Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Into The Shadows - Chapter 1 Part 1

Chapter 1 - Part 1
Sweet Dreams

Five years ago…

Streams of sunlight shone brightly through the car window as shadows of the passing trees flickered across Paivi Anderson’s face. Next to her sat a woman she knew well, but as she glanced around she was slightly confused. Looking over her shoulder into the back seat she was surprised to see that Michaela wasn’t in the car. Though they had been friends forever it was rare that Paivi was in the car with Michaela’s mother by herself. Mrs. Brown, an older version of her daughter, hummed along with a song on the radio. She seemed unaware of Paivi sitting next to her.

In an instant the car slammed to a violent stop and Paivi pitched forward in her seat. Glass shattered—small pieces rained down on Paivi’s face and she could hear the horrible sound of crunching metal. Mrs. Brown screamed in the seat next to Paivi, her face twisted in pain and bloodied from the flying glass. An oily smoke filled the car, surging through the vents. Her lungs burned as she gasped for air, choking and sputtering. She looked down to see flames licking at her feet from under the dashboard. She was frozen, unable to move as the scorching heat raced up her legs. Then a deafening explosion shook them, rocking the car.

Paivi screamed and thrashed in pain, trying to free herself from the flaming wreckage tangled around her. She didn’t want to open her eyes, terrified of what she would see. Cool hands grasped her arms and in the distance she heard a familiar voice.

“She’s having another dream, John!” Mrs. Anderson’s voice was panicked as she wrestled with the tangled mass before her.

Paivi opened an eye and saw her room.

“Help me! No, no, no!” she screamed, fighting against the damp sheet that had woven itself around her limbs and clung to her body. Her pajamas were soaked with sweat and she could still feel the heat from the fire, despite being aware she was no longer in it.

Mrs. Anderson frantically attempted to untangle the sheet from around Paivi’s thin frame.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“No, Mom, I don’t know, it’s Mrs. Brown.” Paivi was rambling⎯she couldn’t collect her thoughts. Finally able to sit up, she gulped hungrily at the air, struggling to find her breath. Mrs. Anderson put her arms around Paivi, and smoothed her sweaty hair back from her forehead. “I saw her in my dream. There was some kind of accident. In the car. But I don’t think she’s okay. You have to do something!”

Mr. and Mrs. Anderson exchange concerned looks.

This wasn’t the first time their young daughter had experienced such a vivid dream. It became difficult for Mr. and Mrs. Anderson to stop Paivi from making connections as she got older. Her ‘dreams’ came true all too often. She often shared them with her parents, but she had never envisioned such a tragic event. Mostly they were trivial things, such as finding a lost bike or watching herself earn an A on an upcoming test. Paivi had at first felt uncomfortable in her dreams. She didn’t like feeling helpless⎯unable to interact with people and frozen to the spot. Over time she became accustomed to the sensation.

Mr. and Mrs. Anderson supported Paivi’s visions and never made her feel different. Little did she know it was because they were comforted by the thought that other adults would merely look upon her as a precocious child with an over-active imagination. This would keep her secret safe from the citizens of St. Andrew, Illinois. Besides, Paivi was, in most respects, a normal little girl from a happy family and that’s all anyone really needed to know.

Mrs. Anderson spoke softly, “I don’t know if there is much we can do.”

“What do you mean Mom? Dad, you’re a policeman. Please do something! We have to call them! I have to call Michaela!” Paivi screamed hysterically. She fought against her mom’s arms with no success. Mrs. Anderson only held her tighter.

“Paivi, I am so sorry,” Mr. Anderson said. “Sometimes we see things we wish we couldn’t, but there is nothing we can do. When the time is right, your Mom and I will explain this all to you. But right now you need to trust us. You’ll need to be there for Michaela. And you have to promise us that you won’t tell anyone about your dream tonight.”

Mr. Anderson knelt down beside her and took her hand. Paivi was sobbing so hard that she could not respond. Gulps and shudders were now the only sounds she could manage.

Paivi took some deep breaths, her body still shuddering from sobs.

“Okay,” she whispered. It was all she could manage.

Paivi sat up crying for a few more hours before falling asleep, exhausted, in her mother’s arms.

Stay tuned for the next installment of INTO THE SHADOWS, coming Friday!

