Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Today, I'd like to talk about the positive rejection letter.

To those outside the field, that might seem like an oxymoron:  any rejection letter is bad news, surely.  Or is it?

There are tiers to rejection letters, and every time a writer gets a higher-tiered response from a market, it represents progress ... or at least, that's how I look at it.  The converse isn't necessarily true, of course, unless it's a repeated pattern:  a form rejection from a market that previously wrote words of critique / praise can often simply mean that particular story wasn't a good fit (or you were "off" when you wrote it, or there's an undetected problem in that specific work, or ...).

Roughly, I think the tiers are:

1.  Form rejection - a stock reply with no alteration.
(Or 1. From a slush editor; 1.5.  From a senior editor.)
2.  Form rejection, but with an encouraging comment / personalized request to submit again.
3.  "Negative" rejection, but with a detailed analysis of why the piece didn't work for them.  Editors are crazy overloaded; with a few exceptions of markets that make the distinction that they respond to everyone, getting this kind of reply means they saw enough good in the story to want to see it improved, even if not explicitly expressed.
4.  Positive rejection - ah, here we go.  This is a rejection that is mostly good words and praise, but contains one (or more) reasons why the story simply doesn't work for that editor.
(4.5.  That reason is "just our personal taste.")
5.  Rewrite request.  "We like this story, but ..." with another reason it doesn't work, but an invitation to rework and resubmit, with no acceptance guaranteed.

The next step is the minor rewrite request, where the market says they'll accept the work with a couple small tweaks, but I don't think I'd classify that as a rejection letter any more.

Add to that the levels of various markets.  I don't want to name names or point to examples, but I think most of the writers I keep in touch with would agree they'd be over the moon to get a 3 or higher from some place like Strange Horizons or Beneath Ceaseless Skies, whereas that would just be discouraging from many other markets.  I have a personal soft spot for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and they rank higher on my list than they might on most.

A targeted rejection letter gives you two benefits:  first, some idea what might need to be tweaked in the story (unless the rejection is a 4.5); and second, a more personal feel for what the market prefers, aside from reading published submissions.  Honestly, I'm not great about classifying my own work (is this dark?  Is it literary?), but I can usually tell you when two of my stories are in a similar vein, so I find this very valuable.

So ... that's my (considerably more than) two cents on why rejection letters can be a positive development.

But I still hate 'em.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

GoodReads Review: A Slight Detour

A Slight Detour (Starship Troupers, #3)A Slight Detour by Christopher Stasheff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed A Slight Detour as much as the previous two volumes, it suffers much more extensively from the problem of repetition. Part of this is natural - as a series progresses, if the characters and their circumstances don't change significantly, the same elements will appear - but the rest comes from an amplification of Stasheff's tendency as a writer and a certain stagnation in the concept.

Our brave band of intrepid actors finds themselves - again - on a planet that poses unexpected difficulties to their performance and - again - must discard the material they rehearsed in the first two volumes to come up with something completely new. I confess myself disappointed, because I'd love to see what a performance of Vagrants From Vega would be like. Maybe this would have happened in book four?

This time, the planet is Citadel, a Puritan world, which poses a tense situation for our new arrivals ... and a number of social barriers which our crew of actors finds literally intolerable. There is a lot of entertainment in seeing these played out, though I found the friendships-from-fighting a bit puzzling.

One of the best aspects of this book is the introduction of a new character, Prudence - a native of the planet who turns out to be all kinds of trouble (just barely) hidden behind a sedate shell. She's a lot of fun, and she injects a new element into the character interactions.

Previous reviews of this series have covered Stasheff's tendency to have his characters get up on soapboxes, and with Citadel, it feels particularly uneven. There's no real attempt to present a balanced point of view, so the whole planet feels like a strawman, which is something of a shame.

The main repetition I noticed here, though, was actual repeated text. Trying not to spoil, but the characters are forced to write a script on the fly. Barry (the troupe's leader) praises this script and its clever writing, which already sets up a problem for the reader: the actual text is never going to match what the imagination conjures. And it doesn't, but it's a good speech ... except for the fact it shows up in its entirety twice, once while being rehearsed, and once in performance, with some necessary reiteration of the acting, as well. I can see the logic in showing the speech before its presentation so the reader can follow (and to some degree, anticipate) the beats in the audience's reaction, but it does make the reading a bit tedious.

