My First Publication

This actually happened about two years ago, right after I took a writing hiatus.  I was just writing haiku and short poems at the time.  Since I knew nothing about poetry, I’m not sure what spurred my inspiration XD  A poem of mine was published in a poetry magazine,  Three Line Poetry, Issue 37. I write under the pen name Tessa Brant.

first freeze of winter

trees stripped down to twisted claws

sky gray as my heart

It didn’t work well as a haiku because of the metaphor, but I liked it the way it was. Haiku is a reflection of Japan, simple, understated beauty.  My writing tends to be purplish, so I suck at writing haiku XD

One of the cool things about short poetry and haiku is that every word carries so much meaning. I love the simplicity of it, such a stark contrast to the way I typically write. I have a few more short poems I plan to submit to this magazine.  I suppose it’s not much to brag about, but my first publication credit will always have a special place in my heart.

I want to get back to writing short stories. I submitted my short story, “A Crown of Dandelions,” to Glimmer Train awhile ago, and it was not accepted XD  In hindsight, submitting my first short story to one of the most elite literature magazines was a mistake.  Maybe that’s not the right word, but I was definitely aiming too high.  Kind of like expecting an Oscar on your first feature film. It’s a good story, but it needs better editing. Also, it has a sci-fi vibe to it, so I’m not sure literature magazines are the best place for it.  I’ll figure it out eventually. In the meantime I just need to write.

First Time Submitting to a Literature Magazine

*flails*  I finally did it!  This is the first short story of original fiction that I’ve written, polished, and submitted to a literature magazine.  I’ve mentioned it a few times on this blog as the suicide story.  I’ve also referred to it as Short Story D.  I’ve spent several years writing, but it was exclusively fanfiction, which can’t be published.  I sent my story to Glimmer Train and will send it to a few others in the next week.  The rate of acceptance for this magazine is 1/1000, so the odds are against me.  I guess that’s a bit of an understatement XD  I’m expecting it to get rejected, but that’s okay.  The endpoint for me is becoming a good writer, and I improved so much in the process of writing and editing this story.  Although, getting something published would be a nice bonus 🙂

I’d love to post the story or snippets on my blog, but I can’t because the majority of literary magazines want first publishing rights.  By posting it to the internet you’ve published it, so most literary magazines won’t accept it.  Although I’ve seen some in the past year that have deleted that clause from their submission guidelines.  The exception is critique sites that are password locked.  Glimmer Train takes blog published fiction, but many others do not, unfortunately.

I spent about a week writing the rough draft of this story and months revising it.  I don’t delete anything, so with each revision I just opened a new document.  There are 18 drafts XD  I’ve never revised something so much.  Complicating factors were the non-linear storyline and my rough transition from fanfiction to original fiction.

Now I start work on another short story.  I’m not sure if I want to do the one about the little girl with an abusive father or the mother that loses her son and develops a relationship with the little girl that gets his transplanted heart.  I’ll probably do the transplanted heart one because I’ve already started that one.

I took a break from blogging because I just had so many things going on in my life.  I’ve taken numerous 7 day+ writing/reading hiatuses as well.  I might talk about it at a later point in time.  I wish my life was more stable, but it’s not and probably never will be.  I’m flying to the other side of the country tomorrow to meet up with Dr. Millis, one of the best hip preservation surgeons in the world.  It’s looking like my last hip surgery in May 2014 has failed.  The surgery wasn’t with Dr. Millis, but I saw him in 2013 and really liked him, so I’m hoping he can help me.  I’ve had 3 hip preservation surgeries at this point, so I’m hoping I can hold off on another one for 1-2 years.  My right hip is still partially dislocating, which is as painful as it sounds.  Did I mention how much I hate my hips XD  Wait, I mean hip in the singular sense.  The left one had a scope and is behaving quite nicely.  My right hip is a factory reject 😦

Hooked By the First Line

An interesting point I’ve seen critters focus on is the importance of the opening paragraph, especially the first line.  I typically give books several pages before I decide whether or not to continue reading, but I can usually tell from the first few lines whether or not I’m going to enjoy it.  I thought it would be kind of fun to compile a list of opening lines from some of the books I have.  Some stories have dedications on the first page or two, which is why they don’t start till the third page or so.

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one that what had gone before.  Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. ” ~The Road (published 2006) by Cormac McCarthy, page 1.

“At dusk [leaflets] pour from the sky.  They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses.  Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobblestones.” ~All the Light We Cannot See (published 2014) by Anthony Doerr, page 3.

“Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, ‘I have come from Alabama: a fur piece.  All the way from Alabama a-walking.”~Light in August (published 1932), William Faulkner, page 1

“The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.  It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into the Monterey Bay.”~East of Eden (published 1952) by John Steinbeck, page 1.

“‘Corruption?  I’ll tell you about corruption, sonny!’ The old man glared into the flames in the fireplace and trembled all over, biting so hard on the stem of his pipe that it crackled once, sharply, like the fireplace logs.” ~October Light by John Gardner, page 1.

“Snowman wakes before dawn.  He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is asleep.” ~Oryx and Crake (published 2003) by Margaret Atwood, page 1.

“It was Wang Lung’s marriage day.  At first, opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtains about his bed, he could not think why the dawn seemed different from any other.  The house was still except for the faint, gasping cough of his old father, whose room was opposite to his own across the middle room.” ~The Good Earth (published 1931) by Pearl S. Buck, page 1.

“The escalator crept along slowly, straining upward  In an old station like this, what else could you expect?  But the wind swirled like a wild thing inside the concrete pipe–ruffling his hair, tugging the hood off his head, sneaking under his scarf, pressing him downward.” ~Nightwatch (published 1998) by Sergei Lukyanenko, page 3.

“I had seen her just the day before–a day of pale blue skies and summer breezes. We had stood on the lawns beneath the chestnut trees and she had said: the leaves are talking to me Charlie.”~The Piano Man’s Daughter (published 1995) by Timothy Findley, page 1.

“It was love at first sight.  The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.  Yosarrian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice.”~Catch-22 (published 1961) by Joseph Heller.

“In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree, Siddhartha, the handsome Brahmin’s son, grew up with his friend Govinda.  The sun browned his slender shoulders on the river bank, while bathing at the holy ablutions, at the holy sacrifices.”~Siddhartha (published 1922) by Hermann Hesse, page 3

“Mabel had known there would be silence.  That was the point, after all.  No infants cooing or wailing.  No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane.”~The Snow Child (published 2013) by Ewoyn Ivey, page 3

What many of them have in common is that the pull the reader into the world that they have created, and make us care about what is happening.  The first few lines also set the mood for the story.  After reading the intro for The Road, you can already tell the story is going to be dark and full of angst.

An interesting point is that when you compare the introductions of older fiction to their modern counterparts, it’s obvious that modern audiences expect more of a hook.  Maybe that has something to do with the fact that people have less patience now.  We are always looking for faster and more efficient ways to accomplish things.  It only makes sense that this would extend to fiction.

Out of curiosity, based on these intros, which books would you want to read?   I’ve read all of these so my choices are biased.

Oops, I Joined Another Literary Critique Site

I joined another literary critique site, Scribophile, about a week ago.  I posted my short story about three times on Critique Circle, and I wanted some fresh eyes on it before I submit it to literature magazines in August.  One advantage of Scribophile over Critique Circle is that you get reputation points for being a good critter.  I put a lot of effort into my critiques, so it’s nice to be recognized for that quality.

I actually had to use a real name to sign up (they wouldn’t let me use Paper Butterfly), so I used Tessa Brant.  I guess that is my pseudonym now XD  Previously, I was debating the names Ella, Tessa, and Janna, but I felt like a Tessa when I signed up, so that’s who I am now.  It’s still kind of weird when people call me Tessa because I’m not used to it.  I never wanted to publish under my real name because I’m still a bit scared my cyberbully will come after me.  I guess if I ever become popular then my real identity will come out, but I’ll cross that bridge if it ever happens XD  Scribophile is bigger than Critique Circle so there are more writers and critters.  The nice thing about that is that no one person dominates the forums and/or critiques.  Since it is so large there are more writers.  I already found a few other writers that love poetic prose and flailed around like a fangirl 8D

A benefit that both of these sites share is that they are locked unless you have a user ID and password.  This allows you to post your stories without exposing them to the whole internet.  Most literature magazines will not take a story once it has been blog published or published anywhere on the internet.

I think I’ve definitely improved since joining literary critique sites.  It helps to read the critiques of other writers, and then you get a better sense of what works and what doesn’t.  I’ve become more critical of my own writing in the process.  I don’t think I’ll be joining more than two of these sites because it’s more than enough to keep me busy.

Research Needed for a Short Story

One of the less fun aspects of writing fiction is research.  The amount that needs to be done depends on what you are writing because some stories necessitate more than others.  It makes for a more authentic story.  This is a list of the research I ended up doing for my 6,000 word story about a man that kills himself.  I don’t want to mention the name of the story because I’m going to submit it to literary magazines in August.  I probably used like 5-10% of the info that I read about.  If you try to cram in too much technical stuff the story sounds forced.

