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.

You Should Read: Kelly Link’s STRANGER THINGS HAPPEN (2001)

If you’ve all read and loved Kelly Link for the last decade it might surprise you to know that until about 6 months ago, I’d never heard of her. Thanks to some writers I admire pointing her out to me, I bought the .epub of her first short story collection, Stranger Things Happen, and read it all over a couple of days. (I’ve been bringing my nook to work with me, and this makes catching up on my To Read pile much easier, in little bits at a time).

“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” – A dead man isn’t sure where he is, what his name is, or how he died, but is quite certain that dead people shouldn’t masturbate as often as he does. The story is told in a series of letters the dead mad writes to his nearly-forgotten wife, hoping for her forgiveness, with little footnotes about his emotional state and other activities. The story makes perfect sense if you can imagine yourself in a place built from old memory and surrounded by waiting. My first impression of Link is that she writes longing very well.

“Water Off a Black Dog’s Back” – “Carnation, Lily” lacked description in a way that fits a story about a man who exists nowhere and remembers very little. “Waters” mirrors that tale, in the way that a mirror reflects the same image back to you, but backwards. Link’s voice is clear but at the same time, “Water” is full of details and adjectives. There is sound and there are smells and the taste of strawberry wine and the prickle of a black dog’s discarded fur. Mostly, the story is about a boy who has never lost anything, falling in love with a girl who expects loss to find her.

“The Specialist’s Hat” – Sometimes ghost stories are stories told by ghosts, about people who might be alive or might be Dead or might just be plain old regular dead. Also, don’t ignore your children, because while you’re keeping them out of your hair they’ll find their own way into trouble without you there to save them.

“Flying Lessons” – A much better take on the “updating a Greek myth” trope than I usually read.

“Travels With The Snow Queen” – Oh, second-person present-tense POV, how I hate you. But it’s fairy tales we’re after in this story, and tales are told, unfolding conversationally as if you are the subject and the listener all at once. I can forgive the perspective on this because I get the importance Link feels this story has.

“The Vanishing Act” – Another story about what happens when parents forget their children are still there. Where “The Specialist’s Hat” ends on a dour note, “Vanishing” at least has hope, and green water, and photographs of far off lands. It might not be a happy story, but it has the potential to be one after the words have trailed off the page, and I like having the option.

“Survivor’s Ball, or, The Donner Party” – I’m wondering if Link imagines that no one has heard of the Donner party, and therefore her introduction of them has a novel quality? Aside from that, this story might be about survival, or it might be about the kind of men who follow a woman to the end of the world, too empty of life to find their own path … and moth-like, follow the first bright flame of a girl into darkness.

“Shoes and Marriage” – this is four flash pieces strung together, pretending to be a short story, and I’d have preferred she left them as flash pieces. Of them, my favourite was the one about the pageant girls. I, too, would sit with my love under the blankets and fall head over heels for Miss Kansas. I appreciated the nod to Lovecraft too.

“Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water” – One of the most traditionally-formatted stories in the collection, Link allows a presumably-female narrator tell the story of how her friend Jak went mad, or, possibly, the story of how an invasion of blond alien women has really messed up his chances to get a date to have sex with him. Either one.

“Louise’s Ghost” – I’m not sure how necessary it was to make both of the women in this story carry the same name. I get that it’s a comment on the inter-changeability of women and all of that, and in the context of the story it’s possible to follow which is who, but only with some effort. It’s not that I prefer my stories to be simplistic, and I am willing to work at a good piece of insight, but it didn’t pay off for me. I didn’t learn anything about the human condition or being a woman or loss or … anything to make me feel that the purposefully convoluted characters were worth the effort. Perhaps if it had come earlier in the book I would have felt differently, but by this point we’ve already had ghosts (“Carnation, Lily” and “Hat”), unpleasant children (“Vanishing”), vague men (“Water” and “Donner Party”), strong women making all the decisions (“Flying Lessons” and “Travels”) and death (“Flying Lessons”, and again, “Carnation” and “Hat”). It seems the only new thing was the trick with the names.

“The Girl Detective” – When I started reading it, I didn’t realise that it was the last story of the book. Another rebooted myth, mixed with a little Nancy Drew, strongly in Link’s style.

One thing that stood out at me was the lack of a strong male character. Each man that appears is a wraith, a shadow of his potential, wrapped up in or around the women in his life. The women are the movers and doers and decision makers. Even when the main character is male, the women compel an action from them as if the men have no choice but the react. The closest one comes to a male-driven story is “Water”, where he does choose to chase after Rachel, but only to be able to settle into the comfortable stillness of letting her make the choices. He will subsume himself in her family and become part of the things which happen around her.

I don’t like Link’s men very much. I prefer strength and clarity of self. But, as characters, they do highlight their female counterparts in interesting ways.

Overall, I loved this collection. Link’s stories aren’t purposefully linear, as is she is remembering important bits while telling a different part of the story. She pauses delicately to tell you the piece she’d forgotten and then goes on with the piece she’d started with. Link is clearly a storyteller, letting you imagine the words falling from her lips instead of imagining yourself as a character in the tale. The whole thing has a rambling smoothness to it that turns even a chronologically fragmented piece of writing into one solid story. There were a few that I didn’t love as much as the others but I think that was more a case of too much of the same thing all in one place. Perhaps if I’d read them all, individually, with some months of space in between, I would feel differently. Perhaps not, but there are enough great stories in Stranger Things Happen that it doesn’t matter.

Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen, Small Beer Press, 2001.

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.