You precious winners, all

OBVIOUSLY I have dropped the ball the past few weeks in blogging, but there has been infinitely good reason for this!

Well perhaps not infinitely.

Anyway, the last three weeks or so have been super crazy for me because I have had to deal with Spring Break (woooooooo) and a convergence of schoolwork that I hadn’t really scheduled out in any meaningful way.  This PREDICTABLY came back to bite me in the ass.  The title of this post comes from The Winter’s Tale, which I’ve been teaching lately in position as a TA for the college’s Shakespeare class, and it’s been a good time.  I have a very strange relationship to this play, I think, in that I’ve read it a few times now and seen a few productions, and I can never quite get it to gel, but there are little hints in it of something greater.  Perhaps someday I will be able to articulate at length exactly what those hints are????

But also there has been good news.  I’ve mentioned somewhere before that I plan on going to grad school.  The good news is that this is probably happening?  I got a really generous offer from a good program, and they invited me down to check the place.  I spent last weekend slumming around the campus, which at the time was hosting a pretty neat research conference.  I really liked the atmosphere of the English department there, and the faculty were all quite nice, and so I accepted their offer of admission earlier this week.  Once all the paperwork gets hammered out, I’ll move and etc.

Soon I will be able to rant about Shakespeare and I’ll get to say I’m a GRADUATE STUDENT, which makes it totally more plausible that the things I am saying are not bullshit.  Isn’t this exciting, guys?!

Other reasons I have been busy: preparing for a speech I have to give next week and a research conference I’m presenting at halfway through the month, and also another research conference at the end of May.  Oh and I suppose I have to find time to do some classwork and graduate at the end of April.  Needless to say my life is crowded currently, but I am developing a writing itch, by which I mean I haven’t actually written fiction in a while and there are enough ideas bouncing around in my head that one of them will have to be put down pretty soon.  This might (might) be the blog project I mentioned a few entries ago, but that depends on whether or not I can get the specifics to come together.  The beginning is there, and there’s sort of a middle, but nothing like a feasible wrap-up.

And speaking of fiction: I have another story appearing somewhere soon!  I’ll have the link for you here when it drops.  Hopefully it is a story you like!

I will leave you with this video about black metal:

And they rode on

With the Psycho series finished (and tagged accordingly to make it easier to find), it seems like I won’t have much of an excuse to update here.  Of course, having an entry at least once a week is good practice and gives this site some reason for existing, so maybe I’ll try that.  I got into the habit of posting on Fridays, so I’m making that my Completely Official Blog Entry Day (Except Of Course on Days When I Can’t or Don’t).  Incidentally, a visiting poet in my creative writing class yesterday made the comment that to be an artist you also have to constantly self-document — to prove that you’re really doing what you say you’re doing.  WELL I GUESS I HAVE THAT COVERED.

Ideally I’ll have a lot more to say in about a month, when I’ll be in England and doing the AtME series.

In the meantime, I haven’t updated my rejection counter in a while, so I better get around to that.  I am (at the moment) up to 34 rejections, one of them being the second for my novel, Brutal, which was apparently “read with interest.”  Since there are pretty much no publishers with an open submission system except for the ones I’ve already tried, I now have two options: go after an agent to solicit the manuscript, or put the novel away for a while and focus exclusively on getting short fiction published.  I’m not sure which way I lean on this currently, but in any case I know that another draft of the novel is warranted, as I’ve grown unhappy with certain things about it.  Hopefully I can work it into such a state that I won’t want to completely hate it in twenty years.

EDIT @ 10:40:  Look what I found in Google cache!

HaroldBloomGoogle

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.

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.

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.