Write a spooky tale!

Last week, I learned that my narrative poem, “Orchard #9,” was accepted for publication by Coffin Bell for January 2018. This cherriespoem features a romp through a haunted cherry orchard and an encounter with a waif-sprite with a fondness for sweet cherries.

With 100 lines, “Orchard #9” is much longer than most poems, so I’m very fortunate (and so grateful!) that a journal would make a home for it. It helped that Coffin Bell seeks writing that explores dark themes, as they say, outside traditional horror. For their next issue, they’re seeking tales of magic. Might you have a story to share?

This is a time of revision as well as creation for me. I’ve been writing a couple of spooky stories that have been haunting my brain for some time. It feels good to liberate these “ghosts!”

There are plenty of stories dwelling in the rational already.  Why not push the boundaries and write about the unexplained? Your story doesn’t have to be about ghosts; it can be about the day your GPS led you to take a wrong turn that resulted in an unexpected adventure. The day that a fortune cookie turned out to be oddly prescient. Or how you meet a stranger who seems to be someone you knew before.

Turn to the masters for inspiration. “Cara” by Georgia Panghorn and “The Ghostly Rental” by Henry James  are older works that I recently discovered and enjoyed. More recent writers include Shirley Jackson (“The Daemon Lover” and “The Beautiful Stranger”) and William Trevor, who also wrote his share of spooky stories (“The Raising of Elvira Tremlett” and “The Love of a Good Woman” for example). And, of course, anything by Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always loved “The Black Cat.”

There’s also a host of contemporary writers you can find in journals like Coffin Bell who focus on the supernatural and the mysterious. Check out Volume 1, Issue 3  for great stories by Michael Grantham, Tihana Romanić, Katrina Hays, and much more.

And then write your own! So, when  you see all those enticing calls for “spooky stories” around Halloween (or beyond), you’ll be ready. It will be as if you dreamed it. 😉

 

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Mighty Ant Anthology now available!

might antIn May, I participated in the “Story A Day” challenge to draft a new story each day of the month. Several of these stories turned out to be flash pieces and four were accepted for publication by Jessica Bryan, the editor of the Mighty Ant Anthology, Short Stories for Seniors, which is now available on Amazon. The book features flash fiction intended for adults suffering from dementia, memory impairment, and those with compromised attention spans.

Here’s a rundown of my stories:

  • “Lavender and Lilies” — based on a prompt featuring a mythological love triangle resolved through clever debate (Thank you, Fred White, author of The Daily Reader).
  • “While Planning the 55th Reunion of the Class of ’63, Kathryn Hunsucker Has a Conniption Fit.” You guessed it, this was inspired, albeit loosely, by my husband’s own high school reunion. Shhhh!
  • “A Cup of Sugar” — the tale of a sleepwalking baker who runs out of sugar at midnight. You might want to lock your doors tonight–or at least latch your pantry.
  •  “Eula Dare Hampton Agrees to Edit the Quaker Ladies’ Cookbook” (a shorter version of the same story that won third prize in the Carolina Woman Writing Contest and Honorable Mention in Women on Writing).

But this is just a taste of the stories (both fiction and nonfiction) offered. Anyone loving a good yarn will savor the title story (and others) by Editor Jessica Bryan, as well as stories from my writer-friends Mary Barnard and Anne Kissel and many others. The ant theme is woven beautifully throughout the book, delivering crumb after crumb of literary satisfaction.

Proceeds from the book will support The Chatham Council on Aging, so I encourage you to check it out and order your copy today.

 

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!

 

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?