Posts Tagged ‘“The Girl in the Junkyard”’

I got back from lifting incredibly heavy things at Kirkwood today, and came back to my computer, where I found a rejection letter sitting in my inbox.

So that’s awesome.

Now, if I were a certain kind of person, I would rail and rage against the injustices in the universe. I would swear wildly that I was being discriminated against, for whatever reason, and that I would make them rue the day that they rejected me

But I’m not that kind of person.

In fact, I have to admit, that my reaction was a bit of a resounding meh. I’m disappointed, of course. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be. But the story that I wrote (which was “The Girl in the Junkyard”), while it represented my best work at the time that I wrote it (July 2011), probably isn’t my best work now. Since last year I’ve been writing a LOT. And not just for my blog– I’ve been working on fiction, poetry, small humor articles, and all sorts of weird crap since I submitted TGitJ to this place. If I had to estimate how much I’ve written since I submitted it, I’d have to guess about 75,000. That’s a significant amount. That’s a novel’s length worth of writing right there.

So I’ve been practicing. I’ve gotten better. (A lot, in fact– I think that “Cassandra” is a valence level up from TGitJ in the same way that TGitJ was a valence level up from the dumb sword-and-sorcery bullshit that I wrote in high school.)

And even if it weren’t the case that I hadn’t been writing, the market I submitted this story to is pretty prestigious. It’s one of the higher-paying short story markets in the SFF world, and I’m a complete unknown. And while I think I’m a good writer (or at least a competent one), I’m not great. I’m getting there, but I haven’t reached that level yet.

So, yeah. I was expecting this, of course– you don’t ever hit the bulls-eye with your first throw unless you’re some kind of superhuman writing god. And since I didn’t have delusions of grandeur, I knew that TGitJ was probably going to be rejected. There’s really nothing for it– I need to keep writing, and keep sending stuff out there.

Maybe TGitJ will find a home at some point. Even if that home is here, on my lame blog, it’ll be a place for it.

I guess that’s really what I’m feeling right now. Slight disappointment, but also relief, and a feeling of hope.

Mingled with a slight desire for sushi.

Is there any way I can get sushi delivered at 11 PM in Santa Cruz?

~ Ian

So I changed around the appearance here on Axolotl Ceviche.

  • The most noticeable change is, of course, the theme. And I have to say, I’m a bit relieved. The old theme that I was using (Black Letter something or other) was ugly as sin, and barely even customizable. So I ditched it, and now I’m using another free theme that I thought was WAY more attractive. It’s called ChaoticSoul, in case you were wondering.
  • A second change is the tag cloud on the right. First of all, I wasn’t really thinking about utility when I added the tag names: I just put down amusing song lyrics, or funny turns of phrase, without thinking about the utility of the thing. So the tags were cute, yes, but not really functional. I changed them so that if you’re looking for information on my (still unpublished) short story “The Girl in the Junkyard”, then you can click on the tag that will show you all the posts where I’ve tagged it. Instead of being cute, it’s USEFUL, dammit.
  • I changed the header description, which was originally: “Writing. Geekery. Sarcasm. Reasonably Priced Love. And a Hard-Boiled Egg.” Again, I wasn’t really thinking when I created the header, since I just went with a couple of things off the top of my head that I wanted this blog to provide and added in a Terry Pratchett reference. This next one, “Committing Crimes Against the English Language Since 2012”, is kind of funny (since 2012 isn’t over yet– hell, it’s barely even begun), and in my old tag system, I had a tag called “crimes against the english language”, which was my category for original fiction. I liked the idea of being a contra-English criminal, so I didn’t want to let it die. Thus, the new header caption.
  • Finally, I put a picture of some mountains up in the header. I took that picture, actually. It’s just to the east of Kirkwood, on Highway 88.

So, what do you think? Better? Worse?

~ Ian

I’ve been thinking about something for a while, and maybe you guys would be interested in hearing my ideas about it.

A while back, over last summer, I wrote a story called “The Girl in the Junkyard”. It was a story about a teenage girl who lived in a massive junkyard outside a future city. She was essentially living as a hunter-gatherer in a post-industrial wasteland, fighting for survival every day. In it, bad things happened. I’m not going to say exactly what, but it was really dark.

I showed this story to a few friends. One of them was my roommate freshman year. Eventually I talked with him about the story, and he said something that I hadn’t thought about before.

“I liked the fact that you wrote about people who society tends to forget,” he said. “It was an interesting idea for a story.”

“Huh,” I said. I paused, and thought about it. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“Your story wasn’t a critique of modern life?” he asked. “Because I thought that you had a pretty important message there.”

