Behind the Scenes of “Alan and the Magic Lamp”

Woohoo! My newest flash fiction story, “Alan and the Magic Lamp,” is available to read for 24 hours on Havok today. It’s a fantasy-comedy about a guy who finds a magic lamp, then gets into a debate with the genie about the best use of his wishes. Wondering how the story came to be? Look no further.

Like my other recent flash fiction stories, this one was written specifically for Havok’s monthly theme. In this case, it was “redo.” I naturally looked to time travel as a theme to explore, but wanted to avoid a sci-fi time machine setup. As I was thinking about what fantasy time travel might look like, I thought it could be interesting if someone tried to use a genie’s wish to return to the past and try to redo a time in their life.

When I did, I started wondering what the genie would think about that plan. Unlike a time machine, a genie can talk back to the person who wants to travel to the past, and maybe try to talk them out of situations that could destroy the space-time continuum. Since I had a blast working on my previous humorous story (When Magic Died), I figured it would be fun to write this for their Wacky Wednesday genre.

With that concept in mind, I knew this would be a conversation-driven story. The crux was the genie resisting Alan’s wish to go back in time, but I still needed to figure out the plot surrounding the conversation. This required knowing the characters’ motivations.

The genie’s motivation was obvious: protect the space-time continuum … and just be lazy. Alan’s took a little more time. I wanted it to be something really minor, to amp up the humor of him using a precious wish to go back in time to fix it, yet still be believable (or at least as believable as a story with a genie). I think the crush works as a good mid-point, and am a big fan of the “How dare you suggest I’d be willing to destroy the fabric of reality for a crush … but let’s pretend I was” line.

With those motivations in place, the story started to take form. Drawing them both out gave the story some substance as well as room to spread bits of humor. For that, I leaned heavily on the genie’s characterization. Now that the live action Aladdin has been out for a few weeks, I can’t help wondering whether subverting the classic genie persona with a hip personality is overdone now. But it felt fresh when I wrote it in April. And I think the G nickname remains brilliant.

That said, I’m still working on humor writing. I think the style I strive for tends toward using unexpected words in certain places (like “Just because I have near-incomprehensible otherworldly powers does not mean I enjoy responsibility” or “you make another series of questionable decisions that eventually bring you here”). But I still try to keep things interesting with a little variety (physical humor in sitting on the “Do not sit” sign or random humor by suggesting a tiger as a pet). I’m sure not everything will work for everyone, but I hope every reader gets a least a smile out of it.

And as G says, “Why waste time wanting to go back to fix things if it distracts us from living in the present?” (Sidenote: I’m very satisfied that, even though this is a humor piece, it still carries that message of truth. In my head, that earns extra points.) I had a really fun time developing this story, and really appreciated editors Lauren Hildebrand’s and Gen Gavel’s notes that made it stronger and funnier.

And I hope that you had a fun time reading both the story and this post about writing it. If so, feel free to comment here or on the post on Havok’s website. If you’re reading this after the story’s 24 hours have passed, you can always become a member and get full access to every flash fiction story they’ve published, plus the ability to vote on which stories are selected for their anthologies! Thanks for reading!

Behind the Scenes of “The Tomb of the Ophidian Scepter”

Hooray! My newest flash fiction story, “The Tomb of the Ophidian Scepter,” is available to read for 24 hours on Havok today. It’s based on classic adventure, Indiana Jones-type stories of powerful artifacts, supernatural guardians, and lots of action. If you’ve already read it and want to know a little about how it came to be, this post is for you!

Like my previous two stories for Havok, this one was written specifically for this month’s theme—in this case, recover. From the beginning of brainstorming, I knew I wanted to interpret this in terms of recovering a treasure. And fortunately, I had already written a story in a similar vein last year to provide inspiration … and maybe a few other elements.

That other story was “Sword of the Stones,” which was published in Havok’s “Extraordinary Exploits” issue in April 2018. You can read more about writing that in this post, and many of the elements mentioned there were repeated in writing “The Tomb of the Ophidian Scepter.” In addition, I thought it would be fun to feature the same main character on a new mission in a different location.

