Monday, April 21, 2014

"All In" for Flash Fiction

I’m trying my hand at a very challenging form of fiction writing known as flash fiction.

Flash fiction is characterized by extreme brevity. It’s also known as micro fiction or short short stories.

While there is no hard and fast word count that qualifies a work as flash fiction, generally it’s less than 1,000 words.

I’ve gone “All In," as they say around my neck of the woods, and embraced the 100-word story. Yep, I’m trying to tell meaningful stories about college or sports in 100 words. Exactly 100 words for each and every story.

This is going to save you a lot of time. I’ve already done the math and figured out that it will only take you 24 seconds to read one of my 100-word stories. (You can thank me later.)

I’ve hooked up with the folks at Flash Fiction Magazine to create a site for sharing my 100-word stories and blogging about the experience. Every blog entry and every story at this site is exactly 100 words.

Stop by and check out my flash fiction site. That is, if you have 24 seconds to spare.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why readers are always right

Most experienced fiction writers probably already know this. It took me a little while to figure it out. Once I did, I’m perfectly fine with it.

Do my published stories deserve 5 stars, 4 stars, 3 stars, 2 stars, or 1 star?

The correct answer is probably all of the above.

It’s up to the reader. The reader of fiction interprets a story based on his or her perspective. Each reader may mentally process a story differently. What some readers may relate to, others perhaps don’t. What may be humorous to some may be too irreverent for others. The message in a story may strike a nerve for one reader and be a complete miss for another reader.

But if given honestly, there is no such thing as an incorrect rating or review of a published work of fiction. The correct rating is whatever the reader believes it should be.

Spending most of my working life as an academic researcher, this was new to me when I began writing and publishing short fiction in retirement. Academic research involves peer reviews that critically examine all aspects of the submitted work: the problem investigated, the literature cited, the methodology employed, and the conclusions drawn. Academic researchers are not only allowed to respond to the reviewers, they are required to do so. And in some cases the publication decision rests on the ability of the author/researcher to convince the editor that the author is correct and the reviewers are not.

Fiction writing in the world of self-publication is much different (and better). Authors write what they want to write, the way they want to write it. Consumers read what they want to read and, if they are so inclined, provide honest feedback in the form of ratings and/or detailed reviews.

There is no way a reader can be wrong in this process.

Fiction writers may or may not adjust their style based on ratings and reviews of their work. This is a complicated point. It’s up to each author to decide.

If all ratings and reviews are negative and sales/downloads are tanking, clearly something is wrong and the author would be foolish not re-examine his/her approach. But a mix of low and high ratings for a given work may simply indicate readers with different perspectives receive the piece differently. This may indicate the author has identified and addressed an interesting or important topic about which readers care enough to read and comment. That is not a bad thing for the author or the readers.

Department store founder Marshall Field is among those credited with the famous saying: The customer is always right.

So are readers of fiction who rate or review what they have invested their time to read.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Short Stories Don't Just Happen

As I’m sure you can understand, security regulations prohibit me from offering in-person tours of my short-story writing and publication facilities. However, I decided to use this month’s blog post to do the next best thing.

What follows is a rare, behind-the-scenes look at my self-publishing empire.

A brief summary is given of each department and its role in the development and publication of a story. As with most things in life, teamwork and communication are critical.

Research Department (Me)
Most story ideas start here after painstaking research into current issues in higher education and college sports.

Writing Group (Me, myself, and I)
This is where the actual story writing takes place. The door is usually closed, and from the outside you can hear periodic sounds of ping . . . ping . . . . ping. These are crumpled sheets of discarded manuscript pages being tossed across the room at a tin trashcan. About one-third actually hit the can.

Art Department (Only me)
Cover designs are created here. I have to admit there is some creative tension between the Art Department and Writing Group. It seems the Writing Group wants more input into cover designs.

Legal Department (Little ole me)
This department must sign-off on all stories before publication to ensure we don’t get sued. (I had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get approval from the Legal Department to write this summary for my blog.)

Marketing and Promotions Department (Me and only me)
This department handles all pre- and post-publication marketing. The most mundane dribble is made to sound interesting and exciting.

Accounting Department (Just me)
Bean counting takes place here. This department continually hounds me about the cash flow challenges created by offering free stories.

Quality Assurance (Yours truly)
Everything is checked here before it goes out the door. This department is always saying Quality is everyone’s job. I’ve never understood why we need a separate department for this.

