My Flash Story ‘Intervention’ took 3rd place!

#microbookends

http://www.microbookends.com/

I am so incredibly honored and jazzed that my flash fiction piece took 3rd place in Micro Bookends flash fiction competition! It’s my first competition win – ever! Not a 1st place win, but I placed, and that’s okay. Baby steps, and I’m stepping in the right direction and so, this is monumental! Here’s what Judge, Geoff Le Pard had to say about my story . . . MY story!

3rd Place
Intervention by Pattyann McCarthy
Here is a live story told in 100 words. Elsie is a relic of the past, fighting her corner and for others amongst newly infiltrating gangs. She assumes she’s left alone because she is an anomaly but in fact it’s because she is the legend of the streets. Of all the stories this contained so much, allowing me to imagine a whole life spent and imagine the future too. Excellent.

This story was based on word and picture prompts given at the start of each competition. The word prompts were ‘Urban Legend,’ which must ‘bookend’ the beginning and end of the story, and the photo prompt was a picture of a photographer in a room lined with mirrors.

And now, here’s my story that snagged 3rd place!

Intervention

Urban sprawl is just another day for Elsie, one of a handful of ancient Caucasians living in the area. There for decades, she refuses to move. She’s home in the backstreets of Chinatown, actually enjoying the suffocating stench of fish markets, and nearly everyone knows her.

She’s taken on the street gangs plenty, her bravado saving herself and others in need; standing against a knife, or talking down a shooter, interrupting fights amongst feuding, roaming crews. She’s saved lives, snapping their photos for posterity.

She figures the hoods view her as a relic, leaving her alone, but the hoods see her differently. To them, she’s an ancient legend.

Off to writing some more and see what kind of trouble I can get into next, because, well, you know, I’m Just Me . . . 😀

After the Sadness

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at or added to my website. As some of you may already know, I lost my beautiful mom four weeks ago. It’s been the most painful experience of my life, and the most profound. I haven’t had the mental or emotional energy to come here to write lately, it hurt too much to think of having to make this entry, because mom was my most ardent and most loyal supporter. She’d always ask me if I posted anything new, and was always the first to read my scribblings, and now she’s gone, and it hurts to move on with this, or anything, without her by my side championing me onwards.

Some days are okay, four weeks after losing her, and some days I can barely breathe. It’s the littlest things that bring tears to my eyes too, like making a cup of tea in the evening when I’m winding my day down to a close. I always made two cups; one for her, and one for me and we’d enjoy then together watching our favorite shows, and now, with her gone, some nights, I still reach for her tea cup and teabag. I haven’t been able to remove her tea cup from the cabinet yet, I know I’m not ready to do that. Maybe one day, but today is not that day.

It’s been a struggle for me, knowing I have looming deadlines for the next several months, two of them, the end of June, and at first, the desire to write anything just wasn’t there. I couldn’t see past the wall of grief. I’ve finally begun moving again as far as pushing myself to sit down and write, and at first, it felt dreadful; like somehow I was moving on without her, but then it dawned on me, mom wouldn’t want me to stop writing. She wouldn’t want me to quit, not that I was thinking of doing that, but I know she’d want me to meet these deadlines coming up, she wouldn’t want me to bog down in grief. Her biggest dream was to see her kids achieve what it is we want to achieve, and so, I’m picking up speed on the writing track and finding my groove once again. And, the thought that she isn’t present to support me is ridiculous. I think, just because I can’t see her, doesn’t mean she isn’t with me in some way. I know she’s still supporting me, just on the other side of the veil.

This is why I’ve been away for a bit, and I just wanted you to know, I’m not stopping. I’m going for the gold ring, just like she’d want if she were here. She’s one of those who pushed me and lifted me when I thought I wanted to stop, but she didn’t let me. I’m blessed that she was still with me physically when a few of my stories were published for the first time! I’m so happy she got to live the experience with me, and share that incredible high that comes with your first time published. I’ll always remember the joy on her face and the look of utter pride in her eyes that day when I found out I was going to be published! I’m blessed to have those memories with her, and I’m blessed to have had her as my mom. I’ll always miss her, but I know, she’s always close by when I stumble. All I have to do is close my eyes and breathe, and I can feel her near me.

