Dancers – my new short story - has had a long 12 month journey from initial idea to shareable first draft. It all started back in 2013 when a scene kept on popping into my head. The scene was a couple dancing through the streets of Paris. That’s generally how my stories start with an image or a scene. I start by writing that scene. Sometimes all I’m doing is writing notes as opposed to prose. That’s how I started with Dancers by scribbling down notes.
So at this stage I had some rough notes and the inkling of an ending, but little else. Next I had to think about characters. I don’t define my characters before I drop them into a story. I literally drop ‘shadows’ into stories and then the characters start to define themselves. The conversations that occur are those of the characters not mine. I have no idea what they’re going to say. In respect of Dancers I knew where the characters and the story had to go, but I had no idea how my characters were going to get to the end point.
A strange thing happened with Dancers. The characters that started to appear on the page were completely wrong for the story I was trying to write. That’s never happened to me before. Initially, I thought that maybe the scenes were wrong so I kept dropping the characters in different locations, a hotel room, a restaurant, and numerous other locales and venues to see what difference it made. Changing the setting / situation didn’t work, but the characters that were evolving on the page were real living breathing people.
The solution was to break one of the cardinal rules of writing (if such a thing exists): Finish what you start.
I left Dancers well alone and dropped the two characters into a London mews house and just started writing. By removing them completely and giving them their own world to inhabit a second story Acid House sprang into life which will be published late 2014 / early 2015. I can’t be specific because I’m waiting on an update from the publishing editors.
Once Acid House was wrapped I went back to Dancers . The first time that story went wrong I had two characters coming out of a Paris restaurant. I went back to the original scene and this time the story wrote itself. The new characters inhabiting Dancers are fitting for the story at hand, and are complete opposites of the Acid House characters.
The point of this blog? Listen to your muse. Had I ‘forced’ these particular characters into Dancers then the story would have been a mess. More importantly the original two characters were obviously desperate to get out into the big literary world. They wanted to tell their own story, and not the story I had planned for them. In those circumstances my advice would be to always follow your characters. Characters will quite often define stories. Trust them. They’re the lifeblood of any story.
I’ve added Dancers to the ‘My Stories’ section of the site. I’ve broken that page down into published works and works looking for a home. Dancers at the moment will go into a drawer. In a couple of months I’ll dust it off and do a final re-write before sending it out to publishers. Feedback from my inner circle is very promising.
The Flash Fiction challenges in Issue 1 & 2 of Firewords Quarterly were a great success. Issue 1 saw us publish four challenge winners. The quality of the submissions for issue 2 took us completely by surprise and we ended up publishing six winning entries. In no particular order the winning entries were:
The Fall by J. T. Harrell
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Richard B. Knight
The Right Words by Vicky Walker
Lost in a Familiar Place by David Wiley
The Rink by Andrew Patch
My Evil Twin by Alison Wassell
Submissions are open for Issue 3 along with a new flash fiction challenge. If anyone is interested here's the prompt:
"She regretted it instantly, but it was too late."
The rules are simple. 400 words max. The story must contain, or be inspired by the above prompt. The all important deadline is Friday 3rd October. What do you win? Publication and a complimentary print copy of the magazine. What have you got to lose? At the very least you'll get feedback on your entry.
Don't forget that we're also on the lookout for quality poetry and fiction. Full details can be found here: http://www.firewords.co.uk/submit/
Get submitting & Good Luck.
Those of you that like to read flash fiction might like to know that you can read my first piece of published flash fiction. It’s called Monsters and it started life as a challenge pointed out to me by my South Korean writing buddy J T Harrell. The original challenge was to write a 13 word story, which both of us managed to do but neither of us managed to get our efforts published by the magazine running the challenge. That was back in 2013.
I always liked my effort so every now and then I went back to it making revisions here and there, and expanding it beyond the 13 word limit. A couple of months ago I stumbled across Hellnotes.com and if you’re a horror fan I suggest you check them out.
One aspect of Hellnotes is Horror In A Hundred. All you have to do is write a 100 word maximum flash fiction story, send it to them, and if they like it they’ll publish it.
Without further ado here’s the link: http://hellnotes.com/horror-in-a-hundred-monsters-by-m-j-wolfson
If you check out Issue 3 of the Holdfast E-zine you’ll be able to read Night Owls. Night Owls is set in a broken world of endless night. Against this backdrop two men meet on a narrow trail. Neither can continue their journey without trusting the other to let them safely pass, but can they trust one another?
