Stephen S. Power

The Wave Rises

Page 3 of 4

How to Break the Story Addiction?

Many years ago when I was at Wiley, a colleague and I came up with an idea for a series: the “Penguin Lives of history.” The premise of the Penguin series was to get great authors to write short biographies of interesting figures, which were then beautifully packaged and sold in perhaps the last big use of display dumps. We would do the same thing for historical events, with the unspoken purpose of bringing bigger authors to Wiley and showing agents we had some cash to spend. While our packaging wasn’t great–that’s what happens when you design my committee–and our subject potential was hamstrung by our president’s insistence that we only do “positive events,” many of the books were fantastic. For me, for instance, Scott Simon wrote on the integration of baseball, Eleanor Clift wrote on the 19th Amendment and Tom Fleming wrote on the Louisiana Purchase.  And our whole list, not just our history list, was indeed jumpstarted.

I mention this because when I approached an agent about one of his authors, he said that he didn’t want his client to take on the project for a reason I hadn’t considered: not the money or the topic, but the time. The author would put his full effort into researching the book, and the 20-35,000 words he’d have to write would take up to a year. That would, in turn, take away from the researching and writing of his next big history book, which his agent didn’t want to happen because the author’s bread and butter were in those big histories.

I could use an agent like him to kick me in the butt about writing short stories. After I turned in “The Dragon  Round,” I set out to write stories to build a name for myself, with the goal of achieving enough pro sales to earn membership in the SFWA. My deadline was audacious, as all targets should be: one year. It took me 18 months, including my not including the four flash stories which didn’t earn the $60 necessary for a sale to count toward membership.

With fifteen stories still under submission, including two whose deals fell apart and had to go back out again, I then focused on outlining the sequel to “Dragon Round” and the first novel in a new series, “The Dragons of America,” which is based on one of those unsold stories. My goal is to finish the third outline for “Dragon Tower” by 12/15/15 and a first draft by 6/15/16 so I can submit it to my agent when DR comes out (hopefully to advance-swelling sales), alternating chapters with the second outline for the “DofA” book, currently called “The St. Louis Blue,” to keep myself fresh.

But these damn stories keep getting in the way–or, should I say, prompts, which are to me what the herring is to the seal. Show me one and I want to drop everything to balance a ball on my nose so you’ll toss the fish to me. In addition, there’s something very satisfying about spending a week on a story, then sending it out or giving it to others for feedback. This week, for instance, got lost to a still unfinished 1,600-word story called “Sunnyside,” given the setting, Queens in 2040, and there’s really no way I can hit my 12/15 date now. I’ll have to move it to 1/15.

Which leads me to wonder: so many great writers churn out stories regularly, but never get a novel off the ground. Would they profit from giving up the stories and their immediate gratification entirely, thereby forcing themselves just to concentrate on a novel, which is much more a marathon than a spring? How do I avoid the story addiction myself, especially when I can write just another 600 words to finish a story and feel gratified instead of the 50K more words of outlining I have to do just for DT, even if that’s broken up into myriad chunks?

Any suggestions?

 

Edit: Yes, in the last two hours I did revise that story to apparent completion and follow three people on Twitter who all posts links to articles that could inspire stories. I’m hopeless.

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OK, I Think I Fixed It

Carry on.

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Primal Scream

AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGG

GGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

STUPIDSTORYWON’TWORKANDIKEEPMAKINGIT

WORSE!I’MSTUCKINAWENDIGPLOTSTRUCTURE!

Or, for a visual presentation of the revision experience:

 

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Week in Review

The wave may not have risen that much this week, but higher than most:

NewMyths.com just published my story The Warmth of Sun in Winter, which was my first attempt at writing a positive story, that is, one in which no one’s disintegrated, evaporated or otherwise obliterated. Sure, the world is post-apocalyptic, but that’s downplayed,  and can the world ever really end if there’s someone you love still in it?

I finally finished a story called The Catskill Dragon, which took a week longer than I thought it would. I’ll send it out by tomorrow EOB after one more pass to make sure the i’s aren’t crossed and the t’s aren’t dotted. It’s set in 1863, and the main character, Cassaway Zenger, could be the main character for a whole new series, The Dragons of America. I’ve done the first outline of Book One, tentatively titled The Missouri Blue. Finishing that outline, along with the second outline for The Dragon Tower, allowed me to reward myself by finishing The Catskill Dragon. (The trouble with writing short stories is that they suck away the time you should be writing novels, the way side quests can distract you from the epic one.) Now it’s back to outline two for (OMG, I’m really going to write this) Mo’ Blue and outline three for Tower. 

At the risk of jinxing myself, I’ll say that I entered a story in Amazing Stories’s Gernsback  Writing Contest and it looks like I made the final round, that is, I didn’t get a rejection yet like some other people have according to the Grinder. There are 18 finalists, so all I have to do is beat 8 of them to make the anthology. Really, though, I just want to see if the ex-NASA scientist who is one of the judges thinks my science isn’t total nonsense. Curiously, the contest theme is a positive take on what our solar system will look like in 250 years. It seems grimdark may be ceding some ground to sunnier works.

