Who Writes This Craps?

So I’ve been thinking about gambling. For example, there’s craps. I’m not 100 percent certain of the rules, but I do know that it’s a game of chance: you throw a pair of dice, and they need to land with a certain series of numbers facing up.  

So let’s say you’re in a ritzy casino, and you’re wearing your finest tux or gown—whichever way you swing, really. You clutch the dice in a loose fist, shake your wrist, and toss them onto the table.  

It comes up exactly as you want it.  

The crowd cheers, you do a little fist pump, place another bet, do another shake, and toss another toss. 

Again, you get exactly what you’re shooting for. 

You do another fist pump, make another bet, shake, and toss. 

For a third time, you win. 

You’re on fire. You scoop up the dice, blow on them for luck, and throw. 

That little gust of wind from your lips has to control the movement of your arm, the ricochet of those little cubes off of your fingers, and the angle it flies out of your hand. It has to guide the distance and number of tumbles it takes, factoring in wind resistance. Once on the table, it needs to balance the pressure of impact, followed by the amount of bounces and turns until the friction of the table brings the dice to a halt. Long story short, luck has a lot of work to do. 

This occurred to me this morning as I received a third acceptance letter (yay me!) for a short story. To understand how awesome this felt, you have to be aware of the way I treat publishing. For the past year, I’ve been sending out to magazines and anthologies about a submission a week, and I’ve been getting responses a little less frequently than that. My first acceptance letter came in August of 2014. My second came six weeks ago, after dozens of rejections. And now I have a third, with only one rejection between it and the last one. So when I received the “We’re very happy to say you’ve been accepted …” email this morning, I said to myself, “I am on a hot streak, baby!”  

My second thought was, “Easy there, buddy.” 

I currently have eleven stories out there in the ether, and two (almost) back-to-back acceptances don’t change the odds of publication for any of them. “Well, what does change the odds?” I asked myself. 

Well, assuming I’m a decent enough writer (I like to think I am), then the answer is nothing. An unsolicited piece of writing is affected by any number of factors. 

My pieces tend to run humorous—but what if the editor had been looking for something more serious? I write almost exclusively female protagonists—but what if the editor is a tiny bit misogynistic? I’m not crazy about fairies—but what if fairies are cool at the moment? What if the editor is in a bad mood? What if the editor checked his or her email after a liquid lunch? How many other entries are there? What if mine gets caught in the spam filter? I have no control over any of this. 

And so, when I sent out another piece today, I thought of it not as an act of talent and skill, but rather as a die-roll. And oddly enough, this makes me feel pretty good about it. 


Paws to Appreciate

I moved to Indiana only a few short months after Newcastle was born, and a few weeks after my spouse invited him into her home. We quickly became best friends—even though he’s a cat. But we have so much in common. Like me, he is big, clumsy, and bipolar. 

He’s not the only cat. Since 2000 he has had two brothers—Andrew and Magik—who have graciously allowed me to live in their home.  

And so the five of us have grown older together, and unlike the people in the house, the cats have maintained perfect health, despite the fact that two of them are senior citizens. I should be bracing myself for their inevitable retirement, but I’m starting to believe they’re going to live forever. 

We had moved into the Washington DC metro area the year before, and I had yet to settle in. I’d been unemployed for the most part (this is by choice, since we could afford it), and we’d not really found any friendships that had stuck. And so, while my spouse was working overseas and left me alone for a few months during the autumn and winter of 2009, I had a breakdown. 

It was the cats who kept me grounded, particularly Newcastle, who follows me around like he’s my sidekick. I don’t know what I’ve done to earn his affection, but I’ll always be grateful. In fact, during my first session with a new psychiatrist, he asked me what my goal was, and I said I wanted to be as good a person my cat thinks I am. When he tells me to find my “happy place,” it’s Newcastle massaging my neck and purring, like he does every night before I fall asleep. 

We’ve been living in Qatar for the past two and a half years. I won’t go into details here about how things have gone, suffice it so say that there have challenging at times, and once again, it’s been Newcastle, et al, to the rescue. We’re headed back to the States mid-June, and for some pretty logical-but-convoluted reasons, we’ve sent the cats back early—as in this past Thursday. Our schedule’s been nuts over the past few days, so I’ve barely noticed their absence. But when life returns to normal starting Wednesday, and I’m all alone in the empty house … 

I’ve never been apart from them—and they me—for more than a few weeks in a row before, so six weeks is going to be particularly brutal. They’re with friends who love them and whom they love, so I’m not particularly worried about them. But man I miss these guys.