Braving the Slush Pile in Pittsboro!

Slush PileOur mission was brutal. The email from Al Manning, the head of Pittsboro Writers’ Morning Out went something like this:

Pretend you’re an editor of a prestigious publishing house. It’s Friday afternoon. You’ve had a busy week and you’re still staring at a stack of unsolicited manuscripts–the dreaded Slush Pile. You’re tired and you want to go home. You’ll raise your hand as soon as you hear something that would cause you to reject the manuscript in front of you.

Yesterday I had the honor of serving as a panelist (along with writers Ron Voigts and Judith Stanton) at the 3rd Annual Slush Pile event at the Pittsboro Writers’ Morning Out meeting. As we listened to the 300 words submitted anonymously by the brave ten writers who participated, we agreed, disagreed, and agreed to disagree on the elements that would cause a busy editor to move to the next manuscript in the pile.

And that’s what editors do. What I liked most about a manuscript didn’t necessarily appeal to the other panelists and vice versa. It goes without saying that writing submitted to an editor shouldn’t contain typos or grammatical errors; these are easily caught by a diligent proofreader. We truly didn’t see many of these–the majority of the manuscripts we reviewed were quite polished and free from pesky errors of this nature.

To help, I’ll share what resonated the most with our panel in terms of style. The manuscripts we “rescued” from the slush pile shared four basic elements:

  • Strong opening–and this includes the title!
  • Engaging and unique characters. What’s your character’s point of view?
  • A good blend of exposition and action. And by action, I also mean dialogue.
  • Conflict and tension. What’s at stake for your character? Why should we care?

Above all else, if you’re writing, submitting, and braving a very real slush pile, it’s most important that you NEVER despair. Don’t give up. Editors are, after all, human and have their own peculiarities as far as taste and style. So, if you find yourself drifting in a slush pile, pull out that manuscript days (or weeks!) later, and view it with fresh eyes.

And as you revise your work and prepare to share it with the world, please consider joining me for your choice of two separate workshops in 2020 on the subject of submission. We’ll talk about revisions, cover letters, markets, and much, much more.

Check out my Events page for more information and how to register.

 

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Wobbling the World at Charlotte Lit

charlotte litIf you felt the world wobble on Saturday, October 12, you may have felt the reverberation of laughter, tears, even the tiny buzz of collective endorphins circling the table at the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, Inc. (or Charlotte Lit).

This was the third time I’ve had the pleasure of leading a workshop on flash essays, (previously at Central Carolina Community College and the Joyful Jewel, both in Pittsboro) and Saturday brought a special delight. The cheerful space at Charlotte Lit (a former school), the hospitality of our hosts, and the enthusiasm of the writers who attended brought a vibrant energy that continues to inspire me in my own work.

But it doesn’t end there! On January 4, 2020, the momentum continues, as we explore the submission of our writing (whether essays, poetry, or fiction) to contests and publications. There are still a few spaces left, so I hope you join us and learn more about how to Share Your Writing With the World.

Nothing makes me happier than being around other writers and encouraging them to find their voices. I’m currently polishing up a busy spring schedule of other events, so please continue to visit my Events page for the very latest.

And I’ll share a secret. Shhh….on March 7, I’m doing a brand new workshop at Central Carolina Community College on the most radical technique I’ve ever shared. (Hint: Ever wanted to write a complete short story in just one day?) You might just feel an earthquake with this one.

 

A Day of True Stories at Central Carolina Community College!

There were startup-594090__480giggles. There were sighs. And there were some tears. But overall, Conference Room 103G in Building 42 at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro quaked with joy yesterday. With 11 students, we were almost at full capacity, which says a lot for the power of creative writing.

 

“Who else do you know,” I asked the students, “who would rather be here than outside on a gorgeous day like today?”

To their credit, those 11 brave souls chose to spend six hours writing, reading, and writing again. Writing from real life takes a special kind of courage, and it’s more than a little cathartic.

We wrote of our upbringing, our love stories, our dearest memories and our scariest moments. We even confessed our most embarrassing episodes. Whatever we wrote, we wrote from the heart. Every single word was true. And we did it all in miniature. In most cases, less than 500 words!

Flash essays are suddenly wildly popular, especially on the heels of the surge in flash fiction. But the truth is that little essays have always been in style. Remember those little gems in Reader’s Digest? Life in These United States….All in Day’s Work, etc? Most major publications now want your littlest stories too, from The New York Times to national magazines like Psychology Today to state magazines such as Carolina Country. In fact, the list of markets (including contests) was so vast it took up two whole pages in our handouts!

Want more flash essays? If so, consider joining me for an abbreviated version of this same workshop in Charlotte on Saturday, October 12 at the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts. There’s just one seat left in that class, so don’t delay! We’ll share writing tips and prompts, and I guarantee that you will end up with more than one draft of a saleable essay.

Also, as you polish your stories, look ahead to January 4, 2020, when we’ll hold a special workshop for all writers on Submissions and Contests, also at the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts. Join us, make some new friends, and prepare to share your writing with the world.

Register for The Fabulous World of Flash Essays on October 12.

Register for Submissions and Contests on January 4.

And top secret! Stay tuned for a special  workshop next spring. I’m very excited because it’s an entirely new topic for me, and we’re taking a very unconventional approach. 🙂

I hope to see you soon. Until I do, keep writing and delighting!

 

 

 

Randolph Writers Rock Flash Fiction!

flash fiction picture

We had a marvelous time at the monthly gathering of Randolph Writers last night at the Asheboro Public Library! It was a lively evening of prompts, readings and discussion on one of my favorite topics–flash fiction!

