Almost, little story. Almost…

Years ago I wrote a short story that was completely removed from my preferred genres. It is called The Altruists, and is a dark dystopian tale about an innocent man who is imprisoned in a futuristic world where prisoners are used as automatic organ donors. I can’t remember if I wrote it for a particular submission call, it was that long ago. But it didn’t make the cut. And whenever I have tried to submit it since my efforts have been met with multiple short, stark, stock-rejection emails!

When I first started taking the plunge and submitting my writing, I was terribly embarrassed to receive a rejection. I can remember feeling a sensation of shame, and saying to myself, ‘Who do you think you are, of course it’s rubbish! Why did you even send it in the first place? Just delete it, it must be crap.’ I gave up on my stories at the first sign of a struggle. It was a reaction that was born of insecurity, and I am happy to report that over the years I have built better resilience to the process! If I hadn’t, I don’t believe I would still be writing now. Or perhaps I’d still be writing, but only for myself. A private little collection of lonely stories desperate to be shared.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a submission call for Apparition Literary Magazine, asking for stories on the theme of ‘Retribution’. I didn’t have the time to write something from scratch as the deadline was nearing, so I dug out The Altruists, tweaked a few of the clunkier sounding sentences, and sent it to them. Needless to say, I didn’t expect it to get anywhere. A few days later I received a lovely email from the team, asking if they could place my story on hold for the final publication. The rush of elation I felt was indescribable. It always feels amazing when a story is shown some interest, but for The Altruists, a story that has always been biting at the heels of its flashy horror-themed friends in my writing folder, I felt like a proud mum. Finally, here was proof that the story wasn’t completely dreadful!

Yesterday, I heard back from the editors, who explained that they only had four open slots and that The Altruists hadn’t quite made it to the final cut, but that it was one of the ten stories that were scrutinised by the editors for publication. Well, I will take that! Considering the fact that a few years ago I almost hit the delete key and erased it from the map completely, I take that as a solid victory.

I’ve talked before about how numerous factors can determine whether your story is picked. Even if it is rejected twenty times, it doesn’t mean that it is terrible. It just needs to be the right fit. There are so many boxes that a story must check in order to make the selection. Being a good story is just the tip of the iceberg! So, when stories are rejected, don’t ever think they are terrible and that you shouldn’t try again. The next place you send it to could very well become its ‘forever home’. And that really is the greatest feeling in the world.  

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Summer Submissions

I am loving the variety of submission call themes that have been released this summer! As usual, signing up to the Author’s Publish newsletter has been invaluable, and I’ve got a few publications on my list that I’m hoping to sway!

Cohesion Press/SNAFU are looking for military or mercenary stories on the theme of The Last Stand. This publication is a huge draw for me as the introduction will be written by Tim Miller, director of Deadpool, new Terminator & Love, Death & Robots. Now, I am coming from a Marvel obsessed household. As I write, there are about twenty Pop Vinyl’s staring back at me, and I have a giant X-Men print on the wall behind my head. My husband rocks around in a Deadpool dressing gown every night, so you can imagine what a huge deal it would be to make it to final selection. Needless to say, I am working hard on this submission!

I have enjoyed writing a story for Michael A. Ventrella & Randee Dawn’s Across the Universe alternative Beatles fiction compilation. They are looking for Beatles ‘What If…’ submissions, and judging by the information they have offered up already, it should be set to be an extremely fun read. I went through a mad Beatles phase when I was a child, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that my What If tale is good enough to make the final cut. I am slightly concerned that my laptop seems to despise converting to rtf. and it alters all of the layout formatting upon sending, which may hinder my efforts. But, fingers crossed! All we can do is try, sheepishly explain, and try again…(welcome to my morning).

Another upcoming submission is for the Jolly Horror Accursed object anthology. This is right up my street, and I’m just putting the finishing touches to a nasty little tale featuring a bunch of pranksters. I am a sucker for gruesome horror, so giving this one a try has made me smile this week!

