Featured Image: “Sweetheart Ronin” Illustration

Happy Halloween! Originally, I was intending to post my thoughts on literary voice this week, but given that it’s a holiday (and the fact the conference I was supposed to speak at was cancelled), I’ve decided to showcase something a little more spooktacular (yes, horrible pun intended) instead. Some of you may be familiar with the Project REUTSway competition Reuts Publications hosted last year, challenging writers everywhere to pen new and twisted versions of your favorite fairy tales. No? You don’t remember that? Well, you’re in luck then, because it just so happens to have released today. That’s right, FAIRLY TWISTED TALES FOR A HORRIBLY EVER AFTER is available in eBook now! And will be available in a special hardcover edition in a couple weeks. I highly suggest you all check it out; it’s amazing!

But that’s not the point of today’s post (okay, not the whole point). I’m actually going to do a rare art feature. See, I was lucky enough not only to be involved with the selection of the gruesomely fantastic tales in the anthology, but also to create one of the many illustrations included within its pages. And trust me, there are some truly beautiful works of art in this thing. Want a taste? Well then, let me present my illustration for a story called “Sweetheart Ronin” by the talented Suzanne Morgen:

"Sweetheart Ronin" Illustration by Kisa Whipkey

 

Created to evoke the style of the setting (Japan, in case you’re wondering), this piece is a combination of traditional drawing with pencil and Sharpie (yes, Sharpie. Who knew, right?) and digital vector graphic created in Adobe Illustrator. In order to understand the significance of the elements, you’ll have to read the story, which can be located here. Buy it. Seriously.

And for those of you curious about Project REUTSway, click here. The 2014 competition, featuring challenges rooted in world mythology, kicks off tomorrow and runs all November long. So if you’re looking to flex those writing muscles, but NaNoWriMo is too daunting/impossible, head on over and check it out. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up drawing an illustration for you in next year’s anthology. 😉

Featured From the Archives: What is “Flow”?

Next week, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion on editing and “voice.”  (It’ll be at the NW Bookfest Conference, if you happen to be attending.) “Voice” is one of those oft-touted, rarely-defined writing terms, and as I work on compiling my thoughts on it, I figured we’d revisit another tenuously defined term — “flow.” I’ll post notes from the panel (well, mostly the material I present) for those of you who won’t be joining us there, but for now, let’s start the discussion off with . . .
 

What is “Flow”?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 10/19/12

 
Stop the snickering and dirty jokes, I’m not talking about that type of flow. 😉

I stumbled on an interesting and rather heated discussion this week (as most conversations involving the dissection of writing tend to be), about the use of “flow” as a literary term. The forum seemed pretty evenly divided between writers that absolutely despised it and felt it should never be used in a critique (an argument that instantly smacked of stereotypical writer pretentiousness), and those that felt it was a valid descriptor (instantly hailed as amateurs by the snobby residents of the Anti-Flow brigade). And it got me thinking. What exactly is literary flow?

Technically, “flow” isn’t recognized as a legitimate literary term — go ahead, Google it. I did. You’ll find it’s omitted from nearly every list of valid literary terms. Yet it’s probably one of the most frequently used words when discussing someone’s work. I know I’m guilty of using it — you can find it’s offensive four letters listed among the things I look for when freelance editing. So how did it become such a firm presence in our literary vernacular if it doesn’t technically exist? And why is using it tantamount to dropping another four letter word starting with “F”?

My theory is that it’s because no one really knows what it means. Is it referring to the structure of the piece as a whole, the “flow” of the words themselves, the pacing, what? It’s this vagueness that makes feedback including it seem awfully similar to:

“I loved it!”

“This sucks. I hated it.”

While those are, I suppose, acceptable reader responses, they fail to tell the writer anything useful, namely — why? In order for any critique to actually help the author, it has to explain why the reader felt the way they did, and what they would have liked to see different or not. Telling us that our work is lame, that you think it’s utter crap, or on the flip-side, that it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever read ever, really doesn’t help us improve or repeat the success. Telling us why you hated it, or loved it, is like feeding a starving man — it’s what we really care about. Nothing will get your opinions ignored faster than failing to quantify your experience as a reader. I believe this is why “flow” causes such a divide among writers — it gets thrown around like it’s a brilliant little gem of insight when really it’s just unhelpfully frustrating.

I don’t agree that it’s a bane to literary terms, though. Actually, I think it’s a perfectly valid starting point for a critique, as long as the reviewer goes on to define it. The definition is crucial, because “flow” is one of those terms that can mean about a million different things to different people.

