The Difference Between Heart and Soul

Writing is my calling. Sometimes the words pour directly from my heart onto the page.

Other times, it’s my soul that gets exposed.

Those creations are often the ones that remain secreted away in a spiral notebook or journal, too private for general consumption. A few of them make it into a document on the computer.

Most are locked away in the privacy of this writer’s treasure chest.

Some of them are more like blood stains than works of art. Although, some morbid artist might use blood stains to inspire a painting. Or prick a finger to add blood to the canvas she’s working on.

Here is an untitled poem from October 9, 2016. Hopefully it will give you an idea about how different forms of writing affect me.

A Novel
so many words
characters, arcs
a plot line, sub plot
all tied in a bow
with conflict and tension
more believable than life

A Story
burning from within
trails life on the page
fewer words with
a louder message
as much trouble
with less time

A Poem
bleeds emotions
metaphors, alliteration
pictures a moment
deep in heart or soul
whispers barren truth
in short bursts of verse

Yes, the process I use for each of these is as different as the outcome. The above poem is a first and final draft. Such a thing will never happen with a short story. A novel involves hours of preparation before the first words ever make it to the page.

Is it the length that causes the difference? The content? The method of delivery?

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The Three Stages of Editing – And why you shouldn’t try them all at once

When it rains, it pours. Manuscripts in need of editing, that is. Each in a different stage of editing: developmental, line and copy edits, oh my. It’s a three-layer parfait.

Of doom.

The work in progress novel must be ready for submission by the beginning of May. And it’s rough. It’s missing crucial elements. It needs developmental edits galore.

About the time I’m reaching the three-quarter point on that project, I get a manuscript I haven’t looked at since December back from an editor. I haven’t given it a thought since then. Back when I made the developmental changes to it.

Now, the second editor is making a few line edit suggestions that require actual rewriting. Mostly additions, to flesh out a few things added in during the developmental stage.

You know, things that will deepen the story, make the characters more believable and ultimately engage the reader.

And every author wants to ensnare the reader and make them forget they’re even reading. Lasso them into the story realm and hold them hostage until they reach the last page.

“I’ll finish the novel edits first,” I decide. “Then I’ll delve into this other story.”

Meanwhile, the short story I wrote in December and polished in January was sold in February. It’s slated for a June release.

So, of course, I got the first round of edits from the editor. Because I had nothing else on my plate.

Why did I think it was a good idea to have so many projects going at one time?

Oh right, because writers write. And when writers sell their writing, it means they must revisit that story world over and over.

Which is something I enjoy because my story gets better and more enchanting with each round of edits.

The publisher who purchased said short story has never made developmental editing suggestions. I’d like to think it’s because my stories are well-written, but I have a feeling it has more to do with budget and short publishing timelines.

The edits for the story were line edits. A few commas, questionable word choice, repetitions pointed out. All of it a quick fix.

So that should be a simple turnaround, right?

Uh, have you met me?

I will read through the entire story again and tighten every sentence I can. In fact, I deleted two sentences in the second scene, deciding they made my male protagonist look too eager.

So, I have a 14,000-word manuscript to line and copy edit. The second-round edits are mostly line edits, too, but involve some additions. That’s a 20,000-word manuscript.

And the ugly developmental edits on the revised first draft of the novel are getting into the heart and heat of the story. When everything blows up. When my characters enter the crucible and come out the other side as different people.

How do I prioritize this?

My gut says to finish the novel because it needs to get input from alpha readers and my editor. Then it may very well require extensive rewrites before it’s ready to enter the polishing phase.

After all, it’s not even on its way to a publisher yet. It needs to be honed to a shining jewel before I submit it, in hopes the publisher will love it. Will make an offer on it.

And then it will come back again. For developmental edits and then line edits and finally for minor copy tweaks.

Lucky me, though, I can enjoy all three stages of editing today. Right this very moment. With three separate projects.

What to Write Next: Blues Writer Style

Writing Blues

I’ve got the blues. Since sending my two fiction books to beta readers in late January, I have been floundering for true writing direction. Fiction or nonfiction? That is the question.

