28 April 2014

The Story of a Story


Once upon a time, a writer of magazine articles and promotional materials for entertainers read about a seminar being held at the local university.  Several big name fiction authors including James Dickey were featured speakers and would serve on panels to consult with attendees about their work.  A short piece of fiction or the opening fifteen pages of a novel could be submitted for a contest.  The writer sat down, wrote her first short story on a portable Underwood, and sent in "Positive Proof" with her registration.

Did she win the contest?  No, but an interesting thing happened.
On the last night of the conference, one of the "big" names sought her out.

"I was one of the short story judges," he began.

Being more in awe of successful authors back then than she is now, she replied quietly, "Yes, I know."

"I wanted to tell you that I fought for your story.  I thought it should have won first place, but I was outvoted."  He smiled.
"For some reason, they went with that usual southern memoir kind of story."
Fran Rizer in the Eighties

"Thank you," she replied and thought no more about it.  Her first fiction was no more 'southern memoir' than what she writes now. It was about the Kennedy assassination.

The writer continued selling pieces to magazines and really had no desire to delve into fiction again.  "Positive Proof" lay dormant for several years.  I am that writer, and the story of "Positive Proof" is my story.


After my divorce, I joined a writers' group at the local B&N.
Every time I took in nonfiction or even magazines with my articles printed in them, I heard, "Oh, that's fine, but fiction is a different ballgame.  It's a hard nut to crack."

One night the man I thought of as "the guru" (I had private nicknames for each member of the group), passed out brochures about the Porter Fleming Fiction Competition, sponsored at that time by the Augusta, GA, Arts Council.  (The contest is now in its twenty-first year and sponsored by Morris College.)

That's the first and last time I ever paid anyone to read something I've written, but I dusted off "Positive Proof," wrote a check for ten dollars, and entered the contest.
The nineties

No, I didn't win first. That went to George Singleton, an already successful short story writer from the Greenville, SC, area whose fiction had been published in Playboy. 
George won $1000. With my prize came $500 and an invitation to read the story at the Arts Festival. I accepted both.

The reception and readings were a wonderful experience. To make it even better, George came up to me at the end and told me he liked my story and was positive I could sell it.

I sent the manuscript to only one mag, which was a big mistake because it was a mystery magazine, and that story isn't a mystery. Devastated when I received a personally written rejection letter stating that the story wasn't suitable for them, I put "Positive Proof" back in a bottom drawer. My magazine features always sold first time out. Why should I inflict this self-induced agony of rejection on myself?

IN THE 2000s

A few years after my retirement on disability in 2001, I ventured into fiction again.  In 2006, I contracted with Berkley Prime Crime for the first three Callies.

Early 2000s

In 2012, I realized that much would be made in 2013 of the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination, so I pulled out "Positive Proof," updated it a bit, and sent it off to Strand in plenty of time to be considered for publication in 2013.
I still haven't heard from them, so I assume they didn't want it.
The Fran Rizer who sold
"Positive Proof"

On a whim, I sent that story somewhere else a few months ago.  I am pleased to announce that "Positive Proof" has found a home and will be published next month.  Check back in two weeks to see who is publishing it and where you can read it.

Until we meet again… take care of you.


  1. Congratulations, Fran. Shows to go you what 95% of this business is...PERSISTENCE. The other 95% is blood.sweat and tears. Yeah, I know that 95+95 adds up to way more than a hundred...but then that's persistent.

  2. Congratulations, Fran. Shows to go you what 95% of this business is...PERSISTENCE. The other 95% is blood.sweat and tears. Yeah, I know that 95+95 adds up to way more than a hundred...but then that's being persistent.

  3. Having had the pleasure of reading this story I can attest that it's a wonderful and timeless piece of work. I look forward to seeing it in print, Fran. And thanks for sharing this timeline with us, it gives real insight to the maturation of not only the writer, but the story as well.

  4. Thanks, Jan and Rick, for your comments and support. Yes, Jan, persistence is important. I just need to be more consistent in my persistence. Rick, you flatter me and my work (and I love it!)

  5. Was it Mr. Spock who wished everyone to 'live long and prosper'?
    Congratulations on enjoying the fruits of persistence!

  6. Wow, that is impressive, Fran! Congratulations and well done you! I look forward to hearing the rest of the story.

  7. Congratulations! I wrote a short story called "Zoo Story" that was very strange and nobody wanted it, so it sat in my drawer for twenty years - and then I sold it to Alfred Hitchcock! I still think it's one of my funniest... You just never know.

  8. Fran, I love these stories ABOUT stories. I agree that persistence, along with market knowledge, is a vital part of publishing shorts.

  9. Janice, this demonstrates the fruits of not cleaning out desk drawers as well as persistence. David, I'd love to hear what you think after you read it.Eve,I think "Positive Proof" might be described as strange also. Glad we both held on to those old stories.
    John, I was a bit slow in learning market knowledge because I tended to over-react to rejection.

  10. Congratulations, Fran! Can't wait to find out where you sold it. I too enjoy stories about where stories come from and how writers develop.


  11. Thanks, Dixon. Tune back in May 12, 2014, to learn all about it.


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