Author: D. S. White

D. S. White has an MBA degree and is the editor-in-chief at Longshot Island. The magazine is a collection of music reviews, movies reviews, art, photography, poetry and fiction. While his expertise is in business, his passion is in writing. Recently a story of his was featured on the front cover of Mystery Weekly Magazine. He was born in the mountains but now lives by the sea.

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
Clarksworld
Shimmer
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Occult Detective Quarterly
Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
Analog

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

 

Managing Short Story Submissions

Managing Short Story Submissions

An unexpected thing happened to me recently.

I typically send out 10 stories and each one goes to maybe 10 publications. Instead of shooting a single shot from a rifle and waiting to see if I hit the target, I take the shotgun approach, splattering the short story publication market with everything I’ve got. Since it’s all about fit, and you’ll never know for sure where your story will fit, you’ve got little to no chance of getting published if you only send out one story at a time. In the immortal words of Richard Thomas, “simultaneous submissions are your friend” (link). Simultaneous submissions make the difference between getting published twice a year and twenty times. On top of that, many publications prefer if you wait to submit something new. Take it easy and don’t bombard them with your work. But do carry a shotgun; send your stuff everywhere and anywhere at the same time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, more and more places don’t like it when you submit to multiple publications at the same time. I have this twisted theory that they like to reject writers, but they don’t like getting rejected. But that’s just my two sense [sic]. Sure, they’ll say they need time to plan out a publication, and when you let them know the story they are dying for has already been published somewhere else, well, they’ll blacklist you and call your grandfather a dirty-rotten-pig-stealer. But really, you have to eat too, don’t you? Would you go to a job interview and wait to hear back before applying at another company? The best thing to do is to let them know when you get published someplace else. (But, please, when you inform a publication that you’ve got a story happening somewhere else, be sure it’s for a story you really sent to them.)

Let me get back to the point. An unexpected thing happened to me recently. I’d sent out a story and two publications asked for it on the same day. I received two emails in a row requesting my work. What are the odds? I was stupefied. Should I go with the first email? Should I go with the publication that offered better compensation? Should I go with the website that looked better and probably attracts more readers? It turned out that one of them noticed a few typos in my story and the other one didn’t. I went with the guy who cared more about what I had written. He turned out to be a fantastic editor and got me to write a better ending. I learned to be a better writer from him.

Meanwhile, I had another story published at another publication and after it went online, friends pointed out the typos in my work. I contacted the publisher and they said they don’t edit anything they publish. I found that strange. They don’t care if they look bad?

ME: Can you edit my story?
THEM: I cannot change the texts by myself. I had problems with the authors in the past.

ME: Here’s the edited version. (Three months later.)
THEM: It’s amazing that it took you over three months to see that there were mistakes in the story but anyway, I uploaded the new story.

I definitely won’t send anything more there.

So what I’ve been thinking about is a better way to determine which publications are worth my time and which ones aren’t. Along those lines, I dug up some old responses I got when my stories were rejected, things publishers said that just caused me to stop and wonder. Now, I know, you don’t want to argue with these people. If they reject you, go someplace else. If the rejections hold merit, learn from them. If they say stuff like I’m showing you, run in the other direction. If they don’t edit anything you send them, take your work someplace far away.

Here’s one example. I wrote a piece called The Finale Days.

Reviewer comments: The story regularly struggles in grammar and spellchecking, enough to frequently throw me out of the narrative and making it difficult to continue reading at times. This actually begins in the title, where it seems like “Finale” should actually be “Final”.

I admit, it’s a bit odd. But unusual stuff like that catches the reader’s attention. Think of it like “The Dog Days”. Dog is almost never used as an adjective. And the same for Finale. But it can be done. And I did it on purpose. I went with “The Finale Days”.

Here’s another one. I had a story where the supporting character dies. On purpose. I was told this:

Reviewer comments: If you have an interesting character, for pity’s sake, don’t kill him! Accidents are a sign of weak plotting.

