Another Flash Challenge – The Manor Above

As I mentioned in THIS post, I’ve started following terribleminds specifically because I’ve missed writing flash fiction in answer to challenges. terribleminds is the site of Chuck Wendig, a “novelist, screenwriter, and game designer.”

His previous challenge resulted in a piece that I’ll try to sell (if you want to read it, it’s HERE – you’ll need a password; leave a message in the comments below and I’ll e-mail the password).

This week, he used THIS TITLE GENERATOR and came up with ten titles:

The Incubus’ Tale

The Manor Above

The Dancer And The Shattered Shell

The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

Ring of Bullets

The Music Box of Manhattan

These Damned Insects

Tiger, Burning

A Cold Opportunity Without The Kingdom

The Apocalypse Ticket

Readers are to pick one and go off to a dark corner and write a 1,000 words flash piece.  

There were a number of them that caught my eye (no, it didn’t hurt) but I went with The Manor Above. This time, I’m posting it without a password so that I can openly share it. Mind you, I just wrote it and had only one read-through. I’ll be re-reading it tomorrow and catch any errors I might have missed. 

In case people are not aware of it, I like the challenge of flash fiction; the telling of a story while developing character and fleshing out their world and doing it with relatively few words. Some readers don’t like flash fiction specifically because of the lack of detailed information. The most often comment I get is “we want to know more”. But, for me as a writer, it’s the equivalent of a marathon runner doing a sprint. It’s a form of training for when I have to go the distance. Also, as a seat-of-the-pants writer, it’s where I most feel in the zone. Still, rushing headlong into a short form story can be perilous.

In other words, this is a semi-rough draft. It’s a two hours effort (but I had to stop for dinner) and comes in a tad above the suggested 1,000 words. It’s 1,570 words. 

Here it is:

The Manor Above

©2015 E. J. D’Alise 

Lidya raised up. Stretching the sore muscles of her lower back, she looked skyward in time to see a Manor drift silently above her. The setting sun was already hidden behind the Western Mountains but its rays still bathed the Manor’s solar panels.

She tracked the Manor’s passage, noticing the intricate machinery of the Isabel Drives along the perimeter of the floating structure. Based on a typical cruising altitude of one thousand feet, this particular Manor was a sizable Freehold.

She watched it for a few minutes. The Manor’s perimeter lighting switched on just as the last of the Sun’s rays reflected from its communication antennas. It looked like a shiny jewel floating in the sky.

And then, it was but a point of light in the distance.

“Someday. . .” Lidya murmured as she bent down to finish harvesting the current row of mature rice plants while there was still enough light. This was one of the better harvests in recent memory and meant the fourth year of ending up in the black.

It also meant Lidya would have enough saved to finish her Isabel Drive Maintenance Certification. She finished the current row just as twilight gave up fighting the lengthening shadows. She tapped the embedded sensor on her wrist and the two support drones rose to light her path back home.

The drones had been a luxury but had paid for themselves by allowing her to work longer hours. They did most of the heavy lifting, ferrying the harvest to the storage depot while she continued working. She had almost splurged on a harvester ground-drone, but the return on investment was longer than she was comfortable with. She had a plan. A plan carefully mapping the timetable and effort that would have her standing on her own Manor floating above the troubles of the world.

#

Nearing the house, she noticed someone was there. Probably Joel. Childhood friends, they often shared their dreams and hopes for the future, especially when one of them had a bad day. It helped them focus on their respective goals. Joel visiting meant another bump in the road to his dream of becoming a commercial pilot. Lidya tapped her wrist, sending the drones to their recharging stations.

Joel had already set the table and had his back to her as she walked in.

“Hey, Joel. What a pleasant surp . . .” Lidya stopped as Joel turned. His eyes were red-rimmed, and she could see the barely controlled shaking as he stood there supporting himself on the counter.

Lidya rushed to Joel and hugged him. The return hug spoke of the desperation fueling the trembling that shook his frame.

They stood there in silence. Lidya didn’t ask any questions; she just provided the support and comfort he obviously needed. Time passed and Joel’s shaking subsided.

