Post # 10 – Inspiration



I’ve read several professional authors (Mike Resnick, for example) state they often are asked at conventions and other forums, where do you get your ideas? Indeed, these authors say it’s a tiresome question because someone in the audience asks it every time. I’ve never been asked that, so I don’t find it tiresome, yet. Maybe in a few years after I’m a famous author.

Sources of inspiration for my stories never cease to amaze me. The first story I ever started was inspired by, what I believe is, a great first line: “The naked man ran screaming from the room.”

Years ago I read a column by the then editor of either Analog Science Fiction and Fact or Asimov’s Science Fiction (I can’t remember which) about catching an editor’s (and reader’s) attention with a great first line. Shortly after, I came up with the above line. I kicked that line around in my head for years until I finally figured out why the man ran screaming from the room and just as importantly, why he was naked. Figuring that out really was the start of my writing adventure.

Since then, I’ve taken inspiration from such unlikely sources as a handwritten sign on an out of order elevator and the nickname some friends use for their daughter. Also, a couple time now while writing a story, I’ve developed sequel ideas. That seems to happen frequently.  Between that and understanding it’s always easier to sell a product with an existing audience, I finally understand why there are so many series out there.

Twice now after reading the submission guidelines for a publication, inspiration hit me for a story matching those guidelines. Oddly, both were calls for humorous speculative fiction. When I read the first set of guidelines, I decided to take on the challenge. I’d never tried writing a funny story before. I had a title for a story in my To Be Written list but no plot yet. And then inspiration hit for how I could turn this random title into a humorous story.

Then it happened again. The second set of submission guidelines requested sword and sorceress fantasy works, meaning fantasy with a strong woman protagonist. While I enjoy reading some fantasy (Lord of the Rings and The Song of Ice and Fire), I lean more towards science fiction. I’ve never written it and didn’t intend to any time soon. But at the very end of these guidelines, the editor said they end the anthology with a short, funny story. For some reason that’s when inspiration hit. I had an idea for a short, funny fantasy story starring a female character. I was so inspired I stopped writing the story I was working on then and finished this new story in about three sittings.

I haven’t even discussed the inspiration for my novel. In a prior post, I mentioned one of my critique group members is working on her first novel. I had the privilege to read the first chapter. I thought the premise of the story was excellent, and I wanted to read more. Alas, that literally was all she wrote at that time. In addition to compiling a few notes for her, I also wrote down a couple directions I thought the story could go to see if I could guess what she had in mind. None of my guesses were correct. She knows where it’s going, and I can’t wait for her to take it there. Later, I realized I liked one of my guesses. I liked it so much I decided to use it as the plot of my own novel. Of course, the plot of my novel is nothing like my friend’s, but I’m fascinated by how simply trying to guess her novel’s plot lead to finding my own.

Post #8 – Writing Contests



In Post #6, I mentioned how I submitted a short story to the Virginia Writers Club’s 2017 Golden Nib Writing Contest.  I didn’t mention the results.  Each chapter sends one entry in the three categories (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) on to the state level.  The judges reviewing the Northern Virginia chapter entries could not decide between my story “May Science Be With You” and an entry by Michelle McBeth, so the chapter sent both our stories on to the state level in the fiction category.  Co-representative!  Unfortunately, neither of our stories placed.

The president of the Northern Virginia chapter announced the selection of my story to co-represent the chapter at the very first meeting I attended last year.  That was a huge ego boost.  To have even that little amount of validation so early in my writing career also was a great motivator.  I attribute at least part of my productivity last year to that achievement.

Then I got to thinking about what it would have meant to win the Golden Nib, and I didn’t like it.  Placing in the top three, first, means a small cash prize, but I’m not in this for the money.  And we’re essentially talking about a couple of dollars.

Winning also means possibly having your story “published” by the Virginia Writers Club.  That sounds great!  But… it isn’t.  At most that means having your story put in a “Virtual Anthology” (i.e. a PDF with the other winners) that the club posts on its website.  Maybe not even that.  The last Virtual Anthology on the club’s website is from 2015.  The website doesn’t even list the 2017 winners.

What winning actually means is you no longer can submit your winning entry to markets for publication, unless those markets accept reprints.  Most markets want the rights to your story’s first publication.  By winning this contest, you’ve ruined what might be a good chance of getting a story published in a professional market.

This may not be true for all writing contests.  Some may pay more, making it more worthwhile.  Some may produce an actual anthology available for sale or download.  Maybe you only want (or need!) the validation that goes with having your work selected as a winner.  If that is the case, go for it.  But my goal is to make three sales to SFWA-qualifying markets.  If the Virginia Writers Club had selected my story as a winner, that would be one less work I have available to achieve my goal.

Will I submit to future Golden Nib Writing Contests?  Probably.  But they will not be stories hot off the presses.  The works I submit likely will have been rejected by most or all of the SFWA-qualifying markets.  (That’s not a depressing thought at all.)  In other words, it’s a strong candidate to be a trunk story. And maybe I would sound less jaded if the Virginia Writers Club actually published the winning stories even if only on their website. If I won, then I could say I was both a published and award winning author. It just wouldn’t be a notch towards my writing goal.

To give the Virginia Writers Club some credit, it is producing a 100th Anniversary Anthology that actually will be in print.  Unfortunately, the selection process was in 2016, about a year before I joined.

Post #7 – Submission Dilemma



I have a submission dilemma.  Electric Ethenaeum has a call for submissions with a deadline of February 15.  The anthology’s theme is For Future Generations and is about generation starships establishing new colonies.  I have a story that’s perfect.  It falls squarely within the theme and within the required length.  And it’s a story dear to me because it’s the first one I ever began.  (It ended up being the second I ever finished.)

My dilemma is Electric Ethenaeum does not pay a professional rate, which the SFWA defines as $.06/word.  If selected, I’d get 50GBP.  Factoring in currency exchange rates and my story’s word count, this would be the equivalent of $.01/word.  This makes Electric Ethenaeum a semi-professional market.

My original plan was to submit my story to Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  (I am in the final throws of editing the story.)  It falls more in the hard science fiction sub-genre, which Analog specializes in.  If rejected there, I have plenty of other professional market options.  But what if I don’t submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum, and it’s rejected by all the professional markets?  Did I squander a legitimate chance to be published, even by a semi-professional market?  Should I submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum and assume they will reject it, so I then could submit it elsewhere?  If I assume Electric Ethenaeum will reject my story, what does that say about its prospects with the professional markets?  If my goal is to have three stories published by SFWA-qualifying markets, should I even contemplate submitting to a semi-professional market?

Update: I submitted my story to Analog. Fingers crossed!