By Jeff Bernstein
Writer Melissa Chadburn is a star in LA’s literary fiction scene. She’s been published in McSweeney’s, Tin House, the Rumpus, amongst other places, and her novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, is being published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and will released in 2016.
Melissa was kind enough to give us a peek into her creative process. She will be teaching a “Get Your Story Published Workshop” (1 Day) on May 17th at Writing Pad that will teach you everything you need to know about the submission process, help you craft pitch letters that will impress editors, as well as manage your submissions to literary magazines. She will also be teaching a five week Short Story Fiction starting June 15 where she will share secrets for writing an irresistible short story and help you get one published.
1) You have an amazing story: growing up in poverty, being shuttled between group homes and foster parents and enduring physical abuse. Despite all this, you found your voice as a writer and were able to hone your craft. Tell us about your journey as a writer.
I’ve always written. Mostly because I’ve always read. One way my mother was generous was that she allowed me to read whatever I wanted. The beginning of my writing life was the same as the beginning of my lying life. I was in the second grade, and we were given a book report assignment. At the time I was reading Jackie Collins novels and could not do a report on a book called The Bitch. So I made up an age-appropriate book with an age-appropriate theme. I called it Suzy Wins The Big Race. I went on to make up a half dozen more bootstrap-themed children’s stories to report on. The main ingredient missing in these fictitious stories was the rampant bodice-ripping passion.
2) You’ve had several short stories published in many of the top literary magazines. Do you have a strategy for approaching submissions (managing the process, honing stories for specific publications, researching editors)?
I’m a labor organizer by trade as well as a writer. So I implement the same strategies I use in organizing a worksite or a group of people to take some form of action. I map out the marketplace and make sure I submit to places my work is best suited for. I set publication goals for myself. I use a tiered approach and ultimately I’m cognizant of what a numbers game this is. Which really means submit, submit, submit. I balance my time between being generative and submitting.
3) What advice can you give aspiring writers for pitching stories to magazines? Can you take us through the pitch to sale process?
I hope folks take my class to get the skinny, I will share my submission chart, as well as some specific query letters. But honestly, the best advice I can give others is to never give up and to read their little fannies off and to submit their work. One hot tip: always refer to a specific story or essay featured in the publication you are querying.
4) Revision is one of the hardest parts of writing, particularly on a longer form project. You take it very seriously. Do you have way of approaching this stage of the writing process that makes it easier for you to stick with it?
I enjoy revision. It uses a different part of my brain though one a little more pragmatic and less magical. When I’m revising, I need more silence. Structure is my Achilles heel so what I will often do is find a story or essay that accomplishes what I’m trying to accomplish structurally and then I outline that piece and use it’s bones as the scaffolding for my own project.
5) How does your work as an advocate and activist inform your fiction writing? Does it help you come to clearer themes in your work?
I think all fiction writers have the capacity for empathy, and I think it’s hard to experience empathy without doing one thing or another that works toward creating the change in the world you want to see.
6) What can students expect to learn in your short story class and publishing clinic?
For the short story class, this course explores ways to develop compelling antagonists—with playful, conflicted, and imaginative results. We will also explore ways to move your narrative forward and how to stay within the emotional bewilderments of the present. Students will learn how to give and receive constructive feedback through examining other works in class. I will also show my students how to engage in “active reading” and apply techniques derived from this process into their own writing practice.
Thanks, Melissa! That was really informative.
If you want to take your short fiction to the next level and get a leg up in the publishing world check out Melissa’s “Get Published Workshop” (1 Day) on May 17th at Writing Pad and her five week “Short Story Workshop” starting June 15.