Tag Archives: short fiction

Writer’s Spotlight: Natalie Hernandez

Today, I’m introducing a new feature to The Literary Game. My whole intention here is to help writers grow. I think the opportunity to switch things up once in a while and showcase talented new writers fits well with the whole mission here, so without further ado…

###

Jungle
by Natalie Hernandez

His words replayed in my head the whole ride home, “I hate to disappoint you, but I ain’t shit. Honestly, I’m just a druggy who’s nice with words but suffers from a crazy short attention span.”  The rattling of the subway was the soundtrack to my questions, first one being, What the fuck did he mean by that?

Was that his way of telling me that I had been wrong this whole time? I mean sure, he always told me I was too pure to be held by him, but he loved his vices; and once I remember he told me I was “as pure as imported cocaine,” so I know he’s capable of loving me.

His boys warned me, multiple times; but I confused it for jealousy. They couldn’t wrap their small, drug infused minds around the fact that their King had found a good one. Sure, I endured a couple bruises and punches here and there, but he was high. I was in love. We always met each other halfway, even through detours.

The sudden halt of the train jolted my tiny body and I jumped out of my seat; just three more stops and I would finally be home.  At this stop, people coming in from work rushed into the subway like roaches entering the free world-all in packs, stuck together like a fresh pack of Newports.

Mmm…Newports. That smell always reminded me of the long nights Christian and I had on my front porch when we were seventeen. Crazy, to think that both of us would be nearing twenty five this year; and I’m the only one who kept my sobriety a promise. Christian could never, and I knew that…but I had to be the one giving him the benefit of the doubt. His mother walked out on him and his sisters when they were young; his father was never around—and his “boys,” were more like his children. Sucking him out of his money like leeches, just to feed their vices.

Christian once said he fell in love with me because I was nothing like the people around him; and while he was absolutely correct—he never knew the reason why I loved him so deeply.

He was the exact replica of my father: a drunk. The only difference both of them held, was that Christian fed more into the needles and baggies than he did the bottles. I honestly would not have minded if he were just an alcoholic; I know how to deal with those. But drug addicts? I don’t think I had ever met one until he came along.

Before him, I was just Seline. A 16 year old girl trying to get myself through high school with straight A’s, but the only thing straight about me was my edge. I never drank, never smoked; because I had seen what it was doing to my father. Witnessing addiction first hand was the only sign I needed.

But things changed my senior year. Christian had just transferred from a school in Brooklyn to my school in Queens, and I could tell it wasn’t by choice.

“Yo. What’s good love? I’m Chris.”

I looked around, making sure he wasn’t talking to me.

“Yes you, Ma. What’s good? Talk to me. Fuck with me, what’s good?”

“Class, please turn in your papers when the bell rings. Enjoy your day.”

I picked up my books and walked to the front of the class as quickly as I could, trying to avoid him.

Damnit, I remember thinking. This kid moved like Spider-Man, and he was definitely up to something…something nobody at Newtown was ready for.

When I arrived at my locker, he was standing close by. I decided to break the ice, giving him a cold stare.

“My names Seline. I’m 16, and whatever the fuck it is you want, I don’t have it. “

He looked surprised, but his lips curled into this very sexy smirk.

“Oh. So shorty has a name huh? Well, I think Seline should come chill with a real one, let me show you around my city.”

I scoffed. “Excuse me, YOUR city? You’re not even from here, shut the fuck up.”

He laughed. The sound of his laughter brought me back to my favorite summer, it was refreshing; yet…terrifying.

Weeks went by, and Christian and I became closer. I introduced him to my parents; under all the pressure in the world.

Me lo tienes que traer a la casa por lo menos una vez, para conocerlo bien./ You have to bring him home at least once, so we can get to know him better.”

My poor mother. She had no idea that she’d be reconnecting with the teenaaged version of my father all over again. His clothes constantly reeked of marijuana, but it slowly became my favorite cologne.

After school one day, we walked to my house; hand in hand. He was doing something he’d never done before—playing with my fingers.

“Babe, you good? We don’t have to go if you don’t want to; I’ll just tell her you got sick or whatever.”

He shook his head, and straightened his jacket.

“Nah, it’s all good. I just haven’t done this shit in a while, meeting a girl’s parents or whatever. You don’t get it yet babygirl, but I’m no good for you.”

I laughed it off, and continued to walk.

To my surprise, the night went insanely well. We ate, talked, laughed. My mom seemed to really like him, constantly giving me smiles and nods of approval whenever our eyes met.

