Saturday, November 26, 2011

To Lighten the Mood...

I was doing my almost-daily crawl of the damnyouautocorrect.com archives when I stumbled upon this gem. This is what I imagine dirty talk between two aspiring writers sounds like...

Monday, November 21, 2011

No Dice

So I got my answer from Daily Science Fiction today on the story they shortlisted. Surprisingly, it was a form letter.

Oh well. Onward and...onward?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shortlisted; Also, Where I've Been

To all my eFriends, writing buddies, and folks who just like following my blog for blog-following's sake: I'm sorry I've been away for so long.

I'm especially sorry because I haven't actually been away. I've been right here! I haven't been checking in because I haven't been writing a ton of fiction. Instead, I've been doing a lot of writing for Bleacher Report, a fan-sourced sports journalism site. I've been able to share my thoughts on sports and society for thousands of people while also auditioning for actual paying jobs in the field down the road. No, it isn't the most traditional way to go about it, but there are pundits writing for various major networks, and indeed even appearing on television, after having only their experience at Bleacher Report on their resume, so it isn't so far-fetched to think I might be one of those lucky few.

I have been doing some fiction writing, though, and just this evening I received a bit of thrilling news: I have been shortlisted at a major pro-paying market! (Full disclosure: I am too superstitious to write the name of the market here; when I hear back, one way or the other, I'll tell you who it is. And yes, I am aware of the irony of being a superstitious atheist). I've only ever been shortlisted once before, that time by Flash Fiction Online, but they didn't tell me until after the fact--and it was a rejection--so it didn't have the same oomph that this one does.

Half or less of their shortlisted stories make it into publication, they told me in the brief email, but this is better odds than I started with, and certainly the best news I've heard in a while on the fiction front.

So, that's what's been up and what's going down. I'll try to check in more often.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

REMIX!

When I say "remix," I don't mean it in the Gwen-Stefani-Meets-Eminem, skull-thumping-techno-infused remixes you hear in the club; I mean in the literary sense. 

Say what? 

I was watching this interview with China Mieville the other night when when mentioned the idea as it related to his own work. He said that he has always been suspicious of Director's Cut versions of films and books (he cited Stephen King as a literary example, and his knack for rereleasing a book 20 years later with 20 thousand additional words), but also that he is intrigued with the idea of rewriting his own work ten, twenty years later, just to see how it comes out. In other words, a literary remix. 

I was dumbstruck. Honestly, the idea of rewriting one's own work years later has never even occurred to me as something people might do...which is strange, I suppose, since one of the things writers spend most of their time doing is rewriting and retooling their stories. I guess the reason it's so odd to me is because China wasn't talking about rewriting broken stories; he was talking about rewriting good stories, ones that he'd finished and sold and had published and collected massive royalties on. He's talking about rewriting "Perdido Street Station," for example, as an experiment just to see what would come out. 

I find the premise fascinating, to the point where I wish I had stories old enough (and successful enough, for that matter) to remix. What about you? Do you guys ever do this? Have you ever wanted to? Do you have stories old enough or at the very least distant enough from you now that a completely blind rewrite would interest you? 

I'm curious how those would come out, even if just as an experiment.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Doesn't It Figure?

Just received this email from The Absent Willow Review:

To our readers,
It is with a heavy heart that we announce the Absent Willow Review will be closing its doors. Our last issue will be published on October 16, two weeks before our three year anniversary. It has been an amazing run and we are honored to have worked with so many talented authors and artists. To say that this was a hard decision would be an understatement. We would also like to thank you all for your support and encouragement over the last three years. It certainly made a difference and encouraged us to keep our doors open for as long as we did.

With that being said, our last issue on October 16 will include all stories which have been accepted by us for publication. The site will remain open until December 1st.

Keep Writing!
Kind Regards,
Rick & Bob
The Editors 

 Awesome. The most respected market I've been published in will only feature my story for less than three months before it closes its doors forever.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"The Machine" Is Live!

Head on over to The Absent Willow Review and read my soft sci-fi jaunt "The Machine."

If you don't want to, I'll understand. I'll give you a purple nurple, but I'll understand.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moving On

This probably won't be a popular post.

Today is the ten-year anniversary of arguably the worst day in American history, 9/11/01. In light of this, there have been a hundred tributes, from the President and First Lady walking through the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed, to celebrity-laden TV specials, to over-the-top on-field ceremonies at stadiums across the country. And through it all, I can't help but wonder if I'm the only one in the world who is absolutely appalled by it.

Nearly 3,000 human beings lost their lives that day, and before the dust settled, there were pins and patches and logos meant to "commemorate" the terrible event. For a particularly embarrassing and uncomfortable time, the media couldn't quite decide between "9/11" and "9-1-1", the latter having an obvious and cruel double-meaning. It's been an industry virtually since Day One, as outlets have not stopped trying to out-Remember each other, with the aid of increasingly ridiculous graphics and melodramatic vignettes. It's as though these producers sit around in an office all day sifting through pictures of people looking sad and lost in the chaos. And for what?

I understand and appreciate the memorial built on the original site. I think it's a bit vulgar to make a monument of the footprints left by the buildings, but I get it. What I don't get is the need to rub the horrific images in our face all day every day for weeks and months leading up to today, and today most of all. I understand the desire to remember the dead, for it is in the memories of others that we live on, but there is a difference between remembering and constantly being reminded.

My grandfather died when I was a baby. My mother chooses to remember him by sharing stories of him--his life, his loves--with us. It's how she copes and how she honors him. We do not now, nor have we ever, commemorated his death. The day he died was one of the darkest in my mother's life, and she, like any normal person, remembers the man that was her father, not the heart attack that killed him. We don't wear pins over our hearts or shine a spotlight on his seat at the dinner table.

It's all too much. I ran out to the store today to grab a couple of liters of soda for the football games, and I was tempted to wish the clerk a "Happy 9/11", not because I'm some sadistic prick, but because the farce this yearly occasion has become borders on celebration.

I don't think I have any stupid or intellectually dishonest followers, so I will speak plainly of those who would call my complaints crass or without compassion or, god forbid, unpatriotic: Please try to get it through your tiny brain that I was just as devastated as you were on 9/11. I am not some young flag-burner with an instinctual anti-establishment bent. I'm every bit as American as you. It's just that I find these "memorials" to be soulless rating grabs at best, and grotesque tragedy-worship at worst.

9/11 isn't a day to commemorate. It isn't a day to remember, it's a day to forget, to put behind us forever. We should celebrate the efforts of the first responders who selflessly gave their lives, the blessed charities that make lives easier on the families left behind by the victims of the attacks, the average citizens who sacrificed just because it was the right thing to do. That's what we should remember, not the tragedy itself.

I hope someday we get our priorities right.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quick Book Review: Blood Meridian

Earlier this year, I read Cormac McCarthy's more recent The Road and was totally blown away by his unique style and gift for impossibly deep insight. He is sparse with commas and altogether forgoes quotation marks in favor of a muscular, challenging prose that forces you to hold on tight lest you lose the thread.

Challenging though The Road was, Blood Meridian makes it seem like a lazy Sunday skim. For one, replace the familiar plainspeak of the vaguely modern people of the former with the frontier tongue of the mid-19th century latter. For many, can't becomes caint, apostrophes become nearly extinct, and the analogies and metaphors often reach plateaus so dizzying you'll have to stop and re-read them once, twice, three times before you can really appreciate their weight.

If you are a writer, this book (and everything McCarthy writes, for that matter) is required reading. He will expand your vocabulary while shrinking your waistline as you sprint endlessly between the book and your thesaurus. Most of all, though, you'll realize that Rules are for Fools, and that Story wins above all. McCarthy doesn't simply disregard these norms and standards, he peels them off like dead skin and slaps you upside yo' head with them.

But be warned, this is not a friendly world. Fans of "realistic" fantasy such as Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire will never look at those books the same way after they see one of Glanton's killers walk out of an adobe holding two infants by their heels and slamming them until their brains spill in the clay. All the more disturbing is how commonplace these events are, and how little regard men can have for their fellows once they've convinced themselves they are dealing with things less-than-human.

There are expriests and judges and professional scalpers, killers and madmen and suspected pedophiles. There are places that seem touched by divination and men who are less than gods but something more than man, all seen through the eyes of a young man known only as the kid. I'll tell you no more for fear of setting you off in the wrong direction, as this novel is a desert that you may easily get lost in. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unbearable Authors

I have, over the past handful of years, frequented a few internet forums dedicated to the discussion of writing. For a long time, I was a mainstay at Writer's Beat, and had a great time talking shop with some great people. I especially enjoyed the Prompts & Challenges section, which really helped me get on track as a fledgling writer who didn't really have a method or a voice yet.

