Interview with 2014 Flash Fiction Contest Winner, Jennifer Vandenberg

Jennifer Vendenberg won first place in SFWG’s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest with her story, “Advice from Siblings.”  The theme of the contest was “Evil Christmas” but it was entirely up to the contestants how they wanted to interrupt that theme in 1,000 words or less.

For those that didn’t get the opportunity to read your story, tell us the gist of your tale and the source of your inspiration. 

“Advice from Siblings” is a story about two people who want to break up with each other and their siblings who are giving advice that may or may not be helpful. It explores the idea of what makes a person do evil things and are evil deeds that are done on Christmas too evil to consider.

I had started a dozen stories that were about evil Christmas but I couldn’t finish any of them. They were all heavily Christmas themed, with Santa and elves, and I just couldn’t make Santa evil. With the deadline pressing I started complaining on the page. This is something I often do when I feel I have nothing to write about. I just type all my fears and desires on the page. I am a discovery writer (a pantser) and I find that when I type about what is bothering me a story often emerges. This time my complaining turned into two guys talking over lunch and I realized I could finish this story.

We really liked how “Advice from Siblings” explored a different side to evil than the obvious slasher horror.  Could you maybe go into why you chose that approach?

I rarely read horror and I only watch light horror movies. When I heard the theme was evil Christmas I never thought it would be a slasher story. I always knew I would write about the evil that is more devious and emotionally destructive. This was one reason why none of my Santa stories worked. I could not convince myself or the reader that Santa had any evil in him.

Is flash fiction something you write regularly?  Why or why not?

I love writing short fiction but I find flash fiction to be much harder. The only time I write flash fiction is when I am entering a writing contest. “Advice from Siblings” feels like one scene out of a larger story. Most of the time I would write out the entire story. However, I really liked the challenge of writing flash fiction and I want to do it more often.

Any advice for those interested in experimenting with flash fiction for the first time? 

Keep the number of characters small and focus on one setting. If you do that then you can put a lot of detail in your story even though you don’t have many words to work with. Most of my stories that didn’t work were too complicated and would have been very shallow had I actually squeezed them into a thousand words.

Also, write many versions of the story. I think I was able to finish “Advice from Siblings” because I had written a variety of evil Christmas stories and I learned from those stories what worked and didn’t work for me.

Lastly, never give up. When I didn’t have a finished story two days before the deadline I could have decided it wasn’t important and stopped trying to find the right words. Instead I kept working on it and won. You only lose if you stop writing.

Thank you, Jennifer!  Be sure to check out her other work on Amazon.

Advice from Siblings – A Review

Jennifer Vandenberg’s Advice from Siblings is light but not simple, textured but not harsh, and neither is it predictably literal. However, it is refreshingly infused with selfishness and a moral ambiguity that belies the honest humor inherent in this tale of emotional conundrums. Advice is a charming little gem that played out perfectly with SFWG’s Evil Christmas Holiday Flash Fiction Contest, taking first place as the unanimous favorite.

At its heart, the story illustrates that evil, although most often associated with horror and overt acts of malevolence, is a slippery notion at best, often born of good intentions, but maligned by manipulation and baseless fear. And for Jon, our protagonist, Christmas Eve is just another day of dealing with his controlling girlfriend and her ever changing list of acceptable behavior. Jennifer shows us that evil can wear many masks and go by many names, even ones masquerading under the guise of altruism.

Flash fiction, by its very nature, cuts to the chase, omitting the breadth in favor of depth. Jennifer Vandenberg reaffirms in Advice from Siblings that the richness of the tale need not depend upon anything as pedestrian as word count.

“Advice from Siblings” was the first place story in SFWG’s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest.

