short story writing

Sex and Taxes…

I promised to post an excerpt of my short story, THE INCOME TAX PARTY, that’s in the SEX AND TAXES anthology. So here it is.

Ricky Cushman was tall and bulky and strong. His thick blond hair was cut short, but if you looked closely you could see that he wasn’t a natural blond. He touched up his roots every three weeks; he shaved twice a day to keep his heavy, dark beard from being too obvious.


But being blond suited him well and most people never bothered to notice that it wasn’t real. They were too busy staring at his large, round biceps and the muscular ridges on his forearms. Or the way his massive chest muscles jerked and bounced on their own when he clenched his fists. It was hard to miss the way his thick, floppy penis tended to swing back and forth beneath his gym shorts when he wasn’t wearing underwear.

And he didn’t wear underwear often. He knew that some of his wealthier clients, men and women, secretly preferred it that way. Ricky was a personal trainer, with a small gym of his own. He called it “The North Union Garage,” because it was located at the end of North Union Street in a long, flat building that was really nothing more than a row of faded garage doors. He was hoping to rent a better building soon. The “The North Union Garage” did very well. Many of his clients paid over five hundred dollars a month just so they’d be able to look up his shorts and see what was between his legs when he stood over their heads and spotted them during bench presses. He knew they were looking; he even spread his legs wider and forced a semi-erection on purpose so they could just lie back on the bench and watch it swing back and forth.

He was good at what he did, and he knew how to make money. But he wasn’t always sure about how to handle the money, especially when it came time to deal with his taxes. He would have liked it if more people had paid with cash. But they didn’t. They all paid with credit cards, and he kept all the receipts and paperwork in brown, stained egg crates he’d found behind the local supermarket. He’d always depended on his father to do his income taxes. The father took the egg crates every year and never complained about the disorganization, and Ricky never had any problems. But then his father re-married and moved to Florida and Ricky had to find someone else. So when a client told him about a guy who prepared income taxes on a part time basis, he took the number and called him in early March. He’d seen him around town once or twice, so he wasn’t a total stranger.

The Best Ones Always Reply…

I’ve been receiving so many wonderful submissions for the “Lasting Love” anthology I thought I’d post something about replies from editors. First, we all know there are no hard and fast rules and that every editor has his or her own style and opinion. But I can tell you from experience, the best always reply. And they do it fast, too.

When I first started submitting work to editors, everything was done through snail mail, so things were a little different than they are today. Along with the submission, I’d write up a brief cover letter with a three or four sentence plot description, and then I’d enclose a SASE so the editor could let me know the submission had arrived in tact. If I wanted confirmation, it was my job (and at my expense) to include the SASE. No problem; I never minded doing this. But the big problem then was that you never knew whether or not a story was actually accepted. It took months to hear a reply if the editor wanted it, and if they didn’t want it they rarely ever bothered to tell you. So I’d usually give each submitted story a six month time frame, and if I hadn’t heard anything by then I’d resubmit to someone else. Building good relationships over time with editors was extremely important to me. They usually responded one way or the other if they knew you…even with snail mail…because they wanted you to continue submitting to them in the future.

Then the world changed and we entered the electronic age. The transition didn’t happen overnight, but I think it’s safe to say that very few things nowadays are submitted through snail mail. (In 2001, I was actually told by an editor at a fairly large publishing house that either I started submitting electronically, or I’d be wasting my time.) It was a good thing, too. Editors and writers were now communicating with little effort. We didn’t become pen pals; the e-mails were short and to the point. But it was finally nice to hear, a few days after submitting something, that short note that said: “Got it. I’ll get back to you one way or the other.”

