But let me first tell you this. Every story has a finish point. This does not mean that the story is perfect. Far from it. However, some stories are just what they are. Tinkering with them won't change that. Meat Head the Worst Dog in the World is one of those stories. And it's ready as it's ever going to be, has been for months.
So, less is more but I'm still dragging my feet. Perhaps I need to see a pediatrist?
I've been thinking about flaws for a long time now and had hoped to tie it into my ABNA results.
The process of critique has me frustrated and not because I don't see value you in it. I see tons of value but I also see a lack of contextual thinking and an attitude toward flaws that goes like this: Only after all your flaws are removed from your story, will your work be good enough for public eyes.
Here's the truth: flaws don't matter as much as you might think. They really don't. There is an unquantifiable aspect to what makes things popular. It's human nature to try to control the uncontrollable. A few seasons back America's Next Top Model tried to teach the contestants how to control their celebrity by branding themselves. Logic I found absurd.
Writing, like so many things in life, is a journey. Flawed people find love and jobs. Flawed songs hit the top of the charts. Flawed food is severed and eaten every single second of the day to happy customers. And flawed manuscripts find flawed publishers to produce them.
While personal growth often plays a role in success, it's not a requirement. What I'm saying is, and this applies to any pursuit, don't be afraid to put yourself out there now, flawed as you may be. Some people will like what you do. Some people won't. But be very cautious of people who say wait, wait, wait... not yet, no, wait.
Unless you actively resist change, each new attempt will be better. (Not everyone will agree on that, but you know in your heart when you've done something that stretched your boundaries.) The idea that a song that wasn't good or a book that wasn't good will end your career is archaic. We are in an era of experiment, thanks in large part to the internet. I find that as long as you put your authentic self out there, people are generous and forgiving of flaws.
You are free to make a gazillion mistakes doing whatever it is that makes you happy. And to learn from those mistakes. Or not. And either way, you have it in you to create a masterpiece. Or not. But until you put yourself out there, you'll never know.
I want to write something funny for this post but I got nothing even though I just wrote something very funny. It started at the restaurant. While I waited for my salad, I had the Super Secret Project on my brain. I was not going to write tonight. I've had about two hours sleep, which these days is a lot, so I was just going to have a dinner and head home. But as I waited for the side salad and then later for my steak, I saw my way through murky waters.
I've been working on the Super Secrete Project for years because humor is hard to write. The jokes aren't at my beck and call, so when I get a notion, I have to see it through, migraine or not. Tonight, solving problem X transitioned to writing scene Y. I laughed and wrote and got a lot of funny looks from people in he restaurant. Because the restaurant closed, I moved to a coffee shop. I had to write it down NOW so I spent four bucks on a coup of tea. All the while my head has been pounding, pounding, pounding.
Anyway, I had planned to do a writing contest this December but with the move back to the states imminent, I forgot.
Here are the rules
Any Genre. 3500 words or fewer. I'll pick three stories to put on my blog but there is only one cash prize of $50.00. I'll pay second and third place winners a token flat rate of $5.00 for first world rights, non-exclusive. Send your story in standard manuscript format in .doc or .docx to firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, I'm not a business. My blog is not a magazine. However, I do get a couple hundred visitors a month so the exposure is pretty good. Also, the contest is free. Submissions close on January 5th. You got one month to submit.
While a few typos won't hurt you, spelling and grammar will count in my final decision. If you dash of a story and don't edit it, I will be able to tell and unless it's all-caps-AMAZING you won't win. Anyone who wants a critique the first page of the story, may ask for one but you're agreeing to let me publish the first page ( approximately 250 words) on my blog along with my critique. Other writers can leave comments as well.
If you don't specifically request a critique, you won't get one. I'd never publishing anything of another writer's without expressed permission. I just thought some critique might be fun. If I get a lot of requests for critiques, I'll select stories at random. If I don't get any requests there won't be any critiques. I'm good either way.
*** Reprints: If you published the story on your blog, I don't really consider that published unless you've got like 10,000 reprints. But if you sold the story to
On Sunday, which is today if you're in the United States and yesterday if you're in South Korea with me, I went up to Gwanali Beach. Something happened a few weeks back. I wrote a big long post about it and the internet gods didn't see it go live. I've since decided to not talk about what happened in the public forum. (Doesn't that just make you curios as hell?)