I won’t stop momma, and we’ll still make it happen together because you’re always in my heart and mind. 0326121945a

The Art of the Short Story

cropped-1187067_492134337546957_2041107084_n-e14086479232141.jpgLet me tell you, and if you’re a Writer, you already know, there is nothing easy about writing. If it were, everybody would write. While it’s true that everyone has a story to tell, and also true, nearly everyone has a book in them, if it were easy, then everybody would be writing their stories. It’s just not that simple. Harder still, to get that story or book to make sense going from your head to your fingertips and out onto an intimidating blank page. Add to that, a firm grasp of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, syntax, passive voice, pacing, defining and forming characters and conflict, creating plots, looking for plot-holes, and maintaining continuity all while searching for vision-inspiring words that create pictures in your readers’ minds, and so much more, it’s just not easy.

 

I began my incredible journey writing my scathingly humorous memoir, which after a seven-year long journey with it, is finished as of the spring of 2014. Maybe another polish over it, but for the most part, it’s done. It’s such a huge part of my life and an extremely personal one, I find it difficult to shop it around to agents and so, instead, it’s sitting locked in my desk drawer, waiting to grow its wings and fly; If I ever find the courage to release it. I suppose I’m what you would call, a scardey-cat. No matter. When it’s time, it’s time, and anyway, I’m not quite sure I want that book to be my debut novel. I’ve reread it a few times, and truth be told, I’ve grown immensely since then, so, maybe it isn’t finished. Perhaps it needs a new rewrite in my more ‘grown-up’ voice. Whatever. I’ll get around to it at some point, but in the meantime, I’m having the time of my life writing stories with more brevity. The short story, to be exact.

 

Comparing the short story to novels is pretty unrealistic. In a novel, you’re able to languish with your words, create more and multiple conflicts and characters, and you’ve got a great deal more white-space to play around with. True, your story still needs to unfold steadily, but there’s so much more time getting around to building your climax for your grand finale. In a short story, this isn’t the case. A short story is more succinct. Word counts vary on the short story, and are usually predicted by your publisher, or a competition’s requirements, though generally most short stories fall into the 3000 to 4000 word count, as compared to a novel – which is also at the mercy of the publishers – but generally speaking, those word counts run around 90,000 to 120,000 words and often more. So, you see the difference already. Short stories are to the point.

 

Writing a short story requires two main things: a great story idea and – focus. Narrow focus, to be exact, and you need to keep that focus honed through the entire story. Keep asking yourself as you go along, what’s the point of my story and how do I want it to end. What’s the story really about, and what isn’t it about, so that every time you veer off course, you’ll remind yourself of what’s important to say, and what isn’t. The body of the story still needs to incorporate a beginning, middle and end, just as in a novel, but in the case of the short story, you only need focus on one main conflict and a few main characters. Sometimes you may have a second minor conflict, but not having much space to play with, generally you would focus on one plot, one conflict, a few scenes, or even just one scene, and a small smattering of well-developed characters. And, there’s no room for fluffy, purple prose or filler words either. Cut all that stuff from your narrative and keep it clean and streamlined while still delivering a KAPOW story with a phenomenal climax!

 

It’s not as easy as it sounds, either. One would assume a shorter story would be easier to write, right? Wrong. It’s much more difficult. Sometimes, incredibly difficult because you still have to create the depth of plot, conflict, characters and scenes and not use your entire word count to do it, and you still need to build towards your finale and resolution throughout the entire story. Having fewer words makes your story tinier, but you still have to deliver the KAPOW! If you don’t, your story will flop, face-first into the discard, do not resuscitate pile. Though, you may want to resurrect it at some point with a healthy dose of rewrites. I’ve personally had a few of those along this fantastic journey, and some day, I’ll revive them with a good rewrite, but rather than bemoaning the fact that my story flopped, I list it as a work in progress and move on to something better. There are rare moments when I’m not pushing deadlines, when my workload is small that I take another crack at it and usually, I get what I was after the first time, and if I don’t, I place it back in the WIP folder and move on once more.

