Write Club 2015: Belated Observations from the Ring

It’s been about ten months since Commando Grace won Write Club 2015, but apparently, sometime last summer, I sat and jotted down a few observations from the contest. Then, I got up, went on with life, and forgot to finish and post my thoughts.

Procrastination? Perhaps a little.

At any rate, I polished and updated my thoughts and decided to share them anyway. Maybe some kindred procrastinating spirit will put this post in their TBR pile and finally get around to reading it just in time for Write Club 2017.

Without further delay…

1. First and foremost, DL Hammons and his wife are pretty spectacular! I cannot fathom all the work they put into this contest, and I’m grateful for their arduous work throughout the many weeks of Write Club.

2. There are some great writers out there. I enjoyed reading the various entries, and was disappointed more than once to have to choose between two excellent pieces.

3. You have to bring your best. Because of #2 (and because I border on perfectionist at times), there can be no half-hearted entries. Great writers make great observations, and the Write Club voters were sure to point out any issue a piece might have.

4. Sometimes critique is a matter of personal taste. It was interesting to see how each piece (not just my own) went down. Almost invariably, some people loved a piece, while others… not so much. The takeaway is an important lesson for all writers: This is a subjective business. What resonates with one person may very well make another shudder in disgust. Similarly, style choices that delight one reader may make another want to throw a book across the room. You will never please everyone.

5. But sometimes critique is invaluable.  I’m sincerely thankful to the voters who pointed out a major flaw in one of my pieces. It was a scene in a bookstore in which two sets of teenage girls face off. One of my girls said some things that were, frankly and without defense, out of character. That scene has been rewritten in such a way that Molly does not succumb to the mean girl posturing going on around her, but rather leads Grace away with dignity and gentleness, in keeping with Molly’s nature. The rewrite made the story so much better, and I’ll always be grateful to the voter who pointed out my mistake.

6. You have to know the difference between #4 and #5. A writer must neither take every word of criticism as truth nor dismiss every word as personal taste or simply “not getting” the story. We have to evaluate each comment soberly to determine where each piece of feedback falls on the spectrum of Junk to Gold. And then figure out just what to do with everything in between.

7. 500 words are entirely different from a novel. In a contest like Write Club, you have 500 words to capture your readers’ attention and get them wanting more. You need a solid plot, round characters, realistic dialogue, and a whole lot of emotion to pull readers in and make them want to stay. You simply do not have the space for unnecessary details or for things that might require further explanation. A scene from your novel probably won’t cut it – unless you cut it first. For reference, scenes I used in Write Club 2015 went from a sparse, snappy 500 words for the contest to a fuller, more detailed 700-1,000 for the manuscript.

8. Write Club can get the creative juices flowing. When I submitted my first entry, I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going. I had a vague notion of how I might weave together several ideas I’d been playing with, but nothing was certain. Mostly it was a challenge to see how many weird things I could connect in one 500 word piece. As the contest progressed, the story became clearer and clearer and the characters more deeply ingrained in my heart. By the time it was over, I had a general outline of four books. Four books with their own individual storylines, as well as an overarching theme to tie all four together into one cohesive whole, if only I can make it work.

9. Write Club inspires confidence. As mentioned above, I didn’t know going in how Commando Grace would fare. I’d never written contemporary YA, never really read much of it, for that matter. The feedback was spectacular, giving me confidence to continue with the story. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for Grace, and especially to those who connected with her and with her struggles. That’s why we write, really, for that moment when a reader says, “That’s me!”

10. Write Club people are swell. Seriously, it’s a great little community.  The support they show one another, especially in the final days of the contest as writers reveal their identities, is heart-warming. I’m hoping to attend DFW Conference next year and look forward to meeting other Write Clubbers face-to-face.

On that note, I close. I have a manuscript to polish, thanks to Write Club 2015…

A Glance Back, a Look Ahead

As it is the beginning of a new year and as I am trying to avoid grading homeschool Algebra, now is as good a time as any to do one of those reflective/prospective posts we only write to seem cool love so much. I’ll keep it  brief(ish).

