Flash Fiction Friday, With a Little WIP on the Side

Today is an extra special Flash Fiction Friday because not only am I giving you the hookup to a fantastic webzine that runs a quarterly contest, but I’m sharing a piece I’ve written.

WOW! Women on Writing is an online magazine that caters to women writers (though men are welcome to their resources as well). I’ve entered their quarterly flash fiction contest four times and found it to be a fun, confidence-boosting experience. I haven’t won- yet. But I have made it past the first line of judges and through to the visiting literary agent judging that quarter’s competition each time I’ve entered. It’s only $10 to enter the contest (or $20, if you want a critique) which is extremely fair considering how awesome their prizes are. They are generous and encouraging, and the critiques I’ve received have been very helpful, never harsh. If you’ve never entered a flash fiction contest before, this is an excellent place to start. Check it out here.

Now it’s time for show and tell.

I mentioned in a previous post that one of my favorite uses for flash fiction is as a method to spark creativity and understand characters in my WIP better. This week when I sat down to plot the next few chapters, I couldn’t figure out how one particular event was to be achieved for my characters. I was stymied. After a few minutes (ok, an hour) of pacing in front of a blank screen I thought, “Fuck it. This doesn’t have to happen now. I’ll write a scene for a new character in that world and see how he handles it.”

The result is the piece I’m sharing with you today. It might never make it into a book, but writing it relieved some of the anxiety I was feeling about an element in my WIP that I considered risky. I still think it’s a risky detail because I’m not sure how it will be received by the audience in the grand scheme of the novel, but for now I’m going with it.

My flash fiction piece squeaks into its classification with 996 words. It’s posted below and has a permanent link in the flash fiction section of this blog. Since it’s not exactly a keeper, let’s just call the working title Colin.

 

Colin slipped between pockets of people sucking up the air in small social circles along with the lagers in their hands. He indulged occasionally– this was Temple Bar District– but tonight the warrior had an appointment in this teeming Dublin pub.

He scanned for the door he needed with an upward gaze. Slouching disguised his enormous build enough not to draw too much attention. The muscles and height he sported were natural to demons like him, but made quite an impression with humans. The tattoo emerging from the collar of his black button-down shirt caressed his throat with wisps of grey smoke and he purposely left a few buttons undone so that if anyone wasn’t intimidated by his size, the sight of his ink might give them warning to keep their distance.

Two walls of the bar were lined with windows providing a view of the canal separating the city, and on a stage set in front of that view a band played a halfhearted version of Sweet Home Alabama.

Colin snorted. The Irish had a strange obsession with American classic rock.

Moonbeams highlighted the musicians and Colin’s lip curled. Eight silver eyes glinted back at him. The drummer smiled, revealing double rows of serrated teeth, and jerked his head to the side where a man nearly Colin’s size stood by a nondescript wooden panel.

The closer Colin got to the stage, the more his nostrils burned with the sickening combination of sugary sweetness and rotten decay. Wendigo were damn disgusting creatures. If the bar wasn’t so busy, Colin might worry he was walking into an ambush. The floor directly in front of the stage was clear, as if the humans sensed the danger the band posed, even if they couldn’t distinguish their twisted features or smell the stink of their flesh.

He approached the guard at the panel and sniffed. Human. Poor guy probably had no idea the creatures he worked for, or that they would one day make a meal of his soul.

The human held open the panel and Colin proceeded down a wooden staircase, the thumping of the crowd above dimming.

The room he entered looked less like a basement and more like Dick Tracy’s office. A green Persian rug covered the floor, but it was threadbare, revealing chipped wooden floorboards beneath. His connection sat in a frayed brown leather chair behind a plain desk with neatly stacked papers and a coffee cup penholder. Even the lighting was muted, straining to reach the shadows from dark glass wall sconces.

Colin rolled his shoulders and sprawled casually in the metal armchair across from the desk. He cast a cool gaze at the sparse décor.

“You figure out who framed Roger Rabbit?”

The wendigo snarled but held up a hand to keep the two henchmen behind him in their place.

“A pleasure as always, warrior.” His polite tone belied the threat in his posture.

“Let’s get to it, then, Marshall,” said Colin, lacing his fingers over his chest where twin daggers were strapped under his shirt. “You were to bring me the formula for the mistletoe serum and in return I promised not to kill you.” He flashed a brilliant smile.

Marshall raised his eyebrows.

“Fine,” Colin sighed, reaching into his breast pocket, “I also agreed to help you pay for this prestigious lounge.”