Now, since we started submitting and communicating electronically, I’ve found that different editors have different approaches. Some will reply that they’ve received the submission without being asked to do so, others ask you to mention that you’d like a confirmation, and some won’t reply one way or the other. (I have a habit of always stating, “If you could let me know that you’ve received this, I’d appreciate it.”) But once again, and I can say this from experience, the best editors will always reply. And for me this has never been about etiquette; for me it’s about business. When I write something and submit it to one editor, I do not submit to anyone else until I hear from that editor. But I also know that if the piece is not accepted for publication with the first editor, I’m going to re-submit it to someone else as quickly as I get the rejection. Writing is a business, and I’ve learned there’s little time to sit and worry about rejection. And in all the years I’ve been writing, I can say with confidence that when something has been rejected by one editor, I’ve always found another one who is ready to buy it.

But when you don’t hear from the editor, it ties up the submission and it can get confusing. Because if I don’t hear anything in six months (or whatever the deadline date was for submission), that piece is out to another editor before my computer can say “file’s done.” I can’t even list the amount of times I’ve submitted something to editor #one, and then after I’ve submitted it to editor #two and sold it, editor #one wants it. Sometimes it’s a matter of days (you hear nothing for six months, and in two days time everyone wants it), and all editor #one had to do was keep me updated and I’d never have re-submitted it to anyone else. I hate to turn them down, especially if they were the first choice. But life is about moving on and moving forward and I learned a long time ago that if you don’t think this way as a writer you’re usually sorry later.

Of course, even with e-mail now, I’ve also had the experience of never hearing anything at all from the editor. I’ll submit something and they never reply one way or the other. That’s fine, too, but I tend to remember this and shy away from working with this editor again in the future. I don’t think it’s that difficult nowadays to send a simple reply and keep the writer updated; I do this myself when I’m editing an anthology, because I know how it feels to be kept waiting. It takes one minute from my life to let the writer know that I’ve received the submission and that I’ll be in touch one way or the other. And this is something that I’ve learned from working with some really excellent editors over the years; the best. I’ve also learned that when I don’t get a reply from an editor, it’s usually because they are either amateurs or they just don’t care. But one thing is certain, the best ones always reply that they’ve received the submission and that they will let the writers know one way or the other.

BERT AND BETTY: The evolution of a short story…

I had a nice surprise yesterday. A short story titled, BERT AND BETTY, came in as a runner up for Ravenous Rendezvous. This was one of those stories I’d had floating around in my head for a long time but didn’t have time to actually write. And when I received the call about the short story contest, I decided to take the weekend and finally do it. I’d been working on deadlines since last June and I didn’t want the story to suffer because I wasn’t focused on the plot. But it was snowing outside, there wasn’t much to do that weekend, and the story started to flow in a way that doesn’t always happen. I already had a few goals and I felt as though I knew the characters well. I wanted them to be ordinary people taking a routine flight, but I also wanted something extraordinary to happen to them while they were on that flight.

When the first draft was finished, I felt that something was missing. The characters were okay, but they lacked something I couldn’t pigeonhole. You know when something just isn’t right. So I decided to take a break and think about it for a day or so. Bert and Betty were originally written as two strangers. He’s the good looking, innocent divorced guy and she’s the well seasoned business woman who always takes what she wants. And when she sees Bert in the airport, she goes after him without thinking twice. There’s also another twist to the plot that takes the story to another level, and that part was fine. It’s just that Bert and Betty were flat and I wanted them to be true romantics.

I was almost ready to give up on the story and not enter the contest, and then I had one of those waves of inspiration that tend hit while I’m either driving or jogging and there’s no paper around to write it down. Why did Bert And Betty have to be strangers? Why couldn’t they be a married couple pretending to be strangers? I had to re-write the story several times in order to get the facts right; I didn’t have much time because there was a short deadline and I was working on another novel at the same time. But after several re-writes and a lot of black coffee, I finally felt satisfied with the changes. And Bert and Betty went from being single strangers to a happily married couple with their own secret game of romance and intrigue.

The point of this story is that I’ve learned to wait before submitting when I have a feeling something isn’t working. The story might be neat and clean and ready to go, but if there’s a nagging feeling that it could be changed in some way I hold off and think about it for a while. I’ve had things published that editors thought were fine, but I wasn’t happy with the final product. And that can haunt you for a long time. So I’ve learned to wait before submitting, because the solution to the problem usually comes sooner or later.