Anyway, what happened isn't important. It's the aftermath which, for inexplicable reasons resulted in me staying home. I'm a home body anyway, but I hadn't realized how long it was since I'd been to the beach. Three or four months. The day was nice, the ocean baby blue and the sun hung low in the sky to warm things just right for a seaside November day. I settled on a bench and watched the tide roll in. There were two sailboats in the bay doing figure eights in the intermittent breeze.
These are the kind of things I get inspired by. Okay, that's not true. I also get inspired but drunks puking as my taxi rolls by. The world is just chuck full of little details looking for a home in a story. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I was having a perfect day and when I sat down to write I drew a blank.
As I prepare to relocate, a funny thing has happened. I've nearly stopped writing. In the interim I've wasted countless hours on Craigslist and searching the internet for cities I might like to settle in. But the key information here is Craiglist. I keep scanning the employment adds looking for... I don't know. I plan to take time off because I NEED to to do something about this insomnia. How long that will be... shrug. I've got enough saved that I can probably go a year without working if I'm careful.
But work defines me and my mind is set: I will never make a living as a writer. I believe I'll sell stories. I believe I'll sell full lengths books. I might even get an agent and a real publisher. What I don't believe is that I'll ever be able to quit my day job. Is this mindset fatalistic or realist? I don't know.
Today I set down to setup an accounting system for my story sales. You know because I've just sold so many stories. (I'm being a touch sarcastic in case that isn't clear.)Before 2011 writing income was zero.
In 2011 it jumped to just shy of $200.00
In 2012 it's dropped to $35.00
I stand my ground firmly that anything is better than zero. However, if you calculate the hours of each story took to write and revise, I made .00001 per hour on each of the stories. Think it gets better when you sell a book. Nope. Lets say you spend 20 hours a week x 51 weeks. ( You took a week off , you probably invested more than 20 hours but you have a day job so it wasn't 40.) That's 10,200 hours. You snare an agent. The agent asks for revisions. The revisions take 5000 hours. Now your at 15,200 hours. You snare a publisher who is willing to give you a $10,o00.00 advance. It feels like you won the lottery. You happily pay your agent her 15%.
You are asked to revise more. You spend another 5000 hours. You are now at 20,200 hours on this book. But there's book signings and a lot of stuff. You can add another 20,000 hours of work. You're now at 40,200 hours. But thanks to all your hard work, your book has sold a gazillion copies, for which you get a 25% royalty. You're agent takes her 15% of your 25%. In other words your actually royalty is closer to 1.6%. ( I haven't studied math for years so I Googled the answer. Google might be wrong =)
You sold 1 million titles at $10.00. In other words you sold 10 million dollars worth of books. Your royalty check isn't $16,000 dollars. You got the advance remember. You get a check for $6,000.
On this book you made about 30 cents an hour. Now all you have to do is pay Uncle Sam his share and deduct your travel expenses. Of course if you could find a minimum wage job that you loved as much as writing, you would have made $281, 400 before taxes for your 40,200 hours.
"That's why I'm going Indie," you say.
Indie authors aren't doing any better than agented authors. They make a high royalty of up to 70% but selling volume is troublesome. And unless you can edit like a pro, you'll have to hire somebody. Minus cover art, marketing, etc. it comes down to about the same. Few people get rich writing. Hell unless you can live off .30 an hour one should never look at writing as financial decision. Do it because you love it.
So far this month I've had three short stories held for further consideration, one of which was rejected yesterday, and six form letters.
Agent wise I've received five: Dr. Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency,Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Victoria Sanders & Associates, Jennifer Azantian of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary, Inc. I mention them by name because I wanted to thank them without clogging their in-boxes. These are great agents that any author would be lucky to have.
So agents thank you for rejecting me. I mean this with all sincerity.
Since I started querying in August I've sent out forty or so queries and gotten about 15 rejections. I've made no secrete how I feel about agents whose response is silence. (I don't like it=(
Rejections suck until you experience the alternative: silence= no. Not "maybe," not she/he's seriously considering the story, just "no." Silence was once a place were writers found hope, delusional as it may have been, that their work was a contender.
