Composing a story, part 4 of ??

In Part 1, I described the first draft.

In Part 2, I described the revision process.

In Part 3, I described incorporating reader feedback and submission to Writers of the Future.

And now, in Part 4, I’ll give you some insight as to what happens next.

Last week, I received my rejection from Writers of the Future. And I say rejection, because I did not win any of the prizes this quarter. My story was awarded an Honorable Mention, and of course I’m happy with that. As I should be. I should not be content with it, though. I am still entering this contest because I still qualify for it, until the time when I have made enough qualifying sales to other markets. So, I keep going.

Now, I need to decide what to do with this story next. Obviously I’d like to get paid for it. There are two main options for that:

1) Self-publish on Amazon, as either a stand-alone story or part of a collection; or,

2) Submit to paying markets until one accepts and pays me for publication.

At this time I plan to pursue option (2), because I still want the connection and notoriety that comes with publication in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, etc. They don’t give Hugo awards to self-publishers, after all. You’ve got to be part of the in-crowd for something like that, so I go door-to-door in the in-crowd neighborhood, hawking my wares, patiently accepting their rejections, and moving on to the next.

The following are 15 markets that this story would qualify for, in terms of what kind of story they usually publish, length they accept, and whether or not they’re even open for submissions right now:

  • Clarkesworld
  • New Myths
  • Uncanny
  • Phantaxis
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Abyss & Apex
  • Giganotosaurus
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  • Lightspeed
  • Apex
  • Strange Horizons
  • Leading Edge
  • T Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog
  • Outposts of Beyond

I’ve submitted to Clarkesworld. This is run by Neal Clarke, and he’s very quick on the turnaround. I should have an answer in 3 days or less. When the rejection from that comes in, I’ll go down the list. Or, if there’s an impending deadline for submissions, I’ll advance that listing in the hierarchy. If I didn’t realize it and market is closed when I get to it, I go to the next one. This happens often.

So, we’re in the thick of it now! Cross your fingers – there might be an acceptance in the works, sometime in the next couple of years. Yes, it sometimes really does take that long. I’ve got one story I’ve submitted 15 times since 2015, and it’s still getting rejections. But I like it, and I’d like more people to read it, so I keep submitting. I’ve heard anecdotes of authors selling stories on the 40th submission or later. I don’t know if I have that determination. Or is it foolishness? It’s up to me to eventually decide to pull a story from the rotation and just keep it to myself. Until then, we press on.

Extremely Bad Advice – Roommate “Situation”

Another one “borrowed” from Dear Abby. Thanks for doing the research for me, love!

Dear SJ: I’m a man in my mid-30s. For the past couple of years I’ve been in love with my best friend. She doesn’t know how I feel, and I know she doesn’t feel the same way about me. (She calls me the brother she always wanted.) I try hard to fight these feelings os our friendship can continue. She has been a huge part of my life, so losing her friendship would be devastating.

To make maters more difficult, we are currently roommates and spend lots of time together. My heart breaks when she goes on dates or talks a bout guys she may be interested in. I know she’Lloyd never see me as more than a friend. Is there any way I can get over these feelings so we can continue this amazing friendship? – FRIEND ZONE IN VERMONT

Dear FRIEND ZONE,

Seems pretty obvious to me. Your best friend / girlfriend is an incestuous freak. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not for everyone. But when someone talks about you as “the brother she always wanted”, that’s code for “I wanna bang my whole family.” Plus, why do you think she agreed to live with you? She’s been trying to grease the skids this whole time.

You see, there’s a big body of scientific literature that says exactly this: boys want to kill their fathers and replace them between their mother’s legs. It’s called the Oedipus Complex. It’s what drives so much of human evolution. “It was good enough for Dad, it should be good enough for me!” The parallel for women is the Electra Complex, which, my best guess is, has something to do with wiring your nipples to a car battery. Sounds like your friend has taken this to the logical extreme… if sons want to bang Mommy, then daughters want to bang Daddy. Since “society” says she can’t do that, she’s acting out in the nearest substitute possible: you.

She’s grooming you to be Dad’s replacement. It starts out as a surrogate brother, and once she’s got you hooked on that mental mind-warp she’ll start imagining her father’s face on your body when you’re doing it. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the inside of her mind when that happens. I’ve been there, it’s not pretty.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that she’s really interested in these other guys she’s talking about our dating. Those are just a ploy to make you jealous – to make you see her as desirable – to incite you to finally “man up” and make your move. Let’s be honest: there’s never in history been a male / female couple that is just really good friends without both of them wanting to bone. And it’s not anybody’s fault; that’s just how we’re wired as a species.