My experience at The Hothouse, an invitation-only writing group comprised mostly of Writer's Beat alumni, was short-lived, but invaluable in the sense that it taught me how to critique the work of others as well as my own. But it also showed me that some writers can be absolutely unbearable.

I suppose I should have expected it, since writers are just people, after all, and capable of being just are rude, mean, and snarky as anyone else. But there was something just so bohemian about the community that I never saw it coming.

I soured to the community experience (as I've discussed on this blog, at some length) and decided to strike out on my own again. To my dismay, I discovered that writing isn't the solitary experienced I had imagined it to be. I missed the shop-talk, the sharing of ideas and plot premises, the adulation that comes from your peers when you announce the completion of a story (or the acceptance of one, though at the time I had only one of those experiences). I missed discussions on the philosophy of writing, the way each writer's foibles made them wholly unique among their peers.

So I found Write One Sub One. Not a forum, but a community of like-minded bloggers sharing in the Great Experiment of writing and submitting one story every week (or month) for a year. That's where I met people I consider eFriends, like Milo James Fowler, Deborah Walker, Adam Callaway, and Simon Kewin. So impressed by this cast of characters was I that I joined up at Absolute Write, which is sort of a Writer's Beat on steroids. It was there I met even more great people, such as Nathaniel Katz, Lydia S. Gray, Shelley Ontis, and others.

But just today, I encountered my first truly rude Absolute Write member. The backstory is this: Early this month I began a fantasy story that didn't seem to have any fantasy elements to it. So I went to my forum-going friends and asked "What makes fantasy fantasy?" Having heard their opinions, I thanked them and announced I was comfortable calling my very unfantasy a fantasy story. Somewhere along the way, a member (whom I regrettably only know by handle, which is defcon6000) disagrees with the consensus, and begins a rousing debate. Then today, I find this post by another (nameless) member:

OMG. Just give the freaking story a second moon, a magical sword, a princess with an un-lockable, rusting chastity belt, and a blood drinking unicorn and be done with the genre indecision

Also, either debate GRRM OR finish your book, one or the other. It won't really matter whether it's fantasy or not if all you're concerned about is Stark politics and miniseries.

(It should be noted that during the course of the debate, other sub-conversations had branched off to the topics of the HBO series Game of Thrones, and the book series it is based on)

 Setting aside the fact that I had already announced I was more than comfortable calling my story a fantasy, what sort of comment is this? In what way does this help? I understand that some people employ the boot camp method to themselves and maybe even to their writing proteges, but I certainly didn't ask for it.

I'll never understand why some writers are like this. If it's simply a matter of being tired of the discussion (which this person had not participated in at all prior to this post) then just ignore the thread!

I don't know, I guess I'm just not cut from that cloth, but I find that kind of behavior deplorable. This person is obviously under the false impression that I'm still asking for help, which makes their attitude even more appalling.

So, if there's a point to this post today, it's that you should not, under any circumstances, be THAT writer, the one who feels the need to take out their own personal frustrations on their peers. You're better than that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quick Book Review: The Last Kingdom


The BookThe Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Skinny: Young English noble captured and raised by invading Danes while they conquer 9th century England down to its very last kingdom: Wessex. Struggles between his English heritage and his (way more awesome) Danish raider/Viking lifestyle.

The Good: Political intrigue on par with anything George RR Martin has ever written, and in much fewer words; Some laugh-out-loud moments; fist-pumping action sequences; excellent prose that thankfully avoids page-long descriptions of food; Conclusion is satisfying while also making it clear this is to be the first in a series;

The Bad: It's historical fiction*

This is the best book I've read in 2011, hands down. I've read McCarthy, Martin, Mieville, Abercrombie, and  VanderMeer, and this one tops them all. It has a pace that pushes you continually forward, a prose that is beautiful without being self-indulgent, and has a wit that you just can't find in fantasy--which I like to think of as the nephew of historical fiction.

I list historical fiction as a negative (with an asterisk) only because the genre does come with some limitations. For one, we know, despite young Uhtred's desires to drive a sword through Alfred's belly, that he ultimately never will, because Alfred does not die then, nor ever at the hands of the Uhtred. But it isn't a disappointment, because there's plenty of killing to be done, and there's enough healthy speculation that other notable historical figures kick the bucket in awesome ways.

If you're a fan of fantasy, I think you will like this book, because you'll see the history your favorite fantasy authors draw their ideas from. You might be saddened that there are no dragons flying about, but there's enough mysticism, superstition, and religious fervor going around that you might just forget you're reading an historical. If you're a writer of fantasy, you should absolutely read this book, and farm the hell out of it, because that's what you're supposed to do. But above all you're going to like this book because it's a ripping good read!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Quick Book Review: A Dance With Dragons

(WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THOSE STILL READING PREVIOUS BOOKS)

If you don't know the story of how A DANCE WITH DRAGONS finally came to be, I won't bore you with the  details, because there are plenty of other places to read about it, including from the author himself. Suffice it to say, it was a maddeningly long wait for those who have been here from the start. For me, it was only a couple of years, since I came to the series late. Thankfully, I was only left half-mad by the wait.

As for the book itself, well, how could one not be disappointed? We've been given years to get our hopes up. Unfortunately, the problems are more than just unrealistic fanboy expectations. Most of what made the previous novels great--breakneck pacing, nailbiting tension, cliffhangers at the end of every chapter--are gone. There are a few shocking moments, and some tension to be found, but these moments, overall, are rare. Too rare.

Dany, Tyrion, and Jon Snow are all back in full force, but for 80% of the book, nothing of any particular interest or import happens to them. There are 15 other POV characters crammed in between the star trio's chapters, but those are equally disappointing. Victarion Greyjoy, for example, has a rather stirring arc in the book, but absolutely no resolution is offered, so it feels incomplete (obviously). At one point, a very important man is accused of attempting to poison Dany, an accusation which become central to Barriston Selmy's POV chapters, but despite getting resolution to that arc, we never find out if the man in question was guilty, or even if the food was poisoned at all!

I can only come to the conclusion that the Great Split was unnecessary. Dany, Tyrion, and Jon did not need 500 pages between them to tell this part of their tales. Most of what happened in Meereen was window dressing, and did nothing to serve the story. Had Martin given himself a year to figure out where he was going back in 2004, he probably would have come to the same conclusion. So instead of getting FEAST in 2005, we would have gotten a better, complete A DANCE WITH DRAGONS in, say, 2007? Maybe 2008? No matter, it would have been preferable to this.

If you've read the series, I can't NOT recommend this novel, so obviously go and read it if you can. And I certainly can't dissuade new readers from picking up the early books, because they truly are masterpieces. Just be warned that DANCE is not the novel we had hoped for.

Still Alive

It's been a while, so I thought I'd drop in and say 'ello to all the bloody wankers who follow me little blog. I'm still here, still alive, still writing.

The past couple of weeks have been kind of hectic. My younger brother came up from Florida to stay with me, and we've decided to extend his stay an extra week, so I've been really busy entertaining (not literally can-canning for him or anything, but, you know) and spending most of my free time writing.

On that front, things are well. I'm over 6,000 words into a fantasy short (which is looking more and more like a fantasy long) and about two hundred words into a quirky little piece of flash I'd like to have finished up in the next couple of days. The flash piece is interesting, mostly because I had kind of unofficially retired from flash. Not because I don't enjoy it, but it just seems like nothing wants to stay under a thousand words anymore. And the things I've written that do manage to limbo beneath that number tend to lack the things that make a story a story, like character development or coherent plot. So, like any good quitter, I quit writing it. Yet just last night, I get struck with this incredible idea and had to start writing.

That's when I found out something odd about myself: It seems I write in proportion to the story. What I mean by that is if I'm writing a 5-thousand word story, I can sit down and write a thousand or two words in one sitting. If the story is flash, I can write a hundred or two. Is that weird?

Anyway, just wanted to make sure this blog didn't die, because I know there's nothing worse than having a dead blog weighing down your blogroll. So, there, that's my public service for the week. Year? Possibly.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Update Shmupdate

Well, it's been a week since The Absent Willow Review accepted my well-traveled short story "The Machine," and I really haven't come down from the high yet. I've suffered one rejection since (of course) but I've also finished and submitted another story, and we all know that new stories have a cleansing quality about them.

While I have officially backed off of the W1S1 challenge, I'm still using it as something of a yard marker as I go about my writing. And with all of the W1S1-created stories I have out in the slushiverse, I still feel like part of the family. To their immense credit, nobody over at the Absolute Write forums has kicked me out of the W1S1 lounge.

Yet.

Speaking of W1S1, my April story "My Ray Gun and Me" is still out at a certain market that shall remain nameless, and pretty well beyond the expected response time listed on the website. I've queried to see if they can get a move on, but have yet to hear anything back. Hey, I understand being busy, but queries should get priority.

