...Not With a Bang, But a Snicker
3100 words long
we have people to do that for us
Today I got the quickest response to a rejection ever. I think it came in under twelve hours. I submitted "...Not With a Bang, But a Snicker" (previously titled "Anything For a Laugh") to UFO3 last night, and got a personal note back this morning saying that it wasn't a good fit for the anthology.
That is awesome. No, seriously. Given that most publications I might submit will not consider simultaneous submissions (a story that is being simultaneously sent out to other markets) nor multiple submissions (sending several stories to a single market at one time), a quick rejection does two things: it frees that story up to be submitted to a new market, and it frees that market up such that the author can submit a new story to them.
Roughly speaking, of course. The latter is subject to some conditions. Some markets ask authors to wait a minimum number of days before sending something new. So a quick rejection means that countdown begins sooner. And of course some markets do allow multiple submissions; still, once you've sent your ten drabbles to SpeckLit, you have to wait for their response before you can send more. The idea is, each market defines what a single go-round in their slush pile looks like, and you have to wait for one go-round to be done before you can go another round.
In the case of Unidentified Funny Objects, authors may only send one story at a time. If that story gets rejected before the submissions window closes on March 31, the author may send a second story. (But not a third after the second is rejected, I think.) Unfortunately, I don't have a second story that's remotely appropriate. But I appreciate the speed and decisiveness of the editorial team for giving me the option.
That kind of rapid decisiveness is helped along, it must be said, by sending a story that was easily recognizable as not their kind of thing. I was afraid that might be the case. Witness all that maundering about "But is it actually humor, or is it just 'rocks fall, everyone dies' with some comic relief?" At the end of the day, it's a story about all life on Earth being wiped out. This is something that is intrinsically kind of depressing. OK, maybe Douglas Adams succeeded at making the destruction of the planet hilarious, but first off, we can't all be Douglas Adams, and second off, there's a lot more going on in his books than just "rocks fall, everyone but Arthur Dent dies."
My understanding is, the UFO anthology series wants humor of the uplifting sort rather than the bleak. My story falls more on the bleak side of the line.
So how come I submitted that story despite suspecting its balance of humor to bummer might not be quite their cup of tea?
Well, as the commonplace goes, "Don't self-reject. We have editors to do that for us."
That's not to say a writer needn't do any market research nor have any discernment at all. It's more a reminder that, beyond a certain point, the fit of story to market becomes too subjective a call for the author to make on the editor's behalf.
I can make the easy calls, like, "Send the 'soft' SF that's borderline fantasy to Asimov's, not Analog" or "Don't send a story with graphic sex and obscene language to Intergalactic Medicine Show, since they want to keep things PG." And I think I have a decent handle on what makes a story a Shimmer story. (I could be wrong.)
But it's possible to second-guess oneself into immobility, and that's no way to pursue a career.
Basically, as long as I genuinely think my story's in the near ballpark of what they're looking for, then I'm (probably) not wasting their time by sending it. I might be wrong, but that's what rejection letters are for.
And if I don't send it, they can't say "Yes."
So that's my take on not letting market research turn into self-rejection.
the meticulous and paranoid author submits a story for publication
Just because I got to the end of my story revision last night didn't mean it was ready to submit.
I mean, there's spell-checking. Which apparently can't be done in the current beta version of Scrivener for Windows. (I am very brave, to beta-test Scrivener with my precious, precious stories. Or very foolish. It's so hard to tell.) So we'll compile to RTF and spell-check that way, making sure to make any corrections in the Scrivener project and not in the RTF.
Then there's reading the story out loud to myself, stopping every few sentences to cringe at the awkwardness and try to figure out how to tidy it up, tighten it down, and make it sound like something a reasonably competent author came up with. And then thinking better of the somewhat related bit three pages ago. And then realizing that the three-pages-ago bit, having been changed, requires a small change six pages ahead.
At some point, the thought occurs to me that three thousand and some-odd words shouldn't take this long to read aloud. We'll brush that thought under the rug because it is not helping.
Then there's another Scrivener-to-RTF compile, another spell-check for the sake of all the bits that got typed anew, and finally a half-hesitant nod of approval from myself to me.
Off to the submissions guidelines web page! Create new email message! Fill in subject header exactly as specified! Fill in correct email address and check it three times! Attach manuscript!
