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Tips for Writing for a Contest by Carol L. Wright

November 13, 2022 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , , ,

It’s always exciting to enter a writing contest—at least until it comes to the actual writing.

Since I both write for submission and run the annual Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story award competition, I’ve developed a few tips for writing to a theme, keeping within the word count limits, and what to avoid. I hope these might be of help.

And we’re making a special announcement at the end!

When writing to a theme:

  • Write a new story instead of trying to wedge thematic elements into an existing story. It shows.
  • Don’t write the first thing that comes into your head. It popped into a hundred other heads, too. You don’t want to be competing with a hundred other stories similar to yours.
  • Brainstorm to find a fresh slant on the theme. Writing something from a slightly different angle will help your story stand out.
  • Be creative with your title. Too many entries will use the theme in the title. You want your title to be unique.

Staying within word limits:

  • Start with your protagonist in the middle of action. Hook readers immediately.
  • Refer to, but don’t overly explain backstory. You can imply an unhealed wound or past conflict between characters, but in a short story, the reader does not need to know the details unless they have a direct relationship to the current plot.
  • Keep descriptions pithy. A few words can paint a picture.
  • Use contractions, compound words, or hyphenated words. These count as only one word each
  • Do not use ellipses to show pauses or gaps. They are correctly typed as: space-dot-space-dot-space-dot-space. Unfortunately, each dot counts as a word! Use dashes instead. Some word counters count words connected by a dash as one word!
  • Simplify verbs. For example: she left, instead of she was gone or she had departed. You could even have a one-word sentence: Gone!
  • Use vivid verbs. It eliminates the need for adverbs or adjectives. For example: the storm raged instead of the storm was blowing strongly.
  • Use the words you need, but not one word more. Remember, the word limit is a maximum, not a minimum or a target word count. No contest judge wants to read a story that appears to be padded with extra words.
  • On the other hand, if the contest calls for stories of up to 5000 words, a very short story, e.g. 500 words, will not be competitive. You cannot do the world building or character development in a few words that you could accomplish with more words.

Contest Don’ts:

  • Don’t flatter judges in a cover letter. They know it’s just designed to butter them up and can seem annoying.
  • Don’t email the contest runner with questions that are answered in the call for submissions. Really annoying.
  • Don’t argue with the rules, break the rules, or ask for exceptions to the rules. The rules are there for a reason and have to be applied consistently to be a fair contest.
  • Don’t complain that winning stories aren’t as good as yours. All judging is subjective—and you cannot be objective about your own work.
  • And definitely don’t ask for names and email addresses of judges so you can complain to them!

Now for the announcement:

The Bethlehem Writers Roundtable announces its 2023 Short Story Award competition will be open from January 1 through March 31, 2023.

The theme is Season’s Readings. We are seeking stories of 2000 words or fewer that relate to the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

Cost to enter: $15

Winners receive:

  • First Place: $250 and publication in the upcoming anthology, Seasons Readings: More Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales. Anticipated publication: Fall 2024
  • Second Place: $100 and publication in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable online literary journal
  • Third Place: $50 and publication in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable online literary journal.

Our guest judge for 2023 is multi award-winning short story writer and professional editor Barb Goffman. Be sure to read her interview in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Winter 2023 issue, coming out on January 1.

You can get all your questions answered on our website: http://bwgwritersroundtable.com/short-story-award-2/. I hope to be reading your story soon!

Good luck—and happy writing!

~ Carol L. Wright

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The Legend of the Four Winds Butte by DT Krippene

October 31, 2022 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , , ,

The conclusion of The Legend of the Four Winds Butte.

***

Utter disappointment at Monroe’s no-show didn’t describe Mary’s mood. She regarded the footholds carved in the reddish stone and sighed to realize he wasn’t coming. 

The debate to press forward without him took but a few moments. She shouldered her Nikon digital SLR and exhaled a deep breath. “Make sure I don’t touch the petroglyphs,” she said, needing the sound of her voice to summon courage. 

With the rock surface pitched inward at thirty degrees, the climb was easier than expected. Good thing heights don’t bother me. 

She pulled herself up and knelt on the edge of the flat peak roughly eighteen to twenty feet in diameter, shivering in the stiff breeze. The four-foot-tall monument of smooth reddish stone jutted from the peak’s center. 

Mary’s first impression was its perfect cylindrical shape. She estimated its circumference at roughly ten-feet. The characters on its unmarred surface encircled the stone in a straight line. Unlike primitive animals and shapes typical of petroglyphs throughout the state, these had the complexity of ancient runes or hieroglyphics.

