Thursday, July 28, 2016

All It Took Was a Change of Title

All writers produce stories they like more than others.  One of my favorites has just been "reprinted" on the Literally Stories site.  It originally appeared two years ago in the Rind Literary Magazine.

I knew this was a successful short story, because I presented it several times at public readings.  It always got laughs in the right places.  Nevertheless, I couldn't seem to sell the story to a magazine.  It kept getting rejected, over and over.

Eventually, I decided that the original title was the problem.  The story is about a drunk writer who shows up at the house of his ex-girlfriend late one winter night.  I called it "Reunion at 3 a.m."  That title didn't pop -- it didn't make an editor want to publish it.

I decided to change the title and submit it to literary magazines.  So I gave it the oh-so-pretentious title of "The 3 a.m. Litterateur."

That's all it took.  The Rind Literary Magazine picked it up immediately.  And now it's up again, on a new site.

Sometimes it pays to be pretentious.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Women and Wine

In my youth, I once went out with three different women in the span of two weeks.  That's three first dates, all over dinner.

In the course of the meal, all three women drank wine.  (I prefer beer.)  I got all three women to talk about themselves.

And in the course of that conversation, all three women wept.

Now, before you suggest that they were crying because it was a bad date, let me say that I subsequently saw all three of these young women again.  I recall taking one of them to a party.  Another I took to an entertainment venue.  The third I saw for months -- I remember that she later broke up with me on my birthday.

The experience creeped me out, a little.  Three dates, all of whom I reduced to tears?

Later, however, I decided that there was something about talking about one's life that makes many women cry...especially under the influence of alcohol.

Am I wrong?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Susanna Reilly: From Fan Writer to Pro


I met the delightful Susanna Reilly at the Main Line WritersGroup, a club for authors of all skill levels, which meets in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.  We both had stories in the group’s first anthology, Unclaimed Baggage: Voices of the Main Line Writers.

Susanna had two stories published in the anthology Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity The second volume in that series, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity, is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding.  If that campaign meets its fundraising goal, she will have a story in that anthology as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, Susanna Reilly:

1)  Susanna, I understand that, like many writers, you started writing fan fiction for an annual fanzine.  Is that correct?

Thank you for that wonderful introduction Tony.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I got involved with a local science fiction fan club, The U.S.S. Thagard (a chapter of Starfleet: The International Star Trek Fan Association) in the late 1990’s that I believed I could actually be published.  The club put out an annual fanzine titled Norman (followed by number I – XIII depending on the year).  The title came from the first name of the astronaut the club was named after as well as a clone character in one of the iconic Star Trek original series episodes.  I wrote a few short stories in the Star Trek and Highlander universes that were included in three of the late 90s Norman issues.  All proceeds from the fanzines went to charity but it was still a lot of fun to see that “by Susanna Reilly” after the titles.  In the mid 2000’s, after the Thagard folded, I continued writing fan fiction in the Star Trek and Stargate universes (and even one in the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit universe), but I used the website as my publishing outlet.  You can still find some of my earlier work here.  

2)  The convention circuit is an increasingly important place for writers to meet and generate publicity.  I understand that you are a regular at the annual Shore Leave convention.  Is that strictly a Star Trek con?

I started going to the Shore Leave convention (in Hunt Valley, MD)  around 1999 as an attendee.  Back then its main focus was on Star Trek, but over the years it has expanded to include most science fiction/fantasy shows and movies.  Stargate was my favorite fandom for a long time and I was thrilled to meet Amanda Tapping at Shore Leave a few years ago.  The convention not only has media guests, but also discussion panels encompassing all types of fandoms, costuming/cosplaying, as well as a very popular “Meet the Authors” event on Friday evening.  It was a huge thrill to be invited to participate as an author guest two years ago when Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity launched there and I’m equally thrilled that the launch party for Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity will be there in July. 

3)  What do you enjoy most about being a writer?  What do you enjoy the least?

I enjoy the rush I get from coming up with an interesting story idea and following the twists and turns until it becomes a full-fledged story.  I find that I often start out with an idea where the story is going to go, but then it ends up taking a few twists and turns on me before the end.  Sometimes the ending is totally different than I expected it to be, but I learned a long time ago, you can’t force the story to go where you want it to go, you have to let it take its own course.  The thing I enjoy least is trying to find the time in an already very full schedule to write.  It’s very frustrating to have a really cool idea and want to sit down and write it all out but not have an uninterrupted block of time to do so.  I’m a secretary by trade so it’s most natural for me to write at the computer since I’m a pretty fast typist.  Writing longhand or dictating don’t work as well for me.

4)  Let’s finish up with a process question: where and when do you write?  Are you a before-work writer, an after-work writer, or a weekend writer?

My most prolific writing time has always been at night.  I used to be able to start work at 10 p.m. and write straight through until 2 or 3 in the morning and still make it to work on time the next morning.  Now that I’m a bit older, I’m finding it much harder to keep those hours, so finding uninterrupted blocks of time to write has become much more challenging. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview, Susanna!

