Friday, November 15, 2019

SharkForBrains Flash Fiction contest

This is the Don't Upload a New Operating System to Your Hardrive In the Middle of the Week flash fiction contest.

Cause, yes, that's what I did yesterday (Thursday). And oh holy helvetica did I live to regret it.

First, it takes forever. Like 40 minutes.
And the new system moved all my files.
Which means I thought they were lost for a few minutes.
I found them, but now they're in a new place, a place much less convenient, and I hate change so grump grump grump.

Also, did I mention I did this in the middle of the work day? Stupid stupid stupid.

So, I don't have a post for today, which means we're having a writing contest cause I need something to take my mind off my own idiocy.

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:
stupid
grump
dunder
dodo
snarl

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.


4. To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use this phrase: "this is your own stupid fault Janet"


5. Post your entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

6. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

7. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

8. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)


9. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.



10. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail the next day...just leave me out of it.)


11. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

12. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

13. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.


14. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: Saturday, 11/16/19 at 9:00am
Contest closes: Sunday, 11/17/19 at 9:00am

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rights board at PM

I received an offer of representation for my middle grade manuscript -- YAY! Having had a schmagent before, I'm doing more due diligence. I also joined Publishers Marketplace based on your blog advice. The agent who offered is a junior agent at a fairly young agency and according to PM here are their stats: 30 deals in the last 12 months | 21 in the last 6 months | 49 overall -- quite a few digital deals, so I'm thinking about what that means... (not the real reason I'm reaching out, but if you'd care to comment on that tidbit, please do).


Anyway, the junior agent does not have any deals listed, and, yes, I will be them asking about that. But I did see that this person has three listings on the rights board. I didn't realize PM had this sort of offering and after perusing it for a bit, I didn't recognize any other names on the board and so that has me wondering -- why would an agent post to the rights board in the first place? Shouldn't they have contacts already established with editors and so this sort of offering wouldn't be necessary? Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

The rights board at PM is an interesting backwater indeed.
I keep an eye on it ...sort of.

When I looked at it again last night, as I wrote this blog post I was shocked to my shoes to see that it's become a  place writers tout themselves! I have no idea if anyone has gotten rep from one of those postings, but I can tell you that I never go looking there for writers. My incoming queries, maybe one of the Twitter #hashpits give me all the material I need. And more.

I don't think editors use it much either.
And those that do, are generally going to select for repped material first.

But, I digress.

In answer to your question:
I posted an offering to it once about 15 years ago, when I was beating my head against the wall on a submission.

There's nothing overtly wrong with agents who post offerings there. Some reputable agents do, usually for some sort of sub right from what I could tell.

It's not a sign of anything other than the project might appeal to editors they don't yet know.

What you want to look at it is exactly what you did: what the agent and agency have sold and to whom. Where I meet editors isn't important. That they buy my stuff is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

the right word, the best word and how much can you leave out

I'm always glad to see one of you take issue with something I've said. Two reasons for that: it helps me ascertain if I made the point clearly enough; and, it gives me something to yammer about the next day.

Jennifer Mugrage's comment on yesterday's blog post caught my eye:
Naming no names, but I once had an English teacher who would have taken Revision #2 and turned it into the original.

I do feel we've lost some information in the revisions, though. Specifics about how Felix plans to stalk Steve electronically. I guess that is going in the next sentence where we find out that the Twitter handle was a decoy?

This is my problem with revising queries too. I am great at leaving out extraneous stuff, but then I'm left without any vivid details and I've left out about 80% of the plot and I honestly don't know how much of it needs to go in the query.

Initial effort
Grumpy, frumpy, jumpy Felix Buttonweezer was insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He walked to his desk, and clicked The Forti's profile where he found an email, and better yet, a Twitter handle. He created a new Twitter account and proceed to stalk Steve, intent on discovering the details of his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.


Revision #1
Felix Buttonweezer was insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He proceed to stalk Steve, intent on discovering the details of his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.

Revision #2
Felix Buttonweezer was insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He decides to stalk Steve, intent on and discovering the details of his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.



Let's look at the second part of the comment:

I've left out about 80% of the plot and I honestly don't know how much of it needs to go in the query.

Leaving out 80% sounds like a good start.

A query ONLY covers the first big choice, or change in the main character's circumstances.

I used the movie Silverado yesterday when I was talking to a writer about leaving out backstory in a query, so I'll use it as the example again.

Silverado opens with Scott Glenn being set upon by three ruffians. He kills them in a feat of gunfighting that leaves us certain he's a tough guy.

As he continues his trek, he comes across a man lying prone on the desert sands. He stops, gives the man water, and then, offers him a lift on his extra horse.

The plot starts with the man in the desert, not the gunfight.

The man in the desert is the first big change; Glenn's no longer riding alone. AND he faced a choice. He could have just ridden by and let the total stranger kick the bucket.

So, how much more of the movie would you put in the query is the next obvious question.

And the answer is I don't know.
It's hard to say this works, or  that doesn't unless it's on the page.

Which means a LOT of trial and error.

Except it's not really error. It's not error if it's not right.  It's just not right.



Jennifer's other point:
I am great at leaving out extraneous stuff, but then I'm left without any vivid details
I would offer this: vivid should describe the language, not the details.
You can be vivid about the main plot points.
It's your word choice that makes something vivid.

In my example above I revised out
lets him ride the extra horse
and replaced it with
offers him a lift on his extra horse.

I used trek instead of journey
As he continues his trek, 

I spend a LOT of time asking "is this the right word or is it the BEST word?" Those can be two different things.

I also spend time trying to use active or dynamic words: offers him a lift is much more dynamic than lets him ride. (There's probably a term for this, but I don't know what it is.)

And I hope it's sort of humorous too. To me, the artful words that convey style and humor are voice in the query.

I only find the best word when I have all the right words in place, and I can actually see which right word is tepid or passive.





Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How's your NaNoWriMo going?

November is National Novel Writing Month, and I have an inkling some of you are taking part.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is getting a certain number of words on the page by a certain date on the calender.

To accomplish that, don't stop for ANYTHING, particularly not tinkering with sentences.

Just pass directly to the comments section today and tell us how you're doing.




For those of you who are revising, the topic today is over-writing. Also known as why you have to revise even when you are insanely talented and brilliant. 

Consider:
Grumpy, frumpy, jumpy Felix Buttonweezer was insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He walked to his desk, and clicked The Forti's profile where he found an email, and better yet, a Twitter handle.  He created a new Twitter account and proceed to stalk Steve, intent on discovering the details of his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.

