Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two More Rejections

"Kinuyo and the Kitsune" and "The Necklace of DuChelle" got rejected by Strange Horizons and Flash Fiction Online, respectively.  Funny thing was, I submitted them within an hour of each other on the same day and got the rejection news within an hour of each other on the same day.  Also, they both told me to wait a minimum of 2 weeks, but they actually rejected my story in 11 days.  So, that's something.

Well, the good news for you is that if no one wants them, I'll probably post them on my website and/ or blog.  Then you can judge the quality of my work for yourselves.  Maybe you can tell me why my stories were rejected, as I've yet to get any feedback from the publishers.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those of us who prefer abbreviations. The concept is simple.  You have one month to complete a novel-sized manuscript of 50,000 words, or roughly 200 pages, typed, double-spaced.  Which, for me is actually a quarter of a novel.  Now, I've heard about NaNoWriMo since college, but this is the first time I've had the guts to commit to it.

(For more information about National Novel Writing Month, go to

After I signed up, I got an email from one of the website's hosts about an event called Crunch-tober, where you spend the month of October brainstorming 500 word posts in preparation for November.  As I was scanning this email at 5:50 AM, I ended up missing the part where they provide you with writing prompts.  At any rate, it didn't matter, because I already had something in mind.

I'm currently finishing up an epic fantasy novel tentatively called The Changlings, which I've been slaving away at since college.  Part of the reason it's taken me nearly 10 years to finish is that I really had no idea what I was doing.  Foolishly, I believed I could make it up as I went along.  Also, when in doubt, edit!  I ended up scrapping over half of it.  And when you consider I wrote multiple drafts of 850 pages, that's like sending a thousand pages down the drain.  

So, this time, I'm trying to be more efficient.  And that means no editing until I know the ending.  I'm not going to spend three weeks making sure that every detail in Chapter 3 is perfect, only to throw the whole thing away when I realize it's incompatible with Chapter 4.  Haste may make waste, but it's nothing compared to perfectionism.

All this is a long way of saying that my goal for NaNoWriMo is to write down the ending to the necessary sequel of The Changelings, which I'm currently calling The Originals.  I've been anticipating this event since early summer.  On a whim, I decided to do my own version of Crunch-tober.  For 5 days a week, four weeks straight I'd write 500 words about any point that bothered me on my second novel or any interesting tidbit I happened to pick up from the military channel.  I figured if anything, I'd flush out the bad ideas.  Plus, it was a good way of filling up between 6:15 AM to 7:30 AM, that nerve-wracking time of the morning when I was pretty sure--but not quite--that I wasn't getting called in for a substitute assignment. 

So, now Crunch-tober is finished for me, and how did I do?  Over 15,000 words and 50 pages of notes, including the conclusion to two battles and six character arcs.  In other words, it added up.  And I wasn't even really trying.  But it goes to show what a concentrated effort of even 1 hour a day can do.

Now that I have some idea what I'm writing, it's time to sit down and write it.  I'll try to keep you posted in November.  See you then.  

Book Review: The Disappeared

"The Disappeared"
Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The Disappeared follows newly-promoted detective Miles Flint and his partner DeRicci as they investigate an mysterious yachts that wash up on their moon base, containing everything from gruesomely murdered bodies to kidnapped children.  Intertwined with their story is that of Ekaterina, whose attempt to run from her past quickly takes disastrous turn, and Jamal, whose secret causes the loss of his son.  Shady corporate practices and alien diplomacy feature heavily in this thrilling science fiction adventure.


The novel opens with a bang.  In the very first chapter we're introduced to three different characters going through three very different bad days.  The action between them is well-balanced and the writing is clean and crisp.  Tensions grow and chases ensue.  For the first 50 pages, I could not put the book down.  The suspense and action carried me easily through the four hundred pages.

Ekaterina's story is particularly heart-pounding, as we witness this calm lawyer taking bold action, improvising, and drawing on all her skills just to survive.  Flint and DeRicci's arcs began slowly, but as cases pile up and alien demands clash with their values, you can see them being pushed to the brink.

Unfortunately, the ending couldn't really maintain such an action-packed start.  The climax hinged heavily on alien diplomacy and legal loopholes, a rather underwhelming finish.  Despite the detectives, the case was straight-forward and there was no mystery to be revealed at the end.  There were also several points which caused me to revoke my suspension of disbelief.  (See Rant.)

Of the four main characters, one had a drastic change of heart (which I found a tad unbelievable), another's arc ended abruptly, and a third's never went anywhere to begin with.  The exception was DeRicci, who had grown to develop a respect for Flint, while revealing hidden depths to the reader.  On the whole, I ended the story feeling vaguely dissatisfied, though this was largely disappointment that a strong start didn't have a strong end.

Rant (Warning: Spoilers)

The premise of aliens being legally able to kidnap human children for the crimes of their parents was as frustrating as it was intriguing.  I could not believe a democratic society that valued individual life could be so blasé about aliens snatching infants in the middle of the night and destroying their personality.  Particularly since it could happen to almost anyone.  For example, a woman who accidentally killed some sentient moss very nearly lost the children of employees who never even stepped foot on the alien planet.  That's like working for Wal-mart and then one day having your children held hostage because the CEO made a bad deal with China.

