Spirited Performance

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“Where’s Donald?” demanded the ethereal presence of the woman known as Ethel in her mortal life.

“How should we know?” Stu replied from behind the cello. “It’s not like we can text him, being that we’re spirits.”

“He’s probably haunting his children again,” sighed Ellie at the microphone. “He’s into the literary tropes.”

“This band is nothing without percussion,” moaned Ethel, hovering over the keyboard. “Donald needs to be here.”

“Would you say,” joked Ellie, “that our band’s just a ghost of itself without him?”

Not wanting to hear any more bad puns, Ethel’s spirit fled the empty stage.

Feels good to have my first Friday Fictioneers story of the year posted.

Litro

After a few weeks off and a good deal of contemplation, I’ve decided to resume my reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. Many of the periodicals where I intend to submit my fiction still haven’t been reviewed, and while I’m no longer committing to a review every week, I hope to say a few words about most of my identified targets by year’s end. My first review this year takes me to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

London-based Litro publishes both print and online editions of its magazine each month. Each print edition has a dedicated theme.

What they say about themselves: “Since 2005, Litro has published works by first time authors through to Noble laureates. Litro is self-selecting for people with an interest in literature, culture and innovation, providing readers with an escapism a perfect read for those with busy lives and encouraging cross cultural conversations through the annual Litro World Series editions… Fiction should be enduring, not disposable, and as such Litro in print, is specially designed to fit in your pocket or bag we think of it as a small book of escapism.”

Issue reviewed: I read stories posted to the online edition that were previously published in Issue 175 of the print edition, which had the theme of Desire.

Genre: Literary Realism with speculative elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Into the Pleroma,” by Ingrid Norton. An anonymous narrator in a post-apocalyptic world communicates with her dead lover in her dreams. The story says little about what caused the calamity, focusing instead on this one survivor’s attempt to continue living, which makes for a more effective tale. A clever take on Issue 175’s theme of desire. 

Exploding Helicopters: Three Explosions. While there weren’t many action scenes within the stories, the situations and characters were compelling throughout.

Profanometer: Dammit. It’s nice to read writing which gets its grit from context rather than diction.

You’re ‘Avin a Risus, Mate – One A Week 2020

I could look it up easily enough, but I honestly don’t want to know how long it’s been since my last reblog. January’s always good for starting or resuming a good habit. jillyfunnell is an English poet with an engaging and lyrical voice. This particular poem uses some highly complex terminology with both grace and an intimate knowledge of her subject. A delight.

Sugar on the Bee

Image result for image of poppy flower

Inspired by the news that garden centres are dumbing down plant names

Please do not dumb down my acer grisum
It is not just a common garden dame
And expert tutors prudent, trained each horticulture student
to call each plant its correct Latin name

So, take care to prune the hamamelis mollis
Show respect for all magnolia cambellii
Give thanks for thick and glorious hedera helixa
and ensure tagetes patula does not die

Papaver’s still our emblem, in its Latin
and glorious it blooms and issues seed
Parodia formosa? Safe, but don’t come closer
This lonely species might well make you bleed

Which brings us to the sultry one called vanda
Get her name right when you sit her on your sill
And though naysayers say, no more flores on the way
With a bit of care, I think you’ll find she will

And don’t even think about messing with…

View original post 3 more words

Day 297

I ran some errands today. A year ago, I wouldn’t have taken as much joy out of the experience.

Began with a haircut appointment. As she always does, my barber wore a mask the entire time, as did I (it’s the only time where I find over-the-ear loops preferable to back-of-the-head ties), and we were the only two in the salon at that time. Needed cash, so I drove up to an ATM and made a withdrawal. My wife had an order ready for pickup, so I ran out to that store in between going to our local butcher and shopping for groceries.

Simply getting out of the house was the most rewarding; I love my home, but occasional excursions make me appreciate it more. No word yet on when the library will reopen, and returning to the gym or fencing club won’t be an option for some time. Running errands is one of few opportunities I have to seeing these familiar walls.

There’s also the feel of the road. Cruising down a smooth path of asphalt; feeling the power and appreciating the sophistication of the machine at my command; hearing the soft hum of the engine under the radio’s music. Today’s experience reminded me of the long car trips I like to take in the summer and fall, excursions that stopped once the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Being able to satisfy my wanderlust will be one of the signs that lets me know we’ve returned to normal.

