Growing up at age 57

Dutch with his gingerbread toy

The best thing I did for myself this year was to adopt Dutch on my birthday in November. He is a sweet, five-year-old Lab-shepherd mix, weighing in at 70 pounds. On March 26, when the president of the educational testing company I work for emailed us, saying that our salary would be cut 20 percent due to many states expecting minimal or no testing, I sat on the living room rug with Dutch. I hugged him and cried for a long time. Fear. Anger. I was mad at the Corona virus, at the government for shutting down, at my company.

I knew I could not pay my bills on the reduced salary. It was a struggle to live on my full salary. I had options, but that night sitting on the floor with Dutch, I did not know what they were. I was isolated from the world, living alone, and working from home. Dutch had no idea what was wrong, but he licked my tears and was content to lay on the floor while I cried. My company has since gotten a PPP award and our salaries are restored. But on March 26, I felt helpless, as many of us have, due to the Covid-19 -shelter-in-place.

Now I realize that pandemic that I was so angry at months ago is responsible getting me out of my shell. It is hard to imagine that good could come from this disease, but it has helped bring me out of the isolation I experienced for years. You might ask how being shut in alone would help with isolation.

I talked to my therapist yesterday for a half hour about just that. (Yes, I see a therapist and believe everyone should.). I told him that at age 57, I believe I have finally grown up. He said, “That’s great. Many people never do.” And while he may have been joking because he uses humor as part of his therapy, I it rings true. Why else would people react with such appalling behavior during this pandemic.

My therapist says the lack connections with people forced me to reach out and reconnect to the people in my life.  I talk to my mom twice a day now. This has helped me so much. I started calling Mom because I was worried about her living alone in South St. Louis, near Ferguson. This is an area where Corona cases are high. She lives in a retirement home where no visitors were allowed and at least one person there died from Covid. So I called her every other day or so. Then I found myself calling Mom every day and then twice a day. But I wasn’t calling anymore because I was worried about her, I needed to talk. And she enjoys my calls. She lives in a one room apartment with only herself for company.

I also reconnected with two of my sisters who live in San Diego. We have a weekly Sunday evening call. I hadn’t been close to them in years. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen in months and some years. Now I drive to see a friend who lives out in the country every other week or so. We sit on lawn chairs and talk. Sometimes Dutch comes and plays with her dog.

I also contacted members of my former critique group. We’ve started meeting virtually—what a huge difference this has made in my life. I am inspired to write again. They helped me polish my story “Personal Best,” which I submitted yesterday to literary magazines. My first submission since 2013. The happiness the simple act of pressing send gave me is indescribable. I have not written anything other than educational articles and test questions from the time my late husband Harry got sick in 2011 until now. Here are a few lines from the story:

A couple walks by holding hands. For the first time in two years, I don’t feel envy, anger, or annoyance to see them together. “I am happy. I’m alone. But I’m okay.”

There are parallels in my life to Maria’s in the story. I loosely based her character on me. In my real life, it took me five years after my husband’s death, not two, to be able to watch happy couples and not tear up. Maria in my story healed faster than I did. She experienced a tragedy that cost her everything, much like my own losses. She struggled with addiction and despair but was helped by the enduring spirit of her daughter. I believe my daughter and husband have influenced my life from their heaven. I feel them in the decisions I make.

 

 

I’m back and writing fiction again

I am reviving this blog and will be posting regularly about my writing life and overcoming loss.

My last post here was Dec 30, 2010, ten years ago. I cannot believe I let so much time pass. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine I could have written during that time because I lost my daughter, husband and grandson several years apart. Much like David, in my story “Good Game,” I was sinking into despair and grief. I would like to take you on my journey back to writing and living.

A Facebook memory popped up on June 14, where I had written that I was excited that “Good Game” would appear in the July, 2013, issue of Thunder Sandwich. That was the last story I wrote until recently. I had a dream a few days later about my father who passed away in 2007. I believe he was sending me a message of hope and encouraging me toward writing again.

It is fitting to discuss “Good Game” today, on Father’s Day, because David’s character was inspired by my father. In the story, David was a professional bicyclist until an accident changed his life. Paralyzed and sinking into despair, he had to learn to live on two wheels. Again. With the help of his service dog and the enduring spirit of his father.

The character David was a composite of my friend, Jim, who was in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident, and my father. David’s dog was inspired by my late husband and my black lab, Alex. Now, I see a parallel to David’s life and my own. I could not have known back in 2010 when I wrote the story that I would experience the loss of three important people in my life. Or that a dog, my dog Dutch, would play an important role in my recovery.

“Good Game” took a long journey into publication. After being a finalist the 2011 Eric Hoffer Award, it was rejected by 23 magazines before finding its way to print. It was finally the featured story in the September online issue of go read your lunch: http://www.goreadyourlunch.com/2013/09/goodgame.html.