Blink-Ink has yet to get back to me regarding the Blink-Noir issue. The confirmation email I received in May said they would be reading for the issue in June, but we're more than halfway through July with no answer. Have you or anyone you know submitted to this market, and if so, have you heard back?

In an unusual twist, most of the stories I still have out have, at least according to Duotrope Digest, outlasted other submissions that were sent in more recently than mine. I have been told that this is a good thing, that it could mean I've made it to the "Maybe" pile, but I (obviously) don't know how true that is. It's certainly a change of pace from when I first began submitting work a couple of years ago, as those stories tended to come back well under the expected response time. I think I mentioned before, AWR, the market that just accepted "The Machine," once rejected a story of mine in one day. And it wasn't the first one to do that, so I guess this can't be bad, right?

Okay, anyway, I haven't been able to give a positive update since I joined W1S1, so let me get to it.

Written
Thomas Jefferson (3600 words)

Subbed
Thomas Jefferson (Machine of Death Vol 2)

Rejected
Summer of Change (Electric Spec)

Accepted
The Machine (The Absent Willow Review)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

One Hand Giveth...

Well, I spent about a day and a half walking on clouds after the sale of "The Machine" to The Absent Willow Review, but I knew at some point the writing gods would remind me what it's like on terra firma. That brings me to my latest rejection for "Summer of Change," one of my last W1S1 stories.

Last? Let's say latest. But in truth, I don't see W1S1 in my near future. I had planned on giving a few excuses involving my hectic personal life, but I don't need excuses, I need reasons, and the reason I'm taking a break from W1S1 is because I just don't see the same quality in my W1S1 stories that I see in my other writing. I re-read "The Machine last night and found that it's better than anything I've written in months. Not that the idea is necessarily better than, say, "Summer of Change," but it's more polished, has a better narrative flow. There's a voice that I don't have in the other work. It's no coincidence that "The Machine" has been revised (not rewritten; revised, polished) three or four times.

I'm not a quick writer, and I've found that the longer I stay in the challenge, the more difficult it becomes to meet the deadlines. I moved from the monthly to the weekly challenges because I thought it would light a fire under me--which it did--but ultimately the same thing happened, and I spent more time worrying about getting done than getting it done right

Things could change, of course. They usually do. 


Monday, July 11, 2011

Short Story News

ACCEPTANCE!

After a total of 8 rejections and 396 total days in slush piles across the nation, my short story "The Machine" will appear in the September 16 edition of The Absent Willow Review--a market, by the way, which once rejected a story of mine in one day. Yes, that's right: One day.

I can't even begin to describe how thrilled I am by this. My only other full-length short story to be published suffered no rejections before its acceptance at Midwest Literary Magazine, so this is the first time I've had one of my stories get kicked around until it finally found a home. I've always been proud of the story, and it is immensely gratifying to know it has finally found a home. In a way, I'm sad in a way, because this is the end of the line for a story that I really loved, and often tweaked and tinkered with until I felt it was right. Well, the time for that is done, and it's bittersweet. It's really awesome, of course, but in its own way, it's kinda sad!

But I have to admit, I needed this. I haven't posted here lately because I really haven't been finishing stories. I'm still writing, but the W1S1 challenge really hasn't been my focus. Just feeling generally gloomy lately, I guess. But this is just the tonic I needed!

Now back to work with me!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

W1S1 Check-In: Week 25 (Week 4)

It's 4:30 in the morning on Sunday, which means I have nineteen and a half hours to left before deadline, but the truth is that I just don't have anything near enough to finished to warrant waiting for this update, so here goes. Despite a whole lot of writing, I only have the one, very short, short story to show in terms of completed fiction. I finished that way back on Tuesday or Wednesday, so the last few days have been spent trying to improve the time-travel story I said was finished last week, but turned out to be wrong about. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I began writing a short story with my brother, which has actually become my main focus. EDIT: Wow, I almost broke my rule and started talking about the story. Durp. Anyway, here's the breakdown:

Written

Black Tooth/White Tooth (350 word flash)

Subbed

Black Tooth/White Tooth
The Bright Walk (non-W1S1)

NO! WE DON'T WANT IT!

Black Tooth/White Tooth (Mud Luscious Press Online)

OMG I CAN HAZ STORY?!

Nuttin.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Congrats, Adam Callaway!

The very first time I saw the term "PRL" was on Adam Callaway's Sensawunda blog. In fact, it was the only author blog I had ever read besides George RR Martin's Not-A-Blog over at Wordpress. The idea that a grinder, an amateur like me would keep a blog was something of a revelation. The thought had never even crossed my mind before, but here I was enthralled by the journey of this one, average (though not in talent) guy.

His blog inspired me to do one of my own. His posting of every rejection he received inspired me to be accountable to myself by being accountable to my (potential, and, at the time, imaginary) followers. So if you like what I do here, you can thank Adam Callaway. 

Anyway, I just found out that Adam has made his 2nd pro sale, the first to the award-winning Locus-recommended Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which just so happens to also be his dream market. It could not have happened to a better writer, a harder worker, and though we have not always agreed on things, I could not be happier for someone than I am for Adam right now. So congrats, buddy! You deserve it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

He Ain't Heavy, He's My New Writing Partner

Well, it's only Tuesday, and this week is shaping up much like last week.  I've already written and subbed a little 350-word jaunt, I''m still working on last week's finished/unfinished story, and I've even started a short story to be co-written with my younger brother Ben. 

I'm particularly excited about that last bit, because Ben has been the one guy (now that he's nearing his mid-20s, I think it's safe to call him "guy" as opposed to "kid") that I've been able to share my journey with as a peer. Obviously W1S1 is a great community, and the people at Absolute Write are just amazing, but there's a different dynamic in sitting down and rapping with a fellow writer over a cup of coffee. Last night on the phone (Ben now lives in Florida, of course, after I've just said all that) he pitched me an idea he was tossing around for a short story, and I returned his volley with the idea that I think we should finally jump over the freaking broom and write a story together. 

I don't know how long the project will take, but I doubt it will come together in just one week, so that won't be my main focus for W1S1. I've technically already gotten the challenge completed for this week, but with all this time left, I'm sure I have another good yarn in me. Back to work!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

W1S1 Check-In: Week 24 (Week 3)

Well, it's the end of my third week in the W1S1 weekly challenge, and this was by far the best one yet. As I explained in an earlier post, my creative juices were a-flowin' from Sunday to Sunday, and for all of that, I have two stories written, and one of them already subbed (to TWO different markets! SIMSUB LIKE A MUTHA!)

Anyhow, the second story should be all tidied up and ready to sometime within the new few days, so I shouldn't get too late of a start on next week's story. Here's the breakdown:

Written

  • "Mirrors" (short story)
  • unnamed short story


Subbed

  • "Mirrors" (x2)
  • "Summer of Change"
Accepted 
  • Wah wah wahhhhh
Rejectulations
  • "Summer of Change"  (Arcane)
And for once, everything on the list was written during the challenge, so that's nice. I feel like the challenge is finally starting to pay dividends. Not so much in the sales department yet, but in getting more stories down on paper...er, screen. I dunno, we're going to have find a new saying. 


Saturday, June 18, 2011

100th Post Extravaganza!

Okay, not really. But for whatever it's worth, the reason it's been so quiet here lately is because I was HOPING that I'd get an acceptance, or some other good news, that I could use as a nice commemoration of this historic post. Unfortunately, all I got was a rejection, and a bunch of crickets. Oh well.

I know the official check-in for W1S1 is tomorrow, but I do want to share that after a pair of so-so weeks, production wise, I've bounced back with a pair of stories this time around. I'm not entirely sure I'll be able to have them both ready to SUB by tomorrow, but both are drafted, and the first of the two (entitled "Mirrors") will definitely meet Mr. Slushy before the deadline.

I don't know what happened this week. The past couple of weeks have been rife with broken stories, bad ideas, or no ideas at all, and all of sudden I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Literally, I've written two stories this week, and if not for the "sub 1" aspect of the challenge, it's entirely possible I'd be well on my way to a third, since I already have it on deck and ready to bat.

Simon Kewin told me that the weekly challenge sometimes felt like being on a treadmill, so I wonder if maybe my muse is finally trained for this kind of work. I guess the best judge of that will be next week, won't it?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

W1S1 Check-In: Week 23 (Week 2)

Blech.
Great start to the week, a not-so-great finish. Started out with a from-scratch rewrite of an old, previously non-w1s1 story entitled "Magic Words" which I wrapped up in a couple of days. By Thursday I had a new story near completion, but for whatever reason I just wasn't feeling it anymore, and now I'm pretty sure it's headed for my "Bits N Pieces" folder.

