Monday, July 27, 2009

India Photos

I've been writing, but I don't think my insights about learning that chapter three should be chapter one are as interesting as these photos.

Woman at Russell Market. We stopped here on the day we took a cooking class with the hotel chef. I can now make about six different Indian dishes!

Visiting Ooty, the highest point in southern India. The road winds through a beautiful, mountainous area filled with crazy hairpin turns.

At a market in Mysore, where I bought perfume for two dollars from an eight year old boy who told me the scent was just like Calvin Klein's Eternity.

Another bookstore! This is the Landmark bookstore (that also sells jewelery and luggage) in Bangalore's Forum Mall.

India is full of contradictions. It's old world and modern. Luxuriously rich and poop in the street poor. Hard to break into and full of heartwarming hospitality. It's been an enriching trip.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Short Story Marketing

Here’s the scoop on how I marketed “Silence” for publication. I started writing “Silence” back in 2006. It went through a few drafts with my writing teacher at All Writers. Kathie suggested I send it to PMS.

I found a copy of their journal at a local bookstore and read it. Since they’re based in Arkansas, this is where national distribution helps. My story was a perfect fit. But their yearly reading period was over. So I sat on the story and didn’t send it out. And then I moved, and for almost a year my literary journals sat in an unpacked box. I was working on my first novel and forgetting about short stories.

I sent the story out to two magazines (never heard back from them) in 2007, but missed the PMS reading period again. Last fall, I sent the story to five more magazines. I got one immediate email bounce back -- that journal was dead. I received a rejection from two more – both about three to four months later.

Here is one of my most favorite rejections, from Epiphany: “Thanks for giving us the chance to read your work, but unfortunately it wasn't quite right for us. Never mind what we say. Keep writing!” Isn't that both efficient and fun?

I still haven’t heard anything from the other two. In March, I sent Silence to PMS and one other journal.

The PMS reading period opened again at the start of the year (January 1 to March 31st) and I sent the story on March 23rd. Spending a season as an editor for Oyez Review, I’ll suggest that you send your stories closer to the end of a reading period than the start. You probably won’t hear a response until after the reading period, so why have a story sitting around collecting dust all that time? This can be hard to manage for simultaneous submissions, but I’d recommend this practice for those “first pick” journals you’re especially in love with.

PMS notified me of my acceptance via email on July 1, just three months after their reading period was over.

I only submit to journals that allow simultaneous submissions, so I've notified the places I haven't received a response from that my story has been accepted elsewhere. Don't skip this step! It is professional and kind and just the right thing to do.

In total, I submitted my story to nine journals. I found most of the journals through Writer's Market. I have the short story market book at home and also a subscription to their online database.

PMS was the only journal I properly targeted -- by purchasing their journal and seeing if my story was a good fit. I’m glad I kept waiting for their reading period. I’m proud to be part of their journal.

This acceptance, of course, is making me go back and take stock of all the short stories I've written over the years. More stats on those in another post! I know a lot of the readers here are novelists -- any short story writers out there who'd like to comment on their marketing process?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Still Life

I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I’m familiar with Van Gogh’s Starry Night, The Bedroom and Sunflowers. But seeing an entire collection of an artist’s work gave me a new perspective. His earlier paintings were extremely dark, like he painted in only blacks, browns, and blues. Look at this link for an example of how the light in his paintings changed over the years.

Only after he visited Paris and studied the work of other artists did he start using bright colors in his paintings. A description of one early painting noted how his perspective of a chair was technically inaccurate. So he had crappy first drafts, too!

I was thrilled to discover that a brilliant artist like Van Gogh practiced and struggled with his craft, just like we do as writers. Just as I’m sure all artists do. I couldn’t imagine having all my early short stories, standalone scenes or pathetic attempts at poetry on display for everyone to see. But it was so helpful for me as a writer to see another artist’s growth process.

There was one section of still lifes -- the basic paintings of a vase of flowers on a table and maybe some fruit. This collection had a painting from a different artist in the middle -- I think it was Pissarro’s Still life with Peonies and Mock Orange.

It was flanked by two of Van Gogh’s still lifes on each side, one of which was Vase with Autumn Asters. (Anyone who knows anything about art, please correct me. I’m doing this from memory and I was jetlagged at the time.)

As an exercise, Van Gogh copied paintings he admired as practice to hone his craft and technique, to learn about light and shading. And in some cases, I liked Van Gogh’s pieces better. The concept wasn’t original - flowers in a vase on a table - but it was a completed piece of work in his early years. It was an accomplishment to him. It was practice to get him to Starry Night.

