June Rodriguez
JUNE: We always start our sessions with a little social time and sometimes a little challenge. We have gotten to know each other pretty well and Sunny’s idea of being able to suggest a writing genre for each other was a fun idea.

SUNNY: We're all writing what we love, but I'd like to know what you think the others in the group SHOULD be writing.

JUNE: Most of us have some Scottish background but I could see Jackie writing a fantasy with Scottish fairies. Sarah could write contemporary, humorous chick-lit. I think Dori is on the right track with her legal stories.

SUNNY: I think Dori should write the crisis going on in her life and having to go back to the courtroom to support her family. That's an Oprah book. Jackie has this great carnival background; I'd love to see something in the vein of “Water for Elephants." Sarah, when are you going to do a contemporary chic-lit about a lactose intolerant woman who works at a mozzarella factory and deals with Portuguese in-laws? June "Night Shift." Ex-WAVE returns as a civilian to a military installation.

DORI: Sunny needs to write something with cats; Jackie horror ala Stephen Kingesque; Sarah definitely has a calling to write chick lit with a snarky humorous twist and June needs to write the "Night Shift" while tapping into her wild side.

SARAH: Sheesh! You gals think I'm funny and everyone else looks at me like, "Huh?" I guess I have found some friends who "get me." Or ya'll are just as weird as me!! LOL Hmmm. . . . Let's see, I think Jackie should write something about fairies or folklore. Dori- definitely legal thrillers or maybe a mystery ala John Grisham. Sunny? Totally, a series based on hot sexy Cougars on the prowl! Meow! For June, I am in full support of the Ex-WAVE series. Who doesn't like Fleet Week?! LOL

JACKIE: You know, June, you have unleashed fairies in my imagination. I think I like your vision. I will enjoy exploring this. The possibilities are so rife... beautiful wings tinged with iridescent blood designs. LOL. Seriously I COULD indeed have fun with this, thanks!

JUNE: What is backstory dump and how do we deal with it in the context of a novel or a short story?

SUNNY: I took a random sample of books on my shelf and noticed that backstory comes at around page 50. Not a hard and fast rule, but the reader is far enough into the story at that point. Putting backstory in too early is called "Frontloading."

DORI: Even though you may be far enough into the story for backstory to be appropriate, you still need to be careful with how you integrate backstory. Backstory is best provided in snippets, if possible. Large backstory dumps stop the flow of the story. In particular, you have to be careful of where you place backstory. Putting backstory in the middle of action, for instance, can break the tension the author worked hard to achieve and knock the reader out of the scene. The other thing to consider is how much of the character's backstory is important for the story. You don't want to provide any more or less than what's needed for the story's plot.

SARAH: It's hard to know when enough is enough. I know I had that issue with the chapter you gals read last week. I knew the secondary character is essential to the book because my next WIP is his story. BUT I went too far into detail and as a result made his "past" too intriguing. Sure, he is a player in my current 'game', it's just he's more like an outfielder. LOL I guess it's like dating, always leave them wanting more- aka NO getting past first base!
SUNNY: I love creative words. Heck, I've even been known to create my own when none will do. But, swamping a reader with so many "colorful" words actually jades them. I prefer to take the reader along and then slam them with a phrase that makes them sit up and think, "Wow! This writer knows what she's doing!" You don't have to be brilliant every time, just when the time is right. Keeps the reader on their toes.

DORI: Word choice in large part also depends on the narrator's own voice. For instance, in my newest short story (that you all so wonderfully helped critique last night) the narrator is a highly educated intellectual type, so his word choice is more bombastic than a less educated, more streetwise sort of protagonist. Even so, it is important not to use too many such words (such as bombastic) that the average reader won't recognize.

SUNNY: Ohhh, I like the word "bombastic!"

SARAH: That story was definitely envy-worthy, Dori! You did such a great job of making the character so vivid, so flesh and blood, I could care less that I didn't even know his name. The word choices for the dialogue and internal thoughts made the character. No contractions, sophisticated words, and even syntax were spot on, lady! Way to practice whatcha preach!

I have to watch my sayings as I'm writing a historical. I save the modern day stuff for you gals. LOL

SUNNY: I teach short story writing and I've isolated what I believe are four elements that elevate a short story to a prize-winner. Here they are:

Authenticating details. Use them like chocolate chips in a cookie. Let readers be pleasantly surprised when they hit one.

Best line. It's the line you worked hardest at, or the words that came in a moment of genius. Caution: too many “best lines” wear readers out.

Universal message. A story can, and should, be more than a story. I find my “message” usually comes at the halfway point in the story. It may also be the best line.

