Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer Short Story Spectacular! Season 1, episode 4 - DONNA FITCH

My next guest, on the Summer Short Story Spectacular is a woman that I consider a friend even though we have never met in person. She was a Beta reader for my own collection, Strange Faces, and was able to offer me many interesting insights on character and placement of stories. I am so pleased to present to you today a writer of wonderful short fiction -  Donna Fitch. I, for one, am so glad I found this lady. Her stories are wonderful and so elegantly-written they could  be used to teach MFA students. 

Donna K. Fitch was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the "Rocket City," and grew up to the sound of rocket testing at Redstone Arsenal. Her high school was named for Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, the astronaut who died in Apollo 1. Tales of Sally Carter’s ghost and the "old Grizzard Mansion" near her home mixed with an early diet of Dr. Seuss, the reference section of the Oak Park Public Library, 1930s mystery stories and the Gothic novels of Victoria Holt. She started writing novels at age 13. Her influences also include Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Tim Powers. Her love of research led her to an MLS, and her fascination with the internet led her to switch careers from academic librarian to web designer. For fun, she plays roleplaying games and researches women’s history in old newspapers online. Her latest venture is a series of webinar courses aimed at helping authors maximize their marketing dollars.

Donna, I have to admit to being completely blown away by your short story, The Color of Darkness. It was so exquisitely written, and yet with this edge of terror that mesmerized me.  You must have been influenced by some good writers. Let me ask you, what is your all time favorite short story and why?

I think it would be A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, although I’m a big fan of anything by Ambrose Bierce. Both were early inspirations in my own writing career in engendering a sense of dread and impending doom. Edgar Allan Poe is a favorite of mine as well, as is H. P. Lovecraft. O’Connor’s story is brimming over with that calmly terrifying genteel decadence that I appreciate as a Southerner. The story of a family’s road-trip run-in with a serial killer is agonizing to me. The dialog is deliciously painful, and with each re-read, I feel more of the dread at what’s coming next, even though I know what will happen. O’Connor’s descriptions are spare, but right on target. My very favorite line comes at the end: “’She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’”

What is the most difficult part of writing short fiction for you, Donna?

The whole thing. I have a much easier time writing a novel than short fiction. When I do write a short story, the idea comes to me in a burst, and I have to get as much of it down as I can in one sitting. I go back and edit, of course, I try not to overwork it or over-think it. The essence of short fiction is to pare the story down to its essentials. Short stories feel like sculptures to me. Michelangelo said he carved away the marble to reveal the figure within, and that’s how I feel about writing a short story. So much has to be whittled away from a short story to make it slim and elegant and cohesive, with every word contributing to the effect of the whole. 

What advice would you give to a prospective short story writer?

Read widely. Read Poe, definitely, the father of the short story. Pick up a college freshman English anthology. That’s where I read a broad range of short stories, with themes I never would have read before, as I mostly stuck with science fiction short stories in high school. Study how the great short story writers managed to delineate their themes in just a few strokes.

Which of your short stories should we read first and why?

My favorite is the last one I wrote, Red Guitar. It was the first time I ever wrote something really close to my emotions. The story is about my father, who died on Christmas Day many years ago now, and a photo of him with a Christmas present he cherished. Although like everything I write, it has a supernatural twist. It made my mom cry, so I guess I did something right.

Where can readers find you, Donna?

The Color of Darkness and Other Stories: 
“Red Guitar” is also featured in An Alexandria Winter Story Collection

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Short Story Spectacular, Season 1, Episode 3 - DAVID TODD

Welcome to the third summer Saturday installment of my interviews with some great short story writers - Season 1, Episode 3. 

Today we meet short story writer, David Todd.

David was born and raised in Rhode Island, but has lived in the plains states, overseas, and the south through his adult life. He is a civil engineer, with forty years of experience in the design and construction administration of public infrastructure. He spent five years in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait). He has for the last twenty-three years lived in northwest Arkansas, and now serves as corporate trainer for the medium size civil engineering company.

