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Entries in On Writing (5)

Tuesday
Feb152011

A Short-Short Story From Arthur C. Clarke

First off, I learned about the site “Letters of Note”, which is a site that collects letters from various people and then posts them for display on their website. I highly recommend subscribing to their feed since they continually put out great content.

Secondly, be sure to check their most recent post, "siseneG", a short story written by the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. It’s a short-short piece, but very clever in its minimalist approach to “End of the World” story. In this sub-genre of short-short stories about the end of the world it goes up there with Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, which was also one of Asimov's favorites as well.

Enjoy.



Wednesday
Feb092011

Short Story Rejection

Photo By Sean MacEnteeIt’s been a while since I’ve had a submission rejected, mostly because my work has been academically focused for the past couple years, and I’ve found it much easier to publish nonfiction than fiction. But I’ve always had a passion for storytelling, and with my Masters complete, I wanted to wedge my foot back into the fiction field. Rejection letters don’t bear the weight on me that they used to when I was starting out writing and mailing off pieces I’d labored on, only to receive a form letter three months later.

Nowadays, I just move on or submit the piece somewhere else, which is the case with this story. That being said, this is one of the nicest rejections that I've received and figured it was worth sharing. So for any writers out there who are dealing with those crushing heavy blows of the first rejection letters, I hope this will be encouragement.

Kris,

Thanks for your submission to [Magazine]. I've opted to decline using your story; it's something we aren't looking for at this time. However, the piece had a nice flow and I encourage you to submit "A Note to Liza" to magazines that accept more of a psychological suspense or thriller type story. Remember, this is only my opinion and I wish you luck placing this story elsewhere.

 

[Person's Name]

Head Editor, [Magazine]

 



Friday
Aug272010

Good Advice From Jonathan Franzen

It was December 2004 and I had decided I was going to be a writer. My birthday was coming up, and I had recently begun work on a collection of short stories for publication that would fail on all accounts shortly in the future. I was 18, it was my third semester at college and I was going out with this girl that would become my wife just two years later. The world was my oyster and I was overly arrogant and self-assured about everything I did. I was so sure I would be the youngest writer to win the Nobel Prize and an Oscar for a screenplay, and a Grammy for my soundtrack, and so on in the common tradition of twentysomething’s delusions of grandeur.

So picture this wide, blue-eyed, boy getting his chance to shake hands with a real writer, the same kind of person he wants to be some day. He’s so excited to see a real writer in the flesh, someone who’s won awards, and more specifically someone who had won the National Book Award. Of all places, the writer was coming to Fresno, and his name was Jonathan Franzen. The boy was ecstatic to get a glimpse of what his life might be like someday.

The boy and his girlfriend arrived early to get good seats. The boy clutched a brand new copy of The Corrections in his hands, the spine still stiff, the pages only skimmed.

Franzen came out and read one of his New Yorker pieces, which the boy enjoyed and knew this was someone he should listen to. After the reading, there was a Q and A with audience and throughout the Q and A, the boy went back and forth deciding whether or not he trusted Franzen’s opinions about being a writer.

At one point, Franzen spoke about how he hardly read anymore because he could usually anticipate the book’s plot-turns and storyline. At the time, the boy in the audience had read very little. He wondered if becoming a writer meant losing the motivation to read novels, books, poetry, etc. At another point, someone asked if he’d ever be interested in working on a graphic novel adaptation of his book, and whether he had any interest in the medium. Franzen responded saying that he had no interest in graphic novels and saw them as a passing fad with little substance. The boy was crushed. Had all those years spent reading comics, and Alan Moore, and Frank Miller been for naught? Were they trash?

At the end of the Q and A, the boy walked over to book signing line still deciding what to make of Jonathan Franzen. Was this what all serious writers became? Did they all lose interest reading new books? Did they all think comics were a passing fad? If he chose to be a writer, was this his fate? He wouldn’t find answers to those questions that night and certainly not before he came face to face with Jonathan Franzen. And when it was the boy’s turn to have his book signed he was so excited that all those questions that had been spinning around his mind fluttered away and he was overcome with that overflowing optimism, best shown in the picture from the University’s coverage of the event.

The boy blurted out the first thing that came to mind, “I’m going to be a writer. Do you have any advice for me?”

Franzen looked up and saw the boy’s earnestness and paused for a moment, considering his reply and said, “Don’t do it; once you become a writer you’ll have to write for the rest of your life, and you might be better off doing something else like becoming a doctor or a lawyer, or something. But if you do become a writer then I wish you the best of luck.” The boy perplexed, still mentally digesting everything, requested Franzen, “Could you write that down for me?”

Franzen chuckled, “The whole thing?”

“Yeah,” The boy laughed.

(Flash from camera to the left)

He paused, “How ‘bout…” Franzen speaking and writing simultaneously now: “Don’t. do. It. And, Good. Luck. Frowny face. Smiley face.”

“Thanks,” The boy said and shook the author’s hand, still not knowing what to make of the entire experience.

It’s been six years since then and like a zen koan, those words have echoed in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until after I had finished writing my first book that I began to understand a little of what Franzen’s advice to me meant. Don’t bother looking for the book; it doesn’t exist outside my office bookshelf. It was your typical first-novel that took six months and ran a little over a 150 pages. I pitched the book to every literary agent and publisher with an email address I could find, and every small press as well. And of the hundreds I pitched the novel to, 42 asked to see the first few pages, after which, all 42 said they were not interested.

I had spent six months of my life, and who knows how many hours, creating something that bore no financial-fruit whatsoever. And those delusions of grandeur faded with the book’s monumental failure. It wasn’t too long after receiving the last rejection for the book that I realized what it meant to me to be a writer. And I answered that question that all young writers ask themselves at one point or another, “How do you know if you’re a writer?”

My answer: “You know you’re a writer, when you spend half a year working every day on a book that’s rejected by every publisher on this earth, and after all that rejection, you can’t wait to start writing your next book, your next short story, or whatever. That’s when you’re a writer.”

And so despite all the circumstantial evidence that pointed to that fact that I was a lousy writer, it didn’t matter, I was going to write anyway. And I think that’s what Franzen was talking about too. Once you become a writer, it’s something you’ll be compelled to do for the rest of your life, whether you’re good at it or not. Franzen knows this because he’s a writer, and whether he likes it or not, he’ll be writing for the rest of his life, even if his later work isn’t successful or even published. It doesn’t make a difference to him.

For a long time when I reflected on Franzen’s words, all I could hear was him saying, “DON'T’ DO IT. You’re wasting your life kid.” But now that I’m a writer, I hear his “atta-boy” encouragement, “I wish you the best of luck.”

And so I pass Franzen’s good advice onto other young writers and authors, “Don’t do it, but if you do, I wish you the best of luck.”

Tuesday
Mar022010

Ray Bradbury - Story of a Writer

Ray Bradbury, known for his super-prolific writing habits and countless classic short stories, novellas, novels, etc. is highlighted in this TV piece from the past called "Story of A Writer". As I've said before, and will no doubt say many times after this, I love anything that gives a glimpse into the life of artists.

This 25 min. film is just that, a look behind scenes of what Ray Bradbury did as an author about forty years ago, and when you look at recent interviews it doesn't seem like much has changed for him. And when I say that, I mean it as the most sincere compliment, because his life has been, and continues to be, one of excellence in the pursuit of writing as art. Take a look and see what I mean.

(Note: If the video doesn't appear right away, it's because it's still converting over at Blip.TV, but will be up shortly)

Wednesday
Sep092009

New Article Up on "Peevish Penman"

I wrote an article for them on a method for writing I picked up on the great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Here's the link. Enjoy.