Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sample My Short Stories: A Taste of Dark and Dangerous Things

So, for the next two days (October 30-31), my friends and I are celebrating Halloween by offering our speculative fiction ebook anthology, Dark and Dangerous Things, for free on Amazon.

That's right, FREE.

But if that's not quite enough to convince to you to check it out, here's the start of my first short story in the antho, titled "Under New Management." It's tempted two readers already today. Let it tempt you too!

------------------------------

Officer Castro eyed me as he stirred another creamer into his paper coffee cup. I squirmed
under his dark, probing gaze, hoping he wouldn’t ask if I had skipped class again to hunt in the woods for the spaceship. Because I had. And I didn’t want to lie.

No one believed me about the ship, but I knew what I’d seen—a silver streak across the sky, streaming trails of dark smoke like a dragon crashing to earth. The spherical UFO went down beneath the forest’s canopy, where I couldn’t see it anymore. Moments later, I heard a series of booms and then the ground shook. The rest of the town heard it too, felt the shaking. But no one else had seen the ship. They didn’t believe me, not even when the alien walked into the diner’s front door, asking for work in broken English.

He was short, squat, about four feet tall, with shuffling flat feet and exceptionally long fingers. His silvery, scaled face looked like it had been squashed in by a giant fist. Calling him ugly would have been generous. I couldn’t understand why no one else was reacting. But as soon as I stuttered a confused question about his appearance, Mom pinched me and hissed in my ear, “Don’t be rude! He’s one of those short people, is all.”

Everyone in the diner was staring at me like I was the weirdo. Even Jim looked disgusted. I didn’t want to set my stepfather off, so I mumbled an apology and let him do the talking. He wanted someone to clean the bathrooms. The next thing I knew, poor Vergel, the silent crash survivor, was working in the diner as a lowly janitor. I was the only one who knew the truth.

(Well, my therapist knew. But when I told him, he asked if I ever hallucinated or heard voices. It was shaky at first. In the end we made a deal. I promised to work hard to “accept reality,” and he promised not to prescribe me pills. I also decided privately not to think too much about why no one else could see what Vergel really was.)

I pulled my thoughts back to Castro, who was still studying me. The burly Italian officer didn’t ask about the ship, the aliens, or even my therapist visits. He asked about the sign. “Michael, isn’t it time to take that down?” He tilted his head toward the ragged paper hanging crookedly on the wall, scrawled with big red Sharpie letters:

Under New Management

“Jim says it brings in business,” I muttered, “because customers like to help out a new guy.” Which was stupid. Everyone in town knew we weren’t new. But there was no arguing with Jim, who had a persistent delusion that this dumpy diner would make him rich one day.

“Speaking of Jim,” Castro said carefully, “how’s he been treating you and your Mom?”

I shrugged and traced the scratch marks worn into the weathered Formica countertop. What was there to say? The police came to our house every few months. Mom refused to press charges. Then the spaceship crashed, and I talked about it. Since then, Castro came in for coffee every day, asked about Jim and Mom, and sometimes about school. He thought I needed help and had a soft spot for kids with messed-up parents, like me. But I still didn’t want to talk to him about my stepfather. The truth was too uncomfortable.

--------------------------

Not bad, eh? And there's more where that came from. Go ahead... Download your copy on Amazon. Tell your friends. And after you read the anthology, review it on Amazon. I don't care how many or how few stars you give it. Just share your thoughts. Those reviews not only help me get attention on Amazon, but they help fellow readers decide whether or not to buy, and as a reader myself, I always appreciate knowing what other readers thought of the book.

And stay tuned, because I'm also getting ready to relaunch this blog on WordPress soon. I'll let you know more about that in a few days.

Thanks, and happy Halloween! Muahahahahaha!

