Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On the House - Backstory
by Leigh Madrid

I look out windows. If I stare or am still too long, nostalgia gnaws at my wrists, at my collarbone. I wish for snow, pray to forget.

I said to you once, Dormancy is the slumber nearest death. It was winter. We were young then, high, in love of a sort. I said, I wonder, in the spring, do trees recall the cold?

Dormant slumber. I’ve known it twice.

The first time from the sickness that came for me not long after my daughter’s birth. I felt off, but that was to be expected. Called a miracle, childbirth diminishes the body. I didn’t go to the doctor. Wasn’t it all in my head?

I was infected. Then hospitalized, emergency surgery. Mom, Dad—take the baby. You… you were too busy. You apologized via text.

Before, I never cried.

Later, daughter’s first word. Mama. That same day you wrapped your hands around my neck to squeeze and squeeze.

Hovering above, I felt serene. Only after would I be troubled by the vision of bulging eyes, slackening arms, baby slipping, slipping to the floor.

World a blur, I ran with baby pressed tight between breasts. She laughed as I pulled the closet door shut behind us.

Mama. Mama. Mama.

You are gone now.

After much restructuring, my life is stable. Calm and quiet, twin balms of healing.

Late at night, old wounds tend to ache, and new scars to itch.

The steadfast routine that keeps a toddler pleasant leaves me yearning. For what? For who I was before you? For something forgotten, or that never was?

Am I sleeping still? Life is too quiet.

I look out windows.

I see dive bars. Bad lighting. Vodka tonics—extra lime. Stranger’s winks. Tequila shots. I can taste the acrid throatburn of cigarettes as I drag past the filter. Overflowing ashtrays and knotted cherry stems.

These days I drink at the kitchen table. A glass of wine. Light beer. Coffee with just a splash of something. I haven’t smoked in a decade. I miss having something to do with my hands.

I look out windows. The forever sunshine doesn’t suit me.

It never snows here. Every few years something resembling snow will drift down. Lasting only long enough to snap a shot of saguaros dusted white. It isn’t the kind that sticks, lending whimsy to winter before turning to slush. It doesn't melt. It evaporates. Not real snow at all.

I tell myself stories about different kinds of deserts, of people carrying a bit of hope tucked inside otherwise empty pockets. I write.

Leigh Madrid lives North of Tucson. She shares a home with her toddler, an antisocial cat, and the occasional scorpion. Inspiration from snowy daydreams and a fondness for dive bars fuel much of her writing.

From the author: I pitched “On the House” to my writing group as “an Irish bar story set in South Dakota.” Later an editor with an Irish surname asked to publish it. I don’t believe in signs…or maybe I do. Either way, I’m very excited for my story to appear in Literary Orphans.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Re: How to Submit to Literary Journals: Withdrawing Your Piece

"Not withdrawing your piece is unprofessional, rude, and amateurish behavior unbecoming of a writer."

I received a question about this strong statement from last week's post.

A reader asked:
"Any idea why [not withdrawing is unprofessional, etc.]? ...Sounds like writers lose a ton of negotiating power for no reason but that tradition has set social niceties in stone. Like... When you're interviewing for a job, [you ask] for a couple weeks to decide. Because if they call you and accept the day before your next interview instead of the day after, that shouldn't have such a disproportionate effect on your future.... Is there a similar waiting period for journal submissions?"
The short answer is YES. Writers do have negotiating power.

If you get an offer, you're not required to answer immediately. This is true for querying agents, submitting directly to publishers or for subbing to literary journals.

What's the proper waiting period? A week is appropriate in all these cases. (There are a few exceptions, like weekly e-zines, where the turnover is too fast for a week's waiting period.)

Asking for one week gives you time to decide whether you will be satisfied having your work handled by the publishing professional in question.

In the meantime, it is appropriate and encouraged to send out "heads-up" emails -- not to every agent or editor you queried. Only send to those whom you might prefer.

The heads-up email:
  • Explains you received an offer of publication/representation (no need to mention from whom)
  • Invites a response to your submission by [deadline], after which time you will make a decision

Withdrawing your piece

Don't withdraw
  • If you have sent a heads-up email, don't formally withdraw your piece. The ball is in their court. If they decline to respond, that's their business and they know the consequences of not doing so.
Do withdraw
  • If you decide immediately to accept an offer, send a formal withdrawal note.
  • If you did not send out a heads-up email, send a formal withdrawal note.

How to withdraw? A simple email will suffice. If using an online submission manager, add a quick note, like this one:
"Dear [editor/agent], Please withdraw [title] from your submission queue, as I have placed it elsewhere for [publication/representation]. Thank you."

