Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Easter Surprise"

by Mary L. Briggs from the April 2, 2012 issue

Tagline: Janice had always loved Easter. Now, thanks to her romantic boyfriend, she loved it even more!

In a Nutshell: Janice's sister used to set up Easter egg scavenger hunts for her. After Janice shares this tidbit of info with her boyfriend, he surprises her with a modern-day hunt, but this time the prize isn't a chocolate bunny, it's a diamond ring!

Observations: I thought the premise of this story was wonderful. It's always fun to read about creative engagements. And the hunt that Dan sends her on was fun to experience as a reader. This is one of those cases where I think, "Why didn't I think of that????"

However, there were a couple of things that bothered me.

Of course, we readers are going to predict that Dan is going to set up an egg hunt for her. That's a given. (The twist turns out to be the ring, which did take me by surprise. :) ) However, after finishing the story, I thought back and wondered how far in advance Dan planned...

Here's the timeline: Janice tells Dan about her sister's tradition. In that same conversation, Dan reminds her he won't be around for Easter because of a business conference. Obviously, the idea for his own engagement ring egg hunt can't have come to him until after she tells him that story. That makes me wonder if he decided then and there to pop the question via the egg or already had the ring and was looking for a way to give it to her. Not a big deal, really, but my question never gets answered and I wish it had. (Standard disclaimer: this is all just my opinion, which often and unpredictably differs with those of the magazine editors.)

The other thing that bothered me was the fact that he doesn't actually ask her to marry him at all. It's a given. He just slips the ring on, no questions--or question, singular--asked. I think Briggs missed out on a big opportunity to bring this story from Cuteland to the World of Poignant Sighs. If she'd spent less time on the history of sister Elle's tradition and more on the proposal itself, I would have been a much happier camper. A marriage proposal is, in my opinion, a momentous, life changing event, and even in fiction--or perhaps especially in fiction--the emotions need to be there.

But you know what? It all boils down to author choice. There's absolutely nothing wrong with writing a cute story that doesn't pull on your heart strings.

Note: If you like the eggs in the picture, here's a link that shows you how to make them.


Betsi said...

Kate, I totally agree . . . for one thing, she wastes words on the history of the egg hunt, remembering it and then telling Dan about it. I thought the words could have been used to greater effect if he'd actually proposed. And you're right about the timeline. I also had the impression that the 2 of them lived together -- unmarried -- and thought that was unusual for WW! But then again, it doesn't actually SAY that. Anyway, I did enjoy the story despite those quibbles.

Mary Jo said...

Another insightful analysis, Kate, showing all of us what to aim for in our WW stories. Unless Mary L. Briggs tells us here, we won't know what was left out of her allotted 800 words, or perhaps even added to it when Johnene had to trim it to fit the print space. I voted "Loved it" just because I thought it was such a sweet premise.

Tamara, I was interested in your prior comments (after the Elaine story) when you told us three of Johnene's selections had been refused by Stephanie, editor in chief. Do you know whether it was your original story or Johnene's edited version? I would be very interested in knowing which goes to Stephanie for her approval.

By the way, in the earliest days, WW published romance stories at 4000 words. I read only one and it was so boring I couldn't wait to put it down. Through the years they have cut the length down, down, down, and as Kate says, we are lucky it is still there, at 600 words. Among women's magazine fiction, this is the last hurrah.

Tamara said...

LOL. That's pretty funny that the longer ones were boring. I'm aware of three stories of mine that Johnene sent to Stephanie, and I saw two of them. She had written "Romance" across the top and made some minor changes in pen, so apparently she edits them first. With the third one, which was recent, she had decided to change the process so that she would notify writers, by email, when she'd selected our stories to go to Stephanie, at which time we would email the stories to her (instead of after we got our contracts), and then she would email us Stephanie's decision. She then changed her mind about doing it that way because, as she told me, she didn't like getting our hopes up and then disappointing us. (I actually preferred it; I guess I'm always hungry for feedback along the way, whatever it is -- pay attention to my writing -- please:)). That story was returned with no marks on it.

Mary Jo said...

Tamara, thank you for the information. It sounds like Johnene is floundering, which is puzzling since she has been in that job for years and should know what works inside and out. I have never seen an edited version of any of my WW stories, perhaps there were none, except for what actually made it to print. Patricia would return my entire story as I included a 9 x 12 which is what I thought I was supposed to do. Johnene told me to send only a #10 envelope and she returns only the first page and her rejection letter.

True, we may get no editorial feed-back, but the analyses blog Kate has done for several years is an education in itself.

I have sometimes sent a handwritten note to the authors of stories I particularly like and request the WW office to forward it on. At least they know then that the fiction segment is appreciated. That is how I became acquainted with Tima Smith who used to write many of their stories and is one of the best writers they ever had.

Tamara said...

