Tag Archives: short stories

Writing Update

To be honest, I was thinking of skipping writing a post here this week in order to work more on “Aanora” today, but then I decided to write a short update on where I am with all my writing now that I’ve become accustomed to my fulltime work schedule during the week. Actual writing at the computer (or handwritten) occurs on the weekends. Thinking and imagining occurs all the time, even when I’m at the day job. During this past week, my printer at home began sending me error messages that the ink pads were almost full which for my particular model apparently means that I need a new printer. Too bad.  I love this printer. It has served me well for the last four years. So this means that until I get the new printer, I won’t be printing out much of what I’m writing.  I usually print out a draft and do revision work by hand rather than on the computer. This could also be a motivation to hurry up and buy the new printer.

“Light the Way,” the sci fi short story whose first draft I finally finished this summer is still fermenting. I think I printed out the first draft at the time I finished it, so I could do some revision work if I get stalled on the “Aanora” story.

Clipped a nice story from the newspaper this morning about Copenhagen, Denmark, one of the settings in Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the Perceval series. I’ve discovered that Google Maps can be especially helpful in researching locations also. I’m almost to the point with this novel where I no longer feel daunted by it. Revision work could start at any time.

What has been preoccupying my mind (and imagination) though is the “Aanora” story. Yesterday I worked more on the rough outline in order to work on the second act, i.e. the Conflict/Obstacle Act. I want the conflicts and obstacles to evolve organically out of the characters (what I want with every story), so it’s been necessary to think more about who the villain is. Now I know who the villain is and what he wants, but he’s not the only obstacle in the way of the main character achieving what he wants. I realized yesterday that the main character is probably his own biggest obstacle. So this could be a challenge. I understand now that Aanora is so important because she will help the main character overcome himself. Not quite sure how that will happen yet.  I also have the climax sequence in my head but haven’t yet written it.

Working on “Aanora” has been a weird experience for me. Instead of the story unfolding through a main character scene by scene, I’ve had scenes from different parts of the story come to me.  It feels a little like my imagination has thrown a bowl of spaghetti at the wall of my mind to see how much of it will stick to it. I’m frantically trying to save all the strands to see where they fit later. Fortunately, the characters continue to intrigue me and I’m enjoying spending time with them as well.

I do miss my fulltime writing life…..

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Series vs. Stand Alone Novels

Power of Words

A little history about the Perceval series: When I first began Perceval’s Secret, I thought it was a short story.  It grew to 100 pages and I thought it was maybe a novella. I didn’t want to write a novel, but Evan Quinn had other ideas. He just kept going, so his story ended up being a novel. At the time, I considered it to be a stand alone novel. But Evan just did not want to stop which was annoying until I figured out what direction he was going and why.  Isn’t the imagination amazing?!  I realized that there was definitely a sequel to Perceval’s Secret, and as I began work on it, I realized that no, it was the second book in a series. At first I hadn’t a clue how long the series would be.  As I began to flesh out my plot and story ideas, the series gelled together at 5 novels.

CCY_PercevalsSecretCvr_FNL-960x1280.131107At the same time I’ve been working on the Perceval series, I’ve been playing with a possible mystery series but have not gotten very far with it.  The main character is a young woman who’s working for a private investigator, and the first book deals with the murder of a Buddhist monk. This was always a series, not stand alone books, although I suspect I’ll write each book as if it were a stand alone, which is what I’m doing with the Perceval series.  Then I’m working on a memoir that grew into a series of memoirs, each book addressing a different subject and my relationship to it: medical/healthcare experiences, money, love/sex, religion.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m capable of writing a strictly stand alone novel not a part of a series.

Short stories are my stand alones, I guess. Each one is so different from the last that there are no connections between them other than the form.  Short stories challenge me beyond everything else. They take me a long time to write.  I can dash off the first draft of a novel in a month or two when I have nothing else on my plate (I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had that experience, i.e. nothing else on my plate, at times in my life and I miss it).

Wish this was mine!

Wish this was mine!

