Is my ex a psychopath? Take this quiz to find out.

I wrote the below quiz-- which is just for fun--because we've all dated at least one person where, after the fact, we wonder what on earth we were thinking. Some estimate that about 4% of the American population is psychopathic. While we often associate that word with violent criminals, a good number psychopaths aren't violent--they just display a constellation of not-so-great personality characteristics that hang together. Many can turn out to be successful individuals who--to people who don't know them that well--seem to be perfectly normal. Charming, even. But some of us know better.. 

If this topic interests you, subscribe to this blog on your RSS or give me a follow on Twitter. I'm an author and am currently writing a novel about psychopaths. You can find much of my fiction online linked through here

Give Poldark's George Warleggan the plot he deserves

A couple of weeks ago, I blew through all three seasons of Poldark in one weekend, or maybe close to it. I had it on in the background as "period piece background noise I didn't expect to really capture my attention," but it totally did. (Apparently I also weirdly forgot my fetish for 18th century men's fashion.)

Not only is the show filled with lush scenery (waves crashing on rocks beneath dramatic cliffs, people riding horses in haste, etc.), but the writing is really, really good. Particularly in Season Two, with the infidelity plotline, every single character involved responds in a way consistent with their character, and in ways that highlight both their positive and negative traits.) (Well, I'm not sure Elizabeth has any positive traits, but whatever). 

Season 3 had me pondering the fact that the writer's haven't entirely taken advantage of villain George Warleggan. The WETA blog says he is a flatly evil character, one step away from twirling a mustache; I don't entirely agree, but they do have something of a point.  Over the course of the series, George shown himself to be cold and conniving when it comes to both business and life--sometimes playing unfairly. He is weirdly obsessed with taking Ross Poldark down--and what is this based on other than the fact that he basically hates Ross for having what he doesn't: the support of the townspeople, actual love from his wife Elizabeth, a sense of honor. Ostensibly, he has beef with Ross because Ross is "responsible" for inciting the riot that led to the shipwreck being looted (the shipwreck containing some of George's property). But we all know that he 2% cared about the property and 98% just wanted Ross to be tried and hanged--which seems a bit extreme. 

But I just rewatched Seasons 1 and 2 and took a closer look at him. The development of his relationship with Elizabeth is a weird mixture of creepy and pitiable. It's clear he likes her when she's married to Francis Poldark and is already attempting to put the moves on her. When he first propositions Elizabeth, more or less, unless I'm wrong, she didn't seem repulsed but genuinely caught off guard. Surprised, but not "oh God how do I get out of this." I think for her it came out of left field. I do believe, in his own strange way, George loves Elizabeth. (I'm not sure why, because everyone seems to fall in love with her based purely on looks...?) 

Maybe there was a world where Elizabeth and George could have been happy--this makes me sad. Her decision to marry him was both practical and eyeroll worthy. She's a widow and her mom has just had a stroke. Standing beside the drooling mother's bed she asks the doctor, "But who will take care of her--?" then a look of distain comes over her face when she realizes that the caregiver could be her. God forbid we don't have servants to do something, or have to get a job, or figure shit out for a while before she might actually fall in love with a man who wants to marry her. Okay, I realize that's unfair--the aristocracy didn't work back then. Although I did wonder how hard it would have been to scrimp and pinch for a while--sell off some of her crap and let some servants go. Instead, she spots George through the window getting rid of some pesky serfs who want to work her land, which apparently by law is their right. He could take care of her, and she wants to be taken care of. And I never go the sense that he was disingenuous in his offer to take care of her; someone purely evil wouldn't do that. 

She marries him, quickly, and for his money basically, but I got the sense that she had some hope that maybe it would work out. George quickly ruins any chance of this, mainly through his desire to get rid of his Poldark stepchild. Really much of her hatred of him stems from actions he does solely out of his obsession with Ross. (It's more like he himself is a worser enemy than Ross is.) It didn't have to be this way, but he does several things that destroy any hope between them: getting the governess and wanting to send the stepson away, and the trial against Ross which was overkill. A really unexpected turn for me at least was that Elizabeth and George start to become an evil couple together--which was relieving because many many many shows/books/movies fall into the trap of "the first love is the only-est, best-est love." Her turn toward the evil was somewhat satisfying because her unhappiness brought out the nastier parts of her personality and I didn't find much about her redeeming anyhow. 

But George is more interesting to me. Sometimes there's this one grain of humanity in him that makes me feel sympathy or want him to have a turn of character. He suspects that "his" baby with Elizabeth--Valentine--is actually Ross Poldark's but you get the sense that he's almost tricked himself into thinking the baby is his. At least until stonecold Agatha tells him the truth. He seems really broken by this, and I don't think it's just because of Poldark. No matter how despicable George is, Elizabeth wronged him and continuously lied to him. Sure, there were various strictures on women that made life hard for them, but I can't see Demelza making that series of decisions. Sure-- George is pathetic--he gets all sniveling when Elizabeth (lying about the paternity issue) threatens to leave their home, and let's be clear George is dishonorable and nasty and single minded. I don't know why he seems to love Elizabeth, but he does. I truly wondered if he actually loves Valentine and this was a serious blow to him (he doesn't have an heir after all). I love the moment that followed: Ross going out to look for Demelza in the dunes--of course we think he's about to catch her in the act of cheating--but instead he comes upon George, who is dazed with the realization about Valentine. For a split second George is a human, but then he goes back to being George. This moment echoed back to the moment when George found out that Ross's baby had died and for a split second was at a loss. 

Don't blame George for the infamous toad incident in season 3. Oh damn, this show got dark. What started as a funny prank against George--Demelza's brother Drake putting toads in George's ponds--gets hella dark when Morwenna has to marry the gag-reflex-inducing Reverend Osborne Whitworth. At first the Reverend just seemed like a pervier version of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice--funny, foppish, and gross. But then it gets much darker than the tone of Poldark generally with him being physically abusive and a rapist--I kept waiting for Morwenna to be rescued at the last minute. And it's George and Elizabeth--who has now drunk the evil George Kool-aid--who have pushed this marriage into existence. Because it's a "good match." (There's one weird misstep in the plotting here: when Morwenna's weird sister showed up, I thought for sure she would pretend to try to seduce the Reverend and then murder him . . . but instead seemed to like boffing him??) [Another tangent, how on earth is the guy on the left played by the guy on the right??] 

Here's the thing: George has no idea how bad the Reverend is. He knows Morwenna isn't crazy about him, but how many women got to marry someone they were crazy about? You know who does know just how bad the Reverend is? The good doctor Dwight. And while he does try to press the pause on the Reverend's appetites for Morwenna after giving birth--that's all he does-- presses the pause button. George's sin, really, was that he wanted to control Morwenna and family wealth by marrying her off--Dwight's sin strikes me as worse (albeit not outside of what would have been typical male behavior back then.) 

