Tag Archives: Clock

From Chapter 17, “Trust” of MINDWRITERS

Carl woke in the torn passenger seat of a shabby sedan, a stranger at the wheel. There was gum in the carpet, scratches in the dashboard, and a radio that looked right out of the ‘70s, lacking even a tape deck. The clock blinked ‘12:00’ in despondent rhythm, as if sorry for not knowing the time. The vehicle smelled of smoke, sweat, and worse. Surely several disappointed teenagers had lost virginity in the cramped back seat, the fairy tale of Mister Right crumbling to dust beneath the crude pawing of Mister Horny.

Earliest results are promising…

hatrack-logoSo after critiquing four or five “first 13 lines” of other writers (and offering to read more of the work which intrigued me), I chose Woman’s Best Friend to post first. Not sure why.

Here’s how the first-13-lines reads:

Naomi woke to the sound of Jessie barking.

She could barely identify the golden retriever’s silhouette against the window. For a confused moment, Naomi thought that Mark must be coming home, but that couldn’t be right. Mark was in Chicago, and Naomi had the car anyway. Besides, Jessie would have greeted Mark at the front door, on the east side of the house. The bedroom window faced south.

Naomi squinted at the clock:

4:30 AM.

“Jessie, hush,” Naomi whispered, settling back down to sleep. Jessie barked on, ignoring her.

Finally Naomi stood and walked to the window, unable to sleep, but also curious what had spooked the normally passive dog.

I just posted it this evening, and so far only one person has commented. He replied:

Okay, I’m hooked. Email me your story, and I’ll be glad to look it over.

Well, dammit! I mean, Good! I mean…dammit!

As a writer sincerely desiring criticism, one of the most frustrating things one can be told is, “It’s good.”

…okay, I take that back. One of the most frustrating things one can be told is, “It’s bad.”

Both are bad news. Criticism tells me what to fix. Praise swells the ego.

So I guess both are good news. But it’s highly encouraging that my first “total stranger” comment was: “I’m hooked.”

I must be doing something right.

Now somebody tell an editor, quick.

If this isn’t good enough, what is?

GRR!When I was in college, there was a girl who called herself a writer. She carried around a little notebook (like 4″x6″) in which she hand wrote “chapters” of a vampire story, stream of conscious. She never edited or revised, so far as I could tell, and once when she asked me to type up a few of her “chapters”, they turned out to be no more than about two pages each. (Her “novel” was about 15 pages long in total.)

Her friends who were asked to read her work said, “It’s good” and handed it back. Then she asked me to read it.

I have long been of the belief that when someone asks for criticism (this goes for me, too, folks) you are NOT doing them a favor by sparing them. In the realm of physical activity, you can’t argue with results; unless you’re running a certain speed, or winning by a certain number of points, it’s hard to fool yourself and others that you are. It’s much easier to convince oneself of being a good writer or painter or musician even if the opposite is true.

Imagine if a basketball was visible only to your eyes, and a potential player kept asking you to evaluate his game. If he consistently misses the basket, are you doing him a favor by telling him he’s hitting it? What’s going to happen when he goes to try out and his form is awful?

This girl’s protaganist was painfully Mary Sue. The writer also portrayed Pope Jean Paul II personally performing acts of intense torture. I didn’t care about any of the characters or events.

As a result of my critique, this girl did…absolutely nothing.

Rewind the clock further.

I’m in high school, after English class. For some reason, I’ve given a classmate a copy of Swordplay, the Neolithic precursor to my amateurish Shadows of Prophecy.

Classmate: This was really good.
Jason: Thanks a lot. Are there any problems with it that I can fix?
Classmate, amazed, glances at the teacher to see how to interpret this request.
Teacher: He really does just want to know what to improve.

Fast forward back to college:

acheposropheMy friend, whose writing I greatly respect, was in a creative writing class. We’ll call her Alice. Another girl we’ll call Betty was also in the class; I was not. This is kind of cruel, but we were young and…well…cruel. Alice was so annoyed at Betty’s horrific writing that Alice would let me read them so that at least someone could share her incredulity. Betty’s writing was full of concepts like half-vampire/half-dragon people. (Traditionally, vampirism is a disease, not a race. Vampires don’t even breed via offspring with each other, much less with other races. “Half-vampire” makes about as much sense as someone who is “Half-Cancer” or “Half-Polio”.) Her scenes were full of Chickification, Purple Prose, Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma, Rouge Angles of Satin, and worst of all, How Do I Used Tense. (Man, I wish I’d known the names of these tropes in college!)

Both of the girls described above are in the same writing-career category as I am:


(Technically, my non-fiction has been purchased for stock content, but that’s just not the same, damn it!)

If these two young ladies have continued to pursue a career in writing fiction, and I sincerely hope they have, then it likely they are also in the process of finishing and submitting stories — probably to some of the same publications. All three of us write speculative fiction.

Now comes the frustration. Perfect Justice may even sit in the same pile with authors still stuck on How Do I Used Tense. And I’m getting the same form letter in reply.

I take too much pride in my work to think I could possibly be stuck in Rouge Angles of Satin or How Do I Used Tense. I check my spelling and grammar rigorously even for intra-office email. In online venues, I have oft earned the appellation “grammar police”. I’m so relentless, in fact, that it annoys me that “Vampirism” and “Soteriological” are words which spell-checkers think are wrong, even if I have looked up them up elsewhere to make certain I’m not just making them up.

Furthermore, far from avoiding or ignoring criticism, I’ve been seeking extra helpings of critique for as long as I can remember; even before I really took writing seriously myself. The way that Perfect Justice has morphed from its original (annoying) version is proof.

So if I’m not making any of the obvious mistakes, even after multiple revisions (even bestsellers have the occasional misprint or typo), what else is wrong with the story?

Are my characters Mary Sues? Is my conflict boring? Are the characters not identifiable? The situations aren’t suspenseful?

I would assume one or all of the above is true, except that Perfect Justice has given people nightmares and the ending has evoked anger. One person insisted he cried at the end of Woman’s Best Friend, and another has expressed sadness over the fate of a character therein.

I’m obviously connecting with someone. Or is it only because friends, family, and co-workers are too forgiving when they read something by me? Not consciously, perhaps, but sub-consciously?

I’m a good writer. What I mean by “good writer” is not that my work is amazing —  not yet — what I mean is that I’ll do whatever it takes to GET amazing. But when there’s a problem, I need to know what to fix. The form-letter rejection leaves far too much room for interpretation. Apparently my story was just as bad as those full of Rouge Angles of Satin. Or if it wasn’t, it was bad enough to get lumped in the same category.


Now what do I fix?