MicroHorror Story Contest Submission

I recently submitted a piece of flash fiction to MicroHorror’s Halloween Story Contest. The editor, Nathan Rosen, has it up on the site along with the other contest entries.

Check it out! My sub is called “There Be Giants.” This is my short attempt at describing real terror.

Fingers crossed on this one, guys!

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

People have been asking me lately — as they do every year — whether or not I will participate in National Novel Writing Month. The answer — as it is every year — is probably not. November is a busy time for school. I’ll be writing essays and reading books and doing all manner of hair-pulling.

However, I also have a book to finish. It sits at a nice, fat length (to me, anyway) of 65k words right now. My goal is 85-90, and I may need more in order to get everything accomplished that I want. I’m anticipating another five or six chapters at least — and maybe some more chapters sprinkled throughout what I already have. I want to have this thing done by the end of the semester, which ends on December 8th or around then.

What I’ve decided to do for NaNoWriMo, instead of starting something new and signing up and all that malarkey, is PUSH to get this first draft done by the end of November. I don’t need 50k more words, but I do need a completed draft, so I think that’s a pretty reasonable goal. I feel like the momentum I’ve been building in these last few months can last at least that long.

Can’t wait to be done with this draft so I can start revisions!

What are your plans for NaNoWriMo?

Story of the Week #9 — “Chance” by Conor Powers-Smith

Found a horror/fantasy/speculative fiction mag called Black Treacle the other day. They are a Canada-based online magazine that publishes bimonthly. Though I’m not from Canada (and they give preference to Canadian writers), I submitted something anyway. The worst they can say is no.

This week’s Story of the Week is, actually, written by a guy from New Jersey. “Chance” by Conor Powers-Smith is an entertaining trip through the proverbial looking glass into another world — a family enters a corn maze and finds the center, only to learn that the exact route they took through the maze has brought them to an alternate universe. I won’t tell you how it ends, but suffice it to say that Black Treacle publishes speculative horror, and this definitely falls into that category.

Ha, category. You see what I did there? (Read the story and you will.)

Powers-Smith’s story is written well — nice increase of tension throughout, dialogue is believable. Not to mention the language is beautiful:

The noise—the babble and movement of a few dozen people, the laughter and shrieks and running footsteps of children, the crying of at least one baby at any given moment, it seemed—receded, too, when the smell was present, as if Paul’s senses were straining exclusively toward the sharp fragrance of invisible smoke.

My favorite image, though, is the little girl of the story, the narrator character Paul’s daughter Beth. At the beginning of the story, she is trying to convince her parents to go with her through the maze at the fair, then effectively drags them toward it with a focus only a child could muster:

He must’ve made some sound or gesture of acquiescence, because a wet, sticky kiss hit him on the cheek. Beth giggled at the effort necessary to disengage her caramel-encrusted lips from Paul’s face, then started wiggling again as Diane set to work on her cheeks with a wet nap.

As she twisted in his arms, the small white scar on his daughter’s left temple seemed hardly to move, as if her whole body were pivoting on its fulcrum. Paul had an impulse to kiss the scar, but thought better of it immediately. Instead, when her face was as clean as it was going to get for the time being, he set her down on the ground, where she took his right hand in her left, Diane’s left in her right.

Beth strained against their arms as she led them across the grounds, seemingly oblivious to the strolling families and sprinting, screaming lines of children which Paul and Diane maneuvered to avoid.

This story is good and creepy. You won’t be sorry you read it.

Warning: Liz Hasn’t Slept and Therefore This Post Has Nothing to do with Anything

I am currently running on approximately two hours of sleep. I am still in the loopy, WOOHOO I CAN DO EVERYTHING JUST DON’T LET ME STOP OR I WILL DIE mode of sleeplessness. Which means, of course, that I am doing fifteen things at once, including writing this post. My beautiful kitties found an invading mouseketeer in the bedroom this morning at the early (and not bright) hour of 2:45 a.m. While I am grateful that they do these things and thus keep tiny mouse feet from parading over my face while I sleep, it gets a little annoying when I have to get up and take care of the situation, and even more annoying when they can’t find the mouse so stare at the curtains for four straight hours while I’m trying to get back to sleep. (Hint: I didn’t get back to sleep).

