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?

 

What’s in a Name?-A name I stole from another Author’s Blog!

image from open clipart.org provided by Astro

 

Rick Polad shared What’s in a Name?  It inspired me to create my version.  And since we both admit we’re crap at creating names (well he struggles, I admit I’m crap at it), I figured I’d steal his title to keep with the theme…because I don’t want to waste time creating another title not because I couldn’t.  


It’s content that matters right?  Except if your title or name sucks, no one will ever get past it and into all the good stuff, which can leave writers stuck.  Even people good with names, can feel stymied by the pressure applied to first impressions.  Bland titles that don’t search well in Google or Amazon.

I have a few thoughts.  First don’t use character names that start with the same letter in a single story. I know Polad speaks about using Rose and Rosie as two different character names in the same work.  I’m thrilled it worked out for him.  As someone with dyslexia it wouldn’t work out for me as either an author or a reader.  Those two names read the same on a casual glance.  Figuring out the characters are separate and keeping them separate would slow my reading down to a snail’s pace.  I might need to make notes.  So don’t make your characters’ names so similar please.  


 I go one further and try never to use names that start with the same letter.  People skim, they don’t read anymore.  I don’t want to confuse anyone kind enough to read my work with names that tangle different characters together into one person.


I also suggest using one name for a character.  I’ve read a lot of books where halfway through characters develop nicknames that are either shorten versions of their full name (i.e. the author tired of writing the full thing out) or the character develops a random pet names.  It’s annoying to keep track a bunch of different names.  Use one name even if it’s not the real name have everyone call him Snake or whatever.  
There is ONE series of books where the author used nicknames to her advantage.  In it she has the main character name those around her after their predominate traits.  It works because it helps us get to know her main character and because the main character’s insistency on these nicknames ends up forcing other characters to adopt them.  The nickname that uses the character’s defining trait becomes how everyone addresses the guy formerly known as Bob.  


I’d like to tell you not to make the name ridiculous, but I use outrageous names all the time.  What I will say is that it’s a balancing act to make names unusual and other names more standard.  Consider when a name might be too on the nose or when one person has a unique name in a sea of bland.

And Now Helpful Resources:
 First is Behind the Name If you’ve got a theme, this site will fill your queue with potential names.  You can search through meanings, country origins, and genders when hunting for names.  All of this can be a sly nod to a reader or something meant only to tickle the author.
My second favorite site is the Fake Name Generator.  Ashley, in writers’ group, gave me this site and now I’m sharing the love.  Identity genorator offers “believable” if you are looking for that living in the real world vibe.  Fill in the specifics you have and let the site give you the rest.  It’s an interesting creators’ tool.  

*Edit 11/7/18 I just found Reedsy has a interesting detailed name generator that offers names for Villains, heroes, mentors, and side kicks.  Or names specific to fantasy races, or names bases off of certain languages.  I still prefer Behind the Name, but Reedsy’s resource has too much possibility to exclude.*

Next I recommend a writers’ group or series of peers.  Ashley gave me a name for one of my characters and she let me know another’s name isn’t “too on the nose”.  Having outside feedback is key to getting into a potential readers’ mindset.  


Last, when all else fails, I bang the keys of my computer and see what rises from the gibberish.  I like grabbing scifi names this way.  
Talk to me.  Do you have trouble creating names for people and places?  Do you have tips, tricks, or favorite sites to help?  Any other thoughts on what not to do when naming a place or person?

Question on the Hour: What place does Music have in Your Writing?

 

photo by Amanda Standfield

 

Do you listen to music when you write or is the room dead silent?  Do you use a special mix with specific songs or do you pick a genre and then let Spotify or pandora pick the playlist?  Do you prefer songs with lyrics or are you into pure instrumentals?  Can you write only with music or only in silence?

For starters, my music service of choice is Pandora.  Ever since the service came out, I loved its evocative name and the way the service introduces me to new music has always intrigued me.  Countless hours in college fiddling with the radio settings and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different songs, forged a lifetime bond with this service.  I keep some channels so fine tuned that some songs I like don’t play on one station, only the other.  All this personalization is perfect for writing because I can pinpoint what kind of emotion and tempo I want while I write. 