Let’s face it, most people who dream of writing, dream of writing a knock-out, impossible-to-put-down novel. They want to weave the perfect story with stellar prose, memorable characters and gripping plot.

Most people don’t think, “I know how to strip wooden floors. I should write a book about that.” (By the way, I don’t know how to do that – even though I have done it before. I call it selective memory.)

If you claim to be an author, people don’t expect you to list nonfiction titles when they ask what you’ve written. Nonfiction is so stuffy and boring. Why would anyone volunteer to write a textbook?

Sure, only a few nonfiction titles have achieved amazing notoriety. “Who Moved my Cheese?” is one little pamphlet that comes to mind. Although, everyone is familiar with the line of “for Dummies” books.

I have steered clear of nonfiction because of the research involved. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in July of 2013. Long before that day, I reached my research quota. And I’m not really anxious to dig in again.

However, I do have several book ideas that would be classified as nonfiction. If you dare, take a peek into my brain to see what other ideas I have.

Things I have considered in the past twelve months

  • A Bible study on women’s ministries – as in wife, mother, sister, teacher
  • A collection of short stories
  • A series for young adults set in a post-apocalyptic setting
  • Dragons from another realm falling into our modern world
  • A memoir-style self-help book about grieving
  • A shifter romance for an anthology call
  • An alien-cowboy story
  • A romance involving an invisible boyfriend
  • Dark Biblical tales for young adults
  • A journal from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus
  • Magic as an allegory for Spiritual gifts
  • How to dispose of a body (for a short story written during NaNo)
  • Focusing on New Adult romance
  • Writing for an interesting fantasy collection called The Legend
  • Writing only fantasy
  • If writing for young adults is the right path
  • A short story about betrayal
  • A story about one poor choice ruining a lifetime dream
  • Poems for the blog
  • Story lines for a young adult romance
  • And a million other things – that I can’t remember just now because it’s making my head throb

Things I have started in the past six months

  • A series for young adults set in a post-apocalyptic setting
  • A short story about betrayal
  • A story about one poor choice ruining a lifetime dream
  • A memoir-style self-help book about grieving
  • An alien-cowboy story
  • A romance involving an invisible boyfriend
  • Dark Biblical tales for young adults
  • Brainstorming plots and characters for four different stories or novels
  • A novel based on a short story written during NaNo

Things I have finished (sort of) since January 1, 2015

  • A journal from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus
  • An alien-cowboy story
  • A dark Biblical tale about a demon possession
  • A beta draft about dragons and teenagers with special abilities
  • 60 blog posts

Things I need to focus on NOW

  • Editing the dark Biblical tale which will be published in October
  • Finishing the romance involving the invisible boyfriend (it will make sense, I promise)
  • My next project

What should my next project be? You’ve seen the list. What do you think would be a good investment of my time – AND find a market with my readers?

A Behind the Scenes Look

AccidentalValentine_Cvr (1)When I wrote “Dream Architect,” I just sat down and started writing. I knew it couldn’t be longer than 12,000 words, but when my word counter showed I’d reached 12,000 words, I wasn’t finished with the story. So I wrote until it was finished.

The result is – several thousand words were cut from the first draft. Two of those scenes are being made available to you.

The scene where I introduce Dylan Cutright is a freebie for anyone who signs up to receive my newsletter. I will only send these to announce release dates or special events. I can’t imagine more than four of them per year.

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The other scene gives you a deeper look into Ashlin Taylor’s family dynamics. One of her biggest problems is that she’s trying to make her family happy. This is a New Adult romance, and I will bet many in the 18-22 age bracket still struggle with the same issue.

Without further ado…

Ashlin Taylor stared at the two story house where she spent fifteen years of her life. While her fingers twirled her sable hair, mixed memories frolicked. She chased the happy ones, but they flitted away like butterflies. With a huff, she opened the car door. Dinner at her parents’ house offered more of the usual pressures. Maybe this evening would be atypical.

Her twelve-year-old sister flung open the door before Ashlin’s hand reached the knob. Her greeting, “Do you have a date for Saturday night?”

“Someone I know, I hope.” Benjamin Taylor responded from his place in the recliner. His slipper-covered feet, crossed at the ankles, jittered with his words.

