Words in May, day 10

Slow start to the week!

  • I got nothing done on day 8
  • Day 10 I got a Lioness query out to Seth Fishman.

Day 9, I worked more on Bright Future. A snippet from that:

But seriously. She was so… level. Cold. I don’t expect that from teenagers. In my experience they’re nothing but a roiling mass of feelings. And that’s basically what she is, in drow years, right?

If she were in Menzoberranzan, she’d not even be old enough to go to Tier Breche. Beside her, she heard Jorlan make a heavy sigh before continuing, Look, Mavash. You need to stop paying so much attention to her emotions. It’s… rude.

She looked askance at him, frowning her confusion. Rude? I’m only concerned.

Doubtless she thinks she’s already revealed too much of herself, breaking into tears when we met her. Understandable, as she was under a lot of stress–

Stress? She had a broken foot, she’s being hunted by drow scouts, and her mother is missing and presumed dead. What do you expect from a young girl?

He stopped abruptly, his boot scraping rough against the tunnel. A light burned in his red eyes, a fire seen through smoked glass. She’s a woman-child, and drow at that, and I promise you she would not survive her first year– He cut off, sighing under his breath. Why do I even care? And why do I try to explain these things to you? He continued walking, his steps speeding to pass Mavash, his mind suddenly as impenetrable as a steel wall.

That stabbed her, a shard of ice in her throat. I want to understand, she mindspoke, her word-thoughts whispery faint. Unbidden, came the thought, I want to understand you.

And then, of a sudden, she understood: this conversation wasn’t really about Hanne, was it?

(This is a telepathic conversation, where I use italics for word-thoughts. Since block quotes reverse the italicization… you get the weird formatting above).

Words in May, week one

Week one of Words in May has largely been a success, despite it being a shit week in so many ways (sick cat; feeling groggy from COVID vaccine dose 2). Here’s what I got up to on each day:

  1. Finished and posted On making the drow less problematic.
  2. Finished and posted a new chapter of Bright Future.
  3. Started a new chapter of Bright Future.
  4. Nada.
  5. Got back to querying agents for Lioness; queried Paige Terlip.
  6. Queried Nephele Tempest.
  7. Wrote and posted Dumb Plant Facts with Lise: the shit rose Multiflora.

Six out of seven is an acceptable grade, so I will take it!

Today? I dunno, maybe more work on Bright Future?

Words in May, days 4 and 5

I got my second COVID vaccine yesterday, which left me feeling generally groggy and like the field where I sow my fucks was barren. Hence, nothing for day 4.

For day 5, I’m getting back to querying Lioness. (Somewhat spurred onby getting a promising rejection on a full MS on Monday). Today I queried Paige Terlip of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who seemed the most appropriate choice at that agency.

Since this is a short post, please enjoy some photos from my recent walk in the woods!

Words in May

Lately I haven’t been devoting enough time to my writing — things like:

  • Blog posts
  • Queries to agents for Lioness
  • Fanfic — I still have a ways to go to finish Bright Future, and right now I hella miss Mavash and Jorlan.

I’ve been devoting a lot of time lately to TTRPGs, which is fun, but I also know if I continue to do NOTHING BUT TTRPGS, I will burn out quickly. (Because that is how the Lise do).

So. For accountability’s sake, I’m writing it here:

I will be writing Some Words every day in May — specifically, on the three things above.

I will show my work here. Maybe not daily, depending on how things go, but I’ll let you know. And no, writing daily updates on my progress does not itself count as progress 😉

I will not neglect my TTRPG games entirely — I’ll still go to my Pathfinder and D&D games, I’ll finish the one-shot I’m running for my work colleagues, and I may be picking up my Curse of Strahd game again soon (?) — but I’m not going to take on any new commitments.

Expect to hear from me again soon!

