Summer Vacation – 2021 Style

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This summer, the family took a road trip to several state and national parks in New Hampshire and Maine. None of us had every been. It felt like an extension of our time in the Smokey Mountains over Spring Break back in April. When you don’t want to catch COVID, avoid people by going to giant parks.

I often experience some of my best inspiration and motivation to write while on vacation. It makes me wonder how productive I would be as a writer without a pesky day job. (There’s also that pesky income that comes with the day job.)

Unfortunately, this was not one of those trips where I was inspired to write. Instead, I was inspired to edit. I furiously edited my middle grade work-in-progress before departing. I wanted to churn out another draft, so my daughter could read it during the trip. We also were visiting my cousin’s family, and I wanted her son to read it as well. Both are in the target audience for the book, and I wanted their feedback both overall and on the specific language used, i.e. did I use terms that 7-8 year olds understand.

During the trip, I edited a couple stories that needed revisions but mostly needed to be lengthened before they went off to their next submission. That added a few hundred words to my quarterly total, but not too much.

I also edited a novella of a fellow writer in the Northern Virginia Writers Club. The novella was set in the South, and being a Southerner, he asked for comments on its authenticity. I readily obliged.

Then I tackled a stack of magazines that had piled up. They tend to do that throughout the year until I tear through them all at once, like on this trip.

Finally, it was time to come home. Our two weeks were up, and I’d barely written a thing. I still felt productive. I often find that editing gives a similar satisfactory feeling to writing, once it’s done. It’s kind of a slog during. It’s an especially nice feeling when you reread what you wrote, realize it’s not total crap, and know you’ve made it better with the edits.

I’m still hoping to get some more words in this quarter. I have about six weeks. I would love to get a couple stories written before October when I’d like to turn to outlining my NaNoWriMo project. I’ll have more on that with my 3Q21 update.

Reprints, the Gift that Keeps on Giving

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When I first started writing – all of four years ago – I didn’t give much thought to reprints. I didn’t even know what a reprint was. I should have though. I own a bunch. Every anthology of classic science fiction stories I’ve bought through the years contains nothing but reprints. I had no idea at the time, but all those stories had appeared previously, likely in the pulp magazines during the Golden Age of Science Fiction. (As an aside, I’m currently reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee; so this era is very much on my mind.)

As a novice short story writer, acceptances still don’t come all that often. I’m sitting at a baker’s dozen at the moment. When a publisher accepts a story, I’m elated. I promote the release. And I move on, primarily focusing on writing new material and continuing to submit my other stories that still need a home.

Maybe I should rethink that after my most recent acceptance. The good folks at Metastellar: Speculative Fiction and Beyond accepted my reprint “Cramping Your Style” for publication on August 18. For those keeping county, I’ve submitted a total of two reprints one time each; and both have been accepted. That means I’m batting 1.000 on reprint submissions. Gotta like that average.

“Cramping Your Style” is a middle grade soccer story with a speculative twist. If you want to read it for free, come back on the 18th. I’ll have a link to the story on my Publications page. And give some love to MetaStellar on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mag_meta, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MetaStellarMagazine, and on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MetaStellar.

2Q21 Update

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Another quarter makes like a staked vampire and bites the dust, so it’s time to look back at my writing exploits (or lack thereof).

  • Words written = 2,050
    • Submissions = 29
    • Rejections = 31
    • Acceptances = 1
    • Shortlists = 0
    • Publications = 1
    • Rewrites = 0
    • Withdrawals = 0

My submissions were right in line with last quarter (28 v. 29), and I’m on track for my goal of 100 for the year. I was sitting at 57 as of the end of the quarter and have sent two more since.

Rejections were up. I suspected my rejection number from 1Q21 was unusually low. While I hoped that meant a couple submissions were under further consideration, no such luck. More likely several editors pursued other interests away from the slush pile. How dare they!

I technically had one acceptance, thus meeting my goal of one a quarter. My story, “Lottery Winnings,” appears in the Summer 2021 Journal of the Virginia Writers Club, a publication of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written by members of the Virginia Writers Club. The bar for acceptance wasn’t too high, but I appreciate being included.

The amount of actual writing I did was pitiful. Those 2050 words went toward three projects. About half were spread across two existing stories that needed a little editing before heading off for their next submissions. The other half went to a new horror flash fiction story. It’s based on a gate that I saw while on vacation to the Smokey Mountains in March. In fact, it’s pictured in the featured image for this post. I knew the first time I drove by (it was on the way to our rental) that I needed a picture and it would inspire a great story. And it did! I just need an editor somewhere to think so too.

Other than that horror flash story, I’ll admit I’m in a bit of a creative funk as far as ideas for new stories go. However, I have been doing a lot of editing. I’m even finally editing my middle grade WIP. I went old school and printed out a copy, and now there are blue ink edits all over the clean, white pages. I prefer blue over red. My beta readers, who were awesome, for the WIP consistently had two comments. First, I should mention a couple characters early on, who play a larger role later in the story, so those characters don’t appear to come out of nowhere. The second was I should flesh out the description of a couple scenes. The latter point I had suspected and had asked my beta readers specifically to look at. I thought the former point was spot on as well, and I’ve done just that. There happened to be a perfect spot in the story early on where I could name drop those characters.

