Jan 5th, 2021
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
We Make Books is a podcast for writers and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Send us your questions, comments, and concerns!
We hope you enjoy We Make Books!
Transcript (All Mistakes are Fully Rekka's Fault)
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of We Make Books, a show about writing, publishing, and everything in between. My name's Kaelyn Considine, and I am the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.
And I'm Rekka. I write science fiction and fantasy as RJ Theodore.
This is an exciting episode. We have our second repeat guest.
Yes, I am looking forward to lots of people coming back on. When we crafted this podcast together, I wasn't sure how many guests we were going to do other than people who were experts on things that we didn't really feel comfortable dispensing advice on, but we've ended up just having like really great conversations where I don't necessarily think it was because we just needed to sit back and get out of the way of somebody. But like, because it's fun to talk to more than one person. And I don't blame you for not wanting to talk to just me all the time.
I could talk to you forever.
This is true. We have done this. There's no smoked meat now. So like it doesn't feel the same.
I know. We've definitely forgone sleep by like large quantities, because we were just like up talking.
We had slumber parties in the time before this is so sad.
I know. Yeah. And there's, there's no smoked meat. There's no slumber parties. There's no movie after movie. You don't what I just realized? We didn't actually say who our guest was.
Is that important?
No, I just.
We're terrible hosts.
We said our second repeat guests, so,
Well, I mean suspense, that's another genre.
Suspense. Definitely. We'll give you a hint.
It's Hilary Bisenieks.
Oh, okay. Or we could just tell you who it is.
That was my hint. It's just a good hint. I'm being kind at the end of this year.
Well, I was, so we had Hilary came back on to talk to us about trunking stories.
Well we did say that we were going to have him back on as soon As possible.
We did, yeah. This, this shouldn't. Yeah, this shouldn't be like a huge shock, but yeah, it was a, it was great to have Hilary back on. Um, uh, hopefully you listened to the episode.
Hopefully you listened to Hilary's podcasts because Tales From The Trunk is just a delightful podcast. It's so much fun. It's one of those great, like "two people who clearly like each other and like having a conversation, talking to each other for a while," and it's very friendly and I love it. Um, as I've said before and will say again.
Very relatable. So yeah. Hilary came on to talk to us about trunking stories today, being somewhat of an expert on the subject. Um, you know, it's a, it's a difficult thing to do, I think, for a lot of writers, it's definitely a milestone. It's definitely like, you know, there's an other side of it where it's like, okay, I have done this thing now. Um, and there's a lot of reasons to do it. Um, it sounds like something that you want to never do, but I think most people will and probably should, at some point in their writing career, trunk a story.
We're going to have more than one story that you write. Hopefully. You're not just going to write one novel and retire on the proceeds of that one novel.
I mean, that would be great, but like, is that really what you want?
Yeah. I mean, then you don't want to be a writer. You just want to be famous, right? You're not going to trunk that story if you're that committed. So if you are a writer who plans to be prolific, you're going to stumble into trunking a story at some point or another, you're just going to be done. You're going to move on. And I mean, we're going to go into those reasons in this episode so I won't, you know, distill them again down here.
Don't be ashamed of trunking a story. It's a natural process. It happens to everybody. Just because your friends are acting all cool and like nothing's going on with them. Doesn't mean they have a trunked a story, too.
Just because your friends on Twitter have announced 10 stories sold this year. Doesn't mean they're not trunking stuff as well. Um, yeah, so it's, it's just something that comes with being a prolific writer. So be proud of it and then hit up Hilary to go on his podcast and read one of your trunked stories to audience, which is just really nice. Um, a nice way to say goodbye to the story, maybe.
So, um, well, you know, speaking of things that are bad—
I had a segue for the traffic thing before. Oh, speaking of slowing it down. That's what I was going to use. Yeah. So we have a guest who might sound somewhat familiar to you.
Our second returning guest. This is so exciting.
Yes. And um, so Hilary Bisenieks is back. A triumphant return—
—to help us talk about quitting.
I'm an expert at quitting.
Has come back to talk about quitting. No, specifically, we're talking about, uh, trunking stories today, what that means, why and when you should do it?
And can you reverse it?
Yeah. Is, is this permanent? Is this, uh, something that you have to live with for the rest of your life? So Hilary you're the, you're the expert on trunking, uh, for those of you who didn't listen to the previous episode Hilary joined us on, Hilary is the host of a very awesome podcast called Tales From The Trunk. Um, Hilary, do you want to tell everyone about that real quick?
Absolutely. Uh, Tales From The Trunk, subtitled Reading The Stories That Didn't Make It, is a podcast where I talk monthly with authors from all over science fiction, fantasy and horror about stories they've trunked. Every author comes on with a trunked short story or a selection of a trunked novel. They read that. We talk about why they trunked it. And then we just chat about being writers for the remainder of an hour. Uh, it has been described as just sitting around listening to a couple of friends chat.
I mean, those are the best kinds of podcasts. Um, so Hilary, before we, you know, get too far into this, as you know, our listeners know, I always like to start with definitions. So, um, for those who didn't listen to the previous episode you were on, can you, uh, tell us what it means to trunk a story?
Absolutely. So trunking a story is the moment that you decide "I can't sell this for whatever reason, I'm not going to continue trying to submit it. Or in some cases I'm not going to try to submit it at all." And, uh, that comes from any number of reasons, uh, which we will get into, but
Oh we're going to get into it! Yes definitely. Yeah. So, you know, if you're a, if you're in the writing sphere, if you, you know, frequent areas that writers collect, you've probably seen, you know, people talking about trunking a story and you know, kind of going like, "well, what the heck does that mean?" So exactly as Hilary said, you know, it's kind of like, "I'm quitting on this story." That's making it sound so much more dire than it than it actually is. But, um, you've gotten to a point where you're like, "I either don't think I can sell this or maybe I don't have the energy to try to continue selling this. I've just gotten disheartened to the point that for my mental health, I have to walk away from it." Um, but yeah, you're taking the story and you're putting it in a trunk and not going to think about it anymore.
And I like to imagine that, like, that's the trunk you find in your grandparent's attic. So someday, like someone's going to explore your—well these days, your computer hard drive.
And, um, so you better change all the icons on your writing folders to look like little trunks, if you, if you decide to put a story away. But, um, Hilary also pointed out really quick there that you might've blinked and missed it, that, um, you can also trunk a story that you've never attempted to sell.