It's clear that Poldark is headed towards more political storylines, and that both Ross and George will be players. The only two things George cares about are himself and Elizabeth and I'm not even sure about the second part. His political identity could easily get tied into his sense of honor; if Poldark wants to keep treading the same waters, we could have Ross and George square off again and again. Or . . .

Make George the villain he deserves to be. George should be smarter than he is on the show. He's made his wealth rather than inherited it, so it's a little unrealistic that his deviousness is pretty consistently ham-handed. I wish they would let him be as full blown smart as maybe a man who's made his own wealth might be. And while Ross clearly has flaws, sometimes he falls too hard on the "good guy who's always right" side (at least when it comes to the shows political plotlines.) Moving the show towards increasingly political plotlines leaves a lot of room for complex machinations--I would love to see George pull off some Cersei-level political maneuvering rather than say, printing slanderous pamphlets. I would love there to be something Ross and George could agree on--a common foe where they would have to work together despite despising each other! Someone who offends George's honor and Ross' political sensibilities-- but I'm not sure the show has that sort of sensibility, particularly after what happened with Morwenna. If Morwenna isn't going to save herself, it would be nice if we just didn't default to Ross saving the day. Too often shows default to "good guys save people, bad guys hurt people, and if bad guys save people they are redeemed." There's a few other options-- like bad guys doing the "right" thing for an entirely different reason. Bad guys responding with a level of retaliation that the good guys wouldn't "stoop" to in a way that is more satisfying to viewers. Bad guys outmaneuvering other bad guys because they are more clever.

Update 6/10/2019: a surprising number of people have read this article. Life has occupied me; I will return with another longform article about Poldark in June after I’ve had a chance to watch the most recent season. I’m hoping it will be me coming back after seeing some interesting developments in this villain.

8/13/19: and here’s that other post as promised, about the rest of Season 4

A spoiler-ridden review of Hereditary


Hereditary falls squarely in the center of what I think is an exciting development in horror movies: horror that leans more towards the literary. Reviews of this movie had a lot of "Not since The Exorcist..." language which made me skeptical, along with my friend's text along the lines of "Have you heard the hype about this movie? People are saying it's traumatic." Well that was enough to sell me. 

Hereditary very much reminded me of The Witch and It Comes at Night with some echoes of The Exorcist. I suppose I would consider The Exorcist literary horror, but it does lean more towards overt horror (ie, looking at horrifying and explicitly unpleasant things for long scenes.) The way this movie was filmed--as if the camera is lurking--and the excellent score reminded me of all three: unnerving drones, unpleasant prickly noises, indistinct sounds you can't quite pick out. With the exception of The Exorcist I generally don't find literary horror scary, but I do enjoy it. 

What I found most horrifying in this movie wasn't the supernatural elements, which I doubted the existence of for maybe four-fifths of the movie. There's some indication in a very Rosemary's Baby way that the recently deceased mother of Annie (Toni Collette) was a witch. The narrative does feel like it's headed for supernatural elements, particularly in the way it focuses on Annie's profoundly creepy daughter Charlie. She's unnerving (amazingly well acted by Milly Shapiro), but I thought she was headed for either demonic possession or a diagnosis of psychopathy (there's a scene where she finds a dead pigeon and cuts its head off to keep). But it was easy for me to push the supernatural to the side for most of the movie because an unexpected turn. 

This is the scene I keep thinking about even days later. The teenage son, Peter (Alex Wolf) lies to his mother that a party he wants to go to is more of a school BBQ and she makes him take his sister. He takes her, and leaves her alone for a minute so he can smoke pot with the girl he likes. Charlie eats some cake with nuts in it and starts going into anaphylactic shock. Peter puts her in the family car and hurries her to the hospital, and of course you can see the accident coming. But I was 1000 percent not expecting the way it would go down and how it would be depicted. The accident is horrifying, and it both is and isn't Peter's fault. You could see a teenager getting into this situation from being mildly irresponsible, but not outrageously so. We don't see exactly what happens and it isn't clear that Peter has. There's an incredible scene of Peter just staring straight at the camera for at least a full minute, stunned, and the sense of horror and dread and there's no going back from this is palpable. Alex Wolf, the by way, who I've only ever seen in Jumanji nailed this scene. He heads home, in a daze, lies down in his bed, and there's an extremely painful scene of his blank face as he can hear his mother's off-camera screams as she discover's Charlie's body. Toni Collette's screaming here was more disturbing than any piece of violence or weirdness that occurs in this movie. 

For almost all of this movie but the end, you could interpret it as being about the impossible task of the family dealing with this death. How does a mother then relate to her son? How can he possibly cope with being responsible for the accident? When supernatural things seem like they're happening--Peter and Annie seeing apparitions, Peter's self-injurious behavior--this can all be explained away by hallucinations they are experiencing from intense grief and guilt. There's also the issue of mental illness: Annie's family tree is rife with it, and she rather casually mentions at a grief counseling meeting that her mother had Dissociative Identity Disorder. Personally I don't believe in DID, and wasn't sure how I'd feel if the movie turned out to be about it. Abrupt changes in Annie's behavior--ostensibly from possession--could be explained by DID if you wanted to take a non-supernatural interpretation of this movie. It was this aspect of the movie--grief as the supernatural--that I found most intriguing. It could have ended ambiguously, and I thought the movie was headed this way, but then it goes full Black Phillip.  

black phillip.jpg

Black Phillip, if you haven't seen The Witch, is the family goat who at the end of the movie, starts speaking in the voice of Satan. The talking goat is the point of no return, and the same thing happens in the last fifth of Hereditary

We then get firmly grounded in the idea that the witchcraft angle is real. This leads to an ending that was very similar to The Witch with a dash of Rosemary's Baby thrown in. The one thing that left me a little puzzled is why--possessed or not--Annie bizarrely kills herself. Whatever entity that has taken her over (and it isn't clear who exactly) already has possession of the body, so why it needed to end her life was unclear (unless, I suppose, it was a human sacrifice). Overall, grounding it in witchcraft didn't take away the emotional complexity--much like how The Witch was still about all these strictures that were/are put on women. It still raised interesting questions-- was Annie's sleepwalking actually sleepwalking, some supernatural thing, or some form of mental illness? Was what Peter did something he could ever come back from? (I desperately wanted him to just leave the house and not come back.) How can the husband (Gabriel Byrne) draw the line between indulging his wife and allowing her outbursts while also being wary that she might be in the middle of a psychotic break? How can he balance dealing with his own grief while the tension between his wife and his son is becoming worse and worse? 

