A few of my thoughts on “The Star Collector” – my recent 2nd place finisher at The Blank Page Challenge

The inaugural Blank Page Challenge was the first writing contest I’d ever entered. I have had a few drabble and flash fiction pieces published online so far, and placing second in the competition is something I am very proud of. I thought I would share, in no real order, just a few of the things that occurred around this piece.

  • The prompt – when I first saw the prompt, I imagined the usual flashlight pointed in the air kind of scene. In that specific picture, however, the way the light appears in relation to the flashlight and the figure made me envision the light coming downward rather than pushing upward. Right away the idea of a “collector” of the light was formed. There are a few references to this:
    • Mama’s “light empty body” was a play: her body is light as well as empty because she is dead, but in addition her body is empty of the light that gives her life and the Star Collector will refill her.
    • Obviously the reference to everyone as stars is related to this idea as well.
    • jonatan-pie-226805
  • The main character – this was an interesting one for me. Through the time I wrote this, I never once bothered with the main character’s physical description or gender. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter, so it can safely be ignored. I still do to this day. I don’t “see” anyone when I think of the protagonist – that person is simply just present in the events. There have been multiple instance of readers interpreting the MC as female. That’s fine (as I said above, it doesn’t matter).
    • Writing group – I took the story to my local writing group (CS Writers) for one of our weekly critiques and each of the readers there interpreted the MC as female.
    • Judge’s comments – there were a few notes from the judges and one of those referenced the MC as a “she” which I thought was interesting.
  • Emotion – by the time I’d ironed out the bulk of the story, it should have been highly emotional, right? Kid stuck on some horrendous planet, apparently alone with only Mama as a companion. Mama dies, kid freaks out. Emotional as hell, right? Apparently not, because the first couple of drafts were completely dry. I mean like clinical. I added some emotion later, then more was suggested by folks that read the early draft. One of them suggested the addition of some or all of the grief stages, which I did squeeze in in a couple of places. I knew I was on to something when the phrase “tear jerker” came out. The judges called for more emotion and a more developed ending. I see that now and wish I’d seen it before submitting, because I agree.
  • Jill’s reaction to the contest – okay, this has nothing whatsoever to do with my story, but one of the earliest Tweets to come through after the announcement was from the eventual winner, Jill Patrick. She congratulated both Brittany Miller and I for our placings, and then she mentioned each of us in her interview. I thought that was really classy and humbling. Brittany was equally gracious. They reinforced the truth that we are all in this together, that the only real competition is ourselves, and that the success of anyone else is not threatening to the rest of us. I really appreciated both of them. Frankly I’m thrilled to have my work sitting next to their amazing pieces.
  • My final and most important thought about the story is the importance of going for it. All the usual cliche comments can be made: “just do it” “go for it” “do or do not” whatever. But they are true. If I may be so bold as to say, I rather like a particular combination of words I put in the interview:  “Gift yourself with the possibility of success.”

Thanks to everyone that voted. I’d welcome any comments or critiques of “The Star Collector,” so feel free to comment here or message me on Twitter.

And thank you to the people and organizations that donated prizes!


BlankPage Challenge – 2nd place (judges)

Wow! I’m thrilled to have been awarded 2nd place by the judges for my entry to the BlankPage Challenge. For the next week or so now readers can vote on their favorite of the top 3 stories.

My story is entitled “The Star Collector” and is based on the photo prompt provided by BPC. I liked the photo and was a bit surprised by where it took me in the story. It was a rewarding story to write, though a bit different from my usual work.


After the contest ends I’ll put up some more personal and more specific analysis, as there are some interesting comments and assumptions being made about the story. For now, I’m going to allow everyone to enjoy it as is.

Big thank you to the folks at BlankPage Challenge for organizing and maintaining this contest. It’s fun and I look forward to future entries.

I’m blown away by the quality of the other two stories in the top 3 and I encourage you to follow those writers closely. They are doing some great work. Please vote for your favorite story.

Jill Patrick’s site can be found here.

Brittany Miller’s Amazon site can be found here.

I want to encourage everyone to take part in these kinds of competitions. They foster a sense of community, broaden our horizons and give us unique challenges we might normally assign to ourselves. I believe that Flash Fiction in general can help novel writers be more concise and word-conscious. BlankPage Challenge has a calendar for the rest of the year.

Good luck, all!



The single best editing tip I’ve ever received

The single best editing tip I ever received came from my most inspirational professor in college (thanks, Scott!). I had received a very high score on a history paper I’d written and I was pretty damn proud of myself. I said something to the professor and he said “Yes, it was fine.” Fine? I reminded him I got something like 98% on it and he shrugged and said – “yes, fine.” So I asked what could have been better.

What followed was a 3 hour examination of my paper, word by word, line by line. Now this was the early 90’s, when word processing was in its infancy and when I wasn’t the computer geek I am today. My professor pointed out spelling errors, punctuation and grammar mistakes, formatting issues, citation problems, and a general untidiness. He then got into sentence structure and content organization. At the end my very good paper was covered with red marks and we’d discussed every paragraph.

So what was this gem of knowledge for editing?

daeR tI sdrawkcaB    (you wouldn’t believe how long it took me to type that)

Read it backwards. As I understand it, the human mind/eye doesn’t truly examine each letter of a word when reading. Instead, it reads several of the letters at the start of the word, then guesses the rest of the word and moves on to the next word. Great for reading, less great for editing details like spelling and usage. By reading backwards, your mind is required to consider every letter, which is necessary for detailed editing.

Obviously this isn’t a great practice for novels, but if there is some section, phrase or word that you know you must get right, try this tip. For longer works, take the spirit of the advice. Read the sentences of the paragraph in reverse order, read the paragraphs of the scene in the reverse order. This will help you notice sections that don’t flow logically, as well as consider overall sentence and paragraph structure.

I realize this isn’t a new trick for writers and editors. A quick Google search will pop this technique up very quickly. I believe it is still a worthwhile method to expose, however, and it is one that has helped me immensely since the day I learned it.

!yaD eciN A evaH

** for those in the computer industry, I teach my students this trick when working at the command prompt. They are blown away by how effective it is. Whether working in bash or PowerShell, give it a shot.