Liebster Award

So, let me get Question #11 out of the way by saying nope, I hadn’t heard of this before.  But I’m also new to blogging, so no surprise there.  A quick run-down for the uninitiated: a blogger is nominated by another blogger.  You link back to your nominator and answer a set of questions.  Then you pass it on to five more bloggers and continue the chain.

So, why not?  Let’s keep this chain going!

Thanks to Dawn Claflin for nominating me and asking the following questions.  I met her through a mutual blogging/author friend.  You should check her out!

Dawn’s Eleven Questions

1.) How did you choose the topic of your blog?

Do I have a topic?  I guess so.  In all honestly I started this as home to link back to for marketing reasons and to get my micros a little love.  Who wants to invest in someone if they don’t know what/how they write?  Micros are fun to write and fast to read, so they were what I wanted to include first and foremost.  The other stuff I’m totally pants-ing.

2.) Who are your favorite authors?

Neil Gaiman, first and foremost.  I love that he can write comics and kid’s books and novels and isn’t pigeon-holed into one genre.  I also read a lot of YA, because action-packed fantastical worlds are my favorite things to read and write.  Louis Sachar holds a special place in my heart, as does Douglas Adams; I love comedy.

3.) What is one piece of advice for new authors?

Finish what you start.  (Okay, maybe this is just for me.)  Seriously, though, the hardest part for most folks is just getting it down on paper.

4.) What kinds of things do you like to write?

Fantasy.  Comedy.  Whatever strikes my fancy (or that the NYC Midnight Gods decree for their contest.)  I’ve always had an overactive imagination, so everything I write has to be able to keep me entertained.

5.) What does your writing schedule look like?

Oh, man.  So, like most writers I have a day job, so a lot of writing gets done in the evening after work, or on the weekends or on my lunch break when I really should be answering e-mails instead of goofing off.  I write a lot more when there’s a deadline looming (why, hello, Flash Felon!) and I also scribble notes at red lights when I’m in the car.  Don’t do that.  I wish I didn’t get ideas when I drive but there you are.

6.) Where has your writing been published?

Daily Science Fiction, officially.  I’m occasionally in the running over at Ad Hoc, but it’s blind so you can’t vote for me specifically.  Looking to add more to this list later this year.

7.) Why do you write?

I can’t not.  It’s an itch in my brain I can’t turn off.  I have been telling stories since I first was able to form words, no lie.

8.) How do you deal with writer’s block?

I can start a billion stories in the blink of an eye, it’s finishing them that gets me.  The best way to get over “what’s next?” is for me to pick an ending – even if it’s crap – and write it out.  Then once I can see where I’m going the middle is easier to fill in.

9.) What’s your writing process?

If I didn’t have a deadline nothing would get done.  Usually I’ll get an idea for a neat “first line” or a snippet of dialogue and I’ll write around that.  I’m terrible at finishing stories, even if I have a rough idea of where it’s going (see above.)  Deadlines are my friend.  It’s easier for me to write to a prompt with a deadline, otherwise half-written stories lay in waste until I find a reason to dust them off and finish what I started.  Beta readers are awesome.  They help me edit my work into shape while still making sense.  I find myself cutting important stuff to fit a word count and forgetting that I haven’t explained such-as-such.

10.) Do you draft on paper or on a computer? Why?

Both.  I get bursts of inspiration when my computer is unavailable (or takes too long to boot) and I’ll scribble notes all over the place.  It’s also easier to brainstorm on paper.  I have occasionally written entire drafts/chapters on paper.  I’m a fast typer, so I’ll edit as I transcribe my notes.  Computer’s the way to go for final editing.  I have at least 3 files of notes or scenes that get scraped or added back in depending on where I’m going with the story and how many words I have left.  Also, because I write scenes instead of start-to-finish I can move around passages of text to make it flow easier.

11.) Tell the truth…had you heard of the Liebster Award before?