Finally, if you have a Roku, get the channel for the 92nd Street Y. It has interviews with GRRM and Jimmy Page and many other fascinating folks.

 

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The Week In Review

An important story for me was accepted by NewMyths.com, “The Warmth of Sun in Winter.” It was the first in which I consciously tried to be positive and vowed not to see someone obliterated. I’ve also found that more positive stories are more marketable. That doesn’t stop me from writing grim, dystopian ones–because I can’t help it–but my goal is to at least alternate between something grim and something a bit brighter, even if “a bit brighter” means only subtly indicating that a story happens have a apocalyptic event.

Meanwhile other stories were rejected and promptly sent elsewhere. I don’t like playing rejectomancy, though, or even publicly tracking submissions because, being very competitive, I then start rooting for the rejects. So they shall go unmentioned. The stories are good, I think. Someone will pick them up sooner or later. My average number of subs per accepted piece is 9.

What keeps me going is that I haven’t mastered even one of these, and I mentioned how competitive I am, right?

 

 

 

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The Week in Review

Very good week as a writer. I had a story accepted by Lightspeed, Fade to Red, a triptych of interviews whose form was inspired by this interview by Bruce Fretts with Andrew Jarecki.

Plus the Beam Me Up podcast will read my AE story Automatic Sky. This is my second podcast acceptance, after MedusPod took my 365 Tomorrow story The Accidental TowerThe fun part will be coming up the sound effects for folding space and the ring tone for an ansible.

Sad week as a reader, though. After 35 years, I’ve finished reading all of Jack Vance’s novels, finishing with his last, Lurulu.  It was OK ending to an excellent career. Now I have only 25 scattered stories to go. Buying a used copy of The Dark Side of the Moon will get me 13 of them, as this chart shows (because I’m that obsessed):

 

Dream Castle Hard Luck Diggings Five Moons Rise Dark Side Moon Light Lone Star Magnus Ridolph Lost Moons Green Magic Worlds of JV World Btwn
Dream Castle * *
Sulwen’s Planet * *
A Practial Man’sGuide * *
Enchanted Princess * *
Hard-Luck Diggings * *
TempleHan * *
Phantom Milkman * *
DP! * *
Absnt-Mnded Prof *
Devil Salv Bluff * * *
Ecological Onslaught * * *
Alfred’s Ark *
DeadAhead *
Dover Spargill’s *
1st Star See * *
HouseLords *
Parapsyche *
PhalidFate *
Cat Island *
Sanatoris *
400 Blackbirds *
Sabotage S Plnt *
7 Exits fr Bocz *
Winner LoseAll *
Pilgrims *

Having created my own bibliography with dates and variant titles to track my progress, I was a bit bummed to find this bibliography today. It did clear up the variant titles given to five stories I need to read that are used in the Spatterlight collections. I don’t mind reading Vance as ebooks, but I kind of want to add to my shelf of titles.

Of course, when I’m finally done, I’ll do the obvious thing: pick up The Dying Earth again and start over.

I would say the toughest problem I face as a writer is not trying to sound like Vance, however oversubtle I try to be.

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The Week in Review

In terms of big news, there isn’t any, and that’s the norm .

I wrote my second story for the Codex’s Flash, Saviour of the Universe contest, and it’s getting incredibly varied reviews, which I consider a good thing. Some hate it and some love it, and it’s better to be loved by a few than liked by many. Love sells books. Like picks them up and puts them back. Plus the idea could turn into a novel down the line. I’d like to get two series going at once.

I’m nearly finished with a new story called “If It’s Not Your Mother,” which is taken from an old commercial whose subsequent line was, “It must be Howard Johnson’s.” It’s set in a bath station, which is a future type of motel. In the world of drone vehicles, people won’t need to spend the night somewhere because their vehicles will take them where they want to go overnight while they sleep inside. They will, however, need a place to bathe, freshen up and have breakfast (figuring that vehicles still won’t have bathrooms and showers like RVs). Hence, the bath station, where rooms can be rented for a few hours. They don’t even have beds. The story itself just gets weird and bitter after that.

I tend to alternate weird and bitter stories with more upbeat, generous stories, which will serve me well when I have to write the third flash story for the contest.  Upbeat seems to be more marketable too nowadays.

I did get a request today from Qwillery to do a blogpost and interview for The Dragon Round, which is very exciting. I think I’ll write on what it’s like to write a first novel middle early late-ish in life. The site’s very good, and the guest posts set the bar pretty high. I particularly like this one, Writing Movies by Clay  and Susan Griffith, given that the movement in the big fight in the first chapter of The Dragon Round is modeled on the big fight at the end of The Avengers (I love long tracking shots the Copa scene in Goodfellas and the entirety of Russian Ark). It occured to me, also, while reading it that an interesting way to distinguish characters in a book is whether they’d be played by movie stars or by actors, as William Goldman distinguishes them in Adventures in the Screen Trade. 

