail, but suffice it to say they are there and most of them deal with particularly unorthodox genealogies.  The Wacky Theory faction of the ASoIaF fandom concerns itself likewise with who is and is not secretly part of the formerly royal Targaryen bloodline, or as the shorthand goes, a “secret Targ.”  One of the leading theories seems very reasonable to me, but there are others that fly to all sorts of crazy places.  It reminds me of the widespread belief in some parts prior to Rowling’s Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore was in fact a time-traveling Ron Weasley.

Older than I’ve ever been, and now I’m even older, and now I’m older still

By way of John C. Wright‘s LJ I’ve discovered this wonderful piece by John Scalzi detailing the nearly glacial movement of fiction publishing.  In it, Scalzi explains how novel writing is a rather time-consuming business.  I have no qualms with that statement — I know it’s true.  But he echoes certain common wisdom that pervades the industry that makes me somewhat unsettled, namely, the idea that you simply need to be older to write a novel.  To say this is always the case is of course untrue — we have enough Jonathan Safran Foers and Brett Easton Ellises to demonstrate that — but as a young person, it definitely makes me feel cagier.  I sure as hell am not a Foer or Ellis.

I’ve written three good-sized novels, and one shorter novel that I mentioned a few entries ago.  I am 21 years old.  My first novel — if you want to call it that — was about 100,000 words long, and it was a rambling, disgusting mess.  Essentially everything that Scalzi says first novels are was true of this thing; it shames me to look at it, but I keep the file in my archives just so I don’t forget how far I’ve come.  I wrote this novel when I was 14.  My second novel, 90,000 words written at 16, was better in many respects, but still a pretty sorry thing; a good friend of mine who read it was kind enough to point out its good points, the things he enjoyed, and the things he thought didn’t make sense.  There were a lot of those, and I was glad he pointed them out to me.  But overall it was more directed, had a solid plot, and greater depth of character, as far as that went.  (Incidentally, no one has read my first novel except me, and I plan to keep it that way.)

My third novel, Brutal, is 88,000 words long.  I began writing it when I was 19, a few weeks before my twentieth birthday, finished my first draft in the dorms that fall, and have gone over it a few times since then.  I hope it doesn’t sound too presumptious for me to say that I think Brutal is a pretty good story.  I tell you this after admitting that the previous two books I wrote were utter crap — I say that comparatively this book is haute arte.  On its own I think it’s pretty fun; a handful of people have read Brutal and the response has been positive, something that definitely would not have happened for my prior two exercises.  The book has been rejected once, of course, but only (I think) because I simply sent it to the only slushpile house I could find — I don’t want to try for an agent until I have a few short pieces published — and the house didn’t really specialize in horror.

But there’s also another possibility: that I’m simply not old enough to have written a competent novel.  Scalzi’s ruminations touch on this; the novel, according to Ian Watt, is vested almost entirely in the importance of individual experience.  Can I write well about individual experience when my own is so limited compared to these people who are writing with 30 and 40 and 50 years of life behind them?  This is definitely an anxiety of mine.  Am I simply too juvenile, at the moment, to be a writer?  The fact that I’ve written three novels (or at least one novel and two things that look uncomfortably like novels) in the past seven years only intensifies my self-doubt.  To have written so much while so young may be the mark of a productive but sloppy author, a lifestyle that turns up a few glittering jewels in what is otherwise a sea of crap.

But there’s another issue here: Brutal is a novel about high school.  In some ways it’s a novel about leaving high school behind and finding yourself in a much larger world.  I felt I had to write it last summer because my experience of leaving high school was growing ever more distant, more blunted; I needed to commit those emotions to the page before I lost them entirely.  This could go two ways: I could have ended up with something startlingly genuine or something embarrassingly incoherent.  Salinger proved that you don’t have to write just after leaving high school to nail the teenage mindset, but I am not Salinger.  The people who have read Brutal have not raised issues with my portrayal of the Teen Experience, so I it is possible I lucked out in that department.

But the people who have read my novel are not publishers.

I know that since I’ve written one thing I’m fairly pleased with, nothing else will necessarily follow suit.  The short novel I wrote earlier this month was not something I hated entirely, but it still didn’t sit right with me.  I allowed a friend to read it, and he agreed: it was terrible.  Terrible, but perhaps salvageable.  All of the issues I suspected the manuscript had were indeed issues; having the second opinion was handy for focusing what kind of changes need to be made.

While on the subject, Scalzi also links to this fascinating article about working on a slushpile.  The idea of a website where writers post their rejection letters and rage about them perplexes me somewhat.  I mean, in one sense that’s what I’m doing here on this blog, except I’m not really raging, just keeping a running count.  I also don’t post copies of the letter and make petty swipes at the readers or editors — to do so seems, well, childish.  I don’t think I’ve ever been truly shattered over a rejection letter; I’ve mentioned one that really confused me, since it seemed like the reader was being unwarrantedly snide, but I didn’t bother pursuing the matter, I simply found another market.  I’ve had two letters that contained something like actual criticism, and while criticism is never easy to swallow, I felt like they were the most helpful.  The majority of my rejections fall in the category Teresa Hayden calls “Appropriate Disinterest” — “Thanks, but no thanks.”  As I’ve pointed out, I’m not sure what this says about me or my writing.  Am I submitting to the wrong publications, or what?  Hayden offers a handful of possibilities:

7.  Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

8.  It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.

9.  Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.