In summary, when your work is on submission...

If you accept publication/representation and fail to loop in the other contenders, you are wasting their time. Reading through subs is a lot of work. If they read and accept yours, only to find it's been placed elsewhere, it's unlikely they'll want to reach out to you again.

Leaving an editor or agent out of the loop reflects poorly on you as a publishing team player.

This is the way the industry works. Yes, it may place the burden of effort disproportionately on writers. But until a new industry rises, er, out of the ashes, this is the game we've agreed to play.


What experiences have you had communicating your waiting periods and withdrawals to editors/agents? What kind of responses have you received from heads-up emails?

In your opinion, what might be a better way this system could work?

~ Lora

Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Submit to Literary Journals

Yesterday, three people from vastly different playgrounds of my life asked me how to submit to literary journals.

Googling will turn up tons of info. But if you're new to the game, this is a good starting place.

The Quick-and-Dirty Basics

step 1. write something you're proud of.
step 2. find some journals.
step 3. track it.
step 4. proof and format.
step 5. cover letter and bio.
step 6. read the journal submission specs.
step 7. what to track.
acceptance letters.
edits. you will make them.
mistakes. they happen.

step 1. write something you're proud of.

You really can't get around this one. If you aren't embarrassingly proud of your work, it's unlikely anyone else will give two flips about it. Read it aloud (for proofreading purposes, of course). Are you blushing? It's good, isn't it? Hell yeah, it is. That's what I mean by proud.

step 2. find some journals.

Check out literary mag hubs. These are places that have exhaustive(ish) lists of journals, both large and small, that feature blurbs about journals' character and interests, along with ways to get in touch.

step 3. track it.

Make a spreadsheet of journals you want to submit to.

step 4. proof and format.

After you send your piece to a writing friend for line edits, format for submission.

For fiction and creative nonfiction, unless otherwise specified:

  • 12 pt font
  • Double space between lines
  • Do not add space between paragraphs
  • 1/2 inch indent first line of each graph
  • Your contact info in upper left-hand corner of first page, single spaced
  • Title (in title case) centered, halfway down first page
  • Byline (your name or pen name) directly below title
  • Header: Select "Different first page"
  • Header (first page): Word count (rounded to nearest 10) in top right-hand corner (e.g., "about 1,230 words")
  • Header (all other pages): [Last name] / [shortened title] / [page number] in top right-hand corner (e.g. "Rivera / How to Sub / 5")
  • Footer: Email address centered

step 5. cover letter and bio.

If you're used to querying agents, this will make you melt with relief. Unless otherwise specified, you don't need to pitch your story. Introduce your work. Break paragraphs for a bio. And close.

Here's an example:

step 6. read the journal submission specs.

Don't skip this step. As with agents, journal eds are particular because they have to be. If you want to know more about this step, go here or here.

step 7. what to track.

  • the date of submission
  • journal
  • title of your piece
  • word count of your piece
  • the date of response
  • type of response (rejection, acceptance, withdrawal)

BONUS. rejections. you will get them.

Do you ever respond to a rejection letter? No. Well, yes. But mostly no. Why? It wastes your time and the editor's time. It reflects badly on your maturity as a writer.

When do you respond to a rejection letter? Respond with a one- or two-liner note of thanks only if the editor has supplied more than cursory feedback on your piece. "I enjoyed your work but it's not for us" is cursory. Do not respond (DNR). "We really liked your work and hope you'll submit in the future" is flattering but not real feedback. DNR. Two paragraphs about your main character or plot? Send over a short note of thanks.

BONUS. acceptance letters. you will get them.

If you keep trying, you will get published.

If you receive an acceptance letter, thank the editor in a timely manner.

Next, withdraw your submission from every other journal you submitted to. A short, polite, reply-to email is perfect for this. If using a submission manager, follow the guidelines on the site. Not withdrawing your piece is unprofessional, rude, and amateurish  behavior unbecoming of a writer.

BONUS. edits. you will make them.

Especially with larger journals, an editor will want to do a few rounds with you. Decide ahead of time what your intent is with your piece. Do you just want to get published? Make the requested edits. Don't push back too much. If you decide to push back, choose one or two points to contest. Give clear, convincing, polite arguments for not making the requested edit. Try an alternate route. Figure out how much you're willing to give. Then give a little more. This doesn't always feel good, but it's a critical role of the writer to be able to receive and respond to criticism.

BONUS. mistakes. they happen.

