Writing Prompt Contest Winners!

Remember that contest I told you about a while back? You know, the one with writing prompts? Well, the results are in, and I am pleased to announce the winners!

I had a super fun time helping to judge this contest along with Cassandra Hamm. The lovely lady who hosted the contest. We met at the Realm Makers conference a few months ago, and bonded over deep conversations and pizza. She is a great writer, and I loved judging the contest alongside her!

Cassandra Hamm is a writer who has always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. She received her B.S. in psychology and continues to apply her knowledge to her characters. In case the reader is wondering, no, she does not psychoanalyze everyone she meets. One of her passions is helping other writers, and she does so through her work as a Community Assistant for the Young Writers Workshop and a teacher for Young Writer Lessons, both of which are affiliated with The Young Writer. She can be found online at https://cassandrahamm.com, where she posts prompt-based stories meant to entertain, encourage, and inspire; on Instagram at @cassandrahammwrites; and on Facebook as Cassandra Hamm, Author. 

In fact, this contest was to celebrate the fact that one of her own stories got second place in a Story Embers writing contest! Check out ‘The Will of the Sky’ here! It is pretty awesome! *nudge nudge*

It was so cool to see how each person came up with a completely different story for the prompts! No two stories were alike, and I was blown away by the creativity. Let me tell you, it was so hard to choose a winner! Everyone’s stories were so amazing. Decisions decisions…

But we did come to a conclusion, but before I reveal the winners, here are the prompts if you want to go read all the entries for yourself!

The Instagram entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

The Facebook entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

And now, for the prompts winners. Drum roll please…

Prompt #1

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘The tormenting heat of the sun beats against the barren kingdom. Thin gusts of wind sweep over the sand of ancient stones, bones of the dead peeking into sulfurous air. The faint thrust of his leathery wings and the shifting of his every bone echoes over the muteness of the ghosts. Slit eyes bore into the souls of every dark crevice, ripping exotic shadows of the past into the foreboding silence of the present. For in the heart of the reapers’ kingdom, memories of life bow to the carcass of death. ‘

~Kaylee Clay

This beautiful entry by Kaylee (@kk_the_bookdragon) is full of scary mystery. I love the descriptions in this story. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the end.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘It had been just another noise in the desert, probably a creature dying in unfamiliar, hostile surroundings. But after the bone beast had flown over, no one could unhear that desperate, aching sound. It echoed in the mind, raising memories of sorrows and lost dreams, like spectres called from the beyond. So the towns fled to the deep subterranean caverns in an attempt to dampen the cries and to bury themselves from hauntings created in their heads.

Only little Keili understood the cry, understood why the beast screamed as it flew. It wanted to die but couldn’t.’

~Ariel Jackson

Wow, what a story! Ariel Jackson spins a tale of heartache. A creature who is seeking something it can not find. Death eludes him, and the bone beast’s cry brings others into it’s despair.

Prompt #2

This picture has been used with permission from Purple Dragon Prompts

Our Instagram winner was…

‘ “It’s the center of the universe,” the sage had whispered to me, as he indicated a tattered map of the desert.

Not the literal center, of course. The gravity at the center of one galaxy would instantly crush my frail, mortal body.

Then again, the villagers in this area didn’t understand gravity. They didn’t even understand what it truly was: the place where all worlds converged. From there, I could go anywhere. Find anyone. Find HER.

“It’s the center of the universe,” he had said.

“Perhaps,” I whisper, with a strained, hopeful smile, “it can find the center of mine.” ‘

~Carrie-Anne Thomas

Excuse me while I go blow my nose. How did Carrie-Anne (carrie_anne.thomas) create such sadness in only one hundred words? Even though it is heart breaking, I love this story and the tiny bit of hope at the end. I truly hope that he is able to find the woman he is searching for.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘She could see nothing.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. There was dust. There was wind.

There was more dust.

Senra clutched the gauzy veil closer, her parched breathing shallow through the thin material.

Somewhere, the green lands still existed. Water and grass and men with glittering swords and greedy eyes.

She turned her back to the wind. A slight veiled figure clutched their cave entrance. “M-mother?”

