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.


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


  • 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


  • 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.


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.

I’ve Ruined Another Story

What began as a great idea has devolved into an utter mess.


I had a good draft of a story – first written about a year ago – and I’ve ruined it.

I’ve re-written it too many times and listened to too many opinions of other people. I smoothed out the edges and the story has lost its life.

It reminds me of a Spongebob Squarepants episode where he is urged to become “normal.” Eventually all his edges are smoothed away and his holes are gone and he is devoid of personality. He is completely dull.

That’s what my story feels like now. It doesn’t feel like me.

I’ll have to go back and look at my original draft and basically begin over. I need to recapture the impulse I first had to write the story.

This has happened before and all has turned out well, it’s just a frustrating way to get there.

To NaNoWriMo or Not to NaNoWriMo

Last year I worked on a draft of my memoir, Inland Empire Girl, for the month of November, aka NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

NaNo014I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. Just get it down – 50,000 words in a month. No editing. Just writing, spewing, vomiting on the page.

The problem is that I am a short story writer. There, I said it.

I am a short story writer.

I’ve even published two poems. What I haven’t published is a novel, though I would very much like to.

I’ve written four novels but they each are missing something. Or have too much of something else. The problem, at its core, is that I am trying to write novels, not tell stories.

Unfortunately, when I write my novels, I disassociate from my storytelling instincts and try to write like a Great American Novelist.

My challenge, and one I keep putting off, is to tell my stories, just in novel length.

Luckily, my procrastination has been filled up with other stories.

I am on vacation this week and I have finished two new stories, and submitted three for publication. I’ve also drafted another new story.

I’ve done everything but crack open the binder of the novel I brought halfway across the country.

Okay, fine. You’ve guilted me into it. I’ll do NaNoWriMo.

Now with the World Series over (go Giants!!) and the darkness of winter descending, why not spend my evenings re-writing my novel into a short-story-collection-disguised-as-a-novel?


The 5 Stages of Rewriting

Some writers fear the first draft, the blank page staring at them.

writerNot me. I love it. This is me at my best – scribbling down my ideas, getting it all out on the page, only looking forward.

Then I put it away – pleased as punch with myself. I’m never a better writer than this first draft.

And then at some point I must go back and look at what I wrote. It’s never a pretty process but one I must go through to get to the second draft.

1) Denial

When I open the notebook or computer file, I believe that my first draft will be as good as I remember. Maybe it needs another proof for spelling errors, maybe polish up a sentence or two, but it definitely won’t need a rewrite.

2) Anger

Damn it. How did that happen? I swear it was much better than this dreck. Some stupid gremlin must have crawled into my computer and switched out my brilliant first draft with this nonsense. If I ever catch that guy…

3) Bargaining

Fine. I’ll take a closer look at that draft. Maybe it isn’t as great as I first thought it was but it can’t be all bad, right? Okay, the beginning is strong so I’ll just rewrite the ending a little bit. That will be enough to fix it.

4) Depression

Oh my God, I am the worst writer ever. I shouldn’t even be allowed to own a pen. I am throwing this story away and never writing anything ever again.

5) Acceptance

Okay, maybe it’s not ALL bad. The original idea was good, I just kind of mucked it up in the middle. And look at this sentence. Now that’s a sentence.

Let’s go get some coffee and get to work on the second draft.

Heartbreak in Room 7

I am no poet. To call me one would be an insult to all poets.

What is "The Poet Jen McConnell?" Things you won't ever hear me called.

What is “The Poet Jen McConnell?” Things you won’t ever hear me called.

But I can’t control how the story comes out – usually it’s a short story, often a novel, sometimes a screenplay, and very rarely a poem.

I have such admiration for poets. How they can convey so much with such economy of words. But I haven’t always liked poetry.

In college, I hated poetry – Ode on a Grecian Urn, The Rape of the Lock, etc. – I despised those weeks of classes.  I especially hated writing papers about poems. Why write a poem if I need ten pages to explain it? Give  me 900 pages of Dickens any day.

(I do admit, however, that I have always liked The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

But once I was in grad school, I listened live to the poetry of my classmates. It was there that I grew to appreciate modern poetry, about real life, about experiences and emotions I could understand at face value and didn’t need another person or Wikipedia page to explain it to me.

So I opened up to the idea of poetry. Stopped crossing my arms against it. And sometimes the muse speaks to me in poetry. Not often but just enough to remind me she’s there.

A few weeks ago, I looked back at a poem I wrote about ten years ago. Fiddled with a couple of lines and sent it off.

The editors of The Olentangy Review accepted that poem, “Heartbreak in Room 7,” just before deadline for their summer 2014 issue, which is now available online.

It’s weird to see my name under the poetry section of a literary magazine, but I am thrilled just the same!