Flash Fiction Thursday–The Kitchen Pantry

I participated in the challenge: Pick Your Opening Line on terribleminds.com

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/11/15/flash-fiction-challenging-find-your-favorite-opening-line/

The challenge was to pick an opening line that someone wrote the week before and make a story out of it. I picked the line:

Someone once told me bourbon was great for removing blood stains.

Enjoy!

The Kitchen Pantry

Someone once told me bourbon was great for removing blood stains. After much experience, I have to say that I respectfully disagree. Cola does the best work in my opinion. I looked to my left to ensure the two liter still sat next to me on the pantry shelf. Of course, I knew it was there, but everyone has things they’re OCD about, and that happens to be mine.

Kelly informed me that James would make his Wednesday pit stop any time. I looked at my watch and saw 1:02pm—two minutes later that his ETA. Kelly also told me that his assistant Blair would be with him, as always.

Typically when a suspicious wife hires me, she wants the mistress dispatched, as well. Yes, it’s better for business—I charge ten thousand extra, but it complicates things too. I always inform them that killing the mistress puts her as a number one suspect right away, and they usually back down. However, Kelly wanted something more. I want her to see it, she said when we met the week before. I want it to scar her memory forever. That’s what happens when you mess with a married man.

James strolled through the front door at exactly 1:04. I couldn’t see him—unfortunately, the kitchen pantry didn’t open toward the front door, but the two voices were unmistakable.

I checked again for the red two liter bottle, and for the tenth time, found it in the same spot I left it two hours before. I looked to my weapon and saw the ever-so-comforting red eye staring me in the face, indicating that the safety was off.

The two stumbled into the kitchen, clasped in each other’s arms. When I popped out of the pantry, I saw James hard at work, trying pull the buttons on her shirt apart without ripping it to shreds.

Neither heard the squeak of the door’s hinges. Neither heard my footfalls as I made my way closer to the two. Blair did, however, notice the shine of my chrome .40 caliber Glock. Her scream did nothing to break my concentration. The bullet entered James’ temple as he turned to face what the woman screamed at. Blair fell to the floor, still screaming with a hand over her mouth.

I brought my index finger to my mouth. “Shhhh,” I said, then put one more hole in the man’s head. Blair quieted at the sound of the second bullet.

I turned to Blair. She stared back with wide-eyed terror written across her face. “Phone please,” I said.

“Ye—yes ma’am.” Her voice shook as if she were shivering, but I didn’t acknowledge her fear. I grabbed the black iPhone out of her hand and smashed it under my boots.

“Look. You can’t go around tramping it up with another woman’s man—got it. Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn. As a female, I’d say that James deserves what he got, agreed?”

Although I could tell Blair didn’t want to, she nodded.

“Get the hell out of here.”

Blair did as I asked. When she closed the front door, I walked into the pantry once more. I used the coke to get the blood splatter off of my new jacket.

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Defending the 99 cent ebook

I hate it. I really do. You write for months, edit for longer, struggle to get legit beta readers, pay for editing, then realize that people only take chances on new authors if they can get a book for super cheap–if not free.

I listened to authors say that KDP select was the way to go. Make your book free, shoot up the rankings, then sell a bunch of books when you come off of the free promotion. It didn’t happen like that. I was number one or two in many free categories, and gave away 2,500 total, but that didn’t translate to sales after the promotion. I’m hoping that It’ll translate to reviews, but you never know.

99 cents is a frustrating price when you’ve worked hard to put out a professional quality book, but if it’s the only way to get an audience, it’s something that you have to do. I plan on writing many more books, so gaining an audience is my #1 priority right now. As much as I hate the fact that writing, music, and art in general is devalued these days,  I concede to the strategy of giving some work away in order to gain an audience.

For now, I’m taking the drug dealer approach–the first one is free (or almost free).

How to Edit a Novel Without F’n Around

One Step Closer to Hell 360x540 WebsiteInstead of NaNoWriMo I’m participating in NaNoEditMo–National Edit a Novel in a Month (real contest that I just made up). I’m currently editing my second novel One Step Closer to Hell. I learned a lot after the first one, and this one is going better so far.

I’m pretty sure all new writers finish a novel and wonder what in the world comes next. Do I know? Debatable. But here are my steps for getting that all-important 2nd draft completed.

