Celebrating Wins

My writing journey has been slower than I would like (this is entirely my own fault — becoming an expert at self sabotage can do that), but one of the things I started doing was celebrating my writing wins in a really tangible way.

I decided to start celebrating whenever I sold something. DO NOT DO THIS. You can’t control if something sells. You can control finishing it, you can control submitting it, but you cannot control selling it. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t celebrate selling something (in fact, do!) but I do not recommend celebrating only this part of the journey.

There are so many specific parts of the journey worth celebrating: drafting, writing (even if it’s just a few words a day), finishing something, submitting something, and yes, selling something.

I don’t do well finding ways to celebrate smaller wins, such as successfully writing for a day or even submitting something (though I do need to figure out something that works well for me), but I did determine on a celebration ritual for finishing something that really, really speaks to me.

And that’s getting tattoos thematically appropriate for whatever I finished.

So let’s start!

The very first story I ever sold was “You An Accidental Astronaut.”

I signed the contract on November 1st, 2015. I got my celebratory tattoo on October 15th 2017. It is NEVER too late to celebrate.

The second story I sold was We Lilies of the Valley, which was accepted in November of 2016. Yes, those dates are right! I sold a second story before I even celebrated my first one!

And listen,

A facebook entry from November 15th 2016 from my personal facebook shows a screenshot from September 27th 2016 with the text, "Another rejection today. I'm wondering if I should submit to shimmer since they close in three days but I am not sure if it's their thing" The post from November says, "Excited to announce that one of my short stories was picked up by Shimmer magazine! https://www.shimmerzine.com. I'm very excited to work with them! They publish great pieces. Also, see the post I mentioned on sep 27. Don't self reject!"

You would think after a story like that I’d celebrate my win, right? No! I didn’t get my celebratory tattoo for We Lilies Of The Valley about midway through the Covid Pandemic.

So here are the tattoos:

A tattoo of an astronaut, reaching with their hand, is on the top shoulder. A watercolor effect of a galaxy in purples and teals serves as the background. Below the first astronaut, is a second astronaut reaching in a similar pose. Yellow flowers with purple centers are in the shape of a crescent moon are behind the astronaut. A faint background of purples and teals tie the two images together.

The top astronaut on the shoulder was for “You An Accidental Astronaut” by Brandon Bopko.

The astronaut below was for “We Lilies of the Valley” by Lindsey Ercanbrack. Yes, I know those aren’t lilies. I chose orchids over lilies because it fit the story better.

Also during the pandemic, I chose to get a tattoo for a short story that I loved but haven’t sold. This is about the time I shifted to celebrating finished drafts as opposed to sold drafts because I really, really loved this story, and I wanted to celebrate it.

(spiders cw)

A spider with purple and cold dangles from a web along the bicep. The web is attached to a flying saucer with teal lights on the shoulder.

This art is also done by Lindsey Ercanbrack.

(the colors on this are actually more vibrant than what is showing up here)

I actually probably need to change this short story into a novel or novella, at which point I’ll add to this tattoo with something thematically appropriate.

(gore cw)

In May of 2021, I got a tattoo to celebrate the completion of my zombie novella. I don’t actually have a solid date for when I completed this since it’s been “done” a few times now, but I started this story before I even sold my first short stories. So, it’s been more than five years, and each time I revisit it as I grow as a writer, I see things that need to be changed. But I think it’s for real done–after I put in those edits from the sensitivity read.

A skeleton hand holds a golf puck between two fingers. A zombie eye, with entrails of blood, sits on top of the puck.

This was also done by Lindsey Ercanbrack. The reference I gave her was designed by Micaela Brody (yes, it’s the image on the side of this blog!)

I’m very happy with these tattoos, and I do intend to continue the tradition. I need two more for the novel drafts I finished in late 2020, and I have ideas for a short series I intend to self publish.

Which writing wins do you celebrate, and how do you celebrate them?

Salt & Sage Books A Review

Sometime before 2016 I reached a point of fed-up-ness with The Walking Dead I decided to write my own zombie story for NaNoWriMo of that year. I wish I could remember the exact moment, but when I reviewed the TWD seasons, there were simply too many times I reached that point to accurately pin point a specific year, and I wasn’t using the NaNoWriMo site at the time.

Needless to say, I have been working on my zombie novella for five or more years. It used to be just a hair beneath 50k words. Then I edited it ruthlessly to a smidge under 40k words.

Around this time, #ownvoices was becoming popular and I took a long hard look at my story which stars an Iranian woman, a Jewish woman, two Black siblings, and a white woman who is the main character’s antagonist.

