June Rodriguez
JUNE: Okay let's get to work ladies. So last time we all talked about doing an entry for "WOMAN"S WORLD" romance and Sarah was the only one to take the first dive into the pool. I like the story but it needs some work. Is there a way to dissect what is the best way to write for this type of story contest?

SUNNY: Dissect is the right word. I think when writing for any publication, study the site, get a feel for their readership, and then put several examples of the story in front of you. I look for "tells." Do they run more fictional stories with 1st person or 3rd? Male protags or females? Small towns or international cities? Are they more likely to run "lesson" stories, humor, touchy-feelie or somber? How much dialog is on the page? Are the protags in a certain age range? What is the level of vocabulary choices?

With enough practice, you'll be able to do this on automatic pilot. For now, writing down observations and sharing them can help us crack the code.

DORI: Based on Sunny's dissection techniques, we decided to do a group project. Since Sarah is tackling writing a romance short story for Woman's World, June (as always) graciously copied off five stories from different issues for each of us. We have tasked ourselves to each read the same five stories, then report back next week on what we saw as the patterns between them. We'll compare notes and see how close we get to cracking the code to submission for one venue. I'm excited about this experiment and can't wait to see what the results are next week.

JACKIE: I think each of us dissecting the Woman's World stories is excellent. We will all learn so much from viewing these pieces from different perspectives. I think we should follow one of Sunny's old strategies and see who (if interested) can crack the mags code and publish first--Sarah has a head start...

SARAH: I'm most interested in seeing what Dori and Sunny come up with. LOL It's like Cagney and Lacey take on La Nora!! This is going to be good.

I'd read a couple of the romantic fiction stories in WW and thought it would be worth the challenge of trying to find their rubric. I've never written a short story and switching gears from a word goal of 90K for my MS to an 800 word short story was tough. LOL You ladies know how chatty I am! 800 words is like a Cliff's Notes version of a conversation with me!

JACKIE: Hence the term, FLASH fiction!

SUNNY: There are tricks to writing flash fiction. Wait until you try a contest with a 300 word max. My main concern is that I don't write romance and I don't like "clue" mysteries. I'm going to try writing a romance, but I just know I'll get the urge to kill someone in the story!

JACKIE: I think studying the formula of Women's World Mag will benefit me in that one, I am trained to study, in a convenient and straightforward way, the expectation of a publisher-it doesn't matter if the mag is high-scale or not; and, secondly, it offers me a way to practice my craft so I may receive some instant gratification. I will not be so snobby, because I realize the author may be a talented AND shrewd artist who has found a school that pays THEM!

JUNE: So the challenge is on. We need a door prize for the first to publish. How about the winner buys dinner at a restaurant a step up from the local bar and grill.

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SARAH: So, I realized something last night. Personal feelings have no place at the table. I got pretty frustrated with the comments about my short story and took everyone's words personally. Yes, I lost my cool, which is rare, but once I could rationalize past my stubborn logic, I "saw" what everyone was saying. It's still my story and characters-- you gals just helped me see the real story within my story. Lucky for me, you all have been in my shoes at some point and could understand that I just needed to process the information. Thanks for your help. I think with your suggestions and my way with words, I'll have an even better story.

SUNNY: I was pretty rough on you last night when you went into defense mode. I'm glad Dori was there to re-mix my words and make them come out more palatable. It frustrates me when a writer says, "But now it's not my story." If you're writing a novel, that's a legitimate point. But when writing a short story for publication with the intent of making money--heck, take all the help from around the table that you can!

I felt like your story was the clay and we all dug in with our fingers, pushing here, pulling there until we came up with a Grecian urn. I mean, I HOPE that's what we came up with. Your rewrites will let us know.

DORI: I read an interesting article in the September 2009 edition of Writer's Digest that seems to apply. In his article, Your Goal: Become a Better Writer, Joshua Henkin wrote that "[r]evision is just that --re-vision, seeing something anew--and that involves listening carefully to what people tell you and then making it your own." He goes on to say that real revision "separates the men from the boys and women from the girls." Sarah, you have what it takes to separate yourself from the pack. Yes, it's difficult to hear that what you thought was good writing falls short of that mark. That doesn't make it bad writing, it's just that you can do better. We're here to be tough on each other to push each other to be the best writer we can be. Best part is that once you set your mind to it you won't disappoint us and in the process you will surprise yourself with what you are truly capable of.

SUNNY: I stayed up way late last night running the meeting over in my head. Aren't we just like the judges in American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and America's Best Dance Crew? We're all good writers, but that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement. We're not here to be "okay" writers; we want to coax the best possible writing out of each other. The alternative is to go back to square one, learn the basics slowly, hit all the walls, experience setbacks, work your way up to where the light bulb goes on and then stand on a pedestal and admire your accomplishments. That's about a 10-year process. Does anyone have a decade of their life to devote to this? I get impatient waiting 30 seconds for the microwave to heat something.

