Waiting Shadows – Semi Finals – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Here is my entry for the semi-finals of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge. I’ll admit, I wasn’t happy to be assigned ghost story, but I ended up having fun with it. It’s always a hoot to write something creepy around Halloween. (If you care to read about my experience writing this piece, click here.)

As a reminder, I had 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story based on these prompts:

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 12.20.23 PM

Thanks in advance for reading, and thanks for any feedback you might have!

“Waiting Shadows”

By Jenna Willett

Brief Synopsis: Emma stares outside at the raging blizzard and prays for her husband’s safe return from his hunting trip. Unfortunately, an unwanted guest shows up instead.

The blizzard rattled the cabin. Howling gusts and darting ice slammed into the windowpanes and snuck through cracks in the walls and roof.

Emma rocked back and forth. The dusty floorboards beneath her wooden chair groaned in time with the raging storm. A burning candle bled wax on a table next to her, and cast a faint glow on the withered walls. She stared at the flame’s dancing silhouettes and took comfort in their lively company. She hugged a homespun blanket around her delicate shoulders and focused her gaze across the room, through the window at the dense forest. She prayed for the towering pine trees to stop swaying and bending. To release her from their icy prison.

“He’ll come back.” She shivered and rocked back and forth, back and forth. “He’ll come back.” At any moment, her husband, Jesse, would arrive, sweep her into his arms, and admit she had been right. Hunting during a snowstorm was foolhardy.

A thud outside startled her.

Emma tilted forward and mouthed a silent prayer. It had to be him. Please, let it be him.

The rotting deck squeaked. Emma’s rocking slowed and the blanket slipped. A shadow passed the window. She sat up taller. Please, please.

The shadow paused. Her eyes widened. Her heart swelled…then wilted. Too tall. Too big. Not Jesse. Not Jesse.

The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She glanced down at her lap, at the only remaining weapon she had: a keyhole saw. The rusted teeth on the knife-like tool caught the glow of the candlelight.

A ragged bellow quivered through the tempestuous wind.

Emma looked up. The shadow returned. Puffs of steam fogged the window and a guttural growl echoed through the panes. She leaned over and extinguished the candle’s flame. If the intruder couldn’t see her, it would go away. It had to go away. Wisps of candle smoke coiled and vanished into the dank air. Something sharp scratched the window.

Emma stifled a gasp and wrapped her fingers around the saw’s slim, wooden handle.

The shadow crept away. Its footsteps crunched through the snow until they halted at the front door. She held her breath, closed her eyes, and prayed for the intruder to leave.

The doorknob rattled.

Emma’s eyes flashed open.

Fingernails scrabbled against the wood, and moans drifted through the gap beneath the door. A dry sob erupted from her throat and she shrank into her rocking chair. Where was Jesse? Why hadn’t he come home? Cold and hunger tortured her day and night. He must know that.

Something slammed into the door. Emma winced and straightened. The door shook in its frame, again and again. Thump after thump until—

The wooden barrier burst open and a man staggered inside. “Fucking storm.” He brushed snow off of his massive shoulders and stomped ice from his boots.

A hiss slithered from Emma’s throat.

The man’s head snapped up. He squinted into the cabin’s darkness. “Hello?” His eyes roamed past her and halted on the thin stream of smoke wafting from the candle’s blackened wick. “Someone there?”

Emma glared at the intruder, at his ruddy cheeks and bulging gut. Nothing like Jesse. Her beloved, sweet Jesse.

She squeezed the saw and slid from her chair. The frigid wind blowing through the open doorway flattened her threadbare gown against her skeletal body and lifted her gray, wispy hair. She crouched low, her joints creaking and cracking like the trees in the forest, and willed the man’s attention back to her. Willed him to see her. To feel her desperation and fury.

Why wasn’t he Jesse? She needed Jesse.

The man’s gaze jerked from the candle to Emma. “Shit!” He jumped and grabbed his chest. “You scared me.” A cracked laugh trembled from his lips.

Emma bared her blackened teeth and dug her yellowed fingernails into the saw’s handle.

