Short Fiction Roundup: “Homesick” and “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie”

Full Disclosure: I know Sarah and Sunil IRL.

Also Full Disclosure: I wouldn’t be telling you to read these stories if I didn’t think that they are very very good, even if I’d never met their authors.

So.

“Homesick,” from Issue 36 of Fireside is a Very Sarah Gailey story. It’s full of haunting language, humanity, crab-people, and [spoilers]. Sarah’s world-building and subtle humor are on point. Come back here after you’ve read it and just try to tell me that it isn’t so Very Very Gailey.

Read “Homesick” here.

Also on deck this week is Sunil Patel’s “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie,” which originally appeared in IGMS but is brought to you now by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, who already published one of my favorite stories this year (another of Sunil’s, too: “Girl in a Blue Dress (1881)”).

You’ll want to gird your feels for “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie,” especially if you’re reading it right after of “Homesick,” because damn. This story takes a very different tack from “Homesick,” but is no less affecting. It is sweet and funny (and sneaks in a Portal joke) even as it gut-punches you with feels. Grab a couple tissues.

You can read “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” right here.


Quick Review: Crooked by Austin Grossman

There is a special place in my heart for both Secret Histories and Eldritch Beings, and Austin Grossman’s Crooked ticks both those boxes very neatly. The twist? Crooked is the story of the rise and fall of Richard M. Nixon, the 37th president of the US.

It’s quite a trick to take on the voice of such a well-known and often reviled figure as Nixon, let alone make readers sympathetic towards him, but that’s just what Grossman does. Never does the prose bog down in squamous Lovecraftian verbiage, yet H.P.’s influence runs strongly through the story. Of particular note is just how much of the lurking horrors of the world are left just at the edge of the page, with readers getting only fleeting glimpses at the things in the shadows. I’ve seen some readers complain about this, but I found it to be a powerful part of the story, as the horrors I can imagine are all the more insidious than what any writer can explicitly describe.

This book was 100% my jam, and I hope that you like it, too.

Buy Crooked on Amazon and support sporadic blogging!


My Policy on Non-Paying Markets

Because I sometimes get obsessed with such things, I was thinking about my submission queue today and about how I pick markets to send stories to. You can read that thread on my twitter starting with this tweet:

This train of thought eventually led to the question of how a market pays. My policy on this is simple: I will always* submit a story to pro-paying markets before I try it on semi-pro markets, and I will almost never dip below semi-pro payment ($0.01/word minimum).

My reasoning is simple: I value and believe in my work. Not submitting to pro markets first is basically saying “yeah, this story is ok, I guess.” I don’t submit stories I think are just ok. If it’s just ok, it goes back to my writing group or other friends for further critique.

So what about if I run out of pro and semi-pro markets? Do I send to token and non-paying markets? Simple answer: no. If I can’t sell a story to the available pro or semi-pro markets, I’d rather sit on the story than send it to a non-paying market, and I won’t consider a token market unless it pays over a certain threshold.

Why? See above: I value my work. And writing is work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I’ll take the last few stories I’ve sent through workshop as examples: each of them is around 4000 words, and each one took me probably six hours to get to draft 1. Each of them has been through at least 4 drafts with my writing group and various other beta-readers, and each additional draft has taken me at least an hour to make revisions on, bringing my own investment of time up to at least ten hours and probably more like twelve or fourteen.

I have a day job that consumes a lot of my daily spoons, so when I make time for writing, which I try to do every day, that’s a Serious Investment for me. Likewise, if I take on freelance work, that’s an investment of time that I then can’t spend writing or with my family. I do not work for free. I do not give away time that I could spend with my family.

I know that writing short fiction alone isn’t going to pay my bills. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t pay anything. Short fiction writing doesn’t pay by the hour, it pays by the word. If I sold a 4000 word story at the minimum pro rate specified by SFWA, that would mean I’d made $240, which is pretty decent money. If I’ve put 16 hours of work into that story (and chances are good that by the time I’ve sold a story, I’ll have put in a lot more), that comes out to $15/hour, which is the local minimum wage.

