Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Let’s Talk Rejection

RejectionI’ve spent the last two days at Darkover in Timonium, MD and I’m having a blast. I’ve made lots of new friends and had some terrific conversations.

(It makes me realize even more that there is *never* enough time. What I wouldn’t give for a little space-time anomaly to give myself a few extra days to socialize.)

This is my first year at Darkover, and I vow I’ll be back. I wish I’d known of it sooner.

So, why do I want to talk about rejection?

Yesterday I presented my “How to Submit Short Fiction for Publication” seminar during the convention. I was prepared with handouts and book props, knowing that I wouldn’t have the projector screen and access to the internet I usually do for demos.

I talked briefly about where to find markets and encouraged folks to look at submission guidelines when sending in work, and then I asked attendees if they had questions. I wanted to make sure that I answered all the questions people had, rather than stick with my prescribed script in the short time allotted.

But that meant we didn’t cover some items from my presentation in depth…one of which is rejection.

And I believe that if you talk about submitting work for publication, you should also talk about rejection. The two go hand-in-hand.

So, for those who attended yesterday (Thank you for coming!) here’s my take on rejection…just some things to keep in mind.

If you submit work to be published, you will be rejected. The first few rejections sting, especially when an editor points out a perceived flaw in the work.

The trick is not to take it personally. There are a lot of factors that play into rejection besides the quality of the work:

  • The editor was looking for something specific
  • Your story didn’t meet the editor’s criteria (and keep in mind: beyond the guidelines, you didn’t even know what those criteria were!)
  • The editor recently accepted a similar story for publication
  • The editor had too many “same genre” stories on hand already (for example: Fantasy and Science fiction is chock full of fantasy, but not enough science fiction submissions this month–and you just sent them another fantasy)

Two more reasons not to take it personally:

  • The editor’s not rejecting you – he doesn’t even know you.
  • It happens to everyone…here are some famous examples of rejection:
    • Carrie by Steven King: rejected 30 times
    • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – rejected 26 times
    • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig – rejected 121 times!

Sometimes there’s a silver lining to receiving a rejection: you’ll receive comments from the editor stating why he rejected the piece. Be joyful! Comments from editors are rare. The fact that an editor took the time to jot down a few sentences about your work means the writing is good. Evaluate whether the comments jive with your vision of the story. If they do, make the changes and send the story back out. If they don’t, send the story as-is to your next market of choice.

If you receive a standard, “form” rejection, send it out immediately to the next market on your list.

Keep writing. A day of writing prose is better than not writing at all. And keep submitting your work. Persistence pays off. Continuing to send a story out should eventually result in publication.

What should you do with your rejections? Some people burn them, other file them, Steven King pounded a nail into a wall and hung his rejections on it until the weight of them pulled it down.

I get more electronic rejections than paper these days, so the nail trick isn’t an option (without effort) so I log them into a spreadsheet. After the first 100 rejections, I bought my critique group a round of coffee (we meet at the local donut shop) and again for each 50 rejections thereafter. Getting a rejection still isn’t easy, or fun…but looking forward to coffee with my friends isn’t such a bad thing.

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Writing Prompt: You’re in the News!

Good Morning!

You’ve opened the newspaper today to see your picture splashed across the front page with the headline,” ___________________.”

What does it say?

Is the picture only of you? Or, is there someone with you? If so, who is it?

What did you do?

Here’s Your Prompt: Write the news story about you. Make it exciting.

Write the story in journalistic style, referred to as “inverted pyramid.”

In inverted pyramid writing, the most important facts are made known in the first paragraph, and detail gets less and less important as the story progresses. (This is so that if the newspaper runs out of room, they can cut off the bottom of the story without having to re-edit.)

So, in the first paragraph, answer the questions: who, what, where, and when?

Don’t “editorialize” this lead paragraph, that is: don’t make your opinion known. You don’t want to slant the story! Include only the facts.

You can add a quote or two in this first section. Make sure these quotes pertain directly to the story: perhaps an eyewitness account or two of what happened. What did those people see?

The questions “How?” and “Why?” can be answered in the middle of the story. They will add additional detail.
Sprinkle in a few quotes with the extra detail here, too. These quotes can be opinions. What do people think about what happened?

Make certain that you have quotes from differing points of view: some from people who agree with the story, some from people who don’t. (This is called “fair and balanced” reporting.)

One last thing, journalistic stories are measured in column inches and contain 20-30 words. Your assignment: write 20 inches.

When you’re done, send it to me! I’d love to read about you.

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! Anyone Going to Darkover Tomorrow?

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone (including those not celebrating) has a terrific day.

I plan to eat, socialize with family I haven’t seen in a while, take some photos, knit and talk genealogy. No writing. I just decided that. Today, I’m having a day off.

Tomorrow I’ll write and finish prepping for Darkover.

