Critique this short story, please!

tanzola-house-with-pretty-shadowsI’m thinking of submitting this short story to a fiction contest. Would appreciate your constructive comments.

A Star on the Farm

 

“I don’t care about silly movie stars,” I said.

My big sister Elma, our nearest neighbor Lucy, and I were lying on our stomachs under the shade of the giant lilac bush next to our chicken coop. Lucy had brought over the movie magazine.

“You’ll care when you’re grow up like me and Elma.” Lucy had turned twelve last week.

“Listen!” My sister Elma read from the magazine: “It says more movies will be shot in color in 1937.”

Lucy grabbed the magazine from my sister. “I get to cut out Claudette Colbert for my scrapbook!”

I taped a four-leaf clover onto the first page in my scrapbook. Lucy and Elma sang “I’ve Got You under My Skin” as they clipped movie star pictures.

When Lucy wasn’t looking, I scratched myself as if something itched under my skin. Elma giggled behind her hand, partly so Lucy wouldn’t notice and partly to hide her crooked teeth.

 

About a week later, Lucy galloped right through our vegetable patch, shouting, “Elma! Elma! A photographer is….” Lucy gasped to catch her breath. “A photographer from the city newspaper is coming tomorrow afternoon!”

“You smashed our seedlings,” my sister said.

“Never mind about that.” Lucy bounced on her toes. “I’m going to braid my hair and wear my satin dress for the photographer.”

 

 

 

“Why would a photographer come here?” Elma asked.

“Daddy said a photojournalist is writing about farmers,” Lucy said. “Put on your Sunday dress and comb your ratty hair if you want your pictures in the newspaper.”

Elma was silent. Two sparrows raised a racket tussling in the dust. My sister was probably searching for the right words to explain to Lucy that the way we looked was the way farmers are supposed to look.

“My picture will be in the paper,” Lucy said over her shoulder as she left. “Just like a movie star!”

Momma stepped of the chicken coop with a bushel basket. “Remember the crazy quilt we sewed last winter?” she asked.

“Yes.” I remembered embroidering chain stitches onto the patches.

“I traded that quilt for these eyes.” Momma called pieces of potatoes “eyes.” She plopped the basket down. “Let’s plant these eyes before the sun gets too hot.”

She dug a hole in the dry ground. I dropped an eye in it and Elma pushed dirt over it.

Elma tugged her overalls. “We don’t get the city newspaper anyways, so it doesn’t matter if I won’t gussy up for the photographer.” She said that to an eye before kicking soil on it.

Momma moved along the furrows, digging more holes for the eyes. Gardens don’t wait for newspaper photographers.

 

The next day we were eating fried chicken under the lilac bush when Lucy bounded into the backyard. I think she stayed clear of the garden so she wouldn’t get her black patent shoes and white anklets with the pink lacy trim dirty.

“Aren’t you the looker!” Elma said.

Lucy was wearing a shiny dress with matching ribbons in her braided hair. She smelled soapy.

“Is he here yet?” Lucy pinched her cheeks to make them rosy.

“Who?”

“The photo-germal . . . photojournalist,” Lucy said.

We heard a motor and saw a dust cloud floating over the hill. Soon, a car pulled up to our fence. A man wearing a stiff white shirt and a bow tie and hopped out. He carried a box.

Lucy ran to him. “Are you the photojournalist?”

“Yes. Are you the lady of the house?”

“No. But you can take my picture and put it in the city newspaper,” Lucy told him.

Momma staggered out of the house, lugging rolled up carpets. She hung them over the rope between two trees. She squinted at the man and said, “You can take your pictures if you want, but we have work to do.” She beat the carpets with a paddle, making the dust jump off.

Between grunts as she whacked the carpets, Momma told me to draw enough water from the pump to make dinner. “Elma, you stack that cord wood over there.” Elma’s eyes rolled toward the huge pile of logs.

“Perfect,” the man said. “I prefer to shoot candid photographs. And I’ll deliver a copy of the city newspaper to your doorstep, to boot.” The man loosened his bow tie and peered into his camera box hunting for candid photographs.

