Self-Rejection and Self-Sabotage

This is sort of a follow-up to my last post, possibly a semi-related postscript. Whatever you want to call it, it’s relevant in that it deals with another way we authors sabotage ourselves. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “don’t self-reject” or “don’t try to do the editor’s job for them”. Basically, if an editor never even sees your work, they’ll never have a chance to fall in love with it and publish it.

But it’s easy to fall into a self-doubt spiral and talk yourself out of submitting a piece. Maybe you’re intimidated by the other works published by a magazine, by the strict-sounding guidelines, by the idea that editor X could never possibly want story Y. Maybe the story has already been rejected from a few publication, so you let yourself start to think it’s crap and no one will ever want to publish it and you’d be better off shoving it in a drawer and never thinking about it again. It’s easier to talk yourself out of things than into things sometimes.

Speaking with my editor hat on (it’s very fancy; it has feathers), let me just say: DON’T.

Don’t listen to that voice. It’s a jackass; it has no idea what it’s talking about. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, this is another thing I struggle with myself, so do as I say, not as I do etc. You know the drill.
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Permission to Fail, Permission to Succeed

As authors, we’re supposed to give ourselves permission to fail, accept our crappy first drafts (and occasionally second through thirty-third drafts), get the words wrong, and allow ourselves to make mistakes without feeling like it’s the end of the world. Too often though, we forget to give ourselves permission to succeed as well.

What do I mean? Well, a couple of things. I’ve seen and participated in variations of this conversation in person and online on several occasions recently, and what it comes down to is this:

  • We’re uncomfortable talking about ourselves and what we’ve accomplished
  • We look around at what others are doing and feel we haven’t actually accomplished anything in comparison
  • We make excuses to and for ourselves to not take our work seriously and prioritize other activities above it

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m guilty of all these offenses. Given past behavior, it’s not likely to change overnight, so consider this a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do kind of post.

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Achievement Unlocked!

I set myself goals as a writer. They’re mostly nebulous goals, ones that don’t have clearly defined steps I can follow to achieve them. They’re goals like: It would be awesome to be nominated for an award someday, I’d love to have a story published in X magazine, or I’d really like to work with editor Y. Maybe they’re more wishes or hopes than actual goals, but either way, every now and then one of them gets a nice little check mark beside it on my list. One such goal I can now put a check mark beside (or perhaps an exclamation point/smiley face with glitter and rainbows) is appearing in an original anthology edited by Ellen Datlow.

When I first start reading short fiction anthologies, I had an ‘aha!’ moment reading one of Ellen Datlow’s fairy tale anthologies co-edited with Terri Windling. The work was consistently strong and fresh and just about every story brought something new to the genre. Ellen Datlow’s anthologies are consistently on my must-buy list; if she publishes it, I want to read it. From the moment I first started reading work she’d edited, I added a goal to my list of working with her someday.

Not only do I have a story included in an upcoming Ellen Datlow anthology, it’s carnival themed, a setting that just happens to be one of my fiction-writing fetishes. Nightmare Carnival will be out in October, but it’s available for pre-order now. Here’s the rest of the ToC, should you need more convincing beyond the fact that it’s edited by Ellen Datlow.

Preface Ellen Datlow
Introduction Katherine Dunn
Scapegoats N. Lee Wood
The Firebrand Priya Sharma
Work, Hook, Shoot, Rip Nick Mamatas
And the Carnival Leaves Town A.C. Wise
Corpse Rose Terry Dowling
Last of the Fair Joel Lane
A Small Part in the Pantomime Glen Hirshberg
Hibbler’s Minions Jeffrey Ford
Swan Song and Then Some Dennis Danvers
The Lion Cage Genevieve Valentine
The Darkest Part Stephen Graham Jones
The Popping Fields Robert Shearman
Skullpocket Nathan Ballingrud
The Mysteries Livia Llewellyn
Screaming Elk, Mt. by Laird Barron

It’s been amazing working with Ellen on my story, and I can’t wait to see the finished anthology.

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When Good Authors Write Bad

Yesterday, in honor of April Fool’s Day, we published Unlikely Story #8.5: The Journal of Unlikely Story Acceptances. The concept is pretty simple – we asked authors with at least one sale that would qualify them as a pro according to the SFWA (or a similar organization) to write us the worst flash fiction they could. It’s harder than it sounds. While I’ll admit I was reluctant to take on this issue at first, it ended up being a whole lot of fun. The titles! The fonts! The terrible puns! It was all so gloriously and beautifully bad that I couldn’t help smiling my way through the submission pile. It was actually remarkably hard to choose just five bad stories for the issue as well. In fact, if you’ll remember, we cheated a bit and listed several (dis)honorable mentions on our blog a while back. Anyway, yesterday we brought you the best of the worst, or the worst of the best, or something, all accompanied by truly wonderful illustrations. So quit hanging around here. Get over there and revel in the awful!

