Month: November 2017

Take the Lit-Mag Test

Take the Lit-Mag Test

Everyone’s talking about real art these days. What is real art, anyway? I heard they’ve got a $9.99 special on it down at the hobby store. Hurry while supplies last.

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of magazines are calling themselves lit mags, or literary magazines, because, well, I guess they think it’s good marketing. So for example you’ll find Clarkesworld, a science fiction magazine that has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, listed as a lit mag in Duotrope, P&W (Poets and Writers) and even the dreaded Grinder. How can so many people have got it wrong? The Hugo and Nebula awards are clearly for speculative fiction, not literary fiction. Clarkesworld is a genre based publication and not a non-genre (general market) type magazine.

I’m not just trying to pick on Clarkesworld. It’s a great scifi mag and Neil Clarke, who runs it, a brilliant man. But really, what’s the advantage of being listed in Duotrope and by P&W as a lit mag when you’re not? More to the point, how can I help authors find the best places to publish their stories without leading them in the wrong direction and wasting their time? Because you’ll never get a work of literary fiction published in Clarkesworld. The information available from these second-hand sources is just plain wrong. And Clarkesworld, for reasons I can’t fathom, has done nothing to correct it.

In fact, all of the publications below are listed as literary markets by Duotrope and P&W, but they’re not. Don’t waste your time submitting lit fic to them. Send them your scifi or mystery stories:

Escape Pod
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Occult Detective Quarterly
Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

Think about awards like the Pushcart Prize and the O. Henry Prize when you’re considering if a publication is really a lit mag or not. Look in the back of those awards books to find who submits stories there. You’ll never find Clarkesworld on those pages. You’ll never find any of the mags listed above there.

And what exactly is literary fiction? Is it just a coined label put together as a marketing scheme to say that a special kind of writing is better than everything else? And if so, is that why people want their publications to be listed as a lit mags? Even when they are not? To give the impression they publish better work? That they are elite?

What happens is bloggers look at places like Duotrope and P&W and post blog posts under the impression that they are going to tell you about the best literary magazines for you to send your stories to. But you’re wasting your time if you want to follow those kinds of auto-published (mindless) lists. It makes you wonder if those people even know what literary fiction really is. It’s certainly not speculative fiction, or niche market fiction, such as Clarkesworld. It’s more about writing stories about the real, or literal, world. (But that certainly doesn’t make those stories better.)

So I put forth the Lit-Mag Test. If you can find a single story in Clarkesworld that could stand as a work of literary fiction, please let me know. Because I’m pretty sure it can’t be done. Which means Duotrope and P&W are just plain wrong. And bloggers using those sources are wasting your time, if they can’t get the facts right. Stop auto-publishing, please! (The reason I pick Clarkeswold is because, from the above list, it is probably the most elite mag, which means it stands out as a good place to test this idea.)

And what’s up with The New Yorker these days? Everyone thinks that’s a great place to send literary fiction. They have a couple poems in there, but please don’t tell me a poem makes a mag a literary safe-haven. Stop sending your literary fiction to The New Yorker. Stop wasting your time. In the words of Ray Bradbury, they don’t know how to write stories at The New Yorker.

Here’s a real list of great lit mags, brought to you by none other than John Fox (who hates the Pushcart Prize and whines about never having won one like a baby.) But beware, you’ll find The New Yorker listed here, too, I’m sad to say. And at the top of the list, with the most points. What foolishness is this?

Ranking of the 100 Best Literary Magazines

He takes his list from the Best American Short Stories. You won’t see Clarkesworld anywhere. Case closed. Duotrope and P&W have simply got it wrong and Clarkesworld has done nothing to correct this misleading information. If you want to expedite your trip on the road to writing success, find the right places to submit your work. Avoid blog posts with auto-published lists fabricated by people who don’t know what they are talking about.


Please DON’T Auto-publish

Please DON’T Auto-publish

We’ve become drones just pushing the publish button without much thought.