The man’s grin faded. “Uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I was, uh, hiking and–I didn’t know anyone was–The cabin looked empty from–” He stepped sideways and tripped. “What the…?” He looked down and recoiled. “Holy fuck!” He stumbled away from a pile of bloodied clothes, shriveled flesh, and broken bones.

His horrified expression fueled her rage. He didn’t know how long she’d been waiting, suffering, hoping.

“I–I’m sorry.” His chest rose and fell, faster and faster. “I shouldn’t have–I won’t tell anyone–I’ll go.” He spun around and lunged for the open door.

Emma shrieked and, in a single, fluid motion, launched herself across the room. She slammed the door and pressed her wraith-like hands against its rotten wood.

The man whimpered.

She cackled, swiveled around, and drifted up to the ceiling. Higher and higher. She hovered above him, her shabby gown fluttering and her bony hands caressing the saw.

He backed away. “No, don’t! Please. Just–Shit, wait.” He raised a hand. “Wait. Wait!”

Emma howled and swooped downwards. She landed in front of him and drove the keyhole saw into his gaping mouth. The rusted teeth sliced through the side of his cheek and sunk into the back of his throat. Blood spurted and gushed from the wound and pooled onto the floor. She grinned and shoved the saw deeper and deeper until its vicious point burst through the back of his skull.

The man stiffened and collapsed on top of the other intruders who had given her hope. Yet again. Hope Jesse had come home. Hope she’d been saved from the forest’s frozen grip. From starving to death. From dying alone.

Emma glided to her rocking chair, relit the candle, and scooped up the blanket. She sat down and hugged the moldy fabric to her. The candle’s reassuring glow glinted off the bloody saw in her lap. She sighed and stared through the foggy window. The blizzard raged on and on, howling through the cold, cruel forest.

“He’ll come back.” She rocked back and forth, back and forth. “He’ll come back.”

Round 1: La Jolla

(Assignment: Action/adventure, underwater cave, a dumbbell)

Round 2: Kleine Mäuse

(Assignment: Historical fiction, a secret laboratory, a mouse)

To read more stories, visit the Jen’s Pen Page.

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Ghosts and Chaos – Semi-Finals – NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge

Last week, I found out I advanced to the semi-finals of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015. My first two stories, “La Jolla” and “Kleine Mäuse,” scored me enough points to land me in the top three of my group, as well as the top 240 of the entire competition (1,400 writers).

I was obviously thrilled and honored to advance in the contest, but I was stressed too. On top of being exhausted from work, life, and my novel, I was committed to attending a good friend’s baby shower out of town. It just wasn’t going to be a good weekend to compete in a 48-hour writing challenge.

Still, I had to give it a shot. So, I stayed up late on Friday to see my assignment. I really, really wanted comedy after last round’s intense story. But, instead, I got this:
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 12.20.23 PMMy first impressions?

Ghost Story:

A forest:

A saw:

I literally groaned out loud when I saw my prompts. Despite its good timing with Halloween less than a week away, I did not want to write a ghost story. Ghost stories are hard, especially if you’re the kind of writer who strives to be as twisty-turny as possible. Plus, my novel has a ghostly element to it, so I had been hoping for something–anything–that would get me away from that genre.

No such luck.

But, I didn’t have the luxury of time to throw a hissy fit. The clock was ticking louder than ever. I only had Saturday and a handful of hours on Sunday to write, rewrite, revise, and edit my story. So, I had to go, go, go!

I jumped straight into a brainstorm session with my mom. Neither of us could come up with anything great. At one point, I even contemplated writing a funny ghost story since I had wanted to write a comedy. But, my love for horror won out, and I came up with a creepier idea.

Unbelievably, I was able to whip out a first draft on Saturday morning and send it to my mom to read and comment on. She gave me the thumbs up, as well as some suggestions to improve it. I wrote, revised, wrote, and revised the rest of the day. By six that night, I had a good enough draft for beta readers.

I was thrilled!

Well, okay, I wasn’t thrilled with my story. But I was thrilled I’d managed to stay on schedule. At the rate I was going, I’d have the majority of my work done before I left for the baby shower on Sunday.

