Danielle L. Parker writes about...
The value of Bewildering Stories
Don & Bill,
You know, one of the reasons I’m really proud to be associated with Bewildering Stories is that I know of no other venue of any kind that really and sincerely tries to help, improve, and tutor writers. A great deal of time and effort is put out on the parts of the review readers and the Review Board. And it’s a thankless job, for the most part.
I guess that’s what separates the amateurs from the eventual pros: they can learn from good advice. I am reminded of Jimmy Stewart, the actor (I read his bio: very interesting). He always considered and winnowed advice for its true value. When he was critiqued for too much of his aw-shucks style, he listened and took on some tougher parts. Some of the best Western movies ever made came out of that hard look he took at his own work.
One other thing I’ve learned: it’s not just that we have to learn the mechanics. That’s the easy part. The hardest thing to confront as a writer is that we sometimes write to fulfill our own needs and inner conflicts.
And yet we often don’t want to confront that. Or sometimes writers simply have this fantasy of themselves as a writer that they’re acting out. When our own needs drive the stories we write, that makes the stories personal, and critiques hurt us in ways we can’t admit even to ourselves.
But when a story goes out of control, it’s like a singer whose voice cracks. There must be craft. When it comes right down to it, you can put all the emotion and inner needs you want in a story, but the ultimate goal is to entertain the reader. You have to generate an impact on your reader or you’re just acting out self-indulgent or self-deceiving fantasies in print.
We’re not mentioned in Locus or by the SFWA; and Gardner Dozois et al regularly snub us. But gentlemen, sit in the easy chair tonight and feel proud of yourselves. You’re part of a good thing. Others may not thank you, but I do.
Copyright © 2010 by Danielle L. Parker
We thank you, Danielle! We’re proud you’re with us. Your book reviews alone make Bewildering Stories an important website. They regularly provide a model for reviewers to aspire to, one that is engagingly personal, informative, and above all, professional.
As our Bewildering Info page says, we have an educational mission: “We’re not just an electronic magazine; we’re a meeting place and, at times, an on-line seminar.” That’s the opportunity our Forum offers, and it’s what goes on behind the scenes, with the Review Board.
However, you and Bill and I and the Review Board and our Associate Editors are not gurus of literary orthodoxy, far from it. Our job is to represent the readers to the authors. And if we feel a submission doesn’t work, we never blow it off with a mere “It didn’t grab me”; we say why it won’t keep readers “on the page.” Every submission obliges us to re-examine our preconceptions.
Our job also consists, then, in recognizing new approaches that do work, whatever they may be. In that regard, Tantra Bensko’s advert for her on-line experimental writing courses is interesting. We welcome new points of view, and Tantra has come to the right place. Is Tantra a Post-modernist iconoclast challenging our Modernist orthodoxy? I’m sure Tantra doesn’t think so; she’s an old friend of Bewildering Stories.
Experiments typically fail. The experimenter usually says, “What the... Now, how did that happen?” And that’s where we try to help. But sometimes experiments succeed. In this very issue, we have two examples of fiction in an “experimental” mode: Nikki Alfar’s “Adrift on the Street Formerly Known as Buendia” and Sarah Ann Watts’ “Wicker Unicorns.” The two stories are very different in style, but the styles are no affectation, something done for its own sake. Rather, the prose has something in common with such poetry as Marina J. Neary’s and John Stocks’: it says a lot directly and economically.
All successful stories have a meaning beyond themselves. And they all have one thing in common: to discover and reveal a truth. In a sense, our job is to help the stories take form, and to clear away whatever gets in the way.
Thanks again, Danielle — for your reviews, your stories, and for your help as a review reader. You’re a vital part of Bewildering Stories.
Copyright © 2010 by Don Webb