Friday, December 27, 2013

A White Christmas

by Patrice Howell from the December 23, 2013 issue

Tagline: What Ella expected to be the worst Christmas seemed about to turn into one of the best!

In a Nutshell: Divorced, Ella is sad because her daughter is spending Christmas with her dad. Her sadness is observed by a handsome co-worker who asks her out for a latte at the end of the busy day.

Observations: I have goosebumps on my arms. Maybe it's the magic of a Christmas story and the hope that shines at the end of the tale. Whatever it was, I loved this story.

Sometimes, you have to go back to the basics in which we have a protagonist with a problem and we see her solve it by the end and grow a little in the process. In this case, I think Ella's problem is that she's sad and lonely. While we see the man come to her rescue, sort of, I think it's balanced by her  not brooding after her daughter calls her midday. She also doesn't stand mutely in the elevator at the end of the day. She speaks first, a small but important detail.

Usually I caution writers to be frugal with description, merely because we are only given 800 words with which to work. However, did you notice that long paragraph describing the night at the end of the story? Wow. It was absolutely necessary and added so much. It almost felt as if I was inside a snow globe. It allowed the reader to pause and reflect and let the attraction build between the hero and heroine until they pushed open the doors and started down the path to romance.

Photo by insidious_plots (cc)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lucy's Lucky Day

by K.C. Laine from the December 16, 2013 issue

Tagline: Lucy could only laugh at her brother's game-day superstitions--until the day he came over with his charming friend…

In a Nutshell: The power is out in the neighborhood Lucy and her brother live in. She invites him over to watch "the big game," and he brings over his handsome friend. Lucy had been hoping to see him again after her brother introduced them a week ago, and the friend was the one who asked to tag along. A win-win situation.

Observations: This story has it all, plus a photo of romantic guacamole, something I didn't knew existed.

Cute set-up that is not the norm? Check.

Cute child who allows the hero, Steven, to admire Lucy's parenting skills and thereby convincing the reader he's a family man? Check.

Buffalo chicken wing proof that Steven is more than a handsome face? Check.

Male humor in which Steven teases Nate about his laundry habits? Check.

Self-deprecating humor between Steven and Lucy regarding his manliness? Check.

Both protagonists declaring they like each other, thus demonstrating their assertiveness and her readiness to get back out into the dating arena after her divorce? Check.

Witty, cute, make-you-smile ending? Check!

Nice job, Laine.

Photo by jeffreyw (cc)

Monday, December 9, 2013

True Colors

by Shelley Cooper from the December 9, 2013 issue

Tagline: Who knew that a head of Kool-Aid-green hair would lead one desperate man and one amused hairstylist to love?

In a Nutshell: Simon let his nieces dye his hair with Kool-Aid and it won't wash out in time for him to be best man at his brother's wedding. Kate dyes his hair so it looks normal.

Observations: This was a cute story with a pretty original plot. I enjoyed seeing the hero and heroine spend so much time together. It was easy to like both of them. They were both easy-going and funny. Simon is shown to be a family man--devoted to his nieces.

I also enjoyed all of Kate's internal dialogue. She was so cute, wry and humorous. I liked her a lot. And not just because of her name. LOL

The two sentence epilogue is a rarity. We seldom see a couple get married, but in this story, we did. Why? My guess is that a wedding was a big part of the story. Also, Cooper was able to cleverly sneak in a repeat of the green theme, bringing the story full circle and showing the couple has a sentimental streak.

It seemed an odd choice for a December issue, though.

Photo by wiredforlego (cc)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wooed and Won

by Mary Ann Joyce from the December 2, 2013 issue

Tagline: Sunny, smiling Meg had won Trey's heart without even trying. But how could he tell her what his feelings were?

In a Nutshell: Trey is shy with women after his divorce. He's admired the waitress at his favorite cafe from afar for too long. When he overhears her wish for a man who brings flowers and recites poetry, he makes that wish come true and she loves it.

Observations: Mary Ann Joyce can always be relied upon for a great story. There were several places that I smiled while reading.

1. "I just walked over. Didn't take a car or anything." He grinned. -- This made me smile. It showed he had a sense of humor. Also, no one really likes an eavesdropper, so by alerting her to the fact that he heard her, he's off the hook and it paves the way for him to use that information to his advantage.

2. "…deserve much better," Trey whispered to himself. -- My. I don't know how I expected him to finish his sentence, but this was very romantic and sweet. I liked this man before this point in the story, but when I read this part, my heart melted.

3. He nodded and headed out. He hadn't made his move yet, but he was thinking. -- I don't really know why I liked this part so much. It was a smooth transition, clearly ending the scene. It let us know that Trey wasn't giving up and that he thought enough of Meg to put some real thought into his approach. He wasn't just going to off the cuff say, "Hey, let's go out."

4. "Good," Trey laughed, "because I was about to sing next, and that might get ugly." -- Again, love the humor.

Photo by Muffet (cc)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Emily's Thanksgiving Wish

by Elizabeth Palmer from the November 25, 2013 issue

Tagline: Kelly expected to spend the holiday all alone, but little Emily had a different idea for her teacher--and her uncle…

In a Nutshell: Kelly is a teacher. When one of her students leaves a special Thanksgiving craft at school, she drops it off at her house and gets an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner with the student and her (single) legal guardian, Uncle Scott.

Observations: I don't recall seeing a story written in present tense in a while. This isn't my personal favorite, if only because I always have to get used to reading it. I'm so used to reading fiction in past tense.

The whole story was well plotted and written, I found it touching when I read that Scott became Emily's legal guardian four years earlier. I felt for both of them, and he seemed to be such a great adoptive dad too.

I did wonder why Scott's eyes were glistening after he saw Emily's paper plate art project. That suggested to me that he was on the verge of tears and I didn't understand why. I did love how he complimented his niece, but the project didn't seem particularly sentimental.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lost…And Found!

by Mary Haupt from the November 18, 2013 issue

Tagline: Christie's heart went out to the lost, frightened little boy. Then she met his uncle--and her heart went out to him, too!