Why not take the help? Maybe you can't run as fast as the rest of us at first, but your critique-mates are there to grab both arms and get you over the finish line. Think about the lessons in detail while you catch your breath. Learn as you go.

SARAH: After ruminating over the weekend on the changes, I'm excited to see if my 2nd stab at it cuts the mustard. I couldn't bake worth a plug nickel when I got married. LOL My first stab at a short story is kind of like the first time I made my mom's peach cobbler. I set the oven on fire and gave my SIL a great "Sarah Story" in the process. BUT one thing about me, I'm a quick learner. I haven't had anymore baking fires and even if I did, my SIL gave me a fire extinguisher for Christmas that year. So, I guess that makes you gals my writing extinguishers!

DORI: Ah, but now you are lighting up the writing world with your fiery words. May those fires never be doused!


Join us for our round table group. Ask us a question. See inside our Friday night world.
June Rodriguez
SUNNY:
Sarah how did the rewrites go on your contest entry?

SARAH:
Good. I just fixed the 4 words I forgot and the two words I needed to combine. After that, I listened to all of you and left it alone! It was a hard to do, but I survived. LOL I have no fingernails left, but the final entry went in Thursday.

JUNE:
When did you say you would hear back about the final results? What did you do to check out the judge?

SARAH:
The top 5 scoring entrants for each category are sent to an editor at Avon. She will select the Grand Prize winner. The final results will be announced in early October. LOL Yes, I admit it. I cyber-researched the editor. My hubby would call it "stalking", but I'm going with calling it "research"! She judges a lot of contests and of the few I saw listed, she doesn't seem to request a lot of MS from contests. That was good to know. I think it helped take some pressure off of me. LOL No need for extra gray hair- my kids give me enough! But I'm very interested in what advice and comments she'll give.


JACKIE:
Good for you Sarah! You will have a knockout story, of that I have no doubt.
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JUNE:
Dori did you get your short story into the Dead Bird contest for Sisters in Crime? When do you find out the results? Can you send your story into more than one contest at a time?

DORI:
I turned it in at August's meeting, which was the deadline for entries. The theme was Death Dines Out. Results will be announced at the October meeting on the 3rd, so not long to wait. I'm not holding my breath though, as this was my first attempt. Even if it doesn't do well, it's a good story so I entered it into two other contests, Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Contest and Narrative Magazine's short story contest. The requirements for submission to those two contests, like others, is that it hasn't been published and hasn't yet won a contest "at the time of submission." By submitting now I avoid the problem of winning with the short story, then not being able to submit it after. That's what happened with my short story One Less Victim. I wrote it for the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition (results out in October), but also submitted a shorter version of the story to SEAK's 2009 National Fiction Writing Competition for Lawyers where it took first place, with a nice $1,000 check. However, now I can't submit it to most competitions as it has already placed. Although it's still a go for Writer's Digest since it hadn't been a winner at the time of submission. Now, the next step is to seek publication, since with the SEAK contest I retained publishing rights. I have submitted that story to Narrative Magazine for consideration. In addition, I was asked by the Connecticut Bar Association for rights to publish in their annual report, which was cool.

SUNNY:
Dori, you also have a shot at the Baby Bird. That's for anyone who has entered for the first time. Doesn't exclude you from placing higher, but gives you a second shot at taking home a trophy.

It never matters if it's your first attempt at a story or your 23rd. The playing field always starts out level in any contest you enter.

SARAH:
Wowza, Dori! What a buffet of contests! And then to have the CBA ask for your story in their report, heck, that's worth an instant trip to the dessert bar! LOL Have you ever thought of submitting your Death Dines Outs entry to an e-pub that takes short stories? I think with the romantic element in your story, you could try a romance e-pub.

JUNE:
I agree with Sarah. We will look for other sites for you to enter. It is a great story and the more diverse you are with your entries the more chances you have of multiple wins. A great way to build up your platform.
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SUNNY:
I didn't do much writing this week, or anything else. Instead, Dori and I decided to sit in on the Dave Hawk murder trial.

JUNE:
You guys really sat in on the "HAWK TRIAL" so what can you do with the info from that?

SUNNY:
Dori, being a lawyer, had a different take on the proceedings. I went for "color." My notebook is filled with observations: first impressions of the jury, local attorneys vs. hired guns, how the courtroom artist made witnesses look ghastly. Thank goodness she'll never draw me! The financial stuff was BORING, but hearing Dave's girlfriend and children on the stand was worth getting up early. You know I'm going to fictionalize the heck out of this and do my own take in a future mystery!

DORI:
Being in the courtroom as an attorney is very different than being an observer. Gave me a chance to see things in a different light. I too have pages of notes, with a focus on dialog, reactions, mannerisms, and the court atmosphere. What I wouldn't give though to be in the jury room as they deliberate. The evidence in this case is highly circumstantial with high emotions running in the courtroom. The jury has been charged with a difficult task in this case.