Elma stacked wood straight and tight like we’d been taught. I put all my weight into the pump handle to coax the water up. Lucy twirled to make her skirt and braids flare out.

“Where’d she go?” the man asked, looking for Momma.

“In there.” Elma pointed to the chicken coop.

The man with the camera stood by the door to the chicken coop. He waited for Momma to step out so he could to take a candid picture. He aimed carefully.

In a less than a second, Momma flung that bird onto the stump and chop!

The people at the newspaper company weren’t going to get any pictures of Momma killing the old hen for stewing. The man had forgotten to press the button.

He leaned against the coop and wiped his face with his untied bowtie. Large wet spots darkened the armpits of his white shirt. Lucy stood next to him, fluffing her dress.

He took a picture of her. Then he took another one of Lucy on the porch swing. Lucy at the gate. Lucy in the grass. Lucy in the garden. Lucy on the cordwood Elma had stacked.

Elma sat on the fence rail for a breather before feeding the chickens. Dust streaked her face and around her eyes. Damp hair stuck to her forehead.

“Look at you!” Lucy said. “You look like something the dog drug in.”

I couldn’t hear what Elma said to Lucy as the camera clicked one final time. Lucy left, walking on stiff legs like one of our hens.

 

It wasn’t until after we’d dug up potatoes one day that Momma found a brown envelope tucked just inside the front screened door.

“Lookie here, girls,” Momma said.  She pulled a handwritten note, a five-dollar bill and a clipping from the city newspaper out of the envelope.

She read the note to us. “I won an award in a photojournalism contest and thought I should share at least some of my winnings with you.” A fountain-penned squiggle was in the spot where you’d expect to see a signature.

The photo in the clipping showed the back of Lucy’s head, kind of blurry. You knew it was her head ‘cause of those two big ribbons in her hair. In the middle distance my sister stood with thumbs hooked in her overall straps and a slight frown on her face.

Elma and I read the caption aloud together. “ ‘Looking pretty fades. Working hard pays,’ says Elma Green, the face of farming’s future.”

I taped that clipping into my scrapbook next to the four-leaf clover.

End

By Beth Fowler, author of “Ken’s War.” Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

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A Matter of Choice

In this award-winning story, teenager Monica sets out to push her parents’ button, but was it the one she was aiming for or something unexpected?

A Matter of Choice

teen girl angry“Your parents didn’t tell me why they want you to stay with me for a while,” Aunt Jo said.  “They said it had something to do with what they discovered on your Facebook page.

“Don’t ask me.” Monica replied. “Talking to my parents is like bumper cars at the fair.” It was OK to talk like this. Aunt Jo was cool.

Monica lifted her suitcase onto her aunt’s spare bed and glanced around the guestroom. Aunt Jo’s large, carved Kachina doll, known as Left-Hand in Hopi tradition, stood on the bureau. Monica knew her mom would geek out in here. Her parents’ bedroom was mauve, which Monica pronounced moo-vah to irk her mom. It did. Their room resembled a furniture showroom. Stiff. Formal.

“It’s not like I’m pregnant or anything. I’m not stupid.” Monica shook her head at the ridiculousness of it all.

“Ah, I figured it was a fella.” Aunt Jo said.

Monica laughed. The Kachina doll was called Left-Hand because he did everything in the opposite.

“I knew it would freak them out.” Monica confessed. “I mean, I always left the room when he called me when I was at home. And I’d tell ‘em I was meeting Ashley at the mall or the library.” Monica told herself she’d done her parents a favor by preventing them from knowing about Zeki. “Besides, staying here with you doesn’t mean I can’t see Zeki. They just don’t want to be bothered with me. They don’t know how to handle me.

“He must be some special fella.”

“He’s African-American.” Monica felt her head float like a balloon. “And Muslim.”

Aunt Jo’s eyebrows shot up. “And you think that’s why your parents are upset?”

“They’re old school, you know?”

“They’re of a different generation, but I don’t think…Tell me about your friend.”

“I dunno. He’s cute.” There were lots of cute guys. Some of them were her friends. She pulled her shirts and shorts out of her suitcase and tossed them into a drawer.