I did manage to sub two stories this week, however. "The Machine" went out again, which, if you recall, is my most well-traveled story to date. It's been in the slush pile of another magazine for over 70 days, which is 40 days longer than they say to wait for a response. My query has gone unanswered for over a month, and so I've decided that I'm sending it elsewhere, and if this market wants it, well, they better hurry the hell up. 

Once again, there are no acceptances or rejections to report, so the wait continues. I have a knack for amassing three and sometimes four rejections in a week, and I have a feeling that another week like that is on the way. Or maybe I'll get four or five acceptances! Fingers crossed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

1000 Nights Check-in

I originally planned on updating my 1000 Nights personal challenge every day, then realized how much of a pain in the butt it might be, as well as how annoying ti might be to anyone following the blog, so I nixed that idea. Then I thought I should update every week, but even that creates some problems. 1000 nights in 7-day increments? I needed something rounder. So the new plan is to update every 10 days, so there will be a nice, even amount of updates.

Then, in all the excitement of finishing my first w1s1 weekly story yesterday, I forgot to update my reading. And so here we are, with an update for the first 11 days, rather than 10. Oh well.

Anyway, here is my list of poems and stories read (or reread) over the last 11 days:

Fiction:
Different Skies by China Mieville (Looking for Jake)
The Piazza by Herman Melville (The Piazza Tales)
By the Waters of Paradise by F Marion Crawford
The Masque of Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe (First Project Gutenberg Collection of E.A.P)
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe (First Project Gutenberg Collection of E.A.P)
The Lonely Song of Laren Dorr by George RR Martin (Dreamsongs Vol II)
Ponies by Kij Johnson (Tor.com)
Scales by Alastair Reynolds (Lightspeed)
Dust Bunnies by Jeremy C. Shipp (The Chiaroscuro)
Grandpa's Bluetooth by Milo James Fowler (Liquid Imagination)
Museum Beetles by Simon Kewin (The Journal of Unlikely Entomology)

Poetry (by author)


TS Elliot
Gerontion 
Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar


Walt Whitman
Scented Herbage of my Breast 
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand 
On Journeys Through the States
To The States 
To A Certain Cantatrice 
Me Imperturbe


Edgar Allen Poe
The Bells
The Raven
Ulalume


Snot too shabby! 11 short stories, 11 poems, 11 days. My favorite poems were easily the Walt Whitman ones, as evidenced by their number, but you can't go wrong with Poe or Elliot. Of the Whitmans, my favorite was Whoever You Are..., because it's a poem that speaks directly to the person reading it. Very nifty idea to go along with beautiful imagery. I'm no poet, and I don't really know "good" poetry, but I know what I like.

As for the stories, I think my favorite was "Dust Bunnies." Deeply moving, slightly disturbing. One of those stories that leaves you with a sensation rather than an opinion. A close second was Simon Kewin's "Museum Beetles," actually. Strong imagery, rich characterization, and plenty of wonderment, including (but not limited to) the ending.

Given the scope of this challenge, most of the stories and poems I read will be available free of charge, or at least in the form of anthologies as opposed to magazines. This is out of necessity, as I am not a rich man, and cannot afford to fatten up on back issues of my favorite magazines. For example, only two of the stories I've listed here require a purchase--those being the stories by George RR Martin and China Mieville--while the rest are available for easy reading online (I've included links for those) or for easy download via Project Gutenberg (do the digging for those yourselves, ya lazy bums!). So now that you have no monetary excuse not to participate...watcha waitin for?

Better Late Than Never, Write??

It came down to the wire, but my first weekly w1s1 story is done. Finished. Finito. Also, subbed. Honestly, it would have (read: should have) been finished mid-week, but I was under the weather, and nothing stifles my muse like a little sick.

But all is well now (including me), and I have a 4,500-word story, entitled "Summer of Change", sitting on a slush pile somewhere. Nyet too shabby, comrades. 

 No rejections to report, thankfully. But no acceptances, either. Oh well. Onward and upward to the next storahhh! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May? More Like "Meh"

The old saying, "April showers bring May flowers" seems to be reversed in may case, at least in terms of my literary output. Well, perhaps "output" is the wrong word; I've put out over 10,000 words of prose in May...the problem is that I haven't been able to put them together.

Two different stories reached word-counts in the thousands, and both ended up in my Sucky Stories bin (as in folder; I never throw anything away). The only story I actually managed to complete this month was a bit of Twitter fiction entitled "Disposition in situ", which I'm surprisingly proud of, despite it's size (boy if I had a quarter for every time I've said that). I'm still not sold that Twitfic is really fiction, even though I won't complain, as it suits me to look the other way, at least for right now, but I think at some point we'll have to reevaluate things. I almost want to say that it should be considered poetry, though I'm sure there are poets who would cuff me for that. Anyway, that's another topic for another day. Today is for my writing and subbing.

Speaking of subbing, that's one thing I did very well this month. Nine (count em': 9) submission have been made since May 1st, which is a new record for me. And what's more, only two of those nine subs was one story being resubmitted, so, if I do the math correctly, that means....carry the six...divide by the circumference...seven! Seven stories made their way out, which is another of my personal bests.

All this excitement, you'd think I'd have gotten a sale somewhere along the way, but sadly, I did not. Oh well, there's always next month!

Oh, and speaking of that, as of next week, as I said in my last post, I will be moving up to the weekly W1S1 challenge.

Here's the breakdown:

Written:

Disposition in situ


Subbed:

Disposition in situ 


Back in the Day

(Non W1S1 Subs)


The Bright Walk

The Last Dragon Dancer (x2)

...And Other Significant Junkies

The Liar

Rejected:

Back in the Day (Fiction Collective; anderbo)

The Bright Walk (ChiZine)

The Last Dragon Dancer (Fantasy Magazine)

Friday, May 27, 2011

1000 Nights

When Ray Bradbury offers advice to aspiring authors, what comes out is less advice and more instruction manual. I'm not surprised that such a prolific author takes such a regimented approach to his craft; rather, I'm surprised by just how simple it is.

Write a story every week, or thereabout. 

Quantity over quality? Not quite; Bradbury simply believes that if you write enough, eventually you're going to come up with something worth publishing. "...at the end of the year, you have fifty-two short stories, and I defy you to write fifty-two bad ones." Nor can it be reduced to a matter of monkeys pounding away at typewriters; practice makes perfect, and Bradbury's theory is just a clever spin on the advice all writers worth a salt give: Keep on writin'! 

This rather specific method is the basis for the Write1Sub1 challenge I'm currently participating in, and if you follow my blog, you're familiar with it (and there's every chance you're a participant). And it got me to thinking: Is there a yin to his literary yang? Bradbury believes that every good story is a metaphor, thus every good writer is a metaphor machine; and given that he believes good writing is a skill learned and honed rather than god-given (so to speak, said the atheist), it stands to reason that he'd have a method for us newbies to become said machinery, does it not? 

As it turns out, it does.

In the video An Evening With Ray Bradbury, the then-80-year-old Bradbury challenges the young writers in attendance to "read one short story, one poem, and one essay" each night before bed, for the next 1000 nights. Why a thousand? I have no idea, but who am I to question the master? 

If you have time to watch the video, it's worth the 54-minute investment. If you don't have the time, then I'll shorthand it for you: Writers have to work at their craft, and they have to work hard. There are other ways to go about it, sure, but when a titan of genre fiction lays out his plan, why not give it a try? 

(Note: There is much more to the video than Mr. Bradbury telling you how to go about becoming a better writer, but the opening "Writer Hygiene" portion is very cool) 

So that's what I'm going to do. I will omit, for a lack of time (and, dare I say, interest), the essays, but I'm actually going to try reading at least one short story and one poem per night. And to make up for skipping the essay part, starting next week, I am going to join the Big Boys & Girls and do the Write1Sub1 challenge properly: One story per week, for 52 weeks. 

Each week, along with my W1S1 check-ins, I'll also list the week's reading material, just to stay honest. If you think you have the time and energy (and resources; my reading list by necessity includes quite a bit from the free Project Gutenberg), feel free to join me!

Monday, May 23, 2011

(Not Quite So) PRL: ChiZine

Dear Joe,
Thank you for thinking of ChiZine.com. We have read your fiction. Though the submission was interesting and well-written, after consideration it has not been chosen for publication. Best of luck placing your story elsewhere. Please think of our 'Zine again when submitting your work.
Sincerely,
The Editors 

 Yet another rejection for the pile.

Oh well. Time to find another market!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May at the Midway

Well, we're two weeks into Write 1 Sub 1 for May, and things are already a bit more fruitful than they were two weeks into April. If you recall, I spent most of the month pouring thousands of words into a story that I eventually abandoned last-minute, and wound up writing two shorter pieces in the last week to beat the deadline.

