How to Find Out What Editors of Online Journals Like

I love the Million Writers Award for many reasons, but one great reason to pay attention to the nominations might not be obvious to all. Over at this page, the editors of dozens of online journals have posted links to what they believe to be the three best stories they published in 2009. You can’t buy a resource that good. Not only is it a great place to find out about online journals and see if you like what they publish, you can get a pretty good sense of what the editors are looking for and what they’re proud of.

I also find it interesting to gain insights into related magazines. Some writers have been nominated by several different editors. So, if you like the work of X writer and think yours is similar, this might give some clues as to where you should be sending your own writing.

Jason Sanford says this year there have been more nominations than ever before. My observation is that there are everything from very obscure niche publications (Stymie, a magazine that until recently was devoted entirely to literary stories about golf) to professional speculative fiction markets such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Every writer should have the page I linked above bookmarked.

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Best of Every Day Fiction

My story, “Home to Perfect,” has been included in the Best of Every Day Fiction Two anthology. The book is now available for order in both hardcover and paperback.

Every Day Fiction posts one flash piece a day and has developed a great community that comments intelligently on the day’s stories. It’s definitely worth dropping into the feed reader. If reading online’s not your thing, here’s your chance to check out what they do.

I’m very proud of “Home to Perfect,” and I’m glad to see its life extended this way. I thought this might be a nice occasion to talk a bit about what goes on when I write a piece of flash fiction.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion online recently about how long it takes to write various types of fiction. Most of what I read about flash fiction suggests that these are quick, easy pieces that you can dash off in a morning. That’s not my experience at all. The only reason I can afford to write flash is that I have a day job.

“Home to Perfect” took me a solid 15 hours to write. I’ll try to break down how those hours were spent. You should read the story (linked at the top of the post) before reading my explanation–I’m not going to worry about spoilers.

I got the idea when I was poking around the Internet one day and found a video on YouTube of a kid pulling off 100 percent FC on expert of “Through the Fire and Flames” on Guitar Hero. At the end of the video, the kid is visibly trembling, cursing in disbelief, totally overwhelmed (I’d link it now, but I can’t find it anymore–if you search for this on YouTube, you get totally overwhelmed by bots and parody videos). I found myself thinking over the next several days about the kid’s awe and how he shared it with an audience on YouTube. I wondered if his parents had any idea what that moment meant to him.

I spent about 3 hours over the next several days developing the idea. I asked myself who Vic (my main character) was, why he cared about 100 percent FC, and what else was going on in his life. I wrote extensive notes on him, his mom, his dad, and his brother Kurt. This was the point at which I realized that I was writing about domestic violence. I could tell you a lot of details about all of these characters that never made it into the story. I believe a story should be an iceberg–what’s visible should be only a small amount of the material that’s in the author’s possession.

At that point, I wrote my first draft, spending about 2 hours on it. (My first draft rate for longer pieces is much faster, but my speed of writing seems to be inversely related to the length of the piece).

I put my first draft down for about a week. When I picked it up again, something was wrong with it, and I couldn’t figure out what. After much rereading and consideration (which I’m not counting towards the total time spent on the work), I figured out that “Through the Fire and Flames” was the problem. I had no emotional connection to the song, and I hadn’t spent much time playing Guitar Hero. I had, on the other hand, pulled many all-nighters playing Rock Band. There’s a song on Rock Band called “Green Grass and High Tides” that I love deeply and find wickedly difficult (I can beat it on hard, but that’s the best I can do). I changed the story so that Vic is playing Rock Band, and spent about 5 hours writing a new draft. While I wrote this draft, I played “Green Grass and High Tides” on repeat and periodically took breaks to watch videos of people playing this song on Rock Band.

[As an aside, when the story was first posted on Every Day Fiction, fellow writer Deven Atkinson pointed out that the lyrics of “Green Grass and High Tides” are actually very inspiring and appropriate to Vic’s situation. Though I normally pay a lot of attention to song lyrics, I hadn’t in this case. However, the story just didn’t work for me until I saturated it and myself with the mood of this song. I think it’s quite possible that I was subconsciously aware of what the song is saying to Vic.]

