All posts by Sean

Worldcon 2011 – Renovation

Dear Shimmery Readers, Writers, and Illustrators attending WorldCon,

The lovely Editor In Chief Beth Wodzinski and I (your humble slush wrangler) will be arriving at WorldCon early Wednesday morning.  We are planning on having fun and being social, so if you’d like to meet up with us and talk shop (or zombies.  Definitely zombies), don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

I will have my iPhone on me, so send me an email and I will respond right away.  You can reach me at

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Sean (and Beth)

P.S. Also keep an eye out for other Shimmery people: Keffy, Cory Skerry, and the Ferrett!

The Art of Naming Characters

So you want to name a character

Naming a character can be a tricky thing. Names can be an easy way to identify a character, or to give your character some characterization without even trying.

Try this little exercise: think about a character named Bill. What does Bill look like?  What color is his hair? What color is his skin? What are his hobbies? What does he do for a living? If you asked five people this question you’d find some overlapping answers. For me, Bill works in insurance in Kansas, plays golf on Saturday mornings, and barbecues with the neighbors after the game on Sunday.

What about the name Horatio? You probably think of someone who doesn’t look like Bill, or like the same thing he likes. How about the name Oksana? Again, a different idea of someone that comes with a certain shared set of features. This is basically how stereotypes work: a belief or idea about a certain type of person based on a simple idea.

To sum this up using the old television show King of the Hill: there’s a reason his name is Hank, and not Lamar.

Going against expectations

Sometimes a character is given a certain name specifically because it plays off a stereotype. In the book Confederacy of Dunces, the absolutely absurd character has an equally absurd name: Ignatius J. Reilly. If I asked you to paint a picture of someone named Ignatius, you probably wouldn’t create a character described by the author as such:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

Similarly, a character named Romeo who was not passionately in love would be another example of an author going against a stereotype for a specific effect. I would advise you to use this particular naming method with caution, as it can be obvious and induce a serious case of eye-rolling in the reader.

What rhymes with X’yzlulzq’uzk?

I have seen stories where the alien or the monster has a weird and unpronounceable name. This is good logic: something foreign to humans will probably not be named Mike or Steve, and may possess a name consisting of sounds produced by body parts we may lack. However, the reader of your story is most likely to be a human, so go ahead and make the name easy to pronounce. A reader, when presented with the name X’yzlulzq’uzk will not pause every time to sound it out, and if they do, will be so kicked out of your story they probably won’t finish it.

Don’t try to be cute

Probably the most important rule of naming characters is don’t try to be cute or clever. Naming a character who has been through two major wars, has a prosthetic limb, and a patch of over a missing eye “Lucky” is bumper sticker humor, and will probably make the editor roll her eyes until they fall out and roll under the couch. Obviously if done well, one can break any rule and still find success. I will point to the example of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  Naming your main character Ender, and then having that character go on to (highlight to see spoiler!) nearly kill an entire alien species shouldn’t work. It should make you groan and throw the book at the wall, but instead it’s done so well that it’s perfect.

So, 1) don’t try to be cute, and 2) there are exceptions to every rule.

Make the name part of the character, part of your story

In Kelly Link’s story “Magic for Beginners,” the main character is named Jeremy Mars. A couple times in the story the main character talks (or thinks) about the planet Mars. How could they not? Names define us. Names remind us of those who’ve come before us, and connect us to certain ideas or objects. Of course Jeremy Mars thinks about Mars. His friends probably mention it often. Every new person he introduces himself to must comment on it. This is one way to make your character’s name an important part of your story.

Has your name ever been brought up in a conversation, or mispronounced constantly, or made fun of by other children when you were young? Your character might experience the same thing, depending on their name.

A simple rule for naming your characters

Make your character’s name simple and interesting, but unobtrusive. Probably the best example of this I’ve seen recently is the main character from The Hunger Games.  Katniss Everdeen is a simple name, it’s easy to say, but has a memorable quality to it, because it is uncommon. It is not too cutesy and the author shows how others might make fun of the name (playing off of catnip).

Remember, simple and interesting, but unobtrusive.

Your Turn

What are some of your favorite character names–from your own work or that of others? Tell us in the comments.

The Art of the Query, Part 2

So your little story that your nurtured and wrote and edited turned out to be a lot bigger than you expected, oops!  You had your heart set on sending it to a certain magazine, because you just KNEW it would be a perfect match.