By far the worst scene of the whole story was the car crash.  I hated writing it.  Action scenes are hard to write, and this one was intense.  How do you convey the horror of getting in a car crash and watching your girlfriend die in a fiery cage of twisted steel?!  Ugh.  I gave it my best shot XD  I have a few weeks to distance myself before I submit so I may come back and revise that part.  My favorite scene was probably the intro where he shoots himself.  I guess that sounds morbid XD  I mean I enjoyed writing it.  Perhaps because I have been on the brink of suicide before so it was cathartic to write about it.

List of Research Topics 

1. Pictures of compound fractures (The pictures gave me nightmares D:)

2. Accounts from people surviving near death experiences

3. Accounts from car crash survivors

4. The taste of different vodkas

5. Guns, what they look like and how to shoot one

6. How long can someone survive after a bullet wound to the chest

7. Videos of car crashes (I hated this.  It was awful)

8. Videos of drunk driving

9. Treatment for a gunshot wound

10. What year the Seattle Seahawks were playing the Superbowl (random I know XD)

11. Jail time for manslaughter due to drunk driving (I ended up not using this info)

I’m Not a Writer but Someone Who Loves To Write

My parents are moving to the other side of the country after living in the same house for about 15 years.  They asked me to come over and sort through my stuff, so I could take what I wanted.  I’m going through my old schoolwork and trapped underneath a mountain of the most vibrant shade of purple prose was a budding writer.  I was using metaphors at ten years old even though I didn’t know what a metaphor was until I was much older, and there were bits and pieces of insightful prose in my high school essays.  It means something to me because I feel like a fraud among other writers because I didn’t spend my whole life writing.  I’m not a writer, but instead someone who loves to write.  A distinction with a big difference.

Unlike a lot of other writers in the blogosphere, I didn’t spend my whole life writing fiction and/or fanfiction.  As a child I wrote lots of stories about ponies, unicorns, and princesses, but after age eight I didn’t write for fun anymore.  I’m not sure why I stopped, but I lost interest in it.  However, I’ve always had a voracious appetite for books.  Margaret Atwood touched my heart in 11th grade.  Her prose was so gorgeous, and I just fell in love with her as a writer.  There’s some neurochemistry beyond my ability to put into words that happens when I come across poetic prose.  It’s just ummmmf * -*

In 12th grade AP English I realized how much I enjoyed writing, but I wouldn’t branch out on my own and start writing fanfiction till I was in my mid-20s.  Last year I made the transition into original fiction, and that’s when I became aware of the fact that I was different from most other writers.  After going through all of my old schoolwork, I realized I always had the heart of a writer so maybe I’m not the black sheep of the writing community like I thought I was.

Here is my high school tribute to my 12th grade AP English Class.  Even then I had a penchant for angst and poetic prose though it would be years before I could write something decent.

I thought about writing a dedication to each individual, but I don’t think that’s necessary. In the big scheme of life names become a blur and memories fade. At the moment high school seems so significant, but in a while it will be just an indistinct memory worn away by time. I wish to address the larger picture. I would like everyone to know that in some way or another they had a positive influence on my life. There are a few of you who have become very close friends and intertwined your lives with mine. I need not mention who you are because I’m sure you already know. Then there are also some of you that have caused me pain, but it doesn’t matter now. . . I don’t wish to dwell on bitter memories because in the end I have benefited from each and every one of you. It was nice because I’ve been in class with so many of you for four or more years now. Since I have moved so much in my lifetime, I’ve never really had a chance to enjoy seeing my classmates mature. Although I had a really difficult time when I started school in this district five years ago, I now feel at ease around every one of you. Surprisingly, English is my favorite class, and at the heart of it is you Mrs. X [name removed for security purposes]. I never really got to know you personally, but in many ways I feel like we have a close relationship. You helped rekindle my love for writing and perhaps I have found a bond with you in that way. There will never be a time again in my life quite like this; a time of decay and a time of growth.  I thank all of you for being such a large part of my life. I will probably never see most of you again after graduation, and your distinct identities will most likely fade into obscurity, but as a group I will remember you. . .

Mr. Nobody, A Lesson in Avant-Garde Storytelling

“If you never make a choice, anything is possible.” ~Nemo Nobody from Mr. Nobody.

