Feedback is Good

I’m a participant in this year’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. This past week I got the result of my Challenge 1, Round 1 entry–10 out of 15 points. That puts me in a good position for Round 2. (The scores from Rounds 1 and 2 get added together, and the top five scores move on to the second challenge.)

Fantasy, A Food Truck, and A Water Fountain

That was my prompt for the Round 1 challenge, and I had to write a 1,000-word story incorporating that genre (fantasy), location (food truck), and object (water fountain).

After much angst about the fact I don’t really write fantasy, I came up with the story, “The Orcs’ Food Truck.”

Because I’m me, the story became dark fantasy. You can read it here.


Part of this challenge is that every story submitted to the judges gets feedback–what the judges liked and didn’t like. In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about this because the feedback from one judge often contradicted another’s, and I’d end up with no clue if the story were good or not.

This is what the judges had to say about “The Orcs’ Food Truck”:

(Note: My reactions are in [ ].)

What They Liked:

“Ah! A topical tale torn from the headlines, then! – ‘…after some recent elections in the human world, the old, human prejudices had sprung up again.'”

“Funny: ‘…because they’d bootlegged satellite television and become addicted to the Food Network.'”

“Absolutely gruesome interior scene!”

“It was fascinating how swiftly, and credibly, matters escalated. This is a good satire. [I didn’t intend it as satire, but oh well.] It has a  message and is well written with tongue in cheek. Behind this fantasy story lurks a darkness that quickly turns to horror. I especially like how the story skillfully sets up the plot for a surprise twist at the end.”

What They Thought Needed Work:

“Your title is too mundane for your tale.” [Well, you try coming up with a pithy title when you have forty-eight hours to write a coherent story.]

“While I know the translator [a character in the story] exhibited reluctance, it would also be good to have another creature foreshadow menace.” [Good point, but having multiple viewpoints in 1,000 words isn’t easy.]

“Because ‘stained’ [a word used to describe rainbow colors on the fairy wings] conotates a blemish, it would be better to have the fairy wings ‘glimmering in the grace of’ the sculpture’s rainbows.”

“Tell us more about the place where all this takes place. Give us some history of the environment where these characters live.” [Did that to an extent, but 1,000 words.]

“The plot is well thought out and leaves little room for improvement. However fantasy stories usually do not embrace the macabre and this one has plenty of gruesome horror. Should the writer want to shop this tale around as a fantasy, the story would have to lighten up and focus less on the dark side; otherwise it might fit better in the horror genre.” [Has he (or she) ever read/seen The Lord of the Ring/The Hobbit trilogies?]

My Reaction

I got good feedback, though some of the “needs work” comments were more complimentary than critical.

Again, you can read the story by clicking here. Let me know in the comments if you agree with the judges.

First Writers Conference of 2014 – Part Two

To read Part One of this post, click here.

I’m a person who still reads two print newspapers a day (and a lot more online), so Radford professor Bill Kovarik‘s workshop, “Who Killed the American Newspaper and Where Do We Go From Here?” was something I really wanted to hear. However, Kovarik decided the first half of that title had been done already (He blames corporate media for their own demise, by the way.) and focused instead on the second half. His solution to the fact that corporate media no long meet our needs is a media co-op, or community media, citizen journalists who report on the communities where they live. The press, Kovarik said, has always been “cloistered, told not to join local groups, to keep aloof from the community to further their impartiality.” He believes that more involvement would lead to more honest reporting and not necessarily by trained journalists. He envisions shared equipment and broadcast time, but I’m a bit skeptical. Media co-ops sound great if your only interest is your local community, but I’m a world citizen.

