Endings are Such Sweet Sorrow

Usually when a story comes to me, I see the beginning and end clearly. It’s the middle part that might give me a tough time.

The stories that give me the most trouble are the ones where I feel I have a great idea but no idea where or how to end it. I can write pages about what the characters are doing and thinking. But then I get to a point where it feels like someone turned out the lights and I’m groping around the room for an exit.

What ends up happening is that I give up and pull the emergency cord: I just stop writing.

This failure has been painfully evident lately as I work on stories for my next collection. I have about 20 stories planned for the book. Seven have already been published. I look at these now as “the easy ones.” As if they weren’t each difficult in their own way.

Three more are done (so I thought) and I’ve been submitting them for the last couple of years. Another seven are in the writing process. And still another three to five stories are on the horizon.

It’s the ones I’ve been submitting and currently writing that have been giving me fits. And while rejection is never fun, two editors recently told me WHY they rejected the stories, and of course, it’s the ending.

We found a lot to like here, but readers were confused by the ending.
– My epitaph

One editor asked me to review and resubmit a story I’ve been writing for a few years. No guarantee that they will publish it even with the revision but what a great opportunity to see the story through someone else’s eyes. The actual final paragraph was a great way to end, they said, it was just too abrupt.

So I spent a week revising and it is so much stronger for it. Even if they don’t publish it, I have confidence it will find a home.

The more recent rejection encapsulated my problem:

“Thank you for the opportunity to read your work. We won’t be accepting The Jumping-Off Point for publication, but invite you to consider sending us other work in the future. We found a lot to like here, but readers were confused by the ending.”

I believe it comes down to basic plot or, really, the lack of a one. The stories that come easily have a moment where something happens. It’s not always big and dramatic, but there is a moment that, when you finish the story, that’s what you remember.

The ones I struggle with have a common problem – nothing happens. It’s so elementary when I acknowledge it but what a relief that someone outside of me (and my husband) pointed it out. 

Back on the Submitting Horse

So my writing mojo was MIA for quite a few months. It’s back and I’m very excited. And a bit nervous.

For about two months I haven’t had any stories out there for consideration. No need to check my email like I’m waiting for that special someone to call. I thought it would be relaxing not worrying/waiting for a rejection. But turns out, it’s the opposite. As long as I have a story out there in consideration, there is hope.

A typical first draft

A typical first draft.

That’s what probably spurred me on more than anything – missing that hope. I have three stories ready (I think) for public consumption and more ready to be written. I need to get them OUT THERE. So between yesterday and today, I’ve sent out two stories to two lit mags each.

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but those who submit stories or poems know how much work it takes to find just the right place to submit a particular piece to: does it seem like a good fit, are they open for submissions, do they charge a fee (I’ll pay if it’s $3 or less and I feel it’s worth it; most often I don’t)?

And some magazines still only accept printed and mailed submissions, bless their hearts. So I have to find enough postage.

I’ve flipped-flopped back and forth but have finally landed on yes, I’m putting together another collection of short stories. That has also brought my mojo back: the thought of a deadline.

Here is the table of contents (I’m writing it down for accountability) for the new collection. Title is TBD.

Published:

  • American Gothic Getaway
  • The Poles of Inaccessibility
  • Moonlighting
  • Not Dog People 
  • Sex Addict Rehab: Confidential 
  • The Uncluded 

Written

  • The Best One-Armed Waiter in the West
  • On the Occasion of Going to the Hospital to Meet a Baby 
  • Yorba Yorba
  • The Gorge
  • Captivity 
  • Worry Tank
  • Apartment City

Drafted

  • The Milkbone Deposition
  • The Epic Quality of the Ordinary (aka the Prague story)
  • The Irrational Constant
  • Salmon Creek
  • The Lemon Lady
  • Untitled Vegas Story
  • Through the Side Door
  • Always Late to Flowers

The Science of Submitting

I tend to submit my work in a flurry. I’ll notice that I haven’t submitted anything in a while, or have been waiting a long time to hear back about previous submissions, so I’ll send out work to a few places at once.

Submittable

My Submittable list – I love/hate it.

Submittable has become the go-to submission portal for literary journals and magazines. Way back when, it was mail, then email and magazines’ own submission portals/websites. Then Submishmash became Submittable and that was that. The choice has become email or Submittable.

As a reader/judge of fiction for lit mags, Submittable is a small miracle. You can keep track of the hundreds of submissions and (more) easily get through them all . But is it too easy?

I’ve kept my own online spreadsheet of submissions since 2005. Before that, I have handwritten records back to 1999, when I first began submitting stories by mail.

Looking at my submissions since 2011, when I first submitted through Submishmash, I have submitted work 81 times (all stories/poems were submitted to multiple publications). Out of those 81 times, 35 were through email, etc., and 46 were through Submishmash/Submittable.

Out of these 81 submissions, my work was accepted 13 times – 2 were through Submishmash/Submittable, the other 11 through email, etc.

Obviously I’m a writer, not a data scientist, but even I can tell that this seems wonky. Even with so many obvious variables, it still begs the question – shouldn’t the acceptance/rejection rate be more consistent with the submission method breakdown?

Is it easier to say no through Submittable? Do editors give email submissions more time, more consideration?

On example: my story “Moonlighting.” During a 15-month period, I submitted it to 12 publications only through Submittable (reworking it a bit every few months). The last Submittable rejection was 11/28/15. I submitted through email one time, on 3/19/16, and it was accepted.

