Reminiscing and reconsiderations

Clarion South the third is now well underway, with a bunch of 17 pseudo-strangers now probably letting off steam after the nerves and pressures of the first week of a bizarre routine of critting/writing/not sleeping etc. I had some good times there two years ago (two years!). I also had some bad experiences, but I choose to remember the stuff like shooting the breeze with my good buddy Ken; shooting hoops with Suzanne, Susan, Nathan, and Evan; and escaping the depredations of the Amish floor. I’ve changed considerably because of these experiences, grown from the bad, learned from the good, so I hope this third batch of what … Clarionettes? (I think our group referred to ourselves as Clarionites, the first as the Clarionborg) … will learn and grow as I did.

Part of me is envious for the positives the CS07ers will experience, but another, larger piece of me is happy to be typing this from the comfort of home and with the richness of hindsight.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge in these two years.

Clarion is about writing and in the two years since leaving the workshop, I’m confident my writing is 100% better. The flaws that once existed in my work have now been recognised and largely removed. It’s all good, but I sometimes (just sometimes) feel that my fingers in pies such as HorrorScope and my editing have all overshadowed my reputation as a writer.

(this is not becoming a ‘poor me’ tirade! – trust me on this!)

I believe in the gunslinger school of thought when it comes to competitive writer reputations. A good example is the situation amongst the short fiction writers here in Perth (my pre-empt: don’t get your knickers in a knot boys, it’s an example). Writer A has been around for a decade, popping out the occasional short story and gaining a decent body of work in the process. Along comes Writer B, who (like a gunslinger who was a shade quicker on the draw) in 5 years has eclipsed Writer A’s output. Now Writer C (for the sake of argument, being me), comes along and is quicker still, reaching the publication output of Writer B in only three years.

Like the gunslingers of the old west, there will always be a mysterious stranger who will breeze into town and be quicker on the draw.

My first point is someone will always be faster. I’m learning to stop viewing these things as a competition – a result, in part, of my second point. My second point is that I think sometimes you can be too quick, your string of successes flashing by before anyone gets a chance to register them.

I’ve been racing to rack up a list of impressive-appearing short fiction credits but I think I may have been almost too successful (relatively speaking). Sure, I’ve made 50-odd short story sales in a short time, but the first handful were pretty rough, more still were sold overseas, and much of my better, pro-sale stuff, is yet to see print.

This may appear self-indulgent, but: I’m the most published fiction contributor to Borderlands magazine, I’ve had repeat appearances in Shadowed Realms (both of which topped the readers’ polls), Ticonderoga Online, and Antipodean SF. I have a second story upcoming in ASIM.

It’s all flashed by.

This is my post-Clarion frustration. I think, to some extent, that I’ve overshadowed myself. I identify as a writer and believe I’ve been quite successful in this regard, but I suspect people still see me primarily as an editor or reviewer.

Two years on, I thought I’d have made more of an impact as a writer but I think I might have to work a bit harder on that score. Not getting more and more stuff published, but working on stories and making them as specutacular as possible. Late last year, I said I would do this with one story in particular. That’s true, and I’m working on it, but I reckon in these last two years, I’ve been nursing, editing, and building all my stories much more carefully, which is essentially what I was declaring I would do in that other post.

I could talk myself in circles here, so I shan’t. I’d better get back to writing instead!

On a different reminisce, I read with interest Mark Deniz’s recent review of Flashspec Vol 1 on ASif. My review of Flashspec 1 posted on HorrorScope in August 2006 caused quite the furore from the ranks of some contributors and the editor, so it’s intriguing to see a review a few shades more negative than mine receive subdued but positive comments from the contributors who hang out on the Voyager message board.

Don’t believe me about which one is more critical?

My review finishes thus:
“I look forward to the next installment of Flashspec, with the hope the strength of the fiction will improve to match the effort invested into production and presentation.”

Whereas Mark finishes with:
“Cladingboel [the editor] needs to re-think several ideas, rework the concept and spend longer on editing and selection as this concept has promise, there is potential. As it stands however, I am not looking forward to a second publication of this series.”

Mark’s last line, especially when compared with mine, has made me think about anthologies in a new light. People grumbled at some of the things I said in my review but I stand by the comment that I do look forward to seeing a second installment of Flashspec. I’ve wavered on the concept of ‘beginning writer’ anthologies, with my competitive law-of-the-jungle side thinking writers will get published once they’ve practiced their craft sufficiently to stand up with established pros. But I think there is also a place for publications catering for newer writers – however, they need to be marketed as such. Altair Australia’s recent Tales from the Black Wood anthology was one such book, and I think it was a success because it didn’t try to compete above its weight. When you play with the big boys, you’ll be compared with the big boys, generally unfavourably.

A segment of readers will be put off by a book from newer writers, especially if they’re expecting something comparable to the stuff they read from the major houses. Harsh reviews can crush the enthusiasm of new editors and writers but if the expectations and marketing are set at a realistic level, then I think reviewers would likely take this into account. It may even attract a new segment of readers. Who knows? Anyway, with this in mind, I do genuinely look forward to Flashspec 2 in the hope that the lessons will be learned and more emerging writers will be given a chance – and presumably the impetus to go onto bigger and better things.