In a Nutshell: Christie works at a department store. A little boy is separated from his uncle and she helps reunite them.

Observations: My apologies for the delay in posting. I'm trying to make the deadline on my second hockey romance and have been short of time.

While this story obviously made the grade for Johnene, it fell short for me.

I thought it was clever how Haupt introduced the fact that he was the uncle, not the dad, via the dialogue with the nephew. And I wanted to point out the tiny "black moment" when Nate almost leaves the store. I think black moments help and I try to include them in my stories when I can.

However, the entire premise of the story rubbed me the wrong way.

The backstory of how Christie was lost when she was little engendered not a lot of sympathy from me, but I used to teach elementary school, so I tend to think she shouldn't have been hiding from her mother. Although, I'm reading that part again and seeing it was a game they played together. So the mom was aiding and abetting! Again, I think, "Well, that's not a very smart game to play. Kids get snatched." And what mom wants to feel that panic when you realize your child is missing on purpose? I've been there and done that and it's scary.

Then, later? After a terrifying experience of being lost, Charlie goes off to hide again. First of all, he obviously didn't learn his lesson. Then the adults play along with him. Yep, the teacher (and mom) in me thinks, "Oh, that is a big mistake, making a game of it. You're just reinforcing his behavior and paving the way for another not-so-fun scenario next time the kid goes shopping." They should be seriously talking to the boy about not doing that so nothing happens to him, not going along with it.

So in summary, my teacher genes wouldn't let me enjoy the story as much as perhaps the rest of you. When you put your fiction out there, not everyone's going to like it. Sometimes, as in this case, that's not because you wrote a bad story, but because that person's experiences color their opinion.

Photo by Listener42 (cc)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Second Chance

by Monica Andermann from the November 11, 2013 issue

Tagline: What were the odds that a rainy night and a broken-down car would bring love back into Ellen's life?

In a Nutshell: Ellen has car trouble. The tow truck man is a guy she knew in high school. Turns out he wanted to ask her to the prom way back when.

Observations: I thought this story was above average. Sometimes I like it when the author constructs the story so it feels as though a lot of time has passed. In this case, the almost entire story happens as we read it. Except for "A few minutes later, they pulled into the service station," there are no jumps ahead. It was refreshing.

I wanted to point out a couple of things. One, notice how Andermann helps the reader identify with the heroine with the whole internal monologue about being called "ma'am" versus "miss." Who among us hasn't felt a similar emotion?

Also notice how smoothly she worked in a physical description and some backstory when she talks about Ellen's curly hair. In one fell swoop you get a mental picture of Ellen, you see they already know each other, that she got a divorce last year, and she's optimistic enough by now to get herself a new look. This is the type of multi-tasking you have to do when you only have 800 words to work with.

My Favorite Part:

"You know, Ellen, I had a big crush on you in high school."

Ellen felt her heart skip. "You did not," she laughed.

Photo by ToastyKen (cc)

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Invitation

by Donna Brennan from the November 4, 2013 issue

Tagline: Molly's favorite things were running and reading. So why bother with a party where there was zero chance she'd meet a man with the same interests?

In a Nutshell: Molly doesn't want to go to a party, but she does anyway. There, she meets a man and almost doesn't recognize him as the guy she often runs past at the park. They find out they have a lot in common.

Observations: After I finished this story, I really felt as if I'd been to a party. I could immediately identify with Molly because I, too, dislike going to parties where I know almost no one. I, too, am critical of food (but I'm not a restaurant critic!)

I thought it was cute how she nicknamed the people she saw at the park and then ran into "The Blue Streak" at the party.

It might have been funnier if she'd omitted the sentence in between the two lines of dialogue. Comedy is all about timing, and I think that long delay between the set-up and the punchline is too long here.

Original:  "I try not to run in heels." I smiled into the blue eyes that had inspired his nickname. "It's rough on the ankles."

Revised: "I try not to run in heels." I smiled up at him. "It's rough on the ankles."

Photo by Tobyotter (cc)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Halloween Magic

by Patrice Howell from the October 28, 2013 issue

Tagline: Tom wondered if the silver wand Jenny carried had magical powers...because she had certainly cast a spell on him!

In a Nutshell: Tom is a workaholic who just finished a huge project at work. He is going to celebrate with good take-out. He meets Jenny and her niece who are trick-or-treating in town. She asks him to join them. He does.

Observations: This story had a different feel to it and I'm trying to figure out why. Maybe it was because it was focused on the man. Maybe it was Tom's dissatisfaction with life. Maybe it was that he didn't meet the heroine until the story was half over.

I liked how Tom was flustered and couldn't form a coherent thought, but I thought it was odd for Jenny to ask him to accompany her. My practical side is coming out because I assume she's supposed to be bonding with her niece and I didn't think she should be talking with this chivalrous guy. Speaking of chivalry, even though he'd held the door for her, he was a complete stranger. It was just...weird.

And yet, Woman's World liked it enough to publish it, so it just goes to prove once again that this is a subjective business.

Photo by Robynlou8

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Other Path

by Tracie Rae Griffith from the October 14, 2013 issue

Tagline: Happily, Annie managed to convince her mother that the road to love isn't always the smooth one!

In a Nutshell: Annie goes on a bike ride with her mom, who lives in a retirement village. When faced with a fork in the path, Annie convinces her mom to take the bumpier one for a change. There, by the pond, they see Sam, who lives in the same retirement village. What a coincidence!

Observations: It seems like a while since we've seen a matchmaker story and this was a sweet one. I liked how cleverly Annie convinces her mom to go out of her comfort zone. There was no trickery, as can sometimes come into play with matchmaker stories. She uses the lure of a possible duck sighting instead.

