Toddlers and Time Travel

There has been a lot of toddler screaming at my house today. The kind of screaming that has the less than rational part of my brain saying, “Extreme pain! Imminent Death! Freak out!” Meanwhile a hard to hear, but more rational part of my brain chimes in with, “Isn’t it time for those two-year molars to come in? How about take some deep breaths and order pizza for dinner.”

I dare not check for physical signs of these molars. Whether they are there or not, there are plenty of other sharp teeth in that mouth. In the absence of symptoms besides the screaming, I’m doing my best to focus on Rational Brain for now.

In other (happier) news, the anthology Time Travel Short Stories that, as I mentioned in a previous post, includes a short story of mine (Hostage) is now published (yay!). Currently it’s available through Flame Tree Publishing, and should be available through Amazon in September. Part one of a two-part author Q&A can be found on the Flame Tree Fantasy and Gothic Blog. Part two will show up on their blog next week (so my sources tell me).

And the doorbell just rang. Pizza!

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Do a Little Dance

For the first time in a while I have some real writing-relevant news to share. A short story of mine Hostage was chosen by Flame Tree Publishing to be included in their upcoming Gothic Fantasy anthology Time Travel Short Stories.

The anthology is due to be published in July 2017 and will include a mixture of both new and classic time travel themed stories. This means, not only will a story of mine be found in a real book of the paper and binding variety, my writing will be alongside the likes of H.G. Wells and Mark Twain. How cool is that?

As evidence I’m not making all this up, the Flame Tree order page for the book is here. It can also be ordered through Indigo and Amazon. I have no idea how many, if any, Canadian/US stores will have hardcopy books in stock (Flame Tree Publishing is in the UK), but we all do our shopping online nowadays anyway, right (or is that just those of us who avoid taking a toddler to the store)?

This is one of those things that makes the whole writing endeavor seem a little less nuts. A feeling that will surely pass around the time I receive my next rejection. In the meantime, I’ll be dancing in the kitchen–probably the better you know me the harder time you’ll have picturing it, but the dance really happened.

The Cavern: Now a Podcast

About this time last year (21 Dec, 2012 to be exact) my first published short story, The Cavern, came out on Every Day Fiction. This winter-solstice-themed tale is now available as a podcast for your listening pleasure. Thanks to the narrator and EDF podcast manager Folly Blaine for her excellent reading, which you can listen to here. Enjoy.

It’s interesting to have my first story come out in another medium almost exactly one year later. It gives me a reason to compare where I am now to where I was then. My only publication (outside of writers’ forums) prior to The Cavern was the first chapter or two of Dosterra. I’ve had a few other short stories published since (and a few written, but still homeless). I’ve put Dosterra on hold while I work on a completely different novel. Continue reading

On The Premises Take Two

The online fiction magazine, On The Premises, has a contest every few months based on a specific premise that must somehow be incorporated into the story. As I discussed in a previous post , the first time I entered one of their contests (the premise was ‘Innerworkings’), I didn’t make the final round of judging and opted to pay ($15) to have my story critiqued.

I seek out critiques of my work and comments as much as possible because for all the research on ‘how to write effectively’ I could ever do, the only way to know if I’m succeeding is to hear what people think about my final product. Preferably people who aren’t too close to me to be honest, and who are better writers than I am (which I admit may be a lot of people, but not everybody). Getting feedback from editors who have seen a lot of good and bad writing come and go is very useful.

Unfortunately, most ezines I’ve encountered don’t provide feedback unless they accept your story and the expected editing process begins. OTP, however will critique any entry if asked, and the contests themselves are great writing prompts. If you’re looking for feedback on your writing, it’s worth considering OTP as a place to submit your work. The feedback I received the first time around was thorough and helpful, so I decided to give it another go.

This time the premise was ‘Instructions’. Stepping away from my usual sci-fi/speculative comfort zone, the story I submitted was a WWII, historical fiction narrative inspired by some letters my grandfather wrote from 1944/45. I kept the historical details as close to reality as I could, putting my protagonist in the times and places my grandfather would have been—give or take—but all the characters were fiction.

