Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three Things I Learned From Attending Philcon

Philcon was, in many ways, my first "real" science fiction convention as a writer. (I wrote up a brief trip report on my main blog.) I attended Context earlier this year and had a very good time but was only there for one day and wasn't a participant on any panels, so it was a different type of experience from Philcon. Being in the Philadelphia area for all three days of Philcon, staying in the convention hotel, and being on my first panel all made for a very different type of experience. Here are three things which I took from that trip:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Link of the Month: Duotrope

EDITED to add a link to my December 1, 2012 post on Duotrope's move to a paid subscription model.
EDITED a second time to add a link to my December 5, 2012 post on deciding to leave Duotrope.

Duotrope is likely best known for its extensive database of markets for short fiction and poetry. While that's certainly the core feature of the site, there are a number of ways which writers can use the site to their benefit.

  • The Theme Calendar is one of the major sources which I use for generating the monthly Upcoming Deadlines posts. Currently there are over 200 listings in the calendar, primarily for short fiction submission calls.
  • The Interview page has a collection of over 500 interviews with editors of various periodicals. For publications you are not familiar with, this can be an additional way of learning about the preferences of the people who will be reviewing your submission.
  • The Market News and Updates page is a very quick way to see what entries have been added to the market database in the past week.
  • Finally, the Submission Tracker allows you to easily stay on top of your current and historical submissions. If you've got a lot of stories or poems out at market, this can be extremely useful.
If you haven't already used Duotrope, it's definitely worth your time to check it out. Are there any features of Duotrope which aren't mentioned above which you have found useful? If so, please mention them in the comments.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Interview with Alexis A. Hunter

Alexis A. Hunter is a writer from West Virginia whose short fiction has appeared in Post Mortem Press's The Ghost IS the Machine, Insatiable Magazine, Interstellar Fiction, Kazka Press, and many other publications. I had the pleasure of meeting her briefly at Context earlier this year and am glad that she was interested in doing this interview. I'm also glad that she was patient as I worked to pull this post together in my post-Philcon rushing around.

Alexis A. Hunter

1) Can you describe what your usual writing routine is like?

Usually I start with at least an idea – sometimes that idea is taken from a first-line or photo prompt, a specific submissions call or contest. I like to listen to music as I write, just to tune out everything else, so I've got a set "writing" playlist on Youtube. Headphones are a must as well. I don't usually do a lot of plotting ahead of time unless it's a larger project. I like to just take the idea and run with it, allowing the pieces to come together as they flow from my brain and out of my fingers.

2) Do you find trying to write every day to be a comfortable routine or do you prefer working differently?

Writing every day is a fascinating and extremely helpful challenge in terms of strengthening my writing. However, I have trouble keeping up all year round, so I usually resort to a story a week. Sometimes I write more frequently – for instance I hammered out 5 stories over two weeks not too long ago and felt pretty great after that.

I love working on prompt-based or challenge-based writing, so I often scour submissions calls and contests in search of inspiration. Sometimes I just work better having that focused goal and the limitations that come with it.

3) You did "Story-A-Day May" earlier this year, a feat which I'm truly in awe of. Can you talk about what that experience was like? The good and the bad?

Story-A-Day May is one of the most thrilling challenges I've ever participated in – and much more beneficial to me, a short story writer, than NaNoWriMo. I've participated for the past two years, sitting down every day in May and writing a story. Sometimes that meant taking a notebook to work and scribbling down stories on my fifteen minute and lunch breaks.

The good part is, it really gets your brain in the habit of taking little ideas, words and images and blowing them into something larger, a story you might not have thought of afterward. I usually sit down each night as the prompt is revealed and think out my story ahead of time. I honestly rarely had trouble during the challenge coming up with some idea to write.

The bad part is it can wear you out. By the end of May, I usually begin to feel the toll. Which means, in June, I don't normally write a lot. I'm usually so busy editing the pieces I wrote and taking a break that I just can't manage it. I actually still have pieces from May I haven't touched. It really builds up your story catalogue!

4) Are there some authors that you feel have been especially influential in your development as a writer?

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I don’t read a lot of big name authors. The one author who I know has had a major impact on my writing is Matthew Stover. I've only read one book of his – don't laugh, it's "Revenge of the Sith", the Star Wars novel. He used a lot of sentence fragments to great effect in the book, and I remember reading it and just instantly being rocked by how awesome the fragments punctuated certain lines, emotions and moments. I went overboard for a while with the fragments in my own writing, but I've learned to scale back and only use them when most effective.