There were some signals that Annie's mom and Sam might have a happy future, which is always reassuring to the reader. They may not register them consciously, but I think subconsciously if you insert some positive connections between the potential lovebirds, it makes the story more believable and satisfying.

For one, you can see that Sam already likes the mom because he's given her some tomatoes. Mom already likes him, too. ("He's such a nice man.") There's also this:

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?" Mom asks. Sam turns at the sound of her voice and his face lights up.


He's also there to feed the ducks and Mom is a bird lover. So there are three indicators that things will turn out well with them. They're on the right track and that's the aim of these romance stories--to help you feel happy and hopeful, if only for a little while.

Photo by Boegh (cc)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Handsome Helper

by Tina Radcliffe from the October 7, 2013 issue

Tagline: Annie ran into Patrick, and it turned out to be the first day of their life together

In A Nutshell:

Observations: I'm going to do a stream-of-consciousness critique today where I just type what I'm thinking as I read the story.

Hm. She literally runs into him. Seems a bit cliche, but I'm willing to see if the author makes me forget about that.

I like the phrase "hard wall of man." Of course, what red-blooded woman wouldn't? LOL

I like his name, Patrick Murphy. Hers...she has two first names. :/

He is helpful and very nice.

I wonder at Annie's business acumen. She's got her grand opening on Saturday and she's just now thinking about hiring some extra help? Hm. And obviously, Patrick won't be sending anyone over to help her out. He's going to go himself. And maybe ask for a maple bar in payment.

Oh, there, she out and out offers him one. LOL

And here's Annie chiding herself for not getting help ahead of time. Yeah. What were you thinking, chickie?

Aha! I was right. Patrick shows up as the helper, but I wonder why he was late. I'm suspecting it's so the author could build the tension.

I like him flipping the sign on the door.

All in all, it was a so-so story. I liked Radcliffe's "A Match Made In Winter" much better.

Photo by HeatherHeatherHeather (cc)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Missing issue

Alas, I am putting a call out to my followers, hoping someone can send me a copy of the story from the October 7 issue. I got a magazine in the mail and it's dated October 14. :(

Friday, September 27, 2013

Secret Rendezvous

by Elizabeth Brown from the September 30, 2013 issue

Tagline: Rosie was happy in her marriage, but she couldn't help wishing there was a little more romance in her life...

In a Nutshell: Rosie is having lunch with a friend when she sees a couple kiss. Her friend remarks that the two can't be married because married people don't do that in public. As Rosie tells her husband about it, she realizes how much she is grateful for. Hubby realizes it too and asks her out on a "date" the next day to prove it.

Observations: Okay, this is THE perfect already-married story. It's the best one I've read in the eight years I've subscribed to this magazine.

In most already-married stories, it's all about the character growth. You have a character--usually the wife--who is somewhat disgruntled or unhappy or in a rut in regard to the marriage. By the end of the story, she has a change of heart and sees all the wonderful things her marriage has to offer. Usually it's by looking at the history she has with her husband or at some facet of his personality or habits that she hasn't appreciated or looked at in a different way before.

In this story, we do get all that. But we also get the husband realizing as well. Usually, the husband is oblivious to his wife's emotional distress and he ends up surprised at the end of the story. Not so in "Secret Rendezvous."

I wanted to point out that Brown actively showed Rosie walking this path of self-realization. Here's the doubt:

I tried to think of the last time Harry and I did anything romantic. Two Friday nights ago we went on a "date," but all we talked about were the kids.

Huh. Been there done that!

But then Brown starts showing Rosie coming to her senses.

His brown hair was thinning on top, but still, I thought, he's so handsome. I used to love to run my fingers through that hair. Why had I ever stopped?

Because he didn't have hair anymore? Heh heh. Just kidding. This is where Rosie begins to realize what she has. The next paragraph continues that. She thinks about what they've built together and what they continue to work toward.

In a masterful stroke, she ties Rosie's observation of "the man gazing at a spot somewhere above [his wife's] head" at Costco to an observation at home with Harry doing the same thing, increasing the tension and weaving the story together a little tighter.

Lastly, where I would have expected the story to end with Rosie accepting Harry's invitation to lunch, Brown takes it one step further and shows Rosie choosing a special dress for the date. She brings us back to Rosie's observation of the kissing couple whom she thought looked like old time movie stars. Rosie's dress makes her feel like she might be "a star on her way to a rendezvous with a tall, handsome stranger." However, the author reminds us:

But in truth, it was me, dressing for lunch with a man I'd known intimately for 18 years--a man who, maybe, I was just getting to know all over again.

Happy sigh. That, my friends is a great ending. It would have been a fine ending if that last part, with her getting dressed, hadn't been there, but in my opinion, Brown knocked it out of the park with that final paragraph. I say in my online/email class that it's worth it to spend as much time on the ending of your story as necessary to make it SING. This is a prime example of why.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Same Time Next Year

by Karen Leet from the September 23, 2013 issue

Tagline: Years had passed since Kim and Josh's first meeting. But in the same old booth in the same old diner, it felt like yesterday.

In a Nutshell: Kim and Josh, best friends, have met every year on the same day to commemorate the day they met, among other things. They relive the event over dinner, then return to their normal lives. As husband and wife.

Observations: In theory, this is a cute idea. It's different. We see so many first meet stories and it's a nice change of pace to read about a couple already established. However to be honest, I got tired of them relating information back to each other, information that they clearly both remembered. I would have dialed down the sentimentality a bit had I been the editor.

Sometimes in movies or TV shows, they have characters deliver expositional material through clumsy dialogue for the sole purpose of imparting this crucial information to the audience.

"As you know, Julie, our father was sent to prison for armed robbery and is up for parole next month."

That type of thing. Unfortunately, this is what this whole story felt like to me. I was fine with it until about a third of the way in. After that it felt forced. The fact that they were and are best friends is unnecessarily reiterated. To me, they were that annoying but well-meaning couple who think everyone else is as interested in their romantic history as they are.