There is one thing about this movie that I did not like and found unfairly gratuitous: WHY WHY WHY the dog. Come on man. Any horror movie or thriller where there is a family dog, it is basically there for four-legged cannon fodder. Towards the end of the movie the dog isn't particularly present and I probably would have forgotten about it . . . Except then there is a one second scene that just shows the dog's body cast aside in the garden, it's murder, apparently, occurring off screen. By someone. For some reason. THIS WAS A SENSELESS DOG DEATH. WHY. It did nothing for the plot, and the dog did not get to fully develop his character arc as a result. 

Trust me, the morally reprehensible things I say and do aren't reflective of me as a person.

In the past two weeks, what looks like what is going to become an increasingly common “scandal” occurred surrounding the show The Bachelor. (Or The Bachelorette, to be more specific). During the season premiere a guy named Garret clearly became one of the frontrunners for Becca, this season’s Bachelorette. While the show skirts as far away from politics as possible, it’s known from her social media that Becca considers herself as part of “the resistance” and voted Democratic in the 2016 election. In this article by two women who also host a podcast about the show, one of the contestants, Garrett, was outed as having liked a bunch of morally reprehensible posts on Instagram including ones that made fun of: the Parkland kids who survived the school shooting (calling them crisis actors), undocumented immigrants, feminists, and trans children. (He immediately deleted the account once this was exposed.) 

There's a chance that the producers of the show did this on purpose--knowing that Becca is at least a somewhere left of center, and that this would lead to conflict and therefore good TV. I imagine this is what happened when they had their first black Bachelorette and included a contestant who compared the NAACP to the KKK on not-too-hard-to-find social media posts. We could work under that assumption of wanting drama, or assume their background checkers are just lazy. 

But would this even lead to conflict? Becca publicly responded, in as much as she can, (because I'm guessing he was one of her final few..) in an interview by saying she would address issues as they come up, but that "I can't fault anyone for what they believe, and who's to say that anyone is truly what they believe in if they just double tap . . . I am a strong woman and I do believe in certain things, but again, that's what's so great about our country — everyone is entitled to their own opinions." This is a really, really different response than the reaction of the black Bachelorette--Rachel--had when confronting the contestant who said racist stuff. Her response wasn't, "Oh, he's  a good person who just kept accidentally saying terrible things--lay off him would you!" Garrett responded with the typical "I didn't realize the things I did were hurtful / I need to learn/ this isn't reflective of who I am as a person" apology. ("I need to learn/ go to rehab" is definitely a great all purpose excuse for just about anything, isn't it?) But we're not here to talk about him. 

We're here to talk about the Beccas. The straight guy who cringes when his father says something anti-gay at the dinner table, but doesn't say anything. I want to talk about the white girl with the white boyfriend who grits her teeth when he says something racist against blacks. It doesn't really affect the straight person at the dinner table because he isn't gay, or the white girl because neither she nor her boyfriend are black. The ignorant views of their loved ones don't directly negatively affect them, but are seen as more embarrassing than fundamental conflicts because I guess, to them, their values don't constitute a dog in the fight. 

Why can't you fault someone for what they believe? We make decisions about who we want to surround ourselves with, and sometimes people come into conflict with those values. On the one hand you want a partner you have chemistry with who also wants the same things (a house, a picket fence, a family), but then there's this pesky thing where he says something profoundly ignorant about another group--but don't worry--you're not part of that group. You can just sweep it under the rug. 

You can just say, "Well you don't know him." You don't know him like I do! Indeed, I will never know your racist boyfriend the same way that you do if the two of you are white and I am brown. Your boyfriend can be caring and kind and considerate to you, while at the same time thinking that gays are disgusting or that migrants aren't human beings with inherent dignity. You just don't know him like I do! Indeed, I don't. 


Like many people caught in the apology chamber, Garrett responded in an Instagram post "I am a sincere, genuine, loving, light-hearted, open minded and non-judgmental individual." I'm willing to bet that Garrett has never met one of the Parkland kids, who not only survived the mass murder of their friends and classmates, but are pushing through with activism despite grown adults feeling the need to attack and threaten them despite their being children who were almost just murdered. I'm willing to bet that if quizzed on the situations in El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and other countries that led to migration, he would not be able to tell you much and in all likelihood couldn't find most of these countries on an unmarked map. You've never met these people, but have hateful things to say about them (at worst), or at best, you don't really hate them but think their situations are funny and should be made fun of on social media. Call me a square but I don't find devastating earthquakes or drug cartels funny. 

Is it really fair to judge people by their social media accounts? It's true, your finger can slip and you can accidentally like a post promoting a conspiracy that the victims of a mass shooting are in fact actors rallied by a vast left wing conspiracy to seize the guns you use for mass shootings. To be fair, I do think there are instances where people take things out of context, like the movie that puts on its poster that a reviewer said "This movie is fantastic!" when they actually said "This movie is fantastically stupid!" And I do think its unfair to dredge up Livejournal posts from decades ago and point out how un-woke someone was, when in reality only some of us have documentation of how un-woke we are, and, let's face it, collecting points for pointing out unwokeness is sort of tiresome. 

Here is an exhaustive list of the past handful of things I did on Facebook and Twitter: a request that they make a movie out of cockygate; an interest in attending a poetry performance; 3 likes to UPS Dogs, a Facebook group where UPS drivers post pictures of their favorite dogs on their routes; a comment that news media "controversial comments" instead of "racist comments" suggests that there is a legitimate debate underlying the idea that racism is bad; 3 comments about whether or not the robot from Netflix's Lost In Space is sexy or not (it isn't); a Twitter moment about peacocks stopping traffic on a highway wherein I commented "cockblocking;" and this, which can only be described by looking at its awesomeness. This is actually a pretty accurate representation of who I am. Not a complete representation. But no one who knows me would be shocked that I liked/said/tweeted any of these things--they are all pretty run-of-the-mill for me. So if you were known to be an open-minded, kind, considerate person who's on social media, likely connected with friends, wouldn't your friends be shocked if you posted something morally reprehensible? Does the fact that they're not shocked say something about you, and something about them?

Whenever this cycle happens--an insulter says something insulting, there's negative publicity, then an apology--we are told, "Wait, get to know the real person, you don't know them like I do." We are asked, again and again and again, to get to know this person, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to assume good intentions despite the data before us. And yet those who insult are never giving the benefit of the doubt to the Parkland kids, or getting to know the migrants or their situation, or assuming that the person they are deriding is an actual human who might be as sincere and open-minded and loving as the insulters claim to be but aren't. In other words, "Treat me fairer than I treat you, otherwise you're being unfair." Sadly, an argument that keeps being made over and over. 

Review of Picnic at Hanging Rock


1. What in god's name was this show?

2. I could not stop watching it. 

There aren't too many things I'm willing to watch that are willfully confusing--or artsy for the sake of artsy. But this definitely falls into this category. 

Worth watching for Natalie Dormer's wardrobe alone. 

