Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Eat Pancakes

Did the workshop on "Colburn Men" yesterday. Luckily I had re-read it before going in and knew what I was in for. It was a first draft of an idea that didn't read all that well through the majority. I was aware of as much, so I expected to get thrown to the lions, and thrown I was.

Although there were some helpful comments, the majority of the people in there seemed to think that a workshop is a place for them to just pepper the air with negative comments. The session consisted of 20-30 minutes of nothing but the same complaints over again, contradicting each other, and very little of anything constructive said. I pity the writer that attempts to use something like this as a place to get suggestions on how to improve their work. The air in the room was quite literally "I am a better writer than you, and I know this because my mother/teacher/brother/girlfriend/imaginary friend tells me so every night. Therefore, it is my solemn duty to tear at you for as a long as possible and as much as possible."

This would have bothered me a lot more had I not known that, as much as I enjoyed working on it, "Colburn Men" was a schlock piece that was very flat and linear, and was written on a tight deadline. There was no defense for the truly horrendous parts of the tale (overly wordy description, linear plot, cliched devices), but I was aware of that and ready to nod in agreement with that criticism. I was even vaguely aware that the distance of the narrator shifted a lot and was pretty disconcerting. I was open to comments and suggestions. What I got instead were the true gems of these workshops.

For example, the guy who prefaced everything with "I had a writing class last semester where we talked about..." This guy has never said a single positive thing about any piece that has been critiqued in the workshop. I don't like him mainly for that. I personally think the point of these things is to help others become better writers, not to tout your own brilliance. This isn't to say negative comments have no place, but they should have some reason other than to show off your own 'knowledge' of English. It is from guys like this that future critics are born.

Or my other favorite, "It was too long". It was 25 pages of double-spaced text. You can read 25-pages of double-spaced text. My 8 year old nephew can read 25 pages of double-spaced text. Stop complaining, you're in college.

The other ones that got my goat were the completely positive ones. The people who did nohting but give me a literary handjob in an attempt to be the nicest person ever. I appreciate the stroking of my ego, but I didn't want to hear how great you think the story is. I've already admitted its schlock. PLEASE give me something constructive on how I can better my work, or don't bother speaking up.

There were others, and I wish I could say they were in the majority, who gave me honest criticism with suggestions. I was windy in the descriptions, and several people brought it up, then turned around to offer a thought on how they thought it could be bettered. Others commented that the dialogue could stand on its own to an extent and be used to fill those descriptions. Some thought the ending was abrupt and unnatural (I agree. I thought that when I wrote it two days before handing the manuscript over). Others thought the story itself was way too linear (once again, no argument here), or that the narrator was telling the reader how they should feel (Common problem with my first drafts, so I was glad someone picked up on it who wasn't me). The narrator's distance from the main character is problematic for me with this piece, as it had a bit of personal experience in there. Something, once again, to be looked at in the rewrites.

Overall, I wasn't offended or disappointed. It was a first draft of an extremely quickly written piece. I normally do two or three rewrites before handing something over to anyone else to read, so this was a new experience for me. When I read it myself, I commented "Man, that kinda sucks" before heading into the workshop. I don't want to give the impression that the workshop was completely negative. Several people, including Griner, commented on the writing style and the strength of the writer, just not on the strengths of this particular piece. Others commented on the strength of certain scenes. And, of course, some of them offered genuinely helpful suggestions.

Still, I went home and divided the critiques I received into three piles. One was "Useless", consisting of the literary handjobs of nothing but positive stuff and the intellectual septic tank that was nothing but negatives, neither one with any true criticism to help. The second pile was "Out There", consisting of people who either a) expressed an opinion contradictory to the majority opinion in what they did not like/liked/would change OR b) simply parroted, with less skill or clarity, the suggestions/criticisms of others. The final pile is known as "Help With Rewrite", and consists of the well thought out critiques, both positive and negative, that offer suggestions or point out problems in a way that will be useful to me during the rewrite of "Colburn Men" next month. There are only about four of these.

