Archive for October, 2013
Sometimes writing to publish seems futile. Yes, I have published stories, but one wonders how many people read them/have read them? And if the only audience is my writing group and a select few others, why bother? I know the “correct” answer is, because I must. But must I sit and type and edit? Before I was a writer, I used to daydream stories. If I am not going to have an audience, why not do this again? It might be as personally satisfying and the editing can go on forever since I’m unlikely to remember what exact changes I’ve made. My house might be cleaner since daydreaming is compatible with vacuuming or dusting. It doesn’t, of course, accomplish two things; more than likely it won’t lead to growth as a storyteller or writer, nor does it do much for communication. As far as I know, no one is able to read my mind.
In the past, the first choice for publication was hard copy literary journals with their often dismal subscriber numbers. More prestigious, but how many people actually read each issue? Of course there are big-name journals with larger circulations, but the majority of these journals are less well-known and have small readerships. I suspect some of the students at the colleges, which publish the smaller journals read some of the stories and poems, but the I’d be willing to bet the largest audience is potential contributors. Yes, this may lead to readers, but I know I buy copies of journals, try to get engaged in a few stories, and then quit. One or two journals routinely published stories I read all the way through—StoryQuarterly being one—but overall I found only the occasional story interesting, and I seldom remembered the name of the author.
At one time I read The Atlantic, mostly for the fiction, so when they stopped including a story, I quit subscribing. Normally I purchase the fiction issue, although this summer I neglected to pick one up at the local newsstand. I also regularly purchased The Best American Short Stories. The stories in both these sources are usually more promising than those in random issues of literary magazines. In 2012, I didn’t buy the annual anthology as the stories, always well written, have taken on a sameness, featuring the same authors from the same sources. Besides, instead of being the best stories written, I feel they more accurately should be described as the best stories according to Heidi Pitlor; in most cases, this editor screens the stories before sending them off to the guest editor to pick. The truth is, I often found the comments on the genesis of the stories included, as well as the brief biographies of the authors more engaging than the stories themselves.
Internet journals, especially ten years ago, weren’t highly regarded, but there was a chance people would actually read the stories. Most of them were free. Many of them were short. And there were all those writers looking for places for their own work that either didn’t want to spend the money on the print journals or knew their material wasn’t exactly right for literary markets. Many of the online places made commenting easy, too. For me, the idea of readers on the Internet was tempting. I also liken these Internet journals to the “little magazines” that were published in the past.
For a while, a writer friend googled herself to see if anyone had commented on her stories. I’ve had a difficult time finding my stuff on the Internet, especially by writer name. Every variation of my name, except my married name, is very common. But one time my googling friend found a comment someone had made on one of my stories and forwarded it to me. I enjoyed reading this person’s reaction and commentary on my idea.
Even though the journal, Bewildering Stories, this story was published in has a very high acceptance rate according to Duotrope statistics, it pleased me that someone chose to comment on it and discuss it. Not sure I can ever find the comments again, though!
In case anyone is wondering about the genesis of this story, I wrote the first draft while driving home from visiting my in-laws in Roswell, NM.
For me, one sign of a good workshop or conference is making a new friend. Pre-Internet I meet a woman at the first conference I attended, the Southwest Writers’ Workshop. We reconnected at the yearly conference. Between times we exchanged manuscripts. By the time email became the main mode of communication, we’d lost touch. She divorced and I don’t have enough information to find her again.
In 2008 I participated in an online writing workshop. The teacher suggested we join Facebook. So I did.At first my only friends were the other members of the group, as well as a friend’s daughter who felt sorry for me when I told her every time I opened the site it announced, “You have no new friends.” Probably those of us in the workshop were too busy critiquing and discussing on the workshop site. Side conversations were via email. When the workshop ended, a few of us kept in loose touch through Facebook. I met two of the workshop members at AWP in Denver. One of them, M.E. Parker is the founder of a well-received photography and writing journal, Camera Obscura. Even five years later I sometimes exchange critiques with another member.
I met at least four of my Facebook friends at a conference/retreat held at a dude ranch outside of Tucson. I’ve met up with two of them at other conferences and occasionally interact with them on Facebook. At this Springs’s Pike’s Peak Writers Conference I met a woman who became the newest member of our writing group. During the recent RMFW Conference I added three writers to my list of friends.
My most recent foray to a retreat yielded twitter contacts, no new friends. This small retreat was held in a lovely mansion hotel on Long Island. Meals were included and were served off a menu; not your usual banquet chicken! About eight years ago I attended another small workshop and thought I had not come away with any new contacts but last month I did reconnect with another participant at RMFW. Possibly somewhere down the line I will be in contact with some of the other writers from the Writing and Yoga Retreat. This event is sure to grow and include more participants in years to come.
