Thursday, October 14, 2010
Since Vicki graciously hosted me at her blog when my book, Desperate Choices, was released from Carina Press (September 27, 2010), I thought I'd return the favor and have her come by and tell us a bit about writing short stories. I'm curious about the differences in writing novel-length work and shorts. Vicki has had a number shorts published in the last several months. So, without further ado, here's Vicki. :-)
Writing Short Stories
Seven years ago, I sat in a library, listening to romance authors tell their stories, their journeys to publication. I was awestruck because writing was something I'd always wanted to do, but I’d never pursued.
So how did my journey begin? On a return trip to Dallas with girlfriends, our conversation had died. My librarian friend injected a spark with her version of “car games.” For example: Pick one: Englebert Humperdink or Tom Jones? I picked Englebert because he seemed more romantic. The others picked Tom because he is wild.
Next question: Write the opening paragraph of a book using the word window. When my turn came, I had nothing. Why? I didn’t want to embarrass myself because deep down inside I wanted to write. I’d been writing poetry since age nine, wrote great school papers, edited and produced four different newsletters over the years. When I became hooked on Dick Francis mysteries, I confessed to Hubby, “I wish I could write like him.”
It took me 20 years to try.
So I went home with the prompt of “window,” and two days later had written eight chapters. My friend read my work and kindly said to "keep going." So far, I’ve completed three manuscripts, several essays, and sold twelve short stories.
How did I get to writing short stories? Most of us think “books,” but there are still short stories being written today. I’ve been writing short romantic fiction for approximately three years. A DARA friend asked me to critique six shorts she wanted to submit to Women’s World magazine. I guess osmosis set in because after reviewing all of them, something stirred in my head and I wrote one. Then another and another. I haven’t stopped! Frankly, I like the “in and out” aspect. (And no sagging middle!)After critiquing mine, my friend said to submit to the Trues.
The Trues are magazines published by Dorchester Media and have been around for generations. Many of you may have read them way back when while waiting for your mom at the beauty shop. Titles include True Confessions, True Experience, True Love, True Romance, and True Story.
A true story is a problem story. A typical one is written in the first-person woman’s viewpoint, though a male viewpoint is published occasionally. Each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The protagonist confronts a problem and must resolve it through her actions. The more emotionally-charged the problem, the greater the reader’s involvement and the more “confessional” the story seems. Then if necessary, background information is supplied, explaining how the protagonist came to be in her current situation. The conclusion comes from her attempts to solve her problem and usually has a happy ending.
For me writing begins with an impetus. Those ideas, prompts, whatever which come from the most unusual places. For example, the idea for "Christmas Ties" (December 2009 TR) came when I walked through my closet (yep, it's a big one) and my eye wandered over to my hubby's enormous tie collection (about 200). Something hit me and I went what if? What if? a girl has to buy a Christmas gift for her dad? But not a tie because he has bunches. So she goes to the store and sure enough, the tie display catches her eye. What if? the store owner has to buy his dying father a Christmas gift and he'd admired his son's tie. What if? the girl and the guy grab the same tie at the same time? What if? the guy is the town's playboy? What if? the girl has sworn off playboys after the bad experience her sister had? What if??
What if is a great game for a pantser like me.
Or sometimes the prompt comes from journaling. For example, years ago, my hubby brought home a motorcycle. We were keeping our heads above the water financially; so money wasn't the problem. It was buying something expensive without talking it over with me, his wife. Then he snuck it home.
So I put the story on paper as therapy and then what if? hit. What if? the husband surprised his wife with her dream car. (Okay, hubby did do this, too and I still drive it to this day). This story, "Never, Ever," is tentatively scheduled to be published in the December 2010 True Love. Here's an excerpt:
“I can’t believe you bought this.” Hands squeezed firmly on my hips, I studied the monstrosity taking up almost half of our already too small two-car garage -- a motorcycle. Not the cutesy Vespa type. Oh no, my husband had to buy the biggest one out there, bigger than a Harley, as big as a car. A Honda Valkyrie with a six-cylinder engine, six chrome-capped carbs, and six headers, he’d explained.
Blacker than black, ferocious looking, it roared with horsepower. Vroom-room.
My hubby looked enthralled. “Isn’t she a beauty?”
