Grave Escape published in anthology

The anthology The Society of Misfit Stories Presents, Volume One, which includes my fantasy novelette Grave Escape, is available as ebook and hardcover everywhere books are sold online. It was released on Nov 20. The hardcover price on Amazon is ridiculous, but the ebook price is reasonable. I didn’t check other retailers.
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My story synopsis:
Imprisoned by the sanctimonious magic thieves for years, two young witches found a way to escape captivity. Their desperate flight to freedom leads through mysterious tunnels and long-forgotten crypts, but the final destination opens up an unexpected opportunity.
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When I wrote this story, I tried to find a classical image that would reflect the heroines’ pain, fear, and hope, all that entangled brew of feelings that sustained them in their madcap dash to liberty. I found the best one in a paintings by Francois Joseph Navez. Here it is:

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Writing memoirs

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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In November, I had an interesting experience. For 3 consecutive Tuesdays, I conducted a 3-part seminar on the basics of writing fiction at our Jewish Community Center library. The seminar was scheduled for the middle of the day, so not surprisingly, only retired people attended. I had 2 attendees on the first 2 days (different on both days) and one woman on the last day. And everyone told me: “I liked it very much, but if it was a seminar on writing memoirs, I’d be much more interested. Schedule such a seminar and let us know. We’ll come.”

It seems, everyone wants to write their memoirs these days. Everyone but me. For sure, I can do a seminar on writing memoirs. Writing is writing, and story is story, whether fictional or real. In fact, the librarian had persuaded me into scheduling such a seminar for next spring. But why was I never tempted to write my own memoirs?

Apart from a couple of odd autobiographical essays, published in small magazines, I have never wanted to write about myself. I just don’t consider myself interesting. I’m ordinary. My fictional heroes, on the other hand, are fascinating, and their lives are full of adventures.

But that begs the question: could an ordinary person come up with extraordinary characters, characters people would root for? Or do I kid myself, and my characters are as hum-drum as I am? Or maybe the opposite is true: I’m not ordinary at all? I’m a writer, and what ordinary person would chose such an occupation? It doesn’t pay. It forces me, more often than not, to reside in places other my life and commune with people who are all figments of my imagination. It also makes me fret constantly about story structure, plot holes, dialogs, villains, etc., while my neighbors concern themselves with their home renovation projects and their children.

What do you think? Can an ordinary person be a writer? Or does it take a certain twist of the mind to become one? And if the latter is true, maybe we all should write our memoirs? Maybe they would be interesting after all? Are you considering writing your own memoirs?
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Femininity – what does it mean?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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This month, the OPTIONAL QUESTION involves the NaNoWriMo. As I never participated in it and don’t plan to in the foreseeable future, I want to write about a different question. I went shopping yesterday and saw a small poster on a wall: a simple sheet of colored printer paper. It asked in a large font: What does your femininity mean to you? I didn’t stop to read the small font underneath, just skimmed the title and continued on my way, but the question stuck. What does femininity mean to me: as a woman and a writer?

In traditional psychology, the terms masculinity and femininity referred to characteristics typically associated with being male or female, respectively. High masculinity implied the absence of femininity, and vice versa. [He is strong and aggressive. He is a man. She is gentle and nurturing. She is a woman.] As a result, everyone could be classified as either masculine or feminine. No gray area.

Mars and Venus by Alexandre Charles Guillemot, detail

Contemporary science views the subject differently. In modern psychology, any individual simultaneously possesses both masculine and feminine features, to some degree, a mix of Mars and Venus. Moreover, many philosophers agree that both femininity and masculinity are often more social than biological constructs. Gender (outward attributes) notwithstanding, when a person has more feminine attributes psychologically than masculine ones, that person could be considered feminine. Otherwise, masculine.

Statistically, in most women, feminine traits outweigh masculine ones. The same is true of men. Our species wouldn’t have survived otherwise. But sometimes, our gender and psyche clash, and we have people who feel the opposite of their bodies, the opposite of their gender stereotype. That’s where trans-genders come from. Or, if not the opposite, leaning to the other side, trying to figure out who they are. Trying to fit in inside the rigid society definitions.

I never felt any conflict with my body. I’m a woman, maybe not 100% feminine but feminine enough. I’m a mother. I was a wife, until my divorce. I guess, I took it as a given that I’m feminine. Somewhat. It didn’t mean anything to me; it simply was.

But as a writer, perhaps I should think about it. Most of the protagonists of my fiction are females. Should I try to make them more feminine? Less? Should I find a balance of sorts? How?

