Friday, December 30, 2011

Play It Again

When I was a kid, going to a video game arcade was a big deal. I mean a big deal. Everyone ends up catching (and missing) the peak of various fads, trends, cultural icons, etc. through their formative years. I think it's fair to say that the peak of the video game arcade fell right smack dab in the middle of mine. Heck, right about the time I hit double digits in age a movie was made about a boy being chosen to help fight an interstellar war based on his prowess at one of the stand-up games like those in arcades across the country.

When I'd go to an arcade, typically with my father, my recollection is that I'd typically get one roll of tokens. Like a roll of quarters, there would be 40 tokens in the roll. For the unfamiliar, they would look something like this...

Photo by Benimoto/Benny Mazur

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dealing with Regrets

Hello, everyone. I'm back from Christmas weekend hiatus! It was nice to have a few days away from everything and I was especially glad to not be trying to put posts together with the level of internet access I had where I was visiting. No wireless for my netbook, very little data signal on my phone, and a balky connection on the desktop PC made for a very 1990s internet experience. Fortunately, there was nothing I had to be doing, so I largely unplugged for those several days.

My phone was good for receiving/sending email, though, and I got some good news Christmas morning. Kazka Press has accepted my story "Credit Where Credit Is Due" in their December fiction contest. If all goes according to plan, it will be live on their site January 1st. I'll make sure to post a link here so anyone who wants to do so can go read it.

Given that I didn't pick back up with writing until late-July I've got to say that 2011 has been an absolutely phenomenal writing year for me. I've completed a couple dozen short stories, finished the first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo, and made over 100 short fiction submissions to a wide variety of markets. Naturally, I'd like it if I had a few more acceptances to report, but I'm reasonably confident that 2012 will bring some more of them.

Along with feeling good about how 2011 has gone, there have been some days when I've said "Hey, why haven't I been doing this the last twenty years?" I've talked before about my sporadic writing history. In brief, I wrote a lot as a child, took my writing very seriously in 1990 and 1991 and then stopped. I picked it up every now and again -- I've got several stories I originally wrote in 2007 that I'm still circulating -- but my entire 1992-2010 output is probably smaller than my December 2011 output.

What really brought this home was a recent conversation where I was talking with my wife and daughters about how excited I was to have a couple of stories which appeared to be getting serious consideration at the pro-rate markets to which they were currently submitted. (Alas, one of those has since been rejected...) I mentioned to the girls that getting three pro sales allows one to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and that this is something I’d had as a goal since I was about the age my oldest daughter is now. To which she replied, "And yet, we've only heard about this the last few months" or words to that effect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blog Miscellany - Contest, Award, & More

I've been given a free copy of the eBook of Emily Casey's novel The Fairy Tale Trap to give away to one of my readers. If you're interested in possibly receiving this eBook then, in honor of the season, please leave a comment below with a favorite winter memory. I'll pick one of the winter-memory commenters to receive the code for downloading the free eBook.

[Edited to add: Deadline for this contest is 11:59 PM Eastern US Time on 12/27. I'll announce the winner in my 12/28 post.]

In other bloggish news, I'd like to thank one of the other #writemotivation people, jaggedwriter, who has bestowed upon me the Versatile Blogger Award. This award calls for the following:
  1. In a post on your, blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
  2. In the same post, Add the Versatile Blogger Award.
  3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
  4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
  5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
  6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.
I've been fortunate enough to have people present me with this award in the past as well. You can see my random facts and bloggers who I thought were worth passing the award along to in my September 11, 2011 Sunday Links post and my September 28th post which touched on several topics. Between those two pages you can find 17 random facts about me to thrill and amaze. (Or, well, something like that...)

You can also find links to a total of eight bloggers to whom I passed along one or more awards. Today I'm going to add four more bloggers to the rolls. Linking to 15 at once seems a bit overwhelming, so I'll just say I'm doing this part of the award requirements on the installment plan.
One more bloggy bit -- I received (and deleted) my first spam comment today. Umm.... Yay?

Finally, just a reminder that I'm taking a Christmas hiatus from blogging. I'll be back a week from today with a new post. I hope that all of my readers who are traveling this time of year have safe journeys.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Life of a Story: Idea to Publication

I've received some questions in the comments to recent blog posts about my story-writing process. I provided replies on several specific details, but thought that the topic as a whole was large enough that it really needed its own post. So, as promised to the person who left those comments, this is that post.

First, a disclaimer. I've written about 30 stories this year, and maybe 75 or so in my lifetime. I've also never had more than a low-end semi-pro publication. So, take this advice for what it is, the comments of someone who's still striving to make a mark in fiction.  That out of the way, let's talk about what I do when writing.

Most of my stories start with a plot idea rather than a character or setting idea. Sometimes that idea is very general, other times it's quite specific -- such as the central clue of a mystery story around which everything else will depend. Where do these ideas come from?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Links: December 18, 2011 Edition

After today there are 13 more days before we turn the page from 2011 to 2012. A lot of people are thinking about goals for next year. A couple of efforts along these lines have cropped up in the twitter-blog-o-verse recently. I heartily endorse both (for whatever that's worth).  @kthanna and @I_Am_LadyJai are leading the charge for #writemotivation and @caramichaels is rounding up people looking to write 500 words on their works-in-progress every day via #WIP500.

Speaking of goals, this is a good time to talk about my December goal progress.

1) Write and submit a new short story for each weekend in December. On-pace and I think I'll be in good shape for the next two weeks as long as I don't let the holiday weekend trip me up!
2) Keep my regular blogging schedule with the exception of a possible Christmas weekend hiatus. On-pace. As mentioned last week (and below) I will indeed be taking a Christmas weekend hiatus.
3) Make decisions on how to proceed with four stories written earlier this year which are not yet on submission and act on those decisions. Some progress. First of all, it's three stories -- not four. I don't know where I got the count of four from... Of the three, I've taken a last pass through one and gotten it out the door. Another, I've decided what I want to do next with it. But it involves trying to trim about 1000 words or 20%. Eek. The third one, I think has a decent core but needs a lot of work. I'm still struggling to decide what to do with it.
4) Read at least fifty short stories which are new to me.  Slightly behind pace. At 50% complete but we're about 60% of the way through the month. No excuse for not finishing this one up, though.
5) Draft January goals to align with my second pass through "Adrift." Already done.

And now, on to the links...

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Juggling Act

Today handling my writing has felt like a real juggling act. I felt this way a bit once before, back around late-September, early-October. In brief, I’ve got so many short stories out on submission and so many new ones that I’m working on that my head is spinning. I had to sit down at one point and make myself some notes on what I was working on and prioritize things. Even after that, I felt like I was looking at quite a lot of things that were high priority!

I generally follow the dictum of “start at the top, work your way down” and also try to avoid having stories sitting around unsubmitted for any serious length of time. I’ve got 27 stories out on submission right now. That feels like a lot, to me. At least at the moment, it does. It also means that when I get a rejection in, it can be a bit of a struggle to find a market that I don’t already have something out to which would be appropriate for the story and which I want to submit to.

This led to me needing to do something embarrassing today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Just How Big Is a Billion?

Today's post has nothing to do with writing, really...

But I had a fascinating conversation with our six-year-old son a couple of nights back, and I've returned to thinking about it a couple of times recently. It's stuck with me enough that I felt compelled to write about it.

We were talking about big numbers, specifically about a googol (a one followed by 100 zeros). He asked if anyone had ever counted to a googol. I said that I didn't think so, and then we go to talking about how high a person could count in a lifetime.

Here's what we said:
  • Assume you can count one number a second. (Probably aggressive.)
  • And you start the moment you're born. (Obviously not happening.)
  • And you never sleep. (Ditto)
  • And you keep going until you're 100. (Optimistic)
Obviously, that's a ridiculous proposition, on any number of levels. But, still, let's go with it. How high do you think you could count? Don't cheat and do the math. Just guess. Ready?

Follow me below the jump for the answer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

2012 Goals and How I Plan To Meet Them

Regular readers of this blog will know that I post, track, and report back on monthly goals here. This is a very powerful tool in my writing toolbox. Setting the goals gives me direction for the month, and reporting back helps keep me "honest." Choosing how to set goals is also important. If they're too easy to reach, then you're not really challenging yourself and if you are satisfied with "just" meeting easy-to-reach goals, you're not living up to your full potential. On the other hand, if they're too hard to reach, then it's a simple thing to get discouraged and give up on meeting the goals. Again, you've missed the sweet spot and are robbing yourself of your ability to be productive.