Despite consistently adding to the text, with the few cuts I also made, the WIP only grew by about 900 words. But I’ll include those in the tally for 3Q21 since I finished editing in July. I plan to ask my oldest daughter and her cousin, both who are in the target audience for this middle grade book, to be my final two beta readers. I’ll see how these harshest of critics react.

This is where I outline my goals for the next quarter, but I’m drawing a blank. Once I get comments back from my two young beta readers, I plan to do another thorough edit of my middle grade WIP. I also have an idea for a story, but I’ve been debating whether it’s of flash length or a more typical short story length. Part of this may be related to my laziness. It’s much less time consuming to work on a flash story. I should simply start writing and see what length the story wants to be. The family is going on vacation again later this summer. Maybe I can find several quiet nights to hammer out this story and see where it takes me.

That’s it on my end. How’d your quarter/month/week of writing turn out?

Apparently, I’m a Horror Author

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I’m not sure when it happened, but I write horror now. Two of the last three stories I’ve sold have been solidly in the horror genre. The most recent, “Camping with the Carnival,” was just released today in Night Terror’s Vol. 14. Check it out in eBook, print, or Kindle Unlimited. An eAudio version will be out soon.

To give you a little background, my family went COVID-camping with my sister and brother-in-law last autumn. They had been on their own weeks long camping vacation (what better way to have a social distant vacation), and we met them for the weekend at their last stop. That night, my sister described some of the stranger people they’d encountered at their campsites. I immediately thought those people would make fantastic characters in a horror story. And they did.

I’ve sold to this market before. My story “Shadow” made it into Night Terror’s Vol. 6. The odd part is my sister also inspired that story. I wonder what it is about her and horror stories.

Below is a little taste of “Camping with the Carnival.” I hope it wets your appetite for me.

***

A dark stain blanketed the tent floor. An equally dark trail ran over the entry lip, continuing through the campsite and out onto the road. Something about the ichor smelled familiar–like the blood of its usual prey–but not quite the same. This caught the intruder’s attention. It ducked inside, shaking the entire tent in the process and uprooting several of the stakes securing it to the ground. It paid no attention to the stains adorning the remaining tent walls like a gruesome Rorschach test. Licking its lips to remove the last of the sample it had tried, the figure turned back to the slick trail, following it toward the campground’s communal firepit.



1Q21 Update

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The last quarter of the first year of COVID-19 is done. This time last year, I was swamped with work as the world shut down. While work eventually became more manageable (and I am exceedingly thankful to have work), this quarter has been more of the same ole same ole. I’m still working from home and still managing my oldest daughter’s virtual school. At least this year, there is a vaccine. While I patiently wait my turn for that, let’s see how the quarter shaped up.

  • Words written = 5,405
  • Submissions = 28
  • Rejections = 17
  • Acceptances = 1
  • Shortlists = 1
  • Publications = 0
  • Rewrites = 1
  • Withdrawals = 1

Overall, I’m pleased with those numbers. The submissions are spot on to reach my goal of 100 for the year. I also received an acceptance, which met my goal of one acceptance a quarter.

The number of words written still isn’t great, though the 5400 words is more than any of the first three quarters last year. The oddest part is none of those words (except for a whopping 25) went to a new project. (The 25 went to a new micro story for a market that only accepts 25 word stories.) Most of my writing involved editing existing stories. That was another goal, and I stuck with it. Editing these stories allowed me to get them out to new markets, which helped those submission numbers. I also added a couple thousand words to a story I’m co-writing with a friend and my memoir.

The single acceptance, shortlist, rewrite request, and withdrawal all involved the same story. I expanded a 2000 word story to 3000 words to meet the minimum word amount for a specific market’s call for submissions. After submitting the story to that market, I discovered the same now-expanded story met the criteria for another call. Luckily, both markets permitted simultaneous submissions, so I submitted the same story to the second market as well. The second market shortlisted the story and asked for a rewrite of the ending. After two rounds of edits, that market accepted the story, necessitating my withdrawing it from the first market. I looked back, and that acceptance broke a 6-month long drought. While not my longest (that distinction clocks in at 11 months), it still was painful.

Anecdotally, I felt that rejections were slower to come in last quarter. I think my receiving only 17 rejections, which is off the typical 25-35, proves I wasn’t too wrong. Editors likely are feeling the same pandemic fatigue as the rest of us.

My goals for the second quarter are more of the same. I’d like to send out about 25 submissions to remain on target there. I’ve already sent out two this month. I’d also like to notch an acceptance to keep me on track there.

On the writing front, I’d like to put the finishing touches on a short story I wrote the first draft of in December. I edited it, along with two other flash stories, while on spring break vacation last week (the first trip since 2019!). Those flash stories are the two submissions I sent already this month. However, when I reached the end of the short story, I realized the verb tense was probably inconsistent though out; so I need to go back through again to correct that. I think I’m also ready to tackle a first round of edits to the middle grade novel I wrote during last year’s NaNoWriMo. Several beta readers gave me excellent comments. They didn’t identify any major issues, so I’m eager to incorporate those as they should be easy fixes.

And that my January – March 2021. How was yours?