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.
7. Tell us about your lyrical non-fiction piece, Swan Songs, published at the Forge Literary Magazine.
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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An interesting and entertaining post. Thanks for sharing your tips.
Hi! Thanks for all the tips specially the bit about being consistent. I love to read, but blogging world is little new to me would like all the help I can get .Cheers 🙂
Thanks for these great tips. Now I have to track down some of these short stories you mentioned and check them out.
Here’s a PDF of The Open Window, enjoy http://eolit.hrw.com/hlla/writersmodel/pdf/W_P1008.pdf
Thank you for this great writing. You have quite a gift for framing your pieces, I love the parallel universe feel of ‘Two Views’ and also its raw immediacy. I’m wondering how many drafts it takes to produce such tight work. Also, I’m so sorry for your loss. Yes, ‘Recalibrate’ is a good word for grief, often needed from minute to minute. Thanks, Dee
Thanks Dee! Two Views took me about 20-30 hours of revision. One of my tricks is — read it out loud.
Nice tips. It’s my experience that one can even write a good novel not a bad short story
Going to use a few of these tips for my own story telling. Nice one.
Great tips here Lillian! I have a tendency to do short stories which invariably end in a twist, now people are so expecting a twist whenever I write a new one, that if it has a regular end, folks feel betrayed! Have I type-cast my writing style? Should I break the mold or just fit in, I wonder!
I think always trust your instincts. Over the past 25 years, I’ve gone in a lot of different directions, I always follow my gut, at one point, I was obsessed with using primary sources, at another point, love and romance, if you want to break out of that mold, and experiment, do it!
It’s a great post and advice on being consistent Lilianne. I’ve been trying to do a novel and collection of shorties but I am stuck in a rut. What advice would you give to revive stories left midway for years and months. How do we ensure that our real story don’t get suck into too much facts and give it a touch of fiction?!
Hi, well— I’ve written about five novels, that never got published, and about 100 stories..And the funny thing is, I knew half way through that the books or stories, had fallen apart, but I finished them anyway bc I’m stubborn, and I also know that even a flawed piece of work is valuable to my as growth as a writer. sometimes you go back to a collection of short stories and work it, edit them, and they might come together or they might not, either way, you’re still an artist on your journey, learning what it takes to have a voice. Best of luck to you!!
Love, love, love this post. Mind if I reblog? 😀
Please go ahead, thanks!
Nice. The consistent practice and the journal are great tips. When I was writing and publishing before, these were def habits. Will have to check out Natalie Goldberg…the book sounds familiar but not the name..
I get ideas to write, the description too starts running into my mind immediately. But by the time i reach to my laptop or journal, it gets diluted and i have to give it up. This has happened many times. How do i keep the very emotion of the idea closer to its origin.
This is great advice. You can’t go wrong with Goldberg or O’Connor, especially if you’re a short-story (or flash fiction, even) writer. And who knew there was a Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review? I do now; that’s so cool. Fitzgerald is one of my favorites, and I almost presented a conference paper on a related topic in Gatsby. Anyway . . . thanks for sharing Ms. Slugocki and her work with us, Damyanti. I’m definitely adding this all to my reading list (and sooner, rather than later)!
Leigh, thanks for your note, glad you’re a fan of Goldberg too, she’s my idol 🙂
I’m not big on descriptions or spewing words just to fit a page.
Very sorry about your brother.
Thank you Alex!
Great advice! Especially to people trying to break into short story publication. I lost a brother several years ago, and I still feel it every time I think of him, but in a sad, happy way. I guess that comes from believing I’ll see him again. Otherwise it would be devastating.
Hi Crystal, I love Gigantic Sequins, they’re always looking for flash and short stories, http://www.giganticsequins.com/ and tap lit mag is looking for submissions right now, http://www.taplitmag.com/
Hi Lillian, I enjoyed reading the interview and always love to hear from short story writers about their process: does the idea for a story often come to you with a (provisional) ending already in mind or do you mostly set out from a seed and simply see where it takes you? Thanks for sharing any experiences and/or strategies.
Hi Marion, thanks for your note! For me, because I’m so obsessed with myth, i”m always trying to come up w ways to re-tell my favorite one’s, like Orpheus and Eurydice, for example. That story is haunting to me. I think in general, we should always follow our passions, what we are obsessed with, what we can’t get out of our heads, what we dream about– I always think that’s a good place to start, because in a way, you guarantee authenticity. best, Lillian
Thanks so much, that’s a fascinating way to go into the myths of our own lives/minds/imagination. It takes courage to dig right into the tough stuff, but your words are encouraging and inspiring to follow that lead. Best of luck and thanks for your engaging with our thoughts and questions here!