Saturday, June 27, 2015

On publishing short fiction

I have been offering workshops on how to begin a short story, how to revise and polish the story, and how to publish the story for NISD here in San Antonio. Most of the time, my lectures begin with self-evaluation. I ask my students what their goals are as writers, what they currently have to work with (the product or WIP), and how confident they really, truly feel about the work. From there, we construct a plan of action because unlike stock advice, everyone's on a pretty unique journey when it comes to writing. That said, as I developed my notes on the publication process, it felt pretty universal, so I thought I'd share it here at my sorely neglected blog. If anything has come from those prompts I've been posting, this could be useful....

How to submit your stories:
1.      Be sure your story is completely done—that it is polished enough to be published right now. Be sure…
a.       you can read it out loud without pausing
b.      you have let it breathe (for some that's a few days, for others it's a month or longer - however long it takes you to get perspective on your work)
c.       you are truly ready to share – this is a biggie
d.      you can summarize your story in a sentence or two; for example, my short story The Suit (in After the Gazebo) can be summarized as… A woman’s only reprieve from the unfortunate behaviors of her meth-addicted daughter is public companionship—she’s everyone’s mom and friend, the sweet lady on the bus. But on a normal route, she meets addiction up-close and has to face the anger she’s been suppressing for years.
2.      Find a few journal/magazines that publish work you like and is similar to your style. Here are some free resources that will help you to find journals that match your aesthetic:
a.       New Pages:
b.      Poets & Writers Magazine:
c.       Duotrope (subscription of $50/year):
3.      Write a simple and straightforward cover letter. Don't tell them how you started from bottom, and now you're here, and don't over-explain the story. Offer a summary only if they don't overtly ask you not to.
4.      Familiarize yourself with the journal or magazine’s content (read a few issues - BIGGEST TAKEAWAY FROM THIS WHOLE LECTURE) and also review the guidelines.
a.       Determine whether your story is the right length, genre, and style
b.      Find the appropriate editor’s name to address your query letter to
c.       Be sure to format your submission appropriately (double-spaced, Times New Roman, etc…)
d.      Look for wait times. Most journals will let you know the average wait time for a response. This can range from a few days to a year.
5.      Work on other things as you wait. A lot of factors go into a journal's decisions ("Another woman who isn't related to anyone I know? Ugh." (Just kidding (kind of))), and even very good work is often rejected. Keep the faith--the good work with shine through. Keep track of where you have sent your stories. Don’t be afraid to simultaneously submit work, so long as it’s not against any given journal’s guidelines. Follow protocol. I learned this the hard way. Save yourself some time. xo Jen

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

And the bloopers continue

My backdoor window was tough to break the other night, but break it I did. I could have made the bloopers reel for America's worst criminals--trying first with a wrench, then a flowerpot, before finally finding a hammer in my husband's Jeep. Thing is, I had just come off twelve hours of travel, after three plane delays, and I was exhausted, so when I realized that I'd left my door key at the hotel in Boston, I just wanted to cry and curl up in the crook of the tree out back. But, the allure of my sad pup and a cold glass of water lured me to break into my apartment at Midnight. I scared the shit out of my previously sad pup and mended my door with a bunch of packing tape and cardboard until the glass was replaced.

Backtracking a tad, I was in Boston over the weekend. I read from After the Gazebo twice in two days, first in Somerville, at the then in Newton Upper Falls. Driving in Boston was interesting (though I didn't so much drive as navigate) and food was fantastic. The weather was perfect, and I got to walk along the ocean for a few hours. This view (below) was two blocks from our strange little hotel at Crystal Cove.

The readings themselves went well, and I enjoyed hanging out with JP Reese, meeting Gloria Mindock, Ralph Pennel, Tim Suermondt, and Robin Stratton to name a few. The whole trip was great fun, and I took dorky pics like this one to remember it by (he's the one that wanted the pic).

In writing news, I was reviewed favorably by Kirkus, which I hear is no easy feat, especially not for a woman who poses with pirates before eating her first lobster roll in Boston before locking herself out of her apartment before trying to break-in to said apartment with a flowerpot before cleaning up glass for an hour and apologizing with her dog to the backdrop of the infomercial left on by her husband who, no less than three hours before that, got on a plane to Europe.

So anyway.... if interested, you can read the review here. And if you're a Kindle fan, it's available there now too.

So... here's the (not quite weekly, perhaps monthly) prompt:

Write about travel plans that go awry. Make your character super reactive and upset by the thing. Flip his or her world upside-down before reminding the reader that it was just a rough trip home. This one should be fun. Set a timer and write for 10 minutes. Go!

Hope you have a wonderful week! xo Jen  

Saturday, May 30, 2015


“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” - Seneca
This is how I feel sometimes, and I know I'm not alone. To work on various projects and keep up with everyone I love and like and to continue to exercise and keep up with chores... it's all quite wonderful but exhausting.

It seems that for a long time things just weren't working out for me. I was robbed, I kept getting sick, my doggie best friend died around my birthday, and I felt truly numb a lot of the time. During these few years, I reflected quite a bit on my situation.

This year has been, so far, quite the opposite. I am pursuing my dreams, I have been healthy and have felt secure. My animals are healthy and super happy, and my writing seems to be gaining some recognition.

But although I am incredibly happy to announce that this week alone I found out I am shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize (might get to go to Scotland!!!!), that I will be launching my short story collection Sunday, and that my new job at Gemini Ink is going well (although I have A LOT to learn), I realize I haven't taken any time out to sit and appreciate everything.

