Molleen Zwiker's Blog

November 27, 2014

So here it is Thanksgiving, and I have much to be thankful for including my luck at getting published.
My first acceptance letter came in 1986 and as I wasn't sure there would be another I filed it with my rejections.
I mean, really, why waste a perfectly good file folder on one measly letter?
At the time, and for a long time after, I attributed getting published to pure luck. In fact, I've often said getting published is a crap shoot, akin to the lottery with similar odds. Well, maybe slightly better odds, but not much.
But now, after a few enlightening conversations with other writers, I'm beginning to realize there was -- and is -- as much strategy as luck.
Don't misunderstand me, I still consider myself fortunate, but I must admit I've picked up a few skills.
The first was to target my submissions VERY carefully.
My first rejection letter came from Redbook. Because I looked forward to reading the short stories in each new issue of that magazine and had somehow gotten the idea that it was the only remaining market for short stories, I sent them the first one of mine I deemed marketable.
DUMB.
On two levels, that was an obvious mistake. First of all, although I enjoyed reading most of those stories, they all had one thing in common: predictable endings. My stories were more open ended. Secondly, Redbook was FAR from being the only publication doing short fiction.
I learned to target to the publication. Not write to it, you understand. Still no predictable happy endings for me, but to send my stories to the publications who publish what I write. And to do that, I needed to learn just how varied my options were.
With the help of my first Writer's Market book (in hardcover back then), I was delighted to learn of such things as small presses, of quarterly publications, of underground publishers.
My rejection file kept growing, of course, but more slowly, with more acceptances sprinkled in.
More later, the turkey awaits.
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Published on November 27, 2014 09:50 • 22 views

August 3, 2014

Admittedly, I was a few minutes late to my scheduled showing at Scribe Publishing's booth at the Buy Michigan Now Festival in Northville.
Waiting for me to sign UNRELIABLE, which she'd purchased was a perfectly nice woman named Nancy. I assume that was her real name as that's how she asked me to inscribe her copy. I added, Thank you (at least I hope I did) and something smart-alecky like Don't try this at home. I smiled (I KNOW)and tried to be gracious. But inside I was freaking out.
WHO was this person?
NOT a friend or a relative or the friend of a relative or the relative of a friend, not a colleague or neighbor or neighbor of a colleague or relative or friend.
Have we met? I asked, still smiling. (The smiling was natural; I actually enjoy the meet and greet. It's the anticipation of the meet and greet that freaks me out.)
No. She shook her head.
I invited her to pop into Facebook to tell me what she thought, then she smiled and walked away.
And for a full day I obsessed about her. WHO WAS SHE???
Had she read any other books or stories I'd written? But my last name for most of those was Zanger, before I ditched all that anger and reclaimed my maiden name.
Was she a former student? One of the thousands who passed through my grade books? Wouldn't she have said so?
DAMN.
Maybe someone sent her? Some ex or ex-wannabe sent her to scope me out? I imagined the discussion: See how she's aged. Look for a ring on her left hand.
Ya. I know. Weird, right?
Okay, I thought up every possibility and even a number of the impossibilities.
And then it dawned on me: Maybe she was
simply and completely free of ulterior motives -- wait for it -- a fan.
Wow.
A fan.
Might be, could be, entirely possible.
Wow.
Thanks, Nancy.
IF that's really your name.
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Published on August 03, 2014 10:55 • 44 views

February 15, 2014

Asked by a friend to guest on her money blog, I was honored, and submitted: http://jandjnewleaf.blogspot.com/2014...
It was kind of fun, reminding me of the DIY column I developed while working on a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn MI, The Exponent.
But it was also frustrating. The first version went quickly but was just as quickly lost. Where did it go? IDK, it was just gone. So I started over, with less enthusiasm and less fervor. Still, I was content with it and sent it on to Jess. Whereupon, the first version mysteriously reappeared. From where? Don't know that either. I love technology, use it daily, but trust it? NEVAH!
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Published on February 15, 2014 11:19 • 61 views

November 1, 2013

Every day, every damn day, she finds a pen. Or a pencil.
Every day, without fail. At her feet, in the next seat, as she leaves her car, in airports, buses, parking lots, new purse, mailbox, under her pillow.
Every day she gives thanks for the pen, but asks: What should I be DOING???
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Published on November 01, 2013 15:55 • 56 views

July 17, 2013

So this week, I was searching madly for the title to my car. Couldn't find it anywhere. But I did handle every other piece of paper in my possession. Some I threw away. Okay, I threw away a lot.
This took a hefty chunk of time because I had to READ every one of them before I could decide whether to keep it or not.
I found my rejections file, thicker than I thought (keeping those).
I found my in-class freewriting file, some of which isn't horrible.
I found a file of old love letters (pitched those).
I found a file of personal correspondence from old friends and former students. In this file I found a handwritten note from the illustrator of the short story that won Sojourner's first fiction contest. I'd written to her to tell her how much I liked her drawing, how it was eerily exactly what I'd imagined, and to ask her to illustrate a children's book I'd written.
She declined, informing me that publishers prefer their own illustators and our pre-formed collaboration might lessen the odds of publication. She also
had a marketing suggestion: get it placed in the gift shop of the Shoe Museum in Toronto (which I just discovered is still open).
That part startled me.
I'd completely forgotten that idea
if not the book, which I found in the same file. I'd wondered where that went.
Oddly, I still like that book although the child I wrote it for is all grown up now.
So, I'm thinking of trying again to find a publisher for it. Or doing it myself, like the one I did two Christmases ago for my grands.
I'm just wondering if I should make one for Jenny, too, to thank her for her inspiration.
Hmmmmm.
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Published on July 17, 2013 14:13 • 60 views

