Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Love is a Gamble

by Tamara Shaffer from the February 27, 2012 issue

Tagline: After her divorce, Leah isn't sure she wants to risk her heart again. Then she meets Greg...

In a Nutshell: Leah meets Greg while using his floor's copy machine because the one on her floor is broken. She likes him, but before she can think of an excuse to go back upstairs, he shows up at her office. One of her papers had gotten mixed up with his. They make a lunch date.

Observations: If I were to categorize this story, I'd label it Moving On, First Meet, with a hint of Matchmaker at the end. Well done mash-up.

I wanted you to notice that the backstory about Marsha's divorce doesn't show up until midway, a refreshing change-up from the beginning where it usually appears. I also wanted to point out how Shaffer doesn't put too much of a woe-is-me spin on the divorce and Marsha's feelings about it. She just keeps it matter of fact. Woman's World is all about optimism and positive change. Yet, the divorce is obviously still something Marsha has to get over, and we see this occur. Character development is possible in 800 words.

Finally, I liked the ending for several reasons. One, the Friend morphs into a Matchmaker at the very end. Second, Shaffer cleverly used Greg's profession--being an actuary--so that he could make that witty quip, "What are the odds?" Loved that. Funny! Humor makes a hero likable. Finally, we see that profession appear one more time with the last line:

I accept his invitation, thinking the handsome risk assessment expert is worth taking a risk on.

With that last line, she ties in the story title and the profession, and pushes her heroine over that emotional hurdle. I've said it before and I'll say it again, with only 800 to work with, you have to double- and even triple-up on story devices.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Rejected Story

Open House, Open Heart
by Kate Willoughby

Isn’t it funny how things work out sometimes? It all started when my husband and I decided to sell the house and find something smaller—less yard to take care of, less house to keep clean, etc. My daughter, Emily, came at my request to go through her old stuff and decide what she wanted to keep. I was thumbing through some sheet music when I heard Emily heave a sigh.

“What’s up, Em?” I asked.

She smiled and held up an old playbill from a production of Hamlet. “This little pamphlet embodies all the unspoken yearning of a young teenage girl.”

“Aren’t all teenagers young?” I asked.

Emily laughed. “You know what I mean.”

“What were you longing for? A life on the stage?” I felt a twinge of motherly guilt. Had Emily harbored a secret yearning to perform that I had failed to nurture and encourage? I had always thought she was happy being a caterer, especially now that she was starting her own business.

“Me?” she asked grinning. “Heck no. I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag. No, it was a boy I wanted. John Davis. My English Lit teacher took the class on a field trip to see Shakespeare. John was sitting in front of me and I didn’t see that play at all. All I saw was him.” She chuckled. “Well, the back of his head, at least.”

“You’re never going to believe this,” I said, “but he’s our real estate agent.”

Emily’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Yes. And he’s single,” I added. “Want me to—”

“No!” she blurted, her cheeks turning red. “Don’t you dare play matchmaker, Mom. Promise me.”

The next day, John and I discussed the particulars of our first open house.

“I like to provide some sort of refreshment for the potential buyers, usually donuts and coffee,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I’m getting tired of the donuts.”

“You know,” I found myself saying, even though I knew Emily might kill me, “my daughter is a caterer and her mini scones and muffins are out of this world and a step above donuts if I do say so myself. She’s just starting out on her own after five years working for someone else, and if she could display some of her brochures, it would be great advertising for her.”

“I think my mouth is watering already,” John said, grinning.

When I called Emily to arrange it, she accused me of going back on my promise, but I insisted I hadn’t. “I swear it was all business. For all he knows, you’re married with six kids and a parakeet,” I said. “Just think of it as networking.”

The day of the open house, John seemed happy with how everything looked and the table I’d set up in the entry. He placed the flyers outlining the features of the house there, along with a stack of his business cards and a sign-in sheet. Em walked in not five minutes later with a big pink pastry box filled with goodies. She looked wonderful in a tasteful business suit. I could tell she’d taken extra care with her appearance.

He greeted her with a wide smile. “Emily, I don’t know if you remember me, but we took English Lit together. John Davis.” They shook hands. “I realized who you were from the family portrait in the living room.”

“Of course I remember you,” she replied smoothly, as if she hadn’t memorized the back of his head eight years ago.

I forced myself to mumble something about making coffee and left the room. It was torture, I tell you, pure torture not to listen in.

They didn’t even notice me when I brought the first pot of coffee to fill the huge dispenser John had brought. I caught snippets of their conversation and it sounded like they were catching up. By the time I poured the second pot in, he was listening to her talk about her catering business, which I took as a good sign. A good husband knows how to listen. Before I could bring out the third pot, Em scurried into the kitchen.

