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.

Be a Guest Author

Who is your target reader?

Where are they?

What do they care about?

Propose a Guest Author program (30 minutes, Q & A) that covers the topic they care about.

Ask permission to bring and sell your books.

Below is a clip about my being a guest author at a middle school. I change my message when I’m the guest author at the American Business Women’s Association.

ken's war community courier

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.

Attention Authors: Promo Idea

Businesses sometimes contribute a portion of sales to a charity or nonprofit to boost sales and to enhance community relations.

The recipient should be a logical connection for the business. For example, a veterinarian donating money or goods to an animal rescue shelter is a natural link up. And the cause should be something for which the biz owner, or in my case, the author has a genuine soft spot.

How can you tie in your book with a cause? Here’s a promo I’ve got going this month. I’m getting lots of “likes” on FB. We’ll see how sales go….

 

ken's war community courier

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.

Good Read: Good Deed

 

ken's war community courier

 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.

Get Paid to Travel

bali-570655_640Who wouldn’t want to travel the globe and get paid for it?

Before booking a flight to Bali, get grounded in the basics of travel writing press trips.

 

  1. The Rule of Hype: Teasers such as “Get paid to travel the world!” are usually ad copy written for companies selling courses and books. While it’s true that travel writers do go on paid press trips, known as junkets or “fam” (familiarization) trips, the road toward being wined and dined in luxury hotels is paved with contacts and publication credits.

 

  1. Develop Contacts: freelancetravelwriter.com reveals the secret to receiving invitations to junkets — get your name on the press lists of national and regional tourist boards, airlines, tour operators, hotels and other organizations that regularly host trips for journalists.

 

  1. Join: Become a member one or more travel writers associations which receive calls for writers and hold conferences jointly with travel industry representatives. Every association I looked into requires applicants to have had a minimum number of travel articles (or photos or books) published in widely read media within a given timeframe. For details visit International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Organization ifwtwa.org, the Midwest Travel Writers Association www.mtwa.org, the Society of American Travel Writers www.satw.org, the Travel Journalists Guild www.tjgonline.com, the Australian Society of Travel Writers www.astw.org.au/login.php, or the Travel Media Association of Canada www.travelmedia.ca.

 

  1. Unglamorous Truths: Louisa Peat O’Neil, author of several Travel Writing books, contends that many travel writers hold other regular jobs and use vacations days for junkets. And not every trip is glamorous, as Jeremy Ferguson attests in his article that included the line “It’s a simple restaurant that serves dishes that usually surf on a tidal wave of grease.” (savvytraveler.org/show/features/2000/20000506/china.shtml).

 

  1. Ethics in Question: In “All Expenses Paid: Exploring the Ethical Swamp of Travel Writing” washingtonmonthly.com/features/1999/9907.austin.expenses.html, Elizabeth Austin writes, “It’s true that the writers of most junket-based pieces generally sing the praises of their hosts’ accommodations… the greatest hazard of the press junket isn’t the implicit quid pro quo. It’s the controlled and sanitized travel experience it presents to the writers, with everything as perfectly planned and tidily gift-wrapped as those nightly presents left on our pillows. During our trip…we got the complete visiting rock star experience.” The likes of which Average Traveler won’t experience.

 

  1. Objectivity is Key: Tim Ryan (com/2001/06/24/features/story1.html) tells about the time Paul Theroux (www.paultheroux.com/) joined several travel junketeers for dinner at a luxury hotel. “In a pleasant tone that carried a knife-to-the-heart message, Theroux posed a question: ‘How can you possibly write something objective about a place when you’re essentially being paid to visit? I know I couldn’t.’ The room fell silent as most of the writers lowered their heads.” Writers who occasionally break away from the group can gather un-choreographed impressions and information.

 

  1. Integrity Intact: Disclosing that a trip was sponsored can put the article in perspective. Jeff Shelley writes, “I flew out to ‘the Flathead’ thanks to an invite from the Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau…Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t need a ‘fam’ trip to be sold on the Flathead Valley.” Writing about firsthand experiences and appealing to the five senses, rather than parroting adjective-laden brochure hyperbole, demonstrate integrity, too.

 

  1. Readers Trust Writers: Tourist attractions can get publicity with advertising campaigns, but at a high price. Austin explains that “a single full-page ad in ‘Condé Nast Traveler’ (concierge.com/cntraveler/) reportedly costs a whopping $50,000. And an ad lacks the credibility of a seasoned travel writer swooning over a resort’s breathtaking setting and lavish amenities.” Tourist attractions realize value for the dollar when they invest a fraction of that amount per writer per day. According to Jeremy Ferguson, “Travel agents don’t like to use their customers as guinea pigs. If an area of China, for instance, claims to be ready for tourists, the agents want to see it for themselves.” Writers participate in these PR junkets.

 

  1. Travel Writers’ Resources: Order the e-book “Guide to Become a Travel Writer” at FabJob.com. Click on http://www.thetravelwriterslife.com/abswriteclass

If you’ve already had travel articles published, getting invited on a paid press trip could be your next goal. If you’ve dabbled in travel writing, you can follow L. Peat O’Neil’s recommendation. “No one starts at the top. Find your own level, work in it, then work up out of it.”