Tell-Me-Something-I-Don't-Know. A story stays in a reader's head when they can put the story down and tell someone, “Did you know such-and-such (insert fact or trivia)?” It explains why we enjoy “CSI” so much.

JUNE: Your best word choice or phrase could be your title. I think your title should always come from somewhere in your work.

DORI: June thanks for coming up with a better title for my latest short story. She lifted the new title directly from the pages of my story. It was absolutely the perfect title for this story, but I didn't see it until she pointed it out last night.

My first foray into short story writing was an eye-opening experience. Some time during my process of writing the story Sunny gave me her four elements. I took her advice to heart and made sure that my story effectively addressed all four. I submitted that short story to a national writing contest and took first place and put $1,000 in the bank as a result. Of course, I still had to write a good story.

SARAH: Another story to envy. Good grief! Makes a struggling newbie wanna hurl a pretzel at her! LOL But, I have to agree. Sunny's Four Elements are a great tool for a writer thinking about taking that step into short stories. The only thing I would add to the four tips is to know your market. If its mystery or romances, a writer better have done thier homework to know what the best way to apply the tips will be. So, Cliff's Notes version is: Here's a recipe, make it your own.

JACKIE: Dori's win inspired me to enter a contest as well where I won second place. It felt like I won the moon. Even though, at the time, I was not aware of Sunny's Four Elements; upon reflection I see that they were in my short story as well. As it was a narrative about an historical event from my perspective as a child, the proper use of authenticating details, great lines, and seven-year-old trivia all worked together to build the universal message that resounded with readers.

Which brings me to another universal message. That five writer women around a table at 10:00 p.m. Fridays magically pull wonderful and enticing possibilities from each other!
June Rodriguez
DORI: I have more examples of magazines that pay for short fiction stories. I'm still looking at contests, but realize that you have to think about the cost associated with entry. Some are no fee some $10 to $15, but with a very limited income even these small fees add up and in the end there's little likelihood of money or publication. I presented to the group information about a current contest called The Genre Wars being sponsored by the Literary Lab blogspot folks (for more information go to http://www.literarylab.blogspot.com/). Winners get a small dollar gift card to their favorite book store and get published in their first annual Genre Wars anthology. Profits from the anthology will support a yet to be named reading/writing non-profit. For those of us looking for publishing credits this is a great opportunity as there is no cost to enter. They are looking for shorts between 1 to 2,000 words. I just finished a 1,500 word crime genre short story that fits the bill. Can't wait to hear from you guys next week on what I can do to make it a stronger submission.

SARAH: I'm sure it will be great, Dori. You have a wonderful voice and I think your ideas are fresh and inventive.

SUNNY: There are limited options for fiction stories, but what about writing articles for magazines? We each have things going on in our lives that we could riff off of and do non-fiction pieces. List articles are short and easy to write.

JUNE: Like saving money in these tough times, recipes, sewing or even personal experiences. Ideas are popping up as we talk. I have a crafty bent but never thought about turning those ideas into saleable material.

SUNNY: There's a copy of Writers' Market in the library. I was sort of surprised at the magazines NOT listed, like Woman's World and For Women First. But, it was interesting to note that many magazines were more than 50% written by freelancers. And, airline magazines were the high-paying markets. Something like $300 to $700 an article!

SARAH: I wonder if they have 2500 entries a week like Women's World. LOL For that kind of cash, articles better be as polished as a politician's Mercedes.

DORI: Based on Sunny's research I realized that my author interviews could be marketed to regional markets based on where the author lives or sets their books. In addition, airline magazines that fly to those regions would be another potential place to market the interviews. This would be a win-win for both me (getting paid for the work I now do for free) and for the author (they would get a lot more exposure from the interview). I'm in the process of finishing up interviews for Phillip Margolin and William Dietrich who both live in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington, respectively) and so I'm going to focus trying to market them to the same magazines and see what happens. Can't hurt, as I'm doing the work anyway. Look forward to reporting back the results.

SARAH: That is an interesting idea, Dori. You might think of the tourism magazines that one would find in a hotel, too. I wonder if your concept would work in romance. LOL I've got over 40 interviews collecting cyber-dust.

DORI: Absolutely, dust them off baby!

JUNE: We had trouble finding any info on Woman’s World as they do not have a web site. And as you said the magazine was not in Writer’s Market. I found that going to the magazine distributor’s site http://www.magsdirect.com/ was a good source of info on the demographics of the magazine's readership and a break down of the magazine’s article content. You can even write a review of one of their magazines to be entered to win a gift card.

