And…Action! – 1st Round – NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge

So, as some of you might’ve already noticed from my post earlier this week, I participated in the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015. I considered not writing about my experience since I already shared my story with you, but what the heck. I’ll go ahead and tell you all about it.

First, as a quick reminder, the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge is a writing contest where writers are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story–AHH!

The whirlwind weekend kicked off last Friday night. At 10 p.m. (MST), I opened my email and looked at my assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.13.33 AMMy first thoughts when I saw these prompts?

Action Adventure:

An underwater cave:

A dumbbell:

Yeah, I literally laughed out loud when I saw “dumbbell” as the object I had to use in my story. I mean…really? Seriously? Ugh.

I decided to ignore that lovely problem for the time being, and started the challenge off like I always do: a brainstorm session with my mom (my go-to supporter/editor/counselor during these contests). For about an hour, we bounced ideas off of each other. All I could think about was sunken pirate ships and buried treasures…which had to mean my competitors were thinking about them too. So, I dug deeper and forced myself to think outside the box.

Finally, I came up with a concept I loved.

Once I began writing on Saturday morning, the words tumbled out of me with little effort. I wrote and wrote and wrote, eager to get a first draft done so I could share it with my mom and start to refine it.

Unfortunately, after about eight hours of work, I realized there was a big problem with my action-adventure: There was no action.

I decided to finish the first draft anyway and go over to my mom’s house so she could read it and give me feedback. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought? Maybe I just needed to make some slight adjustments to salvage it? Maybe there was still hope?

My mom finished reading and sat back in her chair. “Well, it’s fine. It’s…fine.”

I almost screamed. It wasn’t fine. It was an absolute disaster!

I forced myself to take a deep breath and troubleshoot the story’s main problem. “I know there isn’t enough action in it, but I don’t know how to add more while maintaining the characters and plot. I can’t just leap into things without explaining…” I trailed off as a horrible realization struck me:

This story wasn’t going to work.

I had to find a new idea.

I had to start over.

After I breathed through a bout of panic, I told my mom, “I think I need to scrap this and come up with something else.”

She agreed a little too enthusiastically. “Oh?” She shoved aside her laptop with my old story on it. “What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know.” I buried my face in my hands and closed my eyes. I felt so lost and frustrated. I had known action-adventure would be tough, but not this tough.

Suddenly, a train flashed through my mind.

I looked at my mom. “I think I want to write about a train crash.” 

“Er…”

“Inside an underwater cave.”

“Uh…Oookay.

Despite my mom’s uncertainty, I felt confident. The concept was so absurd, I knew it could work. I mean, most action films are absurd, right? So crashing a train in an underwater cave seemed totally feasible. Actually, it seemed awesome.

I went home, rolled up my sleeves, and got back to work.

By noon on Sunday, I had a decent first draft. I called my mom and she came over to help me edit it. As she read through the story for the first time, I felt sick to my stomach. If she didn’t like my train wreck concept, then the entire weekend would be, well, a train wreck.

Thankfully, she loved it.

Hallelujah!

I spent the rest of the day fine-tuning my plot and characters, chopping my word count down from 1,500 to 1,000, and figuring out how to use that ridiculous dumbbell prompt (if you want to know how I decided to use the dumbbell, you’ll have to read the story 😉 ). I also spent a good amount of time acting out the train crash to ensure I got the physics right…Yeah, I’m sure my mom wished she’d a camera to record that epic performance.

By late afternoon, I had a decent enough draft to send to my beta readers. Once I fixed the problems they pointed out, chopped out a few more words, and gave the story a title (“La JollaI submitted it.

Then I promptly collapsed from exhaustion.

It was, as always, a crazy 48-hours, but I ended up with a story I’m proud of. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, there are some logical flaws in the plot. And, yes, the dumbbell is a bit, well, dumb. But whatever. I had fun writing it, and I hope people have fun reading it.