You really don't need grumpy, or frumpy, or jumpy. What we need to know is Felix is jealous, and that he's insanely jealous.

We don't need to know Felix walked to his desk or what he found.

We might not need to know he created a new Twitter account. This is one of those places where I take it out, then if the paragraph feels off, I put it back in.

We need to know Felix is stalking Steve and why.

 Revised:
Felix Buttonweezer was insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He proceed to stalk Steve, intent on discovering the details of his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.
You can see that taking out some of the words requires further revising:

He  proceed decided to stalk Steve, intent on discovering the details of his deal with the devil

Proceed doesn't work cause nothing has happened yet.

Revision #2
Felix Buttonweezer was insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He decides to stalk Steve, intent on and discovering the details of his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.

Revision #3
Felix Buttonweezer was is insanely jealous of Steve Forti's dexterity with prompt words. He decides to stalk Steve, intent on and discovering the details of what surely must be his deal with the devil. He must have deal, right? No one can be that deft without some sort of demonic assistance.

 It's only after clearing out all the underbrush that we can see how to really energize the sentence (the italics.)

This example is four sentences. It took about four passes, ten minutes total. You can do the math if it won't send you scurrying to the couch, weeping.


This is why you revise, let sit, revise, let sit.

You see things on that third pass that get all the pieces in the right place, and pump up the energy.

Are you doing this with your flash fiction?
Blog posts?
QUERIES?????

 I will be glad to gnaw on your delicious queries!



But really, how's NaNoWriMo going?



Monday, November 11, 2019

Flash fiction contest results

The prompt words were quite hairy this time, weren't they?


words I had to look up
Craig F: Thaumaturgy
Unknown: bothy
Efa Foy eucatastrophe

Outstanding use of the prompt word HEAT
Aphra Pell: Heart Ever Adoring and True
Craig F: (Health, Environment, and Thaumaturgy) Team
Colin Smith: Hell’s-fires at Extremely Amplified Temperatures

Why do I even try?
Thwarted AGAIN

Steve Forti!
“This is a serious accusation being leveled. You swear your innocence?

Ha! I look’a gilty sort? I eats me own, no moor.”

“What about Maxwell? He’s always been a shifty, shady character.”

D’ weezil? He n’ wood’a dun it a’lone.”

“But as you say, he’s weaselly enough. Makes for a good suspect.”

“Aye. He ate ‘em, n’ dowt. But he’n’t b reachin no hand n no jar less’un he b tolled.”

“Told by whom?”

“Hmm… ‘f I reson i’ out, I b gessin i’ were yu.”

“Me?”

“Thass’ rite. Yu stoled d’ cooky frum d’ cooky jar.”
Lennon Faris having some fun
“Next act will be from ‘Chicago!’”

“Is that their name, or hometown?”

“Wasn’t Chicago a band?”

“So it’s a person, place, or thing.”

Thing, we decided. Whatever it was, swung around the stage whipping wild hair and hailing demons with an electric guitar. At the end, it turned around, dropped its Firestone trousers, and mooned us all.

“Disqualified!” screamed Principle.

“Name?” asked the judges.

“Dweezil Henwood. Also, Sortie.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” said Principle.

Dweezil winked.

Judges whispered, then called, “Carry on.”

“What?!” cried Principle, heated.

“It didn’t breach any rules. It’s a noun, alright, but nowhere near proper.”

Special recognition
C. Dan Castro 
I am not a coward.
“Gentlemen, tomorrow’s sortie against Ploesti will cripple the Nazis.”

Some men...boys cheer.

I know I wouldn’t make it back.

“Heil Hitler? We’ll hail a firestorm down like God’s wrath.”

All the boys whoop.

It’s suicide. I’ll feign illness.

“What about air defenses?” God, he’s 18?

“Partisans with HEAT rounds’ll smash ‘em. Let us breach AA defenses.” If the partisans show.

“Gentlemen, tomorrow we end this war!”

The boys erupt, unleashing a cacophony that if the Ploesti Nazis could hear it, they’d quake.

I can’t...won’t abandon these boys.

These men.

I’m not a coward.

TS Rosenberg
Built my empire with sweat equity. Years of rice and beans. When I gazed up at the skyscraper bearing my name, I cried.

After the hostile takeover, I moved fast to the “acceptance” stage of grief. I hail from Chicago, where corruption's part of life.

Then they smacked me for breach of contract. My sortie with lawyers (Dewey, Cheatem & Howe) left me so broke I couldn't buy beans, never mind rice.

Slipped into the “disgruntled ex-employee” stage of grief.

Chicago knew something about fires, too.

I gazed up at the skyscraper. My name faded within the smoke. I cried.

John Davis Frain
The four-way is now a stoplight. I pass the theatre where my procrastination backfires. It’s a three-story condo. Lover’s Resort (i.e., Coal Mine Road) is grown over.

At Mom’s, the oak is gone. Tire swing, too.

I’m surprised when my key works. Guess it would have all this time, ten years and change.

Inside, memories hail from the walls. Mom asks if I’m here to fix the toilet. Every bone, every fibre, aches as I bend to hug her. She can’t remember my name.

I thought when you had no one, no one could hurt you. But I’m wrong, Mom.

JustJan
Unbeknownst to Pam, the new thermostat Jim installed in her mother’s apartment was a direct portal to Hell. Programming it sent her on a sortie to the land of fires, red-hot hail, and teeth gnashing.

“This is a breach of contract,” Satan wailed.

“You actually wanted my mother?”

“She’s post-menopausal and feisty--she can handle the heat.” His eyes twinkled. “Besides, most husbands don’t read the fine print when they ask me to take their mother-in-law.”

“You mean--?”

Satan giggled. “For all eternity.”

“That’s genius!”

“Pure evil! Wanna watch?”

And so Pam learned the true origin of reality TV.
Efa foy
It’s picture day and the boy breaks out in fish scales.

Peachy. Derek and his alpha-ilk will LOVE this.

He tugs at the plates breaching his flesh. They tug back.

Can we wait this out?

The bathroom door thumps—“Hon, bus’ll be here soon”—as gills blossom on his neck. Miss the bus, and he’ll have to face Dad’s switch-stiff ire.

So, that’s a no.

Even toothpaste smeared, they are stunning: Blue-green iridescent.

Maybe this’ll work?

Deep in the striations or tiers of himself, he changes, too.

This could be his eucatastrophe. At least, he’ll be visible.



I think I know who gets the nod this week, but I really like getting your opinions on who you think should win, and who your faves were, and most important, who I left out.

