Interview Transcripts

An Interview with Nancy Jane Moore

Speculative Fiction and Book View Cafe

December 2008

 

 

Mary Rosenblum: Nancy Jane Moore is one of the authors on Book View Cafe. Her collection, PS Showcase  No. 2, Conscientious Inconsistencies was recently released by  PS Publishing, and her novella, Changeling,  is available from Aqueduct Press. She is a  member of SFWA and Broad Universe, and blogs on the  Book View Cafe Blog.  Nancy, tell us about yourself. How did you get started writing?  What are you goals with your writing? 

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  Like most writers, I started as a reader. And I'd say one of the reasons I became a writer is because no one else was writing some of the stories I wanted to read.  I've always been a big fan of adventure stories, but when I was young the stories were all about men. Women rarely had a role except as sex object or the wife who urged her husband not to go off on the adventure.

    I fell into science fiction and fantasy writing because I wanted to write stories in which women had adventures, and didn't want to have to address how they got around the sexist rules I confronted every day. If you set a story in the future, you can assume the culture has changed. (In fact, I think one of the weaknesses of some SF is its assumption that gender relationships in particular and human relationships in general won't be quite different in the future.)

     Since I like adventure stories -- I've been known to say that what I want most in a story is a moral dilemma and a fight scene -- I thought at first that I would aim at being a very commercial writer. But my career hasn't gone that way.

     First off, I got sidetracked by short stories. I love writing short stories; I like being able to hold the whole story in my head while writing. But there's no living in writing short stories.

    Secondly, I discovered that I also liked writing very quirky things, some of which fall under the "slipstream" rubric. (My definition of slipstream is a story that doesn't quite fit anywhere.) It didn't hurt that the first story of mine that got a lot of attention was "Three O'Clock in the Morning," which is written in the second person and was unlike anything else I'd ever written. (That story is in my collection from PS and will also be appearing in Spanish in an anthology called Otras Miradas, which will be out soon in Argentina.)

     And third, I realized that when it came to fiction, I really only wanted to write things I wanted to write. I work as a legal reporter to pay the bills, and that's fine with me. I'd much rather write about law than write a movie novelization or a book that fits some predetermined concept. 

     As a result, I've published a lot of short fiction and two small press books -- not exactly the way to get rich from writing. Please understand that I don't have any objection to commercial success -- in fact, I'm trying to sell a novel right now that I think would do well as a mass market paperback. I just want to focus on writing the stories that matter to me, regardless of whether they're commercial or not. 

     Lately it's occurred to me that my true goal as a writer is to write something great. I like a lot of my own work, but I still feel like I can do something better than I've done so far. I hope I'll always feel that way, that I'll never quite be  satisfied. I'd like to continue to believe that my next work will be my best one.

 

Gail:  Hello Nancy and welcome,

      I can relate to so much of what you've written here, but particularly liked what you said about always wanting to do better.  Your striving-for-personal-best is a sentiment I share and, like you, hope to always pursue.

     However, there's a certain fly in that ointment for me.  In pursuit of "better," I often edit stories/articles to the point of exhaustion, never quite satisfied I've done my best.  You say you like your own work, so how do you recognize when a piece is finished?  There must be a balance I haven't yet found, some middle-ground between "good" and the ever-unattainable "absolute best"?  Any advice you have on this would be most welcome.

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  Hi Gail:

    Knowing when to stop is tricky for everyone. And you can do too much revising. I seem to recall that a friend of mine used to bring us new versions of stories we'd read before, and we sometimes drove her crazy by saying, "You know, I liked the earlier version better."

     One reason I like to have deadlines is that the story just has to be finished by that point. That makes it easier. So one thing you can do is to aim for a contest with a fixed date or a magazine that has a specific submission period, so that you have a deadline. You must stop working on the story in time to get it off to the contest or magazine. Just make yourself do it.

     The other useful method is to have someone read your work whose opinion you really trust. Ideally it is someone who likes your writing, who will tell you if a specific story doesn't work. If that person reads the story and makes only minor comments, don't get caught up in tinkering. Just put the story in the mail. On the other hand, if they've got real issues, you probably do need to keep working.

