Monday, January 28, 2013

Going Crazy or Why Do We Need A February 30th

Today it hit me like a truck. The amount of work I must complete by the end of february is huge and my nerves are crushing under its weight. As it always is on matters of life and everything that matters, I didn't plan for so many things to happen at the same time. One minute I'm milling over my novel and a couple of stories, you know, leisurely (but not lazily); the only deadlines being the ones I wrote on my notebook. The next thing I know, Bam! Work has fallen on my lap out of nowhere.

It all started with a bit of bad news. I got an email from the publisher to which I submitted one of my stories back in November, and once more the answer was no. I felt heartbroken for like five seconds, then I went back to the long list of publishers that might be interested in my story. I was going through it when I remembered: Cemetery Dance is open for submissions. I logged in to check the requirements and they are looking for 5k long stories. 

My story is 7k long. Shoot.
Wait, what if I read it again and see... After all, it has been rejected so many times (seven, to be exact), it might be good to give it a new read. So I did. And I couldn't pass the first paragraph without thinking it was full of garbage. 

Oh, what the heck. What can go wrong, right? So I started rewriting. And I've been at it for two straight days. Haven't passed page three and the story is already two hundred words shorter.

Oh. My. God. And to think I paid for a professional edit... Man!

Of course now I'm resolved to make it a 5k story. I might not be able to pull it, but I know at the very least it'll be a much better story and there will be many more markets willing to read a shorter version.

Then, on the same day and just to show me there's still hope for me, I got some good news. The next mail I opened was an invitation to be part of an anthology. 


This is an invite-only anthology and the editor chose thirteen authors to participate in it, yours truly among them. I'm very happy and honored to be considered. I'm also very stressed trying to think of the best, most intelligent, clever, funniest 5k story I can write. And, of course, my mind went kaput. No shiny light bulb above my head. 


After careful consideration, I came up with two ideas that can work if I want to write a new story. Or I have two stories in a very rough first draft that I could make fit. Thing is, the deadline is early March. For the whole, edited and ready to be submitted story. Yep, March... 

Oh, and did I forget to tell you I got a new translation project? Well, yes. This time the good news came by phone (and believe me, they are good news. My wallet can attest to that.) A Geologist for whom I have worked before needs me to translate a final report of some kind of investigation from Spanish to English by the end of February. It's about a hundred pages long. No kidding.

Soooo... I'm in a bit of a pickle. 

I need to haul my ass big time if I want to get everything ready for the different deadlines, so forgive me if I don't write here as often, or if my writing isn't as clever and funny. 

What, you saying I'm not clever or funny? 


Then you won't mind me being cranky.

Hope you are having a much more relaxing start of the week. ;-)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Deal With a Bad Review, Revisited

This is a question I constantly find plastered all over writer's boards and Facebook groups. Every writer with a book, story, or any kind of written piece out there to be read, is subject sooner or later to negative feedback. It can be a post on your blog or the brain child in which you worked relentlessly for years until it was published. It doesn't matter if we published it ourselves, if it was traditionally published, or if we hit the publish button to the blogosphere. We mean each word we put into those blank pages and, in some measure, a bit of us is exposed with them. That's why we want so much for others to enjoy our work, to like it, to find something special about it. And even though in this business we know we should eat rejection for breakfast, it is easier said than done.

When I got my first bad review it wasn't easy. I felt a punch in my gut and physical pain I thought reserved for ... well, physical injuries. Of course I got mad at the reviewer for what I considered her unnecessary rudeness, but I got over it. Life went on and my book continued to be read. I've gotten a few very positive reviews after that one. I've also gotten a couple more bad ones, however I don't fret over them anymore.

As a reader and reviewer, I understand there are a lot of books out there that are not for me. Either they go into themes I do not enjoy, their characters have characteristics I find annoying, or they are simply bad quality stories. However the case, it is hard to choose books among the sea of options Amazon offers us. How do I do it? I read the reviews left there. First I check how many reviews the book has. More than ten give me more reason to believe in the story. However, if all of them are positive, I tend to distrust the book. How is it possible everyone likes this book? I mean, Anna Karenina has detractors, for goodness sake. It simply can't be that a book written by this totally unknown author has managed what no other writer in the history of the written word has ever achieved: Perfection. And not only perfection, but a consensus of perfection. Impossible. So I go on and choose another book.