So, what’s your move? Forget about “getting over the feelings”. You and I both know that’s not going to happen. Instead, you need to step up and step out. Tell her exactly what you feel. If you need help writing the script, it should sound something like this:

“Hey, Roomie, let’s be more than roommates. You know your lady-bits tingle when I walk in the room, ‘cause I feel the same way. My Tower of Power gets all electrified just thinking about you. Those other guys? They ain’t got nothin’ on me. Remember last month when you ‘accidentally’ walked in on me in the shower? Yeah, I ‘forgot’ to lock the door, and you somehow ‘didn’t remember’ that I take a shower every day at exactly that same time. Let’s not kid ourselves any more. We should do this, ‘cause, feelings, and stuff. What do you say?” Trust me, it’ll work out great. Soon you’ll be banging like a screen door in a hurricane and everyone wins.

And because I’m a good guy, I’ll even give you a Plan B. If she does happen to reject you (even though my analysis is on point like 98% of the time), and you really do want to forget all about your feelings, try this. Hit yourself in the head with a hammer. If you can remember, afterwards, why you hit yourself, do it again. Repeat as necessary. Toodle-ooo!

Extremely Bad Advice – Weight Loss Tips and Tricks

Dear SJ,

My doctor says I really need to lose 20 pounds. But I really don’t want to give up peanut butter. What should I do? EXTRA CHUNKY FOR THE WIN

Dear EXTRA CHUNKY,

First off, I gotta say, if your doctor says you need to lose 20 pounds, you can bet it’s more like 40. And if you’re in the US, I’ll put dollars to doughnuts that it’s really 60, but both your doctor and I know that if someone actually says that to you, you’ll pull a nope, nope, nopey nope nope. Like the 98% majority in this country, you would rather just be thin than get thin, so seeing the whole mountain of work in front of you becomes an intimidation rather than an inspiration.

And while I may decry the phenomenon, I’m not really that interested in beating my brains out to change community psychology. It’s like trying to unburn a campfire: in principle it can happen, but in practice it’s a one-way street. And this street is a supersize, extra grande, double-stuffed highway straight to the donut shoppe. Everyone does it, so why should you bother trying to stand out? Just accept the diabetes and the inevitable (but ultimately innefective) bariatric surgery. You’ll be much happier along the way, even if the way is materially shortened due to a heart attack or liver failure.

But, if you’re so committed to this self-delusion that you actually think you can lose weight, and you’re looking for some hints other than the standard “Eat Less, Move More” that you must have ignored already, I’ll give you a great plan to get off the Skippy.

First, enjoy all of the rest of the tub that you’ve got in your pantry. And I do mean “tub”, not “jar”, because fatties like you don’t buy peanut butter in the smallest serving size available. Am I right? Or am I right? I’m right. [nodding and winking] I’m right.

Next, go buy yourself 10 more tubs of peanut butter. For this exercise, they need to be the “natural” kind, where the oil settles out. Open them all, unseal them, and mix that oil back in. Take 2 tablespoons out of each one and eat them, in your preferred method. See, this isn’t so bad, is it? You got this!

Now, time for the payoff. Take an empty cup and head to the bathroom. Collect a urine sample. If you have other family members, you could recruit them to help you by donating theirs as well. “It’s a team effort!” Now – for ONLY ONE of those tubs, add the urine and stir again. Put all the lids back on, and forget which jar has your stanky old waste inside. Mix them up like a card sharp on 42nd Street and put them back on the shelf. Now, every time you to go grab a scoop of Extra Chunky, all you have to do is think, Yeah, but there could be pee in it. And poof! Desire gone.

Do write back in 6 months and let me know how it goes. I’m gonna bet my neighbor that it’s less likely you hit your weight loss goal than you say something like “Surprisingly, you really can’t even taste the ammonia!” Peace!

Requiem for a Notebook

My Writing Practice notebook is filled. This one is, at least. I will start a new one tonight when I sit down again. Yesterday I wrote to the end of the current one and, because I was curious, I decided to do a review. Here’s what I found:

There are 100 sheet / 200 pages in this notebook. A few of the pages are covered with other writings, so they don’t count. I filled 191 sheets with my scrawl. The first 4 sheets had 197, 190, 170, and 167 words on them. I’ll estimate all those 191 sheets have 175 words each, for a total of 33,425 words, which would be about 135 pages when printed. That’s a long novella. Not bad.

