adventures in the gorge

Summers here are glorious and humid, creating a vortex of increasingly unbearable heat. Write in the mornings when it’s cool, then escape. Grab the kids and follow the water.

We’ve been spending our summer weekends exploring and hunting stories. Down the mountain from our home lies a deep, protected gorge with a creek running through it. The trees are old, the creek is cold, and the wilderness is criss-crossed with aged dirt roads.

The gorge has a long history of logging, farming, and we’ve heard rumors of abandoned villages. We haven’t come across those yet, but we did find this structure.


It might have been a section of an old boiler (based on surrounding structures) or a possibly a brick oven. I prefer to think of it as an abandoned goblin lair, myself.

There are stories hiding everywhere in these woods!

In another section of the gorge, we came across the ruins of a castle. Okay, okay, not a castle, but a stone wall once built to border a farm long since invaded by forest. I have long dreamt of finding the ruins of a castle in the woods. Coming this close was a thrill.


Following a dirt road at the bottom of the gorge with some vague directions from Google maps, we fjorded the creek past a caved-in bridge and hiked along a quad trail to a covered bridge. Covered bridges are fairly common in our area, but we don’t often find them this far into the wilderness. Perhaps it was the missing bridge along the road to it which made it feel like a secret place.


There were three well-worn camp sites near the covered bride, and an excellent swimming spot for the kids beneath the bridge. It’s fun to hunt for trolls beneath the bridge and look up at the construction to see how they were built way back when.


Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to build a fort in the rafters of a covered bridge, tucked up from the road and sheltered just enough. This bridge, nestled into the woods with the mountains towering on either side, brought that urge back with renewed vigor.

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Are you taking breaks from your writing to have an adventure or two this summer?


Submission Sundays: Apparition Lit

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submission Sundays! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance.

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Apparition Lit’s Monthly Flash Fiction Contests

Eligibility: Original, speculative flash fiction under 1000 words written to the month’s theme. The following themes are coming up: August 2018 – parasites; September 2018 – Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death; October 2018 – you can see the bone; November 2018 – Security; December 2018 – the final problem.

Caveat: rejection letters are not sent for the flash fiction contests, instead watch the website for the winner published online on the 20th of each month.

What makes this call stand out: flash fiction is a wonderful way to sharpen your skills and keep yourself writing every day between longer stories and editing projects.

Payment: $5.00 American, flat rate.

Submit by: each theme must be submitted by the 15th of the assigned month

Click here to go to the original call for details.

Writerly links worth reading this week:

This article on how one author used multiple points of view well is an excellent lesson in using point of view to further your story.

Mermaid’s Tears is a wonderful piece of non-fiction focusing on a lesser-known aspect of mermaid lore.

Written Word Media created this post about promo-stacking for authors in the marketing phase.

Now’s your chance to vote for the finalists in 2018’s alternate Nobel Prize for Literature. The authors were chosen by a team of Swedish librarians and the laureate will be chosen out of the final four we vote in. Have your say, there are some wonderful authors nominated.


7 steps to structuring a short story

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I’ve been mining the internet for short story structure. There’s not much out there and I’ve got a few stories that are STUCK. One of them has been stuck for almost two years. I’ve attacked it from every angle. A critique partner I asked for help scratched his head over it. “I think there’s something wrong with it structurally, but I’m not sure where.” This led me to a workshop on structure, which didn’t wind up being much more than the classic pyramid and slope of rising action. I learned a metric tonne about theme, tone, and depth in that class, but it didn’t help me with my stuck story.

More stuck stories have piled up in the meantime. Stories and characters I love but aren’t right. They’re finished in a technical sense but they aren’t complete enough to send out on submission

The print resources I found stuck to the basics of theme, etc. If I Google story structure, I’ll find novel breakdowns of the hero’s journey, three act structure, screenplay beats, etc, but short stories are a different animal. A condensed, fluid animal, like a miniature jellyfish… from space.

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

I got excited when I found an article on beats for story structure (shared last Submissions Sunday), but when I put my stuck stories through it I didn’t get anywhere. The only thing to do was collect the resources available to me, juggle them around, and find a simple method that will work for me.

