Writing Short Stories: A Mini Course by Kate Thornton Part II

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

Today, Kate continues with the second part of a mini course on writing short fiction, beginning with marketing.

Marketing your finished work

1. Know your genre. Do you write mystery? Science fiction? Romance? Contemporary literary? I write mostly mystery and science fiction, but I firmly believe that if you can write, you can write anything you want to. Look at your story and figure out where it might belong. Chances are, it could fit into more than one category.

2. Research your markets. Know what they want. Every magazine, anthology or contest has submission guidelines. Read them carefully and give them what they want. If they say under 1000 words, don’t send 1001. If they say snail mail only, get out those envelopes. If they say no vampires, robots, brunettes, or cats, don’t send your epic space opera vampire story about the furry dark robot cats. Keep on looking for a market that fits – or revise your story to fit the market. Either way works.

3. Polish your story again. Give it one more read, made sure it looks great and is in the right format.

4. Submit. Go on, do it. And keep a record of your submissions. A simple Word or handwritten document giving title, market, date of submission and date/type of response is perfect. That way you don’t miss a market or submit the same thing twice to the same market.

A note about cover letters.

Short stories are usually sent with a short cover letter (not a query letter, which is something else entirely.) Cover letters usually say something like this:

Dear Editor,

Attached (or in the body of this email) please find my original 750 word short story, “Lost in the Woods.”

I am an avid reader of your magazine, and have had work published in “Sewage Monthly,” “Cat Lovers USA,” and “Coal Digest” (or leave credits out if don’t have any – it won’t matter if you don’t have any.)

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Avid J. Reader
123 Writer Lane
New York, NY 10000
(212) 555-5555
avidjreader@wtf.com (Your name, address, phone number & email are important!)

Then you wait. But while you are waiting, write something else. Keep on doing that.

Where? Where do I submit?

Here are the links to 2 of my favorite online market guides.

Ralan (look over on the far right for market listings)
Publishing…And Other Forms of Insanity

There are others, of course. And if you post to any writers’ forums (or fora for you linguistic purists) you will also find market info. Here’s one I like:

Absolute Write

Happy writing!

That’s the quick and easy of short stories. Time to write one!

Step by Step with Bonnie Schroeder

with Bonnie Schroeder 
Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
One morning last week as I was brewing coffee and contemplating the novel I’m getting ready to write, it all seemed overwhelming. I felt like shelving the whole thing; it was too, too much. I’ve sketched out the premise and drafted a few opening pages, but that’s it. The book will require a lot of research, I don’t know my characters, I’m not even sure I like those opening pages, I’m facing a long road of drafts, critiques, rewrites, and blah blah blah. “How am I ever going to do it all?” I muttered to myself.
A few sips of coffee later, I quit whining. The last two or three years have been focused on writing/revising/editing my latest project (for which I hope to find a home this year), so I haven’t started a novel from scratch in a long time. But I went through my preliminary notes for the last one, hoping to find a clue as to how I did it, and I rediscovered a nifty technique I learned about through the recommendation of a writer friend. It’s called “The Snowflake Method.” You might have heard of it.
Lest I be thought an internet pirate, let me give full credit for the technique to Randy Ingermanson. I do not know Mr. Ingermanson personally; I found his website by Googling “Snowflake Method for Writing a Novel.” You can buy his book on Amazon, but he also offers the basic technique for free on his website, and I took advantage of his generosity.

 

The principle is simple: you start with a brief premise, then expand the premise, get into character descriptions, sketch out your scenes, and so on. The narrative is developed via a logical progression that takes you deeper and deeper into the story and the characters. Each step leads to the next, more complex step, much the way that an actual snowflake is structured.
On my last novel, I of course deviated from the original design work with each revision, but I’d never have gotten started without the guidance of the Snowflake technique.
The beauty of this approach, for me, is that it breaks down the writing process into separate specific tasks. It is very freeing to realize that I don’t have to do everything at once. By breaking it down into bite-size chunks, I can tackle one at a time without worrying about the road ahead. Looking ahead, at this stage, just freaks me out.
Some of my fellow dog-owners and I like to hike the trails in Griffith Park, and one of our more challenging climbs is up to Mt. Hollywood—a 1600 ft. gain. I invited another friend to join us, and when she looked up at our destination, she started to cry. Honest, she did. I knew she could make the climb okay, she’s in good shape and works out at the gym, so it wasn’t the physical challenge that daunted her; it was the mental one. The end point seemed too far away, the road too steep. I explained to her what the rest of us knew: the secret is not to look up. Focus on the trail in front of you, and take it one step at a time. It keeps you from getting discouraged and it’s safer, too—you won’t trip over any rocks if you keep your eyes on the road just ahead.
There are times, of course, when it’s good to take the long view. On our climb we stop midway for water (and to catch our breath.) And we take in how far we’ve come before we look up at the top of the mountain. Somehow, at that point, it doesn’t seem all that far away. Then we shoulder our back packs and focus on the trail right in front of us, and we do that all the way to the top.
My friend made it just fine, by the way. We were all sweaty and out of breath, but we did it. And the view from up there is always—always—worth the exertion.