"Colburn Men" is going to be a long time in the rewrite bin. I like the idea, but the arc is horrible as it doesn't truly exist. As one critique, a helpful one, put it "it's like being set on train tracks when you already know the destination". The plot will remain the same, but David's character needs some tweaks, descriptions need to be toned down, and a little more conflict needs to be brought up. I would start on it now, but last night I set aside the Doll story to start work on something else centered on minimal narration and a lot of well as being the first truly first-person piece I've ever worked on.

Anyhow, my suggestion is that writing workshops are a wonderful thing that can help a person improve their craft. I don't even think this particular workshop is bad. I just think it's early enough in the semester that a lot of people haven't come under the gun themselves, yet. As such, they tend to write their opinions, not their critiques or suggestions, about pieces. Plus, it can be hard to be positive or helpful when you're reviewing someone else's work. But, the fact is, I'm done now with my critique and can go back to my regular set of reviewers for opinions on my work. They may not like it anymore than anyone else, but hey, at least they'll buy me a drink when they tell me it sucks.

J.C. Tabler

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Waiting on my dinner

Well, here I am sitting in my parent's basement waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner. Desi had to work tonight, and I'm basically helpless when left to provide food for myself. So I decided to come over and prevent starvation by mumping a meal or two off of my parents.

For the record, that is my new word. "Mumping". I like it.

I finished up the first rewrite of "Colburn Men" the other night and printed up the copies needed for the necessary workshopping. In addition, I sent it off to the first "big game" market so I can get my rejection in hand before I start round two of rewrites on it. I figure it never hurts to hand things out and get the rejection back.

I've also started work on a story whose working title is "Creepy Doll". That will definitely change. More literary fiction, though after I finish the first draft of it I plan on going back to Speculative Fiction. I've got the basics of the ghost story tumbling around, so I want to get to it soon before it wears off. The Doll Story will be wrapped up by mid-February most likely, as I find more time to work on it.

Everything on the home front is still great. Desi and I had friends over last night for whine and pizza, then drank a bit of cheap whiskey before going to bed.

I am, of course, still waiting on the rejections for the King Arthur Story and "Dead Air" to come in. This will be the second rejection for Dead Air when I finally get it, though I may not get it for several months according to this market's turnaround time.

That's about the long and short of it for today. I've got to reread a couple stories I'm supposed to be critiqueing, then I need to watch all of season one of Dexter in two days.

Peace, my folks.

-J.C. Tabler

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Story Finished

I should mention that I don't really proof blog entries, especially after writing half the night or while sitting on the couch with a cigarette and a nice big glass of bourbon.

Alright, the Colburn story is done. I gave it the title "Colburn Men" just cause it seemed to fit, plus, as stated before, I suck at coming up with titles at all. The title, like most of it, will change with the first rewrite. Before the rewrite, though, I'm going to hand it over to my father. He remains the best editor I've ever had when I write a story that is appropriate for him to read.

The reason is if my father actually finishes the story, it has merit. Dad doesn't read for fun. He reads for work. Even when he does read for leisure, it's normally a historical novel concerning the Civil War. For him to actually read through an entire fiction piece requires a story he enjoys. He's my sounding board.

On top of that, years of careful proofing of his legal briefs has resulted in an amazing eye for grammar and "clunky" sentences. Where I might miss a grammar error on my own simply because I'm tired, bored, disinterested, or being set upon on all sides by animals, he doesn't.

Finally, if he shows it to his business partner, I've got something worth sending off.

Still, even if this story never sees the light of day, I personally enjoyed writing it. I found it to be a little emotional and a little funny, as well as being more than a tad moral. The last one I could do without, but the other two...let's say that this started as being something I was writing to sell, and ended up being something I wrote for myself.

Take'er Easy,

J.C. Tabler

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Once More, With Feeling

Heard back from Clockwork Phoenix today. Yep, rejected the Zombie story. Ho well. I've already got it sent off to another market within an hour of reading the rejection letter, which once again was personal and very nice. You know, I sometimes would like to get a rejection that is just enitrely subhuman in its language. Now we wait again.

Still haven't heard back from Intergalactic Medicine Show, so we're waiting on that to get here before I retry the King Arthur piece.

