What makes 5000 Words stories stand out? I believe it’s the boot camp dynamic of the class. For 12 weeks, we immerse ourselves in a great work of literature (this time, Lord of the Flies) while churning out copious amounts of stellar writing. Students who can handle the demands of the class come out with a serious portfolio—far more than 5000 Words.
Each session we hold a peer-judged creative writing contest where students craft an original story and run it through the gauntlet of a class critique. 100% of students survive the workshop (but they do fret). They revise, and the final stories are judged by anonymous vote. Rachel Carpenter, Katelyn Steyer, and John Grigoli were our winners. Click on the titles to read and be amazed by their winning stories.
Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. She will be attending the University of Akron in the fall of 2019. Dance is her passion and her major in college, but she has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.
Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six kids. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past five years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.
John Grigoli is 14 years old and in eighth grade. Besides writing, he enjoys baseball, basketball, cross country, playing piano, and camping. He has a love for the outdoors, which grew from being a member of Boy Scouts. He is currently working towards the Eagle Scout rank. In his first full year in the 5000 Words class, he quickly gained an appreciation for creative writing, as well as the class discussions. Additionally, he is grateful for the peer critiquing and the instruction from Mrs. Griffiths.
I wish the coffee would stay hot, even down to those last few sips. When it’s first brewed I put my face in the mug and pull the aroma into my nose. Those gloriously warm first sips are the best. Then it gets mindless. I’m in the world of my manuscript, slugging down the caffeine for its properties and not for the flavor anymore. By the end and especially if I’ve forgotten the mug for a bit, those cold shots are all willpower. The will to not waste.
If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m still waiting to hear from agents who have my full manuscript. Have I ever mentioned what a patient person I am? No? Exactly. The customary wait time before it’s polite to nudge an agent is 90 days. 90! Jesus was in the desert for 40. Meanwhile, I’m all over the place as far as my manuscript goes. I believe in it. I love it. But I also wonder if I’m about to sustain another round of near-knockout punches from which I’ll have to rise. And I will. Rise. I’ve fed myself author stories about overcoming. One writer had over a hundred rejections a year for three years before landing an agent. Same book, mind you. I thought a hundred was high. Here’s where I’m at as of today:
55 queries sent since June, 2018
4 full requests; 1 rejection, 3 still out
43 rejections or no answer (which means the same thing)
8 recently sent and not yet rejected (my goal is to have 7 always in the hopeful queue)
I have to tell you, it felt like more than 43 rejections. At rejection 26 (November 2018) I revamped my query letter with the help of Query Shark, and I received my first requests for fulls. Ah…the validation. But what is validated? My ability to entice an agent. Check. My ability to write fifty good pages. Check. But do I have what it takes to write the full monty? I now believe the ability to finish doesn’t rest on my current level of talent but on my constant level of persistence. Unless a book is in such a shamble that it cannot be fixed (think flattened roadkill), there is hope. I will continue revising. Until I’m agented. Until I’m published.
That is what it means to be a writer. Grit. Rejection. Revising. Some would say that in order to have the audacity to create an entire world with words alone, one must possess a cyclopean ego, its one bulging eye fixed on fandom. And to temper the writer’s god complex is the querying process. Confession: I have never felt my ego was large enough for this industry. If anyone has ideas on how to bulk up the ego at any stage of a manuscript, please share. I do pray though. And I find that if I stop looking at myself (oh poor little me and my homeless manuscript…) I’m happier.
Meanwhile, I use every opportunity to better myself. I listen to podcasts on writing and follow people who are in the querying trenches. This month I applied for a mentor at Author Mentor Match. I should hear any day now. I also entered Trespass in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. It was exciting for me to enter because last year at this time I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have surgery. I was unable to focus on anything but loving my family and friends. I missed the deadline.
I hunt down beta readers and join writing groups. All these things I do to keep moving toward my goal, the most important being to put my butt in the chair and work on my 2nd manuscript, 19,233 words in, but who’s counting? Today I managed 588 words. A thousand is a good day, but I am a slow creator and a rabid revisor.
Thanks for sticking with my update! Hope the coffee didn’t get too cold for you. 🙂
Many thanks to Eclectic Ali for getting the coffee brewing and the conversation started. Ali describes her casual posting plan: Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)! Grab a cup of coffee and share with us! What’s been going on in your life? What are your weekend plans? Is there a topic you’ve just been ruminating on that you want to talk about?
