Once Upon a Time – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Another round of an NYC Midnight (NYCM) writing contest has come and gone. This time, it was the first round of the Short Story Challenge, which meant I had eight days to write a 2,500 word story based on an assigned genre, character, and subject.

Before I received my assignment a week ago, I debated what genre I wanted. Horror? Suspense? Historical fiction? Then I debated which genre I did not want. Political satire? Romantic-comedy? Ghost story? Hmm…

7937_443481989177688_8265323423668362085_nSurprisingly, the only genre I had a strong opinion about was political satire (No! No, no, no…). So, as I opened my assignment, I felt rather calm and open minded.

Then I saw my prompts:

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 6.05.44 AM

My first impressions?

Fairy Tale: 

Leaving Home:

A Kidnapper: 

I had completely spaced fairy tale was a genre in the competition, and I had completely spaced it was one of the genres I feared most. The language, the structure, the tone, the fantastical elements…All of it freaked. Me. Out!

Thankfully, I had eight days to overcome my fears and figure out what was what. So, I went to bed and waited until the next day to start working.

On Saturday morning, I called my mom (my go-to “Simon Cowell”/cheerleader/editor during these contests) and brainstormed. Within an hour, I had a solid concept and started writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I had a first draft on Sunday afternoon.

I did not like it.

I finished the story, sat back, and thought, “This seems really boring and cliche.” I called my mom and voiced my concerns to her. She encouraged me to take a break and clear my head. So, I headed over to her house to watch the Broncos game with the rest of my family. (Go Broncos! Woot, woot!)

During the game, I brainstormed new ideas. I came up with one I really liked, but when I pitched it to my sister and her husband, they had lukewarm reactions. They thought it was fine, but they liked my original idea better.

I decided to ignore my gut instinct and listen to them.

I returned to my first draft, and for two days I tried to transform it into something I’d love. I set my story in a new location (the desert), changed my characters (from a husband and wife to two teenagers), and restructured my plot. But, none of it mattered. By Tuesday night, I felt the same way I had on Sunday.

I asked my mom to come over to read my latest draft. Maybe I was being too hard on myself? Maybe the story was actually wonderful and I was over-thinking it?

I wasn’t.

During my 14 rounds of NYCM, I’ve learned how to read my mom’s reactions. I know when she likes something, and I know when she doesn’t. She did not like this story. Of course, she didn’t tell me that. But, she did tell me, “Jenna, you have four more days. You don’t have to stick with this. Write something you’ll be proud of.”

So, after balking at the idea of throwing away four days worth of hard work, I crumpled the story up and pulled up a blank document.

My mom suggested we brainstorm new ideas, but I didn’t need to. I already knew what I wanted to write. I had come up with the concept back on Sunday, during the Broncos game. I didn’t care if my sister and her husband had rejected it. I knew it would work, and I knew it could turn into something I’d be proud of.

My mom agreed.

With her help, I outlined a basic plot that night (which of course dramatically changed due to my pantser ways), and then wrote my butt off Wednesday and Thursday. As I wrote and wrote, I knew I had made the right decision in switching gears. I was so, so, so much happier with my story.

By late Thursday night, I had a draft worthy of being sent to beta readers. Their feedback trickled in throughout Friday and I implemented many of their suggestions. I added, chopped, rewrote, revised, tweaked…I worked and worked until I finally had a draft ready to submit.

I woke up early Saturday to refine and edit one more time. Then I gave it a title, slapped together a synopsis, and submitted it.

And collapsed!

It was an absolutely exhausting week, full of stress, doubt, and fear. But, in the end, I wrote something I’m satisfied with. Now, will it get me into round two of the contest? I have no idea. I never know what the judges are looking for, especially with genres I have zero experience in. But, I’m proud of myself for tackling fairy tale and for trusting my gut and writing something I’m happy with.

I would like to give a special thanks to my mom. She always keeps me grounded during these contests, but she went beyond the call of duty on this one. (Thank you, Mom! You’re truly amazing.)

