editing, Literary critique, Stories, Writers Co-op

We read it with interest but…

– by Curtis Bausse

I recently had to write a rejection letter to an author and friend whose stories have previously appeared in two anthologies I’ve edited. This time, her submission didn’t make it. Not that it wasn’t charming, interesting and well-written. It just didn’t make the sort of impact we would have liked.

She wasn’t upset. At least, if she was, it didn’t show in the reply she sent. In my letter I had concluded: If it’s any consolation, my own story was rejected too. She answered that she hoped that the rejection I sent myself was as nice as the one I sent her.

That my story was rejected will come as a surprise to my fellow editors, who never knew (until reading this) that I submitted one, as I remove all author names before forwarding the stories to them. But once I’d smashed all the crockery, I wasn’t upset either. And now I’ve taken up the suggestion to write myself a rejection letter.

Dear Mr. Bausse,

Thank you for your submission to The Rabbit Hole Volume 2. We read your story with interest; however we feel unable to include it because frankly, the ending sucks.

Now admit it, Bausse, you knew that, didn’t you? So why didn’t you do something about it? Thought you could get away with it, eh? Well, The Rabbit Hole is not that sort of publication – shoddiness just won’t do.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your piece elsewhere.

Yours etc.

It’s quite true. I did know the ending was feeble. I’d tinkered with it a bit, made it longer, then longer still, then cut it down to a single sentence. But thanks to my co-editors, I now know that it doesn’t matter how long or short it is, it’s not the right ending. The thing is, though, I can’t think of another one. I regularly make suggestions for other people’s endings, but my own? Zilch.

So here it is. Because there’s one good thing about being an editor here – it may have been rejected but I get to foist it upon you anyway, in the hope that you’ll be able to give me a better ending. Any ideas? (Note the sly presupposition, by the way – that the ending may be crap but the rest of it isn’t. But if you think the beginning and middle are crap too, don’t hesitate to say so. I’ve got a new pile of crockery, dirt cheap.)

  You’re Not Late

“Take this day, wear it well, enjoy it, darling, you deserve it.”

Abel’s wife stirred just enough to brush her lips against his cheeks and murmur, “You too, darling, I love you.”

He tiptoed out of the room. It was five o’ clock in the morning.

Once in the car he updated the Carmate Companion, which now came in three different voices: Cindy, Lisa and Cliff. He selected Lisa and told her to find the quickest route to his destination. She asked if he wanted music or news. He chose Mozart.

The streets were empty at that time but he drove with care because every so often a squall of rain would whip the windscreen and wash the town away. Once he almost hit a dustbin that was rolling drunkenly at a crossroads. On the outskirts of town bits of garden had broken out to foray into the unknown. “Be careful,” said Lisa over the music. “Conditions are hazardous due to gale force winds.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Abel sarcastically. He’d have to talk to Giles Roffe about that. No one wants to be told what they know already.

He joined the motorway, heading north. He hadn’t slept well, and the road being straight and smooth, he felt his concentration slipping. “Got something livelier? I need to stay awake. Springsteen?”

“I’ll put you through to Cindy. That’s more her department.” Lisa sounded hurt – You don’t like Mozart? Fuck you! – which Abel thought was something else he’d have to bring up with Roffe. Warmth, solicitude, empathy – fine, bring ’em on! But who wants a Carmate getting uppity?

Not that it surprised him. Roffe had a serious attitude problem. Something to do with his childhood, no doubt – Abel wasn’t about to analyse it – but the man just couldn’t hack authority. A loner, too, which was a shame. With a little more effort, a touch of good grace, he could have been up there with the big boys, working on Carmate Complete. He certainly had the talent – all he lacked was the commitment, the motivation.

“You remember the faces, the places, the names” – thumping the wheel now, belting it out with Bruce – “You know it’s da da da da da the rain, Adam raised a –”

“Accident ahead!” Cindy was under orders to interrupt. “Caution!”

He stopped singing. The sound of the wipers took over. “Serious?” But Cindy didn’t answer.

Whatever causes them – human error, mechanical flaw or something wrong with your luck that day – accident scenes have a logic of their own, and by the time he got to it, the compulsory components of this one were already there: flashing lights, yellow jackets and the dumb, useless tailback in which he was duly trapped.

