Entering a Local Short Story Contest

 

Every year, our local library holds a Short Story Contest. I’ve entered for the last three years, and have yet to place.

I’m considering entering again this year, just for the practice.

But I don’t write short stories. I never have.

I write novels, so writing a short story, for me, is a bit of a challenge. I’m also a “panster” which makes it even more challenging. Without an “outline,” it makes it much harder to wrap up a story in 2500 words or less.

I write women’s fiction, and women’s fiction differs from most other genres. Without completely sounding like I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ll try to explain what I mean: women’s fiction isn’t necessarily trying to “solve a problem,” as in conquering the neighboring tribe, or saving the planet from the comet headed straight for it. Women’s fiction tends to be about “relationships.” It isn’t as cut and dry as some other genres, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that at all. I just don’t can’t write those other genres without sounding like a 4th grader wrote it (no offense to the 4th graders out there).

Women’s fiction is different in that it’s character-driven. There’s still a problem to solve, sometimes many, but it’s painted with a much broader brush, at least the way I write. My characters are flawed and their flaws are what drive the plot.

So, back to the short story.

First, condensing a story to 2500 words is daunting for me. That means that I need to come up with a premise that can basically be solved in one and a half chapters! What?! That’s when things usually just get going in a women’s fiction novel, not resolved!

Thinking of something that fits into that box is really, really hard for me.

I’ve tried using writing prompts, but have yet to find one that inspires me. I’ve tried different genres, but I really can’t write fantasy or SciFi…I just can’t.

But, like most writers, I like to bang my head against the wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be a writer. (Writers will understand that). I’ll keep trying. I’ve started 3 short stories so far that have fallen flat. I still have until July 31st to submit my entry. It isn’t impossible, just improbable, and I can work with those odds.

What about you? Have you ever tried to write something different than you’re used to? What got you over the hump?

Explaining Being a Writer to Friends and Family

 

I should start by saying that I have not yet published a novel. I’ve published poetry and articles, but I haven’t hit the mother lode yet.

Explaining being a writer to friends and family can be frustrating and humorous.

First and foremost, unless they are writers themselves, they don’t understand the process, the time commitment, or the frustration that comes with wanting to be a published novelist.

Every time I talk to my mother she asks me “Are you going to get this one published?” as if I just need to walk down to the local bookstore and hand them my book. I would love to tell her, “Yes! It’s going on shelves next week!” But when I try to explain that it’s completed, and that it really isn’t “finished” just yet, I hear silence on the other end of the phone. She doesn’t get it. It isn’t her fault, she just isn’t a writer and doesn’t understand that writing is a process.

Truth of the matter is, aside from the initial completion of a novel, most of my non-writer friends and family could care less. Some of them ask about it from time to time, but then glaze over when I bring up editing, or second drafts, or the nature of the business. They don’t really want to know.

Even my own husband has only read one of my early novels. In fact, when I was teasing him about not being interested in what I was writing, he insisted that he was interested, and that he’d read my book. That was 3 manuscripts ago! If it was me, I would want to know what my partner was writing about: am I in it? Is the psycho man-hater character modeled after me? What sort of personal stuff did you put in there? But not him. I guess I should consider myself lucky on that note. I could write a whole book about him and he’d never know it until it was on the shelf of Barnes and Noble. Hmmmm…maybe…nah, I wouldn’t do that. But the point is that I could, and he’d never know.

The truth is that writing can be a lonely business. People won’t understand what you do. They won’t understand the effort you put in to character development, and structure, and plot. They won’t understand what’s taking so long to get your book published. They won’t understand that just finishing a first draft is an accomplishment in itself, even if it never gets published. And writing a second or third novel is even more impressive.

So if it seems like you don’t have the support of family and friends when you’re writing, don’t give up. Those same family and friends will be there when your book goes on the shelf. They might even buy a copy…maybe. They may even open it up and read it just to see if they’re in it.

Don’t worry about finding an answer when they ask if you’re book is published yet. Just tell them it’s in the works. Because it is…the moment that first word is written, your great novel is in the works.

More writing and less explaining!

Besides, the writing community gets it.

Do you have a creative way that you explain writing to your friends and family? I’d love to hear it.

Head-Hopping is Making My Head Spin!

 

There are hundreds of rules when writing a novel that a writer has to follow to get through the slush pile. Rules that I would venture to say most readers have never heard of (unless they are writers themselves).

Head-hopping seems to be the LATEST ‘NO-NO’ on a really long list of Taboos that writers MUST follow. But even a lot of editor’s CAN’T AGREE on when it occurs, especially in Third Person Omniscient POV, which is the POV I generally use. So how am I supposed to avoid it when I can’t even get a straight answer?

Head-hopping is my biggest pet-peeve and is probably why I will never be published. Head-hopping is when the writer suddenly changes the character point of view. There are obvious instances, but it’s the subtle changes that trip me up. I just don’t see it.

