Blog, Writing Blog

How Country Music Inspired My Flash Fiction

From a poor girl living in a run-down, one room shack to a wealthy woman living in an elegant, New York townhouse flat, Reba McEntire tells the tale of a girl named Fancy, pushed out of poverty by her dying mother…and she tells the story in about six minutes.

Martina McBride tells the story of an abused woman who frees herself from her relationship by burning her house to the ground with and her abuser still inside…in about four minutes.

Garth Brooks tells us what can happen when the thunder rolls and a cheating husband comes to home to his fretting wife (it’s not good) and Reba tells what happens when the lights go out in Georgia and they hang an innocent man.

These sagas have all the elements of a good story; intriguing characters with backstories, sad beginnings, middles full of conflict, and dramatic endings…and they all wrap up in six minutes or less.

Like most writers, I’ve been asked some form of this question: “What inspired you to write? Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired you when you were younger?” I was never really sure of the best answer to this question. I’ve just always liked to write. And I’ve always liked to read. And of course, I was inspired by books like Matilda, Harriet The Spy, and, eventually, Harry Potter. But, if you look at my writing now, those didn’t exactly inspire my style. I ended up leaning more toward the style of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine (which I also devoured) but, looking back, there was something else.

I figured it out when I discovered a Spotify playlist featuring nineties country. I started shuffling through that and, whoa, those songs took me back. I could see myself sitting on the floor with a new cassette (yea, I’m old) and reading along with the lyrics on the inside flap. I remember crying over Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s A Man’s Home is His Castle, and the previously mentioned Independence Day (I was a pretty emotional kid). I can see myself parked in front of the TV the day my dad died, tuning the world out, completely focused on a CMT music video marathon, soaking in story after story about the tragedies of others. And they were stories–elaborate, complete, deep stories.

The country music of my childhood could present a moving and emotional tale, beginning, middle and end, in just a few minutes. A few verses and a chorus were all you needed to get sucked into the life of a frustrated wife, a couple falling in love, or a woman finding her independence. At the time, I didn’t recognize why I liked them so much, I just knew I did. But now, looking back, I know that the writer in me recognized their ability to weave a complicated story in a short amount of time. Given how big of an impact these songs had on me, it’s no wonder I ended up attempting to mimic them.

In flash fiction, you have around 1,000 words to present a complete and engaging story. You have to do what a novel has about 75,000 words to do. Even though it’s short, it still needs to have compelling characters, include enough history to suck in the reader and wrap up neatly enough to keep them satisfied. It also needs to pack a punch. Like Garth’s twist when the wife in The Thunder Rolls goes back into the bedroom for her gun, many of my stories don’t end happily. But they are memorable (so I’ve been told). I thought about these songs long after the last notes died out, and I still do.

I want my readers to do the same when they put down my stories. It may not be normal for a writer to say they were inspired by country music, but now, when I get that perplexing question, I can safely say that I try to write stories that move others like I was moved by the stories of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and so many, many more.

 

See what kinds of stories country music inspired me to write in my book of flash fiction, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”

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Blog, Posts About Nothing

Posts About Nothing: Good Morning, Alexa

Warning: This is a post about nothing. Nothing other than the random thoughts that pop into my head at any given time. Remember Seinfeld? They’re kinda like that. Amusing, but not really about anything in particular. You’ve been warned. Enjoy.

Alexa, Amazon’s AI helper, is great for a lot of things.

“Alexa, what’s the weather like?”

“It’s raining.”

“Alexa, set a timer for 25 minutes.”

“25 minutes and counting.”

“Alexa, turn on the living room lights.”

“Here you go, ya lazy SOB…”

Just kidding, she doesn’t say that last one, that’s just how I feel sometimes.

But don’t get snarky with her.

“Alexa, that was a half-hearted effort…”

“I think you’re talking about flatulence. Here’s some information about farts…”

“Umm…no?”

She really did say that last one.