I didn’t win a prize this time either 😦 but I did make the top ten 🙂 and as a reward received my critique for free.

The thing about critiques is, well, they’re critical. In this case they did start by saying:  We consider “Letter From Your Girl” one of the ten best stories that we received for contest #21. You might be able to sell it to another market without changing a thing.

This statement should have made me feel wonderful and put me in a mind set to take the subsequent comments in stride, and it did—for about ten seconds. Then I went on to read about all the weak sentences and confusing points they found in my story, how they had trouble feeling the emotions of my protagonist, and so on. The knowledge that a) they liked my story better than most they received, and b) I asked for this feedback, became totally irrelevant while my guts were being gouged out by a carefully-sharpened pencil.

Was that a bit dramatic? I thought so too. So, I took a deep breath and realized, a) most of their observations were not that bad, certainly not impossible to fix before I send the story elsewhere, and b) they were right.

However, there was one thing in the critique I took issue with. You can make your own judgment about what it says about On The Premises staff (or about me). And feel free to comment and tell me I’m making an issue out of nothing…or that I’m not.

Here are some sentences taken directly from the story:

“…sharing the New Brunswick birth place had created an automatic bond between them.”

“The troop train rolled into the Moncton station…”

“…he was sure he could hitch a ride the rest of the way to Saint John.”

“Someone who’d been back in Canada for some time, no doubt.”

“…celebration at the sight of the Canadian troops and tanks.”

Here are some sentences taken directly from the critique of my story:

“Why this family decides to adopt an American soldier…”

“…when he gets back to the USA…”

Do we see a problem here?

I can understand how the mention of two Canadian cities might escape notice. I can’t claim to know the name of every American city. I could even let the misunderstanding of New Brunswick go. It is one of our smaller provinces, and there does happen to be a city called New Brunswick in New Jersey, as well as a Brunswick, Georgia. There were also multiple mentions of the Staghound armoured car used by commonwealth forces (not US forces) during WWII, but that is a reference I probably would have missed myself until recently.

However, I have some trouble reconciling that I could refer to Canada directly twice—and we’re talking about a short story here, not a novel—not to mention, the abbreviation ‘cdn’ appearing about half a dozen times in letter excerpts throughout the story, and yet the judges for On The Premises made the assumption that my protagonist was American. Maybe I’m just nitpicking, but it’s hard to believe my work was being given even a fraction of the reader’s full attention.

Actually, on first noticing this oversight, images of my story being read at two in the morning while working on bottle of wine number two ran through my head. My impulse was to be incensed. Why should I listen to what they have to say about my writing when clearly they weren’t even awake when they read it? Do they even know there were countries other than the USA in WWII? I wonder if they’d be shocked to learn the war started before December 1941.

Oh dear, being dramatic again. I took another deep breath. This lapse does not mean their other comments on my writing do not deserve my full attention. For now I’m putting both the story and the critique aside. Sometime later, I will read them both again, fix my story as best I can, and submit it elsewhere. In the meantime, will I enter the next OTP contest? Probably not, but maybe the one after that.

Mad Scientist Journal Spring Anthology

Announcement time! The latest anthology of Mad Scientist Journal is now available for download at Smashwords and Amazon. This edition is particularly exciting for me as it includes my story Mabel’s Mission–along with number of other great stories including some exclusive fiction not previously published on the MSJ website.

If you like a fun read from the slightly-weird side of the sci fi world (or if you just want to support me as a writer 😉 ) check it out.

Mad Scientish Journal Anthology: Spring 2013

More Lessons Learned

This week in my writing world, I’ve had a good opportunity to examine how I write. I heard back from the latest On The Premises contest, which I entered a few weeks ago. I didn’t win—no shock there—but I did take them up on the offer to critique my story.