She carefully circled the outer edge of the rim to view all sides of the cylindrical stone, taking pictures and making notes as she went. A glint caught her eye from rocky gravel piled several inches high around the monument’s base. She got on her knees to squint. A fragment of a different marking peeked from beneath the pebbles. 

Mary crawled closer until she was a foot from the monument. To prevent her fingers from touching it, she used the notebook to scrape away the gravel and expose what appeared to be a humanlike stick figure. She scuffed more pebbles to uncover a second alongside it. Then a third. She unearthed fifteen figures before it ended. 

One etching per known person who disappeared. Monroe’s grandmother was right. Excited at discovering new evidence, she squatted to take pictures. 

Leaning forward for a close up, a loose rock wobbled beneath her boot, and she lost balance. The momentum pitched her forward—until her palms slapped against the etchings. Retracting her hands as if burned, Mary slowly backpedaled toward the peak’s edge with a sickening sensation burbling in her gut. 

The petroglyphs glowed with a silver light. Mary sank to her knees when the sky and surroundings darkened like a full eclipse. Get off the peak, her mind screamed. She scrambled to find the footholds when a gale-like wind pushed her away from the edge. Loose pebbles flailed her body. The wind shifted from different directions, carrying many ethereal voices chanting in an ancient native tongue. A funnel of dust corkscrewed above the monument. The tornadic spiral rose skyward. 

“No, no,” Mary shrieked. “I didn’t mean to. I tripped. I’m sorry. It was an accident.” 

She jerked when an invisible force clamped around her body and pulled her toward the monument. Prickles of static danced on her skin. Dust melded with her tears to form muddy rivulets on her cheeks. “Please don’t take me,” she wailed. 

Suddenly, a strong male voice behind her sang in a native dialect. The song rose and fell in timbre. The static prickling lessened. The winds abated. A few moments later, the invisible force released her body. 

She collapsed in a heap, choking. Dizzy and nauseous, she vomited until nothing but bile drooled from her lips. Strong hands gently helped her to a sitting position. John Monroe’s face appeared when her vision cleared. Mary fell against his chest and bawled like a terrified child. 

“I’m sorry,” she wailed between gasping hiccups. “I didn’t mean to touch it.”

“Easy now,” Monroe comforted. “It’s over now. Just breathe.” 

Monroe rocked her until she cried it out. He handed Mary a handkerchief when she lifted her head.  

She blew her nose. “I should have waited, but I didn’t think you were coming.”

“I was held up by slow-moving campers on the way here. Let’s get off this rock.” 

Monroe went first, staying two footholds below while Mary descended on wobbly legs. He handed her a water bottle when they reached the ground. 

“That song of yours,” Mary said. “What was it?” 

“A little native prayer my grandmother taught me should I ever find myself at odds with spirits.” 

“Do all guides know it?” 

“I doubt it. Most of them are younger and don’t care much for the old ways.” 

“It saved my life.” Mary honked again into the damp handkerchief. “Your grandmother was right. There are fifteen stick people etched on the rock. I almost became number sixteen.” She dabbed her eyes. “What would have happened to me?” 

“The legend claims the life essence becomes one with the winds.” 

My soul scattered to the four winds. She swallowed hard. “Is there any clue to who carved the petroglyphs?” 

Monroe shook his head. “There are some out-of-the-box thinkers who theorize it may have otherworldly roots from before mankind walked these lands.” 

Alien or not, the petroglyphs of Four Winds Butte contained a sinister, lethal power.

Monroe scrutinized lengthening shadows. “We’ve got a good hour hike down to my jeep. We should get back before dark.” 

After stashing their gear, Mary climbed into the jeep’s passenger seat, still quivering from shock. 

Before starting the engine, Monroe turned to her. “You understand now why we don’t allow people there. You were very lucky. So, I’d like to ask a favor.” 

Mary lowered her head with shame and remorse. “Yes. Anything.” 

“If you publish what you’ve experienced here, it will likely renew attraction of other adventure seekers. I don’t think you want their possible disappearances hanging on your conscious. I know of few other petroglyphs hidden from view, and not well known. Nothing as dangerous as Four Winds, but have stories of their own, some of them quite unique. How about you redirect your studies to that.”

Mary swallowed. If Professor Wilkins learned of her transgression and near fatal result, he’d probably kick her out of the master’s program. “Can we—keep what happened between us?” 

“Deal.” Monroe patted her arm. “I think you’re going to be pleased with Three Hands Chasm.” He winked. “No curses. I promise.”   


