Christmas in August?
No, no! Easy … easy. Don’t get your panties in a twist. Christmas is coming, and we have to plan for these things, you know?
Presents, decorations, contests … . There! I said it. We’re going to have a story and a poetry contest for Christmas. Well, really for Thanksgiving, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Here’s the skinny. We’re going to pay $100.00 for the best Christmas Story entered in Page & Spine’s first annual Christmas Story Contest. And we’re going to pay another $100.00 for the best Christmas Poem entered in Page & Spine’s first annual Christmas Poem Contest.
Now, because we only want serious entries (and because our judges could only get part-time jobs as Santa’s elves this year) we’re going to ask that each entry be accompanied by a $5 reading fee paid via PayPal. You know you’ve been meaning to set up that PayPal account anyway, so now’s a good excuse. You can enter as many times as you wish, but each entry requires another $5 fee. Hey! Quit complaining. You know what Wassail goes for these days?
Here’s the complete run-down with dates and everything:
Page & Spine’s First-Ever Annual Christmas Story and Christmas Poetry Contests:
Grand Prize - $100.00 and publication in our December 19th Christmas issue.
Rules – Contestants must be 18 years of age or older and may not be a member of, nor related to, P&S’s staff. You may enter as many times as you like, but each entry must be accompanied by a $5 reading fee paid via PayPal to the following account: firstname.lastname@example.org . That's our regular submissions address, so there shouldn't be any confusion. Until we receive your fee, we won’t add your entry to the file. We’ll confirm receipt of both your story and fee by return email the morning after we receive them, so make sure you add your name and the title of your entry and which contest your entry is for to your PayPal message. We’ll refuse payments and entries we can’t match up, so please make this easy for us.
Stories – (Subject Line: Story Contest: Title - Author) are limited to 2500 words and must have something to do with Christmas.
Poems – (Subject Line: Poetry Contest: Title - Author) are limited to 1000 words and may be any style. They, too, must have something to do with Christmas.
Deadline for both contests is midnight (EST) November 28th. Winners will be announced December 12th and will be published (and paid) December 26th.
So there you have it. Judging will be done by P&S staff, and the decisions of the judges will be final. There will only be one winner per contest.
I carried my cup of coffee and sank into my chair by the window where I write. It was over. No more assignments, no more deadlines, no more listening for the mail truck's familiar sound, no ripping open my assignment to see how I'd done, no more letters of praise from my instructor to feed my approval addiction.
My course manual, Breaking Into Print, still lay on my footstool where it had been for almost two years now. I opened it to the first assignment, a five-hundred word description of a person. Five-hundred words? How in the world was I going to come up with five hundred words to write about one person? I remembered my initial anxiety. I sighed. Yesterday, I'd received my last assignment. I'd finished the whole course, and I'd written thousands of words. I lifted the huge manual off the stool and gingerly placed it beside my chair with all the other books I'd gathered throughout the course.
I'd finished, so what was that feeling that kept nagging at me? A sadness I'd not felt in a long time. It's not right. I should be happy, celebrating, whooping and jumping--I wasn't. I felt like sobbing right there in my coffee.
The door flew open, banged against the wall, and there they came, a whole flock this time. "Oh no, not you again." I moaned. They were back, those dreaded writing vultures. "No!" I covered my head with my arms and kicked at the air. "Go away"--they didn't. They perched on the lamp shades, the fireplace mantel, the end table, one sat on my shoulder and jabbed at my cheek. "Oww, quit that, you're hurting me." One landed on my keyboard and shat.
"Now put your books away, dearie, and forget this foolishness." Edwin said. He was the worst, an in your face kind of bird, bigger than the rest. He hung out with a scrawny little bird named Gertrude, his girlfriend I suppose, a bird that has a mouth on her that could make the dead sit up and take notice.
"But, I thought...I thought, I'd maybe, maybe, write a book, or my memoir." There, I'd said it.
