Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015

I know many people don’t want to take the time or spend the money on entering writing contests. I was in the same boat up until a year ago. Then I took the plunge and entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013, and whoa! My entire attitude changed.

Before I began entering the NYC Midnight writing challenges, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…wrong! In just two Flash Fiction Challenges and one Short Story Challenge (FFC 2013, SSC 2014, FFC 2014), my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually kind of embarrassed by what I considered to be my “best”. I won’t even let my friends or colleagues look at my old work. Yuck…

So, what has writing flash fiction and short stories taught me, exactly? Well, I’ll tell you:

  • Write a complete story. To make a story truly shine, all facets of it must be developed and balanced equally. Plot, characters, scenery, etc. If you miss or lax on one, it stands out to readers.
  • Characters count. Characters carry a large portion of a story’s weight. Making them as 3D and likable as possible is a must. Also, too many of them tend to be confusing/burdensome for a reader. So, make each one count, and make each one memorable.
  • Keep it simple! Chop, chop, chop. Do you really need that character? Do you really need to talk about that fact? With their limited word count, short stories force you to take a step back and consider what’s vital to a plot. If it’s not pushing it forward or making it deeper, get rid of it.
  • Take the road less traveled. Go outside the box. Be creative! Ask yourself, “Is this different? Will it make me stand out?” Example: In round one of the Short Story Challenge 2014, I received these prompts: Suspense, wedding, chef. My first impulse? Write a story about a bride and groom who are trying to off each other, and in the end the bride poisons the groom with the help of the chef. I immediately tossed it out and forced myself to dig deeper and think beyond the obvious. And I’m glad I did. Most of my competitors wrote stories about poisoned food and vindictive brides and grooms. Mine, “Chasing Monsters,” was nothing of the sort. And because of that, I landed myself a 2nd place finish.

Those are just a few things I’ve learned while participating in these challenges. To list all of them would take a decade. I will, however, point out some specific benefits of participating in an NYC Midnight Challenge. The main one is their private forum. NYC Midnight offers competitors a location to interact and share their stories with each other. And I love it! The forum helps you:

  • Overcome your fear of sharing your work with others.
  • Discover what you do well. Positive feedback is always nice to hear, right?
  • Learn to open yourself up to constructive criticism. If you’re planning to enter the Harsh Land of Publishing, you will need to know how to do this. Trust me.
  • Critique other stories. You wouldn’t believe how much you can learn about the art of storytelling by reading and critiquing other people’s work. When you (tactfully) explain to someone what you liked and did not like about their story, you will likely apply those observations to your own work (whether you realize it or not).
  • Meet other writers! While doing these challenges, I have gained a lot of friends and colleagues. I’ve also found a few trustworthy beta readers to help me with my future work.

So, with all of that said, registration has officially opened for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015. I strongly–strongly–encourage you to consider entering it. Yes, it costs some money, and yes, the actual challenge is, well, a challenge. But I promise, if you go into it with the right attitude and participate on the forum, every penny and every stressful second will be worth it. Plus, the manuscript you’re working on now (or in the future) will thank you for doing this. I know the one I’m working on is thanking me.

10734194_10152421763496776_3321341572966777122_nOf course, the NYC Midnight writing challenges aren’t the only ones out there. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge, or aren’t in a position to spend the moola, then I still encourage you to look into a blog or website that hosts free weekly challenges. My favorite is Chuck Wendig’s, terribleminds.

 You have until December 11th to take advantage of the early entry fee. There’s also a Twitter discount, so be sure to use that to lower the cost even more. Final deadline is January 15th.

Hope to see you all on the forum!

To learn more about the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015, click here!

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Photo credits: giphy

 

Disaster Strikes – Round 2 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014

Well, it finally happened, everyone. The worst case scenario struck this weekend. I received political satire as my genre for the 2nd round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014.