We also had Alexa and Siri have a rap battle. Alexa won. Hands down. She also has a really nice singing voice.

So, she has her perks and I enjoy telling her to turn on the light when I’m right next to it and asking her about the weather when I could just look out the window. What I DON’T enjoy is yelling at her first thing in the morning.

Boyfriend thinks connecting all the lights to her is brilliant. At night, it’s just, “Alexa, turn off the bedroom lamp,” instead of reaching allllll the way over and flipping it off. Which, I have to admit is nice on cold nights when I’m already curled up under the blankets. BUT, the mornings are a different story.

To turn on the lamp beside my side of the bed, I have to say, “Alexa, turn on Alli’s lamp.” Seems simple enough, right? The problem is, I don’t want to talk to anyone in the mornings. Especially a sassy AI with an attitude problem and a really loud voice.

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I’m telling you, Alexa can be a real bitch in the mornings.

In a grumbly morning voice, “Alexa, turn on Alli’s bedroom lamp.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD VOICE

“I’M SORRY, I CAN’T FIND AH-LI’S BEDROOM LAMP.”

From under the covers…”Noooo….”

“I’M SORRY, I DON’T THINK I CAN ANSWER THAT.”

“ALEXA, STOP.”

Silence. And it’s still dark.

At this point, I feel like I need coffee before I can even get the lights on and I am regretting letting Boyfriend bring another woman into the bedroom.

“Alexa, turn on Alli’s bedroom light…I mean, lamp!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that device.”

“Ugh, I give up.”

“I think you’re talking about flatulence…”

“ALEXA, STOP!”

So, while rap battles and talking about farts are all well and good, I think I’m better off waiting until after coffee to converse with the AI in my bedroom.

Anyway, if you’re ever frustrated with AI, just remember…it could be worse than Alexa. Find out how by picking up my book, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction” and checking out the story, “The Angels Inside Me.” You can get a sneak peek of this story here. 

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Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

The Angels Inside Me

Tonight, I stopped fighting with the Angels inside me. Tonight, I will answer their call.

Sitting cross-legged on the desert floor, my hands resting on top of my knees, I watch and shiver as the last of the daylight dips into the distant abyss and sucks the last of the heat with it. As it does, the final ray catches the only object for miles that could reflect its offering. There is a glint, like a wink from a wise man who is the only one who knows what’s coming next, and the steel of the weapon in front me laughs as though it can see the future.

I don’t remember the exact moment I ran out of fight. I’d spent the last twelve hours dragging my feet through the sands of the desert, convinced I was strong. I knew from the beginning it was futile, but I pushed on, feigning a faith in my own strength.

But I was a fool. Like most men are when up against the kind of foe I was fighting. You never win against Angels, no matter how strong your faith.

When they dropped me off in this God-forsaken desert, I told myself I was strong. I stood, watching the dust settle and cover the tire tracks of the Jeep as it turned into a black speck on the horizon, already fighting my losing battle.

I felt the call immediately, even as the last of the disturbed sand was falling onto my eyelashes and into the tan ocean surrounding me. I heard it, and I answered.

“I’ll fight it,” I told the desert.

You’ll lose.


 

This has been a little sneak peek at just one of the stories featured in my book “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.” You can read the whole thing, and some other awesome stories, by grabbing a copy of the book today

Not ready to buy? It’s cool, I get it. Check out some more stories here and see if you like my style. 

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Use NanoWrimo To Your Advantage

That magical time of year is almost upon us. No, not Halloween. Nope, not even Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m talking about the time of year that writers both revere and dread–National Novel Writing Month. This month, affectionately known as NanoWrimo or Nano, is a torturous, I mean glorious, month where writers are urged to write a novel in one month. For the purposes of the month, this equals 50,000 words. Yup, 50,000 words in a month. Seems crazy, right? Well, most writers are a little crazy.

And, it can be done. Thousands of writers do it every year. I’ve done it twice.

