Huh

I have to admit, I’m a little surprised.

Back in… April? (it’s been a while) I submitted two short stories for a contest. It’s open only to people who are attending a local writers’ and readers’ festival/convention. My amazing husband submitted last year and was shortlisted. He didn’t place in the top three, but he did get his story published in a little chapbook and they did an event at the convention where the top ten writers read a bit of their submission. Afterwards, all the writers signed each other’s books and then the judges announced their overall thoughts of each finalist before finally announcing the top three winners.

They offer a critique of your work whether you win or not, and I figured: why not give it a go? So I polished up two short stories that I’ve had floating around for a few years and emailed them off to the editor for this year’s contest. And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

I’m not very good at waiting. I had some consolation, though, in that two of our friends and my husband had also submitted. I had mostly forgotten about it until it was pointed out that, last year, my husband had heard back by late June. Then the waiting got even harder. Together we checked our email multiple times daily, waiting in agony, asking each other at least weekly whether any of us had heard anything about the contest at all.

Finally, a month later than we expected, we heard something. I found out on Saturday that one of my two short stories was among the top ten! I was pleased, but not really surprised, because I figured both the stories had a solid chance at placing. (And yes, I did jump up and scream and hug my friends and call my parents and all that when I found out).

What surprised me was the story that placed. Of the two I thought that the one that was selected was the weaker, and it was the one I suspected might not be chosen. Lucky for me, I was wrong! I guess there’s a home for every story and the second one might find its place elsewhere. In fact, I’m sure that it will.

But now, I have to write a biography for my first little short story to be published! Let’s hope that it’s the first of many.

And… Done

Well, it took months, so long that I can’t even remember how long it’s been, but I’ve finally completed the re-plotting of Fighter One and the four potential sequels.  Now that I know where the story might go, I can be sure to leave just the right foreshadowing in the first story (the only one I’m likely to write, unless it’s as good as I hope/think it is).  I’m actually very pleased with the way that it turned out, and the plot even surprised me until the very end.  My subconscious and I are apparently a very good team.

 

Now all that’s left (hah) is to update my list of scenes and edit the novel.  It’s in pretty good shape already, but there are a few minor changes that I need to make and some things that I want to add/show.  All told, I’ll probably add 10,000 words.  Which brings it up to well over the length of a typical YA novel, but then I’ll cut it back down.  Or I might just leave it as it is – I’m starting to think the story is more NA than YA, though it would probably fit each category fine.  I guess I’m going to have to do some research!  (Boo hoo, I have to read a lot of books in the name of research, how sad).

 

Next on the list though, is sending what I’ve prepared to my critique group to make sure the plot is as solid as I think it is.  I hope it won’t be a huge blow to the ego!

Big Enough to Drive a Truck Through…

I think I mentioned that I’ve been working on re-plotting Fighter One.  It’s a good storyline, I just needed to do some major surgery to make it all work the way that I wanted it to.  I’ve switched events around, moved the whole thing further forward in the timeline, and played with point of view.  I actually finished the latest write-through during Camp NaNoWriMo.

 

And promptly returned to my Snowflake.  You see, although this is a standalone novel, there’s the potential for a five book series, and I wanted to plot that series out before I went much further.  A lot can happen over four additional books, and I want to ensure that I leave the cornerstones of the plot and story world that I will need for those books.

 

I knew from the beginning of the process that there was a problem with the last two books, but not what exactly.  I had a vague idea that the last two books would reveal a sweeping and epic problem that would lead to an awesome climax and end the series with a metaphorical (and possibly literal) bang. I just didn’t know what this problem was.

 

I figured it out on Saturday, at what I would have thought to be both the most and least likely of places.

 

Saturday I attended When Words Collide, which is a local writers/readers con.  I learned a lot, like I fully expected, but I was sitting in a panel that I thought would be relevant to my main character(s) when somebody said something that made me think about my own story.

 

And then I realized exactly what the central crux of the whole series was about, and it wasn’t what I thought.  The plot hole wasn’t big enough to drive a truck through, that’s an exaggeration, but it was quite large and it had been bothering me for a month or so.  To have it sorted out was both a relief and exhilarating.

