Fiction-Assisted Navel Dive

I am giving myself 17 min for this post, and then I have to go to bed so I’d have a fighting chance to get up at 4:30 tomorrow.

So forgive lack of editing etc etc.

I know  many of you don’t care for my fiction-related pursuits, but I have it on good authority (mine; people sent me emails) that some do actually enjoy these posts.

Here are random thoughts; they are the best thoughts.

I don’t know that I’m very good/any good at fiction, but I know I am already much better than the first time I submitted a story in August (has it been that long)?

I have published/or have forthcoming what is now 10 stories, 4 flash (under 1000) and 6 microfiction (ultrashort flash, up to 100). I have 6 pending (2 micro, 3 flash, one short story longer than a flash).

The long one (about 2000 words) has been shortlisted at a good market and is waiting for the issue cull. That one is the weirdest and perhaps best one I’d written and soooo fun. Anyway, it was rejected twice from top markets with personalized rejection letters and invitation to send them more stuff, which is as good of a rejection you can hope to get.

I have another flash that I think is really good and that has been with a great SFWA-listed market (means they publish SF/F and pay a professional rate) for a conspicuously long time, which I guess means I have passed the first cull. I hate that this makes me hopeful and I hate that I will be soo disappointed if/when they cut me near the very end. But at least it means they liked it… And why can’t I believe that they would actually take it? I’ve got issues, obviously.

What have I learned?

I am timid: I really have no belief in my abilities (why should I, seriously) and am greatly dependent on external recognition. This is not cool. I think with some actual successes this will get better, at least temporarily. I am envious when I see people publishing their first story in a great zine. But I am too impatient for many top zines; I want my fix fast. I tell myself that this is a hobby, I do not have to have my freak competitive flag fly.

I do best when I write what I want to write, without worrying about what I think is wanted. I don’t do great at writing contests, although I took part in only two, and I am still really really new, and, you know, a dilettante. I need to balance writing for craft-development sake and writing for publication. I think I will keep writing microfiction pieces but hold on to them, post them here or on the other blog, and use them to experiment more.

I am seeing patterns. I know this is not 100% or whatever, but women seem to produce these heartfelt pieces, whereas the pieces written by men, even when they are personal or supposed to feature vulnerability, end up being a whole level more detached. I don’t know how much I am imagining or projecting or whatever, but there’s a definite difference between the tone of supposedly equivalently heartfelt pieces written by men and women.

I am ashamed to admit that wish I could write more like a guy. Internalized misogyny and whatnot, but I wish I could produce acclaimed, respected prose, without having to sell my heart, if that makes sense.

In that vein, I have today cemented the status of the weirdest member of my kickboxing gym (as if being the only one with an accent weren’t enough) because I polled my fellow gym-goers on how they would write down the sound made by kicking a heavy bag. Everyone scratched their head for a few seconds. I love awakening the nerd in people. But yeah. that’s me being all research- and business-like about my fiction.

I am sitting on this story about aliens because I have noticed the SF community, especially hard SF, to be unbelievably nitpicky about getting the science right. Thus, I have read this paper on neural networks deriving the relationship between number of limbs and limb-to-body-length ratio based on neural network connectivity because I want creatures with a certain number of limbs.

Click to access ChangiziBrain25000Chapter1.pdf

I’m also looking into discovered habitable planets with stars whose peak in the emission spectrum is at a specific wave length because I want photosynthetic organisms to have a certain color…

So that’s me, and with a minute to spare. How’s your week going?


  1. THOOM. At least, that’s what I remember from the sound of kicking a bag in tae kwon do.

    Careful with that peak wavelength of a star thing. Astronomers really hate it when people get that wrong. You have to consider the whole mix of colors. There’s no such thing as a star that appears green. I am almost certain there’s an applet somewhere that lets you adjust the temperature of a star and will simulate its color for you, but I couldn’t find it with a quick google search.

    My week is crap. But that means it’s all uphill from here, right?

  2. No worries, lyra211, my blackbody-radiation game is strong (I’m not just talking about Wien’s displacement law here). Actually, the question I am interested in is not the color of the star but the appearance of the flora that hypothetically uses photosynthesis similar to Earth plants on a planet whose star has a different temperature and thus different emissions spectrum than ours (and how that flora would be perceived by the likes of us, with red, blue, green cones…) The challenge is to get the science reasonably right before I devote a year to digging ever more intricate bits if science (photosynthesis mediated by things other than chlorophyll? How do eyes see if they have more or fewer cones or different cones than us?). I have to remember all this info would be responsible for maybe 50-80 words of backstory in my 1000-word max flash…

  3. Your story about asking people to describe the sound of kicking a heavy bag made me chuckle. I recently played the sound of a kakapo booming to my kids over and over as we tried to describe it in a way that would make since to a 5 year old, also for writing pursuits….

