Saturday, November 18, 2017

Story Behind - Memory Dish

Been adding so many new stories to my collection lately (#60DayChallenge to write 30 stories in Oct/Nov) that I've fallen a bit behind on sharing the story behind some of the stories I've written. So I'll try my best to catch up. I just finished story #26, so almost done with the challenge! Whew!

Today's entry is a children's story of 2000 words called "Memory Dish" - it's a fantasy of sorts, set in an everyday world like ours but one where children have as pets garden gnomes, gollum toes, and pygmy dragons. Fraley's pet pygmy dragon has just died and all she has left of him is his memory captured in a memory dish where she can watch him romp and play and covort like he used to.

Until she shatters the dish in anger. This story is about grief and sadness and letting go and then, surprisingly, finding joy again knowing our fond memories are safe within us. It started out as a writing exercise from a long time ago and I decided it needed to have a life of its own. If you want to read it, let me know. I'm currently shopping it around. I think it's been rejected once so far, maybe twice. I have no idea why! It's one of my favorites. :)

As I wrote near the beginning of this challenge, I'm probably not like a lot of writers. I've heard a lot of writers finish a story and think it's terrible, that no one will like it, etc. I'm the opposite. When I finish a story I usually think it's my best one to date. I get a kick out of re-reading my stories and laughing and crying at the appropriate points. Of course, all this could mean I'm absolutely blind to my writing, but who cares? If someone has a critique, it simply tells me more about their tastes than it does my story.

Now again, I don't think every one of my stories is perfect. Really enjoying my stories is not the same as thinking they are masterpieces. I have a lot to learn, that's why I'm writing so many stories right now. I'm practicing. Always will be. I'm simply doing my best at my current skill level and when the story is done, I read it for enjoyment and then release it into the world for others to enjoy.

Kris Rusch has a good article on the life a story has in the mind of a reader once we let it go. Not sure I totally agree with her when she says, "Our stories cease to be ours the moment someone else reads them." But I get what she's saying. We can't control the reader's response - what they like about it, what they hate about it, what it means to them, etc. My story will always be mine, but when I share it with others, it becomes a bit different because now someone else has taken it in to their heart and soul. And thus the work becomes public. It changes in impact.

Which is fine with me. All I'm interested in is finding readers who enjoy my particular style of story telling. If that's you, thanks for reading! If that's not you, thanks for trying me out. Regardless, I'm having a blast creating. If you want to follow my progress, click here or check out the current projects tab above. See you next time with another "story behind" blog post.

(The image above, btw, is figure-1152054_640 (c) susannp4 at Pixabay Images.)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trying my hand at romance...

Been blogging lately about the stories I've written for my #60DayChallenge (30 stories in Oct/Nov). Of the 22 stories I've completed (still on track if I finish #23 today), 15 of them have had as their origin an abandoned story start. That is, only 7 are original start to finish products. Well, they're all original, but the majority are projects I started a number of years ago when I didn't know how to get past an opening scene! ;) 

Now most abandoned projects only had 300 or so words to them - mere story ideas - and I added another 1000 to 3000 words, so the bulk of the story is fresh for this challenge. But that's been a neat part of this two month run, cleaning out all my old files and putting some closure on lost little story starts.

Another fun aspect is writing in a variety of genres. I've done everything from SF/space opera to fantasy, literary, humor, horror, historical, inspirational...almost everything. Even romance! I actually like romance and so finished a story that I'd started last year based on an outline I received from a potential employer (who wanted me to ghost write a story for them). The outline was a bit, shall we say, too steamy for my tastes. So I took a stab at it but backed off on the "behind closed door" scenes. Before I got half way through, the project went to some other ghost writer and so I left it alone. 

Along came this challenge. I dusted off the doc, backed off some more in the hot and steamy department, and finished a 5,000 word story called "Surprise Date." (I'm not too embarrassed to send it to you if you want to read it.) Though I thought it was pretty good I needed some feedback from a romance writer I trusted, so sent it off to her for some comments. She liked it and even suggested it was actually a novel in minature. That is, if I expanded the chapters, added the male love interest's POV storyline, and raised the stakes a bit, I'd have a 50k novel when all was said and done. Well, that was nice to hear, but that'll have to wait until next year! I've got seven more short stories to finish before the 30th!

Feel free to follow my progress here or check the current projects tab above. And, as always, thanks for reading.

(The image above, btw, is retro-2743253_1280 (c) ArtsyBee at Pixabay Images.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Man in a Diner - Character, Setting, Problem

I finished my 22nd story in my #60DayChallenge to write 30 short stories in Oct/Nov. That's one every two days, of course, and I'm on track. This story was one I was hoping to get to ever since someone asked me on Facebook about where my ideas come from. Iconic question, right?

My answer is what pulp writers have known and taught for ages - ideas are everywhere and are a dime a dozen. All a writer needs is a character in a setting with a problem. (If you're following the typical plot pointed story arc that almost all modern fiction follows, though there are some very good plotless stories out there. But even then, character-setting-struggle is usually center stage.)

To highlight my point, I posed a scenario about a man in a diner ordering a coke but all they had was pepsi. That's enough to start a story - person in a setting with a problem. The key is to tell an interesting story about "what happens next." So it's not the precipitating idea for a story that is the hard part, per se. Any ol' situation will do. It's the "then what happened" that makes a story unique.

So today I finished a story titled, curiously enough, "Man in a Diner Orders a Coke but They Only Serve Pepsi." It's just over 1500 words, so pretty short, and I had a lot of fun with it. The fun part, as you can imagine, is the "what happened next" part. And if you put yourself in that person's shoes, you the reader could probably come up with a few obvious answers.

Ah, but that's the key to a good story. The first couple of answers may not be that interesting - it's what a reader will expect and then will have to stifle a yawn in order to get to the good part. Not saying I do this very well (yet ;) but a writing strategy that was made clear by grandmaster SF writer Kate Wilhelm (now generally known as Wilhelm's law) can be roughly paraphrased as: pick the third option. Or fourth or fifth!

That is, I've got a man in a diner wanting a coke, but no coke! So my first thought is he... (fill in the blank). Boring. Well, instead maybe he... (fill in the blank). Not quite as boring but still no go. So finally, I think of... (this is where you email me and ask to read my story to see if I surprised you).

See? Loads of fun. Plus, another story down.
Time to get a coke and celebrate. :)

Follow my progress here or click the current projects tab above. And thanks for reading!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Stories in the Pipeline

Those of you in sales (or have tried sales!) know about the pipeline. If you don't keep putting things into the beginning of the pipeline, you won't get anything coming out the other end.

Because there are a lot of leaks along the way!

To get a sale, you have to keep putting contacts and follow ups and pop by visits and phone calls and emails etc. into the pipeline so that something can start happening, so that eventually you get a sale. This means you blast out a lot of activity in a variety of ways with a variety of people with a variety of products. If you focus on one potential customer with one measly product and focus on that person only, then you may or may not get a sale; but one thing's for sure, at the end of the process you got nothing else happening and have to start over for the next sale from scratch. Ugh. You savvy?

Submitting stories to magazines for publication is a pipeline business. If you follow your one measly story for 90 days and then get a form rejection email, then that's the poops. You have to start all over with a new market - either the same story or you write a new one and submit it. Ugh.

But if you keep writing a bunch of stories and get them into the pipeline - and keep pushing new material into the pipeline by writing and submitting more stories - then eventually something's going to pop (not poop) out the other end. Could be a rejection, so what? Put it back in the pipeline by submitting it to another market.

Right now I have just over 20 stories in the pipeline. One story's been rejected 5 times already, but I immediately find a new market and send it off. I like quick rejections. Lets me get it back in the pipeline so it can find that one magazine that will accept it. That's all it takes.

I've been writing a short story every two days since the middle of September. I think I've written 30 so far. Some are experiments and not meant for publication, but most are stuffed directly into the pipeline after I type "the end." My goal is to get 100 stories into the pipeline. Imagine how cool it will be when some of those stories start getting accepted. It'll be like popcorn in a microwave. Fun stuff.

So far, I've had one acceptance. And that's way cool. Thanks to J.D. Graves at the start up indie pulp magazine, EconoClash for taking a chance on Exit Ramp and including it in their debut issue set for April 1, 2018. When it goes on sale, you bet I'll annouce it. It's a pipeline success story. ;)

If you want to follow my progress and see what stories are in the submission process, click here (same as my current projects tab above). So what are you waiting for? Fill your pipeline so you can get some of your own success stories popping out the other end. You savvy?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Story Behind Blood Feud

I already told you the story behind the story for New Life at Death Springs and writing a tale about Obadiah Riddle, a traveling prophet created by my friend Stoney Setzer. I liked exploring Riddle's universe and had fun writing that story (posted free for a week a few weeks ago) so thought I'd write another story featuring this character. After chatting with Stoney about some ideas, he told be about a story concept he had called Blood Feud. I thought perfect! So I started writing.

By the end of the first page, though, I realized the traveling preacher who would show up in my story wasn't going to be Obadiah Riddle. The story had a completely different feel than the supernatural "good vs evil" world that Stoney developed. The "Blood Feud" I wrote was about a boy who yearned for two feuding families to make peace. This was his prayer and he thought the traveling preacher, named Ezekiel Freedman, was the answer to that prayer. I also realized something about the boy, named Conner McCurrie, by the end of that first page. But I won't tell you here. If you want to find out, just ask and I'll send the story to you. :)

Couple of interesting remarks about the story from a friend who read it when I first wrote it had me thinking about the role of the main character. What they often teach in composition class is that the MC has to go through some sort of change. That's not true, necessarily, but that's what they teach. When it was pointed out that Conner didn't really change that much in my story, I replied that Conner wasn't the main character. Neither was Freedman, the preacher. The main character was the two feuding families that for the most part stayed off page. That's a hint about the story by the way. ;) 

So just a reminder to us readers. Don't read a story based on some paint by numbers expectation of what you think the story should be. Let the story teller tell his or her story. You may not like the story as told, that's fine. But don't force a square peg in a round hole. If the story wants to be a square peg, judge it based on what it's trying to accomplish. Trust the story teller to tell the story he or she wants to tell. If you don't like their style, don't try to correct them, find another story teller. Simple.

Another example. I'm doing a #60DayChallenge where I'm writing 30 stories in Oct/Nov. The person who set this challenge said he'd read and comment on all 30 stories in addition to a few other things. Which is pretty cool, since this person has quite a reputation as a pulp fiction writer. Well, I got the comments back on my first two stories. Now to be fair, he did say he was just one reader and if we didn't like the comments then we should ignore them.

Well, that comment was the only one that made sense. His remarks about my two stories had nothing to do with what I had written. He was reading with an expectation that didn't fit what I was doing in those stories. So his comments were basically worthless to me. Which is fine. He didn't like my stories. So what did I learn? That he's not my audience. Moving on. Of course, I'll still finish my 30 story challenge and send them in for him to read (I just finished #20 so have 10 to go) but I won't bother reading his comments anymore.

Now does that mean I'm a perfect story teller with nothing to learn? Absolutely not. I have tons to learn and I have to practice different aspects of the story so I can get better. And I know that if I want a story accepted by a certain anthology I have to meet their expectations and "write to market." Ha, that's another thing you hear you're not supposed to do - write toward a particular audience or market. That's silly. Of course you can write what people want to read. Might be a good way to sell books. And if a magazine wants 'literary fantasy' then figure that out and get your 6 cents a word.

But there are also times when you write what you want and let it stand. Always learning. Always growing. But never worrying about what others think or say about your stories. (Gave up reading reviews about my stories a long time ago! You should too.)  Even when your readers are good friends and/or fairly well known pulp writers. No offense, but after a certain point in one's development as a writer, readers can only judge what works for them. You may think they are judging your work, but really it tells me more about them and their expecations than it does about my writing level.

Sorry if it sounds like I'm venting, lol. Just thinking out loud as I share what I'm learning writing a story every couple of days. Next time I'll talk about the story behind "Surprise Date" (a romance!). You can follow my progress here or check the current projects tab above. And seriously, thanks for reading.