“Sword of the Stones” takes place in a ruined cathedral, which felt like it would be a European location. Wanting “Ophidian Scepter” to take place in a different region, I settled on the Middle East. (As I understand it, the type of mummification the story references is pretty specific to Egypt, but I don’t want to commit the story to taking place anywhere particular in the region.) This choice, in turn, influenced the majority of the new elements (setting, guardian, partner, and artifact, in that order).

By setting, I basically mean the idea to set the story in a tomb. Originally, I considered a story with a lot of exploration. But since I still wanted to have a battle as well as the search for an artifact, I figured those two elements would use much of the word count. That meant the tomb would likely be a large chamber. Thankfully, Havok editor Cathy Hinkle pointed out that the environment could use a little more description, so the final product is a little easier (and more interesting!) to visualize.

As for the guardian, a mummy seemed like the natural choice for a tomb in the desert. But since undead mummies are no strangers to this type of story, I wanted to make it a little more intimidating. That’s how the sickles grafted on in place of hands came into play. A cut line actually referenced that the main character’s impatience is the only reason the mummy was activated to protect the scepter.

Changing the main character’s partner was another nod to Indiana Jones and The Librarian, but I also like the idea of different regions having specialists researching arcane artifacts and tracking down their resting places. In fact, the idea to name her Miriam was less of a nod to Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and more from wanting her to have a name originally from the same region (Miriam is a Hebrew name). Since I was working with a higher word count than I aimed for in “Sword of the Stones,” I wanted her to have more of an active role in this story—and I’d say that worked out

Regarding the artifact, brainstorming powers was more of a challenge at the beginning because I didn’t think it would necessarily be used in the story—I wanted to focus more on the recovery than the treasure itself. That said, I did think it would be fun to name it using an uncommon word. “Ophidian” is one that I’ve learned (and retained) recently. And (in case you didn’t know or haven’t looked it up yet), it basically means snakelike. That idea leant itself to being paired with a scepter, which matches very nicely with the Rod of Asclepius—instrument of the Greek deity and modern-day symbol of medicine. With that connection made, it only seemed right for the artifact to convey supernatural healing powers. Just goes to show what a difference the right name can make!

After that, the story started to fall into place. I had a loose outline of the main beats (fight, trapdoor, retrieve scepter, fight part 2), and started writing based on that. As I wrote, I realized that the scepter might actually be an effective weapon against the mummy. On one hand, it would restore the monster’s hands. But it could also mess with the magic-mummification that allowed the mummy to fight in the first place.

That meant thinking through how the scepter would work—even if I didn’t have room to explain it in the story itself. So if that question was bugging you at the end of the story, you’ve come to the right place. The scepter heals any wound, basically restoring tissue/organs/whatever is damaged through magic (the magic itself I can’t explain—roll with it). The mummy is animated by magic, which not only allows it to live, but also retain a connection with the organs that have been preserved (stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines in Egyptian mummification). The brain’s been ripped out, but the magic that enables it to be the scepter’s guardian takes care of movement. When the scepter touches the mummy, it starts superseding the magic that keeps the mummy animated. This heals the mummy’s wounds, which is why the sickles fall away and its hands regenerate, but it can’t physically take the preserved organs (enchanted to stay in the same condition as the mummy for millennia) and put them back in the mummy’s body. The mummy effectively turns into a couple-thousand-year-old person missing certain guts, which is why it keels over.

And that pleasant image is likely the best way to end this behind-the-scenes look. If you enjoyed the story or have any more questions, feel free to comment here or on the post on Havok’s website. If you’re reading this after the story’s 24 hours have passed, you can always become a member and get full access to every flash fiction story they’ve published, plus the ability to vote on which stories are selected for their anthologies! As always, thank you for reading!

Behind the Scenes of “Transmutation”

Yay! My latest flash fiction story “Transmutation” is available to read for FREE only today on Havok’s website. It’s a short fantasy-mystery about an eccentric alchemist using her skills to shorten her dungeon sentence. If you’ve already finished it, here’s a little background on how I wrote it. (And if you haven’t read it yet and it’s any day after April 1, 2019, you can become a member for a very small fee to get access to it and all of Havok’s other stories!)

Similarly to “When Magic Died,” this story was written specifically for this month’s theme (reform) and the day’s genre (mystery). I had been thinking about incorporating alchemy for one of Havok’s earlier themes (recycle), but that ended up going nowhere. I decided to revisit the idea since one of medieval alchemy’s goals was to transform things into other things. But since I wasn’t sure if that would be a strong enough connection to “reform,” I also wanted to try to have a character change their ways. But I still wasn’t sure where the mystery element came in.

