Cheers – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Greetings, blog followers! Yes, it’s me. And, yes, I’m still alive.

As you’ve may (or may not) have noticed, I’ve been absent from the blog world the past few months (er, maybe longer). I made a New Year’s resolution to put all of my attention and free time into finishing my novel, which I almost have! By the end of summer/early fall, I should have my manuscript and query letter ready to go for literary agents (eeks!).

This past weekend, I decided to reward my good, focused behavior by participating in my 5th NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I signed up for this writing contest a couple of months ago hoping my novel would be in my betas’ hands when the challenge kicked off…Wrong! My betas returned their notes a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been revising ever since. So, it was really hard to shift gears on Friday night.

But, I did. And I had so much fun!

As a quick reminder, the NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. It never fails to stress me out, but it’s always worth it.

Round one kicked off last Friday night at 10 p.m. (MST). I prayed and prayed the prompt gods would give me comedy. Why? Because 1) it’s the complete opposite of what I usually write, and 2) it’s one of the few NYCM genres I’ve never been assigned.

Well, guess what? The prompt gods finally answered my prayers! I was put in group 40, which had to write a comedy that took place in a bartending school and incorporated sandpaper.

 

First impressions: 

Comedy

Bartending school

Sandpaper

I literally squealed when I saw comedy as my assigned genre. It’s taken five years and 17 rounds of NYC Midnight contests for me to get this genre (I don’t count rom-com or political satire, because those are very specific comedies that push you into a smaller realm of the comedy world). As for my other prompts…ugh. The location threw me. I’ve never been a bar-kinda girl, and I don’t drink much, so finding inspiration was tough. The sandpaper prompt didn’t faze me. I’ve had much, MUCH weirder objects to incorporate, so I pushed it to the back of my mind.

My process with these contests has become fairly streamlined: Friday night, brainstorm/plan general gist of story. Saturday, write. Sunday, edit/beta read.

So, as usual, I brainstormed on Friday night and went to bed with a solid idea. I planned to sleep in on Saturday because I had a really rough week at work and needed the rest, but my body refused to listen. It’s been hardwired for pre-dawn workouts in preparation for a half marathon I’m running in August, so I ended up waking up, bright and early, at 4 a.m. Which meant I only got about four hours of sleep. Which meant I was exhausted all. Day. Long.

Somehow I managed to find my groove and dig into my story by noon. As I wrote, my original concept changed quite a bit. I discovered comedy is different from other genres because you have to let the humor evolve organically. If you find something funny, then you have to keep going with it and play up the joke. My joke ended up revolving around millennials.

*cue millennial eye rolls across the world*

Sorry not sorry, millennials. But, hey, I’m partly millennial too, so I was the butt of my own jokes.

By 3 p.m., I had a rough first draft that was 500 words OVER the limit. Blerg! I decided to let it rest while I attended my brother’s 30th birthday bash (yes, I was a fantastic social butterfly at that event.) When I got home later that evening, I rolled up my sleeves and began revising–er, chopping. I successfully hacked about 200 words before crashing for the night.

The next morning, I had to get up early for my pre-dawn workout. Thankfully, I felt pretty calm about my story. Still, I was eager to get home and back to writing. I only had until 4 p.m. that day to finish and submit my story before I had to leave for yet another event. (Yeah, it wasn’t the best weekend to participate in a writing competition.)

As always, my wonderful, patient mother came over to my house and helped me edit. I was more nervous than usual to get her opinion on the story because it was so far out of my comfort zone. And because I had NO idea if it was actually funny. But, thank the Lord, she laughed a lot. So did the six other beta readers who helped me chop my comedy down from 1,200 to 996 words. Phew! I whipped together a synopsis and submitted my story eight hours ahead of the official deadline.

Yeah, despite the lack of tears and heart palpitations this round, I was exhausted. But, I genuinely like what I came up with, and I’m really proud of myself for tackling a genre so completely out of my comfort zone.

In the past, I shared my story publicly. However, I’ve begun sending my work to publishers, so I’m no longer posting them here for any and all to read. Sorry! If you are interested in reading it, please send me a message and I’ll provide you with the password. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Bottoms Up”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A millennial needs a job to handle life’s necessities, like yoga, Netflix, and Starbucks. He decides to try bartending (#thestruggleisreal).

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!

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All Cried Out – 2nd Round – NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge

This past weekend marked the second round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015. And it was…ouch!

In a nutshell, it was one of the hardest, most emotional writing experiences I’ve ever had.

Before I jump in, let me quickly remind you the The NYC Midnight (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. Yeah, it’s crazy.

As usual, the chaos began on Friday night when I opened my newest assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 11.26.43 AM

My first impressions?

