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Archive for the ‘short stories’ Category

I was going to go about my day of blog posting in my usual self-depreciating manner. Let’s face it, I love messing with myself, and I give myself plenty of material with which to do so. But I just finished reading Judy Clement Wall’s post about being kind to yourself. She says amazing things on her blog, and today’s message hit home. “Truthfully, I’m amazed at how hard we are on ourselves, how quick we are to criticize, undermine, belittle and doubt. If we spoke to our friends the way we so willingly speak to ourselves, we’d be friendless.”

Wow. How true. I mean how many of you would return to my blog if I called you an unfocused flake? How about a freak? Does “loser” hurt your feelings? I call myself all of these things, and more. But not today. So instead of the post I was going to do about my hair and how ugly it is since I had it chopped to pieces, and how it looks like original daughter Becky from Roseanne who, in her last season, cut her hair so severe the ratings plummeted and they had to get themselves a new, prettier Becky for the remaining seasons (I don’t know the real reason, but come on, look at the hair), I will instead share with you what I did right. My floor.

Below are pictures of my finished concrete floor. There are no before pictures, but picture a stained, ratty carpet the color of oatmeal.

I love my floor. I love even more that I did it. And that the total cost of the project was $75.00 (not including another $75.00 for new baseboards because I managed to ruin the old ones—oops). Now, of course, I want the whole house done this way. I just don’t want to be the one to do it. It took a month for just one room. A month of neglected writing. So back to writing.

Another achievement I’d like to share is a story that is up at Slow Trains. It was my first attempt at non-humor (not my first non-humor published. I had written a couple after this one that went before it). It’s about a mistake in judgment and the very anti-thesis of Judy’s message. I’m not sure which I recommend first: reading about a pair down on themselves then getting rejuvenated by Judy, or filling up on love first to withstand the dismal dread of those who think they are unworthy. I wrote this 13 months ago, and I think I was PMSing—oops, there goes that self-back talk again. What I mean is I really like this story and I think it ends with a powerful message that everyone can benefit from, and I’m proud of myself for writing it and encouraged and validated that Slow Trains published it. Yay me.

What can you share that is wonderful about yourself or that you accomplished lately that you are proud of? Don’t forget to go to Judy’s blog at Zebra Sounds and do the assignment she asks of you. I know I will.

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April Fool’s day is my book’s 4th birthday.

I is four

My book turning four is not a happy event, just so you know. It’s just one more reminder of unfinished business. That hasn’t stopped me in the past, querying, that is. I made a vow every year to be finished, like in ready to query finished, by April 1st. On birthday number two, I queried two agents. Birthday number three, I thought I was ready and queried three agents. You see a pattern here? But I won’t. I will not query four agents today just because I made a silly vow once. Wait. I won’t promise that. I don’t trust myself. Maybe I’ll send just one.

I have a beta reader I’m handing this to tomorrow, and I’m hanging back to see what edits or changes she suggests. I would kick myself later if I queried and sent a sample chapter that needed work. So no, I will not send out a query today. I won’t. I might.

On other news, I received Golden Visions magazine in the mail yesterday with my story Male Pattern Deadness published in it. It’s a serious piece; a psychological thriller, if you will. Also, forthcoming in Slow Trains, I wrote another serious piece—am I losing my sense of humor?

I don’t have a link to Male Pattern Deadness yet, as it’s only in their print edition, It may end up in my unlinkable page above. But the exciting thing is my story is right in the middle where the magazine staple goes. So the magazine wants to naturally open there. People picking up the magazine will be FORCED to see my story—muhahahaha.

To prove I still have my humor about me, I have a flash piece up at Fear of Writing called Mango Man. Fear of Writing has a list of prompts you can choose from should you want to write for them.

Last and most important is Linda Cassidy Lewis, my friend and member of my in-person writing group, has her debut book, Brevity of Roses, up for sale today. She is the first in my group to publish a book, so this is all very exciting, it’s also very sudden, and I haven’t had a chance to post reviews of it on Amazon or Goodreads yet, but will shortly. For now, just trust me that this is beautifully written work and I encourage you to read it. I command it.

Though none of the above is an April Fool’s joke—nor is the mention that I just forgot how to spell “above” and tried five different spellings before I gave up and asked the computer how to spell it—do any of you participate in this silly tradition? Did someone pull any tricks on you today? I’m alone right now. The day is still young. For me, it’s pending. When my eleven year old gets home, I’ll be in for it.

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When good intentions backfire, sometimes it leaves you a smidge paranoid the next time around.

During my first marriage a long time ago in another chapter of another book of my life, I lived in a triplex. A couple and their baby moved in the apartment above us, and they befriended us instantly.

