February 2009 - Posts

When Rejection is a Way of Life
Friday, February 27, 2009 4:38 PM

The way I see it, a writer has two ways of handling rejection and giving up or throwing a fit isn’t one of them. There is delusion, which can be harmful and certainly sounds bad but I think that if you take it with a healthy dose of humor you’ll be alright. For example, saying “they didn’t want my work because it’s too good for their rinky-dink little magazine” is healthy if you say it with a smile and then stick your tongue out at the rejection letter but don’t hold a grudge. Saying that same thing with anger and your nose in the air probably isn’t helpful.
The other way is to simply preserve and keep on truckin’. Don’t let a rejection letter or a harsh criticism from a peer get you down or make you quit, just resign yourself to try again. Mail out more submissions or make some corrections. If it gets under your skin then use that fire to go edit and write more (or violently lick envelopes).
Personally, I like to use a combination of these two. I stick my tongue out at rejection letters and then go try again. As for receiving harsh criticism, I love it and I suggest that anyone who wants to be a writer learn to do the same. Love it because you know you can use it and learn from it and then move on to the previously mentioned second way of dealing with things, keep on workin’.
I’ve often heard it said that being a writer means that rejection will be a way of life. It certainly is a long difficult career path, with a lot of work before you get even a nickel, and I can attest to that, but if you focus on the rejection, if you accept that as your “way of life” you are going to be incredibly depressed and probably quit. You have to focus on the acceptance that will one day come. It may be cheesy but for the sake of your sanity it might be beneficial to say, dreaming is your way of life. Actually, that’s no more cheesy than saying “rejection is my way of life” and far less depressing to those around you. This goes back to delusion, which just isn’t quite the right word. It’s about taking things lightly. Laugh, don’t get depressed and move on.
Here at FSU, you have to apply to get into the upper-level creative writing workshops by submitting your work and the professors choose what students they want. Some people have a lot of trouble with this, others have some, and some people have none. I was closer to the last category. I applied to workshops five times and four of those five times I got my first choice. The fifth time, however, I applied to being in Robert Olen Butler’s workshop and didn’t get in. Instead of fretting over the experience I just said, “My work must have been so good that he felt he didn’t have anything to teach me.” While there is almost no chance that this is true and I never thought it might be, it was funny and kept me from dwelling on the rejection. Instead, I went and did some writing on my own.
I also heard through my sister about a girl who applied to a lot of schools over many years while trying to get into grad school. She kept all the rejection letters but never got discouraged. When she finally got in she made a collage of all the rejections with their ‘unfortunately’ and ‘we’re sorry to inform you’ on their official university letter head around the one great acceptance letter. That’s focusing on the victory.
I invite comments with how other people handle rejection.
Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 8 comment(s)
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Try With A Little Help From Your Friends
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 11:15 AM

 Coming up through the Florida State creative writing program I’ve come to lean heavily on the workshopping process because that is how most writing intensive classes are formatted here. And there is nothing wrong with that. The fact of the matter is you need other people’s opinions because you can’t think of everything yourself and you never know how exactly an audience is going to respond to your work and there is no better way to get to know that than actually presenting it to a group of people.
    In fact, I think many of the editorial tips that are common among the creative writing world are intended to be substitutes for the workshop environment which is ideal for developing a draft into a finished piece. For example, the idea of reading your story out loud to yourself is intended to give a feel for how the piece will be heard by someone else. This attempt to gain perspective isn’t always necessary if you have a group of people to provide you with feedback.
    But not everyone has a workshop or a bunch of writer friends sitting around at a coffee shop ready to give you advice, so how does one obtain the workshop experience? My solution would be to look to any of your friends or family for aid. Any that will give you an honest opinion that is. Many family members feel that need to be consistently supportive at the expense of honest, in fact, that’s what many people expect from family. Friends too can be this way, afraid to voice real opinions for fear of giving offense. For some, this may be harder than others, but you need to look for a few people you know that will be willing to read something from time to time and give you honest, real opinions. It may not be a college workshop, but it’s better than nothing.
    Also, look around locally for clubs that center around reading and writing and get involved with that community if you’re serious about you’re craft. There are even some local writing clubs that host workshops but be mindful, they may have membership fees. If not, it will hook you up with people interested in reading and writing, you can make new friends and hopefully find some people that will want to read your material and give you their opinion. They might want you’re opinion on their work, but that’s a fair trade and it’s my opinion that critiquing other people’s material helps you develop that critical eye and improve your own material.
    As for me, I’m not in any official workshops through school right now, but I have a group of friends that I’ve made through the program that are usually willing to have a look at some of my stuff.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 5 comment(s)
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The Little Things
Monday, February 23, 2009 10:29 AM

