Writing prompt: Throw in a roadblock

I went running again yesterday morning. There are a number of trails that criss-cross not far from where I’m staying; I think I’ve explored most of the ones that are in easy reach, and I was running along one that I’d already traveled so I wasn’t expecting to see anything out of the ordinary like I did the last time.

Turns out I was wrong.


If you look closely at that photo (you might need to click on it to enlarge), you’ll see that I ran into an unexpected walker on the trail. The deer and I stood there staring at each other for a short while, and she didn’t seem inclined to go anywhere. (Blackberries have been in season, so I couldn’t blame her.) Luckily, I was able to backtrack a short distance and take a side path up to a parallel trail.

Naturally, I was thinking about how writing can be like that. Sometimes you get to a point where you can’t move forward, or at least you’re not sure how. What should you do? Throw a deer in your path. Not literally, but give your characters something unexpected to deal with. Where do they go from there?

Like me in the middle of my run, they might be able to work their way around to where you were trying to get them in the first place. And they might see something interesting when they get there: In my case, it was two deer standing at the top of a hill overlooking the trail where I was running.

What I'm working on (besides not melting) and submission call roundup

"Oh lordy, it's so dang hot. Also, how did I get in this car?" (photo by Lechon Kirb)
“Oh lordy, it’s so dang hot. Also, how did I get in this car?” (photo by Lechon Kirb)

I decided to spend the second half of summer in the Pacific Northwest to escape the heat and humidity in the Midwest. (My long-suffering but more-patient-than-I-am partner knows that I wilt in the summer; I joke that ice queens don’t like the heat.) This has turned out to be a bit of a miscalculation on my part. It’s been in the mid-90s here in Olympia since I arrived, and it was in the upper 20s/low 30s in Vancouver while I was there taking a workshop. Mother nature seems to delight in confounding plans.

Be that as it may, this is a working holiday of sorts. I’ve got an essay to write, several short stories that I’ve needed to revise since grad school, a novel (also written in grad school) that I’m revising, and a novel that I’m writing. (sort of; it’s been giving me fits lately). On top of that is all the assorted freelance work (the stuff that actually pays [sort of]).

Sending out short stories is something that I could do better at. My goal this year is to send out at least one a month; I’m more or less keeping up with that, and some months I’ve been able to do a few more. Part of the trick is a) researching markets and b) not forgetting to send them something while their submission window is open. My friend ‘Nathan (have you read his novel Light? No? Go get it; it was a Lambda finalist and it’s awesome) periodically posts open calls for submission on his website, so I figured I’d take a page from his book and list the things that are on my radar:

Black Warrior Review‘s 11th annual contest deadline is coming up on September 1. Check out an interview with their fiction judge, Alissa Nutting, here.

The Myriad Carnival is an anthology of “queer, weird, and dark” stories themed around carnivals. There are two slots open for stories; deadline August 31. (I’m probably not going to submit to this, but it did remind me of an idea I had a while ago about a carnival, a hypnotist/pickpocket/scam artist, and the mark he falls in love with. I have all of a paragraph written, so the likelihood of finishing it in time is slim.)

Prairie Schooner‘s submission period reopens September 1. I’ve got something I want to send.

The Puritan‘s Fourth Annual Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence has an upcoming deadline of September 30. If I can be literarily excellent between now and then, I’m entering.

Lastly, are you familiar with Literistic? They send out a monthly e-mail of upcoming submission, contest, fellowship and residency deadlines that you can customize to your liking. They offer the Shortlist for free; for those who can afford a little bit more, they have a Longlist that can be more specifically filtered. Check them out; I find it extremely useful.

Writing prompt: If you go down to the woods….

I was out running this past weekend in Olympia, and along one of the trails I happened across this staircase in the middle of the woods.

Staircase in the woods

I thought, how odd. Why would there be a set of concrete stairs in the middle of the forest? Being of a somewhat dark mood at the time, my thoughts went to dark places. Things that go bump in the daylight came to mind. (I don’t know about you, but those are infinitely more frightening than things that go bump in the night; I mean, you expect that sort of thing at night, but in broad daylight?!)

My next thought was, hey, that would make a good writing prompt. Which is why you’re reading this now. See where the stairs lead you.