Never-Ending Story Contest

December 2009, a man stood on the side of the road. He held a cardboard sign that read something like, "Starving. Will work for food."

I never carry cash. It's pointless. Other than gas, I never buy anything. I don't eat out and never use the snack machine. As the light turned green, I remembered that I had one dollar in my pocket. My lottery money. It was too late to give it; traffic was moving.

What would have happened if I had given away my last dollar? Maybe aliens would have come down and abducted us. Maybe dragons would have sprouted from the clouds in the sky. Maybe angels would have sung. Or maybe I would have found another dollar in my shoe, bought a ticket, and won the lottery. And then the world came to an end.

I don't know. You make it up.

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Here's the rules:

1. Post a paragraph or a sentence in the comments to continue the story. Include your email address so that I can contact you.

2. Submit as many entries as you want.

3. The story will run until Friday, March 19, 2010.

4. The following people will receive a signed-by-me, printed copy of the Ménage à 20:
  • The First Entry

  • The Last Entry

  • The Most Entries

  • The Best Entry

5. If you already have a copy, don't want a copy, were a contributing author, you can still participate. Your winning copy will be contributed to either my local library or to a library of your choice.

6. Winners will be announced on this blog shortly after the competition closes.

7. I will compile the story and add an ending (if necessary) and post it here for everyone to read.

Interview with Carlos J. Cortes

With great honor, I share this interview with you. I met author Carlos J. Cortes online about a year ago when I found the group On Fiction Writing on Goodreads. His personality, charm, and wit dripped from every word, and I thought that if this carried over to his novels, I wanted to read everything he wrote.

I eagerly picked up his book Perfect Circle and fell in love with his writing. When The Prisoner came out, I fought with my husband over who got to read it first. Both books were fresh, intense, breath-taking. The characters were deep, multi-dimensional; the plots thick. I intend to be the first in line to buy his next book.

Carlos has been compared to Tom Clancy. And the complexity and depth is certainly on par, but Carlos has out-mastered Clancy with his story telling ability, keeping the pace moving at breakneck speed, avoiding the lengthy, monotonous details, and bringing his characters to life in a way that Clancy couldn't do. I am hoping to see The Prisoner in the movie theaters, but not sure how Hollywood will handle "shitcicles" on the big screen.

[The 20 authors contributing to the Ménage à 20. Carlos is the one front and center.]

September 2009, Carlos and Their Eminences (the other moderators of On Fiction Writing) announced a group project. 20 stories, 20 authors, one Ménage à 20. This anthology was one hell of a ride for the authors who participated, but for Carlos, it was hours upon hours of work. Without him, the anthology never would have come together. I am thankful and honored to have been a part of this project.

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Rita: Why did you become a writer?
Carlos: I don’t think we plan to be writers, at least I didn’t. I’ve written hundreds of scientific and technical papers and ten non-fiction titles in a variety of subjects from Bridge to fiber optics physics and lighting science. In my spare time I wrote snippets of my experiences and tried my hand at several novels in Spanish. One day, my non-fiction editor suggested I wrote in English. I translated a manuscript and submitted it to discover I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what ‘real’ writing meant.

I enlisted in several writing workshops to learn technique. Ten years and twenty novel-length manuscripts later, when I considered my work was barely readable, I rewrote Perfect Circle, the original manuscript, and submitted it again. Then I carried on learning and writing, in that order.

Rita: What inspired your two stories My Valentine and Spring Sprung?
Carlos: Short stories are excellent exercises for any writer; miniature novels with plot, opening, middle and end. Over the years, I’ve written literally hundreds. One day, I set to organize my files and compiled three collections; The Folks Next Door, volumes one and two with fifty shorts each; The Christmas Tree, with sixty pieces and Bar Tales, with scores of preposterous pieces that didn’t fit in the other two.

All my shorts spring from an observation, a piece of news or an overheard conversation at home of during one of my frequent travels and involve ordinary people. Naturally, every feat of courage, debauchery or despicable deed has been perpetrated by an ordinary person because, as far as I know, there’s never been anything else in this planet. Like Tehilard de Chardin, I don’t believe in good or bad people, only on people whose thought process is similar or different to mine.

My Valentine and Spring Sprung are from The Folks Next Door volume one, written in the early 90’s and prefaced with:

‘Whenever the news unveil a new horror to afford us a glimpse into the darker aspects of the human soul, we often forget the actors in these tragedies are people like you or me; the taciturn bus driver, the affable hotel porter or the prim lady walking her poodle. People who awake under the same sun, dream under the same moon and harbor the wickedest thoughts. The folks next door is a collection of short stories about ordinary people; someone’s neighbors, mine or, perhaps, yours.’

Rita: How did you come up with this idea to put together an anthology?
Carlos: Writers need to write and accumulate experience. With so many talented writers at OFW, I thought it would be a good exercise for them to experience the pressure and difficulty of the publishing process. In addition, to have a sample of their work disseminated far and wide could afford new writers a level of exposure. I believe one or two writers from Ménage have already been spotted by agents who have requested manuscripts.

Rita: What was the experience like? Would you do it again? How do you feel about the result? (I can imagine it was hell...)
Carlos: Ménage was an eye opener. I experienced first hand the ghastly product agents, editors and publishers have to wade through every day of their working lives and explained why an average agent signs five or six new writers each year from as many thousands of queries.

Any piece of writing can be made fit to publish, but the amount of editing time needed to straighten shoddy work is far beyond the industry capacity.

