Posted tagged ‘Bartleby Snopes’

Friday Feature ~ “Velvet Elvis”

July 2, 2021

“Velvet Elvis” was a watershed story for me. In some ways I feel like this was the story that signaled I had finally become a writer. This must be so because I’ve written posts about this particular story four times on this humble blog. This one gives the genesis story, and it was fun for me to go back to read how it had evolved in my head. Here is where I announce its original acceptance; I had forgotten that the acceptance email had been shunted to my spam bucket. (It still amazes me that I read some writing advice once that said you should never use a semicolon!) This post is a brief announcement that the story won an award. And this post was a self-congratulatory one, which just shows you how happy this story made me at the time. (Since self doubt seems to be written into every writer’s resume, I think I’m entitled to this little bit of satisfaction.)

I think what was most important for me with this story was that I had discovered my preferred writing style. It’s something that first appeared in “Moron Saturday” and continues to this day in Obelus and Latest Big Project. What I had achieved, and sustained, was a snarky, comic voice in the narrator. It is playful and fun. It feels engaging and congenial, yet it allows me to hide some commentary and judgment within it. It also feels the most natural to me when I sit down to write. It’s easy for me to call up and put to work. (I don’t know why I try to write any other way.)

If you go to those links about the other posts, you’ll see that this story had a busy life. I’m glad it’s still online, though the editor told me it will eventually drop off since the journal is no longer being published.

A completely unexpected outcome of this story was that I made two new writing friends because of it. The editor, Nathaniel Tower, was very forthcoming and supportive in his comments about the story, and I’ve maintained an email correspondence with him to this day. And out of the blue, one of the other writers published in that edition, Wesley Scott McMasters, friended me on Facebook, perhaps because he liked my story, and we now have a postcard correspondence going. The postcards are supposed to be of museums we visit, but the pandemic quashed that a bit. I’m hoping we can revive it, though I’m still a little hesitant about getting out in public.

So I like revisiting this story. It re-energizes me when the unavoidable frustrations of trying to be a creative person in a crass world come. Plus I think it’s a pretty good tale worth telling.

writing tips blog

March 24, 2014

I was tempted to title this post the BS Writing Tips Blog, but I refrained. (Though can I say I truly refrained if I said it in the body of the post? I’m so conflicted.)

Anyway, Bartleby Snopes, which was kind enuf to publish one of my stories, now has a writing tips blog, and the inaugural entry is up, here. This first entry seems a little obvious, especially to an iconoclast like me, but they welcome input in the form of comments, so perhaps a writerly dialogue will enhance their effort even more.

So surf on over there if you have a mind and see what you think.

“Velvet Elvis” info you can ignore

January 4, 2012

This is a self-serving post that you can ignore if you want.

You may recall that my story “Velvet Elvis” appeared at Bartleby Snopes in December. The magazine runs a vote for readers to select the best story of the eight they host each month. The winner of the vote is then given a spot in the publication’s semi-annual print edition. (Call me old fashioned, but I still like to see my stories on paper.)

Because my story had been selected an Editor’s Choice, it made the cut and will appear in the print edition, regardless of its outcome in the voting. When the voting opened, my story raced into the lead, which was gratifying but unnecessary since I didn’t need to win. Soon after that, though, another story, “My Father and Jackson Pollock” by Wesley McMasters surged past and remained well ahead for the duration of the voting. That’s fine with me. I was disappointed, though, that my choice hadn’t done better in the voting. I had voted for “Reynaldo’s Solutions” by Shaun Hayes, which I thought was fun and well done. In the end, this story came in third (after mine in second and McMasters’ in first).

Recently the editor sent me the proof of the print edition. The entire print edition. The entire eight megabyte print edition. I read through my story to find any errors (none), and I flitted through other parts looking for any errors I could find (a few). But I was happy to see that “Reynaldo’s Solution” has also made the cut. It will appear in the print edition. I don’t know how the editors make their choices in cases like this, but I don’t care. I’m pleased that Mr. Hayes will see his worthy story in print (on paper).

Further rumination:

What if my story hadn’t been selected as an Editor’s Choice? Would I have organized a get-out-the-vote campaign? Would I have wrung my hands as I watched the votes come in for the various stories? Would I have been truly sad when I didn’t win the popular vote? The better part of me says that the story exists on its own and doesn’t need validation from anyone. The other part of me, I suspect, would have other things to say.

it’s your right and your obligation!

December 26, 2011

To vote, that is.

And the polling has now opened over at Bartleby Snopes for the December Story of the Month. I’ve made my choice and cast my vote (and, no, it wasn’t for my story). If you’ve read the December stories there, then perhaps you’ll consider voting for your favorite as well.

I noted last week that my story has already been selected as an Editor’s Choice, so it will appear in the next collection, which is the point of the voting. So let your good taste be your guide.

“Velvet Elvis” is an Editor’s Choice

December 21, 2011

I learned yesterday evening that my story “Velvet Elvis” has been selected as an Editor’s Choice at Bartleby Snopes. This means it will appear in their seventh semi-annual collection of favorites. That should be available in January as a downloadable file but also in a print edition.