I thought about that part for a while. I didn’t feel confident trying to put all the mystery tropes in a flash fiction piece—I just wanted to treat it as the moment where a key clue is revealed. But how would it all tie together

I’m not ashamed to say it all fell in place while I was waking up one morning (get your sleep, kids!). Since a big part of medieval alchemy was trying to turn common metals into gold, I decided to use that to give the main character a criminal history. They would be imprisoned for using alchemy to pass their own gold off as official currency, but then called on to help solve a case involving alchemy of a far more nefarious sort.

I knew this backstory wouldn’t be a big part of the actual story’s plot (the reason for Ryla’s imprisonment/im-dungeonment only gets a passing reference), but I felt it did offer a starting point for the character to reform. I had a loose idea of the alchemist character uncovering a criminal plot to deconstruct … everything …. to rebuild it a new way. With this rough idea settled on, I felt like I had enough to start writing.

Up until this point, I hadn’t thought much about the alchemist’s character. I decided to make her a woman because I was really concerned about the story turning into an all boys’ club. (As it turned out, the other two, less interesting characters were both male, so I’d say this was the right choice.) But I also wanted to give her a unique personality to both a) clash with the more “professional” guardsmen/pseudo-detectives and b) bring a little more life into this search for clues.

I settled on a Jack Sparrow-type characterization, which mostly manifests in her dialogue. At first you don’t quite get her, but if you watch long enough, you see that her unpredictable attitude and esoteric plans do have a purpose. In my head, years of alchemy have left their mark on her, due to her experiments strengthening her connections to the core elements, but also driving her slightly insane and causing her to disassociate from the real world. It’s kind of the same way that hatmakers were affected by working with mercury, leading to the phrase “mad as a hatter.” … In fact, mercury was one of the elements that medieval alchemists often worked with. It’s all connected!)

With Ryla being brought to a investigation already underway, I needed to come up with a way for her to use alchemy to reveal a clue that the guards would have missed. And for the sake of word count, I needed it to be somewhat simple. This led me to lean into alchemy from the angle of the four elements, which is what fantasy typically focuses on when it introduces the subject.

This is how I came up with the idea of placing each of the elements at the corner of a page to reveal hidden writing. (Not mentioned in the story: every manuscript designed this way is treated to be fireproof, waterproof, and rot-proof—but other than that, they’re quite destructible!) I’ve never seen/read this done in stories related to alchemy before, so it seemed like a plausible “a-ha!” moment for the reader. But if you have seen it done, please let me know in the comments!

For better or worse, the segment of revealing the secret writing ended up using more words than I expected, which meant the first draft of this rushed to a) reveal what the mystery alchemist is up to and b) demonstrate Ryla’s reformation. In the rush, the story almost shifted to Desail as the main character, focusing on him becoming overwhelmed with learning about alchemy’s power and asking Ryla to help track the mystery alchemist down.

Ryla had a great line in this version after Desail asked her to help: “Is that even a question? Yes I’ll help you catch this loon and quite possibly save the world. I may be a fraudster, but I’m no sadist.” Classic Ryla. But the ending overall could be stronger, as editor Lisa Godfrees rightly pointed out in her feedback. She identified that the story needed to be more about what the mystery alchemist was up to, or Ryla’s reformation. With the word count, it’d be hard to do both.

Since the segment with the elements and manuscript took a good chunk of the word count, I concluded that the story was more about the mystery alchemist’s intentions than Ryla. So—in an effort to build tension—I shifted things around and had Ryla take longer to figure out exactly what the other alchemist was up to. I like to think there’s still an undercurrent of her reformation in the final story. But even if it’s not there, there’s still the reformation of the whole world to worry about!

Have any questions or comments about “Transmutation,” how it came together, or alchemy? Feel free to post below right here, or under the story on Havok’s website. And make sure you keep following them on social media or become a member for even more awesome flash fiction stories. Thanks for reading!

