Lynn and Erik come to North Carolina

Posted in All posts, Life, Pig in a Poke with tags , on July 18, 2010 by Trina

Thursday was a sad day for me. I dropped my daughter and grandson off at the airport after a six day visit. We squeezed a lot into those six days including a  three day beach trip to Topsail Island. A couple of pictures from their visit are below. Go to my Facebook page to see more.

page

Trina, Erik and Lynn

Now I have to catch up on everything I didn’t do while Lynn and Erik were here. I have 14 fiction submissions for Pig in a Poke to read as well as laundry and mundane errands. It was worth getting a little behind.

Trina reads on Blink Ink Fiction

Posted in All posts, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , on June 22, 2010 by Trina

On July 1 at 9 o’clock, the noted poet Lynn Alexander hosts a show on Blog Talk Radio called Blink Ink Fiction. She has invited me to read and discuss my fiction writing. Harry Calhoun and I will also be discussing Pig in a Poke magazine. Go to the Web site and find the July 1 show to listen in or participate.

And look for the second issue of Pig in a Poke magazine, live July 1. We have a line up of very talented poets and story writers. I am proud to be able to publish such exceptional work. It has been fun putting the issue together.

Think like an editor when submitting

Posted in All posts, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2010 by Trina

As the fiction editor for Pig in a Poke magazine, I receive a variety of e-mail formats introducing story submissions. I find this curious because our submission guidelines give specific directions for submitting. Even so, most writers do not follow the guidelines. The norm is to diverge from what we ask. Why? Why don’t writers pay attention to details that could help to get their work published?

Guidelines are not meant to make writers’ lives more difficult. Rather, each editor has his or her own process. The way they ask writers to submit work streamlines that process. Hence the need for guidelines. Editors may ask for a certain phrase in the subject, ask for attachments or not, or request certain formatting because it makes it easier to read the submission and reply more quickly.

Editors are busy, just like writers. Many of us have day jobs. We receive hundreds of submissions each month. We ask that writers submit work a certain way in order to help us. We appreciate writers that make our lives easier by submitting as we ask. And when we get our way, we are in a better mood when we read your work.

In general, I suggest fiction writers do the following when they submit their work for publication. I think these steps will at least increase a writer’s chance of receiving a reply and will likely increase their chance for publication.

  • Follow submission guidelines carefully.
  • Personalize your e-mail. Do not use your husband’s, wife’s or work e-mail.
  • Include a cover letter with the name of the story and word count. Unless the editor states otherwise in the guidelines.
  • Put your bio in the cover letter. Unless the editor states otherwise.
  • Put your name and contact information on the first page of your submission and in the cover letter. Unless the editor states otherwise.

Follow submission guidelines carefully.

I ask that a story be submitted as a Word or .rtf file to fiction@piginpoke.com. I like attachments because I don’t want to have to scroll down an e-mail or read a story that has lost its formatting. I like to see italics and bold where they belong. I want paragraph breaks, which can be lost embedded in e-mail. Harry doesn’t mind poems embedded in e-mail. Neither of us care what font is used, so we don’t state a font choice.

Subject line

Pig in a Poke asks that in the subject line writers list the genre and their last name. Example: “Poetry: Calhoun”. We ask this, not to make extra work for you, but so that we can easily match up the submission with the e-mail when we reply. About half of the fiction submissions I receive do not have the correct subject line. This means that when I am ready to reply to the writer I have to search through my e-mails to find the person’s submission. Unless it is an exceptional story that I want to accept, I may not have the patience to sort through all those e-mails in order to reject the story.

Name and contact information

It is important to put your name on the first page of the story submitted. About a quarter of the fiction submissions I receive do not have a name anywhere on the story. This makes it difficult for me to reply. Even if the writer put his or her name in the subject line of the e-mail, I still can’t quickly find the e-mail submission. I have to open every e-mail until I find the attached story in one of them. You can imagine my mood if I reply after wasting time looking through dozens of e-mails.

Cover letter and bio

I ask that in the body of the e-mail, writers introduce the story, themselves, and include a brief bio. The cover letter is for me to get to know the writer and his or her work. If the cover letter is humorous and conversational, I can expect the same of the story. It adds interest for me if the writer tells me something about themselves. For example, I received this letter recently.

I generally write in an attempt to be humorous, though most of those with whom I have shared my work inevitably ask me how drunk I was at the time of writing the story.

Although I ended up rejecting this submission, I was more excited to read it than I would have been had he sent in a standard note. And I offered ideas for revision that I might not have otherwise.

More than half of the fiction submissions I receive do not include a bio. I don’t care what publications, if any, writers have. That is not the reason for the bio. The reason we ask for a bio in the cover letter is so that we can run it with the story if we accept it. When the bio is not in the cover letter, if I accept the story I have to ask the writer to send a bio. Then, when I lay out the story in the magazine, I have two e-mails from the writer to keep track of: one containing the story and one containing the bio. This gets messy.

All in a name

Please personalize your e-mail when submitting. For example, if your name is Sally Smothers, your e-mail should be something like: ssmothers@gmail.com or sallysmothers@nc.rr.com or sallys1234@ymail.com. With free yahoo and Google e-mail services, there is no excuse to submit your work with an e-mail that does not match your name.

I recently received this cover letter for a short story sent by John K:

Bio included in work

Nothing more, just that the bio is included. I did not know how long the story was or anything about the writer. This did not stop me from reading the story, although some editors might have hit the delete key. And they would be justified in that. If a writer can’t bother to follow the guidelines, we should not feel compelled to read his or her work.

The story was written by Elizabeth B, whose bio read:

I am now a practicing attorney in Weston, Florida. I have published in The Florida Bar and the journal for the state’s lawyers, and I write regular monthly legal columns for local magazines. I am currently working on a collection of short stories.

I liked the story, but decided it wasn’t quite right for “the Pig.” When I tried to reply to Elizabeth, I realized I had no e-mail in her name. Nor had she followed the guidelines by putting her name in the subject line. So, I had to open every submission until I came to an e-mail sent by John K with simply “submission” in the subject line. If Elizabeth had personalized her e-mail with her own name or followed my guidelines by putting “Fiction: Elizabeth B” in the subject, I could have easily found her e-mail and replied.

Frustrated, I sent this note to Elizabeth:

Dear Elizabeth (or John),

Thank you for submitting “name of story” to Pig in a Poke magazine for publication. I’m afraid it does not quite work for us. I found the beginning rather long. The story did draw me in toward the middle and I liked the ending, but overall, it tended to ramble and just didn’t hook me.

I found it confusing that your e-mail lists your name as John K. And I would suggest writing a brief note introducing yourself and the story, especially when your name doesn’t match your e-mail. I had to open e-mails in my in box to find out who to reply to. This can be frustrating to editors.

John wrote back, apologized, and said that he is submitting for Elizabeth because she is busy with her law practice. Indeed. My opinion is that writers should submit their own work. Stories are personal and to pay an assistant to submit work just seems to impersonal. I was further taken aback when I received this cover letter for another of Elizabeth’s stories last week, again sent from John’s e-mail.

John K submitting for Elizabeth B.  Thanks.

Did John and Elizabeth learn nothing from my note? If John is going to continue to submit for Elizabeth, he could at least open a yahoo or Google account in her name, as I suggested. And neither John or Elizabeth bothered to write a note introducing the story. If she is too busy to write a query letter, should I be bothered to read Elizabeth’s story?

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.



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?