Results later in the day!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Meet Gage the Wonder Dog!


Hi!

I went to adopt a cat and decided to look at dogs just because and saw Gage. He strolled up to the gate and said, "Hi, I think you're here for me, right?"

I said, "Sure, my son is looking for an Aussie to work bulls."

Gage loved the cat I had already made arrangements to adopt. The cat said, "Get that beast away from me!"

So, I asked them to keep the cat until Cody could come get Gage. Cody comes to get Gage and Gage sits with his back to Cody, totally ignoring him and gazing adoringly at me. Cody whistles at him. Gage ignores him. Cody snaps his fingers. Gage ignores him.

"Mom, I think that dog is deaf."

"Oh, I don't think so."

"Yep, he's deaf as a box of rocks." Cody yells.

Gage stares adoringly at me.

"I can't take him. The bulls will run over him."

So, I acquired Gage and another family got the cat.

His name is Gage the Wonder Dog because I always wonder what is going on in his mind. I think he does too. He's very smart, just odd. He's learning sign language.


--Julie Weathers (of course!)




Friday, November 08, 2019

It snowed in Flint on Wednesday Flash Fiction contest

I talk to about a dozen clients on a regular basis (weekly most of the time) so I get weather reports from around the globe. Dubai is nice and warm as you would expect. So is Texas, if it's not under water. And California is warmer than it should be for all the wrong reasons.

But when it snows in Flint Michigan the first week of November, that's just not not good. I have a feeling it's going to be long cold winter. Well, I do have a lot of reading to do!

Let's cheer ourselves up with a flash fiction contest!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

Fires
Hail
Sortie
Breach
HEAT

(They do not have to be capped.)

(Karl Henwood suggested the prompt words.)

To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: Dweezil Henwood (but not as a proper noun)

"Hi Steve, I'm Dweezil. Nice to meetcha."


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.


4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.

Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: Saturday, 11/9/19, 5:29am

Contest closes: Sunday, 11/10/19, 9am

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?
Not yet! 

ENTER!
sorry, contest closed.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Wednesday kicked my asterisk

I'm not sure why I chose to do the killer first sentences whiparound the same day I was slated to tape a podcast, attend two meetings, and confab with two writers about revisions.

It's my own fault I'm now lying here hoping some sushi swims by.




I didn't prep a post ahead of time, and at 7:28pm I can't formulate sentences.


If you want to throw out some ideas in the comment column about how to Thwart the Fort(i) I'm open to suggestions.

He's bested me no matter how conniving and cunning I thought I was.
This is really getting embarrassing!

Help me out here!





Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Killer First Sentence Whiparound notes

These are comments on the posts from today's whiparound on first lines.

Thank you to all the writers who bravely put their work out there for a gnawing. 



Sarah G
Wheelchair-bound Michelle sees the world from a different angle, and is the first to notice her city is slowly disappearing.
As killer first sentences go, this isn't a clean kill. It's set up. The city is disappearing.

I'm also going to flag wheelchair-bound. Wheelchair user is what I've been seeing lately to describe people in chairs.


Kitty
Susie’s sixteen-year-old son told the school his mother had died.
Our assumption here is that she isn't dead.
A lot is going to depend on the next sentence.



Timothy Lowe
Hit man and part-time alpaca farmer Gabriel Garcia has got problems.
Juxtaposing hit man and alpaca farmer is funny of course, but this is too general to be enticing.



Kate
In twelve months, the supercomputer grafted to eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah’s brain will kill her.

Ok, this works.
We want to find out, instantly, what happens next.


Stothers

When his father walks out on the family, Ryan assumes it is his fault.
This doesn't make me wonder what happens next.


LynnRodz
It's a time of hope and change in France, but for Michel it's a daily struggle to survive on the streets of Paris.

This is exposition. There's no sense of urgency or tension here. Is Michel homeless? Is he broke?
Is he stranded without his passport, money, and doesn't speak French?


c. sciriha

Seventeen-year-old Maia doesn’t remember her past lives.
Why is that a problem?


Melissa
Claire Luddig needs a makeover--What Not to Wear applied not just to her clothes, but to her life.

This is exposition.
There's no tension.



Aphra Pell
Rebecca Lydney knows the death of her maid will be called a suicide - she fears a murderer is counting on it
This is a start. I'd reorganize it: The death of Rebecca Lydney's maid will be ruled a suicide; the murderer is counting on it.


Lisa Bodenheim
Landscape shutterbug, Addison McDonel, hadn’t counted on having to enter a hospital again.
No tension here. Is Addison going in to shoot photos or cause someone shot him?


Cecilia Ortiz Luna

Miguel sets out to sabotage Emily Dunhill's nomination for the Cascadia Humanitarian Prize.
I'm always interested in nefarious goings on. I want to find out what happens next.


JulieWeathers
April 1861 and the nation teeters on the brink of war.
This isn't new information.

Bringing in a character and setting up some kind of problem will help: Felix Buttonweezer turned 16 in April 1861; it looked like South Carolina was going to celebrate by seceding from the union.

Obviously Felix is not in this novel (he's not even born yet) but you get the idea.



DB

Professor Peter Wright remembers everything.
yeesh.
But, why is that a problem?


SimonFrancisDowling


With his Dad in a comma, Francis Carter finds himself reflecting on his own childhood, and the strange events that landed him in New York City.
well, this is more of a synopsis than a killer first sentence.
And I know you're typing text with your thumbs here, but Dad in a comma is really funny.


C. Dan Castro
Trisha Leiferkus read 103 degrees on the “borrowed” thermometer.
yup.



Jenn Griffin
Batty Betty finds an abandoned young boy in her woods and takes him home--for keeps.
yup


Kat Waclawik
Ryena wants to go home.
why?


Mister Furkles

Miranda doesn't want to be a witch.
yup


Richelle Elberg

A pile of dead coyotes rotting in the desert is shocking, but it’s the discovery of two bloated human bodies--hidden amidst the carnage--that really gives Detective Em Thayer a jolt.
more of a synopsis than a killer first line



Dena Pawling


The other kids on the bright-white planet call her Smudge.
yup



Cheyenne
Elowen smiled as the needle punched her skin.
needles don't punch do they?
I notice those kinds of things right away.


Fearless Reider
The first lie was Cherry’s.

yup


Megan V

If sixteen-year-old theater aficionado Murphy Doherty wants to keep her leprechaun magic, then she must grant three wishes to the next person that captures her heart.
Synopsis not an opening line




CaroGirl
A mentally-ill black man dies during a violent arrest, and a city erupts in protest.
This is so unemotional!
Don't be afraid to be vivid.