At 7 a.m. the next morning, my mom showed up to help me implement my beta readers’ feedback and edit the you-know-what out of my story. By the time we left for the baby shower a few hours later, I had a draft worthy enough to submit.

But, I wasn’t ready to submit it, so I took my laptop with me in the car. I was too tired to touch my story on the two-hour drive to the baby shower, but on the way home later, I pulled it out to re-read it, tweak it here and there, and then work on a title and synopsis.

Within an hour, I finished everything and relaxed for the first time all weekend. I was basically done. All I had to do was get home, read it once more, and then submit it.

That’s when my flat tire alarm on my dashboard went off.

I completely freaked out! I was still forty-five minutes from home and in a sketchy part of Denver. I didn’t have the mental energy or time to breakdown and deal with a flat tire. The competition’s clock was still ticking! I couldn’t miss the deadline after everything I’d done.

Thankfully, after a whirlwind adventure of getting off the highway and pulling into a rundown hotel’s parking lot, I discovered I didn’t have a flat…Well, it didn’t look like I had a flat, despite what my gage said on my dashboard. All I could figure was the electronics system had gone haywire.

So, my mom and I drove home. Slowly. It was one of the longest drives of my life. Every bump, every sound, every shift made me tense and break into a cold sweat. I kept waiting for the tire to blow or the alarm on my dashboard to scream at me again…Nothing happened. We made it home just fine.

After a prayer of thanks, I hurried into the house, put the finishing touches on my story, and submitted it.

Then collapsed in relief.

Overall, the weekend ended up being a strange mix of peace and chaos, and I’m not sure what I think about the story I submitted. I’ll admit, it’s not my favorite, but I had fun with it. I can only hope readers will have fun with it too.

As usual, I’ll post my story later this week once we get the green light from NYCM. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Waiting Shadows”
Brief Synopsis: Emma stares outside at the raging blizzard and prays for her husband’s safe return from his hunting trip. Unfortunately, an unwanted guest shows up instead.

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for the semi-finals of the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge!

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Boo Hoo – 2nd Round – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Well, everyone, I’m happy to announce I made it through the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

Last week, I found out my story, The Ark, advanced me to round two. After doing a little “woo-hoo” dance, I began mentally preparing myself for the shorter deadline (three days, not eight) and smaller word count (2,000, not 2,500).

I actually felt much better going into this round than I did round one. During round one, my entire life had been a mess and I was exhausted from working on my manuscript. This time, my life was–relatively–calm, and I had plenty of energy to get me through the crazy three day deadline.

The whirlwind started on Friday morning. I woke up and looked at my second round assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 1.05.25 PM


Yep, not gonna lie. I wasn’t happy with my assigned prompts. Even though they didn’t include comedy or romance, I was irritated I’d received “Ghost Story”. In my opinion, it’s one of those genres that’s hard to be original and surprising with–and I pride myself on being both of those things.

Plus, the “statue” and “waitress” prompts were uninspiring and dull to me. I just didn’t feel anything when I saw them.

Luckily, I remembered a concept I’d thought of months ago after listening to Ella Henderson’s song, “Ghost”, and my “blah” transformed into an “ah-ha!” I quickly called my mom and sister to see what they thought of it, and they liked it too. 


During my 40-minute commute–yes, I had to go to work that day, and yes, I was annoyed about it–I brainstormed a general plot so that when I sat down at my desk, I could jump right into things…Unfortunately, work ended up being a lot busier than I’d expected, and I spent most of the day crying on the inside while watching my precious time tick away.

By the time I left work, I’d only managed to write a few paragraphs, and I wasn’t happy with any of them–gah! To make matters worse, on my way home, my sister called to see if I could run a last minute errand with her, and it was an errand I couldn’t say no to. So I ended up losing even more time.

I was on the verge of a meltdown. I’d basically lost one of my three precious days–ahhh!

Once I finally got home, I went straight into hermit mode. I locked my doors, put on my PJs, and huddled up on my couch to write.

