Sunday, March 29, 2009

That Delicate Balance

Not all writers want to be published. Everyone is entitled to their path, so I support anyone who decides to keep their work private. Others desperately want to be published. I can understand that too. All writers are driven by an inner need to create though, and therein lies a delicate balance.

While being published doesn't make a writer's work good or better, it provides feedback that can help a writer hone his/her craft. Handing out stories to friends is usually good for ego strokes but little else. Friends either don't have the ability to do a useful critique, or they don't want to. Who can blame them? Too many of us on writer's lists have been burned by a diva reaction, so we sympathize with those who don't want to open themselves up to it. And man, do we ever regret those hours we spent pouring over the work of someone who demanded honest critique and then went apeshit when they got it. At least we don't have to see the diva every day after the tantrum. Real life friends aren't so lucky.

Online friends met in writer's groups are different. You can live in a tiny town, but the internet allows you to meet people from everywhere who share your writing interests. I live in LA, a metro area of at least 10 million souls, and even I have a hard time finding other writers. Online, I've met several hundred. In a writer's group, you can find people who are able to give good critiques (and bad). Even better, they're willing to. Workshopping stories through a writer's group is a great way to get feedback needed to hone your craft. But even that has limits.

Which brings us to publishing. Most publishers have a passion for books, but it is a business. So they have an obligation to find quality work that people want to read. They aren't completely objective, but when the product is art, who can be? But they are the most objective judges of writing out there. So submitting to them is a test of your craft.

I believe that there are many writers who want to be published because it fulfills a dream, but part of that dream is recognition that the writer has honed his/her craft. It's a milestone, and the best measure of a writer's skill.

All of that rambling leads me to this point. For writers who use publication as a test of their craft, there's an uneasy balance between writing with an eye to publication and the desire to follow a creative path. I used to only write stories when I felt the artistic urge. Quirky and experimental, those stories were truly works of creative inspiration. Now I find myself writing more often to calls for submissions. The calls are the starting point for, yes, creative work, but the impetus is outside of me. These stories written for calls, for the most part, get published, and I celebrate every acceptance, but that doesn't change their origins. I miss the time when all my stories came from ideas that sprang to mind of their own accord.

I still occasionally get a mad idea and run with it. Those are the stories I love most. But they hardly ever fit anywhere, unless I take broadly interpret a call for submissions almost to the point of willfully misunderstanding it. Sometimes the risk pays off, sometimes it doesn't. Those stories can sit unpublished for years. I take them out and tinker with them when I get a chance. As time passes, my craft improves, and I like to keep those stories as polished as I can just in case the elusive perfect fit call for submissions is posted. It has happened. A story I've been working on for at least three years went out today. It was time to let that one go. But what if I never found a fit? Does it make that story less worthy because it's never been published? And are the stories that I write to specific calls lesser works because they were crafted solely with intent to publish? I don't think so, but it is a delicate balance between the creative and commercial goals I've set for myself.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Alone Again

Everyone who possibly would have been a roommate at Saints and Sinners Literary Festival has had to back out this year, so it looks as if I'm on my own again this time. On one hand, I don't mind being absolutely free to follow my whims. On the other hand, it would be nice to have an evening companion. *resists temptation to quote Streetcar Named Desire*

If you are going, and would like to share a room, let me know. If you're going, and want a dinner or drinking date, you know where to find me. If you're still trying to decide if you'll be going- talk to me. And if you want someone to take a cheesy tour with you... oh boy, am I ever your girl. The campier the better.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Calling All Erotica Writers

If you write erotica, you know how hard it is to promote your work. Bookstores shelve our stuff in the back aisles, and don't respond well to requests for readings. But there are a couple venues (I'd be glad to hear about more) that welcome erotica: the original In The Flesh series, hosted by Rachel Kramer Bussel in New York, and the west coast version, In the Flesh LA.

I've read at In The Flesh in New York. Held in the appropriately named Happy Ending Lounge, it's a great place to step up to the mike. Don't let anyone tell you New York is intimidating. The venue is comfortable, the audience enthusiastic, and Rachel is a great host. If you're going to be in New York, contact her about a reading.

Last Wednesday, I read Ashley Lister's review of Ultimate Burlesque from Erotica Revealed at In The Flesh LA. Cohosted by Stan Kent and Jolene Hui at Hustler West Hollywood, In The Flesh LA has a west coast vibe. The audience is a bit more laid back, but the venue is great for people watching, both inside the cafe and out the windows overlooking Sunset Boulevard. Stan and Jolene are actively seeking readers, so if you're in LA, or planning to be here, contact them through the In The Flesh LA blog. Don't be shy. This is a great way to reach out to your audience, meet some interesting people, and promote your book. Afterward, much of the audience follows Stan to a bar for drinks and chat about erotica.

But wait - you might be saying - sure, I have a novel or anthology coming out, and I'd love to read, but I simply can't travel. Not to worry. In The Flesh LA has a phone sex segment. Stan calls a writer and holds his mobile to a mike as the writer does a remote reading. Yes, you can phone it in! The audience loves it. You should love it too. No more excuses. Contact Stan. Really.

And BTW - if you're thinking, hmmm, but my story is gay/lesbian/something else that I don't think will fly at a Hustler store, let me assure you that I scanned their excellent book section (my local bookstore should be so well-stocked) and found plenty of gay and lesbian titles, both fiction and non-fiction. As the store motto goes - Relax. It's just sex.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I'm Twittering Now

I have to thank Stan Kent (of the fabulous Shoe Leather series, and of In The Flesh LA) for this idea. Oh, and Jolie Du Pre for her never-ending supply of energy and promo ideas.