 

This is the art of writing short stories, and as always, there are more rules and things to consider, but these are the main points to bear in mind should you decide to tackle writing one, and I hope that you will. I took up the mantle of writing the short story as a challenge to myself, because I want to stretch myself beyond comfort, I want to learn all I can about this crazy business I’m immersed in, and because I want to be a well-rounded Writer. Believe me when I say, it was frightening and exhilarating at the same time to test these waters, but what I’ve come to know is, I love writing short stories. Why? Well, I’m an impatient person in some respects, and writing novels, though I love doing them – I have three in progress as we speak, and yes, I will finish them, I always do – takes a greater time investment, and as I’ve told you, I’m impatient. Writing the short story is much more immediate. The gratification I get writing the words, “The End” a lot sooner than I would in a novel is pure adrenaline to me. I’ve accomplished a finished project, a finished story in mere days, rather than months or years, as was the case of my memoir. I don’t want to wait months or years for my readers to deliver feedback on my stories, I want that feedback now. It keeps me jazzed to write more, which I do, because I like feeling jazzed! And, after all, I’m Just Me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience, and as always, if you did, please leave a comment and share me! 😀

Waste of my day, or not?

file000331832223I’ve learned I have limitations. Always believing I’m limitless, I now know that’s not true and here’s why.

Three days ago, I saw an open call for a 2200 word short story competition and being a competition junkie, I grew excited. I had a story already written that I knew would be a great fit for what the call was looking for, but the word count on my written story stands at 3000, which meant I’d have to cut it down by a little over 800 words to have some breathing room. This particular story is one I deconstructed last summer and rewrote, cutting it from 4000 words down to 3000 and I thought back then, it was as clean as a whistle, and I still stand by that thinking. I knew the task of rewriting it and cutting another 800 and some words from the manuscript was doable and I was up for the challenge, but here’s where the rub came. The deadline for it was yesterday by 7:00 pm my time as the competition is in the UK.

Sunday was a family celebration, and though I managed to do a deal of editing on the story, I really didn’t have the time to address the rewrite fully, and I can’t say that I regret the family day, because I don’t. It was an emotionally fulfilling day and I’m glad we took the day to be together, and I knew I’d have all of yesterday, (Monday) to finish the rewrite.  Well, that’s what I thought.

Monday morning came, and after my daily morning chores, I went to work, writing. I had such high hopes that I could cut my story to a little less than 2200 words without losing its integrity and still keeping the emotional impact, but I didn’t want it to read exactly the same as the original version. I was ready to tackle the challenge. Draft one came, and it hardly read any different, so I went to work on draft two and though it sounded a bit different, it wasn’t different enough and the story no longer felt like it flowed smoothly and somewhere along the line, I lost the integrity of the story and the emotional impact. Draft three came and it was 2:30 in the afternoon and I realized I began watching the clock tick off seconds, the hands growing to giant proportions and I knew then, I was playing beat the clock and the pressure was pure stagnancy. I didn’t actually sweat, but I certainly felt pressured and after the last read of draft three, I had to admit something difficult to myself, the story wasn’t ready for submission, I couldn’t seem to get it, not only the way I wanted it, but in fact, not even close. I very much disliked the way it turned out, and there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell that it was going to be even halfway ready before the deadline.

Now, I’m not one to give up easily, but in this, I felt there was no choice. I reluctantly threw in the proverbial towel, and then I spent an hour beating myself up over it, angry at myself for defeating my own challenge. I didn’t like the way I felt, but then I realized, if the story isn’t right, if it’s not what I would be proud to submit with my name on it, why would I even consider doing it? And more, why would I be willing to pay for a competition submission and waste my money on something I know without a doubt wouldn’t stack up or stand a chance. And no, I’m not being overly critical about my story and the day’s work I put in, I know it wasn’t good enough. The original is fantastic, though too long, but this third draft wasn’t good enough to enter the competition with and so, I let it go and forgave myself for getting angry over wasting my day and not meeting my challenge. If I’m being honest with myself, the day wasn’t a total loss, for two reasons. First, It gave me an article to write for you here, and second, and probably the greater of the two reasons, I learned a couple of valuable lessons yesterday.

