Things to be Avoided

Books written by ‘BIG NAME’ with ‘little name’—cause you know ‘big name’ had little to nothing to do with it. I’ve never not been disappointed;

Clothes with ‘dry clean only’ tags—unnecessary pain in the ass;

Bottled ‘natural spring’ water—fancy way of saying tap water. Only more expensive. Exception: in a foreign country where the local tap water is sketchy. Then, bring on the imported tap water, please;

Squash—the vegetable, not the sport;

Uncomfortable shoes—it doesn’t matter how cute they are;

Vending machine apples—I don’t know, it just seems wrong somehow.

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Graphite and Ink

Elementary school was all about the pencil. When it wasn’t about the crayon, that is. In that stage of learning the technical fine points of printing and cursive writing, the ability to erase was crucial. But somewhere along the way, in junior high or high school, the pencil became inferior to the pen. Erasers were for wussies. Much cooler to put up with the noxious fumes of whiteout for those (few) mistakes.

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The Power of the Notebook

When I say notebook, I am referring to the paper kind not the PC or Mac kind.

Notebook

I have a friend, also a writer, who I get together with from time to time to write with, chat, share creativity, etc. We were supposed to get together today actually, but I’m sick and wimped out (sorry Cate, we will get together again soon, promise). Anyway, whenever we get together, I drag along my laptop while Cate is much more partial to pen and paper.

I type faster than I can write by hand, my hand writing is borderline illegible, and my ideas don’t always come out in chronological order so I’m a big cut-and-paste user. It’s so easy to go back, do a quick fix, then pick up where I left off. And herein lies the problem. As I’ve alluded to in the past, my quick fixes tend to turn into an endless cycle of touching up and rewriting. This often leads to losing the thread of an idea before I get to the end of it.

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Walking Down the Street Naked

There are many things (in the order of gazillions) that separate good writing from bad writing—avoiding words like gazillion, for one—or at least that separate writing that gets read from writing that doesn’t. One, big difference keeps popping up wherever I look.

Susan Shapiro describes it as the humiliation essay. She has a long list of people who have kick started careers with honest accounts of their most difficult, humiliating, or scary experiences/secrets/obsessions/etc. Brené Brown calls it vulnerability, a requirement not only for rewarding work or creativity, but critical in all aspects of life.

We all respond to this bald-faced honesty. We want to see that someone else has the same humiliating flaws we do—preferably, without admitting that we share in them—even if that someone is fictional.

In Make Good Art (notice I’ve linked to it in two consecutive posts. If you have seen it, I highly recommend you watch it on YouTube), by Neil Gaiman  refers to it as ‘walking down the street naked’. The most apt description, I think. It basically boils down to this: The thing you’re afraid to write, because you might have to change your name and move out of town if anyone ever reads it, that’s what people want to read the most. Continue reading

Review of a Classic: The Highway – Ray Bradbury

Some time ago, I received feedback on a story I had posted on a writing forum. The story I posted, Conditioning Phase, is among the first I ever wrote, and though I’ve since gone back to the story and can see the mechanics of it leave a lot to be desired, one of the reviewers on the forum seemed to really like it and compared it to Ray Bradbury’s work.

Of course, I had heard of Ray Bradbury, a famous, 50s era, sci-fi author, and was thrilled to be compared to him. It was a good confidence boost early on in my writing attempts. But, confession: I’d never actually read any of his work. Not even the so-well-known Farenheit 451.

Farenheit 451 might have been on the reading list of my one university English class. I can’t recall for sure, but I remember the entire reading list was dystopian themed: A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, etc. It’s very possible Farenheit 451 was there too. The thing is, I didn’t read any of those books. I was a first-year engineering student in a class of first-year engineering students, 90% of whom were only in the class because it was mandatory (I’m assuming about 10% of the class had some genuine interest in English Literature. I could be wrong). Continue reading

More Ezine Reviews – A Lesson in Patience Part Two

As promised, here are some pros and cons for three more ezines where I have submitted work. Hope some of this info is helpful to other aspiring writers out there (first three reviews here):

Every Day Fiction:

This was the first site I submitted a short story to. And yes I just ended a sentence in a preposition. It’s allow these days. EDF publishes a new flash fiction piece every day with a 1000 word limit, which can be good or bad depending on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I personally found keeping my story under 1000 words to be a challenge, which was actually part of my motivation for submitting to this site. Any genre goes as long as it is fiction — non-sci-fi writers take note. See their submission guidelines for more detail.

The biggest draw back I found with these guys was the turnaround time. They were averaging an 80 day response time when I submitted about a month before Christmas. I managed to get around this by responding to their special submission request for holiday-themed stories, but it certainly came down to the wire when they requested some last-minute edits. On the up side, they have an author admin page (that they actually keep updated) so authors can see that their submission is moving through the selection process.

This brings me to the biggest pro of this site. They actually give fairly detailed feedback (perhaps why the turnaround is so slow??) which I think is awesome and very helpful to new writers. I did however find myself drawing a line in the sand when they wanted be to water down my ending from the implication of sex (not even an actual sex scene) to ‘perhaps a simple kiss’.

I wasn’t trying to be stubborn or ‘protect the integrity of my art’, but looking at it as a business transaction, I felt that less remuneration equaled less input. They only pay a token $3; this is a get-your-work-out-there option. So, I agreed to some grammatical and minor stylistic changes — and appreciated/learn from some of the points they made — but refused to change the ending. I figured if they then decided not to publish my story I could live with that. They accepted the story anyway.

Conclusion: a great option for newbies and I’m glad I gave them a go, but I doubt I’ll be back.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

These guys recently rejected one of my stories, but I recommend giving them a try. The pay is higher than token, 1.25 cents per word up to $20, and their response time is good, a couple of weeks. They have excellent — and humourous — submission guidelines, including an awesome article on common writer’s mistakes, A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had, which I strongly recommend it to any writer of any genre.