Felix Buttonweezer thought it was a game until the police officers killed him. 

Luralee
Being on display in a spiked iron cage on the hottest day of the year is painful and humiliating, but not as serious as his other problem.
yup.
Cause who doesn't want to know what that other problem is!


Four lights
Ashley should have been dead already.

yup


Sherryl and Meredith

DS Mal Forrest, on sick leave after being stabbed by an informant, is forced to return to his derelict childhood home to clear up the mess left by his dead father.
This is a synopsis not a compelling first line.

Sharyn Ekbergh 
Gloria was crying when she called to tell me Dana was gone.
this doesn't make me wonder what's going on, or what will happen next.


Colleen

Complete at 79,875 words, LOSING IT? is a thriller with the flavor of Agatha Christie and Gillian Flynn mixed in equal parts, and topped off with a splash of Stephen King.
If someone asked you about your book, is this what you'd start with?

E.M. Goldsmith
Phaedra damned herself by chasing her murderer straight into Hell.
yup

travelkat

When a misfit South Dakota farm girl discovers that her mysterious blood disorder is really the result of magic, she decides to attend a supernatural boarding school on Martha’s Vineyard to try to find a cure for her curse, but when the school is attacked by dark forces, she must choose to embrace her true nature so she can save her school and the magical creatures in it that she has grown to love.
this is a synopsis not a killer first sentence

Just Jan
All Cecilia Brown wants is to enjoy Easter dinner with her family.
This doesn't make me wonder what's going on.


french sojourn

When Col. Charles Lockhart saw the fire burning in her eyes, he bought her, forever to be his little Dragonfly.
this doesn't make me wonder what happens next

Kate Higgins
This time she was absolutely, positively going to win, this time she was going to cheat the right way
yup

Lmnoyes
It’s not that I don’t love the men I sleep with. I just don’t love them after we get out of bed, or off the couch, the rug, or wherever we’ve satisfied ourselves”
yup

Unknown
At the age of eight I ran away from home – all the way to my backyard.
This doesn't make me wonder why.


Jeanne
Schoolteacher Alison Bountiful has a little problem and he's buried in her backyard.
It says nothing good about me that this feels a little business as usual.



Kelly
Seventeen-year-old Coralie Jones thought she knew what love was.
You need something more here, something that shows us how wrong she is.


NLiu
Carmine longs to be swallowed by a black hole; she hasn't reckoned on finding one at the back of a DIY store.
yup


Jennifer Delozier
Dead men tell no tales—unless their photos hang on the walls of Cassie McConnell’s crumbling Philadelphia mansion.
yup


Fearless Reider
Franny knows she can't keep dodging the sheriff.
This needs something more.


MacCarey
Stanton Porter realizes even her latest job with a traveling circus can't help her escape the shadow of her famous artist father when she receives a postcard from him, two weeks after he died.
This doesn't make me wonder what happened, or what's going to happen next.


Jen
Autumn wants nothing more than to live a normal life, but that’s hard to do when your dad is the Grim Reaper.
yup

Curt David
Thiago is pushed through a portal to a magical world...by his father
There's no sense of why this is the problem or the start of a story.

Kregger
Twelve-year-old Calvin Jones speaks to birds.
What's the problem with that?


Margaret S. Hamilton
Widowed Lizzie Christopher is building a new life as an interior design shop manager in Jericho, a small Ohio college town.
This is set up and backstory.


Mindy

The fate of every child is cast the moment they're born

there's no sense of story here. Nothing that makes me wonder what happens next.


Sara
Rebecca wants to be a real detective, but for now, she uses her sleuthing skills for geocaching, following GPS coordinates to hidden treasure.
What's the problem?



Any questions?
-->

Killer First Sentence Whiparound

What seems like a compelling first sentence on your laptop may look, well...puny, when you send it out into the Sea of Query.



I've been marking up some memoir queries for an upcoming podcast (details to come) and almost every single query stumbled at the start.

The only way to get better is to practice, so let's.

Post the first sentence of your query letter in the comments column.

I'll take a look and make some comments about what worked, what didn't and hopefully some cogent reasons on why.

I'm not going to do a zillion of these; when there are enough I'm going to close the comments.

Comments are now closed.
To see my take on the first lines, go here

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

speaking of circuses, it's election day!

Felix Buttonweezer led the circus into town.

Felix Buttonweezer led a circus into town.


Is this on your list of nit picks nits to pick?***

What else** creeps into your manuscript, lying in wait to ambush Miss Picklepuss the purse lipped copy editor?

**(anymore/any more is mine)

***I'm really happy to have Dena Pawling's eagle eyeball








Monday, November 04, 2019

Is it worth it?

Well, fabulous Shark Queen, I have followed you here and on Query Shark for years and years. I've queries three manuscripts following your manifold best practices. And now, on number three, I'm actually getting somewhere. I've been querying for one month, I've heard back from seven agents, and three have been full requests. So thank you for that. Truly. It wouldn't have been possible without your tireless dedication to making writers not suck.

But now, the thing is, my anxiety is nonstop, through the roof, am-I-actually-having-a-heart-attack level. My heart actually hurts all day every day. When I get a full request I jump around and scream and feel undefeatable, but then in about an hour, it's back to the same. 

Is this the way it will always be? If I'm lucky enough to get an agent, will it be like this while my manuscript is on submission? Then while the editors read my edits? Then while readers give me a whole range of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads? This all only if I'm very very lucky. 

Is it worth it? I love to write. I believe in my story. But my heart! 

Please advise


No, it will not always be this way.

Right now the whole Requested Full thing is new. It's like celebrating your birthday when you were eight. You hadn't had enough birthdays yet to get used to the whole thing, or so many that you really didn't need to celebrate any more (or so many many! you wished people would stop reminding you.)

The more you do something the less jumping about both in delight and anxiety you will have.

The anxiety never really goes away, but you learn to control it.

Is it worth it?
Only you can answer that.



Readers? How do you deal with the anxiety that comes with writing/querying/waiting?  Is it worth it?



Sunday, November 03, 2019

"Trailing spouse" and other new phrases

The phrase "trailing spouse" has just blipped onto my radar.
The meaning was clear from context: the spouse without the new job that requires a relocation.

Back in the day when Dad changed jobs, Mum was just called "his wife." There was a whole wonderful company, that while intended to market services to newcomers, worked out to be a social club that welcomed ladies like Mum to the new town: Welcome Wagon. Their motto? Bloom where you are planted.