The lack of a compatriot at this last retreat might have been, in part, due to the small size of this retreat. This was the initial foray of the two leaders into putting on a retreat. The likelihood of making friends might depend on a critical number of participants. The Tucson workshop had been small, too. There were 12-16 of us. I garnered four friends from that group. This last retreat had a mere five women, plus the two leaders. Three of the women were close in age and bonded easily. One of the other participants was related to one of the leaders, and both leaders were already friends. This left me as the outlier with no natural partner and although I am following or being followed by four of the six others, I feel each is a tenuous connection at best.
Not long ago I ran across an article, Whether Facebook Makes You Lonely Depends on How You Use It. I posted this on my wall and asked my friends which way they felt. Those who commented said happier. My response would be mixed. Probably the largest proportion of my contacts consists of high school classmates, whom I “collected” for a recent reunion. The rest are workmates, neighbors, a few people from college, my “real life” friends, and sundry others. Some posted often in the past but have either gotten bored and moved on or now interact with a select group that doesn’t include me. Many never comment or post status updates. A large number post only lost cats, recipes, photos of dogs, and quotes of others. Some are lurkers. A few routinely send holiday and birthday greetings and then sink back into the sand of anonymity. Possibly I shouldn’t expect more; this may be who they are in their everyday lives. Maybe this lack of interaction is related to differences in personality type, but I find the lack of response and interaction frustrating. Often it makes me unhappy and I wonder why I bother checking in.
But when it comes to my writing connections, I find Facebook both useful and entertaining. Many friends post interesting articles related to writers, writing, and publishing. Recently one acquaintance reviewed a book she found in a used bookstore that sounds right up my alley. I plan to look for it. I’ve asked for book recommendations and help with problems related to the mechanics of writing, computer glitches, and story concerns. I belong to at least one page that lists calls for submissions. My writing group created a private group to conduct our business. We’re currently doing our October short story writing month and sharing prompts.
Because of its usefulness to me as a writer, I’ll remain a dutiful user of Facebook until something better comes along. Google+? If you know of something, let me know, but until then, I hope to continue to expand my circle of writer-friends.
I was working on this story when I decided to enroll in The Literature of the Vietnam War class at Colorado State University, taught by John Clark Pratt. I hadn’t been an English major in college and only subsequently did I take a few undergraduate literature courses and graduate writing classes. This was one of the best classes I ever took. We read numerous books I’m sure I wouldn’t have encountered if I was reading on my own, such as Into A Black Sun. (Takeshi Kaiko)
We also read The Quiet American (Graham Greene), a novel by a Vietnamese officer, which, to my knowledge, is not available. We did not, notably, read Going After Cacciato. I don’t remember if there were any veterans in this class, but there was a woman who had been a nurse who brought orphans our of Vietnam. One of the requirements of the course was to write a paper. I asked if I could instead submit a short story. Dr. Pratt agreed, and I think I can say with assurance that he thought highly of the story. He encouraged me to join his graduate workshop the following semester, which I did.
When the story was ready to send out, I decided to start at the stop. Why not? So I sent it to the New Yorker. And then many more until finally, not quite twenty years later, it was accepted at this now defunct Internet journal. http://noneuclideancafe.com/issues/vol3_issue2_WinterSpring2008/cole.htm. Although I was happy to finally have it find a home, in many ways it was a comedown from my New Yorker submission. The text of the personal rejection follows. I since changed the title.
June 12, 1989
Dear Ms.—–, A very natural, appealing, modest story, but I’m afraid the parallel between the brother’s war fixation and the narrator’s divorce seemed to us at once a bit unconvincing and a bit heavyhanded. But there’s a lot in SOLDIERS to admire, and I thank you for the chance to consider it. Try again.
Partial Reading List, Literature of the Vietnam War
The Quiet American, Graham Greene
Into a Black Sun, Vietnam 1964-65 Takeshi Kaiko
The Laotian Fragments, John Clark Pratt
Parthian Shot Loyd LIttle
The 13th Valley John M. Del Vecchio
Paco’s Story Larry Heinemann
No Bugles, No Drums Charles Durden
One Very Hot Day David Halberstam
One to Count Cadence James Crumley
Bridge Fall Down Nicholas Rinaldi
This should be my fourth Social Media Monday and my fourth blog post. The other two don’t count since I was trying to put the stories under the tab I wanted them in, not write a blog! I’ve started two other blogs. Both bogged down after entry #4, and I’m curious to see if that will happen with this one, too.
I had wanted this blog to be my attempt at having the necessary social media platform many in the publishing industry espouse. I have to admit, though, that I’m somewhat discouraged since it feels like the novel with the same name as this website may be going nowhere. As in out to agents, not as in finished. It’s finished. It’s ready for a final copy edit, then out, but I’m despairing of having a place to send it. The reason for this is the subject of the post I want to write but unfortunately, it is going to take more time than I have today, even though I started thinking about it years ago and wrote part of a draft yesterday.
Back to work!
Not my first publication but the first on the Internet. It’s kinda old.
Since I’m watching the Washington/CU volleyball game, it seems like a good time to work on getting this website set up. The following story was inspired by the sport of volleyball and a exasperating fan.