In the past, I’ve talked about how you can do lots of extra writing that may never go in your story but will help a great deal in writing. Examples of this are when you write a lengthy history and description of some of your characters. Most of this information will never see it’s way into your narrative and shouldn’t but it can be extremely helpful to know exactly who the people are so you can write them correctly. It may help you find just that tiniest little detail that makes everything work and holds the story together.

I recently read a story where this was illustrated perfectly in the way one character described another character’s shoes. It wasn’t a lengthy description, but just the fact that the narrator notices this detail about another character was very illuminating. It was a tiny thing, but it gave the reader valuable insight into both characters and it made the whole thing seem so real, because in real life people key in on small, seemingly trivial pieces of information sometimes. This is never more clear than when you have someone reading your work and they point out a minute detail or a phrase that you threw in off-hand that really stuck with them and made the scene real. For example, I once had a teacher compliment me at great length for the line: “She reached for anything hard and not plugged to hit him with on the bedside table. She came up with a tissue box.” Sure, it’s a little funny but I didn’t think much of it when I wrote it, I was focusing on other things. But what I had done was gone to great lengths to imagine the scene, from acting it out to writing out what happens in a very plain way before transcribing it into the narrative with dialogue and exposition.

For those who think they have a talent for writing, you may get wrapped up in trying to create compelling dialogue or render a powerful description of a setting, but often it’s the little things you do without hardly even realizing that make your writing really work. I think that goes back to what Diaz said about riding your subconscious. The things you do without even realizing that turn out to be incredibly good, that’s your subconscious. Being a professional fiction writer requires that you learn to use that. I think one trick to getting your subconscious all the information it needs, to getting everything out in the open and up front where you can use it, is doing some of that extra writing. Laying everything on the table will help you plug in just a few little details that really get your story cooking.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 6 comment(s)
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Porn: I May Have Stooped Too Low Too Soon
Friday, February 20, 2009 12:49 PM

 Every writer makes mistakes both in their craft and in their career. I’m sure of this statement because writers are human and make a practice of exploring the dumb things that humans do on the page which I know spills over into their personal life from time to time. So, in this venue I’d like to share a mistake I may have made in regards to my writing career, a mistake that hasn’t cost me anything yet and could still possibly result in my work getting published, but it was probably a slight miss-step regardless.
    It began with success, as I’ve found many mistakes do. I wrote a story for a fiction workshop this time last year that had some sexual content. Actually it was a short short about a couple who have a rather humorously botched sexual encounter that results in them breaking off their relationship. My workshop thought it was hilarious and I got an e-mail from that professor the next semester asking me if she could use my material in her class to illustrate how to write a good sex scene. Good news right?
    Well, I made a few mistakes and tried to make the scene part of a larger story and that ended up being very bad stuff and ruining the original material. That wasn’t the mistake I was talking about earlier though because I edited in what I think was a very wise way. I went back to that short short that was successful, ignoring everything that was bad that I wrote afterwards, and kept the entire story in that scene more or less and still kept it as a short short but developed it into a full story within that scene. It ended up being quite good.
    Here is where I made the mistake. In looking to submit it to magazines I found a lot of mainstream publications that said they didn’t want any sexually explicate content or foul language. There were also a lot that didn’t say this outright, but when I looked at an issue of their magazine all the material inside was pretty kosher. So, I looked under the heading “Sex” in my copy of Writer’s Market and found two mags that wanted fiction with sexual content, including erotic fiction. My story is far from erotic but having just gotten another rejection letter for one of the other stories I’m shopping around the expression “Beggars can’t be choosers” popped into my head and, without checking out the magazines first, I submitted my story.
    One is a full on, hardcore porn magazine that makes Hustler look a family publication. I couldn’t find any fiction but if Writer’s Market was right and they do publish fiction, I imagine it is going to be very strong erotic stuff, not my story of slightly raunchy humor and double entendre.
    The second magazine looks much more respectable as a publication and they do publish fiction and lots of articles about adult lifestyles. I wouldn’t call it a porn magazine, but again, it caters to an audience very different from myself, an audience of swingers and other people that would be interviewed by HBO’s Real Sex.
    I began to realize my mistake and my fiancée, who is currently in a fiction workshop asked her teacher what I should have done. She said that I should never stoop to sending my stuff to porn and that most respectable fiction magazines, while they won’t take erotica, are open to stories with a wide range of subject matters including sex. Among others, she mentioned Nerve Magazine, which publishes lots of fiction with sexual themes including work by Steve Almond and the Pulitzer prize winning Robert Olen Butler.
    Next time I’ll do a little more research and I won’t be so quick to sell myself short. Until then, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 6 comment(s)
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A Glimpse Into the Other Side of Submissions
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 2:09 PM