“Thank you,” he said as he broke the hug.

“I made your favorite,” he said as he turned to the pot on the stove. “It’s rice.”

Lidya laughed at their private joke and was glad Joel retained a bit of his wonderful sense of humor.

They ate in silence and only once finished did Joel speak. He did so without looking at Lidya.

“They cut the pilot training from the curriculum,” he said. “The latest AIs will be online as early as next year, and they scored nearly 100% in safety and performance. The plan is to stop new pilots from coming online and phase out current pilots as they retire.”

Lidya sat in silence. Once she had her Manor, Lidya had planned on hiring Joel as the Manor’s pilot. Guiltily, another thought crossed her mind; this should bring down the cost of buying and operating a Manor.

“What will you do?” she asked pushing that ugly and unworthy thought from her mind.

“I don’t know. They canceled the grants, so I can’t transfer the credits to another degree and my current job does not include an educational allowance.”

He still had not looked at her and continued looking down at the few rice kernels on his plate as he continued.

“Lidya, how do you feel about me?” he asked.

Surprised, Lidya sat back on her chair.

“We’re friends, Joel,” she finally answered after a slight hesitation, “have been since we can both remember.”

Her mind had switched gears at the question. Was he about to ask her for financial help? This would be a setback, perhaps a major one, but . . .

Joel looked up, his eyes looking into hers for a few moments before he smiled and continued.

“That we are,” Joel said, “and a good friend you have been.”

“You speak as if our friendship is ending,” Lidya said, a worried tone tinging her words.

“That, it will never do,” Joel said as he rose and grabbed and carried the dishes to the small sink.

“I’m leaving, Lidya,” he said as he turned and leaned back, his hands resting on the edge of the counter.

“What?” Lidya too rose and went to stand in front of him. “When? Where to?”

“I’m joining the Mining Corps. I have just enough savings for the Asteroid Miner Certification course. Training starts in two days, and if I can pass the qualification, I plan on signing the contract a month from now.”

“But . . . but that’s three years in the Asteroid Belt,” she countered.

“I know,” Joel answered as he looked down to the floor between them.

“Isn’t there anything else? Something less dangerous?”

Joel looked up at her and then turned, starting to do the dishes as he answered.

“I had other plans, but they fell through,” he answered. “This will help me get back on my feet financially and give me training that might open other doors for me.

“Stop that,” she said as she pulled him from the sink. “I’ll wash those later.”

He wiped his hands dry as she dragged him to the table. Before she could speak, Joel pulled an envelope from his pocket.

“Here, this is for you,” he said.

She looked at it and made to open it.

“No, please, after I leave.”

They sat and talked into the small hours of the night. The late hour would mean a late start in the morning and less time for the harvest, but she didn’t care.

They talked about their childhood, the scrapes they got into, the tremendous blow of Joel losing his parents and becoming a ward of the County, of the friends they had made and lost as the outside world pushed and pulled people to and from their lives. And now, the world was pulling them apart.

“It’s late,” Joel said as he stood. “I need to go.”

They hugged, each fighting back tears, and then Lidya was staring at the inside of her door.

It was three days before she remembered the envelope. It contained a note with just a few words and a credit voucher.

“For you,” the note said, “Fly high.”

She queried the voucher and had to support herself when the number lit up. She tried calling Joel but there was no answer. She called the Finance Corps and confirmed the credit amount.

She hailed a transport drone and went to Joel’s house. On approach, she saw the big transport and people moving stuff into the house. Her heart sank; Joel had sold his house. 

#

Joel stood outside the recruiting office, the Asteroid Miner Certificate in his hand. He looked up at the sky, then on the ground. This might be the last time he would see the blue sky dotted with white clouds. The last time he would feel Earth-normal gravity. He wanted to savor it before crossing the threshold to his new future. He closed his eyes and took a big breath.

Exhaling, he opened his eyes and focused on the ornate door to the recruitment office. Without further thought, he walked to it and pushed it open.

It took a while, but he finally sat in one of the recruiters booths and placed his certificate on the table. The man glanced at it and then entered the certificate number on his pad.