The first, I’m limited. In time. In the inability to whip something out of story with too many words without the proper time required to address its needs as necessary to create something fabulous, cohesive and that reads exactly as I want it too, and I learned that it’s okay to admit I’m limited. And the second, I learned it’s okay to not put so much pressure on myself. I learned to take the necessary time I need to get the story done correctly. I learned that it’s okay to release self-imposed pressure after a good venting. After all, it’s not like there aren’t other deadlines  – in this business, there are always deadlines – and other competitions; ones that I have already properly prepared for and have stories ready to go, written specifically for those submissions. So, I’m okay with what happened and even though I thought my day was wasted, I find, I was wrong about that too, because I learned valuable lessons and that makes yesterday okay. I did do something good with my day after all. That’s the way I choose to look at it, but maybe it’s because ‘I’m just me ‘ and the way I see it, if I’ve learned something valuable from an experience, then it wasn’t a waste of time, at all.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Feel free to leave a comment. And, as always, if you like my style, feel free to share me.

 

:) Just a quick note

Woohoo! My newest short fiction titled, ‘Retribution’ is finished. I love writing short and flash fiction. The gratification is so immediate, and the reviews, whether good or bad are almost instantaneous.

Now to find a good home for it, while I move on to finish a flash fiction piece I started a few days ago. Excited!

I’m here!

It’s tough juggling all kinds of tasks and activities, as you’re probably aware of in your own life. And, it seems the more social media sites that go up, the thinner my time spreads. While I know it’s important to stay connected in as many ways as I possibly can, I spend the majority of my time writing my stories, researching good places to send them too, and taking care of my family, and I’ll bet you’re just the same!

It’s hard to figure out how to spend each minute of the day, and I promise you, I am doing my very best. Like you, I have a lot of issues demanding my attention, but ultimately, I’m a writer and I must write, not just to get words on the paper, but to purge my mind and soul, and bleed the whisperings of my heart onto the pages.

Right now, I’m finishing up a Flash Fiction piece for the upcoming MashStories Competition, I’m working on a piece of fiction for my website here, I have a horror Short Story in progress for another upcoming Competition, I’m cutting down a 4000 word Short Story to 3000 words so I’m basically deconstructing it and putting it all back together for yet another Competition, and still researching Agents for my Memoir, all the while inching slowly forward on two WIP full-length novels and an untitled horror Novella that’s approaching novel status. That’s a lot to juggle around my Westie, Angel, my family and this piddly thing I call extra curricular activities such as, going out to dinner, or spending the night out with friends! Like you, I’m one busy girl, but you know what? I like it like that!

Pop back often to see what other craziness my life is full of, and in the meantime, you stay your glorious you, because I’m Just Me . . .

If you like my style, I’m social on FB,  Twitter and LinkedIn and share my link, won’t you?

The Dead in the Night

Her bow rends the black swells one thrust at a time. The ship appears serene in silhouette against the bold moon glancing the horizon. Fog crawls across the deep, blocking the moonlight, surrounding her on all sides almost touching the escutcheon that reads, ‘Maiden of Death’. No eye that falls upon her could know the horrors in the bowels of the ship, and no eye ever fell upon her in the light of day, for she is a ghost ship of truest measure and when the light of dawn falls upon her weatherGhost Ship Wallpapers 2worn figurehead, she vanishes from the day. She sails still, though unseen.

Walking the deck of the haunting beauty is her Captain, Santos. Surly, mean, diabolical. His ghost ships’ only purpose is to roam the waters of the night, capturing the crews of stranded vessels and plundering their treasures to stow in her lastage and then she’s back to grinding through dark waters looking for Santos’ next prize. Some captives come aboard easily; cowards they are and not worthy to set foot on her, but Santos prepares those men for service to his beloved ghost lady. He takes them to the quarterdeck where he performs secret rituals. His crew lashes the recreants to a special chair with wrist cuffs spiked with nails, a gleaming copper bowl underneath catches their drippings. After, some serve in the galley, others to the cannons, and others serve on dogwatch, and fear of the Captains’ devious intentions keeps those cowards from rebellion.

Those who were courageous enough, who fought to resist capture come to incomprehensible ends. Each locked away in the lady’s brig awaiting their punishment for bravery. One by one, just before the lady vanishes in the early dawn, the courageous are forced to walk the plank. Heavy chains bind their arms and legs and the heaviest hangs round their necks. Pushed from the gangplank, there is no escaping the weight of their anchors.
They don’t sink to the ocean floor just to lie there, no. Instead, keelhaul is their punishment. Dragged along the bottom of the sea until their flesh scuffs away by the sea coral and debris that lie aground. The creatures in the depths of the ocean nibble greedily until the bones are bare and held together only by unappetizing ligaments. On the next eve when the lady comes to life, the poltroons hoist racks of bones from the saline.