He began writing creatively around 1999, and likes to say he was written by the writing bug in 2000 and was diagnosed as incurable in 2002. He began with a story to tell and wrote a novel. From there he branched out to more novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short stories. Finding the way in to trade publishing a long and uncertain road, he chose to self-publish his works beginning in 2011, and as of early June 2014 had a total of fifteen items available for purchase. By the end of 2014 he anticipates adding a novel, two short stories, and a poetry book to that, while working on the next novel and non-fiction book.

Now to the questions, David. What is your all-time favorite short story and why?

By this I assume you mean short story written by someone else, not one that I've written. No one short story stands out. Several from my school years still remain in mind, but by subject rather than title. I know we read stories by John Cheever and William Faulkner, and bits and snatches of those still remain in re-callable memory. One in particular, not sure by whom, had to do with a student being taught biology through observation. The teacher had the student do nothing but observe living creatures, and keep observing until he (or she) could draw scientific conclusions from the observations. I'd like to figure out the name of that one and read it again.

In recent years I've been going through the short stories of Mark Twain. He has subtle humor in most of these, rather than action or adventure. The one of these that stands out is The Diary of Adam and Eve. Twain does a good job of getting in the heads of these two that we know from Genesis, with each point of view being authentic. It's a very good read.

What, in your opinion, David, is the most difficult part of writing short fiction? 

My limited experience with it is my main problem. How do I, in a short amount of literary real estate, get in everything needed to tell the story and satisfy the reader? Also, I think I tend to make my short stories too short. I'm not sure I've found the right combination of plot and length. In my attempts to not write a novel I'm making my short stories too short, or not really developing a plot through them.

What piece of advice would you give to a prospective short story writer?

I actually don't have any. I consider myself a beginner at short story writing, and am very much feeling my way along. Ask me this question in four or five years, when I have thirty or forty short stories completed and published, and perhaps I'll have something to say on this.

Which of your short stories should we read first and why?

My very non-committal answer is: It depends. I have six completed and published, the last one went on sale June 7. If you want action, you should probably start with Whiskey, Zebra, Tango. This is the first of my stories about Sharon Williams Fonsecu, an unconventional CIA agent. In WZT we see her as a 60s-ish grandmother, living in her home town in Rhode Island, and accused of helping a suspected Middle Eastern terrorist escape from a police hunt. That introduces Sharon and puts us into the labyrinth of her career. The second is the series is Charley, Delta, Delta. Sharon is a young mother, "vacationing" with husband children in Athens, Greece. Yet she finds time to meet some bad guys and deal with them. A CIA analyst stationed in Europe is sent to follow her and report on her movements. He finds the job difficult to say the least. 

My hope is to make this into a long series. I'll put Sharon in the places where we lived or visited overseas. This will hopefully make the scenes authentic. She will be pursued or investigated by other CIA, as, because of her tactics, CIA leaders are never quite sure if she is an asset or a liability to the Agency.  Each short story will have a three word title, letters from the international NATO phonetic alphabet, code letters for Sharon's cases. The next one in the series is "Sierra Kilo Bravo", which I hope to have published in July 2014. The code letters will always have an unexplained meaning relative to the case, which readers can try to figure out if they wish to.

(My aside - Charley, Delta, Delta is a great story with a wonderfully surprise ending! It left me wanting more. Thanks David.)

But, if you like "slice of life" stories, start with Mom's Letter. This is the first of what will be a five story series that deal with teen age grief at the loss of a parent. I have the first three in the series published, with the fourth two paragraphs away from being finished. I hope to have it published before long

Where can prospective readers find you, David?

Here are my links: 

Amazon author page

Monday, July 14, 2014

How Do I Edit Thee? Let Me Count the Ways—

Having just completed my first self-published (or in the vernacular—“Indie”) print book, I’ve learned a few things. A few. But there are so many more things for me to learn that at times I feel like curling up in the corner of my office and chewing on my sweater cuffs. After publishing eighteen novels with regular publishing houses, Indie publishing is all new to me. I never had to worry much about whether that sentence really needed a second comma. I didn't even know what an em-dash was. There was always someone in the publishing house whose job description included “Knowledge of commas and em-dashes.”
Now all of that is mine to worry about, and suddenly I find myself Googling the ins and outs of the em-dash. Ask my husband. The em-dash is my current obsession. Em-Dash. I even like the sound of the word. 

