Archive for the Pig in a Poke Category

Withholding

Posted in All posts, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by Trina

“I thought the story was well written, but nothing was happening.”

I write these words more frequently than any others in rejections letters for stories submitted to Pig in a Poke magazine. Lack of tension and conflict is probably the most common and unfortunate reason for rejection because many of these stories have real potential. Lack of tension is also a common problem in the fiction writing I see as a freelance editor, so I thought it deserved a blog post.

The best stories are the ones that keep us interested and what builds interests is tension. Tension is that feeling of conflict between what the protagonist wants and the barriers in the way of that happening. I don’t care how literary a story is, or how well the words are strung together, if there is no conflict, it is boring. No conflict equals rejection. Long or short, fiction must have tension or you lose your reader.

I recently read a 5,000 word story about a man who fought in Operation Hurricane backing up paratroopers dropped into Samara. I hated to reject the story, because it could have been really good, but instead was a dialogue about Eastern politics. Why wasn’t it good? There was no conflict, no tension. We learned the protagonist’s story only through his passive reflection on what had happened to him. There was no reason to keep scrolling down the page. It was well-researched and well-written snoozer. Withholding could have turned this story into a page turner.

Avoid the rejection pile by learning to withhold

Creating tension in fiction is about withholding. It might mean withholding the answers to questions like: Will Detective Alex Cross get the bad guy? How will James Bond will get out of this? Will Harry and Sally find a way to be together? These questions must be carefully planted into the readers mind and the answers revealed only through the resolution in the ending. Hints dropped sporadically can be a good way to build tension.

You create tension by continuous planting of questions in your reader’s mind. In the case of the Algerian soldier, tension could easily have been created by telling the story in real time and withholding by posing these questions either in the characters’ actions or dialogue: Is the hero going to save the day? Will our soldier make it out of Algeria? Will Algeria achieve independence? As it was written, these questions were answered before the story even began. Why would anyone keep reading?

Create tension by withholding in several ways:

  • change the order of how you reveal what happens, so that the reader will want to know what’s going to happen next–taking care not to reveal too much up front.
  • “mystify” one of the major revelations so that it’s unclear to both the reader and the characters what is really going on.
  • give at least one significant character a juicy secret that ties into the central storyline and will give a nice subplot at the same time.

Your characters are flawed. They should make mistakes. If your protagonist takes two steps forward, she must take one step back. There is a reason James Patterson’s books sell. He is a master of creating tension. When Alex Cross gets one step closer to the killer, something worsens in his life. His grandmother collapses and is rushed to the hospital. His girlfriend is kidnapped.

Here’s to conflict. May it always reign in your stories.



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The return of Pig in a Poke — live online today!

Posted in All posts, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2010 by Trina

Big news today for fans of good writing!

Pig in a poke

Pig in a Poke magazine

I’m proud to announce that for the first time in decades, Pig in a Poke magazine is going to live again today, May 1st, 2010!

This was a team effort. I am happy to the second half of the team. My husband Harry Calhoun created the magazine from an earlier print version he published back in the 1980s. Then, he edited a magazine called Pig in a Poke and, when he ran short of money, its smaller, more affordably priced offshoot, Pig in a Pamphlet. (See Harry’s blog for details). This online literary journal offers what we think to be an incredible lineup of poetry and fiction, with a few essays too.

For my part, I edited the fiction and took a crash course (self taught) in Web design to create the look of the site. Harry and I worked together to develop the look we wanted … it allows you to spend time with the individual writers in their own intimate spaces. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.

It’s a tribute to the quality and staying power of our writers that Harry was publishing some of them back in the 1980s … as long ago as 1982, in fact. And we have some newer talent that I think is equally impressive. And by the way, any poets or fiction writers on this mailing list are more than welcome to submit for future issues.

I hope you’ll drop by, give a read, maybe donate to the cause, and let me know what you think.

http://www.piginpoke.com/currentissue.html

The lineup for this issue includes:

Poetry by

Jim Daniels

Louis McKee

Lyn Lifshin

Howie Good

Christopher Cunningham

William Doreski

David Barker

Carol Lynn Grellas

Robin Stratton

Alan Catlin

Karla Huston

Corey Mesler

Donal Mahoney

Shirley Allard

Fiction by:

Burgess Needle

Sharmagne Leland-St. John

Daniel Davis

Marjorie Petesch

Anne Woodman

Ginny Swart

James Neenan

Essays by:

James Heller Levinson

Anne Woodman

Some well-knowns, some unknowns, but all, I assure you, quality stuff. Drop in and wallow a while in the Pig sty … it’s not a bad place to be!

Eric Hoffer finalist

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2010 by Trina

I received this e-mail this morning. I’m sure you can hear my YIPEE wherever you are.