Big paradigm shifts in editing Lioness

Yes, I’m still editing 😉 I received feedback from several of my beta readers, which has given me enough to move ahead. Unfortunately, some of the major problems they’ve reported have caused me to restructure the beginning. Namely, I have been concocting a “mini-mission” to start the book, which partially incorporates existing work, but which is partially new writing.

One of the big problems is: the entire magic system doesn’t get revealed until two-thirds of the way through the book. There are hints long before that, but they don’t make a lot of sense out of context. One reader told me something like, “yeah, I went back, and now I see all these hints that you made, but it still didn’t add up for me at the time.”

So in the “mini-mission,” I’ve been trying to make the magic system clear. I’m using the “rule of three” from larp-writing , which states that if you want your players to know something, you need to put it in at least three places in the game. (Replace “players” with “readers” and “game” with “book”). So Yfre, our protagonist, witnesses one of the characters use this magic at least three times in the mini-mission.

I got to the third time and I was like… that isn’t enough. You can’t believe that this insatisably curious spy would just leave it at that, with nothing answered. So I had her push him; actually ask him what it’s all about. He’s cagey and evasive about it, but he admits the existence of magic: “yeah, that thing you were nearly hanged for? Is real.”

And there we are, in chapter… three? with the first concrete notion that there is magic here.

And for a moment I was like… whoa. Should I really do this? This is a big paradigm shift. Why would I want to reveal that there’s magic right off the bat?

But why wouldn’t I?

And suddenly everything just sorta fell into place. Why not, indeed?

There’s a mystery later on in the book, where someone is assassinated using that magic system. As-is Yfre has no notion that magic exists and is capable of killing someone. It takes her a long time to piece that together. Sixty percent of the book, in fact.

But if she goes into that scene knowing that such a thing is possible — even if she doesn’t know the details — what changes?

Surprisingly little. Because you still don’t know who committed the crime, even knowing that magic is possible.

I’m experiencing a number of big paradigm shifts like this, where something seems impossible, until suddenly you do the calculation and discover, no, actually, that will work. And you can literally feel your thoughts rearranging themselves, something sliiiiiiiiiding into place, like you’re just solved the Rubik’s cube of your story.

Another example happened much earlier. My alpha readers told me they felt Yfre didn’t have enough agency in the climactic final duel. Well, I said, what do I do? She’s not a warrior; I can’t have her participate in the duel.

Or… didn’t she literally just create a bit of magic that makes someone good at swording? I mean, not great, but maybe good enough to do this one thing

And now I can’t imagine that final scene without her taking up a sword.

(Of course, more commonly in editing there are the times when you change ONE LITTLE THING and it alters everything. That stupid red letter. Figuring out the continuity of who had it at what time took up a lot of energy).

So, it’s progressing. If I can cobble this together before July, I may try Pitch Wars again.

Lise Needs a New Writing Project

Day 148: The end of the line

I need a new project to work on. Probably a novel, since last year did a pretty good job of establishing that I’d rather be writing long-form fiction instead of short. I am feeling antsy to put new words on paper. The question is: on what?

“But Lise!” I hear you say. “Aren’t you still working on novel edits/querying Lioness/submitting short stories?”

Yes, but that’s a different sort of creative energy. They are important, and good, but they do not give me that wild exhilaration of creating something out of nothing. Drafting is arguably why writers write; it’s the most enjoyable part of the process, and probably what drew us to the vocation in the first place.

So what are my options for drafting something new?

A sequel to Lioness

I know, roughly, what happens in the sequel to Lioness. It involves sea journeys, and new cultures, and probably new points of view, since our trio of main characters is going to be split up. (If you wanted an Estevien POV, for example, he’s going to be off by himself in the equivalent of the New World).

The problem with this option is… there’s a lot of wisdom against writing a sequel to a novel you haven’t sold. You’re investing a lot in something that may not pan out. This is true for all writing, of course, but if your goal is ultimately to reach readers, then spending a year writing something you can never, ever sell (without selling the first novel) is kind of frustrating.

