Recent Publications and Submissions

My writing life has turned around in the last few weeks, and for you, an update:

I’ve had two stories accepted for publication. “Annabelle Tree”, 2500 words, is now available as part of the Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction charity anthology (all proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross for the victims of recent tornadoes). It’s the story of a young girl, and who’s most important to you when the storms come.

When she was twelve, Annabelle’s Momma was pregnant again.

She’d known something was wrong from the way her Momma had been crying for a few months, in between getting the flu a whole bunch of times, and Daddy took more shifts at the plant and in between sat down by the creek bed, not even pretending to fish. The cool water flowing over his submerged six-pack kept the bottles cold, and it was hard to hear Momma yelling from all the way up at the house. Annabelle didn’t mind her Daddy sharing her hideaway spot, nestled into the curve of her tree, and he didn’t mind her being there either, mostly since he didn’t notice. She read her books, borrowed from the middle school library, and he drank his beer, and the tree’s thick branches moved a little in the breeze.

“Your hair’s turning green,” Jerrod Miller had told her at recess, one day in October. “Is that for Halloween?”

“It is not,” she said back, and walked away from him. But she went straight to the girl’s bathroom, and ignoring the heavy sighs and pouty faces of the girls putting on their makeup at the far end of the row of mirrors, Annabelle pulled a strands of her normally light brown hair and held them up to the light. It wasn’t much, but Jerrod was right – mixed in with all the brown were bits of green.

“You’re a freak, you know that?” one of the girls said.

“Yes, I know,” Annabelle replied, and left.

Now available for the low price of $2.99 through Amazon and Smashwords (Says the editor: “This collection of poetry and short fiction features 46 pieces from 40 different contributing authors.”)

The other sale was to an upcoming anthology of flash fiction about monsters, and my story is the tale of a fish man, told jointly from the perspective of both the creature and the scientists cutting into him:

Though it has a mouth and front facing eyes, it does not appear to breathe air, and instead has several gills hidden under heavy scales on its neck which are easy to miss. Kudos to Johnson for noticing them, or the thing might have drowned before we got its head and neck into a bucket of water.

I was born there, where the river flows into the deep lake. I have traveled upriver to mate, have seen water muddied by great hippos and in places a river lowered by heat and summer sun. I have crawled along the nearly empty river bed, me, who was born in a place so deep no light can penetrate it! I have seen all manner of fish and monsters and men. Everything has a place in the world, everything fits into each other and makes sense, except the men.

They shipped it to us in a crate filled with salt water and ice. Like a lobster, it became sluggish in water, almost paralyzed. Could it have other crustaceous qualities? Regardless, keeping the lab near-freezing was a stroke of genius on Kitteredge’s part, since it means we can open the creature up without having to euthanize it first. The boys are anxious to see its innards while the creature’s blood and bile systems are still active.

– “On the Methods of Preserving and Dissecting Icthyo Sapiens”

I’ll post a link to where than can be bought once I’ve got it.

I also have several shorts in the process of being finished, revised, or submitted. This week’s writing project has been to finish up my submission for Machine of Death 2. I wrote it, liked it, thought it came in at the low end of their suggested word count but still within the guidelines. Then I ignored it for a few days, dealt with day job and other life issues, and came back to find that now I think it needs to be longer. I’ve been working on getting that finished so I can get it out to my beta reader for this project.

That’s my writing news, and hopefully soon there’ll be more.

There’s You And Then There’s Me

A friend, who happens to be an amazing writer with more publications to his credit than I have (and, honestly, more prestigious ones) asked me today if I’d want to swap stories with him – it turns out we’re both writing for the same upcoming anthology. I love his style, so of course I said yes, since I’d be happy to have any comments he can come up with, but in his email he also said he’d understand if I didn’t want to, since we’re sort of each other’s competition.

And that’s true, except where it’s not.

One of the things that has never bothered me about being friends with other writers, the thing that I’ve heard a lot of people do have trouble with, is the competition. There are so many of us all trying to get into the same markets, and the more particular or peculiar our writing is, the fewer markets there are for us. An anthology can only accept so many writers, a monthly magazine only has so many regular story slots to fill… so why would you surround yourself with people who might literally be taking the paycheck out from your pocket?

Because they’re not.

My friend is a brilliant writer, but he’s not me. I am not quite brilliant, but I am me. We are not each other. Even if we set out to write the exact same story – and very rarely does that happen – the end products would be vastly different from each other. Not because we’re of different genders or backgrounds or marital statuses or ethnicities or even born in different countries… or, probably, because of a combination of all of those things. The simple truth is that he sees the world in a different way than I do, so his perceptions and his expressions will be different than mine. My story can only ever be written by me. His story can only ever be written by him.

I’ve said before that it’s not our uniqueness that makes us writers, because each and every human is unique. What makes us writers is our need to get those stories out, and our drive to learn and grow and refine our writing until we are saying exactly what we mean to. So at the end of the day if this particular market chooses his story over mine, or mine over his, it won’t be because he’s better than me (well, maybe a little, but I’m working hard to catch up). It will be because that one story fit what the editors were looking for better than the other. How can that be something to fear, or be jealous of?

Personally, I’m hoping they take us both.

Writer Haiku – April 22, 2011

The more I write, the more I want to write. This is something about me that’s always been true, so when I’ve had a writing slump, the best way to pull myself out of it is to write something. Anything. Everyday, if I put words on paper, I will eventually work myself back into the writing projects I really care about. Today was a little slow at work, so I wrote haiku. I don’t mean perfectly traditional Japanese haiku, but the English-style 5/7/5 syllable structure we’re taught in middle school.