And that might be like more like the secret novel that you didn't know, your grandmother wrote kind of thing. Um, because it was like, so passionate, your grandmother was this like adorable church lady
Uh, or it can be something that you decided you had no place in writing.
Also a good, good thing to consider. "Um, am I the right person to tell this story? Like, yes, I had this idea and yes, I had fun writing it, but maybe it's not for me to tell." Um, so that's, uh, that's a good point. So let's start from there. Like trunking a story, you just finished it, you're looking at it, you sit on it maybe a couple of weeks, a month or something, and you just feel like there's something about this that I don't want to take it out into the world. Now for that reason, I'm assuming not too many of your guests have ever come on and read a trunk story that they wrote and didn't want in the world.
No, no. They, uh, I think that I'm the only person who has brought a story onto the show that I was embarrassed of, um, which felt like the right decision. Honestly, I had a, of, um, I had a lot of good things to talk about with that particular story. Um, but I've had this situation for myself, certainly a number of times, especially right after the 2016 election, I wrote a lot of, uh, very angry stories that were from the experiences of people who are not me, who are much more marginalized than I was. And I was, you know, angry and scared. And then I finished the stories and I kind of treated it like free therapy in some ways.
Yeah. Yeah nothing wrong with that.
And said, "Okay, I exorcised this from myself and now I can stick it into—" uh, I think I just call it my "retired" folder, but, uh, I've been meaning to change that to a trunk.
I was going to say, not trunked? I'm very disappointed.
Well, you know, that would come up every time he did a search for his podcast files.
That's a good point. That's a very good point.
So if he calls it the same thing that it's going to tangle up, all his files, that makes sense.
Yeah. So, you know, this is kind of a way to segue into like, well, why would you trunk a story? So, you know, we've kind of, you know, for logical and human reasons kind of put this into, "maybe this, isn't your story to tell maybe this isn't something that you want to be putting out into the world," but past that then where you've got to make a personal decision, you know, why is this something that an author would decide to do? Um, you know, we talk a lot about on this show about how much time and effort it takes to write something, even, you know, a short story versus a novel. Don't— I go online and, you know, I'm in all these writers groups and then the discourse and the slacks, and everyone just keeps telling you, "you got to just keep trying, you got to keep trying it's, something's gonna, you know, if you, as long as you try some things eventually going to happen," but trunking a story seems to be completely opposite of that. That is not the case.
There is an element of energy that it takes to keep putting yourself out in the world over and over and over again. And at a certain point, I think when you love a story so much, and it just keeps getting rejected, it's almost protective that you just can't take it anymore, or this deserves better than that you know, 1 cent per word market, or this deserves better than going to a, uh, exposure-only payment method. You know, at some point you go, "maybe I'll just keep this for me" or "maybe I'll hang onto it and it can be part of a like single author anthology later "or something. But I don't know if that ladder counts as trunking, but I think we might get back to that too.
We'll certainly come back to that.
I, I kind of considered that level to be provisional trunking, that there are, there are stories that are in my... there are some stories that are still in my active folder that I haven't sent out in a couple of years, just because I've been waiting on the right market to reopen for them, or just because I haven't reorganized my writing folder. But there are stories in my actual trunked folder that I still stand behind. And if the opportunity came up, if somebody, you know, called me up tomorrow and said, "Hey, we like your writing. We want a whole bunch of it right now." I would be able to pull out and say, okay, yeah, this is still representative of me.
So on sabbatical, not retirement.
So let's kind of talk real quickly through some, some reasons, you know, to trunk something beyond, uh, you know, the more definitive ones that we had mentioned here. So one, obviously, you know, as Rekka had mentioned: exhaustion. This is you're to a point where you're like, look, I love this story. It's not selling for whatever reason. Maybe you've gotten really good feedback about it, but you just can't get a bite on it and you've hit the wall. This is as much as you can do with it. The cost of the emotional labor is too high for your own, you know, sanity and mental well-being, you have to stop doing this at a certain point. Um, another reason. So that's, you know, that's one assuming like good feedback, the flip side of that is maybe not so good feedback on the story. Um, and you know, when we'll, we'll talk about this more, but when a story becomes quote-unquote unfixable, and that's when it's time to stop on that side. Um, but you know, another reason might be that, you know, as Hilary had said, this isn't the right time for this story, for whatever reason, you know, environmentally in the publishing sphere that you're interested in, you know, maybe you wrote, you know, maybe you had the misfortune of writing a teenage vampire book back in the early two thousands, and just so happened to coincide with all of the other teenage vampire books that were, uh, being released at that point.
Or for example, you have a anthology story that was a themed anthology, and you didn't quite make it, and it's still a good story. And they told you it was a close call, et cetera. So you really want to rush it off to the next market, but everyone else who was rejected from that themed anthology has a story with the same theme. And now they're going to flood the rest of the markets with those stories. And those stories, those editors are going to know that there was a themed anthology call recently because of how many stories they're going to get like this. And that's another sabbatical sort of, um, item, but, um, another instance where good feedback does not necessarily mean send it right back out again.
Yeah. So let's, let's spend some time talking, you know, the good feedback side of this and the reasons that you might trunk something that has been receiving good feedback. So, you know, as we said, one of those could be the emotional and mental cost and labor of this. It's a lot of work to submit stories. Um, anybody who tells you like, "Oh, whatever, you just go online and you drop the file in there and you click it," um, clearly has not been doing this or has been doing it wrong. So there's the time. But then there's also the emotional and mental labor aspect of this. If this keeps getting rejected, that's going to wear on you. That's really difficult to just have to deal with day in and day out. Especially if it's a story that everyone's telling you, "I loved this. This is great. I have a couple little notes, but nothing, you know, nothing major," that can be very difficult to deal with. And, you know, like we were joking about quitting, but I, I don't necessarily like to think of it as quitting. I like to think of it as, you know, being realistic and, you know, taking good care of yourself.
Well, sometimes you quit a job to take good care of yourself. Isn't that true, Kaelyn?
Oh, yes. Yes.
So let's not forget that quitting is not always, uh, a failure on your part. Sometimes it is literally saying, um, "I need to not be here right now." And sometimes not being here right now means not being in the trenches of getting constant rejections or waiting 83 days to get a rejection or more.
