Lucky 7 & An Unlucky Fairy Godmother

One of my very favorite indie authors, Kait Nolan, tagged me for the Lucky 7 challenge. The rules?

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current WIP.

  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 sentence or 7 lines — as they are!
  • Tag 7 people and do the same

A Little Fairy Dust coverSo here’s my entry from page 7 of A Little Fairy Dust, the next short story coming out (hopefully) in August! Faye is a fairy godmother in training, Jet is her ex, and she gets caught working a little magic.

“What is it, Faye?”

“Why should I tell you?” I dropped my caught-off-guard tone and moved to my he’s-still-a-liar tone. He’d hid plenty from me, so whatever I was up to was none of his business.

“Because you might be doing something else to sabotage the team.”

“Something else? What did I do before?”

Jet tilted his head and held up his casted hand, like it was a smoking gun.

“I didn’t do that,” I answered. “You punched the wall.”

[Now imagine a serious, booming voice.] “Why did Jet punch the wall? Why is he blaming Faye? Is Faye sabotaging the football team? Why is this guy named after a plane?

“Find out when you read A Little Fairy Dust — coming soon!” 🙂

ROW80 Goals

It’s time again to announce my goals for the next round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Last round, I set only five goals and did reasonably well reaching them. I’m going to keep it streamlined once again.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. I’m already making better progress on this, by the way.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. Release dates will probably be mid-August and late September.

3. Read 12 books. This remains a good number for me, and my reading will include both fiction and nonfiction.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. The conference is July 23-26.

That’s it! A few specific goals that are do-able, yet stretch me all the same.

I am forgoing sponsor duty this time around, since summers are kind of crazy for me, but I’m glad to stay involved. ROW80 has been a boost to my work productivity and a great chance to support other authors. If you’re a writer looking for some inspiration, motivation, and/or accountability, check it out here.

How’s your writing or your week gone? What goals have you set for yourself? And, just for fun, who’s your favorite fairy in fiction?

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4 Tips for Writing a Short Story

I recently wrote a guest article at Writers in the Storm on 6 Reasons to Write a Short Story. So that was a bit of why, but how do you craft an effective short?

While there is much advice about writing novels that translates to writing short fiction, other aspects don’t seem to apply. For instance, the story structure for novels — with various theories, diagrams, acrostics, and outlines — doesn’t fit a lot of successful short stories.

By researching, taking an RWA course on short stories, reading other stories to see what worked (and what didn’t), and using trial-and-error, I came up with my own tips for writing a short story.

1. Limit your characters. You don’t have enough time and space to develop many characters. Just as you wouldn’t introduce twelve people in chapter one of a novel, don’t overload the short story reader with too many names and faces.

Make sure every character must be there.

  • Does each character contribute to this particular storyline?
  • If you have two secondary characters each serving a purpose, can you mesh their purposes and create a composite character?
  • Does your main character need so many friends or family members?
  • Can you refer to a character by their profession or appearance, such as “the police officer” or the “red-headed cheerleader”?

If you need to mention several people, maybe you can link them more generally. For instance, you could refer to a group of friends by their leader’s name, like “Rudy and his gang.” Or group them in a memorable way.

In my upcoming short, A Little Fairy Dust, the main character, a fairy godmother-in-training, has three sisters, all with names beginning with F. Having their names all start with the same letter allows the reader to immediately recognize a sister without needing to know exactly who’s who. Although be careful not to be gimmicky; have a story reason for your choices as well.

2. Forget those subplots. Choose a main plotline, and maybe one subplot. You can’t weave several plots together the way you can in a novel. Know who and what your story is about, and stick to that.

If you’ve ever written a query, synopsis, back cover copy, or an “elevator pitch,” you already understand this principle. When describing a novel, you stick to the main story with the protagonist, the antagonist, the primary conflict, and its resolution. Approaching a short requires the same perspective: Whittle away at the whole convoluted story to find the core element within.

Indie author Kait Nolan does this well in her Meet Cute romances, a series of shorts celebrating the first meeting of a romantic couple. As she explains, “You’ve got a very narrow window that requires quick and ruthless worldbuilding and leaves no room for you to get distracted by other stories beyond your main plot—and that includes backstory. Don’t overcomplicate by trying to tell more than one story.”

3. Squish the timeline. One of my stories happens in the course of a few hours, and another occurs over the course of four months. But in both, the timeline is truncated—by choosing a single event or by sharing only slivers of the whole story.

Shrinking the timeline to a single day or hours can give your short story a sense of urgency—that now-or-never feel.

My Sister's Demon book coverOr you can cover a longer period of time, but expect to leave stuff out and do a little telling to catch readers up. This can work well with internal or external dialogue as the main character reflects on something that happened during a time gap. For instance, there’s a month gap each between most chapters in My Sister’s Demon, so at one point the main character summarizes:

In the last month, she’s bought all kinds of not-Nickie stuff—everything from a black-and-blood-red clothing line to bags of marijuana to creepy wooden idols she found in some weird magic shop.

