Tag Archives: short story

Treat your writing like fine cheese….

gruyere

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best Gruyère cheese–the one earning the lofty “AOP” designation in Switzerland–merges both morning and evening milk.

The poet in me likes to think this means both the cow’s morning cheerfulness and her late afternoon pensiveness swirl into the same vat. It’s more likely that mixing last night’s milk into the morning batch gives a head start to the culturing process. The cheese is then aged five months up to a year, another step which lends Gruyère its trademark complexity–sweet, salty, and nutty.

William Trevor, one of my literary idols, was famous for penning a short story and putting it away for as much as six months before re-reading and revising. Now that takes discipline! It’s also a testament to his productivity. I’m sure he had so many pieces in various stages of production that it never bothered him to shelve something for a time.

Jane Austen is another writer known for her reflection. Pride and Prejudice took many years to write. And this delightful novel started out with the title of “First Impressions.” It was only after months of revision and consideration did she settle on the final name of the book that we all know and love so much today.

Both Trevor and Austen, although very different writers, made a name for themselves through complex characters and subtle humor, two elements that can only flourish with adequate rumination and revision.

The next time you finish a story, poem, or essay, try putting it away for a little while. At least give it a good night’s sleep. Fan those first flames of enthusiasm (morning milk) with a healthy dose of maturation (evening milk). I bet you’ll end up with a final product as nuanced and delicious as Gruyère! Bon Appétit!

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A New York City Ghost Story!

cropped-new-logo-no-wordsMany thanks to the guest judges of The Ginger Collect for naming my short story, “Saturday Night at the Swannanoa,” a Runner-Up in their first-ever Halloween contest. These kind folks also published it online in the just-released Halloween 2018 Mini-Magazine!

If you like eclectic and imaginative stories, I hope you check out this issue for yourself.

This story wouldn’t have been possible without generous input from my son Dashiel, another talented writer, who also happens to be my favorite New Yorker!

Yes, it’s Halloween, but it’s never too early to start on your own spooky stories for next year. Draw some inspiration from the other stories in The Ginger Collect or from your own favorite writers.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

A Night of Storytelling in Pittsboro!

mighty ant reading.jpgFrom tales of raising Rameses (the UNC Mascot ram) to a first Mustang to warm biscuits on a blue Cameron woodstove, last night’s reading from the Mighty Ant Anthology, Short Stories for Seniors, spilled over with fun. It was like a cup of sugar you borrowed from your neighbor, just what you needed to finish a cake. 🙂

Jessica Bryan, the anthology editor and author of several stories in the book, emceed the event and led a scintillating discussion among the panel of writers and attendees on the stories that we all remind ourselves to write down before it’s too late. Sweet tea, homemade pound cake, and fresh Dahlias from Ruth Moose’s garden added the perfect finishing touch to a summer evening in the South.

Proceeds from the book will support The Chatham Council on Aging, so I encourage you to check it out and order your copy today.

Interested in writing your own flash fictions? If so, consider joining us for a special workshop at the Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro later this month and in October. Hope to see you at one or both!

September 22, 2018: Flash Fiction Bootcamp. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this class, you’ll have five finished pieces. Bring your favorite writing gear (notebook and pen/pencil or laptop) and get ready for some prompts, new inspiration, and instant feedback. Atten-hut!

October 13, 2018: Flash Fiction: Revision and Publication. Now that you’ve written your flashes, you’re ready to show them off! Bring a story of your own and learn how to revise, prepare and submit it for publication in online or print magazines, and how later to create a book-length collection and find publishers.

 

Write a spooky tale!

Last week, I learned that my narrative poem, “Orchard #9,” was accepted for publication by Coffin Bell for January 2019. This cherriespoem features a romp through a haunted cherry orchard and an encounter with a waif-sprite with a fondness for sweet cherries.

With 100 lines, “Orchard #9” is much longer than most poems, so I’m very fortunate (and so grateful!) that a journal would make a home for it. It helped that Coffin Bell seeks writing that explores dark themes, as they say, outside traditional horror. For their next issue, they’re seeking tales of magic. Might you have a story to share?

