Snow Daze

We are slowly digging out from the recent snowfall.

Because I’m no sexist, my wife did all the shoveling.

My favorite round of American Idol just wrapped up: Hollywood week. Since I’ve already looked at it from the perspective of writers and editors, Hollywood week is like having whittled down the slush pile down to the stack of maybes.

Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones are my early picks, which means look for one of them to be knocked out with four weeks to go. I still haven’t forgiven America for bouncing Tamyra Gray in season one (the showdown should have been Kelly vs. Tamyra).

But what is with the guy nerdfest? (Though I’m rooting for Sundance Head)

Oh, and my new Intake column is up. A few thoughts on “Black History Month.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

American Idol: the Editor’s Dilemma

If the American Idol auditions are like writers submitting their stories to a slush pile, then that would make the judges the equivalent of editors. I want the record to reflect that I want all of my editors to be as drunk as Paula Abdul when reading my stories (you hear that Sizemore?!? You too, Puglisi!). Let me tell you, if I had to read the equivalent of these auditions as slush, I’d be drinking, too. Heavily.

What kills me is how frivolously some people take their opportunities, though I try to take the American Idol auditions with a grain of salt since, after all, they are mostly teenagers. Here you have judges dressed like normal people and you have people showing up in costume in the name of standing out. If we want to talk about being professional, this is the same as sending in your manuscript on colored paper or sticking glitter in the envelope.

Here’s the thing, editors have a job to do. Just as the Simon Cowell et. al. are searching for the most marketable talent, editors are trying to find stories they want to publish. They have magazines, anthologies, and web space to fill and want to find the best stories to do so. They especially want to be the ones to break new talent. They aren’t the enemy and aren’t out to get you. Realize that you are not the exception: read the guidelines and submit your best work. Sure, you might get a rejection letter from them, but if you’re lucky, you will get feedback from them also. Feedback aimed at why your story didn’t work for them and how you can make your story better.

So then how do we as artists respond to our judges, critics, or editors having to reject us? Too many are quick to respond with “they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re a frustrated [insert vocation of choice]”. Worse, they put that response in print and hit the send button (much less those who do it on camera on American Idol), fearless as to how many bridges they may burn, due to their lack of professionalism, in the process. We have to remember, it is only that editor’s opinion that matters … but only for that market. (And it’s funny how we respect/crave their opinion before the audition/submission, but their opinion holds no water should you flop). To quote Nick Mamatas from a Shocklines discussion:

I don’t think musicians or fine artists or automotive manufacturers or chefs should respond to their critics either, except insofar as defamation may be at issue (e.g., a review claiming that a safe car is unsafe). The reasons are simple:

1. It doesn’t matter. What can one say? “No, my book is scary! My flavor pairing were appropriate! My car does make your penis feel larger!” There will be no persuasion, so one may as well save one’s energy.

2.The public has a right of response and responses will always be varied. There’s no substance to negative complaints about the response because of this diversity of response.

Now, reviews can be poorly written, and God knows that in genre fiction they frequently are, and the public has a right of response there too. But when the only complaints one can make is about reviews of one’s own work, it becomes transparently obvious that one is just whining and cares nothing about reviewing itself as an art or craft. A writer can respond to reviews as a reader of reviews, and talk about reviews generally, but shouldn’t complain about his reviews.

If you have to respond, and I mean, if the voices in your head won’t leave you alone until you say something to your reviewer, at least keep it to e-mail (actually, it’d be best if you wrote that e-mail, printed it out, and put it in your trash can). What you really don’t want to do is go to message boards griping about your review. You will only look like a cry-baby (and you can probably consider that reviewer site dead to you).

American Idol” judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul say they’re no crueler than usual this year, and that people who audition should know what they’re going to get.

I imagine that editors reading a slush pile probably do sound a lot like Simon. Thank God I’m not actually at ground zero when they are reading my stories. All I have to put up with is the occasional self-addressed stamped envelope with a rejection letter in it. (And I know how to take rejections, even from friends.) At their first stop, the judges picked 17 people to move on to the next round out of 10,000 applicants. That’s a worse average than most slush piles (where, at the risk of antagonizing yet another editor before I submit to them), where it’s close to 1 story in 100 moving up the editorial ladder. Our job as writers is to be that 1 in 100.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

American Idol: the Writer’s Dilemma

So because we run Creative Space on Tuesday nights, it fell on our family to record the season premiere of American Idol so that some of the participants would be able to still feed their addiction. We can sacrifice many things in the name of ministry, but not American Idol. My wife and my sister, who love the show (and, frankly, far too much reality television) would never let me hear the end of it.

Welcome to my corner of hell.

Anyway, suffering through another season of A.I., I was once again struck by the similarities between the whole audition process and submitting a story for publication. In fact, I concluded that watching the auditions is the equivalent to reading a slush pile.

This season, like in seasons past, we were baffled by the amount of people who don’t recognize their own lack of talent. Granted, they might be tone deaf, but you would think that they would have friends or family who weren’t. How do people who claim to like you not inform you that you are the worse thing to happen to, well, sound? It could be chalked up to an inflated sense of self (the end result of going through life with people coddling each other’s self-esteem), it just seemed interesting that (plants aside), the worse the singer, the more adamant they are that they are good. Or it could be as simple as people hearing what they want to hear. I ran across an interesting study from Cornell.

… according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

This deficiency in “self-monitoring skills,” the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market — and repeatedly lose out — and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Part of screwing together the easy courage to stand in an audition line (or write and submit a story for publication) stems from the idea, spoken or not, that anyone can do it. Anyone can sing. Anyone can write. Not everyone can do so well (contrary to the evidence proffered by the number of crap CDs and books churned out each year). I don’t know what the writer’s equivalent to tone deafness would be. Maybe believing that everything you write is gold. Maybe it’s the inability to take constructive criticism.

Whenever a contestant begins by naming their credentials, essentially the same as a writer’s submission cover letter, and they can only list things like “I’ve had ten years of training” or “I’ve been doing (singing in this case) all of their life”, all I hear is the writing career equivalent: “I’ve been giving away my stories on the Internet”, “I’ve paid a company to publish my story”. All the lies we’ve bought into in the name of garnering exposure.

Interestingly enough, the last stage in the process is the part that counts the most: the actual product music itself. All the gimics, persona, and costumes in the world aren’t going to help you if in the final analysis, you have little to no discernible talent. Artists of all stripes need to find their own, distinct voice. Not picking up an affectation or doing a pale imitation of another artist. It has to be more than karaoke (the writing equivalent might be fanfic).

If nothing else, respecting the audition process should teach all aspiring artists to make the most of opportunities when they come up, be they auditions, pitch sessions, or new markets. Take them seriously and professionally. Be yourself, be confident, but let your work speak for itself, because in the end, it does.