With one sentence, the reader gets the overall picture: things got worse. Slid seamlessly into real action time, you can keep the reader up-to-date, cover a greater time span, and maintain your focus.

4. Remember the arc. While studying up on short stories, I read many examples from writers that weren’t stories at all. They were scenes or interesting premises, but conflict and a growth arc were missing. A beautifully described scene or character is not a short story. The same character arc applies to short fiction: Your hero must face an obstacle and change as a result.

Make your main character face his fears, encounter difficulties, wrestle with a villain, fight for true love. There should still be an inciting incident, crossing of a threshold, building of stakes, a climax, resolution.

You won’t have as many plot points as you would in a well-structured novel, but you might be surprised how well you can cover a character arc even in a short story. Think of how many times in your own life you’ve learned something important from a single, attitude-altering event.

Just like in a novel, make each word count in your short story. But feel free to use a little trial and error yourself. Shorts can be a great way to step out of your comfort zone, tell an impactful story, and hone your writing skills.

ROW80 Wrap-Up

Yep, this is the final report for Round 2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

1. Read 12 books. I read 13 books and one short story. In case you’re curious, here’s the list:

  • Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point-of-View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson (nonfiction craft)
  • Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (YA paranormal)
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain (nonfiction craft)
  • The Collector by Victoria Scott (YA paranormal)
  • The Quantum League: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby (middle grade paranormal)
  • Self-Publishing Attack by James Scott Bell (nonfiction craft)
  • Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro (YA contemporary)
  • After the Scandal by Elizabeth Essex (historical romance)
  • Stupid Cupid by Tina Ferraro (YA contemporary short)
  • Defiant by Jessica Trapp (historical romance)
  • How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles (YA contemporary)
  • No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice–Instead of Good–Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. PhD Degler (nonfiction)
  • Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum (YA suspense)
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (YA contemporary)

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Once again, I did not complete this. But I’m so amped about where I am now that I almost don’t care. (Almost.) I’ll push this goal to next round, but I expect to get it done soon.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Last week, I still hadn’t hear back from everyone about my next cued story, A Little Fairy Dust. But I’d rather hold that one until I’m absolutely certain it’s ready for publication. It’s almost there. But I also did the last polish and formatting for another short in the series.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon was published on May 15, and I flipped my planned sequence and released The Vampire Exclusive on Friday, June 27.

The Vampire Exclusive cover
Click for link to Amazon

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. In total, I visited 64 ROW80 updates, and I think I hit everyone who participated in this round at one time or other. I truly find it inspirational to see how other writers are progressing by setting manageable goals and taking important steps in their writing journey.

Are you a fan of short stories? What tips do you have from reading or writing shorts? And how was your week or your round?

My Words: A Young Adult Short Story

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and we see what we can find. On the first Wednesday of each month, I’m featuring some snippet of my words; that is, my writing.

In April of this year, ORANGE KAREN: TRIBUTE TO A WARRIOR was released. This anthology features more than 30 short stories from various genres. Among them is my young adult contemporary short story, Color Me Happy. Here’s an excerpt:

Orange Pompoms

Oh, how I wanted to be the girl-on-top.

I know what you’re thinking, but the term had nothing to do with sexual aggressiveness or sluthood. I’m not like that. I’m talking cheerleading pyramid.

Splits, back flips, herkies, toe-touch jumps, tumbling passes—I could do them in my sleep. I’d been tumbling since elementary school and a cheerleader since the first tryouts in junior high. I’d craved that top spot since I’d made the high school varsity squad, and finally the cheerleading coach had designated me to be “the girl-on-top.”

We came out in orange football jerseys with tight white shorts, shaking our orange-and-white pompoms. With my natural light red—okay, orange—hair, I looked like a striped traffic cone. The first part of our routine went smoothly—a choreographed dance to a pop and hip-hop medley. Then it was go time for our stunts. The lifts and jumps were as smooth as the satin ribbons in our hair, as three of us were hoisted up and thrown into flips and twists, each caught by three spotters below. The students clapped and yelled as we performed our daring feats . . . or showed off our legs—take your pick.

Then we gathered up into a bunch and started to form the final trick. I was lifted like before, but this time even higher. At the top, I raised one leg over my head and stood single-footed on the flattened hands of junior Tara Smith. The crowd erupted with cheers, and the stands rumbled with the feet of hundreds of students expressing their admiration. I was there—at the top to hear and see it all.

My heart thumped wildly, and my head floated further above my third-story location. The music ended on a boom, and the praise of our spectators washed over me anew. This was exactly where I’d wanted to be.

And then I felt it. A slight movement at the bottom of the pyramid, like the princess felt the pea or Yertle the Turtle burped at the bottom. Immediately, I lowered my leg, and Tara quickly responded by spreading out her hands to let me stand in a more stable position. But her hand faltered. Her balance wavered. Time slowed to a crawl, and I could see what was happening before I fell.