As usual, I went to bed on Friday night without looking at my assignment–the last thing I needed was to be kept up half the night with swirling ideas. Around 4:30 a.m., my nerves woke me up. Unable to stand it, I turned on my tablet to find out what my new prompts were:

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 8.38.53 AM

Blank.

My mind went blank.

Then it quickly screamed:
Ugh, I had so been hoping for comedy or sci-fi. Or, heck, even romance. ANYTHING but political satire, because 1) I don’t know jack about politics, and 2) I’ve never tried writing satire.

I ended up throwing myself back into bed, curling up in the fetal position, and battling between despair and anger for a solid hour. It. Was. A. Disaster! In fact, for a serious moment, I even considered throwing in the towel and giving up…

But, darn it, I’m competitive. And I wasn’t willing to just roll over and die. So I got over myself, and I went to work.

Thankfully, I happened to overhear a rant about a current event the day before, so I had a topic to use as my story’s inspiration. I pulled up Google and began educating myself on it. I spent most of Saturday morning reading articles and watching a Congress hearing on C-SPAN.

I know, it sounds borrrring, but surprisingly, everything I read and heard was fascinating. Better yet, it was mockable. There was one particular quote that inspired my story’s entire theme. Hint:

After a wicked case of Distractionitis (Facebook, Twitter, chores, etc.), I battened down the hatches and whipped out a first draft.

Now, normally I will revise a first draft at least a couple of times before I send it to my mom, AKA, Mrs. Harsh Beta Reader. This time, however, I broke tradition and asked her if she’d come over to my house to read it/help me revise it. I didn’t want to waste time revising a story I had zero confidence in.

To my complete shock, she loved the first draft. In fact, she was crying she was laughing so hard at some of my jokes. I cried with her, but I think that was more out of relief than humor 😉 We edited the story to a semi-solid draft and I sent it off to a couple of other beta readers, one of whom had way more experience in political satire than me.

Their critiques came back positive, but the one who had political satire know-how said my story was too funny. Satire is supposed to suggest, not slap the reader in the face with comedy.

So, I revised it and tried to tone things down.

Tried.

Honestly, I would’ve needed to start completely over to make my story more “satire” funny than “HAHA!” funny, and I wasn’t going to do that. It was late and I was exhausted. Plus, I liked my story–for what it was–and I figured the chances of getting any points for it in the competition were slim-to-none. So why not write a story I liked–even if it didn’t meet the traditional standards of satire?

On Sunday morning, I sent my beta readers a polished version. One of them still thought the humor needed to be toned down and a specific aspect needed to be deleted, while the other thought the story wasn’t as funny anymore and thought that specific aspect needed to be emphasized.

So, I decided to leave the story as is. HA! I ran through it once more and submitted it. Done and done!

Now, is this the best story I’ve ever written? NOOOOO! Will it get me points? NOOOOO! Am I proud I sucked it up and wrote a political satire? YES!

One of the main reasons I do this competition is to push my boundaries and experiment with various genres. And although political satire wasn’t one of the genres I wanted to experiment with, I’m glad I did. It challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged before. Plus, I learned a lot about a current event I wouldn’t have known much about otherwise.

Hopefully people will read my story and enjoy it, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional political satire standards. I plan to post it here in a few days. For now, here is the title and synopsis:

“OPERATION DISNEY”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: It’s the 21st century and time for a new, inviting strategy for the Secret Service. But Director Peterson’s plan might be too Disney for special agent Prouty.

***

Okay, normally, I don’t offer explanations for my stories. But since this is a political satire and not all of us are on the up-and-up of various current events, I wanted to give you one to–hopefully–improve your reading experience.

Operation Disney is based off of Julia Pierson, the recently resigned Director of the Secret Service.

APTOPIX-Secret-ServiceSince she was hired back in 2013, there have been multiple security breaches. Some of these include: An armed man hopping the White House fence, running across the lawn, and entering the property through an unlocked door. A construction worker/felon being allowed to share the same elevator as the President (and snap photos of him with his phone). And, finally, a series of gunshots echoing outside the White House that were blamed for a car backfiring (five days later, a maid found a window in the President’s private residence damaged from bullets).

