Tag Archives: short stories

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.

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Wrapping up the Story a Day challenge

I did it! Foblack raspberryr each day of May, I drafted a story every morning. This means I ended up with 31 rough drafts, more than enough to see me through a summer and fall of solid writing.

It wasn’t as easy as picking black raspberries, but I’m so glad I did it.  Most of the stories are still rough drafts but I now have at least 10 viable starts to longer pieces. And yes, looking back, there’s a little bit of “chaff” that may never see the light of day. Uh, what was I thinking?

So how did I do it? In the beginning, I leaned heavily on writing prompts from other sources. One of my more finished pieces is based on a mythological story–a love triangle resolved through clever debate (Thank you, Fred White, author of The Daily Reader.). Another one is based on a prompt from Story A Day, Write a Letter (Thank you, Julie Duffy).  I also pulled out a few latent ideas of my own that I’d been hoarding. Many ideas, however, seemed to just spawn themselves, a freaky synthesis of my own experience and writing mind, if that makes sense. One idea ended up yielding two separate stories!

Having worked on longer pieces for so long, I was a little out of the habit of generating new ideas. So I found the discipline of this effort extremely useful. As they say, we first make our habits, and then our habits make us. Not surprisingly, the more you write, the more ideas you get.

I also managed to make a little jam (strawberry and early peach). And yes, as another reward, I’ll  be treating myself to William Trevor’s collection of last stories very soon. And for now, I’ll be revising, revising, revising….

 

 

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!

 

Inspirations from a Quilt

What could be more soothing than the sound of the washing machine churning, churning, washing away….my dog’s tail thudding against the wall when he hears me walk back into the room…wind chimes, almost from another world, clanging in a gentle morning wind….and the touch of a new quilt, softened by the work and care of a dear friend.

Tquilt.jpgoday I reflect back on yesterday’s visit from my beloved writing friends Mary and Ruth, who came for lunch but brought a cornucopia of my favorite things  — a book of stories from Shirley Jackson, articles, their own precious stories, clean jars ready for canning, and the highlight– a beautiful quilt designed and hand-stitched by Mary herself.

I’m still both awed and humbled. It’s made from squares of heathered purple and accented with strips of beautiful complementary fabrics, modern and traditional with botanical accents. Each of the purple squares is accented with four French knots, which reminds me of my mother, who used to crewel and first showed me that stitch. Mary says the quilt is a marquis-inspired pattern and it is truly unique and something I will cherish to the end of my days.

Twenty-three days into May, and with 23 draft stories under my belt, I’m over the hump but I’m grateful for the inspiration and sustenance of the idea of a quilt. What powers our stories could be considered a “virtual quilt” of its own — memories, scraps of conversation, images, noble truths. What holds the quilt together is that dynamic, fluid, yet mysterious force of imagination. Your imagination will be there in the beginning, during the heady flush of a new idea — and it will also be there as you revise, in the days before a story truly comes to life.

Not all drafts are equal but I’m hopeful that I’ll end up with at least 10 viable drafts to revise throughout the year. More importantly, however, I hope to reinforce enough good habits to last a lifetime. As a reward, I plan to splurge on the last book of stories by William Trevor, a man who might indeed be the heir to our Chekhov. In the meantime, my new quilt and memories of yesterday shall guide my boat.

Flash Fiction Marathon Weekend…

ashley-reading

Photo, Mary Barnard

What a weekend! From spending time with other writers and supporters, to reading and writing, this past weekend was a veritable smorgasbord of literary delights. Can we just repeat this entire weekend, please? Pretty please?*

First, on Friday, I was honored to help launch The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, a book of 60 flash fiction stories from 49 writers across the globe at a special event at Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, where I joined a panel of area writers to read from our own contributions. The book is edited by Cathleen O’Connor and Anne Anthony (a poet also, by the way, who is on fire these days!).

audienceNow available on Amazon (and a best seller, no less!), the book includes three of my stories, and I chose to read “Saving Cedric,” a piece I first drafted during a class led by Ruth Moose at Central Carolina Community College! And what a surprise it was to see her there, along with dear friends/mentors Mary Barnard, Linda Johnson (another author!),  Allison Legge, and Martin Eagle. It was truly a magical night, in more ways than one! It was a full house.

The very next day, bright and early I must say, we drove to CCCC in Pittsboro, where I led a six-hour workshop on the vibrant form itself–short, short fiction averaging 750 words or less. We had 13 participants, dynamic women (plus one very special man!) who each had compelling stories and imaginations to draw from. With fresh brownies and warm banana bread in hand (thank you Mary and Ruth), we read current and past examples of flash fiction, then tried our hand at our own, and everyone ended up with at least three drafts of solid work in progress. They also, I hope, ended up with a valuable “DIY” kit for future inspiration.

The feedback was immediate — and for this I am so grateful — and due to popular demand, yes, yes, yes, we will be doing this again in the fall. We will likely have two sessions and this time, we’ll carve out a segment on revising and submitting for publication.

For more information, please stay tuned. As a teaser, we’ll soon be posting actual samples from the class for our “Photograph” prompt along with the images themselves. Fun, fun! Let the momentum continue….

* Calls to mind a favorite poem of mine by Carl Dennis, titled “Repetition” in the Colorado Review, 2015.  Marvelous idea, even better poem.

 

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.

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.