2017 WC – 3rd Place: Brooklynn Coopers

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2017 WC – 2nd Place: Madison Edwards

“Be grateful for another day. Not everybody made it, so don’t take it for granted.” It was on a bright, humid day in the stunningly beautiful city of Naples, Florida, that I made my first kill. Looking back, I have only regret, shame, and the haunting memories that still stick with me.

The sun was blazing overhead, the sand was scorching, and the salty waves lightly lapped against the sand, a typical day at the beach in Naples, located on the Gulf of Mexico’s glittering waters. I lazily enjoyed the view from my perch on a beach chair. I could see my brothers and dad playing football, moving at a hurried pace to keep the sand from burning their feet, my mother floating in the pool half asleep, and my friend, Abby, sprawled out listening to music beside me as the sun bathed us both in its sultry rays. I was completely relaxed, having no premonition of what was to come.

I reveled in this beautiful day as the previous one had been threateningly gray, with strong winds and torrents of rain. Today no signs of the storms of days past remained. Or so I thought.

As the heat from the sizzling sun became almost unbearable, I gently shook Abby and asked if she would like to walk along the ocean shore, look for shells that sprinkled the sand, and wade in the ocean to cool off. She readily agreed. After a quick reapplication of sunscreen, we headed off.

As we reached the water with our small pail to collect shells, we saw one of the remnants of yesterday’s tempest. About four feet into the alkaline waters rested many beautiful conch shells, shifted close to shore by the churning waves of yesterday. Abby and I, having a special affinity for conch shells, felt absolutely elated. I set down the small green pail so I could wade in with Abby and pick up a few of the alluring shells. We grabbed two shells each, placing them in our bucket. Euphoric with our good luck, we each grabbed two more shells to carry up to our condo for safe keeping. We made the short trek back to the condo building. We clambered into the elevator that would take us to the seventh floor, where our lodgings were located. As the elevator climbed we chattered excitedly about the shells that stood apart from our usual finds. As we reached the seventh floor a cold, sharp object poked at my hand. Panicked, I looked down to discover that our stunning shells still had living inhabitants which had finally figured out that they were no longer in their aquatic home and had begun to stick their single, clawed foot out in protest. A strangled sound of horror escaped my throat as their slimy, oozing, hideous bodies began to emerge from their beautiful shells, attempting to find water but instead wrapping around my fingers. It took Abby only seconds to discover the cause of my panic as the shells in her hands were also coming alive.

As the elevator doors opened, we sprinted to the door of our condo, immediately dropping the shells and their repulsive dwellers. We quickly collected ourselves and found a bucket big enough to safely hold our eight conchs. Once they had been safely contained, we debated on whether to return them to their rightful home in the ocean or selfishly let them die and keep the shells. Unfortunately, our love of unique shells won out. We left all eight shells in the bucket, without water, and returned to the beach, assuming they would perish by the time we returned. The soothing sun quickly erased any thought of the suffering conchs, and we enjoyed the rest of our beach day without guilt. After the sun had set, we returned to our condo. Suddenly, we remembered our tortured conchs when the bucket came into view. We cautiously approached the bucket. No movement occurred from within. I gently prodded the bucket with my toe, and the bucket came alive with frantic clawing as they tried, in vain, to escape their confines. A shriek emerged from my throat, and I realized they weren’t dead as I had assumed they would be after hours without water. It turns out conchs, very similar to snails, have a protective layer of slime to preserve their skin and allow them to survive outside of water for many hours. As the regret and foolishness of our earlier decision sank in, I realized there was no going back on our decision. The beach closed at sundown, and the conchs wouldn’t make it until the morning. They were clearly suffering. So, we decided to put the poor, innocent creatures out of their misery.

After searching the condo, we decided to pour a mixture of bleach and water on the conchs to end this whole horrible ordeal. In a moment of steely courage, we booked it outside and dumped the potent mixture in the bucket. As the sounds of a frantic struggling from within the bucket reached our ears, we ran back into the condo, unable to bear the sounds of our mistake. A few hours later, we emerged to see if the bleach had done the trick. As I shook the bucket there were no signs of life, a small relief. However, knowing how hardy these creatures are, we decided to freeze them to be 100% sure they were completely dead. After tentatively removing them from the bucket and placing them on paper plates, we inserted them into the freezer and went to bed. The knowledge of what had transpired weighed heavily on us.

