I went on hiatus from posting to the blog back in March. Now, summer’s at an end here in the Witch City, so it’s time to get back to blogging with a summer recap. For the past few months, my focus has been on short stories, both reading and writing them!
When Opportunity Knocks
This past February, I sat in on a Boskone panel discussion titled “Tough Love for New Writers.” Among other participants, award-winning editor Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld Magazine sat on the panel. Following the lively and informative discussion of the short story market, I ended up chatting with Mr. Clarke. What was involved in becoming a slush reader for your magazine, I asked? Shoot me an email, and I’ll give you the application link, he replied. I did, and he did, and I applied. To my great surprise, he offered me a spot as a reader!
A Crash Course in SFFH Short Fiction
Not that I don’t have any experience reading genre fiction. In fact, SFFH is pretty much all I read. It’s just that it had been almost 20 years since I’d read many SFFH short stories. Some A. S. Byatt, collection by Jeffrey Ford, the 2017 Year’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. But that was about it. As such, I waded into reading slush last April feeling horrifically ignorant of the current market.
Eager to correct my deficit, I grabbed a subscription to Clarkesworld and started reading every short story that made the final cut. What better way to fine-tune my reading eye than to see what stories were being chosen each month for publication? It helped, but I wanted more.
And then the SFWA announced it was raising their pro-rates from $0.06/word to $0.08. Twitter exploded with debates, discussions, and pleas for financial support either through subscriptions or Patreon contributions. Editors from several of the top genre fiction magazines shared their thoughts, insights, frustrations, and hopes about the state of the industry, the pros and cons of the newly set pro rate, and the desperate need for more authentic financial support from readers. It became clear that my goals to self-educate aligned with industry goals to fund the new pay raise.
Required Reading for the New Slush Monkey
Here’s the list of short story magazines to which I now have a monthly subscription (in no particular order). I can confidently testify that each is a source of excellent fiction, and I urge every writer of short stories, both new writers and established writers, to invest in yourself as well as in the industry by grabbing subscriptions of your own. (Many of these magazines make the stories they publish available to read for free on their websites, but I wanted to be more than a freeloading parasite.)
If that seems like a lot, it is. As for cost, those seven subscriptions tally up to about $30.00/month, a more than affordable expense now that I’ve stopped drinking diet coke every day. Skipping my daily stop at the vending machine seems a reasonable sacrifice to get access to tons of great fiction every month! And my money is supporting a better industry than, you know, the Berkshire Hathaway corporate beast.
Bonus! Nearly all of those magazines have weekly podcasts, too. My commute has never been so enjoyable!
Renewed Interest in Writing Short Stories
Of course, reading so many excellent SFFH short stories each month (as well as reading submissions for Clarkesworld) has rekindled my interest in writing short stories of my own. How could it have not done? When the school year ended, and summer began, I started writing and submitting my own work.
The thing about short fiction is this: in my opinion, it’s hard to do well. Not that writing a book isn’t also difficult. It’s just difficult in a different way. Long-form fiction has the luxury of room on the page for tangents and extra adjectives and perhaps even a few adverbs. Novelists can get away with stuff that writers of short fiction can’t. The writing in short stories has to be tight, crisp, clear, sharp.
Have you ever tried to sharpen a knife with a ceramic rod, gotten the blade to the point of being kind of sharp, and thought with a shrug, “Eh, that’s good enough?” Well, if you apply that analogy to writing short stories, kind of sharp isn’t going to make the cut. Authors of short fiction need to wield that ceramic rod with enough skill to get that blade obsidian sharp. And that’s no easy feat.
I spent the summer practicing my knife sharpening skills. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised by that. Overwriting is my authorial Achilles heel. My fictional blade isn’t sharp, but it’s getting better. Reading outstanding short stories day in and day out helps. Writing and revising short stories day in and day out helps, too.
I plan to keep reading slush and, for now, keep writing and submitting short stories. I’ve set aside my latest novel revisions. If all goes well, I will be able to take a wickedly sharp blade to the manuscript when I return to it later this winter.
Tell me, writers, what strategies do you use to keep your skills knife sharp?
Thanks for stopping by, and as always, happy writing to you.