2015 brought the release of both GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE and HEIR OF KORADIN. Sometime around Thanksgiving, I turned in the last of the content edits for the final book in the Chasmaria trilogy, CHILD OF THRESH. I also had the immense fun of participating in and winning WRiTE CLUB 2015. (Go, Commando!)

2016 presents at least as much reason for excitement. In February, I’ll be presenting a session titled “Dear Teen Writer” at a literacy conference that expects to draw around 1,200 teachers and others interested in promoting literacy. I also plan to attend the Dallas Fiction Writers Conference. Not only will this be my first writers conference, but I’ll get to meet my amazing editor face to face! CHILD OF THRESH is set to release in August, so there will be a cover design wishlist to consider, acknowledgements to compose, a little more proofreading, and a whole lot of emotions to sort through.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on a new contemporary YA series. The major mental plotting phase is over. Now, I’m drafting the second book of an eventual quadrilogy and adding details to a rather lengthy outline to ensure nothing gets forgotten. It’s a totally different project from the Chasmaria books – and quite an unexpected one, at that – but I’m enjoying it every bit as much. Just ask my Wise and Wonderful and Slightly Weary of Hearing Me Ramble Sister. I haven’t set any specific goals for this project, other than to get the story right – all four books of it – before entering the query stage. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but when a story is worth telling, it’s worth telling well, and I’m willing to take my time on this one. That said, the words are coming quickly, which is always a delight.

Also a delight is the sight of one’s four children gathered around the dining room table, each working on a story of his or her own. I’ll close with that image and this thought:

If you have a story to tell, tell it and tell it well.

Then get ready for the next story, because it’s sure to come, whether you’re ready or not.

Wishing all of you a happy year filled with the best kinds of stories!

Friday Fictioneers: A Graceful Chicken

I can always count on the Welches, the soccer-loving family of six boys and one girl featured in my current work-in-progress, to create absurd scenes. My aim is to make the Welches the family everyone wants to be, chicken stunts and all.
PHOTO PROMPT © Luther Siler

PHOTO PROMPT © Luther Siler



We stand on the patio, a circle of raised eyebrows. If no one else will ask, I will. “What is it?”

Pete waves a hand at the mass of golden feathers and wire. “Duh, Grace, it’s a chicken.”

“It was a chicken.” Jason kicks a broken wing.

Nathan crouches to tinker with the wires. “You might fix it.”

“So it can do what, cross the road?” I wish I had a sister, even a brother with some sense.

“We play Lewistown Friday.” John holds the chicken up, like Mom does to check if a shirt will fit me. “Team Lewiston just got an unexpected mascot.”


Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. 

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The Birth of a Village

A certain number of years ago, I gave birth to our first son. In honor of that event, and because I’ve already told his birth story to more people than probably cared to hear it, I thought today would be a perfect day to share about a different birth… The birth of Thresh, the village that produced the heroine of GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE.

The village of Thresh was born of the question, “What would society be like without love?” In answering this question, two things became clear very quickly.

First, the society would have to have some framework for ensuring their young not only survive, but also learn the necessary skills to live independent of any protective parental unit. Biology dictates that if the young die out, the population dies out. So even a loveless society would have to shield their young from harm, teach them to provide for themselves, and train them in the ways of the culture. While Threshan parents are harsher and more hands-off than the modern parent, they do what they need to do to keep their culture – and their children –  alive.

The second thing I realized – and this came gradually, over the course of writing the first book in the trilogy – is that a society’s denial of truth – in this case, the truth that humans were made to love and be loved – cannot and does not nullify truth. In “The Problem with Pain,” C.S. Lewis writes, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” The more I wrote, the more I realized that Thresh was a village coursing with subdued, often denied love. Stone has these socially unacceptable relationships with Berth and their children. And Berth, for all her hardness… Well, I could write an entire post on how she’s struggled to subjugate her affections to her culturally-induced pride. If you look closely, you notice Talon of March and Swot – who’s an only child, by the way – interacting with and learning the trades of both of his parents. Dara and her daughter Trova raise their unclaimed offspring with a fierce tenderness. Even in this love-denying culture, love exerts itself.

