At the end of last year, we pulled into the station on a full twelve months of the 200 CCs experiment. The safest thing I can say at this point is that it’s been quite a ride and nothing like what I expected. It feels like it’s worth reflecting a bit and being as forthcoming as I’m able to be about the future of the endeavor.

What’s Past

I learned an awful lot last year as an editor. The first is that editing is richly rewarding, but also that it’s powerfully demanding. My own writing suffered in 2016 as a direct result of my work on 200 CCs. Now, that was a possibility I considered going in, but way back in December of 2015, my writing wasn’t going very well anyway so I felt good about the change of pace.
But, writing is (for me) a cyclic undertaking. By the time I felt like I was starting to get my mojo back, I was well embedded in the commitments of the 200 CCs project. The way this manifested was a total ball-drop of the zine aspect. I don’t know how many readers were enjoying the monthly issues, but once I hit the mid-point of the year (which I had been calling Volume 1), I could no longer maintain the schedule. Volume 2, Issue 1 slipped behind, then Issue 2 slipped behind that, and the collected Volume 1 edition stumbled as well. By the time it was late in September I was four issues behind and had to sort of quietly resign myself that zine editions would probably not be coming for Volume 2 at all.
Part of that slow burial behind the mounting work was a fresh output of new writing I was producing. I still liked the idea of the monthly issues, but I had the mounting sense they were redundant. The stories were already available here on the site. The tighter layout controls and guest editorials and so forth were fun and (I hope) aesthetically exciting, but it wasn’t always clear how much value those digital-only versions added.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is that I bit off just slightly more than I could chew financially speaking. Sure, I had funding for the project as it was initially conceived: a weekly microfiction story and a few themed contests. But as the scope grew to twice a week and the contest prizes grew to accommodate the large number of wonderful entries, I had to dip past my reserves to cover costs. Given that the whole thing had zero revenue potential (and was originally just an excuse to keep fresh content on the website—paying for freshness with cash instead of time), there was no way to offset any of the expenses.
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint or an excuse. Most of the pitfalls I foresaw as possibilities and wasn’t blindsided by them. But, they do play into the future of 200 CCs as an entity and I’d be stupid to ignore or downplay their significance.

What’s Present

As much as I’ve loved having lots of great stories to post on the site and have enjoyed the increased traffic to ironsoap.com, I have to admit that none of it has made this site—ostensibly devoted to my own writing—a better place to come and find out about the writing of Paul A. Hamilton.
But a few things remain as true today as they were nearly a year ago when I cooked up this idea. One is that I still love microfiction—in particular the loose 200-ish word format that I’ve focused on. Seeing the expertise at which my contributors have displayed in wringing every last bit of pain and beauty out of those precious few sentences never ceases to thrill me.
Another is that I still crave a collaborative creative outlet where I can stretch beyond word-monkey and exercise my visual design skills, my eye for talent and execution, my photography, my editorial instincts. And lastly, I still crave the means and opportunity to pay writers for strong work that speaks to me (and hopefully others).
That all being said, I can confidently say that at this point I know I have one final trick up my sleeve for Year One of 200 CCs and beyond that any further exploration of this kind of endeavor will have to involve the following:
  • A sufficient infusion of cash to maintain the minimum semi-pro rates I’ve offered to date.
  • A separation of the microfiction stories from the ironsoap.com site.
  • A new schedule, format, or process that does not involve a nonstop cycle of twice-a-week publication (plus any other format variations).

What’s To Come

The one sure thing is that Year Two of 200 CCs won’t look like this past year. I don’t know exactly what that means, only that you shouldn’t expect twice weekly microfiction stories posted on ironsoap.com. My early visions include a lot more guest editors, zine editions first, and more like a bi-monthly schedule.
But all of it depends on that final trick I mentioned above. I’m currently putting together a 200 CCs Year One print edition, featuring (nearly) all the stories from the entire year. There will not be an ebook edition available to the public. The only way to get all these great stories in one place will be the book.
And the catch is that the proceeds will determine the funding for (or even the existence of) 200 CCs in 2017.
The experiment is pretty straightforward: if enough people buy the book to fund another year, I’ll make 200 CCs Year Two happen, in some form or another. If not, well, that’s the way it goes.
I hope it’s successful, but in a way there’s no chance that it won’t be. Even if nobody buys the book and we can’t fund future forays into 200 CCs, there will at least be a collection of last year’s wonderful experiment available, and I can’t think of a more fitting legacy to the project than that.

SirensToday we’re going to dive into a new ironSoap feature meant to help spread the word about new or upcoming books by digging in a little with the authors or contributors on some key storytelling aspects: world-building, character, and editing. Since this is the first such feature—for fantasy anthology Sirens—we have all three being discussed by different contributors to the project.

So what is Sirens? It’s part of Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menageries anthology series, which also includes Corvidae, Fae, and Scarecrow. She sums it up thusly:

Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.

Sounds great, right? Now let’s check in with a few of the contributors to hear their thoughts on some of those elements of storycraft.

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Double rainbow house

Pete Seapaddler via Creative Commons

As I write this, my little ezine/blog content experiment is rolling halfway into its fourth month. In all honesty, it’s going a lot better than I thought it would, and I was pretty optimistic about it. I’ve received a ton of truly phenomenal microfiction submissions, found audiences and support from some completely unexpected places, and discovered I have something of a passion for editorial work.