As a reminder, I am white.

I struggled for several years on whether or not I should tell this story or if I should edit everyone to be more or less ambiguous. People who know me might remember various self imposed deadlines to self publish the novella, only for each of them to pass by without it seeing the light of day.

I chose these characters for a reason. I had just gotten to know my brother’s girlfriend (now wife) when I first drafted the story, and she immigrated to the United States from Iran when she was young. She helped me with the Farsi that appears in the novella. I wanted a Jewish character because I was tired of Christianity saturating everything. It was also important to have two Black characters simply because the genre historically can be very antiblack, even though one of the earliest zombie films makes this precise point (Night of the Living Dead).

When crafting these characters, I did as much research as I could. I listened to bloggers share how their experiences are portrayed. Researched the no-nos. But I wanted to do more than avoid the easy pitfalls.

I extended this level of care to all the characters, but for my Jewish character, I specifically wanted her to be recognizable as Jewish without explicitly calling her Jewish in the text. The reason I did this is because I didn’t want to have an “easy out.” I didn’t want to fall in the trap of the main character observing her friend’s Jewishness and leaving it at that.

I was hesitant to do a sensitivity reading because I knew that a sensitivity editor can provide only their perspective, and I didn’t want to fall into the pitfall of looking at one sensitivity edit as the source of truth. My ideal scenario would have been multiple sensitivity edits for the various characters. Though my financial circumstance is more secure now than it was when I started this novella, I knew that to get the amount of perspective I needed for my novella would cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Eventually, I decided removing these characters’ identities for my own comfort was not the right course of action for me (I know there are some people who will disagree with me, and I’m okay with that). I would rather make a mistake trying than stay in a safe zone that would inevitably perpetuate a focus on whiteness, which was one of the things that had frustrated me about TWD in the first place. I decided I would go for a sensitivity edit.

I researched sensitivity readers. I wanted to procure an editor from an established company of some sort as opposed to finding someone on a social media site like twitter. My main reason is that I wanted to be protected if something went wrong.

I stumbled across Salt & Sage Books. My initial inquiry email was answered quickly, and even when I delayed a full month or so in my response, they were kind and welcoming, picking up as if I hadn’t nearly ghosted them (which hadn’t been my intention, but what is time in the middle of a pandemic). They guided me through the beginning process, I chose an editor who had listed “Jewish” as one of their top areas of expertise, and I waited excitedly for my sensitivity read to come back.

When it did, the sensitivity editor told me there was no Jewish content in my story, spent the majority of the time discussing the lesbian romance, and provided very constructive feedback regarding the depth and believability of the characters.

Worse, the character the editor had interpreted as Jewish wasn’t supposed to be the Jewish character in the novella.

I was shocked. Numb to my core. I hadn’t actually read the novella again before I sent it out and my entire brain was trying to remember what I HAD written. Surely, I had put Jewish content in there–hadn’t I done all that research?

I dived back into novella and found multiple specific examples that countered the conclusions the sensitivity editor had drawn. These were facts contained in one or two sentences throughout the novel, and would not have been subject to interpretation.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew that writers who couldn’t work with editors got around since the circles are small, and I didn’t want that to happen, especially since I’m still trying to get my foot in the door. Originally my shock had been about my inability to write, but after I had gone through my novella, I began to wonder if my novella had not been read carefully by the editor I had chosen.

I decided to write Salt & Sage books with my feedback. I spent about three days drafting the email. Had a friend look it over to make sure I didn’t sound unreasonable.

I clicked “send” and I waited.

Salt & Sage responded back in several business days and ultimately agreed with me that I had not received a sensitivity read that met their QA levels. Their tone was validating, and when my original email raised questions regarding their QA processes, they assured me they did have one but they would need my permission to proceed. They offered me several methods of resolution, which included a partial refund or a chance to try again. I opted to try again, and they helped me find a second Sensitivity Reader, whom I asked to verify if their Jewish knowledge would match the Jewish character in my story. They assured me again this second read would be free of charge.

The level of effort on their part to make this right really struck me. When I said I didn’t feel comfortable choosing another reader who listed Jewishness in their list of expertise, and asked them to decide who would be best based on the Jewish elements in my story, they did take that effort on themselves. The amount of effort I, as a customer, had to take in rectifying the experience was as minimal as sending additional sample pages and a clarification on what I needed.