And I think that’s the marvel of truth, goodness, and beauty. However a culture – even a fictional one – tries to deny or suppress truth, goodness, and beauty, we who are made in the image of a true, good, and beautiful Creator cannot help but reflect those holy qualities. It may be a limping, emaciated sort of love, but we, like the people of Thresh, cannot help but love.

Friday Fictioneers: The Stuff of Which We’re Made

It’s been a busy few weeks – with our homeschool year wrapping up and pitch contests and manuscripts being written (or stared at in consternation) and just life in general – but I’m here this week with a short piece for Friday Fictioneers. I didn’t make it to the 100 word mark, but I’m used to the wet noodle after all the times I went over 100 words, and sometimes, simplicity is best. I’ll read as many entries as my schedule allows, and thank each of you for stopping by and saying “hello.” Be sure to check out the link at the bottom of this page for more 100(ish) word stories, and if the photo inspires you, please do join the fun!

Copyright - Renee HeathPHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Renee Heath

The Stuff of Which We’re Made (87 words, Women’s Fiction?)

It’s over.

The flame drowns in the waxen pool, its last flicker a gasp for breath.

As oxygen cascades into my lungs, I envy the flame its rest.

A drop of liquid solidifies on the end of a waxen stalactite hanging from the side of the desk. I break the stream of wax, still warm, and squeeze it into a ball.

The flame is gone. My flame is gone. But I am here. And I am made of brighter stuff than fire and harder stuff than wax.



P.S. If you’re curious to learn a little more about the writing project closest to my heart, feel free to check out my previous post. Just bear in mind that the short pitch is my nemesis and judge me not too harshly! Or do judge. It’s okay. I’m a big girl.


Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

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The Quilter’s Daughter

For as long as I can recall, my mother has been a quilter. She tucked us in to sleep under beautiful, hand-made quilts, and when our children were born, my sister and I tucked our children in to sleep under crib-sized quilts custom-designed for the sweetest babies in the world. Nothing compares to my mother’s quilts.

Let me say right now that I am not a quilter. I never have been and likely never will be. The thought of fabric stores and scissors and scraps of fabric and needles and thread, to say nothing of agonizing over which pieces will look not just good together, but best together…

It’s just not me.

My mother, however, takes profound care in making each and every one of her quilts, considering colors and patterns and placements till I am dizzy with the smell of new fabrics. Though I grow weary of describing varying patterns of white-on-white, on she plots until she has everything laid out just so. She works from miles away on my children’s quilts, sometimes calling midday to ask which type of stitch I think will look best when it comes time to quilt the pieces she has so meticulously assembled.

“Mom,” I usually answer, “you know what will work best.”

Sometimes, I admit, the entire process seems a bit more tedious than necessary. Just make the quilt. It will be gorgeous. Even if I’m not sure about a decision, like the “red, brick-patterned” fabric she described over the phone, I know that she’ll end with a masterpiece. (The quilt containing said red fabric is probably my favorite of all).

I am almost finished with the first draft of my second novel, a dual point-of-view fantasy, and I have thought often of my mother and her quilts. Each chapter is like a piece of fabric, carefully chosen, precisely cut, and soon… delicately placed within the whole. I do not  know exactly how I will arrange my chapters, but must lay them all out, as my mother does  her fabric, and see how everything lies. I must have faith in my little chapters – faith that they will come together, each one pleasing in its own right, and together something more than each would be alone. And yes, I call or email my sister with random, seemingly trivial questions like, “Should so-and-so have a tattoo?”

Perhaps, though I am not a quilter, I have inherited a portion of my mother’s craft.

Piecing together this second novel isn’t the easiest task I could have set before myself, but I hope by miracle or might to create a beautiful piece of art as comfortable to my readers as my mother’s hand-made quilts.

