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.

The Most Valuable Commodity

Submitted another story recently to the weekly Reedsy Prompts contest. I was pretty satisfied with most of it, but the ending was a little weak. I’m enjoying the occasional prompt contest as it seems to engage my creativity and give me energy to work on my other stories. And who knows, maybe I’ll win one of these weeks if I keep at it. Fifty bucks ain’t much, but I’m not playing this game for the money.

The Malahat Review

The latest in my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Founded by professors at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, The Malahat Review is published four times a year.

What they say about themselves: The Malahat Review, established in 1967, is among Canada’s leading literary journals. Published quarterly, it features contemporary Canadian and international works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction as well as reviews of recently published Canadian poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction. On occasion, it also publishes interviews, essays, and issues on a single theme or author,… Malahat originally bore the subtitle ‘An International Magazine of Life and Letters,’ reflecting the founding editors’ background in European literature and connections in the international literary community. Under succeeding editors and in step with the growing of a truly national literature, the journal became more strongly Canadian, with a focus on Canadian and international poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction rather than belles lettres and critical work.”

Issue reviewed: Issue 212 (Autumn 2020)

Genre: Literary Realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Asleep Till You’re Awake,” by Francine Cunningham. An anonymous first-person narrator keeps falling asleep in public places, and when he visits a doctor’s office about his condition he sees an unexpected person in the waiting area. A quirky yet engaging story about grief.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. The stories favor insight and empathy over suspense and action.

Profanometer: Dammit. The adult language is certainly there, but never seemed gratuitous.

Day 273

Some good news, finally. The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in our state today, and health care workers are in line to receive the first shots. This likely won’t slow the spread of the pandemic — the number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is worse than ever — but it should provide some needed relief to the doctors, nurses, and staff who’ve been asked to work at great personal risk.

I don’t expect to receive a vaccine for at least a couple of months. That means I’ll need to keep wearing a mask in public and avoid going out as much as possible during these long and cold winter days.

***

One of the simple pleasures I most look forward to resuming once this pandemic ends is eating at a restaurant.

There’s a Brazilian steak house about 20 minutes away from my home that my family and I used to enjoy a couple times a year. After the pandemic began and restaurants re-opened after the initial lockdown in the spring, my wife and I would order take-out from there a couple times a month. The quality of meat is still very high, but serving ourselves out of plastic containers is hardly inspiring. There’s something to be said about having people come to your table with skewers of sizzling beef then taking a long knife and slicing a serving onto your plate; you can’t replicate that feeling at home.

We ordered from there again last week after our younger son came home from college for winter break. He offered to pick up our meals this time, and when he came back he reported how horrified he was at seeing how many people were sitting at actual tables. I’d noticed this as well when I made the carryout run, which is why I got the hell out of there as quickly as I could each time. My son, though, spent more time looking around. He said the interior of the steak house looked exactly like he remembered, other than the wait staff being masked. At one group of tables there appeared to be at least twenty guests celebrating a birthday party.

There are too many people around us who don’t believe the virus is dangerous, or simply don’t care. Most of them will probably decline to be vaccinated, thereby allowing the virus to continue living among us.

A friend of my wife has gone on Facebook several times and called for a way to identify the non-believers and bar them from receiving medical treatment. I trust he’s being sardonic, but this pandemic has produced all kinds of wild beliefs. Remember when The Fraud wondered whether injecting bleach could be a cure? Maybe he was joking, maybe he wasn’t. I’m just looking forward to having him out of the most powerful position in the world in a little over five weeks.

Returning to the ostensible topic of this journal, I know I won’t be vaccinated in five weeks, nor will I be eating at a restaurant. It’s going to take some time before this pandemic is controlled enough for me to feel comfortable engaging in simple pleasures once more.

Old Friend

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

When I was a child, this park was but a quarter of its size at its largest. But that was twenty years ago. Since its heyday it shrunk by half, still larger than my childhood’s imagination.

And next week, it’ll close forever. The developer who purchased the bankrupt park will demolish the rides and pools, and raise apartments and condominiums in its place.

I can’t bear walking into the park again. But just outside its gates is a burger shack with picnic tables outdoors. The view of the park is good enough to say goodbye to an old friend.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Asimov’s Science Fiction

At the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to write a review of a literary journal or genre magazine each week. Now that we’re in the middle of the final month of a very tasking year, I’m glad to have only a few more reviews to write. Asimov’s Science Fiction has published monthly issues since its founding in 1977. What they say about themselves: “From its earliest days in 1977 under the editorial direction of Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine has maintained the tradition of publishing the best stories, unsurpassed in modern science fiction, from award-winning authors and first-time writers alike.  In recent years, Asimov’s has placed more stories on the Final Hugo Ballot than all of its competitors combined, and more than twice as many as its closest competitor. Bestselling author Robert Silverberg calls Asimov’s ‘a truly distinguished magazine, worthy of being set beside such classics of the earlier golden ages as John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction of 1939-42.’  The Austin Chronicle lauds Asimov’s as ‘the most consistently innovative and readable SF magazine on the newsstands today.’Issue reviewed: Volume 44, Numbers 11 and 12 (November/December 2020). The magazine prints novellas and novellettes in addition to short stories; my review is limited to the latter. Genre: Science fiction and fantasy One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Grief, As Faithful as my Hound,” by Marissa Lingen. As the Earth is visited by a species of non-communicative aliens, Rina sits with her dying mother in a hospice. Her grief takes on a new dimension when one of the aliens begins following her. Both poignant and funny, this is one of the best stories I’ve read during this year-long exercise. Clapperboard Rating: Two Klacks. The stories present interesting characters in highly imaginative situations, and don’t rely much on conflict or suspense to propel the narrative. Profanometer: Shitfuck. As one of the stories featured a self-indulgent amount of profanity, I hereby use this designation for the first time.