He snapped the check in the air until the wendigo leaned forward to snatch it from him. Marshall gestured to one of the goons, who retrieved a vile of liquid from his pocket and set it on the desk.

Colin feigned displeasure.

“The deal was for the formula. Not a sample.”

Marshall smiled and although his teeth didn’t appear jagged in ordinary light, Colin was nauseated by knowledge of what he was.

“This was all I could get, warrior. So sorry to disappoint.”

Of all the substances on Earth, mistletoe was the one element that could harm demons. Something to do with Loki’s blood and a hair from his last victim used in their creation. If the warriors had the formula, they could find a way to defend against it.

But words on paper could be modified. A sample of the actual serum would not be. Marshall provided exactly what Colin came for, even if he smugly believed he’d bested him.

Colin scratched his chest thoughtfully.

“You broke the agreement,” he said, smiling inwardly as the wendigo tensed.

“And you think to punish us unarmed?”

“Nah. I’ll use weapons on two of you.”

The wendigo bodyguards lunged with a roar, but Colin had already unsheathed his knives. He kicked off the desk, timing the descent of his chair to angle him precisely at the right angle to behead both attackers as they dove for him.

He rolled over his shoulder, righting himself between the two oily puddles that remained of the wendigo.

Marshall leaped onto the desk with a hiss, his fingers elongating and claws sharpening.

“I promised no weapons for you, didn’t I?” Colin tossed the daggers away. “I always keep my word.”

They leaped at the same time, and Colin’s solid muscle propelled the emaciated creature back from the desk. As they tumbled, Colin scooped up the serum. His other hand tightened around Marshall’s neck. Shouts from upstairs indicated the superior hearing of the wendigo in the bar had picked up on the commotion.

The tattoo on Colin’s chest tingled, heat creeping up his neck until smoke billowed from his mouth.

“You’ve been most helpful.” He let fire heat his words before releasing the breath he held. Flames swallowed Marshall’s screams and Colin was pleased to notice his check lit up as well.

Footsteps pounded from the stairs, and Colin grabbed hold of a ceiling rafter to swing his body feet first through the narrow basement window and onto the Dublin street.

Colin was across the canal and out of Temple Bar by the time the sirens started, the key to saving his race secured in his fist.

DH

WIP Wednesday: Facing the Publishing Demon

Writers are plagued by hundreds of demons, and I don’t mean the ones I’m featuring in my book. Self-doubt, writer’s block, fear of failure, fear of success and criticism are fingers on one hand of the demons that have us in a stranglehold.

One of my biggest fears is publishing—and I’m not even there yet! I have so much work to do before I have to make a choice between the Big Six and Indie and self-publishing, but I find my thoughts drifting there often, especially as I type the next chapter heading on a blank page.

I am not going to debate the merits of any of these methods over another. I whole-heartedly agree with Kristin Lamb’s post today, and I recommend you check it out if you’re interested in current unstable publishing climate. The only thought I might add to her statements is that if a change in industry is coming (and obviously it is) then we, the writers, should be manning the sails on this ship.

Don’t tell New York what to do; show them by making choices for the publication of your work that cater to the market trends we support.

The more writers stand up for themselves, the more we all benefit. This includes the artists, both Indie and mainstream publishers and most importantly, readers. That’s who we do this for, no? I don’t write because it’s a good mental exercise. I write because I love stories. Whether it’s the biography of Jim Beam or essays by Sloane Crosley or the latest trendy fiction tale about shape-shifting marsupials, good stories are written to be enjoyed by others.

The readers are what keep me focused on my WIP. How I choose to publish when I’m finished will reflect my gratitude for their readership. (Hint: it will not be in a dusty corner of a brick and mortar house and it will not cost more than my cell service.)

That’s really the only conclusion I’ve arrived at so far on this journey. It’s hardly specific, as there are still so many options for me to pursue, but at least I can say with some certainty what I don’t want for my published work. I’ve deduced this because I’m a reader, too. I know what I like and don’t like about the books I buy, and if I don’t want certain things to happen to my book, then I need to take control of those aspects (smutty bookcovers, anyone? the Fabio days are SO over).

The publishing demon will not defeat me.

In a way, I’m glad I am where I am in my life and career as this storm rolls through. It’s a fascinating study, really. Like Jim Cantore standing on a pier shouting through the wind, “This is a Cat-5, folks, we can’t stress this enough, you must evacuate your homes immediately!” and yet in the background a family paints “Go Away, Hurricane X” on their boarded up windows and holds up a beer as they settle in for the show. Hey, traditionalists, consumer forecasts have been warning you for years.

