Boot Camp Favorites: In Which We Land on the Moon

moonlandingHi, folks!

If you participated in Boot Camp, you’ll remember that we demanded the inclusion of certain items in your stories. Aside from being a clever way to weed out impostors in the submission manager (just kidding) (not really) (okay, kidding, but wouldn’t that have been clever?), this struck us as a nifty–and maybe even useful–technique to help get writers’ imaginations going. One of our requirements may or may not have been the inclusion of a reference to the 1969 moon landing. (I can’t tell you, because the packets are SECRET.)

That said, a whole lot of moon landing talk showed up in our Boot Camp stories, so as we read, we’re picking out some of our favorites. Here are five of them:

1. ‘Thank You, Cleveland’ by Crystal Patenaude

In Mason, Maine, the Marigold was the least popular diner, but it’s where Tessa and I spent a lot of our time. Her mom Bunny was a waitress there so no one bothered us and we got free food. We’d sit in the corner booth, the one with a photo of the 1969 moon landing hanging over the napkin dispenser, and look out onto Spring Street while eating French fries. Sometimes it seemed like we knew everyone who walked by, knew where they lived, where they worked, even where they bought their milk.


2. ‘Inconstant Moon’ by Seana Graham

That was the kind of person my brother was—the kind who could recite Shakespeare to suit the occasion. But it was not the kind of person he had been recently.

“Shit,” he said. He sighed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know—it’s wrecked now, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“The moon. I mean it used to be this mystical unobtainable object. People were inspired by it. Poets. Lovers. Freakin’ Shakespeare. And then along comes 1969, and there’s NASA, there’s Neal Armstrong and all the rest after him, trampling around on it, leaving their litter, leaving their grubby little footprints. I mean, how can anyone write poetry about it anymore?”

I thought about it. I squinched my toes down into the cold sand beneath the warm sand’s surface. “I guess the poets will just have to include the footprints now too.”


3. ‘Museum of Air’ by Gail Webber

Mr. James continued, “I’m sure you can understand the need to establish the chain of ownership and therefore the authenticity. That’s critical with something as unique as each of these samples is, as you can imagine. Of course, we have more details on file. These are just the pertinent facts. See this one?”

Archive #2986: Apollo 11, 1969 From: Plastic bag heat-sealed in Lunar Module, and recovered from interior of splashdown capsule by John Aloysius, passed to MoHA…

He stopped reading. Something from the moon landing? Though he hadn’t been asked, Guidry nodded. “I know about us walking on the moon, Neil Armstrong, the whole ‘One step…giant leap’ thing.” But there was nothing in this jar, either. How could this place, this exhibit, be “all set up”? And what did Mr. James think was in this jar?


4. ‘Underground’ by Daphne Tan

Comparatively recently the people here, who are perpetually in motion, never at peace, transported one of their own to the Moon. Why they named their mission “Apollo” and not “Luna” or “Selene” or something more logical, since after all they weren’t aiming for the Sun, is a puzzle. They took scrapings. They planted a flag. My Aunt Diana, or Artemis as she preferred to be called, was its patron goddess, and I think she would have been affronted by such insolence.


5. ‘Hunted’ by Katharina Kolata

The cold night air forced me to stay where I was. If I fled now, they’d hear me. I stayed put and fought my urge to flee. The surface of the water reflected the waxing moon like a damaged pearl. It would have been lovely if it weren’t for the two human silhouettes sitting in front of a tent.

“Science has come quite a way since Armstrong landed up there.” The figure on the right pointed to the moon. At night, humans looked all the same to me, but I could tell my creator from the hunter by his voice.


Come back next week to see some of our favorite uses of the word “laconic”!

Boot Camp: Titles

Titles1Hello, Boot Campers! We’ve begun combing through our submissions, and we’re loving what we’re reading so far. In advance of selecting the three stories we’ll be publishing on our website, we’ve decided to share the love by posting some excerpts and selections for you in themed lists throughout the month. We’re beginning with the very first element that one encounters in a story: the title.

A good title should be memorable without being clunky, and should pique curiosity without giving too much away. Here are some of our favorites, so far, from the Boot Camp submissions!

#spincycle, by Jessica Gregg

Adam Kelly’s Last Mixtape, by John Lawton

OXOBOXO, by Nancy Stone

The Bonesetter’s Stepdaughter, by Betsy Kepes

Ziggy Starbucks, by Anne Paris

Submit, Submit, Submit!

