[Tuesday Reading Room] Man of The House by Frank O’Connor

from Fifty Great Short Stories(Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)

This story, originally published in The New Yorker in 1949, is a wonderful example of how every line in a short story should contribute to the story, the plot or the characterization. That’s tough to do, so don’t be discouraged if your first draft isn’t as good as Mr O’Connor’s New-Yorker-ready version! It is, however, a goal worth keeping in mind.

Man Of The House

The story’s opening is crammed with short, efficient sentences that do an amazing job of setting the scene,

“When I woke, I heard my mother coughing, below in the kitchen.”

We don’t know yet, when the story is set, but we have a setting – a home, where the main character still lives with his/her mother. The mother is up early, in the kitchen, probably fixing breakfast.

“She had been coughing for days, but I had paid no attention.”

That sounds callous, but consistent with what we discover about the narrator: that his is a ten year old boy. It also sets up a tension that carries right through to the end: what is wrong with the mother. Will she survive? Will he be paid back for his callous disregard of her? When a line like “I had paid no attention’ is offered up right a the start of the story, it makes me nervous!

The third sentence (we’re still only 24 words into the story here) is completely natural and conversational, easily rooting the story in its geographical place, painting a picture of it and, at the same time, letting us know that this was happening some time ago,

“We were living on the Old Youghal road at the time, the old hilly coaching road into East Cork.”

All that from 19 words. I love it!

The rest of this paragraph paints a picture of both the mother and the narrator that puts us firmly on their side and rooting for them both,

“The coughing sounded terrible. I dressed and went downstairs in my stocking feet, and in the clear morning light I saw her, unaware that she was being watched, collapsed into a little wickerwork armchair, hoding her side. She had made an attempt to light the fire, but it had gone against her. She looked so tired and helpless that my heart turned over with compassion. I ran to her.”

Isn’t that a great opening?

Voice

The story is mostly told in one voice — that of the 10 yr old boy — but from time to time the voice of the older version of the boy creeps in, now grown up and telling us the story, judging, explaining. In one glaring example the narrator voices an opinion that will enrage most of the women (and some of the men) reading it, when he casually opines,

“It’s a funny thing about women, how they’ll take orders from anything in trousers, even if it’s only ten.”

Not a very modern, politically-correct attitude and it is the one line that makes the story seem old-fashioned. The rest of it seems fixed in a particular time, but also pretty timeless: a small boy is struggling between childhood and responsibility; sometimes he’s good; sometimes he fails; how he feels about it all. We’ve all been 10 [1. with apologies to any younger readers out there. You’re even better placed to understand this character!]. We’ve all struggled with the passage from childhood to adulthood, whether in rural Ireland or a suburb or a city.

But even that one jarring line serves an important purpose in the story. It’s not just in there because the writer wants to tell us something about his character’s attitude towards women. It tells us the age of the boy in the story, and that there is no way he should be the titular man of the house. It also tells us a thing or two about his mother in particular, (and you could argue that it talks about her only, rather than women as a whole, if the line makes you uncomfortable).

Most of the time, though, the world is presented to us through the voice of the ten year old from a particular time and place.

“In the afternoon, my mother wanted me to run out and play, but I didn’t go far. I knew if once I went a certain distance from the house, I was liable to stray into temptation. Below our house, there was a glen, the drill field of the barracks perched high above it on a chalky cliff, and below, in a deep hollow, the millpond and millstream running between wooded hills — the Rockies, the Himalayas, or the HIghlands, according to your mood. Once down there, I tended to forget the real world…”

He notices the things a ten year old boy would notice: the barracks where the soldiers live, the millpond where you could find creepy crawly things, and the hills, a setting for imagined adventures.

Plot & Suspense

The story continues to take our likable little hero away from home and into temptation. Whether he resists and whether he has to pay for his sins are the questions that kept me turning the pages faster and faster until I reached the end.


Is your writing economical or more wordy? Which point-of-view do you use most often in short stories? Are your ‘voices’ distinctive?
Tell us in the comments:


[Markets for Writers] Postcard Shorts

Inspired by a postcard-length short story by science fiction master Arthur C. Clarke, Postcard Shorts accepts stories that are, well, postcard length.
PostcardShorts.com screenshot

(That translates to about 250 words)

Pretty much anything goes, as long as it’s not completely devoid of merit (in the Editor’s opinion). The Editor’s decision is final.