The only problem is, the magazine doesn’t take stories over 5,000 words, and your story is closer to 6,000.  What do you do?

First Step, Read The Guidelines

I cannot stress the importance of this piece of advice enough.  Most magazines will have some version of submission guidelines posted.  Read them!  In Shimmer‘s guidelines, we ask that if your story is more that 5,000 words, you query us.

Why?  Why Must We Make Things So Complicated?

Here at Shimmer, our sweet spot is a short story usually below 5,000 words.  However, we don’t want to miss a fantastic story that might happen to be 5,250 words, but we have to have some kind of limit.  The most efficient way to accomplish this is to allow queries, which we can process a lot more quickly than a whole story.  It saves time and energy for the magazine staff AND the author.

Picture this.  Say there is a magazine that only publishes a certain niche in the genre, and they have a word count limit of 5,000 words, but an author wants to submit a story to them.  The slush wrangler gets a query and sees that the story is a 13,000 word epic fantasy.

Nothing wrong with that!  Except, it really isn’t a good fit for the magazine.  Why waste the author’s time, and the slush reader’s time with a story that is clearly not a good fit for the magazine?  And yes, an editor really can tell from a query whether or not it will be a good fit for the magazine.  Check out Associate Editor Sophie’s post about slush for a more in-depth discussion about this slushy side of publishing.

That Sounds Like Me!  I Want To Query For Length.  Er, How Do I Do That?

As always, not all magazines want the same type of query from you.  So read the guidelines to find out how to query for a particular magazine.  For Shimmer, we’d like you to send a brief paragraph describing the story and the first page.  Here’s what that means.  Send us just a few sentences telling us the main points of your story.  Then paste the first page into the body of the email.

I’ve seen a lot of people panic about what does “first page” mean.  I will make it simple for you.  Send us the first 250 words of your story.  That’s it.  That’s all we need.

Can You Show Me A Sample Query Letter?

Of course.  Here is a query letter that would go over very well at Shimmer:

Dear Ms. Wodzinski,

Would you be interested in reading my 8,000 word story, “Attack of the Evil Robot Monkeys”? In this near-future apocalyptic science fiction story, my intrepid heroine, using only her wits and a stolen laser rifle, must find a way to survive the monkey apocalypse. I’ve attached the first page for you to review.

May I send you the full story?

(If applicable, this is where you would put the information about where your fiction has previously been published.  If not, don’t worry, just leave this part blank).

Thanks for your consideration,

Your Name

That’s it!  Just send the query, paste the first page of your story into the body of the email, and wait for a response.

That Sounds Scary What If Something Goes Wrong?

Relax, it’s not frightening at all.  Either the slush wrangler will say “sure, that sounds like it might be a fit.  Please send the whole manuscript,” and so you do.  Or the slush wrangler might say “sorry, this doesn’t seem like a good fit for our magazine.”  Don’t be discouraged, it doesn’t mean the story was bad, just that it wasn’t the right home for it.

Your Turn!

How about you?  What has your experience been with querying zines?  Leave a comment or question below.

Mysterious Queries, Part 1

Picture this.  You’re an author.  You’ve spent a very long time dreaming up and typing a fantastic story.  You’ve found the perfect market for it, and you (following the guidelines, of course) send it out.

Goodbye, little story!  Goodbye!  I hope you do well and I hear from you soon….

But you don’t.  A week passes.  And then another. And then a month!

OH MY GOSH!  What happened to my story?  Did I accidentally send it to Great Aunt Ruth instead of the market?  What if I accidentally sent a picture of myself in Jamaica instead of my story?  GASP!

What Do I Do Now?

The answer: Query!

The Shimmer guidelines say to query if you haven’t heard from us if a month has passed.  Why do we say this?

The internet is a wild, wild place, dear readers.  Any number of things can happen.  Your story could get lost on the way and never arrive.  Our response could have been eaten by a dreaded interweb monster.  Maybe your story was misplaced?  Who knows!  That is why you should query if you have not heard from us.

What if I come off as needy?  Or desperate?  What if they autoreject me for bothering them?

Relax, grasshopper.  We invited you to query.  If you’ve read the guidelines and understand when to query, we won’t be mad at you.  We’re happy to help, honest!

Besides, I’m going to tell you how to query.  Right after I tell you….

