writing life

Personae in Speculative Poetry

Guest columnist Richard H. Fay is back today, as he continues to give us his very well-researched take on the odd and the occult.  You can read his blog here, and we also recommend checking out his Zazzle Store, and artwork referred to this piece can be found here.  

Art: An Invitation to Elfame by Richard H. Fay

Writers of prose fiction do not necessarily write in voices that are their own. Narrators of works of fiction need not be the authors themselves, oftentimes they are personae, fictional characters distinct from the authors This is true in both works of general fiction as well as works of genre fiction. It is also true of poetry, especially when it comes to speculative verse (poetry with fantastical, science fictional, or mythological themes). Characters speaking or thinking in poems need not be the poets themselves. Heck, when it comes to speculative poetry, the narrators need not even be human!

Speculative poets often speak through an imaginary or historical narrator. It seems doubtful that most speculative poetry is meant to be confessional verse, at least not it the usual sense of the term. Speculative poets frequently take on the voices of others, and these others might be aliens, or fairies, or demons, or mythical beasts, or mundane animals, or even objects traditionally seen as inanimate. It should be obvious to those either reading such poetry or hearing it read that the poets haven’t actually turned into such things. It should be clear to all that the poets used their imaginations to speak in the voices of beings or things distinct from themselves. However, the notion that ALL poetry MUST be confessional has muddied the waters a bit. The line between imagined and real might not always be clear to all readers or listeners, especially when speculative poets speak with voices all too human.

In my own brand of speculative verse, both dark and light, I’ve used this idea of persona again, and again, and again. I’m certainly not a brain-eating demonic serpent (“Serpent of Storms”), or a cosmic fighter pilot facing his own demise (“Last Thoughts of a Cosmic Fighter Pilot”), or a life-draining vampiric entity (“Life is the Life”), or an Earthling married to a furry alien (“Marriage of Earth and Antares”), or a killer being driven to madness and suicide by visions of the face of the lover he killed (“Your Bloody Face”), or a fairy inviting a mortal to Elfame (“An Invitation to Elfame”), or a bleak haunted island (“The Haunted Isle”). However, in the respective works, I spoke as if I were a brain-eating demonic serpent, a cosmic fighter pilot facing his own demise, a life-draining vampiric entity, an Earthling married to a furry alien, a killer being driven to madness and suicide by visions of the face of the lover he killed, a fairy inviting a mortal to Elfame, and a haunted island. I think the ability to speak in the voice of another is just as important to fictional poetry as it is to prose fiction. It is also one of the creative techniques that can set speculative verse apart from more mainstream poetry.

Contrary to what some believe, not all poetry need be confessional, at least not personally confessional. Unfortunately, it seems some poets and poetry readers believe otherwise. They apparently think poetry is, by its very nature, confessional. This can lead to a misunderstanding of speculative verse, especially when speculative poets write in personae.

During one of the Poet’s Live Corners I attended at a local library, after I stated that I had some dark speculative pieces to read, one of the other poets present mentioned the time they had a poet show up and read poetry about murder and mayhem. I got the impression that the group had been shocked by this other poet’s material, as if it were almost confessional in nature. Did they truly have a murderer in their midst that day? I doubt it. I had to smile, knowing the dark and often diabolic nature of much of my own verse. Does that mean I’m a dark and diabolic person? Of course not!

Just because a poet writes about bloody murder doesn’t make that poet a bloody murderer. That’s the whole point about writing in persona – it’s imaginative versus outright confessional. However, I think my experience at the Live Poet’s Corner exemplifies the lack of understanding speculative poets writing in personae may face within the broader literary community.

One of the first things a reader or listener of speculative poetry must understand is that such verse is imaginative verse. The poet is speculating about other places, other times, other beings, other thoughts. They are imagining more than confessing, although confession may still be buried beneath the imaginative trappings. Unfortunately, if a reader or listener operates under the notion that poetry is confessional by default, they might misunderstand the concept of personae in speculative poetry. They might not fully realize that the speculative poet is speaking as someone or something else, that they are imagining. They’re missing the point of what the poet created!

My ISDC Participation

Back in 2018, I sent a story entitled Acid Test to the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest. It was awarded second place (it was later published under a different title, and you can read it here), and with that, I was invited to the awards ceremony held during the International Space Development Conference in June 2019 in Washington DC. This is also how I ended up with my latest few copies of Ad Astra.