Gracias Senora Ruiz, esta comida le quedo diivina/ Thanks Mrs Ruiz, the food was amazing.”

I had never heard him speak Spanish before, but I felt my eyes fill up with delight.  After he went home that night, my mom and I sat down for a talk.

“Mija, I like him for you, a lot. He reminds me of your father.”

She nodded in his direction; where he was sitting on the couch; nose buried in a Dean Koontz book.

“I know Ma, that’s why I was afraid of bringing him here. I knew you’d think that.”

She looked at me, shocked. “Porque dices eso?/ Why do you say that?”

“Because Ma, he’s a lot like Daddy. He has vices. He drinks, smokes, he’s not the ideal guy for me, Mami. But I like him.”

My mom shook her tiny head of blond curls in disbelief. She kissed my forehead and said, “Goodnight mi vida, te quiero.”

I’ll always remember that night like it was yesterday….and next month would be seven years since that day.  I’ll never forget he’d write me poems and raps and slip them into my bag every morning on our way to school. He’d buy me anything I ever wanted, and I never had to ask twice for anything.

His mom said I changed her son into the man she’d always knew he would be. But what she didn’t know, was that he was the exact image of my dear father. An addict, dependent on vices that would probably kill him, sooner than later.

When I got home, I showered and slipped into my  favorite pair of leggings and an oversized hoodie, one which I’m sure belonged to Christian.

I heard my phone ring from the other room, and ran to get it.

The name Adrian displayed on my screen.

“Seline? Seline…Seline!….Christian’s dead.”

###

You can follow Natalie on the Web and social media:
Twitter: natstradamus__
Instagram: redlipstikandhiphop and natstradamusss
Website: redlipstikandhiphop.com

If you would like your short fiction or poetry to be featured in The Literary Game, send over your writing by clicking here.

In success,
Alfonso

Six Ways to Write Creatively

If you’re an aspiring writer, you may find yourself drawn to one specific type of creative writing. This post intends to be a quick guide to different types of writing. Feel free to play around and see what may happen if you try a different direction.

Poetry

If you have a background as a musician, write lyrics, or rap, you may want to try poetry. Contrary to what you may have heard, it doesn’t have to rhyme. In fact, rhyming poetry is pretty much passé. If you can make your writing have a musicality to it, give poetry a try!

Short Fiction

Have you tried to write a novel and got stuck somewhere along the line? Are you a part of the ADHD generation? Try short fiction! Just keep in mind that short fiction requires a different approach from a novel. In short fiction, you aren’t telling a whole narrative, but merely presenting a snapshot. If brevity is a strong point, give short fiction a try!

Novels

Do you have patience? If your answer isn’t an unequivocal yes, beware of the novel. The novel is often seen as the only “real” type of writing by many aspiring writers, but that’s simply not true; all creative writing has merit. While practically all writers love reading novels, please note that this is an ambitious goal. If you have the patience, desire, and organizational skills to tackle a novel, then go for it!

Creative Nonfiction

Is your life so interesting that you don’t need to even make things up? Why not try writing creative nonfiction? In creative nonfiction, you take the same approach as you would to a novel or short fiction, but the difference is you draw from your own real experiences. Remember this though, just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Make sure to write in the same way you would approaching something fictional!

Screenplays

Be honest, do you prefer watching a good movie to reading a good book? If so, you might want to try writing a screenplay. Remember that writing a screenplay is different from a novel or short fiction, as you are writing with a focus on the visuals. If you’re less a “pure” writer and more of an all-around creative, you may want to give writing a screenplay a try!

Plays

Do you have a flare for the dramatic? Are you an actor? Do you find writing dialogue to be remarkably easy, but description and introspection to be harder to execute? Try writing a play! Just remember to keep focused on the fact that this will take place on a stage and write accordingly.

A Critical Mistake to Avoid When Writing Short Fiction

Don’t treat short fiction as a novel.

Whatever you do—DON’T treat short fiction as a novel.

What I mean is this: when you are writing short fiction, it takes a different approach than if you’re working on a novel. The key is brevity. You have to say just as much as you would in a novel, but you have to do so succinctly.

A good rule of thumb when writing any piece of short fiction: stick to as brief a period of time as possible. The story can take place in fifteen minutes in one location. It doesn’t have to be wildly ambitious.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken…once you’ve achieved mastery. There are short fiction writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer whose short stories read like mini-novels in the depth and complexity of their plot. In my opinion, Singer was one of the best short fiction writers. He could get away with flouting that rule; once you grow as a writer, by putting in much time and effort, you can too.