There are novels aplenty about people, male and female, struggling with themselves and the society, when their genders and psyches are in discord. But I recently read a fantasy novel by Mercedes Lackey, one of her older Valdemar stories. In her story, one of the characters, Firesong, has his feminine and masculine sides perfectly balanced. In the book, he is beautiful, homosexual, and a powerful Adept magician.

I wonder if any writer ever wrote a female protagonist who balanced both sides of her nature: feminine and masculine. Would she be a lesbian? Would she be a fighter? What does it mean, when both sides of your psyche are in balance? Does it make you a better mother? A worse lover? A hermaphrodite? I don’t know. Do you? Tell me in the comments?

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Unrelated: I had a fantasy short story Defying Kikimoras published in the April 2017 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly. They are running a poll for the annual Reader’s Choice Award, asking people to vote for their favorite story and author. The poll is open until Nov 15th. You can read my story for free here. If you like it, would you mind going to the poll and voting for me? You have to scroll down to the April issue and find my name. Here is the link.
Thank you.
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WEP: Magic Book

In this WEP challenge – Dark Places – Tasya’s story proceeds to its #5 installment. The previous episodes are:

1. Shielding Misha
2. Golden Fish
3. Madonna Run
4. Puss in Spots

Thanks, Yolanda and Denise from the WEP website, for inspiring me to keep up with this project.
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Tasya hung her coat on a hook on the door of the janitor closet and happily surveyed her domain – the research librarian’s basement chamber. She loved her job: the books, the silence, interrupted only by the faint trickle of conversations from upstairs, and the quirky demands for research. Right now, she had two: a request about Mongolian traditional footwear and another one about butterflies of Africa. Seeking information and writing reports on such elusive subjects was almost as exciting as working magic.

Her hand stole to her breast, where a medallion reinforced with her magic resided under her blouse. It was the last one she had – a small bronze book with an enamel insert. She liked it and wore it every day since she came back to work from her maternity leave. She yearned to keep it for herself for good but knew she couldn’t. None of the medallions had been destined for her. Someone else would need it and soon to escape the NKVD persecutions.

Already missing the charming little trinket, Tasya settled at her desk, put on her librarian gloves of thin white cotton, and carefully opened her first source of the day – a yellowed hundred-year-old traveler’s journal. Engrossed in her work, she didn’t pay attention to the heightened noise from upstairs, until her boss, Margarita the Magnificent, burst through the door.

Nobody liked Margarita. An arrogant perfectionist, the director of the library dressed impeccably and carried herself like the Snow Queen from the Andersen’s tale. She knew almost every book in the catalog and could answer the most arcane questions without consulting a reference, which didn’t endear her to her subordinates.

She didn’t resemble the Snow Queen now. Panic settled around her like a cloak, suffocating the woman, making her white and shaking.

Tasya started, but she didn’t ask any questions. She knew the answer. NKVD. Now that she surfaced from her Mongolian journal, she could hear their yells – an incongruous sound inside any library – echoing from upstairs. The medallion beneath Tasya’s clothing throbbed in tune with Margarita’s ragged breathing. It had found its mistress.

Without a word, Margarita headed towards the fire door at the end of the hall.

“No!” Tasya called. “Not outside. They will chase you out there.” She jumped up from her desk and opened the janitor closet’s door. “Get in. You’ll be safe.”

Margarita stopped, turned. “It doesn’t have a lock.”

“I promise, nobody will find you here.” Tasya hurriedly took off the medallion and thrust it into Margarita’s trembling hands. “Put it on. It’ll protect you. Trust me. Hurry.”

Margarita scuttled inside the tiny closet, her eyes frantic. “It’s dark inside, no light bulb.”

“Better than jail. Keep quiet.” Tasya closed the door. Already military boots thumped heavily on the stairs. She slapped a thick layer of magic at the closet. The No Notice spell repelled even her own eyes, demanding she looked elsewhere.

Tasya darted back to her desk. She was in the process of sitting down, when two men in uniform rushed in.

“Where is the director?” the older one shouted.

Tasya pointed towards the fire escape.

“Check here,” the commander ordered his younger underling and ran towards the exit.

The young officer glared at Tasya. “You should’ve stopped her,” he growled. The fire door slammed shut behind his superior.

“She is my boss,” Tasya said faintly.

“Not for long,” the officer snarled and marched between two rows of the tall bookshelves. He didn’t even glance at the janitor closet.

