The First Three Years (and a slight change in habits)

2017 is a good year. A very good year.

For starters, it marks my fiftieth circle around the sun.

But there’s more.

On August 7th, I’ll be three years old: it’s the anniversary of the day I started writing creatively. Still trying to wrap my little head around how that happened. (And if you were at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival this past weekend, you know I’ve got a pretty tiny head. I’m okay with that; it means there’s less space for those wicked ideas to travel when these half-century-old neurons start firing.)

Three years means this:

  • Five novels (one currently on sub)
  • Two literary agents
  • Eighty short pieces published or forthcoming
  • A few juicy nominations and prize wins
  • Regular teaching gigs
  • Love–oodles of love

It’s the love I like best.

So here’s a run-on of thank yous to Bud Jillett and Elizabeth Davies for doggedly reading the first Danny Jones thriller on Scribophile and turning a piece of garbage written in four short weeks during November 2014 into something I could successfully query a month later; and to Jude Higgins for saying “Anyone want to join me in writing a story a day?” in April 2015, and throwing me ‘catkins’ (WTF?) as a prompt, which turned into “House for Sale” and then turned into one of my first published flash pieces; and to The Molotov Cocktail for holding an April Fool’s Day contest and actually choosing my odd little cat story for an honorable mention; and to Ani King for writing the brilliant, experimental “Conjugate ‘To Be’, Using Complete Sentences,” which I will never forget and constantly return to when I need a bit of inspiration; and to Charlotte Gruber for being a persistent and kind critique partner; and to Alec Shane for signing a new writer who probably had more ideas than talent at the time; and to Kathy Fish for championing flash fiction addicts; and to Syntax & Salt for inviting me to read their slush; and to Sophie van Llewyn and Kayla Pongrac and Stephanie Hutton–the indomitable members of Flash Force Four (I’m the other one)–for sharing their work and reading mine and supplying an unlimited quantity of tough love; and to my new agent Laura Bradford for cracking the whip (just a little) and getting Danny Jones into shape; and to Aeryn Rudel, because he sets the bar high, high, high on the spec-fic front; and to Clarkesworld for pushing my dystopian short story “Vox” into the second round, assuring me the piece had legs; and to all the crazy, beautiful, devoted, encouraging writers I met at the first Flash Fiction Festival in Bath; and to my husband, because he knows exactly when I need to hear three magic words: “Take-out tonight.”

That’s some love.

My good friend, the exceptionally talented novelist Ellen Bryson, paid me a compliment not long back: she said I had built something amazing. Well, maybe I did, but I started with a pile of crumbly bricks, not much more. Y’all added the mortar and did the pointing. So thank you.

Now, with a self-imposed deadline for the novel version of VOX, and the seeds of a novella in flash germinating in this wee head of mine, I need to make a few temporary changes. Stepping back from the flash frenzy is one of them — it’s just not possible to crank out two thousand words a day on a book (and read slush, and give my Flash Force Four gals the attention they need, and teach) while juggling dozens of flash deadlines. I’ll still write some shorts, but probably won’t be adding much to the repertoire until I get the novel under control.

And (this is the hard part)–I need to alter my Twitter habits, at least for a wee bit.

Now that we’re back home to The Land of Styron and Barbecue, a fine and friendly land that really does exist, I’ll be Twittering for a short period at the end of my writing day. I will, necessarily, miss out on a few announcements. I won’t have time to read everything. I won’t always be the first in line to share your stories and successes.

I’ll still be here, just at a slightly lower RPM. So please, keep me informed, and I’ll do my best to stay in the loop.

As for the upcoming birthday, prezzies may be sent either virtually or by post to me in late September. I prefer liquids with a rather high proof.

