Monthly Archives: February 2014

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Query?


by Lillian Csernica on February 27, 2014

One of the worst parts of being a writer is the waiting.  Short story submissions are the classic example.  Response times have sped up a whole lot thanks to the Digital Age, but the larger, better-paying, and more popular markets can still have response times of three months on average.  That’s one fourth of the entire year!  How can we possibly make a living if each story only goes out four times a year?  The basic truth is that nobody makes a living from short story sales unless he or she has piled up so many with such high profile markets that the anthologists keep calling.  Even so, there’s always going to be more money in novels.

Many guidelines include some indication of when you can expect some kind of response.  Some markets even say, “If you haven’t heard from us by X date, contact us.”  Submittable is a great service, but every now and then a story can fall through the cracks in the servers.  If you’re sending a story to a market whose guidelines are this explicit about response protocol, that’s great.  Most guidelines are not this explicit, and most if not all editors do not want to be badgered.

And so we come to the moment when ninety to one hundred twenty days have passed with no response.  For me, this is the Great Crossroads of Anxiety.  Do I query the editor?  Is that particular editor even still with that magazine?  What if I catch him or her on a bad day?  Will that tip the balance and cost me the sale?  If I don’t query, and something did happen to that story, then I’ll have lost all that time because I didn’t follow up.  What if I decide to wait a little longer?  How much is a “little” longer?  Meanwhile, that story continues to hang fire as time slips away and other markets, possibly better matches for that story, open and close.

There are some variations inside the submission process that are worth noting.  Let’s say you’ve submitted a story to a market where you’ve already sold at least one other story.  If this market has a two tier reading system, odds are good you will bypass the slush pile entirely and move on to the shorter stack that gets closer attention from editors higher up in the decision-making.  If you’ve sold a number of stories to a particular market, the usual submission process might not apply to your work at all.  You could get heads-up notices from editors about upcoming projects before the official announcements.  You might even get invitations to submit.  Now you’re on the inside track and querying isn’t going to be an issue.

Several factors in the submission process are totally beyond our control.  If you’ve entered the query window and you can’t decide what to do, ask around.  Be polite.  Be discreet.  Keep in mind that everybody’s mileage may vary depending on their submission relationship with the particular market in question.  If this still leaves you caught in the paralysis of ambivalence, then just leave it alone.  Better to do nothing than to force the situation.  We never know when we’re just inches from success.

That thought is enough to cause another anxiety attack.  How close are we?  When the rejection comes in, we wonder how close were we?  When we do make a sale, it’s worth some time and thought to figure out what tipped the scales in our favor.  Example: in a recent acceptance letter, the editor told me he and his staff had been hoping somebody would send in a story set in that particular aspect of dark fantasy.  I hit the bull’s-eye.  That one was pure luck combined with market study.  I had no previous track record with that editor to tell me what he really liked and what he really hated.

Thanks to shop talk online, at conventions, and during writer’s group meetings, we have many opportunities to compare data on markets of interest.  I’m always coming across market info that is not of immediate use to me, but I usually know somebody who could benefit from it.  More than once, one quick email and possibly some beta reading has led to a sale for one of my friends and colleagues.  The additional benefit here comes in the ability to compare notes on what this editor said or the time frame in which that editor tends to respond.  This is the pot of gold at the end of the social media rainbow.  The more we talk to each other, the more we share info, the faster all this happens thanks to technology, the sooner we make progress up the ladder of success.

This is how we learn to know when it’s time to query.  This is what we do while we wait for editors to respond.  We get ready.  If we get an acceptance, hurray!  If we get a rejection, we’re poised to send that story out like arrows fired from our bows.  If we’ve used our time wisely and done our best to make our writing as strong as possible, our arrows will find the bull’s-eye.  Again and again and again.

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Have #SpecialNeeds #Kids? Shut Them Up! #Malaysia #TCK #Autism


Have #SpecialNeeds #Kids? Shut Them Up! #Malaysia #TCK #Autism.

READ THIS.  PLEASE READ THIS!

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The Recognition We Deserve


by Lillian Csernica on February 23, 2014

It’s generally understood that being a parent is a lot of work.  People tend to focus on the early stages, from infancy to grade school, because in that span of time come the stages of early childhood development which tend to involve the most work by the parents.  This is true, and I give all parents of all mainstream kids due credit for their labors.

