To trace the trajectory of the various mutations of what ended up being “Barter for the Stars” would be long and convoluted. The element that remained the same was that there was a speakeasy-esque-slash-nightclub-esque singer in the future who wanted to get off her planet. Usually that planet wasn’t earth. In one version she wanted to get to earth. In the final version, she wanted to leave earth. The destination didn’t matter really, but the yearning.
Even more so, my singer morphed over time. In a variation of this story that was more a mystery, she was a femme fatale being, playing leading lady in a film noir-inspired story. (If that sounds cool, please understand that didn’t get very far because I didn’t know how to write film noir style mystery.) In a more recent attempt she was a deconstruction of this type. Still, that version of the story didn’t quite work.
Thus the story idea got put on the back burner again and again.
“Barter for the Stars” is part of an interesting project -- a shared universe anthology: Five Minutes at Stormcove Hotel. The editor had an extensive history for the fictional Stormcove Hotel provided and requested pieces of short fiction that happen sometime during this history -- stretching from prehistoric to the future -- somewhere on the hotel grounds, and that takes place within five minutes. Wooh, that’s a mouthful.
Reading these parameters, it clicked almost immediately that my singer might’ve finally found her home. All of the grand ideas and yearnings and deconstruction of archetypes pared down into six hundred words… And it was successful.
No idea is lost just because it doesn’t fit into the shape you first think it should. Ideas can fester, grow, shrink, mutatate, evolve, change, and be reshaped over time, just sitting in the back of your head. I’m glad this idea, after all this time, found its place. I’m glad that it taught me that all those unused or unsuccessful ideas of the past are not lost. They just might just need a little more time to firment
The Five Minutes at Stormcove Hotel Anthology where “Barter for the Stars” is featured can be purchased HERE.
“The Witch and the Runaway” was a unique submission experience for me in that I was accepted in the first and only publication I submitted to. That is that power of a perfect match. Briar’s Lit -- the online literary magazine which accepted and published my work -- is a publication for queer-themed fairy tales. And that is what I had written.
While I had only written this fairy tale back in October 2018 (this is quickest turn around from written to publication too), the inspiration is already a little fuzzy for me. I’m not sure if I ran across Briar’s Lit and its mission during my regular perusal of literary magazines and submission calls, and then this story sprung to me, or this story sprung to me and I fortuitously found Briar’s Lit. In truth, I think the two of them were more messily mingled together.
I think the inspiration and how it repurposes fairy tale (and Disney movie tropes) is evident. Take the princess who doesn’t want to be in an arranged marriage because she wants to marry for love, and chop off that ending and make it that she doesn’t want to get married at all. Add a crotchety but fundamentally good witch and some found family themes, and there you go.
To be honest, this story probably reveals a lot of myself and my worldview in an explicit way more than my other stories.
If you missed it or haven’t had a change to read it yet, check it out Here.
With great aplum I would like to announce that my story “Another Life” has found a home in Vol 3 of the sci fi anthology series Future Visions.
Buy it here.
“Nothing’s been right since Dana awoke from 23-year long coma: she hasn’t aged a day, her memories don’t feel like her own, and her husband Ben is having locked door meetings with her doctor. Secrets are being kept from her, and she’s going to figure out what they are.”
I don’t want to spoil this story, a la the secrets Dana is seeking out, so below in “Behind the Story” I will only talk in broad strokes about “Another Life”
What makes us human? This is a question proposed in a lot of science fiction as technology encroaches on our lives, for good and ill, and as technology advances in intelligence and human capability. Is our memories downloaded into a computer our continued existence or just a computer with memories? Can artificial intelligence reach the point of humanity? What standard even is that? What about androids? What about clones -- separate individuals or the same? How much of us can become technology and still be us? Are we bodies or brain or souls?
I took that classic quandary of what makes us human and what defines are personhood, and grafted that together questions of womanhood. At the time of writing, I was having a lot of personal anxiety about my personal identity and role in the world as a woman in terms of the set roles that are often expected of us. Motherhood, marriage, taking your husband’s last name, etcetera and so on. This definitely comes across in this and some other short stories I wrote about the same period. I think those themes of sci fi personhood and female identity converge as natural metaphorical partners.