As you’re jetting to Bali, you’ll agree that travel writing is the best job in the world.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing from the Beginning to The End, by novelist Stan Hampton, Sr.

Hampton writing from beginning to the end

Hampton writing from beginning to the end

Writing is a craft that each person brings different strengths and weaknesses to. We can read and study all we want, and while knowledge and skill is good, ultimately do we know how to tell a story with believable characters? If we cannot, then all of the reading and studying and grammatical perfection will not do us any good.

Some writers can have an idea and run with it all the way to The End while others have to plot everything out from Beginning to The End. That is okay—there are as many ways to write as there are writers. So, I will share how I approach writing a story.

 

The Boy and Girl Story

Beginning

Boy meets Girl

Boy likes Girl

Girl likes Boy

Middle

Boy gets Girl

Etc., etc.

Boy is dumb

Boy loses Girl

End

Boy gets Girl back

 

In simplified form we have Beginning, Middle, End, and key points within each section. Each key point is made up of various elements that also help propel the story forward. Of course, once I start writing I sometimes find myself altering the outline because of new ideas, and there are a few times when the story simply takes off in a direction that I did not anticipate—stories sometimes do that, you know. In either case I amend the above outline so that I have some idea of what is happening and I can keep my eye on the goal—The End.

I mentioned telling a good story. A story is more than colorful, awe-inspiring paragraphs strung together from Beginning to End. A story is made up of paragraphs, each of which propels the story forward, whether about a used car salesman, a football player, or a volunteer teacher in a school. Each paragraph builds on the previous, becoming part of a whole that, when the reader is finished, they close the cover (or turn off the device) with regret, yet happy that they read a great story.

Once the outline is established it is time to write a few words about the characters, meaning names, physical description, and personality traits. Write your observations of the way people speak, not only their accent, but how they pronounce words differently from you. Even write down your observations of hand mannerisms, the way people walk, or stand.

If I am writing a novel, then the biography is more detailed. I believe we are a product of our environment, therefore knowing where the characters come from helps explain who they are and why they behave the way they do.

This is all important because there is nothing worse than an otherwise good story being populated with flat, stereotypical characters. Each person is unique, and each of your characters should be unique. Make use of the biography of your characters—as the story progresses your reader will begin to unconsciously develop an image of your character as well as their mannerisms. Your characters will become real to the reader, and that is critically important.

And do not forget the background, the environment that the story is taking place in. That too impacts the story. A city or farm environment will have a different impact on the characters that they in turn will respond to.

Of course, the amount and type of information associated with your outline will vary depending on whether you are writing a short story or a novel.

Though I save much of the research on my computer I also print a fair share of it too. The research, outline, and background information go into a manila folder.

So, in a nutshell that is how I approach writing a story or novel.

But remember, no matter how much research and background development you put into your writing, do not forget to tell a story with believable characters. It does not matter if you are writing about the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the Civil War, or even a traveling shoe salesman, never forget to tell a story with believable characters.

Good luck and happy writing!

Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.

His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.

In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).

After 13 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.

As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran, though he is still struggling to get back on his feet.

SSHampton_GatesOfMoses 2

“The Gates of Moses.” Melange Books, August 2012.

ISBN: 978-1-61235-440-8

 

 

BLURB: An engineer dedicated to saving Venice from the rising seas, fails in his task. As a severe storm and high tides threaten to burst through the flood walls, he resolves to remain in Venice with a ghostly lover who claimed his heart years before. A woman from his staff who loves him, does not evacuate, but remains to battle his ghostly lover before he dies in a sinking Venice…

 

EXCERPT: The dull booms, like the measured beats of a primeval heart, echoed through the gray drizzling afternoon. Each boom was a countdown to a finely predicted cataclysm that man, through his mistaken notion that he could control nature, had finally admitted that he was powerless to hold back.

Dr. Gregorio Romano, tall, with dark brown hair and watchful hazel eyes, stood before the open tall narrow window of his corner office in the ornate, gilded Ducal Palace of the once La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, the Most Serene Republic of Venice, and peered into the gray drizzle toward the unseen barrier islands. The almost submerged islands of Lido and Pellestrina, with their channels opening onto the Adriatic Sea, formed the southeastern perimeter of the timeless Venetian lagoon. He listened to the echoing booms of the rising, stormy Adriatic, and thought of a mythical, prehistoric mother who gave birth to an imaginative species that dreamed of the impossible and often made it happen. And now the mother was ready to take back one of the greatest dreams of her children, ready to clasp it deep within her bosom.

“Gregorio?”

“Yes,” he replied as he gazed at the gray choppy waters of the lagoon.

“Have you reconsidered? Are you ready to evacuate?”

“Not yet.” Gregorio tilted his head slightly as a sleek dark gondola glided effortlessly across frothy, white-capped waters and halted before the flooded wharf, the Riva degli Schiavoni, in front of the Palace.

Patrizia Celentano, the first and last female gondolier of Venice, looked up at him and gave a friendly wave. He raised a hand in return. Her gondola was a traditionally built and shaped boat, but rather than the traditional black as required by law, she painted it a dark wine color. Though she offered to erect a shelter to protect Gregorio from the elements, he always preferred to ride in the open.

