Assessments 2022 / Goals 2023

By N. M. Cedeño

We’ll start with assessments:

I started 2022 with the goal of getting short stories published. In aid of that goal, I set another goal: to submit an average of three stories per month to magazines, anthologies, or contests. That’s thirty-six submissions. Why choose an average instead of a fixed monthly goal? Because I knew with travel, family responsibilities, and holidays, some months would be more difficult than others. As expected, June and July had only two submissions each. December might be the same. Giving myself the flexibility to submit four stories one month to make up for months with only two stories submitted was a practical decision. I know how these things go, so I wasn’t going to shoot myself in the foot by making the goal too rigid to meet.

End results:

I met my goal. By December, I submitted thirty-six stories to various markets to be considered for publication. I also submitted five stories for consideration for awards or recognition that includes publication. If I count those five as additional “submissions,” then I blew my goal out of the water.

Publications:

During 2022, seven of my short stories were published or reprinted in various magazines, e-zines, and anthologies. This is nothing compared to the John Floyds of the world, but pleasing for someone who only decided to focus on short fiction publication in 2020.

Six of seven covers for 2022. Seven is an awkward number!
  1. January: e-zine, Black Cat Weekly #19– “A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy” (reprint)
  2. February: anthology, After Dinner Conversation: Season Five – “The Wrong Side of History” (reprint)
  3. March: anthology, Crimeucopia: Say What Now?– “Reaching for the Moon”
  4. April: anthology, Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties– “Nice Girls Don’t”
  5. June: e-zine, Black Cat Weekly #37– “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom”
  6. August: magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine #12– “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm”
  7. December: e-zine, Black Cat Weekly #68– “Merry Library Murder”

Firsts for 2022:

For the first time, an editor approached me because someone else had failed to supply a story. This led to another first: I produced a story— from researching the historical background to submitting the finished product— in about three weeks. Was the final product as polished as I would have liked? No. But, in the end, the only issues left were minor.

For the first time, I had a story “featured” on the cover of a magazine. “Merry Library Murder” is the featured story in Black Cat Weekly #68, which was published the week before Christmas. Seeing that cover was a lovely surprise and a fabulous Christmas present.

For the first time, I submitted some of my stories for consideration in “Best of” mystery anthologies, which is a box checked on a list of professional goals. I wondered: Should I let the editors submit for me? Or should I submit my own stories? Many authors wait on this sort of thing and let others, like editors, decide. But, where is the wisdom in not putting your work forward, not ensuring it will be seen and considered? Just as work left in the drawer won’t be published, work never sent for consideration for awards won’t be recognized with awards.

Goals for 2023:

  • Increase my writing productivity.

During the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, I was surprisingly (given the stress of those years) prolific. My writing output was steady. But 2022 did not go as well. My productivity in 2022 was much less than I had hoped. In speaking to other writers, I’ve heard many say that they felt like they hit a wall at some point in the last two years. They felt their energy levels plummet, and they felt like they didn’t have the emotional energy to invest in their writing. I too felt an energy drop this year. Instead of writing new material, I frequently focused on editing and submitting what I had already written. I kept working, but not always on new words. While I did produce new short stories, I didn’t write as many as in previous years. My creative batteries must have needed a recharge.

  • Keep submitting short stories.

I intend to keep my focus on short fiction for now. People keep asking when I will write another novel. I don’t know. Short fiction comes far more naturally than novels for me. I have always found novel writing to be a slog. Short stories are fun. So maybe I’ll focus on writing more stories than last year and submit three per month again? Or I could try for four submissions a month. Hmm. Things to think about. Decisions to be made.

  • Attempt to build relationships with more editors

As a wise editor told me: editors die or retire. Writers must build relationships with many editors to ensure a steady stream of story acceptances and publications.

  • Delegate when possible.

I’ve been elected president of my local SinC chapter again, starting in January. I’ve served on the chapter board in various capacities over the years: as vice-president, as president, as immediate past president. The position of president can be the equivalent of taking on a part-time job, or even a full time job, if I don’t delegate. People are very reluctant to volunteer right now. I may have to beg, plead, and twist some arms, which I hate to do. But I also hate to see something good fall apart for lack of volunteers. Wish me luck.

Libraries and “Merry Library Murder”

By N. M. Cedeño

The fact that the victim in my upcoming story entitled “Merry Library Murder” is a librarian is not a sign of hidden hostility or wishful thinking. Rather, the opposite is true. I set the story in a library because I spend a lot of time in libraries. Most of my reading material comes from the library, and I am a long-term library volunteer.

Of the many volunteering opportunities available in my children’s schools, the one to which I always gravitate is the assisting in the library. At one point, when I had an elementary, middle, and high school student in the house, I volunteered in all three libraries on a rotating basis each month. I started volunteering in school libraries about fifteen years ago and am still volunteering at the local high school library.

While volunteering, I’ve labeled, weeded, discarded, scanned into inventory, removed from inventory, added genre stickers to, added series number stickers to, shelved, checked-in, checked-out, magnetized, and demagnetized books. The books I’ve inventoried probably number well over 100,000. I’ve unpacked boxes of new books, packed boxes of old books, and shifted books on shelves. I’ve helped rescue books from a termite invasion and assembled and mounted signage. I once went through almost every picture book in an elementary school library to place red stickers on the spines of the ones with reading tests available for them. That meant looking up every single book on the computer to see if it had an associated test before placing or not placing a sticker on it. In order to raise funds for libraries, I’ve operated registers at more Scholastic Book Fairs than I can remember.

