Writing in the Other Place by Kate Thornton

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.







Writing in the Other Place

Writing is a solitary pursuit; when we write, we are alone with just a gazillion characters, situations, what-ifs and possibilities. It is a good time to create, experiment, and procrastinate.

Writing needs its own space, its own time and place. For some, it is the dining room table after the kids are asleep, or the home office complete with bookshelves and cat. For others it is the local Starbuck’s or the cluttered desk at work before work starts.

For a few of us, it is a different house in a different state.


I live in Paradise, in Southern California, where it is beautiful every single day of the year. I live in the house of my dreams, a mid-century modern masterpiece of light and space, with lush gardens and a small pool. I have my own office, a light-filled room with bookshelves. I am fortunate to see these dreams realized after a lifetime of hard work.

So what’s the problem?

Like a suitor who has been wooing the beautiful sister only to have his heart stolen by the mousy little girl with the great personality, I have been seeing another house on the side for a couple of years. A vacation home to start, it has become The Place and will soon become my permanent home.

I am moving to Tucson, Arizona. 


Photo by Albert Voirin

Yes, the house is smaller, not so beautiful, with a much smaller garden. A garden, I might add, not filled with fruit trees and orchids, but cactus, for crying out loud. There isn’t a home office, just a little desk almost big enough for my laptop. Yes, the light alternates between blinding sun and dark clouds. Yes, it is hotter than buried coals in the summer and it actually freezes in the winter. There are monsoons and floods and heat so dry you could juggle your laundry in the air for 10 minutes and everything would be perfectly crisp.

But what can I do? It is the place where I can write. It is the place where I can be happy. When I am there, I don’t want to come back. When I am there, I write.

I have friends there now, and enjoy the company of other writers. There is a thriving community of arts and letters in Tucson, and now I am a part of it.

So I am moving there. Moving – especially at my age – is a big pain, but it is necessary. I can’t believe how much junk I have accumulated over just the last ten years, but only the necessities are going with us. Yes, my dear husband is on board with this. In fact, he may be even more eager to move than I.

Photo by Albert Voirin


So for now, we make periodic trips across the deserts to take stuff and when I am there, I write. I have dug out trunk novels and unfinished short stories. I spend time at the computer undistracted by television or Facebook or anything. I feel the light and the sun on me, and the gentle whoosh of the air conditioner or the cries of unfamiliar birds through an open door or the crackle of a log in the fireplace. And sometimes, I hear the pounding of rain, relentless, almost frightening in its intensity. But when I get up to look, the sky is already clear and the sun is making steam rise from a hot pavement.


I make a cup of tea and go back to the computer. I dread the night before we leave, when everything gets packed up for the trip back.

I have found my writing place and it is 500 miles from where I am writing this now.

I look forward to this new chapter in my life, although I know I won’t have much of an excuse for procrastination there. All the more reason to do it.

Writing Short Stories: A Mini Course by Kate Thornton Part II

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

Today, Kate continues with the second part of a mini course on writing short fiction, beginning with marketing.

Marketing your finished work

1. Know your genre. Do you write mystery? Science fiction? Romance? Contemporary literary? I write mostly mystery and science fiction, but I firmly believe that if you can write, you can write anything you want to. Look at your story and figure out where it might belong. Chances are, it could fit into more than one category.

2. Research your markets. Know what they want. Every magazine, anthology or contest has submission guidelines. Read them carefully and give them what they want. If they say under 1000 words, don’t send 1001. If they say snail mail only, get out those envelopes. If they say no vampires, robots, brunettes, or cats, don’t send your epic space opera vampire story about the furry dark robot cats. Keep on looking for a market that fits – or revise your story to fit the market. Either way works.

3. Polish your story again. Give it one more read, made sure it looks great and is in the right format.

4. Submit. Go on, do it. And keep a record of your submissions. A simple Word or handwritten document giving title, market, date of submission and date/type of response is perfect. That way you don’t miss a market or submit the same thing twice to the same market.

A note about cover letters.

Short stories are usually sent with a short cover letter (not a query letter, which is something else entirely.) Cover letters usually say something like this:

Dear Editor,

Attached (or in the body of this email) please find my original 750 word short story, “Lost in the Woods.”

I am an avid reader of your magazine, and have had work published in “Sewage Monthly,” “Cat Lovers USA,” and “Coal Digest” (or leave credits out if don’t have any – it won’t matter if you don’t have any.)

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Avid J. Reader
123 Writer Lane
New York, NY 10000
(212) 555-5555
avidjreader@wtf.com (Your name, address, phone number & email are important!)

Then you wait. But while you are waiting, write something else. Keep on doing that.

