Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy Inappropriate Card Day!

February 26th is officially Inappropriate Card Day! You may ask yourself, what exactly is this would-be holiday? A coworker of mine actually started it years ago, and it has since developed a cult following that continues to grow every February. Essentially, Inappropriate Card Day offers you the chance to get rid of some of those extra Hallmark cards in the drawer at home that seem to have outlived their usefulness, or you can go ahead and purposely make a card for someone that clearly doesn’t fit who they are. For instance, last year one of my bosses at work gave me a “Happy First Birthday Card” on Inappropriate Card day, which by the way I still have up in my office at work.

To learn more about the origins of this unusual, but increasingly popular holiday, checkout Diesel Kroese’s post on his blog Mattress Police where he explains his “invention” in a little more detail. It’s also a pretty cool blog. Remember, it’s called Inappropriate Card Day because it’s supposed to make the recipient of your inappropriate card laugh. Otherwise the potential joyfulness of this fun holiday could backfire on you. You can also checkout more on this by looking up Rob “Diesel” Kroese on Facebook, where he has set up a following for this holiday he began many years ago.

This holiday is just one of the many ways in which the written word can enrich relationships with those that you know. Also, I’d like to thank everyone for the responses I received from people regarding the single sentence story contest I began yesterday. Please feel free to keep emailing, blogging, or facebooking these great one sentence gems to me. The best of these I will post next week (probably on Tuesday). Until then happy Friday, and enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Single Sentence Story Contest…

Can you sum up an entire story in one sentence?

As we roll into week-two of our forty days and forty nights of contests I’ve received a lot of great opening sentence suggestions from people all across the country (literally). In fact I’ve gotten so many great sentence suggestions from people that I’d like to open up another side contest that I will post in addition to my weekly short-story postings.

The Single Sentence Story Competition…

Perhaps the most famous single sentence story ever written belongs to Ernest Hemingway, which he contained not only in one sentence, but he only used six words to do it:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

- Ernest Hemingway

Pretty crazy, huh? Well, I’d like to open this up to all the would-be writers out there who have just been waiting for inspiration to take hold. Most national surveys suggest that well over 80% of Americans want to write a book some day. Why not start one sentence at a time?

I’ll continue to take submissions for this side-contest from people this week and all weekend, so don’t be shy. Just email me your sentence or send it to me on Facebook or post it in the comments field on this blog. There’s absolutely no limit to how many individual sentences you can submit…so let your pens flow freely. Or more likely, let your keyboards clack away. Let your peers see just what a nifty little story you can convey in a single sentence. There’s no limit on the number of words you can use just so long as it ends after the first period on the page.

But wait, Mark? I’m confused…there’s too many contests. Nope, just two. The usual Mystery-Name contest that repeats weekly, see my post on Mardi Gras, and now an addition Single Sentence Contest just for next week. So what are you waiting for? The human mind is a vast and uncharted place; let’s see what’s inside yours.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Help Phil Fight

Today I have a guest blog by my friend, Lawrence, who is trying to help a dear friend of his in a time of great need. Please give a few moments of your day to read about his friend Phil and how he needs your help. You can learn more at Thank you.

Hi Guys,

Some of you already know, but my friend Phil Chan from McGeorge was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 Colorectal Cancer, after a CT scan this week. Stage 3 survival rates can range from 83% to 44% survival rate.

Phil is in the fight for his life, and unfortunately he lacks the resources to do so. Having just graduated with me from McGeorge, he had passed the Washington State Bar and was looking for employment when he was diagnosed. Additionally, because of his lack of income, he had yet to obtain health insurance, so now he is not only uninsured, but unable to obtain health insurance because he has a "pre-existing condition." His parents will do their best to help, but they also do not have the resources necessary for his complete treatment. On average a person fighting cancer will spend upwards of $250,000 in medical bills, which does not include cost of living and everyday expenses.

These horrible realities have been really hard on me and all of Phil's friends and family. To let you know more about Phil, he is one of the most happy, funny guys I know. Always joking around and smiling he always made me smile. Phil grew up in Hawaii, and I always asked him to teach me how to speak Hawaiian Pidgin and being a fitness freak, he also taught me how to weight lift properly and gave me a fitness regimen. He was also one of the most hardworking students at McGeorge I knew, always in the library and rarely going out to party despite my constant pleading. The thought that such a positive influence in my life is having to battle to save his own is sometimes too much to bear.

I've pledged to help him in any way I can, but he'll need a lot more help. Please take a look at his website and I humbly ask you to donate what you can spare to help my friend Phil. As this is an ongoing effort for him, I may call on your assistance again, but anything will help. I also ask that you keep Phil in your thoughts and prayers and I thank you for supporting a friend of mine whom you probably have never met.