When to Query

Should you query us at EXACTLY thirty days, right down to the minute?  No.  That’s unnecessary.  The thirty day rule is not a contract of any sort, it’s just an estimate. Here’s what we’re really trying to say:

“Hey!  Usually we can read and response to your story within 30 days, but that’s just an average.  If it’s been like 40 or 50 days and you haven’t heard from us at all?  Something probably went wrong.  Shoot us a polite little email and let’s figure this out.”

Also, sometimes a market will read your story and hang on to it.  Why are they holding on to it?  They just want to read it a time or two, maybe let it bounce around in their minds for a bit to see if it’s memorable, or if it will fit in with the particular theme or niche they are going for. If we’ve let you know we’re holding on to your story, there’s no need to query–we’re on the job.

It’s been forty-five days and now I have to write a query letter. How?!

Here’s an example of a good query letter.

Dear [Editor’s Name]

I submitted [story] on [date], and have not yet received

a response.  I am writing to make sure my story arrived safely.


[Author Name]

That’s it!  Keep it very simple, and very polite.

Here’s an example of a query letter you might NOT want to send.

Dear Sir/Madam

I sent you my story, but you never wrote back.  Why not?  Are you mad at me or something?  I told you I like your magazine, and I even bought a copy once.  Is this how you treat your fans?

So I just wanted to know if you just hated my story and decided not to reply.  You probably did.  That’s okay, though, cuz I’m gonna be a famous author one day and I’ll never send you another story again.


Ouch!  No one wants to receive a letter like that.  Don’t be defensive or over explain everything.  Remember, keep it simple and to the point.

Now You Know How to Query

It’s not as hard or scary as you think.  Stuff happens.  Editors understand that.

Part II of this post will be on how/when to query for length.  So stay tuned!

I’d love to hear about any querying questions or comments you might have.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Happy Querying!

So, What’s A Slush Wrangler?

Hi, Shimmer reader and writers.

My name is Sean, and my job at Shimmer is SLUSH WRANGLER. When you submit a story to Shimmer, it comes into our gmail account with all the other slush. It’s my job to go through every submission and make sure of such things as: is there a story attached? Is the attachment in an acceptable format? Is the story under 5,000 words (as stated in the guidelines)?

If the stories are good to go, then I assign them to our associate editors. Another name for an associate editor is a slush reader, except at Shimmer, the associate editors have a voice in regards to buying or passing on a story.

Does every magazine work this way?

Nope. Every magazine is a special snowflake, and while some may have similar organizational structures to that of Shimmer, others are run in completely different ways. As such, you should do your research, and check out the submission guidelines before submitting to any magazine.

If you follow the submission guidelines, a slush wrangler gets his wings.

It’s easy when things work like they’re supposed to, and the writers submitting slush to Shimmer follow the guidelines.

So what happens to the stories that are incorrectly submitted? I’ll ask the author to try again.

Don’t feel bad; everyone makes mistakes. But if you continually abuse the guidelines, and make me intervene to remind you to check the guidelines, your name gets flagged, and I like you a lot less.

Does it actually impact your chances of getting your story read by an editor, if I need to constantly remind you to format your story correctly, or to query for stories over 5,000 words? Not really. I’ll still pass your story along when and if you submit it correctly.

But remember this: I’m married to the Editor in Chief. What do you think we talk about over dinner? 😉

I’m an author and I want to help you get your wings, WHAT DO I DO?

Send me a coupon for a free pizza. J/k. Bribes don’t really get you anywhere.

It’s true what beginning authors are told: the cream rises to the top… of the slush pile. A good story is all you need to break into a magazine. Easier said than done, I know from experience.

But here’s what you can do to help yourself.

First and foremost, read the guidelines. You’d be surprised how many people don’t bother with this step: enough that just the simple act of following the guidelines when you submit bumps your story into the top half of the slush pile. It’s so simple, yet is something I’ve seen many authors overlook.

Next, inform yourself. Become a part of the speculative fiction community, online and in person. Here are some things you can do:

And finally? Why not start interacting now? Be part of the Shimmer community. Leave a comment here and tell me, are you a beginning writer? Was this post helpful? I hope that it was. When your little slush baby arrives in my pile, I’m the first person who sees it. I’m rooting for you: it’s so much fun to see a great story go from slush pile to publication.


Leave ‘em in the comments section. I’d love to answer them.