The copyright for anything you submit is wholly yours. You own it. This site just displays your work.
– from Postcardshorts.com

This is not a paying market but it is bite-sized and very tempting.

How To Become An Insanely Productive Writer

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!

Laptop lady
Laptop Lady by Aidan McMichael (used with permission)

If you really want to become a good writer, in this lifetime, you have to write. You have to write a lot.

Here are seven of the best tips from last year’s StoryADay participants, to help you become an insanely productive, happy and sane writer. Plus one bonus tip and a question for you, at the end.

“Nothing will work until you do.”
-Maya Angelou

Insanely Productive? Yes, Please!

1. Have ideas ready to go

There is nothing worse than carving out some time to write and then being stuck for a place to start. So start now: pay attention to all the ideas you have, all the time, when you are away from your desk. Carry a notebook around. Capture snippets of conversation, what ifs that occur to you as you people-watch, thoughts spurred by other people’s stories. Write them all down, ready to be picked up again when you sit down to write.

2. Write First

When you sit down to write, actually write. Don’t check email, don’t check Twitter, don’t even check the StADa site (unless you need the daily prompt). Just leaf through your ideas until you find one you can work with, and go. Turn off your email notifications, close all the browser windows. Don’t worry about fonts and formatting or whether it’ll be any good. Just write.

@Gabi If I think too much about writing before I actually start doing it, I tend to psych myself out. Instead I just start writing and before I know it, I’ve got a bunch of words on the page and it’s time to call it a day.

3. Keep writing until you finish

Starting stories is all very well, but anyone can do that. The point of StADa is to help you learn to craft a whole, finished story. Keep writing until you finish. Even if you hate it, keep writing. You’ll thank me later.

4. Unless you must take a break

Obviously, if your kids are screaming or someone comes to the door to tell you you’ve won $10million in the lottery, or your boss calls to ask where you are, you might have to get up from your desk before your story is finished. In which case, go. But keep thinking about your story. Leave it in the middle of a sentence, so that you’re ready to leap back in, and go. But keep thinking about it. When you’re walking to the coffee machine, wonder what your characters will do next. When you’re doing some menial, mindless task (can you tell I’m a mother?) let your mind wander and picture how you’re going to resolve the central mystery of your story. If someone turns on a radio, listen to how people talk and steal yourself some dialogue.

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day.

5. Make it priority #1

You can put off watching TV shows and you can turn down an occasional invitation for coffee without your life falling apart. Tell people you’re working on your writing this month, that you’ll be a better friend next month (maybe). Take some time to make your writing your top priority. You’ll always wonder, if you don’t, what you could have achieved. Explain to friends that you are investing in your dream of becoming a writer, just as they might make time to invest in a course of golf lessons or an art workshop. If you want to take your writing seriously you will find that something’s got to give, but the good news is: that could be the housework!

StADa: How do you make time for writing?
@AdorablyAlice This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

6. Write Wherever/Whenever You Can

It’s tempting to think that you need solitude, silence and a particular pen to be able to write, but that’s a rookie mistake. Professional writers write wherever and whenever they can squeeze in some time.

  • Ray Bradbury rented a typewriter in a typing room in the basement of a library and typed until time ran out. That couldn’t have been quiet or private or relaxing, but he’s one of the most prolific writers around.
  • Stephen King wrote in a passageway in the back of a trailer, with two toddlers, a wife and a full-time job in a laundry jostling for his attention.
  • PD James worked for the Home Office by day, visited her sick  husband in hospital on the weekends, and put her two daughters to bed alone, and wrote her first novel — all during the London Blitz!

You may need some peace and quiet to get a story started, but once you’re up and running, write! Write when ever you have 15 minutes, wherever you are, with whatever comes to hand. Write!

(Hint: you full-time workers have the gnawing envy of stay-at-home parents of young children: you get a lunch break. Are you sneaking off somewhere and using it for writing?)

7. Be realistic

You’re not going to write an epic or a polished draft in a day. You’re going to write something and it’ll likely be bewtween 30 and 2000 words. The more frequently you write and finish a story, the more you’ll get a sense for how to pace yourself and your story. Don’t waste time on backstory or explaining anything at the  beginning. Jump in half way through and unpack the story as you go. Some of it will be terrible, some of it you will learn from and some of it might even be quite good. On a good day you’ll write a character you’re proud of or make yourself smile with a twist, or discover you can write really convincingly about a gardener.

