Saturday, 31 March 2007

Done!

A couple of print pubs today in BC taking pubs this year to 28. Interesting that the split is 12 Print, 12 web. In past years the web ratio has been a lot higher.



Despite the number of people away primary crits are doing well 6-5-5-5-5-4 to date

And I've cleaned my office!

The Pit

I meant to post a few shots of my office a fair few hours ago but started to get a headache and now have a really nasty bug. Deb is still suffering from it and has now kindly given a copy to me.

Anyway, a view of the pit....




When I get the time I'll post some more shots of the office and you'll get some idea of my addiction problem. I've been mainlining books now for a couple of decades.



I once heard someone say, "I've read a quarter of all my books, and all of a quarter of my books. I wish my percentage was that high.

And here in the corner are...

Weekend critting

The stories go up on a Friday night, but I never get a chance to view them then as I've just travelled back home after working away all week, and it wouldn't go down well if I immediately ensconced myself with stories to read and crit.

There were six this week, and I did them all on Saturday morning. Up at 7.30, which means by 12.30 all six were done, about 3000 words in total of crits. I probably learned more from those 3000 words than I would 6000 of my own writing.

Two stories this week seemed to have the germ of a very strong idea in them, but were oddly focused. They seemed to me to miss the meat of the story, concentrated on an aspect which was too much "seen it all before" whereas hidden within the stories were some fascinating ideas which were not fully developed.

For both of those stories, I'm certain a good rewrite could see them as prize winners.

Hidden Squalor!

We have three people away this weekend so the eight-crits rule will be hard to enforce. We had one early story in primaries (already cleared with its "8" and then six fresh stories last night, some of which I couldn't post until ten, and one I posted this morning.

But the gang has done me proud and we have 8-5-5-5-4-2 crits already (Noon Saturday)


and remember these are critiques, not 1-2 line casual comments.





At Kingfisher Barn, Deb likes to keep things a bit more than tidy.






(She woke up once on an operating table and started complaining the place was filthy...)





We've got a family room and a posh front room, and just off this, the other side of those three stained-glass windows, is my office.





There is one room in this house that's MY responsibility.





Well today I :


1 couldn't find any of the poertry journals I'd published in.

2 couldn't find my stash of US stamps to put on SASE's for a pile of US subs I have ready

3 couldn't find my chair


I wouldn't say the room was untidy but my Mrs thinks it's like Beirut on a particularly bad day



Anyway, I have shamed myself into cleaning it up. See next blog entry and play spot the book.

Bits and Pieces

First, congrats for two Boot Campers. They are on the shortlist for a comp, results TBA shortly. I got nowehere in that one and one of my stories was a finalist at Glimmer Train!! Throw in another shortlist at Pulp and we are up to 43 hits for the year.

I think that's well down on last year but two members have seriously raised their heights (one will only sub to paying markets now, or comps) one member has taken the first quarter to write a novel, and I'm a lazy bastard.




I have so much stuff to send out!! I've had so many things happening here, plus study and the general run of the mill BC stuff that my drafts just accumulated. I could sit down now and send out one a day for a year.

I don't know why but for some reason publishers don't write begging for stories. They have this quaint idea that we send to them.

My daughter is off on a french exchange and my son last night had FIVE mates sleeping over.

prompt: The Smell of Pizza, Feet and Armpit....

I woke early, critiqued the last primary Story (Friday Nights is deadline for stories in BC) posted the prompts and a couple of posts in BC, updated the blogs. Now I want to finish the month with another story as come lunch-time it's FOOTIE on the telly and then maybe a local minor-league game.

This month has been so intense I've stopped running and working out (but didn't drink). Now I have sore hips and feel like a slug. So April, run every day!!




Got a really good poem out yesterday (well I THINK it's a good un). I'm scared to work it and lose the edge but this morning I added a word and changed a word (the Ranieri of Words).

It's very strange being an expert in "seeing" short-stories and a complete KLUTZ in understanding poetry.

It's not as if I can't write the occasional decent one. I've maybe published 10-12 (must check) and won a very nice first prize, but it's INSTINCT, intuition, "feel". if a poem comes I'm terified of touching it. I feel like that man in the comedy sketch, just finished the Venus de Milo, goes to chip off a TINY bit of her shoulder AND THE ARMS FALL OFF!


I understand that...

Saturday Morning Prompts

These were the story prompts for Saturday 31st, but see below, they are also poetry prompts

As a lot of today's story-prompts are lines from poems, they are today's poetry prompts too.

try TWO poems, one inspired by, another using (some) actual lines and combining to create new meanings

There is a whole RAFT of good poetry comps this month so GET WRITING







Time wasted and time spent, daytime with used up wit.

PYRAMID

Will you take a seat? The war will soon be over.

RAZOR, LIGHT

I read of a thousand killed.

My Grandfather's Skull

Thick wool is muslin tonight and the wire scorches stone-cold shoulder

PEAS

in the red darkness, through the filtered light

ACID, SMILE, ALKALI, GRIN

There is a SUPREME BEING (in the ethnological section)...

Why Tuesdays are Different

COO-POO

Wher pink thighs flash like the spokes of a wheel

Melt My Medals, Build Something

I offer you my forests and my street cries

DORIAN GRAY

The man who sold aircraft carriers

The Elecdtronic Nature of Desire

our mother is in the night, into the day we flow

Romeo, Romeo, ar you coming or not fer fuck's sake!

in the stump of the ol tree where the heart has rotted out

Friday, 30 March 2007

Friday's Poetry Prompts

Why do I find poetry prompts hard? Is there something fundamentally different between having ideas that become flash short-stories and having ideas that become poems?


Anyway


More prompts

1. Write a poem ncluding some or all of the following words – star, water, leaf, desire, wine

2. Write a poem using mixed metaphors e.g. there’s many a lost sheep that falls by the wayside

3. Write a sestina (you can have a bit longer to do this).


Caroline (from yesterday)

4 Armpits and Love?

5 Write a poem about excess language

6 A poem using Animal Farm ideas about art and critics?

Where Was I?

Bugger, who invented the school-run?

I've had TWO interruptions this morning; the Mrs to the station at 7 AM then PJ to school just after 8. It's frustrating to have to break into a thought pattern or suspend a short story half-way through (I believe we should try to draft a short in one sitting.)


I know I had LOTS to say about "aesthetics" versus "instrumentalism" but let's put things into Boot Camp terms, let's get a bit of FIRE and BALLS,

There are stories that disappear up their own ass, they are languaged, highly-languaged, but LANGUAGED FOR THEIR OWN SAKE or languaged to show off the author. (In BC this is either "dick-waving" or "showing yer tits".)

Sadly we sometimes get critiquers falling for the surface bullshit (the pretty wordifying) and forgetting to notice that underneath there is no story, or a thin story, or (The horror! The horror!) a WOMAG story.

Some while back a very fine observation was made in BC, that many competitions are often won by "plain, womag plots, with womag emotions, womag characters, but all covered in 'pretty' language"

occasionally in Boot Camp there will be a huge split. Maybe 6-7-8 critters will score a story 115-120 THEN I COME IN.

I score it 90 and tell them they are a bunch of deaf, dumb and blind spectators watching the naked Emperor going by, but actually "seeing" clothes on his back. They've fallen for the language.

These threads are great because they force people to see THE STORY not the language.

What, I ask, would be the score for this story, if the language only scraped par or was under par?

What happens is the reader reads "good language" (so-called) presumes the author is " a good writer" and then sees everything though that filter. Tell me what the story is, i ask. Tell me why these characters deserve par, tell me EXACTLY why the dialogue is "good", what's the theme, is it strong or weak?


In Boot Camp "Theme" means Premise, the "point" of a story, its argument, its moral view, "what it says", "what it leaves us with", what it makes us consider (whether or not it has a definite view)

So many stories end up stamped "SFW" (So fucking what?). It does not matter how well something is written, it does not matter if it has a theme, and is polished to death, if the "statement" a story makes is trivial and we don't care, then it's totally so-fucking-what and we very rapidly forget it.


