I’ve decided to run a short, paid drabble contest during the quarantine.
I’ve decided to run a short, paid drabble contest during the quarantine.
by A.A. Medina
Very good plot, excellent pacing, fleshed-out protagonist and three other key characters, great connection to the backstory without ever bogging us down with infodumps. I felt the opening was a bit rough, but once it got going, it became really engrossing. In fact, and this is high praise from me, I didn’t skip a single word — I felt really invested and compelled to continue reading. The style is raw (explicit, like in raw poetry) and rich in texture, but never slows the story down.
If you read a lot of horror, you won’t find this book disturbing; if you don’t, you might be a bit ruffled, but I really don’t think it’s too bad. There is some blood and gore, but they’re necessary within the context of the story and I found them meaningful and well executed.
Overall, very well done.
by Seth Rain
This is a near-future pre-apocalyptic novel focusing on the questions of free will, the limits of technology, and the place of religion (and effects of religious zealotry) in a modern world. I like the central idea and am looking forward to the sequel to this fast-paced thriller. I felt the prose in the first half was a bit uneven and occasionally stilted, which interfered with starting to care about the characters and getting into the story. However, I am glad I stuck with it, as around the halfway point the novel finds its footing and it’s smooth, immersive sailing from there on. The flashback chapters on the relationship between the protagonist and his wife feature some of the novel’s best writing, showcasing the author’s mastery at invoking emotion that is the staple of his excellent short fiction. Overall, this was an enjoyable read and I am looking forward to more by Seth Rain.
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Taut and hard-hitting, with clear, fluid, unassuming prose, a compelling plot, and realistic, complicated characters. The tension between love (romantic and familial), violence, and loyalty gives this short novel its life force as the female characters make choices in a world where their options are severely restricted. I really enjoyed the sounds, hues, and textures of an urban Nigerian setting.
I knew the author from his earlier novella Caresaway, which I really liked, and I wasn’t disappointed with his new work. Arctic Adagio (great title, by the way) is fast paced, well written, and a quick read (under an hour). This near-future murder mystery is well plotted, with engaging characters, clean and fluid prose, and a satisfying resolution.
The worldbuilding is done discreetly, through well-chosen details, and is quite effective. We leave being well aware of the crushing inequality and corruption that governs the world of Arctic Adagio. For example, a luxury cruise ship in this post-global-warming world where the world’s trillionaires hang out is named Ayn Rand. There are also interesting observations that enhance the story. For example, a trophy wife who came from poverty “…had yet to get the hang of authority. People born to it, like her husband, didn’t bother reminding me of it.”
Overall, a satisfying and swift Kindle read. Recommended.
If you could cure depression at the cost of becoming a psychopath, would you do it? It turns out that, for many people, the answer is yes. But that’s not the most important aspect of this richly textured and well-written story. Caresaway is the name of a fictitious drug that, well, takes your cares away. We meet the drug’s developer, Edward Crofte, who was once a sufferer from deep depression and is now a successful and arrogant executive devoid of empathy. I don’t want to spoil the story, but let me say that the plot clearly shows what Edward has lost versus gained with the drug, how others respond to the drug and to him, and what people are ready to do (or not) to avoid feeling emotional pain.
It’s late summer 2019, so two years since I started writing and submitting short fiction — happy scribbling birthday to me! Let’s see what transpired since the last update:
New Publications and Acceptances
It was a relatively dry summer, but I wrote several new flash pieces that stretched me a bit, most of which are still out on submission, and had some micros published. The forthcoming “Roots” got snapped up within only two days of having been sent out. It’s my first venture into mystery/suspense, but I enjoyed it so much that it likely won’t be my last. “Dragon Texts in All Caps” is a piece I am really fond of, but have no idea how to classify. It’s nonfiction wrapped in a thin layer of metaphor, but it doesn’t have a narrative arc; it’s structured almost like an essay and reads like a poem. Can something be a nonfiction prose poem?
According to The Grinder:
(I don’t consistently track micros or contests in the Grinder, so this is really for longer flashes and short stories, plus a micro here and there.)
Craft Development and Goals
Good luck writing, everyone, and enjoy the nice weather!
Not that long ago, I spent some time reading submissions for a pro speculative magazine. This was my first time as a slush reader at this level and it was overall an intense, enjoyable, and greatly informative experience. I’m really glad I did it and I am sure it will help me improve my own craft, going forward.