My longest streak was 13 days in a row, starting July 2 and going through July 14. The next longest was 11 days from 8/4 through 8/14. Hm, something about the 15th of the month that I don’t want to write?

I did a 5-day series early in July on “Describe sex…” The first few lines of each are as follows:

7-3-18 This is a strange one. Because most other phenomenon a will be described by their physical properties – the game of baseball will be about… ; sex, on the other hand is more likely to be described in emotional terms.

7-4-18 It’s a physical status and a physical act. Status – male or female. Act – penetration, intercourse interaction.

7-5-18 “Sex is natural, sex is fun. Sex is best when it’s one-on-one!” “Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things, that may be.”

7-6-18 Sex is power. Sex is control. Sex is authority. Sex is “top” and “bottom”, sex is “giver” and “receiver”. Sex is “fucking” – an active verb, an authoritative act – and it is “getting fucked” – a receptive, passive, dominated, submissive state.

7-7-18 Sex is biting nipples. It is stroking shoulders and grabbing hair, but not by the ends, to pull and to hurt, but close, at the back of the head, right by the name of the neck, just to get a feeling of control

I had “lose control” experiences on 7/22, 7/29, 8/5, 8/16, and 8/18. These are times when I stop thinking, stop getting logical, and often my pen does not even make words any longer. It looks like this:

7/22, at the end when I’ve completely lost control

On 8/4 I ended with “I come in the whirlwind.” I liked that line so much that I started my writing practice on 8/5 with that same line.

On 8/20 I ran a pen dry. This is always a satisfying experience. My topic was “Write about background music – “. I started and as I noticed that the pen was close to exhaustion, I promised myself I would keep going until it gave out. 6.5 pages in, the ink finally finished and I quit.

On 8/22 my topic was “Write in incomplete sentences.” It looked like this:

This will be a challenging for ________.

I don’t often ________.

In the middle of my sentences I usually ________.

Somewhat _______, but there’s this cute girl at the ________ that wasn’t immediately rejecting me last time I ________.

On 9/9 I ran out of space. I had no more empty pages. But I wasn’t done writing for the day, so I turned the notebook 45 degrees and wrote over the last page a second time. If I try reaaaaaally hard, I could probably decipher what I wrote the first time and the second time. I don’t want to try that hard.

I wrote on 60 of 83 days available during this period. I had one long stretch at the beginning where I missed 7 days in a row (I must have been doing something else the 3rd week of June), but for all the rest I usually only missed a day before writing again. My next notebook I’ll aim for 60 days of 70 (skip one day a week, on average).

I’m pretty satisfied with this one. Now it goes on the shelf. Will it ever come back off? Not likely. But still, having that tangible reminder of what I’ve done is always valuable to me.

Writing Practice – 9/8/2018 – a Letter

Write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a long time…

Dear ________,

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in, gosh, probably 25 years, almost. The last time was when we were back in high school. And I do apologize – I’ve forgotten your name. Somehow. But I haven’t forgotten that you lived in Ames, Iowa. I thought it was cute, back then, like I thought you were cute.

Do you remember, we met on separate Choir trips to the same place? Must have been Chicago – that’s the only trip my choir ever went on. I was Treasurer of the club that year, so I spent more time counting checks than I did counting eighth notes. But that was okay – I learned quickly and sang well, so I could afford to miss rehearsals.

I would ask you how you have been, but I realize that’s a very bland, very “standard” question. I want to ask what has made you happy? What made you cry? Have you ever seen a sunset, all by yourself, standing or sitting at the top of a mountain you just climbed? What makes you laugh?

I would tell you about my life, but there’s too much. Facts aren’t that interesting, really. I know you want the stories – I want to tell them. Like how I ended up on the floor in my underwear at 2 am, crying and praying and dripping snot down my cheeks onto my chest. Or how I put half a dozen holes in the walls. Or how I almost passed out when I fell, once, and that shook me up enough to make some more drastic changes. You want to know my successes and failures. You want to know what I’m proud of and what I regret.

You know what? I’m proud of the fact that I can park 2 cars in my 2-car garage. It may seem like something people don’t often brag about, but I’m really happy I can do that.

You know what I regret? Not keeping in touch with people. Not just you – Andy, Andrew, Nathan, my brother for a while. I want to be a better friend. I want to support my friends in their journeys. I want them to support me. I don’t want to blow away like an ash from a campfire, tossed up into the wind, tumbled along without intention, without purpose, without goals that, when I achieve them, will bring a measure of satisfaction for a job well done.