 

Of course, it totally changed the course of the books, so I have a little bit of re-plotting to do now.  But it’s totally worth the extra work to get everything figured out!!

 

Surprised by my own Skill

I’m having trouble trying to decide where to start this post.  Mostly because I was at work for nearly 12 hours today and doing something resembling work for at least 10 of them (I can call the other two “team building, right?).  I’m tired.  And hungry, even though I just ate.

 

But I’m not here to complain.

 

Not about the long hours, anyway.

 

You see, something unusual happened to me this weekend.  It was a long one for me (my company gives one Friday off a month) and I spent the Friday doing house and grown up things that need to be done when one is a grown up with a house (called insurance company about last year’s hail claim, mowed lawn, took out trash, called doctor, etc.).

 

 

Some of that is unusual.

 

But that’s not what I want to talk about.  Friday night I joined my parents and their dog on a jaunt out to the lake, as it was Mother’s Day. We had a nice visit, hung around in the sun, did some shopping for plants, visited with my cousin, her son, and his puppy, who is only three months and adorably tiny (unlike the baby tiger below – added for visual interest).

 

 

 

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I even read a book or two.

 

 

Okay, so it was a newer Clive Cussler that my dad left on his bedside table.  Nothing fancy or terribly thought provoking, but it was a fun read for a few hours.  Brain candy is sometimes healthy, right?  Anyway, there was a scene in it that involved a husband and wife in mortal danger, which reminded me somewhat tangentially of a scene in the possible sequel to “Fighter One” (which I drafted during a NaNoWriMo a few years back).  I was curious if my memory of what I had written was correct, so I re-read the draft.  And ended up also reading the draft of the next in the series after that.

 

 

The strange thing?  I couldn’t put my own books down.  It was kind of like when I read “The Hunger Games” after having watched the movie: I knew how it ended, but I was compelled to keep on reading just to be sure.  And it was enjoyable.  Much more so than reading the first in the series is right now (after I’ve torn it completely apart and put it back together backwards… twice).  I actually really enjoyed reading the books.

 

Now, they aren’t the pinnacle of literary brilliance, I know that.  They’re first drafts, and NaNo drafts at that.  But the potential is what amazed me.  And, more than anything right now, I desperately want to re-write those two books, and finish the series (I know exactly how it will end.  It’s wonderful and poignant and circular and beautiful, and the changes that I’ve made to the first book will only make the last one better).  Which means finishing the first in the series, but I’ve been looking for the motivation to do that for a few months anyway.

 

The big problem?  The darn day job!  I really wished the weekend had been a few days longer so that I could have capitalized on the wave of motivation that I felt.  Since that cannot be, I’ll just have to keep reminding myself of the feeling until I make the time to actually sit down and write again.  Maybe over the (next) long weekend.

 

Have you ever completely surprised yourself with your own talent?

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I do this to myself in the offseason?

So on Saturday, The Office of Letters and Light had their first annual Camp NaNoWriMo marathon.  Eight hours of writerly goodness interspersed with livestreams by NaNoWriMo staff, and I sat through all eight of them, which let me catch up on the writing I was behind by, and was a lot of fun.

 

But woah, was I tired by the end of it!  I don’t usually spend that much time straight working on much of anything (my day job entails a lot of getting up and talking to people) and it was mentally and physically exhausting.  Which is funny, because I’ve done 12 hour write-ins as an ML (which means being peppy and loud and organizing a bunch of people who don’t always want to be organized) and I don’t remember being that tired.  Then again, I deliberately dedicate a lot more energy to things during NaNo time so that could be throwing off my perception.  Maybe it’s just a different kind of tired.

 

It was nice spending time on what I’ve heard referred to as my “heart job” and I really like that phrase as a description of the work I feel called to do.  I can see myself spending long days like that on writing in the future, although I do think I will split the time up between writing and editing.  8,000 words in one day is excessive, even for me, to continue on an ongoing basis (note to any cyborgs who might read this – your mileage may vary).  But it will definitely be few and far between while I still work the day job (unfortunate, but a reality of life, I suppose).

 

On the plus side, said day job is going very well, and despite the 8,000 words I was behind in camp, isn’t sapping as much of my writing energy as the last job did (no, this time it was two colds in a row).  Only time will tell how things go in the future though.  The biggest thing for me is to have a good mentor/supervisor, and I have that at this job for sure.