“Nope,” I replied. “In fact, I didn’t really have a message with that story.”

“Then why did you write it?” he asked.

This gave me pause for a second. To be honest, I was a little surprised at the idea that I needed a reason to write a story. Why couldn’t the story itself be the reason I wrote it?

Why did I write that story in the first place? For that matter, why do I write at all?

And then I realized something about how most non-writers think about writing. And I understood why my friend had thought that I had a message in the story.

When we take English classes in high school, we read works that have already been pre-judged as “great”. This is why we read books by writers like Hawthorne and Twain, Fitzgerald and Hemingway: a massive category of people who I call the DWAMs: dead white American males. (Okay, fine, we also read Shakespeare, and occasionally we read a book by a black man or a Mexican woman, but really most students learn about gringos in their English classes.) When we read a “great” book, we tend to analyze it based on “themes”. We learn about how the major theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is racism, how The Crucible is about the anti-Communist witchhunts of the fifties.

So a non-writer, with four years of English classes under her belt, makes an assumption that when a writer sits down to write a story, the writer says, “Aha! I want to write a story about man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (for example)!” Having decided the underlying theme to her work, the writer then starts to come up with a plot, a bunch of characters, a setting, and then uses them as interlocking elements to tell her message. The writer, in this case, can be compared to a composer who writes a fugue, using the different… um, notes and things (I’m not a musician, so I have no idea how to make this analogy properly)… as elements of the whole. In this case, the writer uses all the elements of her story as notes, and the overarching theme of the work as the total fugue.

I will tell you one thing: almost no writer I know writes like this.

In fact, I’m very distrustful of any writer who says that she writes because she “wants to send a message”. This is why I don’t like allegory or satire, because the work is almost entirely “message”. It’s definitely this way with Orwell: I don’t enjoy 1984 nearly as much as I do other works of fiction. I think 1984 is stilted. Its characters seem like wooden puppets that the author uses to speak his message; its setting merely a stage for Orwell’s political theater. Basically, whenever I hear that a book has a great “message”, I avoid it. Books with messages, in my experience, are a lot like people with messages: melodramatic, one-sided, and prone to half-hour rants that everybody else ignores because the person never stops talking about her goddamn message.

(As long as we’re talking about it, I don’t trust any writer who is trying to “revolutionize literature”. It’s because, when you look at it, the writing is rarely good, much less revolutionary. True revolutions are accidental. The way I see it, every revolution throughout history that happened because a bunch of people decided to get together and revolt has failed. Only the quiet, unintentional revolutions succeed.)

So, when it gets right down to it, why did I write “The Girl in the Junkyard”? For that matter, why do I write at all?

I can’t speak for all writers (just like I can’t speak for all people, because everyone’s different), but I’ll tell you why I write:

I write because if I didn’t, I’d go completely crazy.

Seriously. I’ve been writing as a hobby since 2003. When I was eleven. I’m nineteen now, which means that for I’ve been writing for almost half of my life. This means I’ve trained my brain to think in stories. Furthermore, it means that my brain makes stories all the time.

I’m not kidding. It’s getting to be a serious problem sometimes. I literally can’t stop making stories.

Only about 5% of the stories my brain makes ever make it down on paper. I think of it with an analogy that Scalzi used once, only slightly modified: it’s like drinking from a firehose. You’ll manage to suck down a few drops at a time, but even when you do, the vast majority of the water will escape you.

Writing down these stories helps, though. Once I’ve written down a story, it can leave my head. I can stop thinking about it, since it’s gone. I can make room for new stories.

If I didn’t write these stories down, I feel like my head would become a pressure vessel. It would slowly get hotter and more pressurized in there, until my brain underwent catastrophic failure.

In this extended metaphor, this means I’d go crazy.

I guess that’s what I’m getting at. I don’t write because I want to change the world, or make a lot of money, or get laid, or send a message. I write because I don’t have a choice. I write because I can’t stop. All I can do is hang on.

I think this might be the key difference between a writer and an author. An author is a person who is either famous or influential because of her writing. And you know what? A lot of authors aren’t writers. I don’t think Harper Lee is a writer, even though she’s definitely an author. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and then hung her Writer Hat and Fictioneer Goggles up in her closet. She hasn’t written anything since. She’s merely remembered for writing one gorgeous, brilliant book. She’s a great author, no doubt, but she’s not a writer. Not anymore.

Whereas a writer? A writer does one thing: a writer writes.

And a writer doesn’t write for any other reason than this: she literally can’t stop. Because stopping the flow of words leads to madness.

Okay, bizarre writing theory rant over. Now to go and watch some Eureka, because what better way is there to spend an afternoon?

~ Ian