I can honestly say that I think I've been operating at pretty darn close to my full writing potential (given my other obligations) since I delved back into the writing pool this summer. I've written and sent out for submission 23 short stories since late July, totalling a bit over 50,000 words. I wrote a first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo, another 57,000 or so words. If you include various WIPs and the few things I've started and shelved, I've written a total of about 135,000 words in that time, pretty much spot on a 1000-word a day pace on average. And I've been regularly blogging here; I'm coming up on my 100th post soon. I've also exchanged works with probably close to a dozen other writers for critique and been actively networking on various social media sites.

The point of this really isn't to brag. (Honest!) The point is that I am sure I wouldn't have done half of that if I hadn't set goals for myself in advance and that the act of setting those goals and then following through on them has giving me results which I'm very happy about.

With that as prelude, I want to talk about my 2012 goals and how I plan to go about meeting them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Links: December 11, 2011 Edition

I got the second of my "Write 1/Sub 1" stories for the month out earlier this week. It was a short one, an entry into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's monthly "Mysterious Photograph" contest. I've been working on a couple of other stories this week, too, though so I've gotten quite a few new words written. I also went back and took a final pass through one of the stories I'd done preliminary drafts on pre-NaNo and got it out on submission.

A quick blog announcement, I'm planning to take a brief hiatus from posting over the Christmas weekend. So that will mean no Dissecting the Short Story post on 12/23, no Sunday Links on 12/25, and no Monday post on 12/26. I'll have Wednesday posts on both 12/21 (though it won't be a DtSS preview, naturally) and 12/28. And, of course, if I have a burning desire to share something between the 21st and 28th, I may pop on long enough to put up a quick post.

And now, on to the links...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx

This week's entry in my Dissecting the Short Story series is, unless I'm mistaken, the first I've covered from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. As with all entries in this series, my intention here is to look at a story which was sold to a pro-rate fiction market, generally one of the large digest magazines, and see what we -- as writers -- can learn from it.

As always, I won't be shy about including spoiler material in this analysis, so if you have a copy of this magazine, it might be worth your time to read it first.

"Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx
Published in:
January/February, 2012 Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
3200 words
Third Person with Multiple POV Characters, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Story Online and Dissecting the Short Story Preview

First off, some good news to share. A (very) short story of mine was published today by Nanoism. Nanoism is a site that publishes tweet-length fiction (140 characters or fewer). It's a format I dabbled a bit in a couple of years ago. The one they published today is my favorite of those tweet-length stories, and I'm thrilled that it was chosen to be added to their site.

Friday I will be posting this week's "Dissecting the Short Story" entry. If you're interested in reading ahead, the story I'll be discussing this week is "Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx from the January/February 2012 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why So Few Short Mystery Fiction Markets?

Yesterday I mentioned that I had ended up doing a bit of freewriting to start my "Write 1/Sub 1" story for last week. The path that led me there actually involved realizing I had a bit of a roadblock on the "Sub 1" side of things for the story I had started earlier in the week. That roadblock was that it was a mystery short story and, while there are literally dozens of markets which pay Pro or Semi-Pro rates for speculative fiction short stories, there is a relative dearth of markets for mystery short fiction. And the places I'd submit that particular story first all have one of my stories under consideration already. So, I set that aside for the moment, started on my freewriting, and came up with a new story. All's well that ends well.

But, darn... I like writing mystery fiction and this was a reminder of the difference in the market for fiction in the two genres. The discrepancy can be illustrated by looking at the lists of approved short fiction markets for the Mystery Writers of America and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Not only is the SFWA list nearly twice as long, but it includes a much healthier representation of open genre-specific publications while the MWA list includes a couple of closed markets and quite a few general-fiction listings. You can get a similar sense by querying the Duotrope writer's market website. Search for "Fantasy", "Pro" rate publications for "Short Stories" (excluding closed markets) and you get back 28 selections. Change "Fantasy" to "Mystery/Crime" and you get back 9. Ouch!

So, why is there this big gap between the two?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Links: December 4th, 2011 Edition

As part of my writing goals for December, I finished up a new short story Saturday and got it out on submission. This was the first of my "Write 1/Sub 1" stories for the month. This one ended up developing sort of interestingly. I ended up just starting freewriting with a setting and some characters and saw where it took me. That's something I basically never do, but it seems to have worked well in this case. So the lesson here is that sometimes breaking out of your existing writing routines can work well.

I also got a little pleasant surprise in my email this afternoon, word that one of my story submissions already out has moved on to a second round of consideration. Not a sale yet, but a nice little bit of encouragement for a Sunday afternoon.

And now, on to the links...

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Power of "Can" - My Biggest NaNoWriMo Lesson

OK, so it's December but I'm still brain-deep in thinking about the NaNoWriMo which has just passed. Don't worry, I already have some thoughts about blog posts that are less focused on my NaNoWriMo experience soon -- honest!

I've thought of myself, admittedly off and on, as a writer for most of my life. But never as a novelist. I've written dozens and dozens of short stories. I had thought about doing NaNoWriMo years back but never committed to it -- heck, I never even really did anything more other than learn it existed.

Thinking honestly, I'm not sure that I'm going to pour tons of energies into novels in the near future besides the one I've already completed a first draft of. I think that, for me, one of the pieces of enjoyment I get out of writing is building up something new quickly and concisely in the form of a short story. Who knows, maybe I'll feel differently once I've gotten into the second and third drafts of "Adrift" next year. There was a certain exhilaration to charging headlong through 57,000+ words of new prose in November, I'll admit. I got into the world of those characters in a way that let me write very, very quickly at times and there were times when the story felt like it was moving along in interesting, unexpected new ways that gave a real high.

Still, the big thing I learned here -- the one overarching lesson for me from NaNoWriMo is that I can write a novel. If I have some inspiration strike me someday for what seems like a great novel, I will never ever have the excuse again of "Oh, I don't know how to write novels. I just know short stories and everyone knows they're two different forms." Yes, they are two different forms. But I've worked in both now and know that tackling a novel isn't something which I have to shy away from if I want to do it in the future.

That's an incredibly powerful thing, when I think about it and if I somehow end up with nothing else from this NaNoWriMo besides a trunked novel after going through revisions and critique and more revisions, I believe it will have made the experience completely worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Goals Wrap-Up and December Goals

November is coming to a close and December is just a few hours away. As I do each month, I'm reflecting back on the writing goals I set for myself to see how I measure up against them and am working to set new goals for the upcoming month.

Here were my November goals:

1) Write 50,000 words of new fiction. - Done. Total for the month in all was right around 63,000 words of new fiction, 90% of which was my NaNoWriMo first draft.
2) Complete ("win") NaNoWriMo. - Also done.
3) Keep my regular blogging schedule. - As of this posting, done. I tried some new things this month on the blog, not all of them worked as well as I would have hoped (RIP, "Call & Response" Flash Fiction series...) but I kept to my schedule without missing a beat.
4) Write at least one short story of 1000 or more words. - Done. I wrote a few flash pieces during November but also wrote a new 3000 or so word mystery short story which was reviewing by a critique partner, revised, and submitted.

So, four for four. I feel good about that, though I do think that the blog content this month was a bit skimpier than it had been in prior months.

And now, my goals for December...

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Adrift" First Draft Complete

So here I am. Just a tiny bit under 28 days since NaNoWriMo started here in Ohio, and I've typed the last words on the first draft (very much a first draft!) of "Adrift," the working title for the project I chose for NaNo this year.

Honestly, I think I'm in a bit of a daze. Before a few months back, the longest thing I'd ever written was a roughly 9,500 word long mystery story (technically, I suppose, a novelette per "prize" definitions which tend to cut off "short story around 7,500 words). I started in late-summer/early-fall on a very half-baked novel idea which I honestly have no idea if I'll ever go back to.

But, you know, if I hadn't made that first attempt a couple of months back, I doubt I'd be sitting here typing these words now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Links: November 27, 2011 Edition

So, Thanksgiving weekend is winding down as is November. Those still working on getting to their 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo have a few days left. Those not yet started on their Christmas shopping have under a month to go.