I guess there’s no harm in outlining the next novel? But outlining doesn’t really scratch the right itch…

Something else in the world of Lioness

On a whim a few months ago, I started writing a romance story in the world of Lioness. (It is the answer to the question, “what exactly does happen when Bizel goes back to Lisieres on the Empress’ orders to reconcile with his estranged wife?”) It’s a lot of fun to write — because Bizel is a lot of fun to write, and I’m discovering his wife is, too — but it’s yet another example of Something I Can’t Do Anything With ™ unless Lioness succeeds.

Revisiting an old project

I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to Gods and Fathers. There’s a lot of good stuff there, though marred by issues of “why am I handling characters at such a remove?” and “is this story really about Mirasa or Serevic?”

(Some day I’d like to get to the bottom of why I find it easier to write compelling male characters than I do female, despite my own gender. I don’t think Lioness has quite the same level of problem as G&F did, but my male characters do tend to be scene stealers, and so many of my edits on Lioness were, “no, seriously, make sure this scene is ACTUALLY ABOUT YFRE GODDAMMIT.” I blame years of narrative training with male protagonists in male-dominated SFF worlds).

This would be a lot of work, of course. If I want to be serious about self-pub I should probably rewrite it from scratch, and then plan out an entire series and marketing pieces for it.

I also have the half-a-novel I wrote in 2009 for NaNoWriMo, Viktory Empire, which is kind of steampunk/weird West with a young woman searching for her mother across a desert landscape. Again I would probably start over from scratch, keeping some scenes that I particularly liked. There’s a lot of filler that was just to make wordcount for NaNo, and of course it is only 50k, and unfinished as a story.

An entirely new novel

This holds the most appeal. And yet… I’m not sure what. Looking at my idea file, a few things stand out:

“Built-up fairyland.” This is intended as a return to Exilian Marquis, the portal fantasy world where I set all of my (seldom written down, usually just narrated to myself while walking circles in my yard) childhood stories. Looking over what I DID write down, a lot of it is rubbish, but there are many things I still love. I loved the arcane bureaucracy of the magical order I created; the race of grey-eyed, black-haired fae who were ever opposed to the main characters; my authorial stand-in, badass spinster sorceress who set the leader of her order on fire (I was anti-authoritarian even then…); the Japanese diaspora I created which was born out of my love for the Samurai Cat books and noodling with language.

I love the idea of reworking that world for my adult sensibilities… especially turning it into this sort of crossroads between different times and places, where technology sorta half-works and half-doesn’t…. oh heck, that’s the premise of the larp Crossover, isn’t it?

Also… I have no real plot for it. I guess I could go back to the plot of one of the novels I did try to write in that world. The last novel I tried to write in that world (I was working on it when I lived in France) is probably the most amenable to that treatment.

Of course, I don’t want to turn into That Guy in Your SFF Writing Workshop ™ who’s been writing the same story since they were in high school. That’s the danger with going back to familiar settings — there’s so much that resonates with you which means nothing to other people.

And then there’s the boringly-named “dark queen” story. Basically I like all those stories like Labyrinth which start with something like “disaffected young woman meets up with seductive dark prince and considers embracing his sort of evil.” But then said woman inevitably makes the choice to turn towards light and goodness and… yawn. That’s where I lose interest. What is even the point of fantasy that tells us, “Get the fuck out of this fantasy world and Be Good?”

There are of course many pitfalls of this idea. What I WANT the story to be is a tale of the slow descent into evil by one banal decision after another; of a woman taking her power from being villainous. But “evil” winning often doesn’t fit with the narrative structures we know and love. There’s also the risk that the relationship between guy and girl will come off disturbingly coercive, when I see it more as him being the catalyst to a voyage of (villainous) self-discovery. And of course, this feels like another place where I am likely to fall into “the most interesting character is a) not the main character, and b) is a dude”-syndrome.

