Thursday, October 31, 2019

How NOT to Write a Short Story

Step 1. Have a short story idea for a submission call. Two years ago. It has one POV character and is, loosely, a romance.

Step 2. Start to brainstorm it. Run it by an agent, just for funsies, because you already paid for a pitch session and have nothing else to talk about.

Step 3. Hear these fateful words: “It sounds like a novel.” (Cue ominous music.)

Step 4. Yeah, it does sound like a novel. This would be pretty great.

Step 5. But it needs two POV characters.

Step 6. And an antagonist, obviously, who’s pretty awful. But he doesn’t need a POV.

Step 7. Enter the very important sister with a very detailed backstory—enough for her own short story at least.

Step 8. That villain is getting pretty loud. Definitely need to do some scenes from his POV.

Step 9. Some first chapter contests, some workhops.

Step 10. One round of NaNoWriMo (but only 30k words, because you’re working on other stuff at the same time).

Step 11. More brainstorming, more outlining. Because finally you’re really seriously going to finish up this story idea. No more sidetracks.

Step 12. Wait, what? That new character idea would really be super intriguing. She totally deserves her own sequel. But for now, she’ll just show up as a hint at the very end. Right?

Step 13. Wrong. She’s totally a POV character. Maybe?

Step 14. But at least I don’t have to write the sister’s POV! (Yet.)

And that, my friends, is how a 7k-word story idea I had a couple years ago has blossomed into today’s NaNoWriMo project, projected to end up probably somewhere around 80­-90k, with four POV characters.

Image result for madness gif

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Podcastle Semifinalist, NYC Midnight Flash Fiction

Fun news! A story I submitted to Podcastle’s flash fiction contest (500 words or less) is now a semifinalist! The competition has gone from about 215 stories down to 51.

I finished a decent draft of this piece in March-ish at ~900 words, but it needed some tightening. So the challenge to drop down to 500 was the perfect boost to get cutting. The competition is strictly anonymous, so I won’t talk more about the piece itself, but I may post later, after names have been revealed.

If you are a SFF reader who loves very short fic, you’re welcome to read and participate in the voting. The forum where they hold the contest is currently down, unfortunately. They had some tech bugs at a very good-and-bad time. Good because they’d just finished up the first round of voting. Bad because those of us in the semifinals are now holding our breath. All my sympathies to their “tech barbarians” for having to get this sorted. When the forum is up again, I’ll share a link to show you how you can get involved.

As I mentioned, the competition is very anonymous, so please, if you are among the few who know which piece is mine, don’t vote in my semifinalist group! And obviously don’t say, “Oh, hey! This is Jeanna’s story!” Or do anything else nefarious, like creating multiple accounts at a single household, etc.—I really don’t want to succeed by cheating. (And I am up against some really fantastic stories, as well as a few I don’t particularly care for—but there are enough wonderful ones that it’s going to be hard.)

In other news, I’ll be doing NYC Midnight’s flash fiction contest again this year. It’s going to be weird doing it from an Australia time zone rather than New York’s. I’ll write for half a day on Saturday, take a break for Sunday, and finish my piece on Monday morning, so that’s a bit different.

In honor of preparing for this contest, and to dust off my rusty writing skills, I’m requesting some prompts! So if you’re still reading this post, I’d love to have you comment with the following: a genre, a location, and an object. Be as random as you want. Then I’ll pick a couple of these and write some flash fiction! If I choose your prompts, I’ll also send you my story to read (it may be great or it may be trash—it’s like a grab bag from the dollar store, where you have no idea what you’re going to get!).

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 22, 2018

My Favorite Fairy Tale, a Blog Hop Party

Greetings, fairy tale explorers! Welcome to my portion of the fairy tale blog hop. I hope you have a good time exploring different authors this week, and I hope you find something new to delight you (better yet if it’s me!).

Thirteen fairy tale authors have gotten together to talk about their favorite fairy tales. Follow the links at the bottom of each blog post to hop to the next author’s website. Collect our favorite numbers to total up at the end and enter to win a print collection of our books! (There are several anthologies, debuts, and even an ARC for a BLINK YA book you can’t buy in stores yet!)

Favorite fairy tale? That used to be an easy question. “Beauty and the Beast,” of course. In college, as part of graduating with university honors, you had to write a thesis paper. I wrote mine on—you guessed it—“Beauty and the Beast.” Oh, I ate, drank, slept, and read that story for several months. So many different versions, with lots of contemporary ones. And the picture books! So many picture books. (Despite all this, I sadly left some ridiculous gaps, so please don’t ask me about Villeneuve’s version. I’m still embarrassed that I didn’t read that.)

