“Out of the Opened Door”

•October 18, 2015 • 2 Comments

I’ve been afraid to mention this. Afraid I might jinx it. Afraid they’re somehow going to take it back. But, here goes. It’s official: MY SHORT STORY IS PUBLISHED! I wrote and entered a short story for a contest on the On the Premises, website, an online literary magazine. Out of 216 entries, my story took second place. I was pretty psyched about that. I was even more psyched that this means I will be paid, and my story published on their site, making this my first official publishing credit. MY FIRST OFFICIAL PUBLISHING CREDIT!

That’s big. In the world of writing, that’s HUGE! All of I’ve wanted (in my writing career) since I was eight, is to have a novel published. People hear I’ve written books and they want to know: “Are they published?” And the answer is always, “No.” Well, the answer is still no, but I am one step closer.

The world of publishing is a dark, scary, mean, tumultuous, dangerous landscape. It will chew you up and spit you out, and then stomp on you for fun. And to them, it’s nothing personal: it’s business.   But to the writer, it’s the MOST personal thing.   When agents, editors, publishers reject our work, it stabs deeply.   So when someone says “yes”, it’s a validation. Someone telling us what we (obviously) already know: our writing is good! Our stories are good! Our characters are good! And the more “yes”es we get, the better our place in that scary publishing world becomes. Because if agents, editors and publishers can look at previous publishing credits and say “Well, someone thought their writing was worthwhile,” they might, MIGHT, be more likely to take a chance.

So, without further ado, here is a link to Issue #26 of On the Premises and my story “Out of the Opened Door.” Feel free to take a peek!

~ S.D. Bullard

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Soapbox

•September 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Today on Facebook I saw a (preview? Ad?) for the movie, The Martian coming out this weekend. It said something to the effect of “Watch the world join together to bring him home” complete with hashtags and a picture of Matt Damon in a space suit and all. Instead of feeling excited about the movie, I found myself feeling mildly annoyed.

The problem is this: I loved this book. Some six months ago my friend slid this book across the table to me and told me to read the first chapter. I did. It was okay. But within a couple of months my two other friends who tend to share my tastes in books had read and loved the book as well. Plus, it had a cool story behind the way it made it to the NY Times Bestseller list. So, I decided to go ahead and read the whole thing. And I’ve decided Andy Weir is a genius (how can he be anything but when he has such a healthy appreciation for duct tape?).

This book is filled with hilarious monologues (poor Watney is stuck on Mars by himself, after all), moments that pack huge emotional punches (good and bad) and so many “are you serious?!” events you can’t help but feel you’re pulling for a real person. I have laughed out loud at this book and almost teared up so many times, it has quickly made it onto my short list (Okay…let’s be honest…it’s a really long list) of favorite books.

So, the problem is, now it’s coming out as a movie. And, I mean, that is awesome for Andy Weir. I’m sure all of us unpublished novelists dream of our books (that, you know, haven’t been published) will one day grace the big screens. I even entertain myself with determining who should play my characters sometimes. But, that’s just icing (a metaphor I shouldn’t use seeing as I don’t like icing). The book is the true treasure.

Here’s where my annoyance comes in. People will be excited to see the movie. They’ll claim they are fans. They’ll talk and discuss and rave. And many of them will never read the book. Is this a petty thing to get annoyed about? Probably. In the grand scheme of things. But still. It’s like reading CliffsNotes and claiming to be a fan of a book. Actually, it’s worse. Because at least in CliffsNotes things are just condensed. In movies, they change things. Then people THINK they know the story, but it’s not the original story. Not the REAL story.

I think it stems back to when The Lord of the Rings movies came out. Don’t get me wrong. That’s one series I liked. I think they did a remarkable job translating those books into movies (books I grew up with, by the way). On the way into the movie theater (I think it was for The Two Towers), I overheard people talking, and the one didn’t even know those movies WERE books. No, neither of them had ever read them. Even today, people tell me they love LOTR and when I ask, the majority of them have never read the books. I’ve even had the same thing happen with Harry Potter on occasion.

I know. I know. Not everyone has the same “read the book before you watch the movie” requirement I have. But, I have that rule. And I have it so I can get the REAL story first. I feel the authors, the creators of the story, deserve that. They’re the ones who made the stories and the characters, who brought them to life. Okay. I’ll stop yelling from my soapbox. For now. But, I probably won’t get down.

~ S.D. Bullard

Revision!

•September 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I was walking around tonight singing “Revision! REVISION!” like some sort of prosaic Tevye. Some pages are more time-consuming than others. I only made it through one today. Normally, I can get through a page in about half an hour. I have a fine-tuned process. I go through the first time, and I am relentless. I hack and slash with my blue pen, write entirely new sentences, highlight and draw arrows, underline, circle until the page looks like some toddler’s masterpiece. The second go round is slower, more about tweaking and finesse. There are still a few words crossed out and changed. This is more the time to make sure that word is really the best one for that sentence. Should it be “believable”? “Conceivable”? Oh, what about “plausible”? (Shoot, now I’m gonna have to go back and change that. “Plausible” really is a better word. I think it was the one I was trying to think of earlier). The final pass is to read it through out loud to make sure it sounds all right.

