short story

A Short Story In Print

This week I received two contributor copies for my short story, “The World’s Best Coffee,” that appears in The MacGuffin (Fall 2009). This is my second published short story but the first one I have seen in print. (My first published short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” appeared in The Storyteller that paid a 1/4-cent USD per word and no contributor copy.) I mailed one copy to my Dad since the idea of me being a writer has always been an intangible concept to him and my family.

When we got together for my birthday in August, and my brother asked what I do to keep myself occupied since being laid off on Friday the 13th in February 2009, my Dad said “ceramics” before I could say anything. Ceramics was something my family could immediately grasp, and, at the time, I was working on a big pot. When I mentioned that I had finished writing the 700-page rough draft of my first novel a few months earlier, the room went silent.

Writing to them is intangible until it appears in print in the local bookstores, on the New York Times best seller list, and lavished with praise by the Oprah Book Club on TV. Even when I gave my Dad a copy of my short story collection in a binder, he was more interested in keeping the binder and tossing out the pages. Maybe the new issue of The MacGuffin with my story on pages 68-70 and bio on pages 158-159 will convince him that I’m serious about being a writer.

Then again, maybe not.

This week has also been good for revising the rough draft of my first novel, a coming of age ghost story. I started frequenting the Editors Unleashed website, posted a question in the forum about the manuscript being too long, and a suggestion was made that I split my novel into two volumes. The ideal length for a first time novel should be about 80,000 to 100,000 words. Anything longer or shorter may be a difficult sell. From revising about 1/3 of my novel over the last month, it became obvious that keeping the manuscript under 100,000 words was going to be a difficult task even after cutting out 35,000 words. I still got three notebooks of ideas that never made it into the rough draft.

After careful consideration and a late night of revising the novel structure on paper, I decided to split my novel into two 80,000-word volumes. That fixes a big problem in the rough draft where the halfway point happens at the two-third mark, something that would be painful to fix if the word count was less than 100,000 words. The first volume is strong and complete. The second volume is weak and underdeveloped. The overall structure is now clearer since I have room to run with the story.

Would selling two books be any easier than selling a single long book?

I’m not sure, and, to a certain extent, I really don’t care while revising my work. Something I’ll worry about next year when I start shopping the first volume and polishing the second volume. However, since my novel will fit into the Urban Fantasy market niche, a two-book set shouldn’t be a problem. Ultimately, I think an agent and/or an editor will have to decide how many volumes my novel should be.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Changing Writing Gears

Four years ago when I decided to become a writer after putting it off for 20 years, I wanted to become a full time writer in five years. That was an ambitious and unrealistic goal. Becoming an established writer is taking five years. I think another five years will be needed to entrenched myself into the business of being a writer before I can go full time as a writer. Whenever an artist becomes noticeable success to the mainstream public, the artist has often been toiling away for ten years or more in quiet obscurity. This past month was very good to me with my publication credits list doubling in size. Now I’m changing writing gears for the next three months to prepare for 2010 and the next five years after that.

Last month I finished writing the first part of the rough draft for my second novel. I was planning to use the last month of a three-month break between drafts of my first novel to write two short stories, and take care of all the rejected manuscript submissions that I expected to come in after the summer break. That didn’t happen.

I noticed that I had a new Twitter follower, ElementalHorror, and checked out the Elements of Horror anthology the editor Clive Martyn was putting together. While looking at the submission requirements for short-short horror stories (500 words) involving one of the four elements (air, earth, fire, and wind), a perfectly formed story came to my mind that I immediately wrote and submitted. Within 24 hours after I wrote “Swine of The Earth,” introducing Charles Goodwin of The Giggling Mongoose restaurant and his special ingredient for swine roasted in the earth, the story was accepted for the anthology.

With a restaurant-themed horror story, the fire and water elements were the easiest to incorporate. The earth element was the second hardest, which I wrote first since I couldn’t figure out how to do the air element. After a bit of research over the next few days, I wrote and submitted “Salt of The Air” (curing meat). The story was accepted on the condition that I write the other two elements for four linked flash stories. A few days later I wrote and submitted “Honey of The Fire” (flambé) and “Rice of The Water” (sushi). I had to rewrite the fire story since my surprise husband-wife role reversal fell flat and broke the formula of the other three stories. Removing the role reversal made the revised story became surprisingly kinky. All four Charles Goodwin stories have been accepted for publication.