With $240, I can take my wife out on a nice date and still have money left over to put into savings like a Responsible Adult. I can’t put “exposure” in the bank. I can’t pay for a nice meal with my byline.

Do I think it’s wrong that there are non-paying markets? No. I’ve even been published by a few during and immediately after college. (I will say, though, that those pieces were all written as class assignments.) Do I think I’ll never sell another story to a non-paying market? Probably not? There are some non-paying audio reprint markets out there that are great. But at that point, I’ll have already sold the story once for money, so.

*I can imagine a scenario in which there was an anthology or similar that was only paying in the semi-pro range before sending to a pro market if that semi-pro market was the perfect fit for a story.


In Which the Author is Alive and Writing

In lieu of an actual update, I wanted to share a page out of my current work in progress, which has just started to come together in my mind. Hashtag am writing.

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Tools for Writers: Twitter (Seriously)

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I fuck around a lot on Twitter.

Like a lot.

I also joined Twitter way back in 2012 because I thought that as a writer, I would need it someday, even if I didn’t need it right then, because I saw a lot of authors I look up to using the platform successfully as a way to reach out to their fans and probably (at least for Scalzi) bring in some new fans of their writing based on their being entertaining on Twitter.

I’m not going to pretend that I know how this happened, but somewhere in the last four years, Twitter actually went from being just a place where I could make random observations about bikes, tech, and writing to a place where I actually have a little baby network of friends and acquaintances. (But if you pay me a couple hundred dollars, I’ll totally tell you my Social Networking Secrets so that you, too, can sit at the Cool Kids Table™ on Twitter.)

What I’m getting at, then, is that, used wisely, Twitter can actually be a useful tool for writers, and not just as a part of your Brand.

I’ve gotten great writing prompts from Twitter in the past, both from soliciting prompts and just from latching onto ideas that have flitted across my feed. Better than that, I’ve gotten some amazing, insightful feedback from folks who I’m friends with on Twitter (many of whom I’ve never met in real life), and I’ve been able to offer critiques for other folks as well that (I hope) have helped them improve their stories as well as giving me insight into my own writing through critical reading.

So, yeah, I would absolutely say that Twitter is a useful tool for writers.* If you’re a writer who’s on the fence about joining, maybe give it a try. I’ll leave it to others to talk about all the things you shouldn’t do on Twitter (and anyone who says you must do something on Twitter is either lying or trying to sell you something—probably both).

*I will offer the caveat that, as with all things, not every tool works for every person. Just because I’ve written pieces of novels and entire short stories in Vim doesn’t mean that’s the right tool for everyone else.


Practice

At the dojo where I study aikido, we talk about our practice a lot. Sensei often says that the most difficult and most important part of any practice, aikido, writing, going to the gym, whatever, is showing up. While I usually don’t have difficulty showing up to aikido, this certainly speaks to my condition around writing.

I use Habitica (formerly Habit RPG) to help maintain daily writing as a habit (though it doesn’t always work out as well as I’d like). To that end, I have a daily goal (borrowed from Mary Robinette Kowal) of writing three sentences. Sure, I could just sit down and write three sentences and then go do other things, but usually that doesn’t happen, because those three sentences are my showing up for my writing practice. Once I’ve gotten three sentences in, I’m stretched and warmed up sufficiently that I can usually pound out a lot more words.

The trick is showing up.

When we talk about practice at the dojo, we also talk about the idea of renshū versus geiko, which are two Japanese words that translate, at least roughly, to “practice.” The difference between the two, as sensei explains it, is that renshū is practice in the most basic way—mindless repetition—whereas geiko is practice with intention behind it.