The table top came on and the contract appeared on the inlaid screen. They went over the fine points, Joel asking a few questions but knowing these contracts had been through rigorous reviews. Finally, nodding, the man produced a stylus and handed it to Joel.

“Not so fast,” a voice behind him said.

Joel turned as Lidya walked up to his side.

“Excuse us a moment,” she told the recruiter as she grabbed Joel by the arm and pulled him outside the booth.

“What are you doing here?” Joel asked, aware of the irritated looks the recruiter and the applicants behind him were directing their way.

“Well, between your contribution, my savings, and me selling my farm, I had enough to buy a Manor. It’s a small one, but it’s in good shape and comes with an existing trade route.”

“That’s great!” Joel’s smile lit his face up as he grabbed her by the shoulders and then hugged her.

“Well, yes,” Lidya answered, “but I need you on it.”

Joel broke the hug and stepped back.

“I don’t have a Pilot’s License,” he said.

“You idiot. I don’t need a pilot,” Lidya answered.

And then she kissed him. People cheered.

The End

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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38 Responses to Another Flash Challenge – The Manor Above

  1. renxkyoko says:

    Romance ! ! I knew it ! ! The ending, I mean. ^^

    Like

  2. That was a surprise!

    Like

    • disperser says:

      The ending? The concept? The fact I write flash fiction? The roles reversal? The swapping of letters in the name?

      Was it a good surprise? . . . Or, did suckiness ensue?

      Like

      • The ending. Concept was Fine. Probably just struck me as unexpected, that’s all.
        I think a 500 word overrun on 1000 might need to be tidied up though.

        Like

      • disperser says:

        No one expects the unexpected!

        The 1K is only a suggestion. On the last one (2K) some of the people were writing 200 and 500 words pieces. Also, this is not exactly a hard assignment. It’s not even an assignment; just a prompt.

        That said, yes, I could shave it a bit, but the thing with short pieces – and this is just my thing – I spend enough time building the foundation to give it some substance, and then skimp on the ending. Hence, why some people say “the ending seems rushed”.

        My thinking is that if you immerse the reader in the story, they’ll then forgive the surprise ending, but if you don’t draw them in, they are not going to care much about any of it.

        Like I said, that’s my thinking . . . but I’m not an expert; I just know what I like to read.

        . . . I might have to clone a few millions of me to have any kind of publishing success . . .

        Like

  3. AnnMarie says:

    Short and very, very sweet! I like everything about it, especially that it left me with a good feeling.

    Like

  4. I have joy tears in my eyes right now. I love this story, Emilio!
    When Lidya answered, “We’re friends”…I’m like, “He thinks of you as more than a friend! Don’t you see that?!”
    Then when Joel left and she let him go…I was like, “Oh, darn!” and “This is not gonna’ end how I want it to end!” :-(
    And then when it was 3 days before she opened the envelope…I was like “ARGH!”
    But, then, finally, at the end, I was like, “YAY!!! Whew!!!”
    Great flash, Emilio! Flash us anytime you want!
    HUGS!!! :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • disperser says:

      I play my readers like puppets on strings.

      But, really . . . how many of my stories have you read that “don’t end right”?

      As for flashing . . . Yeah, I’ll probably get back into it. I think the site will have one challenge a week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • HA! they all end like you end them. And that’s a good thing.
        But, as a “always want a happily-ever-after person”…stories don’t always end happily-ever-after the way I want them to. And that’s my “problem”. :-)

        Like

      • disperser says:

        Wait . . . you’ve not liked some of my endings? When was this, and why didn’t you tell me?

        How will i learn if no one ever tells me these things?

        Like

  5. This is a really nice story! I love how quickly you establish the characters and setting. The plotting and pacing work really well. I do think you could probably clean up the language to get it to 1000 words if you were interested in doing so. For example, at the start of the second section, you write “Nearing the house, she noticed someone was there.” “Someone was at the house.” Would be sufficient to convey that idea. It’s not a necessary thing – just if word count is something you’re practicing.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say.