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Sex, Blood, and Dirty Words

The question came up at a local writers’ group I attend semi-regularly as to how much gore, sex, or profanity is appropriate to include in a novel or story. The very sensible answer was ‘know your audience’. It’s good advice. Obviously, if you’re writing a children’s picture book, you probably don’t want to be dropping f-bombs left and right (with the exception of Go the Fuck to Sleep), but that’s only half the equation. Just as important, or perhaps more important, is ‘know your story’.

Children’s books aside, most audiences are pretty good at determining the level of sex, violence, and profanity they’re comfortable reading. If it’s not their kind of story, they’ll walk away. So, yes, knowing your audience is part of it; if you really want to reach the people who will put a book down for being too violent, then obviously tone the chainsaw-wielding maniac scenes down a notch. But if that isn’t the story you want to tell, one full of fluffy kittens who share and are nice to each other and don’t own chainsaws, don’t write it just because you think it’s what readers want. Contrary to popular belief, most people are pretty good at figuring out what they want without being told. Don’t assume group X would never read a story about Y. Write the story you want to write, and let the audience find you.

Of course, there’s a flip-side, which comes back to ‘know your story’. Don’t lace your story with profanity, blood, and sexyfuntimes just because you can. Whatever choices you make, swearing or no swearing, sex or no sex, they should support your story. A five-page-long graphic sex scene is all well and good, but if you’re writing a manual on operating postal machinery, it probably doesn’t belong. However, if you’re writing a story set in the trenches of WWI, and your main character happens to be a field medic, then yes, descriptions of gory wounds and infected limbs might very well be appropriate.

So, the question is, does the inclusion of sex, blood, bodily functions/fluids, or profanity reveal something deeper about your character? Does it forward the story? If you remove the loving description of guts oozing through an open stomach wound, does the story fall apart?

Sex, blood, and dirty words that don’t serve the story can be sneaky sometimes. Though it does happen, not every author sits around, fingers steepled Mr. Burns style, wondering what they can throw in for shock value. Often times when those elements creep in, it’s the equivalent of an ‘idea story’. The wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if-giraffes-ruled-mars-and-also-monkeys idea that sets your brain on fire at 2am so you pound out the story as quickly as you can, not realizing there’s no ‘there’ there. It’s not a story, it’s a fragment, an idea that could be interesting with the right plot and characters to support it, but won’t stand on its own.

As authors, sometimes it’s hard to take a step back from our work and look at it objectively. We get excited about stuff. We get passionate and throw things at the page, and sometimes we lose sight of the big picture because we’re so in love with each shiny detail. This is where a good critique group/partner comes in handy. Hopefully they can tell you when you’ve gone over the top, when your language and scenes are gratuitous and no longer serving your story.

Before you get all excited about your blood-soaked space opera set in a whorehouse on a Mars ruled by a foul-mouthed giraffe and fire it off to an editor, take a step back, take a deep breath, and let it settle for a few days. Run it by a first reader and get some feedback before sending it out into the world. Whatever changes you do or don’t make from that point on, don’t do it because you’re worried about alienating a particular audience; do it because it’s right for the story.

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Announcing Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography

How is it already almost April? I think someone stole part of March. It’s okay, you can keep it. It was mostly cold anyway, and as much as I love winter, I’m done with it for now. Anywho…

We unveiled the ToC for the next issue of Unlikely Story today. In case you missed it over there, I figured I’d post it here as well. Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography will feature six brand new story by six wonderful authors.

How a Map Works by Sarah Pinsker
All of Our Past Places by Kat Howard
The Occluded by Rhonda Eikamp
How To Recover a Relative Lost During Transmatter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps by Carrie Cuinn
This Gray Rock, Standing Tall by James Van Pelt
The Cartographer’s Requiem by Shira Lipkin

The issue will be out in June, and as always, we’re excited to share these stories with you. Coming up even sooner, and wonderful in a whole different way, is Unlikely Story #8.5: The Journal of Unlikely Acceptances, which is our April Fool’s Day gift to you. What more could you ask for besides a mini-issue full of good authors writing badly on purpose? Because of that whole thing where’s it’s almost April already, it’ll be out in just a few days.

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Another Unlikely Update

I’m gathering up a few bits of news related to Unlikely Story, some of which I’ve mentioned elsewhere, but all of which are worth repeating.

