The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Goodbye to EscapePod

I’ve decided to stop listening to EscapePod and PodCastle, and there’s no reason you need to know this. But I’m always running out of shit to say, so I figured this was something to write about. This isn’t out of the blue though. There are two good reasons.

One is a problem I feared would happen, despite editor reassurances that it wouldn’t. Two years ago they split fantasy stories off into their own podcast — PodCastle. I like both fantasy and sci-fi and I like getting the best of both. And that’s hard to do with short stories since I’m not in love with them, they have so much harder to work. PodCastle is fun, and I listened to that for almost two hundred episodes. But with stories on both sides, I feel the gravy has thinned. And I can’t stand to skip through stories that “almost” hit the mark.

Steve Eley, with a hat

The other is Steve Eley. He was the man with the singular vision to start an audio-only, science fiction podcast and keep it going through 200 weekly episodes. He had interesting things to say. He picked good stories. He was a great narrator. I used to love him.

Unfortunately, he was prone to neuroses typical of geeks and all. I’ve talked about one of them before — his constant need to apologize for a FREE service he’s providing that’s gotta cost him time and money and contains no advertisers except for the occasional sponsor. I don’t know why he felt he owed anybody anything. George R. R. Martin certainly doesn’t.

As time went on, and the podcast expanded to two other podcasts (more on that later) he kept making excuses for extras that were late, complaining about his health, his job, and his time, then closing to submissions, going on hiatus, and so on. I have no problem with that, but the way he said was in a self-deprecating way that it was clear he was taking too much responsibility and managing himself poorly. I don’t care that he went on hiatus or closed submissions — magazines do that regularly. What I do mind is that he felt the world was on his shoulders and said so periodically.

Eventually, he just threw up his hands with the EscapePod podcast and gave the captain’s chair to Mur Lafferty, a silky-voiced maiden of the writer and podcast community. I don’t know what he’s doing now, if he even has anything to do with EscapePod and its subsidiaries. All I know is I miss him. It hasn’t been the same since he left.

Mur Lafferty, hatless

Lafferty’s editorial hand marked a definite shift in the provided style, and I knew the end was coming when the last story that Eley bought was also the last good one. Not to mention that instead of doing a classic science fiction story for their 300th podcast, they did a promotional short story from Tim Pratt, a common author on EscapePod, that was a tie-in from a YA novel he couldn’t even find a publisher for.

The fact is I can’t stand the stories on EscapePod lately. The intros are the most interesting thing, but they go on for five minutes. Half of that is a biography of the author and plugs for the narrator. I can’t get through ten minutes of story until I’m totally lost because I haven’t been paying attention, because it’s been so boring. I declare to my car “I just don’t care” and click next on my MP3 player.

They’re plodding, they’re ill-formed, they lack interesting characters, and they seem — forgive my sexism — too girly. They feel more concerned with imagery and being literary than having plots and being fun. It’s like the stories have nothing at stake and don’t have characters that have pizazz. When Eley picked the stories, they were fun. Death Trap architects and guns that shoot advertising and time travel and alien bounty hunters. Eley liked fantastic ideas. But now it’s family problems and medical procedures with ethical questions and lots and lots of children.

I’ve got other things to listen to — Loveline, Writing Excuses, The Moth, and for fiction I’ve got We’re Alive, and audio books, so I’m good. It’s time to say goodbye to EscapePod, it’s just not as good as it used to be.

Line-Edits for Z Company

red pen corrections

I am in the middle of a new experience — making line-edits to a story so it’s suitable for publication. I thought this was something only done for books, but apparently short stories need it too… if they’re going into a book. Which makes sense.

95% of these changes are grammar-related. 40% of that 95% are easy — avoid an acronym here, take out a bad word choice there. The others require a lot of thought: weak sentence openers, avoiding past perfect tense, sentence opener variety. And as I make the changes I find myself questioning myself: does this make the story better? Is this what I meant to say? How do I change the sentence so that A) it avoids the error and B) still maintains what I meant to say?

For example, the main character runs a zombie contingent in the army. I refer to them as “the zombies”, as in “the zombies marched forward”. This is in place of “the men”, as I would have referred to them if I was writing about normal soldiers. The line-edits want to change this to just “zombies”. (“Drop the ‘the’, it’s cleaner.” – The Social Network) If I just refer to them as “zombies march forward” the take on the role of the mass-consuming normal zombies instead of the zombies with army discipline I want to portray them as. In my opinion.

But I am not the reader. And the way the reader reads the story and the way the writer reads the story are two different things. And ultimately, it’s the reader’s opinion that matters.

I want to integrate as many of the edits as I can. Every writer says when they follow the advice of other (more experienced) writers, it works out for them. But I worry about whether whether I’m making the edits the right way — whether I’m improving the story or screwing it up more. For example, there are a few instances where there’s a line with passive voice or past perfect. And I look at the line and think “I don’t even need that line”, and remove it. Maybe the editor thought it was a good line, just needed to be in the right format.

