Tag Archive: short story

I got the news today.  My story, “PFTETD”, has earned an Honorable Mention in the 4th Quarter 2010 Writers of the Future Contest.

So, wow.  This leaves me feeling a lot of emotions.  On one hand, of course, I’m happy. 

I consider it this way: this story started as a silly idea I had back in late 2006/early 2007.  I wrote it then, and it was awful (though I didn’t know it then).  The story then sat in my hard drive, untouched, for several years.  Shortly after a short productive period where I wrote a small handful of stories and started a couple others through mid-2007, I subsequently entered a fallow period.  I didn’t write anything, and I didn’t submit what I had written.  It’s not that I didn’t want to write.  But those were difficult days, for me*.

And then life happened in a flurry.  I met this wonderful woman.  I got married.  I got accepted into grad school to study my MBA in the evening program at a well-ranked institution.  I found a great new job.  There was a lot going on in 2008 and 2009.  But, as the end of 2009 approached, I was truly feeling… like something was missing, and I knew it was writing.  My Dear Wife encouraged me to may do a little revision on a story I had already written and try to send it out to a publisher. 

So starting around Christmas of 2009, I picked up “PFTETD”, dusted it off, and started revising.  Only revising turned into a full-scale rewrite, as I soon discovered how truly awful my original draft of the story was.  About a quarter of the original wordcount was saved, and the rest was brand-new writing.  I got some feedback from a couple readers, and revised it further, and summer of 2010, I was ready to send it out.  It wasn’t well-received (or rather, it wasn’t accepted), but I knew it was my strongest piece, so I had to find it a home.  So, onward.

Now, I come to the end of that long tale.  And, my take-away is this: after a two-year hiatus… nay, after a two-year drought of writing, I was able to jump back into it and be at the top of my game.  Perhaps this story isn’t great writing, which is where I need to be if I want a career in writing… but it’s unequivocably good writing, and good enough to get an Honorable Mention in the most widely respected and widely participated-in contest in the industry.  My story, out of what I understand to be thousands of submissions, was one of the few to earn this honor.

So, naturally, I’m pleased.  But on the other hand, I’m not overflowing with joy, because I feel other, conflicting emotions.  I have a goal.  I want to be a published author.  I want to make a steady, respectable income from my writing – even if it won’t be my primary income source.  And I want to be a really, really, really good writer.  And, I know that winning this contest can be a significant step toward those goals.  So, naturally, I want to win.

But I didn’t win.  Not this round.  I didn’t quite expect to – this was my first time ever participating in this contest.  But I’m looking forward to the future.  What do I need to do, now?  How can I improve my writing ability?  How can I take the next great leap forward in my skill?  What will it take to win?  What will it take to be great?

I don’t have answers to these questions, yet, except to say the obvious: that I need to write more.  But getting this far… it only fans the flames of my hunger.  Now I know where I stand.  This isn’t just a rejection – polite or otherwise.  It’s a mile-marker, a sign-post, an indicator of my potential.  I’m good, but I’m not there yet.  But, I believe I can get there, because I’m clearly heading in the right direction.

As for “PFTETD”, the question is more complicated.  At 12,100-ish words, it’s too long for pretty much every available outlet left for me to submit to that’s worth submitting it to.  Few publishers are interested in stories that are just slightly too long to be called “short stories” and far, far too short to be called “novels” or even “novelas”.

So, in the short term, I’m going to sit on “PFTETD” – not trunk it, per se, but I’m not going to be actively marketing it.  I won’t publish it on my blog – in part because I think it deserves a wider readership than that, and in part because doing so would make it impossible for me to do any further marketing of it in the future.  I may make it available to another round of beta readers (gamma readers?) to help me polish it just a little further, but as is I’m not sure how much better I can make it, or if further tinkering will actually harm it.  And without a viable market for it, as yet, my writing efforts are likely better spent elsewhere.

What’s next, then?  Well, to start, finishing my MBA.  This is the last semester.  And there is a lot that I need to do between now and the end of my time – for school and for my daytime career.  Unfortunately, this means that I effectively will not have any writing time over the next four to six months.  So, I won’t be re-entering Writers of the Future during the next few quarters.  But I have some pretty good story ideas, and when I walk across that stage, snagged that diploma and have properly taken steps to advance my day-job career, then I should find that my writing time opens up.  And when it does… watch out world, because here I come!

But first, according to my wife: it’s time to celebrate my success!


*I believe I’ve told the story, before, of those “dark days”, probably somewhere on my main blog at Undiscovered Author.  But if not, well… that’s a story for another day, as this post will be long enough without.

The Long Wait

So here we are, the last day of November, and it’s been nearly four months since I submitted my story to the previously-mentioned contest.

In any ordinary situation, I’d be getting pretty nervous right about now.  Oh, wait.  I already am getting pretty nervous.  But it’s not an ordinary situation, per se.

For one, although I submitted this story near the beginning of August, the contest didn’t close until the end of September.  I was almost two months early.  But it’s not been two months since the contest closed.

Well, I have heard from several people who’ve submitted to this contest in the past that this is not a bad thing.  As a matter-of-fact, they tell me, the people who do not do so well in the contests are typically the first to hear back.  The longer the wait, they tell me, the more likely the result is a good one.  For values of “good”, at least, that include making it past the first round, it seems.

