Song Stories
We received a few new submissions for Song Stories this week.  The results were a mixture of rewrites and, unfortunately, rejections.

Flash Circuit:
I entered four contests this week.  I didn't win any prizes but I did receive some positive feedback.  Best of all I had the chance to think about the Full Moon City setting.  I'm hoping to finish editing before this years NaNoWriMo
#MenageMonday - The Road to Nowhere
#TuesdayTales - Desiree
#55WordChallenge - The Longest Train Ride
#ThursThreads - In His Hands

Research
I've continued to study the TVTropes website.  I believe this is an invaluable tool in helping young writers understand what's been done before and some of the pitfalls with particular plots, settings and characterizations.  I wrote an article sharing some of what I learned recently.

Graduation

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I released Graduation on Amazon this week.

The Messenger
By Wakefield Mahon


Gary will journey across space to make things right.

Gary Jackson want to reunite with his children more than anything, but a bitter ex-wife and a commute that is literally out of this world, have hampered his efforts so far.
Tommy is graduating from the first High School on Mars. This may be Gary's last chance to make things right with his children, land a job with the only company on Mars and find a way to start over again.

Boeman

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I decided to opt out of KDP Select after the first 90 days.  The first book released to Smashwords and eventually, the other major markets will be Boeman, from "State of Horror: Pennsylvania"

Boeman
By Wakefield Mahon


Tia and Mike take a weekend trip into Lancaster County but getting lost in Amish country at night is more terrifying than either had ever imagined. While good little Amish children are snuggled in their beds, the Boeman lurks in the darkness beyond the house.

Pending Submissions

Ordinary Dreams - Shimmer Magazine
Draconian Measures - Crowded Magazine
 
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In His Hands
By Wakefield Mahon


“I realize it’s silly to feel anything at all after so long”
“I swear Tyrell, why can’t you have a normal mid-life crisis? Write an autobiography, buy an old-fashioned sports car. Hell, have an affair, I don’t care.”
Tyrell raised his eyebrow.
“Okay, you’re right; I wouldn’t go along with that one. I’m just saying, of all of the fixations you could have you chose that one?”
“Hey, I was really good when I was a kid; one of the best Springfield had ever seen. I can’t help that I miss it so much.”
“There are a hundred Springfields with a thousand Tyrells, besides that was a theoretical kid’s hobby, a game. The real thing is far more expensive.”
“Babe, you’re making light, but I know you’re worried about what happened to Zeke.”
“He blew up half the neighborhood, Tyrell.”
“Yeah it was a heck of a big bang, but he was using a short-cut, tried to do the whole thing in one day. I’m going to take six days and do one step at a time.”
Tyrell’s wife shook he head and sighed. “Just be careful and make sure you rest afterward.”
Tyrell waved her off. “I know, I will. Let me get started now.”
“What are you calling this little creation of yours?”
“Don’t know yet but I’m thinking of making a little garden and itty bitty people who look like us.”
“Well, at least name the garden after your long-suffering wife.” Eden chuckled as she walked away.

Check out this week's #ThursThreads entries!

 
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The Longest Train Ride
By Wakefield Mahon


Morty stared at the window as the train rattled past places steeped in childhood memories.
He shuffled impatiently then glanced at the withered old conductor. He said, “This ride is depressingly long. When do we get to the station?”
“The name of this here train is Charon, Mister and I don’t reckon she ever stops.”

Check out this week's #55WordChallenge winners!

 
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Desiree
By Wakefield Mahon

Desiree lounged, basking in the desert sun at the ranch just Northwest of Folmun. Her very existence was an affront to God, an anathema, even in the dark and twisted place called Full Moon City. She’d be headed there soon enough to take revenge for her sister.
“Lupe Martinez and Jaxon Morris,” she let the names roll around on her tongue, unable to decide which tasted more exquisite. But for now, Desiree was simply enjoying her surroundings. She took a deep breath and exhaled. One by one, the horses and other animals shriveled into desiccated heaps. “I’m coming for you!”