Honestly I just re-read Rosamund Hodge’s “A Guide For Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies” and it strikes me I want to hit a lot of the same notes as that story.

Finish Yo’ Shit 2018

There’s a certain appeal to this, too. I have a lot of unfinished projects that I cared enough to start, but haven’t bothered to finish. This is true even if I just count stuff I wrote in the last decade, what I consider to be my “adult” writing. There are the ones I mentioned above — the Lioness romance story, the half-novel — plus a couple of stories in the world of Gods & Fathers, a few standalone shorts, etc.

This feels good and responsible, and it involves putting new words on paper — but will it give me that “new novel energy” I seem to be seeking?

So what do I do?

I’ve talked before about how I use tarot as a sort of narrative therapy, using my interpretation of the cards to tell stories about my life. Since I was stymied by this question, I decided to use this method. I drew one card — the Magician, a card that is all about agency, master, and personal power.

… well, then. That seemed to very much point to the “built-up fairyland” story, where one of the main characters is, as I said, a badass spinster sorceress. I was especially drawn to one of the themes suggested by this card — “prodigy at the cost of normalcy” — which seemed to fit very well with how I envisioned the character, and the importance she played in my meaning-making and storytelling at that age. In the original tales, she was more like a mentor character, one POV out of way too many, but I think if I am going to write this, she needs to be front and center. I am Done with writing main characters who are not the protagonist.

I actually did a free write on this this morning, trying to get a feel for the character, the world, what the heck I’m doing. This is usually my first step, before I even write an outline; it’s not intended to be part of the finished story, although sometimes it is. I’m trying first-person POV for now; I may try third-person another day. I do like the immediacy of first person, even if these days its use seems to scream young adult. I mean, I guess this could be YA? I don’t know enough to say for sure yet.

So that’s, I think, what’s next for me.

Unless I decide to change my mind tomorrow. Which is entirely possible.

Why editing is a shitshow, but I’m still doing it

I haven’t posted much about editing Lioness lately — because, let’s be honest, editing sucks and I have been avoiding it a lot.

Reason number one why editing sucks

It’s hard to tell “something is broken and needs to be fixed” from the normal anxiety of being a writer and hating everything you’ve ever written.

Reason number two

It is basically impossible to see your writing with enough of an outside view to edit it adequately.

Oh, people claim you can. There are all kinds of editing methods aimed at giving you a new view of your writing. Edit backwards. (I’ve never understood this one — by word? By sentence? By paragraph?) Change the font. Export it as an ebook and read it on a device.

These are good for catching prose-level stuff, but I think they are useless for structural-level stuff. It won’t tell you, for example, that the character that you have in your head isn’t on the page.

“Put your MS in a drawer for a while” is another method I’ve heard of gaining objectivity, and this has some truth to it. I’m certainly more objective about stuff I wrote years ago. But a mere month or two is not enough for me to sufficiently forget all my infelicitous authorial choices.

Reason number three: lack of concrete goals.

Right now I’m working through a list of potential edits, based on comments from alpha readers and my own impressions after reading the full draft. I feel like I never get to cross anything off this list. “Make viewpoint really tight on Yfre throughout” is not a point at which you arrive, at least not until the very end. Or sometimes I’ll partially implement something (like “make it clear early on that deep sea navigation isn’t possible”) but realize I need to do it in more than one place to be really effective.

Reason number four: unhelpful criticism.

I mean, my writing group is great, and I have some wonderful feedback from my alphas. But then there is feedback which is basically, “make this novel something else entirely,” and that is not helpful. At its worst it depresses me for days and makes me wonder why I even bothered spending the time to write this novel.

Reason number five

Ultimately it is not instructing my twelve tiny dwarves to build a shelter on a barren wasteland and fight off hordes of monsters.

The Way Forward

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last month last few months last approximately forever largely avoiding doing it, but to get back on the bandwagon, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April–

… and that kind of fizzled. According to my highly unscientific calculations, I did ~6 hours of editing in April, but then larp season happened.