I had no idea what to expect as a conference VIP, so I kind of drifted around with the three other science fiction writers at the event, chatting, talking to other people, and even sitting in on some of the sessions (there were usually several conference rooms occupied at once, and they were all packed). The session I sat in on was one where they were talking about the differences between the philosophies of government space programs and the private sector, effectively (if not sexily) illustrated by an example using a valve purchase process. (Essentially, the private sector can do things cheaper because they allow themselves to iterate faster and give their suppliers less restrictive contracts, as well as being more open to innovation).

One of the most surreal moments of my participation came during the prize-giving lunch session. The keynote speaker (whose name I won’t mention), essentially said that one could achieve immortality by creating something she called a mind clone, basically letting your electronics gather all they can about your preferences, actions, habits and activities and making that data available for upload. That way, she argued, you would live on in an AI indistinguishable from your own self.

Now, I have given this a certain amount of thought, and I utterly disagree with this particular position. My own take is that immortality MUST imply a continuation of consciousness, so this doesn’t count. But more important than my own opinion is the realization that being a futurist must be full of this kind of skepticism. To have any shot of being a true visionary, it’s not enough to extrapolate current trends. Anyone can do that. You need to imagine the things that are going to come out of left field and catch everyone by surprise.

Her prediction most certainly does… even if it’s wrong.

Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer. His novel Outside looks at the lines between artificial and natural consciousness, and at what happens when they blur too much for comfort. You can check it out here.

Lost and Found and an Emotive Surprise

I write in a bunch of genres and receive very different kinds of contributor copies for my efforts. Sometimes the cover and general look and feel of the book make me think it’s going to be great, and other times, awful. When I saw my copy of Lost and Found, I wasn’t expecting much, even though the book appeared solid and well printed.

But I always read my contributor’s copies, so I read it… and was blown away. The stories in here pull at the heartstrings, and they pull hard. Of course, I should have suspected it. After all the subject of loss lends itself to hugely powerful situations, and the table of contents of this book was full of names I recognized as talented practitioners.

It’s an emotional roller coaster containing everything from fantasy horror in an amusement park to straight literary fiction, and it’s well worth the read. Editor Terri Karsten has done a wonderful job.

My favorite was probably “Lost Lamb” by Paul Lewellan, a mature tale that reads just the way I like my mainstream fiction. Well done. Also memorable was “It Happened at Stratosphere Heights”, by Antonio Simon Jr. – by far the weirdest one in here.

Another thing I really liked was the section entitled “On the lighter side” which, as the name implies, is a collection of stories with more levity – some outright funny, that breaks up the serious nature of the book very well.

In conclusion, this one was a hit with me and proves again that judging a book by its cover is a bad idea, especially when the cover is perfectly fine, just not quite the one you would have chosen. This one is worth the time.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in the book Love and Death, which is a novel told in short story form intertwining the lives of characters who, for the most part, are unaware of how their lives affect everyone else. You can buy it here.

Writing Advice that Sucks – and Some that Doesn’t

Are you a writer still looking for that first sale? Or maybe to move up another step in your career?

Have you already read all the books (particularly On Writing) and everything online… and have gotten to the point where you actually welcome writing advice from monster book writers?

Excellent. You’ve come to the right place. Prepare to hear some hard truths.

If you’ve really done your homework, you’ll have been inundated with the following gems:
– Cross out all your adjectives
– The secret to writing is RE-writing
– Adverbs are from the devil
– The passive voice is unacceptable
– Use simple words
– If you don’t have several beta-readers you’ll never sell a word

Now, all of these are well-intentioned and there’s a reason each of these is posted a billion times online. Mainly, that reason is that a lot of bad writing is bad precisely because writers overwrite or miss an editing pass and agents and purchasing editors are tearing their hair out over it, so they pretty much convince themselves that if they see another adverb, they’ll track down the writer and shoot him.

But that’s only a part of the story. A lot of excellent writing is heavy with adjectives, written in the passive voice or even, shudder, in the second person. And the writing advice you’ll find online will be very discouraging if that’s your style.

