Just For Fun–sharing a short story

I’m working on plot points while I’m between books.  I think of a few ideas, then draw a blank.  Think of a few more, etc.  So it’s start and stop, brood for a while, then think of something else.  And that’s when story ideas whisper in my ear to tempt me.  And why not let them when I’m between books?  So I wrote this one.  It’s stalling so that I can have fun instead of working on plotting, and I know that, but it’s all right at this point.  So here goes:

OR YOU’LL REGRET IT

I stretched out on the king-size bed–my bed, now—in the huge bedroom on the second floor with a deep balcony. My bedroom, now. In the massive mansion I’d envied since the first time I stepped foot in it.

Jackson Kendricks took everything he had for granted. His wealth. His good looks. His brain and talent. “None of it can take the place of people you love,” he’d often told me. He’d lost his parents when we were sophomores in college. A car accident when they were driving up to visit him at the university.

His mom and dad had invited me to come home with him many times, always welcomed me. They were glad their son had made a friend. Like he needed any. With money like he had, he could have bought as many as he wanted. But Jackson was painfully shy. I was painfully poor. I wasn’t as smart as he was. Or as talented. But I knew a good thing when it smacked me in the face. The heavens must have been smiling when they made me his roommate. The lady who’d read my palm at the street fair had told me my fortunes were going to change, and she’d been right.

“But you must be wise,” she’d cautioned. “Make the right choices, or you’ll live with regrets.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice. I started to study with him. We got pizza together. We went to football and basketball games together. Where I went, I invited him, and he always picked up the tab. People started calling us the “odd couple.” Me, poor and plain. Him, rich and handsome. But at one of the home games, a girl with long blond hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples to disappear in sat next to him. They began to talk. He invited her to grab burgers with us after the game. And they clicked.

Jackson wouldn’t ditch me. He was too nice, too loyal for that. So the three of us started doing things together, but he hung on her words instead of mine. He’d focus on her with a dazed look. And he invited her and a friend to come home with us for a three-day weekend. He said that the big, old house was too quiet, too lonely without his parents. Poor him, inheriting it all so early in life.

He and I had talked about going into business together when we graduated. He didn’t really need me. I knew that, but he didn’t have anyone else. He wanted a partner, and I didn’t have any money to invest in anything. So I said yes. But the pretty blond might ruin everything. She was graduating in our class, too, and she’d majored in marketing and was on the honor roll.

Jackson and I had an early class on Friday, and we could leave after we finished it. The girls decided to drive up later that night. Jackson had the housekeeper order all kinds of snacks and groceries for pizzas, burgers, and nachos. But the girls didn’t get there in time for supper. We waited. And waited. Until finally, near starving, we ate.

We stayed up and played cards, watched TV. It was almost one in the morning when the knock on the door sounded. The girls’ car had gone through an intersection on a red light and been totaled. Both dead.

It was his parents’ accident that had given me the idea. A brake line leaked, and their brakes didn’t work. Everyone knew girls didn’t take in their cars for checkups when they should.

Jackson lost it for a while. It took everything I could think of to get him back in school to finish the year. After we graduated, he poured all of his energy into setting up our business. We had a strong start, a promising future, so when the street fair came again, I walked into the fortune teller’s tent with a cocky grin.

She raised her dark eyebrows, pulled out her Tarot deck, and dealt a spread. Then she shook her head and pointed to the card The Fool. “That’s you,” she told me. “Don’t be stupid again. There are unseen forces working against you. Do the right thing, or you’ll regret it.”

Regret. Again. I blinked, confused, leaving her tent. How had I been stupid? I’d had a problem, and I took care of it. Now, all was good. I was walking to the Ferris Wheel to meet Jackson when I saw him, leaning to listen as a guy from our finance class talked to him.

When the guy left, I frowned. “What was that all about?”

“That was Mark Lisbon from school. He made an offer on our company, wants us to sell to him. We’d make a decent profit, but I like what we’re doing. I want to stick with it.”