I want to be happy. And I want others to be happy, too There is enough in this world for us all to achieve what we want. Why hoard? Why restrict? Give. Even if it is not returned to you, that happiness, that love, that community, give anyway. Because it is the right thing to do. If it comes back, then give again. And if it does not, well, then, you will have done the right thing, and that is most important.

Please, do write back. Maybe then I will remember your name. 🙂

Sincerely,

SJ

Writing Advice

A friend (M) asked me for advice for said friend’s child (R) who has shown interest in and talent for writing. So here’s what I came up with. I offer this to you as either inspiration, a wet blanket on your enthusiasm, or however you want to take it.

***

So my thoughts for R. (or you, or the teacher, or whoever else wants to know about writing) are this (in general order, but do a lot of them all at the same time):

1) To write well, you need to read. A lot. And a lot of different things. R. should be reading at least a book a week, maybe 2 or 3. She doesn’t have that much going on that she can’t also be reading a lot. So find a few authors she likes and read a bunch by those. And then find some things that she starts and thinks, “I absolutely hate this”, then finish it and asks yourself, “why did I not like it?”

2) Write. A lot. Get a notebook. Write at least 10 minutes a day. Here are some topics to start writing about, if you can’t think of some:

I feel…

I smell…

I remember…

I want to go to…

I used to be…

One time, when I walked outside, I saw…

I wish…

Yesterday I dreamed…

When you fill a notebook, read it back through, once. Then put it on the shelf. Start another one. When you finish that one, read it through, then put it on the shelf. Keep going until you have 10 notebooks. Then keep going again. Sometimes, set a timer for an hour and don’t stop writing until it goes off. If you get stuck, keep moving with “Okay, now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to write. So I’ll just write what I hear. I hear…”

3) Did I mention reading a lot? Yeah, keep doing that.

4) If she’s going to be blogging, I recommend you (M) be the blog owner and she work with you to publish stuff. That way you’ll have access to comment moderation. I use WordPress, because it’s free (if you want, I think I pay something like $99 a year to have a domain that doesn’t include “.wordpress” in it). I’m sure there are a hundred blogging sites, you can find something that works for you.

5) At first, set a schedule for blogging. Like, “one post every Monday and then one every Thursday or Friday”. That way, one of the things  she wrote on Friday – Sunday can be selected for Monday, and one of the things from Monday – Thursday can be selected for Thursday or Friday. This will get her into a rhythm of writing, but it will also remove the pressure to create additional pieces just to post. Don’t worry if it isn’t great. Blogging isn’t meant to be perfect.

6) Read. A lot. Not just books. Have her read the New York Times from front to back one day. Go to the library and read an article from each of Cat Fancy, Guns & Ammo, Cosmopolitan, Ebony, and Science. Mix these up, read different titles each month. She won’t understand some, some you might have to chaperone or totally block, but just get her reading a variety of stuff, not just Nancy Drew or Wimpy Kid all the time.

7) Write more.

8) Read more.

9) Have her write a story. Make sure it has a beginning (something was like _____), a middle (then this problem arose_______), and an ending (and this is how the people solved the problem__________). Read it, give your honest feedback. Have her friends read it. have them give their honest feedback. Put it aside. Have her write 5 more stories. Read them, giving your honest feedback. Have her choose one of these to revise. Have her friends read the revised story. Have her revise it again. Put it aside.

10) Invite her to write letters to 10 authors. These could be people who have articles in the newspaper, or book authors, or magazine article authors. See if she gets any response.

11) Keep writing. Keep blog posting. Keep revising. Keep writing stories. Once she’s written 20 stories (each with a beginning, middle, and end), have her submit one to a magazine. Have her be honest about herself, her credentials, and be realistic. Expect rejection. Aim for 100 rejections. Once a story is rejected, find another place to submit and send it in. It might take 5 years to write enough stories to get 100 rejections, and some stories may have 20 rejections while others only have 1 or 2. That just means you’re honing your craft all the time.

12) Keep reading. Keep writing. Write for yourself (R), not for anyone else. If you like it, that’s important. If you like it and you’re authentic (which means it’s real, not just “what you think your audience wants”), that’s enough. Nobody else may ever like it. That’s fine, if you’re writing for yourself. Because ultimately only you need to be satisfied with it. And, strangely enough, if you are satisfied with it, eventually you will find an outlet for it.