Looking back I see a lot of assumptions in that motto, but those WW ladies were awfully nice. One of them served as a reference for me when I applied for a library card. Little did she know my borrowing habits were just short of larceny, and the size of my overdue fines a source of mortification for my parents.

But I digress.

Trailing spouse was new to me.

As was the word crot.
And spirit level.

Have you come across new-to-you words or phrases lately? Do tell!

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Why do I have a fierce red dragon?


In twenty words or fewer tell me why I now have a fierce red dragon!
Post in the comment section.

No points awarded for accuracy.

Friday, November 01, 2019

affiliate buy links on author websites

What do you think about having an affiliate link to one’s own book on an author’s website? (I’m thinking specifically of Amazon, though I understand there are many other affiliate programs.) 
Would I, as an author, be a fool to leave any money on the table? Or is it bad form? 
Honestly, I’d like to earn (“earn”) money, any money, but I cringe at the thought of adding the (totally appropriate) disclosure. But maybe that’s letting some antiquated notions get in the way of earning…you know, two bucks. I’ve seen the required affiliate disclosure on many blogs, but only on one of out of the many, many author web sites I’ve looked at. (Maybe I’m missing something!) Does it matter what category one writes it—picture books versus romance, for example?


I may have had some opinions about the FTC's new regulations




but honestly now with all these "influencer driven posts" I think it's a good idea to know who's getting paid to shill for what.

You should check the regulations to see if posting what's essentially a "buy here" link to your own book requires a compliance notice.

It's pretty clear you're not paying for promotion, but what I think is obvious can sometimes elude regulation writers. (On the other hand, makers of hot air guns have to say 'do not use as a hair dryer' cause someone did, so what do I know.  Well, I know not to use a hot air gun on my hair!)***


Whether you should have links is a question only you can answer.


The ONLY proviso is you can NOT have only one link to Amazon or BN.

You must have a way for people to buy your book in an indie store.

Speaking of indies:
Several of my authors have made arrangements with the indie near them to be the supplier of autographed copies. The bookstore keeps the inventory; anyone who wants an autographed copy buys it from the store. The store calls author who skedaddles on over, signs and Bob's your uncle.

While my author doesn't make cash directly, it saves on the inevitable, "if I send you books will you sign them and send them back" routine which is a total pain in the asterisk no matter what.


I don't have links to any bookstores in the sidebars of this blog, and I stopped linking to Amazon when I mentioned books in posts, at least most of time. Now I try to link to GoodReads or the publisher's websites which offer many ways to buy the book in question.

This is a personal choice, and NOT reflective of some unspoken industry standard or expectation.

Readers, do you have affiliate links?
Any advice for our OP here?





**
    A laboratory worker was using a heat gun to heat approximately 0.5 liters of heptane in a Pyrex beaker by hand over an open bench. A splash of heptane came in contact with the elements of the heat gun, igniting the heptane and causing him to toss the beaker away from him. The sleeve of the worker's shirt caught fire. The flaming beaker landed on another work surface, spreading the fire to his computer. The worker immediately used a safety shower to put out the fire on his clothing, then used a fire extinguisher to put out the other fire. The worker received burns to his hand. The computer containing his thesis was destroyed.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

answer the question!

"This is my sixth book"


"I've had multiple books published"


"I'm an award winning writer"



When you put things like this in your query, you're not telling me what I need to know. What I need to know is:


1. Were any of those previous five books published? If not, you don't need to mention them AT ALL. If they were (any or all) see #2.


2a. By whom? You? Spanx, Spandex and Thighs LLC, a boutique publisher in Lingerie, ND? Simon and Schuster?


2b When?


3. What awards? And not just the name, but who gave it. Unless it's something well-known like the Edgar, or Hugo, or National Book Award, you need to provide details.


All too many writers try to puff themselves up to appear like big fish in the pond.

You don't need to do this.
Write a story I want to read and I don't care if it's your first book, and no one has yet recognized your obvious genius.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The opportunity cost of a long-ass novel

I receive queries for novels across category and genre that can be described as long ass.
It's a technical term as you no doubt inferred.

Long ass novels start at 200K and go up from there.

More than one unhappy writer has told me that they need every single word.
That's almost always not the case.

How do I evaluate? If can pare 10 words out of your 250 word query, I know I'll find too many words in your novel.

And while I'm cognizant of the lovely moment in Amadeus when the Emperor tells Mozart there are too many notes, you aren't Mozart, and I'm not (as yet) the Ruler of All I Survey.





So if you want me to consider a long-ass novel your query better be as taut as a blood bank dwelling mosquito.

The other thing you need to consider: if your novel is twice as long as most trade novels
(ie 170K/2 = 85K)
you're asking me to take you on instead of two other not-long-ass novels.

Instead of signing two novels of 85K each, I'm signing one.

Which means I think about whether I can get enough money for your book to make up for the lost income of the one I'm NOT going to sign.

Opportunity cost is what it costs to NOT do something.
And it's measured in dollars and cents.

A long ass book means you're asking for a lot of reading time, and editing time.
It's also asking me to take a bigger risk than normal.

That's one of the reasons word count can be a deal breaker.

I'm not saying don't write a long book. I'm saying understand why you're going to be scrutinized much more closely for taut writing than other books. And why word count is a deal breaker for most agents.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What you write vs what I read


What you write: My book has no comps. There's nothing like it.
What I read: I haven't done any research whatsoever and if I don't know about it, it doesnt exist.


What you write: The audience for my book is women 18+ and up.
What I read: I don't understand anything about how/why readers choose books.


What you write: I intend to produce 10+ novels in the next three years.
What I read: I don't intend to write them of course. Plagiarism is so efficient.


What you write: Enclosed please find...
What I read: I'm old school to the point of writing things that don't actually make sense any more.


What you write:  If you ignore this email you are really going to kick yourself when the book is a best seller.
What I read: I'm an idiot.


What you write: I'm querying you for dino porn. Given your interest in thrillers, I thought you might be interested.
What I read: I can't proofread for shinola.


What you write: This is a project that will be easy to sell!
What I read: I don't know a damn thing about selling, and I won't value any of your skills and expertise cause your job is so easy any Girl Scout could do it.




Monday, October 28, 2019

The Scary Flash Fiction contest results-FINAL


I don't know why I even try! But every week, I think "I bet this will stymie Steve Forti!" Only it NEVER does. Even when he was on vacation, he posted. This is taking on the hallmark of an epic battle, only I'm on the wrong side!!


Steve Forti 5-The Shark 0

Amanda used one of my favorite words!
Hornswoggle


Three great opening lines:

Jennifer DLozier
’Twas the night before Christmas and Santa was sloshed.

