Looked at potential freelance clients in magazines

Specifically, The Writer and Writer’s Digest. A few weeks ago, I also perused the 2011 Writer’s Market. Made note of clients for both freelance and fiction markets.

I am curious about something. This is almost 2011, and e-mail has been in common use for more than 20 years. People can send things in plain-text formats. Why on earth do so many magazines and publications still insist on snail-mail submissions?

Two years ago, I wanted to submit a story Fantasy and Science Fiction and was told the manuscript had to be mailed in. Today’s perusal into one of the magazines revealed that Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine still insists on submissions sent by mail. So, instead of making a submission that takes mere moments to be sent and received, they insist on the archaic way that takes days.

Anyone know why?

Richard Zowie is a writer. Send comments to richardzowie@gmail.com.

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My Story #28 submission: ‘I Hate Housecleaning and Uninvited Guests’

This is my submission to Writer’s Digest’s Contest #28. The prompt is: “a person does weekly housecleaning and finds an unfamiliar cell phone in the cushions of their couch–but can’t recall having had any recent visitor. It rings.”

Note: This story does contain some profanity.

“I Hate Housecleaning and Uninvited Guests”

By Richard Zowie

Housecleaning sucks.

It’s a necessary evil, which I’d compare to voting–if I were a registered voter. Clutter, unwashed dishes, unfolded clean clothes and unsorted mail bring unwanted attention, the last thing I need.

So, each week I clean.

When vacuuming the sofa, I remove the cushions and vacuum the crevices since sometimes crumbs will get into the couch while I’m eating and watching old episodes of Dexter (what an amateur!) or Nip/Tuck on Netflix.

I live alone and don’t like questions. If someone ventured into my basement and saw the medical equipment, they’d probably wonder why a work-at-home copywriter needs tools normally needed for removing organs and appendages.

And as I vacuumed the sofa this time, I heard the familiar WHHHHRRRRRR! sound and the gritty vacuumed crumbs. More crumbs than usual this week. I’ll have to be careful not to eat while hearing prospective patients answer Dr. Troy and Dr. McNamara’s trademark request, “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself.” Or when watching the news just to make sure I’m not on it.

CLUNK!

The vacuum strained, perhaps like a snake swallowing an animal several times its size. Did I leave the remote control in the couch? I wondered, looking at the end table and seeing the three-in-one remote present and accounted for.

As I lifted the attachment, I could see it sucking onto a cell phone. It was silver Sprint phone, scuffed as if dropped a few times. I have a cell phone, but it’s a black Verizon.

Curious, I opened it and saw the number pad illuminate, as if waiting for me to dial a number. The screen showed the correct time and date and a picture of a guitarist with wild pale eyes alive with mascara.

Someone has been in my house, I thought, my stomach boiling with an ulcer. This is not good at all. If they’ve been inside I must assume they’ve seen EVERYTHING.

It was Monday, and I had spent all of Sunday at Cedar Point, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. I rarely leave my house for that long, but I needed a break.

A quick glance around my house showed nothing missing. The basement was locked, no sign of attempted entry. The safe was still in my bedroom. They must’ve either been on a tight clock or just chickened out. Perhaps the group’s lookout, while sitting on the couch and stealing glances out the window, shifted and didn’t realize his cell phone sliding out of his pants pocket down between the cushions. It must’ve been three guys, I presumed. Two to work together and one to make sure all was clear. Perhaps they heard a distant police siren, panicked and bolted.

DOOOOO YOU HAVE THE TIME, TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?” someone abruptly sang as they played guitar, startling me. The cell phone’s screen lit up and read “Billy Z”, whoever that was.

I pressed the green button and said, “Hello?”

“Can I have my phone back?” an annoyed young man asked.

“W-w-why were you in my house?” I asked, sounding weak and defensive.

“Don’t worry about it, asshole, just meet me in an hour–”

“You must come to my house and get it,” I said, hoping I sounded as though I’d soiled my pants. “I won’t call the p-p-police.” Of course I wouldn’t. If I spoke to the police they’d probably visit and ask questions and develop a case of sticky fingers like that annoying Vincent D’Onofrio prick on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

He sighed. “If you give us a hard time, we might just have to rape your wifey.”

I said nothing at first as I realized he and his friends were amateurs. A quick glance at my home would reveal I lived by myself. No wife. No girlfriends. No sisters.

“I’ll be w-w-waiting for you,” I said.

