The Short Story Challenge

Well, so much for my weekly schedule! It’s been a month since I posted, and have only the usual excuses to offer – work and life. 

I am very happy to have my story “Pearls Mean Tears” published in the fabulous Tincture Journal – do grab a copy! There’s also a GoodReads link, and an author page for little ol’ me! Having my own author page on GoodReads tickles me no end. 

Note that my absence of blog posts does not translate to a void in my writing. I am pleased to report that I have got plenty of writing done. In a usual year, I get about 10k words of writing completed, and that’s an optimistic estimate, but this year I’ve managed that in the first two months alone. This is thanks in no small part to the Short Story Challenge – 12 of us have taken it upon ourselves to complete 1 short story every month this year. Our host Radhika Meghanathan calls it the 12×12 challenge, as we’re writing 12 stories in 12 months. By a lucky coincidence there’s 12 writers on the group too! 

I’ve learnt a lot by doing this challenge.

  1. It’s easier to complete a story than I think, especially once I’m into it about three hundred words or so.
  2. It’s easier to critique stories that are not your own, mostly also because you don’t have to go back and fix them! I do try my level best to give some suggestions, though.
  3. It becomes easier to spot mistakes in your own work, having critiqued someone else’s.
  4. It gets easier to know how to fix problems that creep up again and again.

Plot problems, incorrect words, abrupt endings – these and many such issues plague my stories. Of course, like all good writers, I diligently plough on, waiting to find that elusive gold at the end of the rainbow.

What have you been writing lately?

To Kindle or not to Kindle

A great start to the year – my story “Singapore City” has been published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Hop over and check it out!

On to the feature presentation:

Two years ago, I bought an iPod Touch. Why, you may ask, did I abandon all manner of Apple iPhones and stoop to the Touch instead? Well, I’ve owned my share of expensive cell phones, and the experience alerted me to the realization that Smartphones and I are not heading for a Happily Ever After. I don’t possess the maturity levels required to nurture a smartphone as much as it needs me to.                           

So I went ahead and splurged on the 16 GB iPod Touch. From the minute I brought it home in its carefully wrapped pristine white packaging, I surrendered all rights to my toddler. The speed with which she navigated the device amazed me. She swooped in on the phone and started using it as her own.

I considered buying a Kindle. From all that I’ve heard and seen, the Kindle is an ideal device for the voracious reader. Kindle boasts e-ink technology that is easy on the eyes and most closely resembles reading a print book. One can read it in the sunlight as well, similar to how you read a print book.

Though I didn’t buy a Kindle eventually, I settled on reading ebooks using the Kindle app on the iPod Touch. I’ve done almost half my reading last year on the Touch, which is a great surprise for one who thought you’d have to pry the print books from her cold dead hands.

Apart from the ebooks, I am a member of two libraries which combine to quench my thirst for books. The first is British Council, where I’ve been a member for almost a decade (minus the two years I lived in Singapore). The second is Just Books, which set up shop here a couple of years ago. Now I wonder how I ever lived without them. They stock every type of book, down to the latest Indian bestsellers and Nigella Lawson/Jamie Oliver cookbooks. What more could a girl want? I even read The Casual Vacancy by borrowing it from Just Books. Considering its price and bulk, I might not have purchased or read it otherwise, however brilliant it turned out to be.

Thanks to Just Books and British Library, I am slowly but surely building up to my pre-baby average of 2 books per week. Last year I read 43 books, which improved on the previous year’s total of 33. This year I hope to read 50 books by the time 31st December rolls around.

Do you read more print books or prefer to flip virtual pages on an e-reader?

Acceptances, Rejections and Everything in between

Any writer worth his salt is writing and sending out stories, essays and articles, one painstaking word document at a time. But submitting means opening yourself up to rejections and heartache. Once in a while, a rollicking acceptance mail lands in your inbox, rendering the previous rejections null and void. That makes it all worth it. Read on for what else to expect when you brave the big bag world of story submission.

The Good

The high that you get when an acceptance lands in your inbox is incomparable. Considering most writers log around 10 to 20 rejections per acceptance, the glow you get from reading the editor’s positive words has to sustain you for at least another few rejections. It has to tide you over for the stream of rejections that might follow this one.

My first reaction is to thank the editor for the good news, and then tackle the editing changes he has outlined, if any. So far, I’ve received minor edits for my stories which did not require much back and forth email exchanges with the editor.

If you receive a contract to sign, do look it over carefully and accord it the same importance reserved for signing other official documents. Important things to look for are rights (don’t sign all away!) and payments (if you’re getting paid).

You will also receive a final version of the story to proofread and check one last time. Ensure that you go through it carefully and not cast a cursory glance at your words.