Later, long after he departed, the conversation Tasya had had with him repeated almost verbatim with Margarita’s deputy Yuri. “I’ll be your boss from now on, and you’d better remember that.” Yuri stomped back towards the stairs. Like the officer before him, he didn’t seem to notice the janitor closet, even though he knew it was there. “Tomorrow morning, I expect a full report on what you’re working on.”

“Of course,” Tasya murmured to his back. She had always liked the man before, but his glee at Margarita’s misfortune was chilling.

When she was sure she was alone, she forced herself to open the closet door. It was hard even to touch the door handle. Her magic was getting stronger.

Margarita sat on the floor, hugging herself and swaying from side to side. She looked much older now than her forty-plus years. She squinted at the light. “You think I can go?” She sounded like a forlorn child.

“Not yet. They are still searching upstairs. Wait until the library closes. Soon.”

Margarita sighed. “I know why.”

“They don’t need a why,” Tasya shot back.

Margarita didn’t seem to hear her. “I had a memo to destroy all the publications with articles by Trotsky and his cohorts but I didn’t. I don’t care about Trotsky but I couldn’t destroy books. Magazines.” She talked to herself more than to Tasya and she shivered constantly. “I hid them. Yuri would never find them. The rat!” She stared past Tasya at the bookshelves.

“I’ll get your coat and purse from your office.” Tasya shook her head at Margarita’s shocked state. “Stay put.” She closed the door, made sure the spell was still active, and climbed the stairs to the office floor.

To pass Yuri’s office with its open door, she doused herself with the same No Notice spell. It worked beautifully. He didn’t notice her, and most everyone else was already gone.

Luckily, Tasya found Margarita’s purse and coat untouched. She also discovered something amazing, something that put her in shock almost equal to her boss’s. In Margarita’s desk, she found an old grimoire.

An illusion veiled the ancient book, camouflaging it as an old herbarium, but inside its faded, leather-bound cover, spells shimmered, calling to her.

Even back downstairs, Tasya couldn’t take her eyes from her new treasure. She wanted to open it but didn’t dare, not in the library, not without all sorts of magical precautions.

“I think almost everybody have left. Come out. Where did you find this book, Margarita?”

Margarita shuffled out, keeping a hand in front of her eyes after hours in the darkness. “I found a floor safe. This old herbarium was there.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why. It’s not even cataloged. I hid all the Trotskyist literature in the safe. You must catalog the herbarium tomorrow morning.” She shrugged on her coat and grabbed Tasya’s hands. “Thank you.”

After Margarita slipped out the fire exit, Tasya stuffed the grimoire into her bag. She wouldn’t catalog it, of course. She would take it home and study it. Only a witch could use a grimoire, and she might be the only active witch in Moscow. It seemed she had exchanged one tiny bronze book, the medallion, for this big magic one. Not a bad exchange rate for a librarian.

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Writing Tips: a man with a gun

Raymond Chandler once formulated his famous Chandler’s Law: “if you don’t know what happens next in your story, bring in a man with a gun,” or something to that effect. At first, I disregarded this banal trope. I thought I could do better, find a more original solution, but now, several years and a dozen stories later, I can attest to the validity of his advice. It worked for me twice recently, for two different stories.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be literally A MAN WITH A GUN. Any agent of chaos will do. When your plot is stuck, it means a balance of some sort has been reached. The forces of good and evil are clinched in a stalemate. Neither one moves because they don’t want to jeopardize their chances. You have to break the stalemate, upset the balance, so your story could move forward. And the simplest way to do that is to have a baddy at the door. The arrival of relief troops to the enemy. A treachery in your own camp. A mysterious letter from an ex. Unexpected complications in the hero’s health condition. A dragon. Or actually a man with a gun.

A couple months ago, I was working on a short story, trying to finish it to submit to an anthology. I was stuck, the deadline was approaching, but the story floundered. It needed a last punch, a final confrontation, but my heroine had already solved her problem. She just waited for the story to end. So I dropped in a bunch of bandits with guns, thus opening up a range of new possibilities for my heroine. She didn’t have a choice now; she had to act: escape, hide, fight, bargain with bandits. Anything was better than her sitting on her butt, waiting passively. Hey-ho, men with guns! You’re a writer’s best friend.

