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Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers -- Week #10

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Using the address I copied from Kasim's message at the last meeting, I email him during the week. Why did he quit the group? Not just because of Fabian, I hope. I think several members of the GVW might have been secretly happy, or at least entertained, by the sight of him taking a dunking at the pool party.

Kasim emails me back, saying, yeah, it is mostly because of Fabian that he is quitting the group. He feels he embarrassed himself at the party, and it would be uncomfortable to knuckle under to Fabian's "leadership" at this point.

I email Kasim back and ask him to come back to the group. I don't think he should give up on his desire to become a writer just because he doesn't get along with someone like Fabian. If he is really meant to be a writer, I tell him, then he has to persevere in the face of all sorts of fools. Just forget about it and get back to work. I think I am not the only one in the group who knows we should not pay too much attention to Fabian, or anyone else who might discourage us from writing. I apologize to Kasim if anything I've said or done in the meetings also contributed to his leaving.

I tell him about this chronicle.

The weekly meeting convenes and I am hopeful that Kasim may show up, but he does not. Wilton, Nettie and Lewis are also absent. Everyone else is present, including Clarice, so I can guess a new story is forthcoming from her. Also in attendance is a new prospective member.

Creative Loafing is published on Wednesdays, and I did not see our call for new members in the issue I picked up at lunchtime, so I am surprised to see someone new at the meeting. Pamela explains that she put up fliers in a handful of bookstores over the weekend, and the new guy saw one and called her on Monday. I'll call him Larry for this blog.

Larry's (real) name sounds somewhat familiar to me. He tells the group he has been writing for five or six years, mostly science fiction and fantasy, and sold a couple of dozen short stories to various markets. Some of the places he has sold to I know to be good pro markets. He's also written two novels, which are making the rounds, looking for a publisher. After the meeting, I look up his bibliography on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. He is what he says he is. I'm impressed.

I've wondered in the past if the group might treat me differently if they knew I had a bunch of pro sales. Now I can observe how they regard Larry, and see if it really matters.

We go around the room and each member introduces themselves, with a quick bio about what we've been working on, how long we've been writing and such. When it's my turn, I say (as I did in week #1) that I've sold a few stories. Larry seems to recognize my name and asks if I had a story in Realms Of Fantasy recently. I tell him, yes, that was me. A couple of the other members are surprised that I didn't mention a sale to an important market like Realms before. I make some lame excuse that I don't really write that much fantasy and that the Realms story was a bit of a fluke. I'm primarily a science fiction writer. I'm not sure if anyone's buying it, but I quickly turn the subject of the conversation back to the new guy and ask more about his sales, which he seems only too happy to talk about.

We critique Sapphire's story from last week. It is interesting and fairly well written, but I have a problem with it (you knew I would, right?). The piece seems to be a ghost story, or at least sets up what I expect to be a ghost story, and keeps building up clues to what surely must be a showdown with the ghost. But surprise, at the end of the story, the supernatural goings-on are quickly dismissed with a non-supernatural explanation that left me feeling mostly unsatisfied. I argue that if you set up the expectation in the reader that we're going to see a ghost, then you have to deliver on that promise and produce the ghost. Almost anything else feels like a bit of a cheat.

Sapphire argues that she was trying to be a bit subtle and ambiguous, rather than write a more typical in-your-face sort of horror plot. This starts up a discussion about doing the expected vs. the unexpected in your story. My take on this is that most writers, especially newer ones trying to break into the field, are taking big risks going against the grain. Since they are unknown and submit through the slush pile, most pro editors aren't going to give them the same sort of reading that they'd give, say, an Ursula LeGuin. If anything seems not quite right, the time-challenged editor isn't going to give the beginning writer the same benefit of the doubt as the seasoned pro. If the beginning writer tries to be too subtle or unusual, that might be totally lost on the editor, who may only give the beginner's manuscript a minute or two before deciding whether it deserves a closer look, or goes into the reject pile.

Several of the others seriously object to my line of thinking. It pains them to think that the extra effort they may put into a story to differentiate it from the other thousands of stories in the slush pile might be wasted. Larry, the new guy, agrees somewhat with my arguments. He says it's probably wiser to avoid bending the rules too much when you're just starting out. Once you've established a bit of a reputation, you can get away with more and the editor will cut you some slack. Get really popular and you can get away with practically anything.

It's like magic, I tell you. When I argue the point, many of the others are quick to disagree with me, but when the new "pro" member takes my side a lot of the opposition backs down. The discussion dies off quickly after Larry speaks, and the others seem reluctant to contradict him. It is not pretty, I think. I don't want them to accept my argument because a published author agrees, but because it makes sense. Maybe Larry and I are wrong and there are enough thoughtful editors out there who will spend the time to look for deeper meaning and ambiguous plots from beginning writers in the slush pile. Nah!

We receive new stories this week from Fabian and Caprice. Big surprise there, the story from Caprice, huh? So far, she has only shown up at the meetings when she was giving out a story, or returning to collect her critiques. Since she doesn't seem to care much to critique others' stories except when it suits her, I'll have to give some thought about whether I want to bother much with this one.

That's the end of the meeting, but let me backtrack to another email exchange I had during the week. One of the readers of this chronicle tipped me off to another writer's online "writing journal" of some interest. It mostly concerns her own personal trials and tribulations as a beginning genre writer. In addition to her own writing successes and failures, she also spends some time relating the goings-on in her weekly writing group. The other members of that group (gasp!) don't seem to know that she's setting these thoughts down on the Internet for one and all to read. In fact, this group seems eerily familiar. Almost like the . . . damn, it is! Why, this other blog seems to be a chronicle of (drumroll please) the Garden Variety Writers. But wait, this journal uses the writers' actual names (first names only). It is authored by the GVW member I call "Pamela" here.

I'm outraged. Outraged, do you hear? Why, the nerve of some people, writing about the group without telling them that she's doing so. It's...it's...um, not at all the same as my, er, cleverly disguised and sanitized version. It is, perhaps a bit less detailed about what goes on at the GVW meetings, and a lot more introspective about her own work, but in another way, it's perhaps more revealing and honest about at least one of the other GVW members in a way that I've avoided in this chronicle. There's also some very weird stuff in there. Jeez, Pam, did you really make a voodoo doll? My God.

In this week's GVW meeting, I do not mention to Pamela that I know about her writing journal, but if she and Peter are following this blog, she will surely read this, and know that I know. Surprise.

OK, Pamela, my real feeling about this is (to use Peter's words) it's cool. Even in the parts where I don't come off very well. No wonder Peter and you didn't seem to mind my blog too much. This kind of puts a different spin on things, with you writing about me, and me about you. But now that we know the other knows, we have to be at least a little polite to each other, don't we? Like it or not, it's like one of those secret alliances on the Survivor show. (Yeah, yeah, I hardly ever watch TV, especially schlock shows like that one, but I was researching a story. Of course you think this is a blatant lie, but wait until you see my next story in Analog.) Perhaps we could indoctrinate some of the others to what we're doing, one by one, and gradually bring the them over to the Dark Side with us. We can talk about it next week, Pamela. Or not. Wink, wink.

I'm not sure if the GVW members would object more to Pamela's journal because it uses their actual names, or my blog for being more specific (though anonymous). I suppose it wouldn't be very hard for someone following this blog to figure out who's who in her journal. If you're curious, you can find Pamela's journal here. It gives a different perspective on the goings-on here.

Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante Count=7035

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