The first acceptance!

As the title says, I got my first acceptance over the weekend.

Actually, two! Though both in the same magazine. One is a very short story (386 words) and the other is a poem. They’ll be published in Spotlight Magazine’s first ever issue, due out in May 2018 (at a price of £3.99).

In celebration, I’m going to talk a little about each.

The short story is called Drive Away, and is actually one of the oldest stories I have… I wrote it back around 2005, I guess. It sat in a folder with all my old certificates from school and university, and I just saw it a couple of months ago (I’m applying for jobs, so was flicking through certificates) and decided it was actually quite a nice story. So, I typed it up, did a bit of editing and sent it off.

The interesting thing about the story for me is that it isn’t really a story so much as a series of reflections of a guy in an unhappy moment, and it wasn’t written from an idea, it was written as a flow of consciousness inspired by a song (of the same name) that I had previously written.

I won’t put the story here (as that’s what the magazine’s for!), but in lieu of that, you can read the lyrics of the song here, which I suppose could be considered a poem, though the rhythm is a little too regular to be satisfying without music. The song lyrics really don’t overlap with the story, but they do achieve the same feeling, which was all I had in mind while scribbling. The song does exist on-line somewhere, but I don’t really wanna link it here, so if you’re interested, drop me a message.

Moving on to the poem; it’s a very short piece (15 lines) called The infinite cat theorem. Now, I’ve gotta say, I love this poem. I used to be a lot better at writing poetry, I think, but have real trouble with it these days. However, with this one, it just rolled out. What’s more, my other half, who frequently errs towards a state of meh with regards to my stuff, really likes it. I suppose there’s not a lot you can say about a 15-line poem without saying too much, so I’ll just say it’s dedicated to my cat-lady love and our little grey furball–the Ninj.

To close, I’ll just renew my submission stats. Ten weeks after getting going with this, I have:

submitted rejected accepted
9 5 2


Rejections and reflections

I got my first round of rejections this week, so I’ll just say a little about how I’m feeling about that.

Firstly, I was expecting rejections before acceptances, so it isn’t a surprise, but it’s still a bit of a… well, a surprise. Somehow the conscious recognition that failure comes before success, there are many others competing for the same space, I’ve got much to learn in prose and storytelling, they all get swept back behind the unconscious belief that ‘this story is amazing, and it’ll be published immediately!’

So, I’d say the rejections (three arrived at roughly the same time) have grabbed me by the shoulders and given me a brisk shake. Maybe also spun me round and slapped me on the butt and told me to get on with it–I’ve turned those three stories around and sent each of them elsewhere.

As to the stories themselves: I think two of them are good, and one maybe needs a re-write (which I’ll do if it’s rejected by the next place). I recently realised that if you have even the slightest reservation about a story, it means it simply isn’t good enough. I came to this conclusion by way of a new story I sent out last week. It was one of those where you just sit down and start writing and see what happens. It’s a sci-fi and the first half (I was working to a 1000 word limit) set the scene, while the second half was a single scene between the story’s main characters. I went through several edits and always felt that the beginning needed streamlining further… further… shorter… Then suddenly I just thought, sod it! and got rid of the first half completely. What had been around 500 words became about 150 words that subtly hinted at the background, and the extra space it created allowed me to better develop the interaction between characters.

In short, I learnt that setting the scene is boring. It’s better to jump straight into the scene and let the setting be revealed naturally through character interactions. Thinking back, I should have know this because it’s how my favourite authors write. A brief skim of t’internet finds this post on a similar topic.

Returning to my submissions, I’ll end with my stats:
Submitted: 12
Rejected: 3
Accepted: 0
and add that I’m pretty happy with these as I’m just two months in, but I’m getting stuff written, edited and sent, and that’s a good start!

Manuscript formatting

Practically every place you might submit a story to will include its formatting guidelines, and they almost always stress (furiously) that you have to adhere to it. Rightly so. In many cases, however, they simply specify ‘standard manuscript format’.

So, here is a link to a wonderful example of standard manuscript format for a short story. If you want to go straight to the Microsoft Word template file, it can be found here.

The same site also provides a proper formatting guide for novels, too.

Hypertext & interactive fiction

Whatever you do, it’s worth investigating different ways to go about it. With fiction, the most obvious way is by writing for different genres, but there are other ways, as I’m currently discovering.

Strange Horizons says it’s keen to receive/publish more Hypertext Fiction. Here are some examples:

  1. The Unknown, by Scott Rettberg, William Gillespie, Dirk Stratton and Frank Marquardt
  2. 24 hours with someone you know, by Philippa J Burne.
  3. Cheese Run, by Lisa Malone, on The Full English Magazine (my magazine :D)

A similar style, which probably takes an awful lot more work, not to mention programming skills, is Interactive Fiction. Not sure how you’d go about writing this, but it’s interesting to play with, nevertheless. Some examples:

  1. Zork: a famous text/typing based game from 1980 that you can play in your browser.
  2. Sunshine: apparently the web’s first interactive novel.
  3. … a bunch more at the Interactive Fiction Database

As a final note, the Wikipedia page gives some examples of hypertext fiction (which, it says, includes any fiction with a non-linear narrative) that preceded the invention of the internet. Big ones are: James Joyce’s UlyssesNabokov’s Pale Fire–which I’m sticking on my reading list–and the fantastically titled The Garden of Forking Paths.

Over-exploited SF themes

Whilst looking around different magazines to submit Sci-fi stories to, I came across a useful and interesting list of story types that editors have seen too often. It’s compiled by previous editors of Strange Horizons, and isn’t meant as a list of bad story types, just over-used ones. Worth a look.

Well, after reading through it, I have one story that I thought was pretty original, but clearly isn’t! Hmmm, so sad to abandon one of your babies.

The long road to the beginning

Writing stories is something I’ve been half-heartedly doing since my late teens. Now, finally, I’ve made the decision to get some of them out there.

This site will be the bough from which many branches, twigs, leaves and blossoms sprout.

Nuff with the foresty floristry.

As a start, the stories page has a link to an old story called Scars that was published on The Full English Magazine in 2016. Others to follow soon.