“How much of a profit?”

When he told me, the numbers danced around in my head. We could sell and live comfortably and never work again. But wait! Jackson had never had to work, had he? He wanted to. But I didn’t.

For the next few weeks, I started spreading the rumor that I was worried about Jackson, that he was so depressed, I’d asked him to see a doctor, but he wouldn’t. And then, my friend almost made it easy for me. I walked into his room one afternoon and he was on balcony, bending over the railing, watching something in the distance. All it took was one hard push.

The funeral had been last week, and I think I looked properly shaken up and doleful. The housekeeper bought my act and went out of her way to cheer me up. Steaks and seafood for suppers. But now, I lay in Jackson’s bed in his big room and almost had to pinch myself. All of it was mine.

I was trying to count the crystals in the chandelier when it started to swing. I glanced out the open balcony doors, but there was no wind. The dresser drawers opened and closed. The mirror floated off the wall and hung above me, but it wasn’t my reflection in its glass. A beautiful blond girl was standing beside Jackson, and they were both smiling at me. I stared. That wasn’t possible. And then the mirror crashed. Shards of glass splintered in my skin, and two large shards poised above my neck and slashed down.

I blinked a few times, looking down at my body on the bed. Was that really me? Then what was I now? I held my hands in front of me and could see through them.

“Nice to have all of us together again,” a translucent Jackson said, smiling at me. “Brittany and I thought it only appropriate that you join us.”

“I don’t want to,” I said. “There’s nothing to do here. What happens next? Don’t we go to the light or something?”

Jackson snickered. “Is that really where you think you’ll go?”

“You can’t leave until we do,” Britanny told me. “And we want to stick around to see the transformation.”

“What transformation?”

“Of the house, of course.” Jackson waved his hand to include our surroundings. “My will left everything to you, but if you died, I donated everything to a children’s home. Soon, this old house will be filled with kids’ laughter.”

I cringed. “I don’t like kids.”

Jackson’s grin grew wider. “I remember you telling me that.” He and Brittany joined hands and went out to stand on the balcony when the housekeeper found me. Cops and men with a stretcher came next. I watched them carry my body away, shaking my head. I was so close. I’d almost had everything I’d ever wanted.

Then a voice sounded through the room. “Don’t be stupid. There are unseen forces working against you.”

I shivered. I knew that voice.

Jackson heard it, too, and turned to look at me. “She was trying to tell you to respond to generosity with generosity of your own. We could have all been happy. She tried to warn you.”

“Stupid fortuneteller. Why didn’t she just say what she meant?”

Jackson just shook his head at me and returned his attention to Brittany. They could hardly tear their eyes off each other. I’d say “Get a room,” but we were standing in Jackson’s bedroom, weren’t we?

And me? What of me? I was going to listen to happy children pound up and down the stairs. I’d wish I were dead, but hey, I was, wasn’t I?

No More Webpage

I’ve had a weebly webpage for years.  I used it to put up free chapters of books I wrote and never did anything with.  That sounds odd, I know, but I played around with different genres here and there, and sometimes, I liked them, and sometimes, one YA book or one caterer married to a cop mystery was enough.  I don’t regret writing them.  I enjoyed all of them.  I was never convinced offering free work online was a brilliant idea, (and I’m still not convinced it is), but I enjoyed sharing work I wouldn’t publish with readers.

I still love Verdanta–the island home I created for nymphs and sprites who invited a small group of mortals to stay with them one week a month to let the beauty of the island and the energy of their magic help “fix” them after Life hit them a little too hard.  I still love Chintz and Callum–the caterer and cop–because I wanted to try my hand at a Murder Club mystery, and it was FUN.  And I’ll always have a soft spot for the YA book, THE FAMILIARS, with Zoe–the witch–who could take off her shoes and stand barefoot in a park, then watch lush, green grass grow in all directions where the ground was once dead.