Nope. The status quo remained solid.

“Let her in.” Ashlin’s mother rounded the corner from the kitchen, wiping her hands on the skirt of the apron she wore over her slacks and sweater.

Ashlin hung her purse and coat over the back of a chair, giving her mother a quick hug. She didn’t have to feign interest in her sister’s plans to sleep over at a friend’s house on both Friday and Saturday.

Soon, the table was set and they took their places, two empty chairs signaling the absence of her older brothers. While the dishes were passed, her mother shared information about the various acts performing at the fundraiser, one of which was the band Nicole wanted to support. Ashlin nodded, happy to be a bystander. As usual, her father concentrated on cutting his food into precise bites and listening to the news still blaring from the living room.

After dinner, Ashlin cleared the table.  While her mother carried the cup of decaf coffee to her father, her sister ran to get her sewing projects. Water drowned out the sound of her parents’ voices.

Once Ashlin had inspected the neat seams on her sister’s handmade dress and assured her it was blue-ribbon work, she and her mother were left alone with the sink full of dishes.

“You must be so proud of her,” Ashlin said.

“She surprised us, arriving so long after you, but yes, we adore her.”

“Not what I meant, Mom.”

“Oh.” Her mother crossed the kitchen to replace the serving tray in its proper cabinet.

“She sews and knits and is completely excited about 4-H. All the stuff you wanted me to do.”

“Yes, she shares many of my interests,” her mother said, sighing. “But she can’t cook as well as you do. And she’s a natural disaster when it comes to organizing anything.”

A smile twitched Ashlin’s lips upward.

“But she fits the mold you and Dad have pushed me in to.”

“We haven’t pushed you into anything.” Her mother’s hand stilled on the lid she was drying.

“Really? A job at Taylor and Sons, a date with every guy you know. The constant conversations about when I get married.”

“Don’t you want to get married?”

Ashlin squelched the monstrous sigh that swelled in response. Somehow the conversation always managed to return to that subject, while never focusing on how controlled Ashlin felt. She gritted her teeth. Tonight would be different.

“Sure. When I find the right guy. Until then” – and boy did that seem like it was years away – “I would like to pursue a career.”

“Your uncle says you’re the best assistant he’s ever had.” The pan clattered as she stowed it with the others. “I thought you liked that job.”

“The job’s fine, but it isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“Of course not,” her mother said, patting her arm. “You’ll get married, have children and move forward to the next phase.”

“Why can’t the next phase be college?”

The cupboard door where her mother had placed the last saucepan swung shut. Ashlin drained and rinsed the sink. The gentle touch on her elbow surprised her. She shut off the water and faced her mother.

“It can, I suppose, but shouldn’t you have started that right after high school?”

Ashlin tamped down the frustration somersaulting behind her ribs. She would not raise her voice.

“You mean when dad asked if I wanted to work at his office or Uncle Mike’s?” They stared at each other. “And then tossed all my college catalogs in the trash. That’s when I was encouraged to go to college?”

“Maybe not encouraged, but we never said you couldn’t.”

Ashlin’s chest heaved with her expelled breath.

“Then I suspect you’ll both be happy to hear I’ve enrolled in the design and drafting program at the community college.”

Her mother blinked several times. The black pupil’s contracted within the greenish irises. Ashlin awaited the imminent explosion.

“If that makes you happy,” her mother said. The balloon of tension between them withered. “Do you really want to work once you have children, though?”

The fluttering spark of stress flared to life. Ashlin widened her eyes to avoid rolling them.

“I don’t have children, Mom. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children, but I know I want to design houses.”

Without pause her mother exclaimed, “Of course you’ll have children.”

And just that quickly, the conversation returned to the topic at the forefront of her parents’ mind.

Listening to Nicole bemoan another failed plan with Vincent probably would have been preferable.

Sound intriguing?

Buy a copy of the anthology here and find out what happens when Ashlin meets her “Dream Architect.”

Join the blog tour.

Today, join Written Love Reviews to read an excerpt from one of the stories and meet the featured author.

And, of course, there’s still time to enter the giveaway.

Welcome to my Publishing Debut

Today is Release Day!

