Behind the Scenes: Writing “Halloween Spirit”

image from openclipart.org by bf5man

This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Halloween Spirit” and as such is contains spoilers for that work.  For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).

Zach Standfield challenged me to write a piece of flash fiction in August. One of the ideas I had was to create an elaborate detailed summoning rite that brought about the end of the world. The short work would focus on my strengths: lyric description and magic set in a modern world. It would avoid my weakness for action scenes and it side steps issues I have about over explaining or creating a finite conclusion.

I wrote two flash works for Zach (neither of which he’s seen) and they both took a grim turn resulting in the brutal murder of the female main character from outside forces she surrenders to. Waaaaay too close a metaphor for the suicidal tendencies slipping into my own head because I’m not handling stress well at work. For the record, I’m not contemplating a plan to end my life, it would be stupid to take a permanent solution for a fleeting problem. But the stress from ongoing conflicts at work is leading me to think “it would be much easier if I wasn’t around” and that was coming through too literally in my writing.

I shelved the third flash idea since I didn’t want it to morph into a 30 something female woman sacrificing herself on the boardroom floor, using the energy of her death to open a hell dimension that forces the people who mistreated her their to suffer for eternity.

Then, I had an idea for our blog. Each of us should write a Halloween themed flash for our blog. Awesome idea, except I suck at short stories and had no idea what I would write.

I thought maybe I’d lean into my fae angle and do a “Wild Hunt” style thing, but “The Most Dangerous Game” already exists. Plus, the idea took over 1,000 words to explore. If I wanted to do something new/interesting, it would take more than 1,000 words.

Next I thought “what’s my thing in the writers’ group?” My literary device is some kind of magic. This reminded me of the summoning story I‘d planned for Zach’s challenge. The problem: no Halloween tie in. So I changed the summons and instead of focusing on a cinematic summoning ritual, I focused on the holiday and hidden darkness that lingers in the fall. I played on the “Wicca” God and Goddess creation myth where the Goddess Births the God, they become lovers, and he dies on Samhain, to be birthed out again in the following Yule. I tossed in two cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973) references to hearken the reader back to a certain time and tone.

For birds gathering, I chose crows over ravens primarily to reference the figure “The Crow” (1994) and foreshadow the death elements. Also, crow mythology pegs the creatures as watchful, resourceful and often tricksters… all elements I wanted to elicit in my story. I thought about using Ravens in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, but those birds are larger, live in only specific regions, and mythologically relate back to winter.

I wrote the first 600 words in one afternoon and would have finished, but I had to stop and go to work. I reread/edited what I had so far and finished the first draft four days later. Ran everything through ProWritingAid and posted to Google Docs for the Writers’ Group to Critique. I read it out loud one last time and added it to our queue for publication.

While the creation process was painless, I’m torn on whether I like the final product. There are great single lines and ideas, but the word limit combined with the time constraint kept me from digging in to find a perfect moment. I usually only consider works done after months of review and reflection, so I figure in six months time, I’ll know what would make this story engaging.

 

Interested in reading more from Jessica Donegan?  Check out the NEWG bliz round robin exercise here with Jessica’s ending available here

Looking for more spooky stories, please consider Christopher M. Palmer’s work “The Ghost Strikes at Midnight

Bells and Whistles: Fancy Tools to Encourage Writing

 Image from open clipart.org by Lyo

 

Looking at the path from spoken story, to recorded story, to printing press, and now to online and print formats, I can see that technology historically is huge for the aspiring writer.  It seems that as technology and communication improve, the different ways it can help writers also exponentially increases.  I’m awed and overwhelmed with the different tools at our disposal.  To help sort the varying tools, I’m creating a series that explores different services mean to help an aspiring writer.  This week we have tools meant to increase daily word count or to encourage a daily writing practice.  