No, but I’ve only been blogging for a month, so I’m not fully initiated.

Phew!  That’s a lot of questions!  Let’s recap the rules:

  1. If you are nominated, include a link back to your nominator’s site. (Check)
  2. Answer the questions your nominator asks of you. (Check)
  3. Nominate five or more other bloggers who have 1000 or less followers.
  4. Ask them ten* questions of your own.

*Because it’s either 10 or 11 I’m going with 10 because I like round numbers.

So!  I’m tagging the following folks:

I realize I need to tag more but I’ve only been at this a month and haven’t read too many blogs on here.  The others I could tag have over 1,000 followers, so you get three.

And here are my questions:

  1. How long have you been writing?
  2. What’s the worst/most embarrassing feedback you’ve gotten from a submission?
  3. What book or short story do you wish you had written?
  4. Would you rather be ridiculously famous, but have written something critics have panned (like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey) or write something brilliant, only to have no one ever read it?
  5. What would you need to accomplish in order for you to consider your writing goals fulfilled?
  6. What is your go-to writing snack food?
  7. Austin or Bronte(s)?
  8. Which question are we on?
  9. Where do you draw inspiration from?
  10. What question did you wish I had asked and what is your answer?

Thanks for the indulgence!

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Follow the Leader

One, two, through and through the ants marched into the pinprick holes of the blast doors. Rachel followed close behind, sneaking in through a rusted out panel of the missile silo. The ants crept down the banister in loose spirals, descending into the musty darkness.

Her footsteps echoed in the hollow chamber, each creaking rung threatening to give out from under her. She had gotten used to silence of her and the ants, who led her to the abandoned food caches.

She eyed the stagnant black water at the bottom. She hated swimming, even before the war. Sharks could catch her ankle and drag her down. Now bacteria nestled in the oily sludge with decomposing bodies that didn’t quite float.

At the last rung she heard laughter across the chamber, and half-formed words from under a steel door. It no longer mattered if there were sharks.

Rachel plunged in.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Molotov Cocktail

Don’t you just love that name?  I was introduced to The Molotov Cocktail through my writing group.  Let’s take a look!

  • In their own words:The Molotov Cocktail is interested in volatile flash fiction, the kind of prose you cook up in a bathtub and handle with rubber gloves…We want your action, we want your rotten characters, we want viscera…It’s all about language and story.”
  • Genres they accept: “While genre pieces are permissible, anything that is reliant on genre convention over story will not be looked kindly upon.”  Avoid romance, children’s or young adult, & swords and sorcerers brand of fantasy.
  • Word count limit: 1,000 words  (Average length 300-600 words.)
  • Payment: None, unless it’s a themed contest, in which case: $200 for the winner, $100 for the runner up, $50 for the second runner-up.  (Entry fee required.)
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes
  • Multiple Submissions**: No [EDIT: They *will* take multiple subs for the contests, but you have to pay for each entry.]
  • Schedule: Open, with contests periodically.  Submissions accepted through Submittable.  You can track their progress through that site.

While I’m usually all about payment for accepted works and raise an eyebrow at contest entry fees, I make the exception for these guys.  First off, the entry fee is relatively small ($6 or $7 depending on when you enter) and the payout is sweet.  Also, they publish the top 10 entries when the contest is over, so you still get bragging rights even if you miss the top slots.  (Or, in my case, miss the top 10.  I got a Close-but-no-cigar nod for my Flash Phenom piece and yes, I’m annoying enough to brag any time my name makes it onto a site.)

Their next contest is Flash Felon, which has an early-bird cut-off date of April 1st and a final deadline of April 30th, so there’s still plenty of time to submit!

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

Public Domain & Fair Use: Part Two

And we’re back!  Last week I discussed Fair Use in detail so now’s the time to circle back to public domain laws.

Again: I am not a lawyer.  Do your own research on these laws and get legal counsel (from a copyright specialist) before you attempt to publish anything you think might get you into trouble.