And by the way, the quitting analogy is actually very good because I quit a job that was, um, it wasn't great. And I went to a much better one. So sometimes, you know, walking away from something that is maybe doing things that aren't great for your mental health and stability gives, opens you up to walk away and go to something that is going to be better and may actually help improve that.
Right. So in this case, stopping focus on like one story and revising it every time you get feedback and instead, like going and writing something fresh and, you know, using all the skills you've developed as a writer, writing all these other stories that maybe didn't make it, they're all going to create the story that does. Yeah.
As writers, I'd be curious from both of you about the obsessive characteristic of this, if you can get very obsessed and infatuated with revising and tweaking and fixing a story so that somebody will see how awesome it is and take it.
I think a lot of that, at least speaking for myself, and some folks I've talked to is the, uh, inability to have the confidence in your own work to say, "no, I, I meant to do it this way. Um, and there are reasons why your feedback is, while appreciated, not appropriate in this case." And so when you are submitting, you have essentially put yourself in mode of, "I am seeking external validation for myself and my work" and when you don't get it, but you do get feedback, that's pinging something in you, I think. And when you're, when you've set your mind to that mode of looking for other people to approve of you, when they tell you what it would have taken for them to approve of you, it's very easy to then feel like you need to follow through on that unsolicited or solicited advice.
You don't think it's coming more from the, like the obsession with the story. So much as the obsession of getting somebody to say yes to the story and therefore validate it.
Part. Well, so there are people who never stop fiddling with a story, um, and they might submit it and then go look at it again and go, "Oh, you know what, I'm going to do that differently." I am the type where if I'm submitting it, I don't look at the story again. I will open it and make sure that nothing's gone wonky with the formatting and then I will send it off. And, um, if I hear back with someone else's advice, now I'm like, "okay, now I know what I would be looking for if I opened that document again." But if I just am myself without any external input, opening a document, like I could fiddle with it forever. And I know that, so I tend to be better about not fiddling once I say, "okay, this is done, I'm sending it off" because I know how frustrated I would be if I decided to change something and it's out with somebody at that moment.
Yeah. From my perspective, uh, you know, I, I answered yes, extremely quickly because when I was a brand new writer, I absolutely, I think kind of like what Rekka was saying, not having that confidence in my own work, but also, uh, because of how long it can take to write a short story and get it to a place where you want to submit it. I think, especially when you are young, when you are new to the field—uh, and I'm speaking purely from my experience in this—I pinned all of my success on that one story. My, you know, my feeling was, and especially because I had very positive feedback right out of the gate through a series of, uh, very privileged happenstances that I had, you know, all this great feedback immediately on this first short story that I ever sent out. And I thought, "okay, I have to sell this one because I don't know if I can do that again."
Yeah. I think, you know, the, the investment, and I don't even just mean time investment in this as like, is a major factor. It's like, it's the sunk cost fallacy. "I've gotten so far in this and I have done so much and everybody's telling me, just keep pushing, just keep trying." So, you know, that said, as you know, both of you have trunked stories that you've gotten very good feedback on that people have enjoyed. And for whatever reason, they just, you know, didn't, didn't go where you wanted them to. Um, I'm going to start with Hilary and then we'll go to Rekka. What happened that you said, "okay, now it's time to stop?"
I didn't think the story represented me anymore. That's, that's usually the reason I trunk stories at this point. If I have been submitting them, I trunk them because they are not something that I want to attach my name to anymore. Uh, especially I'm thinking about the stories that I was writing, you know—I started writing, uh, with an aim to get published 15 years ago. And me 15 years ago, uh, is, was a very different person than me in 2020.
Yeah, of course.
Um, in a way that like me from 2015, isn't as different that there are still stories I send out from 2015, but, or would if I had markets for them, but, uh, stories from 20, from 2005. Absolutely not.
Okay. Yep. Rekka, how about you? What's, uh, what's an example or two of a time you were like, okay, it's time to be done with this?
You're going to be very sad that, um, my answer is basically the same as Hilary's, but also—
Oh. That is a little disappointing.
Yeah, I knew you would be disappointed in me.
I was hoping for some sort of like, "I had a dream and a cat appeared to me and said, 'Rekka there's a new story.'"
See here's the thing. I haven't, I haven't trunked the cat story yet. I'm not giving up on that one yet. Um, Kaelyn's read that story.
Hilary, have you read the cat story?
I have not yet.
Hilary hasn't. Hilary might get to hear it next spring because I might trunk it by then.
Okay, so we have no spoilers.
We're not referring to the cat story now. We're referring to a very short piece of flash fiction I wrote for a library contest and it won the library contest and it was supposed to appear in an anthology that they were going to print cause they had a new espresso machine, which is a book printer, not an espresso machine. And I'm.
I'm not sure
Especially considering how often books and coffee shops overlap.
Right. You really would think that they would have at least called it an eXpresso machine or something like that.
I'm just like, I'm picturing like this, you know, things showing up and they're like, this box is gigantic. It's just supposed to be a coffee machine. What's it here. Okay.
I think you would notice if you accidentally bought an espresso book machine. They're about, I think $12,000 or something like that. If there
There are coffee machines that cost that much.
I was going to say, I just read this year's take down of the Williams-Sonoma holiday catalog.
There's a take-down of it?
There is an annual takedown of it. Uh, the most expensive item in the catalog every year is somehow a coffee apparatus.
Well, so this is, um, this is very funny because, uh, I'm gonna just, you know what, I'm not sure when this, this episode's getting posted after Christmas. So Rekka will have her present from me by then, which is a coffee based thing from Williams-Sonoma.
I hope it's the coffee based thing. I'd be really disappointed if it's not at least several grands worth of coffee of apparatus.
It's not the $12,000 espresso machine. Be it either something that makes coffee or something that makes books, but it is a coffee based device from Williams-Sonoma.
Imagine if I could become a small press just like that.
Um, you could, you could become a kind of a small coffee shop, maybe?
You could become an Aeropress. Eyyyyyy.
Very well done. Extra points for puns on this show.
Always. Um, so I, okay. Now I have, now I remember what I was talking about. Sorry, we went off coffee. I was like, wait, also my coffee mug is almost empty. So like now I'm just upset.
Yeah that's exactly how you distract Rekka all the time. "Rekka. Rekka... Coffee with heavy cream."
