Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A new rule for writers: Be Resolute

After reading the fine commentary on Asbestos Underpants LLC, I was particularly struck by this comment: "One bout of bad luck here will not end your career." In this case (published by a small press, the novel broken into novellas) I can understand that. But what about a career that's farther along? I recently saw a story from a writer who hit a rough patch after her first trilogy (with Harper Teen) didn't sell as well as expected. She did manage to sell her next novel (Tor Teen) and tried to revive her career by sinking her entire $15K advance into additional marketing for the new series . It's a happy ending; it worked and her new series is having reasonable success as a NYT bestseller. This is on one hand exciting because her resourcefulness and hard work paid off! On the other hand, this is terrifying - even if I get published, I may wind up needing to reinvent my career. As the writer says: "If [new novel] didn't sell well... I’d have to reinvent/start over my career. There’s no shame in that. I was totally willing to reinvent!"

So when I read that someone as experienced as the Shark herself also seems to think it's normal to have this kind of up and down, or as you say "first of many great publishing stories", I remembered this story. As a writer on the rodent wheel of anxiety, I would really like to know:  what does reinventing yourself look like? Is this actually possible.

STOP STOP STOP

You will make yourself crazy if you start gnawing on "what ifs."

You can control ONE thing right now: what you write.
Write the best book you can.

Then you query.
Then you sign with a savvy agent.

And at some point down the road if you need to reinvent yourself, you and your savvy agent will put your heads together and come up with Plan B, or Plan C, or Plan Q.

You absolutely cannot start planning for this, or even thinking about this NOW.

Reinventing a career is never a template. It's an individual plan that incorporates your sales, your category, you career goals, and the state of the industry at that time (ie not now). Every client that I've had Plans B, C and D with has been in a different situation.

In other words. much of Plan B/C/Q will depend on things that haven't happened yet.  And to quote someone smarter than me "No plan survives boots on the ground."

There's only one thing to take away here: Be Resolute

Publishing is going to throw you some curve balls. Resolve to hit them out of the park. But right now, you can't swing at a ball that hasn't been thrown.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Scum sucking lizard brains

I'm headed off to the desert at the end of this week to hang out with some terrific writers, splash about in the pool they're providing, and while swilling from my G&T IV pole, gnaw on some queries and manuscript pages.

Needless to say, there will be blood. Shark infested waters, after all.


When I'm critiquing queries I offer suggestions for improvement. Some of the suggestions are for things you should change (put your contact info at the bottom; leave out the part about how you've loved to write since before you were conceived etc.)

Some suggestions are for what I think makes a good query letter. AndyesJanet, there is room for more than one opinion there.

This is less crucial in a query than it is in the manuscript pages.

For the workshop I'm doing in Phoenix this weekend, I've gotten some queries that enticed me enough to ask for pages. A lot of the pages don't show me enough to entice me to ask for the full. That means your query has done the job: I've read the pages. It's the pages that need work.

And herein lies the problem.

It's incredibly difficult to hear that your pages don't work, particularly for such abstract reasons as 'this didn't grab me' or 'there's no tension.'

And frankly, I don't respond well to anyone criticizing my work. I never have, I doubt I ever will. People in my office still shudder at the memory of how I went ballistic when someone took apart an article I wrote for a newsletter.  I was furious at how they'd done it.

Five months later (yes five MONTHS) I can see what the problem was. I couldn't at the time. In fact at the time "scum sucking lizard brain" might have been uttered more than once, and I wasn't talking about myself.

I've tried to apply what I learned there to critiques I give to writers. Some times it works better than others.

But, what you the writer need to know is that thinking anyone is a scum sucking lizard brain is both a perfectly normal reaction AND probably not totally right.  The trick is to take the notes you get and hold on to them for a while. Then go back and look at them later. THINK about what is being said.

Yes, it's possible the critique is off base. But some of it might be on target. And even the off-base remarks might help you see something in a new light.

