Tuesday, August 25, 2009

25 words are worth a thousand... words

Legend has it, Ernest Hemingway, on a bar bet, said he could write a complete story in less then ten words. He only needed six:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Hemingway, as usual, was ahead of his time. Maybe it's a product of our Twitter-sized attention spans, but fiction categories keep shrinking. There are novellas, short stories, short-short stories, flash fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, nanofiction, drabbles (100 words) dribbles (50 words) and now... there's hint fiction. Hint fiction is a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story.

Robert Swartwood is accepting submissions for his Hint Fiction Anthology, scheduled for publication next year. Check out the guidelines... and submit your best. Or, if you don't want to submit officially, feel free to post your hint fiction stories here in the comments.

I submitted my two entries. Who cares if it's only 25 words; if one of my stories gets accepted, I'm gonna walk around telling everyone I'm published.

p.s., coming soon... Decafiction: a story in ten words or less. You heard it here first... I just registered the domain name.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Six months ago, at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I pitched my book to an editor from a major publishing house. She liked the idea, and asked me to send the first five chapters. I did, and two months later she asked me to send the whole thing. I was elated... and stressed: I had a ton of polishing to do before I felt comfortable sending the entire manuscript. So I locked myself in my office for three weeks, finished the manuscript, and sent it to her.

Then I waited.
And waited.
And waited some more.

It's not uncommon for an agent or editor to take over six months to respond, but it was still maddening. Should I send a follow up email? What if she didn't even get my email? What if she couldn't open the file? Shouldn't she at least confirm? What if I look like a stalker and she rejects it just to get me off her back? After consulting some other writers for advice, I settled on sending the editor a follow-up email once a month. It's so different than my biotech job, where if I don't get a response in four hours, I assume the person is in the hospital.

Finally, last week, over three months later, I got a response: rejected. But it was what the industry calls an "encouraging rejection." Really, any type of response other than a form rejection letter falls into this category. It varies from a phone call or personal meeting (most encouraging) to a handwritten note scribbled across the bottom of a form letter (least encouraging).

My rejection letter was fairly encouraging because:
1) Based on her comments, the editor seems to have actually read the entire manuscript. Now, she's a professional, so she's not going to read the whole thing just to be nice; she'd stop as soon as she had a reason to.
2) She had some positive feedback
3) Her negative feedback was constructive and probably warranted
4) She didn't say my writing sucked; she just had some (totally fixable) issues with the plot

So, while a part of me was of course disappointed that she didn't call and immediately offer me a million bucks for my manuscript, I came away encouraged. Many a NYT bestseller has received dozens of similar rejections before being picked up.

Now. What's next? I'm sticking with my original plan of seeking an agent. But first, I'm going to hire a freelance editor to help with the manuscript. Which is a whole other blog topic...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back to the Sea

In my writing workshop, the group leader passed around bags with scraps of paper. On each scrap was written a place, person or verb. We randomly picked two places, two people, and one verb. Then each of us had to write a brief story using those elements. I ended up with:

• Place 1: diner
• Place 2: desert
• Person 1: anarchist
• Person 2: lover/spouse
• Verb: flee

Here is my story:

“Everything comes from the sea, and everything must return to the sea.”
Dylan’s eyes caught the sunlight glinting off the truck grilles lined up outside the diner, and his face was so pale that for a second he looked hyper real, possessed.
It was in these moments that Claire couldn’t help herself; when those dark eyes changed, when Dylan said these profound things, when he became taken by an idea, a crusade, or... a dead starfish.

The brittle orange starfish had been perched atop the napkin holder, like the sea creature was under water and holding fast against the rising tide. More likely, it had been attached with glue, until Dylan pried it loose with is ever-fidgeting fingers.

“Can’t we eat lunch first?” She said without much conviction. She’d seen that look before. Lunch would wait.

“Why? He was kneeling on the torn vinyl now, twirling the fish in his thin fingers. “Because that’s what ‘they’ expect you to do? Three meals a day -- morning, noon and night. Or the almighty order of the world will break down.” He shook his head. “What’s so bad about chaos?”

“Don’t be dramatic.” Claire sighed heavily, her stomach growling.

Dylan didn’t seem to hear her; he’d lasered his eyes on something out the window. Outside, a concord of diesel engines panted in the heat. “I say, screw them. Screw them and their three meals a day. “

The other diner patrons were turning their heads. With each head-turn, Dylan raised his voice another notch. He jabbed the starfish at a curious man hunched over the counter. “Screw you, too, gramps.” He hopped off the vinyl bench and turned toward Claire. “Forget this place and all its rules. Let’s break the pattern. Let’s... fleee!