SUNNY: When I was sick and had LOTS of time to think, I made a list of topics I thought I could intelligently write about. I even jotted down notes until I ran out of ideas for a topic, and then started another. I have about 200 ideas ready to be explored (or exploited).


JUNE: We talked before about getting the word out about the blog. The main idea was to send out the information on all our list serves. I am only on two sites and wondered:
How many list groups are you on? List serves, good or bad. Do we spend too much time on them? How useful are they?

SUNNY: I'm on about 35 list serves. I have a few tricks: I only attend to the lists on Sunday; I take them as they come, from latest post to first. I also have a folder with possible items to post slanted to the site. I take my time and update thoroughly before moving on.

DORI: I'm still trying to figure out the whole social networking thing. It is a good use of time, but time is a commodity I'm definitely short of. One of these days I'll get as organized as Sunny and Sarah, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow. I fully understand their value but haven't sat down long enough to put together a roadmap and game plan to be able to efficiently make them work for me.

SARAH: I have 17 loops that I follow and some other sites that are just for networking. I try to be active on all my loops, but with my busy life I don't always get that luxury. Weekends are just as crazy as the weekdays, so my "free time" is usually spent writing. I'll admit it's pretty daunting to sign on and see I have 885 emails waiting to be waded through with only naptime to do it all! BUT the upside of being on the loops is that I have a great group of cyber-friends that I can chat with anytime about writing and have any questions answered. I lurk more often than not and chime in on important things, but on the whole I've been able to learn A LOT about writing and industry by staying on the loops. So, I guess it's a Catch 22. LOL A necessary evil, if you will. Faint of heart need not apply.

JUNE: Before starting into the critique part of our meetings we usually do an overview of the individual piece. I find I am still having trouble doing this part of the critique. Do you have any suggestions on what I need to concentrate on? What are the most important things to look for?

SARAH: I think if you look at an overview as 'foreplay' you'll do fine. LOL I like to think giving an overview is a 'tasty teaser' of what is to come. Give just the highlights and save the hard core info for the page by page.

SUNNY: I jot down notes of what I see as problem areas as I read. It forewarns the author of what I intend to concentrate on in detail later in my critique. This week it was Sarah's use of conjunctions at the beginning of sentences and over-use of idioms. June, I notice your expertise is plotting. Dori often addresses POV.

DORI: One of the great things about the group is that we do seem to have different strengths. Using our strengths as we review we start to see certain patterns that are then listed in our overview. Those patterns can be both positive and negative. For instance, with Sarah this week I pointed out that first, the scene was an OH so much better rewrite of an earlier scene (which was really important feedback for Sarah). It was a chance to tell her that she heard our previous criticisms and was able to incorporate it into a rewrite that resulted in a much more interesting and engaging scene. In addition, I pointed out that she had some particularly wonderful phrases and sentences, then as Sunny noted followed-up in our page by page analysis to point out what they were. The negative was that she needed to pay attention to when she needed to use new paragraphs when the "doing character" changes. In other words; when the person who is doing something, saying something or thinking something changes, the paragraph must change. Changing the paragraph helps the story flow for the reader, otherwise the reader can be confused, and not understand who is doing what. This becomes even more confusing when as in this scene you have more than one "he" or "him" involved. Again, after pointing this out in the overview, I followed up and showed her in our page by page analysis where the new paragraphs should be located. Hopefully, in the process it helped Sarah see how to address this issue in the future.

SARAH: Lucky me to have my dirty laundry aired in cyber-space. Thanks, ladies. LOL. Whose turn is it next week? I like overviews as they give me a feel for what the general consensus of my chapter was. Going page by page helps reiterate what the overview touched on and makes me feel 'linked' into my problem areas. I always take notes when the overview is given to assist me later when I do edits.

DORI: I should point out to folks that Sarah was the example this week because she was the only one that brought work to the table, not because the rest of us write perfect prose! I'm glad to say that next week we have a flash fiction piece by Jackie, my short story I just completed along with more work from Sarah of course. I look forward to being the object of next week's discussion. Means I'm producing work!

JUNE: So my goal for this week is to take what you have told me and apply it to Sarah and Jackie’s work for this week. No sweat. I have my red pen ready.
June Rodriguez
SARAH: I had one of those 'Ah-Ha' moments the other day. I've been so connected to promo and building my platform...and of course keeping my head above water running my family life that certain aspects of my writing have disappeared-- kind of like my car keys down into the abyss of my purse. Somehow in all of this craziness that molds my life together, I have forgotten to make time to write. And I don't mean, writing an interview or keeping up with my posts on loops either. I mean honest to goodness planting my hiney-roast into a chair and not answering emails or loops until I'm satisfied I've made progress for the day. That kind of writing. So, I've made a few changes to how I manage my time. What was the buzz word during the elections? Oh, yeah. I trimmed the fat.