Ok, let’s get back into it.  In 2016 the most important date you need to remember is 1923.  Was the work you wish to use published before this date?  If yes, congratulations!  It’s in the public domain!

Side note: while Public Domain means it’s legally free for you to use, you may occasionally come across a publisher who says something to this effect:

“We do not have the resources to validate rights, and it is therefore our policy to decline all work which makes use of another creator’s universe or characters, including fictionalized scenarios featuring public personalities.  Yes, that includes Holmes and Cthulhu.  Play in your own sandbox, please.” – Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry 

That’s completely up to the discretion of the publisher and you should respect their wishes and their definition of “Fan Fiction.”  When it comes to submitting your work, the publisher is always right.

Other works can also fall into the public domain depending on whether or not the authors renewed their original copyright and a few other circumstances, but let’s stick with this first example for a moment.  You can look up other cases on your own time.  (Remember: this is just a primer.)

“So, Liz,” you say.  “I want to write a gritty reboot of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen and get filthy rich just like Gregory Maguire!  …He hasn’t done that one yet, has he?”

No, but get on that.  Dude’s got an Alice in Wonderland piece in the works already.

“Great!  I’m going to write all about how Ariel–”

Whoa, hold on there, sport.  This is where things get tricky.  The Little Mermaid might be in the public domain but the Disney movie is not.  If you want to write an original retelling of the story you’ve got to go back to the source.

“But Gregory Maguire made a huge plot point over Elphaba’s green skin and that was never in the original text, that’s from the 1939 MGM movie!”

You’re absolutely right, imaginary person in my head that I’m using as a narrative shortcut.  I actually have no idea how he got away with that, especially since MGM has been on a warpath to trademark everything related to that movie in a desperate cash grab.  My best guess is that because Wicked was published in 1995, and most of the articles regarding MGM’s trademark battles are from 2011, it’s possible that he made it in before the legal battles started.  Or he could’ve paid them, who knows.  (The musical based on the book debuted in 2003.)

See how tangled it is?

Here might be a good time to point out the difference between copyright and trademarks.  (Patents are the third type of intellectual property protection, but it doesn’t really apply to authors, unless you invented a new printing press design or something like that.)  Copyrights protect a creative work (the book, the movie, etc.) in its entirety while Trademarks are primarily used by advertisers and businessmen to protect a brand.  Copyrights expire.  Trademarks do not, so long as the company renews them.

So, what does this mean for you?  It means be careful, first and foremost.  The best thing I can advise is to go directly to the source.  You want to write about The Little Mermaid?  Cool.  Reread that story and make sure you’re retelling that tale, not the Disney version.  The minute you include a Jamaican-speaking crab you’re going to find yourself in some legal trouble. Unless of course you’re directly parodying the movie, at which point you’re protected under Fair Use.

To read more about what’s fair game I highly recommend checking out Standford University’s article on Public Domain.  It goes into detail on what is and what is not up for grabs, which is important to know regardless of whether you intend to borrow another’s ideas for inspiration.  You never know, some cheeky fan might be inspired by you some day, and it’s important to know where to draw that line.

Happy writing!

On the Eve of Her 28th Year

It is quiet in the house as I lay out the pills. Every crimson cap together in a row. My rhythmic breathing keeps the time as I count out twenty-seven. I shake another into the palm of my hand. The hollow rattle of the near empty bottle echoes in the stillness.