Hello, readers!

Right now, the Submission Manager is officially OPEN, and your stories are flooding in! We are so excited to read them!

Just so you know, you have until TOMORROW NIGHT (Tuesday, Oct 1.) at MIDNIGHT to submit your stories. After that, the proverbial floodgates will close.

Mustering the courage to actually submit a story can be one of the hardest parts of the writing life. Remember as you’re submitting that everyone else is as nerve-wracked as you are. You basically have an invisible support group in each other, and in all of us. We’re rooting for you.

While we read your stories over this coming month, we will post lines and excerpts that we especially like (with permission from and credit to each author, of course!) on Twitter, Tumblr, and the blog.

Once we read your stories, we will select three of our favorites and post them in full on our blog throughout the first week of November.

Good afternoon, and good luck!

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Boot Camp: The Last Day, For Real This Time.

Hey all,

WOW. I daresay y’all are just about the finest online class I ever did see. Look at you with your stories!

How’s revision going? Which tip/trick did you like best? I especially like the idea of going back to the seed of the story. Something about it seems fairy-tale-ish; digging deeper into the root, the core of oneself, to flush out more meat.


But enough about me–I’ve rambled on for almost a week now. If you’ve been participating in Boot Camp, we would love to hear how you’re doing.

If you’ve gotten a solid start and are into your story but haven’t managed to finish yet, no worries. You’re in a terrific place with a lot of forward momentum, after such a demanding week. So keep going! And if you have a sentence, a few sentences, a description you would like to post here, a line of dialogue, whatever, just to show the world a sample of what you’ve been doing this week, please do include it in your comment.

And that’s all I have for you today–that, and WILD CONGRATULATIONS. Remember to submit your story to the submission manager under the “submit” tab on this very own One Teen Story website anytime on September 30.

Good morrow, and good luck!

Day 5: This Is The End (Almost.)

Hello, readers! Have you noticed that we’re on ENDINGS already? Amazing! It feels like it’s only been a few short days!

Ahem. Anyway, the fact that we’ve made it so far calls for celebration! We must eat, drink, be merry, and conveniently forget that the hardest part is yet to come! (I have a funny feeling that our next topic involves a word that starts with ‘r’, ends with ‘evision’, and rhymes with ‘the most frustrating thing that will ever make you want to give up on your dreams, ever’. Weirdly, it abbreviates to ‘but also the most gratifying, once you’ve managed to push yourself through it.’ It’s a crazy word.)

Seriously, though: we’ve finished a draft. Perhaps it is the roughest of drafts, but it is still a draft, and it is glorious in its young awkwardness, like a baby fawn, or a middle school dance. (Shameless plug for our Homecoming Dance. Have you bought your ticket yet?) After all, a rough draft is the first big step on the journey toward a shiny new rejection-letter collection! And then, of course, onward to certain fame. Let’s be honest; we’re all brilliant.

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And now that we have all finished very drafty drafts of our stories, let’s talk about today’s packet. Which piece of ending advice stuck with you the most? What tips on story-ending can you share with us?

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the addition of sensory detail using all five senses. Any time I want to linger on a scene or make sure it carries sufficient emotional resonance and weight, I throw in some sensory detail. Sometimes even when I’m just writing blogs for One Teen Story, watching my hands move across the back-lit keyboard, hearing the hum of the fan in the corner of the room, feeling its chill across my face, I add some 5-senses action. My fingers hit the flat backs of the keys, and I smell, somewhere, a faint, lingering whiff of cinnamon in the air. I drink my coffee, savoring its cooling notes of cardamom, and I think about how those who might read these words probably have no idea that I’m just practicing my literary technique.



Day Four, Day Four! How To Speak With Others.

Good morning, Soldiers!

How did your Boot Camp packet about dialogue go? Did it lift you to great heights, allowing you to freely leap and bound onward through your story? Did it plunge you to wallowing depths, pinning you at the bottom of the sea where the bioluminescent fish lurk, casting only spare light on the problems of writers who have been lured into their home?

I began to write here that dialogue had never been a great challenge or a great victory for me, when I realized that wasn’t true.

I was the sort of child who decided it was appropriate to line edit my Babysitters Club books. I remember being bothered by the flagrant overuse of speech tags. I hated the word “said.” Of course, I then spent the next 15 years avoiding the word “said” and making that more egregious error–writing deeply obnoxious speech tags. My characters were constantly breathing words, thrashing out words, emanating words–you name an action; my characters were doing it in the way they spoke. It’s a wonder there was any room left for dialogue on the page.

