Showing posts with label positive proof. Show all posts
Showing posts with label positive proof. Show all posts

28 April 2014

The Story of a Story


by Fran Rizer


IN THE EIGHTIES

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.


IN THE NINETIES

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.




03 July 2012

Brief Versus Short


 by Dale C. Andrews

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
    Last week I received an eagerly awaited piece of mail – a check.  The amount of the check, paid in compensation for a 26 page document I wrote this year, may not have been huge, but neither was it all that modest.  It was, for comparisons sake, more than  my annual salary  back in 1972 when I was still programming computers.  It was also about 8 times more than I have received in total for the short stories I have sold over the past few years.  Unlike those stories, this novella length document wasn’t fiction at all.  The check was payment for a legal brief that I agreed to write in a case involving a challenge to new consumer regulations published by the United States Department of Transportation. 

    I know, I know.  I make a point here and elsewhere of being a “recovering” attorney.  But this case tempted me back into the legal arena since I was asked to defend regulations that are pro-consumer, and with which I personally agree.  Also the payment would be, well, generous. 

    The last 20 years that I practiced law I was the Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the Department of Transportation’s litigation office.  For a host of reasons I enjoyed that position much more than I had my previous 15 years of practice in the private sector.  At DOT almost everything that I did revolved around the written word.  I specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation, so there was no interviewing of witnesses or trial work for me.  Rather, I spent my years writing and editing the writing of others.  When I was in private practice it bugged me no end to think that every hour I spent on a project needed to be billed to someone.  Time and money were stapled together at the ankles.  Separating hours worked from compensation received is one of the greatest joys in working for the government.   While work still stacks up, there is nevertheless the opportunity to give each task the amount of time it requires rather than the amount of time that can justifiably be multiplied by an applicable hourly rate.  Nonetheless, I am human, and I like money as well as the next guy.  So I admit that it was the prospect of those billable hours that enticed me to write that brief this year.

    By contrast, each of us here at SleuthSayers, I will bet, is marching to a different drummer.  You basically can’t make anything close to a living writing short stories.  The last mystery writer who may have been able to eke out that sort of living was Ed Hoch, and I would be very surprised if there are any more of his ilk out on the horizon. 

    This was not always the case.  O. Henry wrote virtually only short stories, and apparently lived well.  Shirley Jackson left a handful of novels, but was principally known for her incredible short stories.  Faulkner, Hemmingway and Steinbeck each cut their teeth on short stories, as did Stephen King. 

    It is interesting to speculate as to what has changed since the heyday of magazine fiction.  John Floyd, in a column last week, set forth a list of outlets that currently pay for new short stories.  That list is paltry compared to the publications that were readily available at neighborhood news counters in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  And why is this the case?  Economics teaches us that the magazines that are no more ceased to exist only because readers stopped purchasing them.  It’s pretty simple – when readers go away the market contracts.  Since the demise of many of those short story outlets coincided with the rise of television it is tempting to link the two.  Did readers leave because of the advent of television?  If so, why was that the case?  Mystery stories were a hallmark of radio programming before televisions entered our living rooms and yet the market for printed short stories thrived alongside radio dramas. 

  Thinking about this I was reminded of an episode on the Twilight Zone – actually, the 1985 re-boot of the show on CBS.  The episode, part of the 1985 Christmas show, was titled “But Can She Type?” and centered on a much-abused secretary who was transported into a parallel universe where secretarial skills were revered.  The scenario of that episode is not unlike the situation that short story authors find themselves in – we seem to be stuck in a universe that no longer fully appreciates our contributions.

    It is possible, with the advent of epublications and stories and books that are obtainable over the internet without ever being published in hardcover, that the pendulum may now be swinging back to a more amenable position.  But I still am a bit of a skeptic.  After all, the demise of all of those mystery magazines that we bought as kids was not a fluke – they left the shelves because the public stopped buying them.  Does the ability to download a book or a story heighten the public’s interest in acquiring the story?  Of course from an economics standpoint it could be that the readership market, while still narrow, is also deep, and that on-line availability of mystery fiction will appeal to those still interested in the genre who, for whatever reason, are not frequent purchasers of hardcopy books and magazines. 

    Regardless of whether these new outlets are harbingers of better things to come, at least, as John pointed out last week, there are markets that are out there right now.  But there are also strange disparities.  I spend roughly the same amount of time on a short story that I spent on that brief to the D.C. Court of Appeals.  My writing style changes somewhat when I shift from fiction to persuasive rhetoric, but it doesn’t really change all that much.  I still end up using the same words, the same organizational approach, and pretty much the same cadence.  But one of those efforts, if successful, brings monetary rewards that are probably at best only about five percent of the potential of the other. 

    In any event, no matter how the economics sort out, those of us committed to spinning yarns are in this for non-monetary gratification.  We are also in it for the long run!