In other words: even scum sucking lizard brains have their uses.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Final contest results

Here are the finalists for this weekend's contest

Susan 9:48am
I stumble up cracked concrete steps
to a brownstone
caught in shadow,
follow you into the house
where cobwebs drape like curtains
and dust scatters beneath our feet.

On the floor by the staircase lies a single sock,
shredded heel-to-toe,
and a birch broom stands in the corner
by the open door,
splintering at the grip.

There’s a dip in the couch cushions,
an empty wineglass on the table.

“I know this place,” I whisper.
“But it’s been so long…”
I sense the rain within me.
“Can we stay?”

You pause, hand me the broom.
“I never left,” you say.
I love the uncertainty here. "You pause" and "I never left" make me wonder what's going on.
It's also a beautifully understated story.



Sharyn Ekbergh 10:40am
If you are very lucky or very good
someone like this comes into your life.

I’m not good.

pay attention
this is grass
is this grass?
how soft it is, how wonderful

this is a tree
is this a tree?
how high I can climb
watch me, how high

this is water
is this water?
how good, how sweet it is
to drink this water

pay attention!
watch me, watch me now
touch me, touch me now
love me, love me now

How I love my days here with you

PAY ATTENTION!

there is a time bomb in my chest
And of course, that last line just turns this 90degrees. A perfect twist, and a sublime one at that.


Timothy Lowe 12:44pm
I loved accounting. Dimes shimmered between my fingers. I squandered my nights under LED lights, whistling as I paved a road to hell with dollar bills.

Mustang: 42,000.00
Case of bourbon: 349.99
Lady friends: 200.00/hr
Dinner at Rocco’s: 1243.60
Drinks at Tenochtitlan: 3650.00
DWI lawyer: 14,000.00
Interlock device: 200.00 a month

I paid for my mistakes. Price Waterhouse fired me. My friends deserted me. But I met someone at AA who told me that happiness is free.

Now we have another beautiful child coming, our sixth.

But hey - who’s counting?

We're out of the abstract and the elegiac now, back to the straightforward stories. It's that last line of course that elevates this beyond the usual. 

And "I paved the road to hell with dollar bills" is one of my faves. 
And I had to look up "interlock device" to know the specific meaning even though I got the point from context.  That's deft writing right there.


Kate O 3:47pm
It smells like hot garbage.
Probably because I am in the garbage.
And the day is hot.
It wasn’t always like this.
I began life on a shelf, pristine beneath my plastic packaging. My bright future as yet unspooled.
But I was bought hastily, for a child with too much already. I was one of many.
If I had a heart, it would ache.
The garbage can tips. The indignity of something sticky smearing across my face as we tumble: strawberry jam.
A dog’s hot breath, its slobbery tongue.
But also, sunshine.
And also, a child’s voice.
“Mama, look! A doll!”
I just love this story.



Lennon Faris 4:35pm
Two saplings gaze into a pool.
“See my brawny branches,” says Oak, stretching.
“And my ample trunk,” Sycamore preens, digging roots into the Earth.
“Your bark’s like a fungus.”
“Your progeny’s the teats of a fox, who milked too long.”
Why fight? hisses Wind, joyriding between their leaves. What do you accomplish?
Ignoring Wind, Oak roars to his squirrel brigade, “Hurl my progeny at that blasphemous ogre!” Songbirds of Sycamore dive-bomb the squirrels, screaming back insults. War rages in the canopy.

Below, a beaver meanders into the glen. He builds his home.

Eventually, the silent stumps turn back into dust.
It took me two reads to understand what happened here.
I love a story that's so beautifully subtle that you need to read it slowly and savor every word to fully understand it.  This is gorgeous writing. And the concept is highly imaginative which is always a plus in these contests.


Madeline Mora-Summonte 5:01pm
The park bench is hard on Harriet's old bones. Nearby, a little girl begs her mother unsuccessfully for ice cream.

Harriet, her heart long unraveled by regret, recalls her son's voice, how it grated her nerves. She was a lousy mother. She pushed him away over and over until he stayed away on his own. If she could have another chance, she'd grab it, never let go.

