I Love Short Shorts

iOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLo  No, I don’t mean the cheeky, ripped cut-offs the young gals wear. I mean short stories in varying lengths between a few hundred words (flash fiction) and 10,000 or so, something to be read in a single sitting. Merriam-Webster defines a short story as “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.”

O-kay. I’m not sure I wholly agree with that simple definition, because—well, let me go back in time about four years. Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America decided to publish an anthology of short stories called Romancing the Pages written by some of its members. I’d never considered writing short and had read very few short stories through the years. But, I answered the call. It sounded easy. Come up with a simple romantic plot; dash off a few thousand words during the down time while working on my novel. Hey, it was a chance to get something published. “The Guy With the Dragon Tattoo” came in at around 2,500 words, took many weeks and many revisions to finish. But I kinda liked writing short, even though it was just as hard (maybe harder on some levels) than working through an entire 60,000-word novel.

But what is the appeal of short stories to the reader? Their appeal, as I mentioned, lies in the fact you can read most of them in one sitting, while getting your hair done, waiting to pick up Junior from soccer practice, that hour at night before turning off the lights. We live in a Snapchat, Twitter, sound bite world. There isn’t the angst associated with picking up a short to read versus an 80,000-word novel. Wow, don’t have time to devote to that tome, so I’ll save it for, um, later.

But why else read short? It’s a chance to try out different genres, authors, styles. Since writing “Dragon Tattoo,” I’ve read dozens and dozens of short stories across many genres and romance sub-genres. A few did focus mainly on creating a mood; many contained an exciting plot and delicious characters. The good stories contained a beginning, middle and end that satisfied like a hearty bowl full of Irish stew. I experienced a full range of emotion appropriate to the genre. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I sighed.

A side-benefit? Instead of reading the back of my Cheerios box for the millionth time, I can get in a whole story during breakfast to satisfy my reading addiction. Short stories can encourage those who don’t regularly read to get in the habit.

This year, I once again had the opportunity to contribute to not one short story anthology, but two. My critique group, Writing Something Romantic, is working on an anthology called Love for Christmas, which we’re hoping to publish before the holidays. My story, “Charmed by Christmas Magic,” came in at 10,000 words. The other romance anthology, Secrets of Moonlight Cove, will publish in the next few weeks. Each fun story in the anthology takes place in the fictional California coastal town of Moonlight Cove, and references characters from the other stories. “Maggie’s Mystery Man” also runs 10,000 words. Look for announcements of both publication dates here, on Facebook and other social media. I hope you’ll give shorts a try. Bet you can’t read just one!

 

There’s Nothing as Constant as Change

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I’ve thought a lot lately about how my life has changed over the past few years. A few of the changes have been a bummer, but most have been good. I try to be an optimist, but a lot of the expected changes have come fraught with anxiety at the mere thought of what was to come. For instance, my husband and I put the old house we’d lived in for over thirty years up for sale. Talk about angst, gut-wrenching fear and the emotional highs and lows as we willingly leaped on that real estate roller coaster and rode it, white-knuckling, all the way to our bright, airy, little townhome in our desired neighborhood. It was the longest coaster ride of our life, lasting almost one year.

But, just as most women forget the pain of childbirth and say hey, let’s have that fourth child, we decided to remodel the 1994 kitchen in our new home right away. Like not even two weeks after we moved in. We’re at the “fraught with anxiety at the mere thought of what was to come” stage. We bought our ticket for another coaster ride.

Change is what drives our lives. It’s what gets our juices going and emotions flowing. Endeavors and decisions and dreams fuel change. It’s what the books we read and the movies we see are all about. Simply put, a character comes up against a problem, makes a decision on how to solve it, and in the process of trying to solve it, changes something in her life. The soul-deep, satisfying stories show the character as one way in the beginning, and changed in some way by the end.

Look at Laura Drake’s first published book (a Rita winner), The Sweet Spot. At the start of the story, literally in the first couple of paragraphs, we learn that her heroine, Charla Rae, has a problem with Valium that she uses to try to numb the pain of the tragic death of her son. Divorced and attempting to keep a bucking bull ranch from going under, the inexperienced Charla Rae faces one hurdle after the other. And you just know she still loves her philandering ex, but refuses to admit it to herself. I’m sure I’m not spoiling the story, cause this is a romance after all: Charla Rae gains a level of expertise on the ranch, faces her demons of grief and guilt, and rekindles love and romance with her ex. She is not the same girl she was at the beginning of the story. Soul deep and satisfying. I highly recommend it.

Another way to look at how characters change in stories is to consider – are you ready for it? – Transformers. Yes, those vehicle-robots in the movies and comic books. Take the autobot named Optimus Prime. In the movies, the identity he presents to the world is that of a red and black Peterbilt truck. Utilitarian, strong, solid, worker bee. But given the right motivation, he can rearrange all those Peterbilt parts to become the supreme ultimate, save-the-world hero of Optimus Prime. He always had, deep in his metallic essence, the soul of a hero. Maybe that was kind of a stretch, but it was fun to think about.

