Friday, November 28, 2008

What's your 'go-to' story?

Every short story writer needs a "go-to" story, a story that she can write without hesitation any time an editor says, "I need 3,000 words by Thursday." The go-to story might arise from a basic plot, a hook, or some other device that the author favors, but it must be one that can consistently provide an infinite variety of stories.

For example, a writer of short romances might go-to the basic girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back plot.

Start by imagining a job or life situation for a female character and a male character:

She's a waitress; he's a truck driver.

She's a kindergarten teacher; he's a single father.

She plays second base for the company softball team; he's a league umpire.

Then give them a "meet cute":

While serving him at the truck stop where she works, she spills hot coffee in his lap.

It's the first day of school for his child and he arrives at her kindergarten class with his crying child in tow.

When she's at-bat, he calls a strike on a pitch that's clearly high and outside.

Although I've written a fair number of short romances, this isn't my go-to story because I only get as far as the meet cute before I fumble.

My go-to story is far more versatile because I can hang an infinite number of stories from a single hook:

A woman discovers (learns, realizes, confirms, suspects) she's pregnant.

What's your go-to story?

The banking crisis is so bad...

...that bank robbers have to take their exploding, dye-filled money packets in monthly installments.

...that bank robbers are skipping the middle-man and going directly to Congress.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Today's amusing typo

From page 100 of Lethal Exposure by Lori Wilde: "She grabbed the thongs and smacked a bunch of romaine lettuce [...] onto her plate [...]"

So, did she serve herself salad using summertime footwear or using skimpy underwear?

Either way, I don't think I'd eat it...

Today's sex question

From pages 73-74 of Lethal Exposure by Lori Wilde: "He'd lost his virginity on the commune. To one of Aunt Bunnie's hippie friends. He'd been sixteen, the woman a good twenty years older. He'd gone into the barn that day a boy and walked out a man."

Does that bother you?

Would it bother you any more or any less if it read: "She'd lost her virginity on the commune. To one of Uncle Barney's hippie friends. She'd been sixteen, the man a good twenty years older. She'd gone into the barn that day a girl and walked out a woman."

Sunday, November 23, 2008


"Writing Dialog," published in yesterday's edition of Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, will be reprinted at a writing Web site. The editors of the site contacted me via a message forwarded by the editor of Gila Queen, asking permission and offering payment.

This marks my 49th acceptance of the year, and the easiest one yet! I need three more acceptances to reach my annual goal of one-per-week, and I've 5.5 weeks of year left to do it in.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reprint published

"Writing Dialog," a humorous take on writing dialog I wrote for an on-line confession writing class and later posted here, has been reprinted in today's issue (#153) of Gila Queen's Guide to Markets.

Gila Queen
is now delivered via e-mail, but I've been reading and contributing to it for so many years that I remember when it was printed on actual paper and mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. If you're not a subscriber, you should be. For subscription information:

Friday, November 21, 2008


I received my 48th acceptance of the year in today's mail, this time for a Valentine's Day-themed story I submitted back in August. It seems that February's going to be a good month, with Valentine's Day stories in three different publications.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I did it. Finally.

For the first time since shortly before my bypass surgery two-plus months ago, I have written a new short story--completely new, from concept to final word.

Late yesterday afternoon an editor posted an "urgent call" for a story "4000-8000 words with a solid plot, realistic and gripping dialog, and a suspenseful conclusion," and she wanted it before 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

I saw the call around 4:00 yesterday afternoon. I spent the next few hours trying to imagine a story that would meet her needs and that I could draft in one non-stop block of time that evening.

At 6:30 I booted up my new laptop, started MacSpeech Dictate, and began talking. When I finally stopped at 11:10 that evening I had a complete, reasonably clean, 3,679-word draft. That's a dictation speed in the neighborhood of 13 words-per-minute, though I certainly didn't talk the entire time. I walked the dogs twice, did a load of laundry, and made repeated trips to the kitchen to refill my lemonade glass.

