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Short Story-Cold Turkey

Today’s short story comes to you with a little help from my friends. A few weeks ago, I posted a story starter and asked my readers to contribute the next line or few lines. Here is the resulting story. I hope you enjoy it.

A big THANK YOU to Tina, Olivia, and Jerri for playing along.

Cold Turkey

Dalyn flipped on the kitchen light. She shuffled toward the refrigerator and pulled the door open, hoping there was some milk left. There wasn’t of course. Tad always drank it all and never bothered to go buy more. She closed the door and stood looking around the kitchen as if a gallon of milk would instantly appear. She sighed and started opening and closing the cabinet doors, but nothing seemed as appetizing as a bowl of fruit loops.

Her disappointment quickly turned to irritation, and the more she thought about it, anger. Realizing she had no other choice, Dalyn went back upstairs where Tad was peacefully sleeping. For a moment, she thought about how crazy her actions seemed and she started back down the steps. Suddenly, she turned on her heel and charged into the bedroom where Tad lay, snoring obnoxiously. She stood in the doorway, thinking of a way to ruin his sleep as he had ruined her quest for a bowl of fruit loops. While stood there with her rage festering, Tad stirred and looked rather confused.

“Why are you standing there?” He asked weary eyed.

Dalyn gently smiled and simply said hello before she flipped on the overhead light and yanked the covers off him, rolling him into the floor.

“You asshole! I’m done!” She shouted.

She awoke in a cold sweat. What a nightmare. Fruit Loops, high fructose corn syrup. She was so glad she had abolished such atrocities from her diet. But not the milk, not the dairy. They say dreams can offer warnings. She must abolish milk as well. But, how could she live without chai lattes? Cold turkey was the only way. Turkey, there is something she hadn’t thought about in years. She had conquered meats. She could do dairy as well. She snuggled back into the pillow.

The next thing she felt was a wet kiss on her cheek. Her husband was leaving for work. “Do you need me to pick up anything from the store on my way home?”

“No, nothing.”

“Are you sure. I drank the last of the milk yesterday.”

“No, nothing.”

Dylan sunk back beneath the covers, telling herself the first twenty-four hours are the hardest.


Help Me Write a Story

Have you ever thought about writing or wanted to write? It can be pretty intimidating to get started. I know it was for me anyway. So I thought we could play a game if you’re interested. I’ll post an opening paragraph below. In the comments, you can add a sentence or a few sentences (also known as a paragraph) to the story. On or around September 9th, I’ll pull all the comments and put them together in a post to showcase our amazing collaborative story.

Ready? Here you go:

Dalyn flipped on the kitchen light. She shuffled toward the refrigerator and pulled the door open, hoping there was some milk left. There wasn’t of course. Tad always drank it all and never bothered to go buy more. She closed the door and stood looking around the kitchen as if a gallon of milk would instantly appear. She sighed and started opening and closing the cabinet doors, but nothing seemed as appetizing as a bowl of fruit loops.

AND GO! Us the comments to add what comes next!

Why I Don’t Say Theater

Why I Don’t Say Theater

When writing in any capacity, the writer always has to consider voice. Voice can mean a couple different things to a writer. It can be the writer’s own style of writing, syntax, sentence construction, etc. Voice can also be the personas or characters in the story. As readers, we respond to these two concepts of voice and it can drive our love or hate for the characters, story, or author.

Over the past few months, I focused on reading and editing two my novels. During that process, I realized my writing voice changed from one novel to the other. It made sense, sort of, because of the stories. One story was first person narration from a fifteen year old girl and the other was third person limited narration from a thirty year old man. Those voices would obviously be different. Writers must be able to create distinct voices, several voices in fact, in a novel or piece of writing.

So what about in real life? Can writing influence the author’s causal voice, or speech? Can modifying your accent or dialect impact the author’s writing? A few months ago, I read a piece by C. Davis called “Appalachian code switching” on her blog The Homesick Appalachian and haven’t been able to get it out of mind. I thought about the situations where I code switch in my personal life.