On top of all of that, Pierson made this comment (and it’s this comment I based the tone of my story off of):

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 11.49.17 AMHopefully that explanation helps some of you enjoy Operation Disney more! Thanks in advanced for reading and providing feedback. I appreciate it.

Photo credits:

http://www.omgfacts.com/lists/7722/A-man-survived-the-Hindenburg-disaster-by-bailing-out-the-window

http://www.studentbeans.com/mag/en/campus/the-25-stages-of-writing-an-essay

http://gifsb.in/will-ferrell/

http://torimac.tumblr.com/

http://dailycaller.com/2014/10/02/julia-pierson-on-secret-service-we-need-to-be-more-like-disney-world/

http://www.i-am-bored.com/forums.asp?page_num=1&action=read&q_id=71067&ct=10

http://hotair.com/archives/2014/10/02/fired-secret-service-directors-strategy-for-the-agency-we-need-to-be-more-like-disney-world/

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/nation/2014/10/01/APress-Secret-Service-chief-Julia-Pierson-resigns-after-security-lapses/stories/201410010204

AHHHHH – I Made It to the Final Round

OMGAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

HOLY COW! I did it. I advanced to the 3rd and final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge!!!! I woke up this morning to the amazing news. And. I. Can’t. Believe. It!

Hmmm…are you sure about this decision, Judges? You’ve never liked me, and now you’ve liked TWO of my stories!

You sure judgesHA! Wow…Just, wow!

Well, as you can see, I’m crazy excited about this. When I entered the Short Story Challenge last winter, my goal was to make it to round 2. I never–EVER–believed I could make it to round 3. It wasn’t even a possibility in my mind. Almost 1,000 writers entered this contest, and only 40 make it to the last round. 40! That’s the top 4%!

Oh man, deep breath.

Deep BreathI’m sure by this point you’re all wondering why my face is painted in these pics. Well, some of us competitors decided to have some fun and become Writing Warriors before the results for round 2 were announced. We dolled up our faces with whatever lipstick, eyeliner, or face paint we could find, and then posted our pics on the competition’s forum. It was a great way to show our support for one another, have some laughs, and encourage/cheer on those writers lucky enough to advance to the final round.

Good luckSo, speaking of the final round: we only get 24-hours to write a 1,500 word story. Unlike the first two rounds, we won’t have a genre assigned to us. We get to pick whichever one we want. Thank. God. The genre is always the thing that scares the bejeezus out of me (rom-com, comedy, political satire…shudder). I’ll definitely be planning on writing a suspense or horror. Those are, by far, my favorite/strongest genres. And at this stage of the game, you gotta stick with what you’re good at.

My biggest challenge this next round will definitely be the time limit. It usually takes me 24-hours just to write a semi-solid draft. So, I won’t have a second to waste. Which means I’ll likely be up most of night Friday (when the 3rd round kicks off) working my booty off, and writing like a maniac all day Saturday…Ugh, I already have an ulcer and headache thinking about it.

But, I’m a fighter, and I plan to battle through it.

So, let’s do this Round 3. Let’s dance!

Whatever, Lets do thisGood luck to all those advancing to the final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. We can do this!

If you’d like to read my round 1 and round 2 stories, here you go!

Round 1: Chasing Monsters

(Assignment: 2,500 words, 8 days, suspense, wedding, chef) 

Round 2: Over the Edge

(Assignment: 2,000 words, 3 days, mystery, debt, tour guide) 

Vote For A Dedicated Teacher – AKA My Sister

If you follow my blog regularly, then you know I tend to talk about my family often. It’s hard not to when they’re the most important thing in my life (yes, even more important than writing and reading, believe it or not).