After some minutes of drumming his fingers on the wheel he got out to assess the damage – not to the vehicles involved, but to his chances of making the appointment on time. He got as close as he could but didn’t linger: a lorry on its side, contents vomited over the tarmac, and half a dozen crumpled cars in the fast lane told him the chances weren’t good.

“Why,” he asked, “didn’t you tell me to get off at the last exit?”

“Why,” said Cindy coolly, “didn’t the police tell you to get off at the last exit?”

“What do you mean?”

“They didn’t have time, Mr. Abbott.”

The answer wasn’t just wrong, it was insolent. The whole point about Carmate was that it reacted quicker than the police. “No one’s asking you to close down a motorway. Just to get me to my destination on time.”

Cindy left a slight pause. “You’d already passed the exit when the accident occurred.”

Abel didn’t answer. He wondered when the Companions had acquired a capacity to lie.

“Have no fear, Mr. Abbott. You can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel jabbed a finger at the screen and switched back to Lisa and Mozart.

The thing you have to remember is that every new day is yours – take it for the gift that it is, cherish it, use it well. Every morning, that was the message Abel greeted his staff with, and now he summoned its power to use on himself. Even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, worried you might not reach your appointment, never forget that every day is a gift. When at last, over an hour later, he was able to squeeze through a gap in the debris on the hard shoulder, he reckoned he should still get there with a good half hour to spare. “I feel great,” he shouted, “you feel great, we all feel great – Carmate!” Then he kept the music low and concentrated on driving as fast as conditions would allow.

“Take the next exit off the motorway… Right at the roundabout, third exit… Straight on at the roundabout, second exit…” Lisa was reassuringly calm, informing him every so often of his expected time of arrival: 8:21, 8:18, 8:14. Once he’d built up a cushion of fifty minutes, he eased off the pace and relaxed.

“Right at the traffic lights four hundred yards ahead.”

“What?”

“Flooding is expected further on. Turn right here to avoid it.”

He slowed to a crawl, deliberately waiting for the lights to turn red. “What do you mean ‘expected’? Is there or isn’t there?”

“The river is rising rapidly, Mr. Abbott.”

What river? This was a major trunk road, for God’s sake. It couldn’t get flooded!

“The lights are green,” said Lisa at the same time as the car behind him sounded its horn.

Abel swore as he furiously swung to the right. “You’d better know what you’re doing, Goddamit! My promotion hangs on this appointment. If I’m late…”

“You can never be late with Carmate,” Lisa informed him, before adding coldly, “If you’d rather be with Cindy…”

“No!” He sat up straight, gripping the wheel tighter. “Just get it right, that’s all.”

“The detour will add another eighteen minutes. Turn left at the next junction, three hundred yards ahead. I advise you to slow down.”

He obeyed. No point risking an accident, after all. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he got there a little late. He’d say there’d been a problem at home, a burst pipe, a burglary, whatever. He couldn’t say a Carmate Companion had kept him stuck on the motorway for an hour.

Out in the country, the absence of illumination was unnerving: suddenly there’s nothing but the beam from the car, gulping up the dotted white lines, a vague awareness of hedges on either side, trees gyrating wildly, and lashes of rain more vicious now, more determined. Then Lisa made him take a left and it wasn’t a road but a lane, and instead of white lines there were puddles and potholes and branches.

He stopped. “You’ve made a mistake.”

“In two and a half miles, turn right. Estimated time of arrival, 8:42.”

Grudgingly, warily, he put the car in gear. “Eight-forty, my arse,” he muttered. “Be bloody midday at this rate.”

“You don’t believe me.” Lisa’s voice was sad. “I’ve done all I can, Mr. Abbott. I’ll put you through to Cliff.”

“Wait!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Abbott.”

“Hello, Mr. Abbott.”

“What the…? Giles?”

“My name’s Cliff, Mr. Abbott. Please keep driving. You don’t want to be late.”

“What are you playing at, Roffe? Get me back on the road right now!”

“How are you feeling, Mr. Abbott?”