Thank you so much for asking me, Tony.  I greatly appreciate it.

You can follow Susanna Reilly here on Facebook or on Goodreads

Please support the Kickstarter campaign for Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity!  If you’re considering whether to back this project, please click here to check out the various donation levels and the rewards offered on Kickstarter

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooks Dies at Age 53

Longtime readers of my blog know that, once upon a time, I fancied becoming a comic book artist.  I even got to take some classes with the late, great artist Joe Kubert.

As it turned out, I didn't have the chops for the business.  I could draw something (or someone) passably well if it (or she) was posed in front of me.  But ask me to draw something out of my imagination, and the result looked like it was done by a six-year-old.

Nevertheless, I continue to have a great affection for comic book artists.

So I'm saddened today by the death of iconic Canadian artist Darwyn Cooke.  Going against the trend towards photo-realistic art, Cooke had a distinctive, iconic style that was like no one else currently in the business.  He worked primarily on DC Comic characters, and may be best known for his revamped design for Catwoman.

He died of cancer at the age of 53, far too young.  I'm saddened by his passing...but I'm also angered at our own loss.  We have missed out on another few decades of work by an exemplary talent.

Goodbye, Darwyn. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Jen Conley, Noir, and Cannibals

Jen Conley reading at a Noir at the Bar event at Shade in NYC

The delightful Jen Conley is a writer and teacher from New Jersey. I first encountered her at a Noir at the Bar event, where she was reading one of her crime stories (which she did very well). She also edited an anthology in which one of my own stories appeared: “Shotgun Honey Presents Locked and Loaded (Both Barrels, Volume III)”

Jen, congratulations on your first collection of short stories! Tell us about "Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens"

Thank you! Cannibals is a collection of loosely linked gritty/crime stories that take place in central/south Jersey, Ocean County, which encompasses some of the Pine Barrens. Not every story has a typical crime, or a crime at all, but each one is a bit gritty.

Your stories all take place in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Most of what I know about that area comes from John McPhee’s 1968 book, The Pine Barrens, which was originally serialized in The New Yorker. There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to ask a native of the area: McPhee wrote that Pineys tend to say something three times. For example, a Piney might say, “It looks like rain, looks like rain, like rain.” I’ve never heard anyone speak like that! Is it true?
Good question. But not that I know of. I’m not a real Piney, either, so I’m not really sure. I think the Piney culture has been infiltrated by modern times so I don’t know how many old school authentic Pineys are left. And I also think the term “Piney” has changed. Now it can mean people who live near the Pine Barrens, or even in them, but not living that old rural type of existence, or even something close to that. For many people “Piney” is a person who enjoys spending time in the Pines, whether it’s hiking, fishing, hunting, four wheeling, etc.

Sadly, writing short stories doesn’t pay much. Like most writers, you alsochave a day job. I understand you teach middle school English. Many years ago, I tried doing that myself, with little success. Have any of your students ever read your crime stories?

I don’t think so. I try to keep it on the downlow. They know I write and I’ve read them a little bit of my work, things that are benign, but not the hard core stuff. However last year I was working on a YA novel geared towards middle schoolers and I read them the first six pages. They seemed to really love it --- they gave me a round of applause—but they also appeared to be a bit surprised I could actually write. 

Again, like most writers, you’ve probably had your share of rejections. Has that changed how you edit the work of others for Shotgun Honey?

We don’t edit the flash too much. We read the stories and have a discussion, and decide whether they are a go or not. Some stories are easy—yes or no. But some stories are in that middle area, that spot where a little help, suggestions, might make the story stronger. I’m more prone to give someone another chance if I see a story has potential. I hate getting rejected (as does everyone) so I do feel bad when we reject a story that seems to be on the line but ultimately just isn’t working. But Ron Earl Phillips, the head honcho, does give feedback from the editors, so I like to think if writers take our advice, then they can improve the story and try to send it somewhere else. “Home Invasion,” the first story in my collection, was rejected several times until another writer gave me a few tips so it would work better. I took her advice and it was immediately accepted at Thuglit and nominated for a Spinetingler Award.

Before they submit their work, many writers run it by either a trusted critique group or a cadre of beta readers. Do you, and how did you get them?  (It took me many years to find a critique group that I found truly helpful.)

I used to have two writing groups, one up in NYC and one in the Red Bank area. Both are disbanded, or on indefinite hold. I found my NYC group because I took a Gotham Writing Class in the Village and after it ended, I emailed my teacher and asked if she knew of a writing group. She invited me into hers. That was writer Karen Heuler and I was with her for many years. I found the other group

through an ad in a magazine. Again, I emailed them and they asked for a submission and then let me in. Now I have no one but that’s okay. I’m busy and I have to do a lot of writing this summer—working on a novel—so when I’m done with the novel, I’ll probably look for readers but not a group. I also know it’s hard to find a writing group, especially one that meets consistently, so I’m glad you have one. I think every writer at one point needs to hook up with a writing group. It really does help.

