life experience


by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if I feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s the first one.

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The Rejection Blues (first published on October 23, 2009)

As part of a panel on “Submitting Your Short Story,” I found myself saying, “I totally grant the possibility that a story I sent out sucks, and I do give rejections and comments the power (eventually) to let me know such a thing. But I would never grant them the power to determine whether I’m a writer or not. No one gets to decide that but me. -Randall Brown in Submitting Your Story (As Opposed to Yourself).

Randall’s post comes at a perfect time for me. I received two rejection e-mails this week, and the last two stories I submitted to a weekly writing challenge received less than rave reviews. I checked my submissions database, and I’ve received 181 rejections since July of 2007. I didn’t look at how many stories this covered. Some were rejected multiple times.

You might think I’d be used to rejection, but it still hurts; especially when, for whatever reason, I expect an editor to fall in love with a story. One aspect of the process that bothers me is when an editor (and this happens in critique groups also) explains how he would have written the story, or what he expected at the end. Gosh, if I wanted to write his story, I would have interviewed him before I started. Okay, that may be sour grapes, but I’m interested in how my story worked, not what someone else’s expectations were. I don’t remember who it was that suggested no critique should include the word I, but I agree.

In the end, I have to remember Randall’s advice and realize it’s not me an editor is rejecting. It’s my story. On the good news side, I received three acceptances this week, and a three-to-two ratio is something to be happy about. Still…

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 Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

by Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen

Due to some recent life changes, I’ve had to limit my writing and editing time drastically; stories, though—characters’ situations, lines of dialogue, phrases and titles—keep flipping me around at night. I guess the simplest answer to the question “Why do I write?” is that the ideas keep coming. Brilliant or bollocks, they keep coming.

But why do I write flash fiction? It started at university—or it tried to. I was making up 16 hours of undergraduate English in a summer so that I could start a graduate program in English lit (I’d majored in music and music business as an undergrad). On one of my papers, my Victorian lit professor wrote that my essays were like tiny stories—I think she might have used the word “gems,” but my self-congratulatory memory might have sneaked this in. The papers were those 500-word ditties we’re all familiar with. Later in the semester when I told her I was writing a screenplay, her reaction was “You should write short stories.” This was 1992. I published one short story in the university’s journal in 1993, but between then and 2007 I wrote two screenplays and three novels—never another short story. Call me hard-headed. Go ahead.

Maybe I was resisting “tiny” and “short” and “ditty”—and not only because I’m relatively tiny myself. Maybe I was under the impression that “tiny” meant unimportant, that what I had to say wouldn’t fit into “tiny.” Maybe I’d read way too much Henry James and George Eliot. You are, after all, what you read. (And if this is true, I’m Bill Bryson and Virginia Woolf’s unlikely lovechild.) My love for other people’s words is another reason I write. And edit.

The often condensed syntax of sudden fiction represents a uniquely contemporary voice. Trimming syntax urges the eye along so that the reader experiences text almost in a single moment. Of course this is impossible, but it seems to be the goal. Technology keeps changing the way we read. It’d be dishonest to say some (many?) contemporary writers are not reacting to current tastes and reading formats when choosing to write shorter texts. In Internet writing workshops and communities you’re much more likely to get feedback on a 500-word piece than a whopping 5000-worder. Just have a look at a few litzines’ word-limit guidelines. Scrolling sucks, and it definitely contributes to carpal tunnel syndrome. Faster online fiction is healthier fiction.

As fast as it is to read, though, sudden fiction can take a long time to write (I don’t write sudden fiction because I like to write fast). It’s rare that I’ll sit down at my computer and whip out a 700-word story that I love at first read. It happens, but I usually come back to the story after a week with ideas that rip it apart. Then more ideas rip it apart two weeks later. And so on. Each ripping strips unnecessary bits, refines character—and sometimes completely screws the story to hell and back; yet more often the story evolves, becomes bigger and rounder as it grows smaller, tighter. Tight is, after all, the new big.

Each time I finish one of these tiny stories, I have to look at what I’ve created and ask myself. . .Is this whole? Is the reader’s eye urged along? Will the reader have the same visceral reaction to this moment as I do? Will these characters, whose visit was so brief, stay with the reader beyond the reading? Or is this just a ditty?

I hope other writers of sudden fiction will agree with me that we write sudden fiction because we have so many different moments of being to share: those particularly deep moments my mother Virginia Woolf talked about. In this way, we’re more like painters, songwriters and chefs than novelists.

You know, it might be as simple as feeling satisfaction in the completion of all those ideas that keep coming, the opportunity of plumbing, shaping and completing not just a few pieces of art but many—that’s why I write flash fiction.

