Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lessons learned from trenches: Part 11

Writing Again

In 2002 I also started writing again, and the first thing I worked on after this 5-year break was a short crime story, More Than a Scam. This could be the first and only Nigerian-email scam story, and the way it came about was after getting yet another scam email, I posted on a yahoo hardboiled writers group that it would be an interesting topic for people in the group to write stories about. No one took me up on that, so I decided to do it. At first I was planning to do the same as my fictional writer in the story---trade emails with these scam artist and write up the exchange as a story. Instead, I went a different direction and wrote a noirish crime story with my protagonist having his own ulterior motives for participating in this scam. I knew it was a good story when I was done, and it ended up making honorable mention in the 2003 Best American Mystery Stories anthology, with Otto Penzler mentioning to my agent at the time that he was disappointed the story wasn’t selected by his editor for that volume as one of the top 20.

By nature I’m driven to create things. That’s the reason I spent over 20 years as a software developer, why I started Hardluck Stories, and why I write. Back in 2002 one of the things I tried creating was a Yahoo group to match short crime fiction to publications. The way this would work is writers would post a one-paragraph description of the story they were trying to sell, as well as a bio, and editors would contact them off-list. I think I called this group the Short Mystery Fiction Warehouse. It seemed like a good idea, but none of the paying magazines participated, only non-paying web-zines. Some stories ended up being placed through this, but it didn’t work out the way I had hoped and after a short time I shut it down. At the time I knew More Than a Scam would have a good shot with both AHMM and EQMM, two magazines I wanted to break in to, but I wanted to support this fiction warehouse concept so I made the story available through it, and a web-zine Mysterical-E ended up asking for it. The people I dealt with at Mysterical-E were professional and treated my story well, but it was a mistake not trying for the higher markets first. These days if a web-zine or low-paying market that I respect asks me for a story, I’ll provide one to help support them, but whenever you have a story that’s a good fit for a top market, always submit to them first. Always.

With the reaction More Than a Scam was receiving I thought I hit upon a formula for success—choose a topical theme. Well, maybe for short stories, but it doesn’t quite work out well for novels, as I’ll be discussing in a future lessons from the trenches.

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