Behind the Scenes of “Special Delivery”

As you may have seen, my latest story was published in this month’s issue of Splickety. And to follow up, I wanted to share a brief behind the scenes look at how “Special Delivery” came together.

Like other stories for Splickety, this one started with a theme, which was “Christmas abroad.” I personally have always been in the U.S. at Christmastime, so drawing inspiration from real life was out. I did want to make sure there was some type of conflict in the course of the story, but without much familiarity with other countries’ Christmas customs, I wasn’t sure what to work with. Fortunately, I do have experience with an obstacle that can easily be translated anywhere else in the world: running late for a flight.

Splickety emphasizing YA in its imprint this year, combined with the abroad theme, meshed perfectly in the idea of a couple students returning from a semester abroad. In this respect, the story was loosely inspired by real life, since I also gave my brother a Venetian mask after visiting Italy in college. It was also convenient that the different language offered an easy way to incite action (by realizing that the book wasn’t in English).

One area of inaccuracy probably lies in how I portray the airport. I spent … an unreasonable amount of time trying to figure out what shops exist in the Leonardo Da Vinci airport. And my story probably makes it sound a lot bigger than it actually is (as near as I can tell, it just has three terminals). And I really doubt that there are souvenir carts with Venetian masks in the terminal. And I can’t even say that they sell Venetian carnival masks anywhere besides … Venice. BUT all of that seemed more believable than the idea that anyone would leave the airport to find a gift that close to their plane leaving.

In fact, the first draft of this story gave the guys way too much time to get back to their plane. At first, I was concerned about keeping things realistic. But as I read through, I realized that the realism was detracting from the tension. So I kept scaling back the time they had to get back to their gate. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to choose between realism and tension. But if you do, always go with tension. Maybe Nathan’s just really bad with time management.

Regarding the end of the story, I think this is the first time I’ve had a total scene break in a flash fiction piece. I toyed with introducing the mask in the airport and ending the story there, but I think it works better as it’s being opened on Christmas day. This also helped address the issue that the bulk of the story doesn’t have that much to do with Christmas (other than the conceit of looking for a gift). Overall, I think the scene break worked, though I think it’s best to avoid them when possible if a story is less than 1000 words.

Overall, “Special Delivery” was another great writing exercise. It felt quite normal to be writing a Christmas story in August/September, because I’m doing the same stuff at work, haha. If you’re interested in reading it in a collection of fun, short Christmas stories to celebrate the season, make sure you get your copy (of the last issue) of Splickety today!

“Special Delivery” Published!

Hooray! My latest short story, “Special Delivery,” can now be read in this month’s issue of Splickety. This month’s theme is “Christmas abroad,” and my story is about a couple of college students about to head home after a semester in Italy … until a last-minute revelation threatens to ruin their flight home.

This story’s publication is just a tad bittersweet, because this is also the last issue of Splickety. I’ve really enjoyed writing flash fiction pieces to submit to them for the past few years. And I’ve tremendously appreciated all the stories they’ve accepted and the opportunity to work with their editors. Fortunately, two new publishers are spinning off from its closure (Havok and Spark). So I’m looking forward to the chance to submit to them in the upcoming year.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, Christmastime! So if you’re looking for a few flash fiction stories to get you in the holiday spirit (and maybe transport you around the world), check them out in the December issue of Splickety.

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1533847

Kindle edition: http://a.co/d/bSm2i7H

“On the Frontlines” Published!

Yay! My latest short story, “On the Frontlines,” was published in the latest issue of Splickety’s Spark imprint. This month’s theme is “Lab Coats and Love Letters,” so you can expect plenty of medical-themed romance.

That’s right, it’s another romance story! But as the title should’ve tipped off, there’s also an element of action. It takes place during September 1918, toward the end of WWI. But how could love possibly bloom in the trenches? You’ll have to read it and 13 other medical stories in November’s issue of Spark to find out.

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1527845

Kindle edition: http://a.co/d/iBq3AIg

Behind the Scenes of “Road Tripping”

As you may have already seen, I had another story published in Splickety this month! This month’s theme is senioritis, so I wrote a story about a graduating senior whose plan to go road tripping with his friends nearly derails … before an unexpected ally steps in to save the day. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure you do before reading the rest of this post!

I should begin by saying this story was not inspired by any personal experience of either making or missing a road trip after graduation.The theme’s prompt specifically mentioned pranks, proms, and college applications, but I wanted to try to come up with a concept different than those situations. I can’t trace the road trip idea to anything in particular, but I think High School Musical 3—and specifically Troy Bolton’s car troubles—were a subconscious but significant influence.

