What’s your favorite genre, someone recently asked me. Poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays? My answer: All of them!
The longer I write, the more I’ve learned that the various writing genres are not mutually exclusive. The same solid idea that sparked a short story could easily morph into an essay or a poem. Especially if you still have curiosity about the topic. So why limit yourself to just one form? Be like Little Puss, a shape shifter!
Case in point. Shirley Jackson. This renowned writer didn’t just pen short stories and novels; she also wrote essays and even drew cartoons! Here’s another: Vladimir Nabokov. He wrote stories, novels, poetry and his nonfiction memoir, Speak Memory, is a model for any writer in terms of craft. Dorothy Parker: poetry, stories, book reviews. And Tennessee Williams wrote much of the above and even took playwriting to another level by tackling screenplays.
Shakespeare was also a notorious shape shifter, excelling in every form available at the time. If he lived today, in addition to the plays and poetry, he’d probably dash out a sitcom or two, don’t you think?
Shape shifting is also more efficient. In my case, my essay “Eulogy of a Northern Red Oak” eventually turned into a poem. It’s essentially a condensed form of the same essay but with unusual line breaks and intentional omissions, the sadness of the topic–the loss of our natural habitat–is exacerbated. The poem was named a finalist in the 2019 Poet Laureate Competition and will be published in “Waiting for the Wood Thrush,” my first poetry collection by Finishing Line Press in November.
As I plunder through my old writing projects, I’m continuing to “shift shapes.” Or is it “shape shift” ? Maybe I’ll breathe new life into an old essay and turn it into a short story. And I think I have a poem or two that might work as a short story….humm….let the magic begin!
Today I’m honored to be interviewed on “The Muffin,” the daily blog of the award-winning Women on Writing site.
Here I discuss the inspiration behind my “onion” essay, my forthcoming poetry collection (“Waiting for the Wood Thrush”) from Finishing Line Press, and my favorite writing tip.
Before the deluge today, we enjoyed a wonderful day of poetry at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in lovely Southern Pines. The N.C. Poetry Society held its annual awards day, and I was honored to join both old and new friends to read “Eulogy of a Northern Red Oak,” a finalist for the Poet Laureate Award.
“Eulogy” will be one of the poems in my forthcoming collection to be published by the kind and generous Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, Kentucky. After much deliberation, and a conferral with reviewers and friends, my chapbook of 30 poems is now titled “Waiting for the Wood Thrush.” This title makes the most sense, given the book’s strong focus on nature as well as love.
In addition to hearing my fellow poets read, another highlight of the day was the dedication of Pinesong to my friend and celebrated author Ruth Moose. She was regaled for her unwavering support of the poetry community, her love of stories, and, of all things, the exclamation mark! Here’s extra just for Ruth!!!!!
The exclamation mark is both joy and urgency, delight and a bit of fright, a paradox unto itself. It underscores the words of W.H. Auden, recently shared by a friend. The revered poet’s definition of poetry? “The clear expression of mixed feelings.”
In this particular order….
1- Love of language
2 – Internal burning desire to write, write, write….no matter what’s going on in their lives
3 – Abiding curiosity (obsession!) for the human experience
4 – Significant body of work to draw from so there’s always something in circulation — plenty of pieces to submit and re-submit when the times are tough.
What do you think? Am I missing something? It’s entirely possible!
“Going at such a pace as I do, I must make the most direct shots at my object…no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.” ~ Virginia Woolf
The above quote, shared at my Central Carolina Community College workshop last Saturday, does more than express the intensity of flash fiction; it also illustrates how quickly the time passed!
Our Flash Fiction Bootcamp II did indeed end far too quickly! In fact, we were still writing when the security guard at Central Carolina Community College came around and politely tapped her watch. But me and the seven devotees (eight if you count my trusty assistant, husband Johnpaul) of creative writing could have kept writing for hours….
We opened with an inspirational reading of Liz Wride’s terrific flash, Painted, published April 11 on Milk Candy Review. For our first prompt, we riffed on her evocative first line (“They passed a law that everyone had to…..”) as a spark for our own stories. The results were both pithy and magical, ranging from “be kind to each other” or “own a Komodo dragon.” So much fun! Thank you Liz!
Other prompts included writing a flash from a favorite pet’s point of view and taking a cue from the Twilight Zone. One of our students shared a link to the opening narration so you can try this prompt on your own. We also played around with the French technique known as “N + 7″ which involves writing a couple of sentences and substituting nouns with every seventh you find in the dictionary after the original. This mode is particularly helpful when you find yourself stuck in a rut on a story. A new world can be just one word away.
The comments I received were far more than I deserved but very welcome, and the students kindly gave permission for their inclusion on this blog. “This was my first writing class,” said Mary T. “The encouragement received from Ashley was priceless and spurred me to write even more.”
“Ashley Memory is a great teacher – positive, affirming, inspiring. Love the quotes, writing tips, book recommendations.” Jeannie D’Aurora
And from Anne K., a veteran of the program, who is working toward her certificate in Creative Writing, a unique offering of the college: “Ashley’s classes always provide a terrific combination of practical information, positive encouragement and hands-on experiences. She is both a talented teacher and writer and students get the benefit of both in her classes.”
As a departure from the norm, for my next CCCC workshop, we’ll tackle a cousin of flash fiction. On Saturday, September 21, 2019 at 9 a.m., we’ll explore the exciting world of flash essays. We’ll also talk about ways to expand short memoir-style pieces into longer formats, taking cues from Susan Shapiro’s The Byline Bible.
Hope to see you in September, but in the meantime keep writing and delighting!
Last night I had the pleasure of reading my poem “I Like My Bagel Toasted” at the special launch celebration of The Phoenix at Pfeiffer University, and it was a blast. First off, it’s a rarity to see more than 20 people at a literary event but at this wonderful occasion, there was at least 100–a “pfull” house by anybody’s standards! And anytime I get to see my friend Ruth Moose (and Pfeiffer alumna!) is always a special occasion.
Wonderful food, a great mixture of art (poems, stories, essays and photography!) and fabulous music made for an entertaining evening. The editors, staff, and advisors did a terrific job of making all attendees and authors feel appreciated.
Hats off to the editors who read and considered the nearly 1,000 submissions they received for this issue! My “bagel” and I were indeed lucky to be included. It’s taken a lot of courage to write about my multiple sclerosis so this has been a big step for me.
All in all, the day itself couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather alone was magnificent, sunny and dry with a gentle breeze. Amazing. And not only did my little bare-rooted Mara des Bois strawberry plants arrive from the nursery, I found out I won first place in the WOW Q2 Essay Contest for “How to Chop an Onion Without Crying.”
Isn’t it funny how life turns out? We writers work so hard, day in, day out, and the rewards are mostly internal–the joy you get from finding just the right word, putting your words to paper and sharing what you write with family and friends. But once in a while, the world surprises you with a little recognition and how sweet it is!
Wishing you strawberries, onions, bagels (and more) as you plow ahead and make your own writing dreams come true.