The novel is my home form.  I love reading novels, the journeys through human behavior, psychology, and experience on which they take me, the characters I get to know intimately, and the different worlds a novelist creates, even those still on earth.  (I wish someone would pay me to read novels!)  I love science fiction, fantasy less so, espionage thrillers, and mysteries, but I also love a really provocative literary novel, i.e. one with a real story in which stuff happens and characters who are real people.  I’ve gone through phases.  In high school and college, I was crazy about Russian literature as well as journals (diaries).  I progressed to broadening my reading to European literature, spy novels and other thrillers, memoirs and biographies.  For a couple years, I read only mysteries. Right now, I’m alternating science fiction novels with everything else.  I’m not wild about horror stories but I’ve written them.  I’m also not wild about westerns, romance (except romantic suspense or thriller), war stories (although I do have a fascination with the effects of war, especially World War II and the Vietnam War, and spies during war), vampire stories (although I’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot), and porn or erotica.

Does it matter that I write novels in a series rather than non-series stand alone novels?  Oh, probably not.  But I do feel like it takes longer to get to the end of the story with a series of novels…..

The Professional Writer: Are you Submitting?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s summer.  We have more hours of daylight which boosts my energy.  I feel that I accomplish much more in the summer because the days are longer.  So, I went through another pile of files and papers on my desk (I have four I go through periodically) and found again the notice for the North Street Book Prize (“Your self-published book can win up to $1,500 plus expert marketing services”) that I’d printed out last March.  The deadline is June 30 and the entry fee is a somewhat hefty $50.  I’ve been debating with myself about entering this contest.  It’s been drifting in the back of my mind….

Then I read Damyanti’s take at Daily (w)rite about how men vs. women writers respond to a “positive” rejection, i.e. one that rejects the submitted work but asks to see something else the writer has written.  I’m not sure a gender difference in approach is that pronounced, actually, although I think there’s a learning curve for dealing with rejection.  Male or female.  I tend to not think too much about a rejection anymore — an editor or agent could have so many different reasons for deciding to pass on the piece ranging from disinterest in the genre to being swamped with work — unless it comes with a note of some kind.  Then I pay attention to what the editor or agent has written.  I’ll think about it for days before deciding whether or not it’s applicable, and then whether or not I’ll take action on any suggestions.

What to do if the editor/agent requests to see something else?  If I have something to send, I send it within a week of receiving the request.  As they say, “hit when the iron is hot!”  Wait longer and the editor/agent may not remember me or my work or her request.  If I don’t have anything to send, I agonize.  What to do?  Earlier in my career, I did nothing, especially if I wasn’t working on anything I might be able to send at a later date.  Now, I think I may write the handwritingeditor/agent a thank you note, handwritten, of course, and not an e-mail or text message.  I want to stand out with this person.  I want to be memorable in a positive way.  I want to begin a relationship with this person, even if it’s just the beginning of one because publishing is all about relationships, right?

Then I thought about my fiction.  What do I have completed that I could submit?  And why haven’t I been submitting lately?  What are the most common reasons for not submitting writing to editors and/or agents?

The Reasons:

  • Fear of rejection: You can’t be rejected if you don’t send anything out.  But if you’re going to be a professional writer, you need to make peace with the fear.  Confront it.  Wrestle with it.  Stand on its chest and howl.  You control your emotions and how you think about this.  You can choose to think of rejection as an opportunity to try a different market, or an opportunity to make the piece better.  An important point to remember: rejection in the writing business is NOT about the writer.  It’s about the written work that was submitted and is as impersonal as the submission process should be.
  • Fear of success: The flip side does exist for some people.  It can be just as crippling.  Success and the recognition, attention, etc. that it brings can be a very scary thing with which to deal.  Overwhelming. It’s important to have a solid network of friends and/or fellow writers who can support you and help you keep your head screwed on straight when you succeed.  It’s amazing how the confidence level increases with that kind of support.
  • Lack of confidence: This is “full of doubts syndrome.”  You just have no sense of whether or not your writing is “good” or publishable.  This is where trusted readers can be quite helpful, i.e. people whom you trust to be honest in their feedback and are good readers.  Having said that, doubt can be a good thing, too.  Doubt can be a  force behind the drive to write the best that you can, i.e. doubting it’s good enough so always looking for ways to improve the writing.  This can be taken to the extreme, however, so don’t get carried away.
  • Lack of completed writing to send out:  This is where I’m at right now.  I have a couple short stories that are sort of done but I suspect could benefit from a close reading.  I’d actually planned to self-publish them as short stories on Amazon eventually rather than submitting them to magazines.  One is a horror story (at Wattpad here) and the other a sci fi story (at Wattpad here).  Feel free to read them and leave feedback!  I also have another sci fi short story idea that pushes against my mind occasionally, nagging at me to write it.  I do have a self-published novel that I could submit to the North Street Book Prize, though.