 

So that’s what I’m doing now. Since I have the premise and a couple of characters, I’ll move through the design process and eventually begin to write the manuscript, with my Snowflake roadmap to light the way. And one of these days, I’ll be able to look at the stack of paper on my writing table and think, I’ve come this far. I can make it to the finish line. One step at a time.

The Best and Worst of Christmas Presents

All the way back to childhood, this is the season when most of us expect to receive gifts, whether wrapped in green and red for Christmas, blue and silver for Hanukkah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa. Sometimes those gifts are amazing. Sometimes they are…surprising. And sometimes they are intangible items that can’t be wrapped in paper and bows. We’ve pulled out some of our WinR memories to share with you.

One of the best, or most memorable, Christmas presents I have received was my first Christmas after I moved to Los Angeles from London. I was house-sitting on my own in a half-finished house – just basically one unfinished room – no dry wall yet installed – with a camping-cot. I was also working as a waitress and had the Christmas Day shift. Phone calls home to my mum were VERY expensive in those days, but I spoke briefly to her before I went to work. When I got back, there was a parcel from one of my new-found British friends, who clearly understand my situation. The parcel contained a stack of airmail envelopes, writing paper, pens and international postage stamps (expensive for me) – so I could write to my family in England. Plus…. a bottle of vodka and a bottle of tonic!!! I spent the rest of the day writing letters home – and enjoying a plastic cup of vodka-tonic, no ice.

                                                                
                                                                                         – Rosemary Lord

The worst Christmas gift I ever received was a cookie jar: a big ceramic thing in the shape of a grinning brown bear, given to me by a family friend, a kindly lady who’d known me most of my life.

What’s so awful about that? Well, here’s what happened: I was a newlywed that year, in a low-rent apartment with the world’s smallest kitchen. No room for cookie jars, so I stashed the gift in a closet. I didn’t bake back then anyway—my culinary specialty was spaghetti.

Fast forward several months: my best friend Susie got engaged, and of course I had to get a gift for her bridal shower. Susie was quite the baker, and I thought of that cookie jar, gathering dust in the dark closet. My husband was still in school so we were subsisting, barely, on my tiny salary as a secretary for a small company. Therefore, I thought, it made sense to “re-gift” that cookie jar, which had never been used. Two problems solved: I had little money for a gift, and it seemed a shame to let the cookie jar go to waste.

It would have gone over just fine, except . . . Susie unwrapped the gift and laughed at the smiling bear. Then she lifted the lid. The well-meaning lady who gave me the jar had also given me a bag full of home-made oatmeal cookies, but I didn’t know it because I’d never looked inside the jar. Those cookies had been sitting there, turning to rocks, all that time.

I saw Susie’s bewildered expression as she held up the bag of cookie-rocks, and before I lost my nerve, I snatched the cookies and muttered something about my husband being a practical joker. I’m sure my face was scarlet, but my remark got a laugh at least.

Susie and I are still friends after all these years, and I’m sometimes tempted to ask her if she believed my fib back then. Most days, though, I’d rather not know.

The morals of this story: (1) if you ever recycle a gift, be sure to look inside first. You never know what you might find. (2) when in doubt, blame the husband.


                                                          – Bonnie Schroeder


I can only think of one gift that I knew instantly I would never use. It was a satiny pink blouse with a huge bow at the neck. Not my style, color, or fabric. It was the type matronly ladies wore at the time. I was 27. It made me look like a clown. My brother’s wife had picked it out. It was actually a designer label. She didn’t know my tastes at all since she lived in Ohio and I was in California. But my elderly landlady looked terrific in it. She got two gifts that year.

                                                                         – G.B. Pool


                                                       
I have a huge extended family, and therefore, we pulled names for Christmas. The first year, my uncle, who was my age, forgot about me. That night, when they pulled names, I was forgotten. He came up to me later and gave me twenty bucks! The next year, my aunt, who was in college at the time, forgot me again. She sent me a pair of Saluki sweats that I lived in for the next few years. I loved those sweats, and the twenty bucks came in handy. Sometimes, being forgotten isn’t all that bad.