Last year, I helped genre-fy the entire fiction section of a high school library. How does one genre-fy a library? One separates the books by genre and creates sections: adventure, horror, science fiction, mystery, suspense, supernatural, fantasy, realistic, romance, historical, sports, humor, and classics. Graphic novels get their own section and genres, as do the books in languages other than English. This process required me to shift all the non-fiction books to make space. Consequently, I may be the only one in the entire community who has held almost every single book in the local high school library in my hands. That’s over 30,000 books.  

By far the most painful library duty I’ve ever performed is weeding fiction books. Removing fiction books from the collection that have sat on a shelf for years, untouched and unread, is a sad thing to do. But it’s something that has to be done. Shelf space is limited and new books are coming out every day.

Weeding non-fiction books that haven’t been read in years is less painful. If the material in the book is obsolete, it deserves to be removed from the library to make room for more current material. Who wants to read “How to Build a Webpage” out of a manual written in 1996? Books on teen pregnancy resources from the 1980s aren’t likely to be helpful to anyone today either. The oldest books I pulled from the shelves were from the early 1950s. They may have been useful in an archive somewhere, but not a high school library. After a day of weeding books, my hands are usually black with grime from decades of accumulated dust.

So to reiterate: I love libraries. And librarians. And Library Assistants, too. Many thanks to all the library staff I’ve worked with over the years. Sara, Becky, Maureen, Sarah, Ronda, Charity, Christina, Carole, Alyson, and all the rest, you are the best!

However, the victim in my upcoming short story, entitled “Merry Library Murder,” is a librarian. And yes, she is murdered in her own library during her town’s holiday festival. But this story is a holiday who-dunnit. Which means that justice will be served. If you’re looking for a quick holiday mystery, watch for Black Cat Weekly #68, coming out in late December. Or subscribe to Black Cat Weekly and get great reading delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

*All pictures by Pixabay.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com

Submitting Short Stories: It’s Like Baseball

By N. M. Cedeño

Many of the stories I write aren’t accepted the first time I submit them for publication. The majority have to be submitted over and over again to find a publication home. The process made me think of a batter stepping up to the plate in baseball because I may strike out repeatedly before scoring a run.

Most of the time, I write stories with no specific publisher in mind. I write the story because I want to or because the only way to get it out of my head- and make it stop bothering me- is to put it down on paper. Then, after the story is written, I begin the process of looking for a place to submit it. “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm” is one of these stories. I wrote it for myself because I like light-hearted mysteries stories set at Christmas.

I first submitted this Christmas story for publication in mid-2018. It was rejected, struck out, eventually a total of eight times. I put it through workouts, strengthening it several times between ‘at bats’. Then, I saw a call for submissions that I thought it might fit, a call for cozy mysteries. On my ninth submission, the story was accepted. It will appear in Black Cat Mystery Magazine in a couple months.

from Murderous Ink Press, 2022

Sometimes, I’ll write a story based on requirements for a specific call for submissions, and it’s not accepted. I strike out. If the call was general enough, I can turn around and resubmit the story elsewhere with no changes. It’s ready for its next ‘at bat.’ That was the case for my story, “Reaching for the Moon.” After being initially rejected, and then rejected again, I submitted it to Murderous Ink Press, where editor John Connor accepted it for inclusion in the Crimeucopia: Say What Now? Anthology.

In other cases, the call for submissions may be in such a specific niche that I need to change the story in order to submit it elsewhere. Continuing the baseball analogy, I prepped the story to face a specific pitcher and have to make changes to face a new pitcher for the next ‘at bat.’

For example, my story “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom” was written for a very specific call for submissions for stories inspired by the music of a particular group and was rejected. In order to resubmit it elsewhere, I changed the title, which was originally a song title, and stripped out the details related to the song. Stripping those details left a hole, so instead of referencing a song, I settled on referencing a prayer that hung in my parents’ kitchen my entire childhood and that I have a copy of in my own kitchen.

After making these changes, I submitted the story to Black Cat Weekly, where the editor said the story needed a little work before he’d publish it and gave me some suggestions. In this case, I made a base hit, which requires more work on my part to make it to home plate. To get to home plate, I have to listen to the coach, aka the editor. I have to review the editor’s suggestions and work on the story with those suggestions in mind. If I don’t do the work, I get left on base and never make it home. If I do the work and send the story back to the editor, and he’s pleased and accepts the story, then I’ve rounded the bases to home plate and scored a run.

In this case, I did the work to earn the run. “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom” will be published in Black Cat Weekly #37 coming out in May 2022.

from Down & Out Books, 2022

Only one of my stories so far has been accepted on its first submission, which is the equivalent of hitting a home run. That story, “Nice Girls Don’t,” was written specifically for the anthology, Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties edited by Michael Bracken. I saw the call for submissions months ahead of the deadline and went to work researching material and writing the story. The anthology was published last week, debuting on April 11, 2022.

I have yet to retire any stories from the line-up. Eventually, I may have to set one aside, waiting to come out for the right call for submissions.

A Note: I’ll be participating in a panel discussion on mysteries, talking about my short mysteries, on Friday, May 13, at Hearth & Soul in Austin. Check the “Gather” tab on their website for time and location. Additional information will be posted soon.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.