Philadelphia Literary Journal Pride

As I’ve been combing through Duotrope, New Pages, and Poets & Writer’s in search of new markets to submit my writing to over the past few weeks I’ve slowly come to the realization that Philadelphia has a promising up-and-coming literary scene! Not that Philadelphia shouldn’t naturally be super literary and cultural–it is one of the most historic and largest cities on the East Coast–but Philadelphia, at least from my viewpoint, has been in a bit of a hibernation-mode in recent years. Honestly, people keep leaving the Philadelphia area in favor of New York and Boston and DC because the city has been going stale. Cool restaurants have been closing, there isn’t much of a shopping-draw, the only good stuff that does exist is rather expensive–concerts and the like–and it’s generally unsafe in most areas so nobody wants their cars to get vandalized or walk around the streets exploring after dark. So the fact that literary journals are budding out of this environment like a bed of tulip bulbs is rather exciting!

Though Philadelphia Stories and Apiary magazine are the only two that show clear favoritism towards Philadelphia/Pennsylvania writers and themes in their editorial mission statements, the fact that a whole bunch of exciting, new, innovative, and ultimately successful literary journals are springing up out of Philadelphia gives me hope that lots more good things are to come!

On the old side, Painted Bride Quarterly is one of the country’s longest running literary magazines, circa 1973, and is in-part staffed by Drexel University students. On the new side, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, a non-profit flash-prose journal associated with Rosemont College, only launched last year. Same with TINGE magazine, staffed by graduate students in Temple University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and Nailpolish Stories, the brainchild of Philadelphia writer Nicole Monaghan.

Dear Philadelphia: I’m proud of you. Good show.

Do you have some local literary journals you’re extra fond of just because they call your town home?

(Image, No Copyright,

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To the Glitter End . . . Get Your Nailpolish Stories Published!

I’ve heard a lot of people wonder aloud who the lucky guy is who gets to invent awesome crayon color names for a living (did you know there’s 120 core Crayola color names?). Seriously, can you imagine coming up with brilliant creative names like “macaroni and cheese” and “mango tango” and getting paid for it? The same goes for nail polish colors. “French Quarter for Your Thoughts,” “Ski Teal We Drop,” and “Barefoot in Barcelona”–what great names! And, as Nicole Monaghan, the founding editor of the flash fiction online journal, Nailpolish Stories, believes, what a great inspiration for a story!Fiction submissions must be 25 words, exactly, not including the title (and the title has to be a nail polish color). Ms. Monaghan is looking for stories that use powerful language, a minimum of adjectives, and that stuff a lot into a little space. Check out the full submission guidelines here.

Even if you don’t end up submitting to the journal, I’d encourage you to use this as a fun writing exercise. There are so many different nail polish colors–you could get lost in the amount of inspiration they offer!–and it doesn’t take long to write a 25 word story. I wrote ten one afternoon and loved the ideas they sparked up. Write a whole bunch and get your creative writing juices flowing! Maybe it’ll end up being the first sentence to your next novel!

Introducing the Rejected Page

In the interest of compiling all my submission records (Submittable and Duotrope) into one, organized location rather than expecting readers to dig through the archives of posts to find out who, when, and where I’ve submitted and what the submission response time was, I present to you a Rejected list. Similar in structure to Court Merrigan’s Failure Page, it’s intended to expose you to lovely literary journals you might never have heard of before and to give you a general idea, as this blog originally intended, of how long you can expect to wait before receiving a rejection or acceptance letter. So instead of sporadically forcing a Slow Sunday blog post upon you, you can check the list whenever the fancy strikes. Also you can check out my published page to learn about other great journals and magazines!

Does this format work for you, or is there valuable missing information you’d like me to include? I’m open to suggestions :]

How to Edit Out the “Boring” in your Writing

I wrote a particular short story (fiction) two summers ago and was pretty proud of it. I did everything you’re supposed to do–give it to other people to critique, let it sit untouched in a drawer for a couple weeks before reading it again–and after several rounds of editing over the course of a few months, I felt good enough about it to submit it to a slew of literary journals.