A quick plug before getting to the rest of the links -- I've kept entries open for the third round of my "Call and Response" Flash Fiction prompt contest through 5 PM EST Monday 11/28, so as I write this there are about 25 hours left to enter, if you're interested in doing so.

Without any further ado, plugging, or delaying, on to this week's links!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "God Bless" by Barbara Westwood Diehl

Welcome to the new installment of my Dissecting the Short Story series. This week's entry is a timely one, being for a story set around the holiday season. As with all entries in this series, my intention here is to look at a story which was sold to a pro-rate fiction market, generally one of the large digest magazines, and see what we -- as writers -- can learn from it.

I thought this was a fantastic story and one which went in directions I would not have expected before reading it. If you have a copy of this magazine, it might be worth your time to read this one before reading my notes below.

"God Bless" by Barbara Westwood Diehl
Published in:
January, 2012 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
2500 words
Third Person, Chronological (Well, pretty much...)
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Call & Response" Flash Fiction Prompt Contest Deadline Extended

With the holiday week, I'm going to extend the deadline for this Iteration of the "Call and Response" Flash Fiction prompt contest to Monday 11/28 at 5 PM EST. So, if you meant to enter and forgot, feel free to jump in. If there are no entrants by the new deadline, I'll cancel this iteration and see if it makes sense to try again, maybe once a month instead of every other week.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Week "Dissecting the Short Story" Preview

We've been very busy with Thanksgiving prep today along with other things, so I'm going to keep this really brief (and just get it in under the wire for Wednesday, to boot).

This week's "Dissecting the Short Story" entry will be for the story "God Bless" by Barbara Westwood Diehl from the January 2012 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you have the issue and would like to read along, now is the time.

On the NaNoWriMo front, I'm up to nearly 44,000 words and I did manage to get my 500-word minimum in for the day and for my Seinfeld Chain.

For those celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday I hope that it is a wonderful and safe day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Carrie Cuinn Interview

Not that this is really "news", but one of the great things about the internet is the way it allows people to come together and communicate quickly and easily. Earlier this year, after posting the first in my "Dissecting the Short Story" series, I contacted Dave Zeltserman and asked if he would be interested in talking about the story and my thoughts on it. He agreed to do so and my interview with him appeared on the blog shortly after the original post on the story.

This time it's Carrie Cuinn who has agreed to discuss her story, my thoughts on it, and the writing life in general. I greatly appreciate her taking the time to discuss this, as I know she's very busy with both her own writing and her work as a small-press publisher.

Michael Haynes: You've already talked a bit about how the general idea for "Call Center Blues" came to you in your author notes published on the Daily Science Fiction site. As far as the specifics, was the story essentially fully formed in your mind before you started writing it or did you start with the basic idea and see where it took you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Links: November 20, 2011 Edition

I haven't talked about progress on my November goals explicitly yet this month, so I figured this was a good time to do so.

1) Write 50,000 words of new fiction. Well on my way. I'm over 40,000 total words for the month with 10 days remaining. If I somehow fail at this one, it would be a shock.
2) Complete ("win") NaNoWriMo. I noted when I set these goals that 1 and 2 were sort of counterparts with 1 being a bit of a "safety net" in case I something went truly awry with my NaNo project. I'm over 70% done with the official NaNo objective now. Again, it would take some monumental collapse for me to not reach this goal.
3) Keep my regular blogging schedule. On pace. If I choose to skip a post or two over the holiday weekend, I don't think I'll count that against myself, though I'll still note it in my month-end wrapup.
4) Write at least one short story of 1000 or more words. Done as of yesterday. I'd written several flash fictions earlier in the month, but nothing lengthier in the short fiction realm.

So, unless anything really bad happens in the next week and a half, I should meet all of these goals. I'm really very happy about this, since I wasn't sure I would be able to both write 51,000 or more words of fiction in a month and keep up blogging regularly.

One other thing I'd like to mention before I get to the links. The recently-completed Platform-Building Campaign run by Rachael Harrie included three challenges. Regular readers of this site will know that I wrote a flash fiction for each challenge and that the 2nd and 3rd both were awarded 8th place out of over 100 entries. One of the other campaigners, Katharina Gerlach, worked with many of the writers of responses to the three challenges and got permission to use their entries in a collection which is currently on sale with the proceeds going to charity. One caveat, I have not vetted the charity to which the funds are going. I trust that it's a good one, but if you want to validate that, by all means do so.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Call & Response Flash Fiction Request for Prompts (Iteration 3)

Yesterday I posted the flash fiction which ended Iteration 2 of the "Call & Response" series on my blog, "Abandoned Items."

Every other Friday (when I'm not posting a "Dissecting the Short Story" post) I'll publish a new short story, definitely under 1000 words, often under 500 words. The twist that gives the series its name is that each story will be based on a writing prompt supplied by one of my readers.

Every other Saturday I'll post a new request for prompts. The prompt can be anything at all. It can be a photo, a concept, a few words. Whatever. People will have until Noon Eastern Time on Thursday to submit their prompts. Thursday night/Friday morning I'll announce the winning prompt from among those posted. The following Friday I'll post the story inspired by the prompt.

So, start submitting your prompts right now. They're due by Noon on Thursday November 24th (Thanksgiving for my US readers) and I'll announce the winner that night or Friday the 25th. Finally, I'll publish the resulting story right here on my blog on Friday December 2nd.

As a reminder the person who submitted the prompt which I select will receive a $5 Amazon gift card as a prize for having a great prompt.

The fine print: All rights to the story created based on the prompt will be held by the author of the story. The $5 prize is only available to people with an Amazon account to which I can send the prize electronically. I reserve the right to add more fine print to future versions of this activity if I feel the need to do so. (Though I sorely hope I don't need to.) There are no guarantees that I will continue to run this activity beyond the currently-posted Request for Prompts. (Though I sorely hope that it will be fun for us all and that I will want to do so.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Abandoned Items" (Call & Response Flash Fiction #2)

Hello and welcome to the second installment of my "Call and Response" Flash Fiction series where my readers suggest prompts and I write a story based on my favorite prompt. This week, the prompt was a photo by Nellie -- I've cropped the photo to the part of it that grabbed my attention, the image of a rose in the snow.

Photo courtesy of Nellie

And now, the story...

Abandoned Items

She hurls the flower away and it lands in the snow. It looks absurd lying there, bright red against dirty slushy brown.
"He's a jerk," I tell her. Truth be told, some days I think he's pretty cool, but I know it's what she wants to hear. And he certainly has acted like a jerk to her recently.
She responds with a comment which is both vulgar and unlikely, given that she has broken up with him that morning. The rose was his attempt to get back in her good graces. He left it on her doorstep in a little vase. I know because I drove her home, like I've driven her home every night after practice this week. Romeo and Juliet. She plays Juliet, I play the the nurse. Thanks goodness he isn't playing Romeo. Can you imagine it? Awkward!
She takes one last puff from her cigarette and it too gets tossed to the ground. "OK, I've got to get inside. Barcus gave us a crapload of calculus homework for tomorrow. You drive safely. I'll see you at school tomorrow."
We hug briefly. She pulls away and gives a little wave before going up the steps to her porch and into her house.
It's cold and quiet. The suburban side street has only parked cars, no one is around, not even the seemingly-ubiquitous dogwalkers. No one is watching.
I pick the discarded rose up from the ground. I'll take it home with me, put it in some water, set it on my nightstand. It will look beautiful for a few days before it withers. This will suffice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Persistence

Tuesday night I did not want to write. My shoulder hurt, I was tired, and we'd just watched (another) frustrating defeat of the local Columbus Blue Jackets.

In and of itself, not wanting to write one evening wouldn't be an awful thing. But I hadn't been able to devote lunch time to writing on Tuesday either. So, I was facing the prospect of either getting down to writing anyway or having to use my "mulligan" in my Seinfeld Chain. That's something I haven't done yet. In fact, I had noted on Monday that with 30 days in September, 31 in October, and 14 so far in November that I had a 75-day chain of writing 500 words or more every day.

The more I thought about using my mulligan, I really didn't want to do it. What if I ended up really sick one day and couldn't even get out of bed? I'd regret having using my mulligan just because I was feeling kind of tired and achy one night.

Tackling my NaNo project right then seemed daunting, though. So I said "Well, I've got a flash fiction to be writing for Friday, from Nellie's prompt. I guess I'll start on that." And I did that and when I wrapped up the first draft of that I was at 400 words and change.