                                                                        – Jacqueline Vick 


May you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Where Do Writers Get Ideas? 
by Jackie Houchin
In a recent post on Marilyn Meredith’s blog titled “Field Trips for Writers,” I wrote about exciting trips we “WinRs” have taken and how they tickled (or tricked) our muses into action. I also suggested a bunch more for her readers. Check them out; you may glean a story idea too. (http://bit.ly/1PIYv3o).

Any little sight, sound, or experience can generate ideas for your writing. A few crows pestering my Maine Coon cat in our back yard inspired me to write “The Crows Know” about a planned murder that went awry. 
The glassy-smooth feel on my fingertips as I ran them down the side of a newly polished sports car inspired a story about a murderous duo in “Sweet Ride.”  
A longing for a certain left-over item in my fridge after a harried day of shopping the malls, led to my dark flash fiction story “The Perilous Pizza.”
A newspaper story about a 1932 dam about to be renovated, inspired fellow WinR writer, Gayle Bartos-Pool, to write “Damning Evidence,” the third in her Gin Caulfield mysteries.
Then there’s that newspaper clipping about the body of an elderly family member found wedged behind an upright piano months after she went missing. It intrigues me.  How did she get there? Was there no noise of a struggle? No odor? It’s mind boggling and “ripe” for a story. Go ahead, be my guest!
Every wonder where the writer came up with a man-eating plant who falls in love with him after reaching gigantic proportions (Little Shop of Horrors), or an astronaut who grows potatoes in outer space (The Martian), or a love story with a woman who lived 50 or 100 years before him (Somewhere in Time/Time after Time), or who lived before AND after him (The Time-Traveler’s Wife). 

Something sparked those ideas; I wonder what it was…? (Take a second just now to ponder them. Really. Do it!)
Here are a few places you can look to get your “juices” flowing:
1. Pick up a newspaper (any section) and read a tiny story.
2. Glance in the gutter of a busy street (A kid found $600 in a paper bag doing that!).
3. Look at signs and posters in the windows of stores or apartments or the post office.
4. Look at want-ads or items for sale, or personal notices.
5. Peer over your neighbor’s fence. 
6. Peruse the items in your fridge… your car’s trunk…or your jewelry box.
7. Thumb through an old family album with murder, vice, or a caper in mind. 
8. Thumb through an old family album with…a memoir in mind.
9. Join (or maybe just watch) a protest march.
10. Choose a parable and twist it or “pastiche” it. 
11. Search out writers’ prompts from hundreds of websites.
12. Delve into a thesaurus or encyclopedia (use the old “close-your-eyes, open-the-page, and point-to-a-word” technique).
13. Google a random date.
14. Google a prescription medicine that you take.
15. Google your grandmother’s maiden name.
15. Drip food coloring into a saucer of milk, then add a touch of dish soap…and be amazed. What comes to mind first?
There are ideas all around us and you can turn them into stories with a little diabolical imagination! 
All it takes is… a character or two, a problem or three, several adversaries or a block wall that can’t be scaled, a terrifying time table, a heart-stopping climax, and a shocking, satisfying, humorous, or thought-provoking conclusion. Voila!  You’ve got a story. (Of course it needs massaged, edited, critiqued, and rewritten! But we’re talking ideas here.)
CHALLENGE: Pick one suggestion from anywhere in this post. Let your imagination roam and see if you can come up with a story idea – at least the kernel of one – then throw it into a hot popper and see what happens! 

And please let me know if you find one! (A story idea, that is!)

What the Writers in Residence are Grateful for this Thanksgiving


Yes, yes, I am grateful for all the usual stuff – all the stuff we should be grateful for. But I am grateful for Pain and Loss, too. When the Bad Stuff is there, the balance is there, and the balance is what keeps us on an even keel in a world that doesn’t always make sense. 

I am grateful for Pain.

When I was in the Army, the Marines used to tell us that pain was weakness leaving the body. Nice idea, but that only applied to exercise and physical endurance. Real pain, the kind you feel in your body when there is something terribly wrong, is a constant reminder that you are alive and need to do something to alleviate that pain. See a doctor, take your medication, do all you can to feel better so you can really live. Do distracting things, like helping others, to get your mind off any pain that your doctor cannot fix.

