Tuesday, January 10, 2006

answering questions

Q: My writing has been critiqued as "shallow and superficial". I don't understand why; I'm telling a story, and the story is the story. What's superficial about that?

A: Assuming that your critics dis not focus on the basics such as language and style, it's highly possible that what they mean is that your story exists only on a single reading level. A single reading level story is good enough for anecdotes and the like, but for narrative text to become a great story it needs to exist on several reading levels. You need to work on texture and subtext, and not to have a simple series of events or a plot populated by characters who are cardboard cutouts. A reader brings his or her privileged reading to the text, attributing personal meaning. Perhaps what your critics mean is that, when reading your story, all they get is the obvious single reading. Do not get me wrong: there are times when simplicity equates to excellence in story crafting. But more likely than not, the reader equates satisfaction with the notion of "getting more" from the story. Sophisticated readers tend to turn their noses up at stories that are predictable or routine. Texture is created in the details, in the characterization and dialogue, in the authorly insight that is imbedded in the narrative. Texts that exist on multiple reading levels offer readers a wealth of experience - these are the stories people return to again and again, discuss, argue or remember. It is possible to imbue subtle agenda or perspective or point of view. It is possible for a story to work on its most obvious level (as a story about X) but also as an allegory or commentary. Are simple stories crappy stories? Would you consider the Grimm marchen/fairy tales simple?

Q: I wish my stories could be published!

A: Then take steps. Polish them off and submit to various publications. In Manila, you can try Story Philippines (Vanni de Sequera, Ed.), Manual (RJ Ledesma, Ed.), Philippines Free Press (Paolo Manalo, Ed.) and several other publications. In addition, there are calls for submissions by various anthologies from time to time. Join an online mailing list for writers to get news of such things. You could also collect your stories and pitch them to various publishers - but be prepared for multiple rejections. With limited budgets, publishers are picky. Having said that though, if your writing is incredibly undeniaby good, then go for it. Another local option is to self-publish, but make sure you understand all that this option entails (cost, production, distribution, marketing, collection).

For international publications of the speculative fiction sort, there are many. Online, you can try subbing to Strange Horizons. I have a personal fondness for this publication because I made my first sale with them, inspired by Chris Barzak's experience. If you check out the blogs of other published spec fic authors such as David Schwartz or Doug Lain, you'll see their publication lists, which you can use as leads - Realms of Fantasy, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, and a lot more combining online and traditional print publications (take note that for US subs, you'll need an SASE and can buy International Money Coupons at the main post office in the City of Manila).

There is no harm in subbing. Again, be prepared for rejection slips. Collect them with pride and learn from what comments the editors give you (not all of them do). Conquer your fear of rejection and just do it.

Q: How can I write more consistently?

A: By disciplining yourself to write on schedule and from learning from your errors. The development of the writing craft is through the act of writing, and to write you need to make time to write.

Q: I'm blocked with a story. I can't go on.

A: It's different for different writers, but the way I deal with a mental block or a stubborn story is to leave it for a while and work on another story. There are times when I am too close to story, and so both time and distance permit a fresh perspective when I come back to work on it at a later time. For the truly frustrating ones, I abandon them. One of my personal writerly maxims is never to fall in love with my text. I cannot afford to be tied done to a story that I simply cannot make work. I'd rather begin something new and make better use of my time and creative juices.

Q: I have issues with commas, em dashes vs. hyphens and such. What do I do? I don't remember learning this crap from school.

A: Get a copy of good old Strunk and White. They'll help you out. Some writers, myself included, gained an understanding of grammar, punctuation, syntax and all these things simply by exposure: we read and read and read and all the rules become somehow imbedded. But when I doubt, I ask Strunk and White or rouse my favorite editrix.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: Gah. I loathe this question. Next, please. ;)


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