Tag Archives: Shirley Jackson

Be a Shape Shifter!

little puss

What do you see in the magical coat of Little Puss? Evil snowman or smiling panda bear? This tricky feline is a shape shifter!

What’s your favorite genre, someone recently asked me. Poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays? My answer: All of them!

The longer I write, the more I’ve learned that the various writing genres are not mutually exclusive. The same solid idea that sparked a short story could easily morph into an essay or a poem. Especially if you still have curiosity about the topic. So why limit yourself to just one form? Be like Little Puss, a shape shifter!

Case in point. Shirley Jackson. This renowned writer didn’t just pen short stories and novels; she also wrote essays and even drew cartoons! Here’s another:  Vladimir Nabokov. He wrote stories, novels, poetry and his nonfiction memoir, Speak Memory, is a model for any writer in terms of craft. Dorothy Parker: poetry, stories, book reviews. And Tennessee Williams wrote much of the above and even took playwriting to another level by tackling screenplays.

Shakespeare was also a notorious shape shifter, excelling in every form available at the time. If he lived today, in addition to the plays and poetry, he’d probably dash out a sitcom or two, don’t you think?

Shape shifting is also more efficient. In my case, my essay “Eulogy of a Northern Red Oak” eventually turned into a poem. It’s essentially a condensed form of the same essay but with unusual line breaks and intentional omissions, the sadness of the topic–the loss of our natural habitat–is exacerbated. The poem was named a finalist in the 2019 Poet Laureate Competition and will be published in “Waiting for the Wood Thrush,” my first poetry collection by Finishing Line Press in November.

As I plunder through my old writing projects, I’m continuing to “shift shapes.” Or is it “shape shift” ? Maybe I’ll breathe new life into an old essay and turn it into a short story. And I think I have a poem or two that might work as a short story….humm….let the magic begin!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

First cherries, first lines

cherriesOut of our four young cherry trees, we ended up with just a handful of tart cherries this year. Our Montmorency tree (left), the first one we planted three years ago, yielded the most fruit.

The first line of a story should be as memorable as the taste of a tart cherry–tangy, sweet, then tangy again. It’s almost lemony, but there’s something else–the flavor of early summer, morning breezes, balmy nights, the eerie song of the wood thrush in the hollow.

“One fine evening the no less fine office manager Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov was sitting in the second row of the stalls, watching The Bells of Corneville through opera glasses.” (Anton Chekhov, The Death of a Clerk)

“Miss Matt was at least partially conscious that she looked like the teacher everyone has had for English in first-year high school; she was small and pretty, in a rice-powder fashion, with a great mass of soft dark hair that tried to stay on top of her head and straggled instead down over her ears; her voice was low and turned pleading instead of sharp; any presentable fourteen-year-old bully could pass her course easily.” (Shirley Jackson, The Sorceror’s Apprentice)

“Hazel Morse was a large, fair woman of the type that incites some men when they use the word ‘blonde’ to click their tongues and wag their heads roguishly.” (Dorothy Parker, Big Blonde)

Does your first sentence sing with vivid language? Mystery and intrigue? Does it draw your reader deeper? As I revise the stories I drafted this past month, I’ll be cognizant of the work of the masters in the first sentences of their stories, as quoted above. There’s a trick here, and these authors do it. That first sentence must hint at the plot and the universal truth (or unique vision) that caused the author to write the story in the first place.

As we approach the end of my story-drafting blitz this month, (three more to go!) I was delighted to receive a note from the editors of  The Birds We Piled Loosely, a hip online literary magazine, that they accepted two of my short humor flashes: “Etymology in the Neighborhood” and “We Are So Very Sorry” for their July issue.

Come to think of it, submitting work for publication is also a bit like growing cherries in the south. It’s unpredictable, a little scary, (will a late frost hurt those flower buds?) but the scarcity makes the few cherries you do harvest that much more delicious. So keep it up…both the cherry growing and submitting!