Senra wrapped her daughter in an embrace. “You’re safe here.”

“But…”

“Hush.” She buried her face in her daughter’s hair. /You’re the center of everything. And I won’t let them touch you./’

~Hope Ann Schmidt

Such a beautiful depiction of motherly love! This mother will do literally anything for her child, even cross the world to a place where they can be safe. Congrats Hope Ann, this is a lovely story!

Prompt #3

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘Some say it means dire things for any who walk beneath its shadow.

Some say that signs can be read in the cracks of its sun-brittled bones.

Some say it is a gateway to the spirit lands.

But it is none of these; only the lonely remains of a great earth-shaker who lay down and died before my father’s fathers were born. I have seen more like it, in the clefts of the great mountains, and fed them with my hands. Their lips are gentle.

So I listen to the foreigner ramble on and on beside me, and I smile.’

~ Verity A. Buchanan

Verity (@verityb.writes) wrote a vivid tale that leaves me wanting to know more! Earth shakers, legends, and foreigners all come together to create a story world that I would be happy to get lost in! I hope I can learn more about it someday!

Our Facebook winner was…

“Yo yo, gangsta.”

“Yo, wassup.”

“Been a few hundred years. Felt a breeze lately?”

“Nah, this sand hasn’t moved in weeks.”

“You can still see?”

“Sure!”

“Sure. Tell me what’s over the horizon, then.”

“An old man.”

“Out here?”

“Don’t scoff. I see an old man walking in the lightning.”

“Sure, that checks out.”

“Don’t believe me, then.”

“… What else is happening?”

“The bones are shaking off the sand.”

“Ressurectin’?

“‘Course.”

“What about us?”

“We’ll fly again. No more stone birds perched on an old man’s spine.”

~ Hannah Brown

From the first word, this story made me laugh. Hannah did such a great job with the characters voices. The bounce right off the page and into your ears. Those familiar with the Bible may recognize an allusion to Ezekial 37 and the story of dry bones.

Weren’t those stories awesome? This contest was so much fun! If you would like to join in the fun, I am pretty sure Cassie is planning another contest for November 6th-ish. Keep an eye out for that! I hope to see your story!

Shaina Merrick

Writing Contest!

Hello everyone! I hope your creative juices are full, because I am here to announce a contest!

My friend Cassie Hamm has created a desert theme writing prompt contest! Every two days she will post a prompt on her Facebook and Instagram pages. In those two days you have the chance to post a 100 word or less piece of flash fiction (aka a teeny tiny story).

The contest starts tomorrow on the 11th! It goes through the weekend and ends October 16th. The first day she will post a prompt, and then you will have that day and the 12th to think up a little story and post it in the comments! The next prompt will go up on the 13th and you will have till the 14th to come up with a story. And then the last prompt will be posted the 15th and you will have that day and the 16th to come up with one last story. You can choose to use Facebook or Instagram to post your story in the comments, depending on which platform you like best. 😉

The semi illustrious me will be joining the very illustrious Cassie in judging the contests. No, I will not be taking bribes. (unless they are in chocolate of course) This is Cassies third story prompt contest, so this one promises to be a great one!

I hope to see your stories there!

Shaina Merrick

Scheduling and ‘Oh hey, my blog post isn’t late!’

Hello everyone!

No, I had not forgotten about my blog. Yes, I will be returning to my regular posting schedule.

In part I took a break to rethink my blog. To decide where I was going with it and what I wanted it to look like.

No, there will not be a massive rebranding here around the corner. Been there, did that, all done.

I am still passionate about story telling, and about creating beautiful stories. However, it had gotten hard to sit down every week and try to think up something else story related. After I had worked all day.

The creative juices were not flowing.

So I came up with a schedule of what I will post each week. I hope you like it, but if you decide you hate it you will have to give me a good reason why I should change it. This schedule took all week to make. I would prefer not to revisit it.

All in all, it is pretty simple. In a four week month I will post a short story, a book review, a history post, and a writing how-to. If there happen to be five Wedensdays… Well, I’ll figure it out when I get there.

A quick note about the short stories. They will all be mine own, and they will all be connected. Not necessarily by the same characters, though they may pop up in multiple stories, but by the same world and the same plot thread.

No, I am not about to tell you what they are about.

*goes to figure out what they are about*

Still not telling.

Anyway. Someday I hope to be so well prepared that I am writing and scheduling posts ahead of time. Today is not that day. I am just content with knowing what I will be writing about next month.

See you all next week!

Shaina Merrick

Why I am Keeping my Day Job

Like many writers living today, I have what is called a day job. A job to pay the bills and support me while I write. My ‘true calling’, writing, will eventually take over and I will stay home and write all day. Spending my days in bliss as I churn out novel after novel. The end goal of almost every writer is to get to the point that their writing is financially able to support them so they can quit their day job and come home to write full time.

Well, the goal of every writer except me. I would prefer to keep my day job thank you very much. And it is not because I am a pessimist who thinks she will never make money from her writing. (only sometimes) Nor is it because I want to keep my writing at hobby level.

I will keep my day job because I like it. Most of the time. Now, being a PreK teacher is no walk in the park. There have been more than a few times that I have wondered why I signed up for this. However, there have been plenty of times that I wondered that about writing too. Why on earth did I think it was a good idea to put the stories in my head down on paper?

I enjoy what I do, so I don’t see myself stopping it any time soon. But even if I did quit and found myself with hours a day to write instead of snatches of time here and there, I think I would still find a job.

Sometimes, I think creative people believe that creativity exists in a vacuum. We are story writers, poets, artists, and musicians who spend hours upon hours holed up in a room pouring our hearts out into whatever medium we have chosen. Creating art is a solitary process, it has to be. But I don’t think our creativity comes from that tiny room. It comes from all around us, from our experiences, our lives, the things we have seen and the things we have heard.

I put this idea forth to you; that the stories we find ourselves thinking about are in a large part influenced by our lives. Who do you know? What do you do? How do you live? Where do you live? All of that will affect the stories you write. Whether you mean it to or not.

Writers are often told to write what they know, and the second best thing to knowing it is researching the stuffing out of it. So many writers spend even more time holed up in their room googling random, or not so random, things because they want to know it so they can write it.

Well, I for one do not want to settle for second best. I would rather do than read. So I have done, and done some more. I have traveled, explored, gotten lost, made friends and lost them, worked for myself, gotten a job, and done lots of random things. I have failed a few times, and done a face plant in life. But hey, at least I know what it feels like for my characters! (my poor characters…)

I fill my life with interesting things and interesting people in part so that my writing will be interesting. I know there are some things that will have to be delegated to research. Like going to the moon and being a prima ballerina. Yet if I can, I do rather than read. I want to know how this world works.

So no, I am not quitting my day job. I know that because of it I will write slower than most. I know that my path will be longer because I don’t dedicate as much time to my craft. But I would rather be slow, and have my stories filling with interesting things, than be fast and have my stories all sound the same.

As a side note, all the aforementioned things are not why I am sometimes late putting up a blog post. Naps are wonderful things that help you get nothing done.

Shaina Merrick

The Fantastic Realmies (and books)

Every year a bunch of crazy writers get together to celebrate their mutual craziness. We call it Realm Makers. At this conference they also learn how to be even crazier. Those particular people are called Realmies. The ones who are so crazy that there is no hope for them. If you like being crazy, it’s a fun time! If not, well, maybe you should stay far, far away…

I decided to go to this conference, and risk coming out crazier than before. Whether I escaped successfully or not is for you to judge.

So many things happened at Realm Makers. So. Many Things. My poor brain is so full, and it is worse because I haven’t journaled yet…

I attended classes that have taken me one more step in my writing journey. I learned about my craft, and what it takes to get published. I learned how to plot a short story in the same weekend that I learned to plot a series.

I was encouraged beyond belief by the keynote speaker. He reminded me how important this career can be. That our words can touch other people. I was reminded that this is something that God has called me to do, and that this calling is a grand and wondrous thing.

I came back home ready to write again. Ready to grab my time by the horns and force it to produce a novel.