However, for now, as an aspiring writer, I suggest adhering to the following acronym:

Keep

It

Simple

Stupid

And I guarantee that your short fiction will be a lot easier to write and have a much greater chance of getting published by a literary magazine.

Do you have any other tips for short fiction writers? Feel free to leave a comment!

Can’t Get Your Novel Published?

Platform.

Do you know what this word refers to in conjunction with the publishing industry?

Platform is the reason why Lena Dunham landed $3.7 million for her book proposal. If you want to sell a manuscript, more than the quality of your content (though it should certainly be up to snuff), you need to develop a reputation. If you’re thinking that your reputation is going to come from your book, you’ve got it backwards.

There are many ways to develop your platform. If you have public exposure in some way, you’re already set. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to most of us and it can be hard to generate (I’ll leave that to others far more qualified than I am if your intent is to get famous). However, a solid portfolio of writing in other forms can do wonders for establishing a ready-made audience eager to read your book (which any publishing company would love).

A novel is a huge undertaking. I certainly think all writers should attempt one, but consider the following diverse forms as a way to gain exposure and increase your chances of selling your idea for a book:

Poetry – Whether it’s traditional or free-verse, avant-garde or transparent, there are tons of poetry journals that always are seeking quality expression.

Short Fiction/Flash Fiction – Scale back your world building and capture a photograph. That’s the art of the short story. Again, there are tons of literary magazines that are always in search of quality fiction. Regardless of your style, there’s a market for everything (of quality).

Plays – Why not write a play, send it to a contest, or work with your local theatre to have it staged?

Screenplays – Think with an eye for the visual. There are some excellent television programs and films that are quite a bit more literary than most fiction (e.g. Mad Men, my favorite program). If you want to sell your script, there’s an excellent book written by Blake Snyder called Save The Cat! that gives an insider’s view into what kind of scripts sell in Hollywood and how to write them.

Nonfiction – Do you have expertise in a subject? It’s so easy to write an E-book and publish it on the Web. While fiction can be harder to attract an audience, with nonfiction there’s always a built-in audience for just about every topic.

Freelance Journalism – Yes, the pay is terrible, but your name can get out there with some rather influential people.

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Submit Your Short Story or Poetry

You wrote a great story/poem and now you’re all ready to submit it for consideration in your favorite journal. Before you click send, make sure that your submission doesn’t have any of these six common red flags by asking yourself:

1. Did you format your submission appropriately? Here are the guidelines for poems and here are the guidelines for short fiction. Note that some journals may have their own formatting guidelines, which you should always follow. However, you should default to these guidelines unless a journal explicitly notes otherwise.

2, Did you proofread your submission? Spelling and grammatical errors are a huge turn-off to editors. Run a spelling and grammar check on your word processing software, proofread your writing yourself, and have a friend look over your work before you click send.

3. Are you sure the journal is an appropriate fit? It may be your favorite journal, but do they publish the same kind of work that you wrote? Does your style fit with the magazine? Does your content? Your genre? Most journals have very narrow parameters of what kind of work they publish. You can find out through reading a few issues if your work is an appropriate fit for publication in the magazine.

4. Did you find out the editor/publisher’s name? Make sure that you browse the publication to find out who is likely going to be reading your work and making the final decision. If you place the wrong name, or no name at all, it will give the impression that you are not a regular reader and/or do not think the editor/publisher is worth your time.

5. Have you read the magazine? Editors can tell when writers send a submission without reading the magazine first. These result in rejections. Familiarize yourself with the work published in the magazine.

6. Did you compose a cover letter that can win an editor over? Is your cover letter professional or is it a hard sell? Is your cover letter professional or are you begging for publication? Is your cover letter professional or is it a form letter? We’ve all heard of writers and their antics, but if you are an aspiring writer, edgy as your work may be, a cover letter is not the time to show anything less than your professional side.

Personal Rejections Are Good!

For most writers of short fiction or poetry, publishing your writing in top-tier literary journals is the goal (Yes, we write because we love it, but we also write because we want our ideas, our thoughts, our worlds to be shared with others.) Acceptances are great; however, don’t underestimate the value of personal rejections.

I don’t remember the exact quote, but I believe that Charles Bukowski, in a clip from Born Into This, explained what he read into his early literary rejections: “It’s not that you’re not good, son—it’s that you’re not good enough.”

