Category Archives: Fiction

New Fiction in Ten Days

I had so much fun last quarter participating in Amy Souza’s SPARK project, that I volunteered again, despite a full work load of two accelerated online college courses and a draft novel in dire need of editing.

My artistic partner this time was the talented Christina Brockett, who uses a camera to capture the world around her in ways that I never could. I reworked an earlier piece for a more contemporary setting that I called “Dockside” and received the following snapshot to use as inspiration for my response:

Photo by Christina Brockett


Ten days – not much time to get an idea, flesh it out into a story with compelling characters and engaging theme, then polish it into a short story to share with the world. You know what I found out? Deadlines are a tremendous motivation.

  • I had my rough idea within the first five minutes of seeing the picture, but how do you turn strange etchings on a gold watch into a viable story?
  • I tried to imagine who would etch unrecognizable symbols on a watch – someone who didn’t want the words discovered by the wrong person, or maybe someone who didn’t have enough room to write everything they wanted. I also realized that a pocket watch is the kind of thing that gets passed down from one generation to another when someone dies.
  • Plot came next: some kids examine an inherited watch and discover strange writing (greek) on the inside lid. They translate the writing and find clues that lead to a website message from a dead parent. Cool.
  • As I wrote the story, minor flaws developed and I made changes like a good little writer. Boys became college students, the clues became plausible links, and the message was properly sad.

At the end of ten days, I had a finished story I wish was better, but it’s done. We exchanged works: my story “Time’s Cruel Sands“, and Christina send me this photograph that I feel really nailed the mood of “Dockside”:

Photo by Christina Brockett


Amy plans to have our works up on her site soon, and I highly recommend that you give it a look. There were 90 entrants this time and no doubt you will find some truly creative works much better than my own. Next quarter, I hope to do this exercise in madness again and maybe we’ll have a chance to work together. Ten days of hell that I find absolutely worth every second.

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Want to Critique My Synopsis?

I’ve been working to wrap up my submission for the 2010 MWA Novel and Short Works Contests. The novel is done (middle still needs polishing), which leaves the one-page synopsis.

What’s it About?
Sent to rebuild America’s nuclear pulse-damaged infrastructure, a recovering alcoholic must defy orders to save an isolated Midwest town from a local militia’s sinister agenda.

What Can You Do?
I am looking for volunteers to give my synopsis a read-thru and let me know where I can improve it. It must not exceed one page, double-spaced, so I need to make sure that every word counts.

UPDATE: REVISED SYNOPSIS
Thank you to everyone who offered comments and suggestions for making my synopsis better. I submitted this one-page synopsis for the 2010 MWA Novel contest.

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The “Spark” of Creativity is Unleashed, Part One

Last post, I introduced the Spark Project, currently completing Round 6. I submitted a short story to my assigned partner, Marty McGihon with the understanding that I would take one of Marty’s paintings and write a story. I’ve jotted down a couple of notes to explain how I arrived at my final work, but you work differently that I (which is the point of the Spark Program – use what you’re good at and see how others do their thing.)

Life Isn't Always Easy

Painting by Marty McGihon

I started with Marty’s picture, “Life Isn’t Always Easy”, which I studied from every angle until I saw an image that I felt I could use. If you turn the picture so that the dark edge is across the top like I did, you may see a woman with a blue face wearing a red shawl on the left hand side. There appears to be a tall yellow cliff on the right with a red waterfall and some green brush in the center. Where the woman’s hands would be are two reddish orange circles that I imagined were her palms filled with magical fire.

A short amount of research (wikipedia) revealed Morgan Le Fay, a legendary Irish sorceress that would make an excellent subject to write about. The only problem was finding a unique setting. For that, I used the yellow cliff and saw the possibility of setting this story in the old West, where orange and red cliffs abound. More research revealed that there was a mass migration to the Americas in the late 1830s due to a potato famine, which I could use to explain why she would have left Ireland to come to the old west.

This project was quickly becoming too big for a mere 1500 words and I sought a reasonable way to cut it down a bit. I discovered that the primary entertainment of the time was the “dime novel” which serialized the exploits of the time. You can find real text from the old dime novels online (which I did courtesy of the Stanford University Libraries collection) and hopefully I’ve captured their essence in this tale.

One thing that I really enjoyed was trying to capture the dialogue and pacing of the dime novels, as well as incorporate Irish/Gaelic phrasing gleaned from a sampling of Celtic folklore. If there are any errors, they are due to my haste or deliberately placed to not anger supernatural entities that typically wander the internet looking for trouble. Without further ado, here is my finished story submission…

THE LA FEY SISTERS, or Eyewitness to a Sorcerous Showdown
Chapter One: High Magic on the High Plains

Before you ask, there is no Chapter 2 (yet). I suspect there will be more in the future and if I do write them, I will put them up right here for you to read.