It's a deliberately infuriating incident, and I just can't accept that it never made the news or caused debate about trading children away for the rights to alien bottled water (seriously).  But maybe the author has expanded on this point elsewhere.  The Disappeared is labeled a "Retrieval Artist" novel.  Maybe the politics are highlighted elsewhere.

But that doesn't explain the idea of lying to an alien species who abhor lies.  One of the main climatic points is that the Rev, a short-tempered, slightly aggressive group, are stewing in a police room, waiting for them to turn over a prisoner.  Only problem: the prisoner has escaped.  The police try to distract the aliens while hunting down the prisoner, to no avail.  By the end, the Rev have grown so fed up with the delays, they start tearing the room apart.

Question: Why did no one tell them that they lost the prisoner?

The police seem to think that if they tell the truth, the Rev will go on a rampage through the city, regardless of intergalactic protocol. Well, the police don't know the Rev very well, so it's possible they make wrong assumptions.  But what about the translators and lawyers who specialize in this area?  You'd think they might have some idea.

But these are nit-picky things.  The real elephant in the room is the ending.  Detective Flint finds out that the company that are supposed to help people in trouble with the alien justice system "disappear" has been turning over these people to the aliens instead.  There's nothing illegal about this.  The only thing Flint can do is find a new, more reliable service to help these people instead.  Which he does.  "Data Services" is the name of the company.

So, he takes this information to one of the victims.  First, Flint tells him that they can't legally hold him for more than 24 hours, so he's free to go.  (Hint, hint.)  Then, he asks about disappearance services, including this obscure "Data Services."  (HINT, HINT.)  Oh, and he records this conversation and turns it over to the alien to show that he was following the law to the letter.

Then, Flint resigns.  He hacks into the bad disappearance company's computers, retrieves the names of their clients, and sells them to Data Services.  They will give new identities to those in trouble and get a tidy profit in return.  It's a happy ending.  Except that Flint just told the aliens and the police station that Data Services is the cover for a black market fugitive smuggling ring.  By the way, he neglects to mention this fact to Data Services.

Potentially, Data Services will get shut down by a police sting operation in the coming week, have their lists of fugitives confiscated, and millions of disappeared left vulnerable to the aliens.  And since Flint's no longer part of the force, he can do nothing to stop them.

Not the best thought-out plan, in my opinion.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Short Fiction: Florence

Last week Saturday, I attended a meeting of the Brea Library Writer's Group. (  As part of our meeting, we do a ten-minute writing exercise based on one of several prompts.  I chose "I had always wanted to travel to Florence" for my topic.  Surprisingly, I actually came up with an okay story, so here it is, for everyone to enjoy.

I had always wanted to travel to Florence.  But now it was too late.  I sat in the seat of an airplane taking off from Rome's airport any minute now.  The flight attendant was giving safety instructions in Italian, and I was gazing out the window, trying to smush myself into it--as though if I pressed hard enough against the plastic, it would pop out and I could crawl out the window and reclaim my life.  But the plastic stayed firm.

"Abigail, stop squirming," my mother hissed.  "Sit up straight.  I swear sometimes you behave just like a child."

She was the one who had "rescued" me.  Who'd flown off to fetch me when I made a wreck of my life for the ump-teenth time.  I slouched.  This time, she didn't even ask how I'd let my life get so out of control.  Just came in and hauled me back home.  Soon we'd be back to rehab and therapy, back to quiet family dinners and dull recitals.  But my mother's look of disappointment would never quite leave her face.

I sighed.

Well, I'd made it to Italy this time.  That was something.

Maybe next time I'd make it all the way to Florence.

Rejection Blues

Two of my short stories have been rejected this week, and it's frustrating.

"Kinuyo and the Kitsune," a fifteen-page historical fairy tale set in Japan just after the collapse of the Shogunate about a young girl's encounter with a shape-shifting fox while searching for her missing mother, got rejected by Orson Scott Card's Intergallactic Medicine Show last Sunday. It's also been rejected by The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy and Clarkesworld.  

"The Necklace of DuChelle," a three-page fantasy flashfiction about a necklace that can strangle people, made it past the first round of Daily Science Fiction, before getting rejected in the final round last Friday.  

I don't know which is worse.  The story on rejection number 3 or the story that almost made it.

What makes it hard for me, is that I'm still new at this rejection game.  It's taken me years to even build up enough courage to submit.  Rationally, I know authors get rejected several times, over and over again, but that doesn't help the touch of despair that creeps into your heart when you get that dreaded email.  Not that I cried or anything.  Just felt a little sad.

A few things do help, though.  Printing out the rejection and labeling it helps.  Oddly enough, this changes the rejection into an accomplishment. I now have five rejections.  I figure once I get to fifty, I should be published.  

