Welcome to another post of Behind the Story. This time...
Originally published by Enchanted Conversation in February 2018
Writing versus publishing is a strange thing. If you have been following this blog series, you know that I am writing about these stories in (roughly) publication order. Publication order, however, is not writing order. In a previous “Behind the Story” blog post in which I wrote about the short story “What You Make Of It,” I spoke of my writing struggles post-college. When I found new focus in writing about 2014-2015, Seeds was the first new, original short story I wrote.
My inspiration was my awareness of the Greek myth in the cultural moment. I had seen some alternate versions of the story of Hades and Persephone, of which the story of Seeds is derived, in fanfiction, in interpretation, in the fact that early myths have alternate versions and variations. From the cultural moment, I was inspired by the then current discourse about women, feminism, and female agency in stories. Add on top a more critical look at love stories like Beauty and the Beast, and other romcoms with iffy-love situations. Seeds is a story that twists the Hades and Persephone myth, in which Persephone is more active in her own destiny. I do not wish to give away the story more than that, but I would say Seeds does anticipate that you have a basic knowledge of the Hades and Persephone myth so that it can be subverted.
Getting back to my first point about writing versus publishing being a strange thing… Seeds was written well before -- years before -- What You Make Of It and Castles at Night. For a while, because it was one of my newer stories, I sent it to a lot of literary magazines that it got rejections from. For a while after that, I gave up on sending it out a lot of literary magazines because it did not seem to be the right for fit for many of them. Maybe any of them it started to seem… It was too mythic, it was not original enough, it was too much of a retelling, is wasn’t enough of a retelling… or whatever. But because I require myself to submit to a minimum number of literary magazines a month, I became aware of a themed reading period for Enchanted Conversation and thought maybe I could be a contender. And it was.
It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over… publishing is finding the story the right fit. The magazine, the theme, and the editor. It is as much luck as talent, but we as aspiring writers should not discount the power of persistence.
PS - Also, they made me some cool cover art.
Welcome to Behind the Story -- a ‘behind the scenes’ series of blog posts that give you the inside scoop on the stories I've had published, working from earliest to most recent.
Castles at Night, originally published by Manawaker Studios in February 2018
This is another story of mine that was written for a prompt from a literary magazine that ultimately was not published in that magazine, but found a home somewhere else. The prompt was the theme “castles” for a children’s magazine -- Cricket media, if memory serves.
This story was written with child main characters and with the intention of being a children’s story. While tweaks may have happened since it was initially rejected from the magazine it was written for, I did not ‘age it up’ to make it appeal to other, older audiences.
As a children’s librarian, as a reader who grew up finding a lot of meaning and inspiration in children’s and YA lit, as a reader who still reads children and YA lit with my adult lit, as a writer with interest in writing in all three age genres, I do not believe in writing down to children. Yes, writing for children is different than writing for teens or adults. You have to acknowledge that they are at different reading levels, developmental levels, and often need for more context for socio historical elements, for allusions, or for heavy themes or topics. But writing differently for children is different than writing down to children. I believe children can be clever and intelligent and want to learn, if we just give them fun and engaging material to work with.
All that being said to make the point that good materials written for children can be interesting for adult readers. Telling a good story well is the core to all storytelling. I think recent decades of pop culture prove that books for children and teens can be mainstream popular, with adults as well as with their intended audience. From Harry Potter to Hunger Games to The Fault in Our Stars… with many, many others as well…
So, with little further ado, I present Castles at Night. It is a short story written initially for a children’s magazine but accepted by a magazine intended for adults, ultimately published in audio. Pretty cool, right?
Welcome to another edition of Behind the Story, where I give you a behind the scenes peek into my inspiration and writing process as connected to my published works. Today’s entry is:
What You Make Of It, published by Fantasia Divinity in June 2017
There is a literary magazine called The First Line that provides writers with first lines as prompts that they want every story in that issue of the magazine to start with. If your story is not accepted in The First Line, the writer is free to submit it elsewhere.
“What You Make of It” is one of two of my published stories that started with a first line from The First Line. The other, “Don’t Lie to Me” when edited between drafts, ultimately does not start with the first line prompt anymore, but “What You Make of It” kept it word for word, the line being: “George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.”” If you see the story, you’ll see I made George a woman, because why the hell not. I kind of hoped that it would make it stand out amongst the other stories submitted to The First Line for that issue.