I digress. Back to my print book, Strange Faces. 

With this one I chose to go with Create Space. They have a good reputation and the interface was fairly easy for us to follow. We input the document and the PFM Box translated it into what what would become a printed copy of my book. 
Oh? You don’t know what a PFM Box is? Um. There are just some things about the interwebs and computers that are Pure Magic. Actually, it’s an acronym from the 80s back when the Apple IIe and the Commodore 64 were hot, screaming machines. 
I digress. I must stop doing that. 
The bulk and purpose of this post is to tell you about A STEP YOU DON’T WANT TO LEAVE OUT. And yes, the capital letters are there on purpose. 
We downloaded the document onto Create Space’s Magic Box and then were prompted—did we want to review it digitally, or did we want a physical proof copy? Actually, with a sigh of “I’m tired of this,” I would have opted for— “I’ll just scan it digitally and be done with it.” 

Earlier however, my cover artist made a point of sending me an email suggesting that I not bypass the print proof. So, I didn’t. I ordered a print proof. 

Yes, it adds another 2-3 weeks to the process, but is it worth it? 

For me, a resounding yes. What’s 2-3 weeks for the Indie? that’s the beauty of what I do, I’m an Indie. I’m not on anyone’s time schedule but my own. 

So, armed with a highlighter pen and yellow stickies I went to town on my ARC (In the biz, that stands for Advanced Reader Copy.) I found several errors. Little things. Hardly noticeable things. A few extra commas, little dashes that should have been em-dashes. (Did I tell you I was obsessed?) 
It’s my opinion that somehow, you are able to “see” these things better on a printed piece of paper than a computer screen. I am quite sure you don’t get a feel or sense of the print book unless you are actually holding a print book in your hands. 

I know there are authors out there who write their things entirely on the computer. They edit entirely on the computer. They proof their manuscripts entirely on the computer screen. The thing never sees ink dry on paper until after its published. I sort of wish I was one of those people. I know I would save money on printer ink. (My printer ink perpetually reads “low”.) 

But there, you have it. So, if you are thinking of Create Space, I would say always, always opt for the proof copy. I’m glad I followed that advice. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Summer Short Story Spectacular! Season 1, Episode 2 - B.C. LAYBOLT

This week I introduce you to B.C. Laybolt who not only is a wonderful writer of thrillers set in strange and exotic worlds, but is also a fellow Canadian.

We met, like writers do these days, online. I downloaded and loved Upon a Wake of a Flame. So, without further ado, please put your hands together for B.C. Laybolt! 

B.C. Laybolt is a Canadian Indie science fiction and fantasy writer. His first short story, Upon a Wake of Flame, was released in August 2013. The first novel of his trilogy about the 10th Lunen Regiment is titled To Drown in Sand, and was released in December, 2013. He is currently working on the sequel, To Drown in Ash.  His latest short story, Juris Lunence, is slated for release in August 2014. When he’s not writing, he enjoys pretending to wrestle with his miniature poodle.

B.C., what is your all-time favourite short story and why?
I have two that compete for that slot. The first is The Last Rung on the Ladder, by Stephen King. It taught me that King is capable of incredible writing far beyond his normal horror, and that writers who dare shock you by stepping outside of their genre are often doing it for a very good reason. 
The other is The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft. It has to be listed as a favourite because it was my first read of his work. It drew me so completely into his writing and the mythos he had built, and it left me completely cratered by his ideas. Plus the Michael Whelan covers for the collection edition I had bought. After Dunwich, I sped through the rest of every work by Lovecraft I could find. My poor, tender, young brain. It had no idea what I had done!
What is the most difficult part of writing short fiction?
Ending it. Being satisfied that you’ve reached a conclusion that works. My novel, To Drown in Sand, came in at 600 pages. A short story always leaves me with that “Really? Really, really?” feeling. 
What piece of advice would you give to a prospective short story writer?

