Mark Your Calendar: A Workshop on Flash Fiction!

flash fiction

“A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl of love or loss….” Robert Olen Butler

On Friday, I was honored to learn that 3 stories of mine were accepted by Anchala Studios for an upcoming anthology called Flash Memory. It’s a collection of flash fiction intended for memory-impaired readers, but the book may appeal to anyone who has limited time and just needs a quick fix of fiction (might this be you?). Stay tuned for the details.

I’ve written about flash fiction and its growing popularity before, for both readers and especially writers. I’ll actually be leading a workshop for Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on this very topic on Saturday, March 3, 2018 from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Flash fiction stories (usually 750 words or less) are irresistible, savory nuggets of human experience at your fingertips. Opportunities for writing and publishing are better than ever. Participants will read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a “kit” for future inspiration. Bonus: The editors of Flash Memory have also kindly agreed to share with me some of the insights they gained while reviewing and selecting these stories, and I plan to share their wisdom during the workshop.

Interested? Registration deadlines will be available soon at the CCCC website.

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The Passing of a Storyteller

trevorpicture

Yesterday I learned that the celebrated Irish author William Trevor passed away at the noble age of 88.  The world will undoubtedly mourn the passage of a veritable literary lion—the recipient of nearly every major literary prize except, regrettably, the Nobel—but it is a true personal loss for me. Not just as a writer, and his influence on my writing has been immeasurable but even having never met the man I owe him a tremendous debt as a person.

How many times have I retreated to his world of extraordinary “ordinary” characters? I still do. In fact, it was inside the pages of his hundreds of short stories that I began to truly accept my own flaws and embrace my quirkiness. In doing so, I found that my compassion for my fellow misfits in the world deepened. His words have made me cry and laugh  – the belly-aching kind – the best therapy of all. It is no exaggeration to say that this man saved me thousands of dollars in psychotherapy, I’m sure.

Although he wrote 14 novels, as masterful as they are, he is most revered for his short stories. “Raymond Bamber and Mrs. Fitch” and “A Complicated Nature” are two of my favorites, or at least they come to mind right now, for their Trevoresque blend of humor and pathos. “Access to the Children,” “Her Mother’s Daughter, and “A Wedding in the Garden” are three more poignant stories. And thanks to his inimitable variety, Trevor crafted unforgettable stories of quiet horror that resonate deeply, such as “Miss Smith,” “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” and “The Teddy-bears’ Picnic.” More recent collections yielded other small masterpieces such as “A Bit on the Side,” “Marrying Damian,” and “Sacred Statutes.” This last story earned him one of his four O’Henry Prizes, a nice little connection to North Carolina, since this award is named after a native son also famous for his short stories! The list goes on and on.

While I will mourn this man, as is his due, I will not descend into tearful blubbery. I will not. I cannot. His works have brought me such joy, consolation, and communion with my fellow humans that my overriding emotion is one of gratitude.

“My fiction may, now and again, illuminate aspects of the human condition, but I do not consciously set out to do so,” Trevor told one interviewer in a story posted by the Associated Press yesterday. “I am a storyteller.”

From one storyteller to another, I thank you, Mr. William Trevor, pardon me, Sir William Trevor, for all that you mean to me.

An Evening with George Saunders!

ImageTonight my friend Nancy and I had the pleasure of meeting George Saunders, National Book Award Finalist, Guggenheim winner, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He spoke at Duke University. My head is still swimming with the experience, but I had to share a quick picture and my overall impression of the man who was named by Time magazine as one of the “World’s Most Influential People.”

It’s a rare experience to meet someone so brilliant yet so self-effacing and humble. His wisdom to his fellow writers was simple and pithy. Push yourself over the rapids and don’t shy away from writing about things that trouble you. And there’s nothing wrong with humor in literature! If you’re funny in life, your writing should reflect your personality.

He also spoke of his writing influences, which were esoteric to say the least: Esther Forbes, Monty Python, Chekhov, even the rock group Styx! He and I chatted for a few moments while he signed my copy of Tenth of December about the importance of memory to the writer, and his ability to bring his own characters to life by recalling his own experiences in similar situations. I’ll close by saying that I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life! Thank you Nancy!

P.S. If you haven’t read Tenth of December, his short story collection, I highly recommend it. Try “Victory Lap”, a story he read tonight that is at turns both humorous and gripping.

Inspiration from Flannery

I’m sorry for the long hiatus from the blogosphere but it’s been a busy few months with a lot of change! First, the publication of Born Again, Dead Again, has been put on hiatus. My previous publisher has decided to scale back the number of novels they release next year, and unfortunately, my second book was one of those casualties.

However, in my typical glass-half full approach, I decided retreat into the best refuge known to writers — the refuge of the mind. After a busy year filled with marketing and promoting Naked and Hungry, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to focus solely on my writing and the joys that the act itself brings to my life. With the help of a wonderful group of Pittsboro writer friends, I’m rediscovering my love of short stories, which, ironically, is what led me to write a novel in the first place. I’ve also enrolled in a class taught by celebrated local author Ruth Moose and am having a blast.

In between penning new stories, I’ve also embarked on an independent study of the works and philosophy of Flannery O’Connor, one of the icons of Southern literature. She is also the author of “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” one of the greatest short works ever penned.

Yesterday, I came across a great quote from her. Drawing upon the wisdom of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, she writes that “fiction writing is something in which the whole personality takes part — the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted in the whole personality.”

I discovered this gem last night when trying to explain to my son where writers find their inspiration. As for me, my ideas come from real life but they only sprout into stories once that idea has lain semi-dormant in the unconscious mind. I say semi-dormant because as I discovered in Imagine, the right hemisphere is never really dormant. The habit of writing is also important, as Lehrer would certainly concur, because true creativity occurs at the end of hard work.

So what’s next for me? In between my writing pursuits, I’m planning a journey to Andalusia in Milledgeville, Ga., Flannery’s homesite in the not-so-distant future. l’ll also be speaking at the N.C. Writers’ Network Fall Conference on November 3 in Cary on a more practical topic, writing for the internet. In the meantime, because many of you write, I welcome your thoughts on the joys of the writing life.