C. Dan Castro

Hiding in a stall, holding my wireless microphone, I don’t croon the standards.

Kregger
The elevator stopped at the gates of Hell.


These two sentences really caught my eye
Lauren B.
The patron saint of unmarked graves.

C. Dan Castro
Leave it to Satan to ruin another karaoke night.


The pun in this is pretty darn funny 
Colin Smith


If I wondered about my ability to make writers crazy
Just Jan's entry reassured me

Hat tip to Peanuts!
LynnRodz







Here are three terrific entries, clear finalists EXCEPT I didn't get them.
(Enlightenment welcome!)

Kregger
The elevator stopped at the gates of Hell.

Out walked a novelist, a comedian, and an Abuela.

The novelist approached Satan. “I don’t belong here. I drew from life’s experiences. I only nicked an idea…maybe two.”

The comedian warded his chest. “Everything’s a joke. I went to the john and ended here.”

Both men disappeared in a flash of light.

The Horned-One turned his eyes to the older woman. “And what is your story, mi kea?”

She blushed at the endearment. “My crime is, worst of all.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she whimpered. “I forgot to change.”
Illumination from the source!

Kregger
This story relates to last week's post on what makes a story. Not including change and twists disqualifies our stories which becomes a sin of and/or omission. Thus the trip to Hell.

Jay Leno expressed the idea...if the audience buys the piece, they will buy the bit. In this case, the setup/piece is a classic three people walk into a bar joke followed by the punchline of a character (writer) ending up in Hell (also known as rejection) for not changing.

As Colin has said, (paraphrasing) sometimes utilizing the prompt words is easier than making it a story. Of which, I'm in total agreement.

Thank you for the mention, and good luck to all the finalists. 


flashfriday


She’d reworked (how naughty! sweet first: scones and clotted cream) the dragon’s riddle a hundred times (plates heaped with mozzarella and salami kept filled), but there was (chianti chilled in a dewar) definitely something tricky (darn icky, actually—sorry, not you, curry chicken on brioche) about this one.

Maybe (truffles or tiramisu?) it was his wording (fine, both), or maybe her (champagne!) inexperience.

But here, the dragon was clearly raj (oh, now cappuccinos?!) and she the humble peon (extra whip please).

“I can’t solve it,” she said in despair. “I’m just too full.”

“Yikes. Awful!” said the dragon. “Mint?”


KDJames
Their names are a blur, every Tom, Dick and Harry who drew me into the game with slick praise and sly hands.

My memory's selective, skipping fast-forward past needy johns and the thin joints nicked to endure them. Skimming past getting miked up for the cops that time, to nail a murderous rat bastard.

Here on Ward 5, that's all distant--

"Hey, baby," I say, "want to party?"

Just another sad old dame whose past is--

"Check it out, lover."

Who can't remember--

"Got your sugar right here, hon."

--why reciting these lines is hauntingly familiar.
illumination from the source:
KD James
Ahhh, I was going for subtlety and instead totally missed the mark (which I suspected but posted it anyway). Oh well. She's an aging prostitute with dementia, living in a care facility. She remembers some things well enough to *know* her memory is missing a few details, but other things are a complete blank. Like why it feels familiar to solicit the attention of men.

What I learned: It's difficult to convey memory loss in a first person account without some kind of framing or context.

This is just frain funny

John Davis Frain
 Mike, police procedurals, drew the short straw, so our critique group will act out his story to find flaws.
I hit the john, load my Beretta, ready to raise the stakes. Ward, horror (writing and life), joins me enthusiastically.

Drew is new, yet, ironically, historical. He’ll acquiesce.

Nick, noir, is a guest, so a mystery. Replaces John, who escaped in the nick of time. We’d pushed him toward the brink of insanity when we cosplayed his best-selling Dyin’ Eyes.

We enter the gritty sheets of chapter one when I drop the mike.

I’d tell you what happens next – but I’m suspense.



Here are the entries that caught my eye
Samara Lo
Min stalked past shrivelled mummies and cracked urns. She’d loved old and broken things. Loved them so much she’d married a fossil who got thrills from geochronologic names like aegean and animikean. His passion had ensnared her, until she’d discovered he was digging another site before the dust had settled on her wedding dress.

She stopped at the 100 carat diamond looted from a raj.

“Oh no, not looted,” he would’ve chided. “Museums acquire.”

She snickered and withdrew. At 0300 she’d be “acquiring” the sparkling reward in his name. Surely his future inmates loved old and broken things.

I love the "not looted/acquired" play here. How we view things, the words we use do indeed show our view of the world.

And that she's set him up to take the fall is so subtle and elegantly hinted at, I just wriggled.

This is lovely work.




Fearless Reider

“Who put a nickel in her?” groused the coroner.

“Rookie. I drew the short straw. Hasn’t quit moving since we got here.”

We sucked at stale coffee and watched her flit.

“The lock’s been johnnied!”

“Uh... jimmied. Devoured, I'd say.”

"Something's in his throat, Mike!”

I reached in. Drew out a bloody phone. “Fetch me that thumb.”

Click.

Dear God. My stomach heaved upward.

Dr Agnt

U up?

Cant wt 2 tl u abt my nw fction nvl
Almst cmplt @397,666 wds

Call me

— Ishmael

“Welcome to the QPD, kid. We're done here.”

No jury in the world would convict.

this is just so damn funny, who could resist.

And the subtle QPD makes me laugh every time I read it.
Get it? Get it??


Smoketree
Long ago, three witches lived in a crumbly cottage in the middle of a wild wood. Their names were Drewsilla, Johnevre, and Mike. Each of the witches had spiders for hands, and at dusk they would crawl out of the crumbly cottage to spin thick, sticky wards around the property line. These were so strong and so slick that nothing could pass in or out. Later, over cake, they reminisced about their dear, departed sister, Nicklementine. The cake was soon finished.

Not quite so long ago, two witches lived in a crumbly cottage in the middle of a wild wood.

 Starting with the names: this just cracked me up. I LOVE the juxtaposition of the overly mannered names with Mike. 

And then, everything is unsaid. The beauty and elegance of this is that you know, you can just SEE what happened.

I really loved this. Spare, elegant. Hilarious. Terrifying.


Lenon Faris
When I reach the middle, 156 cars have passed me. Last year, I promised myself if someone stopped, so would I.

I’ve wizened up.

Nobody pauses now, anyway. Busy, busy. That’s all.

I reach my old spot. In the pre-dawn grey, fog rolls beyond my toes. Thrill. And terror.