Not much else is going on. Getting close to the end on the Colburn story. Should be able to wrap it up either today or tomorrow. Then the rewrites begin.

Stay tuned, because you just know I'm so damn interesting, right?


J.C. Tabler

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ah, the sweetness of rejection

When you look like me, you get used to rejection pretty quick. Plus, it helps when the rejection is so nicely formatted. "The Ignoble Birth of Tucker Talbott", which I discussed in a previous post, lived up to my every expectation for it, garnering a rejection from The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Luckily, I was well aware of the fact that it was a poorly written piece with very little actual merit to it, so the rejection was expected.

Now, if I can just go ahead and get rejections for my two pieces out there that I actually liked so I can begin another rewrite to make them as perfect as I can, I'll be grateful. I really want to start shooting those suckers at the small-time markets.

Other than that, nothing new. Still working on the Colburn story.

J.C. Tabler

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Burned Hand Blues

Remember a bit back when I was discussing that freewriting exercise I had gotten myself into by signing up for a class? Well, this is the product of it. Nothing big, nothing amazingly good, but it helped to prime the pump, so they say, for the father/son story (hereafter known as the Colburn Story) that I'm working on now. So, in lieu of an actual post detailing anything, here's some crap I wrote for that class. Enjoy.


I wove a tapestry of profanity so intense and colorful that it hung in the air and mingled with the scent of dead fish and machine oil. Holding a singed hand that added the smell of slightly roasted pork to the olfactory convention that swirled throughout the vessel, my portly form was staggering towards the engine room then reaching for the tube of cream kept on the striker’s bench there. The thick white goop, applied directly to the red and blistering meat at the base of my thumb, sent the dull, fiery throb of pain into a full retreat and replaced it with a slightly uncomfortable, and yet strangely comforting, mint tingling reminiscent of toothpaste. The most surprising aspect of the tableau to the curious eyes that peered back was that, even while displaying my profane mastery of words and swinging my weight around as subtly as a bull elephant, I had kept my cigar clenched firmly in my mouth without any apparent thought or effort.

The steamboat’s captain, a white-haired gentleman who smoked light cigarettes quickly and with a definite air of nervousness, launched himself from the commandeered office chair that he had been lounging in to stand instantly by the side of his injured crewman. Concern was painted over the tanned face of the old man as he glanced quickly at the tender, burned skin, already beginning to crinkle and turn brown at the edges of the burn cream. I, while my quick and short breaths filled the air with acrid smoke from a two dollar cigar, winced as my good hand cradled the burned one at the wrist. The captain nodded and drew another light cigarette from the inside of his uniform shirt, lighting it before inclining his head towards the obvious injury.

“Burn yourself?” he asked, purely in order to demonstrate his amazing grasp on events.

“Yer gawd-da…” I started in a low growl before quickly catching myself, “Just a small burn. Nothin’ ta worry yourself ‘bout, Cap.”

The captain nodded, turning to glance back at the remainder of the crew who stood at the railing to the engine room. The small smattering of filth-covered deckhands, clad in coveralls and ringed with grease and sawdust, were making a point to be extremely disinterested in the proceedings a scant twenty feet away from them. The meaning, of course, was that they were paying attention in such a way that each one could later deny that they were doing so.

“How’d it happen?” the captain asked, placing his elbow on the striker’s bench while remaining careful to keep the sleeve of his uniform out of the random puddles of various liquids and solutions that formed on that surface.

“Welp,” I replied through clenched teeth, “We were all on the work flat back there repairing the wheel like you ordered us to, and I had the torch in my hand to cut through the u-bolts on that big rotted wheel arm that was givin’ us so many problems. The torch was kickin’ up one powerful roar in my ears, so I didn’t hear when the boys started yellin’ at me. Finally, I heard someone yell ‘fire’ and turned ‘round. T’was ‘bout then that I noticed the fittin’ at the bottom of the torch was loose. Seemed that some of the gas in the line was comin’ out through that loose fitting, and a spark from cuttin’ them bolts had lit it on up.”

“Wait,” the captain said, holding up one hand, “Weren’t you wearing the welding gloves for protection?”