Of course a big (BIG) part of me didn’t want to look at what they had to say, but I mustered up the guts to open the file. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. It seemed they at least liked it and they said my creativity rated above average (compared to other entries). They did have some things to say about the structure of my story, however.

That’s actually good news. Better “this passage isn’t long enough” than “this idea is boring and unoriginal”. The former is much easier to work with.

There were some places where more detail was required. I was basically attempting to create an entire universe in a few thousand words and fell short in a few places, leaving the reader confused about the big picture. They were able to give me some specific examples as to where I made this mistake. Precisely the kind of feedback I needed.

Also, in this particular story, I alternated between the points of view of two different characters rather quickly. I’m not entirely sure why I did this. It’s something I have actually found annoying in stories I’ve read by others.

Not that changing POV is bad (except when it’s done mid paragraph or something) but doing it too rapidly, or at the wrong time, can keep the reader from getting drawn into the characters. I’ve read stories where I found that just as I was getting interested in someone I had to shift gears to someone else. Exactly the effect I unwittingly created here. I have no reason other than: it’s how the story came to me and I didn’t give it much thought after the fact. I should have.

Most embarrassingly, I interchanged the word I intended with a homonym. I do this often—my husband often catches them if I ask him to proofread. In this case I had written ‘allowed’ for ‘aloud’. Twice. Seriously.

Yes I know the difference between the two. So why did I screw it up… and miss it again while editing? Who knows? For one thing I’m noticing that I hear the rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs in my head more than I actually look at the words I’m typing. Funny what we learn about ourselves. This is not what I would have expected. I’m generally a more visual than auditory person. In school I was always horrible at learning from lectures, but show me an example and I’m good to go. I wouldn’t have thought my visual perception of the words could be so easily foiled by my impression of their sound. It appears the workings of the brain aren’t so easily defined one way or the other. Surprise, surprise.

This error also highlights the downside of doing most of my own editing. Someone once told me that, no matter how careful we are, we only catch about sixty percent of our own mistakes on average. I am convinced that this is true–and at this I am not ‘above average’.

To solve this problem, the site recommended reading aloud (there’s that word again). Would this work where homonym mistakes are concerned? I’ve actually tried it before and found it often does. Perhaps because doing so forces me to pay closer attention, to look at the words as I read them. I realised the when I read the critique that I hadn’t used this technique for this piece, despite knowing about it. So, not only do I have to learn these lessons, I have to stick to applying them.

Final lesson of the day: It’s easy to get lazy.

I fully intend to enter the next contest by On The Premises and go through this process again. Maybe it will keep me honest.

A Swirl of Chocolate Published

My latest flash fiction, A Swirl of Chocolate, is now available for reading on 365 tomorrows. This story is a quick little take on the twists and turns of time. Time travel is impossible…or is it? Have a read and, if you feel so inclined, let me know what you think.

I mentioned 365 tomorrows in a previous post on the pros and cons of different places where I’ve tried to publish. Now that I’ve completed the process with them, my opinion hasn’t changed all that much. The biggest pro this site has to offer is the variety of stories they are willing to publish. If you have a piece of flash fiction (<600 words) and aren’t sure what to do with it, they might be worth a try.

However, the biggest con is communication. For me that’s a big one and will likely prevent me from trying these guys again. I had to contact them through twitter to ask about a publishing date. They told me that informing authors when they were expected to be published was too costly.

I find this hard to believe–I mean really, we all have email accounts (and I would have settled for a tweet). I’m only asking for one line: ‘you’re projected publishing date is X.’ Everyone else I’ve worked with seems to manage it so I’m not sure why these guys think they can’t. Anyway, regardless of the cost, I consider open communication to be necessary in any business transaction. In the end, they didn’t even tell me that my story was published today. I only know because I checked the site.

Something else to consider is that they don’t include author bios with their stories. Not that this is a must, but bios give the author a place to tell anyone who likes there story where to find more of their work. Though I’m not a huge fan of writing bios I’ve come to appreciate their benefit.

All that said, it’s nice to have another story out there. I’m happy to add this experience to my repertoire.