JUNE: I give you credit for realizing your original goal was slipping away from you. What kind of changes did you make? How do you find the time with the demands of your young family?

SARAH: I wish I had all of those answers. I think I finally found something Ask Jeeves can't answer. But, it's gonna boil down to me staying focused and making sacrifices. The dang book ain't gonna write itself!! So, that means I may have to get up earlier or stay up later. I've already started printing out papers to lay in front of me on the book rest of the treadmill at the gym. I know I probably look daffy, but at least I haven't rolled off the back of the thing... yet! And the benefit I get from this is that when my writing time finally comes around- aka naptime- I’m much more in tune with what I want to say. DORI: It’s all about setting goals. I have a goal for early next year also. I'm scheduled to attend Left Coast Crime and want to have a polished manuscript before I go. That way I'll get the most out of the conference and the connections I hope to make there.

SUNNY: Wait until you have a publisher asking "Where's the next book?" Then you don't have a goal to worry about, just a deadline.

DORI: Deadlines rule my life. Court filing and hearing dates, grant due dates, to name a few. I deal well with due dates, what I have a hard time with is not having any, especially when I have non-fiction writing deadlines that demand my attention. Writing always takes the back seat. Of course, having deadlines are stressful. What I can't imagine is the stage where I could have both writing and non-writing deadlines. Now that would be stressful. I hope for the day that the only deadlines are writing ones, but have a lot of work before that could become a reality, so. . . . back to work.

SARAH: You'll get it done, Dori. You have an amazing drive and a wonderful gift. LOL. Your non-writing deadlines are much more stressful than me not getting hubby's tidy-whiteys washed. Of course, if you ask him, that's quite important. Sheesh, and here I thought men just turned them inside out and wore them again!

DORI: I appreciate your faith. I'll try to prove you right. On another point, I always thought they were "tighty-whities," which conveys a rather different image don't you think?

JACKIE: Writing flash fiction is even more difficult.

SUNNY: I have a trick I use. After I write a story, I take each sentence and try to see how many words I can eliminate and still make sense. It's good practice and sometimes you'll come up with sentences you'd never considered before. I even wrote a one-word paragraph. One word was all I needed. But, it had to be the RIGHT word.

DORI: I have really gotten to enjoy the short story format. They are challenging, but so are novels. Short stories are more challenging to convey an idea a story in only a few words. On the other hand, novels are challenging in that you spend months, years even, with the same story before you finally get to type the words "The End." (As an aside does anyone really type those words???) That's one of the things I really like about short fiction. After receiving everyone's critique of the first half of the story, I was inspired to finish the second half today. What an exhilarating feeling to have a completed story. Think that has become my favorite part of writing a short story.
JUNE: Congrats on your completion. I can’t wait to read the final product. You were really inspired to finish it quickly. I only seem to find small amounts of time to work on my writing. I always have distractions that pull me away. With the new job I started recently I have a steady schedule and have a specific time I can work in. This is helping me get more organized and with the organization comes more freedom to write. What are your biggest distractions?

SUNNY: Email. Marketing. A good book (better than the one I'm writing). A beautiful day. The call of the swimming pool. It's much easier for me to write when the weather is cold and foggy. January and February works for me.

SARAH: A nap and General Hospital are my biggest distractions--outside of a two yr old and a three yr old. But then again, I've always said I'm like a crow--easily distracted by something shiny!

DORI: Everything and anything is a distraction when the words don't just flow off the tips of your fingers. The laundry, work, family, dishes, bills that need to be paid, visiting clients in jail, you name it. I think the trick is to set aside a set time when you're not allowed to do anything else. No phone, no playing with the puppy, just sitting your butt in the chair and forcing yourself to sit there. Better yet, if you don't let yourself get up until you have met your writing word count for the day. All right, easier said than done. Time for me to put up or shut up. Question is, am I up to the challenge?

SARAH: Ah, Dori, you just stole the words from my mouth!

JUNE: Sounds to me like we all have goals and challenges to work on. Every week we are here to chisel away a little bit of them. We are the Go-To girls.

June Rodriguez
JUNE: We are only four at the table tonight. So join us for some popcorn and breaking the code to a writing opportunity. We all did our homework to see if we could find our way into submitting to Woman's World.

DORI: Female POV is predominate. The characters were generally younger, but there were some older as well, but interestingly enough no specific ages were mentioned. You just had to infer it from the details provided. Single or widowed individuals prevailed. Regardless of age the woman was youthful in spirit and looking for romance.