This is a time of revision as well as creation for me. I’ve been writing a couple of spooky stories that have been haunting my brain for some time. It feels good to liberate these “ghosts!”

There are plenty of stories dwelling in the rational already.  Why not push the boundaries and write about the unexplained? Your story doesn’t have to be about ghosts; it can be about the day your GPS led you to take a wrong turn that resulted in an unexpected adventure. The day that a fortune cookie turned out to be oddly prescient. Or how you meet a stranger who seems to be someone you knew before.

Turn to the masters for inspiration. “Cara” by Georgia Panghorn and “The Ghostly Rental” by Henry James  are older works that I recently discovered and enjoyed. More recent writers include Shirley Jackson (“The Daemon Lover” and “The Beautiful Stranger”) and William Trevor, who also wrote his share of spooky stories (“The Raising of Elvira Tremlett” and “The Love of a Good Woman” for example). And, of course, anything by Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always loved “The Black Cat.”

There’s also a host of contemporary writers you can find in journals like Coffin Bell who focus on the supernatural and the mysterious. Check out Volume 1, Issue 3  for great stories by Michael Grantham, Tihana Romanić, Katrina Hays, and much more.

And then write your own! So, when  you see all those enticing calls for “spooky stories” around Halloween (or beyond), you’ll be ready. It will be as if you dreamed it. 😉

 

Chicken Little’s rules for submission

chickenLiving in the country makes it easy to channel my inner chicken on the tricky topic of submission.

The sky is not falling. Worried? Don’t be. The world needs to hear from you, and you need to send your work out. The pluses of submission–meeting new people, discovering new markets, and growing as a writer–far outweigh the minuses. So do it. But do it thoughtfully.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Ninety-nine percent of all publications allow it, so do submit simultaneously (i.e., submit the same story to multiple places at the same time). Just be sure to inform the editors you haven’t heard from as soon as possible if it’s accepted somewhere. Recently, one of my short stories was selected by two publications, but as it turns out, one will print a longer version and the other will happily print the flash version. Another e-zine didn’t publish that particular story but kindly awarded me a $20 Amazon gift card for placing in their contest. One story gets traction in three ways.

Stuff as many eggs in that basket as you can. Don’t send one egg into the world without having at least ten in your basket. Make sure you have several pieces circulating in the world and several in varying stages of completion. How to build your basket? Branch an idea in multiple ways—turn a poem into a short story. Later, write a nonfiction essay about the same experience. Be a triple threat. 🙂

Ask a fellow chicken for help. When seeking new outlets, yes, do your research. But don’t hesitate to ask for help from a fellow writer. They are some of my best sources when it comes to finding new markets. I actually won a “submission consultation” from Chelsey Clammer, a respected writer and editor through Women on Writing and her excellent advice led to the acceptance of two stories in the July 2018 issue of The Birds We Piled Loosely.

The sky is not falling, again. Don’t despair. Ever. Period. Whatever happens, whether you’re accepted or rejected, return to the work that nurtures your spirit. Because this is what makes you happy.

We’ll talk more about submission in the workshops I’ll be leading this fall, so if you’re interested, sign up! In fact, the second-place winner in this year’s Carolina Woman Writing Contest, Anne Kissel, had this to say: “You mentioned the Carolina Woman contest in your class and that helped me take the plunge. Everyone in the fine tribe of CCCC writing folk has been so encouraging to newbies like me. ‘Agora’ — the winning story — was something I worked on in a couple of the classes.”

September 22, 2018: Flash Fiction Bootcamp. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this class, you’ll have five finished pieces. Bring your favorite writing gear (notebook and pen/pencil or laptop) and get ready for some prompts, new inspiration, and instant feedback. Atten-hut!

October 13, 2018: Flash Fiction: Revision and Publication. Now that you’ve written your first flash fictions, you’re ready to show them off! Bring a story of your own and learn how to revise, prepare and submit it for publication in online or print magazines, and how later to create a book-length collection and find publishers.

 

 

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?