"Did you hear that, Edwin, miss uppity over here's gonna write a book. Ha, ha, ha. You, you? The one that thought indie writers were writers from India, the one who uses so much purple prose you could puke." Gertrude mocked and pointed, doubling over laughing.
"Come on guys, I did well, my instructor said so."
"She was just being nice. Edwin cocked his head and sidled closer. "Look at the stuff you've sent out and no response. Sure you published a few things. You just got lucky that's all."
I pulled out the fly swatter hidden beside my chair for those pesky misquotes that find their way inside and slapped at those pesky birds. They scooted and dodged, took flight, and perched on the ceiling fan, watching my every move. I slumped in my chair and stared at the blank screen. Nothing. I needed support! I logged into my writing forum and there it was. Someone had finished a book and the moderator said. "Watch out for the writers blues." Writers blues? What is writers blues? I had to find out.
I sat up straight. "Hey guys, listen to this," I said.
"Writer's blues are like postpartum blues, that sadness women get after a child is born. After finishing a long project such as writing a book or memoir there's a feeling of sadness, a grief for that journey that has ended. After all we're the only ones who can write that story, no one else can create that book, that article, that short story. We gave birth to those words, they're part of us," I said.
"It's all boloney, right Gertrude?" Edwin took flight, and landed on my chair back. Gertrude nodded with a big grin on her red and white beak. The others cheered, "yuh-hu!"
I swallowed hard and continued reading.
The best way to beat the blues is keep writing, if we don't, we'll feel worse about ourselves. I know, we're afraid we'll never get unstuck. We think our writing is horrible and unreadable, not a good place to be. Some of us can even abandon writing because of it, but there are others who glide right through it without much crisis of confidence.
Read good writing and allow ourselves to feel what we're feeling. John Steinbeck once said, "In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable."
Rejections don't mean we're not good. It means the story didn't fit the needs of that editor and that particular magazine. Turn them into motivation, and move forward.
The best thing we can do is to keep writing, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, every day; no one else has lived our lives and gathered our experiences to be processed into stories. The good news is, it's temporary. "Hear that, vultures, this will pass, now, shoo! Skedaddle!"
I went back to that dark screen and started this story.
The vultures chattered in the background. Gertrude and Edwin sighed, "She's on to us. Come on gang, let's go." Edwin gave me one last jab to the back of my head. "Ouch!" They swooped back through the door slamming it as they went. But not before leaving black feathers that swirled around my head and landed on my keyboard, a sobering reminder that they'd be back.
copyright © 2014
Virginia (Jenny) Sturgill, an RN who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, has been published in Kentucky Explorer, Page & Spine, Long Story Short, The Storyteller and has an upcoming story in The Enchanted File Cabinet.
People are strange. Odd, that is. And yet, while plots vary widely, most characters in the short stories that cross my desk appear as alike as the contents of a package of Oreos®. Come to think of it, even an occasional Oreo® is cracked. Not so most characters.
So how does one write personalities quirky enough to be memorable on a word count diet?
Dialog is an obvious place to start. Making protagonist and antagonist interact as polar opposites—smart/dumb, funny/serious, smooth-talking/unsophisticated, or speaking different dialects if you write them well—will make them stand out in the reader’s memory.
Going back to the Oreos®—it must be snack time—remember, the filling is usually a different flavor from the cookie. Add depth to your creations by giving them multi-layered personalities. People wear masks. Let those slip now and then to give the reader a peek at the real person hiding inside the sandwich.
While you’re doing that, avoid clichés. Consider the stereotype, then give it a twist. Not every prostitute has a heart of gold, not every teacher loves children (or hates them, for that matter). No villain is 100% evil; no hero is 100% good, and neither character may be a willing participant in the role in which he’s cast. That’s right: maybe the villain is miserable about the harm he’s doing. That doesn’t mean he won’t feel justified doing it, but the twist makes him more interesting.