For me, “flow” is synonymous with “smooth.” When something flows, it should have an effortless feel that allows me to forget the words and really immerse myself in the story. It’s a visceral sensation of rightness that you only really notice when it’s disrupted. I tend to imagine storyline as a thread running through the center of a piece. Ideally, that thread should be smooth and straight, holding everything tightly in place. When that happens, the story “flows.” But if the thread gets crinkled up in a tangent, veering away into a knotted section of confusion, or frays into several disjointed, broken paths, the story’s flow feels off. Much like the way a river flows toward the sea, everything in the story should flow toward the final goal. This is part of why you need an editor, or critique partner, or random-person-off-the-street to read your work. Authors are usually too close to the story to be able to catch these flaws in the thread. But your readers sure will. They may not know exactly how to define it, but they’ll feel it.

I use “flow” to start a conversation about the structural integrity of a piece, but I can think of at least two other ways in which it could be defined. Let’s put that to the test, shall we? In the comments below, tell us what “flow” means to you. And please refrain from derailing this into the gutter. This is a serious, (ok, semi-serious), literary discussion, and I do have the power to decline your comments (Mwahaha!). So family-friendly only, please. 😉

Blog Tour Feature: God’s Play by H.D. Lynn

As you read this, I may or may not be slightly hungover from too many shots of Fireball whiskey, striving valiantly to survive a business trip to Vegas (yes, Vegas, baby, and no, it’s not at all as fun as it sounds) for the Day Job of Doom. (Fun fact, though, one of the products we sell at the Day Job of Doom, and the lovely sponsor of said business trip to Vegas, is responsible for the water fountain show at the Bellagio hotel. You’re welcome, World.) But, since I have never missed posting something for your entertainment, I managed to find a few moments to schedule this post.

Today’s offering is an excerpt from a newly released title by Curiosity Quills press. But before we get into that, here’s the scoop on the book itself:

God's Play by H.D. Lynn

Sixteen-year old Toby was trained by a family of hunters to kill shape-shifters—but he has a unique weapon in his arsenal. With a touch of his hand, Toby can lift the magical protection shape-shifters use to disguise themselves as human. It’s an unusual skill for a hunter, and he prefers to kill monsters the old-fashioned way: with a blade.Because of his special skill, Toby suspects he may be a monster himself. His suspicions deepen when William, a jackal-headed shape-shifter, saves him from an ambush where Toby’s the only survivor. And Toby doubts William helped him for purely altruistic reasons. With his list of allies running thin, Toby must reconcile his hatred of shifters and the damning truth that one saved his life. It’ll take both of them to track down the monster who ordered the ambush.

And Toby needs his unlikely alley because he has a vicious enemy—the infamous Circe, who has a vendetta to settle against the hunters. Toby has to unravel the mystery of his dual nature. And he has to do it on the run—before Circe finds him and twists him to her own ends.

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? I found the blend of mythology and fantasy to be fascinating. But anyway, on to the excerpt!

 

One of the shifters growls and sprints across the carpet. It pounds down on me like a speeding train. I pivot, duck, and thrust upwards with my hunting knife. I connect with flesh, slitting the stomach when it leaps over me. The canine shifter staggers into a mattress column, howling with rage, splitting my ear drums. Deafened, I can’t hear the other one attack. It flashes by, maybe some type of feline, pinning me underneath it. My mother screams. Claws dig into my chest, but I thrust upwards and kick it off like I’m launching from the gymnastics vault. My vision bursts into a thousand colors. I punch my knife hand into the feline, and the blade glints in the flashlight beam after each strike. The animal wheezes, and in its death spasms, falls down on top of me. I gasp under its weight, avoiding the last snaps of its jaw before it goes limp, but my eyes are still popping. The flashlight rolls, spinning the world in dollar store yellow lighting. I fumble for my Bowie knife, numb hand grasping chunks of cheap carpet. There’s a scuffle, and in the beam of light, on the other side of a stack of off-white mattresses, my mum is crouched. She only has her butterfly knife left, and she’s swinging it at the giant wolf approaching her. Its eyes glow like a hell hound’s. She backs up, and through neon color pops, I watch the wolf jump at her. She thrusts the knife into its throat. Its breath gurgles as it dies, but I can’t see either my mother or the wolf over the mattresses now. The scent of blood floods the air like after a shark attack. It can’t be my mum’s―there’s too much of it. My heart is still beating, and it’s driving the bile up my throat. I’m rocking on one of those cheap county fair rides. The world tilts up and down, whirling me until the little cart breaks and goes flying through the cotton candy stands and into the parking lot. A hand grasps the flashlight, pulling it off the floor, and turning the world dark. Footsteps crunch over the carpet. The soles are heavy, not practiced and light, so it’s not a hunter. I’m hearing through a tunnel now, so maybe I don’t know. The world is all neon lights and animal stench. Someone speaks, and I think it’s a man, but I can’t understand him. The voice is stretched like it’s in slow motion. The footsteps come near me. A man leans down, and I look up into the face of a jackal.