I watched a movie over the weekend called Mr. Nobody.  What initially attracted me to the movie was Jared Leto because I’m a huge fan of his band, 30 Seconds to Mars.  He’s so cute X3  Anyway, I convinced my husband to watch it with me because I don’t like watching movies in general, and especially not alone.

Mr. Nobody

It was a non-linear story, so it’s hard to describe the plot, but I’ll try.  It’s about a man who is the last living human on earth as everyone else has telemorized into digital representations of themselves.  He recounts his life story to a journalist, but instead of one life he goes through all the different lives he could have had based on decisions he made in the past.  The ending does give a more definitive answer to what life he really led, but I won’t spoil it for those that want to watch it.

There’s a certain beauty in the non-linear format as it breaks down reality and shuffles the pieces to create a story.  This generates a surreal and dream like effect where the viewer wonders what is real and what isn’t.  Just as you think you understand what the film is about, you get yanked out of it and put in another reality.  It had me asking questions like which one is real?  Are any of them real?  It really puts you into the head-space of the narrator as you go on this journey with him through infinite possibilities.

It was really well done.  I think one aspect that I liked was how the different segments bled into each other.  Certain themes were carried throughout the film like water, pools, and drowning, which represented man’s powerlessness in life.  Nemo’s obsession with water and swimming, despite the fact that he couldn’t, symbolized the resilience of humankind  The leaf was a manifestation of the butterfly effect, basically that a minute change in the present can have a huge effect on the future.  One of the central themes was about the randomness of the human experience, and I think the chaotic nature of the film helped the viewer not only understand that point but feel it as well.

Non-linear stories aren’t for everyone.  I really love films and stories like this.  I wish I had seen it prior to writing my suicide story, which is in a non-linear format, because that is what I wanted it to be.  I wanted reality and delusions to bleed together so the reader wasn’t sure what was really going on.  Although I did accomplish that to some extent, and it confused people XD  I wanted to take the reader on a journey as my protagonist loses his grip on reality.  I didn’t just want the reader to know that my character was dying, I wanted them to feel him dying, if that makes sense.

There are some limitations of the non-linear format.  You run the risk of alienating viewers/readers because it’s often confusing, and some give-up before the story gets traction.  Other people just aren’t going to like it because it can come off as choppy and disorienting.  This is why it might be awhile before I write another non-linear story.  It was more difficult than anything I’d ever done before.  If my story was too organized the whole premise of it being from the POV of a dying man would fall apart, but if it was too messy no one would understand it.  To walk that thin line between those two was challenging.

I wanted to finish it by Feb. 28th so I could submit it to Glimmer Train, but I don’t think I’ll make that deadline.  I’ll finish it by the end of February, set it aside for a month (at least) and tweak it a bit more.  The old sections have been revised enough.  It’s the newer parts I’m concerned about. . .   I can submit it to Glimmer Train later, like in June or something.  I only get one shot at it, so I don’t want to rush things and have part of it coming off as unpolished.  I can submit it to other literary magazines in the meantime.  Then I can move onto writing something else 8D

Submitting a Short Story: Cover Letter

I’ve set a tentative goal to submit my suicide short story to about 2-3 literary magazines in late February.  It’s been through 8-9 drafts so far, but it feels like it’s almost there now.  I need to write the final draft in a week or two and then let it rest for a week or two before submitting.  It was my first real short story of original fiction (prior to this I had just written fanfic), and there was a lot of stuff about writing I didn’t even know I didn’t know.  Now I know some of what it is I don’t know, so I guess that’s progress, maybe XD  It feels kind of weird to still be working on this thing (though I took a 4 month writing/reading hiatus for my new job), but hopefully my next short story won’t need such a grueling editing job.  Although my next short story won’t be told from the POV of a dying man having delusions, so that already makes it easier.

Apparently you need a cover letter which freaked me out a bit because I don’t know of a good way to summarize my story or the reason I wrote it without sounding too emo or macabre.  It looks like you don’t need to go into detail though.  The story is more about finding peace and redemption than it is about suicide, but it’s a sensitive subject, and I don’t want to upset anyone with my cover letter.

I’m also in the process of coming up with a pseudonym.  For now I like the name Ella Hall, but that may change in a week or two.  I love the name Ella, but I’m not sure about Hall.  I’ll probably dedicate an entry to why I’m not publishing (more like attempting to publish XD) under my real name, but that’s beyond the scope of this entry.  For others who are curious or in the same boat I found some helpful articles on the subject.

