Tag Archives: poetry

Stuck in a rut? Try something new!

buster1.jpgFor Halloween, Buster, our little corgi-mix, decided to try a new look. Born with a hastily-tied white “Ascot” around his neck, he decided to switch things up this year. So he’s preening around in a hot dog bun. Hold the onions, please.

Buster’s transformation got me thinking about the myriad possibilities for writers. Are you stuck in a rut? Is your scarf askew? Sometimes, as we enter a new season–especially after a productive summer of writing–I start getting a little antsy. What’s next?

Like Chekhov, who loved wandering the cherry orchard, it helped me to go outside. On Whale Tail Road, we’re continuing to clean up brush and debris from two hurricanes. And Nature, as always, helped push me out of the rut. And it might help you too!

peppersOur jalapeno peppers truly hit their stride this fall, blessing us with a bountiful crop, even in October. So why not put a little kick in your own writing? When I think of the unexpected, Shirley Jackson always comes to mind. In her short story, The Daemon Lover, the protagonist takes the reader through a labyrinth of suspense. Does her mysterious fiancé exist at all? Can you take your reader on a similar journey? No need to veer into a thriller or horror (unless you want to!), you can actually do a lot by putting the familiar into a new context. Does the trip home, a short walk she has always taken, look a different to your protagonist today? Humm….

loofahGardening constantly surprises–with “volunteer” crops springing up in the most unexpected places. And this year, we had a volunteer loofah plant! When the seeds of last year’s crop fell through the deck, a new vine entwined its way up the retaining wall.

We’ve always loved loofah for its exfoliating qualities, so this, too, sent me on a detour. Like the loofah, all writers should feel free to “scrub off” the dead skin and start anew.

Can you give new life to a dead short story by turning it into a poem? And if that doesn’t work out, consider taking it back to a flash story, a shorter version of what you started with. I’ve had a lot of fun recently working on a short story of mine, “Lost and Found of the Dead,” which has turned into a poem, and then back into a story again.

Writing is the ultimate metamorphosis, when you think about it. What other profession allows you to “slip” into a costume and enter the mindset of someone else? No strings, no responsibilities, and it doesn’t cost a penny. So try something new this season and finish your 2018 writing year strong!

So from Buster and all of us at Whale Tail Road, Happy Halloween, er, make that Happy Transformation!

 

 

 

 

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Fiction and Celebrity Sightings at CCCC

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Dahlias, Courtesy of Ruth Moose

 

Yesterday, a group of fiction devotees met at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro to delve further into a favorite topic: flash!

We talked about revision and the necessity of tantalizing titles and edgy diction (special thanks to Arthur Plotnik, author of Spunk & Bite). Then we covered publication opportunities, including contests, which are great avenues for beginning fiction writers offering prize money…. plus publication!

And of course, back by popular demand, we made time for new writing sessions.

Drawing from a favorite prompt in The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell (“Aunt Dottie Catches the Hankerchief Tossed by Elvis from the Stage of the Sands in Vegas”), we imagined an interaction between a relative and a celebrity and wrote a story about it. From a beloved uncle meeting St. Peter in heaven to a girlfriend running into a famous rock star at Linens N’ Things while buying a toaster, our writers truly soared with this prompt.

So…next time you’re in line at Harris Teeter, and you think the woman in the big sunglasses behind you looks a little like Ann-Margret, don’t waste the moment asking for an autograph. Get out a pen and make notes for a flash fiction instead!

Many thanks to the attendees of all three flash fiction workshops this year (spring and fall). I hope you had as much fun as I did! And whatever you do, be sure and stay posted to this blog for news of future workshops on the exciting and evolving topic of flash fiction.

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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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?

 

Celebrate National Poetry Month!

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance,” said poet Carl Sandburg, North Carolina’s own adopted son. And thanks to Carl’s own creative genius, can you look at the little feet of a cat without thinking of fog? I know I can’t.

How will you celebrate a month-long tribute to the cherished art of poetry? As Lu Chi advises in The Art of Writing, I plan to “draw sustenance from masterpieces of the past.” I’m re-reading some of my favorite poets as well as questing to discover new ones. My go-to source for my daily poetry addiction is Poetry Daily and Rattle.

For more inspirational poetry, check out the website for The Gyroscope Review, which is running a daily interview with a poet published by them in the past. It’s a wonderful series that gives you a peek into the minds and work habits of poets at practice.

And today, for April 8, I’m honored to be the featured poet.

 

 

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.”