Rejection

It’s been a while between posts. After a great September, I had a tough October (from a writing point of view) and I’m only starting to get over it.

The nadir was after a week of three rejections, Sisters In Crime tweeted that they had selected their finalists for the Scarlet Stiletto competition. They promised they would call winners shortly.

In a quirky joke from the universe, I got three calls that week from telemarketers based in Victoria. Each time I answered with my heart in my throat thinking ‘it’s happened at last’ -only to have someone try and sell me solar panels or insurance.

I never got ‘the call’ and after two agonising weeks of not getting it, they announced the shortlist. My name was not on it, no matter how many times I read it. I felt empty.

I prepped for this story unlike any other before. I read years of previous winners before writing a word. Then I plotted, wrote and tightened, making sure every word had a purpose and moved the story forward. I finished it two months before it was due, then let it sit for a month before my final edit. I was confident it was prize-worthy

There are over 10 prizes, and one of those is for cross-genre fiction. I’m a spec fic writer and I had a crime story that was equally dependent on the spec fic element and the crime. I didn’t think I would necessarily get a shot at first or second prize, but I thought my story was a great candidate for the cross-genre or best movie idea prizes.

It got nothing.

So, I’m slowly working through that disappointment. After trying so hard and getting nowhere, it made me question my own ability. I know that’s something all writers go through – which is why I wrote this post today, just in case someone else going through this reads it while wondering if they should give up. Please don’t.

I am in the process of picking myself up and dusting myself off. I will send the story to a spec fic market and hopefully get it published. The experience hurt, but I’ll move on. That’s a big part of what being a writer is about. And I can’t lose sight of the fact that at the very least, I got a story out of this of which I’m really proud.

And in all sincerity, congratulations to those who did make the cut for the shortlist. Except the people in the running for best cross-genre story – kidding! Mostly. 😉

Publications!

After working so hard all year to get my short stories out, I suddenly have two Flash Fiction stories published in the same month.

Clutch
This story was inspired by a documentary narrated by David Attenborough. I can’t say too much, because it will be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it wasn’t a documentary about the end of the world.

The Great Slowdown
This story was dragged out of my head for a time travel anthology. Well, I actually came up with a different flash fiction time travel story, which I worked on for ages, but then I decided that it would be better as a longer story, so I ditched it and at the last minute came up with ‘The Great Slowdown’ instead. It wasn’t selected for the anthology, but I was still happy with it, so sent it off and it was picked up straight away.

Hope you enjoy these. I have a much longer piece coming out, which I’m SUPER excited about. But until I have the publication date I won’t mention anything. I probably need to sign the contract first as well.

Lessons Learned from Time Off

My time off from work is fast approaching its end, so I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned while at home. I know that the events of 2020 have tainted my experiences somewhat, but I believe I can identify where that impact was. Especially when it came to productivity.

The main thing I realised, without doubt, is that I’d like this to be my normal life and not the exception. I loved being home and being able to set my own timelines, including when I write. But that was hardly a surprise.

The following things are true for me and my experience:

Editing is much easier to force. When I’m feeling like I don’t want to be at the computer, I can usually force myself to edit, regardless of my mood or how tired I am. The same cannot be said for writing new words. Editing is something I feel I could do equally as well when I’m working when I’m restricted to night time and weekend work only.

If I hit a block in a story, it’s because I’m not asking myself the right questions. When you frame the question as ‘what happens next’ it can be overwhelming. I discovered it is far more productive to frame it as ‘what if the car crashed?’ or ‘why didn’t she look in the bag?’ Those are questions I can answer and are far more likely to lead to the next bit of the story.

Walking is nearly as key to writing a new story as writing. If I sit at the computer and pose questions to myself, I’ll often draw a blank or be distracted by the internet. If I’m out walking, I find it easier to focus on possible answers. Most days I’ll came back from a walk ready to get on with the story.

New ideas are far more abundant when I’m not working. I have been amazed at how many new short stories I’ve written while I’ve been home. If I include the unfinished shorts, I’d be at about two dozen stories in six months. In the whole of last year I wrote only two short stories and came up with another two ideas. This is the saddest bit about going back to work.