Some of the tips contradict what I was taught in school (numbers 10 and under should be written out in narrative, all acronyms should be written out in dialogue) or are no-brainers (avoid passive voice, format first person character thoughts in italics) and some are just things I know are a problem in my style, but just hard to get rid of (avoid past perfect, questions are asked not said).

If I can commit these tips to memory, I hope my writing can improve to the point where it’s even more publishable.

The Final Word on The Shine Journal

I sent my last blog entry to said editor of The Shine Journal. As you could read, it wasn’t an apology, it wasn’t a redaction. It was a re-evaluation. I don’t know what I was expecting for a response, if I was expecting one at all, but I would have liked it to be a bit more magnanimous than it was. Her tone was extremely defensive and proud. Maybe it’s all the Lamebook I’ve been reading, but it feels like adolescent behavior–can’t leave an issue alone, attacks all forms of disparagement, always has to have the last word, uses too many exclamation points

The first thing she said was that she doesn’t send any contract information because it’s already there on the website to read. So the onus is on me to find all this stuff? You can’t remind the reader? You can’t even include a link to where this info is? Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be paying me? Is it the employee’s job to find out how he’s going to get paid? Or is it the employer’s job to indicate how he will be paid? I know which job sounds better.

I don’t get what I said that was so insulting. The Shine Journal was plenty big for me… until a bigger magazine came along. Surely these people don’t believe they’re the biggest fish in the pond. They might act like you are, but if you have a simultaneous submissions policy, you have to expect this sort of thing to happen. And I might note that the big fish all have contracts. Does she know that not having contracts is not the norm? That not having contracts is kind of dangerous? That the whole point of contracts is to protect both the author and editor legally? And she said “I won’t help you out-read for yourself”. What does that even mean?

Before I regretted my words and the result they brought. Now I really don’t care if I’m blacklisted. This is not the sort of people I want to work with. And further justifies the decision I made. I have no regrets about putting The Shine Journal on my ignore list. I’m done with this immature back and forth. And that’s my final word on the subject.

Aftermath With The Shine Journal

I may have made a mistake. A big one. Maybe.

This refers to the last post I made where I compared “The Shine Journal” and “Sorcerous Signals”. First, I want to say why I said what I said. To me, the name of the name game is to get published. To get published you have to get noticed. You get noticed by getting into the big magazines. To get into the big magazines, you get into the small ones first. At least that’s my battle plan. The purpose of this blog is to track my progress and leave an account of what I did or how I did it. However, in doing so, I may have seriously sabotaged my ambitions. I made… a ‘boo-boo’.

What I wrote about “The Shine Journal” offended someone at… “The Shine Journal”. The editor wrote back to me, cited some lines I had written that described said magazine as being unprofessional. She told me that I should not judge the credibility of a magazine based on how it responds to acceptances, and should have been grateful for the acceptance. She said that “The Shine Journal” has been online three years, won awards, and was putting together a “best of” anthology. She said she does not send out contracts because she does not want to waste paper. She closed by saying that I was blacklisted from ever submitting to “The Shine Journal” again.

Of course, I never expected said person to come to this site. I always wrote this blog as if no one was reading. And unless I’ve got my Google Analytics set up wrong, no one is. The site got only 26 visits last month. Total. And yet, this one entry found its way to the editor of “The Shine Journal”. If I had published it a day later, maybe she never would have seen it. But it doesn’t matter.

What I’m saying is–everything you write on the Internet is there for everyone to see. You must expect that everyone is reading it. And thus, you must be careful of what you say. Visit Lamebook for some real life examples. A writer’s tool is his words and words can hurt. Perhaps using the word “legit” was incorrect. I did not mean to imply that “The Shine Journal” was a scam site. I’m sure it is not.

But words tell the truth, and I, as a fiction writer, have a duty to tell the truth. I never sought to besmirch “The Shine Journal”. What I did was I make an opinion. I had to make a judgement call and I called it like I saw it. That “The Shine Journal” would read such an entry, not to mention take action on it, never entered my mind. And it shouldn’t.

I thought a lot about it, whether or not I should reconsider what I post, my blogging style, in case someone doesn’t what I have to say. Someone with power. But that would be a policy based on fear, not on knowledge. I don’t believe I did anything wrong. I told the truth. I thought the way “The Shine Journal” handled my acceptance was not as professional as “Sorcerous Signals” did. I did not feel that they regarded me as an author, just as a contributor. I did not receive any form of contract or instruction on how I would be paid.

