Saturday, September 17, 2011

Game Change

No, not a movie about Sarah Palin.

Because that would be REAL horror.

But more about my evolving.....well, plan?  Philosophy?  Regarding short stories.  First, a quick review:  long ago, in a land  far, far away (college, almost fifteen years ago), I sold my first short story for a meager sum of $10, at the tender age of 23.   Enough for a Pepsi and Taco Bell, with change left over.  High times for this poor college student.

And then I proceeded to ignore the short story for the next 15 years.

Because, I was going to be a novelist, see.  Bestselling.  Had no time for piddly little short stories.  Besides, I could barely keep my word count down to 10,000 words.  How to write a short story of only 5,000 or less?

Anyway, fast forward a few years.  Had just read Stephen King's seminal On Writing. Rearranged my entire outlook, started thinking of myself as just a "writer".  Got into writing reviews and articles - and, short stories.  I started hunting for specific submission calls, because at that point, those were easier.  At least they gave me topics to think about.  And, after a few rejections, lightening struck: I sold my first story to the first edition of The Midnight Diner for $100, and my story won Editor's Choice Awards.

Fast forward another year.  Had written a lot of bad stories (or maybe they weren't so bad) that I wasted on bad publications.  Then sold four more stories - to Abominations, Northern Haunts, Malpractice and Raw: Brutality As Art - once again, to themed anthologies.  Out of all those stories, "The Water of God of Clarke Street" (Abominations) was the best, because it had been written internally, independently, not as a response to submissions call.  I'd just stumbled over the Shroud web page one day, saw the submissions call, and it fit.

Fast forward some more.  Kind of a dry spell,  mostly because I was busy working on Hiram Grange & The Chosen One.  My story Lonely Places was accepted into the third edition of The Midnight Diner - a story originally written for several different themed anthologies.   Another story of mine - one I consider my best, to date (which isn't saying a whole lot) Almost Home, had been solicited for the now-dead Doorways Magazine.  

At that point, I felt pretty good about myself.  Hiram had gotten lots of great reviews, a few Stoker recommendations, and I'd built up a small but perhaps respectable base of short story work.  Also, I'd sold about 7 nonfiction shorts to major inspirational markets, so things seemed to be chugging along at a nice pace.

And then, the wall.

Rejection.  Rejection.


More rejections.  

A little bruised on the short story front, I relaxed into my novel.  Then, after finishing work on that, shifted over to this new project that's totally consuming me, a character that literally won't get out of my head - which I take as a good sign, because that's what Hiram Grange did to me two years ago.

But then, I saw more submission calls for short stories, and tried again.  Because here's a little secret...

I really, really, really want to become a great short story writer.

And I'm really, really, really not a great short story writer.

So, yeah.

More rejections.

I've thought about it a lot, though.  And have come to the following conclusions.  Some of these you've seen before, some of them have evolved from conclusions you've seen before:

1. In my life right now - with a 6 and 4 year old at home, teaching full time - I've only got time to focus on one project at a time.

2. Not only am I no longer attempting themed submissions calls...I'm not going to attempt submission calls of ANY kind.   Because what I do now...and almost did for the new Borderlands submissions call - is see a call, drop everything I'm doing, bang out a quick story BECAUSE of that call.  NOT because it's a great story that won't let me go.

3. When I'm done with my current project, have proofed it to death and sent it to pre-readers, I'm just going to take some time and write several short stories.  With no destinations in mind.  No clear idea of where to submit.  But I've got a notebook FULL of story ideas that DESERVE the same effort and blood and sweat and tears that I exert on my longer fiction.  I need to AGONIZE over my short work as I do my long work, not because a deadline is looming somewhere....but for the best reason of all....

Because I WANT to.

And HAVE to.

Because when I think of my BEST short work - really, only "Water God of Clarke Street"  and "Almost Home" (which has now been accepted somewhere else I can tell you about soon) come to mind - those stories were generated INTERNALLY.   Because I HAD to write about them.  Not to meet a themed anthology,  or because a submissions call came out.  I wrote and wrote and wrote and FINISHED them, then stumbled over places to send them.

So, my revelation for the day.  Not all that huge, I'm sure.  But more and more, I've been steering myself away from all my writing PLANS, focusing on the only thing that's important right now: my writing NEEDS.

I'm a writer.

I NEED to write.

And that's the best - maybe the only - reason to do so.