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.

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.

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.”

Character Profiles in “The Hunger Games”

As an advance note, I’m trying out a new posting system. I hope everything here turns out okay, but in case it doesn’t, please forgive me for any formatting issues.


Now, onto the subject of this blog post:



I receive the monthly eZine from Randy Ingermanson, aka: “The Snowflake Guy”. I subscribed to his monthly emails after trying, and loving, his Snowflake method. I’ve only used it for the one novel so far, but using it up to step four has been helpful for short stories too.


However, there’s one place where I always seem to struggle, and that’s step 5. I’ve never really liked writing down the details of my characters, it seems unnatural to me. Strangely enough, I have no problems listing their basic motivations or the details about them when it comes down to it. But for some reason, summarizing the story for each of the characters is excruciatingly painful for me.


So imagine my surprise when I read this month’s eZine and saw Randy do it well, with a book that I’ve read recently as an example. I think I understand the concept of step 5 a lot better now, and I think that I’ll have to go back and re-work it for my current WIP to see if I can’t discover any unknown subplots.


Here’s the first character profile (warning: spoilers herein and in Randy’s full eZine):



Katniss Everdeen is a 16-year-old girl in a dystopic future America. She scratches out a bare living by hunting illegally with her best friend Gale.

Katniss only loves one person in the world, her little sister Prim. When Prim’s name is drawn for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place, which she knows will be a death sentence.

Katniss is particularly unhappy that the other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark, a boy she hardly knows, except that he saved her life a few years ago when she was starving and desperate.

During the last interview before the Hunger Games begin, Peeta reveals on national TV that he has a terrible crush on Katniss, and therefore he can’t win even if he survives. Katniss is furious, thinking this is a scam to make her look weak.

When the Games begin, Katniss grabs a few supplies and heads for the hills to evade the Career tributes. Late that night, she discovers that Peeta has joined forces with the Careers, and has promised to deliver her to them.

Katniss is now completely convinced that Peeta is doing his best to survive at her expense. Can she outfox the Careers — and punish Peeta?


Read the rest here.
I have to say that Randy does an amazing job of, not only getting me engaged in the characters, but in the story, as each successive character’s mini-bio gets closer and closer to the finale of the story, when all the little story-threads finally come together. I think I finally understand how this type of synopsis can be more engaging for editors and agents, and I definitely think that my step 5s need more work.


If you want to read more from Randy, all of his past eZines are available on his website, and you can subscribe to receive the ones on the first Tuesday of the month.


Who do you follow regularly to learn more about your craft?



This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 31,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Flamingo Dream

Time for another Flash Fiction!


Today’s submission was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Paint Color Title Scheme.  Of the ten possible colors listed, I chose “Flamingo Dream”!  I’m… not entirely sure what this is, but it was interesting to write after an emotionally draining day.  I am 99% sure I will be going back to this one and revising, as I think there’s a lot of good stuff here I might re-purpose after a night of good sleep.


In the meantime, please enjoy this rough, 20 minute (to write), 666 word story!



Flamingo Dream

Flamingos dream in black and white.  That was what the researchers said anyway, Ryan thought as he watched one of them nap in the sun.  But he couldn’t help but wonder how the researchers knew that was true.  Had they asked them?  Had they psychically wound their way into the flamingos’ dreams?  Had they experienced the richness of the world through a bird’s eye?


He doubted it.  Humans would probably never know, regardless of how many animals they studied in zoos.


Ryan enjoyed watching the zoo animals.  They always seemed so calm and content – all that they had to be was themselves, with no worries or fears.  Everything was provided for them: food, water, safety, interaction, family, friends…  It was probably a boring existence, but few of them seemed to mind.


He stuffed his hands into his pockets and sighed as he watched the graceful pink necks curve down and back up as the animals ate.  Sometimes he wished that his life could be that simple and easy.  But he couldn’t be what he wanted to be, or even what he was.  There was always something that someone else wanted of him: to be smarter, to work harder, to have more, to want more, to be… more.


Ryan wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to withstand it.


One of the flamingos ambled closer, drawn by the shrieking glee of a small girl in purple standing near him.  She was holding a mittened hand out towards the birds and yelling “pink, pink!”


The flamingo sniffed curiously at her hand.  Finding nothing exciting there, it pulled its head back and vocalized at her, which sent her into another shriek of excited glee.  Ryan smiled at her carefree enjoyment of the sunny day that he couldn’t seem to appreciate himself.  Animals and children: both were equally free to just be themselves.


And here he was, only in the later half of his twenties, wondering what the point of it all was.  Wondering who he was trying to impress with his long hours at work and his fancy new car.  Wondering when, exactly, he had stopped enjoying the simpler things in life like sunshine or the laugher of a child.


