Saturday, July 31, 2004

Friday Night Exhaustion

So, how did I spend my Friday night, completely exhausted and in a fog from the work week? Odd, but I finished a story that I started earlier this week.

This oddly segues with an earlier post from Jen about inspiration: the whole thing started from a pre-sleep image -- maybe half dreaming, of a small boy shrinking in a rear-view mirror. For once, I actually did pull myself out of bed, turn the light on, and jot down some notes. The next night, I started writing more of the intro ideas into the journal, and then realized there was so much I needed to get on the computer.

Tonight I finished it, after realizing I wanted to do it from the points of view of the three main characters involved. Weird. That's likely a trite premise, done a million times before, but it screamed to be done -- the different ways men and women react to the same situation, the confused viewpoint of a child.

So yeah, saying I'm "finished" doesn't mean much. It means it has a beginning, middle and an end, so it's not really done. It needs editing, revising, thinking through if it really makes sense, red pen surgery -- but it's in much better shipshape than you get sometimes. It's amazing, how sometimes a story just sings. You can tell the difference between one your heart got into and one that is awkward and may never know where it's going.

Which reminds me, I have another that I have started and abandoned. I usually write linearly -- I usually don't start another story till I'm done with the first. It might tell me that other one just doesn't have the muse.

Is it depressing, this one that just got "done"? Oh hell yeah. However, I think it's rare any of my stuff isn't depressing, or at least end badly, a little matter I should likely take up with myself. And of course, ending badly is subjective. Maybe it's just another story that consists of unlikeable characters doing unlikeable things -- yes, that is an exact quote I got from a rejection of one of my stories! NICE. Regardless, though, it may be unlikeable but I think what's going on in this one contains some truth about the way lots of people are, sadly.

But did I sell anyone out this time? Nah. I think this one pretty much lives a life of its own. We can all breathe a little easier.

On that note, I'm totally exhausted after a rather unexpected night of productivity.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Nick Cave's In

Okay, so today I am commenting on an older issue of Gargoyle. Who says I'm not a little OCD? It's Gargoyle No. 39/40, which happens to be the 20th anniversary issue, which by my calculations, means it's the 1996 issue. How much has changed in a few short years.... well hell, 1996 sounds like just yesterday, but it's actually been a long time, now hasn't it? Ouch.

Anyway, starting off with the memoirs section, there's an excerpt from a book by one of Jack Kerouac's wives, Joan Haverty Kerouac. (I have to admit, even though I was never a huge fan of the Beat poets, though I enjoyed some Burroughs on occasion, it was pretty interesting. There truly is something to that window into a world that you can only imagine, the observer's view of a time during a movement and a famous personality, I guess. For example, I ate up the book Please Kill Me, a collection of interviews of the New York punk scene in the early days, traversing everybody from Velvet Underground to the Ramones to Iggy Pop, to David Bowie and the people who thought he was a poseur, to Sid Vicious and the people who thought he was too fucked up that night to have killed Nancy. Let's face it though, it's kind of all gossip and cattiness, but fun to read.)

But, I digress. A great piece was The Flesh Made Word, by Nick Cave, the musician from bands The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds. His piece delved into religion and God as inspiration, and portrayed Christ as a pretty revolutionary guy, rebelling against the established order, a creative force indeed, who remade THE LAWS and pushed for individuality. (You know, "Jesus surfs without a board" -- you SMC people might recall that that was carved into one of the infamous cafeteria trays that accompanied many a hung-over morning.)

And how does one resist Cave's admission that The Birthday Party's inspiration came in part from his pondering a despotic Old Testament God? "So it was the feeling I got from the Old Testament, of a pitiful humanity suffering beneath a despotic God, that began to leak into my lyric writing. As a consequence my words blossomed with a nasty, new energy," he said. Whoa.

I highly recommend the essay, it was interesting and certainly not even close to what I expected. Cave has written a novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel as well as two books of lyrics and poems, King Ink and King Ink II, both of which I'm interested in checking out.

Interestingly, the poems in this volume don't do it for me like the ones in the other issue I read, No. 47. I kind of wonder if it has something to do with 1996, and what was still going on in the poetry world then. Most of them struck me as more dense, and confessional. However, there were probably 7 or so poems I enjoyed, including more from Silvana Straw, who was also published in No. 47. I just started on the fiction section, and will report on that later.

