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Deadlines

Deadlines approach.  October 15 is the deadline for two contests I wish to enter.  That’s just over two weeks away.  Both stories are complete and in the critiquing stage now.  In fact, I have three stories up on Scribophile for critique right now.  It’s been a very creative time for me these past few weeks.

Contests spark that creativity.  When I get asked where I get my ideas, I have to pause and say I don’t know.  I used to have an idea box where I stashed little slips of paper with scribbled ideas for stories.  But that’s been empty for a while.  I use the contest prompts to get my creative juices flowing now, as well as themed magazines like Pilcrow and Dagger.  As a matter of fact, their theme for November/December (mystery and crime stories) has gotten me writing my first mystery story in years.

That’s significant, because about the only thing on my so-called bucket list is to be published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I’ve read this publication since I was a teenager (that’s over 35 years) and have aspired to be published in it almost since the beginning.  I have won their monthly Mysterious Photograph contest five times, but, as great as that is, it’s not the same thing, in my mind, as placing a full length story in those hallowed pages.

But mysteries are difficult to write, at least for me.  I’m not an organized writer and I’m not adept at plotting out my short stories.  I mostly “pants” them – start writing and see where it goes.  Mysteries require you to be organized, with certain plot points along the way that are virtually non-negotiable.  You must have an action done to someone (say a murder), a reason for that action (e.g., inheritance), and clues along the way that lead to the perpetrator of the crime.

The action must follow a certain pattern, too.  I think of it like the three poles of a circus tent.  There must be rising action in which the hero is but a pawn in the action, trying to figure out what’s important and discard what isn’t.  Something bad happens to the hero along the way (pole number one).  At the midpoint the hero needs to be much clearer about the direction he’s taking to solve this crime (pole number two), and then the final act of hindrance against the hero (pole number three) before the climax and denouement.  Along the way are the clues.

I don’t know that I’m going to make the October 10 deadline for the Pilcrow and Dagger issue, but I’m pleased to see the progress I’ve made as a writer while working on it.  I’ve planned it out enough and am about halfway through it.  I won’t have time for my beloved Scribophile critiques, though.  I may have to fly solo on this one.

Again, the deadline for getting your work in for the November/December issue of Pilcrow and Dagger is October 10.  If you have something that doesn’t fit the theme, send it in anyway.  Good writing is good writing!

Life is short, read fast.

Now What?

The past couple of days I’ve been saying “Now what?” a lot. It seems our site went down and stayed down. It’s not uncommon for it to hiccough and go off and come back on within an hour and usually in the weeeeee hours of the morning when no one is awake anyway. When I say ‘uncommon’ I mean once a week. Then it became twice a week. Then just about every day. But like I said, for usually less than an hour and not during traffic times. I don’t know, I figure this is just the hosting company refreshing their systems, or our WordPress site refreshing its system. I know I have to turn my cell phone off every few days to refresh it soo… same thing, right? Anyway, A. Marie is the guru of all thing technological so she usually handled any major issues. She’s younger than me and therefore is more adept at it anyway.

The other day our site went down. And stayed down. There seemed to be some discrepancy as to why. It turned out the hosting company’s server went down. Yay! Not my fault! I didn’t click on something I shouldn’t have. BUT, when they got their server back up, did our site come up? No. Now what? After several minutes of online chatting in techno-speak with a wonderful tech person who semi-translated what they said into English it was determined that our site didn’t have a designated php. When I asked what that was and how do I designate one and which one I should designate – they did it for me. They also gave me an address that will diagnose our site’s issues so we can correct them. I didn’t understand the words on the site so I emailed it to A. Marie. They also gave me a link to check which WordPress themes are compatible with our host as that could also be the problem. Like, it was compatible but now it’s not so much any more because I guess they just grew apart. Or no longer have the same php goals. Who knows.

So, knowing I wanted to blog – not really about all this – I tried to log in to our site and do administrative stuff like post a blog. I received instead a very angry 504 message saying my front end website didn’t match the back end website. I don’t know what all that means except when I Googled it I was told to clear my cache. And when I Googled ‘clear my cache’ I was given instructions on how to do that. So, after Googling things like ‘where is my settings button’ and ‘what is a cache’ I successfully erased all of my quick-click sites and most fun of all, the saved passwords. Sigh. If anyone has hacked any of my sites, I promise I won’t be mad if you can just email me my passwords. You know the address. I did manage to log in to do this blog, in case you were wondering.