“Mom! You’ll never guess what happened.” Excitement sparkled in her eyes. “John loves my scones so much that he wants me to provide them for all his open houses from now on.”

“Em, that’s wonderful!”

We did end up getting a couple of offers on the house that day, which made my husband happy. He hoped to make a nice profit, but I had my heart set on a new son-in-law. And you know what? A year later, that’s exactly what I got.

...You Lose Some

Just got a rejection in the mail from a story I'd submitted in November, 2011. :(

Looking at my tracking sheet, I only have one story out there with them now. I'd better submit another one!

Does anyone want to read the reject? I'll post it here if there's interest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Mighty Influence

I was wondering if my analyses here have any effect on the voting. I noticed I ran hot and cold on the story two weeks ago and this week I really liked the story and the voting seemed to echo that. So I thought I might post the poll for the stories ahead of my posting about it. I'm not sure if it'll prove anything at all, but I thought I'd explain why there will be two polls going on, one for a story that I haven't talked about yet.

How We Met

by Anna Jo Christopher from the February 20, 2012 issue

Tagline: Wes had given up on trying to meet the pretty brunette who'd moved into his building--until a chance encounter changed everything...

In a Nutshell: Wes's co-worker wants to set him up with a new hire at a company party. The new hire ends up being newly engaged. But all is not lost, one of the servers at the party happens to be the woman who just moved into his apartment building and he finds out they have a lot in common.

Observations: This story was twisty turny and I really enjoyed it. I, myself, have been trying to figure out a way to write a story that starts out as one type (like a matchmaker story) and ends up being something else. It adds an element of surprise that is very refreshing and Christopher did it right here.

First, she leads us to believe that Wes is going to end up with his new neighbor. (Why else would she be mentioned, right?) Then she also mentions the new hire at Wes's work. Boom, we immediately think, they'll be one and the same person. But lo, she's not! We get an early black moment when we find out that the new hire just got engaged.

Wes is splashed with wine. If you're like me, you think--oh! it's the neighbor. But it wasn't! Split second later you find out the neighbor is one of the servers at the party. Ah, at last. Now we can settle in and watch the romance happen.

Christopher then shows them making that connection. Wes and Kelly discover they share two passions--Stephen King novels and hiking. Terrific. The hiking was foreshadowed in the beginning of the story when Wes mentions he's "an outdoors blue jeans type of guy." Very tight.

Wes also makes a character arc in that he starts out by telling us he's shy and gets tongue-tied around women and ends up realizing--and we see this realization happen--he can talk to Kelly. He even musters up the courage to ask her out.

There's humor too, in the way Kelly teases Wes at the end about needing directions to her place since he got lost getting to the company party. Cute.

My only gripe would be the bland title. Otherwise, it's so easy to see why they published this one. In the class I'm teaching starting next Monday, I talk about several of the story elements that Christopher has packed in here. It's like this story was written to prove what I'll be talking about in class!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Guess what I got in the mail today... An acceptance!!! I was flabbergasted because I submitted this story on January 4th. I rarely get rejections that fast, let alone contracts. Not that I'm complaining. Far from it!

I'm sure I frightened my dog with all the whooping and jumping and dancing I just did.

Anyway, this is the first of many for this year. I'm determined to sell to them at least three times in 2012. I am a Story Machine! Watch out!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We Love Chocolate

by Linda Hersey from the February 13, 2012 issue

Tagline: The story of how Mandy and Luke fell in love was a really sweet one.

In a Nutshell: Mandy is an event planner and a chocoholic. At a chocolate fest, she runs into a guy whose office party she just planned. They spend the day together and exchange phone numbers in a cute way at the end.

Observations: My feelings ran hot and cold with this story. There were times when I was frowning and shaking my head and times when I grinned and nodded in appreciation.

Let me first insert my usual disclaimer. This is only my opinion, which in the long run doesn't count for anything when you consider the fact that Woman's World published this story.

Here, Hersey tells me info twice. The ending sentence of the paragraph tried to be cute, but fell short for me because I was like, "I already know you're an event planner." Here are the paragraphs I'm talking about.

    I'm also an event organizer. Sadly, I didn't organize this event, although I sure wish I'd been asked to.
    On opening day, my first stop was the truffles booth. Double-dipped heaven, but the icing on the cake, so to speak, was Luke Munroe, the architect, standing at the nearby eclair display. I'd seen him the other day at the launch of Beddow, Schlare and Thompson's new offices. I'd organized the event. Mandy Anderson: event organizer by profession; chocoholic by inclination.

