Archive for editor

Time flies faster as we age

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by Trina

Alex barks, strains and emits a low growl that increases in volume. I know that growl. All ninety pounds of black lab rear up, testing the strength of his leather leash and the power of my grip. Too late I see a German shepherd looping toward us. My blood sounds loudly in my ears like waves crashing a rocky shore.

The large dog’s owner stands in his yard, makes no attempt to corral his dog, even while Alex continues growling and lunging. I make a futile attempt to drag Alex away.

“Gizmo is friendly,” the man says. He is actually smiling.

“My dog is not!” I yell. Alex is a rescue dog and even three years after we adopted him, he is still aggressive toward other dogs.

Hanging onto the plastic bag of poop I captured from earlier in the walk with my left hand, I jerk Alex’s leash with my right hand. It is like trying to drag a tank. Struggling to keep my footing, I wonder why I am still clutching the bag of poop like it was solid gold. I throw down the bag, grasp Alex’s leash with both hands, while using my body to block Gizmo.

Dragging ninety pounds of a Labrador in the opposite direction he wants to go is impossible. So as the laws of physics decree, I tumble face forward. Eat gravel. Fortunately, the bag of poop cushions my fall. I am astonished that I’m still holding the leash. This is only a small victory because at the end of his leash Alex has Gizmo by the throat.

In a daze, aware of an ache in my knees and blood dripping from my chin, nearly overpowered by the stench of dog shit clinging to my shirt, I stand up. I grab both of Alex’s back legs, hauling him off the larger German shepherd. I hope Gizmo’s owner is right about the friendly bit, because if Gizmo attacks me, I’ll have to let go of Alex and run.

I notice Alex’s legs are bloody either from my cut lip or Gizmo’s teeth.

Gizmo’s owner runs up–a little late for the party. He grabs Gizmo’s collar and drags his dog away muttering “Sorry . . . so sorry.” He doesn’t look back, doesn’t ask if Alex or I needed help.

“You’ve got to keep your dog on a leash, man!” I yell and mutter, “Asshole.”

I wipe blood from my mouth. My upper lip is split where it had lost the battle with the gravel, but at least I didn’t break any teeth. I pull Alex to the side of the road on wobbly legs. “Sit,” I command. He does. How nice. What a model citizen.

I sit on the curb. Tears run down my cheeks and I am aware that I’m shaking. I wipe the moisture away with my hand. The smell of dog shit grows stronger and I realize I’ve just smeared the stuff on my face. I wipe my hands off on the grass and then check Alex for injuries. No blood in his teeth or on his tongue. He must have only gotten Gizmo’s fur. I couldn’t find any cuts on him either. He is lucky.

I am not. My knees hurt. Both are scraped. I brush off my knees, smearing brown stripes down my legs. It could only be dog shit. I fume, cursing Gizmo’s owner. I’m a mile from home. I’ll have to walk back covered in dog excrement. Angry, and, I admit, embarrassed, I curse myself for not bringing my cell phone. I stand up. Or at least try to. My legs don’t hold. I sit hard on the curb, probably adding a bruise on my bum to my other injuries.

 

My grandmother said that time passes more and more quickly as we age. I didn’t understand her words when I was twenty and she was still alive. Now with my 48th birthday approaching, I understand. It seems like only a minute has passed since that day in July when Alex made Gizmo’s acquaintance. I was walking Alex early in the mornings then to avoid the brutal Carolina summer heat. Now, when I walk Alex in the early morning–in a route that takes us nowhere near Gizmo’s home–it is still dark and I’ve traded the shorts and tanks I wore this summer for gloves, a hat and an insulated sweat suit. Now I’m suddenly crunching acorns under my feet and the leaves remaining on the trees have traded their greens for the colors of autumn.

Likewise, time seems to be flying by faster the harder I work at my day job. I have put in hard hours for months at the testing company where I develop science questions. Hard because the project is massive: 30,000 questions. And hard because we have been understaffed. At first the challenge was enough. But, now I want more. As the company gears up with additional staff, I am ready to take a lesser role.

I thought by now I would have made some progress on  THE RIPPER. Instead four months have passed without me opening the Word doc containing the novel. Likewise I have sent out no story submissions. Life is passing me by.