    Taking one bit of advice Junot Diaz gave about how it is very important to consider who you are writing for when you are writing and also, I think, when you are submitting your work. I’ve found it particularly useful in my copy of “Writer’s Market” to read the “Tips” and editor has for what they are looking for in particular. One example would be the science fiction magazine that said they were looking for humorous work lately because they were overwhelmed with submissions that take themselves too seriously. That is valuable information.
    This got me thinking about how editors at magazines go about reviewing submissions and while it was difficult to find anything online at most sites, I did find two interesting documents at the two magazines I mentioned in this post, Strange Horizons and Flash Fiction Online. From Jake Freivald, Editor of Flash Fiction Online, click here for a lengthy and informative forum post describing in detail the process his publication uses to review submissions. From the Editorial Staff over at Strange Horzons, click here for a humorous list of stories archetypes that they get a lot and always reject. I think my favorite is “Twee little fairies with wings fly around being twee.” While the list is hilarious, it puts into perspective how much crap these guys have to read on a daily basis. You might want to consider that when you’re thinking about what audience you’re writing for. Imagine that all day long you’ve been reading really terrible fiction. Would you like your story? Would it rise above the rest? Would it lift the spirits of that poor editor?
    On another note, I’d like to mention two more e-zines that are high quality and definitely worth submitting to, though they are both very new. One is another science fiction magazine, which makes since because the genre is often marginalized. Clarkesworld Magazine publishes a new issue every month and contains at least two pieces of fiction. It is free on their website and they pay their contributors 10 cents per word.
    SmokeLong Quarterly is probably one of the most professional looking and highly literary “e-zines” I’ve seen on the net. I put e-zine in quotations because they appear to be in the process of making older issues available in print, bridging the gap to full-on publication. However, according to their site this process has put them in debt and they are no longer able to pay their writers. However, they are certainly a magazine to keep your eye on. Take a quick look at their stories and you’ll see just how high quality they are. Though they publish lots of new authors they also publish some better known authors, including Steve Almond, whose short story collection, “My Life in Heavy Metal” I just got for Christmas. Like Flash Fiction Online, SmokeLong also publishes only stories under 1000 words.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 4 comment(s)
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Advice from Junot Diaz, Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Monday, February 16, 2009 5:33 PM

I had the privilege of attending a Q&A with author Junot Diaz today in the FSU English Department Common Room. It was a small intimate setting with only a few undergrads and mostly graduate students and professors. I thought I would pass along some of the advice he had for how to be successful in the art of writing.