My average for rewriting is four pages, or one-thousand words, in an eight-hour working session. I checked with Preston, King, Harris and other bestselling authors at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, two of the professional organizations I belong to, and they thought I was remarkably proficient. (Thomas Harris can seldom rewrite more than a single page on a good day).

That new writers can slap together a chapter or a short story in an afternoon and declare it ready for publishing is beyond me. Writing for publishing is something else.

Will I do it again? I don’t see why not, but I would insist writers did their homework before submitting and would refuse to edit anything beyond catching a typo.

Rita: What books can we expect from you in the future?
Carlos: I have finished ‘Mahdi’, a thriller set in England, Israel, Tibet and Egypt, about the fabled Mahdi, the Muslim long awaited scatological redeemer. When I get the manuscript back from my beta readers, I will address their comments and send it over to my agent. Meantime I’m plodding along with ‘Light Bondage’, a vast undertaking for Random House that will need another year, ‘Cordova’ a thriller series, ‘The Damn Book’ a weird project on Alchemy, and ‘The Spaniard’s Woman’ a historical saga on the age of sail, Georgian England and South Africa.

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The novel Mahdi is on my radar, but this time, TJ will read it first without a fight. Having already read it, I've been wanting to talk to my husband about the characters, my favorite lines, and the plot. I'm used to exchanging quotes and comments about books with him, and the forced silence is driving me crazy.

Sometimes My Characters Talk to Me

From deep inside Chester, something bubbled up. Something she had never felt before. It was like the apple that made her mouth water for more, like flying away from Ur'dea, watching the black planet grow smaller, like gasping for a breath of fresh air on that planet with the blue sky and not choking.

Like seeing Jaak's smile and knowing he'd do anything for her.

"It's called hope," Lelea said.


"What you feel. It's hope."


Lelea nodded. "Always choose the option that makes you feel like this."

This last line has been on my mind lately. I've been making some tough choices about my career, my writing, my life, my family, and I hear Lelea whispering in my ear.

A couple weeks ago, some friends advised me to look for a publisher for one of my stories. I had planned to self-publish. But weighing my options, I realized that one road made me feel heavy, empty, and dark while the other gave me hope. My heart lifted at the thought that gave me this hope, and I knew which road was right for me.

Lelea, with her crazy eyes and her innocent smile, is my better, wiser self. Or maybe the better, wiser person I wish I was. She is certainly a great friend, helping me to find my way.

Joseph Gergis and The Darker Light

Music, art, and the magic of storytelling has made the world turn 'round for centuries. The golden ages of history are marked by great artists, musicians, playwrights, and novelists. So it is with great honor that I introduce composer Joseph Gergis, a great friend and comrade. An IT developer by day, musician by night--when he is not plotting to take over the world.

February 2008, Joe participated in the RPM challenge (something similar to NaNoWriMo in November, but for musicians in February) and produced The Darker Light album, a mix of electronic and classical sounds that left me amazed, breathless, and quite envious. I wished that I could do something like that. The song Pink (A Shade of Color in the Dark), my favorite in the album, redeems the one color I hate the most.

Here it is February 2010, and Joe, crazy man that he is, is at it again. This time, he is documenting his progress on his blog. You can catch the rough draft snippets of what he has so far and check out the playlist of music he listens to during the day to prepare for nightly composing sessions.

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Rita: What are you working on? What is this contest?
Joe: I am working on my latest album, as yet untitled. The working title is 2010A, because I am planning three releases this year. I am doing this album as part of RPM 2010. It is the Record Producing Month Challenge: produce an album in the shortest month of the year, February. This means writing, recording, mixing, and delivering the album by noon, March 1.

Rita: Why do you write music? What got you into this?
Joe: I've been writing music for the better part of 15 years; playing music for much longer, perhaps 22 years? But really, music is just in my blood. I grew up listening to all types of music and for me, the auditory sense challenges vision as my primary sense. I love sound. I love the things one can do with sound. I love the expression of humanity we can provide with musical instruments (yes, including the human voice, even though I prefer more instrumental works). Writing music, for me, is a cathartic, practically spiritual experience. I write music because I must.

Rita: What do you hope/dream will come out of your efforts?
Joe: I am pretty pragmatic about this - I hope I end up with a decent album I enjoy listening to that follows up "The Darker Light" with the same quality I produced that album with. I hope to gain a few new listeners, and some more experience in the production aspects of the music. Would I like to be a rock star? Who wouldn't? But now back to reality...

Rita: How do you create music on the computer? What software do you use?
Joe: I used to be a pretty fanatical hardware synthesizer guy, but in the past decade I've ditched almost all hardware (I still require a couple of MIDI controllers) and now I use Propellerhead's Record almost exclusive. It's a complete software solution for composition, recording, and mixdown. Record finally added the one piece missing from their earlier software release, Reason 4.0, which is audio recording. I can now record vocals! But that's a different album.

Rita: Where do you find your inspiration?
Joe: Inspiration comes from anywhere I can hear sound. A song. A bird. I had an experience recently where a friend was knitting. Apart from the fact
that I had no idea she could knit, and knit well, what distracted me totally from the conversation was the click-click of her needles, along with the fact that I could practically hear the movement of the yarn across the needles as a musical movement. Inspiration is where you find it.

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I especially liked what he said about inspiration. Whether you write, draw, or make music, inspiration does come from everywhere.

Buzz Buzz Clank Clank.