Sunday, December 18, 2005

Writer's Group Christmas

Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers had their annual Christmas do last night, and as usual, it was a lot of fun. Besides the usual mingling and joking and grazing-around-the-snack-table you find at any party, ours features two organized components: the gift exchange and the reading of story fragments.

I scored The Superhero Handbook in the gift exchange, which is a less cutthroat version of the Dirty Santa everyone seems to be playing nowadays. We put a limit on how many times a particular gift can be stolen, both to avoid hard feelings and (with over twenty people playing) to keep it down to a reasonable length of time. Funny thing: I've done this three times, and the same person has ended up taking my gift twice. I also love this person's writing, so apparently we have very similar tastes.

Of course, given that it's ostensibly a group of writers, the highlight of the evening is the reading of story fragments. The contest as described to me the first time was "the first three pages of a longer work." The idea was that they would read the fragment without a name, and people would try to guess who wrote it.

I was new to the group my first time through. I didn't really have much written that I wanted anyone to hear that first year, so I printed off the first three pages of a screenplay that I'd written years before and submitted that. The fragments ranged from good to dreadful, but nobody else was dumb enough to submit a screenplay fragment, so almost everybody identified me as the author. One thing I learned was that, while some people grabbed the beginnings of old stories out of their inventory, many people just wrote the fragments from scratch specifically for the contest. For some people, it's the only writing they present at meetings all year.

Last year, I thought I might pull a fragment from some dreadful short stories I wrote in college (one common element of many of the fragments was that they were intentionally bad), but they were just too painful to look at. So I wrote sword and sorcery action sequence, but with an Asian martial arts flair (I've since tried to expand it into a full-length story, but my intended ending sucks, so I found myself slowing down and never quite reaching the end).

Something very strange happened that year, though. Several of the entries were spookily similar in theme. Turns out that a bunch of people had decided behind the scenes to write on the same subject in order to needle one of the other members. It was funny, but as usual, I was out of the loop on that joke. The other really notable part of the fragment contest that year was that there were a ton of fragments submitted; IIRC, there were eighteen, which took a long time to read aloud at three pages apiece. So there were noises made about restricting the length the following year.

This year, the president of the group tried to have lightning strike twice by announcing a theme for the fragments. However, apparently some people felt too restricted by having the theme chosen for them, or maybe people were just busier this year (I know I was), so this year, instead of eighteen fragments, we only had six. And instead of trying to guess who wrote what, we just voted on which one we liked best. Mine didn't win, but it did get a few votes, so I felt pretty good about that.

I will say, though, that the theme as I originally heard it stated was disaster movies like "The Core," based on bad science. Mine was the only fragment that specifically referred to a large-scale disaster, so in my heart, I think I won. I may put it up here in a day or two, just because. And I may also have a special surprise a day or two after that.

Other than the few votes I got last night, I've been feeling pretty unloved as a writer. I supposedly sold "AstroMonkeys" to Baen's Universe, but have received neither contract nor check yet. I keep worrying that they're going to change their minds and reject the story. Maybe it's irrational, but I think I'll feel that way until I have the check in hand. Meanwhile, I still haven't heard anything from Writers of the Future. They were supposed to inform people 8-10 weeks after the close of the quarter, and it's now been eleven weeks. I was talking to one of the members, who said the longer you don't hear anything, the better, as it means that you've made it through to the later stages of judging.

Then Matt, who was a winner last year, jumped in to say, "No, they've changed that. Now they inform the finalists first, then everybody else." So now I'm back to "Oh crap, I have no idea." I just wish they would tell me something. I keep checking the mailboxes (e- and paper) and not finding anything. It's so pitiful.

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