With the publication of Unlikely Story #8: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, we’re moving to a subscription-only model for the PDF version. We’ll continue to publish each new issue online, but now you can also get the PDF version sent straight to your inbox. And it’s free! What’s not to like about that? So head on over to the Unlikely Story blog, and sign up for your free subscription today.

Speaking of Unlikely Story #8, the issue just received a very nice review from Lois Tilton at Locus Online. Congratulations to all of our authors, particularly Barry King and Mari Ness whose stories earned a coveted ‘Recommended’ rating.

And speaking of Locus Online and going back to Unlikely Story #7: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Maria Dahvana Headley’s story, The Psammophile made the 2013 Locus Recommended Reading List, which also means it’s on the ballot for the Annual Locus Award. Anyone can vote, and the deadline is April 15. The ballot also allows for write-in nominations, so the other original work published by Unlikely Story in 2013 is eligible as well.

Looking ahead, we’re closing in on our final selections for Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography, which will be published in June 2014. While we’re finalizing our selections, we remain open to submissions for Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology.

That’s all the Unlikely news that’s fit to print.

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The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography

Over the weekend, the latest issue of Unlikely Story went live. Consider it a belated Valentine’s Day present. Or perhaps an early President’s Day present. Or a just because we know you love free fiction present. Unlikely Story #8: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography features brand-new fiction by Barry King, Mari Ness, Mary Alexandra Agner, Ada Hoffmann, and Gregory Norman Bossert. As always, it’s full of gorgeous artwork, too. Head on over, peruse the digital pages, and treat yourself to some fabulous fiction, just because.

Looking ahead, we’ll be bringing you a new mini-issue, the Journal of Unlikely Story Acceptances on April Fool’s Day, and our next full-length issue, The Journal of Unlikely Cartography, in May. We’re currently open to submissions for our next Entomology issue, which will be out in November. Send your buggy stories our way, and while we’re reading those, I hope you’ll enjoy our current issue of stories about cracking, hacking, coding, and surveillance, sprinkled with a dose of cyberpunk flavor.

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An Interview with Sunny Moraine

Sunny Moraine was kind enough to drop by today to talk about their book, Line and Orbit, co-authored with Lisa Soem, which was just released in paperback from Samhaim Publishing. For those unfamiliar with Sunny, clearly you have been living under a rock, because their work has been everywhere lately, but nonetheless, allow me to introduce you…

Sunny Moraine is a resident of the Washington D.C. area, a Ph.D. candidate, and the author of the novels Line and Orbit (with Lisa Soem) and Crowflight. They are also the author of several dozen pieces of short fiction, earning them the honor of being named 2013 New Author of Promise by reviewer Lois Tilton of Locus Magazine Online. They maintain a blog at and can be found on twitter as @dynamicsymmetry.

Line and Orbit

ACW: Welcome! Let’s start off with Line and Orbit. It was released as an ebook first, and just came out in paperback. Care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?

It started out as me and my co-author basically writing the book we’d want to read, an epic-y space opera/science fantasy with a diverse cast and queer characters. The plot itself concerns a man from a future human civilization that’s come to regard genetic perfection as the absolute ideal—which of course creates problems when he shows symptoms of a congenital illness. Exiled and struggling to survive, he falls in with the Bideshi, nomadic human users of space!magic who have been at odds with his society for a long time. They appear to be able to heal him for a time, but before long complications ensue regarding a horrific secret, a brewing war, and a cocky and irritatingly attractive Bideshi fighter pilot.

ACW: You had another novel come out in 2013 as well, Crowflight, published by Masque Books. Would you like to say a few words about that one?

Crowflight concerns a young woman from a society of Psychopomps (guides of the souls of the dead) who—seemingly by accident—uncovers a conspiracy that threatens not only her people but her entire world. Framed and betrayed, she’s cast into the wastelands outside her city, where she makes some unlikely friends and begins to learn that you can only run from your past for so long before you have to turn and face it.

ACW: The two books came fairly close together, and on the surface, they’re very different– Space Opera and Dark Fantasy (to apply simple categories). Were they written around the same time? If so, was it a challenge to work in such different worlds, or was it kind of like getting to eat a delicious pie and a delicious cake simultaneously?

The two books were actually written about three years apart, and both came at very different points in my graduate education; Line and Orbit was written in the first year and was a refuge, while Crowflight was written in the fall of my fourth year and was really more therapy, a repository for a lot of the emotional difficulties I was going through at the time. That said, I think there are a lot of similar aspects to both—both feature secrets, both contain “wastelands” and other spaces that fall far outside of what the protagonists are comfortable with, that they nevertheless find themselves thrust into. Both are also focused around night and darkness, which I think is interesting but haven’t entirely untangled the meaning of, if there is any. I do seem to have specific story elements that I keep coming back to.


