Friday, January 19, 2001

Got GVG's rejection of "Other Cities" today. He writes:

This Borgesian piece is entertaining, but I'm afraid it ultimately felt too much like an exercise to me and not like a full-bodied story.

I'm quite pleased about this. Why, you may ask, am I pleased about a rejection? Well, first, GVG is fast as always; now "Other Cities" can romp on out to its next market. Second, it's a real reply: he didn't just check one of his boxes ("didn't grab me", "didn't hold me," etc.) for the mysterious "hs" to type up. Third, he got where I meant to go with it -- it's totally a homage to Borges. Fourthly, I fully expected a no: it's not a story. But he didn't just flat-out say "sorry, a story must have a main character who solves a problem", which Analog told me when I submitted "README.TXT" there. I take this to mean that he will not reject plotless whimsy out of hand; if it was extraordinary enough and had heart (as opposed to feeling like an exercise) he might buy it. This makes me happy. A generally cool reply.

So where is "Other Cities" going next? I have a note to myself to try it at Strange Horizons. I just submitted a poem there, though. Is it a multiple submission (and hence frowned upon) to send a story and a poem concurrently to the same mag? Probably. Maybe I'll try The Kenyon Review first. The Black Hole gives them an average response time of 37 days, not too shabby.

I got more crits of "Baby Love" back from RMCrit -- from Hilary and Karina -- and revised it. I followed most of the critiquers' suggestions. It's a tad longer now, with a little more tension, and I think I fixed the one major plot hole. Various ugly turns of phrase and technical innacuracies (like at what age babies sound like goats) have been fixed. Very useful crits, thanks everyone! I'm running the new rev by one fresh reader, my friend Patti, just to make sure I haven't done anything stupid in the fixes, and then it goes to Clarion and to Asimov's

A little rumination on reacting to critiques: many people seem to have a sort of democratic attitude towards critiques. Stephen King, for instance, seems in On Writing to treat critiques as voting. If everyone hates something, it should go; if only half hate it, the tie goes to the author. I'm not really that into this idea. I listen very receptively to critiques and usually I find the critiquers are right -- but in the end I gotta listen to my conscience. Thus, if everybody but one person loved something but that person has a point, I change it. If everyone hated something but it's the soul of the story, it stays.

Many people objected to the fact that at the end of "Baby Love", the protagonist acts absolutely without doubt, in a situation where most people would feel rather ambivalent. I understand the objection. But I ain't changing it. That's the point of the story, really, and I want the reader to feel a little unsettled afterwards, a little alienated from the main character. It's tricky, because it's a first-person narrative with a folksy, likeable narrator, and at the end I want to create this distance where you're like, "but, ah, Ted -- you do realize that -- I mean..."  And at the same time you identify with him. If I do it right, you are just a bit alienated from yourself, and a little uncomfortable. But just a little -- it's not a heavy Brechtian avantgardist piece or a dark anti-heroic saga, it's a basically light-hearted straight-ahead sf tale -- but there's something just a little unsettling about the end.

This trickiness may lose some readers; it may not work, it may just seem somewhat disappointingly unrealistic, or they may not notice. Or it may be obvious what I'm trying to do, but it ends up falling flat. Anyway, it stays. It's what I'm trying to do, and you can drive yourself nuts if you let critiques lead you astray from what you're trying to do. Which is a strong temptation when the critiques are well-thought-out, well-meant, insightful ones that come from writers you respect. Particularly when a complaint is widespread, like this "why doesn't he have any doubts?" one, you suspect you're probably actually in the wrong. Whatever. Sometimes I think we have to be stubborn.

(It occurs to me that the bit of alienation I am going for is a lot like what Gene Wolfe pulls off so well with Severian, though in a very different context.)

Now I'll pull "A Siege of Cranes" together enough to go out for critiques. A couple of RMCrit'ers very kindly and generously responded to my last entry fretting about whether I'd find critiquers for it, saying they'd be happy to. What a great bunch of people!

Hilary points out that now pictures of Aviva and Esther have been posted, but I might as well be Yog-Sothoth for all she can tell. Luckily for you cowering mortals and your meaningless morsel of a planet, I am not Yog-Sothoth. Here I am crashed out with Aviva at the hospital. Also, just because it's such a great picture, here is my sister Shoshana cuddling the Little Goat.

Also at Hilary's request, there is now a journal index here at Planet Ben. We aim to please!