Escape Collective

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Archive for the month “November, 2011”

The Razor’s Edge

Wow, it turns out I’m not the only one who waits to last minute to do things.  The past week has seen a flurry of submissions pile up in our inbox.  It’s crazy, but good!  In the past few days our total submissions have doubled.  That’s amazing!  I suppose I should be clear, just in case anyone is confused at all:

Tomorrow, December 1st is the actual deadline for submissions to our next anthology.  I’m not a stickler for these kinds of things, but some of my compatriots are, so if you’re waiting until the last second, you know the score now.  Anything we get after tomorrow night gets relegated to the lowest of the low-priority stacks in our growing pile of work-to-do.  Trust me, you don’t want to languish there.  Razor’s edge, snowball’s chance, etc., etc.

When we first kicked around the ideas behind “Orbital Hearts”, one of the selling points to me was the notion of an ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ sort of theme.  It seems like everyone does some kind of cool themed anthology, but we’re not exactly mushy romantics.  However, we do love good escapist fiction and we are more than a little bitter.  It seemed like a perfect idea.  I overlooked one, small detail, which has been a strange challenge.  I’ve had to read a lot of mushy love stories, with tragic, twisted endings.  I don’t think I ever imagined that I would be asking for the chance to read so much bad romance.  But I’ve come to a surprising conclusion – I rather like it!

Now, I’m not going to start browsing the cheap, smutty paperback aisles, but there is a definite appeal to this kind of stuff.  I’m really pleased that the work we’ve been getting has been more varied than what I’m used to.  It’s fairly cathartic to get into these broken, all-too-human dramas, especially when they’re wrapped up in some otherworldly trappings.  Naturally, there are differing levels of quality, nuance and style in any batch of submissions, but I’m most surprised at how much I’m enjoying myself.

As a counter to all these warm, happy feelings, the job that lies ahead is no sweet dream.  As much as I’m looking forward to assembling the best stories, I just know that we’ll end up rejecting really good work just for the sake of space.  But I suppose that’s not nearly as difficult as being on the other side of the process.  However, I’ll let that idea filter for a bit – perhaps it should be a post, all on its own.  For now, I should just say ‘thank you’, to all who have put forward their best work.  Cheers!

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  He prefers Bonnie & Clyde to Mickey & Mallory, but is perfectly willing to admit that both are fine, fine love stories.

Deadlines, Schmedlines

Savage Chickens is awesome

 

Holy crap!  There are only a couple of days left before our submissions deadline.  How did that happen?  And what the hell happened to my brain?  I could have sworn I had one, just a few weeks ago.  Hm… I suspect a major holiday has inserted itself into my finely tuned work plan.  I bet there was food and family – probably too much pie.  Oh well, we struggle on.

I’m pretty damn happy with the level of submissions we’ve been getting this time around.  A lot of really well-written, often surprising material is rolling in.  If I ever complain about having to read all of these stories, just shoot me though.  Overall, this is a delightful treat.  I am not looking forward to writing rejections, however.  It’s never fun and usually kills me just a bit inside.  And unless I miss my guess, we have an embarrassment of riches this time around – we will likely have too many good stories to run them all.  So that part will hurt a bit, for all parties I imagine.

On the other hand, we have had just the teensiest amount of interest in our cover art contest.  I had a friend submit a piece in the first week, but garnering interest from artists is a skill we have yet to develop I guess.  So, when it comes to that deadline, we may have to be a bit lax.  Because the book is going to have a cover – and I’m not going to draw it.  Oh ho ho ho… No.

Okay, back to the grind for me!  And you – shouldn’t you be writing too?  Mm hm, that’s what I thought.

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he’s not recovering from food-induced amnesia (or clearly faking it), he likes to write write write and drink coffee coffee coffee.

How Do You Write?

My Underwood is too pretty to type on

I found this neat article on “alternatives” to using a laptop.  It’s over HERE if you want to check it out.  Personally, I find the idea of using electric typewriters pretty gross.  They have none of the useful function of a laptop, but none of the benefits of a truly analog device.  But that could just be me.  When I do use my old manual typewriter, I take great comfort in the fact that I can’t check my email, or get distracted by the online world.