Read the rest of the submissions guidelines. Note, with a sense of "Shouldn't I have noticed this before?" that submissions are read blind, and, as such, attached RTF or DOC manuscripts should have absolutely no identifying information inside.
Open up RTF manuscript. Remove name and contact info from upper-left corner of first page. Remove byline from beneath the title. Remove last name from the header that appears on every page after the first.
Attach manuscript to email, replacing previous attachment.
Send email. High-five self. (Tricky, but worth it.) Log submission in personal records and over at The Submissions Grinder. Check off related HabitRPG to-do item and very nearly reach Level 11 thereby.
Realize that, since [MARKET REDACTED] uses a blind submissions process, perhaps I should not be blogging so chattily about how "Anything For a Laugh," which is the story about the [IDENTIFYING CONTENT REDACTED] and whose title I have changed to [NEW TITLE REDACTED], just got sent there today.
But it did just get sent there today. I am pleased.
Now. Back to "Snowflakes" for a few minutes today, with the greatest hopes for getting all the way through it tomorrow and tidying it up over the weekend. It, too, must be submitted by March 31. Working on it tonight is how I'm going to finish my 5 hours. I am going to reach my 5 hours, darn it, even though I have to be up until 1:00 AM to do it.
Look, I had ever so many good intentions for starting early today. But I didn't get much sleep last night. And no, it wasn't because I was up late playing addictive games. It was because all my roller derby playing bits were sore, with a stealth soreness that doesn't make itself usefully known until I've been tossing and turning and almost drifting away and then waking up again to wonder, "Why am I not sleeping?" and then realizing "Oh, it's because of what feels like a deep tissue bruise on my right arm that yelps when I lie on my right side, and the aching muscle of the inner left thigh that's yelping every time I roll over. And also, I have a headache." At which point I drag myself out of bed and take two ibuprofin, knowing that they won't actually start doing me any good until it's wake-up time. And then it's wake-up time, and I'm only just starting to enjoy sweet, sweet unconsciousness, so I say, "Eff it, I'm not going to stop now that I'm getting good at it." And I turn off my alarm clock.
And that's how oversleeping happened this morning. Also, my imaginary dog ate my homework.
But I did get that story submitted though. Hooray!
musing on hours allotment at the late-night office
Today's blog post comes to you live from Breaker's Grill in downtown Longmont. Breaker's Grill supports the Boulder County Bombers, so we support them back. At this late hour, all the activity is centering around the bar and the many billiards tables. The table seating area is entirely deserted. It is also separated from the bar-and-billiards area by an opaque partition. So although I can hear loud voices and pool balls going click, I'm effectively isolated: all alone in a room full of empty tables, just me and my laptop and what's left of my dinner.
It's perfect. I've spent two hours finishing up the rewrite of the snow-glue-from-space story ("Anything For a Laugh" isn't quite right, but I haven't come up with a new title yet), and now here I am writing this blog post.
As anticipated, today was totally a Wednesday. Which is to say, in addition to being Wednesday, it suffered from all the distractions and delays to which a Wednesday workday is prone. Only I can't blame roller derby practice or volunteer reading. I sort of overslept. By sort of a lot. (Why? I don't know. It can't possibly have to do with staying up until 2:30 playing 2048.) Thus my late start in the afternoon. Thus my needing to log another two and a half hours of writing after roller derby practice.
Now that I'm reaching the five-hour mark more regularly, I'm beginning to feel that five hours isn't enough. But I'm not quite trusting that feeling. On the one hand, I don't think it should have taken three days to rewrite a 2,300-word story. That it's taken me so long has to do with splitting my five hours each day between short story revision, content writing, and the "scales and arpeggios" stuff like freewriting and morning pages and so on. On the other hand, I know I don't actually function well when I do the same thing for five hours straight. I work best when I vary my tasks throughout the day.
What's to do? Experiment, I guess. Try spending more time tomorrow on short story revision ("Snowflakes" is waiting for me to return to it) and defer Examiner or Demand Media Studios to another day--like I did today, I guess. Definitely get started earlier in the day--especially considering Thursday is another day that ends in roller derby practice. Maybe log extra time beyond the five hours, breaking it up into reasonable chunks, and see how that feels.
The simultaneous advantage and drawback of working for yourself on your own schedule is that there's no one forcing you into a particular work-a-day rhythm. You get to work at the pace that serves you best. But first you have to figure out what pace serves you best.
In any case, one sure conclusion is this: don't wait until the week the story is due to start its rewrite! Right? Right. For what it does me now, anyway.
mildly guilted into (almost) perfect productivity
Today's report comes to you live from the wilds of Habitica, where Vortexae's party faces the inexplicable rage of a being made of fog, magic, and the spirit of springtime. The Ghost Stag charges! One warrior of the party raises her axe, doing 10.2 damage to the Stag. The Stag attacks back! It misses. The round continues--
So. One of my friends who's playing HabitRPG, they got ahold of a quest. They formed a party. I accepted their invitation.
This changes things.
It's no longer, "Eh, I can take a few hit points of damage tonight. Big whoop. I'll level up before it catches up with me."
Oh no. Now, it's, "I have to do all my Dailies! Or else I'll be responsible for everyone taking damage! That is so not OK!"
The happy effect of this benign and silent friend-on-friend pressure has been two "perfect" weekdays in a row. I'm logging my five or more writing hours without pulling weird late-night tricks out of my magic hat. They're good, solid hours spent on short story revision (making progress on the snow glue apocalypse from space), new story drafts (the ongoing portfolio of drabbles), blogging and content writing (Examiner as well as this blog here), and of course the daily morning pages about which I had so much to say the other day. And, as "5 hours of writing" is not my only daily task, I'm also exercising a little, both on- and off-skates, on my own time; writing down every dream memory I can get my hands on; catching up with the dreaded Box of the Doing of the Books (of Doom); and being more meticulous than ever about household and personal chores.
It would appear that, through all these years of inconsistency and struggle, all I've really needed is a gaming environment in which someone other than me suffers pretend injuries for my failures. Huh. Who knew? Thanks, Habit RPG!
I'm still not done with revising the space snow-glue apocalypse story, mind you. This is somewhat distressing to me, since I'd hoped for otherwise.
And I still have Wednesday ahead of me. Wednesday starts with an hour and change of reading employment ads for AINC. It ends with roller derby practice. In between, Wednesday is not very tolerant of random delays, interruptions, or travel time.
That's the bad news. The good news is this: If I can manage a "perfect" Wednesday, I can manage anything.
Although this particular Saturday might be a challenge... but how about we worry about Saturday when it gets here? Indeed. Sounds like a plan.
not quite ready for carnegie hall
I'm switching gears for a moment. At the rate I'm poking at "Snowflakes," it won't be done by March 31 of next year. And it would be unfortunate if I missed a chance to submit the snow-glue-from-space story to UFO3 because of that. So I got to work on that rewrite today.
Here's the thing: I'm not entirely certain that it's funny. It has its funny moments, but I don't think you'd quite shelve this sucker under "Humor." Humor is hard to do. I'm not sure I've got the knack.
At best, what I've got here is a "science-fiction-flavored horror story with moments of comic relief." I've got "grimly slapstick pair of bad guys." I have an Arthur Dentish character reacting Arthur Dentishly to inexplicable things that seem determined to happen to him despite his not having really given them his approval.
But what I don't got is "funny science fiction."
Maybe by the end of the revision (end of day tomorrow?) it will have recategorized itself. Whether it'll be funny enough for UFO3, only Alex Shvartsman will be able to say for sure. One way or another, though, it'll be a story. And I will submit it.
Then maybe I'll be able to come back to "Snowflakes" with a bit more fuel in the jet-pack.
march's overflowing plate of doom
- 3,329 wds. long
OK, so I mentioned in a previous post that "My plate is already full to overflowing for the month of March." Tomorrow is when that plate's contents start slopping over onto the carpet, making a huge mess under the dining room table, and generally becoming impossible to ignore.
Tomorrow is March 15, which is when the two-week (ish) submissions periods for Women Destroy Fantasy! and Women Destroy Horror! begin. Those periods end on March 31. I've got my submission for Fantasy! ready to go: the phantom phone story currently titled "It's For You" was declined by the last place I sent it to, so it's available and ready to hit the slush. But my hopeful for Horror!, the snow apocalypse in June story currently titled "The Impact of Snowflakes," is in the process of revision and is really digging its heels in about it.
Also this past week has been depressingly unproductive. Put it this way: I've lost an embarrassing amount of hit points over on Habit RPG. Today's especially gonna hurt; I spent most of the day running around trying to figure out how to make the best of bad skates while my good skates are unusable thanks to broken plates and the new plates don't arrive until Monday. Also cleaning bearings. Very old-school bearings, with solid cases and no way to expose the interior. Very filthy old-school bearings. Oh, roller derby, you eat up so much of my life, with your constant demands for time, attention, energy, and functional equipment.
And that's before we talk about yet another submissions period I want to get in on. I should very much like to send my funny snow-glue apocalypse story, currently titled "Anything For A Laugh," to Unidentified Funny Objects #3 before their March 31 deadline. And I haven't even begun the revision process on that sucker. I have a rough intuitive sense that it will be less harrowing than that required by "The Impact of Snowflakes," but I'm not optimistic about the accuracy of this non-observation.
(A friend who critiqued both "Snowflakes" and "Laugh," noticing the similarity in theme, asked me, "What's up with you and snow?" Without missing a beat, I answered, "I don't like it." Which is roughly true. But I had entirely failed to notice that I was building a sort of track record with snow apocalypses.)
Next week is a whole new week. This is what I keep telling myself. And it's true! The sun'll come up tomorrow, and all that. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there aren't a lot of whole new weeks left March.
So now you know what I'll be working on next week. And why the whole "doom" thing above. Although it must be said, everything's better with doom. Or chainsaws. It depends on your aesthetic.
the author in conversation
Today was kind of a blah day. Slow moving, no new breakthroughs, hung up on non-writing tasks. Today was kind of not.
The only thing to report is this:
I'm working on the story I want to submit to The First Line on February 1 (that's Saturday, by the way). That's the one with the prompt, "Carlos discovered _____ [fill in the blank] under a pile of shoes in the back of his grandmother's closet."
As I mentioned, I filled in the blank with "homing device." The main idea is that this device has been passed down through the family from mother to daughter for generations, with the understanding that someday, something or someone not of this planet will arrive. Carlos finds it and brings it to his mother, Lucita, who somehow never got given it or told about it. Lucita is only just finding out this, her family's secret, by reading her mother's journal. They are going through her mother's house and things because her mother has just died.
I'm trying to avoid the sort of last-minute stressy race to beat the deadline I put myself through with "Anything For a Laugh." So I'm getting a little worried about not being finished yet.
Like I said, today didn't really move. I had hoped to complete a draft before I left at 5:45 PM for roller derby practice. That did not happen.
But here's what did happen: I discovered, or rediscovered, that my tendency to think out loud can be used for good and not just embarrassment of me and irritation of others. If I leave the radio off and drive in silence from home to the Bomb Shelter, and I just start talking to myself about my story, I discover things about the story. It's like my 25-minute freewriting exercise: a few minutes in and everything takes a sharp left turn off the rut I've been stuck in.
So apparently Nena Santiago isn't, in fact, dead, but missing. Her mother went missing when she reached advanced age, too. And her mother before that. The homing device isn't calling one single arrival during some future generation, but is arranging the rapture, so to speak, of each successive woman in the dynasty. But Nena never did pass the homing device on to Lucita because she didn't believe in it, and besides she resented the whole "Now you have to get married and have a daughter" thing, which got her saddled with a real jerk of a husband whom she may or may not have in fact murdered. And by the way did you know that old pile of shoes has rock climbing shoes and tap dance shoes and moon boots next to the dress flats and sandals? And oh my goodness Nena's journal is full of things.
And also there's the title, which just came to me like a punchline when I hit the word "rapture." Only if I'm going to give it that title, I had better find a way to connect this story with that chapter in Roman history it's alluding to. And also, there'd better be a nod to how all the women in this dynasty share a last name despite living in the here-and-now of the U.S. where it's more common for married women to take their husband's name.
And did I mention that I'm shooting for flash fiction?
The important thing is, the story's moving now! Hooray for 25-minute commutes.