It's really just luck of the draw that I'm reading both issues of Gargoyle that I have on hand, and I promise I will move onto a new title soon.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Dose of Speculation

A friend of mine turned me onto a site called Strange Horizons, a site that specializes in speculative fiction. Really, he pointed it out because the site has one of the most exceedingly specific -- one might even say anal -- sets of guidelines I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.

Check out the submission guidelines. They're a hoot. But also steel yourself for the possibility that one of your stories might fit the criteria of what they definitely do NOT want to see!

Anyway, from nosing around on the site, there's a lot of neat stuff there. I read a random sampling of stories, and especially enjoyed The Algorithms for Love, by Ken Liu. Leslie What's Magic Carpets was good, and a story I appreciated for its sheer cleverness and lack of convention was Genderbending at the Madhattered, by Kameron Hurley.

Even if you're not a writer who specializes in sci fi, fantasy, or speculative fiction, I think it's worth a look. While the stories didn't blow me away like the ones in that last issue of Gargoyle did, the site definitely deserves some recognition as an entertaining place to while away some time.

Write on,


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Selling Out?

All right, so one question I've wondered about recently -- and encountered other short story writers with the same question -- is, at what point is autobiographical short fiction okay? You know, "all the names have been changed to protect the innocent," that sort of thing.

Of my body of work, about half are pretty closely based on real-life experiences or people. At some point, the characters tend to take on lives of their own... shedding harsher lights on people than perhaps they deserve sometimes.

In my youth, I wrote lots of short fiction where it was quite possible someone -- likely an ex, let's face it -- would say, "Oh shit, THAT'S ME." This is not including boat loads of "bad poetry" I mentioned earlier -- one of my loves of my life has several sick and twisted (in a good way), unpublished/unsubmitted poems devoted to him, perhaps a reasonable chapter in my secret book of "bad poetry." (In a different case of a short story, even though the portrayal wasn't exactly flattering though it had some strange degree of panache, I suppose, another ex was flattered! I guess he did realize that regardless, it's a good thing to be immortalized in print.) Recently, I got one older story published that was so close to truth that I ended up cringing. You know, it was a goal I had had for so long, and the paradox was, I ended up feeling downright weird that it received venue in the end. It was probably one of the most ironic events of my life, really.

Recently, though -- and I feel more comfortable with this -- short stories I have written may contain some shred of truth, about certain people or events, but build into entirely fictional realms. What could have been. How a certain character archetype might have reacted, given a situation. What I wished had happened. An imagined outcome that I dreaded.

Anyway, I have definitely wondered what other writers feel about this. Fact vs. fiction, and the varying shades in between. I truly believe writers write what they know. And I know I have surrounded myself with people over the course of my life, who I felt were so interesting that they deserve characterization. But then, I've wondered if they might feel sold out.

So, this is just a post about a question that I have no answer to. And if anybody has any thoughts, please comment or email me, I would imagine it's a common question. It's just one writerly thought that has knocked around in my brain in recent history, especially after facing a fictionalized image of my torrid and thoroughly unapologetic teenage years in print, online, and in that moment, having felt my resolve shaken.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, July 26, 2004

The Rejection Paradox

So, now that I'm in a lull, having just finished a boatload of good reading described in the last two posts, I thought I'd comment on something I've seen in the past -- when good writers quit submitting their stories because of a few rejections.

When you're a writer, tenacious has to be your middle name. (Some might call it stubborn, or hard-headed, or OCD, or what have you.) I always knew I wanted to be a writer -- before I could read or write, I would sit and scribble pages and pages of scribble. (That's either predestiny or me being a really crazy kid, I'm not sure which.) When I was in the 5th grade, one of my teachers, who was actually very supportive, asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I responded, "A writer," she said something along the lines of, "That's good, you've got talent, but get ready for a hard life."

Whoa, right?

So anyway, if there are any aspiring writers out there who are tempted to quit because they got rejections, don't give up. We all do. We all get rejected -- many, many times. Many famous writers have had hundreds of rejections -- there's the old joke of wallpapering your walls with them. Most people are not the lucky few who get their big breaks in high school or college.

And, if you get ANY sort of personal rejection -- take that as a real sign that your story is good, and you have talent. Seriously, if someone takes the time to give you encouragement or make feedback, then they see something there.

Yep, for 15 years I have been sending out my fiction -- I got published in a few small literary mags in college, and won 1st place in a short story contest. That had to serve as justification for a little more of a decade to come -- personalized rejections as opposed to form rejections: "thank you but we can't use this" being standard form -- those personal rejections became a weird sort of victory. And that is the rejection paradox. Sometimes, it may be years that that's the best you can do.