As a general starting place, I listen to pop/dance music when I write.  The fast beats encourage the words to flow fast and constant.  Most pop/dance is repetitive and uncreative (sorry), which helps me get to a state of mind without coloring my prose.  Unless as you read this you’re thinking “oh no no no, don’t phunk with my heart,” Black Eyed Peas make consistent appearances on this channel.  The best part of my dance music motif is that when I get stuck on a certain scene, I can stop writing and start an impromptu dance party!  Nothing drives progress like an endorphin hit.

That said, I have a short story I inspired by one specific song.  To write it, I looped the one song the during the whole writing process—hours of the same song, and I still find that song mysterious and inspiring.  Something about its slow start that transforms to frantic drums and ends abruptly –

For reference, while I like pop/dance just fine but they aren’t my go to genre.  Except Lady Gaga whose amazing, my music preferences just for enjoyment include hard rock, metal, alt rock, grunge, and folk.  Angry and loud or pensive and angst (but never Emo they feels are manufactured).  I like songs I can channel feelings through and release.  Problem with this kind of music is that sometimes it makes me feel too much.  The writing becomes too personal or I’m too busy wallowing in an emotion to refocus on what I meant to do.  I might occasionally listen to a folk or rock station briefly so I can capture that bit of that depth my writing, but I don’t want to live there.  Writing or reading a story that’s all brooding anger and open wounds sounds terrible and exhausting for everyone involved.

Do your music preferences match what you listen too?  If you use a writers’ playlist, what does it reveal about you as a person or as a writer?  Follow up thought: do you longer works have playlist?  What about your characters?  My favorite creation, Roxi, has a playlist and I wonder how many other authors’ creations take on a life of own through music.

Why Do You Write?

image from open clipart.org by Firkin

 

It’s a simple question, but one I’ve found a lot of writers have never asked themselves.

I write because I have stories and I want to tell them.  Compulsion pulls me through where a reasonable person may surrender.  There are days where I think “even if no one ever sees this, I need to complete it.”  That’s an internal part of writing, when an idea gets too big to hold in my head and needs to come out to the page.   There are stories of mine I’ll never seek to publish.  I “had” to write them, but that doesn’t mean they are good or meant for public consumption.  Two, even though they are fiction, just mean personal things I don’t want to share.  Others are artistic dabbles that I either think aren’t good or may be acceptable but not noteworthy enough to go through the work trying to publish.

I write because I enjoy reading but it’s rare I find an engaging story.  Arrogance at it’s finest, to think I can be more unique and captivating that those already published.  What I want is so niche it’s probably not worth creating.  If I’m looking for a gritty urban fantasy with relatable characters, attainable goals, and both good and negative parts of magic and myth running the world, there must be other people looking for that.  Urban fantasy readers can’t all be there for the romance and laughs.  Some of them must be like me looking for the substance.  American Gods exists and was a huge hit.  There are so many other directions a work like that could go that I want to see.

I write as a way for reaching out to others.  As someone shy, nervous, and concerned about other’s feelings and perspectives, there is no better way to broach difficult topics than through fiction.   It’s a lot harder to feel attacked by an idea expressed in an imaginary world than an idea that will affect people now.  Stories create space for people to say “that’s an interesting idea, could it work here?” or “I wonder if issue X is relevant now and what that looks like?”

I write because it distracts me when my anxiety is high.  To a lesser extent: I write when I’m depressed because I need something beautiful or I write when the world spins out of control because writing is all in my hands.  Most writers I know have an element of this.  They are pensive, depressed, anxious, socially awkward and writing mitigates that for them.

I write because it’s one of the few skills I have that makes me proud and leaves me feeling accomplished.  I write because I have something to say and I’m always exploring new ways to express my points.

And now you, the reader, know me better.  Tell me something about yourself.  Are you a writer?  What do you write?  If it’s fiction in nature, why write it?  If you’re a reader, what do you read and why read it?

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.

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?