This month I decided to tap the well of previous endeavors by rewriting the pre-W1S1 story, "...And Other Significant Junkies". This was after cleaning up another oldish story, "The Last Dragon Dancer", and sending it out. That, along with other stories I have making the rounds, makes for five subs this month already, which is only one less than I had in all of April, and one of my most productive months ever, at least as far as submissions go. Is it a coincidence?

I don't think so. I'm telling you, having a goal, even if it's something small like one story written and one story subbed per month, is a huge help. It's like an outline for your career, and that kind of accountability is very important for someone like me, who can never seem to stay focused. If you're reading this and you haven't tried this challenge yet, do it.

The one negative is that you'll get your share of rejections. I've had three total for the month, but it's all good. You just give it a hug and send it back on its way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ambition vs Ability

I have a story to write. I have a premise, and a couple of characters, and the vaguest semblance of a plot. I have a climax, and something like an ending. I have a beginning and a middle, too.

What I don't have is the nerve to start.

I'm afraid that I am not up to the task of writing this story. What I have in my head elicits the same emotions and images of beauty and darkness that I've seen in the top magazines and anthologies, but I don't know if I can make it work on the page. I'm afraid to even try. What if I ruin it?

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever held on to a story for fear that you won't do it right? Actors have stage fright, and "performance anxiety" has become a euphemism for erectile dysfunction, so what's our neat little term? Hackaphobia? Trite Fright?

Literary Shrinkage?

Help me out here. What do you do in those moments of doubt, when you're not sure you're good enough?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Well That Sucks

So I'm doing my nightly "Duotrope Dive", which is where I go to the listing and website for every market I currently have a story subbed, and click around and read stories and check news updates, etc.. So I get around to Macabre Cadaver, which is where I currently have "The Bright Walk", my vampire story, in the slush pile, and I see CLOSED beside the listing.

Hmm. Odd.

Not TEMP CLOSED, as one of the other markets where I'm currently subbed says, but CLOSED. Just...CLOSED.

Inside the actual listing is the warning "DO NOT SUBMIT HERE."

Hmm. Double odd. So I go to the site and I see

www.macabrecadaver.com
August 2008 -- May 2011
RIP

That's it. No "Sorry to all of our readers," no "We're releasing all of the stories currently in our system," no nothing.

I feel like I should have known something was up, now that I think about it. I visited the site about a week ago to check the status in the online submission manager, and didn't see my story. But I figured, hey, what the frig do I know? and just ignored it. I KNOW I submitted it (there was a whole forgotten password situation, so it was all rather memorable), so I figured maybe this was just part of their process. It hadn't really been long enough to query, so I just decided to wait it out. 

And now this. 

As I said, I was there no more than a week ago, and I don't recall there being any warning for this. Maybe I missed it? No matter, is it so much to ask that at the very least something be posted on the farewell page beyond "RIP"? If they don't want to tell us why the market is closing, they aren't obligated to, but for all of the writers currently waiting on the fate of the work, wouldn't it have been appropriate to at least apologize for the sudden exit and wish us luck elsewhere? 

I don't know, maybe I'm wrong here, but that chafes me raw. I'm very sorry for whatever brought about the end of that market (with one of the coolest titles in the business, by the way), and I don't mean to make this about me...but it's kinda all about me! 40 days I waited for a response, and it's a damn good thing I Duotrope Dive at least a couple nights a week, otherwise I might have waited 40 more. 

Anyway, I guess it's time to find a new slushpile for my baby. I wonder--does this count as my "Sub 1" for Write 1 Sub 1? I'll have to check that out.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dis and Dat

I received a couple more rejections on my pair of flash stories (will go into more detail at the end of the month), but otherwise things have been pretty quiet on the slush front, which would explain my relative silence. In fact, I don't really have much to say right now, but I didn't want that last post to be the headline any longer.

Well, maybe that's not true; I've been doing a bit of plotting and outlining, actually, for a novel that I hope to begin writing soon. Seeing as how I'm more of a "feel" writer than a nuts-and-bolts guy, I've never really given plotting or outlining a try. This should be an interesting experiment. And so far, so good.

What else? Oh, I finished "DYING OF THE LIGHT", the debut novel by George RR Martin from way back in 1977. Definitely not his best work, but worth a read. The plot wasn't as tight, and the prose not quite as flowery as his later novels (namely the Ice & Fire series) but there were moments that very much hinted at the then-young writer's potential. He has a knack for giving races, places, and people incredibly imaginative names, and there are times in this book where he's just flat-out showing off.

I originally picked up "DYING" after setting down Carmac McCarthy's "BLOOD MERIDIAN", which I only set down because I had just finished his more recent "THE ROAD", and needed a pallet cleanser. Now that I've had it, I am right back where I left off with McCarthy's classic, and I'm sorry I ever stepped away. Not only does he break all the rules and write unlike anyone else (no one uses commas as sparsely as this man), but there's no one better at making you feel every word of the prose. Seriously, if you haven't read this man yet, get to it. You will feel worse about yourself as a writer, but it's the good kind of hurt, trust me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Got 'Em!

I don't normally use this blog as a soapbox for my opinions on politics or social issues. I avoid it because it isn't relevant to my writing, but also because a blog is such a narrow frame that I could be easily be defined by my beliefs should I make them public, and I have no interest in that. I'd rather people get to know me by my journey as a writer, because that's all that really matters in this context. 

However, I am an American, and the news of Osama bin Laden being killed in a raid in Pakistan affects me deeply. I was 20 years old when we were attacked, and working at UPS in the weeks and months after, in a time when many of us were afraid of further attacks--the anthrax scare was particularly frightening for us in the shipping industry. I, like so many others around the world, have spent the last ten years watching videos of Osama firing assault rifles, hugging his cronies, celebrating the deaths of my countrymen while calling for more attacks. It has felt as though he was behind all of the bad shit that went down over the last ten years, even though I know this isn't true. Whether it is intentional or not, he has become the face of terrorism. 

I am against the War on Terror. I know that, much like the War on Drugs, it is a useless fight that can't be won. You can't kill an ideal, and you certainly can't kill an ideal with troops and missiles. I think our government has exploited our grief, anger, and fear stemming from 9/11 to make money for oil companies and weapons manufacturers, and, in turn, the politicians in bed with those interests. But I can't deny that I have hated Osama bin Laden since that day. The images of the burning towers, of people involuntarily jumping to their deaths from eighty stories because they could no longer stand the heat and the smoke, are still fresh. I'll probably never forget them, or ever completely get over them. I still cry when I see the footage of firemen covered in ash and dust, and my blood boils when I see New Yorkers fleeing giant clouds of fallout from the falling towers. 

There's a very big part of me that is absolutely stoked that this scumbag is dead. I'm proud that my country never gave up looking, even ten years later. It's a sign of how stupidly stubborn our policies are, but in this case it works. I mean, look at the footage: this is a unifying moment in our country's history. And in an odd bit of irony, it's 66 years to the day that Adolph Hitler's death was announced to the world. 

It's unfortunate that bin Laden's death does not mean for the War on Terror, or for the world at large, what Hitler's death meant. I think in the weeks and months to come, that reality will sink in, and it'll suck. I think it has been hard to divorce Osama from the War on Terror, too easy to see him as the catalyst rather than the trigger. We've been told that he's likely not even an active participant in today's Al Qaeda operations, due to his having to avoid phones and internet access, but I don't know that it has ever really dawned on us that his death really doesn't change anything. 

But maybe it will. Maybe the same people who have supported this war from the beginning will realize that it does't matter how many of them you kill, how many figureheads you take out, you can't kill the idea, and their appetite for war will sour. Maybe seeing just how usual business is for Al Qaeda following their spiritual leader's death will weaken our resolve, and make us realize that tanks and guns and unmanned drones aren't going to solve the problems in the Middle East. 

Here's hoping. 

But in the meantime, I'm going to celebrate this one.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

W1S1 April Results

Well, April is at an end (how?!) and I figured I'd join in with the rest of the Write1 Sub1 world by posting my progress for the month, both regarding the contest and my other projects. So here goes:

Stories Written in April: 2 

My Ray Gun and Me
Back in the Day

Submissions: 5 


My Ray Gun and Me (2x)
Back in the Day (2x
The Liar


Rejections: 3


The Liar (from March submission, Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
My Ray Gun and Me (Lightspeed Magazine)
Back in the Day (Word Riot)


Acceptances: 0  :(




Still no luck. It has been over a year since Midwest Literary Magazine accepted "Goldie" to be a part of their February issue, and I'm really starting to miss that buzz I got when that email arrived. It wasn't long after that when I found out they had included me in their print anthology, which was arguably even more cool than the online magazine, and not all that long since I placed in Spectra Magazine's microfiction contest, but neither quite felt like that acceptance.

