Unpublished–WTF? (Part One)

I haven’t blogged in a while. My apologies. There was the run-up to the holidays, the holidays, a six-week-plus bout of the flu, then a set-back in my writing career which had my finger hovering over the “delete all” option in my Writing folder on my hard drive. Then, I realized the only way to cope with that set-back was to write about it.

Once Upon a Time

Anyone who writes knows how hard it is to send stories out into the world of contests and literary magazine publication. Most of the time, those stories get rejected, some with a modicum of hope (“send us something more”); some with not so much as an acknowledgement of receipt. The rare time something gets accepted is such an ego boost, we can live off it alone for months. This is the validation every writer craves.

I recently had a two-fer: I wrote a story for a contest, and it not only won but earned an offer of publication. Double validation.

BTW, I’m not mentioning the name of the contest (to protect the innocent) nor the name of the magazine (so I don’t give the guilty any inadvertent publicity).

I said yes to the offer of publication, of course, because I’m not at the point in my writing career where I can casually turn such things down. If I’d known then what I know now… Except, well, I did my research. Not only did I discover this particular online magazine had a low acceptance rate, i.e., difficult to break into, according to Duotrope, but publication in it was a qualifier for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. The positives were adding up, and I was looking forward to my story being published early this year.

The Story

Sometimes when you’re writing a story, you get a feeling about it, that this is one which has a future, one which is special. I had that feeling as I wrote “Dreamtime,” a 500-word story for a flash fiction contest and based on a photo prompt. The photo itself was of the interior of a didgeridoo, a unique perspective, to say the least. I researched the history and manufacture of the didgeridoo, and at some point the unnamed narrator of my story began to speak to me. This is the first thing he said:

“In dreams on walkabout, my ancestors in the rock paintings come alive and descend to my camp.”

Yeah, I know. Pretty amazing. He continued, telling a story of playing a didgeridoo passed down over the generations, then getting the idea to look at the stars through the didgeridoo. He imagines another dreamwalker on another planet doing the same thing. When he returns to his day job at a radio telescope installation, he “listens” for that other’s song, and he also realizes he is the perpetual outsider there, being the only one of aboriginal descent. He understands as well, that one day, he’ll die and return to the earth. When our sun expires millions of years from now, his atoms will be scattered to the far ends of the universe to create another dreamwalker ancestor, who will be painted on rock. He finished his story this way:

“Then, in dreams on walkabout, I will descend and dance around a fire.”

I set it aside for a while, mindful of the contest’s deadline; then, I dusted it off and did some editing. This was a story which resonated strongly for me, but I researched to assure I got the history and the culture correct. (I have a degree in history; research is my be-all and end-all.) If something was slightly off, I realized that in writing fiction, I had a certain amount of dramatic license, especially for a piece which had both a fantasy and a sci-fi tone.

I was happy with it, happier than I’ve been with a lot of my short stories. As I said, I thought this story had a definite future. I submitted the story. I knew it was strong enough to be a finalist, and it was. What I didn’t expect was to win, but I did. The offer of publication was icing on the literary cake.

What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, everything.

To be continued in part two.

Inspiration All Around Us

The other day on my Facebook Author’s Page I shared a graphic from a great on-line group called Writers Write. Based in South Africa, this group offers writing courses, some of which sound so great it might be worth the expense of a trip to Johannesburg to attend. They also post inspiring quotes from writers, renowned and otherwise, for writers. Almost every day, one of those quotes makes me stop and think about my writing and my writing goals. Those quotes are affirming on so many levels.

Here’s one I shared recently on my Author’s page:

(c)Writers Write

(c)Writers Write

That struck a chord with me because I want to write more short stories, but I’m always lamenting that the things I draw inspiration from (current affairs, history, politics) lead to longer works. (Not complaining by the way; I love writing novels.) I keep a notebook with me at all times, but it’s distressingly empty lately. I live in a very interesting area of central Virginia, full of intriguing, odd, and refreshing characters and, so you’d think that notebook would be full of dialogue snippets, bon mots, and killer ideas for a raft of short stories.