“Yep, Cap,” I replied, “That was the problem. See, that flame comin’ out at the torch fittin’ had set the leather one of them gloves on fire. I threw that one off and started bashin’ at it with my foot.”

“How, exactly, did you burn your hand, John?”

“Welp,” I said reluctantly, twitching the cigar from one side of my mouth to the other, “see, I had shifted that torch to my other hand while I was beating at the glove, and that loose fittin’ was still there, and none of those jackasses on the flat turned off the gas tanks like they shoulda…”

The men at the railing suddenly began to inspect the overhead of the main deck in as innocent a fashion as was possible, commenting how dusty and dirty the white paint there had gotten. The captain sighed, no longer amused or concerned but simply impatient as a cloud of cigarette smoke mixed with the cigar smoke and engaged in a battle over which odor was stronger.

“John,” he muttered as he leaned in so only the two of us could hear, “cut to the chase.”

“The torch caught that other glove on fire, too,” I explained, “so I threw down the torch this time and…well…I started to bat at that glove with my other hand. You know…the one that I’d already threw the glove off of. In the process I burned my hand a bit.”

The captain mulled this over as he puffed on his cigarette, and I could feel the eyes of the crew boring into me from behind as their attention shifted once again away from the ceiling. His gaze rolled up, then cut over to the unabashed smile of the chief engineer, who had paused in tending to his machinery in order to listen. Finally, Cap nodded as he plucked the butt of his cigarette from his mouth and snuffed it on the striker’s bench.

“Seems to me,” he said slowly as he drew another cigarette from his shirt pocket, “that you ruined two perfectly good welding gloves out there. That’s going to come out of your pay.”

The cigar fell from my mouth as my jaw dropped in surprise, momentarily forgetting about the throbbing in my hand that had begun again as the cream’s initial relief wore off. The crew at the railing immediately burst into a bout of laughter as the captain, unconcerned by either my disbelief or their amusement, wandered from the engine room and mounted the steps to the pilothouse. My eyes followed him until his feet disappeared from the top of the steps. I then proceeded, once again, to begin weaving a tapestry.

Till next time,
J.C. Tabler

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Withering on the vine

Well, I came off of my "break" today.

The first week of classes is over, with only one miss due to some car trouble Friday morning, and I have a decent idea of what is expected. Let me start by saying I screwed up and bad. I was expecting a few bunny courses for my last semester of higher learning, and instead signed myself up for some reading/work intensive courses. I would like to say now, though, that I am not a quitter, and therefore refuse to drop any of them. Nothing good comes without a little work, and if I work hard I learn. Besides, I have to say that I am interested in each topic I signed up for, and am more than willing to learn something new from them all even if it does bite into my personal time a bit.

Tonight I came home after dinner with my folks, where Desi and I spent a couple hours discussing wedding plans with my mother, to work on a creative writing prompt and get a little course reading done. The writing prompt was going to be 500 words based on a phrase he gave us, and I figured that I would start that, get it done, and then return to my blissful ignorance for the next week before actually sitting down and starting on the next story I'd send out for publication. A half-hour later, I realized that the prompt was the swift kick in the ass I needed to finally start work on the father/son story I had wandering about the back of my head. So I can say I fell off the writing wagon and have now added working on a story to my list of January stresses.

I'm going to stay on top of this one, as I'd like to have the first draft done by the end of the month.

I have another submission floating around out there, a piece of very short fiction (2,000 words) called "The Ignoble Birth of Tucker Talbott". I submitted it with The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, a non-paying e-market. The story itself isn't very good in my opinion, so I won't be heartbroken if it doesn't get accepted. I wrote it while half-drunk on a bottle of Australian Port in the "house from hell" that Desi and I lived in before moving into our apartment. While I would like to see it on a site with some readership, I can live just as well with getting a rejection and slamming it up here or over on my Author's Den website.

Still waiting to hear back on the King Arthur story. I haven't been rejected out of hand yet, so I'm hoping for at least a personal rejection letter from them. The zombie story hasn't been out long enough to hope for a personal rejection. I sorta want to get them back so I can do another rewrite and send them out to the small game markets, but patience, right? Right.