I think it would have been much smoother if we had gone into either one of their heads and relived the events that way instead of them relaying the information in conversation. I would like to have seen them think about what their expectations were way back then and what had transpired since then, where they think they're going in the next few years. Perhaps they might even touch on the fact that although they made some mistakes along the way and the road was not always smooth, that they wouldn't change a thing. I think that might have made the story seem more realistic and down to earth.

However, as I have not said in quite a while, this is only my opinion. Clearly, the editors at Woman's World felt it was a solid story.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Love at the Library

by MaryAnn Joyce from the September 16, 2013 issue

Tagline: Rosie wasn't convinced that this "Books and Blind Dates" thing was a good idea--but she'd been wrong before...

In a Nutshell: Rosie's library is having a singles event--Books and Blind Dates. Dawn signed up, but is nervous when the big night arrives. So is her date.

Observations: I adored this story. It was charming and different, even though it very much reminded me of my Mr. Darcy Valentine's Day Blind Date story that got rejected. Joyce's idea is very clever. Who among us doesn't love libraries and books? I liked the mystery of Rosie not knowing what the book was either. It was almost as if she had two blind dates rolled into one.

We haven't had a first person-present tense story in a while, but there's proof that Woman's Worlds accept it.

You'll notice that there was a huge chunk of backstory. Almost a third of the story described the event, the two friends signing up for it and Rosie's romantic past. That's very unusual, but necessary in this case. The event isn't something familiar like the county fair or a parade.

The amount of time spent with the hero and heroine is therefore smaller, but didn't really affect the charm of the story. The author ended the story about five minutes into the date, but she did such a great job of setting the pair up that we feel optimistic that the date will go well.

--She thinks he's cute.
--She teases him and he responds with self-effacing humor, which I like.
--They both admit to being very nervous about the event.

I also liked that she grew as a character by approaching him and introducing herself and that he stood up when she came over, showing he was brought up with gentlemanly manners.

All in all, a fantastic story.

Photo by Gerry Dincher (cc)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Man in 2B

by Elizabeth Palmer from the September 9, 2013 issue

Tagline: Tanya had gotten a new job in a new town. Now, what she needed was a new friend...

In a Nutshell: Tanya likes her neighbor, but assumes he's married because he always seems to be in the company of this woman, but when a piece of his mail gets mixed with hers, she finds out the woman is his sister, who as been visiting. Jamie is a photographer and Tanya's new job is at the art museum. It's a match made in heaven--with a little help from the sister.

Observations: Palmer has had many stories published by Woman's World and this demonstrates why. There are a lot of small things that help elevate the story.

This story combines two story tropes nicely--the misidentified person (usually a woman the heroine assumes is a love interest but who in reality is a sister, cousin, co-worker, etc.) and the matchmaker. That's a simple way to branch out from the tried and true story plots that appear in the magazine.

I liked the hero's sense of humor and how this joke shows he and his sister have a great relationship:

"I've been meaning to welcome you to the building, but Lori's been running me ragged. I'm glad she's finally leaving."

"Ha," Lori said. "He'll miss me when I'm gone."

The conversation introduced the thing they have in common very naturally and the fact that there is a thing in common helps the reader believe they have a chance at happiness.

The author also talked about Tanya needing a manicure and pedicure early in the story and then touched on it again near the end, a nice way of making the story feel more cohesive.

Lastly, I wanted you to take note of the deft transition to show the passage of time.

"Tanya sit. Let's talk while I finish packing."

"How do you take your coffee?" Jamie asked her.

Soon she was sipping coffee and answering Jamie and Lori's barrrage of questions. 

Because the word count is so small, you have to move your plot along briskly. This sentence gets the reader past the making and serving of the coffee and whatever small talk occurred during that. Oh, also, we skip Jamie even asking her if she'd like some coffee in the first place. No one wants to read small talk. We want to get to the interesting part!

Photo by SparkCBC (cc)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Saturday Morning

by Tina Radcliffe from the September 2, 2013 issue

Tagline: Katy's handsome new neighbor needed help, so Katy, being the neighborly type, stepped in the lend a hand...

In a Nutshell: It's Saturday. Katy's neighbor is reluctantly, and only somewhat successfully, babysitting his infant niece. She converses with him about it. A week goes by. She sees him around but they don't talk. Saturday rolls around again and he's volunteered to babysit again. He also finds the courage to ask Katy out.

Observations: Woman's World often publishes romance stories that have a man or a woman coming to the rescue. This story looked to me to be one of those stories. You have the inept man trying to take care of a baby, and I assumed the woman would swoop in like a pro. But Radcliffe surprised me and made me laugh.

"I've fed her, changed her, sung to her. Nothing works." His dark eyes looked desperate. "I don't suppose you have any experience with babies?"

"I used to be one," I said with a shrug.


Nothing much happens after that. Rick works up the courage to ask her out. She says yes. End of story.  I'm not a big fan of the shy guy in romance. I don't mind him not being all assertive, but dude, grow a pair. Yes, I have a double standard. I don't mind if in a Woman's World story, the woman has to try hard to overcome shyness, maybe because I am that woman. But the guys...? I hold them to a different standard.

Photo by Paparutzi (cc)

Friday, August 23, 2013

One Good Turn

by Connie Ferdon from the August 29, 2013 issue

Tagline: Later, Sandra and Adam would tell their friends that their meeting was an accident...and it really was!

In a Nutshell: Sandra is in a hurry to get a birthday card in the mail for her sister, unfortunately, she gets into a fender bender while backing out of her parking spot. The man whose car she hit, Adam, offers to pay for the damage because it's his fault. When she gets back into her car, she finds out the battery is dead. He helps her with jumper cables, and afterward, even though the post office has closed, she's not upset at all because she has a date.

Observations: I thought this story did a good job of showing Sandra's interest in the hero.

The man glanced up with guilty eyes--but what eyes! Beautiful intense and blue.