Maybe I need to overcome the MYOB attitude imbued in me by my grandmother. “It’s not polite to listen in on others’ conversations,” she used to tell me. I paid attention to that because I probably didn’t know then I was going to be a writer. It just seems rude to write down what other people say; a southern thing, I suppose.

I do manage to overcome the reticence of jotting down what other people say on occasion. My one-act play, Yo’ Momma, started from a single phrase I overheard at a bar: “This here’s my new phone–I gots it for free.”

Recently, in my town two young men died within two days of each other, both at the age of twenty-six. One had mental and intellectual challenges; the other was an award-winning and brilliant cellist. One was murdered; the other died in his sleep of a heart defect. They both warmed the hearts of everyone they encountered. All that is rife with inspiration, but it will have to wait. It’s too fresh and raw.

I’ve long wanted to write a novel based on the lives of my father and my ex’s father–I even have a great title: Two Fathers. The ex (when he wasn’t my ex) and I discussed it, and I took a lot of notes on his father’s history. The ex and I haven’t been together for nine years, and even though I haven’t forgotten the idea, it is also too fresh, too fraught with emotions I’ve tried to put behind me. Someday, I’ll be in a place to write it.

Day in and day out, I encounter the oddest collection of characters in the most routine places: the barista at Starbucks whose laughter could damage eardrums; the couple who own a local business and have arguments in front of the customers; a bail bondsman who dresses as if he’s the east coast version of Dog the Bounty Hunter; a senior citizen who is always front and center of every Tea Party event with a sign which reads, “Keep the Government out of my Medicare!” (I fixed the spelling.) And so on.

There is the challenge, of course, of making someone too recognizable. I don’t have a problem doing that with public figures. In my series based on the Oklahoma City bombing, people will have no trouble figuring out on whom I’ve based President Randolph. However, I also have a family member who is pissed about how I characterized  my step-grandfather (that family member’s grandfather) in a story which is based on a family event. Just goes to show, every story has two sides.

Even with the pitfalls, look around you. There is inspiration in everything and everyone. Use it wisely, but use it.

 

National Short Story Month + Friday Fictioneers = Great Reading

In case you didn’t know it, May is National Short Story Month, a celebration of that quintessential literary form, the short story. By the way, I have three collections of short stories published. What better way to acknowledge Short Story Month than to buy them? Should you feel so inclined, click here to go to my author website where you can link to their Amazon.com pages.

Okay, enough shameless promotion. Let’s talk about short stories. I love to read them, and I love to read them from a wide variety of authors. They are, however, some of the most frustrating to write, especially within a specific word limit, but doing so is a great exercise in making sure every word counts.

Short stories are an art form. Some writers, like Alice Munro, write them almost exclusively. Other writers are adept at both short stories and longer works. I can enjoy Ernest Hemingway’s short stories but rarely his novels. Stephen King, best known for his expansive novels, is also quite the short story writer, with several collections of his work and inclusion in many anthologies. A few years ago when he edited the Best American Short Stories 2007, he lamented in the New York Times that short stories were endangered. Walk into a book store and what do you see? Novels right up front and on the top shelves; collections of short stories get relegated to the lower shelves, the ones harder to peruse. Rather than sound the death knell for short stories, King said we need to remember “…how vital short stories can be when they are done with heart, mind and soul by people who care about them and think they still matter.”

Yes, they do, and I, for one, won’t stop trying to write good ones, ones that matter.

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday’s Friday Fictioneers prompt brought a current international incident to mind–I won’t say which; you can let it apply to whatever one you want. The title, “Hope in the Darkest of Days,” comes from a Dalai Lama quote: “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.” If you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.

 

Oh, The Horror!

The NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge is on!