SUNNY: From the random sample of 5 stories, I'm getting the impression that the women were in some sort of profession, except one was obviously of retirement age. Clues to age were more with what the characters were doing or wearing, where they lived.

SARAH: I noticed that in every story there was some form of verifying detail. Be it a highway number, a town name, or a restaurant, there was some kind of tidbit to anchor the story. Rather than bog the plot down with details on the setting, the 411 is given in a quick sentence that name drops a fact. It's simplistic and yet artistic at the same time. Very impressive.

SUNNY: Dogs showed up in several stories. I'm thinking dog+man=romance. That seems to be a common equation. From now on when you guys give me something to critique, the first thing I'm going to say is "Where's the dog?"

JUNE: I found that most of the stories provided some sort of previous interest or connection. Maybe a little warm tingling feeling down deep inside. Something terrible seems to happen to the main character or to someone else close to a character. The terrible thing could be minor like a flat tire or big. The female protagonist seems to get rescued by the male protagonist fairly often but the rescue can be switched.

SUNNY: Yeah, about this "tingling." I'm a mystery writer. If a character "tingles" in a story, he or she has probably been poisoned. I'm just saying. . . .

SARAH: Well, this other observation should make some people tingle! Unlike the writing we're trained to do, these stories seem to start out with some narrative to give a flavor of the scene and then the rest of the story is finished off with dialogue. Maybe a dialogue tag here or there, but for the most part, it's just straight talking. I think the challenge lies in making the conversation flow w/o the dialogue tags or internal thoughts to drive the scene. Finding the right word is a lot like pairing a wine to a meal- it takes a good palate and heaping helping of finesse. 700-800words means one can't stuff a scene or conversation like a plate at an all-you-can-eat-buffet!

DORI: They all end with possibility of being together. We don't get the rest of the story. Oh, speaking of all-you-can-eat- buffets did you notice several of them end with going out to dinner. So is it dog + man + food = romance?

SARAH: See there is the difference between romance and mystery!!! Romancers think the way to gettin' a guy is with a T-bone and a Terrier. While, mystery writers think the best way to a man's heart is through his rib cage!! LOL

SUNNY: Food is always good. Apparently, blondes are not taken seriously in these quickie romances. Every character was dark-haired, maybe a bit of gray showing. Features that invariably attract women are "twinkling eyes," and "bright smiles." No mention of other attributes, such as a great set of abs or a nice rear. I'm just saying...

DORI: Really neither the male or female protagonist is described in much detail, which allows the reader to paint the picture they want. Perhaps this makes it easier for us to put ourselves in the female protagonists shoes, or at least see her as someone like us.

SARAH: I noticed that too. There is just enough detail given to sketch a feel for the character which leaves the reader the option of painting by numbers to fill in the rest of the portrait. Also, the characters seem to have some kind of link- like with mutual friends, living on the same street or a shared history. By doing this, the story can be framed together neatly and not seem too far fetched! I mean it'd be kind of hard to swallow if these random people just met and were "tingly" after four sentences! Does that happen in real life outside of frat parties and Melrose Place?!

JUNE: Doing this has really played up the similarities and differences in our thinking processes. With all of us working on the same goal we will produce very different stories.

DORI: This was fun, and I enjoyed hearing everyone's story ideas they're working on for submission to Woman's World. Given that Sunny and I aren't romance writers, will be a fun test of our writing abilities. Not a bad thing to try. Writing is writing.

SARAH: I agree- this should be good! C'mon, give Miss Marple a rest and let your repressed Nora Roberts out to play!

SUNNY: I'm surprised and excited that our group has decided to venture out to short stories, which I've always loved writing, and non-fiction articles. I'm ready to dust off my journalism degree and try my hand at a few magazine articles. This is an interesting group project. Of course, nobody has put away their novels. We're just gluttons for punishment and extra work. I know it will pay off. Perhaps in $$$.

DORI: Making money with our writing while we're working on manuscripts would be a huge plus, for many different reasons. Contests and finding places to submit short fiction stories to is the norm for fiction writers, but as June pointed out, in every issue of Woman's World there is a lot more than just the one romance short story. There are dozens of other articles written by writers just like us, and the odds of publication and payment are light-years better than with fiction. I'll still write the best fiction short stories I can and find places to market them to, but think I it's time to be a bit more adventurous. I'm ready to take the plunge into non-fiction article writing and see what it takes to make enough to subsidize my novel writing aspirations.

JUNE: The results of our dissection of the rubric for Woman's World gave us new insights into the world of magazine submissions. We have broadened our horizons and opportunities for our writing and plan to continue to look for new avenues to stretch our writing skills.

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