Historical Fiction

A secret laboratory

A mouse

I hit a brick wall instantly. I did not like my prompts. Thankfully, I happened to be at my mom’s house and she gave me a quick, “You can’t change it, so get over it” speech. So, I did…well, sort of. While she began Googling secret laboratories in history, I curled up on the couch and tried to fish a random trivia fact out of my brain.

After a few minutes, I caught one. I looked at my mom and said, “What about the Manhattan Project? That was a secret laboratory, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.” She shrugged and returned to Googling.

Clearly, she wasn’t a fan of that idea. So, I curled up again and tossed my lure back into my mind’s pool of random facts.

I wandered away from the Manhattan Project and flipped through the other events of World War II. I don’t know why I felt drawn to that era. Personally, I’ve always been infatuated with the American Civil War and the Roaring 20’s.

After a few more minutes of deep contemplation, I recalled something I’d heard about…Problem was, I couldn’t remember if it was fact or fiction. So, I asked my mom. She wrinkled her nose and confirmed it had, indeed, happened. Then she went back to Googling.

Again.

Despite her lack of enthusiasm for the topic, I pulled out my phone and began my own Google search. Even though it frightened me, I wanted to see if I could find something to base my story on. I clicked on the first article that popped up and skimmed through dozens of photos. They were tough to look at, so I zipped past most of them.

Then this one caught my eye.
83806473_132718492978For a minute, I stared at the black and white Shirley Temple-lookalike. I wanted to know more about her, but I was terrified to find out. If she was connected to this topic, then her fate was likely a tragic one…But, I had to know. So, with great trepidation, I clicked on her photo.

Turned out her name was Jacqueline Morgenstern, and what happened to her…Well, it punched me in the gut and grabbed me by the heart.

After I shook off the urge to cry, I read the article to my mom. She set down her phone. I breathed a sigh of relief.

I’d found my story.

I decided not to do anymore research that night. I’d chosen a topic that would probably give me nightmares, so I didn’t want to start until the next morning. I thanked my mom for her help and went home to go to bed.

I woke up just a few hours later, too anxious to sleep. The contest’s clock was ticking, and I couldn’t write a single word until I did a ton of research.

And I did a ton of research. For over seven hours, I watched documentaries, read dozens of articles, and scrolled through countless pictures. I called my mom off and on to talk to her about what I’d found, and during each conversation, I broke down and cried.

After my fifth meltdown, my mom said, “Hey, maybe you should find a different topic? This one might be too dark.”

I almost agreed with her. I wanted to agree with her, but…I looked at Jacqueline Morgenstern’s picture and thought, “I stumbled upon her story for a reason. I’m supposed to write this. I need to write this.” So, I took a deep breath, wiped off my tears, and told my mom, “I have to keep going.”

She didn’t try and talk me out of it again.

By late afternoon, I finally began writing my story. Unfortunately, I had to stop within a couple of hours to go to a friend’s party…Yeah, I was awesome company at that get-together.

As you might suspect, I didn’t last long. I left the party early and returned home to finish an ugly first draft before bedtime.

The next morning, I woke up before the sun and went back to work. I felt calmer than I had on Saturday. The hardest parts of the weekend were over: Finding a story, researching the you-know-what out of it, and slapping together a first draft. Now it was time for the “fun” part: Molding my words and making them presentable to readers. Oh, and chopping my story down from 2K to 1K words. (Blast the word count limit!)

Around 8 a.m., I finished my second draft. About the same time, my mom–bless her soul–swept through the front door and declared she was ready to help me edit. I was shocked by her early arrival, but also grateful. I needed her moral support and critical eye to get me through the day.

For hours, we read my story out loud to each other, first focusing on the story and characters, and then on the word count. I had to cut over 700 of them to meet the 1K requirement.

The process was tough. Not only from a technical standpoint, but also from an emotional one. I don’t think my mom and I made it through a single draft without losing our composure and reaching for a tissue.

At last, around 6 p.m., swollen-eyed and hoarse, I submitted my story. Before I collapsed from exhaustion, I thanked my mom for cheering me on and holding me together. This was, by far, one of the hardest stories I’d ever written, and without her there, I don’t think I would’ve had the strength to finish it.

But, I did finish it. And I’m proud of myself for doing so. There are many events–dark, terrible events–in history that have been lost or forgotten, and we can’t let that happen. Even if they hurt and make us uncomfortable, we need to remember them to prevent them from ever happening again.

As usual, I’ll post my story later this week once we get the green light from NYCM. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Kleine Mäuse”

Brief Synopsis: On the night of April 20th, 1945, a French prisoner and the twenty children he cares for at Neuengamme concentration camp are transported to a nearby school. There, they must face Dr. Heissmeyer’s final atrocity.

Update: If you’d like to read “Kleine Mäuse”, here you go!

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for the second round of the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge!

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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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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)