I’ve also mentioned my sister a few times. I can’t begin to tell you how lucky I am to have her in my life. Not only is she my best friend, but she is an amazing supporter of my dreams. When times are rough, or my motivation begins to wane, she’s there to give me a swift kick in the booty and tell me to pull it together and keep going.

577926_10100751935137943_1237997427_nMy sister is truly a dedicated and hardworking individual. On top of raising three boys (infant, 2-year old, 4-year old), she’s a business education teacher at ThunderRidge High School. She’s also the advisor/organization sponsor of the school’s DECA program. (DECA is a highly competitive business marketing club for secondary and post-secondary students). Her passion and commitment to her job and her students constantly astounds me. I find myself always telling her, “I wish I’d had more teachers like you.” Simply put, she cares. Genuinely, completely, 100% cares about her students and their current and future successes.

536244_10101235410339763_1575530403_nHer students have recently recognized her dedication to them by nominating her for the Celebrate Teachers contest. After a preliminary round, my sister advanced to the finals and is now in the running to win. Yay!! But she needs votes. Lots and lots of votes.

So I’m asking you, my dear blog followers, to take a minute to help her out and cast a vote. All you have to do is type in the mall name (Park Meadows), and then look for my sister’s name (Katharine K from ThunderRidge High School)You may vote once per day until April 22nd.

I can’t think of anyone more deserving to win this contest than my sister. So, thank you in advance for your help and support!

VOTE HERE

Let’s Celebrate – Chasing Monsters Takes 2nd Place

I can’t believe it. It actually happened. I’m advancing to the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge! Only the top five in each group advance (25 people/group, 40 groups total). My entry, Chasing Monsters, took 2nd in my group. So, out of almost 1,000 people, I’m one of the 200 moving on to the second round! Wooo! Let’s celebrate! 

I’m absolutely stunned. And VERY happy! Chasing Monsters was probably the hardest story I’ve ever written. No, I didn’t spend weeks/months/years writing it, but it drained me emotionally. In fact, while writing it, I remember asking myself, “Why are you torturing yourself like this? And why are you working so hard? The chances of advancing to round two are slim to none!” Well, I’m glad I ignored those negative thoughts and worked hard anyways. It paid off!

Round 2 begins at midnight on Thursday. In round 1, I had 8 days to write a 2,500 word story based on assigned prompts (genre: suspense, character: chef, subject: wedding). For round 2, we only get days, and our word count gets chopped down to 2,000. I won’t know until Friday morning (when I wake up and look at my assignment) what my prompts will be. I’m hoping for horror, suspense, or drama, and I’m praying to God to avoid rom-com, comedy, or political satire. If I receive one of those “ugh” genres, this will be me:

As always, I’ll keep you guys posted on what happens. And, as always, your happy thoughts and positive vibes are appreciated.

Good luck to all the other competitors in round 2.

 

A proud sister today – Colorado Marketing Education Teacher of the Year

Oh, boo. It’s Monday. Why is it Monday? Why, why, why?

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, I’m on the cranky side today. However, I’m also on the proud side. The VERY proud side.

Last night, my amazing sister received a prestigious honor at the Colorado DECA state competition. She was named the “Colorado Marketing Education Teacher of the Year”. (For those of you who don’t know, DECA is a highly competitive business marketing club for secondary and post-secondary students).

1959774_10101442256478443_1975669596_nWhat made it extra special was my brother-in-law also received the Friends of DECA award for being such an outstanding supporter of the organization. And what made it extra-extra special was neither of them knew they were going to receive these awards. Well, my brother-in-law knew about my sister’s, which was why he secretly asked me and my parents to drive down with their two kids to The Broadmoor (where DECA state is taking place) to surprise her.