777 Challenge

Since my word-count is usually something more like 666 when I check it, finding a non-demonic number on my Twitter feed was rather refreshing. Author E.G. Moore began the Triple Seven Challenge, and fellow writer Jennifer Todhunter nominated me in turn:

In a rather unfortunate turn of events, page seven of LUCKY THIRTEEN (soon to be retitled, revised, and generally juiced-up) has a mere seven lines on it. I suppose that makes my job easier. Here are those lines:

“But miss,” Number Two said, “how do you know we are from Florence?”

“You’re from Florence. Your friend here,” she said, nodding towards the other man, “is from Siena.”

Danny left them shaking their heads in confoundment. She didn’t get many chances to perform the trick, but when she did, the experience was satisfying. She’d have to tell Giorgio about it later on. He always got a kick out of Danny’s knack for discerning the dialects of his homeland, and he’d know about the famous — or infamous — Gorgia Toscana. The habit of turning a ‘k’ into an ‘h’ marked many a Florentine like the sign of Cain. Giorgio would have a good laugh at tonight’s story.

Okay, okay. It looks like more than seven lines, but you do want the context, don’t you?

And now it’s my turn to nominate seven authors:

Charlotte Gruber (AKA World’s Bestest CP)

Elizabeth Davies (Word-weaving Welshwoman Extraordinaire)

Bud Jillett (Guitar Player and All-around Nice Guy)

Sylvia Heike (Fellow Flash Fiction Freak)

Tegan Wren (Whose awesome novel INCONCEIVABLE is coming soon)

James Stryker (Who I hope will post seven lines from his dark CCBB backstory)

Sharon Bennett (Because she hints she’s got a novel in the works)

That is all.

Twitter pitch contests: the good, the bad, and the when-to-say-no

The Take-Home Message

Did you get a little star next to your #PitMad tweet? Research the agent (or editor or publisher) who put it there before you submit your query/manuscript. Not all agents are created equal. Now on to the rest of the post… With Brenda Drake’s quarterly #PitMad just around the corner (that means tomorrow), I thought I’d tout the highs, give the low-down on the lows, and throw my usual pleasantly curmudgeonly pitch contest warning out to fellow writers. (Yep, two adverbs there. I’m keeping them. Just like I’m keeping my poisoned prologue and my eleventy-million points of view.)

The Good

First, a few upbeat comments. Online pitch and query contests are fantastic and if you have a finished manuscript or non-fiction proposal that is revised, polished, and read by someone who did not give birth to you, you should enter one. Why? Here’s a smattering of reasons: Read more

The Seven Deadly Sins of Querying (and a contest!)

There are probably far more, but seven seemed like a nice non-round number. It’s considered lucky and symbolic. It’s the fifth prime of the integers. As a kid, I always liked the numbers seven and five. Perhaps that’s why. Today I’m discussing a few (seven, actually) of the reasons queries get rejected, using the unscientific method of trolling through the #TenQueries hashtag on Twitter and cherry-picking some recurring problems I see.

1. Not knowing your category/genre

Is it Women’s Fiction or Romance? YA or NA? Thriller or Mystery? If you don’t know, you haven’t done your homework. Do that now. The corollary to this sin is not knowing the word-count range for your age category/genre: for goodness’ sake, no YA Contemporary should be 200,000 words long. Nor should it be 40,000 words short.

2. No query letter

Yes, really — authors, you NEED a query letter in order to query. Trust me. A sample of your MS, a synopsis, or a link to your homepage ain’t gonna do anything except act like a magnet between an agent’s index finger and the Delete button. This falls into the general sin superset of not paying attention to submission guidelines. Read more

Thoughts on Twitter (or, Why I might not follow back)

A few days ago I Tweeted, in a roundabout sort of a way, that I preferred Ayn Rand to Gillian Flynn.  Some stranger re-Tweeted that breaking news (not) to eighteen thousand of her followers.  I can’t really imagine any of them give a shit about my literary preferences.

Then I saw a limited-character note from a fellow Twitterer regarding how many people had recently followed and unfollowed her in the Twittersphere. She got the information via Unfollowers.com and I knew I had to have a peek. Read more