And I like being helpful. It feels good to be needed, even for small tasks. Getting several errands done at the same time also feels like the right thing to do in these inconvenient times.

I was out and about for only an hour and a half, and drove about fifteen miles. A year ago, running today’s errands would have felt like an intrusion. Today, it felt like a liberating holiday.

The Stretch Ahead

On the final day of 2020, I posted about my writing accomplishments in that year. Thought about posting my goals for 2021 the following day, but decided to take a few days off. Got up at 7 today, wrote for five hours, so I’m back on my game.

Found out last week that it’s actually pretty easy to create a table in WordPress, once you locate the command button:

Stories DraftedStories RevisedStories SubmittedTotal SubmissionsBlog Posts
Minimum96625156
Goal129950182
Stretch15121275208

Total Submissions is an activity I didn’t track in 2020. This represents journal submissions for all stories, even the ones I completed in previous years. In 2019 I made 23 submissions, which increased slightly to 28 last year. I have nine stories still seeking a home, with several more to come; averaging five submissions for each story shouldn’t be burdensome.

Blogging isn’t essential to my fiction writing, but it’s an important communication tool. Posting three to four times a week should keep me in touch with the world.

I also want to return to my novels, something I barely considered last year. It’s time for a third draft of Gray Metal Faces, plus an initial draft of a completely new project for this year’s National Novel Writing Month event in November. Don’t know what I’m going to write yet, but I plan on having fun with whatever I decide to write.

I’m also eliminating one of my benchmarks from the past: writing income. When I began this adventure two and a half years ago, I set my ambition towards making a living as a writer. Since then, I’ve concluded that’s actually backwards thinking. Living a writer’s life was my actual goal; trying to make that life pay the bills was becoming an obstacle. Once more I shall express gratitude for the resources available to me, not only financial but also in support from family and friends. Instead of trying to make it on my own, I’m going to rely on help.

I’ve got 361 more days to complete the tasks I’ve set for myself. Let’s revisit this post in late June, and see whether the Minimum benchmarks in the above chart have been reached and how far I’ve come in the latest revision of my fencing novel. That mid-year progress analysis will show how much work remains in the second half of what should be a very productive year.

Stretched Out

At the beginning of March, I announced a set of goals for my short fiction in 2020. On the last day of the year, it’s time to revisit and evaluate.

After finally figuring out how to create a table in the new WordPress interface (which sucks, absolutely sucks), here’s the goals I set for my short stories in the past year:

DraftedRevisedSubmitted
Minimum633
Goal966
Stretch1299
ACTUAL1299

In other words, I had a productive year.

I had other writing goals as well that didn’t make it into that March post. I wrote yesterday about my year-long series of weekly journal reviews; reaching that goal was as significant as my short story accomplishments. I also wanted to post three times a week on this blog, and as today’s will be the 159th post of 2020, that makes for another goal reached.

I’d also set a monetary goal of $25K, income I hoped to accumulate through technical writing, tutoring, and whatever I earned through published stories. Actual income earned was around $18K, well under my target. I’ll have more to say about income goals when I set my goals for 2021 in a future post.

I’ve developed significant momentum in my writing career over the past year, and as I close out this post it’s important to identify why this happened. Being home more because of COVID-19 certainly contributed, but not nearly as much as my early-morning commitment. It’s entirely possible I haven’t blogged on this yet, but in early May I accepted an invitation from a fellow writer to write for an hour at 6 AM. I don’t enjoy early mornings, but frustration over my lack of progress inspired me to try something new. I can’t do it every day like my colleague does — three days of rising at 5 is all I can comfortably handle — but the results speak for themselves. My early mornings will continue into 2021.

***

My friends, these past 365 days have been a challenge. I’m grateful for having the resources to weather the ongoing storm of this pandemic, and appreciate how I’ve been able to stretch for and reach my most significant writing goals. A year from today, I hope all of us will be able to look back on a year of recovery.

A Year of Reviews

Almost a year ago, when the days were quieter and travel less restricted, I announced my intention to write a series of reviews for literary journals and genre magazines. While I didn’t commit to a weekly schedule in that post, it’s what I had in mind. It wasn’t always easy, but I maintained that schedule over the past year. This week, I’m allowing myself some time off to reflect on what I’ve done so far, as well as look ahead to continuing those reviews in 2021.