Momentarily startled by his gaze, Sandra couldn't find her voice.

Regaining her faculties, she smiled--and her irritation dissipated.

Sandra nodded, torn between needing to get to the post office and not wanting to end her conversation with this gorgeous guy.

"No problem," she said with a smile, enjoying the warmth of his handshake. Reluctantly she withdrew her and and said, "I have to run. I'll call you later, okay?"

Thoughts of the very cute Adam Browning flashed through her head as she buckled up.

Those are all the instances where we see Sandra's interest in Adam, more than I remembered reading. It's clear the man affected her!

However, I wondered why he was still hanging around and whether he was driving away and saw her pop her hood... If that's what happened, why did he park "in the lot over there"? Why didn't he just drive back over to the lot she was in. It seemed strange.

Photo by Charles Williams (cc)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Leah Makes a Plan

by Janet Hayward Burnham from the August 12, 2013 issue

Tagline: When one determined little girl decides it was time for her aunt to get married...well, things happen!

In a Nutshell: Four-year-old Leah wants cousins. When she finds out the only way she can get some is if her Aunt Shannon gets married, she embarks on a single-minded quest to find her aunt a husband. Turns out she's quite skilled at picking up single men.

Observations: This was a fabulously cute story. The niece was so perfectly written that I could hear her matter-of-fact voice in my head. A pet peeve of mine is when people have kids talking and behaving unlike real kids. It's a tough thing to do well, but I think Burnham succeeded. Here's an example:

He asked [Leah] if she got paid to be a matchmaker. Leah, of course, asked him what a matchmaker was, and Spencer patiently explained.

"I only want to get some cousins," she said. "I don't think I'm a matchmaker."

 Leah, like most four-year-olds, is very focused on herself. She's not trying to make her Aunt Shannon happy. She just wants to get herself some cousins.

The only complaint I had about this story was, again, like last week, the ending seemed to go on a tad too long. I see the attempt to bring it full circle and loop us back to the beginning of the story, but in my opinion, it focuses on the niece, not the romance and therefore falls a little flat.

Photo by DonkeyHotey (cc)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sunshine Tomorrow

by Rosemary Hayes from the August 19, 2013 issue

Tagline: When Mary entered the park, she'd felt preoccupied and troubled. Then she met Alex...and, just like that, she saw nothing but clear skies ahead!

In A Nutshell: Mary is caught unprepared for rain, so she buys an umbrella. She goes to the park to think about whether to go back to her ex or not. She meets a man by the duck pond who convinces her she shouldn't.

Observations: There was a lot I liked about this story. There were some things I didn't. I loved how Hayes tweaked my curiosity and kept me reading at the end of the very first paragraph.

Walking helped clear her thoughts, and she needed to think clearly today. She had an important decision to make.

I immediately wonder what decision does she have to make?

Here, also:

Her old boyfriend had broken her heart when he left--and now, suddenly, he wanted to come back. Should she give him another chance?

Even though I'm one hundred percent certain she decides against it, I am pulled forward to find out if I'm right.

For some reason, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that he just moved into her apartment building.

I loved the hero's sense of humor.

However, I felt there was some clunky dialogue. Your mileage may differ.

"It's good to look ahead."

"I, for example, just had to buy an umbrella because I wasn't prepared and never considered what today might bring." 

Also, I would have eliminated the last paragraph, even though it looped back to her comment about looking ahead, and just ended it with him saying, "Sunshine."

But other than that, solid story.

Photo by Hunter-Desportes (cc)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Overseas Markets

Many people want to know what they can do with their rejected stories and where else they can submit short fiction. I asked one of my regular visitors, Chris, to compile a list of markets. Chris sells a lot of fiction to these publications and I'm so grateful that she was willing to help us out.

compiled by Chris
Guidelines for Fast Fiction and That’s Life (Australia). Humorous, positive contemporary stories of 700 (That’s Life) and 900 - 2800 words (Fast Fiction) with a strong plot. If the story has a twist it should arise from the story, rather than from a detail kept from the reader. To check your twist, imagine your story were being made into a film - would the surprise still work? For Fast Fiction please write to the following lengths;
1 page - 900 words
1.5 pp - 1,200 words
2pp - 1,400 words
3pp - 2,100 words
4pp - 2,800 words

Subject Matter: Read several issues of the magazines to get the flavour of the type of fiction we publish. Many writers waste a lot of time and effort because they haven't done this. Please avoid straightforward romance ie. boy meets girl and they live happily ever after. Also avoid stories narrated by animals or babies. Please remember that that's life! is a family magazine so graphic murders, sex crimes and domestic violence are not acceptable.
We normally write in chronological order, so please keep events in sequence and avoid "jumping" around time slots, as this can be confusing. Also, please bear in mind that if your story is themed then it needs to be sent to us about 3 months in advance of the magazine in which it needs to appear. For example a Christmas story would need to reach us no later than September.
Common twists to avoid:
  • The heroine/narrator is revealed to be a cat, dog, car, possum, tree or ghost!
  • A partner's mysterious arrangements turn out to be for a surprise party
  • The perpetrator's murder plan backfires and s/he eats the poison
  • A woman meets up with a handsome "stranger" for a steamy rendezvous and it turns out to be her husband
  • Someone nervous about a first day at school turns out to be the teacher; or about a wedding, the vicar; or an interview, the interviewer.
  • A woman spots her boyfriend/man of her dreams with a beautiful blonde lady - who turns out to be his sister.
  • Anything involving twins
A murder/death actually turns out to be part of a play rehearsal Common plots to avoid:
  • Woman gets her revenge on bullying husband, mother-in-law or boss
  • Widowed woman finds new love in her autumn years
  • The heroine is a writer
  • Anything involving winning money/the lotto
  • Con artist tries to fleece little old lady - but the old lady ends up conning him.
It's not that we would never use a story with these plot lines, but bear in mind we do get a lot of them. So your story would need a fresh angle to stand out.
Characters: It can be confusing if you have too many characters. A maximum of four is usually best.
Originality: Stories must be your own idea and original work, previously unpublished, and not on offer to any other magazine or publisher at the time sent to us. Should your story be accepted we may have to edit it to conform to page length, style, and the photos available to illustrate it.
Presentation: Manuscripts should be presented in a typed Word document format. Please ensure your name, address and telephone number are included in the manuscript. An accompanying letter is not necessary. PLEASE ensure you send it with a word count and let us know if it is 1st or 2nd rights. Also, we prefer not to receive bulk submissions, so please don't send any more than 4 stories at a time.
Address: Manuscripts should be emailed to
Replies: If you've heard nothing after six months your story is unlikely to be used. However, you may resubmit it if you wish. A story that may not have been suitable, in length or subject, at one point could be just what we need months later. Please be aware that due to the large volume of stories we receive we cannot offer individual guidance or assessment.
Rejection: If your story is rejected it can be for any number of reasons. Sometimes we have already published, or have in stock a similar story, or we may feel it will not appeal to our readers. This does not mean we will not like another of your stories, so don't lose heart.
Best is a weekly British magazine that uses one story of around 900 words per issue in one of several different categories such as Three Minute Thriller, Three Minute Mystery and Passion on a Page. Submit by email at Bear in mind you'll only hear back if they want to buy, so if you haven't heard in three to four months it's probably a no.

