Monday, August 21, 2017

Ten Tips on Writing Short Fiction that Sells

First of all, do I have the proper credentials for writing this article? I’ll let you decide. I’ve written well over a hundred short stories, most of which have sold to paying markets and some of which have also sold as reprints.

My latest short story is featured in the current summer issue of HYPNOS MAGAZINE, (Volume 6, Issue 2), a print anthology. I’ve had short stories published in HYPNOS for the past three years.

 Stories published in HYPNOS are described as “weird.” I prefer the terms imaginative, dark fantasy or perhaps speculative. Anyway, if this type of genre interests you, HYPNOS is a great publication to which to submit your work. You don’t have to be famous. Just submit a good story.


I’ve learned some things that I believe help sell fiction and which I’ll share with you.

Tip One:

There are two ways to go about this. You can write for a specific market following their guidelines and requirements or you can write the story you want to write and then look for a market that is appropriate. I suggest the latter choice--unless you are specifically invited to submit your work by an editor for a themed anthology or magazine issue. My reasoning is that you should write what you really enjoy. Your passion will show in your work. That will give you an edge.

Tip Two:

You are unlikely to sell short stories unless you’ve read a great many of them. This will give you an instinctive grasp of the genre. If you don’t enjoy reading short fiction, you shouldn’t bother writing them. It will show.

Tip Three:

 Don’t assume that because short stories are brief in length that they are easy to write. In reality, it takes discipline to write a good short story and sheer brilliance to write a great one. Short stories are focused works of fiction, just as Poe explained.

Tip Four:

You need to decide the type of short fiction you intend to write. Do you love literary short stories? Try then to write one of your own. Are you into speculative fiction? Do you enjoy science fiction, horror, or fantasy? Are you a mystery writer? Read some of the best both past and present before you attempt your own.  However, be aware that each genre has its own type of content and style. Mashups are acceptable, but first know the rules of each genre before you attempt to mix them. Do the research before you start to write.

Tip Five:

Whether writing short fiction or a novel, you need to consider the basics: plot, setting, characters, and theme. Analyze how they fit together in your story. One hint: limit the number of characters in a short story to just a few so you can develop each properly.

Tip Six:

Also consider point of view. For instance, who is telling the story? Will this story work best in first or third person? Why? Is the narrator sophisticated, jaded, innocent, naïve? The style and choice of language need to reflect these considerations.

Tip Seven:

When you finish writing your story, put it away for a while and go on to another project. Wait at least one month, then reread and revise as needed. You are now the editor. You will see the need for changes and improvements.

Tip Eight:

When you are ready to submit your story for publication, carefully read all the submission guidelines. You really have to follow them exactly. Each market has its own unique requirements.

Tip Nine:

Avoid writing only for “exposure” if possible. There actually are paying markets that encourage beginners who are without publishing credits.

Tip Ten:

Don’t be afraid to try writing in more than one genre or style. The great thing about short story writing is that you can be experimental.

Tip Eleven: (I’m throwing an extra one in) Don’t get discouraged by rejections. All of us receive our share.The competition is fierce. If an editor is generous enough to provide some suggestions, consider using them to improve your work. Then resubmit to another publication. Never, ever give up on your writing if it’s something you really want and need to do!

Your thoughts and comments welcome here!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Spotlight on Author C.A. (Christine) Verstraete

C.A. (Christine) Verstraete is my special guest writer today. The author of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter adds a new dimension to the real-life Lizzie Borden murder mystery with a new short mystery also set in Fall River, MA.
The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River, lets the Borden's doctor and neighbor share his side of the story following the gruesome murders. Saturday, August 4 marked the 125th anniversary of the 1892 Borden murders.
The supernatural-flavored mystery (141 pages) is on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in print.
Author website:
About The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River:
Gruesome deaths haunt the industrial city of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Dr. Seabury Bowen—physician to the infamous Lizzie Borden—swears he’s being stalked by spirits, though his beloved wife thinks it’s merely his imagination. But the retired doctor insists that neither greed nor anger provoked the recent sensational axe murders in Fall River. Rather, he believes the city is poisoned by bad blood and a thirst for revenge dating back to the Indian and Colonial wars.
Now, two years after the Borden murders, Dr. Bowen is determined to uncover the mysteries stirring up the city’s ancient, bloodthirsty specters. Can he discover who, or what, is shattering the peace before Fall River runs red? Or will he be the next victim?
Part mystery, part love story, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen reveals the eerie side of Fall River as witnessed by the first doctor on the scene of the legendary Borden murders.