@GabiOnly a handful of the stories are worth keeping and working on. One of them has spawned into an idea for a middle-grade book that I am in love with.

Every lesson enriches your writing. Every day you practice, you’re one step closer to Carnegie Hall.

Bonus Tip: Be part of a community.

I know a lot of us are loners (I certainly crave my ‘alone’ time) so the idea of joining a community seems strange. But one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the past year is the value of having people on your side, people who understand what it’s like try to write, people who are rooting for you (because if you can do it, maybe they can too).It was incredibly inspiring to drop in to the StoryADay.org forums during May – and afterwards ‘meet up’ with people on Twitter – and trade stories of how our writing day is going.

Join our Serious Writers’ Accountability Group (SWAGr) and post your goals for this month…today! (We’re “Serious”, not sombre. All are welcome!)

Thanks to all the previous participants for their comments and suggestions, quoted here or otherwise.


What do you do to keep writing? Share  your best tips in the comments.



To be among the first to hear when sign-ups open for this year’s challenge sign up for the Advance Notice List. (No spam. Just StoryADay.org news)



Write-On-Wednesdays – Embrace Your Inner Sadist

If you saw the comments on last week’s post 6 Reasons You’ll Never Be A Writer, you’ll know that one reasons touched a nerve with a lot of people:

#6: You’re Too Nice

Commenter Michelle Kobayashi captured the mood when she said:

“My first 17 chapters were very nice. There was little conflict and the characters worked out their issues reasonably.

“It sucked.

“Then I learned about inciting incidents and the need for conflict. That’s when the fun began. One character in particular is so rude I cringe when I reread her scenes. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Embrace your inner sadist indeed!”

(Thanks to Donald Maass for the catchy slogan at the end there!)

Seems like this is something ia lot of us need practise with. So,

The Prompt

Shout ! ! !
Photo by lempicki.maciek

Write a scene featuring a truly loathsome (but believable) character. They don’t have to be a Disney Villain. It could be that really annoying person at work who has no redeeming qualities that you can find, no matter how hard you try.

Dig deep. Remember how annoying, frustrating, irritating your least favorite person in the world is. Pair them up with your favorite hero-type and give them a scene.

Then let your hero say all the things you’ve rehearsed in your head but would never say, because you’re just, well, too nice.

Let it all out. Make us (and yourself) cringe.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in some way in your story (however tenuous the connection)
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post your scene in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Embracing My Inner Sadist: http://bit.ly/ehx03t #WriteOnWed #storyaday

I never knew I could be so mean! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://bit.ly/ehx03t

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is “Embrace Your Inner Sadist″: http://bit.ly/ehx03t

Come and write with us today: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

With thanks to my friends at Creative Copy Challenge for inspiration and support. Go to Creative Copy Challenge every day for a new writing prompt and supportive community of writers.


Tuesday Reading Room – Brooksmith by Henry James

from Fifty Great Short Stories (Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)

I don’t know much about Henry James, though I have struggled through more of his short stories than I have novels. I’ve never formally studied his writing, so don’t know what the prevailing literary criticism theories are…but I can tell you this: I dislike his characters and I dislike his outlook and I always end up, as I did at the end of this story, wanting to punch at least one of the characters in the nose.

Which is, I suppose a kind of a compliment to the writer.

Brooksmith by Henry James

As much as I say I don’t ‘like’ Henry James’s stories, I do recognise the work of a master craftsman. (I wonder if I would have liked him any better if he had been writing today [1. Probably not.])

The first thing I admired about this story was the way he pulled me in right from the first sentence. You might not think of the slow-paced Henry James novels as belonging on the same shelf as Ian Fleming or James Patterson, but there is, nonetheless, plenty of suspense to keep the reader hooked:

We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord, but whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a certain esoteric respect for each other.

Who was the late Mr. Oliver Offord and why do his friends only ‘chance to meet’ and share a ‘certain esoteric respect’ – and what does that really mean?

James continues to ratchet up the suspense in the very next sentence,

“Yes, you too have been in Arcadia,” we seem not too grumpily to allow.

Why was it “Arcadia” (and why would they ordinarily be grumpy with each other)?

