Happy New Year, all! Here’s to a safe and prosperous 2019 (or, if not, a 2019 full of growth and learning– both types of years are valid and important).
Many people consider the start of a new year a time ripe for change and expansion of horizons. Others count January 1st as just another point in our rotation around the sun. Before you roll your eyes and click away, this post applies to both types– yes, both. Here, I will tell the tale of how January 2017 marked a stark shift in my writing interests… In a completely unintentional way.
I mention this because, at this moment, the priority directly behind getting Casters’ Court web-published is surfing out one of my horror stories for publication. I have one that I have a few edits left on, and it may be the piece I’m proudest of writing, so far in my life. So, considering what I’ve told you about my writing interests thus far, how did this happen?
It all started with a Facebook advertisement for a writing contest.
You can see where this is going, I’m sure, so I’ll keep the lead-up brief. The contest itself, however– the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition— bears mentioning for a few reasons. It’s very beginner-friendly, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s currently open for this year’s registration.
The premise of the contest is important. There are 3 rounds of competition, each with a progressively shorter deadline and word count maximum. In each round, you’re randomly placed into a heat against a handful of others and assigned a character, a subject, and a genre. Every writer in the heat writes on the same prompt. You are then scored against your heat mates, with top scorers advancing.
Let me make something clear. I mentioned in my last origins post that I am a Hufflepuff. If you’re also a Harry Potter fan, that gives you a vague idea of my personality. If not, let’s go further by saying that two of my good college friends’ first impression of me was “God, she’s way too bubbly.” Up to this point, I had chiefly written young adult fiction (and novels, to boot). I blanched at a “creepy” scene in book 1 of “that novel series” in which my protagonist has an unsettling nightmare. I considered cutting it because it might be too eerie and give the wrong impression of me and scare people away.
Yep. You guessed it. The contest assigned me horror.
If I were to rank the possible genre assignments from least to most desirable, horror would have been number two, directly behind political satire. But the dirty little secret that I was unwilling to admit at the time, even to myself, was that I wasn’t scared of it because I didn’t think I could do it. I had a sneaking suspicion I could do it. I knew I could dig down deep into some inner darkness and pull out some really creepy stuff. I knew that part of myself existed, but I didn’t want to be that person. I liked the happy-go-lucky stereotype I’d built. I used to have a real problem with labels, and things that didn’t fit the labels, and ‘creepy’ was not one of my labels. I would get judged. People would look at me differently if they knew I was capable of that. I would look at me differently.
It sounds pretty silly when I say it out loud.
Regardless, I spent that first round pulling my hair, wracking my brains, playing Battleship with my inner self until I found the cavern that hid the horror. My assignment was a tennis instructor, an auction, and horror. I had a week for that round. I was almost 500 words into a story that I scrapped, halfway through the week, in favor of something I felt more connected to. The story? The former coach and the manager of a star tennis player conspire to murder him so they can auction off all his stuff. But the coach gets more than he bargained for when the manager sets up a parallel, underground auction selling the tennis star’s body parts.
The top five in each heat advanced to the next round. I placed fourth, and I got some really helpful reviews from the judges! You might think that was that, and the little smidgen of horror I tasted was enough to seal the deal . . . but this post wouldn’t be titled “part one” if that was the case. No, after that round, I was perfectly content to slide back into my YA-writer bubble and laugh about my little detour. I was eager to try another genre I was afraid of in the second round.
So what happened in the second round that changed my mind? Stay tuned.