But it took a coworker to help me see how fast. I mentioned that I am the fiction editor of Pig in a Poke to a new manager and he asked me to send him a link to the magazine. When he e-mailed me that he was reading my blog, I was embarrassed. My last blog post was over a month ago.

I’ve started a new writing project that I think will help me get back on track. I am only in the contemplating stage. I’ve made notes and am thinking about how the story will come together. It will take a close up look at how dissociative identify disorder (DID) affects a woman, her relationships and her children. It is different from anything I’ve done so far. I’m excited to get started, which should motivate me to work on it.

I think THE RIPPER novel will take the back burner for now. The characters have grown cold. I think part of the reason I had lost momentum for my writing is that I couldn’t get excited about Rosa’s character.

 

Pig in a Poke update:

Harry has 11 poets lined up for the January issue. I have accepted three stories, but am considering several others. I am still deciding on a few stories sent in as far back as September. If you haven’t gotten a rejection it means I think your story has merit and may place it in the January issue. I have sent rejection letters to all those I know I won’t use. I’m going to try to read all the submissions by next weekend so I can reply to writers.

Yesterday I read ten stories, rejected two and am considering the others. I have 21 more to read before I make my final decision. I plan to read 10 more today and the rest next weekend. The good news is that the quality of stories I am receiving for the Pig is high. I think this last round of submissions is the best I’ve received. But, the high quality makes it tough for me because I will have to reject stories that are good.

Issue #3 of Pig in a Poke now alive and oinking!

Posted in All posts, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2010 by Trina

Here we go again …

Pig in a Poke, issue #3, is live today … enjoy!

The third time’s a charm, and Pig in a Poke is charmed to be here. And we hope you’re charmed by the great lineup of poets (fiction writers and essayists) we have for you. I still can’t believe the amazing writers we’ve managed to attract, and Trina and I are grateful for that. As always, we try to put pearls of superb writing in our swinish sty. I think that once again we’ve put together a good mixture of poetry, fiction and some fine literary essays. Trina and I are proud to call this our magazine. A Pig in a Poke it is, because you might never know what you’re getting, but you know it’s going to be good.”  Harry Calhoun, editor.

Harry Calhoun, a.k.a. my husband, edits the poetry and I, a.k.a. Trina Allen, have picked out the stories and laid out the pages. The two of us have pretty much collaborated on choosing the essays.  Not only is there new talent here — new to the Pig, that is — but for this issue we asked several writers to submit stories including Christina Hoag, Lynne Barrett, Anne Woodman and Mark Howell.

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

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

The lineup for this issue includes:

Poetry by

A.D. Winans

Tim Peeler

Robert Demaree

Louis McKee

Lyn Lifshin

Karla Huston

Donal Mahoney

Michael L. Newell

Corey Cook

Doug Draime

Sandy Benitez

M.P. Powers

Mather Schneider

Carol Lynn Grellas

Luis Berriozabal

Fiction by:

Jane Banning

Lynne Barrett

Christina Hoag

Mark Howell

Thomas Sullivan

Laura Garrison

Laurence Klavan

Michael L. Newell

Nathaniel Tower

Essays by:

Anne Woodman

Michael L. Newell

Amanda LaPergola

As always, quality stuff all around . Drop in and wallow a while in the Pig sty … it’s not a bad place to be! Thanks in advance for your support.

Poetry by

A.D. Winans

Tim Peeler

Robert Demaree

Louis McKee

Lyn Lifshin

Karla Huston

Donal Mahoney

Michael L. Newell

Corey Cook

Doug Draime

Sandy Benitez

M.P. Powers

Mather Schneider

Carol Lynn Grellas

Luis Berriozabal

Fiction by:

Jane Banning

Lynne Barrett

Christina Hoag

Mark Howell

Thomas Sullivan

Laura Garrison

Laurence Klavan

Michael L. Newell

Nathaniel Tower

Essays by:

Anne Woodman

Michael L. Newell

Amanda LaPergola

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing, Pig in a Poke with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by Trina

When one foot is precariously on the tight rope and the other in the air, life has a way of knocking that one steady foot off the tightrope and destroying any semblance of balance. So it was yesterday when I left for work an hour early. Having skipped my morning walk, I planned to walk after work–the weather has been so beautiful in the afternoons. I was less than a mile from the house when my daughter called from New York with an emergency. I ended up turning the car around and heading to the post office, spending that extra hour overnighting a money order to my daughter.