That's why I loathe cheap womag stories with identikit characters, strings of vacuous stock phrases, thirty cliches to the square inch, and then to "sudddenly" make the story "matter" a crude "surprise" twist in the tail.

A twist is OK, but a story should stand alone without the twist. How many stories are "nothing" just set-ups for the twist-ending? I tell Boot Campers, "If you have a twist, put it at the beginning and then WRITE. Don't use cheap tricks."

So Aesthicism v Instrumenal writing? Pretty versus Content.

For me it's a no-brainer. I want MEANING, purpose, a strong theme delivered through great characters. Name a great story that did NOT have a strong theme, that did NOT "say something". Do we think that insight, that message, that political point, that social commentary was ACCIDENTAL? Of course not. So the great writers are instrumentalist.

Does that mean they don't care about their delivery, their style? NO.

Firstly, they may break new ground in performance, in method. Could they have written their story using standard methods? Probably. Might it have been as good? Probably.

But perhaps simple conceit made the writer try new ways. or perhaps the story's core demanded something new. Gibbon wanted to represent the people of his homeland, their manners and speech rhythms. If he wrote purely in their dialect, what would his readership be? If he wrote in simple English he couldn't express his feelings. So he invented a dialect, Scots rhythms in English, and enough Scots words to honour his people but not so many that international (and English) readers would find the work near-impossible to read.

I absolutely LOATHE having to read stuff like "H'away y'ken oot t'door, hin y'breeks" the deciphering kills the fictive dream. (beginners take note!)


The methods of delivery: of course along with, on top of a real point, a solid theme, we are not going to refuse "great writing" and I don't even mind "beauty" on the page... but it is when the beauty becomes more important than the message that something is wrong. it's masturbating in public.

My favourite example of "utter bollocks" is the laughable Emperor's Clothes Booker winner John Banville's "The Sea". Even more entertaining is watching fledgling writers or intermediate writers attempt to explain why the excruciating prose in The Sea is so "magnificent.

The plot is pathetic. There are some truly dire moments, silly plot holes. The author witholds information llike the rawest beginner. It is the most up-its-own-arse book written in the last ten years (excluding, I'll guess, a few thousand self-published ones.)

I don't dispute the author is a well-read man. No doubt highly intelligent. No doubt he has self-educated himself. But Jesus Christ, what pomposity, what verbiage, what a con job. We throw back the same sort of dumb, self-abusing excess when beginners write it. Where is this language NECESSARY, where does the style enhance the meaning, deepen the insight?

Why didn't more critics speak out against this book? If aspiring writers read this "winner" will they attempt to pour treacle over every trivial plot and call it art?

Why is a rusty gate described (laughingly IMO) as a filigree early in the book but later it's just a rusty gate?

Bummer, I have to go post this OU essay.

Aesthetics versus Instrumentalism

I'm doing an Open University course this year, more for fun than anything else, to (maybe) change my way of thinking some.

I'm finding it hard to force myself back into "academic rigour" sometimes, AR that feels only for the sake of it and I can't say I enjoy turning over stones and watching theorists squirm out of the slime.


but but but

It is making me read stuff I know I would otherwise not read, certainly not ANALYSE. We started with a "deep analysis" of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (I barely scraped a "C" in the assignment!) and for the latest assignment we had to respond to Oscar Wilde's Art for Art's Sake bollox, more specifically, quote:

"Books are well-written, or badly written. That is all."

We had to do this and compare the "delicate feminine writing" of Katherine Mansfield (my quote-marks and my opinion, KM is too fey for my reading tastes even though I recognise her "delicate" aesthetic) with the tub-thumping testosterone-filled work of Lewis Grassic Gibbon in Sunset Song.

I am going to pretend now that I've read and loved Sunset Song (I WILL finish it, I will) but I would rather read this difficult book (and I don't like "difficult") with my feet in boiling water than read stories so fucking subtle and delicate (and about so little of weight (KM's) that "my purpose" seems to be to admire the way that comma was put there.)

fer fuck's sake!

I haven't read every Mansfield story but so many seem so impossibly "small". Oh, sure, she's "brilliant", a real artist. I write in my OU essay about single, carefully placed words that I missed first read. Oh, she's subtle all right. But the subject matter?

It's like reading forty pages about a genteel interior decorator choosing between magnolia and cream.

Of course i didn't say this in my OU essay, har-har.

PS I like "Bliss" and "The Woman at the Store" but apparently the latter was before she matured! (Boom! Boom!)


BUT

Gibbon kicks ass, whether he's writing about the 'Rape of the Fair Country', sex, violence, capitalism, the oppression of religion etc, and the writing itself (the rhythms are murder to get into but great when you do) is deliciously melodic, word-rich, dramatic (sometimes over-the-top melodramatic) and different

Doing background reading I started discovering stuff about some of his constructions (eg in Spartacus) being Latin based to a specific end.

I got a bit spooked when I read these phrasings and odd invented speech patterns to "represent" because I had done the same thing totally intuitively (or is instinctively a better word?) in some of my Welsh stories like The Bastard William Williams, Meredith Twp Evans and his Butty Ernie the Egg, and The Last Love Letter of Berwyn Price.

WILLIAM WILLIAMS

I am the bastard William Williams, late of The Universal Pit, Senghennydd, then Abertridwr, and latterly the cellars of The Commercial Hotel, as pot man. Now that the dust have slowed me I am easy to find. I am still lived next door to the English Congregational Church, Commercial Road, Senghennydd. I venture from my place only for the English Cong, and in summer, if I am lucky, a visit from a relation.

or

ERNIE

I do not mind this, but for the record, I am Ernest Jones, poultry farmer, son of Robert Jones, Deacon, and they are my hens that run amok on the hill above the town. You may eat whosoever's pigs you wish, but it is my eggs that you shall have on your plate if you sup anywhere in the valley from Park Hamlet right through Abertridwr. My eggs is on the plates for most the best part of Caerphilly, too, though I know of some Cardiff eggs there.



Actually, I went to copy something from "Berwyn" and in fact I DIDN'T play those games. Interesting that I thought I had...


I have to do the school-run now, so more later. (but quickly...)

Here's the start of my essay. Don't quote me cos an academic I isn't. I'm doing the course to make me read stuff and think, so as long as a I scrape a pass, that'll do. For example, I'm "wasting" a lot of words here before I even get to look at the two writers.


The Open University assignment, while asking us to discuss the Wilde quotation goes further and seems to set up a dichotomy of aestheticism versus instrumental writing. In fact, Wilde's comment above is part of a very brief 'essay', (in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray), a series of aphorisms and the particular aphorism begins: "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book" and ends with the quote above.

I suggest that either Wilde was being provocative, or more likely, he is misinterpreted, since, as the most immediate example of instrumentalism Wilde's novel "Dorian Gray" itself managed to provoke and outrage society and the novel was "a powerful blast against the hypocrisies of Victorian polite society." Wilde's last work, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" has been called both "a social commentary" and a "cry for pity and forgiveness." In both cases, it seems to me that this author to whom has been attributed the cry "art for art's sake" did, in fact write instrumentally. As well as wishing to create art in words, beauty on the page, Wilde also "said something".

I define instrumental writing as writing with a purpose, whether that purpose be blatant and "shouting loudly" or subtle, hidden, subversive. Further I would argue that meaning, "point", message, moral, or profound insight into the human condition is in fact part of the aesthetic itself. If there are two pieces equally fine, beautifully-written, but one appears to be only pretty words while the other tells us about our lives in a profound way, then the second must surely be the greater and more long-lasting art? If there are two equally powerful pieces of political writing, or social commentary or insight into the human condition but one is poorly-written and the second one is beautiful and pleasurable to read, again the latter is the greater art. This seems obvious.

I would therefore argue that a prose work that is "only" beautiful, devoid of a point, message, argument or insight, would not be considered beautiful, would not be seen as art. Instead it would be dissmissed as much political speech is now dismissed, "plenty of words but no substance, no answers."

