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Big Bertha
By Wakefield Mahon

Big Bertha, that’s what the boys called her in school.  I thought she had moved out of Folmun.  I certainly didn’t expect to see her in line at First National Bank.

“Hello Lupe.”  Her lips never moved.

So she knew.  All those years in school, I could read her mind; I knew what the boys did to Beatrice after school. I never stood up for her.

A gunshot interrupted my guilty pity party.  I’d been so focused on her, I hadn’t noticed the man, but now his anxiety hit me like a wall.

A teller triggered an audible alarm and the robber panicked.  He shot the teller and a guard who was fumbling for his sidearm.  Then he started shooting customers at random.

Beatrice glanced at me and transmitted a single thought.  “The quality of mercy is not strained.”  Before I understood what she meant, she launched herself forward, tackling the gunman and taking several shots to the chest in the process.

Spurred by her action, I wrestled the gun away and subdued the stunned attacker with the help of a few other customers.

The police and paramedics were on their way but by the silence in my head, I knew she was already gone.  The peaceful look on her face still haunts my nightmares.

I guess you could say that’s why I joined the force.  I won’t, I can’t let her example, her sacrifice, go unanswered.  I will never stand by and let an innocent person get hurt again.

250 Words from the world of Full Moon City


 
I’ve addressed this topic before, but since I’ve started Song Stories Press I’m learning what it feels like to be on the other side of the desk.  You may not believe this, but as a publisher I WANT to publish your story.  That’s the reason we get into publishing in the first place (either that or we have a masochistic streak).  We want to find and share amazing new stories with our reading audience. However, in order for me to do that, you’re going to have to do some things for me first.

Read the Darned Guidelines

Kyle Aisteach recent posted a great article on failure to RTFM, and you will find hundreds more online. 

Because the average publisher doesn’t have time to answer every individual’s questions, we put a great deal of effort into writing the guidelines.  Therefore,  it tends to irk us when we don’t believe authors have read them. (How would you feel if you put up a "Keep Off the Grass" sign and I stomped right over it?) 

The guidelines are there to let you know what we need for the publication, what we’re looking for, what we’re not and how our vetting process works.

Plot

Some publishers can fudge a few hundred words, or so, with their world limits.  No publisher is willing to publish an incomplete story.  Some brilliant writers, or those submitting to experimental magazines, may be able to get away with alterations but in general these rules are stone-written. 

The main character must do something.  The MC meets an obstacle, no matter how subtle. The MC either overcomes or fails to breach the obstacle.  Perhaps he or she wins, but at a horrible price. 

Regardless, of the outcome, the character’s life has changed because of the events in the story.  (There are only so many nihilist stories that the average reader can stomach.)

Character

Why do I care if Susie makes it to school on time?  Should I mourn the fate that befalls your  MC?  A reader can relate to the idea of a character not wanting to die, but they are not likely to care about a character that they know something about. (Eh, let 'em die, Jersey Shore is on.)

If I were to interview your MC, what would they say?  How would they react to personal questions about their past?  How about their loved ones?  What values do they have that they are willing to die for?  How has compromise affected them in the past?

You should know far more about your MC than the reader, but give them enough to form a relationship – even in short fiction.

Setting

What about your world is different from a white room with no windows?  A dialogue with minimal description is a play.  Granted, this can be used to great effect in flash fiction. Over the course of a longer story, you are asking a lot of the reader.  They want to stay engaged, but white rooms are very boring. 

This doesn’t mean to spend three paragraphs describing a blade of grass (*cough* Jean M. Auel)  or what Lorraine looks like in her dress.  Rather, the best writing incorporates the descriptions actively and naturally.

Presentation

This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new writers and even some seasoned professionals.  Proof your work.  If if the editer seas sew many mistakes that they lose track of the story, you are likely to have lost their interest. 

You must pay attention, not only to grammar and punctuation, but to the flow of your language as well.  Read it out loud.  Have someone else read it out loud.  If you, the writer, are stumbling over words, the reader surely will as well

Most (but not all) publishers prefer authors to use Shunn’s Manuscript format (http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

Using crazy fonts or a specialized version of Word or WordPerfect may make it difficult to impossible for the editor to read.  Guess what, if they aren’t enjoying the reading experience, they likely to enjoy your story, no matter how well written.