Interestingly enough, this motivated me to continue writing short stories, proving that even negative feedback is better than silence.  I feel the need to prove myself.  I will get something published, even if I have to wear the editors out with my persistance.  Just you wait.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Anxiety of the Substitute

This fall, I took work as a substitute teacher, and just last week, I started getting called in.  Although I've only subbed for two days now, teaching isn't all that new to me.  For three years I worked as a teacher's aid in Japan, forced to perform English sentences to unknown audiences at the beck and call of the real teacher.   Sometimes I'd go in with no plan, no script, and I'd have to create a lesson off the top of my head.  Working improv is nothing new to me.

That doesn't lessen my stage fright.

Somewhere between 5:30-7:30 in the morning, the dance of dread begins.  Will I get called in?  My ears tense for the sound of my phone's generic ring tone, knowing only entity would call me so early. Will I get an assignment?  Do I want to go to work today?  I know if I get called in, I will work, I must work, not just for the immediate paycheck the day brings, but to build my reputation for the future.  Yet another part of me just hopes that the school will leave me alone, so that I can spend my free time writing.

Three times the phone did ring.  The first time, I hesitated, fumbled with the buttons in the dark, and completely missed the assignment.  The second time, I heard the assignment, wanted it repeated, but accidently hit the button for accept.  The third time, I was ready, but right before I hit that button, a surge of panic filled my soul.  It became a struggle to press 1.

The next three minutes, I ran around the house hyperventalating.  While the sensible part of my mind told me to arrange a ride with my aunt, pack my lunch, and find out the specifics of my assignment online, the emotional side of me was busy whipping myself into a frenzy.  Oddly, I couldn't tell you over what.  I was afraid.  Not of teaching, I'd done that before.  Not of high school students, I'd worked with them and didn't find them to be monsters.  What I was afraid of was nothing.  The big, black wall of nothing pressing up against my eyes.

The unknown.

I think if I were in one bad scenario, I could solve it or endure it.  But my mind wasn't spitting out one, it was spitting out 20 and demanding I solve them all at once and think of new ones and solve those as well.  Now!  Hence the panic.  But the funny thing was, once I got to school, once I saw the physical buildings, the panic left.  There was no more time to prepare.  There was only action.  Moreover, there was something familiar about the campus.  I had never been to this school, but I'd been in others, taught in them, too.  My experience hardened over my chest like a breastplate and I walked inside the office calm and alert.

Parts of the day were tough.  Sometimes I was frustrated.  Sometimes I was uncertain.  But I wasn't afraid.  The situation, good or bad, had become solid, and once solid, I could adapt to it.  I trusted myself again.

The phone call was the worst of it.  

Musings on Limited Willpower

Is willpower finite?

I'm so used to thinking of willpower as limitless, like brainpower or human potential or air.  I had never considered it might be something we gets in daily allowances to be budgeted throughout the day.  Yet this is exactly the argument I stumbled upon while reading the November 2012 edition of Writer's Digest.  Mike Becktle's article "Overcoming Writer's Block Without Willpower" began by throwing out this idea:

"Here's the problem with willpower: It's limited. [...] Simply put, when we use it up by resisting a chocolate doughnut all morning, there's none left to stay disciplined in our writing an hour later."

I'd never heard of this before.  But I suspect it's on its way to becoming the hot new idea, because just one day later, I read about it again, this time in a recent Cracked article, "5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You into Sticking with Bad Habits" by Dennis Hong.  (

I'm not entirely certain I believe the scientific explanation, which contrasts making healthy decisions with brainteasers.  While resisting temptation may utilize willpower, I would label solving puzzles more a trait of concentration.  Either way, as a speculative writer, my reaction to these sort of ideas is to hold it as true in my mind (whether or not I actually believe it is) and see what sort of conclusions you can draw.

So, if we you a limited amount of willpower, what will your reaction be?  As with most limitations, you can either use it as an excuse or start getting creative.  Is the limit the same day to day, or does it vary with other factors, say how sleepy you are or how much time you've had to relax?  Are some people born with more than others?  Can you grow it?  Can you trick it?

For example, if you take something you hate, such as going to the gym, and make it a habit (which according to the Cracked article will take you ten weeks), does it no longer count as exerting willpower?  Or if you make something you dislike fun, will that also lessen the discipline?

And if you find the absolute limit, how will you spend it?  If you try to be absolutely efficient with your willpower, will that effort actually drain you of it?  If you dole out your efforts spontaneously, will you ever get anything done?  What's the fine balance?

These are some thoughts, I like to throw around.  To be honest, I've been trying to discipline myself into steady writing for some time now, and it's difficult.  The more deadlines and word limits I impose, the more time I spend worrying over them.  My willpower goes into maintaining my system and then I wonder why I'm not inspired.  How can inspiration come if you're constantly yelling, "You have to write 9 pages by bedtime, hurry up, you're wasting time, you're never going to finish if you don't write already, just get something on the page, I don't care what it is, just do something!"  On the other hand, if I didn't force myself to write at least 5 times a week, I'd make excuses and get out of practice.

What are your thoughts on willpower and discipline?  Do you find the idea of a limited amount depressing or refreshing?

Comments would be nice.