750 Words is my favorite of these sites.  The purpose is to write 750 words or three pages every day.  Once you’ve created an account, it will provide a space to enter text and you just type.  When complete, send in your work and 750 will analyze the writing to see whether you were happy or relaxed based on keywords.  The site will break down when you paused and when you were in a hot streak. For those who like to compete, you get points and a score board if you keep to the daily 750 word assignment.  Best of all, all your writing is private.  First thirty days are free and it’s only $5/mo afterward.  

Write or Die is an software that puts pressure on the writer to produce text in a set amount of time or…consequences.  The most disturbing thing the software does: it deletes words if you pause for more than a few seconds.  Write or Die will either help you up your word count or obliterate every letter on the page. It costs $20 and I’ve often toyed with whether it might be worth the price tag to place my feet to the iron.  I’m afraid I don’t have the stomach for the software.

Word Counter does a lot more than count your words!  If you create a free account, you can create goals to work towards and the site will track progress for you.  The site is linked to Grammarly, so spelling and grammar can be altered through them. Beyond that, Word Counter offers stats similar to those available on Hemingway App.  It provides a reading level, how long it would take to read or speak, and it also offers a “word density” that may suggest whether you need to crack open a thesaurus.  For strict editing, I prefer ProWritingAid, but if I was looking for a hybrid motivational tool and editor, Word Count seems like a capable option.  It’s free to use.

Rescue Time, the wonderful Christopher Palmer mentioned this site to me, and I think it’s great for the aspiring writer.  The light version lets you set goals and tracks how much time you spend on the web and where.  It let’s you know how much time in front of the screen you’re wasting not writing!

What do you think?  Do you use any of these softwares?  Do you know of any other sites or apps that encourage word count or daily writing? What do you use to track your writing metrics?

 

The Rules of the Game

image from open clipart.org by nicubunu

 

I am the self-appointed editor of our group round robins.  Anyone who’s read our work knows I am LEAST qualified of the four of us.  ProWritingAid is the great equalizer, or at least I have to tell myself it is.

As the editor I have self-imposed rules.

 

1. Don’t change the core of other’s sections.  Whatever they wrote is what they intended and I have to work with that, not hack and slash around to change inherent meaning.  Too much change makes it “my story” instead of “our story” which runs contrary to the round robin’s goals.

 

 2. Seamless flow from one writer to the other is the goal, but I can’t change all the phrasing to be “Jessica” (or anyone else’s) style to achieve this.  It’s not right to erase someone else’s voice on a joint work to showcase another’s.

 

This worked well in our first round robin.  I used ProWritingAid first to correct grammar, style, to catch and rework repetitive phrasing, and to delete adverbs.  The major change I made was plot continuity driven.  One writer misread another’s part of the story.  Where Anges finds a dead body that writer interpreted it as Anges being the dead body.  I had to change content.  I adjusted three lines.

 

Fast forward to our second round robin project.  We used Reedsy to find a prompt.  The gist was: “Your grandmother makes pancakes for you every morning.  Your grandmother dies, but there are still pancakes the next morning.

 

This prompt was a different challenge from the last.   The first story blooms from three words/themes.  Using a specific scenario, encouraged more partnership instead of competition to “take over” the story.  This second round robin was smoother and required a lot less finessing to make it seem like one person had written the work.

 

If reworking it was simple why isn’t it posted here?

 

The “problem”: I hate my part of the story.  Not all.  I’m happy with the first three almost four paragraphs, but it goes downhill fast.  My ambitions to churn the most words and be the first to “finish” a round robin in fifteen minutes left me with a rambling sticky mess.  I do not want to publish such a poor expression of my writing.  Everything I think is weakest in my form is on display.

 

What might be worse, my closing section only drives towards a handful of endings.  I broadcasted the only natural conclusion, and that’s driving me to play with the less obvious choices to thumb my nose at myself (because I hate authority so much I’ll rebel against myself when I become the authority and isn’t that an unattractive personality quirk).