Judging is a buffet where I love every dish. How do I pick just one? As I read through the entries, I jot notes down and assign a number to rank them. I re-read the top-ranked stories and even some lower ranked ones that are still on my mind. Then I wring my hands and generally feel desperate about having to pick just one winner. Lucky for me, my dear friend and fellow author Kathleen Joyce joined the fun!
A couple of things I look for:
Narrative or character arcs. Movement. Unexpected growth or a twist.
Style. Did you use tone/voice well?
Dialogue. If you worked that in, bonus points.
Grammar. It always helps. Always.
Genre. Did you write in a recognizable genre?
Did your story make sense?
Was there more story off the page?
Some entries were super clever and took risks with narrators, genres, and plot. All had praiseworthy moments.
But the winning entry embodies all seven points. It started out with me thinking funny romance and took me to a creepy place I wasn’t expecting. (I always enjoy a surprise.) With voice alone, the author accomplished this shift! As the tone evolved into zombie/vampire/werewolf/something-terrifying-I-can’t-imagine, the dialogue served to steep it in reality. Horror is my favorite genre. The story is polished, makes total sense, and yikes!!! —how about the story off this page?!? No one wants to imagine what’s next for our hapless narrator.
Movie Date by Rachel Carpenter
There was something not quite right about the way the ticket vendor gave me my ticket. I’m pretty sure she judged me for being alone. I wanted to tell her I was meeting someone but decided against it. I pushed the thought from my mind and pulled out my phone and asked him where he was. He replied and said he would be there in a few minutes and to go into the theater. I was a little upset but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I sat down in the theater and pulled out my phone again. Three minutes till the previews started and I was fuming. I shoved my phone back into my jacket pocket and crossed my arms. After a few minutes, I got up to leave, but then I saw my date walking up the stairs. He got there before the actual movie started and I was a little relieved I was not stood up. He sat down and I noticed right away that he smelled repulsive. Like something died on him. I also noticed there was some red stuff on his shirt and pants. I asked him what it was and he said paint. I became too uncomfortable and I told him I had to leave because of a family emergency.
“Let me walk you out,” he suggested.
“Are you sure you want to leave the movie?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s cool.”
When we got to my car he stopped me and apologized for being late. I told him it was fine and started to get into my car. He suddenly grabbed me and covered my mouth. I saw a van pull out from behind me and I was thrown into the van, I tried screaming, but it was no use.
Our second winner was chosen by cozy mystery writer, Kathleen Joyce, who graciously read the entries and sent me her choice for #1. Here’s what she had to say: My vote goes to Gloria Blumfeldt. I liked her story. All your students have great imaginations. I enjoyed reading them.
Kathleen regularly reads and edits adult work and mentioned that many of the student stories were of a surprisingly high caliber. You guys make me proud. 🙂
Backyard Discoveries by Gloria Blumfeldt
There was something not quite right about the smell that came from the ground that one morning as I walked through my woods. Rotten and vile. It Almost smelled as if a person had been buried there, but not far under the surface. My keen sense of smell had landed me many, very important detective jobs. I could pick up and define even the faintest of smells. But there’s no way there’s a crime scene right in my own back yard? I put my nose closer to the earth, sniffing the surface. It is- But it can’t be? Could it? I thought as the smell of a rotting body filled my nostrils. I could find out.
I stood over top of the soiled earth for minutes, unable to get the thought of digging it up out of my head. I knew I wasn’t supposed to act on any of my suspicions until I had reported them to the chief, but this consumed my mind. I couldn’t control myself. Curiosity took over.
The soil was soft and easy to dig into. In a matter of minutes, I could see a piece of blueish fabric peeking out from the dirt. Frantically, I uncovered the rest of it. Moments later a fully uncovered body lay in the ground in front of me. At the sight, I ran back to my house calling for my partner. Finally, I got to the door but and saw my partner through the glass. I yelled more to get his attention. He rushed outside asking a million questions but I just led him to the body.
“Wow,” He said as he stared at the body, “We’ve been looking for her ever since she went missing last year. I can’t believe you found her. You’re really a special dog.”
January is a dangerous month. January is deadly. Don’t believe me? January. killed. my. Lenore.