Sitting in the courtroom has already generated a short story idea I'm already pounding away at. Can't wait to bring it to the group.

SARAH:
I was called for Jury Duty and wound up being pulled as a potential juror for that case. I would have loved to sit on the jury or been in the courtroom to watch the events unfold. Unfortunately, I have too many obligations at home to stand on such a time consuming trial. I'm glad you gals can give us the 4-1-1! I can't wait to see what you ladies come up with.

JUNE:
Your first hand information could be a valuable idea spark for me as well. Sex and romance is always at the bottom of everything that we do.



How have you handled rewrites for contests?
Have you been part of a perfect research moment?
Join us at our table again next Monday to see what we have been writing about.
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June Rodriguez
SARAH:
I've got some good news to share! I just found out that I'm a finalist in 2009 The Golden Gateway Contest. I'm so thrilled with my scores! The suggestions the judges made were a little confusing because one or two of the comments seemed like they should have resulted in lower scores. What should I do?

JUNE:
Congrats Sarah. That was a good contest to enter. They gave you a lot of feedback. So now you have to decide how much of what they said about your story you are going to use and what you will not use. The one thing you have to remember is that this is your story and ultimately you are the writer. Don't lose your voice in what you write.

SUNNY:
The second thing you have to remember is that you only have a four-day deadline. While the temptation to address all the issues in the contest critiques will be great, don't try to make an immense rewrite. Your scores were so high, I would stick to spelling errors and missing words.

DORI:
Wish I had been there to hear the big news firsthand, but share in everyone's congratulations and cautions. No judge is going to give a perfect score, so your's are as close as they come. I agree with Sunny that you should resist the urge to rewrite. Look for those things, like spelling and grammar problems that when fixed will make your writing more professional and polished. Also, keep in mind that this is your first attempt at such a contest, but it is not the last one available to you. Trust yourself and your writing.


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JUNE:
Some of us (me) have a problem reading first person. It takes a different thought process than what I am used to. Critiquing 1st person is still a learning environment for me. You guys have more experience with it in mysteries and thrillers. What are some of the areas to watch for in writing this style? Would P.O.V. be a possible trouble topic?

SUNNY:
I'd never thought about 1st person being a reading problem. Does it have something to do with genres? You're right--mystery readers are very used to 1st person, the story told from the sleuth's POV. It can be restraining because we don't jump POV much.

I do both 1st and 3rd, depending on how I approach the story. While my novels are in 3rd, many of my short stories are in 1st. And, as all of you know from our critique sessions, I'm trying a novel in both 1st & 3rd delineated sections. Have no idea if I can pull it off.

DORI:
Wow, sorry I missed this conversation. As a thriller writer, 3rd person multiple POV is the norm for me. However, in my foray into short story writing I have contemplated using 1st person, but haven't done so until now. I'm working on a new short story where it will only have the affect I want by telling it in 1st person. As a mystery reader I'm familiar and comfortable with reading in 1st person, so long as it's not written in present tense. That is still a writing form that I find distracting for some reason and can't get into reading.

Bottom line is that POV should fit the type of story being written. As to what to watch for, the key issue with 1st person is that the reader can only know what the 1st person character knows. That means that anything that happens offstage outside of the character's view, hearing, etc. has to be conveyed to the character some other way, such as a phone call or report from another character. Also, means that we never get to know what another character thinks, we only know what our 1st person character thinks they're thinking sort of thing. One advantage of 1st person, and perhaps this is what you're not used to, is the reader can develop an intimacy with this character in a way that's distinctly different from 3rd person. On the other hand, perhaps you are struggling with reading the word "I" too many times. I think that's a challenge when writing 1st person. Too many Is stands out to the reader and can interrupt the flow of the story. Starts to feel like you're reading I, I, I . . . . So perhaps you could help, as a critique partner, to find ways to convey the same information and avoid the use of another "I" if possible.

SARAH:
There's no quicker way to whip an author into a froth quite like trying to take a bite outta POV. I know I have a hard time with 1st person. Like beacons, all the I's catch my eye. I get distracted AND I feel robbed being only in one person's POV. I'm nosy! I want the 4-1-1 from every character. As a suggestion, look at how other authors blend POVs or master the art of 1st person. No better way to learn than by example.

SUNNY:
But, don't you ladies think that often the story itself dictates whether it's to be in 1st person or 3rd? I have a feel for who's telling the story at the conception. I've also suggested that when a person is struggling to make the decision, try a few paragraphs both ways.

As for present tense, the only author I feel pulls it off is Chuck Palahniuk. I'm sure there are more, but that's who I read.
JUNE:
Let us know what you think about our group dynamic. What is your take on contests and P.O.V.
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June Rodriguez
We are a tightly formed critique/edit group consisting of both aspiring and published authors. Step into our world each week as we explore our strengths and weaknesses, and our highs and lows. Join us as we work our way through the writer’s path.
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