Friday Morning's Prompts

TINKLE

The exquisite explosion of the persistent zit

BETTER THAN DEAD

We know that the nature of genius is to provide idiots with ideas twenty years later.

TALCUM


I demand that my books be judged with utmost severity, by knowledgeable people who know the rules of grammar and of logic, and who will seek beneath the footsteps of my commas the lice of my thought in the head of my style.



QUILL, PESTLE, MORTAR


Love is made by two people, in different kinds of solitude. It can be in a crowd, but in an oblivious crowd.

THE MIDNIGHT PIPES

Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.

TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW

O reason, reason, abstract phantom of the waking state, I had already expelled you from my dreams, now I have reached a point where those dreams are about to become fused with apparent realities: now there is only room here for myself.

BLACK SWAN

There are strange flowers of reason to match each error of the senses.

FLAW

The Impossibility of Pleasing a Woman

WEB

Of all possible sexual perversions, religion is the only one to have ever been scientifically systematized.

The MAJESTY OF SELF

Thursday, 29 March 2007

A Boot Camp Crit Thread

This is a thread critiquing a very recent story. I can't post the story and the title is changed, as the author will be reworking the piece and hopefully subbing it. But I've got permission from the author to post the critical thread.

As it happens this is a farily "safe" thread, mundane, even. The range of marks is uncontroversial, there's not a lot to argue about, and so far, there has been little or no extra discussion or critiquing of critiques.

But I made the decision to post the thread "no matter what" (whether it was quiet or full of angst), so here it is. This post will contain the first critique (in this case mine) and then I will post the subsequent critiques in comments/answers to this post.

You should note that we critique author-blind and that we do not look at the critiques done by others until ours is posted. In this case, the story has a range of just nine points (an average of one point per element) and that's quite small for BC, even for straightforward, uncontentious stories - usually someone has an extreme opinion! You'll also see that the marks are 100-99-99-99-97-95-92 so five critques are virtually identical. That's not people cheating, it's just the nature of this particular story, a very promising idea but misfiring and just missing the sweet-spot.


Though I can't post the text of the story, I should explain it a little. It's the story about a guy who cuts diamonds for a living (and is always looking for the perfect diamond) and his brief affair with a girl who is maybe perfect (or flawed). The idea was great and the story's potential high. My belief was that the two strands were not organically inter-twined.

HERE IS ALEX's CRIT

2007-086 PRO
Title: Flawless
Critique by Alex
Author Unknown

11 Opening… Mixed bag, part good voice but clumsy read i part
11 Character… Not really that much character in action only reported
11 DV… parts are over par but often caused to stumble
10 Plot … a pretend plot to my eyes, not much underneath
10 Theme... tries for some link but I didn't really get one
11 Show… Ok but laboured, metaphors forced
10 Language... feels better but some poor lines drop mark back
12 Pace… OK apart from those awkward lines
13 Ending… enigmatic last third, unsure, better last para scrapes 13
00 Bonus…
99 Total…


SUMMARY

Quite a difficult one to pin down. A simple story about a brief affair between a diamond-cutter and a young woman in PR which I think is meant to be metaphorically reflected, diamonds and cutting = something else.

but it just didn't quite click for me. IF it did, another 10 points at least

Also the language seemed over cooked, old-fashioned, heavy. It went beyond interesting into a bit of a drag to read, too many extra (unnecessary) clauses

The 99 may be 4-5 high or a few low. I imagine a very strong story here, up to 120-125 but it needs the language thinning, the plot expanding, the metaphorical linking clearer.




OPENING


I immediately think "ah gonna be better than average" but almost as quickly feel annoyed by a kind of pedantic feel. It's simply extra-claused for the sake of it (it feels like).

It also feels "put-together" (ie conscious and deliberate and lacking life). What the first para really means is unclear (and retrospectively I felt the diamond metaphors were placed)

I prefer the second paragraph and think it should be the first, but I'm still aware (because of Para 1) and the author will be fighting a losing battle with my prejudices.

Also I found myself slightly annoyed with knowing her name and then being told it. Better to not do that IMO, make it more natural.

CHARACTER

I could imagine 1-2 crittters going high on character, but ultimately I thought the character was NOT detailed or special.

What we get of her is trivial, really, and sort of "told" (it comes from him. I got little feeling of animus. Even though he's telling the story, it feels "told" and not shown. The characters are described second-hand, at a remove and in somehow, a cold way.

Even if that's deliberate, it kills the entertainment.

I can sense the aim to somehow link his loneliness and seeking perfection and cutting, but it feels terribly forced and unnatural. Also she seems pretty much standard fare. There are "moments" but they seem inconsequential and not character-defining.

He, (though I think the author had a lot of character in his/her head), seemed a bit flat and uninteresting.




Dialogue-Voice

Should be OK but somehow felt heavy. Also some awkward verb-short sentences and stilted lines really interfered with the fictive dream

BUT

I should say that thinned slightly with a little spice somewhere this could be scoring 15 for voice

PLOT

Again tricky... their romance is trivial (and delivered coldly and from a distance) and I didn't get any real reason for them splitting

there is some suggestion that him loving someone ruins his cutting craft but it felt tacked in and not honest

It might be better to see his isolation and loneliness before the girl is introduced, maybe show his work etc... It could also be greatly enriched if he took her there to his workshop and some incident made him see a flaw in her (or whatever)


It just feels like the key paragraphs were left out



THEME

At the moment I can only give par or just under. I sense the intent but don't think there's enough her to make it happen


IMPORTANT I should say that there's material here, that expanded, made "hotter" made more alive, with a thinned voice (but maybe more language!) this could be 15s throughout (135) and be a Bridport-worthy story



SHOW-SEDUCTION

Mixed bag... potentially VG, loads of interest but the delivery/voice/language made it heavier, colder, less interesting

Language

With the wobbles, sticks and glitches gone, probably 12-13 but not as-is


PACE

The above doesn't help . Not slow because of irrelevancies but not fluid enough for 13 and above


ENDING

I had been intrigued. I'm EXPECTING a metaphorical link between the woman and the diamond(s) but the various diamond-cutting descriptions start to feel like padding. I'm wondering what the point is going to be.

What the relationship is, where it's going, seems very vague. He will become lonely again, OK, but the WHY isn't very obvious. Nor is the meaning of the extra guy... it's all too much enigma for my simple soul…

But the idea at the end that he needs the pain of lost love to make him cut well could be very good. This is the sort of story that Lexie would write well (or overwrite less well…)


But though the last paragraph lifts it slightly (and the explicit musical ref hurts it) I don't feel as if I'm witnessing drama, or anything profound

It's like (the whole thing) a song sung in the wrong key.


But work this one, even if it means a total restart because 130-140 lurks in the vicinity


NOTES

I think the specific/explicit musical refs hurt it. They feel placed and only work for those who know the players/singers.

Blood on My Boots

We were hoping to reach 150 submissions for the month, then we reached it with a few days left and I wondered idly if a good kicking might produce more?

We have now reached 200 subs for March and are starting April.

In a month or two, when we have a surge of hits, please note, it's not luck or sleeping with editors (though I'm open to offers)



alx

Story Prompts for Thursday (Alex)

These were posted by A N Other.

Someone actually got up before me.

Stark Terror

The worst thing anyone has ever said to you

Night of the Long Knives

The Vampire Cookbook

Gestures

Bringing Daddy Home

March of the Chocolate Penguins

Julie Andrews Tasted my Chutney

I will pick out your ribs with my teeth

Yesterday I was Gay

Filling his mouth with sand

An open and shut case

Fat, Fair, Forty and Flatulent

The Partridge Festival

You Can't be any Poorer than Dead

HERE ARE JUST A RANDOM FEW OF MINE

Someone beat me to it.

Northampton Granny wets the bed

Shock horror bed collapse

The (slight) sleep-in

What happens to old men at the end of long months

"You call those prompts?" she said.