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for the first round of the NYCM Short Story Challenge!

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The Differences Between The NYC Midnight FFC and SSC

I often have people ask me what the difference is between the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC) and Short Story Challenge (SSC). At the heart of it, there is no difference. In both FFC and SSC, you have a limited amount of time and words to write a story based on assigned prompts.

However, there are a few major differences you should know about.

NUMBER OF LIVES

SSC: Each round is sudden death.

In a nutshell: You bomb, you’re out.

FFC: You’re guaranteed two rounds.

If you bomb round one, then you can try and redeem yourself in round two.

 WORD COUNT AND DEADLINE

SSC: Varies.

Each round has a different deadline and word count:

R1 = 2,500 words, 8 days

R2 = 2,000 words, 3 days

R3 = 1,500 words, 24-hours

FFC: Consistent.

Each round has the same deadline and word count: 1,000 words, 48-hours

PROMPTS

SSC: Genre, Character, Subject

Examples:

Mystery, Tour Guide, Debt

Suspense, Chef, Wedding

Ghost Story, Waitress, Statue

FFC: Genre, Location, Object

Examples:

Rom-com, Swamp, RV

Horror, Crowded Beach, Fanny Pack

Political Satire, Airport Security Checkpoint, Map

ADVANCING

In both SSC and FFC, you are placed in a group of 25-40 writers. Your group is then given a set of unique prompts and must compete against each other to determine who advances. How you advance depends on the challenge:

SSC: Top five stories from each group advance to the next round.

Yep! It’s as simple as that. If the judges like your story better than the 20-35 others in your group, then you’re moving on. If not, sorry. Better luck next time.

FFC: Complicated…but not.

Okay, let’s see if I can explain this without over complicating it (because it’s not complicated, it just seems like it).

The top 15 writers in each group get points during round one and round two (and, yes, you stay in the same group for both rounds). 1 point = 15th place, 15 points = 1st place. If you place below 15th, you get zero points. After round two, you combine your total points. The top five in each group advance.

Example: During FFC 2014, I received 4 points for my round one story, and 8 points for my round two. That gave me 12 points total. Since the top five in my group totaled between 18 and 27 points, I didn’t advance.

Actually, earning points at all is awesome, so I was proud of my scores. 🙂 And even when I haven’t scored points, I still got a lot out of the experience.

However, some writers don’t share my attitude. In every FFC, I’ve seen people quit after round one because they received zero points. Don’t do this! Just because your chances of advancing diminish, you could still advance. I’ve seen people bomb round one and rock round two, and vice versa. So, don’t give up. Fight for it!

Plus, you paid for this contest, so why would you bail early? Get your money’s worth and write a second story and get it critiqued by the judges.

Plus, plus, you should enter FFC and SSC with more than winning in mind. Whether it’s to learn, meet other writers, think of a new plot for a novel, or something else, you should have multiple reasons for participating. That way if you don’t do well with the judges, you’ll still have something positive to take away from the experience.

Once you compete in both FFC and SSC, you’ll likely discover you have a preference for one or the other. Some writers like FFC more than SSC, and some writers like SSC more than FFC.

Personally, I’m a bigger fan of SSC. I’m not sure if it’s because of the extra time and larger word counts, or if it’s the added pressure of sudden death. Whatever it is, I tend to do better in SSC than FFC. But I know plenty of others who prefer FFC over SSC.

I guess you’ll have to enter to find out which one you prefer.

Or, who knows? Maybe you’ll love both equally? Both are equally worthy and provide excellent opportunities to writers.

So, go sign up for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2016! If you’re not sold on it, click here to see why I think you should. You have until December 17th 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 21st.

Hope to see you all on the NYC Midnight forum!

To learn more about the NYCM Short Story Challenge 2016, click here!

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The Accidental Fall – 3rd Round – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

I present to you–reluctantly–my 3rd round entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015. I’ll admit, this isn’t my finest piece of work, but I’m proud to have finished a story within 24-hours. I’m also proud to have completed all three rounds of the SSC. Each challenged me in different ways and taught me how to be a better writer.