In the quarterdeck, Santos performs his diabolical rituals on the bones, sprinkling the blood bled from the cowards, speaking his dark magic upon them and the bones walk and obey, forever under the control of the dark one called, ‘Captain’. Once courageous men follow blindly to the bowels of the ‘Maiden of Death’, and seated by a scuttle. There are no chains to ground them as they cannot disobey their master. An oar is placed into their bony palms and they begin the dance of rowing; forever rowing with their deafening clickity-clacking noise into the night.

Written by: Pattyann McCarthy 1/21/15 for competition.

Photo courtesy of: Ghost-Ship-Wallpapers-2.jpg February 27, 2015

 

Just finished Duma Key by: Stephen King

I actually liked this book. Though it was a fairly lengthy read for me, since I only read at bedtime and on chilly, dreary, rainy or snowy days, and since I write myself, it took three weeks to finish it and I enjoyed it.

This story was primarily set in the keys off Florida’s coast . . . a fictional Island known as, Duma Key, where most of the action to come takes place. Surrounded by the ocean, there are creepy things that ride the tide onto the shores of the mostly vegetated grounds and some things don’t stay on the sand either; they work their way into meeting the human inhabitants, the few that live there, and they come with purpose.  Not wanting to give any spoilers, let me simply say, “The shells are ever talking to Edgar Freemantle under big pink and the sunsets are ever, red.

One thing I really like about King’s books is he writes terrific characters! Whether I want to or not, I always end up rooting for somebody; usually the protagonist, but in Duma Key, there were several characters I rooted for since there were several supporting protagonists in this story. In fact, if I’m truthful, I actually bonded closer with one of the sidekicks, Jerome Wireman, a retired lawyer due to circumstance, rather than age. He was loveable, engrossing and tempered the main character, Edgar Freemantle and who also took care of a little old lady known as Libbet back in her day.

Usually Kings’ endings leave me a little flat, but not this one. It wrapped up nicely, though I will say, it didn’t leave me wanting more, so on a scale of one to ten with ten being an excellent review, I would rate this book a healthy seven.

Perfect Zen

An internal shift from anger and chaos to calm and peace,

Like fog that lays upon the landscape of emotions,

Covers all that lies beneath it in stillness.

Serenity and tranquility,

Lay softly upon the grasses of my heart,

Hard-scrabble emotions are softened,

By the cottony edges of clouds,

Touching me, touching my soul . . .

Perfect Zen.

Anchored, but not sunk

morguefile sailboatAnchors away . . .

 

Every December 1st of every single year, I feel as if an anchor weighs me down. Not just the physical aspects of time constraints during the holidays, but mental and emotional as well, and it’s something I must learn to figure out and squelch, because it’s so damned hard to wrap my head around jumping back into writing.

 

The other week, I read a quote that said, “You can tell the difference between an experienced Writer and an inexperienced one, because the experienced Writer writes every day in spite of what’s going on around them, or whether or not they’re having an ‘off’ day, and the inexperienced Writer puts off writing.” Well, I’ve come to realize I am the latter, and I really need to figure out how to not allow the holidays to derail me or weigh me down. And, I dislike that about me, I really do. I get so darned busy at the holidays, just like everybody else does, but I let it weight me to the point where I put my writing on the back burner and allow the busyness of the holidays to take control. I must learn how to take control and not stop writing. It hurts and shames me to admit this, but just like in anything else, recognizing there’s a problem is the first step towards correcting and resolving the issue, and so, I’m discussing this publicly as a sort of confession, public shame even, I suppose, in the hopes that I can turn myself around by the next major holiday season. And so, I’m working on it.