10.  The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

11.  Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.

12.  Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.

But I think most of these things might be pointed out in a rejection letter?  Except of course for the one about visiting a shrink. You don’t want the crazies to come after you.  The only thing that will give me answers to these questions is, I imagine, time.  More submissions, more rejections, more writing.

EDIT: Going back and reading my previous entry wherein I discuss rejections in-depth, I must say here that I am probably luckier than most.  As I admit there, many rejections I receive encourage me to submit again — assuming that’s not some commonly accepted form rejection.  My previous rant on this phenomenon mostly had to do with how absolutely goddamn bewildering it is to be told “thanks, no thanks, BUT PLEASE TRY AGAIN.”  I’m all for perserverance, but when you get rejected without any real criticism and an invitation to have a second round it’s kind of alarming.

Poetry???

I don’t like writing poetry.  I simply don’t — I feel as if prose is much more suited to the way I think.  This does not mean I dislike poetry, as I loves me some Milton and Yeats and Frost and and E.A. Robinson and E.L. Masters and Wendy Cope and so on and so forth.  I just don’t like writing the stuff — poetry rarely seems to afford me the opportunity to say what I need or want to say.

Given that, it is not impossible for me to write (really stupid) poetry.  Usually this ends up being part of a class assignment, and I do everything in my power to make the poem as obnoxious as possible for my professor.  For instance, I was just digging through my archives when I found the following beauty from my poetry class — we had to write a villanelle about any subject of our choosing, so naturally I decided to write mine about Batman and call it “Super-Villanelle.”

“Super-Villanelle”

There are few who venture to this height;
There are those who fall, or never rise.
Then there is me, and I am the night.

Now, without the luxury of light,
Those below can only fear surprise.
There are few who venture to this height.

It is in this darkness that I delight:
I slip through shadow, I hardly need my eyes.
And that is me, and I am the night.

I aid them, and they hate me still despite;
The papers print my name alongside lies.
There are few who venture to this height.

I feel the wind — for an instant I’m in flight,
Clouds like angels’ wings besmear the skies,
Then there is me, and I am the night.

To the meaning in your life hold tight;
It’s yours alone, and with you it dies.
There are few who venture to that height.
Then there is me, and I am the Knight.

Of course, if I wanted to be true to the pun of my title, I should have written it about the Joker.  If I you want to write about Batman or Superman you should use heroic couplets!

(Yes, I used that joke on my professor.  Yes, he almost threw a Norton Anthology of Poetry (Unabridged) at me for it.)

31st of May, 31st of May… the month of June starts after today??

Things are becoming unnecessarily busy here at the end of the month.  Tomorrow I shall be traveling extensively to see a performance by a group of musicians I very much admire, and meanwhile I have a stack of six or so books to read through before classes resume.  This is assuming I don’t somehow pick up more cheap paperbacks around my birthday (the odds of this not happening, of course, being very unlikely).

I am currently taking my sweet time with the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and I must say I’m really seeing what all the talk over this is about.  It only took me something like ten years to actually care enough to read it!  The one great fault I can spot is that the series is projected to be seven books long, which is, if you will pardon my French, a goddamn metric ton of reading, especially when it’s seven eight-hundred page fantasy books.  Of course I haven’t read further in the series (and the last few are yet unfinished) so I’m not really qualified to say if GRRM pulls it off or not.  I will say, however, that if you have a story that cannot be told in less than eight-hundred pages (if I am lenient, I will say three times eight-hundred pages, as everyone likes trilogies) then you are putting yourself in a very good position to waste the reader’s time.  We will see.

In other news, Esmeralda Sinn seems to have developed a Facebook presence.  Show your support, why don’t you.

Meanwhile: I’m up to 24 rejections, but I have four submissions on the market — which is more than I’ve had in probably the last six months, as the “economic downturn” is not kind at all to publishers and magazines, causing a lot of them to go under completely or at least temporarily close to submissions.  As it happens, one of the pieces I currently have out is my novel Brutal, which I’ve entered into Leisure Horror’s Fresh Blood contest.  Wish me luck on that, whoever you are, Kind Reader.

Cthulolita

Cthulolita, loath of my life, fear of my lexicography. My syllables, my sanity. Kuh-thoo-lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a temerarious trip of five steps down the palate to tap, timidly, on the teeth. Kuh. Thoo. Lo. Lee. Ta.

It was Tulu, plain Tulu, to the Tcho-Tcho people, standing four feet ten in their squalid jungle. It was Q’thulu in Quechua. It was Kutulu in deep Y’ha-nthlei. It was Dread Cthulhu in the archives at Miskatonic. But in my darkest dreams it was always Cthulolita.