Lawrence Ma


Monday, February 22, 2010

Mardi Gras Mystery-Name Contest Winner!!!

We have a winner! In this week’s story I have taken the name of the contest winner (drawn by chance from a hat with 18 other names) and inserted their name into the place of the missing character in this predetermined fictional story. Any perceived similarities to real life in this story are coincidence and nothing more (just a minor disclaimer). Remember these are just supposed to be fun. Stay tuned for following blogs regarding next week’s contest in which the next winner instead of lending their name to the story will provide me with a first sentence – any first sentence – which I will have to use in order to create next week’s very short (500 word) story. Each week I submit these stories to magazines or small presses and even though the odds of getting them published always remains slim, remember it could be your name or your idea that ends up in print!

See below for this week’s short-story, enjoy…

The Cha-Cha

Lawrence Ma awoke that morning with absolutely no idea that he would fall in love. He planned to give up carnal pleasure for Lent, the next 40 days and 40 nights. And what did it matter? He’d never even kissed a girl.

     Every Fat Tuesday in San Luis Obispo this Spanish mission town transformed into a miniature version of the Big Easy. The Mardi Gras Mecca of the California coast. Like all the other tourists he’d come for the floats, the beer, the beads, and, of course, the girls. Instead of sleeping in Larry found himself staggering through the narrow boulevards of downtown San Luis with a beignet and a hangover.

     The parade climaxed on Marsh Street, renamed Bourbon Street for the occasion. Big purple floats, brass marching bands, street dancers with feather boas, and Cadillacs with sorority girls from the local college composed the boisterous parade that snaked through the heart of town. Beneath the iron balustrades of second-story businesses and apartments, men and women with streamers and sequin masks, decked in green, fuchsia, and golden beadwork hooted and tossed plastic coins of pirate booty down upon the crowded thongs of tourists below. Amidst the jostle of the crowd Larry’s beignet fell from his paper plate and spread itself thickly down both trouser legs and onto one shoe, mostly leaving a large greasy saturation round the crouch.

     That’s when she appeared. Atop a float of roses, lilies, and sunflowers a jazz band played and danced round a single woman enthroned with birds of paradise. The Carnival Queen. She wore a saffron mask over her eyes, crowned with peacock plumes and draped in ruby beads that ran down her two-piece swimsuit of emerald sequins. She rested one hand on her hourglass hips and another on her chest with a feigned Southern belle air as she blew kisses to the crowd.

     Larry decided then and there that his plans for Lent had been far too pious.

     She got up from her throne and started to dance. Larry recognized it as a cha-cha, one step forward, two steps back. His own hips and shoulders began to move to the music. The crowd cheered when she began to shimmy. Larry could’ve wept.

     The Queen peered down from her papier-mâché castle as an announcer on a microphone exclaimed that she would choose her consort for the Mardi Gras ball. Frat boys started jeering loudly while Larry stumbled towards the front. Face to face, the Queen had descended from her float and aimed a beckoning finger at him. He dusted the remains of his beignet from his besmirched crotch as he ascended the float steps.

     Her soft lips met his as their arms entwined, the crowd cheering as she dipped him slightly. Larry smiled. The queen pressed her mouth to his ear and spoke in a smooth deep voice.

     “Call me Robert, sugar.”

     Larry’s eyes widened as his partner lead him in a cha-cha, one step forwards two steps back.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Keep Your Eye On The News…

Keep your eyes out for upcoming events! What’s latest in the news? Any interesting developments publicly? Personally? All of this can provide potential fodder for each weekly contest posted on this blog. Contestants now part of my Mardi Gras Mystery-Name Contest this month have already begun pitching new ideas to me that they would like to see in my upcoming short-stories. I’m thrilled by people’s responses thus far, and will share just a couple of choice suggestions with you:

“[Name]’s friend began drunkenly firing off Roman Candles (possibly bangalores) at imaginary German soldiers.” – Jeff Kent

“Unfortunately, it wasn't until after [Name] had already left Chris' office that s/he thought to wonder why s/he would need a can of oil, three roadside flares, and a pound of birdseed for her/his next assignment.” – Mike Micheletti

I thoroughly encourage people to continue sending in suggestions or posting them to the comments section below each blog-post here so that all can see and enjoy. I know that I have enjoyed the laughs as well as the boundless creativity of this group effort so far. Even though I probably can’t use all of these brilliant sentence suggestions as starters for each week’s new short-story I will certainly attempt to incorporate elements of them into each week’s very short (500 word) tale.

I will continue to post every weekday regarding people’s ideas and other interesting stories. Weekends I will take off so that I can actually get the writing done. But that by no means excludes you from continuing to post and share you thoughts then. We already have a diverse crowd of spectators in our midst. Don’t hesitate to make your voice heard. We have authors who write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and memoirs. We have a software engineer, a lawyer, people from biotech…we even have some singer/songwriters and a filmmaker.