Being a native to West Virginia, southwestern West Virginia, more than a few people have commented on the way I talk. Growing up I never noticed an accent (or dialect) because we all sounded the same. My travels were limited and people rarely moved into the area where I grew up. My first jobs were local dealing with mostly local people so I didn’t hear it there either. Sure, in high school my English teachers tried to impress upon us the need to speak properly, but most of them sounded like everyone else so lesson didn’t have the desired impact. I was probably in college before the stereotypes about “dumb hicks” and “hillbillys” hit me full force.

As an adult venturing farther north (still within WV, mind you), I would get comments about my “southern” accent. Then I headed west to visit a friend in Arizona. It seemed like every single person I spoke to made some sort of comment about my accent. I remember sitting with my friend and a group of his friends talking about movies and each time I said “theater,” a couple of the women giggled. Finally, one of them told me the way I said “theater” was cute. While on some level I knew she and I didn’t sound the same, her saying “theater” actually did sound the same to my ears as when I said it. She explained when I say it, it sounded like “thee-hate-er.” Once she sounded it out in that fashion, I could hear it myself when I said it. So I stopped saying theater. To this day, over fourteen years later, I only say theater when I absolutely have no other word to use in its place. When I say it, the shape of my mouth changes to compress the space inside my mouth, I tilt my chin toward my chest, and my brain focuses on saying it fast so I don’t draw out the “e” or add an “h” to the second syllable.

I grew up in a house where the accent was pretty strong. Somehow, I escaped saying things like “far” for fire, “worsh” for wash, and “tard” for tired. However, the word window does stick out to me. Most of the people I grew up around say “winder” instead of window; when I say window, on the other hand, it comes out “winda.”

In 2000, I worked in a call center and our quality reviews were done by people on the west coast. I remember my manager pulling me aside to go over my reviews and the reviewer wrote: “needs to sound less West Virginian” in the comments on one of my call sheets. My manager handled the situation well; she talked about annunciation and remembering my “g” on words that ended with “-ing.” In all fairness, I was dropping the final “g” and most of the time I still do. Even as I type this, in my head “dropping” was “droppin’,” but at least my fingers know to add that final “g.” From that point on, I attempted to sound “less West Virginian” when I was at work. A few weeks ago, a customer told said he didn’t think I was from WV or “you at least weren’t born there because you didn’t sound like other West Virginians.” Mission accomplished I guess. My day to day work requires me to communicate with people all over the world on phone calls, many of which I lead. It seems to go well for the most part. The odd thing? I find I stutter more on work related calls than I do in my personal, casual conversations. I wholeheartedly believe the stutter comes from my brain trying to tell my mouth not to be a West Virginian.

Realizing how often I code switch for work and during my travels, I couldn’t help think about code switching while I was editing my short stories and novels. As I read my own work, I don’t hear an “Appalachian” writer in my words. I don’t feel that sense of culture in my work. I hear a fraudster. I hear someone trying hard to be something other than what she is. I’ve lost my voice and I think it shows in my writing.

My First Writing Conference

My First Writing Conference

I attended my first West Virginia Writer’s Conference at Cedar Lake in Ripley, West Virginia this past weekend. Olivia Ferguson, past Guest Author and friend, attended with me. We enjoyed every minute of the three day event. The conference was full of workshops, lectures, discussion panels, readings, contests, collaborations, celebrations, and so much more. While I hate to start this post with criticisms of such an overall wonderful event, I feel I must:

  1. I should have attended this conference several years ago.
  2. I hate I couldn’t go to each and every session offered!

I learned so many new things and made really great connections with other writers. Writing this post is a challenge for me as I don’t know where to start! I’ll say this before I get into the nitty gritty of the post: I’ve included the names of the speakers and linked to some of their work at the end of this post and whether you are a writer or reader, I strongly suggest you click the links and check out these amazing authors. Over the course of the three days, we attended roughly ten sessions and I filled half a notebook with notes and writing exercises.