***

This project was inspired by the advice every literary journal or genre magazine gives to prospective writers: before sending us your story, read one of our issues to find out if your story’s a good fit for us. Over the years I’ve read hundreds of journals, but always as a connoisseur (a term we literary types prefer over fan when describing ourselves) rather than potential contributor.

As I began submitting my own short fiction, I knew I had to bolster my knowledge of the field. Reading individual issues on occasion wasn’t enough; I had to study each journal, develop a critical sense of the type of work they published. Writing these reviews has forced me to engage with the literary world to a degree I’ve never experienced. All that reading was a lot of hard work, but all that effort has been necessary for me to realize my ambitions.

The reviews have been intentionally more descriptive than evaluative. While some journals were clearly better than others — a few seemed too poor for me to ever consider submitting my work, others too erudite for the type of fiction I write — there’s little value in my alienating anyone. Here’s what I read, and this is what they publish… that’s all I wanted to accomplish.

***

A few words on how I found and selected these journals and magazines.

  • Many of my discoveries came from my involvement in a local literary society. Attending workshops and seminars, hanging out at social events, finding out which journals are being read by fellow writers I respect.
  • If you want to be instantly overwhelmed by the number of journals where you could submit your work, just do a simple Google search. You can save yourself some time by clicking this link, or maybe this one. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could possibly read all of the journals that are out there. I’ve found scrolling through these lists quickly and stopping after finding two or three interesting targets to be a productive approach. Reading everything isn’t the goal; feeling overwhelmed is a sign that it’s time to stop searching and examine what you’ve found so far.
  • Several directories of journals and magazines are available online, and you can use these to search for publications in a particular genre or interest. The directory at Poets & Writers is free, but the resource I prefer, and the one I used extensively for each of my reviews, is a subscription service called Duotrope. This has become my first resource for finding out a publication’s preferred genres, word count guidelines, reading periods, acceptance rates, or any other information relevant to writers. At five bucks a month, it’s been the sounded investment I’ve made so far in my new profession.

***

Fifty-one reviews, one for each full week of 2020. There’s plenty more journals out there, enough to do several more years of weekly reviews. But in 2021, I’m taking a different approach.

There are at least four journals where I’ve made submissions that I haven’t reviewed yet. I’ll do those reviews early in 2021, and when I find other publications that seem like good fits for my work, I”ll review them as well.

These reviews, though, won’t come every week. I no longer feel the urgency which inspired this project at the beginning of this year; fatigue has certainly taken a toll, but I also sense more time is needed for other work.

More reviews are coming. I just don’t know when they’re coming, or how often they’ll appear. The work continues, but the schedule ends today.

This journey has been rewarding, difficult, enjoyable, and burdensome. It took a lot of effort, and it feels appropriate to mark its completion.

Day 288

Not much new to report this week. The infection, hospitalization, and death rates for COVID-19 have come down some since peaking early this month, but those numbers are still staggering. Vaccines have begun to be administered to healthcare workers and at-risk populations, with no word yet on when more widespread distribution will occur.

Resistance is as fierce as ever. A recent commercial produced by my state’s health department features a series of nurses staring into the camera and sharing stories about the virus’ effect on their patients. It ends with them begging viewers to wear masks, stay home, be safe. If you want to lose your faith in humanity, read the comments.

I think we’re headed for a two-tiered system of recovery. Those who believe in science will get vaccinated, continue to follow social distancing guidelines, and resume something resembling their old lives probably around the coming summer. But there will be a large number of people who will refuse the vaccine and ignore public health recommendations. must… not… write… what… will… later… regret… With plenty of hosts still available, the virus will continue spreading well into 2022, at which point there could be talk of booster vaccination shots.

In the coming year, COVID-19 might not command our attention the way it has these past ten months. But it’s certainly not going away.

***

My staycation enters its second and final week, and I’m enjoying the time off.

Work life for me will be largely unchanged when I get back at it next week. Tutoring at the community college will continue as an email/web meeting service. All of my technical writing is done at home, with the occasional site visit. I still work one day a week for the curbside service at the local grocery store.