And, sometimes, it gets pretty great results. Water for Elephants started as a Nano book.

While there are many awesome advantages to Nano, one of the downfalls is that it tends to leave out those not working on novels but still working on cranking out some words.

So, I’m here to say…

Use Nano to Your Advantage

If it’s not done right, Nano can be a huge waste of time. Devoting a month of your life to something that won’t see the light day is not a productive use of your time and is not the point of National Writing Month. The point of this writing sprint is not only the word count, it’s also to create something that can someday BE something. But, if a novel is not your focus and you spend a month pushing yourself to write 50,000 words that may never see the light of day…you’re kind of missing the point of the whole thing. The point is motivation. The point is creation. The point is to get off your butt and actually write.
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So, if a novel isn’t your focus…

Make it Your Own

If you’re not working on a novel, you don’t have to force it during Nano. For example, novels have not been my focus lately, flash fiction has. I just published a book of flash and would like to publish another fairly soon. In order to get some more material, I’ve decided to use NanoWrimo to crank out a ton of flash, fast. I may not write 50,000 words, but that’s not my goal. My goal will be to have enough material to get out a volume 2 of “Flash in the Dark.”

My Plan

So, what will I do differently? Rather than write 50,000 words in a month, my goal will be to write 1,000 words a day. In the flash fiction world, that’s an entire story. I’m not 100% sure what this will look like. Will I be able to write an entirely new, full story every single day? Maybe not. But I can get a lot of shitty first drafts done. I can flesh out some ideas. I can dig into a new idea I have but am not really prepared to write for November. I can get a lot of words on paper. Words that I am much more likely use than if they were written for a novel I wasn’t ready to write.
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To prepare, I am prepping daily prompts. I work best with a guide and parameters and I know that. So, I’m setting myself up for success.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re prepared, Nano is an awesome kick in the butt. It’s fantastic motivation. It’s encouragement. It’s a procrastination killer that can help you create a novel where there once was nothing. If a novel is your goal and you have an idea ready to roll, do it. Do it the way it was meant to be done. Sign up on the website. Go to write-ins. Set daily words goals and write your novel.

But, if you’re like me, working on another type of writing project but still need extra motivation in order to get the words out, do something different. Make it your own. Set your own goals. But still write everyday. Still go write-ins (they are a great way to stay motivated and connect with others doing exactly what you’re doing). Still get those words out and still create something awesome.

So, whether you end up with a new novel, a bunch of short stories, half a novel, or a play, you’ll have something that wasn’t there before and THAT, my friends, sure is something.

Curious about that book I spoke of? Check out Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction

 

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Finding Hidden Themes…In Your Own Writing

When I was in high school, my English teachers always asked, “What was this author really saying? What did they mean? What does this object represent?” And I, even though I loved English class but was still a moody teenager, would inwardly groan and wonder…can’t a rose just be a rose? They probably mean just what they wrote. And, because I already knew I wanted to be a writer one day, I would silently plead, I hope people don’t dissect my writing one day. I’m just going to write what I mean and I hope my readers can see that.

Well, surprise, surprise…I was wrong.

Turns out, as much as I actually do try to write what I mean, what I mean isn’t always super straightforward. Take that sentence, for example.

Let me back up. As I’ve been preparing to launch my debut book of flash fiction, I’ve been sending out copies to friends in order to get some feedback, create some buzz and get some reviews. My friends not only delivered feedback and reviews, but they also gave me a little glimpse into my own psyche.

“It’s an empowering experience which I thought played with gender roles in an intelligent and unique way.”

Take this quote from a review from my friend, Stewart (and no, I did not pay him to write these incredibly kind things), “I think we’re given glimpses into the parts of Allison’s life which have hurt, brought joy, and lust for hope.” I certainly did not mean to give a glimpse into my life. In fact, most of these stories have a supernatural or sci-fi element and could not have felt further from my life when I was writing them. But then he says of one story, “On full display is the role of women of all ages in society,” and “It’s an empowering experience which I thought played with gender roles in an intelligent and unique way.”