“We can evacuate you by force if necessary.”

“You won’t,” Gregorio smiled as he turned to face his computer on the polished wooden desk. The broad, bearded face of his boss, Dr. Niccolo Ricci, nodded in agreement. “There’s no need, and a helicopter is scheduled to pick me up from the roof of my home tomorrow morning at 0600 hours.”

“The calculations might be incorrect. The gates could break tonight…”

 

http://www.melange-books.com/authors/sshampton/GatesofMoses.html

Hampton can be found at:

 

Melange Books

http://www.melange-books.com/authors/sshampton/index.html

 

Musa Publishing

http://www.musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=50

 

MuseItUp Publishing

https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/museitup/mainstream/better-than-a-rabbit-s-foot-detail

 

Amazon.com Author Page

http://www.amazon.com/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ

 

Amazon.com. UK Author Page

http://www.amazon.co.uk/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ

 

Goodreads Author Page

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6888342.S_S_Hampton_Sr_

 

Stop Barking! Tone and Facial Expressions by Mysti Parker

81Po2epTiXL._SL1500_By guest blogger & author Mysti Parker

Of the many things I learned from Deb Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation, Conflict” Workshop workshop, this quote stuck with me the most:

“You can do anything in writing, as long as you do it well.”

I struggle with describing how characters sound and their facial expressions. If I had a nickel for every time one of my critique partners said, “But how does (s)he sound when they say this?” and “What does his/her face look like right now?” I’d have enough money to buy a year’s supply of chocolate. But how often DO we need to describe facial expressions and tone of voice?

My conclusion: Not as much as you think.

As a critiquer, I notice wording and flow in a piece of writing more so than plots and character arcs and all that. More often than not, I see writers overusing things, whether it’s adverbs, passive voice, repetitive words, and yes, tone of voice and facial expressions.

Let’s see if I can show you what I mean with part of an impromptu flash fiction piece I wrote for Rebecca Postupak’s “Flash Friday”, not that this is a literary masterpiece in any shape or form, but here’s what I might do if I was TOO mindful of tone and expression:

Lana slid the crisp paper across the patio table. “Sign these,” she barked. “Why?” Joe whispered. His lips pursed as he stared down at the obnoxious logo: Burger, Smythe, and Villay, attorneys-at-law.

Her eyes became narrow slits and her voice sounded like two pots banging together. “All you want is your garden and your bush mistress.”

This is a snippet of dialogue, and I don’t know about you, but all those descriptions slow the pace for me. This couple is on the verge of divorce. The tension should move this along at a snappier pace. Take a look at how I really wrote it:

Lana slid the crisp paper across the patio table. “Just sign them.”

“You don’t want this.” Joe stared down at the obnoxious logo: Burger, Smythe, and Villay, attorneys-at-law.

“Why not? You left me a long time ago. All you want is that garden of yours and that silly bush of a mistress.”

Here we see no tone of voice and no facial expressions. What we do see is a different choice of wording to make the dialogue itself show us what these two might sound and look like as this little exchange is happening. In hindsight I think I could have also used stronger verbs to narrate their actions as well. Instead of “slid”, Lana might have “shoved” the papers toward him. Joe might have “glared” down at the logo and perhaps crumpled one side of the documents in his fist.

Readers will notice ANYTHING we use too often, so do your best to show what the characters look like and sound like by using strong, appropriate dialogue and action that fits the tone of the scene. Describe the tone of voice and facial expressions in moderation and also if they are important to what’s happening. For instance, if a character is lying, the tone of voice and facial expression could be tells that give them away.

Remember, the reason we read books as opposed to watching movies is so our imagination can join in and form the story in our own minds. If we feed the reader every single minute detail about how WE see the scene, their imaginations just sit there in the dugout and never get a chance to play.

Sitting_in_Dugout (1)For learning how to write tone of voice and facial expressions in fresh and new ways, I highly recommend Margie Lawson’s workshop or lecture notes on Writing Body Language & Dialogue Cues. She refers to some really good examples and includes some unique exercises to keep your descriptions from being blah and cliche.

Now go forth and write! ~Mysti Parker

31036_455754357815212_1296404459_nMysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her standalone Tallenmere fantasy romance series has been likened to Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series, but is probably closer to a spicy cross between Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey. Mysti’s other writings have appeared in the anthologies Hearts of Tomorrow, Christmas Lites, and Christmas Lites II. Her flash fiction has appeared on the online magazine EveryDayFiction. She serves as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s seven week online course, F2K. Currently, she’s working on her first historical romance and has two children’s books in the hands of a hard-working agent. When she’s not writing, Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specfic publication, and is the proud owner of Unwritten, a blog voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.

 

Links:

Subscribe to my blog, Unwritten 

LIKE my fan page on Facebook!

Follow me on Twitter @MystiParker

A Ranger’s Tale, Tallenmere #1 (Now FREE for Kindle!)

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Serenya’s Song, Tallenmere #2

Hearts in Exile, Tallenmere #3