If you want to find out what happens you’ll have to head over to the Holdfast website where the story can be read for free. The link is at the end of this article.
All acceptances are greatly appreciated by any writer. This one is important to me as I’m a fan of Holdfast, and I’ve been tracking them since their first issue.
Holdfast deals with speculative fiction and each issue is themed. The theme for the Night Owls issue was Objects, Artefacts, & Talismans. The themes make the issues interesting, and ensure a varied range of stories across each issue.
As well as fiction you’ll find author interviews. These have so far included Margaret Atwood, Sarah Pinborough, and Frances Hardinge.
Then there’s the Bookshelf, a selection of recommended reading, which is updated each issue to tie in with the theme that I mentioned earlier.
Holdfast is just a great site so even if Night Owls doesn’t appeal to you, then please, check them out anyway. You’ll find work by other talented writers all accompanied by bespoke artwork specially commissioned for each story. My thanks goes out to the talented Mat Andrew for his Night Owls illustration, and to the Holdfast editors Laurel Sills & Lucy Smee.
Here’s the link: http://www.holdfastmagazine.com/fiction-issue3/4585059973
Writers are you up for a challenge? Submissions for Firewords Quarterly Issue 2 are now open. As usual we’re looking for great fiction & poetry from new and established writers. In addition we’re holding a flash fiction challenge
We had some great responses to our last challenge but let’s see if we can raise the bar even further. If we like your efforts your story gets printed and you receive a complimentary copy of the magazine. It doesn’t matter where you’re based we ship globally. We genuinely welcome new writers and if we do decline your submission you will get feedback. So you really have nothing to lose. At the very least you will get concise independent feedback on your work.
Here’s our submissions link: http://www.firewords.co.uk/submit/
Good luck & happy submitting - Mike
Firewords Issue 1 is now available for purchase. 32 pages of entertaining prose and poetry from fiery new writers. Each story is accompanied in some way by a graphical style tailored to that story which makes Firewords one of a kind. Unique!
Here’s a link to an online article re the promotional Issue Zero which explains how each story was represented artistically / graphically. http://cargocollective.com/danb/Firewords-Quarterly-Issue-Zero
I know I’ve put a lot of work into Firewords, but my efforts pale in comparison to the other two talented members of the team Jennifer Scott (Associate Editor) & Dan Burgess (Chief Editor). These two have put so much time and effort into this, not to mention love and care, that it deserves to be a success.
Magazines like Firewords will only survive if readers support the publication. So please if you fancy a good entertaining read give Firewords a try. Here’s the link to the website where you can order a copy: http://www.firewords.co.uk/shop/
Writers - The above sales pitch applies to you too. Check the magazine out. It will give you a good idea of the material we’re looking for. When you see the artistic slant given to each work I’m positive you will want your work to appear in our hallowed pages. The only way to make that happen is to submit stories / poetry. Here’s the submissions link: http://www.firewords.co.uk/submit/ Yes, submissions are currently closed but we re-open on the 9th June which isn’t very far away.
Just a heads up about a couple of web site changes. I’ve finally got round to changing my banner picture. The old picture was just the stock picture attached to the weebly template I’ve been using. It wasn’t an easy choice. I write everyday drama, sci-fi, comedy, fantasy, literary, experimental, and horror. To be honest it’s easier to say that I’ll write in any genre in any style. Trying to pick a picture that best encapsulates my work was nigh on impossible, but I’ve done my best.
I’ve also added a new page: Selected Markets. This is a very selective list of:
That’s It! The first submission period for the inaugural edition of Firewords Quarterly has closed. It closed a couple of weeks back, but I’ve just caught up reading the last of the submissions assigned to me.
It’s been a complete eye opener being on the other side of the fence. There’s a great sense of responsibility that bears down on you. The responsibility to Firewords Quarterly in only accepting stories that genuinely warranted publication. There’s the responsibility to the submitting writers. Reading all work in an open and honest manner, and giving honest feedback.