We read blind (no author identifiers) and were required to submit a score and brief comments on each story. We could see the remarks of other slush readers, but only after we’d submitted ours.
Overall, I read only about 10% of all submitted stories. I read some brilliant pieces and some truly terrible ones, with a majority somewhere in between.
My own score breakdown went something like this:
~10% were the stories I really liked and thought were clearly publishable by the market. Of those, a handful resonated so strongly that I was willing to champion them.
~25% were the stories that I considered fine, but just didn’t love. They had no particular flaws in the structure or level of writing, but I could take them or leave them.
~65% or just a smidgen under 2/3 were, in my view, unacceptable. They had clearly identifiable objective flaws (pointed out independently by several slush readers) or else had what were damning but perhaps more subjective flaws (issues that pinged my peeve radar, but not necessarily that of other slush readers; more on that below).
When an author receives a rejection from a magazine, it’s always a question if the story is objectively bad (and, by extension, if the issues are with a particular story or more holistic, such as the author simply not yet writing at a high-enough level) or if the rejection came as a result of more subjective reasons, either personal (e.g., readers or editors simply didn’t love the piece) or logistical (e.g., magazine recently published something on a similar topic; doesn’t fit with the rest of the issue).
Based on what I’ve seen comparing my comments to those of other slush readers, I believe that the answer to the above is something like this: Up to a certain threshold level of an author’s craft, flaws in the writing can be and usually are objectively identified. Above threshold, evaluation becomes much more subjective, as different readers respond more or less strongly to what are not necessarily flaws but matters of taste, involving sub-genre, theme, and style.
I would say that ~ 50% of all stories I read fell under below-threshold writing, where two or more slush readers identified one or two big flaws. Some stories were close but not quite there; others were fairly poor overall.
Common reasons for a story rejection which were routinely picked up by multiple slush readers:
Around 40% of the stories were above threshold, but triggered my peeve radar to some degree, enough for me to consider them unacceptable or just not particularly enticing. This is probably the most frustrating range to be in, because these stories are generally competently written; they might get a hold/second round in the hands of the right slush readers or they might get declined by another group.
Here are some issues that didn’t sit well with me, but might have been fine with some other slush readers, who, in turn, had their own preferences that sometime resulted in them suggesting the rejection of stories that I found delightful.
Emotions. A good story has to resonate emotionally with the reader. We need to have a character to care about, usually because they care about something. However, I have a fairly low tolerance for melodrama and I wish that infirm or deceased family members (especially children) weren’t used quite so often to milk the readers’ tear ducts. This is something I hate in literary and speculative fiction alike — sick or dead babies, kids, and grandmas employed to manipulate the reader’s feelings when the story doesn’t have much else going on, especially in terms of plot.
Grief and loss are relatable, but they hardly exhaust the human emotional spectrum, and certainly aren’t the sole or even the best motivator of characters. I wish sadness weren’t the central emotion as often as it is.
Plot. I love a clever plot, a plot that tickles my intellect, inflicted upon the characters with whom I can connect emotionally. That’s the way to my slush-reading heart. Several stories I read had what I felt was too unoriginal of a plot, as if plucked from a popular book/show/movie, but some other slush readers didn’t seem to mind, perhaps because they hadn’t consumed the same pop-culture products as me. If I find the plot delightful, I am willing to forgive a lot of other writerly sins. The same goes for humor; I’m a sucker for a genuinely funny story.
Style. I appear to have a relatively low threshold for purple prose, but my purple might be another reader’s gorgeous and lyrical. It’s not that I don’t like descriptive language, far from it; however, I have seen a number of stories where great language is supposed to mask a weak or nonexistent narrative arc. While this is a clear no from me, I know others will forgive a weakness in plot if the prose is beautiful.
Genre. I have a soft spot for sci-fi stories involving interstellar travel. Also time travel and parallel universes. OK, I love all sci-fi. In contrast, there are large swaths of fantasy that I am probably not the target audience for (generally anything involving magic, spells, potions, capes, or heroic quests). So even a perfect sword-and-sorcery story is unlikely to make me fall in love with it. I generally tried to stay away from scoring or commenting on such stories, because I knew I’d probably be too harsh simply because the topics were not to my personal taste.