One big change I have made recently — which I tentatively think may be the best life change I’ve ever made — is to change my work schedule from 10am-6pm. Not only am I avoiding the worst traffic, it also means I can get 45mins to an hour of work in before my day begins.

Assuming I wake up at the same time. Which is sometimes hard after a holiday weekend spent bingeing on video games. But I seem to have gotten back on track, just in time for the weekend 😉

I’m really hoping to be done by the time the Pitch Wars submission window opens in early August. Though, seeing as I am still busting and reconstructing complex relationship structures in the first third of the book, maybe this is too optimistic.

All of this kvetching is to say, for those of you who ask: I’m still doing it. I may hate doing it, but persist.

I just hope that at the end what I have is a polished gem, not a shoebox full of story fragments.

That Loser Lise Wrote Another Novel: the (in)Frequently Asked Questions + Excerpt

This is largely the same post I made on Facebook on Monday — all I’ve added is the excerpt at the end, and a bunch of links. Feel free to skip it if you’ve read it there. I know at the moment the world is focused on bigger matters than little ol’ me and my writing, but I wanted to have this preserved somewhere less ephemeral and easier to reference than FB.

As I wrote elsewhere, I recently finished the novel project I’d been working on for ~3 years. Like the last time I finished a major writing project, I thought I’d make a few notes for people who might be interested in helping me out with the difficult next steps.

So, what’s the title of this novel?

A Lioness Embarked

So what is this one About ™?

A Lioness Embarked is a fantasy re-imagining of The Three Musketeers from the point of view of the antagonists, liberally sprinkled with queer characters, polyamory, frockery, and bad innuendos. In order to repay a life debt, diplomat (read: spy) Yfre must unravel a conspiracy to assassinate the Empress she hates.

It’s fantasy, obviously. Adult fantasy, specifically, and fantasy of manners more specifically still. Indeed, if you go to the Wikipedia page and look at the list of authors, it looks a lot like a list of my favorites 🙂

My alpha readers have compared it to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside stuff, which is flattering, and has caused me to ABSOLUTELY NEVER MENTION CHOCOLATE, because the similarities really are too great. Ironic, since I didn’t even read Swordspoint until I’d already started Lioness. There are some incidental similarities to the Kushiel series, too, just because we both picked a fantasy version of medieval France as our setting.

Other than that, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a great deal of inspiration from Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, although it’s grimmer in its outlook. (Definitely not grimdark, though).

How many words is it?
Around 120k, after cleaning out a repeated scene in the final chapter.

This is, for anyone keeping track at home, just about on the line of becoming a hard sell in SFF. (Books more than 120k are harder to sell, harder to edit, harder to publish, and harder to print). I can probably cut it down significantly, however, in editing.

Seriously, are you still writing fantasy?

Yes, Mom and Dad 🙂 Not that I really need to defend my choice to write genre fiction, considering that SFF stories make up something like 80% of films and TV these days, and being a geek is the new cool, but yes, I do proudly write fantasy. I write it because we all think we would be secret badasses if you gave us (in this case) an education in diplomacy, poisoned hairpins, seduction skills, and the ability to pick locks. I write it because when wonder has gone out of the world, I like to find it on the page; if I can’t find what I want, then I have to create it.

But I also write it because SFF has the unique ability to sufficiently remove us from the real world to provide a 10,000 foot view of issues we are mired in. As Anne Rice said in her totally unnecessary introduction to the movie version of Interview with a Vampire, it’s not a story about vampires. It’s a story about you and me.

(Lioness is also, literally, not a story about vampires. Just making that clear).

And what the heck do you plan to do now that you’ve finished it?

Well, first, celebrate. I’m trying to figure out how. Buying a lot of writing books appeals–I enjoy reading books about writing, and they have the potential to be helpful in some way, but I usually don’t allow myself to buy them, because that way lies procrastination and too much process. Ultimately they are not putting words down on paper, and it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking they are the same as being productive.