Tiffany Trent, former Virginia Tech creative writing teacher, has found her niche in writing young adult fantasy and sci-fi novels, and her workshop, “SciFi and Fantasy in YA,” offered a great exposition on world-building. YA scifi and fantasy is “where it’s at,” she said. “It’s where the most exciting things in writing are happening right now.” However, to stand out you have to build a credible world, whether right here on earth or elsewhere, which the discerning readership of this genre can grasp. “You can take the usual or universal and give it a slight twist,” she said, “like changing gender stereotypes. For example, make the men the faceless, nameless ones. Or you can create something completely alien.” She encouraged YA writers to watch the love triangles–“that’s become a YA trope, and I’m concerned that it’s been overdone.” There are primal emotions/events–birth, death, fear of the dead–which can be used in fresh and interesting ways, as long as you “ground it in the real.” When describing a world you’ve built, your language has to be specific not general. Using your own experiences with the unusual or the odd in everyday life is a good starting point for creating a new world.

I’m not much of a YA fan, but Trent’s points on world-building were thoughtful and applicable to just about any genre. This was a fresh and engaging workshop with lots of helpful Q&A. I’m certainly going to try one of her books.

My final workshop for the day was “The Rebellious Essay,” presented by Cara Ellen Modisett. This was quite the crash course on the various types of essays–experiential, observation, or recall versus reflective. All essays, Modisett said, “are an attempt at making sense of a subject. The act of writing is an act of thought.” Inexperienced essayists tend to be linear, she said, “they start at A and progress to Z. However, the way people think and perceive may be A to E to L, or M to Z to C. Your essays should reflect that.” And be more interesting, I’m sure. An essay also has to be about more than one thing. “Two subjects equals two-dimensional, three subjects three-dimensional, and so on,” she said. Further, an essay can’t simply be based on our recollections because we often write about what others have also experienced. However, if we’re reflecting on the memory of an event and how that event led to varied other parts of our lives, then we have something new and interesting.

For fiction writers who delve into essays, Modisett emphasized, “Don’t make stuff up! Save that for your fiction.” To structure a good essay, she said, “Use verbs of muscle and adjectives of exactitude.”

For our writing exercise, she used something called the “braided essay,” which is taking multiple, seemingly diverse subjects and weaving them into a connected essay. For part one, we had to write about an object we had with us but couldn’t name it, i.e., we had to use some of those “adjectives of exactitude.” In part two, we were to write about the emotion we felt when we received that object, and for part three we had to take that same emotion and relate another time when we felt it for a different object. The result was pretty amazing, and I can see how these techniques can also aid my fiction.

A one-day writers conference may not seem like much compared to, say, AWP, but I learned new things, caught up with writer friends, made new writer friends, and found out about a group of Doctor Who fans who get together and dissect episodes. They are now doing a retrospective of the earlier, pre-Christopher Eccelston Doctors, and that made me wish Roanoke was just a little closer.

Fantasy Friday Fictioneers

Again, I’m loving how writing a 100-word story based on a photo prompt is stretching me beyond my genre comfort zone. Frankly, writing a story about pixies or faeries? Not my thing.

Then along comes a stunning photo, and, pop, into your head it comes, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever written before. Oh, you touch on fantasy with your two, little leprechauns, but this is the first time you write a serious fantasy piece–and you get to impart a message, too.

Today’s story is called “Homo Avis.” If you don’t see the link on the title, then click on the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of the page and select it from the drop-down menu. To read other Friday Fictioneers’ offerings, click on the icon after the story.

Give Friday Fictioneers a try–as in participating and writing a 100-word story–and stretch your comfort zone.

Friday Fictioneers Heard it Through the Grapevine!

You’ll get it when you see the picture. I’d thought when I saw this week’s photo that whatever story I wrote had to have the title “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” but the muses had a different idea.

Once again, Friday Fictioneers has encouraged me to expand my comfort zone with writing. I’ve been adamant about not writing fantasy, mainly because I’m no good at it, but this week’s story definitely has a fantasy element to it.

Because the Friday Fictioneers community of writers is so supportive, you have immediate comfort when you want to try something new. No one is going to say, “Oh, God, that was awful!” They will tell you what stood out for them, what line stays with them, and, if you are a bit off, the critique will be constructive.