Then there is this regency novella I’m trying to write. It had resisted me for two darn years. One day, I thought about smugglers. They did a lot of smuggling in regency England, at least according to Georgette Heyer. What if a group of smugglers barged into a place where my hero and heroine enjoyed their secret tete-a-tete? Now, boom, they have to do something. Smugglers were deadly fellows in those days, so my characters couldn’t stay chatty and complacent anymore. It was a beautiful solution to my writing block, and the story is unrolling nicely.

What other literary devices do you employ, when your plot is in the suds?
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Unrelated: I had a fantasy short story Defying Kikimoras published in the April 2017 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly. They are running a poll for the annual Reader’s Choice Award, asking people to vote for their favorite story and author. The poll is open until Nov 15th. You can read my story for free here. If you like it, would you mind going to the poll and voting for me? You have to scroll down to the April issue and find my name. Here is the link.
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BTW: I used the device of A MAN WITH A GUN in this story as well. Worked like a charm.

 

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Rubens and IWSG

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

This month, I’m proud to announce that I’m co-hosting the IWSG blog hop, together with the three other wonderful writers: Chemist Ken, Tamara Narayan, and Jennifer Hawes.

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OPTIONAL OCTOBER QUESTION: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

MY ANSWER: Yes. Bits and pieces of my life and my conversations with others often find their way into my fiction. Usually, it happens on purpose. For example, a few years ago I was working on a novel. I visited my sister at that time and asked her: what would you do in a situation such and such. I gave her answer, almost verbatim, to one of my characters.

Sometimes, I don’t ask. I talk to people, and something they say sticks to my memory. I might use it years later for one of my characters. The original person might not even remember he or she said that. It was in passing, in conversation, and none of us remembers what we said years ago while chatting with a friend or a relative.

I think all writers steal colorful phrases or unusual situations from their real life once in a while. It is too rich a source to pass by.
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Today is the day of the Show Us Your Writer Insecurity contest (read the full description of the contest’s rules and prizes here). Each of us is supposed to post a picture of him or her (or their avatar) with the IWSG visual representation: a badge or some swag.

As a co-host,  can’t wait to see the others’ photos, but for myself, I decided to create a composite of my avatar in front of the IWSG badge. Now, my avatar is not my photo. It’s a painting by Peter Paul Rubens: Lady-in-waiting to Infanta Isabella, currently the property of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Here is what the Hermitage website says about this painting.

I imagine that if Rubens could travel through time and learned about the internet, he would’ve definitely discovered IWSG, and his charming redheaded girl might have looked like this:

Don’t you think he would’ve approved of my composition?

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Romance resistance syndrome

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

OPTIONAL SEPTEMBER QUESTION: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? (For example, by trying a new genre you didn’t think you’d be comfortable in?)

MY ANSWER: Oh, yeah. Romance. Regency romance, to be precise. Most of my fiction is pure fantasy, sometimes with a dash of romantic flavor, but most often not even a whiff. My brain doesn’t seem to lean in that direction. But I won’t surprise anyone to say that romance is the most popular genre in fiction. I enjoy reading romances, especially clean romances, like Georgette Heyer, even though I don’t write them.

After I started putting my fiction on wattpad and not getting many reads or votes, I decided to conduct an experiment. A couple years ago, I wrote a regency romance novella, Fibs in the Family, and put it on wattpad (you can read it here) to see what would happen. What did happen flabbergasted me. My little experiment has become the most read of all my stories there. At the last count, it got 24.6 thousand reads and 1.6 thousand votes. People like it, and the comments are most flattering. I don’t promote it at all, but it gets new readers all the time. If I was selling this novella and got such numbers, it would’ve been considered a bestseller.

Now, I want to capitalize on its success and write another regency novella, with two different protagonists, but it goes very slowly. Didn’t I tell you that my brain doesn’t bend towards love stories? I even made a charming cover in the same style as this one, but my new heroine keeps trying to fix all her problems herself. She doesn’t really need the guy and not even sure she likes him. And she is supposed to fall in love with him. Argh! I’m struggling to stuff the story into the proper and very rigid romantic format, but it bites back really hard. I’m stuck.

I can’t even call it a writer’s block. Since I started working on this new romance novella two years ago, I’ve been getting distracted by other ideas. I have written another novella, a steampunk adventure, and several short stories – neither of them overly romantic – and even got a couple of stories published already. But my regency romance wouldn’t unfold.

I want to finish that story. I really like both protagonists. Many of you write romance. Any advice?

