Tag Archives: internet

Braving the Slush Pile in Pittsboro!

Slush PileOur mission was brutal. The email from Al Manning, the head of Pittsboro Writers’ Morning Out went something like this:

Pretend you’re an editor of a prestigious publishing house. It’s Friday afternoon. You’ve had a busy week and you’re still staring at a stack of unsolicited manuscripts–the dreaded Slush Pile. You’re tired and you want to go home. You’ll raise your hand as soon as you hear something that would cause you to reject the manuscript in front of you.

Yesterday I had the honor of serving as a panelist (along with writers Ron Voigts and Judith Stanton) at the 3rd Annual Slush Pile event at the Pittsboro Writers’ Morning Out meeting. As we listened to the 300 words submitted anonymously by the brave ten writers who participated, we agreed, disagreed, and agreed to disagree on the elements that would cause a busy editor to move to the next manuscript in the pile.

And that’s what editors do. What I liked most about a manuscript didn’t necessarily appeal to the other panelists and vice versa. It goes without saying that writing submitted to an editor shouldn’t contain typos or grammatical errors; these are easily caught by a diligent proofreader. We truly didn’t see many of these–the majority of the manuscripts we reviewed were quite polished and free from pesky errors of this nature.

To help, I’ll share what resonated the most with our panel in terms of style. The manuscripts we “rescued” from the slush pile shared four basic elements:

  • Strong opening–and this includes the title!
  • Engaging and unique characters. What’s your character’s point of view?
  • A good blend of exposition and action. And by action, I also mean dialogue.
  • Conflict and tension. What’s at stake for your character? Why should we care?

Above all else, if you’re writing, submitting, and braving a very real slush pile, it’s most important that you NEVER despair. Don’t give up. Editors are, after all, human and have their own peculiarities as far as taste and style. So, if you find yourself drifting in a slush pile, pull out that manuscript days (or weeks!) later, and view it with fresh eyes.

And as you revise your work and prepare to share it with the world, please consider joining me for your choice of two separate workshops in 2020 on the subject of submission. We’ll talk about revisions, cover letters, markets, and much, much more.

Check out my Events page for more information and how to register.

 

Hello July: Berries, Weeds…and a Lunar Eclipse!

blackberrySummer 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!

Ashley

 

 

Fun with fleas

fleasIf you’ve ever skimmed through Living Social and chuckled at the ways people spend money online–such as flea control–you might like my new parody: “Living Social Shopping Cart of Your Vindictive Ex-Girlfriend.”

It’s up today at The Disappointed Housewife, an uber cool literary magazine showcasing idiosyncratic and offbeat writing.

And if you’re interested in reading and writing humor, you might also like my recent interview on the Women on Writing website (scroll to Tuesday, December 18, 2018). Here I discuss the inspiration behind my short story “Dear Derinda.”

When you think about humor, consider the words of George Saunders, a fearless yet compassionate humorist.  He said: “Humor is what happens when we’re told the truth much quicker and more directly than we’re used to.”

The lesson here? When writing humor, you can definitely exaggerate and use hyperbole, but you can also tell the truth!

 

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!

 

Did the Internet Kill the Imagination?

Image“Why do some months have 30 days and some have 31?” I mused recently to my husband. “I don’t  know,” he said, followed by the growing catch phrase of the new century. “Why don’t you just Google it?” 

For information fiends and those with eternally curious minds such as mine, the Internet appeared to be a godsend. You can find out about nearly anything. Simple questions (“Did they ever find Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s plane?) and their answers (they think so, it may be in the Mediterranean) lead to a never-ending network of more, more, more. Was his plane shot down by the Germans? Did he really read novels and fly at the same time? What else is in the Mediterranean? Who else died at a young age? Is Tommy Bradford from Eight is Enough still alive? You get my point.

Sadly, in my obsessive quest for information, I’ve even found myself thinking that if something is not on the Internet…it must not be that important. Stop, stop! And this is what I don’t like about the Internet. There’s no filter and there’s absolutely no space for your imagination. Information is not knowledge and the Internet crowds your brain with useless (and many times, untrue) esoterica that leave no room for wonder.

For the record, I haven’t Googled the history of why months have more days than others. I’d rather ponder that question for a bit. Maybe the western calendar was created by a superstitious druid who measured the days of each month based on the droplets of wax that flowed from his candle on any given night. Or maybe March was a bad month for him and he just thought that April ought to be shorter.