How many times have I heard someone gushing over their own prose? It’s vomit inducing and leaves me self conscious for most of my day.
I’m not talking about jealousy of another writer’s work, no, I am talking about the real envy that comes when someone seems to enjoy writing. I always took a small measure of comfort in the belief that all writers are masochists.
Setting aside personal time, staring at the blank screen then counting the number of blinks the cursor makes before you type in the next vowel felt necessary.
Then, all of a sudden, I’m confronted with johnny types-a-lot whose sparkling grin,stretched ear to ear, becomes the ultimate slap to all my masochistic endeavors. This wasn’t a tormented soul that gets up every morning, resurrected, to hoist themselves on that black and white cross.
Confronting that early in life sort of gave me the writing jitters. I clammed up at the keyboard, wondering if my pursuits were flawed, or if I was working against something that was innate in others.
Could I be doing this all for the wrong reason? Was I addicted to an aesthetic, a lifestyle of the sagacious old writer in twill concentrated on each pen stroke?
I hate twill, however, I love to be “tormented.” I sought that tortured artist motif and used it as a crutch to avoid my responsibility as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I am unfettered from the struggle of writing, but at least I identified the thing that keeps me from producing. It is so easy to give in to the thrill of production and a day or nights work with actual atrocity. I could be alone in this, but if by some chance you feel this way, I’d advise taking a stronger look at the way you approach coming to the keyboard.
Can mitigating martyrdom help eak out a few more paragraphs? I have been approaching the whole thing in measures. I always want to get a certain number of words for each sitting. If I go over or under, then that is not a loss of my time. The real loss is when I sit on my hands and bemoan my own tortured time plugging away at my latest edition of “Zach, tortured auteur.” Now, I use a simple mantra, “find my time, find my place, find my mindset then write.
“I think it would be therapeutic for me to write a post for our blog where I tear the shit out of movie x.” Zach said.
I smiled and nodded, happy he planned to contribute to our NAWG blog.
“But would a negative post benefit our blog in the long run?” I wondered.
Another group member and I resolved we would keep our blog a positive constructive place. Then again, Zach is our resident curmudgeon, if anyone can get away with a grouchy post, it’s him.
As I‘ve been viewing more content, I keep coming back to wondering if critical content is part of a healthy blogging habit. And if “negative” or “rant” content has a place, what’s the correct ratio to add it into a blog? Should ever blog or blogger share all opinions whether negative or positive? Am I as positive as. I portray, or is that a persona shown for approval? Even in some of my perky posts, on the edges lingers this acknowledgement of themes I don’t like.
Today there will be no dodging the question. Should we blog critical, negative, snarky, or tea spilling posts?
-Being seen as petty/mean/opinionated/loud/aggressive/bossy
-Being seen as a person who views writing as a competition and your review as a way to tear down the competition
-Risk of hurting the feelings of another human being
-Burning through the community’s goodwill for you
-Bringing you own work forward for scrutiny as you’ve scrutinized others
-Making an error or oversight in your analysis could cause you being on the end of critical content. Or you may see your own oversight, go to adjust your post and learn you’ve created an audience not open to evolving opinions.
-Negative attention is still attention and if a book/technique is damaging, you may choose not to mention them at all so you don’t accidentally drive sales to something you don’t support
-Closing venues for conversation and becoming a place to come bash an idea
-Crossing the line and getting personal in an attack (and this is NEVER) good.
-Depending on what you don’t like, risking the chance you’ll stand in the company of other opinions you find offensive or wrong
-People love drama/controversy. There is a reason videos and posts labeled “spilling the tea” or “throwing shade” rank so high and it’s because everyone loves to watch a fight.
-As Zach said, rants are therapeutic
-Sometimes critical or negative reviews are a person’s truth and I believe authenticity is more important than being nice.
-Others can misinterpret silence as approval and I don’t want to support something I didn’t like.
