Vincent Price

Dark They Were

A very nice person gave me a collection of Ray Bradbury stories while I was in Chicago for World Con this year. I picked it up last night. It's been a long time since I read Bradbury's short stories. A long time. I've re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes about a zillion times along with Fahrenheit 451, but I haven't touched his short stories since I became a writer. I'm glad I'm re-reading them now because... wow. His work always slams me. It makes me think in new ways. And me being me, I tend to run completely diverse experiences together when I get in that mind-set. You see, I caught the beginning of The New World,* and it made me think of how terrifying an experience that must have been--setting foot on totally foreign land without any knowledge of the people or the land. Then yesterday, I read a blog post about an American woman's experience of living in Japan.** (She lived there twice.) She talked about the loneliness and the culture shock she went through and how tough it was even when she was prepared and was fairly fluent in Japanese. (Standard Japanese--which wasn't the dialect spoken where she lived.) She talked about identity and how living in a foreign culture made her aware of how culture affected her identity and how she expressed that identity. Those things steeped in the back of my mind. Then last night I picked up Bradbury's short stories and read Dark They Were And Golden Eyed. It's a haunting story about a group of settlers stranded on Mars. Eventually they lose their identities as Earthlings and evolve into Martians. When the ships return they don't even recognize the colonists. "What happened to the Earthlings we left here?" The colonists themselves don't even know. It's a masterpiece. It made me think of Roanoke. It also made me think of when immigrants hit American shores and when exactly that change takes place--when they cease to be immigrants and transform into natives. It made me think of why similar immigrant groups cluster together. (Hell, wouldn't you? It makes perfect sense to me. To do otherwise would be horrifically lonely and terrifying.) It made me wonder why Americans didn't have more sympathy for those making that transition. Because DAMN that's huge. Hell, I had a rough time with moving from Houston to Austin on my own, and that's nothing. Anyway, I think xenophobic folks should read that story. And think twice. Compassion costs so little.

Made good progress on the novella yesterday. It seems to be moving along nicely now. I think the Bradbury book is going to help get me in short story mode. I'm also seeing my story through less harsh eyes, and realizing that the writing group that had originally critiqued it really wasn't the right one for me. At the time, I wondered if I was merely being egotistical and/or just couldn't handle having a Romance writer's feedback. All the folks in that group are great people, and I like them very much. However, I see now that I made the right decision not to stay. Because some of the things that I was told to rip out--that I was told were wrong and as a result I'd stopped doing elsewhere--are some of the best parts of that story. All in all, good critique groups aren't easy to find. You can love the people in them very much. They can be lovely and knowledgeable writers too. And they can be absolutely wrong for your writing. You can't stay in a group that attempts to change your chosen identity as a writer. Learn from one another, yes. Change and grow, yes. But those are very different things from being forced into directions you don't need to go. Also? The adaptability needs to be both ways. I think that's why I find critiquing so difficult now. I worry. I know I'm not the best at it. This is why I'm a writer and not an editor. These are two different skill sets. Mind you, critiquing is different from teaching. I love teaching with every fiber of my being. I learn so much from it. Critiquing is just... harder for me. It's still good for me. It's just more difficult.

Teaching is watering a seed that's been planted and encouraging it to grow. Critiquing is a form of sculpting. It has more in common with bonsai gardening. Doing it well requires compassion. It's good to remember. This is also why I flinch when asked to critique. I'm just not compassionate enough. But I have to keep trying. Giving up just isn't an option.
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* I didn't get far, I'm afraid. The narrative was just too loose for me. I kept getting lost in spite of knowing how the story goes. That's never a good sign.
** Sadly, I can't even remember who wrote it this morning. Ugggh. Sorry about that.

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