Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Answers to Your Short Story Questions

Back in February, I announced that I was going to be speaking about short stories at a couple upcoming events (that have now passed), and I asked you what short story questions you wanted answered, so I could try to cover things people wonder about. I said I'd do a blog post answering those questions at some point, but here we are, eight months later, and I never did post those.



I went back and found those questions, and you'll find the answers below. Feel free to ask more, and I'll try to answer them, either in the comments or in a future post.

Bish asked about short story structure, what defines a short story, and how one goes about planning/outlining.

Geez, starting with a hard one.

Short story structure can follow novel structure, but obviously massively compacted. The difference (other than the compactness) is that you should start closer to the climax/action, and get to the meat of the plot more quickly. You also get far less time to establish character, setting, plot, and conflict. And character arc is different in short stories (though story arc still must exist.) While the main character must be effected by the outcome of the story, they do not have to find major growth and change as expected in novels. There's much more to this than I've said, but since it's just a blog post, I wanted to cover the basics as simply as possible.

In defining a short story, we'll go with Duotrope's definition, which is 1000 to 7500 words. Having said that, the markets define the length, and many will go up to 10,000 or even 12,000 words for short stories. Some will go even higher, but we're technically getting into novelette and novella territory as we grow the word count. I've found that 4000 to 5000 words are the sweet spot for many short story markets, though this is in general, not a definitive maximum.

Like I said above, there must be a story arc. A short story is not a vignette, so it must still have a beginning, middle, and end.

As far as planning/outlining, do so as you would a novel, but with a single plot line/conflict, rather than the more complicated versions you'd do for a novel. You should be focusing on one element for the plot, not branching off into many subplots and multiple conflicts. If it needs to be that complicated, it's probably better as something longer than a short story.



Alex asked where to submit short stories.

My go to places to find markets are Duotrope and Submission Grinder. Both of these websites are fantastic resources for tracking down markets taking submissions. You enter information, such as genre, length, and pay, and they pull up listings for markets that meet your specifications. Duotrope charges an annual fee, but Submission Grinder is free.

There are also other sites, such as ralan.com, My Little Corner, Horror Tree, Writing Career, and the Authors Publish newsletter.

Sandra asked how you handle character development with so few words.

Try to establish the basics of your character through their immediate reactions to their surroundings and the situation. Use brevity in describing them. And definitely use dialog and actions to show the character, rather than telling us about them, which we tend to do in novels. In short, develop the character organically through the story and their observations, reactions, thoughts, actions, and dialog. Skip the back story. Imply it if it's needed, but try to just show us what we need to know about the character as far as it impacts the story, rather than bringing in a bunch of extraneous information.



Pat asked how one decides how many characters to use.

I recommend having only one POV character, and only a couple other characters. Two to three characters is a good rule of thumb. There will always be exceptions to this recommendation (and my others above), but in general, especially when first starting on short stories, keep the characters limited, which also helps keep the story along simpler plot lines.

Olga asked if a protagonist needs a goal, like they do in novels.

Yes, the protagonist needs a goal, whether that's surviving the issue, solving a crime, or making their way through the maze of a new romance. However, they don't need a major character arc like they do in novels. I said it above, but be sure the story impacts your character. The reader needs something to draw them in and make them care about what happens to the character. Not having a character goal impacts suspense and story.

Jennifer asked how to fit a plot into a story of only a few hundred words.

Keep the idea simple. Like with short stories, you'll need to not complicate the story with sub-plots or too many characters. In fact, in a flash piece, which is what this would be, one to two characters is more than enough. I always set out with a word goal in mind, which helps me naturally write that brief. Flash fiction needs a beginning, middle, and end, just like short stories, but it's based on a single event or goal. Flash fiction is also a great place to try out twist endings, and twists tend to imply more information, which makes the story bigger than the number of words used.



Bryan asked about making a career of writing short stories and whether it's best to write a bunch with a goal toward making a collection or to focus on them singularly. 

The career question is a bit of a contentious one, surprisingly. I do know at least one author who has no interest in writing novels, and who has had over 100 short stories published. I was on a panel with him recently, where he broke down what he was making versus what a newer novelist makes in a year, and he was able to show that it was more profitable to write short stories. So, yes, it's possible to build a career on writing short stories if you're writing a significant number and submitting them regularly, and if you ultimately build relationships in the writing world, but just in the same way you can do so as a new novelist. You certainly won't get rich, and likely can't quit your day job. For me, they pay for me to maintain writing costs and go to some conferences and events, and that's good enough for now.

Personally, I like to focus on the stories individually, but this one would come down to personal tastes. I did have an editor say they'd like to see a collection themed around a short story I'd submitted to them, and including that story, and I'm considering doing that (I already had been, actually). So I'd map that out more like a novel. Generally, I prefer the freedom of being able to work on whatever story is begging the most for my attention, and then being able to switch gears on a whim.

Those were all the questions on the post. I hope something in here was helpful!

Now for some links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Gordon Square Review is seeking short stories and personal essays. Up to 5000 words. Pays $25. Deadline October 15.

Helios Quarterly Magazine is seeking fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art. The December issue is themed Heroes, Heroines, and Thrill Seekers. Up to 1500 words. Pays $.03/word. Deadline October 15.

Lagos Literary is seeking short fiction, essays, and poems. All genres. Up to 2500 words. Pays $20.

Rivet is seeking fiction that crosses boundaries. Between 15 and 15,000 words. Pays $25.

Roar is seeking feminist pieces. Pays $25.

Gamut is seeking neo-noir, speculative fiction with a literary bent. 500 to 5000 words. Pays $.10/word.

Frontier Poetry is seeking poems. Pays $50 per poem. Must be 10 pages/5 poems or less.

Contests:

Futurescapes is holding their short story contest. Up to 8000 words. Theme Blue Sky City. Must involve the future, technology, etc. $2000 grand prize. 5 runner up prizes of $500. Deadline October 13.

Do you have any burning short story questions you want answered? Any questions on the answers above? Or comments? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share? Submission news?

May you find your Muse.

*Guilt by Mary at clker.com
*Typewriter by OCAL at clker.com
*User by OCAL at clker.com
*Book Set by OCAL at clker.com

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

IWSG - Juggling

Today is the first Wednesday of September. Fall's on the way!

First Wednesday of the month means it's time to air our insecurities with the Insecure Writer's Support Group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh.


Our co-hosts today are Tyrean Martinson, Tara Tyler, Raimey Gallant, and Beverly Stowe McClure!

My insecurity today concerns juggling ALL THE THINGS! Life in general, sure, but I'm talking about the writing things. Writing and editing novels; writing and editing short stories; submitting short stories, which means tweaking formatting and such for each market; querying novels; looking into self-pubbing a collection of short stories; looking into all the business things that come with self-pubbing; putting off research into creating an LLC for that purpose; putting together workshops and researching panels for speaking gigs; judging a writing contest; so on and so forth. Some of these things are easier than others because they're something I'm comfortable with, but others are hard. Still others aren't hard, but are definitely time consuming, and if they have a deadline then that's where I have to focus, which means other things fall by the wayside.

I have a period of "calm" coming up starting in November. Then again, I guess that depends on whether I do any form of ShaNo (I don't do NaNo, as such, but I set writing related goals that month and use the communal energy from NaNo to pursue them). Anyway, it may be that the period of calm doesn't start until December, but ack, what's calm about December. January? Okay, cool, January. I can make it until then, right?

Also, I have a book signing coming up this Friday, plus my books will be in the bookstore during the Colorado Gold Conference I'm speaking at, but my Create Space order is LATE, and I may be starting to freak out. I ordered it in plenty of time, so I have no idea what the delay is, but COME ON! Luckily, I do have inventory, just not the full inventory I submitted. Tracking says it arrives today, but so far, no dice, er, books.

Okay, my stats for the month of August are as follows:

Submitted: 9 short stories
Accepted: 2 short stories, plus request for additional
Rejected: 6 short stories
Queried: 1 novel/agent
Currently on Submission: 16 short stories, 1 novel

I'm not up to my goal of 20 short stories on submission at a time, but I'm getting closer (plus, without the acceptances, I would have been up to 18!)

Since I'm posting this late, I'm not going to have time to do links to open submissions, but I should have some up next week. I'll have a post then answering questions about short stories I've been asked in blog comments in the past.

What are your insecurities? How do you manage your time? What do your submission stats look like for the month of August? Are you attending the Colorado Gold Conference? (If so, stop by and say hi at the book signing!)

May you find your Muse.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Flowers, Trains, and Mines & Links

Time for the final set of photos from my trip to Georgetown. On my last day, I did some sightseeing by driving Guanella Pass (twice, inadvertently) and taking the train out to do a mine tour. They had just opened an extended portion of the tour, courtesy of two of the guides actually clearing deeper into the mine where it had collapsed or been covered previously. One of the coolest things in there were insanely deep pools of water that went several levels down into the mountain and preserved footprints on the stone from the silver miners. There are still active veins of silver in the mine, but it's officially shut down and can no longer be mined. We even saw liquefied silver running down one of the walls from all the water!

First, here are some wildflowers growing on Guanella Pass (there were a ton, but it's a mountain pass, so you can only pull over at specific pull-offs.) Below the flowers is the view of Georgetown from one of the pull-offs. It's a super small, cute town.



Now for the train!






And the mine. Of note, on the first picture below you'll notice a faint green. That's one of the super deep holes full of water. I believe this one was about 34 feet deep, but I may be mis-remembering (one was that depth). While mining, they ran pumps to move the water out. We had water running along the route we walked down. Water everywhere!







The second picture above was the site of a bit of a mining war. A second mining company tried to undercut their claim, coming in through the hole they blasted in the back. Miners from the proper claim chased them out with rocks then used dynamite to blow up their tunnel, which has since been reopened. On the right, though it's hard to see, is another deep hole full of water (it's not distinctive in color or I would have left it). This one was deeper than the first.

Now for links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Splickety Magazine is seeking humorous Christmas stories for their December "Wreck the Halls" theme. 300 to 1000 words. Pays $.02/word. Deadline September 22.

Recompose is seeking poetry and flash fiction that blends speculative fiction with literary. Up to 1000 words. Pays $.06/word. Deadline September 30.

Nashville Review is seeking fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Up to 8000 words. Pays $100 for prose, $25 for poetry. Deadline September 30.

Books and Boos Press is looking for horror comedies. 4000 to 8000 words. Pays $50. Deadline September 30.

Tribe is an anthology seeking pieces from single/widowed/divorced women of 55+. Prose, poetry, memoir, personal narrative, etc. 1200 to 3000 words. $25 CAN, plus possibility for royalties. Deadline September 30.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is seeking stories with the theme "My Crazy Family." Nonfiction. Up to 1200 words. Pays $200. Deadline September 30.

Edge is seeking speculative fiction stories involving trains for the anthology Fantastic Trains: An Anthology of Phantasmagorical Engines and Rail Riders. There are several "locomotif" elements they want the writer to choose from and include. Up to 5000 words. Pays $50 to $150. Deadline September 30.

Have you ever been on a train? What kind? How about a mine tour? Gold, silver, coal? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Horror List Book Review: Swan Song

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.

This week I'm reviewing Swan Song, by Robert McCammon.


Unless I missed it while scanning back, it's been since June that I reviewed one of the books from the horror list. Yikes! But I've read other books in the meantime.

First, I need to say this was another loooong one. Nearly 919 pages. It took me awhile to get into it (about 240 pages, if I'm remembering correctly, which is about the time I went, "Oh, now it's getting interesting.") I didn't care for all the setup, and it at first seemed like it was going to be too regimented and militaristic due to the focus of the story at that time. It did get more interesting, however, and the momentum built continuously from there.

Interesting side note: I was reading this when the North Korea tweet occurred, and people were talking about nuclear attack. Why is this interesting? Because the story is about Russia (it was written in the 80s) nuking the entirety of the U.S. from ships. They hit all the big cities. All infrastructure is wiped out, and the survivors (barely) are forced to help themselves, rescue themselves, deal with the effects of the blasts, find food, find water that isn't tainted, etc. It was a timely reading.

While it's a good book, McCammon does a lot of head hopping, even within paragraphs, and I found this wearing. For the most part, it was easy to follow who the new POV character was, but there were many times I had to go back and re-read to figure out why an action had come from someone I didn't expect it to. So how many head hops did I miss because nothing triggered me to think something was wrong? There were A LOT of POV characters. We saw into the heads of both villains and hapless heroes. 

The characters were interesting, though the bad guys were edging toward caricature. The good guys were mostly highly likable, though, and it was those people who kept me reading, because I needed to finish out their stories.

If you like post-apocalyptic, this is one hell of an apocalypse. We meet the characters just before everything goes down, ride through the nuclear attack with them, and then see their progress for, I think, seven years. It's quite similar to "The Stand" in that it's an examination of good vs. evil in dire circumstances, with characters journeying across the U.S. to the place of their final countdown. There is also an element of magic woven throughout, with several of the characters having the ability to see each other and even a bit of the future using magical items. Plus, the big bad guy is somewhat magical, as is the major good guy (Swan). 

If you can muck your way through the beginning, the rest of the book is worth the read. I happened across an online discussion about the book while I was struggling to move forward, and this was repeated over and over. It gets better.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
9. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
11. 20th Century Ghosts (Joe Hill)
12. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
13. Dark Forces (Kirby McCauly)
14. Swan Song (Robert McCammon)
15. Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) (Octavia E. Butler)
16. Wet Work (Philip Nutman)
17. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
18. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
19. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
20. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
21. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
22. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
23. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
24. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
25. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
26. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
27. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
28. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
29. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
30. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
31. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
32. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
33. World War Z (Max Brooks)
34. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) 
35. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
36. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
37. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
38. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
39. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell) 
40. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
41. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)

I'm not sure which book I'm reading next, but it may be by Robin Cook.

Have you read Swan Song? Did you like it? Was the beginning hard to get through, or did you not have the same problem?

May you find your Muse.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Dead & The Rich - More Georgetown Photos & Links

Last week I posted photos of homes and statues around Georgetown, a still thriving silver mining town in the mountains of Colorado. I'd intended to make it a two-parter, with photos of Guanella Pass, the lake, the mine, and the cemetery today, but it turns out there are too many cool cemetery photos to share, so it will have to be a three-parter.

Today's all about the graves.

When you pull up to the Georgetown Alvarado Cemetery, a small, tidy cottage stands beside the wrought-iron gate. Immediately next to the road are multiple graves behind a small fence. A marble gravestone sits beside an original wooden cross. Some graves are fenced in, some have accompanying benches for loved ones to relax.

If you've never seen a mountain cemetery, this one fulfills the image. Brush, wildflowers, and aspens grow from the graves. This is no suburban mowed crab grass resting place. It's wild and beautiful, surrounded by the Rocky mountains and pine trees. I was even warned Moose like the area, though I was disappointed to not see any. 

Some of the graves have been patched and repaired. Some gravestones rest on their sides. Moss of green and rust grows in the cracks. And there are even graves where the ground has cracked or sunken in. 

While this is an active cemetery, with gravestones exhibiting years in the 2010s, the photos I'm sharing with you are of graves with years in the 1800s and early 1900s. There are recognizable names, including the Guanella family, Louis Dupuy and his wife, and a Clear Creek County sheriff, who also happened to be a WWII vet. I haven't shared photos of their graves, though I did photograph them.























I only had an hour to wander through the cemetery, so there were areas I missed, including some of the older ones. I hope to visit again in the fall, when the aspens have turned golden. Maybe I'll even get to see an elusive moose.

Link time. Bear in mind that I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting to a market.

Accepting Submissions:

Arsenika is seeking flash fiction and poetry. Up to 1000 words. Pays $60 for fiction, $30 for poetry. Deadline September 15.

Writers Resist is seeking poetry, fiction, nonfiction, essays, and other forms of writing that must express resistance. Up to 2500 words. Will pay $10 for the first 100 pieces accepted.

The Quill is seeking poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction in all genres. Up to 20,000 words, but under 10,000 is preferred. Pays up to $45, depending upon length.

Every Day Fiction is seeking flash fiction in all genres. Pays a token $3.

Islanded Quarterly is seeking poetry, prose, and photography about being islanded (see their website for a definition). All genres. 1500 to 5000 words. Pays between 15 and 45 pounds.

The Sunlight Press is seeking personal essays, fiction, and photography. Up to 2000 words. This is a paying market.

Blindspot is seeking fantasy and science fiction. Up to 10,000 words. Pays $.08/word.

Gathering Storm Magazine is seeking short fiction with any of the following themes: The only thing to fear is fear itself; never take candy from strangers; it's just a bunch of hocus pocus; and things that go bump in the night. Up to 2000 words. Pays $25 for short stories, $10 for poetry. 

Ever wandered through a cemetery? What stuck out to you or struck you about it? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Georgetown Ghost Town Writing Retreat, pt 1

This weekend I attended the Georgetown Ghost Town Writer's Retreat. Georgetown is a small town that grew up around silver mining in the Rockies. Unlike some of the old gold mining towns that have become run down or are known more for gambling than history, Georgetown is well cared for and bustling with tourism.