Picnic tells the story of a sketchy woman, Ms. Appleyard (Natalie Dormer) who flees from a mysterious background to start a finishing school for troubled girls in an absurdly beautiful estate. Like when you have fantasies of living in some Harry Potter boarding school, this is the estate you're thinking of. Three girls disappear during a picnic and the rest of the series attempts to cover what swirls around this scandal. Were they murdered, did they disappear, or did something mystical happen? 

Honestly, the plot is interesting enough to keep things moving, but the plot wasn't really why I kept watching. The series has interesting themes about the ways in which women are bound, sexuality, and class. But ultimately I watched this for the visuals and an arresting score. The visuals are dreamlike at times, and the scenery varies from this sumptuous estate where the school is, to these scenes from the landscape at Hanging Rock itself. The score is sometimes intense and deliberately unnerving (reminiscent of The Witch). 

I think the lower reviews of this show (currently 6.3 stars on IMDB) are due to the fact that the show didn't really ever intend to be about a neatly tied of mystery when people wanted it to be. The original Picnic at Hanging Rock was a popular Australian novel which the author occasionally implied was actually a true story. The novel's last chapter wasn't published with the original book, leaving it with an inconclusive ending. An . . . interesting decision. (In case you want the spoiler: the ending which was pulled from the book, then published later, also has a somewhat inconclusive ending. The girls disappear into some sort of void and time travel or another dimension may be implied.) 


Writer's Block Exercises (1-10)


1. Pick a guilty pleasure sort of story that you like--buddy cop, vampire romance, couple adopts a wacky misbehaving dog. Write five pages of the most deliberately bad text you possible can. As hackneyed as possible. The story does not have to have a beginning middle or end--the point of it is to be as ridiculous as possible. [This is to untrain you from the idea of "I can't write unless it's good"]

2. What is the last movie/TV show/book/restaurant that you hated so much that every time it comes up your friends cringe away from you a little because you get so heated? Write a really compelling review of this thing, whatever it was. It has to be well-articulated in terms of its analysis. [This is to flex your critical thinking skills without creativity being as central.]

3. Write an approximately 100 word description of the room you are currently sitting in, making sure that you capture not just what it looks like, but its mood as well. Once you're satisfied, cut it down to 50 words while still retaining the same components: a sense of what it looks like as well as a sense of what it feels like. Then cut it to 25 words. [This is an editorial exercise to make you think about conciseness.]

4. Make a list of your top 5 to 10 villains, listing adjectives that describe each. See if there are patterns that emerge. [Gets you thinking about characters, or if there are implicit patterns underlying what appeals to you.]

5. Put the word "Aleppo" into Google image search and then write an essay about first world problems. [This is to put things in perspective. Writer's block is not a disease, it's a choice.]

6. Take a horoscope from three different signs and write a scene where each person is dealing with a situation described in one of the horoscopes. No one can explicitly say what their problem is, however. [This is to get you focused on a scene, not a larger work, and how you can do things indirectly. ]

7. Write a query letter for your book/ story, even if you have no intent of eventually using it. [Query letters are awful to write, but actually make you think about where your book fits in in the market and what the essential nugget about it really is.]

8. Write a synopsis for the thing your working on. It has to follow the rules of a good synopsis: ie, is not a "first this happened, then that happened" list. It should explain the plot, but be entertaining, and carry to essence of the story. [This is because a shocking number of books have enormous plot holes that authors don't realize until after the book is written and then they are really resistant when readers try to point them out.] 

9. Write a completely serious letter (multiple paragraphs) to a company about a product. I wrote a letter to Batiste (the makers of the best dry shampoo out there) questioning why they carry three colors (brown, red, and blonde) but do not carry black when black is the most dominant hair color on the planet Earth. [This is to not take yourself too seriously, but to still work your ability to put together sentences in a way that is compelling.] 

10. Write a good ending for the TV show Lost. [Because someone should fucking have to.]

What do I do if someone says my pacing is off?

a glacial pace...

Maybe an agent said your pacing is off. Or an editor, or a reader did, and you're not sure exactly what they're talking about, or more importantly how to fix it. 

Pacing is something that is difficult to detect in your own writing.  It requires an ability to look at your own work from a psychological perspective that's far away, which is difficult to do when you are literally sitting in it--kind of like detecting your own B.O.  Happily, other people will point it out for you if they are kind, or at least, really blunt. 

Although sometimes people sense pacing is off but can't quite articulate it as the reason--they might just have the sense that "the middle lagged" or "the ending felt rushed" rather than knowing to pinpoint the word exactly: pacing. 

If someone tells you the pacing in your book is off, that it's too slow, in particular, the first thing to do is look at your word count.  If you are over 100,000 words, in any genre, I think you want to take pacing very very very seriously.  Every book that I have beta read/ edited that was over 100k could have been a lot tighter and all had pacing issues. There are good books that are legitimately over 100k words, but there's also a very good chance that your 100k+ book doesn't need to be that long, and if you're book is really long, pacing is a bit harder to sustain. Sometimes length is justified--when I saw the run-time for Avengers Infinity War I assumed it would just be wallowing around it it's own wealth, but that movie is super-tightly plotted and well-paced. Which is why people say "that didn't feel like 3 hours." 

Diagnostics: what does "your pacing is too slow" even mean?

Problem: There are too many segments where nothing is happening.  Sometimes something appears to be happening when actually nothing is happening.  I have a method for telling when nothing is actually happening that I will get into a bit.  My sense is that this often happens for scenes that purely exist for characterization's sake, for the sake of world building, or for the sake of looking at your own pretty words. 

Solution: This is tedious, but it works (and I have written about this here). You get an index card for every single scene. Draw a line down the middle.  On the left, write (briefly) what happened in this scene that actually moved the plot forward.  On the right, write the auxiliary stuff that was also in the scene that has to be in the book somewhere, but doesn't actually move the plot forward.  A plot point (on the left) could be that Frodo announces to the Council that he will take the ring into Mordor.  The fact that he does this somewhat reluctantly is characterization--stuff that goes on the right.  Even things that are almost entirely character driven still have plots.  It's hard for any type of writing that requires a lot of world building because that stuff just takes of so much space.  But you know when you are reading something and you get to a huge chunk of description or history--an infodump?  That's what happens when there's nothing on the left side of the card, and all world building on the right side.  Another thing that might be auxiliary--even though it is really important--is to show an important relationship.  That X and Y don't get along. 