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Christopher Allen is grateful to have his sudden fiction in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine and many other great places. His book reviews have been featured at [PANK], Word Riot, The Lit Pub and Necessary Fiction, among others. He’s won some awards and come close to winning others. He keeps trying, and so should you. He lives in Germany and blogs at www.imustbeoff.com about his slight travel obsession.

 

by Joanne Jagoda

Joanne Jagoda

I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to my young bitchy boss with her ice pick style of management. When I finally had enough of her poking away at me, I decided it was time to retire at the age of 59. So there I was, at a new juncture of my life, a youngish senior, trying to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. I found several volunteer jobs right away, including teaching English as a second language to Chinese seniors and working with children in a poor school in East Oakland. I needed something else. I knew I could only exercise, go out to lunch, and shop for so many days until I’d be bored. I needed to find something to keep me feeling vital and alive. What would open the magic gate to lead me on a journey I had not ventured on before?

I had always liked to write, and as a history major and English minor had done endless term papers, but I never attempted any serious creative writing. I was fortunate, or maybe a better word is the Yiddish expression, that it was beshert or destined for me to find a daytime writing class, Lakeshore Writers in Oakland, which had a spot in the spring class. It was a writing workshop using the Amherst method. The class met Thursday mornings for two and a half hours. I was willing to give it a try. One class…it couldn’t hurt. If I hated it I just wouldn’t continue, lose the deposit, whatever.

I got to the class early that Thursday, chatted with the facilitator as the other women rolled in. We eyed each other. I was the oldest. What the hell am I doing here? I sat down on the mismatched chairs, clutching my lemon ginger tea listening to the instructions. We would write on three prompts during the class time, read our work out loud and give positive feedback to each other. We were to treat everything we heard as fiction. My first prompt, I still remember it … “write about hair.” Oh shit, I’ve got nothing to say. I take a breath, gulp my tea, stare at my blank yellow legal pad. Maybe I could write something about my daughter’s mane of wild curly hair which has always been a source of drama for her. It had a life of its own, and I had my story.

And that one class was enough. I was hooked. Who would have ever believed that I had words, and sentences, and images and memories waiting to burst forth out of me. It was as if I had new glasses on and could see for the first time. I started to look at things differently. I started to hear snippets of conversations everywhere which I wanted to incorporate in my work. I found colorful characters lurking in the supermarket checkout line, on the BART train, in the jury pool when I had jury duty. I went back to my childhood in my head, remembering the poppies Mrs. Mialocq used to give me over the fence and the neighbors down the street who had a drunken brawl and my tap dancing class. I wrote fiction, nonfiction, and found I had a gift to write poetry.

I had discovered a new world like some intrepid explorer stumbling upon the universe of literary magazines, online submissions and contests, and a whole new vocabulary of “simultaneous submissions” and “flash fiction.” I started to submit and was in a writing frenzy. I was like an addict hooked on a drug which gave me a fulfilling high. In the beginning, I had some surprising successes even placing in the Writer’s Digest contest with an honorable mention. I didn’t realize that was a pretty big deal. There were other first place and second place wins, and it was a thrill seeing my work published. Then came the Rejections…there have been plenty of those sometimes arriving on a half sheet of paper. I mean really, couldn’t they at least send it on a whole sheet?

Now five years later I am still on this writing journey, and there are days when it is not easy. The most difficult challenge is making writing part of my daily routine. This requires a steely resolve to make time to write no matter how busy I am and treating my writing as a job. It is easy to put it aside when life gets too full. I still struggle in believing in myself. There are days when I’m a “writer” not a WRITER. One of the nicest things that happened to me early on was when a friend who encouraged me tremendously held a “Salon” for me to read some of my work at a tea. It was a thrill to share my writings with a rapt and appreciative audience.

I have been fortunate to become involved with the website, Pure Slush, and have written a number of pieces, which have been published by editor Matt Potter, who lives in Adelaide, Australia. I am one of the thirty-one writers in his ambitious 2014 project where a monthly anthology will be published for the twelve months of 2014. Each writer takes a different day. Mine is the thirtieth of the month, and I wrote a mystery. It has been amazing to become part of a group of writers from all over the world. A reading is in the works for November in New York City, and I’m thinking of attending to read one of my chapters. Maybe then I will finally consider myself a WRITER and not just a “writer.”

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Since retiring in 2009, it took one inspiring writing workshop to launch Joanne Jagoda of Oakland California on a long-postponed creative writing journey. Since discovering her passion for writing, she has been working on short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Her work has been published widely online and in print magazines and anthologies including Pure Slush 2014; 52/250, a Year of Flash; Persimmon Tree Literary Magazine; Women’s Memoir-Seasons of Our Lives, Summer; and Still Crazy. Joanne was the poet of the month for the J, a Jewish news weekly. She continues taking writing workshops and classes in the Bay Area, enjoys tap dancing and Zumba, traveling with her husband and visiting her four grandchildren, who call her Savta.