But when you’ve just written 120k words, I think you can indulge yourself.

I kind of want to have hot dogs from Elvis’ Hot Dogs in Leominster and ice cream from Cherry Hill Ice Cream in Lunenburg, but a) they would both be breaking my diet, b) making an unhelpful connection between writing and food, and c) Cherry Hill is also closed for the winter.

LISE REALLY KNOWS HOW TO LIVE IT UP, AMIRITE?

(Note, after the fact: yeah, I mostly just ended up buying a lot of books, not all writing-related. Not a bad indulgence).

Okay, but really, what are you going to do with this novel?

Edit the ever-living fuck out of it. I think the first draft is relatively clean in terms of internal consistency, but there is a lot of characterization stuff I need to clean up, and the plotting is all over the place.

I’m probably going to use the editing method espoused by Rachel Aaron in her 2k to 10k book, because it appealed to me when I read it, and seems wildly better than the methods I used for Gods and Fathers. (Which were… none, really). I have a few editing books I might explore to see if they suggest anything that feels more in line with how I work.

I PLAN to have a PLAN.

So are you going to publish it?

I am going to attempt the very traditional route of finding an agent who then sells the book to a publisher. I know, a wild and crazy thing to do in these days of self publishing, but honestly? I want more people than my friends to read this book. I would also like to make non-zero amounts of dollars from it. And really the odds are much better in these regards if you go the trad publishing route.

So I’ll continue to bang my head against the gates to the ivory towers of publishing. Maybe I’ll self-pub it if I can’t find a way in, but more likely I’ll do what I did with Gods and Fathers, and trunk it as not-good-enough when I can’t even get an agent to request a partial.

ISN’T WRITING FUCKING AMAZING?

Can I read it?

With a few exceptions, I prefer that people don’t read it unless they are prepared to offer constructive feedback. I desperately need lots of eyes on this to make it the best novel it can be, and while it warms my heart for you to look at it and go “I love it!!!” it doesn’t actually make the novel better.

That said, if your question is actually, “Can I be a beta reader?” why yes, you can. In an ideal world I’d have alpha readers, who see it in its current state, and beta readers, who take a look after I do edits — but let’s be real, I’ll take what I can get. The latter is a much more pleasant job, I would imagine. And I do have some alpha readers, in the form my writing group (i.e. Dave* and Laurence).

I am also desperately in need of sensitivity readers. As I said, there are numerous characters of an LGBT persuasion, including one trans man, and you’ll have probably noticed I am none of these things. It is not a story about being gay or bi or trans — that is not my story to tell — but this is a world in which those kinds of characters exist, and I’d like people who have real experiences with such things to comment upon it and tell if I’ve fucked it up.

Really, it’s your preference what role you’d like to take on. I’m happy to send it to you in any format you like, at any point in its development, as long as I get some sort of feedback on it. Since I use Scrivener I can even send it to you as an epub, so you can read it on your e-reader or mobile device, if that’s easier.

Comment below, or email/PM me, if you wish to be involved. All I can offer in return is an exchange of critiques and/or your name in the acknowledgements and/or a free copy of the book, if this ever gets published.

Can I see a sample of your work so that I know your writing is better than a kindergartener writing with crayon on a paper bag?

Sure. There’s a brief excerpt from the first chapter below. (I don’t want to post more, because posting to a blog does, yes, count as publication, and most publishers only buy first rights).

Do you like peas?

Yes, yes I do.

Without further ado, I present: the excerpt.

Continue reading “That Loser Lise Wrote Another Novel: the (in)Frequently Asked Questions + Excerpt”

Three early memories about stories

Twixt Love and Honor/The Duel, chromolithograph from a painting by Laslett John Pott.
Twixt Love and Honor/The Duel, chromolithograph from a painting by Laslett John Pott.
Credit: instappraisal.com.