Olivia and I gravitated toward the workshops geared toward sci-fi/fantasy (or speculative fiction) since those fit our current writing interests. These workshops focused on creating a believable “monster” or villain. Frank Larnerd pointed out how some of the most famous monster in literature and movies are all the more hideous to us because there is some humanistic quality, a familiarity, wrapped in some off-putting body or form. The other workshops included using things like tarot cards to flesh out characters and plot, Southern Gothic styles, Magical realism, and so much more.

Bil Lepp held a workshop on Tall Tales and provided the entertainment at the awards banquet. He is amazingly funny. His ability to take a mundane activity, like going to the dentist, and turn it into an entertaining story blew me away. He talked about giving the reader, or in his case listener, enough information to make them comfortable and allow them to suspend logic. While I may not be an oral storyteller that advice still applies. If I want my readers to believe my main character lives on a newly discovered planet called Arbez, I have to make certain elements of that planet familiar to my reader.

The other workshops we attended focused on non-fiction and/or memoir. While the focus for these sessions was a little different, I still pulled out nuggets of information I could apply to my writing. For example, Fran Simone talked about how scene and summary drive the story in memoir and she gave us a hand out with pages of wonderful examples. She included one of the best post-session reference/reading lists of the entire conference. This information will be helpful for upcoming Memory Monday pieces! Carter Taylor Seaton also presented a session on the importance of good research and using primary and secondary sources. Research is necessary for fiction work as well and her tips will help me “write from a position of knowledge” going forward.

The Social Media Panel was also interesting, but not exactly what I expected. The panel discussed the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, Tumbler, Google+, and Goodreads to promote yourself as an author and your bibliography. They also talked about using paid advertising packages offered by various sites. The big takeaway on paid advertising is to set spending limits to stay within your budget. There was also discussion around only using social media versus having a Web site. The consensus was social media popularity changes. Apparently Facebook is for “old people” now according to one panelist’s clients. So while social media sites rise and fall in popularity, a Web site has permanence. If you are new to building an author platform, the general advice was: be authentic and don’t try to force a social media presence, try the various sites to see what fits you best, you may use different sites for different things, and be nice.

To learn more about WV Writers, Inc visit their WVWriters (there are links to the conference and writing contest information as well).

Olivia and I are already looking forward to next year’s conference! We even have a list of must dos/don’ts for next time:

  • Pre-register as early as possible.
  • Skip most of the meals on the meal plan (breakfast and the banquet dinner are tolerable)
  • Enter the annual writing contest.
  • Bring swimwear (Cedar Lakes has a pool.)
  • Bring a chair/blanket for outdoor sitting and writing

As promised, here is the list of authors and books to check out:

EYNK-If It’s Bad, Kill It

This is based on a Stephen King article I talked about in “Everything You Need to Know.

King states that to be a successful writer, if something is “bad, kill it.” He goes on to say, “When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.”

As first I thought this was a pretty simple statement. Any writer worth his or her keyboard, knows the editing process is all about getting rid of the bad stuff. We go through cutting out words, sentences, paragraphs, or even entire pages. I can look at something in the editing process and say “man, o’man, what was I thinking!” then I highlight the passage and hit the delete key. Easy stuff!

I started to think about why something so seemingly simple would be on King’s list. After a while, I realized “bad” didn’t just mean grammatically incorrect sentences or awkward phrases. It meant anything “bad” for the story. A passage of your absolute best writing, might be just that: good writing. If the passage doesn’t do anything to further the story or teach the reader something about a character or the situation, it needs to go no matter how superb the writing may be. These cuts are the hardest for a writer to make.

Here’s the trick: You don’t have to throw those bits completely away! Granted, those little fuzzy-writing babies can’t stay in the current story so you have to cut them out, not throw them out. I have a folder on my computer called “Writing Junk Drawer” where I put all the random tidbits I write or cut out of other stories. Start yourself a similar file. Once you cut a piece of writing you love dearly from your story to make that story better, take your little orphaned piece of writing and dump it into your version of a junk drawer. I visit my junk drawer occasionally when I feel a little writers block starting to build up. Those snippets can come in very handy as sources of new stories where they fit much better than they did in the original story. Change out the character name and details as necessary. Boom! New story starter.