I’d like to give a particular shout-out to all single parents.  I don’t know how you do it.  My admiration for your strength and determination is huge and sincere.

Then you have us, the Special Needs parents.  For you, my sisters and brothers, I offer this salute:

Many of you Special Needs parents have younger children.  Some of us have been at this a while.  In April my son Michael will turn 18, making him a legal adult here in the U.S.  When I first saw the above meme, this was my immediate response:

I’ve been changing diapers for almost 18 years!

By now I should have my own galaxy to rule!

So I say to you, Mainstream parents,  Special Needs parents, nurses, caregivers, aides, and all those people who have participated in the diaper-changing process:

Thou

Art

Champions!

It’s easy to see everything we don’t do, everything we wish we did, everything we wish we could do.  Take a moment to think about everything we DO accomplish over the course of a single day.  I once saw a commercial for one of the armed forces.  The motto at the time was, “We do more before breakfast than most people do all day.”  That describes a lot of us, doesn’t it?

So take a moment.  Raise a glass of whatever you like to everything you’ve done right for your kids.  Without even knowing you personally, I can guarantee you’ve done a whole lot more than you realize.  Again, I’m speaking to every parent.  We want to do what’s best for our children.  We want to do our personal best for our kids.  Some days we do better than others.  That’s OK.  We don’t want to teach our children a standard of perfection that simply isn’t attainable.  That’s unreasonable and unfair to everybody in the situation.  Do the best you can do today.  That’s an excellent motto for all of us, parent or child, Mainstream or Special Needs.

Godspeed to us all.

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Why Social Media Is Like A Kitten


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Now Available!


by Lillian Csernica on February 20, 2014

I’m very pleased to share with you the news that “The Restless Armadillo” is now available along with the other great stories in:

Hero's Best Friend

Here are the links, first, for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBookstore, and a print link for Amazon:

Hero’s Best Friend
Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Heros-Best-Friend-Anthology-Companions-ebook/dp/B00IAHEI1W

Nook:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/heros-best-friend-scott-m-sandridge/1118591414?ean=2940148285502

Kobo:
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/hero-s-best-friend-an-anthology-of-animal-companions

iBooks
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/heros-best-friend-anthology/id816135987?mt=11

Print:
http://www.amazon.com/Heros-Best-Friend-Anthology-Companions/dp/1937929515

My co-author, Kevin Andrew Murphy, and I both hope you’ll enjoy reading our story as much as we enjoyed writing it.

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The Hazards of Writing What You Know


by Lillian Csernica on February 16, 2014There seems to be more and more talk these days about the importance of diversity, inclusive viewpoints, and using language that carefully avoids triggers and hostile buzzwords.

What we have here is a mine field.

Let’s consider the Bogeyman of our times, the Straight White Male (SWM).  How is a SWM supposed to write about characters with whom he has absolutely nothing in common, no points of cultural similarity or emotional resonance?  As a drastic example, just to make the point, imagine a single, childless SWM attempting to write a story from the viewpoint of an African-American lesbian who has two children from a relationship that occurred when she was a teenager.  Even if the SWM knows a woman who fits this description and goes to her for research and feedback on his manuscript, he’s still in the position of a deaf person trying to imagine what music sounds like.  No matter how hard he tries, he’s not really going to understand.  He can’t feel it in his bones, so to speak.  He may comprehend the words, but the tune escapes him.

Worse, the SWM has put himself right in the middle of the mine field.  Should he go ahead and write the story and somehow manage to get it published, he will expose himself to all manner of criticism.  Perhaps the woman he went to for advice and feedback is not typical of the kind of character he wants to write about.  Perhaps she’s in an economic position that has made her able to go to college, get a degree, achieve a high level of success in her field, earn a considerable income, buy a house, send her children to the colleges of their choice, and in general live the life people often consider typical of the SWM himself.  The SWM’s research resource will give him insights skewed according to her experiences.  If his research is inaccurate, or at least not representative of the character he wants to create, then what comes out on the page will not ring true.  It will invite all kinds of hostility and outrage and accusations of racism and class prejudice.

I’m walking through the mine field myself to even discuss such a situation.

I am not defending the Single White Male who does commit offenses of language and action against women and people of color.

I do believe that to claim EVERY White Male, single, married, or otherwise, commits such offenses routinely is bigotry in itself.