Congrats to everyone who participated in this year’s SSC! And congrats to those who survived the third round. It wasn’t easy, so you deserve a giant pat on the back. (If you’d like to read about my experience with the final round, click here!)

Reminder, I had 24-hours to write a 1,500 word story based on these prompts:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.38.00 PM

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

“The Accidental Fall”

By Jenna Willett

Brief Synopsis: How could two happy accidents lead to one so tragic? That is a question Beth Haynes must answer.


“We’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“Hold on.” Beth knotted a pink balloon and tossed it into the air. “I’ll get my purse and go with you.”

“No, stay put.” Jacob picked up their daughter. “Miss Maggie can keep me company, can’t you?” He nuzzled her neck.

Maggie shied away. “Can Lady Lulu come with us?”

“I’m afraid Lady Lulu had a little accident, sweetie.” Beth smirked at the raggedy doll in the kitchen sink. Its pink dress was soaked from taking a dive in the toilet earlier.

“Will she be okay?”

“After a bath she will be.” Jacob kissed Maggie’s cheek and looked at Beth. “So, vanilla? Chocolate? Both?”

“Both.” Beth began blowing up another balloon. “And get some candles. I forgot those too.” As the front door slammed shut, she called, “Love you!”

She wasn’t sure if they’d heard her.

#

“Are you okay?”

Beth’s eyes jerked up from the rushing river. An old man stood on the footbridge a few feet behind her. She forced herself to nod. “I’m fine.”

He tilted his graying head to the side and dropped his concerned gaze to the doll clutched in her hand. “Are you sure?”

She nodded. “I’m fine.”

The old man looked unconvinced. Beth didn’t care. She turned away and stared down at the frothy rapids. She couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there. She couldn’t even remember grabbing Lady Lulu from its box in the garage, or putting on Jacob’s wool coat and leaving the house. All she could remember was seeing the date on her phone when she’d woken up: May 14th.

Beth’s legs weakened, and she leaned against the bridge’s rusted railing.

Seven years ago today, she’d met Jacob when he’d accidentally walked in on her in a Starbuck’s bathroom. She’d called him a jerk. He’d asked her out. Three months later, they were married. He’d vowed to always knock first.

Five years ago today, she’d given birth to their “oopsie” baby, Miss Maggie. Jacob had forgotten to buy condoms at the store. Beth had convinced him they didn’t need one…Oops.

One year ago today, she’d forgotten to buy ice cream for Maggie’s 4th birthday party. Jacob had taken Maggie with him to the store to buy some. They hadn’t come back.

They were never coming back.

Her therapist, family, and friends had convinced her of this, and she’d thought she’d accepted it. But…she hadn’t. How? How could two happy accidents lead to one so tragic? How could fate be so cruel as to give her so much and then take it all away?

A ragged sob erupted from her throat and, without pausing to think, she tucked Lady Lulu into the crook of her arm and climbed over the bridge’s railing.

“Whoa, wait!” The old man shuffled over to her.

“Please, don’t,” she whispered. “I’m doing this. You can’t stop me.”

His response came slow and gentle. “The fall won’t kill you, if that’s what you’re hoping for. The bridge isn’t tall enough.”

Beth glanced down. Even in the early morning sun, the water looked as black as night. A chill tiptoed down her spine.

“You’ll drown or freeze to death,” the old man warned. “And you don’t want that. You don’t want this. And—And neither would your husband or kid.”

Beth cringed. Of course he would know who she was. Everyone in town did. She was the poor woman who’d lost everything she’d cherished in a matter of ten seconds. She should’ve left Eagle after the accident—left Colorado completely—and moved back to Chicago to live with her parents. But she couldn’t do it. Moving away would’ve meant leaving Jacob and Maggie behind, and she couldn’t leave them. Not then, not now, not ever.

A tear trickled down Beth’s cheek.

But home wasn’t home anymore. Home was a never-ending nightmare. She couldn’t handle the silence, the lingering scent of Jacob’s cologne, the empty bed, the useless tea set, the random discovery of a lost pink sock.