There's Always Poetry

Poetry Prompts for Thursday (Alex)

1. A Baby weighs about the same as a large dead cat

2. Write a poem containing, sliver and shiver (NOT line-ends), dark-red and history

3. Write about sex, but not, if you get my drift

4. Write about your death (unless it has already happened)

5. What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?

6.


Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Improvements in 2007 - Tom C's experience

Interest post from Alex below. As one of the attendees at his January course, I feel I ought to give my experience.

Ever since the course (early January) I've found it much, much more difficult to write. Last year I knocked out about 275,000 words, many of them sub 1000 word flashes. I could do them relatively easily, without thinking. Most of them were okay but nothing special, 94+ in Grid terms, with some hitting 100s, which is reasonable for flashes.

But, since the course, when I do write, the stories are more focused, more concentrated. It's one of those strange things - when you're writing a story you sometimes know that you are stepping up a gear, and as long as you don't get frightened by that you can sustain it and produce something much better than your normal work. This is what has happened with something like five out of the past six stories I've written. My scores have been consistently higher than I've ever had before.

The only thing that has changed in the past year is me attending that course in January. I remember Alex saying to me, as I left at the end of the course, that I shouldn't be surprised if my brain turned to mush for a few months, but then it would all start to resolve itself. It's one of those things you accept without totally believing, but I have to say it is all coming uncannily true...

Improvement in 2007

Subjectively, lately stories just seem to be better. In particular they same more textured, have layers etc.

But is that real or imagined? This is where having a system that allows us to comapre and contrast critiques is so valuable. Boot Camp uses my "Grid" a marking system that breaks a story down into 9 elements and has a wide range of marks from -5 to sometimes as high as 30, but "par" is 11-12-13.

When critiquers are forced to consider the different elements of a story, and whatever they say they have to put a mark down, there is no way to hide behind "woffle". If you say the opening is a 12 you are saying it is above par, interesting, and promises a good story. If you say 14 you think it's a pro's work; if you say 9 you categorically state it has problems, and so on.

Marks allow us averages, words are just words. But, because we have the grid-scores (elements and totals) as well as words we can look at an individual over time, or the group, and see if there's been much change.

(Change doesn't come overnight and the grid, once it gets to low 90s is almost geometric. 100 is about twice as good as 90 and 110 is twice as good as 100.

Anyway, we have the scores for all the stories for the year, so I plotted a ten story moving average (to even out fluctuations)

That showed an average of 92.5 over the first ten stories which FELL (to 91), then climbed steadily to 96, rocketed to 105, dropped back to 100 and is now 102.

If there really was a jump of ten points overall that would be amazing. (But I had put some stories in over the last 3-4-5 weeks and might be skewing the results)


Using a TWENTY story MA to smooth the graph yet more...

The average started at 93.5 rose to 95.75 then fell to 92.5 but then began a steady increase, almost a straight line to 103


As I said, I might be skewing the results, so I took my stories out and this was the result:


10 Story MA

92 at the beginning of the year slight rises to 96.3 falls to 91, rises with a blip to 102.7 then drops to 99

20 Story MA

93.75 at start rises to 95.5 falls to 93 then again, a steady rise to 100.5



A seven point averaged over a group rise is a LOT. We had a face to face course in late Jan/Early Feb and I warned everyone attending that for a while after their brains would be mush, their stories might appear to dip in quality before they regained their brains and start writing a level higher.


Interesting the dip then growth looks like the effect of the course (as predicted) and now (we hope) there's a real change in some writers.

Keegan is Going Soft?

I have just updated the Primary Stats for the Year

84 Stories; The average mark is 96. The average given by me is 99!!

I made no slappits, even when I scored a story 60

I have given top score TWENTY times (24%)... One Luvvit.

(A luvvit is an extremely favourable crit that stands alone. It will have the top mark for an element either 8 or 9 times out of 9 and will be a significant distance from the group average)


4 Stories had less than eight crits, but some or all of those were probably withdrawn early...

The average number of crits was 8.67

13 stories had a Luvvit (16%)

12 stories had a slappit (15%)

(A slappit is where someone "disses" a story but their reaction is obviously extreme. It shows up as 8/9 or 9/9 bottom element scores. This comes about usually because the critter "loses it" or takes offence at all or part of the story or double/treble penalises.)

One thing we teach in BC is that undisciplined critiques often polarise incorrectly. I call it critting on a razxor's edge. Good stories are suddenly "great" under-par stories are suddenly "crap". The truth is rarely that extreme.

Two stories managed a luvvit AND a slappit.

To get these extreme-crits into proportion, just 25 from 702 are "off" (3.5%)

a first time for everything

bc has been having a bit of a poetry push lately. most writers on the site are prose writers. most deal with short stories. a few brave souls give novels a bash. even fewer, braver sould have a bash at poetry. there has been some encouragement around recently for this, including poetry prompts, challenges, stuff like that...

i subbed some poetry - about six poems - to different places over the last month. i haven't written poetry since i was an angsty teen at school and uni, so to do it in my mid thirties was a bit of a gamble

and i have to say, i find it hard.

but it's fun, challenging, frustrating, a learning process.

you know, like writing is supposed to be.

and it got me out of my comfort zone.


anyway blah, blah, blah... today i got a poetry hit. my first published poem will be featured in the next issue of poetry monthly.

i have no idea how big a circulation this has - it's a print mag as well as a website - and i've no idea what the quality of the poetry in the mag is like, although i know a couple of other bcers have featured. but they're clearly selective (they only accepted one of my two submissions)

i'm looking forward to getting my free copy, and seeing my first published poem

that makes me a published poet, right?


of course, i also got a reject through for a story today as well, so everything balances out as usual. but it feels good to get a first-time poetry hit.

if anyone reads this and hasn't written a poem in a while, give it a go...somebody out there might like it.

Some Stories by Alex Keegan

As I'm a teacher of creative writing it makes sense to list some of my work. A large chunk of my work is in print, rather than on line but here are some of my web publications. My story "Meredith Toop Evans & His Butty Ernie the Egg" was the inaugural story at Atlantic Monthly's Unbound site, but you need to subscribe there to read it.

Here are some you can read free:


Mississippi Review
Ballistics
First Place in the Lichfield Prize. Also published at The Alsop Review and in print in Ireland's "Whispers & Shouts"

Blue Moon Review

Tanner Hop, Coyotes, Interrupt Us
Jack Hancock's War


The Alsop Review

The Last Love Letter of Berwyn Price
£1,000 second in the UK's prestigious Bridport Prize

The Bastard Wlliam Williams
£1,000 second in the UK's prestigious Bridport Prize



Mother, Questions
Mother, Questions was Joint First-Place for Buzzwords Prize

The Smell of Almond Polish
First Place Winner Focus on Fiction

Yellow, Black, Red, Blue
Third Place The Philip Good Prize.

Better Just Go
Third Place Raconteur VII

Lights
Twice placed third in UK Competitions

Denis Potter, Bus to Malpas
First Published New Welsh Review and Anthologised, Partian Books.

The Temporary Possession of Frank Smith
First Published in print at Keltic Fringe and Cambrensis.

Prefabs, Colours
First published in print by Cadenza

Lunch, No Oysters
First published in print by Peninsular

Cow 7B

Four Flashes


Eclectica

Jeremy Browne's Guest
First Published in print World Wide Writers II

Lids, Sticks, Joe Loss

Python Pat

A Messgae to the Writers Group

Her Cat

Our Houses, Night

Motorways

Three Flash Fictions

Asparagus

Fucking Tragic

A Little Man

About Jose

CRANIA


Henry V
Tomatoes Flamingos and Other Interesting Facts
Five Days in May

Creative Writing Articles by Alex Keegan

I'm re-posting links to my articles, partly as a source for developing writers but also to invite reaction and discussion. In my time I've stumbled on some appalling articles at various places on the web. Too bad there is no system for marking quality or usefulness!