If you’d like to check out “La Jolla,” go ahead and click here!

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2015! It’s not an easy challenge, so everyone deserves a giant pat on the back.

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Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 

La Jolla – 1st Round – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Well, everyone, I participated (and survived) yet another round of an NYC Midnight (NYCM) writing contest. If you’d like a behind-the-scenes look at what I went through to produce the story below, click here. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy my first round entry, La Jolla. 

As a reminder, I had 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story based on these prompts:

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.13.33 AM

Thanks in advance for reading, and thanks for any feedback you might have.

“La Jolla” 

By Jenna Willett

Brief Synopsis: A catastrophic disaster strikes during a train tour through La Jolla Cove. Cole must save himself and his brother from the deep blue.


“Welcome to Windansea’s Nature Tours, sponsored by Scripps Institute of Oceanography. My name’s Cole and I’m pleased you’ve joined us on California’s newest and most unique attraction.” He flashed his kilowatt smile at the tourists. One of them, a woman sporting a hot pink fanny pack, snapped a photo of him.

It wasn’t the first time.

Cole gestured to the foggy landscape swaying past their single-car, electric powered train. Palm trees on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other. “Thanks to Scripps Institute’s eco-friendly, state-of-the-art rail system—all constructed upon suspended bridges and stone outcroppings—we now have a way to experience the seven underwater caves of La Jolla. And thanks to the low tides today, we’ll be able to enter…”

As he regurgitated the memorized spiel, Cole glanced at the back row. His nine-year old brother, Finn, smirked at him and mimed taking a photo. Cole squeezed his fists. He regretted agreeing to babysit.

Ignoring his brother’s ongoing mockery of the other passengers—an old man blowing his nose; yet another middle-aged woman snapping a photo—he continued with his rehearsed speech. “La Jolla Cove is best known for its kayaking and snorkeling…” A cute blonde in a Cal Poly t-shirt caught his eye. He stumbled over his words and grinned at her. Finn made a gagging noise.

Smothering the urge to boot him off the train, Cole refocused on his captive audience. “As we enter the first cave and begin winding our way—”

The train’s lights flickered.

Off. On. Off.

A blanket of murky darkness descended and a distant rumble overtook the train’s gentle hum. It shivered along the tracks and quivered up the wheels. Everyone went quiet and still, even Finn.

“What’s happening?” Fanny Pack placed a hand against the vibrating window.

Cole couldn’t find the breath to gasp the single, horrific word.

Earthquake.

His gaze flew to Finn’s. His brother half stood, as if to run to him.

“Sit down and stay buckled!” Cole flung himself towards the back of the train. “Everyone hold on!”

The rumbling grew louder, the vibrations harder. A chilling screech tore through the train, followed by a metallic groan and cracking glass. The train sped over a bridge and lurched sideways. Cole staggered into the old man. He grabbed Cole’s arm. “We’re gonna die!”

Cole pried himself free and struggled on. He had to get to Finn.

The bridge heaved, like a briny belch had blown out of the waters below. Cole’s knees buckled. Cal Poly made a mad grab for him and missed.

“Cole!” Finn’s shrill voice cut through the metallic booms and wails.

The tracks collapsed.

The train plummeted.

Gravity’s force lifted Cole off the ground and smashed him into the ceiling. Purses, cameras, and backpacks whipped past him.

“Grab my hand!”

He looked down.

Finn strained to reach him. Their fingers brushed once, twice—Finn lunged and grabbed his wrist. As he yanked Cole down, the train plunged into the water. The impact tore Cole out of Finn’s white-knuckled grip and catapulted him into the rear window face first. He stared through the spider-webbed cracks spreading across the glass, down into a deep, black chasm.

“Shit.” He rolled over. With the train vertical, everybody, including Finn, hung above him. A symphony of sobbing pleas, splintering glass, and grinding metal deafened his ears. He struggled to his feet and unbuckled Finn. “You okay, buddy?” He lifted him down.