I’m very happy to say that when I received the results of the second sensitivity read, it was exactly the feedback I was looking for. The first read was about two pages long, with a minimal paragraph devoted to the lack of Jewish aspects in my story. The second read was about six pages long, each page devoted to the Jewish content in my story with feedback on what I did right, and feedback on where I was edging a little close to some negative stereotypes. I also got some line edits back on my actual manuscript! Exciting!

If you are looking for a place to find a sensitivity reader, I do recommend Salt & Sage. I need to do a sensitivity read for the remaining characters in my novel, and I’ll be going to them as long as they have an editor who matches my needs.

My main takeaway in this experience? Ask clarifying questions. Make sure the editor you choose (even if it’s not with Salt & Sage) has the knowledge to match your character. I had assumed any editor that listed “Jewish” in their areas of expertise would recognize the Jewish aspects of my story, simply because I, as a Gentile, had done the research, and surely any Jewish content would be recognizable from that alone. Don’t make that assumption. I believe my key issue was I did not specify I needed an editor with some experience in practicing Judaism, and that points to my own ignorance, and why I needed the sensitivity read in the first place.

My day job entails customer service. I know that no company will get it right 100% of the time. Expecting that will set people up for failure. Was I disappointed that my first sensitivity read was such a bad experience? Of course. But I deal with bad first experiences every day, and I wanted to give Salt & Sage a chance to make it right. I’m so glad I did because they went above and beyond to do so — and that says more about a company than when things go right.

Review of my experience written with permission from Salt & Sage.

NANoWriMO

NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. Also known as the Worst Month In The Entire Year To Challenge One’s Self To Write 50k words.

  1. November only has 30 days. Why not just make it February then for a “real” challenge.
  2. November is the beginning of the busiest holiday season of the year. Thanksgiving is right there towards the end of the month.
  3. Even if, like myself, you don’t celebrate the holidays, other people do. And their actions affect you. I say this looking at all the time off requests I’ve approved around Thanksgiving because I’m not a heartless scrooge.

For me, November would be a death knell for getting any sort of long sustained writing work done. Not only will I be more than likely working tons of overtime during the month, specifically around the holidays but it’s not unusual for me to pull 50 hour work weeks just in general, but my wonderful workplace decided to do their End of Year even in the first week of November.

I know. Right during the midterm elections. Register and vote people.

So, on Monday I’ll be working my shift then flying to Las Vegas, and probably have some time of work mingling event. Tuesday and Wednesday will be meetings and conferences and more meetings and will probably end up being 16 hours of work/mingling before crashing in a hotel room–and that’s assuming I don’t work late into the night to get a handle on the tickets we didn’t have time to process because of all the totally not mandatory Work Events. Thursday, the work still needs to get done but on top of that I’m also flying!

A whole week! Gone!

I’ve always been of the opinion that putting this challenge in November is setting one’s self up for failure. Writing is already hashtag hard, so to put such a challenge in a month with only thirty days, during one of the busiest holiday seasons of the year? Why!

So I will be doing the challenge this year–but not in November.

October, after September, is already the best month. Even in places without seasons it just is because Halloween is fun! The days are just starting to turn but are not so depressingly dark in the mornings and evenings. It has….thirty one days!

I’m calling it National Auxiliary Novel Writing Month: October or NAnoWriMO.

I’m also going to do a fanfic this year because inspiration, what’s that!

But yeah. That’s the plan. I’m ready!

Reader’s Corner: King & Riordan

When I was a kid, I used to read several books at a time. I blame this on my home school education,  tv was a limited amusement, and that we used to belong to the Pizza Hut reading program: read x number of books and you get a free single-serving pizza.

I would read books that were beneath my reading level so I could chow through them in a single day, satisfactorily log it, and then read another one. Normally, I was reading other books that were not considered pizza fodder, though I took great satisfaction in logging those too.

Then I grew up. Got a major case of The Depression, and stopped reading!

I know, what a bummer.

I’ve actually been reading again for a while but not like I used to. Not like I did as a kid.

I’ve been starting small, again reading books below my age. For example, my coworker gave me the Percy Jackson books for Christmas. You’ll have these read over the weekend, right? She asked me.

Uhhhhhhh, I said, very intelligently.

To be honest, I was feeling the pressure. My mom had also given me two books that she wanted me to read, one of which was sitting on my shelf for over a month, the other languishing in my kindle for even longer. I also had my own list of to-reads which I had yet to get to–Amazon asks me how many stars I want to rate a book I’ve purchased but yet to read, and the guilt sets in.

I did not have the Percy books read over the weekend, but I did go through them at a good pace despite working full time, writing, being dog tired, and reading other projects.

