Thursday, October 13, 2016

Persistence is Key, and the Key to Writing

About two years ago I wrote a short story. I had a novel idea forming and wanted to test some of the characters. If you've been reading this blog since 2014, you know it was called "After Their Kind," and deals with sentient animal societies that have arisen in the wake of humankind. I thought it was a pretty good story. 4200 words. Some action to go with the mystery. And the characters were not "furries," they were real animals.

I thought it was a good story, but it racked up seven rejections over the course of almost a year (owing to most magazines' policy against simultaneous submissions). As I kept writing and better stories came out I started to think "After Their Kind" was unsellable, and I wasn't so desperate that I was going to give it away for nothing. I went on to sell "The Nimrod Lexicon," "The Black Lady," and "The Voice of Thunder." I've got a dozen more in circulation right now.

Then one day I hopped onto Submission Grinder and noticed a new anthology was advertising: "The Dogs of War." An anthology dedicated to animals in military situations? It was practically tailored to my story! I read over the manuscript and made some minor revisions before sending it off in July. I got the acceptance letter yesterday. It won't pay much, but people will read it!

Professional fiction writing is only for the patient and persistent. And the key to writing is to write. Was I sad by the thought of being unable to sell what I thought was a perfectly good story? Yes, but not crushed. I had more stories coming out, and each one was better than the last in some way. I was getting personal rejections from one or two editors at major magazines. Hopefully in the coming years I can change those into acceptances too.

I learned some important lessons from this experience. One, never throw away old work, even if it doesn't sell immediately. Two, keep writing. Seriously. It's so simple it's stupid. Stupid simple. By continuing to write, you will eventually solve every problem that your fiction currently has. Brandon Sanderson once said that the writers who succeed are usually the ones that are moderately talented but unlike the lazy or the super geniuses, they don't quit.

That doesn't make it any easier when you get nothing but rejections for seven months, or you have to restart that one short story idea you love because the first three beginnings left you blocked.

Keep writing. There's no other way but forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Where Writers Fear to Tread

While enjoying Labor Day weekend I indulged in my guilty pleasure and read some reviews from the Goodreads Worst Books list. One entry in particular caught my eye: the Halo trilogy by Alexandra Adornetto. These books (published between 2010-2012) tell the story of an angel named Bethany who is sent to Earth as part of a divine mission. Her goal? Protect people from the dark forces that threaten them.

There were a lot of people who liked these books, but a fair number who didn't. Among the most frequently echoed criticisms were:

- These angels are useless. Why'd they get sent to a first-world country when millions are dying of hunger and civil wars?

- The rules of the angelic society are not well-defined.

- Bethany is selfish, whiny, and refuses to take responsibility. She's not the kind of angel I envision.

- These books get everything about Christianity wrong and the morality that is presented is forced down the reader's throat.

- This is the Catholic version of Twilight.

After many many good laughs, I started thinking about the fact that I have never written stories featuring angels or other celestial creatures.


Simple: I don't know how God works.

Angels have always captivated mankind. The Bible, Koran, Apocrypha, and Jewish traditions have many fascinating stories about them. Naturally, fiction writers (namely Christian writers) have used them in their own work.

Are they worth writing about? Sure. They're amazing.

Yet, if you read the Bible from front to finish, you'll find that God used human prophets or direct conversation through dreams and visions much more frequently than angels.

There's the big issue: What makes God look at the world and think "Hm, better get Clarance on this one."

Today's angelic fiction just doesn't appeal to me. It's a vein of fantasy. Good vs evil. Epic battles. Constantine-like stuff. Those stories are fine, but writing them has never been a priority. Some of these franchises (namely Spawn) go the extreme and convey that there is no difference between angels and demons except the color of their robes. They reduce the eternal battle for the fate of mankind to a pointless numbers game, not a grand plan to save God's ultimate creation from sin. It gets more and more confusing when you try to digest the "rules" authors try to put on angels.

And it's at that point I'd ask, "Why bother writing the story?"

Maybe it's my Christian upbringing and lifestyle that makes it hard to divorce the creatures from the context of their existence.

But besides all of that, why do angel stories today have to involve a physical battle against a demon? Sometimes a person's greatest enemy is themselves.

It's A Wonderful Life is an angel story done right, and it endures to this day for a reason. Clarence might be sent to help George Bailey, but it's still George Bailey's story. Clarence's powers, by today's standards, are tame. He just gives a man a different perspective when that's what he needs the most, not drawing a flaming sword to fight the legions of Hell. Even with divine influence, it is still George Bailey who has to make the decision, who cries out, "I want to live again."

 Eh, this isn't my best post. Just a bit of what's on my mind.