Yesterday I finished with work earlier than I have in...well, I don't remember how long it's been since I finished work before 6:00. Days? Weeks? I don't know. But I decided to seize the opportunity to approach a couple of stories afresh: the crazyass robot story and an older literary one.
I got interesting feedback from three different sources on the robot story: one person who indicated that it was largely worthless, a second person who said that she loved it but that I hadn't been clear enough about various things, and a third person who raved beautifully over it. This last person fully understood the intricate things I was trying to do stylistically and still gave me useful feedback about how I could make it better, becoming the first person ever to do this for my work. Seriously: I felt like I'd been minding my own business walking down a dusty road and managed to knock my walking-stick right into a boulder-sized diamond. He's thousands of miles away and happily married, but I still wanted to fling my arms around him and give him a big sloppy kiss.
Using feedback from all three sources, I rewrote a few key sections of the robot story and generally tightened it elsewhere. Final word count on it is 8,200 words, which means I added a couple hundred in these last edits, but I think it was for the better. Looking at that figure, 8,200, makes me groan. That's an awful lot more words than I really like a short story to be. 35 pages in double-spaced Courier. But when I first got going on this story, I decided that its length was going to be as many words as it took to tell the story, and that was that. This particular story just demanded that, to me, and I've hung tough on it, despite the screamy little voices in my head that say I'll never sell a story this long and any good story should be told in as few words as possible and bleh bl-bleh bl-bleh. Sorry, no. It's 8,200 words, which was as many as I needed to tell the story. So there. I sent it to a market that I hope will want it. Their other material makes me think it might be up their alley.
The older literary story, about a hesitantly gay college guy who suffers a bad trauma, was structured with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a reader told me that I should ditch everything except the middle. She said she knew she was arguing about just three pages, or so, and that it really wasn't so demanding on the reader to read that stuff, and that it fleshed out the characters a bit better. But, she said, the Double Stuf was so compelling that I needed to just edit out the cookies. I reread the story for the first time in a couple of months last night, and even though it seems illogical to the way stories are generally structured to cut out the beginning and the end, she was right. She was flat-out right. So I reworked the beginning radically, I think for the better, and did a medium-bad patch job on the end before I ran out of creative gas and quit for the night.
I've recently finished a couple of books that I didn't really enjoy, but which were very useful. I read a superhero novel that had good things in it, but was often frustrating, because it felt a lot like a YA novel in style and was often un-YA in substance. It also had troublesome gender issues, which has really been a problem for me in reading material lately. That one was good to read for this-is-acceptable-quality-in-publishing standards. I also read a zombie novel that was a weird downhill slope in holding my attention - the first 50 pages were nearly annoying in how generic and unrealistic they were (my brain is still calling bullshit on something that happened on about page 25), but it got real good real fast about 2/3 of the way through, to the point where I stayed up late to finish. I met the person who edited this book at PPWC, and he tried to explain that his publishing house was really into pop culture genre books, and I didn't really get what this meant until I read this book. Now that I've spent several hours of my life on a book I didn't much like, of course, I totally get it. It's an awesome focus to have. And I seriously doubt I will ever have a home at that particular house. Oh well; about half of the book was lots of fun to read, and the writer got one giant LOL out of me courtesy of a perfectly timed Starship Troopers reference.
Right now I'm reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which isn't wishy-washy eh kind of I guess I'll be glad I read it. I don't like this book. I'm 40 pages in and nothing is happening. I see that he's trying to bring sci-fi elements to literary fiction, but he's got the worst excesses of lit-fic along for the ride, and instead of seeing it as a delightful hat-tip, it's just pissing me off that he's appropriating Doctor Who for his own ends. My policy for whether I'll finish a book depends on the book, but for this one I've decided I'll read a hundred pages or so before I give up. Every few sentences the writer has a beautiful turn of phrase, which is nice, and a much better ratio than I've been batting with what I've been reading lately, but it's not enough.
All that is soon to change, however. On the basis of a breathtaking story I read in the steampunk anthology, I paid thirty dollars for a goddamned Wizards of the Coast book that's out of print. The writer is Samantha Henderson, and her story "Cinderella Suicide" utterly captivated me, even if I barely understood it for the first couple of pages. THIS, folks, is what I want to do, the thing that Samantha Henderson has done. Spectacular sentences, dancing around in genre without being of genre, breaking numerous rules and being better for it. She restored my faith in what I write with that story, and I don't think I could have gone on and started the KUFC book without her.
Anyway, I ordered her book Heaven's Bones, and after a couple of library books, it's next on the list. I hope it's just as beautiful as her other stuff I've read. Here's one of her stories, published earlier this year in Strange Horizons.
Aaaand I think that's about enough rambling.