And therein lay my first challenge: Coming up with a car problem that would genuinely jeopardize road trip plans, but could also be solved relatively quickly. This issue would also need to cost a significant amount of money that a teenager could realistically have saved up. (I have no idea how much teenagers make/save these days.) This is a very specific problem.

So I found myself trying to identify a specific car problem that I didn’t have. Usually, people know what the issue is and they want to find out how much it cost and how easy it is. I was doing the reverse. After many google searches about common car issues and estimates, I eventually landed on having a tire blow out. Even though replacing one tire would average about $150, I figured the parents insisting on replacing all of them would be a good way to drive that up.

In terms of plot, I knew from the beginning that I wanted the main character’s younger brother to save the day. My relationship with my own younger brother was a very loose influence. The element that I wanted to highlight how even emotions like annoyance have an undercurrent of familial love. I think I achieved this better with the younger brother, particularly in his reactions to the older brother’s cluelessness. The line “Just trying to be nice, you moron” is probably my best sentence to date. Classic.

But seriously. Even while I was writing the story, I knew the main character had a couple things working against him. He wasn’t very sympathetic, and he wasn’t proactive at all. In any other situation, I would have modified the story to focus on the younger brother. He has those in spades. But since the theme was senior year, I felt a need to tell the story from the older brother’s perspective.

Part of this is because the first version of this story ended very differently. After the younger brother (Chad) offered to pay for the tires, the older brother (Daniel) said it was might be his best graduation present. They went down the stairs, with Chad calling out that he figured out Daniel’s graduation gift.

This was the story I submitted, though I knew it could still be stronger. I’m super grateful that editor Lauren Hildebrand enjoyed the story, but had the same sentiment. She reinforced my feelings that Daniel doesn’t have much of an arc, but also shared that she thought Chad would’ve liked to go on the trip. She made other solid comments about fleshing out the friends and how to treat dialogue, but her comments on the ending stuck with me the most.

I wrestled with it for a while. Maybe I was identifying way too closely with Daniel, but I didn’t think it would make sense for Chad to join the three boys on the trip they’d been planning for years. As I was thinking through this—trying to figure out how to get Daniel to offer but Chad not go—I eventually had another thought: Why not plan two road trips?

I’m a little embarrassed of how long it took me to come up with that, but I got there eventually. And I think the end result is appropriately sweet without negating the occasionally-tense brother-brother relationship. I made those changes as well as others, and that version is what you can read today.

One final note about the texting conversation. I’m not a big texter, but I’m pretty happy with how I feel I captured a text conversation between digital natives would go. When I submitted, I thought about keeping Alex’s and Ian’s texts lined up on the left, but lining up Daniel’s on the right to mirror how it would look on a phone screen, like so:

D: Bad news. Parents say all tires need to be replaced

A: Dang man. How much?

D: 600

A: Whoa

I: WAT

In the end, I stuck to the submission guidelines and kept everything aligned on the left. It may have worked with the initials like you see above. But with the nicknames (which … I did not know you could do in text conversations), I think they’re easier to track just left aligned. Maybe one day I’ll experiment with a text conversation that uses this format.

That concludes my behind the scenes look at “Road Tripping!” I hope you enjoyed both the story and learning how it came together. If you have any other questions about its creation, feel free to ask them below 🙂 Thanks for reading!

“Road Tripping” Published!

Woohoo! My latest flash fiction story, “Road Tripping” was published in the latest issue of Splickety! It’s September, and you know what that means: time to head back to school. In the spirit of the season, this issue’s theme is senioritis.

If you don’t know what senioritis is, a) you’re very lucky, but also b) it’s the feeling of being so over school that it takes motivation just to build up motivation. The main character isn’t nearly as angsty as this definition sounds, but he does have his own challenge to overcome at the end of the school year.

What kind of challenge? You’ll have to read the story to find out (but the title should give you an idea 😉 ). So if you’re interested, you can read “Road Tripping” and ten other stories about senior year in the September issue of Splickety. I’d love to hear what you think—or if you have your own senioritis story to share 🙂

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1501176

Amazon kindle: http://a.co/d/3UYnKNa

Behind the Scenes of “The Birthday Party”

In case you haven’t seen the latest news, I had another flash fiction piece published this month. It’s called “The Birthday Party,” is available in print/digital and on Kindle, and is my first published romance story. And this is a brief glimpse at how it came to be.