I’m posting this on WIP Wednesday because the imminent crash and burn of traditional publishing affects all of our WIPs, not just mine. I don’t need to beat this to death; there isn’t a writing blog out there that hasn’t addressed these issues. But this is what motivates me to write today, to strike the keys and build my story, because my story deserves to be told and delivered the way I want to deliver it, the way you want to receive it.

Ride out the waves with me, writers and readers. It’s going to get a little crazy around these parts, but just remember the generosity, love and strength of community that develops after the storm has passed.

DH

Series Review: Daughters of the Glen by Melissa Mayhue

 

When I first began exploring paranormal romance and time-travel romance, I fell in love with Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series. I mean, hard. It’s one of those series with characters who stick with you long after the books are collecting dust. And talk about alpha males. *shivers*

Like the cliché goes, Moning’s wonderful series came to an end before I was ready to let go of my sexy Highlanders. So what’s a girl to do? Find another Highlander romance series.

Finding books about Highlanders isn’t a challenge; finding quality reads about alpha Highlanders, time-travel and steamy romance to fill a specific void can be difficult. I like my Scotsmen, but most of the time I’d prefer them outside of the setting of a true historical or a Lifetime Movie Network script.

Enter Melissa Mayhue.

The freshman entry to the Daughters of the Glen series, Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband, was as pleasant a surprise as they come. In fact, I’d make the argument that it’s the best one in the series. Of all the books, Thirty Nights is the most well-balanced in terms of pacing and match-up of our hero and heroine’s personalities. Mayhue brings back this love-match in future books, which is fortunate for her readers, since Connor and Cate are the gold-standard for couples in this series. If that’s not enough encouragement to try Thirty Nights, consider that this debut novel won the Holt Medallion and Book Buyers awards in 2008.

The sequel, Highland Guardian, was also extremely enjoyable and solidified my faith that the series was moving in a positive direction. The plot threads laid out here for future books were solid enough that I could overlook Book 3, Soul of a Highlander, for making the love connection a little too easy. Sure, we want the happily ever after, but since we’re reading a romance and we know we’re reading a romance, the HEA is a given. I thought perhaps it was just my taste; perhaps I enjoy a story more when the heroes’ journeys are the darkest (and damn, if anyone should have had a dark story, it should have been Ramos).

It’s because of this lapse in strong character development and the trouble-free acclimation to accepting a soul-mate that when I saw something similar developing early in the fourth edition, A Highlander of Her Own, I was disappointed. Remember when Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series transitioned from dark paranormal action to erotica where sex solves all problems? Ok, my disappointment wasn’t quite as pronounced, but you get the idea. It’s a turning point in a series where as the reader, significant concerns arise about the future of the world you’ve become invested in. For example, the heroine, Ellie, can communicate with animals but there are no dramatic rescues involving a furry friend. I kept reading with my heart in my throat believing that when I turned the page one of her beloved beasts would be injured or killed, but it never happened. As much as I dreaded that scene, when it didn’t come I felt let down. The tension fizzled unsatisfactorily. The character of Caden saved the fourth entry from becoming my last, and for that I am very grateful.

The fifth entry, A Highlander’s Destiny, feels like a comeback. It’s not a full recovery by any means, but the plot twists are back and most importantly, the lead characters are individuals again. I didn’t like everything about Destiny, but she was more real than Ellie or Mairi were. What really stood out was Jesse. He had a stand-out personality when we met him in Thirty Nights and he hasn’t changed by the time we got to his own story.

The full recovery of this series lies with the sixth entry, A Highlander’s Homecoming. This book continues with the foundation and characters from Destiny so it’s no surprise that it’s such a satisfying entry (the Amazon reviews seem to concur).

The last two in the series, Healing the Highlander and Highlander’s Curse stand on solid ground and bring the series to a conclusion on a high note. Much like Moning did with her series, Mayhue has let a good thing end naturally instead of forcing the myths beyond the point where the stories are enjoyable.

I do not mean to compare Moning and Mayhue other than to point out the overall premises of their series is similar enough that once you’ve finished one, you don’t have to mourn its conclusion because there are other satisfying series to keep you up nights with fantasies of sexy Highlanders traveling through time. Finding the right fit with a new series can sometimes be frustrating, and if you’re a fan of either of these authors, trying the other is a safe bet.

Or better yet, write your own Highlander tale. (And share it with me, please!)

DH

WIP Wednesday: The Thing Postulate

I’m about to do something frowned upon…

Nay, inadvisable…

Full truth— foolish and reprehensible…

 

I’m about to edit my entire manuscript from the Prologue to right around Chapter Eighteen, where I’m currently thrashing in a tumultuous sea of bleh.

