Archive for category Short stories
I never intended to write a piece of historical fiction. I swear! But somehow my second story for the Mosaic collection morphed into much more than I’d ever expected.
It started as a timed prompt. I wrote a letter from a man destined to hang for a crime he didn’t commit during our 20 minutes. I probably wouldn’t have done anything else with it, except that Margie Deeb suggested we put some short pieces into our Mosaic collection to give it some variety. So I posted the letter to the members of our Cartel Collaborative for a critique and I also took it to my local writing group. Both groups said that the letter needed context. What was his crime? How could we know the guy was innocent? And what year was it? Why would a man in those times be able to write?
They were right, although at first I didn’t want to deal with their comments. Instead, I suggested removing the story from the collection. This was met with dismay. So I started fooling around with it, turning it into a story. The letter writer acquired a family, a background, a job. He became an apprentice wood carver. But then I had to figure out the time period. The letter had probably emerged during the timed writing because of long-ago history classes and long-ago read novels (I’d been a huge fan of children’s novels based upon historical figures while in elementary school).
The internet is a fabulous place, but it isn’t the easiest world to navigate if the first page or two of responses doesn’t tell you what you want to know. I paged through mounds of irrelevant sites, but eventually learned enough to set the story in the beginning of the eighteenth century when several wonderful events came together to make my story realistic. The first was the break between the followers of the Anglican Church and what were called the Dissenters, which led to major riots. Perfect, I thought. I’ll make my poor man a Dissenter. His father became an Anglican priest who kicked him out for his beliefs.
The second was the justice system. It was much more difficult to figure this out, since I put my man in Manchester, instead of London. I found information on London’s legal system, but not much on other towns in England. I contacted some scholars, but only heard back from one of them. He sent me a chapter of his book. It was pretty useless, as was a book I got on inter-library loan. But I slogged onward, making a few assumptions. As far as I could tell, hanging was a very popular way to deal with almost all crimes in the early eighteenth century. It amazed me how different the legal system was in those days, with victims and their supporters facing off in the courtroom against the accused and their supporters.
I downloaded maps of Manchester, and read what I could about the city, which was still a small town. Manchester had an awful prison, which sat on a bridge and flooded every time the river rose. Putting the letter writer in it added a wonderful detail to the story.
I discovered that most men could read and write in those days, but perhaps not as beautifully as my man, so I made him a renegade student for the priesthood. Each little fact like that had to be double-checked. Where would he have gone to school? Who would have saved his letters? How would they have been delivered (the post was obscenely expensive)?
Also, there was the question of who would find the letters, and how they’d been preserved. At first, I had a man find them and present them to a scholar, but that was too boring. My editor suggested something more personal; a parallel between the past and the present stories. That took some thinking, but my real protagonist came to life, a young American woman remodeling an old vicarage outside Manchester.
Doing all of this, I gained a new appreciation for the work which goes into every historical novel. Unless they’re set so far back in the past that you can make up everything, you have to dig and dig and dig and double-check even the tiniest of facts. And then be willing to revise your story when you discover it doesn’t hold water.
You can read The Woodcarver and the rest of the pieces in Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing for free by clicking here. We’d love it if you’d leave us an honest review at your favorite online retailers.
Thanks to Asafesh at Freeimages.com for the photo of a quill
With a sigh, Josephine dropped her head on the chest, hoping to catch a little of the jasmine scent Grandmother Rose used to wear, and feel again her grandmother’s kindness and love. She imagined burying herself in the old woman’s arms. If she could only bring her back to life, she would stop being so lonely and upset. But that, of course, was impossible.
The lid lifted easily, its leather hinges still intact. Velvet skirts covered in beads and mirrors filled the top tray. Again, she was a child. Her mother walked in the front door at Grandmother Rose’s in one of these outfits, her arms loaded with presents. Josephine ran to her, and she swung her around and around. Then Josephine ripped the paper off one of the presents to reveal a baby doll in a pink dress with a matching hair bow, exactly liked she’d wanted. She squealed and hugged her mother.
Her mother hadn’t stayed long, maybe a few days. After her mother left, Grandmother Rose held her while she cried herself to sleep. How many times had that happened before she’d learned not to get excited when her mother visited? The last time, the day of Rose’s funeral, she’d seen her mother park in front of the house, and she’d gone into her room and closed the door.