5) You attended Context here in Columbus earlier this year. What were you favorite parts of that experience? Do you think you're likely to attend future conventions as time and such allow?

I had quite a few favorite parts of Context. I loved getting to hang out with other writers, especially the ones I'd come to know online quite well. The workshops were amazing, especially Timon Esaias' Self Editing and Rewriting workshop. I learned so much and took so many notes, it'll probably take me eons to soak all that information up. I also really enjoyed the flash fiction contest hosted Friday night of the convention – I made myself participate and really found it a rewarding and fun experience. And yes – I'd definitely love to go back if time and such allow.

6) What comes to you most easily in writing?

I'd have to say either dialogue or communicating backstory through subtle hints and references.

Dialogue has always sort of flowed for me without much work. Maybe that's because I was super shy growing up and did a lot of listening, not just to kids my age, but really mostly to adults.

And the backstory thing – I'm not a huge fan of exposition. I don't like reading stories where I'm told something, I like that little thrill I get when I put together the puzzle pieces about a character's past. Or realize a character is pregnant just by the subtle way that character touches their stomach. I enjoy that thrill, so I like to try to offer that for my readers as well.

7) What do you find most difficult about writing?

My plots tend to wobble a bit, mostly because I don't plan out a lot before writing. Sometimes the endings feel a bit unresolved for the same reason.

I also have a hard time doing major edits or rewrites. If I don't nail it the first time around, the story is somewhat doomed. I'm great with cutting parts out of my writing – just not so great at adding stuff in afterward or rearranging it.

8) Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers about?

Two things.

One, if you get a chance, try out Story-a-Day May. That challenge has done wonders for my writing. I used to face bouts of extreme writer's block, sometimes stretching for weeks or months. After participating in SaDM, I rarely run into such problems. I think it's about getting your mind in the habit of constantly imagining, constantly spawning ideas from the little things.

Two, check out I've been a member of the site for about a year to a year and a half now. In that time, my writing has improved leaps and bounds. I know I would not be anywhere near where I am today if I hadn't joined Scrib. I've developed many great friendships and critiquing relationships with writers on that site from all nationalities and walks of life. That sort of varied feedback, from newbies to pros, really helps me hone my skills.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Upcoming Deadlines: Gaia's Misfits, Night Terrors, Arc

One of the tools I've used sometimes to help myself get started on writing is writing towards prompts or themes for upcoming publications, either anthologies or themed issues of periodicals. Since these markets tend to be open for only short periods of time, they're also good to keep track of for submissions of stories which you have already written which might fit more general themes. Below you will find information about three currently-open calls for submissions.

The one with the tightest timeline is Gaia's Misfits, an anthology of Young Adult Fantasy aimed at readers 11 and up. Submissions are due for this anthology by December 1st, 2012. They're looking for stories of 1,500-10,000 words and the payment is a flat rate of $15. There is some room left open in the guidelines for possible use of previously-published stories and the guidelines suggest that no exclusivity period would be required by the publisher.

Another submission call with an even broader theme is for Night Terrors III from Blood Bound Books. They are looking for previously-unpublished horror stories of 750-5,000 words and the pay rate is 5 cents per word. Submissions are open through January 1st, 2013.

Finally, Arc (a publication of the New Scientist) is currently running a contest for science fiction stories on the theme of "Is the Future Friendly?" The submission call is open through January 13, 2013. (The website says "before January 14, 2012." I presume the year to be a typo and since they say "before" I would be inclined to not push my submission to the last moment and get it in by the 13th.) They want stories between 3,000 and 5,000 words and will be paying £500 for one winning story and £200 for five runners-up.

I hope that one or more of these submission calls strikes you as being interesting. Best of luck with your writing and submitting!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

This Week's Interview Delayed

Due to a variety of circumstances including a lack of wifi on my train, this week's interview is delayed. I'll post it before TOO long.

UPDATED November 14th:So... Philcon and related travel definitely did a number on my scheduling. I'm going to get this week's Upcoming Deadlines post up late tonight or sometime tomorrow (Thursday 11/15) and I'm aiming to get last week's interview posted on Monday 11/19. I figure I should have everything back in gear just in time for next week's Thanksgiving holiday to knock me off-schedule again!  ;-)