The cheerleaders’ hold gave way, and I went down like an ice cream scoop onto the sidewalk. Spotters scrambled beneath me. I had one last thought before I landed: “Please, no one put this on YouTube.”

ORANGE KAREN Book CoverTo read more, check out the book: ORANGE KAREN: TRIBUTE TO A WARRIOR. The current Kindle price is only $3.99, and Amazon Prime members can borrow it for free!

Do you enjoy short stories? Do you have any anthology recommendations? And have you ever been on the top of a cheerleading pyramid?

First Impressions, Cover Reveal, and ROW80

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

Today’s topic is first impressions. The whole reason for the popular saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is because that’s exactly what we’re inclined to do. And that’s not all bad either.

Some years back, I read a book called You’ve Only Got Three Seconds. The author is/was a communications consultant for executives looking to enhance their image. Her proposition is that you have an extremely limited time–like three seconds–to make a positive first impression.

I cringed a little at that theory because I wanted to believe in my NF temperament heart that what’s deep down inside is what matters and that people are willing to spend time, get to know you, dig down, and discover how wonderful you are. But the book convinced me that no matter how much I dream for such a utopia, that’s not the real world.

In the real world, we size each other up all the time. Not because we’re all heartless jerks who can’t be bothered to avoid prejudice, but because our snap judgments save time and are often correct. Take for instance the guy with his pants hanging down to show off half of his boxers, numerous piercings through his skin, and a skull-and-crossbones t-shirt. He’s telling us something about himself, and as such we assume that this guy is not headed for elected office or a yacht club. Or the carefully crafted woman with perfectly coiffed hair, a fresh manicure/pedicure, pricey garments, and expensive jewelry hanging off her. She’s making a statement with that look, and it isn’t punk-rocks-my-world.

Such messages are not about our worth or our goodness, but rather glances at our personality and priorities. In how we choose to dress, groom, carry ourselves, and approach people, we communicate a message. If you don’t think it does, may I replace your wardrobe with what your least favorite relative thinks you should wear? Probably not. We would balk at letting anyone else choose our look because we know that our choices convey a message about us.

Perhaps your message is that appearance isn’t that important to you. That’s okay. Or maybe you are sending the message with yoga pants, a large t-shirt, and spit-up on your shoulder that you are lucky to have gotten dressed today with twin babies at home. You might dress fancy daily because that makes you feel more confident and presentable to the world around you. But however you do it–and like it or not–you are making a first impression.

It matters to us personally . . . and it matters to writers when they choose book covers. A cover is a book’s first impression, and it sends a message. It gives a potential reader a sense of what’s within the pages.

So when the Orange Karen Anthology team revealed the cover for its upcoming short story anthology–in which my YA story Color Me Happy will be published–I was nervous to take a look. BUT Y’ALL, I LOVE IT!

Orange Karen Cover

The Orange Karen anthology features short stories by more than 30 authors with a range of genres. The profits from book sales will go toward lessening the burden of medical expenses incurred by Karen DeLabar in her bout with toxic shock syndrome. I am thrilled to be a part of this project, and I think this cover gives a marvelous first impression.

And now on to last impressions . . . as in my final ROW80 check-in for 2013 Round 1.

ROW80 Update

My goals were fluid this time, as they often are. I’ve listed them below with the original goals in blue and added goals in red. This is a wrap-up, with a summary of my progress for the whole round.

Editing

  • Complete full rewrite of SHARING HUNTER. I did some rewriting during the round, but I was not pleased with the resultsLast week, I admitted that I have set this project aside for the time being.
  • Work with editors on short story for Orange Karen Anthology. Finished! The book’s release date is April 11, 2013.
  • Revisit GRACE & FIRE (1st novel) and run through one more round of editsI edited some but did not finish. This mystery and its follow-ups may have to wait until the second half of the year.

Writing

  • Fast Draft new project – YA mystery. I have 56k words on this new project, more than half of them written in the last two weeks. The book’s working title is Breaking the Commandments and features a preacher’s daughter as the protagonist.
  • Write one full short storyCompleted.
  • Edit first short story. Edited once, needs a final polish.
  • Write second short story. Written and will edit next round.
  • Write blog posts for Sundays (including ROW80 updates) and Wednesdays. I happily blogged twice a week, and I like the move from 3 to 2 times a week. It suits my schedule and my sense of having something worth saying.
  • Start plotting sequel to GRACE & FIRE (working title: HOPE & ASHES). I outlined a portion of the novel but soon realized that I needed to research life in jail to get the story right. I am watching documentaries and reading relevant books as I have time. Also, this is part of the series that may need to wait for the second half of the year.

Reading

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Besides SHARING HUNTER, this was the goal I struggled with. I need to do some soul-searching about why I resist exercise so much and what will increase my willpower. I did, however, exercise 3 times last week.
  • Take a true Sabbath–no working and time with God and family one day a week. love this new habit.

So what do you think about first impressions? Any thoughts on the Orange Karen cover? And if you participated in ROW80, how did your round go? Were you pleased with your overall progress?