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Posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Novella, Olga Godim, Regency, Romance, wattpad, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

WEP: Puss in Spots

This challenge, Reunions, is the installment #4 of Tasya’s story. I started it in the previous posts for the WEP. For those who are new to the WEP blog hop, the story progressed chronologically in the following order, until it arrived at this episode:

1. Shielding Misha
2. Golden Fish
3. Madonna Run

I embarked on this journey, Tasya’s 6-part story, thanks to Denise and Yolanda from the WEP website.
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“Try again.” Grandma pointed down the street. “Create an illusion of the woman who just entered the bakery.”

Tasya stopped pushing Roma’s pram and concentrated. At this time of day, nobody was around to witness her magic games. She sketched the knitted green hat and the shabby coat. She prodded the illusion into motion. What would the woman think when she came out of the bakery and saw her double? Tasya grinned, but Roma spoiled her amusement by whimpering. Her baby son wanted his pram in constant motion.

“Fine, I’m going.” She started walking again, but her grasp on magic slipped. The woman’s drab brown coat morphed into bright yellow. Tasya let the illusion dissipate.

Grandma chuckled. “You’re getting tired and sloppy. Why don’t you leave my great-grandson with me for a few hours and go to the zoo. You wanted to.”

“Oh, grandma. Truly?”

“Yes. You work hard on your magic. You deserve a break.”

Tasya pecked the old woman’s wrinkled cheek. “Thank you. I’ll be back by Roma’s next feeding. If I’m late, there is a bottle of extra milk.”

“I know. We’ll be fine.”

Tasya flew towards the bus stop. She did want to go to the zoo. Newspapers said they were bringing in a female snow leopard today, a mate for the male. She wanted to see the big cats’ first meeting. She even had a medallion of a silver spotted cat, already filled with her magic, in her purse, although she didn’t expect to need its protection among the animals.

At the zoo, a small crowd gathered to watch the gorgeous cats. They sniffed each other cautiously, and the newcomer, the female, roared her excitement. Tasya pushed her way closer to the bars. A child to her left chatted happily to his mother. To her right, two men in uniform stood silently, intent on something on the other side of the cats’ enclosure.

Tasya glanced at the insignia pins on the officers’ collars. NKVD. Alarmed, she traced their gazes to a tall thin man with a mane of graying hair who supervised the cats’ union. She recognized him from a photo in the papers. Professor Lukin, the head of the mammals department, the one who had brought the leopard from Siberia. Her magic twinged. Lukin was in danger.

Tasya inched her way out of the crowd and squeezed between the bushes concealing a narrow service aisle. She hurried to the path on the other side of the cats’ pen but stopped behind a small hut that backed the cage, out of sight of the NKVD men. She waved her hand frantically to get Lukin’s attention.

He stepped closer. “What?”

“NKVD are after you. They will be here in a moment.” Tasya grabbed the cat medallion from her purse and thrust it at him. “Put it on. You’re a cats’ man. It will protect you from arrest. Leave. I’ll stall those officers.”

He stared at her, then glanced across the cage, spotted the officers, and his face hardened.

“It will protect you, I swear,” Tasya repeated. “I’m a witch, a real one.”

After a brief hesitation, he nodded. “The real cats will protect me. I’ll hide in their hut. Those murderers won’t look there. If you want to help, a woman is waiting for me. In a wooden shelter in the south-east corner of the zoo. Go there. Give her your witchy medallion. Tell her what’s happening. Tell her to wait for me. Please. Help her. Will you?”

“You’re going inside the cage? But the leopards…”

“They won’t harm me. They both know me. I feed them.” He whirled, produced a key from his pocket, checked around to make sure nobody watched them, and disappeared inside the hut. The lock clicked shut.

Her heart stuttering, Tasya peeked out of her hiding place. The leopards still circled warily around each other, tails lashing, teeth bare, snapping occasionally. Neither paid any heed to the hut in the corner. On the other side of the cage, the NKVD men were elbowing their way out of the crowd.

A couple minutes later, they appeared on the path behind Tasya’s bushes. Her illusion was ready: a tall thin man loping away, towards the zoo exit, his gray mane flying. The NKVD chased after him.

Tasya made him whip around a corner before letting the illusion dissolve. Let them pursue the phantom. She marched in the opposite direction, towards the man’s wife.

“Oh, I’m not his wife,” the woman huddling in the tiny shelter said quietly. “I’m his… mistress, I suppose. I love him.” She gazed at the silver cat medallion in her palm but hesitated to put it on. “What if the leopards kill him?” She looked away. “Probably an easier death than if he gets arrested. Animals don’t torture their victims. They just eat them.”