She hugged Lady Lulu to her chest. “Mr…?”

“Eli. My name’s Eli. I’m the head janitor at Brush Creek Element—”

“Would you tell my parents I’m sorry, Eli?”

His calloused hands rested on the rail next to her. They trembled ever so slightly. “Mrs. Haynes—Beth—you don’t want to—”

“And that I love them very much?”

“Your husband and daughter wouldn’t have wanted you to—”

“And I wish…” She closed her eyes. “I wish I could go back and change what happened. I wish I’d bought ice cream. I wish I’d kissed Jacob goodbye. I wish I’d hugged Maggie. I wish,” her voice cracked, “I wish I’d gotten in the car and died with them.”

“Don’t say that. You’re here for a reason.”

A bitter laugh slipped from her lips. If life had taught her anything, it was that there were no such things as reasons. Only accidents.

Eli touched her arm. “If you jump, you’ll—”

She let go of the bridge’s railing and jumped.

The janitor’s bellow for help faded as she plummeted toward the river. The icy air stung her cheeks, tore at Jacob’s coat, and stole her breath away. She clutched Lady Lulu closer as she struck the water.

Everything went black.

For a moment, she thought she had died from the fall. Then the powerful currents ripped Lady Lulu from her arms and panic brought her back to life. Beth made a mad grab for the doll. Her fingertips brushed against its arm at the same time she struck an underwater boulder. Agony exploded through her shoulder and a scream started in her gut and rose in her throat. She opened her mouth to release the bloodcurdling wail and water poured in. The taste of ice, fish, and dirt choked her, while the unforgiving currents tossed and kicked her to the surface.

She sputtered, gagged, and drew in a lifesaving breath. “I’m sorry!” she screamed. “I wish—” The river sucked her back under. She struggled to reach the surface again, but the weight of Jacob’s coat dragged her down, down, down…

She had to get it off—let it go—let him go if she wanted to live. Beth fumbled with the buttons, frantic and out of breath, suddenly certain Jacob and Maggie’s dying wish would’ve been for her to live. To fight.

She shimmied, shrugged, and wriggled out of the coat and popped straight to the surface. Along the way, a tree limb scraped against her cheek and another boulder cracked against her knee. She hardly felt the pain this time. She was so cold.

Eli had been right. She was going to drown or freeze to death. Or both.

“Swim!”

The sharp order came from her left, in the woods. Shivering and gasping, she searched the trees until she saw a cyclist screaming at her. “Swim towards me!” She blinked at him, baffled by his appearance.

Who—How—Who?

Her sluggish mind refused to connect the dots. Instead, it zeroed in on something pink floating by the shore. Beth couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be. Fate had proven itself too cruel to give her such a perfect beacon. And yet…She bared her teeth and swam toward it, her movements jerky and clumsy, but determined.

The stranger leaped from his bike and sprinted into the shallows up ahead. “Grab my hand!”

Beth ignored his command, her attention focused on the pink object. She had to reach it. It was safe. It was hope. It was home. It was all she had left of her baby girl.

“Come on, lady!” The stranger waded deeper into the currents, all the way up to his waist. “Grab my hand!” He reached for her as the river carried her closer and closer to him and Lady Lulu. The doll swirled around and around until it lost its fragile grip on the tree branch.

Beth cried out as it floated away.

“Grab my hand now or I can’t save you!”

The stranger’s words echoed through Beth’s dazed mind, piercing the sorrowful mist that threatened to consume her all over again.

She’d let go of Jacob. She had to let go of Maggie too. Because she now realized the moment she’d jumped, was the moment she’d finally touched down. She now understood life was full of both accidents and choices.

And this was her moment to choose.

“Lady!”

She pursed her lips, looked away from Maggie’s doll, and lunged for the stranger’s hand.