Taking a Risk

So after about a year of considering, I think I'm going to do it.  I gonna take that risk, I'm going to jump head-first off the cliff.  I'm going to post my first novel, Into the Shadows, for FREE on my blog.  What will happen?  Maybe something, most likely nothing.  I wrote my first book a couple years ago now, and put it through the circuit of agent and publisher queries.  It had some nice looks, but overall, it failed.  Maybe it was the wrong time.  Maybe it wasn't that good.  It's entirely possible.  It was my first go.  But I thought it was a fun story and worthy of an audience.

But there's a stigma about giving your work away.  I must be crazy!  What if it sucks so bad and people realize what a crap writer I really am?  What if I blow my chance to EVER get that book published?  It could happen.  Although, I think I'm pretty sure this book will never get published.  And I'm not just being self-pitying, I'm being realistic.  But it's a mixed message we send as writers.  We tell each other all the time that writers should write for themselves, not to get published.  It's all about the story you tell.  Write what you want to write.  Don't worry about trends, etc. etc.  Okay, fine, then I'm putting my money where my mouth is.  I'm writing to write and to give others a great story to read.  Therefore, why should I keep it on the shelf collecting dust?

I've written a few Friday Flash stories, and published them on my blog for the big wide world to see.  The sky didn't fall.  I didn't get emails from agencies and publishers saying I was blacklisted from the wider published community.  People read them.  And appeared to enjoy them.  And if they didn't, they were nice enough to say they did.  We're in a new age of writing.  You can get books for free or for pennies everywhere.  Of course, the goal is to still get published, but I'm pretty sure it won't be this book.  So why not share it for free?  If it sucks, no one will read it and you will be proven right.  Maybe a few will read it and enjoy.  That's all I can hope for.  Stay tuned for the first's coming soon!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Print your own book???

Now, I'm not talking about this in terms of self publishing...I read an article the other day on Nikki Katz's blog about printing your own book to use for revisions.  You can use the self publishing houses to print your own copy of the book for your review, without having to post it for sale for anyone else.  I thought this was a super cool idea!  Printing out your book is such a pain and uses so much paper and ink.  It's not the easiest to read and the papers get everywhere.

I also feel bad when friends or family ask to read my  books and all I have is one giant printed copy in a manila envelope that I'm constantly trying to get back from people for others to read.  And I feel like they take longer to read it in that format, which is understandable.

  If I'm not mistaken, you can print a plain old paperback copy of your book for about 6 bucks.  That didn't include shipping.  I'm thinking maybe once I polish mine up, I'll print a couple copies of each, one for me to read at my leisure and mark up, and 2 or so for friends or family who feel like reading it.  How do you guys handle revisions?  Do you print it out?  Read it straight from the computer?  Have any of you tried using Lulu or any of the other publishers to make your own copy?  Feel free to share!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Right Formula

Apparently I had the right idea.  If something isn't working, change it.  I was very satisfied with the work I did over the weekend on Rising Sun, my new YA paranormal.  Even though I only managed 1400 words or so, I felt like it was a giant step forward.  I introduced a new angle that I had been wanting to add, and now I'm ready to get to all the gory fun and adventure.  Once I put everything else aside, that story just flowed.  So for me, eliminating the distractions, even writing distractions, helped push me through.

I am still leaving The Green, my YA contemporary, on the shelf.  It did have a decent showing in the 10 queries I sent out to agents, but in the back of my mind I have doubts about it.  I still don't think it's THE ONE.  Meaning, the one that's going to get published.  I am planning right now to focus on Rising Sun and see where the summer takes me.  Malika, the main character, is super cool and I'm anxious to see where her story takes me.  It's just the escape I'm looking a mental vacation!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back to the Basics

In an effort to get the creativity flowing, I've started back with the YA Paranormal.  I've already managed about 300 words today so far, which isn't much, but hopefully by the end of the day I can get in 1,000.  The YA contemporary is hitting the shelf, waiting for the right frame of mind to wrap it up.  Or maybe it'll make an appearance here or there.  I'm also going to shelve the Friday Flash for the moment.  I just want to keep things simple and work.  I even considered joining the JulNoWriMo (July Novel Writing Month or something like that) but we'll see how I do this week.  I'm hoping the creativity will be motivation enough. 