The girl wanders over. Harriet glances at the mother, focused on her cell. Harriet stands, holds out her hand. The girl takes it, weaving her fingers through Harriet's.

They walk away.
I have this thing about people staring at their phones and ignoring the people around them.
A very serious aversion to it.
This story appealed to that.  A lot.

S.D.King 6:47pm
I think we drove over ninety to Ann Arbor the night he was born. First grandchild.

We were too late.

He was wrapped in a blanket at the graveside. I held him tight as they lowered her down.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

He didn’t cry. I shook uncontrollably.

Months of going through the motions.

Choking despair.

Toothless smiles.

Peek-a-boo.

First word: Meema

He sits on the floor playing with Russian nesting dolls, endlessly stacking and restacking. Laughing at a joke only he knows.

His toes flex up in delight.

“Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

All I could think of when I read this was I so hope it's not based on our writer's real life experience. The raw emotion here is communicated so deftly, so simply, that you barely notice the words because of the overwhelming feeling the words evoke. That's powerful writing.



As usual, it took a couple hours of thinking and re-reading to settle on a winner. Youse guyz do not make this easy and this week was some of your best work.

In the end I went with the entry from Lennon Faris 4:35pm. It was not only a perfect gem of a story, it resonated with me like Jane Kenyon's poem.

Lennon, send me your preferred mailing address and what you like to read. I'll send you a book that I hope you'll love.

Thanks to all who took the time to write entries.  Your work was collectively awesome, and reading it was a great pleasure. Thank you!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Preliminary contest results

This was an interesting experiment in flash fiction. Did you like it?
A lot of you had lovely entries that weren't quite stories though.
 
-->
Special recognition for using words I had to look up
AJ C. Matson 10:00am
Quiddity: the inherent nature or essence of someone or something/a distinctive feature; a peculiarity.



A gorgeous example of how rhythm is a key element of a good story
Kathy Joyce 9:52am
Daffodils,
And hyacinths, then tulips,
Then peonies and daylilies
Roses daisies asters geraniums
Snapdragons zinnias gladiolas marigolds…

Winner of the René Magritte Award
Amy Schaefer 11:16am
I read the poem.
I read it again.
I nodded quietly to myself.
I turned off the computer.
I took my kids to the butterfly conservatory.
We had lunch with my sister and my niece.
I didn’t check my email. I didn’t read the news.
That hard fist in my chest eased a little.
Now I am going for a walk in the woods with my family.
And that is why I’m not entering the contest this week.

A gorgeous line
Shaunna 7:40pm
That night, like every other, Grace climbed into bed and pulled her grief up to her chin.


Special recognition for the perfect illustration of "what isn't said"
Sherry Howard 11:23pm
I saw Dr. Sanders—you remember him. Such good news today! He said it’ll only be a few weeks more now.

A line that is either utterly hilarious or a typo
Just Jan 6:46pm
She adjusted her dimple.


And here are the finalists

Susan 9:48am
I stumble up cracked concrete steps
to a brownstone
caught in shadow,
follow you into the house
where cobwebs drape like curtains
and dust scatters beneath our feet.

On the floor by the staircase lies a single sock,
shredded heel-to-toe,
and a birch broom stands in the corner
by the open door,
splintering at the grip.

There’s a dip in the couch cushions,
an empty wineglass on the table.

“I know this place,” I whisper.
“But it’s been so long…”
I sense the rain within me.
“Can we stay?”

You pause, hand me the broom.
“I never left,” you say.


Sharyn Ekbergh 10:40am
If you are very lucky or very good
someone like this comes into your life.

I’m not good.

pay attention
this is grass
is this grass?
how soft it is, how wonderful

this is a tree
is this a tree?
how high I can climb
watch me, how high

this is water
is this water?
how good, how sweet it is
to drink this water

pay attention!
watch me, watch me now
touch me, touch me now
love me, love me now

How I love my days here with you

PAY ATTENTION!

there is a time bomb in my chest

Timothy Lowe 12:44pm
I loved accounting. Dimes shimmered between my fingers. I squandered my nights under LED lights, whistling as I paved a road to hell with dollar bills.