Finally saw The World According to Garp the other night. Freakin' hilarious. Loved every second of it.

If you're reading this and you haven't gotten over to Allegory Ezine yet to read "A Question of Freedom", do it. Then tell your friends, or at least post a scathing review of it.

Until Next Time,

J.C. Tabler

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Zombies, Part II

Well, got a mail back from Space and Time...sorta. I got a mail from everyone's favorite Mailer-Daemon telling me the message was undeliverable. After checking the addy a couple times, I said the hell with it and sent the zombie story to my second "big game" market, Clockwork Phoenix, an anthology of certain types of fiction. It doesn't meet their guidelines that well in my opinion, but once I get my big game rejection out of the way I'll feel better plinking varmints with a .22, as it were.

Finishing a few things up here at the office, then I'm going to drink and brainstorm tonight for a bit.

Till later,

J.C. Tabler

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Zombies on the Internet!

Well, I finished the edit on the Zombie story last night around one in the morning and crawled into bed to sleep like the dead (I know, bad pun) until around 7:30 this morning. After a few minutes of looking around Duotrope, I found a market. So, long story short, I've sent the zombie story out to get its first round of rejections before aiming my crosshairs a little lower and shooting for small game.

I should mention that I've got another story out and about, waiting on the rejection slip from that one to come over the internet postal service that is Gmail. This one is a cheap King Arthur piece that my mother loves, so I feel an obligation to try and sell it if at all possible. I wrote it for a class a while back, and did a few rewrites over the past couple months. It got sent off to garner a rejection from Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show in November, so we're still playing the waiting game. Of course, their standard response time is 90 or so days, so I've still got a month or so before I can print out the rejection, put it in a pile with the others, and start shopping that story around again.

This weekend I plan on sitting down to work on the ghost story. Hopefully everything will go according to plan, and I'll actually get some work done on it, at least enough to have a few pages typed up so I can gear up to really start working. At the same time I'm going to try and go for something that isn't spec. fict. for once. There's been a story rambling around in the back of my head about that ever popular topic, fathers and sons. I'm going to work on that on the days I get blocked on the ghost story.

On a slightly more personal note, our cat is now "the fearless hunter". We have a few mice in our apartment, not due to slovenly housekeeping because Desi is a fanatic about that sort of thing. No, our mice are the result of living in an old building in an older neighborhood, in the apartment that was occupied by a bachelor bartender for 7 years before we moved in and took a solid week to clean before we dared to bring anything inside. These mice apparently have a nest right outside our bedroom window, which has an old AC unit in it that Desi refuses to let me take out. She won't let me take it out of the window because I would have to put it in the bedroom closet, and she insists (I swear I'm not making this up) that doing so would take away all the space she needs for her shoes.

The result of this is that the mice are entering through a small gap between the window and the AC unit, where they artfully ignore the traps I have set along the wall on that side of the bedroom. The cat goes wild and wants in the room, and he has now taken out 3 of the rodents. The extremely expensive, rodent-like animal that my fiancee purchased now lives in mortal fear of the cat, staring out from the bars of his cage and begging us to protect him. The cat is amazingly proud of himself. I feel like an idiot for spending 15 dollars on mousetraps.

Well, that's all for now. I'll post a little on Friday or Saturday, whichever day I start on the ghost story.

Take'er Easy,

J.C. Tabler

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Another update tomorrow

Well, I'm just posting generally right now. If anyone is reading this, and also reading the author's information on the side panel, you'll see that I'm currently still a student. The circumstances that brought this on were a combination of laziness and general dreaming. See, I attended college right out of high school like the majority of American teens. After a year i came home and found a summer job on a steamboat. I so enjoyed the work that I decided college could wait and struck out as a deckhand on a day excursion steamer, the STR. Belle of Louisville.

After three years of sub-standard pay for back-breaking work, I decided it was time to return to college. I went down to the university I had attended the first time, then after a year there decided to return home to Louisville at the behest of my father. He offered me a job working in his office, which I still hold when not attending classes at the University of Louisville or writing.