If you recall, this is a two-month challenge involving three rounds (if you’re lucky) where  contestants write short stories from prompts provided by the contest. The top three from each heat of the first round go on to the second, and the same for the third and final round. I signed up back in January to participate, and as the deadline for the first set of prompts (midnight February 7) neared, I went from anticipation to panic. What prompts would I get? Would I actually be able to come up with something? What if I flop?

I didn’t wait up until midnight to get my prompts. I got a good night’s sleep then planned on checking email first thing on Saturday morning. However, a writer friend of mine, who is also participating, messaged me first thing in the morning, terrified about her prompts. Gulp. I looked.

Genre: Horror. Okay, not so bad. I’d been terrified of getting YA or Romance, neither of which I have much experience in nor enjoy.

Subject: Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). Again, not bad. There’s been a debate locally about such products and whether they should be labelled as such, so I knew there was fodder here for a decent horror story.

Character: A prisoner. Hmmm. More possibilities.

However, I didn’t sit down to write right away. I had to travel to Charlottesville, VA, for a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Virginia Writers Club; however, the prompts kept tickling at me the whole drive over. I was a little early in arriving, so I pulled out the notebook I go nowhere without and jotted down this opening paragraph:

“I always figured it went down like this: one of those impersonal government buildings–you know the kind, all concrete, no glass–a conference room, a table occupied by faceless bureaucrats, a couple of guys in lab coats, maybe with names like Krishnamurtichatterjee or Schwartzenschikelgruber. They sat around the table reading a thick report, maybe watched a PowerPoint or a Prezi. The guys were from USDA, FDA, maybe Justice or U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Prisons, or some such.”

Yeah, promising, but where to go from there?

All throughout the meeting, as I knew it would, the prompts kept “talking” to me, and I jotted more notes at breaks and at lunch. By the time I left for home, I had a fully formed idea.

A really grotesque, fully formed idea. Even then I let it stew most of the day on Sunday; then, I sat down and started to write. It was all going smoothly until I got a text telling me I was late for my three-year-old granddaughter’s cake and ice cream birthday party. Oops! I hit save, dashed to the car, and took care of family business. I had to remind myself not to scarf down cake and ice cream and dash home, that Mamo had to be there for the Emster.

I got home, sat right down again, and resumed the story. When I next looked at the clock, it was almost 2300, and I had written 2,498 words. (The story can’t exceed 2,500 words.) I read it over, noted the spots needing work, and got to the end. I liked it. It needed work, but I liked it.

For the first round we have eight days to upload the story, and I’m grateful for the time. I’m letting the draft sit for Monday and Tuesday; then, I’ll pick it up again on Wednesday, with a goal of having it ready to upload on Friday. Yes, I’m grateful because if I make it to Round 2 I only have five days. Should I make it to Round 3, I only have twenty-four hours to upload a story. And you can’t pre-write because you don’t know what the prompts will be.

It’s certainly a challenge–so, aptly named, NYC Midnight–but each story gets feedback, and that’s what most interests me. Two of my writer friends from Tinker Mountain are also participating, so we’re supporting each other by listening to each other vent on Facebook Messenger. It would be the coolest of cool if all three of us made it to Round 3.

 

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.

Planning How to End it All – Part One

No, no, I’m not about to jump off a bridge. This weekend I attended a half-day workshop called “Ending it All” at WriterHouse in Charlottesville, VA.

Some of us can nail the beginning of a story, novel, or essay. Some can do the middle. Some can do both. What stymies most of us is ending it all, i.e., putting those two words down when we’re finished: The End.

I’ve drafted a very complex novel about the year 2000 in what was then still Yugoslavia. The story involves assassinations of government officials, the criminal underworld, ethnic cleansing, election politics, and even disillusioned Russian soldiers. In other words, a lot of plot threads. And since the bulk of my writing has been non-fiction (government reports), I like all my threads tied up loosely.

Also, because my work is based on current events and recent history, as events move on, sometimes that affects what I’ve written. I have to go back and “finish” a thread–either by weaving some more of it or snipping it.

Some feedback I got on that draft was that the ends were tied too neatly, so much so the ending went on and on and on and…

You get the picture.

