A few weeks ago, I got a lovely surprise. A person I don’t know shared that they’d read and enjoyed my novella, “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind.” That alone was a nice boost to my ego. Above and beyond that, though, they told me that they’d purchased an additional 10 copies of my book to sell at their store, and offered me an opportunity to do an author meet-and-greet there once this pandemic is over. I mean, wow! I never expected such support. Since that gave me a little windfall, I wanted to pay that good fortune forward.
Oddly enough, this gift coincided with a neat opportunity from author and editor Kate Johnston. One of the services Kate offers is 1-on-1 writing coaching, and she’s currently (through June 15, 2020) running a “Quarantine Critique Special” – a steal of $25 for 30 minutes of face-to-face Zoom (or voice-to-ear telephone) critique/coaching. This is a fantastic chance for writers to get specified feedback about their work.
Full disclosure: I didn’t hire Kate to go through “Number Seven…” for reasons of my own fear (more on that another time). But I have had her review other stories and snippets of mine, and every piece of feedback I received was insightful and inspiring. Kate is one of those rare editors who genuinely does her best to make YOUR work the best it can be. There is no ego involved, and she NEVER EVER talks down to you. She is a consummate, compassionate professional. She’s also a caring person I’m grateful to call my friend.
I reached out to Kate about her Quarantine Critique Special, and we came up with a short writing prompt contest. The gist: I’m sponsoring 3 free critique slots. Any writer can post a short (~250 words) response to 1 of 2 prompt suggestions, to Kate’s Instagram, Facebook Business Page, or Facebook group Team Writer. Find direct links and full instructions at Kate’s blog post here:
Click the image to go to the post
I’ll be tracking submissions, and Kate will be choosing 3 random winners next week, June 2, 2020. So check out the prompts, get writing, and send in your submissions to Kate before the Monday (June 1) deadline! The world needs more writers, and writers need people like Kate.
I’m one of the winners of 4amWriter’s “Save El Lobo Writing Competition”!
Head on over to Kate’s page and read her update, which includes all the winning entries. And, if you should be inspired to write your own wolf story, let me know. I’ll howl for you!
For those of you who are interested in how I approached this particular challenge, read on….
Whenever I set my mind to a writing challenge, the first thing I consider is what I can bring to it: style, scenarios, conflicts, maybe a plot twist for the ending. For Kate’s challenge – to write a short story or poem featuring wolves in a positive light – I knew I wanted to use description, to depict the beauty of a wolf in nature. After a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting my brain percolate, I came up with the not-very-subtle twist of a photographer using a sight and taking a “shot” much like a sniper might. The hunt of a photographer waiting for the perfect shot is much like waiting for the perfect moment when a target comes into the crosshairs. It would also allow me to tell a story in mostly-silent descriptive and action passages, a technique that’s been prevalent in my pleasure reading, of late.
Once I’ve got my scenario, I figure out who’s going to play my primary character. Given the plot I’d come up with, my PC needed to be a human. I’ve got a stable of go-to characters, but I wanted to do something a little bit different, this time. The main protagonist, Aksel, is a combination of bounty hunter Axton with a little bit of domestic dad Rob McAllister thrown in. Neither of those men can go anywhere without their respective partners, so I dropped in Aksel’s buddy Harald as something of a counterpoint to Aksel’s skill, and to give him someone to reveal his success to in the end.
Next, I just…start writing. Some images and descriptions flow fine, while other parts are obviously less polished. I even double-up on some phrases when I free-write, to play with the order of words and see how they fit. The picture below (click on it for the full-resolution version) shows my original draft in all its messy, stream-of-consciousness rawness.
As should be fairly clear, I don’t edit when I free-write; I just keep typing until I complete the idea. This free-write went on too long – almost 200 extra words too long – and it needed plenty of reworking. That doesn’t mean something good didn’t come out of it along the way, though.
This challenge’s tight word count confines – we were allowed 250 words max to tell the story – meant that I had to choose carefully what was worthwhile to the story as a whole. A lot of the setup and extraneous action had to go. For example, Aksel’s buddy Harald’s dump in the ice pond, as well as a slightly deeper explanation of the men’s relationship, neither of which did much for the main plot. I also really liked the idea of the protagonist facing down the white wolf alone.
The last bit – the reveal of the purpose of the photo quest – came about completely by accident, when I was typing out the men’s dialogue. I hadn’t even considered the relationship between Aksel and his father until those words came out from Harald’s mouth! I liked it a lot, though, even if it meant going back and figuring out a new lead-in for the story.
All in all, I like the final submitted version. It changed along the way, as stories tend to do. It even changed titles, from “White Wolf Hunt” to “Eyes of Gold Fire”. Since I’d already decided in my head that Aksel’s father had died, I could have had the primary character spend the entire story alone. But, I liked him having someone with whom he could share that tiny triumphant moment of the photo reveal. Because stories are better when they’re shared. Just like this one.
What’s your process for writing challenges? Have you submitted your writing to any contests lately? What did you think of my story of Aksel and the white wolf?
Last week, Kate Johnston, AKA 4amwriter, posted a writing contest on her blog. The contest involved writing a 250-word (max) story featuring wolves in a positive or hopeful light. Three entrants will be chosen as winners by Kate’s panel of judges on April 10, 2017.
It had been a while since I’d participated in a good, old fashioned writing contest, and this one was for such a good cause, I had to put down my editing/rewriting pen and give it a try. I’ll post my entry after the winners have officially been announced on the 4amwriter blog, so as not to potentially skew any of the judges, for good or ill. Not that anybody reads this blog anymore, let alone those judges, but I need to decide how to present my entry anyway (first draft with changes, or just final submission version?).