I'm also very much looking forward to next week. YA Flash Death Match will be hopping with interviews with the amazing authors that are providing all of our awesome prizes!  We are gearing up for the very first contest in the month of July, with the kick off July 7th.  We will be hunting for great YA authors and a great topic for them to write about!  Be sure to check that out if you haven't already.  Don't miss out on all the fun!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm in a funk!

I so hate to be a whiner.  So I won't be, but I will talk about my complaints in a non-whiny fashion.  I don't quite understand what is going on these days, but I feel like I'm in a total writing funk at the moment.  I was so excited to hit the summer running, writing until my fingers fell off and so far, it's not been the dream I thought it would be.

All the time I thought I'd have has gone out the window.  My demanding toddler has taken so much more of my time than I thought.  There is still nap time, but then, something always needs to be cleaned or a shower needs to be had (trust me!).   My YA contemporary is being a royal pain in the butt and has not been easy to revise.  In fact, after I finally finish revising it, I'm probably going to read it in full again before I send it out, just to make sure it flows. I'm dying to get to the New Orleans YA paranormal, but I'm sort of using it as the carrot on a stick to get me to finish the contemporary revisions.  I also thought I'd be all over Friday Flash, cranking out one a week, and it's been a couple weeks since I've produced anything.

But it's cool.  It's time to buckle down and get to work.  These words won't write or rewrite or revise themselves.  The stories in my head have to get out before I run screaming into the sunset.  Speaking of which, I will now walk away from the internet and go write some Friday Flash!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great links...

Agent Nathan Bransford discusses changes in the publishing world.

Fall conferences on Alice Pope's site!

Jennifer Laughran with more agent insight...twice.

More queries that made it!

And a little bit of inspiration from Michelle Sussman.

Hope you find these articles as enlightening and informational as I did!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Great links...

Here are some great links for the week.

I hate to shamelessly plug, but hey, that's the way it goes!

My new blog, YA Flash Death Match, is having a contest this week...if you're interested in winning one of 2 Barnes & Noble gift cards JUST for being awesome, then be sure to check it out!  Leave a comment, get an entry to win.  Follow me or Michelle Sussman, and get a few more entries!  You've got until Friday!

Kathy Fenton White's blog talks about the joy of writing.  And mentions Michelle and me.  Thanks for the shout out Kathy!

Check out Hilary Wagner's query letter on Matthew Rush's blog to see what worked for her.  Let's hope all of us get to the point where we can share our winning query letter! Congrats to Hilary and her book, Nightshade City, which comes out this fall.

Cassandra Marshall discusses genre, a very important thing to consider when querying!  It's important to be clear on what category your novel falls into. 

And finally, some great writing tips from author Christie Craig on the BookEnds site.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Slightly New Design

So, after a complaint or two that my blog wasn't reading right, I went to change the settings, only to find that the old formatting things are now gone.  So, I changed it a little, but was still able to keep my cute background.  Hopefully everyone can read it properly now!  I'll play around with it in the next week or so...

I've been very naughty...

Okay, so here I am...feeling extremely awful because I feel like writing life has taken a back seat these last couple of weeks!  I had a bunch of great articles to share, but my dad was using my computer last week and managed to close them all out.  C'est la vie, non?  So anyways, I'm back in some relative form of action this week, and even that's been a struggle.  It's as if with the dawn of summer vacation that my brain has completely shut down.  All I want to do is sleep!

But I've got a plan.  I probably won't make it this week with a Friday Flash, I'm so desperate to use my 'writing time' to finish revisions on my YA contemporary so I can start submitting to agents again by the end of the month.  I've revised about 100 pages, got 117 to go.  I know I won't finish before leaving for a short vacation.  But I've promised myself to leave the laptop at home, no work on vacation! So whatever I don't get finished tonight or tomorrow will have to wait until next week.  Once I finish the revisions I can get back to writing.  I did plan on finishing the first draft of the YA paranormal about New Orleans, so there's another reason I'm eager to get revisions done!  More blog posts will be coming your way, I promise.  Maybe even today!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

YA Flash Death Match

I would like to introduce you to my new blog, YA Flash Death Match.  A few months ago, fabulous fellow pre-published author, Michelle Sussman had an idea for a collaborative blog, something that we could work on together and something that combined our love for reading and writing YA.  Out of that thought, along with countless hours watching American Idol, the idea for YA Flash Death Match was born.  There are contests for everything, best singer, best dancer, best stand-around-and-get-your-picture-taken, etc., etc.  But there are very few contests for writers.  And so my trusty brain came up with an idea.  After a few weeks of back-and-forth with Michelle, we were able to hammer out the details, come up with a name, a website, and awesome authors to donate prizes. 