Think about it. If you have two job offers for the same position–one sends you a nice e-mail welcoming you to the company, here’s the company website, here’s a copy of our application policy, here’s a map of the campus, you go here to sign in, there’ll be a 2 hour tutorial before you meet your boss–and another e-mail that just says “you’re hired, see you on Thursday”. Which one sounds like the better job?

So I stand by what I said, although I’ve recast it here. You can disagree with it. You can take action on it. But you cannot and will not affect what I have to say. I find it ironic that the editor of a literary journal couldn’t handle criticism. I believe I made the right decision, both in which magazine to go with, and how I conduct myself on my blog. I can’t let the potential opposition stop me from saying what I want, as long as I’m honest and composed.

So what have we learned? Am I going to stop talking about my experiences with magazines and how they make me feel? Well… I don’t know. I’m definitely going to think more carefully about how I word my criticism, not just for the sake of my own career, but because word selection is an important skill in a writer, and should not be taken lightly.

Critters: A Glimpse of What Editors Go Through

Since I read so many books last quarter, I decided to pick a novel to critique on Critters. These usually take longer to read than a normal novel, but A) you improve your own writing by seeing what others do and B) it’s fun to cut other people down help others.

But I thought the experience was interesting because I got a glimpse of what editors see. There were ten novels on the Critters queue at the time I was looking. They were all crappy (as first novels should be) so I needed some criteria on which to judge them. First, which ones were actually smart enough to click the actual RFDR button? You didn’t? Gone. That eliminated half the candidates. Why they didn’t click the button is a mystery – maybe they intentionally wanted to you just critique this chapter, maybe they forgot. But I don’t care, I need reasons to fire the gun.

Next, read the first page of each. This one’s got long paragraphs that are nothing but introspection on character. Critiqueing it would take forever cause I’d be saying the same thing over and over: “This is not the story”. Another starts in the middle, so I’m not sure if I’d like it or not cause I can’t tell what’s going on. This one just doesn’t seem interesting. This one looks too complex to read. Then you find the one that’s the least of all evils. It says it’s YA so that means it shouldn’t be that complex or lengthy.

So this is probably what editors go through. They end up cutting a great deal of choices on technicalities alone. After that, its content and its rather easy to see if the book is for you in the first page. It’s especially transparent in new writers that have styles that are all over the place. I just hope I know what I’m getting myself into.

Avatar’s Ending Sucks

It’s been about five days since when I was supposed to be reading Avatar and now, yet, I still haven’t done it yet. I’ve been too busy obsessing over the niggling details that I feel are keeping my story out of publication (damn that editor guy). Mostly the ending. From what I remember about my critiques, about half thought it was too “deus ex machina” and the other half didn’t say anything, so I’m tyring to think of something more significant, something more resonant. But everything I come up with still reeks of some third party coming in and fixing everything. I can’t figure out how to end it that sounds good, and keeps with my theme of working together (and so it doesn’t sound like the ending to every Disney sports movie ever). I’ve tried thinking of sacrifices, magic spells, interference, I’ve tried looking at the ending of all the movies I’ve seen recently (you ever realized the three endings of Lord of the Rings end very Deus Ex Machina too? Gandalf comes riding in, Aragorn avoids fighting the massive army because the ring manages to get destroyed). Just nothing’s clicking for me, and it’s depressing. Maybe that’s why I’ve been avoiding it, I’m too scared of what I’ll see. I’ll realize that the story really sucks and sending out would mean the end of my career. (“Jesus, this makes the Eye of Argon look like Dickens.”)

Writers are notoriously needy, can’t you tell?

There are some edits that are considered to be… unnatural

One more thing about yesterday’s topic. The editor/not-editor in question said at the end of his e-mail that writing means having to do homework every day for the rest of your life.

Now this is a trend I’ve found in some advice-givers, that they try to discourage you for no apparent reason by preventing some bleak view of the task. In this case, he’s trying to discourage me from writing by saying that it involves doing a negative activity… FOR ALL ETERNITY (ominous thunder). Why would he say such a thing if he didn’t want to turn me away from the position? It’s reverse psychology, like army training. “If you can’t swim, you don’t deserve to be at the beach”. No one wants to do homework for the rest of your life. He never says that writing means creating fascinating universes and characters, and making people happy and entertained.

I think this is the result of a man who’s become bitter and hateful, having made a job of reading crap for a living. I have no love for those people, because they chose their profession. If you choose to do something, even though you knew about its consequences when you made the decision, and then complain about those exact consequences, it makes me stabby. I hope that this guy isn’t representative of editors as a whole.

It’s plenty of fun to be evil, I’ll admit. Nothing would please me more than telling the girl I just critiqued that her story is awful – it fits a standard cliche perfectly, the characters are propped up on popsicle sticks, and my unborn child gives me more fear than the ‘nameless evil’. But that’s the dark side of the force. That doesn’t help anyone become a writer.