Family Vaction or Why I’m Still in the Closet When It Comes to My In-Laws

Tomorrow we leave for a two-and-a-half week vacation of sorts, which includes two weddings, a trip to the beach, and visits with college friends. It will be fun and exhausting, and there’s an excellent chance I won’t get anything done.

But I’m still looking forward to the trip. Even though I need to make some tough decisions as to which books to pack. Frankly some books are simply better on a plane versus on the beach. Or read on the couch in front of in-laws instead of before bed at night.

And of course any time spent with extended family can lead to awkwardness as to just what do I do all day. Now that I have two stories forthcoming from Eclectic Flash, the temptation is there to finally say I’m a writer.

But here be monsters.

Why? Well, for starters, They May Not Value Writing. I have evidence that could go either way here. If they aren’t big readers or value only extrinsic measures of success, they just aren’t going to get it. But I am a member of the family, they are generous people, and they respect me. So maybe they’d respect the writing too.

They Also Have No Clue Just How Difficult Writing Can Be. And this goes for a healthy chunk of all non-writers. So much thought goes into word placement, structure, characterization… The more I learn about writing, the trickier it is to get words down on the page that I’m satisfied with.

Because they don’t understand how hard writing is, They Will Ask Me Why I’m Not Published Yet. You know, as in what really counts when you are a writer – a book deal. Short stories are, well, short, and no one is making millions on them. Publishing is a molasses-slow process, just as writing something worth publishing takes a looong time. They won’t understand milestones like getting a CP, or querying that first agent, or getting a full request. They just want to see a book.

And there’s the whole They Will Want To Talk To Me About My Writing Projects. They might ask out of courtesy or maybe they are genuinely interested. Which is great. I can appreciate that, even though I don’t like talking about my work until it’s far enough along that I’m comfortable sharing it with others. Ideas are just that, and until they get to the page, I don’t have a strong sense of how things will turn out. A careless word by someone else can destroy a story before it even starts. Plus, can you imagine me discussing the finer points of love scenes in my historical romance with my father-in-law? Neither can I.

But I guess it all comes down to the fact that They Will Stop Thinking I’m A Mystery And Start Seeing Me As A Dreamer With No Prospects. In some sense, the question of what I do – do I stay at home all day? Do I volunteer? Do I watch soap operas? Do I secretly want to have babies and be a stay-at-home mom? – protects me and keeps them from knowing the truth. Rejection is writing’s constant companion. I don’t need someone telling me writing is impossible, that I’m a dreamer for even trying it. I already know that. But I do it anyway, and that can be hard for some people to understand.

So yeah. Not telling them. Yet.

My husband and I discussed the best time to tell them the truth. And we decided that a professional short story sale or an agent would necessitate telling folks about me writing and all that. You know, which ever came first.

(cough) yeah, right (cough).

But for now I’m optimistic that one day I will be able to share this part of my life with them. I am a dreamer. Or a masochist. It’s hard to tell some days.

***
Because of all the travel, blog posting and commenting may be spotty, but I wish you all happy writing! I’ll be back for sure by the second half of the month.
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It’s Finally Real

Or more real than it was last week

Or it’s always been real, but now I have proof*

*proof forthcoming

What am I talking about? Last week I learned that two of my short stories were accepted for publication. Not one. Two. Needless to say I am thrilled my stories will be in the September issue of Eclectic Flash.

When I saw the replies sitting in my inbox that morning last week, I mentally braced myself for more rejections. In fact, I must have read the acceptance emails a dozen times before I believed my eyes. Then I spent a few hours waiting to see if another email would arrive explaining there had been a terrible mistake and that they didn’t actually want my stuff. It never came.

Now you might think I had no confidence in placing these stories based on the mental hand-wringing described above. That’s not true. I absolutely loved my stories – which is why I spent so much time revising and submitting them. I though they were worth the effort and the rejections that came with them. After all, besides all the writing, rejection is the other hallmark of being a writer.

