Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top Ten Reasons Why I Reject Flash Fiction Stories

I've blogged about being a slush reader for Flash Fiction Online, but it's been a while since I've updated you on it. In an average month, my team will have about 80 stories to review. Only stories with two votes for publication are guaranteed to move into the next round. A story can still be sent on if someone likes it enough to fight for it. So, when you submit a story for consideration your first hurdle is to get the slush pile reader to like it.

So over the last six months I've complied my top ten reasons why I reject a story. Keep in mind that the items on the list are my reasons for saying "no," other slush readers may, and probably do, have different reasons for rejecting stories. When I started the list I thought I was going to have to work to fill it up. Sadly, I didn't.

10. The "Meh" Response. Sometimes there's nothing technically wrong with a story, but it still isn't working for me. Often this is because I can't find anything "special" in it. What do I mean by "special?" If you are using one of the tried and true tropes (girl meets vampire, they fall in love, she becomes a vampire to be with him forever, for example), you need a new take on the trope to set it apart from everything else out there. Stephanie Meyers had sparkly vampires - that was new. The more tried and true your base storyline, the more you'll need those "special" elements to make the story stand out for me. It could be your main character (MC) doesn't have any particular strong traits and doesn't make me hate him enough to love him, or there's no real setting (or a "usual suspect one"). In every story you write, something and usually several somethings have to be special. It has to draw me in and make me take notice. Stories that get the "Meh" response are often at the "close, but not quiet there" level because the don't hook me.

9. The Main Character Is Too Stupid To Live. Okay, we've all done it. I've done it. If an MC is making obviously dumb choices just to move your story along, the writer will have a problem convincing me to move that story to the next level. Often this problem is because the MC doesn't have enough of a personality to make the stupid choice. We've all pick a path that was obviously wrong even when we knew it was. Why'd we do it then? Because that's who we are. The same has to be true for characters. A teenager making a bad choice (like shoplifting) on impulse, I'll find plausible. I won't find the same action plausible if the person is a fifty-year old male who is successful, rich, and a pillar of the community if  I haven't seen in advance that he has poor impulse control, or  some other credible reason why he's suddenly willing to throw his life away to snatch a t-shirt. A character's actions must line up with her personality traits and motivations.

8. Overuse of a thesaurus, "denseness" or other forms of "purple prose".  In my definition, "purple prose" or "dense writing" happens when the writer is busy showing us her style and that style is getting in the way of the storytelling. Fifty cent words are great when the character, and not the writer, would actually use them. Yes, use all five senses, but not in the same sentence. Not every noun needs an adjective. Not every verb needs an adverb. This type of "dense" writing is hard to read. My attention wants to stray to something else.

I tend to be guilty of "sparse" writing. I don't get into interior thoughts or scene setting enough. My editor's comments are often - "add more X here." As a result, when someone else is laying it on thick, I notice. Pare your work to only use the descriptions that matter. While a 66 word sentence are fine on occasion, they shouldn't be the norm. If your sentences look like paragraphs, you might have a problem to address.

7. Numerous Grammatical Errors. Bet you thought this would be higher didn't you?

No matter how many times you go over a manuscript, there will be typos, dropped words and other errors. I can forgive some. If you have a lot, you're telling me you don't care enough about the story and don't respect my time enough for me to waste any more on the story.

By the way, knowing when to break a paragraph is essential. Knowing how to write dialog, including internal dialog, is essential. Sixty-six word sentences (no joke, I do count) almost always need to be broken down as they express more than one thought.

Check to make sure your pronouns link to the noun you wanted. After a 66 word sentence with numerous nouns the word "it" in the next sentence refers back to the last noun, which is probably not the one you wanted.

6. A Forgettable Main Character  Or One I Have No Sympathy For. I don't have to like your main character, but it helps. If you are writing an unlikable main character you have your job cut out for you. You need to make me care about John the Bastard if you expect me to read his story. The anti-hero story can be wonderful when done right. And I can reject a story about a perfectly nice main character. Whether your character is likable or not, I need to have some connection to her. Without a connection, you make it easy for me to reject the story.

5. Lack of Clarity. I'm not going to work too hard to figure out what's going on. If I can't do so in a paragraph or two, you've given me a reason to stop reading. I MIGHT go back and look at the story again to see if my confusion was because I was tired or preoccupied, but I might not. Don't risk your story on that chance. Stories that I end up saying, "hu?" or "what just happened?" get voted off the island.

