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

I Made It – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014

I made it, everyone! I survived Round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014. I was able to set aside my fatigue/laser focus with my YA manuscript, and spit out a 1,000 word story in 48-hours.

So, for those of you who don’t know how the contest works, here’s a quick overview: There are 25 heats, each with approximately 40 writers in it. Each heat is then assigned a genre (drama, comedy, fantasy, romance, horror, etc.), a location where the story must take place, and an object that must appear at least once. We then have 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story.

As usual, I refused to look at my assignment when it was emailed to me on Friday night. If I would’ve looked, I would’ve been up all night brainstorming. So I waited until Saturday morning.

I woke up at 4:30 a.m., turned on my computer, and looked at my prompts:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 8.46.08 AMI can’t tell you how relieved I was. Suspense is my FAVORITE genre to write, and it’s where my mind has been with my YA manuscript, so I didn’t have to shift gears too hard. And the prompts didn’t seem difficult. A truck stop can be made creepy/dark, and a diamond ring can be thrown in all sorts of ways. Easy peasy.

I sat back, closed my eyes, and started brainstorming. Surprisingly, I came up with a concept within minutes (rare for me). I called my best/harshest/favorite writing critic, my mom, and pitched it to her.

“Oh! I like that!” she exclaimed.

So I got to work.

…And, yeah. It did not go well.

Okay, okay. It wasn’t horrible, but during my first draft I realized I was taking way too long to get the story up and running. By the time the action/suspense began to unfold, I was already at 2,000 words.

2,000. Words!

BLERG!

I started over. I jumped ahead in my plot to get to the “good stuff” sooner. Unfortunately by doing this, I cut out all the details that made my characters likable/believable. Now they were just mannequins going through the actions.

I decided to email the story to my mom anyway. I had to. It was already past 1 p.m. 15 hours of my precious 48 were gone. I couldn’t waste anymore time on a story that was potentially useless. As I waited for her feedback, I began revising.

Write…Delete-delete-delete. Write…Delete-delete-delete…GRRR! I couldn’t get the story started. Something was off about it. I just couldn’t figure out what.

This was about the time I smacked into my standard, “I suck and I hate this story!” wall. I forced myself to take a break and walk away to clear my head.  As I ate a snack, my mom called with her thoughts. She liked it, but she had the same concern I did: the setup. It was off.

“I’m going to get DQ’d,” I muttered to her. “The story is supposed to take place at the truck stop, but most of it’s on the highway.”

“Then start it at the truck stop,” she replied. “Cut out the highway.”

Feeling kind of stupid, I made the change. And poof! Everything came together.

Within a few hours, I had a solid second draft. I liked my characters again and the suspense was there. Grateful I’d found a way to balance the two, I sent the updated version to my mom. She replied within minutes:

“I LOOOOOOVVVVEEE it!!!”

Ahhh, such sweet relief. I almost cried. Almost.

Of course, there was still a lot of work to do, and there was a major aspect of the story that bothered both of us. We brainstormed about it until we came up with a viable solution. I jotted it down and went to bed. It was almost 11 p.m., and I’d been up since dawn.

Seriously, my right eye wouldn’t stop twitching!

Yesterday was all about refining the story and chopping it down to the magical 1,000 word count. I screamed at one point, because with each revision, my word count went UP, not down: 1,300, 1,400, 1,500. I finally called my mom to come over and help me edit it. I learned from Round 3 of the Short Story Challenge that sometimes I need someone to sit with me and read my story out loud to find the flaws and unnecessary words/sentences.

After a few hours of debating, strategizing, and fine-tuning, we got the story down to 999 words. Wooooot! I sent it off to a handful of beta readers (thanks, Jess), tweaked a few things based off their feedback, and finally submitted it.

Then I collapsed!

Overall, I’m satisfied with the final outcome of my story. It’s not my favorite one, but I’m still proud of it. I promise I’ll post it for you all to read in a few days, after I receive confirmation from NYC Midnight it’s okay to share. Until then, here is the title and brief synopsis:

“Inevitable”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: While coping with the tragic death of her husband, Kate travels to Jackson Hole with her son. Along the way, they learn the true meaning of inevitable when disaster strikes.