Now what? Fingers crossed that our site is up and stays up. Next week I will resume where we left off in the narrative of writing your novel. I do have a direction and a purpose.

In the meantime, I hope you used our down-time to pen a little something for our November/December issue. We are accepting submissions you know. Our theme is Murder and Crime Mystery stories.

Small presses

Some sad news came my way this week.

I wrote not that long ago about a contest I liked to enter called Mash Stories.  It’s a quarterly contest in which three random words are provided and the writer has 500 words to craft a complete and compelling story using all three of them.  It’s a remarkably challenging proposition, especially when you have three words like this quarter’s – potato, chicken, bathrobe.  But this isn’t the sad part.

I received the weekly newsletter today telling me they’re closing their doors.  I was crushed.  This is one of those contests that I’ve never even placed in and it was my goal to at least get short-listed in the next year.  Now that goal has been snatched away from me.  It’s a small goal, and a small loss, at least personally.  But the bigger loss is the loss of another writing outlet.

Small presses like Mash Stories and our beloved Pilcrow and Dagger and dozens, maybe hundreds, of others need support.  They need money to survive.  They need subscribers and supporters and donations and people to buy their stuff.  The loss of even one literary outlet is a shame.  So if you enjoy literature and the short story form, and you can afford to, you should really consider helping out your favorite small press magazine or ezine.  Buy gift subscriptions for people or your local library.  Or simply find out how you can donate to the cause.  Some magazines even have a Donate button on their website, or you can email them and ask how to go about supporting their magazine.  I try not to get up on soapboxes very often anymore, but this cause is near and dear to my heart as a writer and reader of the short story form.

On a happier note, I finally figured out how to use the Compile feature on Scrivener.  As you may recall this is a word processing tool that is specifically geared toward writers, especially writers of the long form work, like novels.  As a predominately short story writer I probably don’t need it, but I do have a novel in progress and it’s been helpful keeping the pieces of it straight.

The Compile feature is supposed to take your work and, well, compile it into its final form.  You can transform it into various formats like Word, RTF, PDF, and several others.  I looked at it when I first bought the product but never took it seriously.  This week I got serious about Compile, though, and messed with it until I figured it out, at least for the short form piece I was working on.  I still need to work it out for the long form piece.  But baby steps, right?  Anyway, the point here is that the more I use Scrivener the more I like it and find it incredibly useful as a writer.  Word is fine, in fact I was quite happy with Word until I got Scrivener.

The other thing that Scrivener may allow me to do is finally buy that Macbook I’ve got my eye on.  Until now I always needed Microsoft Office for Mac loaded on, and that’s another large whack of money laid out for a computer so I’ve always just bought another PC.  With Scrivener as my word processor I won’t need Word anymore.  Hmmm.  This laptop IS two years old now.  Another couple of years tops and it’s time for a new one.  Might I go back to Mac?

Have a good week and remember:

Life is short.  Read fast.

It’s Smoother

Okay, so you’ve spent the next couple of months going through your rough draft with a fine-tooth comb for errors in grammar, syntax, and those pesky loose ends in sub-plots or the gaping holes in the main plot. You’ve cried over the Beta Readers’ comments, pouted, and experienced the 5 stages of grief.

So, now you have a manuscript that’s smoother and quite possibly clean enough for a professional editor to get their hands on it.  Just what kind of editor will depend on how clean your manuscript is. There are several different kinds of editors and you can go back and read my blog on editors from waaayy back. Just click here. Just remember an editor is honest. An editor is professional. An editor is skilled in making suggestions, correcting things that are *twitch* not grammatically correct, and will do their best to make your manuscript be your best. And yes, you will cry because even though you have slaved over this manuscript for more than half a year (to include your initial research and planning) it still isn’t finished. It will be soon.

Husband does woodworking as a hobby and he will spend countless hours in the garage his shop planing blocks of wood to get them to be the correct dimension for whatever his current project is. Each pass with his plane will take paper-thin shavings from the block. He has a number of different planes for a number of different purposes and each will yield a different result on the wood. Editing and revisions are like that. Each pass will correct the things that were missed before. Each Beta Reader and each type of editor will help shape and hone your work into the best it can be.

