Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Story Notes - Alphabet Soup

A long long long long time ago, I wrote a story for Highlights for Children. (Not this story -- another story.) I had read their guidelines and I could not believe you could write a story that short. Under 400 words? That's short.

So of course, I took it as a challenge and wrote one. It sold. Highlights wanted "Work For Hire" rights, but I figured okay, because I actually did write the story for them, and they were offering me $100 for it, I figured it was a really cool professional credit.

A few years later they started reselling the rights to that story to educational publishers, and sending me a cut of the take. And again and again. I've made more money on that little story than I have on anything I've written since. I still get regular checks, thirty years later.

And it was SO easy.

Can I replicate that effort to save my life? No. That one idea for that one very short story that happened to be educational and have the right reading level and be fun -- that was it. It's the only suitable story I've had for Highlights. Ever.

It isn't even like I submitted a bunch of stories and they rejected them. I just couldn't come up with anything that fit the criteria to submit. But I tried.

"Alphabet Soup" was one of the attempts.

I have always liked this story because, even though it's not a Highlights story, it's very much a me story. Maybe it's the influence of all those silent movies. I learned from Buster Keaton that inanimate objects can be very contrary.

And the lesson of a story like this? There isn't one. Just like a Buster Keaton movie. We dig ourselves in to holes and sometimes, improbably, we manage to fall out of them. All we can do is survive, and mean well, and sometimes eat our words. That's not really a Highlights kind of story.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

That's fantastic that you're still getting paid on that one piece!

I think sometimes our writing just clicks in a particular way during a project. Hard to duplicate that...

The Daring Novelist said...

And it's the other reason why it's good to write those little things. You can experiment and learn... and occasionally, you reap some great rewards.