As I said, I can generally get through this process in a half-hour for one page. I spent probably an hour and a quarter on one page today. Perhaps that’s why it’s taking me such an excessively long time to get through this revision (and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’ll go for months without touching it all). But you know what? I love every second of it.

Alyraekas is…it’s difficult to explain my attachment to this particular book. It certainly wasn’t my first novel. I’m not even certain it is my best. But for some reason, it’s the one I’m most attached to. I sat down to edit my page, for the first time in months, and it was like coming home. I was so happy to go back into that world. I spent five years writing it initially, and there is a sort of rueful joy to go back and tear apart all my stilted purple prose and recreate the sentences to tell their story in better words.

I consider Alyraekas my ‘life’s work.” It might never be published. That’s okay (only in the ultimate sense: every writer wants their works published, especially the life’s work). It will still likely be my favorite. After five years of working on it, I swore up and down there would be no sequel. My characters had other plans. I’m currently working on the second book, with a third in mind. And considering I’m planning to break Alyraekas into two or three individual books, the series could end up being six-nine books long, if the sequels are as long as the original. And they could take me ten more years. Heaven help me. It’s a good thing I’m as attached as I am!

Which of your works are your special gems? And what are your revision stories?

~ S.D. Bullard

Days Like Yesterday

•September 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I want to be published. Traditionally. A novel. I want to traditionally publish a novel. I do. I won’t lie. It’s been a dream of mine since I was eight, a life goal. I realize I am not unique in this. Not special. Not even rare. It’s the dream of most writers. And like most other writers, whether or not this happens will not keep me from writing. Ever. It’s kind of like those Geico commercials: “If you’re a writer, you write. It’s what you do.”

There are days, though, when it’s frustrating. The process. The rejection. The reading things that are published and knowing, not even egotistically, that you write better. The time you spend on other things, instead of writing your books, to try to up your chances: writing query letters, studying how to write query letters, entering contests to try gaining writing credits, re-writing query letters (okay, really that’s what I dislike). Those days, it seems impossible that this dream will ever come to be. And even if it doesn’t make me want to quit, I can wind up feeling a bit cynical and bitter.

But then there are the good days. Just a nudge of affirmation can make me feel like J.K. Rowling (just not as rich). When I enter a story into my writer’s club contest and win; when I make the top ten on my first try in a flash fiction contest. When one of my family/friends based fan club reads one of my recent works and tells me they liked it; and I’m not talking just a stiff and automatic platitude, but with details about why they liked it. These are the good days.

I had a good day yesterday. Two of my best friends recently became first-time parents: to an eight- and ten-year-old. These four are more like family to me than just friends, the kids my adopted niece and nephew. They’ve been raising the kids up right (in my humble, non-parental opinion), reading as a family every night. They’ve one through the Chronicles of Narnia, and the other day my friend texted me to tell me they had just finished the Harry Potter series. I had been talking to them about what they were going to read to the kids next, discussing various options.

Then, yesterday, my friend posts this on my Facebook: “We started reading Blue Skies tonight with the kids.” I had this moment of pure, heart skipping, breath catching giddiness. Of all the possibly wonderful books out there they could read with their kids, they opted to read one of MY works. And not even my best! I almost did a happy dance, and I suddenly wanted to go back and read some of that book myself, a kind of reward or acknowledgement to those characters I’ve shoved to the side for so long.

Yes, I want to be published someday. But that? That’s what it’s all about. People reading, and wanting to share, your work. Maybe it never goes beyond my circle of family and friends. Maybe that’s enough. On days like yesterday, it certainly feels like enough.

~ S.D. Bullard

Delayed Gratification

•August 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Delayed gratification. It’s almost an obsolete concept in our country. The word “delay” has quite the negative connotation. Think about it. You’re traveling somewhere: what do you not want to see at your airport gate? Delayed. We don’t like our plans to be delayed. We’re impatient for every fun event. And the more technology scampers ahead, the more “delay” shrinks to a pseudo-four letter word.

You want an answer to a question? Forget dictionaries, encyclopedias and libraries. Google it, or ask Siri or any other almost-personal-robot app. No need to set up an answering machine (a what? The younger generation asks) to collect your calls while you’re gone. We’re inseparable from the little cell phones that are almost an extension of our arms.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as bad as everyone. Maybe worse. I’m impatient, I want what I want now. And if I forget my cellular tether, I start freaking out I’m going to lose touch with the reality of the world. When I was young, I got “fancy coffee” from a “fancy coffee shop” once or twice a year, when we’d drive 45 minutes out to the mall to go Christmas shopping. Now, I do my Christmas shopping online (with two-day shipping: I mean, good grief! Why does it take them so long!) and there are half a dozen Starbucks for me to frequent within a seven minute drive.