That’s an excerpt from my short story, Heritage. The full story can be read by downloading Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing, by the Cartel Collaborative. The book is free, and you can get it on Amazon by clicking the link below. Or go here to find other formats.
If you’re curious about the story behind the story, here’s a little bit about how I wrote Heritage.
This story was born out of a writing prompt in my local writing group. I no longer remember what the prompt was, but I remember what I free-wrote in our twenty minutes; Josephine took a necklace she’d found in her mother’s home to her aunt. I opened with Josephine driving up to her aunt’s home in a downpour.
With this, I had two themes: cleaning out the home of a mother from whom she had been estranged; and a beautiful old necklace found there, which belonged to her aunt.
The rewriting started immediately. At first, I attempted a very short story, which I took to my writing group. They found it too complex for something that short. It must be a novel, they urged. I went home and tried expanding it, adding a father, two brothers, and a host of relatives. It grew into a childhood of gypsy wanderings, with all kinds of complexities, but I couldn’t make it work. I researched old necklaces, trying to build a story around the one Josephine finds. Eventually, I abandoned the enterprise, but my subconscious kept the ideas alive, and the files stayed on my computer.
Along came James Lee Schmidt, with his suggestion to compile a book of stories. With a short deadline, I scanned back through my computer and found my abandoned novella. Why not pare it back to its origins? Goodbye brothers. Goodbye wandering childhood, and so many other unnecessary bits and pieces. Josephine, though, needed expansion. She was a cardboard character in my original story; she had to come to life. With more years of writing experience since the initial version, I knew this was key. Who was she – not just what she looked like, and what she did for a living, but what was her character like? What made her that way? I don’t want to give too much away, but I made her a high school physics/math teacher. To match that, she’s introverted, a bit intimidating, a bitter loner who takes refuge in numbers, yet she’s sweet underneath the hard crust.
This may sound like an awful lot of modification, but I think of a story as a wad of wet clay. So long as you keep it wet, you can create a bunny rabbit, wad it back into an amorphous form, make a horse, add a saddle, then change it into a donkey. Until it’s dried, it can become anything, and that’s half the fun.
Once I liked my story, I sent it my co-authors for critiquing. There were a few comments which were along the lines of “what are you talking about?” If a reader says that, I know something needs fixing, even if it isn’t the spot they marked, so I made a few more significant modifications — adding cousins, for one—and sent it back to them. There were far fewer instances of “huh?” this time. After that, it went to a professional editor. By now, I was pretty tired of this wad of clay, and it was getting dry, at least in my mind. Mirel Abeles, my wonderful editor, suggested brown eyes, longer ears, and a larger saddle. I saw the wisdom of most of her words, so I dug in hard one last time. Finally, came the day when she gave me a thumbs up and it seemed I had a nice tale, free of extraneous commas and other bloopers.
Now comes the hard part, at least for me, which is asking for your feedback. Please read it and leave a review on your favorite retailer (or all of them). Reviews are the only way we, as independent authors, get found. Thank you so much!
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and you’ve gotten your free copy of Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing by The Cartel Collaborative. If not, I set up a permanent page over the weekend where you can get it off my site, just by clicking the above link. For those who want paper, sorry, we couldn’t do a paper book without charging you, and we couldn’t decide how to we split our twenty cent profit between our eight wonderful authors, so we decided to be all electronic. 😉 That said, you can get it in just about any electronic format you can imagine.
I’m proud and excited about this professionally edited, professionally designed, book of short stories, short short stories, and poems. I enjoyed re-reading my collaborators’ stories when I proofed them, and we’re getting great comments from others who’ve read them. Please take the time to leave us a review (at least click some stars!).
Now for another plug. If you live in New York City, I am so jealous, because you can go see my wonderful nieces perform this Wednesday, at Gibney Dance. I don’t know if this fundraiser is open to the public, but here’s the Fb page. If I could, I’d fly out to see it. Audrey’s been dancing since she was four, and every adjective I see about her is in the category of amazing. I’ve only seen her live once, and she was still in middle school ( 😦 ). I’ve seen videos and she deserves the praise. Theresa is doing a reading – she’s published a series of short stories in literary journals. They’ve banded with other artists, to put together a creative evening of live music, dance, and more. I so want to go! Oh, I said that already, but it bears repeating.
In other news, I spent the weekend getting cold weather veggies (parsnips, beets, spinach, …) in the ground and beginning the task of setting up an author WEB site. It’ll be awhile before that site is ready….. Oh, and go on over to shortfictionbreak.com to read my short story, Columns.
Here it is, guys, in all its glory! I feel as if I’ve talked about it enough. You’ll find the links below to get it FREE. Here’s Christy’s synopsis:
Mosaic is a collection of short stories and poetry ranging from serious to light-hearted. Follow Leonardo as he learns what his inventions have inspired. Wyatt finds hope in a time of darkness. One man learns that even in death his loved ones aren’t really gone. Josephine learns about a mother she hardly knew. Jane attempts to heal from the loss of her father during 9-11. Griffin learns about life on his journey to become a leader. Tracy learns something about the past that leads her to the future. Daniel’s magic pencil makes his drawings come to life. A child is haunted by the thoughts in his head. Zac finds exactly what he needs during an afternoon at a theme park. Sprinkled throughout is a collection of poetry sure to stir up emotions. Inspired by The Story Cartel class, each author brings their own unique style, offering something for everyone.
To find out more about us and the project, go to our WEB site: http://thecartelcollaborative.com
You can get it in just about any electronic format you want – .pdf, kindle, ibook (sorry, I don’t have the ibook link), nook, whatever your heart desires. It should be free on all of these sites (please let me know if it isn’t so I can fix the issue). Click your favorite link below:
To get the .pdf, click the book cover. Otherwise, click on the logo for the site.
After Margie created the 146 page .pdf, which you can download for free tomorrow here, or from my fellow author’s pages, if you prefer pdfs over kindle, nook, etc. (links will be up here), someone had to transform it into a .doc and get it onto all of those places. I took on this task, following the Smashword style guide to create a .doc file and run it through the lovely program called Meatgrinder (can you think of a worse name?). I tired to make it look as much like Margie’s lovely book as I possibly could (please, please don’t download the .pdf off of Smashwords. It’s not nearly as pretty as Margie’s version, for some reason). Smashwords distributes almost everywhere, except Amazon, so I uploaded it there as well. Christy Zigwied, the last author profiled, below, composed a description.
So the book was ready, but then came marketing. So let me introduce Lee, our main marketing guru (it really does take a village), who has given us all kinds of advice (most of which, we’ve probably ignored, being, you know, introverted writer types who wish the marketing part would magically happen on its own). But a little bit sunk in, I hope. (Sorry, Lee. Maybe as the weeks pass we’ll use more of it. I sure hope so).
Lee J. Tyler
Lee apparently loves to surf the WEB for advice about writing and marketing. So, as we went along, she kept putting up helpful links about these topics, and jumping in and suggesting this and that to smooth our way. As I said above, lately she’s been really great, just at the point where most of the rest of us began to freak out (at least, speaking for myself. Maybe everyone else totally has marketing under their belts, but it scares me no end). I’ve been getting about ten emails a day from her.
This brilliant woman contributed a story about a woman who lost her father on 9-11 to Mosaic. She has a novel in progress, as well as a mystery series. You can find her at www.thepointofthequill.com and www.leejtyler.com/about-me/
Last, but not least, we have Christy, who not only contributed a short story to Mosaic, but wrote the book blurb. Christy’s story focuses upon people helping others. There’s of course a dog who brings them together.
Christy was often the first one to jump in with suggestions when anyone raised a question (again that village thingy). She’s working on two novels. You can find her at www.christyzigweid.com.
Since it’s Sunday, I thought I’d reveal our cover. Also, because I’ll say a few words below about Angie, who designed the cover.
Isn’t it beautiful! And you can get our book for free, starting Wednesday, March 25th.
Yesterday, I mentioned the first drafts, then the critiques. After getting their first critiques, each author rewrote their pieces, using the critiques to improve the plot lines and flow. Some added more tension, some made their characters more interesting, all kinds of things. My one story expanded from a short thousand or so words to about two thousand, as I recall. We critiqued all the pieces again (round 2, but it was a good idea). After that, everyone went their own way for a while, as we edited and then each hired our own professional editor.
I was surprised and delighted that I liked working with my editor. I’d never really done this, but she nailed the issues with my stories (and two thousand words became 4600 in the original short-short). Without her, they wouldn’t have been so delightful (at least I sure hope you’ll like them). I’ll write more about what came next, but today I want to introduce our cover artist, Angelique Mroczka, and our fourth writer, Brian Rella.