So these are good for beginning writers, except for that one about the secret to writing being re-writing. I secretly suspect that that one was created by some successful writer who wants to keep newcomers out of the field by making the act of writing seem like torture. Because that is what excessive rewriting is… torture (you’ll need some rewrites to whatever you do, but knowingly writing a terrible first draft is just silly. Get it as good as you can and then polish as necessary, don’t relish the rewrite). I like Heinlein’s mandate to rewrite only to editorial command.

So throw all of them away. Here’s my take on how to become a writer:

  1. Be a reader. Preferably from the age of four (get a time machine and go back if necessary). If you can’t swing starting at the age of four, then start right now. Drop whatever you’re doing and grab the nearest book. Read to the end and grab the next nearest. Only once you’ve read everything you can reach without getting up are you allowed to leave your chair. And then, only to go to the bookcase and continue the process. Read in your target genre and out of it. Read magazines and theater. Read poetry (you can yell at me in the comments, but read it anyway). You’ll be surprised at how much your sense of what sounds right will take a quantum leap forward… a lot of writing is unconscious, and if the raw material isn’t there, the writing will be flat. This is the most important writing advice you’ll ever hear. An added benefit is that if you’re a voracious reader, you won’t have to study Strunk and White because you’ll absorb it from authors who already know it. If you try to write without being a voracious reader, you will suck, and you won’t even know it. Let me spell that out for you again: if you’ve ever said “I don’t have time to read,” you are a crap writer. Period. MAKE time.
  2. Write every day. Have writer’s block? Cool, force yourself to write a thousand words. Not inspired? Awesome, now, ass in chair and give me a thousand. Tired? Yeah, that sucks, especially since you are going to be writing a thousand words with your eyelids at half-mast. I think you get the point. Writers are people who write.
  3. Finish and submit your work. No excuses. Get it done, get it polished and get it subbed. It’s worthless on your hard drive and if an editor or an agent hates it, they’ll hate it. Fortunately, since you are forced to write every day, you’ll be thinking about your next piece when the rejection comes in. And once it does, you send it back out immediately. If you’re any good, it will eventually sell (or place in a 4-the-Luv publication). If you aren’t, you need to go back to step 1, above – remember that not everyone is born with Oscar Wilde’s pure talent… but everyone can learn to hear the rhythm of a sentence in their head and turn out publishable prose. I know one particular genre writer who has zero natural talent, but whose workmanlike writing is readable enough to have gotten him onto the NYT bestseller list and writing for at least two wonderful SF properties. I respect that.
  4. Do NOT worry about rejections. There are tens of millions of writers out there. If you’re doing 1-3, you’re already ahead of most of them. Now it’s just a a case of beating the millions that still remain onto a table of contents or a publisher’s release timetable. So getting rejections just means you’re one step closer to seeing that piece in print. Also, if you’re doing steps 1-3, the act of writing, reading and getting your rejected pieces back out there will restore that spark of hope.

So that’s my advice. Note that I’m not prescribing how to tell your stories. Your voice is yours, and if it’s good enough, you will be published. If it’s not good enough, keep reading until you can recognize a good sentence just by how it looks on the page.

It’s hard work, but then being a writer is very cool… and very competitive.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His latest book is a monster book (well, we did warn you) entitled Test Site Horror. It’s an action adventure piece set in the Ural Mountains where genetically-modified dinosaurs and Russian special forces troops battle it out to see who the apex predator actually is. You can check it out here.

Writers’ Writers vs. Readers’ Writers

I used to think the phrase “so-and-so is a writer’s writer,” was just a way to indicate a writer that other writers would read and recommend. Hell, even after I became a writer myself, the same attitude prevailed.

It was only after my writing reached a certain level, and my consciousness of the art form became much less subliminal and much more specific that I began to realize why some writers are revered by their peers while others most emphatically are not.

Let’s take Dan Brown, for example. Writers will never, ever accept that there is any literary merit in his work. They describe him as a hack who writes awfully, an aberration that proves that, just because words are in a book, it doesn’t make it literature.

Though I don’t know Dan Brown personally, I imagine he is laughing all the way to the bank. You see, no one told the millions of readers of The Da Vinci Code that it sucked, and they kept right on reading.

In fact, I’ll admit to having enjoyed it enormously (especially the first half of it). I was on a plane and out of books and the only interesting English-language paperback they’d had in Madrid airport was this one. So I bought it and loved it.

Is it well-written in the sense that Brown focuses on the language and the currently fashionable tenets of literary expression. No effing way.