Murder, Love, & Romance

North Alabama’s Writer’s Group

Writing Round Robin Exercise

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Murder, Love, & Romance

By Christopher M. Palmer, Jessica Donegan, Zach Stanfield, and Patrick O’Kelley

Beatrice Lochley pulled her robe tightly across her sleeping gown. It was morning at Kimberley Manor and the warm sun was streaming through the bedroom window. She walked to the balcony, overlooking the rolling green grounds. Her grandfather’s Greek temple folly on the hill framed the morning sun like a druidic henge, casting long shadows over the gravel drive. The gardeners were busy in the flower beds, trimming dead blooms and weeds. Soon it would be time for breakfast. She listens to the maids making their way through the halls, but they knew from prior unpleasant surprises not to disturb her. She returned to the room, careful to avoid looking at the canopied bed. There was a little wine left in the carafe on the nightstand and she poured it into a crystal glass and downed it with a grimace.

The washbasin would be cold until they brought it warmed water, but it would have to do. Cold water worked best for bloodstains, or so she’d heard. She removed the robe, not looking down at the bloodstained gown underneath. She dropped it as well and washed. Blood coated her hands and chest and throat, but a few drops had made it onto her face.  When Beatrice finished cleaning the worst areas, she wadded up the bloody towel, gown, and the stained robe and shoved them under the bed.

As she leaned against the bed, Harry’s cold hand fell outside the curtain.  Beatrice shuddered and grasped it, moving the husk from sight again. She had loved him, once, but now she felt numb of all feelings. No love. No guilt. No fear of what would happen to her now although she had no idea how this would play out.

After a moment’s reflection, she retrieved the bloody clothes and dressed in them again, then reached through the curtains to where his bloodied body was hidden and smeared herself with blood. One quick look around the room and she crossed to the door, opened it, screamed at the top of her lungs, and collapsed sobbing.

Maids rushed from both left and right sides of the hall.  A pitcher of fresh warm water shattered, forgotten on the marbled floors.  Beatrice smells heavy herbal tea and greasy bacon.  It mixed with Henry’s dry clotted blood in strange and stomach turning ways.  

The first maid, Anges, knelt beside Beatrice and tentatively reached out her warm arm.  Beatrice leaned into the warmth, shaking and crying.  She was enjoying the body heat even if she didn’t otherwise appreciate the liberties Beatrice took to make contact.  Nothing this morning, or most of the past evening had been warm.  From blood damp bed sheets to her small attempts to wash.  Chill surrounded her and radiated from a once loving heart.  

“Help,” Beatrice pleads, a detached part of her is proud at how many tears she’s produced and how much her voice quavers.  There was a reason Henry had always indulged her whims, and it wasn’t because he’d suspected the end he’d meet if he denied her.

 Anges shushes her and pulls her closer.  She’s spent around fifteen years in service to Beatrice’s family.  She knows what her concerns need to be if she plans to stay employed.  

“What are you all gaping at!” Anges demands.  “You call the authorities, there’s been a catastrophe.  Dalia and Andrew, clean this mess you’ve all made, and Grason, prepare the spare bedroom at once!  Draw a bath for Miss Lochly.  She’ll need to wash and some strong tea,” Anges proclaims.  

Strong sure hands grip Beatrice now.  They help steady her as she rises.  Beatrice wants to tilt her head like a curious kitten.  Who would have dreamed Agnes could be so strong and sure of herself?  A woman of her late sixties, she’s demure and quiet.  Always lingering around the edges of Beatrice’s life.  Taking empty dishes, cleaning dirty rugs, stoking fires.  Anges is useful, but never worth a second thought.  Now, comparing her firm certain grip to the tepid last struggles of Henry, she wonders what attracted her to that man.  That a servant woman commands such presence when Henry barely made his last moments memorable. Henry gave up long before Beatrice struck her killing blow, accepting his death the same way he accepted an unsightly gift.  It was good she’d ended his misery.  Maybe with Henry gone and this unsightly murder behind her, Beatrice would return some sense of control to her life.  She’d no longer have to entreat anyone to fund her hobbies or clothes.  The manor and all its funds would be hers.  An unforeseen gift.

Anges led Beatrice to the far side of the manor.  A rarely aired out section the family only uses for holiday visitors.  Beatrice hiccups and wrinkles her nose at the old dust and imagined mold.   She takes a few shuddering breaths.  Sobbing lost its charm almost as soon as she took it up.  Swollen tired eyes isn’t a look someone of her station should try.   Beatrice’s throat is hot and itchy from the screams.  Her body is tight with the tension caused from the pantomimed trembling.  It’s all so tedious.  

