Monday, August 20, 2012

The Ubiquity of JCO

I finished a story last month and decided to start sending it around in search of a publisher.  It's a private dick story, like most of my work, but I'd like to see it in one or another of the mainstream journals.  I often look in the back of Best American Mysteries of 20nn to see where they get their stuff.  

So, The Atlantic.  A long shot but fine, they have an Elmore Leonard story in their current issue.  The Missouri Review—an online note, "What people say about us:  'I’ve admired The Missouri Review for years. . . . It’s one of a half-dozen literary magazines I always read.' —Joyce Carol Oates.  Good.  Send a copy off to TMR.  After all, one or two issues before my first story appeared in the Black Mask section of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Joyce Carol Oates had the Black Mask slot. 

How about McSweeney's?  Edgy, picky, but my story's in S.F. and McSweeney's seems tied to the community.  Sure enough:  "McSweeney’s has attracted work from some of the finest writers in the country, including Denis Johnson, Jonathan Franzen, William T. Vollmann, Rick Moody, Joyce Carol Oates, Heidi Julavits, Jonathan Lethem, Michael…"

Prairie Schooner:  "we have printed the work of Eudora Welty, Octavio Paz, Tennessee Williams, Weldon Kees, Joyce Carol Oates, and Rita Dove, Richard Russo, Reynolds Price, Julia Alvarez …"

Well, let's see, close to home, just up U.S. 15, there's the Gettysburg Review.  Yup, there she is again—"Since its debut in 1988, work by such luminaries as E. L. Doctorow, Rita Dove, James Tate, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Wilbur, and Donald…"

Fiction Magazine?  "In the past we have featured work by such prize-winning authors as John Ashbery, Joyce Carol Oates, Heinrich Böll, Yasunari Kawabata, Camilo José Cela, Günter Grass, and John …."

Joyce, sweetheart, I love you but take a break, please!  You're 74.  You deserve a little rest. 

Or maybe I should start using three names in my byline.  

P.S.  Today I pick up The New York Times Style Magazine--"Fall Fashion starring Amber Heard, Andrew McCarthy, Diane Kruger, Hannelore Knuts, Joyce Carol Oates,"  

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Readers often wonder "Where do you get your ideas for stories?"  I assume they wonder that.  None of them have asked me yet.  But if they ever do…

In late winter 2010, I was taking an "Online Fiction Workshop" led by Hildie Block.  Hildie would start out each week with some writing prompts—"short cuts to the good stuff stored deep in your brain."  Pick one of the prompts, set a timer for 10 to 15 min., and write.  One of the prompts the first week was, "Muse on the ideas of ice.  Frozen water?  Hockey? Ice in the veins? Melting polar ice caps?  Space ice?  Ice in a drink? Blue ice from a plane?  Smoking dry ice? Diamonds?"  

I picked ice for my prompt.  About the only other things in my head were that I wanted to write a second short story about my P.I., Frank Swiver, and that I'd heard an old time radio show during the previous few months in which some diamonds were stolen at a party.  It was fun and I didn't want to stop.

But I did after about 20 min. that evening.  I had a page or 300 words.  I really liked it, and kept coming back to it.  With careful work, it became the beginning of my story.  I stuck with it after the eight week class was over, and eventually had a finished story that I submitted to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.    The editor, Janet Hutchings (see her blog at:, who has been great to work with, wrote in Nov. 2010:  "I like the writing and atmosphere in this story but the plot doesn’t actually work.  If you can resolve these problems, I’ll be happy to see the story again."  

As a huge Raymond Chandler fan, I never knew the plot should actually work.  ;^)   But I revised and resubmitted.  In Jan. 2011, Ms. Hutchings wrote again:  "I think you've come close to fixing the problems and I'd like to be able to use the story, but I need you to resolve (plausibly) three more things."

As a student of Aristotle on plot, I thought, "that which is possible is plausible."  <:-|  But I set to work again, and the third time, in March 2011, EQMM bought "Ice." 
And 17 months later, here it is, in the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue, which should be at your local cigar stand, bus terminal, or truck stop now.  

I feel I owe a debt to Hildie Block for "Ice," and I'm going to invite her to do a guest appearance on this blog.