Is it good? Absolutely. It is a page-turner in the classical mold and, like it or not, these are the books that engage readers. No matter how many critically acclaimed auteurs sniff at it, readers are not stupid; they can tell when something is excellent… and they will ignore critics in droves to read it.

So who’s right.

Offhand, I’d say the readers, as they are the people that writers create for in the first place.

But it isn’t that simple. A more nuanced answer would be that both groups are right.

A book that keeps readers reading is good by the most important of all definitions: it gives pleasure, escape and entertainment to its target audience. That can’t be bad, and critics of everything from Harry Potter to Fifty Shades are wrong to forget it. Great storytelling has to be an important part of any great book, and when postmodern critics sit down and disparage anything with a plot that people enjoy, they are doing a disservice to literature (modern critics had the same issue, BTW, this isn’t an attack on postmodernism per se).

Having said that, it’s possible to read for more than just the basic pleasure of finding out what happens next. The plot can be advanced in elegant as well as simple ways… and the texture of the writing can bring pleasure to readers as well. In that sense, arguing for more literary text is perfectly valid.

So why “writers’ writer” and not just “sophisticated readers’ writer”?

I think it’s because of the way writers react when they see a spectacular chunk of prose. While a reader might feel pleasure at the aesthetics, a writer will admire (or be jealous of) the mechanics. Writers, when they manage to turn off their inner reader, can feel awe at another writer’s craftsmanship.

In my case, I see it in Wodehouse, of course. While he is beloved by millions for the sheer sake of his humor and lovable characters, any writer exposed to his prose will leave with a sense of awe and inadequacy that will take a while to shake. There is no writer in the English language whose sentences are as beautifully crafted as Wodehouse. Don’t remember it that way? Then I challenge you to pick up any one of his books and prove me wrong. You won’t.

There are other writers who use language wonderfully (Fitzgerald), or incorporate erudite concepts effortlessly (Eco).

So, yes. There is another level in writing, and these are the books that authors will gravitate to.

But don’t discount readers’ opinions. That a book is straightforward in no way makes it a bad book. You have my permission to ignore the critics who tell you otherwise.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose books (he hopes) are long on both storytelling and language. In an attempt to prove it, he cites his collection of literary fiction, a novel in short story form, entitled Love and Death. You can check it out here.

Test Site Horror, My New Monster Book – Released!

Those of you following along at home might remember that I’ve recently written about the publication of two of my monster horror books: Ice Station Death and Jungle Lab Terror.

Well, I’m extremely happy to announce that the strong sales of those two convinced my publisher (Severed Press, if you’re curious) to release a third, entitled Test Site Horror (You can have a look on Amazon here).

Each of these books takes place in the same universe, which means that readers of one will find the next a familiar place, but they are not sequels in the traditional sense–they stand alone, so my suggestion to interested potential readers is that they grab whichever one they feel would give them the most fun. The whole point of these is that they are entertaining and action-packed.

If anyone does read one of these, please remember to drop me a line in the comments. Even criticism is fine; I love hearing from readers!

Zombie Novellas x 2

Those following news of my writing adventures will recall that my latest book was Jungle Lab Terror (news to come on that front soon!). Well, the world isn’ t all about solo novels. And though I normally don’t talk about my shorter work here (there would be too many posts about my own writing, which is not the point of this particular blog), I make an exception for novella-length work (mainly because novellas take a long time to write, so I’d love for people to read them!).

For those unaware of what a novella is, it’s a narrative length that falls between a short story and a novel. It’s said that these are the ideal length for speculative fiction because they give the author space to build their world without using genre shorthand and assuming the reader is familiar with the tropes.

Anyhow, I’ve recently published a couple of these in three-novella works along with two other writers.

The first is Sha’Daa Zombie Park, in which my novella is the middle story, sandwiched between the work of two writers I admire a lot: Eric S. Brown and Jason Cordova.

For those of you unaware of the concept, the Sha’Daa series is a long-running shared world project that has had countless spectacular writers involved over the years… and it’s a huge honor to be a part of a “reduced” antho. The central concept here is that, once every 10,000 years, the gates of hell open up and evil sweeps the Earth. These three take place in Central Park, and there are zombies… lots of zombies.

