Tag Archives: creative writing

A Story a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!

strawberry.jpgHappy Summer! It’s technically spring but it sure feels like summer in North Carolina! And the great news–besides a bed of strawberries now ripening daily–is that there are myriad things to write about. I decided to take Julie Duffy up on her creative challenge to actually draft a new story each day. I’m having a blast, and I hope, keeping the doctor away.

Here’s what I do. I rise first thing in the morning, and before the whirlwind of the day takes over (walking the dogs, eating breakfast, or painting shelves), I give my unconscious mind free rein. Yes, I do have an idea in mind, taken from an ongoing list, but I try not to think about it too much until I actually put words to the screen. It’s a crazy thing. The more I write, the more new ideas spring up.

As a matter of fact, we went to the flea market this morning, which is the writer’s equivalent of paradise. I often joke with friends that I’d love to one day lead a workshop where I take my fellow writers to Sophia, to the flea market off Highway 311. Among the ripe mangoes, rose and hibiscus plants, old books, movies and the strange assortment of someone else’s odds and ends, there is a plethora of random and intriguing conversation.

  • “There you go, getting all cynical again!” said a vendor, possibly to a long-time customer.
  • “She’s not really a people person,” said a little girl when we asked to pet the Dachshund puppy in a stroller. (Would it be a “people dog?” Not sure. :))
  • “Do you know where Bulgaria is?” asked a man in response to my question about his accent.

Today I bought a picture from 1908, when people printed images and mailed them as postcards. Where else can you find such a thing from more than 100 years ago? I’m sure that gem will also be a prompt of some sort in the future.

We’re almost halfway through the month, and I’ve drafted stories about a baker, a university town that pays its residents for their dreams, and two bickering sisters who accidentally leave their aging mother at a rest-stop. They may not all pan out as complete stories but as the writer Ray Bradbury once said: “Write a story every week. It’s impossible to end up with 52 bad stories.”

Here’s hoping your writer’s garden blooms with inspiration!

 

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Flash Memoir!

There are so many exciting literary forms available these days that it (almost) makes a creative writer scratch her head before penning a new piece. Found poetry, lost poetry, nanofiction, six-word stories, speculative memoir, you name it.

The cousin of one of my most favorite forms (flash fiction) is the emerging form of flash memoir. And there are countless markets for these short, true-to-life stories that can end up connecting people across time and space. And the good news is that you can earn money for these stories.

Here’s one way to get started. Make a list of ten of the most exciting or momentous things that ever happened to you. Choose the one experience that speaks the most to you and recount it in fewer than 500 words. Just write it in the same way as you’d tell the story to a friend. It’s that simple.

One of my husband’s pieces (with a photo) was just published in the May issue of Carolina Country, a local print and online magazine mailed to over 2 million people in the rural electric cooperatives across North Carolina.  Ever the reluctant author, Johnpaul told me he doesn’t have time to sign autographs right now. He’s too busy installing the floor of our library.

Read the story of the paperboy and the piano teacher here.

 

Flash Photograph! Two Sisters in Sepia

two girls_edited1000 Words

From the shoulders up we are nearly the same, our corseted torsos in similar stiff poses. Your glossy brown hair is arranged in the same pouffy waves of fat rolls as mine. Those little girl bows, made from Momma’s scraps of white satin, forever perched on top; yours on the left, mine always on the right, as if our heads were presents to be opened. Our small gold lapel watches came from Mason’s on the square, Daddy’s gift to all his girls when they turned sixteen. They shine a bit in the old photograph, the only light on those dark, heavy dresses, holding time still.

Our eyes look the same of course; generations of Jackson women reflected in that sideways glance, left brows slightly raised, as if always asking. Same noses, familiar cheekbones but a subtle difference, perhaps, hinted at around our mouths. We were so close, this worn picture says, the best of friends, two serenely smiling, secret sharing, sepia sisters.

Locked in two dimensions, only I know what lived below the spotted grey paper frame’s oval window; your sharp little fingers, curled in a claw, pinching my compliant arm.

A. Kissel
‘DIY’ Flash Fiction Class: 03-03-18

Editor’s Note: Masterful. Though the title of this piece is “1,000 words,” a play on the old expression about a photograph being worth 1,000 words, the author succinctly captured the essence of this image in just 212! Make note of the ending. Here her imagination truly soared as she projected “beyond the photograph” and delivered conflict and tension, so essential to effective flash. Bravo!

Stay tuned for more exciting stories from our March 3rd flash fiction class at Central Carolina Community College. I’ll post these regularly. And let your own mind wander a bit. Dream. Imagine how this one-of-a-kind Creative Writing Program can help your own imagination take flight.

Flash Fiction Marathon Weekend…

ashley-reading

Photo, Mary Barnard

What a weekend! From spending time with other writers and supporters, to reading and writing, this past weekend was a veritable smorgasbord of literary delights. Can we just repeat this entire weekend, please? Pretty please?*

First, on Friday, I was honored to help launch The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, a book of 60 flash fiction stories from 49 writers across the globe at a special event at Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, where I joined a panel of area writers to read from our own contributions. The book is edited by Cathleen O’Connor and Anne Anthony (a poet also, by the way, who is on fire these days!).

audienceNow available on Amazon (and a best seller, no less!), the book includes three of my stories, and I chose to read “Saving Cedric,” a piece I first drafted during a class led by Ruth Moose at Central Carolina Community College! And what a surprise it was to see her there, along with dear friends/mentors Mary Barnard, Linda Johnson (another author!),  Allison Legge, and Martin Eagle. It was truly a magical night, in more ways than one! It was a full house.