AccidentalValentine_Cvr (1)It’s here! The day I’ve been anticipating for many years.

I am a published author. You can order my book at Amazon, CreateSpace or at my publisher’s website.

I hope you’ll join the festivities and check out the different blog posts on the tour over the next two weeks.

Some things you’ll find:

  • What authors like to eat
  • Prize giveaways
  • Inspiration behind the stories in this anthology
  • More romance writers to love

Here’s an overview of the stories you’ll find in this anthology:

Guiding Hearts by Claire Gillian
Description: Is a lonely woman’s GPS sentient or is her subconscious taking her by the hand to help heal a scarred heart?

When Jemma Ernst’s GPS malfunctions and sends her to the home of handsome and engaging Gabriel Nash, she writes it off as a fluke. But she can’t seem to reprogram him out of her thoughts nor her GPS.

Better Latte Than Never by Katrina Sizemore
Description: Single and cold on Valentine’s Day, Hailey Merritt is not looking forward to working all day at the coffee shop while everyone around her is cheery with romance and she’s stuck trying to figure out her next step in life.

But, when a special bouquet arrives for her from a secret admirer, she decides to reserve judgment on this holiday and find whomever sent the flowers.

Maybe Cupid has a plan to make this her favorite Valentine’s Day ever.

Dream Architect by S.L. Hughson
Description: Taylor and Sons Custom Design keeps ASHLIN TAYLOR at arm’s length from her dream job. If only she were a son, she could follow her architectural dream. In the Taylor creed, girls get married and boys have careers. DYLAN CUTRIGHT focuses on finishing college and landing an architectural engineering job in a large firm. Minus emotional ties.

After their accidental encounter, their attraction is amplified during their work interaction. Unlike her family, Dylan encourages Ashlin to pursue her dream by enrolling in college. He even argues her case with Uncle Mike. All of this support confuses Ashlin because when she moves closer to him, he rebuffs her for reasons she can only speculate about.

Valentine’s Day might be the perfect opportunity for Ashlin to make him notice her. They are working together – alone – on the most romantic day of the year. Dylan builds her dream of career, but will he ever lower his walls and become more than just the man IN her dreams?

One Hot Angel by Jaylee Austin
Description: Oblivious to Tiffany Jenkins in three short weeks her life will end—unless she makes the perfect choice. Will she chose revenge and expose her ex-husband? Or chose love and surrender her heart to the only man who can save her?

Rock My Bones by Wendy Sparrow
Description: Jared has been eyeing the sexy mural painter from inside the museum’s paleontology lab, but she’s way out of his league. He can’t let her paint that obviously misplaced fern, though…even if it means initiating contact.

You could call her a paleontology groupie, but Shay Meyers is interested in a more modern specimen. An adult male Homo Sapien to be exact—one who needs to be dragged out of his lab for a practical course in mating rituals. If she’s lucky, this will be the Valentine’s Day she rocks his bones.

You can find my review of the stories I didn’t write in the anthology here.

Buy the collection now by clicking here.

Link for Accidental Valentine on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24264581-accidental-valentine

 Link for the tour button:

http://www.roanepublishing.com/accidental-valentines-anthology.html

Click here to check out a Rafflecopter giveaway and win your copy!

I’m a published author – Almost

published author

If you follow me on any form of social media, you’ve heard me scream, shout and dance (okay, you probably couldn’t hear that) about this fact. I have a publishing contract. I will be a published author in two weeks.

It’s so official that I have an author webpage attached to my publisher’s site. Goodreads permitted me to claim the name of S.L. Hughson, and I am an official Goodreads author.

Someday, I might even get a royalty check.

But you all know I don’t really care about that. It has never been about the money for me. And I hope it never will be.

So, how did this event transpire? I know some people want the complete scoop.

First off, my awesome writer friend Jenny shared a link to an open call for submissions. It was for an anthology of fantasy short stories. I was all over that.

Except I didn’t have the time to focus on creating and completing a compelling story. What I did do was like the publisher’s Facebook page so I would see future announcements in plenty of time to respond with a story of my own.

Six month later, guess what I saw?