The first story I remember writing was called “The Burglar and the Bear.” It was written with cherry-scented markers on notebook paper, and I was in second grade.

I’m pretty sure I remember the genesis of this story, too — a jar you could pull story prompts out of in my second-grade classroom. It might have been part of the ongoing project where we created our own “anthology” in a blank journal we were given — or maybe that was third grade. Either way, I kept at it even when I wasn’t getting graded on it.

At around the same time, I started playing a game with other girls in my class during recess; we would pretend we were dogs, living under a picnic bench, which happened to be in Alaska. (I don’t even know). We were each different breeds of dogs, most of which we knew of thanks to pages of full-color photographs of different breeds in the school library’s encyclopedias. I think I was a beagle. Someone else picked an Alaskan malamute, because I guess a Siberian husky wasn’t interesting enough?

Eventually I started writing them down, because if they were entertaining enough to play out once, they were entertaining enough to read about later, right?

When my dad was visiting recently, I spent a long time sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Home Depot, reading. Far from being unpleasant, it was a nostalgic feeling (and definitely preferable to spending an hour arguing with Matt and my father about cement).

Why was this so comfortable for me? It reminded me of the number of times I stayed behind in the car as a child.

Not through any neglect on the part my parents, understand. We traveled a lot by car, because plane tickets were often out of reach. My parents were also antique dealers, so we stopped at every garage, rummage, tag, yard, or estate sale we found, as well as every fleamarket and antique shop. When a ten-year-old nerdy girl gets bored of staring at Depression glass, she goes back to her books.

And my books were in the car.

And we lived in an era in which it wasn’t seen as vast neglect to do this. Dude, the windows (and doors) were open, I wasn’t suffocating. I was happy reading Marion Zimmer Bradley while my parents “invested” in boxes of heat-resistant chocolate bars from the first Gulf War.

This was one way in which I coped with the stuff my parents found interesting and I found boring.

(Another way was building stories from the paintings and knick-knacks and furniture that surrounded me–pretending I was a princess in a nebulous fantasy-land composed of netsuke, ruby flash souvenir glass, faux-ormolu clocks and cigar-box Romantic art. That’s the next anecdote).

It was also how I managed stuff which was too much, emotionally, for me to handle. I remember sitting in the car in a cemetery in Connecticut at the burial of one of my parents’ friends, for example.

Over my seldom-used writing desk, I still have a print that used to be hanging in my mom’s antique shop — called “Twixt Love and Honor,” it depicts two 18th-century gentlemen about to duel over a woman’s honor.

Recently, I researched the print, and found it was a chromolithograph based on an 1892 painting by Laslett Pott. (Which itself might have been a colorized version of an 1886 engraving called “The Duel”). In the late 19th century you could apparently send in 25 tobacco wrappers from the Wilson and McCalley Tobacco Company to purchase this or one of two other framed prints in the series. (I think they’re the ones who added the “TWIXT LOVE AND HONOR” text, as by all accounts that was not the name Pott gave the painting).

I realize by any aesthetic standard, this isn’t a beautiful picture. For all I know, Pott could have been the Thomas Kinkade of his day, and the artifact itself is mass-produced, its frame and backing falling apart, faded with years of sun exposure. But it’s beautiful to me.

It hangs over my writing desk because… this is where it all began. I distinctly remember walking around my mom’s antique shop before school one day (middle school), creating stories from the objects I found there. My story for this one was not quite the same as the one implied by the art; I was convinced it showed a couple being set upon by bandits at a crossroads. I didn’t even notice the print’s name; I only learned it when I asked my mom, “remember that print that used to hang in your shop…?” At that time, she told me she’d never sold it, and sent it on to me.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, but these are three stories about stories, remnants of my youth, that I wanted to share.

What are your early memories of stories?