Eventually, morning came, and we opened the freezer. The conchs appeared to be in the same spot as we had left them. It was time. We needed to remove the dead creatures from the shells we had so desperately wanted the day before. However, you cannot simply pluck a frozen conch from its shell. You must boil them first.

We heated up a pot of water, our stomachs turning at the thought of what we must do. Using a pair of tongs, I dropped the icy shells into the scalding water with a small hiss. As the conchs unfroze, a vile yellow-green foam rose to the top of the water, releasing a horrendous smell. As everybody choked and gagged at the smell, we turned off the stove top. The time had come to remove the conchs. We gathered a trash bag, paper towels, and a pair of tweezers to pull the conchs out. Neither Abby nor I could bring ourselves to complete this final stage. We bribed my little brother into doing it with the promise of two of the lovely shells. He readily agreed, always one to be involved in something others considered gross or unpleasant. It turns out that conchs really do not like being removed from their homes, even when dead. Despite having been soaked in bleach, then frozen, then boiled, those little warriors were not giving their shells up easily, even from beyond the grave. After a solid half an hour of yanking, they wouldn’t come out. We boiled them again, the same noxious foam and smell rising. Finally, nearly twenty-four hours after we unknowingly plucked the conchs from the sea, the conchs were removed from the shells. The moment, void of victory, was a moment of realization that we had just intentionally murdered eight ocean creatures. A fact that still haunts our consciences.

The conch shells sit on a shelf in my room, surrounded by many other trip souvenirs with much less violence behind them. Every time I pass the beautiful shells, it is a weighty reminder of the Great Conch Debacle of 2015.

2017 WC – 1st Place: Adryanna O’Keefe

In the kingdom we call Attic,

A treasure chest, veiled in dust,

Conceals the riches of a dreamer,

The visions of a queen.

A mirror, framed in solid gold,

Entrusts to us an image sweet,

Of full cheeks tinted pink as posies

And eyes as dazzling as the seas.

Fabric cascades in gentle waves,

A waterfall of red,

And gathers in a puddle

Around two tiny feet.

Mother’s pearls from neck descend,

A moon in crimson sky,

Pint-sized fingers twist and twirl

Stars which hang on golden thread.

Sunshine drops in ringlets,

Her shoulders are its throne,

Proud it sits, framing rosie cheeks,

It’s only friend a lacy bow.

A gentle voice like music calls

And child shrugs off her daze.

Bare feet forthwith pitter-patter

As queen from loyal kingdom flees.

Some call it a fancy,

This Lilliputian’s dream,

Whom the world greets as a princess,

But who yearns to be a queen.

Book Etiquette: Reading the Right Way

How does one read a book the right way? Are there certain practices and behaviors that are often disrespectful of a book or the author? I would say yes. This is all in a half-joking manner, but there are truly some things that I think we should remember when reading a book.

Judge Every Book by Its Cover Unless Given a Reason to Do Otherwise

There are enough people in this world practicing “don’t judge a book by its cover” that if they find a masterful book with an ugly cover, they’ll let you know, then you can read it. But there is no use subjecting yourself to some drab magenta book cover if you don’t really know if it will be a good book.

Stick with it until page number __.

This is a rule that lots of people have that I don’t. I’ve heard people say that they stick with a book for 100 pages, 140 pages, it really varies. My trick is that if I don’t like a book, I don’t keep reading. The end.

Give it your attention.

When you sit down to read a book, don’t jump up to do this and pull out your phone to take a picture and text your friend who is also reading a book and taking pictures. Just. Read. The. Book. Whoever wrote that book spent valuable time putting words together in an order that makes sense so that you can read it and enjoy the rhythm and flow. It wasn’t written to be grabbed in little half-paragraph bites. It was written to be chewed.