There is also some repetition in the manner of the ending of the book, though at least that takes on a twist that promises interesting complications in the sequels ... which tragically, were never written.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for these books, but alas, they go no further and this one treads little new ground.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

My inner editor has burst forth, brandishing the red pen ... wait, I don't edit short fiction on paper.

I'm not precisely sure what she's brandishing, but it's terrifying.  Maybe she's taken a page from the Grammar Nazi and wields a spork.

In any event, I've always found myself unable to avoid starting right away on critiques I receive.  It doesn't matter how much or what else I'm doing, I feel compelled to put it down and work through the comments.  I can compel myself to stop if I absolutely must be out the door right that moment, but I've been known to be five, ten minutes late because I at least have to start ...

Of course, I don't take critiques on blind faith, nor do I rush through them:  if a comment seems dubious to me, or the edit is complex, I may set it aside for future consideration.  And, of course, there are times when a suggestion or complaint seems off-base, but it suggests another solution or issue.  For whatever reason, however, I feel the need to make the "obvious" fixes as soon as possible.

... you might imagine what going through Flow was like, with this work habit ... I'm lucky I ate.  Or slept.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Summer In Sadria now for reading!

My short story, Summer In Sadria, is now available at Mindflights:

It's essentially a mystery story ... check it out!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Despite being a goal-setter, a list-maker and a person who actually finds filing and paperwork relaxing (making order from chaos), I've never been one for New Year's Resolutions, and I couldn't tell you definitively why.  Maybe it's because the kind of goals I set don't work for the implied timespan - this year, I will ... when it's a month-long project or five years of far-flung hopes - or wait around until the beginning of the year.  I just have never placed much importance in the symbolic revival that goes along with the cycle of numbers.

But maybe there is something to the turning of the year in awakening a sense of possibility, the expectation - is this going to be "the" year?  It's a silent race with yourself, tabulating what happens, what landmarks you pass, before the end of the year.  It's an arbitrary distinction ... but that's how we build definition in our lives.

So yes, I am working towards more successes as a writer - but I've never stopped.  I intend to be physically fit - but that's a process I've been working on for months.  Possibly the only real New Year's "resolution" I have is in the harp arena, and that's going back over my master tune-list and polishing pieces I haven't played in a while ... and that's less because it was meant as a resolution as because it coincided with the end of the Christmas season, which signaled my ability to concentrate on non-holiday music.

Of course, I started this year with a cold and then followed it up with a foot injury, so I suppose the message for me is there's nowhere to go but up.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

GoodReads Review: We Open On Venus

We Open on Venus (Starship Troupers, #2)We Open on Venus by Christopher Stasheff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second volume of Stasheff's Starship Troupers - actors in space! - and it is just as enjoyable as the first, though the author's particular style does show up more distinctly. (So I won't belabor the point about Stasheff's tendency to have his characters speak in soapbox / oratory fashion.) It picks up directly where A Company of Stars leaves off, with the actors blasting into space an instant behind a restraining order and off to the dubiously beautiful shores of New Venus. There, they encounter some unanticipated problems with performing, and are forced to putting on that most cursed of productions: Macbeth.

I love the rehearsal scenes in this book. They're a lot of fun, providing just enough context for the reader not conversant with the play (I did read it once, but I can't say as it made an impression on me; I'm more for Shakespeare's comedies) without getting bogged down in it. The interactions of the actors continues to entertain. They are still their archetypal selves, with occasional flashes of variation showing through. Charles Publican remains an enigma, an outsider in this band of insiders.

One thing I noticed rather starkly is the extensive infodump on the conditions of New Venus. Now, this is rather entertainingly done, and it has a definite purpose in the plot, but after a while, it becomes very obvious. It's something I think that was perfectly acceptable when this book was printed, and probably would have encountered editorial resistance now.

My only other complaint is that there was some duplication of events. There's a long sequence where the old hands instruct the younger actors about projecting so they can be heard without amplification ... and then when the play actually starts, everyone seems to forget about this and the series of events repeats itself. It's a great element, but it implies some amnesia.

Otherwise, events fall out like dominos, a believable cascade of obstruction, misfortune and timely assistance, all leading up to a wild and unnerving performance ... is Macbeth really cursed? And for whom?

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