Category Archives: Mary Pletsch

Living the Dream. Oh, Crap

pletschportrait2016 was a game-changing year for my writing career. An editor who’d bought two of my previous short stories asked if I’d be interested in writing a novel or series of novels in a shared universe. I started the year as a published short story writer who wanted to write a novel, and I’m ending the year as a novelist under contract to deliver the first novel on January 1, 2017.

I’m also under a non-disclosure agreement, so I’m not free to give details, which is a big challenge when I can’t talk about what I’m thinking about all day!

Because my focus has been on novels, I’ve written fewer short stories this year. My first novel isn’t coming out until some time in 2018, and the meat of my payment will be from royalties, meaning it’s over a year until I actually see money for the majority of the work I’ve done. The good news on the money front is that I’m getting royalties from novelettes published this year and previous years, and I received some nice cheques from short story markets that pay pro rates. Overall, though, I still need my part-time job, and I’m very fortunate to not be the only income-earner in my household.

I’ve also had some interesting insights about living the dream.

I’m no longer as free to write whatever takes my fancy. I can’t spend so much time crafting a random idea into a short story and then look for a home for it, because I’m obligated to turn in a novel-length manuscript on a certain topic by a certain date.

Writers under contract still have to do laundry. I thought the entertainment industry would be more glamorous.

There’s a certain gratification that I don’t have to wonder about whether what I’m writing is ever going to find a publisher. I’ve got a folder of unsold short stories that represent several cumulative months of work for, as of yet, zero financial return. Of course, I also have a folder of sold short stories, but sometimes I’m surprised that stories I think are really strong are still in the zero folder, and I also have a “I got HOW MUCH for THAT?!” story on hand. With the novel, I have a signed contract saying that what I write is definitely going to be published (on the assumption that it meets the publisher’s standards). On the other hand, it’s in my best interests to deliver the best manuscript I can, not just something “good enough to publish.” This book is going to be a lot of readers’ first exposure to my work, and if I want them to buy Book 2, I will make Book 1 as good as I can possibly make it.

I had a big shock one day when I felt sore and tired and just wanted to rot my brain watching cartoons all day, but my common sense told me, “Hey, you have a novel deadline. You know you can’t do good work last-minute (since high school I’ve envied people who can). You better go write a thousand words BEFORE you put that DVD in.”

And my lizard brain snarled, “I hate having a book contract.”

WTF?! my consciousness said. You’ve wanted this for twenty years, and now that you have it, you hate it?

No, I don’t really hate it. I might have hated doing the responsible thing rather than the thing which would provide me with instant gratification, but I don’t regret my choice, because having a book contract is worth it.

On the other hand, for those aspiring writers out there: Do you know the feeling of knowing you have a project, an essay, a big term paper, a graduate thesis due? It’s going to feel like that for the rest of my life. Or at least as long as I have books under contract.

It’s strangely familiar. And it’s worth it.

 

Unicornado!

It’s a dark and pulpy night…a perfect time for suspense–terror—gore–and…

…unicorns?

Unicornado!Fossil Lake III: Unicornado! is an Anthology of the Aberrant that mashes up horror tropes and weather-disaster movies with….glittery, sparkly unicorns.

I’ve written about unicorns before–including in the two anthologies, One Horn To Rule Them All (A Purple Unicorn Anthology) and Game of Horns (A Red Unicorn Anthology), which raise funds for Superstars Writing Seminars’ Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship–but I’ve never written about unicorns quite like this.

One of the challenges I’ve had about being a writer who occasionally does horror stories is making sure my readers know what they’re getting from those stories. I’ve got a number of readers who are very excited about my science-fiction and fantasy work, but they’re upset by gore, or they can’t handle anything too scary. Meanwhile, I’ve got other readers who love the spooky stuff!

For those of you who write horror and self-publish, it’s a good idea to make sure your covers and blurbs reflect the content of your story, so people who don’t like the creepy stuff know what they’d be getting in your tale, and people who DO like the creepy stuff know that you’re someone they want to be reading!

I”m fortunate that my publisher wants to be absolutely sure that parents aren’t buying Unicornado! for their kiddies…unless their kiddies are Wednesday Addams!

The blurb makes it absolutely clear that these are not unicorn stories for the little ones.

So, how does one make unicorns scary?

In One Horn to Rule Them All, I wrote about a girl who strikes an alliance with a karkadann–a desert unicorn–and joins a group of unicorn warriors. Karkadanns are pretty scary–dangerous, aggressive, bloody, and hostile. If you’re not the karkadann’s ally, you’d be looking at a terrifying monster.

The mythological karkadann is thought to be based on the rhinoceros. When I was a child, I discovered that my grandma’s King James Bible mentioned unicorns, but my dad’s New English Version Bible translated that Hebrew word as “wild ox.” As a kid, I much preferred the idea that there had been what I knew of as a unicorn running wild in Biblical times.