My goal for YA Flash Death Match is for YA fans to find some great new fiction to read from yet-to-be-discovered YA authors and learn about some fantastic YA authors that are currently published.  We will cover all genres and hopefully will be able to provide something for everyone.  Please stop by at the new site and give it a follow.  I'll still be writing this blog a few times a week as per usual, so maybe we'll get to see each other in a few more places around the web.  Happy reading and writing!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interview with #FridayFlash Creator, J.M. Strother

In honor of the 1 Year Anniversary of #FridayFlash, I would like to present its creator, J.M. Strother.  He was kind enough to grant me an interview, which I'm thrilled to share with everyone!  To all the Friday Flashers out there, be sure to leave some of your contact info in the comments section.  Think of this as an online FridayFlash BBQ...let's get to know each other!  Be sure to leave your name, how long you've been participating in Friday Flash (or how many stories!), the genre you prefer to write, and of course a link to your blog or website!  

Where did the idea for Friday Flash come from? Has it developed as you thought or has it changed since the original idea?

I have always posted bits of creative writing on my blogs – fiction, essays, attempts at poetry. Usually I was just shouting into the wind. Those pieces drew very little attention. It was not uncommon to have weeks go by without a comment. Spam comments became dear to me.

Then I went to a science fiction convention (Archon) a couple of years ago and they had a session on using social media to reach your audience. I came home and signed up for Twitter and thought – What the heck? Who cares when I wash my socks?

It took a while for me to figure out that Twitter actually could be useful. The #followfriday hashtag introduced me to the concept of hashtags. It dawned on me that combining a blog post and a tweet with a tag might be just the ticket, and viola, #FridayFlash was born.

I'm not sure anything develops as one anticipates, but #FridayFlash came pretty close. I was pleased to see some actual comments show up on my blog (5!) on the first week, and to have a few other people join in using the hashtag. I advertised it on all the writer forums I frequented, as well as on Twitter, and participation slowly grew. Over all, I'm pleased with the rate of growth – fast enough to build interest, but slow enough that we all can get to know each other over time. I think if anything surprises me, it is the sense of community and friendship that has developed as we share our stories (bits of our souls, really) every week.

How many writers participated in the first Friday Flash? And how many are you up to at this point?

I feel terrible that I can't tell you who all the first time flashers were, but I did not keep very good records back then. I know Kevin J. Mckey, E. D. Johnson, and Laura Eno were early participants, but I can't tell you how many and who were there to start. There were just a handful.

Now we typically have around 70 stories each week, usually with several debuts. Over the course of the first year we've been graced with stories from no fewer than 248 writers. With my poor record keeping early on, and the fact that not everyone who uses the hashtag lists themselves in the Collector, means some have gone unaccounted for. No telling how many.

How did you find writers/readers for Friday Flash?

As mentioned above I tweeted it, and posted short blurbs on the various forums I frequented. I know some of the early participants came around from the Editor Unleashed forum: Kevin, E. D., and Laura for sure. And I participated in the Writing Adventure Group, a weekly challenge hosted by India Drummond. Some of the WAG participants also started doing #FridayFlash. But it was not until Maria Schneider let me guest blog about it on her Editor Unleashed blog (as opposed to the forum) that it really took off. We started picking up 10, 12, 18 debuts a week for a while there. Many of them are still regulars. I really owe Maria a huge debt of gratitude for hosting my post. Link to the Writing Adventure Group

What do you see for Friday Flash in the future?

I think we will carry on carrying on. It seems to be working rather well. In a way, you don't want it to grow so fast that it collapses under its own weight. I think slow and steady growth in authors works well. A few people come in and go out every week. Those of us who stick around come to know each other, and really build up a sense of camaraderie. Though I would not mind seeing some exponential growth in readership. ;)

There is an anthology coming along (honest!) which will feature the best of 2009. It's been long in coming and I know some authors must be getting anxious to see it actually get released. I am working toward that end, all too slowly, but surely. I hope we can do it again next year, but the focus now has to be on getting that first one out.