I also have a new mantra, with my upcoming WIP amendments and huge edits in mind. It’s Not Everest! We’ve got this, you guys.

Writing and Yoga

I am not a yoga expert by any means. For the last few years I’ve taken classes on and off. But I really fell in love with it when I began watching ‘Yoga with Adriene’ YouTube sessions at home. In my own living room I am significantly more relaxed than when I’m out in a classroom trying to keep my stomach from rumbling! It is easy to fit her sessions into my day as well, as her classes range from quick five minute stretches to full-blown hour-long routines.

For a long time it didn’t dawn on me just how beneficial these classes were in relation to my writing practice. But once I’d made the connection I can see more and more just how beneficial yoga has been to my writing day. It doesn’t always work (sometimes those writing gremlins are just too powerful to beat, am I right?!). But on the days that it does I know I owe a lot to yoga.

Take my back, for instance. After an injury a few years ago I have found it difficult to write for long periods of time due to the pressure of sitting, particularly with a chunky laptop resting on my thighs. Gradually yoga has strengthened my core, making me far more resilient to the pressures of sitting for hours on end as I add to my word count. I understand when I need to stretch it out, too, simply because I’m more aware of how my muscles feel when I begin to ‘slump’. An aching back can be extremely distracting, and easing the problem had made a significant difference to the way I write.

Adriene recently posted a great little workout for the hands that I retweeted to the writing community on Twitter because our hands are so overworked! We forget the toll that typing can have on our joints, until we wrap up a day of making notes or editing and find that our fingers are aching. Here’s the video, if you fancy giving it a try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxC4LhOrMFw By reminding me to focus on my whole body in a way I have never done before, I feel far more prepared when taking on a full day of desk-time.

Most importantly for me, the practices have done wonders for my motivation. Psychologically, it’s easy to plan a day of writing, only to discover when you get there that you really aren’t in the mood. It’s fascinating to me how taking twenty minutes to breathe and stretch can really force my mind to wake up and open itself to the possibilities of creativity. It’s like getting a virtual kick up the backside, only it feels good to receive it! If I’m feeling stressed or anxious I know already that my writing will be impacted that day. Being aware that there is a ten minute video session on YouTube that could snap me out of it and put me into a better frame of mind is a constant reassurance that those days won’t necessarily cause me to fail in my writing goals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnd5Slo02us

I recommend these classes to all my writer friends in person, so I thought I might as well do it here, as well! It really works for me, and I’m hoping it will for you, too.

A Publication Surprise

This week has been full of enjoyable surprises. The main surprise was the delivery of a book of poetry I had contributed to back in 2017. Not only was it an amazing feeling to finally have the book in my hands after such a long wait (a wait which, in publishing terms, was not long at all, really!). But I hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that the publication was going to be hardback.

I know that might sound a little strange, but opening the box and finding four beautiful, hefty, shiny hard backed tomes just made my day. I am proud of each of my short story anthology publications, but seeing something of mine in hardback just gave me an extra sensation of joy. A “Wow, this is something completely new!” feeling that gave me an incredible boost.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks, really. I am struggling with my job at the moment and torn about what to do next. I just had a birthday that reminded me of how the years are ticking by without that life-changing multi-novel publishing deal arriving just yet! And I suppose the news here in the UK is pretty bleak on a daily basis. Nobody is too sure how things are going to pan out come March, and financially I think we’re all a little concerned, which is adding to our daily stresses. It was a welcome bit of joy that arrived this week. I started this blog in the first week of January saying I wanted to rediscover that wonderful spark of magic I felt when I began to submit my writing way back when. And it came, thanks to Lycan Valley.

Oh, added to that, on that evening I met up with my two best friends. We went for a couple of drinks and a meal to celebrate my birthday, and they had bought me the most incredible pressies. Then we went to the cinema to see Glass, my choice (I am a total geek), but I’m thrilled to say they both loved it, too.

