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Interview on the Muffin!

muffinsToday, July 15, I’m honored to be featured with an interview on The Muffin, the daily blog of Women on Writing, a terrific community devoted to women writers.

Crystal J. Casavant-Otto, the WOW interviewer (and a writer herself!), asked wonderful questions about the writing life and even allowed me to share my recipe for raspberry jam. 🙂

Enjoy! Feel free to stop by The Muffin to check it out and ask any questions of your own. I hope you also visit the Women on Writing ezine and learn more about the fabulous opportunities they offer for writers.

And I’m inspired too — I think I’ll make blueberry muffins myself!

 

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Poetry in Plain Sight!

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We are so fortunate in our state to have such a vibrant AND innovative arts culture! And there’s no better example than Poetry in Plain Sight, a statewide poetry initiative that brings poetry front and center into the lives of countless citizens every day.  Every month, short poems by North Carolina poets are published on posters (yes, I said POSTERS!) which are then displayed by progressive entrepreneurs in the windows of their businesses.

I was so thrilled to be chosen as a July poet. Here I pose in front of my poem “Consider the Spider,” which is posted on the doors of Fourth & Trade, a terrific art gallery on the corner of Fourth and Trade in downtown Winston-Salem. (Note the sign: “Leased Pets Welcome”!!!)

This year, the project has expanded beyond Winston-Salem to Waynesville and New Bern, so it is truly a statewide initiative!  It’s directed by Donna Wallace and sponsored by Winston-Salem Writers (which launched it in 2013), the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, N.C. Poetry Society, N.C. Writers Network, and Press 53.

Below are close-ups of “Spider,” along with the work of other poets we discovered on a “poetry crawl” through Winston-Salem the other day. Pardon the glare — these pictures are no substitute for seeing the poems in person! So I hope you will take a journey yourself to the arts districts of either Winston-Salem, New Bern or Waynesville very soon. Also, consider attending the quarterly reading on Saturday, August 11. All Summer 2018 poets will read at the Forsyth County Library (Downtown Winston-Salem) from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.

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Chicken Little’s rules for submission

chickenLiving in the country makes it easy to channel my inner chicken on the tricky topic of submission.

The sky is not falling. Worried? Don’t be. The world needs to hear from you, and you need to send your work out. The pluses of submission–meeting new people, discovering new markets, and growing as a writer–far outweigh the minuses. So do it. But do it thoughtfully.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Ninety-nine percent of all publications allow it, so do submit simultaneously (i.e., submit the same story to multiple places at the same time). Just be sure to inform the editors you haven’t heard from as soon as possible if it’s accepted somewhere. Recently, one of my short stories was selected by two publications, but as it turns out, one will print a longer version and the other will happily print the flash version. Another e-zine didn’t publish that particular story but kindly awarded me a $20 Amazon gift card for placing in their contest. One story gets traction in three ways.

Stuff as many eggs in that basket as you can. Don’t send one egg into the world without having at least ten in your basket. Make sure you have several pieces circulating in the world and several in varying stages of completion. How to build your basket? Branch an idea in multiple ways—turn a poem into a short story. Later, write a nonfiction essay about the same experience. Be a triple threat. 🙂

Ask a fellow chicken for help. When seeking new outlets, yes, do your research. But don’t hesitate to ask for help from a fellow writer. They are some of my best sources when it comes to finding new markets. I actually won a “submission consultation” from Chelsey Clammer, a respected writer and editor through Women on Writing and her excellent advice led to the acceptance of two stories in the July 2018 issue of The Birds We Piled Loosely.

The sky is not falling, again. Don’t despair. Ever. Period. Whatever happens, whether you’re accepted or rejected, return to the work that nurtures your spirit. Because this is what makes you happy.

We’ll talk more about submission in the workshops I’ll be leading this fall, so if you’re interested, sign up! In fact, the second-place winner in this year’s Carolina Woman Writing Contest, Anne Kissel, had this to say: “You mentioned the Carolina Woman contest in your class and that helped me take the plunge. Everyone in the fine tribe of CCCC writing folk has been so encouraging to newbies like me. ‘Agora’ — the winning story — was something I worked on in a couple of the classes.”

September 22, 2018: Flash Fiction Bootcamp. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this class, you’ll have five finished pieces. Bring your favorite writing gear (notebook and pen/pencil or laptop) and get ready for some prompts, new inspiration, and instant feedback. Atten-hut!

October 13, 2018: Flash Fiction: Revision and Publication. Now that you’ve written your first flash fictions, you’re ready to show them off! Bring a story of your own and learn how to revise, prepare and submit it for publication in online or print magazines, and how later to create a book-length collection and find publishers.

 

 

Summer rain, summer magic

We woke up to bright sunshine, but in true July fashion, a sudden summer storm surprises us at Whale Tail Road. Perhaps my bougainvillea will dreamily shake her blossoms, Sara Teasdale-style.

Today two of my flash fictions make their appearance in the July 2018 issue of The Birds We Piled Loosely. Read “Etymology in the Neighborhood” and “We Are So Sorry”  by clicking on the cover of the magazine and scrolling to pages 15 and 25.

All of the work is distinctive in its own way, particularly poems by Emily Parker, Rich Ives, and Ally Young as well as evocative image-text pieces by Emma Sheinbaum.

This past month I’ve kept busy revising stories that I began in May’s “Story A Day” Challenge and already I’ve submitted several shorter pieces for publication.