Did it have a precursor? It did, indeed it did. In point of fact, there might have been no Cthulolita at all had I not read, one summer, a certain incantation in a certain aged and worm-eaten manuscript. In a princedom on the shores of dim Carcosa, lost Carcosa. Oh when? About as many years before the blasphemous bubbles crawled out from beneath the thumbs of their five-lobed southern lords and loped on the shores in the shape of an ape. You can always count on a madman for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, again I say, I do not know what has become of Clare Quilty, though I think — almost hope — that he is in peaceful oblivion, if there be anywhere so blessed a thing. Look at this tangle of tentacles.

I’m Burning for You

I just finished my last final, which was for an Intro to US History class and ugh whatever it’s over.  Time for summer.

I haven’t been blogging about my DAILY LIFE because honestly I’ve been so fucking busy it’s not worth it.  However, that doesn’t mean interesting things didn’t happen to me.  For instance, about a week and a half ago I went to wash my hands in the dorm bathroom and the water came out boiling hot, so I spent the night in the emergency room because you would not believe that pain goddamn.  Apparently there had been a problem with the pipes the day before and campus maintenance thought they’d fixed it.  Anyway, I got all the blisters popped and even though it was only second degree burns I had to visit a plastic surgeon to make sure the healing process wasn’t going to do something weird, since my fingers were burned and I guess finger burns like to heal by webbing your digits together.

But things are fine in that regard now, I’m off the bandages and the dead skin on my hand is falling off in horrendous sheets like some disgusting snowstorm.  I’d post pictures but that would be totally gross!

In other news, I’ve hit 22 rejections, almost all of which gave responses that were generally unhelpful.  Here is something I will outline that frustrates me about the speculative fiction market at the moment: There are form rejection slips (which I understand completely) but they do nothing in the way of telling you why something was rejected.  I do not feel like counting the number of form rejections I’ve received that run along the lines of “Thanks for the manuscript, it was really great, but no.  Also, please submit again in the future!”

What the hell do you want from me, people?  Of course, I’ve received a few personal rejections that also ran along these lines, but that was less infuriating.  That was at least some human contact.  A form rejection implies my story wasn’t good enough for special attention — okay, I get that — but why.  I have no idea where I should be taking my writing if I want to sell based on these responses alone.  The only assumption I can operate on is that my fiction is bone-crushingly fantastic in every way, but I’m not submitting the right stories to the right markets.

The few responses I’ve received with actual critcism (even if it was a few words, like “Fails to hold interest”) have been the most helpful.  Of course, criticism can sometimes be inscrutable — an sf story I wrote was called a Bat Durston rather pejoratively, for instance, but weirdly enough that was what I wanted.  That was why I wrote the story, because Bat Durstons are hilarious!  And I submitted it to a venue specializing in comedic sf!  But, well, you win some and you lose some.

Incidentally, I also had something of an acceptance recently.  My campus literary journal, Crucible, accepted a piece of flash fiction I wrote entitled “A Measure of Weekend Minutes for a Penny,” making a total of three pieces of mine to appear in its hallowed pages. Well, three pieces I know of. (The other two were in my freshman year.) I didn’t even know this was accepted so I didn’t attend the release party, I found out from a friend later, and I think that’s pretty hilarious. Anyway, here’s the story.

Continue reading I’m Burning for You

hmm uh what

my lord the power went out at 9:00 last night and people nearly rioted around the dorms, shouting and setting off fireworks and being jackasses until about two or three in the morning like it was a goddamned party and I wanted to shout

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE, DOES THE POWER NOT GO OUT WHERE YOU’RE FROM

WHEN YOU GET YOUR PEACE AND GLOBAL STUDIES DEGREE ARE YOU GOING TO DO THIS EVERY TIME YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY YOUR ELECTRIC BILL

and I am so near death right now

This is my life I think that is how normal people use blogs

Let’s try this “blog” thing.

Here we are at Correlated Contents.  After participating in the creation of two blogs for fictional characters, one on indefinite hiatus and the other still running to some degree, I have finally decided that if I want to establish a web presence I should at least have a blog of my own for realz.  Here at CorCon I will be writing entries about writing as a practice in general, I guess, and also the epic struggle to publish fiction in a crumbling economy.  I’ll also probably post, like, youtube links or something?  Is that what blogs are used for?  Whatever.

They say it takes an average of 100 rejections before any writer makes a sale.  This means that for every golden child who sells on the first try, some other schlub has to go through 200 rejections.  I was not fortunate enough to make a sale on my first try, but there’s still hope that I’m batting at the average.  I currently have a small stable of a dozen or so pieces of short fiction and the manuscript for a novel, Brutal.  Many of these things (including the novel) have been rejected at least once by a publication, giving me a current figure of 17.  83 to go, right?  Right.

To those curious, the background image is a collage of photos I took in the basement of the St. Louis Art Museum.  The menagerie of creatures depicted are statues and idols of Mesoamerican gods, and for some reason the best way to exhibit these is in tiny poorly lit rooms.  They were creepy as hell but also somewhat funny (they kind of look like Muppets, don’t they?) so I suppose to that extent they embody certain principles of my writing.