Oh well. One of these days.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rejected: Lightspeed Magazine (3)

Lightspeed Magazine almost taunts aspiring writers with its title, which, if you've ever submitted there, you know to be a hilariously grim pun on how quickly they send your story back rejected. They just passed on "My Ray Gun and Me", which was my w1s1 entry for the month. This makes my third No from Mr. Adams.

I'll crack that market one of these days, John Joseph...

In other news, I've actually accomplished my goal of getting in TWO stories for w1s1 before the calender turns. I banged out a neat little 300-word piece of flash today that I hope won't have much trouble finding a home. It almost feels like cheating, writing something that short, but there are plenty of markets specifically for that kind of prose, so I guess there's no reason to feel guilty. 

Anywho, back to the grind. Gotta find a new market for "Ray Gun", among other things. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It Never Goes The Way You Plan It

When we last talked, I mentioned a story that I had been working on, a little ditty that was threatening to become my longest story ever. I brought it up because I was on a roll, and planning to use that story as my very first entry into the Write 1 Sub 1 monthly challenge (check THIS post for an explanation of W1S1).

Well, because Fate is such a fickle mistress, all of the good feelings I had for that story disappeared almost immediately after writing about it on this blog. I used to post much more frequently, and often discussed stories I was writing, or at least mentioned that I was working on one idea or another, and I cut down on the posts precisely because I felt they were sapping me of creative juices. Hey, for all I know, that's a load of BS and the story just died on me, which happens. But I'd rather play it safe from now on and just never...ever...mention stuff I'm currently working on. 

So anyway, as the end of April rapidly approaches, I went from thinking I might be able to pump out two stories for this month, to being in very real danger of not even finishing the one that I had so obnoxiously promised to have finished well ahead of time. So I tried...and I tried...

And I tried...

But nothing came. 

And then, just this morning, I had an idea. 1800 words later, I have a finished story. And...

SUBBED! 

Wow, is that the first ever live-blogging of a short story submission? See, that's why you follow this blog, people. History happens here. :D 

Write 1 Sub 1, Month 1 (for me, anyway) completed! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

TORture

(Clever title, eh?) 

I just received a nice form letter rejection from Tor.com regarding my "Postcards From Arborville" story. I was expecting it, so it's not as soul-crushing as it might have otherwise been. I originally subbed the story in August, which makes this my longest wait ever. 229 days, to be exact. 

As I said, the rejection was your standard form letter, so it told me nothing of value, and there's no point in sharing it here. 

Still plugging away. I'll update again when the next story is done.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Change of Pace

Trying something new this year.
I've been aware of NaNoWriMo since it began a few years back, but since I'm not a novel writer (yet, anyway), it's never really been something I ever gave much thought. There have been other, similar challenges inspired by NaNoWriMo, but the ones I've seen are usually just NaNoWriMo in other fields--WoPoWriMo for poetry, NaPiWriMo for picture books, etc..

Until now, that is.

Ever since I left the Hothouse writing group, I've been staying away from Writer's Beat, which is where most/all of the members of the group spend a lot of time. But lately I've been missing the shop talk; my life is woefully devoid of folks to chat with about the craft.

So I stumble across Absolute Write, which appears to be a bigger version of Writer's Beat. They have a lot of services for new writers, including background checks on markets, which has already twice saved me from submitting my work to scam artists. I haven't joined yet, but I've been browsing (lurking?) the boards a lot lately, and it was during one of these quiet strolls that I found the W1S1 sub-forum. That is, Write 1 Sub 1, a challenge for writers of short fiction or poetry to write and submit one story per week.

(the story you submit in that week does not have to be the same one you wrote that week, for the record)

I am not a prolific writer. I am the opposite of that. And speaking of prolific, why is unprolific not a word? The antonyms for it are words like barren, fruitless, impotent, and unproductive (according to Thesaurus.com, anyway). Fruitful has fruitless and unfruitful, but prolific can't even have one true opposite? Lame. I am neither impotent or barren, since both of those words have colloquial implications that might get in the way of what I'm trying to say. You know what? Screw it. I am an unprolific writers. Neologisms rule.

Anyway, armed with that knowledge, you will better understand why I, at first, shied away from the idea of Write 1 Sub 1. But today--just now, right before I started writing this--I found the badge pictured above. Yes, they make a Write 1 Sub 1 for us sloths, too. One story written, and one story subbed, per month.

And, barring any ridiculousness (another good word I'd throw an 'un' in front of and make a pair), the story I'm working on now will be that story. Still don't have a title for it, but I think I'm somewhere around the halfway point (I may have already passed it). The interesting thing about this tale isn't just that it will be my first W1S1 submission, nor that the words are coming easier for this than they have for any story in close to a year, but because the point I've referred to as "the halfway point" is 6,200 words in. The longest story I've ever written weighed in at 7,500 words, so we might have a new contender for the crown here. I'll let you know.

That's it for me. And hey, if you're one of the four people who follow my blog, or stumbled across it by some happy accident and you're a writer or know someone who is, please spread the word. W1S1 isn't about competing, it's about getting writers to write and sub, something that most non-writers would be shocked to know does not happen enough.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Achey Breaky Heart

My second PRL from Beneath Ceaseless Skies came today.

Thanks very much for sending this story to 
_Beneath Ceaseless Skies_. 
Unfortunately, it's not quite right for us.  
Although I found Samael to be
an engaging character, the conclusion  
didn't quite work for me. I didn't
feel I had a new understanding of the  
world from the trickster's actions,
which made the details of the 'demons'  
feel somewhat disconnected from the
story.
 
We appreciate your interest in our magazine. 
Please feel free to submit
other work in the future.
 
Regards,
 
Kate Marshall
Assistant Editor
_Beneath Ceaseless Skies_
http://beneath-ceaseless-skies.com


Kate's great because she lets you know exactly what she didn't like about your story, but she does it in a polite way that doesn't crush your soul. It got me to thinkin': would it be better if PRLs like this were a little more...I don't know...salty?

About a year ago I read Dreamsongs, the George RR Martin career retrospective, and there were these little (or not so little) introductions to each section written by Martin himself. Prior to the section featuring his story "The Meathouse Man", George gives some backstory:

Harlan [Ellison] returned my manuscript on March 30, 1974, with a letter of rejection that began, "Aside from shirking all responsibility to the material that forms the core, it's a nice story." After which he eviscerated me, challeneging me to tear the guts out of the story and rewrite the whole thing from page one. I cursed and fumed and kicked the wall, but I could quarrel with a single thing he said. So I sat down and ripped the guts out of the story and rewrote the whole thing from page one, and this time I opened a vein as well, and let the blood drip down right onto the paper.

Now, this isn't exactly an apples-to apples comparison; George had already been published multiple times, and had met Harlan in person prior to that, and the story in question was actually solicited rather than pulled from the slush pile. Also worth noting is that Harlan Ellison is a rather...salty...person to begin with, so his response probably was a bit harsher than the norm, to say the least. But there's something about getting challenged that really revs my engine. Aren't all the best teachers the ones that refuse to pull punches, the ones that hold a mirror up in front of you before they go about rescuing you from yourself?

I suppose I'm asking for too much. Editors are busy, and there are only so many hours in the day to respond to the hundreds of submissions, most of them probably crap. A personal rejection that challenges you probably requires more time and energy than the polite, straight-forward explanation. Maybe those Ellison-esque rejections are like gift baskets at the Emmy's--you gotta be somebody to get em.

But I still say there could be a little more oomph in these rejections. As much as I appreciate and value rejections like these, sometimes I feel like I could use a good kick in the ass, too.

Anyway, onward and upward. Back to the drawrin' board.

Oh, and since I quoted him, go ahead and buy George RR Martin's Dreamsons at Amazon.com. There are two volumes, and both appear to be in the bargain bin. I picked them up a year ago and still go back to reread the stories from time to time. There's even a Dunk & Egg story in there. The finest collection of short work by one writer I've ever read, actually.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Full Disclosure (Final Part)

It comes to this.

Fitting that the final story in this series is also the most well-traveled, and oft-rejected story I've ever written. It's a little sci-fi yarn about a scientist who figures out a way to look into the past, and it's called "The Machine".

We are currently at eight (count em: 8) rejections, and waiting to hear back from a ninth market as I write this. The first rejection came a year ago almost to the day, in March of 2010. It was from Flash Fiction Online, and easily my most positive PRL yet:

"Dear Joseph,

Thanks for your patience.

I wish I had better news for you, but I'd like to congratulate you on your story "The Machine" passing the first round of our selection process. That's no small feat. Only 15-20% of all stories make it that far. 

Unfortunately, the second round proved too great an obstacle. 