     That's one reason I'm a fan of workshops: That's where you're likely to find a first reader who gets your work and wants you to succeed, but is also writer enough to hold you to a high standard. You learn who that person is by the way they read your stuff -- it's very subjective.

     I generally write a first draft and let the story sit for a few days, or even a few weeks, and then go back to revise it with a fresh eye. Then I work on it until I can't figure out what to do next. And then I get someone else to look at it, and depending on their reaction, I either put it in the mail or tinker a bit more.

     It might also help to keep in mind that you want to write more than the one particular story you're working on. Of course, if you're writing a long epic work, you may have to spend years tinkering! It's probably easier to come to a stopping place with a short story.

 

Gail:  Thank you, Nancy, you've offered some very interesting suggestions and advice.  In particular, I like your suggestion about finding contests with fixed submission dates.  I do work well when a clear deadline is known.  I'm definitely going to put these ideas to use.

 

Pam Out West:  Hi Nancy,  Thanks for joining us. I write "slipstream" too, and for the same reason. (I just never had a name for it before!) I wrote a story, nonfiction, on a topic that I haven't seen before. I didn't worry too much about my first audience until now as I write the query letter to land an agent.  It sounds like my timing couldn't be worse with the economy and the publishing market. Should I just hold on to it for a few years?

 

Muleskinner:  Hi Nancy!  Thanks for taking some time for us. You spoke of figuring out a way to make money with the new trends in publishing and I have a business question. How should a writer structure their writing business? Should I be thinking about incorporating or at least an LLC? Or is there not enough tax advantages or liability in justify it? Or when do I need to start thinking about it? Since I am really new at this I have not sold anything yet but it struck me that with the sue happy culture we live in a writer may need to think about this.

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  I'm not the best person to answer this question, because it really depends more on your overall tax and legal situation. I think you should talk it over with your accountant. It could be there are advantages for you. What other writers do is not necessarily what's right for you.

     I do know, from gossiping with other writers, that some big companies that hire freelancers like for them to be set up as an LLC, so if you're going to be doing that sort of contract work as well as fiction, it might be necessary for your business.

     I suspect that, if you get a large offer on a book that might be controversial, you could quickly incorporate before signing any final contracts with the publisher.

      Please understand that I'm not giving legal advice here. I really don't have a clue about the best way to set up a writing business from a legal point of view. 

     In a lot of towns -- I know this is true in Washington, DC, and I'm sure there must be something in NYC -- there's a volunteer group of lawyers that advise writers and artists. Those people would have the best line on something like this.

 

Mary Rosenblum: Muleskinner, I suggest that you read my interviews with my own accountant, a CPA who handles a lot of artists, writers, and musicians. Writers and Taxes, or Taxes and the Writer As to incorporation, he advised against it.  He told me that the IRS is very reluctant to accept an incorporated artist or writer.   You simply are NOT a corporation, like it or not.  But as Nancy says, you really do need the advice of an accountant who is familiar with recent decisions on tax matters concerning artists and writers.

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  I am often considered a feminist science fiction writer. This is because:

·         I'm a woman;

·         I'm a feminist;

·         I write about a lot of women characters who do things; and

·         I'm published by Aqueduct Press, which publishes feminist science fiction -- http://aqueductpress.com/.


Recently Lyndon Perry, giving a very positive review to my collection on The Fix short fiction review (http://thefix-online.com/reviews/ps-showcase-2/), wrote:  To classify this collection as feminist literature, in my opinion, might unnecessarily marginalize these stories away from the very genre fiction scene it seeks to represent.

     This made Timmi Duchamp, who wrote the introduction to that book and published my novella Changeling, roll her eyes:

But as happens over and over and over again in reviews and discussions of feminist sf (and so of course in reviews of Aqueduct's books), the reviewer here confronts us with the classic provocation for eyeball-rolling that anyone who regularly reads feminist sf will be familiar with: the assumption that because he likes the stories and perceives their quality, that therefore what he's reviewing can't be feminist sf.

