Friday Fictioneers for February

Balancing the need for back story and the need for clarity in a work of fiction can be more than delicate–it can be frustrating. I’m currently running a novella 5,000 words at a time through my new critique group. Though the novella uses the characters I’ve introduced in Blood Vengeance and Spy Flash, I wanted the novella to stand alone, i.e., someone who hasn’t read the other books could read the novella and know exactly what was going on.

That means sprinkling in some expository detail and back story so the reader has context. Turns out I overdid it a bit. I wrote about a page and a half, mostly dialogue, about an event which had happened in a previous short story. The critiquers liked it, found it intriguing, and assumed it would have some significance later in the novella. Oops.

My initial inclination was that the reader needed this amount of detail to move on. What I didn’t want to do is leave open questions which would hinder someone from reading further, but it turns out the readers got tripped up on the details. Not just tripped up–that amount of back story started them down a path which has nothing to do with the story I’m telling in the novella.

After some chat about how to address this, one person suggested that I simply remove the detail, allude to the event, then move on. I wasn’t sure that would work, and I thought about it for a couple of days. Then, last night I sat down and edited that scene. A page and a half of exposition and back story I edited down to three lines, and, lo and behold, it worked. Less sometimes is more.

One of the challenges in using a photo prompt to inspire a story is when the photo is of an inanimate object, or objects, in a mundane setting. When I first saw the Friday Fictioneers prompt on Wednesday, I thought, well, what do I make of this? On Thursday, I took another look, and a unique point of view came to me. So, let me know what you think of “Innocent Bystander.” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.

A Final January Friday Fictioneers

January is a month which has always dragged for me. I suppose the lead-up to the holidays is always so frantic that the “January let-down” seems prolonged. Add in some of the coldest weather we’ve seen in a while, and this January has felt unending. Yet, here we are, at the last day with the year’s shortest month ready to arrive. I’m telling you, if February ends up being as cold and depressing as January, I’m going someplace warm.

However, the end of February is AWP, that small gathering of 12,000 or so writers, this year in Seattle, WA. I just hope Seattle won’t be having sub-zero temperatures.

The beginning of February is the start of a writing contest I signed up for back in December. It’s the 8th Annual Short Story Challenge, a creative writing competition which could run for weeks, if my story is selected in the first round. There are three rounds, and in the first writers are put in random heats and assigned a genre, subject, and a character. I will have eight days to produce a 2,500-word short story to submit. Judges select the top five stories from each heat to advance to the second round, which is March 27 – 30. Again, you get an assignment but only have three days to produce and submit a 2,000-word story. Judges choose the finalists for the third and final round on May 2-3 where you have twenty-four hours to write and submit a 1,500-word story. Judges select the overall winners from that round.

The interesting aspect of this is every story submitted gets feedback, quite the accomplishment since I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, of stories get submitted. A writer friend of mine did this last year and made it to the third round but unfortunately didn’t win. So, I’m giving it a try, and it will get me back on track in writing stories longer than 100- or 150-words. Wish me luck.

Skyline2014OSCPrintcoverM.inddAnd in other news, a short story (which is actually a chapter from a novel in progress) of mine, “Meeting the Enemy,” will appear in an anthology entitled Skyline 2014: Prose and Poetry by Central Virginia Writers. This story features one of my pair of globe-trotting spies put in an untenable situation and what she does to address it. I’ll post purchase information as soon as I receive it. The cover is to the left.

The seemingly faded aspect of today’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt reminded me of a Friday Fictioneers Logobox of family photos I have in my keeping. There aren’t many of us left on my father’s side, and I’ve often wondered what some distant cousin will make of these photos if he or she gets them some day. And that led to the story, “Family Ties.” As usual if you don’t see the link on the title in the line above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

And keep your fingers crossed that Sunday is cloudy so that bloody groundhog won’t see his shadow, and spring will come early.

Friday Fictioneers Comes ‘Round Again

This is the time of year for me where the time seems to fly by, and I look back on a week and wonder how it got to be Friday. Of course, this never happened when I worked in an office. I’d get to Wednesday, and Friday seemed a million miles away; and there were never enough hours in the day to get done what had to be done.

By the way, there was a significant anniversary this week for those of us who work or worked in aviation, namely the fifth anniversary of the “miracle” on the Hudson. I wrote about it in my other blog, but some might find it interesting. Click here to read “Serendipity on the Hudson.”

Friday Fictioneers LogoWe had a very lovely photo prompt for today’s Friday Fictioneers, but a couple of days ago I watched a documentary on the history of the Celts and had human sacrifice on the mind. So, there you go. Once again, a pretty picture evokes a dark story. Oh, yes, my various therapists over the years have had a field day. Today’s story, “Grasping for Straws,” is both topical and historical, with a dash of speculation. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title in the line above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Post-Freeze Friday Fictioneers

The recent deep-freeze from the errant polar vortex this week froze more than water pipes and noses. It induced a brain freeze–in me, at least. I couldn’t seem to coax a single word from that cold-addled brain onto the computer screen. All I really wanted to do was sleep and eat soup.