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New Short Story Published Online

Just in time for Halloween, I am pleased to announce that my horror story “In the Shadow of the Oak” is online at the Absent Willow Review – October issue. Please head over and give it a read!

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Missed Opportunity

Here’s a tip for all of you who write stories – double check the submission requirements!

I finished my entry for the  NewScientist.com flash fiction contest and found the “This contest is closed for submissions” page when I went to send them my latest masterpiece.  It turns out that I misread the closing time in the rules.

As I promised in an earlier post, here is my entry.

GONE FISHING

“There’s no fish, Grandpa. Probably hasn’t been any here since before I was born.”

“Hush up and watch your line.”

“Who’s going to hear us?  We’re floating in the middle of the Pacific with not another soul around.”

They sat in silence for a while, watching the brightly colored bobbers dance along in the wake of their converted deep sea cruiser. The water this close to the processing platforms was deep blue and free from the debris that choked most of the ocean’s currents.

“Can we head back soon? I’m supposed to meet up with Terry and the others online at 3…” He started pulling his fishing line in.

“Patience, young man. A little time out here with me won’t kill you.”  The old man dug around in the cooler at his side.  “Sandwich?”

“Sure.” The young man unwrapped it and took a bite, dangling the pole off of one leg.

“Your Grandma used to make me sandwiches just like these for my lunch.  Those days, of course, the garbage in the water was so thick you could just about walk across it from one boat in the recycling fleet to another. There was lots of work to be done cleaning up the mess, but I always found time to toss the ol’ pole in the water.”

The old man looked out at his bobber and tightened his line a bit with the oversized reel. “There was good money in recycling,” he reflected. “Not like these days.”

“Dad says he’s thinking about making the switch to algae farming next season, you know, follow the money and all that.”

“What do you think?”

“Who cares? As soon as I’m done with school, I’m gone… hey, did you see that?”

He pointed toward the water where one of the bobbers dipped below the surface and popped back up.  “Oh, jeez!  What do I do, Grandpa?”

The old man smiled and set down his pole to help the excited youth.  After years of patience, his wait was over.


Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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Writing Fiction from my Iphone

Last Thursday on my way home from work, I decided to try writing my short story submission from an earlier post. I dug through my backpack for something to write it on, only to discover I’d not packed my Alphasmart 3000 (my preferred method.)

When I write, I constantly fight the urge to go back and correct my errors. This can often lead to spending too much time with the “eraser” and not enough “pencil” on the paper.

My AlphaSmart helped in that it only showed 4 lines at a time. If I don’t look up when I’m typing, potential distractions go by and I stay in author mode longer.

I see the same benefits when I enter these blog entries from my iPhone. The auto-correct feature catches a lot of my usual blunders up front, which also helps keep thw words flowing.

So when I found myself staring at the blank sheet of notepaper, my heart sank a little and I went to the internet to see what other iPhone app writers were using. Nothing leaped out as a cure-all and I reminded myself that every minute spent online was one that did not produce words for my story.

I opened up Notes (a default notepad app) and jotted down a quick note to check for more apps later. My inner monkey started jumping up and down, banging his hairy fists on the old Royale typewriter he used to compose great works of literature. I looked around to see what excited him and realized what I was doing- writing a short piece on my iPhone!

For a monkey that doesn’t seem to get out much, he’s pretty smart.

I finished my first draft of the flash fiction on the ride home. I sent the “note” to my email, where I could cut-n-paste it into my favorite word processor and was ready to edit in less that two minutes.

Conclusion: stay simple, the best tools have more than one use, and always listen to your inner monkey.

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Short Story Opportunity

I was reading through my news feeds and ran across an interesting item coming from New Scientist magazine (pretty cool science articles that stretch your mind with discoveries being made today).  As part of their latest issue, September 16, they asked several fiction authors to give their vision of the future (+100 years) in short fiction stories.

= Link to New Scientist article =

Good news for us!  They are asking for aspiring authors to submit their own short stories (350 words max) depicting what things will be like one hundred years from now.  Please see the article linked above for details/rules and I hope you will join me in sending them a worthy story.  Deadline for entries (submitted online) is October 15, 2009.

After judging is over (if I haven’t won, of course), I will post my entry here so you can tell me what you would have done differently – can’t get better if I don’t get feedback…

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