Links to Helpful Blog/Articles About Cover Letters:

Writer’s Digest: Literary Journal Submissions 101

Freelance Writing: Cover Letters For Short Stories

The Review Review: Your Perfect Cover Letter

David Fitzpatrick’s Examples of Good and Bad Cover Letters

If anyone has another good resource about this issue, please share 🙂

What Not To Write #1

A friend of mine gave me a book of writing advice on short stories for Christmas.  It was actually a very thoughtful gift :$  Anyway, the book starts out with an introduction, and the author explains that he can’t give you the magic formula for a great short story.  He can merely tell you some pitfalls to avoid.  This is a good approach because it’s much easier to specify what is wrong with a story than it is to define what is right about it.  Not even great authors know or every book they write would be their magnum opus.  

Awhile back I received a critique on a piece where I was told me I was doing everything wrong, and he rewrote a large chunk of my story, butchering my prose and characterization in the process.  He also gave me links to books that would show me how to write because I clearly didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  To be honest, the only thing it did was discourage me.  Only later did I realize that if anyone (including those writing books on how to write) tells you they (or someone else) has the magic formula for writing they are either lying or oversimplifying things.  

Writing has several things in common with ballet.  It takes years of hard work and dedication for even those predisposed to ballet to become great.  I know this because I was training to be a professional ballet dancer.  One doesn’t learn ballet by reading a book on how to dance.  Instead they learn through sweat, tears, and guidance by great teachers.  I’ve had many great writing teachers over the years, McCarthy, Atwood, Orwell, Findley, etc.  Even if I’m not writing I force myself to read every day or else my writing skills regress.  

I may read more writing advice books.  Not sure if they will help, but it’s worth a shot.  Advice books are geared towards helping one with story dynamics and characterization more so than prose.  I don’t know of a better way to fix prose besides reading books with great prose and practicing till you’ve gotten all the purple prose out of your system.  I’ve ignored story dynamics for the past few years in favor of prose, so I’m focusing on that for now. 

More on things to avoid in your writing from the blog, “Writers Helping Writers.”  I might write more of these, which is why this entry is labeled as Part #1.  For the next one I may write about why you shouldn’t kill off a character in the intro or first chapter.  I wouldn’t say I’m qualified to give writing advice, so it’s more like my thoroughly biased opinion which you are free to ignore or disagree with.   

A Pattern Emerging In My Writing

I put the suicide story away for now.  I’ll come back to it in a few weeks and do the final revision.  I started the editing process on the other short story I wrote about a woman who donates her deceased son’s heart to a little girl.  I ended up lengthening the memory/flashback in the beginning to give more insight into both the mom and the son.  That’s when I realized a pattern was emerging.  Both of these short stories are employing flashbacks and death.

My huge fanfic novel also relied on flashbacks and death.  I didn’t plan for it to turn out like that, but it just did XD  Two out of my next three stories don’t have any flashbacks or death, and only one of the short stories isn’t angst.  I don’t want my writing to all be flashbacks and death, but for some reason I naturally gravitate towards it.  I’ll show you what I mean. . .

Future Short Stories

1.  A soldier with PTSD adopts an abused cat and they heal each other (Angst/Flashbacks and death)

2. A little girl copes with an abusive father and ends up blaming herself for it (Angst/No flashbacks or death)

3. A Japanese man comes across a katana in America and tries to give the spirit peace (Not angst/No flashbacks or death)

Already Written

4. A mother donates her son’s organs after he dies and keeps in contact with the girl that gets his heart (Angst/Flashbacks and Death)

5.  A man kills himself after a long spiral downwards with depression and substance abuse due to his fiancee’s death (Angst/Flashbacks and Death)

See a pattern?  XD  Story #3 is actually based on something that happened to my husband.  The details will be changed to make it different, but I was humbled by his devotion and respect to the fallen Japanese warriors in WW II.  I love reading and writing angst, but I already knew that.  It was my preoccupation with death I didn’t realize till now.  Part of the reason I love angst so much is the potential for emotive and poetic prose.  I’m not sure why I am writing about death.  Maybe it will come to me later.

I guess this post is more of an observation because it’s hard to change the subject matter you want to write.  McCarthy writes angst almost exclusively.  It’s just who he is as a writer.  A friend of mine pointed out that just because I’m writing depressing stories now doesn’t condemn me to the same thing in the future.  Perhaps, but I think I will always gravitate towards angst.  I have written humor in the past, but I haven’t been inspired to do that in a while.

Anyway, my job starts tomorrow, and I’m excited 😀  The first month will be tough, so I may not get much writing or reading in.  But once I’m settled I’ll be in a better place to write.  I’ll try to keep up my reading though or my technique will deteriorate a bit :/