Category Archives: Project Writeway

S1E10, P@H now available.

Voting closes Friday @ midnight, MST.

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Murder Mystery

With a murder mystery, you have to know the end first. You have to know who did it, why they did it, how they tried to cover it up, who they are scared will find out, and what their plans are for the future.

This is why I will never be a murder mystery writer. you have to plan. You have to be meticulous. You have to drop clues that aren’t obvious on first reading but totally obvious on second reading.

One time I wrote a murder mystery. It was an accident. A big fat accident and when I was done I thought to myself, no way in a million years would that have happened if it wasn’t an accident.

So what are your murder mystery tips? Do you write out an outline? Get a feel for the characters first? Start with the dead body and branch out from there? Do character sketches?

You have very few words to do a lot a lot of work.

In other news, I have started eating dates stuffed with pecans. I am scared I am approaching old age. Also, I am horrible at Zumba.

I think that is all.


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John Bennion Chooses Winner!

John Bennion writes novels, essays, and short fiction about the western Utah desert and the people who inhabit that forbidding country. He has published a collection of short fiction, Breeding Leah and Other Stories (Signature Books, 1991) and a novel, Falling Toward Heaven (Signature Books, 2000). He has published short work in Ascent, AWP Chronicle, English Journal, Utah Holiday, Journal of Experiential Education, Sunstone Magazine, Best of the West II, Black American Literature Forum, Journal of Mormon History, The Hardy Society Journal, and others. He has written two historical mystery novels (not yet published), Avenging Saint and Ezekiel’s Third Wife. He is currently working on a young adult mystery, The Hidden Splendor Mine. An associate professor at Brigham Young University, Bennion teaches creative writing and the British novel. He has made a special study of the late Victorian and Modern writer, Thomas Hardy. As a teacher, he specializes in experiential writing and literature programs, including Wilderness Writing, a class in which students backpack and then write personal narratives about their experiences; and England and Literature, a study abroad program during which students study Romantic and Victorian writers and hike through the landscapes where those writers lived. A documentary The Christian Eye: An Essay across England covers his 2007 tour.


I was supposed to choose the short essays that moved me. Easy peasy: they all did. Then Carol put on her dictator hat and told me I had to choose fewer. I tried to find those that did something to my gut, enacted some drama with the words, and did it with grace and clarity. I still had too many. I tore my hair out and chose three that bore reading four times.

Statements I’ve gleaned from the entrants that we could all put above our computers for when we need inspiration:
Like [Dylan] Thomas, I am searching for light. Maybe, on the way, I can give it to others like it was given to me.
I want my readers to know they are not alone and that there is light within the darkness.
[W]riting . . . gradually filled all the spaces in my restlessness
I keep writing for the hope of discoveries to come.
I write because putting thoughts into words makes my dreams more real than any other artistic medium I’ve ever tried.

And isn’t that what writers do? Make something wonderful materialize out of nothing?
So thank you for sharing a bit of your souls.

First Place: Eight Stars
I used to be able to do the splits.
Not when I was really little, because flexibility didn’t come natural to me. In ballet class, I remember being embarrassed by how ungraceful my stretching looked. I wanted to be like the beautiful dancers, with perfect balance and control. I could barely touch my toes. I quit taking ballet when I was seven—just after my mom died. I didn’t feel much like dancing after that.
Still, I always wanted to do the splits. So I stretched every day and every night, until I could kick straight up to the ceiling. I grew up, got married and had kids, but I still exercised and I stayed flexible. I could do the splits when I was thirty-five—just last year.
But I can’t do it anymore.
I remember a December long ago; it might have been Mom’s last one, or maybe the second to last. All I know is that she walked slowly and painfully. The cancer spread into her bones in the end too. Just like me. A few weeks before Christmas we decorated sugar cookies for the neighbors: my mom, my brother and me. I tried not to deform the little stars and bells, but my little fingers weren’t that steady. My favorite cookie cutter was a gingerbread bear. Mom cut out one of those bears, so carefully, and put it on the cookie sheet. With the tips of her fingers, she gently moved the little bear arms up and then one of the legs.
The bear looked like it was jumping.
“I wish I could that,” she said.
I try to focus on all the things cancer hasn’t taken from me yet: my hair, my mind, my life. But, I wish I could do the splits.

I like how this doesn’t tell me how to feel and it doesn’t tell me how she feels, but it makes me feel what she is feeling through the details of the two, parallel stories. She evokes a situation and a past situation. She shares with me honestly the details of her life that make her feel the way she does. So she doesn’t have to translate or tell or preach anything to me.

Honorable mention: Madeleine Dillard
I like this because it reveals two stories about her life. She does tell me some concerning how she feels and what she thinks, and it is done with precise, graceful language.

All Mixed Up, move on over to the Play at Home side.
Kiss kiss.


Work carefully because we are losing two of our Project Writeway Players.

Here you go–please write a scene–400 words or less–from your own damned dystopian novel.
(If this story doesn’t cause you pain, well, you aren’t suffering enough! You must suffer like Ann Dee and I have suffered while writing OUR books!
You may complain in the comment section.
Though you won’t have as much time to complain as Ann Dee and I have!)
Remember,every word you use, counts.
You are developing a new world, so watch sense of place.
Description, dialog, character development and problem must shine.

Use a new name, and don’t tell anyone that name until after the judging is over.
The contest closes at five (5) pm on Wednesday, March 7.

You may vote for two (2) people.
Judging will be on Thursday and Friday and will close midnight.

Are you suffering yet?

On your marks, get sets, go!