At that point, I thought I’d finished the story, so I let my husband read it. As always happens, he made me realize that I was far from finished with the story, pointing out several problems with how it was structured. I spent about 3 hours restructuring and fixing those problems. Then, I spent 2 hours doing a final polish and preparing the story for submission. For me, this consists of reading the whole thing out loud several times, fixing anything that trips me up and fiddling with things until I’m sure I really want to send this out into the world. I run spellcheck. I obsessively study the guidelines for the market to which I’m sending the story.

And that’s a wrap. I’ve wished that I could write faster, but I’m much happier with the version that’s on the Every Day Fiction site than what I would have come up with if I’d stopped after the first or second draft.

Million Writers Award Needs Genre Judges

If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you know that I go crazy around here when it’s time for the Million Writers Award. But guess what? I don’t have to have all the fun alone. Jason Sanford, who runs the award, is looking for preliminary judges, particularly people who are familiar with SF/F/H, crime, or romance.

I did this job last year, and plan to do it again this year. It was incredibly rewarding, and it introduced me to publications and writers I continue to follow. Jason writes:

So if you are an experienced writer, reader, or editor in the fields of horror, SF, fantasy, romance, or crime fiction, please apply by e-mailing me at lapthai (circle a sign) yahoo (dot) com.  Be sure to tell me why you’d make a good preliminary judge (i.e., mention your writing, reading and/or editing experience).

I wholeheartedly suggest you get involved if you’ve got the appropriate background and interest.

The Bloggening

Hello, blog world, and happy new year! I owe you updates on the Dzanc Write-A-Thon, and am also planning to post on my current crazy writing event, Wriye. For the moment, however, allow me to introduce you to the mechanism by which those posts will happen: the Bloggening.

As you can see from my archives running down the side of the page, in this blog’s 1 and 1/2 year history, the start of the year was not a great time for me as a blogger in 2008. In fact, I disappeared completely for January, February, and most of March.

To prevent this from happening again, and to inspire a healthy posting schedule, and to torture my friends when it’s time for the Million Writers Award and I’m blogging daily, I’ve joined the Bloggening, a collective bound by social contract to harass each other and apply peer pressure when one blogger’s not keeping up with the others. My partners in crime are as follows:

Belynda – http://dimestoreromance.com/
Dave – http://blog.davidhalperin.com/
Ian – http://www.aberrospecus.com/
Rachel – http://rachelober.com/
Tom – http://www.timewithtom.com/
Brandon – http://www.extantmusings.com/
Jaco – http://www.flyingjaco.net/

I don’t believe any of us guarantee quality, only quantity. You’ll see more from me, and if you don’t, you can rest assured that people will be mocking me for it.

Dzanc Books Write-A-Thon

For the next several days, I will be participating in the 2nd annual Write-A-Thon in support of Dzanc Books. Thursday through Sunday, I will receive a writing prompt and will produce short stories in honor of Dzanc. What you can do to help is go to this link, find my name (Erica Naone) in the list, and sponsor me. Any amount will be most appreciated. I’ll track my participation on this blog, and if you’re interested in seeing what your sponsorship helped produce, I will send you the raw drafts at your request.

Dzanc does tons of stuff that’s worth supporting–they put out the online magazine The Collagist, edited by the ever-awesome Matt Bell, as well as the literary journal Monkeybicycle. They publish the annual Best of the Web anthology, and a bunch of interesting short story collections. They also do a lot to support writers. The Dzanc Writer in Residency Program is an educational outreach program aimed at youth literacy, the Dzanc Prize provides financial support to a writer of literary fiction, and the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions are very affordable online writing workshops.

What’s more, the people involved are very nice and very dedicated to sharing their love of great literature. It’s sort of random that I feel connected to a bunch of writers based in Michigan and the work they’re doing in Michigan schools, etc, but such is the nature of the Internet. They’ve been kind to me, they’ve helped me to discover a lot of great fiction, and they’re doing their best to make that same sort of help broadly available.

This is what they say about the Write-a-Thon:

With the economy still not up to speed, traditional means of raising funds – writing grants, corporate sponsorships, etc. – have become less successful.  Here at Dzanc, we like to try and make raising money both as fun, and valuable, an experience as possible.  With this in mind, last year we came up with an alternative and interactive plan which we believed not only furthered our mission but was something those participating in would enjoy. Based on the feedback we received, we were right.