  4. The color of (most) plants on Earth is just a random piece of evolution. There are two chlorophyll molecules (A&B) and they absorb mostly in the blue and red. If plants were actually ‘intelligently designed’ (so to speak) they would look black because they’d absorb all the visible light. If you’re talking about primary producers on some other planet, then they might have evolved their own mechanisms for photosynthesis with different molecules (maybe the planet didn’t have much nitrogen or phosphorus to make chlorophyll…or maybe it isn’t carbon based at all). Anyway, if your star is cooler or something then you might expect the plants to have evolved to absorb more in the red and near-infrared such that to our eyes they would appear blue or cyan (or with a hotter star they might be more red or yellow). But, evolution just finds a workable path forward, not necessarily the optimal path forward. So you can probably justify any color you want 😉

  5. Thanks Pyrope! Honestly, the SF community is a bit scary. A month or so ago I read a story where someone does something irrelevant on one the moons of Jupiter. It was a throwaway sentence that didn’t have anything to do with the guts of the story. Of course, the first comment was from someone coming to point out that that particular moon of Jupiter didn’t have a large enough radius for whatever the character was doing. I have ideas for stories that connect SF with issues relevant here today, but my impression is that you are not to write SF unless you have not only a strong grasp of the relevant science (which of itself takes time) but also a very strong grasp of the allowed/accepted ways in which things are to be imagined. Even though I read a lot of SF, I am scared of attempting to write, because I feel Iike I haven’t read enough, that it will turn out that I am missing some relevant literature and will get creamed (sort of like getting into a new field of science, only more nebulous). So it’s not really that I am afraid my writing game won’t be strong but rather than I will end up looking not serious enough to do SF.

  6. I think your pursuit of fiction and another creative outlet is fantastic!! I look forward to reading some of your material after the semester is over (and I have a little more time).

    This post Is yet one more reminder that my main hobby (reading of all sorts: politics, history, science fiction, literature) is much less “productive”. I guess the upside of reading so much/broadly is that I usually can chat for at least a few minutes with nearly anybody because I’m probably read something relevant.

  7. EarthSciProf, my husband is like that, too. Reads a lot and broadly, but doesn’t necessarily have a creative impetus. I guess different people get recharged in different ways.

  8. So, what was the consensus on the sound of kicking a heavy bag? I can totally see myself in your shoes in that situation, and now I want to know how you write that sound.

  9. Sadly, my polling wasn’t extensive enough. I originally wanted to go with blam, which to me is the sound of a really forceful kick. Alas, I found that it’s usually assumed to denote an actual explosion or weapons discharge. My fellow gym-goers’ offerings included slap, pow, and whap/wap. A few more I don’t remember. Actually, I thought whap/wap was the best of all of them, but didn’t work for the story, where I wanted something more dramatic and it needed to be effective even after several repetitions throughout the piece. Our coach often says that when we all kick in sync it sounds like thunder, and it sorta does. I looked at a few other from the onomatopoeia site. The ones I liked included wham (would work well for my purpose, but with Wham! having been a pop duet, I didn’t want to go there), also bwak (there is a video game or something under that name, so I didn’t want to go there either) and whack and whump. Ultimately, I went with the admittedly generic bam. *hangs head in shame*
    I felt it’s clear enough that it denotes a forceful punch or a kick, and it’s not too gimmicky so as to be distracting and potentially irritating as sprinkled throughout the story.

  10. I thought you might like to know that my kickboxing story just got accepted by a pretty cool literary journal (on first submission). Will be out in April. BAM!

  11. In response to the scariness of the SF community: I’ve found that “hard” science fiction has gotten less and less rewarding to me as a reader over the years—too much of it is just military porn or libertarian propaganda. Authors often seem more interested in explaining some trivial piece of inconsequential tech than in telling a story. The readers who are left may indeed care more about the radius of a moon of Jupiter than about whether the story is interesting.

    I’ve found more consistent universes and stronger character development in fantasy than in SF over the past decade or so. Of course, if you have some good authors to recommend, I’m interested.

  12. @gasstationwithoutpumps: I hear you. I really like space operas (space ships, multiple worlds, aliens, etc.), time travel/alternate realities, and low fantasy (realistic world with fantasy elements), all with great storytelling. Actually, I think I like most speculative fiction, with the exception of gore (I am a scaredy cat) or anything in a medieval-like setting (potions, witches, wizards, and heroes journeying to fulfill magical destinies and/or battle some Dark Lord).

    The authors I really like are:
    1) Becky Chambers: Both books of the Wayfarer series are excellent IMHO (“The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” and “A Closed and Common Orbit”; I think I liked the second one even better); people say it’s soft SF, because she actually develops her characters
    2) Ann Leckie: I really liked her Ancillary Justice trilogy, book 1 was excellent
    3) Claire North: “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” is my favorite book of the last decade.
    4) Charlie Stross: I loved “Neptune’s Brood.” I started a couple of others. That man has some imagination, that’s for sure!
    5) John Scalzi: I like him when he writes space operas or humor. He drives plot through dialogue, so this has to be your cup of tea (DH disliked him, for instance). I first read “Redshirts,” which was funny and standalone, and loved it. Then I read the “Old Man’s War” series, which I liked. The new universe is promising, the first book is out “The Collapsing Empire.” I did not care for “Lock In”—the world was great, the book not really (the accompanying free novella by Tor was great, though).
    6) Blake Crouch: “Dark Matter” is very well written (time travel) and packs a lot of emotional impact. DH read more by him but says it’s not all as good as “Dark Matter”
    7) Nnedi Okorafor: Writes SF with a strong influence of her Nigerian heritage. “Binti” (aliens and interplanetary travel) was a lovely novella, and I liked “The Book of Phoenix” (the first book of a series, fantasy), haven’t read the rest. I didn’t finish “The Lagoon.”

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