This helps to make the season bright!

anatomy of a story ~ “Velvet Elvis”

December 12, 2011

Consider this a companion post to the one I did last week about my story “The Respite Room.” In that post I dared to venture into the dark, cobwebby labyrinth of my creative process to attempt to understand how that story evolved. I’m trying to do that same with this post, dealing with the bits and pieces of my memory of writing “Velvet Elvis,” which is now up at Bartleby Snopes.

I had the kernel of “Velvet Elvis” around for a long time. At least a decade. Somewhere in the 20+ paper journals I’ve kept over the years I have a few entries exploring the original idea. I have thought about going back to find those entries, but it would be a gargantuan search with little to no payoff. The story is what it has become; it is not what it might have originally been. Still, should I ever be randomly flipping through the pages of one of those journals and happen upon the notes I made for the story then, I will be interested to see what I was thinking in those days.

In “Velvet Elvis” I have an artist who infuses her paints with scented oils. Thus her rose paintings smell like roses. Her pine forest paintings smell like pine forests. And so on. Her innovation is popular at the art fairs where she exhibits and she’s the de facto queen among the other exhibitors, and she is my antagonist. In the story I try to portray this innovation as no more than a gimmick, one that will lose its lustre quickly, though she doesn’t realize this. However, in my original conception of the story, this was the innovation of my protagonist. I had thought that my protagonist (a woman originally) was struggling, weary of the drudge of constantly exhibiting and looking for a way out, only to come up with the scented paintings innovation and become the queen. (That story would have been told by her nephew — for some reason that I don’t recall.) The innovation was to be so spectacular that other painters were trying to learn her secret, even attempting to bribe the nephew so that he would chip some paint from one of her works so it could be “analyzed” and have its secrets revealed.

I think that’s where the story idea began to falter for me all those years ago. The process of “analyzing” paint chips it far too technical for my skill (or my will to research), and I began to think that such an “innovation” was probably not even all that innovative in that group. If one painter could figure out how to do it, other painters of equal technical skill could likely do the same. They wouldn’t need to steal the secret; they could figure it out on their own. For all I know, artists are doing this very thing now.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the kind of art fair I depict in my story. I’m not talking about the “starving artist” exhibits that pop up at hotels and convention centers, selling mass produced, “one-of-a-kind” paintings made in China. Rather, I’m talking about street fairs where there is an eclectic collection of artists working in all kinds of media. There is a festival feel to these things, with live music and food tents and throngs of people and a subculture all its own. We have a number of these in Kansas City throughout the year. My story is set in the lower tier of these kinds of festivals. My characters are struggling, attempting to become worthy of getting exhibited in the major fairs. (The “best” art fair we have in Kansas City supposedly has an 11-year waiting list for a booth.) What I’ve noticed at these fairs is that, at least in some cases, when one artist comes out with some innovation, some fresh idea that gets a lot of attention, that same idea begins to appear among other artists’ works at subsequent fairs. The idea gets copied and milked for as long as it can.

But the story was still stuck because I didn’t really have a problem for a sympathetic character to overcome. I’ve said several times in this humble blog that the art gene that makes occasional appearances in my family skipped me. I cannot make physical art. I cannot carve. I cannot sculpt. I cannot draw or paint. Late in his life, my father took up painting and drawing and found he had a real talent for it. Mostly he painted copies of other works or photos, but I have several of his pieces. (Skip a generation and stop at my daughter. She also has the painting and design talent. I have several of her works as well.) My father painted little that could be called original, which is fine. He didn’t exhibit or sell his work; he painted for his own enjoyment. But I sometimes wondered if he ever tired of just copying and felt frustrated that he couldn’t create something out of whole cloth. And that gave me the idea for a new protagonist in my story, a man this time, but a man who had run out of ideas and was just hanging on, trying to make the rent with his work at these fairs but seeing the end coming.

I imagined myself having a conversation with this man, listening to his laments about being left behind, about being creatively bankrupt. And that mysterious creative part of me supplied my fictional painter with a solution to his problem. I actually saw myself telling my fictional painter how he could reignite his work. This is not how the problem is resolved in my story, not in process but it is in outcome. (Read the story and you’ll understand what I’m babbling about here.)

Once I had the bit of plot worked out, the story wrote itself. I don’t think I even went though very many drafts. Actions and reactions just blossomed in my head. The foreshadowing I needed became apparent to me, the parallel structures suggested themselves readily. The bit I relate in the story about a painting being stolen was actually told to me by a painter many years ago; the memory of it popped into my head when I needed it. I did do a bit of research to give the story some substance: I visited every local art fair I could and even found a discussion forum online for this subculture that helped me understand how things there work. And I sent the “final” draft of the story to my daughter for her technical input, specifically about making scented paint. The stars aligned for me with this story and I had a working plot and development.