100 words
From the world of Full Moon City
@Wakefield Mahon

Check out this week's #TuesdayTales winners!

 
Two years ago, I sat down to write a gut-wrenching auto-biographical story to express my frustrations with a life event.  The first beta reader quickly responded with “I hate the main character.”  I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly.  Now it’s entirely possible that I am actually the worst person who ever walked the face of the earth.  However, it’s more likely that I failed define my character properly.

A reader needs to have a reason to root for your MC or at least against your villain.  Tvtropes.org has a great article on character-centered plot building.  I’m not going to rehash the entire Dramatica storyform theory here.  But I do want you to think about a few concepts:

What is your MC’s goal?

Your MC either needs to start doing something or stop doing something.  They might need to change themselves or they might need to change the world.

What is your MC’s motivation?

What caused your MC to realize their goal.  Even if they MC doesn’t recognize their goal, there are events or conditions behind their actions.  How do they go about pursuing that goal?

Do the other characters in the story support the MC’s goal?

Separate from how they feel about the MC and the villain.  Supporting characters have motivations of their own.  Do they want the hero to succeed or fail or is there a third option?

Are they opposing or supporting the MC?

This is not the same thing as supporting the goal.  Every character described should have an impact on the MC the Villain or both.

By giving thought to these questions, you will find the depth of your stories filling out and you might even see a way to resolve a plotline that has had you stumped.

What are some of the tools that you use to develop your characters?  Keep writing my friends!

 
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No one takes Southwest Avenue out of Folmun. Legends say it literally leads to nowhere. Even the decrepit billboard over the highway reads Nothing. Jaxon would love to attribute the rumors to superstition, but he’d grown up in “Full Moon City” where supernatural was passé.

His sometime girlfriend Sergeant Lupe Martinez had sent him to follow up on a lead while her squad handled “real” police work.

“That’s me, private investigator for hire. Got a job that will probably get your guys killed? Send the black guy in.” Jaxon reconsidered choosing a red shirt that morning and laughed. “I hope you’re right about this one Lupe.” Jaxon stepped on the pedal and pulled onto the highway.

A few hours of desert mesa, with little only the occasional cactus for scenery had Jaxon ready to turn around, then he saw the sign.

The End of the Road. “Who, in their right mind, would stop at a diner with a name like that?” He passed a life-like statue at the front door, then another, in a pose of absolute terror – stone pieces of his heart on the floor.

He dialed Lupe.

“I see them,” Lupe said. “Hang tight, I’m sending backup.”

200 words from the world of “Full Moon City”
@WakefieldMahon

Check out this week's #MenageMonday winners!

 
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Man vs Machine
By Wakefield Mahon


The machines had taken over. All around him mindless souls wandered. Once brilliant minds fully absorbed in pseudo-entertainment. It’d be months, perhaps years, since anyone opened book. He tried preaching, but his words fell on deaf ears. He tried to engage the devices, but he felt himself drawn in and quickly backed away.
Grandpa, who came from a time before the machines, stood alone with a secret weapon and a decision. He knew a thing or two about gadgets, but could he really take such a drastic measure? Would everyone turn on him? He took a deep breath and pressed the button.
“Aw man, my iPod’s broken!”
“Mom, something’s wrong with the game system!”


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“Just a moment children, my computer is acting up.”
Grandpa cleared his throat.
“Dad? Did you …”
The worry wrinkles faded as a grin erupted across Grandpa’s face. “Don’t worry darlin’ it’s a carefully calibrated low-impact EMP, your toys will straighten themselves in a few hours or so. How about we sit down to dinner at the table together? Then we’ll play some music and read a story afterward.”