So when I write another story about love, or finding yourself, or the basic clich├ęs (although, aren’t most stories, on some level, about love?) I will allow myself those practice stories, those still lifes, the "flowers in a vase" version of creative writing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Solo Trip in India

Today I ventured out of the hotel. To another hotel. The ladies recommended Leela Palace as a place where I could be safe on my own and spend several hours. And dollars. There’s a mall there. I’ve never been a super big shopper, and since I gave up my job I traded in my bi-monthly trips to Ann Taylor Loft for visits to the library. But I ventured into the Galleria, to see it, to kill time, and to maybe shop.

I circled the first floor and saw shops with rows and rows of fabric. The colors and patterns popped out so much I could even sense their feel from the other side of the glass windows – the smoothness, the swirls of silk, slippery. I waltzed past these shops, afraid – of spending money, not knowing what to order, or how to haggle – even as a man in a green T-shirt standing at the threshold of his store offered me, "Please, take a look." I didn’t even respond to him, just looked away – down even, not forward.

I turned the bend and then in bright, yet soft, blue and white letters I saw the sign. I sucked in my breath. I saw rows and rows of them, upright, packed in tight, behaving, beckoning. Books.

I asked the bookseller for recommendations on books written by female Indian authors. He went to the front display and bestseller section and handed me book after book. I declined to buy anything I knew I could get in the US. I told him I was a writer and I was interested in India’s version of contemporary women’s fiction – stories about love and life and self-identity. We ventured a bit from that criteria (although he did attempt to sell me Love Story, it’s apparently very popular there) and here’s what I ended up with:
  • Almost Single by Advaita Kala
  • The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
  • First Love by Brinda Charry
  • The Argumentative Indian: Writings on India Culture, History and Identity by Amartya Sen
  • Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore, edited by Aditi De
  • The 24 X 7 Marriage, Smart Strategies for Good Beginnings by Vijay Nagaswami
Books are very cheap here. On average, about $5 for a trade paperback. After lunch (Indian buffet, where the waiter told me they could also make me pizza – I declined – and where I had some of the best tiramisu ever) I went to a music store and asked for recommendations on CDs ($4) of popular Indian dance music. I bought The Power of Bhangra (closest thing to hip-hop) and Everyone On Dance Floor (no the), Level 7.

Finally, I visited one of the many Shiva temples:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Short Story Publication

I’m so happy to announce that my short story “Silence,” will appear in the upcoming issue of PMS poemmemoirstory. PMS is the annual, all-women literary journal at University of Alabama at Birmingham. (I’ve also had a short story published in Foliate Oak, the literary journal at University of Arkansas at Monticello - I guess they like me in the south!).

I’ll post more on the marketing process for this story, but I thought I’d see if anyone has questions about marketing a short story that I can address in my post. Let me know and I’ll try to include any details you might be interested in. Fun fact about this story: I wrote the first draft three years ago!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Amsterdam Inspiration

On our way to India, Mike and I spent two days in Amsterdam. Since I rarely drive in Chicago, Amsterdam is a city that’s after my own heart. It's completely walkable and bikes outnumber cars something like 400 to 1 (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much). Bicyclists have their own traffic lane, but the roads in Amsterdam are curvy and crisscrossed, and riders gracefully weave their routes inches from the trams and skinny sedans. Bicyclists ride about without a care in the world – no one even wears a helmet. Each vehicle casually moves around one another like a comfortable, rehearsed dance routine.

I was also awed by the thousands of bikes outside Grand Centraal train station. There’s a three-story bicycle garage and every inch is packed. It’s filled with rusty, old-fashioned, wide handle bar, fat seat street bikes. Not the mountain bikes we pointlessly ride up and down Chicago’s lakefront. I found the massive bike garage and the spirit behind it beautiful. I started a short story that takes place here.

In this story, I’m trying to use the idea of fearless movement and practiced harmony. The few words I’ve written so far have a completely different tone than the pound-it-out-fast early drafts I’ve been working on lately. It’s a nice change of pace to have a mood in mind for a story, and I think it will develop slower. I’m sure it helped that I started this story freehand, armed with just a hotel pen and moleskin notebook.

I’ve always struggled with setting in my stories and I think this trip will give me lots of practice. I’ve already hit a chord with something in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve giant wooden clogs.