1. Make a plan

Yes, I get it. Some of you are ‘pantsers’ and don’t plan anything when it comes to writing your book. I tend to lean this way when writing, but I’ve found value in making a plan before editing. You can’t do it all in one pass–you’ll miss plenty even after three edits (which is why it’s important to let someone else do the final few edits). When editing, try to focus on one thing at a time.

2. Take a break

Every novelist that I’ve come across has talked about the importance of taking a break in order to distance yourself from your work. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve forgotten many parts of my second novel. I even wrote a novella during my break so I could completely dive into another project.  This definitely helped me attack the edit with a ruthless eye.

3. Fix the awkward

I know, I know. Most authors tell you to read it all of the way through and simply take notes when you finally come back to your book. However, I can’t do that. I find my work littered with sentences that sound like they came straight out of a toddler’s mouth. I have to fix that before I can read it and pretend it’s a real book.

I do this by reading the entire manuscript out loud, and fixing every sentence that reads like a meth head wrote it. Yes, that makes you look like a crazy person–but who are we kidding? We wrote an entire book of imaginary characters; that makes us a tad bit crazy in and of itself.

4. First Read-through

Now that I can get through more than one chapter without beating my head on my desk, I read the book and take notes. Only big picture notes–plot holes, inconsistencies, character development ideas, etc.  I look for issues that will take additional writing to fix–or issues that will be as simple as highlighting and hitting the backspace button.

5. Tear it apart

This is where the novel takes its shape. I add the parts I noted from above, delete scenes, move scenes around, break scenes into chapters, and chapters into parts, identify key plot devices that I can play around with, determine narrative structure, and shift the pace to my liking. This is where the rough draft becomes a legitimate manuscript.

6. Very important

I delete every instance of the word ‘very’. I tend to use this word a lot, but it’s a word you only put with weak adjectives.

Example: If I have: “A very big couch sat in the corner.” I would alter it to: “A ginormous couch sat in the corner.” or something like that. We use very so often that it doesn’t do much to change the meaning of a sentence.

I do something similar to the phrase, ‘a little bit’.

I’m pretty sure every writer has that one word or phrase that makes a reader want to choke a puppy if used too often. It’s important to take those phrases and light them on fire.

7. LY Adverbs

Here’s another crutch that writers like myself use to ‘make a sentence sound better’. Like the word very, people say these all of the time to convey a stronger meaning. If you use too many of them, it looks like you’re trying too hard.

Example:

Bill ferociously dialed the phone.

Alice picked it up contemptuously. “Hello.”

How clumsy does that sound? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

No, we can’t part with all of these. Hell, I have a hard time parting with even half of these. But for the love of God, try to mitigate the awkwardness (see #3).

8. Give your characters their own voice

This was easy in my second book because I already nailed down the characters’ personalities, but this was an issue in Deadly Colors. All my characters sounded the same. I had to go back and change the way they spoke in order to differentiate who was who. This is arguably the most important step in character development. Is your character mean, loud, socially awkward, smart, dumb, shy, nerdy, tough, or confident? Dialogue is the best way to demonstrate these traits.

9. Proofread

It’s best to save this for the end so that you don’t have to keep doing this during every step in the process. Yes, you’ll naturally get a ton of this during the other steps, but it’s good to have an edit devoted to this. I use a program called Grammarly to accomplish this step, but MS word should be sufficient if you know what you’re doing grammar-wise (which I don’t).

10. Rinse and repeat

Cool…you have a second draft now. That’s probably not going to cut it either. Repeat steps 3-9 until you’re finally happy with it.

11. Throw in the towel and call 911

You get to the point when you’re so sick of your own work that you don’t even want to read it anymore. This is when it’s as good as you can make it on your own. This was the hardest moment for me when getting my first book ready to go.

Call for backup.

Now it’s time to send it off to beta readers and your editor to see what they think. Now is the moment you let go. Sure, there’s plenty of other work to do after you get feedback, but compared to what was already done, this should be a cakewalk. Either they’ll love it, or someone will finally call you out on your bullshit. Either way–this moment is both terrifying and exciting.

Keep tweaking it until it’s finally ready to go. High-five yourself and grab some coffee…you’re a writer now.

