Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, author and editor Michael Dellert spoke last week about how to structure a novel, a post that continues to be popular. Today it is my absolute pleasure to welcome short story writer Lillian Slugocki, who doles out excellent writing advice.
- What are your preoccupations as a writer? Which of your stories would you recommend to a reader who has never read your work? (Could you provide links to your favourite stories online?)
My preoccupations change as I change– since my brother died a year and a half ago, I’ve been writing about grief, and how, for me, it’s meant that I’ve had to completely recalibrate my life. But also, in a larger sense, as a writer, I want to be part of the conversation about what it means to be human, and alive. When I was younger, in my early 20’s, I read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on– D.H.Lawrence’s Women in Love, J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, or Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, and being just floored by the power of great literature to illuminate all the complexities, and heartache and beauty of my life. And I thought, how is that possible? What is that magic? I’ve spent my life trying to answer that question. So, going back to the first part of this question, I’ve published five essays on grief: Two View of Apartment #210 , The Bodhisattva: The Nervous Breakdown, Everyday Mythologies Between the Living and the Dead: The Manifest-Station, Collapsing Star: Hypertext Magazine, Swan Songs: The Forge Literary Magazine
2. What makes a successful short story?
Dramatic tension, strong characters, and a surprise twist in the plot
3. Could you name five short stories you think all writers should read?
I love the classics. The stories I studied in college: The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs, The Open Window, Saki, Everything That Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor, The Bloody Chamber (collection), Angela Carter, The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin
4. You’ve written novellas. Could you tell us about the advantages and challenges of writing a story of this length and finding a publisher for them?
I’m a writer and a person who likes to cut to the chase. For the most part, I dislike small talk, digressions, and description. I adhere to the maxim that adjectives and adverbs are bad, and strong verbs are good. As for publishers, there are lots of them: Spuyten Duyvil Press, Curbside Splendor, Kore Press, Rose Metal Press, The Collagist, Nouvella– these are just a few examples.
5. Your stories have been widely published in reputed magazines. What advice do you have for those who’re starting out submitting to litmags?
Read what they publish. Make sure your submission adheres to their guidelines. That is the most important advice. In addition, be persistent. I start out with my dream publication, and if it’s rejected there, I go on to choice number two, or three or four. I have my strategy mapped out. I revise as I go, if need be– remember that for every acceptance for any writer, they’ve been rejected three times as much.
6. What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received, and who did you get it from?
Everything that Natalie Goldberg has written– Writing Down the Bones is my favorite. Keep a journal, and keep a consistent practice.
I love that essay so much. I wanted to write something that circled around a central theme, but also mapped a very specific trajectory. I like that it takes place outside of time, even though time is the central organizing principle. Beyond that, during the fall and winter of 2015, swans seemed to appear everywhere, and when I researched them, as symbols, as totems, it all fit so perfectly—in terms of where I was in my life, and what I needed to survive.
Are you a short story writer? Have questions for Lillian? Finished a story or published it? Any words of advice for a budding short story writer? Tell us all about it in the comments!
Lillian Ann Slugocki has been nominated for Best of the Web, a Pushcart Prize, and winner of the Gigantic Sequins prize for fiction. She’s been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Non Binary Review, The Manifest-Station, BUST Magazine and The Daily Beast. Her latest book is How to Travel With Your Demons, Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2015. Catch her on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
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