Never, EVER throw anything out. Ever. 

Never try to write for a mold. Just spew. Crank out whatever scene hit you during your walk, or favourite song, or whatever. It will fit somewhere someday. If you’re struggling to finish a first draft, it’s probably because you’re writing for someone else. Don’t do that. Indies don’t have to. Crank out twenty stories knowing you might only use two. That’s how it works. I guarantee the other 18 pieces will go in someplace you need them to.  
Never think “That’s such a cool idea, I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember it.”
The minute you think that, the idea’s doomed. Or brains hate us that way. Write. Everything. Down.

(My little aside - I love the fact, B.C. that you say that "Indies don't have to." That is something I'm discovering. It's up to me when I release stuff, and why and how. If I want to write something that is just for me, I can. And someone, somewhere out there will probably like it!)

Which is the short story of yours that we should read first and why?
Upon a Wake of Flame, because, as of press time, it’s the only one uploaded. Also, it’s the prequel for To Drown in Sand, the start of my trilogy. It also works well as a stand-alone, I think.  We’re finishing the cover of my next piece Juris Lunence now, and it should be uploaded by by the time you are reading this. It will be free on Amazon, because People Love Free Stuff. 

(My little aside - If you like fantastical worlds and a great plot - read Upon a Wake of Flame!)

Intrigued? You should be. You can follow B.C.'s writing here on his blog

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Create Space—Almost, sort of—and helpful people along the way (Short update on my Indie journey)

I should have had my Create Space "proof" for Strange Faces by now. Just so you know: a proof is that final printed copy of the book where you get to go over it and over it and over it some more for errors. I should have had this hot little book in my hands July 1. That was the delivery date.

Well, it didn't come and it didn't come and it didn't come. I was like the kid staying up all night waiting for Christmas. And it doesn't come. Yesterday we called Create Space at Amazon. We weren't even put on hold very long (I like them over there.)

They agreed with us. It should have been here by now. So, they are sending another copy to arrive quick like a bunny, special express at no extra charge to us. 

So, lesson learned with Amazon. If you have a problem or question, phone them. Maybe you'll get the nice lady we had. 

Meanwhile, I am so pleased to announce that Carolyn W. won the free eCopy of Strange Faces. Free copy, you ask? I didn't know anything about a giveaway. Well, you would if you were signed up for my newsletter. My newsletter is where I give aways and have freebies and contests. To never miss another one, here's the link

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer Short Story Spectacular! Season 1, Episode 1 - BARBARA PHINNEY

Welcome to Season 1, Episode 1 of my Saturday Short Story Spectacular! 

What better way to begin the summer than with a summer photo of our very first author guest! Doesn't that picture just make you want to drop what you're doing and head for the beach? (With your eReader loaded with stories, of course!) In my section of Canada today, Hurricane Arthur is on the rampage with rain and wind, it's lovely to see such a sunny picture.

My first guest is a very good friend of mine, Barbara Phinney who writes not only full length novels for publishing houses like  Harlequin's Love Inspired, but she also writes short stories and novellas as a full-fledged Indie author.

Without further ado, let's meet this wonderful straw hatted lady who is making us all want to hang out with her there—

Barbara's writing career goes back to when she retired from the Canadian Armed Forces. That's when she decided to take up writing. She writes, "Romantic suspense was as far from my previous career as possible, so I chose that one."

 Though her two children have flown their New Brunswick coop, Barbara spends her days either writing or with her semi-retired husband.

Now, time for a few questions. Barbara, what is your all-time favorite short story and why?

This is a hard question! I think it would have to be Soaked in Seaweed or Upset in the Ocean by Stephen Leacock. I think the story (It’s one story, btw, the title is Soaked in Seaweed or Upset in the Ocean, drew me because it was funny and I understood the ending, whereas other kids in the class didn’t get it. I was a silly, fun story and I loved reading Stephen Leacock.

What, in your opinion, is the most difficult part of writing short fiction? 