Which was my favorite retelling? Definitely not the Disney film. I like elements of the Disney, but I can’t escape feeling like Belle is stuck up and just really not the Beauty that I wanted her to be.* My favorite version was easily Robin McKinley’s Beauty. And then, when I wrote my own (currently shelved) novel-length version, that was my favorite.  

I love “Beauty and the Beast” for its story of redemption, which was in fact what I wrote about. Here’s the TL;DR: The story is about more than falling in love with a beast. It’s about the power of seeing people truly and how that changes them—and us. There you go, about 64 pages summed up in a sentence (64, by the way, is 2^6; I love powers of 2, which is why 16 is my favorite small-ish number).**

But to make another long story short, years have since intervened, and the luster has faded from dear Beauty, the Beast, and all their incarnations. Asked today, I would be much harder pressed to answer, but I’m leaning toward “The Six Swans” (so much angst! so much sacrifice!) or “Diamonds and Toads” (my favorite theme—how gifts can be curses, and vice versa!). I even have a flash version of “Diamonds and Toads” here on the blog, if you want to check it out.

Which probably explains how I’ve ended up starting a novel based on a character from each of these tales. I love these characters so much, and if I can do even a little justice to who they are, you will too (someday).

So that’s it! Thanks for coming by. Now go visit Alicia Gale and find out what she has to say. If you’ve already been to all 13 stops and collected everyone’s favorite number, then go enter to win the grand prize.

As an added bonus, if you’d like to be included in an additional drawing (for an individual copy of Unspun), go to my Facebook page, follow me, and leave a comment letting me know what your favorite fairy tale is and why.

For an additional entry to my individual drawing (only available after Sunday, the 24th), go to Timeless Tales magazine and read some of the Snow White issue, which features my super-fluffy (and somewhat out of character for me) “The Nanny Job,” then come back to Facebook and tell me what you think of Snow White stories (doesn’t have to be mine).

And finally, if you just can’t wait and want to make sure you get a copy of Unspun, it’s on sale just this weekend. Go forth and purchase and enjoy!

Happy reading, all!

* On the other hand, in junior high I used to walk home from school while reading a book, and a boy I had a crush on called me “Belle” one time (just after we almost collided), and that felt like a compliment, so... mixed feelings?
** Which may also have something to do with why I’m a geek. (And yes, 16 is the number you’re looking for in the blog hop.)

Book Review: Blackthorn and Grim series, by Juliet Marillier


Note: This review is about book 1 (Dreamer’s Pool) and book 2 (Tower of Thorns), sort of combined. I haven’t read book 3 (Den of Wolves) yet, but I’m looking forward to it. While I think you could probably read book 2 on its own if you really wanted to, I don’t think it works well as a stand-alone.

TL;DR: Read the clean rating section. If that doesn’t stop you from wanting to read these books, read them. If you’ve read and liked Marillier before, read them. If you like complicated characters with horrific backstories who are nevertheless doing their best to live reasonably decent lives, read them. They’re great.

Rating: 4.5

Clean rating: PG-13 definitely. Largely for thematic elements (there’s some pretty majorly violent/awful backstory for both our main characters, including rape, torture, injustice, and various other horrible events). The backstory is neither glorified nor described in depth, but it’s pervasive in how these characters experience life. The books are not light, fluffy reads, though I also didn’t find them dark and depressing.

Book 1 also has some sexual content that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I don’t like reading the sexual elements (though there was not a lot of detail, and it was all told in a very repressive tone by a character who clearly didn’t approve of his own behavior). On the other hand, whereas some sex scenes are just thrown in for fun, the couple of incidents in this book are absolutely integral to the storyline.

So while I can’t recommend the books to various of my friends and family who I know share similar values, I have loved them and will continue to read them.

Short summary: Blackthorn is a healer who is too angry to want to heal anyone anymore. When she’s given a chance to escape a terrible situation or die, she takes the deal that lets her escape, even with some conditions on her freedom that tend to ... chafe. Grim is big, strong, and loyal to Blackthorn. He’s got his own ugly past to deal with. Together they get drawn into complicated challenges to help people who may or may not deserve help.

Blackthorn and Grim’s characters and growth create the series arc, along with some mysteries from their pasts. The individual challenges create the individual book arcs.