A beauty? Fury built inside me. My unbelieving gaze went from him to “her.” I was no biker babe. Cool classic cars, which the whole family could ride in, appealed more. To me, “she” yelled “frivolously spent hard-earned dough.”
He’d lost his freakin’ mind, I thought, fisting my hands as anger churned under my skin like hot, bubbling mud. My stare drilled into my accountant-nerd husband. Dark suit, whiter-than-white starched shirt, red and blue striped tie skewed. His dark hair, flecked with gray strands, had been cut short. His bronzy colored glasses matched his eyes.
The urge to smack him-smack him-smack him consumed me.
Could he even ride the damn thing?
My friend, the emergency room nurse, called motorcycles something else, and now that thought played in my head. The last thing I wanted was my loved one lying on the road in the middle of no-wheres-ville.
“I can’t believe you bought this.” Stunned beyond the outer limits, I couldn’t stop repeating the phrase. “I can’t believe you bought this without consulting me, your wife of ten years, the one person who is supposed to make money decisions with you.”
Feeling the pea-green sickness of hopelessness swill in my stomach, tears filled my eyes. I reached back and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. How could he? “I’d never, ever buy something this expensive, not without talking to you.”
“I wanted one.” Legs spread, his arms crossed his chest in the oh-so-manly stubborn way. His dark face had an unusual heated sexy appeal. “End of story.”
With a huff, I rolled my eyes. “Admit it. You’re having a mid-life crisis. You want to relive your glorious youth when you travelled across America. You and the open road, just like that-that crazy biker movie from way back when.”
“I’m entitled to spend some money on myself. I earned it.”
Which implied I didn’t earn any. I stayed home and shuttled kids, washed clothes, cleaned house, cooked food, taught Sunday school, and in my spare time served on various volunteer organizations like the PTA and Library Board. Not to mention, did the yard work, except for mowing. (I drew a hard line at wrapping weed-eater string around my ankle.) His inference belittled my contributions to our family and that stung.
Didn’t I read somewhere that a stay-at-home mom earned the equivalent of a $122,000 a year salary?
Meaning, where was mine?
I didn’t spend money recklessly. My depression-era raised parents didn’t bring me up that way. Our family motto read “squeeze blood from a turnip.”
“I’d never buy a car without talking to you first,” I said. “If you felt you couldn’t discuss this with me, then-then I think our marriage is in jeopardy. In fact, you’ve lied by omission. It’s just like when you brought home---”
He shook his finger. “Don’t go there---”
“The dog. For weeks you said ‘no dog’ and then one day -- poof! A dog.”
Once hubby and I were returning from a company trip and the couple who traveled with us helped me with my luggage. I retrieved my tote and met hubby at baggage claim. He had an irritated look on his face; so I explained what had happened. I guess he took my friend's help the wrong way (profound guilt-hehehe) and he exploded with "So what are you going to do? Write a story about it?"
I did. What if? a girl went on a weekend getaway with her lover? What if? the veil falls from her eyes and she sees him for the pain he really is? What if? the guy who helped her on the flight is attracted to her? What if??
Are you thinking hubby's most of my inspiration? LOL. He has helped and believe me, takes full credit for it too. (Keep doing crazy things, Handsome.)
I've written stories based on the police and fire academies, my grandmother's tomato cake recipe, and traveling in the Mediterranean. I've looked at pictures, a building, a car on a freeway and poof! Maybe I listen well to my inner voice.
Since there are fewer words in a short story, usually, there are less characters, places, or smaller conflict. When I write a 1,000 word story, I write big and edit small. I have a harder time adding to over taking away.
Short stories come in various lengths. Women's World takes 800 words. The Trues (Confessions, Story, Romance, Love, Experience) come in around 3,000 to 8,000 words. It depends on their guidelines. Some of the online publishers have a higher word count.
Writing isn't easy for me. I put down dialogue first. Go back to add details. Flesh out characters, the conflict. Add deep pov. And revise, revise, and revise. When I feel I can't go any farther, I send it to friends for critiquing. One will tell me if the premise is viable. Another points out a few changes. Another makes it bloody. I take all that information in and revise, revise and revise, staying true to my voice and sticking in my wacky humor. It's my way, but I only want to send in my very best.
Ultimately, I'd LOVE to sell my books. I have two novellas, "I Believe," a paranormal erotica, and "Kissing School," a sweet mistaken identity story, I'd like to see published. Several other stories are under consideration, too.