Hence, my attendance at Rebecca Makkai’s excellent workshop, “Ending it All.” Makkai is a novelist (The Borrower), short story writer, and non-fiction writer, and her workshop was eye-opening. I never knew there were so many different types of endings! Over the next few days, I’m going to recap this workshop and the useful points Makkai made.

Here are her “rules” (and she acknowledges rules are made to be broken) about an ending:

  • It has to “feel” like an ending, and the best judge of what that feels like is the writer.
  • It has to honor any promises you made to the reader, i.e., if it’s a murder mystery you must reveal the killer.
  • It needs to add to the story, i.e., “and then this happened.”
  • It needs to be poetic, even musical.
  • It needs to be “surprising, but inevitable.”
  • It needs, in some small, subtle way, to refer to the beginning.
  • And, sometimes, it doesn’t have to happen at all.

Makkai says when an ending doesn’t work, “It’s quite likely because it’s not long enough.” We’re tempted, she says, to get to the zinger of our last line when we should be imbuing the penultimate paragraphs with meaning. She uses a musical term for this–ritardando, or the gradual slowing which marks the end of a musical composition.

Despite the fact Makkai says we can’t really categorize or classify endings, she did provide “descriptors” of the kinds of endings writers have used. For each descriptor, she provided examples, some from contemporary literature, some from the classics, and even some from movies and television programs.

In discussing types of endings I may refer to the actual endings of the examples Makkai provided, so Spoiler Alert; however, I’m only talking about the ending as a stand-alone, pretty meaningless unless you’ve read the entire piece. And I was heartened that I’d read or seen most of her examples; that gave the workshop even more meaning.

Here are the descriptors of endings I’m discussing today:

1. Endings that deal with resolution, or lack thereof

The first sub-descriptor for this type of ending is Stasis, which is the intentional lack of resolution. Anton Chekov was a master of this, and the example Makkai provided was his short story “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” which is the story of two people, married to others, who meet at a Black Sea resort and fall in love (a common theme of Russian writers even into the 20th century). The ending shows both of them wondering what to do about their situations and, boom, that’s it. Makkai mentioned this is very difficult to pull off and that most literary mavens consider it a rather old-fashioned device. What seems to work better for contemporary fiction is the “stasis of a character,” i.e., a character who doesn’t change even though the world around him or her has, often in significant ways.

The next sub-descriptor for this type of ending is the Intrinsic Ending, which involves a final, decisive act or event. This is so dramatic and so final that the story has to be over, it can’t continue. Examples were Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and John Updike’s story “A&P.” If this is the type of ending you chose, Makkai says, you have to make certain you don’t just show the final, concluding event but also its impact.

Next is the Game Changer, an ending which destabilizes everything else in the story, or, as Makkai says, “pulls the rug out from under you.” Examples were the movie The Sixth Sense (where the protagonist finds out he’s been dead all along), Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (where we find out the previous 300 pages was just the protagonist introducing himself to his therapist, who is now ready to begin), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement (one I haven’t read). Other examples of the Game Changer ending are Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People.” Makkai’s only admonition about using this type of ending? “Do not ever, ever, under any circumstances, have a character wake up and realize it was all a dream, or anything equally insulting to the reader.”

The final descriptor for this type of ending (resolved or unresolved) is The Breakup, where the author abruptly pulls us away from characters we’ve come to like. Examples were Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and John Updike’s Couples. Makkai adds you can’t do this just to be perverse to the reader, but only because it’s the right way to end the story. In each example she provided, she indicated the story could end no other way than how it did.

Tomorrow: Endings that Address Meaning and Endings that Emphasize Musicality and Sound.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

When you cultivate a group of writer friends and ask them to read and critique stories and manuscripts, an important obligation as a good writer friend is to reciprocate. So, when one writer friend who gave me excellent feedback on my work in progress asked me to do the same for hers, I jumped at the chance. I’d seen the first two chapters of her WIP in my last two workshops at Tinker Mountain and had been eager to read more.

