A Writer’s Life for Me

Phew! What a month! I’ve just gotten back from Ireland and it was everything I’d dreamed it would be. Dark and rainy days curled up on the couch with a journal and a hot cuppa; nights (or, more acurately NIGHT, thanks to the baby) at the pub with other writers discussing the merits of novels, short stories, and poetry; long walks with the hubby through glens and dales (literally, glens!), and a few breathless moments of driving on the opposite side of the road. It was a full and memorable week that I feel blessed to have experienced. I’m planning for next year’s festival already!

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I had a few great ideas that I really feel will go somewhere and I was able to get the bare bones down on paper, thanks to my new journal. I am hoping to flesh them out a little more over the next few weeks. A couple will touch on topics I’ve already mentioned (ie. technology and its affects on us) but I have some non-traditional concepts brewing as well. More on those to come as they progress. In the meantime, you can see what I’ve been up to with my collaborative project on MyStyelle or, if you are in the mood for some dark but brilliant stories, grab a copy of the Fish Anthology 2014.

 

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New Chapters

It’s June already. I can’t believe how quickly time can pass when I’m not paying attention. A plan for a quick catch up became a fleeting thought of a nice long post which turned into nothing at all! The good news is, though I haven’t been able to do much new writing lately, I have been able to edit a few older works and submit them for publication. And mentioning publication, remember back in February when I submitted a flash fiction? Well, it was accepted and will be coming out this month! Not only will I finally have something in print, I will be taking a trip to Ireland for the launch of the magazine and a reading of my work. Not too shabby for a first timer!

I’ve been sorting out some other prompts and ideas and working on a group blog with friends. If you are interested in keeping up with us over on that blog, check out http://mystyelle.com. Between that and the newest addition to our family (who is now two months old) I’ve been keeping busy. Now that things seem to have settled into a rhythm (knock on wood) I’ll be back to posting and writing again regularly. I’m looking forward to all the writing fodder this new chapter of my life provides. I’ll keep you posted!

The Blog Hop

A new writer friend of mine approached me about this “blog-hop” idea a week (or so) ago and I thought it sounded like fun. It’s basically a cooler, more informative chain letter that one of his writer friends came up with. We all answer some questions and pass those questions on to a few more friends and pretty soon we have new friends and new blogs to follow. We also get a peek into the writing styles and motivations of others and that, to me, is always fun. So here goes!

What am I working on? I wrote a post about this a few entries back and I’m still pretty much there. I have worked out a few kinks with my main character and her “moment” of impact is coming along quite nicely. I’m hoping to have that story wrapped up by the end of the month, just in time to submit it for publication.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think the main way that my stories differ from other works of short fiction is mainly in their embrace of ambiguity and dissonance. I like to leave gaps, to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions, rather than wrap things up nice and neatly. Though I have to say, short stories vary a lot and there are other writers out there that delight in the same things!

Why do I write what I do? I love to write about loss. I know it’s weird but it is “the” thing that motivates almost all of my pieces. I think that the human heart is an amazingly beautiful and complicated place, which is also full of shadows. I try to write stories that connect to those shadow places in my readers and allow them to acknowledge the shadow, to process some of that darkness, and to shed some light on their own motivations. I find out new things about myself each time I write a story and I hope that my readers will join me in that.

How does my writing process work? It varies, based on the day. Some days, I have a story that I just have to get out and I can write the entire thing in a few hours. I let it rest and then go back for an edit. Other times, I have to think about and work through some things before finishing up the piece. The one constant is that I always write the first draft by hand; that way, I can edit when I type and get the flow a little smoother.

So there you have it! A few insights into the writing that happens in my neck of the woods. And if you are interested in reading more, check out the talented writers below and follow their amazing blogs!

Jim Landwehr is a poet, fiction, and non-fiction writer whose works have recently been published by The Tattooed Poets Project and Free Zombie Fiction. His upcoming non-fiction novel, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir, will be coming out June 17, 2014. Keep yourself updated on his latest works at his blog, So it goes…

Jennings Wright has published several books, spanning the genres from historical romance to action/adventure to adolescent dystopian lit. You can purchase her books on Amazon.com or check out her musings on her blog, Words on the Page.

 

 

Plugged In

I was in Panera waiting for a friend when I first noticed the trend. I am sure that people have been talking about it for a while. I’m sure that I’m behind in noticing. But I am also sure that I can’t be the only one who sees it. Most everyone there was alone, enjoying their muffins and coffee by the light of a computer or a hand-held device. Did you catch that? Everyone was alone. Everyone had a computer or phone and was completely “plugged in.” There were no interactions because people weren’t looking up, weren’t making eye contact, weren’t even aware that there were other people around them. I get it. Sometimes we have work to get done and don’t want to work at home. I go out with my laptop once a week, at least, to get things done without the demands of two small girls ringing in my ears. But I still like to watch people. I still like to look up and smile and connect with those around me.