You will make a mistake. It is always okay to own your mistake and send a short "Oops, and thanks for your patience" email. It's not about saving face or being perfect. Writing is about being human and making connections. Check out this piece by Eva Langston on common mistakes to avoid.


If you'd like to know more about the process, I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment, tweet at me, or email me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

7 Ways to Move On From a Relationship

Here I am.

Divorced for over a year. Two years' moved out. Two years' moved on. Yet still so blue some nights.
-- You're getting married.
-- Yes, next October.
-- Good . . . Good for you.
I still care, I still want him to be happy. But the truth is, I haven't even bought a mop yet.

What does a mop have to do with moving on? Let me explain.

7 Ways to Move On (After 7 Years):

You're not in love anymore. You may or may not still care. But your life is a little deflated and you don't know why. There's an emptiness you're not sure how to fill. (Hint: Sexy, delicious boyfriends are not the answer.) This is not about obliterating the past. Rather, these steps help you look the past in the face and say, "Yes. And."

Step 1.
Get a hobby - Close your eyes. As a child, when were you happiest? Was it helping in the kitchen? Coloring? Basketball in the driveway? Running barefoot on the beach? Climbing trees or playing in mud? Reading? Building blocks? Chances are, there are grown-up equivalents in the same ballpark. I was that girl climbing trees all day long, scrambling up on the roof and sleeping under the stars. Little wonder I've taken climbing in the adult world complete with safety gear and belay-buddies. What turns your inner child on? Go after it.

Step 2.
Clean out the cruft - Prepare for new adventures by opening physical space for them. Clean out the TV stand full of old DVDs you watched together. Donate books and old clothes. Buy new dishes, towels, and linens. Get a new bed. Take your computer to a professional and have it wiped. Or better, buy a new one. Last night, I tried once again to get my ex-husband's name off my desktop's locked user folder. I gave up and started crying because this stuff is hard.

Step 3.
Find new friends - If they're human, your old friends will have picked sides. If you're lucky, you'll have one or a handful still hanging around. These people know the you you used to be. There's a comfort in that. But the fact is, you're not that you anymore. You're becoming a different you and it's time to find new friends who can say, "Maybe you were like that, but that's not the person I know."

Seeing your reflection in the faces of new friends you love, and who love you back, will show you how far you've come. Besides, new friends bring new perspectives, lessons, joys, and challenges. And isn't life what happens when people come together? -- Somewhere in the middle, life happens.

Step 4.
Be selfish - If you're like me, your life's frayed twine gets all frizzed out and tangled up in others. Start being selfish. Let the detangling begin! Start saying No to requests for your resources -- time, money, love -- when you get even a little twinge of discomfort. Spend those resources on you.

Lavish love on yourself for a change, and bask in it. Is it a little overkill to make a fancy dinner, take a shower and primp up, uncork a nice wine, light candles, break out the linen napkins, set the table for yourself and then eat the meal you lovingly prepared? Is it overkill to thank yourself for taking care of YOU? Nope. It's the language of healing. Be lavishly selfish. Remember that there's no shortage of love in this world.

Step 5.
Log your luck - Notice things. All the things! That flower is pretty! That street light is green! Your hair looks awesome today. The sky is stunning. That bartender is a generous pourer. Your body is strong! You have a good job. You have great friends. You can still get off. You can turn heads.

Like keeping a gratitude journal, keeping a mental luck log will help you realize how lucky you are. All things have a flip side. Flick the coin, make it twirl and watch life start to shine when you start recognizing all the ways you are getting lucky ;)

Step 6.
Reach out - You've started staying No. Now start asking for what you want. You'll be surprised how many people want to give you what makes you happy. People like the way life bubbles up in the space between closeness. They'll get closer if you ask. Start small, and be prepared to fill yourself up with lavish love if they say No.

Step 7.
Say Yes - Learn the difference between when you don't want something (Say No) and when you're afraid of something. When opportunities arise, check whether your main inhibitor is fear. If so, start defaulting to Yes. You won't succeed at or like everything you try. But these new experiences start filling in the gaps where old experiences used to keep you safe and warm.

This is reprogramming. Soon, every time you say Yes and survive the experience -- whether you succeed or fail, love it or hate it -- you're teaching yourself that you are capable and strong and worth it.


So where's the mop factor in? Step 2 and 4. I've cleaned out the cruft to some extent, but it's time I start the love lavish in practical ways. I've been "making do" because of the great effort and cost of getting a new computer, buying a mop (when wet-towel-dancing is just fine!), acquiring a router and getting internet -- it all seems overwhelming.

It's time to break it down into small, manageable chunks, be gentle with myself and begin the last stage of moving on.