He focused on the idea that you had to learn to use and listen to your subconscious which is far more capable of producing good work than you are. He wanted to be clear that he didn't think of this as any kind of mystical voodoo and that he did not want to down play the intellectual side of writing. His purpose was to insist on getting in touch and developing a relationship with your subconscious as a real and necessary task.  He compared it to a jockey and a horse in that a jockey never truly has control over the insanely powerful horse. The jockey's job is to develop a relationship with the horse, to get to know it, and to understand who to ride something that is ultimately out of their control and capable of killing them. In writing, you must know yourself and your subconscious to be honest. He said that as a writer you are commenting on the human condition, but how can you comment in a valuable way if you haven't broken down the myths you have about yourself and truly analyzed who you are and continue to conduct that analysis regularly. This may be a frightening thought but he considers it absolutely vital to be able to ride your subconscious.

He also said that it is vital to always keep in mind who your audience is and that you can learn a lot about writing from the real story tellers in everyday life, those people who can walk into a room and capture everyone's attention with what happened to them on the way to work. This is something that I've tried to do in the past and also recommend to anyone that wants to know how to tell a story.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 4 comment(s)
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Moving Forward
Friday, February 13, 2009 12:24 PM

First of all I'd like to thank everyone for reading and leaving comments. My previous entry was my fifteenth which is the minimum number of blogs you must post (all over 250 words) to meet the blogiversity contest rules. I will of course continue to post until time is up to try to get as high a score as possible and make sure I get into finals. The contest ends at the end of this month but I will continue to post after that, just not as regularly. Your support has been incredible and I think I have an excellent shot at winning this competition.

For an update on my own progress I have well over a dozen stories in process right now, either still working on the first draft, editing, or trying to get published. I haven't written much new material in the last week because I've been focused on mailing out my more or less finished work to magazines. Each part of the writing process, publication, editing, actual writing, seems like a full time job and as a student with an internship actively trying to get a part time job, it can be hard to fit more than one of those into my schedule. If you feel that you have this problem as well, know you are not alone. I've often talked about how I go to the library in my spare time to write but recently even if I find the time I've been reading fiction magazines that they have there in an attempt to find markets for my work. My problem is not beating myself up for not finding time to write and reminding myself that there are only so many hours in a day and that I'm still working toward the ultimate goal of being a professional fiction writer.

I've recieved a few more rejection letters but I press forward, undaunted. I also submitted for the first time to an e-zine, Flash Fiction Online. We'll see how that goes. Among the magazines a submitted my work to in this latest round was the Gettysburg Review. I like their magazine a lot and I think it would be really great if I could break through with them, in part because my dad is a Civil War buff. I think he'd be thrilled.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 5 comment(s)
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A Pair of E-zines That Have a Pair
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 10:07 AM

 In response to recent questions from the kvona and mvpjmp I've done some furthering digging around and have come up with two online fiction  publications that I think our excellent examples of what every e-zine should aspire to be. Flash Fiction Online, an e-zine dedicated to flash fiction or short shorts (a story in 1000 words or less) and Strange Horizons, a fantasy and science fiction venue, are two magazines that meet all the criteria I could ask for in an online magazine. I'm not sure how much of their revenue comes from advertising but I do know that they both rely heavily on donations because both publications are free. This, and the fact that they are very easy to find with any search engine, means people who normally can't afford to pay for fiction are able to read these magazines as well as though who do pay for fiction periodicals. This means more people seeing your work. Though they are dependent on donations, both sites pay writers five cents a word or a fifty dollar minimum for their. These are the minimum payments a magazine most make to be seen as a professional market by the writing industry and both sites want to be seen as professional.

 They don't have to try too hard though. A quick look at either site will show you just how professional they are. Both have a menu bar on the left side with all the information you need, from how to subscribe, how to submit, writer's guidelines, archives, current issue, forums, how to donate, author pages and more. You name it, it's there. These magazines may be totally online and totally free, but they are also totally professional (sorry, I had a Bill and Ted moment).