While I think articles such as these, and similar articles in print (eg The New Writer or Cambrensis) are useful, I believe that we learn much more by responding to articles, debating issues, sharing examples which illustrate points etc. Typically in Boot Camp a thread, on, say, Theme, starts with a question, involves one or more pasted articles, story segments and then a to-and-fro of sometimes 200 or more posts. The learning in such discussion is stratospheric compared to merely reading an article or a chapter of a how-to book.

That being so, respond, discuss, argue.




Alice Munro: The Short Answer

In Lieu of Preference

A Few Introductory Articles from 1997

If you visit Writers Write Archives and scroll down to the oldest editions you'll find this by me in Issue Two, September 1997. Beginner, Don't Write That Novel.

In November 1997 there's Plotting is a Seven Letter Word and in December How to Open Without a Bang.

These are simpler articles and as the years progressed, generally so did the articles. You can browse through the Writers Write Archives, read, consider, then hopefully ask questions, or argue issues here in this blog.

Beginner, Don't Write That Novel.
Plotting is a Seven Letter Word
How to Open Without a Bang
Dialogue, Seven Sins, a Sinner

Tries Hard, Could Do Better
How to Win Short Story Competitions
How to Write a Query Letter That Sells
Point of View From My Point of View

Two Articles on Show-not-Tell
Seduction Not Instruction (Part I)
Seduction Not Instruction (Part II)

Ten-and-a-Half Commandments of Writing
Dealing With Rejection

Two Articles on Setting
Creating the Perfect Setting I
Creating the Perfect Setting II

Four Articles on Editing
Be Your Own Editor: Part I
Be Your Own Editor: Part II
Be Your Own Editor: Part III
Be Your Own Editor: Part IV

The Art of Telling Lies
What is a Short Story?
Advice For the Younger Fiction Writer
Left, Right, Left, Right: Character!

That last article was February 2000, the next (the 23rd) was December 2002

Theme Music: Tone is Not an Accident
Judging Writing Competitions
Quick! Quick!
Stealing Stories

Oh BTW, I'll write a page one day on sick writing sites. If you want to understand, go to the one mentioned in the article above and say you like Alex Keegan's articles...

The Novice Screenwriter Refuses to Conform
Sing to Me
If You Whisper, Convince
Choosing a Writing Teacher

Think Before You Click
Ironing While Watching TV
Creative Writing Myths
How It Is
Contract Bridge and Writing. How to Become a Grand Master
A Cool, Dark Guinness
Choosing a Writing Teacher


I hope 40 articles is enought to be going on with.


Best Wishes


Alex Keegan

March SUBS!

I asked for 150 subs from the gang this month (because feb was very quiet)...


They've blasted past that to 173 subs so we might as well target 200.

Not that likely with so few days left but if you don't try...





alx

Learning Through Critiquing



In this week's primaries there were eight stories, seventy-three critiques, one hundred and ninety-eight posts, but what did we learn?


In Boot Camp we stress that the purpose of critiques is NOT to 'fix" stories, not to help the author spots faults, edit, rewrite and submit. The more of that activity there is, the more the original author's voice is diluted.

So what you find in Boot Camp is criticism, but only rarely discussion of how to fix the problem. If that kind of input is given it's most usually by me, but less for the author than as a teaching exercise which benefits the whole group.

But one week, what was there? Well. In all probability, every story can place, three or four could do very well. But believe it or not that is secondary, what matters is is there anything to learm from critiquing and discussing these stories?



Blue (these are not the exact titles), was a story of a bad car accident. The general opinion was that the narrator was a mother, but the voice seemed male. Learning Point 1 (LP1) what constitutes a male voice, a female voice; can we control it even if we want to? Does putting an obvious female cue up front stop people presuming the wrong gender? Discussion also brought up how infuriating stories are where we feel the narrator is female only to discover two pages left he's actually male.

The story dealt with a sort of stream-of-consciousness confusion (the family are in a near-fatal crash) but the confusion, most thought was too much. Perhaps not too much if reflecting reality, but too much to be a story. At least two readers wondered if the mother was raped and the rapist chased and caught. A lesson there, I think, make sure the reader can't wander too far off!



"Longer" was straightforward, a story that didn't score that highly but nevertheless might place. It appeared deeply textured (about an old man, a mystery, and ultimately an OAP romance) but the argument from some was that behind the thicker language, what was actually there? That is, it was a VERY simple story with a twist ending of a sort (but not a cheating one) but made to look more than it was by richer language and back-story stuff. Conclusion? You might place this but to do well you need a richer plot. I think the phrase was "womag plot but better language." That, sadly, means no womag would take the story (too well-written) and the places that like language might think the plot a bit thin.

Herz was unusual and generally got good marks. The main criticisms of this were to do with pacing and weighting, and that the surreal start at first just appears silly and some editors or judges might dismiss it before realising there was a strong moralistic story to follow. Message? Make sure that your opening tells the editor you are serious and not an idiot.

Beast is difficult to discuss here without posting the story, but the main problem was that we had a very unusual, slightly surreal idea, preceding quite nicely but then it suddenly morphed into a cheap revenge finish that looked rushed, tacked on. Tip here was be brave, continue the weirdness, don't give in to reader/editor expectations.



"God" seemed to please most people (I scored it 109). This was another surreal story, an animal suddenly possessed with human-style consciousness to fatal results. Like another surreal story the biggest issue for readers was that it could be seen as "silly" before the meaning accumulates. It needs "Napalm" (an AK term) something right up front that forces the reader into one mode of reading so everything which follows is shaped by the start, the mode and mood.





"Tesco" had a female protagonist but many felt the voice began as male before it softened. (That gender sound issue again, something to watch for). Most liked the various looks at society the story suggested (but our resident expert on the genre said most of these things had been done before)… a lot felt the ending diluted the story (I thought the ending MADE the story) so a debate ensued. 9 critiques suggested this was a story already publishable in print (110). One radically disagreed (93). The learning here is for the critter calling it a 93 (presuming the 9 people are right). What did he miss? How could he be so wrong (if he is)? By arguing with the others, either he persuades everybody else they've fallen for Emperor's Clothes (or something) or he realises he misread, was double-penalising, whatever.

The idea is that by NOT agreeing to differ, people learn.

I should say that we do NOT change the given marks. That's not the purpose of post-crit argument. But extreme highs or extreme lows are challenged and the scorer is expected to argue his case.

"Bug" (again not the title) had a number of issues. Some did not understand why the first paragraph was quite "poetic" nor how it related to the rest of the story. Most saw a love triangle but had it wrong (author's fault or reader's fault and would napalm help?) Many did not like all the flashback scenes and most felt that the author had strived too hard to incorporate all the prompts from one day's offerings. Some felt the voice wavered badly.

The voice DID waver, the shoe-horning of prompts was silly. (I know - I was the author)… but it was nice to simply pass-through, cut the shoehorned bits (which cured the voice issues)… also it made me realise I have a conceit issue, I like to include all the prompts "for the sake of it". This can be OK to get the raw material but why, once the story is drafted, not sweep through and remove the most glaring placements, smooth, and polish the art?

This story had an obvious trap for the lazy reader. Two men and a woman, a love-triangle. Most presumed the two men were competing for the woman and yet the story was littered with clues that this was not the case. Reader or Writer at fault? I would say mainly the reader (we all presume too easily)… at the end was a line (probably missed) which should have made it very, very clear to those who read carefully. But then could the writer make things a bit more directing up front? Answer, yes, in a cheaper, cruder story. So here there's another learning point. Greater subtlety often makes a story better, but harder to place. What do you want to do?



"Zero" caused the biggest ruckus, the subtlety thing again. One critter got VERY frustrated. Why couldn't the author just be straight?

This story did a few interesting things. It managed to use a blokey voice and yet still reach publishable standard. (We've argued in BC that such voices are a handicap because the moment you see the voice you think "slight", like when a book is chick-lit).