The story turns out not to be about Mr Offord at all, but about his butler, Brooksmith and the perils of allowing the servant class to rise above their station.

I’m not sure which side Henry James would really have taken on the issue of class and station, but his narrator has a very fixed, extremely anti-egalitarian viewpoint that makes him supremely unsympathetic to the modern reader.

He is, however, so unrelentingly shaped by his societal norms that he is absolutely believable and ‘true’ – and loathsome, I might add.

It really struck me — after putting down this book with a sneer on my face and a punchy urge in my fist — that my writing could benefit from a bit more loathesomeness. I’m really a very nice person, trained in life to be fair and tolerant and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But being well-brought-up can create a tendency to be too nice to my characters, too forgiving.

If I want to create characters as ‘true’ and real as Brooksmith‘s unworthy narrator, I have to risk creating characters that someone 111 years from now might want to punch.


What do you do to make your characters ‘real’? Please do leave a comment!


[Markets for Writers] Six Sentences

Six Sentences is a place to publish just that: six sentence stories.

Six Sentences screenshot

It has been one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Sites For Writers and publishes a new six-sentence story every day. It’s a great (non-paying) market for flash fiction writers.

It offers readers the chance to vote the story “good”, or “spectacular” (a ratings system I love) and provides a link back to the author’s site.

Check out the writer’s guidlines here or read some recent six-sentence stories.

6 Reasons You Will Never Be A Writer

Wondering when you’ll reap the fame and fortune that come with your dream of being a writer? Well, probably never. If you’re making any of these six classic mistakes…

Wondering when you’ll reap the fame and fortune that come with your dream of being a writer? Well, probably never. If:

1. You don’t read

The Writers' Museum
The Writer's Museum, Edinburgh by Peter Nijenhuis

At least, not the right things. You read all the books on writing and polishing and publishing, and all the books that literary critics are praising, but nothing of any real value. You don’t read books that light a fire under you, you don’t read in your genre, you don’t read non-fiction for fun and inspiration.  You don’t have an Audible membership or a library card and you couldn’t name a book that has meant anything to you since you turned 20.

If you were learning to be an accountant you’d study accounting law. If you were studying to be a doctor you would read medical books. Stephen King, in On Writing calls it the Great Commandment: Reada lot, write a lot.

“Read, read, read, Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.”

-William Faulkner.

2. You’re too busy to write

You’re not independently wealthy: you’ve got a job, a family, commitments, a social life, a pressing engagement with the cast of Glee! You can’t possibly squeeze any time out of your day to write.

Jon Scalzi, current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America puts it bluntly and truthfully:

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

You can make time to write, but something else is probably going to have to give. It might be sleep, it might be ‘watching Ellen in the afternoon’, it might be having lunch with the same people every day in the dreary work cafeteria. It might be ‘feeling bad about yourself because you’re not getting any writing done and eating ice cream instead’.

But, chances are, you can make time to write.

3. You have no original ideas

Every time you sit down to write you are paralyzed by the overwhelming feeling that everything has been said before. Well, you know what? You’re right. But it hasn’t been said by you, in this time and place, at your age, and in your circumstances. Agent Donald Maas talks a lot in The Breakout Novelist about the difference between ‘original’ and ‘unique’. You don’t have to be original, but you do have to be ‘unique’.

I once interviewed Daniel Pinkwater and he said the same thing: only you can speak in your voice, and if you write for a while you’ll discover what that voice is.

I love that what my readers need, they can only get from me. It’s riskier, but much more ego-gratifying
-Daniel Pinkwater, 2003 interview

He also said,

Ideas are everywhere. I have 60 ideas a day. So do you. So does everybody.
-Daniel Pinkwater, 2003 interview

The trick is paying attention, taking those ideas and developing them into the story only you can tell.

4. You have no qualifications for this. You don’t know what you’re doing

No writer does. Every artist is engaged in creating something unique and new. Experienced writers say this all the time: I don’t know what I’m doing until I’ve done it. Here’s a little evidence:

The only way to write is to write… Stupid b*****d job.
-Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale

Very few writers know what they are doing until they have done it.
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

You can’t completely understand what good writers do until you try it yourself…Write from the very beginning, then, and keep on writing…The next story will be better, and the next one after that still better, and eventually—
-Isaac Asimov, Gold

5. Your Writing Sucks

When you do make the time to write, it’s hard. The words do not come dripping off your pen easily; all the elements in your story don’t come out in the right order; your characters are flat and uninteresting and they speak in cliches; you want to give up.

