Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Million Writers notable short stories of 2007

This is a fascinating list not just of stories that are in all probability worth reading, but also of publications, especially the ones that have had more several stories selected. I for one will be checking out those I haven't heard of. People often look down on online publications, good for StorySouth for championing them. I can't say anything about these stories, yet. Will get back to you on that.

Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2007
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Agents and writers Part II

And if the YouTube video in the previous post wasn't enough, the Literary Rejections on Display blog drew my attention to this post by writer Steve Almond on his website, entitled "Are Agents Necessary?". He says:
after all, the role the agents play is fundamentally parasitic. They do not do the dogged, lonely work of writing, or editing. They merely usher art into the gilded halls of commerce. They broker.

Thus, agents profit by the illusion that, without them, writers would be helpless; and, whether consciously or otherwise, they foster this illusion.

These words speak to me, as someone who "had" an agent for almost two years, but that agent did not do anything for me. She was very nice, she seemed to enjoy chatting to me whenever I was in England, but it appeared that the only topic she didn't want to discuss was my writing. So in the end I sent my work to a publisher myself. And, incredibly, I got a book deal, a fact I am still having trouble accepting. However, I can't get it out of my head that I somehow need an agent. Writers have agents, right? Well...
Almond goes on to say:

My own sense is that the publishing industry would be better off without agents, that young writers would spend more time focused on their characters, and following their instincts, rather than taking the counsel of people who—this must be said—see them, at least in part, as potential revenue sources.

They would, in addition, be compelled to learn more about the economic realities of the publishing industry, and to demystify the process by which a manuscript becomes a book.

Likewise, publishing houses would be forced to deal more directly, and candidly, with writers, about everything from contracts to marketing strategies to royalty statements.

To be clear: I don't view agents as willfully harmful. The best of them work hard on behalf of their clients, and earn their cut. As noted, there are many writers who, understandably, seek to insulate themselves from the business side of publishing, who have no phone manner, or don't want to worry about getting ripped off. They are happy to surrender fifteen percent of their hard-earned dough to agents, and well they should be.

But the bottom line is that agents do not serve an essential function in the creation of art. That burden resides with writers and editors. And it is the creation of that art—not its sale—that we should celebrate.

(Full article here.)

Agents and writers

And I thought I wanted an agent??

Monday, April 28, 2008

Writers and Sleep

Well, it seems that my insomnia may well be tied in to being a writer. Or perhaps I am just not allowing myself to be the night owl I truly want to be, if A L Kennedy's is the example to go by.
Left to my own devices, I would always keep my office hours between 10pm and 4 or 5am. Sadly, the rest of the world fails to understand this and tends to telephone me most mornings. Traffic noise, hammering next door, unforgiving travel schedules, the necessity of meeting daytime people and purchasing food; they all conspire to drive me from my bed and disturb my natural order, so I spend my life jolting from one kind of jetlag to another.

I feel this jet lag that she talks about, but I have been fighting it, desperately trying to fit myself into the norms of society that says when I must go to sleep and when I must get up. But working during the night would solve my Room-With-A-Door problem - if we assume J will be asleep! But then another problem would be created: when would he and I spend time together? During those few hours of overlap?

As A L says:

there are daytime people who go about their shiny business under the sun, who eat breakfast at breakfast time, who would never dream of sitting on the couch in a felt hat and pants watching nature documentary reruns with signing for the deaf and eating semolina from the tin while foxes squeal outside in the gloom - and then there are people like me.

Here's the full article: The night owl: 'My office hours are from 10pm to 4am' The Observer

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tagged again, randomly

Runaway Granny has tagged me and I quite like this one, so here goes. 6 random facts about myself:

1. I am a citizen of three countries (UK, Israel, Australia)

2. I once pierced my belly button, but it got infected so I had to take the ring out, sadly

3. I am not a morning person, rarely to be seen before 9.30 (yes, even that is a stretch) but did for a time have a job requiring me to get up at 5am and help translate the Israeli news into English.

4. My favourite comfort food is spaghetti with tomato sauce and grated very strong Cheddar.

5. I once learned Tai Chai but gave up because I spent the whole class thinking about what I was going to eat afterwards.

