Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"There's Something About Elaine"

by Mary Jo Young from the March 26, 2012 issue

Tagline: Elaine had a nice life, but it wasn't exactly a fun life. Until some steps outside her comfort zone set her on the road to romance...

In a Nutshell: Almost Amish "plain", Elaine comes out of her shell and gets a tattoo at the urging of her friends. After that, everyone at the hospital where she works notices something is different, but they can't figure out what it is, especially Ed, chief surgeon. It takes him a while, but he eventually asks her out and realizes what's been right under his nose all the time.

Observations: Wow! I never would have guessed that Woman's World would "approve" of getting a tattoo (or red lingerie for that matter!), and yet, look at the message in this story: sometimes you have to heave yourself out of your comfort zone in order to evoke positive change. That's a Woman's World attitude if ever I saw one. Do-it-yourself happiness.

There are several things I admired in this story.

1. We actually see Elaine's transformation both inside and outside.
2. I liked Elaine's unwillingness to explain what caused the difference in her stride and attitude. No need to broadcast it to the world.
3. Elaine flirted with Ed, but didn't cross the line into game-playing.
4. The story covered so much ground, so many days. Amazingly hard to do in 800 words.

All in all, terrific story.


Also, I think that even though the demographic indicates older readers, even we middle aged women, perhaps even especially we middle aged women want to be literally attractive and attract male attention and in this story Elaine did it from within. Wow. Another powerful message. "It's what's inside that counts," is a theme that could be applied to more stories than this one. 




30 comments:

Mary Jo said...

Bless you, Kate Willoughby. What a great review of my Elaine story. By the way, at least Johnene didn't change my title, I am happy to say. Why my Arrowhead Hospital became Arborville Hospital, may have to do with a quarter inch of space. At 800 words, I think I am writing LONG for Woman's World. I measured the inches of print space on the page, and they go for more like 600 to 650 words. However, in all the changes she made, Johnene wrote even longer. Just a couple of tiny examples: She wrote that the hidden tattoo gave Elaine "a little lift", I wrote that it gave her "a buzz". She wrote, "Coffee, Ed?" "If you don't mind Elaine." I wrote, "Coffee, Rafe?" "Please." Yeah, the doctor's name was Rafe Butler. I thought that would give the reader a hint of GWTW. All he said was "You seem to have a little extra shine lately." Not one to let his voice trail off. And of course, the panties under her scrubs were RED, for heaven's sake. I am going to try writing about 100 words shorter and see how that goes. Many thanks, Kate.

Tamara said...

That is my suggestion, because she'll take out things you want in there and things that are SO much cuter the way you said them. She has a habit of placing names in dialogue, that is, one person addressing the other by name in the midst of a sentence when it isn't necessary and, in fact, sounds unnatural. She did this in one of my stories that was about a maid of honor ending up with the best man. The two characters were talking to each other at the end; he asked her to dance, and Johnene inserted a name -- but it was the BRIDE's name. Needless to say, even the check didn't totally erase my angst. My point is, the less they have to change, the less likely errors will occur, and you're right, those stories are usually reduced to 600-something.

Pat said...

Just be careful not sending the full word count. One on my critique partners had a story returned becasue it was 'under the word count' according to Johnene. I'd hate to see you write short and have it rejected.

Mary Jo said...

Yes, Tamara, I think you can spot the editor's handiwork in most of the WW Romances. The men are always "handsome", people are always "laughing" or "smiling" what they say. Things that should be obvious to the reader are spelled out in words of one syllable. I am a pretty good editor, but I wouldn't have the job if they paid me.

And, Pat, I did wonder how it would go over with the editor if a story came in actually print ready. Probably end up back in the writer's mailbox. Well that's where most of mine are anyway. I think I could publish my own little flash-fiction book: "800 Words and Counting".

In a perfect world, writers would write and editors would strip out whatever is unnecessary, making a story lean and better.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks again for a great analysis and for all the interesting comments about writing for WW!

Betsi said...