ACW: On a semi-related note, you worked with Lisa Soem on Line and Orbit. What was the collaborative writing process like versus working solo on Crowflight?

The collaborative process took longer and was logistically more difficult, but also rewarding in a way that nothing I’ve done since in terms of solo work really has been. Writing can be so lonely at times, and it can really be a motivator to work with someone who is as excited about your world and your characters as you are. It can also be hugely beneficial to have another perspective to go to, especially when you hit a block of some kind. So in some ways writing alone was more difficult. That said, by the time I wrote Crowflight I had already written two other solo novels (which will almost certainly never be published, for excellent reasons) so I was familiar with what kinds of self-motivation it required. In some ways, it’s also easier: You’re not on anyone’s schedule but your own, and no creative decisions require mutual agreement. There are trade-offs either way.

ACW: Both Line and Orbit and Crowflight have sequels in the works, correct? You’ve hinted on twitter and elsewhere that the Line and Orbit sequel is a very different book from the first one, and that it also involved a major re-write. Do you attribute that to being in a different place as a writer than when you wrote the first novel, or was it just what this particular story needed in order to work? Did that process impact your work on the Crowflight sequel at all?

The Crowflight sequel, Ravenfall, is done and will hopefully see a release sometime this year. The Line and Orbit sequel, Fall and Rising, is also done with the major part of its rewrite, and I hope to find a home for it soon. In terms of what prompted the rewrite, a lot of it was practical (the book as it stood was having problems finding a home), but I also do attribute the decision to having gained a better understanding of what a good novel—especially a good sequel—requires. Fall and Rising as it first existed was much, much darker than it is now, and while I think that’s a story I’ll tell someday, it wasn’t a good match for the mood of Line and Orbit, which was fun and ultimately uplifting (though it definitely has its dark points) and very slightly goofy. The spiritual thread running between the two books had to match. So it really did have to be a different book in the end, and now it’s much more similar to Line and Orbit itself.

The Fall and Rising rewrite was completed a couple of months after I completed Ravenfall, so I actually think the writing of that book influenced the rewrite, rather than the other way around. Ravenfall is, in almost every respect, a match for the mood and themes of Crowflight, and I think the process of creating that match helped me to understand what you’re really doing when you write a sequel. It’s not just a different book with a bunch of the same general characters and place names. That seems like it should be self-evident, but sometimes it takes a while to internalize self-evident things, I think.

ACW: Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about short stories. As if releasing two novels in one year wasn’t enough, you’ve also had an incredible year short fiction-wise in 2013, including being named the most promising author of 2013 by Locus Online (congrats, by the way!). Is your writing process different for short fiction? Did you sneak in short stories while working on novels, or do you focus on one at a time? Do you have a favorite among your recently published short stories?

Thanks! 2013 was awesome enough that I can’t believe that 2014 could possibly match it, though of course I’m hoping. Gonna keep working, regardless.

I didn’t really appreciate how different my process for short fiction was until I tried to approach it recently after months working almost exclusively on novels and found it incredibly difficult. I’m not sure exactly why, I just know that it was like I was trying to switch gears in my brain and couldn’t quite make it happen, at least not quickly. My process tends to be very instinctive—I feel my way through the general shape of the story and then as I write it emerges. With long things I outline at least a bit, but the overall process is still very organic. That process is essentially the same for short stuff as for long stuff, but I think that the shape and the way of feeling it out is different. And I think using one and not using the other made it harder to switch back. Though I think I’m finding my feet again—I’d like to give novels a break for a bit and focus on short things.

Among my recent stuff, I think one of my stories that’s gotten the most attention, “A Heap of Broken Images” (published in the anthology We See a Different Frontier), is probably my favorite. It’s a story I wrote during one of the most mentally and emotionally difficult months of my life, and I think it was a bit cathartic; it came very quickly and of a piece, though it took some rewriting to get it exactly the way I wanted. Aside from that, I’m very proud of “I Tell Thee All, I Can No More” which came out this past July in Clarkesworld. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever written, I think, and it feels to me like one of those rare stories where you actually accomplish almost everything you set out to do.

ACW: Given the amount of fiction you regularly produce, it’s hard to imagine you have much spare time, but on the theory that you do find a moment here and there, what occupies your time when you’re not slogging through the word mines?

I’m a PhD candidate in sociology, so I’m currently working on a dissertation that I aim (hope) to have completed in the next couple of years. I also teach intro-level college courses, which I enjoy a whole bunch – it’s probably the most rewarding academic thing that I do. Otherwise, I bake and knit and get generally domestic. I also enjoy really terrible TV and questionable horror films. And video games. I play a ton of video games – recent favorites include The Last of Us, Gone Home, and Outlast.

