In A Flash: Rejection and True Failure by Shirley Golden

1000wordsToday, once again, I welcome Shirley Golden to my blog. Shirley’s story, Jacob Clears His Head, was one of the five winning flash-fictions in the recent #flashcomp we held at 1000words. As Shirley’s already submitted herself to a 1000words interview, I asked her if she’d like to write a guest post here instead. To my delight, she said yes and has kindly written the following. Thanks, Shirley! Over to you …

Rejection and True Failure

Anyone who’s ever submitted work to be considered for publication has to face rejections. And anyone who’s had to deal with rejections will know it isn’t easy. Of course, there are ways to soften the blows: sending out lots of submissions, and having a list of potential places ready to re-submit helps with focus and motivation; having an appreciation of the odds, if entering competitions, can help sustain self-confidence (even for a competition that receives around 200 entries, a short list of ten offers only a 5% chance of selection). More prestigious competitions attract thousands of entries and can bring the odds down to 1% or less. So, a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your story isn’t any good.

I find it beneficial to look at my history of submissions for individual stories. For example, I’ve a couple that have been rejected 11-12 times but have also appeared on 3-4 long and/or short lists, and so I’ll keep tweaking and re-sending them because I know it’s about finding the right market, or landing in front of the right judge/editor at the right time. It’s also why long and short lists are so useful. Many stories I’ve had placed in competitions have been rejected several times, and one story was rejected five times before it went on to win a decent first prize. Perseverance really is an asset in this business. It’s true that rejected work often goes through extensive edits, but not always. I’ll stick to my guns if my inner voice tells me the story is working.

Of my submissions for this year (excluding those I’m waiting to hear about), 16 of 41 have achieved long or short listings and/or have been accepted for publication. This is a fairly typical hit rate for me in the last couple of years. However, it still means I have to deal with the fact that around 60% of work I send out fails. So, how do I feel about this? During the times when all goes quiet, I wonder why I keep submitting, and in a rather black period earlier this year, I missed a couple of the bigger competition deadlines – ones I’ve entered (without success) for the past few years. And perhaps that was a wise move; perhaps I saved myself a great deal of work and a few pounds in entry fees.

But actually, it feels like my first true failure, and it’s a salient reminder that it’s far more constructive to just keep on trying.

Shirley GoldenShirley can be found at her website as well as on twitter. Her winning story, Jacob Clears His Head, can be read at 1000words.

An Interview with Me at Ether Books

etherYou might remember that last month one of my stories – A Price Too High – won the Day 4 section of the 8 Days of Ether Contest. Part of my prize was to be interviewed by Ether about my writing, and the interview is now on their blog for all to read. If your interested in finding out how I found the contest, what I love about flash-fiction, what inspired my story and what I think about digital publishing, you can read my answers here. Enjoy!

Summer Reading Challenge 2014: Update

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 14.01.22Last month, I set myself the challenge of reading the last six books on my To Be Read pile by the end of the school holidays. I got off to a bit of a slow start as the hols are always a bit manic to begin with, but once we found our groove I finally found some time to read. So far, I’ve read three of my six books. (Little Kid has read one of her #SRC2014 books and is slowly and rather erratically working her way through a second.) The three I’ve read are:

89623Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx. I loved this collection of short stories set in the extreme landscape of Wyoming and examining the lives of the extreme people who live there. I loved that the land itself is as much a character in these stories as the people who live on it. Annie Proulx’s descriptions are beautiful and vivid. Her dialogue is snappy and believable. Her humour is funny. Her sadness is sad. These stories whisked me off to a far away land and made me feel as if I were actually there, sitting around a campfire, listening to a seasoned rancher tell her tales. 5/5.

 

16057298North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. If I had to categorise this book, I’d say it is literary horror. It ticked all the right boxes for me as it’s a collection of exceptionally well-written short horror stories set in small town America that don’t spoon-feed the reader. I’ve read a few reviews complaining that the endings are unsatisfactory as not all the loose ends get tied up, and not everything is explained, but that’s the way I like my stories. I like things to be left to my imagination. I like uncertainty. My enjoyment of the book, however, was ever-so-slightly dampened by the fact I’d just finished reading Bad Dirt – it’s not quite in the same league … but it’s not far off! 4.5/5.

 

6923669Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand. I whizzed through this book in two days flat which is not bad considering I’m surrounded by kids! The main reason for me whizzing through this book is that it’s just so darn readable. I felt as if Jo Brand were sitting next to me, telling me her life story over a coffee and a great big slice of cake. I bought the book simply because I find Jo Brand funny, and I find memoirs interesting, but I didn’t realise I’d be able to relate to so many of her experiences. Even though she’s almost 20 years older than me, her school years sound a lot like mine and the details of her father’s battle with depression brought back a few memories. Her time as a hippy mental health nurse and the events that led to her decision to give comedy a go are fascinating (and funny) too. Brilliant! 4.5/5.

