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.
Some of you may know that I’m a videographer and video editor at my day job. On occasion, one professional life can carry over into another.
When I published my novella, “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”, at the beginning of the year, I also made this little book promo video. It’s my first time making a book promo, and I did it without actors. All video and images are taken from royalty-free sources, as is the audio.
This was really just a fun way for me to stretch my work legs in my personal life. But if you like the video – or you liked my book – please let me know! It’s always great to hear when anyone has enjoyed my work.
The quote above was originally submitted for a #1LineWed offering on June 13, 2018. It comes from my original character Darya in “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” and it gave me trouble in every single edit of the story. Every character needs their own conflict, and I wanted to give her one that was separate – and more personal – from what we witness through Number Seven’s eyes.
The backstory tidbit quoted here popped into my head in the first draft and went through surprisingly few changes before the final version. What bothers me to this day isn’t that I wrote it or that I kept it in the published novella, but whether readers understand what I was going for.
Darya Vikhrova is the only daughter of Ana Vikhrova, a cosmetics industry star and nouveau riche socialite. Darya’s father is unknown to her. Darya grew up amid material wealth but emotional poverty; Ana consistently told her she wasn’t worth a damn and no one would ever want her outside of her inheritance. As a little girl, Darya was withdrawn, fearful, and prone to private outbursts of anger. During a trip to Italy when she was 9 years old, Darya performed a near-perfect dive from a cliff. It changed her life. Ana’s boyfriend at the time, recognizing the feat, suggested Ana send her daughter to a professional coach. Ana and Darya were both only too happy to agree. Soon after, Darya earned a place on the national junior division team and started winning. Most importantly, she left her mother behind. Eventually, Darya would meet Kirill Morozov and his bodyguard Number Seven, and her life would change again.
In the Novella
I still don’t know if Darya’s story progression comes completely clear in the final version of “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind.” I left out a lot of the details listed above, leaving only a few lines devoted to her history, with most of them expressed by other characters, but I just didn’t want to delve too far into her backstory. She’s a secondary character at best and describing her motivations would have slowed down the main story. Still, I liked what she brought to the final product, and she was certainly fun to write! If I ever return to the world of Number Seven and his friends, I know exactly where Darya’s life will take her next.
In case you missed it, I published my thriller novella“Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” in early January 2019. The story follows bodyguard Number Seven and his charge Kirill, a young athlete training for Olympic gold, as they weave in and out of high-stakes conspiracies and low-key romantic encounters. It’s a story I never thought I could write – thriller has never been my preferred genre for reading or writing – but once the first inklings of the original plot settled into my brain, I had no choice but to run with it.
This post isn’t about Number Seven’s story, though. Not directly, anyway.
My sister is three years older than me. I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be like her. She was certainly my best friend growing up. In a lot of ways, she still is.
She taught me how to tie my shoes, and how to write my name. She taught me to read, through Little Golden Books and comics she let me look at from over her shoulder. She always read harder stuff than me, stuff with words and concepts I didn’t yet understand. When I’d ask her about them, she wouldn’t roll her eyes or push me away, though; she’d patiently explain them until I did understand. And, of course, we’d play: make-believe school, make-believe knights, make-believe fairies, and make-believe starfighters. She was my first and best example of someone who loved stories. Simply put, I’m a writer because of her.
I’ve talked before about the tradition my sister and I had of trading stories on Christmas morning. But it wasn’t just Christmas stories. There was a time when we traded stories just because we wanted to share our ideas with each other. I remember marking in the margins of my written pages where she’d left off the last time she’d read, and how many lines I’d written since then. She was my first reader, my first critic, the first person whose opinion of my writing mattered so much to me that I felt giddy when she liked it and crushed when she didn’t.
We don’t share stories like that anymore. Her storytelling journey took her on a different path from me. Now, she creates interactive stories, told live with plenty of improvisation from the friends who join her at her gaming table. It makes her happy, and that makes me happy, too.
When I shared the news that I’d published my novella, I was surprised by the encouraging words and actions from family, friends, and colleagues. Many of these were people who had, until this point, never read any stories of mine or even knew I wrote stories at all. I finally felt like the world was seeing the Me that had been here all along. My heart swelled seeing the Congratulations! messages pop up. Then I saw a message from my sister. “I’m so proud of you!” it said, and I burst into tears. This woman who’d taught me so many things, including how to make stories, was proud of me for the story I’d written.
It was satisfying to finish Seven’s story. Publishing it made me anxious but also excited. Hearing from friends that they enjoyed the story has made me happy. Making my sister proud, though, has been one of the greatest joys I’ve ever felt on this journey of becoming a writer. Who knows? Maybe I can even do it again.
A little over one year ago, I started the story of Number Seven when a friend of mine sent me a writing prompt for a contest. That prompt was “Awakenings”, and that’s what I called this story through its entire first draft. What I didn’t quite realize was that Seven’s awakening would lead to an awakening for me, as well.
It took me about six months to write the first draft, then another five or so months to take reader feedback and get it edited. At just about 33,000 words, it’s far short of the 80,000-word average for a novel, meaning that no traditional editor, agent, or publisher would give it the time of day. But I didn’t want to double the length of the story with extraneous subplots or details; I always liked that it read relatively quickly. So when Amorphous Publishing Guild (APG) came to me with an opportunity to self-publish, I took it. With APG, I got to publish my story on my terms. No doubt there are folks out there who think the way I published this story is wrong, hurting my brand, not exposing it to enough readers…but we each have to follow our own paths.
I respect and admire my writer friends who are dedicated to their goals of a book deal and big-time representation. That is impressive! It’s not for me, though. I write stories that speak to and through me, and the strictly business side of publishing doesn’t much interest me. Sure, I’d like to make back in sales what I spent on production and editing costs, but I really like my day job, too. For me, writing stories is about personal joy. By sharing the story, I hope to entertain others and bring them a little bit of joy, too.
Reading the Story
To pick up your own copy of my thriller short story “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”, choose from the following versions:
For countries not the US or the UK, you can search for “Mayumi Hirtzel”. If the book is not available in your country but you’d still like a copy, let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure we work something out!
If you decide to give it a read, thank you! I hope you enjoy the story of Seven and his friends. And look for more stories from me in the future!