“You’re doing what every girl does. Stretching your wings. Finding out, exploring, growing. Better now than when you’re my age.” Aunt Jo hiccupped.

“Did you ever do something sneaky, Aunt Jo?”

“Yes! I dated two fellas at the same time. They tried to outdo each other. Your mother and your grandparents scolded me and lectured me. ‘People are talking!’ they said. ‘It’s time to settle down with one fella.’ I ended up losing both fellas. I was seventeen then.” Her eyes sparkled. “Your mom got married when she was seventeen, you know.”

“I know. Nineteen ninety-eight.”

“Ninety-nine.”

“You got your years mixed up,” Monica said. “Mom and Dad were married in ’98. I was born in ’99.”

“Somebody told you the wrong year. You were born in ’99, the same year they were married.” She smiled ruefully.

Monica’s thoughts knotted. Simple math. “Mom had to get married! I was a surprise. Wait till I tell her!”

Should she make a big scene? Blow her mom’s cover? And be a self-righteous geek like everybody else? Monica squinted at Left-Hand Kachina, whose expression sometimes looked angry and other times surprised. Let Mom and Dad have their little secret. And then the next time they got all flamed about something, she would give them a math lesson.

“Do you love Zeki?” Aunt Jo asked.

“We’re just friends. We hang out together. I’m not gonna fall in love until after I graduate from college, and I’m not gonna get married until I have a career, and I’m not gonna have kids ever! Too much hassle.”

“Why were you sneaky about your new boyfriend?”

“I asked Mom, what if I dated someone of a different background.”

“And?”

“She got twitchy. She was peeling potatoes. Cut her finger. I ran to get a Band-Aid… They’re always around, my parents, but never there. You know?” Monica’s face twisted. She unfolded the skimpy top she had worn when she went with Zeki to the party. “Mom didn’t say I couldn’t date someone different…a Muslim.” Monica knew she was using what her English teacher called “specious reasoning.” What would Left-Hand Kachina do?

Monica rolled her eyes at Aunt Jo. “OK, yeah. I knew Mom and Dad would geek out big time. Zeki didn’t pick what color or religion he is!” Monica slammed her empty suitcase shut.

“I guess I did,” Monica said.

“And you chose to lie. Numerous times.”

Left-Hand Kachina waited patiently, his inscrutable expression seemingly on the verge of shifting to something altogether new.

This story by Beth Fowler won 3rd Place Creative Nonfiction in the York PA literary contest. Fowler is the author of “Ken’s War.”

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

 

Don’t Give Up the Search

books on writingIf you are a writer who’s serious about getting your next article or book published, then you no doubt have endured some rejections. Ow. That’s a harsh word. Let’s call them “declines” or “no thank you’s.” Or, how about you comment with clever names for the letters and emails we get when an agent, editor or publisher doesn’t want our work.

You’ve probably also grown accustomed to waiting, waiting, waiting for a response. Fortunately, many  agents are more lenient now and accept queries that have been sent simultaneously to other agents, making our wait for one to respond less of a time waster.

And boy can time be wasted. I sent a query December 2015 and received a reply July 27, 2016. Here it is:

Dear Author,

On behalf of the agents here at Lowenstein Associates, thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work. I apologize for the form letter, but the volume of query letters we receive means we cannot send every writer a personal response. Please know that we do give each and every query serious attention.

Unfortunately, we do not feel strongly enough about your project to pursue it further. Agenting is very subjective, however, and even though we could not take on your project, another agent might feel differently. 

Please accept our best wishes for success in your writing career.
 
Sincerely, 

Assistant to Barbara Lowenstein and Mary South
Lowenstein Associates
www.LowensteinAssociates.com
I’m not giving up. I know my query is written well and my novel has a readership waiting for it.
How about you? Do you know you are sending your best work out? Will you give up?

 

 

Did You Get Your Feedback Yet?

ken's war cyms 1

Before Ken’s War was accepted by Melange Books, I asked readers for feedback on sections of it and, if I thought they had time and interest, I asked some people to read the entire manuscript.

This is a delicate, yet oh-so-important step in the writer’s editing process.

First, I had to surrender my ego to sincerely solicit comments.