Mustang: 42,000.00
Case of bourbon: 349.99
Lady friends: 200.00/hr
Dinner at Rocco’s: 1243.60
Drinks at Tenochtitlan: 3650.00
DWI lawyer: 14,000.00
Interlock device: 200.00 a month

I paid for my mistakes. Price Waterhouse fired me. My friends deserted me. But I met someone at AA who told me that happiness is free.

Now we have another beautiful child coming, our sixth.

But hey - who’s counting?

Kate O 3:47pm
It smells like hot garbage.
Probably because I am in the garbage.
And the day is hot.
It wasn’t always like this.
I began life on a shelf, pristine beneath my plastic packaging. My bright future as yet unspooled.
But I was bought hastily, for a child with too much already. I was one of many.
If I had a heart, it would ache.
The garbage can tips. The indignity of something sticky smearing across my face as we tumble: strawberry jam.
A dog’s hot breath, its slobbery tongue.
But also, sunshine.
And also, a child’s voice.
“Mama, look! A doll!”

Lennon Faris 4:35pm
Two saplings gaze into a pool.
“See my brawny branches,” says Oak, stretching.
“And my ample trunk,” Sycamore preens, digging roots into the Earth.
“Your bark’s like a fungus.”
“Your progeny’s the teats of a fox, who milked too long.”
Why fight? hisses Wind, joyriding between their leaves. What do you accomplish?
Ignoring Wind, Oak roars to his squirrel brigade, “Hurl my progeny at that blasphemous ogre!” Songbirds of Sycamore dive-bomb the squirrels, screaming back insults. War rages in the canopy.

Below, a beaver meanders into the glen. He builds his home.

Eventually, the silent stumps turn back into dust.

Madeline Mora-Summonte 5:01pm
The park bench is hard on Harriet's old bones. Nearby, a little girl begs her mother unsuccessfully for ice cream.

Harriet, her heart long unraveled by regret, recalls her son's voice, how it grated her nerves. She was a lousy mother. She pushed him away over and over until he stayed away on his own. If she could have another chance, she'd grab it, never let go.

The girl wanders over. Harriet glances at the mother, focused on her cell. Harriet stands, holds out her hand. The girl takes it, weaving her fingers through Harriet's.

They walk away.


S.D.King 6:47pm
I think we drove over ninety to Ann Arbor the night he was born. First grandchild.

We were too late.

He was wrapped in a blanket at the graveside. I held him tight as they lowered her down.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

He didn’t cry. I shook uncontrollably.

Months of going through the motions.

Choking despair.

Toothless smiles.

Peek-a-boo.

First word: Meema

He sits on the floor playing with Russian nesting dolls, endlessly stacking and restacking. Laughing at a joke only he knows.

His toes flex up in delight.

“Blessed be the name of the Lord.”



Let me know what you think of these choices, and if you think I overlooked an entry that deserved recognition.  Final results tomorrow (Monday)

Friday, February 17, 2017

A different kind of flash fiction contest

Last week's writing contest winner posited a world taken over by machines. I loved the pure imaginative concept.  The same day I posted that choice, I was reading a piece by Jeff Somers that referenced Ray Bradbury's short story There Will Come Soft Rain.

That story, as you read it, seems clearly inspired by a Sara Teasdale poem.

And the idea came to me: why not use a poem as a prompt!

So, here it is. (this is my favorite poem of all time)

Happiness by Jane Kenyon


There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Almost all the usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: flim is ok, but MILF is not.


4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.


Contest opens: 8:54am, Saturday 2/18/17

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday 2/19/17


If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.



If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's
an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!
ENTER! 

oops. Too late. Contest closed.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

RANT: that bright red flame you see is me on fire

 Lately, I've been seeing agents charge for query and page-evaluations, and I don't mean at conferences or for charities. (A pitch here for QueryShark which is free and excruciating, but still free.) Isn't charging for services--even as a separate business entity--while those same agents can benefit from or request mss, against AAR Ethics code, sect.8: ("...may not charge clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any other person or entity...")