-Bringing critical opinions forward presents a whole and balanced person. Not someone full of eternal praise
-A negative element of an otherwise good work should be called out. A person can love something that isn’t perfect and acknowledging flaws is part of a full discussion
-The things I didn’t like may help a crowd of people who like those elements find a new favorite. What I didn’t like might be something you love about a book
This conversation is more personal than the other #bebold articles because I present as a positive person. Get to know me better and I’ll spin out into a rant on X or Y and I like to think it’s funny. People laugh, whether from the shock of me going from sunshine to dark in a blink of an eye or because I have a strong delivery, is hard to tell. The thing is, I like to read a room before sharing, and you can’t read a room in the internet.
Unlike the “silence is approval school” I’m from the “if you have nothingnice to say, then say nothing” school. I’m sensitive to even small gestures of disapproval in others and worry over their reactions if they find out I don’t enjoy their favorite show. In the past, I’ve compromised under the guise of kindness. I post all reviews to Goodreads but don’t make blogs from bad books. Recently I’d considered writing a bottom 5 books of 2018 and dismissed the idea. Three of the books were from a single author and it struck me as excessively mean spirited to single out an author this way.
I’m dipping my toes into critical reviews while blogging. First, I wrote a post on why I stopped reading Daily Science Fiction. It’s not mean, but it expresses that I didn’t like the site or most of the stories on offer. My 2018 book year in review shares both positive and negative thoughts on books. Even then, most of my critical feedback revolves around non-fiction books that present bad/dangerous science. I feel like giving them lower scores is a public service. Do your research world!
I wrote a critical review on a writing class I took. There I spoke out because I’d paid money for the class. If it had been free, there would be no post. The posts gathered the low end of average views.
Currently I’m brainstorming a series of posts called “Writing Cliches” where I discuss overused techniques in genres and why they bother me/what else you can do. I think it will be snarky fun with a goal of helping writers avoid played out scenarios and offering other ways to move the story.
Should you write a critical post? I don’t really know.
I love reading critical posts where the writer explores what worked, where they suggest how idea x could come across better, or where they pitch a “better” story. Occasionally, I even enjoy a certain level of mean snark. That said, I’m not comfortable with the format. Even as I enjoy consuming some of this style of content, I prefer to create the helpful, glass half full kinds of posts. More than the other posts discussed in this #BeBold series, I suggest moderation. A few critical posts go a long way after all.
Creative writers often debate the wisdom of publishing fiction and short stories to their blogs or posting a creation process behind their creations. In this post, I will explore the “pros” and “cons” of content. The topic includes posting short works to a blog or through another site for free, posting spin off works, and posting a “how I made story x”style posts. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m in favor of all these style posts and my bias shows. Please consider checking out part one in my Be Bold Series regarding posting site metrics on my personal blog
-You are wasting a story you could have gotten published for profit
-The story you post may be stolen by an unscrupulous person and they may get it published for profit or collect credit on their better known site
-You may have held onto the story, continued to work on it and come up a longer, more complete story instead of the short work you published
-Offering work for free reduces the market for paid work. Why pay money when you can get writing for free?
-Your work may be and the work of your peers may be devalued. Some believe that free writing is bad writing. There’s a further idea that free blog writing is writing that could not have been “legitimately” published so they released it “on the cheap.”
-There are concerns around formatting and presentation of fictional works posted to a blog, just as there are formatting challenges through epub.
-You as a writer offer readers a sample of your style and theme so they can make a better informed decision if they want to commit to a longer work. The works I’ve published highlight elements in writing I specialize in and may help me find the right audience home.
-Alternatively, you may have a one off story that doesn’t fit your genre and still wish to share it. I have a drama piece that‘s out of place with my over all portfolio I‘d one day like to publish. I don’t want to learn all the ins and outs of the drama genre for one piece, a simple answer may be to publish it through a blog.
-You’ve written a work for fun. Our writing group exercises often fall in this category. We were challenging ourselves and just want to share the results.
