Finally seeing the scenery

This is a scene from our Father’s Day hike. It was also a chance for me to see whether I’d gotten my research right.

I’d used this setting for a short story last year, but because of the pandemic/family stresses/deadlines/
virtual school (in other words, because of the everything), I hadn’t been able to get here in person to confirm that I was describing everything accurately. So how did I research the setting?

Fortunately, it’s a state park. I checked the official site, studied the maps, confirmed where the hiking trails were in relation to the campground. I poked around campground review sites to get a sense of what camping there would be like and what would be available (ground vs. platform for tents, fire pit vs. grill). And I checked YouTube. Sure enough, people had posted videos of their hike up the mountain and their view from the top. I got a sense of the layout, the terrain, what kind of trees you’d see, what the air would be like. And I got a pretty good idea of how creepy it could be to be lost in the woods at night.

Some of these details didn’t make it into the story, but that’s the thing about research — you won’t use all of it. That’s true whether you’re interviewing someone for a news article or gathering up sensory details for a piece of fiction. Better to be overprepared than underprepared, and to know all the answers to your questions. When you write from a place of authority, it shows.

On Sunday, I finally got to confirm that my descriptions were accurate and we got to enjoy the scenery. I’d call that a win.

Hope you also get to enjoy some beautiful scenery this week, for research or for fun.

Submitting to anthologies

Here’s how I see anthology calls for submissions: They’re cool writing prompts that could lead to publication. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The story I submitted to “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic” got accepted (and the anthology is out this month!). Stories I’ve written for consideration in other anthologies have gotten rejected, and I’ve been researching magazines/other publications to send them (some sources I like: The Submission Grinder, Erica Verrillo’s Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity blog).

But sometimes the stars align and an already-written story fits what an anthology editor wants. For instance, my story that just got accepted for “Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging,” out in 2022 (preorder link to come when it’s available). So you never know. But I’m pretty happy about both of these acceptances.

The same goes for contest submissions. I didn’t advance in this year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, but I did end up with a fun sci-fi rom-com story that I hope to find a home for.

If you’re willing to accept the risk of your story getting rejected—which is kind of a requirement for being a writer—then writing for anthologies or contests can be a good part of an overall submission strategy. Good luck and have a creative week.