Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Write1 Sub 1 Read 1

When I attended Clarion several years back, our first week instructor (the late, great Tom Disch) asked a simple question. "What have you read lately?" A no-brainer, right? Well, it sent a shot of unease through many of us, because the simple truth was that we hadn't read all that much. We'd been too busy writing and learning about writing and trying to be noticed as writers, to actually sit down and read a lot of short fiction.

I can still see his raised eyebrow and hear that gregarious laugh. The truth, he told us was that we should not expect to become short fiction writers if we didn't read quality work, lots of it and from a variety of perspectives. How could we aspire to excel at what we did not understand intimately? How could we expect others to respect what we, ourselves, did not?

He didn't say all those things explicitly, but that's how I've come to frame the issue in my own mind. At the time I subscribed to Asimov's and F&SF and a few smaller press offerings, but I hadn't read through an issue in quite some time. I was supporting the field financially to the degree I was able, but I wasn't supporting it in spirit. Science Fiction, in particular, has a tradition of writers building upon each other's work, and readers strengthening the field by adding their voices to the discussion within it.

These days, with so many online venues publishing so much short fiction of varying quality and ambition, I wonder if we've lost some of that spirit, if we've become so focused on having our own voices heard that we sometimes forget to listen to others, to react to their ideas in thoughtful ways and thereby build our own ability to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. Drive by comments for our friends are one thing; substantial reactions to the works of strangers quite another. The latter can be the ones that stretch us into better writing, more nuanced thinking, stronger works.

One site where passionate discussion remains a reality is Every Day Fiction. An excellent (and high-paying) market that encourages participation is Daily Science Fiction. In fact, a great many venues make comments possible and provide forums for lively discussion of published works. Which of these do you participate in? How often do you read outside your comfort zone? When is the last time you recommended a story that was written by someone you did not know and had never read before?

These are worthy goals, I believe. Therefore, my challenge to you (and to me) this week is to read one or more publications you have not read before, find a work you respect by someone you do not know and have not read, a piece that deserves our attention for its craft, characters, ideas, etc. and post the information here in the replies. Include a link to the work if possible (the name of the market if not), and a brief description of why it deserves respect. When my next turn at blogging comes around, I'll post a summary list of the stories we find. No limitation on type of story; in fact I encourage you to read outside your normal bent. If you write horror, try romance. Science Fiction? Give literary a shot. Do you mostly write flash like me? Find a strong novella at Beneath Ceaseless Skies or Lightspeed.

Join me, won't you? It will be fun.


  1. Yes that would be great, Steve. When I started writing I had a problem reading for enjoyment. Every last story I read was filtered through my brain: 'How did they do that?'

    But I'm slowly getting two reading styles together. One for fun and one for analysis.

    I'm going to try for a literary story.

  2. Good advice, Flash Master. I've branched off from my usual online reading of late to plow through The Year's Best SF anthology. It's been a great way to see the stories that have sold to the major markets; and unlike my speculative work, they're strictly SF. This one's been my favorite so far:
    "Shining Armor" by Dominic Green

  3. This is a really good post! Since joining W1S1, I've been introduced to some new writers and genres I don't usually read - sci fi, haiku - and blogs, too. Just clicking on some of the other participants is a great way to start discovering some new friends and favorites.

  4. Yep, reading is definitely good :)

    My problem is that i'm a very fussy reader, and i'll often start a short story and not finish it for one reason or another (if only i could write short fiction to that same level of fussiness).

    But, i'm slowly breaking myself of that habit, and i'm doing so by reading more, rather than less.

  5. I read Every Day Fiction, well, every day. And DSF twice a week or so.

    I've been meaning to check out Andromeda Spaceways. Will go ahead and buy a PDF of the latest issue as a way of accepting Steve's challenge.

  6. I love to read. I used to read a lot as a teenager and my parents always emphasized on good grades and not too much time for reading for the love of it. Then after getting married, for a little while I did read for the fun of it. Once I became a mother, my kids were my focus. Now that they are on their own I can read and write. I try and keep my writing very precise. I do have a need to get my words out. My kids like to read and want to write, but their time is taken by their jobs and some reading. So it will take for ever for them to write.

  7. I read constantly and could recommend scads, but a story I read just today really moved me. It's a finalist for a British Science Fiction Award this year, and it first appeared in Interzone.

    I guess it's a novelette at almost 10,000 words, but it doesn't feel very long. The story's called "Flying in the Face of God," and it's here to read: