More Fun Discoveries – #LitMag+ The Sequel

 

I received another acceptance letter this morning! The story I submitted to Speculative 66 called “The Scout” will be published April 6th. As I mentioned in previous posts, I enjoy writing challenges and having to write a story in such a small and specific word count is a great exercise.

The story they are publishing is a pared down version of a story I wrote a while back that a friend from my critique  group really likes. I thought of her while I reworked each word because I wanted to make sure she will still feel the same when she reads it.

After I submitted, I looked through my writing and found two more short pieces I had created through a writing exercise. I was in the mood and thought I would submit again in the future, so I worked them to fit the 66 word format. What made the exercise even more enlightening was that it was easier to edit the word count down than to build it back up once I had gotten to the core of the story.

ink-blot-logo Today, while enjoying the Wednesday Twitter chats: #writerslifechat, #creaturechat, and #storysocial, Allison Maruska was happy that she had a story up at The Drabble.

The Drabble publishes stories of 100 words of less. They have a great page that defines Drabble and they choose strong, interesting stories. I hope it will become a home for one of my very short stories. If you love  microstories, give them a try.

 

 

 

About Writing: Guest post by Michael Onofrey

picture of man sitting next to his dictionary on a grassy hill writing in the park

The urge to write is what got me into writing fiction, or trying to write fiction. And by “urge” I mean a feeling that I want to write. This was what motivated me and what continues to motivate me. I don’t think this is unusual—the urge to write. A lot of people have it. But of course those numbers diminish considerably when it comes to picking up a pen or sitting down at a keyboard.

It wasn’t until well into middle age, forty-five years old, that I sat down at a keyboard with the intent of writing fiction. Of course in college (community college and then university) I wrote papers (essays and book reports) like everyone else. But that’s different than composing fiction with the intent of submitting to publications. Of course all writing counts. I’m not belittling college. I’m simply distinguishing between college papers, with the exception of creative writing classes, and fiction for publication. I think anyone who has done both understands the distinction.

Also, in college I majored in U.S. History, which is now call American Studies. So my only background and my only qualification for writing fiction was, and is, reading books, fiction mostly. But there, too, I got a late start, for I didn’t begin to read until I was in my last semester of high school (Industrial Arts major). I could hardly read. This might strike some people as strange. But it’s not strange. A lot of people coming out of high school are poor readers.

An odd set of circumstances prompted me to pick up a book. I was dating a girl from another high school, which made our dating possible because we were of very different social circles, for if we had been going to the same school we wouldn’t have gotten together. But by going to different schools neither one of us, her in particular, suffered any social embarrassment, for high school life is all about cliques. She was a half a year ahead of me, which meant she would be graduating in June, whereas I wouldn’t be graduating until the following year at the end of January.

When summer rolled around, the summer of her graduation, university life about to begin for her in September, she jilted me, which, even though I expected it, sent me into a mental tailspin. Strangely, on the afternoon of that devastating phone call I started driving and wound up in front of a bookstore. She had mentioned the titles of books during our time together and I, for whatever reason, had remembered two—The Stranger by Albert Camus and Another Country by James Baldwin. Still dizzy with confusion, I went into that bookstore and asked for those two books.

What a way to begin reading, not to mention having to look up words on nearly every page. Fortunately, as if it were a minor miracle, I was able to follow the stories, and a window flew open and there I was, looking out at a new world.

Man carrying dictionary by a lake
“I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went”

I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went for eight years, and when loading up a backpack every bit of weight counts. I’m still a poor speller. I still consult a dictionary often for spelling and definitions and word usage. I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on reading, just as I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on serious writing. Six years after I started writing and submitting, a small literary journal (Words of Wisdom, North Carolina, a publication that has since ceased publishing) accepted one of my stories.

Six years—that’s a lot of rejection. And I still get a lot of rejection. My writing is not consistent, and I don’t think it ever will be, just as I will never be a good speller nor will my vocabulary have the natural range that it might have had if I had started reading at an early age. Okay, so that’s the way it is. A lot of other people have it worse. Imagine trying to write in Aleppo, Syria.

Writing will probably never be more than a hobby for me, and by hobby I mean an activity that doesn’t generate enough money for me to live on. I wish there was another word besides “hobby.” “Pastime” maybe? But that’s even more nonchalant than hobby. If I were teaching at a college or university, I could say that publishing stories, while getting little in the way of remuneration, was worthwhile because it adds to my curriculum vitae (CV), which might serve to boost my position and income. But I don’t teach at a college or a university.man carrying dictionary by some shops

In addition to not making millions there is rejection, which is always painful. In dealing with rejection, stoicism would be a nice rejoinder. After all, rejection is part of the weather. Even the most renowned writers have had work rejected, primarily before they became famous. There are only two choices when faced with rejection: feel the pain and move on, or feel the pain and give up. This isn’t about heroics. This is pragmatism. Most stories that are submitted to a publication are going to be turned down.

I’m hardly different from anyone else. I like acceptance. I write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and submit. Rejection, rejection, rejection. After six months or so, another look, another rewrite. Revising has become fun. I don’t know why. Maybe because it presents an opportunity to play with words and sentences, as well as ideas and point of view. I do give up on stories, but I keep them on file. Now and then an idea will occur that pertains to a story I’ve given up on. I’ll draw the story up and try the idea. And then I’ll submit. Hey, all they can do is turn it down. Now and then one of those formerly dead stories will get accepted.

Also in the hash are different publications with different editors who have different tastes. Usually a rejection carries no real comment, perfunctory comments yes, but no real comments. Every once in a while, though, there is a genuine comment. Some are encouraging. But some . . . On a couple of occasions an editor has given me a totally pissed off lambasting, boredom and tedious detail cited. I guess they had had it up to their necks with that stuff, dull writing and details, and took it out on me. Or maybe they had a hangover, or maybe they couldn’t meet a mortgage payment, or maybe they were in the middle of a divorce. Yet, within that same week that same story (respective stories, but at different times) got accepted by a publication which I had deemed more reputable than the one(s) the tongue-lashing(s) came from. Highs and lows—the landscape.

man with dictionary walking by rocks

“Highs and lows—the landscape.”

 

At other times, I had given up on a story only to have it accepted after a whole lot of time by the last publication where the story was still (as it turned out) under consideration. Recently a story of mine was accepted and published by a university journal after the story went through two years of rejection and rewrites—forty-seven rejections. Why did I keep at that story? Because I believed in it. Giving up on a story or continuing with rewrites and submissions is a tricky thing, a case-by-case thing. But—I keep all my stories on file.

Favorite authors—here’s the link to my listing on Poets & Writers where I’ve listed my favorite writers: http://www.pw.org/content/michael_onofrey

About books concerning reading and writing—I return again and again to How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.) by Francine Prose.

 

author Michael Onofrey bio picMICHAEL ONOFREY was born and raised in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. Over seventy of his short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines, in print and online, in such places as Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Snowy Egret, Terrain.org, Weber–The Contemporary West, and The William and Mary Review. Among anthologized work, his stories have appeared in Creativity & Constraint (Wising Up Press, 2014), In New Light (Northern Initiative for Social Action, 2013), Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest (University of New Mexico Press, 2013), and Imagination & Place: An Anthology (Imagination & Place Press, 2009). He can be found online at Directory of Writers, Poets and Writers, and on Facebook.

Why would a writer or a reader not want to learn new words?

The pages of a dictionary partially in shadow

Learning new words can be like discovering a new tool that makes a tedious task simple, or tasting a delicious flavor never sampled before.

I love to learn new words. When I come across a new word I enjoy or relate to, I collect it in my writing notebook in One Note and when I update my website, mbercreations.com, I include a new word on my inspiration page. I follow a couple of great word blogs here on wordpress.Sesquiotica by James Harbeck and WordBowl by Ms. Charlie Schroder.

A new vocabulary writing exercise:

A while back, when I was reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, I collected many words and brought my finds to my writing group. We decided to do a writing exercise in which we incorporated our favorite new words from my list into a short piece of fiction. I had been mulling around an idea for a sci-fi story for a while and decided to use it for this exercise. Just for fun, I used all of the words from the list that I could and found some more to create a short beginning to that story. I really enjoyed the exercise, but my piece was most definitely over the top and I put it aside while working on other things.

Revision: Deciding what to keep and what to change.

Recently, I decided to revisit this story for a class assignment hoping to continue to develop it, perhaps finish it, during the class. I expected to simply go through the less familiar words and replace them, but a number of them turned out to be the strongest choice. I didn’t find better words than tessellated and protean to describe parts of my monster rising from the sea and tenebrific truly describes the quality of its shadow. So some of the words I learned from the exercise stayed, and in my opinion began to define the voice of the narrator.

Disappointing feedback gets me thinking.

Imagine my disappointment when the feedback from my peers (three reviews) came to one consensus: they did not appreciate my word choice. The most complimentary said the words were too “technical” and another stated he did not like to look things up in a dictionary while reading. If not while reading, when?

The course is online. The readers are online while reading. How hard is it to split-screen with dictionary.com? Learning new words is easier than ever and people taking a writing class acted as if using a word that was unknown to them was some sort of personal affront. Pareidolia is a great word. If I saw it for the first time, I would be excited to look it up.

The words I used are not archaic or abandoned. They have unique meanings that clearly state what I mean to say.  Should a writer be expected to limit her vocabulary? Why shouldn’t she expect her readers to rise to the challenge? Why would a writer limit his joy of language in fear that his reader doesn’t know the same words he does and won’t pick up a dictionary?

How could anyone who wants to write fiction not want to explore every word and its many uses? Isn’t limiting one’s vocabulary to fit an imagined understanding, condemning readers to a  truncated experience? Isn’t it wiser to assume a love of language and use all of the tools and weapons at hand?

#NaNoWriMo Yes or No? The Pros and Cons of Participating in National Novel Writing Month

Maria L. Berg writing in her notebook in front of her portrait painted by E. Spencer Matthews entitled Maria Fights the Robot SpidersHave you heard of NaNoWriMo but are not sure what it is? Thought of trying it but wondered if it was worth it? I wrote the first draft of my novel this November and lived to tell.

Imagine: You’ve been dreaming of writing a novel since you were a little kid, but life got in the way. You’ve been mulling your story idea for years. Suddenly, the stars align and you are ready to write your novel. The leaves have turned and begun to fall and you know the holidays are coming. Do you sign up and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month? Will it be worth your time and effort?

This is where I was this October. I told myself, if everything lined up just right, I would do it. I have always been a self-motivated creator, but when it came to getting words on the page, my dream novel, the one I thought about when I dreamed of being an author, wasn’t happening. This year, NaNoWriMo helped me get that story started.

Before I had ever heard of (Inter)National Novel Writing Month (November): I had done research; I had a broad outline of the characters; I had even written a prologue and shared it with my critique group, but the story wasn’t getting written. I don’t know why, but I knew I had to get outside of myself to write this story. Ever feel that way?

I decided I would look into NaNoWriMo.  I wondered why so many people were talking about it.  The goal? To write a rough draft with a beginning, middle and end and at least 50,000 words in one month. It sounded impossible. Did I do it? Was it fun?

Let’s look at the Pros and Cons:

PRO CON
Developed my characters Lost storyline sometimes
Wrote lots of dialogue Didn’t feel like art more like a machine
Approached difficult scenes Paid too much attention to word count
Wrote most words in a day More difficult revision
I now know how much I can write in an hour and in a ten minute sprint My face broke out and my house got dusty
Learned about word crawls
Joined a write-in at a local book store
My inner critic really didn’t like it!

As you can see, the experience was more positive than negative.

One take-away that I will use throughout the year is Word Crawls. Word Crawls are games to motivate writing. Unlike prompts, they do not tell you what to write. The purpose of a crawl is to play a game of how much or how long to write. My friends compared them to D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) in that you choose characters and might roll dice to see what your character does next, but the fun part is you write a story within a story. My favorite was The Walking Dead Crawl. You can take a look at some word crawls at the WikiWriMo

Nation Novel Writing Month 2015 Winner Banner

When I had a fever in the third week, I didn’t think I would make it. Word crawls with my best friend got me through.

So for me, this year, YES, it was worth it. And it was (mostly) fun. If the timing is right and you feel ready, you can write a first draft of a novel in a month! And as a bonus, learn what motivates you and new ways to get words on the page.

Have questions about NaNoWriMo? Please ask in the comments.

Did you participate this year? What do you think? Yes or No?

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Be Prepared: Inspiration Can Surprise You!

A flooded play areaYesterday, I had my whole day planned–the whole week actually–but while wandering the blogs of wordpress, I happened upon Catherine Austen’s Blog – Deadline? What Deadline? She had a post about writing contests for kids that ended with some no entry fee writing contests for adults. As usual, I find a contest I’d like to enter just before (or directly after) the deadline, but one got me excited: Highlights Magazine’s Fiction Contest.

I’ve tried entering some of my short stories for adults in contests and submitted to a few magazines, but I hadn’t  thought of writing short stories for kids. I was focused on completing chapter books and writing query letters. I loved Highlights Magazine when I was little, especially searching for the hidden objects throughout the magazine. So, I got really excited.

The theme this year is mysteries. This was a little challenging. How to write a mystery for kids in 500-750 words. I researched past winners and mysteries for kids from the library, but finally found inspiration from a mini-mystery with a funny solution from my past.

Once I came up with my story idea, I took a nice, long walk. On my walk I came up with my characters names, traits and quirks. I thought about how to build up the mystery before revealing the solution and when I got home, I wrote three quick pages of notes.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell this story in 500-750 words, or if I will submit it to the Highlights contest, but I’m excited about my new characters and the little mystery could be part of a larger story. You just never know where inspiration will come from.

I happened up two other blogs that might inspire ideas:

https://first50.wordpress.com/

https://writingcontests.wordpress.com/

Have you found inspiration in any surprising places lately?

Exploring: “If You Want to Be Great, Think of Ways to Do Things Differently than Everybody Else”–Gene Ho

I found a great video that inspired me today.

I love finding things I’ve never seen, or even imagined before. Something so simple as trusting yourself enough to not look through the lens while taking a picture was exciting enough, but then when he grabbed a camera in each hand to show how you can take pictures behind your back while taking the shot in front of you, well I was delighted.

Revision: Ask for Help and Listen

Gator McBumpypants offers to help Herman

When you ask for help, you have to listen.

Today I finished the second book in the Gator McBumpypants picture book series, Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly. I thought it would come together more quickly and easily than the first book since I was ready for the formatting, but it ended up being about equally difficult because I was much more critical. Once I had the pdf ready to send off to createspace, I stopped myself: Since I was too impatient to step back for the time it would take to come at it with fresh eyes, I sent it off to two people I knew would give me the honest feedback I needed, a writer (who my writing group lovingly calls the comma police) and an artist (who sees the shapes in the empty space).

I admit I wasn’t completely surprised when I was told that the word angries isn’t a word. I like to make up words or use words in unexpected ways and we had already discussed it in writing group. I was a little surprised that it was the Artist who told me it stopped the flow of the writing and needed to be changed. The same artist who made an eight foot portrait of me called “Maria fights the Robot Spiders” (an obvious representation of my inner two-headed boob dinosaur), told me I needed to stay within the norms of word usage. So, after being only so slightly disappointed, I listened.

Then the feedback from The Writer: I believe I’ve mentioned I am the luckiest girl in the world. I called her worried that she plainly didn’t like it and didn’t want to tell me. No, she was coming up with wonderful changes for every other page by paragraph and sentence. One would think I might be disappointed by my imperfections, but I’m not: I’m  excited to know someone as mindful of good writing as I am that I can trust to find my flaws and be honest with me.

That is the main issue of wanting to share your work with the world; you have to be willing to ask for feedback AND listen to it, if you want to make your best work.

Exploring: Kindle Free Downloads – Lots of free books, why not?

Mt. Rainier reflected in Lake TappsSince I’ve been pushing my free kindle download all week, I decided to go explore the free kindle download offerings. I was pleasantly surprised.I now have an eclectic library on my Kindle Cloud Reader. I found children’s picture books. I found books on social media marketing. I found cookbooks. I found an exercise motivation book (which I needed). I found books on speed reading (so I can read all these books really quickly) and of course Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise. Last day, folks. Don’t miss your chance to download it for free!

So with all these fabulous free kindle offerings out there, why aren’t people’s libraries exploding? I have to admit, the kindle cloud reader and library weren’t exactly straight forward to use at first.

When you download a kindle book, it opens in kindle cloud reader while you’re at amazon.com, but when you go back to amazon.com, your kindle cloud reader isn’t on the menu. It is at https://read.amazon.com/. Also, when you search free kindle ebooks in the amazon.com search box, you don’t get the nice selection of kindle ebooks. I finally found them here.

