Friday, August 11, 2017

Strategy for Publishing Short Fiction

I didn't write much short fiction before I attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop last summer (which I cannot recommend enough). I took Nancy Zafris' short fiction class after attending her novel workshop the previous summer. She said the short fiction class would help me with line-level things that would be beneficial to my novel-writing. She was right (she always is).

For the first assignment that was given before the workshop, she asked us to write a 300-word story based on a picture of a gel character smashed onto the sidewalk. It was the kid of gel creature that my kids get at fairs or from tickets at Dave and Busters. They end up on my ceiling, and the red ones leave a stain behind - my dining room table was forever marked with a red starfish.

My response to Nancy's request for us to write a 300-word story was that this isn't a thing. That is the length of a cover letter. It is three paragraphs. Stories cannot be 300 words long. I was proven wrong.

That week, I learned how to write tiny stories and how to be incredibly concise in service to a limited word count.

The week-long workshop was generative - we were given a new prompt every day and struggled to write a new story every afternoon (until 1:00 a.m. for me most nights). 

In the end, I completed two stories that I loved and had a few that were kind of so-so that I have since abandoned. I left Kenyon sorely wishing I could completely rewrite my one story that had already been accepted for publication, "Hostess of the Dead," which is forever in print as is in Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II.

As soon as I got home, I used one of the more complicated prompts to write a story for a local contest. I won some (relatively) good money for it and later received Honorable Mention when I entered that same story in Glimmer Train's March/April 2017 Very Short Fiction contest.

I wrote another story this April that was recently published at Four Ties Lit Review. It's 1200 words, which has become the sweet spot for me with short fiction. You can read it here if you like:

"Creamed Corn and Ninja Stars" at Four Ties Lit Review

What I lacked last summer when the conference was over (and quickly figured out) was a strategy to get the stories published. That's where Nancy and Geeta Kothari helped. They said to put myself on a submission schedule. I should submit two times a week (and it's okay if it is the same story that I submit in the same week). I believe they said to avoid contests, but I think I've heard that from professors also.

If you submit twice a week for a year, you will have submitted about 100 times. Chances are, the stories will be published. This has been true for me and others from that workshop that followed the same strategy. The lovely part is that I have had four stories published in a year and now completely accept the idea that rejection is part of the job. (I honestly did not submit 100 - I got to about 50 including academic papers - and withdrew many of the submissions after the stories were accepted.)

The bottom line is that if we aren't writing, we have nothing to submit. If we aren't submitting, we aren't doing our jobs.

Do you have any tips for finding journals to submit to for short fiction (many journals seem to be closed in the summer) or strategies for publishing short fiction?


Friday, May 26, 2017

Publication -- Postcards from Clockworld

I have great news to start off the weekend. One of my short stories, "Postcards from Clockworld," is going to be published online at The Bookends Review on Monday, May 29!

I wrote this story at Kenyon Review Writers Workshop last summer in Nancy Zafris' class. The prompt was to write a story based on a random postcard handed to me and to write it as a series of five consecutive postcards. "That's a good one," Nancy said (or something close to that) as she handed a postcard to me. It obviously was a reference to something, and I had no idea what. It was an image of a young woman sitting in the grass trying to pry open the face of a clock. It turned out to be the Nancy Drew book cover for The Secret of the Old Clock, but I didn't get the reference. Not even close. I was a Little House on the Prairie kind of girl.

It turned out I also got the assignment wrong. In my first draft, I wrote a series of notes between two characters, a back and forth argument between a woman and her spouse who were not travelling together. When I met with Nancy, she said the draft was great, but no. I didn't do the assignment.

That evening, I worked until 1:00 a.m. alone at the kitchen table in my dorm/apartment and rewrote it. I love how the story was transformed by the revision and how my initial mistake in giving the other person a voice allowed me to respond to that voice in the final version, even though his words are not on the page. Sometimes mistakes are fabulous.

I received three or four rejection letters for this story that were near-acceptances, each stating the virtues of the story, but also saying it was not for them. One journal stated what I had suspected -- that the letter format bothered them. They asked me to rewrite it as a straight narrative and resubmit. I decided to do that, but the very next day, the story was accepted by The Bookends Review. I am incredibly grateful to The Bookends Review for publishing the story as is with no changes.

How do you all feel about reading epistolary stories? For my writing friends, have you written one? Have you had lovely rejections or ones that have prompted you to rewrite a story?


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Novel Writing Workshop

I heard yesterday that the Zafris-Kothari Novel Workshop has some openings for the week-long workshop in July. If you are struggling at all with your novel, I highly recommend this workshop. It was previously held at Kenyon College, but has moved this year to The Ohio State University campus. The dates are July 19 to 25.

