Summer is here. No question. The dog days of August arrived early this year. Trust me. With two canines lying flat on their sides on the cool concrete of the porch, too enervated to even wag their tails at me, I know it’s true.
I can’t complain too much. After all, July is my birthday month (the 6th!) AND our anniversary month (the 7th!) and…. the month of berries and freestone peaches. Hurray! July also brings back that cherished, although awkward, memory of the lunar eclipse of 1982. Anybody else remember that? I boiled down that long-ago experience into an ultrashort flash essay that Mental Papercuts just kindly published in their Issue 1.5, Weird Summer Vibes. If you’re hankering for wildly creative, off-the-wall summer stories that may bring back memories of your own, please check it out.
Three poems of mine also appeared today, more writing inspired by the summer. “What the Weeds in My Yard Taught Me About Social Justice” and “September Raspberry” bloomed in the Summer 2019 issue of Gyroscope Review. And “Pulling Up the Wild Blackberry Bushes” just unfurled in the July issues of the gorgeous O.Henry and Pinestraw magazines, both of which are distributed in locations across the state.
As a reminder to all my writer friends, July also marks the halfway point for what we hope will be a productive year of writing. Now’s the time to start penning, gulp, other seasonal pieces (think: Halloween and Christmas) and most importantly, setting goals to improve.
Chinese fortune cookies are fun, not always prescient, but they can be surprisingly profound. Here’s one just for you. Of all our human resources, the most precious is our desire to improve.
So what are you doing to get better? For me, it means leading two workshops this summer at The Joyful Jewel because I learn as much, if not more, from my fellow workshop participants as they do from me! It also means taking a memoir class led by Dorit Sasson through Women on Writing, my favorite space for online writing classes.
I’m a little nervous because I’m new to the field of memoir (and a beginner in the world of creative nonfiction) but the good news is that I’ve got lots to learn. This means I’ll never be bored!
Stay cool, eat your berries, and set your own improvement goals!
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!
It’s snowing in the Uwharries today, on the second day of April no less! Big sloppy flakes drifting down like tiny snow angels. Or, according to my husband, who sees “Dick Tracy snowflakes with big black lines around them.”
Whatever you see, these little bits of wintry precipitation (mixed with sleet) are a bit of a surprise this spring. They’re coating the surface of our bamboo like a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. No yard work today after all. Instead, I’m dreaming ahead to Saturday, April 13, when I’ll lead round 2 of our Flash Fiction Bootcamp at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.
I’m especially excited about this class because we’ll have a special guest! My son Dashiel, named for a writer himself (minus one “l” in the name) will be visiting from New York and sitting at the table with us. It will be fun to see what stories he conjures up, based on the singular experience of living in the “Big City.”
Our prompts this time will be brand new and guaranteed to fire your imagination. From writing from a dog’s (or cat, to be fair) point of view to using the innovative N + 7 French method of writing a couple of sentences and replacing every noun with the seventh in a dictionary, these story starters may just be the creative nudge you need for that latent story swimming around in your head. And as usual, I’ll also share a collection of my favorite litmags and contests so that those who wish to revise and see their work in print may pursue these avenues on their own.
For more information, and how to register, see below. In the meantime, cuddle up with a mug of hot chocolate, a good book, and a notebook of your own…..
Saturday, April 13 from 9.a.m – 3 p.m. – Flash Fiction Bootcamp II Workshop. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this workshop, you’ll have five finished stories. (This workshop is a continuation of the popular Flash Fiction Bootcamp I) but is open to new as well as returning students and features entirely new prompts and readings. Atten-hut! Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program in Pittsboro, N.C. Register here. or by calling (919) 545-8044.
Just today I learned that my flash fiction “Aunt Zelia’s Untested Wild Cherry Love Potion” earned honorable mention in the Fall 2018 Women on Writing Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest!
In this tale of “love gone wrong-maybe gone right-with a little magic” I tried my best to infuse the language with highly sensuous details. It helps that the story includes cherries, my favorite fruit.
When you want to enhance your own writing with lush details from all five senses, try to include references to things that already inspire you. And when you need to add emotional tension, draw from circumstances that stir up your own angst. It’s easy for me to write about young love because I remember those times so vividly and it’s cathartic (at least now!) to return to that highly charged state of passion and bewilderment.
It’s a little early for fruit, but my fledgling cherry trees are getting ready to unfurl new leaves, which hopefully bodes well for this year’s crop. As they fortify themselves, I’ve been planning an exciting lineup of new workshops this spring and summer. With offerings from poetry to flash essays, I’m hoping you’ll find something to stoke your own imagination. Each workshop is designed to help you cull sensory details from your own lives.