I didn’t want to alarm Harry at work first thing on a Monday by telling him about the crisis, so I didn’t call him. Instead, he called me about an hour after I arrived wanting to know if I’d spent a lot of money on his upcoming birthday. He’d seen the large withdrawal from our checking account. Needless to say I didn’t have a very productive morning at work.

Life has threatened my balance in other areas as well. I didn’t know back in March when Harry and I first talked about editing a literary magazine how much work it would be. (If I had, I would still have agreed to start up the magazine). Nor did I know I would resign from Measurement Inc. in May and then come back as a regular employee in August. I had walked away from my day job, intending to finish my novel in progress, submit my short story collection to publishers, and do some freelance critiquing to bring in some cash. It didn’t work out quite that way. I found I hated being home all day with no schedule. And I missed my coworkers after I resigned. I also like the independence having a steady pay check gives me.

So, I’ve had to do some shuffling with my schedule. It takes up a lot of my free time reading the stories for Pig in a Poke. I have 19 yet to read for the October issue. I do have the luxury of reading them right up until October 1. Because I am the Web site developer, I can post a story five minutes after I accept it. However, it also means that I have the work of laying out all of the pages in “the Pig.”

I love to read, so I guess being a fiction editor is a perfect second job for me. Some very talented writers have submitted their work, which makes my job easier and rewarding. I have to admit that I’ve also read some very bad writing. There doesn’t seem to be much in the middle. The stories tend to be excellent or, well. Not. I tend to scan through a story after downloading it, not really reading it carefully, just seeing what it’s about. Then I write the title, author, and length on my tracking spreadsheet while I’m thinking about the story. Next, I download and scan the next one. After I’ve scanned and recorded 5 or 6 stories, I go back and carefully read each one.

The rejects I know from the scan, but I still try to read each with an open mind to see if there is anything there. I usually find my first impression was right. If I reject a story it likely just didn’t hook me in to make me want to read past the first few paragraphs. Or it was overly long–stories over 3,000 words are hard for me to like, or it just wasn’t right for the magazine. Erotica, romance, or children’s lit will not be accepted for “the Pig.” I get all three. Guess I should put more detail into the submission guidelines to save myself some work. I recently received a story titled “Got a Spare Dick,” which was actually humorous, just not right for the magazine.

There are always exceptions, of course. If I’ve accepted several humorous stories, I won’t need another for that issue, for example. Or if I already have 3 or 4 very heavy stories, I don’t want another.

Most of the stories that I’ve accepted for Pig in a Poke I knew I would take after scanning the first few paragraphs and for sure after reading the first few pages. These stories drew me in and kept me reading. I always read a story more than once to be sure it really has what I want–an emotional pull. But, it really is pretty black and white for me. I either like a story or I don’t.

But. I haven’t opened the Word doc containing my novel in weeks. I just can’t seem to find the motivation to work on it after developing test questions all day. And there’s always another submission from Pig in a Poke to read, or dishes to do, or paperwork to get together for refinancing the house. My novel in progress just seems to come last. I never used to feel that way about my writing. I guess I’m getting as much satisfaction from reading other people’s stories as I used to get from writing my own.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round.

How Trina lost her balance and other stuff

Posted in All posts, Health and fitness, Life, On writing with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2010 by Trina

Am I a fiction writer, magazine editor, Web designer, or test developer? Can I really wear all four hats? Apparently not very well.

I have been doing too much, or at least trying to. Until I had a scare two weekends ago. My blood pressure shot to 150/102 and stayed there, even while taking my blood pressure medication. I had to go to the doctor and add another medication in addition to the one I was taking. And I have to slow down.