I am the quilter’s daughter, after all.

Pitchfest Fun

Just a quick note to let you know I’ve got a little pitch over at Write On Con. If you care to check it out, please do! Take some time to browse through others’ entries as well. So many excellent stories just waiting to be shared..

Pitch: Grit of Berth and Stone

Many thanks to the fabulous organizers of this event!

Friday Fictioneers – For Better or Worse

Welcome back to the (pre) Friday Fictioneers! (Or maybe the Friendsday Fictioneers?) Today’s photo prompt comes from Beth Carter and takes my character Sara back in time, to a day when she and her new husband Dan encountered a man named Gabe with a car that’s a far cry from the chariots and Porsches of which he is so fond.

You’ve met Sara in the following previous stories:

Impossible Salvation

Not What We Had Planned

Another Kind of Death

You can catch Dan hustling through His Last Ride.



Copyright - Beth Carter

Copyright – Beth Carter

For Better or Worse (100 words)

I saw this car at a flea market once – two old shopping carts welded together with a rusty piece of metal for an armrest, cupholders and all. On the passenger seat was a cardboard sign, “Sure it runs! 69,000 miles!”

It was built in 2006, the year we met, and it was beautiful in its way. The owner – Gabe, I think – would have sold it to us, but Dan just laughed. “Heap of trash.”

But it’s us, you see, me and Dan. Ugly and rusted and looking like hell, but we’ve got more than 69,000 miles to go.


Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

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Friday Fictioneers – On Angel Wings

This week’s story fits squarely between His Last Ride and The Next Assignment. I didn’t exactly incorporate the photo, but went more figuratively. For reasons you will probably understand after reading the story, the plane and the sun together made me think of Claire… strong, warm, powerful, and good.copyright-Rich Voza

copyright-Rich Voza

On Angel Wings (113)

In the instant her hand had touched his chest, she had known it would be different.

Now, high above the cordoned bus station, Angelique fought with every beat of her snow-white wings to free herself from him. All his fear, guilt, shame, and hatred mingled with Angelique’s own sorrow over what might have been. She writhed against the pain within and without as the frigid wind swirled around her tiny form.

Claire’s smooth, pure voice rose above the thunder in Angelique’s ears.

“Be still, child.”

A golden wing, strong and warm as the midday sun, enveloped Angelique. She collapsed, her head against Claire’s chest.

“Steve,” Angelique whispered. “The fat man’s name was Steve.”


For the rest of the story click on Angelique.

Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

Read or Join here:

Seeking Stone (Flash Fiction)


If you’ve made it here, please allow me to introduce you to two people very dear to my heart. Last night I was thinking that, Friday Fictioneers photo permitting, I might try to write little backstories for the characters of the novel for which I’m currently seeking agent representation. I jest not, the particular scene I had in mind involved two characters, Berth and Stone, meeting along the seashore. I took some liberties with the prompt – and then, having decided to post this as a separate post – uploaded a picture a little closer to the sea I have in mind. Imagine not a warm, sandy, southern beach, but a cool, pebbly beach in a wild country populated by people with little concept of love or family… and you have my beloved village of Thresh, located along the Western Sea, where Berth has grown up and into which Stone has wandered. Stick with me long enough, and I hope you’ll be able to read the adventures of their eldest offspring. 😉


Seeking Stone

She crouched at the shore, the waves kissing her bare toes, and turned the pebbles in her hand. A frown creased her brow as she let another fall.

“What are you doing, Berth?

She stood suddenly, surprised by his presence, and dried her hands on her trousers.

“Looking for a pebble. Like yours.”

He cast down his eyes to look at the perfect white stone hanging around his neck.

“You won’t find one. Not here.”

Stranger Stone gazed beyond Berth, beyond the pebbled shore, deep into the mid-Chasmarian forest, and Berth knew she would not see him for some time.

If you have a few minutes, please hop over here and help me pitch the story of Grit, firstborn of Berth and Stone. Thanks!