Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Short story publishing quest

I am not very good at writing short stories, but I've written a lot of them.

The short fiction art form does not come easily to me. As a long-winded writer who even has trouble keeping novel-length fiction at a reasonable word count, I'm out of my element when it comes to writing short stories. I seem to find myself writing a short story when I have a concept to hit, and I write a novel when it's the characters who call to me. I'm not sure why that is. Ideally, of course, it'd be better if I had a solid short story concept that could be executed in few words AND contained compelling characters. But it seems like I usually end up with one or the other.

I've submitted quite a lot of short stories to magazines and haven't gotten accepted yet. I'm kind of irritated about that, because my nonfiction is always well received and my long fiction is being considered by major publishers through a literary agent, so it's weird that short stories just don't seem to be hitting that pocket. I'm not sure what to do about it. Here are some of my options:

1. Lower my standards and try to submit to some magazines that don't pay. (I have yet to do that.)
2. Just keep submitting existing short stories.
3. Write some new and better short stories and keep submitting.

Reasons these ideas kinda suck:

1. Submitting to magazines that don't pay does very little for my publishing credentials, nor do magazines that don't pay usually have much of a readership.
2. Submitting existing short stories just doesn't seem to be working very well, so maybe I should just face that short stories aren't my thing.
3. I have some new short story ideas and some ideas on how to redevelop older ones, but I hate the idea of "giving up" on older ones that may have merit.


