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Feb 21, 2022

Kim St. Lawrence - WRiTE CLUB Champion 2021 - Lessons Learned

 


Another WRiTE CLUB in the archives, marking ten years of slush pile readers, skilled writers, and hundreds of thousands of hopeful words. The competition is fierce, but the camaraderie is fiercer, bringing writers together with some of the most thoughtful and constructive critique partners they’ll (n)ever meet.

I first heard about WRiTE CLUB through an editor I admire and entered with the quiet intention of workshopping my craft. I can be a verbose writer and knew a 500-word minimum would challenge me to be more concise—cut adverbs, slash filler words, kill darlings, and so on. Through my first two competitions, I did learn to be more intentional with my language. But I also learned a thing or four about storytelling:


1.     Figurative language is cake: delicious in small servings. I love a well-placed simile or a unique metaphor. It can add a bit of richness or sophistication to the writing. But if it’s used too much or without regard for the tone of the piece, it can rip a reader right out of the story. So before you decide her eyes are look like two bowls of blue Jello, consider if it’s serving the plot.

2.     Mood is just as important as storyline. If I begin a new project by asking myself “what’s the plot?” it usually leads to a blinking curser or a cursing writer. So now I ask myself “what makes me feel something?” I start with a place, a mood, a memory that evokes a strong reaction and then build a story around it. When a piece starts from my gut instead of my head, it tends to comes across as more authentic and sets the tone I want people to feel when they read it.

3.     When it comes to revision, get rid of your ego but keep your heart. Editing is the hardest part of writing for me—a different, more tactical headspace. But it’s a necessary evil. The writers who thrive in WRiTE CLUB cage bouts are the ones who understand if and how to integrate feedback. Usually, it comes down to this: if three or more critics call you out on a plot hole or clumsy sentence, it’s not a subjective observation and you shouldn’t cling to it. (Been there, ate that humble pie.) But if you believe in something, if you feel like a certain detail is integral to your theme or character, defend it, even in the face of criticism. It’s up to you to know the difference.

4.     Mind your arc. It doesn’t matter if it’s flash fiction or a chapter in your 300k word novel (bless your heart), I’ve learned that every piece of writing needs some rising and falling action. Even if the end isn’t tied in a bow, people crave a sense of closure. I’m also a big fan of a circular narrative where the beginning and end mirror each other in unexpected ways.

Needless to say, I didn’t win my first two swings around the ring, but I was able to finetune my craft and, perhaps more importantly, get to know myself better as a writer. I went into the 2021 competition equipped with the lessons I’d learned and fully leaning into my strengths. A few comments on the results:

·        House of Whispers - This piece started with the first line. I was fixated on this concept of a slightly sentient house but didn’t like that haunted mansions get a bad rap for being malevolent. I wanted Château du Chuchote to protect its residents, or at least some of them. That’s when Nicolette arrived. 

 

·        House of Whispers (Partie Deux) - Here, I took a big WRiTE CLUB risk: whipping up a sequel for the readers who enjoyed the first installment. This is a safe play because you have a sense of their taste, but many readers prefer to see versatility. While it was fun to revisit this scene and try out a new POV, I just squeaked by in the round. (And yes, my French is très mauvais.) 

 

·        Lost and Found Boys - I have a mild obsession with Peter Pan (this is not my first dystopian PP retelling in WC) and knew the mood I wanted to create—a sad depiction of childhood innocence, using the landfill as a metaphor for the burdens of society. I would not recommend introducing an ensemble cast in 500 words, but I still love these boys.

 

·        The Keeper of Kilkee - For those who read it, this final piece kept with the same haunting vibe as the first three, but dropped into a new story on an Irish coast. This one was a bit allegorical too, exploring the cyclical nature of truth and rumor, beliefs and reality. This one had an obscure ending, which could have gone either way with the judges. Thankfully, the luck of the Irish was on my side.


The prevailing lesson from this season is that there is SO much talent out there. The caliber of the writing and the storytelling was inspiring. Even if I hadn’t pulled off a win, I would still count this experience as a success and look forward to being part of this community for years to come.

A huge thank you to DL and Kim Hammons, Wild Lark Books, the celebrity judge panel, and slush pile volunteers for providing writers with this opportunity for competition, kinship, and some incredible reads. Until next year, happy writing!

Feb 11, 2022

Book Update

Now that WRiTE CLUB is in the rearview mirror (for now), I was thinking that it was a good time to provide an update about how sales of my 1st novel Knight Rise are progressing.

To be frank, we're two months in and sales have been luke warm, at best. The difficulty is trying to discover ways to help people find my book. We don't have a huge advertising budget, so we rely mostly on word-of-mouth efforts. One of the more frustrating things is that even though the book has garnered excellent ratings (4.80 on Goodreads) it only has two reviews. Reviews are like GOLD (anybody see my Facebook post) and they really do move the needle when it comes to convincing readers to try a new author. 



