How many stories have you published to date?
During the past eleven years I’ve had one hundred and twenty-six pieces of work published. Most were short stories, but I’ve also published essays, magazine articles, and poetry. In addition, I’ve had three novels published and a collection of short stories.
How many different publications have published your work?
Currently my work has appeared in forty-three publications, including literary journals, anthologies, poetry journals, and magazines and other periodicals.
When did you begin writing in order to publish?
Was there anything in particular that set you on this path? I joined the SCWW and began my writing in 2004. My wife Vicki and I were on a cross-country trip and had stopped at a Denny’s restaurant for lunch. The restaurant had some golden oldies playing and they reminded me of a story from my youth, which I recounted to my wife (not for the first time). She told me I should start writing down some of my stories—that it sounded like I’d been raised by some of the quirky, eccentric characters you might find in a Neil Simon play. That did the trick. I joined the SCWW as soon as we returned home.
Can you describe your submittal process?
Every year or so, I purchase the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. It provides a great listing of journals and magazines looking to publish both experienced and new writers, along with appropriate websites and submittal requirements. I set aside one day a week (usually Friday) to submit my work. It’s hard to do, because my head sometimes swirls with ideas I want to get down on paper. But I keep reminding myself that if you don’t submit, you won’t get published.
I keep a list on my computer of the stories I submit, the journals I submit to (in alphabetical order), and the date of submittal. As the rejections come in, I note that as well, and then resubmit the rejected story to a different journal. Sooner or later I’ll get an acceptance, and if I have submitted that same story to more than one journal, I notify the appropriate editor/s that my story has been accepted elsewhere. The number of journals on my list varies, usually between 150 and 200. I’m constantly adding new ones and deleting those that never reply to a submittal.
Many journals say they do not accept simultaneous submissions (stories submitted to more than one potential publisher at the same time), so in that regard, I offer a small piece of advice. Pay no attention to that requirement. It may be in the journal’s best interest, but not yours as a writer. There are many journals that take months to either accept or reject your work; sometimes you will never hear back about your submission. Don’t let that story wait too long for a reply. Send it somewhere else.
Why do you believe you have been so successful and so well-published?
I owe almost everything I know about writing to the SCWW and, especially, my critique group. I have never taken a story to the group that didn’t come out of the process much better than when it went in. Plus, I read voraciously, more than a novel a week—usually something in the crime genre, because that’s what I usually write about—but occasionally a piece about the craft (like Stephen Kings’ On Writing). While there’s nothing really new about writing, it doesn’t hurt to revisit the basics now and then. The only other factor I can think of is perseverance. Get you work out there. It’ll never be published languishing on your computer or in your files.
How do you handle rejection?
You’re going to get a lot of rejections. I probably get at least a dozen for every acceptance. I once received the first page of my submittal with a big red square (done in magic marker) and the word “NO!” inside it. The editor had also taken the time to send me a personal note. It said: I really don’t like your story! So yes, it’s disappointing but keep in mind that not all journals are the same. Your job as a writer is to find the one that matches your story and style. Someone out there is going to love it. Submit. Submit. Submit.
As an author, what is the best thing that’s happened to you? I have been so fortunate in my writing career it’s difficult to select one best thing, so I’ll note a few of the items that come to mind, not necessarily in priority order. I was published in the United Kingdom in a journal called Postscripts. The editor sent me a nice note of acceptance and signed off with a very British-sounding Cheerio! My story “Doughnut Walk” (originally published in The Petigru Review) was adapted for a short film which premiered in July of 2014 at the Expecting Goodness Film Festival in Spartanburg. Working with the film director, cast, and crew was loads of fun. Of course, having my novels and short story collection published was what every author dreams of, and I feel very lucky in that regard. All of this was wonderful, but I will say that one of the greatest moments in my career was the magic feeling I had at my first SCWW-sponsored conference, when I saw my words in print for the very first time. Thank you, Catfish Stew.
What is the hardest or most disappointing thing that’s happened to you as an author?
My first novel, Love Among the Greeks, was published in 2006— the story of a young fraternity boy’s romance with a sorority girl. Later that year, the publisher and I received a letter from the legal firm representing the national fraternity threatening legal action over the unlicensed use of a trademarked symbol on the book’s front cover. We were able to resolve the problem out of court, but the book had to be withdrawn from the market. Experience is a cruel teacher, but an effective one. I’ll not make that mistake again.
Is there any mantra or advice someone else has given you that you find helpful?
Anything you’ve heard from someone ‘in the business’? Or any personal advice you might like to share? When I was a novice writer, I relied heavily on memoir material. The kind of stories my family might find entertaining but with a very limited audience otherwise. I was writing about things that actually happened, so I felt the work had to be authentic. One of my critique partners gave me a piece of advice I will never forget. She said “Just because it happened that way doesn’t mean you have to write it that way.” I took that advice to heart and began writing fiction. I still rely on life experiences, but pepper them liberally with completely made up stuff.
At my first SCWW conference, I heard something from Lee Child that has also stayed with me over the years: “It’s better to be plausible than accurate.” If your reader doesn’t believe what you’ve written, who cares if it’s precise?
And from me personally, I think networking with people in the business of writing, editing, and publishing is extremely important. The publishing of my last two novels, Shug’s Place and Burning Time and my short story collection, Scattered, Smothered, and Covered, came about largely through my relationship with Anne Kaylor, the editor and publisher of moonShine review—a journal I’ve been fortunate enough to be published in frequently. Her encouragement, advice, and contacts within the industry are the reason I have those books in the marketplace today.
What was your inspiration for Burning Time? Do you find it to be unique from your other works?
My grandmother was a woman before her time in many ways. She endured numerous hardships but managed to keep her family intact and provide for their needs. When I wrote Burning Time I invested my protagonist, Louise, with many of her characteristics and how I imagined my grandmother might have dealt with the troubles she faced. In my heart, it is a tribute to a woman I loved and appreciated dearly.
Burning Time is my first attempt at what I consider historical fiction, and is decidedly different from much of my work, which often explores the darker side of human nature. But still, the heart of any compelling story is conflict, and there’s plenty of that in the novel. Fortunately, early reviews have been enthusiastic and complimentary. If there’s one thing I hope to do with my writing, it is to engender emotion from the reader, and from what I’ve heard, the characters in this novel—both the hated and the loved ones— definitely do that.
Burning Time is set in the early 1900s. What kind of research did you employ? What was your greatest challenge re-creating this period of time? I relied largely on written histories of the City of Chattanooga, where the novel is set, along with historic photographs of the downtown and surrounding environs. I grew up in Chattanooga, so I already had a good working knowledge of the area, and remembered much of my parents’ and grandparents’ accounts of events as the city grew and changed.
The novel covers the period from around 1908 to 1920. I suppose the greatest challenge was in ensuring that events and developments on the national level coincided with their impact on my characters at the local level.
After publishing two novels and a short story collection, what is next on your agenda for the new year?
I’ve worked sporadically on a new book about three teenagers back in the 1950s, hoping the story will write itself. So far, however, it’s being very obstinate. In the meantime, I’m still writing short stories and essays, and taking writing-related courses at Furman University’s Lifelong Learning Institute.
Fun Question—do you have a go-to favorite food or drink while you are writing?
No, I don’t, but I do enjoy a little wine in the early evening. I get some of my greatest story ideas between glass number one and glass number three. Sometimes they even make sense the following morning.