Now, I treasure each form letter. I appreciate them so much that, if they weren't electronic, I might even be caught petting the paper "No" is written upon. In the meantime, I've settle for stroking the computer screen and saying "This isn't what you think," to the coffee shop staff as I'm escorted out of the cafe`. "I got a form rejection from an agent today and I just wanted to give it some love."
"How does that improve this situation?" the Korean man said in perfect English.
Agents have been relatively mum about my Meat Head queries, and I don't mean form rejections. I mean silence but since no response is becoming the agent preferred method of rejection, I can't read too much into that. But of course being a needy writer, thoughts like "Oh, my God it's so bad, they can't even reject me!" Of course, I give that head voice an ultimatum.
"Shut up or I'm going to make you stand in the dark corner over there."
This is a visualization technique I've used to deal with Fear. People who know me now are surprised to learn that I'm terrified of everything, and just a few years ago this was especially true for escalators. I could not even look at one without breaking into an anxiety induced sweat.
As you can imagine, when I announced I was going to live and work abroad, my friends who knew me then were like "Um, there's a lot of escalators in the airport and the world is full of things you're terrified of."
"Well, I've ridden horses for years," I said.
"Yeah, and you're still terrified."
I shrugged. Slightly less than I was fifteen years ago."
Because I'm afraid of everything but I refuse to let it rule my life, I'm well practiced in putting the cowling head-voice, Fear, in the corner, where it can observe but not intefere. I think when writers get the negative head voice barking about this or that, it's not really neediness. It's actually Fear.
Fear isn't useless-- there is a time and place for it-- but of all the emotions, it probably is the least needed emotion for modern humans. There are no monsters, lions, wolves or, and I'm terribly saddened by this, zombies,waiting in dark alleys to eat us. Fear is an overlooked employee, exploited a few times a year at theme parks and regularly by thrill seekers. But it's unimportant in our day to day lives, so it creates crisis and gets revenge by interfering with our dreams.
I can without reservation, that you can throw yourself at escalators regardless of Fear says. Now, go ride an escalator... or write something that you're afraid to write.
When I was in college, I started an internet business. The business did not exist. I did make a website with products such as Lard Lips Lip Balm and personalized straight jackets. Membership cost $13.13 for thirteen months and got you a rubber monkey. The name of the company was Ruber Monkey because I misspelled rubber when I set up the website. I cared not one whit about spelling at the time and so I embraced this error in our slogan. RuberMonkey.com the misspelled website that doesn't exist. I involved a friend in a variety of antics. We produced a few videos, some of which we paid to air on public cable, very late night on channels few people watched when they were sober. Being imaginative souls, we got a kick of the idea that people were scratching their heads, and asking themselves WTF at 1AM. Perhaps we even broke some laws by doing this.
These days, I'm starting to query agents in a spartan fashion. Part of this is my finished novels needed CPR. Writing short stories has given me the novel and plot recitation skills I need. I have decided that I can't write any more short stories. My focus is getting the longer works into circulation.
Writing short stories also taught me that I like to work on multiple projects at the same time and how to do that successfully. Because novels cannot be finished in a week, I'm rotating three projects. This has been My Father's Heart Weak. So in three weeks, I'll work on it again. One of the tricks to doing this is to note everything you do. I used to work in a call center where everyday I summarized about 70 conversations into the computer so the next rep would know what the costumer called about. Every skill, everything you ever do will teaches you something you can use later.
Here is this skill from a job I hated, making it possible for me to pick on large works right were I left off. I use Notezilla, which allows you to stick notes to files or files to notes whichever you prefer, to track my progress and out look to manage my writing schedule.
Right now I have one novel (Meat Head) in circulation. I don't consider this an easy sell for a first novel. But it won't be an easy sell for a second or a tenth novel because it's the only book I have like it. I can't say, "this is the kind of author I am. This is the kind of books I will write."
Because of this, I recently decided to submit a query that deals with this issue (I am less concerned with landing an agent-- I either will or won't, and if it's the latter, I'll go the indie rout-- than how best to deal with my 31 flavors.) I have developed an analogy involving ice cream. I say that I can serve chocolate and vanilla, but that I also serve mocha-tuna-wtf.