So if anyone out there seeing this has read my book, and you enjoyed it, then please consider doing one of the things on the list above. This word-of-mouth campaign needs more words ... or mouths. :)


Feb 6, 2022

WRiTE CLUB 2021 - A Champion Crowned

Let me introduce you to Kimber St. Lawrence, or you may know her as Lady Warbleon, our WRiTE CLUB Champion for 2021.


Kimber earned her storytelling chops in television production, winning a New England Emmy Award and Telly Award that now serve as fancy bookends. These days, she is Chief Marketing Officer for a business information publisher and seasonally hosts a winter travel series airing on NBC Sports Boston. She is a member of SCBWI, co-founder of the writing blog The Page Half Full, and curator of unpublished manuscripts (ha)—she writes YA across genres, though she had never tackled gothic horror until WRiTE CLUB 2021.
 
Kimber lives in New Hampshire with her border collie, a dozen chickens, and her husband Ryan, who is an adaptive athlete and advocate for spinal cord injury awareness.

Kim has won a stellar publication package generously donated by Brianne van Reenen from Wild Lark Books

CONGRATS Kim and THANK YOU Brianne!



Our 1st runner-up and recipient of a $75 Amazon gift card is Fern Calloway, otherwise known in the real world as Ashley Rich.





Ashley is a horror author who lives in Northern California with her husband, teenage son, three cats, two dogs, and a handful of fish. When she isn't herding the animals or pounding away at the keyboard, she's busy in the kitchen cooking up something spicy or kneading together a sourdough loaf. She is the published author of several short stories with a new novel in the works. 

The feedback provided by our celebrity judges will be forwarded to both our contestants. These writers have proved themselves to be extremely talented and I predict nothing but good things in their literary futures.

There are some other contest winners we also need to announce. They are - 

Lisa Dunn - won the Random Voting prize of a $50 Wild Lark Books gift card.

J Lenni Dorner - won for the best WRiTE CLUB Promotional Campaign (for the 2nd year in a row) and takes home a $40 Amazon gift card

Will all the winners please contact me so delivery arrangements can be made?

The contest was a success once again, despite COVID doing its best to try and hamper our fun. Participation may have been down, but I think everyone would agree that the quality of the writing we witnessed was not.

Now that the contest is over we encourage the other writers who made it into the bouts to reveal their true identities in the comments below. People who have read your work really want to keep in touch with you and your work, so why not remove that mask? No pressure though. If you want to remain anonymous, we respect that choice.

If you want to be alerted to when the contest will start in 2022, just signup for my newsletter above and I'll be happy to send that information out to you.

Thank you to everyone for making WRiTE CLUB what it is.


Feb 3, 2022

WRiTE CLUB 2021 - The Finals

 

This journey began for 30 writers nine weeks ago and now as it draws to a close we should take a moment and reflect on all of the wonderful writing we've seen. To reach this point in WRiTE CLUB - having your work read and judged by a conglomerate of industry professionals - is no easy task. But then again, it's not supposed to be. Writing is a gift, perfected with hard work, and this contest plays only a small part in drawing that gift out into the light. A hearty WELL DONE to each of the contestants that made it into the ring this year.

Fern Calloway and Lady Warbleon will face off for the opportunity to be crowned the 2021 WRiTE CLUB Champion. The winner of this final bout (along with the two finalist real identities) will be announced on Facebook LIVE this coming Saturday (2/5) at 6PM (central). Both of our finalists have had their 1,000-word samples forwarded to our celebrity judges and those samples are also displayed below. 

Now to talk about the elephant in the room. Fern Calloway was named the winner of her semi-final bout even though she had one fewer vote. This was done because I learned there was some communication that took place, although not done purposely or will ill-intent, afforded her opponent an undue advantage. So to be fair I took steps to rectify the issue. I was sorry to have to do this, but I felt it was necessary in this case. Steps will be taken to clarify the rules regarding the effort to maintain strict anonymity for future contests.

Going forward, although the votes/comments left here will not carry any weight towards deciding a winner, everyone is still welcome to state an opinion in the comments. The comments in this round do not count towards the gift card giveaway.

Our other prizes will be announced Saturday as well.

Here are the 1000-word submissions by our two finalist.

Up first, Fern Calloway.


Leave It Alone

Sylvia picks at the crusted brown scab. It flakes off easy and a bit of yellow goo oozes free from the now exposed hole. Instead of relief, she’s greeted by more burning, more tingling, like ants marching one by one through her veins. The flesh is inflamed, pulsing with heat. She should ice it, she thinks, and folds the scab into her napkin. She scratches, scouring her nails across the leaking puncture.

Her husband swats her on the shoulder. “Leave it alone.”