Then, I had to find people who know how to express constructive criticism. The writers’ circle I attended provided a pool of readers.

I also wanted to choose readers with knowledge about aspects of the story. Because the protagonist in Ken’s War is male, I asked males to be among my beta readers. The story takes place in a military setting during the Vietnam War, so when mistakes were pointed out by a Vietnam veteran, I verified that the suggested corrections were accurate and used them.

Fanstory (http://www.fanstory.com) members pointed out areas in characterization that needed shoring up.

Thank your readers for their critiques. Do not argue with them about their comments. If you have to explain or justify your writing, it’s lacking something…you won’t be able to explain or justify your story to agents or publishers.

You’re the author. You have the final word. In the meantime, get feedback. It’s one way to make your manuscript even better than it already is.

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

Ken’s WarWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide.  https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

Author reveals insights ken's war cover

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award-winning author of YA books.

Tell Me a Story – Free online class

From Demi Smith about free online picture book class for authors. (sign up http://yotbpress.com/kidspired/)

“Tell me a story…”

That beautiful child looks up into your eyes and snuggles close, ready for a journey only you can lead. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pull out your own picture book from the shelf… point to its glossy cover, read the title, and say, “This is the book I wrote for you.
For the last three years I’ve had the joy and privilege to work with hundreds of authors in my live Year of the Book classes. Now I’m thrilled to announce I’ve taken the best of the best of the best of what we’ve learned and turned it into a course you can access online, regardless where you live.

I’d love to help you get started right away with a free class that will help you write and publish your children’s picture book. We’ll go through all the steps you need to get from conception to labor and delivery of your bouncing baby book.

Can you imagine how thrilling it will be to share your professionally printed and bound story with your loved ones?

I’ve seen the joy—over and over through my students’ and clients’ eyes—and experienced it personally through the birth of my own two children’s picture books: Write Away! and Roger, Roger. It’s like disbelief combined with intense personal satisfaction. And it’s waiting for you just a short way up the path.

Or maybe your dream is bigger. Perhaps you’d like to see your work available for sale in stores and online. It’s all within your reach and I can show you how. I help people achieve this dream every day and I’d love for you to be next.

Online seating is limited to just 50 attendees, so reserve your space today. (sign up http://yotbpress.com/kidspired/)

Visit Demi at https://www.facebook.com/demistevensbooks?fref=ts

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Article shared by the author of Ken’s WarWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide.

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war cover

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

 

 

Boring to Read, Potentially Embarrassing If You Don’t

Beth Fowler headshot

 

 

Publishing Business Terms

ADVANCE: $ pub pays author for book under contract, i.e. ½ paid at signing, ½ at delivery of final ms. Author doesn’t receive more $ until proceeds ($ales) exceed amount of advance.

BACKLIST: books from previous seasons still in print.

COMMISSION: advance payment from publisher to author asked (commissioned) to write something

COPYRIGHT: designates ownership of work. Most pubs © in author’s name, so when work goes out of print rights revert to author who may resell ms to another publisher.

COVER LETTER: accompanies solicited ms sent to agent or publisher.

FLAT FEE: “work-for-hire.” Lump sum for work. No royalties.

FRONTLIST: books published in current season and in publisher’s current catalogue.

INSTITUTIONAL SALES: books sold to schools/libraries, roughly 25% of kids lit is bought by libraries.

MASS MARKET: “rack-sized”, paperbacks smaller than trade paperbacks, usually different cover than hardcover edition, and cheaper.

MASS MARKET PUBLISHERS: companies that produce large quantities of paperbacks inexpensively, titles follow trends that fit markets – tie-ins with movies, TV characters and toys. Sell high volume in short time.

NET PRICE: “wholesale price”, $ pub receives from each book sale after discounts given to bookstores/buyers. Some pubs base author’s royalty on net price.

PROPOSAL: document author sends to agent/pub describing proposed book, length, audience, table of contents, chapt outline, first 3 chapts, competing titles, ways to market book, author’s credentials.

QUERY LETTER: letter author writes seeking permission to send ms to agent/pub.

RETAIL PRICE: cover price on book. Most big pubs pay royalties based on cover price.

