Friday, October 13, 2017

Short Stories--My Guilty Pleasure

     Psst!  You wanna know a secret?

     I am a secret short story writer.

    OK, a sort of secret short story writer. I have stories in two YA anthologies, SUCH A PRETTY FACE: Stories About Beauty and THING I'LL NEVER SAY: Stories About Our Secret Selves, both edited by Ann Angel.

    I grew up writing short stories. After all, what were our school readers but a bunch of short stories?  A five page short story was a doable proposition for an eight-year-old.  Writing a whole book?  That was for grown-ups.  (Sometimes I still think that I am not "grown-up" enough to write a novel!)

   Short stories were everywhere when I was a kid. My mom's magazines....Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, McCall's, Good Housekeeping...balanced out the recipes and housekeeping tips with short stories, two or three every issue. My own subscriptions to Seventeen, Teen and American Girl (a Girl Scout publication, not the doll people) not only had short stories, but story contests for their readers. In high school, I was a prize winner in both American Girl and Seventeen contestsWhile the prize money was cool, the real prize was publication in a national magazine.

First publicity photo, age 15, taken by my dad.

   I continued writing short stories as a young adult, but the market had dried up.  Those women's magazines had either gone out of business or stopped publishing fiction. The short story writers I admired published in "literary" magazines.  So I embarked on the "literary road" to publishing.

    It's a tough road.

   First rule of the pre-published author:  Know thy market. To educate myself, I read tons of digests, journals and reviews with names like Glimmer Train and Monkeybicycle. I discovered that if novels are a journey, short stories are an epiphany, a moment of time.

   Second rule:  Pay attention to rule number one. I learned that literary magazines don't like child protagonists, which puzzled me. I thought I was writing about childhood from an adult perspective like Kaye Gibbons' Ellen Foster or To Kill a Mockingbird.  I didn't write about adults because I just didn't find them interesting.  I was a school librarian, and spent roughly 75% of my day with kids whose lives were endlessly fascinating to me. Just not to acquiring editors. I went on writing about children anyway.

   Third rule:  Get used to rejection. These were the rejection slip years.  Literally, slips of paper with the phrase "does not meet our current needs" paper clipped to my manuscript. (Literary digests/journals/reviews run on a shoestring budget.) All this rejection arrived in my mailbox in a self addressed stamped envelope. When I pulled out those manila envelopes with my handwriting on it, it felt as if I was rejecting myself. Weird.

  Fourth rule: Always read your form rejection slips. You never know when some kind soul might add a personal note of encouragement. Thanks to a Post-it note on yet another returning story, I discovered my writing path.  "You write well about children" said the anonymous note, "but we don't publish stories about children.  Why don't you write for children?"

   Duh! I had spent years and years as a children's librarian. Why didn't I think of that?

   So I did.  Write for children from their POV, rather than about them.

   I still love short story writing. I still harbor a secret desire to wake up one morning reincarnated as John Cheever, although even Cheever might have a tough time breaking into print in today's market. Currently "little" magazines are filled with well-established authors.  I am really lucky to have been included in those YA anthologies mentioned above.  The authors for these collections have some kind of connection to the editor, either personal or professional. In my case, Ann Angel, the editor of both Such a Pretty Face and Secrets I'll Never Tell is a friend from the Vermont College MFA writing program. I keep a file of short story ideas, because you never know when someone might invite you to submit to an anthology, usually organized to a specific theme.

  Speaking of anthologies and breaking into print, here is your opportunity to be part of an anthology sponsored by and to be published by Crown Books for Young Readers in 2019.  Go for it! (I'd enter myself but this is specifically for unpublished writers!!!)

   I'll end this post with a picture of how I wrote my first stories. This is a my dad's 1914 Royal that  he bought secondhand in 1946 to attend night school. Talk about "pounding the keys." If you didn't throw your whole weight into typing, those keys didn't move.  Amazing I ever wrote anything because typing it was a physically exhausting experience!

     Book Giveaway: You have until Monday, Oct 16th to enter the book give-away for fellow Teaching Author Carmela Martino's new book Playing by Heart.  Click here to enter.

posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Mary Cunningham said...

Love your post! Your suggestion about reading all your rejections hit home. When I was sending out the first manuscript in my Cynthia's Attic series I received a note in the margin; too much telling, not enough showing. That single piece of advice changed my writing for the better. I spent the next six months rewriting and was published.

Mixxerly said...

I am here

Mary Ann Rodman said...

Mary--Thank you for commenting. I should add that I forgot my own advice after 17 rejections of MY BEST FRIEND. When the 17th SASE returned, I threw it in the trash without opening it. Had I not had a friend there that day who was curious to see what a rejection looked like and fished it out of the trash, I would never have known that an editor had virtually made all the edits on it, told me to retype so she could take it to an acquisitions meeting. (Yes, I dedicated the book to my friend, David..without him I would never have been published.)