My point here is: A negative review is not bad per se. It lends credit to the rest of your reviews and to yourself. A balance between good and bad is what you should aim for. Think two out of ten reviews, or five out twenty. Human taste is impossible to predict and homogenize and such should be your reviews. Variety is key. A few three-stars, and a couple of one-stars among many four/five-stars will scream "Legit" to a knowledgeable reader.

So what to do when the bad ones come?

There are two main things you can do. Either ignore them, or (when particularly outlandish or ridiculous) talk about them. Remember the old adagio: There is no such thing as bad publicity. If you can laugh about it without sounding snarky, go for it. The worst that can happen is that others will be intrigued about that story/author everybody is talking about.

Be careful, though. One thing is to poke fun at your book and the reactions it is getting out of people, and laughing about people. Your readers deserve respect, even when they are not nice to you, and if you cross that invisible line there, it will turn its ugly face at you and bite you in the ass. Ferociously.

So, go on. Be happy. The most important thing you have to remember is to have faith in yourself. As long as you are being the best that you can be today, you are on top of the world. You'll get better, and if you get really better, millions will hate you. Ask JK Rowling or Stephen King.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hollow Hallways or the Place of Philosophy in Dark Fiction

For a few months I've been working on a short story that falls more into Dark Literature than into Horror. It has philosophical undertones but it doesn't pretend to have all the right answers. It is a piece of fiction, after all, but I've always been fascinated by those artistic outlets that give more than pure entertainment. This is a new territory for me. I do have a nature that tends to ponder for a bit too long on the great unanswerable questions that plague human existence. However, writing about them within the realm of Dark Fiction is quite a struggle.

And since I'm in this boat, I've gone back to those artists that have inspired me through the years. Those who taught me that art can be deep, touching, and intriguing, yet still be fun. I guess the best examples of this kind of complex art in paintings and movies are Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel. Both surreal artists, their respective body of work has always inspired me to dig deep into my soul for understanding.
Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali

Dali's paintings are known to every single person on this planet. They are not only beautiful, but thought-provoking. Like the one above, for example. 

Now, if you haven't heard of Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) I wouldn't be surprised. Though his works have garnered continuous praise for decades, they can't be called commercial by any extent of the imagination. You are missing, however, some of the most important representations of cinema as art. His first film ever was written in collaboration with his life-long friend Dali. A Chien Andalou is a relentless, fifteen minutes long, Freudian free association film. In other words, a crazy ride that feels like seeing the thoughts of a schizophrenic mind. There are as many interpretations of this film as minds are on this earth, and it veritably represents every psychoanalyst wet dream. 

Years later he filmed The Exterminating Angel. A proper movie with a proper story this time, albeit as uncrackable as his first venture. It is considered one of the one thousand best films EVER. Strange and mesmerizing in equal measure, it will leave you with more questions than answers. And I promise you'll be back for more. A true gem.

Then, there is music. In this area I find my inspiration from a much more current source. A quite famous Progressive Rock band called Dream Theater. Most of its lyrics are deep and question life, death, past lives, and our present way of living. So no wonder they're not played by commercial radio stations. Still, they have a huge following. Though I don't like Heavy Rock, Death Metal, or half-an-hour-long songs, Dream Theater has captivated my mind. I share with you one of his ballads, which lyrics still make me ponder on their meaning.

"Once the stone 
You're crawling under 
Is lifted off your shoulders,
Once the cloud that's raining 
Over your head disappears 
The noise that you'll hear 
Is the crashing down of Hollow Years."

~Hollow Years
Written by John Petrucci.

