On Getting Your Writing Anthologized

Imagine this, but the 2012 version, coming soon (October) with MY writing inside!

The moment you find out, you get this warm, fuzzy, ridiculously happy feeling. And then you look at previous editions of the anthology on Amazon to see their popularity/sales ranking. Then you look at those same past editions on Goodreads to see how many people actually read them and liked them. And then you go and rewrite your author bio everywhere it exists on the internet or in your files, never copying and pasting it but rather rewriting it over and over again so you can revel in the excitement and joy of this accomplishment and do a little happy dance every time you start typing out the new sentence “. . . and with work anthologized by Press 53.”

I actually got the call informing me I had been awarded Honorable Mention, and would thus be included in the anthology, a few weeks ago. But they asked that I keep it hushed until they had made the official announcement.

FINALLY! I can celebrate with all of you!

Writing is Like Digging for Diamonds

I was once told that writing is like excavating diamonds. Raw diamonds are naturally stuck in big chunks of worthless rock that is in turn buried deep in the mud. Stories, similar to diamonds, have an essentially perfect, natural form and the writer’s job is to chip away all the rock and crud until the pure diamond is exposed.

I’ve been toying with this idea for a long time and I like it, in theory. It makes the purpose of editing rather clear: all the superfluous descriptions, dialogue, and scenes that add no real value to your writing is the worthless crud you need to scrape off the diamond. Story therefore already exists, lurking beneath the surface, perfectly formed. It’s just waiting for the right person with the right excavation tools and skill set. This doesn’t mean that everyone can succeed if they start digging. Even if the diamond already exists, the writer could leave too much “in the rough,” or could possibly dig up only a portion of the story, thereby reducing its ultimate value. A one-caret diamond might be great, but not compared to the ten-caret diamond you might have just broke it off of.

I’m not sure if this is true for fiction writing, because when I write fiction the story is always evolving and I don’t think I ever end up writing–or excavating, as the metaphor would say–the original gem that I expected to dig up out of my imagination. But I do believe this metaphor is true when it comes to creative non-fiction, or memoir.

Like most writers, I normally go through drafts and drafts and more drafts when I’m writing a fiction story. But when I’m writing a piece of memoir, I have to stew on the moment, the specific memory or event that I want to write about. Because to me, it really only happened one way. There is only one way to tell it. And I have to wait for the correct sentences to float to the surface of my imagination:

  • Using a metal detector, I search over wide areas looking for the hidden treasure. I dig up a lot of worthless dirty pennies along the way.
  • Once I’ve located a diamond, it’s time for the careful process of chipping away the crud still clinging to it.

When I wrote my most recent memoir piece, “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father,” I only wrote it once. In fact, it was already completely written in my head before I wrote it down.

I used to drive 2.5 hours from university back home for occasional weekend visits and holidays. I like to drive late at night when it’s dark and nobody else is on the road to cause traffic congestion or stress. Free of distractions, the title popped into my head first. Then the first line, “Usually, the first question people ask is how long it’s going to take before you ‘get over it.'” Then the whole first paragraph and then the entire story gurgled up out of my subconscious, bursting with the desire to be written down in its pure unadulterated form before I dropped it back in the mud. For the rest of the ride, I repeated those sentences over and over to myself so I wouldn’t forget them. When I snuck into my mom’s house at 1 AM, I wrote the whole story down, as fast as I could, before falling asleep.

Honestly, I don’t think I altered more than a few words here and there, to avoid repetition, when I edited that story the next morning. To me, then, memoir is already written. It’s just a matter of mining out the perfect gem.

What do you think? Do you agree with the diamond-digging metaphor?

(Image, Creative Commons, The National Archives)

Published in The Susquehanna Review: “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father”

Lots of good news! As some of you know, I had a story accepted by the national undergraduate literary journal, The Susquehanna Review, back in June.* This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for the 2011-2012 issue which means that:

  1. My short non-fiction piece, “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father” (which won the 2011 Bloomsburg University English Department Award for Creative Non-Fiction and 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s Creative Non-Fiction Contest) is finally published!
  2. I got my hands on a copy of the journal (so excited to read it from start to finish!)
  3. As the launch party was a celebration of the dual launch of both the print journal and the online journal, you can read it for yourself now too!

All contributing writers who attended were granted the opportunity to read their writing to a big room of people. While being video taped.

