Monday, March 26, 2007


WOO HOO! I got
Third Place in Miss Snark's 100 word Idols of March Writing Contest!

The rules were: 100 words exactly, and you had to use these words





Dan Lazar


In addition, there was a narrow time window in which you could submit your opus.

There were 200 entries and they were all a scream. Go to Miss Snark's Blog to read them all for a real treat.

Here's my number 92 along with Miss Snark's fab comments.

Entry 92

"Hey,Toots, you look pretty snazzy in those stilettos."

I turned, startled. It was Dan Lazar.

"You too," I lied. His Hawaiian shirt sported nude wahines and moonbeams on a purple background. "Are we waiting for the same helicopter?"

Dan threw his chewed stogie over the railing. "Guess so, just you and me, Baby. Reacher's with Barbara Bauer and Griffin signed with Publish America."

I heard the sound of the Fox News chopper. I once told Dan if he was the last agent in America I still wouldn't date him. Funny how wrong you can be when push comes to shove.

Miss Snark is rolling on the floor. Killer Yapp swallowed his stogie. Even Grandmother Snark, genteel to the end, is laughing like a loon. (Miss Snark's own comments!)

I really had fun writing this little bit – and it was free to submit. The prize for the winner was an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of the new Lee Child Jack Reacher novel, BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE. It went to entry #170, and well-deserved.

This is the second contest I have entered this year – I won a prize in the first one, which was a film tie-in for Warner Brothers' "The Good German". My prize was a poster for the film, quite nice. Again it was Flash Fiction and there was no entry fee, and the contest was sponsored by Tony Burton over at
Crime & Suspense.

So what's the deal with contests? Are they writing credits? Are they worth it? Are you supposed to pay an entry fee? Do you get prizes?

Writing contests can be fun. I like these short & sweet flash fiction contests. It's sorta like writing Guess the Plots for Evil Editor, where the prize is getting your one-liner published on Evil Editor's blog. They're not writing credits, they're more like fun writing exercises. They are free to enter – you lose nothing if you don't win, and you get some good practice. If you do win, you get the thrill of seeing your words somewhere. Sometimes you get a token prize – a book, a poster, some little item.

Some writing contests are full-blown wonders with legitimate publication and/or money as the prize. Sponsored by big magazines or publishing houses, they require only your best effort and may secure you a publishing contract, international exposure and maybe a fat check as well. If you have something to enter one of these contests with, by all means go for it.

Other writing contests require an entry fee. This usually works in small venues, like magazines or ezines, where you send in money with your contest entry. The money is then used to provide the prizes for the stories chosen. Many of these contests can be fun and are on the up and up, but I rarely (read never) submit to anything that wants me to pay. After all, that same story could be submitted to a paying market and maybe get me a legit publishing credit and a check. However, there are some very well-known and prestigious writing competitions which require an entry fee.

Writer's Digest has a very good writing competition. There's a $15 entry fee for short stories. The Lorian Hemingway competition charges $15 for stories postmarked by a certain date. WritersWeekly ezine sponsors a 24-hour short story competition which requires only a $5 entry fee.

If you want to pay and take a crack, by all means, go for it. Especially with smaller and free 'zines, sometimes there just isn't any other money to pay for prizes. I think I would think twice about paying a lot of money for a contest entry fee, but then everyone has a different idea of what too much and not much at all are. My advice is to investigate competitions thoroughly and go for those you feel strongly about or those you think you have a shot at winning.

And never underestimate the feeling you can get from seeing your work – even 100 words of fun nonsense – in print. I know Miss Snark made my day!


A nandina filamentosa – tiny little plant! – in my new flowerbed. So feathery and light, it looks like it might fly.

My friend Nancy at the Cliff May lecture Friday night, eyes lit up, big smile, brown hair flying – it's always good to see your friends.

The two big kitties, Jack & Jeeves, who pretend not to get along when you're watching, sleeping together on the bed when they thought no one was looking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


No money – as in giving your work away for free.

Now, I know there are pretty strong opinions on this subject, and I don't really want to tangle with anyone over the concept. But here's why I have done it.

First of all, let me say right up front that I am a short story writer (of average height, it's the stories that are short) not a novelist, so my perspective is that of someone who writes lots of fiction that can be placed in a variety of venues.