Sylvia folds her hands into her lap trying to ignore the itch, but it’s spreading. She runs her palms over her thighs, leaving damp streaks across the denim. “It’s fine.”

He grabs her arm, exposing the angry wound in the crook of her elbow. Claw marks line her angry flesh like rows in a plowed field. “Doesn’t look fine to me. When are you going to see a doctor? Make an appointment. Please. Two weeks ago, it was a scratch.”

Closer to three, she thinks. She’d lost her golf ball, the third one of the day, somewhere in the brambles along the river. Too stubborn to leave it, she trudged off the fairway to wrest it from the tangled vines. A little spilled blood was worth saving her new pink Callaway.

She slips from his grasp and picks up her fork. She scrapes together what’s left of the gravy and rogue meat crumbles. Her stomach begs for more even though she’s already had three servings of meatloaf. A wave of nausea washes over her. She drops the fork.

Sweat beads on her forehead. Her skin prickles despite the spreading rush of heat Is she getting a fever? She doesn’t want to worry Bill further, but damn it’s hot in here.  She closes her eyes and takes a few breaths to calm the swaying room. When she opens them again, her vision only pulses around the edges instead of spiraling out of control.  The wound throbs, pumping out a rhythmic tune she can’t ignore.  Still itching. Still demanding. This insatiable itch is exasperating. She digs harder, reveling in the new, fresh sting as she rakes her nails over it. The skin breaks and trails of blood rise to the surface.  

“Stop.” Bill swats her again as he stands. He clears the dinner table and disappears into the kitchen.

Alone, Sylvia returns to her digging. One finger at first. She prods and pokes, working the flesh aside. She forces a second, and a third, knuckle-deep into the hole. The stretch and pull of skin peeling from muscle eases the itching, but only just.  

Something slithers away from her prying fingers, like a worm in moist, luscious soil. It burrows deeper, snaking toward her wrist. She screams, frustrated, and chases after it. Her forearm rips open like a weak seam, exposing meat and tendons, but not whatever is squirming through her insides. She rips chunks loose, hurling them away like garden detritus.

“What the hell are you doing?” Bill races to the table. He grips the tablecloth attempting to wrap her now gushing arm with the corner.

At his touch, she lurches from the chair and scurries across the room on all fours, leaving a trail of blood in her wake. She crouches by the loveseat, hunching over her arm like a ravenous dog with a gnarled rabbit. Growling now, she turns her attention back to the flayed meat. Tendons hang free, swaying like pole-bean tendrils caught in a breeze.

Her purpose narrows onto the squirming thing hiding somewhere between her bones, out of reach. She grunts, and lowers her teeth to her arm, peeling away meat like bark from a birch tree. Shredding and pulling, she eats her way deeper between radius and ulna. Hunting for the wriggling thing. The itch.

She flings a mouthful to the floor. The wad of goop splatters onto their expensive Persian rug, marring it with a stain that will be impossible to remove.  She doesn’t care, another bite. Another mound. A new stain.

From somewhere over her shoulder, Sylvia’s husband screams, the sound not unlike a middle-school girl. He flails like a stale scarecrow caught in a windstorm before he collects himself enough to pull something from his pocket.

“I’m calling…” He heaves like he might vomit. “…an ambulance.” He stabs at the screen, glances back to Sylvia. Bill takes another step back toward the kitchen. Gags again. His face is devoid of color, his lips flapping. Bill’s words do not register as language, only syllables she can’t comprehend.

His scent is overpowering.

Mouthwatering.

Sylvia drops her mangled arm and it dangles useless at her side. Her lips pull away from her teeth. She snarls. A glob of drool clings to her chin a moment before falling.

Gnashing her teeth, she lunges. Her arm flops as she closes the distance. The phone tumbles from his grip and clatters away, sliding under the sofa. They careen to the floor landing in a weighty thud. 

She grunts, swallows, bites again, digging her teeth into his neck, his face, his chest. Wherever she can get a mouthful. His final breath erupts, spraying her with crimson mist. He stops fighting.

What’s left of him soaks into their forever ruined Persian.

Sylvia snorts, her hunger satisfied.

The thing in her arm coils around bone and scrapes against a nerve. Something green peeks out from the gaping wound before disappearing again into the mangled mess that once was her arm.  

Footsteps thud against the porch steps, followed by a knock at the door. “Sylvia? I heard screaming. Is everything okay?”

Sylvia ignores the sound, digging at that insatiable itch.

There’s a rattling, a jangle of metal against metal, followed by grinding.

A click. The knob turns.

The door opens.

“Sylvia, honey? Bill? I’m coming in.”

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And finally, Lady Warbleon.



