Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quoted

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen reviews Andrew McAleer's The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists at The Adventurous Writer.com and plucks out a few quotes to create "8 Habits of Highly Effective Writers." Habit #7:

Get used to disappointment. “A writing career is nothing more than a long series of disappointments punctuated by occasional moments of success,” writes Michael Bracken in 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. “Maintaining a long writing career involves a little bit of talent, a little bit of luck, and a great deal of determination.”

When do suggestions become collaboration?

Over the years I've collaborated on a handful of articles and short stories--the most recent being "Snowbird," written with Tom Sweeney and published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine back in December 2007. In each case my co-author and I entered into the collaboration knowingly and with clear intent.

Joe, my best friend in high school, and I alternated time at the keyboard. I would write a sentence or two and then he would write a sentence or two. We wrote faan fiction (fiction about science fiction fans) and some of what we wrote was published in science fiction fanzines. These were usually published under a pseudonym because Joe and I were characters in the stories.

In college, Walter and I collaborated on articles for the college paper. We played to our strengths. He did most of the research and I did most of the writing. We shared the bylines and split the money.

My second wife, Pamela, made a game of it. She would write an opening scene and then challenge me to write the rest of the story. A few of these stories were published under my name, but most appeared under pseudonyms. (And a few unfinished stories linger in files many years after her death.)

Tom and I collaborated in a more "intimate" fashion. We discussed everything and we revised each other mercilessly. When I look at the final, published draft of "Snowbird," I can identify only half a sentence as "mine," and the finished story represents the first sale either of us made to Ellery Queen.

Rebecca--whom I have referred to as "Plot Monkey" or as "my plot monkey" in previous posts--seem to be stumbling toward collaboration. A few years ago I referred to the old adage that if you put enough monkeys with enough typewriters into a room together, sooner or later they'll write the complete works of Shakespeare. At the time I said I didn't need all of the monkeys, just the plot monkey. I thought if I had someone to help plot I could increase my productivity.

Enter Rebecca, a voracious reader but non-writer. Over dinner one evening I mentioned two stories that I had half written and hadn't finished because I couldn't figure out the rest of the plots. By the time we left the restaurant, we had roughed out the plots for the last half of each story.

I finished writing and sold those stories.

We've had dicussions about other stalled stories since then, and one day earlier this year I saw a note from an editor looking for stories to fit a particular holiday theme. I had nothing finished, nothing in progress, and no ideas for a story that fit the theme. I mentioned this to Rebecca. The next day she emailed me a rough plot and the backstory that propelled the plot.

I wrote and sold that story.

The story I wrote Sunday came from a plot Rebecca and I devised after riding the Texas State Railroad on Saturday. This time she did more than just help plot. She also helped with characterization and suggested ways to revise parts of what I'd written. I even included a sentence she wrote in the final draft.

I submitted the story under my byline, but I'm left wondering: When do suggestions become collaboration? At what point does the help someone gives you justify sharing the byline, the income, and whatever fame and glory might follow?

I don't have an answer. Do you?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day eighty-eight, story twenty-three

Plot Monkey and I spent yesterday riding on the Texas State Railroad, and by the time the trip ended we had ideas for several stories. We roughed out plots for a couple of them on the ride home, and I scratched out notes while she drove, all the while wishing I'd taken my laptop with me so I could actually write. Today I wrote an 800-word romance based on one of those ideas, and while we were swapping thoughts about the romance, she provided me with an idea for yet another story based on our train trip.

Anyhow, the 800-word romance will go into the mail tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

10

I received my tenth acceptance earlier today, for a 1,400-word short story I wrote in January 2002. The story straddles the line between horror and crime fiction, and so might best be described as non-supernatural horror fiction.