But the article prompted some interesting thoughts.  The actual mechanism with which I write is not as important as what I write, of course, but how much is one influenced by the other?  For example, the best thing about using a typewriter is that I have to go fast.  It turns off my internal editor for a while and I can concentrate on getting the words on the page.  I know that I’ll have to type it into the computer later and I can take care of on-the-spot edits at that point.  It’s liberating, but doesn’t always fit my writing ‘mood’.  On the other hand (literally!), if I’m using a pen and paper I always write for efficiency.  That is to say, I only have so much time and power in me, before my hand cramps up and makes my life hell.  Seriously, I have wussy hands.  If I write longhand for an hour I feel like my fingers are made of wood.  To counter this, I stretch my fingers and la da dee da – but the important work has to get sorted before that pen touches the paper.  It changes the way I assemble the words before they leave my brain.  Is it better?  Is any which way particularly worse?  Well, it depends on what I’m writing, I guess.

A few years ago I amazed myself with a solid day of writing.  I lost track of the time, to be honest and I don’t know how long it was.  Ten hours?  Maybe it was twelve.  There was a lot of coffee, many bathroom breaks and a whole lot of cigarettes.  When it was over and I crawled into bed, I felt as though I had prevailed over some terrible ordeal.  I was a better, stronger person in some way.  But there’s no way I’d want to make a habit out of it!  There wasn’t any particular disadvantage that arose from such strenuous activity.  The next day, I got up and went back to work.  It’s an interesting contrast, but I wonder if I’m a better writer because of it.

As anyone who is “out” as a writer can attest, there are always a lot of questions from family and friends.  The most dreaded for me is, “How’s that story/novel/project going?”  Oh geez, how do I even approach an answer?  I usually ask which story/novel/project – because it’s probably not what I’m working on at the moment, thanks.  But the other day a friend asked me an odd, out of the blue question:  “How do you start writing a story?”  On the surface, it was simple, but he really meant the nitty-gritty, down in the dirt kind of details.  I was at a loss for a bit, but I answered as honestly as I could:  “I put the pen to the paper and the words come out.  Everything after that is editing.”  I told him about how I brainstorm, how I use story prompts and how I visualize scenes and characters, but I kept coming back to that point in my thoughts.  You just have to start writing.

All that being said, I guess it doesn’t matter what kind of instrument I use to write with.  Sure, they produce different methods and some allow me a lot more flexibility (thank you Google!).  If I had to write books like Stephen Hawking does – one ponderous letter at a time – would that stop me?  Would it stop you?  Might slow some of us down, I suppose.  It may be that that’s a good thing.  I’m going to give it a try, break out of my routine a wee bit.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  He is still working on that one novel – no, the other one.  Yes, the one with the screaming and the blood. (sigh) No, the other one with the screaming and the blood.  Yeah, he really should seek help about that.

Early Autumnal Digressions

Ah, chrysanthemums, the official flower of November

One of the first truly cogent thoughts I had this morning was, “Holy crap, November’s half-gone!”  In any given month there are many reasons why this might bring on a mild panic attack, but I’m doing pretty well.  Despite the craziness of the weather, the work that keeps piling up and looming deadlines, I seem to be remarkably sane.  Weird.

I have to admit, when the going gets rough I do try to step up my game – for a while – but I inevitably break down.  It’s the guilty pleasures that suck me in and destroy my productivity.  All it takes is one itty-bitty crack in my resolve and I’m lost.  It doesn’t much matter if it’s old, trashy pulp novels, or instant-view science fiction movies, or video games that are designed to play with my OCD tendencies.  It could be anything.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet good money that if I was lost in the arctic, with only my typewriter to keep me occupied, I’d find out just how fascinating ice can be.  Mm hm.

Ooh, look! Lots of ice...

Now is a good time to take stock though.  Halfway through the month and plenty of work left to be done.  Gotta tally up that word count, burn through some checklists, make a few ‘To Do’ lists and get a realistic grasp on amount of work left.  Is that the responsible, grown up thing to do?  I’m not entirely sure.  It seems to be working right now.

Here is the most important date on my current calendar:  December 1st.  That’s the last day we’ll be accepting submissions for our next anthology.  Go clickity-click over HERE to read the submissions guidelines.  With only two weeks left, we’re still hoping for a few more knock-out stories to pull the project together. 

And then there is the cover – we’re still accepting submissions for our cover art contest.  It is remarkable that we have had very few submissions.  Maybe we’re not very good at wrangling submissions from artists.  All I know is that when the first of December rolls around, I’m gonna start working on an old fashioned panic if we don’t have something to put on the cover.  Or I could beat the rush and start panicking now.

This is me, losing it

Nope.  Not feeling it yet.  Oh well, back to the grind for me.  We’ll see if things get better tomorrow.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he isn’t trying to work up a good lather of angst, he’s downloading Big Trouble In Little China.  No, wait, he’s working.  Yes, working very, very hard.  Yes.

