An Update on an Old Intention (aka How Ideas Mutate and Grow)

 

The Moon's Sorrowful Face, by Marija Smits

Reaching for the moon? (Art: The Moon’s Sorrowful Face, by Marija Smits)

 

In October 2016 I did something unusual: I posted an ‘Intention’ (note the capital I) on my blog. The Intention was to put together a book – a collection of short stories in the SFF genre with the final aim of getting it published.

At the time of declaring my Intention I knew I was a long way off completing the book because I didn’t have enough  superb short stories to go in it, but I thought that it may take me (the reasonable time of) a year or so to finish it. Um, I was wrong…! For a start, I thought the collection would contain fantasy and science fiction stories, but a discussion with some friends on Facebook led me to the conclusion that keeping those two related, though very different, genres separate would be best. I do know of some writers – who are absolutely at the top of their game and winning awards for their writing – who mix and match genres in their collections, but I’m not (currently) one of those writers. Besides, the more I thought about it, the more the genre separation idea appealed.

So I started off down a new route: one which involved writing and collating more sci-fi stories. And having had a little publishing success in that area, it confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing by concentrating on that one genre for the time being.

So far so good. The body of work was growing. And buoyed by the lovely members of my crit group (as well as my husband’s ever-constant encouragement) I felt that things were progressing. But then, at the start of this year, I saw that one of my favourite indie presses – Unsung Stories – had an open submissions window. They were on the lookout for novels or interlinked short story collections. Now, my novel (or possibly novella) was/is way off being finished, but my sci-fi collection… it was almost ready. But it wasn’t interlinked. And I had never meant it to be linked/interlinked. But it could be linked because there were so many similar themes…  I knew I’d never make the deadline, but the ‘linked collection’ idea didn’t go away. If anything, it has taken on new life and grown in my head – to the point where I now need to add lots more stories to the book because it has become this vast, sprawling, very weird thing indeed. (A little like Cloud Atlas, perhaps?!)

So that’s where I am. I now have a novel-cum-linked short story collection in my head, which is only partially written. I will roll with that for the time being and see where it takes me… So my only intention now is TO FINISH IT!*

 

*Watch this space/wish me luck!

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An Intention and Meet Starry-You

 

To date I’ve not been one to declare an intention publicly (I’m more the quiet person in the background puttering on with their work – vague intentions in my head, but never ‘out there’) so it feels a bit strange to do this, but I can see one big positive of declaring an intention of mine: that it’ll (hopefully) keep me accountable and on track to actually doing the thing that I want to do.

So here goes. I have a little dream of putting together a book – a collection of short stories in the SFF genre – and (whisper it) getting it published and ‘out there’. At the moment the whole publishing thing is not something I’m thinking about too much – it’s the whole good quality short story stuff that’s keeping me occupied!

But you see, something absolutely wonderful happened to me a short while ago. First, my story ‘His Birth’ was shortlisted in a competition. (The Wellcome Trust sponsored ‘Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities’ Creative Writing Competition.) And then second, it got awarded 2nd place by the judge Adam Roberts, who is like some kind of god when it comes to science fiction writing. And believe me, it gave me such a boost (and actually, some much-needed validation) that I started to think, Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can allow myself to consider putting together a short story collection. Maybe.

So… it’s going to take me a good long while (my writing happens at around midnight once or twice a week, or on the weekend) but I’m in no rush. The main thing is to get around 12 good short stories written that I want to include. Now, I’ve got a couple already that I want to include, but there’s still a whole lot more to write. And, there’s also the fact that only about 1 in 5 of the short stories I write are actually good enough to put in a collection. This I know because I only consider a story ‘good enough’ if my husband (aka my editor extraordinaire) really likes the story (and that only ever happens in approximately that ratio!).

So I’m going to aim to increase my publication history when it comes to short stories (no doubt there will be plenty of rejections ahead – perhaps some acceptances too!) but the main thing is that I persevere.

Inspired by Maddy’s image of her ‘Self-Doubt Demon’ I decided to draw a character that represents the opposite: the ‘Supportive Star’ (aka Starry-You in reference to the Pokemon, Staryu). Or does Sammy Star work better? Who knows? Basically, this little guy (or is she a gal?) is there to say: Well done! and You can do it! You got this! Because sometimes we all need a little encouragement when things get tough and the self-doubt demon appears…

 

Yay! You can do it! Starry-You by Marija Smits

Yay! You can do it! Starry-You by Marija Smits

 

Anyway… wish me luck, and if you ever have a spare moment please do ask me about how things are going. It will be good incentive for me to keep going!