Twenty-seven, plus one to grow on. As the clock chimes midnight I sweep the pills into the bottle, a satisfying rustle of acetaminophen and plastic clicking together. Logically tomorrow will be no different than today. But for tonight, hope, ever vigilant, takes up her mantle once more.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Daily Science Fiction

Today on our Publisher’s Spotlight is a publication near and dear to my heart: Daily Science Fiction!  They published my first paid piece, so I’m a little biased in their direction.  Let’s look at the basics:

  • In their own words: “We need short short fiction, especially flash fiction. Among our featured stories, a shorter tale will get an extra nudge on the scale when weighed against a longer one…Our goal is to publish the best stories we can that will be interesting, worthwhile reads. Some stories, especially in the short short fiction, will succeed despite lack of plot, character, punctuation, what-have-you.”
  • Genres they accept: Speculative Fiction. “By this we mean science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, etc.”
  • Word count limit: 100 – 1,500 words
  • Payment: $0.08 per word (Pro Rate.)
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Schedule: Closed from Dec 24 – Jan 2.  Submissions accepted through their online portal.  The rate of return is estimated at two weeks (average.)  If you’re under consideration for publication they will usually let you know before they make their final decision.
  • Personalized Feedback: No.

Why submit to them?  Volume, plain and simple.  Daily Science Fiction publishes five stories a week, so they’re always looking for new and exciting tales.  Most publications will publish one a week or a quarterly issue with only a few pieces.  Therefore their acceptance rate is off the charts.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

Public Domain & Fair Use: Part One

A.K.A.: How Not to Get Sued.

Couple of ground rules: I’m not a lawyer.  This post is intended as a primer on when it’s acceptable to use other people’s ideas as inspiration for your own original work.  Please consider doing further research and remember that people can sue you even if you’re in the right.   (They just might lose the lawsuit.)

This post will not cover public domain use of music or song lyrics.  Why?  Well, mostly because laws governing music copyright are more complicated and best practices state that it’s more hassle than it’s worth.  If you really want to use lyrics the best thing to do is to contact the songwriter for permission, use extremely old music (70 years after the composer has died), or sift through the info listed here. (Scroll down a bit in the link.)

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s start with the difference between Public Domain and Fair Use.  In general, works in the public domain belong to the public, therefore anyone can use them freely.  We’ll get back to that in a minute.

Fair use has more to do with how people are legally allowed to use copyrighted materials that don’t belong to them.  In general, you’re allowed to use copyrighted works as long as you are either 1.) commenting on or criticizing the work or 2.) parodying the work.

This is why Gilbert Godfried can read excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey and a theater company can produce a musical making fun of the book without E.L. James suing the pants off of them.  (You’re welcome, by the way.)  But it’s also why E.L. James could not legally name her characters Edward and Bella – that copyright belongs to Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James’s erotic novel does not qualify as a parody of Twilight.

Side note: Fan Fiction is almost always an infringement on copyrighted material and it is in their rights to sue you.  Luckily, most copyright holders don’t really care about fans creating content.  It’s free publicity when you get right down to it.  The problem comes when you take something you wrote and then try to publish it.  Publishers won’t touch fan fiction – it’s illegal copyright infringement to make money off of someone else’s intellectual property.  “But what about all those Star Wars novels in the expanded universe?”  Well, those are official licensed.  The author was hired by the publisher to write officially-sanctioned novels and is protected.

There’s some nuance involved here, so be aware that if you’re going to claim protection under the fair use laws you still might be sued, or at least receive a Cease and Desist letter from copyright owner’s legal team.  Again, just because someone threatens to sue you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the wrong.  If you’re following the rules you could win the case.  However, saying “We do not own this, please don’t sue us!” is not an acceptable legal defense, even if you state it outright.  Duh.

I originally planned for this to be one post, but I realize this is a lot of information to take in.  Instead, let’s break here and I’ll come back next Wednesday with Part Two: Public Domain laws.

Continue to Part 2…

 

Heaven in Nelle’s Sighs

It was on the solstice that I first brought Nelle to see the moonlight. I snuck into the heat mines at day’s end and met her where the commuter’s tube split off towards her living quarters. With my passkey we rode the lift up past Center City and into the observation towers high above the nuclear fallout.

At dome’s crest the night sky shone onto Nelle’s face, so pale it freckled in the moonlight. I could see the stars reflected in her copper colored hair when she smiled at me.