6. I met my partner, J, on an Arvon Foundation course in Science & Writing at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, and I can honestly say that it was the last place I ever expected to meet anyone!

I think I will stop the tagging here. Feel free to post 6 random facts about yourself anyway.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tagged - a book meme

Elizabeth Baines tagged me with this book-ish meme:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

OK, so here goes:
1. Nearest book is A L Kennedy's Now That You're Back, a fabulous short story collection which I only just began reading after meeting AL Kennedy at Jewish Book Week, where she interviewed Shalom Auslander.

2. Page 123 is in the middle of a story I haven't read yet, called The Mouseboks Family Dictionary. This is a page of rather long sentences. ok, here goes:

Mouseboks Family Brothers never dress in cardigans and waistcoats, do not smoke pipes, or love small children and pets, nor do their Uncles have pockets inexhaustibly filled with fresh boiled sweets, chocolates and peppermints, nor do their Cousins have any discernible loving, altruistic or even minimally human qualities.

Mouseboks Family Menfolk smoke poisonous and illegal roll-ups, dress as they would have been afraid to when they were twenty years younger, cannot be trusted with any young person, or any older person, or any pet of any sex, will borrow and steal money, drink, medicines, pets, spouses and any likely-looking ornaments nad will urinate indiscriminately both indoors and out, blaming any resultant distress on whatever small children.pets or passing strangers are available. See Anticipation, Lust, Murder, Sex, Money, What you Deserve.

I defy anyone not to want to read the rest of the story after that! I will be doing so this weekend, thanks EB for the tag!

I tag Women Rule Writer, ASalted, Crawl Space, Writing-at-the-Window
and Runaway Granny.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sleeping, reading and writing

I'm suffering from insomnia right now, for the last few days I have been falling asleep around 3am, 5am, that kind of thing. It's no fun. It happens every now and then, seemingly unrelated to coffee intake or stress or anything I can put my finger on. Maybe I should enjoy the night hours and use the time for writing, but I'm not really awake enough, although not asleep enough either. Annoying. I hope it will pass, because it is causing me to miss my writing group meeting early tomorrow morning... I figured that there is little chance of my sleeping returning to normal tonight so that I can get up at 7.30 am (very unusual for me, if you know me well!) to make it to Tel Aviv by 10am. Shame. I was so looking forward to it. This is the small, intimate group of four of us, and the other three all had babies in the last 18 months so we haven't managed many get-togethers. And, with all their night-time feeding disruptions, it's me that ends up cancelling! Ironic, eh?

Anyhow, on a more positive note, I am continuing to be inspired by reading other people's stories and watching how they influence my own writing in terms of somehow giving me "permission" to do things in a different way. This happened with Roy Kesey's All Over (see my review here) which freed me from my need to explain and describe.

And now I am reading Paddy O'Reilly's wonderful collection, The End of the World, and I believe this has directly contributed to me finishing (can it ever really be finished??) a story I have been struggling with for over a year. Inspired by her final story, which is a set of very short pieces, I tried this with my story, giving sub-headings to the tiny sections, and suddenly it felt like it came together. And then I was able to write the end.

We will see. I need to let it lie now, let my writing groups take a crack at it. In a week, or a month, I may decide I hate it. But right now it's my new baby, it's beautiful and I love it. I'm blind to its faults, it can do no wrong. Thank goodness for the cool, critical eye of others!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A cupcake break

This has absolutely nothing to do with writing but I had to share it with you because keeping it to myself is killing me. It's Passover, that time of year (a week) of no bread, nothing made with flour that has risen at all. Only matza. This:
But.... I stumbled upon the Cupcakes Take the Cake blog a few weeks ago, and it just has me hooked. The pictures, ohmygod. Frankly, it's porn.

(Photo from

See what I mean?

For all those of us who are cupcake-less this week, they even featured special Passover cupcakes. Go on... have a look. They put up several blog posts a day, with more pictures, and more pictures. I just can't stop. I may need help.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Two requests

I have had two types of request in the past few weeks that I think are worth mentioning. The first was a rewrite request - actually 4 rewrite requests - from two lit mags, one of which was interested in three of my flash stories, and the second was interesting in a fourth story. I want to bring this up following on from my unpleasant experience of a few months ago. That blog post may have given some readers the impression that I don't want anyone "messing" with my stories, that I believe that my precious creations are perfect and if they are accepted for publication then they are untouchable.

