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Q&A, Part I: Ice cream trucks and literary journals

Victoria Athena asks:

ok, I'll bite...What's it like to drive an ice cream truck? (Who knows....someday I may have a character who does that...) Do people ask if you sell drugs? Does the truck need to be hosed down at the end of each working day? How much stickiness can you tolerate?

Driving an ice cream truck is, at first, as awesome as you'd imagine, and then just okay, and then utterly, soul-crushingly boring. Imagine driving something like a really old U-Haul truck at less than 5 mph up and down the same streets every day, the same 11–13-second song blaring on loop out of a small, tinny speaker. I think one guy (or several) did deal drugs out of his truck. All anyone ever asked was if I had beers in there. (They were joking, but they also weren't.) Everything came in wrappers (no soft serve), so hosing was not necessary.

I hope you do write about it! I've actually tried many times, but the days of an ice cream man/woman are long and solitary. I needed plot and all I had was setting. One day...!

Here's a REAL question: How do you choose which literary journals to send your stories to? I've always thought that one should have a good knowledge of what each 'zine specializes in genre-wise but other than that I just don't know how to go about it; how to choose the right level of "literary" (clearly I'm not thinking of submitting to The Paris Review or McSweeney's). How many places do you submit a story before you give up?

Really good question. Websites like The Grinder do an awesome job of building a searchable database of who accepts what and when. (And there is of course the annual Writer's Market that everyone seems to swear by.) I think you're right that it is essential to have a good grasp of the journal or magazine itself—after identifying a few possibilities, definitely read a couple issues of each before you decide to submit. (And this doesn't have to break the bank—get a coffee at your local Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million and sit down with a stack of them, or request a towering pile of them from your local library.) Maybe you'll decide that your story doesn't quite fit, but now you have an idea for one that would.

As for how long to submit, have you heard of Heinlein's Five Rules? The fifth rule is "You must keep it on the market until it has sold." If you believe in the story, keep it circulating. But I think it also depends how much of a timesink submitting and resubmitting the same story is. Your time and mine is almost always better spent writing something new than sending the same story out for the fiftieth time.

I guess my stance is that writing is priority one, but if you have the time, keep 'em out there. The fifty-first editor might be the one who says "yes."

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Reader Comments (4)

Thanks Brandon, if nothing else I know now about The Grinder, which I didn't before. Q&A time: Are there any other websites/online resources you consider essential to being a working writer?

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Fox

Hey Nick! <cracks knuckles> I took a stab at it here: http://www.unwrittenword.com/blog/2013/8/16/qa-part-ii-online-resources-essential-to-the-working-writer.html

August 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrandon

I assume you're a Buffy fan and you know that Xander drove an ice cream truck? If I had to listen to that song I'd kill myself and/or others. Your sanity is remarkable.

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterindependent clause

AM I EVER. But I didn't discover Buffy until long after my truckin' years. Oddly, whichever song you choose (there was a dial with eight different options), it ceases to actively bother you by week two or three. I think it bypasses your ears and enters your subconscious directly, to fester in that place where nightmares are born.

August 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrandon

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