Monday, September 9, 2019

Will Write for Money

I suppose I should get over it.  I feel mercenary about writing for money.  Almost as if I’ve sold out.  What a strange way to announce my first story accepted for publication for pay.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m absolutely thrilled.  I’ve received prize money for my writing before, but getting paid to have someone publish it is new.

This past week two bits of good news arrived on the same day.  My story “Meh-Teh” was accepted by The Colored Lens, and they’re a paying venue.  Simultaneously my story “Creative Writing Club” received honorable mention in Typehouse’s second biennial short fiction contest.  I literally had to go for a jog after opening the emails just to clear my head.

You see, I’ve been writing fiction for forty years.  I sent my first story in for publication a decade ago.  It won a contest.  Then the rejections began rolling in.  I’ve lost track of how many there have been.  Indeed, in this latest batch of stories I’ve sent out, I’ve already received multiple rejections.  Two acceptances on the same day was almost like going to the miracle store.

Not only that, but two of the three stories recently accepted are Breck stories.  Long before I knew that Stephen King had made up Derry, Maine, I had invented a town called Breck, in New Hampshire, where many of the weird things in my stories happen.  I have maps of Breck and a list of well over 50 characters who live in the town, all of them in stories I’ve written.  (I have a tremendous backlog.)

I’ve always wanted some of these Breck stories to see the light of other people’s eyes.  It’s a kind of affirmation for the world-building I like to do.  The laws of physics don’t always strictly apply in Breck.  Monsters live there—inhuman, some of them.  In fact, the narrator of my novel lived there. 

A certain cynicism attends being paid for writing.  Like an artist has sold out.  Still, considering the many thousands of hours I put into my writing, it seems like a little pay is only fair.  Besides, I still write what I want to write, whether anyone pays me for it or not.  I guess I’m not so mercenary after all.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

No Advice

Write and you’ll get advice.  Some years ago I signed up for Medium, a social network with many writers.  Now I get daily advice from the website, sometimes helpful, sometimes not.  You see, there’s no wrong way to write.

Days after receiving the happy news that Ghostlight had accepted “The Pain of a Caterpillar” for publication, The Colored Lens emailed to say they were seriously considering “Meh-Teh” for their next edition.  It’s not the same as an acceptance, but a struggling writer takes all the signs of hope offered.

Rod Serling, about whom I’ve written before, had a quote about writing that has stuck with me, although I can’t remember the exact words.  He noted that only writers understand the pain of rejection in the way with which we’re all so familiar.  As usual, he said it much more eloquently.  Still, having someone say “Maybe” is better than the more familiar “No.”

I call myself a struggling writer because I’ve been at this for over forty years and I still haven’t got it licked.  I’ve published non-fiction books under my real name, but they aren’t widely known.  Besides, fiction is where the heart is.

On Medium, the advice constantly flows.  I don’t post on this blog to give advice.  I do it simply to provide encouragement.  Those of us who write are an odd bunch.  Misfits, often.  I was out in a crowd the other night and couldn’t help noticing nobody else was dressed remotely like me.  No one else had a pen and a Moleskine in his pocket, ready to be pounced upon by an idea.  It was its own Twilight Zone.

I tried to publish my first story when I was a teen.  The experience was so traumatic that I wait three decades before I tried it again.  Now the occasional acceptances are starting to shuffle in.  Take heart, my writing siblings!  For me this has been a half-century journey.  And all it takes is one “Yes” to make it all worthwhile.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Caterpillar Pain

Every great once in a while something extraordinary happens.  As I mentioned in my last post, I really hadn’t submitted fiction for publication for almost three years.  (I had a couple of non-fiction projects going.)  About three weeks ago I began submitting again.

I have a backlog of stories ready to go.  That backlog is now one story less.  “The Pain of a Caterpillar” was accepted, to my great delight, by Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror.  I’ve finally broken the magical number of twenty short stories accepted for publication.

The truly remarkable thing, however, was the alacrity with which it was accepted.  I have been writing fiction for over forty years and never had a story accepted on the same day it was submitted before.  I was absolutely thrilled.

As a writer, fewer things make you feel as validated as acceptance.  You have to go through an awful lot of rejection to get there.  This particular story was one I was particularly fond of.  It ties together several aspects of my own experience and my own fears.

I know quite a few editors, and one truth that may sometimes lie hidden is just how much power they have.  My Medusa novel was accepted by an editor who left the press where it was contracted (Vagabondage) before it could be published.  The new editor didn’t like it, and killed it.

Editors, obviously, are people too.  Your story (or even non-fiction) must strike them as a good fit or it goes nowhere.  As much as my self-pity tells me it’s my fault, it’s really not.  There’s always an element of chance involved.  But you have to try otherwise your work will never get accepted.

I’ve read of writers getting first drafts published.  I tend to edit, and edit, and edit again.  Thousands of words fill bloody trenches with my sacrificial cutting.  Appropriate, I suppose, for a writer of scary stories.  As usual, I’ll post on the story once it appears.  Until then, I’ve got a backlog to replenish.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Spreading the Sheet

I used to tell a young friend interested in writing that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.  While I write in some form every day—lately it has been non-fiction—I have been wondering if I go about my fiction the right way.  I wonder this because I keep a spreadsheet.

This spreadsheet contains information about every submission I’ve made: the date sent, to which magazine, word count, and response.  I color-code everything so I can tell at a glance if a story’s still awaiting a publisher or not.

While looking at this spreadsheet recently, I noticed that it had been two or three years since I’d tried to get any fiction published.  Well, apart from my novel (which is also on the spreadsheet); I sent it to an agent who turned it down earlier this year.  What I noticed about my submissions is that they tend to happen in June.

