Showing posts with label Charles L. Grant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charles L. Grant. Show all posts

01 May 2018

The Buddy System



by Michael Bracken

Over the course of a writing career, we develop business relationships, gain acquaintances, make friends, and acquire critique partners, but how often do we find that one writer who becomes our writing buddy?

If I attempted to list all the writers I consider friends, I fear I would fail to mention someone, so forgive me in advance for naming only a few writers whose friendships have colored my writing career before I describe what qualities define the writing buddy relationship and introduce my writing buddy.

BEST FRIEND

Joe Walter was my first writer friend. By no coincidence, Joe was also my best friend in high school. We enjoyed reading science fiction, dreamed of careers as science fiction writers, and co-founded a science fiction fanzine when we were high school juniors as a way to see our stories in print.

We read and critiqued each other’s work, collaborated on a few projects, and goaded each other into submitting our stories to the professional science fiction and fantasy publications of the day. Joe broke through first, selling a story to Vertex. Unfortunately, Vertex ceased publication before ever publishing Joe’s story.

We lost contact after high school, reconnected briefly several years ago, and then lost contact again. To the best of my knowledge, Joe never pursued a writing career beyond high school.

WRITER FRIENDS

Knights, the science fiction fanzine Joe and I co-founded, brought me into contact with real writers, several of whom wrote articles and letters of comment for Knights once it outgrew its earliest incarnation as a place for Joe and me to publish our short stories. Three of those writers—Charles L. Grant, Thomas F. Monteleone, and Grant Carrington—became columnists and, by extension, writer friends. In a variety of ways, both implicit and explicit, they taught me what it means to be a writer.

All three read some of my work and gave me feedback. Charlie published one of my stories in his anthology Midnight; Tom rejected a story for an early edition of his Borderlands anthology series, but provided feedback that helped me place the story elsewhere; and Grant actually read and provided feedback on one of my earliest novel attempts. More than that, though, they demonstrated, through their generosity of time and by example, how writers pay it forward.

Our lives and careers took us in different directions following the demise of Knights, in part because Charlie, Tom, and Grant were well into their careers, while I was in the early stage of mine and did not understand the value of maintaining relationships with other writers.

Charlie has since passed away; Tom and I are Facebook friends; and Grant spent an evening with Temple and me a few years ago when he was passing through Central Texas on a multi-state road trip.

As the years passed, other writing acquaintances and friendships developed—some were short-term, some have lasted years, and the length of a few friendships can be measured in decades.

WRITING BUDDY

Laird Long
Finding a writing buddy, though, was like learning the secret handshake that we all deny exists. The relationship provides a second line of access into the world of publishing and a second perspective about the writing life from someone traveling the same writing path.

A writing buddy is not a business acquaintance, a friend, or a critique partner, though the relationship may develop from such inauspicious beginnings.

A writing buddy is a writer with whom you share inside information, complain about low pay and long response times, celebrate each other’s successes, and commiserate about each other’s failures. You write in the same genre or genres, place work in many of the same publications, and owe more than one sale to a tip provided by the other. You don’t read one another’s work until it is in print because neither of you needs the other’s approval nor wants the other’s writing advice. Perhaps most importantly, you know each other’s closely guarded pseudonyms.

My writing buddy is Laird Long, a Canadian writer half a dozen years younger than me.

Mystery readers may recognize Laird’s name from stories in Cricket Magazine, The Forensic Examiner, Mystery Weekly, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, and various anthologies. (And look for one of his stories in an upcoming issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.)

Unlike some of us who tout our productivity through websites, blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets, Laird avoids the limelight, preferring to let his work stand on its own, and he makes those of us who think we’re prolific look like slackers. Since his first short story sale—“Dirty Work” (Blue Murder #19, Summer 2001)—Laird has sold more than 1,700 short stories, and for more than 16 years he’s supported himself primarily by writing short fiction. He supplements his short story income by writing greeting cards, and in 2013, PageTurnerEditions released his only novel to date, No Accounting for Danger.

