Call Me Popeye

“Call me Ishmael.”

No. Too much.

“Call me Popeye.”

Better.

Why? The arc of my fiction writing career, while it is not literally about whale hunting, certainly could be said to have a metaphoric resemblance to the life of the harpoonist. Taking the famous opening line from Melville’s tale might help me to express the idea that I hope to be – like Ishmael – a survivor and one of those who regularly set out to engage fearsome behemoths in a foreign place. And–like Popeye–remain true to me. In either case – the great American novel or the great American cartoon – I find myself like those protagonists; ill-equipped and naive. I seek my fortune without truly knowing the cost of that quest.

I am what I am. That is my both my raison de’entre and my preparation. Am I unlikely? Am I preposterous? Am I nuts? Am I a long-shot in flannel pajamas? You bet yer plaid arse I am.

First, I suppose I need to support the idea that what I do qualifies as a career. I admit, with Alford guilt, that career might be at best an overstatement; at worst an inaccuracy. I have been writing and submitting short stories (and one sci-fi novella) to literary magazines and contests for approximately two years. In that time I have submitted about 183 stories. Most have been fictional short stories, a lesser number were flash fictions of less than one thousand words. I have also pitched – with little finesse and even poorer prospects of success – a collection of short stories to a handful of publishers.

In 2015, I submitted two short fictions; in 2016, 106; and in 2017, 75, so far. I have had 37 acceptances. My happy tally includes 28 individual, distinct stories and nine reprints. I have a few contest notables (“W’s” in my book, if not theirs) and several sincere, encouraging rejections asking for additional submissions. (A tie, in sports parlance?)

Nine unpublished stories are currently outstanding, awaiting a decision from editors. Two more unpublished stories await their next assignment – they have each been rejected a few times and will be sent over the top again, soon. I have a handful of work-in-progress and at least one red-hot concept that I wake up to each morning.

My last point on the career question is negative: How can it be a career when I lose money – not a lot, but enough to piss me off – each year?

State of the Union

Although I won’t get the standing ovations that U.S. Presidents receive when they deliver their summary reports, neither do I hand out plum jobs or government largesse. My self-assessment is as follows (please hold your applause to the end):

  • I have had more stories accepted than I would have guessed. Duotrope tells me that statistically, I am ahead of the pack when it comes to batting average. I’m right around Ty Cobb’s lifetime BA, so, I ain’t bitchin’.
  • Getting a story READ by the big publications is still far beyond my current dan ranking (Mennodan)
  • I have remained true to my original ideas of “how I should write”
  • I’ve worked with a professional editor a few times now and I can shout from the mountaintops that this is my greatest literary revelation, to date. Editors are remarkable and help a shabby mechanic like me in a most profound way. I need an editor.
  • Writing begets writing. Blogs and twitter nonsense are consumers of time and energy, but they do pay some rent in terms of practice and trial & error. (Like this article.) Also, from a marketing perspective; social media is a necessary tool for all but the most gifted of the gifted.
  • Rejection is manageable. I can handle it. It’s no fun, but, it’s part of the deal. I dislike, however, the amount of time many publications take to respond – it seems like a kind of (mild) artist abuse. Duotrope reported 276,000+ submissions in 2016. This multitude of stories was sent to the 6,000 or so English language lit mags out there. That is 46 stories per publication, on average, so why do so many pubs take three months to respond? I know it’s more complicated than that, but it hurts to wait.
  • At this point, I have exceeded my most optimistic pre-game visualizations. I have sent out homegrown stories about average Joe’s – many of them of the work-a-day variety, quotidian Mennonites, Ukrainians, and Francophones. I scattergunned these yarns out to an editorial demographic that might be described as urban, urbain, 30-something, female valedictorians with a much-photographed cat and an MFA. And guess what? These stormtroopers of the slush pile accepted them. They published my stories!

My God! Bright, worldly editors and audiences in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland have taken to my stories about rural Manitoba in the Sixties. Is this a dream?

I will continue. It’s getting harder because I am taking more chances with my writing and I am submitting to bigger markets. My acceptance in riverbabble, for one, suggests that I have the chops to tip-toew down some hallowed halls. I’m beginning to feel like I have a few supporters out there who might remember my name for uncomplicated reasons, like, they liked what they read.

I hope so if, for no other reason than that characters like Pete Vogt, my grandma Toews, my dad and other co-combatants with shit-spattered boots from the not-that-peaceful streets of my Steinbach upbringing deserve a little playtime outside of “Ditsied“.

gloria gaynor lyrics
Sing along…

allfornow,
Mitch

Advertisements

Literary Shrapnel

What I want this over-achieving metaphor to do is to corroborate the idea that small harms, in abundance, can do a lot of damage. Back me up here, metaphor.

The shrapnel flying through the air in my writing room most days consists of those uninspired, tired-out and much repeated words that somehow infiltrate my stories. Yours too?

“Luc,” she said. He nodded, shrugging off the look he got when he looked deeply into her smiling – now frowning – face. He sighed and paused, exhaling deeply. He looked a bit more – both while shrugging and also as he began to whisper. It was a slow, deep, shrugging whisper, predicated by a frown. Luc smiled, then exhaled – you could call it a deep sigh. Or a slow shrug. Really more of a shallow pipsqueak of a bobbity-bibbity, itsy-bitsy, baby shrug – a sighing, smiling, frowning, nodding, grinning, pausing shrug that he pulled up from deep in his sigh-filled shrug-sack.
.
“It’s not how it seems,” she said. And with that, Imogene dove on top of the sizzling grenade.

If the passage above does not push your cart, I’m not surprised. No one wants to write that way. But I’m willing to bet that you can go back and find examples of shrapnel-filled passages of your own — even in your published material!

I can. I did. I do.

Shrapnel words and the need to eradicate same came to my attention through one of the fresh tweets of Rayne Hall. @raynehall

I was blind to these deadly offenders and Ms. Hall snapped me into reality. I now have a regular step in my editing process to hunt down and defuse the ordnance hidden in my prose.

See her take on this and more, here: Newbie Quicksand.

allfornow – Mitch

P.S. – Armed with nothing more than a bottle of gin and a modified Sharpie, Luc performed life-saving surgery on Imogene. She came to and piloted the helicopter they stole from the Cartel encampment while Luc manned the .50-cal, pouring rounds into the enemy with ruthless efficiency. As the base medics rushed her into the field operating room, she glanced back. There was brave Luc, wavering in the bright corridor. He was in a grim struggle against the overpowering urge to sigh, his shoulders quivering with effort as he fought back a shrug. 

“Resist, my love, resist!” she said before falling into the welcoming blackness.