We are accepting submissions for the November/December 2016 issue. The theme for our “holiday” issue is Murder and Crime Mystery stories. Who shot JR? Who let the dogs out? Anyway, get your stories in now!

It’s Called a Rough Draft

Happy New Year! Yes, the nightmare of NaNoWriMo is in the rear view mirror and the holidays are over. It’s a new year, the turkey is finally gone, the credit card bills haven’t come yet, and you made the resolution to get your manuscript published. Good for you. This is what is going to happen…

You find your manuscript which was dutifully put away to rest. Now, you can return to it and do some touch ups at last. First, you will want to print it out. Hole punch it and put it in a binder. A little secret – your office supply stores can do this for you for a reasonable price. Then sit down with a glass of wine and a pen and start reading.

The wine is to calm your nerves. The pen is to mark corrections and revisions. You will notice that after a month’s time and out of the fog of writing, the what you wrote is different from the what you thought you wrote. And that scene with the Ninjas? Yeah, it still doesn’t work. Take your time. Check your spelling, grammar, and word usage. Then, correct your scenes. Ask yourself if the scene is complete. Are there unanswered questions which need to be answered? Are all scenes necessary? When you’ve cleaned it up, print it again and repeat.

Once you’ve gotten it as clean as you think you can get it, print three copies (do the whole hole punch/binder thing) and give them to Beta Readers. A Beta Reader can be a friend, or a family member, or a complete stranger. A Beta Reader reads your cleaned up manuscript and gives you their opinion on several topics such as:

  • Does the plot flow
  • Are there unanswered questions
  • Are the characters believable
  • Do the subplots weave in well
  • What part of the story moved and why
  • What part of the story dragged and why
  • Did any parts confuse or frustrate you and why
  • Were there any continuity problems
  • Were there any noticeable spelling or grammar problems

From their responses you have more work to do.

You will at first be surprised – and not in a good way – at how your manuscript reads the first time onto the printed page. You will, due to fresh eyes, notice glaring errors that you didn’t notice when you wrote it. You will roll your own eyes at your own work and you will fill with self-doubt and disgust. It’s the process. And you will feel insecure about tossing it out to Beta Readers for them to critique. It’s the process. And that is why it’s called a rough draft.

And our November/December submissions are open. We are accepting stories, poems, recipes, essays, graphic novellas, photography, art, and whatever creative muse speaks to you. Our “holiday” theme is Murder and Crime Mystery Stories. Got a recipe that’s to die for? Are there any interesting things in Uncle Milton’s will that make you think cousin Frank had something to do with his demise? Send them in!

Writing in Orlando

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Orlando while I write this.  I’ve got several days off of work in a row, and I’m using the time to write.  I found that interesting enough to point out because I’m literally across the street from Sea World and I’m sitting in a hotel room writing.

My wife is at a conference here and I came along to keep her company. Mostly, though, I came because I could and because it would allow me time away from all distractions to work on a short story I had planned as well as working on the novel.  It’s worked.  It’s been beautiful weather wise here.  Temps in the low nineties (good for this time of year), humidity at bearable levels, the sun shining.  I could be outside having a blast at any of the many amusement and theme parks that Orlando is so famous for having, provided I still know how to have fun on my own.

But I’m inside with my computer glasses on and my laptop on its second charge of the day.  Is this what writing means?  I’ve been planning this – planning to sit inside on beautiful days in the amusement capital of the world – for weeks.  I’m in heaven here.  And, best of all, I’m writing at a rapid pace. Rapid for me, anyway.  I started and finished the first draft of a 3500 word story, got a solid 1000 words down on my novel, and was even inspired to write this blog post after missing the last week or two.

My biggest issue over the past two days has been my lack of a thumb drive to back up my work.  I should have thought to bring one, but didn’t.  For many this wouldn’t pose a problem. For one, not many are as paranoid about backing up my work as I am.  For others all the lack of a thumb drive would mean is getting in the car and driving around until you found a store that sold them.  It’s not that simple for me.