Ok truth. A-steering-wheel-through-the-heart killed Lenore, but it was January’s fault. Lenore’ll tell it was the road, slick with ice and a blanket of snow. She’ll tell it was the brakes on the Volkswagon—that’s what did her in. But don’t you believe it.
You hear that? She’s always jingling the keys, telling me I need to take the car to the mechanic. From the garage I hear them ringing, hear her earrings and their blinging, and my guilt is ever-stinging at her mangled, undead form.
Though the Browns are playing, which is to say they’re losing, I get up when she starts her jingling because I know I’ll get no rest till I let her in the door. Why she doesn’t just come right on through—my ephemeral, vaporous wife of thirty-nine years, some of them while she lived and breathed—Lenore wants me off the couch, that’s why.
I tell her, “Wait just a minute, will ya, honey? It’s January.”
She tells me she waited for me to fix the brakes and look how that turned out. I meant to. Really.
She stands right in the way of the telly, hands on hips, keys a jangle, rusty earrings a’dangle, matted hair a crimson tangle. Who can enjoy a game with such distraction? Not I, nevermore.
“Your father wasn’t a glassblower,” I say, hoping she’ll get the hint.
I ask her to remove the serrated keys from my chest. She twists until only the key ring is visible, wrecking my PJ’s forever.
“Please?” I ask. “Take your keys from my heart, your form from my foyer, your brakes and your bangles, your oxidizing earrings and your weather-beaten bones, you zombie chore. Won’t you go? I can’t take it anymore.”
“Nevermore,” says Lenore.
I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words class: read “The Raven” at least three times then craft a story based on it. You can change anything, POV, genre, aspects, motivations, setting, etc.
Each session, 5000 Words culminates with a peer-judged writing contest. Our last few classes are devoted entirely to workshops, which are the faves of mine and my students. After surviving the gauntlet of peer critique (in which the writer must remain absolutely silent), students polish and edit their stories to a brilliant shine. Why silent, you ask? Because if it’s not on the page, it doesn’t matter. Since the author can’t sit on the reader’s shoulder filling in all the things they meant to say, everything has to be on the page. It has to be clear. Confusion is the death knell of a story. So we sit around and tell what confuses. Or what works. Or we give ideas. Those are the best. I love seeing a story go nuclear because of suggestions in our workshop.
At the end of the critique, students get a chance to answer a few of the charges, but they know audience perception is more important than what they meant to say. A two-inch-thick stack of hardcopy critiques and as much time as they’re willing to devote is the revision program. They post their shined-up stories to their WordPress sites and anonymously vote for their favorites. I am proud of ALL my students’ stories. The magic is in the revisions. Click the titles to read some dazzling romance, sci-fi, and drama.
Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past four years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.
Ethan Zabka is 13 and in 8th grade. He enjoys writing, especially scary, tension-filled stories. Other hobbies of his include basketball, soccer, and piano. He also enjoys spending time with friends and family. He loves math and wants to pursue a career in engineering.
Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. Dance is her passion and career choice but has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on the mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.
My friend Cyndigave me the idea to showcase some of the Halloween stories I received from the flash contest. Enjoy these bite-sized stories from Ethan Zabka, Anna Marsick, and Cynthia Hilston.
The Last Halloween
By Ethan Zabka
“This is going to be awesome!” My friend Jeremy exclaimed. ” It’s going to be the greatest Halloween ever!”
“I agree; let’s make it the best,” I replied. After I donned my Dr. Frankenstein costume, we left.
It was a warm evening. Kids were everywhere, shouting and observing their prizes. The sunset was beautiful, an explosion of pink and yellow in the sky.
The first 5 houses we visited were generous, giving us Hershey bars and King-Sized Reese’s. As we were strolling, we came across a hideous creature, who fell in step with us after Jeremy remarked how he completed my Frankenstein apparel. The monster’s makeup was almost perfect, and his yellow eyes glimmered in the dusk. He wasn’t talkative, just keeping in step with me and munching on chocolate.
Soon, the moon came out, often hidden by dark clouds scudding across the sky. A chilly wind started to blow, and rain sprinkled down. Jeremy departed for home, tired. The monster and I kept on, gathering candy.
I left the monster when I realized the time. I would have to take the shortcut through the woods to make it home before midnight.
I was nearly home when I bumped into something large.