Unfortunately, I also came back to a day job, which puts a damper on a few things. So it’s a good thing I took that class on balancing life and writing!

I bought lovely, gorgeous books. Which I can’t wait to read! I also can’t wait to figure out how I will fit them all onto my shelf…

Gorgeous covers! I almost don’t want to read them, just stare at them…
You can’t see it in the picture. But Kings Folly is actually humongous.
Even more lovely books! Where will I find the time to read them all?

Like I said, I did lots and lots of things. But the classes I went to, the books I bought, the things I did, all of those paled in comparison to who I met.

Courage is going up to an author, sticking out your hand, and saying, “Hi, I’m Shaina.” But if you drum up that courage, you find out that those authors you are star struck by are friendly people happy to talk with you

Wayne Thomas Batson. Teacher of my favorite class. 🙂
Jill Williamson. I was definitely star struck when I asked her to sign my book.

This last weekend I finally (finally!) got to meet my pen pal. We have been writing, and emailing, back and forth for years. And I met her for the first time a week ago. To say that it was great would be an understatement. It was awesome. I was able to put a person to the words I have read. A voice behind the emails. Unfortunately, we both forgot to get a selfie together. Whoops!

I also met the voices behind the articles and blogs that I have been reading for so long. People I never thought I would meet in a million years I was suddenly shaking hands with.

Gabrielle.
Rolena. One of the sweetest people ever!

I would have been content with just meeting those people. To hang out with them the whole weekend. But instead, I was blessed with a friend. We clicked, bonded over conversation and pizza (a perfect combination). Before I knew it, we were hanging out all the time, chatting about writing, school, jobs, and anything else we could thing of. She became my friend, one I hope to keep for a long time to come.

Cassie. My favorite person at the conference.

So there you go, a mini recap post of the fantastic, wonderful, crazy time that is Realm Makers. If you happen to make your way to it next year, I hope to see you there!

Shaina Merrick

Life is Short, Time is Valuable, and There are too Many Books!

No, I am not freaking out. Why do you ask? I am definitely not wondering how on earth I am ever going to read all the books I want to read. I wonder if I will ever get to the bottom of my tbr list?

Whoops, I wondered. Now I am freaking out.

Raise of hands, is anyone else ever overwhelmed with the sheer amount of books that are out there? Even if you somehow read all the ones in the bookstores, there are more being published every year. With self publishing so easy now, the number of books put out on the market year after year is astronomical. There is no hope of ever catching up.

And if you happen to have a life outside of reading books. You know, normal things like having friends, a job, a family…. Your case is even more hopeless. There is no way that you will ever be able to read all the books that look so vastly interesting.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to made you feel overwhelmed.

I am not here to give you hope that with the right attitude and schedule you will be able to read them all. Instead, I am here to tell you that you can’t. And contrary to popular belief, that’s just fine. In fact, it may be a good thing.

I think all bookworms can agree that for every good book on the bookstore shelf, there are ten bad ones. Books that just aren’t worth the time or money it takes to read them.

Since I grew up, I have had less and less free time to dedicate to just reading. I have to be pickier about my books, because I just can’t read all of them. Or even as many as I used to. So I read the blurb, the reviews, and the first page before I decide that it worth my time.

If something makes me say ‘I dunno about this’, I put it back on the shelf for someone else to find.

It may seem unnecessarily choosy to you, but for me, I have to. There have been times that I have picked up a book on a whim, or because I liked the cover. But it doesn’t happen very often.

I have learned that it is okay. It is acceptable to be picky about the books you fill your time with.

My life is short, and I want it to be filled with good things.

So go ahead, be picky! Read the reviews, the blurbs, the bit in the back about the author. Don’t be afraid to say no. If everyone else likes it, and it isn’t your style. Oh well. There are other books out there.

This is not to say that you should find a genre and never stir from it. Try new genres and new styles! Find new authors, go explore the ever growing indie market. You may find your next favorite book.

What I am saying is that I no longer want to feel like I wasted my afternoon on a book. So I will take my time finding a book. I am not going to pick up a book just because it is popular, or because the cover is pretty.