At 8:00 this evening I began editing and revising the story, and by 8:45 I had a final draft of 4,060 words. After reformatting the story from the default format I get when I dictate to standard manuscript format, I e-mailed the story to the editor.

If the story sells, I'll have paid for the dictation software, but I'll need to sell four or five more stories to pay for the new laptop.

What I learned:

The dictation software worked, though I had to make a few word-choice concessions--either using alternate words when the software didn't understand what I said or spelling the words I wanted--and I had to watch the screen closely while I dictated to ensure that I was getting what I wanted.

Part of the reason for this is that I'm not a write-and-revise-through-multiple-drafts writer. I'm a get-it-right-the-first-time writer and dictation software only has value to me if I can dictate my drafts as cleanly as I can type them.

Apparently, I can.

Monday, November 17, 2008

42-46, 47

The day began with five acceptances waiting in my e-mail inbox, all reprints.

And the mail brought a contract for a Valentine's Day-themed confession.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Speak like you write

One piece of advice often repeated to new writers is to "write like you speak." I don't know how valuable that advice actually is, but I'm in the process of learning to do the opposite, to "speak like I write."

Because I've been having trouble writing post-surgery, I've been exploring ways to change how I work. One idea I kicked around is the use of speech recognition software so that I could dictate rather than type. I sought opinions from other writers and found that, as a group, they had a vast array of experiences. The positive experiences and the negative experiences seemed to cancel each other out.

Ultimately, I purchased MacSpeech Dictate. I thought I had throughly checked the specs, but I hadn't; it won't run on my older Macintosh G5.

Another week of deep thought led to the purchase of a MacBook, one of the other ideas I had about changing the way I work. I thought not being tied to my office might inspire me.

The laptop was functional straight out of the box, I installed Microsoft Office and MacSpeech Dictate without any hitches, and I was soon able to dictate directly into a Word document.

Although I've only dictated a few things, I have learned the following about myself: 1) I don't enunciate my words as clearly as I'd thought, and 2) When I read back what I've dictated, it doesn't "sound" like material I've typed.

I've spent time "teaching" the program to understand me, and it does a reasonably good job of understanding what I'm saying; it's certainly no worse than my typing.

But will it ultimately make me more productive? Will not being tied to my office and not being tied to a keyboard make a difference? Will I regain my productivity by changing how I write?

Old publication on e-bay

A copy of Fantasy Macabre 8, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and published in 1986, is now available on e-bay. It contains the first publication of my story "The Passenger."

Apparently, if I wait long enough, everything I've ever had published will show up on e-bay.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

If you can't write, fill in the blanks

Coming up with a new story idea since my surgery has been like searching for an oasis in a desert. I know there's one out there; I'm just slowing dying of creative thirst while I search for it.

On the other hand, I've frequently mentioned the bazillion unfinished stories residing on my hard drive. A few weeks ago I looked through all of them and made a list of the stories that are nearest completion. Then I selected one and started filling in the blanks. That is, I completed the scenes that were mostly written and wrote the scenes that were nothing more than notes about what should happen.

I would compare the process to a paint-by-numbers kit because the creative work had mostly been completed. The pre-surgery me had created the template. All the post-surgery me had to do was put the right colors in the right places.

I started with 3,600 words and had slowly expanded it to 5,400+ words with only one critical scene still to write and an ending that had to be revised to fit the new material I'd added.

Friday, an editor--the same editor who purchased my 1,500-word story a few days ago--put out a call for February stories or stories with snowy backgrounds that could take place in February. She emphasized a Monday a.m. deadline.

I looked at my nearly complete story, realized that time-of-year was not critical to the basic plot, and revised the scenes I had written to include references to snow and cold and ice. Changing the season actually helped resolve two minor plot points and I was able to complete the 6,200-word story today.

I e-mailed the story to her a few minutes ago.