Red Sea at Noon

This week’s flash fiction challenge is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I had 1,000 words to incorporate the following: Weird Tales, Besieged by the enemy!, Beneath the Sea, An Ancient Curse.  Enjoy!

 

 

“Captain, there’s something that demands your attention.”  The young seaman saluted neatly as he waited for his captain’s response.

 

“Can’t someone else deal with it?”  The Captain didn’t even look up from the stack of papers that filled her small desk.

 

“No ma’am.  The Bridge requested you specifically.”

 

Captain Mariana sighed and rose from the hard metal chair.  “Alright, lead on sailor.”

 

It took longer than Seaman Anderson would have liked to maneuver through the tight passageways that led from the Captain’s office to the Bridge.  Even after two months on board, the confined nature of the sub still left him feeling claustrophobic and it was with a sigh of relief that he finally emerged into the relative expanse of the Bridge.

 

“Captain on Deck!”  Everyone within the room stood with a clamber and saluted, an action which the Captain waved aside with one hand.

 

“So, what was so important that you had to send a dog to drag me away from my paperwork?”

 

Anderson’s mouth dropped, but he said nothing.

 

“This, ma’am.”  The Lieutenant in command said with a wave towards one of the small portholes.  “We just entered the Triangle an hour ago.  I fear we’re going to have to place our search and rescue plans on hold.”  Anderson didn’t have to move from his spot to ascertain what had caught the crew’s attention – an eerie red glow seemed to be pulsing through the porthole.

 

“Red sky at night; sailor’s delight.  Red in the morning; sailor’s warning.”  Captain Mariana muttered to herself as she stared through the porthole.

 

“Respectfully, ma’am, then what does a red sea at noon signify?”  The crew turned to stare, mouths agape, at Anderson’s insubordination, but the Captain merely smiled.

 

“It means war, Seaman.”

 

Although nobody laughed, Anderson knew that this must be some kind of ritual hazing of the new crew.  Frankly, he had expected something like this weeks ago.  “War against whom, ma’am?  The mermaids?”

 

When the Captain whirled to face him, Anderson knew he had said something wrong.  “What do you know about such things?”

 

“Only what I’ve seen in Disney films, ma’am.”  Surely this was part of the hazing, although the Captain might be taking it a bit too far.  “You know, the one where they sing all the time, except for the one who has to give up her voice to find true love?”

 

The Captain laughed and motioned Anderson towards the porthole.  “Is that what you think you see outside?”

 

 

“But when the Seaman looked through the porthole, all he saw were horrible green-skinned merfolk with sharp teeth, holding spears that glowed red and gold.  The sub’s torpedoes could not slow them and they swarmed the submarine in mere moments, spears able to pierce even the thickest of steel.”

 

The Cruise Director stopped and regarded his shivering audience of youngsters with satisfaction.  Horror Hour was almost complete, and he would need to hustle to make it to the costume competition on the Lido Deck, but he took the time to enjoy the terrified noises of his young audience.

 

“But if they destroyed the sub, how do you know what happened?”  One of the older ones asked, clearly feigning bravery for his younger sister.

 

The Director turned on the glowing prop that he had been holding behind his back and brandished it towards the boy.  “Because I was one of the ones on the attack!”  He shouted with a malicious laugh.

 

The room soon emptied and the Director chuckled to himself as he walked along the deck towards his next obligation.  Children were so gullible, he almost couldn’t stand it.  He had to admit that the cruise company’s idea to run a Halloween cruise over the cursed Bermuda Triangle had been brilliant – half of the passengers were already on edge and easier than usual to scare.

 

“Red sea at noon, indeed.”  He muttered to himself as he climbed the metal stairs up to the next deck.

 

If he had bothered to pay attention or look down, he might have heard the enemy crawling slowly up the side of the boat or seen the red glow underneath the ship in time to sound the alarm.

“Real” Writer – Part Two

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Image from Dreamstime

 

So… I have an update on my last post (delay courtesy of Thanksgiving weekend!).  I heard back last Monday from the editor and learned that my story wasn’t accepted.  I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to send the story to another market and maybe hear back more quickly, but it’s my first rejection and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a little upset.  Still, all I can do is move on and keep trying.  One day, I’ll get my first yes.