4. Telling me the character's bored or it's just an ordinary day. If the character's bored why should I want to go on a journey, even the short one in flash, with her? The same issue exists with telling me that "the day started out like any other. . ." I groan a bit when I see that. While common wisdom says start your story before your MC's world gets blown to heck, common wisdom is also wrong. If you need an "establishing shot" of every day life, it needs to be short and absolutely required for me to understand what happens.  I'll give you a paragraph (which in flash is generous) to give me an issue or a character to get involved with.

3. Not submitting a complete story.  This is actually easier to do than you would think, especially in the flash (500 - 1,500 word) format. I've seen some wonderful character sketches and scenes, but that doesn't make them publishable. A complete story has a beginning, middle and end. If your story doesn't have all of these it will get the "NAS" (Not A Story) label and a reject vote. Check out my post on the Hollywood Formula for Flash Fiction for more on this one.

2. Withholding the main character's name.  You aren't creating mystery; you aren't making your main character "any man." You are annoying me as the reader. There are a precious few times when you should withhold the main character's name like when your story is told in the first person, but the MC doesn't interact with other characters right away. But as soon as the MC does run into someone else, you should tell me the MC's name.

1.  Withholding information the Point of View character knows as a means to create a mystery or a twist.  This is PET PEEVE #1 for me so be warned. I see many stories where the writer withholds a critical piece of information that the point of view character knows, like the ghost in the story is really the main character's little sister, to "create suspense" or a "twist." If your suspense is based on hiding information from your reader, you don't have suspense, you have a trick.

The Sixth Sense worked because the main character didn't know the twist, and early on in the story the viewer is told the critical piece of information that makes the main character's lack of knowledge credible. If you dissect The Sixth Sense, you'll see hints scattered throughout the movie leading up to the "twist." It's why we accepted it.

If you are going to withhold information you have to be very careful which point of view you use so that person doesn't know the truth and the reader figures it out with him. Otherwise it's a quick trip to the reject bin for the story.

Anyway, those are some of the reasons I'll turn a story down. They apply to whether you're writing flash or an epic fantasy. Hopefully knowing how this slush reader thinks will help you get published. Good luck and keep submitting.

If you want to critique my work to see if I violated my own guidelines,  you can find my two short story collections, Paths Less Traveled and Shots at Redemption, at Musa Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and Smashwords.

Musa Publishing

So, you want to know about publishers? Do you want to know more about the one I keep bragging about on this blog? If so, please check out Musa's updated information at
Musa Publishing: About Us: Musa Publishing began as just an idea and a dream shared by four digital publishing professionals.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Strike While The Iron Is Hot - The Jack Gorman Project

The Jack Gorman Project, an anthology coming from Musa Publishing in July, 2012, was born out of a Dog End dinner at the World Fantasy Conference in October, 2011. For those of you who haven't attended a large conference, the Dog End Party is what happens the night the conference officially closes, and while most attendees are still around. At World Fantasy this includes parties to consume the last of the Hospitality Suite's, and anyone else's, for that matter, food and drink so it doesn't get thrown out or dragged back home.

So, I went to dinner with 14 women, some of which I knew and some I met as others invited them, that night. Critical to this story is Celina Summers, the chief editor and head goddess at Musa was part of the group.

During dinner, Goldeen Owgawa told an amazingly funny story. You'll have to read the anthology (and check my updates here on the blog) to find out more about that story. But it probably took a good 15 minutes before we stopped laughing. When Celina could finally draw a breath said she hadn't laughed that hard in a while, and the story really should be published. A moment later, she said, "Oh the heck with it. I'm a publisher. I'm going to publish it. We're going to do an anthology."

The Jack Gorman Project was born.

Everyone at the table was invited to participate. Not submit. But actually participate in a published anthology.

Celina agreed to be the editor. So, the head of a new publishing house had not just offered to publish us, but also to edit us to her standards. Talk about an amazing opportunity. She then gave us a deadline for submissions.

I struggled with my day job, family and other writing commitments and got a story, Through The Stone Circle, submitted.
What surprises me is not that the opportunity arose, but that of the 12 writers (one of the women was an editor) at the dinner only six of us submitted.


Six people (50%) turned away from a guaranteed writing contract.

