Tag Archives: Mary Pletsch

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

55 WPM

The Story:

55 wpm

Khalid I love you that’s the most important thing whatever happens remember I LOVE YOU. Not much time, I don’t know who the hijackers are or what they want…Khalid I would rather tell you you’d be proud of me for my typing test today. I can type 55 words per minute with no errors at

 

The Article:

Dark_Bits_coverV3-208x300I think my experience as a short story writer is probably a common one in that over time, stories tend to sort themselves into three categories.

You’ve got your Bulls-Eyes. You see a call for submissions, you have a great idea, you write it and it works, you send it in, and the editors love it and snap it up. One and done. This was the case with my flash fiction “The Long Haul,” which got published in the Dark Bits anthology.

You’ve got your Wanderers. Sometimes these stories get written because you want to tell them, and not in response to a particular call. Other times, you write them for a specific call and they don’t get accepted. Either way, you’ve now found yourself with a “homeless” story that needs to find a place to belong. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and you’ll stumble across a call for submissions that suits what you’ve got. Or maybe this story will find a home in a magazine or anthology that accepts stories on a wide variety of subject matter and themes. You’ll rework and rewrite and send it out again. Sometimes you’ll have the delightful experience of watching a story that’s been rejected several times finally find a home…sometimes even in a market that pays double, or triple, that of the markets that rejected it. The time I invested in revising that story definitely paid off.

And you’ve got your One-Winged Birds. These stories have flaws that keep causing them to be sent back to you time and time again. I’ve got a few of these now which are starting to feel like time sinks, and I think that I’m better served writing something new than spending any more time rewriting old material. There’s always a balance to be struck between rewrites to make something better, and accepting that a certain concept is just not working, and eating up time better spent creating something new.

One of my one-winged birds is a political story which, I’ve been told, is too much of the characters discussing/debating/arguing and not enough action. I think the debate is exciting, but I’m apparently the only one.

55 wpm is another.

I’ve sent out several versions of “WPM” (word number varying depending on story length…) and gotten some very mixed feedback. I think this is the only story where I’ve ever been told that the stakes are “too high” and I should “write smaller”–from a reader who found the hijacking scenario too over-the-top to be able to suspend disbelief. (A vast majority of critiques suggest that authors make the stakes higher!) Other feedback suggested that the stakes were great –tense, urgent, exciting–but the main character’s responses too banal, surely? All I could think in response to that was my own responses to emergency situations–including an in-flight emergency as pilot in command–were, after the fact, hilariously banal. This might be the reason for the markets who told me they found the story unintentionally humorous and rejected it on those grounds.

So, with some of my critique suggesting that I choose a less urgent scenario, and other critique advising me to make the main character’s response more “serious”, I’ve decided to call endex on any more revisions for this story. In a less urgent scenario, I couldn’t write the main character’s stream-of-consciousness reply, transcribing her thoughts as she thinks them, no matter how banal–because in a less urgent scenario, the main character would have time to consider her words and edit her typing. And a more “serious” response is completely at odds with the kind of things that crossed my mind in actual emergencies when I’d already done all I could do and was waiting to see if it would be enough.

The lessons I’ve taken away from this one are:

  1.  I don’t think I want to write another hijacking story (except possibly as part of a longer thriller in which the hijacking would be a plot point and not the entire focus of the story). This tight focus on the hijacking event seems to be a very hard sell, partly because there’s a tricky line at which extreme emotion becomes over-the-top.
  2. I find this story frustrating because the stream-of-consciousness (banality and all) was inspired by my own mental response to an emergency situation. I wondered whether some of the people giving critique had ever been in a life-or-death emergency situation. But…they’re the editors and I’m not, so I can’t exactly argue with them that they’re wrong (Don’t argue with editors. It makes you look very unprofessional, and you won’t convince them to change their minds and accept your story. But it can definitely be galling.)
  3. This story’s based on a conceit: the protagonist’s typing speed precisely limits how many words she’s able to send to her partner before impact. Being “cute and clever” can backfire. Character and voice are far more important than showing off how clever you are; and there are some readers (and editors) who don’t like “clever twists”, no matter how well you do character and voice. I still like the story’s conceit, but I also like puns and stuff 😉 Going forward, I plan to focus on character and voice rather than thinking up new “sly twists” to base stories on.

 

About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.

Meet the Fictorians: Mary Stormy Pletsch

“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We’d love for you, our wonderful readers, to get to know us better. That’s why, each month, Kristin Luna will interview a member of The Fictorians. We’ll learn more about each member, such as their writing processes, their work, where they live, and what they prefer to drink on a warm summer’s day. We hope you enjoy this monthly installment of Meet the Fictorians.