     I'd like to elicit your questions and comments on feminist science fiction. How do you think it should be defined? Do you think it's important? Do you think calling a work feminist marginalizes it or enhances it?

 

Speck:  I'll admit I'm not a big SF reader but...I do write (or hope to anyway) strong female characters who take no guff from the men in their lives.  Meaning they are independent, intelligent and not prone to waiting on the guy to decide which way to go, act, etc.

     I'm not sure if that makes me a feminist (maybe we need a clear definition) but I do think female characters who can take care of themselves are well received by most readers.  I'm not sure if calling a "work" feminist is going to either enhance or marginalize it.   Readers are going to like what they like.  Of course, the term may turn off readers who have never read the work/author don't you think?

 

AdamC:   I just looked up the definition of feminist and it says that it is anything or anyone advocating equal rights for women. So unless the story actually advocates equal rights for women, I don't see how it could be considered feminist. I've read several books and seen several movies with strong female protagonists and/or antagonists that I would not consider feminist in nature. On the other hand, if people view the concept of a female character filling a position/job that might be stereotypically considered a man's job (or one who is simply very independent) as advocating equal rights, then I could see the argument.  As for me, I'll read anything (preferably sci-fi) that has a strong story and believable characters, but if it comes across as being overtly preachy or condescending to a particular audience, I will, more than likely, set it aside.

 

Amyh:   This is a topic I frequently mull over, and I've come to decide (this week, anyway) that the labels of either "science fiction"  (or, for that matter, "fantasy") or "feminist" have such strong associations in peoples' minds as to often be counter-productive to the storytelling.  Science fiction brings to mind space and gadgets and '50s-style social structures.  Feminist brings to to the popular mind, well, strident whining.  Let's take THE SPARROW, which you didn't write, Nancy, but which was to all superficial appearances a feminist SF story.  It was marketed as mainstream and did extremely well.  Yeah, no duh.  In my own bookclub, a woman said that she hates SF, never reads SF, but loved THE SPARROW.  Huh.  Everybody else in book club felt the same.  I was floored. I now wonder whether the SF label can actively kill stories -- that most women readers (and most buyers of novels are women) don't want to read SF because so much of it was historically distasteful.  I don't think that anything we do can change that association.  Same with feminist -- there's too much history there, too much stuff in the popular mindset.  Yeah, we need new terms, but those will get corrupted, too.  This week, I wonder whether we should all just leave the genre and market ourselves as mainstream.  Let the reviewers figure out what we are.

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  I'll get back to feminist SF in a minute, but since you brought up Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow I'm going to get sidetracked into the "What is SF" discussion.

     It absolutely amazes me that The Sparrow was published as a mainstream book and that people who swear they don't read SF loved it. I mean, it has aliens! It has space travel! Yes, of course, it is also about faith, but the lack of understanding between human and alien is at the core of the book. How can anyone assume that isn't science fiction?  Of course it was beautifully written, but so is everything Ursula Le Guin writes (just as an example) and no one ever says Ursula doesn't write SF. It just floors me, too.

     I loved The Sparrow. I thought it was brilliant writing, though reading it almost broke my heart. (If you've read it, you'll understand that; if you haven't, just go get a copy.) I'm glad that it did so well. And Russell certainly thinks it's science fiction -- she won the Campbell for it, as I recall.  I wouldn't call The Sparrow feminist SF, though I certainly don't think it's an anti-feminist book. In fact, if I was going to give it a subgenre, I'd call it religious science fiction, which might be an even more misunderstood label. But I think science fiction -- which is, after all, a literature of ideas -- is a great place to deal with the concepts and issues of religion. It certainly fits in with books like the classic A Canticle for Leibowitz.

     As for feminism, I'd say it's a lot more complex than advocating equal rights for women. I'd like to think we don't really need to spend a lot of time -- at least in the United States -- arguing that women should have equal rights. When I speak of feminist science fiction, I mostly mean fiction that addresses -- directly or indirectly -- the complexities of gender in society and in relationships.  Gwyneth Jones's book Life, in which a scientist discovers some basic genetic changes related to Y chromosomes against a backdrop of current modern life where men and women are struggling to figure out how to have careers and family life and deal with each other in a world where gender norms have changed, is a book I'd consider classic feminist science fiction.

     The Female Man by Joanna Russ is another great example. It's a very angry book -- very much a book that reflects the reality of women being told over and over that certain jobs, certain roles, are not for them. These days, there's much less of that overt discrimination, but we're still figuring out how men and women ought to work together and live together. And we're starting to question what gender really is. Work that deals with this is generally feminist.

     On the other hand, I don't think books that stick a woman in as a starship captain, but either make her an exception or don't look at gender issues at all, are particularly feminist.

 

AdamC:   I agree. The above definition is over-simplified. However, even in the examples you use, where people of different gender are trying to learn how to co-exist, it all boils down to questions like: Who has the right to behave in what ways? Who has the right to fill what roles? It becomes a comparison of rights (or boundaries), not just on a legal level, but on moral, intellectual, and emotional levels as well.

     No one wants to feel less significant than anyone else and no one wants to feel held back by some out-of-date stereotypical mold dictated by society. Co-existence is the key to survival, and any good story with a matching conflict is about survival on one level or other. I’m also an advocate for the versatility of science fiction and agree that it is a wonderful medium for discussing any conflict, be it about gender or otherwise.

     Also, I've never read The Sparrow. It seems I'll have to look it up. I like good stories, and aliens are cool too

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  The Sparrow is a wonderful book. However, I strongly recommend that you plan to read the sequel, Children of God, immediately after you finish it. The Sparrow ends on a down note, but the sequel is much more cheerful. The feminist SF of the 1970s was frequently very angry. (If you haven't read The Female Man, add it to your list. It's a very angry, very brilliant work.) Now, though, I think fiction that fits under feminist is less angry, and deals with a lot of the more subtle things that aren't available when you're confronting a world that says "You can't do that." 

     Take my novella, Changeling, which I'll use because I happen to know what the author had in mind. It's essentially a coming of age story about a young woman discovering who she is and dealing with whether -- and how -- to break with her parents. (It has an alternate world, so it's also speculative fiction.) When I wrote it, I didn't think of it as especially feminist. I just thought of it as Maggie's story.

     But in a world in which stories about young women breaking with their families still often revolve around going off with a lover of whom the parents disapprove -- and there's a huge cultural history of stories and songs about that very subject -- Changeling is simply about a young woman figuring out who she is and how she should live. And while it has sex in it -- because sexual exploration is certainly part of figuring out who you are -- that's not the point of the story. At this point in our history, I think showing women characters who are grappling with the multiple things that go to making a complete human being is feminist. In a hundred years, it probably won't be -- or I hope it won't -- because in a hundred years people will be more accustomed to the fact that women, like men, are likely to be drawn to, or driven by, many different and interesting things.

 

Mary Rosenblum: Nicely put, Nancy.    I think 'feminist' has,  for the most part, evolved a lot from the angry seventies model.  

 

Pam Out West:   Really? I associate the word feminist in two categories, but I'm sure there are more. There are rabid liberal ones who seek power and often do it by disrespecting men, or women that don't agree with their agenda. I do not find them helpful in representing or illuminating the very unique qualities of the female gender.  There is a more gentle feminism that came before and after the angry 70's, which realizes we must respect men, if we desire equal respect. Genuine feminism is something quite different than the loudest voice or strongest arm twist.  It is something different than the "it's all about me" thread ,or "girls gone wild" image so promoted today. It would be great to toss that word out-it has negative connotations for me, having been in college in the 70's. That's just one woman's opinion though...

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  There are feminists that I strongly disagree with, most particularly the people I call "victim feminists" who advocate censorship to stamp out woman-hating porn. I'm a strong believer in the First Amendment and think laws like that are likely to do much more harm that even the nastiest of porn.