-You want more direct interaction with your audience. One thing I love about publishing to a blog is that readers post their thoughts and I enjoy that. Yes I can get feedback via a review on a work, but reviews are for other readers. A comment is for both the author and other readers. It’s nice to have an open conversation with my readers.
-Your shorts may be companion pieces to a longer work. For example: I have a “Downtown Huntsville Tourist Trap” book written from the perspective of the characters from “Follow Me: Tattered Veils”. I also have a drink recipe guide and a tarot guide, all a possible collections for people who enjoy my novel and want more from the voices of these characters. I have deleted scenes I may publish to add to the novel hype when I launch the book. Here, I’m selling my novel but adding free bonus material because giving away some writing doesn’t mean I don‘t charge for other works.
Since I have posted flash fiction and short fiction, it’s obvious I’m in favor of releasing my writing through blog posts. However, I will add that it comes down to a case of audience or career. I accept that writing can never be a career for me (for many reasons). My writers’ goals include finding and keeping the largest audience the themes and style of my writing will allow. Is that ten people or a million: I’m not sure. Adding short stories, blogging, and a social media presence are all tactics I’m incorporating to find out.
I’ve never been shy regarding posting my stories. There are a few I regret sharing, but those are from a long buried high school account. Even then, it’s more about the cringe factor than the “missed opportunity” or “devalued work”.
What do you think? Do you read short stories from blogs and free sites? Do you post your own stories for free? Is there a situation where you would give away content? Are there situations where you would never give away content? Share any thoughts you have on getting published for free or reading work that’s been published for free.
It has been a while since starting one of these recommend blogs. In reviewing the others, it seems I always pick up a book with hesitation. Tree of Ages is no different. While I was fascinated with the idea a tree becomes human (I have a love for plant stories and non-traditional sentience), I was worried it would be one of those “chosen one with amnesia stories.” We’d find out it wasn’t a tree becoming human but a human who became a tree and then returned human for— reasons. It’s a fantasy trope.
And Tree of Ages is about a human-ish character who became a tree returning to her original form with amnesia. So, if what I feared is true, why did I enjoy the series? First, because tree girl insists for the first third of the story arc she IS a tree and if she is not a tree, she prefers being a tree. It explores all the tree sentience vs human sentience desired, plus readers get to hear about tree superiority. I enjoy stories where human forms are not the default “best” choice. Through fantasy speculation of this variety, I think we invite conversations about different levels of humanity, and observing what may be just different instead of better or worse. It also creates compassion and likeness to the rest of nature.
Tree of Ages has a HUGE ensemble cast and all of them are developed with story arcs. There are fifteen characters I can think of just off the top of my head who connect with readers. Granted Sara C. Roethle has five books to make these connections, but she starts strong in book one with eight characters and she keeps adding.
I appreciated that the story in these pages was about characters. Yes, a bunch of action happens around the characters, but the action never drives the story, the characters decisions/desires/weaknesses move the plot forward. It’s refreshing to have a solid sense of place, history, and change while also allowing the characters to use personality to move forward.
Is the series perfect? No. I have conflicted feelings on how gay and bi characters were represented. Kudos to Roethle for including diversity of gender and sexuality. I loved how women were portrayed, but there are flaws in her portrayals of gay and bi characters. All of her gay/bi characters start off or remain villains. The one bi character is first portrayed as a lesbian and she falls in love with a male character as she “lightens” and becomes more of a good guy. I don‘t know this was intentional, but I recoiled from that effect.
A gay sailor dies in pain from poison in the swamps and he dies cursing the protagonist. This is sad because his death did not reflect his life. While we, the readers, had minimal interaction, it was clear he had longstanding relationships with two of the cast and he was developing a friendship with Finn, our lead. The bitterness he displayed in death didn‘t match his tone in life.
Aed’s daughter (whose name I can’t recall) appears to be a lesbian (she uses sexuality on both genders but her attraction seems to be fore women), and she is the antagonist for most the series. Even when she‘s not the antagonist, we have sympathy for her without ever liking her. She has a superiority complex and manipulates family and lovers in ways I find abusive.