Yes, I am back to reading multiple books at a time!

The primary book that I read while reading Percy Jackson was Joyland by Steven King. I chose to read Joyland to expand my genre horizons beyond science fiction and fantasy.

I consumed Joyland in a day and a half. Stephen King is a pretty good writer, obviously. His On Writing was one of the first books I read about the craft, though my thoughts are mixed on it now as an adult. I really enjoyed Firestarter, but couldn’t get into some of his more “heavier” stuff. Basically, I don’t read a lot of Stephen King for several reasons, and I started IT though stopped when I discovered what happens at the end of the novel.

I’ve never read any of Rick Riordan’s work before and, even though they are different genres written for different audiences, I couldn’t help but compare the two to each other craftwise.

One of the things I immediately noticed about Joyland was that it was not structured into chapters. The other thing I noticed is that, even though I could remember what happened as I was reading, the drama was written so smoothly it was sliding melted butter over bread. It’s the juxtaposition of feeling where you remember what happened–but you also don’t. The same sort of feel when you try to remember exactly what filled your hours on a weekend, but you can’t. The day was there, and it wasn’t. There’s just the feeling you had–that it was great or good or satisfying or bad.

I’ve always had this feeling when I’m immersed in a well written book. It reminds me of the feeling I get when I’m trying to write: how am I going to fill these pages when hardly anything is happening, when the plot is a slow boil? And here is Stephen King doing just that, nearly effortlessly.

I’m not sure if I’m explaining it right. Maybe if I finally bring in my point about Percy Jackson:

With Percy Jackson, I have the opposite feeling. I remember what fills the page because it feels very much like a video game. Each obstacle is like a punctuation mark. Again, this is probably because this is aimed at a (much) younger audience than myself.

But it also got me thinking about different writing styles, and the audience. Of course, you’re going to be changing your form and style as necessary, but I couldn’t help but feeling that my most mature writing is more like Riordan’s than King’s.

And there really is nothing wrong with that! But, especially since I am not writing for a younger generation, I want my writing to read more like King’s. Not in his voice, just the way people read the words without noticing the plot structure or other writing devices because they are so well hidden in the actual story.

It’s something that I’ll be aiming for in the coming months.

Writing Update

With just barely a week to go before Strange Horizons’ deadline, I finally finished the first (haha) draft of the story I want to submit to them.

It’s been edited once since then, but it still needs a title, I’m still not happy with the name of one of the protagonists, and it needs further revision.

But it’s finished, and that means that even if I don’t get it to where it wants or needs to be, I can submit it to Strange Horizons and that’s really the only thing that matters.

Now, I still need to write the horror story, and there’s another anthology I’d like to submit to called UFO (Unidentified Funny Objects — deadline also April 30).

I’ve not written a lot of humor (actually more like zero humor) so I think it might be an interesting exercise.

I feel like I’ve been writing a lot lately, which is nice.

Story of My First Sale

So when I was writing, “You, An Accidental Astronaut,” it was in a different format because I was writing it for another literary magazine.

When I heard about Mothership Zeta, I already knew that the format I was trying to push this story into wasn’t going to work. And that’s when I realized that I wanted to submit it to Mothership Zeta, and that when Mothership Zeta would reject it I would go ahead and try to submit it to the place I originally had in mind.

Then I promptly forgot about the deadline. I was fighting and struggling with the story, had fallen out of love with it, even, and I had only gone over it once or twice when I remembered the deadline after it was almost passed.

I never even had someone else look it over because I was too busy self-rejecting myself and the story. But I sent it out anyways and to my shock, I survived the first and second rounds of rejection until I received the email they wanted to accept it and have me sign a contract and everything.

It was funny, because the news came on the Worst Day of Work. I was already on the edge of a breakdown in the breakroom when I was on my lunch break. As people at work can testify, I never took my breaks, usually opting to eat at my desk as I worked on the emails that came in–but today if I did that I would have broken down in tears in front of everyone and We Can’t Have That. So I was checking my email, completely zoned out, and I was almost about to autoarchive the email on my phone. I had to re-read the email twice over, and by the time I had processed what it said, I was, as they say, over the moon.

The first thing I did when I went back to the office was announce the news and everybody was happy for me and I was happy for me and work still sucked but it didn’t suck as much because I had published my first story–a story I hadn’t even technically tried to get publish. A story that I had only sent out once and it had been accepted the first go around. A story that I had lost faith in.

That story was accepted.