Here is a picture of our little intruder.

Athletic mouse is frightened of the menacing tigers awaiting on the floor below.
Athletic mouse is frightened of the menacing tigers awaiting on the floor below.

He’s cute, right? Right. Meanwhile, I’m on my second cup of coffee and will probably need many more.

That’s all. Just thought I would update you with the goings-on in my life. Technically, even though this post wasn’t about writing, I’m writing this post, so I’m still writing some sort of stuff.

Tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment in the “Story of the Week” series.

Kenneth W. Cain’s Markets

My friend Kenneth W. Cain is a freaking beast at Internet research. He just updated his list of horror/fantasy/sci-fi markets, most of which are paying. I’m definitely going to be using this one. Holy cow. Good job, dude. Who needs duotrope when you’ve got this guy?

Check it out here.

Psst. Check out his work while you’re over there!

Trifecta Writing Prompt: PHANTOM

I found a thing! I love all these online avenues that push us to create on a weekly/daily basis. Trifecta is a weekly prompt that requires writers to come up with a story between 33 and 333 words that uses the third definition (in a standard dictionary) of a given word. This week, the word is “phantom.” The third definition, according to Trifecta, is:

3 :  a representation of something abstract, ideal, or incorporeal, i.e. “she was a phantom of delight” — William Wordsworth.

So I thought I’d try my hand.

“A Sign for Leaving”

I was nine years old when the forest took root inside my home.

It started with mushrooms in the bathroom — poor plumbing, everyone said. When they spread to the hallway, little rubbery gray nubs poking out of the old carpet, my father called Lowes and inquired about a weedkiller that would defeat indoor mushrooms. The man on the other end of the line laughed, hung up, and probably spent the better part of the day laughing with his work buddies about the absurd question. Meanwhile, moss was beginning to appear under my small desk, and a beetle crawled across my foot to get to the mushy green stuff. Instead of screaming, I just watched it crawl on top the green and crouch there, as though it were asleep.

I drifted downstairs, where I found my brother asleep under a blue spruce that had sprouted in the living room. We had been sleeping under Christmas trees for years, so this to him seemed no different. In his seven-year-old mind, Christmas must have just come early this year. But I saw the roots of this phantom of Christmas latched into the carpet, and the wood beneath that, and knew that if I entered the basement I would see squiggles of life hanging from the ceiling.

My parents stood at the edge of the kitchen and watched as a maple wound itself around the stove, snaking up through the pipes under the sink and thrusting leaves and helicopter seeds into the room in a flurry of motion. My parents clutched each other, as though one could save the other from this madness.

The next week, we packed the boxes that hadn’t been disposed of from the last move. Toys, Kitchen, Easter, read hastily-scrawled Sharpie that never really dried. We left the forest in that house as it had come: wild, tangled, unexplained. We didn’t look back.

NEAT. Submissions!

Would just like to remind everyone that NEAT. is still open for submissions until October 31. We’re looking for endings — or beginnings that come from endings. A little Halloween horror, a little sci-fi, a little whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-write. We want to read it. :)

We’re accepting fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and photography. Check out the website here.

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
—Enid Bagnold

Happy submitting!

Time to Start Reading for My Thesis, a lesson in stress (mis)management

*Jaws Music* Dun dun dun dun  . . . Time to start reading. I’ve been working steadily on the first draft of my novel over the past few months and have knocked out a substantial chunk — I made it to 63k this week, which is a monstrous number of words if you ask me. I still have 6 or 7 chapters to go, so I imagine the word count will probably hit 90k (holy shit!). I’m going to have it “done” by the end of this semester (which means I gotta get to gettin’), but in the meantime I also have been writing my rationale and working on my reading list.