So, I’m in an interesting place.  On one hand, I feel very proud of my story, and very strongly that it’s a very good story.  (If you’ve been over to my Undiscovered Author blog and seen the short stories and flash pieces I’ve posted there, you may be familiar with my self-grading mechanism.  Most of the stories there grade a B or lower.  This story that I submitted, on my own, personal scale, ranks an A.  So far, it’s the only story I’ve completed that warrants that grade.)  And there’s this part of me that keeps trying to say: “See, no news is good news; this story is a really good one.  Every day you don’t hear back is a day closer to getting a really positive response.  Heck, this one could go all the way!”

But then there’s the cautiously optimistic side of me.  It tells me to be more humble and  more circumspect about my chances, not to get my hopes to far up.  “What if they lost your contact info, or you entered it wrong, and you’re already out but they can’t contact you to say so?” it asks.  “Yes,” it says, “This is a good story.  But is it great? You’ll probably make it to the semi-final round, and that’s it.  And hey, what more can you ask?  That’ll be a success in my book.”

Sigh.  And there’s  nothing for it but to wait.  And see.  And sometimes to hope.  Hey, each day that goes by is a day closer, right?  In the meantime, I’d love to say I was working on the next one.  But the present pressures of education and employment make that a difficult proposition.  I’ve got the ideas, and a general outline in place.  But I’ve done no substantive amount writing in the last month, and very little before that.  I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it still seems so very far off, yet.

Quick Response

So, there’s good news and bad news and more good news, with regards to the short story I submitted last week.

First, the good news: I received a response from the publisher to which I submitted my story.  That’s a pretty impressive response time.  I didn’t expect an answer, one way or the other, for another week at best.

The bad news, though, is one you can probably guess: the story was rejected for publication.  This comes as no surprise.  Although the market to which I had submitted was one that I knew best (having been a long-time reader of that magazine) and thus one which I felt this story was well-suited (not because I read the magazine, but because I feel the story is similar in tone to other stories published in that magazine), I also knew that this top-tier market was one that is notoriously difficult to break into.  They have very high standards, and they receive a lot of submissions.

The other good news is not really so much good news as it is positive spin.  The response was not merely a form rejection.  It’s a short, polite, and professional reply, for which I’m appreciative.  On Jay Lake’s Hierarchy of Editorial Responses, I believe this counts as a “neutral rejection”, which is second-from-the-bottom (a better response, in other words, than a rejection with a negative comment).  But, as I said, it was politely written, and ended with a wish of good luck in finding the story a home, which had an ameliorating effect.

What remains, now, is to take the story, dust it back off, and find someone else to submit it to.  Luckily I have another market picked out.  For this one, though, I expect a much longer wait time for a response, because the market in question is actually a contest (one with a fairly prestigious history), so I wouldn’t expect a reply until the contest close date was over.  In some ways, getting this first rejection may have been the better option, because this story might be particularly well-suited to the needs of this contest.

If the story does not do well at the contest, then it’s back to the drawing board.  Generally, you dust yourself off and move on, but it will take some thinking before I can submit to another market after this contest.  That’s because the story in question is a sliver over 12,000 words long – novela length, by SFWA standards – but there are relatively few markets for fantasy fiction that accept works of that length ( can count those I know of on one hand), and roughly zero paying markets will accept a serialized novela.  So, even though the story is quite good (in my opinion, of course), the chances of it seeing the light of day diminish rapidly with each rejection.

One lesson, of course: write shorter stories.  Easier said than done.  I like the complex interplay of themes (it’s how I roll), and the shorter the story, the less you can do in that regard.  The corollary: maybe I should be a novelist instead.

Oh, wait.

The Next Story

Well, I said I would try to start work on my next story pretty soon, and I have fulfilled that promise.  I’ve started some preliminary work on a short story that I’m calling “What Happened in August Valley”.  I’ve got a character list, most of a small plot outline, and about 500 words of prose written.  It’s a semi-autobiographical story that’s heavily altered with some contemporary fantasy mojo.

And that fact makes me wonder.  I can imagine a world in which both this story and the story I just submitted both get published.  That story is also a contemporary fantasy.  If both of my first two published stories are contemporary fantasy, do I threaten to typecast myself as a purely contemporary fantasy writer?

I suspect that the answer is no: two short stories do not a career make nor, for that matter, a trend.  And the splashes I’m likely to make with either story, in the event they are published, will be small at first.  So, that thought is a relief.  Because I don’t want to write just contemporary fantasy.  I want to write epic fantasy, and heroic fantasy, and maybe even occassionally some space opera and science fiction.

So… I’m toying with some very preliminary ideas for my third story… it’s a bit early to think about that, but so it is.  I don’t have a plot, just a milieu in mind, but that one, if I do it, will mix things up a bit for my writing resume.

In the meantime, I have this story I’ve started writing.  It’s proving a little bit tricky.  I have what I think is a nice opening.  I know what the closing line will be.  But… I’m struggling with the climactic moment.  The problem is that the story is loosely based on some events that actually happened to me (events that were, in fact, a little surreal).  But in real life there was no climactic turning point.  (And in real life no one died.  Don’t worry.  The character who dies was volunteered to that fate by the person on whom the character is based, in the same conversation with that friend when he suggested I turn those events into a story.)

I’ll figure it out, hopefully, in the end – though it will be slow going because my focus, right now, is on other, more time-pressing things.  But hopefully, when I do finish it,  it will be as fun a read as the real events were to live through.