fetish and taboo

February 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm (editing, writing) (, , , )

Jeff VanderMeer just posed an interesting question over at the Booklife blog, musing on the often problematic but also fruitful relationship between fetish and writing. Given the project I’m working on right now, I find myself more inspired to write about fetishes of a different sort, but Jeff’s post made me sit up all prick-eared, especially his opening quote:

In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.

I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.

This really got under my skin (in a good way). Compared to some, I’m not particularly fetish-oriented as a writer, though I have a few quirks, of course. I do my best work up at a coffee shop, but given that my husband works from home as a world history teacher, speaking on the phone all day to children, my need to be up here is more born of necessity than a necessity, if that makes sense. Other than that, I do have an inability to write by hand, but mostly because I do my best work while editing compulsively.

That said, I may not be a very fetish-prone writer, but my booklife does tend to operate within a system of taboos gleaned from writer friends, things I’ve read, advice from writing teachers in my distant past, “common knowledge,” etc. And, just as fetish-objects should be eschewed when they’re hurtful rather than helpful, so should those taboos. As I’ve posted here lately, I’ve been paralyzed by a pretty epic bout of writer’s block. Thankfully, the ice is cracking, slowly, but that’s in part due to my decision to break taboo, in the form of outlining.

I used to outline compulsively when I wrote, for both creative and academic projects. But I found, years ago, that for my creative writing, having an outline made me feel wedded to that outline, and often prevented me from exploring with the characters; it put me in control of them, rather than them determining their own reactions and personality. It also sometimes made me feel wedded to a certain plot, even when it didn’t feel like the right thing.

So I quit outlining. I haven’t written a single outline in years.


The large project I’m working on right now is. . . large. And there are several different storylines. I’m working on the final one, but while it was the easiest of the three to write for the first part, when I got to the real tofu-and-potatoes of the plot, I froze. I had no idea where to go, what to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it. After writing a bunch of short stories and puttering around and griping, I finally broke down and busted out the “outline” function Scrivener supplies. And lo, lo I said, I worked out a mock-up of what I need to do for the rest of the book. Hallelujah.

It just goes to show (as Jeff said), some fetishes really do aid a writer’s creativity. For me, I have to say that the process of discovering (for some are quite unconscious) taboos and then breaking those taboos seems aids my creativity, as well. I have an informal checklist of things I do when I cant write: find new music, edit from the beginning, research more, work on something else, imagine scenes I’ll never include in the project to get a feel for how the characters would act naturally outside of their “screen time.” But I think I’ll add a new item to that list of tricks: engage in self-reflection to see if a sense of taboo is holding me back from a new way of interrogating and negotiating with a project.

And now, I must run. I have a novel to work on!

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there should be only one

January 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm (editing, writing) (, , )

There should be only one space after a period in just about anything you send out to magazines these days. Unless you are a lawyer, I think. But for creative writers and, in many cases, non-lawyer academics (though the rules for those magazines tend to be more quirky), when you submit a story or an article anywhere, you should probably have one lone space after the periods.

“Kicking and screaming” would not be too hyperbolic a phrase to describe my reaction to, years ago, a friend informing me that these days you should only put one space after a period.

I had read this wisdom already, probably over a decade before, in 8th grade. I was reading a manual on how to use Macintosh computers for a graphic design class and the writer of said tome remarked that it was standard to only put one space after a period. I remember this, so disturbing a sentiment it was to young Molly: Look at the type in this book, exhorted the author. There’s only one space after the periods.

I believe my reaction to this statement was: fuck you. Mavis Beacon had taught me to put two spaces after a period when I typed and by God, I was a believer in Mavis Beacon. Through high school, through college, Christ, through my first year of grad school, every damn period had two spaces after it. My reasoning was that you pause longer at the end of sentences than you do at comas, and thus it was intuitive punctuation. Also, that’s how “they used to do it.” Holla!

Then I began working on a creative project with a cohort, and said cohort was all wtf? when I sent him a draft of something or other, ragging on me for putting two spaces after a period. I told him two spaces was standard. He told me I was full of shit, and showed me so. Here, and also here. Christ, even the folks over at The Chicago Manual of Style agree, if you can catch them between fits of weeping over the knowledge that they’re just not as cool as MLA. I kid, I kid. Sort of.

I don’t care if they used to do it back in the day when you learned from Mavis Beacon or a typing class on typewriters instead of computers or if you’re just used to it. Guess what? Printers used to put the first word of the following page at the bottom of each and every page, and we don’t do that anymore. Because it’s pointless. They also used monospace fonts back in the day. Now, with proportionately-spaced fonts, type just looks better in general, and it is unnecessary to have two spaces after a period.

I changed. It took a lot, believe me. Every person who types a lot has typing quirks, and disrupting one’s usual use of spaces is a huge fucking pain. But I changed. You should change too, for a number of reasons.

One, it’s correct.

Two, it’s correct.

And three, other than the fact that it’s correct, it’s also a nice gesture.

Why? Because everything you do on your end, as a writer, to make your manuscript perfect– or at least conform to publishing standards– makes less work for editors and publishers of your work, and thus is really awesome. Now, if you refuse to change your typing habits, and believe you me I understand this, then just, at the end of working on a project, do a find/replace, substituting one space for two. It can be done in one fell swoop, just replace all. This way, if some poor soul is formatting and inputting work for publication in one of the many, many online venues, they won’t do all the work that is associated with that, only to catch anachronistic spacing at the last minute and then be faced with the prospect of either combing through the story to manually excise the improper spaces, or exporting the story to MS Word (possibly losing a lot of the formatting they’ve done already) and re-importing it with the spacing corrected.