The husband was well spoken; his posture and mannerisms screamed “Prep School Grad”. She was … well … not. She was clearly born on the opposite side of the tracks from him, and she didn’t even possess all of her teeth. She had a tendency to misspeak, and to dress and behave inappropriately—like wear revealing clothing and brushing up against my husband.

This couple was so mismatched, we speculated that perhaps he married her because he got her pregnant. We later learned we were right. But that part didn’t matter. Their history was irrelevant in the here and now. They were friendly and personable and liked us. Since I assume no one will like me before they even meet me, when they do show fondness towards me, it comes as a surprise and shock and they’d have to do something terrible for me not to reciprocate.   

Soon, however, we began to sense something amiss. The four of us were slowly evolving to just the three of us. We were seeing less of the husband. I felt as if he were in the role of someone hired to find a home for a stray and her litter. His job was done.

Her neediness made us pause. She didn’t work and would latch onto anyone who was home during the day. My husband had weekends off; I had Sunday and Monday. Her husband was gone every day. What he did every day remains a mystery. So she unwittingly became ours, invaded our lives. Every time I turned around, she was there. She was always asking for something, and we were always giving it to her. Either that or she’d help herself to whatever we weren’t offering.

She’d call my husband and ask for assistance in moving furniture around or for minor repairs. She’d flirt a little or a lot, he’d tell me later. Later we would find out she was only sixteen and a high school dropout. Her husband, twenty-three and a university graduate. We would also find out later they were both con artists. Her job title was Statutory Rape Blackmail. His was Lawsuits.

They didn’t just wait for opportunity to knock, either. They made it happen. And we learned of it before they had a chance to strike. We were their next target; our only crime was in our good intentions. And they weren’t happy to know we were on to them. They made out lives miserable for a while.

Even while all this was happening, I was writing the story in my head, filling in the blanks. My novel (the one I haven’t written yet) will someday reveal the mystery of their pairing, his and her upbringings, and all the whys of it, the wheres, and the what happened next.

Then I made a mental movie of it. I can’t put you into my head so let’s use Pacific Heights‘ yuppie horror film tagline: “It seemed like the perfect house. He seemed like the perfect tenant. Until they asked him to leave.”

Mine will be like this: “She likes anyone who likes her. He will help anyone who asks. They meet the couple. They seemed like perfect friends. Until they weren’t.”

Being the imaginative person that I am, I, coincidently, use the same actors. The con husband sort of looked like Michael Keaton, and my husband sort of looked like Matthew Modine. Melanie Griffith looked more like the slut in my story, so I assigned her that role. Angelina Jolie will play me of course. (stop laughing.) I might have a hard time erasing years off their looks enough to play sixteen to twenty-three-year-olds—details I’m still working out..

That was one of my more vivid memories of good-deed-gone-bad. There have been other times my good intentions backfired. But each time now that I perform a neighborly service, do a good deed, or befriend a new person, my suspicious mind triggers a story, an outcome with tragic consequences. I can’t help it; it just happens.

A few years ago, I found myself watering an Australian tree fern at a vacant, foreclosed house in my neighborhood. I was paranoid each time I crossed the grass and turned on the hose that somehow the house became occupied overnight and I would be arrested for trespassing or shot. My mind works that way. And I wrote a story about it titled Tree Hugger, published at The Earth Comes First.

Do you have any tales of good deeds gone wrong?

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Yesterday I encouraged you to read my guest post at Fear of Writing. In that post I admit my short story publications are, in a way, a distraction from finishing the darn novel. I vowed to stop letting publication get in the way of publication. And I will. Right after this one at Orion Headless. (It went up yesterday but felt sheepish to admit it on the same day that people might actually take me serious. pfft)

In my defense, I still have some stories on submission. So there.

This story was originally accepted by a paying anthology. But when I read the contract it looked like it would be published in the later part of 2012. After getting advice from a publishing expert, I had to withdraw my piece because it is part of my book and publishers (if one was looking at offering me a contract) would see it as a conflict in many, many ways. The last thing I want to do is give a publisher a reason to reject me.

So the moral of the story is:  If it’s an excerpt, pay attention to the fine print. You don’t want to lose your rights to it or, in this case, tie up the rights. But I’m glad it found it’s way to Orion. Happy Ending.

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This counts as a blog post from me.  Come visit Fear of Writing, you might learn something on What Not to Do.

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I would like to introduce my special guest today, Sybil Baker. I’m her last stop on the WOW blog tour. You can catch all the previous tours by visiting  Wow-Women on Writing.

Sybil will be giving away a copy of her book here, so be sure to drop in and say hello and ask her any questions you might have.