Belinda, is the lesbian lover of Aed’s daughter and part of her guard. Her arc feels glossed over and rushed in the book, like Roethle couldn‘t figure out her motivations or place within the story. She becomes Finn‘s friend with ease, but she never connects with the crew on any side of the skirmish. She has the opportunity to form lasting relationships with five of the characters and never does, which leaves her an odd and floating in space character.
I’d overlook some of these messed up relationships but the straight counter parts are more healthy. There‘s the ever present annoying love triangle and there is a lot of unhealthy baggage with it. So much, I thought the characters would end up in a threesome (and note to writers, just add the threesome if that‘s what you want, don’t dance around it with a love triangle where everyone respects each other and is friends afterward). Having deep relationships with both people at the same time feels a little like exploiting each person since it lacks an open conversation, but each relationship makes sense and appears to have the right give and take. There‘s a marriage where the development seemed abrupt but over all healthy. The bi character‘s straight relationship is healing for her (which portrays straight relationships as a positive WHILE implying that gay relationships result from trauma so double bad). Even the villainous pair end up in what appears to be a loving straight relationship.
Overall, I recommend the series. It’s a series where the goals change as characters learn more and evolve, but where readers are always rooting for their favorites. I like that no one person’s destiny seems carved in stone and the cast changes rolls as the novels progress. I wish the inclusion of gay/bisexual characters was handled more mindfully, but there‘s so much unique going on in the series, I can still recommend it as a whole work.
Take Aways from Sara C. Roethle’s Success:
1. Women have a place in high fantasy and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence. Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre)
2. While a strong sense of place and world building is necessary to creating memorable and lasting fantasy environments, it does not have to drive the plot. Set the story, let it present options, but don‘t fight if your characters pick a third path the setting doesn‘t seem to offer.
3. Make your story about the character relationships. It’s not “wishy washy” for characters to change their minds, become heroes/villains in their own right, or to decide something they never would consider 100 pages back. So long as the change develops during those 100 pages it becomes a compelling full study of the decision along with the results that come from making certain choices. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending. Be confident in your characters and larger world building. People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.
4. Relationships can develop without a lot of angst or sexual tension. While there are problems with how Roethle portrays relationships like some of the people who end up together show what I consider friendship without the push to romance (this is bad because it perpetuates the idea that close relationships=sexual elements and that’s NOT true in real life or in fiction), she does a wonderful job creating loyalty and tenderness in her characters. As someone who skips sex scenes and rolls my eyes when there’s too much “attraction” build up in a story, I appreciated that she chose to skip it.
2. I race through Submittable. It’s a sloppy hunt, but I do my best to include EVERYTHING out in the world that meets my criteria
3. I order all the open calls by due date for an easy calendar style view, next I provide a word count so writers can best decide if they can create something that length in the time allotted. Then I the story’s theme, if there is a response timeline, I add that, and I close with the pay.
4. I only include publications that include $.01 word pay out or a royalty pay out.
5. I stick open calls I believe will interest my writers’ group. Poetry, venues looking for the writers to represent a subgroup other than white male (though I do sometimes include women, queer, disabled calls as we have group members who qualify), some genre requests, and erotica calls are omitted.
That’s it. Over this year, it became an organized system I’m proud of, but it does take a long time to find the information and copy it all into the blog. Hours across days go into what looks like a very simple post. I hope it helps people and while you’re here go look at my December Round Up to see if anything appeals.
Enough about me, I want to hear from you.
Are there other elements or organizations I should include? Do you like how I organize the calls and the information necessary to submit? How do you decide who to submit to? Do you submit to publications that pay less than $.01 a word and if so tell me a little about why/what you believe you gain.
