Monday, February 22, 2010

Getting out of the slushpile...and into print!

It took me a long, long time to get my first story published. I spent a semester during my MFA program writing and editing the first draft. Then I probably tweaked it for another month or two. Then I spent a year and a half sending it out to 21 different journals. It got rejected by 17 of them, and then was accepted by two different places right around the same time. (The remaining journals I wrote to and rescinded the submission.)

So when I came across this article in Writers' Digest on getting out of the slush pile, I thought I would write a post listing a few of the minor things I did in between the time I first sent the story out, and when it finally got picked up. I think these little tweaks made a world of difference.
(Note: I read about the WD article on the Practicing Writing Blog)

1- When I got the first five rejections or so, I sent the story to some writer friends who kindly gave me feedback. They all agreed that it was ready to be submitted--but two of them questioned one particular part of the story.
That sent a red flag to me that something wasn't working in that area. I revised it.

2- After rejection 10 or so, I printed out the story and read it over from start to finish--something I hadn't done in months at that point. I found a few typos (egads!) and reworked a few parts that seemed clunky.

3- Around that time, I reworked the red-flagged area from item #1 yet again.

4- Right before I sent out this last batch of submissions, I tweaked the opening in a way that I think made a big difference.

The opening line went from:
On her first day in Paris, Chloe buys six postcards.

On her first day in Paris, Chloe writes a postcard to her dead husband.

The latter is much more engaging, no? It leaves you wondering, What happened to Chloe's husband? Is she crazy? The former might leave you wondering, Who cares?

The moral
* Work on your story until you really truly believe it is done.
* Have friends read it and comment on it (other writers are great for this, but I also have non-writer friends read my stuff and their comments are often just as helpful)
* If your story gets rejected a number of times, take a look at it with fresh eyes and see if there are parts where your interest flags, where the writing seems clunky, that could be cut, or that need clarification. Pay particular attention to the beginning, since that's what the editor will see first.
* Don't give up hope! Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Some February crafts

I got a lot of crafting done this month. Not sure if that's because the cold weather kept me inside, or if my headaches kept me away from books and my computer, or if I was just in a craft mood. In any case....
I didn't want to throw away the Christmas cards I was taking down at the end of January, so I decided to recycle them into Valentine's decorations. I cut them into hearts, and then sewed a thread through them so they would hang in a line and dangle. Hanging them in front of the windows by my front door meant that people outside and inside could enjoy them.

(Don't mind the bad photo--the way the house is set up doesn't allow for a good angle of the windows.)

I didn't just use Christmas cards--I also used images from magazines. I ended up with many more heart cutouts than I did window space, so I also made a mobile--something I had been wanting to make for a while now, ever since I noticed how soothing I found the slow movements of a modern art mobile that hung in my dentist's office (and what a good place to find something soothing, no?)

As you can see, I put images on one side and relavent or just amusing (to me, anyway) words from magazine articles (mostly a very iteresting New Yorker piece on how scent informs memory).

I had so much fun making it (which took a lot of trial and error in terms of finding the right materials to be sturdy enough to support the structure, but fluid enough to allow for movement)that I'm going to make another using birds instead of hearts--to hang to celebrate spring (whenever that comes around!).

Post-mobile, I had yet MORE hearts, so I hung them in the archway that separates my living room from the kitchen/dining area:

I'll also have some knitting photos to post soon... What crafty things have you been up to this month? Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Confession Tuesday: The Simultaneous Submission Edition

I confess: In the past, I have submitted pieces simultaneously to journals even if they didn't allow simultaneous submissions. I figured: With all the rejections I have gotten, what are the chances that one of my stories would be accepted by two journals at the same time?

I confess: THIS JUST HAPPENED! Luckily, the second journal that accepted it was one that allowed simultaneous submissions, so the weirdness of having to reject their acceptance was somewhat dampened. I also felt good about the fact that I did email that second journal as soon as I found out that the New Plains Review accepted my story. My guess is that the editor didn't have a chance to go through all the "general inbox" emails before emailing authors whose work he accepted.

I confess: I will never flout simultaneous submission rules again.

I confess: Once the anxiety I am feeling over having to reject the acceptance and probably piss off the editor of the second journal subsides, I will probably be all aglow for weeks at the idea that TWO journals wanted the story that SEVENTEEN rejected.

I confess: The idea of pissing someone off (in general, not in this case alone) causes me way more anxiety than it should.

I confess: Having my story accepted makes me feel like a "real" writer, whatever that means.

I confess: I wish I didn't need this kind of outside validation but, alas, I do. Best Blogger Tips

How to Survive February in New England

T.S. Eliot got a lot right, but he got one thing wrong: February is the cruelest month, at least here in New England, according to this Writerbug. Though it is so short, it feels so long. And so dark. And so cold. (Which reminds me of that lovely Shakespeare quote: "Though he is small, he is but fierce.")

I'm not the only one who feels this way about February.

My plan to conquer February is a little different than Soule Mama's, though. It does entail lots of knitting and being outside, but the main component is movies! I plan to see all of the Best Picture nominations this month.

And the nominees are:

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

I've seen Avatar (eh), Inglourious Basterds (awesome), A Serious Man (very awesome), and Up (awesome). I plan to see another one or two movies this weekend, and I have The Hurt Locker out from Netflix.
That leaves me enough movies to get me through the last of this long short month. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, February 12, 2010 me!

After most "victories," Brian very sweetly gets me one of these helium balloons. This week, I got one to celebrate my most exciting victory yet--one of my short stories, Cartes Postales, will be published in the Spring Issue of The New Plains Review!

It's been a little over a week since I've heard the news (I didn't want to share until I got in touch with the editors of the other journals that were considering the story), but I still get giddy when I talk (write) about it!