      As for the word count, I’m not bothered about it. It’s not a contest or a requirement since as far as I can see this is just for fun. But yes, when I have to, I can meet the word count pretty much on the nose. This one was written pretty fast and with just one editing pass.

      I plan to sell the previous one, so that one will be fattened up a bit, also easily done.

      Thanks for your feedback.

      Like

  6. ooakthistle says:

    Word count is something I also struggle with in flash fiction. Sounds like you are happy with where you are at, so I would leave it.

    I love the happy ending.

    Like

  7. dcxli says:

    I loved the way you quickly established a world that feels lived-in and plausible. Also, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to go and leave criticism on so many posts. That helps me (and hopefully others) become better writers. Constructive criticism is the best way to learn and grow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • disperser says:

      Thank you. That’s nice of you to say.

      It’s hit and miss, you know . . . people don’t know me from Adam, and there’s a chance some might not appreciate me butting in.

      However, it’s what I want my readers to do; point out stuff that takes them out of the story.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

    • acre8tivelife says:

      I have to agree with this comment your world did feel lived in and plausible. I want to say it felt like you committed to the story, I don’t know if that makes sense but that’s what my gut said. I liked the ‘Isabel Drive,’ don’t know why I just did. I also liked the way that she didn’t pick up on his affections, but to me it felt like perhaps she just wasn’t ready for them. I actually thought that maybe he was planning to kill himself. But that’s just a reflection of the darkness that permeates my own writing.

      I don’t know people are getting so caught up with word counts. When I was in high school about a billion years ago, I was once given a B+ instead of an A because my assignment was too long. I say phooy to word counts. Of course we all need to make our writing tight and punchy if we want it to be good, but word counts phooy.

      Have you tried using deep perspective? I have been trying the technique myself so I’m quite conscious of it at the moment. Not that there is anything wrong with your writing now but I think the technique could take you to an even higher level.

      Like

      • disperser says:

        Thanks for the read and for the feedback.

        As I mention in the comments above, I only care about word count for contests and submissions.

        The deep perspective thing is interesting . . . and it conflicts a bit with my style of writing. I tend to be sparse on descriptions. That goes for both characters and scenery. I try to get emotion and draw readers into the characters in other ways. Truthfully, while I like some aspects of deep perspective, it still seems to me as if there is a lot of superfluous stuff there.

        You might say I am an impatient writer . . . I have a certain pacing I like and use it to hit the emotional beats I want. The deep perspective technique often ends up with paragraphs that are difficult to read – at least for me.

        For example, Stiefvater’s sample in this article: http://writersinthestormblog.com/2014/10/diving-deep-into-deep-point-of-view/)
        That, to me, is a boring paragraph. It does not add to the action or even mood. Again, I speak for myself here. Those are the kind of paragraphs my eyes skim over. .

        I like to think I can achieve levels of emotions and involvement in the characters with less flowery and descriptive prose. Then again, I am not published. Still, I write what I like to read (I’m my biggest fan).

        Plus, by now I have a certain voice, pacing, and style that I’m happy with.

        Understand, I’m not denigratingdeep perspective or other styles, and there are things I read that I incorporate into my writing. One thing that I’ve always done, and what some deep perspective advocated seem to use, is marrying action/words with little details:

        “Of course I’m happy.” Realizing she was twisting the wedding ring on her finger, she forced her hands to her side as she continued, her chin slightly elevated. “I love my husband.”

        To me, that offers a strong visual to the reader. BTW, not from a story; just wrote that for here.

        I should also say that a number of successful writers go directly against the deep perspective advice.

        I did a number of pieces on writing examining various advice as it relates to my writing and this one speaks a little to this topic:
        https://dispersertracks.com/2015/02/26/this-writing-thing-rules-and-tips-part-two/

        These are some of the other pieces on writing:
        https://dispersertracks.com/?s=%22this+writing+thing%22

        Here are two stories I particularly like. Both are deliberate attempts to draw strong emotions from readers:
        https://dispersertracks.com/2013/03/07/photo-and-the-flash-no-6/
        https://dispersertracks.com/2013/09/09/writing-prompt-kicking-in-the-door/

        And, of course, I’m not asking you to read, and don’t feel you should, either of the stories or any of the links.