“O-o-o-ok!” he laughed as he hung up.

I laughed heartily and after a quick trip to my basement, I sat down on the couch and waited. Hidden on my person was my stun gun, and they would never see it coming. I’d done it many times against far more dangerous people.

As I sat on the couch kept glancing out the window to see if a vehicle with three young men had pulled up, I wondered. What did they know and had they told anyone? How would I dispose of the bodies?

I might even have to question them in that special soundproof room in the basement.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Writer’s Market 2011

The library in the town where I live said they will be ordering it and hope to have it in about a week. Currently, the most recent copy they had was 2006.

Another library in a nearby town said the most recent copy they had of Writer’s Market was 2001.

Even 2006 is antiquated: you’d be surprised by how many magazines and publishing companies that have since gone out of business or operate under a different name, different phone number, different website.

Once I locate the 2011 edition, I plan to pore over it with some freelance ideas in mind and take note and start sending them my ideas.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Working on my Writer’s Digest ‘My Story’ assignment

It’s about being at your home, finding a cell phone in the cushions of your couch, not recognizing the phone and–guess what?–it rings. 

I have finished a first draft of one version, but I’m not sure if I’ll submit that one. It’s somewhat interesting, but it doesn’t really grab me.

The biggest challenge, of course, is writing something compelling and wonderful and doing so in 750 word. This often requires a writer to part with great writing during the final editing phase.

This contest tends to perplex me at times. One month the assignment was about something tragic happening at a local water hole. The winning story seemed very flat. Maybe I’m just trying too hard.

Richard Zowie loves writing fiction and someday would love to do it full-time. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Giving out writing advice

A fellow Christian recently asked me about what it would take to get a writing career started. Nolan, who graduated from Pensacola Christian College a few years before I did, has been in the ministry. A look at his essays and his blog show he is a very gifted writer. The ability to write will most certainly not be a problem for him.

I advised him to regularly peruse through both Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines along with check out the markets listed in The Writer’s Market.

Many ministers adore alliteration, so here are six P’s for those ministers looking to expand their careers into the writing realm:

Be Professional. You are there to do a job. Treat the subject with respect–especially when they have opinions that strongly differ from yours. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to represent them fairly. When I think back to H.L. Mencken and his very slanted reporting on the 1925 Scopes Trial, I not only cringe at him, but cringe to think there are writers today who idolize his reporting style.

Be Polite. Being friendly can go a very long way, especially if you deal with one source regularly. By being polite, chances are better they’ll start opening up and may even give you an exclusive or point you towards the direction of others who will. Nobody likes to be treated condescendingly.

Be to the Point. Assume the person you’re dealing with has a very busy schedule. After initial pleasantries, get directly down to business. Avoid rabbit trails, something I’ve had to learn the hard way in the past.

Be Persistent and Proactive. I like to joke that procrastination (another P) is the eighth deadly sin, and in my life I’ve found this to be true. Lately I have learned that creating a list and telling yourself no internet surfing until those activities are done will do wonders. Each day go over ideas, look up markets for them and query the editors. Note which prefer phone calls and which prefer e-mails and what kinds of e-mail responses. You have to want an assignment more than any other writer and you have to believe–no ego intended–that you are the best writer out there.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Received Writer’s Digest today

Received the newest copy of Writer’s Digest today. Will be looking at it this weekend.

If my two above sentences seem odd to begin with a past participle form of receive (Received) and a helping verb (Will), it’s because I was tired of beginning sentences with the pronoun I.

It looks like a fascinating issue, and I look forward to reading it.

Reading Asimov, Writer’s Digest, battling procrastination

Am currently reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. Funny collection of short stories. Have read about five so far, none of which seem similar to the movie made a few years ago. Maybe I haven’t reached the story yet, or maybe it’s just Hollywood for you. J.D. Salinger was said to be so furious over the butchering of one of his short stories into a movie that he turned down all requests over the years–including Jerry Lewis–to make A Catcher in the Rye into a movie. I also have a collection of Ben Bova stories I’ll read once this is done, along with a book titled The Sacred Romance.

Asimov’s style is similar to Ray Bradbury’s, but he gets into more technological info and he doesn’t get into the flowery, nostalgic language that Mr. B does.

I recently received the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest and will be perusing through that. The economic survival guide sounds like it will be very beneficial along with the formula for freelance success.

Procrastination. I hate it. But it comes very natural for me. I pray for the strength to overcome mental road blocks and blog on a daily basis. And write on a daily basis.