In many ways I feel like I cheated somehow. I’ve only submitted about five stories for publication in my entire life. Two of those stories I submitted to Weird Tales when I was a teenager and got form rejections. Two of those stories I submitted only once and then self-pubbed them here.

And then this.

I feel like I didn’t earn my first sale, but I’m also trying not to think like that because I did earn it because I wrote it and I sent it out and everything. I just got lucky.

Anyway, that’s how I got my first sale.

While this post was percolating, I also read Sunil Patel’s Anatomy of a Sale Parts One and Two which I highly recommend reading. In the articles, Patel mentions several sites to make submit/rejection experience more engaging and interactive, which I am definitely excited to give a try (referring specifically to The Grinder and the Sink or Submit game).

About the Dog and the Bone

I recently came across this post quoting Karen Sandler

“Fiction is not the real world. In the real world, not everything means something. Much of what happens is just mundane, boring stuff that nobody cares about.

In fiction, the reader expects that every detail of a scene will connect to the story. If you spend more than a few words describing your main character, Ray Santiago, watching a brown and white spotted dog with one blue eye trot down the street with a bone in its mouth, that dog better bite Ray before the end. Or that bone the dog is carrying better be human.”

Karen Sandler is the author of nineteen novels for adults, as well as Tankborn, Awakening, and Rebellion, a YA science fiction trilogy. She is a founding team member of We Need Diverse Books.

My first thought was wondering how it would be like to be so prolific as to publish nineteen books. My second thought was emphatic disagreement with the above. My third thought was wondering if there is anything as condescending as reiterating that fiction is not the real world.

I’m not published so my disagreement is essentially worthless, but I cannot help but disagree and disagree strongly.

I suppose there are two parts to my disagreement that can be summed up as follows:

  • as a reader, I don’t expect that every detail of a scene connects to the story
  • why does the dog have to bite Ray and why is it a human bone

Read More »

Listening Booth: Welcome to Night Vale A Story About You

I think listening to Welcome to Night Vale’s “A Story About You” fundamentally changed the way I viewed the consumption and production of art–or perhaps it helped me to articulate something that I was beginning to learn but was yet incapable of fully expressing. I definitely attribute listening to this episode as my primary influence in writing so much of my short fiction in the second person but that is neither here nor there.

I love this episode because it is one of the most beautiful pieces of meta fiction that I’ve ever seen. Almost every single long running series I feel has its meta episode, but I think Night Vale’s is the one I like the best.

Hearing Cecil state that “this is a story about you” is inherently an act of validation. Many times I feel that people who are marginalized by oppressive mainstream narratives are told that the only appropriate response is simply “Write your own.” Such a statement is fundamentally wrong because it ignores how important it is to see yourself in a story, to see that you too can be part of overarching narratives that traditionally only belong to a few, and which serve to perpetuate and sustain oppressive systems of power. Such a statement presumes that it is possible to cloister one’s self behind a wall and become untouched by listening to the damaging stories surrounding you.

All this is false, of course. Even if it were possible to become completely untouched by the narratives that surround our very existence–why should someone isolate themselves simply so that other people can continue telling their damaging, harmful, and oppressive narratives? It would be better if people told stories that did not harm people at all.

Such a statement is also dismissive of the the fact that even when people do tell their stories, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be accepted or welcomed by editors, by publishers, or other establishments of authority. Such a statement does not address how establishments use their authority to keep people out. Such a statement does not take action against these establishments of authority. Such a statement does not provide platforms and space and tools for people to utilize to tell their own stories so that their words can reach people who do need to hear about themselves on the radio.

This is a story about you, said the man on the radio, and you were pleased, because you always wanted to hear about yourself on the radio. […] But there was a time, one day, one single day, in which it was only one story, a story about you.  And you were pleased, because you always wanted to hear about yourself on the radio. [x]

Everybody should be pleased to hear about themselves on the radio or on the television or in that book or in that song–not hurt.

Reading Corner: On Not Writing by Bill Hayes

In a truly ironic turn of events, the day after I wrote up my post about Stephen King’s On Writing I came across the article “On Not Writing” in my morning’s twitter feed.

This spoke to me in the same way that Stephen King’s work also spoke to me. I am afraid to “rest” because my rest periods frequently turn into years, and I don’t want to become that person again.

But it’s also important to remember that what worked for Stephen King or even Bill Hayes might not work for you. It’s even possible that what worked for you now won’t work for you in the future. As you grow, so does your writing, so does your method.

I think that after reading these two think pieces on writing, the one thing I’ve taken away from it is: i need to try and find what works best for me.