Pleased to announce that my story “Absolute Pony” has just been published in Time Travel Tales, an anthology of short fiction edited by Zach Chapman and including tales by Sean Williams, Tony Pi, Robert Silverberg, and my fellow Writers of the Future winner, Brian Trent.
The volume features dinosaurs, temporal clones, intergalactic celebrity chefs, and of course ponies. Well, sort of ponies. You’ll have to read and see for yourself.
Ekfa-wha? It sounds like a skin condition, but stick with me for a moment. Ekphrasis is literary commentary on a piece of visual art. In this case, it refers to a short story that I wrote influenced by a sculpture.
A while back, I participated in Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s 2014 “Art & Words Show” held in Fort Worth, Texas. It was sort of a writer-artist exchange program. I submitted a flash fiction story and and an artist produced visual art inspired by the story–in this case, two paintings based upon my piece “Keith Crust’s Lucky Number.” In exchange, I selected a piece of visual art that appealed to me and wrote a story inspired by that art.
I chose–and I mean chose. When Bonnie released the artist selections to us writers, I was there on the second so I could get my first choice–I chose Pam Stern’s sculpture Tuscan Women. It was just so haunting I was sure I would have something to say about it. Pam’s work combines portrait busts of women with architecture. I know, right? So compelling.
It took me a while to work out the story I wanted to tell about the women holding a Tuscan village on their heads, and about the much darker forces implied by the heavy black sketching at the base of the sculpture. Finally, I discovered that it was an origin story that I had to tell.
The audio version of my story, “The Island of White Houses” is now available from Drabblecast. I’m really pleased with the recording. Narrator Norm Sherman makes the story feel darker and spookier than I usually think of it. His version is definitely ominous. Which is what’s great about podcasts: each telling of a story creates something new. I also love the artwork by artist Susan Reagel.
Very pleased to announce that my story, “The Night Farmers’ Museum” was chosen by judge Robert Coover as the runner-up for this year’s Italo Calvino prize, sponsored by the University of Louisville Creative Writing Program.
In keeping with the fabulist nature of the prize, I confess that I dreamed the title of this story earlier this year and then had to write the story to find out what it was about.
Thanks to all the judges and readers, and congratulations to 1st prize winner Micah Dean Hicks for his story, “Flight of the Crow Boys,” which I am very much looking forward to reading.
Pitch headfirst down stairs of mortification into basement of self-loathing
Give up on story
Seriously, those rejections were like acid baths that I soaked in for weeks. I’d eventually start to recover and then, like suddenly remembering a nightmare where you’ve accidentally stabbed your mother and drowned a basket of kittens, the pain would come rushing back. I’d remember the cruel words of the rejection, and my unbelievable presumption in sending the story out—what made me think I could write, anyways?–and sink back into the pit.
Fast forward a few—well, actually a lot of—years. Somewhere along the way, I hardened my carapace. Rejections became….just one of those things. Part of the business of being a writer. Submit->reject, submit->reject, submit->reject is a background rhythm that means I’m participating in the publishing world. I’ll (probably) even sell the story in the end.
But for the last twelve months, I’ve been focused on novels. Sometime around January 2014, I sold the last finished story I had in my inventory. And that’s when things got tricky. Let’s try a little quiz:
Question: What happens when you aren’t sending stories out?
Answer #1: You don’t get any acceptances.
Answer #2: You don’t get any rejections.
You might not think #2 is much of a problem. But here I am, spending hours at my writing everyday with absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m just typing away, day after day, on some project that no one has read, that maybe no one will ever see, that might not even exist. It’s like one of those quiet Sunday mornings when you go outside and there are no people and no cars and you worry just for a second that overnight everyone decamped in the flying saucer and neglected to tell you.
This was when it was really tempting to turn my focus back to short stories, just to try to prove that I was vital, relevant, active, that I was doing something. But that was wrong, I knew it in my gut. My writing home is in novels, that’s where my happiness lies.
My solution? A novelist’s support group. I had friends from Kij Johnson’s workshop who were also working on novels. What if we got together and cheered each other on? What if we had a place to remind each other of our goals and to complain about our problems and encourage each other?