‘Zen in the Joy of Writing’ chapter ‘Run Fast, Stand Still’

Actually, this chapter had a much longer title, but I didn’t want to cause my blog to crash due to too long of a title.

As a writer, there are times to run very fast and other times to stand very still. Running fast is what you have to do when you get a great story idea. In fact, that’s why I almost always have a pen and notebook on me at all times–even when I shower.

Ok, I’m kidding about having those in the shower.

You do get what I’m saying: nothing stinks worse than to be some place, observe something and come up with a great idea for a story, book, magazine article, column or blog posting. When this has happened to me and I’ve been without pen and paper, more times than I care to admit I’ve forgotten them later.

When you have the idea, Mr. Bradbury says, write down everything you can. Omit nothing. Assume everything’s vital, even thoughts that make no sense.

I like to visit the FBI’s website and study the 10 Most Wanted list. A year ago, I started wondering what would happen if one of the men on the list were ever recognized during their ventures of trying to live off the grid. Then Writer’s Digest had a prompt about a tragedy happening at a local swimming hole. Writing down a few notes about a character loosely based on Robert William Fisher, I came up with the short story Final Swim at Poesta Pond. It didn’t win, but it was an enjoyable story to write.

Mr. Bradbury adds that when taking things slow, use it to observe and develop a style. Read, read, read. Read what’s popular, read what’s not, read what you don’t necessarily like. Read heavily in the genres that interest you and work to develop your own style. Pay close attention so you can see how good writing’s done and why bad writing’s bad, and also to avoid doing what’s already been done.

One must wonder if actor Darryl Hannah loves to write. Rumor has it, she loves to sit in public places and observe people. Actually, not only is there nothing wrong with this, but Hannah’s habit is one a good writer should also do. Observing people, what they say, how the say it, how they look, how they dress, their mannerisms, is an excellent way to sharpen your description skills as you write. Of course, you must do this in a way where the police or an overprotective boyfriend doesn’t come up and demand to know what you’re doing!

Sometimes, Mr. Bradbury notes, good–perhaps even great–writing stumbles upon you. You write and you’re done before you even know it. He remarks that a few stories took hours to write. Wow. Considering this was in the day before word processors, this is remarkable. It makes me wonder if one of my favorite Bradbury short stories, Marionettes, Incorporated, was one of these: the story flows so well and reads so fast it seems like it must’ve flown from the typewriter. It can be as easy as one to four thoughts that are written very quickly. Write it fast and worry about revisions later.

Mr. B also encourages prospective writers to read the greats of literature and from that to develop their own style. Shakespeare, Coleridge, Poe, Hawthorne, Cather, Alcott, Lovecraft, Bradbury (he doesn’t mention his own name, but I’d certainly throw it in there), Asimov, Pohl, Turtledove, Milton, Faulkner, and, more recently, King, Crichton and one of my new faves, Bova.

Finally, in this chapter Mr. Bradbury observes that life experiences can make great story ideas. A terrifying ride on a merry-go-round when he was a child eventually led to his masterpiece novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. A childhood fascination with skeletons led to his short story Skeleton (a fascinating mix of suspense, thriller and dark humor).

Next, we’ll blog about Mr. Bradbury’s observations on muses.

Richard Zowie’s a writer who hopes to add this book to his collection someday. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Longer version of my Writer’s Digest My Story #23 First Date Bizarreness submission

This is a longer version of the story I sent to Writer’s Digest for its Your Story #23 contest. As you can see below, I had to say goodbye to some background on the story. The trick to the 750-word contest is to keep the action to a few snapshots of storyline and then give your reader a vivid image of what’s happening. My creative writing teacher at Pensacola Christian College, Ms. Raymond, used to preach “Show, Don’t Tell.” Hopefully, I’ve picked up on that.

As is the case with the shorter version, Janet is based on a girl I knew at PCC.

The Russian Miracle

By Richard Zowie

I sat at the dinner table, nervously taking sips of water, oblivious of how horrible the tap water tasted. Across from me sat Janet. She wore a blue dress. I never pictured her as the makeup type, but now she wore bright red lipstick. She smiled, but seemed nervous, as if late for an urgent appointment. Her long, curly, dark-blond hair, normally pulled up, cascaded down well past her shoulders. Every so often, Janet would absently brush away the locks when they’d get too close to her face.

My attempts at conversation resulted in short answers:

“What does your Dad do for a living?” I asked.