It is through this status as a student that I enter my last semester of college, and that I ignored the advice of everyone else to take a Creative Writing course this semester. Although most of those people I know who have ever sold anything of substance, of which there are a grand total of two I know personally and several I know only in the same sense as the rest of their readers, have told me these courses are a waste of time, I thought it would be worth a shot. Besides, I have a backlog of crap that I can turn in. Then I did a quick Google on the professor, a Paul Griner. Paul Griner, a veteran of short stories with two books under his belt.

There goes the idea of turning in crap, right? Right.

So we've had to write a piece on a "traumatic memory" as a short writing prompt for him. The problem is i really have no truly traumatic memories that I can write about in a short manner. Not that I've ever had a problem writing about things like that, just that when the stuff gets personal I tend to get verbose in my descriptions. So I chose a less traumatic memory that bordered on both embarassing, painful, and funny from my time aboard the boat. I, personally, hate it. The idea, though, was to get us writing, and it did that.

Well, that's that for tonight. Tomorrow, after I turn that thing in, I may post the text of it on here for my own amusement. I mean, it really isn't as if anyone reads this, right? Right. By the way, if you do read this then drop a comment. I want to be secure in knowing I'm alone in posting here for right now.

Take'er Easy,

J.C. Tabler

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Bye Bye, Bunny

The zombie story is finished. That's not the purpose for this post, though. The purpose for this post is we've decided to give away our pet rabbit.

Personally, I'm a dog person. I've always been a dog person. I enjoy an animal that is stupid enough to be happy to see me. So when we got stuck with a rabbit by an old friend and his wife, I wasn't exactly jumping with joy. It's a sweet creature, but the fact is that all of our pets aren't really our pets. instead, these animals are more or less completely my fiancee's. The downside is that, while she enjoys HAVING the animals, she doesn't truly have the time to care for them all.

On top of this, I recently got the approval to get a puppy. I like puppies. I'm getting a damn puppy. She can keep the finicky cat, I want a dog that will eat my leftovers and be more than happy with a belly rub and a game of catch. Plus, at least dogs are loyal.

The decision, then, was to send our rabbit, Commodore Lord High Flopsy of Her Royal Majesty's Navy, Duke of Exeter, Savior of the South Seas Colonies, on a trip. He is embarking on a journey up one flight of stairs to become the pet of the couple up there, our good friends. Right now they're out buying bunny stuff with my fiancee, I'm watching WonderShowzen, and I'm about to fix a pork roast for my dinner while the vegetarian half of our relationship is gone.

Long story short, she'll mope for a day or two, then go back to normal.

Take'er Easy,

J.C. Tabler

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Finally Done

Finished the zombie story tonight, then went and got drunk.

I know, its a horrible habit, but hey. I sent it off to my editor/neighbor, the Dread Pirate Will Davis. He'll send it back, I'll edit it, and then start work on the new story in a week or so after I start shopping this one around.

Exciting, huh? I'll post more tomorrow, once I'm sober.


J.C. Tabler

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

Well, it's 2008. Another year, another group of people drinking champagne and playing board games. But I didn't really make this thing to go into my personal life.

"A Question of Freedom" went up over on Allegory today (see last post for link, details, etc). Planning on finishing up the zombie story ASAP, even if the ending isn't too great. I don't think there's much of a market for it, but I can always cruise Duotrope to see if there's anything out there that might be willing to pay me the cost of a carton of cigarettes for it. The main reason for the rush is I was recounting a couple ghost stories I played a part in, mainly as a witness, in the past. In recounting them, I remembered an experience someone shared with me about their childhood ghostly encounter once. It had a very disturbing image of an eyeless woman standing beside a bed staring at a small child.

The image made me shiver.

The result, now, is that I've got the beginnings of a story forming around that image and a couple others, and I'd like to start working on it. Even if I never sell it, I won't exactly be satisfied until I write it and put it in the Box'O'Crap by the fireplace for future rewriting/kindling. Besides, the zombie story has taken the better part of a month thanks to my habit of procrastination and my apartment's close proximity to the neighborhood bar. I have to sit down and finish it, or else it'll be consigned to the "unfinished" file with only about 6 or 7 pages left to work on.

Well, that's that.

Take'er easy,

J.C. Tabler