I've talked about this before-- should I have pen names for different styles? This analogy triggered a realization about my own reading habits. I pick up Stephen King because I like his flavor. I read Christ Crutcher because I like his flavor. I return to the same authors because they each offer a flavor I like and I read the flavor that suits my mood.
Then, I realized in all of this, if I publish my 31 flavors all under the same name, I'm going to be such an unreliable author that readers won't ever been in the mood M.R. Jordan. Before, I thought it was matter of trust readers to not be confused. Now, I think it's a little more complicated than that.
And it truly does complicate the agent hunt. Should I be up front about my eclectic tastes or surprise them with a humor book that proves selling personalized straight jackets was not profession not so far off the mark. I don't know. I suppose I'll try both ways and go with what works.
Below is the Lard Lips Lip Balm commercial.
(pst, Lard Lips Lip Balm is 100% natural because it's made from lard. The items came from the back of a cake mix and some other random food products. To my knowledge, none of the ingredients are in lip balm. And yes, if anyone had been willing to pay $2.99 for 1/4 oz jar of lard, I would have sold it to them.)
It's funny how at time rejections just roll off and at other times how they sting. When I get the rejection blues, remember a poem by DH Lawrence.
"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself."
I am not a wild thing. I am human. Sometimes I wast energy feeling bad about inconsequential things. It does not matter that I know they are inconsequential either. Sometimes you just got to feel what you feel. And so at six o'clock on Thursday I have scheduled an half an hour for self-pity session.... which I forgot about and scheduled dinner.
After shouting "come in" my friend entered my apartment and stood arms folding, watching me. I was on the floor, doodling, crying and rocking myself.
"What are you doing?"
"My weekly date with self-pity. I never going to sell another story. My writing sucks. I'll be jettisoned into space for the dribble I put on the page." I moaned. "How about you?"
She gave me the you're-weird look. (I don't get this look as often as you'd expect.) "No thanks, I'm good. "
This never happened. But some psychologists do recommend scheduling time to feel bad so there is an iota of truth here. How do you manage rejection blues?
Thanks for submitting "The Slave" for our consideration, and for your interest in LORE. While I enjoyed aspects of this tale, we are going to pass on this particular effort -- narrowly. This was good, to be sure. I hope we shall see something more from you in the future. Good luck in your ongoing endeavors.
First, I want to point out I've never posted a rejection online before. I can't say it won't every happen again, but I don't do it for a thousand reason, the biggest one being that this was a private conversation. I have the utmost respect for Rod Heather over at Lore and not just because he sent me this very nice rejection. Lore Magazine is chock full of fantastic fiction that I'd be proud to be part of. There's a reason why I put this here and posted my reviews from Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award. (Vine 1, Vine 2, Reader's Weekly.) Nor is it easy for me to put up my reviews for you to see my warts -- you'll notice I allowed my pride (footnotes in Meathead) to shoot myself in the foot. I'd been told before to delete them. But I ignored that advice and annoyed the reviewer. I'm also embarrsed by the comments about editing as well.
Moving on. I've been wanting to write about the nature of selling fiction for a while. I had hopped to have made another sale by now for one thing. I was feeling pretty high on the hog after my sale to One Buck Horror. A pro sale meant... means a lot less than you'd expect. When you haven't sold anything, when you're querying and getting nothing but rejections, your first personalized rejection is a milestone and a Pro sale the holy grail. This could be my 5oth personal rejection. I stopped counting. That doesn't mean it isn't meaningful. I really appreciate it when an editor takes the time to give me a few kind words. When I feel low, I pull them up and read through them. I let them wash over me and remind myself that it takes years and years for an overnight success-- not every writer is an overnight success. But I think you know what I mean.
So I have two pieces of advice:
Enjoy your milestones. I mean really, really enjoy them. Exalt yourself, your skill, your creativity, the genius that makes up all of you. Daydream about the big sale. Let your ego off it's leash. (Don't worry, there's a rejection around the corner that will put it back in check.) But most of all, celebrate your perseverance. Without it there would be no milestones, which all too soon they become part of the landscape.
Don't fret. Just write. I haven't sold anything in a long time and I'd be lying to say that isn't eating at me, but fretting over it isn't productive. I have to keep circulation the stories I've finished and keep writing new things. And maybe you haven't sold anything. Maybe you don't get personalized rejections yet. Don't fret. Keep writing new things and you will.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018