The Chipper Muse

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Preparing for Nanowrimo and Writing a First Draft

Let's face it:  If you're participating in National Novel Writing Month, what you're really doing is writing a first draft of something. Could be fiction. Could be nonfiction. But it's a first draft. And Nanowrimo is a way to help you work on that first draft regularly enough to actually finish it. That's what makes Nanowrimo a clever idea.

I have lots of friends who like to participate in this writing event each November, and they're talking about it on their blogs, so this week, I'm linking you to what they have shared. Enjoy!


Twitter buddy Derek, (aka @wrytersblockDH), gives some great basic tips for how to kick off November: http://wrytersblockdh.blogspot.com/2013/10/its-october.html


Fellow Nano-ite Rebekah blogs on what to do if it's November 1 (or near enough) and you're not at all prepared for Nanowrimo:

http://fictionalferrets.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/unprepared-and-dont-care-prepping-for-nanowrimo/

Writer Jami Gold talks about what you need to plan for November:

http://jamigold.com/2013/10/nano-prep-do-you-know-what-to-plan-in-advance/

Alexandra Sokoloff discusses how to choose what you'll write and more:

http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/2013/10/october-is-nanowrimo-prep-month.html

And Writer's Digest talks about the benefits of writing fast, which is what Nano is all about:
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/benefits-of-writing-a-fast-first-draft?et_mid=642159&rid=239191047


Now, you share:  We have a little over a week until November 1. How are you getting ready for Nanowrimo? Or are you not even participating with the rest of us "fools"? Let me know what you're up to!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nanowrimo Tips and Resources


We're rapidly approaching November 1, which kicks off one of the most insanely fun writing ideas ever invented: National Novel Writing Month (also known as Nanowrimo). If you've never heard of it, or if you have but you've blacked it all out of your memory, Nanowrimo is an effort to write 50,000 words between November 1 and 30. If you reach that goal, you win.

Have I won, you ask? No. Then again, I write for a living at my day job, so I can only do so much writing at night. But I have learned some Nano-related tricks to help me reach a higher word count. And so, I offer up some great Nanowrimo resources for you as you consider whether you're going to enter November madness with the rest of us!

GET STARTED

The official Nanowrimo Page - If you join no other page, join this one. It'll give you the official Nano updates, fill you in on local Nano groups in your area, help you find online writing buddies, and give you tools to keep track of your progress. It's a great feeling to see your word chart rise up toward the 50,000 mark.

Tips from Nanowrimo's Forums - includes research help, plotting, word count advice, an ideas bank to pick up characters and scenarios when you feel stuck, and more.

25 Things You Should Know About Nanowrimo - Chuck Wendig shares one of his classic 25 things lists. Yeah, there will be cursing. But Mr. Wendig is nothing if not honest and practical.

11 Ways to Prepare for Nanowrimo - Good advice to help you plan what to do before November 1 rolls around.


WRITER'S TOOLKIT

Writing a Novel Scene by Scene - A good general source of the types of scenes that make up a novel and how to approach writing them.

How to Get Ready for Nanowrimo - Basics from coming up with an idea, to working with characters, to planning out the plot

Media Bistro's Monster Links List - A long list of online links compiled by the kings of writing over at Media Bistro. Explore it in spurts. It's going to take a while, but well worth it.


SOCIAL MEDIA 

Facebook groups

Generally, you have to request to join these groups. But if you like connecting with others through Facebook, then you definitely want to find a group to participate in, such as:

Nanowrimo 2012 group
Nanowrimo 2013 support group

Blog tools

Word count meter - You can add this widget to your blog so your readers can kick your butt when you fall behind. Or cheer you on when you soar above!

Twitter

Nanowrimo's Twitter account - Why, yes, you can get the madness in 140 characters or less.
Nanowrimo Sprints - Get prompts to do word sprints (aiming to hit a set word count in a set time)
Nanowrimo Word Wars - More word sprints

Your local group may have a Twitter account too, and keep an eye out for hashtags that help you keep track of what others are saying. I don't have a list of hashtags to suggest. You know how they evolve. Just stop by #mywana, #amwriting, and the official Nanowrimo account to look for the hashtags others are using.