The story was accepted by the first two publications to which I submitted it, and both publications went belly-up without publishing the story. The manuscript has bounced around a bit since then, and actually was just accepted by an editor who had seen it before. It didn't fit his needs when I first submitted it, but he mentioned the story when he contacted me about submitting to a themed issue he was working on. And guess what? The story fit the theme.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Michael Eisner and I have in common

On page 122 of the April Esquire, Michael Eisner is quoted as saying, "Quadruple-bypass surgery teaches you that you have extra veins in your legs."

Who knew?

Revisions without end

As a response to a post earlier today on Patrick Shawn Bagley's Bitter Water Blog, Sandra Seamans asked, "[D]oes there come a point where you can revise a story to death? [...] I'm not against revisions, just wondering how you know when to stop, how you know that you've gotten the story right."

I'm not certain it's possible to ever get a story "right." I revise until I've created a story that's "publishable." There's a point somewhere between "publishable" and "perfect" where the amount of effort necessary to achieve perfection becomes counter-productive financially. Even if you put in the extra effort, the story won't be any more publishable, the story won't earn any more money, and only a handful of readers will ever notice the difference.

Which, perhaps, leads to a discussion of the difference between an "artist" and a "craftsman." An artist might spend the extra time to achieve perfection, but only produce a new story every 19.3 months, while a craftsman might produce several stories in the same amount of time and never achieve perfection.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring cleaning

Editors across the country must be engaging in a bit of spring cleaning. In addition to the recent spate of acceptances, I've also received quite a few rejections recently (seven over the past eleven days).

Monday, March 23, 2009

9

My ninth acceptance of the year arrived via e-mail a few minutes ago, this time for a bit of hardboiled crime fiction I wrote last summer. The editor mentioned wanting some minor revisions, but I don't expect them to be a problem.

8; War stories

I received my eighth acceptance of the year earlier today, this time for a confession about a female soldier who returns home from Iraq and discovers that her husband is missing.

When I posted a note about finishing and submitting this story back on February 12, Susanne mentioned that she had had several stories rejected that involved returning soldiers. Although she didn't specifically say so, I inferred from Susanne's comments that she wondered if confession editors were shying away from war-related stories.

Having now placed two war-related confessions, it appears to me that confession editors will accept some war-related stories. (My other war-related confession, about the impact of a soldier's death on the pregnant girlfriend he left behind, was accepted last week by a different editor.)

So, what's the difference between the war-related confessions that have been accepted and those that haven't?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

6, 7

Two contracts were waiting in my mailbox when I returned home this afternoon, representing my 6th and 7th short story sales of the year. Both stories are hardboiled crime fiction, and both sold to the same editor.

Although I'm still behind schedule to meet my annual goal of a sale a week, receiving four acceptances within the past five days certainly makes me much closer than I was on Thursday of last week!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

5

I received my 5th acceptance of the year earlier today. I received a contract for the confession I completed and submitted on January 1.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another "student" sells!

Last summer I taught an on-line course in confession writing and I learned today that another one of the students who completed the course sold the story she wrote.

The "course" started with lessons and turned into a mentor/mentee or editor/writer relationship. After the participants wrote each scene, I edited what they had written, made suggestions for revisions, and suggested directions their stories might develop. Each participant then accepted or rejected my comments and wrote their story's subsequent scene. Then we did it all over again until they had final drafts.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

All White Girls to be reprinted

My hardboiled private eye novel All White Girls will be reprinted later this year, and I spent part of the weekend reading the proofs for the new edition. I hadn't read AWG cover-to-cover since reading proofs for the first edition in 2001 and, if it wasn't egotistical to say this about my own work, I'd say it's a damn good novel.

4

My Internet access has returned and with a renewed ability to receive e-mail came word of my 4th acceptance of the year, this time for a private eye story. This is a story I revised and resubmitted at an editor's request back on February 20.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I've lost my connection to the world

When I booted up my computer first thing Thursday morning I discovered that I had lost my Internet connection, and I still have no Internet connection. I miss it. I miss it especially because in the span of one day I received pages proofs from a publisher and an invitation to submit to a magazine, messages I did not see until this morning when I checked my e-mail from a client's computer. Lack of an Internet connection has the potential play havoc with my career.