Finn nodded.

“Good, cause we gotta go.” He struck the damaged window with his elbow.

Nothing.

“Watch out!” Cal Poly peered over the top of her seat with a five-pound dumbbell. He didn’t ask her where or how she’d found it. People packed the weirdest shit. He shoved Finn back.

She dropped it.

The dumbbell struck the center of the window and shattered it. Icy saltwater rushed in. Cal Poly wasted no time leaping from her seat and vanishing through the gaping hole. Cole grabbed Finn and urged him to follow her.

He balked. “Ar—Are there sharks?”

“No,” Cole lied. “We’ll be fine. Just swim as fast as you can.”

Finn nodded.

“We’ll go together on the count of three. Ready?” Cole held up a hand. “One, two, three.” They inhaled and went under. Keeping a firm grip on Finn, Cole launched them through the window, away from the wreck, and towards the surface. It seemed a million miles away.

With each stroke and kick, Cole’s lungs burned, his legs seized, and his arms weakened. Dark shapes floated around them. Passengers? Debris? Sharks? He refused to look. He didn’t want to know. He clawed his way towards the shimmering daylight streaming through the blue.

Finn went limp.

No!

Cole clenched his jaw and used his last bit of energy to propel them to the surface. Air bubbles billowed from his mouth and nose. Just a few more feet. One more kick, one more stroke. One more—

He burst through the surface and sucked in a sweet, sweet breath. Then another and another.

Finn remained limp.

“No!” Cole spun around in the water. Cal Poly clung to a nearby rock. “Help!” He struggled towards her. “Please—My brother—Help!”

She pushed off the rock and swam to him. Together they dragged Finn over to a rocky shore.

“He’s…not…breathing.” Cole collapsed next to Finn’s motionless body.

Cal Poly thrust her hands against Finn’s chest and began CPR. Cole watched, terrified by Finn’s blue lips and white face. He’d give anything—anything—to see him goofing off and mimicking passengers again.

Suddenly, Finn’s chest jerked, his shoulders heaved, and water shot from his mouth.

Cole closed his eyes and buried his face against his brother’s curly hair. “Oh, thank God.” He looked at Cal Poly. “Thank you.”

She nodded.

As Finn’s coughs and sputters quieted, and the few surviving passengers joined them on the shore, an alarm echoed through the cave’s opening.

“What’s that?” Finn sat up.

Cole couldn’t find the breath to tell him or Cal Poly.

Tsunami.


To read more stories, visit the Jen’s Pen Page.

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Book Review: Horde by Ann Aguirre

10596724Horde by Ann Aguirre

Synopsis

“The epic conclusion to the USA Today bestselling trilogy.
The horde is coming.
Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they’re not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn’t run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade’s love.
Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn’t been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them.
This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.”

Jen’s Review

Overall, I’d say this was a fitting, satisfying conclusion to the Razorland Series. I have to admit I found the first half of Horde…hmm…I’m still not sure. I can’t say it was “boring” or “slow” as there was plenty of action. But it wasn’t exactly thrilling or exciting, either. It was missing that special something–that “I can’t put this book down!” feeling, which is something I definitely want to feel while reading a book, especially a final one in a great series. Maybe it was because the majority of the plot revolved around Deuce and her sidekicks traveling from town to town with the occasional Freak skirmish? It became slightly redundant. Travel, travel, fight! Travel, travel, fight!

However, the second half of Horde made up for its mediocre start. Although it was filled with more traveling and battling, the characters became more interesting and engaging, the plot’s temperature heated up and pulled me in, and that “I can’t put this book downfeeling sprang to life. Thank. God. And, without giving anything away, I appreciated how the story ended. It was, in my mind, perfect. Thank you, Ann Aguirre!

All in all, I’d recommend the Razorland Series to those who enjoyed other dystopians like Hunger Games, Under the Never Sky and Legend

Jen’s Rating

3 Star

Read more about Horde here!