Ryan eyed one of the flamingos suspiciously as it shook water casually off its wings.  It sometimes seemed like he was far more caged than these birds.




The elder flamingo woke from her doze to find the tall human was still there.  That one came by a lot, she knew, and stayed longer than any others.  He was nice enough, as humans went: he didn’t throw things at them or honk back or make fun of their long legs and he always watched them so intently that it almost felt like admiration.  He could come and go as he pleased, but he always seemed to visit them late in the afternoon, just before bedtime.  With the young ones around and the constant visits from strange humans, it was pleasant to have some rhythm to the day.


One of the babies raced awkwardly towards her, nearly stumbling over his growing legs.  A commotion at the other end of the pond needed her attention.  She sighed and began her stately walk towards the fighting teens, proud even in the face of such a commonplace squabble.


Fights were for the young: the ones that still had down and spirit.  The ones who still naively believed that there was a place better than the pond they inhabited and the nice humans in the beige clothes that brought them food and let them inside for the winter.  They were still young and foolish, she knew, and would change their mind as soon as the cold struck.


When she looked back, the tall human was gone.  No matter: she knew that he would come back, as he always did.


If Ryan had been able to ask what she had dreamt during her nap, she could have told him that she dreamt of nothing.


Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “A Terrible Lie“.  This week, Chuck challenged us to write a short story where the conflict revolves around a terrible lie.


Here’s my humble submission:


“Red five to black six.”  The stranger’s blue eyes twinkled as she slid into the empty seat across from Emma.


The train tilted softly around a corner as Emma looked down at the cards in front of her.  Of course.  There it was.  She moved the cards around swiftly, pleased with herself.


“Thanks.”  She told the stranger, who smiled secretively and tucked a stray lock of dark hair behind one ear.  Her hands were beautifully manicured, Emma noticed, and she wore a single thick metal ring on her right hand.  “I’m Emma.”


“Paulette.”  Paulette’s hand was as soft as it looked, Emma realized as they shook.  “Are you traveling alone?”


With hardly a pause, Emma nodded.  “Just for a few hours.  I’m heading back home for Easter.”  The practiced words tumbled easily from her lips.  There was no home for her anymore.  Not really.


“I kind of figured that.  The cards, after all.”


Emma looked down at her game and smiled.  “Years ago, my mother told me that a game of solitaire was a surefire way to meet strangers.  Everyone has an opinion.”


“So they do.”


Silence fell between the seats as the train rocked again.  “How about you?”  Emma asked.  “Are you traveling with anyone?”


“No, I’m traveling on business.”


“What do you do?”  Emma admired Paulette’s crisp shirt and tailored pantsuit.




“That sounds exciting.”


“It’s not really.  Honestly, it’s boring.  I thought I would be able to see the world and meet exciting new people, but for the most part all I see is the inside of trains and planes and hotel rooms.”


“Well, maybe this trip will offer you some excitement.”


Paulette smiled.  “I hope so.”




When Emma collected her things as the train slowed to a stop, it was with a strange feeling of reluctance.


“Well, it was nice meeting you.”  Paulette said softly, holding out one hand.  Without really thinking about it, Emma shook it, realizing that this was goodbye.


“Good luck with the job.  I hope things pick up.”


“Oh, I’m pretty sure they will.”


Before Emma could reply, Paulette had turned to leave, pulling a black, wheeled suitcase behind her.  Emma shook her head as she picked up her heavy duffel bag and carried it towards the exit.


A swift cab ride followed – not to her family home, but to a mid-range hotel not far from the train station.  As the car zipped along the dark streets, Emma silently berated herself.  She knew better than to get too chummy with strangers, even if the trip was boring.


What if she’d given herself away?


Her boss wouldn’t stand for that, she knew.  Moreover, she wouldn’t last long if she kept chatting away with strangers, spilling the beans.  Not when there were others like her out there, with similar agendas who wouldn’t mind one bit if some of the competition mysteriously disappeared.


At least the cover story about Easter had gone over well.  Besides, ignoring the risk, it had been a useful conversation: she knew where her target was staying.  She flipped open a small leather book she’d stashed in her purse, to reveal a small photograph of a dark haired woman with blue eyes.




When Emma arrived at her hotel room door, she felt strangely like she was being watched.  There was nobody around, though, and she slid the key card into the electronic lock carefully, trying to appear as though her heart wasn’t about to jump out of her chest.


She’d been jumpy like this ever since her boss had warned her that there might be a hit out on her.  Of course, that was ridiculous.  She was still new to the agency, out on her first solo assignment.  She wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar yet.


But when Emma pushed the door open the first thing that she saw was Paulette, harshly lit by a single lamp by the bed, standing in the middle of the hotel room.

Emma gasped.  “You…?”


Paulette’s hand raised until the gun was pointed squarely at Emma.  “I told you my work was about to become more exciting.”