On the other hand, without an Internet connection, I actually spent all of my time at the computer last night writing--not checking the news, not playing poker, not reading Yahoo groups and message boards, and not surfing.

The only negative impact to my writing was the inability to keep www.dictionary.com handy. I actually had to resort to using a real dictionary.

I'm not sure how soon I'll get my Internet connection back, but the next few days could be both challenging and highly production.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Six-month update

Six months ago today I had quadruple bypass surgery. Every indication is that it was a success and that I am healing appropriately. I completed cardiac rehab last week and, though I didn't lose any weight, I did gain muscle mass, strength, and stamina. I'm now able to do everything I was doing pre-surgery.

My diet has not changed significantly post-surgery, but that's because I changed my diet in early 2007, emphasizing more fruits, vegetables, and fish, and less fast food and prepackaged foods, and had already lost weight from the 2007 change in diet. I no longer add salt to my food and try to avoid prepackaged foods--such as potato chips--that contain significant amounts of salt. What I've been unable to do is break my Mountain Dew habit.

After changing my medications in late December I returned to writing and have been quite productive since then, completing a new short story approximately every three days. Pre-surgery I was averaging slightly more than one story each week. I don't know if I can maintain this pace or if the change in medications was ExLax for my brain, allowing me to push out everything that had backed up in there during the 3.5 months following surgery when I was barely writing, and that I'll slow down again when my brain is flushed out.

I find that I'm a little less patient than I was before and more irritated by little things that didn't bother me--or that I didn't let bother me--pre-surgery. I don't know if this is a permanent change or something that will disappear over time.

Otherwise, not much has changed.

Day sixty-nine, story twenty-two

I just submitted my 22nd story of the year, a 6,600-word confession about a small town girl in the big city. I started work on this in August 2004 and had written 4,800 words--the first 4,000 words and 800 words of notes and partial scenes--before I picked it up Sunday evening.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Day sixty-seven, story twenty-one

I just submitted my 21st story of the year, a 6,200-word confession about a single mother who thinks she's falling for a married man that I started writing in December 2007. I've worked on the story sporadically since then and finally put the finishing touches on the manuscript this afternoon.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Patience is a dish best served quickly

"I submitted my manuscript last year/last month/last week/yesterday/ten minutes ago and I haven't received a response. How long should I wait before I call the editor/withdraw my manuscript/submit my story elsewhere?"

I see variations of this question on various Yahoo groups and message boards nearly every day. Are writers less patience today than writers were several years ago, or are we just as impatient now as then but are more obvious about it thanks to the speed with which we can share our impatience with others?

I have to admit that I share some of the impatience of new writers unfamiliar with the slow, grinding pace of traditional publishing, but my impatience isn't related to the length of time it takes for a single editor to respond to a single submission. I have too many manuscripts floating around to even remember all of them, let alone worry about any particular one. My impatience has to do with communication gaps.

If I don't receive something in the mail (surface or e-) every few days--acceptance, rejection, contract, check, contributor's copy, request for revision, etc.--I start to get nervous. If more than a week passes without contact, I start thumbing through my file of submitted manuscripts, calculating which ones should have generated responses based on my previous experiences with particular publications. If more than two weeks pass, I get jumpy, leaping up to check the mailbox every time I hear a noise outside the front door and making my e-mail refresh every few minutes rather than letting it automatically refresh every twenty minutes.

So, while I understand and share the impatience of new writers, I have the advantage of knowing the solution for both of us is the same: Produce more work.

The more manuscripts under submission, the less time we have worry about any individual manuscript and the more likely we are to have some kind of regular contact from editors.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Day sixty, story twenty

I just finished writing my 20th story of the year, an 800-word romance that I started writing in March of 2005. It's headed out in tomorrow's mail.