This lovely page

So I started brainstorming. I don’t want to say too much about this because I’m answering a question about it during the blog tour in a couple weeks. I will say: biker, car crash and new adult.

I drafted a story. It was supposed to be between 7,000 and 12,000 words. Mine came in around 16,000. And so I let it sit.

When I came back to it, the scenes which didn’t need to be part of the story screamed it. They didn’t progress the relationship between my “Accidental Valentines” in the least.

That brought me to about 12,000 words. Whew! But I wasn’t done cutting – or tightening the writing. In the end, the story I submitted ran about 9,900 words.

I submitted it about two weeks prior to the deadline because it was November and I was doing that whole National Novel Writing craziness.

I figured I’d find out about the acceptance in early December. Shows what I don’t know.

Here’s the email that changed me from pre-published to published:

Sharon:

Thank you so much for your submission, Dream Architect, to our upcoming Accidental Valentine anthology. I’ve had a chance to read your story and really enjoyed it. Roane Publishing would be pleased to offer it a place in the anthology. Congratulations!

If you are still interested in having the story included, just let me know by return email, and I will have Rebecca send over a contract.

Warmest Regards,
Acquisitions Editor
Roane Publishing

I received it on November 22 – exactly TWO DAYS after the submissions deadline. So, they obviously had a shortage of submissions and that’s why they chose my story.

Or not. My editor at Roane Publishing has remarked several times about enjoying my story. After rereading it and red-lining it three or four different times.

Soon enough, you’ll be able to decide if it’s any good for yourself. On release day, February 13, I will have all the links here to the blog tour, release giveaway and the booksellers.

I signed the contract the next day (a royalties-only agreement which suited me fine). A few weeks later, I got a questionnaire to complete for my biographical information. I wrote a blurb for my story and went on vacation.

Just after Christmas, I got the first round of edits. They were more about cutting excess words than anything else. A couple of clarifications needed to be made because my wording sucked. Back to the editor.

At the beginning of January, I got the manuscript to review for a second time. Again, only minor wording changes. I’m starting to think I write pretty cleanly by this time.

That’s it. That’s my exciting journey to becoming a published author. Not a single rejection from this publisher.

Now, if I could say the same thing about my novels, you’d hear me dancing like a mad ballerina.

Story Engineering

At the behest of my Jedi Master, Kristen Lamb, I’ve begun dog-earring a copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It’s a masterful guide for creating a strong, complex story.

If you’re thinking, “I’ve got story structure down,” I thought similarly after highlighting James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure into rainbow-like proportions. Brooks subtitled his book “Mastering the 6 core competencies of successful writing.” Structure is only one of the six.

Two hours on the phone with Kristen reiterated for me the fact that I’m still a noob in the writing arena. Sure, I’ve been writing stories since I was nine. Does that mean they were well-written stories?

My first attempt at young adult fantasy flopped because I didn’t understand my antagonist’s motivation before I started writing. In the past, I had an idea and I sat down and wrote it. That might work for a short story, but all it provides in the novel-writing world is 60,000 words of warming up to the real story.

Trust me. I was halfway through the revision process when Master Lamb tapped the major plot points with her force push. The resulting pile of rubble buried my heart. A novel shouldn’t be a wobbly house of cards. It needs to have bones of steel beneath its thin skin (or maybe it’s the writer who has thin skin?).

Most of us right-brained artistic types see the word “engineering” and lose our appetite. Isn’t engineering all about calculus and equations with 18 variables and figuring out how to use all the buttons on a $200 calculator? So not interested.

The point behind Brooks’ use of “engineering” in his title is that writing a great story doesn’t just happen. We all know that only a fool would run out to build a tower without having blueprints and expertise. Brooks presents a logical (yes, very left-brained) argument for planning the major plot points and character arc before you attempt to build your novel.

The six core competencies of writing according to Brooks are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure
  • Scene Execution
  • Writing Voice

I was directed to this stellar directory for story-planning for the lesson in story structure. I started with Part Five of the book so I could take my medicine and “do” rather than “try” to plan a successful novel.

In reading the entire book, I see that Brooks marries character arc to story structure in a way that simplifies the planning process. He offers sage advice for weaving theme between these major elements, as well, and erases the gray area between concept and theme.

