I delved a little deeper this week into the dialogue of Talking in the Fourth. I’m looking forward to grabbing some time and getting through it because I already have a good springboard for the plot and how it ends, and about half of my projected word count committed. It’s (hopefully) a clever twist on a familiar set-up.
I’m also going to make a concerted effort to fire off a bunch of stories in the next few days. I’ve sat on a lot of good pieces for a long time, and I miss those days when I’d have upwards of fifty active submissions… where I genuinely did look forward to the response, even though nine times out of ten it was a rejection.
Well, I’ve named the piece I was discussing last week. It’s going to be called, Scream, Pause, Play. At least, that’s the working title. These things have been known to change as the story grows. On paper (or, in my head, at least) it’s a very dark story with an interesting narrative form. It will be quite the undertaking, but I’m certainly willing to giving it a go.
I’ve also picked up a story I started a long time ago called, Talking in the Fourth. It’s a first person tale set entirely on a therapist’s couch that should probably be no longer than a couple of thousand words, so it shouldn’t outstay its welcome. I found a good ending for it a few days ago, so now it’s just a matter of writing my way towards it.
Of course, this is along with that damn monster story on the train that hasn’t quite pulled into the station yet.
But I’ll get there.
When my marriage broke down and I moved out in 2013 I left my computer, and with that decision, lost a lot of my words.
I didn’t leave any completed stories behind, but there were thousands of words of notes and excerpts from things I was working on, along with interesting snippets that I had written down along the way that I didn’t have a place for at the time of writing. None of it was gold, I’m sure, but I’ve managed to work a lot of those rough notes into decent stories over the years, so it’s a loss that still hurts today.
Since then I have been a lot more careful about anything I write. It’s saved in multiple places – emailed to myself, or written onto a disc.
Recently I came across a couple of paragraphs I had saved onto my phone. It was about memories – the beginning of a thought or perhaps a story idea, although (ironically) I don’t really remember.
I read over it, and after adding quite a bit to it with no real direction at all, an idea began to form. Before long, I had characters, a viewpoint, and – from the most innocuous of beginnings – a pretty good grasp of where I wanted to go with it.
And that’s a good feeling.
I haven’t written or read as much as I would like to recently, but then, that could be said for most weeks.
I was given a couple of Stephen King books for Christmas – Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, a novel that is almost as old as I am; and Elevation, a novella that was published late last year. You could (and probably should) read the latter in a single sitting, but it has taken me a few sessions so far, and I’m still just two-thirds through it!
That being said, I’m enjoying it. It’s a very leisurely read and proves (for the umpteenth time) that King is unfairly judged as ‘that guy who writes horror’. When he’s on form he’s simply a great storyteller, regardless of genre.
As for my own writing, I am nearly 4000 words deep into my monster tale, The 07.43 to Blackford Station. It’s coming along nicely, albeit slowly. I’ve got a lot of detail in there, but like a horror novella I wrote in 2013 called The Seventh, I’m a little bit reluctant to present the monster itself. Still, I’m enjoying the process, and that’s the important thing.
Do you know what the collective noun for rejection letters is? No? Battlefield. Lately I have received a battlefield of rejections. All right, that’s a lie: there is no collective word for rejections. But there should be.
This last week or so I have seen a number of them fly into my inbox, so much so that I started to wonder if all these publishers had gone for a coffee together and agreed to reject me at the same time. Whether it is my novel or the various short stories I have got out there to be judged, none of my words seem to be immune to a shake of the head and the proverbial red pen.
Sure, it can be disheartening when you see something that you’ve put a lot of work into, be cast aside with the same simple stock rejection note that has probably been sent to dozens of poor writers before me, but that’s infinitely better than not hearing anything at all, and that happens far too often.
Years ago, before submitting a piece became (mostly) an electronic affair, you would hear tales of paranoid writers sending out their novel and delicately sticking a single hair in between a couple of pages. That way, when it was returned they would know if their work had even been read, let alone reviewed. Nowadays, that kind of insurance measure is impossible, and we just have to take an editor’s word when they pass on our literary gold for something else.
But you have to have a thick skin in this industry, and mine is beginning to feel like leather.
I’ve been thinking of going back to my racially charged novella, The Ballad of Martha Brody. It’s a story that had its start in life when I was eighteen and living in Malta, as a 4000 word piece called Talk is Cheap. A couple of iterations and a couple of decades later, and it now weighs in at almost 22,000 words – spiritually the same story written by that clumsy teenager, but practically something with much more depth.
Some time after I had completed it in 2013 – although every writer knows that a story is never truly complete – I wrote another chapter for it. Although it slips in to the narrative quite well it has sat, orphaned, on my laptop for a few years, not really a part of the larger arc. I think I’m just about ready to sew it all together and finally make a concerted effort to see it published, as I do believe it’s one of the best things I’ve produced.
Of course the novella is the bastard child of literature: there are very few places that take them in, and even fewer that are worth bothering with. It is for that reason that I toyed with the idea of turning it into a novel for several months, but I don’t really think it would have the legs for that commitment.
Having said that, in the publishing world a mediocre novel stands a better chance of success than a great novella… so there is that.
I sent off my novel Slipwater to a few more agents this week, because (hard as it is to believe) it’s been almost a year since I finished it. And even harder to believe is that I have not changed, added, or removed one word of it since then. Seems I’m showing some restraint in my forties.
I know that if other more traditional avenues don’t work out I could go the self-publishing route. That’s something that’s always open to me. I know as well that that does not have to equate to giving up. There are plenty examples of self-published novels that have subsequently been noticed by the big leagues, but the fact that anyone with internet access and enough words is literally a few mouse clicks away from being a published novelist still irks me and, for the time being, I refuse to do it.
I want an agent or an editor to tell me what I already know – that it’s good, that there’s a market for my writing, and that they want to buy the manuscript.
Too much to ask? I guess we will just wait and see.