So we did. We don’t critique. We don’t give feedback. We mostly acknowledge. About once a week, we check-in and say, “Hey, you’re out there working on a novel. I am too.” And “This shit is hard. But we can totally do it.” I swear, this is the best kind of writer’s group I have ever belonged to. Noveling is a long lonely road, and the group is a pair of flip-flops and a handful of trail mix.
The more I work on novels, the more I think that the really truly ONLY skill you must possess in order to write a novel isn’t a mastery of plot structure, brilliant prose, or intense worldbuilding. It’s just the ability to eat your heart out every day and KEEP GOING. If you can do this, you can write a novel. That’s the only single talent required.
On February 3rd, four lucky friends received a special email from me. An email containing 77,000 words or so.
Yep, that’s right. For the first time, I sent a completed novel draft to beta-readers. I’ve threatened to write a novel twice before, and even “finished” the second one, but didn’t have the courage or knowledge to take the next step. By sending the manuscript to readers and asking for feedback, I’m already closer to publication than I’ve ever been before.
Hopefully I’ll be hearing back from my readers soon and–when I get done breathing into a paper bag–I’ll bring out the garden tools and start trying to make the story better, pruning back that pesky fast-growing exposition and tenderly watering and fertilizing the exciting bits in the hope that they will take over the whole damn garden.
But in the meantime: What have I been doing all month?
I wasn’t entirely unproductive. I wrote some flash fiction and entered it in a contest. I revisited some old projects. I practiced for a public reading coming up in early March. And I started researching agents. If all goes according to plan, I’m going to turn up with a finished novel later this year, and that means I’m (probably) going to need an agent.
So, how do you get an agent?
Research, research, research!
You might hear that Agent Morton T. HotDealz is THE BEST AGENT EVER ZOMG! Maybe it’s even true. But what if he represents military thrillers and you’re writing a cozy Southern mystery with recipes? Surely your manuscript is the best Southern cozy ever, and if you just send it to him along with a beautifully wrapped box of your divine pralines, then he’s bound to make an exception, right?
Er, no. And you don’t want him to. You want someone who knows the market for YOUR book. My current project is fantasy/horror YA, and it’s nice to daydream about being repped by Barry Goldblatt Literary (Rumor has it they host annual retreats for their authors!). But! I have to think about my whole career. Goldblatt Literary only reps YA, and I have plans for other genres (primarily historical romance). Ideally, I’m looking for an agent that can represent both.
So, how do you find the agent that will be your One True Love?
Look for books like yours, and find out who represents the authors. Check the Acknowledgments, the author’s web site, or just google [Author Name] + agent.
Once you have a list of agents that look and feel like a good fit, then you can start thinking about your submission package (which will be slightly different for each agent). Usually this includes a query letter, synopsis, and the first five pages of your manuscript. But that’s a whole other can of worms.
Keith is a special kind of guy, and he needed a special name. I wanted something punk, but gross, but a little bit silly. For inspiration, I looked up lists of words that people think are the grossest in the English language. I also looked up lists of real, actual last names that nobody in their right mind would want to have. Names like:
I mean, come on. Clutterbuck? Say that three times fast. I dare you not to snigger like a seventh-grader drawing penises in his algebra book.
I had a great time coming up with Keith’s name. For once, I didn’t have to rein myself in: I could go all Dickens with my godlike powers** of writerly naming.
What do you think: are character names important to the story you want to tell? Sometimes? All of the time?
Is it fun coming up with character names? Or a pain in the neck?***
*See also: my earlier post about pawn shops.
**Writers don’t get a lot of power, which is probably for the best, since when we do, it goes to our heads.
***For me, always fun. Changing my imaginary name was practically my childhood hobby. I have been (in my head) variously: Tina, Angelique, Maureen, Constanza, & Trixie. And about one zillion others.
I’m thrilled to announce that my story, “The Wanderer King,” will be published in Clockwork Phoenix IV, edited by Mike Allen and due out from Mythic Delirium Press in June 2013. I loved the original Clockwork Phoenix, and I am in fantastic company in this volume. I can’t wait to get my own copy and read everybody else’s stories. See the full TOC here.