Back in 2010 when I wrote the story, I was proud of it. It was by far my best work. Now reading it ten years later, I see that could have made the story better. First person is hard to write well because we are limited by only the thoughts and emotions of the first-person narrator.  I could have made the story stronger if I brought the reader into the story instead of telling them about David’s experiences. There are a lot of “I” and “my” in the piece.

This is a great article from Now Novel on how to wtite in first person: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/first-person-narrative-7-tips/

I think my current work in process will be even better, due to my writing critique group who help me learn as a writer. The story, “Personal Best,” is an autobiographical piece based on recovering from loss through strength training and exercise. Like “Good Game,” there is a supernatural element.

I am ready to start submitting for the first time in eight years. I feel so blessed to be writing again.

Time flies faster as we age

Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke Magazine is no longer active.

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!

Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke Magazine is no longer active.

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

Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke Magazine is no longer active.

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.

Luna Station, the Pig, and Harry Calhoun

Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke MagazineP is no longer active.

Luna Station Quarterly

Read a short story based on the characters from my novel in progress on Luna Station Quarterly, a magazine focused on genre fiction as written by women. In “Payback is a bitch,” when a personal tragedy costs Detective Rosa Wolfe everything–her marriage, her career, and her badge–she returns to the streets she once patrolled, finding satisfaction in high-payoff vengeance for hire. Read more on a previous post. I am pleased that “Payback” is currently the story of the week.

Pig in a Poke

We’re ramping up for issue 3 on October 1. Harry has chosen the poems and essays. He is excited about the line up. I confess that I’ve gotten behind in replying to the story submissions writers have sent to Pig in a Poke magazine. If you sent me a story and I haven’t yet responded, I’m still considering it. I have made the choice to return to Measurement Inc as a regular Monday – Friday employee. Therefore, my time for reviewing fiction is now limited to nights and weekends. I’m wondering how I am going to get the pages up by October 1. Maybe sleep is overrated.

Any Web developers interested in converting Word documents to HTML on a nearly voluntary basis? I could use some help. Contact me if you want to be part of “the Pig.”

Meet Harry Calhoun at the NC Writers Network Raleigh Region Open Mic Night at PoetrySpark

On Sept 17 from 8-11 pm Harry will be reading some of his poetry

Location:Isaac Hunter’s Tavern on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh

Payback is a bitch: life of a short story

I am happy to announce that  Luna Station Quarterly magazine accepted my short story “Payback is a bitch”  for their September 1 issue.  I took only one day from submission to acceptance. I had just submitted to them on Saturday as part of my getting back into balance campaign. This is quick, although not the record for me. Chiron Review accepted one of my stories after only an hour.

About Payback is a bitch

When a personal tragedy costs homicide detective Rosa Wolfe everything–her marriage, her career, and her badge–she returns to the streets she once patrolled, finding satisfaction in high-payoff vengeance for hire.

On creation of the story

I had fun writing the story because it is my first attempt at writing a detective thriller, the genre I love to read. Payback was born over a year and a half ago. It took that long to find a market for it.  I wrote Payback back in November of 2008 after Harry bought me the Rambo collection for my birthday–wonder where I got the idea for a story about a vigilante.  See previous post.  Since then, I’ve submitted Payback to 18 magazines.  Thirteen rejected it.  One magazine collapsed before they could even reply to my submission.  Three other magazines have not yet replied–I’ll have to let them know its been accepted.

This is why it is so easy to get discouraged with writing and submitting short stories.  It is rough out there.  It took me 18 tries before Payback was finally accepted. I think about that when I have to reject stories for Pig and a Poke, like I did on Sunday. I try to take the time to give reasons for rejection.  It isn’t always possible, but most of my rejections are personal.

I liked writing Payback so much that I decided to expand it into a novel.  “The Ripper” is in draft stage. The outline is finished and about half of the chapters, but not in sequence. I’ve written bits and pieces here and there as the ideas come to me. The beginning, some of the middle and ending is done. The rest needs to be filled in. I decided to expand Nick the Nick’s role. Nicholas Nicholson is a former Green Beret turned vigilante who teams up with Rosa. He may end up being a bad guy. I haven’t decided yet. Rosa believes that if she and Nick can find and apprehend  the serial killer responsible for the string of rape/murders that has continued during the three years she has been working without a gold shield, she might be able to turn her life around.

Update on balance

I lost Friday as a writing day due to being pulled over with expired registration.  Sigh.  I spent the afternoon at the DMV.  Saturday I sent out short story submissions.  The Luna Station Quarterly acceptance will go a long way toward giving me my ambition back.  I think it will even motivate me to work on the novel again.  Sunday, I reviewed all of the stories submitted to Pig in a Poke. I found two that I liked well enough to accept. Unfortunately I had to send out some rejection letters.

I am continuing the walking, working out at the gym, and healthy eating.  Look for more posts on that.

How Trina lost her balance and other stuff

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.

Trina reads on Blink Ink Fiction

Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke Magazine is no longer active.

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

Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke Magazine is no longer active.

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?