Part of Kate’s contest involved her donating $5 for every entry received. I was so touched by that endeavor, I decided to check out the site that prompted her to offer the contest in the first place. That site turned out to be the Wolf Conservation Center, a private, not-for-profit environmental education organization located in South Salem, NY. Per their webpage, the Wolf Conservation Center teaches people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and the human role in protecting their future.
I clicked through a bunch of the pages on the site, when I came to the Adopt a Wolf section. Now, I love looking at pictures of animals, and wolves have been a long-standing animal love of mine since the days of reading about the Wolfriders in Elfquest. I scrolled down the list of wolves, and then I saw her:
It seemed so fitting. Those sparkling eyes, that wily smile, and her name: Alawa, meaning “sweetpea” in Algonquin. For those of you who have read my “Finding Mister Wright” series, you’ll know that one of the principal cast characters, Paige, has several nicknames, most of them involving the letter P: peanut, pickle, and, as her grandparents call her, sweetpea. Nobody else would remember that little detail, but I did. The word sprung out at me from the screen, making me think of all of the happiness I’ve felt sharing Paige’s and her family’s stories. And so, I just had to adopt this gorgeous girl.
I’ve felt weighted down for a long time. Even my writing has lacked a certain spirit. But, this adoption made me feel good. Not just for the charity, but for the feeling of being connected to a greater whole. It’s naive to think that my writing can connect people that way, though that is certainly something I strive for. What this good feeling of giving gave me was a breather, a moment of openness to a world made more beautiful for this creature’s presence in it. I can only hope for me and my stories to mean as much, someday.
Did you do a wolf-write for 4amwriter’s Save El Lobo contest? What version of my own entry might you like to see? Who are your favorite wolves from stories?
Maybe you know Neeks? Well, if you don’t, this is a great introduction!
Over at her neekswrite blog, sweet Neeks has started a brand new contest of sorts, called “The Short and the Long of it.” Each week, Neeks will give her readers 3 words to use as prompt for a story or poem. It doesn’t matter how long or short the story/poem, though there are a few standing caveats regarding subject matter and word usage (specifically, no XXX, no swearing, no harming of children). For Week 1, we’ve been given these three words:
Plaid Moisture Defenseless
Now, my own judgment on what counts for XXX and harm is somewhat lapsing, these days, so I’m posting here instead of over at Neeks’s blog. Plus, my entry goes over 500 words, though only a bit. I’m also horribly mired in one particular story right now, so my mind couldn’t jump from these characters as readily as I might have liked. I did tweak them, though, but I think any readers of the sci-fi story will get ’em right away. Anyhow, here goes….
She pinned the clothes to the line, the sum total of her life: two denim coveralls, six colored shirts, three plaid miniskirts, and a pair of baggy trousers. Candy-cane-striped socks and boyshort underwear. And one lone dress, slender and colored crème, little more than a slip, really. But, it always made her feel a real woman. A fact everyone else on the planet conveniently seemed to forget.
Except for him.
Sure, twenty-seven wasn’t what she’d been looking for. But, she’d come to know him for who he was. More than just a hunter, grifter, or rogue. She knew him as a man. She’d heard it in his voice, felt it in his touch, tasted it on his lips. Against them, she’d been defenseless.
Sure, nineteen was young. But, he saw her for who she was. More than just a hacker, mechanic, or getaway driver. He saw her as a woman. He’d told her so in his whispers to God when they were alone beneath the stars, in the pattering of her heart when he’d squeezed her hand as they’d run, and in the tart need of his kiss before he’d made his farewell, followed by a hushed promise to return. Left with only that, she’d felt naked.
That had been a week ago.
Of course, she’d worried he’d been waylaid by roving scavengers or bandits. But, worrying didn’t make the time pass any faster. And, of course, she’d wondered if he’d been diverted by other, more…familial distractions. But, wondering didn’t make it true.
So, she waited. And tinkered. And washed. And put her clothes on the line, watching the dewy wetness in the creases dry beneath the desert sun…until she heard the rustle of tyres in the dirt.
The cloud of his stop was still hanging in the air as he jumped from the driver’s seat, with the spryness of a boy closer to her age than his. He scooped her up with a whoop and spun her about, hushing his own voice against her lips.
She laughed when they parted. “I can’t believe they let you go,” she said, smoothing her fingers over the scar at his temple, where once there had been the insignia of the hunters’ guild.
He grinned up at her, still caught in his arms. “Nobody’s gonna tell us what to do. Not anymore, and never again.”
She just laughed again, flicking away the moisture on her lashes with three quick blinks.
Her tear bounced to his cheek, making his grin soften. He squeezed his arms tighter around her, murmuring, “You ready to marry me, darlin’?”
She bobbed her head, a fresh slew of tears brimming on her lashes. “Just let me get my dress,” she said, and grabbed his face to kiss him again.
She spent her wedding day in that crème slip of a dress, but not her wedding night. That, she spent in his arms and a wind of rough motel sheet that kept them together for what felt like it could be forever.
“I love you,” she whispered during one relaxing lull.
His face, half-lit by the streaming moonlight from the window, smiled down at her. “I never want to be with anyone else,” he said, and bowed his head to hers.
She closed her eyes and waited for the press of his kiss, when something wet touched her lips. Again, wet.
She licked them. Salt.
She opened her eyes but couldn’t scream, despite the dripping blade sticking out her new husband’s neck.
Behind his head, she saw the black mask of a hunter, who muttered, “You won’t.” His eyes flashed to hers, as he added, “Daddy says it’s time to come home.”
This one took me to a place I hadn’t expected. So, I think I’ll borrow from Neeks’s own name, here, and end with… EEK!
Why not try your hand at Neeks’s new contest? It’s great fun!