I barely made it a third of the way through my first draft when I threw in the towel. You know it’s time to shut things down for the day when you work on the same two paragraphs for three hours. Plus, my house started making creepy sounds right when I reached the ghost scenes. I yelled at it to stop freaking me out and went to bed (and hid under the covers, haha).

On Saturday, I woke up around 5 AM and got to work. I felt much calmer, steadier, and more focused than I had on Friday. It helped to know I had nowhere to go and no obligations to uphold. The day was mine.

By mid-morning I had a first draft. Around the time I finished it, my mom showed up to offer support and provide feedback. I wasn’t expecting this, but I was grateful. My mom is so amazing during these contests. Not only will she help me edit my stories to death, but she’ll give me 100% honest feedback, especially during my early drafts.

If a plot is boring or cliche, she’ll tell me. If a character is annoying or unlikeable, she’ll point it out. If there’s a way to twist things around and surprise the reader, she’ll suggest it. Seriously, without my mom, my stories wouldn’t be what they are. She’s the best ever!

(You are cool, Mom. Thank you!)

Anyway, as I made myself breakfast, my mom read my first draft.

“Well?” I nervously asked once she’d finished.

She was silent.

Oh no…

Finally, she turned and looked at me. “Honestly? I think you could submit this and be fine.”

I. Was. Shocked!

My mom has never said that about a first draft of mine. Usually, she says, “It’s a good start…” Or, “It would be better if you…” Or, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it–at all.”

Her positive feedback dissolved the anxious knot in my stomach and gave me the boost I needed. We spent the next two hours reading through my story to figure out its weak points, and then my mom left so I could focus on a second draft. I was able to finish it by dinner and send it back to her for more feedback. She called me soon after:

“Hey, I read it.” She sounded out of breath.

“Uh, are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah.” She laughed. “I just ran out of breath reading your story. Your ending…sheesh!”

Suffice it to say, she liked it.

We decided to read through the story again over the phone to track down its weak spots–and there were still many. More backstory here, better descriptions there…Thankfully (and miraculously) I was still 500 words under the word count limit, so I had plenty of room to expand and improve things.

By early Sunday morning, I finished a third draft and sent it off to a handful of beta readers. As their feedback trickled in, I noticed the biggest concern was the “ghost story” aspect. Some of my readers didn’t think it would technically qualify.

So, grumbling and mumbling, I went to work rewriting parts to ensure it would qualify…Thank God for Peanut M&M’s. Those little sanity savers are what get me through those beepity-beep! moments.

10359514_10102091520073993_3929706847775812655_n(Seriously, I went through that entire bag over the weekend…Don’t judge me!)

As I worked on infusing more of a ghost flare to my story, my mom showed up to help me in the final stretch of the process. We read the story out loud about a billion times to search for flaws, rework sentences, and chop out words to get it below the word count (because of course I ended up going over the 2,000 limit).

Around 3 p.m., I hit my “I’m over this!” wall and submitted it.

So, another challenge completed and another story in the bucket. Overall, I’m satisfied with its outcome. I’m not sure what others will think of it–I never do–but considering I only had three days and 2,000 words at my disposal (and had to write a blasted ghost story), I’m proud of it.

As always, I’ll be posting my story here once I get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight. For now, here is my title and synopsis:

The Darkness Whispers

Brief Synopsis: Jude, a tormented artist, is haunted by the memory of his murdered muse. Self-loathing, insanity, and terror drive him to the edge of darkness.

Did you participate in the second round of the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

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Photo credits: 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Music Monday – Ghost – Ella Henderson

Welcome to Music Monday! As many of you know, music contributes a great deal to my writing process. Whether it’s a song’s lyrics, beat, rhythm, or tone, I find myself constantly inspired by it.

writing-to-musicYes, I’m fully aware I’ve used “Ghost” as a previous Music Monday feature. But it was my number one inspiration this past weekend as I worked on my second round submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015, so I had to use it again!

20140430100120!Ella_Henderson_-_GhostLast Friday, I woke up and looked at my assigned genre for round two:

Ghost Story…Gag!

Although it wasn’t the worst genre I could’ve received, it was definitely on my “Do Not Want” list. In my opinion, it’s hard to come up with a ghost story that’s original and surprising. Thankfully, on my way to work, I remembered I’d thought of a concept months before–a concept inspired by Ella Henderson’s “Ghost”.