Long time readers of the North Alabama Writers’ Group blog may know I started a monthly series called “The Best of Daily Science Fiction”. For this series, I read every story Daily Science Fiction published each month and featured the works I enjoyed. I stopped the series after Feb even though I read all the stories through April. I stopped posting the series because:
1. Creating a post with so many links and references was a hassle. It takes a long time to write, edit, and find a photo for most posts. What takes 20 minutes to write ends up taking an hour and a half to get set up for publication. These Daily Science Fiction posts took FAR longer because I would research the authors of stories I featured and link to other works/sites where readers could find them. The feedback I got wasn’t worth the time.
2. I didn’t enjoy reading Daily Science Fiction. It pains me to type this, but the truth is: most of the stories Daily Science Fiction aren’t fun, interesting, or unique. And I want to like Daily Science Fiction, but I can’t.
3. Reading the stories there and trying to pick “good ones” was lowering my standards. While I compiled stories for March’s post, I included anything that “was a story” even if I thought that story was cliche. Reviewing the stories to post spiralled me into a depression. Where were my standards? Since when has “almost having a conclusion” good enough? I would never accept something so sloppy in my work or in the work of my fellows. Why was I recommending work that didn‘t inspire emotion or new thoughts? To fill out a blog post, no I wouldn‘t do it.
4. Daily Science Fiction has a terrible website. It‘s slow and often crashes. This is annoying when one is trying to comb through it for cross links. It’s also pretty frustrating when I would try to rate the stories only to have the site continually crash. I suspected the site craps out intentionally if you‘re giving a low score to a story most people seem to like. This conspiracy theory is probably not true, but it‘s hard to keep pleasant thoughts for a site that refused to load consistently. It is a professional paid market, get some web support!
5. I hate the layout of Daily Science Fiction’s website. I would try to search for ALL the stories from authors I enjoyed or from authors I was “on the fence” to read more, and the search engine was super clunky. Also Daily Science Fiction lets repeat published authors write very different bios for each story they submit so I often had to read through as many stories as possible, read the story AND the author bio again looking for hints. They should just have a directory with the most up-to-date bio of each published author in alphabetical order and include links to any publications they‘ve ever had within Daily Science Fiction. This is website networking 101. If the goal of your publication is to offer short scifi work to readers and feature writers others might otherwise never read, make it easier for readers to find more from these writers!
6. The website is ugly. This is petty and not worth mentioning when a site is easy to navigate, but Daily Science Fiction isn’t well laid out. Being on a site that crashes often, takes a while to load, and doesn‘t search well, gives a person a long time to see how unpleasant the whole experience is. The over all aesthetic quality matters a lot more. Guess what, Daily Science Fiction isn‘t winning any awards in color scheme or intuitive navigation.
Tell me about your experiences. What turns you off to a website? What do you look for in a flash or in recurring newsletters? Do you read Daily Science fiction and if so, what’s your experience as a reader? Have you published through Daily Science Fiction and what was that experience like?
I write all kinds of stories, but my favorite ones are where my character is presented with an opportunity for violence and rejects it. It’s where my real life persona bleeds into my writing.
It’s difficult as a writer to create stories centered in nonviolence. A death, fight, or even the threat of violence creates stakes in a work that keeps readers interested. If no one is going to die or be harmed, then what drives investment?
Build interesting Characters. Characters a reader wants to learn about benefit ALL works, but building a curiosity about “what will happen next” when a reader is confident the character is “safe” is crucial if you aren’t going to hold anyone’s life at gunpoint. Readers have to invest because these your characters are funny, charming, quirky, intelligent, or determined.
Build Relationships. Core to the soap opera genre is the “will they won’t they” “What will happen when Susie finds out?!” kind of drama. While soap operas also offer violence, often because serials have gone on soooo long, every relationship twist has been picked clean. If you create deep complicated characters with established relationships, they you can hold interest with their interactions a long time, without ever threatening anyone’s life.
Have a lot of characters. People are social animals, and we like social interactions. Instead of two main characters. Have ten. Let them have their own side plots, spread them out in your world. Let them argue, separate, go their own ways and meet back up. Conflicted goals and ideas can create a rat race to see who achieves their ends firsts. Watch the “good people” get lost in less than moral means to their ends and the “bad people” gain humanity as they see all the harm created from theft x.
