April 20th

Of Apiaries and Shimmery things

It’s been quietly mental the last week or so. A post or two back I mentioned my unsuccessful attempts in regards to the flash fiction blog competitions I enter. Well, I’ve now won one of them twice. Which is pretty awesome. The corollary of winning is that the following week I set the prompt, and judge the entries. This was an interesting experience.

Since I stepped down as a Senior First Reader with Spark: A Creative Anthology I have done only a handful of first reads for the magazine. It was just too difficult. Mentally I struggled to be in a place where I could be objective about the piece in front of me, and at the same time disassociate my own writing from the judging process. In the first week that I judged Finish That Thought there were eight entries. It almost caused a meltdown. Thankfully the stories were good and carried me through, but I had to let Brian know I wouldn’t be doing much reading right now. I hope to get back to it soon. In the mean-time if anyone fancies spending an hour or two a week reading submissions to a great magazine, go here.

I intend to do a post tomorrow, or by the weekend, about a couple of great classes with Cat Rambo because the rest of the post is going to be about my current WIP, and the magazine I’ll send it to first.

I’m writing a story about a world with cat-sized bees, an unusual queen bee, and someone who requires apatoxin (found in bee venom). I intend to submit this story to Shimmer. Shimmer is one of my ‘hit-list’ markets. Any time I have a story idea, it gets run against the hit list, and that may or may not determine how the story develops. This one felt like a shimmer sub from the start. But it scares me. I don’t have a pro pub yet, and Shimmer is a pretty exclusive club. So apart from a story idea, and stalking the editors on twitter, what process is there to go through?

Well, some time ago those editors did a twitter chat and gave some insights into hot buttons. I kept the chat and here it is:

Tobler: Birds, angels, pyramids, awesome women, abandoned places, cities in clouds, drag queens, confidence, demons, weird, buttons

Tobler: Ice cream, possibility, skilled hands, food magic, small cities, sprawling cities, maps in the stars, maps in the waters

Tobler: Dichotomies, imbalances, circles, monkeys, jungles, temples, moons, daughters, journeys, goodbyes, pleasures in the weird.

Tobler: Unusual hobbies, book magic, creativity, pears, bears, lairs, love that cannot be but still is, compasses, lockets, rockets.

Tobler: Islands, mountains, bridges, rivers, Mars, Pluto, Africa, Peru, Antarctica, China, Greece, New Zealand, fields of clover.

Tobler: Stories that are wholly confident in their direction, no matter how strange.

Wodzinski: layers and nuance and shades of gray.

Tobler: Yes. Nothing is only one layer–the best cakes have several and each changes the meaning of what came before. Mmm, cake.

Tobler: Diversity, experimentation, fun, bent, weird, twisted, beauty in unexpected places, honesty in ugly places, ghosts, air, sky.

Now, I haven’t tried to be a hot button whore and hit everyone, but I have tried to salt one or two of them through the story. A notable absence will be badgers. I hope that will not be a fateful blow. I believe Simmer likes the badgers, or uses them as staff, something like that.

Anyway, back to the story. It was stalled. I had the beginning and middle & very end. But there was a chunk missing, and it refused to come together. Then I read a tweet saying that Shimmer needed some stories which didn’t end in death, gloom, and destruction. Well dang, that’s my palette, my œuvré. It was also the nudge I needed to unblock the story. The ending has gone all warm and fuzzy, in a really bizarre way.

It may yet lack shimmer, but it’s given me a story. Now, all I need to do is sim sub it and at least one Shimmer editor (this one) will welcome me like a god. 😀

March 4th

Update

Nothing much is happening. I’m working on the first draft of another submission for the Far Orbit: Apogee call. Robinson Crusoe in Space is the loosest of interpretations.

The draft is nearly finished. Then it’s time for edits and re-writes and away by the end of the month.

After that I will be writing my Orthographic Ligature story, well the first draft anyway. I know where I want to submit it to, and I have until later in the year to work on it.

So my focus will be on working the ten stories for my first volume of These United States. I’m looking forward to really digging into these.

As a finalé I’m going to talk about reader comments. Some of the markets I submit to provide reader comments as part of their rejection feedback. I like these. I have a writing style that is developing and I’m aware that some of the structures I use don’t work for a majority of readers. Having an idea of where individual readers had an issue is allowing me to consider how much I amend my personal style.

A few days ago I received a(nother 😀 ) rejection. Hey-ho. There were four comments. Two of them succinct, suggesting the story wasn’t weighted correctly for a flash piece. Valid opinions. A third saying it needs to be a longer story. Fine. And a fourth that lambasted my choice of character names and called into question my familiarities with the realities of which I was writing. There was nothing about the story itself, just a diatribe (based on the readers ‘feelings’ on the matter) and an attack on me as the writer.

Working as a First Reader with Spark: A Creative Anthology (another market that provides feedback) I am well aware that it can be tricky to remain polite and positive when writing a note. Thankfully we have an excellent point man who weeds out the snarliest of any comments that are made, and only passes along the most constructive and, if possible, positive comments.

I know how easy it can be to wonder ‘What were they thinking?’, but there is a Golden Rule in offering critique. Critique the writing, not the writer.

Now, I had done my research on the names used in my story. And I’d chosen to use a fiction writers prerogative to tinker with how I used them. For one I anglicized the name a little, for the other I dropped a letter (though I should have used an extension in the middle name of the MC). I know that, for all their ridiculousness, Ian Fleming always used real names in his stories, pulled them right out of the telephone directory. I don’t do this. Neither do I randomly assign names based on gut instinct.

I don’t know the reader, or what their real issue was. However, I was reminded that when I am commenting on a story it behoves me to remain polite, even if I can’t be positive.