Weekly Musing: What Would You Bring?

If I ever had the misfortune to be stranded on a deserted island or find myself in some kind of isolation, whether by choice or forced, what books would I take with me and why? Assuming I’m allowed to bring reading material with me. I better be or bad things would happen quite quickly.

There is no way I could narrow this list down into just a handful of books. Hopefully I’m allowed to bring some boxes and get help with said boxes since I prefer paper books. Part of it would also to serve as shade if the place I was marooned on was too sunny or bright. Maybe even serve as kindling although to burn a book really has never been acceptable to me. But in desperate times who knows what one might do. If not, then the island or wherever, better have at least one electrical outlet to recharge my Kindle.

Since I’d have a lot of time on my hands, I’d pick a lot of series and sweeping epics since several hundred pages of worlds and characters would hopefully keep me distracted. Probably a good idea to bring a complete dictionary, too, since there are sure to be words I wouldn’t know and because, hey, it’s the dictionary and kinda big.

Let’s divide up my choices into the following categories.

Book I’ve Read:

Any book listed as one of my favorites on this site would clearly be on there. I’d also throw on there some of my most recent favorites like The Sleeping Dictionary, The Martian, A Confederacy of Dunces, American Gods, and Frankenstein.

Book Series:

Great thing about a lot of books published in the last couple of decades is a lot of them come in sets. Perfect for complete isolation.

A Song of Ice & Fire – If I were ever in this situation I would hope it would be after the series is completed.

Harry Potter

Outlander – I’ve only read the first book but with 8 books and counting there is plenty of new-to-me material to read and enjoy.

Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series

Ngaio Marsh’s Det. Alleyn series

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Authors I’ve Read Most, But Not All, Of Their Books:

I’m cheating just slightly on some of these because there is some crossover with other categories.

Ken Follett

Neil Gaiman

Isabell Allende

Kurt Vonnegut

George R. R. Martin

The Classics I Own But Haven’t Read:

Don Quixote

Gone With the Wind

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Mark Twain

The Count of Monte Cristo

Overall I would want to bring with me a variety. A mixture of what I’m already familiar with and clearly enjoy as well as new stuff. Genres and writing styles would keep my mind engaged and save me from boredom. It’d also suit my somewhat fickle and indecisive nature. With no one else to have for company, these books with their hundreds of characters would become my friends to me. Their worlds would be a needed relief from the reality that would be my new norm.


Weekly Musing: I Have a Theme

Apparently I have a dwindling supply of stories in my arsenal. In response to this surprising shortage, I’ve been working on new material. This is good as it gives my brain a break from my novel as I let it stew but also because it allows me to explore new ideas. One plan I had was to take a look at some unfinished stories, see what might be worth is saving, and finishing them. Another plan, one that I’ve embraced, was to take a look at markets with some kind of theme.

It was this week I realized what the appeal of themed magazine issues or anthologies is to me. They’re an opportunity to test and stretch my creativity but in a way it feels like some of the work has partially been done for me. For whatever reason, it’s difficult for me to come up with short story ideas on my own. Ideas for novels are really easy. Perhaps they gum up my head so much that there isn’t any room left to dream up short stories.

Having a theme or prompt for short stories seems to activate something in my brain. Somehow, some way, I get inspired. It’s as if the creativity light bulb pops on. Maybe this harkens to my school days when I enjoyed writing essays and papers. The teacher was giving us direction and I responded well to that. So I guess it makes sense that train of thought would transfer over to creative writing. The challenge of it is far harder, though. Unlike school, I don’t have anything already studied or known.

Something I think is important for a writer is to stretch their limits and write in a different genre. For me, following genre-specific theme helps narrow down to me what to focus on. Even if the theme isn’t genre specific, for example the theme of Nature, that is still something to help get my brain thinking. I enjoy the challenge of it because I force myself to go away from what I’m comfortable with but also to see if I can come up with a twist.

Since I’m not a genius nor am I a Renaissance woman, the other appeal of themed short stories is I usually have to do some kind of research. I don’t have to go into anything hugely in depth; mostly I stick to a quick Wikipedia search and a few other places. Too much research overwhelms me and unless I’m doing a novel, there isn’t too much of a need to go into any kind of depth. For example, a recent story I wrote was for an anthology with the theme of the 1939’s World’s Fair. They were specifically looking for stories that developed the idea of what the future would look like. Although the story was (nicely) rejected, it was fun gathering research since I didn’t know anything about the World’s Fair. The great thing about the internet is the ease of access to information including images. I’m thankful for whoever digitized images from the 1939’s World’s Fair because it was those images which inspired me.

While on the subject of research for these short stories, I love seeing that marriage of various avenues come together to help me write a short story. The research leads to image searches which then allow me to brainstorm ideas. While I’m brainstorming and writing, I try to find an appropriate music playlist or two to help put me in the right frame of mind.