This couldn't be further from the truth.

I was delighted to receive the rewrite requests, three of which were specifically about the endings of these stories, all under 500 words. They liked the stories enough not to reject them, but they felt something wasn't quite working. And all the points that these two editors made were, in my opinion, spot on. Totally valid. I find it hard to edit flash stories, which are generally written in one sitting, a different process from writing a longer story. But the endings were weak. And in one case, I had overwritten, said the editor: the reader already knows this, no need to recap at the end.

It took me a little while to sit down and get back into the headspace of each story, and redo the endings. But after I did, I saw that they were better stories. I am delighted that the first of the three, Dots, has now been accepted for publication by Juice: A Journal of the Ordinary.

I am waiting to hear back from the editor who is reading the other two stories. The fourth rewrite request referred to something that for me is much more integral to the story, and I am still contemplating making this kind of change.

For me, these are excellent illustrations of the ideal editor-writer relationship. I am so happy when an editor engages with my writing, thinks about it deeply, as these two editors have obviously done, and makes suggestions that they believe could make it better. This is something no writer can do without.

The other request is a first for me: I have been asked to judge a flash fiction competition. It is for writers belonging to the Critters Bar online forum. It is such an honour to be asked. And it has been an unexpected validation for me, too. When the announcement was made that I was the judge, with a short description of my writing and a link to my website, several of the forum members made comments to the effect of "Wow," and "Impressive". That was a real boost. It's all to easy to forget how far I have come, to dismiss achievements and to only focus on what is ahead, what I haven't done. It's wonderful to be reminded every now and then that I have already come some way down this path. I look forward to reading all the entries and trying to pick just one.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Under the weather, reading

I'm not feeling so great today, as the temperature climbs ( we are in sharav season - a scorchingly hot, dry desert wind which blows from the Arabian Desert - which means it's getting hot hot hot), my body is refusing to cope. Lethargy has taken hold, and a rather unpleasant dry cough. I was trying so hard to stay well and not to pick up every germ going. Two months isn't so bad, I guess. My head is too foggy to do much but play Scrabulous and surf the web.

However, the post just came, and with it some very welcome new reading material to cheer me up:

First, Mslexia (which always has the same smell, has anyone else noticed?), the magazine for women who write. While I loved this mag when it began, I have been pretty disappointed with their fiction selections and, frankly, do now wonder if "women who write" need their own magazine? Perhaps some of the WWW could comment here and let me know. I used to find their listings, calls for submissions and contests invaluable, but with the wonder of the inter-web, with their quarterly publication schedule they seem out of date, to say the least. For WHW who aren't web-connected, this is great (I know at least one WWW who still refuses to become webified, so there is a market). Anyhow, not holding out great hopes for the fiction, or the article on How to Write a Bestseller, but the nice news is that they have reviewed Vanessa's collection, Words from a Glass Bubble, and it is a lovely review, congrats V!

On to slightly more exciting and uncharted waters. Having reviewed the Logorrhea anthology for The Short Review in which most of the writers write science fiction, and now reading Kelley Eskridge's wonderful Dangerous Spaces, described to me as "feminist science fiction", for the next issue, my eyes have been opened to the genre, which is not at all what I thought (a cross between Star Trek, Star Wars and a bit of Buffy). It seems that today's science fiction is not necessarily set on alternate worlds but in our world with a twist. And it seemed to me that this is what I often do in my stories, something akin to magical realism. So, I thought I should take a look at some sci-fi/speculative lit mags and see if there is a place for me.

Two arrived this morning:

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
(which wins the prize for Best Lit Mag Name Ever): it is not so impressive on first glance, seemingly photocopied. Yet the openings of some of the ten short stories are very intriguing:

The new sickness. I stopped being able to sleep.

The curmudgeon's face was not immediately visible as I stepped outside to embrace the still autumn air.

It is Christmas Eve. Rain rushes black down black walls.
No aliens, spaceships, wierd life forms...yet. And an article on New Wave and Speculative fiction in Japan. I will keep you posted.

