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I Am a Terrible Would-be Novelist

December 13, 2020 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , ,

I am a terrible would-be novelist. I hack and struggle at it, only to discover my heroine in chapter one started as a red head and somehow became a blonde in chapter 29, and I’ve been at the damn story for nine months and am still nowhere near the finish.

In contrast, my short stories come to me fast and often. They’ve been awarded prizes and recognition and two of them have been read aloud by The Liar’s Leagues in London and Hong Kong. My recent collection of short stories (“Off the Rails”) won two Indie awards and some nice reviews.
This disparate mix of writing success does not surprise me. I discovered early that folks have a distinct talent for different components of the same activity: As a teenager, I discovered that I could run a mile faster than most kids. Fast enough for a couple of high school state championships. Fast enough for a college scholarship. Fast enough to run pro for a couple of years.

In contrast, was lousy as a sprinter and could never run a good marathon. I would be on that road for hours with kids, young women, young men, and several oldies, streaming past me. No matter how hard I tried, my mind and body could not form a relationship to enable me to be long distance runner.

Did that make me a bad runner? No. I just had to recognize where my talent lay. But I continued to run marathons for the experience and fun of it, knowing I would never be brilliant, but I would improve. And I could celebrate my improvement. Running is a sport that I love, both the short form and the long form.

Same as my writing.

picture of the author Jerome W. Mcfadden

Jerome W. McFadden is an award-winning short story writer whose stories have appeared in 50 magazines, anthologies, and e-zines over the past ten years. He has received a Bullet Award for the best crime fiction to appear on the web. Two of his short stories have been read on stage by the Liar’s League London and Liar’s League Hong Kong. His collection of 26 short stories, entitled “Off the Rails” was published in October, 2019, to great reviews. He is also the co-editor of the BWG Writers Roundtable e-zine.

The Bridge

A Short Story by Jerome W. McFaddn

“You gonna jump?” he asked.

She stood on the outside of the railing, one hand gripping the barrier, the other helding a small clutch bag tightly against her side. Her red cloth coat looked too thin for the cold weather.

“It’s a way long way down,” Duane said, “Gonna be a thrill, like a bungee jump without the happy ending.”

“Leave me alone,” she snapped, not bothering to look at him.

“Don’t get mad at me. I ain’t making you jump. I just stopped to watch.”

“Go away.”

“It’s a free bridge. You can jump. I can watch.”


“Can I ask you a question?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Duane smiled. “That wasn’t my question.”

A return to silence.

“If you’re gonna jump, do you need your purse? Got any money in there?

Credit cards?”

She turned to face him. “I’m jumping off the bridge and you’re trying to mug me?”

“I’m not trying to mug you, for chrissakes,” Duane said. “I’m panhandling. You jump, you no longer need your purse. I could use any money or credit cards you have in there. It’s ain’t like you’re gonna worry about paying the bills.”

“Go to hell.”

“You may make it there before I do.”

She sighed, “If I give you the purse, will you go away and leave me alone?”

“I’ll make you a deal. If you have a cell phone or any ID in your purse, I’ll call whoever you want and tell them you took the plunge.”

She surprised him by sinking down to position the purse on the ledge, next to her feet. “Come and get it if you want it that badly.”

He started to crawl over the railing but backed off. It was scary out there on the other side. So he lay across the railing, balancing on his belly, his legs dangling in the air as he stretched one arm out for the purse.

He was surprised to feel her hands on his collar and the back of his belt, pulling him over the railing. He scrabbled for a hand hold but she was too fast and too strong. He tumbled over and over for a long time before hitting the hard, cold water.

The woman picked up her purse, not bothering to glance down at the river.

“Annoying bastard,” she said to herself as she hiked up her skirt and coat to climb back over to the railing, “But at least he made me feel better!”

Jerome W. McFadden’s Award Winning Short Story Collection

OFF THE RAILS: A Collection of Weird, Wicked, & Wacky Stories
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Other Anthologies with Stories by Jerome W. McFadden

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September 15, 2012 by in category Archives tagged as , , , , ,

Recently, I spoke at a conference in Massachusetts. My presentation was an hour long.  For the other 47 hours I was there I mentored aspiring novelists. On the flight home, I wondered why I had bonded with so many of these amazingly talented, bright and interesting people in a way I never had at conferences before. It was because we shared something. In this brave new world of publishing, we all came naked to the table.
Obviously, I am not being literal. In some ways, a Lady Godiva moment would be preferable to that of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Sitting down with an agent, editor or published author to bare your creative soul is incredibly daunting. The new writer faces rejection of their vision, their dream, and their talent.
Because I started writing on a dare, because I had not dreamed of being a novelist all my life, I didn’t feel that creative vulnerability early in my career. It was only later, after I had published, after I flexed my writer’s voice, after I had touched someone who read my words, after I had seen books with my name covering a wall in a bookstore, when I saw my book on the USA Today best seller list that I craved what those writers did. It was also then that I was stripped bare in front of agents and editors who seemed to accept me as easily as they dismissed me; who thrilled at my successes and went on to someone else when there was a brighter star on the horizon. Because I was a businesswoman before I was a writer, I understood that publishing was a business, agents and editors had bottom lines and that fate, luck and fashion sometimes separated the bestseller from everyone else. It doesn’t make the journey any easier to understand that.
Still, I could not complain. I was making a living as a writer. I was grateful and happy. Then things changed again. I became an indie author: self-published, creatively naked as a jaybird, down the chute after being up the ladder, back to square one.
No great publishing house lays claim to my work, there is no editor validating my vision, no sales force singing my praises to booksellers who will pile my books in a pyramid on a table. There is, in fact, no book to hold or sign.  There are only the words I have written and saved to a file, a cover made of pixels and the upload to Amazon and Nook and Smashwords.  Now, it’s me and the reader. I am a click away from praise or complaint.  I have come naked to the table and I gotta say it is chilly in the chair.
I hope the writers I spoke with at the conference learned something from me. Here’s what I learned from them:
  • Published or not, we are brothers and sisters under the skin
  • Be courageous and present your work with pride
  • If you are asked for an opinion, give it knowing you have a responsibility to be honest
  • Our passion for the written word will keep us warm
  • Help a writer when you can, good things will return to you

So, a salute to the writers I met in Massachusetts. You were an incredibly creative and courageous group. My wish is that you will all be clothed in publication glory sooner than later.
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