Other. Setting/worldbuilding/background/character sketch used in lieu of plot is a big no-no. However, there was one particular story I remember, where key elements of worldbuilding also happened to introduce a very personal conflict for the protagonist, i.e., worldbuilding was a large and meaningful part of the plot. This goes to show that you can do anything if you know what you’re doing.
Finally, I want to emphasize that I’ve read some phenomenal stories, stories that are way better than what I can write today and probably ever. Most were held past the first round, but still didn’t get picked for publication. I rooted for them and felt as heartbroken at their rejection as I do for my own stories.
The conclusion is both disheartening and hopeful. Even great pieces get declined; not everything will be everyone’s cup of tea, no matter how strong the writing; all we can do is keep reading, keep writing, keep getting better, and keep supporting short-fiction magazines with our submissions, volunteering, and, if possible, subscriptions, so that many more amazing stories from the slush can make it into the world.
In late summer 2019, it will be two years since I started writing and submitting short fiction. Time sure flies!
Here is what has happened since the last update in early January.
Ephemera, 50-Word Stories, April 15, 2019. (literary)(reprint)(micro)
The Gold and Sand of Dhahab, Aphotic Realm, April 5, 2019. (dark sci-fi)
Happily Ever After, Dime Show Review, March 21, 2019. (low fantasy)
Rimor Mortis, Ellipsis Zine, March 11, 2019. (sci-fi) (reprint)
Troo Raccoon, Altered Reality, February 15, 2019. (sci-fi) (reprint)
The Flask, Trembling with Fear, January 27, 2019. (dark sci-fi)(micro)
According to The Grinder:
Submissions: 69 (Pending: 5)
Rejections: 43 (Personal: 10)
I don’t track most drabbles or contests on the Grinder, so this is really for longer flashes and short stories.
My acceptance rate has gone down with respect to previous years mostly because I’ve become more aggressive about targeting pro and high-tier semipro speculative markets, i.e., I’m sending work to more of them (and thus getting more noes per story) than I did in the first couple of years. I’m still waiting for that first pro sale, but I’ve had several story holds with professional markets this year, even some that I thought would never touch my work. While it’s heartbreaking to get a rejection after a lengthy hold and having allowed myself to develop delusions of grandeur, I take it things are moving in the right direction and my stories are getting better.
I have several drabbles out on sub, one of them to a competition, all pretty good (in my completely unbiased opinion :-). I love drabbles; they are not easy to write well and are a great way (for me) to get back into the swing of things after a writing break.
I also have some long flashes out in the world, making their way through the slush piles. Most have had at least one previous hold at a pro market, so I’m really ready for them to find homes.
Goals for 2019
It’s interesting to see how I’ve done so far with the goals from my early January post:
I had a really busy spring at work and ended up missing several submission deadlines that I really thought I’d make. I am bummed out about it, but the time (and energy) simply weren’t there.
I hope to make a few June and July deadlines (e.g., Cheap Pop and Mad Scientist Journal (closing!) in June; To Hull and Back humor contest in July), but I will also be reading slush for a pro speculative market this summer in the hopes of improving my writing, and the workload at my job has only somewhat let up, so we’ll see how things play out.
Good luck writing, everyone, and enjoy the nice weather!
2018 came and went, and what a great writing year it was!
Since the last update in early October (!), quite a lot has happened.
I got nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Ellipsis Zine for my story “Mildew,” which made me really happy. It’s one of my favorite stories and I’m glad it was one of Ellipsis Zine‘s, too.
Unfortunately, the anthology Drabbledark II ended up not being funded, so the stories were released back to the authors. I am happy that my dark sci-fi drabble “The Flask” found a great new home at Trembling with Fear and will appear online in the next couple of months.
According to The Grinder:
2019 so far
Submissions: 17 (Pending: 9)
I have written three new pieces over the past three weeks: two long flashes (~1000 words) and a short story of 2.6k words; I admit it was nice to get comfortable and stretch a little. There probably won’t be many more than these three before May, as I have an unusually high workload plus a work trip every month well into the summer. But I plan on keeping the juices flowing by writing some drabbles and maybe vss365 on Twitter.
Goals for 2019
Ideally, I would like to make a pro sale this year (which is needed to become an associate member of SFWA and/or HWA and/or join Codex). While this might happen, it also might not, so it’s partially out of my hands.
However, the goals that are within my control are to:
After quite a start, September remained eventful on the publishing front.