EYNK-An Agent? Forget It. For Now.

This is based on a Stephen King article I talked about in “Everything You Need to Know.”

King asks, “Agent?” Then says to be a successful writer, you should “Forget it. For now.” He goes on to say agents have bills to pay and things to buy like the rest of us. Agents generally take a percentage from their clients. King states this as 10%, but I imagine that has increased since the late 1980s when this was originally published. No matter what the going rate for an agent is, if you aren’t making significant money from your writing, you probably aren’t making enough to have an agent.

Here’s how I calculated the money aspect to see if I needed an agent:

  • I took the total amount of actual money (not subscriptions, gift cards, etc.) I made off my writing in the last year.
  • I subtracted 15%.
  • I assumed I wasn’t my agents’ only client so I randomly said my potential agent had ten other clients like me.
  • I took the amount I got when I subtracted 15% from my total earnings and multiplied that by ten.
  • I looked at the resulting amount and said: How many bills could I pay with this amount?
  • My answer was 0 so I concluded I don’t need an agent.

I’ve even heard of some authors paying agent fees out of pocket in the hopes of landing better book deals. This doesn’t make sense to me since there is no guarantee they will be able to recoup those funds. Also, my cynical side kicks in a little and says, “If I’ve already paid the agent, will said agent be as motivated to put in the extra work to get me a good deal? He or she already has their money.” Sure they may stand to earn more if and when they get a taker for my book. However, if they already have money in hand, or bank account, would they be as likely to put in twenty hours of promotion for me or would they stop at ten hours?

On the flip side of this, I’ve also heard a lot of people say it is unethical for an agent to take payment up front. While I definitely fall into the bucket of authors who don’t make enough money to need an agent, I would be more likely to trust one who works for me and waits with me for their cut of the money.

Paying or not paying an agent, shouldn’t be confused with other pay up front or pay as you go writing services. It is more common to pay for things like editing services, classes, workshops, or other evaluations of your work to make it better, stronger. There are also hybrid publishing models out there where you pay upfront to be published. This option falls somewhere between being picked up by a traditional publisher and self publishing.

If you are a writer and you are trying to navigate the murky waters of who you pay, what you are paying for, and when to pay them, all I can say is be careful. Do your research. Talk to other writers. Research some more! Really take the time to evaluate what you need, what you expect, what you can and will do for yourself, and what is being offered. At least until you hit the literary jackpot and have agents lining up at your door offering to work for you (for a modest fee of course.)

EYNK-Proper Submission

This is based on a Stephen King article I talked about in “Everything You Need to Know.”

King states that to be a successful writer, you should “observe all the rules for proper submission.” King becomes a man of few words here and only says, “Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that” on this particular topic.

Again, keep in mind this King interview was from the mid-1980s so the most common directives would have been related to postage and return mailing information.

Today, there are many new avenues for submitting manuscripts and proper formatting is just as important now as it was before the days of computers and online submissions. The rules and guidelines are there for a reason and that reason is mostly to make it as easy as possible for a handful of individuals to read thousands and thousands of manuscripts quickly and easily. If you’ve sent any piece of writing out into the world lately, it takes weeks, sometimes months before any type of acknowledgment happens.

I talked about the agony of waiting a while back after sending a story in to a literary journal. In the time that has passed, I realized one thing. I didn’t follow the submission guidelines. The submission guidelines asked for a double spaced manuscripts and when I reviewed the file I sent, I realized I didn’t double space the lines at all. The submission said “pending” the whole time, and was ultimately rejected. Due to the number of submissions, the publication was unable to give specific feedback on my piece, but it is entirely possible the editors rejected my story just for the simple fact I didn’t follow the directions.

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