        Like

        • acre8tivelife says:

          At the risk of being sexist here I cant help but wonder if the deep perspective v’s keeping it simple is a bit of a male/ female thing or to be less gender specific a difference in brain structure. I think its a male tendency to want to keep it simple and not be flowery. I know my husband is like that, he’s not a fan of metaphor and mostly just finds it confusing. In my experience many guys I’ve known have been quite like that. While I can’t get enough of it and find it hard to keep things simple. There are times when I think its good to hear the authors voice too. The story I did for the last challenge The Rivers Mask (which I was working on anyway) was dominated by the narrator. It was a modern fairy tale so that way of writing worked with the style. Plus I did find it quite enjoyable to do it that way. I’ve been reading Jeff Lindsay lately and I just love the way he’s so deep in Dextor’s head all of the time. Much of the story is told though Dextor’s thoughts rather than though conversation which is how lots of people seem to say it should be done. At the end of the day it’s certainly all about doing what works for you, but on the other hand it’s also good to try new things and stretch yourself too. Writing is all about finding a balance.

          Like

        • disperser says:

          It might be a gender thing although I would not go as far as making that broad generalization. I think both my reading and writing preferences have evolved over the last fifty years. Books I read when I was half my current age are not books that I would read and enjoy now (for instance, historical novels).

          Some of the men who responded to the flash challenges had prosaic writing styles, and those were tough reads for me. Conversely, some of the women have more direct styles.

          It’s probably a combination of personality and brain wiring. I am capable of immersive writing as in the example I gave in one of my pieces on writing:

          “His steel gray eyes swept the room upon entering. Taking note of the old telescope atop the tripod that has seen better days, he shifted his gaze away from the knurled knob with the inlaid mother-of-pearl disk. He would have liked to spend more time examining the emblem on it. He was intrigued by the crown etched on it; a crown with seven points, each representing the royal houses, their sigils capping each of the points, and each rendered with delicate strands of gold interspersed with diamond flecks at strategic portions of the mythical beasts they represented. He looked instead at the naked woman standing near it, noticing one earlobe was slightly lower than the other . . .”

          Although, that’s more descriptive than deep perspective. Perhaps this is a better example (from my post on romance):

          “She saw him from across the room. The movement of his hand as he adjusted his package drew her eye. Well, it was actually his other hand lifting the lower part of his stomach so he could reach his package that caught her eye.

          No; truthfully, it was the whole; the extended beer belly, the remnants of a cheese pizza on his pants leg, the unidentified stain on on his shirt (she hoped it was seepage from the open sore on his chin and not ketchup), the slack jaw, shifty eyes, and the way his greasy hair stuck to his scalp. She heard him belch and hoped his farts would be as loud.

          Immediately drawn to him and hoping her vast inheritance and ample breasts would be enough to make that man hers, she went to him as a moth to a flame. Unlike a moth, she was already consumed; consumed by his intoxicating presence. No, really; he had not showered for at least a week.”

          Yes . . . I try my hand at humor, as well.

          As far as stretching, I do that a lot with subject matter and genre.

          I wonder also if my style is dictated by the fact I’m a seat of the pants writer. Deep perspective might not work well as I am trying to put down on paper what is swirling in my head before I lose it. Perhaps DP could be done on a rewrite or when editing.

          Again, thank you for your comment.

          Liked by 1 person

      • disperser says:

        . . . Isabel Drive . . . that came to me from Queen Isabella. She funded Columbus, and I thought it would be nice to honor her by naming a drive after her.

        Like

  8. Soooz says:

    What a satisfying read. I enjoyed the pacing it moves fast, and yet still manages to capture the warmth and texture of your characters. I am looking forward to reading more of your work.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.

      . . . I linked a lot of stuff in previous comments, but don’t feel compelled to read any of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Soooz says:

        I consider your story compelling, in, and of itself. That draws me to anticipate more of the same, only with differing levels of truth. I enjoy your take on people. It simply hits me where I live. It’s a rare event for me to actually find an author who is not only willing but very able to draw down on experience and observation so succinctly.