A noise, sideways –another silhouette draws towards the edge.

I run.

“Wait –what’s your name,” I ask. Mike? I’m Drew. I tell Mike about John, my nick-of-time friend.

We call Mike’s sister. Sister arrives —hugs, tears.

I decline their ride. 219 cars pass me.

“See ya tomorrow,” I tell my bridge.

Ok , please tell me you all noticed wizened up, and that it "should be" wised up??
Except there's an implied physical toll with wizened up, which I loved.

And this kind of story just grabs my cold sharkly heart.


Kate Higgins
I live in an old, sort-of-furnished, 3rd floor walk-up.
All my books are soldiered in an ancient wardrobe, much roomier than the shelf in the john
or the origami-keeping-knick-knack-dust-collecting bureau in the hall.

The last someone left one book behind.
The book always stuck out.
It would never stay even; it was like the other books withdrew from this pariah and shunned it.

I never read it, but I kept it.
I kept it as a guarantee.
The old gold-printed spine read, "The Last Book You'll Ever Read!"
I kept it as a guarantee.
and I never read it.

"all my books are soldiered" is such evocative writing I want to pet it.
 "origami-keeping-knick-knack-dust-collecting bureau in the hall" is pinpoint perfect description.
Notice there's no reference to what it's made of or what color it is. So often writers default to brown wood (for example). 


And the repeated phrases at the end.

Well, face it, this is Kate Higgins. We have come to expect brilliance.She makes it look easy, but every writer knows these little flash fiction things are anything but.




Delaney
“Dudley,” Squire Johnson said, “we are beyond grateful that, once again, you have saved our daughter in the nick of time. My wife and I cannot fathom why disasters have beset Luella since we came to the East End. You seem the only man who can keep her safe.”

Dudley doffed his cap. “Glad t’ be o’ service, yer worship.”

He withdrew, rounded the corner, and rewarded the ruffian waiting for him.

“Y’ want another near-thing tomorrah?” the ruffian asked. “Runaway ’orse? Viper, mebbe?”

“Aye,” Dudley said, “’e’s ‘bout ready to ’and ’er over, s’mike it a good ‘un.”
 Well of course any entry with a ruffian has my immediate interest. 
And a horse.
And a VIPER!!

And what made this entry just so damn wonderful is how the writer used vernacular to incorporate a prompt word to mean something entirely different: s'mike (so make.)

This is so deft I expect occult forces may have been brought in!



Amy Johnson
“That’s what makes a story a story,” she said into the mike.

Leaving the conference, she detected the fire twenty-three blocks away. She ducked into a portajohn and SWITCHED into her superhero suit, then flew toward the flames, drew in a super breath, and blew out the apartment fire, saving everyone there.

Then, she thwarted thugs attempting to nick women’s purses, REPLACED a stranded motorist’s tire, and, having no spare COINS, dropped a twenty into a man’s cup.

The feline met her at the front door, paws crossed. “You’re late. What’s your story?”

“I’m afraid I don’t quite have one.”
This entry wins the Duchess of Yowl Seal of Approval.

And mine for thwarting thugs!
 
It's also hilarious, and deft.








Let me know who I overlooked, what I missed in the stories I didn't get, and which of the shoutouts is your choice.


Final results later today!


And here it is: later.

I read these over again, and this week's prize goes to Delaney. All of the entries are wonderful, and I found a lot to admire in them.

Delaney, if you'll drop me a line with your mailing address and what you like  to read, I have some really good books to offer as prizes.


Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and enter, and those who commented this morning.

I love hearing your thoughts on these! 



Friday, October 25, 2019

It's a scary flash fiction contest!

I'm chortling with glee as I contemplate another attempt to thwart the Fort(i).
Guess what costume I"m wearing for Halloween?


 The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:
john
nick
drew
ward
mike


To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must : NOT use any of the prompts as a proper name (not for a person, or place).

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.


Contest opens: 7amam Sat 10/26/19

Contest closes:9am Sun 10/27/19

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock



If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!
ENTER!
rats! contest closed!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What is "not a story"

Thank you for writing such a helpful blog! I've learned a lot about the industry from you, as well as gained more confidence in myself (in spite of being a mere woodland creature). I've been following you for a while, though I tend to lurk more often than I participate in the comments.

I also really love reading the flash fiction entries because I learn a lot from your comments on them. One thing you say often for the honorable mentions is "not a story, but..."

Perhaps it's too obvious to write about it and I just need to do more homework, but I think it would be helpful if you explained what makes one entry a story and another not, even though they're both compelling. In longer form stories it's clear: there's a beginning, middle, and end with characters making choices that lead to growth. But in such short entries, there usually isn't an ending necessarily, and yet this one counts as a story and that one doesn't. Why?

I feel very small asking you to explain this, but it would be very helpful to me.

Thank you, and please forgive my running on my hamster wheel.



This is actually a very good question.
Let's use last week's contest for the examples.

There were three entries that got "not quite a story".

Here they are:

Not quite a story, but delightful, and oh by the way have you read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.

TS Rosenberg

"Welcome, folks! Here on the - "
"Whoa, the moon's GINORMOUS."
"Is Alaska down there? Wave to Grandma in Fairbanks, kids!"
"Hi, folks! Yes, the view is amazing, but first - "
"What's that sprawling green blotch? A holt?"
"The Sumatra rainforest. It's on the Algerian/Syrian border."
"Folks, please listen!"
"This place is too full of tourists."
"Duh, everyone’s a tourist up here."
"Everyone shut up, or I'll open the airlock and we'll all be sucked out! That's better. Welcome, folks! Here on the ISS observation deck, four panes of glass lie between us and the vacuum of outer space...."


I liked the energy and verve of the writing a lot.

It also uses one of my favorite premises: tossing miscreants out the airlock to keep the peace. I first heard this premise in the book I mentioned: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.

So, what would make this a story?
If the tour guide did push someone out of the airlock.
Only when something changes or gets revealed (as in a twist, the best kind of reveal) is it a story.


Not quite a story but inventive!

Anu Roy

You won’t know me. My name conjures up nothing. A blank. You stare at me all day but yet, don’t notice me. So let’s talk about me.

Because, well, it’s bloody entertaining.

To be fair, I can bank on the fact you think I’m useless. But if I disappear, you’ll lose your holt on English.

You see the space between words. In every sentence. Yup, that’s me. The name’s Blank.

I’m done being futile. Now, I have a mission – distancing two warring worlds. Putting space between them. See what I did there.

So I’m off to the Algerian/Syrian border.