Where? Where do I submit?

Here are the links to 2 of my favorite online market guides.

Ralan (look over on the far right for market listings)
Publishing…And Other Forms of Insanity

There are others, of course. And if you post to any writers’ forums (or fora for you linguistic purists) you will also find market info. Here’s one I like:

Absolute Write

Happy writing!

That’s the quick and easy of short stories. Time to write one!

Writing Short Stories: A Mini Course by Kate Thornton Part I

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

Today, Kate presents the first part of a mini course, in a question and answer format, on writing short fiction.




WRITING SHORT STORIES: A MINI COURSE PART I by Kate Thornton

How long is a short story?


Here are the official lengths from the Short Mystery Fiction Society (the folks who award the Derringer prizes each year)

Flash Story Up to 500 words
Short-short Story 501 to 2000 words
Mid-length Short Story 2001 to 6000 words
Longer Short Story 6001 to 15,000 words

Remember: every venue in which you wish to publish will have their own idea of what lengths they will accept.

What makes it different from a chapter of a novel?

A short story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is limited to one main plot point and the cast of characters is of necessity short. It tells a complete story with a resolution or revelation of some sort at the end.

A written scene without these completing elements is a snapshot or vignette, not a short story.

You may certainly use characters, settings, chapters or scenes from your novel in a short story, but your short story must stand alone as a complete story all by itself. It must have an ending, even if you – or the reader! – do not agree with the denouement or ending.

What’s more important, setting, plot or characters?

They are all important. But while you may have the luxury of exploring settings in great detail in a novel, using multiple plot twists and turns, and an array of characters right out of Cecil B. DeMille, in a short story you must narrow your focus. The shorter your story, the more important it is to write concisely and to keep the telling of your tale simple while retaining its color, premise, style and voice.

First person? Third person? Omniscient Narrator?

Whatever works for your story. I have read beautifully-written short stories comprised entirely of dialogue. Beware when using a narration technique that you do not just dump the story on the reader by telling, not showing. Even a very short story must be interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. I like the way first person makes the reader an immediate part of the story. But I like the way third person omniscient can make the reader privy to every secret, every action as it unfolds.

I want to write a short story. Where do I get ideas?

Good – let’s try writing a short story. Ideas come from everywhere, but I find that themed contests and exercises (“Write a story based on this picture!” or “Write a story about sheep!” or “Write a story with a lemon, a goat and an alien princess in it!”) can be very good jump-starters.

Other ideas can be a childhood incident or other real-life event. Remember you are writing a piece of fiction, not a memoir, so make sure you have that old beginning, middle and end.

One of the best exercises you can do if you want to write short stories is read them. Read in the genres in which you want to write – and the ones you don’t. Read the masters: O. Henry, Saki, Sommerset Maugham, Edgar Allen Poe. Read Guy de Maupassant, Ambrose Bierce, Shirley Jackson. Go here for some great classics

You will not only get ideas, you will get a feel for the short story form. You will also see how language has changed over the last hundred years or so.

Now read some contemporary shorts: Ed Hoch, Stephen King, Raymond Carver, (here’s a link to one of his, “Vitamins” in Granta) Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Michael Chabon, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore.

Look at the differences, but more importantly, look at what is the same. Look at the “bones” of the story, the structure as well as the sheer reader’s delight of total immersion in a good story.

Now, try to write a short story of your own. Don’t hesitate – start writing now. Write until you have all three elements (beginning, middle, end.)

Tinker with that first sentence until it makes you want to read more. This is your “hook” – hook those readers up front. Remember those classic stories?

Help! I wrote a story, but…

Congratulations on writing a story – now let’s tighten it up. Every first draft of a story can use some improvement. Take your newly-finished work and put it away for a few days. Write something else in the meantime. Remember – there is no limit to what you can write.

Some time later, take it out and read it aloud. You’ll probably find a few things you need to fix right away.

Here’s how I tighten a story – I have been known to successfully reduce a rambling 2,000 word story to a succinct 500 word short-short – without losing the essence of the story. I go through it and take out all the -ly words first. Adverbs are not your friends. (Okay, maybe I leave in one or two. But what do they contribute to the story?) Next, I look at the dialogue tags – the “he said, she saids.” Do they make sense? Are they monotonous? Too colorful? Confusing?

Next, I read for extraneous phrases which do not advance the story. They may be beautifully-written pieces of deathless prose, but if they do not advance the story, out they go.

Finally, I read for pacing and continuity. Does the story unfold smoothly and at the right pace? Does stuff happen in the right order? Did I forget a name, change a hair color by mistake, forget that it was night in one part and day in the other? Do I need to change a few sentences around to make them clearer, smoother, more readable? Do I need to ditch a sentence or two entirely? And why did I name the heroine Gypsophylla when Lisa is a better fit? (Yippee for find-and-replace!)