I do happen to have a happy outcome of the last 15 years. I've gotten four of my short stories accepted and published in the last year, by Internet literary magazines. Despite many years of doubt and wonder if there was any point to the struggle, I did receive some degree of justification. I'm just hoping it won't be another 10 or more years before I see more literary success. I'm hoping this is the start to an upward trajectory.

Writers who have been at this for a while know about the importance of being stubborn. So anyway, like I said at the beginning, I've seen too many new and promising writers get frustrated and give up too soon. Don't give up! Write on,


More on Gargoyle

So, having finished the fiction section of Gargoyle, it was basically all so great there's really no point in listing out every story that rocked the house. Almost all of them did. I mean, it might be easier to just list out the stories that didn't particularly do it for me, but there were so few of those, that that would just be plain mean and detract from the real message, which is... if you feel like spending $10 on a literary magazine, Gargoyle No. 47 is a good bet, if you like edgy, experimental stuff that's free of conventional dogma.

If I had to pick out a story that was most brilliant in this issue, it would probably be Seventeen Ways of Looking at a Frog, by Martin Seay. Most humorous, probably Life as a One-Hit Wonder, by Thom Didato -- it chronicles the life of the band Big Country's biggest fan, as juxtapositioned against dates of importance in the band's history -- totally clever. The New Nose by Steph Paynes and Godzilla vs. Alice Cooper by Natasha Cho were also awesome. So, there, I've teased with a few worth noting but the full fiction section is really about 160 pages of literary delight.

See my last post for more on this issue of Gargoyle, as I began with the poetry -- again, maybe it's just my taste and wishing for a bit of revolution in writing that makes me favor this magazine over the latest offering from the ladies at Glimmer Train but let's just say I hope that people do know that Gargoyle is out there, if mags like Glimmer Train aren't their style. I also have the 20th anniversary issue of Gargoyle on my reading list -- I'm looking forward to that one, both because now I suspect more editorial excellence as well as the fact that there's an essay by Nick Cave in it as well.

Thanks for reading, and write on,


Saturday, July 24, 2004

Bulls Eye

I've got a great magazine to report on, as I hinted at earlier, but this is going to be a two-parter. Just because I haven't gotten through the whole thing yet but it's THAT exciting to share immediately.

I got my hands on Gargoyle, No. 47, and so far, it's everything I feel a literary magazine should be. This gargoyle wards off the demons of convention and triviality.

Gargoyle was started in 1976, you can view its history here: Gargoyle. It's based in Arlington, Va., a suburb of Washington, DC. What's not so very important is that way back in the 1980's, it was one of the first lit mags I ever purchased, as a gothy young punk rocker and aspiring writer, but I lost track of it over the years.

So, it was a pleasure to run across it once again -- apparently it was on hiatus for a spell during the '90s. It may be a localized publication, but these days, if word gets out it's so much easier than in the past to get a literary magazine regardless of where it's from; I got my hands on my copy of Gargoyle No. 47 through, though I suppose with a little more effort I could have found it carried locally, since it's operating from my stomping ground.

I have to admit, despite being a writer, poetry isn't my "thing," though I have my history of writing what I dub "bad poetry" whenever a relationship of mine broke up (none of it for submission, being "bad poetry"). Most men didn't serve as poetry (or short story) muses until the affair was done, with a few exceptions (and this ain't that kind of blog, ha!). But anyway, if lots of modern poetry made me feel that something was lacking -- words like "pretentious" and "confessional" spring to mind -- not so with this issue of Gargoyle. Faves include Olive Oyl's perspective in "The Olive Oyl Tapes," by Debra Daniel; "engine company," by Alyson Palmer; "Band Fantasy," by W.T. Pfefferle; and "Fashion Magazines," by Adrienne Su.

And, there's a great doubleheader: "I Should Have Been Crazier," and "Gay Italian Man," both by Silvana Straw.

Those are just my favorites, I give gold stars to most of them. And I'm saving the part deux of this post for the fiction section of the magazine, which so far, has been blowing my doors off.

So anyway... thank you Gargoyle... for the focus on sharp, dark wit, irony, fearlessness, and disregard for the flat conventions of yesterday. Even though I haven't even finished turning the pages yet, this issue (which I believe was the 2003 issue, as it's published annually) was worth every last penny I spent, in my opinion. (And it's full of those Post-It flags I mentioned in my last post!)