Honorable Mention along with
Kel Heinen | @Aightball & Susan Hayes | @capricia13

Winner was Cara Michaels | @caramichaels

 
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Jessa Russo {My Writing Blog}
In celebration of the release of Ever by Jessa Russo, a number of us are participating in a blog hop tour featuring flash fiction ghost stories preferably romance.  I hope you'll enjoy my interpretation of the prompt:

How to vote: Comment at the end of the end of the post. You must have the word "VOTE" in your comment for it to be considered valid.

'Til Death
By Wakefield Mahon


"It just feels weird Lis!  It's such a big step."

“I understand, but you need to move on Katy”

“Like you did when you lost your puppy?”

“Hey, I was devastated when I lost Floyd!  Look, I’m just saying it’s been almost two years since Barry died. Rick is a good guy and you guys are great together.  It’s not like Barry’s going to be upset because you’re seeing other men.”

Katy dropped a glass, shattering across the floor.

“What was that Katy?  What happened?”

“I’m going to have to call you back Jen, Barry’s here.”

“What do you mean?  What’s going on?”

Dial tone.

***

“Hi, I’m back!”  Barry offered one of those silly puppy smiles that drove Katy insane.

“You’re back?  That’s all you have to say?  You’re dead!  You can’t be here.”

“You don’t want me here?”

“That’s not what I mean.  It's impossible, there's no such thing as...”

"Ghosts? Maybe not, but whatever you want to call me I’m here.”

“Why are you here?”

“I’m here because I missed you.”

Katy stared at the floor.

“It’s that guy isn’t it?”

“That guy’s name is Barry.  He’s been really good to me since you … left.”

“Well, I’m here now so you don’t have to worry anymore.”

Katy felt a chill as Barry caressed her cheek.  “But how can you…?”

Barry cut off her question with a soft sensual kiss.  “It can be like it was before.  All we have to do is seal the deal before my
second death day.”

“Death day… the anniversary of your death?  But that’s…”

“Next Tuesday.”

“That’s when I was supposed to leave for Dallas with Rick.”

Barry shrugged.  “Well there’s no need for that now, is there?”  He reached for Katy again but she pulled away.

“I need to talk to Rick.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.  You’ve got to let him down easy.” Barry winced at the glare Katy pointed in his direction.

“Hey Babe, what’s up?” Rick’s gentle baritone steadied Katy's fluttering heart.

“Hey Rick.  Listen, I’m not getting cold feet and I’m not crazy or I don’t think I am, anyway.  Here’s the thing, Barry’s back and he wants me to stay with him.”

Silence.

“Are you there Rick?  Are you okay?”

“I assume you’re being serious.”

Katy suddenly felt the weight of the words she’d put on Rick.  “Yeah… I am.”

“Do you want to be with him?”

“I don’t know.  I’m a little confused right now.”

Rick sighed, but it sounded more frustrated than sad to Katy’s ears.  “I’ll change your tickets to open-ended and bring them by your place this weekend.  Whenever you feel ready, I’ll be waiting for you.  I love you Katy.”

“I love…”  Barry cut off the phone connection.

“Alright, now that that’s settled, let’s seal this deal.”

Katy stared at Barry in disbelief.  “I didn’t say I was going along with this.”

“Come on, Katy, it’s me!”

“Don’t try that smile with me, Barry.  Why did you wait until now to show up?  What about all of those nights I cried my eyes out over you?  Where were you then?”

“I don’t know, but I’m here now.  It’s not too late.  You don’t have to go with that guy.  We can be together forever!”
Katy finally understood.  “You’re just here because you’re jealous!”

Barry looked stunned, but he didn’t deny the allegation.

“You know what Barry? It is too late.  You know, you always were a little selfish.”

“But I’ll die.  You know, forever!”

Katy wiped the tears from her eyes.  “Dammit, Barry I already cried over you once.  I don’t know what lies beyond the grave.  I know what I hope, but who really knows?  Barry, if you love me.  If you ever really loved me, then please let me go.”