On the subject of word count and editing, I just want to add that after having 8 stories published in WW, I don't think sending a shorter story would make a bit of difference -- other than a rejection for not meeting the guidelines! The editing isn't just to make the story leaner, in my opinion, it's to give it the WW "voice." We all have our own writing voices, but these stories end up reading like they could have been written by the same person. Mine have all been changed a little or a lot, I just consider it part of the deal. Yes, Tamara, my first one had a terrible editing typo -- a line of dialogue was attributed to the dog! But I don't think there's anything I could have done to prevent that.

Tamara said...

No, Betsi, you couldn't have prevented it; it's in their hands. I think they're so rushed; I don't know how they handle the volume. I was told they get -- between the mysteries and romances -- 30,000 stories per year. BTW, I like your name "Betsi" -- good name for a WW protagonist.

Mary Jo said...

I recall reading in one of the Writer's Digest books that WW receives an average of 2500 romance submissions a month. That would be insurmountable except you can usually tell from the first paragraph if it is WW material. I recently asked Patricia how she handled the volume, but got no answer. I would think that physically (opening mail, etc.) they would do better with electronic submissions. Betsi, you are so right. They all sound alike because they are literally re-written by the editor from another's story idea and structure. I think this is a shame. Writers familiar with the Woman's World mission and with good guidelines can easily write a very publishable story for them, and it would have the writer's voice. Tell me, among 30,000 submissions, they can't find 52 that fit the pattern? That is,without a major overhaul? Well, the "slick" women's magazines don't even have the courage to use short fiction. They will sometimes publish an excerpt from a best-selling novel, but that's it for them. At least Woman's World is an opportunity.

Tamara said...

Have you ever been able to talk with Patricia Gaddis? I used to call Jimmy Meiss (former first editor, now deceased), and she was always willing to chat about WW and explain why she'd rejected a story. I miss her.

Kate Willoughby said...

I've exchanged emails with Patricia. Jimmy read my stories, but I never really interacted with her. I was still sad when she passed away.

Tamara said...

I agree with everything you said above, Mary Jo. I believe all the other national magazines have eliminated fiction and, as for articles, it takes almost an act of Congress to even get a response, sometimes after several nudges. At least with WW fiction you hear back, good news or not.

Mary Jo said...

I hope Jimmie Meiss went to a wonderful Reward because I am sure she deserved it. Back in the day, my only contact with her was the little notes she put on my rejected stories--and all my stories were rejected. She was a straight from the shoulder gal and always told it like it is. I feel I learned a lot from her.

Tamara said...

She once told me on the phone that she looks at the men in the stories and decides whether she would want them for her female readers. That was part of her criteria for a good WW story. I keep that in mind when I write a story.

Mary Jo said...

And Kate has made a point in her lessons that the story must be upbeat and the man must be someone the reader can fall in love with. So Jimmie Meiss looked for that, too. Well, I was very happy with my firemen in Hearts on Fire. I was really bummed, though, when the guy in my Elaine story changed from Rafe Butler, Chief Surgeon, a man who said what he meant, into a wimp called Ed. The contract claims that privilege, though

Kate Willoughby said...

I didn't think Ed was a wimp at all! I thought he was the perfect WW hero--slightly clueless (because he needs a good woman to show him the light), but good-hearted.

Betsi said...

Mary Jo, I think when it comes to naming our characters, if we don't want them changed by Johnese we have to stick to very neutral "All American" names. I've never met a Rafe, and I bet most WW readers haven't either. None of my names have been changed, but a writing friend did have a hero's name changed when she inadvertently used the same one I did and hers was pubbed several weeks later.

Jess said...

I've learned so much from your comments! And I knew a guy named Rafe. He was in my daughter's class in high school and had our same last name. He was very tall and lanky and drank a little too much. :)

Kate Willoughby said...

LOL, Jess. Not exactly a WW hero! When I think of a Rafe, I think of a pirate-y kind of guy. Tall, dark, slightly dangerous.

Mary Jo said...

Hey, ladies. Rafe is short for Raphael, the name of one of my own doctors. My Rafe character was Chief of Surgery, had been married, knew how to elude the town's husband seekers, and he had known Elaine long and well. So really, Kate, he wasn't clueless until Johnene got hold of him. He was a good guy, but I could never think of him as an Ed no matter what she decided. I do notice that in most of the stories I send to Patricia, the guy's name is Jim. Why, I have no idea. No Jim in my life except a couple of cousins. Well in my Hawaii story, Jim was known as Kimo. I guess Patricia liked it, but Johnene, of course, axed it right away. Too bad, it was one of my favorites.