Write on,


Writer's Meccas

So, you might argue that there are many places that could serve as writers' meccas. Say, the corner coffee shop (even Starbucks, with its lone readers reading, or booting up their laptops over a latte). Or, the independent bookstore, with its occasional poetry readings or book signings (even Borders or Barnes & Noble, which often throw similar events to bring the masses in).

Here's another one: the office supply superstore.

I don't know what it is. But I can't walk out of one of those stores without buying something that's a tool of the trade. Whether it's coming up for some professional justification to need a pack of multi-colored gel pens, or truly needing that bulk box of Tyvek envelopes for those snail mail submissions I ranted about earlier. This is where you get your own personal postage scale for those snail mail submissions, too. Or what about the box of red pens to perform loving surgery on the hard copy of a nearing-final draft of one's latest labor of love -- man, it needs to be 3,000 words, what do I cut? What isn't needed here?

Not to mention, my most recent favorite new tool -- Post-It flags. They're the greatest, whether it's to mark what look like friendly markets in Novel and Short Story Writers Market or to flag the best stories in the latest copy of a lit mag.

It does seem odd considering so few of us need Wite Out or even paper and pens anymore -- at least not to previous degrees -- what with computers having become ubiquitous and giving us less of a reason to go through a ream of paper for a short story or novel drafts. But something about being surrounded by tools reminds you of the rigors of the craft.

So anyway, I'd love to hear about any other meccas anyone would like to share. Surprise me. And if anyone suspects this is a bit of a stall because I'm working on my latest lit mag review, they'd be right. Stay tuned, because it's gonna be a good one.

Write on,


Friday, July 23, 2004

On Anonymity

Okay, I've been on here for about a week, and I'm sure one question that might come up would be, why the hell is this woman bent on remaining anonymous? Who cares? Is she just a paranoid looney? (Shut up there in the peanut gallery, haha!)

Well, let's say I'm erring on the side of being overly cautious. Theoretically I would still like to get my fiction published, and I suspect that the literary establishment has been a sleepy place for a long time, an ivory tower that doesn't want to get shaken up by voices of dissent, an entity that can (quite safely) say, "If you don't like us, then we won't publish you." Maybe I will never get their attention, but then again, who knows?

(Why do I feel like my opinion's worth any more than a hill of beans? Well, after 15 years of the literary equivalent of pounding my head against a brick wall (i.e., submitting hundreds of manuscripts to different markets with little success other than personalized, encouraging rejections, a process that, for me, even predates the Internet -- yes, I own my own postage scale), with only this last year getting any acceptances, I kind of feel at least a little bit qualified to rant and rave a bit, plus call some old-schoolers to task for certain practices I think are lame. The definition of "lame" being purely subjective, of course. Also, I thought some stuff I've learned along the way could be helpful for some new writers.)

Also, most of us know the Internet is a small place, having been tracked down a few too many times for comfort. If literature is as schmoozy (and some might say it's an Old Boy network, so to speak) as I think it is, then things are already hard enough, and I wouldn't want to take any chances, since at times I will want to take some markets to task. Let's make some noise, let's shake it up!

Write on,


Hot Spots

I've added some links to the sidebar of my page, with much blundering around, being the blog novice that I admitted to being in my first post. Looks like I may have to tweak them somewhat.

First of all, I added Freak Blog, which is an aggregated site that includes a collection of the blogs of several people in my network of friends, having all attended St. Mary's College of Maryland quite long ago. We've got a political blog, a blog on motherhood and life in general, a book review blog, and a blog from an artist. Hopefully there will be more to come, but there is something for a vast range of tastes there.

I also stumbled across an interesting blog today while reading Jane magazine (and why I'm 34 and read Jane magazine is a whole other mystery of life. They just keep on coming, but I guess they do keep me in tune with the younger generation as well as make me wish I was several dress sizes smaller).

Anyway, it's called Cupcake Series, and it takes the literary establishment to task in a different way, focusing on women in the literary scene. You can look forward to seeing the number of female writers in any given issue of The New Yorker or The Atlantic, for example, so it's much more focused than my general bitching about the difficulties of breaking in. From my first check it definitely looks like some interesting stuff to ponder (and get pissed off about, perhaps).

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, July 22, 2004

Where's the Glimmer?

So, where's the Glimmer in Glimmer Train?