Abel poked his thumb at the screen, trying to switch it off, but Giles Roffe’s voice kept coming. “Don’t get in a state, you feel great, you can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel brought the car to a halt and slammed his fist at the screen. “I’ll get you for this, Roffe! I swear you’re gonna pay for this, you hear?”

The face on the screen smiled. “Don’t get in a state. You’re not late. The minute, the hour, the date. Right on time, Mr. Abbott. Your appointment.”

Abel managed to open the door but not to get out. The oak tree smashed into the car.

 

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Uncategorized

A man who doesn’t pay his bills never lacks for correspondence

A man who doesn’t pay his bills never lacks for correspondence

Wilton Stillwater wasn’t the sort of person you’d immediately accuse of being a puking, ill-minded, fustilarian. He was, in his own eyes, a man of impeccable honesty who always paid his bills. Eventually. So he was somewhat irritated when Struan Cruet, the grocer, paid a small boy to follow him round shouting a variety of insults after him.

On the other hand, I can rather see where Cruet was coming from. Stillwater owed him money, yet paid his bills, in full, every five weeks. The problem is that Cruet sent a bill out every four weeks and had initially been entirely happy when Stillwater seemed to be so prompt with his payments. It only eventually dawned upon him that, actually, for every five bills he sent out, Stillwater had only paid four and after three years there was a considerable amount of money outstanding.

I, as a poet, know the standard of living to which I aspire, and attempt to achieve it. Obviously there are times where patrons are remiss in sending me money, or even in offering me work, and the flow of funds, never exactly a torrent, dries up to a trickle. Well I can hardly be expected to go without eating, or sharing a glass of wine with my friends, just because others have failed in their duty.

But with Stillwater he seemed to avoid paying his bills as a matter of policy. It wasn’t that he hadn’t got the money, it was simply that he would put the money on deposit, or invest it in some money making scheme. Thus when he finally got round to paying you, he could keep the return that his investment had made.

Some debts were older than others. Hence he purchased a suit from Sakes. This he bought to get married in. He finally paid for it when he needed it altering so he could wear it to marry the second Madam Stillwater. Given that he and the first Madam Stillwater had had five children, you can see that he hadn’t actually rushed into handing over the money. Indeed the only reason he paid at all was that Sakes held the suit to ransom, refusing to hand it over, or even do any work on it, until he had been paid in full for the purchase, and in advance for the alterations.

This incident aside, it has to be admitted that Stillwater wasn’t often outwitted.

Dame Readle, who ran the dame school Stillwater’s children attended was perhaps the worst hit. At the end of the first year she asked where the money was, and by the end of the third year she was threatening to expel the children, on a weekly basis. Yet when she finally managed to catch up with Stillwater, he merely pointed out that she was educating the children, she was not educating him, thus it was only proper than she approached the children for money. Indeed he pointed out that for the last three years he had been teaching her several valuable life lessons. Thus it had occurred to him that she ought to be paying him. Finally Dame Readle had to be happy with a promise that the children would pay the debt back out of the money they earned once they started work.

Perhaps inadvertently, it was the children who were the cause of Stillwater’s schemes coming to an end. For Madam Stillwater’s first confinement, husband and wife decided to approach Mord Filch who provided a midwife and generally remained in the background. Still he was on hand and maintained a watching brief. The midwife was entirely competent and the mother blessed by nature with a physique well suited to childbirth. Mord Filch’s role in the whole process was dropping round after the birth to check up on things and to congratulate mother on such a beautiful baby. Still the midwife needed paying and by the time Mord Filch had got round to sending the bill (he was somewhat lax in these matters,) Madam Stillwater was once again expecting. So it seemed not unreasonable to pay for both together after the second baby was born. Again due to delays on both sides, when the bill arrived, Stillwater wrote back asking whether there shouldn’t be a discount for quantity, and whether he could expect to get three for the price of two? Finally Mord agreed to four for the price of three.
When the fifth child arrived the midwife stepped in and refused point blank to do anything until the money was paid in advance. Her implacable stance collapsed when Madam went into labour and Stillwater disappeared. The midwife sent Stillwater a note telling him that he wasn’t getting his wife and child back until he’d paid the bill for her services. Stillwater, calculating the savings that would ensue from not having meet the day to day expenses of wife and child, never bothered to answer the letter.