If I was the type of person to say "Fiddlesticks", then I'm sure that's what I would have said at that point. But, stubbornly, I opened up my NaNo project. After all, how hard could it be to add 100 words to it and hit my 500. I could do that in just a few minutes. And an hour later I had another 1000 words on my project including some stuff I really like.

So I ended up with a first draft of a flash fiction and 2% of my NaNo work for the month. All because I didn't want to break my chain. No, this method won't work for everyone. But it's worked really well for me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Four Things NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me (So Far)

Monday afternoon I passed the 25,000 word mark and then some on my NaNoWriMo project. So, I'm more than halfway to "winning" NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words for my work in progress. This is now by a fairly large margin the longest thing I've ever written. Before a couple of months ago, my longest ever work was a short story (more technically perhaps a novelette) of just under 10,000 words. I got about 18-20,000 words into a novel project in late-summer/early-fall before I stalled out on it for the time being.

Still, the longest completed work of mine remains that 10,000-ish word story. At this point, I'm estimating that the novel I'm working on, which I currently am calling "Adrift," will end up around 60,000 words. So by that measure I still have more than 50% of the work to go on the first draft. It's a daunting task, but I'm encouraged by the progress that I've made so far.

Thinking about the last two weeks' worth of writing, here are four things I've learned about my own creative process as a result of NaNoWriMo along with some comments on how other writers might look into the same aspects of their process.
  1. I have a limit. For me, this is about 4,000 words in a writing session. Once I've gotten that much written, which probably means about 3-4 hours straight of composing (along with the occasional Twitter break and suchlike), I'm done. I feel tired, I feel unfocused, and I don't want to write another word. Even if I'm in the middle of a key scene, I have to take a break. I suspect that most writers have some similar limits, though I also know there are some who can write many more words in a session. The important lesson here for me is that trying something like "The 3 Day Novel" probably isn't even worth considering for me. I'd be miserable when I was done. The other key takeaway for me is that I can't let myself fall too far behind in NaNoWriMo this year or any other because I'd only be up to so much "catching up."
  2. I work well when I have a plan. Yes, it's the famous "plotter" versus "pantser" discussion. I'm now firmly convinced that I'm a plotter. That doesn't mean that I don't end up going down paths I didn't originally expect in my writing. There have been several developments in my NaNo project that I either didn't expect or that presented themselves in an unplanned way (even if the development itself was planned). Granted, I've still got a lot further to go, but with my 2200 or so words of notes that I made in October (perfectly "legal" for NaNo) I feel much more confident about the path forward. The important thing for other writers here would be to be aware of what writing style works best for you. If you are sure you're a pantser, you probably aren't going to be happy plotting. If you're like me, and are sure you like plotting, don't go off willy-nilly into a long project and expect it to work out well.
  3. Having a support group is important to me. In fairness, I had already sort of learned this before NaNoWriMo, but it's become even more obvious during these last two weeks. There are people on Twitter who I have done multiple word-sprints with throughout the month to-date. We've frequently sought each other out to see if we were available to urge each other on. I've had some very productive sessions during these word-sprints.
  4. It's okay to not fill in all the blanks right away. I tend to write in a very linear fashion, starting at the beginning of the text and ending at the completion. Here, there have been several times it made sense for me to make a note about something I would want to research in more detail later and move on. These weren't things that had an impact on the plot where I would be likely to have a problem if my research led me to an unpleasant surprise, and it let me keep moving forward with the first draft. Would I advise doing this with a key plot point? No. But if it's a bit of period "texture" detail, I think it's just fine to make a note about what you want to research and move on.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year or have you done it in the past? What has it taught you?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Links: November 13, 2011 Edition

We're getting closer to the holiday season and, for me at least, that means that things are getting really hectic in my life. That plus NaNoWriMo has equaled a few frustrating days recently where I just didn't feel like I had enough minutes. I'm very grateful that I had a good writing day yesterday, pulling well ahead of pace on my NaNo project as today looks like a day where I'm not going to get much done at all on the writing front.

Without any further rambling, on to this week's links!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Call Center Blues" by Carrie Cuinn

Welcome to the new installment of my Dissecting the Short Story series where every other Friday I look at a recently-published short story from a major genre fiction publication. This time, I'm doing something a little different. The story being examined this week is one published by Daily Science Fiction, a pro-rate publication whose stories are all made available to read on-line for free.

"Call Center Blues" by Carrie Cuinn
Published in:
November 2nd, 2011 Daily Science Fiction
Approximate Length:
900 words
First Person, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winning Prompt and Honorable Mention

The winning prompt for the second Iteration of my Call & Response Flash Fiction series was provided by scribblingpencil/Nellie. Thank you for participating -- I'm already thinking about ideas for a story based off your prompt!

The story based on her prompt will be published on Friday November 18th. I'll then be issuing a new call for prompts on Saturday November 19th, so if you want to participate in that round, start thinking about what you might want to prompt me with!

I received a bit of good news in the mail today. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine runs a monthly contest to write a story (250 words or fewer) based off a photographic prompt. The winner gets their story published and is paid $25. I was not the winner for their October 2011 contest but I am one of the Honorable Mentions for that month's entries. There's no publication or money associated with that but I'll get my name listed in print in the magazine, which is kind of neat. More to the point, it's another way of feeling that I'm moving closer to the type of success I'm hoping for in my writing. Which is a good feeling, indeed!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Dissecting the Short Story" Preview

This is a "Dissecting the Short Story" week. Friday I'll be posting my newest entry in that series, and it will be for a story which is available to read free online. Daily Science Fiction is an on-line venture which -- as the name suggests -- publishes a new science fiction short story every weekday. They pay professional rates (and then some) and have recently been certified by SFWA as a pro market.

This week's short story dissection will be for "Call Center Blues" by Carrie Cuinn. You can click that link to read her story. On the DSF website, make sure to click the "Display Entire Story" button to see the end of the story.

If using a pro-market story which is available to read free on-line leads to more discussion, I'll probably continue to work stories like this into the mix, while still doing stories from the pro digest magazines as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo Progress and Musings

Less than 48 hours ago I was sitting on 8,334 words. Now, after a good chunk of writing on Sunday, several hours at a write-in earlier today, and a #1k1hr session with some people on Twitter tonight I'm at 14,150. That's nicely ahead of "pace" for the first seven days of NaNoWriMo and gives me some buffer for the rest of the work week.

Will I make it to 11/30 with a completed first draft? Certainly, right now it's looking good, at least for hitting the 50,000 words required to "win." If I'll be actually to the final word of the story by then or not, I'm not sure yet, and probably won't be until I get a lot closer. I'm nearing the 25% point of my "outline", though, so guesstimating that 60,000 words is a likely final length doesn't seem unreasonable.

And, of course, then I'll be far from "done." I'll be thrilled with what I have accomplished, of course. I'll have planned and executed a project in a thirty-day time period and likely dealt with multiple unexpected events along the way (both real and fictitious!) which required adjustments in my plan. But the novel won't be ready for anyone else to read. I'm sure I'll need at least a second pass through before I want to let anyone see it, other than maybe some excerpts here and there.

I was having a Twitter conversation tonight where the topic of what the ratio of first draft time to editing time is likely to be for a NaNo novel. I haven't specifically tracked it, but I think that I spend about 2-4 times the amount of hours revising a piece of work as I spend in first draft. That includes all rounds including feedback from critique partners. So, realistically, it will probably be six months after 11/30 before I'd have a good sense of where my novel might be going next. And that's OK. It's a long race and there can be lots of winners. And even if what I ultimate decide is that this one's going in the trunk, I'll know that it's something which I am capable of doing, and I'm sure I'll have learned plenty in the experience.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Links: November 6, 2011 Edition

NaNoWriMo is underway! As of Midnight this morning (the 6th), the month was 1/6th over, which makes 8,334 words the "pace" for getting to 50,000 words by the end of 11/30. And that's exactly where I found myself when I hit the scene break where I planned to stop. Quite a fun coincidence! I'm looking forward to doing my writing today as I stopped right before one of the most pivotal scenes.