Maybe that's the benefit of having Cartes rejected 17 times--yes, I counted. Now this victory is all the more sweet for being so hard won.

Another twist: of the four journals from which I had to rescind my submission, three wrote back to say the story was being seriously considered for publication and I should send other work.
Of course I was very happy to hear this--and it makes me wonder if Cartes got close to publication at any of the 17 journals that rejected it. Man, that would have been nice to know! It would've taken the sting out of those rejections just a wee bit....

But anyway, I am so so so so happy about this. It's so gratifying to know that my instinct that told me this story was ready was correct, despite all those rejections. And it's a good reminder to all of you out there who might be on rejection #16....Keep sending your stuff out! After a series of rejections, you might want to look at the story again and tweak it as you see fit (I did that a few times). But most of all, keep sending it out. All it takes is one! And, of course, keep writing.

My very exciting plans for this Friday evening involve doing just that. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some pictures, on this snowy Wednesday

So far the snow in these parts (South of Boston) is way lighter than expected. But who knows what's to come....

Since I got out of work early in anticipation of the snow, I'm finally getting around to putting up some pictures I've been meaning to post.

Remember I mentioned I took myself on an artist's date and hit my favorite thrift store in Boston?

Here are just a few of my finds. I'll post more sporadically as the urge strikes.
I got all of these items at Boomerangs, probably all for under $10 total, though I don't remember exactly. I think they look quite lovely grouped on top of our piano.

I also bought this vase:

And then I needed to fill it, so I made some pom-pom flowers. Fun and easy!

I couldn't help myself from making more pom-pom flowers, and putting them on the branches that sit in this awesome vase I got when my Oma (German for grandmother) passed away. It's funny because the vase did not fit in with the rest of my Oma's house, and yet I had loved it from when I was a little girl. Now it doesn't really fit in with my decor either, but I still love it.

And I think the whole pom-pom flower look works with it, if I do say so myself!
Best Blogger Tips

Friday, February 05, 2010

Need some inspiration?

I love quotes from writers on writing. I find them inspiring. So I was quite pleased when I came across this post from the No Credentials Necessary blog.

My favorite of her list of quotes:
The best advice on writing I’ve ever received: Finish.” – Peter Mayle

So simple, yet so difficult! Best Blogger Tips

Recent Reads: January Edition

I'm starting a new feature on this ole blog, a list of books I've read in the last month (and commentary on what I thought of them).

I hope this feature serves multiple purposes:
1- Selfishly, I'd like a place to keep track of my reading.
2- I love learning about books and articles from people I trust, so I hope to provide my readers with this service.

Next month, I hope to add a list of any particularly good articles I read, along with commentary on what I thought of those, too.

Here goes!

Books read last month

Reviewed on a scale of 1-5 stars, listed from worst to best. (Saving the best for last and all that.)

Santa Fe Dead by Stewart Woods
1.5 stars

Bought this as an airplane read....The plot was good enough that I finished the book, but I won't be recommending this author anytime soon. The writing was pretty bad.

No Good Deeds by Laura Lipman*
3.5 stars

This murder mystery set in Baltimore kept my interest and, when I was away from the book, I kept thinking about the characters and the plot--always a good sign. In terms of craft, I would like to go back to this book (and others by Lipman) to look at how well she creates a sense of place. I don't know much about Baltimore, but she described the city in a way that was not confusing for an outsider and, it seemed to me, wouldn't be boring or redundant for someone who knew it well.

*Note: I listened to an audio version of this book

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
4 stars

I got interested in this book, which fictionalizes a long-term affair that Frank Lloyd Wright had with one of his clients, after visiting the architect's house in Scottsdale, AZ, in December.

The book is told from the perspective of the woman, Mamah. It was well done--until the end. I won't spoil it for people who want to read the book, but I was totally shocked in the end. I like books that surprise me, but whose endings, when I look back on the book as a whole, seem as inevitable as they were surprising. This was just surprising.

That said, I would still recommend the book for its lovely architecture and art descriptions, and the information about the women's movement in the early 1900s, as well as the illumination of the topic of making hard choices in life (Mamah left her own family, including two young children, to take up with Wright because she felt it was what she needed to do, as a person.)

Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff*
5 stars

I loved these stories. They embody everything I hope to have in my own work--characters who are alive, interesting plots, and subtle but completely comprehensible endings. In fact, I liked the book (which I got from the library) so much that I ordered myself a copy, so I can reread it, study it, and underline to my heart's content. Hopefully I'll figure out just how Ms. Groff works her magic.

*Note: I listened to an audio version of this book Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Confession Tuesday

January over at PoetMom started Confession Tuesday a while back. I follow her and others' confessions, but I've never confessed myself. Here goes!

I confess that when I thought about writing this post, all I could think of was my Catholic upbringing: It's been about 15 years since my last (priest-witnessed) confession.

I confess that now I'm wondering what it is I confessed in that confession, which is probably to be my last in a Catholic Church.

I confess that I've started to attend the Unitarian Church near my house and I love it. Aside from the welcoming nature of the congregation, and the social justice component of Unitarianism, what I most love is the weekly tradition they call "Sharing of Joys and Sorrows." People get up and share something they are happy about, or concerned about, and then light a candle. At the end, the leader of the service lights a candle for "all the joys and sorrows unspoken, but that are in our hearts."

I confess that I've never shared a joy or sorrow for fear that I would cry while I was up there.

I confess I cry a lot. Movies, TV shows, books, life in general...all fodder for tears for me.

I confess that ever since attending PoetMom's and Erin Dionne's book parties recently, I have been daydreaming about my own book party, which I hope to have occasion to throw one day in the relatively near future. More on that in another post.

I confess I am writing this post during work hours and must get back to my job! Best Blogger Tips