The very next day, bright and early I must say, we drove to CCCC in Pittsboro, where I led a six-hour workshop on the vibrant form itself–short, short fiction averaging 750 words or less. We had 13 participants, dynamic women (plus one very special man!) who each had compelling stories and imaginations to draw from. With fresh brownies and warm banana bread in hand (thank you Mary and Ruth), we read current and past examples of flash fiction, then tried our hand at our own, and everyone ended up with at least three drafts of solid work in progress. They also, I hope, ended up with a valuable “DIY” kit for future inspiration.

The feedback was immediate — and for this I am so grateful — and due to popular demand, yes, yes, yes, we will be doing this again in the fall. We will likely have two sessions and this time, we’ll carve out a segment on revising and submitting for publication.

For more information, please stay tuned. As a teaser, we’ll soon be posting actual samples from the class for our “Photograph” prompt along with the images themselves. Fun, fun! Let the momentum continue….

* Calls to mind a favorite poem of mine by Carl Dennis, titled “Repetition” in the Colorado Review, 2015.  Marvelous idea, even better poem.

 

March on to Great Flash Fiction….

ashley-reading.jpg

Read along with me and march into 60 vignettes filled with memorable characters and unexpected plots that fill an emotional landscape.

A North Carolina spring can be capricious. Whether it’s a late frost or an unseasonable surge of hot weather, she likes practical jokes. But even when it’s good, it seems spring is all too brief.

So why not prolong the season by celebrating flash fiction? After all, this emerging literary form is as joyous as a North Carolina spring. It’s short, it’s refreshing, and it’s simply irresistible…..so let’s “march” on to some great flash fiction….

As a reminder, on Friday, March 2, just in time for the Read Across America campaign, Anchala Studios, headed by Anne Anthony and Cathleen O’Connor, will be launching The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory!  I’ve been honored to be invited to read, along with other featured contributors, at the launch event on March 2 at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough. It will run from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Not only can you buy a copy of the book here, you can also enjoy refreshments and fellowship! Food + friends + a great book = smiles all around. For more details on this event and others, check out the recently updated website.

Now that you’re inspired, why not “march” ahead and write your own flash fiction? You can get a jump start by observing all that’s going on around you. What trees are starting to bud? Are your jonquils popping up? What memories does spring provoke for you? The best stories are a blend of fact and fiction. As Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, the authors of What If? (one of my favorite writing books) say: “It’s not just what you know, however, it’s how you see it, shape it, and enhance it with your imagination.”

 

 

Welcome Breath O’Spring!

breath of springIn spite of wintry weather, these lovely branches of “breath o’spring” are flowering. We brought these into our house when they were fat with buds, but they may be blooming in the wild very soon as well. I wish you could smell them. In my poetry, I’ve described the scent as “lemon and vanilla riding on the breeze that blows through a pine forest after rain” but my words fall far short of the real thing…..

What’s perking you up about spring?  The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory will be out in the world in just one month — March 2 — and I’ve been honored to be invited, along with other featured authors, to give a reading at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill on March 24.

And on March 3, as many of you know, I’ll be leading a workshop at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on how to craft your own flash fiction.  The class is full, but if you’re interested, please, please keep checking the registration page to see if any cancellations arise and for a future date of a repeat event. Due to high interest, I’m hoping to give it again, perhaps in the fall.

Leading a workshop brings me great joy, for many reasons. First, I get to spend time with people who love writing as much as I do, and second, I find the experience enormously stimulating as a writer. Right now, even as I plan for the class, I’m polishing up a number of short stories of my own and submitting “late-blooming” poetry.

Last year, I wrote one poem each day in the month of April as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project. A handful of these recently made it to the second round of consideration in a national poetry competition (note the positive phrasing here — I did not say rejected :), so I plan on continuing to revise and submit until they find a home.

Here’s wishing a great start to  your own spring. For inspiration, read what fellow writer, Arthur Plotnik, author of  8 books, including Spunk and Bite, a contemporary writing guide (and one of my favorites) has to say: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

 

What’s Buried in Your Winter Garden?

broccoliImagine my surprise when discovering that our broccoli plants had survived the six inches of snow that covered them for several days. After the thaw, I peeled away the dead, soggy leaves and lo and behold, check out this bright green head.

This lesson — never give up hope —  was reinforced when a short story, Running with the Bulls, was recently accepted by the editors of the 2018 Hardball Times Annual. This story was written almost 4 years ago, many years after the events inspiring the story first occurred. (A belated thank-you goes to Jonathan and Robert for their help with this piece.)

Do you have any old stories or poems that never found a home? If so, dust them off and see if any new markets have emerged that might be crying out for your work. Additionally, consider re-thinking any longer stories that might be shortened. While it’s not a true flash fiction, coming in at 2,440 words, Running with the Bulls underwent many revisions through the years, and every time, surprise, surprise, it ended up being shorter and shorter.

These days, I’m also taking a new look at older pieces, particularly poems. Because I’m primarily a narrative poet, I have plenty of work that might work for flash fiction. This is one of the strategies we’ll be covering at my March 3rd workshop on the exciting field of flash. Interested? Visit the CCCC website and reserve your seat today.

In the meantime, never give up hope. Is there broccoli in your garden? As a dear friend and mentor once told me, and this wisdom never fails to inspire me: A good story will always find a home.