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The Legend of the Four Winds Butte by DT Krippene

October 13, 2022 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , ,

The year 1905

Sam Buchanan and Jack Smalley tied their mules to a bush at the base of a tall butte. 

“Hey, Sammy,” Jack asked out of breath. “Can I bum some of your tobacco?” 

Sam finished wiping his brow in the high elevation sun and tossed him a palm-sized leather pouch. “All I got. Nearest provision is several days’ ride from here.”

Jack rolled a cigarette the length of his pinky finger and went into a coughing fit after the first drag. He took in the valley floor thousands of feet below. “Why are we here again?” 

Sam looked upward. “Heard from an old Indian the top of this rock is a holy place. Sometimes the natives leave offerings. Precious stones. Maybe some gold too. We could use it for a new grub stake.” 

“Damned thing must be two-hundred feet or more straight up. I ain’t no mountaineer.”

Sam walked several yards along the base and stopped at a clump of scrub bushes. He pushed aside dry thorny branches to find footholds leading upward. “Just like he said. Come on. Day is wasting.”

Jack took a final drag and tossed the cigarette butt to the wind. “Better be worth it.” 

The butte sloped inward, which made it like climbing a ladder. They pulled themselves onto a flat, pebble-strewn peak about six yards in diameter. Jutting in the center was a circular, chest-high stone monument etched with Indian symbols wrapped around its circumference. A bed of loose stones buried the lower quarter.

They both inhaled lungs full of air in disappointment to find nothing else. Jack spit off the rim. “Looks like that ole injun spun a tall tale.”

Sam ambled toward the petroglyphs for a closer look. He crouched to brush aside stones banked along its base. “Nothin.” He staggered to his feet and kicked the stone monument. 

The wind suddenly shifted and blew from the south. In the span of several heartbeats, it shifted again, this time from the east, then from the north a few moments later. It changed again and gusted from the west. A ghostly whisper of many voices chanted in a native language.

“What in tarnation?” Sam spun about in search of its source. 

Jack scrambled over the edge. “I’m gettin outta here.” With his boots on the top two footholds, he froze when the sky darkened. The winds gusted in a circle, drawing dust and pebbles in a cyclonic spin. Sam’s body went rigid.

A dust devil whirlwind formed above the monument. “Sam. Get away from that stone,” Jack shouted. The vortex twisted skyward. 

Terrified and partially blinded by grit, Jack clambered down, frantically feeling for footholds. He almost made it but lost his footing and tumbled down the angled wall. 

The year 2015

 Mary Aguilera propped her backpack against a rock at the base of Four Winds Butte. Butterflies tickled inside her tummy when she studied a posted warning with bold red letters in all caps. “Dangerous area susceptible to sudden high winds.” A smaller sign beside it bore the Bureau of Land Management symbol. “No Trespassing. Protected Native American Heritage Site. Permit required to access from the Western Shoshone Tribal Council.”

She sat on a boulder to catch her breath. Though born and raised in Denver, living four years at sea level to get her psychology degree from UCLA killed her elevation tolerance at eight-thousand feet, with another couple hundred to reach the top. 

“Where are you?” she muttered, impatient that her guide hadn’t shown up yet. With nothing else to do but wait, she let her mind drift to her master’s thesis progress at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. 

***

Mary, fascinated by paranormal legends, found Nevada was considered second or third of the most haunted states in the country fostered by the plethora of ghost towns. Most of its reputation centered on the many deserted mining sites, abandoned graveyards, and hotels dating to the early twentieth-century gold rush. 

The popular haunting histories had been written about Ad Infinitum. But mysteries behind the paranormal legends of local Native Americans were passed down by word of mouth and remained elusive through the generations. Mary decided to direct her research to a unique, little-known subject by exploring the origins of such tales and how the stories changed over time. To do that, she’d need some advice from her graduate school mentor, Professor Peter Wilkins. 

“You might consider western Native American petroglyphs,” Wilkins said.  

“Cave man drawings?” she asked.

“Not caves,” Professor Wilkins chuckled. “Drawn figures or etchings on cliffs or stone ledges.” 

“But still. Aren’t petroglyphs basically primitive rock art. Stick figure animals and such? Where’s the paranormal connection?” 

“Some are quite old, a few dating back thousands of years and believed to be a direct conduit to the spirits.” 

Mary took the next few days to research it. Most petroglyphs proved her doubts that most were simple pictographs and already well documented. About to give up and reconsider a new thesis subject, her eye caught an obscure footnote referencing a little-known petroglyph monument Native Americans called Four Winds Butte, located in the remote uninhabited ranges of East-Central Nevada. 

