Saturday, June 30, 2012

No Man (or Woman) is an Island

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."  C.S. Lewis

In my last post I indicated that writing is something I do alone. It is. Though I have tried collaborating with another writer, it wound up not working because he was a headstrong, inflexible knothead. And so was I.

Does that mean I'd rather go it alone? Nope.

Does that mean I don't play well with others? Again, nope.

Nobody can go it alone, and especially not in publishing. Ah, ha! But that move the peg a bit, doesn't it? Maybe.

I count myself lucky to have quite a few friends. Some are writers, some editors, some readers, some just plain people. That those "plain people" consider me -- a person who makes excuses to write rather than participate and even if I do show up is sometimes mentally adrift while working out some scene in my head -- also a friend makes me feel extremely lucky.

As for "playing well with others," I find myself not only a joiner, but a person who is unable to not volunteer. I've been a member of the Horror Writers Association since late 1999. In that time I've served as VP, secretary, trustee, Internet Mailer editor, postmistress, and convention hostess. Currently I serve on the membership committee.

I've proofed and edited a number of anthologies and novels and even short stories for friends. All without pay.

In my private life, I've served in a number of volunteer positions where I've cooked in community kitchens and at Sunday dinners, funeral luncheons, and Fish Frys, chaired committees, babysat, washed dishes, set up for weddings, sang at special events, and baked a ton of cookies and cakes and pies. (Though, honestly, my cakes are awful!)

But when it comes to my writing, I trust very few people. The reason is everybody wants to be a writer. Or more correctly, everybody wants to have written. It's the work part, the hours and hours of rubbing two words together and making a story make sense that too few can endure.

Writing is hard work. Besides the initial storytelling, there's the revision process which for me calls for running my stories through my wringers. I have several: 1) Strunk and White; 2) Jean Rabe; 3) John Dufresne; 4) misc. (a hodgepodge of various suggestions I've latched onto over the years).

[Strunk and White: The Elements of Style

Jean Rabe: a list of standard things she looks for as an editor and writer

John Dufresne: The Lie That Tells the Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction]

Then my work is off to my first readers. These are people I have come to trust over the years for their sound "suggestions." They don't pull punches or pander. They also never try to insinuate themselves into my writing process. I am the storyteller and they respect that.

I have had a few reviews written about my stories, and I have appreciated the kind nice words as well as the constructive criticisms. But I have a rule: Since there is no way I can explain anything about any of my writings to the individual reader, I won't explain myself to a reviewer either. Preferences differ. Vary.And some of them are just plain wrong. Some of them want to have written. Sorry. They need to sit down and put in all those hours, read all those books, hunt for the absolutely right word for two weeks, wrestle with a computer who loses files, and then get back to me.

In the end writing is hardly different from any other creative process. Some parts the artist does alone, some with others.

Besides, having a drink in the bar at a convention is so much more fun with another idiot who hears voices in his/her head.

Books I've enjoyed recently:

Karen Harper's Mistress Shakespeare

Kimberley Cutter's The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus

James W. Hall's Hit List

Okay, back to the story I'm working on . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Qualifications, Lists, and Rules. Oh, my!

In Terence Blacker's latest column, he asks "Are you really, truly an author?" And like all those nifty question and answer things I remember from college classes and slumber parties, his "indicators" were much too tempting and juicy for me not to participate.

Since Blacker drags along his experiences as a reviewer, publisher, and published author to his Endpaper columns, I can both trust those scars and savor his outside-the-box style and dark wit.

Most of his "indicators" are pretty standard, but the one that made me pause longest was this:

"You are alone. When you started out, you might have gone on a creative writing course which peddled the myth of teamwork, consultation and 'feedback.' You have discovered, as you grow as a writer, what nonsense that is. Yours is a private project. If anything, sailing your rackety little boat as part of a flotilla actually increases the chance of it sinking."

I have attended two writers' conferences. One had me sailing out the door by the end of the week ready to tackle the publishing world. The workshops pumped me up and my new writing friends padded my writerly muscles. And good, bad, or ugly, I came home and wrote like a madwoman, feeling for the first time in my life that I was truly a writer.