Be patient.

Newsflash! We have trouble with patience. I don’t want to sound like every social critic blogger, but I will say that the obsessive-compulsive use of social media has probably damaged our patience a lot. Instead of sitting in a doctor’s office and doing nothing (or looking at the fish or reading a book) we now scroll through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, et cetera. So, of course, when we do most anything else, we find ourselves bored very easily.

Sadly, this happens to me practically every time I read a book. Here, a short record of my thoughts when reading a book, for your listening pleasure.

Hmm, I am enjoying this book. Very nice. Oh, good choice of word there, nice imagery. Who is this author? Oh yes. Wow, that’s an awful photo. And that bio is written in third-person but obviously written by the person herself. [See what I did there? I’m being diverse.] Back to reading. I should see how many pages are left before the end of this chapter. Ope… Just about seven. How many pages have I read so far? Just about… one. That’s nice. I love this book so much, I think I’ll check to see how far I am again. I’d say… 1/9th. No… maybe 1/10th.

…And so on and so forth. I am rightfully disgusted with myself. So I have developed a rule that I try to practice as often as my brain will let me:

Don’t check to see how many pages are left before the end of the chapter. Ever.

But someone will say “how can you know if you can read the chapter before you have to go do something else?” Well, here’s the thing, if you have to leave in the middle of a chapter, you use something called a bookmark, and if you have to do a tiny bit of back-reading next time, that’s okay. It’s probably good for you.

Actually read books.

It’s horribly rude to leave unread materials sitting around your house. Sure, they make great decorations (this is coming from someone who once checked out a bagful of books from the library just to use as decorations – they were classics, no one checks those out anyway), but too long sitting as unused decorations and they won’t feel valued.

Read your books! And while you do, remember to:

  • Judge books by their cover.
  • Stick with it until a decided page number. (If you’re that kind of person.)
  • Give it your attention.
  • Be patient.

Happy reading!

P.S. This is the 150th blog post!

Creating a Main Character for Your Novel

As a writer and weaver of stories, one of my favorite things to do is create characters. I love writing characters more than writing their dialogue, explaining a world, or even creating a plot. Building a character makes you feel like you’re making a whole new person. Often, when you’ve finished, it’s hard to believe the character doesn’t exist in real life because it becomes so real in your head.

Here is my process for creating a main character.

Decide on Some Basic Things

First off, you’ll need to decide some basic things. Most likely, you already have these things figured out. Is the character a boy or a girl? Are they tall or short? What does he or she look like?

Give Them a Name

Naming is sometimes fun and sometimes really hard. When someone is born in real life, their name has a chance to shape them, and they have a chance to shape the perspective of others on their name. But in fiction, you have to be careful with the preconceptions you instill with the name. Does the name sound bratty? Does it sound too hipster? Will it make people think the character is dumb?

Personally, I feel that it’s usually best to go with a less common name so that people probably haven’t met someone with that name before. For my last novel, I used the name Gavryn, which is actually completely unheard of. I love that name because I was able to shape it to mean whatever I wanted to, instead of starting off with ideas for someone with that name. For my current novel, my character’s names are Elisa and Clairen. Clairen is fairly rare, whereas Elisa is an older name.

The important thing is that you choose a name you can shape throughout the story.

Build Their Personality

Now is the most complex part. You want to create someone with an intricate and consistent personality. Will they be an extrovert or an introvert? Will they be nice or mean? Will they be sharp or dull?

All of this is up to you, but unless you aim to confuse your reader, the golden rule must be consistency. All things said and done by the character must conform to what he or she is supposed to generally be like. All twists from this general idea must be accounted for and explained somehow.

Predetermine Their Character Arc

Lastly, you must decide what the character’s story within your story will be. Will they have a rebellious time but come back to the light? Will they stay loyal to their friend? Will they learn what true character means? Will they go head-to-head with the pope in Vatican City?!

It’s all up to you. Now, stop surfing the web and get to writing your story!