Did anyone else participate in this weekend’s Flash Fiction Challenge? If so, how’d it go for you?

…Okay, I’ve been debating about this all weekend, but I’m gonna do it. Remember that silly video I mentioned to you on Friday? Well, here it is. The photos I sent to my friend got lost in translation, but she used a couple of the video clips I recorded. It’s a little embarrassing, but whatever. More than anything, I wanted to show you what a wonderful/funny/weird/awesome writing community NYC Midnight has. I hope someday you can join in the fun. Enjoy!

…And, uh, feel free to laugh at me as much as you want. 😉

Photo Credits: 

http://hollygrass.blogspot.com/2014/05/hallelujah-its-friday.html

http://www.videogum.com/566121/this-week-in-gifs-60/webjunk/

http://www.india-forums.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=4014838

http://whatshadeofgreenshouldwecallme.tumblr.com/post/50511483768/me-during-noonans-class

http://glee.wikia.com/wiki/File:Duh_duh_duh.gif

http://imgur.com/gallery/wanzzxr

http://onlyfatrabbit.tumblr.com/post/58989099326/bunny-rabbit-sitting-at-a-computer-desk-then

One Year Blogiversary – How My Blog Saved Me

I can’t believe it! Jen’s Pen Den has been up and running for a year!

So, I’m not sure if I’ve ever told you about why I started Jen’s Pen Den. It wasn’t because I was bored, or curious, or eager to the take the next step in building my author platform. It was because I was on the verge of quitting. Of giving up on writing all together.

Last August, I was in a low, low place. The option contract on my YA manuscript had expired months before, and my attempts to find new representation had failed. Everyone who passed on it kept telling me the same thing: “We like it, but we don’t love it.”

In other words, “It’s meh”.

AKA, “You’re a meh writer”.

AKA, “You suck, your writing sucks, and you’ll never be good enough to succeed in this business.”

Suffice it to say, I was devastated. I stopped writing and contemplated what I should do. I didn’t want to give up–that’s not in my nature–but what else could I do? Start a new book? Ha! Why? I was a “meh” writer. Why spend a billion hours on a book that was just going to get the same lukewarm reactions from agents and publishers?

Because you love writing, a stubborn inner voice reminded me.

Oh. That.

Ugh.

I battled myself for months. I didn’t know what to do. Start writing a new book? Or start looking for a new career? Fight for my dreams? Or throw in the towel? Punch and kick and scream? Or crumple up and cry?

Solution: Start a blog.

I had no idea what blogging was or how to run one, and I had no idea if starting one would help me climb out of the black pit I’d fallen into. But I had to try. I had to do something. I wasn’t ready to give up on my dreams yet.

It was one of the best decisions of my life.

In essence, my blog saved me. Within a few weeks of starting Jen’s Pen Den, I climbed out of the black pit I’d tumbled into. Hope returned–slowly but surely–and I gradually rose up and struck back at those vicious doubts inside of me. “Give up, give up, give up!” soon turned into “Fight, fight, fight!” I entered writing contests, started a new book, wrote a short story, and finally had the strength to tear up my old YA manuscript and start over completely.

Now, almost a year later, I’m happier and more passionate than I’ve ever been about writing. I’ve kicked all of those ugly doubts in the butt and knocked them down for good.

One of the main reasons I’ve been able to fight back is because of you guys.  You helped raise me up out of that black pit with your friendships, encouragements, and long distance cheerleading. I can’t thank you enough for your support.

…I’m not crying. I’m not!

Out of curiosity, I went to my stats page and looked up the top ten posts of the year. If you’d like to check them out, here you go!

Top Ten Posts

  1. The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents
  2. How Do You Share Backstory Information
  3. Chasing Monsters – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Entry
  4. About Jen
  5. Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is
  6. “Muck and Mire” – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2013
  7. Into Paradise – Final Round Entry – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge
  8. Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  9. Jen’s Pen
  10. Over The Edge – 2nd Round Entry – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Thanks again for all of your awesome support. Here’s to another year of blogging and writing!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: giphy

The Flash Fiction Challenge 2014 Early Entry Deadline is Tomorrow!

reminder4Don’t forget! The early entry deadline for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge is tomorrow.  If you’re still debating whether or not you should enter this fun, challenging, and whirlwind of a writing contest, here’s why I think you should:

Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014

Hope to see you all there!