Things That Got Done Last Week
So today was kinda worthless on the writing front. This was mostly because Sunday was roller derby from early morning 'til night, and Monday was a pretty awesomely productive but exhausting volunteering-at-the-farm morning, so Tuesday was "I get to sleep in and be worthless guilt-free for once" day.
(You'd think that leaving the farm at lunch and napping in the afternoon would count towards the sleep-in-and-be-worthless-guilt-free requirement. Except the nap in the afternoon is never long enough nor uninterrupted. And it's never guilt-free. I can't entirely forget that the guys who work on the farm as their actual jobs not only start two hours earlier than I do in the mornings, they also don't get the afternoons off. So I'm a lazy wimp who if I really wanted to be helpful would stay until sundown just like everyone else... I never said the voices in my head were helpful or rational, but they're there and they're loud.)
I think that weekends, rather than always occurring on Saturday and Sunday, should be invoked as needed. I'm declaring Tuesday to have been my honorary Saturday.
Meanwhile, last week I Got Stuff Done.
I did indeed submit the one about the space glue snow apocalypse (now with Brand! New! Title!) to The First Line on deadline day. It required a stupid amount of wrestling with Microsoft Word over formatting styles it insisted on applying to my imported WordPerfect 5.1 DOS document. How did it know to apply "Normal (Web)" to all my paragraphs? I do not know. I mean, yes, I composed the story in HTML code and copied the web output into Word, I'll admit to that, but then I saved as WP51, opened it in WP51, and resaved it in WP51. WP51 format doesn't save Word or RTF formatting styles. To my knowledge, WordPerfect doesn't even know about formatting styles until you get into the WYSIWYG versions for Windows and Mac. Version 5.1 is a DOS program. Plus, look -- if you hit F11 to "Reveal Codes," you can see there's absolutely nothing but the usual hard line break plus tab at every new paragraph. Look! This file is clean! So when I then freshly boot up Word to open this WP51 document, how can Word still detect the former presence of HMTL paragraph tags? How? HOW?! THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK!!!
Yeah, I'm a little bitter about this. Also about the way I couldn't change the style of the biography paragraph at the end without changing the style of the entire manuscript. WTF, Word?
Thereafter followed a lot of cursing and brute-forcing and frustration, but eventually everything looked acceptable and I sent the dang thing off. Immediately enough to possibly be an auto-reply, I got an email confirming receipt of my submission. So I guess that was a success.
I also finally got my butt in gear and submitted "First Breath" to a reprint anthology on almost the last day of their reading period. Go me. And frankly I'll be shocked if they accept it. I'm not anywhere near certain that it's a good fit for the anthology, or, if it is a good fit, whether it's good enough.
But I keep reminding myself of two things. First, this is a story that was already published at professional rates. Clearly it's "good enough" for some value of the term. Secondly, even if I'm not certain it's a good fit, I'm not certain that it isn't, which puts the dilemma squarely in the category of Don't Reject Yourself; There Are Editors To Do That For You.
So I sent it.
Next on my plate is "It's For You," a.k.a. the one about the phone that isn't there. My plan is to get that revised over the next few days and submitted over the weekend. Because the next few days are not about sleeping in and being worthless. They are about Getting Stuff Done. DO NOT SCOFF AT MY OPTIMISM BECAUSE IT IS INVINCIBLE.
Stop poking it with pointy sticks! Do not test the invincibility!
NO, REALLY. INVINCIBLE.
Blasting Through an Early Morning Draft
- 1,854 wds. long
Up and writing earlier than I intended. Birds start to tweet around 4:45 or so, and then it's no use trying to sleep. I tried anyway, shuffling and rewriting the mental index cards for the new story, until the sentences assembled themselves into WRITE ME DOWN fashion and I got up and went to the computer.
Thinking I was just jotting down notes, I actually blasted through an entire draft composed as minimal HTML in EditPlus. That's another weird thing about the way I work; sometimes I get unstuck when I change writing medium. The phone story shook loose when I went from yWriter to WordPerfect 5.1. "First Breath" came tumbling out when I unearthed my typewriter. This morning, the new story got a real first draft when I took the text editor I use for making grocery lists, writing blog posts, and editing PHP/MySQL, and I pretended I wasn't actually writing a draft.