With any luck, skill & effort, your story is now a better one.


Tune in on February 10 for the rest of the Mini Course, beginning with Marketing!

What the Writers in Residence are Grateful for this Thanksgiving


Yes, yes, I am grateful for all the usual stuff – all the stuff we should be grateful for. But I am grateful for Pain and Loss, too. When the Bad Stuff is there, the balance is there, and the balance is what keeps us on an even keel in a world that doesn’t always make sense. 

I am grateful for Pain.

When I was in the Army, the Marines used to tell us that pain was weakness leaving the body. Nice idea, but that only applied to exercise and physical endurance. Real pain, the kind you feel in your body when there is something terribly wrong, is a constant reminder that you are alive and need to do something to alleviate that pain. See a doctor, take your medication, do all you can to feel better so you can really live. Do distracting things, like helping others, to get your mind off any pain that your doctor cannot fix.

Real pain of the other kind, the broken-heart kind, also reminds you that you are alive and human. You only feel that kind of pain when you have a depth of feeling which is in itself a gift. Tears can help you through it, but recognize it for what it is: a common experience which binds us together and reinforces our humanity. Pain shared is pain lessened.

I am also grateful for Loss.

Loss teaches us the value of – and fleeting nature of – all things. All things. Our loved ones, ourselves, our world, everything. How many times must loss teach us the same lesson? Every day we learn it over again. Live each day fully, appreciate each moment, live without regret. Know that Loss will touch you as it touches everyone, so be ready. Live with sincere love and caring every day, and don’t be afraid to show it.

I am grateful for Inconvenience.

Inconvenience is the niggling teacher of patience. A little patience can go a long way in overcoming Pain and Loss, so embrace it as a way to slow down and see the very real wonder of this world.

Moderation is key to appreciating Pain, Loss and Inconvenience. There is nothing at all to be gained from wallowing in them. But remember their useful qualities the next time you must experience them. And be grateful you are able to feel. It means you are alive and human, which is a very good thing.

                                                          Kate Thornton



I’m grateful for so many things, but to me, the “basics” are very important, and are the foundation that enables me to write. Very thankful I was born in The United States of American during this era, with all it offers on every level, have decent health, and people and animals with whom to share love and experiences. It is with that support I am able to write.        
                             Madeline (M.M.) Gornell






I am grateful that I was taught how to read; reading sparked my interest in writing. I often take it for granted, but there are many places in the world where people don’t have this skill. The work of other writers, in all its variety, is one of the best writing teachers in the world.

Bonnie Schroeder

For me, I truly believe that any talent I have to write, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek is God-given. I’m also thankful for curiosity and nosiness, which helped me as a newspaper writer, and the love of reading which helped me build a good vocabulary.

Jackie Houchin

I am thankful for the rich inheritance I received from my family which includes: a smattering of my father’s witty sarcasm, some of my mother’s artistic talent, my grandfather’s love of history, my grandmother’s stubbornness (when it counts), my Aunt Mollie’s love of writing, and a pinch of sewing prowess from Aunt Dottie. I hope everyone has a few people from whom they learned wonderful things.

Gayle Bartos-Pool






I’m grateful for my husband

                       and family,

                                my friends

                                             and good neighbors.


                                                             Miko Johnston



I am grateful for the ability to be grateful. Many people have gifts and blessings, but they are unable to recognize them. That is what makes Kate Thornton’s post above so beautiful. It’s easy to be grateful for the good stuff, but it takes an open heart to find the redeemable qualities in the poop. Gratitude means getting out from under the weight of entitlement and embracing the fact that I don’t deserve anything, but that the Bon Dieu (as Hercule Poirot would say it) has seen fit to grace me. And then saying Thank You. 

                                      Jacqueline Vick


Goodness, I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Where do I start?

Without the friendship and encouragement of my fellow Bloggists (is that a word?) my world would be bleak. We really do laugh together and cry together. They inspire me. Our monthly luncheons are a treasured time to talk of writing, of our home-lives, of cabbages and kings. The time goes by far too fast before we scurry off in our different directions.
I am thankful for the fascinating people and wonderful friends I have made since I found my new life in this ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’


For the amazing adventures life has thrown at me. For the strength and ability to survive.
I am also truly thankful to have my loving family in England. My big sister Annie, my brothers Ted, Phil and Peter, my cousins, nieces and nephews. Although we may be thousands of miles apart, we are very close, speak often and meet up whenever we can – and still giggle together like a bunch of five-year-olds.