Lastly… my blog turned 4 last month (although sadly, I was too busy to do anything about it then) but I’m creating a little something for a giveaway I’m going to run, so please do pop back in the next week or two if you’re interested in seeing what I’ll be giving away in celebration of my 4th blogiversary.

 

Some zentangle-art-to-be, photo by Marija Smits

Some zentangle-art-to-be, photo by Marija Smits

 

So, ta ta for now, and I hope to see you soon!

 

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The Editor (and creative contributor) to Her Book

Just the other day I officially signed off The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 with the printers. I am relieved. Very relieved.

TFATF2 front cover-page001

Ridiculously, I forgot how much energy, time and focus it takes to put a book like this together. With 17 stories by 17 writers, internal illustrations by Emma Howitt to incorporate and a huge amount of editorial tweaking, typesetting and other things to organize, a book like this is actually a huge project to manage. And being the illustrator of the wraparound cover and one of the contributing authors actually made it more difficult. I’ll be honest, I find it difficult incorporating my own work into the books I publish. Because, being also the editor and publisher, I have the power to do last-minute tweaks. And having the ability to do last-minute tweaks isn’t good for me. In the proofreading stage I am looking for flaws. I am hyper-aware of them and suddenly everything I have written or drawn seems rubbish, amateurish, not worthy of publication. I wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to get me, as Marija Smits, involved.

TFATF2 wraparound cover art by Marija Smits

TFATF2 wraparound cover art by Marija Smits. I’ve actually added to it since then!

I know a fair few HSPs who say that the issue of perfectionism is a problem for them. They set such impossibly high standards for themselves, which they know they can never achieve, so they don’t bother starting… because if it won’t be perfect, why try? Nowadays, I don’t tend to have this problem (although I did, especially with art, as a child) because I realize that art-wise nothing is ever really ‘perfect’. One can always re-work a sentence or add another brushstroke to a painting, or a little more shading to a drawing… But of course I would like to do things as perfectly as it is possible to do so and this is where the anxieties come in. The thought of putting something out there that is less than ‘perfect’ give me the heebie-jeebies. However, ultimately, writing and art, is subjective. Yes, I wouldn’t put forward my work for inclusion if it was massively technically wrong, and I do get useful and honest feedback on it that tells me if what I’ve created is a huge no-no or, in fact, has promise. But – and coming from a science background, where objectivity rules – I have had to learn that artistic endeavours are inherently subjective. At some point we have to let go of what we’ve created and say it is as ‘successful’ as it can be. No more can be done with it. Then you must let it find its own way in the world…

So someone will like the theme and the narrative of my story, ‘Little Lost Soul’ within TFATF2. But someone else won’t. My cover art may resonate strongly with one person, yet someone else will instantly know that they don’t like it. That’s fine. Really.

Of course we will have to see whether I can actually keep being philosophical about this, and take the genuine positive feedback graciously and the not-so-positive feedback with a view to learning about what works for some readers and what doesn’t work for others, but for now there are other things to do: the editing of others’ books, poetry and short stories to write, and other creative projects to start dreaming about.

***

And finally, just to illustrate that these kind of creative worries have been around for a fair long time, here is an excellent poem that describes what it is like to ‘birth’ a book and then let it go… (the author, Anne Bradstreet, was born in 1612).

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172953

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Mother's Milk Books

Peggy’s Decision

A short story by Marija Smits


“Hello Rose. And how are you today?” asked Peggy. “I expect you’re enjoying all this glorious sunshine?”

Peggy didn’t really want an answer from her old friend, so without pausing for breath she launched into her one-sided conversation. (Peggy was like that; it was just best if you smiled and nodded in the right places.)

“Well I suppose you’ve heard about Mr Whittaker? Or should I say Benjamin? Oh of course you have. I guess I’ve been wittering on about him for what must be months now. But you’ll never guess what the old fool’s gone and done? He’s only proposed to me, that’s what!

“Well I’m sure you can imagine my surprise. I mean, at his age! And that’s nothing to say of my age. Silly old thing. I mean, what on earth do I want to get married for? I’m quite happy as I am, aren’t I?”