Um, so they were going to print an anthology on their espresso machine book, printer, and never did. And so I was like, I'm going to go ahead and say that two years is enough time that if there were a contract, which there wasn't, that the rights would have reverted to me by now. So I started shopping around and it wasn't getting any hits and it wasn't like super fantasy or science fiction or anything. It was kind of just like on the edge of reality kind of thing. So I wasn't super committed to it. It wasn't very long, so it wasn't like it was going to get me, you know, very far along those SFWA guidelines for membership, you know, um, for the minimum word count, you got to sell at a pro rate. And, um, and then, yeah, I think I opened it one time to see if I should revise it. And I was kind of like, "you know what, this is not that great a story. I'm like, it might've been pressed the library, but this is not reflective of what I can do." So I stuck it in a folder.
The story that I brought on to the Tables Turned episode of my podcast, where I had Sharon Hsu interview me, instead of me interviewing her, faced a very similar set of circumstances where I wrote it in 2011 and sold it to, uh, a semipro market in the beginning of 2012. And got a contract, returned the contract, never got a countersigned one sent back to me. This was 2012 and people were still sending things through the mail. And then never heard anything from the market, uh, for over a year and then heard, "Hey, we found this. We were meaning to publish it. We'd like to put it in this feature and we've upped our pay rates. Would you like us? Can we still do that?" And I said, "Yes, please. And can you send me a new contract?" And then never heard anything from them? Uh, and I think I submitted it one more time maybe after that. Uh, I think to the first open submission period for Uncanny, and then it came back rightfully and I looked at it and I said, "Oh, this is, this is not great. I don't want to attach my name to this anymore." And so.
Thank goodness that contract never showed up.
I did the smart thing and read it publicly on a podcast that you can go download for free right now.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, you know, it's interesting because both of you, um, you've kind of, you touched on something and, you know, as I said with, you know, "tell me about the time you've talked a story" and both of you said, "well, the story wasn't really representative of me anymore." Um, and you both skirted around something, well Hilary, you just dove into it, which is, "I don't think it was good anymore. And I didn't want my name on this." Um, so I'm going to take that and segue us into the other reason you may trunk a story is apart from you deciding this is isn't good. I don't want my name on this. Maybe be getting some negative feedback here about, uh, about your story and whether or not you should continue to try to publish it. Um, I will, uh, put on the editor hat here in a minute and talk about—
Cause you haven't been wearing the editor hat this whole time.
Um, first of all, they're editor headphones,
I was gonna say.
Hang on, I've got a, I've got a hood. I can put the, the editor up.
This is so, so we can't spit in her eye when we get the feedback.
This is, this is so like, this is so I don't have to like actually, you know, make eye contact when I'm telling people this story is a tear down. Um, um, but yeah, so, you know, you both have kind of mentioned, you know, instances of like, "I, I really don't want my name on this and out in the world." And I'm assuming that kind of just comes from growing and changing and developing your craft as an author. And, you know, like, you know, we all look back at the thing we colored when we were, you know, a kid and be like, "Oh God, I remember being so proud of this." And, um, you know, you do you change and you grow and develop as a writer. And, um, but so then why out of curiosity, did you not go back and revise? What made you say "I can't, this is not something I can work with anymore."
TBH. I thought about it. And then I thought, you know, this is, I can spend my energy better on writing a new, better story. The things specifically in, in this story that were, that I didn't want to attach my name to anymore, weren't necessarily, uh, an intrinsic part of the story, but I didn't feel like I wanted to spend the energy to navigate around the ways that they were problematic.
Uh, that like the text, the prose itself was functional. I having read it out loud on this show. I found problems with it that I could have dodged by just reading it out loud to begin with. But the things that I objected to were more on the content side of like, when I wrote it in 2011, I thought that I was a cis straight dude and I am a bisexual genderqueer disaster.
So the story isn't reflective of your truth anymore.
Well, I mean, you know, there's, it was more, there's the, the bisexual gender. I, I refuse to acknowledge or accept you as a disaster. I'm going to, I'm going to change that to force of nature.
I will take that.
Um, you know, that was just inside looking to come out and, uh, you know, come out.
Come out? Eyyyyyy.
It's just looking inside looking to get out into the world there. And uh, okay. So yeah, no that's, and I think that's something, you know, I, I don't really write, um, uh, fiction. I have written academically and it is funny you say that because I go back and I have the opposite thing now where I go back and look at stuff that I wrote that like, you know, some things I had published and I'm like, "Oh my God, was this me? I don't like, I don't remember being this insightful." And I don't think I actually, I'm not sure if it was insightfulness, or if it was exhausted and my professors were like, ah, yes, this is clearly I, uh, a smart person or, you know, I was basically just like drooling onto a page and trying to make sense of it at that.
What you're saying is that you reached enlightenment while writing that.
I, I don't, there are like papers that every now and then I dig up and I'm like, "I genuinely have no memory of writing this, but I clearly did a lot of research here." And like, I think, especially when I was in grad school, I was in just like such a, a haze of, you know, like I was reading three books a week and having to write 7 to 10 pages on them within that time. And then like, you know, then you get to the things that you're actually doing research on. Um, but it is interesting because, you know, if you told me to go back, like, I think like, you know, 10 years later now, I'm, I don't want to say more intelligent, but I think like I have a lot more information and, you know, stuff that I've gathered and I certainly have access to, you know, different things and I've just lived life.
Yeah. I was going to say the context or experience is a big part of it.
Yeah. Yeah. I still don't think I could recreate that time where I was just completely submerged in all of this. So, um, you know, I think like life stages have a lot to do with like what you're generating and like what, you know, you can go back and look at something and say like, "Oh, well, I don't remember this exactly. But based on what I've written here, this must have been when this was happening in my life." Um, but anyway, so I'd like to kind of pivot back to, you know, you guys had both, you know, said things that you're like, "I can't fix this. I can't, this isn't worth my time and energy have more to do with, um, it's not representative me anymore and it's not worth trying to fix."