I don’t share these quotes to toot my own horn, though, toot toot. I share because, as we were discussing some of his observations, I realized that yes, my views of gender roles were on full display in many of my stories. In “The Final Cry,” which you can find in the Future Visions Volume 2 anthology, a married couple is faced with a brutal reality and the way they cope with their grief represents how I’ve always seen grief handled by the women around me.

He pointed out that he was surprised that it was the woman who took on a particular task that would (hopefully) help the couple move on from their grief and I realized I was surprised he was surprised. Women have always taken on tough roles in my life and I am never surprised to see the things they can endure when it’s men that are supposed to be the “tough” ones. I knew I thought all of this, of course, but never was it so obvious to me than when the themes in my own writing were recited back to me.

Women have always taken on tough roles in my life and I am never surprised to see the things they can endure when it’s men that are supposed to be the “tough” ones.

I was also asked, by another friend and an early reader of my book, if one aspect of a particular story was a theme for mental illness. I said no, it was simply about a mind control device. And then I thought about it and it turns out “simply” was the wrong word. While I did not intend this story to be about mental illness, I would never pretend to understand what it’s like to live with it, I have, as I explained to him, always been fascinated with “the line between reality and the things that exist only in our heads…” and the fear of not being able to differentiate between the two. And isn’t that a little bit the same as a mental illness? Our brains tell us one thing and pretty soon we can’t tell what part is true and what part is the disease.

Like I said, I have never had to personally deal with mental illness but I have had a loved one who struggled with addiction and I saw this line, the line between truth and the addiction, blurred every single day. I have always wanted to write about this but didn’t think I was ready. Turns out, if I take a closer look at my writing, I am already writing it in small ways.

So, why do I find this outside view of the themes in my writing so helpful? Because now that I am aware of how I feel, I want to explore it more. Why should we as writers take a look back at our own writing to find unintentional themes? It might just teach us a little bit about ourselves. And, if that’s not motivation enough, it might also give you more to write about.

I never wanted my writing to be dissected…now that it has…I’m ok with it.

What themes do you find yourself writing about unintentionally?

Psst…Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction, will be available on October 19th and the ebook is available for pre-order right now!

Also, if you want more stuff like this, book news, and peeks at my writing, sign up for my newsletter! 

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

Freedom

The knife. Grab the knife. But he couldn’t hear me because my lips weren’t moving. My stomach burned like it always did when I tried to take control, the flame of her presence igniting and spreading farther the harder I tried to fight. That was the strangest part about the whole thing, that being possessed by a demon felt like nothing more than bad indigestion.

“Why are you here?” she snarled through my lips.

He stepped closer to my body and I could smell crisp air and dying leaves on his coat. Was it fall already? Time was doing strange things. I tried to scream as he studied my face, looking for any sign that I was still there. She gave none. His shoulders sagged. “I came to tell you that this is my last visit.”

As she threw my head back and laughed, I deflated. I should have expected this. He shouldn’t have to live with this creature as his wife. It was over for us the moment she took control.   

She refused to touch him. She barely talked to him. He thought I was leaving him. Until the day her true reflection shown in the mirror. He’d tried to save me, but what could he do? Once he knew the truth, she wouldn’t let him stay in the house. But he kept coming back, kept trying.

This was the closest he’d been to us in months. I could smell him. I couldn’t do this. I wanted out no matter what it took. The knife, I tried again, trying to convince my head to turn toward the bedside table where the blade glinted in the fall light coming through the curtains.

“You’re leaving her?” she taunted. She was enjoying her victory and I took advantage of her distraction. Instead of focusing on taking over completely, I turned all my energy to my hand, the hand closest to the knife. The knife she always kept by her side. The knife she coveted but was afraid of. I couldn’t read her thoughts, but I felt her fear whenever that knife was out of sight.

