PRO TIPS FOR GREAT GENRE FICTION WRITING W O RKOU T S PLUS ED IT Taught by Professor James Hynes TIME O F NOVELIST AND WRITING INSTRUCTOR R FE LECTURE TITLES 1. Starting the Writing Process 2. Building Fictional Worlds through Evocation off 3. How Characters Are Diferent from People 4. Fictional Characters, Imagined and Observed 5. Call Me Ishmael—Introducing a Character 6. Characters—Round and Flat, Major and Minor O RD 7 70% E LIM Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques E R BY J UN 7. The Mechanics of Writing Dialogue 8. Integrating Dialogue into a Narrative 9. And Then—Turning a Story into a Plot 10. Plotting with the Freytag Pyramid 11. Adding Complexity to Plots 12. Structuring a Narrative without a Plot 13. In the Beginning—How to Start a Plot 14. Happily Ever After—How to End a Plot 15. Seeing through Other Eyes—Point of View 16. I, Me, Mine—First-Person Point of View 17. He, She, It—Third-Person Point of View 18. Evoking Setting and Place in Fiction 19. Pacing in Scenes and Narratives 20. Building Scenes 21. Should I Write in Drafts? 22. Revision without Tears Discover the Secrets of the Writer’s Craft 23. Approaches to Researching Fiction Writing great fiction isn’t a gift reserved for the talented few. There is a craft to storytelling that can be learned, and studying writing techniques can be incredibly rewarding—both personally and professionally. Even if you don’t have ambitions of penning the next Moby-Dick, you’ll find value in exploring all the elements of fiction. Course no. 2541 | 24 lectures (30 minutes/lecture) From evoking a scene to charting a plot, Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques offers a master class in storytelling. Taught by novelist James Hynes, a former visiting professor at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, these 24 insightful lectures show you the ins and outs of the fiction writer’s craft. A wealth of exercises will inspire you to practice the many techniques you learn. Professor Hynes is an able guide, showing you what has worked for him and other novelists, and pointing out pitfalls to avoid. Writing Great Fiction is truly an exceptional course for anyone interested in storytelling. Ofer expires 06/07/18 THEGREATCOURSES.COM/8 TW 1-800-832-2412 24. Making a Life as a Fiction Writer Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques SAVE UP TO $190 DVD Video Download CD Audio Download $269.95 $234.95 $199.95 $149.95 NOW $79.95 NOW $59.95 NOW $59.95 NOW $34.95 +$10 Shipping & Processing (DVD & CD only) and Lifetime Satisfaction Guarantee Priority Code: 157827 For over 25 years, The Great Courses has brought the world’s foremost educators to millions who want to go deeper into the subjects that matter most. No exams. No homework. Just a world of knowledge available anytime, anywhere. Download or stream to your laptop or PC, or use our free apps for iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire, or Roku. Over 600 courses available at www.TheGreatCourses.com. For more articles, contest alerts, writing prompts, and industry news, subscribe to our weekly newsletter! Bit.ly/thewriternl IMAGINE WRITE PUBLISH May 2018 • Volume 131 Number 5 FEATURES 12 Working out Writing exercises help strengthen your craft. BY JENNIFER L. BLANCK AND MICHAEL KLEIN 18 Tear off the labels Authors speak out about writing great genre iction (even if you never set out to write a genre book in the irst place). 28 Game day 8 pro tips for success in the tabletop game-writing industry. BY JACK SMITH BY RYAN G. VAN CLEAVE 24 Learning as you laugh 34 Story rules, plot drools Graphic noniction books convey facts in full color. The three crucial storytelling elements every novel needs to succeed. BY MELISSA HART BY PHILIP MARTIN DEPARTMENTS IN EVERY ISSUE AT WORK 8 WRITER Reading for a literary journal 4 From the Editor How wading through someone else’s slush pile can improve your own chances at publication. 5 Take Note Featuring Jen A. Miller, Leslie Jamison, and more. BY LINDA LOWEN 42 Markets SUCCESS 10 FREELANCE Parallel work 10 47 Classiied advertising What to do when the words won’t come. BY PETE CROATTO SPOTLIGHT 38 LITERARY The Forge Literary Magazine 48 How I Write Malinda McCollum: “A great short story is urgent, insistent, and propulsive. It’s like a whirlwind or a whoosh!” This inclusive journal offers a wealth of opportunity for both writers and editors. BY MELISSA HART INSIDER 40 CONFERENCE Kauai Writers Conference Want a little Hawaiian vacation with your writing education? This is the conference for you. 24 BY MELISSA HART Put our free e-mail newsletter to work: Check out our weekly newsletter, which offers highlights from our website and the magazine, and directs you to more articles about craft from The Writer’s vast archive. Find the “Newsletter Signup” box on our home page, enter your e-mail address, and you’re in business. GET SOCIAL 40 writermag.com facebook.com/ TheWriterMagazine twitter.com/ thewritermag instagram.com/ thewritermag Cover: Agor2012/Shutterstock; Forest Foxy/Shutterstock writermag.com • The Writer | 3 FROM THE EDITOR A s a former food editor (and current food-obsessed writer), I make frequent pilgrimages to so-called Good Restaurants. When one goes to enough Good Restaurants, one eventually learns to speak the language fluently; she can bandy about terms like house-made, artisanal, locally grown, and grass-fed without batting an eye. Is the tartare hand-chopped? one asks the server. And the kimchi shaved ice, is that made with house-fermented cabbage? But one term that never seems to come up at Good Restaurants is fun. No one ever says the dry-aged ribeye or fried sweetbreads are “fun.” Locally sourced or humanely raised, certainly. But fun? Please. This is serious artisanal food; fun need not apply. Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting a Boston restaurant that played anime on loop and served icy tiki-inspired craft cocktails. We dined by the pool and played Wasabi Roulette, a wicked game in which one of six tuna rolls comes packed with an eye-watering spoonful of wasabi. The “winner” drank soothing sweet horchata from a pink baby bottle as the staff cheered. The fish was fresh, the service impeccable; each dish was crafted with care, and I had a truly wonderful meal. I haven’t ever laughed that hard while dining out. It was delicious. But it was also fun. Recently I read Ben Dolnick‘s Lit Hub essay, “Why I’ll Never Stop Reading ‘Junk’ Fiction,” and wanted to stand up and cheer. After a lifetime of studying literature, he realizes his favorite genre books “respected an aspect of my readerly life that Nabokov, in all his lordly brilliance, might never have deigned to consider: that I didn’t have to be reading. That I had, in my pocket, a device that stood ready to play every episode of Breaking Bad; that I might not have slept well last night; that the kid in the seat behind me might be playing a video game whose soundscape was engineered to scatter my attention.” Genre books were fun, which was just as much an “act of authorial love” as creating well-developed characters and verbal acrobatics. We talk so much about beauty, art, theme, and metaphor in literature that I sometimes wonder if authors forget why they started reading in the first place: Because it’s entertaining. Because it takes us somewhere new, because it moves us and makes us laugh. Writers, don’t ever feel bad for wanting to author a story that moves, that leaves us frantic to keep turning pages. This is true for all categories of writing, but especially for authors of genre fiction, who often confess embarrassment when they tell me they’re writing horror, sci-fi, or romance, as if it is some shameful secret or form of lesser writing. As the authors in “Tear off the labels” (page 18) show us, good books come in ALL forms. A ghost story can be a beautiful story; the best prose can star aliens, giants, or secret agents. Good writing lies in the telling, not the subject matter. Never feel ashamed for wanting to write fun fiction. It isn’t junk. It’s necessary. And anyone who tries to shame you for it should be tossed from your life like the rubbish they are. Keep writing, Nicki Porter Senior Editor 4 | The Writer • May 2018 IMAGINE WRITE PUBLISH Senior Editor Nicki Porter Contributing Editor Melissa Hart Copy Editor Toni Fitzgerald Art Director Carolyn V. 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The Writer is not responsible for returning unsolicited manuscripts. CUSTOMER SERVICE/SUBSCRIPTIONS US: 877-252-8139 CAN/INT: 903-636-1120 EDITORIAL EMAIL email@example.com TO SELL THE WRITER MAGAZINE IN YOUR STORE: Contact David Goodman, National Publisher Services Phone: 732-548-8083 Fax: 732-548-9855 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org The Writer (ISSN 0043-9517) is published monthly by Madavor Media, LLC, 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184. Periodicals postage paid at Boston, MA and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Please send changes of address to The Writer, P.O. Box 4300, Big Sandy, TX 75755-4300. Subscribers allow 4-6 weeks for change of address to become effective. Subscriptions ordered are non-cancelable and nonrefundable unless otherwise promoted. Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings and photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no responsibility can be assumed for unsolicited materials. All rights in letters sent to The Writer will be treated as unconditionally assigned for publication and copyright purposes and as subject to unrestricted right to edit and to comment editorially. Requests for permission to reprint should be sent to the Permissions and Reprints Department. The title The Writer is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Contents copyright © 2018 by Madavor Media, LLC. All rights reserved. Nothing can be reprinted in whole or in part without permission from the publisher. Printed in the U.S.A. perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank ¾“My paper. That's heaven. That's gold, and anything else is just a waste of time.” —Cormac McCarthy Hear myself and I LISTENING TO YOUR LIFE, AS READ BY SOMEONE ELSE. BY JEN A. MILLER R ight about the time I couldn’t tell if my eyes stung from sweat or tears, when I tried to wipe whatever it was away and left a streak of Rust-Oleum across my forehead, I realized that I made a mistake. Not about the Rust-Oleum, which was labeled as a primer for heavily rusted metal. The railing I worked on was, indeed, heavily rusted. No, the mistake was my chosen listening material. I use audiobooks to eat up the time it takes to get from point A to point B of boring tasks like long road trips, long marathon training runs, and long bouts of depositing sweat equity into my house to get it ready to put on the market. For the front railing, I’d listened to Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Woman by Kate Summerscale. For the back railings, I thought it’d be fun to listen to Running: A Love Story, by someone I knew very well: me. world of vector/Shutterstock QQQ despite my discomfort at listening to a sample of the audiobook of my memoir back in March (that’s not how I sound, that’s not how I would say that), I thought that by May, after the initial blush of publication, when the “is anyone going to read this book/are the critics going to like this book/will my parents hate me/will I get sued?” terror had passed, it could be fun. How would Randye Kaye, a 60-something, red-headed Jewish New York native and narrator of dozens of audiobooks, who I had chosen from three potential narrators, read the story of a 35-year-old blond Catholic writer from South Jersey whose memoir starts in high school? It could be fun, I thought as I picked up a piece of sandpaper to smooth the railing for primer and a new coat of flat black paint and hit play. Or not. Kaye, of course, does not sound like me. She says “time” like she has all of it in the world, whereas my pronunciation is clipped. She pronounced the name of my hometown just slightly wrong. When she used a different tone for the angry father, when she described a nun as having little gray teeth, I sucked in a breath. She sounded a bit too mean. I was about to add “statistics drone on” to my list of grievances until I remembered that this was my fault, not Kaye’s. I’d gotten so deep into listening that I forgot, briefly, who wrote those words. She had the right to interpret them as she saw fit. In that space, in that format, Running: A Love Story became Kaye's. And I listened. I wrote the first draft of the book a few years earlier, before I had an agent or editor. That draft was raw, all emotion, anger, and rage. When I went back it to edit it into a proposal, though, I stopped being that hurt person who experienced all these things and shifted to being a writer writermag.com • The Writer | 5 —Jen A. Miller is author of Running: A Love Story. 6 | The Writer • May 2018 WRITERS ON WRITING Leslie Jamison Leslie Jamison’s latest book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, published in April 2018, mixes journalistic reportage with memoir and literary criticism to explore the experiences of those who have recovered from addiction. Jamison is also the author of the novel The Gin Closet and the essay collection The Empathy Exams, a New York Times best-seller. She is a columnist for the New York Times Book Review, and her works have appeared in publications including Harper’s, Oxford American, The Believer, and elsewhere. Jamison is an assistant professor at Columbia University in New York City. WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING? I used to believe that the best writing had to emerge from a life that had been carefully sculpted to produce the perfect conditions for creativity: long stretches of uninterrupted time, days cleared of logistics and obligations, dentist appointments and school lunches and cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked. But eventually I learned that no beautiful writing comes from an impossibly perfect world; it all comes from this one: cluttered, obligated, distracted. HOW HAS THIS HELPED YOU AS A WRITER? After I came to accept that beauty comes from the imperfect mess of living, rather than the impossible ideal of an unencumbered life, it asked me to stop seeing life and writing as antagonists, locked in combat, and to start seeing the ways that even the logistics and obligations of life might ultimately feed into the compost heap of creativity, and certainly that the obligated, beholden life is the only one from which we work – that so much beauty has come from it. —Gabriel Packard is the author of The Painted Ocean: A Novel published by Corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown. Adam Golfer who thought she could take this pile of pain and shove and scrape and mold it into a readable – and sellable – form. And I kept being shoved in that direction with every hand that touched the manuscript: agent, editor, copy editor, lawyer, designer, an entire marketing team. I didn’t like all of their changes, and I registered some of the battles I lost as I listened to Kaye’s narration. But that’s publishing, and that’s what turned my story of 10 years of running from an extended diary entry into a book. This is my third book, too, so I expected this, and after one last clinical scan of the manuscript to check for errors before it went to the printer, I accepted this in its final, fine-tuned, and crafted form. When Kaye read the story, though, I couldn’t change the product. I couldn’t be the writer trying to make it just a little bit better, but I could listen – really listen – to what had happened. I flipped back and landed into that pile of pain and felt it all, all over again: the anger, grief, and rage. When Kaye read my words about how I fell into a relationship with an alcoholic, I remembered what it was like to be a sad, emaciated, tortured 26-year-old again. I hadn’t felt so bad since I banged out the angry first draft more than two years before. That’s when I couldn’t tell if I was sweating or crying. That’s when I smeared a streak of rusty metal primer across my forehead. Right before the conclusion of chapter three, I hit stop. Writing a memoir is an upheaval, a tearing down of the scaffolding you put up around some of the worst parts of your life, and I did it in the hopes that, through reexamination, I could make sense of what happened. Deciding to publish it meant building a more permanent structure, one with windows and an observation deck so that someone, somewhere could look in and say “I’m there” or “my sister’s there” or “I’ve been there, too,” or even “what’s the matter with you?” That night, a dream I hadn’t had since March came back to me: my alcoholic ex came into my bedroom and tried to embrace me. I couldn’t decide if I should let him or beat in his face. I woke up, heart racing, before I could make a decision. I deleted the book from my phone. “Yes, it can be really weird hearing your own words come back at you, especially when they remind you of moments and decisions you have, shall we say, outgrown?” Kaye wrote to me in an email after I told her I’d listened to part of her work. We hadn’t spoken before she did the narration, and I was curious as to who she was, but not curious enough to call. From what I heard in the first three chapters of the book, she did a wonderful job. But I’d heard enough of her voice – and my story, too. I had outgrown those decisions – and the anger and regret. I could step off the observation deck and finally move on. library is not a luxury but one of the ¾ “A necessities of life.” —Henry Ward Beecher Private library Every writer deserves a room of one’s own – even better when it’s stufed with books and bibliophile novelties. We’ve rounded up all the literary swag you need to dress your study in style. X WHALE RESTED Add some nautical flair to your reading chaise with this Moby Dickinspired pillow. It’s emblazoned with classic words from Herman Melville: “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” $29.99. Society6.com. X BETWEEN THE COVERS These bookish bookends aren’t just pretty to look at: They also boast four tiny hidden compartments tucked inside the covers. $39.99. Amazon.com X A PEN HOLDER FOR PAPA Stylishly wrangle those quills and fountain pens with this vintageinspired Hemingway Pencil Cup. (Cuban cigars not included.) $19.95. Victoriantradingco.com X TRAGEDIES LOVE COMPANY Did someone suggest you pick up The Fault in Our Stars? Is it almost time for your annual re-reading of Where the Red Fern Grows? Run, don’t walk, to buy this literary tissue box. Your tear ducts will thank us. $24.99. Amazon.com. X COZY CANDLES Why merely read Jane Austen when you can breathe Jane Austen? Paddywax’s line of Library Collection candles take olfactory inspiration from the literary greats, featuring Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Shakespeare, and more. Starts at $8. Paddywax.com. X FIND YOUR MATCH What better way to light a literary candle than with a set of Banned Books Matchboxes? Each box is decorated with art from historically banned titles: Song of Solomon, Black Beauty, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Slaughterhouse-Five, and, of course, Fahrenheit 451. $8. Outofprintclothing.com. writermag.com • The Writer | 7 WRITER AT WORK BY LINDA LOWEN How wading through someone else’s slush pile can improve your own chances at publication. 