I see some of the participants are starting to do some wonderful things on their own to help promote #FridayFlash. Jen Brubacher started a FridayFlash Tribe. Emma Newman is holding a very generous monthly contest with an impressive prize – a professional podcast of the winning story. There are a lot of cross promotional efforts being done on individual blogs. I started this as a crowdsourcing experiment, and these are just the kinds of things that help build readership. I'm grateful to everyone who helps promote #FridayFlash.

I have registered the domain name, and have vague notions of trying to do something with that. I'd like to see some sort of place besides by blog that would serve the #FridayFlash community, both readers and writers, as a whole. It's all very murky in my head right now, and I'm open to suggestions.

Will there be any compilations of Friday Flash works, now that you've concluded a full year?

The #FridayFlash anthology will be coming out sometime around mid-year. It will be made available in both print and ebook formats. Plus I plan to do a collection of my own stories – my first year of #FridayFlash. I intend to pitch the idea to some publishers. Who knows what will develop. I have to wrap up the anthology first.

How long have you been writing? Are you currently published?

I have been writing from at least the 4th grade onward. I finished my first novel length manuscript while in high school. It was dreadful and is, thankfully, lost.

I don't have a lot in the way of publishing creds, as I rarely submit. That is something I need to be more diligent about. I have a story in the Twelve Days anthology, was selected for inclusion in the Why I Write essay collection at Editor Unleashed, and am scheduled to be in the next Chinese Whisperings anthology. I've won a contest or two from time to time. And I have some technical articles published in the proceedings of some obscure technical conferences dealing with Geographic Information Systems. Exciting stuff, that. Link for the 12 Days anthology Link for the Chinese Whisperings anthology

What is your goal as a writer?

Primarily, to be read. Oh sure, I'd love to be published, to become rich and famous, but that is not why I write. I write because I have stories I want to tell, and what good is a story if no one ever sees it? Someone recently asked me why I give my stories away for free. I think that is the ultimate answer – to be read.

Can you give us an interesting fact (or facts) about yourself?

Interesting, eh? That could be a problem. I'm very boring. Besides writing I like to bicycle, garden, and read. Our reader's club, The Omnivores, has been around since 1975. We've read a fair amount of books since then. I'm in my mid-fifties and looking forward to retirement so I can turn my attention to writing full time. I have a wife and two kids. One of my kids actually reads my blog. Sometimes, if I ask her nicely, my sister does too.

What is your absolute favorite book?

My all time favorite book is The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Did I mention I wrote a dreadful novel while in high school? It was a Tolkien knock off. At least I got it out of my system. In SF, I absolutely LOVE the Red/Green/Blue Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson. My favorite book of recent years is The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue – talk about a terrific debut.

Where do you like to write? And what is your preferred genre to write?

I had a little dormer office set up in our third floor bedroom – it was my favorite place to write. It was isolated enough from the rest of the house that I could concentrate and get lost in my worlds. Recent events have forced us to move the bedroom downstairs. Now I write at a beautiful oak rolltop desk in our first floor bedroom. It is not as isolated, so it's harder to concentrate, but it is where I do virtually all my writing now.

I'm very eclectic. I like to write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and slice of life. I also enjoy writing essays and dabble in poetry. One of my favorite poems is Road Cloud. I wrote it after a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a foggy morning when we pulled out of Asheville, North Carolina.

Road Cloud

The morning begins in a slow drizzle.
The car is packed.
On the road before a muted dawn.

The girls in back, awake, then dozing – bored.
Vacation road trip.
Many weary miles to go.

The asphalt ribbon wends up and down,
This way and that.
Mountain road, seldom traveled.

My wife points ahead; the mountain hides.
Watch for Fog on Road.
She looks to me with worried eye.

No real choice, we carry on, slower now.
Road climbs into the mists.
Hey girls”, I say over my shoulder, “We're in a cloud.”

Sitting up, they look around. “We're in a cloud?”
Then, amazed,
We're in a cloud!”

As long as I'm writing, I'm happy. It really doesn't matter what genre or form it takes.

Website? Twitter? Facebook?
My website is Mad Utopia
You can follow me on Twitter as jmstro