Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Last Day

So, it’s the last day of 2019.  I awoke this morning to find a rejection letter in my inbox.  I say “good riddance” to this past year, although it had a little publishing success.  It was better than 2018 in that regard.

I’ve got a young writing partner.  She hasn’t published anything yet, but she’s one of the natural best writers I know.  We encourage each other when the going’s rough.  She ended up in the hospital in 2019, and when visiting her she got me to submit some stories again.  Facing an illness will do that to you.

Of the stories I sent in during 2019 two were accepted for publication and one won honorable mention in a contest (but alas, wasn’t published).  I sent out a bunch more late in the year and this morning’s rejection may be—it’s too early to tell—the last of blessed 2019.

I don’t let my failures stop me from writing.  I’ve got a fourth nonfiction book under contract and nearly ready to submit.  While waiting to get the research books read, I’ve been coming back to fiction again.  One of my resolutions is to post here more this coming year.

The thing about failure is that it helps to read the stats of others who’ve faced rejection.  Most of the truly impactful fiction ever written was rejected multiple, multiple times.  Editors are only human.  And humans have likes.  And dislikes.

Although you can’t tell by looking here, 2019 was a very busy writing year for me.  I’ve got tons of stories in the works.  A new plot came to me just this morning, before opening that fateful email.  If I let rejections stop me, I’ll be giving in to the swirling cesspool that was 2019.

Some of us write, looking toward the time after we’ll be gone and some relative, or executor will poke around our hard disks and find something that might be worth submitting.  It may be a macabre way to start a new year, but for struggling writers, whatever it takes will have to do.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Without Crutches

Several years ago now I wrote a story called “Without Crutches.”  Ah, distinctly I remember, it was before the wonderful journal Glimmer Train closed down.  I was going through one of my phases of actually reading journals before submitting, and I’d read a tale or two in said Train about characters with addictions.

Perhaps going back to the almost mythic Edgar Allan Poe, writers have struggled with mind-altering substances.  Those of us who write see the world so differently and crave new experiences in an almost manic way.  Alcohol, drugs, and even religion can lead that way.

“Without Crutches” was a story defending writing without using foreign substances.  As the child of an alcoholic, this path looks quite dark to me.  Besides, my imagination has a healthy libido.  Yes, even sex can lead to altered states of consciousness.  Of course, my story found no publishers.

I recently read about Stephen King.  Actually, I read about him often.  I hadn’t realized he had a cocaine period.  I was disappointed.  Must writers of the macabre indulge in drug-fueled voyages?  Isn’t it possible to use the existential terror of just getting out of bed to drive this vehicle whose windshield is so dirty you can’t see clearly what’s in front of you?

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy the occasional drink and even sometimes get story ideas after having a beer.  I don’t drink to inebriation, though.  It’s too dangerous.  And if my work ever gets noticed I don’t want someone to say it was an after-effect of some controlled substance.

Life is scary.  I’ve never used drugs.  They’re too scary.  I don’t judge those who do, but as my stories show, religion can be just as dangerous.  I’ve given up on finding publishers for “Without Crutches.”  The story exists as a testimony, and that’s enough.  The world can look distorted without being seen through the bottom of a glass.  And we limp along.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Meh Teh

Man is this blog dusty!  The neglect isn’t willful, I assure you.  The thing about being a working writer is, well, work.  That combined with the fact that there’s life outside the internet that demands your time.

In any case, I’m chuffed that my story “Meh Teh” has appeared in The Colored Lens.  The title is a Himalayan word for what westerners call “yeti.”  As with most of my fiction, however, there’s a deeper story.  And deeper stories often involve belief.

It’s funny how easily religion can turn off a conversation.  Yet, I was recently at a book festival where several of the more successful authors I met were quite open about their religious convictions.  Perhaps it’s hiding in plain sight.  Like a yeti.

I have to admit that I’ve never been to Nepal, or even India.  I made it to a corner of Asia once in my youth, but I like writing about places I imagine.  I recall studying maps as a child so that I could set stories in Spain or France.  I did manage to get to the latter once, but my imagination of it is still vivid from many years before.

Writing is more than just an escape, but it is a kind of escape.  When I abuse my fiction by locking it in a closet while the more adult nonfiction comes to visit, I notice myself growing surly.  I need my fiction and stories like “Meh Teh” remind me of that.

The tale is really about what it means to be family.  If you’re like me you’ve probably got a monster or two on the ancestral tree.  We shouldn’t be too quick to judge, though.  Some of us likely appear to be monsters to others.

“Meh Teh” came to me when considering unlikely circumstances in which we find ourselves.  We follow jobs like ancient hunters followed mammoths.  We separate from those we love, and when we come back to them they may appear to be more strange than a yeti trying to drive a car.

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.