What I liked: Oh, Marillier. It’s probably easier for me to just skip to what I didn’t like. But I’ll hit the highlights here.

Blackthorn. Grim. Although I think I like Grim a little better. He is not my usual kind of character; I tend to like witty, funny, clever—though not obnoxiously charming. But Grim is wonderful. He’s strong, determined, steady, kind, loyal. The revelations of his backstory throughout book 2 didn’t surprise me overmuch, but they gave such lovely depth to him as a person. I kind of want to hug him—except that would be super weird, because he’s also kind of this huge ogre sort of a fellow. It would be kind of like hugging a slightly friendly rock.

Blackthorn, for all her thorniness, is a lovely character too. Not the sort of person you want to sit and chat with (she would hate that anyway), but reliable and stronger than she thinks. I like how we see both of them slowing growing and changing and softening. Plus, without giving spoilers, I love what happens with the characters in the end of book 2. It made me happy and sad and yelling-at-the-characters-for-their-idiocy all at the same time.

As with the other Marillier I’ve read, the writing is exquisite. The storytelling is excellent. The twists worked—though I figured out what was likely to happen with large parts of the plot, there were plenty of surprises along the way. And the stuff that wasn’t surprising was still an enjoyable journey.

What didn’t work for me: Ummm... I’m thinking... Okay, I do admit I would have preferred some sort of workaround for the sexual content in Dreamer’s Pool (although I giggled just a little bit every time the character mentioned his “manhood”).

I was about to go on a bit about how I had no idea how to pronounce stuff. But then I saw that book 2 had a pronunciation guide that I just missed. Oops. I listened to the first one, so I got pronunciation of names like Flidais (Fliddiss) and Emer (eh-ver!) and Laois (leesh!) from that. But in Tower of Thorns, I spent the entire book wondering how I was supposed to pronounce Geilèis (ge-lace, apparently). So I guess I can’t complain about that now.

Last words: I recently had a friend do a critique for me on some stuff I’m working on, and she compared the writing to Marillier, and I kind of wanted to reach through the computer and hug my friend and then do a little happy dance. If my stories could one day be classed even remotely close to Juliet Marillier, I would feel like I had won at all the things.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: A Bit of Magic, a fairy tale collection

A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale RetellingsOverall rating: 3.5­­ stars

In case you missed it, fairy tales are my thing, so I was already sold on the idea of another fairy tale collection. Because I’m not really sure there can ever be too many. Most of these stories were based on fairly well-known tales, but there were a few lesser-known as well. On the whole I really enjoyed this collection. There were a few stories that didn’t speak to me, as is always the case in a collection, and there were a few that I really loved.

The highlights, for me:

“Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,” by Lynden Wade. Nothing truly unexpected happens here, but I just kind of loved watching these characters travel together and discover love. It had me from the get-go. This one had a really strong traditional fairy tale feeling too, which I loved.

“Bluebeard’s Wives,” by Mae Baum. Kind of the grittiest story, but that’s to be expected from a story that involves Bluebeard, am I right?* I loved setting this tale in the modern world and with a different explanation of the Bluebeard mythos. But really, it was the ending that sold me—it was so deeply satisfying to me. I just kind of cheered internally. “Take that!” However, this isn’t a story that I think most of my family and friends would appreciate quite so much. There was just something about it that made me happy.

“The Thief and the Spy,” by Katelyn Barbee. For me, absolutely the highlight of the collection. The rich setting of the piece, the main characters and their personal quandaries and struggles, the magic woven into the story so seamlessly that it just feels like a part of their world rather than an additional afterthought. I also loved the variations from and similarities to the various versions of “Cinderella.” Like the slight change in the arrangement of Asha’s family (there’s only one evil stepsister; the other is on her side), the explanation for why Asha’s dresses keep getting prettier, why she sticks around, etc. Just a delightful romantic read with a lot of other stuff going on in it.

Clean rating: PG mostly, but some PG-13 stories, largely for fairy tale-ish violence or for thematic elements (you just can’t get away from Bluebeard, remember). “Bluebeard’s Wives” and “Goodbye, Gigi” had the most, as I recall.

I received an ARC from the publisher, but my opinions were not influenced in any way.

* Please note my utter inability to use slang, even in writing. Because I just couldn’t imagine myself typing “amirite?” without laughing at how I sounded so very not like me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

After the Excitement, Back to the Grind

- a post about writing

Well, in case you missed it, the anthology I am a part of came out last week. If you’re interested in all the gushing excitement, just read the last couple posts. It was a fun day/week for our little anthology, and its opening day was really amazing. So much excitement! So much checking of stats! So much fangirling when this happened:

Okay, sure, his book has been in that general area forever, and we only hit it for a little while. But still, it’s one of those little moments you just have to enjoy.