        Like

  9. acre8tivelife says:

    I couldn’t see where to respond to your thread, so I’m posting down here. I also write by the seat of my pants, I’m all like, proper punctuation be damned, give me the gas, so I can just get these word babies outa me! (sorry it’s chucks influence) I’ve been working on a novel that is deep pov and I totally agree that it is something that you come back and fill in later. (at least that’s what I’ve been doing) I find it a huge steaming pile of hard work. But when I’ve plucked and tweaked and tweaked and plucked, I feel really satisfied and proud of the results. (and my eye brows look good too) I’d love to show you my work sometime. I very much value your opinions.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      The comment threads only go three or four deep. You have to make your way back up to the last “reply” you see. Or, do what you did here.

      I read your first two chapters of “Hunting Party” at your blog and left comments there. Understand that by posting it on the blog you lose First North America Serial Rights, and you won’t be able to sell it.

      I wrote about that here:
      https://dispersertracks.com/2014/10/13/writing-fiction-and-blogging/

      I tried reading “The Rivers Mask” but did not get far (did not grab me).

      That is not a statement about the writing. That’s just my impatience as a reader and my preference for things happening fast. Call it not a story that grabbed me.

      If you have stuff you want me to read, I’ll be happy to do it. BUT . . . I prefer it complete and edited as best you can. I will not be reading it to correct basic errors. I’ll read it to give you feedback. That said, there is one other caveat. I’m particular about what I read. It’s not fair to you (or me) if I force myself to read something I don’t like. The feedback will suffer for it. Action, thrillers, science fiction, some fantasy, and I’m there. I might consider other stuff if it grabs me.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Like

    • disperser says:

      One other thing . . . I hope you understand I’m not a pro. I have nothing published, and I am not an editor. In other words, not an expert.

      Also, for any feedback I give, make sure you take what is useful and disregard what you don’t agree with or does not match your writing preference. And always, always, get a second opinion (or third, fourth, and so on).

      Like

  10. rebekahspark says:

    It was all useful spot on evaluable advice Thank You! I took on board everything that you said and rewrote accordingly. I’d like to think I would have made some of the changes myself but I don’t know for sure, having you point them out, had me slapping my head and thinking why didn’t I see that before? I’m really grateful Thanks again. I’m Australian so I don’t know if publishing on my site has the same ramifications for me.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Remember that I’m giving opinions, not dictating gospel. As for the publishing, check into it if you ever intend to try and sell your work. I did not worry about it early on because my writing was not ready and because I had no illusions about getting published (still skeptical, but I’m keeping the door open).

      You might read these two articles from the Guardian:
      http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one
      http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/10-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-two

      They interview a number of authors and what you find out is that not everyone agrees. They are giving their own preference. You can, however, read the articles and draw what you want/need from them.

      One thing I forgot to mention in the feedback is that, as the reader, I still don’t know the motivation of the people who attacked the house and are hunting Whisper. That’s OK for the first chapter, but the second chapter should have had something about it.

      “If only Pa hadn’t stolen that pack of chewing gum!” or something.

      Murder is pretty drastic and these people are expending significant effort in hunting her down, and we don’t know the reason. It needs some reveal establishing what drives the action.

      Some writers advise letting the reader know what’s going on early on while others are against it. You can pick either approach but you should make that decision based on awareness of how the reader might react. Keeping readers in the dark might work for established writers; their readers trust them, so they will read on. Less likely for new writers.

      Read the tips, write down what you agree with, keep the other in mind in case it’s all of a sudden useful, and try to be mindful of as much as you can when you write.

      That’s what I did in these two posts:
      https://dispersertracks.com/2015/02/25/this-writing-thing-rules-and-tips-part-one/
      https://dispersertracks.com/2015/02/26/this-writing-thing-rules-and-tips-part-two/

      I evaluated my writing based on the advice (albeit with some humor) but I remember what I read for when I write my own stuff.

      Like

  11. not happy with the ending lol……..is there more?

    Like

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