This workshop is unlike any other that I've attended or seen advertised. Usually, workshops have about ten writers and one facilitator who go around the circle and give their opinion about twenty pages of each writer's novel. This is all good and fine and useful in its own way, but getting feedback from other writers who are struggling isn't always helpful (especially in those workshops where egos and personalities muck things up) because new writers aren't experts. People attend workshops because they aren't experienced writers and they want to learn. The other downside to typical workshops is that each participant is tasked with critiquing nine other manuscripts - and the majority of the effort is in giving thoughtful and useful critiques to others.

The difference with the Zafris-Kothari Novel Workshop and the thing that made it so worth the money for me was the fact that 100 pages of my novel was critiqued by professionals. Now there's an option to submit 200 pages. Craft lessons are also a huge part of the workshop. When I was there, Karin Lin-Greenberg gave an excellent lecture on how to balance the internal and external, which I have found to be incredibly helpful in both my novel and my short fiction.

Because a huge chunk of my novel was critiqued, I was able to get solid feedback on what was working and what wasn't working across my entire novel. The fact I didn't need to critique other peoples' pages made the workshop feel like it was focused on me and my writing and not on my ability to give feedback.

For me, this workshop was life-changing as a writer. I really hope some of you can attend. If you have any questions about my experience at the workshop, please post in the comments.


UPDATE: The workshop was cancelled for this year.

Monday, February 6, 2017

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

I set up a Twitter account in 2012, retweeted something just to test it out, and abandoned it completely. It seemed like trying to parse through a million text messages. Not my thing.

But today one of my stories was published online at Streetlight Magazine. And another story is included in Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II. And yet another just got picked up by The Bookends Review. (I am having a good year.)

I was asked for a Twitter handle today so Streetlight Magazine can tweet about my story - they called my story "fabulous" in the email, so how could I pass on that?

So I set one up. It's @TonjaMReynolds. I'm not really sure what to do with it. I am actually very computer-savvy and used to develop really complicated software and backend components (stuff that does magic in the background).

This week, I will try to find some of you and somehow attach myself to you.

I am going to use Twitter in a minimal way. I find social media to be a distraction from the writing. The novel is nearly done. I would be writing the ending chapters today, but my kids are sick and I'm doing this instead of that.

If you have a Twitter account, leave me a comment here and I will follow you (or like you or whatever the tweeting lingo is).

If you are here because of Best of Ohio Short Stories:Volume II or Streetlight Magazine, please leave a comment. I think I am open to anonymous comments - pretty sure.

And if you have any suggestions for adding a Twitter account to everything else without getting sucked into the black hole of politics and cute kittens, please speak up. :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Short Story Challenge

Just for fun and to keep my mind engaged in non-political complexity, I am going to play around with short story structure and finish two half-written stories that follow particular structures borrowed from short stories I love. One story follows the format in one of Nancy Zafris' stories in The Home Jar: Stories, "If A Then B Then C." The other uses a "you" point-of-view, which I've never done before - this is borrowed from Karin Lin-Greenberg's "Designated Driver" in Faulty Predictions
Faulty Predictions
Both of these collections are really great. I found Faulty Predictions to be a lesson in point of view. 
The Home Jar demonstrated for me how to not overexplain and the importance of leaving some details open to the reader's imagination. The ending of "The Home Jar" will stick with me forever - read it, and you'll know what I mean.
The Home Jar
Am going to try to finish the drafts of both stories today (the novel will wait another day) and submit one of them to the Kenyon Review Fiction Contest (the deadline is next week). Anyone with me? The word count limit is 1200.
The prize for this very competitive competition is a scholarship to attend the 2017 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, which is an amazing workshop that I was lucky enough to attend last year. The fiction workshop is generative. You come in with your body and a laptop (or pen and paper if that's how you roll) and are given thoughtful instruction and prompts before noon. After noon, you write a new story, often an impossibly tiny new story. The next day, you share it with the class and get it critiqued. By the end of the week, you are changed. I walked out of there as if I was wearing different glasses when doing line-level revisions to my novel. It's expensive, but do it anyway.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Rejection is Part of the Job

I read somewhere that writers (presumably of short fiction) should strive for 100 rejections a year.

This sounds harsh and counter-intuitive, but not submitting because of the inevitable rejection is like a software developer never going live because they fear someone will find a bug in the code (and they will) or because potential users won't love it. Developers write it anyway. They go live. They know more people will reject the program than embrace it. This is life.

I'm going for 100 in 2017. One down, 99 to go.

(I will post a link to the article when I find it.)


Monday, January 2, 2017

Exciting News

Yesterday, I was asked to do a public reading that I believe is hosted by the Columbus Creative Cooperative, the organization that published the short story anthology that my story is in.

I agreed to do the reading. But it's about two hours away, which is a little problematic. I will do it anyway because I said I would. I get to read for up to twenty minutes, which is awesome and terrifying. Mostly terrifying. But probably good for me.

I will post the details when I have them.

Here's the Amazon link to the anthology that includes one of my stories: Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II.

If you read the story and think I'm talking about you, I'm not - It's fiction, for the love of God. :) FICTION. (But that's another story).