Now a week has passed, and we’re past all the first hoorahs. And suddenly it’s like my writing is in a vacuum. I’ve been spending the last several months on almost weekly deadlines—short story contests, submissions, materials to submit for the upcoming Storymakers conference, final proofs for Unspun, etc. Now I have this gigantic lull.

I think this is where writing is hard for some of us. Somehow I manage to pull out some impressive feats once in a while when I’m backed up against a deadline, but then in the in-between spaces it can be hard to feel properly motivated. But these in-between spaces are where a lot of the real work happens.

So we have to find ways to motivate ourselves. It’s different for everyone, but we have to find what works for us. One thing I’ve got right now is an amazing accountability partner—we check in with each other every week on goals and plans. It doesn’t keep me perfectly in line, but it helps me to remember, “Hey, if I spend five hours binge-watching reality cooking shows, I’ve got to go tell LaChelle I was a total spaz. Maybe I’ll just write for five minutes... and then binge watch.” (At least I wrote first!) I’m also trying to practice building in deadlines (like most short story markets have deadlines, so I’m trying to write to some of them). I have friends who create their own reward systems—new shoes, new books, a bowl of ice cream, etc. There are lots of options out there!

So if you’re like me and you need some extra motivation to keep writing past the really exciting moments (first ideas, first drafts, publications, etc.), go find it, implement it. Not every moment of writing has to be filled with joy and inspiration, but I think we can find a lot more lasting fulfillment as we practice writing through the grind as well.

P.S. Here is your subtle reminder that if you read and enjoyed Unspun (or even if you read it and didnt enjoy), we as authors would be thrilled if you would write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Cosmically Cool Katherine Cowley*

* Dorky alliterative title because I can.
Why, yes, I am really terrible at getting good photo lighting.

ONE DAY UNTIL THE OFFICIAL RELEASE! (Also, if you want to buy a copy and havent yet, tomorrow is the perfect day to do it and benefit us authors. Amazon likes it when there’s an uptick in purchases on a single day.)

Now let’s talk about how nifty Kathy Cowley is!

In the process of joining this project, I let Kathy know that I was willing to do some of the copyediting/proofing. I felt so privileged to be able to help with a little bit of this work, and it meant I got a preview of many of the stories along the way. In doing this, I also got to make friends with Kathy Cowley, and I consider that definitely one of the highlights of working on Unspun. I’d already read and loved some of her flash fiction. (“Celestial Accounting” in last year’s Mormon Lit Blitz was my favorite piece other than mine. It is so good! Also, The Last Bathroom is just the right level of weird-but-fun.) So getting to know her as a person was fantastic.

In looking at her blog again to find links to some of her stories, I made an amazing discovery. Kathy wrote “In Which Eve Names Everything Else,” one of my favorite pieces from a different year’s Mormon Lit Blitz too! I had no idea this one was hers, but people, it is beautiful. Kathy just keeps getting cooler and cooler the more I know about her.

We’d been working together for a few months when she emailed to let me know she would be visiting family in Arlington—and did I want to get together for dessert somewhere in between there and here? Yes! Of course! I will even brave my driving phobia about new places!

So we met up at a restaurant one night and sat and ate tremendous quantities of cheese (no dessert in the end, but the cheese was definitely worth skipping the cake). We talked writing, our latest projects, family, etc. As expected, Kathy is as fun and cool in person as via email and phone (and on the phone she sounds like one of my dearest friends, Sariah). She’s working right now on a book that just sounds so very fun (if I get permission, I’ll tell you what it is).

Kathy took on so much of this project. It absolutely wouldn’t be the lovely book that it is without her. She coordinated people, arranged multiple edits, and probably did about a thousand other things that I don’t know about. Oh, and did I mention she did all the interior design?

Since we met, she has also given me fantastic (and speedy) critiques of a ton of my short stories, and her suggestions have been invaluable in them all. Finding a great critique friend is awesome, and I’m so glad to add her as one of mine.

Anyway, I’ll stop fangirling now. Let’s just say she’s awesome, and when she publishes more books, you should go buy them. Immediately.

The End.

P.S. Her website is down at the moment (stinky hackers!), but as soon as it is back up, you should go check it out.