Please Sir, Can I Have Some MORE Historical Fiction?

Having been neck-deep in all the historical research and hundreds of old black-and-white photographs I needed to write my book over the past eight months, my love of history has been refreshed. I’m now constantly craving good old TCM films; episode marathons of Downton Abbey, Vegas, and American Pickers; and as much historical fiction as I can get my hands on. I’ve become obsessed with some other history-related things, including Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks, a blog about historical fiction writing by a team of YA historical fiction authors (I look forward to their posts every Monday and Wednesday!) and Stuff You Missed in History Class, a podcast from the How Stuff Works website that is chock-full of interesting and obscure stories, legends, and shipwrecks, perfect for the daily commute. (I’ve blown through more than 100 podcasts in the past two months. They’re so good!)

If you’re into historical fiction too, I’d definitely recommend some of the ones I’ve read most recently:

5. The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe. Titanic, Boston, WWI, 1800s Shanghai, Spiritualism, opium, and crystal balls. What more could you ask for??

4. Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood. An alternative history, so not for the historical fiction purist, but an authentic Puritan New England feel, complete with magic and witch hunts.

3. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. This is the first in a trilogy (the second one is really good too!) set in contemporary London with a heavy bit of time travel to the eighteen century. Awesome attention to the detail of period clothes, too!

2. Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. Set in 1950s Communist China. Starvation, propaganda, and a few love story plot lines–you’ll never look at a grain of rice the same way again.

1. Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers. Set in 1485 Brittany, this is historical fantasy at its best, complete with a convent of assassin nuns, political betrayals, a love story, and some Middle Age mysticism.

Do you have any other favorite historical fiction books to recommend?

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3 Awesome Indie Publishers

The reworked query* for Rooted in the Sky is currently sitting in the inboxes of three more lovely small publishers: Red Hen Press, Dzanc Books, and Atticus Books.

All three promise to reply within six months.

so.much.waiting.

In all likelihood, Claire and I won’t know what these publishers think about her book until New Years’! That feels so incredibly far away. There is still a whole stretch of summer and beaches and apple festivals and haunted houses and turkey dinners between now and then. With this heat wave going on, I can’t even wrap my mind around the idea that there will be a time when snow blankets everything and I will be wearing boots but will still be miserably cold.

It’s a good thing we writers are patient and virtuous.

Not.

It will, I keep reminding myself, be well worth the wait should one of these publishers eventually indicate interest in Rooted in the Sky. Most broadly, I picked these three publishers because of their huge commitment to quality literary novels and their taste for unusual characters with unusual quests (definitely fits the bill, as you’ll see in the summary below).

Also, on a side note: In this process I totally judge publishers by their book covers–I believe it is reflective of their commitment to properly producing and promoting an author’s work (say that three times fast!)–and Atticus Books, in my opinion, has some of the best cover designs.

How beautiful are these?

*Seriously, who couldn’t find this improved summary–and the book it promises–tasty?

Having never wanted to become a mother, recently widowed Hannah gives birth to a daughter who, growing up, wants nothing more than her mother’s undivided affection. Committed to purifying herself and pursuing sainthood rather than motherhood, Hannah escapes on foot to the Utah desert and leaves her daughter, Frances, to be raised by a Mormon grandfather and a Catholic nun. Together, this eclectic family lives in a pod-like architectural masterpiece, a home which hangs from the side of a mountain. Each room is an ode to nature: a desert room made of sandstone, a jungle forest kitchen, and a living room with a crystal-clear ocean floor. No matter how far they physically or spiritually distance themselves, however, neither mother nor daughter can escape the voices of the inanimate world as animals, rocks, trees, and buried bones speak to them, whispering secrets about the end of days.

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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!

Making a Writing Schedule

Since I graduated from college a year ago, I haven’t really been able to settle into a routine. Too many things are always up in the air, half-baked plans for new adventures sprout mid-afternoon, spoiling my plans for a writing night in, and for awhile I was commuting three hours a day which consumed any writing time I could possibly squeeze in. When I moved into my new condo, thereby cutting my commute in half and finally being able to organize my very own writing space, I thought I’d be able to get in a routine similar to college, where entire blocks of time were strictly dedicated to each activity–how else would everything get done??–but instead of classes and library time, I’d have hours available to write every day. But still, I’m just writing “when I have time,” squeezing it in randomly.