The retreat was pleasant, but I actually only attended two workshops and a movie night (Dead Awake), where the director was present to do a Q&A afterward. Aside from that, I spent the weekend editing in my room, wandering around playing tourist, and hanging out with fellow writers.


I thought it would be fun to post some of the over five-hundred photos I took while I was up there. Today, I'm focusing on the houses and buildings in town. Next week, I'll post photos from the cemetery, train ride, and mine tour.

Before I jump into the photos, I have a couple pieces of news. First, I'll be presenting a two-hour workshop on short stories this Saturday for Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group. More information can be found under the "appearances" tab. I always love talking short stories, and especially hearing afterward from people who have begun trying their hand at it!

Second, I placed a flash fiction piece this week. Yay! It will be published in October. More information can be found under the "publications" tab.

Third, today's my anniversary! 21 years! Happy Anniversary to my hubby.



All right, photo time. There were a ton of neat houses and buildings from the 1800s, mixed in with some newer buildings. Those buildings on the historical register had plaques or small round signs with the years they were built, including homes people still lived in. It was easy to get lost in history wandering around. As a wild west buff, I even got my share of cool downtown buildings that looked like something straight out of the wild west.

This first house was falling apart. It was nestled between several well kept houses, but this one's yard was overgrown, the porch sagging, and some of the siding peeling off. It looked like someone had loved it once, but maybe they passed away with no one to leave it to, after years of not being able to maintain the property.




The flowers that had sprung up in the overgrown yard were purple, white, and yellow, mixed in with the brown leaves of downed branches, and the faded green of various weeds.

Below was one of the well maintained houses. I'm not sure what year was on the historical marker. There was metal work along the eaves that looked like it dissuade any smart bird from landing there. It looked like the tops of wrought iron gates.


There was an old Presbyterian church with gorgeous stone siding and antique fixtures. It was built in 1874 of native stone.




Below are some random photos from around downtown. 













It was a perfect mix of old and new, well preserved and crumbling. The townspeople (and those working there from surrounding mountain communities) were proud of the town, and eager to share stories of hauntings and history with the hundred or so authors who descended on the town. There were a lot of things I didn't get to do, like tour the electricity museum that included Tesla's involvement, or visit one of the historic houses to tour its hallways and hear about its ghosts. I plan to go back up with my family and visit everything I missed.

Next week, gravestones, silver mines, and locomotives!

Now for links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Chicken Soup for the Soul is seeking personal stories with the theme "Miracles and More" and "Stories of Redemption." 1200 words or less. Nonfiction only. Pays $200. Deadline August 31.

Silver Empire is seeking stories in any genre with the theme "Stairs in the Woods." Must be about a random detached set of stairs. 3000 to 20,000 words. Pays in royalties. Deadline August 31.

Digital Fiction Publishing Corp is seeking horror reprint short stories that appeared in professional or semi-professional short story publications. 3500 to 7500 words. Pays $.01/word. Deadline August 31.

Spider is seeking submissions of children's stories with the theme "Spaceships and Superheroes." Fiction, activities, poetry, recipes, etc. Geared toward ages 6-9. 300 to 1000 words. Pays up to $.25/word. Deadline August 31.

Twelfth Planet Press is seeking short stories about "gender as it relates to the creation of artificial intelligence and robotics" for the anthology "Mother of Invention." 500 to 5000 words. Deadline August 31.

Goblin Fruit is seeking fantastical poetry. Pays $15. Deadline September 1.

Red Ferret Press is seeking BDSM short stories for the anthology "Knotted." Up to 10,000 words. Pays 1/2 cent per word. Deadline September 1.

Independent Legions Publishing is seeking short stories about death by water for the anthology "The Beauty of Death 2: Death by Water." 4000 to 5000 words. Pays $100. Deadline September 1.

Mofo Pubs is seeking apocalyptic erotica short stories for the anthology "Apocalypse." 1000 to 5000 words. Pays $.01/word. Deadline September 5.

Fantasia Divinity Magazine is seeking short stories about mythological creatures for the anthology "Menagerie de Mythique." 500 to 10,500. Pays 1/2 cent per word. Deadline September 5.

Ever visited a ghost town? How about one that was still thriving? Any neat towns you love to wander through and/or photograph? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.