Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Odds of Publication

I just submitted a short story to Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and discovered some sobering statistics.  Granted, Asimov's is one of the most prestigious, most popular sci fi magazines out there, but still...

If their submissions numbering system is purely sequential, meaning that if my submission is 522,019, the next submission will be 522,020, then there have been over 200,000 submissions in the last six months.  They publish 10 times a year, and I'm not sure exactly how many stories they publish in each issue, but this issue has 5 short stories plus 2 novelettes.  I'll assume then that they buy around 7 stories each issue.  That means that in the last six months, they accepted somewhere around 35 stories.  There are lots of variables here, and I could be assuming too much, but if these stats are accurate, the acceptance rate is around .017%.  Not 1.7%.  .017%.  To put it another way, my story will have to beat out around 5,700 other entries.  

Rather disheartening.

Ah, writing...the nightmare of our choice.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Wicked Lovely"—Melissa Marr

Urban fantasy isn't my favorite genre, but I'd heard Wicked Lovely praised, so I decided to read it.  I liked Melissa Marr's creative take on faeries, and enjoyed the vivid imagery.  The story fits so well with the beautiful cover

However, the excessive repetition and over-explanation sometimes bogged down the story.  Example:  Beira (evil queen who's not quite as frightening as she needs to be) touches Keenan (her son and enemy) and bruises him with cold.  Aislinn (the chosen one, who hasn't quite admitted she's the chosen one) kisses his cheek and takes away the bruises.  It goes on for a page or so about this, and both their wonder at her power.  Then someone comes up and asks what happened.  "Aislinn healed the Winter Queen's touch," Keenan says.  Four lines later, "She kissed Beira's frost, and it's gone.  She unmade Beira's touch.  She offered me her hand—by choice—and I was stronger."  In case we didn't get it yet, another character asks, "What?"  Keenana says—and I kid you not—"She healed me with a kiss, shared her strength with me."  Four pages later she tells her boyfriend about it.  Yes, it's a pivotal plot point, because it convinces everyone, including her, that she's The One, but for heaven's sake WE GOT IT.

I also didn't like that there are all these rules for the faery world and this epic "game" of theirs, which we hear about over and over, yet we never learn who set the rules, or why, or what will happen if the rules are disobeyed.

As for the characters, Keenan was interesting enough, though whiny.  I liked Donia and her inner struggles.  Seth seemed too perfect to be real (except for his former promiscuity).  And Aislinn, the main character…well, I didn't have strong feelings one way or the other about her.

It has a great tag line, though:  "Rule #3:  Don't stare at invisible faeries.  Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries. Rule #1:  Don't ever attract theirattention."  That's probably how it got the attention of agents and publishers. 

My rating:  3 minus

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Poison Study," by Maria Snyder

In Maria Snyder's Poison Study, law says that the next prisoner to be executed is offered the job of becoming the Commander's food taster, to protect him from would-be poisoners.  Yelena's crime was murder.  She stabbed a man who had been torturing her and others for years, but the whole truth is not widely known, so she faces much fear and distrust when she first gets the position. 

She works for Valek, the rather invincible and terribly clever right-hand man of the Commander.  The kind of man who can fight four armed soldiers—using only a beer flagon—and come out on top.  He's cold, ruthless, and fiercely loyal.  Also a bit frightening, and fairly off limits.  We soon begin to feel the romantic tension between the two.  A deliciously slow build.  It's one of my favorite parts of the book…until Snyder starts beating us about the head with it.  Until Valek starts stepping out of characters to get all lovey dovey.  The romance really begins to lose its charm then.

There are some other issues with the book:  repetitions, plot holes, the cliché of a kingdom being saved by a perfect heroine (strong, beautiful, kind, athletic, full of magic, desirable to all).

However, the political intrigue, the world-building, the unusual processes of poison-tasting, and the interesting relationships make up for the flaws, and engrossed me from start to finish.

The premise (though not the exact plot) could have worked without ANY magic at all.  I'm always searching for books that have a medieval/fantasy feel but that aren't historical fiction and aren't fantasy.  You get the creative cultural world-building without the pesky overpowering and mystical magic.  Such a rare genre.  One I don't even know how to name, but which I adore.  A genre I love to write.  A genre I can't for the life of me write a good query letter about.  One I think I'll probably continue writing in the future.  This could have been such a book.  What a shame that it wasn't.

Still, I really enjoyed it, despite its imperfections.  It kept me up late reading, and that's the mark of a good story.

My rating:  4

Buy Poison Study here or check out Maria Snyder's website

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Good as Gold," by Joseph Heller

I read Joseph Heller's Good as Gold as part of the Birth Year Reading Challenge, where people read novels published the year they were born, and that's probably the only reason I finished it (or skimmed through it).

The beginning was interesting enough, with odd characters, none of whom I really liked, but who were interesting to watch.  A selfish and oblivious father who's constantly putting down his son, a brother who purposely makes false scientific statements just to annoy the main character, a Washington man who blatantly contradicts himself in absolutely everything he says (This should be very quick.  It will take a long time).  Many others.  Several have speech idiosyncrasies carried way beyond reality, in typical Heller style.  

My main problem, however, was that after the first unpleasant family dinner, and the first encounter with Washington runaround, and the first conversation with the gloomy, self-obsessed editor, and the first aggravating meeting with the rich and racist potential father-in-law, these four scenes just kept replaying themselves and replaying themselves with slight variations.  Seriously, how many family dinners can we really find ourselves interested in, when all they do is argue about the same things?

I also found myself lost a lot, when Heller got onto rants about politics in the 70s.  I wasn't around then, and he didn't give me enough context to make me care about something I know so little of.              

Lots of crude language, often sneaking up so you can't skip it, even if you wanted to.

Lots of Yiddish, which is great as long as there's enough context to understand and maybe learn a little.  Unfortunately, there wasn't.  For a spell in the middle, it felt like I was reading in another language.  I counted 21 italicized Yiddish words or phrases on ONE PAGE.  I could figure out the general gist of a few of the words.  A couple I already knew.  The rest was meaningless.   

Then ending was fairly good, and I enjoyed the first maybe 50 pages.  If it had been a short story, I probably would have really enjoyed the quirky characters and numbing frustrations of bureaucracy.  There were funny, clever bits here and there, like the way everyone thinks the main character is so brilliant for coining the phrase, "I don't know."  Suddenly everyone in Washington is using it—something no one's ever said there, apparently.  Great satire.

I suppose that after the success of Catch 22, no one had the guts to tell Heller he ought to trim his 450 pages by about 80%.  Or maybe he just didn't listen. 

Catch 22 was, in many ways, annoying and repetitive too, but it held my interest and captured the craziness of its world in a way Good as Gold fails to do.  If you want classic Heller, read his masterpiece. 

My rating:  2