I used the webpage to write free short stories, too, so that I could cling to characters I’d grown too attached to but no longer wrote about in books.  I don’t know how many Babet and Prosper stories ended up there.  A lot.

But the sad truth is, to keep the stories moving so that readers didn’t forget the first chapters before I reached the last, I had to put up chapters or scenes at least two or three times a week.  And I am now officially out of books cast in drawers, and I don’t have time to write that many free short stories any more.  So this Tuesday, I hit the “you can never go back” button and deleted the entire webpage.  It was bittersweet.  All of those stories no longer available.  But they’d have just hovered in cyberspace and gone unnoticed anyway, if I didn’t keep up the page, so it was a good thing.

I still intend to add snippets and the occasional short story on a page I created on this blog, and I hope readers find them and enjoy them.  But deleting my webpage was a turning point for me.  It means I’m serious about staggering two series and still hitting deadlines.  And I’ve experimented enough, I’m ready to settle down to two kinds of mysteries I really enjoy writing.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope it’s going well.  And happy writing!

 

Rejection

I haven’t written a short story for a long time.  Short novels?  Yes.  Novellas?  Love ’em.  But a short story?  I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week.  I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results.  Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it.  Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better.  But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch.  And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.

BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved.  In case you’d like to try it: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/macabre-macaroni-second-helping/

Anyway, I digress.  Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series.  To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement.  But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.

I decided that to be successful these stories needed:

  •   The same tone and voice as the books
  •    To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
  •    Great mysteries to solve like the books
  •    The same feeling/setting as the books

Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas.  I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words.  And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.

A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine:  they only accept online submissions.  Then they give you a code to check your story’s status.  Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months.  Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that.  And then you don’t receive an e-mail.  You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title.  Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened.  I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that.  I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances  slim.  I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries.  This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words.  Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space.  But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky.  And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway.  So why not try?

But once it was rejected, I gave it another look.  And I wasn’t happy with myself.  I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess.  A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras.  A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words.  So…

I spent last night and all day today reworking the story.  It’s 7,000 words now.  And I like it.  I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th.  My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend.  A short story is…a SHORT story.  And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime.  But not for a while.  Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past.  (At least, that’s the title for right now).  I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.

Another lesson I learned?  Failure isn’t the end of the world.  AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT.  No tinkering with their tried and true playlist.  Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.

For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!

 

 

 

October writing

In case anyone here was following my mystery, A Baker’s Dozen, written chapter by chapter on my webpage, I put up the last chapter today.

Next week, I want to start writing an experimental story a week to put up.  I like to read C. S. Boyack’s blog, and he’s posting a story once a week for October on his blog.  He’s a darned good writer.  So you might want to check them out.    https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/macabre-macaroni/

Teri Polen is doing a special October blog, too, Bad Moon Rising, interviewing authors about the supernatural and paranormal.   And yes, ouija boards scare me.  https://teripolen.com/2018/10/03/badmoonrising-cusp-of-night-by-mae-clair-supernatural-suspense/   If you scroll down, you’ll see more authors’ answers, including Staci Troilo’s.

But a while ago, Craig (C. S. Boyack) wrote a blog for Story Empire about writing out of your comfort zone, and he asked what authors would write if they decided to let their fingers wander out of their usual writing zone.  https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/friday-group-post-questing-beasts/

I put down short stories I’d like to try:  an alternate history, magic realism (if I can ever nail what I really think it is–but I have an idea), something creepy, and the genre I almost ALWAYS fail at–horror.  I’d like to write the scariest, baddest short story I’ve ever written.  Which might still be too upbeat, knowing me.  Aargh!