I was so eager, in fact, when I picked up the MS yesterday morning, I didn’t put it down all day–which is why Monday’s post is happening on Tuesday. But it’s great when something lives up to your expectations. When my friend’s book gets published–and it will–this will be my first experience with the evolution of someone’s work other than my own, and it’s a humbling experience. Humbling, in that I felt honored she asked me to read it, that she values my opinion.

Here’s the thing. She doesn’t expect sycophantic raving about how good it is. (Trust me, though, it is that good.) She wants a writer’s eye and honest criticism, which she’ll get from me. Again, I got that from her, and I’ll return it in kind. And I’ll get a little thrill when I buy my copy, knowing I helped in some small way. So looking forward to that.

And new topic. I’ve been working on the next set of stories for Spy Flash 2. (In case you didn’t know it, last year I published a collection of my espionage short stories, Spy Flash. To read all about it, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Published Works tab, then click on Spy Flash from the drop-down list. You can click through to purchase it from Amazon.com, and, oh, by the way, if you buy the paperback, you can download the Kindle version for free. Commercial over.) One thing which has stood out for me is the way odd words unconsciously work their way into a story.

One story had an inordinate use of the word “just” and not the adjective, as in a “just cause,” but the adverb, as in “at this moment” or “in the immediate past.” Okay, one or two usages, maybe, but I found this usage in a couple of sentences per paragraph. I don’t remember typing them; it was as if they “just” appeared. Of course, that’s not the case. The word popped into my head–quite a few times, apparently–and I wrote it. In most cases, there was no need to substitute a better word; deleting “just” made the sentence stronger.

A few weeks ago, I had the same thing happen with the word “always.” Ack! Where are these crutch words coming from?

I suspect because I do a lot of “pressure writing,” i.e., meeting deadlines and word count goals I’ve mostly set for myself, they filter in, and I let that happen because subconsciously I know they’ll come out in the wash, or edit. What surprises me, though, is how often they show up.

And now I’ll bring this back around to the original topic. This is why having a group of writers who’ll critique you with honesty is important. They won’t let you get away with “just” and “always” or whatever crutch word creeps into your work. If you don’t have a group, find one or create one. Social media are great for this. Part of the joy of writer conferences is meeting and networking with many different types of writers from all over. Social media allow you to form critique groups without having to be face-to-face, and, even then, there’s FaceTime and Skype.

Don’t fear the critique. Embrace it. And watch out for those crutch words.

My Three Rs: Rereadin’, Rewritin’, and Revisin’

Some days you have to choose–blogging versus spending quality time with the grandkids and one of your BFFs. Yesterday, the grandkids and the BFF won. So, no blogging, though I did spend a couple of hours in the evening working on the novel rewrite/revision.

I have about forty pages left from the original, rough draft to rewrite/revise. In the process I’ve added about 10,000 words to a manuscript, which was “just” 63,000 words to begin with. I’ve been told 60,000 to 70,000 words is a good length for an MS you’re going to shop to agents. Of course, I’ve also been told, at a different writing conference, that 100,000 words is tops for such an MS. So, who knows?

I think this first revision will end up at about 76,000 words, give or take a thousand. That doesn’t bother me, since the next step–after letting the MS gel a while–is to do a line edit. That should bring me back closer to 70-72,000 words, which I think is enough to tell a story in two time lines.

Why did I add words in a rewrite? Well, that happens sometimes, especially after time has passed since you wrote the draft and a re-read shows you scenes, which have no context. The actions, dialogue, setting, etc., seem to have just fallen from the ether onto the page. The context has to be there, or the reader will spot the disconnect right away. Sometimes the additional material has to be there to make a character two- or even three-dimensional. Other times it’s because what is obvious to the writer isn’t always to the reader. Yes, readers like it when you give them just enough for them to make the leap of logic; however, you can’t give them a chasm to jump. Readers are not Evel Knievel.