So what stories/books have made you search into your soul for answers? Is there a place for Philosophy in present day fiction?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Books I read in 2012. The Best and The Worst

As many of you, I make reading an important part of my resolutions every year. When I was in Med School I wasn't reading much fiction. I simply had no time. Fast forward a few years and my kids were just born. Those days I read very little, too. I was too overwhelmed by taking care of my babies. I felt horrible, then. Like I had neglected my brain and it was going to mush. So, I decided I needed to get back in the saddle.

Starting 2011 I decided I would read twelve books that year. It might seem like too little for some of you, but I was reading at the time maybe two/ three books a year, so this was a big challenge. By the time 2012 came by, I had read fourteen books! Needless to say, I was elated. With such a resounding success I decided to go higher for that year. I set my mind and heart at 16 books. Again, I rather have realistic goals and blow mi mind with success, than breaking my heart by a failure. And yet again, I did great. 20 books was my last count. Yay me!

2012 was also the year I started reviewing for a magazine, the sadly now extinguished Dark River Press. Reviewing changed me as a reader. It taught me to pay attention to details like style, voice, editing, and plot. Not that I wasn't aware of that before. As a reader before I knew something wasn't yelling in a story, there was something missing that hindered my ability to enjoy it. Then, as a writer I learned the mechanics of a story, but it was being a reviewer that got me to mix what I'd learned as a writer and what I felt as a reader. There, I was reborn and I must say I'll never read the same way again.

But, let's face it. No matter how technically adapt or compelling a story is, it must speak to you. It must resonate with your experiences, background, dreams, whatever you want to call it. It is this spark between the story and you that will make you remember it years down the road. Oddly enough, I've found myself remembering specific passages of a book that I didn't even enjoy at the time! Somehow, as I grew up, or my experiences emulated those of the characters, my memories of the book became fonder... Beats me, but it's true.

So, here is the list of books I read on 2012 and, among those, the ones that impacted me the most (highlighted.)

The absolute best would be Bradbury and Blackwood. No surprises there. While Bradbury has a poetic prose that uses (or over-uses, some might say) adjectives and very long sentences to lull the reader to his world, he still can pack a punch and have you afraid to read any further. Almost like closing your eyes right before the killer is about to jump out of the closet. Instead Blackwood is concise and precise. His sentences are short and to the point. He keep his monsters hidden in the closet but lets you know they're there. Highly atmospheric. I haven't been so afraid to turn the lights off in years.
Blackout is a runaway hit of science fiction and winner of many awards. My first venture into time-traveling stories, which I usually hate, but this one I loved. A review is coming!
Satan Carol has an almost philosophical nature. It is also scary and funny. Such a hard combination! That alone would suffice but on top of that, it is very well done. A tour de force I'll be thinking about for many years.
Blackstone Manor has the best opening scene I have ever read.
The rest are all awesome in their own right. If you want to know more, follow the link to check the reviews!

So, for this year I'm shooting for twenty-four books. Given my hectic schedule, I seriously doubt I'll be able to read much over the goal, but believe me, I'll try.

What is your goal for the year? What were your most memorable reads of 2012? I'm always adding to the TBR pile. =)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Reaper's Walk, A Review

Reaper's Walk: Helstone is a terrific read that caught me by surprise. It's not because I was expecting a bad story that I found myself surprised, but because it is not often that a book manages to move its focus so far away from its premise successfully.

The blurb tells us about the dark witch Umaa and her pact with the devil to exact revenge against the white men who have enslaved her kin. It tells us how Harper's Town burned to the ground with everyone inside and how she refused to pay the Devil with her soul, instead offering that of her ten-times descendant. In modern era, Lita Harper is that descendant. Alerted by her grandmother of her dire situation, Lita will have to learn every secret held by the long line of witches in her family. A secret world of which she knew nothing a few weeks ago, now holds the only thing the Devil might be willing to trade for her soul. The clock is ticking for Lita and she must hurry before the same hooded figure with a scythe that claimed every soul in Harper's Town comes to collect hers.