Anyway, I hope you have a perfectly wonderful time writing this month.  And if black cats and witches wander onto your pages, so much the better:)

 

New pages up for Beware the Bogeyman

This short novella came from the Babet & Prosper collection II.  I kept these stories short (trying for around 40 pages each) so that a person could read them over a lunch hour or a commute.  When I was writing urban fantasy, I really enjoyed creating these short pieces.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Not your typical holiday story

cover_27_thumbI just wanted to let you know that I posted the first chapter of a holiday story on my webpage.  I’ve missed Babet and Prosper, so my present to me was to write an urban fantasy with them as the main characters.  Instead of Christmas carols and cookies, though, the story that came to me is a bit on the gory side.  Sorry about that, but hope you like it anyway!  I love comments.  Check back next Thursday for chapter 2.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Blog/webpage

A while ago, I blogged about trying to keep up with writing a blog AND a webpage.  At the time, I was behind on my writing and sweating a deadline, AND my publisher had sent me pages to proof.  I felt buried, but thanks to my awesome critique partners, I got everything done on time.  And I started rethinking what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. And, once again, I decided I like both the blog and the webpage for different reasons.  I’m not toting this as something any sane writer should do or even telling you that it will increase readers or boost sales.  I’m just saying that I like it–for me.

When I write my blog, I think about the craft and business side of writing.  When I first started working on the blog, I shared writing advice that worked for me.  But let’s be honest.  You can find writing how-to tips online from Chuck Wendig (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/), K.M. Weiland (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/), and occasional articles by Stephen King (https://smartblogger.com/stephen-king/), so I feel a little out gunned.  Now, I don’t even pretend to be an expert, I just share what’s happening with my writing–the good, the frustrating, and the ugly.  I figure other writers can relate to most of it.  At the  moment, my third Mill Pond romance just came out, and I’m working on the sixth one in the series. My goal is to finish it, turn it in, and then squeeze in enough time to try to write a mystery. I have the mystery all plotted out, and I’d like to start working on it in January.  I’m thinking snow will be on the ground, temperatures will be cold, and I’ll be in the mood to hibernate and pound on my keyboard.  It sounds good on paper, doesn’t it?  My worry? When I write a romance, I have at least 40 plot points (or chapter ideas) to move the story and come up with 70,000 words–if I’m lucky. For my mystery?  I came up with 23 plot points, but they’re more involved, and I HAVE to have 70,000 words.  Will that work?  I sure as hell hope so.

When I go to my webpage, I switch gears.  When I write my webpage, I think of readers, not writers.  And it’s sort of my “spill” zone, where all the random, little ideas I have for characters or series that I can’t use in a book, spill out of my head.  For instance, when I wrote Wolf’s Bane, I fell in love with Wedge and Bull, the two werewolves who help Reece and Damian protect Bay City.  But they’re always supporting players, so I wanted to write short stories that featured each of them.  But what would I do with those stories?  Easy.  I’d put them on my webpage.  And sometimes, I put snippets from the novels I’m working on on it, too.  I even posted my one and only YA witch novel–The Familiars–on my webpage, because–why not?  Sometimes, I use my webpage as a place to experiment with writing techniques I’d never dare try in a full novel.  For Perdita’s Story, I wanted to write a story where the protagonist made one bad decision after another until the end.  I’d never do that for a book, but it was fun to play with for a short piece.  For Mill Pond, I introduced characters that would never get a full novel of their own, but I liked them and wanted to give them a happy-ever-after, so I did–in a short story.  Another thing I like to do on my webpage is introduce fellow writers whose work I like and think they might like, too.  In my  mind, when I go to my webpage, I think of readers more than writers.

As for marketing?  Well, I do my best, but I’m no wizard, so I post any new news on my author Facebook page or twitter.  It’s not the most efficient system, but it makes me concentrate on different areas of my writing:  fellow writers, readers, and marketing. Marketing, right now, is probably my weakest.  I still haven’t learned how to do rafflecoptors and give-aways, and I think I did better when I tried a blog tour and paid for advertising, but I’ve never had a publisher before, so I’m learning as I go.  One step at a time, right?  Hope you’ve found what works for you.  Happy writing!

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

twitter:  @judypost