Creative Writing

When Is It Sensible to Give Up?

I didn’t track my submissions very well back in the day before spreadsheets and the internet, so I don’t know how many rejections I received. Not that many because I submitted sporadically back then. I sent a few regrettable stories to magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker. They would stamp them and return the manuscripts (in the SASE I provided) with a form rejection. I finished an adolescent novel in the early 80s and pitched it via snail mail to maybe thirty publishers. Got a few encouraging rejections but no deal. Damn! I worked hard on that thing. Typed it out on an IBM Selectric. Used a bunch of correction tape. For a while my dreams were squashed but not quite buried.

During my years of career striving and raising kids, I didn’t write much, but I thought about writing a great deal and read many books, dreaming of the day I’d see my name on the front cover. I finished a few stories and an essay or two. I entered contests without winning or even placing. I journaled halfheartedly and cultivated ideas, most of which came to naught.

My mom, Betty Lou, was also of a literary turn of mind. She could complete those huge crossword puzzles in the Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and she’d finish 1,000 page novels in a couple of days. She never had the opportunity to formally train and direct her prodigious talent, but she passed on her penchant for dark humor and irony to me. We sometimes discussed books we were reading. I believe it was after a Flannery O’Connor stint when we playfully batted an image around—something about chickens that gossiped among pebbles, then scattered, cackling and running in circles as a truck approached. I have no idea what spawned this, but it became the germ of an idea that I laboriously developed into a short story titled “Ben Stempton’s Boy.” I finished it in the mid-eighties, and it was the best work I’d ever done.

I sent it out and it was rejected. Over and over. I took this as an indication that it needed more of the magic sauce I’d larded it with. The story did, in fact, beg for development. After ten years or so of work, Ben Stempton’s Boy was a novel.

Then a bunch of other stuff happened. Life. I kept writing through the career changes and hard knocks, and by 2002 I was tracking my submissions on a spread sheet. I kept several stories in circulation among the small literary journals, and I continued to revise as I received more rejections. Every once in a while I’d finish a new story and send it out. The process continued ad nauseam.

I read as much as I could, mainly literary authors who’d won major awards: John Updike, Phillip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, et al. I also reread some of the classics, trying to learn craft from those accomplished writers. I learned much more when I enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program through Queens University of Charlotte. I got my ass kicked but survived, coming out with enthusiasm, a clearer vision, and sharpened skills. During this period I wrote and submitted with much more intensity than before, realizing that time was fleeting.

Frustration, though, crept back in. Still nothing but rejections, even though the encouraging ones came more frequently. I couldn’t stop because—besides investing a significant sum in earning my MFA—I’d made a vow with an old college friend, Rod Hardeman, an accomplished painter who’d also struggled with rejection. Back in the 70s we promised each other that we’d continue to pursue our art for as long as we had life and breath.

The persistence finally paid off in 2010 when a short piece titled “Last Stand” won story of the month at Bartleby-Snopes. My first publication! This minor achievement was enough to rekindle my desire. I continued, craving larger success and a publishing contract for that unwieldy novel, BSB, or my novella, Make It Right. But I almost stopped. I found myself trying to come to terms with giving up, abandoning the vow. I’d published infrequently since that first story, nothing that garnered much attention, much less a book deal. A voice in my head was growing louder, telling me that my dream wasn’t going to materialize. Wasn’t it enough, the voice said, to have pursued your dream? I was beginning to agree. After all I’d tried, right?

I became self-indulgent with another old college friend, Larry Hannah, when he was visiting one weekend not long ago. We’re old retired guys now who talk about music, movies, and books. He had followed my writing travails with interest for forty years or so. He grinned and shook his head when I showed him the spread sheet that now numbered around 850 submissions with only a dozen or so acceptances. With him as witness, I impulsively made another vow: I’m gonna quit if I don’t get a book deal by the time I reach 1,000. He said, “I don’t blame you.”

You’ve read this far and are expecting the good news that persistence pays off. Well, I hate to disappoint you. I’ve reached 1,000 submissions and given up . . . NOT! Just kidding. Here it is, the sentence that would have been the lead if I were a newspaper writer: Alabama author Ron Yates, after decades of disappointment and rejection, signs publishing contract with Unsolicited Press to publish his Southern Gothic novel Ben Stempton’s Boy. I’m not kidding. This acceptance (submission number 875) comes on the heels of a contract with Ardent Writer Press for a short fiction collection, Make it Right: A Novella and Eight Stories (submission 871).

So, two book deals in one year, and the joy of 2018 is not yet over. In September I’ll wed my beautiful sweetheart and friend, Carol O’Gorman Mitchell, after almost giving up on love. I’m very happy to have her by my side as we continue this amazing journey called life. So, the point of this story is _______________________________.

Henry David Thoreau put it this way: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I believe this with all my heart.

 

 

 

Creative Writing

What Is Fiction For?

