Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer on Mulberry Lane

by Melanie Dusseau from the July 15, 2013 issue

Tagline: After rushing to Lily's side when she fell from her ladder, shy Ben realized he'd fallen hard, too--for his pretty new neighbor...

In a Nutshell: Lily falls off the ladder while trying to clean her rain gutters. Hearing her scream, Ben rushes to help her, then agrees to help her realign the down spout and show her how to mow her lawn like a pro. She offers dinner as "payment."

Observations: Two things jumped out at me about this story, things that set it apart from the norm.

1. There was a surprising amount of description in the beginning of the story. Usually writers don't have enough room in the word count to include much description of characters or the setting. The fact that is here is a refreshing change.

2. There seemed to be an abrupt change of point of view right where the little quote from the story appeared as a graphic. I wondered if Johnene put it there to help the reader make the transition. If so, it didn't really help me. I still found it jarring to be reading about Lily and then go right to Ben hearing her scream. If it had been my story, I'd have remained in Ben's POV the whole time and if I felt I needed to describe what Lily looked like, I could do it from his eyes.

I recently took Angela James' workshop, "Before You Hit Send," on self-editing, and it was fantastic. In it, she said that overuse of exclamation points is a mark of an amateur. I'd like to add that I find it annoying as well. It makes heroines seem empty-headed and way too perky. Anyway, I think Lily had five.

I found Ben to be a little too beta for me. There's shy and then there's nerd. I know nerds are hot right now, but you will pretty much never see a hero of mine "blush." His cheeks might redden or turn red. He might flush, but he won't blush. Blushing, to me, is girly.

I did like the part about the pink tools. I've seen those in the store and always sort of wanted some.

Photo by Lee Jordan (cc)


Jody E. Lebel said...

I was charmed by this story. But I'm not going to buy pink tools.

I agree about the !!!!. I never include one in my stories and WW always puts them in. Even in the tag lines. It looks very high school to me. Remember those notes you passed in study hall?

Did you study for the math test?!!!!! Me either!!!!! I'm gonna fail for sure!!!!

When I see them in a story I just want to hurt someone. Pull any book off your shelf from a seasoned writer. You will be hard pressed to find an exclamation point.

RE: change of POV. I see that a lot in WW stories. Johnene doesn't seem to mind. I do see POV switches in seasoned writer's work. Nora Roberts does it all the time, 2 and 3 times on one page. Maybe we're getting away from single POV thinking. Us old schoolers are going to have to come around on that one.

Mary Jo said...

Sorry, Jody, but changing point of view as if playing a tennis match (see the viewers' heads turning back and forth) is sloppy writing no matter who is doing it. I will not do it knowingly.

This little story lives up to the WW protocol. Sweet people in an ordinary situation.

Mary Hicks said...

I thought it was a 'cute' story, but falling off a ladder is no laughing matter. I knew a woman who fell off a four foot ladder and died from the fall.

I just finished a story for WW that'll go in the mail today.:-)


Melanie D said...

The only thing more amateurish than an abundance of exclamation points is dialogue tags with adverbs----I said angrily! WW sure does like them, though. I actually had two in the original story, mostly because I wanted Lily to come off as a bit flighty/breathless. I also did NOT have Ben blush. I was aiming for strapping but awkward. Johnene cut that Ben was “out of his element” and that pretty girls made him feel “like Paul Bunyan at a tea party.” She switched up my dialogue a bit (and cut some of my imagery) but I think she maintained the basic plot and helped with flow in some areas. She changed my ending, but did leave in my favorite parts about the pink tools, mutant centipede and the lawnmower. It’s still very weird to read an edited piece. I don’t think these stories are literary masterpieces, but it’s strange to have someone tinkering with your syntax. She also cut where Lily admired Ben’s “easy grace” on the ladder, which was as close as I thought I could get away with her checking out his ass; oh well. :)

The POV comments are helpful. The more I study these stories, I’m realizing that a close 3rd person is probably the best way to go, but I always aim for omniscience because the length restriction does not allow for too much character development and an omniscient POV gives the writer that all-knowing access to every character’s thoughts. If it’s ping-ponging the reader around, that’s good to know.

Thanks for the comments, and for your always helpful reviews, Kate. I have very thick skin when it comes to writing and welcome all criticism. Fiction is not my genre, and if so-called Flash Fiction is a sub-genre, then WW Flash Fiction is a red-headed step child sub-sub-genre. It is difficult to think of creative ways to stick to a formula.

Mary Hicks said...

