Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back in the Mailroom Again

Here's a little blast from the past: I have a manuscript waiting to be mailed, from the post office, in a box.

One of my market guides alerted me to this (non-genre, non-YA/MG) contest for a short story collection, and it has no fee, and I have a bunch of old short stories that don't suck but are still looking for homes in this strange new market, so I rounded 'em up, organized them, and sent off my entry in the literary lottery. I will probably never hear from this particular manuscript again, but the potential profit-to-effort ratio is way more in my favor than usual and things can't happen if you don't give them a chance. I don't know why they want hard copy but I'm fine with that - the fact that I prefer an "outmoded" (i.e. perfectly functioning, comprehensible, and non-annoying) word processor isn't an issue in hard copy!

The stories in question are half genre and half mainstream (or literary; I've never been sure of the difference), they're pretty good, and I was able to arrange them in a way that creates a dialog of themes between the fantastic and the realistic. At least, I could hear one and if the judge can, too, so much the better. The oldest was first drafted in the mid-eighties, the newest in 2011. A surprising number of the older stories have middle-aged or old people as POV characters; one of them never came together till I aged into the correct viewpoint character's head; some draw directly from my own life and a couple prefigure things that have happened since I wrote them. I paired them according to obvious themes - marriage; mothers; adoptive fathers; crime - but the inobvious themes connect across the pairings. The title is Brief Lies because I think that's the perfect name for a short story collection.

I might get $15,000 for it. I might get zip.

That's the kind of business this is, y'all. Formats, genres, track records, procedures - you adapt to them from moment to moment. You revise stories and revise them again and grow into and out of themes. You write a story and it comes true, sort of; you toss off a joke and it comes circling back to hit you in the face. You send them out and get rejections and send them out some more until you run out of places and then they sit, for years, until an opportunity comes along and you haul them out and sort through them again, and you just keep trying.

But you never succeed, because if you're a success you're all done. You will never be a success. At the same time, you will never be a failure. Not while you live. While you live, you're just a writer, writing, and mailing, and e-mailing, and attaching, and if you have to attach it to a sled dog's collar to comply with the guidelines, you do, because if you don't comply with the guidelines, the person with the money will not give you any. He may not anyway, but you give the person with the money every possible chance to give you some and if he doesn't - then if he's contractually obliged to do so you go after him and if he isn't, you shrug and forget about it.

You can't afford to stress about this stuff.

You just do it.

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