I drive from Raleigh to Durham four days a week, where my day job is developing educational science tests.  During my three days off, I select the stories for Pig in a Poke magazine, as well as laying out the HTML for the pages. I am also the leader of a fiction writing group.  So, it is not surprising that I quit writing my own fiction and let my exercise drop off to one or two days a week. I have not worked on my novel in two months. The same goes for my short story collection. Nor did I send out one submission for my finished stories. As you can see from the infrequency of my postings, I have not been blogging either. The combination of sitting at the computer with little exercise and eating out or ordering in did me in.

Determined to get my blood pressure under control, I had to make some changes. I am walking or going to the gym every morning. I have cut out alcohol completely, and Harry and I are back to eating healthy and cooking together, something we both enjoy. One trip to the farmers market gave us veges for the week. Yummy.

In one week I’ve lost 5 pounds and I’m not starving myself. I am not hungry. My blood pressure is now running around 115/80. I feel both relieved and energized! My goal is to lose 20 pounds and keep it off. That means exercise has to come first. And I’ll have to lose one of my other hats to make time for it.

Yesterday, I sent out a story submission for the first time in two months. It felt awesome. I’m ready to start working on the novel again. I’ve made some notes, which is a good start.

I am also doing some soul searching to determine how I let myself get so out of balance. When I decided to take on the fiction editing and Web design for Pig in a Poke I had resigned from my job as a test developer, effective May 1, the same day the first issue ran. I had planned to take on a few freelance critique jobs as a source of income and finish my novel and short story collection.

It didn’t work out that way. A senior project director at Measurement Inc. (MI) offered me a part time contract position (four days per week), so I went back to my day job. I enjoy the work and the pay is good.

So, which hat will I drop? Not Pig in a Poke. Harry and I enjoy putting out the magazine too much. It has been very rewarding work. Something else has to go. I no longer offer freelance critiquing and I’ve made arrangements to work at MI only seven of every ten business days. I hope cutting back on my hours will be enough for me to schedule my fiction writing back into my life. I would hate to give up the day job. I like the money too much. But I also want to be around for the next 50 years or so. My health has to come first.

Perfecting the perfect pitch

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2007 by Trina

It may not be perfect, but I think this pitch for my young adult novel THE MAGIC QUILT will hook a sixth grader:

Standing on the Lexington Green in the midst of the battle, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. The metallic smell of blood and gunpowder is heavy in the air. Katharine is a shape shifter who has traveled back in time, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water have yet to be imagined; her new friends are dead or in peril. She must make a choice: She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil shifter, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose— an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

I took advantage of a pitch critiquing opportunity on Book Ends blog. Whether you’re published, unpublished, have a pitch appointment or are pitching through an equery, every author needs to be able to summarize his or her book in as little as five words, but no more than three sentences (or so). In other words, you need to capture an agent’s, editor’s, or reader’s attention quickly.

So I submitted one paragraph from my query letter intended to grab an agent’s attention. Click here to read the post. I had read that one of the best ways to write a pitch was to read the backs of books in your genre — wrong in this case, BTW. So I modeled mine after the back cover of Harry Potter. I was pretty proud of it:

Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother, but all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

This is the response the agent gave:
I like the beginning a lot. I think the first three sentences are terrific. What a great Harry Potter-like book without going straight to telling us that. However, this is another case where the ending lost its fire. I guess I’m not sure I want to read about a wizard who ends up in Boston. Where’s the magic? Where’s the army of insects? The fun of a wizard book, or of any fantasy, is the fantasy. In your description of what’s actually going to happen you neglect to tell us about the fantasy. Since it seems your target is probably a younger audience, my question to you is would a 12-year-old (for example) be interested in reading about the “strength to face her destiny”? or are they more interested in reading about evil wizards and magic quilts? That’s what we want to hear about in the last sentences.

This is a comment from the post, and most other comments took a similar vein:
Harry Potter indeed. That pitch is a word-for-word madlibs of the actual back cover copy of the first Harry Potter novel:

“Harry Potter has never been star of a Quidditch game, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives announcing that Harry has been chosen to attend Hogwarts, an elite school for the training of wizards and witches…” (front flap, Arthur A. Levine Books)”

At least the querier knows what works, but I think she loses points for originality.