When I lurch awake like a car with no brakes skidding on ice, I see a monster’s face―the jackal. It slips away, turning into the face of all the monsters I’ve hunted. But that’s a hallucination, and I slip back into nothingness. He’s carrying me―it feels like floating. The rain pours over him while he changes back to a man, but it smells like alcohol and the bitter sting of antiseptic.

And lastly, a bit about the author herself:

H.D. LynnH.D. Lynn is like Harry Potter in one way: she’s currently renting an apartment with a bedroom under her building’s stairs. Other than this, she explores fantasy worlds through storytelling like anyone else. She loves books with a mix of humor, adventure, and horror, and especially enjoys the urban fantasy genre. GOD’S PLAY is her first published novel.

When not writing, she enjoys hiking, climbing, and running. She’s a voracious reader, and has found listening to audiobooks while backpacking to be a perfect mix of two of her favorite things. She currently lives in Connecticut, but finds herself on the road often.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

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Featured From the Archives: The Anatomy of a Successful Short Story

Reuts Publications announced the impending return of their Nano-inspired writing contest — Project REUTSway — this week. Which means that (hopefully) there is a horde of eager writers rubbing their hands together in anticipation. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, be sure to click above and sign up for the VIP notification list.) It also means that those same writers will be sharpening their proverbial pencils to craft — in rapid-fire succession, no less — four brand new short stories. So what better time than now to dredge this post up from the archives?

Anyone planning on entering PRW (as the REUTS team affectionately calls it), listen up. Here are three things you’ll want to keep in mind as you strive to impress the judges (*ahem* me *ahem*). Let me hand you the key to success on a silver platter; you’ll thank me later. 😉
 

The Anatomy of a Successful Short Story

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 12/13/13

 
Short stories. Some people love them, others can’t stand them. But no one can deny they’re an entirely different creature from novels.

This week, I’ve been judging entries for the ProjectREUTSway competition held during the month of November. Buried amid 144 short stories, I started to think about what exactly makes one “successful.” I think most of you know by now that I, myself, published three, so this is a topic that hits very close to home. It’s also one I’ve never really stopped to think about. Until now. Because, let’s face it, short stories are strange. Similar to novels and yet completely dissimilar, they require a certain — almost magic — recipe to really shine. I don’t believe in the undefinable though (at least not when it comes to writing), so let’s see if we can’t identify the exact ingredients that make short stories such a unique form of storytelling.

Short stories are often considered a novelist’s training wheels, the idea being that someone can learn the basics of storytelling through short stories and then graduate into novels. But that’s not exactly what happens. Because, in reality, they require two different skill sets to pull off well. A short story is not a truncated novel, nor is a novel an elongated, rambling short story. Rarely can the concept for one be turned successfully into the other. And yet people still try. Why? Because short stories have been given a bad rap. Novels take all the glory, leaving short stories to rot in creative writing jail like fiction offenders. They’re looked down on as an inferior form of narrative, an eighth grade diploma to the novel’s PHD. After all, the only difference between them is length, right?

Wrong.

There are three things a successful short story must have: brevity, focus, and telling. Yes, you heard me, telling. But before you get your knickers in a bunch, let me explain further.
 

1. Brevity

 
Novelists are taught the value of brevity. But even the most refined novels still sprawl, meandering through details and settings and other things short story authors simply can’t afford. Literally every word matters in a short story. No detail is extraneous. If we mention the light blue collar on a random cat, you can bet that collar is important somehow.

The same holds true for the words themselves. Novelists are allowed to write sentences like this:

She paused, grabbing the handle of the stainless steel refrigerator and pulling it open with a subtle flick of her wrist.

(Hey, no comments on the quality. Clearly, I know that sentence is atrocious. I’m proving a point. 😉 )

That’s 21 words to say this:

She opened the refrigerator door.