I think it is when things are going exceedingly well that we sometimes forget to pay attention. So that is what I'll be doing this weekend. I have chores, etc... sure, but it's time to concentrate on what's happening and truly enjoy. So, for the rest of the weekend, this is my one focus. If you live nearby and come out to The Twig Book Shop, I look forward to meeting/seeing you. I plan to be wholly present and to soak up every moment.

I hope you are able to take a few moments to reflect and focus on your own creative and positive doings this weekend as well. No homework today, but a new prompt is coming. :)

xo Jen


Friday, May 22, 2015

5 ways to bounce back from rejection

One of my students recently asked me how she was supposed to submit her work when there was the horrifying possibility that it would be rejected.

As a writer, I am well-accustomed to rejection. Most artists know a thing or two about rejection. Even when it is an ordinary occurrence, however, rejection is never easy. In fact, as it comes less often and the artist finds her stride, it may even have greater impact.

Rejection is rejection is rejection. It's not terribly fun and there's no way I can think of to spin it that way. So here are a few coping strategies I propose.    

1. You know that low attention span we're all accused of having in the digital age? Yeah, use it to you advantage! After being rejected, find distraction. Modern times may mean that we are multitasking experts, but it also means there's always media to distract. Time to finally watch Justified or Mad Men. Time to read the new Toni Morrison novel. Time to read After the Gazebo (shameless!). Time to workout. Whatever it is, look over there .... something new.

2. Keep moving forward! It's not always the right time or the right piece or the right topic for that particular publication. It often has nothing to do with your piece.

3. Listen to feedback. Sometimes rejection is an opportunity to grow.

4. Start a new project. Use your energy for good.

5. Print the rejection out, if it's in writing, and put it in a special place. Maybe buy a decorative box or do like Stephen King and pin them up on the wall. Keep rejections as mementos, so when you've achieved all you wanted and more, they'll be there to make you smile at how far you've come.

Prompt: Free-write for 20 minutes about one of your mementos, something you've kept longer than five years. If you're like me, a minimalist, you have very few to choose from and it will be easy. For those of you who are more sentimental, just go with what's nearest. Set a timer. Go! If the magic happens, go 10 more minutes. If it doesn't, consider it training. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Presto change-o

For a long time, I’ve been overwhelmed. I’ve worked as a research analyst while teaching fiction online, contributing to freelance projects, and trying to write creatively on top of all this. This ridiculous schedule has amounted to very little downtime, and over the last few months it has taken a toll. I haven’t been sleeping well for a long time, but I’ve been too scared to leave my day job due to worries over money. 

Well, a few months ago I decided not to let my fears surrounding money dictate my life any longer. I was making myself sick, and there’s really no greater cost. So, I said hell with it. I made a goal to change my lifestyle by June 1, and I’m so happy to say that the universe opened up. I am at the apex of change, and I couldn’t be happier. 

I have recently taken on a new position as the Writers in Communities Program Director at Gemini Ink, a literary empowerment organization that brings writing and reading to communities in San Antonio and beyond. Writing changed my life by allowing me to realize that I had a voice, and a voice that matters. This position will enable me to pay that forward in many ways. 

Being a WIC Program Director is drastically different than my current full-time job, and I’m in a whirlwind of emotion. This is me, making a move that is scary but necessary, and I am eager to get started. Because I am living my art now, in all regards, I also plan to dedicate more energy to my writing and building my writing career. After theGazebo will be the catalyst for this, I hope. I’m so proud of this book, and I hope you will read it if you read this blog.  I put my all in, and I did it for you.

Speaking of blog … since I will have more scheduling flexibility and a whole lot of new and interesting experiences, I will update here more regularly again soon. For real this time! I mean it!! I’m going to aim for every other week.

Image Copyright (c) Mark Knox, KnoxworX multimedia


Write a story about a character on the verge of making a major change in careers; for instance, a model who is taking on a new career as a real estate agent or research manager; a physician who retires and takes on a job at a cafĂ©; a retail worker who begins a career in mystery shopping… Have fun with it. Show the consistencies in character and how s/he changes with environment. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

One way to take a day off

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”  

I'm visiting this sorely neglected blog to share some exciting news. After the Gazebo is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Rain Mountain Press. I hope you'll check it out. I am incredibly proud of the book and eager to share it with you.

I have a touch of stomach flu (not the ideal way to get me time), so I am off to watch Wild and hang out with my dog. Before I go, though, here's a quick prompt: 

Read and reread your favorite poem. Take the premise and run with it as a short story. Or vice versa. I assure you, this prompt will take you places wholly unexpected.

xo Jen

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A long weekend

I took a long weekend to relax a bit, to write and recharge. I feel fortified. Sometimes it feels as though I need to schedule time to breathe, then when I do have time I forget how to relax. I know I'm not the only writer who feels like this. For those of us, here's a prompt I offer as a writing coach:

1. Set a timer for five minutes and free-write.
2. Set a time for ten minutes and breathe. (Breathe and walk, breathe and meditate, or just stare out the window and breathe.)
3. Set a timer for ten minutes and write as fast s you possibly can. When you're done, hit save and go about your day.

This no-prompt exercise is something of a writing meditation, and it's designed to clear the slate and take a writer completely out of the day-to-day.

In writing news: I have a brand new piece up at The Saturday Evening Post. News on After the Gazebo is forthcoming. Big news. Huge. :)

Where to breathe in a pickup measure

Enjoy your week, and remember to breathe!

xo Jen