IT Department (No one but me)
All technical issues are addressed here. This department lets everyone know we can’t publish an eBook without them. All my technical support requests seem to be greeted by the same refrain: Are you sure it’s plugged in and turned on?

Unlike most business entities, we don’t have morning staff meetings. Instead, we opt for happy hour around 5 PM. We hash out our differences, mend fences, and get back after it the next day.

That is, unless it’s a bright and sunny day.

Then we all hit the golf course or the lake instead.


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P.S. The Marketing and Promotions Department would be very pleased if you hit the LIKE button on our Facebook Page.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why your favorite college football team needs to win--and lose

Remember all those great things you’ve heard that happen to colleges with successful football programs? They’re mostly true. Successful football seasons often lead to more admissions applications, increased donations, stronger institutional brand, and growing pride among alums, students, and supporters.

When winning is accomplished within the rules, and with good academic results, the value of favorable publicity received by the school is immeasurable. Through successful football a college can achieve a level of name recognition it couldn’t possibly reach by conventional advertising and marketing efforts.

It may not be very flattering of our society, but it’s true that the general public may know of your school first by its football accomplishments. But that’s OK when it provides a platform for college leaders to tell a vast audience their story about great academic, research, and public service activities happening on campus.

For that reason many colleges have started, or reinstated, football programs in the last few years, despite the budget challenges associated with doing so.

But what happens after a college has achieved national prominence through a consistent, winning football program?

The joy of victory may be replaced by a desperate need to continue winning.

Once established as a big-time winner, the school can’t slow down or look back. It must continue to build and grow its program through improved facilities to sustain recruiting efforts, higher salaries to retain top coaches, and perhaps adjustments in admission standards or academic offerings to ensure continued football success against fast-approaching and aggressive competitors.

When caught up in this mode, the stakes can become so high that losing a football game may be seen as a catastrophic institutional event.

I’ve been on campus after my football team has lost a big game. The disappointment is palpable, but business goes on as usual on campus. Great students, teachers, and researchers continue to do their thing. Maybe it’s a needed reminder that the university is much bigger than the football program. It’s kind of like a market correction—a sudden jolt that provides an opportunity to put things in perspective.

And what do college football coaches do after losing an important game? They regroup and rally the troops. They get ready for the next challenge. Great football coaches handle losses better than anyone involved in college sports. They stay positive and motivate their players. They know how hard it is to win, and they recognize better than anyone that the agony of defeat makes the joy victory that much sweeter.

The best stories in football, and college sports overall, come after defeat. We love to see athletic teams bounce back. Most fans naturally gravitate toward the underdog. We celebrate the “worst to first” teams and marvel at their accomplishments.

You can’t win them all, and probably shouldn’t.

So, fellow college football fans, I wish your favorite team great success and hope you win almost all of your games.


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Friday, October 25, 2013

Some Irreverent Thoughts about Measures of Success

I'm implementing a new scoring system in golf, and it's already making me look like a much better golfer. 

I got my idea from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Years ago the Federal Governments rules for computing graduation rates made many high-profile, revenue-producing athletic teams at NCAA schools look bad. They still do, but the NCAA decided to modify the graduation-rate calculation for its own reporting.

Thats when the NCAA invented the Graduation Success Rate. Unlike the Federal Graduation Rate, the NCAA GSR doesnt require schools to account for all initial enrollees at the start of a school year. The NCAA decided if athletes left without graduating, but were academically eligible to stay, schools shouldnt have to count them among those who enrolled but didnt graduate.

This idea of limiting what counts is working for me in golf. Its well known that in recreational golf there are several gimmees during a round. This is when your partner says you dont have to putt againyour last shot was so close that its assumed you will make the next short putt.

Well, why should an amateur golfer have to count gimmees in his/her score? After all, he/she didnt hit the ball again after being told, Its good. We should only have to count the number of times we actually hit the ball.

I call this method of scoring my Golf Success Rate. Its the number I plan to give when asked in casual conversation about my golf game.

The NCAA publishes its version of GSR each year, and is careful to explain how the numbers are computed. There's nothing wrong with that. But NCAA schools dont complain -- or go out of their way to clarify -- when writers, bloggers, newscasters, fans, and just about everybody else, either from confusion or ease of reference, refer to GSR numbers simply as graduation rates. And they don't seem to mind too much when folks compare Graduation Success Rates of athletes to Federal Graduation Rates of non-athlete students.