Earlier this week I was informed that I finished in (a familiar) 8th place in the third Platform-Building Writers' Campaign challenge. I was quite pleased to have placed in two of the three rounds! Thanks to Trisha from Word + Stuff for donating the prize which I won and to Rachael Harrie and all the others who volunteered to coordinate the challenge.  (Oh, and Trisha? I'm officially jealous of your NaNo word count. 23,482 already? Wow!)

Now to the links!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Call & Response Flash Fiction (Iteration 2)

Having published my first "Call & Response" flash fiction ("The Morandini Genie") yesterday, it's now time for the second iteration.

Every other Friday (when I'm not posting a "Dissecting the Short Story" post) I'll publish a new short story, definitely under 1000 words, often under 500 words. Now here's the twist that gives the series its name... Each story will be based on a writing prompt supplied by one of my readers.

Here's how it will work. Every other Saturday I'll post a new request for prompts. The prompt can be anything at all. It can be a photo, a concept, a few words. Whatever. People will have until Noon Eastern Time on Thursday to submit their prompts. Thursday night/Friday morning I'll announce the winning prompt from among those posted. The following Friday I'll post the story inspired by the prompt.

So, start submitting your prompts right now. I'll announce the winning prompt on Thursday November 10th and publish the resulting story on Friday November 18th.

As a reminder the person who submitted the prompt which I select will receive a $5 Amazon gift card as a prize for having a great prompt.

The fine print: All rights to the story created based on the prompt will be held by the author of the story. The $5 prize is only available to people with an Amazon account to which I can send the prize electronically. I reserve the right to add more fine print to future versions of this activity if I feel the need to do so. (Though I sorely hope I don't need to.) There are no guarantees that I will continue to run this activity beyond the currently-posted Request for Prompts. (Though I sorely hope that it will be fun for us all and that I will want to do so.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

"The Morandini Genie" - "Call and Response" Flash Fiction #1

A couple of weeks back I announced a new series on my blog, "Call and Response" Flash Fiction, where my readers can suggest prompts, and I'll pick my favorite and use it as the basis for a flash fiction.

David Powers King was the first winning "prompter" and below is the story I wrote from his prompt:
"A child finds a candlestick in the gutter on her way home from school."
Saturday, we'll start the cycle up again with my second call for prompts. Can I do this during NaNoWriMo and survive. Stay tuned to find out! :)

Without further ado, based on David's prompt...

"The Morandini Genie"

Susan skipped down the road on her way home from school, but only because no one was looking. At twelve, she felt like she was too old to be skipping, even if it still felt fun.
A glint in the gutter caught her eye and she came to a stop. An old-fashioned candlestick was lying at the edge of the road, in the muck left from the prior night’s rain.
She almost passed it by, but something about it held her attention. She knelt down and touched it. Its warmth surprised her. She glanced around. Still no one was looking. She snatched up the candlestick and shoved it into one of the many partitions of her backpack.
The rest of the way home she ran.
She let herself into the house and thudded up the stairs to her room. Her backpack landed with its own thump as she shrugged it from her shoulders to the floor.
She pulled out the candlestick. It had intricate swirls and loops all along its base. The stem of the thing had a chain-like pattern, criss-crossing back and forth all around. She set it down on her desk. A bit of mud fell off and landed on one of her school papers. Susan grimaced and went for some paper towels.
She rubbed the candlestick with a damp paper towel, cleaning off the grime. As she did, she noticed it was even warmer than before. Suddenly, she felt a zap like static electricity on a winter day. The candlestick clattered to the desk. Beside it stood a tiny creature.
“Whoa! 50 years in a candlestick can give you such a crick in the neck!” it exclaimed.
Susan frowned at the little man-like thing. A tiny inkling at the back of her mind said that maybe she should be uneasy about talking whatsits suddenly appearing in her bedroom, but this thing was so small she couldn’t take the feeling seriously.
He frowned back. “Hey, c’mon, that gets me a laugh, right? Robin Williams? Aladdin?”
“Ummm... I think my parents watched that once.”
He glowered again at Susan and sighed. “Guess I need to freshen up my jokes... Anyway, that’s not why I’m here, right?”
“Why are you here?” she asked him. “For that matter, who are you?”
He made a show of looking himself up and down. “Duh! I’m a genie.”
“I thought genies came in lamps?”
“Eh. That’s a common misconception. Actually, anything bearing illumination can hold a genie. Lamps, candlesticks, flashlights. You name it.”
“You’re pretty small.”
“Thanks. I’d never noticed.”
She rolled her eyes. Was he really going to get into a battle of sarcasm with a twelve-year-old?
“So, now what?” she asked. “I get three wishes?”
“Actually, just one. Like you said, I’m pretty small.”
“I need to make it a good one, then.”
“Well, yes. But... Heh... Not too good. Remember. Small genie.”
She considered this. What would she want, if she could have anything...
“Can you make me smarter than Regan from my class?”
“No, sorry. I can make you smarter than Jesse from your class, though.”
“I already am smarter than Jesse!”
The genie shrugged. “If you say so.”
“Fine, then, make me a better runner than...”
“Lacey Hatler?”
Susan nodded.
“Nope, sorry. Remember, think small!”
“Well what sort of worthless genie are you?”
He pointed to a poster on her wall. “You like baseball, right?” She nodded. “So you know Derek Jeter?”
“Yeah, but how do you know Derek Jeter?”
“Azmoteth hooked me up with wi-fi on my stick a couple of years back. Hey, just because I’m ancient doesn’t mean I’ve got to be behind the times.” He shook his tiny head. “Anyway, like I was saying. Jetes. You know him, he’s a big star, right?”
“OK, you know Mickey Morandini?”
She hesitated.
“Didn’t think so. He was a second baseman, played for the Phillies and Cubs, hit about .270 and had 32 homers in his career. So, he’s a baseball player. He’s a pro baseball player. But he’s no Jeter, right?”
“Yeah, but what does...”
“So, look at me like Mickey Morandini. I’m your Morandini genie. Ain’t going to come up with some big splashy wish for you, but I can still help you out. Just in... You know... Little ways.”
Susan plopped on her bed. It figured that she’d have something special happen to her, something cool and unusual, and it would turn out to be totally weak... What could she wish for that this genie could deliver on?
“If I could suggest something..." he said. "How do you feel about ponies?”
Susan didn’t even give that comment a response. Finally, she sat up. “How about if you tell me what you are good at?”
“Ah! Well, let’s see. I’m good at finding lost articles, I’m a whiz at travel -- maybe you and your parents would like to zip down to the Caribbean?”
A vacation with her parents? No thanks. Susan shook her head.
“Hmm... And... I make a mean ice cream sundae!”
She sat and thought. Finding lost things... Travel... An idea came to her, and she presented it to the genie.
He nodded slowly. “It might take some time, though. Are you sure you don’t mind waiting?”
She said it would be fine and made her wish formal. Her genie zipped into the air and flew out her open window.
In her college dorm room, Susan awoke one morning to see that the candlestick she had hung onto for nine years was missing. Her heart leapt. No one else had been in her room; her roommate was out of town. It could only mean one thing.
She darted outside, still wearing her pajamas. And there it was, stuck under a bench. A big oil lamp, tarnished and dented. A note stuck under it read simply “From your Morandini Genie.”
She hurried her prize inside, eager to clean it off, and see what wonders its genie could perform for her.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Five Tips For Writing Flash Fiction

I've always been a fan of flash fiction, generally considered to be stories of under 1000 words. When I was a kid they were called "short-short stories" and they were always among my favorite things to read. I had several anthologies of those stories that I dipped into over and over.

Flash fiction has been on my mind a lot recently. I used the format for each of my three WriteCampaign challenge entries (all available on my "Free Stories" page if you want to look them over). I started a blog series where I'll be writing flash fictions from reader prompts. And my recent sale to Kazka Press, "State Secrets", was as part of their flash fiction contest. One thing I've heard from a lot of people is that they are uncomfortable writing at such a short length. So, even though we're in the middle of NaNoWriMo and lots of people are focused on trying to get 50,000 words written on a novel, I thought that some flash fiction tips might be of interest. (Who knows, maybe you'll decide to write a flash fiction if you're feeling like you need a break from your novel!)