It sounds so deliberate and grand when I explain it like that, but it was a lot more intuitive in the actual writing. I’ve realized certain anxieties and opinions that have influenced by writing after the fact.
I recall having a very specific vision for “Another Life” with the ending known and very specific beats imagined along the way. So I wrote it, beginning to end, hitting those beats and coming to the end in a pretty painless experience. Reviewing it, however, I quickly saw that all that emotional beats I had imagined weren’t enough to support the entire story. The ‘twist’ reveal of the end came out of nowhere and needed better set up. My rewrites of “Another Life” were, in this case, mostly additive.
This experience speaks a lot to my process of writing. What draws me to the story is the characters, the themes, or the emotional beats. Plot is of secondary interest. Plot is something I have to work on and build more deliberately.
“It was just there. Like paint on the wall.”
Sorry, this post is long enough, but I can’t help to stop and highlight one of my favorite, perhaps innocuous lines. I remember writing this line. I remember where I was when I wrote it. That’s how much I like it.
If you haven’t read “Another Life” yet this line drops when the main character Dana comes to a certain realization. She is lying awake in bed, on her side, back to her husband. I like this line because it implies a lot, it is a metaphor so integrated in the scene it is barely a metaphor. Like the wall she is staring at and finally noticing the paint color that has been there surrounding her the entire time, so to does she this revelation come to her. Just there. Like paint on the wall.
This and “The Pawnshop of Intangible Things” are two of my favorite short stories I’ve written. I have been shopping around “Another Life” for a while and have never wanted to give it up to a throwaway magazine. I’m excited that it found its place in this rather cool indie published venture of Future Visions and editor Brian J. Walton. I’ll probably write a blog on that experience when I’m a little farther down the road with it than now.
There is limited time discounted pricing on the ebook for launch week only, so check it
In the debates of qualities between 1st person narration versus 3rd person, or 3rd limited versus 3rd omniscient, or the absolute scorning of the dreaded ‘head-hopping’ there is one point of view that is more polarizing than any of them: Second Person Point of View.
Que the dramatic music.
Quick primer if you’re rusty on your terminology.
1st person pov - I said.
3rd person pov - he said/she said.
2nd person pov - You said.
After seeing that list, you might be thinking you’ve never seen anything written in 2nd person, or you’ve never seen it outside poetry or fanfiction (which tends to allow for more experimental forms). If you’ve been around the block submitting short stories to literary magazines, you might’ve noticed that “2nd person” often ends up in the “What we’re not looking for” list of their submission guidelines.
Not only in 2nd person rare in fiction writing, it is also often unwanted and unliked in fiction writing. If you drop a 2nd person story in a writing critique circle or workshop, you will probably get people who hate it because it is second, with no other consideration. You’ll have people quote the writing rule “No second person” at you. You might have some people who just like it because it is different and they’ve never seen it before. Amongst that, maybe you’ll get someone who gives you actual, meaningful feedback.
But this is not a rant about critique groups. It is, however, a commentary on how second person is received by writers and readers in general. But me? I believe in second person and its potential.
I first experimented writing second person when I was fist experimenting with writing overall: in high school while writing fanfiction. I’ve always harbored belief in the potential of second person narration even through years of hearing nothing good about it from most corners of the writing community.
In my adult writing life, I’ve written two original short stories in second person, one speculative and one literary. How have they fared?
One of my second person stories placed 2nd in the 2017 Baltimore Science Fiction Scoeity’s Ameteur Writing contest, which allows entries from across the state of Maryland. Meeting the facilitators of contest, I was told the competition was particularly tough that year. A few months later that same story made me not an ameteur anymore as I made my first pro sale with it to Deep Magic E-Zine. They told me it was the 1st time they had published a second person story.
The other second person story of the realistic literary genre has just made the long list of finalists for a different writing competition, the top ten percent out of 600 entries. Fingers crossed for how that will turn out.
What this proves? That people can like reading second person. That second person stories are publishable. That they are able to place in contests. That my long held believe in the potential of second person stories has been validated.
