Sunday, October 7, 2012

Happenings, updates, plans (Phase II begins)

My latest flash fiction, "Every Body Is More Than Human", appears in the 4th Quarter Issue of Abyss & Apex. This is my first publication in quite some time -- by no means for lack of writing on my part (more on that in a moment). Also in the pipeline is a reprint of my short story from 2001, "The Assassin's List," which will be appear in Volume 2 of "The Crooked Road: Ellery Queen Presents Stories of Grifters, Gangsters, Hit Men, and Other Career Crooks" -- I will post the release date as soon as I know it. In the meantime, I heartily recommend Volume 1, available for Kindle, for anyone in need of narratives of criminal mayhem (if you're not already getting enough of that this election cycle that is).

I've published dozens of stories before, but this marks the first time I've been paid to write something that is verifiably science-fiction. While I've been a reader or science-fiction, fantasy, and all things "speculative" for as long as I've been reading, most of my writing has veered towards more experimental/magical realist formulations than SF.

About two years ago, I hit a turning point. On a whim, I applied to the Clarion West writing program. I'd always dreamed of writing and publishing science-fiction at the professional level, but had never seriously attempted it. You wouldn't think so to hear college writing professors discuss it, but writing science-fiction is much more difficult than standard fiction writing, and I'd never felt up to the intellectual challenge before -- there were too many balls to keep in the air, it seemed, when managing the technical problems of creating plausible characters, moving them believably through a narrative, while also creating a fictional reality for them to inhabit. Nonetheless, I wanted to see if there was any hope for me.

To my great astonishment, Clarion accepted me. And then...I realized I couldn't go, because I had to hold down my day job and take summer classes in the evening for law school. That was a major bummer, to say the least. Let me tell you "Law & Economics" -- thrilling though it was -- provided little succor to someone who'd rather be discussing intergalactic mutant gangsters with fellow geeks than actuarial tables and cost-benefit-analysis with the future land-sharks of America during the precious summer months.

I decided, however, that I could make up the difference. What was Clarion providing after all? Discipline and feedback. Discipline, meaning a strong ethic of daily engagement with one's work, of putting pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard, every day, whether one feels like it or not, and whether or not other responsibilities are calling. Feedback, as in having other like-minded folk read my stories and take the red pen to them, while I do the same and deconstruct the work of others.

I realized that I could meet both of these needs without attending Clarion. The discipline I was already getting from the mental boot-camp of law school. Unpleasant as those three-and-a-half years of evening classes were, they were fantastic exercise for the brain. At the end of it all, I can run rings around my former self when it comes to breaking down a problem, organizing an idea in the form of an outline, and pacing my daily productivity with a deadline in mind. As for feedback -- I live in New York City. We have writer's groups lurking in every borough. All I needed to do was attend a few meetings of Fantastic Fiction at the KGB bar, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matt Kressel, and almost instantly I was put in touch with a bunch of aspiring SF writers who were gearing up their own workshops (in fact, I joined two!). I received superb input from my fellow writers -- bitter medicine though it was at times -- and gave in kind (and I am happy to report that two of my fellow workshoppers are now published novelists, and a third was recently nominated for a Nebula).

Since graduating from law school and passing the bar exam in February, I've been writing every day. Maybe not a lot, sometimes just an hour, but I do it every day. An in that time I've finished (or am nearing completion of) a half-dozen short stories and two novellas, with a third well underway, pretty much all of it science-fiction, horror, or dark fantasy. And I'm enjoying writing more than I ever have before. Getting published at the professional level is not easy, but I've been persevering, and it's finally starting to pay off. Even stories that get rejected are starting to elicit the good kind of rejection letter -- the kind that says, "this is close...send us more!"

I do not know if I'm permanently retiring my previous approach to writing, which was (in most cases) more improvisational and less narrative-based. I do feel that I'm at a new stage of my writing career, in which I want to embrace whole-heartedly the challenges of structure and plot, and fill my stories with multiple characters. After years of playing with language, mood, and imagery, I would like to engineer drama -- not abandoning what I've learned from my earlier writing, but rather incorporating it into a new framework.

"Every Body" is very simple compared to most of what I've been working on since the beginning of this year (the first draft was written in one night while I took a break from studying for the bar exam), but it is the first step into a new phase of my writing. Much more to come -- will keep you posted.