And it makes me think: Maybe there's a reason I've been stockpiling story ideas for all these years. Maybe there's a reason I had more ideas than I had time to write. It certainly helps now that I have more time to write than I have ideas...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I received my 41st acceptance today. This is the story I mentioned in my October 31 post; it's a story I pulled from my files, revised, and lengthened to meet an editor's "emergency" call for a story to fill a hole in her January issue. I wasn't the only writer to respond to her call, but...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Published, again

My story "Christmas Lesson" appears in the December True Confessions.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

If you can't write, submit

I spent a good part of yesterday morning seeking markets for unsold manuscripts. I found markets for four manuscripts that I sent out as-is, and markets for two additional manuscripts if I were to revise them.

I often hear or--these days--read posts from writers complaining about a lack of markets for short fiction. Writers that blindly parrot the party line about a lack of markets only reveal their own ignorance and laziness. Writers that want to be published won't waste time complaining and will spend the time necessary to find the markets.

Friday, November 07, 2008

39, 40

Earlier this evening I received my 39th and 40th acceptances of the year, one for an essay I adapted from a presentation I prepared for an MWA/SW luncheon, and the other for "Writing Dialog," which I posted here back in July. (I guess that makes it a reprint, eh?)

Swift kick

If ever I needed a swift kick in the ass to get my writing career back on track, it's now. I may have found it: The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists by Andrew McAleer (Adams Media, 2008). I haven't read it yet; I've only read the parts where Andrew quotes me. And if I do nothing more than follow my own advice, I should be back on track soon.

Removing distractions

Over the course of several days I have cancelled subscriptions to many on-line publications, cancelled memberships at sites that send me e-mail, removed myself from various e-mailing lists, quit a handful of Yahoo groups, and changed my memberships in most of the remaining Yahoo groups so that I no longer receive e-mail from them.

In short, I'm uncluttering my e-mail in-box.

Will this make me more productive when I'm at the computer? Possibly.

But mostly what I hope it will do is help untether me from the computer. The bulk of my income is generated by what I do when I'm sitting in front of a computer. For the past few years the bulk of my "life" has also been determined but what I do when I'm sitting in front of a computer.

Perhaps now I'll spend a little more of my "life" somewhere else doing something else. The exercise certainly won't hurt me and, who knows, maybe I'll be more productive when I am at the computer.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Falling off the wall

Sometimes I feel like Humpty Dumpty. I've been cracked open and all the King's horses and all the King's men have tried to put me back together again.

Successful or not, though, every damn one of them is sending me a bill!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A tale of time

There's an "old writer's tale" that says the longer an editor takes to respond to your submission, the more likely it is that she is going to accept it. A slight variation of the same tale says that the longer an editor takes to respond to your submission, the more likely it is that she is considering accepting it.

What a crock.

I've spent enough time in enough editorial offices--as an editor and as a freelancer--to know it isn't necessarily true.

Let me describe what happens to the slush pile in the editorial offices of some publications with which I'm familiar:

Publication A: The editor waits until two designated cardboard boxes are filled with slush pile submissions. Then he has a "reading party" and a group of volunteers spends an evening reading the submissions and passing on potentially publishable work to the editor. A submission that went into the box two months ago is no different than one that went into the box two days ago.

Publication B: The editor assigns almost everything to established writers and uses very little unsolicited material. Unsolicited submissions are piled on the corner of the editor's desk until the pile is so tall the submissions start falling to the floor every time he passes. Then he spends an afternoon clearing his desk. A submission tossed onto the corner of his desk two months ago is no different than one tossed there two days ago.

Publication C: The editor has found so little publishable material in the slush pile that he mostly ignores it. Similar to the editor of Publication B, he waits until the pile of unsolicited material interferes with his work, which happens only a couple of times a year. Again, a two-month-old submission is treated no differently than a two-day old submission.

Is there even a glimmer of truth in the "old writer's tale"? Perhaps. At publications where submissions travel upward through a hierarchy of editors where any editor along the way can reject a submission but only one editor can accept it, the length of time before response may indicate potential interest.

But I wouldn't stake my career on it.