“He’s a pastor.” Hearing her say this made me cringe. My Dad’s a mechanic whose last visit into a church was when my older sister, Kimberly, got married back in 1984. No pastor would ever consider me fit to marry his daughter.

Janet didn’t ask me what my Dad did.

“Where did you grow up?”

“Pennsylvania,” she replied, her bright sapphire blue eyes darting briefly at mine and then away, as though she’d rather be back in the Keystone State.

“I grew up in Los Patos,” I said. Los Patos, where South Texas University is located, was built around a large lake. They say the settlers who first came there called their new town “Los Patos” because of all the ducks swimming in the lake. Duck, in Spanish, is pato.

Even long before our food arrived (she ordered a Cobb salad while I ordered spaghetti and meatballs), I could see this was going to be a “mercy date.” A beautiful girl goes out with a geeky guy out of pity, hoping he’ll get the hint and not ask again. Most of the time it works but some friends of mine are as oblivious as they are intelligent, so it takes a friendly-but-terse “I just want to be friends” for the guy to get the message. And then the guy spends a month or so acting depressed unless one his friends talks him into guzzling a few Tequila Sunrises at a local bar.

As I asked her a few more casual questions, I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment. The problem was, I really thought Janet was The One. Janet was beautiful. Very beautiful. Janet also wasn’t too heavy or too thin. When she smiled, dimples appeared on her cheeks. She was about 5’3″ with those blue eyes that were so easy to get hypnotized by. I had to work hard not to stare into those caring eyes too long or I’d get real nervous and start acting goofy–something I often do when I’m around a pretty girl.

I first met Janet three years ago at the Baptist Student Union. She was a Christian and a Baptist, like me, which wasn’t very easy to find at STU. I’d often see her in the student union reading her Bible, praying and talking with others as she shared her faith. With her smile and with her godly ways it was easy to fall in love with her even without getting to know her very well.

A few months after meeting Janet, I asked her out. “I like somebody else,” she replied, putting me into a depression that lasted the rest of that month. I tried to avoid going to the BSU during that time. I let things go for a while, only to see her a year later wearing a large gold class ring on her right index finger. Its ruby stone seemed to mock me, as if saying, “HA ha! This girl’s mine! Get someone else.”

Finally, a few months ago, I noticed the ring gone from Janet’s finger. A quick glance on her left hand showed no engagement ring. A friend of mine, Monica, happened to be Janet’s acquaintance. Good news, Kevin! Monica told me. Janet broke up with her boyfriend from back home and isn’t dating anyone!

I waited those two months to ask Janet out, worried she’d realize I’d had Monica act as my private detective and be turned off. Janet accepted my invitation for a date, and we went to the Los Patos Diner, a restaurant on the north side of town where the rich families lived. It has an upscale feel but serves many types of cuisine. You don’t have to wear a tie to get in, but other patrons there look down on you if you don’t. So, to be on the safe side, I wore one despite the hot, dry South Texas climate.

As I sipped more water and tried to think of another question to ask, a young girl at the table next to us started groaning and holding her stomach. She started to cry and grabbed onto the table cloth, yanking at it as some painful spasm shot through her body. Her father’s glass of red wine tipped over, spilling onto his steak and forming a scarlet island around it. It also sprayed onto the white table cloth. Everyone in the restaurant gasped and turned towards them. After all, public commotions couldn’t possibly happen at such a nice restaurant.

The girl, who blond hair and blue eyes, was around 12 while her parents looked to be in their forties. She spoke to them, and I recognized the language as Russian (having remembered Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie White Nights) but didn’t understand anything. The girl kept crying, this time louder, as if someone had turned up the volume on the pain.

I looked at Janet, bewildered. That distant, vacant look was gone and was replaced by deep concern. “Do you know what’s going on?” she gasped, turning towards me.

“I don’t know, but it sounds like they’re speaking Russian,” I replied.

The father, mother and daughter all continued speaking frantic Russian. The daughter’s cries turned into thin, squeaky shrieks as she writhed in her chair and clutched her abdomen. The father looked around the restaurant and screamed something like, “Pa mosh nam! My-ya doch bolna!” over and over again.

Everybody stared, but nobody moved. Everyone looked concerned, but there was the language barrier. Even in the college town of Los Patos, you don’t find a lot of Russian speakers in South Texas. I wondered if these were tourists or visiting relatives of one of the Russian professors at STU.