The story used an unreliable narrator. He THINKS (but says) the woman is pregnant, yet almost all the critiquers read the pregnancy as fact. This was a lesson in reading more carefully!! Some argued that "it was reasonable" to believe the woman wanted to get pregnant, but they all forgot that the person telling the story was a drunken, gambling, pot-smoking waster who was blind to just about everything in the world around him. It was funny to watch careful "quoting of text" that omitted the rather important point that ALL the text was written by an incorrigible liar who was also drunk and deluded. Learning for critters? Take care with what you believe! For the writer? Again, the obvious problem is that the subtlety is too easily missed. Does the writer stick with the extra quality and get mis-read hundreds of times, or make it simpler just to get a kick in publication?

Wednesday's Poetry Prompts

PSST!

If there is anybody out there who actually knows what they are doing vis-a-vis poetry prompts, please feel free to take over!


1

Smilies on my van
can
When they try
Talk to Silver escorts and the Sky


2

Write a poem ridiculing the way people on websites use smilies because they are incapable of writing well enough to indicate their mood. or write how people say bitchy things but then add a smilie to get away with it. (No smilies in BC)


3 BBC-ITV or When every home has its own digital TV station?


4 The perverse beauty of roadkill

5 a poem containing

Coffee, The Coach, iPod, faces, dreams

Prompts Nice 'n Early

Family Member Off to France today so up at 05:00, update one frsh story currently being gridded, then do the morning prompts.


Here they are:



West Side Story

Why Wales is God's Country



You never hear "the people" now

Cat

Southern Trees Bear a Strange Fruit

His iPod was Black

Charlie Pawnshop's Dream

Smiles Etched in Dust




White Phosphorous, White Phosphorous

Bliss

My Name Recalls Rich Seas on Rainy Mights

Prelude

I Was Run Over By the Truth One Day

Beneath Paris

A Fishnet of Stars Cast Upon Windows

The Bad Workman's Lunchbox

Tanks From America, Fighter-Jets From France

Magic For Beginners

What Did the Scots Ever Do For Us?

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

And the Poetry Prompts!

1. Write a poem, any style in which the end inverts the meaning of the opening.

2 Chocolate and Love

3 A Poem About an Awful Day at School (but avoid direct references)

4 A Poem about Cooking that's either about writing or lurve but must not mention the fact directly

5 Containing Hill, Bridge, Star, Train, Sock





Forgot These...

I didn't post today's Boot Camp Flash Prompts so didn't think to copy them here.


I've now remembered







It's a Bust!

When there were wolves in Wales, and birds the colour of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills

Gender-bending in the Ffestiniog Male Voice Choir

That lying, lazy, stay-at-home, self deluding shit (and why I love him anyway)

Let me tell you about the very rich

My Sherry Amour

Fashion Tips for Zombies

With the scent of a ripe fig

What you read on the newspaper after you finished the fish and chips

A Literary Love Affair

Little Black Book

Tale of a Prison Chaplain

Crippled Beauty meets Slouching Beast

Backwash, Backlash

Rum 'n' Raisin

Yanks Cool Arsenal Stake

Well Hung and Tasty (as the butcher said to the actress)

In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning



No "Thank-Yous"

I thought it worth mentioning that the posts in each story thread are actual critique posts and marks and discussion, not "Thank-you for critting waste-of-bloody-space" posts.

In Boot Camp every story is posted anonymously, and the author is not expected to reply with thanks or to argue. Our thanks is IMPLICIT and we return favours by making sure that all the other stories are critiqued at least 8 times, AND discussed.

We don't thank people for critiquing. Instead, in their critique-posts, critters thank the author for giving them learning material.


Avg alx low high crits Pst
103 104 098 107 021 021
108 117 095 117 010 019
109 117 097 117 008 040
109 116 093 118 010 026
097 098 092 111 008 014
106 119 087 119 009 021
104 109 090 111 008 017
095 098 080 106 010 037

Incidentally, when one mark is extreme (we call them luvvits or slappits) that extremity is clearly exposed by the grid of marks and then the author of the extreme crit needs to justify that mark in argument. We crit crits, it's how we learn

Often marks are very close, sometimes top and bottom are 5-6 points different. Sometimes there's a split with half high, half low. Because we DON'T shrug and say "it's just subjective opinion" and instead argue the case, element mark by element mark, we learn to read better, understand more, crit more accurately, see why XZ is good. Not "it's good" but "it's good BECAUSE"

I look at other sites and see all sorts of anguish. Stories not being critiqued, the stories by the in-crowd getting more crits, longer crits, greater praise. "Crits" that are sometimes little more than a line; crits that go on and on forever but don't deal with the whole story; tedious line-edits. (Line edits are for people who don't know how to crit a whole story as a story).

On those sites i see people saying how they "always thank the critiquer" or "oops I forgot to say thank-you and now X won't crit me"

This PERSONALISING creates like-for-like critiquing, people being too kind because they know the critiquer and because they want crits back. Anonymity brings it down to THE TEXT.

This personalising, swapping nice crits or "retliating" with a harsh crit when you've had one means that truth is seriously damaged. I read comments that make swathes of beginning writers appear to be better than 98% of published authors. yet those "brilliant" authors keep getting rejected. Why is that?

They are misunderstood?

The world isn't ready for them?

It's a market stitch-up, a conspiracy?


Nope, folks, the critiques are not honest, the critiques are too kind, the critiques are often not overseen by a professional with a heart of stone (ie truthful).


Glimmer Train: Computer Says No

Rejection from GT

Dear Alex,

Although we won't be publishing this particular piece, we do thank you for sending "Conspiracy of Sticks". It was a good read. We're not able to give specific feedback, but please take a look at Editors' Input for some ideas. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to read your work!

------------------

Enjoyed this. Thank you.


I can live with that!

Made the final of one GT comp, it's a really tough market!


Have to send it out again (and send a story to GT too)


alex

Monday, 26 March 2007

Another Primary Crit Weekend Over!

Well the Boot Campers came good at the 11th Hour, every story got its eight full critiques.

Some got more!

Discussion is still ongoing on a few stories and the three most-discussed have had 34-28-26 posts in the thread so far.




Crit - Post - Mark

11 --- 21 --- 103 BEAST
10 --- 26 --- 109 TESCO
10 --- 28 --- 095 BLUE
09 --- 18 --- 108 HERZ
09 --- 21 --- 106 BUG
08 --- 34 --- 111 ZERO
08 --- 17 --- 104 BIRTH
08 --- 14 --- 097 LONGER

73 -- 179 -- 104 Average Score
09 -- 022 --- Average Number of Posts

These marks are higher than normal. The average for first drafts is usually around 93-94 so 104 is a big surprise!

It used to be the case that 110 meant "publishable in a small paper magazine" but we have seen drafts in the 90s go on to be published and/or winning competitions. I think we've been getting tougher and tougher on stories in BC.


One Virgin Less




JP was on the list of six BCers not to have had a hit this year. He was also the one subbing the most and now we hear he's made the named short-list for a comp. (We call that a hit.)

As I've written before, here and on my other blog. A writing community that calls itself inclusive should expect 75-100% of its members to get published in any year.

In BC only 100% is good enough, and it's only because I took my eye off the ball in January and February that we haven't yet scored a full-house (cool mixed metaphor!)

A Great Statistic to Ponder

Most writers' sites have a coffee-shop or "lounge"

In Boot Camp we have

Chat Room for Writers- 2,047 posts
Chat Room for Wasters 0,157 posts

The former has stuff like challenges, lists of comps, publication news, lists of submissions, list of hits and prizes, general admin issues. On page 1 there is ONE "silly" my "Absolute Proof there is a God", none on page 2, none on page 3. That's what "Chat Room for Wasters" is for. So is this a dull place to work? Nope. But don't we need to chat about inconsequential stuff? NOPE

I was browsing another writers site and I recorded the first 40 names posting in their lounge/coffee shop. Some post HUNDREDS of posts and it's very "territorial". This place DOMINATES the site, gets some near-flames, loads of angst.

One post was from someone leaving because s/he simply couldn't get critiques even when s/he begged.