Tasya winced. Not the wife? She didn’t like mistresses. In her experience, the breed was predatory, preying on helpless wives. What if her husband Misha found a mistress in Voronezh? He was on a business trip again. Should she take away the medallion, reserve it for the proper wife?

“You don’t look like a mistress,” she blurted. “Those are all beautiful and bitchy.”

The woman snorted mirthlessly. “You got it wrong, dear. His wife is beautiful and bitchy. She writes denunciations for NKVD. She got a list of names from them. Probably wrote one about both of us. She threatened she would, when we fell in love. When he got tired of her cruel beauty. Now he wants kindness and decency.” Her fingers closed over the medallion.

Tasya nodded. She should leave, she knew; she was already late for Roma’s feeding, but her magic wouldn’t let her move. She was still needed here, so she sat down beside the woman in the shelter. The woman glanced at her, her brows lifting in surprise, and shrugged. They didn’t talk.

An hour later, heavy footsteps pounded on the twisted path that led to the shelter, but neither of them had anywhere to hide. Tasya grabbed the woman’s shaking hand, the one still clutching the medallion, and tossed up the illusion of an empty shelter in front of them. “Don’t move, don’t make a sound,” she whispered.

Two NKVD officers ran past them in their flimsy shelter without slowing down.

“They didn’t see us.” The woman’s eyed Tasya incredulously. “We were right in front of them.”

“I’m a witch, I told you,” Tasya said. “I have magic.”

The woman opened her palm with the medallion, as if just remembering, and hurriedly put it on. They kept their silent vigil until Lukin showed up after the zoo closed for the night.

“They drove away,” he said. “Finally.” He opened his arms, and his mistress stepped into them without a word.

They stood in their quiet embrace for a long time. Tasya couldn’t watch. She left them to their poignant reunion and their forbidden love and tiptoed away, towards her home and her hungry son. She hoped her spotted silver cat could protect both lovers.

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I’m a celebrity on wattpad

Wattpad’s group AdultFiction just published an interview with me. You can read it here. As you might know, wattpad is a large community of writers who post their stories on the wattpad site for everyone to read. I have several stories there, and the group moderators liked some of them. Hence, the interview.

Despite the implications of the group’s name, AdultFiction doesn’t mean sexual content. It means, in the context of the site, ‘not teenagers’. As teenagers constitute the majority of readers and writers on wattpad, the mature writers felt the need to create a separate group for themselves.

 

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Writing on spec

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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OPTIONAL AUGUST QUESTION: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

MY ANSWER: As a reader, I have several pet peeves. One of them is probably the strongest: I dislike cliff-hangers in the end of the books. When I open a book, I expect the story to be contained inside its covers. When it isn’t, when the story stops in mid-stride on the last page, it is either the writer hasn’t done her job properly, or the marketeers prevailed because they think the cliff-hangers will sell the next novel. In my case, it is not true. I usually stop reading the series if I stumble on a cliff-hanger. I’m so resentful of the author for ignoring my expectations and not finishing the story, I don’t want to read her next book.
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I had an interesting experience lately. I sent a short story to a sci-fi anthology. Got a rejection – nothing strange about that – but the rejection itself was worded as an invitation. The editor of the anthology said that they couldn’t use my story but he would like me to write a new story specifically for their anthology. The detailed descriptions of what they wanted – the world and the possible situations they wanted to explore – were attached to the email.

I tried. I really did, but nothing in their suggested world or story ideas appealed to me. I couldn’t write what he wanted, couldn’t come up with an appropriate character, so I sent a polite ‘No’ a couple days later.

The entire experience upset me. As a journalist, I routinely write on spec. All my articles comply with my newspaper’s mandate, style, and word count. I also recently wrote a fan-fiction story, using another writer’s world, although the events and the characters in that story were my own. I put the story, Five Days of Elf, on Wattpad, and it’s steadily gathering readers.

But aside from that one story, I’ve always had trouble writing fiction on spec. A few times one of my stories was included in an anthology were if I already had a story, and it fit the anthology theme perfectly or with minor alterations.

Why couldn’t I write a new story from scratch to this editor’s anthology specs? Why can’t I write fiction on spec in general? Am I not professional enough? The world the editor came up with was fascinating, and the situations fraught with all sorts of conflict. Why was this challenge so hard for me?

Can you write fiction on spec? How often do you do it? What is the best approach, in your opinion? Tell me in the comments.

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