There are so many things to adore about this wonderful genre. Flash fictions or “flashes” offer everything I adore about longer stories–characters, voice, plot, and imagery–but all within a very short space, and some flashes (like “Hint” fiction) are even less than 25 words! Writing flash fiction helps you master the art of compression, build a daily writing practice, and if you like, can lay the pipe for longer works such as a traditional short story or even a novel.

flashfiction2 We opened the evening with an instant prompt, and all the participants kindly indulged me by penning a story on a page from those old-fashioned pink message pads. Remember those? I was blown away by the creativity of all the writers, and their bravery at trying this unusual prompt.

The use of a message pad is an example of a “fixed-form narrative,” which is a very popular form for writers and readers.  Writers, if you’re stumped by how to accelerate a story, consider writing in it in the form of an email, a letter, a diary entry, or as suggested by our participants: a “purchase requisition” or a “new account” form!

We also delved into some longer works (between 250 – 1,000 words), and among others, explored the writing of Nancy Stohlman (“Death-Row Hugger”), Allen Goodman (“Wallet”), Heinrich Boller (“The Laugher”), and David Galef (“My Date with Neanderthal Woman.”) And even though we had only two hours together, we managed to squeeze out two more stories of our own, inspired by these authors. And then there was the bonus — all the laughter, joy, and maybe even a few misty eyes.

Another benefit, and perhaps the greatest benefit of all, is that flash fiction allows writers yet another way to share our stories with others. Because it’s shorter, it’s unusually accessible and unpretentious, thereby offering “instant community.” Writing is primarily a solitary act, but even so, the art must be fed by support and encouragement. If this sounds good to you, I hope you’ll consider attending (or even joining!) Randolph Writers. We meet on the third Tuesday evening of every month, and welcome writers of all levels.

Many thanks to my fellow Randolph Writers for allowing me to present, and particularly to President Sayword B. Eller, who is an accomplished writer (and MFA candidate!) herself. She regularly offers tips for all of us. Please check out her terrific podcast “About This Writing Thing” or her new Author Tube channel!

In the meantime, keep writing and delighting!
Ashley

 

Do You Have a Story to Tell? Join us on September 21 for a Flash Essay Workshop!

writingDo you have a funny story you’ve been itching to put down on paper? What about a poignant memory of a first love? The history of a cherished family recipe that you’d like to share? Or did your dog do something that simply cracked you up?

Of course you have a story! Every human being is simply brimming with fascinating true-life tales, and yours is probably even better than the ones I just described. From “Tiny Love Stories” in The New York Times to the food essays in Saveur magazine to family memories in Carolina Country, there are more markets than ever that would love to publish your stories. And many of them will happily pay you for them. Or you could win a big prize!

From my writing experience, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have published essays in places such as Romantic Homes, The Raleigh News and Observer and most recently, in Women on Writing and Mental Papercuts, I’ve learned that there’s a trick to taking an anecdote and turning it into a marketable short-form (or flash) essay. It’s not enough to simply relate your story as it happened. Readers long for what’s known as a “takeaway” – a little nugget of wisdom or insight that they can apply to their own lives. And it’s not hard to mine your stories for this tiny gem; chances are, it’s been there all along!

If you’d like to learn more about how you can turn your life experiences into memorable and compelling flash essays, I hope you’ll join us at Central Carolina Community College on Saturday, September 21 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. We’ll read some of the best flash essays being published today, draft some of our own, and explore the various markets for publication.  Click here to register online or call 1-800-682-8353 (or 919-545-8044) to register over the phone.

As we always do when we gather at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, home of state’s only community college-centered Creative Writing Program, we’ll have a boatload of fun doing it.

The Wood Thrush Makes a Landing at McIntyre’s in Fearrington!

mcintyresIt was the perfect day for poetry….wonderfully cool with a hint of sunshine, and the easy conversation among both old friends and new!

At today’s monthly reading of N.C. Poetry Society members, I shared the podium with poets Bill Griffin (and former Poet in Residence at the N.C. Zoo!) and Robin Greene, a professor of English at Methodist University in Fayetteville. I ended up with a lot of hugs, fresh flowers, and of course, two new books: Griffin’s evocative Riverstory: Treestory and Greene’s riveting Lateral Drift.

I read a handful of poems from my first poetry collection, Waiting for the Wood Thrush, which is available through Finishing Line Press. I also received some very friendly and helpful advice that I’ll try out at my next poetry reading. Speak slower, and let your audience appreciate your beautiful words. I was very touched, and to the kind lady who offered this wisdom, I promise to try and take it slower next time.

Waiting for the Wood Thrush Featured in The Courier-Tribune!

paperYesterday, a good friend of mine told me that The Courier Tribune in Asheboro featured an article on Waiting for the Wood Thrush on Wednesday! Click here to read “New Poetry Collection by Asheboro Resident Released.”

To every kind soul who has already ordered a pre-sale copy of my book, I do appreciate you! Your support means the world to me. If you haven’t ordered your copy, there’s still time. Advance sales help the author and the publisher, and I’d be so very grateful if you ordered by September 13. Click here to order Waiting for the Wood Thrush online. 

I’ll be reading a selection of poems from the book tomorrow, September 25 at 2 p.m. at McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington. I’ll be reading the title poem, along with several others inspired by my life in the Uwharries, including “Samarcand,” “Lost and Found of the Dead,” and “Eulogy of the Northern Red Oak.” Other poems include “Napoleon and Antosia,” the tale of two star-crossed donkeys in love and “How to See a Ghost,” a poem describing a true-life ghostly encounter. Read more about the event here.

Hope to see you there!