My Summer of Short Stories!

I went to ConCarolinas two weeks ago and was simultaneously reinvigorated and sobered. On the plus side, I met an awesome author named Josh Strnad. Josh was actually a guest at my convention, AtomaCon, last November – but I barely got to meet him then! I was too busy helping run the con. But his book Pantheon – about Greek Gods in the weird Wild West – captured me from the get-go and I remembered that I wanted to buy a copy.

So I chatted with him a bit, and he gave me great advice about building a publishing portfolio via short stories. This is stuff I somewhat knew, but I’ve been so focused on Paradisa that I’ve neglected any other writing. Now that I’ve reached one of the most major roadblocks yet with Paradisa, I’m setting it aside for a bit and focusing on my short works. Plus, Josh put it in a way that made it seem accessible – just write about 5-6 different things, and send them out to anthologies/mags that might like them. It doesn’t need to be a constant battle of writing a different story for every different publication out there.

And to my surprise, I actually have a lot of stuff in my archives. Some of it, especially the poetry, isn’t bad (poetry isn’t something I normally lean towards, but when I *do* write poetry, it’s quite fun. I love crossword puzzles, and rhyme schemes/poetic forms are somewhat similar. I love metaphor and wordplay. Maybe I should be doing more poetry!) There are also a few drabbles and shorts I’m going to send out into the universe too.

Then, there are anthology calls and contests. Some of these require me to write something new, be it Catholic fiction, personal essays, horror shorts, or fairy tale reboots. So, I have a lot of ideas on the pipeline for this summer. Hopefully I’ll have a few paid writing credits on my resume by the end of the year, and that’ll better equip me to pitch a novel when the time comes.

And now, the sobering note: I participated in a live action slush fest with the opening page (or, one of them) of Paradisa. For reference – and your benefit, should you want to learn something about what not to do –  I’ve excerpted it below:

Death is familiar to Connor Bishara, but he’s not sure when it became so. Perhaps it comes from a few years of stepping over mangled bodies on a battlefield, or from seeing the love of his life spread across the satin lining of a coffin. Regardless of when his heart hardened, plenty of others have left his life since – grandparents, old friends, coworkers. Connor is used to watching these losses as if through glass, accepting this grim world without a twitch.

His father’s death is different. 

As he watches Malik Bishara’s coffin descend into the Tunisian earth, blood boils beneath Connor’s skin. Not quite sorrow, or vengeance, or even fury – just chaos.

The panel stopped around this point, citing that they didn’t like present tense and that the POV felt too distant. Too “over the character’s shoulder” rather than inside his head. They did not get a sense of voice, character, or conflict.

I don’t necessarily disagree with them, as I think what they said is factual  – I’m just a bit disheartened that these things were apparently dealbreakers. I already knew that present tense was controversial, but I didn’t think setting a scene from outside the character was a killer, especially in the third person. I consider Paradisa to be third-person limited anyway, so yeah…it was surprising to hear that it isn’t limited enough. Although, upon skimming Paradisa later, I’ve noticed this is a constant problem, so I guess I’ll have to keep an eye out for that. And maybe consider changing it to past tense too. Just a little disheartening overall, because they’re basically saying that my style is a dealbreaker, and that’s pretty much the worst – it’s not just an error or a technique I can cut or tweak or really fix.

But hey, adapt or perish. On the plus side, I didn’t make any amateur mistakes like starting too early or opening on the weather, or waxing on about the landscape for two paragraphs before getting to the character. I also think one of the major takeaways from the workshop is that novels should offer a clear image of “This is the type of book this is going to be.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opens with the night of James and Lily’s death. It does NOT open with a chapter full of Harry being abused and not doing much of circumstance. That initial dip into the magical world with Hagrid and Dumbledore, even though it does not follow the main protagonist, is a key opening that sets up the entire book.

So I’m considering opening on a supernatural character and jumping to Connor in Chapter Two. Or if it’s written in past tense, I can open with a  broad statement about the adventures Connor will go on before flashing back to ~before~. With my current opening, NO reader would expect a mythological fantasy about saving the world! Even if all the style stuff was fixed, that would still be a major problem.

Alas. No rest for the wicked. I’ll keep you posted on my short submissions and I’ll let you know where you can pick up my writing should it actually get published anywhere ;)