Yes, that may be a bit exaggerated, but you see what I mean, I hope. When you only have maybe 5000 words of space, every letter has to serve a purpose. Successful short stories know this, and the language/storytelling is as finely honed as a scalpel. If it doesn’t somehow move the plot along, impart valuable information, or absolutely have to exist, it doesn’t.
 

2. Focus

 
I’m a firm believer that every story should have a message, a reason for existing. But maybe that’s because I started out as a short story author. Whenever I come up with an idea, I identify the core message first, before the setting, characters, or even plot. For example, The Bardach is a story about identity, Spinning is about fate, and Confessions is about losing faith. Even Unmoving has a focal point. At its core, its about compassion. This type of focused narrative is one of the more notable differences between a short story and a novel.

Short stories are single-minded. Like a starving man spotting food, they keep their eyes on the prize. None of this wandering off into detours, flashbacks, subplots or other shenanigans that novels get away with. Nope, they have one message, one plot, one climatic moment that everything points to. And, interestingly enough, short stories are typically driven by an event, rather than a character. The focus is on the action, not the person doing it.

How does this translate into our recipe for success? Well, you’ll be able to feel the underlying drive in a really good short story. You’ll walk away from it remembering the message, not necessarily the characters. So make darn sure you know what you’re saying, both literally and subtextually.
 

3. Telling

 
All right. I know this is the one you were waiting for. After all the times “show, don’t tell” has been beaten into your head, you simply can’t believe I’d actually stand here and advocate telling, can you? Well, I’m not really.

See, the thing is, showing is still 100% better than telling. But, telling is allowed in a short story. Due to the limited amount of time you have to impart your narrative, there’s really no way around it. You don’t have the luxury of wasting thousands of words, or even hundreds, showing us the back-story. Nor can you illustrate anything directly outside the timeline of the main event, regardless how important it may be. So that only leaves one option — telling. You should still avoid the dreaded info-dump if you can, but slipping in the occasional line of summary, or a paragraph of back-story, won’t automatically earn you peer derision. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Successful short story authors are masters of knowing when to tell and when to show. (Which, by the way, I am not. Just wanted to clarify that in case anyone thought I was going to be cocky and throw myself on that list.) They give you just enough information — typically in the form of telling — to make their worlds/characters feel as fleshed out as a novel’s, but not so much that you really notice. They cover a lot of ground in a really short amount of time, making this the hardest skill on the list. It actually requires mastery of the other two to pull off, which is why I listed it last.

And there you have it; the anatomy of a successful short story. Learn how to control these three elements and your short fiction will stand out in a pile like little beacons. And let’s all try to stop viewing short stories as the lesser form of fiction. They’re not inferior. Just different.

Book Review Wednesday: Wicked Path by Eliza Tilton

Okay, so this isn’t so much a review as a release announcement. Apologies for the misnomer. Some of you may remember my review for book one in The Daath Chronicles, so when I saw book two was becoming available, I jumped at the chance to continue the story. I haven’t had time to read it yet, so unfortunately, my review is still pending. But here’s some more info about it, just to pique your interest. 😉

Wicked Path by Eliza Tilton

In Wicked Path: Book Two of the Daath Chronicles brother and sister are forced to opposite sides of Tarrtainya on a fast-paced adventure where the wildlife isn’t the only thing trying to kill them.

Three months have passed since Avikar defeated the Reptilian Prince, and he still can’t remember his battle with Lucino. On the hunt for answers, he returns to the scene of the fight and discovers a strange connection between his family’s dagger and the mysterious kingdom of Daath, and it seems only his distant father can reveal the truth behind it all.

Before Avikar can travel back home, Lucy assaults him in the market and forces him to flee to Nod Mountains—a place few dare to enter, and even less return from. With Raven and her childhood friend by his side, they must survive the treacherous journey through the pass with a vengeful Lucy hunting them. If they don’t, they’ll never see home again.

Jeslyn’s new life in Luna Harbor is the perfect remedy for her confused and broken heart. But when a group of mercenaries kidnap her beloved Grandfather, interrupting her daily routine as his jewelry apprentice, she’s forced to join forces with the one person from her past she tried to forget.

And his assistance comes with a price.

 

About the Author:

Eliza Tilton

Eliza graduated from Dowling College with a BS in Visual Communications. When she’s not arguing with excel at her day job, or playing Dragon Age 2, again, she’s writing. Her stories hold a bit of the fantastical and there’s always a romance. She resides on Long Island with her husband, two kids and one very snuggly pit bull.

 

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