I’ve already written about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and how the shortened periods of daylight get me down, and, well, never mind that the intervals of daylight are actually increasing right now, when it’s mind numbingly cold and gray, my brain decides to hibernate. None of my usual writing pick-me-ups seemed to work. I looked at today’s Friday Fictioneers prompt (which comes out on Wednesday) and went “meh.” I scanned the news outlets for a topic for my mid-week political blog and went “ho-hum.” (Thank goodness Gov. Chris Christie is a perfect foil for a knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberal; otherwise, I’d have skipped the political blog this week. So, thanks to the Jersey guy, my column was only a day late.)

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday dawned (I’m sure it did because it’s moderately light out there.) rainy and foggy but also with an idea for the Friday Fictioneers prompt, one that was at least satisfying. However, I managed to roll over and go back to sleep. My luck is improving, though, because when I woke again, the idea was still there–and ended up being 121 words, way too long for a 100-word story. Snip, snip, cut, slice, and lo and behold “Siren’s Song” met the word count with idea still intact.

As usual, if you can’t see the link on the story title in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Now, I’m going to catch a nap or eat a bowl of soup. Whatever.

Happy Friday Fictioneers New Year!

Friday Fictioneers LogoAt some point this year Friday Fictioneers will be three years old. Pretty amazing to stay around this long. We’ve had vets leave and come back and a lot of newbies come and go as well, but the stories have always intriguing and thought-provoking. I guess that’s what makes us stay and write every week.

With my other online writing group, I set my writing goals for the year, to include participating in Friday Fictioneers, so I’ll be around as long as Friday Fictioneers is around. However, writing a story for Friday Fictioneers isn’t merely to check a box. Paring a story down to 100 words improves not only your writing skills but your editing/revising abilities as well.

Here’s an example. When I first started writing these 100-word stories, my first draft was typically 300-400 words, which took a lot of editing to get to 100 words as a coherent story. As I became more practiced, first draft began to drop in word count–200 words, 150 words, until now when a draft comes in at 105 or so words. Makes the editing easier and quicker, too. Plus doing these flash fiction stories has inspired me to participate in other flash fiction exercises with different word counts. Yep, I’m very versatile.

Another way I’ve used Friday Fictioneers story prompts is to hone my dialogue skills. I’ve written several stories, which consist solely of dialogue. Today is one of those exercises. The story is “Did I Tell You the One About My Talking Dog?” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title in the line above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list. It’ll be easy. After a purge of 2013 stories, it’ll be the only possibility there.

Friday Fictioneers – After a High Note, a Low Note, and Another High

The life of a writer has its inevitable ups and downs. Compressing them into a week is hard on the nerves, though.

This week started off with an email from a writing instructor of mine who said he would shop my novel (Sudden Madness of the Carnival Season) to some agents he knew. I also found out my story, “The Dragon Who Breathed No Fire,” had made the top twenty-five in a contest I had entered. Man, I was feeling good, no, spectacular, about being a writer, about having what I thought were good stories confirmed.

Then came Tuesday.

The contest story didn’t make the top ten in the contest. I couldn’t believe it. I read the top ten list twice, three, four times, just to make certain. Now, it wasn’t arrogance which stunned me that my story wasn’t there. That story was good. Beyond good, it was one of the best things I’ve ever written. It came to me in a dream, from the voices of Vietnam vets I’ve known, and I worked it and reworked it for the better part of twenty-four hours before I submitted it. It was real, it was gritty, it was disturbing, and it was good.

A friend of mine, who is a Vietnam vet, emailed me and said it was the best depiction of PTSD he’d ever read in fiction or non-fiction. That was exactly what I wanted. And that beautiful, disturbing story lost out to fluffy dragon stories and happy endings.

(BTW, I love the people involved with the contest, but I’m not apologizing for my characterization. I’m entitled to a bit of a whine. Sour grapes? Maybe, probably, but if you’re a writer, you’ve been there; don’t deny it.)

I was astonished, “bummed” as I told a writer friend, whose great story had also not made the top ten from the top twenty-five, and we commiserated together. Truly, it made me want to close the laptop forever.

The other good thing about being a writer is that you have a cadre of writer friends who won’t let you get down on yourself. “You stop that right now, young lady,” said one such friend (also the mother of a teenager; hence, the tone of the language). “You send that story somewhere else.” And she was absolutely right. I spent Wednesday on Duotrope, selecting some publications where this story might fit. That mitigated the disappointment but didn’t completely eradicate it.

Then came Thursday.