A couple months ago (has it been that long already?) Stan, D.L. King, and I went to lunch and talked about the future of In The Flesh LA, which he'd just inherited. During that conversation, he mentioned having a Twitter Erotica event, where writers could post a quick bit of suggestive prose (in 140 characters or less). I kept playing around with the idea, but didn't do anything about it. However, Jolie Du Pre kept talking up Twitter, and she can be very persuasive, so I decided to take the plunge. You can see the result on the right hand side of this page. I still have some bugs to work out with the system, but I'm sure a few emails with Jolie and Helen Madden (of Oh Get A Grip and Cynical Woman fame) will solve all my issues.

My plan is to do a couple a week. I guess I'm going to have to do that writer thing and keep a notebook on me at all times to jot down ideas, because I'm going to need a lot of them. So if your libido needs a weekly affirmation, click on the link over to the side to follow me.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Books On Writing

When I started writing again, I bought several books on the craft. They didn't help. As it turns out, the best writing "class" I ever took was being edited by a very patient, and strict, editor. She changed the way I thought about storytelling. Other helpful classes have been the master classes I attend at Saints and Sinners Literary Festival every year. My favorites have been the ones taught by Jim Grimsley. He knows how to teach the subject. I still refer to my notes from his sessions. The panels are fun, but the master classes are where I learn.

By far, the act of writing seems to be the best way to learn the craft. Reading helps a lot too. Read inside your genre. Read outside your genre. Read classics. Read best sellers. Read trashy fun little things. Read TDS - truly dreadful stuff (not too much though. a little goes a long way)

But as I'm heading into another novel, I decided to pick up those how to books I haven't touched in years, because I figure I'm still on a learning curve and plan to continue improving. Thus the second try at these instructional books. I'm getting a lot more out of these books this time around than I did last time. Having wrestled with plots, developed characters, and tried to pitch my inexplicably complicated tales a few times, I can finally see what they're getting at. However, I can't help but feel that they're over-complicating the whole creative process. You either are creative, or you aren't. If you are, you need to learn how to translate your vision so other people can share it, but really, is interviewing your character going to help you create him/her/hir/it/? I don't think so. If the character doesn't exist in your imagination as a fully dimensional person, then making lists about her won't help. I think these books don't really exist to help people to write better. I think they exist to be sold to hopeful writers.

When I was in high school, several of my teachers banded together to raise money to send me to a writer's conference because they had faith in my talent. That was incredibly wonderful of them, so I didn't have the heart to tell them that it was a miserable experience. The first class I went to, the instructor pointed at me and demanded to know how I chose to write in first or third person. I had no idea what that meant. After ridiculing me for a bit and explaining it (from the flurry of note taking, I have a feeling many others in the class had no idea either), he said something snarky along the lines of, "Now that I've explained this basic concept that I can't believe you didn't know, tell me how you decide." I shrugged and said, "It depends on how the story comes to me. It either feels right, or it doesn't. I do what feels right." "WRONG!" he shouted and wagged his finger in my face. "You're doing it all WRONG!"

I didn't dare write again for years.

Now that I'm writing again, I know that professor was wrong. Not me. Picking the voice is an intuitive thing for me, and I think it is for many writers. Yes, it's possible to start in the wrong voice, but eventually most writers figure it out and fix it in the re-write. There's no reason to read a book about voice. A book can give examples, but if you're ever read anything, you've already seen examples. A book can suggest reasons why one might work better than another, and talk about the pluses and minuses of each voice, but it's all going to be general theory. It will never be specific to your work, and really, isn't that the level of help we need to improve our craft? I'm not saying that all books on writing are a waste of money. Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writer's is a must have, IMHO. But the others??? I'm determined to re-read these books on my shelves. I keep thinking that there has to be more in them, something I wasn't ready to hear the first time, but now I'll be receptive and have a eureka moment. All will become clear. Or I'll be thoroughly pissed (again) that I wasted my money.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Pushing, Forcing, or Coaxing?

As the new month starts, I'm taking stock of where I am with my writing. It isn't pretty. Oh sure, I have a couple anthologies on the horizon, and a novel coming out at the end of this month, but after that? Nothing. I should be submitting to anthologies, but haven't been writing short stories. Heck, I haven't been writing anything. And while I'm a big advocate of taking time away from writing to recharge, refresh, and reclaim sanity, having only one story out on submission (and I have a feeling it won't be accepted, so I'm not counting on it as a sale) is a bit scary.

It's been great having time to read. I'm caught up on my reviews. My TBR pile is manageable once again. I read some crap, some very good stuff, and a lot between those extremes.

I spent most of last week in San Francisco on a trip for the day job. I walked alone in the rain late at night through part of the city - under a freeway, over shattered sidewalks, through puddles with oil-slick rainbows. It was very peaceful and beautiful in a way that maybe only I appreciate. I realized that maybe I don't spend enough time alone, relying on myself.

And speaking of relying on myself - there is no muse who will come swooping down with inspiration. Motivation always has to come from within. And since motivation is the opposite of inertia, the biggest part is getting B.I.S. - butt in seat - and just typing. So that's my plan this month. Just write. Call it pushing, forcing, or coaxing, I'm going to get moving. It's time.