Work Spaces

Hemmingway: manly enough to wear shorts

For every writer in the world, there is a different ideal work space.  Of course, ‘ideal’ doesn’t mean that’s where we do our business.  In fact, I’d bet good money that almost every writer in the world actually does their work in something far from their perfect vision of a functioning work space.  Not surprisingly, there has been much documentation about this particular issue.

If there is a universal idea of what a writer’s work space looks like, it would be the sparsely decorated office.  Books and papers are stacked around, the light is harsh and dim.  The room is cramped, yet somehow remains functional.  There’s a typewriter, for some damn reason, and a half-empty bottle of gin (or rye, or bourbon) in the top drawer of the filing cabinet.  It’s a crock, though.

This desk is too good for my trashy garbage

The Guardian did a very extensive series of articles, examining the various offices, studios and kitchenettes of writers in England.  Some of them are stripped down, antiseptic cubes, but for the most part, they are comfy and cluttered.  What is shocking to me is how different they are from one another.  None of them have much in common, but the common elements are so very superficial.  Some of the best places to work aren’t even indoors, in any meaningful sense.

Take a look at Allain de Botton.  For a week in 2009, he was the ‘Writer-in-Residence’ at Heathrow International Airport.  At first glance, it might seem to be terrible – or even just a gimmick – but Mr. Botton actually seemed to enjoy working there.  He claimed it was such an unlikely place to get anything done, that it was a welcome challenge.  In fact, he actually turned out a book because of it, A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary.

Pictured: Alain de Botton, masochist? (photo: Richard Baker)

Harlan Ellison famously worked in storefront windows – at least a dozen times – and managed to crank out some memorable works literally in the public eye.  There are authors who have written in glass cages, on top of mountains, under water and just about any kind of location you can imagine.  Writers have done work naked, while flying, on the side of the road and in the back of bars and pubs.  I have friends who write in bed, only write longhand and one friend who writes in the shed out in her back yard.  You have to go with what works, I guess.  As anyone who’s ever been on a deadline can attest to, sometimes your very best work is done on the bus – typically while on the way to turn it in.

I don’t believe in “feng shui”, but there are some lessons to learn from the concept.  I try to think consciously and deliberately choose my working environment.  “Intentionality”, is what it’s called.  But of course, we are all creatures of habit and prone to the constant creep of chaos.  A quick glance around my work space is depressing.  No one has taken the trash out in weeks.  Empty pizza boxes and fast food wrappers glare at me.  Several stacks of papers have been knocked to the floor and then shuffled together.  I have a perfectly good bookshelf that is only half full of books – the rest of the books are kind of scattered around, wherever they were dropped.

Pictured: a 'clean' writer's work space

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how to count my successes, even in the face of staggering loss.  It’s also called spinning bullshit into gold, but that’s beside the point.  The point is that my actual work space – where I write, where I type – is clean and ready for work.  There is a place to put my coffee and a spot for my MP3 player.  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, my little slice of space is ready for me to get to work.

I’ve also learned that it pays to try new things.  In my first real studio space outside my house, I set up shop in a closet.  It had an alley-facing window, space for my stool and a tiny writing desk and that was it.  The floor wasn’t even finished, just a random smattering of fake wood flooring.  For some crazy reason, though, it was just what I needed.  In the end, you have to go with the best you can get.

Someday, I’ll get to design my own writer’s studio.  You can imagine the amenities I fantasize about, I’m sure; redundant backup servers, customizable lighting, high speed internet, gigantic music library, private washroom and a personal assistant.  Honestly, the only thing I really need – the only thing any of us seem to need – is the hardest to come by:  Time.  Well, that and a door that keeps the rest of the world away for a while.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  Another co-founder (who shall remain nameless) recently complained that they couldn’t keep a cleaning lady for more than a month or so.  Patrick bit his tongue and shook his head in a show of fake sympathy.  Because he KNOWS.

How To Make Yourself Crazy, Part One: REVISIONS

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

I picked up a novel that I’d tossed into the filing cabinet over a year ago.  It should be perfectly safe, right?  It’s cooled off and I should be able to approach it with a fresh perspective.  After all, I’m a different, better writer/editor than I was back then – an entirely different person, right?  Well, not so much.  Ten pages into the review and I can see the good and the bad.  Fifty pages in and all the angst creeps back into my mind.  One hundred pages in and I can’t even remember my own name.

