How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I'd promised a recap of the anthology reading period, and here it is. Sorry for the delay, but the truth is it seems that for the past six months all I've been talking about is Hint Fiction, and it's starting to bore even me. And while most of the work is done, there is still much to do, like organizing the 125 stories in some kind of coherent order (I'd like some of them to play off each other if possible), so yes, I have been dragging my feet. First, some eagle eyed readers noticed that Augusto Monterroso's name was not included in the list of contributors. Yes, I did finally get in touch with his estate, and after much back and forth it looked like I would be able to include his story. The estate wanted a good chunk of change from me, and while it was a hefty sum this whole project has never been about money but about putting together a great collection, and despite the fact I've never actually been a fan of the story (I consider myself somewhat bright, but I've never actually "understood" what the story was about, not like the Hemingway piece), "The Dinosaur" is considered one of the shortest stories ever and I felt I should include it. But at one point the estate started asking certain questions about print runs and whatnot, and I asked if I was paying this hefty sum for just one edition of the anthology or all editions -- meaning, if the anthology were to go through five printings, would I be shelling out that good chunk of change for every printing (something my editor advised me not to do). It was at that point, strangely enough, the estate never got back to me, so that was that. Oh well.

Also, one of the contributors whose story I accepted never got back to me. After several attempts at communication, I finally sent an e-mail stating that if they didn't get back to me within a few days, I would have to pass on their story. Which meant I would be short one story. Worst case scenario I could use one of mine, though I really don't like when editors publish their own work (though it makes sense for big name authors, like when Michael Connelly edits an anthology, sure he's going to include a story of his own; it's probably written out in the contract that way because a story by him will help to move copies, as opposed to some small fry like myself). But then, in an amazing occurrence of serendipity, I received an e-mail the next day from a writer who I had solicited months back, who had expressed interest in submitting but never got back to me. This particular writer apologized for the delay and said he figured he was much too late but had a story for me to see anyway, and I wrote back saying yes, in a way it was much too late but in a way it wasn't, and explained about the reticent contributor, and ... well, long story short, the original writer never got back to me so I'm quite happy to say that Ron Carlson has been added to the contributor roster.

Another thing to mention -- I'd said before that there were four authors who had two stories each in the anthology. That number is actually five. I don't know how I missed that before, but as you can imagine I've been kind of overwhelmed.

Anyway, thinking about all the stories I've read, I went back to the old blog to the post that I did after the initial contest, about the kind of stories that Gay and I read. Surprise, surprise -- it was the same this time around as it was then:

We received a good number of entries that were quite well done. Beautiful language, almost poetic in their execution.

But they weren’t stories.

Some were very good stories, but they somehow managed to be self-sustained. Which, to be honest, is no small feat. It’s quite impressive, but it’s not Hint Fiction.

Hint Fiction is not objective. If you write a 100-word story, that’s a drabble. A 50-word story, that’s a dribble. But if you were to write 25-word or less story, that doesn’t necessarily make it Hint Fiction.

The keyword in all of this is “hint” — you need to ask yourself, what are you hinting at? What is the bigger picture?

The thesis of the anthology, I’ve decided, is to prove that a story 25 word or less can have just as much impact as a story 2,500 words or longer.

That, of course, will all depend on the individual reader.

One interesting point to bring up is that there were some contest entries I loved at first. Gay loved certain entries at first too. But we may not have loved the same ones, and we talked about them, saying what worked for us and what didn’t. Nine times out of ten, we were able to see the other person’s point of view.

Or there were some stories that, on the initial read, were fantastic. But the more we read them, the more we began to see problems. Remember, one of the biggest challenges here is word choice. The idea of the story may have been brilliant, but the writer either rushed it or didn’t fully understand what she or he was doing and, because of that, took a misstep that ultimately hurt the story.

A lot of what else I saw this time around were stories that read more like first sentences, or stories that read like a random sentence or two plucked from an unpublished short story and attempted to be passed off as Hint Fiction. Something like:

That morning my grandfather gave me the keys to his old Fold pickup truck.

Um, okay. (Note that this example and the ones that follow are my own taken from the top of my head; none are taken from the stories submitted.)

There were also "stories" that were not stories at all but more like lines out of a fortune cookie. Or a movie pitch. Or a story synopsis. Like:


The monster is hiding under Jimmy's bed. Will Jimmy survive the night?



Jimmy knows he's under the bed. Watch out, Jimmy, here he comes!

And before anyone asks, no, I am not exaggerating. I received a very large portions of stories just like that. On the flip side, I received a good number of stories that were very well done. Nothing necessarily wrong with them; they just didn't win me over. Ask an editor at any magazine: they'll come across stories that are well-written, well-done, but that just aren't right for them. That's how it was in this case.

You see, nothing like this has ever been done before. What this anthology is ultimately going to do is define what Hint Fiction is and what it can be. And as I read through the 2,000+ stories, I realized this important basic truth:

Hint Fiction is not a complete story (a beginning, middle, end) but it is complete, in which it can stand by itself.

Look at Hemingway's story. It stands perfectly by itself. It doesn't read like the first sentence of a story, or even a random sentence plucked from a story. It's complete without actually being complete.

So with that in mind:


Jimmy could never decide which monster was worse -- the one under his bed or the one he called Daddy.

A little more complete, sure, but ultimately it's also trite. Which is another hurdle writers face when writing Hint Fiction. With so few words, writers tend to depend on cliches without even knowing it.

In a perfect world, this anthology will be wildly successful and after a couple years there will be a chance to do another anthology. And if that's the case, I suspect the quality of submissions will increase one hundred fold (keeping in mind that there will also be the usual crappy slush). Will that happen? Time will tell, I guess, but I'm not holding my breath.

Finally, months back I asked what makes a professional writer. After having sent out all rejections, I saw a wide range of professionalism and unprofessionalism. The most notable was a writer/editor who basically said that I was wrong and his stories were in fact right for the anthology. (Classy for sure.) Then there was another writer who wrote back asking what "anthology" she was being rejected from, as she did not remember ever submitting to it in the first place. (Take the extra minute and do a quick search through your own e-mail before making an ass out of yourself.) And then there were a handful of writers who wrote back thanking me for my time but then saying something along the lines that it wasn't a big deal that their stories weren't picked as they didn't spend too much time on them anyway. (Really? Is that supposed to hurt my feelings or something? If anything, you're making yourself look like an idiot for admitting you didn't really work on your stories, so yeah, of course your stories didn't make the cut.) And then finally there were the writers who responded with a nice note saying thanks for reading, which was completely unnecessary but appreciated nonetheless.

So there you have it. I can't think of anything else to add, though I have been fighting the flu all weekend and still not 100% so I'm sure I might be missing something. Until next time ...