“Please,” Beatrice whispers.  

“Hush now Miss, we’re almost there.  Soon you can rest your bones in a nice warm bath.  And I’ll bring hot tea with lemon and honey, for your throat.  Your mother alway did warn you against such hysterics,” Agnes chides.

Captain Jonah Batson arrived just as Beatrice dropped her wet towel to put her evening clothes on. The thrill and the shock of her murderous action is wearing off and softer tender emotions are taking over.  Beatrice’s hands tremble, and she wonders, what’s next. Agnes knocks at the door of the guest bedroom, and Beatrice jumps.  Her nerves can’t take all this uncertainty.

“Miss Beatrice, Capt. Batson is here. He would like to have a word with you.”

“Just a minute.”

Beatrice finished dressing, relaxed her breathing, and reached the door just as another knock came. The door opened.

“Excuse me, miss. Sorry for the intrusion but we must be getting on with this case.”

“No, no. I understand. I’m sorry. I am still a tad bit shaken as you might imagine. Henry and I have been together for a good number of years and this is a complete shock to me.”

“Oh, believe me Miss Lochley, I understand. But if we may, I’d like to ask you a few questions before I visit the scene.”

“You haven’t been to the room yet?”

“No ma’am. Based on my previous experiences, I like to get a first hand account of the situation from the witnesses if there are any. So what can you tell me about the events of last night and this morning?”

Beatrice hesitated. She had thought she would have more time.  Her story was foolproof but her performance might be the deal breaker.

“Alright. Last night was like any normal night. Nothing extraordinary happened. However, around midnight I…”

A scream pierces the air, interrupting Beatrice’s stilted performance.  Batson tears out of the room leaving Beatrice behind. Another scream. Beatrice rises and begins to follow Batson.  What now?  Had one of the servants stumbled in on Henry’s body?  No, they would know to avoid that room.  Beatrice’s nerves feel raw and tender.  She’s doesn’t have the endurance for so much intrigue.

Batson arrives to the master bedroom where the body still lies. At the window, Agnes stares down to the courtyard below, pointing down and sobbing. Batson rushes to meet her gaze.

“Now Ma’am, there’s no reason to be so close to the open window, please come inside,” he coaxes, approaching her as a well meaning man may head towards a wounded deer.  Beatrice stands transfixed in the doorway.  Why did Anges venture to this room ahead of the Constable’s investigation?

Anges shakes her head, loosing a sob.  She looks past Batson to Beatrice, and as their eyes meet, Beatrice is certain she knows exactly how Henry’s bloody corpse came to lounge in the master bed.  But she doesn’t have any time to react because Anges turns and dives toward the walkway below.

Agnes prostate body caressed the stone. Blood dribbled down the crease of her mouth and into the lawn. Captain Batson peered up to the second floor and back at Ms. Agnes.

“Constable.”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Gather up the rest of members of the estate until further notice.”

“Yes, sir.”

Moments later, Captain Batson circles the body. He rolls her upward to face the sky and delicately shuts her eyes. A refraction of light showed from her hands. She clutched a locket, its chain winds around her wrist. Batson unclasped the piece. Inside were two adolescent photos of Henry. He was dressed down in light slacks and shirt. He affected no smile and stared ahead. Batson clasped it shut and returned to Beatrice.

She wept in the parlor. A few others stood by around tending to her sobs, trying to placate the tender spasms of air she sucked in. Batson dismissed the others and faced her.

“How long was Ms. Agnes attendant to Henry?”

Beatrice dabbed at the tears.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Want more?

Christopher M. Palmer’s Ending

Jessica Donegan’s Ending

Patrick O’Kelley’s Ending.

 

Curious About the Process?

All About the Writers’ Group Round Robin

Best of DailyScienceFiction.com’s January Stories

Daily Science Fiction’s   name is deceiving.  They are an online site that send subscribers a daily short in all varieties of science fiction and fantasy.  The short stories are held online in an archive and some are also published in their anthologies.  When I first came to the North Alabama Writers’ Group, it was one of the first resources suggested to me.  As writers we are encouraged to read others in the genre, stay current, but we are also encouraged to submit, submit, submit!  Daily Science Fiction can help an ambitious writer with both those goals.