Its discovery began with a 1905 prospector who wandered into a mining camp after days of hiking with a bloody cloth wrapped around his head. He collapsed on the ground and began ranting of a native curse that killed his partner before dying on the spot from his injuries. No one paid much heed to it until the early sixties, when a naturist hippie couple stumbled onto the site and disappeared. The only evidence left behind was backpacks and camping gear scattered in a chasm thousands of feet below the ridge. 

The BLM declared the site off-limits after the local tribal council took umbrage of any non-natives trespassing on a sacred place. Still, it didn’t stop the occasional curious hiker from climbing to see the petroglyphs, only to vanish like the others. The last interloper to disappear was over a decade ago. Including the prospector from over a century ago, fifteen people disappeared in total. 

Bingo.

Professor Wilkins hemmed and hawed when she mentioned Four Winds Butte. “I’ve heard of the monument. Given the history of disappearances, approval to visit the butte requires a permit from the BLM and the tribal council whose land it’s located.”

“So, it’s possible to get approval?” 

Wilkins sighed. “I doubt you’ll get it. But I know how dogged you are when you set your mind to it.” He flipped through a personal address book, then penned a name and phone number on a sheet of paper. “This a retired BLM agent I got to know years ago. He also happens to be a member of the Newe Western Shoshone.”

Mary gushed with excitement. “He’ll help me get access?” 

“I wouldn’t count on it. But he’s been to the site several times and will be the best source of information.”

Mary arrived a couple weeks later at John ‘Redfeather’ Monroe’s office in a brown paint-peeling double-wide where he volunteered on the edge of a wilderness area. She wrinkled her nose at the pervasive presence of desert dust and metallic taste of Monroe’s rusting file cabinets. 

Monroe scratched an ear and set aside Professor Wilkins recommendation. “Pete must either be jerking your chain or thinks you’re something special.” 

“I’m hoping the latter.” Mary recited her notes to verify accuracy. “According to archived data you provided the BLM, the monument is estimated to be at least three thousand years old, but the patterned lines and shapes are more complex than simple pictographs. Do you think it’s a language of some kind?”

“There isn’t anything in the form of a native written language, especially that far back in time.”

“What can you tell me about the origins of the curse?”

 He scratched the stubble on his chin. “I was a lad when my grandmother told me a story of powerful wind spirits who resided inside the butte and took offense of anyone who defiled the land.” 

“Like those who disappeared.” 

“Our elders assume most who are ‘not of the people’ to be disrespectful of the land.”

Ouch. “Did your grandmother say anything about who created these complex petroglyphs? A particular time or inciting event that led to a spiritual presence?” 

Monroe smiled. “Now therein lies a fundamental difference of interpretation. To you, a spiritual presence is believed grounded by historical events. To us, the land fosters the spirits, not a specific incident.” 

“Was there any legend passed down of others who disappeared before the prospector in 1905?” 

“Possibly, but I think if so, the stories would certainly survive through the generations as a warning to the peoples. It’s only speculation, but we think the prospector was the first non-native to enact the curse. All the subsequent disappearances left no smoking gun as to what they saw. We can only assume they suffered a similar fate.”

Non-natives. “I’ve read varying hypothesis of what became of them, the more popular one being their bodies torn apart and scattered to the four winds.”  

Monroe pursed his lips in thought a moment. “That may be true. Any bodily remains would likely disappear beneath desert sand, if not eaten by wildlife first, leaving only nondegradable items as evidence.” 

Gross. Mary scribbled in her notebook. “You mentioned non-natives, or those ‘not of the people.’ Dr. Wilkins said you and others of the local tribes have been on the butte a few times.  Have any your people touched the monument?” 

“Shamans were known for many generations to climb there and honor the wind spirits. Not so much anymore. I doubt anyone has been up there in recent years.”

“Most of what we know of the site is based on your accounts.” Mary tapped the tip of her pen on her lip. “Have you—placed your hands on the monument?”  

“As part of my work with the BLM, I volunteered to take pictures and sketch the symbols. But I never touched the monument itself.” He chuckled with a wink. “I’m only part Shoshoni. European blood has diluted my heritage, so I didn’t care to test the theory.” 

“But you believe the curse is real.” 

“Most of what I know came from my maternal grandmother, passed down through the generations. Embellishments tend to taint a story over time, but the evidence strongly suggests that something haunts the butte.” 

“Anything else you can share?”

He scratched his chin in thought. “Well, it’s not common knowledge, but when my grandmother spoke of the curse, the legend claimed a new petroglyph etching would appear on the stone monument representing a soul taken by the wind spirits.” 

That’s new information. 