I think reflecting on January I’ve realised that I’m going to carry on submitting existing works and editing my WIP this month, with the idea of really overhauling it in spring. There’s something about the blue skies and sunshine of March and April that really put fire in my writing belly! Until then, I think pedalling existing stories may be the right course of action while I figure out what to do with my ‘real’ job. Sometimes real life sucks the heart and soul out of your words, and you can only give so much. I’m just starting to learn that acknowledging that is as important as your physical output and word count. As writers, we can only do so much. And we do a damn fine job, whenever we can. January was a little rocky, but February has started off bright. Let’s see what you’ve got!

Submission Lessons

Well, it’s been a bit of a stop-start month, after pledging to get straight into the swing of 2019! But now, after a fantastic birthday weekend away watching Britain’s Strongest Man live, I can happily report that I am back in the writing game.

I’ve spent this week getting my short horror stories organised and finding potential publishers for those that don’t have homes at the moment. I found a helpful list here: https://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2018/05/mega-list-of-paying-markets-for-horror.html , that tells you all of the current magazine calls for horror/speculative fiction. Little warning – they’re not all 100% up to date. That’s no comment on the website – it is excellent, and it would be impossible to keep up with all of the sites they showcase! But just be aware that some of the publications are no longer seeking unsolicited submissions, and some of the windows have closed. But it gave me a great starting point. First of all I made a list of my stories and word-counts, making it easier to match them to suitable magazines.

Does anyone else find the term ‘speculative fiction’ a little unnerving? Definitions vary, as do preferences from the editors themselves. I’m sure some of my stories would fit the bill, but the idea of avoiding realism is a strange one. I am never quite sure to what degree they are referring to. This is something I am definitely going to explore further this year! Anyway, that aside, I learned an interesting tip that I had never noticed before. I was making a submission to Red Sun magazine, and noted the often-seen request to anonymise the story. However, Red Sun didn’t just request that the actual story document be made anonymous. They specified the need to right-click on the file, enter the document properties, and delete your name from the creator and PC owner data. I had never actively recognised the need to go to such depths for anonymisation before, and now I’m wondering if this is something I should have done on previous submissions that came to naught. But, live and learn! From now on, I will be taking that extra step when publications ask for the story to be anonymised, just in case.

I am cautiously optimistic about one of the stories that I sent. I originally wrote it for the San Cicaro submission call, and received a fantastic response back from the editor. He disclosed that they considered the story until the eleventh hour, but ultimately refused it because the anthology is due to come out the week that the second part of the new IT movies comes out. Now, I just want to make it clear, there are no killer clowns in the story! But it is about a group of kids going on an adventure to try and discover the origin of strange events occurring in their hometown. I respected their decision, and am grateful for them taking the time to give such strong feedback. If they hadn’t, I may have shelved the story as ‘rubbish – unpublishable’, which I realised I had been doing when a story had been rejected by publications in the past. It taught me that this reaction is crazy – the story may not suit one editor for one reason or another, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story. I looked a little further into this and found a comment from a writer who stated that it takes an average of ten submission attempts before a story is snapped up. Ten! So, never give up on your story. Keep submitting with a positive attitude. You never know the reasons that may have caused the editors to turn it down (after all – I would never have thought the local cinema listings would have had an impact before that rejection!)

Oh, one last tip – some of the magazine websites I viewed had a submission page that did not state they were closed for submissions. It was only after painstakingly formatting the work to their specs that I went to another area to submit and discovered that the submission window had passed. So, before amending your story formatting to fit a specific request, always check both the home page, submission page, and contact area to make sure they are ready for your work!   

Happy submissions, everyone!

The Writing Community

I’m pretty late to the party when it comes to social media. I joined Instagram last year, and only seriously considered Twitter the year before that. I have to say, I have been missing out! I absolutely love the writing community that I have connected with through both accounts, and I can’t wait to meet other like-minded people in 2019.