As Damyanti says in her blog post, “Writing, and acceptance for publication are two different things. Writing is from a white-hot place of emotion, then pruning from a place of balance. Submitting for publication is just where the process ends — just like cooking ends at the table, and in someone’s stomach.”

Professional writers submit their work for publication, and they continue to write…because they must.

My "Office"

My “Office”

 

For Your Reading Enjoyment

Books everywhereI have begun an experiment.  Using Wattpad.com, I’ve uploaded two of my short stories for anyone to read and provide feedback.  This is risky.  So far no one has commented.  The quality of feedback is a big question.  But I would like people to read the stories and let me know what they think.

So, please read one or both of the stories listed below. 

The Negligee — a romance that turned into a psychological horror story.  Laura meets the younger man of her dreams.  Will she be able to protect him from Daddy?

The Light Chamber — a science fiction story for 8 to 80 year olds.  S’he has a disfiguring disease for which she seeks treatment.  What she gets gives her mind and  imagination quite the jolt

Please leave constructive criticism in the comments sections for each story at Wattpad. 

Thank you to all my readers!

First Readers

At some point, a piece of writing will be ready for other eyes to read.  I’ve not been terribly talented at finding first readers for my writing in the past.  Friends, relatives, sometimes other writers, but none of them turned out to be what I really needed: a first reader unafraid to tell me the truth about the piece of writing.

Credit: SkyLightRain.com

Credit: SkyLightRain.com

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate these readers’ time and thoughts.  Not at all.  But I realize now, I made two important mistakes, and because of that I did not get what I wanted from those readers.  Yes, it’s the writer’s responsibility to choose first readers carefully, with an eye toward love of reading, an understanding of the form (and genre if applicable) the writer has written, and the communication skills to give the writer constructive criticism.

In the past, I’ve belonged to writing groups in which we critiqued each other’s work.  I’ve been a first reader myself.  Constructive criticism plays an important role in the process.  What is it?  It’s criticism focused on helping the writer make the piece better in some way, e.g. clearer, cleaner, stronger structure, deepen character development, etc.  Comments are specific, not vague or general, like “I didn’t like that section,” or “Your character needs work.”  Specific comments jump right to the reasons why a character needs development or a section doesn’t work.  Constructive criticism is thoughtful, expressed in positive terms, specific, and supportive.

So, the choice of a first reader needs to take into account whether or not that reader knows how to critique constructively.  The next step concerns giving the reader direction or telling your reader what you want him to look for.  Does the dialogue sound natural?  Is the pace fast enough or does it sag in the middle?  Is the character’s motivations clear?  Is it suspenseful?  I know that, as a writer, I am too close to my own writing to be able to catch issues that someone with fresh, more objective eyes can.  I’m thinking now of creating a checklist for my first readers that covers structure, character development, dialogue, pace, suspense, story and plot.

Sometimes, however, the writer simply wants a first reader to read the story as if encountering it for the first time in an anthology.  The writer doesn’t want to give away what she thinks the problem might be, but see if the reader sees it.  It’s possible for a writer to see problems that really are not there.

My story, The Negligee, is ready now for a first reading by someone.  Ideally, I’d like at least two people to read it, but three or four is even better.  These people cannot be related to me (family members do not normally make good first readers) or be really close friends.  They need to love reading and to understand the basics about short stories.  They also need to know the genre I’m writing in.  The Negligee is a psychological horror story.  Which surprises me because it didn’t start out as one.  It began life as a romantic story.  Hmmmmmm…….  Well, I don’t read romances, but I do read psychological horror, so I guess my imagination steered me in that direction.

Anyway, the people I have in mind for my first readers for this story are friends who love to read, they write themselves, and they are articulate individuals and intelligent.  My next step is to develop a checklist for the story.  Send an invitation to my friends to ask if they will read the story for me.  Then e-mail them the story with the checklist.  As a last point, it’s also a good idea to give your readers a deadline.  For a short story, 7-10 days would be adequate time.  A novel would need at least a month, I think.

Finally, let your readers know how you want them to give you their feedback.  Do you want them to answer your questions in writing and send you an email?  Do you want to meet them in person and talk about it, maybe over a glass of wine or cup of coffee (your treat)?  Or maybe a phone conversation.  If you both have busy schedules, be respectful of the demands on your reader’s life, but you don’t want too much time to pass after your friend has read your story or he’ll forget everything he wanted to say.

Now about that checklist……