Round 1: The Ark 

(Assignment: 2,500 words, 8 days, horror, medical tourism, 50-year old woman) 

Round 2: The Darkness Whispers

(Assignment: 2,000 words, 3 days, ghost story, a statue, a waitress) Please note:  Since I’m planning to expand this story into a full novel, I have added a password to protect it. If you would like to access it, please send me a message and I will provide it to you.

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

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A Crawl to the Finish Line – The Final Round of NYCM SSC

Well, it was a slow and painful crawl to the finish line, but I did it. I survived the third and final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge (SSC).

As some of you read last week, I was not excited about participating in this last leg of the writing contest. Honored, yes, but not excited. I knew it was going to be difficult, stressful, and downright miserable.

And it was.

Once again, the 24-hour deadline kicked my butt. By the time I submitted my story on Saturday night, I was in tears. I was so tired! And so, so, so relieved I’d survived the hellish day.

I ended up spending most of Sunday staring into space, moving around like a zombie, and reacting to things at a snail’s pace. Even my four-year old nephew asked me, “Are you okay?”–HA! I told him I was; just very, very sleepy.

The torture all began at 10 p.m. (MST) on Friday. I did my best to prepare for it, but even with my battle plan and giant bag of Peanut M&M’s, I felt ill-equipped, reluctant, and terrified.

11127771_366454080213813_5284361540707845078_nSomehow, I was able to quiet the butterflies and sleep for about an hour before the round kicked off. Then I was up and looking at my final assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.38.00 PMThis was probably the brightest moment of the 24-hour period. I really liked the prompts. Not only were they interesting, but they easily fit the basic concept I’d thought of beforehand. So, after a quick happy dance, I went to work.

Around 2 a.m. I smacked into a wall and went to bed. Well, tried. It’s hard to sleep when you can hear the clock ticking down, down, down…

By 5 a.m. I was up and writing again.

Now, you’d think since I’d been thinking about my story’s general plot for a few weeks that I would’ve been able to whip something up really fast…But, nope! In a nutshell, words were not my friend on Saturday. Each one had to be ripped out of me, and once on paper they looked battered and bruised.

Panic set in around 11 a.m.

By this point, I should’ve had at least an ugly first draft. But all I had was a handful of ugly paragraphs.

Thankfully my mom arrived at noon to offer her support and help me edit…Well, that had been our plan, but I laughed (somewhat hysterically) when she walked through the front door because I didn’t have anything to edit! She quickly calmed me down with a simple, “Well, let’s just read what you’ve got and go from there, okay?”

So, we did…for the next four hours.

I’d write a couple of paragraphs, send the updated version to my mom, read it out loud, debate about it, edit, and then repeat the process–over and over and over. It was awful! More than anything, I wanted to slam my laptop shut, throw my hands up in defeat, and go to bed.

Even my mom began to lose her cool around 4 p.m. Instead of calmly telling me everything would be okay, she started snapping:

I’m pretty sure she wanted slap me a few times, especially since I kept growling at her to stop eating my M&M’s…No, it wasn’t because I was being possessive (okay, maybe I was a little 😉 ), but because I’d never realized how loud M&M’s were! The crunch, crunch, crunch kept shattering my precious focus. (Sorry for being such a pill, Mom.)

At last, around 5 p.m., I completed a first draft. With great reluctance, I sent it to my beta readers, fully aware their reactions would be something like this:

Honestly, in any other situation, I would never have sent this version to them. More likely, I would’ve thrown it out and started over. I always do that with my first drafts. They’re not meant to be seen. They’re meant to help me figure out the right story, characters, angles, twists and turns, etc. But that stupid clock was ticking. I had no choice.

So, I swallowed my pride–and mortification–and sent it to them. Within an hour, their feedback trickled in. It wasn’t horrible, but I could tell they were disappointed.

Shocker!

Unfortunately, I only had a few hours left before the deadline, so I couldn’t do anything but take their advice and try to make my blah story as non-blah as possible.

Around 9 p.m., just under the 24-hour mark, I finished my “final” draft, whipped up a title and synopsis, and submitted everything.

Then I collapsed and cried.