Here’s an example: A character in this novel is obsessed with the unborn child of her own son, killed in World War II. It wasn’t enough to just state this. I needed to show examples of this obsession, and this led to a scene of a frenzied woman going to the house where her daughter-in-law has sought refuge from her and making a scene. And of course, I had to write other scenes to show this tendency so that the final scene had context and was believable. Also, of course, those scenes may not stay, but at the time I needed them to understand this character better. You can’t condense until you have the context of the characters, the plot, even the setting.

Another example: Since I made up a town in the Shenandoah Valley, I had to give it a history, some of which is based on three different towns where I’ve resided, as a child, a teenager, and an adult. The history is great–I both researched and relied on my memory, and I’ve created what comes across, to me, as a real place. However, again, how much of that history is essential to the overall story in the novel remains to be seen, but I needed that to fully realize this fictional town in my head.

Of course, this fixation on rewriting/revising means I’ve created very little original material, at least not novel length. I average two pieces of flash fiction a week, which keeps the writing brain engaged. I do, however, miss the process of sitting down and churning out a novel-length work.

Then, again, that’s what NaNoWriMo is for–and that’s only three months away.

Three months? I guess I better start thinking about something new to write.

The Last Friday Fictioneers of May

Okay, it’s the end of May. How could we be five months into 2013? Wasn’t it just New Years last week? Time flies when you’re writing.

I’ve had some good carry-over from last week’s retreat–Monday’s post on the retreat itself, a pretty killer political blog post on Wednesday (Click here if you’re interested; if you’re not politically to the left of Stalin, you won’t enjoy it, so you might want to skip it unless you are.), a draft of a new Spy Flash story, today’s Friday Fictioneers (of course), and several more scenes for a novel draft, which had a lot of plot holes. Plus some great writer talk with a writer friend. I love it when the giddiness carries on.

But…a week from Sunday it’s Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop, and I’m already doubting the twenty-pages I sent in for the Advanced Novel workshop. Is it advanced enough? Am I advanced enough? Will everybody else hate it? You know, the exact same feelings I had last year about this time.

Friday Fictioneers LogoWeek after week, Rochelle Wisoff-Field manages to find a truly inspiring photo, and today’s is perhaps one of the most intriguing. Yeah, I say that about each of them, but this one is so interesting, I’m sure the collection of stories will be eclectic and amazing.

Today’s story, “Put on Your Red Dress,” features my two characters from the Spy Flash short story collection, Alexei and Mai, on a little adventure to find… Well, you’ll have to read it to find out. If you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of this page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Second Thoughts on Entering a Contest

You think I wouldn’t be contest adverse after a successful contest experience this past weekend, but I am wondering if there’s a particular one I’d identified I should just skip. It’s the New Letters Literary Award, with entries due by May 17. Yep, Friday. The kicker is the short story to be entered should not exceed 8,000 words.

New Letters is the literary journal for the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and you get an actual monetary prize for a winning entry, and all entries will be considered for publication in the journal.

I don’t have any 8,000-word stories in the works right now. Everything I have is around 2,000 – 3,000. Yes, it says “not to exceed” 8,000, but I’m wondering if anything at the lower end of that number would even be considered. I did pull a chapter from a work in progress, which would make a decent stand-alone story, and it comes in at right around 3,000 words.

And, yes, I know I could write something original, and that’s usually not a problem for me to sit down and thrown out 5,000 or 6,000 words in a couple days’ time. But with five days left to refine and edit it until it’s presentable? I don’t know.

Over-analyzing much? Probably so, and mostly my fault for not paying attention to the deadline until May actually rolled around. However, you don’t win or get your entry read unless you roll the dice and enter. I’ve given myself until Thursday to decide if the entry I had in mind is in good enough shape to submit.

The next time someone says to me, “Oh, writing. What an easy job,” I’ll restrain myself from exploding. Still, if the process weren’t challenging, if it didn’t make you question yourself and your writing daily, hourly even, it really wouldn’t be worth it.