ROYALTIES: 3-15% of proceeds from the sale of each copy of book.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope

SELF PUBLISH: Author pays for publication. Companies offer different levels of service. Authors must do a lot of marketing themselves.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS: pub/agent sells book to foreign pubs, mags, movie studios. If pub sells rights, $ split with author (usually 50/50). If agent sells rights, author keeps proceeds minus agent’s commission.

SUBSIDY PUBLISHER: “vanity publisher”, pubs that charge authors $$$$$ to publish ms. Avoid.

TRADE PAPERBACK: bound with heavy paper, usually same size and cover art as hardback, cheaper.

TRIM SIZE: outer dimensions of book.

UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS: ms sent to pubs who didn’t request them. Often rejected, languish in “slush pile”.

 

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Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

 

 

Advice Writers Can Bank On

Beth Fowler headshot Beginning writers know that they’ll get bylines without bucks from time to time, free copies of magazines in which their works appear, and a few dollars here and there. No pay and low pay are typical during the apprenticeship phase of writing.

Following the advice of paid writers representing nearly 200 years’ experience can advance your career and compensation to the next phase.

Q: What separates paid, published writers from wanna-bes?

A: Discipline, persistence, hard work and the ability to “get back up on the horse” were common responses from the interviewed writers. Francesca Kelly, Tales from a Small Planet editor (www.talesmag.com), says, “You don’t have to have brilliant talent to be published, but you DO have to have incredible persistence.”

Lucy Clark, prolific medical romance writer for Harlequin Mills & Boon (http://www.eharlequin.com.au), is the personification of persistence. “I received the contract for my first book the same day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Life happens! It’s hectic. It’s busy, but if we don’t make time for the things that are important to us, we might have regrets later on. I now have two adorable children who commandeer most of my time. I don’t have time for writers’ block. I don’t have time to waste. My stories have to be planned, the research done, so when I sit down, I can build up word count. There’s no such thing as writer’s block – just lack of planning.”

Q.What rumor about the business of writing turned out to be false?

A. Arlene Uslander, editor of The Simple Touch of Fate (www.uslander.net) which has one of my stories in it, discovered three falsehoods on the road to publication. “Once you have a book published, it’s easier to have the next book published and that when you send out a manuscript, no news is good news. And that having an agent accept your work means you’re going to get published.” Not true. Not true. Not true.

Karen Rose Smith (www.karenrosesmith.com) is a fulltime author with about 40 books to her credit. She sold her first book in 1991. “I thought after I sold the first few books, life would become easier! That’s not necessarily true.  After ten books, I remember being stalled and not selling for about ten months.”

Francesca believed that editors were unapproachable. “They’re usually really nice people who are just overworked.” She should know. She’s an approachable and no doubt overworked editor.

Q. What advice do you wish you’d received (or heeded) sooner?

A. Karen Rose Smith learned to “Write to the market. Study the line you want to write for.”

Studying the magazine she wanted to write for had a lot to do with an editor accepting one of Francesca’s articles. Being published in Redbook was a “sudden breakthrough” for her.

“It’s not enough that you have something to say,” is freelance editor and author Karen Schmitt’s advice. “You have to make yourself understood – connect.”

“Rejection isn’t personal,” counsels Megan Hart, an author whose been paid to write for decades. “They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting the work.”

“ ‘To be a successful writer, you must write every day,’ ” recalls editor, Dan Case. “I heard this a lot, but really didn’t believe it. When I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and he said ‘write everyday,’ I believed it. (Hey, if the King of all writers says it, it must be true.)”

Q. What would you tell a beginner about writing for pay?

A. Writers’ answers ranged from “Don’t write for pay. Write because you love it,” to “Don’t write for FREE!”

Lynn Wasnak, a freelance writer for 25 years, explains that fulltime freelancers urge beginners not to write for free or too cheaply because it allows editors to lower the going rate. Go to https://www.writersmarket.com/assets/pdf/How_Much_Should_I_Charge.pdf.

As for me, I do the writing because I love it. I donate some works to organizations where I volunteer. Otherwise, I sell my work for dollars.

   ***

Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.