Rejection doesn’t get easier. I have a lot of stories out at the moment, and every rejection still hurts. I thought with a lot more it wouldn’t feel so bad, but they still sting the same. The difference is that while I’ve been home, because I had so many out there, I still had hope that the next response would be positive (and some have been). Last year I was shopping around one short story, so it was a much bigger deal when that got the thumbs down.

Oh well. I guess I now know exactly what I’m looking forward to in retirement. Weekends will have to sustain me for a few more years yet.

April Furious Fiction

Time for another failed Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction story. Failed only insomuch as it failed to place. I actually liked how it turned out, even if the judges didn’t.

April 2020 Furious Fiction criteria:

  • Start on the side of a road.
  • Include the words APRON, PIGMENT, RIBBON, ICON, LEMON
  • Include a splash.

Shortlisted stories and winner can be read here.

My Story Placed: Not a cracker
My Story Word Count: 498
My Story Title: Stakeholder Liaison
My Story Story: This was an attempt at the thriller genre, which I don’t really go into much, despite being a horror writer.

Stakeholder Liaison
by Natalie J E Potts

The splash of rain on my face woke me. Where was I? I sat up, instantly regretting it. The world spun as pain burned the back of my head. Had someone hit me again?

I looked around. I was on an apron of a muddy track where it joined a pot-holed road. Next to me was a lemon of an old car. It wasn’t mine. The company would never let me drive something so cheap.

I was cold and needed to get out of the rain so I could think straight. Using the bumper of the car for support, I stumbled around to the driver’s door. I collapsed into the front seat and pulled the door shut against the cold outside. Something bit painfully into my knee; the key was in the ignition.

It took a couple of turns before the engine caught, then I cranked up the heater. Spiderwebs unfurled in the weak breeze from the vents like ribbons, and I smelled the burning warmth before I felt it.

It took longer than it should have to realise that if the car was running, I could drive. I put it into drive and let off the break. The back of the car suddenly slammed down onto the road, and the subsequent grinding made it clear I wasn’t going anywhere.

A memory blossomed; a woman with a flat tyre. She’d seemed young at first, but once I’d stopped I could see the pigment of her lipstick bleeding into the barcode lines around her elderly lips. She looked like death.

A different smell started to fill the car. Exhaust fumes. The rust-bucket had broken open somewhere when I’d driven it off the jack. I wound the window knob, but nothing happened. I tried turning off the engine, but the key was now jammed.

I had to get out.

I pulled the plastic door handle and it broke off in my hand. Reaching across to the passenger door, I tried to coax it open, but its handle disintegrated like it was centuries old. Or sabotaged.

The fumes became overpowering as dizziness overtook me. Without considering the consequences, I smashed my elbow against the window. It bruised my arm, but had no impact on the glass. These old cars were built like tanks. Awkwardly, I coiled up in the seat to give my legs room to kick the windscreen. Nothing.

With increasingly heavy lids, I opened the glove-box to search for something I could use to smash my way out. Inside was a single white envelope, emblazoned with the icon of my company.

It looked like one of the many envelopes I’d dropped around to inform farmers of the groundwater contamination, for which we were responsible. Compensation was promised. It’s why I was there.

I turned the envelope over to see the name of my murderer. The front was blank, save for a single sentence in an eerily good facsimile of my own hand; “I can’t live with what we’ve done.”

The End

June Progress

I haven’t written much more of any of the three novels I was considering. I tried, I really did, but it was like wading through a vat of honey. I just wasn’t getting anywhere. So, I logged into Duotrope and had a look at some of the upcoming anthology calls for submissions, just to see what was out there.

As usual, I opened this month with my Furious Fiction entry – which I keep entering out of pig-headed belligerence rather than any belief that I might get placed. Then I had a crack at some brand-new short stories, borne of the calls for submissions I found. For the first time in a long time, I have felt like a writer.