Add Mystery. If people aren’t going around stabbing each other and shooting up schools, then there needs to be something else happening. A quest, a pilgrimage, a strange ritual, or an action element that’s out of place. Something curious or suspicious that makes readers wonder “what’s really going on?”
Add Movement. Violence is often equated with action, but it doesn’t have to be. Dance, chases, cooking/cafes/restaurants/hotels all incorporate motion by design. Giving the reader little actions to focus on
To be included in this issue markets must pay at least $.01 a word. Some flat rates only pay that if writers stick to the minimum word count, and royalty pay = all bets are off.
Speculative City: open word count suggests nothing above 5,500 word count. Looking for a speculative work using the theme “knowledge” has a preference for under represented characters within the genre but accepts all stories. responds in 90 days. pays $20-$75
Shooter:2,000-7,500 words the theme is rivalry “Send us stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with competition, antagonism, warring forces and individual foes. The context might be sports, business, romance, politics, survival; the characters might be students, frenemies, parents, current and former lovers, courtroom opponents. As ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.” pay $25 a story
Pseudopod: 1,500-6,000 words “We’re looking for horror: dark, weird fiction. We run the spectrum from grim realism or crime drama, to magic-realism, to blatantly supernatural dark fantasy. We publish highly literary stories reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft as well as vulgar shock-value pulp fiction.” pay is $.06 a word
One Story: 3,000-8,000 words looking for literary fiction that stands on it’s own. 3 month response time. pay $500 and 25 contributor copies
Bikes in Space, the Non Binary Edition: 500-8,000 words on bikes in space scifi/fantasy genre with author and characters with non binary gender expression pay is at least $30 with 5 contributor copies
Lamplight: up to 7,000 words “dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”” pay is $.03 a word
Gehenna& Hinnom Books: 250-3,000 for flash and 3,001-5,000 word short story “We are looking for stories that fit the themes of Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy are all welcomed, as long as they fit in the realms of Weird and Cosmic. All stories must also be speculative in some way. What we mean by this is that we don’t want stories based in realism. ” pay is $45 for flash and $55 for short story
Apparition: up to 1,000 words on the theme security pay is $5 flat rate
Nothing’s Sacred: 3,000 words max “The horror within can range from subtle to grotesque, psychological to physical, dark to full out terror so long as it is character driven. Theme wise, Nothing’s Sacred is relatively open outside of distasteful stories of rape, the degradation and/or humiliation of women, and child porn of any kind.”pay is $.05 a word and accepting the magazine’s hypocritical title
Moonlit Dreams/ Moonlit Nightmare: 1,500-10,000 words “short stories that explore the nature of the psyche, the world (or worlds) around us, and that speaks in some way to the theme presented. Stories should be well crafted and flushed out, having elements of a great story that could be told for generations to come. Including such things as romance, intrigue, comedy or drama are all par for the course as far as I’m concerned – the key is to write a story that lingers both in your heart and mind by the time the last page is turned.” pay is $.01 a word
Mickey Finn 20th Century Noir: about 5,000 words under 3,000 is probably too short and over 8,000 will be too long “An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, Mickey Finnwill pick up where the three-volume Fedora anthology series left off, pushing hard against the boundaries of crime fiction. Contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule.” won’t hear back to Feb 2019 pay is royalties
The Twelfth Planet Press:17,000-40,000 words “We want gritty pieces that challenge the system and punch the patriarchy in the face. We want stories that resist and rebel… and maybe also books that comfort & inspire. For when things are bad out there in the world. We are looking for books that feed the angry soul.” pay is $300 plus royalties
Moonlight a Queer Werewolf Anthology: 1,000-2,000 words “Whether your werewolves are in space, school, or ruffing it in the outdoors, it doesn’t matter to us! We are looking for stories that span genres and tones. Your werewolves may be moody or the life of the party. All that matters is that they are openly queer and that there is an engaging story around them to be told.” pay is $.07 a word
Crannog: under 2,000 words no genre or guidelines pay is $50 per story