It wasn’t a tree.
A lightning flash divulged a ragged rip in his cloak, revealing a mottled chest, metal pieces poking from green flesh. The sight paralyzed me with fear.
He was real.
Thunder boomed like artillery fire. I screamed as he seized me and hissed, “Curse you, Frankenstein! You have come back from the grave to cause me anguish!”
“All who bear the name Frankenstein deserve to die, to have no happiness here!” His eyes blazed with rage as the thunder crackled. “I end this once and for all!”
I felt his fingers close around my neck.
By Anna Marsick
*Ping* goes my phone. I lay on my bed, pillow sodden with tears. I flip over, refusing to acknowledge that deplorable dimwit who sources my rueful feelings. One minute I’m in love, the next I’m drowning in my tears. I still can’t believe he didn’t take me to homecoming because he had to work out. I hate relationships.
*Ping* I roll my eyes, ignoring it and muttering, “Not accepting apologies today, buddy. Go flirt with your dumbbells. They’re probably smarter than me anyway.” Suddenly, I hear a *thunk, thunk, THUD* at my window. Spooked, I spring off my bed.
“Oww!” I scream-whisper, creeping to the window, seizing a pink slipper that will protect me from the predator who’s summoned me. Heart pounding, I cautiously peer out of my window into the gloomy night and am greeted by a rock hitting my forehead. “Stand down!” I yelp, “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to strike!”
“Hi, Baby! Come out here!” replies the hooligan. “What in the? Myles? What are you… never mind. Go away.” I begin to shut my window as he bellows, “Wait! I’m sorry. I’m a bad boyfriend. Let me make it up to you. Please. Come out here, dance with me under the stars. I made a playlist and brought a dress for you… I love and care about you.”
“That’s cute. Bye,” I say, shaking my head and preparing to retreat. I steal one last glance at his face. Aw man. The pleading gaze in his eyes causes me to cave in. I gingerly climb out of my window, into his arms. Expeditiously, I slip into the dress, and we become one under the stars… united in rhythm. As we sway to the music, he murmurs, “I love you.” I love relationships.
The elusive they say opposites attract. Herman didn’t know who they were. He looked over his phantom face in the mirror. The stitches holding his smile broke. Rotten teeth were a turn-off for most women. “What sort of zombie puts a profile on a dating site?” It was done on a dare. Who says the undead can’t have a life? Ed, ever a charmer and a drunk in this half-afterlife, told Herman he would be happier if he went out more. Halloween was coming. She would think Herman was a brilliant costume. This she was as elusive as the they who made ridiculous claims like opposites attract. Herman pulled up to her house in his 1966 Chevy on Halloween. She glowed with the setting sun as she stepped outside like an angel meant to take him to Heaven. Heaven isn’t for zombies who eat brains, even reformed zombies, thought Herman. If he had a beating heart, it would have thumped out of his tattered chest beneath his new clothes. “The clothes,” said Ed, “were important. You can’t go around looking completely dead.” His already rigid body stiffened as he remembered his manners, exited the car, and opened the passenger door. The light of Heaven shone down with her smile. “Happy Halloween…Herman.” “Hello, Brenda.” He shouldn’t have gorged on a stray cat’s brains before coming here, a chunk of grey matter lodged in his throat. “Where to?” “You look like a vintage kinda guy. There’s a malt shop in town. You know it?” He nodded. A little while later, they shared a table and a strawberry shake. She leaned into him and took his hand. He twitched, trying to pull away. Yet she was as cold as him. She giggled. “Don’t worry, Herman. It’s Halloween. This is all a costume.”
Sometimes it takes an alien perspective to show us what it means to be human.
My story, “The Outrider,” published in The Corona Book of Science Fiction, explores a paradoxical culture that condemns a cheerleader for killing her just-born baby and lauds millions of girls for walking into clinics all over the planet to achieve the same end. Can the protagonist, a teenager herself, justify the chasm of value fixed between fetus and baby? The future of the human race depends on it.
Will my story make you mad? Maybe. Will it make you think? Definitely.
I’ve read many of the other stories and can vouch: they’re worth your time. Far more delicious, less fattening, and for less than you’d spend on a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you can enjoy this fantastic collection of thought-provoking sci-fi entertainment. Many thanks to the editorial team at Corona Books UK for publishing “The Outrider.”