Possibly publishable existing short stories:
  • "Baby Talk" is about a baby who wants to play with the telephone cord but her mom thinks she wants to talk. It's very short (650 words) and holds your attention. Probably just need to find the right magazine.
  • "The Curse" has a really neat idea behind it, but I think it needs a complete rewrite. If I rewire it so I'm not spending the entire time flipping between philosophical ramblings about mankind and an actual adventure for the protagonist, people might connect to it more easily and let me wow them with the climax of the story, which otherwise seems to be getting lost in what people think is exposition.
  • "In Love With Love" is about a woman with an atypical experience of love in the world. She's afraid she's damaged because she feels she doesn't love her son, and the story spotlights a therapy session with flashbacks to how she experiences different kinds of love. It's my most recent short story as of this writing and I think it might find a home someday.
  • "Just Like Stephen" is a science fiction story that may make it somewhere but I think people are not really connecting to the story since most of it is told in flashbacks and happens almost entirely in the protagonist's head. He doesn't even take any real action until the final pages of the book, and watching him write letters isn't very exciting.
  • "On the Inside" needs rewriting and I have to figure out what perspective to use (either switching to third person or hitting it from another person's perspective), but I think this one has potential. The experience of a transgender girl in a society with strict gender roles is kind of compelling and the elemental magic in the society is something I want to keep around in a living story.
  • "Protector Cat" is short and experimental and probably one of my weirdest stories to date, but I think it will find a home as long as I can find some more magazines that don't mind curse words.
  • "Uncle Avery's Garden" is one I'm on the fence about. The inspirational message is a bit saccharine to me, but it's heartfelt, and it's short enough that I might be able to place it with someone who likes, I don't know, Chicken Soup for the Soul type stories.
  • "Wind" is too long as is and probably spends too much time in Thomas's head, but I think a more experimental zine might like it, and it's got good character development.
Unpublishable existing short stories:
  • "Bad Fairy" is the short story version of my novel. The short story came first. Obviously I will not pursue publication for a weird old version of the book I'm trying to get published.
  • "Clouds" is just children rambling in sort of stilted prose while staring at the sky and discussing cloud shapes. It doesn't go anywhere or say much of anything.
  • "Dear God" is just a pretend letter from a middle school kid about wanting God to help him get a date and be good at football. It's kind of preachy and silly.
  • "Derika & Emily" features two girls who grew up in the church and one who is leaving because she disagrees with Christian principles and is now doubting religion and exploring lesbianism. Emily is kind of a hollow, flailing type of knee-jerk Christian who doesn't have any likability, and Derika is coming from an interesting place but her thoughts aren't very well expressed.
  • "The Escape" might be better than I think, but since it's 80% autobiographical and just makes its philosophical ramble-point before coasting to a stop, I don't think anyone would publish it.
  • "Final Verses" tries too hard to convey its revelations. I don't think anyone will be surprised by it.
  • "Glass Dawn" involves a child who talks to her reflection as though it's a different person, and her glass double is angry at her for growing up. The dialogue is pretty preachy and has a sort of silly be-yourself/define-maturity-your-own-way theme going.
  • "Goodbye" isn't going to blow anyone's socks off. I think about half the people reading it figure out the ending before I reveal it.
  • "Grace" isn't anything special as-is, though I have a soft spot in my heart for the nameless mother who can't speak for no apparent reason and how she guides her daughter through a coming-of-age ritual, expecting her to choose a boy as her first partner but ending up pleasantly surprised to see her paired with a girl. Maybe I'll take this idea and make it something else one day.
  • "Modern Goddess" and "Modern Goddess 2" are weird blasphemous rants I wrote in college and entertained the poetry jam with. They're not good stories. They're just funny and sort of stupid.
  • "Moonlight" is my first serious novella-length story, written in high school. It's got a premise for which it is difficult to suspend disbelief, and depicts a teenage girl who has lived underground by herself for most of her life. It's about her choice to return to that life after having a chance at a more normal one.
  • "The Mother" is a story about connection to one's roots (depicting a Wiccan woman on a different planet longing for her "Mother" the Earth and a drifting space traveling miner longing for his dead family and his living mother). I used to think it was publishable but I think it's just too much philosophical rambling and publishing people don't like that.
  • "Mother's Day" is about clones in the future and also has a really silly premise, though I liked the protagonist's quest for connection to his identity and family and his way of forging a bond with the musician he was named for. It just doesn't do much but present Hendrix's situation and show him meeting his sister for the first time.
  • "No Longer Junior" doesn't really do a great job with the mentality of an eldest son with a father off to war, I think, and again it's just thoughts, no action.
  • "Problem Recipe." Anna is a bad poet, a bad cook, and a bad daughter. So people in her life would have you believe. The way she resolves these issues isn't really very slick, but people seem to like reading the story. I just don't really believe in it.
Short stories I will probably make into novels one day:
  • "Bloom" is a novella-length short story about a girl coming of age in a sort of Amish-like Goddess culture amidst a modern world. I think I can turn it into a science fiction book for young adults if I set it on another planet, give protagonist Kamber more of a back story, and include a certain conflict within her family and a light romantic sub-plot.
  • "Brady" is a short story about an angry high school girl named Megan with a troubled home life. She struggled with unwelcome advances from boys when she was an early bloomer and became very withdrawn, focusing mostly on her art for satisfaction. Attention from popular Brady (and unexpectedly sharing the art interest with him) leaves Megan conflicted because she does not like him romantically. I think I could write her as aromantic and possibly asexual, which would be a cool second thread for self-discovery.
New short story ideas:
  • I plan to write a short story about a bisexual man engaged to an asexual woman. He gets injured very close to their wedding because of a chance crossing of paths with a strange girl on a bike. The bike girl and everyone else in his life starts trying to convince him that this was a message not to get married and that the bike girl and he were meant to be together, partially motivated by their underlying beliefs that a bisexual man shouldn't marry an asexual girl because he'll be unhappy in his sex life. It'll be an interesting story to write, though I anticipate a lot of dialogue and him spending most of it stuck in a hospital bed.
  • I plan to write a short story about a trans guy in middle or high school who is seeing a counselor because he cut off his hair to be less feminine and people are still insisting on seeing him as a girl who's being self-destructive. (He recently moved and people think he's upset about that.) There will be reflections on his childhood games and his previous close group of friends, who were three girls who were willing to treat him as a boy during their games. It also involves him going to an ice cream shop. I hope to write it soon.
And that's it for now. :) Would really like to get some short story publishing news on this blog. Maybe I'll hit some more submissions once I'm not so busy.


  1. I feel yah xD Not much success when it comes to publishing short stories here. I haven't tried taking anything to paying, professional magazines, however, because I just don't think I'm ready for that yet. I sent a short story to a teen magazine and got rejected, then before that I sent one to a teen magazine for girls, and the organization ended up shutting down about a month after my submission @_@

    It was weird. Bad luck, bad luck everywhere.

    The new short story ideas sound interesting though o.o Especially the last one. Mostly because now I'm wondering what happens when he goes to the ice cream shop since it was worthy of mention o-o

    Anyways, good luck on all future submission! I'm sure it'll turn up for the better one day.

  2. I am surprised that you put problem recipe in unpublishable.
    It's easy to read, complete in itself and is a feel good. I think YA magazines will eat it up, its very chicken soup for the soul style, like you commented on "Uncle Avery's Garden" being.
    Wind is great too, I think its also one of the easier ones to find a home to! Although this one I would love to see as a short novella

    1. I'm surprised you think "Problem Recipe" IS publishable! Though I guess plenty of people have enjoyed it and it's my only short story that's ever gotten fanfiction. (I don't know why.) Maybe I felt like the character's disconnection from the narration just made it too stiff.

      "Wind" has a long length working against it and it's been rejected a few times.