It was then that I kissed her. For a moment there was nothing else, no ruined world below nor grand sights above. I tasted bliss incarnate on my tongue, more real than either of them. I knew from then on there could be no heaven for me now but on her sweet lips – we had plucked it from the sky.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Freeze Frame Fiction

I’ve submitted stories to many publishers over the years, so I thought it might be fun to spend Fridays taking a look at a few of them in greater detail.

Last Wednesday I mentioned Freeze Frame Fiction in my post about vignettes and I think they’re a great one to start out with.  Let’s look at the basics:

  • In their own words: “Good flash fiction is like a freeze frame—a snapshot of a real story about real characters. The word count is low, so many of the details are left to the reader to fill in, but they’re there. Flash fiction is not the same as a vignette, or a scene; it hints at much more. Give us something real (though not necessarily realistic), unique, and interesting.”
  • Genres they accept: Any
  • Word count limit: 1,000 words
  • Payment: $10 per accepted piece
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: “Yes, we just ask that you inform us of this fact upon submission, and withdraw your piece immediately it’s if accepted elsewhere.”
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Schedule: Open quarterly.  Next issue closes March 15, 2016. Submissions accepted through Submittable.  The rate of return is estimated at one – two months, but Submittable will let you track their progress on you story online.
  • Personalized Feedback: Yes!

Feedback is the key with Freeze Frame Fiction.  I submitted one of my works to them and received excellent, detailed feedback from four different editors.  That is extremely rare – most publications will send your story home with little but a “Thanks but no thanks” or charge a reading fee in order to give you notes.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

No Vignettes: Plot in Flash Fiction

 

“At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, apart from the word length, the key factor with Flash Fiction is it has all the elements of a traditional self-contained short story, including a beginning, a middle and an end, even if some aspects may be implied.  Flash Fiction is NOT an extract or vignette from a longer story.” – Grievous Angel

Chances are, if you’ve ever scoured the internet for a Flash Fiction publisher, you’ve seen some variation on this in their submission guidelines.  Flash Fiction Online and Freeze Frame Fiction say much the same thing.

So what does it mean, and how can you avoid making this mistake?

Let’s start by talking about basic plot structure and then see how we can apply it to Flash.  Your basic plot has seven points:

I don’t know about you, but I’m already lost.  Hey, Pixar, can you break this down for us?

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. And ever since that day___.

Much better.

So now that we’ve got our outline, let’s talk about vignettes.  A vignette is a day-in-the-life scene that covers your first two plot points. Since we’re talking about Pixar I’m going to use WALL-E as my example.  A vignette would be telling a beautiful, evocative story about a lonely little robot on an abandoned wasteland cleaning up trash while the other robots rusted away.

Now, that’s an interesting idea, but if you’ve seen the rest of the movie, it’s not nearly as interesting as the day EVE lands – after which point you get your story.  And that’s the problem with vignettes: they have no conflict, no character arc.  Publishers aren’t interested in your thought-experiments, they want a story.

Now, as you’ve probably guessed, the seven point plot structure is redundant and better suited to novels than flash.  What you really need is to get back to basics:

The beginning sets up the story.  The middle complicates it.   The end resolves it.  Put your hero in a tree, throw rocks at him, and get him out. – David Trottier

Getting back to WALL-E, you don’t have room in a Flash Fiction piece to tell the whole movie.  But there are several stories within WALL-E that would make excellent Flash pieces.  You could tell the first act, where WALL-E and EVE meet and end up flying off to make contact with the humans.  Or you could tell the last act, if you flip it to the perspective of the Captain who must decide whether to help WALL-E get the humans home or continue letting them atrophy in perpetual comfort.  You could even tell the story of the little repair droid who spends the entire movie trying to fix a light on the ship, if you really want to get into those DVD extras.

See what I mean?

For more on plot structure check out: The Story Spine: Pixar’s 4th Rule of Storytelling.