For you, some haiku:

day breaks through long night / light! but – my absent muse / breaks only my heart

#dayjob is slow but / the pencil produces no / words on blank paper

story plots fall from / my brain like leaves shed from trees / dead once they hit ground

writer friends tweet sales / new publications bring joy / I tweet only lolcats

duotrope tells me / last sale was six months ago / still, I am writing

Dear (Jackass), I don’t deserve to be a published writer, and neither do you.

Dear (Jackass),

Have you read this? If not, go ahead. I’ll wait.

If you’ve gotten to here you’ve either read the linked Q & A, or you don’t care to, and either way is fine with me. I think Sugar might have said a few things better than I would have, and a few more things MUCH better than I would have, but either way if you get to the end of this post you’ll have all the important bits of what I was trying to say.

I’ll say it again, so you know I’m serious: I don’t deserve to be a published writer, and neither do you.

We’ve all heard the voices us telling us that we deserve this – this publishing contract, this “opportunity”, this grant or fellowship or rich uncle to support us while we toil away on our masterpiece. Sometimes the voices come from the outside, like our families or our friends, but it usually comes from within. There is some part of our brains that sees the success of others and craves it, needs it, covets it like it’s the last Ring of Power in Mordor. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by others and using it as motivation to push yourself further, but many people see it as something else – the unfairness of the Universe. Why, they ask, why does that person have what I don’t? Aren’t I brilliant/beautiful/talented/educated too? Don’t I deserve a chance to shine?

No, princess, you don’t.

If you’ve made it to an age where you can reasonably call yourself an adult, and you’re still holding on to the idea that you not magically succeeding is somehow unfair, your parents did not raise you right. Life is not fair. It isn’t meant to be. You can’t stomp your foot every time something doesn’t go your way and wait for the people around you to fix it for you. You can’t cry to the heavens and expect a brilliant novel to fall into your lap. You can’t gnash your teeth and rant about the unfairness of the Universe and expect success to knock on your door. This should be obvious to anyone with a bit of common sense, but in practice, there’s still that little voice, saying, “Sure, that might be how things work, but it isn’t fair.”

You know what’s not fair? Expecting something you don’t deserve, and being angry or sad or upset or jealous or anti-social simply because you didn’t get it.

You know why you’re not a multiply-published writer with a book deal, or an agent, or movie options or a jet? You haven’t done the work. You know why I don’t have those things either? I haven’t done the work. It takes a huge amount of writing and rewriting and submitting and being rejected and having your work read and torn apart by readers you’d suspect were part hyena if you weren’t already trying to figure out how to get them fed to a hyena, one piece at a time. If you haven’t finished your novel, you don’t deserve success. If you haven’t written a hundred short stories, go back and write more until you do. I guarantee you that your 100th story will be so much better than your first ten that you’ll wonder why you ever thought those were “finished”. It takes years of practice, either as part of writing classes or workshops or on your own, and you need to produce a truly epic number of words, only some of which will ever see the light of day, and most of which will be rejected as unfit for publishing. And those rejections? Those are fair. Those are what you deserve, until you learn to be a good enough writer to not only create something worth reading but to also know which markets might be interested in buying it.

But, what about my voice? you might ask. My pure, authentic voice, the stories I would tell, the worlds I would build, if only I had the chance … if only I didn’t have to work at a dayjob or take care of the kids or my aging parents or if only someone would support me so all I had to do is write …

Do you know how you get to be a full-time writer? You write. And write and write and write, and sell stories, and write more, and sell more stories, until you have so much paying work that your only choice is to quit your job or hire a nanny because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to write everything you’re contracted for. That voice of yours? Those special stories only you can tell? Yeah, everyone has those. Everyone has their own perspective, their own vision of the world, their own dreams and their own stories. The only difference between a writer and everyone else is that writers take the time to put their words down on paper. That’s it. It’s a tiny thing, and it’s a huge thing, and the act of writing words does not, by itself, make you better than anyone else.

But, there is hope. If you do the work, if you write until your voice is finely honed and your story is both original and universal, and if you let it be read and critiqued and you take that advice into your heart and make the changes your manuscript so desperately needs, then you might someday be a great writer. It’s still no guarantee that you’ll be a published one, or a rich one, or a widely acknowledged one, but you’ll be wonderful.

If you get to that point and you still wonder why you’re not getting the rewards you “deserve”, if editors and publishers won’t return your calls and you can’t get an agent to read your work, maybe it’s not your writing. Maybe it’s just you.

We All Have Our Own Languages, or, Why I Need Editors

I talk about being a writer here because that’s how I primarily see myself. I write fiction and non-fiction, creating stories on spec for open markets and writing essays and articles by request for a couple of different places, so that makes sense. But I also work as an editor, both for Dagan Books and for (more recently) another publisher. I’ve edited newspaper articles, academic essays, short fiction pieces, novels, book-length anthologies, poetry … As much experience as I have, when it comes to my own work I try very hard not to be my own editor.

Most writers will tell you that having someone else read your work is an absolutely necessity, a thing which must happen before you submit it to a market. This is because a new pair of eyes will often catch things that you missed. A common problem for writers is that we know what we meant to say, so we don’t always notice if it isn’t what we did say. Leaving a word out of a sentence? I do that. Using the wrong word, dropping off a letter (I did that tonight, using “to” instead of “too”) or starting one word but ending it with the end of the next word. Well, that one might just be me.

This is the obvious use of an editor – read and fix. This isn’t the main reason that I need one. Continue reading