I know, I know. I’m willingly and deliberately committing a cardinal sin of writing. Against all advice, I’m doing it anyway. (And yes, I acknowledge that this is exactly the sort of behavior that has kept this manuscript from completion for the past year. Ok, two years.)

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a thing.

Not an excuse, I have plenty of those, but a thing. I have a well-rounded cast of characters, intriguing antagonists, a sympathetic villain, and a fantastic myth to flesh it out, but I don’t have the key element that makes the story whole. Without the thing, it doesn’t matter how conflicted my hero is or how charming my neutral antagonist. The thing makes it easy for the reader to accept the world I’ve built; makes the plot points feel natural instead of contrived or too serendipitous.

What should we call this thing? There must be a word for it. Help me out, writers, you know you’ve been where I am.

The ala-kazaam?

The soul of the story?

The heartstring corollary?

It’s the little morsel of information delivered on an unobtrusive cloud of exposition, hidden somewhere in the backstory. When the reader reads it, the seed is absorbed, only to blossom later as they realize—gasp!—all this conflict was inevitable. What a tragic, fated tale (not entirely tragic, per se, but at the very least emotionally variable). The reader has to believe that because of some turning point in the past, the events of the story are beyond the control of the characters to a certain degree, and the decisions they make are catalysts on this predestined journey.

I’ve always known about this element and for a while, thought I had it. Then came the epiphany, and I suddenly knew what I had to do: the dreaded, shameful partial first-draft edit.

I don’t think this most recent stroke of genius is going to strangle the good things I already have in place. I honestly believe this is for the best. I also plan to weave it in gently, like using a crochet hook to pick up a dropped knitting stitch without unraveling the whole scarf. No character will suffer a massive rewrite (though there will be suffering) and no one will be killed off before their time.

If I do this right, I’ll only be improving, not starting over.

Wish me luck.

 DH

Is Anyone Else Tired?

Wow, what a holiday season to close out 2011. I’m freaking exhausted and 2012 has only just begun.

Between Thanksgiving festivities, my birthday, year-end close at the office and a Christmas the likes of which has not been experienced in 20 years, I feel like I should be in training for next year. Or maybe I just enjoy entertaining the idea of eating and drinking like that in July…

But enough digression.

I’m back! And I have not forgotten that today is WIP Wednesday. While the wonderful number one WIP is still being whipped up from the wee-cesses of my mind, I am never short on hobbies. Thus, I share with you the WIP(s) that have kept me busy during December:

 

 

 

I have two paperbacks and two Kindle books I’m currently reading to write reviews for in this blog and a pink and purple scarf I’m attempting to knit even though the edges look like they’re already snagged and weathered because I suck at it.

No, I haven’t touched my manuscript in a month. Yes, I do have (sorta, kinda) good reasons for doing this other crap instead.

All of the books I’m reviewing were written by people I know, or by people someone I know knows. Since my paying job has me gasping for air until early March, writing reviews not only gives me practice for my long-neglected critical analysis skills, but furthers my education is a writer. Reading is the best way to hone your skills when combined with practice. Not to mention, these writers kick ass, so I’m having fun, too.

Knitting is therapeutic. It gives me something to keep my fingers busy while I decompress from the day, or to relax during the breaks over Christmas weekend while I strategized how to dominate my brother in a game of Hearts (which I accomplished, unmercifully).

What hobbies do you have to help you relax or as welcome distractions from your obligations?

DH

 

NaNoWriMo Fail, Plus a Blog Schedule ‘Cuz Kids Need Structure

I am not a NaNoWriMo champion.

The writers reading that statement are nodding with wry expressions; they’re sympathetic and wistful yet not all that surprised. NaNoWriMo failure happens more frequently than success.

Non-writers are either asking 1) What the F@^! is NaNoWriMo, or 2) Why not? Isn’t writing what you claim to do and love?

NaNoWriMo comes to a conclusion today, and while the atmosphere of the event motivates me to be productive even when I’d rather procrastinate some more, it’s also totally out of the range of my capabilities. There’s a breed of writers who shit quality at an astounding rate of productivity. There’s another breed who take a little more time developing their masterpiece, but might accomplish one or two manuscripts per year. Then there are writers like me who start projects with extra planning and frequent writer’s block, taking time to woo and caress their manuscript, and complete one novel over the course of anywhere from one to twenty years.

I don’t mean to make my particular writer’s breed sound more romanticized than the others with all that wooing and caressing. I only mean to say that some people (most people?) were not designed complete a novel in a month. I am one of them.