Monroe opened a drawer, extracted a moth-eaten folder, and spread photographs of the monument on his desk. “When I compare archived photos against pictures I took when I went there, I didn’t see any additional etchings.” 

Like the archived photos she’d studied earlier, these were somewhat blurry, as if slightly out of focus. “These the best pictures you have?” 

“Unfortunately, yes. After the last person disappeared, the BLM had a couple of scientists scan the butte for anything unusual. They weren’t permitted beyond the base for safety reasons, but they registered a strong electromagnetic field emanating from the peak above, which may have affected the quality of the negatives.” 

A factor straight out of an episode of The Twilight Zone. “As part of my research, would it be possible to visit the site to get a first-hand impression? See if new digital photos are affected?” 

“You need a permit from both the Shoshone tribal council and BLM. You’ll have to hire a qualified native guide to supervise, and they won’t let you climb to the monument itself.” 

That wasn’t going to yield much of a perspective. Unless – “You wouldn’t happen to be qualified, would you?” 

Monroe palm washed his face and chuckled. “Pete warned me you’d probably ask that.” He stared in thought out the only window opaqued by crusted dust. “Damn you, Pete. You owe me for this,” he mumbled. He extended his hand. “Next week Tuesday, pending permit approval. Meet me at the base of the butte .”

To be continued on October 31st.


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New Release: An Element of Mystery

September 27, 2022 by in category Apples & Oranges by Marianne H. Donley, Spotlight tagged as , , , ,

An Element of Mystery is available now in both print and ebook formats.

Dare you read our latest Sweet, Funny, and Strange® Anthology?

The Bethlehem Writers Group is pleased to present this collection of tales of mystery and intrigue—the latest in its award-winning series of Sweet, Funny, and Strange® anthologies. From classic whodunnits to tales of the unexplained, each of the twenty-three stories contained herein have an element of mystery that will keep you guessing and wanting to read just one more story.

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We’re thrilled to have old friends, but new members of BWG, join us this year. Award-winning author Debra H. Goldstein favors us with a mystery set among volunteers at a synagogue entitled “Death in the Hand of the Tongue,” while “Sense Memory,” by the multi-talented Paula Gail Benson, brings a

delightful mix of mystery and the paranormal that helps a young couple find their way to each other.

In addition, we are happy to bring you the winning stories from two of our annual Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award competitions: “Good Cop/Bad Cop” by Trey Dowell (2021 winner) and “The Tabac Man” by Eleanor Ingbretson (2022 winner).

You’ll also find stories from your favorite BWG authors, including Courtney Annicchiarico, Jeff Baird, Peter J Barbour, A. E. Decker, Marianne H. Donley, Ralph Hieb, DT Krippene, Jerry McFadden, Emily P. W. Murphy, Christopher D. Ochs, Dianna Sinovic, Kidd Wadsworth, Paul Weidknecht, and Carol L. Wright.

So get ready to be mystified . . . or intrigued!

An Element of Mystery is available now.

More Books from the Bethlehem Writers Group

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Enter Here

September 13, 2022 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group

It began with a small door in an upstairs bedroom of a Cape Cod house in central Pennsylvania. Although Jacque Day Pallone had lived in the house for a number of years, neither she nor her husband had ever opened the door, assuming it led only into a small crawlspace. That got her to thinking what else it might lead to—if imagination were mixed in.

Jacque is one of five members of a small tribe of writers who called themselves The Hive, a spin-off of the Pennsylvania Horror Writers Association. Formed during the early days of the pandemic, the Hive members write primarily dark fiction. They embraced Jacque’s story idea, and Hive mate Cathy Jordan suggested the group use it as an anthology theme. Each Hive member contributed a story, and they called for other writers of dark fiction to submit.

This month, That Darkened Doorstep will be released by Sunbury Press. All of the stories touch on the detail of an unopened door and the consequences that might lie beyond it.

Between the anthology’s covers, you’ll find Jacque’s story, “Seeking a Good Woman,” Cathy’s story, “Lonely Is the Desperate Heart,” and 18 others, including one by Louisa May Alcott, “The Mummy’s Curse.”

The list includes a tale about a camping trailer with a mind of its own; a hard-luck woman who’s unstrung by her mother’s death; a house with a haunted history; a remote mountain lodge with a disturbing past; and a genetic experiment that has life-changing results.

And Jacque’s actual unopened door? She did finally open it—to find not a crawlspace, but an actual room, ten feet deep. The next mystery is why was it built, but that’s for another day.

picture of dianna sinovic

Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna Sinovic has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.

Dianna is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC.

Other Books By Dianna Sinovic

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