And that is what Anne Lammot calls your ‘shitty first draft’. It has to be got through in order to get to the second draft, the third, and the polished end result. If you are too scared to suck, too scared to fail then you will never be a writer, because all writing involves putting some truly terrible prose on the page — and excising it later or, like William Faulkner, throw it out entirely and start again,

Write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
-William Faulkner

Sure, it’s scary but even the great and prolific Isaac Asimov says, of the writer’s daily task:

We sit there alone, pounding out words, with out hearts pounding in time. Each sentence brings with it the sickening sensation of not being right.
-Isaac Asimov, Gold

Can you allow your first drafts to be less than perfect?

6. You’re Too Nice

In real life it’s nice to be nice: people like you, you offend nobody and your mother is proud of you.

In literature, being nice doesn’t pay. It’s boring if nothing happens, if no-one gets upset, if no-one is threatened, insulted, shamed, murdered, even. Your writing can be your playground. Be nice in real life if you must but, in your writing,

Embrace your inner sadist.
-Donald Maass, The Breakout Novelist


I’d love to hear which of these touched a nerve with you. Let me know in the comments which part of your writing life you’re struggling with the most at the moment? Has it changed over time?

Get a free 17-page creativity workbook when you sign up for more articles like this



If you’re feeling inspired to write now, why not check out some of the StoryADay Writing Prompts? You might want to start with some Flash Fiction, to warm up.


Write-On-Wednesdays – 2001: A Short Odyssey

Introducing Write On Wednesdays: a weekly warm-up for all endurance writers.  Wednesday is the day we limber up for the challenge of writing a story a month; or keep the muscles warm after the challenge is over. No point getting all those creative muscles in shape only to let them atrophy!

The Prompt

What might you – or a character very like you – have been doing on this afternoon ten years ago? Write a short story that springs from a circumstance or character from your life in February 2001.

OK, so we weren’t traveling to moon bases and stopping off on rotating space stations, but there was a lot of other stuff going on. Remember, this was post-Millennium Bug, pre-9/11 (but only by 7 months), after the first dotcom bubble had burst but before the banking/mortgage collapse. Friends and Seinfeld were still on the air but American Idol was not. “Reality” TV was just about to take over from quiz shows as the new money spinner for networks and no-one was watching video online yet.

What was life like all those years ago? Take us back.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in some way in your story (however tenuous the connection)
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Travel back in time to Feb 2001: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday #wow

What were you doing 10 years ago? Is there a story there? #WriteOnWed http://t.co/OpHsJ04

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is “2001”: hhttp://t.co/OpHsJ04

Come and write with us: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday #wow

See my story – and write your own: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday #wow

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

With thanks to my friends at Creative Copy Challenge for inspiration and support. Go to Creative Copy Challenge every day for a new writing prompt and supportive community of writers.

Tuesday Reading Room – The Standard Of Living by Dorothy Parker

from Fifty Great Short Stories(Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)

I’m working my way through this short story collection which was first published in 1952 and starts with a lot of what would have been quite ‘modern’ writers’ stories: Dorothy Parker, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, V. S. Pritchett.

Only one story so far has featured a moment that seems as if it might change the main character for life. The rest are moments in time, even missed opportunities, made fascinating by the writer’s attention to the tiny details of their worlds. It strikes me that this is something you can do with a short story that you couldn’t do with a novel – at least not without annoying most of your readers. Novel readers expect something transformative to happen. Short story readers? Well, maybe they’re more forgiving because they haven’t invested quite so much time in the thing. But I still get annoyed with a lot of modern ‘literary’ stories where nothing happens and there is no sense of an ending. These stories all seem to pre-date that trend, thank goodness.

The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker

I’m not usually a fan of descriptive writing, but in these short stories I’m finding it is making all the difference.

The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker is a fabulous example of how a writer can flesh out a story whose plot is basically a build up to a simple punchline and turn it into something that stays with the reader. Parker creates two ordinary, shallow young women (girls, really), who are creatures of their time and trends and who think they are oh, so very sophisticated. They walk together on Saturday afternoons and play a sort of ‘imagine if you won the lottery’ game. Close to the end, something happens that reveals how far from sophisticated they are. That is the punchline, but the way they handle it is…well, I’ll leave it to you to discover.