Now, you share:  If you have resources you have found helpful for writing in general, or specifically for Nanowrimo, share them in the comments for your fellow writers. And stop by the blog or visit me on Twitter at @chippermuse to let me know how your writing is going!

Happy November madness to you all!

And don't forget... If you want a taste of my fiction writing, check out the short story anthology that my writing buddies and I published recently. It's a collection of eight speculative fiction tales with touches of humor, tragedy, and horror thrown in to keep you reading. Buy it on Amazon here!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Is Publishing Success?

So, I had an interesting experience recently.

Three of my writing friends and I finished the short story anthology we were working on together, and it is now officially published on Amazon. (Yes, here's the link to buy Dark and Dangerous Things, eight short stories of dark fantasy for 99 cents, because I do have to market myself.)

But marketing isn't really what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is how we define "success in publishing." And here's why:

Here's the book cover. Done by a friend who fit
it into his schedule for free. Works for me.
I happened to see someone tweet about wanting to see what people were publishing on Amazon. I didn't bother to check out the Twitter feed, and just assumed (yes, you know what that makes of me) that the person wanted a reading suggestion. So, I sent the person a link to the book. As it turned out, this individual is actually on a crusade about why self-published books are bound to fail. I basically got a bitter sounding tweet back about how my book is ripe for the trash heap.

Here's what is interesting about this:

I never asked this person to define success for me. Or failure, for that matter. I've defined it for myself, and here's what it looks like.

Success right now is finishing a project that I started. Done.

Success is getting the book up online and seeing what the process is like for self-publishing so I can learn from personal experience what I think about the process and whether I want to keep it up. Done as far as getting the book up. In progress as far as seeing what I think of it all.

Image for one of my short stories
Success is meeting my publishing budget for this project, which my three friends voted to put at zero. Done. I proofed it myself. There are probably some things I missed, but I'm okay with that. My friend Donna did the layout. We know that's not perfect, but since this is the first time we've done this, we're still playing around with best practices. So we are both okay with uploading another version if we need to. Amazon lets you update your files. Works for me.

Success is at least asking a friend to create the book cover and related images rather than attempting to use clip art myself. Done. It's not a Michael Whelan professional cover. But it's better than what I can put together on my one. I'm okay with this.

Success is getting at least a few people to buy the book. Done. I've already had some people buy it, and I already have a review. One review is better than no reviews, and I know lots of self-pubbers with no reviews yet. This kind of thing happens. You put it up, and no one responds. You put it up, and some people respond. You put it up, and you become the next big thing. What can you say? You can't predict it. I've already beat the odds, in a way.

So, for me, this endeavor is already a success.
And here's the image for my
second short story.

I suspect the Twitter individual who was so negative to me defines success and failure differently than I do. But I have no grand delusions. I don't think I'm Ernest Hemingway. I don't expect to be the next JK Rowling (whose writing is okay and whose story ideas are inventive). I don't expect to be the next EL James either (whose writing isn't so okay but whose story ideas get women hot and bothered so she sells well). I expect to be a person who wanted to get my stories online so that when I meet people via Twitter and blogging who ask me if I have something they can buy, I can actually say, "Why, yes I do. Here's the link."

By that definition... Success.

Sure, it's disappointing to know that there are going to be some bitter people out there, who wanted self-publishing to make them rich and famous and want to tear the rest of us down because they didn't get what they wanted. But then, that's life. There are bitter people in all professions. But there are nice people out there too. You're the ones I'm going to focus on.

To those people who will be supportive of me even though Dark and Dangerous Things is probably not going to turn me into the next Amanda Hocking, I say thank you. You get it. It's not about making me rich and famous. It's about making connections. I like being connected to you, even if you don't buy my book. And I like hearing what you have to say, even if you think my writing can use some work. And if you do buy the book and like it, yes, I'm going to ask you to leave a review on Amazon. But hey, who wouldn't ask that?