The idea of geiko has stuck with me since it was first explained to me late last year. Of course I would like to write every day, but the idea that just by doing writing exercises, I will get better as a writer has never sat well with me. I know that I can’t only write when I’m inspired, but an artifact of my pre-college schooling is that I’m rather unfond of doing things that feel too much like homework, and writing exercises often slot neatly into that category in my mind.

The challenge for me is to treat writing exercises, especially those which don’t end up becoming part of something longer, as geiko, to approach them with intention and focus on what part of my writing I want to improve upon with that geiko.

Because ultimately, isn’t that the point of writing exercises?

Certainly I won’t be engaging in geiko every time I sit down to write. Sometimes, renshū is the best I can hope for, and even renshū has its place—even mindless repetition strengthens the muscles, and I think it’s safe to say that most writers want their writing to be automatic to some extent.

In the end, the hardest part of the practice is showing up, whether that means writing twenty words or two thousand.


Market Briefs: Uncanny

I write about Uncanny a lot. Probably because they’re one of my favorite markets for short fiction available today. So, for those of you whose twitter feeds are cluttered with retweeted jokes or maybe just forgot, Uncanny is currently open for submissions, and you should send them your favoritest story. If you’re unprepared and worried about how long you have to send in your story, the official* line is that they’ll remain open until the end of the month, so you’ve got about three weeks to get something out to them.

You can find their guidelines here.

 

*I tweeted at them to find out and this is what they told me.


2015: The Stats Post

So I just sent off my first submission of 2016 today, which got me thinking about submission stats and how Sunil Patel always makes me feel more hopeful about things when he talks about his submissions. I usually do these things as a tweet storm, but I figure this is a bit more accessable, so here we go:

In 2015, I submitted 7 different stories to 19 different markets for a total of 45 submissions. Of those stories, 3 were wholly written in 2015, 1 was written in 2014, 1 in 2013, 1 in 2011, and 1 in 2010.

(I’ll note here that the story written in 2013 had been sitting, mostly abandoned, for almost 2 years before I pulled it out to show to my writing group.)

My most-submitted story went out 12 times in 2015, making it my 5th-most-submitted story and is also tied for 1st place in most-form-rejections received with 11 (sharing that spot with my Most-Rejected Story).

From my 45 submissions in 2015, I received 41 rejections (with four subs still pending, with an average waiting time of about 69 days). Of those rejections, 30 were form, and the other 11 were personal. This brought my total lifetime rejections (as recorded in The Grinder) to 126, with 32 of those being personal (a bit over 1/4 personal!).

Fantasy & Science Fiction led the charge in sending out personal rejections, being responsible for 4 of my personal rejections in 2015. They were followed by Shimmer and Writers of the Future (for the purposes of my numbers, an Honorable Mention is counted as a personal rejection) with 2 apiece.

Most markets I submitted to in 2015 responded within two weeks, and in most cases, a rejected piece would get turned around and sent back out within a couple days. I cannot make any meaningful correlation between response time and type of response, even for a single market.

My conclusion from all these data is simple and is applicable to all writers: write and submit more stories.

I hope this glimpse into my rejectomantic cauldron has been useful to you.


Market News in Brief

Three quick ones for you while I marinate my Hugo post.

Tor.com will be closing to short fiction submissions on January 7th, so if you want to submit there, you’d better do it today or tomorrow. One of their readers has confirmed that all slush that hits the pile before closing will be read and considered as expected. (Guidelines)

Meanwhile, Apex has reopened for fiction (but not poetry) submissions. I’ve seen no word as to how long this submission period will last. (Guidelines)

Finally, you really ought to consider supporting Fireside Fiction, publishers of, among other stories, Sunil Patel’s delightful “Sally the Psychic Alligator.” It would be a real shame both for readers and writers to lose Fireside. Information on how to support Fireside can be found here.


Ok, Another Hugo Post

Charles Stross pointed out something very important on Twitter:

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Me, I was going to nominate The Shepherd’s Crown already, but I hadn’t thought of nominating All of Discworld. Now, though, I think I will.

Now, as you were.


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