But wait, you say, that’s only two short stories.
Yup, that’s right. I usually write in 3rd person, and very occasionally first. Second person is definitely not a point of view that should be used for most stories. It is very particular and, as I stated before, very polarizing.
Second person should not be used willy-nilly. Sure, experiment with it. Have fun. Learn. Practice. That’s what writing is about. But if you’re looking for direction on when to use second person… I’ll get in to that right now.
For both of my original second person stories, I chose to use second person for a particular reason. For -- to use a wonderful term I learned from Larry Brooks in Story Fix -- a narrative strategy.
The concept and the plot are the story.
The narrative strategy is how we tell said story: POV, order of events, narrator, length, style of prose, etc and so on. These are things we consider to tell the story in the best way or with maximum impact.
Second person, when used, should be a deliberate part of your narrative strategy.
In my speculative story, I was trying to create a Twilight Zone-feel. The second person was supposed to enable the reader to step in the main character’s shoes, and for the “character” aspect to almost vanish. I go out of the way to avoid gendered details. The character doesn’t have a name. The character is you-the-reader living through the motions.
In my literary story, I had quite a different reason for the strategy of second person. The character is very particular, has a name, and has a detailed life. She is also suffering from depression. The second person, with all it’s “you” statements was used to create a sense of dissociation, like the character was watching herself go through the motions.
So that’s two different reasons I used second person and two different ways I used it. There are probably plentiful more to be discovered.
I think it stands to reason, like most writing rules, guidelines, and cultural preferences, when you as the writer are going to break them, you have to do it with a sense of strategy. Or… just to have fun.
Here on another edition of Behind the Story, I present...
Don't Lie To Me
Originally published by the Devilfish Review in March 2018
Don’t Lie to Me is the third story on this list of publications to be written for a magazine’s prompt/theme, to be rejected by said magazine, and then later find a home elsewhere. This is the second story to be written for one of The First Line’s first lines.
The process of taking a prompt to a full story for this example was different than the previous two stories. The previous two, the prompt was the inspiration and I built from it. For Don’t Lie to Me, I had the broadstroke concept for the story in mind, and seeing the first line prompt, thought it would pair well.
Backstory -- I’m a superhero nut. I’m all in for the superhero craze. I grew up with the animated shows like X-Men the Animated Series amongst others. I was there for that 2000s run of the original Spider-man trilogy and for the X-Men universe. The DC Animated Universe (note I said animated), heck yes. Teen Titans, wow-za. The MCU, yup.
Don’t Lie to Me is not a “superhero” story, but that is its inspiration and roots. It is, however, a “superpower” story, with a quiet, unassuming young woman with a small if potentially powerful and personally devastating superability: She always knows when someone is lying.
Think about that concept for a moment. What would that give to you? Even more, what would that steal? People lie for a lot of reasons, and not all of them are bad.
Pair those questions with a meek character with crappy boyfriend who gets in debt to a loan shark… then what do you get. Well, what you get is: Don’t Lie to Me.
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.
Welcome to Behind the Story, number three, -- 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.
Lately, originally published by the Eunoia Review in November 2011
While accepted and published by the same magazine at the same time as Smoking Section, the subject of the previous Behind the Story blogpost, Lately was written a year (or so) later. Originally, it was written for a literature for children writing class. While this story is from a child’s perspective and uses not-too-complex language, working now as a children’s librarian with a lot of training in kid lit, I won’t say it exactly fits in that genre. As you may have noticed, it was published in a mainstream lit mag, not one geared for children.
While this is in no way supposed to be nonfiction, this story is probably the one thing most based on real life that I have ever written fiction-wise. Growing up, a girl in my neighborhood who lived right across the street, a girl who was friends with my sister and I, was killed in a random, hit and run car accident. I think I was at an age too young to really feel grief in that painful, heart-wrenching way, but I remember my sister going through it and not really knowing how to help. That was the core heart of this story, but again, this is a recreation and not anyway supposed to represent fact. However, the moment when one of the girl’s points out a fast-moving truck as a possible culprit -- that is a straight up memory.
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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