Round Three

I made it to the third and final round of the 2014 Short Story Challenge. My story, “Blood and Guts,” was second among the top five for the prompts: historical fiction, a farmer, saving a life. The story is based on how my father earned his bronze star in WWII. So, yay, me!

The annual Short Story Challenge started with hundreds of writers from all over the world. Round one winnowed that down to 200; round two leaves forty of us vying for ten prize packages, which include some writing software, a writer’s concierge service (still trying to figure that out), and an e-book publishing package. Oh, and money. The first place winner gets $1,500, second place $500, third place $250, and fourth place $100. Places five through ten get no money but a varying degree of other prizes.

The top five from my group of prompts consists of three women and two men, from Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Great Britain, and Denmark. The only thing I wish we could do is read the top five stories from each group after the announcement of the results. The synopses sound interesting. If you want to see all the results for round two, click here.

Round three is the corker: twenty-four hours to write a 1,500-word story based on a set of prompts I’ll get one minute before midnight on May 2. Doable, unless the prompt isn’t in my wheelhouse. If that’s the case, I may pull my first all-nighter since, well, a long time ago.

 

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.

The Company of Writers

You love your family and enjoy your time with them, especially grown children and, if you’re lucky, grandchildren. You look forward to time with friends, old and new; after all, who knows you better than a life-long friend? You approach each of these reunions with anticipation, and the time spent together is some of the best. With grandchildren you get the added joy of giving them back, but I digress.

When you’re a writer, there’s nothing quite like spending time in the company of fellow writers. They talk your language; they understand your ups and downs; they have quirky senses of humor. Socializing with other writers makes you a better writer because you’re part of a community stretching back to the first Cro Magnons who drew the story of a hunt on a cave wall.

Yesterday, several of us from an online writing group planned to get together to celebrate our NaNoWriMo success. The group is the Shenandoah Valley Writers, and it’s a great, supportive, eccentric, and talented collection of writers of many genres. The only issue is, because the Valley is such a big place and we come from the head and tail and all throughout it, we rarely get together face-to-face. For the post-NaNoWriMo celebration, we selected a spot close to the mid-point, the long-lived Johnny Appleseed Restaurant in New Market, VA. Trust me, this restaurant, which I’ve been going to for more than forty years, is a legend in the Valley and beyond. It’s worth a drive-by to see the Johnny Appleseed statue.

For me, it’s around forty-five miles away. Not a big trip, except when you’re traveling on I-81 on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. But I’d looked forward to this for more than the month of NaNoWriMo–I’d looked forward to it since our similar get-together from last year! Nothing was going to keep me away, so I navigated the kind of traffic which had compelled me to leave Northern Virginia just so I could spend time with writer friends.

Writers are always going to talk about craft, but when the dinner conversation turns to how to kill someone, or someone missing a family event because they’re in jail, or dragons, you get some interesting looks from the other patrons–to the point where we had to announce, loudly, we were writers. Of course, that’s the fun part about it, and, hey, I’m sure at least one of us will write about that occurrence.

The point, however, is, when you have a great writers community, you’ll do anything, including braving holiday traffic, to have face time with the members. So, when a round-trip drive which normally takes about eighty minutes takes nearly two hours, you know you’ve done it for something important to you. I’m lucky to have two great writing groups–a virtual one and one where we meet face-to-face once a month. The wonderful aspect of a virtual writers group is you can meet and interact with writers from around the world or from right up the road. Consider finding and joining one, virtual or real.

An off-shoot of Shenandoah Valley Writers for the past year is a weekly flash fiction contest called Flash! Friday. This week is the one-year anniversary, or, since we’re writers who make up words sometimes, the Flashversary. To celebrate our community of writers, there is a special contest, with real prizes, including the possibility of being published in an online magazine. I’ve judged this contest several times over the past year, and there are some wicked excellent writers who participate. I even gave up judging so I could submit a story for the Flashversary Contest. For submission guidelines and other information click here, and consider giving us a try.

 

Time for Friday Fictioneers

So, I opted to enter a story in the New Letters Literary Awards contest after all. “Unconquered” is actually the epilogue of a novel I’ve been working on for some time; however, with a few minor edits, it worked as a stand-alone story. On the same day, I polished a story I’ve submitted a couple of times to other journals (and had rejected) and submitted it to the Blue Ridge Writers Annual Contest. That story is “Meeting the Enemy.” And we’ll see. I just repeat my mantra: “You won’t get published if you don’t submit; rejection is part of the process; acceptance awaits.”

Mantras aside, I’m crossing my fingers, toes, legs for a little luck.

Friday Fictioneers LogoOne of the best things about Friday Fictioneers is seeing how other writers interpret the photo prompt. A single photo can inspire romance, horror, speculative fiction, historical fiction, genre mash-ups, and much more. It just reinforces that as writers our imaginations hold sway over all we do. A fascinating process which we sometimes can’t see in ourselves but can see in other writers. I always think that what I come up with is obvious; yet, when I read other Friday Fictioneer stories I’m amazed at the breadth of the creativity–and sometimes our lunacy.