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Nothing Like a Contest to Remind Us We’re Aging!

We lucked out this week and got the amazing Claudia Mills to judge this middle grade contest for us.

Here’s her bio:
Claudia Mills is the author of forty-five books for young readers, most recently the Mason Dixon series from Knopf and Fractions = Trouble! from FSG, which was just named one of the “best of the best” books of 2011 by the Chicago Public Library.

Claudia has an amazing mid grade voice. When I first discovered her work, I’d published only Kelly and Me and a few Latter-day Daughter books. Claudia’s voice, her characters and their situations made me laugh till I cried. We met at an SCBWI meeting and I stalked her for only a little while before we became fast friends. I’ve loved her ever since I read one of her Dinah novels. Meeting her only confirmed my undying affection–Claudia is as funny in true life as she is in her writing. Plus also, guess what? I’ll love Claudia Mills till the day I die (and after that, too). We are PTSW and share the same agent.

Here’s what the amazing Claudia Mills had to say about YOUR writing:

Oh, this was hard to do! There was something I liked in every single one of these, from a sparkling detail, to an especially memorable line, to a promising story premise, to a surprising twist. Here’s a few:

The doctor speaking “in that high voice used for littler kids than me”
The scene idea of a boy sent to do his service hours cutting out valentine hearts for the dance committee
The idea of a a clueless character doing inappropriate field research into the science of love
A school project of making a mini city with marshmallow and spaghetti
A girl called Queen Dork because King Dork likes her
An opening line: “No one else believed it was a dragon house, but we knew.”
A vivid sense of place: “I set my suitcase down on the porch, hoping that it wouldn’t put another hole in the rotten boards. A small shower of dust fell from the roof as a truck rumbled by.”
Parents having to sign a permission slip before you can watch a snake eat a mouse
Two girls judging another girl’s curtsey as only a “peasant curtsey”
Feeling like “the gray-blue color of crayon that’s only good for storm clouds and stinky whales”
Another great opening line: “Until I kissed him, I’d thought Trent Lowry was cute.”
Plus a great closing line: “At that moment, I would’ve given anything to be kissing a frog instead of having one hop around in my stomach.’

Okay, no more stalling. I guess I really must choose.


First place: Hugh Greenwood

I’d thought a lot about what Uncle David’s house would be like. The drive to Malone had taken three hours short of forever so there had been plenty of time. Besides, imagining a house I’d never seen was easier than imagining an uncle I’d never met. I came up with hundreds of possibilities: a mansion, a ranch, a log cabin with a bearskin rug, but the run-down, peeling, saggy house that we pulled up to didn’t come close to any of them.
I set my suitcase down on the porch, hoping that it wouldn’t put another hole in the rotten boards. A small shower of dust fell from the roof as a truck rumbled by. I coughed. There had to be some kind of mistake.
“This is it, Sam. No mistake.” Deb followed me up the steps, careful to avoid the gaping hole in the third one up. She always denied it, but I knew she had ESP or something; it was part of her job.
“Don’t give me that look,” she nudged me. I tipped into the railing which groaned and covered my sleeve in dirt and slivers. “I know it may not be– ”
She gave me her shush-up-and-be-nice look.
“–what you expected, but I’m sure it’s perfectly fine.”
I saw her eye the front door which sat crooked in its frame. It looked like it would take some convincing to open.
“Besides,” she straightened her sweater, the envelope thick with my files shifted in her hand, “we talked about this. You’re not old enough to have a say in where you go. You’re lucky to have family to go to at all. At any rate, we are very thorough about these things. We’d never put you with your uncle if he didn’t check out.”
“Maybe you weren’t thorough enough this time,” I muttered as Deb stepped up to press the bell which dangled out of the wall by its wires.
A muted ‘ding-dong’ echoed behind the door.
Footsteps started from somewhere in the house and moved toward the door. The handle turned but the door didn’t budge. There was a brief pause and a muffled curse. Suddenly the door rattled violently, bringing down another shower of dust. After more cursing and one last screeching yank, the door flew open. A man covered in wood shavings and sweat stood in the doorway.
“You must be Sam.”

I loved the vivid sense of place here that put me completely into the scene with every detail. The opening drew me in immediately: “I’d thought a lot about what Uncle David’s house would be like. . . Imagining a house I’d never seen was easier than imagining an uncle I’d never met.” By the end of the short scene, after the beautifully detailed presentation of the house, I couldn’t wait to see what the uncle was like. That last line, “You must be Sam,” made me wild to know more about how the relationship between the two would develop.

Second place (tie) :
Ruby Tuscadero
Very funny young middle-grade voice, with spot-on kidlike perceptions of the cool and uncool teachers.

Emberly Clark
A well-framed scene building to an abrupt wrenching shift from funny to scary, just as would happen in real life.

April Hill, that means you are out. Please move over to the Play at Home side.

Congratulations, everybody, for putting your work out there for all of us to enjoy.

And thank you, Claudia, for helping us out this week.


This week you must write a short, personal essay about you, the writer.
Please don’t think, “Essay? School! Yuck! No creativity there!”
What we want is something that touches our judge in some human way and convinces us of your heart.

You have just 300 words.
That means every word you use, counts.
So tell us why writing matters to you.

Remember to use a new name, and don’t tell anyone until after the judging is over.
The contest closes at five (5) pm on Wednesday, February 29.

You may vote for two (2) people now!
Judging will be on Thursday and Friday and will close midnight.
Follow the rules, exactly!

On your marks, get sets, go!

PS I am apologizing right now for any mistakes I may have made in this post.


Filed under CLW, Project Writeway