  1. Keep Focused - With under 1000 words to work with, you aren't going to have room for lots of secondary characters, multiple settings, etc. You're going to want to have a very focused stage on which your story unfolds. If you look back at each of my WriteCampaign entries, you'll see that each of them was a single scene. There were four distinct characters in The Chamber, but one of them had no dialogue and another just a single line. The story I'll be posting Friday based on David Powers King's prompt has three scenes, but basically one there is establishing and one is payoff -- the bulk of the story is the central scene.
  2. Make Every Word Count - If you have a specific word target for a contest or publication, this can become really critical. None of my first drafts for the WriteCampaign challenges came in at the limit, so I had to trim each of them. Similarly, "State Secrets" required a bit of paring after my first draft. You can get to the point where you're looking at each word to see if it's truly important. Is there something you're saying with five words that you could say with three? Let's look at "The Chamber" again. In my final draft, the second paragraph starts: "Next was a young girl holding a stuffed animal tightly to her chest." The first draft read: "Next in line was a young girl, a stuffed animal held tightly to her chest." Both say the same thing, but the final version used two fewer words.
  3. Start Near the End - This is a tip that I came across from Jim Harrington earlier today. You're not going to have a lot of room in 1000 words for setup. So, in "Vacation in Paradise," I didn't start with Lea and Jacob planning their vacation, or fighting about whether they should be searching for treasure or deck chairs. The story starts with her on the beach, moments before Jacob returns with a surprise for her. A bit of that back story is alluded to during the course of the story, but only so much. "The Chamber", with its twist/surprise ending, gives no back story at all until near the very end and, even then, it's only a hint of it.
  4. Know Where You're Going - For me, at least, when I write a flash fiction it's usually something where I'm holding the entire story idea in my head. It's "just" a matter of writing it down. I suppose you could "pants" a flash fiction by starting with an idea and seeing where your mind takes you. But I suspect that it would require a lot more word-trimming than if you had an idea where the story was going before you started. (As an avowed "plotter", I realize that your mileage may seriously vary on this tip!)
  5. Be Flexible -  Not every story can be a flash fiction. If you are working on a story and realize that it's just not going to fit into the constraints of the format, be willing to go with that. Of course, if you're looking to enter a contest, you'd be looking at having to write a different story for the contest. So, if you are committed to making a specific story a flash fiction and it's coming in way over your target length, ask yourself what you're willing to remove from the story to get down to the goal. This may be painful. There may be a conversation where the dialogue sparkles and you love the way your main character shows her wit. But if it doesn't advance the story and it eats up 150 words, it may still have to go, or at least be dramatically trimmed.
So there are five tips. If you have thoughts about writing flash fiction, feel free to share them in the comment section below!

One final bit of self-promotion. Kazka Press is asking for "votes"/ratings on the stories which won their October contest. (It's a set of blue stars below the story and above the comments.) These ratings will play a role in their decision as to which stories are put in their quarterly eBook anthology. If you read my story "State Secrets" and wouldn't mind taking a few seconds to give it a rating, I'd sure appreciate it! Thank you!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"State Secrets" is Live on Kazka Press Site

Just a quick note to let you know that my short story "State Secrets" is online now at the Kazka Press website. I hope that you enjoy reading it. If you like it and leave a vote for it (using the little stars at the bottom of the story), it may help my story to be selected for their quarterly eBook anthology.

A couple of other small comments... I just noticed that my blog now has 100 followers. Thanks to each and every one of you for stopping in and reading my thoughts on writing.

Also, NaNoWriMo kicked off at Midnight this morning. I got my first 750 or so words done on the project before going to sleep. Only 49,250 to go! If you want to follow my progress on the NaNo site, you can go to my profile page.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Words and Music (or, Countdown to NaNoWriMo)

Here in the Eastern United States we're now down to under nine hours until 2011's National Novel Writing Month starts. I plan to get at least my first 500 words in tonight after midnight rolls around.

While I'm writing, I'll likely be listening to music. Just last night, I was chatting with a friend and critique partner of Twitter (@digitalinkwell) about what type of music we like to listen to while writing. Both of us like listening to instrumental music, particularly film scores.

Here's a list of ten CDs I like listening to while writing, seven soundtracks, one classical album, one jazz album, and Mogwai (which Wikipedia calls a "post-rock" band). All of these are available to legally stream using Spotify, as well, which is convenient for if you want to try hearing something new. The links below go to the Spotify pages for these CDs.
  1. Tron: Legacy soundtrack (music by Daft Punk)
  2. Spirited Away soundtrack (Joe Hisaishi)
  3. Princess Mononoke Symponic Suite (Joe Hisaishi)
  4. Passion - Music for The Last Temptation of Christ (Peter Gabriel)
  5. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Mogwai)
  6. The Dead Zone soundtrack (Michael Kamen)
  7. Defiance soundtrack (James Newton Howard)
  8. Vasily Kalinnikov Symphonies #1 & 2 (performance by National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine)
  9. Dead Again soundtrack (Patrick Doyle)
  10. 13th House (McCoy Tyner)
What's going to be on your playlist as you write in November?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Links: October 30th, 2011 Edition

I've been mentioning NaNoWriMo during each of these Sunday Link posts in October, now the time is almost at hand. I still have a bit of work I'd like to get done as prep work, but I have a reasonably good feeling about where I stand. Hopefully a week from today I'll still be feeling optimistic. Anyone who wants to be a writing buddy on the site and hasn't found me there yet can add me as a buddy via my NaNo site profile.

In addition to the good news I got earlier this week about my story being accepted as one of the winners for the October Kazka Press Flash Fiction contest I also heard today that my story "My Name is Imago Montoya..." finished in 8th place in the second Platform-Building Writers' Campaign challenge. Woo-hoo! Thanks to Saba from Of Thoughts and Words, Margo Kelly, and Janice Seagraves from Janice's Home for donating the prizes which I won and to Rachael Harrie and all the others who volunteered to coordinate the challenge.

Now for this week's links!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "The Gap" by Mikal Trimm

Welcome to the new installment of my Dissecting the Short Story series where every other Friday I look at a recently-published short story from a major genre fiction publication.

"The Gap" by Mikal Trimm
Published in:
December 2011 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
2500 words
Third Person, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winning Prompt and Upcoming Publication

Two quick news items. First, congratulations to David Powers King, whose prompt I've selected. If you didn't see the prompt, it is:
"A child finds a candlestick in the gutter on her way home from school."
Thanks, also, to scribblingpencil who also suggested a prompt. I liked the photo, but it didn't stir any immediate story ideas in me.

The story based on David's prompt will be published on Friday November 4th. I'll then be issuing a new call for prompts on Saturday November 5th, so if you want to participate in that round, start thinking about what you might want to prompt me with!

The second news item (also relating to prompted flash fictions, come to think of it) is that I've been informed that I am one of the winners of the October Kazka Press flash fiction contest. I'm very excited about this. It's my first publication in over a year and also the first of my "new" stories which has been accepted.

The Kazka Press story should be posted November 1st, I'll make sure to point everyone towards it when it's live.

The timing of this couldn't be better. As I mentioned to a friend on Twitter earlier today, I'd been getting to the point recently where I was really having to work hard at taking my own advice to "reject rejection" and not let writing frustrate me. Having this piece of good news (along with a small, but nice, personal comment on a rejection from a market I really hope to sell something to one day) has helped my mood immeasurably. A great boost going into this last pre-NaNoWriMo weekend.

One final note, I will be posting the Dissecting the Short Story article for this week tomorrow, but it may be on the late side.

I hope all of my readers are having good writing weeks. See you tomorrow at the Dissection!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story Preview & October/November Goals

Every other Wednesday I announce the story for this week's "Dissecting the Short Story" entry, to be published on Friday. This week, I'll be looking at "The Gap" by Mikal Trimm from the December, 2011 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you have a copy of that magazine and would like to "read along" with me, now would be the time!

Like in the previous entries from the "Dissecting the Short Story" series, I'll be looking at this story to see what techniques the writer used and decisions they made to help make the story effective. The ultimate goal is to use this information as a way of better understanding how professionally-published short stories are written.

Monday, October 24, 2011

7 Things to Do When You Feel Like You're Losing Your Mind

We've all been there, right? That feeling that you're just about to go absolutely bonkers and that if one more thing goes even vaguely not-just-right, you're going straight over the edge?

OK, but going over the edge isn't exactly a good life strategy. With NaNoWriMo coming up, a lot of writers are going to be dealing with some extra stress from the presence of that deadline. But other writers are dealing with deadlines of one kind or another all the time, be they from agents, editors, contests, or what have you.