Identity to essence, to use the words of Michael Hauge, master story guru, describes a character’s arc from the beginning of the story (the identity she shows to the world) and her essence (who she really is revealed). The trials and tribulations she faces throughout the plot peel back the layers of her psyche to finally reveal who she really is.

Think about the major changes in your own life. Did you learn something from them? Did you find out you were a lot stronger than you thought you were? Weaker? What is your favorite keeper book? I bet one or more of the main characters went through a soul-deep character arc.

Let me leave you with this little nugget about change to think about, because deep in my essence, I’m an optimist:

Change comes bearing gifts.

by Barb DeLong

The Magic of Research

One of the great things about being a writer is the research. Great for me because I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, from the esoteric to the scientific. I learned about mushrooms (fungi) and the study of them, called mycology, when I researchiOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLoed the subject for one of my earlier stories. I contacted a mycology student in the Pacific Northwest where my story takes place and she happily provided me with her published research papers. A decline in mushrooms would result in a decline in flying squirrels, which would ultimately result in a decline in the already threatened northern spotted owl. Who knew?

From that same story came my love of Procyon lotor, also known as the rascally raccoon. One of these hardy, adaptive animals figured prominently in the story, and every time he was on scene he entertained me. I also learned about other flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest, the dangers of deforestation and the wonders of our ecosystem.

Another story had me delving into the world of road rallies where, not speed is king, but perfect timing to various checkpoints. Normally, you have a driver and a navigator. Some rules will not allow the use of GPS. You’re given a road book, and some directional instructions can be as basic as “go 10.56 miles and turn right onto the dirt road.” In my story, I added the additional challenge of deciphering a riddle at each check point that, when solved, would reveal an artifact that each entrant would need to collect for extra points. Humor was key here, as some of the items were hilarious, often inappropriate.

When my interest turned to the paranormal, I knew I wanted something a bit different for my witches than what most people associate with that world of magic. In my work-in-progress series Charmed by a Witch, I have witches, both female and male, with differing levels of power, differing specialties and talents. My Internet search led me to all kinds of interesting and weird sites, including many self-proclaimed real witches who take their status very seriously. I learned about covens and spells and tools of the magic realm.

My witch in Charm’d, the first book of the series, makes charm bracelets using crystals and gemstones, then “charms” them with a spell so the wearer may achieve success, fall in love, overcome difficulties, gain better health, etc. Her spells enhance the already-mysterious properties inherent in the stone itself. For instance, a carnelian can aid creativity; coral will bring happiness; garnet, wealth. Most have healing of the physical as well. Are you looking for love while trying to get rid of wrinkles and a few pounds? Wear rose quartz. Are you seeking success in your endeavors while suffering from chronic constipation? Amber is the key.

In my paranormals I can make up a lot of stuff, but I still find myself constantly researching facts to lend authenticity to an imaginary world. The wacky and wild can then somehow make sense. And I can satisfy that thirst.

by Barb DeLong

Barb’s Nest

Jill Jaynes, in her excellent blog here entitled “Where do Writers Write?” talked about where her story is created, whether in her head or on the page. I’m going to talk about where I write – physically. I’m sure you’ve noticed folks in Starbucks sitting at small tables studiously tapping away on their laptops. They could have been writers. One of them could have been me. I also frequent local Corner Bakery cafes (I’m writing this blog right now in just such a place), with their free Wi-Fi, convenient electrical outlets, writer-friendly staff, not to mention yummy food. Since I’m retired why do I feel the need to get out of the house to write? Two words.

Retired husband.

But when I do write at home, I write in what we pretentiously call The Library. It was my son’s bedroom and I was measuring for desks and bookshelves long before he married and moved out. I think he was five at the time when I stood on his rumpled bed taking measurements. The room contains generous shelves brimming with books, two matching desks that cover one wall, and a round glass-topped table with three chairs for visiting writers.

Now, as a reader, I’m sure you prepare, even in some small way, a spot where you sit down with a good book. You choose a comfy chair with a squishy pillow, perhaps a lap robe iIMG_2148f it’s chilly. Others may take it a few steps further—comfy chair, plump pillows, lap robe, cozy fire, a soothing cup of tea, ottoman for tired feet, a small furry, purry friend for company. Hmmm. Sounds wonderful. As a writer, I need to create a space that is not only comfortable, but one that enhances my creativity. I build a nest.
IMG_2138Barb’s nest (pictured here) consists of a regulation office chair (soon to be replaced by a comfier one in a new house), soft pillow, my new MacBook Air, a soothing cup of tea, some of my favorite craft books at my fingertips, my Charlotte Award for encouragement, and Thor for, well, it’s Thor. The nameplate is when I’m lost in my characters and don’t remember my name. Oh, the cat with the heart-shaped mark on her forehead? She’s my furry, purry friend. My nest wouldn’t be complete without her.