UK mag My Weekly only considers submissions from writers who’ve had work published by them before, but you can submit for the Specials and Annuals. Fiction editor for these is Maggie Seed – email her on to check what she is looking for at the time.

From the same stable as My Weekly (DC Thomson) comes Weekly News. It looks more like a newspaper than a magazine but they still use fiction stories of 1,000 - 1,500 words. It's read by men as well as women, so male perspective is fine, but fiction ed Jill Finlay isn't keen on first person or present tense stories, so avoid those. Email her on

Ficta Fabula is a Canadian magazine, formerly called Pages of Stories. For their comprehensive guidelines contact editor Darlene Poier on
You may also like to consider what's called the 'grey market', an unflattering description for mags aimed at the older reader. In the UK we have People's Friend (also from DC Thomson). Guidelines on Unfortunately only postal submissions are considered.

Another mag aimed at older readers is Yours.
YOURS Short story (fiction) guidelines
YOURS is always looking for good short stories. Every submission is read but we receive more than a hundred manuscripts a month and are able to publish only one short story per issue.

Please allow up to six months for reply and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope if you would like your manuscript to be returned. Submissions should be 1000-1,200 words long and not have been published elsewhere before. Manuscripts must be TYPED on one side of the paper and the title page must include the following:

  • 100 - 150 word synopsis.
  • An accurate word count.
  • Your full name (and real name if you write under a pen name), address and telephone number

If we can’t use your submission and you would like it returned to you please enclose a SAE with enough postage to cover the cost of the submission/s.

Know your audience

It is essential that you study three or four published stories in YOURS before writing anything for us. Many manuscripts are rejected because, although they may be well written, the stories are aimed at a completely different market, such as younger women or a largely middle-class readership. Read several issues of YOURS. This will give you a good idea of the type of reader you should be writing for and the general tone we use. Our readers range in age from fifties upwards, with most in their mid-sixties and seventies. They are mostly women, although YOURS is read by some men, so don’t ignore their interests! They are Catherine Cookson readers rather than Jilly Cooper fans

Good subjects

Some of the most popular themes with YOURS readers are romance, families, grandchildren, nostalgia and wartime comradeship. A lot of our readers did war work and/or had husbands or boyfriends serving in the Forces. Don’t be limited to these subjects though; the style and tone of what you write about must appeal to our readers as much as the content. The first line of your story should grab the attention; it is all too easy to start a story with a bang, which quickly turns into a damp squib by the end of the first page. Keep up the reader's interest until the end or they will not bother to get that far - and a brilliant surprise ending will not make them read it in the first place.
What to avoid

Avoid stereotypical images of older people as ill, frail and lonely. Make sure your story is plausible and realistic and do not rely on unlikely coincidences. Try and avoid the hero turning out to be a cat or dog.

Avoid downbeat subjects such as death, widowhood, illness and loneliness, or write about them in a positive way that does not dwell on negatives.

Try not to rely on obvious plot devices such as twists in the tale and memory flashbacks. These are very common and, unless superbly written, can be predictable. A good story does not always need a surprise.

Remember this

Always think of YOURS readers, not just as older people, but as ordinary human beings who have experienced everything in life - childhood, growing up, starting work, falling in love, friends and family, joy, sorrow, heartache, longing and laughter. YOURS readers have their own interests and needs which match their years of experiences but many of their hopes, fears and dreams are shared by all of us and they still enjoy a good story.

Send your manuscript to*:
Short Stories
Yours Magazine
Bauer Media
Media House
Peterborough Business Park

Or by email to: (Subject: Short Story Submission) – email submissions must include contact telephone number and address details. All successful submissions are accepted on an All Rights basis that gives Bauer Media exclusive copyright.
Another British magazine that uses fiction is Woman’s Weekly. Their guidelines state;
Fiction is a vital ingredient of Woman’s Weekly, the place where readers can escape and switch off. This doesn’t mean predictable plots. Escapism means getting involved in a really gripping tale with believable characters. Above all, we are looking for originality and a wide variety of themes and moods, such as mystery, humour, relationships and family issues, with warmth still an important factor. Try to be subtle in your writing and remember the maxim: “Show don’t tell”. We recommend you read several issues of Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special to get a feel for our audience. Unfortunately, we can’t offer criticism but if your writing shows promise we will contact you.
For the weekly magazine: Short stories of 1,000 and 2,000 words. Serials in 3, 4 or 5 parts of 3,300 words each.