The winner of this first week’s contest will appear in a new short-story that I will post up on Monday. Remember, in order enter in the raffle and have a chance at your name being in print as the “hero” of a brand new short-story each week you must register as a follower (see instructions on the previous blog-post). In the meantime, enjoy winding down your well deserved Friday. I’ll be writing this weekend, but if you’re interested in other stories I’m currently promoting, please check out my new civil war novel, The Long Defeat. In the meantime keep your eyes on current events you’d like to see in upcoming short tales and add some of your own creative talents to the collective pot!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mardi Gras Mystery-Name Contest!

Want to be the next hero in one of my stories? Fat Tuesday has come and gone, and the somberness of Lent looms before us, so I’ve decided to kickoff my 40 days of penance with a series of short-stories contests! Each week I will write a super short tale (about 500 words) with a complete hook and story, but minus one very key element. The name of my central character…YOU!

Each story will feature some current event, and the name of one of my blog’s followers (selected by lottery) will fill-in the place of the hero in each tale. This week I’ve decided to write a short-story about Mardi Gras. The opening line reads: “[Name] awoke that morning with absolutely no idea he/she would fall in love.” Every week I will post the entire short up on my blog, and then submit it to a small press or magazine for publication. Obviously, only a small portion of submissions sent to a small press or magazine ever get printed, but that’s why I plan to write lots of these over the next 40 days. Just think, your name could end up in print. This opening line here could read Lawrence Ma or Hannah Pralle or [Your Name Here].

The game here is to make this fun. If a friend or acquaintance of yours on this blog ends up in the story, you can suggest what you’d like to see happen to them over the course of subsequent tales. Each week the names are selected at random in a hat, so you could potentially become the hero in more than one story! Will you find yourself embroiled in a scandal? Will you get rich? Find true love? Will you meet a horrible end? Either way, I plan to post it on the internet for everyone to read.

In order to enter the weekly raffle of name selections all you have to do is belong to my blog as a follower (see right-hand side of the screen). Anyone can join. You just need to have a gmail or yahoo or twitter or AIM, etc. type of account to login. Each week I’ll supply the new topic and first line of the short-story, but I’m of course open to a wide variety of suggestions. Even though I write a lot of historical fiction, I’ll keep these stories contemporary of course. One such idea I’ve heard pertains to writing about the seven deadly sins, a new one for every week. I like this notion as it adds instant tension to a story. This week’s Mardi Gras piece I think will fit “Lust” to a T. And “no,” I didn’t get the seven sins idea from watching too many Morgan Freeman films. It just sounds like a fun challenge.

Let the fictions begin…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

San Francisco Writer’s Conference

The 2010 San Francisco Writer’s Conference rocks! I just finished my first weekend at this three day extravaganza conducted at the prestigious Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Each day famous authors, publishing house experts, literary agents, and, of course, fellow aspiring writers met in a series of informative lectures and education sessions from sunup to sundown. Some of my favorites include the sessions given by historical authors, freelance editors, and small press publishers. Every expert brought their own experiences and talents to bear, revealing everything from the drafting process for manuscripts to the ins-and-outs of building a platform in the publishing world.

Many of my fellow attendees, myself included, admitted some trepidation as this was the first writer’s conference in which many of us had ever participated. After more than three days of fantastic talks we actually got an opportunity to do some “speed-dating” with literary agents and pitched our novels or books to them. In addition, we also had a night of roundtable discussions with freelance and publishing house editors which I found particularly enlightening. The goodwill and open attitudes of many of the attendees and speakers also made this conference truly shine for me.

But of course writing isn’t all a bed of roses either. Both writers and agents explained the grueling, but worthwhile, task of revising manuscripts through 60, 70, and 80 revisions before ever reaching the printed page. Learning the low proportion of books that ever sell over 1,000 copies on the open market also didn’t exactly invigorate the crowd either. However, one of the keynote speakers put it best when they stated that we don’t do this for money, and we can’t do it for ego or fame or any other bogus reason. We write because of that little voice inside our heads, we write because something compels us, because we have a story to tell. Identifying with fellow aspiring authors at this conference also gave me a sense of hope and community that I had not realized I lacked. I found the ability to actively participate in written and verbal dialogue with my peers to be a truly inspiring and fulfilling experience. I certainly hope to attend more writers’ conferences throughout the year and to engage my fellow local writers throughout the community. Particularly people like YOU! Thanks, hope to hear from you all very soon. In the meantime, keep reading and keep writing.