Let’s finish up with a process question: how do you write? Do you do it in the same time and place every day?

When it comes to short stories, I don’t write them until I have an idea and an arc in my head. So I spend a lot of time just thinking. For a longer project which I’m working on now, it was a loose outline and I blew through the first draft as fast as I could. I write on my laptop, either in my bedroom or downstairs in my dining room. I have a fourteen-year-old so most of my work is done when he is asleep, preoccupied or if he’s at his dad’s house. He’s pretty good about not bothering me but he’s still a teenager, so it’s never fool-proof. And I’d like to write every day but there are days after teaching that I’m just too damn exhausted, so sometimes it’s best if I sleep and save my energy for the next night.

On the flip side, because I teach, I’m off in the summer so I consider myself a lucky writer. I would work a side job in July and August but I’d rather skimp on extras and focus on my writing. It’s very important to me. It’s my Mount Everest so I need as much time as I can to climb this huge, giant, almost impossible mountain called “breaking into writing.” Actually, I think it might be easier to climb Mount Everest. 

We’ll look forward to your collection, which will be released in May. The official book launch will be at Manhattan’s Mysterious Bookshop on Friday 3 June at 6:30 pm. Thank you for your time, Jen!

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure!

You can follow Jen on her website or on twitter at @jenconley45
You can purchase her book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore.  It is published by Down & Out Books.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Would You Please Get Snarky, Please?

Authors at a signing this past weekend.  L to R: Kelly Simmons, Matty Dalrymple, Virginia Beards, Jon McGoran, Merry Jones, and Bruce Mowday

This past weekend I attended a multi-author book signing at the Levante Brewery in West Chester, PA.  One of the authors, poet Virginia Beards, had to leave early.  I asked the remaining five authors what were the best and worst things about doing a book event in a brewery.  (Although sales were light, the authors remained upbeat and refused to get snarky.)

What’s the best thing about doing a signing in a brewery?

Jon McGoran:  Beer!!

Merry Jones:  Dogs and babies among the crowd.  They’re the best!  You don’t get those in a bookstore signing.

Kelly Simmons:  Yes.  I love dogs and babies!  Notice how they always find the sunbeams to lie in.  It’s just a fun atmosphere.

Bruce Mowday:  You get to meet your readers.  It’s a chance to interact with them.  I’ve had some great discussions on Pickett’s Charge (the subject of one of his books).  Matty (Dalrymple) did a great job organizing this event.

Matty Dalrymple: It’s an exercise in community building. And it’s good that we’ve started to see some of the same faces among the attendees.

And what was the worst thing about this particular brewery signing?

Jon McGoran:  Well, you always want to sell more books.

Merry Jones:  A lot of people just walk by.  Most of them are here to drink, not buy books.

Kelly Simmons:  Yes, they didn’t come to buy books.  And I don’t want to intrude on families.

Bruce Mowday:  I wish we had more people here.  But it’s such a nice day – people don’t want to be inside.

Matty Dalrymple:  Wine drinkers are more interested in books than beer drinkers are.  I suspect you can sell more books at a winery than at a brewery.  Overall, I think we could describe this as more of a social than a sales event.

My Takeaway:  It was a fun event on a nice day.  But dogs and babies don’t buy worth a damn.  (Hey, if they won’t get snarky, I will!)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings, Part Four

When you become a star, you can make people wait.

Until then, here's some advice: when giving a public reading, get to the reading area (lectern, podium, stage, whatever) BEFORE the applause stops!

Last night, I did a group reading in front of about 25 people.  The audience consisted of other writers, so they were attentive and polite.

The host had a written introduction for each person reading.  He would read the introduction, ending with the name of the writer.  The audience applauded.

And, in every single case, the writer took his or her time going to the podium.  The applause was long over by the time they began to read.

(That happened to me, too...but I had a good excuse.  The host forgot to read my introduction.  Instead, he just announced my name.  Believe me, if he had read my intro, I would've been standing next to him by the time he finished.  And if I'd known that I was going to read next, I would've been there.  However, the host elected to keep the order of readers unknown to everyone except himself.  That's unusual, but it was his show and his rules.)

Folks, in the broadcast business, this is what they call dead air.  It's a span of time in which nothing is going on.  Broadcasters hate it.  (I assume they still call it "dead air."  I haven't been in a radio or TV studio in years.)

If and when you become such a famous personality that you can make a grand entrance...and people are paying to see you...and there's a big proscenium arch with a curtain for you to step out of...then you can make people wait.

Until then, don't inflict dead air on your audience.  Get to the podium quickly, before the applause dies.  OK?

My previous posts in this series:
Part Three of What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings
Part Two of What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings
Part One of What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings