I recently popped into my local indie bookstore (shout out to Sundance Books!) and found that thing that makes a writer’s heart go pitter pat — their very own work on the shelf. If you look closely, Gentle Reader, the two collections in which I have stories are sitting side by side. This makes me so happy!
Pen name = Nom de plume.
I recently published a short piece of horror fiction under my pen name Arlene Stuart. It set off a firestorm of questions.
Okay, it was three questions.
First, hunh? Yeah, I know. Delusions of pretension over here. Like I’m Mark Twain or J.K. Rowling.
Second, why? It’s fairly common for authors to use different names for different genres. I’ve published a fair amount of non-fiction under my legal name (clips are here) and I’m working on a Middle Grade historical novel that I hope to publish. But I also have a few romances drafted, ranging from clean to a little smutty. Plus the short horror. It’s pretty simple — I want to keep the non-fiction and kids’ stuff separate from the smut and scary stuff.
And third, why Arlene Stuart? Family members will recognize both of these names. “Arlene” is my birth middle name and “Stuart” is my grandmother’s maiden name. So, in a sense, I’m honoring both myself as a youngster, and my ancestry.
But there are hoops to deal with. When I submitted the horror story, I noted that I was using a pseudonym. Unlike J.K. Rowling when she started to write mysteries, I’m not trying to keep it a secret. There’s no worry that I will be outed and then have to deal with the backlash. I told the anthology editor that I wanted to put this other name on the story and she handled the blurb perfectly. Which, of course, gives me direction for the future.
There are the post-publication the questions, the puzzled looks, getting paid, and autographs. I’ve compared myself to Mark Twain, which clears things up some. His nom de plume is way cooler than mine, though. And as for payment, hey, we live in a digital age. I didn’t get a check; I just provided a PayPal e-mail address. Easy peasy. As for autographs, I haven’t gotten to address that, yet. I imagine I’ll just sign “Arlene Stuart”.
Ironically, if I’d used my real name, I would be first on the list of authors on the back cover. Oh well.
The universe is a funny thing and the biddy running the operation has a wicked sense of humor. In my last post, lo these many months ago, I whined about the fact that I’d written two lovely stories, submitted them around a bit and they had fallen flat in the publication arena. I had sighed and put them away with resignation and move on to editing a NANO novel from 2008.
Then, precisely two weeks later, I got an e-mail from a friend. Darling, darling friend Kirstin sent me this:
Subject: Final Call: Nevada Anthology — Women Writers Who Give Back
Nevada Anthology: Women Writers Who Give Back
Editing literary magazines, organizing readings, and teaching are rewarding but time-consuming endeavors. Each moment spent cultivating someone else’s poetry or prose is another moment away from one’s own writerly work. The sacrifices are real, yet most editors, organizers, and teachers are happy, albeit exhausted, to contribute to their communities. A forthcoming anthology will showcase poetry and prose written by Nevada women who contribute to other writers’ educations, publications, and writerly communities.
- Length: send four to seven poems -or-prose less than 3,500 words
- Previously published work encouraged. Previously unpublished work is just fine, too.
- This call for submissions will close at 11:59 pm on February 7th. Late submissions cannot be accepted.
This project is funded in part by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
It was like this call for submissions was aimed right at my head. I didn’t duck. I submitted those two stories I had set aside and Heather Lang accepted Shot to Hell, the flash fiction horror.
Haven’t touched a copy yet, but here’s the cover AND I’ve been paid. I think I’ll use that filthy lucre to buy some wine to toast that comedienne the Universe Biddy and my friend Kirstin. Sláinte!
Short stories are a great training ground for novel writing, but are they worth the energy?
I had this wonderful idea, with a great setting, interesting characters, and a theme. I had a submission goal. I thought the story was lovely, a perfect fit for the publication. Heartwarming and tender, my story even had dogs.
It was rejected.
I had another story. It was based on a true incident, but there was nothing special about it. Then the truthiness was edited away and a supernatural aspect came into it.
Length became an issue. It was too short for a short story, so it became flash fiction. I set an arbitrary word limit, which, while researching potential homes, was either too high or too low.
My critique group had questions, issues, and feedback comprising more words than the story itself.
I went to a conference and one speaker talked about shaking things up and changing the POV. He was also the editor of a literary journal and encouraged submissions. I changed the POV of my story to 2nd and it just sang to me. The freshness! The drama! I submitted to the journal and waited for months and months and months.
It was rejected.
So here I have two perfectly lovely stories collecting dust. When do you let a project go? Do I just tuck them away in my bottom drawer, never to be seen again? Or do I keep sending them out? And if so, where?
There isn’t much demand for short romance or shorter supernatural. My initial, and only, attempts at publication were both aimed at paper publication. Is electronic publication a paying, valid, or even respected alternative?
Paper magazines are going away. Newspapers are going away. Even books are going away. But are they being replaced with electronic alternatives? No one is really saying.
Lots of questions and no easy answers.
The Todd Borg book signing and reading at Sundance Books in Reno was essentially just like my experience with seeing Stephen King. Except for the crazy fans and the multiple lines and the waiting and the scrambling for seats. Oh, wait, yes, there was a scramble for a seat.
Todd Borg is a local author with a mystery series featuring a South Lake Tahoe P.I. and his Harlequin Great Dane. The books are packed with local settings, humor, and are just fun to read.
I roped my friend Nancy into going with me because I knew she was a fan and she can be bribed with lunch.
Sundance Books is a gem of an independent bookstore located in a historic old house in downtown Reno. It’s one of my favorite places and if they had ample food and a bed, I’d probably move in.
They are huge supporters of local authors and artists and even lil’ ol’ me did a reading at Sundance a few years ago (see here).
Todd was just like Stephen King – He’s a great speaker, knows how to tell a story, and is effing funny. His talk was aimed at the writers in the crowd and I appreciated that. He chose to read a funny scene involving the dog, which Nancy appreciated.
But unlike Stephen King, Todd was also open to a follow-up question via e-mail. Granted, I’ve never tried to e-mail Stephen King, but I thought it was great that Todd Borg took the time to answer my question.
Stephen King’s talk was effing entertaining. The man knows how to tell a story. He had it all – humor, pacing, swearing up the yin yang. And an appreciation for his audience – a bunch of readers hanging out in a bookstore.
Some stories I’d heard before – he used material from “On Writing,” which I’ve read so often I’ve practically memorized it. Others I probably gleaned from other sources. But there was new stuff. Fresh stuff that gave insight into the man, the myth, the writer.
I particularly loved how he says he has three personas – There’s the guy who was up there in front of us, slightly schlumpy in jeans and t-shirt, shooting the shit with us, out in the world, selling books. There’s the husband of oh so many years who goes to the grocery store and takes out the garbage. And then there’s the creepy guy who has a cabin in the woods who writes the books.
That resonated with me. As a writer, I want to be like Stephen King, with three personas.
He took questions from the audience and it was great fun to see just how excited some people were to be actually speaking to someone who was their hero. Quivering with the excitement would be an accurate description. And we were going along, having a good time. People were asking good questions and he had great responses, until the idiot in the front row asked him to autograph her hat. He said “No” and that was the end of the fun.
And then we got to stand in ANOTHER line to pick up the book we’d bought earlier.
All in all, a weirdly surreal experience. And I’d probably do it again.
So, when is Janet Evanovich coming to Reno?
After first one line and another, I left Barnes & Noble and got more coffee and something to eat, ran a few errands and then arrived back at the bookstore to stand in my third line of the day.
And this is where the confusion of the whole multiple-line process came to fruition. For me, anyway. I was 102nd in line, but due to some confusion, #101 didn’t show up by the time the doors opened. #101 was a lovely woman from Chico, and we’d had a nice time getting to know each other while standing in Lines 1 and 2, but alas, she’d gone back to her motel room to take a shower and The Line waits for no woman.
I got in and managed to get a chair facing the podium so I was quite tickled with my luck. I didn’t realize it at the time, however, but the man in front of me had ridiculously broad shoulders and the need to record the event. Every. Single. Second. With progressively larger electronic devices that he held to one side so I had to not only crane around the shoulders, but the iPad-enhanced block head. I probably would have been better off standing, but damn it, I had worked hard for a seat and I wasn’t giving it up.
For nearly two hours we waited. Around me was revealed fandom of increasingly horrifying proportions. People were live-tweeting. A man cruising up and down the center aisle was revealed to be the creator of a Dark Tower-centric website. Stephen King t-shirts were the norm. Me? I just wished I hadn’t had that second cup of coffee.
I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and asked the Tweeter next to me if he would save my seat while I hunted down a restroom.
I cruised the perimeter of the room and perused the huge crowd. I found #101 leaning against a bookshelf in a pretty darn sweet location – there was no broad-shouldered dude blocking her view.
I did my thing in the ladies’ room and came out to find a security-type planted in front of the men’s room. Across the narrow hall from the man in black, a woman leaned against the wall.
“Pssst,” she said, gesturing to me. “Come stand here with me.”
I figured I’d at least get closer and see what she had to say. Her eyes were a little crazy, but it had been a long morning. I stood next to her.
“Why are we standing here?” I whispered, leaning toward her.
“He’s. In. There,” she whispered, gesturing to the men’s room door. Her eyes got a little crazier.
I looked at the man standing in front of the bathroom door. I looked at the woman standing next to me. And I shrugged.
“I’m sorry,” I said, pushing myself from the wall. “I’m just not that kind of fan.”
And I returned to my seat.
To be continued…