I did not post here much in February. Nor did I write much of anything in February. Why?
Well, as you will recall from my January posts, I was writing a story per week for the Anthology Workshop up in Lincoln City, Oregon, put on by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I got all six stories written by the end of January. But then I had to read all the stories. As in, ALL the stories, written by all forty of the writers coming to the workshop: 240 stories in total, adding up to about 1.2 million words of fiction.
That’s a lot to read in one month. Especially when you have a Navy job, a wife, four kids, sleep, and a desire to keep in shape at the same time. As a consequence, I wrote nothing new last month. And thus I really had nothing to tell you guys here on the blog. Because the other thing is the rule of the workshop is no one is allowed to talk about the stories, in any way whatsoever, except for the panel of six editors who were buying for the anthologies.
Of course, there were more than six anthologies being made. Yes, there were the six Fiction River anthologies that we wrote stories for. But also, the latest Fiction River kickstarter funded an Editor Saves anthology, meaning a seventh Fiction River. And there was also a secret surprise (not secret anymore because it’s been announced): Dean and Kris are bringing back Pulphouse, the magazine they used to run back in the 90s. Dean’s the primary editor for it, and he was buying for it during this workshop as well.
So there was a lot going on last week.
Man, I had a ton of fun at the workshop. And I learned a ton, too.
The first thing I learned was how quickly an editor HAS to get through a manuscript. I mean, I knew they got tons of submissions, and had to make decisions quickly. But it didn’t really sink in viscerally until I had to go through more than a million words in a month. At first I knuckled down and tried really hard to read each and every story all the way through. But then I realized 2 weeks had gone by and I was halfway through the second anthology’s submissions…and I had 4 anthologies to go. After that, I found myself giving the stories a page, maybe two. If they didn’t grab me in that time, I was off to the next one.
Which is what I’d been told editors do routinely. That always struck me as a bit asshole-ish. But when sheer practicality smacks you in the face like it did last month, you learn that there’s really no other way to go about it.
The other thing I learned is just how subjective all this Fiction stuff really is. I mean, I knew it before, but it was enlightening to watch the six editors give their opinions on the various stories: how seldom they all agreed on what they liked and would buy and what they didn’t, and how seldom I agreed with them.
Also illuminating was how many truly wonderful stories were not purchased, just because the editor wasn’t sure how to fit them into the anthology, or because they didn’t meet the editor’s vision for the anthology’s tone. The writer would most likely not hear that in the rejection letter: it would just be a “Sorry, this didn’t work.” But it definitely showed how often rejection is not a comment on the quality of the story itself but more the vagaries or taste, or sometimes of something completely beyond the writer’s control (like the editor hates fairy stories but you had no way of knowing that, or the editor had already committed to buying a story with a very similar theme or feel from a NAME author to the one you submitted, and so the editor can’t buy yours too….things like that). But writers often choose to view everything as a personal reflection of themselves as writers and as people.
Which goes to the narcissism of writers. But that’s an entirely different topic, altogether.
Anyway, I got some good comments on my stories, and some good constructive feedback on them as well. And as one day lead to the next I didn’t sell any. Until Friday, when the story I wrote for Fiction River: Spies! came up. I thought I had done a good job on this one, but I made the mistake of re-reading it the night before. And immediately, I thought, “Oh crap, I didn’t put enough setting in. Well, so much for that.”
Well, it came time for the feedback. Dean said, “Man, this was smooth. It just pulled me all the way through and it was completely satisfying. I’d buy it.” The other editors gave similar feedback, but three out of four had some criticism to offer. And then it came to Kris, who’s editing the Anthology. She said when she saw I was coming that she was hoping I’d write a story like this. It held her and she liked it, but she put it on the maybe list because she wasn’t sure if she’d remember it.
But then that morning she went back through, and she remembered it completely. So she bought it for the Anthology.
In case you guys are keeping score (and judging by this website’s page hits, you’re not), that is my first professional fiction sale ever.
Needless to say, I felt very good about it. I was grinning ear-to-ear, and I soaked up the applause that everybody gives to someone who makes a sale at the workshop. Later, during the next break, I spoke with Dean, and he said, “You know, you just conquered probably the toughest editor on the planet.” I hadn’t thought about it that way, but she is the only person to have won Hugos for both her writing and her editing, so he has a very valid point there, doesn’t he?
Yeah, that felt really good.
Which is not to say the week was completely fun and nothing else. I was battling health issues the second half of the month. In fact, I was diagnosed with pneumonia the weekend before I had to drive up to Lincoln City. The Doc put me on bed rest for a couple days, and gave me a Z-pack (antibiotics) and some other meds. But he said I would be ok to go to the workshop, so I went (I probably would have gone anyway, stubborn as I am, and maybe he saw that. Or maybe not). Regardless, the Z-pack did its job and I was pretty much all better when I started the drive up. But man, Oregon is chilly compared with San Diego, and it was wet and damp all week. I had a bit of a relapse the first few days. But I got better, and by the time I left I was pretty much good to go. Then I got back to San Diego and the cough got worse again.
Freaking changes in climate, I tell you.
Now the cough is down to the annoying dry, hacking, unproductive cough that I always get after a cold or other illness. It generally lasts for a month or two, and there’s never anything the Docs can do about it. A couple years ago, they diagnosed it as a form of asthma, actually. Just something I have to deal with.
That’s the other reason I didn’t get any writing done last month: all that reading plus illness was a bad combination.
But getting back to the workshop, I had a ton of fun, even with the cough. I learned a lot. And I will have made some money, and a pro sale, out of it as wlel (not enough money to cover the expense of the journey…this time…but it was still worth it). I’ve already asked Dean to pencil me in for next year’s workshop, and I fully intend to be there. And since I’m done with the Navy in a few short months, there ought to be no reason I cannot go.
So that was my February, and the first several days of March.
I’ve got some more cool things to tell you guys. But that will have to wait for another blog post. This one is far too long already.
So until next time, have a great fun time, everyone. Go read a story (make it one of mine though, will ya? 😉 ). Hit the Patreon link below and send a brother a buck or two a month to keep doing what I’m doing.
And I’ll see you next time.