In Boot Camp a story posted by Friday 9PM gets at least eight DETAILED critiques by midnight Monday


But here is the statistic.

I cross-matched the first 40 "Loungers" with recorded HITS.

Just TWO of the 40 Loungers (and they post and post and post) have recorded a hit in 2007

Nine other people (NOT Loungers) have recorded hits in 2007

How about 2006?

9 "Loungers" recorded a hit in 2006
34 NON-loungers recorded a hit in 2006

Combining 2006 and 2007, (15 months), of 40 "Loungers" just 10 had published a hit in that time.

In 15 months, ten loungers, 44 non-loungers

If a hit is posted it's 4.4 times more likely to come from someone NOT posting in the lounge

What does that mean? It means that "Loungers" con themselves into believing they are active writers, while the real ones just get on with it and avoid the distractions of chatter.

To be fair there are three other "Loungers" who have novels in the shops.. so call it 13/40 = 29%

Just 29% of Loungers have published ANYTHING in the last two calendar years.

And the site I'm referring to is one of the better ones!


Poetry Prompts

A couple more crits and post in on the primaries.


HERE ARE POETRY PROMPTS

I'm feeling brain-dead today, and under pressure so if anybody else wants to post prompts and challenges


BTW


I challenge Ralph and Nightwriter today


1 Flibbertygibbet. Use that word or 2-3-4 archaic words in a poem.

2 Write a poem about switching off life-support. You must not mention the patient, the illnessor any emotions. (You may in the title if you're a coward)

3 Write a poem that sums up spin.


Current BC Crits

Friday Deadline Stories

2007-078 10 Crits 19 Posts
2007-079 09 Crits 17 Posts
2007-083 06 Crits 15 Posts
2007-080 06 Crits 16 Posts
2007-082 06 Crits 10 Posts
2007-084 06 Crits 17 Posts
2007-081 05 Crits 14 posts


These should be cleared (8 Crits minimum) by midnight. There are some interesting "SPLITS" so plenty to discuss and learn from

Monday Flash Prompts

I'm rushing today. Have a huge project (14 days work) to start and finish in 4 days)


PROMPTS

Four days

Blossom

Mark YES to give your dream number its chance

Autumn comes early

Fill box to void

The Bad Writer's Sketchbook

The woman who stabbed the ex-president

Finding Jenkins

Smilies on my van

The Mathematics of Love

Charabanc, charabanc

The AIDS Diairies

Number One in Heaven

The Frog Who Could Snog

Marvellously readable, Sunday Times

The Disquiet

What is Never Thrown Away

Sunday, 25 March 2007

a bc weekend

in amongst all my other life-stuff (family, work, you know, the normal stuff) it's been another bc weekend.

eight stories to crit, and i printed three off on friday. read 'em before bed - wine helps - made a note of my scores, left them 'til the morning to post.

got them up on site on staurday, plus a couple more that i read during the day.

wierd thing is, no matter how long you do this lark, every week throws up discussions.

this time i'm pretty much agreeing wth most people on most stories, but there's one in particular that i'm a good twenty marks at least from some other people (i'm saying badish, they're saying greatish)

and this is where the real work kicks in...

it's easy just to say 'i'm right, they;re wrong' and leave it, or even vice versa and just give it up. but going back, rereading the thing, trying to work out if I was right, or if - god forbid - everyone else was, that's the learning stuff.

that's the real work.

and that's what makes it worth it.

anyway, feeling guilty cos i've still got three stories left to crit, and i should be doing that, not this.

they'll get done by tomorrow, though.

like i said in my last post, writing a story is an obligation.

so's critting them.

it's also a pleasure (although, at times...)

oh, yeah, because of the subs drive at the minute, i managed another four subs over the weekend

i've got almost nothing left lingering on the hard drive

and that's good...

... because now i have to write some more.

oh yeah, the story i wrote in a mad hour just before deadline on Friday?

well, it's holding its own, getting better scores than i would've hoped for.

stuff i bang out in an hour now gets better scores/comments than some stuff i agonised over for weeks a couple of years back.

What Sheer Hard Work Can Do


What a Day!

Not so much the writing, but the subbing!

I had to clean out the garage (well, half of it) but, BECAUSE I'M NOT GETTING ENOUGH HELP I decided to keep blasting away at the submissions. (I have so many stories and poems just sitting there.)

Anyway, the blast/blitz has taken me to 52 submissions for the month. I used to like to keep 50 pieces out there and now I'm back up there. Trick is to re-sub as soon as a rejection or acceptance comes in.

The BC target was 150 and we are on 142 now. I'm beginning to thing 200 is in reach.

The fascinating thing about who gets hits is it seems to be perfectly correlated with who submits most. And I'm not talking "throw enough shit at the wall something will stick". When I sub, I sub to a range of places: a few web zines, good paper periodicals, small to medium comps, big comps like Bridport and Glimmer Train, and whenever a story is good enough I punt at New Yorker, Paris Review, Ploughshares.

Getting stuff written and rewritten is work BUT SO IS GETTING IT OUT THERE. I have lost count of the number of Boot Campers over the years who weren't bothering to sub, got a kicking and subbed, (or got enthused and subbed) and then came up with a big hit at a quality magazine or in a good competition.

Here is the rule.

if it's written, rewritten, "finished" IT MUST BE AT WORK. Get the damn thing out. The more you have out, the more successful you will be. The more you place, the lower you can get your stack, the more incentive you have to write fresh material.

And, since you are better than you were when you wrote that material, your new stuff will be GOOD!


alex

To write, or not to write?

I have discovered I have big problems sitting still lately. Settling down to begin with an idea and an opening, I find myself drawn to the internet, the telly, the cricket world cup, some music websites, the emails, the online zine I'm trying to keep going (and now this blog!), and somehow writing slips and slips until it's another day gone and zero new words.

What makes it worse is right now I seem to be in decent form, producing good first drafts which are doing relatively well in primaries. How I wish I could be prolific and decent... it's usually one or the other and now the muse is coy. Maybe I should teach Writing Avoidance Techniques.

Interestingly, I have some good "ideas", or openings to use, but I think I'm scared to commit them to paper where they might turn to shit... as long as they live in my head, they are genius. It's only once I start to write them down that I see how feeble they become.

Right, that's it. Time to JFDI.

Laugh or Cry

PJ in LA




On 36 submissions for the month and the group still needing another 22 I thought I'd push on for a personal 40.

Years ago I had a story on BBC Radio 4 (Afternoon Story) but they stopped taking subs when they were running up to the Millenium. Maybe I had something right for them?

I looked at a story... hmmm extremely tight, oblique, 1700 words. loosen it a tad, make it more "comfortable" and remove the body fluids?

So I did the work, expanded nicely by 250 words, Perfick?

Well yes, if the original had indeed been 1700. It wasn't, it was 1400.

Hah! Still I now have a very different version of the original 1.4K story to send out.

Mind you I was so annoyed I found another story, this time it WAS near the right length, and reworked that (removed a few BBC No-No words. made the time-scale linear.) Sent it out.

it's 10:21 the second of my days off (cough) and I've created two new stories, using older work. I also found a poem begging to be a one-page story (I feel like I've invented a way of writing one-pagers) and that's gone out too.

Effectively that 3,650 new words today, and two subs!


And now my family is up. I have to take the recycling to the dump.




Alex

Poetry Prompts

I feel knackered now. I should go back to bed but I've got an Open University essay due in four days from now (I don't have a cat in Hell's chance) so this is very likely to be my last writing day in five.


Here are the day's poetry prompts




1 "All the boys are howling to take the girls to bed"

2 Think of yourself, under 14, looking at grown-ups and maybe thinking "what the fuck? I'LL never be like that."

3 Is there a specific day when we no longer now what songs are in?

4 Describe a pub/bar "physical nature", but this is not about the scenery

5 Write a Lie

Early Start Plenty of Prompts

Did you remember to put ypur clocks forward?