Janet was about to get up, but before she could I was already over at the table, wondering if I could be of any help. “Can I help you, sir?” I asked, speaking slowly.

He looked at me, his eyes a pale blue, a smile of gratitude spreading across his round face. His sweaty bald head shined in the overhead lights. “Yes, yes, you can!” he said, speaking English in a Russian accent. “My daughter very sick. She said she have pain near her stomach but just to the right of it. She also say it hurt very badly.”

“It sounds like her appendix might be infected,” I said, remembering my nephew, when he was nine, had those exact same symptoms and needed an emergency appendectomy.

I pulled out my cell phone and dialled 911. “Would you like to call for an ambulance?”

“No, my friend,” he said. “Nobody else seem to understand me tonight.”

So I called and explained where I was and that a little girl needed to be rushed to the hospital. In five minutes an ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians took the little girl (whom I learned was named Svetlana) to the hospital. The father and mother, named Vladimir and Zhanna, thanked me continuously, their Russian accents growing thicker. The mother hugged me and briefly cut off my air supply. As they left, she said to me, “Doe svee don ya!”

Which, I guessed meant “goodbye.”

I went back to the dinner table where Janet was, sat in the chair and exhaled a deep sigh of relief. “That was a close one!” I said, shuddering and trying to make a joke out of it.

Janet stared at me, her mouth locked into a wide, shiny red O of surprise. “That was amazing, Kevin!” she said, a smile growing on her face. Her eyes were locked on mine. The minute she spent staring and smiling at me equaled the amount of attention she’d given me in the past few years, it seemed.

“I know,” I replied. “The little girl apparently has appendicitis, and they got her to a hospital. What amazes me is that nobody else in the restaurant seemed to understand–”

“I didn’t know you spoke Russian!” Janet interrupted. “Where did you learn it?”

“Learn it? What are you talking about?”

“You spoke a few minutes with that couple and it sounded to me like you were speaking Russian.”

“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “I don’t speak Russian. I grew up in Los Patos, and about the only foreign language you hear here–outside the college’s foreign language departments– is Spanish.”

“You’ve never been to Russia?”

“Never.” The only time I’d ever been outside America was to Matamoros, Mexico, to the markets. And there, it’s easy to find people who speak English.

“But I just heard you speaking Russian to that couple,” she said, smiling and pulling out a handkerchief from her purse to wipe away a few tears that had formed.

I started at her as she finished with her her handkerchief, looking for signs that maybe she was teasing me. “You said you heard me speak Russian?”

“Yes,” Janet said.

“Janet, the only foreign language I’ve ever studied in my life is Spanish. I don’t speak Russian. In fact, I couldn’t understand why everybody else in the restaurant seemed to be ignoring the father as he kept saying ‘Help us! My daughter is sick!’ over and over again.”

She shook her head. “Kevin, all I could hear is you speaking Russian. When you first spoke, I heard you say something like ‘Pa-moch’ and ‘doch’ and ‘bolna’.”

I later learned those words meant help, daughter and sick.

I shook my head. “Janet, I spoke English to them. As God as my witness, I don’t speak Russian.”

She stared me for a long time, a smile on her face. Monica told me once that Janet had this uncanny ability to read people and tell when they’re lying. But instead of getting nervous from her smile, I just stared back at her.

Finally, Janet said, “Well, it sounds like I just witnessed something out of the second chapter of Acts.”

“When Peter speaks in one language and people from many other countries hear him in their own language?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I can’t wait to tell my atheist roommate about this. She probably won’t believe me, but this could help to plant a seed.”

It turned into a nice date that night. I’m thinking of asking her out again.

© Copyright 2010 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.

My Writer’s Digest subscription has been renewed!

Jane Friedman

A very special, grateful, humble “Thank you” goes to Jane Friedman, the publisher of Writer’s Digest. After reading my earlier blog post about how I wasn’t able at this time to renew my subscription to her magazine, she then e-mailed me and offered me a complimentary, one-year subscription renewal!

This generosity was very unexpected (I’d actually made my posting more to chronicle what’s going on in my writing life) but is very appreciated.

Again, thank you for your nice gift, Ms. Friedman! I think of it as a birthday present (I’ll turn 37 in February). What I will probably do is take the tax return money I’d planned to use to renew my subscription to instead upgrade to the VIP program.

Richard Zowie has been a professional writer since 2000. He’s been a journalist, columnist, blogger, copy writer and even fiction writer. Post comments below or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.