And it's not just writers who deal with this feeling. There are a lot of holidays coming up, and while those provide many great experiences and memories for many people, they are also a great source of stress and agitation for many people.

So here's a list of 7 things to do when you feel like you're losing your mind:
  1. Breathe. Oxygen is what drives our bodies and our brains. Also, for some people, focused breathing exercises can be a source of relaxation. If you're feeling panicked, one of the best short-term things you can do is be aware of your breathing.

  2. Don't make rash decisions. For a writer, this could mean not pressing the button to delete some work that you've gotten frustrated with. For someone else, it could mean not sending out a hotly-worded email telling everyone not to bother showing up for Thanksgiving. Conceivably there could be good reasons to do either of those two things, but make sure you've slept on it, and don't act in the heat of the moment.

  3. Talk to someone about it. For writers this can be very easy -- there are lots of places to vent about your frustration with writing, from Twitter to blogs to forums like the Absolute Write Water Cooler. For general like issues, though, this can be hard, especially if part of your stress comes from interpersonal issues in the first place. But letting it all stew inside of you can be a path to greater stress levels. Try to find someone who's a good "sounding-board" who won't be emotionally involved. They may end up giving you a bit of a reality check -- there may be things you're doing which are increasing your own stress -- but sometimes that's what we need to hear.

  4. Take a break and do something "guaranteed" to be fun. This is a good thing for when you're feeling "stuck" in some way and are having trouble making progress. So, if you've been staring at the screen for a long time and haven't gotten much accomplished, it may mean you need to take a break. Sometimes the best thing to do is to set the situation aside for a few hours and do something which you'll almost certainly enjoy -- watch a favorite movie, go to a favorite restaurant, do some type of exercise you really get pleasure from. When you come back -- and you need to make sure that you plan to come back to what you need to get done -- you may find that your perspective has changed and, if nothing else, your mood should be better.

  5. Take care of your body. This is not the time to be skipping meals, drinking to excess, or going without sleep. When you're under a lot of stress, you need your body and mind to be as sharp as possible.

  6. Make sure you're doing the most important things first. If your stress is being driven in part by feeling overwhelmed by the number of demands on your time, make sure that you are prioritizing effectively. There are lots of different ways of looking at this, but one is to divide tasks up into "Urgent and Important" (which means they are both time-sensitive and of value to you), "Non-Urgent and Important" (so there is little or no time pressure, but it's of value), "Urgent but Non-Important", and "Non-Urgent and Non-Important." An example for each of these could be:
    • "Urgent and Important" - Submitting an entry to a contest before its deadline.
    • "Non-Urgent and Important" - Finishing a final draft of a short story before submitting it to a magazine with open submissions.
    • "Urgent but Non-Important" - Incoming messages on Instant Messenger or similar tools. ("Non-Important" here can depend somewhat on context. If this is an important professional message or an important person in your support network, such messages may not go here. If it's someone pinging you "just to chat" while you're deep in trying to get your main character out of the jam you put him in, then it probably belongs here and maybe this would be a good time to turn off the IM software.)
    • "Non-Urgent and Non-Important" - Watching an episode of a TV show you don't really have any interest in just because it's on. (And it's OK to have leisure time, even when -- sometimes especially when -- you're stressed, but there may be better choices for that leisure time than something left on the TV "just because.")

    Remember that the "Important" piece of that depends on your goals and values, not mine or anyone else's. So the examples above definitely shouldn't be taken as a statement of what should or shouldn't be "Important" to you or anyone else.

  7. Remember that you are not your writing. So even if you're feeling like your writing is a complete wreck, that does not make YOU a complete wreck. Everybody has a multitude of roles which they play in their life. If it's your writing (or some other specific part of your life) which is driving your feelings of stress, work to remember that you have value in many other aspects of your life as well.
I hope that one or more of these tips are helpful to you in dealing with stress either as part of your writing life or simply life in general. What do you find helps you when you're feeling stressed?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Links: October 23, 2011 Edition

With just over a week remaining until NaNoWriMo kicks off, I finally got some decent planning time in yesterday. Nowhere near as much as I probably should have, but enough that I felt good about what I had accomplished. I've got the main very-high-level story arc nicely laid out and the main character's family tree about 40% complete. I want to get to the point where I have a reasonably-detailed outline done by the end of next Sunday. By the way, if you are looking for an online tool to make a family tree, Family Echo seems to work really well.

Normally I wait until the very bottom of these links posts to tout anything of my own, but I do want to draw attention to my new "Call & Response" Flash Fiction series. The basic idea here is that readers can propose prompts for me to write a flash fiction based on. The prompts can be anything at all: a picture, a song, a concept, whatever. I'll pick my favorite prompt, write a story based on it, publish it on the blog AND send a $5 Amazon gift card to the person who provided the chosen prompt. This seems like it could be a lot of fun for all of us.

And, yes, along with counting down the days to NaNoWriMo, I'm still counting down the days until I can replace phone with one of Sprint's new iPhones. Playing with the one my wife bought has definitely convinced me that this is a good choice for me.

Now for this week's links!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Call and Response Flash Fiction: Request for Prompts

If you saw my "Suggestions, Please?" post you know that I'm interested in adding some new features to this blog. There was no great consensus (except around NOT having more frequent links posts) but the most popular item was Flash Fiction. I wanted to try to do something a bit different with this. Here's what I'm proposing:

"Call and Response" Flash Fiction. 

Every other Friday (when I'm not posting a "Dissecting the Short Story" post) I'll publish a new short story, definitely under 1000 words, probably under 500 words. Now here's the twist that gives the series its name... Each story will be based on a writing prompt supplied by one of my readers.

Here's how it will work. Every other Saturday I'll post a new request for prompts. The prompt can be anything at all. It can be a photo, a concept, a few words. Whatever. People will have until Noon Eastern Time on Thursday to submit their prompts. Thursday night/Friday morning I'll announce the winning prompt from among those posted. The following Friday I'll post the story inspired by the prompt.

I know that's a lot of days to keep track of. Here's a concrete example. This is the first request for prompts. I'll pick the winning prompt on Thursday October 28th 27th (edit: Bad at math, sorry...) and publish the resulting story on Friday November 5th.

Oh, yes... I've used the word "winning" a couple of times. That's not just a "hey, feel good about yourself, I picked your prompt" type of winning, either. The person who submitted the prompt which I select will receive a $5 Amazon gift card as a prize for having a great prompt. (See, I'm sneaking in the "contests" that 25% of the people voted for in the poll...)

So, readers, think up some killer prompts and you could win a few dollars and see your prompt turned into a honest-to-gosh flash fiction. The first round is open NOW! I'm looking forward to seeing the creative prompts my readers come up with.

A bit of fine print: All rights to the story created based on the prompt will be held by the author of the story. The $5 prize is only available to people with an Amazon account to which I can send the prize electronically. I reserve the right to add more fine print to future versions of this activity if I feel the need to do so. (Though I sorely hope I don't need to.) There are no guarantees that I will continue to run this activity beyond the currently-posted Request for Prompts. (Though I sorely hope that it will be fun for us all and that I will want to do so.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

#FridayReads - October 21st, 2011 Edition

For those not familiar, #FridayReads is about discussing what you're currently reading. As the FAQ states, it "promotes literacy and a passion for reading." Here is the entire Twitter feed for the #fridayreads hashtag. Through talking about what I've been reading, I'm hoping to accomplish a few things: make myself think a bit about how exactly I'd describe something I've recently read, let people know about books I've enjoyed, and hear from my readers about what they are reading.

Since my most recent #FridayReads post (two weeks ago) I finished reading the novel Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. It went in all sorts of directions I wasn't expecting, but maintained its tone throughout and was, on the whole, a lot of fun. There's an introduction to the book which is available online and which tells about the background of him writing the novel. He ended up being a sort of pioneer in the indie publishing eBook world with this novel, making several thousand dollars posting it for free and letting people send him donations if they liked it. Interesting stuff!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Vacation in Paradise" - 3rd WriteCampaign Challenge

OK, so it's time for the third and final challenge in Rachel Harrie's Platform Building Writers' Campaign. This time the challenge was called "Show Not Tell" and was described as follows:
"Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show:
  • that it’s morning, 
  • that a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach
  • that the MC (main character) is bored
  • that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting
  • that something surprising happens.
Just for fun, see if you can involve all five senses AND include these random words: "synbatec," "wastopaneer," and "tacise."   (NB. these words are completely made up and are not intended to have any meaning other than the one you give them)."
I chose not to try to include the random words since they were optional. (Though, as a lover of Indian food, the idea of a "waste o' paneer" was troubling in the extreme...)