I am wondering when you had occasion to send something directly to Johnene. Sounds as though our experiences sometimes differ with respect to the process. I always send a large envelope, and sometimes when I open the mailbox and find it there, I feel it to see if it's fat (story being returned) or skinny (contract). Once she returned only the first page of my story, so I thought it was a contract until I opened it. That was a sad moment I laugh at myself about.

Mary Jo said...

Tamara, no, I have never sent anything directly to Johnene. In rejecting my stories, she told me not to bother to send a 9 x 12, just use a #10 envelope which is what she used to tell me no thanks. Then you never know until you open it.

Kate Willoughby said...

Betsi, I assumed they lived apart but I did wonder how he'd gotten in to plant the eggs.

I don't think she's floundering. I think that they're experimenting with different systems. I, for one, hope they will go completely electronic.

For the SASE, I always send a #10, but I'm cheap. LOL I don't want to waste a big envelope on two pieces of paper!

Tamara said...

LOL. You're right, Mary Jo, that #10 would always hold a total mystery. I also think they're experimenting, and I am expecting an all-electronic edict sooner or later, maybe sooner. Many of the literary journals where I submit are totally electronic now; they have websites where the status of stories can be checked. I don't like that, though, because I imagine they're looking me up and seeing that I was rejected elsewhere, as many of them share the websites (probably exaggerating my importance there; sure they have better things to do).

Deb said...

I always send a big envelope and always get the whole story back, minus my query, with the rejection letter on top. Several times I have received back pages that were edited in pencil, so I assumed that Johnene edited first with her ideas then sent it on to EIC. Who knows?!?

I agree with Kate that WW is probably just trying different ways to make the process smoother. For awhile late last year, it was taking six to seven months to get back a rejection, so I think with so many subs they are trying to make the process faster.

About stories that are missing elements - the one that I sold had a lot edited out - my favorite, humerous part too. Plus they edited in a lot of "he said" "she said" even though I only had the two characters in the story. So one never knows.

On this story - I didn't think of either of your questions, Kate - funny how our minds work so differently. I also assumed they lived together and I actually said AW! out loud when I finished the story - so I voted LOVED IT. I do agree that the egg hunt description at the beginning was a bit long.


Mary Jo said...

It would be wonderful if they could get a faster turn-around. With the volume of submissions they get at WW, maybe they should hire a few more able people to sort them out. It is always two to five or six months before I get a decision, and I think I am going to die of old age before I ever hear anything. Will electronic submissions make any real difference? Or are we just saving snail-mail time?

(Rose) Mary Briggs said...

Hi Kate--thanks for reviewing my story here! I enjoyed your analysis and think you made some good points about questions the readers might have.

About the timeline---I hoped the reader would assume he was planning to propose all along and the conference was just a ruse. The egg hunt would then be a last-minute decision :)

And in retrospect, I probably could've had a longer proposal scene. With the 800 word limit, sometimes it seems hard to find the right balance for a story.

I noticed a couple of readers had the impression the characters lived together. That's not something I intended, but looking back, I can see how they might've interpreted it that way.

This story actually had very little editing, as far as I could tell. I've always been happy with the publishing process at WW and agree that some of their recent changes are just part of trying new things. I also think they saw an increase in submissions, which probably made a difference as well.

Anonymous said...

I would appreciate a second publication that used stories such as these, so we would have a second chance with our rejected ones, but I don't know of one.

Tamara said...

Oops. That was my comment above, and I hit the wrong button and it came up Anonymous.

Kate Willoughby said...

Mary Jo, as much as I'd like it, I don't see them spending the money on more first readers just so we can get our responses faster. ;) I think we might only be saving snail mail time, although I think it MUST be faster to open an email than it is to open an envelope and get the story out.

Rose (Mary Briggs), oooh, I'm always really excited with the authors come to my blog. Yeah, that 800 word limit makes it hard, doesn't it? I wish WW would publish more proposal stories. I love them.

Tamara, I know some WW writers who bundle their rejected stories together in an anthology and self-publish them.

Mary Jo said...

Kate, I would be interested in reading an anthology of little stories that did not make it into the pages of WW. Can you tell me where they are available? I know some of my cutest and best stories were turned down at Woman's World, either by Patricia or Johnene. Even if I have twenty of them, though, that would be only 16,000 words (like three chapters in a paperback)and probably not enough to make an actual book. It might take several writers joining forces to create a salable volume.

I wish some of the magazines for women would take a chance on offering short fiction again after all these years. So many writers and so little print space.

Tamara said...

I actually did just that. I included two stories that had been published (Johnene said it was okay so long as I gave them credit) and my rejections and self-published with iUniverse. I was unable to afford iUniverse's editing, which cost about $200 more, and I found a few mistakes in the text, so I haven't pushed sales. When I am able to afford it, I will make corrections and re-publish, adding more stories. The book is entitled, Tracking Down Mr. Right and Other Stories. The title story, "Tracking Down Mr. Right," was the one they kept seven months and was selected by Johnene but rejected by Stephanie.
Mary Jo, the book is 50 pages, but the stories were longer then. I hope to at least double the page count it next time.