Finally, save a surprise for the end. Being a little ambiguous here and there without actually misleading the reader can leave room for a reveal beyond the plot’s resolution, enriching both a character’s personality and motivations.
When characters become personalities, I remember them. And, as both a reader and an editor, that makes me remember their creator.
copyright © 2014
N.K. Wagner is publisher and executive of Page & Spine.
“Roger! So good to see you! Have a seat, my boy.”
“You summoned me, Fred. Something wrong with my latest manuscript?”
“Wrong? No! Got it right here. Bound to hit one of those artsy-fartsy list thingies.”
“That’s it! One of those. Hey, don’t let anybody tell you different—those lists turn into actual sales.”
“Then what am I doing here, Fred?”
“Oh, just a few nits the boys and I want to clean up before we take your masterpiece to press.”
“Well, the computers.”
“You had computers read my book?”
“And they all loved it, Rog! Couldn’t have put it down if they could have picked it up.”
“I ask again, Fred. You had computers read my book?”
“I like to call ‘em ‘the boys’. Team-building, you know?”
“And ‘the boys’ had some issues?”
“Issues? Hardly. But this first line--”
“The first line?”
“Yeah. It says, ‘The weather was unremarkable.’”
“Well, unremarkable is, well, unremarkable. Lightning, cyclones, tidal waves. Now that stuff’s remarkable. The boys agree.”
“I’m being satirical, Fred. The line is satirical.”
“Every bad book ever written starts out with a stupid weather report that doesn’t have anything to do with the plot. I’m making fun of that.”
“That’s more like it! Exactly what we want. How ‘bout a gigantic blizzard, huh? That’s fun!”
“Fred, my book is set on Key West.”
“All the better! Who’d expect a blizzard, right? Maybe we get Al Roker to do a cameo in the movie version. Al Roker is the black Pillsbury Doughboy, you know.”
“Fred, I parody trash, I don’t write it.”
“Sure you do.”
“This is Hertz, Moore and Stutters. We only publish trash.”
“That’s not what it says on your letterhead.”
“That’s because people actually read letterheads. They don’t read books.”
“Sure they do. I’ve seen them.”
“You’re talking airplanes and beaches, right?”
“Yeah, those are good examples.”
“Nope. Research proves all those people with their noses poked in books are really just counting to thirty.”
“Counting to thirty?”
“Sure. After thirty seconds, they get to turn the page and ogle the girl in the thong bathing suit.”
“And on airplanes?”
“They get to look up and imagine the stewardess in a thong bathing suit.”
“Oh, really? What about the women?”
“Times have changed, Roger, and it’s not for either of us to judge. Besides, the Research Department never lies.”
“So you’re saying I write trash, Fred?”
“The very best trash there is, Roger.”
“But you pay me a lot of money.”
“Can’t be helped. The roomful of monkeys with laptops idea hasn’t quite panned out yet. But we’ve had some very near misses.”
“So close. Moby Duck. A Street Car Named Diarrhea. A Bridge Too Fart. But we’re making progress.
“Moby Duck? Really? That’s progress?”
“Last week we sold For Whom the Belle Balls. Optioned it to Harlequin. Made a pretty shekel or two, too.”
“So I’m competing with monkeys now?”
“Well, you set the bar pretty high, Roger.”
“So you want me to change that opening line?”
“Nah, the monkeys fixed it while we’ve been chatting. ‘The weather was unremarkable—except for the chill in the hair.’
“But that doesn’t make any sense, Fred.”
“Imagine a girl in a thong bathing suit.”
copyright © 2014
♦ Lee Allen Hill is just a leftover hippie with a penchant for word-slinging.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.
Self-Promotion Makes Me Nauseous: Or how to get your work out there for new artists 101 ~ Rachael Ikins
Whether you are Angelina Jolie touring for her film. "Maleficent" or Bruce DeSilva speaking in Houston for his new novel "Providence Rag" or a sort of nameless but excellent poet who has a scheduled feature at a local coffee house, we as artists are producing a commodity that we must turn around and sell, like it or not. Stephen King used to host Halloween parties in his home and camping trips with him telling ghost stories arond the bonfire. Nobody is exempt.