If not against ARR code of ethics, seems an awfully thin line is being crossed--if not a lot of hopeful writers getting fleeced. While I have no interest in waging a campaign here, (I have a lot of respect for honest, hardworking agents) there are a LOT of agents doing this, and as a writer organizing her next query round, I'd like to avoid any future problems. Or, is this some sort of paranoia on my part? Thanks.

Pardon me for a moment here while I set on my hair on fire.

Yes, this is incredibly NOT OK.
It does violate the AAR Canon of Ethics.
And NO you should not query an agent who does this.

There's a reason this is against the AAR Canon of Ethics and it's not cause they are big blue meanies trying to block poor little apprentice agents from making a living.

It's because some years back some very well known agents did this kind of thing and it fast became so lucrative that agents didn't need to sell anything to make a lot of money. Which is a problem if your job is supposed to be selling your client's work.


More to the point though: agenting is more than a full-time job, particularly for those just starting out in the biz. If those agents are busy critiquing queries they're NOT busy selling your work, or developing their agenting skills, or researching editors or publishers. They're busy doing editorial work.

If an agent needs secondary income while they ramp up (and a lot of agents do) there are many many other ways to do it that don't involve beguiling writers with the unspoken hope that for $50 you'll discover their masterpiece.

Interestingly enough, it's not the writers who complain about this most often. Writers have told me they'd mortgage their first born to Fagin for an opportunity to get query letter help, or manuscript comments from an agent.

To some young agents it seems harmless: get paid by willing writers for providing a service that's legal and most likely helpful.

The problem is: that's not our job. Our job is to sell our client's work.  Our job is to find revenue sources for our clients, not function as an editor.

The other problem is that no matter what you say, or how many times you say it: a writer who sends an agent a query for critical help also hopes against hope that the agent will fall in love with their work. This is human nature and nothing will change it. Thus, agents don't assume any risk here. To be an agent, you assume risk WITH your author. If the manuscript doesn't sell, neither of us get paid.

To offer an author a query critique means the agent takes no risk at all. S/he gets paid. The author may not end up with anything of value. That's not equal assumption of risk.

Let me put in the most simple terms I can: Writers are an agent's clients, not customers. 


If you want to critique query letters for profit, hang out a shingle as a freelance editor, but don't call yourself an agent.

Now, excuse me while I go dunk my head in an ice bucket to cool the flames.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

more on Asbestos Underpants LLC

I am following up on a letter from last month. I was published by the same “imploding” press referred to in that letter and wonder exactly how terrible it would be to query the novel formerly published by Asbestos Underpants, LLC (a name many of us quite enjoy, by the way). It was submitted and accepted by the pub as a novel but was chopped into four e-novellas, each made available months, and sometimes years, apart. Reviewers' only complaints were that they wanted to read the whole thing, and I’ve always wondered how the book would have fared as a complete novel. Is querying this possible, now that I have all rights to it back, or do I need to venture into the world of self-publishing, which, frankly, scares me? 


There's a third option. Query agents for a new novel then, when you're actually talking to one of my lucky colleagues about representation, mention this little orphan as part of your literary inventory.

When I begin negotiations with a writer (are you prepared to drink a lot of bourbon? Do you know all the words to The Music Man? Does the phrase "safety deposit box" give you the hives?) one of the other questions I ask is "what else ya got in your quiver there, Archer?"

When I sign authors it is generally for the novel  they queried. However, I know that my evil plans for world domination (crime publishing division) are sometimes thwarted by editors taking leave of their senses and not buying my stuff.  When that happens, it's Plan B to the rescue and Plan B is what we discussed when we talked about what else you had.

A quick rundown of my current client list shows five current clients who queried for Book A, and their first published book was or will be Book Not A.

Another option is to use a pitch session at a writing conference to talk about this project with agents. It will be very useful if we can engage in conversation about this book rather than you just querying it and me seeing "previously published" and hitting the "nope" key.