As with all of my stories submitted to Splickety, it started with their theme for the month. Specifically “The ‘Aww’ Factor” for their Spark (romance) imprint. This prompt asked writers to incorporate animals or kids into a romance story—and make it really sweet.

When I started brainstorming, I thought people would be more likely to use animals in their stories, so I decided to try to involve kids (if you check out the issue, you’ll see it turned out to be a 50/50 split). Trying to come up with scenarios that would put a kid and single adult in the same situation eluded me for a while. The college student attending a cousin’s birthday party angle eventually came to me, but my original story had a lot more setup explaining just how reluctantly she came to the party.

With the family relationship established between Julie and Emma, I still needed to come up with a reason for the love interest to attend. Obviously, he couldn’t also be family. Even if he was friend of the family, I thought it would be a stretch for a non-related college student to come to a eight-year-old’s birthday party. I wasn’t sure about going the teacher route because I thought a lot of submissions with kids would use that angle, so I think him technically just being an education major rather than a fully-fledged teacher helped him stand out.

As for the plot, I originally thought the story would be mostly conversation-driven. I expected to have them talk about college, flirt a little, and eventually decide to go out. But when I finally reached the point of them actually meeting, I looked at my word count and thought Um, I don’t have enough space for that.

So I introduced the water fight as a way for a lot to “happen” without having to describe it all. Even with this, it clocked in significantly over the 700 words I usually shoot for. I looked for places to cut, but figured that any cuts would just make the storytelling cut corners. The water fight went through a few iterations before landing on the idea that Julie really wasn’t that jazzed about it, but saw it as a chance to spend more time with Tim.

Writing a satisfying ending was rough, but I’m ultimately happy with how it turned out. Previous submissions to Spark had impressed on me the importance of feeling like the relationship would head somewhere after the story ended. But I also wasn’t sure if an hour hanging out at a kid’s birthday party would realistically feel like a good occasion to ask someone out. Both because of this uncertainty and word restraints, I decided to leave things with a brief, flirty exchange predicated on the time spent with the kids.

Of course, I couldn’t talk about behind the scenes of this story without mentioning editor Leslie McKee. Her comments helped me better understand what readers expect from flash fiction romance—for example, peppering hints of interest throughout the story, and not just toward the end. I was really thankful to have her direction in polishing the story up before publication.

And that’s how I wrote “The Birthday Party!” I hope you liked this glimpse behind the scenes of how it came together. Any other questions on this little romance story? Feel free to drop them in the comments.

“The Birthday Party” Published!

This one almost got away from me—my latest flash fiction story “The Birthday Party” was published in this month’s issue of Spark! I hope you’re ready to see my stab at romance.

That’s right, Spark is Splickety’s romance imprint, and this month’s theme was “The ‘Aww’ Factor.” Think meet-cute, but dialing the cute factor up to 11 with kids and/or animals. I don’t think that romance is my strong suit, so I was super honored to have this story selected for publication (and grateful with my editor’s patience, insight, and guidance in polishing it).

As you may have guessed “The Birthday Party” takes place at a kid’s birthday party. How could love possibly bloom there? You’ll have to read to find out! Check it out along with 13 other cute flash romance pieces in the August issue of Spark.

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1490466

Kindle edition: http://a.co/d/2KG5hoN

Behind the Scenes of “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte”

Last week, The Norwegian American published my short story “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte.” If you haven’t read it yet, head on over to their website and take a look before reading on about how it came to be.

Unlike my previous stories, “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” didn’t need to match a particular theme. That said, their submission guidelines do say they consider stories of any genre as long as they relate to Norway, or crime/mystery stories (even without Norwegian elements). I decided to hedge my bets with a mystery set in Norway.

For me, the biggest challenge of this was fitting a mystery into 1000 words. When I think of mysteries, I think of crime scenes, clues, witnesses, red herrings, and elaborate explanations revealed at the end. Which would not work as flash fiction. So I had to be very intentional about the story’s structure.

The final result essentially splices together key snippets of the “mystery”—surveying the evidence, collecting clues, piecing them together, etc. Because of this, the story is able to span a much longer timeframe than any of my previous stories. (Up until this one, my stories’ timelines have typically been a few minutes from beginning to end. “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” spans a few hours.) Even re-reading it now, I’m pleased with how it turned out and kind of surprised at how it works as flash fiction even though it takes so long, timewise.

In terms of plot, I knew I wanted to include a troll even before finalizing the mystery itself. I’m a fantasy writer at heart, and Norwegian folklore is full of recognizable creatures and characters. Originally, I thought I might have the main character come into contact with the trolls (loosely foreshadowed by Berit’s remark about playing with their kids). Unfortunately, as the remaining word count grew slim, I realized I wouldn’t be able to do that scene justice. I’m not sure how many people will read the actual ending as an ambiguous one, but in my head, that troll is totally real.