See what I mean? The first paragraph is, in my opinion, redundant because the subsequent paragraph explains her profession perfectly. If you have a copy of the story, check it out and see if you agree with me. When you're editing your own stories, be wary of repeating info. In a novel, sometimes it's necessary, because if you mention something important in the beginning of the book, by the middle, the reader may have forgotten it, so you give them subtle reminder. But these stories are only 800 words long, so there's no need.

However, this paragraph made me smile.

He looked up and caught me ogling him--or maybe it was the chocolate eclair in his hand that I was ogling.

Cute! But further along, we get:

"Hey--hi!" I managed, giving him a big smile and hoping I didn't have chocolate on my front teeth.

I liked this bit of cute self-doubt, but wondered about chocolate staying solid enough to remain on her teeth, but if she'd just swallowed and then smiled, it was possible. But then later...

Luke laughed, and I noticed a fleck of chocolate on his left incisor. I relaxed. Clearly, I was in the company of a chocolate lover.

Alas, because I my repetition radar was already on, I noticed this chocolate-on-the-teeth idea repeating when I might not have otherwise. Also, I found it very unlikely that after all the talking he does before she notices the fleck, that the fleck would have been there at all. If that bit of chocolate was merely to indicate to Mandy that he was a chocolate lover, she already had evidence. One, he's at the festival. Two, he is holding an eclair, and if he's already taken a bite...there ya go. If it had been my story, I'd have put the chocolate on his upper lip.

After that, I enjoyed everything. I really liked the paragraph summarizing their day.

Brunch was a blast. We talked, we laughed, we ate chocolate. In the course of our conversation, it became clear that Luke was unattached. So naturally, I let slip that I wasn't seeing anyone either.

Cute! I like that Mandy. She's a clever, proactive girl.

Hersey had a terrific black moment...

I was disappointed at the way the day ended, but at least I had my cookie.

And then Hersey ends it with a double surprise ending which I thought was masterful. Luke gives her a cookie before they part...

When I got home, I opened the box, then almost dropped it. There, drizzled on top, in rich Belgian chocolate, was Luke's name and phone number. My heart skipped a beat and a smile spread across my face. Now I didn't feel like I'd made a mistake giving him that fortune cookie with my cellphone number in it!

So, I had some style issues with this story, however I did enjoy it and think that Hersey really did a bang-up job on the second half.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not Last Place

Well, in that Writing Blogs contest, I made it into the top 75. However, I was nowhere near making it into the top three. There were blogs that had votes in the 5 digits! (Last time I looked I had just under 200.) The one that won first place, it was easy to see why. She holds "secret" agent contests in which anonymous literary agents critique someone's work. Doh. Of course she has a zillion followers. It's a great idea and I congratulate her.

I wonder of Johnene would consent to doing a critique. Or maybe Patricia...

Anyway, I'm still glad I didn't come in dead last. I have the blog badge to prove it. :) It really WAS an honor to be nominated because there must be a LOT of blogs about writing out there and they contacted me. Very cool. :D

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cold Days, Warm Hearts

by Shannon Fay from the January 30, 2012 issue

Tagline: Angela met David--and suddenly winter lost its chill...

In a Nutshell: Angela is dismayed to find that the man she buys her newspaper from every morning has pneumonia. His son, David, works the newsstand in his place. In a kind gesture, she brings him some extra stew and over the next two weeks, they get to know each other better. When the dad finally gets better, Angela and David decide that their daily visits aren't quite enough and agree to go on a real date.

Observations: The thing I noticed about this story was its tight plot. A couple of places, I noticed, did double duty. For example, the section where David talks about the warmer weather in different parts of the country showed his humor and set it up for the last line in the story, Who needed Phoenix to keep warm?

There was also the paragraph where Angela reflected on her own history as a widow and how helpful her friends and neighbors had been. That showed us her backstory and  established a believable motivation for her to share the stew.

Also, note the transitional paragraph that summarized the two week "courtship," that gives the story a meatier feel to it. The passage of time, in my opinion, makes the story feel more substantial than 800 words.

Finally, there was a "black moment" when David tells Angela that his dad is coming back to work. She/we feel a bit of worry because David won't be there every morning like he had been, but of course, everything works out because David is now partners with his dad and will still be able to visit with Angela.

Well done story, nice and tight.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bringing the Class Up To Date

So it's 2012. Time to look over the original class and make sure everything still applies. I looked at the Bauer Publishing website and updated all my data from there about the audience and circulation. I also got the new editorial schedule, which outlines which issues are devoted to which holidays.

For those of you who are interested in that, go to the Bauer Publishing website, find the info about Woman's World, and look at the Media Kit. It's in there.

I also received some issues out of order, so my analyses will be out of order, too. Sorry about that! I don't know whether to blame the post office or the publishers. Either way, my apologies.