 
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Countdown
By Wakefield Mahon

A countdown to the end, only six weeks left? It seemed like Jake couldn’t enjoy anything long before it started breaking apart. Soon his favorite writing challenge too, would be gone by the wayside. He put his smart phone away and slumped into his brown Chevy Nova, at least one thing in his life stayed constant.

He drove past the cute little restaurant he and Sarah loved until it closed after only six months, two weeks later Sarah left him to “find herself”. At the stop light, Jake ran his fingers through his raggedy haircut. Clyde closed down last month, there’d be no fixing that now.

House after house boasted for sale signs. Jake shook his head. What a joke. Only an idiot would buy a house now. He pulled into his parking spot and checked his phone again. No service.

There’s a big surprise! Jake tossed the phone in the garbage on his way up the steps to his apartment. Another red “X” on the calendar, five more days until the fall equinox, the last change of seasons. Armageddon has a name: 2012 UB666, a 5-kilometer asteroid with an arrival date of 21 December 2012. You’ve gotta love irony.

 
I recently asked for volunteers to read the stories I’m planning to publish or submit for publishing.  The question came up.  What is it you want from your reader?

If you are reading this article, than you already know how to “read”.  That’s a good first step, but being a beta reader means so much more.  Beta reading is similar to reviewing.  Rebecca Besser has an excellent post about writing reviews. You might want to read over that article before you get started here.  A good beta reader is the key to turning a competent writer into a successfully published writer.

Being a beta reader essentially boils down to a simple, though frequently misunderstood, phrase: constructive criticism.  Be honest, be thorough, and be helpful. 

“You’re awesome.  I loved it” may not be entirely honest and is certainly neither thorough nor helpful.  Let’s discuss some of the elements of criticism that will better help you and the author figure out why you don’t love a story.

Flow

Hopefully your friend or family member has honed the manuscript to the point where you can read from start to finish smoothly.  Unfortunately, even after spell-checking and rereading a manuscript, mistakes and logical errors can bleed through.Mark every sentence that you had to re-read.  The most common reasons you might miss the meaning of a sentence are:
  1. Spelling, grammar and syntax: the most common errors are the most basic.  Having grown up in Germany, I spelled house h-a-u-s until I was in the third grade.  Many versions of spellchecker don’t know the difference between their, there and they’re.  This is why a second pair of eyes is critical.
  2. Word choice: Some writers are like totally casual in their style, you know and it ain’t always read good.  Other writers embrace the plethora of alternate systems to convey data in unique manifestations.
    When a writer changes style mid-sentence or mid-paragraph for no apparent reason, it can take the reader’s mind a few cycles to catch up.  Other times, a word just doesn’t seem like it would come out of that particular character’s mouth.
  3. Failure to suspend disbelief:  In the world which the writer has crafted, you have no reason to believe an event is possible.  This may be as overt as a toddler gutting all his playmates and the nursery attendant with a spoon or as sublime as molecules adopting a less stable configuration without a catalyst.

Engagement

Mark down the point in the story where you started to think about laundry and tomorrow’s lunches.  Most often this happens when a whole paragraph or even a long sentence passes without any actual activity.  Maybe you didn't need to know that much detail about the delicate white porcelain teapot on the black ceramic counter...

Satisfaction

  1. Weak opening: How long do you have to read before you figure out what kind of story this is?  By the third or fourth paragraph, do you have an idea of who the main character is and what dilemma they are facing?
  2. Weak development: As the story continues, do you feel like you know the character or characters better than before the story began?  Are you rooting for one or more of them to “win”?
  3. Weak ending: 
    1. Does the story end naturally or abruptly? 
    2. If there was a twist ending could you see it coming in retrospect or does it feel like the writer pasted the ending they wanted onto the story? 
    3. Do you have a good idea of what will happen next or does the story feel incomplete?

Thinking about these things as you are writing your review will help you read more critically in the future and offer better responses to your friend or loved one.  Remember to include the positive remarks along with the negative.  It helps an author to know what they are doing that works too.

What are some other ideas you have about critical reading?