Now, onto the next three, starting with Looking Out of Broken Windows by Dan Powell …

1000words: An Interview with Jacqueline Pye

1000wordsToday, I welcome Jacqueline Pye to my blog. Jacqueline’s story, Honour Maid, was a winning flash-fiction in the recent #flashcomp we ran at 1000words. Writers were given one image and four days in which to write a 200-word story inspired by that image. We received 33 entries and picked our five favourites which we then published on the website. It always amazes me how one image can inspire so many different stories, so I’ve invited Jacqueline along today to tell us, amongst other things, a bit about how she came up with hers.

Hi, Jacqueline. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. We’ve just published your winning story, Honour Maid. What prompted you to enter our #flashcomp?

Competitions which look interesting on twitter are checked out, and if I think I could work something suitable then the tweet goes into my Favourites list. I’ve been looking at 1000 words for a while, and when your flash fiction comp was announced, well that was a natural for me. And the tree image got the juices flowing.

Can you give us an insight into how you got from the #flashcomp image to your final flash-fiction?

Included in my book is a short story involving a tree used for an unusual purpose, and the notion has stuck in my mind ever since. The flashcomp image linked well, but I created a completely different set of circumstances which became darker as I thought them out – quite the norm now! Trimming to the word count took time, as I wanted a complete micro-story with scene-setting, a middle and an ending without giving the staccato impression which can sometimes result from having to reduce word count.

Other than images, what gives you ideas for stories?

As a former psychologist, I’m really interested in relationships and what can tip people over into anti-social or criminal acts. For example, why would someone poison their lover instead of just leaving, or murder their boss after missing out on promotion? Ideas also come from snatches of heard conversation; on a ferry I noticed a bossy chap telling his wife how to take a photo, when she clearly knew. A story emerged from that, and won a prize in a radio competition – though that was at a time when no-one could be all bad in stories, so the bossy man was OK in the end. I also use actions that annoy me; when our new neighbour immediately cut down a magnificent magnolia tree, he was pretty quickly demolished himself in a story for my next book.

JP2Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Aspects of many of the books I read seem to lodge in my mind and pop out when I’m writing, though as yet I haven’t tackled a novel. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna stays in the mind, especially for its circular story and satisfying ending, and ditto A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – hard to believe it’s 25 years old. Anthologies of selected short stories are a favourite, though different since if they’re current then they can help to illustrate the zeitgeist which these days I notice is different to, say, five years ago and is still evolving.

What do you like about reading and writing flash-fiction?

A short, satisfying story to be read in no more than five minutes is right up my street. My concentration span is about that of a goldfish, so both reading and writing in this genre (I think it’s a genre) is perfect. Writing flash is quick to start with, and while it takes a lot longer to edit, one can leave it and return at any time. And it’s true what they say – every word has to be useful and just right. But finishing the final edit gives the same feeling as taking a tray of perfect muffins from the oven.

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

If it’s for pleasure, then I’d say write whatever interests, amuses and pleases you. If it’s for a competition or other submission, then do take note of length required, and read as much successful flash fiction as you can to get a feel for what’s being chosen. Then hone your idea into a first draft and edit ruthlessly for unnecessary phrases/words, change bland words into those more striking, and if there is more than one character, be sure to make them different and identifiable.

Bottles&Pots_CoverThanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. Before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

A selection of my dark short stories and flash fiction pieces in my self-published book Bottles and Pots; some of these were listed, commended or placed in national or international competitions. I’m currently working on my next collection, which will include a story which recently won a competition in Writers News, the Magnolia piece and some flash fiction such as, hopefully, Honour Maid!

You can read Jacqueline’s winning story here, and connect with at her website and via twitter.

A #FridayFlash #FlashFiction: The Air Is Still

Brighton Pier(This story was my entry in the July Paper Swans flash-fiction competition. It didn’t win.)

It’s a hot day in July, and the air is still. From her table on the pavement outside the seafront café, Lisa watches the old man. He’s snoozing in a deckchair, cradling a book and wearing comfy sandals. Every now and then, his nose twitches.

Lisa’s phone pings.

Jim’s brought meeting forward. Now 2pm.

She takes a bite of her panini. It’s all right. She’s got time to finish her lunch.

Okay. Thanks, she replies.

Her phone pings again.

Jim says to remind you the Kennedy file needs updating before meeting. Soz.

The Kennedy file is at the office. If she leaves now, she’ll be back just in time to add the latest figures.

On my way.

Taking one last bite of her panini, she drops her phone into her handbag and looks again at the old man. He’s still snoozing in a deckchair, still cradling a book, still wearing comfy sandals, and every now and then, his nose twitches.