For me. It was that, um, this piece wasn't really genre. So I, wasn't going to go outside of my genre markets that I'm looking at to find a place to submit it to, what, build a name that nobody cares about? You know, like there'll be one 501 word story out there in a non genre magazine, or, you know, maybe? Um, it just like, you know, I could write of 5,000 word version of this story, and that might be interesting to do, but like I was exploring, it was a, um, a word prompt, you know, challenge. So everyone, I think, honestly the word prompt was "writer." And so I, you know, like I, wasn't going to write super fantasy about it. I could have, but I just sort of had this idea and I went with it. I think I turned it in the next day or something like that. And they picked it like, so it barely got revised. It barely got re-read. And, um, it's not really representative, not just of me as a writer and what I'm capable of, but of the rest of my body of work. You know, like 500 words. I'm not going to sit here and revise it to add more fantasy or add more science fiction. I'm just going to let it go.
One of the things that's really interesting and what I like hearing from both of you is a level of self-awareness that you don't find in humanity a lot. And Rekka always teases me about, um, about like how, what I think of writers as like, as a collective and whatever. But one of the things that I will say that I always find with writers is they're self-aware to the point of their own detriment.
That is a mood.
And are you still self-aware of like, if you're going far off the other end where you are, so self-deprecating, you know, it's, it's one thing to be not—
Yeah, no, it's, there's, there's a cer there's definitely like, you know, there's a surface tension that's going to break at some points to be sure. Um, but Mo a lot of writers are incredibly self-aware. Um, obviously not all of them, because the other reason that it might be time to trunk a story— Rekka, that is the saddest thing I've ever seen in my life.
I told you I'm in a shed. I can't just like wave my coffee mug in the air and make someone come and fill it for me.
I'm so concerned for you right now. And I just really hope—
I just tilted my head back—for our, for our listeners, if I don't trim this out—I tilted my head back to get the last of my coffee out of my mug. And I tapped to the bottom so that,
No. No, tap implies a much more gentle action than what was taking place there. This was a, like, "you give that to me right now."
I mean, yes.
This was a glass bottle of ketchup at a diner sort of motion.
Yes that's exactly what that was like, you know, like someone's holding it up to their eye. Like, that's exactly what was happening there.
Look, I like coffee.
We know honey. Um, but the other reason, you know, the, if we're go into a little bit of the more depressing side, maybe the side where you're not the one that makes the decision that it's time to trunk a story and other people are telling you too, is that the story is I am just going to say it: unfixable. As, you know, an editor as somebody who reads a lot of submissions, you know, I have come across multiple instances of novel length books that are unfixable.
I have a question.
Because while revising, you can literally replace every word in the story.
Jason and the Argonauts, if you replace all of the pieces of the boat, is it still the original boat?
Well, that's what I'm saying. Like, if this happens over multiple revision passes and you, you know, are the same person, roughly, as you work on it, is it not possible to replace all the words over a period of time and turn it into a better story.
Okay. So let's talk about that because, and this is, you know, something where I know I'm going to be on the, uh, the defensive here a tiny bit, because.
No, you are the aggressor here. I'm sorry.
You have uttered fightin' words to a couple of writers.
Writers do not like to hear that something is unfixable.
I can edit this out too. I can make her say anything I want. I can change every word in this podcast. I have hours and hours of Kaelyn speaking.
It's just going to be me uttering nonsequitors.
This entire podcast is just going to be reduced to us laughing about coffee. Yes.
If it must be, it must be that will make it better, at least right, than you telling us that we didn't write a story and we have to put it away.
So here's the thing. Editors also do not like to say something is unfixable. Me as an editor, all I want to do is fix this. All I want to do is, and there's actually, I've shown Rekka a couple instances of like stories I got. And I wrote, like there was one of them, I think I wrote five pages single-spaced of just notes and like the first two were identifying all of the problems. And then the third remaining three were okay, here's how we fix this. And I remember showing it to, uh, to Collin Coyle. And he was like, "Kaelyn, this is supposed to be a pretty much completed draft somebody turned in, you've read this, sat down and spit this out in an hour and a half. This is nowhere near a complete list of what, you know, would have to be done here. And you're basically suggesting that they take everything they did and start over. This story is not fixable." And he was right. But I don't like to admit that because I am—not just in terms of stories, in terms of everything in my life—I'm a fixer.
Well I think most people are. You go on Twitter and say you have a problem and you will have so many comments, so fast, of people giving you advice that you didn't ask for us. This is human nature.
Is that, is that people who just want to give you advice or is that people who like genuinely want to fix something?
It happened to me today. A friend told me a situation that they had that was untenable. And my immediate reaction was "well, could you...?" You know, and it wasn't because I was thinking that they were incapable of solving this on their own. It's just, I really enjoy solving problems. That's why I code, you know, like when I, when I find that semi-colon in PHP that's broken everything, like I'm really happy.
I mean, look, I work in, you know, I work in sales and like, this is, you know, I always, whenever I have to train someone new or whenever I have to, you know, talk about something, I always say, "they're coming to you because they don't, they may not realize it, but they have a problem. They need something to, you know, help with whatever. So that's what you're, you know, you're helping with here as you're being a problem solver." I wanna... But here's the thing. I want to make the distinction between problem solving and fixing, because problem solving is helping is, you know, trying to mitigate a situation, to an extent. Fixing something is "there are things that are broken here and we need to glue them back together. We need to pop them back into place so that the machine can go back to ticking."
Um, I don't like to think that there are stories that are unfixable, but there absolutely are. It's not pleasant, especially considering how much time and effort go into these. And sometimes that may be the problem. Is that, you know, you have like, like, you know, like with cooking, like if you, I, I love to cook. And one of the most important things about cooking is knowing that when a dish is done. Where you're like, "Okay, this is it. I don't need to put any more garnish on this. It doesn't need any more salt. It doesn't need any more seasoning me adding more butter to this is not going to improve upon it." It's now over cooked or the sauce is separated or, you know, whatever. So I always kind of lump stories that are unfixable into two categories. Um, one is that the story is a mess. Um, this is a trap I think a lot of writers fall into where they get very excited and then get overwhelmed.
How dare you.
I know both of you are feeling very personally attacked right now.
You come into my house on my zoom.
But writers, you know, have a lot, especially, you know, in the genres that Rekka, Hilary, and I live in and, you know, fantasy, horror, science fiction, where you've got to create so much stuff and you can just come up with all of these things. And it's like, it's like word vomit. It's just like, it just keeps coming and coming and coming. And it makes the story a mess. You lose track of character arcs, you lose track of plot lines, you lose track of themes because the story is just so ladened down with so many different things. And it could be, you know, it could be the world building is too much, there's too much detail and that's resulting in things being inconsistent. And it's not simply a matter of, okay, we have to make it line up consistently. It could be well, that affects the plot of the story.
