A close friend had a birthday recently. I gave her a print copy of one of my pen name novels. I didn’t mention that I wrote it. I thought she would either figure it out, or I’d just let her know when she told me later how much she loved it.
Well, she really did not love it. Didn’t even like it. She asked if it was one of those “DIY things”. She didn’ t like one of the main characters. She didn’t finish the book, she didn’t even get very far through it.
Huh. And I thought I’d written something that was compelling and engaging with strong characters. My first readers enjoyed it, but then, they knew it was written by me.
I have to remind myself that taste plays a big part in someone’s reading – despite being someone who reads some thrillers, my friend is probably not part of my target audience. I guess I might also need some training in the art of giving. Maybe next time I’ll just a get her a voucher.
As I progress through my “year of writing pulp”, I’m certainly learning a lot about myself as a writer. As with any writer, I have ups and downs and I have stories that are more successful (in the storytelling sense) than others. Sometimes it’s easy to feel down when a story isn’t working out. I begin to wonder if I’ll ever have another decent story in me. I guess I’m always measuring against my last best story. And that may be two or three (or more?) stories back.
The reality is that (as with most writers again) I feel like I’m getting better in general. See the graph of story quality here, with the zero to one hundred as the quality measure and the left to right as progress over time. In the early days most (ie, all) of my stories were lousy (say, a fifteen on the quality scale – at least they had reasonable grammar), but over time I’m getting better at the process of storytelling. Sometimes I stumble a little and drop down the quality line, but the general trend seems to be towards the upper end. (You understand, of course, that the ‘quality’ graph here is a purely arbitrary thing, for the sake of illustration. It’s not something I can measure in a scientific way).
This thought perhaps comes out of struggling with a chapter of my new novel that felt dead and lifeless and was a struggle to write; and then going into the next chapter which almost burned up my keyboard it was coming out so fast and easily. A novel is different to a story (that dull-ish chapter has a place in terms of pace and the mindset of the character), though I can see how some of my stories might have been dullish in places (or right through).
Pace is still something I’m learning about – recent rejection letter feedback suggested that one of my longer stories, while very good, did “drag quite a bit in quite a few places”. That’s kind of the opposite to some other feedback on another story (an accepted one – “Pan Am 617 Heavy”, which you can read here at Bewildering Stories) that pointed out (rightly) that the story was “somewhat relentless: the action is non-stop and neither the characters, nor the reader, seem to get a moment to breathe” (I’m paraphrasing those comments here). That kind of feedback certainly informa how I’m looking at my action/pulp stories now: time to breathe without dragging. It seems like good writing advice all around.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to improving on my last best story.