In short, this book should be required reading for newbie writers. Using a conversational tone, Brooks invites the panster to do a little planning and gives the outlining mavens a blueprint to follow. He never talks above our heads or down his nose and he uses examples from fiction and film to illustrate every point.

Is your work in progress a mess of Bondo? I highly recommend Brooks’ book. It works better than an air sander at smoothing out the rough spots.

The Best Laid Plans

John swaggered across the room, lit a Marlboro, took a long draw then exhaled.  He peered across the room at the unconscious woman, slumped across the futon, wondering when she would revive.  Just then, the sound of an engine purred to a halt in the driveway.  “The rest of the guys,” John said to himself, clenching his jaws as nervous excitement brewed within him.  It was too late now to reconsider their plan; they could only speed forward.  He dropped his cigarette on the brown carpet and ground it out with the heel of his cowboy boot.  What did it matter?  The whole house would be up in flames by morning.

Scuffling on the front porch followed by a loud thump caused John to scowl.  It wasn’t as if they were in the middle of nowhere.  Didn’t his bozo accomplices realize the seriousness of this situation?

A string of muttered curse words accompanied the scrape and squeal of the front door being shoved open.  It slammed into the wall, ridden like a surfboard by the scrawny, young man who was, unfortunately, John’s cousin.

“Shut up!” he growled at them.

Shoulders nearly as wide as the doorway, Bubba sauntered into the room, wiping his hands on his Wrangler’s and grinning like a headline comedian.  Behind him, Corey was extracting himself from the front door, his panicked features stark in the dim shaft of illumination cast by the porch light.

“Shut the door,” John said, voice still low and steely but not as harsh.

Scurrying like a church mouse, Corey scrambled to comply.  Behind the door, a handle-sized hole marred the sheetrock.  “Look what you did, Bubba!” Their pyromaniac sounded like a whiny six-year old.

Bubba’s meaty hand slapped Corey between the shoulder blades, sending him nearly sprawling onto the carpet at John’s feet.

“No worries, little guy.  This place is toast anyway.”  With a faint air of indecision, Bubba looked to where John stood, both hands planted on his hips, smoke rising from beside his right boot.  “Right?”

“Right,” John agreed, nodding curtly and dropping his hands to his sides.  Gesturing with his hands toward a doorway down the hall, “The stuff’s in there.”

Both of the newcomers started to move in the appointed direction.  When Bubba neared the futon shoved against the far wall, his cat-call whistle sounded shrilly.

“What do we have here?” His leering tone dripped lust like the sweat on a teenage boy’s brow.  “John boy, you’ve been holding out on me.  I thought this was an old lady’s house.”

The suggestive way he said “old” made John’s skin crawl and his stomach sour in distaste.  At some point, Bubba’s lewdness was going to cost them and the thought of going to prison because this guy couldn’t keep it in his pants made ire rise from the base of John’s spine.

“She’s like 45.  That’s old enough to be your momma, so I’d say what you’re thinking is downright incestuous, Bubba.”  John’s tone could’ve frozen hot coffee.

Bubba turned his head and glared at John with ill-concealed animosity.  “Did you just say something bad about my momma?” His fists were clenching in preparation.

Noticing the sledgehammer-like fists, John shook his head and said, “Get busy hauling the stuff outta here.”

Bubba’s dark eyes narrowed.  “I know my job.  I just don’t see that it will take me so long to carry a few boxes out that I can’t have me a little fun, too.”

“Work first,” John said, his hand reaching to the back waistband of his jeans where a 9mm waited, ready to jump to his defense on command.

Bubba’s eyes flicked to John’s hand, now resting on the handle of the pistol.  “You sound like my old man,” he sneered and stomped down the hallway, floorboards creaking beneath his booted feet.

The crew knew their assignments.  Bubba hauled the boxes of jewelry, electronics, silverware and other easily fenced items outside and loaded them under cover of the canopy on his Ford F350.  Gasoline fumes began to permeate the air as Corey fulfilled his responsibility of fueling a fire that would start fast, burn quick and set off an explosion when it reached the natural gas fumes they would start on the way out of the kitchen.  No physical evidence would be left to identify them.