Before we get into it, here’s a caveat: structure is a tricky beast. If a writer relies on structure too heavily, their stories will end up being formulaic. Author Chuck Wendig has a fine rant on this here. Protect your creativity, and use it, especially in structure. Experiment. Fall on your face. It’s the only way to grow. BUT if you’re just starting out, or your story is stuck, turning to structure for HELP beats writer’s block any day of the week.

Seven steps to structure a short story:

  • Start with memorable imagery. Spear your reader’s imagination. What’s the wildest thing you can think of?
  • Reveal the plot. What is the point of that memorable imagery you opened with? Drag your protagonist along, kicking and screaming. Stories require characters to change, which means the protagonist is going to resist. Use that resistance to build tension.
  • Introduce the antagonist, human or otherwise, cracking their knuckles and making things tough for the protagonist. Use this entry to foreshadow the climax, if you like. Foreshadowing can make the ending more satisfying to your reader.
  • Make something momentous happen which shows the protagonist changing. In a short story, this works well as an extension of the imagery you opened with. 
  • Knock your protagonist on their arse. Make them lose a battle in this story war. Show that your antagonist is capable of defeating your protagonist.
  • Pick them back up. Make the protagonist find a way to defeat the antagonist, or lose with dignity.
  • Show how it ends. Leave the reader satisfied so they’ll come back for more. Live up to your foreshadowing.

Your story may demand you switch things around. The antagonist’s introduction may reveal the plot. Your momentous happening may switch places with knocking your protagonist on their arse. Likewise it might do the knocking. Be fluid, shift things around, go with it. These aren’t meant to be rigid rules.

Stories that arrive in my imagination fully fleshed out are rare and glorious things. Most often I get an image or a scene which makes my heart race and I build a story around it. Those are the ones that risk getting stuck and I’m happy to have a tool to help. Thus far this method has two of my stuck stories flowing again and I’m excited to tweak them for submission.

I hope this helps next time you’re stuck too.

Happy writing!




Submission Sundays: Flash Fiction Online

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submission Sundays! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance.

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Flash Fiction Online

Eligibility: Original or reprint speculative fiction from 500-1000 words, though reprints are paid at a reduced rate

Caveat: submissions must have no identifying information on them (anonymous)

What makes this call stand out: as a professional market, publication here counts towards SFWA requirements.

Payment: $60 per story for original fiction, and $0.02 per word for reprints

Submit by: this is an online journal with rolling submission dates

Click here to go to the original call for details.

Worthy links of the week:

(this bit is new. Is it handy to you or should I not bother? Please let me know in the comments)

This article on writing asexual characters, written by an asexual individual, is both intriguing and informative for writers. 

There are few resources on short story structure, and although using beats to structure short stories is new to me, I can see how it could help troubleshoot a story that just isn’t working. 

Writer Unboxed published this post on thirteen ways to promote your book before it comes out, for both traditional and self-published writers.

This curious article on modern alchemical experiments isn’t about writing per se, but works as an excellent resource for writers tackling the subject from a scientific perspective.


writing news

Good news! My flash story Reflections took third place in the 2018 Parsec Short Story Contest. An earlier incarnation of this story was a finalist in the 2017 Podcastle Flash Fiction Contest where it won this encouraging review:


It’s exciting to see this story do well but I have to admit I’d love to see it published soon. The file sends me pouting glances from my computer screen, “Please, Jennifer, I want to be read.” I think of the main character, Meriden, who I’ve tweaked, rewrote, deepened, and edited several billion times, and I would like to see him come alive in someone else’s imagination. He’d do well there. He’d be happy. It’s time to retire him from contests and find him a home.

A non-fiction article I wrote about our local water system is available to read for free at Connecting Albert County. I had fun learning how my community built and hand-laid wooden pipes to feed the village in the early 1900s.

My middle-grade short story, Toby’s Alicorn Adventure, will be published in the September 2018 issue of Cricket. This one’s my first professional sale and it’s going to be exciting to see the illustrations. The story contains dragons, unicorns, witches, fairies, flying hippos, pirates, and Saturn. Whichever the artist chooses to illustrate, it’s bound to be fun and I hope the kids love it.

In the meantime, I’m busy editing a novella and writing a new short story. Summer can be a struggle with young children and heat, but also full of unexpected inspiration.

An old nugget of advice I’ve heard from many sources (most recently from writer Richard Thomas) is wafting through my mind this week and I’d like to share it:


See you this Submission Sunday and happy writing in the meantime.

