Monday, June 29, 2009

A Marvellous Monday

I'm sick. I think I have the worst sore throat and chest of my life, and am voiceless. I suspect Strep or a flu. I'll wait to see which of the two sink its teeth in, and hope I can avoid going to the doctor and antibiotics. I hardly slept last night, my heart and body hurting. Still I'm celebrating. Here's why:

I finished Olive Kitteridge (took my breath away) and am now two-timing with PANK # 3 and The Rose Metal Press Field Guide To Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, edited by Tara L. Masih, both terrific reads.

Last night, as sick as I felt, right before what was supposed to be sleep I read Randall Brown's essay "Making Flash Count." The essay is brilliant, truly, and left me inspired and taken to task. I especially appreciated Randall's thoughts on "the encounter," "twisting expectations," "making every word count," and the "emergent precious thing."

Randall includes excerpts from one of his first flashes and another in its entirety by Myfawny Collins "I Am Holding Your Hand." I'm a long-time fan of Randall's, and the wonderful Katrina Denza first introduced me to Myfawny's memorable work, but I hadn't yet read "I Am Holding Your Hand." The flash had such a powerful effect on me I'm still reeling (hence the heart hurt mentioned above). Myfawny, I want to read everything you ever wrote. Thanks to both you and Randall for sharing your genius.

I'm also excited to have my flash "Bear In The House" go live on Writers' Bloc today. Vaughan and his team are doing Trojan work and publishing wonderful stories. I'm honored to contribute.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

kill author

I admit I felt conflicted about submitting to a new magazine with the above name. However, intrigued, I checked out their website, and despite the absence of a masthead, liked what I saw and read: “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author” - Roland Barthes. I thought I'd try my hand.

I received a swift and favorable response, had a couple of follow-up emails where I made some minor changes to my story, and the editors questioned a word choice (they were right and I was wrong) and the debut issue launched yesterday, packed with wonderful writers and poets and their works.

I have to say I'm more than impressed with this high-quality first issue, and really like the direction this magazine has taken. The magazine is a terrific read, and looks great. I also appreciate their black and white author photos and the image they chose to accompany each work. To name just three, be sure to read Kyle Hemmings' "We Are All Refugees of This World," Cortney McLellan's "The Mattress," and Sara Crowley's "Kitchen Sink (no) Drama." I'm thrilled to be in such excellent company.

Everyone wants to know the peeps behind kill author. Personally, I'm okay with not knowing. It's all about the work, right? Theirs and ours. Perhaps their philosophy is that the birth of the magazine must be at the cost of the death of the editors?

Long may we all live and prosper.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Got PANKed

Saturday, I received PANK # 3 in the mail. It's as square, thick, substantial, and beautifully wrapped as an exciting gift. I'm about a third of the way in. I shouldn't have started into it until I finished Olive Kitteridge, but I couldn't help myself. I'll comment more when I finish. For now, I'll just say that PANK do everything oh so well, and that more than ever I can appreciate the growing pool of incredible flash writers we have in our midst.

Also, PANK are running their first ever writing contest. Check it out at their blog here.

Another exciting writing contest is Flatmancrooked's short story competition judged by Aimee Bender. The deadline is August 15th. Enter here.

Good Luck!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Novel In A Nutshell

Here's another of my attempts to reduce to key kernels my reading on, and understanding of, writing. This time specifically for the novel.

Unfortunately, I can't cite my original sources because I'm taking what follows from notes I've made over the years on various craft classes and "how-to" books, but I'm confident that they're so paraphrased I don't need citation.

I can tell you that one book I return to again and again, and which I'd highly recommend to all writers is Robert McKee's STORY. Of course it's not lost on me that if I'd spent more time actually writing satisfying novels (I've a novel manuscript and two partials rotting in the bottom of my desk drawer) versus reading about how to write satisfying novels I'd be a lot closer to realizing my goals, but here goes:

Beginning: Introduce main characters and what's at stake i.e. what's the protagonist got to gain or lose? Characters reveal themselves, and plot progresses, through action.

Middle: Development of story and characters; a mounting series of tests and obstacles that challenge and put stress on the protagonist. Have your characters make choices and take actions that result in consequences. Only stories where the protagonist is in trouble and must act are interesting.

End: Unexpected rise to the novel's final threat/darkest moment. More surprise with an ending twist. The novel's close should feel satisfying, leaving the reader with a sense of inevitability despite the surprises and a clear understanding of how the protagonist has been forever changed. Avoid too neat endings.

Now, get writing, and happy storytelling.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

On June 6th the six finalists in the Davy Byrnes 2009 Irish Writing Award were announced, and the overall winner will be announced on June 22nd. The Award is Ireland’s biggest short story competition and the world’s richest prize for a single short story with an award of €25,000 (approx. $40,000) going to the best short story and five runners-up each receiving €1,000 (approx. $12,500). The acclaimed American novelist and short story writer Richard Ford judged the competition.

I was surprised and delighted to receive an email yesterday from Declan Meade, Editor of The Stinging Fly and administrator for the Prize. He informed me that my short story "Strange Fruit" was one of the final thirty stories forwarded to Richard Ford for his consideration. He asked for my permission to be named as a longlist finalist. Yes, please! He also invited me to the reception in Dublin on June 22nd when the six finalists will be honored, and the overall winner announced. Sigh. How I'd love to be there. I have many fond memories of Davy Byrnes pub, immortalized in Joyce's Ulysses. Dear old friends and many laughs come immediately to mind.