The point that I’m trying to make about writing realistic characters from vastly different cultures and backgrounds would be equally valid if we were on Jupiter and the Hermaphroditic Reptilian Millionaire chose as its main character a Homeless Single Sex Cyborg.  The First Rule of Writing is Write What You Know.  That leaves the SWM in the position of writing about SWMs.  That’s what he knows best, that’s what he can write about with the greatest accuracy and depth of feeling.  To punish him for doing so is inconsistent, unreliable, and even merciless.

We can’t write what we know, because we don’t know enough.  Part of the adventure of writing is doing the research.  The more we learn about people different from ourselves, about lifestyles different from our own, about morals and ethics and religions and spiritualities and cooking and clothing and planting gardens in ways far different from the familiar, the more we enrich our writing.  The more we stretch the muscles of the imagination.  Am I stating the obvious?  Yes and no.

It’s important to write what we know because then we bring to it the knowledge we carry in our hearts and in our bones.

It’s even more important to write what we don’t know and to make the effort to get it right.  That way we learn, our readers learn, and we do justice to ourselves, our readers, and the characters whose stories we tell.

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When The Universe Comes Running


by Lillian Csernica on February 14th, 2014

Today I have a migraine.  The kind that turns the base of my skull to concrete and makes me want to throw up.  Not the nicest way to spend St. Valentine’s Day.  I had an appointment today that I cancelled so I could spend the whole day until the boys came home from school curled up in bed away from all light.

I felt horrible, I needed help, and I was all alone.  I’d rather be alone when I have a migraine, but this needed some kind of treatment.

And then it happened.

A good friend of mine from my writer’s group called to ask if she could pay me the visit we’d be talking about for ages.  She’s a dear, sweet woman and the sound of her voice is very soothing to me.  Not only did she bring the pleasure of her presence, she brought me some Bleeding Heart plants for my garden.

What’s more, she brought me the most beautiful Japanese ink painting as a house warming gift.

I timed her visit so she could meet John and Michael when they came home from school.  She was delighted to see Michael’s art, and to meet my fine tall younger boy.  She will soon be teaching a class on sumi-e, Japanese ink painting, that will focus on “The Four Old Gentlemen.”  They are the orchid, the plum blossom, bamboo, and the chrysanthemum.  She invited me to be not only her student but her guest, which I understood to mean I could take the class for free.  That’s no small gift, given my friend’s skills and her reputation.  I will do my best to be there!

The boys came home.  That always makes me happy.  Michael had a bag full of Valentines, and John had completed all his work at school so there would be no homework battles tonight, thank Heaven!

John’s aide got me a bottle of Coke, a sovereign remedy when combating the pain and nausea of a migraine.

Michael’s nurse gave him a little purple monkey toy holding a bag of candy hearts.  It’s adorable, and such a lovely gift.

 

It’s Friday.  Always a good thing.

 

 

 

And yes, my husband did indeed bring me a lovely red satin heart-shaped box of chocolates.  Godiva, no less!

Some days God sees your light flashing on the board and sends out the distress signal.  Then the whole Universe conspires to show up and bring you not just the help you need, but wonderful surprises that are sure to make you feel better.

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Ideas: Why Size Matters


by Lillian Csernica on February 10, 2014

One of the most common questions people ask writers is “Where do you get your ideas?”  A slight variation is “How do you come up with a really good idea?”  The answer to the first question is simple.  Ideas are everywhere.  I’ve been keeping folders full of ideas since I was twelve years old.  Ideas are not the hard part.  The hard part is the execution.  The writing, the rewriting, the editing, the cutting and polishing and tinkering.  The patience, the endurance, the determination.  Talent is good.  Skill is better.  And nothing trumps pure luck.

The answer to the second question is more interesting.  How does a writer come up with a really good idea?  Experience.  Putting in the time and effort to achieve both the skill and the perspective necessary to recognize a really good idea when it comes along.  Weak ideas can be strengthened.  Can it be said that there are no “bad ideas,” just bad execution?  No.  There definitely are bad ideas out there, made worse by poor execution.  For evidence of this statement, I point you to Tangent Online and the reviews of short fiction you will find there.