Friday, March 15 from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – Jumpstart Your Poetic Imagination at The Joyful Jewel in downtown Pittsboro, N.C. You can find inspiration for poetry everywhere—from the news to artwork to your daily life and memory. We’ll study sample poems and then participate in fun exercises meant to spark your own imagination. Not only will you end up with three new poems of your own, you’ll leave with an inventory of ideas for future works. You may even pen a poem inspired by the stimulating art work on display in The Joyful Jewel and participate in the Visions and Voices Reading on April 14! To register, call The Joyful Jewel, 833-2775, 10:30am-5:30pm Monday through Saturday or Sunday 12pm-4pm. Cost: $50.
Saturday, April 13 from 9.a.m – 3 p.m. – Flash Fiction Bootcamp II. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this workshop, you’ll have five finished stories. (This workshop is a continuation of the popular Flash Fiction Bootcamp I) but is open to new as well as returning students and features entirely new prompts and readings. Atten-hut! Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program in Pittsboro, N.C. Register here. or by calling (919) 545-8044. Cost $50.
Friday, July 12 from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – Flash Fiction Bootcamp I. The Joyful Jewel in downtown Pittsboro, N.C. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this abbreviated workshop, you’ll have at least two finished stories. Bring your favorite writing gear (notebook and pen/pencil or laptop) and get ready for new prompts, new inspiration, and instant feedback. Atten-hut! To register, call The Joyful Jewel, 833-2775, 10:30am-5:30pm Monday through Saturday or Sunday 12pm-4pm. Cost: $50.
Friday, July 26 from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – Flash Creative Nonfiction and Essay. The Joyful Jewel in downtown Pittsboro, N.C. Interested in turning your life experiences into flash memoirs or short essays? Explore this exciting new creative form that brings your experiences to life in a variety of dynamic formats. By the end of this workshop, you’ll have two finished short essays. To register, call The Joyful Jewel, 833-2775, 10:30am-5:30pm Monday through Saturday or Sunday 12pm-4pm. Cost: $50.
Keep checking my events page as I add to this list throughout the season with even more workshops. In the meantime, surround yourself with the things that inspire you the most. Life is short so go ahead and pluck that cherry off the top of your sundae!
At the beginning of every new year, writers tend to think about beginnings–new resolutions, new inspiration and new directions. But as I started new work this month–particularly a story that recently bewildered me–I found myself struggling with endings.
Why are endings so hard? To help, I studied the final sentences of stories I admire.
“She walked up the stairs, tearing the note into tiny pieces that fluttered behind her like confetti.” Laurie Colwin, from “Children, Dogs, and Desperate Women.”
“I still seem to be holding that wisp of iridescence, not knowing exactly where to fit it, while she runs with her hoop ever faster around me and finally dissolves among the slender shadows cast on the graveled path by the interlaced arches of its low looped fence.” Vladimir Nabokov, “First Love.”
“But the pear tree was as lonely as ever and as full of flowers and as still.” Katherine Mansfield, “Bliss.”
“She sat for a while longer, then pulled the curtains back and the day came in. Hers was the ghost the night had brought, in her own image as she once had been.” William Trevor, “Sitting with the Dead.”
I also studied the words of some of my favorite writing teachers. Some say you should return to the beginning of your story and pick up a loose thread there to knot at the end. Others believe you should end on a strong image. John Dufresne, in his wonderful book The Lie That Tells A Truth says this is not the time to give us a moral or a message. “We only need the problem resolved.” And later: “End your story on your best, or second best, line. Don’t write past it. This is the line that echoes in our mind when the story is over.”
Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, in their endlessly inspirational book What If, give a great exercise for endings. “Write one sentence for a story that is in its fourth or fifth draft. Then revise the story to heighten and illuminate this final meaning.”
As challenging as it can be, there is nothing like the inherent joy in writing stories–whether it’s that first sentence or even the title. And this makes the struggle worth it. Sometimes the very thing that’s holding us back IS the solution. One of my favorite philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, said it best: “The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
In my situation, it became very simple. The ending of my story troubled me because I hadn’t gotten the beginning or the middle right. So I had to backtrack a little bit. But when I followed the crumb trail of my original conception–what the story was REALLY about, I found my way home and then, and only then, resolved my story. And then I treated myself to a huge chunk of apple pie!
We’ll be doing a number of writing workshops very soon, where we’ll talk more about endings and everything in between. Stay tuned for the details, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll plan to join me in April for round two of our very popular flash fiction workshops.
Saturday, April 13 – Flash Fiction Boot Camp II Workshop. Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program in Pittsboro, N.C. Register here.