Then came the hard part: finding a home for it. I began submitting it a year ago. I sent it to five different magazines before it was accepted by Bartleby Snopes this last September. My first rejection came from Johnny America, but it was a personal rejection with positive things to say about the piece. The second was from Rose and Thorn Journal and it was a form rejection. (In retrospect, I’m not sure I made a very good effort at matching the story to the magazine’s interests.) I submitted it to The Foghorn, and when I didn’t hear from them long after their average response time, I withdrew the submission and got it into circulation again. My next rejection came from Jersey Devil Press, but it, too, came with encouraging words. I was certain I had a good story that just needed to find the right editor. And then I submitted it to Bartleby Snopes where it got a welcome acceptance. (This submission also seemed like a miss-fit. My story is longer than the usual things I’ve seen published there.)

Some random points:

I use the word “fistfuls” in the story. I think some purist would assert that the correct plural of that word is “fistsful” but that sounds dreadful; I would refuse to use it. If I’ve just coined a new word, the world is welcome to use it.

I still employ my grammar violation of choice: sentence fragments. I don’t use as many as in “The Respite Room,” but there are enough. And, by golly, not a single editor pointed them out as a problem.

That very last sentence of the story is one suggested by the editor. It certainly delivers the payoff, and I’m glad he requested I use it.

Brian Keaney pointed out in the comments to my last post that the developments in my art fair story could easily apply to the publishing world. This was intentional on my part. (Really, it was!) If one were to read my art gimmick story and see parallels with the (fading) trend of vampire stories, say, I think that would be a valid reading. There are just as many gimmicks and trends in our business as in others.

Elvis has entered the building

December 11, 2011

My short story “Velvet Elvis” is now up at Bartleby Snopes. Click on this link if you care to read it. (I’ve also updated my links page.) At the end of the month, the magazine will open a vote for the best story of the month. (They release two new stories each week.) The story of the month gets a special page at the site and is guaranteed a spot in the print version of the magazine. So when the voting feature comes up, I will note it here and shamelessly beseech you to vote for my story.

Every time I read it, I enjoy the memory of writing it. If a short story can ever be said to have “written itself” this is the one. I felt as though I should step out of the way and just let my fleet fingers fly across the keyboard. Should I find the gumption, I’ll try to do a post about the genesis and development of this story as I did for “The Respite Room.”

Also, I have a recurring motif that I try to use in most of my stories. It appears in this one. Any ideas what it is?

In search of an ending

November 29, 2011

I’ve been fortunate (I guess it’s fortunate) in that nearly all of my stories that have been published have not been altered by the editors who accepted them. Of my thirteen accepted and/or published pieces, only two have been revised (and those were merely suggestions for revision, which I accepted).

The first was my story “Race to the summit,” which you can read here. The editor wanted some of the story order rearranged, and some of my original description in the story he found comical (which it wasn’t supposed to be). So I made those changes, he published the story, and the rest is history. (Or fantasy in this case.)

The second is a recent acceptance, “Velvet Elvis,” which will be coming out in Bartleby Snopes sometime next month. In that case, the editor wanted to change only the last sentence; in fact, it was only the last word of the last sentence that he wanted changed. I made that change willingly. You’ll have to judge whether it works or not when you read it.

Today, I received the third editorial change request of my humble career. My latest acceptance, “Respite Room,” which will come out in Little Patuxent Review in January (print only), needs its ending fixed too. In fact, once again, it’s the last sentence that the editor wants strengthened/clarified. So I’m working on some ideas, and I’m open to suggestions from the editor. I agree that it will likely improve the impact of the story.

But am I starting to see a trend in my story-telling skills? Can I not always write a good ending?

“Velvet Elvis”

September 18, 2011

Last week was a tough one for me. In the lumbering course of seven days I had two story submissions rejected and one agent who had asked for a partial of my novel decide to decline it. But the weekend came, and with it came my far-flung son and daughter-in-law (they’re both doctors, don’t you know). So I took comfort in their company and opened my laptop in the small hours of Saturday morning to begin again my usual struggle with words.

And then I happened to check the spam bucket of my email.

My short story, “Velvet Elvis,” which I had written about just last week in this post, has been accepted for the December issue of Bartleby Snopes. In that earlier post I note that the story that had been rejected was already back in Submishmash for consideration; Bartleby Snopes was the targeted market.

The response came in only three days. I realize that magazine prides itself on its quick turnaround time, but I’m going to take the warm fuzzies of a swift acceptance anyway.

“Velvet Elvis” is one of my humorous stories. I think it is well crafted, coherent in its universe, and satisfying in its outcome. I set it in the world of the weekend art fairs — in one of the low-end weekend art fairs. It’s snarky, but its fun and not mean spirited (not much, anyway). I’m eager for you to read it.

So watch for news here when my story is published. I’ll make the usual hue and cry and put a link for it over in the sidebar.

And, of course, let me recommend Duotrope’s Digest to you if you’re not already familiar with it. I found the link for Bartleby Snopes and read some background about the publication there. It truly is a wonderful resource for writers. Throw some money their way.