But just because I have not written 50,000 words in the past thirty days does not mean that I cannot commit to the art of fiction.

 

I should also fess up about my blogging schedule.

While last week I posted something every weekday, that pace is not sustainable. I did that to get the blog rolling. Now that we’re going strong, and I have you, Loyal Follower, I need to settle into a pattern that better fits with my varied obligations.

Don’t be upset that you won’t get to experience my genius on a daily basis. I’m doing this to keep my sanity and provide you with the highest quality of incredible, earth-moving, soul-searing prose (ha). I will try my very best to adhere to my commitment to you.

I will also agree to stop exaggerating my ability to create captivating fiction.

Though, my stuff is really freakin’ awesome.

(That was the last time, I swear.)

Anyway, here’s the deal:

Mondays are henceforth Mumbling Mondays. This is when I get to mumble and grumble about craft, industry and other writer’s life topics.

Wednesdays are WIP Wednesdays. I’ll let you know how I’m progressing and if you’re really extra lucky, I’ll post taglines, outlines, excerpts, etc. I’d like to use this day to get feedback from readers. Tell me what’s not quite doing it for you in my WIP (unless, of course, you hate paranormal romance, in which case what the hell are you doing here?). A writer friend of mine, Anita Clenney, reminded me recently that positive feedback is nice for the ego, but it won’t improve your writing. The goal is to get constructive criticism and use it to build a better book. That is stellar advice from a talented writer and all-around great woman, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

Fridays are… *drum roll for the obvious conclusion*  Flash Fiction Fridays! I’ll post my own FF pieces, along with open contests, referrals to more flash fiction, and whatever other relevant FF texts I come across/create.

I apologize for the cheap alliteration in the weekly schedule headings. It’s more for me than for you. I’m not very good at remembering what I’m supposed to be…

 

 

What was I saying?

Ah, yes. The blogging schedule.

That’s about it, really. I’m committing myself to three days a week, each of which has its own pun-tastic theme. I hope you’ll come back to visit on Friday when I’ll be talking about the online magazine that always makes me a bridesmaid but never a bride. One of these days I won’t settle for finalist- I’m shooting for a win!

DH

 

 

 

 

 

Mad Couscous Disease

The holidays are a big, gluttonous, steaming spoonful of welcome distraction.

I’ve been told I procrastinate because I’m a Sagittarius and all Sags do that. I’ve been told that I have a fear of failure/success/effort/ineptitude so I subconsciously put off doing what I know I need to do to reach my goals. I’ve been told my goals are too lofty and I’ll never succeed. That’s the one that hurts the most.

I sometimes agree and other times disagree with those assessments, depending on the day and how much the demon of self-doubt is scratching around the inside of my skull at the moment.

The truth is I piggyback onto procrastination because it’s the easiest excuse. I never want to admit that I have poor time-management or trouble prioritizing or that some days I just plain don’t feel like writing. So instead I allow myself to procrastinate; I know exactly what I’m doing and while I don’t approve of my behavior, I let myself get away with it. I’m a little tiny puppy who’s so excited to get outside I’m pulling on the leash and I’m far too cute to discipline, then one day I’m a 110 lb beast dragging my owner behind me down the sidewalk.

That’s exactly why I need to stop doing things like blaming procrastination or astrology or Freudian plagues of self-defeat for not finishing the current WIP. I don’t want to wake up one day to find that my manuscript is ripped and tattered, crusted with bird shit and grass stains from being neglectfully dragged through the years of my life.

I wipe the slate clean a lot, and I’m going to do it again now. You know how they say if you fall off the dieting bandwagon to just get back on the next day as if that entire pecan pie you ate by yourself didn’t happen? Well, once again (and not for the last time) I’m going to forget that on Saturday I did three loads of laundry instead of writing the next chapter for my book. And I’m going to forgive myself for running to the store on Sunday because I had to have couscous to serve with the fish. My goal isn’t to be one of those people who work 16-hours days; my goal is merely to become more efficient within the hours I have. I could have written a few pages in between folding clothes instead of watching a Julia Roberts movie marathon. I could have made the rice I already had instead of going out.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” ~van Gogh

While this post is mainly about procrastination, motivation is a frequent bedfellow. Fortunately, I don’t have to go into that today because Jo Eberhardt has written a brilliant guest post that could have been extracted from my own head. Thanks for doing the grunt work for me, Jo! (And laying it out better than I could have.)

I turn the issue of procrastination to you, readers- Do you find creative ways to procrastinate? What are your coping strategies?

DH