For Fiction Special (At least 20 stories 12 times a year):
Stories of 1,000 to 8,000 words
We read only typescripts. Handwritten work can’t be considered. Double line spacing on one side of the paper only and wide margins. Number each page and make sure your name is at the top of each page. If sending stories from abroad, please enclose an international reply coupon (NB by Chris  - these are no longer available, so UK stamps would be required).
If you would like us to acknowledge receipt of your manuscript, enclose a stamped, addressed postcard. Please note that it can take up to sixteen weeks for manuscripts to be considered, and that we are unable to enter into any correspondence by e-mail.
Please send stories/serials to:
Fiction Department, Woman’s Weekly,
IPC Media,
Blue Fin Building,
110 Southwark Street,
London, SE1 0SU

Fiction Feast is another UK mag that uses fiction.
Stories of 750-3000 words. Postal submissions only Response time usually around 12 weeks. If you haven't heard back in that time, email fiction editor Norah McGrath stating the name of the story, the date it was submitted and a 2-line plot outline and she'll get back to you.
Pay is currently £200 for 1 page rising to £400 for 3,000 worders (NB from Chris - please bear in mind that pay rates for all mags are subject to change)
Send seasonal stories six months in advance
Submission address:
Norah McGrath,
Fiction Editor,
Fiction Feast,
24-28 Oval Road,

Lastly, in S. Africa there is You magazine ( Stories of 1,500 words may be emailed to Cecilia van Zyl:
As mentioned elsewhere, IRCs (International Reply Coupons) are no longer available, so for overseas submissions where return postage is required (SAEs) UK stamps would have to be obtained.

Addition 3/6/14 - Shades of Romance, an online magazine for readers and writers, pays $25 for romantic short stories, 500 to 1,500 words, in any romantic sub-genre. Shades of Romance also accepts articles on the craft and business of writing. The deadline for submissions for the next issue of the quarterly publication is June 1, 2014. For guidelines and a list of upcoming issue themes, go here. 

Woman's World Mini Mystery Guidelines

We purchase short "solve-it-yourself" mysteries of 700 words--a count that includes the narrative and the solution. Stories should be cleverly plotted, entertaining cliffhangers that end with a challenge to the reader to figure out whodunnit or howdunnit. The solution to the mystery is provided in a separate box.

Robbery, burglary, fraud and murder are acceptable subjects, but spare the readers any gory details or excessive violence, please! We are also not interested in ghost stories, science fiction or fantasy.
We pay $500 per mystery and retain First North American Serial Rights for six months after publication.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Fresh Beginning

by Jenn Walker from the August 5, 2013 issue

Tagline: If it hadn't been for her sleepy little niece, Aimee might not have met the handsome stranger!

In a Nutshell: The new guy in the apartment building insists Aimee use the dryer in the complex's laundromat first. She has a cranky niece in her arms and he's happy to read a book on his tablet computer. They connect while waiting for the clothes to dry.

Observations: I've been meaning to say this for a while but kept forgetting. I'm noticing more and more non-traditional names cropping up in the stories, so I may have to go back and delete the tip about using traditional names from my class lectures.

Besides the somewhat trendier names, there was also some nifty technology that showed up in this story, mentioned by brand name, even--an iPad. This surprised me, but in a good way. It makes sense that young people, such as Aimee and Carter, would be comfortable using gadgets like the iPad.

I absolutely loved Carter. If you're looking to create a likeable hero that readers and the heroine can fall in love with, this guy is a good example. He was just the right amount of everything. He was:
  • kind
  • confident
  • a reader!
  • good with kids
  • cute sense of humor
If Aimee is smart, she'll reel this one in right away.

My two favorite parts were when he took the initiative to ask her to stay after her laundry was done and when he faked surprise that his clothes were dry.

Photo by LOLren (cc)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tickets for Two

by Linda Nielsen from the July 29, 2013 issue

Tagline: Kelly and Steve had briefly met, but it took a matchmaking grandma to get their romance off the ground...

In a Nutshell: Kelly is reluctant to go on a blind date with the grandson of a woman who resides at the assisted living residence where she works. She has her eye on a man who goes to the movies every weekend by himself, just like she does. Turns out he is the grandson.

Observations: I loved this story. If you're a fan of Woman's World stories, then you knew immediately that the grandson and the mystery man were one and the same person. (Or is it one in the same?) But I still felt that worry when he said he was there with a date. The grandma was great after the movie, the perfect blend of pushy and loving.

There were also a couple of places where we see evidence that these two are compatible. During the movie, Kelly is thinking about Steve...

Most of the residents at the assisted living facility where she worked hardly had visitors, let alone visitors who took them out to the movies. That said a lot about Steve.

And later, when Kelly cracks jokes, Steve laughs. We all know how important it is that a couple share a sense of humor.

I really had zero complaints about this story.

Photo by Hitchster (cc)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Just One Word (original and edited versions)

by Kate Willoughby from the July 22, 2013 issue

Tagline: Libby loved the story of her grandparents' romance. And she loved it even more the second time around!

As usual, instead of analyzing my own story, I am posting it here with all the changes Johnene made to it. I do this for myself as much as I do it for you guys. It's always interesting to see exactly what she did. New material is in blue.