One thing about publishing: it's fluid. One bout of bad luck here will not end your career. What this will give you instead is the first of many great publishing stories, which you tell in the bar at a conference years later and we all groan and moan and swill bourbon.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lollygagging once again

 I've been waiting 14 months to hear from an agent regarding a full they requested. I'm expecting a, "no, thanks," but this one surprised me because the agent's reputation was solid. I heard from another writer who's been waiting 18 months. As we continue to write other stories, we've politely nudged (a few times) but never get a reply, even on the nudge. It's now embarrassing. Is this length of time waiting for a full an anomaly or becoming an industry norm? And since it's a full manuscript request, should we expect a personal reply?
Yeesh, I thought I was The World's Worst Agent on delayed replies, but while I have mss that have been here for ~cough~ awhile, I have responded to nudges saying I'm a total slacker, it's true, but yes I'm still interested.

I will also tell you that some editors have begun doing this no reply thing and it drives me crazy.

Well, it drives me crazy twice, and then I stop sending them stuff.

We've all heard the truism that you know a person by how they treat the wait staff in a restaurant. Otherwise normal people who become surly and rude when ordering a meal, well, that tells you a lot about their character.

I think it's also an indication of character about how agents treat writers in general. I've been standing on my soapbox, ranting like a crazy person, about this very thing for quite some time.  Sure, we're all behind on our reading but geeze, just let the writer know you're neither dead nor fled!

And I'll tell you another thing that I have found illuminating. It's often the busiest, most successful person who replies to emails with the most alacrity. I've seen that in both agencies where I've worked; I've seen it with many of the editors I've pitched.

Bottom line: I think you should write these agents off. Either they're too busy to take on new work, or they think letting you sit there waiting endlessly is ok.


And I hope this is not an indication of industry norms in the making.
I will stand with you at the barricades should that come to pass.
"ANSWER YOUR DAMN EMAILS" etched on cobblestones.
[ Can a musical be far behind? ]

And as for a personal reply, at this point, any reply would be better than none.
I know some of my more tender-hearted colleagues get all wrapped up in things like "I have to say something, I've had this for so long" but those are good intentions paving the road to hell. Just answer
yes or no and attach a jpg to match the message.

Miles for "YES I LOVE YOUR MS"



Maximus for "No"


 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Writing contest final results

 Here are the final contest results from this weekend's Triple Threat Flash Fiction contest




Special recognition for using words I had to look up
Lucy Crow 2:39pm
bedight
Amy Schaefer 9:57am
Acheron


Steve Forti Award for dexterity with prompt words
Steve Forti 9:05am
 low rents, fade at home, hombre wranglin

To be eligible for this award you have to underline the prompt words in your entry. 


Special recogniton for a great line
Cheryl 10:10am
The first Valentine’s party over, streamers dripped from the walls, the buffet, puddling on the floor like so much discarded happiness.

Just Jan 3:06pm
And a bottle of Jack Daniels reclines, soberly, on the bare floor.

A line that should be required in all future manuscripts
Steve Forti 9:05am
Embiggen the wall

Great metaphor
Michael Seese 9:10am
"a freshly brewed cup of happy"


Not quite a story but superlative writing
Timothy Lowe 9:50am

Lucy Crowe 2:39pm

Kimber 6:17am



Four line perfection
Claire Bobrow 10:05am
She stirred the non-dairy creamer. Nasty stuff.
“Covers the taste,” he said. “You trying to kill me?”
They both had a laugh,
As he clutched his throat.



Example of something that's very well written, but I don't quite understand
MeganV 8:36am
Death can throw a wrench into any man’s plans, but on days like today I swear the cowl-wearing creep has it in for me. Put it this way.
Death of a coffeemaker? No brew.
Death of a tranny? No truck.
Death of a digger? No crew.
Death of a Salesman? No fuck.
All in all a sucky day.
That’s about all I can say.
Or it’s all I would have said, and I could have let it go.
But when Death tries earning street cred with the Devil, the scythe drops hard.
Death of a proposal? No ring.



