Guest Post: Leaving It All On The Page by Michael Haynes

July 3, 2012

Michael Haynes has recently released a non-fiction eBook “Write Every Day: Hints & Tips Towards a Daily Writing Routine.” He blogs regularly about writing-related topics at michaelhaynes.info and writeeveryday.info

To “leave it all on the field” in sports means to have not held anything back, to have given your all. I thought of this concept last night watching — of all things — Saturday Night Live audition videos. Here I saw Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, John Belushi… All of them leaving it all on their chosen field. The camera was on just them but you could occasionally hear commentary (and very occasionally, laughter) from those who were watching the auditions. All of these people were skilled performers to have reached that point, but you could see on their faces just how important this moment was to them. It was absolutely fascinating.

From there, my mind jumped to my own closest experience to these auditions: in-person tryouts for the televised quiz program Jeopardy. Twice I’ve made it past the online test and been invited to travel to near(ish) cities for those in-person events. Several dozen other qualifiers were there each time and we all went through written tests, mock games, and mock interviews. You go through all this and then you’re thanked for your time and told that you might (or might not) get the call to fly out to Los Angeles to (maybe) be on the show sometime in the next eighteen months.

My first time I sort of winged it and suspect I did so-so, but not well enough to make it on. I didn’t make it to the program with my second try, either, but when I left the room from that tryout I felt on top of the world. Why? Because I knew I’d left it all on the field. I’d read up more on the tryout process before my second experience and had learned that you’re being judged every second that you’re in the room, even if it’s not obvious. So I made a point to be “on” at all times, even when the people evaluating us were supposedly away from the room looking at our paper tests. I’m not a naturally outgoing person and would normally just sit quietly unless someone engaged me, but I made a point to chat up other contenders throughout that period. Even now, though my eighteen months are over, I feel happy with how I performed that day.

When writing for publication, if you want to reach the top levels, you’re unlikely to meet with success doing things halfway. You have to leave it all on the field or, in our case, the page.

But what does that mean? To me, it means that when I go to send a story out for the first time, that I want to feel like the story is as good as I, right now, can make it.

To me, it doesn’t mean going through endless revisions, but it does mean taking a critical look at your own story and not just saying “Eh, it’s good enough.” Professional-level editors are rarely going to buy “good enough.” Readers of these publications aren’t likely to rush out to read your other works because they thought that one was “good enough.”

No one is going to have every story they write be brilliant. And as we grow as writers, stories that once represented our best effort no longer will. But when we’re writing something new, we should always be looking to leave it all on the page.


Guest Post: “Dreams, Horses and the Little Story That Could” by Beth Cato

April 23, 2012

Today I’m pleased to feature a guest blog post by Beth Cato, the author of “Red Dust and Dancing Horses,” a SF tale  featured in the current issue of Stupefying Stories. Beth writes about perseverance and not giving up on the stories you believe in, and I wholeheartedly agree.

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Dreams, Horses, and the Little Story That Could

By Beth Cato

 

 

There’s something I’ve learned during the past few years. If you want to succeed as a writer, it’s not all about talent. It’s not about developing a thick skin. Rejections make you cry? Scream? Those are valid reactions sometimes. But what enables you to succeed is sheer stubbornness. You send the story out again.

Case in point: my story “Red Dust and Dancing Horses.”

From the time I wrote the rough draft, I knew this story was special. It hit me on a personal level. The tale is a horse story set on Mars, where horses can’t exist. It’s about a young Martian girl who has to accept that her deepest desire–to know horses–will likely never come true.

I was completely horse obsessed from the time I could walk and talk. I adored Rainbow Brite from age 3, but my biggest love was her horse, Starlite. I collected Breyer horses from age 4 (I wasn’t into My Little Ponies as much because they weren’t realistic enough). I read every horse book in the children’s section of the library, and if a new book came in the librarians told me. I knew the difference between a Shire and a Paso Fino, a forelock and a fetlock. My parents owned two acres of property, and I knew exactly where we could build a stable and corral. I took riding lessons. I knew exactly what my dream horse would look like and how his mane swayed in the breeze.

And at age 11, I finally had to accept that I would never have a horse.

I was mature enough to realize we were too poor. Money was tight. My riding lessons stopped as we couldn’t even afford the $10 for my riding lessons every two weeks. How could we afford a horse, or hay, or tack?

The dream died, but my love for horses didn’t.

That was the emotion I put into the story, only using a grittier Martian backdrop instead of a central Californian one. I posted the story on OWW. I revised heavily. I started sending it out to magazines. And this story I loved passionately was soundly rejected by almost every pro science fiction market.

Really, I could see why. It’s a horse story, on Mars. People don’t usually pair horses and sci fi, much less horses from old westerns. But it still hurt. This was a story that I felt was not only one of the best things I had written, but it was also a story I loved.

But I loved it so much, I kept gritting my teeth and sending it out again. It had some close calls. It won an honorable mention in Writers of the Future for the 4th quarter of 2011. But it still didn’t have a home, so I sent it out yet again.

You know what? It has a home now, an amazing one. This is what the editor of Stupefying Stories, Bruce Bethke, said in the forward for this March issue:

I’m about out of space now, but would be remiss if I did not call special attention… especially to my personal favorite in this entire collection, “Red Dust and Dancing Horses” by Beth Cato. If this story doesn’t wind up on several Best of 2012 lists and on the short list for at least one major award, I will be disappointed.

While querying agents, the big mantra is, ‘It only takes one yes.’ That’s true for short stories, too. “Red Dust and Dancing Horses” finally found its YES, and whatever happens from here, I’m happy, because the story finally found some other folks who love it just as much as I do.

The dream lives on.

“Red Dust and Dancing Horses” can be found in Stupefying Stories 1.5, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.