But I was so focused on the submitting and revising cycle that it never occurred to me how an acceptance would affect things. So I offer up some impressions after going through this process:

No More Tinkering – I no longer have to ponder past rejections or scour submission guidelines and revise these two stories. They’ve been accepted. They will be published. And I need not tinker with them again. In some ways, that’s a relief. But I sometimes feel the empty space in my brain where they used to reside as I’d think about new ways to improve them.

No Money? No Problem – Eclectic Flash is a non-paying market. The distinction between paying and nonpaying does matter to some writers. But honestly, that wasn’t an issue for me. The validation that the publication credits gives me and the accessibility of my stories in both print and online has far more value at this stage in my writing life.

Never Underestimate FitMy submission strategy is usually to aim at the top markets and go from there. I had collected a couple of rejections, and was debating my next step for both my stories when I learned about Eclectic Flash. After reading their guidelines, I felt my stories would be a great fit – not a cross-your-fingers-and-let’s-see but a oh-my-gosh-it-sounds-perfect feeling. So I sent them off even though I hadn’t exhausted all the pro markets yet. And I will never regret that decision.

Never Discount Story Ideas – The kernel for both these stories originated from prompts I participated in through my weekly writing group. Something about them compelled me to keep working on them until they were strong enough for me to submit. Had I not participated in the writing group or never allowed myself to revisit the stories, I wouldn’t be published.

Now What? Now that the revise/resubmit cycle is over for these two stories, there’s others that need my attention. I thought I’d feel different about getting a few publication credits under my belt. Perhaps even feel less cowardly about getting my stuff out there. But now all I’m thinking about is where do I go from here? What’s next? How do I keep up this momentum?

My stories in Eclectic Flash are a stepping stone. A first big break. Validation after months of hard work. The credits for that third paragraph in a query. The end of what could have been considered a hobby. And a new beginning…

Eclectic Flash Submission Guidelines
Eclectic Flash at Duotrope Digest 
Six Questions for Brad Nelson, Editor, Eclectic Flash
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Getting Back on the Horse

It’s time.

Time for me to dust myself off and get back on the horse. What am I talking about? Why submitting, of course.

I started by submitting two flash pieces yesterday. I’m also reworking one short story and finishing up another one with the goal of having them submission-ready by the end of the month.

And then there’s that elephant in the room. My completed historical romance. There’s a voice in the back of my head that grows louder and more insistent every day to start querying. I’ve queried before – much too early – but this time it’s different (doesn’t everyone say that?). I’ve revised the story since the last round of queries. Had my critique partners look it over and I’m in the midst of revising again. I can see the difference in the writing in my story. Everything inside me is just screaming to send it off into the world. Now.

Author Jody Hedlund wrote a post earlier this week about the three stages of querying: the naïve beginner, the rejected optimist, and the seasoned realist. I’m definitely somewhere in these last two stages, and my next batch of queries will tell me if my work is ready. I already know I’m querying a tough time period, so it will come down to my writing and the fates.

Writer Sarah Fine also had a set of interesting posts on the querying process this week (Should You Send That Query? What We Can Learn From The Marshmallow Test & Step Away From The Marshmallow. And The SEND Button.). She relates how a psychology experiment measuring one’s ability to delay gratification ties into the querying process. Fascinating stuff!

So querying will happen. Very soon. And if nothing pans out, the process will galvanize me into tacking my next project with renewed fervor. In theory…
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The Ends and Writing Short

I write big.

When I come up with a story, my mind usually fills in the blanks until I have a novel’s worth of content. Setting, characters, plot, and sub-plots. This means the hard part is just forcing myself to write the first draft. It may not be pretty when it’s done, but everything’s there. And so far, I haven’t had to worry about padding my story to meet target words counts. If anything, I work on tightening things up and deciding what to cut out (research, in the case of my historical romances; worldbuilding in my speculative works).

And with my novel-length works, I always know where I’m going to end up. It may change a bit as the first draft progresses, but that’s ok and usually makes the ending stronger.

I also have some shorter projects in the works. Short stories and the like. But I keep running into problems when I write short: I don’t know how to end them.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t know how to end them in a satisfying way. They just kinda stop.