Rejections are inevitable. The majority of submissions will end up being rejected at any publication. The reasons for rejections? Well, I can’t list them all, but in this post I’m going to talk about the Stock Concept. But one important point of note before we begin, and it’s vitally important. Any comments I make regarding my experiences with Firewords are my own personal opinions. They in no way reflect the views of the owner, or any other editor. Now we’ve got that sorted let’s talk about…
The Stock Concept
What do I mean by the stock concept? Anything that’s been done countless times before. Here’s a few off the top of my head, and some of which we’ve seen at Firewords:
· The best-man forgetting the wedding rings on the big day
· Characters that don’t know they’re dead until the ‘twist’ at the end of the story
· The ghostly house that seems to have a life of its own
· The killer prostitute – throw in a caring punter and an aggressive pimp too
· The boxer paid to throw the fight
· A young girl nervous and afraid to tell her overly strict parents she’s pregnant
Hopefully, you get the idea. So they should be avoided at all costs right? Well, not exactly. They need to be handled with care. You – as the writer – need something unique. It could be a unique setting, an unusual character, something that gives your ‘stock concept’ story an edge over anything similar.
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is a great example. It’s littered with stock concepts. Vampires have been with us in literature for a long time. King’s vampires obey all the usual rules: sunlight kills them, a stake through the heart kills them, a familiar protects the ‘master’ through the daylight hours, the master vampire sleeps in his coffin, holy water burns the undead, etc, etc. However, King replaced the mystery shrouded gothic castle with the ramshackle house shrouded in urban myth. He put his vampires on your doorstep and he set his story in the present day. The first part of that book sets up character and setting. King does that to put you in the world of the everyday, with characters you know or you can relate to, because they’re the people in your town. King did something different with a stock concept, and he sold a lot of books in the process.
Watch the film 28 Days Later. The film draws a lot from John Wyndham’s The Day of The Triffids. The man eating plants were replaced with zombies, a classic horror monster, but instead of the lurching lumbering zombies of old we were introduced to the fast and agile running zombie. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland did something different with a stock concept, and a film that cost approx. $8M to make raked in almost $85M at the box office.
Probably the best example of recent times has been GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF). There are many stock fantasy elements in this highly entertaining saga: Numerous prophecies, a magic wall to keep the bad guys out, dashing princes and beautiful princesses and the list goes ever on. But Martin took those stock items and literally tore the rule book up. Fantasy before Martin was pretty linear. Good guys were good, and the bad guys were bad. Sure the good guy would have difficulties and adventures aplenty, but they’d pull through in the end. Not in ASOIAF. Good guys – as in main characters – die. The most dashing knight of all is gay. Characters evolve and some that were most definitely ‘bad’ become ‘good’ or at least inhabit some grey middle ground. Martin took a whole genre – that had become very predictable - and he rode rough shod over it and re-invented the genre in the process.
So if you want to tackle stock concepts / themes, or ideas, go right ahead but push the envelope and take some risks. Dream big! Playing safe will likely lead to a rejection slip irrespective of the publication you send the work to.
That’s it for now.
My involvement with Firewords Quarterly began in 2012 when I received an email from Dan Burgess, a student, at Sunderland University. Dan asked me if he could use my short story “Hello!” in a student project. I guess I should have said ‘Yes’ immediately, but I wanted to know more about the project. Exposure is good, but not necessarily all forms of exposure. So I asked a lot of questions about the project:
What publication rights were being requested?
What were the aims of the project?
And several others that I can’t remember now!
Dan impressed me right from the start because he came back to me very quickly, which gave me confidence that the guy had a plan for what he wanted to achieve.
That plan – and I’d be better calling it a vision in Dan’s case – was to launch a fiction mag with a difference. Dan’s pitch was that the majority of literary magazines were visually uninspiring, and were publishing very similar literary material. He wanted Firewords to publish new writers that weren’t afraid to take risks, and he wanted the magazine to be visually inspiring. Therefore every accepted story would be published with either artwork or a visual style that not just complimented the story, but enhanced it.
Dan’s pitch certainly resonated with this writer. I thought he was right. A lot of the small press indie publications are visually uninspiring. There are exceptions, I quite like Neon, but they have a set look, and the artwork / photography doesn’t necessarily match the stories. Dan was also right about reading the same kind of staid literary stories in the usual round of literary publications.