I write flash fiction, short stories, and novels.  That means I write three “sizes” of fiction:  up to 1000 words, 1000 to 7500 words, and 100,000 words.  Most of the time, the word limit of the market I’m aiming for dictates the word length, so I have to either come up with an idea that will fit that length, or modify a story I’ve already written.  (This is one of the pitfalls of writing for theme anthologies.  Many editors are also writers, and they keep up with the market reports.  They can tell when a story submitted to their ‘zine is one that didn’t make the cut somewhere else.)  I’ve recently taken up flash fiction as an exercise in writing short, tight, complete stories.  It’s a real challenge, especially when you’re used to having 400 pages as your limit.  My short stories range from 2000 words to around 8000.  Right now I have one out to market that qualifies as a novelette, weighing in at 12,000 words.  So deciding the “size” of a story means I have to reach a compromise between everything I think belongs in the story and the best marketable length.  I know based on using Duotrope that there are 24 markets that accept the kinds of fantasy I like to write.  So the smart thing to do is aim for a length that fits within the guidelines of those markets.

So how do I know when I’ve got a good idea?  Something sparks my imagination.  Something grabs me, and the characters start talking inside my mind.  There are days when I just hit the keyboard and write like mad, chasing the inspiration.  Other days I know the idea needs a little more structure, some thought and preparation, before I take the plunge.  The very first short story I ever sold started out as the seed idea for a novel.  I did all kinds of research and created the major and the minor characters and I tried to come up with enough complications and subplots to make a book-length manuscript.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Fortunately, the basic idea was still worth the effort.  All that research imploded and the result was a short story dense with detail and more effective for the shorter, more concentrated length.

I once heard one of the Big Name fantasy writers say when she had a good idea she didn’t want to waste it.  She meant she’d use it for a novel rather than just a short story.  Some ideas are bigger than others and lend themselves to hundreds of pages.  Some ideas are flexible enough to stretch or condense somewhere between 10 to 20 pages.  And then there are the Twitter ‘zines that prove some ideas fit into 140 characters.  The best ways to sharpen your instincts for a good idea and the right length for it are simple:  Read, read, read, and write, write, write.

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T.G.I.F: A New Anthology Release!


by Lillian Csernica on February 7, 2014

That’s right, I have survived the obstacle course, the white water rafting, the bobsled ride into the abyss that was this week!

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!

I am delighted to announce the appearance of “The Restless Armadillo,” co-authored with the multi-talented Kevin Andrew Murphy, in a brand new anthology from Seventh Star Press:

Hero's Best Friend

How wonderful to end this week on such a happy note.  Many thanks to Stephen Zimmer, Scott M. Sandridge,  and all the folks at Seventh Star Press.

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Wednesday’s Child


by Lillian Csernica on February 5, 2014

Have I mentioned that I was born on a Wednesday?  Not the luckiest day, especially according to that 19th Century Mother Goose rhyme:

eclipse.rutgers.edu

Wednesdays have been a bit of a challenge lately.  The last two, that’s for sure.  Here’s a quick snapshot of today:

Had a really hard time convincing myself to get out of bed.  I seriously contemplated staying there and leaving the job of getting Michael ready for school to Chris.  I did succeed in getting up and taking care of business, but it felt a whole lot like the old days when my depression pinned me to the bed like a big block of granite.

Tempers are short because we’re all stressed out this week.  That has made for some unhappy conversations.

The pressure is on to meet some deadlines.  I’m not overjoyed with one assignment, so that makes pushing through it harder.

It is really really COLD today, and the heater doesn’t seem to be putting much of a dent in it.  All the more reason to stay in bed.

1. Check market info sources.  See if there are any projects accepting submissions that match what I have waiting to go out.  Sending stories out to market makes me feel better.  Sure enough, I sent out two stories tonight.

2. Eat something healthy and warm.  It’s easy to just not care enough to bother making the effort.  Good, solid, warm food makes things better.

3. Cuddle a cat.  There’s nothing like a Kitty Break with purring to make life seem better.

4.  Blow off being a grown-up and go do something fun.  Me, I have the big box of Crayola crayons and one of those Jumbo Fun Books with the coloring pages and puzzles and dot-to-dots.  LEGOs are good too.

5. Writing a To Do list.  This might sound like a drag, but it helps me feel like I’ve got some measure of control over the chaos that fills my daily life.

And now, I’d like to make a

PROCLAMATION!

Henceforth, I hereby declare Wednesday to be CHOCOLATE DAY!

So I’m going to go put on my fuzzy snowman pajamas and my fluffy bathrobe and my slippers, find something for dinner, then park myself on my beloved couch/recliner and watch something completely silly.

Oh yeah, and eat some chocolate.

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