On writing, rejection, and Pitch Wars (warning: maudlin)

I’ve been writing a lot more lately. You probably noticed.

A funny thing has happened — I’ve turned into one of those people whose happiness seems to be dependent on how well their writing is going. To be fair, I’ve always had a bit of this; it’s just that in the past, there were three states: “not writing,” “writing going well,” and “writing going poorly.” I seem to have collapsed the waveform since VP, for better or worse.

Matt has always pointed out that I have a lot of self-worth tied up in my writing, and it’s true. Probably too much. I don’t feel like I have much value if I’m not writing.

So I end up in these maudlin states where I’ve just gotten the fifth form rejection in as many days and everyone on Twitter is selling stuff except for me, and my non-writer friends are just looking at me like I’m this strange beast who doesn’t want to spend time with them.

I feel alienated from non-writers, and shabby next to writers, and universally unheard. Staring at social media only reminds me of this.

Up until now all my writing struggles have been internal — believing in my ability to tell a story, finishing a novel, editing a novel, etc. Now I am facing external obstacles, and positive attitude can only do so much.

I know I need to keep submitting if I ever want to be published. I know it’s largely a numbers game. I know (thanks, Kameron Hurley), that writing is “persisting in the game after you know what it’s really all about.” I know there are a million reasons why your story might not be accepted, even if it’s good.

And yet every time I wake up to a form rejection sent at 1am, probably from a first reader, I feel like I’m being punched in the gut. I feel like maybe my writing sucks, and no one will tell me straight up.

That’s the acute pain. The chronic, gnawing pain — or worry — is that I’m trying to sell stuff that’s not ready. That I should stop trying to sell it and do more revisions, instead.

I feel this most with Gods & Fathers. (The short stories I have out there, while certainly flawed, are basically to the point where I don’t know what or how to fix — truly they’ve escaped more than being released). I don’t query it much any more, because when you’ve queried something like 25 agents without even a single request for more pages, you begin to feel it has no worth. I know there are things I would do differently if I were writing this novel today; the beginning probably could benefit from some editing along these lines. Hell, it could be completely rewritten.

So I’m stymied, torn between sending out something that I am 90% certain won’t get a response vs. holding onto it for edits/rewrites I might never do. That, honestly, I don’t want to do. I kind of want to trunk it and move on.

And yet… I’m pretty sure that’s fear talking. And the stage of being a writer I’m at is all about feeling the fear and submitting anyways.

Which brings me to Pitch Wars.

You might remember I participated in this last year. My experience was… mixed. I met a lot of really, really cool writers, who I traded critiques with, and thus it was valuable in terms of creating community.

But honestly? I think the mentors didn’t give my MS a fair shake. (To be fair, I really only had about six mentors to pick from who accepted adult SFF; there might have been more appropriate choices if the field were larger). I only received comments from one mentor, and it was pretty clear they didn’t read more than the first page, and misunderstood what I was doing.

And yeah, mentors are busy volunteers, they don’t have to give comments, agents won’t give your MS a second glance, etc, etc. But it rankled. Once again my words had no value, and if they have no value, I have no value.

So Pitch Wars is here again. Despite my qualms, if Lioness were ready, I’d be trying with that, but it’s about 25k from being done. Maybe next year with that one.

A lot more adult mentors have been added this year, though, including at least one who might be a better fit for G&F. It’s tempting to try to go over that first chapter yet again, make it better, and submit.

But. Eh. I feel the same malaise here as when I think about querying. Why should I spend time on this when writing Lioness is so much more pleasurable and rewarding?

At least for now. At least until I try to sell it. At which point I’ll probably also encounter radio silence and realize that this isn’t going to be my breakout piece. I’m probably going to have to do this X more times, where X is a number between 1 and never.

Part of the reason this hurts so badly is because I keep hoping. Hope is a hell of a drug.

Look, I’m going to keep writing. I can’t not. But I often feel like being a successful writer is a game where the house always wins.