 

by Carly Berg

This article first appeared at The Writer’s Forum (9/2013).

Coming up with an author bio can seem overwhelming. But really, it’s easy, and soon becomes second nature.

I include my author bio with each submission unless they say not to. I mention that because sometimes publications don’t say everything in their guidelines.

I’ve never heard of the bio being a deciding factor in a story being accepted or not. So just getting a serviceable one down is good enough.

A bio is about two to five sentences and gives the reader a peek into your life. Why? Well, because people are nosy. I enjoy reading a bit about the author along with the story. Don’t you?

Please don’t think you won’t have enough to say. There’s always enough to say. Also, you don’t have to give out any information you don’t feel like giving out. If you don’t want the world to know it would be your first published story, don’t mention it. If you use a pseudonym and worry that giving too many details will ‘out’ you, then don’t. You need a bio you’re comfortable with.

Some common things to include are: where you live, what your education or job is, and who you live with, including pets.

You can also include what your interests are, especially if they relate to the story. Or, any tidbits that relate to the story.  If you have any publishing credits, about three can easily be added, as can, ‘this is his first published story.’ If you’ve won a contest, belong to a writer group, or have taken a writing course, that works, too. You can include a link to your writer site or blog, if you have one (if you don’t have one yet, don’t worry).

A few tips:

* The bio is always written in third person. Write something like ‘Here is my bio,’ in the cover letter, then insert your bio.

* Some publications have serious bios alongside silly ones. Others have a definite preference. If possible, look at the publication. If the other bios list things like education, career, accomplishments, publications, do the same. If you don’t have many, that’s okay. Just don’t pull out your funniest lines, like, ‘Carly Berg likes to beg the neighbors for sandwiches.’ Or, ‘Carly Berg is a gigantic third-grader.’

* If the bios for that publication tend toward crazy fun, don’t be stuffy, right? If you can’t check them out, stick to one that is more middle of the road.

* I like to include something in my bio that goes along with whatever I’ve submitted. Sometimes it’s silly. Other times it’s something about the impetus for writing the story or other fact of interest. However, first I check the publication to see where the bios are listed. If they’re listed with the story, great. But, if the bios are in the back of the volume or on a separate part of the website, chances are it is going to look strange to say, ‘Her friend Jackie is still spoiled.’ That would make sense in a bio placed with the story about my friend Jackie. Put elsewhere, however, it doesn’t make any sense. If I can’t check the publication to see where the bios are located, I avoid mentioning anything that is specific to the story.

*The best way to get bio ideas is to read other bios.

*Don’t make it too long. It tends to annoy editors.

* Don’t brag. Listing a few qualifications is great. Claiming that you plan to write the next best seller isn’t. Neither is stating that you are the toughest cat on the south side. Well, you get the idea.

* Don’t overshare or put yourself down. It’s kind of cringey to read. Making fun of yourself in a funny way with the silly bios is okay though. Mostly.

* Don’t say that you’ve been ‘writing since you were six.’ This comes across as empty bragging. It suggests you consider yourself to have been quite the child genius. Alternately, it looks like you believe childs’ play equates to professional level storytelling. We’ve all been writing since we were six. They made us do it in school. Come on.

* Vary your bio sentences. The first sentence usually starts with your name or pen name. Don’t begin the other sentences with the same pronoun. In other words:

This:

  …‘She lives with her husband. Her work has been published in Stupefying Stories.’

 Not this:

      …‘She lives with her husband. She has a story published in Stupefying Stories.’

It’s not a huge deal, but beginning both sentences with the same pronoun sounds a bit clunky.

Here are a few sample bios.

All-purpose, basic bios

Carly Berg lives in Texas with her husband, son and two cats. Her best story ideas come to her while washing the dishes.

or

Carly Berg is grateful to get to stay home and write. Her degree is in English. She is working on a book of stories.

Now, those may not make anyone swoon. But they’ll do.

With some progress, you’ll have more to say.

All-purpose, more advanced bios

Carly Berg lives with four males, two of whom are cats. Her stories appear in several dozen journals and anthologies, including PANK, Word Riot, and Bartleby Snopes. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well. Here’s her website: http://carlyberg.weebly.com/

Later, or now, if you’re up for it, you can jazz it up.

Bios having to do with the particular story

Carly Berg is a heart-shaped box with a couple of chocolates gone. She is a member of Absolute Write writer’s forum. This is her first published story. (For a he-done-me-wrong story).

Carly Berg lives near Houston. She’s had a story accepted by a publication beginning with every letter of the alphabet. This story came to her when they bulldozed the woods behind her house, and wild animals roamed through the neighborhood.