Laird and I have never met and have never spoken. In the early 2000s, we encountered one another through posts on the Short Mystery Fiction Society Yahoo group, and in 2005 he contributed a story to one of three anthologies I edited that never reached publication.

Though our initial contact was via the Short Mystery Fiction Society, our relationship developed and is maintained entirely via email. Rarely does more than a week pass without contact, and some days we exchange several emails. Our discussions are rarely about writing, but often about the business of writing—who’s buying, what they’re buying, what they’re paying; which publishers pay promptly, which ones have started dragging payments, and which ones have stopped paying; which anthologies and publications are open to submissions only to those in the know and how to become a writer in the know.

I’m not certain how or when our relationship morphed from writing friends to writing buddies, but it came with the dawning realization that our writing paths are similar, our writing goals are similar, our willingness to explore a diversity of genres is similar, and that while neither needs the other, we benefit in ways that we do in no other writing relationship.

While trying to explain the nature of this relationship to my wife Temple, she wondered if other writers have writing buddies. I felt certain they must—though they may have different terms for the relationship—but as I pondered her question during the following days, I began to doubt my conclusion.

A writing buddy is a rare gift, something found rather than something sought, and it transcends all other writing relationships. I don’t write better because of my relationship with Laird, but I’m a better writer because of it.

WRITING COMMUNITY

Whether we touch base once a week or once a year, I cherish all my writing friendships. We swap emails, connect via Facebook and Twitter, respond to one another’s blog posts, hang out together at conferences and conventions, and sometimes even visit one another’s homes. Though the act of writing is often a solitary event, the writing community will embrace us if we let it.

So, cherish your writing friends, and if you’re lucky enough to have a writing buddy, realize that you’ve received a gift. Don’t squander it.

Speaking of writing friends: Fellow SleuthSayer and long-time writing friend John M. Floyd and I will be among the speakers and workshop leaders at A Bridge to Publication, a one-day writing conference October 13, 2018, in Lake Charles, LA.

In other news, my alternative history mystery story “Harlot Road” appears in Weirdbook #38.

27 February 2018

Rejected!


Michael Bracken
by Michael Bracken

I have every rejection I’ve ever received.

All 2,552 of them.

When I began writing in the mid-1970s, conventional wisdom—whether true or not—was that a collection of rejection slips would prove beneficial were the IRS ever to audit my taxes. The very existence of the rejection slips proved I was writing with the intent to earn money and not as a hobby, even though I was operating at a loss. These days my taxable net profit on freelancing proves the point far better than my collection of rejection slips, but I can’t stop myself from collecting them.

Though today’s rejections are nowhere near as physically varied as the ones I once received through the mail, I continue to print out emailed rejections and file them with all the other rejection slips, which now fill most of a filing cabinet drawer.

JUST SAY NO

I received my first rejection slip from Fantasy & Science Fiction in September 1974, just as I began my senior year of high school, and I received my first personalized rejection—a quarter-page typewritten note with a handwritten addendum—from the editor of Multitude in May 1976, less than a year after high school graduation. I had progressed from form rejection to personalized rejection in only seven submissions.

Of course, a personalized rejection still means “no.”

The typing is mine,
the handwriting is Sam's
My goal was to collect acceptances, not rejections, so I persevered: A single rejection the first year, four the second, 34 the third, and a whopping 74 the fourth. They came in all sizes and shapes, from scraps of paper containing a simple scrawled note (Sam Merwin, Jr., rejecting a story sent to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine) to four-color full-page form rejection letters that cost more to print than I earned from many of my earliest sales.

Most rejections provided little information beyond the preprinted message. Others contained checklists where editors, by one or more strokes of the pen, identified the way or ways my story failed to engage them. Still others provided handwritten words of encouragement: “Not bad,” “Fine writing,” and “Try us again.”