And Friday Fictioneers keeps growing. We’d already become international a few months back, but last week there were 73 links to stories left on Madison Woods’ blog. That doesn’t count writers who post story links on participants’ blogs but not on Madison’s. I think we can safely say a couple hundred people participate in this weekly fun-fest.

My story this week is called “Asylum.” If you don’t see the link on the title, then hover your cursor over the Friday Fictioneers tab above and select “Asylum” from the drop-down list. Once you’re at my story, you can read other Friday Fictioneers offerings by clicking on “Click to view/add link” at the bottom of the page.

Reality is Just a Crutch for People Who Can’t Handle Sci-Fi

The title of this post I took from a small sign I bought many, many years ago at a sci-fi convention called Balticon. I always put it in a prominent place in every cubicle or office I’ve ever had. I’ve loved sci-fi since I first started to read something other than Dick and Jane and endured ridicule for it from friends and family. My mother swore reading sci-fi would give me nightmares because covers of paperbacks books back then were pretty lurid–a lot of big-headed, bug-eyed, multi-limbed aliens menacing a buxom blonde. Many times, the story within had nothing to do with the cover, but covers sell the book.

And, of course, I gave writing sci-fi a try, thinking I was good enough as a teen to submit to the venerable sci-fi genre magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction. The rejection didn’t discourage me from writing, but it did make me realize that I was a better sci-fi reader. One of my short stories, published last year in eFiction Magazine, has a sci-fi hint–it’s the story of a professor hired for what seems is her dream job, then she finds out it involves time travel. Since it was a character study, I didn’t need to go deeply into the physics of possible time travel.

I know I’m about to offend some, but to me sci-fi is space, spaceships, space travel, traveling to other planets, encountering aliens (“new life and new civilizations”), living or co-existing with same with the concomitant problems, and time travel. To me it’s not telepathic cats, even if they live on another planet, any form of elves, pixies, ogres, orcs, dragons, or quasi-medieval themes. That’s fantasy or its derivative, sword and sorcery. But Sci-Fi as a genre is very forgiving and has fans who are always open to genre smash-ups.

Now, I have enjoyed some fantasy–Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, Anne McCafferty’s Pern series, Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Tolkien’s books, among others. I’m currently on book five of George R. R. Martin’s multi-volume A Song of Ice and Fire. But I always go back to what, again to me, is pure sci-fi. Bradley and McCafferty infused some sci-fi into both series, but the sci-fi aspects were always secondary, so far in the past, they were myths and legends, and I could never accept how women were treated in Bradley’s Darkover novels.

One of my favorite books of “pure sci-fi” is a collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye. This book involves a quasi-military, human space fleet sent on a first contact mission to a newly discovered planet with life. It’s a well-written and well-spun tale of the things that go right, and wrong, with a first contact, and Niven and Pournelle meshed so well as writers, you can’t tell two people wrote the novel.

A few weeks ago, another writer from my local group, SWAG Writers, approached me with an offer to collaborate on a sci-fi piece. I demurred because I still don’t think I’m a sci-fi writer, but his concept was interesting. Then, I remembered finding a snippet of something I wrote probably more than thirty years ago (I could tell it was type-written.), and I pulled it from its hiding place and re-read it. There was something about it that could fit with my fellow writer’s premise, and I transcribed it as is as a Word file and sent it off to him. What came back was great–excellent enhancements of what I’d written, including an incredible character name, and an addition of a blaster-battle (somewhat requisite)–and I riffed off that to the tune of about 2,500 words late on a Friday night.

I get it now that I don’t have to be an astrophysicist to write sci-fi, and sci-fi has always issued a wealth of memorable characters. So, I’m having fun with collaboration, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s going to go–short story, novella, novel, who knows? But that’s the anticipation, and the lure, of writing.

How about you? Have you ever collaborated in your writing? How did it go? Who are your favorite collaborators? Would you take up an offer to collaborate?