 One other feature I thought was worth noting and certainly unique to the online magazine experience was Flash Fiction Online's "Tip Jar." At the bottom of every story they publish on their site there is a link that allows you to donate money specifically because you liked that story. 40% of the donation goes to the magazine and 60% goes directly to the author! EXCELLENT! *air guitar*

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 7 comment(s)
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Online Literary Magazines: Submit with Caution
Monday, February 9, 2009 5:18 PM

 There are a lot of online literary magazines and the fact of the matter is they don’t get half the respect a print publication does. There are a lot of good reasons why this is so but you shouldn’t count out these e-zines too easily.
    Reason number one: anyone, including me or you, could create one if we wanted to and name ourselves editor. I used to make a fort out of pillows in the living room when I was ten and name myself king but I wasn’t expecting an envoy from the Queen of England. These “editors” shouldn’t expect to be treated like the editor of Atlantic Monthly or the New Yorker. Some of the people who run these have zero credentials and about that many readers.
    Reason number two: there are more of these things than you can shake a stick called google at, mostly because of reason number one.
    Reason number three: “we’re about art and experimentation and we won’t be a slave to the dinosaur that is the print industry. People will judge us on the work we publish not how our site looks. We’re artists.” Well if I can’t find the fiction, how the hell am I supposed to judge you on it? I get it, you’re an artist, but check out a book on web design or fumble around with iweb for half an hour before throwing up some crap picture that links to dead page. While doing research for this entry I looked at A LOT of online magazines and there were quite a few that I couldn’t find how to subscribe, how to submit, or a single scrap of fiction or poetry.
    Reason number four: slapdash work because of one of the reasons above or for some other reason that means that “magazine” is just hardly worth reading or recognizing.
     But there are some good ones and some good things about online fiction magazines. First off, most are free which means a whole group or readership for whom paying for fiction isn’t a luxury they are privy too as well as those you regularly read and pay for fiction. Second, it may well be the wave of the future, so even if there are still kinks to work out, some of these e-zines that are making a good go of it may be huge in the future. Third, easy to submit to (mostly) and often quick to reply thanks to a total rejection of the traditional mail system of submission and a thorough knowledge of how to handle e-mail submissions unlike some print magazines trying to start using e-mail submissions that clearly (hear I speak from experience) haven’t ironed out the details.
    So how do you know which ones are good and which ones are bad?
    As always, my advice is never to pay to have your work read, end of story. Unless it’s a competition with a cash reward in which case it’s up to you but I still pass because contests get entered by lots of aspiring writers, more than just submit their work regularly. This means that even if the pay of is potentially greater, the chances of getting your work published go way down and I just don’t have $10-$20 to burn sending my story to every contest out there (and since every magazine has one, there are a lot). Second, see if they pay you. I found a couple that look real respectable and even though they pay the bare minimum (or close to it) of what a professional publication pays, they strive to do that because they want to be considered professional.
    Besides that, just take a look at the site before you submit. The rule with submitting to any publication of any kind is to always have read or at least thumbed through an issue or two but this is especially important for online magazines but for many of the opposite reasons that it is important for a professional print publication. You read a print magazine like The Paris Review before you submit to it to get an idea of what sort of thing they publish so you don’t waste your time and theirs by sending a science fiction piece to a magazine that simply doesn’t publish that genre. You read an online magazine to see if you even want your work featured there.
    See if the site looks remotely respectable. Try to find out what they’re editorial process is like and how they pick what stories they publish. It may be that not only do they not pay their writer’s but they publish anything that comes their way by simply throwing it up on their site in which case, not many people are going to read your work and good luck getting a respectable magazine to take something that’s already been “published.” Look for an “About Us” or “Submissions” page to provide you with some context about what they look for and what they are all about. When I couldn’t find these easily I said, “the hell with your rinky-dinky operation.”

I’ll discuss this more in future entries and as always I invite comments and questions. I expect this hastily thrown together summary of an emerging publication field from a writer’s prospective might have some holes so please let me know what I left out and I’ll get on it.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 7 comment(s)
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The Critical "I"
Friday, February 6, 2009 2:27 PM