A work of fiction is capable of not only entertaining, but also conveying truths about the human condition, often with greater impact than is attainable through nonfiction. Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn was commercially successful with lots of action, humor, and plot twists, but is classified today as classic literature because of its deep probing into the heart’s enduring problems.

A defining quality of great writing is purpose, what the work is trying to do. Does it point to universal truths about life while inviting the reader to participate in discovering them? The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain, but enduring fiction has a broader scope. In struggling with underlying ideas and themes, serious writers wrestle, wrangle, and prod language toward a higher purpose, which necessarily requires sophisticated technical skills that are often just beyond reach.

I try to achieve these basic goals: employ crisp, character-driven prose that evokes place and textures the fictional dream; write honestly about humans, not stock figures; and follow Hemingway’s advice to “. . . write one true sentence.” Once that goal is attained, other true sentences follow. Another guiding maxim comes from Chekhov, who maintained that the artist is not required to solve the problem but to correctly formulate it. I hope my stories produce anxiety as well as pleasure as the reader struggles to derive answers from correctly formulated problems.

Great fiction is born of pleasure and pain. Producing it is a daunting challenge that when successfully met will echo inside the reader. William Faulkner explained the struggle this way in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

        Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear, so long sustained by now  that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man, young woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

Welcome to the struggle! You can read all of Faulkner’s speech here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGNzZGsxMi5vcmd8c3RlY2gtcy1jbGFzc2VzfGd4OjNjNDNmODNlMTdlNDEzNjA

 

Creative Writing

Ron’s Guide: Dealing with interrupting elements

Ron_s Guide

Grammar rules aren’t set in stone, especially for the creative writer. But anyone who writes to be read should devote time and energy to learning the rules before they abuse them. If you’re writing a story, poem, or personal essay, consider rules as conventions and let the standard practices guide your decisions. Also pay attention to how writers you admire conduct the physical business of getting words down so that they convey the intended meaning. I’ve provided a few suggestions (conventions) regarding those pesky elements that interrupt the core meaning of a sentence. Are they essential or nonessential? Do I need commas, dashes, or parentheses? When is the ellipsis appropriate and how many dots do I use? Go ahead, put an end to the torment. Click the link.

Creative Writing

Thankful yet somewhat bewildered

I find myself different from the young Ron Yates in outward manifestations, but the roots are the same. Is it true that our personalities are fully formed by age seven? Maybe. I feel like I’m changing constantly, but it’s probably a sense of dumb wonder that makes the experiences of each day seem new and different, even the lessons that I know I’ve learned before.

I started writing at an early age and always enjoyed my English classes. I majored in English in college and earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s from the University of West Georgia. I taught high school English and journalism for many years in the west Georgia area.

I ran an automotive repair shop for five years and made forays into the business world on several occasions. These ventures were not very successful. I always felt I should be writing.

After waiting too long to begin, I finally earned an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. The experience of working with other dedicated writers and the amazing faculty at Queens was life changing. It’s possible to achieve success as a writer without earning a formal degree in the field, but for me doing so was a giant step up and served to validate my dream as well as hone my skills. These studies made it painfully obvious that I had much to learn.

I’ve gone on to publish work in various venues and journals including Hemingway Shorts; KYSO Flash; Serving House Journal; Shark Reef; The Writing Disorder; The Oddville Press; Still: The Journal; Bartleby Snopes; Rose & Thorn Journal; and Prime Number Magazine.

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve signed a contract with The Ardent Writer Press of Huntsville, Alabama to publish a book of my stories. The working title is Make It Right and Other Stories. The collection features eight short stories, along with its eponymous novella. The selections fall, more or less, into the Southern Gothic genre.

The aesthetic components that drive my work are as follows: a desire to create crisp, character-driven prose and to evoke place in a way that furnishes and textures the fictional dream. I strive to write honestly about humans, not stock figures, and to follow Hemingway’s advice to “. . . write one true sentence.” Once that goal is attained, other true sentences follow. Another guiding maxim comes from Chekhov, who maintained that the artist is not required to solve the problem but to correctly formulate it. I hope my work produces a pleasurable anxiety in the reader as she struggles to derive answers from the human problems I have correctly formulated.

I’ll keep you posted on the publishing progress of the forthcoming Make It Right and Other Stories and other writing ventures. Stop in often. I plan to blog about writing, the creative process, and other topics that you may find helpful.

Creative Writing

Write, teach, fix. Learn. Repeat.

Thanks for dropping in!

The mantra above doesn’t apply exclusively to me. Everyone performs the first three actions on a daily basis in one form or another. We may write novels, we may write tweets, or we may compose romantic messages to our sweethearts. We may teach college students, our own kids, or our co-workers. We may fix websites, Ford engines, or supper. Hopefully we learn from our various WTF processes. We are privileged in that we get to repeat the sequence until we’re called away. I suspect we’ll continue even then.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” —Henry David Thoreau

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