What make the story, is the luscious, descriptive writing. It starts with a literal feast of words:

They lunched, as was their wont, on sugar, starches, oils, and butter-fats. Usually they ate sandwiches of spongy new white bread greased with butter and mayonnaise; they ate thick wedges of cake lying wet beneath ice cream and whipped cream and melted chocolate, gritty with nuts. As alternates, they ate patties, sweating beats of inferior oil, containing bits of bland meat bogged in pale stiffening sauce…”

And it goes on. Are you starting to get a feel for who ‘they’ are yet, from this description? Who might they be? Parker gives us another big clue.

They ate no other kind of food, nor did they consider it. And their skin was like the petals of wood anemones, and their bellies were as flat and their flanks as lean as those of young Indian braves.

Ah yes, they are those despicable creatures: young women! (Can you guess I’m staring aghast at the rapidly approaching 4-0?)

Only now, half a page in, does Parker give our characters, names, station, a bit of backstory. In one paragraph she tells a lifetime. She says a lot with few words ending with:

Each girl lived at home with her family and paid half her salary to its support.

Aha! These are not high-society misses at all. These are working girls affecting a life of leisure.

(I’ll freely admit I loved that sentence in part because it captures the lives my grandmothers lived before they were married, but how many young women – or men – would do that today?)

Every description of the girls is full and sensual and tactile and fixes them in time and space.

They wore thin, bright dresses, tight over their breasts and high on their legs, and tilted slippers, fancifully strapped.

Even their state of mind is shown viscerally from:

they held their heads higher and set their feet with exquisite precision, as if they stepped over the necks of peasants.

to later, when things are not going so well. Parker never says, “they felt bad”. Instead she writes:

Their shoulders dropped and they dragged their feet; they bumped against each other, without notice of apology, and caromed away again. They were silent and their eyes were cloudy.

It’s not how I write. It’s not my style. But I loved this story and definitely want to try out a story where I try out something more phsyical and real, like this one.


Do you write in a very descriptive way? Is your style similar in most stories? Do you like to read stories in the same style as yours, or do you also enjoy stories in a radically different style? Tell me how you read.

[Markets For Writers] Ploughshares Emerging Fiction Writers Contest

Ploughshares literary magazine was founded in 1971 at Emerson College. This years Emerging Fiction Writers Contest is open for submissions from Jan 16 -Mar 15 2011

Ploughshares

Ploughshares Emerging Fiction Writer's Contest screenshot

Eligibility

We define an “emerging writer” as someone who has no book, has won no major awards, and who has published fiction in less than five national publications. (A national publication is any magazine or journal, online or in print, with an ISSN number.)

Works should be less than 5,000 words. Entry fee:$20

Full contest rules

How A Subsidy POD Company Made Publishers Pay 50% Royalties

The Author’s Guild last week declared that no contract should offer an author less than 50% royalties on ebooks[2. They seem to have <a href=”http://www.authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/the-e-book-royalty-mess-an-interim.html”>modified</a> their stance a little].

15 years ago, it was rare to see a number larger than 12.5% in any publishing contract for primary rights. It was common to see 10% or 7.5%.

How Did We Get From 7.5% to 50%?

Let me tell you a little story about the ancient days of the Internet.

In 1997 John Feldcamp, a digital printing guy and Chris Kelly, a finance guy, decided to set up Xlibris as an ebook and print on demand service (the first time anyone had figured out how to offer true POD services directly to authors) .

In 1998, they hired me to help them change the world. Whatever else Xlibris became or did right or did wrong, it was founded — and operated for a long time — on the burning beliefs that:

  • No-one had the right to tell any writer to sit down and shut up.
  • We were going to help every writer master the new methods of delivery technology was opening up to them.
  • We did not deserve any ownership of their intellectual property in exchange for helping them distribute it.
  • The author should get 50% of the proceeds[2. On print books 50% of the profit was a lot less than 50% of the list price, which is why the company eventually started using different numbers and the word ‘net’, and sounding a lot more shady, even though it was the same thing. But on ebooks? 50% was 50% of list, minus transaction fees, and we didn’t even bother charging for those at first].