Here are today's Boot Camp prompts.



some good ones today


The Prompts



In some ways I still don't

The difference between a mandarin and a tangerine

Three Consecutive Numbers

Confuscius he say "Woman who cook potatoes and pees in same pot, dirty cow"

The quadratics of hate

Moon

The History Boys

Covered in Mud

The Man Who Put the Stars There is Going Home and Wants Them Back




Notes from the Metro

A Million Writers

The act of love lies somewhere between the belly and the mind..

Ten Million Pixels

How blue a blue do you do?

Drop the Rhino

Death by Piano

in Key West so beautiful people come to see



Coca

dark glasses cheap make-up

OK OK All right already

and alone, waiting, still in the dark

Couple in Amber

The keyboard that read minds

POO

Soundsticks, sound, sticks, sound sticks.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Poetry Hit for Tom

TC gets his first-ever poetry hit, at Fib


Yay!

Running and writing. Not at the same time

Strange how the two go together for me. Spring has come early here, normally I don't get to see the grass until May. Today though its brilliant sunshine and hot. Well, ten degrees, so I went for a run by the sea and came back buzzing.

With endorphins flooding my bloodstream wrote a couple of crits, one of which more or less agreed with those already posted and one which created a twenty point split. I like splits. They're the most fun and the most educational. I think I'm getting pretty good at judging what a story will score, particularly my own, so its always surprising when I'm a luvvit or slappit.

This is the third saturday running when I've woken up knowing my sub is probably going to get an average of between 95-100ish , because this is the third week running when I've written it a few of hours before the deadline. On the one hand I'm quite pleased I can bash out a story so quick and still reach middling competence, on the otherhand it's frustrating to know that it isn't going to be one that smashes me previous record high. And at the moment everyone seems to be scoring 110 pluses in primaries, something I've only ever managed twice in a year, which pisses me off and inspires me at the same time.

I seem to be going through phases, at the start of the year I was laddish, then I went Hispanic, then I went cartoon and now I'm being accused of womag. God forbid, I ever go down that road. i'm must be one of the least womag people on the planet, but I suppose this is me still floundering around for my voice. At the moment i'm reading Saul Bellow, so next weeks voice will probably be pseudo Jewish....

Funny Old Morning




It's the weekend, I'm fading fast, and I have a photography gig this afternoon so no writing then. Saturday and Sunday are also the days when the primary Crits come in so I do a lot of admin.


Still I posted story prompts and poetry prompts and one part of the "BC Deal" is that if you post poetry prompts you have to write a poem.

I didn't fancy it (as I say, a bit drained) but simply having a go I got a good one out (well, good for where I'm at as a poet, I mean).

That fired me up and bugger me if I didn't respond to another prompt (the escape death one) and I wrote one about surviving Clapham and one specific "life-moment" that still comes back to me in dreams.


Woo-Hoo!

So I now have the drafts of two placeable poems. One might actually be GOOD.

Recap. That's two poems and two flashes on my day off.

I can live with that.



But the subs are low in Boot Camp and I'm kicking up a fuss there. Nobody going to help me reach the target? Then I'll do it on my fucking own! Grrrrrr.

I go to the "Comps Closing in March" thread and fire off two poems, then I see there's a one-page comp at Fish.

I usually send three items to a comp but at 12 Euros a throw that hurts, so in the last 2-3 years I haven't been subbing there.

Ah fuck it, I will.

But 250-worders?

I don't have any and usually when I write 250 or less it's very oblique, doesn't do well.



Light-bulb moment!! Ah-hah Finks Eye, go look at the poems.


A 150-word poem, turned back to prose? You already have the succinct POINT MADE, it's poetic, flowing. Why not simply turn the poem back to prose, give it flesh?

The result, two neat 250s sent off, and the best bit is Tom and MJ responded to the subs blast with 7 more subs and we're on 122/150


I absolutely LOVE it when BC takes off. The energy is like hard drugs and the work is way better,

Add in the fact that we've had 8 Stories, 11 Flashes, 12 Poems posted Thurs-Friday and this morning, 26 responses to the poems, 19 to the flashes and 19 full critiques/40 comments for the 8 stories.


and 11 subs this morning!


Joining in

Finally managed to figure out how to contribute to the blog, so here I am.

I've had a slightly sticky time writing-wise this year. In January and February I only managed 9,000 words of new writing each (plus 13k and 14k words of crits and various rewriting) which is lower than I want. But in the past couple of weeks it's starting to fire up again and I've written a few things I'm happy with.

The important thing for me is that, during that lull, the BC experience kept me going. I know what I'm like - I get enthusiasms, such as playing guitar and so on, and I do it for a while but then I hit a sticky patch (like doing barre chords) and gradually do less and less. After a while that becomes nothing, because there's no-one to cajole you, shout at you for not practicing enough, getting stuck in. I haven't touched the guitar in over a year.

But, during this two month sticky patch I still wrote 18,000 words. Without BC, I probably would have done 5,000 or so in January and nothing at all in February.

That's what keeps you going - the team spirit, the idea we're in it together.

Another Paying Hit




Another Children in Need Night story gets into print and into the money.

TomC reports a story accepted by New Zealand print mag "Bravado" paying twenty dollars.

Previously it won $200 in a non-publishing competition

Our 36th hit this year (plus 2 notes) $2,358 earned


How hard are YOU working?

How hard do your stories work?

A Shock to the System

If you've been reading this blog, and AK's Boot Camp blog, maybe you'll be forgiven for thinking AK has written a few thousand words a day, every day, all month.

Well, I thought I had!

In fact, what has happened? Well, the kids were away for 2.5 days so Debs and I grabbed the chance for a weekend, hotel stay, nice meals, watched a football match. That's two days out. Then there was the injury to my son, a trip to casualty (another day, total 3)... then he had to go back, be a bed-patient, have an operation (4), then yesterday I lost six hours at the hospital, say 4.5 days.

Of course there are craft threads I run. a couple of blogs, and I usually have two or three paid critiques a month through Alex Keegan Literary Services (see my alexkeegan.com website). Then there are all the stories in BC to critique, collate, post spreadsheets etc.

Nevertheless I would have BET that this month I have averaged 1,500 words a day MINIMUM.

My word-count?


18,148 Words in 24 Days


750 Words a Day.



NOW

if that's all I've written, and I'm working feverishly, obsessively, what have YOU written?

Don't guess. COUNT.

Primaries

A fresh batch of weekly stories posted today for us to critique using the shadowy creation known as "the grid" - so when you hear people saying "I thought this was an 85 but the ending made it a 94", basically, the higher the score the better the story.

Maximum (theoretical) is 250. Mortal maximum is about 210.

Being learners, we stand underneath the glass ceiling of 120, poking it with sticks and swearing at it. Occasionally someone might post a "Luvvit", a vastly inflated score, giving us false hope that this story, THIS STORY, is the one, the breakthrough, the whole ball game - and then seven others pile in to send it crawling back into the rocks, and we are mere bleeding mortals again. Until next Friday's deadline, when once more we tilt at glory.

It's interesting to see what other people make of your stories. It's not for the faint-hearted, but by critiquing other stories, we learn what works and what doesn't work in our own. Absorb the craft and write unconsciously, is the mantra.

Or drunk.

It can be tough when your story gets shoe'd all over the workshop floor, but it's just a story. It's not the author. We rebuild and come back better for it.


In the wider world, it is a day of sporting calamity - England will lose to Kenya later, and Israel. They call me Jonah, and this is why.

Saturday: Poetry Prompts

1 Have you ever been really close to death? Use the emotions but write about something else. Use a piece of ironmongery in the work.

2 You've just won 4 Million on the lottery and you rang a friend. Her husband answered. She killed herself this morning. You must not mention money, lottery, win, death, suicide. Involve at least one object that now feels different to you.

3 How sad can you make 8-12 lines without using any actual "sadness words"?

4 Is there a famous poem you dislike? Write a poem taking it to the cleaners

5 He/She has gone (for good). Write a poem that pretends you actually don't mind (but you do)

6 Containing: Suez, Suet, America, Surprise

7