Kindahardtoreadwithoutme,right?


I'm a total sucker for entries about punctuation, grammar and word play so this is right up my alley.

BUT, like TR Rosenberg above, no one goes out the airlock. Nothing changes, nothing is revealed. There is no twist.

What would have made this a story?
Finishing up the thread of the Algerian'/Syrian border in some clever twisty way.



Not quite a story, but holy moly,

Colin Smith

She was an Algerian/Syrian borderline psychopath. At least that’s how she introduced herself at the speed dating table. The space between us felt uncomfortably small.

She picked up a pencil and asked what I did.

“I’m a banker,” I said shuffling my chair, making the space bigger. “What about you?”

“I hunt,” she said, fixing me with thirsty eyes, testing the pencil point on her thumb. “In the holts.”

“Fair enou—” The pencil flashed by my face. I turned. An impaled roach fell to the floor.

“Call me,” she said, sliding her card.

I did.

Twenty years ago today.


Colin's always got something interesting going on.

This isn't a story because the fact that she's an Algerian/Syrian borderline psychopath (one of the great uses of prompt words) has no further reveal. There's no twist of expectations or events. 





The other thing to remember when reading these flash fiction entries and my comments, is that this is all entirely subjective, and not just cause only one person is commenting. Comments can also depend on mood, and time of day. 


There is no gold standard on what makes a story good, but what makes something a story is a change, or a twist or a reveal.



When you're writing, ask yourself: what has changed here? It can be something for the character, OR something for the reader.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

My WIP is a fluke

Dear QOTKU,

Hope you are well! The combination of my well-trodden rodent wheel and the recent blog post on  "how do you know what you are meant to write?” has brought on another round of spinning that’s resulted in lost sleep rather than lost weight.

See, the upside of not having anybody expect anything from me as a writer is that I can write whatever my brain decides is convenient. I regularly write across genre and category—I know, I know, bad me—but I’ve stuck within the realm of kid lit and have found that I tend to stick to contemporary fantasy, so it’s really not that much of a stretch. It helps that read widely in both categories and writing whatever pops into my head brings me joy.

Then along came this idea…

Suddenly, I began researching things. I, the perpetual plantser (to use a Jeff Somer’s term) developed a massive outline. I even wrote a fake query in advance! I was caught up in the whirlwind of planning like I’ve never planned before. Yes, this diabolical mystery concept sunk its hooks in deep.  But it’s not kid-lit. Not one bit.

Thus, after a hastily scribbling out a first chapter, I put off writing it. And I kept putting it off. I threw myself into daily life and other projects and swore I’d forget about the idea. But then someone from Writing Group A as well as a CP asked me about it (creepily in sync).  I dithered, prevaricated, and hid…before turning to Writing Group B and asking if the POV I used for *terrible* first chapter worked because, well Writing Group B won’t lie but they won’t hit me with a sledgehammer either. The answer was a resounding yes. So I sent off chapter to Writing Group A and CP, and didn’t give much thought to it, until my e-mail started exploding with messages from members of both Writing Groups and my regular CP clamoring at me to send along chapters as I write them. In short, they’ve turned into Audrey II (and I’ve been diligently writing to satisfy their demands).

I’ve never had this kind of reaction before. Not once in ten-odd years. At least, not to this degree.

And I’m petrified.

Because I’m 99.9% certain that this WIP is a fluke. I’m probably not going to write anything else like it because, well, frankly I don’t want to write anything else like it.

The problem is that I still want to query it when it’s finished( especially if I don't secure rep from other WIP in my usual wheelhouse that is much farther along in the process). Which brings me to the question of the hour:

How should a writer handle querying a novel that doesn’t mesh with what they typically write and isn’t what they plan to write in the future?

Here is a story answers your question:

It rained for 40 days and 40 nights.
In other words: Portland.

But in Buttonweezerville, the amount of rain was unusual and the river rose dramatically in protest. Flooded hill and vale for miles around.

Augustus Krump, Buttonweezerville's self-anointed grand high poobah of God's Yardstick Squad (happy to comment when you are Not Measuring Up), lived in a small white cottage on the bank of the disgruntled river. His front yard was underwater by Day Seven.

His neighbors, who didn't much like him, but knew their duty, called to say they'd come get him in their spiffy baby blue Amphicar 770.

yup, this is a real car

No no! Gus didn't want to get in something so weird and new. Anyway, God was going to send angels to carry him to safety.

The water rose, and by Day 14 had covered the first floor of Gus' cottage.
Gus retreated to the attic, taking only his autographed Bible (purchased from the True Man of God Radio Show, broadcast live from Pikyapoket, Texas), his long suffering poodle Holy Roller, and a gallon of hooch (for medicinal purposes only.)

The water did not abate.
On Day 21 Gus, Holy, and the bible clambered onto the roof.
(The hooch had mysteriously disappeared.)

A fishing trawler chugged by.
The captain waved "we have room, come on board!"

No No, Gus was afraid of boats, particularly ones with a lot of wet bedraggled hungry people in them. Besides, angels from God would soon lift him to safety.

Another day passed. Gus was getting hungry. Holy too, and eyeing Gus in a way that was starting to feel like the wrong kind of devotion.

On Day 28, another boat came by.
The captain waved "we have room, come on board!"

No No, angels are nigh!

Holy wondered if a dyslexic god was included in the rescue plan.

Another day passed, then another.
The waters kept coming.

By Day 35 Gus was hallucinating from hunger and thirst. He saw huge metal birds in the air, and a man carrying a pitchfork swim by. He found a huge lifesaver but it tasted of plastic so he threw it away.

The waters stalked on.
Over the roof. Over the chimney, over the weather vane on the barn. Almost to the top of the dale  where Gus had lived.

Had, of course, because Gus drowned.
Holy, no fool, had jumped from the roof and barked down a boat back around Day 30.

And just as he expected, Gus went straight to heaven.
He wasn't as happy about this as you'd have thought.

Lord, he huffed and puffed, I've followed you all my life! Where was my salvation?

"Gus," said the Lord a touch acerbically because God is all things and that can include frustrated.  "I sent three boats, a life preserver, two helicopters, and Aquaman. You refused them all."

Oh said Gus, woebegone. I didn't know that was my salvation.

"Gus my son," said the Lord. "What did you think they were?"



The moral of this story is: recognize opportunity when it swims by.

PS Holy Roller is now happily ensconced on Aquaman's couch.

PPS Your WIP is not a fluke. It's a breakthrough. You don't know what the future holds. Proceed. Deal with any bridges ahead only when you're standing on them.