You might do this exercise and discover that there are a lot of cards that have nothing on the left.  (If, for example, we had one scene where Frodo agrees to take the ring to Mordor, then a separate scene that consists solely of him worrying about this decision). Any true plot point can be written in a scene in such a way that you can fold in all that auxiliary stuff.  A scene where a CEO sacks every single person in the company (plot) can be combined with the fact that Becky and Miranda are besties (demonstrating relationship), the fact that the CEO is a crazed visionary who thinks technology will destroy the world (characterization), or the fact that this is a company that manufactures fax machines in 1995 in Detroit (world building).  Ok, not very interesting world building-- say it is a company where they illegally manufacture pencils, because writing is outlawed in the future. You don't need a big chunk about the legality of pencils.  It can be interspersed throughout the scene, a scene which is moving forward. When I'm editing someone else's stuff, the most dominant problem that contributes to pacing that is too slow is too many scenes where technically nothing is happening. 

Problem: Too many examples of the same thing. Say you have one card where Becky's terrible husband does something terrible, and she forgives him.  Then you have another.  And another.  We get it.  If you did it right, we got it the first time.  The best example I can think of this is when I tried to read Les Miserables.  There's a scene (it might even be multiple chapters) about a a bishop (Monseigneur Bienvenu, if I remember correctly) doing something really kind.  Then another scene about him doing something kind.  Then a third.  Point being, that this is the religious man who does something incredibly kind for Jean Val Jean in a moment when he could have punished him.

Solution: I would argue that you could jump straight to the scene where Bienvenu does the thing relevant to the plot--helping Val Jean--because otherwise a scene where he is just helping some random person serves only to characterize him, and not to move the story forward.  (Les Mis is a great story.  It is nine million pages and ain't nobody got time for that.  My favorite musical though.). If there is one scene of Becky's husband abusing her and her staying with him, and then another scene where that happens, there needs to be something substantially different and/ or meaningful about that second scene in order to justify its existence. The second instance could be combined with some other plot point. You might think "piling more on will make this more intense." It doesn't--people want to move forward, not down. (NB: Be aware that if cyclical behavior is part of your plot (a woman who keeps going back to her abusive husband) the plot will feel meandering unless you are able to somehow instill a sense of forward inertia.)

ProblemToo much physical space has been spent on the page for the amount of things occurring. You know when a bad Saturday Night Life sketch overstays its welcome? Don't do that. (Go back and watch Key and Peele instead: these guys get right what SNL still can't. Not only do the sketches end at a reasonable amount of time, but they often end on a weird, out-there funny hook rather than a slow descent towards "Okay, I'm going to run to the bathroom while this winds down..") 

You write dialogue that goes on and on.  Cut out the sentences that don't actually move the conversation forward.  Cut out the stuff that repeats.  For the love of god, cut the "As you know Bob" speeches. Unless you are really, really good at dialogue, use it sparingly and efficiently. 

A relatively small plot point is dragged out.  This is kind of hard to tell on your own, in part, because it is related to the pace of things that come before this.  If you're entire book is written at a fast clip, like an airplane thriller, and then you get to a part where someone gets in her car and takes a phone call AND THIS TAKES FOUR PAGES people are going to pull their hair out.  You need to keep reasonably true to the rules of pace that you have set elsewhere in the book.  If it's a small plot point, it doesn't need tons of space.  And the fact that it doesn't take much space doesn't mean it isn't important.  I would rather have one tiny chocolate truffle packed with flavor than a large cake with that same amount of chocolate in it.  If you have trouble telling how long a scene should be, figure out some sort of score: a combination of how important a scene is (1-10) and how complicated it is (1-10).  The higher the number, the more space it gets.  Every line is real estate, and real estate is precious. 

A scene is physically or logistically complicated.  This is hard.  Really hard.  Because you don't want to be so scant as to be confusing, nor do you want a blow by blow of every little thing.  I think this happens most when writing action scenes.  Action scenes are hard to write without being confusing.  People either say too much (way too much detail, like four paragraphs describing in detail how someone falls to the ground) or not enough (reader gets confused and doesn't know where things are physically or what has happened in the literal sense).  Think about size.  If you're writing the major bout between Rocky and Apollo Creed, which the entire movie has been building to, you can do the blow-by-blow.  If you are, however, writing about an entire battle with thousands of people, you can't really do blow-by-blow.  If you've read the original Lord of the Rings books, there's tons of battle scenes with lines like "Aragorn slew an orc."  For a scene that has a lot of action, but is supposed to be suspenseful. I'm deeply flattered that several people told me I write action sequences well. If I had to guess, this is how I would say I do it: 1. You increasingly build the tension as you get close to the big action scene, which then justifies the amount of space it takes up. But the pace must be at a fast clip. 2. Literally nothing can be confusing. No ambiguous language. Read the text for unintended double entendre. Pronouns and you're not sure who they refer to. Passive voice. 3. View the scene in your head as if you were watching a movie. Then write what you would want the reader to see from the camera's perspective. "Cinematic" writing works really well because we've all grown up watching TV and movies. I like to think of actions scenes from the perspective of a director: what do I have to show so that this makes sense to the viewer? Related to this... 

what about pacing that is "too fast"?

Problem: Reader is confused or feels cheated. I think the former happens with action scenes when it isn't clear what has happened. The latter is when the reader feels emotionally cheated--this is often because of a mismatch between set-up and pay-off. If you've spent an hour of movie time hyping up the fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed, and the fight is Apollo punching Rocky twice before Rocky falls unconscious, people are going to be annoyed. This lack of pay-off might be the point in some particular cases, but this would still violate expectations. Sometimes this is done well in meta-fiction. An excellent example of this is in the movie remake of 21 Jumpstreet. The two cops have several instances of small collisions (a car hitting another car) where they then cringe, waiting for the huge explosion that would normally occur in a movie even though it likely wouldn't have in real life. They comment on how weird this is. Later on, something does inappropriately and unexpectedly explode, and it's really funny. But more commonly, this is something unintentional, where the writer wanted the reader to feel the pay-off, but the pay-off wasn't full enough. A good example of this is Helen Simonson's The Summer Before the War. She spends the entire novel building the potential of this couple, you're really rooting for them, and you are just waiting for that moment for them to finally declare their love/ be together. . . but it just sort of happens. Like, "oh, we're together now." Especially in context with some other things that happen at the end of that novel, you needed a big emotional pay-off in their finally getting together. This is also the perennial problem of the "will they won't they" romance. If they get together it often isn't satisfying for some reason--the reason for this is the amount of tension put into the equivocating far outweighs the emotional pay-off of them actually being together. (I actually don't think there's a solution to the "will they won't they" problem-- I think people like seeing the perpetual tension.)

Is writing the best form of therapy?


Imagine a guy gets into a horrible car accident and breaks a leg and some ribs and had blood coming out of his face. People see the accident and watch him drag himself home. No one calls 911. No one tries to help him or even attempts to assess if something is wrong. They just assume he is okay and that he can splint his own leg, cure his own punctured internal organs, and wipe the blood off his face without wondering what’s causing the bleeding or if he's even capable of doing any of these things. Obviously this is stupid, and in this situation we would call 911 and be morally outraged by a bystander who refuses to call 911 because they think this guy should fix his own broken organs and body parts. For some reason a broken leg is seen as “injury that should be attended to by a professional” but mental health issues are not. Not only do many people believe that mental health isn't a part of physical health that needs to be attended to in the same manner but also that professionals need not be involved. Maybe this has something to do with how many shootings we have in this country? (One large mass shooting at the time I’m writing this, sadly more will have happened by the time I post this).