For the uninitiated, Glimmer Train is one of the magazines that serves as a market most beginning writers covet. It pays, and pays WELL. Plain and simple. And it has a good enough rep, but given the fact that it pays a decent stipend to appear in its pages, everybody wants in, even if there's something a bit hippy-dippy about its covers and the pix of the authors as children before each story. (It should also be noted, many writers think its semi-annual short story contests are a bit of a scam, but to be fair, how hard is it to make money as a lit mag? One of the only sources of true income is likely the clamoring hoard of writers trying to break in, grown spendthrift with hubris.)

At any rate, I've just finished reading the Spring 2004 issue, and I didn't enjoy a single story until page 83. Ouch. Yes, Daniel Villasenor may be hot (judging by his I-wear-long-pants-now grown-up picture at the end, not the child's pic, you sick freaks!) but I still didn't like his story much.

So yeah, most of the first chunk of the magazine reminded me of that "pompous" reputation literature sometimes has. Lots of the stories had some nugget that spoke of some interesting human conflict, but were buried so deep in purple prose as to be obscure and ultimately, uninteresting.

There were, of course, bright spots, I am happy to report. There was Vast Inland Sea, by Jonathan Kooker, Fighting with Fire, by Frances Lefkowitz, Georgi's Move, by George Fahey, Plan B, by Anita Shah Kapadia, Far from the Sea, by Avital Gad-Cykman, and Going Home, by Ionna Carlsen. And the one that entertained me the most -- in fact, was a joy to read, for its wry wit, was The Divorce Rate for Surgical Residents, by Michael Bahler.

So, 7 out of 14 of these stories pleased me -- okay, not half bad, I guess. I also understand that taste is, of course, subjective. However, in regard to the other half of the stories, the ones that didn't meet my discriminating taste, had I been editing, I would have begged for more white space and pleaded on behalf of a tried-and-true friend, the quotation mark. (What's with the new trend not to include quotation marks with dialogue? Sheesh.)

So, the spring issue of Glimmer Train certainly wasn't a complete waste of time, but there were points where I feared it was turning out that way. As for any stories that completely violated any canons or took any delightful undue chances, there were none -- if edgy's your middle name, I might not seek it as a home for your words.

Thanks for reading, and write on,


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Prime (Writer's) Real Estate

A recent thought that keeps crossing my mind is whether works deemed particularly "literary" -- as opposed to your Grisham or Steele bestsellers -- are doomed to failure at times because of literature's reputation for being, in a word, pompous. However, today's rant is more about the dreamworld of distribution.

A quick browse of the New York Times bestseller list reveals a little bit more Dan Brown than I'd like to see. (Dan Brown, of course, wrote The DaVinci Code, that book I love to hate, if you'd refer to recent posts.) Nice to see that what is, in my opinion, such a poorly written book could manage to launch his entire body of work into the public eye and make that man rich, rich, rich. My sarcasm is, of course, intended.

A friend of mine noted that the entire beginning of the aforementioned book really functions as a giant ad for "prequel" Angels and Demons. Anyone who loved his protagonist that much ought to save themselves a lot of time and go rent "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

At any rate, again, there are bright spots on the list -- page down past #20 and you'll find my previous recommendations, Life of Pi and Middlesex. It's good to know but also interesting to note that those books are carried in bookstores with a limited selection of titles, like Books-A-Million. Maybe distribution -- and the sign proclaiming "Summer Reading" -- is everything; God knows it's a lot. It's still heartening to see, but on a recent cheapskate trip to Books-A-Million, as opposed to local dealer Olssen's or ubiquitous but satisfying Borders or Barnes & Noble, I couldn't find Eugenides' previous book, Virgin Suicides, on the shelves. I would imagine tons of Dan Brown would have been easy to find of course.

Another bright spot? Tolstoy's classic, Anna Karenina, has found its way back onto the bestseller lists. Go Leo! That's pretty awesome. Actually, thank you Oprah, for that one.

