White Wolf Hunt (Draft Process)

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. WWH-freewrite
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?

I dared to write. Will you?

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I have a handful of writer friends I’ve been lucky enough to find through the wonders of blogging. One of them is writer/editor Kate Johnston, whom you may also know as 4amwriter on Twitter. Kate recently sent out a challenge: dare to write something new this summer. On her own blog – https://4amwriter.com/ – she offers eager participants looking for summertime motivation to send her a poem, short story, or even part of your novel-in-progress, for reading and general feedback! You also have a chance to win one of these fabulous prizes: a free copy of her e-book (Amazon.com buy link here, if you can’t wait), or an in-depth critique of your work!

Personal plug-time: Kate has given me critique on my own work, and I can attest that the insight and compassion in her feedback helped draw out a better writer in me – and it can do the same for you! So, if you need motivation to get that chapter or story down on paper this summer, this is it. Head over to Kate’s blog for more info! While you’re there, don’t forget to check out her e-books, with strategies and stories for writers of all permutations.

Kate’s “Dare to Write” challenge was just what I needed. I’d been struggling through slow rewrites of my science fiction team adventure story, and my writer’s heart was failing for the lack of progress. When the “Dare to Write” post notification popped up in my inbox, I headed over there right away. Partly because I have always enjoyed writing challenges, especially when I’m in a rut, but also because when a writer and coach like Kate says we should dare to do something, it is always worth the risk. This effort proved to be no different.

It took a few weeks to get down on paper all of the pieces and scenes for this latest “Finding Mister Wright” pre-fic, but I finally put together the short story of how being a parent can throw a romantic evening off-course…but also how that new course can lead to a far better destination. It’s a story I’ve had in my head for many moons, now, and it brought me a lot of joy to get it out of my head and into a form more tangible.

This particular story clocks in at just over 6000 words, so I will give folks here the same warning I gave Kate when I sent it in for the “Dare to Write” challenge: the story is not short, so I understand if length is a deterrent. It also features a minor sex scene between two consenting adults of the same gender, so if that makes you uncomfortable, no hard feelings if you don’t click on the link. I will say that the sex is not so important as what’s happening around it. It may sound strange, but these are as close to real people as I can make them, with personal concerns and hangups as well as desires. I’ve also been trying to temper my sex scenes – especially between these two characters – to lean more toward the PG/PG-13 side than some of the explicitly graphic stuff I’ve written in the past. Being my own judge, I can’t say whether the effort is successful or not, but it certainly has been interesting to swing the pendulum the other way. If you’re interested in checking out this story, you can click the link below:

“Sleepover, or, A Taste of Happiness” [PDF will open in a new tab]
~6000 words / 19 pages DS

Summer is a busy time for many of us, but I hope that you are trying new things and exploring new worlds in your imagination. I also hope that you’ll make time to hop on over to 4amwriter.com to join in on the “Dare to Write” summer writing challenge!

What are your writing goals for this summer? Have you dared to write something new? Or, work more on something older? Let me know in the comments – it all counts!

Image attribution: Thomas Julin [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Away and Back Again

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I recently returned from a long weekend holiday in London, England. I took daily notes in a travelogue, of sorts, just because I wanted to keep the memories of the little things I experienced, and writing them down always helps. Some folks wanted to see my handwritten notes, though they are mostly illegible. Still, I’ll share a few highlights. (Typed translations included to read my scrawl):

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Our first chuckle came at Immigration, when the officer asked what we are going to do while here in the UK. I said, “Pubs and walking,” and he replied, “I like the sound of the first one! The second one, not so much.”

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Did the walk past Buckingham Palace and Westminster (where we got lost), on our way to Cask. There, I had a tall, refreshing Rothaus Wheat and a burger that REALLY hit the spot.

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Coffee and tea at Kaffeine, along with some egg-and-salmon croissants that were quite tasty. From there, we planned a long-ish day of walking, up to the “Spaced” house in Islington. Walked through Kentish Town – which had some very trippy graffiti – and Camden, and found the old house in question, where husband got some pictures. We took a walk up to Hampstead Heath, as well, just because it was so close. Gorgeous windy day for the walking dogs!

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“Pissing rain” for part of the afternoon, but we got a reprieve with some very tasty – if pricey – sushi at Murakami. The soft-shelled crab was so good, we had to order 2! It was a bit too much to get dessert there, so we picked up some macarons and a parfait – and a few more beers to try – from Whole Foods, and went back to the hotel for an early night. A good thing, since we were both very tired and ended up sleeping for about 9 hours! Walking so many miles every day will do that, though.

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Walked by 10 Downing Street, but Larry was “napping.” We did see the Horse Guard’s Parade, or at least part of it.

Meeting Beth and Vanessa today. Very excited! I hope I don’t end up being a stereotype [sic] American and making an ass of myself.