Instead, I ask myself, is this book worth my limited, precious time? I am a writer, so I will most likely read more books than average person. But even as a writer I have other things that fill my days. So is this book worth the bit of time that I have to dedicate to it? If I don’t think it is, it goes back on the library shelf.

Saying that I don’t want to read a book does not necessarily mean that the book isn’t worth any ones time. Someone else may click with it and love it. All it means is that I chose to fill my time with a different book. One that I love, one that inspires me.

To finish with one of my favorite quotes;

“Life is too short for reading inferior books.” -James Bryce

Shaina Merrick

Contests and Themes

So, I decided to enter another writing contest. ‘Cause the last one went oh so well…. But hey, it is a short story contest this time, and I already had the story written. So maybe I have a shot? Or maybe I am just suffering from delusions of grandeur. But I have yet to decide whether delusions of grandeur or crippling self doubt is worse. So we’ll stick with the former for a while.

Except, I was already stuck. Typical me. I have a plot, characters, and setting. But no theme. No one thing that everything else in the story depends upon. Usually, I would just shrug and perfect the parts that I have down. It is a retelling of a fairy tale after all. How much theme does it actually need?

The right answer is gobs more by the way. It needs a solid theme that drives the story forward. And in this contest, having that solid theme is the difference between first place and being on the cutting room floor.

So here I go, wracking my brain to find a theme in my little story. Note to the wise, it is easier to write a story with the theme already mapped out than to find one in an already completed story.

Also, I don’t want the theme to be just any theme. I want it to be true to the story. I want it to feel as if the story is showing the theme, not that the theme was thrust upon it by an uncaring and unwitting author.

So after wracking my brain for a solid week, I think I found one.

Hope. More specifically, the importance of having hope.

You see, my story is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. With one important difference. Beast is the villain, and Belle is a captive to a faeries caprice. Not exactly a light read.

In the beginning of the story, Belle has given up hope of escaping. To the point that all she wants is to survive each day. Though the idea of a final escape is becoming more and more palatable.

I knew that before I even thought about what theme I had. I also knew that in the end she hopes that Gaston has actually managed to save her. (another twist!)

Those two key parts were what unlocked my story’s theme for me. All I had to have to do now is enhance what is already there. Take the hints I have and flesh them out into a living, breathing story.

Easier said that done. Obviously. But the hardest part is over, the finding of the slippery little thing.

If you happen to be in the same boat as me, trying to find a theme in a story that is already finished, here is my advice.

Take stock of who your character is in the beginning of the story and where they are in their personal journey, then do the same with them at the end of your story. What has changed? And why did it change?

Where your character has changed is where your theme lies. Maybe your character learned to trust someone else. Maybe they conquered some fears. Take that and expand upon it, make that change become a journey that weaves in and out of everything else in your story. And voila, your have a rock solid theme.

Now take that story and enter the Story Embers contest! And don’t bother looking for me, my story will most likely be in the category of a procrastinated master piece that was forgotten to be entered. Whoops.

Shaina Merrick

My Beautiful Story

This last weekend was graduation weekend! Friends from college and from high school all graduated, and celebrated their graduation, in the same weekend. Guys. Spread it out a little!

Anyway. Graduations mean that we are celebrating the graduate and what they have done. Surviving school and finals for example. Often when I go to a graduation I come away feeling a little depressed.

These highschoolers have done so much with their four years. They traveled, wrote books, competed in sports events, won medals. The list goes on! And what have I done in my last four years? Survived? Made a friend or two? Sigh.

Yet this year, I didn’t think that way. I looked at each of the new graduates, and was able to say that what they did was awesome. And so is what I have done.

It is possible to say that each of our stories are wonderful, beautiful even. It is possible to say that what these highschoolers have done is amazing. As well as be proud of what I have done as well.

Man, I wish I had learned that earlier!

Wish that I had realized that my story is beautiful. I love how my story has played out. No, it hasn’t all been peaches and cream. But I love it all the same.

The things I have done, the things I have learned. I wouldn’t replace any of it. Not for the most exciting life you can think of.

Shaina Merrick