Following these steps won’t provide an absolute guarantee of acceptance every time - different editors have different tastes and your style may not fit a particular publication.  However, I do promise you will greatly improve your percentage of acceptances if you follow these guidelines.

 
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Deux ex Machina
By Wakefield Mahon

The horde of cybernetic zombies came from out of nowhere.  Everyone knew the rumors of army experiments gone wrong, but seeing them in person was something altogether different.

I braced for the inevitable, cursing my fate.  “Why didn’t I take up my friends on the ride home?”

A massive  tank rolled out of the woods, running over half of the attackers and taking out the rest with precision shots, one shot terrifyingly close to my head.

I stood with knees knocking.

 “I remember you being so much manlier.”

I haven’t heard that voice since before… “Natalie?”

“You were expecting the Easter Bunny?”

“But you’re, you know…”

“I wouldn’t say I’m dead, more like I had a minor setback.  How do you like my new digs?”

I walked around the hulking tank looking for an entrance.  “How is it that you sound like you?”

“How is it that you sound like you?” she parroted in my own voice.

“That’s awesome but a little creepy.”

“That’s not all I can change.”

The tank surface became so hot I had to step back.  I watched in wonder as it shifted and morphed into a sight, I never thought I’d see again.

“It really is you?”

“In the flesh… relatively speaking.  I’ll tell you all about it.  Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

“You didn’t think I came all the way out here, just to walk you home did you?”


 
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Betrothed
By Wakefield Mahon

The stale crypt air, what there was if it, wrenched Caitlyn’s stomach.  “The funk of forty thousand years...”  She tried to grin but nausea transformed her expression to a grimace.

“You’re being melodramatic again.” Jean-Marie wrinkled her nose but willed her queasiness into submission.  “It’s only been two thousand years and we don’t have a choice.”

“I don’t recall complaining.  I just noted that it stinks.”  Caitlyn swept the room with her flashlight.  Cobwebs and mold, some things had managed to survive down here.  “What are we looking for anyway?”

“The most important relic in church history,” Jean-Marie said.

“Alright, but wouldn’t that be with Peter’s remains in the catacombs under the Basilica?”

“Peter was the most important?”  Jean-Marie raised her eyebrow.  “After all I’ve taught you, you still believe the Church would share the whole truth with the public?”

“So you expect me to believe they just leave them in some unguarded place and hope no one ever finds them?”

“Not exactly...”

An inferno sprung up in front of Caitlyn from the midst of the flames, she saw something like a sword.

“The Master says that I shall not die until he returns again in glory!”

The flames subsided and the sword disappeared.

“I’m so confused.  Who are you?”

“Peter and my brother James amused themselves by calling me John because my father nicknamed me Joanna.  I guess you could say it stuck.”

“So you are the apostle John?”

“You could say that.”  She broke open the cross in the apostle’s hand and removed a simple wooden ring. Somehow it remained undefiled in the moisture and rot.  She kissed the ring and placed the ring on her finger.  “My proper name, however, was Mary…  Of Magdala Nunayya , to be specific.  And my wedding day is finally upon us.

300 words

@Wakefield Mahon


 
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“Get away from me you demon!” Chastity screamed

Her sister laughed.  “I’ll take him if you don’t want him.”

“He’s all yours Quercus."

###

“That’s insane!”

“What is?”

“There is a goat skull in a tree.  It looks like it’s been there for twenty years.”

“Fifty–seven”

“Wait, you know what happened?”

Satyrs are stupid, just because a lady is a nymph doesn’t mean you can get all handsy.

The color drained from Rick’s face.  “You killed him?”

Chastity bit her lip then shrugged.  “He got what he wanted.  He’s been inside a nymph for over half a century now.”