July 15, 2013

Then I heard of a technological advance so astounding I began to dream of it at night, exciting dreams, thrilling dreams. I even began sleep-talking, for the invention was a typewriter that was voice activated.
It was designed for quadriplegics and at the time cost five figures, but I thought maybe I could find someone who had one they'd let me borrow once in awhile. It would be easy to convince them of my need: I would send them an unedited, unproofed typed letter.
No, it was useless. I had to keep plugging away with my disability. But at least a word processor with a disc drive would help, I thought. If I could revise a piece at any time after I'd written it, at least that would reduce my typing time and help keep my limitations manageable.
So I bought the Smith Corona. It had a disc drive and a lot of neat features, most of which, I must admit, I never used. But one feature, called Spell-Check, was automatic and drove me nuts.
Every time I mistyped a word, it beeped. Not a discreet, encouraging, kindly beep, oh no. It was a loud, obnoxious, accusatory, critical beep.
I hated it.
I talked back to it.
I swore at it.
But I didn't disengage it.
I found myself making a conscious effort to keep the monster quiet.
And then, within a few weeks, I suddenly realized it was beeping less and less.
It wasn't wearing out, either, exhausted at overuse.
It was me!
I was improving!
Gradually but definitely, I was improving. It was possible.
Not that I ever got "good". I could never get a typists job. But I no longer have to hire a typist, either.
Amazing.
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Published on July 15, 2013 09:27 • 43 views

July 14, 2013

At about that time, I learned about an alternative keyboard, the Dvorak keyboard. Set up using logic, with the strongest, most-used fingers assigned to the most-used letters, it was developed at roughly the same time as QWERTY. But it was discarded. The reason? It was too fast. Early typists would jam the keys too often. With electric keyboards, that defect became an asset. But path dependency had set in and people were too staunchly accustomed to QWERTY.
However, I became convinced that this odd keyboard offered a solution to my problem. Somehow, I reasoned, my odd brain and the odd Dvorak would be a match. I would be a successful typist at last. Writing would no longer be torture. People would stop me in the street to ask for my secret to fulfillment and success.
Right.
But how to obtain a word processor that used Dvorak? Couldn't find one. Anywhere.
If only I could find someone to convert my word processor. Replacing the key caps didn't work. I tried.
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Published on July 14, 2013 11:33 • 50 views

July 10, 2013

I became convinced it was some sort of short-circuitry in my brain. The problem worsened after a tendon repair surgery left me dragging my right small finger, frequently putting semi-colons in the oddest places.
When I began to take my writing seriously (code for trying to get published), I knew drastic measures had to be taken. I hired someone to type for me. At first I was glad to pay a dollar a page; after all, my first tentative short stories were seldom longer than ten pages.
Unfortunately, this "pro" sucked. Not only did she return my story on onionskin paper in French script (against my request and all the conventions of submission), she changed the ending. She wanted it "happier".
So I bought my first word processor. With it I could enter my text any way my contrary fingers (and brain) chose and then go back and fix the typos, deleting the extraneous semi-colons.
That worked well for awhile, but then a strange thing happened: my short stories got longer and one threatened to turn into a novel. The problem was my word processor had a limited memory, a ten-page limitation.
Truly.
Let me be clear: I could work on a piece for no more than ten pages, and only one piece at a time.
So I had to re-type every revision.
Today, that seems barbaric, doesn't it?
It's a miracle I didn't chuck it all and go to barber college.
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Published on July 10, 2013 09:34 • 59 views

July 9, 2013

Typing classes didn't help. The first one was in the seventh grade and although I attended regularly my classroom performance was so poor the teacher had to invent an independent project for me to get enough credit to barely pass.
Since he was also my civics teacher, he came up with the idea of having me type Michigan's newly revised constitution in its entirety, on my own time. This I did, unconsciously substituting the prefix "pro" for "con" every time the word "constitution" was used in the document. God only knows what the poor man thought, but he silently accepted my botched version and passed me.
Barely.
In the ninth grade, I tried again. I couldn't master ice skating or swimming, was terrible at math, and refused any sissy dance classes. Typing was the last way I could think of to earn my father's approval.
I failed.
So I tried again in the tenth grade. This time I liked the teacher so worked harder to master this skill. I got my speed up, but when we subtracted for errors, I dropped to 40 wpm, impressing no one.
Because I was an avid reader, I was good at spelling and punctuation, so it wasn't
a matter of ignorance.
My problem seemed to be mostly with typing letters two or three words ahead of myself.
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Published on July 09, 2013 05:15 • 51 views

July 8, 2013

Typographically impaired is what I call my inability to type with any degree of accuracy or speed. Seriously. I recently took an online typing test to check my wpm. I scored 17 until my errors were subtracted which gave me an overall score of -3. This is not a joke.
It has to be some flaw in my cranial circuitry, some nutritional lack of my mother's when I was in utero, or maybe she was terrified by an Underwood during a storm. Or maybe it was a blow to the head when I was a child, when I fell down while ice-skating, climbing trees, or horsing around with my brothers on a dish-soap-coated kitchen floor.
For sure it wasn't heredity. My mother was a typist when she met my father on the Milwaukee clipper, and my father's typing was fast and accurate, due no doubt to his graduation from Muskegon College of Business and the endless hours he spent at his typewriter after we'd gone to sleep. For years he wrote a column for a Marine Corps League magazine. So I know the flaw is in me.
Typing classes didn't help.
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Published on July 08, 2013 10:28 • 69 views