John had a bandana tied over the bottom of his face, keeping out the worst of the fumes.  He nodded to Corey who had just given him the okay sign from the back porch.

“What’s the hurry?” Bubba snarled from beside him.  “I gotta –“

Without even looking at him, John snapped, “Get the truck out of the driveway, Bubba.”

“We got three hours ‘til daybreak.”

“I just gave Corey the okay, so we’ve got about four minutes until the whole country gets woke up by the boom.”

John walked purposefully to the BMW coupe the woman owned.  He’d switched the license plates as soon as he’d knocked her out.  Enjoying this sweet ride was going to make the guilt of cold-blooded murder fade like a bad dream.

At that moment, Corey came sprinting around the side of the house, throwing open the passenger door on the truck and hopping inside with uncustomary athleticism.  Bubba revved the truck’s engine, signaling his displeasure, but he followed John’s midnight blue coupe.  Neither car used headlights as they sped down the driveway and turned left onto the county road, sending gravel spewing in all directions.

As the back door slammed, the woman inside crawled off the futon. On hands and knees, she scooted to the nearby table, pulling a linen table scarf from under pictures and a lamp.  Glass shattered as they crashed to the floor.  Carefully, she reached toward the hole burned in the carpeting near her left kneecap.

Standing, her legs shook, bowing as if made of rubber.  Choking and gagging, she pinched her nose with her left thumb and forefinger.  Stumbling, she reached the side door; the odor of rotten eggs chased her from the house.   Running in an erratic pattern, her feet grazed the edge of her vegetable garden when the house exploded behind her.

Lying facedown in the dew-soaked grass where the concussion of the explosion launched her, she uncurled her fingers.  It was still there.  Smiling, she rested her weary head against the ground.

Not as smart as you thought, huh, cowboy? she thought.

Wrapped securely in the fine linen heirloom her grandmother painstakingly sewed by hand for her college graduation, the discarded cigarette butt seemed to pulse.  His fingerprints would identify the good-looking conman for the police.

In the distance, sirens blared.

Crushing Critique

“Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” Clint Eastwood’s character says in Heartbreak Ridge.

A few weeks ago, I was flattered and honored when a writer (and editor) whose work I deeply admire and respect offered to read five pages after I commented on her blog that getting worthwhile critiques seemed impossible.

I really wanted to send her the first five pages of my work in progress. After I spend five days scrubbing the vomit into a semblance of writing I would be willing to claim, I still didn’t feel it was ready for an editor’s eyes.

Instead, I sent her a short story (previously published here) that I submitted to the literary journal at SNHU. Of course, it had been rejected, but the reviews and comments were so contradictory that I had no idea what was really wrong with it.

Aside from giving me her brutal and honest critique (for which I’m grateful), Kristen also used my story for the basis of one of her blogs. Read what she had to say here.

My reaction was comical. I was afraid to read her comments. Then I saw the blog and became defensive.

“I had to write the story in less than 1200 words. I didn’t have time to set the stage.”

We’re great at justification, aren’t we?

The truth: my writing lacks depth. Even though I feel like I have a handle on basic story structure, I’m not able to convey that same sense through my story.

The worst thing was the redundancy. I literally cringed each time she pointed out “you already said that.” I do the same thing on student papers. How did I miss this flaw in my own writing?

Seriously. This story had been written, critiqued, re-written, graded, revised and re-worked, but I still missed the redundant use of words. What do I mean? For example, “ineffectual thrashing” is a phrase I used. Her comment: “Most thrashing is ineffectual.” Duh. What was I doing? Think of the extra words I could have used to set up my basic situation if I hadn’t been wasting them repeating what I already said.

I didn’t agree with all of her commentary because some of the repetition was for effect (but it must not have been very effective, so what did I do wrong?)

I’m glad to know some weak areas to focus on (in the rewriting stages), and I happily ordered one of the books on story structure Kristen recommended. Do I wish she would have liked my writing? Sure. Would having her compliment me have truly been helpful? Not in the least.

Thanks, Kristen, for taking time to give me the constructive feedback I’ll need if I’m ever going to improve my writing to a publishable level.