Betsi said...

Ladies, I am blushing and laughing at the same time right now. I've had a lot on my mind (birth of twin granddaughters, with complications, a few weeks ago). The H in a story I subbed the end of January is a photographer named Rafe! When Mary Jo said it was short for Raphael, I remembered having the same thought process when I named him. I doubt this story will make it to print, though, with or without a hero named Rafe -- I haven't had much luck in the last year. But Mary Jo, I'm in agreement -- I'd be crushed if he was renamed Ed!

Mary Jo said...

On the same subject, Kate, I just read The Perfect Storm. I am willing to bet that it was printed essentially as written by the author. With all your excellent analyses, you have definitely nailed the WW "voice". Can you tell me I'm wrong? Nice people, nice story--and I love a rainy night.

Kate Willoughby said...

Well I must be the last one in the country to receive the issue my own story is in. I still haven't seen that one in my mailbox. I'll let you know what they changed when I see it. :)

Tamara said...

I am always curious, when Patricia Gaddis rejects a story, what Johnene would have thought of it. No way to know, of course, but I can't help wondering how similar their tastes and criteria are.

Mary Jo said...

I note, for quite some time, all of my rejections have been coming from Johnene in WA. That tells me that Patricia feels I have met the WW criteria before she passes it along. My stories are well structured, beginning, middle and end. I suspect that Johnene cannot figure out how to shorten them drastically to fit the page and still make sense, even if she likes the story. If they only would let us fit our stories into the 600-650 print page, I think we would see better writing all the way around.

Tamara said...

Most of my stories make it to Johnene, too, and I know of three that Johnene sent to the editor-in-chief as her selection for publication and expressed to me that she was "sorry this cute romance didn't make it," so Stephanie doesn't always like the same things that Johnene does (although there may be other reasons for rejections at the top). I wonder, though, when I get a rejection from Patty Gaddis, whether Johnene would have rejected it had she gotten it first (ditto the editor-in-chief). You're right, though, they should give us the correct word count and let us do our thing. As I mentioned on an earlier post, I make mine between 780-795, which reduces her editing at least somewhat. I wonder what would happen if we started sending in stories with a 650 word count.:)

Jamie Anne Richardson said...

Several questions and comments.

1. How do you know who is rejecting the story? The postmark?

2. At what point do you follow up on a story? How long is too long for them to keep a story?

3. Are there any other markets for short stories? Honestly... I'm doing this because I am about to finish my first novel and I want all the pub credits I can get. It sounds like they may edit the story to where you no longer want to claim it though and if that's the case. I'm wasting my time.

Thanks!!

Kate Willoughby said...

Yes, people look at the postmark. NC is Patricia, I think. Seattle is Johnene. You follow up on a non-response after 6 months, at which time you resubmit the whole story. There are other markets, but I'm not all that familiar with them. Sorry! Maybe others can chime in.

Mary Jo said...

Or another thought, what would it take to persuade the publisher to let us have at least the 800-word print space? The editor could edit without doing a major re-write to reduce a story by 25% of its length. I am afraid the publishing world has always considered writers a dime a dozen, and that is how most are paid.

Kate Willoughby said...

I've often looked back on the days when the word count was much larger, but I think we're lucky there's a romance fiction feature at all.

I've seen "Johnene's version" of my story and there were a few tweaks. I'll post the differences in a few days for those who are curious.

Tamara said...

Yes, Patricia is NC. I wonder if these editors work out of their homes, since headquarters is NJ. A friend of mine was told by Jimmie Meiss that she sent her picks in a big box to Johnene in Seattle. I wonder how many Johnene sends to editor-in-chief at once. I did read that 6 months is the length of time to wait to resend a story; however, they kept one of mine 7 months; that was one that Johnene had recommended to editor-in-chief, who said no for some reason and I got it back with Johnene's regrets (a good rejection, I think they call that). They've reduced word count twice; was 1,500, then 1,000, then 800, followed by a payment reduction from $1,000 to $800. Who would be brave enough to question them about the 800 word count and to whom would the question be posed? They probably changed it for economic reasons, don't you all think?