I never knew if Dan could pull it off, but his vision impressed me so I gave permission for “Hello!” to be used. This led to a very small print run in late 2012. I liked the end result and I certainly wasn’t ready for the visual transformation that “Hello!” undertook. See the pic below:
The trail went quiet for several months, but Dan would occasionally get in touch. Sometime during 2013 he shared his plans for making Firewords a genuine literary magazine. I was again asked if “Hello!” could be used, and this time I did say ‘Yes’ immediately. In early 2014 Issue Zero of Firewords was launched to gain publicity for a full blown launch of Firewords sometime during May.
Dan asked me if I’d be willing to help out with Firewords. So I now find myself as one of two Assistant Editors reading stories for possible acceptance. It’s a very strange experience being on the other side of the fence. I’ll be writing a few blog articles on common submission mistakes over the next few weeks, and months.
Somewhere between Issue Zero and the upcoming Issue One it was decided to change the name to Firewords Quarterly. We’re listed on Duotrope, in Writers and Artists, and the submissions are rolling in.
There’s a Kickstarter campaign running to help support the magazine during its difficult early days. Please take a look here.
Please do support the campaign if you can. Firewords Quarterly is genuinely attempting to do something different. If you can’t support us via Kickstarter follow Firewords on Twitter: @FirewordsMag.
If you’re a writer submit your work for consideration. If you’re a reader then please either back the Kickstarter campaign where you can secure a copy of Issue One via rewards, or keep checking the website for updates on when you can purchase a copy. Writers and readers please check out our website: http://www.firewords.co.uk/
More posts soon. Bye for now,
Hello! I’ve been away for far too long. Three months is a long time. What happened? Well, I’d love to tell you I’ve been negotiating a book deal, meeting with film producers regarding a few spec scripts, engaging with theatre companies who are about to stage a few of my plays, and taking on an Assistant Editor’s role at a new literary fiction magazine alongside two other very talented individuals.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any of that because it’s pure made up fantasy. Hmmm, ok, most of it is fantasy, but not all of it. One of those statements is true. More in just a few paragraphs.
So where have I really been?
December is dead easy to cover off. I decided to take some time out and chill. I needed to recharge my batteries and that’s exactly what I did. Lots of Xmas merriment and New Year cheer.
January & February are not so easy to explain. I lost my mojo. My muse left me for some other writer. I struggled to write and when I did the results weren’t great. I can’t refer to this as writer’s block. I’ve made my views clear on that here. There wasn’t one particular reason for this malaise. There were several factors all contributing to a perfect storm. I guess these things happen. It’s called Life! Thankfully I managed to figure out what my issues were, and slowly but surely my muse returned.
So, I’m back. I’ve given the website a new theme. I was tired of the old one. This one’s a bit more vibrant. I’ll be introducing a couple of new pages over the next few weeks. I could tell you about them now but I won’t.
In terms of my writing I delivered the first version of Acid House to the Saints & Sinner’s Editors. The reaction was mixed. One wasn’t too keen, and one made comparisons to Tennessee Williams. Obviously – I mean it goes without saying – the comparison to TW was of course the most astute and reliable interpretation of my work. Yeah – even I’m laughing as I type. I’ve recently delivered the next version which has been sent to all of the Saints & Sinner’s contributors. So far it’s looking good. I’ve had four reviews. Two of which were good, and two of which were glowing.
Acid House had some challenges. At the centre of the story is a troubled marital relationship, so I was stepping into territory that has been covered countless times before. The difficulty was adding something different to the mix, introducing my own spin, and making it relevant to 2014. I hope I’ve achieved that, but only time will tell. More updates to come when the final version is delivered.
My next writing project is Dancers. I hope to have that finished in a month’s time. I’ll do a blog entry on Dancers because it’s had an interesting development tied into Acid House.
And last but not least I have to talk about Firewords. I’m only going to be brief because it needs its own blog entry. Firewords is a new literary journal publishing the best new fiction / poetry from new and exciting writers. For about a month now I’ve been reading stories and marking them as Accepted / Rejected / Needs Re-write / 2nd Opinion needed / Etc.
It’s been a complete eye opener to be on the other side of the fence. I’ll be doing several articles regarding Firewords. The first couple will be about the magazine, and the associated Kickstarter campaign linked to Firewords. Articles after this will focus on a lot of the common mistakes author’s make when submitting to Firewords.
That’s it. More blog entries will be arriving soon. Told you I was back!
M J Wolfson - That's me.