What does your nest look like?

My Holiday Wish For You

It’s hard to believe the hectic holiday season is upon us already. WChristmas Firee’re up to our jolly Santa hats in gifts, wrapping, decorations, holiday parties, cards and the rest. All this multi-tasking makes my head hurt. So here’s my holiday wish for you: make a cuppa—whatever soothes your soul; find a quiet corner, pull up a comfy chair (if it comes with a special furry friend, all the better); grab a good book. Relax and refresh. Then go have the most merry of times!

Barb DeLong

Barb DeLong – Writing Magic

I didn’t start out writing paranormal romance. As a youngster, I loved all the westerns that were on TV at the time. Dating myself, I know. You’d think a western historical romance would be in my writing future, and I did devour a lot of those as a reader in later years. Horses and hunky cowboys – what’s not to like?  iOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLo

Most of my romance writing life until fairly recently has been in the contemporary romance genre. A story about a big-time lawyer, burnt out and needing a change, goes to work on a Kentucky thoroughbred breeding farm. A harried widow and mother of three kids gets kicked out of her rented home along with a pregnant Afghan hound, a sweet boa constrictor and various other pets. A mushroom researcher in the Pacific Northwest, in danger of losing her grant, is aided by an undercover cop and a very rascally raccoon.

If you didn’t notice, animals of all sorts make their way into my stories. When I finally turned to paranormal romance, animals came along for the ride. I’ve read many paranormals, sci-fi’s, fantasies, and got my fill of werewolves, vampires, hybrids thereof and other weird and wonderful creations. Most of these stories were dark, serious, world-as-we-know-it threatening. When I came across the light-hearted and humorous, I loved it. One of the first books I read where I laughed out loud was Jill Barnett’s Bewitching. I loved Jill’s slightly inept witch. This is what I wanted to write–paranormals with a light-hearted touch.

I watched Hocus Pocus, The Good Witch, Practical Magic, and other iconic humorous movies about witches and how they wielded their powers for good or mischief. I read more light-hearted paranormals. I took notes, studied the craft of writing funny. Took more notes. Ideas swirled like the ether rising from a smoldering cauldron. My series, Charmed by a Witch, was born. Book One in the series, my current work-in-progress called Charm’d, is about a witch who can communicate tele-magically with animals. She has a ferret familiar with powers of her own. She can disappear and appear at will.

I find in animals a pureness of spirit, a sweet innocence and guileless honesty. They surprise and delight me. That they should follow me into my paranormals was only natural. My quirky witch and her animal entourage make putting fingers to keyboard a happy occasion.

Introducing . . .Barb DeLong!

It all started when I was twelve years old, this passion for romance. At least, writing about it. I combined my love of westerns, which were the big thing on TV at the tiBarbPhotome (Cheyenne – sigh!), with a pre-teen’s notion of romance, and pecked away on an old typewriter over summer break. I still have those yellowed pages with the two-tone black and red letters, where laughably, cut and paste literally meant cut and paste. I won my first writing contest that same year in Toronto’s I Love My Daddy Because contest. In twenty-five words or less I did just that in a quirky, humorous style and won a shiny new two-wheeler. I was on my way!

Then life intervened – hectic high school, college, marriage, kids, a move to California from Canada. Don’t get me wrong. I’d been writing the whole time, just not romantic fiction: articles for company and car club newsletters; dry as dust aerospace engineering documents and maintenance manuals; children’s books self-published for a family craft business; a family memoir anthology; some really bad poetry. Yeah, that sort of thing kept me busy until I read about a local adult education novel writing class led by Maralys Wills. I’d been reading romances by the armful for years, so why not go back to my roots and try my hand at writing them? My first visit to class changed my life. I met two would-be romance writers who introduced me to Romance Writers of America and the local Orange County Chapter.

Since then, I’ve been a finalist in several romance writing contests for unpublished writers. In 2015, I was thrilled to win OCC’s coveted first place Charlotte Award for my humorous paranormal Charm’d. My contemporary short story “The Guy With the Dragon Tattoo” appears in the anthology Romancing the Pages.

So what do I write about? I call it paranormal light-hearted. The dark, world- and soul-crushing paranormals I’ve read have awesome world building and fantastical characters, but I can’t write them. I’m not happy if I’m not writing humor, so my paranormals are infused with the loopy stuff. Animals of all kinds (horses and raccoons being faves) show up frequently. Can’t help myself. Even though I’m almost an arachnophobe, I seem to tuck a spider in a cozy story corner somewhere.  But who knows? One day I may dust off that old western romance and complete that hunky cowboy historical from my youth. Meantime, I’m happily working on a humorous paranormal romance series called Charmed by a Witch, filled with the magic of love, laughter and happily ever after.