As a writer I always appreciate feedback on my stories. That's not true of all writers, so sift through what we give you for anything useful and disregard the rest. Keep in mind, these comments are often raw gut reactions and personal opinions that may seem harsh, but are certainly not intended to be. So, for what it's worth, here's what some of our readers had to say about your story:

Our editors felt the story had some good points, but lacked mainly in a clear and logical plotline and clear character motivation. Some felt a greater exploration of characterization might have helped. As one editor summed it up: The story "needs a tighter plot and characters we care about, with clear motivation for the things they do and say." 

We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere and hope you will consider submitting with us again.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Vincent

Associate Editor
Flash Fiction Online"

Did I mention it's also the longest? Yikes. But how cool was that? Flash fiction is 1000 words or less (though they give you 1100, and if they like it, they'll work with you to parse it down to 1000) and it was my first genuine try at it, so that's a pretty great reaction.

Since then, "The Machine" has expanded by about two thousand words or so.

The next stop was Clarkesworld. I will again omit their rejection, because it's literally the same one everyone gets, and if you've submitted there, you've seen it. After that was Lightspeed. Now, here's the thing: this was my first rejection from that market, and when I read it, I hit the ceiling. Have a look:

"Dear Joseph,

Thanks for submitting this story, but I'm going to pass on it. It was nicely written, and I enjoyed reading it, but overall it didn't quite win me over, I'm afraid. Best of luck to you in placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way. I hope you'll try us again with something else."

Awesome, right? But it looks a lot like the one I'd get later (back a few posts) regarding another story. This one is a lot better than that one, but is it really a PRL? Or is it a tiered rejection? Meh, either way, it felt good and still feels good.

Next up is Apex, which is another generic rejection not worth posting. Actually, so was the one from Asimov's, Daily Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons. The only other PRL I got was from On Spec, which went like this:

"Thanks for sending us your story. After a close reading, we have determined it will not be a good fit for On Spec. There are many reasons why a story gets rejected. We look for the most effective combination of plot, characters, emotion, and originality. Many stories have one or two of these, but only a few have all of them. And sometimes the story just doesn't suit our personal editorial style. The initial setup (steampunk or historical) appears to be broken when the characters are actually modern." 

Interesting take. I wrote about this particular rejection earlier. Accidental Steampunk, I think I called it. That aside, this is the only story to rake in so many PRLs, and I think that's a good thing. It is currently at another market, so I hope to be hearing back from them soon.

Anyway, that'll do it for today. Hope you enjoyed it.

Full Disclosure (Part Seven)

"The Catina" is a science-fiction story about intolerance. I love the story, though I admit after reading it again a few times, the prose isn't as smooth as it could be. I'd like to really get back and revisit this one sometime.

This story has been rejected twice. First by Daily Science Fiction back in August of last year:

"Joseph,

Thank you for submitting your story, "The Cantina" to Daily Science Fiction. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we had just taken with a similar theme or several other reasons.


Best success selling this story elsewhere.

Take care,
Jonathan"


When Clarkesworld rejects you, it's easier to push it out of your mind, because they really do only publish twenty-four stories per year, only half of which are unsolicited. But getting rejected by a market that distributes 365 stories per year is a toughie. Not saying DSF is an easy market to crack, but you'd think there would be more room for the aspiring writer. And I'm sure there is, and this story just wasn't up to snuff. But that's the point--you really can't sugar coat getting rejected by a market that has to put out a story once a day.

The second rejection came from Strange Horizons:

"Dear Joseph Romel,

Thank you for submittng "The Cantina" to Strange Horizons, but we've decided not to accept it for publication. 

We appreciate your interest in the magazine.

--Lydia Waldman"


I don't know what will become of this little story, but I suppose it's worth finding out.

Full Disclosure (Part Six)

One of my oldest stories is "The Bright Walk", which is your basic vampire tale, as narrated by the vampire himself. I added a new wrinkle or two to make it my own, and I personally think it's the best story I've written so far...which probably isn't a good thing, but I don't care. It's a damn good story.

It has been rejected five times, including one from just the other day. The first rejection came in October of 2009 from Clarkesworld, which I will not be including since the only difference between that one and any other rejection they've sent me is the name of the story. The next rejection was from Shock Totem, later in the month. This one is as form letter as it gets. They don't mention my name, nor the title of the story. Literally, a form rejection.

"Thank you for your submission to Shock Totem.

Sadly, we regret to inform you that we are declining acceptance at this time. Good luck in placing this submission elsewhere.


Sincerely,
The Shock Totem Team
www.shocktotem.com"


The next rejection came from the fine folks as Dark Discoveries in February of last year. Sadly, I don't seem to have that rejection in my inbox, so I guess you'll just have to take my word for it. I definitely kept the next rejection, which came in August of 2010 from Weird Tales, probably the most famous of all fantasy fiction mags around, given the heavyweights it has published, most notably HP Lovecraft. This was also the longest it has taken any market to respond to my submissions--a whopping 174 days. And this on the heels of a 114-day wait from Dark Discoveries to reject the very same story!


"I am so sorry I held onto this so long, especially since I'm going to have to pass on it. Not quite what I'm looking for. You are welcome to try me again with something else, but note: closed to all submissions until the first of the year (January 2011).

Thanks for your patience,

Ann VanderMeer
Editor-In Chief
Weird Tales"

I don't know if that rejection was as personal as it appears, considering I have seen something very similar to it--especially that first line--posted by another blogger recently, but it made me feel very good at the time, like I had a real shot at making it. Rejection can do that for you, believe it or not; they can make you feel like a great writer even though they're saying they don't like this particular story.

Because that's all a rejection is: it isn't a condemnation of you as a writer or your talent, but of that story. That's it. Nothing more than that. Good writers write shit sometimes. It happens.

The last rejection (so far) for my baby was at the hands of fledgling market Arcane. The editor there is Nathan Schulmate, the same fella who served as editor of the creepily cool Arkham Tales magazine, which is now on indefinite hiatus (which means dead).

This one hurt, because this story should be right up their alley. I was really hoping to break in here, but I guess I'll have to wait a little bit longer. Anywhere, here's the letter.

"Dear Joseph,

Thanks for submitting your story "The Bright Walk" to Arcane. I'm sorry, but it's not quite what we're looking for. I'd love to give a detailed critique, but I'm the one-man band on the editorial side of Arcane, so I just don't have the time for long replies to submissions. 

Feel free to submit more work to us in the future.

Thanks,
Nathan Shumate
ARCANE: Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century"


Don't worry, though. "The Bright Walk" is already sitting in the slushpile of another magazine, looking to finally find its way into your home. And I really believe it will get there.
 

Full Disclosure (Part Five)

I wrote "Glory in the Wasteland" because I wanted to write something post-apocalyptic. I have since read Cormack McCarthy's "The Road" and will never attempt to write anything like it again, for his work puts mine to shame. (I'm only half-joking, honestly)

Rejected twice, the story is currently trunked. I may revisit that later, but probably not. The first rejection came in October from Lightspeed Magazine, John Joseph Adams' new rag. He was the editor (or assistant editor? I dunno) at Asimov's for a long time before branching out and doing his own thing. I believe he also helps edit Fantasy Magazine, a market I have yet to submit to.

"Thanks for submitting this story, but I'm going to pass on it. It didn't quite work for me, I'm afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks for sending it my way.


Sincerely,


John Joseph Adams
Editor
Lightspeed Magazine
www.lightspeedmagazine.com"

The next one hurt, I'll admit. I liked this story, I liked what it did and I liked how I handled the action sequence at the end, but when I send a story to a market like Asimovs, I don't expect it to get accepted. I just don't. But they held onto my story this time for 29 days. That happens to be their average response time, but considering that they had never taken more than a week to get to me before, I allowed myself to dream a little.

In the end, I got the same old rejection letter they send. Pleasant as it was, it totally crushed me. That might be why the story is in my trunk. Maybe I'll have a peek later on...

Full Disclosure (Part Four)

"Broadcasting Live From Bensk" is my first attempt at political Sci-Fi, even if it only classifies as "soft," both in terms of Sci-Fi and politics. But I really like the story, so I'm wondering why it's still sitting on my HD and not out on a slush pile somewhere.

It has been rejected three times. First by Clarkesworld Magazine, which gives the same exact form rejection every time, so if you really want to know what it looks like, check a couple posts down. That was from September 27, 2010. On October 5th, Asimov's also declined:


"Dear Joseph,


Thank you very much for letting us see "Broadcasting Live From Bensk." We appreciate you taking the time to send it in for our consideration. Although it does not suit the needs of the magazine at this time, we wish you luck with placing it elsewhere.


Please excuse this form letter. The volume of work has unfortunately made it impossible for us to respond to each submission individually, much as we'd like to.