You need to make your motivations believeable in a short time. No space for deep explanations and we all know that people are complicated.

What piece of advice would you give to a prospective short story writer?

Oh, that would be keep writing and keep reading. Tear your favourite authors’ works apart and see what works in them. Above all, never give up.

Which of your short stories should we read first and why?

I think Cape of Secrets. It’s a long novella, but it starts a series that will include shorter ones, and gives the full flavour of my Bay of Fundy mysteries.

Here's where you can find Cape of Secrets: 


Here's where you can find Barbara.

My note: I just finished reading Cape of Secrets, where Barbara Phinney writes as Georgina Lee, and if you like suspense, romance and a very intriguing plot that spans continents, you will enjoy it!

Thank you, Barbara!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Welcome to Summer Saturday Short Story Spectacular!

Starting this Saturday, I welcome you to a very special summer feature here on my blog, something that I'm calling The Summer Saturday Short Story Spectacular! 

In honor of the release of my mystery story collection  Strange Faces, my first original Indie release, (release the balloons and cue the music from Chariots of Fire and one that I'm very proud of, I've decided that on Saturdays throughout the summer, I will be interviewing Indie writers of short fiction, either short, short fiction, sometimes called "flash fiction" or "postcard fiction" to writers of novelettes or novellas. 

There is a wealth of new Indie writing to be discovered out there, almost so many that it boggles the thinking, hence the reason for the focus of this blog. Maybe if you met writers, one on one and one by one, you won't feel so discombobulated when you're faced with a big page of Amazon new releases. 

have had immense fun meeting some of these great writers online and reading their stories which have ranged from sweet and cozy mystery to other-worldy stories of exotic and fanciful worlds, and from noir to literary.

First, a few definitions:

Flash fiction - under 1,000 words
Short short story - 1,000-3,000 words
Short story - 3,000-7,500 words
Novelette - 7,500- 17,000 words
Novella - 17,000 - 40,000 words

I am asking all of my summer short story author guests to answer a series of questions, which, I hope, will help you to get to know them and their work better.  I've asked them for their favorite short story of all time. I also want to know how, in their opinion,  short story writing differs from writing a longer work, the most difficult part of writing short fiction, and then, of course, links where you may purchase their stories for your Kindle, Kobo, iPad or iPhone (or whatever you read your stories on.) 

So, if you love reading short stories, the way I do, I’m sure you will find lots of new and wonderful short story authors and plenty of reading material for the long hot summer. So, read the interviews, click on the links, read  previews of their stories and then download them onto your eReaders, and enjoy.

Here's a tentative schedule for Season 1, this summer. (It's subject to change, but I hope not too much change)

Episode 1 - July 5 - Barbara Phinney
Episode 2 - July 12 - B.C. Laybolt
Episode 3 - July 19 - David Todd
Episode 4 - July 26 - Donna Fitch
Episode 5 - August 2 - C.A. Rowland
Episode 6 - August 9 - VJ Schultz
Episode 7 - August 13 - Kaye George
Episode 8 - August 16 - Rosemary McCracken
Episode 9 - August 20 - Terri Judd
Episode 10 - August 23 - Bobbi Chukran
Episode 11 - August 27 - JM Davis
Episode 12  - August 30 - Valerie Douglas
Episode 13 - Sept. 3 - Lyn Cote
Episode 14 - Sept. 6 - Margaret Daley
Episode 15 - Sept. 10 - Lina Gardiner
Episode 16 - Sept. 13 - Melissa Yuan-Innes
Episode 17 - Sept. 17 - JA Menzies
Episode 18 - Sept. 20 - Ben Solomon

And yes, yes, I fully realize that there are not 8 Saturdays in August, not unless you're in some weird dystopian world where the planets and the earth and the rotation therein has been seriously compromised. And yes - I know the kids are back in school in September, but it's still technically summer! But, the response had been so overwhelming that I decided to include some author interviews mid-week and into September. 

So welcome to Season One  of the Saturday Short Story Spectacular! Come back each Saturday and meet a new author of short fiction.