You know, like you have one character explaining that the magic system works this way, but another character that's completely flying in the face of it. And that's, they do something that is relevant, you know, pivotal even, to the plot moving forward. So there's no way to fix that. Um, you could have too many characters, you could have too many points of view. And some of these sound, you know, individually maybe a thing that you address, but when they're all together, you're just, it's, it's too much. The story at that point is a tear down, where maybe you can salvage the foundation of it, but you're going to have to really like, do some major, major remodeling.
You're literally describing what happened with Flotsam. I worked on this story. I worked on this story for 14 years, but the version that made it to the shelves did not exist until 2016. You know, like the, the story was, um, my NaNoWriMo project every year. And then I would revise it. And as I was rereading it, I would go, Oh, but what if I also, and I always also had it into it. So it just kept getting bigger and more ungainly and yeah.
"Ooh, But what if I also" is emblazoned on the outside of so many trunks with stories in them. That is the epitaph on the tombstone.
Yeah. I've been in the situation though. And I think that this comes up more in short fiction than in longer form stuff, where I have ripped and replaced an entire story because the concept of it wouldn't leave my brain. And I think that's the coming back to earlier of "why didn't I try to fix this one trunked story?" I was over the concept. And I've rewritten other stories from the ground up with entirely new characters, but the same basic hook, because I couldn't get over the hook.
This is where I was, you know, kind of saying like where you get fixated and infatuated with something. Like you just, there's this thing in your ear that you just, you can't let go of, um,
But that doesn't necessarily create messy drafts. The way that overworking one draft does.
Yeah, Absolutely. Yeah. Another time where it's time to trunk a story is you need to work on your writing. There isn't a lot we can do with this story until you get better as a writer. And, you know, there's a lot of different ways and resources to improve on writing, hone your craft. Um, you know, one is just writing. Two, You know, take a class. There's lots of great online classes get involved in writing groups. And you know, that's a, that's a whole topic for another time, but if you're not doing a good job with the actual writing, the story is not going to go anywhere. It's not going to sell. And by the way, speaking of, you know, then being in another place, when you come back to revisit this, you may just start over anyway, because all of the time you spent developing yourself as a writer is going to bring a fresh perspective to this story.
If you come back to it all at that point.
If you come back to it all at that point. Um, so yes, unfortunately there are unfixable stories. Um, it's apart from, you know, the time and effort and emotional labor involved in this, there are some points where, you know, you and probably in combination with someone else are going to hit a wall where you just have to say, "it is time for me to be done with this now. I have done everything that I can do. And maybe I've done too much."
If only they'd said that with The Last Jedi.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
At every level we can fall victim to this. Um, yeah. So, you know, it's funny while we were talking, um, I went back to my trunked folder and I did notice that I have a note about this story. Cause I put a story in a folder, because if like there are different versions of it, if I have, you know, a, a version for anonymous submissions or I have a version where they wanted Times and a version where they wanted Courier, I have, you know, each file saved separately. And so each story gets a folder. And the note for this one says "in the drawer, maybe rewrite?" So like, you know, 500 words would be a total rewrite, not like rework. Um, you will also be happy to know that I did apparently have the cat story in that folder. Um, except it is out on submission right now. So, um, I obviously didn't care, uh, that I decided to trunk it. Um, it has been at one market for 106 days now. So just kind of out of mind, out of sight. I don't know whether I put it in the folder before or after I sent it off.
So Hilary, you know, as kind of, kind of the expert here on, on trunking stories, what advice do you have for people who are, you know, can't quite figure out if they've hit the wall yet?
Well, you've been on this show before. You knew we were going to ask you—,
But last time I brought the ending question.
That's a good point.
Um, you know, on my show, I get to ask those hard questions and not have to answer them. Um, so the things I would say, if you're not sure about trunking something are really just set it aside for two weeks. If you still feel like, and it doesn't have to be two weeks, but like pick an arbitrary amount of time that is longer than a day to let the story sit and see if it still compels you. And you don't have to reread it in order to decide if it's still compelling to you, just whatever your metric is for you believe in this story.
If that's something that you still want to put out into the world, and if you have the energy to do that, then don't trunk it. You can put it on hiatus. You can say this is waiting for a specific market. I've sat on stories for, I sat on a story for six months this year, because PseudoPod only is open for original fiction submissions during October. And I knew that this was a horror story that hadn't yet been out to PseudoPod and I wanted to try it on them. And got rejected. It's out at another market. That'll be okay. And this is, you know, this is a story with 20-something-odd rejections under its belt. There's no threshold of rejections. There's no threshold of markets. It is, "Does this story still means something to you?" Yeah. Um, and if it still means something to you, you could still decide to trunk it, because I like nothing better than to be a contradiction.
You could, you know, you could trunk it today and then in a year think, "Oh, whatever happened to that story?" Um, and the other thing I would say is don't let your story that you are obsessing over right now be the only thing in your life. That, uh, you know, I have, I have spent probably a good year of my 15 years as, uh, a submitting working writer, obsessing over stories and tinkering on stories and worrying about stories that I could have spent just pouring that energy into something new. And it doesn't have to be a story. It doesn't have to be writing. Just something. It's not healthy to think about writing every day of your life. It's not healthy to think about any single thing every day of your life to the point that it upsets you.
And yeah, once you start submitting the story, as you are putting yourself in that position where you're more likely to be upset than not because there are, um, I looked yesterday, so this might not be up to date, but on the Submission Grinder, um, which is run by Diabolical Plots, uh, of markets that were either open or only temporarily closed, uh, there were 590. So you could put yourself through an awful lot of rejections with a single story and it not having anything to do with it being a bad story, but just, you know, the market submitted to wasn't right for it. There were too many great stories that, you know, submissions period. There were, um, you know, other people with the same topic, you know, and they had to pick one or they decided there was an anthology call because too many people sent them the same kind of story and then they didn't take any of them. Yeah. Because they thought someone else would too.