Sincerely,


Sheila Williams, Editor
Asimov's Science Fiction
www.asimovs.com"


The third and (so far) final magazine to pass on the story was Pedestal Magazine, another one of the markets I really, really want to crack. On November 17, the letter came:

"Dear Joseph,

Thank you for submitting your fiction to The Pedestal Magazine. We enjoyed reading it but after careful consideration have decided we cannot use it at this time.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere and sincerely hope that you will submit other writing to us in the future. 

Best,

The Editors"

The story has not been out since. I may have to remedy that. 

Full Disclosure (Part Three)

I have two stories that have so far only received one rejection a piece, so instead of giving them each their own post, I thought I'd condense them into one. The first, "All Debts Public And Private" is the most autobiographical story I've written. I had a very unique relationship with a girl for several years in my early and mid 20s. I was in love with her, and she was gay and in love with another woman. Though, come to think of it, that's like opposite of Will & Grace, so maybe it's not so unique after all.

Anyway, the story is the fictional account of our reunion, should it ever happen. The names and events have been changed to protect the innocent, of course, and it's something of a stylized version of us, but the emotion is real. Can't fake that.

It was rejected on November 20th, 2010 by Plougshares, one of them there fancy literary magazines.  I haven't sent it out again since, but that's something I'm going to take a look at as soon as I'm done with my current project. Or something like that...


"Dear Joseph Romel,


We regret that your manuscript does not fit our current editorial needs, but we appreciate the opportunity to consider your work. Thanks very much for submitting. 


The Editors of Ploughshares"


The other one-shot-kill story is "Magic Words", a story about a girl dealing with abuse. I've read this one several times since the rejection, and it never feels right. Too clunky, every sentence like a piece of tough meat. It's not that the subject matter is too difficult, it's that the writing isn't up to the task. I fear this one will be retired to the trunk.

Keep in mind that while I say this, I received a very positive, honest-to-goodness Personal Rejection Letter. Here goes:

"Mr. Romel,

Thanks for sending us "Magic Words." Unfortunately, we're not going to publish it, but I think it has some potential, which is why I've hung onto it as long as I have. I found your main character to be well-written and sympathetic, but felt that the story fell apart in the climax - perhaps because I didn't buy that she'd leave her little sister, perhaps because the "magic words" part of it felt kind of sudden. Thanks for thinking of Basement Stories, and I hope you'll send us more work in the future. 

Best Regards,

Carol Kirkman"


See what I mean? That's a great rejection! Goes to show that what the writer sees isn't necessarily what the reader sees. In that sense, it's a little scary because it throws into question how much I am able to accurately judge my own work. I honestly feel this is one of my weaker stories, writing-wise, and yet here's the editor of a respected magazine saying otherwise.

Oh well. Onward and upward. Or, well, in my case, just onward.

Full Disclosure (Part Two)

The next story on the docket (we're going alphabetically) is "...And Other Significant Junkies", a story that came to me while listening to Nirvana. The first place I sent it was Glimmer Train, and the Rejection Express made a whistle stop at my inbox on November 27th, 2010:

"Dear Joseph,
Thank you for submitting "...and Other Significant Junkies". While we won't be publishing this piece, we appreciated the opportunity to read your work! Because we read so many stories, it is not possible for us to give specific feedback, but, if you're a relative beginner, you may find something of interest here: Editors' Input"


The next stop (I'm done with the train stuff, promise!) was Clarkesworld Magazine. This one came back just the other day--March 24th, to be exact. "Junkies" has been consoled and comforted and sent back out again since, so don't fret. Here's basically the same rejection everyone gets from Clarkesworld:


"Dear Joseph,


"Thank you for the opportunity to read "...And Other Significant Junkies." Unfortunately, your story isn't quite what we're looking for right now. Each month, we receive hundreds of submissions and while I may like many of them, I can only publish twelve of them per year.


In the past, we've provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I'm afraid that due to time constraints, we're no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in Clarkesworld Magazine and hope you'll keep us in mind in the future.


Take care,


Neil Clarke
Publisher/Editor
Clarkesworld Magazine
www.clarkesworldmagazine.com"

On to the next story!

Full Disclosure (Part One)

The stories keep pumping out, and the rejections keep flooding in.

Fourteen stories in all have hit slush piles across the country (there may have been one or two in Canada, as well), since I completed my first short story in February of 2009. Doesn't seem like all that long ago, really. I even remember writing a journal entry about it. From the wee hours of February 23, 2009:

I was at my brother Chris’s apartment, and I somehow managed to change the “Go Home” icon--it takes you automatically from your location to your home--from my home to Chris’s apartment…so I ended up driving around the block and landing right back in front of Chris’s apartment. I was struck by how I didn’t even realize what had happened until I pulled up in front of Chris’s place, and that’s when the story had taken form: We rely on these technologies at a great cost. Cellphones made it so we don’t know anyone’s phone number, and if we lose our phones, we’re effectively cut off from our friends, and sometimes our families. GPS’s will obviously make us never pay attention to where we’re going, so ultimately we won’t know how to get anywhere. That alone is scary enough!
 Forgive the spotty grammar, I had been awake for something like 20 hours when I wrote that. Anyway, fourteen stories doesn't really seem like a lot given that I've been writing for two years now, but considering how slowly I tend to write, and how often I've taken lengthy hiatuses to nurse my fragile ego after tough rejections, a story every two months ain't so bad.

GPS was also the first rejection I ever received, doled out by Emanuel Page over at Macabre Cadaver magazine. As I've detailed in previous posts, I was not prepared for rejection. I don't know that you really ever can prepare yourself for someone saying your hard work isn't good enough (not that a rejection necessarily means that...but a FORM rejection kinda does, in my humble opinion), but I definitely wasn't. I'd like to share that rejection with you now:


Hello Joseph,
 
We have read your story, "GPS,"
and we have decided to pass on this one.
 
Thank you for your submission  
to and support of Macabre Cadaver.
 
Regards,
 
Emmanuel Paige
Publisher, Editor, Macabre Cadaver Magazine
publisher@macabrecadaver.com
www.macabrecadaver.com
 

 I took it pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that I didn't submit another story to a market until that October--six months later. But that six months must have done my ego some good, because the next story I wrote, "The Bright Walk" went to Clarkesworld, probably the top  semi-pro magazine around today. According to Duotrope, I received a rejection letter from them on October 2nd, 2009--one day after I originally sent them the story. Talk about a kick in the pants.

I don't see the rejection in my email inbox (I've saved all of my rejections...or at least I thought I had) so I'm guessing I was so aghast at the swiftness of the turnaround I deleted it immediately, but I can guess that it looked exactly like every other rejection I've gotten from them, since Mr. Clarke only hands out 1 or 2 personal notes a month, by his own admission.

GPS underwent a rewrite and later became "Postcards From Arborville", which was rejected by The Absent Willow Review:


Dear Joseph,
 
Thank you for submitting your work

for our review. Unfortunately, it does
not meet our needs at this time.  

We receive many submissions on a daily
basis and are only able to select a
small percentage of those for
publication.
 
Please continue to write and we’d 
really like to hear from you 
about any future success.
 
Kindest Regards,
 
The Editors
The Absent Willow Review
http://absentwillowreview.com
Absent Willow Publishing,LLC

 Now, this rejection was a particular punch in the throat, not because it was a form rejection (even the ones others claim to be PRLs are really just specialized form letters in many cases), but because of how quickly it came. This was officially 1 day, but I swear it was no more than five or six hours. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but I remember being shocked at just how fast it came back. Undaunted, I quickly sent "Postcards" back out on her way to another prestigious market, from which I hope to hear soon.

I'm going to split this up into several parts, one post for each story I've gotten a response back on. I'll include the rejection letter if I have it, so check back!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Momentum

I've written more words over the past month than I did in the four prior, so it's mostly sunny over here at Camp Joe. Did a little digging around the ol' story trunk and found a couple of goodies that could use some polish, and that's where most of my efforts are currently. That, and a complete rewrite of a story that is currently out for submission at a big market...

Yes, I know, stupid. But I think the story could be so much better than it is if I had approached it from a different angle. I don't even know if anything will come of it, frankly; I'm kind of in a funk, and can't quite find the voice, so it might end up being one more useless exercise.

Did re-read "The Bright Walk," the story I have out currently at The New Yorker, and man if that isn't the best damn story I've written so far. It's got heart, character, voice, pitch-perfect narrative (if I do say so muhself). It's at a level I've always thought I was capable of, but haven't reached in a long time. Reading it again was a nice reminder that I'm not as terrible as I sometimes think.

I'm up to five stories out for consideration as of today, which is a very good feeling. Three of them have been out a while, but two left the coop only a day or so ago. Very exciting stuff. Found a very cool new market on Duotrope Digest, decided to sub there. Semi-pro rates and everything! I'll let you know more about them if they're smart enough to accept my story!

Til next time...