Shocked and surprised by the reaction, I’ve now got to start over on my pitch — good thing I didn’t send that pitch to an agent. I need to remove the parallels with Harry Potter because THE MAGIC QUILT is more than a fantasy, it is an historical fiction/fantasy, set in 1775 Boston. The Harry Potter series is not historical.

The agent liked the details in the first three sentences, but she wanted a hook that would capture the attention of a twelve year old. So, I thought about what I would want to read if I was twelve. I dug out an old pitch I’d used in a query before I decided Katharine should travel back in time only to 1775 Boston, instead of visiting China past and future America. (I needed to cut the book, and by focusing on the American Revolution I accomplished that). Here’s the old pitch:

Katharine, an unpopular sixth grader, seeks solace by talking to animals and wizards until she discovers a way to escape her unhappy life–through a time portal in a magic quilt. Each square leads to a different period in time and Katherine suddenly finds herself face-to-face with some of the most adventurous and dynamic figures in history, including Marco Polo, Paul Revere, and Pocahontas. Katharine must lead the war against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who is one-step behind her throughout the novel.

This young adult novel goes further than fantasy in its accurate portrayal of history, especially 1775 colonial America. In addition, Katharine faces the separation of her parents, and abuse from her alcoholic mother, resulting in the involvement of social services in her family’s life.

This pitch is too long, and I’m sure it will NOT hook a twelve-year-old.

So here’s a first rewrite of my pitch.
Standing on the Lexington Green, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. Having traveled back in time through portals in her magic quilt, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water haven’t even been imagined, her new friends are dead, or dying, the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air. She must make a choice. She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose, whether an alligator, dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

A second:
Twelve-year-old Katharine felt no shame about standing on the Lexington Green crying. Wouldn’t any wizard who transported herself back in time directly into a battle where being run through with a bayonet, or shot with a musket ball are real dangers? Now, with her friends dead, or dying, and the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air, Katharine must lead the war against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who is one-step behind her throughout the novel.

A third:
Katharine is twelve years old and a wizard in training, learning how to transmutate into animals, travel forward and back in time, and defend herself against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who has promised to kill her before she can destroy him. Leaving her unhappy home behind, Katharine travels back in time to 1775, Boston, where protected by defense sorcerers in the form of black cats, she finds herself caught up in the magical world of spying, espionage, and rebellion that will free her friends from tyranny.

A fourth:
It started as a normal afternoon, Katharine was late getting home to watch her sister, except that Katharine has just heard animals talk and seen time turn back. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? As if in answer to her question a large yellow dog looked through the window at her, and said, “I’d best transmutate.” Several black cats walked around the house, their bright yellow eyes scanning the yard, surrounded by clouds of billowing black.

Of course, if I use the third or fourth pitch, I may be accused of madlibbing Jonathan Stroud or Madeleine L’Engle.

I can’t decide which pitch is best, so I’ve asked my husband, marketing writer Harry Calhoun, to choose and/or write the best pitch for me.

Harry says:
I actually like the first one best. Katherine being in danger in the midst of battle is certainly more interesting than her crying. I think the third one is your second best, and the last one deals too much with what happens in the early part of the book. Also, is it true that her friends are “dead or dying” in the battle? That’s scary!

Yes Harry, it is true that some of Katharine’s friends from 1775 were killed in battle. I couldn’t write the novel any other way and keep it realistic. Such is the reality of war, heavy sigh. In the battle at Lexington, eight Massachusetts men were killed and ten were wounded, with only one British soldier wounded. Here is a scene from the final chapter of THE MAGIC QUILT.

Katharine steeled herself. Joe lay dead, his shirt and the grass he lay on saturated with his blood, the metallic smell of it in the air mingling with the smell of gunpowder. She smoothed his blond hair, closed his eyes and surrendered her childhood. She looked at the battle scene through the eyes of an adult.

She counted seven minutemen lying motionless on the ground— their sightless eyes looking eerily at no one. One wounded man crawled toward a house leaving a trail of blood in his wake. There was too much blood; he wasn’t going to make it. Nine other men lay bleeding, but at least they were moving — they were alive.

I’d love to hear your opinions of which is the best pitch.