Meet the Fictorians:

Mary Stormy Pletsch

Kristin Luna (KL): Hi Mary! How are you doing and what are you drinking presently?

Mary Pletsch (MP):I’m doing well and I’m drinking a can of Moxie. Let’s toast all the folks from Maine reading this and nodding. Everyone looking bewildered, head to Maine and see if you are among those lucky few who appreciate this delicious cola-type beverage.

KL: I love your love for Transformers. Please tell us when your love of them started and do you collect any action figures as an adult?

MP: Oh wow, in the fall of 1984 when the original animated series first aired. My Transformers and My Little Pony cabinets hold my life-long collections, still growing.

KL: How long have you been a Fictorian?

MP: I was here at the start of the site! I think that was 2010?

KL: One of the originals!

If you don’t mind sharing, where do you live? How does it play in to what you write about?

MP: I’ve lived in three provinces, but I do hold a special place in my heart for the Maritimes. I was proud to team up with my husband to write “The Island Way” in Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe, which is a story about a superhero from Prince Edward Island caught between her family’s traditions and the opportunities she could find on the mainland.

KL: Your short stories have been in TWO unicorn anthologies: One Horn to Rule Them All and A Game of Horns. Tell us a little about both stories, and which one do you like best?

MP: Well, “Queen of the Hidden Way” in A Game of Horns is a prequel to “A Single Spark” in One Horn to Rule Them All. “A Single Spark” is the story of a young girl making her own destiny by joining a group of unicorn riders…and I really think that one is my favourite, because “The Unicorn Riders” is a game I used to play with my toys when I was a kid, and to have that mythology turn into an actual published story means a lot to me. Since the protagonist of “Spark” is a new recruit and not the group’s leader, I decided to make my second story be about the origin of the leader, who made her own decision to create the unicorn riders instead of fighting for her place on her nation’s throne. I like the way it turned out too, but as a prequel, it hasn’t got all the Riders in it yet.

KL: You’ve also had short stories in Apex magazine, Shock Totem, and other anthologies. What do you love about writing short fiction?

MP: I actually prefer long-form writing…novels and novellas. I like having the space for my characters to grow and change. I’ve learned a lot, though, from writing short fiction. Novels, by virtue of their length, are a harder way to practice building a story arc because they take so much longer to complete. And the word limits on short stories have done a lot to cure me of wordiness: when you’ve only got so many words to work with, you have to make every word count. I’ve also learned to focus in on primary characters and primary conflicts, and am less likely to get sidetracked by secondary characters or out-of-control subplots. This is why I recommend shorts as “learning-to-write” practice.

KL: That’s really interesting! So then what kind of stories do you gravitate toward writing and why? (Certain kinds of themes, protagonists, antagonists? Certain settings you seem to prefer?)

MP: I like to write military stories, but when I look back at my published works, they really are a mix. Every once in a while I get myself in the mood for a good creepy tale, but I’m not predominately a horror writer. I’m a sucker for tough older women and “found family,” particularly characters with a tendency to “adopt” younger characters.

KL: Are you working on any longer fiction right now or a book?

MP: I’m working on a book right now for The Ed Greenwood Group! It’s a space opera set in a “pulp sci-fi” universe: think larger-than-life heroes, ace pilots and rag-tag mercenaries, and a starship held together with baler wire.

KL: Sounds like a lot of fun! Are there any future projects of yours we can look forward to?

MPWell, there’s that book. 🙂 That should be coming out in 2018! I’ve not had as much time to write shorts this year now that I’ve got novels on my plate…but “Women in Practical Armor,” including my story “The Blood Axe,” should be out soon.

KL: What advice (that you’ve received) would pass on to a newer writer?

MP: Don’t be afraid to break rules. “Rules” that cause more harm than help don’t do you any favours. I don’t write every day. I don’t write when I’m sick. Writing when I’m sick creates pages of garbage I have to delete anyway, and delays my recovery, meaning in the end I’m farther behind for trying to write every day. Don’t get up and write first thing in the morning if you’re more alert in the afternoon: do your “mindless” tasks and get those out of the way first. Make the rules work for you, not the other way around.

KL: What’s your favorite Fictorians post that you’ve written so far and why?

MP: I’m happy with “The Semi-True Story” as an answer to the question about my writing process, which is informed by my reality without being a fully accurate report on it.

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If you have any questions for Mary, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!