 

In my year long relationship with Daily Science Fiction, it has turned into one of the white whales of the North Alabama Writers’ Group.  In a state of constant call for submission, but no matter how many of us offer dribbles, quite a few hand crafted for the medium, none of us have been accepted.  At the same time, we’re reading what feels like a bunch of garbage.  We find ourselves saying “I could do better” or “I have written better”, but we must be missing some quality or reoccurring theme.

 

In an effort to crack the Drabble code, I’m reading all the stories they send me.  Instead of bemoaning the terrible, I thought I’d just offer a monthly round up of what was good and why it worked for me.  These are ordered how I received them (excluding one I’ll get to).

 

“A Villian Considers His Options” by James Beamon—It’s funny and it has an almost meta quality.  Love his use of an acronym to name his A.I.  This is Beamon’s fifth publication to Daily Science Fiction.  I was able to find two previous submissions. One, “17 Amazing Plot Elements… When You See #11, You’ll Be Astounded” was terrible.  I’ve yet to read a list from Daily Science Fiction I like, so I’m thinking that even though there’s an obvious market for this type of writing, it’s just never going to be to my tastes.    The other “Settling Beef” was excellent.  Still sharp and funny like “A Villian Consider’s His Options” but also heavy with a relevant message in today’s world.  Of the three, it was the most successful store, though I still prefer “A Villian Considers His Options” best because is was the most amusing.  All three show a signature humorous voice and style.  Two do so in a way I found successful.  Beamon has a Goodreads page that shows he contributes to themed story collections and has one stand alone short story published, all showing high Goodreads ratings.

 

Emily Post’s Guide to Alien Encounters” by Audrey A. Hollis — excellent story telling.  It gave me a complete and deep arc in very few words.  I’m delighted one of the authors I like is female and I’m following her on twitter https://twitter.com/audreyrhollis.

 

Winged Fold Only” by Mary E. Load—a fun feel good story with a simple moral.  Her bio is just as entertaining as her story, and it gives me a new goal of what I want to aspire to in my own bio.

 

The BEST part about Mary E. Lowd’s work is that she wrote a sequel to “Winged Folk Only” also published this month in Daily Science Fiction called “Go High” —It was also on my list of good reads.  I really like Evben and hope to get more 1000 words on her.  This sequel was probably middle of the road for me.  Still cute and descriptive but with less of an emotional appeal.  What I loved what it’s connection to her earlier story.

 

Mary. E Lowd was published by Daily Science Fiction a total of 4 times this month, and I enjoyed three of her stories and was on the fence about one of them.  In the case of her other two, also connected, stories I wasn’t fond of the first “Queen Doripauli and the Sproutlings”. To me it lacked emotional depth and the action seemed to bland.  However, I loved the follow up “Waking up in the Genie Shop”.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for those sweet little moments in a story, and “Waking up in the Genie Shop” delivers.

 

Mary Lowd finished my January Daily Science Fiction experiment strong, but delivering one more wonderful story.  “Of Starwhals and Spaceships” is a fun short.  It has a childlike innocence and a general wonder for the universe.  It delivers on at least four complex thoughts, ones that would take me more than 1000 words to explain, which gives the work depth and almost mystic quality.

 

I found another 6 stories by Mary E Lowd on Daily Science Fiction, and I intend to read all of them.  For those curious they are “The Empty Empire,” “One Alien’s Wreckage,”  “Crowds on the Crossroad Station,” “Principles Over Profit,” “Inalienable Rights,” and “Cresent Horns and Tall Ears.”  I hope to find Evben in one of them and maybe a better backstory for Sloane and the sproutlings that makes me appreciate Queen Doripauli more.   Lowd is also a novelist, her books appear quirky, for a younger audience, and animal centric with a scifi twist.  Her books don’t seem quite right for me, but they were still neat to look at. Check her page out at Goodreads .