Apparition: 1,000-5,000 words on the theme of resistance “Apparition Lit is seeking original, unpublished speculative fiction that meet our quarterly theme. Speculative fiction is weird, almost unclassifiable. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and literary. We want it all. Send us your strange, misshapen stories.” pay is $.03 a word
Podcastle: up to 6,000 words “looking for fantasy stories. We’re open to all the sub-genres of fantasy, from magical realism to urban fantasy to slipstream to high fantasy, and everything in between. Fantastical or non-real content should be meaningful to the story.” pay is $.06 a word
Martian Migraine Press Monstrous Outlines: 1,500-7,000 words “an anthology of horror and weird fiction with a focus on the theme of camouflage: people, entities, monsters, gods, even concepts, that masquerade as things other than themselves. Predators in plain sight, deities on their down time, sublime extra-dimensional terrors slumming in 4D. We want to see stories of exceptionally well done camouflage, all the more baffling and frightening for its seamless nature. We want to see stories of seeming where the hidden thing is poorly hidden for a number of reasons: perhaps there are layers to its camouflage, or perhaps it doesn’t care how well it hides. Imagine the moment when the perfectly hidden thing reveals itself. When the poorly hidden thing reveals itself. We’re also interested in duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters.” pay is $.03 a word
Remnants: word count varies a post apocalypse shared world story/series go to the site for details. Pay: royalties
2100 A Health Odyssey: “give us your best 3,000-word short story that challenges today’s assumptions about the future of health care in the U.S. We’re offering a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $5,000 and other prizes for runners up and current employees, students and alumni of Jefferson.“
This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Halloween Spirit” and as such is contains spoilers for that work. For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).
Zach Standfield challenged me to write a piece of flash fiction in August. One of the ideas I had was to create an elaborate detailed summoning rite that brought about the end of the world. The short work would focus on my strengths: lyric description and magic set in a modern world. It would avoid my weakness for action scenes and it side steps issues I have about over explaining or creating a finite conclusion.
I wrote two flash works for Zach (neither of which he’s seen) and they both took a grim turn resulting in the brutal murder of the female main character from outside forces she surrenders to. Waaaaay too close a metaphor for the suicidal tendencies slipping into my own head because I’m not handling stress well at work. For the record, I’m not contemplating a plan to end my life, it would be stupid to take a permanent solution for a fleeting problem. But the stress from ongoing conflicts at work is leading me to think “it would be much easier if I wasn’t around” and that was coming through too literally in my writing.
I shelved the third flash idea since I didn’t want it to morph into a 30 something female woman sacrificing herself on the boardroom floor, using the energy of her death to open a hell dimension that forces the people who mistreated her their to suffer for eternity.
Then, I had an idea for our blog. Each of us should write a Halloween themed flash for our blog. Awesome idea, except I suck at short stories and had no idea what I would write.
I thought maybe I’d lean into my fae angle and do a “Wild Hunt” style thing, but “The Most Dangerous Game” already exists. Plus, the idea took over 1,000 words to explore. If I wanted to do something new/interesting, it would take more than 1,000 words.
Next I thought “what’s my thing in the writers’ group?” My literary device is some kind of magic. This reminded me of the summoning story I‘d planned for Zach’s challenge. The problem: no Halloween tie in. So I changed the summons and instead of focusing on a cinematic summoning ritual, I focused on the holiday and hidden darkness that lingers in the fall. I played on the “Wicca” God and Goddess creation myth where the Goddess Births the God, they become lovers, and he dies on Samhain, to be birthed out again in the following Yule. I tossed in two cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973) references to hearken the reader back to a certain time and tone.
For birds gathering, I chose crows over ravens primarily to reference the figure “The Crow” (1994) and foreshadow the death elements. Also, crow mythology pegs the creatures as watchful, resourceful and often tricksters… all elements I wanted to elicit in my story. I thought about using Ravens in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, but those birds are larger, live in only specific regions, and mythologically relate back to winter.
