Shimmer and Glimmer.

Okay so let me tell you a long tale, one involving naivety, repetition, and sheer bloody-mindedness.

Shimmer Magazine started a decade ago. For those keeping record, I started writing more than a decade ago. (Though we shall use the word writing here in only the loosest possible sense. I was vomiting words onto paper with little understanding of what I was doing. These days I fake it better). I thought what I was writing was good. I also thought Shimmer Magazine would be a great fit because I like the stories they put out.

Shimmer and I had a gentle difference of opinion….

But I never stopped sending them work. Sometimes they would send me forms, sometimes an encouraging “submit something else”. We had a nice little relationship. I knew a few people working there, on and off, and we all stayed friendly because (and I cannot stress this enough – STORY REJECTIONS ARE NOT PERSONAL ATTACKS. They just mean that your story is not the one they’re looking for right now. Now let’s all eat cake. because cake is good.

mmmmcake.)

I was writing a story with another market in mind (for Short Story Day Africa’s Water Anthology, you can read about it here), and so, naturally enough, water was a prevalent theme. The story turned out to be too short for SSDA, so I wrote something else for them (we shall see what happens…) and sent this one to Shimmer because, well, it felt Shimmery.

Shimmer gently agreed, and much squee was squeed, because well. TEN YEARS, GUYS. TEN. YEARS.

But anyway, my short piece about running away from home, becoming water, and how families are connected is in the latest issue of Shimmer, alongside stories by Roshani Chokshi, Lavie Tidhar, and Erica L. Satifka. So that is pretty damn awesome. You should go buy it because besides cool stories it has beautiful artwork and you like beautiful art work and beautiful words.

Shimmer 26 Jly 2015-500

Charm 10/22

(start here)

Watchers

It’s a while before I find my voice. “Why me?” I ask eventually. I have so many questions that this seems the best starting place.

“Because after he’s caught me, he’ll be after you.”

“Oh really?” I drawl it out, even though I have to wrap my arms around myself to stop the shivers.

“Really. The Watchers will find you, and Heinrich will want what you have. Your art.”

Heinrich. I have a name for my nightmares, for the thing in the dark who killed my mother

Continue reading Charm 10/22

Charm 9/22

(start here)

Threads that Bind

I know what I’ve been doing wrong with the painting. I was trying to make Rain mirror Caleb, so that the two would stare at each other across the respective empty landscapes of their canvases. But it’s not really like that, is it? Rain’s like one of those fairy tale princesses lying in a glass coffin, waiting for someone to drag them back to life. He’d kill me if I told him that. So I paint Rain in repose, horizontal on a vertical canvas, so that all you actually see are his shoulders and face, eyes closed like he’s asleep or dead. One can never tell in the old stories.

Continue reading Charm 9/22

Charm 8/22

(start here)

Dreams

Dale’s in the car with my dad, sitting in the passenger seat and staring blankly out the side window. I clamber into the back of the dark grey Audi and the smell of new car leather and wintergreen air freshener envelops me. My brother looks back over the car seat at me and frowns when I explain that Rain is missing.

My dad has this grim expression that he only gets when he’s really upset. He has a bit of a soft spot for Rain. “Do you know where he is?” he asks. Nothing about the Beetle.

“Possibly. He’s in a squat with some guy.” I hope.

Continue reading Charm 8/22

Charm 7/22

(start here)

Hit So Hard

Caleb’s place turns out to be a room in an empty squat with no running water. The house is surprisingly okay despite that. He has a gas ring to cook on, and Caleb says he gets water from the petrol station. There’s a small genny out back that can provide light for a few hours, but with the price of petrol what it is, Caleb’s content to run off gas and use candles.

Not a way I’d choose to live, really, but whatever floats his boat. We drink Crackling from a two litre bottle, passing around the sour fizz, getting steadily drunker. There’s no wine in the world that compares with Crackling for sheer nastiness. I’m pretty sure that if there’s a hell, this is the drink they’re serving to the unfortunate dead. I manage to take a few sips from my enamel mug of piss-flavoured piss, then decide that life is not worth living if this is what I am reduced to drinking. I get myself water from one of the large blue cannisters in the corner, and drink that instead. It’s flat and plastic-tinged, but still better than cheap “wine”.

Continue reading Charm 7/22

First Drafting

 

First drafting.

The place where I give up.

I am so much better at taking an existing first draft and threading new bits in and rearranging and fixing and rewriting, than I am at getting that first draft down.

And I pretty much always stop at 30k. I have A LOT of books that have hit thirty thousand words and are waiting patiently for me to return to them some time this century. Because, for me, making up those first weird and wobbly bits is the most unsatisfying and difficult. It is the part where it feels the least like something worthwhile or book-like. It feels, in short, like a mess.

The problem with giving up before the first draft is done is that I am essentially quitting before I’ve even started. A first draft isn’t writing a book any more than an artist’s preparatory sketches and studies are the final painting hung in a gallery.

A first draft is not the finished product, and expecting it to look like one is another step on the downward stairs to the cold and lonely cellar of self-rejection.

Basically, don’t let your first draft overwhelm you. This is not the place for perfection.

 

 

 

 

Charm 6/22

(start here)

Rain Falling

By midnight it is freakishly hot inside Red Room. Seriously. I do not know how Rain hasn’t melted yet. The air-con is overloaded as usual and there are now so many people squeezed into the tiny club that I’m breathing in their sweat, their beery stink. I’m in a tee-shirt and jeans, and I’m still feeling like a witch in water. At least I’ve made my traditional midnight switch to energy drinks so that I don’t end up passed out in the toilet or on a bench. This way I get pre-diabetes to go with my eczema.