Not wanting to let the cat out of the bag early, my family and I hid in the very back of the conference room, way, way out of my sister’s eyesight. (Thank God the auditorium was so big, so dark, and so loud, otherwise I’m sure she would’ve heard my 4-year old nephew’s constant stream of, “Where’s mommy?” haha). Once her name was called and she made her way up to the stage, my family and I hurried forward to where she’d been sitting with her 52 DECA students to surprise/hug/congratulate her upon her return.

Listening to the 3,000 students, advisors, and other educational supporters cheer for my sister as she walked up on stage was overwhelming to say the least. I was so happy and so proud to see her hard work pay off. For years, she has poured herself–her heart–into her job, and she has always gone beyond the call of duty to teach and prepare her students for the real world. She truly deserved to be named the “Colorado Marketing Education Teacher of the Year”.

By the time my sister made her way back to her seat, she was crying (not a huge shock considering she’s eight months pregnant 😉 ). And when she saw us waiting for her (especially her two little boys), she cried even more. We all got a little weepy. It was hard not to. The tears, however, were worth it (as was the super late night and the grouchy Monday morning, haha.)

Congrats, “Sista”! You’re an amazing teacher, and your students are so lucky to have you in their lives. And I’m so proud to call you my sister!

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Friday Funny and a touch of success

Hey, would ya look at that? It’s Friday! Time for a happy dance.

My week went pretty well–much better than last week. I’ll admit I didn’t get any writing done, but that’s because I was participating in the second (and best) part of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: reading all the amazing entries. On Tuesday, the forum on the competition’s website opened up, so many competitors, including myself, posted our stories for others to read, enjoy, and critique. Thankfully, work was super calm this week, so I was able to read, enjoy, and critique many of them. Like, over 40!…Yeah, my eyes are starting to hurt, lol.

In addition to reading stories, I received terrific feedback for my own, Chasing Monsters. So far, the general consensus has been positive! I think that calls for another happy dance 😉

Here are just a few comments people have made:

That was an incredibly suspenseful and horrifying story…”

Wow.  THAT was one of the best short stories I’ve ever…

Wow Jen!!! What a story!!! You had me right on the edge of my seat from start to finish!”

I LOVED this story.”

I wanted to let you know I am still thinking about/cringing over your story a day later. Can’t think of higher praise for a suspense story.”

Very Guillermo del Toro-esque and I mean that as a compliment.”

Wow – an espresso coffee hit of a child’s tale! (Laced with rum!)

Love your writing! This was like a modern Grimm tale!

Okay, one more happy dance? Yeah?

Success! Thank. God!

Honestly, I didn’t expect this positive response for Chasing Monsters. I was so, so, soooo nervous and “ugh” about it. Why? Well, mostly because the subject matter was so dark and intense. I’d originally plotted a different twist in my story, but when I approached that twist, my characters yanked me in a different direction–a scary, grim, uncomfortable direction. I was also anxious because I genuinely struggled with writing this story (details here), and the more I struggle with writing something, the more likely it’s horrible and needs be tossed out.

I’m glad I didn’t.

And I’m glad I trusted my characters and followed them down the bumpy, twisty path they led me.

In addition to the positive feedback, I’ve also received some awesome constructive criticisms that will definitely help me improve Chasing Monsters should I ever decide to go back and revise it…Will I do that? I don’t know. People have asked me to, but to be honest, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. It emotionally destroyed me last week and took me to dark places I never want to revisit…But, then again, I do tend to torture myself, so maybe… 😉

Anyways, in honor of my small but sweet success this week, I’ve dedicated today’s Friday Funny to my characters from Chasing Monsters.

0ace93e64f2504ec6a77f2f63ad29552Thank you to everyone who has read Chasing Monsters. I won’t know for over a month how I officially did in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Despite the positive response from readers, I’m still not holding my breath. Judging for this contest is 100% unpredictable.

How was your week? Read any good books? Make progress with your own writing? Tell me, tell me!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Done and Done – Round 1 Short Story Challenge 2014

Book Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Chasing Monsters – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Entry

A True Thursday Treasure – Hermione is born