What I’m Reading: Ploughshares, Fall 2013

I’ve started submitting to literary markets (he says, as though he is admitting some sort of secret, deeply-held). One story of mine in particular has consistently received the feedback that it’s not speculative, so off it goes to magazines whose names end in “Review” and who publish handsome paperback volumes on thick, buttery paper.

I’m submitting to paying markets only, of course, and the pro-paying markets first, which might be all the paying markets — I don’t have hard data, but anecdotally there seems to be a double-handful of markets which pay better than any SF market save maybe Tor.com, and a wide field of markets (including such notables as the Harvard freaking Review) which don’t pay anything at all.  It’s about the publication credits on your CV which will help you get a faculty job, I suppose. Assuming you want a faculty job.

Since I was submitting to these literary magazines, and I’m lucky enough to have a local bookstore which stocks a selection of them, I picked up the latest issue each from half-a-dozen of the magazines on offer and have been slowly reading through them.  Despite the field’s overall reputation for slow response times, my reading speed was outpaced in several cases by the speed with which their rejections returned to me, but I’m in this for the long game, and sometimes I find gems which more than validate the exercise even if not for the excuse of market research.

The Fall 2013 issue of Ploughshares, produced by Emerson College here in Boston, is one such example.  Really the one story in it, “K Becomes K,” by V.V. Ganeshananthan, about a young woman’s experience as part of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, is worth the price of admission all by itself, raw and powerful. Robert Anthony Siegel’s essay about Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari is a nice finishing touch, and his discussion of the techniques Kawabata uses to depict his distant narrators has some relevance for my own writing.

Very much recommended.

(I’m pleased to discover that it’s on Kindle and Nook, in case you are not lucky enough to be a subscriber or to live near a bookstore which happens to stock it — which I would assume to be true of most of us, in 2013.)

Three Things I Learned After Viable Paradise

'after the rain i' by suttonhoo on Flickr (CC 2.0 by-nc-sa)

A short, informal note to the graduates of Viable Paradise 17.

It’s been a month since you stepped off the ferry from the island.  (Or off the plane.  Or out of the car, if you live on Martha’s Vineyard.  It can happen.)  You crossed the threshold of your home or your apartment, and you weren’t the same person who had crossed the other way a week and change before.  Now you crossed it a fresh-faced and eager graduate of Viable Paradise — the seventeenth Viable Paradise, to be specific — inheritors of a long tradition, ready to go out and write and publish and change the world.

A month on, I bet that has faded some.  The demands of your job, your partner(s), the kids, the pets, laundry and bills and video games…  A lot of the leaf-litter out of which lives are made is still there.  And that leaf-litter makes good and necessary soil, so don’t mind it too much.  It feeds lives and stabilizes them, and when the rains come it stops them from washing everything away.

In the same way that in book series we look for our characters to learn and grow between volumes as well as during them, so the learning of Viable Paradise doesn’t end at the Oath.  Here are three things I learned after Viable Paradise:

  1. The Oath says, “I will submit to paying markets only.”  But how do you find paying markets?  It turns out that SFWA maintains a list of paying markets which it considers “pro” markets in its membership requirements.  This is especially useful for short fiction, as almost all of the markets listed accept unsolicited submissions and have a link to their guidelines.  This doesn’t cover semipro markets, but Asimov’s can’t ever accept your Thursday story if you don’t submit it, and you may as well start at the top.  Following the SFWA list, you can keep your story productively tied up for months.
  2. If and when you run out of pro markets, there are a few sites that can help you find semipro markets.  Ralan is one.  The Grinder is another, and the one I use.  Both are free and donation-supported.  The Grinder is also a story-submission tracker.  It can be an unfortunately attractive avenue for cat-waxing, and it can feel a bit like playing Progress Quest to watch my little purple dot advance through the forest of red rejections (it provides graphs of the past 12 months of recorded submissions to each market), but I find it a useful tool.  (Okay, let’s be honest: it’s exactly like playing Progress Quest, if Progress Quest had random character death.)
  3. I’d strongly encourage you to join the Codex Writers’ Group, which you’re all eligible for now that you’ve graduated from VP.  It’s an incredible community of writers sharing critiques, experiences with markets, acceptances, rejections, laughter, and tears.  The way I actually find semipro markets to submit to is by watching where other people on Codex are submitting.  Even if you just lurk, there’s so much knowledge in the discussions available just to read, I’ve found it extremely valuable. It will also show you that even big-name, Hugo- and Nebula-nominated writers get rejected out of the slush pile.

And that’s the secret fourth thing I learned after Viable Paradise.  I still write stories one word at a time.  Many doors are closed yet, and maybe they’ll open later once I’ve learned more, or maybe that means they’re not the right doors, and I need to go find the right doors first.  The embarrassment of opportunities my life has provided me means I’m writing standalone prose fiction more slowly than I would like, which is not the same thing as not writing at all.

And so I put my head down and do the work, trying to nurture and grow the seeds that were planted on the island.

Toes in the soil, hands reaching upwards towards the sky.

While of course I hope for wild and quick success for all of you, Viable Paradise 17 grads, in the event that that doesn’t happen, I still hope that, whatever else is the case, a year from now you can say that too.

Toes in the soil, hands reaching upwards towards the sky.

The post image is ‘after the rain i’ by suttonhoo on Flickr, used under the terms of its Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.  The photo has a short accompanying microstory — go check it out!