I didn’t know which I felt more: exhausted or disappointed. I know I did my best in the amount of time I had, but I wanted to do better. This was a story I’d had high hopes for and it fell apart on me…Perhaps someday, when I’m not racing against the clock, I’ll return to it and write it the right way.

Despite my disappointment, I am proud of myself. Writing a story in 24-hours isn’t easy, especially for someone who usually takes 24-hours just to think about a story. Furthermore, even if my story takes last place, I still finished in the top 40 (out of 1,440), and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to celebrate!

As usual, I’ll post my story here for review once I get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight. I don’t really want to, but I’ve come this far, so I may as well. For now, here is my title and synopsis:

The Accidental Fall

Brief Synopsis: How could two happy accidents lead to one so tragic? That is a question Beth Haynes must answer.

Did you participate in the final round of the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

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Boo Hoo – 2nd Round – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Well, everyone, I’m happy to announce I made it through the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

Last week, I found out my story, The Ark, advanced me to round two. After doing a little “woo-hoo” dance, I began mentally preparing myself for the shorter deadline (three days, not eight) and smaller word count (2,000, not 2,500).

I actually felt much better going into this round than I did round one. During round one, my entire life had been a mess and I was exhausted from working on my manuscript. This time, my life was–relatively–calm, and I had plenty of energy to get me through the crazy three day deadline.

The whirlwind started on Friday morning. I woke up and looked at my second round assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 1.05.25 PM

BLAHHHHHH!

Yep, not gonna lie. I wasn’t happy with my assigned prompts. Even though they didn’t include comedy or romance, I was irritated I’d received “Ghost Story”. In my opinion, it’s one of those genres that’s hard to be original and surprising with–and I pride myself on being both of those things.

Plus, the “statue” and “waitress” prompts were uninspiring and dull to me. I just didn’t feel anything when I saw them.

Luckily, I remembered a concept I’d thought of months ago after listening to Ella Henderson’s song, “Ghost”, and my “blah” transformed into an “ah-ha!” I quickly called my mom and sister to see what they thought of it, and they liked it too. 

Phew! 

During my 40-minute commute–yes, I had to go to work that day, and yes, I was annoyed about it–I brainstormed a general plot so that when I sat down at my desk, I could jump right into things…Unfortunately, work ended up being a lot busier than I’d expected, and I spent most of the day crying on the inside while watching my precious time tick away.

By the time I left work, I’d only managed to write a few paragraphs, and I wasn’t happy with any of them–gah! To make matters worse, on my way home, my sister called to see if I could run a last minute errand with her, and it was an errand I couldn’t say no to. So I ended up losing even more time.

I was on the verge of a meltdown. I’d basically lost one of my three precious days–ahhh!

Once I finally got home, I went straight into hermit mode. I locked my doors, put on my PJs, and huddled up on my couch to write.

I barely made it a third of the way through my first draft when I threw in the towel. You know it’s time to shut things down for the day when you work on the same two paragraphs for three hours. Plus, my house started making creepy sounds right when I reached the ghost scenes. I yelled at it to stop freaking me out and went to bed (and hid under the covers, haha).

On Saturday, I woke up around 5 AM and got to work. I felt much calmer, steadier, and more focused than I had on Friday. It helped to know I had nowhere to go and no obligations to uphold. The day was mine.

By mid-morning I had a first draft. Around the time I finished it, my mom showed up to offer support and provide feedback. I wasn’t expecting this, but I was grateful. My mom is so amazing during these contests. Not only will she help me edit my stories to death, but she’ll give me 100% honest feedback, especially during my early drafts.

If a plot is boring or cliche, she’ll tell me. If a character is annoying or unlikeable, she’ll point it out. If there’s a way to twist things around and surprise the reader, she’ll suggest it. Seriously, without my mom, my stories wouldn’t be what they are. She’s the best ever!

(You are cool, Mom. Thank you!)

Anyway, as I made myself breakfast, my mom read my first draft.

“Well?” I nervously asked once she’d finished.

She was silent.

