Pacifica OceanFriday night in the suburbs, a small family puts their lone daughter to bed and sits down to watch some recorded television and pay the bills. My wife and I exchange silent looks. Remember when Fridays used to be fun? the look says. Out loud, she sighs, “I could really use a beach getaway.” Practicality being what it is, we can’t afford a long trip or the time off. The bills stare at me, gluey tongues mocking from windowed envelopes, tangible reminders of the cruel taskmaster named responsibility.

“Let me see what I can do,” I say. Life, it’s said, is for living.

We get going later on Saturday than I expect. There’s a stop for lunch, a stop at a department store for some beach towels and sunscreen, traffic on the highways. But the hotel is pleasant, overlooking the waves, even if the highway in between drowns the noise of the surf. We don’t get to the shore until almost five, but it’s summer and time is on our side.

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Packing Papers

Mars Hall via Creative Commons

I had cause to stop and take stock of my fiction writing in the past week not because some particular milestone had been reached (not that I would know the exact date of a milestone anyway) but because I’ve made some happy progress over the last couple of weeks. Having begun to feel as if I’m turning a corner on the creative desert that was the winter, I thought I’d further explore the kind of statistical trivia that my weird, detail-obsessed brain thrives on.

Bearing in mind that I began writing fiction in earnest roughly two years ago in the summer of 2011 (it was late summer, but who’s counting?), I did some very rough calculations and came to the following figure: 375,050. That is the approximate number of words of original fiction I’ve managed to wring from my brain in a couple of years. Now, the number there is a tad misleading for a couple of reasons. The first is that it represents a mixture of both “finished” works as well as a few in-progress items, plus some of one of the larger word count projects was done prior to the vague start date. The second is that it is missing a not-insignificant amount of work and effort. The best I can do is a wide ballpark figure of about 100,000 words worth of screenplay, graphic novel script, and abandoned projects. There are ways I could narrow those numbers down to something reliable enough to get within, say, +/- 5,000 words, but the effort required isn’t worthwhile for these purposes. There is also another probably 25K words worth of world-building for the graphic novel.

Caveats aside, it the takeaway here is that, give or take, I’ve written about half a million words in the pursuit of storytelling in the last couple of years.

Housekeeping

With the self-congratulatory milestone marking out of the way, I wanted to take a moment and set the stage for a new kind of post I’m going to try out. For lack of a better name I’m calling them “200 CCs” (CC in this case being the Roman numeral for 200 so I guess technically the title is “200 200” but like I said, lacking anything better…). There will be an associated tag. Basically these are going to be flash fictions of less than 200 words (or 200 words exactly). I’ll make an effort to post one per week. The purpose is to force me to work smaller, to set scenes with punchier, more evocative language and to permit experimentation.

There will be one going up later today and we’ll see if the Tuesday schedule sticks.

Rejection NoticeYesterday afternoon I received my first official publication rejection for my short story, The Bookseller. I got the reply email on my phone and after I read its short, two sentence notification, I turned to my wife and said, “I just got my first rejection!” She looked at me with a crooked eyebrow.

“You seem happy about that.”

“I am!”

“Why would you be happy about that,” she asked.

“Because I didn’t expect to get accepted on the first try. I’m sure to get tons of rejections. But now I got the first one out of the way!”

It would be a lie if I said I was one hundred percent ecstatic about this, although the explanation I provided to Nik was honest and I was genuinely happy. I expected nothing more, that’s the truth. But there’s no way you can attempt something and not think, “Well… maybe.” Rejection was only very probable, not guaranteed. The principal uplifting thing I found about receiving the notice was that it didn’t, in fact, crush my soul and make me never want to write again.

The most disappointing aspect of the rejection was that it didn’t come with any feedback. I think the journal I submitted to may have specifically said they weren’t able to provide any, but the against-odds outcome I think I was hoping for was not a few hundred bucks and a publication credit but an editor breaking policy and emailing me some harsh advice such as, “Don’t you dare ever waste my time with magical realism again.” Or something.

In any case, that milestone is out of the way and I responded by simultaneously submitting that same story to a handful of other high-profile outlets. I’ve still got more hope for feedback than for publication, but part of that—with this story at least—is that I’m aiming very high (either pro-rate pay or high prestige). In my opinion it’s the best I’ve written so I feel I owe it to that story to take extra risks with it.