Flash Fiction Thursday–Living a Nightmare

Flash Fiction ThrusdayOkay, I caved. I’ve been trying to put this story off for the longest time, because I plan on this being my next full-length book (after I write another novella). However, this story kept playing over and over in my head, so I caved and wrote the first 1,500 words. Hopefully that holds me over until I’m ready to write the rest of it, which I plan on starting in January.

Here’s the first scene that I have. Enjoy!

Living a Nightmare

When all your dreams are nightmares, insomnia is the only rational solution. Even more so if all of your dreams come true.

Justice sat up in bed. The sheets stuck to his cold and sweaty body like a wet raincoat. Despite the warm bedroom, Justice shivered uncontrollably. Except his shuddering didn’t come from being cold—it came from fear.

He glanced to his right and saw Michelle. Or is it Miranda? he thought. Maggie? Or Melissa? Great!

Waking up to someone different wasn’t a new thing for Justice. Besides, he made a habit of sneaking out well before they woke up, so remembering a name was just a bonus if he was able to manage it. He knew all of the tricks to the trade. Justice left his clothes by the bedroom door and drank plenty of water just before lying down with someone new. That way, he’d wake up around four to use the bathroom, and have everything laid out for him on his way out. Sleeping with new women seemed to be the only thing that calmed him down outside of his good friend Mary Jane. But neither cure worked that night. As vivid of a dream as ever haunted him when he sat up in the strange room.

When his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw a room infinitely more messy than his—granted he did keep a pretty clean home. Michelle (or whatever the hell her name was) had clothes littering the room, papers and trash everywhere, cups and plates next to her bed, and random debris that he couldn’t even identify. She seemed to break the stereotype of women being the cleaner of the two sexes.

He stepped out of bed, being careful to avoid stepping on the water glasses lying on the ground next to the box spring. With the careful and silent steps of a veteran hunter, Justice made his way to the bedroom door. He paused at the door only long enough to pick up his clothes and check to make sure she still slept, then made his way into the bathroom.

Justice flipped on the light and waited for the fluorescent above the mirror to flicker on. It took it a few seconds. For a moment, Justice thought he’d have to change in the dark—then it came on, illuminating him with a bluish glow. He surveyed the bathroom and grimaced at the woman’s uncleanliness once again. The shower lacked a curtain. Rust built up on the drain in the tub. And what looked to be a spiderweb—or a webbing of shed hair—attached itself on the rings that once held a curtain. Justice shook his head at the thought of taking a bath in that filthy yellowish tub. He gathered himself, stepped up to the commode, whipped out his ‘member’, then handled his business.

After seventy-one seconds of bliss, he shook off, then stepped up to the sink.

At first glance in the mirror, Justice saw Charlton Cook staring back at him. Charlton’s head twisted in an unnatural way just above his jawline. Blood ran down his pale face and onto his shoulders.

Justice shivered once more; this time working himself in all-out convulsions. His legs first weakened, then gave out altogether. He dropped his dusty jeans and collared shirt onto the tile floor as his back slid down the wall. His eyes closed as he moved toward unconsciousness.

Before blacking out, his butt slammed down onto the cold tile floor, jolting him alert.

Justice opened his eyes and tried to stand up. His legs obliged. He gave one hurried glance at the mirror, expecting to see Charlton’s mangled head once again. He flinched away, crouching until his mind processed what he actually did see in the mirror this time. Slowly, he extended his legs to a full standing position. This time, it was a clean cut, young, African American male looking at him through the mirror. Justice exhaled.

Thank you, Jesus, he thought. Before he could make it past the word Jesus, his thoughts returned to his nightmare.

He started shaking once more. Charlton Cook. Twenty-seven. Father of two—run over by a dumb chick texting while driving. What a shame. He started convulsing again, feeling his knees weaken under him. However, this time he controlled it. Justice steadied himself in the strange woman’s bathroom. He knew the dream would continue to replay in his head until the deed was finally done. Or until I get too high to care anymore, he thought.

Justice dressed himself in a hurry, and exited the ladies small apartment before she had a chance to wake up and discover him missing. Did he leave a note? No. He never did. Justice didn’t think that he owed any of them his respect—especially after saving their lives. All he cared about was the money that they always offered them for his trouble—and of course the panties that they offered as well—you can’t leave that part out of it.

In the stairwell, Justice lit up the permanent marker-sized blunt, and smoked his dreams away.