Melanie, I like your thick skin—I have one too and that's what it takes to be a writer. I love it when people comment on my writing, good or bad. We grow from feedback.
It's fun to occasionally break away from our preferred genre. Another way to grow . :-)

Betsi said...

Melanie, I liked your story. Yes, Lily did seem a bit . . . excitable! ;-) I used a couple exclamation points in dialogue recently for the same reason. I don't think they have to be totally off-limits, and WW sure loves them.

As for POV, I always use 1st or 3rd person limited. But obviously Johnene is okay with omniscient, and I doubt that most WW readers even notice. It's just we writers who get worked up about it. I see that you've sold to WW more than once, so you're definitely doing something right. Keep up the good work.

BTW, I told my granddaughter Lily that I would use her name in my next story -- now I think I'll wait a bit.

Chris said...

I thought this was a lovely story, and I was perfectly okay with your blushing hero, Melanie (even if it was Johnene who put that colour in his cheeks). It's endearing. Who wants every man they meet to be self-confident and full of himself - there's enough of those already. Shy is sweet.

I use screamers - exclamation marks - sparingly but do think that they have their place, especially if a statement might come across as sneering or sarcastic without one. It's just showing the reader that there's a smile behind the comment. It's only when a story is littered with them that my hackles start to rise.

We've had the POV conversation before and for me, it's hard in such very short stories to cover more than one point of view without losing identity with the main character, usually the woman's. In this instance it worked well, but it's tricky to pull off successfully.

Pat said...

Melanie, I loved your story and your hero. I thought it was a sweet story.

Honestly, I didn't even notice the POV change. As a reader, writer, and writing instructor, I hate to admit that, but a POV purest I am not. I guess I read too much Nora Roberts. I've seen change of POV before in WW and as long as the story holds my attention, I'm fine with it.

Mary Jo said...

Melanie, there is editing and there is rewriting, and I think we both know what goes on at WW. I guess Johnene loves to see a story she can get her teeth into. If her boss did not want that, it would not happen.

I hold a very strong opinion about POV in such a short piece. Pick a character and stick with her. Any other personality can be demonstrated without getting into another's mind. I know it is very easy to slip into a change in POV for the sake of expediency, but I try to avoid it by all means.

I have not read Nora Roberts in years, but her very earliest books were little gems and she did not indulge in sloppy writing.

Kate Willoughby said...

Melanie, thanks so much for hanging out here and taking my criticism with such grace. Sometimes, I’m very aware that the authors will be reading what I write, and sometimes I completely forget. This was one of those latter times. LOL

The Paul Bunyan line would have been funny.

I’m not really a POV purist either. I like changing POVs in the middle of a scene without breaks in my books. There are times when I don’t want a huge pause. My problem is more that I just don’t read that much omniscient anymore and it’s like I’m rusty recognizing it and reading in it, if that makes any sense. With that said though, these stories are so short that it can be tricky to change POVs within them. I can only remember one story that really did it well. It was a car repair story and the heroine was walking away from the hero…

Nora changes a lot and when I read one of hers, I have to get into Nora-mode to read the book without being nudged when she switches POVs. It’s like when I read something in present tense. It’s jarring at first, but once I get used to it, I’m fine.

Tamara said...

Melanie, the line about the pink lawnmower is cute.

Pat said...

Kate, the POV change story that sticks out in my mind was a Christmas story that took place at a truck stop. Oh, and there was one in a theatre.

Melanie, I forgot to tell you I loved the pink tools. We bought our daughter purple tools for her first place.

Melanie D said...

This blog is invaluable, Kate. Between your analyses of the stories and other writers chiming in, it’s a great source—perhaps especially since the genre is so specific.

All in all, these stories are a lot of fun to write. Since I started sending last year, my friends and family are in on the brainstorming, coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas. I currently have one in the mail and I’d like to get a few more out before the Fall semester starts. 2 acceptances and 4 rejects. I love the idea of reaching such a wide audience, especially since the audience for contemporary poetry is so small. Did your story give someone a smile over her morning coffee? Or cause someone to throw it across the room and say: “Lame! That would never happen.” Or was it totally overshadowed by Dr. Oz’s latest diet? :)

Thanks again for all of the comments and feedback.

Betsi said...

Melanie, I would LOVE to know what the readers think of these stories. WW has a FaceBook page, but the comments are always about the diets, or the magazine in general. Once when one of "our" writers had a story in the issue, I commented that a friend had written it and wondered what people thought. Alas, I got no useful responses. But it IS fun to know that your story is at least available to all the people who buy WW.