8 | The Writer • May 2018 started reading submissions for Solstice Literary Magazine as part of a six-month internship. After it ended, she continued in that role. “In the beginning, I was vigilant about reading all the submissions. After becoming seasoned, if the first paragraph didn’t grab me, I stopped reading,” she says. Some topics prompted an immediate rejection: “Extreme violence [or] super-raunchy stuff didn’t cut it for me, either.” When considering a piece, Carota took into account the writer’s credentials but ultimately, “the editor had full control of what went into the magazine.” After four years of reading submissions, “my brain seized from reading too much,” and she stepped down. Today, Carota teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. While reading for pleasure, “I really notice the writing,” she says, but reading for a literary magazine is entirely different. “With the submissions slush pile, I was not reading as closely for the perfect openers as if the Nadia Buravleva/Shutterstock S ending your work to a literary magazine or online journal for consideration is not for the fainthearted. The outcome can feel as random as a coin toss: Heads you’re accepted for publication, tails you’re not. When you’re on a submissions streak, optimism fuels every story and cover letter, but that high wears off once the rejections roll in. In theory, you’re not supposed to take it personally. In reality, you do. You ruminate, agonize, second-guess. Was that opening too weak? Did I miss by a comma or by a mile? The standard response provides few clues. You’re left wondering: What do “they” want? Why didn’t my piece make the cut? Want answers? You can get them by reading other people’s work – not the stuff that’s published but the stuff that isn’t. When you read for a literary magazine or online journal, you’re exposed to the good, the average, and the awful. The more you learn to identify each and separate out the three, the more you’ll understand what to do – and what not to do – in your own writing. Nearly all publishing outlets are swamped by hundreds, even thousands, of submissions. Many rely on first-level readers to wade through the slush pile and net a manageable handful for consideration by an editor or next-level reader. To do this type of winnowing on a large scale, it’s not necessary to be a New York Times literary critic, but you do need some experience. Training acquired through writing classes, workshops, and conferences is helpful for getting the gig, as are examples of your own published pieces. Aside from bragging rights among writer friends, there’s no glamour in reading for a literary journal. The work is unpaid and reading hundreds of pieces can be tedious. You’ll have to put in long hours (especially as the submissions period ends), reliably meet deadlines, and – in the case of close calls and squeakers – trust your gut. Literary magazines are typically affiliated with university MFA programs, arts collectives, or regional writing centers. If you are or have been enrolled as a student, that’s an in – readers are frequently chosen from their ranks. Contact these programs to ask about their policies and express interest in serving as an early-stage reader. While earning her MFA in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College in Brookline, Massachusetts, Joanne Carota piece actually grabbed me. Most submissions were well-written, so that was already a given.” Poet Phil Memmer oversees Stone Canoe, a literary journal that showcases the work of writers with a connection to upstate New York. To cull submissions, he relies on first readers who “narrow down the field of manuscripts for the issue’s guest editor.” In each genre – poetry, fiction, nonfiction – he selects three first readers to review each submission. For Memmer, three is a deliberate number: “One or two wouldn’t give us the breadth of responses we wish to provide the guest editors, while more than three might bog down the editorial process.” After reading each piece, each reader weighs in with a ranking of yes, no, or maybe. “All manuscripts are then passed to the appropriate guest editors, who may choose not to review any manuscript that has already received three no votes.” Memmer finds potential first readers through his full-time role as executive director of the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse, New York, one of the most successful YMCA community-based writing programs in the country. “We select first readers from amongst our advanced students, our faculty, and our board of directors.” He looks for writers “who are wellread, serious about their own craft, and interested in learning about what goes into publishing a literary journal.” Those who are chosen know it’s an unparalleled opportunity to see the process from the inside. “Every first reader has told me that the experience was valuable for them,” Memmer notes. “Most have not had past involvement with literary journals, so it can be eyeopening to see the quantity and variety of submissions we receive. It’s also directly relevant experience for anyone seeking to get their own writing published...the behind-the-scenes vantage point is a great learning opportunity.” Serving as a reader for a literary magazine over the past four years, I now know what it takes to stand out from the slush pile. In my first year, I questioned if I was being too picky. The initial wave of submissions seemed unremarkable, and I struggled to find pieces to approve. The most common error was the result of laziness; writers who hadn’t bothered to read the publication didn’t realize their tone, style, or voice wasn’t a good fit. Submissions that were too academic, esoteric, or amateurish were the easy rejections. The difficult ones were more subtle. Some contained passages of insight and intelligence; others featured intriguing characters. What they all lacked was forward momentum: a reason for the reader to continue. Like Carota, if I wasn’t grabbed by a piece, I passed on it. Several times during that period, I thought, I’m the problem. I’d rejected a former Pushcart Prize winner, an essayist I’d followed and admired, and a good friend whom I knew could do better. Then came a piece I couldn’t let go of. I lingered over the language, trying to figure out how a simple narrative about a family’s summer cottage could be so vivid and bittersweet. As the submission deadline drew near, more of these remarkable stories surfaced. I thought my Spidey sense of language had been dulled, but the opposite was true. No matter how slight the facet, a first reader can distinguish the brilliance of diamond from cut glass. If being a reader sounds interesting but you lack any college or university affiliations and no writing programs or centers are nearby, see if you can read for an online literary journal or genre fiction site. These internet-only outlets operate similarly to print publications by relying on their communities – engaged, active followers – to provide potential readers. If you’ve been previously published, or you submit on a regular basis and are active in these online groups, you have a good shot. Reach out to the editors and see. In the long run, the effort is bound to be worth your while. Linda Lowen teaches craft workshops at writing conferences and festivals, and is the founder of AlwaysWantedToWrite.com, a writing studio in Syracuse, New York. writermag.com • The Writer | 9 FREELANCE SUCCESS BY PETE CROATTO Parallel work What to do when the words won’t come. 1 Change location, find inspiration. Ah, the essence of parallel work. Every tip originates from this concept. Tethering yourself to a computer screen in the same secluded space day after day, willing the brain to work and the fingers to move, is madness. Interact with the world, and you’ll be amazed at what comes forth. I have come up with story ideas while shooting hoops on an empty basketball court, feeding my daughter before dawn broke, and meandering through a used bookstore. 2 Practice self-care. Going to the gym, or embarking on a physical activity beyond typing, is vital. Go for a 10 | The Writer • May 2018 walk outside. Take a yoga class, with a side of meditation. To paraphrase noted legal mind Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy writers just don’t create bad story ideas. They just don’t!” Seriously, getting outside can get forgotten while staring at a blinking cursor. Suspending the hermit’s lifestyle to become a human being will lead to a sharper focus and better writing. Another plus: People won’t find you insufferable at dinner parties anymore. 3 Take a trip to the local library. Find authors whose prose inspires, educates, and enthralls. Research back issues of a magazine to polish up a pitch letter. Sign up for a program to feed the creative furnace. Also, many libraries have access to online catalogues such as LexisNexis. A library card, that invaluable, wallet-sized resource, can help sharpen or fortify your reporting chops for free. 4 Run errands or do chores. The day always ends with you lacking the energy to take care of personal matters, right? Time to remedy that. Start the laundry. Unload the dishwasher. Change the water filter. Pay bills. At least you’re accomplishing something, and with today’s technology, answering your editor’s worried email in the dairy aisle has never been easier. Plus, it feels good. My wife works full time. I work at home. On slow days, I try to pick up the domestic slack, because I possess the flexibility she doesn’t. Daren Woodward/Shutterstock I can’t write every day. Writing is hard. It’s thankless. Only a few good hours exist to crank out quality sentences – usually on the day the electric bill is due or when the internet is on the fritz. Since freelance writing is a business, what you do daily should improve the business. Writing is part of that, of course, but it’s a solitary, personal endeavor – what’s on the page comes from you. Some distance is crucial. Enter the important concept of parallel work, a phrase I first heard from my writer pal A.C. Shilton, which buoys your personal and professional self. Most importantly, it gets you in the mood to write. Here is what to do to shake things up without losing precious momentum. TRAVEL 5 Clean your desk. It’s hard to do interviews if you can’t find the phone – I think it’s under that wobbly, dusty two-year-old archive of New Yorkers – or if you knock over 10 coffee mugs while trying to find a pen that’s older than Betty White. 6 Get ready for tax season. Corral those stray receipts, expense reports, and paychecks so that you’re not hyperventilating come tax time, which comes despite our fervent prayers. If you’re dreading another year of tackling columns of difficult figures, solicit suggestions for an accountant. Trust me: A thorough, responsive CPA is worth every penny. 7 Research writers’ groups and organizations. I joined the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) in late 2016. It was not an easy decision, since I can’t buy a pair of jeans without feeling like I’ve pushed my family into a financial black hole. But I made back that year’s membership fee (and more) when I landed a pitch thanks to an editor I met at ASJA’s annual conference in New York City. Attending that conference led me to my agent, who revived my long-dormant proposal into my first book contract. The biggest gains were not financial. Spending two days swapping war stories with other writers was priceless. This year, my spending spree continued when I joined Freelance Success, a popular writers’ forum run by Jennie Phipps. For just $99 a year, I’ve accumulated advice and vented with other seasoned writers. It’s been awesome. Speaking of which… 8 Talk to another writer. Forget DM or email or texting. Pick up the phone and talk to a real, live human being who’s also in this crazy business. Even better, meet for coffee and fortify your soul over muffins and gentle complaining. 9 Tackle other projects. Jot notes for an essay. Write a pitch for a long-admired magazine. Touch base with editors who have gone radio silent. A week ago, I sent a pitch, applied to an online job, and emailed some editors to follow up on pitches before boomeranging to this column. Work leads to more work. TRANSFORMSUS A new destination can take your writing in new directions. 10 Practice the timeless art of (self-)promotion. Besides mom, who else is going to brag about you? Perhaps your LinkedIn profile is accumulating dust. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve written a blog post. Consider revamping your website – or look into hiring someone to create one. 11 Bag the day. Some days you’ve got nothing. That’s OK. The glorious part about freelancing is not having to feign working to avoid the boss’s disdain, because you are the boss. So, go to the movies; catch up on sleep. Do this long enough, and you know what’s required to get the job done. I promise: You will not backslide into binge watching Grace and Frankie or sleeping until noon because you knocked off at 2 p.m. Recharge, come back tomorrow. The work will still be there – ready to have its ass kicked. Yes, creating a routine to keep your writing on track is integral to your success, but all routines (no matter how self-gratifying) lead to boredom and complacency. The writer who does not break free every once in a while will eventually break down. Aside from The Writer, Pete Croatto (Twitter: @PeteCroatto) has written for the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, and many other publications. He and his family live just outside Ithaca, New York. © Erik Unger Immersive Writing Workshops in Santa Fe, New Mexico SantaFeWritersLab.com --ext writermag.com • The Writer | 11 By JENNIFER L. BLANCK and MICHAEL KLEIN WORKING OUT Agor2012/Shutterstock Writing exercises help strengthen your craft. 12 | The Writer • May 2018 W riting exercises inspire, educate, build selfawareness, jump-start a person’s writing, and help writers hone their craft. They are all, at their core, about writing, but some of the best exercises take a writer someplace new. “A good exercise should push you up against a limit or take you to a place you’ve not been before and are uncomfortable with. And then afterwards, you can go there, and it becomes comfortable,” says fiction writer David Gould. Gould is also an assistant organizer of Virginia’s Arlington Writers Group (AWG). We also belong to the all-genre AWG that started in 2006 and meets in person every Wednesday for two hours. The group alternates each week between critiques and other planned activities, which range from craft discussions to author talks, social events, and writing exercises. After more than 600 meetings, AWG has refined a set of exercises that are effective for maintaining momentum and helping writers of all levels strengthen their craft. Here are some of our favorites. writermag.com • The Writer | 13 GROUP WORK Beginning, Middle, and End Beginning, Middle, and End is an exercise designed for groups – ideally groups of three. Writers choose individual prompts, take a pad of paper, and write the beginning of a story – and only the beginning. After 15 minutes, everyone stops, and passes the pad to someone else. Writers now have 20 minutes to read the opening they’ve been given and write the next part of that story (the middle). When time is up, the pads are passed again, and within 30 minutes, writers supply the ending of the new story they’ve been given. AWG members then read the stories aloud. The results are entertaining, and writers of the first sections typically report that the story did not end up where they expected. Writing under this tight time pressure can be liberating; there’s no time to overthink. The exercise also challenges a writer to explore different paths and voices for stories, and maybe even write in a new genre. You may have decided to turn your prompt into a dramatic coming-of-age story, but one of your partners may have gotten the same 14 | The Writer • May 2018 prompt and gone the sci-fi adventure route. If you are writing her middle, you can’t ignore what she’s done and keep telling your story – you need to respect her choices and help tell the next part of her story. And when you are writing the last installment of the story, two other writers have started you on the journey – now it is up to you to tie it all up. “The exercise forces you to get into someone else’s head. It makes you approach scenes in a way you wouldn’t normally. It’s helped me as a novelist,” says Gould. Flaming Fragment AWG, like many writing groups, has a policy of not rewriting members’ work that is presented for feedback. It’s a good policy. You can tell the writer what works or what doesn’t and why, but saying, “you should have character X do such and such” is generally bad form. But during a Flaming Fragment session, all bets are off. This is really a brainstorming exercise where writers present any kind of idea they are hung up on. It could be an entire novel that needs a better ending or an isolated detail such as a character name, a profession that would make for an engaging protagonist, or an interesting world to explore. Writers are given 60 seconds to share their fragment with the group, and then the group pitches ideas – trying to “fan the fragment into flames.” The amount of time dedicated to each depends on the number of fragments you have, but AWG attempts to give at least 10-12 minutes per author. Marichka Melnyk, a writer and radio producer in Toronto and former AWG member, conceived of the exercise. “I have a tendency to idly come up with scenes or scenarios, or see a real-life exchange between people and start to imagine the backstory. Or I meet an interesting person and begin to spin them into a character with no particular story in which to place them,” says Melnyk. She felt like her creative energy was being wasted and found she wasn’t alone. “Others were also collecting these fragments, and we were inspiring each other anyway, so we formalized it with the Flaming Fragment session.” FLEXING INDIVIDUAL MUSCLES The remaining exercises are focused on the individual. While better in a group environment – for both learning and fun – the exercises can be conducted on your own. Written Prompts These prompts provide launch pads for the writer. They can be a phrase, rhyme, or maxim meant to get creative juices flowing, or they can be much more prescriptive. For example, writers are given a sentence that must be the first line of their piece (or the last line). One AWG favorite entails putting a dozen random nouns and six verbs on slips of paper in a hat. Members draw three and are randomly assigned a genre. Then the writing begins. aloud is illuminating when you hear how differently people see the photos. One memorable AWG meeting featured a picture of a beautiful house on a cliff with a staircase leading down to clear blue water. One writer used the setting for a love story. Another led readers down the stairs to join someone dumping a body into the ocean. Inspiration Field Trips AWG has also taken field trips to area museums and art galleries and tasked writers with finding one piece to inspire a story. Afterward, writers are asked to share a 150- to 200-word piece within one week of the visit. In more than a few cases, members reported expanding the exercise into a new project. Visual Cues While AWG often uses written prompts to stimulate ideas, inspiration can come from many other places. Photographs, graphic designs, and other visuals are great sources. Visual Cues treat photo prompts just like written prompts. Multiple copies of five or six images are pulled from stock photo websites, and writers take 30 or 45 minutes to tell a picture’s story. What happened right before it was snapped? Or what followed? Sharing the pieces Non-Visual Description When establishing a setting, many people rely solely on one sense: Sight. To challenge this, AWG uses an exercise that goes beyond visual cues. Nonvisual Description tests writers’ abilities to establish a setting using senses other than sight. Think about entering a bakery or sitting in a noisy bar. Visual cues probably aren’t the first things you notice. “By nature, we are a visually oriented species and, as writers, our first impulse when creating a scene is to paint a picture. But if you are working to evoke an emotional response in the reader – and you should be working very hard at that – then you must include the other senses,” says fiction writer and AWG assistant organizer Dale Waters. “Smells are known to be the strongest trigger for feelings of nostalgia. Likewise, an unexpected sound – a human scream in the night or the howl of an unnamed beast in the forest – can create a terror response far beyond simple visual description.” This exercise gets writers to close their eyes and hear, smell, feel, and taste a scene and can be adapted in a variety of ways. Writers can select from any of the senses or be assigned one to focus on. After writing for 30 minutes, stories are swapped for small group exchanges or read aloud for group discussion. Overheard Conversations and Missed Connections While some exercises focus on creating a realistic scene, others rely on the fact that great stories hide in plain sight. In fact, journalists and memoirists will tell you real life is quite often much stranger than fiction and can be hum- bling to even the most imaginative writers. For Overheard Conversation, AWG members share snippets of real dialogue they overheard on the bus, at lunch, or walking down the street and challenge each other to tell the story behind the conversation. AWG also uses missed connections or personals from different publications that serve up wild glimpses into actual lives. Glimpses that need to be explored – stories that need to be told: “Tall, Dark, and Silent. I stood in front of you on the train this morning. You were holding some brick samples on your lap. We made eye contact a few times and you smiled. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t without removing my costume. Email me…” How can you not tell this story? And whose story do you want to tell? The brick carrier’s? The costumed traveler’s? Your own story as an observer of this scene? Both of these exercises entail 30 minutes of writing and lots of sharing. Like other prompt-based exercises, the assignments get people writing without spending too much time on plot development and creating character arcs. They’re intended to be fun and jump start creativity. writermag.com • The Writer | 15 NO PAIN, NO GAIN Two-Sided Argument There are also stories from our own lives that serve as inspiration. Two-Sided Argument challenges writers to honestly depict an actual personal conflict from two different perspectives. First the writer takes 30 minutes to tell the story of a dispute from her own perspective. Then she writes the same story from the opposing person’s perspective – taking 30 minutes to get into that person’s head. For AWG assistant organizer and essayist Colleen Moore, this exercise made a difference for her as a writer and a person. She wrote about a decades-old fight with her then-new stepsister, painting her in the worst possible light. Then Moore wrote from her stepsister’s perspective. It was a viewpoint Moore the Person had never considered, but Moore the Writer was forced to. She came to realizations about her stepsister and the situation that influenced how Moore interacts with her now. “It completely changed our relationship,” says Moore. 16 | The Writer • May 2018 As a writer, the exercise helped with her personal essays. “It makes an essay resonate with people when you’re willing to go deep into yourself,” she says. The experience also made her think about how to fully flesh out believable antagonists with their own stories and motivations. Point-of-View Exercise This is another opportunity for writers to consider different perspectives – this time by writing the same scene in two different basic narrator points of view (POV). The exercise begins by telling people to write a scene or a story from a prompt or theme. No other guidance is necessary. In fact, you don’t want to tell people what’s coming next, because you don’t want people to write with a specific goal in mind. Everyone is given 30 minutes. Next, the task is to write the same story again using a different narrator POV. So if a person wrote in third person, the next version could be in first or second person. Only 15-20 minutes are given for the rewrite. Afterward, the group discusses how their stories changed, reading samples of sections. The exercise demonstrates the power of different perspectives and challenges writers to try a POV they might not usually use. When AWG first conducted the exercise, one new member hated the idea. When asked to write in a different POV, she thought it wasn’t worth her time. But she did it anyway. During the discussion, she admitted her surprise; the change to first person made a powerful difference in her story. She planned to rewrite other stories to see if they might benefit from a new POV, too. Gender Switch Another exercise that uses a similar structure and offers a different perspective is Gender Switch. After writing a story, everyone is instructed to rewrite it by changing the genders of the main characters or everyone in the story. This offers a new way of approaching a story and can challenge writers’ abilities to write multidimensional characters. It can also reveal if a writer defaults to stereotypes. Writing exercises foster your ability to be creative, write quickly, self-reflect, and try new perspectives. SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF Then there are exercises that compel people to focus on a single message and be concise. This is never easy, as immortalized by 17th-century inventor, mathematician, physicist, and writer Blaise Pascal: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Plot Summary Whether it’s a short story, personal essay, or novel, Plot Summary forces writers to find the central idea of a piece. This exercise is particularly helpful when developing materials writers will use in pitching, such as synopses and query letters. First, writers are given 30 minutes to summarize a piece they’re working on in 200 words. Next, they work for another 20 minutes to pare the description down to 100 words. Finally, they have 20 minutes to shorten it to no more than 50 words. All three can be read aloud for comparison and critique. If writers find this exercise too challenging, it could indicate a greater problem in the story itself. Six-Word Whatever Last, but not least, is SixWord Whatever. Writers are often advised to strip out adverbs, but what if they have to remove everything but six words and still tell a compelling and complete story? While the true origin of the Six-Word Novel may not be as romantic as Ernest Hemmingway winning a bar bet with his famous version – “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” – the exercise is an effective one. AWG has featured SixWord Science Fiction, SixWord Romance, and Six-Word Memoir. This is more challenging than it may seem. While the first successful result can take some time, it usually leads to many variations. Giving writers 30 or 40 minutes to pen several versions and asking them to read their top three always makes for fun sessions. Writing exercises foster your ability to be creative, write quickly, self-reflect, and try new perspectives. Whether in a group or on your own, try these exercises to give your writing the workout it needs. Jennifer L. Blanck is a freelance writer who has been a member of the Arlington Writers Group since 2008. Her writing has appeared most recently in Christian Science Monitor, Entropy, Toastmaster, Whole Grain, and Wine Business Monthly. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jlblanck. Michael Klein is a founding member of the Arlington Writers Group and has led it for more than 10 years. He has penned and ghostwritten hundreds of articles and speeches and is interested in hearing about your writing exercise experiences @mkleinwrites on Twitter. writermag.com • The Writer | 17 ȬEșR 2Ȟ) 7Ƞ( L AȚ ȝȤ6 $ɍWɀR ɊVVɈH ȹNRɍ ZɊLɌLɆ WDȺR JJɊHȹ ȽYȽQ WJȽQɊ ɍW LȾ\ɇX HIɁFɌLɇ QȽYȽ Q UVȽWR JȽQɊH EɇRɃ LɆWɀH ɍWWɇZɊLɌH IɁUɋWS ɄDȻHȁ D %ȱ-ș&ȣ6ȥ,Ȭ+ ,Ⱦ you’re a genre writer, do you pin down exactly what you’ll write beforehand: romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, horror? Many writers do; their genre is their brand. But this isn’t true of every writer who writes a book that falls into a particular genre. Maybe their novel shifts toward science fiction as they write it. Maybe, as their imagination runs full steam ahead, they find they’re writing horror. If you find yourself writing such a novel, how closely should you pay attention to traditional conventions of that genre? Can you still find success if you depart from typical genre conventions as needed to tell a good story? And, finally, what’s all this fuss about literary genre novels: Literary thrillers, literary sci-fi? Literary historical novels? What makes these so-called “literary-genre hybrids” literary in the first place? Let’s start by considering genre itself, its appeal, its conventions, and how to handle said conventions. Let’s hear what the experts say about four types: thrillers, speculative fiction, historical novels, and YA. )ɁQȼLɆJ\ɇXɊJȽQɊH Cafe Racer/Shutterstock What attracts writers to different genres? According to Tom Franklin, the two biggest influences for his thriller Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter were George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. “Both are ‘crime’ writers, but both use ‘crime’ as a lens through which to study human behavior,” says Franklin. “Their books are not about ‘who done it’ as much as about ‘why did they do it?’” He goes for the latter as a writer, plumbing psychological depths in his characters. Still, he wants his book to be viewed as more than a thriller. “I don’t really like being pigeon-holed into being one kind of writer or another,” he says. Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is catalogued as several genres: fantasy, science fiction, and romance. Niffenegger sees the novel as closest to science fiction, and, yet, she says, “the most correct (and vague) category would be speculative fiction. But fiction that sits firmly in the [sci-fi] genre could also fit that description.” What drew her to speculative fiction is her enjoyment of what-if thought experiments: “What if a lady married a time traveler? What if your aunt is a ghost? What if the afterlife is an enormous library?” She values speculative fiction for the way it “allows writers to play, to be very free. It mutates, it is rebellious.” Influenced by such writers as Richard Powers, Henry James, and Donna Tartt, all of writermag.com • The Writer | 19 Excerpt: Endangered Concrete can rot. It turns green and black before crumbling away. Maybe only people from Congo know that. There was a time when I didn’t notice that sort of thing. When I was a little girl living here, it was a country of year-round greenery, of birds streaming color across clear skies. Then, when I was eight, I left to live with my dad in America, and ever since then coming back to stay with my mom each summer meant descending into the muggy and dangerous back of nowhere. The fountain in downtown Kinshasa, which I’d once thought of as the height of glamour, now looked like a bowl of broth. Bullet holes had appeared up and down it, and no one I asked could remember who had put them there. When I looked closely, the pockmarks overlapped. The Democratic Republic of Congo: Where Even the Bullet Holes Have Bullet Holes. Kinshasa has ten million people but only two paved roads and no traffic lights, so the routes are too crowded to get anywhere fast. Almost as soon as the driver left the house to take me to my mom’s workplace, we were stuck in traffic, inching by a barricade. A police roadblock wasn’t common, but not all that unusual, either. Some of the Kinshasa police were for real and some were random guys in stolen uniforms, looking for bribes. There was no way to tell the difference, and it didn’t much change the way you dealt with them: Show your ID through the windshield. Do not stop the car. Do not roll down the window. Do not follow if they try to lead you anywhere. A man was approaching each car as it slowed down. At first I thought he was a simple beggar, but then I saw he was dragging a small creature by its arms. I crawled over the gearshift and into the front seat to see better. It was a baby ape. As the man neared each car, he yanked upward so that it opened its mouth into a wide grin, feet pinwheeling as it tried to find the ground. The man had a lame foot but got around agilely, his scabby stump pivoting and tilting as he maneuvered. Behind him was a rusty bike with a wooden crate lashed to the back, which he must have been using to transport the ape. Excerpt from Endangered © 2012 by Eliot Schrefer. Used with permission from Scholastic Press. whom she finds “original and rigorous in their freedom, language, strangeness, and brilliance,” she feels freed up, she says, “to pursue my own ends.” For Rene Steinke, author of the historical novel Holy Skirts, “It was not so much the genre as the fact that I fell in love with the baroness and the [early 20th century] time period.” As a graduate student, Steinke was captivated by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s intriguing mix of personae: “a poet, collagist, Dadaist, nude model, fashion avatar, sexual libertine, and provocateur,” who was “ahead of her time in the ways she thought about gender and sexuality and poetry and art.” Steinke felt compelled to tell her story. Some of Steinke’s favorite historical novels are Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang. “Each of these novels translates the historical events/time period in a way that speaks to a contemporary reader; each novel has a particular kind of language that seems invented for this purpose, and so the novels strike me as both historical and contemporary at the same time,” she says. One final genre – or is it a genre? – is YA fiction. You can certainly find the designation “YA genre” all over the internet, but Eliot Schrefer, author of the YA novel Endangered, assures us this genre designation is a misnomer. “I wouldn’t really call YA a genre,” he says, “at least not in the way that romance and thriller are genres. It’s an age category, and the only limit to writing YA is that the book has to be concerned with the experience of being a teenager.” YA can include a number of genres, such as romance, fantasy, and mystery, he says. Schrefer says he’s “long loved survival stories like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.” The storyline, premise, and style of this YA novel meet his highest standards for a good novel: “It’s about a kid in the wilderness, trying to survive after a plane crash. Take away the trappings of family and civilization from a kid, and their survival techniques – and existential concerns – are the same as an adult’s. In spare and beautiful language, Paulsen got to the heart of what it means to be alive at all.” Schrefer began his novelistic career by writing two books for adults, but then he was invited by Scholastic to propose a book outline for The School for Dangerous Girls – they approved it, and, he says, “suddenly I was writing for teens.” He’s glad of his commitment to YA. As an author, he believes he’s able to do his best writing in this area. “I think my writing improved once I started writing YA. I was murkier, more arch, and less vulnerable when I was writing for adults. I don’t think I’ll ever go back.” *ȽQɊHFɇQɎHɆWɁRɆV If you’re writing genre fiction, how important is it to “stay in your lane” and abide by typical genre conventions? How much room do you have to roam? Franklin didn’t actually think about the “thriller” genre when he wrote Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. He just wrote the story he wanted to tell with a “fairly traditional” plot and structure, “aside from some time-jumps/flashback chapters.” Any substantive departures he’s made from the standard genre thriller might be, he says, at the sentence level and “at the level of psychological detail, making the characters more vivid, more realistic.” Like Franklin, Niffenegger didn’t worry about genre conventions when she wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife. Even if she sees her novel as speculative fiction, she didn’t set out to match her work with the work of other speculative fiction writers. “I didn’t worry about that at all. It is important to have rules, but I didn’t worry about whether my rules matched anyone else’s.” In writing her historical novel, Steinke made sure she avoided one type – a “comprehensive picture of a time period” – and chose a much better one: a story that just “happens to be set in the past.” Rather than a historical novel that becomes little more than “a history lesson,” she says, “I prefer novels that put storytelling, language, and character in the foreground.” To create this second type of historical novel, she had to work with her characters at close range. The baroness – a real person, not a fictitious character – was surrounded by famous people like Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Djuna Barnes. “One of the conventions I’ve seen in some historical fiction,” says Steinke, “is the tendency to situate the storytelling near a famous historical figure or event. The name of the famous person or the mention of the event automatically conjures up images or ideas that the reader already knows well, and the fiction isn’t doing the work.” As a novelist, Steinke thought it her job “to imagine these characters apart from the well-worn anecdotes surrounding them that had already been repeated several times in nonfiction.” “I wanted the reader to feel as if they were meeting this person for the first time,” she says. Through her research, she tried to “imagine how this person might have spoken, or what they might have done, given the evidence.” The more she could use her imagination, the more she could be faithful to her story. What partly attracted her to the baroness were the “holes” in her biographical record, providing a fertile field for the imagination. She began by researching the primary sources, but, says Steinke, “I need to imagine enough of the story that it can’t all be fact-checked. In other words, it’s really important for me to honor the fictional part of historical fiction.” As to YA conventions, Schrefer believes his YA novels are typical in their pacing. “My YA works do move at a faster clip than my adult works, and I think that’s true for most YA novels.” But his work does vary from YA conventions in at least one way: “There’s also a tendency for YA novels to Excerpt: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house. It stormed the night before over much of the southeast, flash floods on the news, trees snapped in half and pictures of trailer homes twisted apart. Larry, forty-one years old and single, lived alone in rural Mississippi in his parents’ house which was now his house, though he couldn’t bring himself to think of it that way. He acted more like a curator, keeping the rooms clean, answering the mail and paying bills, turning on the television at the right times and smiling with the laugh tracks, eating his McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken to what the networks presented him and then sitting on his front porch as the day bled out of the trees across the field and night settled in, each different, each the same. It was early September. That morning he’d stood on the porch holding a cup of coffee, already sweating a little as he gazed out at the glistening front yard, his muddy driveway, the barbed wire fence, the sodden green field beyond stabbed with thistle, goldenrod, blue salvia and honeysuckle at the far edges, where the woods began. It was a mile to his nearest neighbor and another to the crossroads store, closed for years, and the blacktop. At the edge of the porch several ferns hung from the eave, his mother’s wind chime lodged in one like a flung puppet. He set his coffee on the rail and went to disentangle the chime’s slender pipes from the leaves. From Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2010 by Tom Franklin. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers. writermag.com • The Writer | 21 include romance of some sort, though that’s by no means absolute.” As a writer, says Schrefer, he’s just not interested in love and romance. As a human being, he’s interested in both, but his “writer brain” doesn’t go there. “So I guess that’s one way I vary from the YA tendency.” nȤLɌHɊDɊ\ɤJȽQɊH Excerpt: Holy Skirts Two men standing at the lamppost glared at her. She sucked at the cigarette, leaned back, and blew out a gorgeous geyser of white. She sat down on the bench and studied the city roses on the bush, red and turning in the wind like little wheels. . . . There had been a string of afternoons Elsa lay in bed smoking, staring out the window at the crowds on the street, willing him to appear. Then her longing for him grew barbed. How could he allow her to worry like this? How could he leave her with so little cash? She had begun to worry only when she saw the buds on the trees. Since then sightings of him teased her wherever she went. Going down the stairs of the train platform, the back of his head; in a café window, his profile; in the mirror just behind her reflection, his face. Weeks ago, she’d almost kissed a man because he wore a gray, creased hat like one Josef liked to wear, and she followed a tall man with dark hair all the way to the river, past the chophouses and saloons, pretending it was him. She knew it was unlikely, but she couldn’t help the sightings—some physical reflex jarred by hope. She stood up and lit another cigarette, held the smoke for a moment in her mouth and nose. Two women on the pebbled path turned their heads away from her, their wide-brimmed hats tilting into plates. The shorter man suddenly stood in front of her. “You know, that’s not pretty.” He nodded to the cigarette. “Why should it be?” She blew smoke into his face. He eyed her blue fingernails, then hit her hand so the cigarette fell into the grass. The smoke curled up through the green blades. “Scheisse!” she yelled. Since Josef had left, it seemed strangers felt they’d been given orders to torment her, as if her solitariness were writ large on her forehead, some kind of bull’s eye for men who liked to throw darts. From Holy Skirts, by Rene Steinke, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2005 by Rene Steinke. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers. 22 | The Writer • May 2018 As with most things, clearly with genre writers, one size doesn’t fit all. But what about a literary-genre novel? What makes a genre novel literary in the first place? For some writers, the term literary suggests work that exceeds the surface level of the story or novel in some ways. Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter has been called “a literary thriller.” For Franklin, the term literary “simply means that as much, or more, emphasis is put on the writing as on the plot. That is, the way a novel is written/structured is as important as what happens.” Though his own novel is, overall, traditionally plotted and structured, he also uses a more complex narrative technique (via flashbacks and time jumps) than one might find in an ordinary genre thriller. He says this takes us back to the old question of which is more important: “the tale or the telling of it?” Sometimes, says Franklin, “how it’s told is crucial to what is told.” He cites as an example Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. “The first time you read this, it makes no sense. In no way is this novel ‘commercial.’ It’s a big, shaggy literary bear.” But beyond complex narrative technique, there is also style, says Franklin. “Also, obviously, literary fiction focuses more keenly on the sentence” – as does his novel. A novel might also be considered literary if it has thematic substance. For Schrefer, Endangered certainly seems to fit the “literary” category. “It’s a survival story about a girl surviving wartime in the Congo with an orphan ape by her side, but the novel is as much about how humans treat animals, and other humans, as it is about the interplays of character and event,” he says. These thematic ideas make the story “literary,” says Schrefer, yet he isn’t completely happy with this term; in fact, he claims an “enduring squeamishness” about the way it’s applied. “I think reputation and perceived worth are often accidents of fate,” he says. Such accidents, he says, depend on “who reviewed the book early on, which award committees were interested in certain sorts of fiction that year, etc.” Steinke says that others have called Holy Skirts a literary historical novel, but she says the term literary is subjective. But for her, a literary novel “includes an inventive use of language and a complex exploration of character and ideas.” Story is also important, and she distinguishes it from plot. “[Stories] could be unfolding in ways that are nearly entirely internal to the character, in ways that most people usually don’t consider ‘plot,’” she says. Still, while others also tend to list these qualities as literary, Steinke often finds these same qualities in works categorized as genre, science fiction and suspense among them. In the MFA program she teaches in at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she works to show her students “how good writing transcends genres and labels.” Niffenegger notes that the literary category is “the prestigious one,” and there are several issues to consider. Being a visual artist, with her training in drawing, photography, painting, and printmaking, she thinks like a visual artist. “In the visual arts,” says Niffenegger, “the categories are slippery. An artist might be described in terms of style, medium, period, or who they hung out with; however, artists often try to elude categories and labels because they can be limiting and artificial.” It’s different in publishing, she notes. Several things are going on with the “literary” label, some of it marketing – but not limited to this. “In the world of writing and publishing, categories are often used to sell books, to determine whether a writer is eligible for a prize, to bestow prestige.” For her, when fiction is called “literary,” this particular category simply means that this book “is very well executed, and it concerns serious things. Sometimes it means: This does not fit in any of the obvious genres.” She does point out that in history, “categories were less constraining.” Writers back then, says Niffenegger, “might romp through all the genres. Now, when a genre novel is excellent, the literary category comes to extract it from its humble genre beginnings.” For instance, she notes that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca are all placed in the literature section of a bookstore, whereas they could be simply categorized as ghost stories or mysteries. Good novels, regardless of genre, are “a surprising and complete world where we are privy to the thoughts and doings of people we come to care about and compelling ideas rendered in language that opens and blooms in the reader’s mind and resonates for some time after the book has concluded.” All in all, we shouldn’t distinguish between “literary” and “genre,” Niffenegger believes. We should simply look for greatness. 7ȡ3ȫ )Ȫ2ȥ 7Ƞ( 3Ȫ2ȫ (ɄLɇW6ȻKɊHȾHɊ “I often advise my YA writing students to cut their first five, 10, 50 pages, and start the story wherever the high-octane material begins.” $ɍGɊHɑ1ɁIȾHɆHȿJȽUȒ “It’s always about people, no matter what sort of story you are telling. Create convincing people, and then see what sort of story they want to be in.” 7ɇP)ɊDɆNɄLɆ “Read and read everything. Not just in your genre.” 5ȽQȽ6ɌHɁQɃHȒ “If you’re including a well-known historical figure, make sure that figure feels credibly ‘alive’ by fully imagining your own version of that character.” 7ȽOɄLɆJJɊHȹWVɌRɊLȽV If you’re attracted to genre fiction, keep in mind that there are certain conventions for each genre. But the novel you write is yours, and it might be a mistake to feel constrained by certain conventions, even though the blogs you read about this genre tell you otherwise or the genre novels you’ve read usually follow these conventions. If you want to write a great genre novel, whether or not it’s extolled as literary, then work for richness of character and story – and beyond that, creative narrative technique, depth of idea, and a gripping prose style, down to the sentence itself. A great novel, genre or not, grabs us because it has these things – it’s unique and it’s “new” – which is, after all, what “novel” means. Jack Smith is the author of four novels, two books of nonfiction, and numerous articles and interviews. writermag.com • The Writer | 23 LEARNING AS YOU LAUGH GRAPHIC NONFICTION BOOKS CONVEY FACTS IN FULL COLOR. BY MELISSA HART 24 | The Writer • May 2018 At first glance, the topic of rhetoric doesn’t inspire a belly laugh. Still, when professors Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander wrote the script for their comic book Understanding Rhetoric, they found themselves guffawing over bottles of wine in Alexander’s kitchen, reading aloud in the voices of the characters they’d created and playing around with sight gags that would help university students speak and write more effectively. Undergraduate composition students have responded with gratitude. “Often, teachers will assign books in writing classes that don’t get read because people feel like they’re there to write,” Losh explains. “But students have been extremely positive about the book. It’s nice to hear that they actually read it.” Vibrant illustrations explode from the pages of Understanding Rhetoric. The authors become comic narrators, explaining the principles of compelling communication succinctly. At times, they draw on narratives of superheroes and campus infestations of wild coyotes to help make their points about persuasive writing and collaborative learning. “Sometimes, seeing a comic book, students think they’re being given remedial material,” Losh says. “But everything in our book is comparable to a traditional textbook on the subject.” Call them comic books, graphic guides, or graphic nonfiction – the genre speaks to readers of all ages who appreciate the blend of quirky imagery and text in stories designed to convey information on topics that range from coral reefs to the history of flight, from explorations on Mars to the Serbian refugee crisis. Remedial? Absolutely not. Difficult to write? Absolutely: Losh describes nonfiction comic book writing as “the hardest kind of writing you can do.” For those wanting to study the craft, the quintessential textbook is Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud – itself a graphic nonfiction book that explains how to use narrators and story structure in conjunction with imagery in traditional comic book frames. McCloud went on to write Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Left: durantelallera/Shutterstock Narrators shape the story Alison Wilgus is the author of Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared, written for upper middle-grade readers. “You want to convey a lot of information in a kid-friendly way with a narrative that builds momentum,” she explains. To do this, she decided to tell Orville and Wilbur Wright’s story – parallel to the history of flight – from the point of view of their younger sister, Katharine. “I became completely obsessed with her,” Wilgus explains. “I read decades of Wright family correspondence in the public domain – letters to her brothers over the course of their career. Katharine was hugely important; women family members kept early aviators’ lives running while they were flying around in these ridiculous machines.” Often, authors of graphic nonfiction books choose a narrator to lead people through a story designed to convey information in an entertaining manner. Wilgus begins with an outline of what has to be documented – facts and breakdowns of scientific principles – and thinks about how she’ll structure them on each page. She submits text to the artist (Molly Brooks, in the case of Flying Machines) and they dialogue back and forth about characters, text, and how to convey scenes in panels on the page.” “Unlike film, there’s no industrystandard format for comics scripts, so some writers include more visual direction than others – and some artists appreciate that more than others,” Panels from Flying Machines: Brooks says. How the Wright Brothers Soared. “Everyone has different preferences, and if you know your artist-collaborator ahead of time, it can be helpful to check in and ask what they’d prefer: barebones page breakdown with dialogue? Panel-by-panel ‘camera direction?’ Little thumbnail drawings of where you think panels should go? No one’s going to see the script except the writer, artist, and writermag.com • The Writer | 25 editor, so you’re the only ones who need to be able to read and understand it well enough to turn it into a comic.” Not all nonfiction comics are humorous, but plenty of lighthearted moments balance out the scientific information in Wilgus’ and Brooks’ Flying Machines. “For me, all the humor comes when I get to write the dialogue,” Wilgus says. “In Katharine’s case, I kept a list of funny things she would say in her letters – turns of phrase like ‘scarce as hens’ teeth.’ All the best lines in the book are Katharine’s.” She notes that even though she’s writing nonfiction, she relies on fiction techniques such as characterization and narrative arc to shape the narrator’s story. For example, in the first panels of Flying Machines, Katharine Wright, dressed in period clothing, is trying to explain early aircraft to a classroom full of contemporary students who just want to talk about jets. “You weren’t there, and these conversations wouldn’t have happened,” Wilgus explains, “so you’re functionally fictionalizing the dialogue.” She also notes it’s tricky to distill a great deal of information into pithy speech bubbles, especially when explaining a complicated concept. Wilgus worked closely with Brooks to hone the text in each comic frame. “Every once in a while, she’d send me a blank template with my script filling half the page, and I’d be like ‘Yeesh, OK,” and we’d break it into two pages or I’d take half the text off the page,” Wilgus says. Losh and Alexander had the same challenges when writing Understanding Rhetoric. They themselves were the narrators in the book, drawn as cartoons. “We found it hard not to be ‘talkie,” Losh says. “In early scripts, speech bubbles would fill the entire panel. Jonathan and I would read as our characters, since we wanted the dialogue to sound natural, and then he’d cut words and I’d cut words, and we’d go back and forth again trying to cut words whenever we could.” Their scripts included extensive setting and character descriptions, panel by panel, so that the artists would know exactly how each should look. The script for panels 11 and 12 from the introductory chapter read like this: PANEL 11 “Layout of a commercial block with a series of storefronts featuring permanent store signs, temporarily painted windows announcing sales and new products, public notices from the city about permits, warning signs, commercial billboards, political advertisements, educational posters, graffiti, etc. JA and LL are walking by as if window shopping. 26 | The Writer • May 2018 JONATHAN For instance, just think about the actual real-life material SPACES in which writing occurs... PANEL 12 The block continues on to a school, where janitors are removing the graffiti and advertising. A defaced “teacher of the month” sign is being pulled down by the school principal. LIZ All of this writing is public, and yet some of this writing is done without first seeking the permission of others. Rules about ownership, authorship, and customary behavior may prohibit some kinds of public writing in certain situations. Since Losh and Alexander could create new characters rather than relying on those from history, they paid particular attention to ensuring that students in the book represented the diverse demographics at their respective universities. “The character Luis is Latino, and Cindy is Vietnamese American,” Losh explains. “We had a nontraditional student character in the book, as well – Carol, Cindy’s mom. We thought through their backstories and motivations. Some of Carol’s experiences are based on those of students I taught when I was first at U.C. Irvine, where a lot of students were part of the Vietnamese diaspora.” The artists, Kevin and Zander Cannon, contributed a great deal to characterization in the book as well. Losh and Alexander discussed the backstory of each student character with them and gave insight into the habits and idiosyncrasies of contemporary college students who filled their classrooms. “The artists often had great suggestions – visual jokes and ideas about how to explain concepts more clearly,” Losh says. “You want to open up the possibility for collaboration and creativity. An artist isn’t going to want to do layouts for something that doesn’t let them express themselves and be creative.” Research reflects the reality Don Brown has been a writer and illustrator of a wealth of graphic nonfiction books for children and teens for 25 years. Most of his books are short on sight gags and one-liners, more focused on straightforward descriptions of historical events and people. He works from home in an office full of drawing GRAPHIC NONFICTION BOOKS TO GET YOU STARTED tables and large computer monilabor intensive, more labor intenÂ Feynman by Jim Ottaviani tors, with art covering the walls. He sive than a conventional book. But Â Oil and Water by Steve Duin describes the marriage of words it’s an artistic and intellectual puzÂ Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer and pictures as magical. “It’s a zle that appeals to me.” by Alberto Ledesma unique art form, and I can feel Â Everything Is Teeth by Evie Wyld Be tenacious – and network good about reaching readers who Â The March Trilogy Brown describes the genre of wouldn’t otherwise necessarily by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin graphic nonfiction as relatively read,” he says. “[Besides] that, it’s Â Filmish by Edward Ross new – new in the sense that there fun for me.” are no hard-and fast rules about He began his career with Ruth Â Fun Home by Alison Bechdel what a book should look like. “If Law Thrills a Nation, a book about Â Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi you can figure out a way to do it a young woman who tried, in 1916, Â Science Comics: Bats: Learning to differently and better than to be the first person to fly from Fly by Falynn Koch another book, you win,” he says. Chicago to New York City in one Â Maus