I suspect my difficulties with The Ends in short stories has to do with (1) what I choose to focus my story on, (2) how I structure my stories, and (3) my level of exposure to short stories that are currently being published.

Story Focus – Some of my short stories end up being sketches of a potentially larger narrative that feel rushed and unsatisfying because they deserve a larger treatment. Then can I go in the opposite direction and write a story that captures one moment in time, a mood even, and I don’t know how to finish it off because it’s more atmospheric than a complete story

Structure – My choice of story focus obviously affects structure. For my novels-in-short-story-clothing, I struggle to reduce the traditional three-act structure into a shorter format. For my moments-in-time stories, I’m not sure if there’s even a way structure can inform how to tie things off. I know that you should focus on one thing in a short story and each word should contribute to the overall effect, but I just can’t seem to do it.

Exposure – I read. A lot. But mostly I read novels. Not short stories. I read them when I was in school of course, but they were the classics, not the short fiction of today. I have a bunch of collections in my TBR pile, and requested a couple of literary magazine subscriptions for Christmas, so I hope to widen my exposure and in turn strengthen my craft.

But right now, I’m wracking my brain as to how I’m going to end two short pieces I’ve been working on off and on for the past few months. So I finally asked the google gods to help me out with how to end a short story, and here’s what I found:

Short Stories: 10 Tips for Creative Writers – Describes different types of short story endings and provides examples.

Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid – Just what it sounds like. Luckily I haven’t employed any of these!

Writing Short Stories with a Twist Ending – Describes different types of twist endings and points to examples.

Short Story Project: Beware the Twilight Zone Ending – Explains why you should avoid twist endings in your stories.

Short Story Endings Podcast from the Writing Show – An hour-long discussion with short story writers Randall Brown and Melissa Palladino.

I know I can always throw down the gauntlet and decide to only write book-length stories and never look back. But that means I’ve given up all hope of writing short. And in today’s industry, versatility is a writer’s best friend.

How do you go from writing big to small? Small to big?

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Read It Loud, Read It Proud

Last Wednesday night, I did something crazy.

Ok, well, maybe not so crazy, but crazy for me. I read at an open mic event for stories that were three minutes or less.

This was nothing like the readings I do at meetings for my prompt-based writing group. There everyone reads what they wrote in the time allotted for the prompts in a warm, fuzzy, high-fiving atmosphere.

The open mic was different. There was a microphone for one thing. And a recorder. And a timer. Scores of plastic folding chairs. And the oddest assortment of people – young, old, handicapped, MFA students, creative type townies… Oh, and me.

People were supportive of one another, but the stench of competition was in the air as well. You see, after everyone reads, attendees vote for their favorites. The recordings for the top three stories would then be archived online for all time’s sake. And the writers were hungry to share, to read, and, most importantly, to win.

I was hungry too, but in a different way. The open mic is a monthly thing, and I had been wanting to go since the start of the summer. However, real life conspired against me (buying a house, moving, houseguests, general disarray). Finally (finally!) the stars aligned and I was able to attend this month’s meeting.

My goals were only to read my story in three minutes or less and not goof up. Both of which I achieved. This month’s winners haven’t been announced yet, but that’s ok. I’m just happy I went. I’m pretty sure I read at a reasonable pace and paused at the appropriate places. It was nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at once. I’m grateful it’s over, but I’m also glad I did it. And I’m positive if I had not been used to reading my work at writing group, my open mic attempt would be an epic fail.

Coincidentally, a recent post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog talked about public readings. As the author says:

“Each time I read, I explore my own text, emphasize words differently and take chances on intonation and pacing. I’ve absorbed silence and learned to pause when the belly laughs were so loud and long, even I had to chuckle at my own writing.”

This kind of immersion is so helpful in evaluating your own work, which must be why so many writers advocate reading your stuff aloud when you are revising.

I’m not sure I’ll be going to the open mic next month. Despite the obvious benefits, the whole process can be a bit stressful. But if I were to go, I am already thinking about what I would read. Theoretically, of course 🙂
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