I have a rotator cuff injury. At no point in time has anyone ever snorted at me and said “why don’t you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps?” It doesn’t matter if the problem is genetic (I can rotate my arms further than most people) or created by something I did (I lift weights a few times a week.) here’s a problem- it hurts and it won’t stop hurting and I need to see a professional. 
I think writing can be very therapeutic but it should never take the place of seeing an actual professional (as in "I'm going to journal out all my feelings and figure this shit out on my own.") I don’t know why people snort at the idea of a therapist. Look at the statistics about mental health and come talk to me. US soldiers are more likely to die of suicide than they are to die in combat. At least once a year a young man walks into a crowded area and commits a mass killing. People unable to cope with something turn to substance abuse or self destructive behavior or to abusing others. 

For some reason, psychologist and therapists are viewed with more derision than are MDs. Because “anyone can just listen to someone talk.” 1) "Listening to you talk" isn't what therapists do, 2) seriously, no one listens to you fucking talk anyway, so what are you complaining about? No, really, being serious. Many people literally do not have someone who will listen to them. Or there are people who ostensibly listen, but really, we know they are not: the are judging, screaming at us, using the information against us, etc. So yes, you do need someone to listen in the particular way a professional would, but that isn't all they do. (If what you think they do is so simple, please apply to a MSW, PsyD, or Clinical PhD program, get in, succeed in it, do your internship, then come talk to me about how simple it is.) 

But I went to a therapist once and they sucked! Therefore therapists don't work! Why would you think therapists would be any different from medical doctors, handymen, or chefs? Some are going to work for you, and some aren't. One does not represent all. In the case of therapists, the type of chemistry you have with that practitioner is a lot more important than for say, a dentist. You need someone you can trust. You need someone who is capable of seeing what you're going through, and calling you on your shit. You need an outside perspective, because sometimes you can't even see the hole you are digging for yourself, and sometimes some part of you is really, really committed to digging that hole as deep as possible. 

Where does writing fit in? Journaling, or writing through your feelings, or whatever, is fine, but will never take the place of seeking professional help if you really need it. Writing can be a tool you use, but much like I can't write away my rotator cuff injury, you can't write away your depression. 

Where writing can be really useful is if you're someone who has a hard time articulating their feelings. Things can get lost in the chain between heart and words: sometimes people are not even aware that they are feeling something at all. This can happen when someone has emotional numbness. There's something under the numbness, but it hasn't come up to the surface. Or they might be aware that they are feeling something, but not what it is. Some people experience depression by feeling so dejected they cannot leave the house--others who are depressed can still go to work and go about their daily lives, but still also be depressed. One of my anxious friends has described the feeling of anxiety to me as feeling so stressed about social interactions that they are avoidant of them. I sometimes have an adverse reaction to caffeine that makes me extremely anxious but it looks really different: I still go and do whatever it is I have to do but I feel an intense panic, like I might go crazy at any second. Not everyone would think to label that emotion as "anxiety."

Where writing is really useful is when someone doesn't do a lot of emotion regulation, or isn't really self-aware or articulate about their emotions. Not everyone will realize that the bad day of work made them yell at their spouse, but writing it down and looking back at it might help you see the connection. Not everyone will see that a pattern in their behavior is occurring until they see it written down over and over in their own handwriting. Articulating emotions is hard, particularly if you are not articulate in general, or are not in touch with your feelings, or are not a very verbal person at all. It is a skill set, and one that writing may help, particularly if you find it easier to work out exactly what it is you think by writing, as opposed to just talking or thinking to yourself. Writing can help you see patterns and help you work out what you actually think or feel about something, which can be useful for treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a number of practical exercises you can do in written form, like challenging negative cognitions. But if you need treatment, don't diagnose yourself and just assume "if I sit down and think hard enough, I can solve this on my own." 

Advice and Strategies for Submitting Short Stories

This post is specifically about submitting to literary magazines, so some of this would not be applicable for genre markets where things are a little different. 

Know the Markets: This seems obvious but apparently it isn't because I've heard multiple editors say they get submissions they wouldn't even consider (ie, poetry at a journal that doesn't publish poetry, a genre horror story sent to an uber high brow literary magazine.) So assume you're smart enough to not do that. Beyond this, there are different aesthetics to different magazines. You should have a sense of the differences between markets by reading the magazines. You can subscribe, read content online, or just go to the library and page through an issue or two. Some markets take stuff that is experimental, some take stuff that is more pop-culture friendly, some only take work with a specific theme. For example, I have a few stories that are kind of funny. I never see stories like these in what I think of the more old fashioned literary magazines (think university funded, white cover, with a picture of abstract art on the cover.) Some of the more quirky magazines do take stuff like this. I write some stories the straddle the line between literary and sci fi-- just because sci fi is in the equation that doesn't mean they're a good fit for Fantasy & Science Fiction. I think over time I've gotten to high rates of positive rejections because I have a better sense of the market--this way you're not wasting your own time, or the editor's. 

Submit simultaneously (sending the same story to multiple markets at the same time) when you can--don't when you shouldn't: I can only think of a handful of literary markets that don't take SSs--and some of them are very good--but weigh your options. If you're planning on pocketing a few publications while you finish your novel so you can possibly have some pubs when you start querying agents, you might want to avoid those magazines. (if the probability of being rejected is still 95%, there's no point spending extra time just to get rejected). But if you have time, or if there is something specifically desirable about that market, you could wait it out (as I mentioned in a previous post, if you're trying to place a very long story, you have fewer markets, so you might not have the luxury of avoiding no-SS magazines). If you submit to a magazine simultaneously when you're not supposed to and you get caught, you can get blacklisted from that magazine. There's a fair probability that if you did it you wouldn't get caught, but if you did, consider that the literary world is small. I know someone this happened to and they got an irate letter (it might have been a phone call??) from an editor. 