These guys are on the to-try-again-list.

365 tomorrows:

My most recent acceptance, A Swirl of Chocolate, will be published on this site. They don’t pay, but since they are only looking for flash of 600 words or less I decided they were worth a try, and could at least offer some visibility. The submission guidelines don’t tell much, but from reading some of the stories published on the site, they are fairly flexible aside from the word limit.

Their response time is slow, and communication is lacking. Unlike every other acceptance I’ve had, which included a back and forth regarding publishing dates, copyrights etc, these guys sent me my acceptance notice via a no-reply email — weird. I’ve resorted to communicating with them through twitter.

Since this one is still in the works, I can’t say whether I’ll submit to them again. The communication thing is annoying, but on the other hand they are a good option for extra-short flash fiction that may not find a home elsewhere.

That’s all for now. As I test the publishing waters in other places I’ll share my thoughts.

Online Publishing – A Lesson in Patience: Part One

I’m very happy to say that I have now had the privilege of having my work accepted by a few different online-fiction sites. I’ve received a few rejections too, but whatchya gonna do. Overall, if there is one thing I am learning from the process it is patience.

Some e-zines will get back to you in a matter of days. Though I’m finding these sites are few and far between…and a quick response is that much more likely to be a rejection. Often it’s “If you don’t hear from us in a month or two, then you can send us a query.” And even after a query it may take a while to hear back.

For the most part, I’m ok with the waiting. At this juncture, I’m just looking to get my work out there for people to see. I understand that there are only so many slush readers with only so many hours in the day. I even find that knowing I won’t be hearing anything for a while sometimes makes it easier to say to myself ok, forget about that for now and focus on the next project.

A slow turnaround, however, can certainly be the last nail in the coffin if there is something else about the site that I have a problem with. Although I am grateful for all the acceptances I’ve had so far, there are some cases where I know it’s unlikely I’ll be submitting to a site again even if they have accepted my work in the past. In other cases however, the experience has otherwise been so positive that a bit of a wait is worth it, and I may try again even if I’ve been rejected–after my ego recovers, that is 😉

For any short-fiction writers out there who might be interested, I decided it was time to share what some of the pros and cons have been for different sites I have dealt with so far. Note that I only have my own experiences to draw on; maybe your experience has been, or would be, completely different. Also, submission guidelines, pay, etc are always subject to change with time.

I have six sites I want to mention. I’ve decided to break this up into two posts so that I can give you more than a couple of bullet points on each one without writing a novel for a single post:

Mad Scientists Journal:

The recent publishers of Mabel’s Mission, these guys were a pleasure to work with. They are quick to reply to questions — and very enthusiastic — are very clear about what they want for submissions, and are professional but not overly formal. Their response time is good, a couple of weeks. The real wait comes between acceptance and publication, about three months in my case, but that is not unusual. Editors are often planning publications some time in advance.

They pay $20 for short stories and $10 for flash fiction which isn’t huge, but some sites like these, which give away free fiction online, don’t pay at all. Also, MSJ does consider the payment to be an advance on royalties–if there are any. They are fairly new and not yet generating that kind of income, so I wouldn’t factor that in too heavily.

The only potential downside — and it could be a strength depending on the kind of writing you do (I happen to love it) — is that the theme of the magazine is quite specific, essays from the world of mad science. They do, however, accept some exclusive fiction of other genres for their quarterly anthologies. So, if sci fi and mad science don’t sound like your thing they still might be worth a look. Check out their submission guidelines. They use Submittable, a submission manager that allows authors to see/track their submissions’ progress.

I will definitely consider submitting to MSJ again in the future. I also enjoy just reading the stories they publish. The writing quality has been good and consistent in what I’ve read so far and the mad science theme brings out the mildly-twisted side of writers. Personally, I find that entertaining.

Scifia:

When I first found this site I thought it looked great and their subtitle Alien Minds, Alternate Worlds is right up my alley. They pay a flat rate of $25 dollars per story, ok, and claim to have a response time of four weeks, not bad. They also lay out quite clearly what they are looking for — see their submission guidelines.

Well, claim is the operative word. Two months after I sent in my submission, crickets. Maybe not so great after all. At the very least, not very professional. I follow them on twitter and did see a tweet mentioning a backlog, so I plan on sending a query and giving them some patience rather than withdrawing my story. Who knows, if they accept my story and are pleasant throughout the contract/publishing process, maybe they will win me over. However, the fact that they are not keeping their website up to date regarding their backlog/response time irks me. As I said, I don’t mind waiting, but I like to know (ballpark) how long I’m going to wait. They also use Submittable, but don’t seem too worried about keeping that updated either.

Daily Science Fiction:

Ok, I’ve sent one story into DSF and they rejected it. But, putting that aside, they deserve a mention. This site publishes a new story every weekday. Though the content is available for free, they pay professional rates — 8 cents a word. I’m sure the definition is variable, but professional is generally considered 5 cents and up.

Their submission guidelines are not as clear as some other sites, but that seems to be because, genre-wise, they are more flexible. From reading a number of their published stories it’s clear that they are pretty much open to anything under the speculative umbrella: sci-fi, fantasy, slipstream, supernatural, or just a little weird — I read one where there just happened to be a friendly poltergeist in a guy’s apartment. Otherwise, there was nothing really sci fi about the plot. If you’re not sure whether your story fits the genre, I recommend giving it a go anyway. There’s nothing to lose. They don’t have the same mechanism for authors to track their submissions, but they confirm receipt promptly via email and respond within three weeks.

DSF is on my to-try-again list.

That’s enough for now. Part 2 to come.