by Art Spiegelman “You’re not breaking a canon or day. “My daughters were little at Â American Born Chinese convention that stands in the way the time,” he says. “I wanted to read by Gene Luen Yang of a reader.” to them about real women who Â El Deafo by CeCe Bell He tells potential graphic nonwere brave and heroic and accomÂ District Comics: An Unconventional fiction writers to be tenacious in plished things on their own. I History of Washington, D.C., honing their craft and pitching to wrote a manuscript, and an agent edited by Matt Dembicki agents and editors. “I’m stubborn. sold it immediately.” Â Palestine by Joe Sacco That’s carried me through,” he Since then, he’s written graphic says. “You’ve just got to keep at it. nonfiction books about Dolley Â My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf Someone has to write a book. Madison, famous “newsie” Kid Â Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True Someone has to illustrate a book. Blink, the Gold Rush, the 1930s History of Earth by Don Brown and Michael Perfit Why not you?” Dust Bowl, Hurricane Katrina, Losh reminds writers intrigued and the book America is Under Â The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (Graphic by graphic nonfiction to read a Attack: September 11, 2001: The Edition) by Amity Shlaes great deal in the genre. “UnderDay the Towers Fell. He’s currently stand the back end,” she says. at work on a graphic nonfiction “Look at scripts and learn how to give instructions to an book about the Syrian refugee crisis. For that, his artist. You have to write text like a movie script and offer research took him from his home on Long Island to instructions on scene and layouts.” three different refugee camps in Greece. Wilgus cites a large and supportive community of “I wanted to see with my own eyes the life in a refucartoonists eager to welcome new members. She tells gee camp, to see their living conditions and what types beginners to practice creating graphic nonfiction with a of people they were,” Brown says. “I wanted to confirm subject they know well. “If you can’t draw very well, that the things I read were in fact true and accurately that’s fine,” she says. “If it’s well written, you’ll learn how reflected the reality on the ground.” to draw better.” At the camps, he picked up small details that he She urges people to exhibit their work at local comic hadn’t found in his extensive reading back home. “One shows and ‘zine fests. “Make a little photocopied, stapled of the refugees said they get a lot of donations of book of your comics,” she says. “If there’s someone T-shirts, which they don’t need,” he explains. “What whose work you really like, you can trade.” She notes they need is diapers for older kids because tweens are that this is a good way for graphic nonfiction writers to so stressed out that they’re wetting the bed. And they need shoes for men. The men in the camps are so bored find an artistic collaborator, as well. “[Creating] comics is a difficult job,” she says. “It’s that they wear out their shoes pacing the camps. That lonely, but if you can find other people to be on the speaks volumes.” journey with you, you’ll stick with it.” Each of Brown’s books takes about a year to create in a process that includes research, writing, creating a Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of the forthcoming mock-up, soliciting editorial comments, rewriting, and Better with Books: Diverse Fiction to Open Minds and Ignite Empathy drawing all the art. “The creation of the art is the slow and Compassion in Children (Sasquatch, 2019). Web: melissahart.com. part. It takes months and months,” he says. “It’s very writermag.com • The Writer | 27 M E A DAY 8 PRO TIPS FOR SUCCESS IN THE TABLETOP GAME-WRITING INDUSTRY. By Ryan G. Van Cleave W hy are more and more writers interested in working for the tabletop game industry? Here are three of the top reasons. One: The market is huge. The tabletop game market – comprised of collectible games, miniatures, board games, card and dice games, and roleplaying games – had nearly $900 million in North American retail sales in 2014 alone. Two: The market welcomes beginners. “‘Indie’ is a term that is as meaningless in tabletop gaming as it is in movies,” says Ken Hite, the writer for 80+ tabletop games, including Dracula Dossier, Night’s Black Agents, and the forthcoming fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. “Almost no games are first made by a company that’s large enough to call them ‘corporate games.’” Simply check out how many tabletop games are being offered up on Kickstarter right now from “companies” that are really just a couple of people. That’s not even taking into account how many downloadable tabletop games can be distributed entirely online at sites like Drivethrurpg.com. Three: Games are fun. So if you want to get involved in a booming story-making industry that’s both fun and welcoming to beginners, here are a few tips to help out. writermag.com • The Writer | 29 TIP 1: Play Dungeons and Dragons. BREAK OUT THOSE POLYHEDRAL DICE and learn from the granddaddy of them all! Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) isn’t just a classic tabletop game, it’s arguably THE classic one, says Hite. “It all began in 1974 with the publication of three completely illegible and unplayable booklets cumulatively entitled Dungeons and Dragons.” Today, D&D is on the fifth edition, which Hite says is “very playable, with sleek, fast, well-play tested rules.” Playing D&D now is a great way to experience a game that’s rooted in character and conflict versus burdensome rules and glitchy game mechanics. Plus, a 2014 New York Times article celebrating the game’s 40th anniversary identified a number of writers who acknowledge the role that D&D played in the development of their own storytelling abilities: George R.R. Martin. Matt Groening. Junot Diaz. Playing D&D helped make them who they are. Now get out there and kill some kobolds in the pursuit of your own better storymaking ability. It’s time to be a twenty-sided troubadour! Lose a turn! TIP 2: Focus on the fun. SURE, WORLDBUILDING IS FUN, BUT spending too much time and space on elements that players won’t interact with? That’s a common error, says Rick Dakan, who teaches “Writing for Tabletop Games” and “Advanced Game Writing” courses at Ringling College. “Figure out what’s interesting and unique about your game, then consider how players make choices. If the interesting part doesn’t line up closely with actual gameplay, the game won’t be fun or interesting,” he says. The most beautiful artwork, complex rulebook, and cool miniatures won’t matter if the game ultimately isn’t fun. Creating Game Conflict 101 A tabletop game writing activity by Rick Dakan Game settings should be designed to incite conflict between players. The following activity helps you imagine what a setting primed for conflict might look like. 1. 2. 3. 4. Pick a real-world place and time, like New York in 1970, Baghdad in 1600, or even your hometown during the year you were born. Identify at least three separate sources of conflict that aren’t directly related to each other. It might be rival political factions, a struggle between two influential residents, a natural disaster, or a host of other things. Now come up with a short summary of potential plot hooks for each of the conflict sources you’ve selected. Challenge yourself to create a single final plot that incorporates all three hooks. The outcome? A game setting that’s ripe for conflict – something players will thank you for. TIP 3: TIP 4: Study great game writing. Don’t reinvent the wheel. BESIDES D&D, PLENTY OF OTHER hugely successful games are worthy of serious study. Dakan suggests that “the storytelling in Pandemic Legacy is very clever and something that could only be accomplished in a board game. Robin D. Laws’ DramaSystem game is not only well written but provides a perfect model for how to gamify dramatic scenes from books, television, and movies.” Don’t just play these for fun. Pay attention to WHY they work, and ask other players what worked for them and why. Take notes. Identify the elements of story success in play. A few other games with quality storywriting? Netrunner, City of Remnants, and Dead of Winter. Roll again! WHY TRY TO RE-CREATE D&D OR another tabletop gaming phenomenon when you don’t have to? As Hite explains, “Once you dive deeper into the gaming world, you find how much open content there is or, in many cases, licensing that is so ridiculously easy to get that it might as well be considered open content.” Like D&D. Like Fate. Like RuneQuest. Hite’s point? “Not only can you make a game that is your own game, but it’s built for a game system that plenty of people already play and love.” Talk about a readymade consumer market waiting for what you have to offer. Thanks to open-source opportunities, Hite says, “it has NEVER been easier to make a game that people want to play. It was always easy to make a game that nobody wants to play.” writermag.com • The Writer | 31 TIP 5: Explore different gaming styles. SOME GAMES – OFTEN AMERICAN – are characteristically about aggression and winning, and they often require a high degree of luck to win. Put simply, these games have heavy themes and dramatic gameplay. Some examples of highly thematic games? Risk. Axis & Allies. Arkham Horror. Other games – often European ones – typically have indirect conflict, where instead of fighting other players directly, you might compete for a pool of resources or points. In these games, the leader often finds it harder to stay ahead, which makes runway victories less likely. These games tend to be characterized by great artwork and complex game mechanics. Examples of these? Settlers of Catan. Ticket to Ride. Carcassonne. 32 | The Writer • May 2018 TIP 6: Keep an idea notebook. WHETHER THIS IS A GOOGLE NOTES file, a physical diary, or a Word doc, jot down your ideas as you have them. Hite says he has a dozen ideas for games in his head at any one time, so to help keep your own straight, get them recorded before new ones crowd in. An added bonus of this practice is that if you’re ever in a situation where ownership of ideas is in question, you’ll have solid evidence to support your intellectual property. Sco r e C ard BONUS TIP: Befriend your local game store. TIP 7: Playtest. Playtest. And playtest again. START WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Their feedback won’t be as brutal, but they’ll likely have a few suggestions. If your game passes muster with these softies, take it to other gamers beyond your immediate circle and watch as they struggle. Take notes. Don’t jump in and help – let them figure it out (or not!). It’s valuable to see if your rules, mechanics, and plot hold up without your on-the-spot clarifications. The last stage is to get complete strangers to try it out without you around, and then report back on their successes and struggles. A good local game store can likely help set this up. PHYSICAL GAME STORES NOT ONLY have well-curated selections that you can inspect, touch, and often test out in person, but they also have game experts with strong opinions. Use their expertise. It’s worth spending a few extra bucks at these stories than shopping at Amazon. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve learned about and loved (or not!) at The Dark Side, my own local comic and game store in Sarasota, Florida. These places – and the people there – are pure gold. Whether your goal is to create the next decade’s D&D, Magic: The Gathering, or Apples to Apples, or you just want to explore the cool world of tabletop games, the practice of playing, thinking about, and making your own game can be an invaluable learning experience for any writer. Great games require terrific stories and compelling thematic elements, just like any other type of storytelling. You can never have too much practice at creating intrigue, action, and audience engagement. Plus, it’s worth repeating: Games are fun! Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books, and he runs the creative writing program at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Web: ryangvancleave.com. writermag.com • The Writer | 33 Spacewo/Shutterstock; ComicVector703/Shutterstock STORY RULES, PLOT DROOLS 34 | The Writer • May 2018 The three crucial storytelling elements every novel needs to succeed. BY PHILIP MARTIN A writer is basically a storyteller, said Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. On my bookshelves, I have many books of advice that focus on formulaic elements of fiction – plot, conflict, character development, and such. But story is much harder to pin down. As Flannery O’Connor famously said, “I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.” As an editor and indie-press publisher, I encounter many submissions that have decent plots, likable characters, required conflict, and all that. But the manuscripts have a fatal problem: The storytelling is poor. These works are headed for the rejection bin. Beginning writers often believe that the plot is the clever thing that a writer does, and so they craft intricate plots – plots that do not pay off until late in the story, if at all. The truth is that plot is like a skeleton; it’s good to have but has little intrinsic appeal. Story is a stronger attention-getting device. Recently, scientists have studied the power of story to attract our attention, trigger empathy for characters, and shape values. It might best to say that story is essential and elemental, while plot is constructed and can be somewhat artificial. Both are good and enjoyable when done well. But story is closer to the heart – closer to why we value stories and storytellers. As Ray Bradbury said, plot is nothing but footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to somewhere else important to them. So what makes a good story? A good story delivers three key elements: 1. Something curiously odd at the start. 2. Selective and delightful details to draw out the tale through the middle. 3. An ending that makes it clear why this story was worth telling. Let’s look at a few techniques for each part. Intriguing eccentricity Odd or quirky, it turns out, is naturally interesting. We are intrigued by something peculiar. We want to know more about it. A story is by definition eccentric; it is about something different from the norm. If you want to get published, something odd should appear in the first pages of a manuscript to catch the attention of an agent or editor. It could be an odd image, a peculiar voice, a curious incident. Remember, there is an immense stack of fairly equivalent works available to any editor. Unless your story offers a quirky hook, it will quickly be tossed aside. If you are going to be eccentric, why wait to reveal it? A fisherman doesn’t save his bait ‘til he sees a fish. He baits the hook before he drops a line in the water. writermag.com • The Writer | 35 Gregor Samsa wakes up and finds he is a giant insect in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. What could be odder? It loads the story onto a catapult and hits the launch button on page one. Dorothy from Kansas is spinning aloft in her house and on her way to Oz by page three. In the first line of Charlotte’s Web, Pa walks past the window carrying an ax, on his way to the hoghouse to kill a runty piglet. Some beginning writers think it best to create a slowly developing sense of what their story is about, hoping that this will intrigue the reader. However, this often fails because the reader is just mystified…and not engaged enough to read on. The trick is to avoid the predictable incident, the easy plot point, the comfortable character. To develop quirky ideas, there are many techniques for brainstorming, journaling, collecting odd scraps of conversations, always pushing harder to ask “What if…?” again and again. Quirks, of course, are just the beginning. Once you have the reader interested, it’s up to you to embellish and develop the story. A story will sink or swim based on the appeal of these three elements: intriguing eccentricity to draw us in, delightful details to make us enjoy the middle course of the story, and a satisfying conclusion to wrap it up well. Delightful details Why do people read fiction? In many ways, readers want to experience in a story what they experience in eating delicious food. Joy in eating comes from a craving not for nutrition but for delightful tastes. Eating is not about the outline of a recipe; it’s about the pleasure of tasting what appears on the plate. The same is true of literary creativity. The details you put on each page of your manuscript are the spices that make the words tingle on the tongue of the mind. The good story is full of distinctive, flavorful details. The problem is that beginning authors often overlook the need to create delightfully rich, savory details in favor of addressing the needs of the plot. In other words, they organize the menu and serve the food but forget to spice it properly. 36 | The Writer • May 2018 One good way to develop details is to use more senses. In the first Narnia book, C.S. Lewis describes the youngest child, Lucy, entering that magical land through a wooden wardrobe. The several paragraphs are full of sensory imagery: Looking into the inside, she saw several coats hanging up – mostly long fur coats. There was nothing Lucy liked so much as the smell and feel of fur. She immediately stepped into the wardrobe and got in among the coats and rubbed her face against them...It was almost quite dark in there and she kept her arms stretched out in front of her so as not to bump her face into the back of the wardrobe. She took a step further in – then two or three steps – always expecting to feel woodwork against the tips of her finger. But she could not feel it. “This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching underneath her feet. “I wonder is that more moth-balls?” she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hands. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold… And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her…. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. Another way to develop rich details is to build a strong sense of place. Too many beginning writers set their story in a place that can only be called generic, with few concrete details, and those provided tend to be stereotypical. Consider David Guterson’s novel Snow Falling on Cedars, which takes place on San Piedro Island in Puget Sound in the 1950s, involving the mysterious death of an island fisherman and the trial of a Japanese-American man for the crime. The story’s plot revolves around characters and their actions. But significantly, it happens in a place that sets the stage, confines the people, and shapes their interaction. Here’s how Guterson introduces us to San Piedro: San Piedro was an island of five thousand damp souls…Amity Harbor, the island’s only town, provided deep moorage for a fleet of purse seiners and one-man gill-netting boats. It was an eccentric, rainy, wind-beaten sea village, downtrodded and mildewed, the boards of its buildings bleached and weathered, their drainpipes rusted a dull orange…Rain, the spirit of the place, patiently beat down everything man-made. On winter evenings it roared in sheets against the pavements and made Amity Harbor invisible. Writing rich in specificity is a major element that literary agents or acquisitions editors look for. If I were an editor at a publishing house reading a passage like that first glimpse by Guterson of the island of San Piedro, would I want to read more? Yes – and I’d be eager to get a chance to publish it. The satisfying surprise at the end Does your ending satisfy the reader with surprises? As writer Carol Bly noted: “An essential difference between experienced and beginning writers is the amount of surprise they give us.” If you want to achieve both satisfaction and surprise at the end, a good place to start is to identify the main characters’ desires. In Katherine Paterson’s novel Bridge to Terabithia, young Jess begins the novel wanting to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. “He had to be the fastest ... the very best.” But soon he is thwarted, beaten in a foot race – by a girl who becomes his friend. As the story moves forward, we learn more about what Jess cares most about. His true desire is to have a close friend, to be liked and understood. We share in his desires and challenges, as the story builds to its surprising emotional conclusion. A good story will reveal something about important human needs: love, understanding, friendship, following a path of rightness in the world. Do you know what the core theme of your story is? This is a logical source for the surprise at the end. The theme of Bridge to Terabithia is friendship, and what can be lost and what endures. The surprise at the end speaks to that theme. C.S. Lewis wrote, “[Stories are a] series of events: but it must be understood that this series – the plot, as we call it – is only really a net whereby to catch something else.” That “something else,” said Lewis, is the “real theme.” Plot’s purpose, he suggested, is to catch the theme, like a bird in the net, if only for a few moments in the story. “The bird has escaped us. But at least it was entangled in the net. We saw it close and enjoyed the plumage.” Beginning writers may feel embarrassed to have the theme too visible, even briefly. You may be afraid that someone will accuse you of being too moralistic. But the whole purpose of novel writing, to some extent, is to look at something important. Pull the theme forward, especially as you shape your ending. Of course, theme is not a fortune cookie or an Aesop’s Fable moral. We need to be artful. We need to create complex characters and develop interesting challenges for them. But in the end, your story should speak to something important to you, your characters, and your readers. The heart of the story The three aspects of story I’ve discussed here are not the only ones needed for good fiction. A story needs other things too, including a functional plot. But in my experience, a story will sink or swim based on the appeal of these three elements: intriguing eccentricity to draw us in, delightful details to make us enjoy the middle course of the story, and a satisfying conclusion to wrap it up well. Consider Shakespeare’s plays. It’s not the plot, it’s his storytelling skill that has made these works so beloved over the ages. He is master of the play of words, the frolic of fancy, the comic interludes, and many other techniques that beguile the heavy gait of plot. As poet Howard Nemerov noted, the clever bard “tells the same stories over and over in so many guises that it takes a long time before you notice.” If you do it correctly, you will attract, delight, and amaze your readers. A good story will shed new light on the human condition. As John Steinbeck, another winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote: We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say – and to feel – “Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel it.” You’re not as alone as you thought. So I recommend that you focus your novel-writing process on story, not on plot. If you do it well, story will be always at the core of your strongest writing. Or, as I’ve said elsewhere: story rules, plot drools. Philip Martin is director of Great Lakes Literary (GreatLakesLit.com) and runs an indie publishing house, Crickhollow Books (CrickhollowBooks.com). He is a past acquisitions editor for The Writer Books, when he worked with many prominent authors, agents, and editors. His most recent book of literary advice is an expanded edition of How To Write Your Best Story; this article is drawn from it. He is also the author of A Guide to Fantasy Literature and The Purpose of Fantasy. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. writermag.com • The Writer | 37 LITERARY SPOTLIGHT INSIDE LITERARY MAGAZINES BY MELISSA HART The Forge Literary Magazine This inclusive journal offers a wealth of opportunity for both writers and editors. J ohn Haggerty, founding editor of the 2-year-old literary magazine The Forge, worries about people who are forced to abandon their writing because of careers and family. To encourage and showcase their talents, he and his fellow editors launched the 2018 Forge Fellowship for writers over 50 years old. Winners receive $500 and the opportunity to read and edit for the magazine over a year. Forge editors offer a separate fellowship to a writer of color. “We decided upon the two initial Fellowship categories because we want to be more active agents in encouraging and facilitating diversity in the literary community,” they note on their website. Volunteer editors from the international writers’ forum “Fiction Forge” contribute their vision to this digital publication. A rotating selection of editors chooses one piece of fiction or nonfiction for publication every week. The website also includes “wish lists” from current editors. Tone, editorial content Haggerty appreciates submissions that show a writer’s willingness to go to difficult and painful places. “That’s really where the art is,” he observes. “Nonfiction, especially, hinges on telling some sort of deep truth that you’ve discovered in your own life. That takes a lot of courage. When we see that, it really stands out.” He sees that same sort of bravery in skillful fiction writing. “Since it’s invented, you have to have the courage to really inhabit that fictional 38 | The Writer • May 2018 piece, to bring something new into the world even though someone might say that it’s ridiculous and makes no sense,” he explains. “It’s a willingness to go to a difficult place, to do something that people haven’t seen before.” As an example, he points to “Rain” by Tricia Amiel (10/23/17), which begins: “So I’m sitting there, in the deepest funk, flipping through the channels with the remote. Some made-up blonde shows “The story doesn’t tie everything up in a nice bow,” Haggerty says. “But there’s something there that happens, and it feels like a profound shift and a reason to read that story.” Contributors Forge editors published author Nahid Rachlin’s piece “Three Sharp-Edged Memories” (1/23/17), about a Persian woman revisiting three traumatic recollections of her childhood in Iran. Haggerty selected this particular piece. “It’s strong and visceral writing,” he explains. “It would have pushed me to the edge to write it.” He also points to Natalia Theodoridou’s “The Emptiness Machine” (4/3/17) as the type of fiction he likes to highlight. The story begins, “You’d have thought it was a mad scientist who gave me the Emptiness Machine, but that’s not true. It was a poet.” He notes that the piece could almost be classified as speculative fiction, on the edge of experimental. Generally, Haggerty and other editors at The Forge don’t publish genre writing – submit plot-driven ghost stories and zombie stories elsewhere. “But if a piece includes good characterization and a strong theme, we’d definitely be willing to print that,” he says. Advice for potential contributors Haggerty hopes that writers will pay particular attention to crafting power- “Our taste is wide-ranging and eclectic.” ONLINE. Genre: Fiction and nonfiction. Reading period: Year-round. Length: Up to 3,000 words. Submission format: Anonymously online via magazine website. Payment: $.05/word. Contact: Current editors, via website. email@example.com. forgelitmag.com. ful first paragraphs and thought-provoking conclusions. “A lot of times, we get stories going along really well, and the characters are good, and the piece feels like it might be emotionally resonate,” he explains, “and then it seems like the writers just trail off. They’ve written themselves into a corner and don’t know what to do.” If a story concludes ambiguously, as Amiel’s “Rain” does, he wants to see that the writer deliberately intended to leave readers with a sense of unease and lack of resolution. Forge editors appreciate shorter pieces, particularly flash and microprose. However, they will consider submissions up to 3,000 words. All pieces must be submitted anonymously via Submittable. Readers hoping to have work published in The Forge can read prose selections for free on the magazine’s website. Additionally, an online department called “The Smithy” includes interviews with writers talking about their newly published pieces and announcements regarding the winners of the Forge Fellowship. Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and two adult memoirs. Web: melissahart.com “If it hadn’t been for this conference, I’d probably still be sitting on a rerun of The Dating Game somewhere.” Fannie Flagg, NYT bestselling author Santa Barbara Writers Conference June 17-22, 2018 Join us for 6 days beachside, at the Santa Barbara Hyatt • Workshops • Agents • Speakers • Panels • Improve your craft • Find your tribe • Make lifelong connections © Peanuts Worldwide LLC up, talking about Russian women being sold as sex slaves. ‘Shocking story at eleven.’ I flip again, and another blonde appears, something unbelievable this time – some brother getting the shit beat out of him ‘cause he’s in the wrong neighborhood. These people on the TV don’t live nowhere ‘round here, I know that. Else they wouldn’t have the heart to be so damned surprised all the time.” Our 46th Year! Register online: www.sbwriters.com firstname.lastname@example.org (805)568-1516 writermag.com • The Writer | 39 CONFERENCE INSIDER BY MELISSA HART Kauai Writers Conference Want a little Hawaiian vacation with your writing education? This is the conference for you. 40 | The Writer • May 2018 Katz explains. “We don’t want to be just a conference that happens in Hawaii. We want to be genuinely Hawaiian.” What you’ll learn Master classes on Nov. 5-8 include a four-day focus on memoir or poetry and four half-days of instruction in screenwriting, voice in fiction, character psychology, independent publishing, and how to find and work with an agent. “Go to a master class, if possible,” Katz advises. “They’re all run by people who were specifically chosen not just as well-known authors but as outstanding teachers of writing.” The writing conference, Nov. 9-11, offers a blend of craft workshops, inspirational presentations, and opportunities to pitch work to agents and editors. Participants can sign up for manuscript critiques and consultations as well. These John Sartin / Shutterstock.com I n November, when most of us settle in for a long, chilly winter, participants at the Kauai Writers Conference gather at the Marriott Resort to learn and network, kayak and surf, and stroll across white sands under palm trees. “We have such a rich and diverse faculty that writers are torn,” explains conference director David Katz. “Should they go see a best-selling author or go to the beach?” There’s so much to see and do, in fact, that people end up taking advantage of the conference hotel’s reduced rates for three days before and three days after the conference – the better to merge business with pleasure. The first day of the conference begins with a traditional Hawaiian blessing and concludes with a luau featuring singers, dancers, and traditional slack key guitar. “The luau brings people into the understanding of Hawaiian culture,” CONFERENCE: Kauai Writers Conference DATES: Nov. 9-11, 2018 COST: From $695 LOCATION: Kauai, Hawaii CONTACT: Conference director David Katz, email@example.com kauaiwritersconference.com sessions take place in gazebos and nooks overlooking the hotel pool and the ocean. To ensure that participants get to meet with the agents and authors who will be of most value to them and to their particular writing project, the conference offers free phone consultations prior to registration. (Interested writers can visit the conference website for details about these consultations.) “We’ll ask you about what you’re writing and whether you’ve published a book before and get a feel for who you should meet at the conference,” Katz explains. “Maybe you should be sure to connect with Christina Baker Kline or be sure to have lunch with Jane Smiley.” Featured presenters This year, the conference welcomes best-selling authors Smiley, Garth • low up-front prices • paperback & hardcover • 20-day production • 25 minimum order Request a FREE Kit 800- 650-7888, ext. W5 morrispublishing.com/W5 Stein, Alice Hoffman, Sara Gruen, Kristin Hannah, Scott Turow, Baker Kline, and others. Ellen Bass will speak about the power of metaphor in poetry and prose, while Kaui Hart Hemmings will teach writers how to create a sense of place. Jeff Arch will give a talk titled “How a Schoolteacher wrote ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’” while Stephanie Cabot and Emma Sweeney will discuss “The Agent/Author/Publisher Triangle.” Independent publishing experts Jon Fine, April Eberhardt, and Brooke Warner will be on hand to talk about exciting alternatives to traditional publishing. “The reality is that the majority of people who attend any writers’ conference are probably not going to get a big advance from Random House,” Katz explains. “We want to serve a broad community of writers. Independent publishing is not a second choice. Years ago, there was a real stigma against self-publishing. Now, because of e-books, those days are gone.” Don’t be afraid to grab those opportunities, he adds, from master classes to informal discussions in the lush gardens to impromptu walks on the beach. “All of our attending authors are just people,” he explains. “They weren’t born famous authors. They’re here to share their stories with people who would like to follow in their footsteps.” Katz counts as his favorite part of the Kauai Writers Conference the spontaneous interactions and meetings between faculty and participants. “There’s this informal openness because we’re meeting at this beautiful place right on the beach,” he explains. “Everyone just kind of lets their hair down.” Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and two memoirs for adults. Web: melissahart.com. Advice for first-time attendees Katz urges newcomers to spend time on the conference website, clicking through the various links and reading participants’ bios to see what they’ve written and what they teach. “If you spend an hour or two going through our website, you’ll gain a good understanding of the opportunities that are available at the conference,” he says. Creative Writing Classes in NYC & Online GOTHAMWRITERS. COM writermag.com • The Writer | 41 MARKETS COMPILED BY TONI FITZGERALD By the rules Some rules are made to be broken, but in the world of writing contests, that’s not the case. Here are common elements to double check before you submit your work. You don’t want to be disqualified for a clerical error. 1. Blind submissions are called such for a reason. If the contest you enter is one of them, make sure your name and other vital details don’t appear anywhere in the submission file. This includes: cover page, title line, and header/footer. Online submission managers have their own ways of identifying you – trust that they will work. 2. Be sure your submission is within the specified word count. Judges may be willing to let 10 or 20 extra words slide, but if you’re more than that, definitely make cuts. 3. Stick with the theme of the contest you are entering, if there is one. If you are on the fence over whether your story can be interpreted in just the right way to fit the theme, rethink the submission. Others will write a story with the details in mind, so your stretch of a tale could get knocked out immediately. The following contests are a sampling of what the industry has to offer. You’ll find even more listings at writermag.com, including our own short fiction contests. Information in this section is provided to The Writer by the individual markets and events; for more information, contact those entities directly. Subscribers to The Writer have online access to information on publishers, publications, conferences, contests and agents. Go to writermag.com and click on Writing Resources. F = Fiction N = Nonfiction P = Poetry C = Children’s Y = Young adult O = Other F THE WRITER SHORT STORY CONTEST Regularly hosted by The Writer magazine. Max 2,000 words. Submit via online portal only. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $25 for first entry, $15 for every additional entry on the same transaction. Prizes: First place receives $1,000 and publication in The Writer magazine. Second place receives $500 and publication on The Writer website. Third place receives $250 and publication on The Writer website. Contact: The Writer. writermag.com/contests 42 | The Writer • May 2018 F N P AMERICAN LITERARY REVIEW AMERICAN LITERARY AWARDS Offers three prizes for short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Submit via online submission manager only. Opens June 1. Deadline: Oct. 1. Entry fee: $15 for one work of fiction under 8,000 words, one work of nonfiction under 6,500 words, or up to three poems. Prizes: The winner in each category will receive $1,000 and publication online. Contact: American Literary Review. firstname.lastname@example.org americanliteraryreview.com/contest O AMERICAN ZOETROPE SCREENPLAY CONTEST Aims to find new creative and compelling film narratives and introduce the next generation of screenwriters to the leading production companies. The winner and 10 finalists will be considered for representation by various agencies and for film option by big-name studios. Deadline: Check website for exact date. Entry fee: Check website for fees. Prizes: Grand prize winner receives $5,000; the winner and finalists are considered for representation. Contact: American Zoetrope. Email from website. zoetrope.com/contests P ANHINGA-ROBERT DANA PRIZE FOR POETRY Open to all poets regardless of experience or past publications. Submit a 48- to 100-page collection of poems via regular mail or online submission manager. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $25 for hard copy entries, $28 for electronic submissions. Prizes: $2,000, publication by Anhinga Press, and a reading tour of select Florida colleges and universities. Contact: Anhinga Prize for Poetry, P.O. Box 3665, Tallahassee, FL 32315. email@example.com anhingarobertdanaprizeforpoetry.submittable.com/ submit/78852/2017-anhinga-robert-danapoetry-prize F AURA ESTRADA SHORT STORY CONTEST Seeks previously unpublished short stories up to 5,000 words. Submit using online submission manager. Deadline: Check website for deadline. Entry fee: $20 per submission. Prizes: Winner receives $1,500 and publication in Boston Review. Runners up may also be published. Contact: Short Story Contest, Boston Review, P.O. Box 425786, Cambridge, MA 02142. Email via online form. bostonreview.net/contests F N P AUTUMN HOUSE PRESS POETRY, FICTION AND NONFICTION CONTESTS Open to full-length collections of poetry of 50-80 pages and fiction and nonfiction submissions of 200-300 pages. Deadline: June 30. Entry fee: $30. Prizes: Winners in each category receive book publication, $1,000 advance, and a $1,500 travel grant to promote his or her book. Contact: Autumn House Press, 5530 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15206. 412-362-BOOK. firstname.lastname@example.org autumnhouse.org/contest-submissions F N P BEACON STREET PRIZE Submit fiction (max 8,000 words), nonfiction (max 8,000 words) or up to three poems. Submit by online submission manager. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: $10. Prizes: $1,000 in each category and publication in Redivider. Contact: Redivider. email@example.com redividerjournal.org/submit/contests/ beacon-street-prize F N P BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW PRIZES Honors outstanding writing in the themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. Fiction and nonfiction up to 5,000 words, and up to three poems. Deadline: Check website for deadline. Entry fee: $20 per submission, max four submissions. Prizes: First prize in each genre is $1,000 and publication. Honorable mentions receive $250 and publication. Submit by online submission manager only. Contact: Bellevue Literary Review. 212-263-3973. info@BLReview.org blr.med.nyu.edu P BENJAMIN SALTMAN POETRY AWARD Recognizes a previously unpublished collection of poetry. A 48-page minimum, 96-page maximum. Submit through online submission manager. Deadline: Oct. 31. Entry fee: $25 per submission. Prize: $3,000 and publication by Red Hen Press. Contact: Attn: Benjamin Saltman Award, Red Hen Press, P.O. Box 40820, Pasadena, CA 91114. 626-356-4760. firstname.lastname@example.org redhen.org/awards-2/bsa F P BLACK RIVER CHAPBOOK COMPETITION Semiannual contest for unpublished chapbooks of poems or fiction 16-36 pages long. Submit via online submission manager. Deadline: May 31 for spring, Oct. 31 for fall. Entry fee: $15. Prizes: Publication, $500 and 10 copies of the chapbook. Contact: Black Lawrence Press. email@example.com blacklawrence.com P BOSTON REVIEW ANNUAL POETRY CONTEST Submit up to five unpublished poems, no more than 10 pages total, by regular mail or online submission manager. Simultaneous submissions not accepted. Entry fee includes three-issue sub- scription. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: $20. Prize: $1,500 and publication in Boston Review. Contact: Poetry Contest, Boston Review, P.O. Box 425786, Cambridge, MA 02142. firstname.lastname@example.org bostonreview.net/contests F P THE BRIDPORT PRIZE Enter your previously unpublished poem, short story, or flash fiction. Poems up to 42 lines, short stories under 5,000 words and flash fiction under 250 words. Open to anyone age 16 and older. See website for proper formatting. Deadline: Check website for deadline. Entry fee: £8 for flash fiction, £9 for each poem, £10 per short story. Prizes: Short stories and poetry: £5,000/£1,000/£500 and 10 £100 prizes; flash fiction: £1,000/£500/£250 and three £100 prizes. Contact: The Bridport Prize, P.O. Box 6910, Dorset DT6 9BQ, UK. Kate Wilson, Bridport Prize administrator: email@example.com bridportprize.org.uk P BRITTINGHAM AND FELIX POLLAK POETRY PRIZES Awarded annually to the two best book-length manuscripts of original poetry submitted in an open competition. Submissions are considered for both prizes. Submit manuscripts between 50 and 90 pages. Deadline: Sept. 15. Entry fee: $28 per entry. Prizes: $1,000 and publication to each winner. Contact: Brittingham and Pollak Poetry Prizes, c/o Ronald Wallace, UW Press Poetry Series Editor, Dept. of English, 600 N. Park St., University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706. firstname.lastname@example.org uwpress.wisc.edu/poetryguide.html F N CHANTICLEER BOOK REVIEWS AWARDS Genre writing competitions for fiction and nonfiction featuring more than a dozen separate themes. Work must be at least 40,000 words in length. Books may be published, unpublished, indie, or traditional. Deadline: Varies depending on award. Entry fee: $75. Prizes: First-place winners receive a prize package and marketing package; grand prize genre winners receive $200; one overall grand prize winner receives $1,000. Grand prize winners announced at Chanticleer Awards Gala. Contact: Chanticleer Book Reviews. email@example.com chantireviews.com F THE CLAYMORE AWARD Submit the first 50 pages of an unpublished mystery or thriller manuscript of any subgenre. Affiliated with the Killer Nashville conference. Deadline: April 1. Entry fee: $40. Receive a written critique for an additional $20. Prizes: Over $3,000 in prizes, plus possible book advance, agent representation, and movie deal. Contact: Killer Nashville Award, P.O. Box 680759, Franklin, TN 37068. 615-599-4032. killernashville.com F P CRUCIBLE POETRY AND FICTION Free contest awards unpublished poems and stories with publication in the literary journal of Barton College. No simultaneous submissions. Online submissions only. Submit up to five poems or one story (8,000 words max). Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $150 in each category (poetry and fiction) and publication in Crucible. Second prize, $100 in each category. Sam Ragan Poetry Prize of $150. All submissions to the magazine are automatically considered for the contest. Contact: Crucible. 800-345-4973. firstname.lastname@example.org barton.edu/crucible P DANCING POETRY CONTEST Hosted by Artists Embassy International. Forty lines maximum each poem. No limit on number of entries. The grand prize-winning poems will be “danced” at the Dancing Poetry Festival in San Francisco. Deadline: April 15. Entry fee: One poem for $5 or three poems for $10. Prizes: All winners will receive a ticket to the Dancing Poetry Festival. Three grand-prize winners: $100 each. Six first-prize winners: $50 each. Twelve second-prize winners: $25 each. Thirty thirdprize winners: $10 each. Contact: AEI Contest Chair Judy Cheung. 704 Brigham Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95404. dancingpoetry.com/dpfpoetrycontestrules.html F THE DAVID NATHAN MEYERSON PRIZE FOR FICTION Open to writers who have not yet published a book of fiction, either a novel or collection of short stories. Submissions must be under 8,000 words. Deadline: writermag.com • The Writer | 43 MARKETS May 1. Entry fee: $25. Prize: $1,000 and publication in Southwest Review. Contact: The Meyerson Fiction Prize, Southwest Review, P.O. Box 750374, Dallas, TX 75275. email@example.com smu.edu/southwestreview F DRUE HEINZ LITERATURE PRIZE Open to writers who have published a booklength collection of fiction or at least three short stories or novellas in commercial magazines or literary journals. Eligible submissions include a manuscript of short stories; two or more novellas (a novella may comprise a maximum of 130 double-spaced typed pages); or a combination of one or more novellas and short stories. All must be between 150 and 300 pages. Deadline: June 30. Entry fee: None. Prize: $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Contact: Drue Heinz Literature Prize, University of Pittsburgh Press, 7500 Thomas Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15260. firstname.lastname@example.org upress.pitt.edu F E.M. KOEPPEL SHORT FICTION AWARD Submit unpublished fiction in any style or with any theme. Maximum length of 3,000 words. Send manuscript via regular mail only. Deadline: April 30. Entry fee: $15 for a single story, $10 for each additional. Prizes: $1,100 for first place and additional $100 to the editors’ choices. All winners are eligible to be published on writecorner.com and for inclusion in the permanent website anthology. Additional P.L. Titus Scholarship of $500 is awarded to the winner if they are currently attending college. Contact: Koeppel Contest, P.O. Box 140310, Gainesville, FL 32614. email@example.com writecorner.com/award_guidelines.asp F N P FANSTORY.COM CONTESTS Website features multiple contests in all genres running throughout the year. An independent volunteer community reads and discusses all entries. Contest entries receive feedback from readers and other authors. Deadline: Varies. Entry fee: Varies. Prizes: Vary. Contact: Email from website. fanstory.com F P FINELINE COMPETITION FOR PROSE POEMS, SHORT SHORTS 44 | The Writer • May 2018 AND ANYTHING IN BETWEEN Submit 1-3 unpublished prose poems and shorts up to 500 words. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $10 per each set of three prose poems/shortshorts. Prizes: $1,000 and publication in the Mid-American Review for first place. Ten finalists also receive notation and possible publication. Contact: Mid-American Review, Department of English, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403. firstname.lastname@example.org casit.bgsu.edu/ midamericanreview/fineline-competition F N GERTRUDE PRESS FICTION & CREATIVE NONFICTION CHAPBOOK CONTESTS Submit 8,500-10,000 words of short fiction, multiple essays, or a self-contained manuscript excerpt. Any subject matter is welcome, and writers from all backgrounds are encouraged to submit. Enter online or by postal mail. Deadline: Check website for deadline. Entry fee: $17 online. Prizes: $200, chapbook publication and 25 free copies of the chapbook. Contact: Gertrude Press. gertrudepress.org F GIVAL PRESS NOVEL AWARD Given to a previously unpublished literary novel between 30,000 and 100,000 words. Deadline: May 30. Entry fee: $50 per novel. Prize: $3,000, publication and 20 copies of publication. Contact: Robert L. Giron, Editor. Gival Press Novel Award, Gival Press, LLC, P.O. Box 3812, Arlington, VA 22203. 703-351-0079. givalpress.com F GLIMMER TRAIN CONTESTS Fiction contests held every month with various themes. Word counts 300-12,000 and categories include family matters, open fiction, and short story award for new writers. Deadline: Varies. Entry fee: Up to $20. Prizes: Range from $700 to $2,500. Contact: Glimmer Train Press, P.O. Box 80430, Portland, Oregon 97280. 503-221-0836. email@example.com glimmertrain.com P GUY OWEN AWARD Southern Poetry Review seeks unpublished poetry. Submit three to five poems. 10 pages maximum. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $20; includes one year subscription to journal. Prize: $1,000 and publication. Contact: Southern Poetry Review, Guy Owen Prize, Dept. of Languages, Literature and Philosophy, Armstrong Atlantic State University, 11935 Abercorn St., Savannah, GA 31419. southernpoetryreview.com N HARD TIMES WRITING CONTEST “Write about a difficult experience in your life, how you overcame this obstacle, and how you were changed by it.” Hosted by the Writers’ Workshop of Asheville. Winning stories chosen based on originality and style. Unpublished stories only. Should not exceed 5,000 words. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $25; $20 for members. Prizes: First place: Choice of two-night stay at the Mountain Muse B&B, three free workshops, or 50 pages (or 10 poems) line-edited and revised by editorial staff. Second place: Choice of one-night stay at B&B, two free workshops, or 35 pages (or eight poems) line-edited. Third place: Choice of one free workshop or 25 pages (or five poems) line-edited. Up to 10 honorable mentions. Contact: The Writers’ Workshop, 387 Beaucatcher Rd., Asheville, NC 28805. firstname.lastname@example.org twwoa.org/contests.html P HAROLD G. HENDERSON AWARDS FOR BEST UNPUBLISHED HAIKU Submit up to five unpublished haiku. Contest held by the Haiku Society of America. Deadline: July 31. Entry fee: $5 per five haiku for members, $7 per five haiku for nonmembers. Prizes: $150/$100/$50. Winning haiku will be published in Frogpond and on the HSA website. Contact: Henderson Haiku Contest. email@example.com hsa-haiku.org F N THE IMPRESS PRIZE FOR NEW WRITERS Looking to discover and publish new writing talent. Entries are assessed by the Impress team and a shortlist from which a panel chooses the winner. The panel is comprised of representatives from the publishing industry and the writing community. Deadline: Check website for deadline. Entry fee: £15. Prizes: Winner gets a publishing contract and book published in paperback and ebook forms. Runners up also considered for publishing potential. Contact: Impress Books Limited, Innovation Centre, Rennes Drive, University of Exeter, Devon, EX4 4RN, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org impress-books.co.uk/impress-prize F IOWA SHORT FICTION Submit a previously unpublished collection of short stories of at least 150 pages. Manuscripts that have been published in periodicals are eligible. Authors cannot have a published book of fiction. Submit by regular mail only. Deadline: Sept. 30. Entry fee: None. Prize: Publication by the University of Iowa Press. Contact: Iowa Short Fiction Award, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 507 N. Clinton St., 102 Dey House, Iowa City, IA 52242. email@example.com uiowapress.org/authors/ iowa-short-fiction.htm P JANET B. MCCABE POETRY PRIZE Submit up to two poems per entry, no longer than 40 lines each, via online submission form. Deadline: May 15. Entry fee: $20, includes a free copy of Ruminate. Prizes: $1,500 and publication for first place, $200 and publication for second place. Contact: Ruminate magazine. Email via form on website. ruminatemagazine.com F Y LEAPFROG PRESS FICTION CONTEST Submit unpublished adult, middle grade, or YA fiction, novella or novel-length, including short story collections. Minimum length is 22,000 words. All submitted unpublished stories will be considered for publication. Email entries only. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $33. Prizes: First prize: publication offer with an advance, in addition to the finalist awards ($150 and one or two judge critiques, permanent listing on contest page). Contact: Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest. firstname.lastname@example.org leapfrogpress.com/contest.htm P LITERAL LATTÉ POETRY AWARDS Send unpublished poems up to 2,000 words. All styles welcome and all entries considered for publication. Deadline: July 15. Entry fee: $10 per set of six poems or $15 for a set of 10. Prizes: $1,000/$300/$200. Contact: Literal Latté Awards, 200 E. 10th St., Suite 240, New York, NY 10003. 212-260-5532. Email via online form. literal-latte.com F LITERAL LATTÉ SHORT SHORT CONTEST Send unpublished shorts, up to 2,000 words. All styles welcome. Deadline: June 30. Entry fee: $10 per set of three shorts or $15 for a set of six. Prize: $500. Contact: Literal Latté, 200 E. 10th St., Suite 240, New York, NY 10003. 212-260-5532. Email via online form. literal-latte.com F LORIAN HEMINGWAY SHORT STORY COMPETITION Submit original unpublished fiction, no longer than 3,500 words. Only open to writers whose fiction has not appeared in a nationally distributed publication with a circulation of 5,000 or more. Deadline: May 1 for regular entry; May 15 for late entry. Entry fee: $15 per story until May 1; $20 per story between May 1 and 15. Prizes: $1,500 and publication in Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts; second and third place receive $500 each. Contact: The Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, P.O. Box 2011, Key West, FL 33045. email@example.com shortstorycompetition.com F L. RON HUBBARD WRITERS OF THE FUTURE CONTEST Awards short fiction up to 17,000 words written by emerging scifi, fantasy, and dark fantasy writers. Deadline: Quarterly. Entry fee: None Prizes: $1,000 first prize awarded each quarter; one of these winners also receives the $5,000 annual “Gold Award” grand prize. Each quarter, second place receives $750 and third place receives $500. Contact: L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, 7051 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. Joni Labaqui: firstname.lastname@example.org www.writersofthefuture.com F MARGUERITE MCGLINN PRIZE FOR FICTION Submit previously unpublished works of fiction up to 8,000 words through online submission manager only. All entrants receive a complimentary issue of Philadelphia Stories contest issue. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $15. Prizes: $2,000, an invitation to an awards dinner at Rosemont College, and publication in Philadelphia Stories; second place $500; third place $250; both published online. Contact: Philadelphia Stories. email@example.com philadelphiastories.org/marguerite-mcglinnprize-fiction-0 F N P NEW LETTERS LITERARY AWARDS Includes the New Letters Prize for Poetry and Fiction and the Conger Beasley Jr. Award for Nonfiction. All entries will be considered for publication in New Letters. Fiction and essays are not to exceed 8,000 words. A single poetry entry may contain up to six poems. Deadline: May 18. Entry fee: $24 for first entry, $15 for every entry after. Includes one-year subscription to New Letters. Prizes: $1,500 for first place in fiction and poetry; $2,500 for nonfiction. Contact: New Letters Awards for Writers, UMKC, University House, 5101 Rockhill Rd., Kansas City, MO 64110. 816-235-1168. firstname.lastname@example.org newletters.org/ writers-wanted/writing-contests P OMNIDAWN FIRST/SECOND BOOK CONTEST Open to writers who have never published a full-length book of poetry or who have published only one full-length book of poetry. Max 120 pages. Judge: Srikanth Reddy. Deadline: June 30. Entry fee: $27. Entrants who add $3 shipping will receive an Omnidawn book of their choice. Prize: $3,000, publication, and 100 copies of the book. Contact: Omnidawn Publishing, 1632 Elm Ave., Richmond, CA 94805. email@example.com omnidawn.com/contest F THE PETER HINCHCLIFFE FICTION AWARD Open to Canadian citizens or residents who have not yet published a first novel or short story collection. All submissions will be considered for paid ($250) publication in the magazine. Submit via online form. Deadline: May 28. Entry fee: $40; includes a one-year Canadian subscription to The New Quarterly. Prize: $1,000. Contact: The New Quarterly. 519-884-8111 ext. 28290. Email from website. tnq.ca/contests writermag.com • The Writer | 45 MARKETS F N P PLOUGHSHARES EMERGING WRITER’S CONTEST Open to writers who have not published a book or chapbook of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Submit three to five pages of poems or up to 6,000 words of prose. Deadline: Check website for deadlines. Entry fee: $24. Prizes: $2,000 in each category and publication. Contact: Ploughshares. 617-824-3757. firstname.lastname@example.org pshares.org P RIVER STYX INTERNATIONAL POETRY CONTEST Send up to three poems, no more than 14 pages total. Submit online or via regular mail. Deadline: April 30. Entry fee: $20 (includes a one-year subscription to River Styx). Prize: $1,500. Contact: River Styx International Poetry Contest, 3139A South Grand Blvd., Suite 203, St. Louis, MO 63118. email@example.com riverstyx.org/submit/poetry-contest P POETRY SOCIETY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE NATIONAL CONTEST Open to all poets. Winning poems will be published in the quarterly magazine, the Poets Touchstone. Limit 40 lines. Subject and form are open. Poems must not be previously published, have won a prize, nor be currently entered in another contest. Deadline: May 15. Entry fee: $3 for the first poem and $2 each for others. Entries limited to five poems per poet per contest. Prizes: First place, $100. Second place, $50. Third and fourth places, $25 each. Contact: National Contest Coordinator, Robert Crawford, 280 Candia Rd., Chester, NH 03036. poetrysocietyofnewhampshire.org/contest.html F P ROBERT WATSON LITERARY PRIZES Entries must be previously unpublished and fiction entries should be no longer than 25 typed, double-spaced pages. Poetry entries can include any number of poems up to 10 pages. Submit online or by regular mail. Deadline: Sept. 15. Entry fee: $14. Prizes: $1,000 and publication in The Greensboro Review. Contact: The Robert Watson Literary Prizes, The Greensboro Review, MFA Writing Program, 3302 MHRA Building, UNC Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27402. tgronline.net/contest F RED HEN PRESS FICTION AWARD Awards an original story with a minimum of 150 pages. Submissions accepted via online submission manager. Deadline: Aug. 31. Entry fee: $20. Prize: $1,000 and publication. Contact: Attn: Red Hen Press Fiction Award, Red Hen Press, P.O. Box 40820, Pasadena, CA 91114. 