Getting Short Fiction Published

In 2005, the Pioneer Library System invited readers and writers from all over Oklahoma to attend the Red Dirt Book Festival. It was free, and it featured Oklahoma literary In-an-instantluminaries like Tim Tingle, Rilla Askew, Marcia Preston, Tim Tharp, and Bill Bernhardt.

As an additional incentive the festival invited attendees to submit short-short stories (no more than 2,000 words) to be evaluated for publication in the 2005 Red Dirt Anthology. I had written a 190,000 word novel (That one is still unpublished) so 2,000 words seemed like a walk in the park.

I wrote my first story ever for that publication—“Gypsy Ghosts and Nicknames”. It wasn’t very good but competition was minimal (About 75 submissions), and the anthology took it. I was hooked.

Short stories are a lot more fun to write than novels. You can turn them out faster. You can give up on them when it’s clear you should. Rewrites and revisions are relatively easy: you can add characters, switch points of view, change tense, even change the sex of your protagonist.  Anything is possible within twenty double-spaced type written pages.

My second and third short story publications came two years after my first. “Footprints,” and “Mystery Land” made it into 2007 Red Dirt Anthology. Those were better stories and made encore appearances in other magazines later on, but Red Dirt Book Festival rejected my submissions in 2009 and never conducted another event. My only market had dried up.

Where do you send a piece of short fiction once its finished? Agents don’t represent them. Small presses usually don’t want singles. Slick magazines like The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair aren’t interested unless you’re already famous.

I didn’t publish another story until Regina Williams (I met her at OWFI) accepted “Pure D Truth” for the Storyteller magazine’s 2011 second quarter issue. That was publication number four in a six-year period. Since that time I have had about 40 additional stories published and several more scheduled to come out this year.

My writing improved, but it didn’t improve that much. Many of those recently published stories were written during the long dry period from 2007 to 2011. The thing that changed my publication success rate more than anything else was a website I discovered,

Duotrope was a free site when I first signed up. They tried to support themselves with contributions. I gave them what they asked, but not many people did so now the site costs five dollars a month—$50.00 a year if you’re willing to commit that long.

You can sign up for a 7 day free trial by going here:

Once you are a subscriber, a newsletter comes in the mail each week, It breaks down the current market into the following categories: paying market listings added, non-paying market listings added, markets opening or re-opening for submissions, markets closed for submissions.

 The paying market category looks like this:

Monkey Star Press: Adventures in Potty Training (themed antho)

Baen Books: Baen Fantasy Adventure Award


FireGoat Books

Words Magazine

If you find a market that interests you, click on it and you go to a page that tells you what the publication pays (if anything) and what it wants in terms of style and length. If you are still interested, a link on that page takes you to the publication website where you learn more details. You can often read examples of published stories and even submit right from that site.

 Duotrope currently tracks 5,003 markets, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. They provide a search feature that allows authors to find markets that fit their individual needs. The Duotrope site offers submission and publication statistics including acceptance rates, response times, and types of responses (form vs. personal). Most weeks there are interviews with editors that provide insights into the selection process.

The site is good for novelists too. The Big Six don’t show up there unless they are seeking un-agented submission, but there are plenty of small houses, and publishers that specialize in e-books, short story collections, and novellas. My publisher, Pen-L Publishing is listed on the site. I pitched Owl Dreams to Duke Pennell at the 2012 OWFI conference rather than submitting blind. Personal contact is almost impossible for short fiction, but it’s still the best policy for placing novels.


The Parade of the Children

Parade of the Children San Miguel de Allende

Parade of the Children San Miguel de Allende

People in San Miguel take their festivals seriously so when some locals told me to be sure and catch the Desfile de los Niños (Parade of the Children), I knew it would be something special.

 Like almost all Mexican celebrations, this one has indigenous origins and is tied closely to the cycles of the Sun. The Parade of Children takes place approximately (mas o minus as they say around here) on the vernal equinox.

This is the day on the solar calendar (in case anyone needs reminding) when the Sun spends a brief moment in time directly above the Earth’s equator. After that, the world dresses in her spring wardrobe and days in the northern hemisphere continue getting longer and warmer until the Summer solstice (which comes with its own festival) when things start moving the other

Parade of the Children San Miguel de Allende

Parade of the Children San Miguel de Allende

direction. It’s an important day, and you can be sure that ancient Aztec gods are be standing next to the Catholic Saints making sure everything goes off as planned.