The hard part was getting to it. While brainstorming ideas for evidence that could incite a mystery, I thought trolls might take issue with people mistreating land. Hence the destroyed backhoe. This ended up working both ways, as it also provided a reason for the absence of trash around the construction site. Just goes to show that when you don’t know how to move forward, sometimes you just need to look backward.

The names throughout the story are courtesy of a pre-reader with far more exposure to Norwegian culture than I have. Nilsson is a common Norwegian surname, and Berit is a common girl’s name. “Morfar,” if you caught it while reading, is the word for a maternal grandfather. On Google Maps, the region around Åmot looked like it had a good amount of forest and mountains, but I learned in the course of writing this that Norway is known considerably more for the latter than the former. The original title was “Trowhoyde” (a variation on the word “troll” and the Norwegian word for “hill,” but my editor suggested “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” and I liked the sound of it. (As mentioned last week, “kjempehytte” loosely translates to cabin fight).

And that’s a little insight into how I wrote “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte!” I hope you enjoyed both the story and this little glimpse behind the scenes. Have any questions about it that I didn’t address here? Feel free to ask in the comments. Takk!

“Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” Published!

Hoorah! My latest flash fiction story, “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte,” was published today in The Norwegian American. You can read it in this week’s issue or online. This is also my first story with an illustration, and it’s awesome!

As you’d expect from a story in The Norwegian American, this story draws a few themes from Norwegian culture (though you don’t need to be familiar with the culture to appreciate the story). It follows a detective investigating a destroyed backhoe in the mountains, though the culprit may not turn out to be who—or what—he originally suspects.

But what’s a Kjempehytte? There’s no direct English translation, but it roughly means “cabin fight.” You’ll have to read the story to find out why it’s called that!

Intrigued? Check out “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” in The Norwegian American today!

Behind the Scenes of “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend”

My latest story, “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend,” has been out for almost a week now (in print and on Kindle), so I thought this would be a good time to write a follow-up post about how it came together.

This was one of those rare prompts where I developed an idea pretty quickly. Especially because this was a contest issue, I knew I wanted to put a unique spin on the theme. The steampunk aesthetic jumped out to me, and I figured that would help the story stand out. After settling on the steampunk angle, a wild west setting seemed like a natural fit.

The theme also meant jumping into the action as quickly as possible. Readers don’t pick up a kaiju story looking for long soliloquies about where the monsters and robots came from—they want action! In my earlier beginnings, I tried introducing the exomaton through its inventor, or framing the story as a newspaper story. Ultimately, these (and a couple other starts) took too long to get to the actual fight between the exomaton and the monster. By shifting the perspective to one of the pilots, I felt more comfortable starting right as they’re all loading up to protect the town.

But even then, you’ll notice that describing the exomaton takes up a lengthy third paragraph. This description was one of the first things I wrote, and is largely similar to its original draft. Combined with the description of the ridgeshaker (which was also one of the first things I wrote), that’s about 120 words already accounted for.

After realizing this, I decided to not limit the story to <700 words. This is what I usually aim for since Splickety typically just acquires a couple stories longer than 700 words. But since this was a contest entry, I opted not to constrain myself if I thought it would make the story stronger.

The action of the story flowed naturally after getting to the battle. Rather than narrating the fight blow-by-blow, I focused on a few key moments to convey the idea of destruction without using too much word count. And even though the image of two giant beings fighting is really cool, I wanted the climax to be a more personal scene, which is why the main character is able to scare the ridgeshaker away with the steam. In another stroke of serendipity, the steampunk angle presented a great reason for the combatants to get stuck close together for a period of time.

In terms of names, “exomaton” is a riff on “automaton”—which has a loose steampunk connotation, but wouldn’t accurately describe something that needs to be piloted. “Exo” seemed like the perfect prefix to convey that people needed to be inside to run, but also provide a sense of scale. For a long time, the town had the placeholder name Golden Springs, but that felt way too tropey for a wild west town. After toying with the idea of the town being named after the panners who lived there rather than the gold they were finding, I settled on “Panner’s Bend.” Once both of these were settled, I put both in the title to clue readers into the fact that this wasn’t the usual kaiju setting.

And that’s how “The Exomaton of Panner’s Bend” came to be! I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into how I wrote it—not to mention the story itself. If you have any other questions about the story (or the world it takes place in), feel free to ask in the comments!