Here is the long list of finalists

Kitty 9:12am
“Father is threatening to shoot my low-rent brother, Benny,” said Mr. Brewster.

“Low-rent?” said the Sheriff.

“Father calls him a low-rent joyri
de athlete, because Benny is-- was-- a male prostitute. He says he’s retired.”

“Sounds like he has a problem with Benny’s lifestyle.”

“Father’s in
dignant about it, but that’s not the problem.”

“Then what is?”

“Benny has written a salacious memoir, pornographic yet surprisingly literate for him, and…”

“And your father doesn’t want it published.”

“Oh no, on the contrary. Father’s a publisher. Benny’s book would make a lot of money. But purely out of spite, Benny decided to self-publish.”

I love how Kitty used the prompt words here very deftly.
And of course, it's hilarious to touch on the theme of self-publishing.
This made me laugh out loud.



PAH 9:30am
She looked different in death. Was her hair always so red?
Of course, she wasn’t dead. Not really.
A bullet could stop her like a wrench could fix a broken heart.
She’d been my partner. And I loved her. Once.
That was before she was bit.

There’s a Hebrew phrase: gam zu l'tova.

The stake fit my hand. Or, perhaps, my hand had molded to fit the stake.
I raised it and plunged it into her heart, digging it into her chest.
There was no cry of agony. No hellish scream. No death-rattle.
Oops, I thought. Wrong funeral home.

Oops indeed. I really love this little twist at the end. 
And the "A bullet could stop her like a wrench could fix a broken heart." is pure James M. Cain
and that's saying something.




Amy Schaefer 9:57am
Our job: guard the gate. But our passion: helping people. Even today, with our guts a witches’ brew of expired burritos and cherry cheesecake, we succeeded.

“Let me pass,” she begged. “He’s in there.”

We squirmed, trying to avoid the in
dignity of shitting ourself. What a predicament. Her wrenching sobs tugged our heartstrings, but the rules stipulated: souls only.

The perfect idea.

We mauled her.

Her shade stared at the chunky mess oozing over the rocks.

“Welcome,” we said, moving aside. “Enjoy your
death.”

We trotted away and gratefully squatted over the Acheron. “Cerberus,” we chuckled, “you’re a good dog.”

It's a distinct pleasure to have an entry that is set in Hell. And one that involves my favorite doggie, Cerberus.  And this story is gruesome and hilarious, and that's a pretty good trick to accomplish in 100 words.



Susan 10:02am
“One last game?”

Lawrence looked up. At the bar sat a familiar face, flushed beneath the indigo light advertising a glowing deal on craft brew. He nodded towards the vacant poker table.

“You look tired,” Lawrence said. “More tired than the last time.”

“It’s been a while.” Death picked up his cards.

“Eighty-one years. You took my dog.”

“Saved you, didn’t I?”

“Not this time?”

Death threw a red poker chip into the mix. “Afraid not.”

Lawrence sighed. “Yeah, alright. Call it.”

“Not to worry, kid. It’s a full house by now.”

Lawrence grinned and took his hand. “Damn straight.”  
I love the clever play on words at the end.
And the story is both poignant and pointed.


Dena Pawling 12:50pm
Mildred finished digging and smoothed the dirt. Good riddance.

Back inside, her alarm chimed. They're almost here!

She grabbed a wrench. “This'll do,” she said, hammering.

Pictures hung, she shoved dirty clothes under the bed, dirty dishes in the oven.

To cover the deathly stench, she opened a window and brewed some coffee. That's better.

Social services arrived. “Where's Charlie?”

“At a friend's house today. Active boy,” Mildred said, laughing.

He scanned the house. “You've cleaned up quite a bit since last month.” He jotted notes, took photos. “I'll close your case. Congratulations.”