In the fall we remodeled one of the boys old bedrooms into a studio for my wife, who now sings for her Friday shabbat services from there. Her cake decorating business has slowed, due more to her desire to step back than to the pandemic. After conducting some very successful Zoom classes on cake pop making, she’s looking into further developing that line of teaching.

Both of my sons will be entering the workforce this year, and it’s unclear at this point what the job market will be like. It’s likely that at least one, if not both, will be living with my wife and I while we all work from home in the coming year. They also could be just living here because there’s no work for them and they have nowhere else to stay.

Everyone’s glad to see 2020 end in a few days. I just hope the coming year offers a little more hope.

One Story

This is the fifty-first in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. It’s also the last review I’ll be posting in 2020. Next week I’ll look back on this project and look ahead to the following year, where I’ll do more of these reviews but not on a weekly basis.

Founded in 2002, One Story publishes eighteen issues a year. As the title suggests, each issue contains one story.

What they say about themselves: “One Story is an award-winning, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit literary publisher committed to supporting the art form of the short story and the authors who write them—through One Story, One Teen Story, education, community, and mentorship… In 2012, One Story launched One Teen Story, a sister publication for readers of young adult literature. One Teen Story engages the next generation by publishing the work of today’s best teen writers… One Story offers educational programming for writers at every level. Our teachers have experience as editors as well as authors, and provide a unique perspective on how fiction works on the page. We offer year-round in-person and online writing classes taught by editorial staff. Every summer, we host a Summer Writers’ Workshopin New York, where students can take creative writing workshops, listen to craft lectures, and attend panels about the literary world… One Story is devoted to the development and support of emerging writers. One Story has published over 250 authors in One Story and One Teen Story, many at the beginning of their careers. We mentor these writers, helping them navigate the publishing world, and promoting their books through email blasts, on our web site and social networks, in a quarterly printed insert in the magazine, and at our annual Literary Debutante Ball… One Story is based at The Old American Can Factory, an historic, industrial & cultural complex in Gowanus that houses a curated community of more than 300 artisans, visual/performing artists, poets/writers, filmmakers, architects/designers, publishers, non-profit organizations and others working in the creative industries.”

Issue reviewed: Issue Number 271 (November 12 2020)

Genre: Literary Realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Since the journal only publishes one story each issue, the selection for this review was made easy. Jenn Alandy Trahan’s “The Freak Winds Up Again” is a first-person narrative about a young woman in Louisiana struggling to overcome the suicide of her older brother. She finds comfort in following the career of baseball player Tim Lincecum, who shares her Filipino heritage. A story about baseball which is actually more about how its fans invest themselves into the game.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The story gets its momentum from the narrator’s insights rather than what she does.

Profanometer: Dammit. For some reason I expected far more rough language in this story. Nice to see an author showing some restraint.

Day 281

Around this time each year I travel with my family out to Maui for a couple-few weeks of doing nothing in particular. That’s not going to happen this year because of COVID-19. While the state of Hawaii is now allowing visitors who’ve tested negative up to three days before arriving, none of us will risk any chance of infecting my in-laws, who are in their upper 70s and aren’t in great health.

So no sockless feet for me this year.

I’m not going to complain, given how many people in this country and around the world are suffering from this pandemic and its associated disruptions. But it’s not healthy to ignore this disappointment.

So yeah, not going to Maui this year really sucks.

It’s possible my wife and I will go out there in a few months, if the vaccines are widely distributed and proven to be as effective as testing indicates. Once my in-laws are inoculated, and my wife and I get shots, that could happen. But then again, given the horror stories I’ve read about air travel during this pandemic, maybe we’ll wait a little longer.

***

But if I can’t go to Hawaii, I can still enjoy a staycation.

Last Sunday I completed my last major writing task for 2020. As of yesterday, I’m taking some time off from work and my fiction. Sometime next week I’ll post a detailed review of what I accomplished this year, but I’ll say now that I got a lot more done than I expected, especially in the fourth quarter.

Two thousand and twenty was a terrible year — perhaps I should say has been instead of was, since a lot can still happen these next nine days, especially with The Fraud still in office. I can’t say I’ve made lemonade out of lemons as there’s been a serious absence of sugar and hardly any water, but if nothing else I’ve kept myself busy these past 12 months. Busy enough to allow myself a couple weeks of relaxation, even if I have to wear socks.