Another benefit of writing to a theme is if the story gets rejected for its original target, the story is now available to submit elsewhere. Instant problem solve. Plus it also means that more markets are open to me which means I have more chances of having a story picked up for publication.

I love the fun and unique challenges themed short story writing brings to me. Even if my attempt isn’t successfully executed, it’s worth the risk. Not only does it stave off boredom and complacency (ha, like that could ever happen to me but I digress), it helps flex my creative muscles in areas I normally wouldn’t think of. In a way it is a ‘safe’ risk, a way to dip one’s toes into a different pool which could possibly lead to a different artistic path. And sometimes a theme can give me an excuse to explore an emotion or different side of me I normally might be too tentative to try.


Weekly Musing: To Fee Or Not to Fee?

A goal of mine this year was to submit more of my work. That means finding markets for stories already in my arsenal and finding themes which spark a story. So far this approach has produced positive results as a couple of my stories have been accepted for publication. Neither are a paying markets and in fact, out of the 7 stories total I’ve had accepted, only 2 have offered compensation. This got me thinking not so much about the enormous difficulty in being compensated for your work but about some of the hoops I was unaware a writer sometimes has to jump through. If you are a writer who desires to become published there are an overwhelming amount of options. From online and print literary magazines to anthologies to contests to posting stories and chapter excerpts on your own website, one question each author should ask himself is: To fee or not to fee?

The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is whether or not it is worth submitting to an outfit which charges a fee. Some magazines and many contests change what is usually referred to as a reading fee although sometimes it’ll be listed as an entry fee. What reading fee means is you, the writer, pays a fee to the literary magazine or whoever is running the contest. The fee is supposed to help cover the cost of the time spent reading and evaluating entries. A lot of magazines are run by one person. Same with contests which usually have a guest judge deciding the winners. Most fees are in the fairly affordable and modest range of $5 to $10 although some can be up to $20 or more; a price which causes some of us to heavily consider if entering is worth it.

With hundreds, if not thousands, of publishing opportunities out in the world, even shelling out money for a fee reading fees here and there adds up. That being said, there are loads of opportunities to get published which don’t cost anything. Anthologies provide a great, free opportunity to get paid for your work. Not generally a huge sum and the amounts vary based on the publisher and the type of contract they offer. A publisher can either pay a flat fee for the story or offer royalties. Royalties are where whatever profits are leftover from the publisher deducting their costs, whatever money is leftover is split between the authors. In other words, you get a set percentage based on sales of the anthology. When this money is paid out and for how long depends on the publisher.

To be clear, reading or entry fees apply mostly to literary magazines and contests. If you are submitting a story to an anthology, there shouldn’t be a fee charged for anything and you should be getting compensated for your work unless the anthology is for charity. By default, a reputable publisher should already have the funding in place to produce the anthology. This means paying for the cover design, staff time to review entries, and printing costs. Under no circumstances should an author be asked to contribute money in order to be published in an anthology.

Another free option is to submit work to literary magazines and contests which don’t charge any kind of reading fee. In these cases, especially with literary magazines, if you aren’t paying a fee, chances are you won’t be compensated other than a contributor’s copy (applies to print outfits) if selected. Contests are tricky because many well-known competitions like Writer’s Digest’s, offer prizes which far exceed the cost of the entry fee. That being said, many contests don’t charge any kind of fee and still offer prizes.

So is charging a reading fee fair and ethical? After all the person running a literary magazine or contest do it because want to support writers by publishing their work. Oftentimes it is one person, perhaps a small group, which read and review stories, maintains the website, and physically put together the magazine. A lot of work and I’m sure they would like to be paid for their efforts. However, is it fair to ask writers, who spend hours, days, weeks, and years to pay a reading fee? After all, for many of us it would be great to start getting paid for that work rather than shelling out money. Is it ethical to charge a reading fee and tell writers that in exchange for their fee, they now get a year subscription to said outfit regardless if they get published or not.

I don’t know what the answer is. This is something I waffle back and forth on when I’m searching for markets for my stories. One rule I have is if a reading fee is requested, then the compensation should be at least a contributor copy, preferably some monetary payment which exceeds the amount of the reading fee. Another rule I have is if entering a contest then the cash prizes should be significantly more than the entry fee.

I think the biggest challenge facing writers is where to find low cost opportunities which allow a writer to gain not only exposure, but to be fairly compensated. There are several sites a writer can search for opportunities: (great for sci-fi and fantasy writers), Duotrope (there is a monthly fee to access the site), Submission Grinder, and other sites can help point you in the direction. Only you can decide if you want to fee or not to fee in your writing career.