It's that time of the year.
Time to start putting in the garden, get the window screens fixed, clean out the air-conditioner vents and filters, figure where to store the heavy clothes with either mothballs or cedar chips (cheapest at the pet shop), and begin working on that Christmas story.
Yes, I did say, "Christmas story." And, yes, I know Christmas is more than a couple on months away. That's why the work on it gets started now.
First off, an idea has to be come up with. While I rarely know when my idea is going to show up, I can sort of track it back to where it hit me. For "Neither Fish Nor Foul" (published by Residential Aliens Magazine in their February 2010 issue), the spark was a question on Twitter from a friend from outside the U.S. about archaic laws still on the books. Two that immediately sprang to mind was one in New England that still makes it illegal to shave on Sunday, and another from the South making it a crime to "get a fish drunk" (DO NOT TRY THIS! Alcohol kills fish fast--as anyone knows who has had some moron pour their drink in his fish tank at a party). Being in close proximity, they mated and produced the story idea. Where you troll for ideas is up to you, everybody's mind works differently.
Next, you have to enter BGTS mode (Butt Glued To Seat) and write the thing. As far as plotting, you have to figure out how to get from position "A" to position "B" without teleportation. Editors get sort of cranky if they can't follow the story. Characters are up to you. Me, I use the usual suspects, the people I've met and known over the last half-century. They form a repertory company in my head. Each is different, but most fall into various "types" (you may recollect we talked about archetypes a while back?). Remember, archetypes--not stereotypes!
Okay, it's finished and it's the most adorable, beautiful piece of writing since clay tablets. Yeah...okay, whatever. Now it needs to be eyeballed by people who don't necessarily depend on you to eat regularly. Send it out to a bunch of friends (both fellow writers and just plain readers) and sit back and wait for the blood to flow. When all the critiques return (which for most of us is sometime in the next interglacial), read through all of them and look for things, other than typos, the majority remarked on. If most were nauseated by your favorite character's name, it might be wise to rethink it. Remember this, although you must be sensitive to their comments (otherwise, why waste everyone's time?), you are allowed, even encouraged, to let your "voice" sound in the writing.
Finally, everything is pre-flighted and you're ready to launch. Go for it! Send it to the first publisher on your list. When they bounce it, the next, and the next. If it's any good, eventually one of two things will happen, either someone will run it or you'll starve. Who sez writing ain't fun? Seriously, when someone does accept the story, they'll most likely want it at least four to six months before the target date (this is print media--some of the online guys play by their own rules, so check).
One thing to keep in mind, Mel Torme' and Bob Wells, when they wrote "The Christmas Song"--one of the biggest selling pieces of Christmas music in history, were working in an unair-conditioned room on a 97 degree F (36 degree C) day with the humidity about 200 percent (welcome to southern California!--or was it Florida?). So, start thinking cool thoughts.
23 March 2010: Feast of St. Ethelwald of Fame Island. Patrick Henry delivers "Give me liberty, or give me death" speech in Richmond's St. John's Church 1775, Russian Tsar Paul I trampled to death in bedroom 1801, Battle of Kernstown 1862, Reichstag passes "Enabling Act of 1933" making Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany 1933, Gemini 6 carrying Gus Grissom and John Young launched 1965.