I came awake to my phone indicating I had an email arriving. I fumbled for the phone and my reading glasses to see who had woken me up so early. An email from my writing instructor: “So-and-so from such-and-such agency is reading your manuscript and is considering representing it.” I read it twice, three times, four times. I cried like a little girl and was as giddy as a kid (of any age) at Disney. Now, it’s not a done deal–and when and if it is, you’ll hear me shrieking “Ermagerd!” from just about anywhere in the country. It’s the farthest a manuscript of mine has ever gone; that, in and of itself, is a reason to celebrate.

A typical week in the life of a writer.

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt creeped me out. For as long as I can remember seeing empty shoes in an odd location has terrified me. I can see them in closets with no problem, but let me see a single tennis shoe on the side of the road and I’m gibbering. I went to an exhibit of photographs taken after 9/11 and never blinked an eye at the shot of a human spine atop some debris. However, the photo of a lone high heel in the middle of a street made me leave the gallery. I have no clue why this is the case–some deep-seated childhood trauma no doubt, but at least it gave me some great inspiration for “Big Shoes to Fill.” Yeah, I don’t write happy endings about fluffy dragons. I write real-life crap. So deal.

As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title of the story in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then click on the story from the drop-down list.

Rainy Days and Fridays–Fictioneers, That Is

Friday Fictioneers LogoA gloomy, rainy day in the valley means spending most of the day nursing a sinus headache–for me, at least. For a while it looked as if there’d be no Friday Fictioneers for me today, but somehow the story, “BFFs–Not!” managed to claw its way through my congested head and out into the muted light of day. Well, at least onto the page. Maybe not my best effort, but considering my sinuses have made every single tooth in my head hurt, it’s pretty remarkable. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title a few lines above, scroll to the top of the page, select the Friday Fictioneers tab, then click on the story from the drop-down list.

And if you have time, consider reading my enter for the Flash! Friday Flashversary contest, “The Dragon Who Breathed No Fire.” It’s a story I’m very proud of, so cross your fingers the contest judges agree.

Post-Thanksgiving Friday Fictioneers

I cooked turkey, roasted veggies, and made two pecan pies yesterday while watching a James Bond marathon–and even managed to do a little editing/revising–and my Thanksgiving doesn’t happen until Saturday. Because of in-law obligations and custody agreements, Saturday is only time when my family and friends can get together. It works well, the chaos is a bit lessened, and those who are so inclined can take full advantage of all that frantic shopping.

Friday Fictioneers LogoSo, despite all the warm and cozy feelings of the season, likely brought on by copious amounts of food and drink, I went to dystopia for today’s Friday Fictioneers prompt. What can I say? Dystopia is my go-to genre for short fiction. Don’t know why, but it works for me. I suppose it’s because sustaining dystopia for novel-length fiction is difficult (believe me, I’ve tried), and for me short fiction can handle all the angst dystopia implies. Today’s story is “Puzzle Pieces,” inspired by a great photo by long-time Friday Fictioneer Ted Strutz. The perspective on this amazingly composed photo seems to push toward infinity, and is it a lakeside restaurant or the dining car of a train crossing a bridge? Frankly, it can be anything you want when you write fiction, and it was certainly inspiring today.

As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

My Generation’s Day of Infamy

If you’re my age or older, even a little younger, you will remember exactly where you were on this day fifty years ago, what you were doing, what went through your mind when the news flash came from Dallas, Texas. I won’t go into detail about my feelings and reactions here because I’ve done that on my political blog, and you can read that by clicking here.

What I will say was this was an act we young babyboomers in some way never got over. It snatched our innocence and optimism away. If hope for the future could be taken from us so quickly, so easily, then what did the future hold? It was a despairing time, and I can still remember it with obscene clarity.

Friday Fictioneers LogoWhether she intended it or not, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who manages all of us Friday Fictioneers flash fiction writers every week (an admirable job because organizing writers is like herding cats), picked a photo with the briefest of echoes from that day. After you read my story, “A Conversation at the Site of Jennifer Juniors,” you may think it’s a stretch, even a long reach, but I just call it dramatic license. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.

By the way, I was thrilled my story in the upcoming anthology “1 Photo, 50 Authors, 100 Words” was voted by the other contributors the best along with Rochelle’s story–we tied. It’s an honor to be in her company not only in the anthology but as a top story as well.

Keep Calm and Be A Friday Fictioneer

Friday Fictioneers LogoAnother short post for Friday Fictioneers. You can probably see from my earlier post that I’m rocking National Novel Writing Month this year–I’ve already passed the 30,000-word mark after one week. (Insert shit-eating grin here.)

I did manage a little extra creative juice for a 100-word story entitled “Sentinel.” If you don’t see the link on the title in the line about, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.

And tune in later today for another excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project.