Where to buy the magazines? Look for the Trues the next time you are in the grocery or book store. B&N, Hastings, Books a Million. Don’t forget the beauty shop! Also, the magazines can be digitally downloaded from www.zinio.com.
To tickle your fancy, here's an excerpt from "Candy Cane Twist," my December 2010 True Love:
I glared at Pop, secretly thinking "old man" and wanting to throttle him. He sat cozied in his battered brown leather recliner, his arm extended my way with a twenty crumpled in his wrinkled fingers. Jones, his poodle pal, danced at my feet for attention.
“Please, Paige," my grandfather said, "go to Myers and buy the lacey candy canes. Myers is the only department store which carries them.” Then he added in a solemn voice the clencher, the one that would grab even the mean, cold Grinch’s heart, “It’s for your grandmother. For Christmas.”
Now why did he have to go and use that line? He knew I hated -- with a capital "H" -- going to any store. I especially detested Myers. “She likes Hershey chocolate, too, the dark kind with almonds. All the grocery stores stock it.”
“No, only her favorite will do.” He flapped the bill in my direction again, causing Jones to snap at it.
Every holiday season, Myers imported a unique candy cane from Italy. The box, constructed of a high-quality cardboard, was lined in ivory satin. In each partition rested a crinkly cellophane-wrapped twisted white stick, the edges banded in orange, yellow, or green. Orders were not available through the internet which I knew for a fact ‘cause I checked two years ago. Nowadays, one box of twelve would probably cost every bit of the twenty he'd flashed.
My eyes had gleamed with delight when my grandmother gave me a stick rimmed with the orange stripe. It was almost a rite of passage (and privilege) to get one. Carefully, I tore it open and proceeded to lick one...two...three...four-five-six times. Instead of the traditional peppermint, a sharp tang of citrus sparked my taste buds.
God, he was so stubborn.
“I have to have these in case...” his fist gently tapped his breastbone in the frightening potential heart attack manner, "well, you know."
Grandpop did not play fair. In my gut I knew he'd faked for drama. Considering his age, however, the possibility existed, causing a small slice of my ticker to worry.
I really had no choice.
I shifted my weight a bit more, staring at the bill flapping over Jones's head. Pop had no idea what he'd asked me to do. I had good reason not to go to Myers, only he didn't know why. He'd bug and bug me to run his errand until I'd cave.
I snatched the twenty away. “Fine. But this is the last time.”
He chuckled, "I think you say that every year.”
“I mean it. I’m never setting foot in that place again.”
He leveled his "wise eye" look on me. “Grow up. You’re twenty-six for chrissakes. I'd been married five years at your age.”
I countered with the same ol' argument. “Unlike my peers, Pop, I want to be married for a lifetime. Not to try on marriage and toss it away like an old sock if I don't like the fit.”
“You're getting a little long in the tooth.”
“And if I might suggest..."
Blowing a huff up my face, I shifted my fists to my hips. “What.”
“Put on that pretty dress you wore for your sister’s birthday party. Its lines hugged your curves.”
Pop’s words stung my heart, probably more than he realized. I glanced at my current attire. So work boots and jeans weren’t the most attractive things to wear. They were practical for my job and I’d been raised on practicality -- by him.
I brushed my eye to stave forming tears. “In my wildest dreams I never thought grandparents looked at their offspring that way.”
“I’m not blind, just old. All I’m suggestin' is you wear the dress and high heels. It flatters your figure. You never know who you might run into...”
Like I wanted that to happen. My goal was to avoid seeing anyone I knew.
Then he hammered the final nail in the coffin. “And while there, why don't you get a haircut? Your long horse tail reminds me of pioneer women. Short and sassy with some of what you gals say are highlights would be pretty. Your mom told me Myers' Spring Water Salon is the best---"
“It is and the most expensive---"
“I’ll pay for the cut. Add a manicure and pedicure, too.” He dug out his mended-with-duct-tape wallet and removed the credit card. “Use this. Think of it as an early Christmas present.”
If my own grandfather thought I had the "uglies," did others think the same thing?
Happy reading and writing!
Thanks, Vicki. Anybody else have questions about writing "shorts" for magazines or any other questions for Vicki? Pop a question into the comment section and we'll try to get it answered for you.
Thanks for coming by.