626-356-4760. redhen.org/awards-2 N RICHARD J. MARGOLIS AWARD Awards a nonfiction journalist or essayist whose work “combines warmth, humor, wisdom, and concern with social justice.” Submit at least two articles, published or unpublished, maximum 30 pages. Deadline: July 1. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $5,000 stipend and month-long residency at the Blue Mountain Center, a writers’ and artists’ colony in the Adirondacks. Contact: Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center, c/o Margolis & Bloom, 667 Boylston St., 5th floor, Boston, MA 02116. firstname.lastname@example.org award.margolis.com 46 | The Writer • May 2018 F SATURDAY EVENING POST GREAT AMERICAN FICTION CONTEST In its nearly two centuries of existence, the Saturday Evening Post has published short fiction by a who’s who of American authors – ultimately helping to define what it means to be an American. Submit any genre of fiction between 1,500 and 5,000 words. All stories must be previously unpublished. Electronic submissions only. Deadline: July 1. Entry fee: $10. Prizes: Winning story will be published in the January/February 2019 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive $500. Five runners-up will each receive $100 and will also have their stories published online. Contact: Editorial, The Saturday Evening Post, 1100 Waterway Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202. 317-634-1100. email@example.com saturdayeveningpost.com/fiction-contest P SLAPERING HOL PRESS CHAPBOOK COMPETITION Seeks poetry collections by authors who have not previously published a poetry book or chapbook. Submit 16 to 20 pages by mail or online. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $15. Prizes: $1,000, publication, 10 copies of the chapbook, and a reading at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. Contact: The Editors, SHP Chapbook Competition, The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, 300 Riverside Drive, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591. firstname.lastname@example.org writerscenter.org F N P SNAKE NATION REVIEW YOUTH EDITION Submit works of poetry (60-line limit), nonfiction (5,000-word limit), or fiction (5,000-word limit). Any topic will be considered. Previously published work is not admissible. Deadline: Check website for deadline. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Check website for prizes. Contact: Snake Nation Press, 110 West Force St., Valdosta, GA 31601. email@example.com snakenationpress.org/submission-guidelines P STAN AND TOM WICK POETRY PRIZE Offered annually to a poet who has not previously published a full-length collection of poems. Submission must consist of 50 to 70 pages of poetry, with no more than one poem per page. Winner will be chosen by Ellen Bass. Submit by regular mail or through online submission. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: $25. Prizes: $2,500 and publication by Kent State University Press. Contact: Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, Wick Poetry Center, Kent State University, P.O. Box 5190, Kent, OH 44240. firstname.lastname@example.org www.kent.edu/wick/stan-and-tom-wickpoetry-prize F N P TERRAIN.ORG ANNUAL CONTEST FOR FICTION, NONFICTION AND POETRY Submit original fiction or nonfiction of up to 5,000 words or submit three to five poems or one long poem of at least five pages. Submit online only. Deadline: Sept. 3. Entry fee: $15 per entry. Prizes: $500 plus online publication in each genre. Runners-up may also receive online publication and a small monetary prize. Contact: Terrain.org. email@example.com terrain.org/submit/contest-guidelines F N P TIFERET WRITING CONTEST Seeks writing that expresses a religious or spiritual experience or promotes tolerance. Classifieds Submit fiction or nonfiction up to 20 pages or submit up to six poems. Online submissions only. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: $15. Prizes: $500 and publication in Tiferet for best entry in each genre. Contact: Tiferet Journal. firstname.lastname@example.org tiferetjournal.com/2017-writing-contest P TOM HOWARD/MARGARET REID POETRY CONTEST Open for poems in any style or theme. The Margaret Reid Prize awards poems with rhyme or traditional style. The Tom Howard Prize is given to the best poem of any style. Submit through online form. Deadline: Sept. 30. Entry fee: $12 per poem. Prizes: $1,500 for each of the two categories. Ten honorable mentions will receive $100 each. Top 12 entries published on the Winning Writers website. Contact: Winning Writers. 351 Pleasant St., PMB 222, Northampton, MA 01060. 413-320-1847. Adam Cohen, president: email@example.com winningwriters.com READERS should use caution when entering into any legal contract with a literary service offering agentingtype assistance; publishers who charge, rather than pay, an author for publication; publishers who require a purchase before publication and contests that charge high entrance fees. The Writer also recommends requesting a list of references and submission guidelines before submitting a manuscript. If you have any concerns regarding the advertiser’s commitment or claims, please contact the advertiser and make certain all questions are answered to your satisfaction. ADVERTISERS We do not accept ads from agents or businesses that charge a reading or marketing fee; Subsidy Publishers: Copy of contract. In order to effectively handle questions from our readers regarding the products and services of our advertisers, the staff of The Writer asks that you provide us with some supplemental information, especially for first time advertisers. Examples include—Contests: Fee requirements, prizes and if purchase is necessary to qualify; Correspondence Schools: Copy of student’s contract, copy of critiqued assignment, documentation if course is accredited; Editing Services: Resumes showing qualifications of service providers, a sample critique, general cost of services; Literary Services: General cost of services, resume of service providers, verification that at least 50% of business income is from commission on sales. For our private records, please provide us with a street address and contact telephone number. The Writer reserves the right to reject or cancel any advertising which at its discretion is deemed objectionable, misleading or not in the best interest of the reader. Send Your Ad To: The Writer, Sales Account Manager 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184 or call (617) 279-0213 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Major credit cards accepted. CONFERENCES P VIOLET REED HAAS PRIZE FOR POETRY Submit a manuscript between 75 and 100 pages. Previously published work is eligible. Deadline: Aug. 31. Entry fee: $25. Prizes: $1,000 and publication. Contact: Snake Nation Press, 110 W. Force St., Valdosta, GA 31601. email@example.com snakenationpress.org EDITING/CRITIQUING A Cutting Edge Editing Respect for Your Voice 30 Years Experience $3/double-spaced page firstname.lastname@example.org 9971 Cabanas Ave., Tujunga CA 91042 PROFESSIONAL EDITOR, Award-winning Author (Bantam, Berkley/Ace, others) offers extensive critiques, respectful in-depth editing. Fiction, nonfiction, juvenile/YA. Carol Gaskin 941-377-7640. Email: Carol@EditorialAlchemy.com or website: www.EditorialAlchemy.com EDITING WITH PANACHE. Editor-writer is an acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic, and creative essayist. Fiction and nonfiction. Responsive and meticulous. Competitive rates. Free 10 page sample edit with critique. Geoffrey Aggeler, Ph.D. (805) 966-9728 or e-mail HFPGGBHHFMFS!HNBJMDPN (Website: www.editingwithpanache.com) &%*503*"-"/%$0"$)*/(4&37*$&4'SPNB OVSUVSJOHCVUXIJQDSBDLJOHXFMMDPOOFDUFEBVUIPS #BOHUIF,FZT5IF(SFBU#SBWVSB XIPXJMMIFMQZPV VOMFBTIUIFUSVFGBCVMPTJUZJOZPVSQSPKFDUTBOECSJOH UIFNUPGSVJUJPOJOUIFSFBMXPSMECFGPSFEFQSFTTJPOPS ESJOLEFTUSPZZPVSOFSWF'JDUJPOOPOGJDUJPOTDSJQUT QPFUSZUIFTFT5FOQFSDFOUEJTDPVOUJGZPVNFOUJPO 8SJUFSBE&NBJMKJMMEFBSNBO!HNBJMDPN XXXKJMMEFBSNBODPN HIGH-QUALITY EDITING FOR WRITERS of Fiction. Can be especially helpful to unpublished or firsttime writers. Honest, constructive, meticulous feedback. Free sample edit. New Leaf Editing. www.newleafediting.com or e-mail email@example.com Unlock the potential of your manuscript! Want to write a good book? I can help. Helga Schier, PhD, F WEST VIRGINIA FICTION AWARD AND COMPETITION Open to West Virginia residents and students attending school in the state. Awards unpublished fiction of up to 5,000 words that fosters an appreciation of Appalachian culture and values. The submission may not have received any other award, recognition, or special honor. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $500 first prize and possible publication, $100 each for second and third place. Contact: West Virginia Fiction Competition, Department of English, Shepherd University, P.O. Box 5000, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. 304876-5000. firstname.lastname@example.org www.shepherd.edu/ahwir/west-virginiafiction-competition published author and former publishing executive, offers powerful, comprehensive, personalized and effective editorial services. CONTESTS JOQSJ[FT'SPN.BSDIUP.BZ'MZJOH 4PVUIBQVCMJDBUJPOPG8JOTUPO4BMFN 8SJUFSTXJMMCFBDDFQUJOHFOUSJFTGPSQSJ[FTJO 'JDUJPO/POGJDUJPOBOE1PFUSZ#FTUJO$BUFHPSZ XJOOFSTXJMMCFQVCMJTIFEBOESFDFJWFFBDI 0OFPGUIFUISFFXJOOFSTXJMMSFDFJWF5IF848 1SFTJEFOUhT'BWPSJUFBXBSEBOEXJOBOBEEJUJPOBM "MMFOUSJFTXJMMCFDPOTJEFSFEGPS QVCMJDBUJPO'PSGVMMEFUBJMTQMFBTFWJTJUPVS XFCTJUFXXXXTXSJUFSTPSH %0305)&"-"/(&1"6-5":-0313*;& 803%4"/%*."(&4BXBSEGSPNUIF $FOUFSGPS%PDVNFOUBSZ4UVEJFTBU%VLF 6OJWFSTJUZTVQQPSUTEPDVNFOUBSZBSUJTUTXPSLJOH BMPOFPSJOUFBNTXIPBSFJOWPMWFEJOFYUFOEFE POHPJOHGJFMEXPSLQSPKFDUTUIBUSFMZPOBOEFYQMPJU UIFJOUFSQMBZPGXPSETBOEJNBHFT5PMFBSONPSF WJTJUEPDVNFOUBSZTUVEJFTEVLFFEVBXBSET %FBEMJOFJT.BZ “When Helga entered the picture, my manuscript went from promising to a published and critically acclaimed book.” – Ed Driscoll, award-winning comedian and writer withpenandpaper.com 310.828.8421 email@example.com RETREATS 83*5&*/8"-&4+VMZ*NNFSTFZPVSTFMGJOB TVQQPSUJWFXFFLMPOHXSJUJOHSFUSFBUJOJEZMMJD8BMFT UIBUXJMMFOFSHJ[FBOEJOTQJSFZPV&OKPZFODPVSBHJOH XPSLTIPQTQMFOUJGVMXSJUJOHUJNFJOWBMVBCMF JOTUSVDUJPOCSFBUIUBLJOHNPVOUBJOWJFXTPSHBOJD NFBMTBOEFYDVSTJPOTUPDBTUMFTBOEUIFDPBTU -FBSONPSFXXXTUPDLUPOFEVNVSQIZXSJUJOH writermag.com • The Writer | 47 HOW I WRITE BY ALLISON FUTTERMAN Malinda McCollum S hort story writer Malinda McCollum’s work has been recognized with a Pushcart Prize, the Plimpton Prize, and the prestigious Stegner Fellowship. Her first book, The Surprising Place, winner of the Juniper Prize for Fiction, is a collection of linked stories set primarily in Des Moines, Iowa. Deeply affecting, her stories about Midwesterners and their struggles are engrossing and full of humanity. Though the stories in The Surprising Place take place pre-2000, before technology became a ubiquitous part everyday life, her current writing project involves present-day stories that roam up and down the East Coast. Why short stories? In Tobias Wolff ’s Paris Review interview, he says he values short stories for their “exactitude, clarity, and velocity.” I think the qualities of “exactitude” and “clarity” draw many writers to the genre – short stories allow for a precision that may be tougher to achieve in novels. But for me, it’s the term “velocity” that truly captures the short story’s appeal. A great short story is urgent, insistent, and propulsive. It’s like a whirlwind or a whoosh! On teaching writing When I was younger, I thought writing ability was innate – you either have it or you don’t. Luckily, my foolishness was tempered by studying with brilliant teachers like James Alan McPherson. Jim had a way of enlarging the stories that were up for discussion. He’d take a draft others might dismiss as shallow or stupid and – without relying on empty flattery or intellectual sleight-of-hand – locate something distinctive and essential about the piece. 48 | The Writer • May 2018 Jim operated on the assumption that everyone has valuable stories to tell and that workshops can help writers discover and evolve those singular stories. To this day, I try to follow Jim’s example in the classes I teach. Midwestern settings I was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and lived there until I was 17 and went to college in California. Since then, I’ve resided all over the country, but I still go back to Iowa every summer. It’s a deeply familiar place to me. It’s also a mysterious and sometimes maddening place to me, especially in recent years, with the state’s political shift toward bombast and bigotry. In my stories, I wanted to go beyond the archetypal image of Midwesterners as clear-eyed and level-headed – or as provincial and repressed – and explore characters with more complexity. The physical landscape of the Midwest fascinates me too, as does the region’s collection of natural disasters: floods, tornadoes, and the 17-year cicadas that pop up throughout my book. I remember the cicadas emerging one summer when I was a kid, and being amazed and horrified by their non-stop singing and by their crispy corpses on the sidewalks and in the trees. Those cicadas transformed an ordinary landscape into something unsettling and surreal, and I aimed to do something similar with the stories in The Surprising Place. Creating a linked story collection I didn’t plan to write a collection of linked stories set in Des Moines. Instead, it was a gradual process, as I found myself revisiting earlier settings and characters, sometimes years later. I also started to notice certain images resurfacing in multiple stories, which got me thinking about how different characters’ paths might intersect. My hope is this indirect approach to structuring the book has kept the collection from feeling overdetermined or contrived. Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. FREE DOWNLOAD! Get your free guide to inding a literary agent, including the contact information and submission preferences for more than 80 agencies! Visit writermag.com/giveaways to download this valuable resource today! GUIDE TO FINDING AN AGENT Q R L W D F ¦ L W D U * W WDQ At last! ,QV IRUDXWKRUV DQG)5((+HOSWRR (FUUJOHZPVSCPPLTQSJOUFEDBOCFDPOGVTJOHBOEGSVTUSBUJOH8FSFIFSFUPIFMQ 0VSFYDFQUJPOBM$VTUPNFS4FSWJDFUFBNXJMMBOTXFSBMMPGZPVSRVFTUJPOTBOEIFMQ ZPVUISPVHIFWFSZTUFQćFZMMFWFONBLFNPOFZTBWJOHTVHHFTUJPOTXIFSFBQQSPQSJBUF 8FSFUIFGBTUFTUCPPLQSJOUFSTJOUIFXPSME8FPČFSCPPLTUPSFRVBMJUZCJOEJOHMPXQSJDFTBOENBOZ VOJRVF PQUJPOT iFAST” BOE iEASY” BSF KVTU UXP SFBTPOT UP DBMM PS FNBJM VT UPEBZ We answer our phones, and return emails within minutes. (unbelievable, right?) 5HDVRQVWRXVH +RXU%RRNV 1 )DVWHVW%RRN3ULQWHUVLQWKH:RUOG t1FSGFDU#PVOECPPLTQSJOUFEJOEBZT tSame DayTFSWJDFBWBJMBCMF t)BSE$PWFSBOE$PJMCPPLTQSJOUFEJOEBZT 2 *UHDW&XVWRPHU6HUYLFH t&BTZPSEFSJOH t8FMMIFMQZPVBMMUISPVHIUIFQSPDFTT t8FBOTXFSPVSQIPOFTBOESFUVSOFNBJMTXJUIJONJOVUFT t3FBEPVSindependent reviewsUIFZSFJODSFEJCMF 0 off 5 $ e l tak WRUGH:U l ’ e W UÀUV t code \RXse discoun 18 U er 8 Wdrithtru 53/31/1 vali (see the link on our homepage, www.48HrBooks.com) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 )UHH%RRNVJGZPVPSEFSPSNPSF H%RRN&RQYHUVLRQ#PUIF1VCBOE,JOEMFGPSNBUT ,6%1DQGEDUFRGHV 8FVTF385DGKHVLYHGPSCPPLTUPSFRVBMJUZCJOEJOH 'HVLJQHU&RYHUV$MPUI-FBUIFSBOENPSF 'XVW-DFNHWVQSJOUFEBOEMBNJOBUFE 'LDPRQG'&RYHUV)RLO6WDPSLQJ /D\RXWDQG'HVLJQBOENVDINPSF 800-231-0521 info@48HrBooks.com UI4U48t"LSPO0IJP extra You can't find this in print. EXCERPT: “THE FIFTH WALL” Sam’s Tackle Box was wall-to-wall merchandise, packed so tight it fooled most customers into thinking that everything for sale was already on display. But Elana Hall wasn’t fooled. Though the store stunk of bait and brine, she could still catch the sour odor of methamphetamine, which Sam himself cooked regularly in a wellvented room above the sales floor. Elana came to the Tackle Box with her daughter Jeanette every week, though neither had much affection for fish. Still, the kid went wild in the place, and broke away from her mother as soon as they passed through the door. Elana, troubled and aching, paused next to an arrangement of musky lures and watched her go. Weren’t children’s senses supposed to be more acute than adults? Shouldn’t Sam’s reek and clutter be too much for her girl? A dim memory surfaced from her own past, a trip to New York City, to Chinatown, the smell of fish so overwhelming that she begged her dad to return to Des Moines straight away. The fact that her daughter could handle Sam’s – the fact that she sometimes seemed to love it – suggested Jeanette was already leaving childhood behind. Physical senses dulling, their loss soon to be offset by increased insight and guile. A pain pulsed behind Elana’s eyes. It frightened her, this coming Jeanette. This clever spy replacing her dreamy little tot, who understood and wanted not much at all. “Friends!” Sam’s third wife called from behind the register. Her name was Janice and she wore studded wristbands, a leotard, and a long, low ponytail, as if any minute she might either punch somebody or pull out a sticky mat and pop into DownwardFacing Dog. Elana allowed a thin smile of anticipation. Janice pushed a button beneath the counter, and they both listened to a faint bell ring overhead. There was the solid sound of boots hitting the floor. A door closing. The ee-aw of the stairs. Then Sam himself, from behind a green curtain on the side wall, still handsome and imposing at sixty. And Elana as happy to see him as a kid at the Ceilidh, when he’d grab her to join a Gordon dance with his now-dead first wife and her dad. She moved toward him quickly. But out from an aisle ran her daughter, crashing into his legs. Sam lifted Jeanette, and she opened up to flaunt her horrible new braces. “Mom said they make me look beautiful!” she squealed. “Your mom’s a real sweet lady,” Sam said smoothly. “Your mom’s something else, that’s for sure.” He set the girl down. “In fact, I’d like to talk to your mom in private. I have an idea for your birthday present that I need to float.” “We got some Fuzz-E-Grubs in,” Janice called enticingly. “I haven’t put them out yet, but I’ll let you take a look.” Her daughter rushed to the counter, and Elana followed Sam through an aisle of rigs and out a rear screen door to the Mirage. Thirty years ago he’d created it by fencing off half his parking lot and planting oak trees and grass. The last six months had seen the addition of motion-sensitive lights and barbed wire. The lights were designed to function only at night, but through the years, the oaks had grown aggressively, and the Mirage was overhung with a dense awning of leaves that nearly blocked the sun. As Elana and Sam entered, individual floods clicked on and spotlighted their movements – her sitting in a ratty mesh lounger, him hauling himself into the bass boat he’d parked on blocks. This was in June, during a summer when the seventeen-year cicadas emerged from underground. The trees were filled with buzz, males drumming their abdomens while females laid eggs and died. But in spite of the noise, the headache Elana had been fronting all day stepped back. Around Sam, things settled into place. He took over whatever story you were telling so you could sit down and shut up. Reprinted with permission of the author.