I plan to be upfront about my golf version of GSR -- if anyone asks. But forgive me if I dont correct anyone who gets the impression Im a pretty good golfer from the numbers I spout about my recent rounds. After all, whats the harm as long as I dont actually play golf with them?

The NCAA GSR has been a stroke of genius. The numbers suggest that many colleges are graduating a large percentage of the athletes they recruited to play sports. Overall, its over 80 percent, according to the latest NCAA GSR reports.

My version of GSR has paid dividends as well. In a recent round, I hit my 9-iron off the tee on a short par 3 hole. I usually struggle mightily with my irons, but this time I hit it flush. The ball went high into the air straight at the pin.

As we approached the green, my playing partner walked directly toward my ball, noticing it came to rest barely 12 inches from the cup. He picked it up, tossed it at me, and said, Its good.

My first ever hole-in-one!


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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Clemson Rat Pact

I found it! 

When I discovered the box with my Rat Hat, I knew it had to be in there somewhere.  I finally found my Rat Pact. It was handed to me (it’s not like I had a choice) when I arrived on the Clemson campus in 1966 as a new student. 

Every male Clemson freshman in those days received these three things upon arrival: a buzz cut haircut (within 1/16th of an inch), a Rat Hat, and a copy of the Rat Pact.  The women wore a ribbon in lieu of the haircut, but otherwise had the same Rat (freshmen) rules. The Rat Hat was to be worn at all times during “Rat Season,” and the contents of the Rat Pact were to be memorized, including all 17 requirements of Rats. The Rat Pact also described all the school traditions, cheers, alma mater, campus landmarks, and Clemson’s “unwritten rules.”  You’d better know everything in it, I was told in no uncertain terms.

And I did. Still do. To this day, you can ask me anything about Clemson traditions, landmarks, etc.

But I have never forgotten my first experience with an upperclassman during Rat Season.  Needing to run an errand in the early evening of the first day of class, I ventured out of my dorm (against the advice of my roommate) and headed across campus.  I didn’t get very far before hearing those dreaded two words. 

“Hey Rat,” someone shouted from behind me.  “Do you know your Rat Pact?”

“Yes sir,” was my confident reply, expecting a question about the alma mater, the statue of Thomas Green Clemson, a campus building, or something along those lines.

The burly fellow came closer and sized me up before he asked his question.  I suspect he was given a hard time when he was a Rat and this was payback.  I still wasn’t too worried because there wasn’t a kid on campus who knew his Rat Pact better than me.

Then I heard the question:

“How many periods are there on page 3 of the Rat Pact?”

I don’t remember how many pushups I had to do or how many shoes I had to shine as a result of not knowing my Rat Pact.  But I do remember celebrating when the 1966 Rat Season ended at midnight on September 24.

I was sure glad when Rat Season was over. 

But I’m even more glad we had it! 

That’s why I saved my Rat Hat and Rat Pact all these years.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Some thoughts on college move-in day

Last weekend was “move–in” time for all Clemson students, as the 2013-14 academic year is about to start.  My little college town of 13,000 suddenly became a bustling community of 30,000 over a two-day period.  In a couple of weeks, the first home football game will temporarily swell the total to more than 80,000.

On my daily walk, I passed through the quaint downtown area and picturesque campus that adjoins it, soaking up the sights on Move-In Day 2013.

I made a few mental notes:

Clemson (and I suspect most other colleges) has really figured out this move-in thing.  What looked like chaos at first was actually very well organized, with signs and attendants cheerfully greeting the long line of cars and directing all to the appropriate areas for unloading at campus residence halls.  Everyone seemed very patient and in good spirits.  There was definitely excitement in the air.

It wasn’t hard to spot the incoming freshmen.  They were the ones with parents helping.

The parents are looking younger and younger each year.

Some students have really nice cars.

They came from all over. I spotted license plates from California, Nevada, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and other distant states. There were lots of international students too.

There was nowhere to park in the downtown area or campus.

Almost everyone was wearing orange. College sports and school spirit really do draw people together.

There could be a few parties in the works, since classes don’t start for a few days.

Somewhere in the mass of new and returning students is a future leader who may change everything in his/her chosen field of study.

The freshmen seem excited, confident, and not intimidated at all. (As a male freshman in 1966, my head was shaved and I was required to wear a “rat hat” for six weeks, performing menial tasks for upperclassmen.)

Times have changed.

It’s all good.

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