Eventually, I came around.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how much information the dialogue (in both tone and structure) can bring to the reader?

Patrick talked about how, in his story, he wants to try to convey things about certain characters through dialogue that the reader can realize before his main  character does.

“This is my 16-year-old narrator, a girl, talking to an older guy who claims to be a talent scout but is really just a creep,” he said, “and she’s only now coming to realize it–hopefully about half a page after the reader does.”

       Derek asks me if I have any special talents.


       “Tell me about them.”

       “I write songs sometimes. And poetry.”

       He waits for me to say something else.

       “I’ve got strong feet,” I say. “I can stand on point.”

       “Can you dance?”

       “I guess. Like anybody.”

       “Want to show me?”

       There isn’t even any music on. The radio’s playing a commercial. “Not really.”

       “Well, I’m a good judge of people,” Derek says. “And I think you’re something special, Dani. I think you’ve got real promise. High-octane promise.”

      I have no idea what high-octane promise is, but I say, “Thanks.”

      “Don’t thank me. Just trust me.”


Wow. I know Patrick warned us beforehand, but I would have been skeeved out by this guy regardless.

How about you, Boot Campers? How is your dialogue going? Did you perform it out loud as you were told to do, and if so, how many people in your life now believe that you’re certifiably insane?  (Hopefully, none–if you followed the rule about reading it out loud alone!)



Can we get some feedback, too, on how the original rules are fitting into your story? I saw a couple of comments about them, and I want to know: Are the opening you up in writing? Closing you off? How have you felt about them throughout the process? Are some easier to follow than others?

First person to comment gets all of my old Babysitters Club books. You can retrieve them from my childhood attic in New Jersey, and expect them be heavily marked up with six-year-old handwriting.


Boot Camp — Day Three: Regarding the Mary Sues. Also, Hydras.

Howdy, troopers!

How is everyone feeling about their stories? What did you guys think of the exercises? Anybody want to post some snippets in the comments?

And how are your main characters coming along? Since you’re showing an above-and-beyond amount of commitment to the cause by reading this blog, do you want a bonus characterization tip from Patrick?

“When I come up with characters,” he says, “I give them at least a couple of traits that I find annoying in people.  It helps make them feel real to me.  So in the story I’m writing now, one of the main characters is somewhat cynical; another would rather suffer through her problems than seek advice; and the third main character is cocky and mouthy with nothing to back it up.”

I really like this “if you’re stuck on a character, make her/him more real” strain of advice. I have whole hordes of Mary Sue-laden stories stuck in journals in my closet, and I keep the door shut for fear that they’ll claw their way out and smear their quirk/flawlessness all over EVERYTHING.


I’m starting to realize faster when my characters are falling into stereotypes that bore me. I’m learning how to cut that impulse off before it hatches and sheds feathers of boredom all over the story. Sometimes, though this can lead to nesting dolls of stereotype-avoidance.

For example: my narrator thinks her best friend is prettier than her. Yawn but true. I decided to try making that dynamic more interesting by giving said pretty friend a wacky religion. She still seemed like a stereotype, if of a slightly different hue. I tacked on some unusual habits for good measure.

Does anyone else envision themselves cutting off the head of a dragon that continues to sprout more heads during this kind of process? The problem with the dragon battle during the writing of characters is that you can get so exhausted lopping off heads that you don’t get the chance to do much else with your time. You also don’t get to see what might have grown if you had just let it.

My favorite part of today’s packet is the reminder to let your characters surprise you. For me, it’s important to remember that they can only begin to do that after I’ve let them open their mouths. If I stand aside and let them be themselves, they will move into uniqueness and fullness without prodding. I’m not a big believer in characters writing themselves, but I do think the storytelling instinct reflects at a slant rather than mimics exactly.

This lets me think that maybe I don’t have to be so wary of writing a complete and utter Mary Sue character. Who knows–when she starts to speak, she might sound nothing like me. And then I won’t have to worry about this guy anymore and he can be my awesome pet instead of my terrible foe:


What was your favorite part of today’s packet? Do you tend to write Mary Sues in your first drafts, and if so, how do you make them more interesting?

Boot Campers: You’ve gotten through Day Two!

Hello, ladies and gents! How did Day Two go?

We absolutely love how much you’ve been sharing with us so far! Please do keep the comments and tweets (@oneteenstory #OTSbootcamp) coming–as well as the pictures of writing through power outages. (@SMArtsLabLauren, we see you there and we’re very much in awe.)

