The moving hands have written–now what?

I took a lesson from Joe Bunting last week from his How to write a short story and wrote a story–my shortest ever at 1,500 words. I’m pleased with it. Now it’s like windfall cash in my pocket, burning its way out, demanding to be read.

I put it on Story PenPal and one kind writer reviewed it well.

So far, so good.

But what now? This morning, I opened the Gotham Writers Workshop Newsletter and found a link to this: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Published in a Literary Magazine, by Lincoln Michel. It’s so much better than anything else I’ve ever seen on BuzzFeed. This is a terrific essay from someone who knows the ground about every unpublished fiction writers’ struggle with how to approach literary magazines. The only question Michel didn’t answer, the one that lingers despite the clarity and fullness of his writing, is about the gap between stories like those in Gotham’s own Fiction Gallery and those in most of the literary magazines. And by this I mean the gap between stories that tell a story, and stories that leave the reader puzzled–not just wondering about the ending and so on, but about what the writer’s entire purpose in writing was. What was that? Why was it in print?

Michel says to send work to magazines that print what we write. And that’s my problem. I subscribe to three literary magazines (one more than the average writer, Michel suggests) . I don’t enjoy most of their stories; I find them dull, obscure, grotty, without value. Many don’t qualify as stories in the way that short stories we were taught with did. I’m still looking for a journal that prints what I write.

Ah well, writers complain, apparently. But I’d rather question.

Where do editors draw the line between writing that tries the reader’s ability to stay awake, takes her into cold and dry territory for no memorable end, exercises some skill only the editors can explain, and writing that engages the reader and leaves a mark on her mind?

I’d like to know.


What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? Writer’s Edition.

Bracing advice for the days when we fear even the kindest of critiques.

Carly Watters, Literary Agent

It’s a simple question, but I found it tucked into Sheryl Sandberg’s wisdom when I was reading LEAN IN a couple years ago and it’s never left me. Whenever things seem overwhelming this simple question takes us back to the heart of our passion and the reason for our struggles.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

For many people reading this blog it will be: finish their novel, send out some queries, tackle the revise-and-resubmit letter from an agent, join a critique group, sign up for author head shots, attend a writer’s conference–or something along those lines.

However, when you frame it like a question it becomes painfully obvious that you don’t need permission to achieve your dreams. They’re hiding inside of you and no amount of force is going to get them to escape. Writing doesn’t happen by chance, it happens by discipline and all you have to do…

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Sticky pictures

For a few years now I’ve thought about writing a biography or historical fiction. I work on who I might research, who I might write about or develop a story about, and eventually set it aside. Next book, I think. But who?

The Blue FlowerI recently read Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower, a novel about the poet Novalis–or rather about the man who became the philosopher poet Novalis. It’s a wonderful piece of work, full of what I think of as sticky images: visuals that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s set in houses and locations that are fundamentally unhealthy; where tuberculosis is the wolf tracking the weakest members of each family, waiting to find ways to strike them down.

The story focuses on Fritz, the brilliant student in love with Sophie, a twelve-year-old girl, light and frothy as gossamer. In spite of her age and lack of all that might be valuable to him in a wife, Fritz drives towards an engagement. As Sophie displays signs of illness, he first denies it and later takes her for special treatments, until her sister suggests that he might spare her the painful effort of trying to seem better for him.

English PatientdownloadThis book feels to me like The English Patient–full of images such as the one of Almásy carrying Katherine wrapped in a parachute, with the white fabric billowing around them against the desert stone.

So these are my ideals–marvelous stories about real people, full of sticky images. But who will I write about?



You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backwards. James Thurber

Yesterday I received a very pleasant query decline from an agent’s intern.

To date I’ve had “not right for our list,” declines [as well as other types of positive responses] so this one, which made a comment I didn’t understand, and may even disagree with, gave me pause. I wondered if some rewriting was in order. Not wanting to be inflexible,  I discussed it with a few people.

I was told in no uncertain terms to give my head a shake and wait for more detailed commentary. So that’s what I’m doing–but I know I will wake up at two in the morning and wonder, what did she mean?  I really wish that a) writing wasn’t such an insecure exercise, and b) the process wasn’t so one-sided. I would love a little dialogue, a little elaboration. But never mind. Thanks for saying something more.