Libby and her grandparents, Eugene and Pam, were attending the Taste of Newhall food festival. The evening was pleasant, and the three of them took their time as they walked from booth to booth, sampling foods from, where for a fee, they had their pick of samples from dozens of local restaurants.
When they reached the booth for Home Sweet Bistro, a dark-haired man in a white chef’s jacket greeted them.
     “Good evening,” he said. “I’m Aaron Porter, chef and owner of Home Sweet Bistro.”
     Libby smiled at took in his friendly demeanor smile and warm brown eyes. “I’m Libby Wells and these are my. My grandparents, Eugene and Pam Hardy. We’re shopping around tonight and I are looking for a place to hold their fiftieth anniversary party.”
     Aaron whistled. “Fifty years. Congratulations.”
     “Thank you,” Grandpa Eugene said, then, That looks like Is that meatloaf and mashed potatoes,?Grandpa Eugene said. He’d been relatively silent so far, letting Libby and Grandma Pam discuss the food.
     “It is,.” Aaron said, handing handed them each a samples. “My Our specialty is comfort food with a twist.”
     “I love Can’t beat comfort food.,” Eugene said. “This meatloaf is almost as good as yours, Pam.” He winked at Aaron. I vote for this place,” Eugene said, still chewing. 
     “Be honest, sweetheart,” Pam said, “this is better than any meatloaf I ever made.”
     Libby silently agreed with her grandmother. She chewed slowly, tasting—what was it?
     , finding the meatloaf moist and delicious, flavored with s”Sundried tomatoes and roasted pine nuts.,Aaron said, as if reading her thoughts.
     “This is better than my meatloaf,” silver-haired Pam exclaimed with a delighted smile.
     “Delicious,” Libby said.
     After visiting the restaurant with her grandparents a The next day, Libby and her grandparents had dinner at Home Sweet Bistro; two few days later, Libby met again with Chef Aaron, this time to discuss the party menu.  
Aaron led her to his cubbyhole of an office, then asked, “Where are Eugene and Pam?” he asked. They sat in his cubbyhole of an office.
“Grandpa wasn’t feeling well and Grandma Pam didn’t want to leave him. She said whatever I decided on would be fine.”
“Nothing serious, I hope?” Aaron’s face showed concern. expression darkened with worry. “I hope it’s not serious.”
“No, just a cold,” Libby said. she answered. “A little tender loving care and he’ll “He’ll be back on his feet in no time.”
“I read somewhere that said married men live longer,” Aaron said, smiling.  Just goes to show you what the love of a good woman can do. “How “So, how did they meet?” Aaron asked.
     Libby smiled. “When he Grandpa was in college, Grandpa he waited tables at a diner, and Grandma used to go in and ask to sit at his station. I guess he was kind of shy and couldn’t work up the courage He wanted to ask her out but didn’t have the nerve. But one day, because she always ordered French fries, he knew French fries were her favorite, he included arranged for a little surprise on her plate.”
     “What kind of surprise?” was it?” Aaron asked, leaning forward.
     “An invitation to dinner.” Libby held back a smile. She laughed.
     “On a napkin?” Aaron asked.
     Libby laughed. “No! One word, written on the plate with a squeeze bottle of ketchup. “A really small invitation. All it  It said was ‘Dinner?’ Grandma said yes, and the rest is history.”
     “That’s it? One word?”
     She nodded. “Written in ketchup. That one word was enough. Grandma said yes and the rest is history.”
     Aaron grinned. and leaned forward.So we definitely serve We need to have French fries on the menu for at the party.”
You’re right!” Libby said. “And what if I’m making make a little program type thing.? I’m thinking a little A storybook that tells about my grandparents’ about their life together. Of course, it’ll start with the French fry story.”, including the tale of how they met, so the guests will understand about the fries.”
     “Now you’re talkin’,” Aaron said. “We can pair the fries with a nice sirloin?, or maybe a filet.” Aaron suggested.
     “Grandpa’s a loves meat and potatoes kind of guy,.Libby agreed.
     “Now all we have to do is decide on And what about dessert?.
     Libby looked at the suggestions he’d jotted down. “If it were me,” Libby said, “I’d have the chocolate cake, but my grandparents love Grandpa loves strawberries. So does Grandma.”
     “So, it looks like we’ll have the strawberry shortcake?.
     “They’ll love that. This is going to be the best fiftieth anniversary party ever.” “Perfect,” Libby said.
     After Libby handed over the a deposit check, and rose to leave, she sighed inwardly. She was sorry their meeting was over. Aaron was so easygoing. and he had this And there was that adorable dimple in his left cheek.
All rightOkay, Libby,” he said, standing fingering the check thoughtfully. “I guess we’re all set.”
Tucking a lock of brown hair behind her ear, she managed a smile. She nodded. “I guess we are.”
She had gone as far as When she reached the doorway when he said, “Libby?”
“Yes?” She turned with a questioning look and held her breath.
“Tell your grandpa Eugene I hope he feels better.”
“Oh, sure. Of course.”
She told herself a man like that Aaron probably wasn’t single anyway.
The night of the party two weeks later was a success. , everything went splendidly. The guests of honor and all the friends and family loved Libby’s grandparents were thrilled with the storybook she’d made “in honor of their storybook romance,” and everyone raved about the food.  how the food tied in with Eugene and Pam’s fifty years together. Libby got a warm feeling in her heart every time she looked at her grandparents and how happy they were. When the strawberry shortcake was served, everyone it was time for dessert, all the guests agreed it the strawberry shortcake was the best they’d ever had.
All except Libby.
She didn’t get strawberry shortcake. The Because when the waiter brought her dessert, it wasn’t strawberry shortcake. Instead, it was a thick slice of luscious chocolate cake instead. And across the white plate in chocolate syrup she saw one word.: Dinner?
She looked up to see Aaron standing across the room, smiling at her. When their eyes met, he When she gasped, her grandma asked, “What is it, Libby?”
She held up her plate in answer just as she noticed Aaron entering the room. He lifted an eyebrow questioningly, that dimple of his winking, and she beamed at him and nodded. Libby smiled at Aaron and mouthed one word: Yes.
The rest was is history.

I have to admit, my finger got tired from going back and forth to the font color button. The ratio of original words vs. revised words is quite a bit larger than in previous stories of mine. Some of the changes I could see the reasoning behind. Most of them had me puzzled. 

I wish she would have left the part about Libby getting a warm feeling when she looked at her grandparents. I also liked her sharing Aaron's message with her grandmother and I was sad to see both parts edited out. 

But hey, a sale is a sale!

Photo by Biyu