Dear Hoffer Award Entrant:

Congratulations. Your story has been selected as a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prose Award. This is a very small group of stories from among thousands of submissions. The final round of judging will unfold during the spring, culminating with the announcement of the Hoffer Short List during late summer and the release of the winners in early fall. . .

I had forgotten about this contest. I submitted my story GOOD GAME in May, 2009, to be considered for the Hoffer Award and then received the following e-mail in July of 2009.

The editors would like to inform you that your story has passed the first round of editorial review. Less than 20% of the stories make it this far. Congratulations. The review process is long and thorough. By the end, we will have an entire year’s worth of selected submissions to consider for the prize and anthology. You will hear back from us between May and July about the next level of judging. . .

I had thought I was out of the running. I assumed that because I wasn’t notified last July that the story didn’t make the final cut. Fortunately GOOD GAME has not been accepted elsewhere. I think it is my best work to date and I am honored to be in the final cut. But, even though the story is a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award, it has been rejected by 18 different magazines.

To quote JA Konrath, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up…published.”

It is sometimes difficult to keep writing and submitting without getting discouraged, but days like today give me the steam to keep rolling. It also substantiates my decision to resign from my day job. After four years of developing tests for Measurement Inc., Tuesday is my last day. I realized that developing tests was draining my energy and keeping me from my fiction writing. I have had a new novel in progress for more than a year–it is not even half finished. I have a sketchy draft finished and several random chapters filled in, but I sometimes go for more than a month without working on my fiction. I had to make a change. I will still work as a contractor for MI, but I can set my own hours, can work from home, and the biggie: I won’t have to travel.

Okay, back to laying out pages for Pig in a Poke. I have about half of them done. We’re set to go live on May 1. So exciting!

More on the creation of GOOD GAME:

In August, 2008 I wrote the GOOD GAME during a severe drought . From a former blog: “Good Game” is the story that I’m most proud of. It is about a chess player who is paralyzed and sinking into depression, who is visited by his dead father. I wrote the first draft in my spare time before and after work, and on the weekend. Originally, it was to be a piece about a woman with a personality disorder who suffered from drug dependence. This is completely different from the end result. One afternoon while doing chores around the house, I decided she should be paralyzed. I decided to change the gender of the main character to a man to reach the readers who play chess, predominately men, as previously posted.

Feed “the Pig” some short stories, please!

Posted in All posts, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2010 by Trina

Fiction anyone? Where are you fiction writers? I have received only 18 short story submissions to Pig in a Poke magazine, while Harry has already reviewed about 100 poetry submissions, each containing several poems. He was so inundated that we had to temporarily close poetry submissions until May. Essays and fiction are still open.

This got me thinking: are there more poets than fiction writers? Is it simply that stories take longer to write than poems?  Or is Harry receiving more poetry due to his name recognition or the names he has lined up for the first issue?

I am happy that among the stories I received were some very outstanding pieces. I have a good mix lined up for May and June ranging from gripping heartfelt slices-of-life to period pieces and even a couple humorous ramblings. I laughed out loud reading them. Talented fiction writers are submitting, just not as numerous as our poets.

Maybe it is the money. At this time “the Pig” is not a paying market. From my own personal experience, it takes about 20 hours to bring a story from draft to the polished version that I will send to publishers. This is a large time investment for me. I do give my work away to non-paying markets occasionally, but very selectively. On the other hand, Harry can write a poem in less than an hour–much less at times. With the larger time investment in stories, maybe fiction writers want to get paid for their work and poets don’t expect payment. It is hard to make money from poetry. All of this is speculation, of course. But there is the whole starving-artist image of poets.

What are your thoughts? Can you explain the prolific poets?

The return of Pig in a Poke … call for submissions!

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2010 by Trina

Announcing  Pig in a Poke— a literary magazine of poetry and fiction. New and resurrected! Brought to you by Harry Calhoun, the publisher of the ‘80s underground magazine Pig in a Poke, and guess who? Little ‘ol me: fiction writer Trina Allen.

“The Pig” featured work by Charles Bukowski, Jim Daniels, Louis McKee, lyn lifshin, Judson Crews and many more.

This new literary journal in electronic format is looking for writers with passion — poets, storytellers, essayists and others. Harry will pick the poems and literary essays, and I will select the fiction.

I am now a Web master. Wow! I spent the last week learning how to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to develop Web sites. I learned enough to start up Pig and a Poke and also find out how much I don’t know about CSS. I hope my first attempt at using CSS is successful. Let me know what you think. I’d love suggestions. I now know that the pages look different on PCs, laptops, and probably Macs. Let me know if the home page doesn’t look like the image above on your computer.

Go Pig!

I’ve also organized a fiction writing group for Raleigh area writers. I’m looking forward to the discipline the group will give me. Perhaps now I can post more often about my publications. I have a new story out in April. More on that next time.

I hope I have time for it all. Maybe sleep is overrated.