Perhaps I’ve been too inundated by trailers for the new adaptation of The Great Gadsby in the past week or so. At least it seemed that way when I looked at today’s Friday Fictioneers inspiration photo. The excesses of the Jazz Age were echoed by the “Summer of Love” in 1967, which, being a teenager stuck on a farm, I only participated in vicariously. The parties in the two eras may have involved different stimulants, but the debauchery was just as, well, debauched. That’s what came to my mind, immediately followed by what it might be like for a hard-partier decades later, perhaps someone who didn’t put the party days behind her.

That led to “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title, scroll to the top of the 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.

Weekend Updates

I’m walking on air! The short story, “Marakata,” I entered in WriterHouse’s 5th Anniversary Contest (500 words, theme: emerald) won third place. It was a blind judging, where an actor read aloud all the entries. During the break, while the WriterHouse staff counted the votes, I overheard several people talking about it: “Beautiful!” “Read like a parable.” “Very engaging.” “Marakata, I loved that one.” That will boost an author’s ego. Still, there were twelve other really great stories, so when “Marakata” was announced as the third place winner, I was delighted. My prize? A writing craft book entitled Steering the Craft, by none other than one of my all-time favorite sci-fi authors, Ursula K. LeGuin. A win-win.

Through Sunday, and in honor of National Short Story Month, you can purchase for your Kindle all three of my short story collections–Blood Vengeance, Fences and Other Stories, and Spy Flash–for free. You read correctly–free. Just go to my Amazon Author Page, and you’ll find them all there. You know your mother needs some new short story collections for Mother’s Day, right? 😉

Hopeless Friday Fictioneers Romantic

A good writing week. Well, any time I’m writing, it’s good. There’s one exception, though. I wanted to enter a contest whose deadline is May 17. The story can be up to 8,000 words, which, after all my flash fiction writing, seems like an enormous amount. I’m trying to adapt a chapter from one of my novels, but it’s not quite working out; however, I’ll keep at it until the deadline and make a decision then.

Tonight is the fifth anniversary of Charlottesville, VA’s WriterHouse, where you can find a quiet place to write and some excellent writing and publishing workshops. At tonight’s party, there will be a contest: You had to submit a 500-word story based on the theme “emerald.” (Emerald is the fifth anniversary gem stone and Pantone’s color of the year for 2013.) So, I’ll be there tonight for the live judging of my story, one of thirteen. An actor will read each story to the assembled masses, and then we vote. Fingers crossed they’ll like my little fantasy tale, “Marakata.”

Friday Fictioneers LogoA great photo today by Friday Fictioneer Ted Strutz brought back memories of various pick-up lines tried on me in bars. I remember one alleged Navy pilot who tried the “there-I-was-at-10,000-feet-with-MiGs-on-my-tail” approach, who then slid away after I questioned his aviation knowledge–he didn’t know I was a pilot. It was obvious he wasn’t after just a few sentences. Ah, good times.

For some reason Ted’s photo brought out the hopeless romantic in me and resulted in “If at First You Don’t Succeed…” Light and airy and very different from what I usually do, which is dark and dense, so I’ll need to go write some mayhem to restore the balance in the universe.

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

Spy Flash Published!

Both the paperback and the Kindle version of Spy Flash are now available for sale at Amazon.com, so it was an exciting writing weekend for me here in the Valley, capped off by a nice mention of Spy Flash‘s publication in my local newspaper, The News Leader. When you open your Sunday paper and see a picture of your book cover and the headline, “Staunton author’s spy tale is enticing,” the rest of the day goes by in a blissful blur. (Click on the headline to read the entire article.)

Am I bragging? Well, yes, I suppose I am, but when you’re an unknown author, you generate all the publicity you can get. I’m especially proud of the stories in Spy Flash and how they showcase my two main characters, so boast a little, I will. However, what I won’t do is bug you to death with constant begging pleas to “buy my book.” It’s there, it’s available, I think it’s good, but it’s entirely up to you. I mean, it would be nice to be able to pay the electricity bill this month. Just kidding.

So, here are the details. If you want to buy the paperback or Kindle version of Spy Flash (a deal at $14.95 or $5.99 respectively), click here. Or you can click on the cover image on the righthand side of this post. If you want me to sign your copy, scroll to the top of this post, click on the “Contact” tab, and shoot me an e-mail.

This is the exciting part about writing–looking at a shelf and seeing your title and name on the spine of a book, holding that book in your hands and seeing your words on a page. It’s why we write, it’s what we live for, and it keeps us going. Most of us aren’t in this to make a gazillion dollars–if we’re realists and understand the publishing industry, we’re not. My wish is for people to just read and enjoy my work. That’s my compensation, so go on. Help make me a wealthy woman.

On another note, a piece of 100-word flash fiction I entered in the Shenandoah Valley Writers Flash! Friday contest was a winner. (Click on the Flash! Friday tab at the top of this page and select “First Contact.”) Not a bad way to start a Monday.