Story Behind the Story

The Story Behind the Story: The Wheels on the Bus

Two months ago, I competed in the first round of NYC Midnight's 2017 Short Story Challenge. Today, I found out that my entry placed second in my heat--advancing me to this weekend's Round 2. I was floored.

I had to check the results half a dozen times just to make sure my name was really there.

I had to check the results half a dozen times just to make sure my name was really there.

See, I thought for sure my Short Story Challenge journey began and ended with that story.

For starters, I was assigned Romance as a genre. I do not read Romance. I do not write Romance. I am only vaguely familiar with Romance as a concept. On top of that, I had to write this Romance during the week He Who Must Not Be Named was inaugurated as president. I was not a happy camper. I did not want to write a happy, lovey story. I wanted to write something mad, something sad, something scary--not a story with a happy ever after.

Every word was a struggle. For Round 1 of the challenge, we have eight days to write a 2,500 word story. Usually, my eight days look like this:

Days 1-2 brainstorm and outline

Days 2-6 draft, draft, draft

Days 6-8 revise, revise, revise

This time it was more

Days 1-6 brainstorm   brainstorm   brainstorm

Days 6-8 draft     draft    draft    draft

No time to revise.

My finished story, late on Day 8, was 900 words too short. It was a romance without romance. There's not even any hand-holding. It's basically one long meet-cute.

I posted it thinking, "Oh, well. It's not a Romance, but it's done." I filed away the story, assuming it would never see the light of day.

It seems I was wrong. It IS a Romance, and one the judges liked. Go figure.

Click here to read "The Wheels on the Bus."

The Story Behind the Story: Clara and the Kid

It's been months since I put pen to paper to work on anything short. It took, of course, another NYC Midnight Challenge to get me to do so. July 22-24 marked the first round of the 2016 Flash Fiction Challenge.

Last year, I was knocked out of the challenge in December, after writing a not-very-comedic comedy. So what did the NYC Midnight gods assign me for Round 1 of this year's challenge? You got it: comedy.

This time I had to write a comedy that made use of a podium and was set on an airplane. Curses! (Yes, I did utter a few.)

I slept on the prompt and woke up in the morning with a premise. It came from a Letter to the Editor I read when a local shopping center announced they were going "dog-friendly": dogs would now be allowed in some of their shops. A very disgruntled man complained about the policy, citing--among other things--the idea that some people were allergic to dogs. I remembered my own work with a local shelter, helping with cat adoptions even though I'm allergic. Allergies + animal + airplane = story!

I ran the premise by my writer's group, who helped me brainstorm around a couple of obstacles. I spent the rest of Saturday drafting.

I knew, by the end of Draft 1, that my story was cute but it wasn't yet a comedy. I posted an SOS on Twitter. Two writer friends read my story and gave me suggestions for upping the funny. (Thank you, Nancy and Callie!)

I spent Sunday revising. By Draft 4, I'd written a story I could live with. To be honest, I still don't think it's a comedy. But it is cute and it has a few funny moments. I'm happy with that.

And I'm prepared to make sacrifices to ensure I don't ever get assigned comedy again.


Click here to read "Clara and the Kid."

The Story Behind the Story: Act Natural

You know that old chestnut about comedy being hard? It's so very true.

I found that out firsthand during Challenge #3 of this year's NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. I was assigned to write a comedy that takes place in a vintage clothing store and includes aluminum foil.

Comedy is not really my thing. I don't watch sitcoms (well, except for reruns of M*A*S*H) because, frankly, I don't find them funny. Same for "Saturday Night Live" and other late night television. Very few stand-up comedians make me laugh (although Bill Engvall and Jon Stewart have both, on occasion, made me laugh until I couldn't breathe). I've read a few books by Christopher Moore, but only two made me giggle: Lamb and Sacre Bleu. Still, his middle-school-boyish humor is not something I can recreate.

So what the heck was I going to do?

After 12 hours of panic, I decided to take a stab at writing a comedy of errors. It took all day of Day One of the two-day challenge to produce a draft. A very, very horrible, absolutely no good, very bad draft.

Day Two brought the rewrite. It was by far an improvement over Day One's draft, but I knew when I submitted it that my journey in the Flash Fiction Challenge was over. I was right. I didn't advance to the finals, but I did receive some very kind comments from the judges about the story. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'm never again assigned comedy as a genre.


Click here to read "Act Natural."


The Story Behind the Story: Meditation

In Challenge #2 of this year's NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, I was assigned historical fiction as genre. I quite literally did a dance of joy. I LOVE historical fiction. Most of what I read is historical fiction. For the first time, a NYC Midnight contest assigned me a genre that I am intimately familiar with. Hallelujah! (As an aside, this was a one-off, rather than a trend. In Challenge #3, I was once again assigned an unfamiliar genre: comedy.)

The rest of my prompt--the location and object--were a labyrinth and a magnifying glass. I thought immediately of the labyrinths that exist in many English churches: mazes made of hedges or floor tiles that people walk as a form of meditation. I needed a reason for my character to walk such a labyrinth.

One of my favorite historical eras to read about is World War I. I know enough about the era and England's experience in the war that I could write a flash story without having to do too much research.

I went to bed that night with the premise set in my mind: a young woman awaiting word of her husband's fate on the battlefield. I didn't get much sleep. Every time I'd get close to sleep, my brain would jolt awake with another idea, another detail, for the story. Thank goodness I keep pad and pen next to my bed. By the time I gave up and got out of bed the next morning, I had three pages of notes.

It wasn't hard to take so many notes and craft them into a story. The hard part was finding the right details and then whittling the story down to the 1,000 word limit. A few darlings were sacrificed, the ending completely rewritten, and by draft 3, I had a story I liked and felt proud of.  Off it went!

I've since gotten feedback on the story, and I do have revisions planned for the future (I.e., after I finally get a draft of my current novel-in-progress done). In the meantime, though, here's the story as it was submitted to the contest.

Click here to read "Meditation."