Oh no…

Finally, she turned and looked at me. “Honestly? I think you could submit this and be fine.”

I. Was. Shocked!

My mom has never said that about a first draft of mine. Usually, she says, “It’s a good start…” Or, “It would be better if you…” Or, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it–at all.”

Her positive feedback dissolved the anxious knot in my stomach and gave me the boost I needed. We spent the next two hours reading through my story to figure out its weak points, and then my mom left so I could focus on a second draft. I was able to finish it by dinner and send it back to her for more feedback. She called me soon after:

“Hey, I read it.” She sounded out of breath.

“Uh, are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah.” She laughed. “I just ran out of breath reading your story. Your ending…sheesh!”

Suffice it to say, she liked it.

We decided to read through the story again over the phone to track down its weak spots–and there were still many. More backstory here, better descriptions there…Thankfully (and miraculously) I was still 500 words under the word count limit, so I had plenty of room to expand and improve things.

By early Sunday morning, I finished a third draft and sent it off to a handful of beta readers. As their feedback trickled in, I noticed the biggest concern was the “ghost story” aspect. Some of my readers didn’t think it would technically qualify.

So, grumbling and mumbling, I went to work rewriting parts to ensure it would qualify…Thank God for Peanut M&M’s. Those little sanity savers are what get me through those beepity-beep! moments.

10359514_10102091520073993_3929706847775812655_n(Seriously, I went through that entire bag over the weekend…Don’t judge me!)

As I worked on infusing more of a ghost flare to my story, my mom showed up to help me in the final stretch of the process. We read the story out loud about a billion times to search for flaws, rework sentences, and chop out words to get it below the word count (because of course I ended up going over the 2,000 limit).

Around 3 p.m., I hit my “I’m over this!” wall and submitted it.

So, another challenge completed and another story in the bucket. Overall, I’m satisfied with its outcome. I’m not sure what others will think of it–I never do–but considering I only had three days and 2,000 words at my disposal (and had to write a blasted ghost story), I’m proud of it.

As always, I’ll be posting my story here once I get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight. For now, here is my title and synopsis:

The Darkness Whispers

Brief Synopsis: Jude, a tormented artist, is haunted by the memory of his murdered muse. Self-loathing, insanity, and terror drive him to the edge of darkness.

Did you participate in the second round of the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

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Oh, The Horror – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Well, everyone, I’ve survived yet another round of an NYC Midnight writing challenge…barely.

Let me rewind a little bit…

A few weeks before round one of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015, I made a promise to myself: I wouldn’t start the competition until I finished the third draft of my novel. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. I had to finish it. I had to!

I didn’t.

Despite my best efforts, I still had two more chapters to write when the first round kicked off on January 16th.

Yeah, I was a little stressed.

Thankfully, the first round of the Short Story Challenge was eight days long, so I had the ability to sacrifice a day to get those last two chapters of my novel finished.

Which I did!

Okay, there was no time to celebrate the fact I’d finished the third draft of my novel. I’d lost one of my eight precious days with the Short Story Challenge and needed to dive right into it. So–after a mini “I don’t wanna!” meltdown–I put aside my fatigue and desire to do nothing, and pulled up my assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.28.57 PM

First thought? WOO-HOO! I’d been praying to get drama, suspense, or horror since those are the genres I’m most comfortable with. Plus, with my low motivation and energy levels, I needed a genre I’d be enthusiastic about. And horror was just the ticket.

Second thought? What the hell is “medical (or health) tourism”? Seriously, I’d never heard of such a thing. Thank God for Google. After a quick search, I figured out medical tourism is when someone visits another country for a health treatment (mainly because it’s cheaper, or because it’s a treatment they can’t get in their home country). I wasn’t thrilled with this prompt. Medical stuff freaks me out and I’m not all that inspired by it.

Third thought? “Oh crap! Hugh from Hugh’s Views & News is in my group!”