NEW READ: “Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories” by Nancy Christie

 

Genre:  Literary Fiction

Summary:  “Girl,” my mama had said to me the minute she entered my hospital room, “on the highway of life, you’re always traveling left of center.” (from Traveling Left of Center)

Nancy Christie’s is a hypnotic, lyrical voice that captures your heart with its deep, rich humanity. In Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories, Christie writes about what happens when people face life situations for which they are emotionally or mentally unprepared. The characters in these eighteen short stories are unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, relying instead on coping methods that range from the passive (The Healer) and the aggressive (The Clock) to the humorous (Traveling Left of Center) and hopeful (Skating on Thin Ice). But the outcomes may not be what they anticipated or desired. Will they have time to correct their course or will they crash? What happens when people face life situations for which they are emotionally or mentally unprepared? They may choose to allow fate to dictate the path they take—a decision that can lead to disastrous results.
Included in this collection of short stories are the critically acclaimed Alice in Wonderland and Annabelle.

Buy this collection on Amazon.

SFWG 2014 Flash Fiction Contest RESULTS

We would like to thank everyone that took the time to submit to our “Evil Christmas” flash fiction contest.  We were simultaneously scared and amused by all the creativity.

And now for the results!

First Prize goes to Jennifer Vandenberg for her story, “Advice from Siblings.”

Second Prize goes to Al Stevens for his story, “Santas on Patrol.”

Third Prize goes to Robin Leigh Morgan for her story, “A Haunted House at Christmas.”

Always be on the lookout for future contest announcements!

NEW READ: “Money Lies” by Annie Turner

Genre:  Western Adventure, Mystery

Summary:  Book 1 of the Zachary Davis Series

Called in to investigate small town’s bank robbery, Texas Ranger Zach Davis immediately gets the impression that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. A mysterious note, a ruthless railway overseer… how does it all add up?

This short novelette is approximately 10,200 words.

Buy this story on Amazon.

 

 

2014 Flash Fiction Contest

We our looking for sinister holiday genius with with the theme: Evil Christmas

Submission Guidelines:

  • Entries have a limit of 1,000 words. Stories beyond that will not be considered.
  • Stories may be previously published.
  • Submissions should follow the theme “Evil Christmas”.  The contest is about originality and depth of story given a limited number of words.
  • Entries will be accepted beginning on December 16, 2014.
  • Entry Deadline: January 1, 2015.
  • All submissions should be sent as a PDF attachment to shortfictionwriters@gmail.com with “SFWG Contest” as the subject.

We will announce the winners by January 15, 2015.

 First Place: Will be given an SFWG logo.  Will receive an in-depth public review posted on SFWG.  If winning story is up for sale, review may be published on ebook retailer of author’s choice.  Winner will also be interviewed and featured here on SFWG as well as various forums and websites.

 Second Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

 Third Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

Tortured by Novels

I am a short story writer.  The thing is that if you are not a short story writer this is a difficult concept to understand.  The only thing I can equate it to is music.  You find the instrument that you consider to be your voice.  I can play both the violin and viola very well but I consider myself to be a violist.  It’s my instrument.  It’s me.

The same goes for short stories.  The precise, compact writing style is my voice.  It’s me.  Even before I started writing my brain would constantly think of new ways to streamline the story I was reading.  And now that I’ve been writing for a few years the problem is even more pronounced.  It’s aggravating for me to read long, drawn out sections in a novel that serve no purpose whatsoever.

Is it really necessary for the heroine to be looping around in her head why she can’t be with the hero a FOURTH time?  We know their issues.  Address the issues.  Maybe readdress the issues to remind the reader.  And then move on!

What’s even more aggravating to me is that I’m haunted by the idea of writing a novel.  I mean, they sell way better than a short story.  Why do I put myself through the agony of writing story after story when I could just spend the time making one LONG story that may actually sell?

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve mentally succumbed to the novel’s siren’s song.  I sit down thinking: “This will be the story that I’ll turn into a novel.  I’ll drag out all the scenes.  I’ll pad all the descriptions.  The works.”

I write the story with this mindset.  And then it ends up being a 12,000 word novelette.

So I give up!  I’m tired of being tortured by novels.  If one happens to come out of my brain, that’s great.  But in the meantime I am resolved to be content with my short story existence.