    But we've had time for feminism to develop now, so there are going to be many different points of view within the general term "feminist." There will always be people with whom one shares a general opinion -- say that women should have the same legal rights and responsibilities as men -- but with whom one disagrees on some of the aspects.

     I can't see that feminists who disrespect men pose much of a problem. There's still a much bigger problem of men disrespecting women, as the attacks on Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign showed. I was offended, and I wasn't a Clinton supporter. Sexist attacks on women still have power in our society, which is why I'm a feminist.

     I get along fine with men. It's impossible to use the "some of my best friends" phrase without irony, but my close personal friends are both male and female. While many of my male friends would roll on the floor laughing if you called me "gentle," I don't think they'd accuse me of disrespecting men, either.

    Right now, I think humans are going through a period of completely rethinking what gender means, if anything. It's not going to be a fast process -- here in the US women have only had the right to vote for 88 years and the right to some job equality for 40-something years, and we're doing better on this front than some other societies -- but we're going to keep doing it. As a science fiction writer, I think that ongoing change is worthy of a lot of attention. That's where I focus my feminism right now.

 

Mary Rosenblum: So, Nancy, tell us all about Book View Cafe?  What is it?  How did it get started?  What are the goals here?

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  Book View Cafe is a consortium of writers publishing their fiction in a shared site on the web -- http://www.bookviewcafe.com  It started out back in the spring as a discussion about online publishing on an email list of professional women SF/F writers. Sarah Zettel started out talking about a plan she was working on to publish a new novel online. After a few posts on the pros and cons of online publishing, Maya Bonhoff said, "Is anyone else interested in trying a co-op effort with posted materials?" And a whole bunch of people wrote in saying, "Me. I'm interested."  We formed our own email list, and started writing back and forth about what we wanted to do and how we'd best do it. Those with artistic talent started designing banners and logos. Those with tech skills began thinking about how to make it work.

     We ended up with more than 20 writers when we launched November 15. All of us have significant print publishing credentials. We aren't people who couldn't get published otherwise, but rather people who can see that publishing is in a state of serious change and who want to find our place in the new cyber order. We've got enough members to put up new fiction every day. Several people are posting a novel chapter every week; others are posting short stories. Ursula Le Guin is posting a screenplay. I'm doing flash fiction -- very short stories -- at the moment, because so many people still say to me, "I don't like to read on the web." One of our goals is to build our individual fan base. We were influenced in the beginning by a post called "l,000 True Fans" on Kevin Kelly's blog The Technium -- you can read it here: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php The idea is that the way to make a living in a creative field these days is to build and nurture a devoted fan base. We figured it was worth trying.

    Another goal is to figure out how to make some money out of all this. Right now our work is up for free, but we are planning to offer some things for sale. One idea is to sell a complete download of  a novel. If you pay, you get it all at once up front. Otherwise you can read it for free week by week. Another is to sell print versions. This part of the project isn't up and running yet, but will be soon.
The best way to figure out what we're up to is to go to the site and read some of the fiction. We also blog daily on the Book View Cafe Blog: http://blog.bookviewcafe.com

     BTW, the writers of Book View Cafe are: Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Brenda Clough, Kate Daniel, Jessica Freely - Laura Anne Gilman, Christie Golden, Anne Harris, Sylvia Kelso, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Sue Lange, Ursula K. Le Guin, Rebecca Lickiss, Vonda N. McIntyre, Nancy Jane Moore, Pati Nagle, Darcy Pattison, Irene Radford, Madeleine Robins, Amy Sterling, Jennifer Stevenson, Susan Wright, and Sarah Zettel.  You can read our description of the project on the site: http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=469&Itemid=498

 

Speck:   I stopped by and joined the other day.  It's very nice and I found some nice reading material too.

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  So glad you liked it.

 

 Mary Rosenblum: Well, Nancy, I don't think anyone doubts that publishing...the classic, New York, old style publishing, is changing as we speak.  So how do you see the publishing world changing over the next decade?  What is Book View Cafe's role in this brave new world of publishing?