 

I always knew the Spring, Summer and most of the Fall seasons are my prime writing times, and I well know why too, I can sit outside and write in peace and solitude.  I don’t know if I ever mentioned this before, but I live in a very full household where there’s lots of visitors for medical reasons and goings-on. There are four other women here (all family), and my little dog, Angel, who, for the record is extremely high maintenance in himself, but all that to say, it’s a busy household. During the colder months, I find it a challenge where to go to write that’s not only a comfortable space for me, but a peaceful one too. I don’t expect anyone not to have their conversations or their visitors and the like, but my mind has no peace and I haven’t anywhere to go to disconnect from the internal house noise and happenings and so I find myself floundering at a crucial writing time. Crucial because I want to have back lists of my stories ready to roll for submissions in the prime seasons. And, just so you understand, it’s not an excuse to stop writing, but because of my O.C.D., when the world around me is chaotic, when my surroundings are chaotic and messy, my mind is chaotic and I can’t think straight and I can’t write straight. That is, putting two words together that make sense to me is a challenge. It’s already hard enough to write when afflicted with O.C.D., always fiddling with this and fussing with that, and if you have it, I’m sure you can relate. I eventually finish all my projects; it just takes me a little longer to write, “The End,” but I DO get to the ending, and the bright side is, there’s less to edit when I reach the end of a story, novella or novel. I’s bad enough writing with O.C.D., but it’s even worse getting sidelined, or rather, allowing myself to get sidelined due to the holidays, and it’s after, when I’m floundering; when I’m moored at the dock with my anchor dug deep into the sands of stillness and infertility, my sails flat and dormant because I’ve been away from my writing for a month or more and I’m trying to force myself to start again, it’s harder than bedrock to get my momentum up again when there’s so much noise around me stuck inside a busy household with nowhere to really go.

 

A couple of friends suggested I go outside of the house to a coffee shop or the library to write and although those are great suggestions, they do not work for me, since my lil’ Angel has a decidedly strict feeding schedule because of the health issues he’s always had. I need to be close at hand to my responsibilities so I don’t place my workload on others in the house who have enough of their own responsibilities to meet.  In the long run, I’ll figure it all out, I always do. I just needed to vent a bit, and I suppose, confess. Eventually what will happen is what happens every year. I’ll find a way to block out the noise and the busy and get back to business. It happens just like that every year, it’s just that I’ve been noticing it’s taking me longer and longer to do that each time I run through this awful cycle, so I need to break the cyclic nature of my O.C.D. and maintain my writing life, because that is what it is for me – my life – and it sustains me like nothing else, (aside from my Angel), which puts another spin on this terrible cycle. If I’m not writing, I’m not really breathing; if I’m not creating, I’m not really living. I get extremely grumpy when I’m not writing because for me, it’s my outlet. It’s my haven where I run to when my world turns gray and dark. I know that writing outside allows me to disconnect from the household with little distraction, yet still be close by in case I’m needed, but since it’s cold outside, I must find a place of no distraction inside until the weather breaks.

 

I’ve tried writing in my bedroom where my desk is, and I hope I can help you understand this, but, I can’t work where I sleep. It makes me feel icky, like when I’m sick, stuck in my pajamas because I feel too awful to get dressed, and squirreled away in my room and I don’t care for that feeling at all. That’s another part of my O.C.D.. It’s the same as having different foods touching on my plate; I can’t deal with it. No, I don’t holler and go ballistic, I  just rearrange things on my plate, and until I do, I can’t begin eating. If the foods are touching . . . well, I just can’t have it happen when I can control the situation by simply moving things around a bit. And I suppose that’s what I’m doing now that the holidays are over and needing to get back to writing my stories. I’m rearranging things in my head and trying out different spaces in the house looking for a place where I can find the outward and internal peace to write. That isn’t to say I’m not writing at all. I am, somewhat; I’m writing this blog at this moment at least, but it’s not enough to sustain me, and it’s not enough to satisfy me either. I need, have to get back to the lands of my fertile imagination and full-time writing or I’m going to burst! So, while I’m standing on the deck of my writers’ boat puffing away at the sail like I’m blowing on a dandelion, hoping to fill it with wind, I try to keep myself immersed at least, in learning new ways to enhance my trade and praying for early warm days to arrive so I can go outside and disconnect from the mundane and go back to my make-believe land of magic and fantasy. In the meantime, I’m going to keep puffing into my sails and pray I find an Island inside the house where I can frolic in unknown, uncharted lands unabated and finally pull the anchor up and set sail across the sea of my imagination.