50%?!

Barbarians At The Gates

Most people in the publishing industry, even many established authors, predicted that POD and ebooks would mean the end of civilization, that the world would be filled with dross and that not all writers deserved to share their stories with the world.

Three years later, in 2000, the big kahuna of traditional publishing, Random House, made a substantial investment in Xlibris. I listened with astonishment and pride as their spokesman started saying things like “Yes, we’ll be offering 50% on ebooks. That sounds like a fine deal”. I grinned to myself because behind Erik Engstrom’s words I heard the strong “Feldcampian” influence (John was not only extraordinarily clever, he was incredibly convincing).

From 50% to 25% in 8 Short Years

Eight years later Engstrom was long gone and Random House was changing the policy to 25%. Lots of other things have changed too: Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Apps…It looks like ebooks will eventually replace print books as a major sales stream. But authors will only get 25% royalties on ebooks, and the big publishers will get moremore of the profit than ever before.

Last week the Author’s Guild finally snapped and issued this outraged math lesson to illustrate the realities of the 25% royalty:

“The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett
Author’s Standard Royalty: $3.75 hardcover; $2.28 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -39%
Publisher’s Margin: $4.75 hardcover; $6.32 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +33%

“Hell’s Corner,” by David Baldacci
Author’s Standard Royalty: $4.20 hardcover; $2.63 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -37%
Publisher’s Margin: $5.80 hardcover; $7.37 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +27%

“Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand
Author’s Standard Royalty: $4.05 hardcover; $3.38 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -17%
Publisher’s Margin: $5.45 hardcover; $9.62 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +77%

from The Author’s Guild site

The Rights Of Authors

The fact that my bosses convinced Random House, 12 years ago, to use the words ‘fifty percent’ is huge. I believe that Feldcamp and Kelly made 50% a number we writers can ask for today without being laughed out of the room (they endured that several times, on our behalf).

Some of the authors who hailed the ‘publishing services’ companies as Visigoths are now listing their own out-of-print titles with Amazon (at a 70% royalty rate) and keeping them in print independently via POD. They are demanding their due from their publishers, on a scale proposed by the former barbarians at the gate.

I am proud to have been one of those barbarians. And I am proud to have been friends with the men who smiled up at the publishing Caesars and convinced them to agree, for eight shining years, that 50% was, yeah, equitable.  The royalty and distribution debates of the future will be shaped by what they did back in the 1990s.

Writers, join me in raising your glasses today in a toast to Mr. John Feldcamp and Mr. Chris Kelly, founders of Xlibris, Kings of the 50% royalty.


Do you want to become an insanely productive writer? Need a big boost? Need a challenge? Sign up for the StoryADay Advance List to be among the first to hear about this year’s StoryADay May Extreme Writing Challenge. Or read more at www.storyaday.org


[Markets for Writers] Fiction Fridays at Write Anything

This one is less a true ‘market’ and more a community writing opportunity.

Fiction Fridays at Write Anything

The excellent folks at Write Anything (a multi-author writing blog) put together a challenge every Friday. You write, you post it at your own blog and you post a link at their site. Simple!

Upcoming themes include: “The Million Dollar Idea”, a Valentine’s theme, and a challenge to write a story in an 1880s, Western town.

From the website:

How To Play:

1. Check this page for the weekly challenge.

2. Write for a minimum of 5 minutes… AND THEN KEEP GOING!

3. NO editing. ( well.. do the obvious spelling and punctuation.. but nothing major)

4. On Friday, post it to your blog.

5. Come back to Write Anything and leave the link to your post using the Link generator.

6. Visit other’s posts and leave constructive comments.

7. Use Twitter (with our hashtag of #fictionfriday) or Facebook etc to tell your network about the stories posted up….

They also encourage you to record your story and submit the link for Spoken Sunday. I’m a real sucker for both reading aloud and listening to other people read aloud, so I’ll definitely be doing this!

Writers’ Corner: How Do You Feel About Contests and Facebook Groups?

Thanks for all the great feedback about the user blogs. It’s a relief to know I can sidestep that technical challenge. Your comments helped me stop worrying and move on, so thanks. On that note, here are a couple of other questions up for discussion:

chat

FACEBOOK GROUP

Popular writers’ blog Writer Unboxed recently opened a Facebook Group to complement their website, so now their readers can start discussions, not just comment on blog posts.