I’ve shown up on three long lists (also known as close-but-not-cigar or CBNC lists) in the recent month or so, which might mean that my writing has leveled up. I’ve already reported on making the CBNC list for The Molotov Cocktail “Flash Beast” contest; that one was my first. Two more followed:
To Hull and Back humorous short story competition: long list with the story “Used-Car Salesman’s Niece to Meet Swedish Royalty” [link], which was originally published in The Dirty Pool. This competition had nearly 500 entries and the long list was 40, so it feels pretty good to be in top <10%. Unfortunately, only 20 get published in what promises to be a cool-looking anthology. I am one of only two Americans on the long list (none on the short list). I hope the USA makes a stronger showing next year!
The Arcanist Ghost Stories competition: honorable mention (a.k.a., placement on the long list) with my story “Rimor Mortis.” The four winners and five honorable mentions were collected into an Amazon Kindle contest anthology, available here. I represent writers without Y chromosomes in this nine-piece collection.
My tiny story “Pizza Night” continues to kick butt. It was chosen as Story of the Month for August in 50-Word Stories, which comes with bragging rights, 10 CAD, and a chance to compete for Story of the Year.
“The Voids Underneath,” The Molotov Cocktail, Vol. 9, Issue 8, September 2018. This story received a lot of love on Twitter and is one of the best I’ve written so far. It was the CBNC in the Molotov “Flash Beast” comp, so I’m extra glad it found a home in one of Molotov regular issues.
“Mildew,” a dark surrealist long flash, made it into Ellipsis Zine‘s fourth print anthology, called The Whisper Place. There were nearly 200 entries and just over 20 stories were accepted after a blind read, so making it into the collection was no mean feat. The author lineup is great, and Ellipsis Zine anthologies always look gorgeous. I’m really looking forward to this publication.
A story that might be my best piece yet is currently being held for further consideration in a pro-paying anthology. I am excited and scared. The piece is great and I think it’s an excellent fit for the collection. If I get in, that will be my first pro publication. I will have to do something awesome to celebrate.
Also pending: a dark fairy-tale flash and a dark sci-fi micro.
As work is really busy, I don’t know how much fiction writing I will get a chance to do before Christmas break, but I planned on the following:
Between Saturday, September 1 and Monday, September 3 (the Labor Day weekend here in the US), I had six new pieces published. It’s interesting that they span all the genres I am active in. The first four can be read free online. Enjoy!
Thirst, Microfiction Monday Magazine, September 3, 2018. (literary)
Abomination, 101 Fiction, Issue 20, September 2, 2018. (fantasy)
The Girl in Jake’s Red Hoodie, Ghost Parachute, September 1, 2018. (humor)
Deceitful, formercactus, Issue 11, September 1, 2018. (creative nonfiction)
I’ve written six longer stories and six drabbles over the past 3 weeks — not too bad for the time span. Writing will slow down as work gets crazy again, but overall I feel happy with what I’ve produced and pleasantly tired.
Two sci-fi drabbles accepted for the Drabbledark II anthology (Shacklebound Books).
Two new long sci-fi flashes: Fingers crossed!
A new 500-word fairy tale: This is a new genre for me, so we’ll see. I think the story is pretty cool.
A drabble for the Biffy Microfiction Comp (theme “weather”) that a Twitter friend is judging and she tagged me and a few other folks to enter. Not holding my breath for this one, I seriously doubt it’s winning material, but it’s a solid drabble and, in the likely event that it goes nowhere in this comp, it could find a home someplace nice and quiet.
A sci-fi micro entered in the 53-word story competition (July theme: UFOs) in a fun three-way submission pact with two Twitter buddies. We should’ve heard the results by now, but what can you do.
A new dark-fiction/magical realism story to The Molotov Cocktail “Flash Beast” contest. It’s a strong piece, one of the best if not the best I’ve ever written, but the competition is really stiff. I will be disappointed if the story doesn’t crack top 10, but, on the upside, it’s a piece I know will appear somewhere awesome.
Three funny reprint entries in To Hull and Back humorous short story competition. Shortlist will be out in September.
To send something to Ellipsis Zine 4 (dark theme, deadline 9/6) and to Ginger Collect (deadline 9/8) in a buddy-system pact with a Twitter friend.
I seem to do a lot of stuff because of Twitter friends. Hmmm. Then again, as far as peer influence goes, writing short fiction doesn’t sounds too bad.