It slowly got rejected, one at a time, and has been waiting for a response at one hold-out journal for over a year. This week, I decided it was time to dust it off and submit it for another round of publications. To refresh myself on the story and get a good idea of what journals might be interest, I reread the story.

And I was horrified by the writing.

It wasn’t bad, exactly. I still loved the story idea, but the thing that really nagged me was that there were clunky stage directions everywhere that were:

  1. Boring;
  2. Dragging down the pace of the plot; and
  3. Unnecessary boring details.

What do I mean by stage directions exactly?

Well, here is an example of some of the original sentences:

George clicked the garage door opener. He scurried under the lifting door to lean over and sniff the tuna fish cans he had prepared the night before.

George put down the platter and ran back to the house. He returned with a gallon of bleach.

He dropped the empty bottle next to the platter, grabbed hold of the rope ladder, climbed up, and squeezed through the tree house’s child-sized doorway.

And here’s what they ended up being after some very necessary cutting:

The cans of tuna fish were artfully arranged on an antique silver platter, its surface etched with delicate curlicues, which he had polished for the occasion. George sniffed the food and smiled.

Grinding his teeth, George ran back to the house to fetch a gallon of bleach.

Feeling light-headed, he clung first to the rope ladder as it swayed with each step and then to the tree house’s child-sized doorway as he squeezed through.

There’s less “he did this here and then he moved this way and put this thing down and picked this thing up.” I don’t need to say he opened the garage door. The reader doesn’t care if he opened the garage door. If they know he’s in the garage, they can assume the first part. The reader doesn’t care if he put something down first before leaving. And the reader certainly doesn’t need to have it spelled out for them that the character climbed the rope ladder. In the original I was telling stage directions rather than showing what the character was up to.

I feel better about the story, now, and more confident that future editors will enjoy the piece more/give it the time of day. And the editing was easy, in a way, because the stage directions were glaring at me, begging to be sliced, while the rest of the prose was able to stand pretty much unscathed. But I’m rather upset that I wasted time submitting a sub-par story and even more upset that even though I certainly didn’t rush through the rewriting and editing stages, I didn’t notice that it needed work.

Have you ever had this happen to you before? Long after you’ve submitted some writing, you realize that it needs a ton more work? What sort of boring stuff do you tend to include in your writing, but edit out later?

(Image, No Copyright, National Media Museum)

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.

“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.

All I Want For Christmas is an Acceptance Letter

It’s not really the only thing I want this year (I’d really like Bank of America to stop dragging their feet–they’re taking so long that paperwork keeps expiring and we have to resubmit things over and over again–and let me buy the condo I’ve been waiting on for months so I’ll actually have a place to live) but an acceptance letter would be a nice gift to receive! I’ve gotten several rejection letters as of late and haven’t been submitting great quantities of new short stories anywhere, but I am still waiting to hear a “yes” or “no” from the following:

Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th, 2011; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)  Official Response Time:  unknown

Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Contest (date submitted: October 16th, 2011; what submitted: 1 fiction) Official Response Time: December 31st

Literary Laundry (date submitted: October 1st, 2011; what submitted: 1 fiction) Official Response Time: 6 months or under

Tennessee Williams Fiction Contest (date submitted: November 13th, 2011; what submitted: 1 fiction) Official Response Time: March 1st, 2012

Press 53 (date submitted: September 24th, 2011; what submitted: 1 non-fiction) Official Response Time: July 1, 2012

I never heard back from skirt.com and on their submission page they state that if they don’t respond within eight weeks, then it’s a rejection. This, I would just like to mention, is my greatest pet peeve as a writer–especially when they don’t even confirm receipt of your submission–so I’m not even sure if someone read my story. Let’s hope that all publications make a New Year’s resolution to use submission managers like submittable from now on!