In my email inbox, I label these as simply “Acceptances”. The best part about getting an acceptance – the editors usually write something like ‘I loved your story’ or ‘I really enjoyed your story’. Receiving and reading appreciative emails like these is rare. For the solitary art of writing, moments like this are few and are between.

The Bad

This includes personalized rejections, or those in which you find that your piece weathered several rounds of reading but just missed the final cut. These letters evoke a kind of sweet pain. You did good but not good enough.

You can do two things at this time:

  1. Send it out to another market immediately. The rejection could simply mean the subjective nature of the business did you in. Or,
  2. Go back to the drawing board and revise it. This is especially true if you received specific feedback on some aspect of your story which you had not noticed before. An editorial eye might reveal any number of flaws or inconsistencies that the writer or critique partners simply can’t catch.

Refer the Rejection Wiki to check which tier of rejection you received (form, personal, etc).

If I ever get a personalized rejection that mentions specific reasons for my piece not getting selected, I label these as “Good Learnings” in my inbox, and look over them retrospectively once in a while to make sure I’m not committing any of the same mistakes. Also the editor’s comments are important because (assuming they are positive) you can quote these while submitting to the same editor again, reminding him that you came close once earlier.

The Ugly

I once had a story rejected in three days. Its penultimate sentence states (and I paraphrase here to protect the guilty)

Your submission lacks the literary qualities necessary for our magazine…”

I have received my fair share of rejections and for the most part I feel a pang of disappointment when I read them, but this one stung. To add insult to injury, the last sentence states, “We hope you are not discouraged and will continue writing.”

This is like stabbing the writer in the heart and then drawing the knife out cleanly so you may dab ointment on the inflicted wound. The balm has no effect, and the damage has already been done. The heart of the writer is destroyed, stamped out, even if momentarily, for surely the scribbler will pick up the pieces of his shattered soul and send out submission packages with renewed vigour the following week.

After all, literary merit is highly subjective. Luckily this story of mine got placed in another well-paying magazine, so I didn’t shed too many tears on this rebuff.

How do you handle acceptances and rejections?

5 Tips & Tricks: Lessons learned from a year of writing and submitting

HNY Folks!

You know how great minds think alike? Around the time I was toying with the idea of publishing one post related to writing/reading every week, my friend Payal went ahead and built a whole thingie out of it! So I’m colluding with her in the grand 52 Weeks of Reading and Writing challenge! Feel free to join in!

Without further ado, here’s my first post of the series:

In 2013, I wrote and/or revised 12 short stories and essays. I made a total of 48 submissions (primarily short stories, with a few essays thrown in). For your edification, here are a few stats:

Submitted – 48

Accepted – 2 (+1 acceptance received in Jan-14)

Rejected – 31

Waiting on a response – 12 (-1 if I count the ’14 acceptance)

Withdrawn – 3

So my acceptance rate is 2/48 = 4.2% which is lower than the acceptance rate of most literary magazines! I’m not sure if this should thrill me or kill me, but the good thing is that I’m hooked to the ‘Write. Polish. Submit. Repeat’ pattern.

There have been a few lessons learned along the way. This is one of those moments where you go:

Life Lessons

But if you’re not learning, you’re dying. Well, at least, decaying/rotting/stagnating etc. So here are a few tips to help increase your chances of publication:

  1. Know the market you are sending to

Your chances of publication in a magazine of your choice vastly improve if you have read previous issues and can gauge that the tone/style of your piece matches theirs. Most back issues are available online, so there shouldn’t be any excuse for this. If back issues are available only at a price, then for once, splurge. It is a worthy investment. Trade with other writers or chip in to purchase. The time you invest in perusing the archives will be worthwhile.

My new policy is I do not submit to a magazine if I can’t picture my story fitting in. Note that this approach doesn’t guarantee an acceptance, but the probability of the editor liking your story climbs up a few notches.

More than anything else, this lesson carries the most weight.

  1. Maintain a calendar of upcoming deadlines/themes

Use Duotrope. It requires a paid subscription which I have taken for a few months and found it quite useful. Other free sources of listings include NewPages and The Review Review. I recommend signing up for The Review Review here.

You can use the themes and prompts for later stories if you are unable to submit by the deadline for that particular magazine, if for nothing else but to get the creative juices flowing.

Try Grammarly if you have issues with your grammar.

  1. Story Length

How long is a piece of string? Short stories lie anywhere between 1001 to 10,000 words. Probably anything longer would be a novella.

If your story is just over a thousand words, I suggest to boost it to 1500 words or more, or chop it to less than 1000 to make it flash.

  1. Literary value

This is especially a lesson for me. Earlier I tended to write more raw pieces, bereft of depth and beauty. I’ve consciously moved towards slightly more literary writing. Now I’m really immersed in the experience and after a long time, I’m enjoying my writing and am able to write purely for the pleasure of it.