If you’re going to Darkover, drop me a line. I’d love to meet you.

Stay warm! It turned really cold here yesterday, finally moving the weather toward winter. This morning it’s raining. (And I’m thankful we’re not getting the sleet the weather people called for. I’ll be on the road with all the other crazies. We don’t need the chance of an accident when there’s all that turkey to consume!)

Gobble! Gobble!

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

What’s In Your Writing?

Moon by Kelly A. Harmon - 23 Nov 2010“Oh, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
that monthly changes in her circled orb –
Lest thy love prove likewise variable.”

Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.

I learned this quote before I even knew who Shakespeare was. I found it in a scholastic book of superstitions that I’d purchased in grade school.

I read the quote, loved it, and committed it to memory, because even back then, I was fascinated by the moon.

There’s just something about that shiny spot in the sky that catches my fancy – so much so, that it lives in my writing, usually without any conscious effort on my part.

What lives in your writing? What fascinates you so much that it’s become a part of your writer’s tool kit?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Daydream Confrontation

Elephant Seals - Image from’re dreading it: your review with your boss, a conversation with a best friend, or a conference with your teacher about your grades.

If you’re like me, you amplify those situations in your mind…giving voice and thoughts and mannerisms to your opponent, deciding what they will say, and how you will respond, building and building the encounter until it’s blown out of proportion…

This happened to me just last week. (And it was so anticlimactic when I got my way right out the starting gate and didn’t need to list all the reasons why I needed to do a certain something or use all the arguments against what I thought were going to be the obstacles in my way…)

Sigh. And I was so raring to go.

You’ve had moments like that, right?

Well, don’t let these thoughts go to waste! They make excellent fodder for writing.

Here’s Your Prompt: Think of a situation in which you have to confront someone and 1) ask for something you’re certain you’re not going to get, or 2) tell someone something you really don’t want to say because it will make them __________ (angry, sad, jealous, etc. You fill in the blank).

If you can’t think of a real-life situation, make one up.

Step 1: Just write the dialogue. How do you start off? Do you come right to the point and ask for something, or do you build up to the pitch? Do you try to be tactful and save someone’s hurt feelings? Or, do you give it to them straight knowing you’re going to get blasted with anger, but at least it will be over with quickly? Write from the beginning all the way to the last word of the conversation or argument.

Step 2: Go back to the beginning and 1) set the scene, and 2) add the action. Are you standing or sitting? Perhaps only one of you is standing. Who screams her words? Who cries and wrings his hands? Is it day or night, outside or inside, close to a holiday or an important (to you or your opponent) event?

Step 3: Once more, go to the beginning and start adding little details to give the scene some flavor: who’s wearing a red sweater and black loafers? Who’s long hair gets in the way? What kind of dog barked? Can you hear the sound of rain, a horn blowing, or a voice singing off key in the distance?

Finally: consider how this scene could be included in a story. Is it one of many arguments that two people have during the course of a novel? If so, think of other things these two can argue about, how could you build the plot around the theme of the argument/conversation? Or, could this be the culminating point of a short story? The highpoint? What events could have led up to this “blowout”? How could it be wrapped up?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Navy SEAL Spoke at the MD Writers’ Meeting Last Night

Own the Night by Paul Evancoe - CoverAuthor Paul Evancoe spoke at at the Maryland Writer’s Association meeting last night. Paul’s a retired Navy SEAL with extensive combat experience as well as an former Director for Special Operations in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism at the U.S. Department of State.

(Aren’t those awesome credentials? He’s also a very nice guy.)

Much of Paul’s SEAL experience is in Vietnam.

Sound familiar?

My character Cade Owen, Navy SEAL and Selkie aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Livingstone, in Selk-Skin Deep, served his time in Vietnam, too.

Nothing was going to keep me from the meeting last night.

Paul talked about the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the rebuilding of our military after World War II, Communism, the Cold War, Terrorists… He drew maps on the white board, penciled in bombing missions, showed us how to guard territories, etc. I was fascinated by his descriptions of how the shores of Korea are guarded.

I recommend his books based solely on hearing him speak. I haven’t read anything by Paul, but if his books are anything like his presentation, I can guarantee they’re fabulous. If you like military or historical fiction…if you want to learn about Navy SEALS…check out his stuff.

(Of course, I had another moratorium #fail. I’m now the proud owner of “Own the Night.” It’s sitting right here beside me, tempting me to pick it up…)

We had little time to talk about Paul’s writing process. But he did mention two interesting things:

1) he writes his books like a Hollywood movie “treatment.” That is, he writes the entire story, beginning to end, in about 40 pages, roughing in chapter breaks, but hitting all the major scenes. Once this is done, he goes back to flesh it out. If I can make it through my current “pantsing” style novel, I might give it a try.

