Tag Archives: Vladimir Nabokov

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!

 

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How to End a Short Story

apple pie

The ending of a story should be like a slice of apple pie after a meal — giving the reader something to savor and remember long after the story concludes.

At the beginning of every new year, writers tend to think about beginnings–new resolutions, new inspiration and new directions. But as I started new work this month–particularly a story that recently bewildered me–I found myself struggling with endings.

Why are endings so hard? To help, I studied the final sentences of stories I admire.

“She walked up the stairs, tearing the note into tiny pieces that fluttered behind her like confetti.” Laurie Colwin, from “Children, Dogs, and Desperate Women.”

“I still seem to be holding that wisp of iridescence, not knowing exactly where to fit it, while she runs with her hoop ever faster around me and finally dissolves among the slender shadows cast on the graveled path by the interlaced arches of its low looped fence.” Vladimir Nabokov, “First Love.”

“But the pear tree was as lonely as ever and as full of flowers and as still.” Katherine Mansfield, “Bliss.”

“She sat for a while longer, then pulled the curtains back and the day came in. Hers was the ghost the night had brought, in her own image as she once had been.” William Trevor, “Sitting with the Dead.”

I also studied the words of some of my favorite writing teachers. Some say you should return to the beginning of your story and pick up a loose thread there to knot at the end. Others believe you should end on a strong image. John Dufresne, in his wonderful book The Lie That Tells A Truth says this is not the time to give us a moral or a message. “We only need the problem resolved.” And later: “End your story on your best, or second best, line. Don’t write past it. This is the line that echoes in our mind when the story is over.”

Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, in their endlessly inspirational book What If, give a great exercise for endings. “Write one sentence for a story that is in its fourth or fifth draft. Then revise the story to heighten and illuminate this final meaning.”

As challenging as it can be, there is nothing like the inherent joy in writing stories–whether it’s that first sentence or even the title. And this makes the struggle worth it. Sometimes the very thing that’s holding us back IS the solution. One of my favorite philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, said it best: “The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

In my situation, it became very simple. The ending of my story troubled me because I hadn’t gotten the beginning or the middle right. So I had to backtrack a little bit. But when I followed the crumb trail of my original conception–what the story was REALLY about, I found my way home and then, and only then, resolved my story. And then I treated myself to a huge chunk of apple pie!

We’ll be doing a number of writing workshops very soon, where we’ll talk more about endings and everything in between. Stay tuned for the details, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll plan to join me in April for round two of our very popular flash fiction workshops.

Saturday, April 13 – Flash Fiction Boot Camp II Workshop. Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program in Pittsboro, N.C. Register here.

Carolina Woman!

Carolina Woman

Local contests are a great way to share your work….and win prizes! My writing group member Linda Johnson and I both earned Honorable Mentions in the 2015 Carolina Woman Writing Contest. Matching pajama-size T-shirts!

Linda won for her short story “Birthday Cake” (penned in a fiction class led by Ruth Moose) and I won for my poem “Ode to My Ironing Board” (written in a class led by Ralph Earle). Both classes were held through the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College’s Pittsboro campus. We also learned that a CCCC workshop leader, Tara Lynne Groth, won for her story “Money Changes Everything.” All pieces will published by CW in an upcoming issue. Pittsboro represented very well at Carolina Woman this year!

On a related note, and since April is National Poetry Month, I had to point out that today would have been the 115th birthday of another writer, novelist, short story writer, and poet Vladimir Nabokov. I didn’t know he also wrote poetry until my friend Mary located “The Poem” — a piece written by him for one of  just two collections penned in his prolific career. As with his other work, “The Poem” is poignant, evocative and lush with language and imagery that would make any writer envious. I couldn’t find an online link so unfortunately (or fortunately!), you’ll have to do like me and order a copy of his collections.

More coming soon!