“I’m not leaving her, she’s already gone.”

I wasn’t gone, but I wanted to be. Twitch, I urged my fingers. Move. Point.

And then one did. It twitched, every so slightly, toward the knife and, drawn to the movement, his eyes fell to the weapon. She felt it too and her anger burned. They both lunged but maybe my control was stronger for a moment because he got there first. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t say goodbye. There wasn’t time. He simply lifted the knife, brought it down, and set me free.

 

Get more stories like this in my latest book, Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction. 

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5 Tips For Writing Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is a strange beast. It’s basically fiction in a hurry. Not more than 1,000 words, flash fiction can be challenging because you have to get to the point, fast. No rambling, no long, flowery narratives, no chapters. Flash fiction is an entire story, condensed into 1,000 words or less. It’s a whole story that can stand on its own, not an excerpt from a long story….though, I guess it could be if that snippet made sense all by itself. But, I’m rambling…something you cannot do in flash fiction.

Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot of flash fiction. First for a local writing event, then for online contests, now just for fun. And, in writing this super short prose, I’ve learned some stuff. And now, I’m going to share some of that stuff with you. And, if you’re lucky, later I’ll share more. If you want to write flash fiction but aren’t sure where to start, here are 5 tips to get you moving.

Give Yourself Parameters

The event that introduced me to flash fiction offered 3 words that must be used in the story. The contest I enter frequently offers a genre, a location and an object that must be in the story. As someone who has a hard time coming up with ideas, or at least focusing those ideas, these parameters were SUPER helpful to me. As was the word limit. Knowing I had to tell my story quickly AND fit it within the given parameters, well that really narrowed what I could write about. And THAT got me writing.

You don’t have to enter a contest to get prompts. Make them up yourself. Ask your friends. I started doing live videos where I asked viewers for genres and other prompts and then I had to write that story in a week. I crave direction. Maybe you do too. Pick up a book and pick three random words, give yourself a word limit, a time frame and GO. (And if you write something using this advice, share it here!).

Write Past the Word Limit (THEN Cut)

Don’t be too concerned with the word limit…at first. Tell the story you want to tell. Give it a beginning, a middle and an end. Then, hold your breath, grit your teeth, and check that word count. Once you’ve got a good idea of how much needs to go, start chopping.

Checking your word count obsessively as you write is a surefire way to stress yourself right out of the writing groove. Promise yourself, and me, that you won’t check your word count until you’ve reached some sort of respectable endpoint to your story. You promise? Spit shake? Ok no, gross. Pinky promise.

Read Out Loud

While this is true for any type of writing, it can be particularly helpful with flash fiction. Pacing and flow are extremely important when you are trying to write a story in 1,000 words and reading out loud can help you gauge that. It can also help you see where you’ve repeated words or thoughts and save you precious words. If you’re shy about sharing your work, you can read it to yourself but I like reading to at least other person depending on my timeline. I can see where they laugh, tell if they’re confused and ask if everything made sense. More often than not, reading out loud helps me catch mistakes and fix errors I may have missed.

Have Someone Else Read It

Again, true for most writing. You should always have someone else read your work before you submit (whatever that means to you) that final version. Outside perspectives are important and other people are going to catch mistakes you missed. If you’re trying to cut words, let them know. Ask them to look for spots that seem too wordy or descriptions that are too…descriptive. It’s hard for us to cut our own words…it’s easy for others.

Outline

I hate to say it because I’m usually a panster, but when you are dealing with flash fiction an outline can be extremely helpful. Even if it’s something super informal like a couple paragraphs about what you want to happen, some sort of direction can keep you from wandering off into the weeds. And, since I told you to write past the word count, the less wandering, the better. If you are loyal to your panster ways, at least have an idea of how you want to the story to end before you get too far and do your darndest to write in that direction.

Speaking of flash fiction, in just a few weeks my newest book, Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction, will be available. Coming October 19th, the ebook is available for pre-order right now!