Magic Theory

As a writer of fantasy, one must learn to understand how magic works and the different theories of its use. If you let the characters in your book or short story run around inventing magic out of thin air, their power will be completely boundless and it will become incredibly unrealistic, because, as we all know; people have unlimited wants but limited resources. If this economic rule does not apply to magic, then… I don’t even want to think about life if economic rules didn’t apply.

Here are a few theories of magic that I have created or heard of from various sources.

Enzone

I’m naming this theory of magic off of the element of magic used in my own novel, The Fantastical Journey of Gavryn Wickert. In this version of magic, it is an element in the air that can be taken in by the user. Anyone can use it; there is no special blood or ancestry required, but it takes practice. Once someone is used to letting in the element, they then practice expending it by fire and ice and whatnot. So, I guess you could say the enzonic theory of magic acts as if enzone is a blank element that can be turned into something. However, it cannot only be turned into elements but can also be used to look into someone’s mind or lift objects without touching hem.

Strength

This idea of magic is demonstrated in the Eragon books, where magic comes from within and uses up inner strength. This is how the author keeps it from going out of control while giving his characters extra abilities.

Science

In many books, the theory of magic is simply the idea that magical things can be attained via scientific intel. Instead of it being an unexplainable mystery, it is a thought-out process.

If you have another theory you’re thinking of, please comment and share it!

 

How to Write Your First Novel (Continued!)

Note: It took me about a month to realize I wrote two blog posts with the same name and (pretty much) the same content. They even begin with the same sentence! So, I’m adding “continued” to this title because it came second, and I’m leaving them both up because they do say a few unique things. 🙂

I wrote a novel! It took me one year, three months, and twenty days, but that is honestly shorter than I really thought it would take. It ended up being just over 60,000 words, and, while it is not a grand work or anything, I’m really proud of it, and I hope to revise and publish someday.

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be that great of a writer, and even if you’re not sure how great it will be, I think you should write a novel, and here’s how you’re going to do it.

Step #1: Buy a sketchbook & grab a pencil.

My first step was to outline and map and plan out how the novel would go. I also drew pictures with my really bad artistic ability. Some things you should put in this sketchbook:

  1. Outline of the plot. (Including character intros and plot twists.)
  2. Map of the area. (Maybe with certain trails highlighted or character houses circled.)
  3. Character bios.
  4. Brainstorm and inspiration.

Depending on the genre of your novel, there will be more things to add to this list. If your genre is fantasy, you may want to write about the world(s) the characters are in and such. If your genre is mystery, you’ll want to line up everything to be sure the mystery is hard to figure out, but does not contradict itself.

For me, the sketchbook helps the visual side of me to plan things out. Others might find a simple notebook or even a computer or iPhone a better tool for them.

Step #2: Begin writing.

This is my most dreaded part. I do enjoy writing, but it’s hard to work up the drive to want to sit and write out a storyline for an hour.

Do whatever will make it easier for you. Start three chapters in. Write the last chapter first. Only write in ten-minute increments until you’ve reached your stride.

Be sure to create an environment that is condusive to writing. It should be quiet, but maybe some background noise like music or birds singing outside. It should be tidy so you can focus. You might get a drink of water so you don’t need to leave your post half-way through. “Whatever works for you” is the motto of writing.

Another thing to note: Some people say to write, write, write, and edit later. I tend to edit as I write, going back a couple paragraphs every time I come to it. Again, figure out what works best for you.

Step #3: Finish it.

There’s a huge gap between #2 and #3, as you can see. But if you work hard and don’t give up, you’ll eventually come to a stopping place. Now is the time to read through it yourself once, just to check that the plot structure is stable and everything makes sense in the end. Then you’ll get to the nex step.

Step #4: Edit it.

For this step, I would reccomend uploading it to a Google Doc and sharing with any of your friends who would like to read it, since this is exactly what I’m doing with my novel now. Whenever edits are made, remember to go back and edit the original document so that you don’t have to redo them.

One more tip: Read it out loud. Somehow your brain is able to pick up on way more mistakes when you read it out loud. Even if it’s just to yourself, I have no doubt you’ll find this incredibly helpful.

Step #5: Recruit first readers.