The first half of the story is exactly what the blurb promised and its done exquisitely. The narrative is compelling, the characters relatable, and the atmosphere claustrophobic. Particularly outstanding is the section where the spirit of Umaa relives what happened to Harper's Town. Then a slew of new characters are introduced and the focus digresses. Slowly but surely the center of the action moves from the piece of land that used to be Harper's Town and its curse, to a set of powerful objects that will put the paranormal world upside-down.

The new characters are intriguing and interesting but the atmospheric ghost story feeling of the first half is traded for a fast paced action thriller by the time the climax has come. This is a case where what appeared to be a plot device ends up becoming the real plot, thus blindsiding the reader.

Now, some might feel betrayed by the author, fooled into believing it is a ghostly story only to be delivered a different one. Others, more relaxed, might simply enjoy the ride and take the change as the ultimate twist ending. Giving the continuum of the story, the consistency of the characters, and the fact that Reaper's Walk never stops entertaining, I feel inclined to call it the latter.

In any case, Reaper's Walk: Hellstone makes a great first installment for a series and I'll be waiting for what Franklin has hidden under his sleeve for Bloodstone, the promised second installment. If I were to point to the--non fatal--faults, I'd say the resolution to the original plot becomes almost a nuance. A necessary step in order to move down to the new main plot. That is not to say the conclusion of the story is not satisfactory. You see, when you construct two great stories, the blending of them might outdo each one individually.

For more about Don Franklin or Reaper's Walk, click on the link.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

To Plan or Not To Plan...

Here we are once more, the first post--and IWSG meeting--of 2013. I guess the joke's on those who spent their life savings on underground bunkers and enough Campbell's soup to last a nuclear winter. But, if you ask me, anyone who didn't pay attention to the surviving Mayas saying they knew nothing about this End of the World nonsense had it coming. Still, I feel bad for them. 12/13/12 must've been a very awkward day at the office.

My mother always tells me everyone talks about the fair depending on how it went for them and she is right. And though I know it's frowned upon to talk ill of the recently deceased, I must say last year was not my best year. Not by a long shot, but it wasn't a total wash either. It was more like some idle time where I didn't accomplish many goals but I set the ground work that will enable me to see them come to fruition. Half of 2012 was gone by the time I got my sh*t together. But it ended on a high note, and for that I'm grateful. Now, I'm back at my computer like a year ago, feeling like it was yesterday when 2012 knocked on my door with the promise of so many possibilities. As did the year before. And the one before that.

Differently to those past years, this January 2nd I don't have fail resolutions. I don't feel the burden of failure and the excitement of turning the page anew. For me, this wednesday feels exactly the same as last wednesday. My goals haven't changed and the foundations that took me all that 'idle time' to build are still there, giving fruits. I didn't even bother to think of my new year's resolutions. I have my old year resolutions that haven't changed. And I'll be damned if I don't finish with those first before I set new ones.

Most people talk about their expectations for the new year, their dreams and hopes. They are determined to change that which derailed last year's hopes and dreams. This time it will be different, they say. And then they go on and put 8 out of the 10 failed items on the list once more. What's the point, I say. Did your mom write a new To Do list when you hadn't finished the last one? Had she re-written it on a different color paper or with a different pen, would you have felt more inclined to finish it faster?

Nonsense. I still want to loose those 10 lbs I have been carrying around my mid-section since my youngest one was born, six years ago. I still want to get on the treadmill at least three days a week. I still know that unless I set a schedule and actually stop eating and start exercising, those two items will remain in my To Do list for quite some years. What I'm trying to say is that we all start the year with our best intentions and daydreaming with the possibilities, but it is about October that we realize those dreams were unrealistic or that we haven't been serious about them. It is then that we start to scramble to make it happen, knowing it is impossible. Then we get depressed at our failure and want to strike it off our record with the new year. What if instead of stopping the effort you started in October you kept going until you actually made it?

This is what I'm planning to do. I'll keep posting every monday and friday--plus every first wednesday of the month--on this blog. I'll keep working on my new novel, carrying the momentum that took me so long to build. I'll keep trying to be a better writer, mother, wife, and daughter everyday. And I'll keep refusing to call myself a failure until success is the only word left in my vocabulary.

I wish the same for you. Happy new year!