But after a quarter of my trial-by-fire year, I started examining things at a higher level than just “read this next submission! layout the next issue! format this accepted story for posting!” What was working, what I wished I’d done differently early on, how things looked financially, whether the schedules and formats I’d established were sound, basically evaluating everything from top to bottom.

The first result of this was a minor re-design of the aesthetic elements. It was something I’d planned to do starting in Volume 2 but I realized I didn’t want to wait. I also made Nikki the Managing Editor, really just formalizing the work she was already doing behind the scenes. Guidelines were set for guest editor spots; plans set into motion for the Volume 1 edition which will collect all stories from Issues 1 through 6; contingencies were established for the budget; realities for the social media presence were addressed.

But the biggest and most glaring source of contention from this examination was the way the stories were being rolled out. Friday posts felt like they were being lost in the shuffle of weekend plans (partially confirmed by the traffic numbers and the relative responses to “in case you missed it” reminders the following week). But moreover the monthly issues with only four short shorts felt like they weren’t being given sufficient treatment in the ezine. In fact with two 600-word editorials per issue (one from me and one from the guest editor), the ratio of story content to meta or editorial text was 2:3. For a fiction publication, that seemed a little funny.

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We’re back after a short break with a new installment of Aspiring Voices. This week I’m happy to welcome Susan Stuckey to the interviewee seat. She talks about the spirited inspiration that keeps her writing, the challenges of staying on track with your vision, and highlights the importance of teachers.
Fire

master.blitzy via Creative Commons

Paul: What would you say was the catalyst for making the pursuit of writing a priority for yourself? 

Susan: Back when i first started writing I was told by a member of a writing group I belonged to that i would never write anything worth reading. I decided to prove that statement wrong.

Paul: That’s an incredibly positive response to such negativity. Have you found a different (hopefully) better in-person writing group, or did that experience kind of turn you off from the whole scene?

Susan: There aren’t any “in-person” writing groups anywhere nearby, and feedback is important. I searched for on-line groups. Tried several of them. Found one that was tolerable (better than the others in most ways).

Paul: Is there a part of writing that you find particularly difficult?

Susan: Motivation

Paul: Describe your process a little. Do you plan and outline extensively? Do you discovery-write?

Susan: I think that is has become part of the motivation issue. When I first started I was a pantser. All I knew when I started writing was the beginning and the ending – and the adventure was finding out what came between those two points. Then I was convinced by others that I should outline. I tried. I really, really tried, but discovered I couldn’t work with an outline. But I think the damage was done and the stall induced by trying to outline just continues now fed by my own self-doubt.

Paul: What would happen when you tried to write with an outline? Did the structure get in the way of your process? What are you doing now to try and overcome that doubt?

Susan: With an outline it means you know it all already – you have point “X” beginning & point “Y” and everything inbetween. So where’s the adventure, the fun of discovery? So I wrote nothing. After I realized the issue, I tossed out the outlining and and now trying to recapture my old “pantser” fun (and frustration when the writing heads down a sidetrack).

Paul: So when you discovery-write, do you have any idea of the ending or are you taking the journey along with the characters, as clueless as they are where it will lead? You mentioned the sidetracks that pantsing can sometimes lead to. How do you identify when a discovery-written story has gone off the rails and what do you do to bring it back?

Susan: I know the beginning and a general ending. The “off track” is either discovered in editing – or when a block is reached and I’m trying to figure out why the story won’t progress. Usually those scenes/chapters etc that are off track are snipped out and put in another file. They sometimes become another story.

Paul: What was the first story you remember writing where you finished and thought, “Yeah, there’s something here”?

Susan: I wrote a ghost story in high school. I kinda thought it was “cute” but the English Teacher called me into her office to talk about it. You have to understand this English teacher was demanding, strict, and didn’t believe in false praise. I was scared to death (knees quaking, hands sweating etc) as I made my way to her office. She totally floored me because she loved the story and told me I had talent and from now on she wouldn’t accept anything but the best from me.

Paul: This is a nice flip side to the writer’s group thing. Was this teacher instrumental in shaping your interest for writing? Have there been other teachers that helped ignite that fire to write?

Susan: Just the one about writing, but there were several who encouraged and ignited the “fire” to always do one’s best.

Paul: Tell me about the best book you’ve read recently.

Susan: Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light. The book has been discussed to death by people. Suffice it to say that I thought it was an amazing conclusion to the fourteen book series and very well done.

Paul: Were you familiar with Brandon Sanderson when he took over the series after Jordan passed away? What did you think of his handling of the series’ end? Did you notice a distinct shift post-Jordan?

Susan: I had no idea who Sanderson was before the announcement. I thought the books he wrote from Jordan’s notes were some of the best of the series.

Paul: Have you read any of his solo books? I actually gave up on the Wheel of Time before Sanderson took it over, but I’ve read a couple of his Mistborn books and found them to be really great. 

Susan: I’ve read his Mistborn Trilogy. I started the first book of another series he wrote, can’t remember the name of the book now, but I couldn’t finish it then. I’ll pick it up again one of these days and try it again.

Susan StuckeyAlways an avid reader, Susan wrote her first fantasy story on an Apple 2E – and lost it when the computer died. She resumed her affair with writing when the “nest” emptied and has continued writing (off and on–usually off) until the present day.
Check out her blog, follow her on Twitter @SusanStuckey3, and like her Facebook page.