I'm not telling you this story to criticize the women who didn't submit. I understand that life intervenes, and often yanks us to where it wants us to be rather than where we planned. After all, that's what life's all about. I'm in the middle of one of those life yanks now. But I digress . . .

I'm telling you this story because writing professionally is often about taking advantages of opportunities that "fall" into your lap or "striking while the iron is hot" to borrow an old phrase. I quoted "fall" because often those opportunities exist because of steps you've taken in advance. For me, those steps included attending the Superstars Writing Seminar, meeting Colette Vernon there, staying in touch with her through the SWS Facebook page and Fictorians, attending World Fantasy and rooming with Colette. She, as I've mentioned before, introduced me to Celina at World Fantasy.

Whether in writing or in any other aspect of your life, when at all humanly possible take advantage of the opportunities that come knocking. You never know where they might lead.

And stay tuned for more about The Jack Gormon Project coming from Musa Publishing on July 20, 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My first royalty check!

Musa released Paths Less Traveled on May 11, 2012. One of the other wonderful things about Musa (and yes, I can't brag on it enough) is that royalties for sales from the publisher's website are paid on the 15th of the month for the previous month. Sales from third-party sites like Amazon, Barnes and Nobels and Smashwords take longer to be paid. So, for sales from May 11 - May 31, 2012, my first royalty "check" arrived via Paypal on Friday. 

While I won't be retiring based on the amount getting a royalty payment is one of those "I have arrived" moments. I did a happy dance around the office (thankfully, no one saw that). I called the husband. I stared at the e-mail for a while. I was a professional writer now. Someone had paid for something I wrote.

Then it hit me.

The "oh crap" moment that follows the happy dance.

I'm a professional writer. That means I need to write. More. If I ever want to quit the day job, I also need to market. More.

Still, the stupid grin hasn't come off my face. And we did celebrate on Friday. All and all a good day.

I'm a writer. Watch me type.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And The Winner Is . . . .

A bog thank you to everyone who participated in the Summer Kick Off. Thanks for helping relaunch Sensual Reads and start the beach reading season right.

And the winner of the blog hop contest is the Brunette Librarian! Please send me an e-mail at Nancy @ falconsfables dot Com, and let me know whether you prefer Shots at Redemption or Paths Less Traveled and in what format.

The day job (as a lawyer) has overtaken my writing time this week so my goal is to make it to next week and catch-up on my word count and weekly posts then.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sensual Reads Blog Hop - Characters and Spring Fever

Sensual Reads is relaunching its site, and hosting a summer kick off blog hop with its sister sites. The transition from spring to summer is usually one of the best. I look forward to spending more time outside. There's one hitch though. My characters don't like the transition nearly as much as I do. Oh, sure, they're fans of nicer weather, but the more time I spend outside, the less time I spend at the keyboard, and the longer it takes to get their stories told. So while summer means gardening and sititng by the pool for me, my characters are out plotting how to give me the flu, or at least buying me a waterproof computer.

I look forward to he transition from spring to summer, from mostly indoor activities to outdoor ones. There's a hitch though. My characters don't like the transition nearly as much as I do. Oh, sure, they're fans of nicer weather, but they want to get out too. The more time I spend outside, the less I spend at the keyboard, and the longer it takes to get their stories told. So while summer means gardening and sitting by the pool for me, my characters are out plotting how to give me the flu, or at least buying me a waterproof computer.

To keep them happy, this summer should bring the completion of my erotic novella, New Bohemia: Just One Night, and an urban fantasy, The Nocebo Effect. As a result of my agreement to finish these novels, May and Peter (the main characters from New Bohemia) and Vonna and Rick (the main characters from The Nocebo Effect) have conceeded to let me out in the sunlight every once and a while.

And now, for that chance to win I mentioned. . . The contest is open to everyone, but you need to comment to win. On June 11, 2012, I'll pick one winner at random from the comments and that person will get a choice of one of my e-book short story collections: Paths Less Traveled or Shots at Redemption from Musa Publishing.

Paths Less Traveled:

Some women walk their own paths through the ages, even when mayhem follows. Follow two of these women as they each walk the Paths Less Traveled.

In “Lightning Strikes”, Falcon, a disinherited princess, wants to be the king’s spy. The theft of a prize stallion is her chance. But when her best friend stands accused, far more than her dreams are at risk. Falcon races to catch a thief before fatal vengeance falls on an innocent man.