My second novella also contains a zombie story, this one taking place in the same universe as my novel Ice Station: Death. Unlike the Sha’Daa series, these are unlinked, and Foul Womb of Night is the first volume in the Midnight Bites anthology.

The other authors, likewise, are new, which means that, when I get the time to read the book, will be an extra treat.

Best of all, there are zombies galore in this one, too, and the Antarctic setting pits the heroes against both the undead and the elements. Only the reader will have a good time in this one.

Anyway, if you do buy one of these (and I really think you’ll like them), let me know what you think!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. He owns no cats, which is officially frowned upon by the Guild of Real Writers, but he promises to hold the line for all other non-cat-people.

Why Self-Publishing Hurts Real Writers*

I wrote this for the old Apex blog in 2010 (before being expelled after the very whiny pushback following an even more controversial–but perfectly accurate–post that came after this one), so this is its 10 year anniversary. While I recognize that there are many excellent writers who self-publish, I stand by the major points and the role of gatekeepers. At the very least, it’s good to talk about these things. Always happy to discuss disagreement in the comments.

The last couple of weeks seem to have had a single hot-button issue.  Unlike many of the topics that get discussed in the genre, this one is truly relevant: publishing is changing, and no one really seems to know where it’s headed.  Will all print books disappear?  Or will ebook readers only destroy the mass-market / airport reading paperback business?  These are valid questions, and I’d like to take a shot at it.

But today, I’d like to address the other component that gets discussed when talking about worrying future trends: self-publishing.

The discussions generally go something like this:

Self-publishing proponent: Self-publishing and especially electronic self-publishing are great!  We don’t need to worry about those pesky agents and editors any more!  We can print our excellent work without interference and Amazon will even let us into their shop without all this insistence on having grammar and plot!  Finally, we can let readers decide what is good or bad!

Anyone who loves literature: Die! Die! Die!

And the people who self-publish are often left in a state of confusion regarding why the other party doesn’t share their enthusiasm.  After all, isn’t giving the authors more control over everything a good thing?

Well…  Let’s have a look at this.

Most proponents of self publishing fall into one of three groups.

  1. Clueless.  These people are generally victims of a vanity press scam.  They believe that people like Stephen King pay to publish their books.  They are to be pitied more than censured, and the best thing you can do for them is to send them a book contract for them to study. It might take days, but I suspect they will eventually realize that the money flows toward the author.  Sadly, much of this is their own fault – the information necessary to avoid scams is readily available, all you have to do is make a minimum of effort.
  2. Conspiracy theorists.  These are actually a subset of number 1, people who think that editors and agents are there to keep new writers and new ideas from ever hitting the shelves.  This particular group is just as irrelevant as the first, because it shows that they haven’t done their homework.  Or maybe it’s just easier to believe that there’s a conspiracy than to accept the sad truth: the writing you are subbing just isn’t good enough for public consumption.  Not liking the options (get better or get out), these people went the self-publishing route.
  3. Economists.  It’s better to keep all the profits yourself, right?  Why pay these editors, copy-editors, formatting people and especially artists, when I already have a great book – my first draft! – and I can format it myself, and use a cover design made by my niece, which is just as good.  And who needs publishers when I can upload it to my kindle.  And if I go the print route, I’ll sell them myself, after all, authors have to be great salesmen, don’t they?  I’ll make a fortune.  All I can say here is: probably not, and your cover art is making my eyes bleed. 

But why does any of this hurt real writers?  Am I admitting that the publishing world is moving to a model without gatekeepers, where it is a pure democracy?

Don’t make me laugh.  I may not know how it will work, but the world will defend itself from this somehow, and self-publishing stealing their sales is a laughable proposition.

The reasons that real writers are being hurt have to do with the confusion that readers are going to be experiencing until the gates are established again.  Readers know that most of the work they find in a bookstore has gone through an editing process, been checked for most spelling mistakes, and been formatted by someone who knows the correct sequence for page numbers (hint: 1, 2, 3, 4…).  Now, if bookstores suddenly disappear, how is that same reader, faced with only a product page to know that Fly By Night Publishing is a vanity press that will publish anything, including Atlanta Nights, or an individual whose knowledge of English consists of what he was able to pick up on the boat ride?  The profusion of self-published titles will educate some readers as to what publishers are worth their time, but it will alienate others, after they get burned.  Less readers hurts real writers.