I wrote the first 600 words in one afternoon and would have finished, but I had to stop and go to work. I reread/edited what I had so far and finished the first draft four days later. Ran everything through ProWritingAid and posted to Google Docs for the Writers’ Group to Critique. I read it out loud one last time and added it to our queue for publication.
While the creation process was painless, I’m torn on whether I like the final product. There are great single lines and ideas, but the word limit combined with the time constraint kept me from digging in to find a perfect moment. I usually only consider works done after months of review and reflection, so I figure in six months time, I’ll know what would make this story engaging.
Interested in reading more from Jessica Donegan? Check out the NEWG bliz round robin exercise here with Jessica’s ending available here
I spent last weekend enjoying DragonCon 2018 in Atlanta. I attended as many of the writing panels as I could manage, including two 15 minute one-on-one mentoring sessions with Jody Lynn Nye and Robert J. Sawyer, which were great.
Here, in no particular order, are the 12 best pieces of writing advice I collected. It was going to be 10, but I thought of a couple more. Check out Twitter (@NAWG and my personal Twitter @CMPalmer) for any new ones I think of.
Small presses and online only markets are great for building confidence and getting your name out there, but you should make a habit of submitting to the highest paying, most prestigious markets first and working your way downward. You’ll probably garner more rejections, but when you do get a hit, the reward will be worth it.
Telling your whole story to someone can sap your will to actually write it. You may want to consider just sharing your “elevator pitch” with others until the story is finished. Build anticipation from others as well as yourself.
Similarly, some writers avoid writing the last scene or last chapter of a work until they’ve finished revising the rest. Write up to the end, go back and revise, and when you’re happy with the whole thing, go ahead and write the last scene/chapter. Once you’ve written the ending, your brain says “You’re done!” and saps your energy for revision.
Don’t over-read or over-edit. Finish a story, but it aside for a week or two and work on something else, then come back to it with fresh eyes. If you obsessively read through a story, you’ll either not see the errors or (in my case) start overthinking it and hating it.
When revising and editing, know the difference between “better” and “just different.” Any edits will make your story different, but do they make it better? When you’ve removed and reinserted the same comma five times, it’s time to submit it somewhere and move on.
When writing novels, remember that most publishers are accepting works that won’t be published for a couple of years. Chasing the current hot trends isn’t always a good idea because that trend may be dead by the time a potential book would be published.
If you’re not writing what you want to write and the kinds of things you like to read, you’re probably not going to be successful. Writing what you think is “hot” even if you don’t like the style or genre is a bad idea.
If all you have is non-pro sales, only include them in your cover letter to pro-markets to inform the editors that you can be worked with. Too many people can’t handle editorial input and a pro-editor isn’t going to invest the time to mark up your work if you’re going to be obstinate about making any edits to your precious baby.
In writing science fiction in particular, if the idea is old enough, you can use it as a standard trope, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your story. In other words, you shouldn’t write a book about discovering a ringworld and exploring it, but your space opera universe might include ringworlds. Science fiction is always “standing on the shoulders of giants” and expanding the vocabulary. You shouldn’t steal, but you can borrow.
The main difference between writing a short story and a novel is the complexity of the plot. Short stories have one, maybe two, plot points. Novels have to have many more.
John W. Campbell used to read slush pile manuscripts with a red pen, but usually his only mark was a red line under the point where he stopped reading. Ask your writer’s group and beta readers to put a red line where they would have given up if they weren’t committed to reading through your story. This is pretty hard advice, but I’d love to know. I know I give up on stories even in magazines and “best of” anthologies sometimes.
With a short story, you’ve got a first line and maybe one or two paragraphs to hook a reader (and an editor is just a reader with way too many stories to read). For a novel, you might stretch that to a few pages. One editor last year said, “Nobody wants to read your story. Particularly the slush pile editor. It’s your job to make it impossible for them not to read your story once they’ve read the first paragraph.”