Look online to learn more about this year’s 2010 San Francisco Writer’s Conference.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Research for my Civil War Novel

When it comes to researching background information for a book many tried and true approaches come to mind. You can read about a subject in books, you can visit the setting where something took place, and sometimes you can even interview an expert, but I feel that in order to truly get in touch with the essence of an era you need to gain some experience firsthand. For my civil war novel, The Long Defeat, I decided that in addition to being an avid history buff I also needed to participate as a civil war reenactor in order to make some observations for myself.

Well, I got what I asked for. As a member of the NCWA (National Civil War Association) I’ve made some good friends, gained new insight into the period of 19th century America, and I also have had a really good time. In addition, however, I learned many other aspects of army camp and 19th century life I hadn’t banked on. Turns out marching is hard work. Officers and sergeants shout at you all day, black powder from your musket stains everything, and reloading quickly under fire is much more difficult than it first appears. After marching, countermarching, and drilling in the summer heat in a heavy wool uniform I never thought the water from my canteen could taste so good. No matter how hard or uneven the ground was at night, the sheer exhaustion of camp work, the battlefield, and marching made any bare patch of grass the most comfortable bed imaginable. I promptly fell asleep every evening.

I met many men from very different walks of life, but found that once you’ve proved yourself after a few battles they’re camaraderie is truly genuine. During my first reenactment alone I fired volley after volley at the enemy (in this case the Rebs), conducted military maneuvers on the field, helped put down a food riot (staged of course), participated in a bayonet charge, and got gunpowder all over myself from reloading my ever hot gun barrel. Now I’ve been with the NCWA over a year and am looking forward to participating in the coming season of reenactments (fighting for the North of course). Overall, I have found these experiences invaluable in bringing a new level of realism to my writing, particularly in my book The Long Defeat. Fortunately, I never had to experience the real hunger that actual civil war soldiers had to endure, nor the real killing of brother against brother. Nonetheless, I have found the journey thus far truly eye-opening to say the least, and will continue to pursue more hands on experience regarding all of my writing projects going forward.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish?

Now I have not self-published, nor do I have any such plans. However, I know people who have self-published, some happily, some not so much. It all depends what you want. So this week I’ve written my findings in response to questions posed by some friends of mine. I’m open to any other suggestions or information anyone else may wish to add, but based on what I’ve read (both in books and online) and seen amongst other writers these are my current conclusions on self-publishing.

If you write a book or story and plan to circulate it amongst your local community or circle of acquaintances, then self-publishing might be just what you want. However, if you have starrier eyes and envision your book in Barnes and Noble someday self-publishing is probably not for you. Don’t get me wrong, both options have their pros and cons.

Advantages of self-publishing include actually getting your book out there for people to see. For instance, I’ve had people online ask me where they can buy the current book I’m promoting. I get excited when my writing genuinely engages someone I’ve never met before. But when that happens it’s difficult to have to say to these eager readers, “I’m sorry, but this story isn’t published yet.” However, before you jump on the self-publishing bandwagon realize that there are two potential drawbacks of going this route. One, you have to do all the promotion, management, web work, touring, salesmanship, etc. required to get your book out there by yourself. Some people thrive on this, and some not so much. Two, and possibly the most important, literary agents will not want anything to do with your book once you self-publish it.

Why should you care? Well, for better or worse, the publishing industry works in set ways. To get a book out in a bona fide bookstore usually requires three major steps (and I’m simplifying here). One, you need a literary agent. They handle the business side of things, and they have the contacts to get in good with a publishing house. Two, most reputable publishers wont even talk to you without a respectable literary agent. Three, the publishing house then gets your book to the next stage, the actual Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other major stores where you can really promote your book. Since most literary agents look down on self-publishing, getting immediately rejected by them for self-publishing can be a major drawback if you want to ever see your book make the big time. The vast majority of successful books go the agent route and not the self-publishing one.

This doesn’t mean that self-published books never go big or get picked up, but it’s extremely rare. It may discourage you to have to wade through the tedious journey and numerous rejection letters that lead to securing a literary agent who will actually agree to represent you, but it’s usually the only viable long-term solution. This is the key difference between self-publishing and not self-publishing. In the short-tem self-publishing can be satisfying because you can actually get your book out to people you know. One fellow writer of mine self-published and actually sold over 1,000 copies of his novel online, checkout his site at However, most major authors that you’ve probably heard of went the other route via a literary agent, and they almost certainly wouldn’t have gotten that agent if they had self-published. Such is the stigma.

Neither route is a bed of roses, whether you run your own self-publishing site or you attempt to court a prominent literary agent. I myself am trying the latter, and although I’ve generated some genuine interest and gotten good feedback it’s been a long journey and one I will continue to pursue despite the difficulties. I hope that this blurb has helped and if anyone has other experiences or books they’ve read on the subject that may shed some light on this please let me know. Thanks.