O'Neil De Noux fails to recognize
the genius of my early work
The best—though they were still rejections—were the long notes and letters providing detailed reasons for rejection and providing suggestions for improvement. Sometimes, they even provided lessons on writing: Gentleman’s Companion editor Ted Newsom’s page-and-a-half letter on the value of writing transitions rather than using jump-cuts springs to mind, as do several letters from horror anthologist Charles L. Grant and several incredibly detailed, multi-page letters from Amazing Stories editor Kim Mohan. (Note: I placed two stories with Ted Newsom and one with Charles L. Grant, but I never did place one with Kim Mohan.)

And one rejection, from Mystery Street, may have been my first encounter with fellow SleuthSayer O’Neil De Noux!

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON REJECTIONS

During the 40-plus years I’ve been writing, my stories have been rejected by 71 mystery periodicals—the five that existed in the 1980s and 66 more since then—and an uncounted number of mystery anthologies, including both print and electronic publications. (Note: In “Poster Child,” my recent guest post at Something is Going to Happen, I actually name the many mystery periodicals that have come and mostly gone since I began writing short mystery fiction.)

I’m unsure if a multitude of rejections indicates when I’m having a good year or a bad year, but I received 204 rejections in 1991 (I received 84 acceptances that year). On the flip side, I received only three in 1989 (I received four acceptances that year). More recently, acceptances and rejections are near equilibrium: 39 rejections vs. 37 acceptances in 2017; 35 rejections vs. 45 acceptances in 2016; and 31 rejections vs. 42 acceptances in 2015.

Though the majority of rejections are in response to short story submissions, mixed among the many early rejections are those for articles, essays, fillers, poems, and short humor. I was shotgunning the market back then, trying anything and everything, and hoping something stuck. (And not every rejection generates a rejection slip—Woman’s World, for example, does not send rejections—so I’ve received more rejections than rejection slips.)

Rejections mess with your head. Being told no 2,552 times is quite disheartening. Some writers give up after the first few dozen. Other writers receive rejections and only become more determined. Many writers play rejectomancy, attempting to read between the lines of every rejection. (Aeryn Rudel, in his blog Rejectomancy, which I follow, attempts to decode and rank rejections into various tiers, from “Common Form Rejections” to “Higher-Tier Form Rejections.” Though most of Aeryn’s data comes from the horror, science fiction, and fantasy markets, the information he provides is both entertaining and informative.)

REJECTION-FREE IS THE WAY TO BE

Were it not for the lessons I learned from those long, detailed rejection letters, I may have become one of the many would-be writers whose shattered egos and unpublishable manuscripts litter the literary highway. Lack of ability quashed my music career and my artwork never gained traction, so I focused my creative energy on writing and, over time, began to accumulate acceptances: 1,584 of them (more than 1,200 are for short stories).

That’s one acceptance for every 1.61 rejections and, yes, I’ve kept every acceptance letter, postcard, note, and email. Those I file with hardcopies of my manuscripts and, when I get them, with copies of the actual publications.

I had a hot streak a few years back, when almost everything I wrote sold on first submission. My ego expanded exponentially, but then I realized something I should have realized long before that: If everything is selling, I’m not challenging myself; I’m taking the easy path to publication.

So, I began writing stories that stretched my abilities, either by working in unfamiliar genres or by submitting to higher-paying and more prestigious markets. The acceptance-to-rejection ratio shifted, and not in my favor. I placed a few stories, and just in time because two of my sure-sale markets ceased publication and several anthology editors with whom I worked stopped editing anthologies.

So, as I continue stretching my abilities and my stories continue facing the submission gauntlet, my rejection collection grows, taking ever more space in my filing cabinet. Luckily, so does my acceptance collection.

A trio of recently published stories survived the submission gauntlet: “Plumber’s Helper” in The Saturday Evening Post, My Stripper Past in Pulp Adventures #28, and “The Mourning Man” in the March/April Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (Note: Joining me with stories in this issue are two other SleuthSayers: R.T. Lawton and Robert Lopresti.)