I thought this whole write-when-I-can plan was working well until I really sat down and budgeted out my time–being as realistic and honest as possible–on a spreadsheet. I was faced with the hard facts that I was really only writing maybe two or three hours a week. Inspired by Lindsey’s recent blog post about finding time to write and her suggestion that you draw up an official writing schedule, I’m going to start doing that. It’ll force me to wake up earlier a few days a week to get an hour of writing in. It’ll force me to adhere to the schedule as soon as I walk in the door after work, rather than plopping down on the couch and letting time slip away, telling myself I’ll get around to it in a few minutes.

With my new schedule, I’ll be writing 14 hours a week. Let’s see if I can stick to it!

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The Indie Path to Publishing

The last time I mentioned Rooted in the Sky and my efforts to get it independently published,* I had submitted it to Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and Ashland Creek Press. We’re still waiting to hear back from Ashland, but Claire recently opened  her mailbox to find a form rejection letter from Algonquin.

I’m not worried though. Rejection is inevitable. In the meantime, Rooted in the Sky has been submitted to:

Unbridled Books: estimated 10-week wait

Soft Skull Press: estimated 29-week wait

Graywolf Press: estimated 12 to 24-week wait

Elixir Press (2012 Fiction Award): Unknown wait time

Being a writer requires so.much.patience. The only thing to do is to keep busy by simultaneously submitting it to a slew of other publishers.

*Remember, when I say “independent publishing,” I’m not talking about self-publishing a book, but rather having a book published by an independent publisher. There’s a huge crowd of very respectable, smaller “independent” publishers who do all the publishing and distribution work, free of charge, and provide (small) advances and respectable royalties rates. It’s a mini version of getting published with one of the Big 6, without a literary agent acting as the go-between.

Story Published in Underwater New York

It’s a bit of an unusual premise: create something prompted by one of many strange objects and phenomenon submerged in NYC’s various bodies of water. The list of objects includes things like a shinbone in the New York Harbor, a dead giraffe in the Lower New York Bay, a bag full of lottery tickets in Prospect Park, and lizard skin purses in Dead Horse Bay. Just think of all the possibilities!  My flash fiction story, for example, was inspired by a pair of silicone breast implants that were found washed up on Coney Island; if you look, there are three other interpretations of the implants’ origins. Underwater New York is a digital journal that publishes these “stories from the deep,” in whatever form they come: short fiction, flash fiction, songs, and artwork.

If you’re interested in submitting something yourself, the only rule is that you stay true to the object; for example, if it was found on Coney Island, then it must be located there in your story too.

Hope this helps get your creative juices flowing!

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Dear Literary Journals, Remember the Golden Rule?

There is a certain mid-level publication* which, I have decided, will remain nameless, who sent me a rejection letter recently. A perfectly polite form rejection letter. I agreed with them. Since I submitted the story to them, I’ve reread the story–been thoroughly horrified by how silly a writer I was back then–and rewritten the story to, what I believe, great effect. The original version I submitted to them didn’t deserve to be published. No hard feelings.

I do have hard feelings over how long it took them to get back to me, though. You see, I submitted this short story in January 2011. Yeah, it took them fifteen months to get back to me with a rejection letter. This is particularly horrifying when contrasted with their promised response time: six months. And the fact that they are one of the rare bird publications that don’t allow simultaneous submissions. They expect exclusive rights to view your work, and then don’t get back to you for more than a year!

I understand that editors are busy people. Really, I do. So about two months after I should have heard back from them, I sent a very polite email. Just checking in that my story hadn’t been lost (I saw it was “In-Progress” on Submittable.com, but still) if there was a projected average response time, and how I was interested in potentially interviewing an editor for my blog.

No response.

Since then, I had sent two more, very polite emails, and two equally polite Facebook inbox messages (their editors update the content on their Facebook fan page every.single.day.)

Nada.

And now the informal rejection letter. I just wish somebody had thought it worth their time to say, in response to one of my many messages, “Hey, we’ll get back to you.” Something vague and unhelpful, but at least a response. Proof that the journal is run by real people, not a hoard of robots.

Let’s just say I’m not planning on dooming one of my stories to a year of hard-time, languishing in this literary journal’s inbox, ever again.

*By “mid-level publication” I mean it’s decently well-known, respectable publication, but it doesn’t pay the contributors a cent, which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing, and is, on the ladder system, definitely several dozen rungs below some really swoon-worthy publications that serve as massive high-points in a writer’s career, like Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, New Yorker, and Hayden Ferry’s Review.