This is how you drive a writer/artist/editor absolutely crazy:  Make them read their own work.  Especially long fiction.  Oh my.  It’s like a tour of your own subconscious mind, but only the bad parts.  All the insecurities and cringe-worthy habits come bubbling back to the surface.  Terrible turns of phrase and paper-thin characters leap from the prose and bludgeon you with their awkward presence.  The entire work seems to be a Frankenstein monster, built out of the demented portions of your imagination.  Every horrible thing you’ve ever written, every weak trope you’ve used as a crutch, they seem to have found a home in your once-precious so-called ‘book’.

Like the fool that you are, you roll up your sleeves and get to work though.  You start by making notes and comments.  When you examine the structure and find out where the big gaps are, you figure out how to build it up and flesh it out.  You brainstorm and come up with a way to tie up all the loose ends.  If you listen to your characters, they’ll tell you how they want things to play out and you discover the obvious solution to that nagging, missing element.  Yes, you dive in, because you can’t NOT do the work.

It burns your mental fuel and drains your reserves of patience and energy.  The narrative climbs in through your eyes and makes a nest in your active mind.  The story interrupts you while you’re taking a shower and making dinner, when you’re at the dentist and when you’re trying to fall asleep.  Like an invasive weed, it wants all the territory it can take root in.  And what do you do?  You let it.  Because you have to.

Here’s the good news.  It happens to all of us and we have a good chance of survival.  All you have to do is get through it.  The work is what seems important because it is.  When you’re in it and the engines of creation are at their maximum power things get accomplished.  Don’t fight it, work with it.  Yes, it makes you crazy.  Yes, it might destroy your social life.  But it’s for a good cause.

Revising our work is almost as intense as the initial writing, but it’s so much more important.  If the first draft is like giving birth, then the road to the final draft is like raising a child.  To do a good job requires active, constant attention, and the right set of tools.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Anybody can have a kid and anybody can write a book.  The good kids and the good books have a lot in common; you have to put in a lot of work and they are guaranteed to make you insane. 

In the end, however, it’s all totally worth the effort.  Now, get back to work.

 

When he’s not giving others the advice he so badly needs to hear himself, Patrick Jennings-Mapp is working on the third revision of that damn novel.  No, not that one – he stopped that one – the other one.  Yes, the one with the crazy people.  (sigh)  No, the other one with the crazy people…

 

November Blues

This is the time of year I have learned to dread.  The skies are grey, contrasted infrequently by teasing splashes of brilliant blue and fading, golden light.  The days are already shorter and the night stretches her shadow for hours after I’m awake.  And the wind, when it blows, is like a surgeon’s scalpel designed to slice away the part of me that feels joy, warmth and good humor.  It’s worse than winter and is the antipode of early spring in every way.  Autumn’s kiss is a promise that things will get worse, not better, for a very long time.

Is it “seasonal affective disorder”?  Is it vitamin D deficiency?  Is it the large-scale circadian rhythm that my body has been used to since my early teens?  Sure, let’s say ‘yes’ to all of these.  That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.  Advanced knowledge of a beating doesn’t make the bruises more mild – and boy do I feel like I’m in for a beating.

I expected this year would be better than most.  After all, I have a lot of work to keep me busy and a fresh enterprise that is in the making.  This past spring and summer my heart leaped at the possibilities, the new and daring adventures I was about to embark upon.  Yes, I still feel those disposition, but it’s soaked to the skin and going hypothermic in comparison.  What can I do?  What can any of us weird, artistic and writerly types do?  We press on, bury ourselves in our work and do our best.

Sometimes, I pretend to be a ‘normal’ person.  I put on a pair of slacks and a button up shirt.  I shave, eat a good breakfast (something more than just my usual coffee and a side of coffee) and leave the house in the morning.  I’ll go to my studio office, set up my workstation and pretend that I have a ‘normal’, ‘real’ job.

“Let’s see… I got a 9:30 tomorrow with Scott.  A reminder at noon to talk to Mike.  In the meantime I better get these work orders sorted out, before I get crackin’ on the pile of submissions.  While I’m at it, I ought to get a few thousand words cracked out today – I’m already behind on my NaNo quota.”

It’s a ‘fake it til you make it’ sort of logic.  It’s desperate and a bit pathetic too.  But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work.  Speaking of work, I still have to get up on those submission queries we got in.  Need to shoot off three confirmations and update my spreadsheet.  Holy crap, we’ve only got four weeks until the anthology deadline.

Life goes on.  Under six months of cold grey skies, or ten feet of snow, or with Cat-5 hurricane warnings, the universe keeps on going.  If I don’t go on, I’m at risk of going under and that’s not going to happen.  Not this Autumn anyway.

Sláinte!

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he’s not ignoring the siren-call of single malt whiskey, he’s propped up next to the fire, typing like mad on his laptop.

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