August 18, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT #45…With “In the Present” (Submitted 1 time with 10 revisions, sold to Nanoism, January 2017)

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I’m a writing teacher during the summer. I work with kids who have been identified as gifted and talented. The class I teach is, QUITE specifically, Writing To Get Published.

These days, I have a reasonably extensive repertoire of work that parents figure I’m good at what I teach. I also have a small cadre of students who’ve gone on to publish as well. It’s an overview class touching on many types of writing – poetry, essay, journalism, how-to, fiction (of course!) in its multiple forms like twitterfic, flash, short story, and novel, scripts (this year, my classes wrote a the first episode of a telenovela together based on an outline I gave them. It was hugely successful!)

Of course, every kid believes that they can write fiction. A third of them were already working on “novels” (They called their one-page-per-chapter, 4000 word masterpiece…). I nodded, encouraged them to expand the idea (“Look at your favorite book. How long is it?”). Then I suggest another form of fiction: the 142 space twitter fiction.

Often when I give an assignment, I do it myself to offer insights to the process. So, every year, I write a piece of twitterfic, and then submit it, showing them how it’s done. It’s a great all-around lesson because I also talk about the probability of rejection. I mentioned that I’ve subbed to the Nanoism site six times and that I’ve been accepted once – a 17% success rate.

Why did this one work where the others failed? Mostly because the subject was both painful and ongoing.

See, I’m one of the “sandwich generation” – kids in their late 20s and early 30s and parents in the early 80s, both with unique needs that my generation can help with and that stretch both resources and emotions. My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 – and we didn’t find out until 2015 when I gained access to both of my parent’s  medical records.

Something about me – I’m a science fiction writer and I also keep a blog chronicling my wife’s breast cancer experience (I added Dad’s Alzheimer’s in 2015), with the main goal of “translating the medicine” (as well as an emotional outlet for myself as I’m not a big “group sharer”) and keeping up on developments in both fields. If you’re interested in either, go here:

My mom was stuck in the past.

She’d had hip and knee replacements, starting in her early 60s. In her early 80s, one of her knees was giving her lots of pain. She insisted on getting another replacement. Her doctor refused at first, but she persisted, and he finally gave in and did it. Mom was expecting to do a bit of PT, then move on like nothing had changed as she did when she was in her 60s. That’s not what happened. The replacement was so painful, she refused to do the PT. As a result, she began to struggle with edema in her legs. A stay in the hospital and a weird situation sparked a bout of skin cancer on her forearm. She grew weaker. Her lungs began to retain fluid as a result of an inoperable heart valve problem.

Dad’s Alzheimer’s progressed and his memory issues grew worse and I “took away the car keys”…

We moved them into a senior, assisted living residence (a very nice place), where they both continued to slide into dementia – Dad on a frictionless surface, Mom as a part of (I think) age-related dementia.

It was at the time I was teaching summer school again that Mom passed away and I wrote the piece as a sort of therapy. How did I mash so many feelings together? I started with a paragraph that was simply descriptive. Then I tried to fit it on the worksheet I gave the kids that had 142 short blanks, playing with the idea that I was the one who looked to the future. Mom got more and more mired in the past. Dad had no idea what time it was – literally and figuratively as he swung from the present to the far past as his recent memories eroded faster and faster…

The Nanoism came together because of the intensity of my experience. Reaching into myself allowed me to write a piece that at LEAST reached the editor. As  Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (1949) and Paul Gallico (1946) together coined the quoteWriting Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed”.

Smith had been quoted as saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Gallico wrote, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

So, in this case, I opened up a vein and bled my heartache and you can read the result here:

Two stories I sold recently are also in the same “opening the vein and bleeding”…er…vein. “Road Veterinarian” and “Kamsahamnida, America” are deeply personal. The first will be in the September/October 2019 of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; the second will be in the November/December 2019 issue of the same magazine.

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