Turned out, I didn’t have to worry! We had a very nice time chatting, drinking, and eating at Lowlander Cafe, a Belgian bar in Covent Garden. After, we had tea at Pret a Manger – which I’m still not certain how to pronounce – before we parted ways. I may need to go out to Kent next time, though.

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We travelled out to Brighton, on the coast. It’s very much a seaside town; parts of it reminded me of Harbram. We stopped for a pint at another chain-type pub, and after that took the bus out to The Seven Sisters cliffs. The train to Brighton was about an hour plus, and the bus ride just about an hour, as well, so it was mid-afternoon before we got to walk around the cliffs area. It was gorgeous, though, with sheep and cows and a real English countryside feel.

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I loved the vibe walking through the park. The parks were my favorite part of this trip, as they usually are for my vacations. Saw lots of birds and dogs, and it just felt so peaceful and welcoming.

Imperial was very much like home. The students and faculty walking around, doing university business, really made me feel like I belonged there. The bustle of Piccadilly was exciting, but the atmosphere around Imperial was much more my speed. I’m glad I got the chance to walk around the campus by myself before we left. I would definitely go back there and through Hyde Park, next time we’re in London.

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Hoping for a smooth plane ride home to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, story ideas are coursing through my head for the flight…. <3


I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to travel and have experiences away from home. My family, friends, and colleagues all helped me prepare for, cope with, and enjoy this vacation, in a way I couldn’t have done were I alone. Even though I was supposed to be alone for a portion of this holiday, and I was looking forward to that me-time, I am glad that I got to experience it together with my husband, as it became something of a second honeymoon, for us. Adventures that take us to new places – and new places within ourselves – are exciting when we’re on our own…but they can also be so much more fulfilling when we have someone to share them with.

The crunch-time of vacation merrymaking didn’t allow for as much writing as I might have gotten were I by myself, but I did manage to finish the story linked to below on the plane ride home. It has nothing to do with vacationing, but I don’t know the next chance I’ll get to indulge myself in writing younger Rob, Paige, and Daniel.

“Just a Man”
[~6800 words / 26 pages DS; PDF opens in a new window]

Have you enjoyed any adventures, recently? What do you like best about vacations? What are your favorite (in)activities while on holiday? Do you keep a travelogue while you’re on the move?

I Really Did Love My Father

…but, for some reason, many of my characters have difficult relationships with their own fathers. It’s the reverse of the Disney Princess situation, where it’s the mothers who are missing (seriously: many Disney Princesses just seem to not have had mothers at all!). In the majority of my stories, main characters challenge their fathers, are estranged from their fathers, their fathers are dead, or some semblance of all three. I honestly don’t know where this particular character detail comes from, since I had a pretty good relationship with my own father, and I honestly did love him. I think the admission of that love is what I’ve enjoyed exploring through these stories of children challenging and reconciling with the patriarchs of their families. Or, maybe it has something to do with the idea of The Patriarch being emotionally removed from his children, so he doesn’t show a lot of love to them. Whatever the reason, the fathers of my characters tend to get the short end of the stick. That must be the reason why, when my characters grow up and have children of their own, they are so determined to be openly loving men to their kids.

Chie, from 1 More Chance!, which I wrote between 2009-2011, rebelled against her father in her choice of boyfriend, but that was a tame conflict compared to the stark animosity Amber showed to her father in Fearless, whose first draft I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2011. Daniel’s conflict with his father, written over the last few weeks and linked to below, is somewhere in the middle between those two perspectives…and, I have to admit, related to some of my own feelings about my dad, which I haven’t examined too closely since he died in 2014.

“Butterfly”
[~13K words / 51 pages Calibri DS- PDF opens in a new window]

This story plays with time in a way I haven’t attempted before, but I’d recently read a novel that jumped back and forth in time in a similar fashion, to share story details between scenes, that I found interesting. I don’t know if I was completely successful in my attempt – I wondered if I should have done more jumping, just to break things up – but I always enjoy writing these characters, and the opportunity felt right.

Two of the guest characters in this story are returns for me, while another is based on a university colleague, and another is an homage to a writer friend’s adventuring archaeologist. I really enjoyed bringing back my own characters into this fold, and I do hope my friends don’t take offense to me envisioning them and their creations in a way that fit into my story. But, that’s the beauty of relationships, right? You never know where they’re going to take you.

On thinking more about it, the challenge of writing this story that I really enjoyed wasn’t so much the technical aspect of skipping around in time or between worlds of my making, but the Daniel character’s uniqueness in this situation, in that he is both a child and a parent, struggling to find the balance between both aspects of himself.

How do your personal relationships with family or friends affect your characters and their stories? Do you ever find yourself writing a little bit about yourself in your stories? From a technical perspective, what are your thoughts on time-jumps in storytelling? I’m happy to hear your answers to any of these questions! (And, if you’re hearty enough to actually read the story, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about that, too!)

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