Sunday, October 27, 2013

Finding a Publishing Home

By Jodie Cain Smith

I was finished writing. Every word had been carefully crafted into my perfect 300-page newborn:  unspoiled and unpublished. However, I knew my bouncing baby manuscript would not be fully realized as a novel until I put it out into the world. Succeed or fail, I had to try.

But how? I have been asked this several times since finding a publisher for my baby. How did I do it?

First, I did my research. For weeks, I dug through websites such as Poet & Writers, Writer’s Market, and Publishers Weekly. I attended classes on the publishing industry. I purchased and read nearly every word of 2013 Writer’s Market:  Where and How to Sell What You Write.

Next, I put my gigantic, sometimes fragile ego in check. Had I written the next Pride & Prejudice? No. Had I written a story I believed in; one I wanted to share? Yes. Had I written a story with a great hook? Definitely. My baby was begging to be published, but which avenue should I choose?

Shelving my ego allowed my true publishing goal to emerge. I wanted the experience of working with a professional editor without coughing up the cash, so self-publishing was out. I had also learned aiming for the Big Six as an unrepresented author would be equivalent to flying to the moon. Let’s just say that NASA is not banging on my door.

I was left with one choice:  query agents or submit unsolicited to small presses? I decided to roll the dice with small press publishers rather than attaining an agent first. Sharing 10% of nothing didn’t appeal to me.

After compiling a list of over 100 small presses from around the country, I began eliminating those organizations deemed “a bad fit.” I removed all genre specific and nonfiction publishers from my list. My baby is mainstream fiction. Querying the we-pride-ourselves-in-scaring-the-piss-out-of-tweens publishers would be a waste of time, paper, and ink. I read offerings from several small presses, evaluating each for quality and parallels to my book. Yes, I was looking for novels similar to mine. My baby needed siblings, a family of books in which to belong.

After the elimination round, I knew I had a group of real contenders: twenty small presses who accepted simultaneous submissions from unheard-of authors. Most of the presses’ catalogs were comprised entirely of Southern authors writing mainstream fiction. As a woman of the South, I dreamed of being counted among them.

I spent the next month writing twenty query letters, infusing each with specific reasons why my baby would be the perfect addition to their family. I double-checked submission guidelines for each before licking the stamp or pressing send. I was a mother sending her baby off to college. Would she come back to me rejected from the cruel world or return triumphant with the hope of being molded into an even better version of herself? 

Nineteen presses tossed her aside. But one, one said, “Welcome home, baby.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Joys of Writing Instructions

By Sarah Herlong

For this latest trip to a writer’s conference, I wrote instructions for the sitters, two pages for the cats, and one page for mother. I put a lot of work into writing instructions and enjoy it as much as writing a story. Here I share my truncated page of cat instructions.

Ours is a merged feline household. A Brady Bunch of cats. That’s right we have 5 cats, but that’s still 20 less than an animal hoarder.

The Original Gangster
Mother’s cat showed up at a family reunion as a kitten, and got brought home as part of the family. That’s what happens when you crash someone else’s family reunion.SpookyCream-colored seal point with stunning blue eyes. He’s the only male. And this means my cats relentlessly chase him when they’re outside. Inside they’re civil.

The Kittens
Found under the compactor of our local dump. They are actually 2 years old now.
IsisShe’s the fat tabby cat. Her good quality is that she loves Grammy with all her heart. Her bad quality is she shreds important papers. She also likes to jump out and scare the other cats. As you can imagine this isn’t appreciated. Keep her out of my room.
Josephine: She is a fluffy black cat. Her eyes resemble an owl and she is a gentle soul. In a show of solidarity she hangs out with the other black cats in my room.

My Old Cats
Rescued shelter cat and failed foster kitten. They stay in my room.
Hortense: She’s a black and white tuxedo. She has no faults except pooping and peeing on my bedclothes when trapped in the room with no access to the bathroom. Learned that one the hard way with an inattentive pet sitter.
ZoeShe’s another fluffy black cat. She’s got a smoker’s meow and the temperament of a smoker kicking the habit. She looks like she’s missing hair around her neck and on her tail…and she is. To tell them apart, Josephine has an upbeat attitude and never meows. Zoe is sarcastic and only looks at you with the stink eye. She meows her smoker’s meow often. Whereas the other cats will move out of your way, she gets in your way and you have to step over her, even in the dark. She has not figured out that we humans can’t see in the dark or maybe she just doesn’t care. Zoe will cut you if you try to pick her up.

The three black cats segregate themselves into my set of rooms separated from the rest of the world by the kitchen pullout door. If this door is not treated correctly it is the portal to anarchy. Creepily Josephine and Isis can open the partition door so it is important to keep my bedroom door closed too.

My old cats exclusively come in and out of the house through the left window over the orange table in my room. This is where they eat. Being black you won’t see them in the window at night and will have to open it just to see if they’re there. They grew up free feeding, so they like little amounts of food throughout the day if they stay inside. The other cats get fed in the morning and then again around 4:00 pm which they interpret as between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. Basically the feeding chair is magic to them. They sit in it, and food appears. I never said they were geniuses.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Importance of Storytelling

By Laura P. Valtorta
Stories are like cinnamon buns. They unfold into sweetness.

As I continue filming my third film (a documentary about water service) and planning my fourth (a dance film), the need for storytelling becomes clearer.

Before filming begins, the director needs to write a storyboard. A storyboard maps out the look and feel of the film so that shooting time is not wasted. A storyboard might include drawings of film angles, descriptions of dialogue, or notes about the action in a scene. Through storyboarding, the producer or director may be able to find the arc of the story – the beginning, middle, and end of the tale, or a progressive chain of events leading to a big climax!

As my musical colleague and I began brainstorming for our dance movie, we discovered the need for another story – a fable illustrated by the dance we want to create. What sort of message do we want our dancers to convey? Since I’m the writer in this mix, I decided to devise the story myself, based on what the music says to me and fables about our subject matter – an Australian bird.

The choreography will end up being the story within the story when our film is finished.

Some innovative filmmakers, such as Simon Tarr at the University of South Carolina, are able to make their films with no evident narrative. Tarr has a 2009 film called Giri Chit, recently shown at Tapp’s Art Gallery, that gives a clear picture of the look and feel of Tokyo in various locations around town, including a rooftop garden and colorfully-dressed teenagers. The film is the art form, and this 14-minute piece seems more like an abstract painting than a film. It features mysterious camera tricks. Tarr’s work is beautiful, but I don’t know how to manipulate the camera like that.

For now, my work must rely on storytelling.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

I Love Words

Marion D. Aldridge
 “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.”—Mark Twain

The first time I remember being impressed by the “right word” was when, as a young man, I read Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. In a letter to Beverly Axelrod, he wrote, “Your letters to me are living pieces—chunks—of you.” I still have the paperback where I underlined that sentence and made note of the descriptive word: “chunks.

No lightning bug there. Lightning!

Piano lessons cost money, so I never took a piano lesson.

Libraries, on the other hand, are free. So I read. Tom Sawyer. Swiss Family Robinson. The Mark of Zorro. I won the summer reading contest at the West End Free Library on Eve Street in Augusta, Georgia. I learned to love words.

Words do not have to be multi-syllable to be savored. Being incarcerated is no better than being jailed. The prisoner probably cannot tell the difference.

I’m pretty sure no one except doctoral students ever says “methodological parameters.” You can research the entire corpus of John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood and Alex Haley and never read that phrase. Simple and clear is almost always better.

Some words are loaded with meaning and continue to be fresh even though they have been around a while: grace, paradox, courage, wisdom, hope, curious, integrity.

Some words are fun. Persnickety. Brouhaha. Rambunctious. Imp. Skittish. Chartreuse. Slimy.

Plurals can be fascinating: A congregation of alligators. A flight of butterflies. A murder of crows. A pod of whales. How did people know this stuff before Google? A tower of giraffes. Is Google pulling our long legs? A scourge of mosquitoes. In South Carolina, that one is easy to believe. The best, of course, is an exaltation of larks.

I enjoy the dynamic nature of our language. Cookies and the cloud mean something different than just a few years ago. What’s not to value about a vocabulary that includes such words as: earworm, ringtone, Zen, diss, netiquette? I could probably live without twerking, kankles, sissification and incentivize, but with language, you take the ugly with the exquisite.

Word combinations can double the pleasure: mash up, extreme scrupulosity, password fatigue, and unintended consequences. I have a personal affection for pleasantly plump.

Maybe the best word of all for a writer: period.