 

Fortunately, I didn’t have to think too hard about it over the weekend, as I spent some time with my parents, helping them build a deck and playing with their new dog Gypsy.  She’s six and was rescued from a broken home, and she’s the sweetest little girl that I’ve ever met.   Only time will tell if she gets along with my cats (they have yet to be introduced).

I am a “Real” Writer

Tows and ropes

Image from Dreamstime

 

I forget where I read it, probably because I’ve seen it in several places, but I’ve seen lately that “real writers ship”.  Which means, to send writing out into the world, to be read and to change lives.

 

Well, I haven’t shipped very much to date.  I’ve submitted to a couple of contests, but otherwise, nothing.  Fortunately, that changed last week!  I’ve been working on  a short story for an anthology that I heard about in July, and on Tuesday, I sent it out!  I’m proud of the little story, although I have no illusions that it will actually be accepted.  I think it’s a neat concept though, that I can recycle or re-use if it doesn’t get accepted.

 

In the meantime, please cross your fingers for me!  I should hear by the end of the year, and it will be my first “real” published piece (and will pay!) if it gets picked.  If not, I might just share it here!

 

Are you a “real” writer?  What have you shipped?

How I stop writer’s block in 15 minutes or less

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Image from Dreamstime

 

It happens to everyone at some point or another: you have an idea, but no clue where to start.  Or you have a daily word count goal and nomotivation.  Or you’ve written yourself into a metaphorical corner with no way out.  Writer’s Block: the bane of every writer everywhere.

 

Unfortunately, I face writer’s block quite often.  It’s a side effect of my current muse-less existence.  But sometimes I get a flash fiction prompt, or a vague idea, or even just a starting phrase and I need to flex my writerly muscles and get to work on something I’m not as inspired by or write something that I’m not 100% comfortable with.  When that happens, I have one surefire technique that I like to use.

 

Well, a few different techniques, but they’re all variations on the same theme, which is to shut off distractions, write like crazy for a set amount of time, and stop caring if it’s good or not.

 

For longer projects, the best way to do this, for me, is NaNoWriMo.  Writing 1,667 words a day (or more) given my already loaded schedule requires that I lock my internal editor away and stop caring quite as much about quality.  I don’t necessarily get amazing words out, but I get an editable first daft, and a few nuggets of pure gold that are enough to keep me going through the editing process.

 

On days when I’m struggling to focus, I need to shut off my access to the internet, otherwise I will keep checking Facebook, twitter, and various other sources of entertainment and amusement in an attempt to distract myself.  Sometimes it’s enough to turn off my WiFi for a while or use Freedom (my preference, because it comes with a built-in timer), but on really bad days, I sometimes have to pack up and move somewhere (usually a coffee shop or pub) where there is no internet, or where using the internet would drain my laptop battery (I don’t bring my charger)

 

And when I’m working on something that’s really not working or that I’m struggling to get ‘right’, I turn to the ultimate weapon: Write or Die.  Developed by the amazing Dr. Wicked, this web-based and downloadable program not only lets you set a time and word count goal, but it punishes you when you stop writing.  Depending on the setting this can be anything from a red screen to your words suddenly deleting themselves if you stop typing for a certain length of time.  Even if I keep hitting the space bar or start stream-of-consciousness writing, eventually I manage to come up with something using this program.  As Dr. Wicked says, it puts the “prod” in productivity, and it’s often the boot in the butt that I need.

 

Writer’s block hits everyone at one time or another, but I’ve found ways to combat it that work well for me.  What ways work for you?

Blind to her Beauty

This week’s flash fiction challenge: “Fairy Tale Upgrade” is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I hope you will enjoy my modern-ish version of the Ugly Duckling.

 

 

The orphans lined up along the street, begging for food like they did every morning.  It was Sunday, and the few churchgoers had been only slightly more generous than on any other day.

 

Cici looked down at the small pile of coins in her hand.  It might be enough.  Enough to buy something warm to eat and maybe even something to save for later.  It was never enough to buy everything: a safe home, a warm bed, enough food to fill her, and someone to look out for her.