Real pain of the other kind, the broken-heart kind, also reminds you that you are alive and human. You only feel that kind of pain when you have a depth of feeling which is in itself a gift. Tears can help you through it, but recognize it for what it is: a common experience which binds us together and reinforces our humanity. Pain shared is pain lessened.

I am also grateful for Loss.

Loss teaches us the value of – and fleeting nature of – all things. All things. Our loved ones, ourselves, our world, everything. How many times must loss teach us the same lesson? Every day we learn it over again. Live each day fully, appreciate each moment, live without regret. Know that Loss will touch you as it touches everyone, so be ready. Live with sincere love and caring every day, and don’t be afraid to show it.

I am grateful for Inconvenience.

Inconvenience is the niggling teacher of patience. A little patience can go a long way in overcoming Pain and Loss, so embrace it as a way to slow down and see the very real wonder of this world.

Moderation is key to appreciating Pain, Loss and Inconvenience. There is nothing at all to be gained from wallowing in them. But remember their useful qualities the next time you must experience them. And be grateful you are able to feel. It means you are alive and human, which is a very good thing.

                                                          Kate Thornton



I’m grateful for so many things, but to me, the “basics” are very important, and are the foundation that enables me to write. Very thankful I was born in The United States of American during this era, with all it offers on every level, have decent health, and people and animals with whom to share love and experiences. It is with that support I am able to write.        
                             Madeline (M.M.) Gornell






I am grateful that I was taught how to read; reading sparked my interest in writing. I often take it for granted, but there are many places in the world where people don’t have this skill. The work of other writers, in all its variety, is one of the best writing teachers in the world.

Bonnie Schroeder

For me, I truly believe that any talent I have to write, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek is God-given. I’m also thankful for curiosity and nosiness, which helped me as a newspaper writer, and the love of reading which helped me build a good vocabulary.

Jackie Houchin

I am thankful for the rich inheritance I received from my family which includes: a smattering of my father’s witty sarcasm, some of my mother’s artistic talent, my grandfather’s love of history, my grandmother’s stubbornness (when it counts), my Aunt Mollie’s love of writing, and a pinch of sewing prowess from Aunt Dottie. I hope everyone has a few people from whom they learned wonderful things.

Gayle Bartos-Pool






I’m grateful for my husband

                       and family,

                                my friends

                                             and good neighbors.


                                                             Miko Johnston



I am grateful for the ability to be grateful. Many people have gifts and blessings, but they are unable to recognize them. That is what makes Kate Thornton’s post above so beautiful. It’s easy to be grateful for the good stuff, but it takes an open heart to find the redeemable qualities in the poop. Gratitude means getting out from under the weight of entitlement and embracing the fact that I don’t deserve anything, but that the Bon Dieu (as Hercule Poirot would say it) has seen fit to grace me. And then saying Thank You. 

                                      Jacqueline Vick


Goodness, I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Where do I start?

Without the friendship and encouragement of my fellow Bloggists (is that a word?) my world would be bleak. We really do laugh together and cry together. They inspire me. Our monthly luncheons are a treasured time to talk of writing, of our home-lives, of cabbages and kings. The time goes by far too fast before we scurry off in our different directions.
I am thankful for the fascinating people and wonderful friends I have made since I found my new life in this ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’


For the amazing adventures life has thrown at me. For the strength and ability to survive.
I am also truly thankful to have my loving family in England. My big sister Annie, my brothers Ted, Phil and Peter, my cousins, nieces and nephews. Although we may be thousands of miles apart, we are very close, speak often and meet up whenever we can – and still giggle together like a bunch of five-year-olds.

I am eternally thankful for the many years I had with my darling Rick, my late husband, who I feel watches over me still. He taught me so much and always helped me to laugh at life’s adversities. I think I am most grateful for the gift of laughter: the ability to laugh with others, to laugh at myself and at life’s absurdities.