But that's not why I blog...not to get reviews...not to get sales. No, I'm here because I like writing, I like people, and I like the Internet.

Buy the book here, or at least visit and say hi to it. I won't mind.

Happy writing!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting a Useful Critique...and then Using It


Today's guest is Donna Leahey, a fellow writer from my very own critique group. She's awesome, and she is also proof positive that you can find a critique group that works. Here, Donna shares great advice for how to get the critique you want and need from your group, and how to use what they give you in the most constructive fashion. Enjoy!

*******************************************************************************

There may be no shortage of advice offered at your critique group, but how much of it is useful? It's important to remember that not all critique is created equal, and some of it should be ignored utterly. But which advice should you ignore and which should you carefully consider?

In order to get the most out of your group, you have to learn to ask for what you want, as well as separate the good advice from the bad.

Help your group give you the critique you need:

Tell the group what type of advice you're looking for.

Before you take your work to the group, figure out for yourself what kind of advice you're seeking – proofreading? plot? characterization? dialogue? If you point out the specifics of what you're concerned about, then your group can focus on that. If there's something you're not concerned about, let them know as well so they're not wasting their time or yours.

Say something like, “This is a rough draft and I know there are still a lot of typos, but I'm not concerned about that right now. I want to know if Rick's grief feels real and if you believe that it would provoke his next action.

On the other hand, if you want technical help, say something like, “I'm not comfortable with how to punctuate dialogue, so please let me know if you see something wrong there.” 

Set up the scene.

Unless your group has a fixed membership who always attend, you will find yourself reading a scene to some member who isn't familiar with your work. Therefore, be sure you give the information they need to understand the significance of what you're reading.

Example: “Billy is confronting Rick, who he believes killed his father. There is a red bird in this scene, and every time we've seen a red bird, violence has followed.”

This will help prevent non-helpful comments like “Why is Billy being so mean?” and “Why did you spend so much time describing the bird outside the window?”

Provide printed copies.

When you hand out printed copies of the work you're about to read, it enhances understanding of your reading and provides a place to make comments in the moment they occur to members of your group. This can make all the difference between “Somewhere there in the middle there was an awkward sentence, something about Rick and his father... I don't remember exactly what, but you might want to reword that,” and “There in the first sentence of the third paragraph on the second page, you've got a dangling participle that makes it sound like Billy is rolling in his grave instead of his father.”

Evaluating your critique:

Perhaps the worst mistake you can make is to comply with every suggested change from your group. Carefully consider the source of each comment and decide if it works for you and what you're trying to say with your writing. Some advice can and should be ignored! 

Damning with faint praise.

We all love to hear that our writing is just perfect – but that's not terribly helpful because it's almost certainly not true. People want to be nice, and that will sometimes prevent them from saying they don't like something. They may offer non-specific praise because they weren't paying attention, and people rarely press for more information on a compliment.

Copyright 2009 by Paigy_POP (aka Paige Reed)
http://paigy-pop.deviantart.com
Don't be afraid to ask for specifics. Often if you say something like, “Did the description of the red bird work?” then you'll get more helpful answers.

Be thankful for the negative.

Would you rather hear the criticism from a group of friends or from a publisher rejecting your work in a form letter? Someone responds to your writing with, “You went on about the bird for half a page, and then it just flew away! I got bored with the description and then I felt cheated because it seemed to be an unimportant waste of my time!” It would be easy to focus on “bored” “cheated” “unimportant” and “waste of my time” and either get angry or depressed, but instead, look at what he's saying. Is the bird important? If it is, then you failed to communicate that adequately. This is an opportunity to find a way to make it clear how important that is, or, if you have to admit that it's not that important, to maybe cut it down to a few sentences and then get on with your action.

Beware of the personal preference.