Pat said...

Betsi, I've made comments on writers' stories also. Since WW has answered a couple of my comments about late issues etc., I know someone from WW reads them. I figure it can't hurt to tell them I like the fiction on FB. Maybe I should do it more often.

Anonymous said...

Some of us who work at WW also cringe at all the exclamation points. Someone here likes them—a lot!!! LOL

Jody E. Lebel said...

Dear Anonymous,

Well, that was pretty cryptic. Some people cringe, some people like them a lot. I can say the same for lemon cake, but that doesn't help anyone, does it?

DO you work at WW? Throw us a bone.

Mary Jo said...

Now, that is very interesting, isn't it? When "Someone" knows and yet does not care what readers (and, yes, writers)think, it tells me it is all about power. Actually, a very human failing.

Anony, if you plan to keep your job, I think you must remain Ms. Mous.

Chris said...

You're right, Mary Jo, maybe 'Miss Mous' can't say too much for fear of revealing her identity - or maybe it's a Mr. Mous. How intriguing! (Oops, how did that get there?)

Jody E. Lebel said...

I have to wonder if someone isn't pulling our leg.

Chris, get ahold of yourself, woman. :)

Mary Jo, OR...that the someone who likes the !!! has the last word.

Betsi said...

First for Women magazine is from the same publisher, and it's riddled with exclamation points too. I'm thinking the punctuation "fan" is very high up the chain.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Betsi, I happened to have a copy of First for Women, so I went and had a look.'re so right. (!!!)

Although the 'fan' said "Some of us who work at WW also cringe at all the exclamation points. Someone here likes them—a lot!!!"

So I'm thinking Ms. Anon is part of the 'some of us'. She's probably the same person who 'likes' the comments on their Facebook page on behalf of WW.

It's sure fun to speculate.

Chris said...

Sorry, Jody, I consider myself chastened :¬(

Mary Jo said...

Jody, when Someone has "the last word", that is power. Chris sent me guidelines to a publication in Australia. In them, it is stated that (for a relatively few bucks) they buy ALL rights to your story. In perpetuity, it would seem. No coincidence that the magazine is also owned by Bauer Publishing. Is that to become a common practice now? Where are we going with this anyway?

Chris, I love your little cryptograph with the falling tear. How did you do that?

Chris said...

Mary Jo, I think maybe you've confused two different magazines. The only guidelines I sent you for an Australian publication were for Fast Fiction/That's Life (Pacific magazines). I've just checked and I can't see anything that says they buy Worldwide Rights. They buy First Australian Rights. They are also happy to see work that's already been published elsewhere, as long as you mention it when you submit.

As far as I'm aware, they only want exclusivity for a relatively short time - I think about sixty days. I also think their pay compares favourably with any of the big glossies. There's no doubt that Woman's World is a high payer, and maybe compared to their $800 for 800 words, $300 for a one-page story doesn't seem so great, but they pay $700 for 2,800 words, which is up there with women's mags anywhere in the world. One WW writer, Mary Ann, has just sold her first story to them this week, and I know she's delighted.

(BTW, I did the little face thing with the key to the left of the exclamation mark - don't know what it's called.)

Mary Jo said...

Chris, I stand corrected. It was in the guidelines for a magazine called Yours in a place called Peterborough which I just assumed was Australia. I had to go back to your email to see that it was in your country. The same question arises, though, about the future of ALL rights.

That little ~ mark is called a tilde, but I do not know how you can use it on an English keyboard. It goes over the n in Spanish to denote the ny sound as in Senor. Maybe there is some other use for it in English. Also, mine did not look like yours.

Many thanks for all the good information. I do hope to make use of it.

Melanie D said...

Chris, it looks like Fast Fiction takes previously published stories. Does that mean we could send them a WW story (either published or reject)? Do you send email submissions with the cover letter as an attachment or in the body of the email? Thanks! I might check out this market.


Chris said...

Yes, Yours is a UK mag, Mary Jo. Pay does vary a lot from mag to mag and you would need to be selective about which stories you submitted to a magazine that wanted all rights, as I am when I submit to Highlights for Children, who also buy All Rights. Obviously if it's a story that you feel might have a wider market, then you wouldn't send it to a magazine that wanted sole rights. I simply sent you a wide selection of markets to give you as many chances of publication as possible.

YES, Fast Fiction (and other magazines) are happy to see previously published work. If you'd like to email me on I'll send you some guidelines for that and a few British mags.