Submission Sundays: Diabolical Plots

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submission Sundays! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance.

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Diabolical Plots

Eligibility: This online journal accepts original speculative fiction less than 3500 words.

Caveat: entries must be anonymous (this means your name must not appear on the story portion of your submission, which enables the judges to choose based on story merit, not your credentials. It does not mean your story will published without crediting you.)

What makes this call stand out: Diabolical Plots is a SFWA-qualifying market and home to the (Submission) Grinder, an excellent resource for finding markets for your stories.

Payment: $0.08 per word (American)

Submit by: current call is open until July 31st, 2018 (rolling submission dates)

Click here to go to the original call for details.


the wrong side of cages

“Please, I’m not big enough to fight.” The brown eyes of children beseech me from the wrong side of a cage. I see my girls in every one of them.


Their keepers are the monsters we must protect our children from. Not the ones under their bed. Not the ones in comic books. Those are monsters for a better time.


Photo by Aimee Vogelsang on Unsplash

Submission Sundays: Unlocking the Magic

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submission Sundays! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance.

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Unlocking the Magic

Eligibility: original, noblebright fantasy stories from 3000-6000 words. The theme is mental illness and the editors want stories which empower those who suffer from them. Stories which encourage and show the bravery of asking for help and the possibilities said help brings.

Caveat: the editors want stories of perseverance and strength through mental illness in a fantasy setting. No horror, no science fiction.

What makes this call stand out: this project is an attempt to subvert harmful mental illness tropes in fantasy, and that’s worth applauding.

Payment: $300.00 per story, plus royalties (listed on the American Kickstarter site)

Submit by: November 1, 2018

Click here to go to the original call for details.

Good luck to everyone submitting and have fun writing!

Making Beaches Great Again

I believe artists have a social responsibility not just to provide escape, but to stand up for what’s right. To show a mirror to society, to speak up. While there is some movement on this issue, I encourage everyone to keep fighting for these families and children. We are all one natural disaster away from becoming refugees ourselves.

Making Beaches Great Again

“My Mom and I came to this beach a month ago. It’s something mermaids like to do, you know? We tell each other these heart-breaking stories of mermaids who fall in love with human men and everything goes wrong.” The mermaid gazes across the sea, her smile fading, her lips trembling.

Her mermaid name is not allowed in the camp. The pronunciation is too difficult for the guards. She’s been temporarily assigned ‘Zoe’ until her processing is complete.

“The immigration officers were hiding behind a sand dune. They called us ‘illegals’ and told me I’d never see my mom again.” Her chin quivers. “I haven’t.” Zoe brushes a smooth, turquoise glass from her cheek. It’s true, that old legend of sea glass being mermaid tears.

Immigration Affairs refuses to back down, despite the lack of infrastructure to handle the sudden influx of underage merfolk. “These aren’t international waters. These mermaids broke the law. Nobody wants to see our beaches overrun with mermaids. We take their kids, they’ll get the hint and stay in the water.”

On Tuesday the leader of the dry world tweeted We could solve a lot of our problems by having a fish fry. #mermaidsushi #gettingmesometail. The House of White quickly issued a statement that their leader is not a cannibal and only intends to eat the fish half.

Zoe isn’t on twitter. I don’t bring it up.

She digs her fingers into the wet sand and fights back a sob. Her lap fills with sea glass. “Do you know where my mom is?”

Photo courtesy of Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Submission Sundays: Punk Rock

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submission Sundays. Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories and maybe inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance.

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This week, consider submitting a story to:

A Punk Rock Future

Eligibility: original speculative stories from 350-6000 words dealing with a punk rock future. Not steampunk, dieselpunk, ecopunk, solarpunk, or penguinpunk (okay, I made that one up) but punk punk. Sit back, listen to the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, crank up some Clash. That punk. The original punk.

Caveat: no torture, porn, zombies, or vampires. But what about my vampire story, Fab Vicious? He pierced his sparkling eyebrow with a slightly disinfected safety pin and tortures grammarians by spelling anarchy with a K! Nope. Save it for another anthology, pal.

What makes this call stand out: this is original stuff that’s going to take some serious creative chops. Which is why they’re offering professional rates. Are you up to the challenge?

Payment: $0.06 per word

Submit by: August 15th, 2018

Click here to go to the original call for details.

happy writing and good luck to everyone submitting!