I have some opinions on whether or not StADa should start a Facebook Group, but I would like to hear yours. Should we have a Facebook Group?

COMPETITIONS

I also wondered if people would be interested in a StoryADay May competition, with judges and prizes and all that. You could opt to submit your best one or two stories at the end of May and we’d have judges and prizes and all that good stuff. Would that seem like fun or would it introduce an element of “Oh crap, this needs to be good’ into what is supposed to be a free-floating writing extravaganza?

Thanks again for your feedback!

Delegate Your Way To Writing Success

Part of the Time To Write Series. Interested? Subscribe to the blog


Inside the Box 2289
Do try to make sure the tasks you delegate are age-appropriate!

When my children were tiny I didn’t do a lot of writing. But there would come a day when I simply HAD to write. With a toddler in two, however, it became almost impossible to get through a full sentence without hearing that darling little voice yap,

“Mama? Mama! MAMA!!!”

I got to the stage where it was quite a relief when my boy unexpectedly ditched “Mum” and started calling me by my given name. At least it took a while for that to start to grate on my nerves!

The Delegation Revalation

One fateful afternoon, when my son — previously happily playing with toy cars at my feet — suddenly popped up and asked for a drink. For the third time that hour. I groaned and tore myself away from my half-finished sentence to fetch him a drink.

Then it hit me. My job as a parent was not to raise him to be helpless. My job as a parent was to teach him self-sufficiency. So what if he was only 3?

I started delegating.

That day I moved some plastic tumblers onto a low shelf in an under-the-counter cabinet and made a big deal of at last unlocking the water dispenser on the fridge. Sure, I had to clean up a few spills, but it was a price I was willing to pay to get a few uninterrupted minutes.

We quickly moved on to solo hand-washing, using a stool to get the toothbrush and toothpaste (creating a few precious extra minutes before bedtime). Then I packed away any trousers that didn’t have an elasticated waist and presto! I was freed from having to accompany him to the bathroom!

How Much Can You Give Away?

As the kids have grown, so has my hunger for writing time.

I now delegate all kinds of things.

  • Where I used to be in charge of bath-time and bedtime, my husband and I now share bedtime duty.
  • When I was deep in the crunch of StoryADay last May my seven year old, a-hem, learned how to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • While I toiled on my novel last November, my husband taught the boys how to fold their school clothes and put them away neatly.

I could feel guilty about deserting my family when I feel the need to write. Or I can celebrate my awesomeness as a mother who cares enough about them to teach them the life skills they will need when I eventually kick them out of my house. (Ten more years, Eldest. I’m counting.)

Delegation can be fun!

It’s not always, easy of course. Things go wrong. There is often a learning curve for the people you’re delegating tasks to. There might be occasional tears.

But stick with it. You CAN find ways to nudge the people around you become more independent, while also clawing back some of your precious writing time.

What about you? What one task will you try to offload this week? What poor helpless soul will you set on the road to independence?


Part of the Time To Write Series. Interested? Subscribe to the blog


[Writers’ Markets] EveryDay Fiction

EverydayFiction.com sends short fiction to readers via email every day of the year.

Everyday Fiction screenshot

I was really excited when I read about this, because what are writers without readers? It’s all very well for someone to slap up a website and hope readers come, but this one has a built-in distribution system and it has over 2000 subscribers.

They pay $3 per story and take First Internet Rights and an option on First Anthology Rights. They have published two print anthologies so far.

They accept stories of up to 1,000 words and use the standards SFWA boilerplate contract (this is a Good Thing).

from EverydayFiction.com’s guidelines:

We believe in the importance of being paid for your writing, even if it’s only a token amount. At this time, we are able to offer three dollars for each published story, to be paid via PayPal, with the option to donate it back to Every Day Fiction if you are so inclined. In addition, if requested we will set up a free Author Forum for you right here at EDF where you will be able promote your own writing.

More importantly, publication also includes an opportunity to promote your writing beyond Every Day Fiction. We will gladly provide a link to your blog or website, and if you have a book on Amazon, we can link to that as well.

Finally, the author whose story is the most read in a given month will be featured in Every Day Fiction’s monthly Author Interview–a chance for our readers to get to know you, and a further opportunity for you to promote your blog or website and any books or other publications you may have out there.