The words “Published Author” have also lost much of their magic.  Most people, when you tell them that you’re published will ask “How much did you pay?”  The ratio of real writers to people who couldn’t make the grade and decided to self-publish seems to have gone oversquare at some point.  Even bookstore employees flee if you tell them you’re a writer.

Finally, and most sinister, is the fact that publishing houses are run by people who can do math.  So, if writers are willing to pay to have their books printed and also willing to eschew (or pay extra for) decent cover art, why are we footing the bills for all this?  A major romance publisher has already launched a self-publishing imprint.  Can others be far behind?  Of course, the smarter houses have realized that GOOD writers don’t pay to have their work published, and that they are also not good at selling books from the trunk of a car.  But it’s still worrying to see this trend, isn’t it?

So, as I have no interest in selling my books from the trunk of a car, especially my unedited books, I have to say that, even though they represent no threat to real writers from a sales point of view, proponents of self-publishing do damage their ability to make a living.

And that explains the words “Die! Die! Die!”

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work is very emphatically published by publishers and not by him (mainly because he likes real editors to proof his work before showing it to others). His monster novel Ice Station Death was both well-received and popular. You can check it out here.

*The best thing about living in Buenos Aires is that one doesn’t need to be euphemistic about blog post titles.  We don’t believe in political correctness down here, thankfully, and no one who disagrees with me can drive to my house and berate me in person for my views!

What Happens when You’re Friends with Editors

I think most writer, except for the very, very egomaniacal among them, celebrate their first rejection. It’s a rite of passage, proof that you’re now part of the anointed brotherhood and have at least one experience in common with all the people you’ve ever read.

Unfortunately, what happens next is never fun. That single rejection becomes a trickle, that trickle becomes a flood and, like Stephen King, you replace the nail you used to hang your rejections on with a spike.

Sure, there might be a story sale or two along the way but for most writers the norm is that rejections FAR outnumber sales until you establish yourself and create an audience. A writer who brings his own readers commands a premium, and that is only fair.

Most, however, don’t. They depend on either the publisher (in case of books) or the magazine / antho (in the case of shorts) to attract most of the readership (there’s only so much self-promotion a writer can do).

That’s when a lot of writers either lose heart or invent conspiracy theories to explain why the publishing world isn’t recognizing the talent that their mothers told them they had.

I spoke to a Nebula winning writer recently who told me that one of the writers who used to be his peer as they scaled the small press ladder is now convinced that there’s an inner clique to which one needs to belong in order to get published. Now, while the words “Nebula Award Winner” will definitely predispose an editor to give one the benefit of the doubt, you need to earn the right to have those words there in the first place. They don’t just happen. Like bringing your own readers, this bends the rules in your favor.

But let’s look at that assumption that the inner clique runs the show. I’m friends with dozens of editors and more than a few publishers. These are people who congratulate me on my successes, discuss publishing points with me and in some cases publish my work. They are people I like, and people who like me.

So, do they buy what I send them?

Only sometimes, when the piece fits what they need and works with the style and tone of their publishing house or magazine or whatever. Hell, sometimes it fits perfectly and they still reject it because if they accepted my piece they would have to bump a story by a writer who brings more of an audience to the table.

That’s just the reality of surviving in a marketplace as competitive as the current publishing world.

But a lot of writers who’ve had a little success just can’t bring themselves to believe it. They utterly believe that the people getting published are just the editor’s friends.

As one of the editor’s friends, that is just stupid.

But this post isn’t only about the people who can’t accept that reality (after all, they can eliminate gatekeepers and quality control altogether by the simple expedient of self-publishing)… It’s about having friends who reject your work.

And boy do they reject it. Writers are lucky enough to live in the one market where editors quickly lose any temptation to favor their friends. For one thing, if they have more than a dozen or so friends in the field, they won’t have room for them all anywhere, whether on an annual novel publication calendar or in a magazine. And secondly, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you need to choose the very best (or the writers that bring you readers).

(Caveat… There is one exception to the above rule, and that is publishers and publications that occasionally do “demographically-limited” submissions. While I respect their right to publish whomsoever they desire and push whichever causes they want, I never read those publications because the quality of the stories will, necessarily, be lower than if they’d opened the field to a clear competition to everyone.)

So any writer incapable of receiving a rejection from a friend needs to leave the field immediately. And anyone who lets several of these rejections affect their friendship with editors needs to join the first guy.