  1. Critique partners

DO NOT hit submit on a story without getting it critiqued/read/reviewed by at least one other writer. We miss the most obvious and simple things in our story. Note that we would pounce on these mistakes in anyone else’s story without a second thought. Your Internal Editor may be awesome at catching grammatical mistakes, but I find that only a fresh pair of eyes can zero in on flawed plotlines, illogic and fallacies.

For further reading:

Nathaniel Tower, editor of Bartleby Snopes, has just written a great post on when not to submit a story. Check it out.

Talisman

I am quite pleased to report that my story ‘Talisman’ is out in the latest issue of Glassfire magazine.

Do pop over and read it. Tell me what you think! If you like it, pass it along to your friends and family. If you don’t like it, pass it along anyway, for what better way to make your kith and kin suffer?

Why I don’t do Nanowrimo (but support those who do!)

I use Grammarly for English proofreading because if I don’t, the Grammar Nazis will catch me and throw me into the word-cage! Do try out Grammarly for proofreading your articles, essays and even stories.

Every year on the 1st of November, writers all over the world plunge into the vortex of frenzy that is Nanowrimo, short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to churn out a book of length 50,000 words or more in the thirty days of November. For the mathematically inclined, that works out to 1667 words per day. Note that this daily number alone exceeds my monthly total.

I’ve attempted it twice and failed miserably. Both times, I managed a respectable output the first ten days, keeping up the stream of words flowing so that I met the target. On the days I fell short, I managed to compensate on subsequent sessions and maintain the average.

On both occasions, I ended up with around ten thousand words that I could salvage out of the unfiltered mess. Both helped me build my books to a hefty total, but in the end I left a lot of words on the cutting floor.

I’ve completed two novels and am working on a third. Judging by my past experience, I don’t believe I have a problem in finishing my books. Even I take a long break in between chapters, I always return to it and pick up the pace.

Maintaining thirty successive days of writing a high volume seems next to impossible for me. When I tried Nano in 2011, I lasted only a few days before a torrent of work hit me.

However, I see a solid reason for doing it. People who need an incentive, a final push to get the book out on paper, and who have more discipline than I do, could really benefit from Nanowrimo. Be warned, though. You definitely need to clear out your schedule, put up 3 X 5 index cards all over your bulletin board, and ignore your family for most of the month.

If you haven’t already, check out Nanowrimo.org to register for the event.

Here are a few awesome links to get you started on characters, outlines, plotlines etc.

Could you draft a novel in a month? Here’s how to nail NaNoWriMo

Alexandra Sokoloff’s Series on Nanowrimo

25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo

Camp Nanowrimo

Are you planning to do Nanowrimo this year? I’m thinking about it as always, but it all hinges on the first few crucial hours of 1st November!

What I’m reading

 

Inspired by Mridu Khullar’s post, I decided to jot down the books I’ve read so far this year (the below is a partial list):

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

This is the eighth book in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Doesn’t pack as much of a punch as its predecessors, but I love the series and the author, so I’m a fan! It baffles me that no Hollywood studio has churned out a movie version of Artemis Fowl yet.

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

This book turned out depressing enough to be Booker-worthy but awesome nonetheless. Most of the book is serious, but JK hasn’t lost her sense of humour. When she writes a funny line, you have to laugh, even if its black comedy.

Serious Men by Manu Joseph

I loved this book – beautiful writing and interesting novel. I’m eager to read his next.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Readers accustomed to his Thursday Next series will find this a slightly different cup of tea. It was good, and I read it quickly, but I like Thursday Next better.

Custody by Manju Kapur

The title makes no bones of the plot. This sensitive portrayal shows both sides of the divorce and the custody battles that ensue.

The Boleyn Inheritance by Phillipa Gregory

Phillipa Gregory’s novels on the wives of Henry VIII are quite famous, and this is one of the lesser-known books as it narrates the stories of Katherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and Jane Rochford. A history lesson and fiction rolled into one – what more could a girl ask for?

Following Fish by Samanth Subramaniam

I had wanted to read this since a long time and finally got it from the library. I don’t read as much non-fiction but I enjoyed it, more so because I am a hard-core fish-eating hands-stained-with-mustard kind of Bengali.

No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natrajan

PG Wodehouse. Indian version. Madly funny. Author is most intelligent woman in the universe. Too much to say on this subject. Separate post forthcoming. I demand the author’s next book right now!

Origin by JA Konrath

This novel owns the distinction of being the first I read using the Kindle app on my iPod touch. It turned out to be a most exciting experience for me. I am now hungry for more ebooks! The novel is based on an exciting premise – what if the devil exists?

So what have you been reading lately?

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