If you are receiving personal rejections from competitive literary journals, you ought to be downright ecstatic. While of course acceptances are the goal, personal rejections are hard to come by in the literary world. The criticisms you receive may cut to the bone. Still, for your own sanity, you should be aware what the editor is doing is performing a service. S/he took time out of their busy schedule to offer their thoughts. If your work wasn’t close to making it, an editor would have responded with a form rejection.

As writers, we have a misguided tendency to believe that our work is always without flaw. It never is. However, if you receive a personal rejection for a piece, know that you are VERY close. Know that you are knowledgeable enough to be submitting your work to appropriate markets. Know that you are skilled enough of a writer to warrant a response. You’re on the right path. Personal rejections are good. Let them spur you on to making the necessary changes and finding a new journal to publish your work!

And please, whatever you do, don’t try to argue with the editor’s points. Just don’t.

How Can I Publish My Fiction and/or Poetry in Literary Magazines?

Publishing your flash fiction, short fiction, and/or poetry in competitive literary journals is rather simple once you know how to navigate the literary market. This holds true regardless of your style, the content of your work, or whether you’ve been published widely (or at all).

Below is a simple step-by-step guide to publishing your writing in online or print literary journals:

1. The obvious step: write your flash piece, short story, or poem. (You don’t want to get caught up in the hoopla that coincides with the thought of getting your work published until you’ve actually written something.)

2. Edit your work. Seriously. Edit your work. Your idea may be brilliant, your literary voice may be powerful, but if there are serious (or even minor) errors in your piece, it will most likely be rejected. You want your piece to be flawless when you send it out.

3. Sign up for a subscription to Duotrope.com. It costs only $5.00/month, yet Duotrope’s value to an aspiring writer is worth so much more. Duotrope contains a searchable database that connects you to (at the date of this posting) 4924 competitive fiction, poetry, and non-fiction markets.

4. Search Duotrope.com for an appropriate journal for your needs. You can search by genre, style, length, payment, submission type (electronic or postal), subject, medium (electronic, print, or audio), response time, and acceptance ratio. You can also browse their index and find journals through serendipity.

5. Read the journal. Seriously. Read the journal. If they do not post directly to the Web, buy an issue. Read it carefully. Do the pieces match your style? Is the content similar enough? You don’t want to waste an editor’s time by sending a perfectly good piece of yours to a journal that is a bad match. It will be rejected.

6. Follow the submissions guidelines to a T. If they ask for a bio, read some of the other authors who’ve published with that journal and analyze how their bios look (Are they whimsical? Serious?)

7. Format your manuscript to industry standards. Here is an excellent link on how to do so for short fiction. Also, make sure to comply with the journal’s preference for postal or electronic submissions. If a journal accepts electronic submissions, find out from their submissions guidelines page whether they want submissions attached as a document or whether they would prefer submissions to be pasted in the body of your email.

8. Send out your piece/s and wait for the results. If the journal that you submitted your work to accepts simultaneous submissions, you may want to find other journals that are good fits for your piece/s and send your writing to them as well (so long as they too accept simultaneous submissions). Should your simultaneously submitted work be accepted in a journal, make sure that you notify all other journals that you submitted that piece to of your acceptance ASAP.

Best of luck!

I hope that this guide proves to be of value to you as you go forward in your literary pursuits.

Finding a Good Literary Journal

Hello. Since this is my first post, before I get into the heart of this topic, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Alfonso Colasuonno. I am the founder of The Literary Game. This blog is a service designed to help writers improve their knowledge in various capacities (craft, publishing tips, etc.).

First off, you should congratulate yourself if you’ve written a strong short story or poem. Never forget that is an accomplishment in and of itself. However, what of the next steps? If writing is your passion and you want to get your work out there, it’s imperative that you familiarize yourself with various literary journals.

The first key to finding a good literary journal for your fiction or poetry is to read the journals that you may come across and ask yourself if your work deviates from the style, subject, and format of that particular literary magazine. If it does, regardless of how high quality your work may be, you will likely receive a form rejection.

The heart of finding a good literary journal for your work is to find an appropriate match. If the content on the journal is similar enough to your own work, your odds of getting published increase. It may be a good reference to compare getting your work accepted in a literary journal to getting an interview for a job. If you do not research the company, if you do not update your resume to reflect the needs of the job, it is highly unlikely that you will be considered for the job. Such is the case in the literary world.

The heart of this lesson: Make sure that your writing is a good fit for what the journal has already published.