20140618-CaptureIt-Picture

Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014

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 last fall, and then the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2014 this past spring. And whoa! My entire attitude changed.

Before I entered these contests, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…WRONG! In just two measly challenges, my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually kind of embarrassed by what I considered my “best”. I won’t even let my friends or colleagues look at my old work.

So, what has writing flash fiction/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?  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,” as nothing of the sort. And–mostly–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 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.
  • 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 Flash Fiction Challenge 2014. 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 will be in the future, will thank you for doing this. I know the one I’m working on is thanking me (as are my beta readers–ha!).

20140618-CaptureIt-PictureOf 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 July 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.

Hope to see you all on the forum!

To learn more about the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, click here!

 

Friday Funny with an Honorable Mention and a First Draft

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m feeling rather wonderful today. It’s been a great week, especially on the writing front.

friday-checklistFirst off, I received the final results for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Okay, so I didn’t win, but I did receive an Honorable Mention for “Into Paradise.” That means I placed in the top 15 of the 1,000 writers who originally entered! Which boils down to placing in the top 1.5%. Wooot!

More than achieving this seemingly impossible feat, I’m proud of the three stories I wrote for this competition (“Chasing Monsters,” “Over the Edge,” “Into Paradise”). Not only did I work extra hard to make each one entertaining, unique, and meaningful, but I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone and take on topics that were scary, disturbing, and/or heartbreaking. I truly learned so much about myself as a writer. More importantly, I learned that if a story demands to be told, then I need to check my insecurities and fears at the door and tell them. I shouldn’t hold back. I need to take the plunge and just go for it!

Yeeee-ha!

Another great piece of news this week: I finished the first draft of my YA manuscript!

KIDDING!!!

Okay, let me clarify: I basically finished my first draft. I didn’t fully write out the last five-ish chapters. It just didn’t make sense. You see, I took a path in earlier chapters that eventually backed me into a corner, and the only way to fix it would be to start over and find where things went wrong. So, that’s what I decided to do. I jotted down some in-depth notes about how I saw the book ending, saved my document, and closed it. Then I opened a new one for draft two.

6a00d83451607369e2017d42f8b7f5970cI began working on draft 2 yesterday and…ugh. Guys, there’s A LOT of things to fix. A lot, a lot. But, it’s okay. I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work. And now that life has finally calmed down, and the NYC Midnight Challenge hoopla is over, I can dedicate all of my energy to my revisions.

So, in honor of my honed focus, as well as the many, many, many writing days I have in front of me, here is today’s Friday Funny:

10374510_850320518311743_1136249276918190834_nHow was your week? I’d love to hear!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Music Monday – Know Your Enemy – American Idiot

On Writing Secondary Characters

Music Monday – For the Glory & With These Hands – Civil War Musical

Welcome to Music Monday! As many of you know, music contributes a great deal to my writing process. Whether it’s a song’s lyrics, beat, rhythm, or tone, I find myself constantly inspired by it.

writing-and-musicSince I skipped last week’s Music Monday, I thought I’d share with you a couple of songs that inspired “Into Paradise,” my final entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

The first is “For the Glory. I have always LOVED this song, and I’ve often found inspiration in it. For Into Paradise, however, the part that moved me the most was the middle section, around the four minute mark, when Linda Eder begins to sing. I tried to infuse her haunting tone and peaceful lyrics into my story:

Sleep in my arms now
All your pain is passed.
Sleep, for you have travelled far
Now you are home, at last.
Go as you came here
Time to say goodbye.
Light, soft as a melody
Safe in a lullaby

The fields are green
The rivers are unclean
And all so far from here …

Rest for a while, now
All you work is done.
Rest here in my waiting arms
Now that your race is run …

Here is the entire song: 
(If you’d only like to hear the part from above, fast forward to the 4 minute mark)

The other song that helped me write Into Paradise was “With These Hands. During my story, I have a moment where my protagonist looks down at her hands and thinks about all they’ve done in her life–how they represent her life. That moment came from hearing this song: 

What song(s) are you in love with right now? Which one(s) offer you inspiration? Let me know! I’m always searching for songs that motivate my writing.