Last week I wrapped up a one-week class offered by One Story: Write a Story with Hannah Tinti. I’ve taken online classes before but this was one of the most engaging I’ve ever experienced. It focused on structure, something I don’t always think about when in the heat of composing a story. And in just six days, all participants had the opportunity to craft, day by day, a solid draft with a viable structure. More importantly, it was FUN!

But today, as rain pounds our roof, I’m thinking more about poetry. I’m going to comb through my word boxes and see what magical combinations arise….I’ll be building dandelion suspension bridges, kitten-heeling my way into a sunset altar, and exploring the sovereignty of cookies.

Tantalize with a title

chekhov2We discussed first lines already, but we ought to back up a wee bit. Let’s talk about story titles.

When you finally finish that first draft of a story, don’t slap a thoughtless title on top. You’ve worked hard already, so why not invest just a little more time to hook your reader from the very beginning with a tantalizing title?

Take a look at the titles of the books featured in the picture to the left. Don’t they tempt you to at least open up the books?

As a former judge (I judged a high school literary contest for three years) and as a writing instructor, I have seen far too many stories saddled with ho-hum titles. Such as “The Table”, “The Painting” or “My Family.” While not offensive, these titles suffer from an extreme case of “run-of-the-mill-itis.” They could be the title for hundreds of similar stories. They don’t make the reader want to read them.

In contrast, take a look at some titles below, all from recent stories, most of which are available online.

“Howard’s Girl” ~ Jane Zingale, New Flash Fiction
“When Gorillas Sleep” ~ Frankie McMillan, New Flash Fiction
“Mr. Switzerland” ~ Marguerite Floyd, New Flash Fiction
“Sleepwalking in Texas” ~ Nicholas Cook, New Flash Fiction
“All the Sea in the Fish” ~ Rob Bockman, Tin House
“My Co-Worker’s Obituary Photograph” ~ Annie Hartnett, Tin House
“Christmas Alligator” ~ Reiser Perkins, Tin House

All of the above titles immediately drew me into the stories. They took me from the world of the general to the specific. Not surprisingly, the stories themselves did not disappoint. Below is a story title for the record books, one of the longest titles and most intriguing stories I’ve ever read.

“A Perimenopausal Jacqueline Kennedy, Two Years After the Assassination, Aboard the M/Y Christina, off Euboea, Bound for the Island of Alonnisos, Devastated by a Recent Earthquake, Drinks Her Fourth Bloody Mary with Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.”
~ Michael Martone, Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

A snazzy title is even more important for poetry and flash fiction, which are defined by brevity. Every single word must pull its own weight….and then some. And an exciting title is as inspirational to the writer as it is to the reader. A writer who can write a tantalizing title will undoubtedly work harder on that story, don’t you think?

 

Wrapping up the Story a Day challenge

I did it! Foblack raspberryr each day of May, I drafted a story every morning. This means I ended up with 31 rough drafts, more than enough to see me through a summer and fall of solid writing.

It wasn’t as easy as picking black raspberries, but I’m so glad I did it.  Most of the stories are still rough drafts but I now have at least 10 viable starts to longer pieces. And yes, looking back, there’s a little bit of “chaff” that may never see the light of day. Uh, what was I thinking?

So how did I do it? In the beginning, I leaned heavily on writing prompts from other sources. One of my more finished pieces is based on a mythological story–a love triangle resolved through clever debate (Thank you, Fred White, author of The Daily Reader.). Another one is based on a prompt from Story A Day, Write a Letter (Thank you, Julie Duffy).  I also pulled out a few latent ideas of my own that I’d been hoarding. Many ideas, however, seemed to just spawn themselves, a freaky synthesis of my own experience and writing mind, if that makes sense. One idea ended up yielding two separate stories!

Having worked on longer pieces for so long, I was a little out of the habit of generating new ideas. So I found the discipline of this effort extremely useful. As they say, we first make our habits, and then our habits make us. Not surprisingly, the more you write, the more ideas you get.

I also managed to make a little jam (strawberry and early peach). And yes, as another reward, I’ll  be treating myself to William Trevor’s collection of last stories very soon. And for now, I’ll be revising, revising, revising….

 

 

Another evening of story-telling…

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I’m reading “The Dave Department” — my short flash about waiting for a call-back from a service tech who seems to always be at lunch. (Photo credit: Anne Anthony)

Last night was rich with literary delights: writer-reader connections, stories galore, and scintillating conversation all within the charming Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro.

It was the final official leg of the book tour for The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory. I read two stories and we heard from six other authors, including our dynamic co-editor Anne Anthony. Each one of us had the opportunity to speak about what inspired our stories, which made the event particularly interesting. Want your own copy?  Order it here.

Interested in learning more about the exciting form of flash fiction? Sign up for one of two daylong workshops I’m leading this fall at Central Carolina Community College.

September 22, 2018: Flash Fiction Bootcamp. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this class, you’ll have five finished pieces. Bring your favorite writing gear (notebook and pen/pencil or laptop) and get ready for some prompts, new inspirations, and instant feedback. Atten-hut!

October 13, 2018: Flash Fiction: Revision and Publication. Now that you’ve written your first flash fictions, you’re ready to show them off! Bring a story of your own and learn how to revise, prepare and submit it for publication in online or print magazines, and how later to create a book-length collection and find publishers.

We’ll talk more about craft elements soon, such as the importance of a title…..