And I am most grateful to have this Blog, that gives me the opportunity to formulate and share my thoughts…
                                                           Rosemary Lord

SLASHING AND BURNING (IN OTHER WORDS, EDITING) with Bonnie Schroeder

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

SLASHING AND BURNING (IN OTHER WORDS, EDITING)

My current Work in Progress initially weighed in at 121,000 words—waaaay too long unless you’re Marcel Proust or David Foster Wallace.
I am therefore in the midst of that excruciating process known as editing. With the help of my critique group, I’ve carved away over 5,000 words so far without sacrificing storyline or character development. Because I tend to overwrite, some of this was fairly easy. Other parts, not so much.
Here’s an example of an easy fix: “Now how on earth had he remembered that old saying of hers, after all these years?”
Streamlined, it reads, “How had he remembered that old saying of hers?”
Seven words gone, in only one sentence!
I have a lot more darlings to kill, of course, and here are some techniques I’ve found helpful so far:
1.   Eliminate unneeded words and phrases.
In other words, to quote my writing gurus Strunk and White:
“Avoid the use of qualifiers. Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little(except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better; we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one, and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.”
Here are some egregious examples from my own work:
“It’s basically an open and shut case.”
“The light flickered and blinked.”
“Suddenly, she stood up.”
2.   Don’t have one character tell another something the reader already knows.
For example, if you’ve written a scene where a character is mugged, and she later on tells someone about it, don’t recreate the whole event in dialog. Instead, simply write, “Her voice trembled as she described the mugging.”
3.   Get rid of redundancies, e.g.
“absolute certainty”
“capricious whimsy”
“garish caricature”
“wretched misery”
The above are more embarrassing examples of my very own.
4.   Trim long descriptions. Or, in the words of Elmore Leonard, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Easy to say, and oh so hard to do!
5.   Consider combining two characters, if they both serve the same purpose in the story. I did this with two secondary characters, and the storyline crystallized without the distraction of both people echoing each other’s moves. Another thousand words saved.
6.   A radical suggestion I encountered in another writing blog is to try deleting one paragraph per page, one sentence per paragraph, or even one word per sentence. I was amazed at how well this worked.
You need to take a deep breath and trust your reader, but it can enhance the story in unexpected ways if you allow said reader to fill in the blanks and participate in creating the story.
I obviously still have much to learn about editing, and I’d love to hear about other techniques for managing this phase of the writing process.

 

Now, back to ruthlessly wielding my red pen/scalpel. Only about 10,000 more words to excise!

Ghosts, Spirits, and Things That Go Bump in the Night with Marilyn Meredith

 Marilyn Meredith, who is also known as F.M. Meredith, is the author of nearly forty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, published by Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, Oak Tree Press publishes her Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra in a place similar to Bear Creek, the setting of most of her Tempe Crabtree series. For over 20 years, she lived in a Beach community with many similarities to Rocky Bluff.

Ghosts, Spirits, and Things That Go Bump in the Night

When I began writing the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, my plan was to incorporate a great deal of Native American legends and mysticism. Tempe, who is part Indian, is the resident deputy of a small mountain community. In early books, Tempe participates in several Indian rituals and ceremonies to help solve a crime. When Tempe calls back someone from the dead to find out the truth about a suicide and a murder in Calling the Dead, a door is opened to the spirit world.

From then on, she has unexpected visits from spirits of murder victims, sometimes offering confusing information that is at first not particularly helpful to solving the crimes. She’s also had many visions of Indians from the past.

In Spirit Shapes a body is found by ghost hunters in a haunted house. When Tempe is called to investigate, she faces an onslaught of spirits and ghosts. Some of the spirits are evil—and the ghosts are victims of crimes from the past.

In the book that follows, River Spirits, a movie company is filming on the nearby Indian reservation and one of the actors is found dead. While hoping to trap the murderer, Tempe is guided by unusual spirits that rise from the river called Bear Creek.

Not as it Seems is the latest in the series. Tempe and her husband go to Morro Bay to attend their son’s wedding and enjoy a much needed vacation. Her son asks her to try to find the missing maid-of-honor, and of course Tempe agrees. When the young woman turns up as a ghost, Tempe knows she’s been murdered and continues the investigation. She has no idea what all of her encounters with Indian spirits from the past could possibly mean.

My Rocky Bluff P.D. series is a police procedural and has had nothing to do with ghosts until the last one, Violent Departures. When Detective Doug Milligan and his family move into their new house, it isn’t long before they realize it has another occupant, a ghost. Even though the youngest member of the family has had conversations with the spirit, Doug is reluctant to believe in the phenomena. What happens is a side plot to the main story.

I’ve always been fascinated by ghost stories and haunted houses. Hubby and I have stayed in several haunted hotels, even once in the room that was purported to be haunted. However, I’ve never seen a ghost though my grandkids all think the old house that we live in is haunted.

Oh, I’ve had many eerie experiences over the years, but no ghost sightings. I have lots of fun writing about what I think it might be like.

If you visit my website,  you can read the first chapters of most of my books.

I also have a blog  where I too host authors and write about various subjects.

If you’ve ever had a ghostly encounter, tell us about it here in a comment.