When a publisher or producer decides to take a gamble on your submission, they will invest time and money, counting on your product to earn their money back and then some. In this modern internet era, self-marketing and promotion for the "starving" artist/poet has much more potential than ever before. You can do it without investing money. You do have to invest some time, but even that is nothing compared to the old days when networking was done face-to-face, in telephone conversations and on tree-ware. (Tree-ware is a term meaning books, and newspaper or anything on paper.)
I'd like to cite the following current, true story as an example of how multiple artists combined forces, and all of them are benefiting from it in a promotional way.
I received a Facebook post one day of a new painting by an artist I really admire. It so moved me I dropped what I was doing, sat down and worked for 3 hours on an Ekphrastic poem (a poem inspired by another art form). When it was sort-of polished, I messaged it to the artist privately, just because. A few days later, I received a wonderful message back. He really loved the poem as much as I loved his painting.
Soon enough a friend in another city posted on my FaceBook timeline a publication link to a journal that looks for poetry inspired by paintings. Most of the examples I saw when I read their publication were paintings by “Dead White Guys" to quote a wonderfully irreverent member of a recent poetry workshop I attended. How marvelous, then, I thought, to submit a poem AND to be inspired by a living, working artist as well. First off, I messaged the artist to get permission to use his painting. He gave it. Next I submitted. The waiting began.
Back track a few years to one of my early readings. I joined my first adult writing group at a small library. In that group I met my friend who is a photographer. We remain good friends and somewhere along our journey I asked her to be my publicity photographer. It is her hobby, but she was flattered and said "yes."
Back to present day. We were accepted! The editor of the journal is using, as my bio shot, a picture my photographer buddy snapped. It has her signature on it. So when this journal entry goes live, not one, but three artists are going to benefit from it: myself, the artist, and this photographer.
I've already posted a "thank you" to the far away friend who sent the market in the first place. Courtesy is always fashionable. Second, when the journal issue is online, I will share it onto my FaceBook timeline as well as onto my art and writing walls. If you don't have a separate one for your arts, make one. I will Tweet it. Instagram and Pinterest it if possible. I'm hopeful the artist and photographer will do this as well. I will share it on my own blog and hopefully the photographer will re-blog it. Every time someone re-blogs I will "like" it. Hopefully all our followers will "like" things as well, as they appear. If someone has a story/book on Amazon and you read and enjoyed it, take a few seconds on Amazon to post a review. Ask a friend to do the same for you. If you blog, host guest bloggers. Submit to blog on someone else's blog.
Another show and reading I juried into needed a caterer. The budget was limited. I have a friend who is working hard to succeed as a caterer. Her husband died last year and they no longer have their restaurant. She got the job. Not a crumb of food remained after this event.
Self-promotion is not about sounding like an obnoxious TV ad. For me it is about raising consciousness, about karma and paying it forward. Yes, I want to make money at my arts. One way to bring more attention and hopefully bucks, is to do a good turn along the way, include someone else. If someone you know has a success, don't be jealous, “like" it. Maybe down the road some of their followers are going to "like" something you post or even notice you for the seconds it took you to do the act.
Of course, once your submission goes live, the journal is going to benefit, too. Just from my "shares" alone, in the example I cited, it will be seen around the globe. I took pictures of the food at that catered show and shared them, too.
That is my philosophy on marketing my work in a nutshell. It goes without saying that the work must be excellent to begin with. Don't just think of yourself. Think of others. Go to friends' shows and readings when possible just to offer moral support. Give a nod to someone else and you will, for sure, build your fan base or readership. I like to say it is a big cold world out there and artists and writers should help each other along as best we can. It is much more rewarding than trampling the other guy as you claw your way to the top.
Rachael Ikins is a prize winning author/artist from NY's Fingerlakes region.