Writing new words, with no expectations, and not very long pieces, has been great. When your novel is giving you grief at 40,000 words, it really does weigh you down. When a 4,000 word story gives you trouble, it’s no big deal because it only takes a couple of days to write anyway. Also, there is a good chance you’d have thought of the trouble before you even started it, so short story storylines tend to be less problematic (for me).

I do have to complete a re-write on a novel that I will be doing soon so I can make the most of a possible opportunity. But for the next week I’m going to stick with these short stories to get the writing muscle working again and then hopefully I can transfer that productivity onto the novel.

May Furious Fiction

The Australian Writers’ Centre runs a 500 word ‘Furious Fiction’ competition over the first weekend of every month. They set specific criteria each month which the story must meet, but besides that you’ve got full creative control. I’ve been entering since December 2019, but there are many who have been entering since it started in February 2018.

I’ve recently found the challenge great for getting me out of my COVID writing funk. It’s also been really interesting because I’ve often gone into genres I don’t normally write.

The problem is, if you don’t get shortlisted, no-one ever gets to see your story. For me, the whole point of writing is for others to read your work, so I’m going to start posting the stories on my blog. Below is this month’s entry, which didn’t get shortlisted, or longlisted for that matter. But I liked it…

May 2020 #FuriousFiction.

Criteria

  • Must start with the word ‘Five’
  • Must include something being replaced
  • Must include the phrase ‘a silver lining’

Shortlisted stories and winner can be read here.

My Story Placed: Not a cracker
My Story Word Count: 496
My Story Title: Brother
My Story Story: I haven’t managed to get a placement with any of my stories, so I moved away from Spec Fic for this one and tried out a more experimental format.

Brother
By Natalie J E Potts

Five mistakes got me here. With the gun pointed at my head, I couldn’t help but reflect on them.

  1. Trusting my brother.

From pulling my pigtails at 6 to crashing my car at 36, he’d never been trustworthy. He’d gotten in with the wrong crowd and was misunderstood. We’d been making so many excuses for him that I guess it was now a habit. I’d break that habit today. Assuming I survived.

  1. Helping him out.

When he asked me to take his car to the mechanic, I asked why he couldn’t do it. He said he had a job interview. He was trying to set himself straight. The implication was it’d be my fault if he went off the rails again. His next call would be to mum if I said no, then I’d never hear the end of it. So, I went around to his place to get the damned car.

  1. Going to his mechanic.

When I pulled up at the mechanic’s it looked like a dump. The gate was locked. I should have driven on to my mechanic to see if he could squeeze me in. But someone came out and undid the padlock, like he’d been waiting for me.

The ‘Mechanic’ took less than five minutes. I know I’m not great with cars, but my brother drives a beat-up old Toyota, not a Porsche, so even I knew they weren’t doing anything to the engine by looking in the boot. I was glad to get out of there when they said I could go. No-one asked me to settle a bill.

  1. Looking in the boot.

As soon as I was out of view, I pulled over and popped the boot. It was surprisingly clean given the mess that everything else in my brother’s life tended toward. The only thing in there was a suitcase.

It was locked, but plenty of international travel had taught me that a hair-clip did the job better than a key anyway. I cracked both locks in less than a minute. The suitcase had a silver lining, but I could hardly see it for all the small bags of white powder.

  1. Returning to my brother’s house.

I slammed the boot shut and took the long way back to my brother’s house, via the shops. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t followed. I eventually pulled up in my brother’s garage. Only the garage wasn’t empty. One of my brother’s bad influences was in the corner with a gun. I only saw him after I got out.

“Take the car,” I said, dumping the keys on the roof.

“You bet I will. But I ain’t turning my back on ya. Piss off.”

Like I was going to hang around?! I ran to my car and left before he’d started the engine. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t there when he realised that I’d swapped the contents of the bags for a kilo of flour.

 

The End

New Normal

This month has been a planning month. I say planning, but probably what I really mean is I’ve started multiple projects and then dismissed them because I think about where they are going and decide that they are broken. But some new words have been written outside of Furious Fiction (yes, I entered May) so I’m pleased with that given the circumstances.