Social media included. Don’t just reshare without reading first.

Do you think we reached a peak when we landed on the moon?

What are you doing about it?

One Oar

One Oar

Where do ideas come from? Recently a short story of mine, One Oar, was published in Pif Magazine. I’d like to talk about my thought process behind this one.

Read One Oar in Pif Magazine

If you were to see the original draft of this story, you wouldn’t recognize it. Like most of my stories, it was hard work and took a lot of time to craft. In retrospect, it’s easy to ask, if the process is so long and tedious, couldn’t I have found a better way to go about writing stories?

Several years ago I was teaching writing at a university and I came across an interesting concept buried deep in an uninviting textbook. When it comes to putting words on the page, we have to consider both fluency and accuracy. Fluency has more to do with creativity and accuracy with editing. The two thought processes are different. When you’re in the editing state of mind, you’re thinking critically, which means you aren’t being creative. When you’re in the creative state, you aren’t self-correcting. The ideas are flowing. The story is growing. You’re brainstorming. But a lot of mistakes are being made.

With my students, I told them not to correct their writing. Write as many words as you can on the page. But sure enough, they’d correct mistakes during the process, whether it be spelling, grammar or even plot line. They wanted to look good. It was their own egos that held back the creative process.

The advantage of fluency without accuracy is you can be the most creative. Then, when you’re done writing, you can go back and fix the mistakes. You can focus on accuracy. If you think about fixing mistakes first, you’ll never be as creative. But if you approach the story from a creative state first, you get both parts in the end, fluency and accuracy.

For this story, One Oar, I let my mind soar. I wrote whatever. It’s sometimes surprising what comes from the depths of our creative wells. It often happens that I don’t even understand what a story is about until I write the end. Then I go back and revise the details in the story for continuity.

Writers also have inhibitions blocking their creativity, whether it be family values, fear of what a friend will think, or even a strict adherence to writing rules. How often have you heard, show don’t tell? And if you’re worried about things like that during the creative stage, it will hold you back. Let your inhibitions go and write whatever you want. You can always change it later. You can always throw it in the trash. Just write.

The downside to all this is that, while you end up with something highly creative, you’ve got a lot of fixing to do. And somewhere along the way, if you’re like me, you’ll wish you’d just written it the right way the first time. It tooks me months to fix One Oar.

I also showed the story to friends who gave me feedback on it. The story just felt stiff to me. It’s a very compact story, where every word counts. It’s just under 1,000 words, but I hadn’t intended to write it as flash fiction. Eventually, with enough time and distance, I got the story to loosen up and come alive. During that time, though, it was rejected at dozens of places. When I’d finally crafted it well, it was accepted for publication. A part of me almost knew at that point that this one was now ripe for picking.

I think when we are at our best, we are both creative and corrective at the same time. The more you write, the more often that will happen. But until then, you’ve got to split the process up and write the hard way. You’ve got to spend the time. I’ve resigned myself to that fact that, as a writer, I’ll have to revise each story hundreds of times, at least until I get better at it. For others, the process may go faster.

Read One Oar in Pif Magazine

For this story, I didn’t use quotations for dialog. I’d been reading James Joyce and thought I’d use the hyphen to indicate when people are speaking. It’s the only time I’ve done this and I’m not sure I’ll do it again. But it was a good experiment.

I also used a lot of sentence fragments in the style of Cormac McCarthy. I’d just read China Miéville who also uses this style. Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences, as opposed to run-on sentences. Run-ons have two sentences or two subject-verbs. Sentence fragments, on the other hand, are lacking in subject-verb, the two things needed to make a sentence.

Here’s an example of sentence fragments:

Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens. The Dipper stove.

This comes from the open in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. “Night of your birth” isn’t a sentence. It’s only a detail. Same for “Thirty-three.” McCarthy is well known for his descriptive writing style. He doesn’t use quotation marks for dialog, either. Remember, let those inhibitions go! Just write.

Read One Oar in Pif Magazine