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  That's a very good question. I'm not sure anyone has a very good answer. Last week on the email list and forum where Book View Cafe members do the behind the scene work, the buzz was about the big layoffs in the publishing industry. Part of that was the overall economic situation, of course, but it also has a lot to do with changes in publishing.

      The technology that will make epublishing viable is starting to take shape. I already know people who love their Kindle from Amazon.com. And one thing we're doing at Book View Cafe is partnering with the folks doing Text on Phone -- http://www.textonphone.com/  I'll post more about that later in the week, but the gist is that it's taking advantage of the fact that people are downloading reading material on their smart phones. The written word is behind audio and music, but it's starting to catch up. I know when I'm reading a book and want to go back and look at something the author said earlier, I get frustrated because I can't just pop a key word into a search box and find what I'm looking for! Online reading has made me impatient with thumbing through a book, trying to find the right page.

     Here's the great thing about epublishing: the overhead is minimal. Of course, right now the income is pretty minimal, too. I suspect that we're going to discover new ways of making a living out of epublishing, and it may not be directly from our writing. In the 19th Century, writers like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens made a lot of their living by traveling across the country giving readings. I suspect we're going to find 21st Century equivalents. One of the possibilities is a strong relationship with fans, handled online. Musicians are already doing this. It could be that instead of agents, writers will contract with professionals who nurture their fan base, making sure the hard core has the latest book and gossip, so that they will spread the word and buy early release downloads, print versions, or what have you.

     Like a lot of epublishing, Book View Cafe is an experiment. We're trying something that makes sense to us, and watching the results.

     I'll write more on this subject before the week is out. It's a matter of endless fascination to me. Maybe that's because, like fiction, it's something that we're still making up as we go along.

 

Gail:   You mentioned in your other post (Thread:  Welcome Nancy!) that:  "when it came to fiction, I really only wanted to write things I wanted to write."  How does e-publishing help and/or hinder that desire for you?  Does it allow greater autonomy in your choice of subject matter or character choices?  Does e-publishing enable sales to narrower niche markets than traditional publishers can reach?

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  I'd say that right now, e-publishing gives me a market for a story that doesn't seem to fit anywhere else. But in general, I'd say small presses and print zines do the same thing. There is room to publish very diverse material these days, so long as you don't care if you make a lot of money out of it. And many of the small presses and print zines -- as well as some of the Web publishers -- have very good reputations. I'm very proud of have had several pieces in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, for example.

     Both epublishing and the growth of the small press have a lot to do with how cheap it now is to publish. The small press still has distribution problems though, which epublishing doesn't have. But epublishing hasn't figured out how to bring in money.

     I was, btw, mostly talking about coming to the conclusion that I wasn't quite as commercial a writer as I'd initially thought. I recently heard someone brag about writng 90 novels (including a lot of media tie-in books), and I was horrified. No one could write 90 good novels. But of course, that person makes a living writing novels and I don't. It's all in what you want to do.

 

Mary Rosenblum: Nancy, I think you've put your finger on something very important here.  What is writing to YOU...not just you, Nancy, but all writers. Is it a 'day job' where the goal is pay the mortgage?  Or is it something you want to do your way and you'll find another way to pay the mortgage?  I don't think either version is wrong or right.  I hate those 'art versus hack' dogfights.   It's just a matter of each writer deciding what she/he wants from what they're doing. I made the decision long ago that I wanted to write what I wanted to write.  I teach writing to pick up the slack in the bank account.    But I know people who wrote dozens of novels for whomever will pay.  That's what they want to do. 

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  What a writer wants to do with his or her writing is an important question, but it's one I didn't really look at personally until many years into the process. I think that's another thing I'd do differently, though I also think it's something that can change over time. But I'd advise writers who are just starting out to think about what they really want.

     I always thought I was writing reasonably commercial fiction, and I still think much of what I like to write fits under that category. While I have discovered some pleasure in writing things that might be considered a tad literary or arty, I am, at heart, a writer of adventure stories. When I started out, I thought that was enough to be a commercial writer.

     But I suspect that to truly make your living as a commercial writer of fiction, you have to be willing to write things that are less interesting to you, such as media tie-in novels or formula romance. Or, for that matter, erotica and porn. And I've discovered that I'd rather write about law than to write those things.

    As Mary points out, there's no one real right answer. But I do think it's a good idea to think about what you want. If you're a comics or movie buff, for example, writing tie-in novels might be fun for you, as well as a source of income, whereas for me, writing a story where actors have already created all the nuances of a character would be pure torture.

 

Mary Rosenblum: So, Nancy, how did YOU get started.    What are your suggestions for the aspiring writers who are reading these posts?

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  I'm not sure I'd recommend my writing career path to anyone else. But maybe my history will show that there's no one way to become a writer, just as there's no one way to write.  I was one of those people who was always writing, but I managed to get sidetracked into law school. I wrote a bit, but I wasn't sure what to do with anything I wrote.

     Eventually, I signed up for a weekend workshop with Marion Zimmer Bradley, where I learned a valuable lesson: Writing workshops help. I came back home and took workshops at the Writer's Center in metropolitan Washington, DC, where I had the good fortune over the years to study with the excellent SF writers Richard Grant, Brenda Clough, and Nancy Kress.

     One of the advantages of a workshop is that you get to know other writers and can find a compatible group for regular critiquing. I did that for years, and then got sidetracked again because I took a demanding job running a nonprofit. Some people can write fiction while doing a difficult job, but I'm not one of them. (BTW, I wouldn't have missed that job for the world. It taught me so much.)

     Eventually, I left the job, got serious about writing again, and went to Clarion West in 1997. Clarion made me very serious about writing, and I became one of those writers who always has something in the mail (or the email these days).

     BTW, Marion bought the story I started in that first workshop with her. While that was wonderful at the time, I think it gave me the idea that I had mastered the skills of writing and was off to a great career. I sold her another one shortly thereafter, and then didn't sell anything else for several years. If I hadn't won a contest run by -- of all places -- The National Law Journal, I might not have had the confidence to apply to Clarion West. And Clarion not only turned me from a wannabe into a writer; it also was the happiest six weeks of my life.

   So, suggestions:

·         Write. Write a lot. In fact, if I had it to do over, I'd have gone into journalism instead of law, because I've found that all types of writing teach you key elements like clarity, effective sentences, and grammar.

·         Take a workshop. Take several workshops. Don't expect the teacher to give you the secret -- because there is no secret -- but use the workshop to get two valuable things: a deadline and someone else's opinion about your work.

·         Go to Clarion or Clarion West, if you possibly can. Intensity helps.

·         Once you've finished a story, keep submitting it until it find a home or until you -- and only you -- decide you don't believe in it anymore. Don't let a couple of rejections make you shove it in a drawer.

 

BSRavian:   Fascinating and inspiring, Nancy. Thank you very much for sharing this.

 

Rick Novy:   Quote

Once you've finished a story, keep submitting it until it find a home or until you -- and only you -- decide you don't believe in it anymore. Don't let a couple of rejections make you shove it in a drawer.


As evidence in support of this statement, I have twice sold stories with over twenty rejections.  When you get into double digits, it is hard not to lose faith in the story, but there is a home for it somewhere.

I only stop submitting for one of three reasons.

1) My work has improved to the point that I believe the story is no longer good enough to represent my name. 
2) The story is stale (has a time-sensitive element that is no longer relevant).   
3) There are no markets "good enough" that I haven't already tried for a story this good.  In a case like this, the story goes into hibernation waiting for a new market to emerge.

 

Nancy Jane Moore:  Your process sounds a lot like mine, Rick. And I, too, have sold stories after many, many rejections -- and to nice markets, at that.

 

Mary Rosenblum: Great suggestions, Nancy.  The key is really to devote your passion to writing to learning to do it better, as well, through workshops and writing groups.  And mainly…be persistent.  Believe in your dream and don’t let a handful of rejection slips convince you that you should abandon it. You’re likely to get way more than a handful! 

 

Thank you, Nancy, for visiting with us and being so generous with your time.  Great answers!  We all appreciated them. 

 

 

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