Branching Out and Looking In

Comments came back on the Place module on Monday night. The submitted story was The Light at the Crossroads. The few criticisms of the piece were that it has a slightly disappointing denoument, "not quite making sense in relation to young man." The second marker suggested I should try to get this published in an American fantasy magazine. The mark itself was very good.

For those of you who read my non-writing journal, you know that I angst from time to time about publication and why I'm too big a wimp to seek it. However, it seems to be time, so this morning I'm trawling Duotrope and considering sending out some short stories.

At this point, I think I may have four stories that are things I'd want to send out. They are:
What do you guys think?

Singing for Peace

In the Voice class, which I'm auditing, we were meant to write something inspired by some song lyrics. A lot of the lyrics came out of the late 60s-early 70s folk revival, Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, you know the drill. I have a lot of love for stuff like this, but I also think most of the 70s singer-songwriters were more about being confessional and finding love on stage than they were about music. Not very many of them seemed to know a lot about traditional folk music, possible exception of Bob Dylan, who considered himself Woody Guthrie's heir.

Anyway. This is better if you read it out loud.

from far away this song sounds
real grown from passion
for change some desire for brotherhood
closer the edges fray
closer and singers say
look at me look at me look at me see
how I sing for peace see
how I test police see
how I look at me look at me see
me see me me me see
how I cry out in crowds how I shout
truth out loud how I shout
to remember and sing sing
again and again but remember
my voice is the voice you heard
first of the voices who sing
my song sing for peace come
sing together but this song is
mine say it’s mine know it’s
mine when you sing sing
of peace sing of me sing
of me sing of me


For our Character tutorial pieces last term, we were asked to write something in the vein of 253, an interactive hypertext novel. I was completely taken in by the story itself and very much enjoyed reading it. We were meant to write something around a tube strike that had taken place very recently in London.

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Nothing for a long time

Sorry about that. The second year of the MA seems to be much more intense than the first. This may be because we have an assignment to write a 60-90,000 word novel by the end of January, or this may be because the work itself is just geared up a little bit. I am auditing the first year classes with an eye to teaching my way through the PhD, and my perception is that the first year classes are definitely easier. I feel a little sorry for the folks who are doing the MA full time, as they're going from very simple classes on Mondays to much more demanding sessions on Tuesdays. Middlesex has changed the way terms are sorted, so we're still on the second of two 6-week modules and will start our new modules next week.

Anyway, I've decided to share some of the stuff I wrote over the first two short classes. Many of these are very short pieces as our class size has increased quite a bit. I'm hoping the 12-week classes will go back to feeling more intimate. We shall see.

Over the next few entries, I'll give you a taste of what I've been writing since October.

On short fiction

I've never considered myself much of a short fiction writer. But I'm beginning to consider the possibilities. Many of the things I've written for the MA could end up as passable short stories, and a couple may actually already be there.

That said, I'm afraid my short fiction always seems to have the flavour of a short excerpt from a larger piece.

So here's my question for the writey types who may be reading this: how do you constrain yourself with a short fiction idea, while still creating a believable world/landscape? I always want stories to have scope, I guess, and for me that means there must always be a world outside the walls of the story. But then I think I run the risk of writing an excerpt or an introduction, rather than a cohesive story. I've been thinking about this since our workshop a couple of weeks ago. One of the guest authors talked about the way he moves in and out of short and long works. He'll take something from a novel, turn it into a short story, and then write the rest of the novel. This approach makes a lot of sense to me, since it seems like a great way to satisfy my own curiosity about characters that never quite make it into the spotlight. This is of course the part where my husband accuses me of writing fanfic on my own work, which makes me want to punch him.

One of the stories posted earlier in this blog, for example, "Gloves and Garnets," is from characters that already lived in my mind because I was already beginning "The Bacon Man" (also posted recently here). Most people who read and commented on that story saw that it was not complete but the beginning of something much longer. I wonder if the earlier story feels like that? One comment on the story from one of my instructors was that he didn't think the characters and the world shone through well enough because it was obvious the characters came from somewhere else. I am not sure he would have realised that if I hadn't mentioned it in the rationale for that assignment, and he didn't appear to remember the characters when he commented on "The Bacon Man", which he said he liked vey much.

So, how much is enough in a short story? How much do you feel you can put across in, say, 7,000 words or less? How much needs to be real and offscreen for it to look real to you?

I'm probably going to bed soon, so I won't see comments until tomorrow morning, but I'll appreciate them when I see them, and I'm looking forward to the discussion.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Pear Close,Lewisham,United Kingdom


Neverland, Wonderland, Whateverland

I love immersion fantasies. I love stories where ordinary people find themselves in extraordinary situations. It might have started with Narnia for me, but I doubt it: while I loved those books, they seemed out of date even when I read them in the 1970s. For me, it was Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken, writers who took seemingly ordinary kids like me out of their unhappy lives (and didn't we all have such unhappy Ives?) and put us into some perilous fantasy world. Whether or not we would save the world or just our little corner of it was irrelevant, and in fact I came to enjoy more stories that just dealt with a little corner of the world rather than the whole thing. Possibly I came to this preference because somewhere in the back of my mind I was always at least half sure that some interesting adventure waited for me to discover it. I still am hassle convinced that some adventure waits for me, and I'm not even embarrassed to admit it any more. Part of the reason I'm able to write stories about slipping away from the world is that even in my forties, I'm still a believer.

Various people I've talked to over the years are sure that this half-belief of mine is somehow pathological. Obviously, I'm crazy--this fact is documented--but I don't think it's my rich fantasy life that makes me crazy.

There are various tropes in the world of writing instruction that tell us things like, "show, don't tell," and "write what you know," and I'm a believer in those things, too. When I write intensely, I am in the world of my creation. It makes sense to me because it makes sense, and it's internal cohesion is as understandable and internal to me as the fact of gravity or the truth of the heartbeat. When I received my marks on this term's writing assignment, which I think I've already noted were lower than I'd hoped for, one of my instructors gave me a lovely compliment on the mechanics of time travel in "Who Is Like God?". There was, my instructor said, so much conflict there was none. I didn't explain it because of course it made sense. Well...yes. It did make sense. Now, the fact that the other instructor didn't like the story at all didn't faze me in the negative way it might have done once. Instead, I read the conflicting opinions with interest and imagined them on a larger scale. If that story got published somewhere, and I guess I really ought to try that, comments from readers and reviewers might run the gamut, but I've already had two people I respect and admire disagree on the worthiness of the story. Although obviously it's a course and instructors are expected to comment on my work, there's something powerful about having your work discussed. I wonder if that means I'd be better at handling reviews than I was back during my horrible experience with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Now, I have to start thinking toward the autumn and the challenges to come. We will be expected to write a novel in 90 days in the spring. Our short course on characterisation will be a challenge, and then we are off into one of my favourite topics, setting. We are also invited to audit the first-year courses, and I intend to do that, work schedule allowing; nobody needs practice writing consistently more than I do. And then it's dissertation time, and then I have an MA and an option to pursue a PhD, something I've dreamed about since I first started college in the 1980s. So what if i don't take the accepted path? So what if I'm not thirty any more? And so what if nobody's really sure what the purpose of a PhD in writing is. I can think of lots of purposes for it, and I look forward to exploring as many of them as I have time to explore in the time I have left to believe in fairies.

A ramble on my writing blog? That doesn't happen often, it's true. I'm starting to think of moving this blog somewhere else, too. It's that kind of night. Anyway. Talking about writing is sometimes almost as interesting as writing itself.

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Location:London,United Kingdom