So, you know, there are lots of reasons that have nothing to do with that validation that you want, um, that your story might get rejected. And then there are also lots and lots of markets where if you just kind of get it in your head that this story might get shot out in 500 different directions, you can go back to your life and forget that you have a story in submission until you hear back about it. Um, which is why I try to always log my submissions in the Submissions Grinder. So I remember if I have a story out right now. Because I really try to put it out of my head until I get some sort of letter one way or the other, um, which I definitely recommend. Just like Hilary said, it's like have something else that you're really focused on. Don't be focused on "What's the story doing? What are people thinking about it? Um, will it be rejected? Does this editor hate?" It is, it is. There's a thing called rejectomancy that people attempt to try and divine what is happening with the stories at markets and how that market is moving through their slush pile and whether all the stories that are still out are, are now second tier or third tier—
Rekka, I'm on this call, you don't have to say "someone."
I was trying to make you sound bigger, you know? Um, and this is, you know, this is a thing that people do and it can be fun. And then suddenly you're reloading the submissions grinder three times a day on the single market and you were going to write, but that twenty-five minute timer you set for your writing sprint goes off and all you've done is stared at markets and what they're doing and tried to imagine your way into their brains. And it's not going to happen because you're also dealing with slush readers, plus editors, plus, you know, exhaustion. If somebody doesn't read your submission for three weeks, it's not because they're busy necessarily. They might just be coping. Um, so yeah, the, the idea of thinking too hard about what's out there in the world is, is a good point. Like don't, don't stress about it.
Uh, the other thing, and you know, this is, this is something I harp on a lot, uh, on my show and basically to everybody, is like trunking a story isn't the end of the world. And even just a single rejection, isn't the end of the world. And it, and that's, I won't say that you necessarily get hardened to it because I still get rejections that hurt sometimes. But you, the more rejections you have, the less precious any of them feel.
You know, just send the story back out if you're not sure if you want to trunk it yet, send it sent out again.
I was actually going to say exactly something along those lines, which you know, is to kind of, you know, round out our thoughts here is that there is nothing wrong with trunking, a story. You know, we were joking at the top of this, about quitting. It's not really, like, we shouldn't say quitting, it's not quitting. It's recognizing limitations and recognizing, you know, what you know is best spent with your time and energy. There's nothing wrong with walking away from something and saying, "I did as much as I could with this. I'm proud of what I did, but this was all I could do." Um, I think that there's, I don't want to call it a stigma, but like a sense of self-defeat where when you trunk something, especially if it is something that you put a lot of time and effort into and having to put it down and say, "all right, this just isn't going to work." Um, it's, it's definitely, uh, a moment in your life. Um, but I think a lot of people get scared by that because it feels like quitting. It feels like" I did everything I was supposed to in this still didn't work out. I'm a failure. What am I doing with myself? What am I doing with my life?" And it's not that. It's, it actually displays a really good sense of self-awareness and realism.
And maybe self-preservation. Like we were saying.
Self-preservation. Yeah, exactly. So.
And we, we haven't really pointed out how much harder it is to do it with a novel because of how many more words are in there. And then in theory, how much more time and your, you know, everything, and then you told people you were writing a novel and they are like, "so how's that novel coming?" And you're like, "Oh, I gave up on it." Like, that's not the answer you want to give anyone. Um, of course, if you didn't tell them too much about the novel, you can just say, "Oh, it's coming along great." Cause you're talking about like three novels from the one that you last referred to. But yeah, I mean, this is easier to practice on a short story level. Um, and then maybe you can grow those callouses you need for querying a novelty agents. And then if you get an agent, hooray, but now you have to put the book on submission. So now it just starts all over again. You just have someone else who cries with you.
It's important. To have someone else to cry with you.
Yeah. Practice having your rejections and, um, eating them too. And then, you know, don't stop writing. Like don't, don't look to the external validation. If writing is the part you love, like if you get in the habit of submitting stories, because that's what everyone does rather than like, my favorite part of the writing process is a submission. Is writing that cover letter, like then go for it. But I mean like—
Also if you've ever encountered one of those people run away. Yeah.
Short story cover letters are not that bad.
Short story cover letters are, are two sentences and you're out of there.
And they get copy pasted from my spreadsheet. Yeah. They, um, they are so much better than query letters.
Look I'm just saying, anybody who's like "my favorite part of this is submissions." That's not, that's not a human, that's an alien here trying to find ways to infiltrate our society. And they're not doing a very good job.
I mean, Submission Grinder does make it kind of fun, but yeah, not—
You're making me suspicious of you Rekka.
You should've been suspicious of me for a long, long time now.
Okay. More suspicious.
Okay. Yeah. So, yeah, I just, I just wanted to point out that we hadn't really talked about like doing this with 200,000 words versus, you know, 2000 words, but, um, the feeling of a sunk cost or whatever, uh, it doesn't really go with writing because, you know, like if you were going to sit down and become a concert pianist, you would not sit down and attempt a concert on your first try. You would practice. And writers, I think, have this imagination, uh, have this vision that you write down— or you sit down and you write the Great American Novel, because that's the way we hear everybody doing it. Um, nobody talks about the 36 drafts that they threw out. I mean, now, now we do cause we have Twitter, but like, you know, like the, the fallacy of, you know, sitting down doing it perfectly the first time and then becoming famous and retiring and just like maybe writing two more books before you die and three are maybe found and released posthumously, like—
Yeah, I think we've got this thing in our head where we read and we enjoy reading and maybe we enjoy talking about reading. So we don't understand that you don't just sit down and churn out something perfect. To kind of, you know, finish up our thoughts here. Don't think of trunking a story as time that you wasted. Think of it as practice. Think of it as, you know, like Rekka said with the concert pianist,, you're not sitting down and performing a concert. There is a lot of time that went into this. The reason I think that we get a lot really hung up with writing is because, you know, somebody who's practicing the piano at the end of the day, they don't really have anything physical to show you that they did. With writing, there is something that exists. You have produced something that, you know, is tangible in the sense that you can show it to other people. Um, and that makes it harder to walk away from. You know, anytime you're making something, you know, like, um, a painting or, you know, you're into woodworking or some, you know, gardening, something, and you have to walk away from it that makes it so much harder to do.
And also the mistakes when you practice piano are ephemeral and they just sit here. Whereas when you stare at something that isn't quite working, that has become a physical product, there's, there's a lot of, uh, self reckoning all the time forever.
So Hilary, to, to kind of, you know, close us out here. Do you have a good, um, do you have a good trunk story to tell us? Either yourself or, you know, maybe one of your favorite stories from your podcast?