Our goal for this event, considering there are over 2000 writers in the Emerging Writers Network, is $20,000, or, an average of $10 raised per person.  To put this in a proper context, that would pay for just under 3 full Dzanc Writer in Residence Programs, or the Dzanc Prize plus approximately 2 full DWIRPs.  We will obviously be thrilled to find out after the fact that we were shortchanging ourselves with that goal. We do hope each and every member of EWN, and those who have become fans of Dzanc, will participate in our inaugural Write-A-Thon.

I’d love to give back a little to them, and I’d love for your help in doing so. It helps to know that even getting Dzanc $10 would be doing my part. But to sweeten the deal, I’ll buy any book from Dzanc’s catalog for one randomly selected person who gives to the Write-A-Thon on my behalf. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to see you through their system, so if you do decide to donate, please comment on this post or drop me an e-mail. I’ll select and announce a winner by Wednesday, December 23, and you’ll get the book as a belated holiday present. 🙂

Thanks so much for your help, and please leave any questions in the comments.

Nanowrimo Wrapup

I never reported on the final results of nanowrimo and they were pretty interesting. Every nano, I usually end in a big, desperate rush of words. I’m talking 10K+ to go on day 30.

This time I stayed on top of my word count throughout the month. On day 30 I had a mere 1K to finish up. This surprised me particularly because I got really flat-on-my-back sick the last week of November.

The secret turned out to be in the way I structured my writing-three short sessions distributed like meals throughout the day. This year I’ve been discovering the power of this approach and this serves as further evidence.

Sometimes Your Novel Breaks

I’ve been doing better with Nanowrimo this year than expected, and for about the last week have maintained a slight lead on word count. This is a nice change from my usual “should I drop out” doom and gloom around the third week of November. However, the lead hasn’t made me immune to novel breakage.

Maybe this eventually goes away with experience, but in all my novel drafts to date–indeed in any story I write–there comes a point when the whole thing breaks. Something happens that feels so outside of what I originally planned that I’m wondering if I can even finish the story. This often manifests for me as some jarring jump in tone or genre.

For example, this year I planned a science fiction romance, and I wanted to keep the tone light. That was great until I sent my hero off to get captured by the bad guys and then wrote a scene in which one of the bad guys gloats to the heroine about how the hero cracked under torture. Torture had not been part of the plan. I went with it, but found myself considering things like, “How has his personality been affected by torture?” I wrote a love scene in which he lost interest in sex because his mind was on what had happened to him.

At this point, I felt I needed to reassess what I was up to. Did my story want to be a different genre? Should I cut this torture thing out and go back? I just felt the story was getting a lot heavier than I’d meant it to be. I can’t say what the end result’s going to be because I’m still only in the mid-30Ks on this novel. However, I can say that if I’d worried too much about all that stuff at the beginning of this paragraph, I wouldn’t be that far.

Instead, I just kept writing. I’ve had drafts totally disintegrate on me, and that’s always a fear, but this didn’t feel that way. In fact, in this case, I think the moment I felt like things went terribly wrong was the exact moment at which my characters really came to life. Not exploring this avenue feels like it would have done a disservice to the story.

I can’t say yet how it will all work out, but I can say that the torture incident and its fallout is a more honest reflection of what I find romantic than what I originally planned, and I’m glad I allowed it into the draft.

As far as I can tell, that moment of breakage occurs in every draft, not just the first. It always seems associated with things coming to life. I currently use this to measure when I’m done revising. If I go through a draft, polish things up a bit, and nothing breaks, then I’m done. If I go through and find myself changing male characters into females or adding long-lost siblings or reworking significant portions of the premise, I know I’ve got at least one more pass before it’s over.

I read an article once by Zadie Smith that really stuck with me–she talked a lot about the process of writing and revising, and I’ve thought a lot about what she said and how it compares with what I do. In that article, she talked about how some writers edit drastically, like move their novel’s setting from England to the U.S. between drafts, or change the time period, or make other big changes that she finds overwhelming and exhausting. When I first read this, I thought, “What crazy person would change the setting mid-stream?” Then my husband pointed out that I do stuff like that all the time. I’ve changed main characters, rewritten stories in a different tense or person, and just ditched entire drafts and redone the story from scratch. For me, the story is wildly malleable, and when it stops shifting all over the map, that’s when I know I’m done with it.

So that moment your novel breaks? That’s just it twitching to tell you it’s still alive.