Have I ever mentioned that I recently developed a slight fear of public speaking? It stems from a really horrific public speaking class I was required to take in college. Before taking it, I liked public speaking the same way I’ve always enjoyed reading books aloud to my younger sister and to unsuspecting passerbyers I can convince to sit still long enough to listen. Not that I was an impressive orator by any means, with long passages memorized, or the ability to speak with a passionate eloquence which could thrill an attentive audience. If I didn’t have the confidence that I was good at it, I at least had the confidence that I could do it and that I had the right to stand in front of people and be heard. So therefore, I had no natural build-up of nerves when I prepared for my first graded speech presentation. That was, I wasn’t nervous until the professor dedicated an entire class period to a never-ending, incredibly detailed list of reasons why one should be afraid of public speaking and the knee-quivering, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding effects that everyone should have. “If you don’t have these feelings,” he told us, “it’s unnatural.”

Therefore, when I stood at the podium (read: music stand) with my printed story in hand, I was more annoyed than nervous when my voice started to quiver and break, when my heart started to race so fast that I was gulping to keep it in my chest, and when my legs started to shake underneath me like an earthquake (not ideal when one is wearing five-inch-high heeled boots). Thankfully, my voice evened out after a page and, since my story is rather emotional, perhaps listeners chalked it up to that. Two really nice students came up to me afterwards to shake my hand, compliment the story, and admit that they had been reduced to tears in their seats. I was still so flustered that my manners failed me and I didn’t do more than mumble an awkward apology for causing them to cry–and I certainly didn’t manage to ask their names–but if you’re reading this, thank you again! [waves through computer screen]

In other good news, I’ve been featured on the Bloomsburg University College of Liberal Arts blog. It talks more about the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, if you’re interested in that. You can read the post here.

*Personal Submission Response Time: 3 months, 6 days.

Dear Writers: Read This For Your Own Good

Making editorial assistants cry is the equivalent to killing kittens: (1) it’s soulless; (2) selfish; and if these adjectives don’t scare you off, at the very least it’s (3) frowned upon. So read about how to avoid this cardinal sin over at the INTERN’s blog. (Here’s a hint: be a smart submitter and savvy negotiator before you get giddy and legally-foolish over the opportunity of being a published author.)

Also, if you’re having a hard time figuring out which writing contests are legitimate, or if you’re consistently losing money in a never-ending pattern of failed contest submissions, consider asking these six questions before entering another writing contest.

In more light-hearted news, for your significant other’s own good–or a potential significant other approaching upon the horizon–have them read the “10 Reasons Not to Sleep with an Essayist.” It’s only right to give them fair warning.

“To the New Owners of My Childhood Home,” an Excerpt from Weave Magazine

Not the most recent or attractive photo of my house, but the only one currently on hand. You get a glimpse of the colors, though!

I live in a pink and green house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Our living room is orange. Our kitchen ceiling is pink plaid. Every surface in my mother’s bedroom is purple: the rug, the bedding, the walls; she even painted her antique wood furniture lavender. It wasn’t the first house I lived in, but it’s the one I grew up in. In three years, my sister will graduate from high school and my mom will retire. In three years, my mom will put our rainbow of a house on the market and move down to North Carolina.

Even though I’m moving out of my childhood home later this month and across the border to New Jersey, I’m a little nostalgic at the idea of my mom giving up our house for good. I was half hoping she would abandon the idea, so that in a decade or so I can still come home to the same familiar place for Thanksgiving, and can forever look at the wall marked with my sister and mines growing spurts. But last year she bought a house–the retirement house–in North Carolina and she’s renting it out until she’s ready to move. It’s official.

Now accepting that we’ll really be selling our house, I realized that no matter how much we pack and how carefully we clean, we’re inevitably going to leave a lot behind. You can’t help it. For example, when we first moved in, I remember finding forgotten toy soldiers everywhere: buried in mud puddles, in the sandbox, and even shoved into the crannies between bricks in the fireplace. They were a reminder of the boys who used to live there. I decided to write a friendly, theoretical letter to the future homeowners, to prepare them for unusual things my family will leave scattered about the property.

Isn't this cover amazing?

Weave magazine liked the story enough to publish it and, if you’re not already a subscriber, you can order Issue 7 and read the whole story. I gave Weave first publication rights and I don’t want to be disrespectful and publish the whole story online, but in celebration of its publication and the magazine’s arrival in my mailbox today (so excited to read the rest of the contents!) I thought I’d give you all a little taste.

 

To the New Owners of My Childhood Home

I assure you, it’s in your best interests not to dig in the following places:

  1. The cranny of lawn nestled next to the raised strawberry beds;
  2. Underneath the bleeding hearts in the back yard; and
  3. Among the roots next to the brick walkway.