13) Sometime you’ll want to, in your writing practice, start with “I write because…” You should attack this topic a couple of times a year. I still do, because I still don’t have a definitive answer for why I write. Mostly it’s because I love the feel of creation. I love to be surprised at what my mind comes up with when my pen is scratching across the paper. Some of it is the desire to impact people. Very little of my writing that I really enjoy is because I’m going to get paid for it or because it’s going to make me famous. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, they write because they can’t not write, not for any other reason. They would still be writing if they weren’t making the same money from it. The money is a bonus because the things they wrote are authentic for them, and, as above, since it’s authentic, it resonates with others too.

14) Read. Read the classics. Frankenstein. Dracula. The Swiss Family Robinson. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Read the classics of tomorrow:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The Hobbitt. 1984. The Prophet (Gibran). When you finish reading something like this, take one or more of your writing practice sessions to critique these stories. What worked for you? What was confusing? What was unexpected? What was too bland? How would you have made it better?

15) Create your own rules. These are suggestions. Read them. Read Strunk & White. Read Anne Lamott. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Read the AP Manual. Create your own writing rules. Follow them. Break them. Make new ones. Follow those. Break those. Make new ones again.

16) Be yourself. Write the stories you want to read. Write the essays you want to read. Write the poems you want to read. Write the plays you want to see performed. Write the songs you want to hear. If you can do that, you’ve won.

— SJ

Extremely Bad Advice – Child Misbehavior

Dear SJ,

My wife and I are having a disagreement about our son. He is 11 years old and is starting to misbehave. My wife wants to make him do extra chores around the house when he’s getting out of line, in order to show him that his actions have consequences. I say that unless the chores are directly related to what he did, he won’t associate them together. Like last week – he broke a window in the family room by throwing a ball through it. That’s easy enough; he has to pay for the window replacement. But what about being disobedient, or just lazy? Are there chores we can assign that are punishments for these kind of actions? — FRUSTRATED IN FARGO

Dear FRUSTRATED,

I’m sure you don’t want to hear this, but your wife is right. There absolutely are consequences for your actions, and sometimes they aren’t even directly associated with the thing you’ve done, except for a roundabout way. For example: last month I had sex with your mom. She was pretty tight, for an old broad, I’ll give her that. As a result, it now burns when I pee. Goddamn, but I thought I was done with STDs back in college! Anyway, the direct consequence is now I have to go to my doctor. The indirect consequence is I have to deal with a clingy grandma who just won’t go away and keeps texting me like six times a night to come over and give her another good one. It’s almost enough to block her. But it’s not just her. Apparently the whole bridge club is in on the deal. Sheesh, you make one old woman shudder uncontrollably and you never hear the end of it.

So, in your situation, your son has absolutely got to learn that actions have consequences. Break a window? Pay for it out of your allowance. Front a disobedient attitude? Get a dismissive one in return. It looks like this: “Well, since you didn’t hold up your end of the parent-child relationship and disobeyed me, I’m not going to hold up my end either. No dinner for you! Enjoy the soup kitchen.” If you’re feeling generous you can print out a Google Maps set of walking directions.

However, that’s pretty tame by my standards. Just telling you to be a jerk probably isn’t what you’re looking for. That’s just bad advice, and it would probably only solve the surface problem of misbehavior. You want Extremely Bad Advice which will not just deal with the symptoms of the disease infecting your life, it will actually root out the cause and eliminate that forever. Here’s what you need to do.

Next time your son does something wrong, you actually reward that behavior. Go buy him a puppy! Or a new dirt bike, or video game, or something he’s been asking for for a while. This kind of reverse psychology will start to fuck with his head really quickly. He’ll tell his friends what he did and how you reacted. They’ll all start trying it with their parents but getting opposite results, and pretty quickly he’s wondering just what happened with you. He’ll try it a few more times. Double down on the technique. When he back-talks you in front of his teacher, take him out for ice cream. If he comes home late from a friend’s house, supply him with rotten eggs and you both go whip them at the crusty old couple down the street.

In a few months this kind of mental mind-warp (the difference between what you do and what a typical “good parent” does) will break down any remaining sense of logic and rationality the kid has. At that point one of two things will happen, both of which solve your problem pretty quickly. Option one, he dissolves into a quivering, immobile blob on the floor, blathering on and on about “friends say … mom says … friends don’t … dad does …” and your disobedience problem is resolved. Kind of replaced with a permanent diapering problem, but at least he’s compliant. Option two, he finally can’t take it any longer and runs away. Presto! Instant happy house and no more sass from the kid.

Trust me on this one. You can’t do any better for yourself and your own happiness than psychological torture. Good luck!