I ended up watching the music video of “Ghost” over and over again while developing my story. I couldn’t help it. Every time I watched/listened to it, my foggy plot sharpened and my vague characters came to life. Between the imagery, the tone, and the lyrics, “Ghost” had everything I needed to get me motivated to write my story.

Each time that I think you go
I turn around and you’re creeping in
And I let you under my skin
‘Cause I love living in the sin

I highly recommend you watch/listen to “Ghost” by Ella Henderson. It’s great inspiration for all kinds of stories (not just ghost ones).

What song(s) are you in love with right now? Which one(s) offer you inspiration? Let me know! I’m always searching for songs that motivate my writing.

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Photo credits: 

1, 2, 3, 4


Music Monday – Ghost – Ella Henderson

Welcome to Music Monday! As many of you know, music contributes a great deal to my writing process. Whether it’s a song’s lyrics, beat, rhythm, or tone, I find myself constantly inspired by it.

writing-to-musicLast week, a friend sent me an awesome song to listen to (one that I’ll likely use for a future Music Monday feature). While listening to it, I noticed another music video on the YouTube sidebar. I’m not sure what it was that drew my attention to it–the song’s title, perhaps?–but I decided to click on it and give it a listen.

Now. I’m. Obsessed!

20140430100120!Ella_Henderson_-_Ghost“Ghost” by Ella Henderson is my new favorite song. I actually had to do some Googling to find out who Ella Henderson even was. I’d never heard of her before. Turns out she was a finalist on The X Factor…Yeah, a lot of you out there probably already knew that. Shocker, I’ve been living under a rock while I’ve been writing. 😉

Anyway, I love this song for many reasons: Ella’s deep, rich, beautiful voice. The addicting rhythm and beat. The powerful and haunting lyrics.

b8401f09b384bb46777662e7ad1c2b80The words in this song provoke so much emotion, and also provide oodles of inspiration. I keep replaying them in my mind and thinking of ways to use them to fuel my work.

Boy you never told me
True love was going to hurt
True pain I don’t deserve
Truth is that I never learn

Another reason I love this song? The music video. Talk about a writer’s candy shop. It’s dark, gritty, suspenseful, sad, hopeful, scary, tragic…The images automatically kick my brain into creative mode, and story idea after story idea pops into my head. All I want to do while watching it is grab a piece of paper and start writing!

So, if you’re looking for a fantastic song and music video to inspire you, check out “Ghost” by Ella Henderson.

What song(s) are you in love with right now? Which one(s) offer you inspiration? Let me know! I’m always searching for songs that motivate my writing.

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Writing update with a side of Friday funny

Happy Friday! Hope you had a great week and are looking forward to the weekend. I know I am. My plans are pretty simple: Go see Catching Fire and then write, write, write! I plan on hitting the 50,000 NaNo word count later today or early tomorrow (YAY!), but I still have half a book to go, so my journey isn’t over yet.

Plus, as the month of December approaches, I have a couple of other projects I need to temporarily shift my focus to. One is a short story for an open call submission for an anthology about ghosts. This will be a challenge since I’ve never written a ghost story, but what the hey, right? A bigger challenge will be my second project: Writing/creating two children’s books for my nephews. Each Christmas, I write them a story based on their life and then manipulate real photos of them in Photoshop to use as illustrations (here is the one I created for my nephew Dane last year). Writing children’s stories doesn’t come naturally for me, and with all the Photoshopping and book designing involved, they take me FOREVER. But, they’re worth it when I see the reaction from my family on Christmas morning. And, more importantly, the reaction I hope to see from my nephews someday when they’re older and can look back at the colorful series about their lives.

So, as you can see, even though NaNo is over for me, my weekends will continue to be mini writing marathons. But, I can’t complain. How can I? I LOVE writing!

Anyways, to send you off for your weekend, I thought I’d share one of my favorite How I Met Your Mother moments. It made me laugh this morning, so I thought it might make you laugh too.


Have a great weekend!