 

Help!  Do I publish and unfinished story as it stands?  Do I scrap this work as hopeless?  Do I make my changes because if I cut the last two paragraphs I could write three kinds of separate endings on my own?  Are more drastic changes to my section a benefit I gain as the person completing the editing work?  Do I have to keep everything I wrote in the spirit of the exercise and endure the cringe?  Tell me what’s a “professional” writer/editor to do in this situation with my minor conflict of interest.

March Calls for Submission

A little last minute, especially for the mid March deadlines, but I figured I’d offer them anyway.

 

March 15th 

 

Cenorot 2,500-6,000 words pays $.06 a word the prompt: “The year is 2025. The planet has been riddled with radiation and in an effort to sustain life the world’s leading scientists have come up with a new procedure to keep humans and animals alive. The success rate was high … until the new creatures began to show signs of rot. Genetically and physically enhanced, these monsters begin to turn on each other and their makers.”  On a personal note I really wanted to write something for this and found myself bogged down in the “how” and “why” but I’d LOVE to read this anthology.  Hoping to see good things here

 

Transmundane Press up to 6,000 words story themed with dreams, hallucinations, nightmares, and/or visions pays $5-$20 depending on length

 

Gehenna & Hinnom Books  Their magazine does rolling submissions with one window closing March 15th.  Looking for weird and cosmic fiction $30 for flash and $55 for short stories they respond in 30 business days to a query.

 

March 30th 

 

The New Mexico Review 500- 1,500 words new and emerging fiction with south western flare

 

Corpus Press Halloween stories 4,000-8,000 words scary, atmospheric, thought provoking, humorous or satirical pays $.03 a word

 

March 31st

 

Pantheon Magazine “What we want: Weird, dark fiction; slipstream; magical realism; horror. Fiction with a touch of mythic quality. We want themes based around transformations—things that are shapeshifting, things that are emerging. Make Ovid’s Metamorphoses contemporary and weird and scary. We want a wide scope of voices, cultures, and perspectives.”  1,000-2,000 words flash pays $.06 a word

 

Arachane Press no more than 2000 words to celebrate the end of WW2

 

Weird Nature Anthology 2,500-10,000 words. The title intrigued me but I couldn’t make heads or tales or what the publisher wanted.  Couldn’t even figure out an excerpt to offer.

 

April 1st

 

Paper Dog Books 1,000-5,000 words “We’re looking for works of short speculative fiction that consider the future of the internet, artificial intelligence, the mind, and robots. Give us your optimistic, fantastic, bittersweet stories of fantasy and science fiction” pays $.06 a word and attempts to respond within 60 days

 

 

 

February Roundup: Calls for Submissions

First, few caveats.  I did not include any publisher who asked for a reading fee.  I also didn’t include grants, contests, or publishing offers that were region locked to an area outside of Northern Alabama.

 

What I did include were all publishing offers I could find that I thought may have appeal to any current members of our writing group.  That said, some of the calls for submissions seems like they may be less stable or professional than other markets.  I did try to exclude anything that appeared like an obvious vanity press, but there are some calls here I wouldn’t submit to.  Use your own discretion.

 

Due Feb 15th 

 

Deciduous Tales– “We are looking for horror and dark fiction with well realized characters, a strong voice and literary merit between 1000 and 5000 words. Query first for any story longer than 5000 words.”

 

Due Feb 16th

 

Black Button– 2000-6000 words midwestern themed horror and dark fiction.  Integrate family dynamics.

 

Due Feb 28th 

 

Dark House Books– Has 2 calls!  one is a 2500-5000 words cozy to cozy-noir stories featuring libraries and librarians the OTHER poetry, flash, short fiction, and creative nonfiction reflecting the theme of sanctuary, refuge, shelter, or asylum, from the perspective of those offering, seeking, denying, or destroying it. From Bangladesh to the city animal shelter, all are welcome, as are all genres.