Finally after three weeks, Madam Stillwell, exasperated beyond measure, went home to her mother and sent her husband a note which effectively stated that she was resigning from the role and dignity of being his wife and would like back the funds she brought to the marriage. Wise to her soon to be ex-husband’s little ways, she asked the court not merely to dissolve her marriage, but also to instruct Stillwell to pay her the money.

The court took cognisance of her request and instructed Marisol and Chesini Clogchipper, forensic accountants, to investigate the financial affairs of Wilton Stillwater. They reported back, laying before the court the whole sordid picture. The court was unanimous. Wilton Stillwater had arrogated to himself the privileges of late payment properly pertaining to the public purse. He was instructed, firmly, to cease this behaviour. The court also pointed out to Madam Stillwell that she had been happy enough to benefit from her ex-husband’s business practices whilst she was married to him, so complaining about them now seemed a touch hypocritical. Hence she would merely be added to the end of the list of his creditors once she had divorced him. Given that during this somewhat lengthy legal process Stillwater had already married the second Madam Stillwater, he did attempt to appeal the court’s decision on the grounds that the cost of maintaining his current wife must surely be sacrosanct and should not be counted as his income for the purposes of calculating how much he could afford to pay back his first wife.

Instead the court repaid all the debts from court funds and told Stillwater that he was now in debt to the court and that the court would charge interest on this loan. This would be calculated at the rate of six percent, per month, compounded. Stillwater paid off the lot within the first month but the experience broke him. He was never the man he had been. He couldn’t get over the fact that a policy, considered entirely normal when carried out by the public authorities, should be considered immoral when put into effect by a private citizen for their own benefit.

 

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

So what have Tallis and I got for you?

Tallis Steelyard, A guide for writers, and other stories

Well first there’s, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’ The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-guide-writers-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRXJH8C/

 

Tallis Steelyard, Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories

Then we have, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’ Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Gentlemen-behaving-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRYZV6C/

So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

 

 

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About Writers, editing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

CO-OP ADVICE

This was originally a Facebook post but, after being accosted with some new pitches for Kickstarter, Indie Go, and others, I decided to flesh it out. Think of these as bullet points to avoid tragedy. I know I’m not really the answer man but I do, occasionally, have useful information to impart. This is for my fellow creators.

First, I cannot emphasize this enough, make sure your writer is fluent in the language you are using. “I so too saw this” and “much to the good are I doing” aren’t actual phrases in English. “Gehrn habe ich es” doesn’t work in German. I could go on but I’d rather not. And, yes, those are actual quotes. If you can’t afford an editor at least get a grammar assistance program. Grammerly may hate the Oxford comma, and can be annoyingly pedantic, but it’s still better than some of the stuff that’s been foisted into my inbox. If your pitch, or jacket cover blurb, is filled with typos, and/or bizarre grammar, the odds are heavily against you getting anyone to take you seriously. Also, just FYI, spell check is not your friend. Eye sea ewe will not get flagged.

Second, I get it that everyone has an awesome epic adventure to tell. Even so, it won’t kill you to run your basic plotline through Google to see if anyone else has told your awesome epic adventure. Your character goes back in time and becomes Jesus? Cool. It’s been done, done well, and won awards. Yours better be unique or it will pale by comparison. Or, as one author who makes goo gobs of cash told me; “Every story has been told, except yours. So tell that one.”

Third, if you plan on using some old gods to liven up your story, please make sure you know more about them than their names. There are people who do nothing but study ancient theologies and they’ll rip you a new one if you screw it up. Of course you can put your own spin on them, they’re fictional, but make it clear you’re doing so. That said, if you’re going to use gods or prophets who are currently being worshipped, tread lightly. There are three billion people who practice Islam. Making Muhammad a gangster rapper isn’t going to win you any friends.

Yes, someone did that. No, it didn’t get published.

Fourth, if your pitch requires more genres than adjectives you’re in trouble. Your Y/A sci-fi urban melodrama set in a women’s prison on Ganymede run by faeires better be purposefully funny as hell or you’re doomed.