Here at One Teen Story, we’re talking about beginnings, and about how point of view affects our writing from that early point to the very end. “The point of view I’ve chosen,” Patrick says, “is going to dictate what my options are for how to wrap things up, so I have to keep that in mind as I work on this first draft.” He also mentioned that he wants his story’s ending to mirror his beginning (somewhat). I love this idea and want to use it more. How about you, Boot Campers? How do your endings engage with or contrast from your beginnings?

Speaking of beginnings, I’m trying out this thinking-of-the-beginning-as-a-first-date idea. At first I thought that this would be extra-easy for me, because my story begins in a bedroom while two girls get ready to go out and meet some boys. Sounds like a first date already, right? Taken less literally, though, the first-date idea urged me to go over that scene and think about how to make two girls trying on different outfits pop with a little more weight and significance. Usually, when I’m trying to pump up an early scene with intrigue, I introduce symbolic objects or elements.  To me, this feels sort of like weaving threads together that could eventually be strong enough to carry the weight of something bigger than themselves (something magical, even).

Of course, that’s the ideal. More often than not, the reality resembles this picture. symbolism You’ll notice that here the dog represents all the weight of my beautiful lyrical genius symbolism, and the cat represents the story.

What do you do to make your scenes more interesting? How do you hook readers into your story from the get-go? If you could choose a spirit animal for your story, what would it be? (Please note: you’re not allowed to use a half-crushed cat, because that one’s TAKEN.)

So you’ve survived Day One!

oregontrailGood morning, Campers! As we go through One Teen Story’s Writing Boot Camp this week, I’ll be sharing how staff members here at OTS are doing each day while working on their own stories.

We hope you’ll also share what’s happening each day for you in the comment section below. How was your first day of Boot Camp? Hopefully it wasn’t too difficult, as this one didn’t require so much by way of official writing–just basic suggestions and the Secret Rules.

How was my first day? Glad you asked, imaginary person!

After reading the section about briefly and loosely shaping our stories, I decided to actually outline my story, which is something I usually don’t do. This was a refreshing change. I also had a minor freak-out moment when I realized that this outlining business might lead me to write the story in start-to-finish order.

Usually, I write the last line first, and then go back to the beginning and work through the middle with the ending in mind. I’ve realized that if I don’t do this, everything tends to get muddier and more tedious until it gets completely stuck, and then my oxen get typhoid fever, and then it turns out that I’ve stopped writing the story entirely and I’m playing Oregon Trail in my head again.

Which happens to all of us, I’m sure.

Never fear, though–there is a happy ending to this sad sad tale! As soon as I realized I needed a last line, I came up with a last line and then went back to outlining. Somehow, these self-made problems seem all-consuming until they’re quickly solved.

Karen, a participating One Story editor, has an initial idea of her ending as well, so we’re going to start a special club with a tree fort and a secret handshake. Comment if you also know your ending and you need handshake instructions.

Karen adds that “Of course, all of that will probably change as I write the bulk of the story. I have an image, though, of where I want my main character to be in the final paragraph.”

How about you guys? Do you begin from the ending or the beginning?  Have you had any freakout moments? Have you given up already? Are you wondering where that Oregon Trail CD-ROM ended up? Is it in your parents’ attic? Should you go check right now?

If you’re struggling, don’t give up hope! Tonight you will receive another packet with more direction and sage words of wisdom from our Editor in Chief, Patrick Ryan. As we move on to that latter, glorious day, I wish all of you all of the very best luck. May your pens move easily, may your keyboards not stick, and may your oxen never perish.

Boot Camp! Day One.

bootcampHello, writers! Today marks the very first day of our very first boot camp!

If you are participating, you should have received your first instructional packet via email late last night (or in hard copy at the Brooklyn Book Festival if you signed up there.) If you haven’t yet received your first packet, please email Maribeth Batcha at right away.

By now, you should either have begun your story or be entrenched in the process of mulling over the beginning. Try not to get too tangled up in finding an idea–just start writing from a point of genuine interest and see where it takes you.

You’ll be receiving your subsequent Boot Camp packets at 8PM EST / 5PM PT today and throughout the week. We’ll be posting another blog about how we’re progressing with our own boot camp stories later today.

Speaking of progress: How’s it going for you? Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear back from you via blog comments or tweets–use a #OTSbootcamp hashtag.