Tier markets: When thinking about what type of story you have, start putting together a tiered list of desired markets. You don't want to submit to Best Market on Earth and Meh Market at the same time and have the latter get back to you first. (Standard practice is to go with whichever market gets back to your first. You can't say "I'm waiting to hear back from Magazine X," -- you're going to come off like someone who doesn't know anything about the business and that editor would hate you.) Don't submit anywhere where you wouldn't, on second thought, want to be published. It's sometimes hard to do the calculus about where the top tier should be. You can submit to places that are extremely prestigious and hard to get into (<1% acceptance rates), but do so only if you think your story is that good, AND with the knowledge that it's going to take time waiting to hear back. In other words, if you're out of your league you may be waiting a really long time to get a rejection from a magazine you had no hope of getting into. Not a big deal if it's a mag that takes two months to get back to you. Definitely a big deal if they take a year (not naming names..;) 

A note about being timid for people who are timid: there are some people who won't submit somewhere because they assume their work isn't good enough. If you have enough feedback to suggest you are a good writer (feedback from people who are not loved ones), don't assume you aren't good enough for a competitive market. Back when I first started submitting in college, this was when all submissions were via snail mail, and if there was a substantial web presence of magazines on the internet, I had no idea of it. I certainly didn't know any other writers. If I had known that it's really desirable and hard to get a piece in Glimmer Train, I would have never submitted there. Glimmer Train was my first acceptance--I had no idea I was even in the ballpark because I only knew the magazine from actually reading it, not hearing anyone talk about it or reading statistics. The stories seemed accessible, there was a train on the cover, and from reading their rather generous "About the authors" section, it was clear they took emerging (read: never published before) authors. So on the one hand you have clueless, terrible writers who think they are amazing, and on the other you have good authors who assume they are bad. You need to have a good sense of what league each of your stories is in. 

How many simultaneous submissions do you send?: My standard was to have one story out at three markets at a time. Then I went to a writing conference where there was a roundtable of editors who said do five to ten markets at a time for a single story. That astounded me. I think ten is excessive because most people don't know enough markets where you would be targeting submissions well and you could be burning potential markets if you have multiple stories out at the same time. (Some markets only want you to submit once a submission period and will notice if you do more.) I settled on five and that seemed to work well from me when I was submitting aggressively. When I got a rejection I would send out to another market so I always had five active submissions per story. Now that I'm less focused on publishing stories, I'm not really doing five at a time, and I'm more patient about waiting for some markets. 

Stagger fast and slow markets: Say you're sending out a story to five markets. I like to have some of these be markets that get back to you more quickly (3 months or under, say) and to mix those in with those that take longer. Sometimes you get feedback (of some sort) from the faster markets that would influence your decision making, and also I like to keep things rolling. This gives you some time to research potential other markets. 

Calibrate based on feedback: If you sent a story to five different markets and got back five form rejections, and no positive rejections, you might want to think about if the story isn't working. (This assumes I'm not talking about five markets that are impossible to get into, in which case rejection isn't a reflection of how good you are.) A positive rejections is anything that says "No thanks on this, but please submit to us again/ we'd like to see more from you/ send to us at any time." Any positive personal note is a positive rejection. I can't tell you how many times I have heard people say "well I didn't think they meant it" while also hearing editors say "YES WE MEANT IT." Assume that a welcome mat is a welcome mat. So anyway, when I'm getting positive rejections, I keep sending to other markets without changing anything about the story. I'm not a big believer in editing something when I don't have a secret gut feeling telling me there's something wrong with it. 

Keep meticulous records: I use Duotrope, which you don't have to, but by itself it isn't enough. I have an Excel file where for each story it will have every market it has been submitted to, when it was sent and when it was rejected, what kind of rejection it was, and the ratio of positive rejections to overall number of submissions. This is helpful for a variety of reasons: it's essentially a ledger of all your relationships with different magazines. Have another tab in the worksheet where you keep a dated list of all magazines who have sent you a positive rejection. These are good markers to hit again, but don't overstay your invitation. Unless you have specifically heard otherwise, I don't think you should submit more than once in the same submission period to the same magazine. An exception would be if the same magazine opens a themed issue or you received particularly encouraging notes from the editor. 

When to nudge: By nudge I mean send a "Hello, it's been several months and you have not responded about my submission." Don't do this unless 1) the magazine says on their website to nudge if you haven't heard in X amount of time or 2) an excessive amount of time has gone by with no response (and maybe you have info that other people have gotten their rejections back). What is excessive? One month of waiting is not, neither is six. If you're on Duotrope you have some sense of what is an abnormal amount of time for that market--it might be the case that your submission was lost, or it might be that you were shortlisted and they just haven't told you. 

Take what editors say at face value: I'm repeating myself, but if they said they'd like to hear from you again, they aren't kidding. They have specific form rejections that say "Thank you for your submission but no" and form or personalized rejections that say "try us again." They mean it. If you meet an editor or someone who works at the magazine who expresses an interest in your work, assume that they are not just being polite. 

Things that should be in your cover letter: I think people stress about this too much. Bare bones is fine. Don't include anything cute but don't leave out stuff relevant to forming an advantage. 

Dear [Editor/s / Editor's name],

I am submitted a short story, "Storyface," (1,200 words) for consideration at Bumbleboo Magazine. [If relevant include any of the following: You welcomed additional submissions from me last year after I reading a different story, "Whatever."  / A previous story of mine, "Whatever" made your shortlist last year / I spoke with you briefly at AWP and you encouraged me to submit. / This story was an honorable mention/finalist in the Some Story Contest in 2017 {obviously this is only the case when you received an honorable mention or finaled, but were not published by the other magazine} it is okay if you have nothing to put as a second sentence in this paragraph-- plenty of stories get picked up from no where]

My fiction has also appeared in Magazine X, Magazine Y, and Magazine Z. (list in order of prestige, not date of publication. listing more than 3 or 4 starts to get weird). My essays/nonfiction have also appeared in Magazine Q. (include relevant publications, leave off academic publications unless the content is related, leave off blog posts unless you run a very popular blog. If you have received honorable mentions or finaled in contests for other stories than the one you're submitting that did not result in publication, mention these. If you have an MFA or have been to a juried workshop, you can mention it, although this is a lot less relevant. If you have no other publications it is fine to have just one paragraph and maybe throw in a line of bio. Don't sweat this--everyone who ever goes on to get published at some point did not have publications). Thank you for your consideration. 


Nothing cute. Nothing about your family or adorable pets. nothing about the themes of your work, a summary of your work, or what you think it is about -- let the thing speak for itself. From reading various blogs it appears that business correspondence often stresses people out particularly if they are detail oriented. It's not a query letter for a novel, it's a business letter-- it's okay to keep it short and simple. 

Submission fees: There are strong feelings about whether or not literary magazines should charge submission fees. (if you're not familiar with the debate, this and this show the general debate). There are markets that charge them and markets that don't, so if you really don't want to pay them, you don't have to. Some people think the fees are outrageous because writers often don't have much money, and if you send a story 5 places, that could be $15. Say you have seven stories-- that can add up. The part where I agree with magazines that charge fees: 1) it is about the same amount as postage used to be back in snail mail days 2) most of these magazines have people who either work for free or very little 3) there are way more writers that want to get published than there are writers who want to get published who support other writers by purchasing magazine subscriptions. With some exceptions, literary magazines are not money-making schemes. They are a niche market with not enough people support that market. Although it is interesting: consider a comparison to some of the top sci fi magazines: no submission fees, they pay professional rates, and turnaround time for submissions is ridiculously fast (at Clarksworld, something like 0 to 7 days). At that particular magazine, the readers are remote volunteers who pass good stuff up to senior editors who give a second pass. How is that so normal for scifi, but so uncommon for literary fiction? I don't know the whole story (and I'm super curious), but I think a main reason is that sci fi (and other genres like romance) have really really, strong, loyal fanbases. I think your average romance fan buys, consumes, and supports romance writing far more than a specific subset of literary writers who are more or less only interested in their own writing.