If one of your group prefers cozy mysteries and historical romances, they will probably not love your dark and gritty post-apocalyptic tale of revenge. Hopefully, your reader will understand the problem is the genre, but if not, they may inadvertently offer advice that could drastically change the tone you're striving to set, like “I think he should be able to save the girl!” or “Did you have to describe all the bodies at the pillaged farm? I thought it was just too much.”

Also beware of the “expert” on publisher preferences.

Unless the person in question is an actual publisher, they can't speak for the entirety of the publishing industry. And if they are a publisher, they can only speak to their own preferences. Watch out for comments like, “Publishers don't like flashbacks!” and “Publishers are tired of dark stuff and want happy!” 

Never pay attention to statements that start with the word “never!”

Never open with a discussion of the weather. Never open with waking up. Never open with looking in the mirror. Never open with a flashback. Never use the words “suddenly, almost, or seemed.” Never open with a prologue. Never, never, never...

If your story is about tornadoes, opening with weather is probably appropriate. If your protagonist suffers from a sleep disorder, then starting with waking up may work for you. Most of the items on the writing “never” list are more appropriately on a “you should be careful with” list or a “use sparingly” list. While these things got on the “never” list for a reason, if that “never” is appropriate for your writing, then ignore the never and do what's right for you. 

You'll need to handle conflicting advice.

“I love symbolism of the red bird!”

“I hate that red bird and think you should get rid of it!”

This is real life. No matter how wonderful or terrible your work is, someone will love it and someone will hate it. This is where it falls most squarely on you. Do you love the red bird, or is it not that important to you? If you believe in it, keep it! 

I don't understand why...

         “I didn't get why Billy blamed Rick.”
            “I don't understand what happened to the girl.”
            “I don't believe Rick would just accept the blame.”
            “I'm sorry, but what's the deal with the red bird?”

Always pay attention to “I don't get” and “I don't understand.” These kinds of comments tell you one of two things – your group wasn't paying attention (which begs the question: why aren't you holding their attention?) or you failed to adequately express your point. As writers, we walk a careful line between making things too obvious and making them too obscure. Sometimes, the confusion comes from someone missing an earlier scene, but if not, you need to address that problem. 

What is the importance of this scene to your story?

            “Where is the conflict?”
            “How does this scene advance your story?”
           
Perhaps the biggest red flag of any comment, questions about the importance of a scene to your story should make you look hard at what you've just read. Does the scene progress your story? Does the scene have conflict? Is it important for establishing character, setting, or plot? How would the story be changed if this scene were removed entirely? If you can't answer those questions, you should consider removing it or heavily editing it. 

Or, maybe it is you.

            “I am SO tired of hearing about that red bird!”

If you keep getting the same comment, over and over, from different people, take the time to carefully consider that advice. No matter how much you love the symbolism of the red bird, if it's just distracting your readers, it either has to be fixed or it has to go – or you have to accept that you're going to keep hearing criticism for it.


That is the challenge:  When you have something in your work that you love, but you consistently receive negative feedback on it, it is time to make that hard decision.

Taking it home:

Once you've asked for the critique you need and then sorted out the wheat from the chaff of the critique you got, you just have to take it home and make the changes. Be thoughtful and remain true to yourself and what you have to say. Remember, it's your work, it's your voice, and in the end, it's going to be your name on that cover page.

Happy writing!


As a child in school, Donna Leahey turned her vocabulary homework into short stories. Years later, she is still crafting stories. Now a practicing veterinarian, Donna is the mother of one son and currently shares her home with a very well loved mutt, Sammy. To paraphrase one of her favorite authors, Anne McCaffrey, she has green eyes and curly hair – the rest is subject to change without notice. Donna has a both a professional (At Home Mobile Vet) and a personal blog (So, what happens now) which have been sadly neglected of late, but she is frequently promising herself and anyone who will listen that she will post more soon! Also, after writing this post, she has a strong urge to write a story featuring a symbolic red bird.