It worked, I think, for two reasons. For one, I can see more of the text at a time composing single-spaced in a text editor than I can double-spaced in the little blue WP51 window. For another, the stripped-down text-editor environment made it easy to write simply. No long flashbacks about the protagonist's railroad-flattened nickel or philosophical maunderings about mingling guilt with fascination with a sense of power. Just simple sentences describing a select few key details adding up to the story I was trying to tell. And no more bogging-down.
As far as I know, I'm OK so long as I submit this thing while it's still August 1 wherever the editors of The First Line reside, or maybe as long as my email is time-stapmed August 1. So I think what I'm going to do this afternoon is take this draft for revisions to the place I've set the story: the Madison Street Diner, on Madison Street just south of Colfax. OK, well, the real Madison Street isn't an all-night diner, it's only open from 4 PM until 10 tonight, but why not, right? Then I'll come up with a real title (I hope), submit the story, and drive back to Boulder in time to meet friends for take-out food and a game of Dread.
Until then, though, I'm going to try to get some sleep. At least for a few hours.
Assembling Fiction and Other Stories (Also, Loons)
First off: A new review of Blood and Other Cravings has hit the internet this week. Reviewer Deirdre Murphy at Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys made me grin like a loon three paragraphs into the review. (Do loons, in fact, grin? They're birds. They have beaks. How do you grin with a beak?) LIKE A LOON, I SAID! DOWN WITH LOGIC! UP WITH GRINNING!
(There are many loons at this website. They are damn well grinning.)
Secondly: New story. Not the phone story. The other new story, the one I intend to submit to The First Line tomorrow. The due date is tomorrow, so I have to submit it tomorrow.
Is it done yet? Is even a single draft of it done yet? Well... no. Not unless you count the freewriting babble draft I did, using the appropriate first line as a prompt, at the laundromat back in mid-June.
But I have been assembling it. In my head.
So one of those beginning writer rules -- that is, the rules you're told to follow when you begin to write, which you continue to follow until you discover what your own personal rules are -- is "Thinking About Writing Isn't Writing." But staring at the word processor screen, moving a block of text from one place in the partial draft to another, editing the segue sentence yet again, then staring at the screen some more... that isn't writing either.
So I took a walk. Walks always help.
Walking the three miles home from downtown Boulder, I reexamined the pieces of scenes -- scenelets, if you will -- that make up this story. The story follows a structure that's sort of like this:
- Right now
- Teaser flashback
- Continue from right now
- More from the flashback
- Either back to present time, or else the rest of the flashback, I'm not sure
- Lather, rinse, repeat
- Finish up story in present time
You can probably figure out where I keep getting bogged down. And when I get bogged down in the structure, I start to wallow in details that don't really belong in the story. So the pacing gets bogged down too.
So during my walk I imagined writing each scenelet onto index cards. Not all of the text; just the first couple sentences and the last, in order to give myself an idea of where the segues are. This story is going to be all about the segues. Like, "This bit ends with the first mention of the umbrella. So the next bit begins with a flashback to the outerspace salesmen giving him the umbrella."
Yes, I said outerspace salesmen. Also, the umbrella is pink with silver letters that can only be read from very high up, and the silver letters say "KICK ME." The snow isn't really snow. It's outerspace gluey tar stuff that causes the end of the world as we know it. WHAT IS MY BRAIN.
(I suspect The First Line does not get a heck of a lot of science fantasy apocalyptic humor. But they do welcome all genres. Who knows? Maybe everyone is writing stories about space glue snow apocalypses.)
So now I'm home, and my feet hurt. In addition to new skating blisters from Sunday, I have sandal blisters. Blisters on top of blisters. Ow. (Next time I think "Oh, I'll only be walking a few blocks. I'll be busing home. Sandals are fine," it will trigger an autohypnotic safety mechanism that will not allow me out the house until I've wised up and put my running shoes on.) But I also have a story written on index cards in my head. The structure now makes sense. And in mulling over the structure on my walk home, I discovered that the protagonist is an entirely different character than I'd thought. The things I now know about him are the key to getting both structure and pacing deboggified. Hooray for deboggification!
And tomorrow morning early, I shall wake up and transfer the story from mental index cards to WP51 file to paper. And there shall be a proofreading and a "final" revision. And lo, it shall be good.
Or at least it shall be submitted.
Then I'll be free to revise the phone story.