One thing about fees: a submission fee of more than 4 dollars is unusual and should be avoided. Contest fees make sense to be higher, but submission fees themselves don't need to be that high. 

Contests: Three things about contests: assume you are not going to win them, the entry fee should make sense, and time when you enter them intelligently. Maybe I'm wrong, but I treat contest submissions as slightly less viable than regular submissions. (You're also a lot less likely to get personalized notes for contest submissions). So don't spend a lot of time waiting to hear back from a contest--submit to multiple magazines and assume that you won't win, unless there is some extenuating circumstance. A decade ago, entry fees used to be 10 dollars, maybe 15, but they really have been creeping up lately. I almost never see 10 dollar ones, and rarely 15. 20 is pretty standard, but do the math: if they are charging 20 per entry, but only offer a 200 dollar prize, something is fishy. A 30 dollar submission fee for a short story or series of poems seems excessive (unless the prize is enormous and maybe they offer 1st through 3rd place prizes)-- however, that number is pretty normal for a contest submission of a novel, short story collection, or full-sized poetry chapbook. Don't enter a story that's been rejected by that same magazine already (even if it's been revised). Lastly, if you enter a contest with an entry fee, do so the last week before the deadline. If you've been sending that story to multiple markets, there's a chance you might get an acceptance from another magazine after paying the entry fee to the contest market, so basically you just wasted your money (because you will have to withdraw from the contest with no refund). And given how long the time lag is between when contests open and when they close for submissions, there's some chance you might want to change something in your work during that period of time. There's no benefit to submitting early (or at least one I can see). 

How long does a "try us again" invitation last? I include this because I found out that I'm not the only person that anxiously worries about this: Say you get a positive rejection from Market A. You submit to them again the following submission period (say 6 months or a year later) and you get a form rejection that doesn't specifically ask you to submit again. Does this mean you've been uninvited from being invited to submit again? I think it's okay to use the positive rejection a couple more times, but if you keep getting several consecutive form rejections in a row, you might want to rethink of the market's even a good match for you. (Also there are enough markets out there that you don't need to hit the same market over and over.) Editors do remember people in both positive and negative ways. I don't think it would be strange for you to submit to the same market once a year if you aren't get straight form rejections over and over--that said, there's enough markets out there that you should be able to cast a broader net. 

If you get an acceptance: First re-confirm that the market is definitely taking the piece. Sometimes the editor will ask "is this story still available?" or say something like "We love Story X and would like to put it in Issue 47" in their first email to you. I don't consider it formally spoken for until I've emailed them back and they've confirmed with me. (It's never been an issue, but just in case the editor flakes out). Once you've confirmed, either use Submittable or email to contact the other editors to withdraw from the other markets the story is also at. Just say that you're withdrawing because it has been accepted elsewhere, be polite, and that's it. You're a dick if you forget to do this. If there's a contract to sign, (often there isn't if payment isn't involved), make sure you read it. There are several decent places that describe the typical rights discussed

Factor the Summer in: This only matters if you are concerned about getting publications quicker, but realize that a lot of magazines are university-affiliated and shut down over the summer. There are markets that are open during the summer, but there are definitely fewer. Make sure to submit handsomely in the spring because if you keep putting it off and then all the sudden it's June, you may have limited options for several months. 

Don't edit while submitting: Submittable now lets you do this, but you shouldn't. I have used Submittable both as a writer and an editor--you can't always tell when editors are actually looking at your piece (sometimes it doesn't say "In Progress" when it actually is). You should be sure it's done before sending it out. 

Don't respond to rejections: Not politely or rudely. You get nothing from either (well, you get a reputation for the latter). Editors are not running an advice service--they don't owe you feedback. 

Throwing in the towel: When should you give up on a story that you keep sending out but no one is taking? If you keep getting positive rejections, I would keep sending it out. If you are tired of the rejections, put the story away for a while and then read it with fresh eyes. If you still believe in it, keep sending it out. Publishing is really subjective--getting a rejection doesn't mean it's a bad story. 

Happy submitting!

Review of A Quiet Place


This was a solid horror movie, very much not about the thing at the center of it--whatever beasts they may be--but much more about how humans would attempt to survive such a thing. It isn't a It Comes At Night sort of movie (literary horror movie where nothing much happens) but there is more heart to it than a standard horror movie where the characters are more or less cannon fodder for whatever hunts them. It's both well-filmed and acted. This was like the movie Signs was trying to be with some of the better elements of Don't Breathe (except without that extremely fucked up turkey baster part). 

The background isn't so much important: creatures have arrived that are blind but apparently very good at hearing. You make a sound and that is enough to bring them (quickly) to hunt you--and there's no fighting them. One of the most interesting parts of this movie is the inclusion of a deaf character--the daughter. I'm very curious to hear what deaf people think of this movie. The family already knows how to sign because of her and there are some interesting shots that contrast how the other characters perceive the world vs her. (In some ways, she has an advantage: if she can't see it, it doesn't frighten her into making sounds, so she's safe as long as she's quiet.) One of the horror tropes I love is the "hiding from the beastie but you're terrified and have to keep from breathing too loud or screaming." There's a lot of that here, obviously. 

While this is a great movie to see in a theater, it is NOT a great movie to see in a theater if people are talking, whispering, or crinkling wrappers. Like at all. It is largely a quiet movie--there's very little dialogue and long stretches without any loud sounds. (But when there are loud sounds, they are definitely loud.) I actually wish I could have seen this in a theater but with noise-cancelling headphones. (On the one hand, I don't want to be That Guy who shhhhs people, but on the other hand, STFU.) 

Sidenote, whenever I watch something dystopian I can't help "but couldn't they have...?" In this case, placed a speaker in a quarry or large hole, surround it with explosives, turn the music on remotely, press play. Beasties run there, then get killed. Explosion sound draws other beasties who are killed by the secondary ring of explosives. 

Anyhow, I definitely would recommend this movie--I'm frequently disappointed in horror movies because they're the same dumb thing over and over (Insidious, any knockoffs of Japanese horror movies--although I will say I have a soft spot for Paranormal Activity, even though it isn't actually good). I do think something new was brought to the table. 

Recommended watching: 

Don't Breathe