The Story behind the Story – Eclectic Flash Edition (part 1)

This post is the first in a new, irregular series where I talk about the path to publication for each story I’ve had accepted.

Thanks to the response I got from my post Pen Names and Other Problems, I’ve decided to go ahead and share my writing credits. I haven’t officially linked my name to this blog, but baby steps. We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway.

My story Summer in Exile was published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash, which is now available online.

I first drafted the piece at my prompt-focused writing group way back in late November 2009. The particular prompt had each of us select a phrase from a book that we would then later incorporate into our story. The phrases were as follows:

  • A. S. Byatt’s Little Black Book – “whistled oddly in her petrifying larynx”
  • Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima – “his big horse eyes looked up at me nervously”
  • Margaret Atwood’s Dancing Girls and Other Stories – “what the bloody hell was he doing on top of that sixty foot tree”
  • Mary Doria Russell’s Children of God – “Sometimes if he kept still people would go away.”
  • Wallace Stegner’s Collected Short Stories – “Shame made him turn over and lie face down”

I was pretty happy with how my story came out and decided to tinker with it a bit before sharing it with my now-defunct crit group. The other members were positive about the piece, and their only suggestion was to try to incorporate some backstory to make the character more real. But after a few attempts, I felt I was changing the heart of the story too much, reverted back to the original version, then went ahead and submitted it to a few markets starting in Fall 2010.

Rejections.

One market was kind enough to offer me some personalized feedback and again pointed out the issue of character. By now, some time had passed and I reworked the piece again, trying to flesh out the main protagonist. I shared the story at a local open mic night, tinkered some more, and finally found a good balance between character and story.

On May 3rd 2011, I sent the piece off to Eclectic Flash, and it was accepted.

The Numbers:

1st Draft: 441 words
Final Draft: 692 words
Days from Idea to Acceptance: 520
Rejections: 4 form, 1 personal
7-day Acceptance

The Lessons:

Get other people’s eyes on your stuff – My critique group at the time was able to pinpoint what I needed to do to take my story to the next level, even though I was unable to execute their suggestions to my satisfaction.

Stories take time to get right – I am convinced the iterative process of revising, submitting, revising, submitting is what led me to the version of the story that was published. This means waiting for each market to get back to you before submitting it somewhere else. I was/am too new a writer to think I’ll get my story right the first time, so trial and error was a great way for me to learn and grow my craft.

Don’t expect overnight success – 520 days. Enough said.

Intrepid readers will note that I have another story in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash, but I’ll talk about that piece in another post.

In the meantime, happy writing!
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Slow But Sure

I got nothing done over break.

Well, I did read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. And marveled at how people got through the first 300 pages and went on to rave about it. I plodded on and learned to love the characters like everybody else, but it does make me angry when I see things like slow beginnings that some writers (i.e., not me) can get away with doing. (If you are interested in more analysis of the trilogy, check out James Killick’s blog post Eight Writing Lessons from Larsson.)

But as to actual writing, that didn’t happen. Now that I’m back home, the Christmas decorations put away, and the opportunity to get back on track is here, I’m dragging my feet. And a head cold last week just gave me another excuse not to pick up the pen.

It helped that my writing group met up again Monday night. I haven’t been able to attend in over a month, and my writing skills were definitely rusty as we plowed through the first prompt. The second prompt came more easily, and I was reminded how much I missed writing. I followed this up with a trip to the coffee shop on Tuesday to capitalize on my momentum.

To stay motivated, I signed up for the webinar How to Hook an Agent with Your First Pages through Writer’s Digest. This time last year I took a writing class through the nearby university’s continuing education program – although I enjoyed it, the class was geared towards beginners and I needed something more in-depth than my classmates. I’m hoping this course will do the trick. If you are familiar with the Pub Rants blog, you know that the agents of Nelson Literary know their stuff. To get an idea of what the session will cover, check out these posts:

There’s also a presentation on developing characters next week through one of the local writing organizations I’ll be going to and another open mic night later in the month I might attend.

So even if my writing’s hit or miss in the meantime, I’ll be busy enough to feel like I’m accomplishing something with my craft. Fake it until you make it. Am I right?
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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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