Friday, May 30, 2014

Writing for Other People

"On This Site in 1987, Nothing Happened". Vacation photo from the Casablanca restaurant in Los Angeles.
Hi everyone. I was away on vacation for the past week, visiting California with family. Later I may write a blog post about it, but first I want to talk about a topic that has recently become important in my life: writing for other people. By that I mean writing a story for another person on request, the plot to their specifications. It's very much like commissioning a work of art in words, and you can even do them for birthdays or for Secret Santas during Christmas. Other times you can do them for an anthology, or when ghost-writing for a well-known author. This post will cover these various options.

First, writing for your friends and family. I find this a personal pleasure because people usually give me ideas and a lot of flexibility. My writing has recently improved over the past year as well, so I usually don't skimp on plot or implausible resolutions. The friends who read the tales appreciate that someone took the time to pay attention to their ideas, to expand on them and create a small world in which unique ideas and requests exist.

Let me turn to two varying examples. On May 4, my story "The Soothsayer" was published in Sorcerous Signals magazine. I hope that anyone who can donate to the magazine will, because it was an honor to have editor Carol Hightshoe choose my work. "The Soothsayer" was written for my friend and fellow author Corissa Glasheen, who was suffering a rough week and a sick day. She asked for a story about a psychic whose power involves dead people, and that it was all. I wrote a tale that fit the bill, albeit one that also involved the Sleeping Beauty story and talked about kings and queens. Carol Hightshoe liked it as much as Cory did.

For her birthday last year, Cory asked for a story about cosplaying, or dressing up as your favorite fictional character. I wrote a complicated tale about a cosplayer designing a Big Ben costume, Big Ben being the clock in London. Half the people who have read the tale, including Cory, love it; the other half dislike it because they have no idea what's going on. One day I'll figure out how to revise the story so that it doesn't confuse the other half, but it fills my heart with pleasure to know that Cory enjoyed the tale.

Cory is one of the most poetic young writers hitting the South Florida atmosphere, so you should totally read her blog and story in the upcoming Flux-Fiction Anthology
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Matt Anderson and I have had some soul-searching discussions on the topic, for reasons that I'll mention below. He and I agree that we should write to please ourselves first, and to write for friends if you can and they like your writing but he and I differ on what it means to write for other people that will pay you for your work. Here I am referring to anthologies, or  "a published collection of writings (such as poems or short stories) by different authors" according to Merriam-Webster online.

Anthologies often center around a given theme, from shape-shifting to supernatural prom nights to bad kisses, and rely on unique author voices to tell different tales. Most fantasy and science fiction authors have contributed to or created various anthologies: Bruce Coville of Unicorn Chronicles fame has assembled about half a dozen, as has Jane Yolen, Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. Neil Gaiman recalls how an anthology prompt saved him from a weekend of writer's block in his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, and Justine Larbalestier blogged with glee about the fictional battles between zombies and unicorns in their titular anthology.

Not making this up; this anthology exists. I'm Team Unicorn.
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Cory was kind enough to introduce me to a local fantasy author Philip McCall II in the fall. After reading the first chapter of my wolf novel, Phil asked me and Cory if we could contribute to his latest anthology, Flux-Fiction Volume I. He made the same request to Matt after reading one of the latter's short stories, liking the writing. He gave us each a prompt, a character from his God Gates universe, plot outlines and a reasonable deadline. After the emails with such information, Phil then made himself available on Facebook so that we could ask questions and even provided visual references for some of the characters.

It was quite a new experience, receiving permission to write about another author's characters and to not have to slap the fan fiction label onto my story. Having an established continuity and characters, much like when writing fan fiction, helped ease the writing process because I only had to make up the details. Knowing that the author had given us each a tremendous opportunity increased pressure, however, since we were putting various spins on his beloved characters.

 Phil kept encouraging me however; he had chosen us to write because he believed in our prose. He knew that we could come up with powerful narratives, nerves aside, and that we would turn in our stories before the May deadline. As a writer himself, Phil also knows that encouragement keeps inspiration and creative determination alive; when I sent him my story's first thousand words, for example, he sent back a raving response and mentioned the excerpt on Facebook. Knowing that he enjoyed the prose so much gave me the confidence to finish, and to write an action-packed, bloody tragedy. It was a great joy to know that such words could come from my fingertips, and that the story pleased more than one person. Matt and Cory's tales are also amazing, and I have read enough of V.B. Kennedy's prose to know that her story will be a hit.

I like writing for other people because I can make them happy, and because the most delicious words arise from such a creative challenge. Knowing that I can rise to the challenge makes me excited for more writing prompts, like from Eggplant Literary Publishing for their children's magazine Spellbound. It also makes me excited to write a new tale for Cory this year for her birthday, to see what ideas will emerge from her requests.

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