I’m not a student and I’m no longer a teacher, so June has no special connection with free time.  I do, however, tend to send out lots of submissions in a manic way, when my courage is running high enough to take rejections.   I guess June is good for overlooking rejections.  I also noticed that many of the journals on my target list had folded.

Literature, it seems, is a temporary phenomenon.  I don’t believe there’s a wrong way to do it, however.  I don’t think it helps to forget what stories I’ve edited, though.  Problem is I have too many ideas and sometimes they take years to find completion, even in short-form.  On a long drive yesterday I had three short story ideas.  Who has time to write them all?

On one of Michael Stevens’ Vsauce videos he mentions the published notebooks of an author I’d never heard of.  As he held up the book (published by Penguin, no less) I thought of how those of us who write are focused on the future.  Yes, I dream of getting some money from my writing, but in the long term becoming moderately famous after death would be okay too.  There’s no wrong way to do it, after all.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Agent Secret

Just yesterday I found out another academic colleague is a wannabe novelist.  Unaware that I had written six novels and more short stories than I can count (I don’t have that many fingers), she asked me if I knew anything about getting an agent.  My response: I know a lot about NOT getting an agent.

You see, a friend of mine knows an agent.  He introduced us via email.  The agent kindly agreed to consider my Medusa novel, even though two weeks later he forgot who I was.  At least he read it.  No other agent has.  Didn’t sway him, though.

I spend some time on  They have some great stuff about writing.  They won’t care to read much of your stuff unless you’ve had more success than I have, but then, I’ve got a nine-to-five and I take my writing way too seriously.

Hearing from my professorial colleague got me excited about my fiction again.  Problem is I’ve got a non-fiction tome under contract and a deadline nearing.  If there were 36-hour days on this planet I might be able to get some fiction in edgewise.

Writing a book—any book—takes more time than you might imagine.  If you want to do it well.  Agents don’t want to hear it.  They want it to sparkle.  And by that I mean they want to see commercial potential.  They’re not interested in getting you off to a start.  It’s a shortsighted outlook.

My Medusa novel has movie tie-in potential.  I would say that, of course, but it’s true.  Circe is still hitting the readers’ fav lists.  And I taught classical mythology for a couple years at a state university.  I have edited, reedited, and rereedited that novel.  It sparkles.

Do I know anything about getting an agent?  Yes.  I’ve contacted several.  I know their standard rejects by heart.  If your soul’s not been sold to this craft, however, you might consider taking up knitting instead.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Courting Agency

So I finally got an agent to talk to me.  That doesn’t mean he’ll represent me, but he knows, at least a little of, who I am.  This didn’t come about through a web search and cold call.  He agreed to talk to me because we have a mutual friend.

This friend I have never met.  He contacted me after reading a blog post.  We subsequently talked by phone.  He emails me often.  He’s a real booster.  Turns out he’s a writer too.  Those of us who write need one another.

My friend doesn’t know my pseudonym.  In fact, most friends to whom I’ve revealed it have forgotten.  They grow weary of waiting until I break through.  Until they can say “I knew him when.”  Of what does breaking through consist?

Twenty of my short stories have been published.  My fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Write Well Award (Silver Pen Writers Association), and the Best of the Web Award.  I won the Danse Macabre 2009 prix d’écriture de Noël in Fiction, and third place in Calliope’s 20th Annual Fiction Contest (2014).  Where’s the confetti?  Where’s the champaign?

For any of that you need an agent for the Lowells speak only to the Cabots, and the Cabots speak only to God, so I’ve been told.  (Not by a Lowell or Cabot, for they do not speak to the un-agented.)  

Over the years I’ve sent many agent queries, for both fiction and non.  To get attention you have to have already made some serious money by your writing.  Or maybe, as in my case, you have a friend who’s willing to share.

You see, my Medusa novel, for sentimental reasons, has to be the first one published.  Will it make money?  Yes, I think so.  Even if it doesn’t it is the labor of my earlier life.  All authors, even Steven King, have a backstory of rejection.  Editors can be a thick-headed lot.

I’m dithering now whether to send said friendly agent my novel.  He said I should.  There’s got to be a word for this: getting so far that you hesitate to go further because the next step could be a break-through, or it could put you back at Go without collecting your $200.  If only I had an agent to handle the money part...

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Holy Horror

My friend Steve likes horror movies.  It’s something we share in common, and it’s one of the things that brought us together back in college.  He recently published a book that some horror fans will enjoy—Holy Horror.

The idea here—Steve used to teach biblical studies—is that you can learn quite a bit about the Bible from watching horror movies.  It’s an interesting idea because a lot of conservative Christians believe horror is evil.  From the Devil, even.

I find this kind of book interesting because it bring two unexpected fields together.  I write horror stories.  (I’ve got one ready to go, if I can only find the time to get it through Submittable.)  I watch horror movies.  Who would think of finding the Bible in such places?

His larger point, I think, is that horror and religion are closely related.  That I can get!  Have you seen the how the evangelicals behave lately?  How they rally around Trump?  There’s horror right there!

Reading this, what struck me is how often the Bible shows up in horror films.  At first I thought this book was simply all the movies where the Good Book appears in horror.  Clearly it’s not.  Steve hasn’t watched as much horror as I have and he missed a few obvious examples.

Horror will likely never become mainstream.  The reason is that many people don’t like horror, but also many people don’t understand that horror deals with existential issues.  Many horror films are great movies.  Every time I watch The Shining (where Steve starts) or The Exorcist (where he lingers) I say to myself, “That was a great movie!”

Religion has been part of horror perhaps from the beginning.  Most clearly, however, it entered the scene in Rosemary’s Baby.  Holy Horror starts in 1960, and comes up to pretty much the present.  It’s a fun read.  A little on the pricey side, but for my money, it was worth it.  It’s what I call guilty pleasure.