Worlds away, Psyonics Corporation controls all paranormals and psychics in “Flashes of Life.” Its highest-testing but still latent psychic, Vonna accepts an assignment with the D.C. police to avoid the company’s breeding program. The company works to ensure failure in her first case – a homicide. If she can’t unlock her talents, a murderer will go free and she’ll be consigned to slavery.

The Paths Less Traveled. Strange universes. Kick-butt heroines.


Shots at Redemption:

 We all make mistakes. In this collection, a witch, a goddess, and a dragon take their shots at redemption in the hope of reclaiming lost love.

In "Best Dressed and Obsessed, Janelle, a graduate-level witch, chooses a magic dress to enthrall her professor. Sadly, the dress is cursed. At her graduation ball, will she kiss the man she loves? Or kill him?

Eons ago, Zeus decreed that Odysseus leave Kalypso. In "Kalypso's Song", Odysseus is reborn as a scholar. Can Kalypso convince him to reclaim the love they were denied?

The sea dragon Ryu spares a ship crossing her domain when a human child aboard reminds her of her own lost children. Ryu finds an unlikely surrogate family in "A Sea Serpent's Tale". When her new family is attacked by another dragon, can Ryu save them?

Shots at Redemption. We want them. We need them. But, do we get them?


Thanks for stopping by, and stop by some of the other sites on the hop. Don't forget to check back on June 12, 2012 to see if you won. Have a great summer.
Other Hop Participants:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Shots at Redemption - Excerpt

My second short story collection, Shots at Redemption, released on Friday, June 1 from Musa Publishing.

Even paranormal beings sometimes need a second chance at love. Shots at Redemption:  we all want them. But do we get them?  

Garrett talked to Tabitha by the buffet table. How dare she? He was mine. Something cold and predatory slid over me.
I wound my way through the masses. The sinuous curves of my body slid in a seductive symphony. A smile eased over my features. The Dress glimmered unicorn white. Strobe lights bathed it in ever-shifting colors. I was the most remarkable woman here.

And Gary was finally going to get his due.
He stepped away from Tabitha. “Ms. Willowbalm, may I have the privilege of the next dance?”

I inclined my head as I took his arm. “I thought you were going to call me Janelle.”
“Of course.”
At the edge of the dance floor, one hand held mine while the other wrapped around my waist. It’s a wonder he didn’t hear my heart racing. A flush of heat warmed my face. His redwood and light musk scent enveloped me. I closed my eyes and breathed in his essence. A wide stupid grin stretched my features. I was dancing with Garrett Rowan. He was holding me.
“You’ve undergone a rather remarkable transformation this year,” he said.

“Things just seemed to fall into place.” I shrugged, knowing it made my cleavage more notable. His eyes flittered lower before jumping back to meet mine. “I’m surprised you noticed.”

“I like to think of myself as an observant man.”

Gary murdered us, the silken voice of The Dress snarled in my mind.

No, I thought.

Gary cannot be trusted.

This is what I w-want, to be here, with Garrett.

Mercury strands formed a net around my mind. My body jerked as they closed in.

No! I screamed in the confines of my head. I ordered my body to pull back, to shout for help. It didn’t respond. The Dress had seized control. Sweat prickled on the back of my neck.
A deep sadistic laugh was my only response. Foolish child. Gary’s blood will pave the way. The initial sacrificial lamb. The Council will fall to me this time.

Gary held me slightly away from his body. “Ah, Medea. It was about time you showed yourself.”

“Gary dear,” a voice that wasn’t mine spilled out from my lips. It was deeper than the voice I’d heard in my head from The Dress. I felt the muscles in my face stretch to a grin. “I’ll enjoy killing you.”

The spirit me screamed, unheard and unbidden. I couldn’t feel the warmth of his hand as it rested against the small of my back or where his other hand was conjoined with mine. Even his redwood and spice scent didn’t fill my senses. Was I dead? No. This can’t be happening.

Get out of my head, I snarled at the invader, Medea, Garrett had called her Medea. If I’d still retained control of my body, my legs would have bowed, unable to support my weight. Medea Oleander. Medea Oleander was inside my mind. And she wanted to kill Garrett. I couldn’t, no, I wouldn’t let her succeed.
* * * *
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. You can find out what happens next in Shots of Redemption.