 

I’ve just finished reading “The book of the Unnamed Midwife” by Meg Elison, so when Daily Science Fiction brought me “The Library is Open” by Beth Cato, I had the opening scenes ready to go.  A peaceful bubble in the apocalypse where the normal becomes abnormal.  I liked how Cato played with tension.  Even in humanity’s darkest hour, her short left the reader feeling hopeful.

 

I found 6 other works on Daily Science Fiction for Cato.  They include: “Bear-Bear Speaks,”  “The Quest You Have Chosen Defies Your Fate,” “From the Ashes,” “Hatchlings,”  “10 Things Newly Manifested Wizards Should never do” (because everyone needs a list apparently), and “Measures and Counter Measures”.  She’s got a way with the titles, that make me very excited to find time to read these. Cato is also a prolific writer with a complete novel series and a new one started.  She’s also contributed to many Chicken Soup for the Soul editions.  Goodreads shows middle of the road reviews, but based off of her Daily Science Fiction contribution, I’m intrigued to read more.  I wish she were on kindle unlimited, but since I’d have to pay extra outside of my current book budget, I’ll just have to wait till I see a sale.

 

Maestro” by Neal A. Cline—is an example of a story that just barely makes my list and it’s for purely personal reasons.  First, I love tigers, so much that it caused me to do a lot of research on humanity’s relationship with wild animals and the process of domestication.  All of which lead me to believe that owning any wild animal in a pet like capacity will lead to tragedy 98% of the time.  Second, this story is about a mind link between human and animal, which I’m fascinated by.  Third, Cline brings up modern concerns over conservation of species and whether we can think it’s a success if we can only find some species of animal in a zoo (or in this case genetically modified to provide service for people).  Since I wanted to write a long opinion piece regarding what true conservation is and the value of a being outside of human use was, I decided to include this story.  “Like” is too strong an word for my feelings, but it did make me react, and that’s valuable.

 

Bone White” by Patrick Sullivan is an example of a work trying to blend a lot of working pieces and doing it with partial success.  I like the half of the story told in the past, it has a very “Emperor’s new Clothes” feel if the fairy tale included murder and depravity.  I love dark fairy tales.  The modern part, while possessing a chilling close, generally doesn’t work for me.  How come this cloak still exists?  Why wasn’t it destroyed or kept closely guarded?  It’s too much of a jump for me.   Still, a quick search shows Sullivan is new to publication and perhaps new to writing stories (publication =/= story experience). It’s a promising start and I’ll keep an eye out for more.

 

The Adjunct Professor’s Alien Girlfriend” by Marge Simon —was borderline for me too.  Description wise, there’s some elements about the male/female relationship I found concerning and annoying.  It’s further compounded in my mind because the woman is an alien and some of the “visa” description harkens back to “mail order brides”.  The sweetness of the ending helped me overlook a host of elements I didn’t appreciate.  Like “Maestro” it’s a great conversation starter, but not my favorite.

 

Simon is an accomplished writer.  Her work includes several award winning poems.  They seem to have an element of fantasy or scifi as well as romance.  Her Goodreads profile.  She also has 6 easily searchable publications in Daily Science Fiction.  They include: “The Sinner,” “Serving the Blind Girl,” “The Shutdown,”  “Found in the Wreckage,” The Human Guest,” and “Susan 3342 A.D.

 

Small Sacks of Children” by Andrew Kozma was a work I immediately disliked.  I almost skipped it only to find myself completely taken by the end.  Have to respect a writer who can instill such immediate emotion and then completely change the feeling in 1000 words.

 

I’m following him on Goodreads , though nothing up right now strikes my interest.  I found another 4 of his works in Daily Science Fiction: “Company Man,”  “When We Last Left,” “The Judges,”  and “The Mountain.”

 

That’s 10 out of 23 stories or a 43% success rate.  Do I think other people should subscribe to Daily Science Fiction and read all the stories—maybe?  What I liked, I really liked and introduced me to new writers I want to follow and keep and eye on.  It also gave me access to another 24 short stories to look at.  Will this help me be more brief in my own writing or open publication paths for me—I don’t know.  What I can say was that the process was fun and didn’t take a lot of time.  If you’re trying to get back into reading and not sure who to follow or what to pick up, Daily Science Fiction might be just the place to give you some leads.

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?