See more from other Friday Fictioneers
 
On the Prowl
By Wakefield Mahon
“What’s wrong Janine? You look like someone kicked your puppy.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me Clara. I’m supposed to be a succubus but I don’t seem to have the stuff anymore. Maybe I’m getting old.”
“Bite your tongue, young lady. I’m a hundred and fifty years your senior and I’m still in my prime. What’s got you in such a tizzy anyway?”
I was out doing my thing at the local bar last week. As usual, most of the locals were drooling; falling all over themselves to buy me a drink but this burly red haired guy at the bar completely ignored me. At first I thought he was batting for the other team, you know? But he walked out with this big-boobed blonde bimbo with a tramp stamp showing.
“And you took that lying down?”
“Of course not, I came back this weekend in a sleezy outfit and he still ignored me.”
“Calm down, Janine, that’s his fiancée, Desiree the witch, not some random bimbo.”
“That’s never mattered before. I don’t know how to get his attention, Clara. I’ve heard these rumors that he was a wolf. I figured he’d be all over me when I wore these low-rise jeans.”
“He’s a wolf alright, but with a Lycan like Red flashing your plumber’s crack isn’t enough to get a rise out him. It must be a full moon if you want to make him howl.”
 
Social Networking is an important part of professional writing.  Once in a while, you need to get up from your computer and schmooze the old-fashioned way.  Enter the cons.

A question arose recently in the SFWA forums about local conventions.  Everyone knows about San Diego Comic-Con, World-Con & Dragon-Con, but there are often dozens of conventions in your own backyard. 

Here are just a few Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Anime and Comic conventions I found in the Baltimore Area while researching the question:

  • Baltimore Comic-Con - http://baltimorecomiccon.com/
    • America’s Greatest Comic Book Convention visits Baltimore
    • September 8-9, 2012
    • Tickets start at $40 (or $25/$20 for one day passes)
    • Guests include the legendary Stan Lee
  • Capclave - http://www.capclave....ave/capclave12/
    • A small relaxed literary convention with a program that usually focuses on the short fiction form
    • 12-14 October 2012
    • $55 from 1 August to 30 September 2012         
    • $60 from 1 October to 7 October 2012
    • Guests include award winning author and SFWA board member John Scalzi
  • Farpoint - http://farpointcon.com/
    • Baltimore Fandom's Family Reunion
    • February 2013
    • $80 for adults $25 for children
    • Guest include some of the actors from Chuck, True Blood, Once Upon A Time and Cartoon Network
  • Balticon - http://www.balticon.org/
    • The Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention
    • May 24-27, 2013
    • $50.00 for adults and $25.00 for children (ages 6 through 12) through October 31, 2012
    • Guests include Award winning authors: Joe Haldeman & Nnedi Okorafor
  • Otakon - http://www.otakon.com/
    • The convention of the otaku (anime fans) generation: by fans, for fans
    • August 9-11, 2013
    • Next year’s registration costs and guests TBD
  • Shore Leave - http://www.shore-leave.com/
    • A  fan-run Science Fiction Convention
    • Guests and info for Shore Leave 35 to be determined.  Check the site for updates.
  • Faeriecon - http://faeriecon.com/
    • Faericon brings magic of Faerieworlds, the West Coast’s premiere mythic music festival, to the East Coast. Array yourself in your most beautiful faerie finery, don your wings, gather your friends and family and cross the threshold! Once inside, you will find the largest gathering of faerie artists and authors in the world.
    • November 9th-11th 2012
    • Passes start at $17.10, $9.50 for children
  • Darkovercon - http://www.darkovercon.org/
    • DarkoverCon is a science fiction and fantasy convention held every year over Thanksgiving weekend in Timonium, Maryland. Because we are a small convention (roughly 500 people) you have a chance to see our guests up close and personal, meet new people, shop undisturbed, attend workshops, etc., something you can't always do at larger conventions.
    • November 23-25, 2012
    • $50/ $25 for children until November 1
  • Katsucon - http://www.katsucon.com more anime than SF)
    • Katsucon is an annual 3-day fan convention held in the D.C. metro area for multicultural enthusiasts and entertainment.
    • February 15-17 2003
    • National Harbor, MD
    • Children under 6 are free, see site for rate details
    • Guests include Jamie Marchi a voice actress and script adapter from many of your favorite anime series
  • Ravencon - http://www.ravencon.com/
    • A weekend celebrating the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. (And as we’re playing the Edgar Allan Poe angle, we’re Mystery friendly, too!)
    • April 5 - 7, 2013
    • Richmond, Virginia
    • Children under 11 are free. Tickets start at $15 for day rates
  • Maryland Faerie Festival - http://www.marylandfaeriefestival.org/
    • The Maryland Faerie Festival celebrates the Faeries.  We provide an atmosphere and entertainment inspired by Faerie folklore and literature, and of course, by the Faeries themselves!  Yes, we believe in Faeries!  Through the Faerie heritage, we encourage love, cooperation, peace, harmony and respect for all beings, along with a pinch of mischief!
    • Date TBD
    • Darlington, MD
    • Day Passes start at $15 for adults/ $5 for children 12 and under
  • NADWCon - http://www.nadwcon.org/ (Discworld fans)
    • The North American Discworld Convention, like the Disc itself, contains a treasure trove of events and personalities. If you've never been to a con before (Discworld or otherwise) you'll find a friendly and vibrant crowd of Discworld fans here to welcome you. You'll meet people from across the country and around the world - all here to celebrate the Discworld and the amazing adventures we've all enjoyed.
    • July 5-8 2013
    • Baltimore Marriot Waterfront Hotel
    • See site for rate details
  • Interventioncon - http://interventioncon.com
  • Educational panels and workshops taught by the pros. Supporting local and indie artists who use the internet to DIY reach out to their audience. Gaming, Fan Suggested Geekery, Dance Parties, and unique performances like Super Mario Belly Dance.
  • September 21-23 2012
  • Hilton Washington DC/Rockville
  • 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852
  • $40 for the whole weekend
 