Let me explain: A couple of months ago, I encouraged my friend Hugh from the blog Hugh’s Views & News to enter the Short Story Challenge. I assured him we wouldn’t be put in the same group. I mean, come on!  There are 1,400 people in the competition, broken down into 48 groups of 30. What were the chances we’d end up pitted against each other? Huh?

After I screamed, “NOOO!, I laughed and emailed Hugh, because, really, it was hilarious. And also kind of cool. Even though it stinks to have to compete directly against a friend, it’s nice to know someone in your group. It gives you someone other than yourself to cheer for. (“Goooo Hugh!”)

So, anyway. Once I stopped shaking my head over that, and I figured out what the heck “medical tourism” was, and I drank a lot of coffee, I got to work.

Luckily, my story’s concept came to me almost instantly…Don’t worry, it wasn’t about a Frankenstein surgery gone wrong.

As fun as that idea might’ve been, I had a feeling a lot of my competitors would take that kind of approach, so I went in a different direction…Hopefully it’s a direction others didn’t think of. *fingers crossed*

On Sunday, I started and finished a butt ugly first draft and sent it to my favorite and most critical beta reader: my Mom. As expected, she didn’t love it and she had a lot of issues with it–just as I did. So, we had a long brainstorming session to iron out the kinks and come up with some much needed solutions.

After that, I felt better about the general plot and my two main characters. I sat back down at my computer and started over. And I worked allllll week long writing, rewriting, revising, editing, tweaking…

To be honest, it was a downright painful process. Even though I love horror and I liked my idea, I had smashed into a wall and fallen beyond my breaking point.

Having worked non-stop on my novel for over a month, my willpower was close to zero. And everything hurt: my head, my eyes, my wrists/forearms. Every time I sat down in front of my computer, I’d make it a few words and then want to quit and go to bed.

To make matters worse, I decided to take on a subject I wasn’t prepared to. And it’s a subject I have deep personal convictions about, so…yeah. I was in a constant battle between me and my characters. I had to figure out how to word things that would  satisfy all of us.

By Wednesday night, I had a decent enough draft to send back to my Mom. I also sent it to my sister since she–after helping with a few of the kinks I struggled with most–wanted to give some input.

My sister’s feedback: “I LOVED the last line. Loved, loved.” I almost cried when I read that because I had no idea how to end the story. I’d written that last line on a whim. But after her enthusiasm for it, I knew I’d keep it and use it as my guide while trudging through the end’s fuzzy murk. Yippee for clarity!

And then I read my Mom’s feedback: “It doesn’t feel urgent enough. And I think you should change this and this and this…” I did cry then…Okay, not really. But her critique pushed me to the brink of an epic meltdown.

But, once again, I gave myself a mental slap and went back to work. And by Friday morning I felt confident enough to send my story to three more beta readers (all writing pals this time). Each one gave me incredible feedback and helped me chop down my 2,700 worded story to the word count limit of 2,500.

I’ll admit, a couple of my betas made some suggestions that would’ve required rewriting large portions of the story, and I ignored them. Because I just didn’t care.

Yep! Talk about a horrible attitude. And I’ll likely pay for it when I start getting my feedback from other readers. Oh well. I just didn’t have any fuel left in the tank to deal with those big changes.

On Saturday, I edited my story once more and then submitted it.

And CRASHED!

I spent the rest of the weekend napping on the couch and watching episodes of “The Good Wife”. It was pure bliss.

Now, as you might imagine, I’m not all that confident with my story and I don’t know if it’ll be good enough to advance me to the second round in March. But, whatever! I’m just proud of myself for not giving up, fighting through my exhaustion, and submitting something.

As usual, I’ll be posting my story here once we get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight (which should be today or tomorrow). For now, here is my title and synopsis!

The Ark

Brief Synopsis: When Becca picks her mom up at JFK Airport, she discovers she was diagnosed and treated for cancer while overseas. Their train ride home is fraught with bickering, accusations, and death.

Dun, dun, dun…

Yeah, okay. I know my synopsis is vague. But I’m stickler for spoilers and I didn’t want to spoil anything with this one 🙂

Did you participate in the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

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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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