Angie is a visual artist, as well as a writer, and the owner of a small publishing company. She creates amazing covers for books, as you can see, runs workshops for writers, does one-on-one coaching, blogs, runs a podcast, and seems to do a million other things. If you go to her WEB site, you can snag her short story book. We’d hoped she would contribute a story for Mosaic, but all of those zillion other things kept her too busy. I have to say that her Web site is stunningly beautiful, but what else would you expect from this amazing woman?
I don’t know if I’m making the book seem easy, but there was lots going on behind the scenes. Brian would step in and offer wisdom, encouragement (and oh, do writers need that!), and help any time it was needed. He contributed one of the longer stories in Mosiac, an intriguing tale of coming of age, human conflict and wise beings. When we started the book, Brian had never published anything, but he had a wonderful short story, Scarlach, appear at strangerviews.com. It’s available for free, along with another entertaining story, The Bathroom Incident at Dunmaster Academy, at his WEB site, www.brianrella.com.
Again, I’ve got to say, this project couldn’t have happened without every single author jumping in and doing their part. We all learned so much from each other.
Putting together a book like Mosaic: a collection of creative writing (to be released on March 25th!) is a lengthy process. I certainly had no idea how much work would be involved when I raised my virtual hand and said, ‘yes! I’ll do it.’
To start with, we had to do two things: write a draft of our stories, and come up with a plan.
The first part was pure fun for me. I love inventing stories. The second part was a little more tedious, but, between our more experienced writers, and the congeniality of the group, we decided that each story would go through two rounds of critiques, and then everyone would hire their own editors. We also decided not to charge for the book (which means that you’ll be able to get it for free!) Angelique Mroczka offered us a cover design – wait until you see the gorgeous job she did. Oh, and we came up with deadlines and the other details of getting something truly professional into print.
Our first deadline arrived. Ten people submitted works. So far so good. It was time to critique. Critiquing is an art, similar, but different from editing. One of the things which I find difficult is noting what’s good about a piece, especially when they’re a little raw, as some these were. What’s good might be the concept, the plot, the characters, or all of it. Then there’s what’s not working and some suggestions for how to fix it. Some critiques were almost as good as any professional edit, while others were pretty casual. Anyway, we (mostly) all read every piece and posted our critiques.
Then we had to read all of those critiques. Some of mine were pretty tough to take. It was clear that one of my two stories didn’t work at all. What a bummer. I’d written a short short (less than a thousand words), and it had to be completely rethought, re-plotted, etc. I remember tearing my hair out. I wanted to remove it, and I wasn’t the only author who had that reaction.
More about the process tomorrow! But now, I want to introduce two more of our amazing contributors, Stef Gonzaga and S. J. Henderson.
Stef has five poems in Mosaic. Initially, we’d planned on a book of short stories, but she wanted to write poems, and I’m so glad she did. They’re lively short pieces, which completely change the flavor of the book. There’s one about a snake (my personal favorite?), and one about love, and – well you’ll just have to read them, won’t you?
Besides being our only poet, she’s the only contributor who doesn’t live in the United States. Lots of onlies! She’s a writer and editorial manager for DesignGood, and has several books available on her WEB site (another collaborative project, a workbook on creativity, and more). Her techie skills were invaluable in allowing us to finish this project, and she set up our WEB site (yes, we have one!!!). Head over to learn more: stefgonzaga.com
S. J. Henderson:
The most important thing you need to know about S. J. is that she loves to ride horses (can you tell from the photo?). I’m kidding, but they do seem to play a very important role in her life. Actually, the most important thing you should know is that she has published two wonderful, funny, children’s books for the 6-12 age group, Daniel the Draw-er, and Daniel the Camp-er, and is working on a YA fantasy/horror novel (it’s fantastic, guys, really. I was a beta reader for her. I just wish she had published it already, so I could give you the link and you could buy it). Another important fact is her love of coffee. She has one not-at-all funny piece about autism and one hilarious piece about Daniel in Mosaic.
S. J., as the only one of us who’d self-published novels, provided lots of wisdom and advice as we stumbled along towards publication. She’s been a fount of information, and a steady head throughout, as well as a damn good critique-er who can see plot holes everyone else misses. I deliberately didn’t link to her novels up above, because you simply have to go to her WEB site, where you can get autographed copies. sjhenderson.net
Are you starting to get the idea that collaboration can be amazing?
Thanks to Naurich at freeimages.com for the photo of balloons.