But, with all the prevalence of the “I want it now!” lifestyle flowing in my American veins, there is still one slower tradition I still adore. I am a greeting card freak. I absolutely love getting cards in the mail, and sending them out to my loved ones as well. I also love letters. Real letters. Hand written. Stuck in an envelope. Stamp in the corner.

E-mails are great for work purposes. I use texting and Voxer with obscene frequency. And I am glad of them. But a sure way of making my moment, my day, my week, is to send me a card or a letter. Old-fashioned. Slow. Delayed.

Gratification.

~ S.D. Bullard

Of Owls and Fireflies, Spiders and Flies

•August 19, 2015 • 2 Comments

Growing up, I loved going to my grandparents’ house. They had the ultimate grandparents’ house. Acres of land in the Pennsylvania woods, paths and trails to traverse through them. A rickety bridge where my sister, cousin and I would be the Three Billy Goats Gruff squaring off against our Grandma, the Troll. A pond, stuffed with frogs and fish to catch, a rowboat for the summer and a natural skating rink in the winter. A fountain and colored lights my Grandpa would sometimes turn on at night. There was a Tarzan swing that took you out over the pond, and a tire swing you always had to clear of wasps nests before using. There was a picnic pavilion where we held family gatherings and a cracked stone porch where we’d play jump rope games. There was a tractor and trailer and a backhoe that we’d pile into and our Grandpa would drive us around. We had epic Easter egg hunts that lasted hours and I don’t think there was a single year we found all the hidden eggs (there are probably some still hidden out there). There was a basement with open-back stairs and cans of Spaghetti-Os. A game room with a bumper pool table and foam mattresses on the floor where the cousins would lie to watch the movie Flipper, while the coconut head hung above us. Upstairs there were, among other rooms, the pink flamingo bathroom and the kids’ room, where we’d sleep, listening to the squirrels skittering around in the ceiling above us.

I miss that place.   One of the things I remember is that when we spent the night there, my mom almost always read the book Sam and the Firefly to us. It was about an owl named Sam and a Gus, the Firefly who used his light to write words in the air. I have never seen that book anywhere else, but if I ever do, I might have to snatch it up just for the memories.

I started taking my nieces and nephews for sleepovers at my house when there were only three of them, and the youngest (at the time) was two. The first time they ever stayed, they got onto my bookshelf (which I always HIGHLY encourage) and chose a book that was to become our version of Sam and the Firefly. I must admit, the book they picked struck me as a little strange for a 5-, 4- and 2-year-old. It was The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt and Tony DiTerlizzi. A Caldecott Award winner, I grant you, but a rather dark and disturbing story. I read it to them because they asked me to. And the next time they came over, they brought it to me again. And it just became our thing. Every time they come over, I wonder if it will happen. So far, it has never failed. One of them (there are four now, 11, 10, 8 and 5) always finds the book on the shelf and trots it out. And the couple times they haven’t been able to find it, they pester me until it has been located and read.

I may not have all the coolness that went along with my grandparents’ house. But, my hope is that one day, when they’re all grown up, one (or more) of them will run across this book, pick it up, smile and remember how it was our thing.

~ S.D. Bullard

Flash Fiction

•August 17, 2015 • 3 Comments

I am an avid reader of Janet Reid’s blog.  Though she doesn’t represent my genre of writing, her tips and advice are generally applicable to the writing public in general.  I have spent hours reading through Query Shark until my mind has gone numb from the plethora of queries and revisions.  I look forward to my daily email with her answers and tips.  I also look forward to her periodic Flash Fiction contests.  Unfortunately, given one thing and another, I always manage NOT to get an entry in.  When, this past weekend, there was an announcement of a Flash Fiction contest accompanied by a proclamation it would be the last for a while, I determined I WOULD get an entry in.  And so I did.  While I didn’t win, I managed to make it into the top 10 out of some 79 entries.  I was pretty pleased with that.  So, the challenge was create a story, 100 words or fewer, using the words remove, escape, away, lull and spare.  I have included my entry here.

Yes, it’s sad.

Yes, I do that a lot.

No, I don’t know why.

Yes, it IS only 44 words (if you know me or my writing at all, you are probably now gasping in disbelief: I used under 50% of the allotted words?!).

Here you go.  Enjoy.  Or don’t.

~~~~~

Whitewash on the walls removes the stain of powder-blue hopes.

Toys, smiling in plush anticipation, escape in Goodwill bags.

Runaway dreams cling to disassembled furniture.

Echoes of a lullaby never sung drip through the nursery.

Not a nursery. Nothing, now, but a spare room.

 

~ S.D. Bullard