I’m directionally impaired.  I’ve been this way all my life, but it seems to be getting worse.  I have no sense of direction at all.  While here, I wanted to get to the local Wawa to buy some soda.  It’s on International Drive.  Everything in Orlando seemingly is on International Drive.  I’m surprised you can’t see International Drive from space.  But can I find International Drive when I’m looking for it?  Nope.  I ended up on the Central Florida Parkway.  Turns out that wasn’t such a bad idea, if it had been my idea to begin with.

Did you know you could buy thumb drives at CVS?  I didn’t until this trip.  When I saw their sign I was hopeful that I could because otherwise I’d have to find a Best Buy or something and I wasn’t sure I could navigate that far without winding up in Atlanta.  But good old CVS had a thumb drive for eight bucks that backed up my files and kept me safe and happy.  And it was only a block from the hotel.  Whew.

So I did get out some. I went to the CVS twice.  And I did find I Drive eventually.  We had reservations at a fine dining restaurant and my wife directed me flawlessly to it.  As it happens I needed to turn right out of my hotel rather than left.  Hmm.  I could have sworn it was a left.

What Do I Do Now?

First, Happy Labor Day. Hope you are taking a break from you daily toil to enjoy this extra day of rest. If you are a writer, I hope you are using this day away from your normal routine to write. Write all day. Without ceasing. Because in just 56 days NaNoWriMo starts and you need to be ready. See last week’s blog on doing your research and character developments.

Now, let’s fast forward to December 1st – okay, December 8th. It’s a week after NaNoWriMo and you’ve had a chance to reacquaint yourself with your family and friends, pay some bills, and turn your focus toward the next event which is Christmas (or winter solstice or Passover, or Yule, or what have you). More important is taking this break away from your first draft. Yes, I know, it’s beckoning you, taunting you. It is daring you to open it and revisit that awkward scene between June and Justin where you didn’t know where to take them so you had them knocked out by non sequitur Ninjas. Or to change the location of the chance meeting between the two major characters from a taxi to a fitting room.

But you can’t. See, you have to wait. You have to let it rest and you have to let go. Yes, it is the next great novel. Yes, it speaks to you. Yes, I know. However, the down time will allow you to re-approach your novel with fresh eyes and more objectivity. You’ll be able to see what you wrote and not what you think you wrote.

Ummm, LeeAnn, this is September (barely) why are you talking about something months away? Because it will be here before you know it and you need to know what to expect. That’s why. Next week we talk about revisions. Yay!

AND in case you weren’t paying attention, the October submission window has closed. The GOOD news is, that the November/December submission window is now OPEN! Whoot! So what’s the theme? Holiday stories? No. That was last year (although if they are well crafted we will take them). This year we thought we’d do something really fun and different. Our November/December 2016 theme is Murder Mystery and Crime Stories. Did the lights go out during Thanksgiving Dinner and when they came back on rich Uncle Marvin had been murdered? Who stole the talking parrot? Did Aunt Mimi’s diamond earrings go missing? Send it in! One more thing, if you found this post to be the least bit funny let me know.

It’s Coming

It’s August 29th – at least for the next couple of hours – which means there are a mere 63 days to National Novel Writing Month. Hopefully you’ve been preparing – making your outline, writing your character biographies and graphing their connections, doing your research (travel, Google, document downloads, contacting experts), mapping your plot arcs, arranging child care and pre-ordering your Thanksgiving dinner, and stocking up on office supplies. If you haven’t gotten all that stuff done, I suggest you get busy because it’s getting close.

See, writing is hard. The actual writing isn’t so bad (sarcasm) – that struggle to find the right word, or the difficulty in weaving subplots cohesively into the main plot arc. The hard part is all the research and preparation you have to do before you start writing. And then, all the editing and revisions that come after the writing. That’s hard. But that’s December. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It’s coming and if you are planning on participating you better start planning. Don’t sit down to write your daily 1600 words on November 1st with only the plan for book tours and the Today Show because that is not a plan, that is a fantasy. Writing is work from start to finish.

AND we are still for just a few more days accepting submissions for the October issue. So scribble down that nightmare and send it in.