On Sunday, I finally submitted my entry to this year’s BBC Writers Room open script call. I have been working on the script as a side project for some time, having randomly come up with an idea for a TV drama. This was hugely out of my comfort zone. I usually write short stories, occasionally working on full-length manuscripts (often abandoning the project when the editing gets out of hand!), so a script was something I had never attempted before. I had been planning to work on finalising the formatting over Christmas. Then, disaster struck! The WiFi at my house went down on Christmas Eve, meaning there were no engineers available to fix it. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. I vowed to totally relax in that week, and be ready to smash the final draft out of the park when the internet sprang to life the following week. I’d set aside Saturday and Sunday to work (planning on filling endless pots of tea to keep my bum firmly in my seat!). Only, the internet cut out again on Friday night. I pretty much lost my mind, I am ashamed to admit. Knowing that the deadline was Monday, and that my plans had gone out of the window, I gave the poor bloke on the phone at EE an extremely hard time. I apologised profusely afterwards, but I have never experienced ‘the red mist’ in that way before! Step between a writer and their deadline, and good luck to you, I guess! Long story short, the (very frightened-looking) engineer arrived first thing on Saturday morning, and by 10.30am I was sat with my pot of tea, scrutinising my formatting and feeling tentatively optimistic.

I guess it must have been the stress of the internet going down. Maybe it was just the fact that I am not used to submitting scripts. Or perhaps it was the terrifying prospect of sending my work to somewhere as iconic as the BBC. But, on Sunday, after I’d pressed ‘Submit’ and received my auto-receipt in my inbox, I had a complete writer’s meltdown. I specify it as being a writer’s meltdown, because they really are like no other, aren’t they?! I had an absolute crisis of confidence. A glass of wine helped. So did the second. But by the third glass I was still plagued with self-doubt and feeling utterly defeated.

So, I posted an update to the writing community on Instagram. Within the hour I had numerous messages from total strangers, congratulating me for submitting and wishing me luck. Because of their kind words and the sense of camaraderie it gave me, I began to feel better (a little bit drunk, I have to admit, but much, much better!). It truly is a community of writers, whether you’re on Twitter, Insta, or here on WordPress. I am so happy I have finally caught up, and experienced it first hand. You are all absolute superstars, and I am thrilled that we are in it together.

Recalling Magic

As a result of sitting down to make New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve been thinking about how magical it was to first publish a short story. It’s a feeling I have enjoyed reminiscing about, because it has dawned on me that somewhere along the way I may have lost it. And that is definitely something I need to work on in 2019!

I had submitted to The Stringybark Prize, an Australian History fiction competition, and had written a wacky little story about a plucky young girl hunting for a bunyip. For those of you who don’t know, a bunyip is a cryptozoological swamp monster (yes, I am a geek!). Being accepted into the anthology, Marngrook, was such a thrilling moment. I remember telephoning everyone in my family to tell them, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the contributor copies, and sharing them out with pride.

I am fortunate enough to have had some short stories published since, but it recently dawned on me that in my quest to achieve the larger goal of publishing a full-sized novel, I have been forgetting to see the magic in every little victory. I commented about this in a post I made on Instagram yesterday (please come and connect with me if you have an account – @mjmarsauthor) and a lovely member of the writing community replied to say that they were still waiting for that feeling, having not yet been published. This got me to thinking, have I been a bit of an arse for saying that the magic has dimmed somewhat? After all, I am always over the moon to have any small successes in the industry, and don’t mean to sound at all ungrateful. But then I realised I have to be honest. Writers as a breed are extremely hard on ourselves. We all have our goals and dreams and not reaching them can feel as though we’re failing, no matter what we achieve along the way.

So, this year I am determined to remember to feel the magic in every step, and to celebrate each ‘small’ victory. After all, they felt like huge victories a few years ago! There is no reason to believe that they are any less because I haven’t met my ‘dream’ goals. We are so tempted to put time limits and additional pressure on ourselves, or to belittle the steps we have taken toward our main objective, that we forget to appreciate exactly what we already have.

Regardless of where in the writing process we are, we can make magic happen every day. And we do.