Rain’s been staring at every tarted-up emo boy who’s wandered in tonight, and it’s beginning to more than piss me off. Stupid hair, stupid me. I don’t even know what I was thinking. Of course it wasn’t going to work. You don’t get to tell broken people you’re the only one who can fix them. Repeat after me: I am not an Elastoplast.

Continue reading Charm 6/22

I think it’s a map

It’s deluge time here in the Cape, so I am feeling all sorry for myself and waiting to be drowned. 😉

 

I took a break from working on the Super Sekrit Novel of Doom to draw a map. I blame the Musers, who all seem to making maps at the moment.

It’s kinda interesting how much it cements story logistics visually. I’m not usually a mapper, but I might do this more often.

map1

my map. it is verra exciting.

Do you have any tricks or tools you use to help you visualise story or action?

On Submitting

I’m going to talk a little about short story submissions, because a comment on facebook made me realise that for someone just starting out submitting their stories, it can feel very daunting, and that a lot of information seems to contradict.

 

I’m going to talk about my process and experience, which is mainly with speculative fiction. When it comes to submitting to literary journals, you’ll have to dig a little more for relevant information, though the basics should remain the same.

 

So there are a few things that need to be done.

1: WRITE. This is kinda a big one. Talking about writing is not the same as writing. Sit down. Make words. If you need prompts, there are sites that give prompts, or go look at art, or ask yourself “What if?” or read newspapers and see what strange things the world offers. Without an actual story, the rest of this list is useless.

2: REVISE. Don’t send out your first draft. Just, don’t. And don’t only revise your work – read and critique the work of other writers. It’s easier to see the flaws in other people’s work than your own, and it’s a great way to learn, and build community. Find a writing group and get stuck in. You can also hang out on boards like AbsoluteWrite and find like-minded writers and learn more.

3: SUBMIT. You don’t sell anything that sits on your hard-drive, slowly forgotten. I use The (Submission) Grinder to find suitable markets, but others also use Duotrope. I tend to filter for pro-markets first (highest paying) and work my way down. Not because I’m a meanie, but because I want to be paid for my work. Some semi-pro and token markets are better venues for particular stories, though, so never assume Highest Pay = Best Market. Always follow the market guidelines; not doing so is asking for an automatic rejection. Many places want a cover letter. Here’s mine, and you can totally steal it:

Dear [EDITOR NAME]

Please consider my [WORD COUNT] [GENRE] story, [TITLE] for inclusion in [NAME OF VENUE].

Thank you for your time,

[MY NAME]

(because I have a few sales, I have an extra line after the first one that says, I have previously published works in THIS MAG, THAT MAG, and THAT OTHER MAG. Don’t stress if you don’t have this. It will come.)

Keep subbing. Don’t self-reject after a few magazines have turned you down, just keep looking for new venues. Not all editors want the same thing.

4: KEEP RECORDS. Many markets don’t allow multiple submissions. This means you can only send your story out to one market at a time. And markets can take a looooong time to respond. Do not think you will remember. I use a very basic spread sheet to track stories with title, venue, submission date, rejection date.

5: DO NOT BEHAVE LIKE A JERK. This might seem obvious, but apparently it’s not. Don’t respond to rejections (at all, not even to say thank you for reading – you are just cluttering up the editor’s inbox) but especially not to berate them for their stupidity at passing over your work of genius when they publish all that other shit. This happens. Friends of mine read slush, THIS HAPPENS. Please don’t be this writer.

 

I hope this helps you, and if you think of other things that I’ve forgotten to include, ping me.

The first line game, and a prompt for June

I have a game I play every now and again when I’m feeling bereft of ideas and creativity:  I write ten first lines.**

I don’t need to think of anything beyond a first line that would make me go, “hmmm, I want to read this.”

Then I look at my lines, and see if anything sparks. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. If I do end up writing something, the chances are pretty high that I won’t even use that original first line. It doesn’t even have to be a good first line. It doesn’t matter – it served its purpose simply by springboarding me into a pool of imagination.

While cleaning up this weekend, I found a page with an exercise from 2014 (possibly? there’s no date.) so, here they are, just to give you an example of what I do.

# The pigeons were the first ones we noticed, lining the edges of the city buildings like feathered sentinels

# Every year the girls would nominate a trickster to fight on their side, and they would dress him in silk and pearls and rub kohl about his eyes.

# We came back to earth after the Long Season, our harpoon-ships empty.

# Seduction in Alien Biology: How to start a revolution using sex.

# Today is an important day – no fairs or public holidays, no saints or martyrs, no revolutions started.

# We left Cacophony to sell dreams on The Long Road.*

# The last star went out today, though the world is still spinning

# It is my sister’s job and mine to stamp down the grapes for the Oneiric wines.

# I fell in love with him over email; his OKcupid profile having neglected to mention the missing arm. Or the extra wing.

As it turns out, the highlighted sentence did actually prompt a short story, and the opening line *almost* stayed. The Story begins so:

 

We left Cacophony to gather dreams on the Long Road. It was decemberish and the light was fading so the pilgrims were all wrapped up in constellations made out of wires and lights, and the sound of their plainsong moaned down the wide barren stones of the Long Road. We travelled behind them in a caravan drawn by three black manticores, their teeth pulled and their eyes put out. It was the easiest way to keep them docile.

Now, I think that any of those prompts in the hands of different writers are going to produce uniquely different stories. So instead of giving a single prompt for June for #12months12stories, feel free to use one of those. (If you decide to use Cacophony. I ask that you *not* use my exact words, thanks 😉 )

And remember, the point of 12months12stories is to write AND SUB a short story every month. Do not self-reject. We talked about this.

Get writing. And please, if you write a story (and especially if you sell it) let me know so we can celebrate.

** (You’ll notice there are only 9 here, I got lazy)