New Short Story Magazine

The times they are a-changin’…

 

Our busy lives force us to squeeze our relaxation and entertainment into small pockets of personal ‘downtime’– the time it takes to travel to and from work, take a morning coffee break or put our feet up after a hard day.

 

Remember when we loved reading? How we loved stories ever since we were children and they were read to us at bedtime? But what happened? Where did it go wrong? Somehow we lost the bug…

 

Now we find ourselves starting a book and not finishing it and for a lot of us reading has become a once-a year thing on the beach or worse, we’ve given it up altogether. So with ‘me time’ being so rare, that four hundred-page novel or celebrity biography just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need something different. We need something to bring back the fun and fire-up our imaginations – just like those bedtime stories used to do.

 

So we created Cracked Eye – a new kind of digital magazine for a new kind of reader.

 

In every issue of Cracked Eye you’ll find short fiction, illustrations, cartoons, videos, audio-books, graphic novels and serials – all at your fingertips on all devices across all platforms, every month.

 

We’ve taken a mix of well-known and emerging talent, more genres and styles than you can shake a smartphone at and illustrated it all beautifully and added heaps of audio and video to the blend. So now you can read an entire story on your commute, an episode of a graphic novel on your coffee break, or listen to an audio-story before you go to sleep.

 

Yes – the times they are-a changin’ – but fortunately, the story is back.

 

Coming November 4th. Find out more at www.crackedeye.com

A soapbox rant on KU royalties and short stories

Ok I’ve seen some discussion lately about the issue of short stories and KU. Lots of talk on whether or not the 10% marker is fair because it takes way less effort for the reader hit the 10% mark in a short story than it does in a novel.

Now I’m not trying to bash anyone. And I’m not trying to point fingers or accuse people of being right or wrong. Because you know what? It’snot fair that someone can just go through the title page and be 10% into a short story.

But you know what’s also not fair? I have to pay the same amount for cover art no matter how long or short my novelette is.

You know what’s also not fair? I get one-star reviews solely because a story did not exceed X number of words (not even a mention about the actual content).

You know what’s even less unfair? Short stories are really hard to sell. For every 100 people that read novels maybe one likes the occasional short story. And an even smaller percentage of that one actually goes out and buys short stories.

But you know what? I don’t care. I choose to write short stories. It’s my problem.

So now one thing comes along that kind of gives a slight advantage to short story writers and people are getting up in arms about the fairness of it. It’s not even that much of an advantage! People are still going to read way more novels than short stories. So yeah the 10% mark is hit more easily but we are talking about one “read” every five days. Not five reads every day.

If you choose to write novels then you have to take the good with the bad. That means taking a hit on reads if you participate in KU. If it doesn’t suit your business needs, don’t do it. Make an informed decision based on the product you are trying to sell.

But it’s ok for things to not be completely fair.

All right. End of rant.

A Snippet on Short Fiction Money Making

I was lurking about the KBoards Writer’s Cafe (which is an awesome place) and came across possibly one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read about the business of short fiction.

The forum thread was discussing Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program and people got to discussing how whether or not this could lead to a flood of short stories and, basically, put an end to novel-length works.

Short story author EelKat (yes, that’s the name she writes under if you’re curious) gives this epic reply:

But there are already 5 shorts for every 1 novel in Select, and there has been right since Select began. Predictions like this occurred when Select/Prime/KOLL first rolled out and that was what 3 years ago?

Amazon has no need to change the prices and you want to know why? Because for every 10,000 novels sold only 10 short stories sell. Do you realize I’m listed by critics as one of the world’s top selling Short Story writers and I’m lucky if one of my titles sells at a rate of 1 copy a week? My highest sales days ever I can count on 1 hand. In 36 years I have had exactly 4 days where I have sold more than 10 copies in one day. Those are NOT 10 copies of a single title. I have NEVER sold 10 copies of a single title in one day. I have 683 stories published and I have only sold more than 10 copies per day across all titles combined exactly 4 days. Those totals were as follows:

49
71
22
37

Total sales in one day across 683 titles.