As a reader, it doesn’t bother me, or at least it didn’t until I heard about it.

I read a book and if I like it, then fabulous! And chances are, I have probably run across lots of head-hopping and never even noticed.

Take apart any work of fiction and you’re going to find it: Stephen King, Hemingway, Nora Roberts…the list goes on. They’ve all been guilty of head-hopping and survived the critics. The caveat I’ve heard is “that they’ve done it well, and the reader doesn’t even notice.” Huh?

But it’s supposed to be a cardinal rule! A giant mistake! It will get your manuscript tossed in the trash can at the first instance (or so I’ve read).

Here’s the way I look at it (and I’m probably wrong, so don’t listen to me – I’m not published):

Head-hopping is a guideline…A GUIDELINE. There are lots of editors and bloggers that will tell you that it’s a cardinal sin and will ruin your career before it’s even started. And they may be right. I mean, they’re the gatekeepers, right? They make the rules and as writers we have to follow them. But like I said before, even THEY can’t completely agree on it!

I understand that they are just doing their job, following their protocol. I’ve just gotten so frustrated with the publishing process lately. As soon as I think, “okay, I’ve got this,” I find out something else that I’m totally missing. Getting published seems further and further away every time I go deeper into that rabbit hole.

Back to the drawing board.

Head-Hopping…Ugh!

What’s your two cents on head-hopping? And if you aren’t a writer, have you ever noticed it when reading?

Writing Without Fear

 

My latest WIP has been a bit of a challenge. I’m a panster, not an outliner which can be both freeing and completely stifling.

I usually start with an idea for a character, or characters, and then build a story and plot around them. I know, it’s backwards, but it’s the way my brain works.

I’ve started my current WIP three different times.

First, the plot wasn’t strong enough, so I set it aside. But the characters kept talking to me, and telling me they had a story to tell.

So I picked it up again. I tried changing the plot and making it more appealing, and it seemed to be working for a while. But it was still missing something and I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I set it down again.

The third time I picked it up I realized that the story was focused around the wrong character. I was trying to make a supporting character the protagonist. One of the side characters had a much better story to tell and made a much better protagonist: the kind you want to root for even when you know they’re going to fail miserably.

So I started over…again.

I also decided to write with a different approach. No editing. No rereading. Just keep writing. I know that means there will be a LOT more editing at the end, but it’s been kind of fun writing without fear.

I’m also writing completely prepared to cut out scenes, even chapters if necessary. Many times, as writers (or at least it’s this way with me), we’re reluctant to take out scenes, especially the ones that we really love. We don’t want to let go of them. But this time I KNOW there is going to be changes, and I’m good with that. Sometimes as I’m writing a particular scene, I may have an idea that it may not make it to the final cut. I’ve even found myself thinking “that doesn’t fit there” or “that chapter really sucked.” But I just keep writing.

This WIP has turned into a sort of writing exercise in free writing. Who knows if it will work? I’m not sure what I’m going to gain from it, but I’m not afraid even if the whole thing needs to be scrapped. As long as I finish it, then I will have reached my first goal.

Writing without fear may turn into editing without fear.

What do you do when a WIP isn’t working? Do you scrap it or do you try to re-work it? Are you a panster or an outliner?

Organizing Fail

Nothing drives me more insane than being unorganized. Sometimes it can’t be avoided: like that pile of school papers sitting on the kitchen counter of upcoming events (there’s only so much that will fit on the refrigerator), or the pile of bills waiting to be paid. I’ve learned to accept that some things just don’t have a place every moment.

But then there are the things like chargers and ear buds that are strewn across table tops and desks. THOSE things drive me nuts!

At first I sewed this clever organizer that had a little strap for each item, then the entire thing could be rolled up and tucked into a drawer nicely. Thank you, pinterest. I thought I’d solved the problem. Every cord and charger would have a neat little home. Boy was I wrong! I think my family used it maybe once or twice. And I was STILL the one picking up the cords and putting them away, only to have them strewn across the table hours later.

Big Fail!

Next, I saw another pinterest post where they had used empty mint containers for the earbuds, and a clever box with a section for each charger – each section was even labeled. Genius, right?

Again…FAIL!

See, there’s one thing that all the organizers don’t tell you about those ingenious organizing ways…EVERYONE HAS TO ACTUALLY USE THEM for it to be effective.

Everyone has to be on board and feel as passionately about organizing as the one who made the fancy organizer.

My family, the ones who use the earbuds and chargers, do NOT share in my passion. It doesn’t bother them to have to hunt for their chargers and earbuds, and then untangle them to use them. Of course, these are the same people who consider the floor as a very low shelf!

So after many different trial and error options, my ingenious organizing solutions? A BOX! That’s right…a plain old box. Actually it’s one of those photo boxes from the craft store that was on sale for $2.50. And I didn’t have to put in ANY effort to make it!

So far it’s working out great. They just have to roll up the cords, and toss it into the box – no effort whatsoever! And I even threw in a few empty mint containers for earbuds. They can choose to use them or not. But the best part is I DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT THE MESS ANYMORE!

Wanted: Literary Agent

I received another rejection for my manuscript today. I’ve heard that’s supposed to be a good thing, that you should file your rejections away somewhere so that you can learn from them. But it still stings, and is very frustrating. Sometimes I wish there was a sort of “dating” website for literary agents.

I wish I could place an ad, send it out to the literary universe, and then wait for the agents to find me.

Wanted: Literary Agent for dedicated writer. Women’s fiction writer seeking agent for long and profitable relationship. If you represent character-driven, female-centric stories, please contact me. No sparkly vampires, no over-the-top supernatural plot lines. If you like flawed characters that fight with their inner demons, or females who join forces to make their lives better, then let’s talk.

But, sadly, that’s not the way it works. It’s not that I haven’t done the research, because I have, and will continue to do so. But the odds of finding the RIGHT agent that represents what I write AND that is accepting new clients AT THE VERY MOMENT that I query, seems more and more to be a real luck of the draw.

I appreciate all of the “How I Found My Agent” posts that I read, but they really aren’t very helpful, because finding an agent is such a unique and individual experience. Sure I can learn from someone else’s experience, or their mistakes, but the odds that their unique situation will be remotely similar to mine are rare. Not to mention that most of those posts or articles are written by people that got an agent within their FIRST FEW queries. Rarely do I read one that says, “After 175 (or more) queries, I finally got an agent.” THAT’S the story I want to hear.

I know this is just a fantasy, because, let’s face it: most agents aren’t looking through the want ads for new authors to represent. They don’t have to. They have more than enough authors seeking them. They’re like the hot guy on Tinder who gets swiped more times than he swipes. It’s just a fact. The “slush pile” is real.

But it’s sort of fun to pretend that a literary agent would actually be seeking me. A girl can dream, can’t she? I’ll keep reaching for the brass ring until I find my perfect match.

Jane & Maria – 2nd Installment of the Coffee Shop Vignettes

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Maria wrapped her hands around her coffee cup to warm them.

“So, tell me…how did it go?” Jane asked Maria, as she handed her son a coloring book and some crayons, and moved her coffee out of his reach.

“I’m not sure,” Maria said.

“Well, was it a good interview? Do you think you gave the answers they wanted?”

“I’m not sure,” Maria said and slumped back in her chair.

“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad,” Jane tried to be encouraging. She turned to her son, “No, no…only in the book…not on the table.”

Maria smiled.

“It’s just that it’s been so long since I’ve been out of the workforce, you know?” Maria said.

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t matter that much. You have the experience they’re looking for.”

“Yeah, but from 200 years ago!” Maria said and laughed.

Jane laughed at Maria’s exaggeration.

Maria sighed. “I don’t know. Part of me is excited to go back to work now that the kids are in school full time, but the other part of me wants to be home for them. I hate the idea of sending them to daycare. I should be helping them with their homework, not some stranger.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of homework for you to help with. Besides, don’t a lot of their friends go to the same afterschool care?” Jane asked.

Maria nodded.

“What about the job? You’re scared, aren’t you,” Jane said.

“I hate to admit it, but yes, I am. I haven’t had to work for anyone in a long time. I’ve been the one telling people, well, little people that is, what to do for the past ten years. I don’t even know if I remember how to take orders from someone else,” Maria said.

“Sure you do. I’ve seen you take orders from Sarah all the time!” Jane teased.

“Oh, please! I don’t take orders from my 14 year old.”

Jane raised her eyebrow.

“Okay, okay, maybe sometimes I do. But don’t you dare tell her that!” Maria admitted.

“Mama…other book, other book,” Jane’s son insisted.

“I see you have your own dictator,” Maria teased.

Jane frowned at her as she got out another coloring book for her son.

Maria’s phone rang, and she looked at the number. She put her finger to her lips, and Jane told her son to be quiet.

“This is Maria,” she answered, and listened.

Jane kept her son occupied and watched Maria’s face for any indication.

“Yes, I’d be happy to. Okay. Okay. Thank you. I’ll talk to you then. Bye,” Maria said.

“Well?” Jane asked.

“I got a second interview!” Maria exclaimed.

“I knew you could! See, I told you! When do they want to see you again?” Jane asked.

“Tomorrow morning,” Maria said. She let it sink in.

“How does going back to work sound now?” Jane asked.

“It sounds pretty good, actually. Look, I better go. I have to find something different to wear tomorrow. I haven’t had to wear a skirt for two days in a row in a long time! I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” Maria said as she got up. She waved to Jane’s son on her way out.

“Bye!” Jane called after her, but she was already out the door.

“Bye bye,” Jane’s son imitated.

Jane smiled at her son, grateful that she had a few more years before she’d have to go back to work, but excited for her friend. She picked up a crayon and helped her son color his picture.