My favorite story is that of an excellent writer I know, a woman who’s sold to everyone. She was at a con, getting ready to go out to dinner. The party included an editor well-known for being prompt to reply to submissions, and who was waiting for her in the lobby. As she was in the elevator, she received an email from this same editor… who’d rejected her story while waiting for her to arrive.

Of course, this was cause for much hilarity, but absolutely no resentment. This is the writer’s life, and one needs to be able to separate the personal from the professional.

Most importantly, it proves that even the inner circle needs to earn its spot on the page. There is no secret-handshake or shortcut.

Writer. Submit. Build a readership. Advance. Hard work and talent are the only secrets I’ve seen so far.

Perhaps there’s still some secret door I haven’t found. But if that’s true, my friends are very good at keeping secrets.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans every genre from literary fiction all the way to monster horror. His latest book is called Jungle Lab Terror and combines science fiction with the aforementioned monsters, all jumbled together in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere: the Darien Gap. You can check it out here.

The Creative Impulse

My social feeds are essentially composed of two very distinct types of people: friends from my everyday life and people I’ve met through my writing, be that other writers, editors, comic book artists or even cover artists.

The interesting thing is that the people from the writing world are much more likely to be painters or artists than the rest. There’s even a sculptor or two among them. (I can’t say much about music, because I’ve been singing in choirs since childhood, so a LOT of my non-writing friends are in the music scene).

But let’s look at that fine arts trend. People who should be spending an enormous amount of time sweating at the keyboard are apparently spending a good chunk of that at the easel.

Why? Why do these people still feel the need to create even though they’re already building literary works.

Herman Hesse – Ticino in Switzerland

Psychologists probably have hundreds of different explanations for this, but my own take, as far as I’m able to read my own impulses (I draw cars. They probably aren’t “fine art” but I like them) is a combination of wanting recognition for having made something beautiful combined with a desire for immortality.

But shouldn’t the writing itself take care of these urges? After all, my writing friends are mainly published authors who have had at least a few editors tell them “I love this, I’d like to publish it.” Added to this is the fact that somewhere before that, people were already telling them: “hey, this is really good, you should consider publishing.” So the desire for approval is, to a degree, met by writing.

And immortality? No writer knows how that will play out. Melville died a forgotten failure. So did Poe. And then there were the writers who wrote the bestsellers from a hundred years ago. Lauded and fêted, they are forgotten today (if you want to have a bit of fun, here’s a list of the ten bestselling books per year, starting in 1900… a LOT of utterly forgotten writers on that one).

Worse, there’s the survival factor. Do we have any idea whether Beowulf was a good ancient story or just mediocre hackwork? Not in the least, because its contemporaries haven’t survived. It’s great because it’s here. Same with Gilgamesh. So maybe only writers who get their work in print books will survive. Or maybe sea levels will rise and paper books will be used to absorb excess moisture in houses, and only a few authors published in non-paying online journals will represent this generation of writers. We just don’t know.

So why, to that, add painting? My own theory is that adopting another art form allows authors to create without performance anxiety. When we’re writing, we’re always creating for an imaginary editor, a reader or a Pulitzer Prize judge (to each his own). What we create has to be good. It has to be literary. It has to entertain, or teach, or preach, or emote. It has to be memorable.

And under that pressure, some of the innocence of creation cedes. The joy of writing a good paragraph might be exactly the same, but it is tempered by the fear that it might not be good enough. And that’s true whenever you’re writing for publication, whether you’re a writer with a single story published in a 4-the-luv magazine, or a Nobel Prize winner (admittedly, I’ve never been a Nobel Prize winner, but I’ve read things where they say this).

But painting a picture? Sure, I can sit down with a YouTube tutorial and do a watercolor. I can buy a box of colored pencils and draw cars. Or I can go straight to oil paint and pretend to be Renoir. My friends and family will say things like “that’s very nice”, and I will have the satisfaction of having given pleasure to someone via something I created and left behind palpable proof of my existence to survive in garage sales and flea markets long after I’ve gone from this Earth.

And no one ever rejects my drawings.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina. His book of interconnected short stories, Love and Death, gives a complete narrative of several families across generations, allowing the reader to delight not only in the events of the stories themselves but in the irony of the twists and turns of fate. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can check it out here.