Ultimately, the story was not accepted at The First Line, but was later accepted and published by Fantasia Divinity.
“What You Make Of It” is a short little short story that was an icebreaker for me in terms of story acceptances at a literary magazine. Before this, I had a dry spell in which I hadn’t had a story published in a literary magazine since 2011. The reasons are several.
Post-college, out in the world with my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, trying to figure out a career, trying to become a writer, trying to figure what type of writing I wanted to write… I had bit of a writer’s existential crisis in terms of creativity and focus and vision on where I wanted to go.
I worked through this over the years, and in 2015 renewed my focus in writing and in submitting my short stories to literary magazines. I dealt with a lot of rejections for a lot of stories. That is something young writers -- all writers -- have to learn to deal with: a lot more rejection and failure than success and recognition. Despite the lack of success in literary magazines, I kept writing and I kept submitting, and eventually -- two years later -- I broke through the ice, got paid a grand three dollars for this story, and more success has followed after.
Welcome to Behind the Story -- a ‘behind the scenes’ series of blog posts that give you the inside scoop on my the stories and other written works I’ve had published. I’ll be starting with the oldest and moving forward through time.
In the Eye of the Beholder, published in 2011 by Outrageous Fortune.
When I attended Susquehanna University and majored in creative writing, the major required that we not just study our preferred form of writing. (My perferfer form is -- gasp, surprise -- fiction.) The poets couldn’t just study poetry, and so forth. We all had to take introductory courses in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. And, no, before you ask, “creative nonfiction” does not mean lying. It means the forms of nonfiction unlike say history textbooks, journalism, or the cooking instructions on a macaroni and cheese box. It means the forms of nonfiction that use the techniques of creative writing: imagery, scene-setting, pretty prose, and so forth. In the the introductory class, the three forms of creative nonfiction we studied were memoir, personal essay, and literary journalism. When it came to taking an advanced level course, I pursued the class focusing on personal essays, the one of the three I most preferred while not really preferring nonfiction-writing that much at all.
I am a shy, private, and sensitive person. I’m really not all that interested in telling people all about my life and my problems. I find it really hard to brag. Anyone who's followed me on any sort of my personal social media would know my posts are few and far between. I’m basically the opposite of this blogpost. Writing this is not in my nature.
If in case you are asking “wtf is a personal essay?” Well… if you’ve read many articles online, you’ve probably read one. It’s a blend of memoir and essay, integrating personal/ autobiographical story and also outside facts and also having an opinion or coming to a conclusion at the end of it.
In my Advanced Creative Nonfiction: Personal Essay class, I wrote the only piece of nonfiction I’ve ever written that contained any salt of quality, and it also changed my life.
That personal essay was: “In the Eye of the Beholder.” It was published in 2011 in Volume 2.2 of Outrageous Fortune, a literary magazine of undergraduate work edited by undergraduates. As you might be able to deduce from the title, it is an essay about beauty. Also self image, self esteem, and how that is all internalized, all set around the stretch of time I was serving as a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding. If you want to know more, you can go read it.
Now it’s time for me to take a big breath.
So, yeah, writing “In the Eye of Beholder” changed my life.
Now, a lot of things I’ve read and many a things I’ve written have changed me in small ways, however, many of them were changes in regards to my writing life, my creativity, or my writing career.
The work of writing “In the Eye of the Beholder” and the amount of introspection and digging deep it required of me served as the fall of the butterfly wing that makes a tsunami of personal growth.
A few months after writing “Beholder” I looked in the mirror and I saw a different person. Like the shape and size of my body looked different to me than it had been in mind’s eye, that it had been the day before. Nothing about me had changed physically between the writing and that moment, but my perspective of myself and my body had changed so much. I’m sure if I can quiet illustrate the reality. Growing up as an overweight child and teenager in a time were slender and skinny were the major standards of beauty being reinforced by society, having internalized this, having many of my other issues tangled together with my body image issues. While I had become more slender in my college years, all that internalized negativity didn’t go away just because I had made hitting the gym into a habit, or that I had gone down from a 14 to a 12 pants size.
That moment wasn’t a destination, just part of a journey that I am still on that has overcome many hurdles.
When I go back and skim “Beholder” now, some clunky turns of phrase want to be to pull out my metaphorical editors pen. Even more, what I find is a time capsule of perspective from my 20 year old self, and it’s like reading my own diary. So that’s the story not just behind “In the Eye of the Beholder” but after it and around it and all the way to now.
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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