6 Of One, A Half Dozen Of The Other

I read an interesting article (I think it was in Slate) sent to me by my dad and shortly afterward a link to a writer’s blog showed up in my Facebook feed with a link to the same article. I now cannot find the original links but I did manage to locate a similar article in the DailyMail.com. The article was on the 6 basic plot lines, or emotional arcs, of all books, movies, etc.

As a mentor I hear from new writers how they want to write an original story – something that’s never been written before. We all do. But after thinking about what was in the article I’m inclined to agree with the article and there are just 6 plot arcs. And really, you can use these basic arcs to plot graph your story and subplots.

So what are these 6 plot arcs? They are: fall-rise-fall, rise-fall, fall-rise, steady fall, steady rise, and rise-fall-rise. Also according to the article I read the most popular arcs are fall-rise-fall and rise-fall.

Once you decide on a plot arc, you can begin to map out the subplots and perhaps use a mirror image arc or arcs to interweave within your story. Suppose you choose a main plot of fall-rise-fall. Then one subplot could be rise-fall-rise. Or perhaps you have two subplots- one being rise-fall and the other a fall-rise.

Another consideration would be if you are writing a series. You can map out the arc of the series and then map out the arcs of each story within the series that will accomplish the overall arc. Crazy fun!

Anyway, you can read the article I read at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3679510/There-just-SIX-plots-film-book-TV-Researchers-reveal-building-blocks-storytelling.html. When you are done, get yourself a piece of paper and start mapping how you want your plot to go. Then you can worry about originality.

Have you sent in your story, poem, essay, recipe, graphic story, or cartoon for the October issue? We extended the deadline (bwahahaha deadline) to September 3rd. Why not take a stab at writing something spooky? If you miss out, it will haunt you forever. Better dig up those stories!

Freewriting Madness

I missed Friday again, and failed to make it up on Saturday, because I didn’t plan ahead and get my entry done on time.  But I hate skipping a week, and skipping two weeks is really bad.  What I had planned to do was share a little free writing silliness, straight from my head to yours.  No edits, no second drafts, just straight up free writing.  Why?  Why not?  Maybe it’ll be fun.  Let’s find out.  Writing is a journey, and so should reading be.

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I first discovered that muffins are living organisms when I was eating one with a seriously harsh hangover last Tuesday morning.  I mean that I had the hangover, not the muffin.  I’ve never really gotten the hang of Tuesdays.  Useless day, really just a separator from back to work day and hump day.  Much like Thursdays, except at the beginning of the week.

At the table I cut into my blueberry muffin and heard it scream.  Not a loud scream.  Nothing like Neve Campbell or Jamie Lee Curtis.  You know, another good screamer is Gabrielle Anwar.  But the muffin wasn’t in their league.  It was just a tiny scream.  And that’s when it hit me.  Muffins are alive.  They seem like a perfectly ordinary baked goods, but something happens in muffin recipes, something completed in the oven, and they live.

So I asked my good friend the cucumber about this and she said that yes, indeed, muffins are alive and that she’d been friends with the one I’d just eviscerated.  I felt bad.  I felt like I should have a funeral for the poor thing.  So I did.

I gathered all my cucumbers around the sink – Lou, Cathy, Slinky Pink, Cindy, and my particularly good friend Splotch – and we said some words over our friend the muffin and then I dropped its remains into the disposer and whirred it around until all traces were gone.  Splotch cried a little, little cucumber tears that taste like raspberries.  Sometimes, when I’m in the mood for raspberries, I bring a cucumber out to watch Sleepless in Seattle with me.

I wonder if muffins and cucumbers are related in the animal kingdom.  Could muffins be a couple of chromosomes away from being cucumbers?  And what do muffin tears taste like?  I’m guessing snuffleberries, but I can’t be sure of that, of course.

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That’s it.  That’s my free writing madness for today.  I had the idea that cucumbers are in the muffin family yesterday at work while looking at a cucumber, and that kind of morphed into what you just read.  Aside from spelling it’s straight out of my head to yours.  I think I’m probably sorry for you.  Try to use the word “splotch” three times today, though.  It’s a fun word to say.  Not as fun as waffle, but still fun.  Say it with me now – splotch.

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The next issue of Pilcrow and Dagger will be out on August 26 (I believe I have the date correct).  Get ready because I’ve seen the preview and it’s going to be a funny one!!

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