Yes. So, uh, I alluded to this story before, but it's, uh, it's not a story I will ever tire of telling, which is the very first story that I ever tried to sell. Uh, the first place I sent it to was Weird Tales Magazine. Uh, this was back in 2005, uh, where the head editor was George Scithers. Uh, and the thing about sending it to Weird Tales. I had that magazine in my head as this is, you know, "this is a place where you send stories and they get published. And like you get noticed by doing that." But George was a family friend for about half of my life. At that point, he had lived about six blocks away from the house I grew up in and my dad had worked for him on and off for years. And when I was a wee small lad would just like, take me over there, talk with George for a while, George would call me a little sprout, and then we would leave. So when I sent this story to Weird Tales, I didn't get a form rejection. I didn't get a personal rejection in the mail. George called my house, not even the phone number I had listed on the top of my manuscript—
Oh my god.
—which was my cell phone. He called my actual house, talked to my dad for half an hour.
Oh my god!
—and then said, "Can you put your boy on?"
And told me everything that was wrong with the story and then said, "But it's a damn good story, revise it and send it back to me."
Oh, your first submission was a revise and resubmit, but prolly didn't feel like it.
No, it felt like somebody called, spoke to your father for half an hour,
Like the principle.
—and then was, as an afterthought, "Oh right. Your kid. I have to tell him everything wrong with what he just did."
Yep. Uh, so I revised and I resubmitted and he sent back a fully, my same manuscript, fully marked up with all the things that were wrong with it.
Still wrong with it.
Yeah. Uh, because I was an 18 year old boy-shaped person who didn't know any genre conventions of Urban Fantasy. And so, and then I submitted that story again. Uh, and in the time between, when I had gotten the second draft of it back from George and when I got it back out to them, the publisher had a big shakeup and restructured the whole organization. Uh, so by the time my manuscript arrived with them again, uh, it was Jeff and Ann VanderMeer heading up Weird Tales and,
And they didn't call to speak with your father that time.
Yeah. They were not having this story. I think I submitted, I went through two or three other rounds of rejections because I was 18 and didn't have Twitter because Twitter wasn't a thing yet for another year. And certainly wasn't a thing writers did. Uh, so I didn't have anybody to tell me you don't revise and resubmit the story to every magazine. So Gordon van Gelder or one of his slush readers had that story go across his physical mailbox three or four times at F&SF. And, uh, then I left for college and stuck that story in the trunk.
That's an outstanding story. That is probably very similar to what I would have done if I had managed to finish, uh, the first novel that I ever wrote, which I did not know was fanfic, because I did not have very good internet access at the time. I could not run Netscape and AOL on my computer at the same time.
Oh yep, mood.
So had not broadened my horizons very much. And I wrote a Next Generation book because I read all these Pocket books. And I thought, what you did was you wrote the story and you submitted it and then they would pick it and print it if they liked it. So I was getting ready. You know, I was, I was writing my, my novel. I was about a quarter of the way through it. Um, when I made the mistake of showing it to a teacher who was also a Star Trek fan, and I was showing it to him as a fellow Star Trek fan, and then he gave it back to me covered in red pen marks and I never touched it again.
So, um, that probably saved me the, the, um, the experience of having, of having my ego, um, wiped across other people's desks quite a lot. But it's funny that you, you had this experience with someone who knew you well enough that they wanted to give you the best shot that they could at publishing this, and then taught you the wrong conventions of how you go about—
—submitting short stories. Um, it would've been great, and maybe he even did set it, say it, cause you know, like our memories, we pick out the things that you want to hear at the time or that we comprehend. So maybe the conversation even started with now, "don't normally do this, but—" you didn't know, I could just see that happening. And then later you go, "Oh man, I wish you'd told me." He was like, "that was the first thing I said!" But you know, I'm putting words in your memory, but, um, yeah, I'm just like the ego that we have at that age. I'm so glad I didn't start writing seriously. I have enough ego now. I didn't, I didn't need that overflow.
Yeah. I hang onto this story both as a, like a cautionary and a funny tale of like
Oh, it's an outstanding tale.
It's hilarious. It's, you know, got pathos, it's got ego, it's got all these things, but also it put me onto the path where I am now. That, you know, I had this encouragement from an editor and I probably like, I was already planning on pursuing writing, but doing this, having this as my first submission experience gave me that boost, uh, which, I mean, it was like a rocket boost straight into heartbreak of like 18 consecutive rejections. But it still put me on that path.
It was still the editor of a magazine that you respected telling you it's worth trying again.
That's great. I think that just about wraps up trucking any, uh, any parting thoughts, anyone, any final words of wisdom?
Yeah, Absolutely. If you don't trunk anything in your life, you have no chance of coming on my show.
There you go. So there you go. Well, um, Hilary, thank you again so much for, uh, for joining us. This was, um, you know, a delight as always. uh, where can people find you online?
Absolutely. Uh, folks can find me primarily on Twitter, where I yell about everything, not just writing. Uh, my Twitter is @HBBisenieks. You can find my podcast on Twitter at @trunkcast and tales from the trunk is in whatever podcast app you're already listening to this in. You can also find it at www.talesfromthetrunk.com and links to all my writing can be found at www.Hilarybisenieks.com.
And all of those links will be in the show notes.
Yeah, cause that's not an easy name to spell.
And it'll be an active link. So don't worry. Just, just go look at the details on your podcast and, uh, it'll be there for you. All right, Hilary, thank you so much for coming back again.
It's been a pleasure.
And, um, I'm sure we'll come up with another excuse to have you back.
I'm looking forward to it.
Any of those things you want to rant about. You just let us know.
I'm here for it.
Thanks so much, Hilary.
Thanks, everyone for joining us for another episode of We Make Books. If you have any questions that you want answered in future episodes, or just have questions in general, remember you can find us on Twitter at @WMBcast, same for Instagram, or WMBcast.com. If you find value in the content that we provide, we would really appreciate your support patreon.com/WMBcast. If you can't provide financial support, we totally understand. And what you could really do to help us is spread the word about this podcast. You can do that by sharing a particular episode with a friend who can find it useful, or if you leave a rating and review at iTunes, it will feed that algorithm and help other people find our podcast, too. Of course you can always retweet our episodes on Twitter. Thank you so much for listening and we will talk to you soon.