I was like, what?? How many great books are there that do just that? The Crossing is a prime example. McCarthy builds up your love for a wolf for the first 120 pages and then (spoiler alert) the wolf dies. I think I read those 120 pages about a dozen times. It was some of the most brilliant writing I’ve ever seen. Not to mention that McCarthy has since then won the Pulitzer Prize for the The Road, in which the wife of the main character has died. There are a handful of overriding emotions authors typically put in stories, such as frustration, sympathy, and remorse. McCarthy can throw all of them at you with the turn of the page.

 

And probably my favorite is this:

The monkey really likes your stuff, not sure I do. But what counts around this publication is the monkey, so…You’ve jumped the first hurtle. Congrats! May the Terminali treat you well, though, honestly, they probably won’t. But one can dream.

I have no idea who the monkey was. The story was rejected in the end. (Notice they wrote hurtle and not hurdle.) I give them points for being funny, but I won’t submit there again.

The point of this post is simple. I’ve decided to beware these warning signs and to avoid places that givestrange feedback when they reject a story. There are plenty of other oceans to swim in.

 

Clowns on the Run

Clowns on the Run

My story Clowns On The Run has been published as the Cover Feature in the September 2017 issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine. I’m deeply satisfied by this opportunity. I’ve never written much in the way of a mystery story before. In retrospect, probably I should have. And I’m sure in the future, I will write much more in this genre. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

This blog post is intended to explain some of what went through my mind and onto the page when I was writing this story.

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The story is based on four characters in clown suits. For names, I called them Emmett, Charles, Glen and Lou. This was intentional. For a story about clowns, I read up on some of the greatest clowns in history and found this information:

Emmett Leo Kelly was an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure “Weary Willie”, based on the hobos of the Depression era.

Charles Adrien Wettach, was a Swiss clown, composer and musician. Called “the king of clowns” and “the greatest of Europe’s clowns”, he was once the most highly paid entertainer in the world.

Glen “Frosty” Little was a circus clown who was one of only four clowns ever to have been given the title “Master Clown” by the Ringling organization.

Lou Jacobs was an auguste clown who is credited with popularizing the clown car, which has been a staple of circus clown acts ever since.

(This information comes mostly from wikipedia.)

For the title, I picked Clowns on the Run. I was thinking of the Wings song Band on the Run. Some of the lyrics go something like this:

Stuck inside these four walls
Sent inside forever
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you

Band on the run, band on the run
And the jailer man and sailor Sam
Were searching every one
For the band on the run

Well, the night was falling as the desert world
Began to settle down.
In the town they’re searching for us everywhere
But we never will be found

And the county judge who held a grudge
Will search for evermore
For the band on the run
Band on the run

(Credit to Paul McCarthy for the words. Some lines have been cut out here.)

I got this idea of clowns on the run from that song. So then it was easy to change the title from Band on the Run to Clowns on the Run.

I really wanted to use a metaphor, but so often they are cliches. For this story, I got the idea of breaking a metaphor down. Due to respect for the publisher, I won’t reprint the lines here. Go and read the story. Subscribe to the magazine while you’re at it. But let me give you another similar example of what I mean by breaking a metaphor down.

She’d never seen snow in the mountains. They said the snow there was thick like a blanket. But snow couldn’t keep you warm. Snow couldn’t hide you from the monsters at night. Snow couldn’t be washed when it was unclean. The snow looked more like crumpled newspapers to her from here. 

Mountain peaks lined the horizon to the west. Like folded newspapers soaking up ink, printed lines of dark blue streaked upward through snow-white terrain. This was unique to her, the particular way those mountains sat below the skyline, and how they appeared to have words written in the snow, snow falling down and the letters all jumbled up. She’d never seen anything like these mountains before.

And so in Clowns on the Run I turned a really common metaphor inside out and then at the end of the story I put the metaphor right again. This was my experimentation with breaking a cliche and making it more useful that way.

I hope you take the time to read the story and support Mystery Weekly Magazine by picking up a copy. And leave some comments there, too! Thanks.

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