 

Red Rabbit Press– 3000-6000 words military scifi

 

Parsec Ink– 5000 words on music in fantasy, horror or scifi

 

Beneath the Waves– 5000-8000 words on water/ transformation/ sea monsters

 

Nafarian– 2500-5000 crimes with a twist

 

Due March 1st 

 

If This Goes On– up to 5000 words at least 1 generation in the future but further out is preferred and it needs to relate to current political issues $.08/word

 

Body Parts Magazine– Flash up to 1000 AND short stories up to 8000 words theme is “primal fears” looking for horror, dark fairy tales

 

“This Book Is Cursed“- Up to 7,500 words the theme is “this book is cursed” includes tombs, theater curses, sports curses random vengeance curses

 

Hex Gunslinger–  1000-1500 flash, 1001-7499 short story, 7,500-17,499 novellette and 17,500- 40,000 novella speculative, mysterious, and romantic weird western tall tales! Framed as an unearthed secret library years after the civil war, each story should hold the ethos of western expansion beginning in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, and ending around the 1850s not necessarily restricted to a North American audience. Do not take manifest destiny as a mantra to live by. Shape a world with all the magic and mystery of the frontier without letting the ugliness of conquest be consumed with fantastic whimsy. We want wide open plains where violence ruled, underground movements brewing with tension, and the Wild Wild West in all it’s beauty and madness. Bring us your stories marking the age of the gold rush, injustice, genocide, mass immigration, transcontinental railroads, vigilante justice, telegraphs, outlaws, gunslingers, slick talkers, setting suns, and the impending civil war that would rip a nation apart.  They want Pulp fiction, Weird Western, Cattlepunk, Southern Gothic, Folkloric Monsters, Occult Magick, Slipstream, Cowboys & Aliens, and so on

 

Baba Yaga Anthology– 7,500-20,000 words. Kate is looking for stories from Baba Yaga’s point of view, or the point of view from those she helps or hurts, or from anyone who might be a protagonist worthy of the Baba Yaga story. You can set the story in the past or present. The story can take place anywhere in the world. It can include romance or action or tragedy or comedy.

 

Dark Water Syndicate– 5000-8000 words “We are interested in short horror fiction about people who sneak into abandoned, forgotten, shunned, or cursed communities and survive to tell the tale. For example: Centralia, Pennsylvania—the mining town abandoned because of an uncontrollable underground coal fire; Love Canal—the New York neighborhood declared off-limits due to extreme environmental pollution; and Pripyat—the Ukrainian city evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster. The emphasis is on communities—a haunted house or other such localized place is not large enough to qualify. The place or people in your story must be fiction, must be told in 1st person and must be a present day adventure

 

Horror Short Story Contest– “Entries must be 2000 words or less, typed in 12 point Times New Roman and include your name, age, and contact information.”

Stuff I love About Writer’s Group: Pitch Sessions

No surprise to anyone who knows me, but I love to pitch ideas.  Big details, small details, little repetitive themes no one will ever notice, there’s no thought big or small that I don’t want to throw a million ideas at.  I have more ideas than I have time to write.  Half these ideas are concepts I’d prefer someone else develops.  As much as I love to write, reading is my preference.  If I saw more engaging imagination in print, I’d write a lot less.

 

I go to Writers’ Group foremost as a chance to deliver a bouquet of premises at other writers.  There’s plenty else to enjoy and appreciate at our weekly meetings, but each week I’m most interested in hearing what others are working on and what I can cook up to help increase their narrative.

 

There’s always the worry.  One day, I’ll ask too many questions, throw out too many ideas, or fixate on an idea I like but the writer who owns the story does not.  Got to keep looking for those little tells, but thankfully (and please correct me loudly if this is wrong), it doesn’t seem like my barrage has annoyed anyone yet.

 

What’s best about the pitch is there’s no wrong concept.  Nothing too strange, just a constant flow of ideas until we hit one we like.  Free thought association that slowly develops a narrative.  Sitting in a noisy coffee shop refining an engaging story to its best form.  What isn’t rewarding about that?