The good news kept rolling after that. I got the author proofs for “The World’s Best Coffee” that’s been slated The MacGuffin (Fall 2009). “The Unfaithful Camera” is slated Transcendent Visions (January 2010). “The Forgotten Sinner” was accepted this week to appear in Conceit Magazine (December 2009). I have seven stories slated for publication in the next six months. My first and only published short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” appeared 16 months ago in The Storyteller.

After writing four short-short stories for 1,965 words, I wrote and submitted a 6,000-word short story about four teenagers and a killer shopping cart possessed by an angry senior citizen. I felt like I have the Midas touch where everything submitted will automatically be accepted for publication.

A dozen rejection slips made clear that I didn’t have the Midas touch at all, including a few submissions that I thought would be accepted. I got those returned stories back out into the mail to face a cruel world of rejections and rejoin the 50+ manuscripts floating around in the slush piles. I’m submitting my short stories to paid markets from now on. No reason to be giving away my work for contributor copies or nothing at all. Except for poems as there are very few paid markets and I’m still a budding poet.

Writing is still a business and a business needs to make money. Something the IRS will remind me if I don’t start showing a strong profit motive. After four years of writing expenses, I can now figure out how to reduce my burn rate, determine my break-even point, and set financial goals to be operating in the black. I’m thinking about breaking into non-fiction writing to bring in more income. When I prepare my business plan and yearly forecast for this quarter, I’m expecting next year to be financially successful.

With the three month break over, I’m revising the rough draft of my first novel during the week and working on short stories over the weekends. If the next draft is done in three months, I’ll take another three month break to write the second one-third of the rough draft for my second novel, more short stories, and take care of the admin tasks. If not, I’ll take a one-month break to work on short stories and admin tasks before resuming work. I’m still on schedule to have a finished first novel, a finished rough draft of the second novel, a third novel that will be ready to be written, and a finished short story collection, before I go agent hunting in July 2010. When that happens, I will have completed my goal to become an established writer and spend the next five years to become a full time writer.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Chasing The MacGuffin

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon when I received an email from a magazine editor informing me that my short story, “The World’s Best Coffee,” got accepted for publication in The MacGuffin (Fall 2009).

The hard part was restraining myself from stripping down to my undies and run around the neighborhood like Homer Simpson. Something my brother did one year when he got drunk from ten tequila shots on his birthday, and, being the president of the homeowner association, the neighbors recognized him in his undies, and he hid in the hallway closet when the cops showed up. After the euphoria wore off, I started looking at the details of this submission.

With two dozen short stories written during the last three years circulating in the slush piles, it’s difficult to remember what’s what and where’s where. After reviewing the story and checking the submission tracking spreadsheet, I realized something that I didn’t know until today: I wrote a MacGuffin story that I submitted to a magazine that specializes in MacGuffin stories.

Well, d’oh!

A MacGuffin is the object in a mystery story that everyone wants but isn’t what everything thinks it is. “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett is a classic example. My short story about a cup of coffee stolen by a guy being chased by the woman who ordered the coffee throughout the shopping center, and, after drinking the coffee, he discovers that the woman has his wallet that fallen out at the coffee shop. When the woman hands over the wallet to the police officer and she sees the man, she points him out as the owner of the wallet and the creep who stole her coffee.

In short, the story was never really about the coffee.

This short story was like many of the short stories that I have written was inspired by a real life situation. I had ordered a medium mocha with whip cream at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Santana Row one weekend morning. After waiting a few minutes, my order was ready. A guy stepped in front of me, picked up my mocha, and ran out the door before anyone could react. There’s nothing you can do about a stolen coffee in a crowded store and shopping center. Who in their right mind would file a police report over a stolen cup of coffee? After the store made another cup of mocha for me, I started thinking about the obvious question that came to my writer’s mind: “What would happen if someone did follow the guy out the store in pursuit of the stolen coffee?”

The basic scenario came together when I went over to the bookstore to look around while drinking my replacement mocha. I wrote out the basic scenario on a notepad when I got back to the car. The notepad later became a 1,000-word short story. The Macguffin was the fifth magazine where I submitted the story. I ended up writing the perfect story for the perfect magazine without ever thinking about either one.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.