For those of you who aren’t pretentious graduate students, allow me to explain. In order to receive my degree, I have to write a thesis. That’s pretty common. In my program, we also have to have a rationale — a one-page summary of reasons why you are writing what you are and why you’ve put certain books on your reading list (which includes 50 titles). For the past couple weeks I’ve been struggling to qualify my fantasy/steampunk novel in terms of theme, style, form, etc. and make it coherent/intelligent enough that the Graduate Committee says, “Okay, that doesn’t sound stupid. You can go ahead and write that shit.”

What I love about this reading list is that there are books on here that I have been meaning to read for a long time. For instance, Frank Herbert’s Dune. I figure I can’t be a weird fiction writer without some working knowledge of this puppy. Another book I’m excited to finally read: The Poisonwood Bible. I’ve heard a lot about it but never had the chance to read it. Also Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

I’m going to post my full reading list on this site under “What I’m Reading” so that followers can read along with me, and I will also probably write reviews/thoughts/commentary on the books. This is for your benefit, but also for mine — as I will be “tested” on these things, and forcing myself to write about them now will help me in the long run when it comes time to study.

If this sounds stressful, it’s because it is. I have to read 50 books in less than that number of weeks and also write my own book, while doing schoolwork and being married and looking for a job and and and and. And drinking. Somebody pour me a margarita because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Hope you’re hanging onto your girdles. Dun dun dun dun . . .

Story of the Week #8 — “State Forests” by David Ryan

Finally getting back into the Stories of the Week with this wonderful little story by David Ryan. “State Forests” was published by Booth, the graduate literary magazine of Butler University.

The basic summary of the story is this: a man encounters another standing on a bridge waiting to jump. They both jump, but the man contemplates his existence on the way down:

For how long we fell I don’t know. I put on weight and my hair thinned and grayed. We lost interest in each other’s conversation. We flew into little silent rages and moments of extraordinary gratefulness. It was hard to talk over the roar of the approaching water but, you know, you get used to shouting. You forget the water. You just keep falling and falling. I woke a thousand times. I dreamed about driving for miles and miles, looking for state forests, places to stop. Places with names: Loyalsock, Susquehannock, Hogsback. Would the river smash us like stone? Would our hearts explode instead, before we hit the surface?

Can you feel that? That’s me crying silently on the other side of your computer monitor. This story is about life, friendship, relationships — all encapsulated in one short blip. David Ryan has been published all over the place — including in Tin House — and with this story, I see why. His grasp of emotion and word usage is powerful and effective.

Check it out — you’ll be glad you did.

Work Goes Faster When You Can Dance at Your Desk

… and that goes doubly for when you’re writing.

Sadly, I am not doing that right now. But I AM listening to the fantastic new album from Panic! at the Disco. I think people are going to give them shit for this one, but I actually love it. It’s like they took a look inside my brain and said, “What can we make that will fulfill all of Liz’s guilty pleasures at once?” If only they had included free white chocolate with the download.

Dance music + Panic! = Liz dancing at her desk. Embarrassingly.

But I find it helps me get my thoughts in order, especially when I am writing. If music can make me feel something, I can latch onto that feeling and use it. For instance, Panic!’s “Time to Dance” from the first album gives me the shivers, along with a sensation of grandeur and adventure — the sense that, Oh god, I have to do something! The world is burning! Aaaaaahhhhhh. I feel very cool while staring out the car window listening to this song, pretending I am off saving some handsome gentleman or another…

Ahem.

This feeling is probably compounded by this video.

Okay, nerdiness aside. This feeling — this full-to-the-brim, heart-stopping, roar of a feeling — allows me to get in the headspace of my characters, who sometimes do have to save their worlds. And this isn’t just for fantastical stories, either — the characters could be “saving” their own minds, or I could be ripping sanity away from them. If there is tension in a story — and there should be — music can help me express that tension by getting me in the character’s minds. Because whether you’re fighting dragons or trying to fix your toilet, there is stress in everything.

I hope that makes a little bit of sense and that I didn’t repeat myself too badly. If not, oh well, I’ll go back to dancing.