Back when I first started to write I didn't know the difference between a tightly-plotted epic and a rambling mess, so I wrote a few of the latter thinking they were novels. They weren't, but they were great practice for using words and developing characters and plots and scenes. They went mercifully nowhere and reside in yellowing glory on the bottom shelf in the closet. Like I said, they were great practice, and I went on to learn how to write short and tight and I learned to love a few of my first characters enough to bring them back in different stories through the years.

But the first short stories I wrote needed good critiques. Real bad.

Back in those days, the idea of the Internet was just getting off the ground. A few hardy souls experimented with online magazines (the term "ezine" came later) and as I was experimenting in several genres, I was attracted to the science fiction online 'zines. They didn't pay anything at first – and I threw my few stories around the net to see if anyone was interested. I had a couple posted and got the crits I needed to improve my writing.

I didn't know any other writers. I was not in school nor did I know about writing groups.

I even found an online mystery magazine, the remarkable DAVID FIRKS' BLUE MURDER. And it was a paying venue of very high quality, so I worked on that first submission until I was exhausted. "Just Like in the Movies" was accepted, my first paid acceptance and my first mystery. I can't describe the joy of receiving a contract and a check, but suffice it to say I startled the neighbors with my squeals and chicken dance.

So why did I continue to submit stories to non-paying venues?

Well, two big reasons – okay, maybe more. I still needed to improve my writing to get my fiction skills up to par. I submitted to all the usual suspects: Omni, Fantasy & Science Fiction, you name it and got lots of nice rejections. But the big print mags don't critique your work, so I turned back to the online venues.

BLUE MURDER was an anomaly. High quality, a superb editor and a paying mystery venue, it was unique. And for the duration of its online life, I placed a story there about every quarter. Then Mr. Firks suffered a terrible medical event and publication ceased.

A couple of other paying venues sprang up at this time: Handheld Crime & Plots With Guns, a quasi-joint venture which also eventually took its place in the history of spectacular ezines, as well as a nice handful of others. But venues for mystery shorts have always been scarce and now they are even scarcer. (They still exist – WOMENS WORLD paid me $500 for a short story and GREAT MYSTERY & SUSPENSE sent $$ too.)

So I continued to submit to online sci fi venues and managed to get stories published in quite a few. Now some of these, like Rigel Chiokis' SPACEWAYS WEEKLY and Jack Egan's THE SPIRAL SEA paid well during their publication runs. But they are gone now too. Others didn't pay, but gave excellent critiques or had wide circulation or were run by people I knew & liked. That last played a big part in why I published so much with APHELION, a non-paying zine.

I still give some of my work away. I am not a professional in the sense that I do not expect to make a living writing short stories. I am not a novelist, looking for that big advance or mass market exposure. And I like to experiment with edgy stuff sometimes.
So I search out venues that offer me exposure and fun. That means a few of the places where I showcase my fiction don't pay me anything.

But not paying doesn't mean I get nothing. I get nominated for awards. I get pieces grabbed for anthologies. I get foreign publishers who contact me for reprints. I get production companies who want to make short films of my stories.

If I can sell a story to a paying publication, I will. But if Jim Stitzel or Dan Hollifield emails me asking pretty-please for a short, I will do something for them – because I know them. (Same thing for BJ Bourg who pays a small stipend to writers for their work.) And writing for blogs like EVIL EDITOR is just plain fun – and also led to anthology work.

So for me it is a matter of personal choice and a history with some editors.

I have heard criticism – some of it vehement – from writers who think giving away work cheapens it and makes it more difficult for them to find paying venues. The idea here is that with people giving away work, why should anyone pay for it? But it doesn't really work that way. The venues for short stories have been drying up since the 1950's, but there are still big-paying venues out there if you are good enough and if you actually submit to them.

The Internet is the new coffee table full of ever-changing magazines. Some pay, some don't. By all means submit exclusively to paying venues if you want to. But be aware that to some of us, the non-paying venues also have value.


Philip Johnson's GLASS HOUSE in New Canaan, Connecticut. I hope to see it on my vacation later this year.

The doggies at the fence when I get home from work. They just love you no matter what.

California red finches at the bird feeder. So tiny, so energetic, so pretty!