Funnily enough, Declan's email came minutes after I'd read for the third time Roxane Gay's story, "We Didn't Mind The Fire And We Watched While It All Burned" in Foundling Review. What a story. What a writer. I read the story riveted, enjoying it oh so much. But I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that after finishing the story I also experienced that sinking feeling, filled again with self-doubts, and that frustrated sense of "how can I be a better writer? Give better stories to my readers?" And then I received Declan's email.

It's not lost on me that at times when that "sinking feeling" hits me the universe sends me signs to keep going, keep trying, and for that I am deeply grateful. Only couldn't I please receive bigger indicators, like an agent, book deal, awards and prizes, and .... you get it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Rainbow Falls

We returned from Camp Mather this past Saturday, having enjoyed a wonderful week surrounded by nature and good friends, and free of such distractions as TV, phones, and the internet. The weather wasn't great, cloudy with a couple of thunderstorms thrown in, one especially spectacular clap of thunder that's still reverberating through me.

We didn't sight bears, and several times confused a burro's braying with bear roars, but we did enjoy amazing wildflowers, deer, and some of the most gorgeous birds and butterflies I've ever seen.

I didn't write the entire week, not a word. It was the longest break I've taken from writing in a very long time. Usually I write every day. I can't say I felt I missed the writing, we were just too busy being a family and hanging out with friends, but I did notice I became a little cranky and depressed toward the end of the week, and suspect it was because I wasn't writing. I can't help wondering how long more I could have lasted until I felt I HAD to write ...

I did read a lot, finishing Junot Diaz's brilliant The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and getting half-way through Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, a very different breed of book, a novel in stories actually, but almost as equally good a read.

I'm at work now on another short story, the seeds of which came to me while I was walking the beach yesterday morning. As great as the week in Camp Mather was, and as much as I loved spending that much time in such hallowed surroundings with my family and friends, I'm grateful to be back home; grateful to be back writing; grateful for so many incredible writers in the world that gift us with such great books as mentioned above; and mostly I'm just grateful to have so much to be grateful for.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm Going Camping

to Camp Mather, near Yosemite, and closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. For a week. I'm going to play in the sun, in the pool, and in the lake with my daughters. We're going to stargaze and hope to sight bears. With the adults, I'm going to drink wine and play poker. We're all going to bike and hike and eat and laugh. I'm going to write and read (THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO--I'm a quarter way in and LOVING it. I might also be falling in love with Junot Diaz ssssshhhhhhhh). Roxane, if you haven't read this book yet, you HAVE to read this book. It's all going to be great. But I'll miss my desk and my PC. I'll miss all of you. I'll survive. I think.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Three Things

First, today is the last day to enter Blake Butler's exciting writing contest; the list of prizes longer than the average Manhattan bridal registry list. Thanks, Blake. Enter!

Second, Molly Gaudry's novel(la) WE TAKE ME APART is now available from ml press. Order here. Congratulations, Molly! I can't wait to get my copy.

Third, the latest Dogzplot issue is now live and brimming with great artwork, poetry, and writing. There are stories from the awesome Elizabeth Ellen, Michelle Reale, Tim Tomlinson, and J.A. Tyler among others. Also be sure to check out the interviews with Mary Miller and Jimmy Chen. I've a flash piece "Leaves" up. Congratulations to the other flash writers, all new to me. I thoroughly enjoyed your work, especially Brendan O'Brien's, but maybe I'm a little biased when it comes to Irish names :-) All hail to Barry Graham and his fantastic editorial team, including the newly appointed fiction editor, Lauren Becker. Congratulations, Lauren. Thanks, Barry, for including "Leaves" in this issue. I'm honored.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

This, This, This, This, and This

There's this quote:
My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying . . . one must ruthlessly suppress everything that is not concerned with the subject. If, in the first chapter, you say there is a gun hanging on the wall, you should make quite sure that it is going to be used further on in the story.
- Anton Chekhov

And this:
When in doubt, which is where you'll be living your life as a writer of all your work, short or long, write something simple and follow it out past knowing where it flows into the seductive havoc that always waits at the center of our endeavors.
- Ron Carlson

And this, excerpts from Franz Kafka's diaries, 1915:
January 20. The end of writing. When will it take me up again?

January 29. Again tried to write, virtually useless.

February 7. Complete standstill. Unending torments.

March 11. How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing. It doesn't come off. A page now and then is sucessful, but I can't keep it up, the next day I am powerless.

March 23. Incapable of writing a line.

April 27. Incapable of living with people, of speaking. Complete immersion in myself, thinking of myself. Apathetic, witless, fearful. I have nothing to say to anyone--never.

And this:

To sit patiently with a yearning that has not yet been fulfilled, and to trust that, that fulfillment will come, is quite possibly one of the most powerful "magic skills" that human beings are capable of. It has been noted by almost every ancient wisdom tradition.
- Elizabeth Gilbert

And this:
- Ethel Rohan

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Toast to Editors!

I have some work up at the moment:

"A Painful Procedure" at the new and exciting Foundling Review. Ajay and his editorial team are working hard, thank you, and Bindu Viswanathan's photography there is stunning.

"Shedding Skins" at The Journal of Truth and Consequences. Keep up the excellent work, Miranda Merklein, Editor.

"Someday" at The Battered Suitcase. Many thanks to Fawn Neun and her tireless editorial team.

"Blinding" at elimae. Thank you, Cooper Renner. I'm thrilled to be included in this issue, brimming with stellar writers.

As a writer, I feel truly blessed that we have such a plethora of excellent ezines available to us to publish our work, and so many incredibly dedicated and diligent editors. We should have some kind of National Holiday for editors, don't you think :-)