Fifth, if your response to a Nebula winning writer (not me, not yet anyway) who offers help is “Fuck off! What do you know about anything?” you’re destined to a life stuck in your parents basement screaming at pigeons. Just FYI, I was in the library with the afore-referenced writer, whose name and picture were on the posters announcing their arrival, when this happened. They did not respond to the pigeon person and we went out for drinks instead. I was fine with that.

Sixth, if your cover art is actually someone else’s cover art, you’re an idiot. And an asshole. Yes, I have seen this happen … twice. Something tells me I haven’t seen the last of it either. Just cutting out someone’s title doesn’t make it your art. There are plenty of services out there where you can pay a tiny fee for an image. Go, invest in one. Or hire a pro. They are more cost effective than you might imagine.

Last, but certainly not least, if someone offers you help they are not offering to do all the work for you. If that’s what you want, pull out a credit card (preferably yours so no one goes to jail) and pay them.

Okay, rant over, you may now return to your regularly scheduled internet.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized

Your Characters are Weird and You Should Feel Weird

 – by Christy Moceri

I have always felt like a freak, and there’s no surer confirmation of my freakishness than watching people try to make sense of my writing. My minister friend pored through pages of obscenity, violence and lustful passion before declaring it “Profane… but meaningful.” (That’s going on my business card.) I write romance, but I’d rather be compared to Chuck Palahniuk than Danielle Steel. Any good love story should have gritty action, a high body count and a heap of conflict. My work has been described as “dark” “intense” and “emotionally exhausting.”

One of my writer friends condemned my protagonist thusly: “She’s a hot mess.”

She always is, I can’t deny it. She is every stupid, self-destructive impulse I’ve ever had. She is my justified rage, the narcissism in my neurosis, the id to my superego existence. Unlike me, she doesn’t give a damn whether you like her or not. She has other priorities.

The problem with writing your guts out is that not everybody gets it. Or wants to get it. Or can stand to look at it. Or even understands what they are seeing. As writers, we constantly have to balance artistic integrity with likability. I think woman characters have an extra hurdle to jump in this regard. I’ve noticed practically nothing my female characters do can escape the suggestion that they are trying to “manipulate” someone. In a recent story I wrote, my female protagonist propositioned a man. “Is she trying to manipulate him?” “No, man, she just wants to have sex with him.” Is it particularly adaptive to proposition a stranger when your lover is on the warpath? Not so much, but it’s thoroughly characteristic of traumatized, desperate, self-destructive people. And these are the kind of people I write about, because these are the kind of people I understand.

Some people read it and immediately get it, no explanation necessary. I have found kindred spirits in unlikely places. These people are my lifeblood. They keep me hustling. At a certain point you have to embrace your weird, maybe even revel in it a little. Maybe the cost of reaching my people is alienating everyone else.

For those who don’t get it… is it a failure in my technique? Some error in my craft? Perhaps. I still have much to learn. But maybe most people have no reference point, no way to enter into the reality that I take for granted. I have a master’s degree in social work, a stable, happy marriage of thirteen years, and a normal (probably boring) life. But once upon a time, I was a 17-year-old legally emancipated minor scrounging nickels in my car seat cushions to pay for gas. I spent one stint in psych ER. As a college student, I took a two-year medical withdrawal in order to teach myself to cope with my constantly overwhelming emotions. I’ve had to fight bare-fisted with my painful childhood for every bit of “normal” I’ve got. I beat back the past, but my knuckles are still bloody. Most people do not understand what it’s like to have your own worst enemy living inside you. Maybe my great task as an artist will be learning how to communicate the nature of that struggle.

Any time I fail to make the reader connect with my troubled characters, it feels like a rejection of my truest self. Last night I shopped my first (EVER) short story to my writers group. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a woman leaving an abusive relationship. I based the dynamic on one from my childhood. It’s good, they said. We like it, they said.

Is there anything worse for a writer to hear? “This is competent.” God. Twist the knife in deeper.

I’m just going to have to work harder, until at least one of them hates it.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

“What is to give light must endure burning.”  – Viktor Frankl

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