Sybil's Garage is the second mag. This one is glossy, fabulous colour cover, mouth-watering. Also intriguing first lines:

The night is a blackbird and it lives on Gemma's arm.

Third grade was the winter that Nicholas' little sister died and that Audrey first decided to bring her back from the dead.

Noff sat last and alone, thinking on sidebars and footnotes as the text of her life threatened to overwhelm her.

I must say, I am excited about diving in to the unknown in these two magazines. None of the writers' names are familiar to me. A whole new world. How thrilling.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Better way to buy books

(Cross-posted on the Short Review blog)

Following on from a previous post about how we're not in the new-book-selling business at The Short Review, here's the ideal solution: Better World Books.
We love literacy programs like Room to Read, Books for Africa , Worldfund, National Center for Family Literacy , and our 70 other literacy partners. They provide the building blocks for children and families to learn, grow, and share in the vast collection of human knowledge committed to paper. It just makes sense that a bookstore ought to generate funding for these programs. does that with every book we sell.
Better World Books has been called the "Eco Amazon": what they do is simple. They accept books from libraries and then they sell them online, shipping them anywhere in the world. " So far, we've kept over 5 million pounds of books out of landfills," says BWB. They also have a Carbon Neutral shopping cart: "We collect a few cents from every customer at checkout. The proceeds from this carbon offset are enough to purchase renewable energy credits and support reforestation. We not only offset our shipping, but also the shipping of our literacy partners. And since we sell a lot of books, that is enough to keep tons of carbon out of the atmosphere."

What more could you ask for? Their online shop is here.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, April 07, 2008

To be alone

Those of you reading this who are writers will probably be amazed at what I have to say. In some ways I am amazed I got this far without one. What don't I have?

A door.

A door to my study. A door that I can shut so I can lose myself with my characters.

Nope. We are very open-plan over here. And it has finally got to me. I can't do it. How can I be expected to? It's not J's fault.... I should have done this a long time ago. I should have stated a long time ago that I Just Want To Be Alone. Alone to immerse myself in my stories. Alone so that I can hear my characters tell me what happens next. Alone in my fictional world.

So. There. I've said it. And I am doing something about it. Hopefully very soon, I will have that Room Of My Own With Door. Not too far from our home. Close enough to walk to, but far enough so that I can shut myself away. Not all the time. Not all day, every day. But I am working. Writing is my work, and I need the right place to do it and the time, too. I have reached the point where I want to be treated as if I have a 9-5 job, same as everyone else. (Ok, 10.30-5, more likely).

No-one could be expected to guess this, of course. It's up to me to state my position and make sure my needs are met. A writer friend recently wrote that she is in "novel purdah", and I thought, How heavenly. I don't want to abandon all friendships, all socializing. But since my time in the quiet of Tuscany, I know what works best. So I ask - don't expect me to answer a phone, emails, the doorbell, during the day. I'm at work. Writer is Working. Ahhh, that sounds good. The sound of a door closing and a world opening up.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Short Review Issue 6 has arrived: erotica, wolves, ray bradbury and a little history

I am delighted to announce the timely arrival of The Short Review Issue 6, April 2008.

This little bundle of joy contains ten new reviews of short story collections, including two firsts: our first erotica review (Best of Best American Erotica), and our first historical fiction collection (S. Yizhar), some classic sci fi and fantasy (Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin), debut collections from Ireland, the US, Australia (Patrick Chapman, Susan DiPlacido, Karen Russell, Sylvia Petter), a dash of horror (Heather Beck), some tongue-twisting words (Logorrhea), ... and much more.

We've also got author interviews with Patrick Chapman
I'm writing a novel, now in its final draft (so far), which I've been doing for the last five years or so. It's a romantic comedy about suicide.
Sylvia Petter

I write stories in response to whatever moves or ignites me. I’m a bit all over the place in that respect.

Susan DiPlacido
I wanted a good mix of erotic and non-erotic and some pulpy things to represent all the genres I really enjoy writing -- and reading.
and Heather Beck
It’s a sublime feeling to know that what I created is coming to life for others. I am thrilled if even one person reads my work and enjoys it (but don’t tell my publisher that)
If you missed our first 5 issues, check out the fifty reviews we've already published, by book title, author, category. Pop in and find something to read.