The second conference offered the wisdom of some of the finest bestselling authors out there. Again, I left with a number of writerly friends, but no wind beneath my sails. If anything, I left feeling numb.

Terence Blacker's column finally helped me understand why.

In those years between conferences, I had written a number of short stories and had seen them published. I'd written reviews and news and worked conventions and websites and written, written, written. I've even finished a novel. My personal story as a writer is no longer a right-of-passage experience.Yet, while I've grown up, I'm convinced my best work is still ahead of me.

But it's me in my little boat. Alone.

While I've found I require writerly friends, I know what I'm doing now. I see the devil for who she is.

Yes, I am really, truly an author.

Which means I need to hoist the sails of my current story and catch the wind...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not Tossin' Baby Out with the Bathwater...

I allow myself twenty-four hours to sulk. To rub my soul raw. To question. To doubt. To throw up my hands in resignation. To stare at myself in the bathroom mirror and say "Damn."

(Actually, I say the F-word.)

Then... Then after sighing a final "Oh, well," I shut it down. Time to move on.

r e j e c t i o n

Really, so I have to explain it? No, I don't think so. If you're a writer and you've never known rejection... well, when did Stephen King begin reading my blog? LOL. (Really, I think even he's been rejected.)

Rejection is merely part of the writing process, and actually I've had some nice turnarounds on rejected stories. Trish Cacek rejected my submission for Bell, Book, and Beyond. She did it with a green letter with a frog. In her notes, she said she liked the story, but it wasn't "witchy" enough. She made some suggestions about it and recommended I sub it to Cemetery Dance magazine. I considered her thoughtful words on the story, but laughed out loud at imaging selling the story to Rich Chizmar at CD.

But thinking I really had nothing to lose, I sent it.

He bought it. It was my first professional sale.

A couple of years later, I subbed a story to Jean Rabe for one of her anthologies. She liked my writing and the story, but already had accepted one that included elements of my story. She asked for some changes. As I considered how to rework the story, the friend who asked to see what I'd subbed advised me he had shown it to a friend of his who just happened to be putting together an anthology of his own. The friend of my friend wanted the story, so I explained my dilemma to Jean, and she said go for it!

Two things came from that rejection: Jean remembered me for her next anthology. And "A Thousand Words" shared the TOC (Table of Contents) with some very fine writers including Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and my friend, Mort Castle, in Masques V, edited by J.N. Williamson and Gary A. Braunbeck.

Of course, not all my rejections have worked out so well, but then a number of my sales haven't either. A book gets cancelled, a publishing house goes belly-up, or someone changes his/her mind. Things happen.

What is not to be forgotten is rejection, like A C C E P T A N C E, is all part of the game.

Of course, when I make a sale, I give myself far more than twenty-four hours to celebrate. Though I think I still use that same F-word. Just a few more times. It sounds totally different when I'm grinning.

"Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way to do something good." William Faulkner

Monday, June 25, 2012

Read My Lips...

"I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read."
                                                                                                        Samuel Johnson

During the World Horror Convention in Seattle in 2001, I had the honor of serving as the official hostess for the Horror Writers Association's hospitality suite. Thanks to the kind assistance of my friend Monica O'Rourke, we managed to pack in a whole lot of fun in the few days we occupied the host hotel. From the yummy breakfast fare we offered just after 8 a.m. to the overnight Speakeasy (sponsored by San Francisco's Borderlands Books owner Alan Beatts), the flow of convention-goers stayed brisk, and the HWA snagged quite a fair number of new members.

One highlight was the giveaway of new books by Cemetery Dance Publications which included copies of Richard Laymon's The Traveling Vampire Show which won a Bram Stoker Award at that very convention. (Sadly, Laymon, who had been President of the HWA, died of a heart attack a few months before.)

As the convention wound down and most all the books had been given away, I managed to catch a few minutes relaxation in the sunny atrium and share some laughs with friends Brian A. Hopkins and Gene O'Neill. Several anxious attendees drew our attention as they made a beeline out of the suite to our little group.