Have fun exploring all the fabulous free books!

Revision: Adding Videos to Your Blog

You can see why I put this under the revision topic, I’m revising my post of Gator McBumpypants’ first movie. Why didn’t I think of this yesterday? So, how did I do it? It was much easier than I thought.

When I clicked on Add Media above my draft’s text box, like I usually do to add pictures, I looked around and in the column on the left I clicked on Insert from URL. In a new tab, I went to the Youtube page for Gator’s video and copied the URL. When I pasted it into the box, TADA!, the video is now playable on my blog. So fun.

Now that Gator McBumpypants and his friend Herman have a youtube page, they wanted to find some fun videos to share. First they subscribed to other children’s books about alligators. Hear are a couple fun book videos:

I tried to change the video sizes so they were about half as big in this post, but assigning height and width in the html didn’t work (I turned off mobile in theme settings as per instructions) Any one know how to change the video size?

This morning I had an idea for other content to add to Gator and Herman’s YouTube page: Alligator crafts! First I thought of origami, but to Herman’s happy surprise, the Pterodactyl origami video was WAY cooler.

The best video for alligator crafts (Gator forgives the artist for saying he drew a crocodile) so far was this one:

One thing I have yet to figure out is how to get the videos I’m following to come up in the right hand column of my video. Does anyone have any advice? I’ve made a favorite videos playlist, I’ve picked out kids book channels to follow, but none of these things are showing up when I play my video. If you’d like to see Gator McBumpypants and friends favorite videos playlist, it is a tab on their YouTube channel here. I’ll keep working on this and update when I figure it out.

While I was searching for fun Pterodactyl kids books, I happened upon this great video and learned something I think I don’t want to know– Pterodactyls Aren’t Dinosaurs!

Of course, I had to immediately do some research and if you wanna listen to Science then hears a link

However, if you wanna keep believin’ hears some info here

I’m not facing facts yet, and I’m not ready to share this with Gator and Herman, so sadly the great video did not get in their favorites, yet.

Another thought on revision– Learn from my mistake. Make sure to pay attention to current events before launching your marketing campaign. Planning my big push the same week as the Ferguson decision, could have been avoided if I was paying attention to current events. I had no idea this could be a factor, but it is what people are talking about and paying attention to (as they should). The story of a cute bumpy stuffed alligator is a bit out of place in that discussion, except for the theme of not being afraid of people different from you. Perhaps that could be part of the discussion with children. That said, when planning a marketing campaign, give yourself enough time to see what else is  happening during your time frame that could eclipse your efforts (again, as it should in my case).

Anyone have other video suggestions for Gator and Herman to add to their YouTube Favorites?

Exploring: Guest Posts

A small white rose

Each guest the petal of a flower

As the happy holiday season is now upon us and many writers are wrapped up in NaNoWriMo, time is  sucked away in more ways than usual and I’m guessing many blogs will be quite neglected over the next couple months. This made me think about guest posts. Not only looking to do some myself – gifts of time to my fellow bloggers, if you will- but also to invite bloggers to guest post here.

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I’ve set up a five day schedule with specific topics for each day and if you are new, here’s what I’m doing:

Monday- marketing, promotion, self-publishing, children’s picture books

A quilt of nature photos

Each a part of the Natural Tapestry

Tuesday- agents, query letters, middle grade fiction

Wednesday- Revision, re-writes

Thursday- Reading, book reviews, book lists, reading sites

Friday- Exploring, writing prompts, adventures, filling the creative well

Want to write on any of these topics? To be a guest writer on this blog, please let me know in the comments or send your post idea to mariaberg@mbercreations.com. Please, original (not previously posted on your blog) posts only. If I get enough interest maybe I’ll add Guest Post Saturday! I’m excited to get your outlook on these topics. Offering a guest post would be a lovely gift to me, to ease my fear and anxiety of running out of time to post while I make gifts, work on publishing the sequel to Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise, get over this stupid cold and try to revise my novel.

I look forward to hosting your fabulous writing and anyone whose interested in trading guest posts, or book reviews, I’d enjoy that as well. ‘Tis the Season for giving and I will do my best to give as much (or more) than I get.