Now is a fun part. Print out a couple copies (yes, it may be expensive, depending on how large your novel is), put them in binders, and give them to people who you trust. As they read it, they can point out errors they find and compliment you on your storyline. Then, hopefully they’ll give the binders back, and you can send them out again to be read through.

Step #6: Actually finish it.

If everything has been done correctly, there should be minimal errors, and now would be the time to send it off to a publisher or self-publish it. But the sad thing is that novels are rarely ever really done. Even if it’s publised, grammar brats like me out there in the world will find mistakes and write letters or emails, and there will be more things to fix.

If I were cliché, I would say “but that’s the beautiful part of it,” but I’m not going to lie.

If you need advice or you would like to read my novel, email me using this contact form.

How to Win the Writing Contest

This year, I decided to create a writing contest. I feel it’s important to give growing writers a chance to submit their pieces to safe critique. Instead of keeping their writing to themselves so as to avoid harsh criticism, something like this can give them a chance to share their work and see how it does amongst pieces from other writers.

The rules are quite simple. Anyone of any age may submit. Prose, poetry, fiction, nonfiction; it’s all accepted. Anything below 21 words or above 2,100 words will be discarded. Font and style don’t matter; there must only be a name on it. It is allowed (and encouraged) to use something written beforehand, e.g. a piece written for a class or for personal enjoyment. The deadline is July 21st of this year and winning pieces will begin to be announced here on the blog come August 21st. At this point, the prize for winning is to be published on the blog. I hope that, in future years, I will be able to offer a monetary reward as well, but at this point, that is not a valid option for me.

That’s enough with the explanations. This post is to show what I’m looking for in your submissions. If your piece demonstrates the key attributes for its section, you will have a much better chance of winning.

Poetry

While I do enjoy a bit of poetry, I am not much of a poet myself and I feel very inadequate as a judge of poetry. This is why I’m asking for someone who loves poetry to be one of the judges. They won’t be the only judge of a given poem, but they will have a good say in the matter. If you would like to be a judge, just email me here.

If you are planning on submitting poetry, here are some guidelines. Your piece should…

  1. Possess a good rhythm,
  2. be beautiful,
  3. be wise,
  4. be wholesome,
  5. and be on the lighter side (as opposed to dark and heavy).

Disclaimer: if it’s for a good cause and you make it work, you can throw out all these guidelines. You can write an offbeat poem with ugly wording and a foolish, dark tone, and if it all somehow works to make something amazing, you may very well have a winning piece.

Fiction

I am looking forward to the fiction submissions. Genres include (but are not limited to): mystery, fantasy, historical, sci-fi, satire, realistic, dystopian, et cetera.

If you’re submitting a work of fiction, it should…

  1. Have depth,
  2. fascinate the reader,
  3. be light (as opposed to dark),
  4. and be wholesome.

Just as with poetry, these are just guidelines. If you’re convinced that a piece about a shallow, uninteresting character with dark thoughts and emotions will end up being magical in all the strange ways that are impossible to predict, then go for it. This is a writing contest, not a writing class.

Nonfiction

Honestly, some nonfiction can be as drab, dull, monotonous, dreary, colourless, uninteresting, gray, bleak, flat, and boring as this sentence is. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some guidelines for those submitting nonfiction.

Your work should be…

  1. Deep,
  2. interesting,
  3. helpful,
  4. and insightful.

I do hope this isn’t becoming a redundant refrain, but do understand that these are only guidelines. You could write a shallow, uninteresting, unhelpful, and uninsightful (funny how latin helps us undo almost every word we have) piece that somehow captures one’s heart. Although, with the instance of nonfiction, that’s unlikely.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy writing (or simply copy-pasting something you have already written) your submission(s), and the experience helps you grow as a writer.

If your piece cannot be accepted into the contest at all (because of word count or content) I will be sure to email you back as soon as possible.

If you’re not scared of competition and/or you have writing friends, let them know about the contest! You can also share this post on your Facebook or download this image and share on various social networks.

writing-contest

If you have any questions, just email me using this form.