"Is it okay if we have the rest of the books on the table?"

Since I'd left them there with a huge sign indicating they were free, I merely nodded.

A few minutes later, one of the happy campers barreled back out with Dick's book in his hand. "Is he here? Is the author here?" he asked. "I'd like him to sign it."

I was stunned. Laymon's death had been big news, especially among the fans of horror. You know, people who would be attending this convention. Plus, he'd been one of the Guests of Honor and his picture was plastered everywhere.

When I broke the news to the poor guy, he merely shrugged it off. "Well, I guess I didn't know. I write horror. I don't actually read it."

It's been eleven years now, but his statement has haunted me more than zombies or ghosts (and I could fill your ears with my St. Augustine experiences!).

But this guy isn't alone. Just last year I met a writer who boasts that he doesn't read Science Fiction even though he has published at least one book and is working on another.

How in the world do they know? That's the question that niggles at me. How do they know the definitive works in their genres? How could they possibly appreciate the roads they travel when they haven't taken the time or energy to read the works of not only of the masters, but their supposed colleagues?

How do they grow as writers?

And how do they stay away from the hum and trill, the feather and dance of words conveying some fanciful tale.

I confess I can't imagine life without words. To me, that would not be life at all.

I've thumbed through the notebook where I carefully pencil in words and thoughts and quotes, searching for one I recall where a writer should read four books for every book written. Maybe I can't find it because my honest reaction was "only four?"

Here are some recommendations of books I've read in the past few months:

Roger Rosenblatt's Unless it Moves the Human Heart (a fine, fine book on writing)
Mike Mullen's Ashfall (A super volcano erupts at Yellowstone)
Moira Young's Blood Red Road (a young girl searches for her brother)
James W. Hall's Dead Last (his latest Thorn adventure)
Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts (Two nuns: one younger; one older. Each with a secret.)

That's more than four to one. Let's see, do I owe you a book or do you owe me one?

Keep reading...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Times Flies... ZOOM!

Ah, yes, my poor, ignored blog.

I am sorry, blog, but I have been "wasting" my time in other pursuits. Writing. Reading. Writing. Reading. Uhm, writing and reading. Also, Life! I have one which helps me to write more about people, places, and things rather then about a lonely writer who spends her days reading and writing. Or some voracious reader who yens to be a writer. Or...

Wait, I think I do have one of those stories in my incomplete file. Gee, wonder why I haven't finished it yet?

Because, because, because...

Before I share any substantial updates in the life and times of Judi Rohrig, Ace Writer, let me share what I've been reading: a lot! As I indicated in previous posts, Hank Phillippi Ryan opened my eyes to my lack of reading novels written by women. Then I discovered while I had early on tackled and devoured works by mystery and thriller writers, I had never read anything in the Romance genre. Well, one: Indy Man by Janet Dailey, but a loooong time ago.

No, I am not about to confess reading 50 Shades of Grey. If I do, I will have to approach that one slowly. Friends of mine do not share kind words. Snob, am I? Maybe.

My friend, Kealan Patrick Burke, contends there are way too many books to be read for books to be reread. But if I like a book, I often do just that: reread it. Immediately or whenever I decide. My mother taught me I can think anything I want (though I cannot say anything I want!). I simply carried that over to: I can read whatever I want.Even if that means re reading!

So here's my short list of books I have reread in the past few months:

Gene Wolfe's Home Fires and Pirate Freedom (No, he's not a woman writer. Like Gene, I sometimes cannot be trusted.)
James W. Hall's Under Cover of Daylight (Again, a guy!)
John D. MacDonald's A Deadly Shade of Gold (Yup, guy.)
Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (The guy!)
Pam Rosenthal's The Bookseller's Daughter
Miranda Neville's Burgundy Club series (all four of them!)
Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale
Barbara Samuel's The Black Angel 

Those are merely the books I was driven to read more than once. And you?

Coming up: But what have I been writing? And what is Life anyway? (The latter for my writerly friends)

And my quote? There was none at the beginning. Here it is at the end.

"A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." Samuel Johnson