He was still carrying the “eee” when he burst through the glass door and into the parking lot.
Claire followed him. What else could she do?

Outside, on the blacktop, the heat closed in and choked her like a plastic bag around her head. 
Dylan was far ahead, already off the blacktop and into the desert. He seemed to move faster than his casual strides could possibly allow. The shimmering heat trapped above the sand obscured his form and cut at his legs, giving the illusion he was floating. In his black skinny jeans, torn black sweatshirt and combat boots, he looked like some malformed arachnid. Like an alien on a featureless planet. An alien with a starfish.

Claire struggled to catch up. She blinked against the heat and suddenly she was upon him. He’d dropped to his knees in the sand, and he was holding the creature above him like some terra cotta offering to the sister sun. He was chanting, or maybe he was just breathing heavy from the heat and the walk.
The sand crackled beneath him as he swiveled toward her, and then he was looking straight up at her, holding the starfish out like an offering to her, and she realized that if he asked her, if he asked her right there in the desert, she would marry him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dear Apple

I'm not that guy who writes whiny letters to companies, trying to get free stuff (though I've always kind of wanted to be). But this situation really pissed me off, and I figured I could practice my writing skills, put something amusing on my blog --and maybe get some free stuff. So, here is a letter I plan to send to Apple Computer:

Dear Apple,

I'm a loyal consumer of Apple products. In the past five years alone, I've owned six iPods, three Macs, one iPhone and 27 pair of ear buds (the things just multiply -- they're like Gremlins). But something happened recently that caused me to question my loyalty.

My exuberant dog, Chester, knocked over a glass of water with his tail and spilled about two ounces of water onto my one-year-old MacBook. The laptop was closed, and it was barely a splash, so I wasn't overly concerned. But after waiting a while to make sure the laptop was dry, I hit the power button, and nothing happened.

I took the MacBook into the Apple Store, where the guy at the Genius Bar told me I'd have to send my laptop off for a "Tier 4 repair." Sounded ominous, but I wasn't too worried. Then he told me the repair would cost $755, plus tax. Still, I remained calm. After all, I'd purchased the AppleCare Protection Plan.
Then he told me that water damage is not covered.

I wasn't sure what to do about the repair, but I knew I had to get the data off my hard drive. I'm a writer, and I stupidly hadn't backed up the last few versions of my novel. So I went home to lick my wounds and figure out how to salvage my data. I started taking apart my MacMini Desktop so I could plug my hard drive into it and rescue my manuscript. Kudos to the Apple engineers, because they somehow managed to pack the entire Apollo 13 Lunar Module into that little white box. It took me 30 minutes just to get the cover off. The instructional video I found online involved a razor blade and a putty knife. A putty knife.
Two hours later, I'd completely destroyed my MacMini, only to find that its hard drive uses a different connector than the MacBook's drive. And now I was down two computers.

I called the Genius Bar guy, and he said, no problem, the Tier 4 repair people could transfer the data off my old hard drive -- for an additional $150 fee. Now I was looking at $905, plus tax.
While I was pondering this, the Genius Bar guy was nice enough to point out that a new MacBook is about a grand, and they'd transfer my data to the new computer -- for free. What's more, my AppleCare Protection Plan would transfer to the new laptop. This was very reassuring, considering how helpful the plan had been with my last computer.

Now maybe it's just me, but I can't help but think that this whole pricing policy is designed to push me into a new laptop. But what it's more likely to do is push me into a PC. It's hard for me to stomach paying nearly $1000 to get my old MacBook back, when I could get a brand new Dell for $500. In the past, I paid the premium because Apple products work well and look cool, and because I figured Apple would take care of me. Now, I just feel disappointed.

Before I make any rash decisions about the equipment I'll be using for the remainder of my long and illustrious writing career, I wanted to ask if you could: cover my repair costs under the AppleCare plan; or, give me a discount on a new MacBook.

I'll be posting this letter (and your response) on my blog: http://theleafblower.blogspot.com/
Thank you for your consideration.
Brian Crawford
***Post-blog note***

I contacted Apple today to get the mailing address. I ended up explaining my situation, and they agreed to cover the cost of the repair – including the hard drive transfer. Nice job, Apple, you’re back in my good graces!