I now view using single spaces after periods as just part of the proofreading process, an author-end activity the same as correcting comma splices or poor grammar. It’s professional, it’s courteous, it’s (in general, but always always check your target magazine’s rules) correct. Unlike having your work in Standard Manuscript Format, which generally corrects into Online Publishing Format (explained by the kind folks at Cabinet des Fées here), having two spaces after your period is an annoyance for editors, especially nit-picky neurotic editors, like–well, like me. And others, trust me on this.

It’s not really a stylistic decision any longer, like, say, the Oxford comma (which you’ll have pry out of my writing with a silver crowbar, heretics!). It’s just not in general considered standard. And it will likely be edited out of your work anyways, without any sort of remorse on the part of the editor.

The times, they aren’t a’changin’ in regards to this. They’ve changed.

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down to the wire, and newspile

December 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm (editing, this and that, writing) (, )

Counting today, there are only ten days left for the entire internet to submit to the Paper Fruit Bloggiversary Contest! So far I’ve got five very fine submissions and counting, so the competition is getting stiff. Remember to email your submission to paperfruitcontest at gmail dot com before December 26th! I am going to visit my family in Florida on the 27th so while flying cross-country and then driving cross-state I will be reading the submissions and will announce winners around the New Year after I return.

In other news, here is a list of search-terms WordPress is telling me that people have used to find my blog:

animals looking cute

“gpa for my master’s

penis toes (this is most certainly my personal favorite)

atop write

finnegans wake tallahassee

vinegar spray bottle

russian colonel hat

Also of note: I received my very first personal rejection letter today! While being rejected nearly always sucks, it was cool that the editor of the magazine chose to comment on my story. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the criticism– take it as something I should “fix,” or just chalk it up to personal preference– but still!

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fantasy magazine has interviewers!

December 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm (editing, reading, writing) (, )

Fantasy Magazine now has an three-person interviewing team that I am incredibly proud to have working for us!

The first is Mr. TJ McIntyre, who was doing Author Spotlights for FM before and is remaining on board, much to my pleasure. TJ’s profile of Nicole Kornher-Stace goes up tomorrow.

The second is Ms. Jennifer Konieczny, who was slushing for FM (and helping out proofreading stories before they went up) when she applied for this position. I am very pleased to have her working in an expanded capacity for us, and Jennifer’s first profile will go up next Thursday, Dec. 24th.

The third is Mr. William Sullivan, a new face at Fantasy Magazine. A longtime reader of speculative fiction, William’s questions caught my attention and I’m sure they will prove to be interesting reading for future Author Spotlights. William’s first interview will go up Dec. 31st.

Congratulations to all!

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bloggiversary: contest! fabulous prizes!

December 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm (editing, this and that, writing) (, , )

On the 26th of December, 2008, I began blogging here at WordPress, and it’s been a good time. The blog has mutated from being a reading-blog to a personal space to rant (here’s an example, where I predict Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, no, really) to something (somewhat) more professional. It’s been my first exercise in consistent blogging and I’d like to celebrate by doing a contest/giveaway, so here it is: I am going to celebrate by doing a contest/giveaway.

Between now and December 26th, if you’d like to submit an original piece of flash fiction (under 500 words) which features the phrase “paper fruit” in some manner, write it up and send it to paperfruitcontest at gmail dot com. The winning entry as well as the runner-up will receive a fabulous prize. Both will also have their stories published on my blog.

More details below. . .

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the view from atop the slushpile

December 8, 2009 at 3:15 pm (editing, writing) (, )

The latest internet kerfuffle regarding editing and publishing in the genre community started over at John Scalzi’s blog where he called out a market for paying one fifth of a cent per word (500 words for a dollar, etc.). This has now mutated into an excellent blog post over at Jeff VanderMeer’s blog, by guest blogger Rachel Swirsky, editor of PodCastle. Ms. Swirsky’s point was riffing off of Scalzi’s, that getting published “anywhere” doesn’t necessarily help a young writer’s career– in fact, not only, as Scalzi says, does this potentially devalue an author, it can, as Swirsky says, make an editor less inclined towards your work. Both Swirsky’s and Scalzi’s point boils down to this: often young writers are told to publish, publish, publish: exposure is king, as well as judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to short fiction, if you don’t have credits behind your name you’re flung off of the slushpile and into the garbage, or as Swirsky put it, “it’s this benefit of the doubt that I think newer authors are trying to curry when they say the point of publishing with a market like Black Matrix is to get a credit, any credit. (Either that or they think submissions with creditless cover letters are thrown into an automatic ‘no’ box with a malevolent editorial cackle.)”

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fantasy magazine needs you!

December 3, 2009 at 3:24 pm (editing, writing) ()

Mondays, new fiction goes up on the Fantasy Magazine site. Thursdays, we post an interview with that week’s author.

So? Well, we need one or two self-motivated people to do these author profiles for FM. Wanna take a crack at it?

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November 25, 2009 at 2:49 pm (editing, this and that, writing) (, , , )

Life have been so busy in Tanzer Town I feel like Richard Scarry should write a book about me. While I haven’t been slaying any terrible dragons, I just finished up my very first proofreading gig for Prime Books, which was a tremendous amount of fun. The delight I receive from marking up a manuscript with a red pen is beyond acceptable, but when I mentioned this to Sean, my editor, he responded that, quote, “anyone who is in publishing is certifiably insane.” So OK then.

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