I’m not usually much of a planner, more of a plantser (not quite a pantser). If I have the end of the story in my head, I’ll usually have the confidence to jump on in and discover my way. But at the moment I’m finding it is very easy to go off the rails, so I think I need to plan a bit more than usual. In a funny way the detailed plan is almost like a really short first draft. Okay, I’m pushing it there, but I’m looking for positives.

Something I found very interesting over the last month was my experience with flash fiction. I discovered (in its last week) the Writers Victoria Twitter challenge to write 30-word stories on Twitter containing a nominated word. Then Furious Fiction was on, and with 500 words to play with, I found that I was able to develop a much fuller story with my five or six paragraphs than my usual entries. So, I think the micro fiction really helped me with editing out the fluff. I wonder if I’ll be able to apply it to my longer work?

Right now, I am considering three novels that have been kicking around in my head for 15,10 and 2 years respectively. But all of them feel like they have something wrong with them. I suspect the truth is the ‘wrongness’ sits with the author. I just need to take my advice of years ago and force myself to sit down and write instead of analysing everything so much.

What a month

I can’t believe my last post was just over a month ago and there was no mention of COVID-19. Then again, I can’t even remember if it had even been given the name back then. It feels like a year ago now.

Like many people on the planet, in the last month my plans were scuttled. I ended up having a family member move in for quarantine purposes and I’ve been doing the grocery runs for a number of elderly friends and relatives.

And I’ve been in a weird, muted shock. Even if I was home alone with nothing to do, I don’t think I would have been able to write. Knowing what is happening in so many other parts of the world and wondering if (when) those horrors were going to come here was too much. I know I don’t need to tell you how awful that feels. It’s been everyone’s reality.

As quickly as new phrases have been adopted into the collective lexicon; ‘flatten the curve’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘new normal’, I am now starting to find my feet. In those moments, now, which I manage to snatch for myself, I’m starting to sit at the computer.

I completed my furious fiction entry at the beginning of the month, and I’ve done a little bit of editing this week, not to mention this blog post. So I’m starting to get back on track.

For those of you who are reading this, I hope you are going well and finding peace with your new normal. And to quote everyone else, we are all in this together, even if we are apart.

 

I’m Back!

I don’t know what happened late last year, but I suddenly realised that I’m not getting any younger. To keep planning on what one will do one day just gives you an excuse to not do anything today.

I felt the pressure of that thought through our bushfire-ravaged Christmas and New Year. My perspective about what was important got seriously highlighted. So, after much consideration, I quit my job. It is time to write.

Don’t worry, I accept that I will (probably) have to go back to work eventually, but I have saved enough to give myself a decent break and I have got a plan with numerous lists to go with it. Just one spreadsheet though. I’m sure that will change.

The first stage, implemented in February, was to tidy up the multitude of short stories I had that were nearly finished and almost ready to send out. They are now doing the rounds and with luck I might get some acceptances soon (I’ve already had two really positive rejections).

March is new short story month. The past eighteen months, each time I’ve had an idea for a short story I’ve just written the summary of it into my ideas book. Stories can die in there. This month I’ll set some free.

So, join me on this next leg. Hopefully it will be rewarding for both of us; reader and writer alike. We might all learn something. I’m not committing to an every-Sunday post, but I will try to get back here as often as I can. Wish me luck!

Blog Re-Think

For nearly 10 years I’ve ensured that (nearly) every Sunday there is a post here. In recent years I’ve thought that the blog medium was dying and I wondered if there was any reason to keep it going?

I think there is a place for it, but perhaps not how I’m using it. A blog is a great space to share ideas that do not fit into just 280 characters. Social media is now the place for sharing short observation and high-level ideas, not to mention koala photos.

So from now on I’ll only post a blog entry when I’ve got something to share; good news, bad news, or something I really want to talk about in more space that a tweet will give me. And who knows, I may end up missing it and coming back just as regularly.

In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @nataliejepotts – I do have other social media accounts, but I’ll probably be posting here more than I do there.

The journey of a spec fic writer.