As for The Dragon Tower I’ve been plugging away at the first outline for the second part of the book. I have to stop being distracted by writing stories. I also have to stop falling asleep on the train home from NY. I’m losing a half-hour of prime writing time.

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A Better Week

I don’t want to get political on my blog–that’s what Thanksgiving dinners are for–but come one. This is a rare week. When I crowed about my own accomplishments last weekend, I dared not hope that:

1. The Roberts Court would uphold the right of all American citizens to marry, not legislating from the bench, but correcting a wrong that never should have been a law in the first place.

2. The Court would also continue to prevent discrimination in housing.

3. And it would uphold the 8,996 words of the Obamacare legislation, as well as the drafters’ own intent, that contravened what a half-formed four-word phrase said.

On top of that, impossibly, the murder of eight more African-Americans by yet another racist terrorist ended up doing some good by causing the Confederate swastika to be dragged down from state house flagpoles and pulled from the shelves of major retailers.

My little victories are nothing compared to all this.

Is America perfect now? No, but it’s better on this Friday than it was on Monday.

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A Good Week

Three sweet pieces of news:

1. Simon451 has decided to bring out The Dragon Round in hardcover instead of as an ebook original, which also means its pub date gets pushed back until June 2016. A small a sacrifice–and a deadline. My goal is to have the first draft of the sequel, The Dragon Tower, done by then. Right now I’ve written half of the second outline, and I’m resisting the urge to rewrite it again before doing the second half. Must push on.

2. I’ve had a third story accepted by AEan SF crime story called “Wire Paladin.” The title comes from a certain TV gunslinger’s business card.

3. And in case you missed it on Twitter, here’s a link to my story in Flapperhouse #6, “Who Else Would Make a World Like This?” which is about four friends trying desperately to watch the series finale to Game of Thrones. They added what may be best spoiler alert ever.  They’re having a reading for the issue, which I may attend.

BTW, if you’re a Thrones fan, here’s your chance to predict in a funny way how it will all end. F&SF is running an excellent contest:

GAME OF PROSE
According to an announcement from his British publisher, the upcoming installment of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, will not be released in 2015. We could reread the books again (and again). Or we could finish it ourselves. For your next assignment, write the last paragraph of Martin’s final book, A Dream of Spring.

Example:
And with the defeat of Stannis Baratheon, the seasons aligned, and the maesters could then determine that winter would last only ninety days a year. The remaining Starks changed their family motto to “Winter is coming. No, seriously.”

You have a maximum of six entries (either in one email/letter or six separate ones, it makes no difference), with a maximum of fifty words each. Make it funny, because we need something to cheer us up until 2016. Or, egads, 2017.

That said, it would be tough to top the reveal by GRRM’s editor Anne Groell Keck of the end A Dance With Dragons:

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The Dragon Round Dramatis Personae

After working through a wonderful copyedit by Dominick Montalto, I got to work on something I’ve been waiting a long time to do: create a cast of characters for the book. And by “create,” I mean sort and revise the list of characters Dominick put together, which makes the book sound like something from Shakespeare.

Dramatis Personae

Comber

  • Jeryon, the captain
  • Livion, the first mate
  • Solet, the second mate, an Ynessi
  • Tuse, the third mate and oarmaster
  • Everlyn, the apothecary, an Aydeni
  • Hume, a guilded rower
  • Bearclaw, a contract rower
  • Beale, an harpooner
  • Topp, a sailor

Hopper

  • Press, the first mate
  • Edral, the second mate
  • Igen, an harpooner
  • Rowan, the ship’s boy

The Wolf Pack

  • Jos, the first mate
  • Mylla and Barad, lamps
  • Bodger and Gibbery, harpooners
  • Mulcent and Sumpt, owners
  • Kley, an oarmaster
  • Blass, a shoveler

Hanosh

  • Chelson, an owner
  • Tristaban, his daughter
  • Holestar, Skite and Derc, his guards
  • Felic, his office boy
  • Sivarts, one of his captains
  • Kathi, one of his remora
  • Ophardt, his footman
  • Asper, “the White Widow,” a fellow owner
  • Omer, a trade rider
  • Herse, the army’s general
  • Rego, his adjutant
  • Birming and Pashing, sergeants
  • Ject, the city guard’s general
  • Ravis, his first guard
  • Oftly, new guard of his retinue
  • Husting, a sergeant of the city guard
  • Chevron, sergeant of the Tower Guards
  • Isco and Bern, guards
  • Eles, an owner and leader of the City Council
  • Prieve, the sea general
  • Almond, a proprietor
  • Strig, a tanner
  • Fakkin Tawmy, a fixer
  • Mags, a customs official

Assorted sailors and rowers, prisoners and proprietors, traders and whores, workers and servants, guards, soldiers and citizens.

And several dragons.

 

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