I am eternally thankful for the many years I had with my darling Rick, my late husband, who I feel watches over me still. He taught me so much and always helped me to laugh at life’s adversities. I think I am most grateful for the gift of laughter: the ability to laugh with others, to laugh at myself and at life’s absurdities.

And I am most grateful to have this Blog, that gives me the opportunity to formulate and share my thoughts…
                                                           Rosemary Lord

Publishing in Ezines by Kate Thornton



Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona. You can find out more about Kate at her Amazon page.




From BLUE MURDER, David Firks’ ground-breaking classy online mystery magazine from the late 1990s to FLASHING IN THE GUTTERS, Tribe’s incredible venue for edgy and raw – beyond noir – flash fiction, ezines have come and gone. These two fine ezines have unfortunately gone. But let’s get back to them in a few minutes.

WHAT ARE EZINES? 


Ezines are online magazines. They range in visual quality from beautifully-designed and finely-illustrated to very plain to so ornate it’s hard to figure out where the writing is. Fiction of all genres, non-fiction, self-help even specialty hobby ezines abound on the net – just Google your favorite phrase and you’re bound to come up with an ezine in your field of interest.

WHAT DO THEY OFFER?


The most obvious advantage is immediacy. Ezines often have a submissions turn-around time measured in minutes or hours rather than months. No SASE required, just electrons. Usually you can submit via email and you can send either in the body of the email – just cut & paste your whole story in – or as an attachment if the ezine permits. Always read the submission guidelines to see what they want.

Archiving is a wonderful thing – most ezines will archive your work online as a matter of routine, allowing you (and your fans) to access your work in past issues. Most ezines will also take down – after the initial publication time –  any work you do not wish to have archived.

They also offer one of the widest readerships possible for your stuff – billions of readers from all over the world can access your writing. This is not to say they necessarily will, only that they can. Many have hit counters or readership statistics available, so you can get an idea of how popular a particular ezine is.


The most popular sites, like SLATE (which no longer publishes fiction) are operated just like a print magazine in many respects. Others are the online presence of actual print magazines, like THE NEW YORKER, and may even share editorial staff, guidelines and publication of submissions with their sister print magazine.

There is a certain amount of prestige accorded many ezines. Literary fiction ezines in particular serve a discriminating community, while many of the genre ezines are also routinely read by prize committees. The Pushcart Prize, Derringer and other prizes have been awarded to fiction published in ezines.

WHAT ABOUT MONEY?


Well, some pay quite well and some do not pay at all. Always check the guidelines for payment.

Some pay in cents-per-word, others in flat rate, still others in merchandise or print copies of sister magazines. Payment can be by check or through electronic funds transfer. I keep a PayPal account just for this.

WHAT ABOUT COPYRIGHT? WHAT RIGHTS HAVE I SOLD?


As in print magazines, the ezine usually copyrights your story for the duration of its run (the current issue) at which time the copyright reverts to you, the writer. As with other magazines, you need to read the contract or guidelines.ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE SOLD! (Back in the late 1990s, I sold all rights to several stories. At the time this sounded good as they paid me $100 per short story. But a few years ago a film company wanted to negotiate the rights to one of my stories and guess what – I didn’t own it!)

Generally, the rights you have sold are First Electronic Rights and sometimes First World Rights which include First Print rights. This means you have reprint rights still in your bag to sell at a later time, either to a print magazine or to another ezine. Usually, with an ezine, you have sold your rights for a specific duration, and then allow archiving.

WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE STEALING YOUR STUFF?


Let me be very clear – publishing your work online in an ezine does not negate your copyright nor does it put your work in the public domain. That said, I just don’t encounter it very often, and I do a regular net search looking for my materials.

WHERE CAN I FIND EZINES?


Here are a couple of guides. But Google is your friend when it comes to searching! And use your forums and online writing groups – many of them have market listings.

RALAN’S is one of the best market guides.

NewPages Guide to Online LiteraryMagazines is a good reference for literary fiction

LIFE EXPECTANCY


Well, ezines come and go pretty quickly. BLUE MURDER ceased production when the editor, David Firks, suffered a severe illness. FLASHING IN THE GUTTERS was taken down by the editor, Tribe. Others come and go as interest sparks or wanes or as editors shift gears or change directions.

Here’s a current non-paying venue that is particularly friendly to mystery submissions and a joy to read: KINGS RIVER LIFE, Lorie Lewis Ham’s delightful ezine. They publish new issues on Saturdays and always have a short story contest.

I miss the long-gone classic venues, but new ones spring up daily. So best of luck out there – I love the internet and the world it brings me.