ACW: Now that you’re well on your way to conquering the world through fiction, what’s next for you? What else are you working on that you want people to know about? (If it’s a top secret death ray, you don’t have to tell me.)

I have a story coming out in May in the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which I am so excited about – the whole project looks incredible and I’m honored to be part of it. I have another novel, Labyrinthian, that’s currently sitting on an editor’s desk and I hope it’ll see a release in 2014, though nothing is set in stone. Soon I plan to embark on an extensive rewrite of yet another novel I wrote last year – I love it but it’s not ready to go out into the great big world just yet. And of course, Fall and Rising is heading out to a publisher soon, so I’m hopeful that before long there will be news there as well.

And there’s also the death ray. Though its development is stalled because it’s warm so the cats keep sleeping on it.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for having me!

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Signal Boost: Steam-Powered Anthologies Looking for Submissions

JoSelle Vanderhooft, the editor of the Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk anthology series has given me her blessing to signal boost her call for submissions here. She recently accepted my story, The Kissing Booth Girl, for Steam-Powered III: Further Lesbian Steampunk Stories, and she’s looking for a few more tales to fill the volume. In particular, she’s interested in stories featuring WoC and stories in non-European/non-American settings.

The original call for submissions appears below, but there are a few important changes to note. The new submission address is:

Ideally, stories should be received by March 15, 2014.

But wait, there’s more! She will also be considering stories for the next volume in the series, Steam-Powered IV. So if you aren’t able to make the March 15 deadline, don’t despair. And if you are able to make the deadline, wonderful! Submissions will be considered for both anthologies.

Steam-Powered III Guidelines:

Although “steampunk” is a fairly broad genre, we are interested in the following:

* Stories set in the past and present as we know them, or in an alternate past or present, as well as a future in which 19th Century technology dominates.
* Stories that involve 19th Century steam technology or retro-future technology that does not involve steam. For example, if your story is set in the Gobi Desert, the lack of water may make this technology look different than it would in a society that has enough water for steam technology to be feasible. For a good idea of what I mean here, please read this essay by Steam-Powered 1 contributor Amal El-Mohtar:
* Stories that explore and critique 19th and early 20th Century notions of colonialism, empire, race, sex and sexuality.
* The editor also has a strong preference for stories set outside Victorian England and the United States, stories that feature women of color protagonists, stories that feature protagonists from the lower or working class, stories with disabled protagonists (including those with cognitive disabilities and mental illnesses), and stories whose protagonists are not Christian. This is not to say that more ‘typical’ steampunk stories are unwelcome, just that they will be a harder sell.
* While Torquere Press publishes several romance and erotica titles, stories need not have romantic or erotic elements.

We are not interested in the following:

* Stories that exoticize, misrepresent or demonize lesbians, people of color, people with disabilities, or any culture or religion. (look up “cultural appropriation” for an idea of what we mean here).
* Stories with anti-lesbian clichés (such as the lesbian who would really enjoy heterosexual sex, if she met the right man)
* Stories with villains whose sole motivation for being bad is a mental illness or “being crazy.”
* Poetry
* Fan fiction (stories featuring characters that are not copyrighted to the author)

As Steam-Powered is entering its third incarnation, we’ve seen a lot of stories set in a lot of places. However, some countries and regions have never appeared at all. Thus, I am particularly keen on seeing stories set in the following countries/regions/cultures.

1) Eastern and Central Europe. Seriously. We’ve had all of one submission ever set here.
2) Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, or Scandinavia. (I will seriously love you forever if you send me a story set in Italy–though by saying this I’m aware I may have just opened the floodgates lol)
3) Southern and Central Africa. Though I always want more stories about this continent!
4) Australia
5) Russia
6) Mexico
7) Canada
8) Anywhere in South America. I have one acceptance for SP3 set here, but I’d love more.

Of course, all regions are fine–specifically if they’re not England–so please don’t think I’m going to bounce your story if it isn’t set in any of these places. I’m simply, again, offering up a few that I’ve seen little or nothing from and would like to see represented.

Word Count: 3,000 – 10,000 words (though shorter stories may be considered). **PLEASE query with your story idea first to save both you and the editor time.
Payment: $35 per story.

If your query is accepted, submit stories in .rtf or .doc format to JoSelle Vanderhooft at Please title your submissions as [Author's Last Name]: Steam-Powered III Submission, and use standard manuscript format that includes your full name (and pen name if applicable), address, phone number and email.

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