About the Author:
 
Sybil has always had wandering feet. First, she left her hometown in northern Virginia for Boulder where she completed her Master’s in English at the University of Colorado. She eventually moved back to Virginia but soon the wandering bug bit her again. This time she spent twelve years teaching English in South Korea and traveling the world. So far she has checked off over 30 countries, many in Asia. Her path did lead back to the United States where she received her MFA at The Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2005 and began teaching creative writing at the University of Tennessee in 2007. These days she satisfies her wanderlust by writing about exotic locales from the Chattanooga home she shares with her husband.
Just Thought You Should Know:
Sybil is also the author of a novel The Life Plan. You can learn more about The Life Plan and its WOW Blog Tour at http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2009/03/sybil-baker-author-of-life-plan.html
 Author’s Websites:                                                  

Sybil Baker’s website: http://sybilbaker.com/home.html
Sybil Baker’s Blogs:  http://sybilbaker.blogspot.com/
 

Novels vs. Short Stories

 

                When you start a new project, do you know if it will be a novel, short story or essay? Do you start out with a specific genre in mind for your piece, or do you start writing and see where the piece will take you?

                When I have an idea or an image for a new piece, I usually know if it’s going to be a short story, novel, or an essay. Essays spring from some experience that I believe works better as nonfiction—they explicitly explore ideas and events that I don’t want to fictionalize. Short stories usually come from a character or conflict that I see as focusing on one event or issue—what Poe calls the unity of effect or impression. When I have a character whose journey will be layered and long, then I have a novel.

I recently finished the draft of a novel about two sisters and the secrets they discover about their family. The multiple plot lines and complexity of their relationship could not be covered in a short story. On the other hand, I recently finished a story about a young woman in a bar with her new boyfriend—that event and her conflict was much more focused and worked best as a short story.

                The exception for me was Talismans, which is a linked short story collection and reads more like a novel through stories. When I wrote the first story (“Fur Elise”) many years ago, I thought the main character Elise would exist only in that story. But then a few years later I wrote a story about a woman who in Korea and falls in love with a Korean man. When I finished that story, I realized that the woman was Elise. I wanted to learn more about Elise—how did she get to Korea, and what else happened with her relationships with her mother and father? I wrote more stories to discover those answers. After a few years, , I had a collection of  ten stories that followed Elise’s physical and emotional journey across many years. At that point, I could have taken the stories and rewritten them as a novel, but for some reason Elise’s life as seen through the stories worked better for me. I think the linked stories—connected yet separate, work best because Elise also felt so disconnected and fragmented. The linked story form best reflects Elise’s world.

                Linked short story collections must work as stand-alone pieces and must also work as part of a larger narrative arc. This is not easy. I spent a lot of time revising the stories so that the images and conflicts in the first story would echo and build through the collection. I also made sure that the last story resolved in some matter the conflicts in the first story.

                When you’re writing a short story or a novel or an essay, occasionally step back and ask yourself if you’re working in the right form for your piece. Maybe the novel needs to be compressed or distilled, or maybe a short story has too many elements and needs to open up. Maybe your fiction piece is best served as a creative nonfiction piece. Be aware of the constraints and possibilities of the genre you’re working in, and allow your piece to become what it needs to be.

Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Sybil Baker’s book Talismans

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The memoir that grew into a novel that shrunk into a short story collection. Almost. I still haven’t decided on that last part: the short story collection. And I wouldn’t say the memoir “grew” into a novel exactly. More like I changed lanes. The word out there is memoirs won’t sell, unless you’re famous. Unfortunately, I had already written it at this point.

I started out with the idea of humorous Family Stories told in short stories like that of David Sedaris. But word out there is short stories won’t sell, either, unless you’re famous.

I like my story better as a memoir, because to make it a novel I must actually follow rules, a formula complete with a beginning, middle and end and with plot points, character arcs, resolutions, and, omg, a likeable character.

So rules, I followed. And I rewrote and rewrote and read and read, not for pleasure, but for scene structure and pace and all the while I was impatient to be done … again. So I took bits of my book and reworked some of them into short stories and submitted to lit journals and some actually got published. But I’m not ready to submit the remaining thirty shorts from my book all over kingdom come. My dream is to be read (nice if I was paid too). My dream isn’t for this one big story to be read in bits and pieces. It’s like a series of one-night stands without any true bonding with the standee/characters. For any of you who have read my published excerpts—and admits to it—I want to yell, “But wait, There’s More.”

Then came the idea that I should publish all the stories to lit journals, then compile them all into a short story collection.

My indecisiveness is what keeps me from moving ahead. I need to decide its fate before I read my novel once more for plot holes. Should I choose to move ahead with a short story collection, I’ve got a little dismantling work ahead of me. If I choose to keep it a novel, I’ve got more rewrites—you mean there needs to be a plot? Easier would be to know the direction before taking the journey. 

Do you like reading short story collections or do you prefer a long-term relationship with your character? Come back on Friday to meet a special guest who managed to do both by compiling a short story collection and by linking the stories to create a thread through one character’s life. She will be discussing short stories vs. novels (she’s written both).

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