So anyway, getting great reading into people's hands may be as easy as distribution and information -- prime real estate in Books-A-Million or a plug from Oprah. (One day, maybe, the Internet will help as well, of course, but so far it seems the masses are still mostly downloading tunes or reading news, as opposed to frequenting lit mags.) Literary magazines in a store like BAM? Nor hardly. Scan those shelves and the closest you get is The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

Nobody ever said being a writer -- and actually getting read -- is easy, that's for sure.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, July 19, 2004

New Voices

As I mentioned before, the Zoetrope site has a great thing going for new writers. But one of the most exciting discoveries was the work of a writer named Alicia Gifford, whose stories always gave me a jolt and woke me up. She's got a quirky, entertaining, smooth voice and every story of hers that I have had the pleasure of reading was a delight or an eye-opener or the literary equivalent of a rollercoaster ride or fascinating character study. Watch for her. Since running across her work on the site, I know she's gotten published by markets including Pig Iron Malt (last I heard, that site was on a hiatus for new submissions, btw), and NFG. (Publication by the latter having become sort of a holy grail amongst Zoetropers, and a goal I have yet to achieve.)

I've mentioned McSweeney's before, and as long as I'm discussing new discoveries of writers I hadn't necessarily heard of from mainstream sources, I should mention Kelly Link, whose work appeared in a print publication, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. McSweeney's uses both electronic and print to leverage its literary endeavors, and I highly recommend this "Mammoth Treasury." It was actually meant to be a nod to old pulp fiction, and includes such well-known writers as Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Harlan Ellison, but the abstract, edgy, and wild story called Catskin by Kelly Link that was included within its pages was worth the price of admission and introduced me to a new voice.

From a quick Internet check, it looks like Kelly Link is a horror and fantasy writer, however, it's long been one of my theories that horror is an underestimated and largely unappreciated subgenre of literature. (Another of my favorite recommendations in the genre: Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls.) At any rate, I have every intention of trying to follow Kelly Link's work more closely.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Unheard Voice

Here's my rant for today. Magazines that never, ever respond to submissions.

Literary magazines have quite the reputation for putting themselves first and writers last. For example, magazines that demand "no simultaneous submissions." Simultaneous submissions are when you have your short story under consideration at more than one magazine at one time.

From the writer's point of view, literary submission is a numbers game. You're dealing with all sorts of variables in the journey toward getting a home for your short story. You're dealing with a massive volume of other talented writers' stories also vying for just a few slots in upcoming issues; you're dealing with editors' tastes, which, let's face it, are often subjective. So first of all, that's one very good reason why magazines' demanding "NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS" kind of means you, as a writer, have anything but the upper hand. When you have your story at only one magazine for consideration,for six months or whatever the response time is, there goes the numbers game.

So, what's quite possibly worse, is when you send your story to one market, and never receive any response. No rejection, and no response to your queries. What's with that? If writers are giving the benefit of the doubt, leaving their story to one market at a time, how is it fair that the magazines deem themselves so "important" that writers don't deserve the benefit of a response?

Markets that I have experienced this within the last year include Pif and Exquisite Corpse. Upon posting on a Zoetrope discussion board about Pifsome time ago, I learned that other writers had had the same experience. So those are likely markets to avoid -- save yourself the trouble of waitingsix months or more for a response and never receiving one.

I'm sure the "no simultaneous submissions" rule is one that could be expounded upon at a later time. For now, I wanted to put out a "writer beware" shout out about a few markets that don't favor writers with responses.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, July 17, 2004

New Blood

Upon scavenging the Internet, I've found a promising new literary site.

Namely, Barrelhouse, which seems to highlight some high-quality new writers. Sex and Pills: A Love Story was an enjoyable read, as was Ryan Seacrest Is Famous. Check it out. It appears that it posts new fiction every couple of days, so it's got a pretty dynamic idea going on, and I believe it plans for print editions as well.

Thanks for reading,


Tools of the Trade

Just a short note, tonight, and not a rant at all. Any beginning writer should read Stephen King's On Writing, it's absolutely crucial. Regardless of what you think of King as an author -- and I know people have mixed feelings. I used to read all his stuff, and just got to the point where I couldn't keep up. However, On Writing contains inspiration, plus lots of little points lots of struggling writers can relate to. For example, at one point Carrie wound up in the trash can, until his wife fished it out and demanded that he finish it, and that was his breakthrough. I can't recommend it enough.

And of course, there's always the yearly Novel and Short Story Writers Market. The downside is, some of the magazines have gone out of business, say they pay and don't, or otherwise contain erroneous information, but still, it's a great resource for starting to get your fiction out there. It's always a good investment.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Summertime Reading

So, if one more person says how much they loved The Davinci Code, I'm going to scream! I'm not sure I've ever read a worse book. It might make beginning writers feel better abut themselves, for example, if a book with such stereotyped, hollow characters and poor writing could be published and be a smash success, why not me? (Also, where were the editors for that book? Asleep on the job, I guess. There was more than its fair share of redundancy, more adverbs than you can shake a stick at, and tons of wording that could be cut.)