You will find dead bodies.

The Scoop on New South Journal

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the rejection letters I got in the past month was for New South, the official literary art journal of George State University. I submitted a fiction story that I’ve been shopping around for two years now–a story I’ve fixed-up, reorganized, and rewrote at the recommendation of different editors (and at my own recommendation as my writing has improved over time and each old version becomes stale) for the same length of time. It’s gotten more rejection letters than all of my other rejection letters combined,* but I simply cannot abandon it and put it in a drawer. It won the 2009 Fuller Fiction Award, an undergraduate award specifically for Bloomsburg University students, and got an “almost, but we don’t have time to wait for the edits” rejection letter.** This convinces me that it must have some literary merit and I am determined to find people who agree. Have any of you gone through similar repetitive experiences with a submission? Did it pay off?

In any case, New South isn’t the right home for this story, but it might be for your work! Check out the information below, read some excerpts from past issues here, and consider submitting.

What They Want:  “New South seeks to publish high quality work, regardless of genre, form, or regional ties. We are looking for what is new, what is fresh, what is different, whether it comes from the Southern United States, the South of India, or the North, East or West of Anywhere. ” This can come in the form of one fiction story up to 9,000 words in length, or up to five short-shorts under 1,000 words each; up to five poems; creative nonfiction or lyric essay up to 9,000 words in length. For criticism, please query first.

How They Want It: Via their own online submission manager, Tell It Slant. See further submission guidelines here.

When They Want It: Anytime. Rolling submissions.

Contests? Yes! They’re having one right now; there are awards for both prose and poetry. Grand prize is $1,000.

Simultaneous Submissions Allowed? Yes.

Paid Market? No.

Official Submission Response Time: Not mentioned.

Personal Submission Response Time: 2 months, 9 days

*This isn’t actually true. The story has gotten ten rejection letters total and I’ve certainly received more rejection letters than that.

**”Why not resubmit there?” you ask. Well, the journal in question, Glass Mountain, only accepts undergraduate writing and by the time the next period of open submissions rolled around, I had graduated. It’s an excellent journal though, so if you’re an undergraduate, definitely consider submitting!

I Won and I’m Sharing the Prize with All of You!

I hope you all participated in the awesome free literary magazine contest Writer’s Relief hosted, took advantage of the super-discounted subscriptions, and are looking forward to a lovely journal coming to a mailbox near you!  After a long week of form rejection letters (I’ll talk about some of them later) it was a welcome surprise to learn that I am one of the winners (make sure you check the list!  Maybe you’re on it and you didn’t realize!) and am now a free-subscriber to Prime Mincer Literary Journal.  It’s a brand new publication that seems to only have one issue thus far–my favorite kind of literary journal to read and to submit to!–so I’m super excited.  It’s a print journal that publishes three times a year (March 15th, July 15th, and November 15th).  To make it feel like we all won, I solemnly promise to write up a summary review of the first issue as soon as I receive it so you’ll get a taste of whether you want to subscribe yourself or have something that would live happily ever after on its pages.  In the mean time, here’s the basic overview:

What They Want:  fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. They “desire first, and foremost, solid, well-crafted and intelligent work, and beyond that are very open minded as far as form and style. Our hope is to push the creative envelope, give artists a place to take risks, and to bring a fresh, modern feel to the world of creative writing. To clarify, this does not mean that we publish only the strange and extraordinary. We love traditional fiction, but want to allow it to breathe and flourish outside of the confines of the creative writing workshop. Prime Mincer is a place to play, explore, create and exhibit, and we invite you to bring your most interesting work forward.”

How They Want It: via submittable (submishmash changed its name).

When They Want It:  The deadline for the winter edition is already done (October 1st) but it seems they have rolling acceptance.

Who They Want It From: “Although we plan on publishing established writers, we are excited at the prospect of getting first dibs on new talent, so submit away.”  (Meh.  I don’t really approve of this selectivity process, especially from new start-up publications who are not affiliated with a university, but it’s a free country so whatever floats your boat.  Just don’t make this your first submission ever, in your life, and try to beef up your publication credits before you submit.  And here’s an example of my own author’s bio.)

Archives: True, they have not published yet, but they have a few things online to give a flavor of who they are.  See here.

Submission Response Time: Unknown.

**Simultaneous submissions are fine (as long as you follow the polite writer rules) but previously published work is not.