The only 4 days I’ve ever sold more than 10 titles in one day.

And I repeat what I said earlier: I’m considered 1 on the Top Ten Highest Seller and Most Paid Short Story Writers In the World.

Go back and look at those numbers, than think about that title.

Than start asking other Short story writers about their sales. the average Short story Writer sells across all of their titles combined 5 to 10 copies PER MONTH and gets 2 to 3 borrows PER YEAR.

NEWSFLASH: There are approximately 2billion readers on the planet. Of them, there are almost exactly 37,000 readers of Short Stories.

I’m sorry, but on what planet do novelists think they can find enough readers of short stories to get rich writing shorts? Even at $2 a pop, which I what I make on my shorts, because I price them @ $2.99. My price chart, for those interested in pricing shorts (and you will want to price them high like this IF you want an income, once it hits you square in the face that people don’t borrow shorts and KU won’t be paying you a penny.)

More than 400 of my 683 titles have under 5k words.

I write Horror, Dark Space Opera, and D&D/S&S Style Fantasy, fewer than 100 of my titles are in other genres.

With that in mind I price my work based on word count:

0.99c = less than 3,000 words
$1.49 = 3,000 to 7,500 words
$2.99 = 7,500 to 30,000 words
$4.99 = 30000 to 50,000 words
$6.99 = 50,000 to 90,000 words
$8.99 = 90,000 words or more

I price my collections/bundles/box-sets like this:

$2.99 =
3-pack of 10ks (30k total) or
5-pack of 5ks (25k total) or
10-pack of 2ks (20k total)
25-pack of 1ks (25k total)

$4.99 =
3-pack of 15ks (45k total) or
5-pack of 10ks (50k total) or
10-pack of 5ks (50k total) or
25-pack of 2ks (50k total)

$6.99 =
3-pack of 20ks (60k total) or
5-pack of 15ks (75k total) or
10-pack of 7ks (70k total) or
25-pack of 3ks (75k total)

$8.99 =
3-pack of 30ks (90k total) or
5-pack of 20ks (100k total) or
10-pack of 10ks (100k total) or
25-pack of 5ks (125k total)

My Erotica skews slightly higher (keeping in mind fewer than 50 of my 683 titles is Erotica):

0.99c = less than 3,000 words
$1.49 = 3,000 to 5,000 words
$2.99 = 5,500 to 15,000 words
$4.99 = 15,000 to 36,000 words
$6.99 = 36,000 to 60,000 words
$8.99 = 60,000 words or more

I price my Erotica collections/bundles/box-sets like this

$2.99 =
3-pack of 5ks (15k total) or
5-pack of 2ks (10k total) or
10-pack of 1ks (10k total)

$4.99 =
3-pack of 7ks (21k total) or
5-pack of 5ks (25k total) or
10-pack of 2ks (20k total)

$6.99 =
3-pack of 15ks (45k total) or
5-pack of 10ks (50k total) or
10-pack of 5ks (50k total) or
25-pack of 2ks (50k total)

$8.99 =
3-pack of 20ks (60k total) or
5-pack of 15ks (75k total) or
10-pack of 7ks (70k total) or
25-pack of 5ks (125k total)

I make money as a Short Story writer ONLY because of my higher prices. Take a look at that price chart, if I was writing novels, I’d be charging $8.99 a book, not .99c or even $2.99 or even $4.99.

Shorts are a hard sell. Even at .99c most writers can’t sell theirs, a lot of writers complain at having shorts at permafree and they can’t even give them away. Because there simply is no demand for shorts. So the notion that novelists are going to storm Select with flash floods of shorts and make millions is silly at best.

I continue to laugh at the novelists who are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, thinking they can switch to writing short stories and see the same amount of sales/borrow they did with novels. They have no clue how hard it is to sell a Short Story.