2) He talked about the “subliminal” plot in writing: while building your major plot and storyline, be cognizant of the underlying layer of relationships among the players which denotes a subliminal message or story. Every story should have one, he said. This bears looking into, I’m certain.

I couldn’t find any info on “subliminal plots in writing” via web search, no matter how I twisted the phrase. If you’ve got info on subliminal plots, please pass it along.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

I’m in a Podcast!

The Dragon's Clause - CoverFor all of 2010, BroadUniverse has been making monthly podcasts based on our famous “Rapid Fire Readings.” An RFR is usually held at a bookstore or convention and five or six BroadUniverse members read for only a few moments each.

It’s our way of giving you a “taste” of the writings of many authors, as opposed to one author for an extended length of time.

The 10th episode is all about dragons and other magical beasts and includes readings from me, from The Dragon’s Clause, as well as Sarah Micklem, Diane Whiteside, Danielle Ackley McPhail, and Justine Graykin.

You can download the Broad Pod and listen to it from this page. The November offering is at the top of the list, but the other 9 episodes are available, too.

If you right-click the episode, you can also add it to your iTunes list.

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Great Review for ‘Selk-Skin Deep’

Tangent posted an in-depth review of Bad Ass Fairies 3: In all Their Glory, and had some really nice things to say about my story, Selk-Skin Deep:

“Selk-Skin Deep” by Kelly A. Harmon is a very well-written, harrowing story of an accident that didn’t have to happen aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam war. The selkie uses his advantage to try and save the ship and its crew. Ms. Harmon has written an action packed, suspenseful account of a naval battle with a poignant ending.

Bad Ass Fairies 3: In All Their Glory - CoverI’m pleased to hear it. There have been a few other reviews, and they’ve been good, but no one’s singled out my story. Of course, the Tangent reviewer mentioned all the stories, but I can’t help feeling a happy glow from what she said.

If you’re interested, I’ve got permission to post the first five pages of the story. You can read it here. Warning: it ends abruptly in the middle of the scene!

Epic Award WinnerYou can read the entire story in the anthology, which just happens to be an EPIC Finalist. (Winners will be announced in March. With a little luck, I’ll be changing this “finalist” icon to a “winner” icon some time in the next few months.)

If you’re at all curious about the Bad Ass Faeries™ series, you need to check out the new Bad Ass Fairies Web site. There’s an associated blog as well.

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Suffragettes

Elizabeth Cady StantonHappy Birthday, Elizabeth Cady Stanton! She was born on November 12, 1815, and is often cited as initiating the first organized Women’s Rights Movement in the United States.

What’s special about Ms. Stanton is that she wanted more for women beyond the right to vote. Her concerns included women’s parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, and birth control.

Stanton’s outspokenness on many of these issues caused a split in the Women’s Rights Movement, especially after she and Susan B. Anthony declined to support the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. (The 14th broadened the definition of citizenship to include former slaves and the 15th provided the right to vote).

Her opposition was not a manifestation of racism, but of fairness. Despite their passage, the 14th and 15th Amendments did not give women (black, white or other) the right to vote.

Twenty years passed before the two groups were united again under the Presidency of Stanton. She fought for women’s rights her entire life, and died October 26, 1902 – nearly twenty years before women were granted the right to vote.

Here’s Your Prompt: Create a world in which there is inequality to a specific group of people and how rights are restored to all. (It’s too easy to make this schism based on race, religion or gender, so be more creative and try for something different. )

Pay more attention to the reasons why one group of people sees another group as a threat of some sort. Think about how people react to those who are different and incorporate these incidents into the theme. Who are the suffragettes in this instance? Are those looking out for the rights of others from the “normal” group or the “different” group? Or are they from both? Keep in mind this shouldn’t be a story celebrating the differences but one about the struggle to understand and embrace differences as well as to alleviate any injustices manifesting from them.

In other words, don’t write me a heart-warming story about “people with differences” with a little politics on the side… I want the story to be about the struggle.

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Thank You, Veterans…Thank You Current Service Men and Women

Walter J. Rakowski

Your hard work, service, and dedication are neither forgotten, nor overlooked.

My family has a strong history of military service: grandfathers on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family and more uncles than I can count have served. Some have given their lives in service, some have dedicated their lives to serving.

Pictured is my great-uncle, Walter J. Rakowski. He held the rank of Staff Sergeant and served as an Ordnance Officer (ammunition) up until the time he died in service. He served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

I often wonder, not just on days of remembrance, what life would have been like had they not made the choice to enlist. I know it wouldn’t be as good as it is.

To all U.S. Military personnel: Thank You.


From the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Web site, History of Veteran’s Day:

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Military Tombstone: SSG Walter J. Rakowski
Rest In Peace, Uncle Walter.
Rest In Peace all who have served our country and are no longer with us.