Without further ado...

Vacation in Paradise

Lea groaned. The moist air weighed on every inch of her body. The sun seared her eyeballs as she stared into it, out east over the water. The sand beneath her bare feet gritted. Her teeth gritted. Everything was pain and misery.

She plopped onto the ground. How much longer would she have to wait here for Jacob to return? He said he'd be back before dawn, but that had been a lie. Curse the man anyway, and his infernal plans.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Good Idea/Bad Idea Tips for Working With a Critique Partner, Part One

Something new that's been added to my writing toolbox in recent months is working with a critique partner. In years past, when I was writing, I might show a story or two to a friend or a family member. They might or might not see some things that they thought I should change.(*)  But, it was a very ad-hoc thing and I wasn't necessarily showing my stories to people in a good position to comment on stylistic flaws they might have.

(*) Once, my wife found a doozy of a typo. This was four or five years ago and I think she still brings it up from time to time. A character who had a bit of a drinking problem was trying to convince another character that he had not over-imbibed that night. "Only one or two bears, I swear!" he told the other character. Heh. Whoops!)

It's important to listen to your Critique Partner. (Photo courtesy: murielle)
A critique partner (CP sometimes from here out) can help you with any number of things about your writing, from catching the typos that have slipped by spellcheck and your own re-reading to pointing out serious logic flaws. I've put together some tips for working with a critique partner to make sure that both you and your partner have a pleasant experience. Today's installment will talk about receiving critique. The next installment will talk about giving critique. For each tip, I've put together a quick "Good Example"/"Bad Example" pair that I hope will illustrate the tips.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Links: October 16th, 2011 Edition

Hmmm... Didn't October just start? The post title claims that we're more than halfway through the month, but I'm finding that hard to believe. *double-checks calendar* Nope, that's right. Well, how about that. They do say that time flies.

Speaking of time... There are still a few days left to enter the first Kazka Press monthly flash fiction contest. One of the things mentioned in my poll was an interest in knowing about new contests and markets. Since I like flash fiction, this one definitely was of interest to me. The people running it were also very responsive when I asked for some details about rights, etc. while they were still in their "pre-announcement" mode last month. This is going to be a monthly contest, so keep an eye on their site if you like writing flash fiction.

Among everything else this week I've been doing tech support work for my wife who got to be one of the first Sprint customers with an iPhone. I must say it's a pretty slick device. I should be able to get a new phone once November rolls around, and I'll likely get one for myself. So it's not really "tech support" it's just "reading ahead" for my own iPhone usage.  :)

But enough about my technophilia. It's just a bit over two weeks until NaNoWriMo time (and I'm not, I repeat, not panicking despite being a bit behind where I'd like to be with planning). One thing I am pleased about is having coming up with my one-sentence description for my planned novel: "A young woman who has just lost her parents to a car accident would give anything to be able to change that aspect of her past, but finds herself in a position where she must protect a different element of the past to save what remains of her family."

Now for this week's links!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Turning It Off" by Susan Forest

This is the fifth entry in my Dissecting the Short Story series. If you're not familiar with the series, every other Friday I examine a short story from a recent major fiction digest magazine to see what we can learn about how the author approached creating the story.

"Turning it Off" by Susan Forest
Published in:
December 2011 Analog
Approximate Length:
4000 words
Third Person, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Poll Wrap-Up and Dissecting the Short Story Preview

Last week, I ran a poll to see what features people might enjoy me adding to my blog over time. There weren't any runaway favorites. The most votes went to Flash Fiction entries (50%) with Contests, "Posts Highlighting Upcoming Contests and/or New Markets", and "Bringing an eBook To Market, Start to Finish" each getting 37%. (People could vote for more than one choice.) The only choice to get no interest at all was more frequent link roundups.

As I mentioned in the post introducing the poll, I'm mostly looking at working some new types of content in once December rolls around. The rest of October is going to be pretty busy with prepping for NaNoWriMo and then, of course, November is NaNoWriMo itself. I suspect the first thing I'll do once December rolls around is look at doing a periodic Flash Fiction posting, possibly on the Fridays alternate to the Dissecting the Short Story Fridays.

Speaking of Dissecting the Short Story Fridays... This week is one of them! This week's story comes from the December, 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction. It is Susan Forest's "Turning it Off." If you have a copy of this magazine and want to read up on the story before Friday's posting, now's your chance!

Thanks again for the feedback both via the poll and comments on the post introducing the poll. See you all Friday!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Writing Can Be Frustrating, But Don't Let It Get You Down!

This has not been the easiest of months for me so far writing-wise. After a fantastic August and September in terms of productivity I've only had a so-so first third of October. I've managed to keep up with my daily writing for my Seinfeld Chain and my blog schedule but that's been about it. To top it off, I've also not been terribly pleased with the quality of some of what I've written. In short, there have been some days lately when thinking about writing has made me feel sort of like this...

Photo courtesy ralaenin
But I know I'm not going to get anywhere by wallowing in my frustration. So, what can be done to work through this and get back to a place of greater satisfaction?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Links: October 9, 2011 Edition

We're now down to just over three weeks until NaNoWriMo starts. The NaNo site is supposed to be re-launching with an updated version tomorrow (October 10th). So once that is live, it should be worth popping over to check out the changes if you're participating this year.

I'd be interested to know what sort of prep work any of my readers who are planning to do NaNo are doing. I know that some people do absolutely no prep at all and other people have detailed outlines, character descriptions, etc. in advance. 

Now for this week's links!

Friday, October 7, 2011

#FridayReads - October 7th, 2011 Edition

On the Fridays when I'm not dissecting short stories, I will be talking about what I'm currently reading or have recently read. I usually have three-to-five books that I'm reading at any given time, so I expect there should be a lot of different books over time that I'm able to let people know my thoughts about. These aren't going to be full-fledged reviews, but I hope that it's enough to give you an idea of what I thought about a book and whether you might like it or not.

I finished one of the three books I was reading in my last #FridayReads post. That was The Postmortal by Drew Magary. This one surprised me a bit, I had expected it to be less serious than it ended up being. I'd already noted that a couple weeks ago when I was only about 25% of the way through the book, but it got progressively darker throughout. I think it's fair to say that Magary paints pretty much a "worst case scenario" for what could happen after a cure for aging. At the same time, it's hard to really refute his general thesis that this could very easily be the worst thing to happen to humanity.

I'm also still reading Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. That one continues to be amusing, though I'm not sure exactly where it's going to end up going. I didn't think to talk about the cover last time. I love the cover to the paperback copy I have (it's the same that shows at the Amazon link above). It's got this late-50s/early-60s feel to it that which, even though the story isn't set during that time period, doesn't feel out of character with the story itself.

More (including my two new reads for these two weeks) past the jump...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Suggestions, Please?

I started this blog just about two months ago, mostly on a whim. I had just leapt back into writing with both feet and was constantly thinking about writing. Writing about that "thinking about writing" seemed like a natural thing to do.

I've been thrilled with the response. There have been over 400 comments left on the blog since I started, nearly 100 people are following it through Google Connect, and four of the posts have had over 100 views. On the one hand, that may not seem like a lot but I know that it takes a long time for a blog to build a following and this seems like a very good start for two months in.

Thinking about the future of the blog, I know that in November I'll be writing some about my experience with NaNoWriMo. I also currently plan to stick with the four posts per week schedule I've been on recently. I plan to continue the bi-weekly "Dissecting the Short Story" posts. What I'd like to know is what my readers would be interested in seeing more of and/or added to the rotation.

So, I've put up my blog's first-ever poll. It should appear at the right side of your screen (if you're using the Blogger/Blogspot interface) and it will be open (if I've done this correctly) through 12:01 AM (I think Pacific time) on 10/11. I would be very pleased if you'd provide your feedback on what you'd like to see more of on my blog. If you select "Other" it would be helpful if you left a comment below to clarify.

Thanks for a great two months! I've enjoyed reading your comments and getting to know you. And I hope that we continue the conversation into 2012 and beyond.