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Rise of the Fourth Reich
By Wakefield Mahon

“They keep coming, Deborah!”

“Hold your ground, Rick.  We’ll send those bastards back to Hell where they came from.” 

Hell or a lab, semantics wasn’t really important.  Some sycophantic skinhead found a way to raise Hitler as a vampire.  I’d kill the idiot myself if I could, but he was the Fuhrer’s first meal.

The pallid faced soldiers in their tattered SS uniforms swarmed toward us.   Even with magic and silver bullets on our side, they were too much.



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“Alright Rick, fall back to your seven.”

Rick glanced back.  “Into a cemetery, are you nuts?”

“Just trust me.”  The statues loomed over the headstones in a solemn yet somehow heroic display of remembrance.  Finally, good luck.  It wasn’t the first time I’ve found one of those in here, but seeing them massed together could only mean one thing.

“I’ve got a peaceful feeling about this Rick.”

Are you crazy?  We’re being changed by Nazi vampires into a graveyard of creepy looking statues.  How can you be at peace?

Because, my friend, those aren’t ordinary graves.  Those are the graves of fallen Jewish soldiers.  Those statues you’re afraid of are…”  How long I had waited to say the word again “Golem.”

 
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Baseball Diamond
By Wakefield Mahon

Hito Nakamuri was a rising star in Japanese baseball. He lived, ate and breathed the sport. He launched his unconventional first date request towards her at 86 miles an hour. Fortunately Karen was a catcher on the softball team one of their shared interests.

After their first fight, the curve in Hito’s 90 mile an hour box of chocolates made Karen question if his apology was sincere. But he had proved himself a million times over since then.

Still, one thing that frightened her more than anything else, his brother warned her that Hito planned to propose at 100 plus.

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UPDATE

This entry garned a best use of prompt in the Friday Picture Show.  Big thanks to the judge Rafe B and hostess Jen DeSantis

 
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Engineer
by Wakefield Mahon

The larger face of the elegant clock overlooked a bookstore, not two blocks from my home. I closed the portal and grimaced at the irony.

The pyramid at Saqqara was only 203 feet high, but it was a start.

“Imhotep, sir, I have gathered the materials you requested, but what is this thing called uranium?”