Behind the Scenes of “When Magic Died”

Happy new year, all! I’m excited to announce that my latest flash fiction story “When Magic Died” has just been published on the new Havok Publishing website. If you’ve already finished it, read on to learn a little about how the story came together. If not, go check it out now — because it’s only available to read for free today (January 2nd)!

Like previous stories submitted to Havok (when it was an imprint of Splickety), I wrote “When Magic Died” specifically for the theme. But this time was a little different. The theme for the whole month of January is rebirth, but I also needed to decide which genre/day to submit to (mystery, sci-fi, humor, thriller, or fantasy). I sat on this decision *for a while*. Then, in late October, I saw them put out a call for submissions for the humor genre. I took that as a sign, and started brainstorming.

Taking the theme very literally, I figured that something would need to die at the beginning of the story. Since fantasy is my preferred genre, I thought about what kinds of things would die in a fantasy story — and pretty quickly thought of chosen heroes’ quests to do something like save the world. I figured the humor part would come from the hero failing their quest right at the beginning, then doing just as bad a job when they’re invited to be part of the rebirth.

I considered having the hero fail a quest to save the world, but I felt that I wouldn’t be able to describe a world-rebuilding scene without ripping off The Neverending Story. The idea of magic dying struck me as a good replacement, so I ran with that. It seemed like it would be fun to write about an adventurer who’s supposed to help rewrite the laws of magic, but ends up doing so in a very unconventional way.

In terms of writing the story, that was the only outline I worked with. Most of my other flash fiction stories are a little more plotted-out before I start writing. But I figured I’d do better at being funny if I took more of a discovery-writing approach. That way, things would feel more natural instead of being forced in a particular direction.

So when I started writing, some things came more easily than others. I wanted to get to a joke as quickly as possible so I could readers’ expectations from the beginning. The set-up “magic was dying … had the nerve to do just that” was an idea that stuck from early on, and (especially in the first draft), it gave me some space to be not-as-funny in describing the opening scene in more detail.

Which felt like a mini-saga of its own. Since I knew most of this piece would be driven by dialogue, I originally wanted to cram so much information right in the first couple paragraphs to make sure readers understood the point of the quest, show how magic died, establish the dragons in the story, etc.

It was all pretty superfluous, which is a recurring theme in most of the early paragraphs of my flash fiction. Thanks to some incisive editing, the final version gets to the meat of things much quicker — and lets me reference the enormous collections of random objects collected by questers (especially in video games). If this story hadn’t already been so close to 1000 words, you can bet that list would’ve been a lot longer and weirder.

As I wrote, I figured a lot of the humor was going to be juxtaposing traditional, almost regal, high fantasy elements with more modern and banal bits. I’m not well-versed enough in comedy theory to understand why, but I just think it’s funny to have a fantasy world where dragons say things like “Missed it by that much,” and “A magic system. You’re supposed to come up with a magic system.”

I was happy with the way Dave (so named because I thought a non-fantasy-sounding name would be funnier) came together as I wrote. My initial thought was that his character would be just shy of competent. Which is funny, but can also become moderately annoying. Fortunately, when I settled on snark and sarcasm being the basis for magic at the end, I realized it would need to be part of his character during the story (instead of just thrown in at the very end). I feel like that gives him some agency earlier on, especially when the dragons are suggesting different magic systems.

Which leads back to the conversation between Dave and the dragons. As mentioned earlier, I tried exercising my discovery-writing (and comedic) muscles with this story. I enjoyed the challenge of balancing things that just seemed funny with beats that would push the story forward. This made it nice to have five different characters playing off one another — no matter who inserted a wry comment or made a joke, there was always someone to steer things back on track. Five characters in a flash fiction story really is madness, but I was fortunate that this one could revel in it.

And, in case the topic comes up, I take zero issue with developed magic systems, haha. It just seemed like a fun thing to play with in the event of one being entirely erased.

Of course, I can’t talk about what went on behind the scenes without mentioning editors Lauren Hildebrand, Gen Gavel, and Andrew Winch. The story is much stronger than the first draft thanks in no small part to their help and insight, and I’m super honored that they selected it as Havok’s inaugural Wacky Wednesday story! Thanks all 🙂

Have any questions or comments about “When Magic Died” — the story itself or how it came together? Feel free to post below or under the story on Havok’s website. And make sure you keep following them on social media or become a member for even more awesome flash fiction stories!

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.