 

Still, she had learned to get by on only a little.  There wasn’t much else that a girl with her looks could hope for.

 

It was still hard sometimes.  Especially in the winter, when the bitter winds blew across the land.  The crawl spaces under wooden porches were her favorite shelters – they were sheltered from the snow and the wind, and whatever piled up on top of the porch only helped to keep her warmer.  It wasn’t glamorous, but it kept her alive.  The Jones were the nicest folk she had found.  Either they didn’t mind her sleeping underneath their deck every night or they didn’t notice.  Both suited Cici just fine.

 

It wasn’t winter yet, though.  She could feel it in the air: a nip in the breeze that blew across the flatlands.  And her only blanket was worn and tearing.  Cici would have to find another, somehow.

 

It would be hard to get the money that she needed by begging.  There was always theft, but that always made Cici feel a little more ashamed of herself.  What would her sisters think of her waltzing into the general store and hiding a blanket underneath her skirt?  Not that they likely thought of her, but the thought still managed to stop her cold.  It seemed like she would always be trying to model proper behavior for sisters she hadn’t seen in two years.

 

Not that they would have listened to her anyway.  It had been painfully obvious to everyone that Cici wasn’t the prize of the bunch.  Far from it: she had a long nose that might have been better suited on a hound and her hair was thin and lank and dark, certainly not the golden curls that her mother had so praised in her sisters.  Her teeth were uneven and yellow, and her hips were too thin.  Most young men at home had looked away and whispered to each other when she passed.  It had taken her years to figure out why.

 

It was the same reason her begging results weren’t as good as some of the others’.  Cici was ugly, there was no getting around it.

 

When she had been little and still only homely, her mother used to tell her and her baby sisters stories.  They always ended the same way: the prince saved the princess and they lived happily ever after.  “There’s a prince out there for all of you, duckies,” she would say as they drifted off to sleep.

 

Cici had once thought that her prince would find her someday, but as she aged, she had come to the sad realization that it was not to be.  She would be alone, until the day the Jones’ porch didn’t provide enough shelter to get her through a winter.

 

Most days she was okay with that.  Today, though, it only made her sadder, as she slunk through the door into the tavern.  There was a pot of something delicious smelling on the fire, but she headed straight for the bar for two loaves of yesterday’s bread.  It didn’t smell or taste as good, but the price was right.

 

The tavern was unusually busy, so she lingered near the fire for as long as she could before the innkeeper’s wife ran her off.  There were no free tables, but she didn’t much care: near the fire was by far the warmest place in the room.  Most of the clientele seemed to be from another state, perhaps drawn here by the promise of a busy harvest.  Cici didn’t pay attention to the farms, only to the weather and the sheriff’s rules.  Growing things didn’t interest her.

 

Singing, though, did and she softly joined in on the tune that filled the room.  It was a pretty song, though she didn’t know all the words.  Instead, Cici made up her own.  Whispered at first they grew louder as she got the hang of the tune.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before someone noticed the girl singing a drinking song.

 

“Hey, you by the fire.  The one with the beautiful voice.  C’mere.”

 

A boy.  He was maybe two years older than her and seemed harmless enough, with a soft wavering gaze.  At least he wasn’t staring at her budding breasts.  Cici debated for a minute but finally joined him at his table.  If she was lucky, she might wheedle a coin or two from him for another song.  “Yes, sir?”

 

“That was beautiful.  Do you sing often?”

 

“Whenever I can.  It’s hard when I’m not in the right mood though.”

 

“Your husband must love it when you sing his babies to sleep.”

 

Cici flushed.  “Oh, I’m not married.”

 

“A beautiful woman like yourself?  I find that hard to believe.”

 

“I’m just a girl, sir, and far from beautiful.”

 

“I find that very hard to believe.”

 

“Can’t you see for yourself?”

 

“No…”  His hands reached towards her, fumbling against her shoulders and sliding up her neck to her face.  The questing hands felt her chin, her forehead, and her nose and finally came to rest on either cheek.  “To the contrary.  With a voice like that and a soul to match, anyone would find you incredibly beautiful.”

 

She blushed.  He smiled.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

She cast her eyes demurely towards the ground just as she realized that he wouldn’t see the response anyway.  “Cecilia.”