So, a Biblical unicorn…of a very Old Testament variety. Mix in some of the storms and plagues that tormented Pharaoh when he refused to let Moses and his people go, and you have the makings of some very scary stuff.

My short story “Unicorn Prayers” is one of thirty-two tales of unicorn weirdness in Fossil Lake III: Unicornado! that range from the macabre to the bizarre.

Get your own unicorns here at

Amazon

or in ebook format on

Smashwords

And beware of the things that sparkle in the dark.

Short Story Deadlines

One of the challenges of writing short stories for publication–other than, you know, the writing part–is keeping track of calls for submission.

T-18-Cover-270x417-100dpi-C8Many ongoing magazines don’t accept stories year-round. They have submission periods, during which writers are invited to submit stories. When the window closes, writers have to wait for the next submission periods. Magazines do this to give their editors time to catch up with submissions, to ensure their queue of stories to review remains at a manageable length.

Anthologies have publication dates, and the editors need to factor in time for edits, typesetting, printing, and everything else involved in preparing a book for sale, whether in print or in e-book format. This means that anthology submissions also have deadlines, and the editors will choose the best stories from the pool they receive before the deadline.

Respect deadlines. Begging editors for more time is a waste of their time, and unless you know the editor well, they probably won’t give you an extension. After all, they have deadlines of their own to meet. Turn your work in on time, or else wait for the next submission window, or consider another market.

I’ve found a wall calendar to be very helpful in giving me a clear visual picture that will tell me at a glance what deadlines are coming up for what markets and how much time I have to finish the projects. Online calendars don’t work well for me because I don’t think to look at them, and pop-ups serve only to annoy me when I’m trying to focus on something else (so I dismiss them, then out of sight, out of mind….) A big calendar right there on my office wall catches my eye every time I enter the room, but doesn’t interrupt me while I’m doing other things.

But…damage control. What do you do when those deadlines are too close?

When you haven’t signed a contract, you’ve got the freedom of choosing to miss a deadline. It’s disappointing not to submit for a project you were excited about, definitely, but you won’t be held legally responsible for it, either.

I’ve learned from experience that I can’t do my best work when I’m under the gun. Some people can; I’m not one of them. I need at least a week for edits, because my stories are always much stronger after the fifth or sixth revision, and most of those ideas for revisions come to me at night, or in the shower. If I don’t have time to think on the story, I can’t “brew” those revisions.

Knowing this, I know that if I have less than a week to submit a story, it’s probably not worth my time to race for the deadline. I’m unlikely to create work I’m satisfied with, meaning that time, and effort, would be better spent on a project that will be my best work and that is more likely to pay me for the time I spend on it.

Also, if I have a week, but most of it is already devoted to other commitments (like travel, where I can’t access a computer, or contractual edits for a novella, in which I am obligated by the contract to return my edits in a certain number of days) that also counts as “less than a week” of actual working time to focus on the story in question.

It’s best to find a system that works for you so deadlines don’t take you by surprise. Eventually, though, one will. If you’re under contract, you’ve got little choice but to gun it (if you can’t make it, for example, you’ve been hospitalized, have a family member or friend contact your editor as soon as possible to let them know the situation). If you’re not, then self-awareness is key. Some writers do great work in bursts, sprinting for deadlines; some don’t. With practice, you’ll know how long you typically take to produce a piece you’re happy with. If you don’t have time to do work to your usual standard, you might be better served spending your time and energy on a different project and letting this one go.

Damage Control

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”  –Robert Burns

fossilWriters, like everyone else, make plans and budget their time. We need to keep track of when manuscripts are due and the closing dates of submission periods. We write on a schedule that works for us (for some, that’s daily; for others, it’s “bursts;” for still others, it’s five days a week, or four, or weekends…but whatever it is, we’re writing regularly). We’re signing contracts and reviewing edits and receiving author copies in the mail.

At least…we should be.

Sometimes, despite our best-laid plans, something goes wrong. A wrench is thrown into the gears.

Now what?

This month is about damage control. Sometimes it’s personal: there’s a crisis in your life that’s making it difficult to concentrate on your writing career. Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with your actions at all: the publisher who accepted your story has unexpectedly gone out of business, or someone is giving you nasty one-star reviews that seem baseless, or your computer keeps crashing, or you’ve just realized you’re not going to be able to afford to do any cons this year. Sometimes it’s your story: why won’t this plot come together? Why do people say my main character is “unlikable?”

One of the major differences between professionals and amateurs is in the way they respond in a crisis. This month’s posts contain insights from the Fictorians on how to handle the flying wrenches that come our way with grace and professionalism.

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” –Allen Saunders