Rose couldn’t possibly comment.

“In fact I’m very happy as I am. I see my daughter, Alice and her two boys most weeks, and what with the Church and the WI I’m busy enough. And there’s the house and garden to look after as well.

“For fifteen years I’ve been a widow and I’ve been pretty content. I can’t think of a single advantage of getting married to Mr Ben.”

There was no doubt that Peggy would soon think of some.

“Gosh, this sun is hot,” Peggy added. “Let me go and get my hat.”

Why Peggy had to always state the obvious was beyond Rose.

“Oh I do love this patio, don’t you?” said Peggy on her return. “Oh of course you do, I don’t know why I bother asking. Everybody loves this patio.

“Where was I? Oh of course; Benjamin and his silly ideas. There he is, on bended knee in the middle of the living room, a great big turquoise ring in his hand. Well I never. ‘To go with your eyes,’ he says. The great big wally.

“Still, it was an awful handsome ring. And people have commented on what a striking blue my eyes are.”

Rose kept very quiet.

Peggy looked out over the garden and twisted her old wedding band round her finger. How she missed Arthur. They had spent many happy years tending this garden together. She still remembered the day that he planted the copper beech hedge which surrounded the garden on all sides. He had worked tirelessly from dawn until dusk, digging and planting, watering and pruning. She had brought him cups of tea and corned beef sandwiches, his favourite. They had joked that the hedge would outlive them. She smiled sadly. No doubt it would. It had grown so tall now and she found it a real effort to keep neat and tidy.

“But Benjamin could be put to good use; there’s the hedge to trim, and the old apple trees need a really good prune.”

Rose nodded serenely.

“He says that he doesn’t mind where we live – he’s happy enough to move in with me, or I could go and live with him. Ha! As though I’d want to live in that poky old bungalow of his. No, no. It would be much better if he came here. He could sort out that dripping tap, for a start.”

Peggy twisted her hat around and bent down the brim to shield her eyes from the midday sun.

“I dare say I’ll be needing to buy a new hat for the wedding. I’ve seen an awfully pretty one in that new shop in town. It’s all feathers and pearls. It would go beautifully with a cream two-piece. I’ll have to ask Alice to come shopping with me. She’s very good at that sort of thing.

“But there’s still so much to think about. I mean, where on earth would we hold the reception? Ben does have a friend who hires out marquees; he said he’d give us a good deal, but where on earth would we put it? Of course my lawn is big enough for a large marquee, yet how would it look?”

Peggy could see it now – golden chairs with red velvet cushions around circular tables set with crisp white linen cloths, crystal glasses and silver cutlery. And each table would have a huge floral display on it. She would make the bouquets herself. She was famed for her bouquets. Mrs Ferguson of the WI was her nearest rival for floral ‘creations’ as she called them, but she could never quite match her.

“A cream and blue colour scheme would work best, I think. Yes, cream lilies and blue agapanthus would make a striking combination. And the scent would be divine.”

Peggy glanced at her old friend.

“No, not lilies,” said Peggy quickly. “Too showy.

“And if the weather held, we could celebrate into the night. I’ve always thought that dancing by candlelight on a summer’s evening a most romantic thing to do. Yes. That would do very nicely.”

The doorbell suddenly rang. Peggy sprang up.

“Oh that’ll be my daughter. I’d almost forgotten that she was coming over today. I’d better let her in.”

“Hi mum,” said Alice, giving Peggy a big hug. “Have you come to a decision then?”

“I have. I’ve had a good chat with my old friend, Rose and we both agree that Benjamin would make me a fine husband. He’s a good man, with a big heart. I don’t think I could do much better for myself. And he does so adore me.”

Alice couldn’t help laughing.

“And Rose helped you to decide, did she?”

“Oh yes,” said Peggy. “We’ve had a lovely, long chat.”

Alice went through the house and out onto the patio. She bent down to Rose’s upturned face and gave her a good long sniff.

“You and your plants mum. She’s a real beauty though, this rose. But I guess she doesn’t say much.”

“No. And that’s the way I like it,” said Peggy, her blue eyes sparkling.

***

This short story took first place in the Swanezine 2012 Short Story Competition. If you’d like to read what the Judge’s thought of it, click here: https://sites.google.com/site/swanezine/short-story-competition-results-2012#TOC-JUDGES-CRITIQUE