The Keeper of Kilkee

 

There are legends, and then there are tales that are etched into the bones of a place, carved so deep in its culture that you cannot separate them from fact. What begins as fairy-lore spreads like something infectious, from one generation to the next, until every soul and street and structure is tainted by superstition.

That was the way with Kilkee, a small oceanside town tucked in the northern recess of County Clare. It was not a legend that merrows haunted its coast—it was a collective understanding that the ocean was dangerous and that the women creatures made it so. When men turned up missing, the townspeople blamed whisky or a wandering eye, but they all knew the truth.

As the lighthouse keeper, Fionn was closer to this truth than most. He felt the unnatural throbbing of the tide when the women moved inland, could pick up their cloying scent on the breeze when they waded below the cliffs. He would often turn on records at night to drown out their sorrowful wails that seeped through the cracks in his walls.

There had been none of those warnings when Alice first appeared outside the lighthouse one summer day. Fionn knew he should be wary of her beauty, of her newness, but she told him her family had sailed in from Limerick on holiday, and he had to admit that was possible. Plenty of tourists summered in Kilkee to stroll the cliffs and watch for whales breaching off the reef. He would give them tours of the lighthouse and they would ask him to tell them ghost stories, which were the only kind Fionn knew.

 

But Alice seemed more interested in Fionn than stories so, against his better judgement, he invited her in for tea. 

 

“Will you be staying until September?” Fionn meant this as a pleasantry, so he was startled at the peak of hope in his voice.

 

“Yes, I go back to Mary Immaculate in the fall,” said Alice. “I’m studying to be teacher.”

 

The concept of university felt at once very foreign and very human—surely a creature of the sea would not be matriculating—and Fionn’s guard lowered further. “You’ll teach in Limerick then?”

 

She shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll go to America.”

 

“That’s very far away.”

 

“Would that be so bad?”

 

Fionn considered this. He had only ever known Kilkee, spent all nineteen years in the same two-mile parish, memorizing the curve of the bay. He hadn’t given much thought to the world beyond it, and now he couldn’t think of anything beyond the curve of Alice’s lips pressed against her cup. “They’d be lucky to have you.”

 

Alice smiled shyly, as if he had said something intimate. Perhaps he had meant it that way; he couldn’t deny he found her fascinating. Unable to do otherwise, he smiled back, and that was how it began. 

 

Alice returned to the lighthouse the next day, and the next. Fionn took her canoeing along the strand and for ice creams in town. He discovered that she had a soft, melodic laugh, and that he would do nearly anything to hear it. He grew more entranced by the day. As they walked along the beach one morning, he asked to hold her hand. And then, while swimming in the Pollock Holes, he finally asked to kiss her. Her lips tasted of salt, and he began to wonder if it was the water or if she always tasted that way. Her eyes were the same color as the ocean, now that he really looked. 

 

“Alice, tell me the truth,” he said suddenly. 

 

“About what?”

 

“What you are.”

 

But she only laughed and splashed him as she crawled back onto the blackstones to sun herself.

 

It went on like this for weeks. Fionn watched Alice nap under the twisted bog tree and picked her cowslip and milkwort to tuck behind her ear. And he noticed more and more how she bore the signs of the sea—a slight web in her toes, damp hair when she returned to him in the morning. When they eventually made love in the gallery of the lighthouse, she moved rhythmically, like the ebbing and filling of the tide.

 

Instead of being afraid of this revelation, he felt reconciled. As with the ocean, he knew he didn’t stand a chance against her once she’d chosen him, and he didn’t want to be without her.

 

That night, they walked to the cliffs to watch the sunset, listening to the milky breakers frothing against the rocks far below them.

 

Fionn took Alice’s hand and kissed her knuckles. “I’m ready,” he told her.

 

“For what?” she asked. 

 

“I know I must return to the sea with you. That’s why you’ve come.”

 

Alice laughed again—soft, melodic—and said nothing.

 

Fionn pressed further. “You don’t have to force me with your magic. I want to go with you.”

 

Now Alice shifted her eyes to him. He saw fear in her face, or perhaps it was guilt at being found out. “What do you mean?”

 

He took a step closer to the cliff’s edge. “We can go tonight. We don’t have to wait. Come, Alice.”

 

She tried to pull her hand from his, but he knew she was just being coy. He felt the truth of it in his bones. “I love you, Alice. It’s alright.”

 

His feet shifted against the earth, and her breath hitched. If she screamed at all, it was swallowed up by the wind cutting along the coast and replaced by the steady intone of the ocean. Where two lovers once stood, now there was only a single sprig of milkwort that had come loose from its perch.

 

The lighthouse stayed lit for many days until the townspeople came looking after its keeper, only to find him gone. They blamed love, said he had fallen for a girl from Limerick and followed her out of town. But they all knew the truth.

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I hope everyone joins me Saturday for the big reveal.

Best of luck contestants!