 Writing fiction involves a lot of what I like to call “mental acting.” Often times the protagonist of your story may be similar to you in some ways and there is nothing wrong with this, but not every character in your story should be like you especially since a great deal of the best fiction involves two foil characters. You have to get inside your character’s heads, the heads of people who may be nothing like you at all, and figure out what they are going to say, what they are going to do and how they are going to act. Doing this effectively will require you to make some tough decisions that you may not like.
    I’d be lying if I said I never got up from my desk when writing at home and started to act out the scene I was writing, playing the parts of every character myself in a schizophrenic, audience-less example of living room theater. It sounds crazy (and probably looks crazy) but it works. It revs you up and gets you excited about what you’re writing, helps you hear what your story will sound like out loud (reading your story out loud to yourself or having it read to you by another person is an old editing exercise). For me, it helps me get into a character’s head by essentially roll playing as them as attempting to my own impression of how they would act and carry themselves. It is especially useful in scenes heavy in dialogue and low on exposition.
    There are lots of tricks out there to help you figure out your characters, some of which I’ve mentioned in previous entries to this blog. Try writing the story from that characters perspective or just that character’s recount of the events, if nothing else just to see for sure how they feel about everything happening. You can get a handle on how they speak by writing several journal entries as that character or writing letters to yourself (I’ve never tried this and it sounds cheesy but I’ve heard of people you have) from that individual. These help you find out what words that character says a lot (every person has those words they use over and over again and often don’t even realize it) along with other important details you should consider when constructing a character. Maybe the person speaks in really long sentences or maybe only in short sentence fragments (my father speaks and writes this way). Maybe the person has lots of asides and uses lots of parenthesis like, well gee, I don’t know anyone who does that (or do I?).
    The point is that before you type a sentence that starts with the one-letter word “I” and you’re not writing about you, there is a lot to think about. Underdeveloped characters bleed together and come across as unreal. It got around that there was a grad student in the creative writing program here at Florida State recently who got a little too into his character and started thinking the NSA was after him. I say kudos to that guy on really digging in deep and getting into his character’s head. That’s where good writing comes from.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 4 comment(s)
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The Critical Eye
Wednesday, February 4, 2009 3:12 PM

    I’ve said numerous times in this blog that you have to read a lot to be able to write a lot. To take this a step further, I think that it is essential for a writer to view what he or she read with what a critical eye, that is to say, while you’re reading be on the look out for things you like and things you dislike.
    If you see something you like take a mental note of that, put a star in the margin or maybe write a note in that idea folder that was mentioned in my post “Ideas for Capturing Ideas: The Conundrum of What to Write.” I gave my mother a reading journal for her birthday one year because she told she reads so much she has trouble keeping books straight after awhile (a problem I wish I had). For a writer, such a reading journal could help you analyze what you’ve read and determined what you would like to steal (never borrow, remember?) and then what you would do different if you were the writer.
    This little game of “If I had written it…” is the other side of viewing a work critical and one I find personally to be very fun. If something doesn’t quite seem right in a story don’t just take it lying down! Too many people treat reading as a passive activity. Stand up and fight back. Or should I say write back. (Wisconsin called they want their cheese back.)
    Exploring the options of how you would write a story differently is a positive activity that can only help your writing and how you edit your own work. They say you learn from your mistakes but you can learn from other’s as well. For example, my little brother comes home and reports that he didn’t do anything in school that day except watch movies and find himself on the receiving end of my mother ranting about how he isn’t learning anything and how terrible schools are these days – from then on I knew to just accept good things and not brag about them.
    In writing, taking a careful look at the things in a story that didn’t work for you can show you what you might like to write and may lead you to rewrite the story from another perspective or with different characters or a different ending and it may end up better. You should always write what you want to read and this is a good way of finding out just what that is and is part of the whole idea of constantly being on the look out for material you can use in your own fiction.
    This works for TV and movies as well and if you’re a fan of the show “Firefly” (if you’re not you should be) then this example will be more meaningful to you Browncoats. I was recently rewatching the episode “Shindig” and my fiancée and I started talking about some of the things that don’t quite work in this particular episode. I ended up developing the ideas and posting them to a fan site here http://www.fireflyfans.net/mthread.asp?b=8&t=36578 and ended up generating a hearty discussion (550+ views and 50+ responses) with other fans about the series.
    If you’re worried that authors might get upset, don’t. First of all, I’m not saying tell them but if you want to write them a letter most welcome criticism. Orson Scott Card sometimes publishes portions of his novels online briefly so fans can tell him what they think. As I’ve said, a crucial part of being a good writer is being able to accept constructive criticism but being able to give it is important too.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI | 6 comment(s)
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