Mildred smiled. Free at last.
oh sweet mother of garamond, this made me reach for a restorative cup of cocoa. Emergency cocoa! Honestly this is Shirley Jackson stuff here, and I may never sleep again.
Brilliant writing, just brilliant.


katie 3:13pm
Digging in Joe's drawer for his utility knife I find diamond earrings. They look expensive and they aren't mine - my tastes run fake and ironic. I put them in my ears anyway because I'm not stupid; they might be useful where we're going. The storm's still brewing when I run out and I smell death, animal or marital, rising in the yard. Wren promised she'd fit me in the car but she takes one look at me and locks the doors. "Can't take you no more, Freddie, those are my earrings and you know it."
Oh how I love the twist to our expectations here! Very deft.


RosannaM 4:09pm
Washing machine came on again—the TV told it to.
I’m sure of it.

My phone brewed a pot of coffee at three a.m. and a Sousa march on repetitive loop kept me awake. I punch the digital display on the furnace but it remains frozen at sixty. As do I.

The appliances are taking over.
Can’t unplug them—they’re hard-wired.

Technology now renders us obsolete.

They said it would advance us, and it did for a while, but it has surpassed us and will cause the death of the human race.

I’m sure of it.
This is deeply disturbing and beautiful all at the same time.
The perfection of this entry is we the readers don't know what's real and what isn't.
This is sublime.

Scott G 11:44pm
We stood at the alter and my heart wrenched as I watched her walk down the aisle.

I’ve loved her since we were five, next door neighbors digging in the sandbox.

I loved her in high school, talking on the phone late at night until mom poked her head in my room and gave me the death-stare.

I loved her in college, bar hopping, drinking brews and throwing darts until last call.

The reverend turned to me. “The rings, please.”

My face reddened as I dug the symbols of faithfulness out of my pocket and gave them to my brother.


And speaking of twists on reader expectations!
I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry here.
Either emotion though; the writing makes you feel something intensely which is terrific.



John Davis (Manuscript) Frain 2:16pm
Whiskered postal worker reads the label on the package. Looks up. You get this a lot.

“Your name is …”

“Death. Rhymes with teeth.”

Whiskers nods. Indignant. “’Course it does. Noel. Rhymes with asshole.”

You don’t argue. He’s accurate.

“If I can just get my package…”

He shakes his head. And the box. “Sorry.”

Noel does rhyme with – you stop yourself.

“Says there’s a bomb inside.”

“Excuse me?” Category 5 headache begins brewing.

“Right here.” He points at lip balm.

You begin to understand the idiom
going postal. You leave. Find Wren at home. Tell her, “We’re joining Amazon Prime.”

This just plain cracked me up.


It took some serious contemplation but in the end I went for the entry that was utterly distinct:

RosannaM 4:09pm

It didn't sound like anything we've seen before, and it was highly imaginative. Gorgeous work.

RosannaM if you'll send me your preferred mailing address, I'll get Loretta's books in the mail to you!
 
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And we have last week's caption contest too!

Bad bad contest manager for not announcing the winner in a more timely fashion.

Just a reminder, here are the finalists:


Melanie Sue Bowles 11:44am
Kiss me, you fool

Amy Schaefer 12:01pm
It's my turn with the new Otter book!

Michael Seese 1:02pm
Admit it.
No.
Admit it.
No!
ADMIT IT!
OK. I kissed a dog once.
EEEEEWWWWW!

Kate Higgins 3:08pm
No, I say, I cannot let you go to that place! It's a dangerous place for newbie mewies and it is run by a demanding evil queen named DOY. Only a few kittas have been released!

"What's it called?"

"Catkoon!"

Mark Ellis 4:01pm
Look, I've told you again and again. Funny is good, but not enough. It has to be a story.

Carolynnwith2Ns 5:46pm
Two's company three's a cattastrophy.


I loved all of these entries, but in the end, I had to surrender to Her Grace, The Duchess of Yowl's imperious demand that the entry in which she appears is CLEARLY superior to anything, particularly those that mention DOGS, so the winner is 
 
Kate Higgins 3:08pm

Kate if you'll email me with your preferred mailing address, and the kinds of books you like to read, we'll send you a prize!


Thanks again to all of you who took the time to write and enter. Your talent amazes me. It scares me too, but really, amazing is the best word here.