What made you want to write about Dr. Bowen – and who is he?

I really enjoyed learning more about the Borden murders in writing my first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. I am working on a sequel, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun writing something a bit different about the Borden murders. The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River, offers a more supernatural-flavored aspect to the story and Lizzie’s hometown by focusing on the Borden family’s doctor and neighbor.
          The doctor was the first official who arrived at the Borden’s home located kitty-corner from him at 92 Second Street. As you read the trial testimonies, it almost seems like he was protecting Lizzie. Some of the newspaper reports even mention his favorable reactions to her.
This was the OJ crime of the 19th century. It caught the public’s imagination and continues to fascinate people today. That’s what makes it so interesting to write about – the real life facts are horrific and unreal enough, of course, that no embellishment is needed. But it definitely gives a writer ideas to expand on.

You wrote about zombies in the first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. What made you take a different approach this time? And why zombies?

I still love writing about zombies and will have a new Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter short story coming out soon. With the Dr. Bowen book, I wanted to write a story that adds a different dimension and focuses more on the supernatural and paranormal. The Borden murders were so gruesome that I started wondering, what if the doctor was haunted by that day? It also ties into some real-life past events, some that I twisted a bit to fit the story. Did you know that there was also another axe murder around the time of the Borden murders, too? Any zombie stories will be tied into the Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter theme, I am also working on Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter2.

Here’s an excerpt: from The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River:
    “Never did I say to anyone that she had died of fright. My first thought, when I was standing in the door, was that she had fainted.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

 Why won’t anyone believe me? Why, Phoebe, why?”
Dr.  Seabury Bowen shoved back the shock of white hair hanging over his forehead and wiped a wrinkled hand across his stubbled chin.
    His appearance, like his surroundings, could stand a bit of major housekeeping, not that he cared a whit.
“Here, it’s here somewhere,” he mumbled.
  The old man rummaged among the giant pile of documents, books, and what-not littering the large walnut desk in his study. Several minutes later, and after the search through dozens of loose papers, he saw the faded red book lying beneath a tottering pile. He pulled at it, sending the rest of the stack falling like so much unwanted garbage.
    The good doctor, but a shadow of his once- robust self, flipped the pages. He stared at the offending journal entry before setting the book aside with a heartrending sob.

Chapter One
    “I saw the form of Mr. Borden lying on the lounge at the left of the sitting-room door. His face was very badly cut, apparently with a sharp instrument; his face was covered with blood.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

   The man reached toward him with long, lean fingers. Dr. Seabury Bowen blinked and tried to make out the features of the unknown figure standing in the corner. The unexpected visitor had a broad, dark face and what looked like a band across his forehead. Bowen stretched out his arm in turn and jumped when their fingers touched, the jolt surging through him like the electricity he knew would soon replace all the gas lights.
    “Seabury, dear, are you all right?” His wife, Phoebe, sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”
    Bowen breathed hard. He bolted upright and held a hand on his chest, trying to catch his breath. Still stunned, he gazed about the room, disturbed at the odd shapes until he recognized familiar things… the bureau, the armoire, the paintings on his bedroom walls. He swallowed and nodded.
     “Ye-yes. I-I’m fine. A bad dream, that’s all it was. Just a dream.”
    “A bad dream? Dear, you’re breathing so hard, your heart must be pounding like a drum in Mr. Sousa’s band! Are you sure you’re fine?”
    The doctor took his wife’s hand and kissed it, relieved to feel his heartbeat return to normal. He had to admit his reaction worried him for a minute, too. “I’m fine now, Phoebe. Really, it’s all right. Go back to sleep. I’m too wrought up to rest. I think I’ll go downstairs and read awhile.”
    He gave her a loving smile before he rose and slipped on his robe, his thoughts in a whirl. To tell the truth, these dreams or hallucinations or whatever they were appeared to be getting stronger and more frequent. Not that he’d tell her, of course. It made Bowen wonder if he was losing touch with his faculties, something he’d never dare mention. Nor did he want to even entertain the thought, but he did. Am I going mad? Am I?

Thanks for letting me spend some time with your readers!

Questions and comments for Christine are welcome.