Maybe I just finally found the right publication for it. Maybe I just needed to work on it a bit more. Who knows. I also have examples that don’t support my theory.

It’s just something interesting to notice – and something else to distract me from the task at hand, which is writing more work to submit.

 

New Poem in Buck Off Magazine

BuckoffMagI’m thrilled to have my poem “When You Turn Away” included in Vol. 7 of Buck Off Magazine.

Not only am I among great writers, the artwork in this issue is outstanding. Check it out!

This is the fifth poem I’ve written and the fifth one published. I’m shocked and awed. I wish I could conjure up more poems but, like with the stories, they come to me when they come to me.

I still don’t consider myself a poet. That’s just the form that the stories took when they came out. And I’m very lucky that they each found a place in the world.

Cobbler’s Daughter & New Pieces Out

Yes, it’s been more than a year since my last post. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

It’s not because I don’t have anything to say. Quite the opposite. But I haven’t written much fiction lately. I’ve been dabbling with a few projects, pulling myself in too many directions to focus.

Recent conversation.

My writing mentor: “Why don’t you just pick one?”

Me: “Uhhhhhh. I should probably do that.”

A few things I’ve been working on:

  • mcconnellwriterspaceNo Extra Words podcast posted my flash fiction piece “Not Dog People” in their Episode 54 (time code: 11:28).
  • They then asked me to contribute a piece about my writing space, which was part of Episode 78 (time code: 21:39). I’ve never been part of a podcast and am thrilled to be included in No Extra Words. Check them out and submit!
  • My poem “When You Turn Away” will be published in late May in Buck Off Magazine.
  • In 2009, my story, The Safest Place in the World, was published by Spectrum (U.C. Santa Barbara). They wrote to me a couple weeks ago with some of the sweetest words a writer could hear:
    This year, Spectrum is working to publish an anthology of works from decades past and we would like your permission to republish your piece. We have loved going back through the years to find pieces that still move our hearts today, and we would be honored if you would allow us to reprint your piece in this year’s edition.”
    A thousand times, yes! The anthology will be out in June.
  • I was asked to be guest editor of Issue 109 of Prime Number Magazine, due out this summer. What a privilege to read nearly 200 short stories in just a few months. What agony to choose only three to be published in the issue!

So all that, plus starting a new job 11 months ago as a full-time copywriter, has kept me writing. But now I need to pick, and focus, and I’ve chosen the screenplay that I’ve been writing (more off than on) since 2004. Stay tuned!

Wrestling with a Toddler

About a month ago, when it still felt that winter would last forever, I set a deadline for myself. I would have the draft of my second collection of short stories finished by summer.

It is now Memorial Weekend, 80 degrees outside and I’m wearing shorts. Let’s amend that to say I’ll have the draft done by the END of summer.

Stories

Drafts of stories.

For some reason, I was holding off putting the collection together until I published more of the stories separately. Just a habit – finish a story, send it out for publication. Then, maybe I was hit on the head with a coconut, I remembered that I don’t need all the stories to be published first.

In fact, I’ve already published six of the stories and hopefully a couple more before the collection is ready to publish. What am I waiting for?

Well, truthfully, I’ve been working on one of my novels and want to be done with the stories. The easiest way to be done with them is to ignore them with the excuse that I don’t have enough published for a collection.

See how convoluted my mind is? It’s mental gymnastics to make sure I get in my own way. Because what if I do finish the collection? What if no one wants to publish it? What if the sum isn’t greater than the parts? What if I then work on my novel and that sucks, too?

It’s like my mind is a toddler – throwing a tantrum for no discernible reason – and I have to wrestle it to the ground to show that, if it just stopped for a moment, it would see that nothing is wrong. We just have to get going.

So consider the toddler calm for the moment as I tackle the rest of the stories.

Not Exactly Writer’s Block

I’ve always been proud that I don’t get “writer’s block.” No fear of the blank page for me.

It’s not been a problem, I think, because since I actually began writing (as opposed to thinking about it), I’ve always had so much inside waiting to get out and on to the page. And if I get stuck at something in one story, I just go on to another. Never a dull moment.

wordle

But now, as I feel my attention turning away from short stories and to longer narrative forms, I’m hesitant. Afraid to dive into them.

As difficult as it is to write, edit and publish short stories, over the years it has become easier for me.

I trust that I have something to say, that I can write it well, and more likely than not, someone will publish the story, and people will read it.

I’ve not had the same luck with novels and screenplays. I have three completed novels and two completed screenplays.

My first novel was turned down by an agent ten years ago and has since been tucked away in a drawer. Not only because it was rejected but because it read like a first novel. I had something to say, I just didn’t write it well.

I’ve had my screenplays reviewed and judged on The Blacklist. You won’t be seeing them on the big screen any time soon.

When I began really writing in 1996 (twenty years ago!), I thought of myself solely as a novelist. I hadn’t even read a short story since college. But that has been my main form for twenty years, and where I’ve found success publishing.

What if I don’t find success in publishing a novel or selling a screenplay? Then am I “just” a short story writer? Is that a bad thing? You can see where this is going in my head – the merry-go-round of self-doubt, second guessing and “what’s the point.”

The result has been very little writing in the past few months.

I’m sending a few stories out and finishing up the last two I’ve started.

Then to get out of my head, put on my writing sweatshirt, and get going.