No, I don’t doubt that novelists will flood Amazon with short stories thinking they can write shorts and get rich quick. I also don’t doubt that novelists will learn fast that writing a GOOD short story is hard to do and takes years of practice and requires a totally different skill than novel writing.

Everyone and their cousin and their dog thinks they can write Short Stories because they are short. Ha! I laugh again at the brainless idiocy of such thinking.

Quantity is key. You are NOT going to see a livable income on short stories, even at $2 a pop until you have at MINIMUM 200 titles in you backlog. Barest minimum.

I’ve had folks (other authors) laugh at me and say I was nuts because I have a short story series I’ve been writing for 36 years and it’s now got 231 volumes, but the sales are so horrible. Why do you keep writing it, they ask me, why don’t you write something more profitable, write a best seller. A novel. Stop wasting time writing a series that has most of it’s titles ranking at the bottom of sales rank.

Why do I keep writing it? Well, I love it and I’ll never stop writing it. Even if I stopped publishing it I’d still keep writing it, so why not publish it and make a few penny a week on each title? Those pennies do add up after all.

Uhm…let’s do the math…

If each title in the series sells just 1 copy a week, not a day, but a week:

231 x $2.99 x 70% x 52 = $25,105.08

Well that’s a pretty good income, for such a crappy bottom feeder with sucky sales-rank and sales as low as 1 a week.

Keep in mind too that I have a cult following of 7,000 die hard fans who literally land in my driveway and follow me around town, some of them claiming following me around is even better than the days when they followed the Greatful Dead around. They follow me to WalMart and McDonald’s, and the laundromat, and they meet me at conventions where they CosPlay as characters from my short stories. I don’t know of any other short story writer who has gained the fandom my series did, there aren’t even many novelists who have a pack of fans CosPlaying their characters vigorously like this. Did I mention I’m a fluke?

And that is just ONE of my series.

I write several series and across all of them I have just under 700 titles now. Yeah. A lot of them only sell 1 or 2 copies a month. A lot of them sell only a single copy a week. The most any has ever sold in one day was 27. But 700 titles. Yeah. It adds up. I don’t need a best seller to live off my writing. I don’t even need a good seller to live off my writing. Heck, a lot of my books are out right poor sellers and I still make a living off my writing! LOL

So, yeah, I don’t really care if my books sell horribly, because I got enough of them out there that it really doesn’t matter.

Follow this article and do what it says step by step, you’ll be living 100% off nothing but short stories in 5 years.
Making a Living with Your Short Fiction
http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=9457

But do keep in mind that for those 5 years you will be living on absolutely nothing while you write enough short stories to live off of. But, keep in mind, that I’m a fluke. I’m one of the VERY RARE short stories writes who gets a sale per title per week. Most short story writers don’t get a sale per title per month.

I’m a fluke because I happen to be d*mned good at writing short stories. On the other hand I can’t write a novel worth sh*t.

That’s the thing there’s a world of difference between writing a novel and writing a short story. Novelists are foolish if they think that just because they can write a novel means they can write a short story. Most people who think they can write a short story, can’t. They suck at it big time. Why? Because they are trying to write a 300 page novel and stuff it into 10 pages, that’s why. You can’t do that. It won’t work. Readers won’t like it.

Few people who are very good at writing novels are also very good at writing short stories and vice-versa.

Novel writing is an art that takes time and practice.

Short story writing is a different art and requires different time and practice.

Sure authors can do both, but the ones that try to do both often are the ones who later complain to not having good sales, can’t find steady followers, and wonder “what am I doing wrong?’

Novel readers follow novelists. They know all the greats, they know the upcomers, they couldn’t give a rat’s patooy about short stories or short story writers.

Short story readers follow short story writers. They know all the greats, they know the upcomers, they couldn’t give a rat’s patooy about novels or novelists.

What do you read? That’s what you should write.

To read the rest of her reply click here:  http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,190464.msg2689328.html#msg2689328