     …she always minds her mother (in a story about one who did not).

    …is a firm believer in coming in out of the rain (in a story about one who did not).

    …she is always properly attired when she goes out (in a story about one who was not).

Fun bios

Carly Berg lives with a sweet baboo, an Easter peep, and a visiting lightning bolt who wants you to know he’s an adult and a guest. Her stories appear in some fine places. And  some middling to low places, too…

    Carly Berg is a decorative couch pillow who doesn’t want to be judged….

    Carly Berg gets her three hots and a cot near Galveston…

    … She wonders if a fruitbat bounced off her head or if she just imagined it.

If you get stuck, use the suggestions above to jot one down, and move on to the next thing.

Carly Berg is done talking about bios.

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Carly Berg‘s work has been accepted by publications beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for “K,” the absence of which keeps her up at night. “The Care and Feeding of Non-Writers” is from her book in progress, The 100 Credits Club. She can be found at http://carlyberg.weebly.com/.

 

by Walt Giersbach

J.K. Rowling caused a ruckus when Harry Potter’s creator published The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. For being “outed” by her own solicitors, she successfully sued. Not every writer is so secretive about his or her pen name. Everyone knew Mark Twain was really that guy in the white suit, Samuel Clemens. Lewis Carroll was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s essence. And, Ann Landers and Dear Abby aren’t one person, but many after 50 years.

Still, there may come a time when you need to consider an alias to hide your real persona. The excellent editor of my story collections, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, at Wild Child Publishing has adopted several to publish. One for writing to men’s magazines, another when her ex was suing for divorce, and a third for her titillating romances. “Each pen name has its own personality,” she states. She was the one who advised me to take a pen name if it solves a problem and to hell with the critics.

Another friend uses two initials preceding her surname because of rude comments from friends over the several books she’s published. Fans of J.B. DiNizo won’t be too surprised to learn the woman behind the name is Alice DiNizo. Others may find a lot of explaining is needed when their book is read by their mother. Taking on a pen name can raise as many issues as it resolves.

Should you adopt a pen name? You’re surely aware that some fiction sells better if written by a woman — romance, for example. Or a man, if the subject is dark and violent. Business books generally seem to sell better if written from a male POV. The gender issue relating to who gets published and reviewed is a contentious concern, as noted by The Guardian this summer; males far overshadow females in the U.K.

The subject matter may strongly dictate a pseudonym, such as erotic romance. If you’re a published writer of serious material, attaching your name to such “bodice-rippers” can cause negative spillover, reduce your literary stature, challenge reputation, and decrease enjoyment of the reading experience.

There’s another significant reason to use a pen name if the writer is of the opposite gender to his/her main character. Readers can easily be confused when starting a piece of fiction, becoming misled by the author’s byline, and discover the narrator is of the opposite sex. A sense of trust — even Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief” — is broken. The reader becomes distracted by the conflict of an author taking on the persona of the opposite sex, detracting from the quality of whatever he/she has written.

A host of other questions need to be addressed — and you’ll probably wrestle with them — before you step into another name. Is using a pen name liberating? (Only you can answer that.) Should you let people know you’re using a pen name? (If you do, why bother with a pen name?) What if people are upset that you’re using a pen name? (Some people will always be upset.) Does using a pen name mean you have multiple-personality disorder? (No, far from it.) Does using a pen name constitute a breach of trust? (Look at your value system and decide if you’re setting expectations that might be violated.) Is it hard to do business using a pen name? (No, unless you feel conflicted as a man trying to sell your book as “Gloria L’Amour” at a library reading.) Is using a pen name legal? (I’m not a lawyer, but most publishers insist on knowing your real name in accepting a work.)

Finally, you can put the whole matter to rest. Don’t use a pen name if you’re not comfortable doing so. And, if you’re going to tell the world your secret identity, why bother?

In the interest of full disclosure, let me add that I’ve published flash under a pen name. Why? My narrator is of the opposite gender, it’s stylistically experimental work, and it doesn’t fit into the body of writing I’m concentrating on. Sorry, I can’t tell you the byline I use.

For further discussion, go to the Men with Pens blog by James Chartrand at http://menwithpens.ca/pen-name-pseudonym/ and an article by Howard G. Zaharoff in Writer’s Digest –http://www.mbbp.com/resources/iptech/pseudonyms.html.

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Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Corner Club Press, Every Day Fiction, Gumshoe Review, OG Short Fiction, Over My Dead Body, Pif Magazine, Pill Hill Press, Pulp Modern, r.kv.r.y, Short Fiction World, The World of Myth, and a dozen other publications. He also writes on military history and social phenomena. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers. He has been the director of communications for Fortune 500 companies, publicized the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and moderates a writing group in New Jersey.

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