If I hadn’t known, I never would have guessed this parade had anything to do with astrophysics or Mesoamerican mythology. I don’t know how many children live in San Miguel, but it’s hard to imagine any of them didn’t play some part in the celebration. It was sort of religious, and indigenous,

Smurf in Children's parade San Miguel de Allende

Smurf in Children’s parade San Miguel de Allende

and ecological, and anthropological, and about as cute as anything I’ve ever seen.

Is it racist to say that Mexican children are among the cutest in the world? I’ll risk it. These children threw themselves into their roles. For the duration of the parade (two hours mas or minus) they were authentic Kings, and Queens, and butterflies, and jaguars, and cows, and Smurfs. I wondered how the Aztec gods were going to react to the Smurfs, but they didn’t seem to mind.

With all those three to eight year olds there must have been a tantrum or two, but I didn’t see a single one. The children all seemed happy with their roles, nobody was left out, and they picked up their trash when they were through.

The Mexicans in San Miguel are comfortable with their mix of modern and ancient—

Children's parade San Miguel de Allende

Children’s parade San Miguel de Allende

comfortable enough to let a curious Norte Americano author look at them under a literary magnifying glass. I’ve based a few characters on my Mexican encounters (Owl Dreams, Southwest Gothic Tales, and Messages). More are on the way. Magic Popsicle Sticks and Trial Separation are two more Native American oriented novels chock full of the kind of magic realism that makes San Miguel so special.  Those books are under contract with Pen-L Publishing. They’ll be available after they work their way through the editing process.



Skeletons, Skulls and Mexican Festivals

Catrina Images on china. Market in San Miguel de Allende

Catrina Images on china.
Market in San Miguel de Allende


Skeleton in Mexican Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

Skeleton in Mexican Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

People in San Miguel de Allende love skeletons. Effigies wear skull earrings. Indigenous dancers have skull headbands and knee guards. Children’s faces are painted to make them look like stand-ins for Walking Dead. Every parade features a dancing skeleton or two.

The Mexican infatuation with human bones isn’t limited to parades. Skeletons star in Mexican cartoons. You’ll find plates and platters in any public market featuring skulls and skeletons. There are folk art sculptures of skeletons riding bicycles, cooking, repairing shoes and doing just about any mundane thing you can think of.  An Iconic figure of a well-dressed female skeleton named Catrina is seen all over Mexico. She was originally a sort of high-art political cartoon satirizing the life of the upper classes during the reign of Porfirio Diaz.

Everyone has heard of the Day of the Dead. It was co-opted into a Catholic-like holiday by the Spanish when they conquered the indigenous people 500 years ago. They managed to convince the local tribes to move the celebration from the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar (approximately the month of August) to November first and second to

Skeletons in Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

Skeletons in Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

correspond with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. They also whittled the festival down from one month to only two days.

The Day of the Dead is a lot more like Halloween than Easter, and in case anyone’s forgotten, Halloween is not a Christian holiday. On day one of the celebration, people don wooden skull masks (Calacas) and dance in honor of relatives who have passed away. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars dedicated to deceased family members. If you have a

Effige with Skull Earrings. San Miguel de Allende

Effige with Skull Earrings. San Miguel de Allende

sweet tooth, you can eat a sugar skull with the name of a dead friend or relative printed on the forehead.

On the second day they take the party to cemetery where the festivities continues into the night. Then the living go home and the dead go back to being dead until the whole thing starts again next year.

Back when the Aztecs were running things in Mexico, the festival was presided over by Mictecacihuatl, “Lady of the Dead.” Skeletons were part of practically every celebration (as they are today in Mexico). Skulls were considered to be good luck and the gods were often portrayed as skeleton men. Quetzalcoatl (a star of the Aztec holy pantheon who saved the world by feeding his heart to the sun) was said to have stolen

Child in Festival Make Up. San Miguel de Allende

Child in Festival Make Up. San Miguel de Allende

bones from the god of the underworld and used them to create the different races of mankind. Things might have worked out better if he’d stopped before he made the Europeans.

Indigenous legends are so much more interesting than the spooky stories that thrilled and frightened us when we were young. That’s why everything I write has a little bit of indigenous magic woven into it.  Owl Dreams has a modern day Choctaw witch who changes identities instead of changing into animals. Southwest Gothic Tales includes a story about a modern day version of a Navajo skinwalker, and two more novels under contract with Pen-L Publishing, that deal with psychotropic drugs, secret societies and curses that might be magic or practical applications of psychology.

So far I haven’t worked skeletons into the mix, but who knows. If I spend enough time in Mexico I might give it a try.