Meanwhile, The New York Times recently published an article that pretty much said Americans don't read. It said that a little more than 50% of respondents to a 2002 U.S. Census Bureau survey said they hadn't read a book in the last year, and about half of adults over the age of 18 hadn't read a novel, poem, or play. What gives?

At any rate, I'm sure there's a market for beautiful writing that has something to say, if people gobbled up The DaVinci Code at the rate they did.

First I'd like to recommend Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. It has a quiet humor, a great way at looking at philosophy and religion, and celebrates a return to the story, in observing life and how we live it. It's the kind of book that makes you sad when it ends.

Next, Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. It knocked me on my ass within the first few pages and didn't stop. I was pleasantly surprised that it won the Pulitzer; who knew that a book that took that many chances would win that award? Great stuff. It's not for the faint of heart, but again, it's the kind of book -- sweeping family epic that it is, with a twist -- that makes you remember what a wonderful thing it is to be able to write... and read. Plus, I can't even count the little observations on people that Eugenides had the guts to expose, that are so, so true.

With so few people reading these days, it's good to know that there are still great books out there. The DaVinci Code had me worried, but these two books renewed my belief that there's true talent out there.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Keyboard: Mightier than the Sword

All right, here goes -- and this is a rant this time. For centuries, literature has been at the forefront of political and social changes. So what's going on now?

So here it is, the 21st century, and we have the most amazing new medium in AGES -- the Internet. Why, without the Internet I wouldn't be publishing this right now.

So why is it that most of the "revered," old-school literary magazines not only don't have online submissions set up, but refuse to even accept manuscripts by email? It's absurd and it's insulting. First of all, it's a waste of paper to have thousands of writers send manuscripts through the mail. Not to mention, most aspiring writers certainly don't have the money for all that postage and paper. One can only hope the old-school literary magazines recycle.

It burns me up. It probably burns up a lot of people.

What is heartening are the literary magazines out there that do try. For starters, publications like McSweeneys, which publishes both an Internet and print version of its publication.

Glimmer Train, Conversely, and Night Train spring to mind as literary endeavors that have online submission systems. Kudos to them as well.

What should likely be the vanguard of the call for change in the literary submission process is a Canadian magazine called NFG -- short for No Fixed Genre. It specializes in edgy, in-your-face fiction, but what stands out (other than its call for content that will knock people on their asses) is its revolutionary submission system.

When you submit through NFG's site, you can track your manuscript's process through the different tiers of the magazine's editorial collective, culling comments on your work along the way. I myself have never made it past the first cut, but find the idea refreshing. Also, if you don't make it through the first cut, you generally know within 24 hours. Talk about an efficient process.

As much as it might suck to get the heave-ho so soon (despite the fact that NFG's editors generally give helpful feedback for your work), it seems a far better way to go than the months of silence as your story likely sits, without a glance, on somebody's desk at The Atlantic.

In short, there are so many ways that the literary world could wake up. Here's hoping for some positive change in an area that could use a little bit more evolution into the Internet age.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Beginning

As an aspiring fiction writer (and semi obsessive type, occasional insomniac/narcoleptic, and relative blog novice), I thought there could be some use and interest in a blog that could help out other aspiring writers, sharing finds, as well as observations about markets and the literary world. Having tasked myself with doing a hell of a lot more research into different markets than I've done over the past several years, it seems quite fitting to share observations and semi reviews of their pages. Seeing how, being a writer (and many of us are often starving) it's hard to hit all the great literary magazines out there on one's own.

As is befitting a beginning, though, I'd first like to recommend a site for any aspiring writers out there. It's Zoetrope. It's loosely affiliated with Zoetrope All-Story, but in fact functions as a writer's community.

It works in a mutually beneficial workshop fashion, with users required to read and critique the works of others. For those of us who are too lazy (like me) or hermetlike (again, like me) to operate in a real-world, scheduled workshop, it really is the best.

Sure, I've read some work there that is that of beginners, and really needs the help -- though I might add, beginners really tend to appreciate constructive feedback. Meanwhile, I have also read some of the most amazing, knock-me-on-my-ass pieces, by authors I'm certain will "be somebody" someday.

I'll end this first post on this note. Stay tuned for more rants and raves. Thanks for reading.