I have been thinking about this for a few days and I decided that a short story was in order. It’s in the works, but it’s taking longer than I planned because I’m running into snags. For example, how severe of a situation will it take to snap my main character out of this self-induced technological coma? Pretty severe. And how can I make that situation believable? It’s tough, I tell you. But I’m working through it because I think it’s important to think about what incredible moments we might be missing while glued to a screen. What beauty is right there in front of us, unseen and unappreciated? If we could pause from our business for an hour , what treasures might we discover? When it all comes together, I think it’s going to make for a great story! I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, take time to look up and connect with the beauty of the people and places around you. It only takes a moment.

February, Where Did You Go?

This has been a whirlwind of a month! I’ve been pursuing different avenues for publication and funding and I’ve been learning a lot. I found that most short story compilations need to be right around 40,000 words and that the majority of the works must have been previously published. As you can imagine, that information had me submitting to magazines both here and in the UK. My flash fiction (under 350 words) was submitted to Fish Publishing (http://www.fishpublishing.com/). I also applied to receive a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation (http://www.sustainableartsfoundation.org/). This grant is unlike any of the others I looked at in that it is only given to artists who have children under the age of 18. It was refreshing to see help offered with the knowledge that parenting two (soon to be three) little girls creates extra challenges to writing!

So as you can see, I have a few irons in the fire and I’m waiting to hear back from my first submissions this year. I am moving forward with my goal of submitting one short story each month and I have a feeling March is going to be great!

Free Writes and Idea Boxes

In my final year of college, I had an amazing creative writing teacher who stressed the importance of free writing. She wanted us to sit down every day and write for 15 minutes, no stopping, even if we just wrote the same three words over and over until inspiration returned. At the beginning, we all thought she was crazy but as time went on we realized that there were sentences in the midst of all that nonsense that were real and beautiful and couldn’t have come to be without all the rest of the words on the page. It was amazing to look back over lines of rubbish and see that one perfect idea! She was really on to something.

The trouble was, at least for me, when I sat down to write there was nothing to pull from. I was a full-time student and full-time mom of two girls 2 and under and I was tired. But I knew I would have to write, would have to find a way to get the words “unstuck.” So I spent a week creating and cutting and stocking my prompt box. I took overheard phrases, unknown words, unique situations, and online suggestions and wrote each one out on a slip of paper and stuffed them into my little green tin to wait for the right time.

And I’ve decided that this year would be a great year to get back into free writing. I am about to have another little girl and my plate is already so full that sitting down for hours at a time to work on my novel isn’t going to happen. But I need to write. I have to write. So I made a goal for myself: 350 words a day. I rediscovered my prompt box and I am happy to report that my investment back then is paying off now. So far, I have surpassed my word goal on some days and failed miserably for weeks at a time. But the important thing is, there are beautiful lines; there are lines that are worth saving. There are, in the midst of my messy life and even messier writing, ideas that develop lines of truth that will birth entire stories. And I can’t wait to share the finished products with you.

Bernard Workowski and the Devil (excerpt)

The blue haired crone glared at me over her rhinestone studded glasses. She sucked her teeth suspiciously while I searched the binder for a price check. The binder, held together by three strips of ancient, crumbling duct tape, threatened to explode with every page I turned. The yellowed receipts, vendor lists, and inventory sheets were so softened and faded they couldn’t menace the fastest fingers with paper cuts anymore. I could feel her cold eyes, which never left my face, searching for confirmation that she was being overcharged. Little did she know there was no price list in this binder, there was no price list anywhere in this entire building; never had been, never would be. Our vendors determined their own prices arbitrarily and could change them on a whim.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “There doesn’t seem to be a price listed on here for that…item.” The hesitation was because I didn’t know what she was holding. It could have been anything: a plastic, yellowed soap dish, a mottled smoke-smudged ashtray, a flat and melted butter dish, only the vendor would know for sure. I tried not to sigh as I stepped out from behind the counter and took the ‘item’ from the wizened old woman, trying not to stare at her ratty, stained cardigan, buttoned to the throat, and her home-knit beret. Flipping over the warped plastic I looked at the bottom for the vendor number. 73. Mrs. Gray-Whitney. Serves Mrs. Gray-Whitney right, I thought as the teeth-sucker continued to practice her pastime, shuffling behind me towards the vendor tables in the back. We squeezed around a scuffed armoire and under a hand-painted sign that said “Tie your Wagons Here”.  We meandered through a maze of rejected kitchen items, rusted farm implements corralled in musty wine barrels, racks of stained and mended “vintage” clothes that had been discovered in attics and basements, displays of gaudy costume jewelry your spinster great aunt who everyone was secretly afraid of may have worn, and pushed our way through hoards of people arguing, bartering, and touching things with little gasps of reverence and awe. This wasn’t anything new; after all, it was a Saturday at the Mecca of Junk.

Saturday, the day little old ladies with blue hair dragged their small, yapping dogs up and down the aisles looking at things they had all probably owned at one point in their lives but were now about to spend their social security checks on.  The day fat, bald men with loud shorts and cameras around their necks listened to a million piercing screams from their tall, gratingly annoying New Jersey wives about the fabulous discards they had just discovered.  The day the hippies from the local campus walked the three floors of the shop pretending that they had money to buy things they didn’t need or really want, just to make their apartments feel “more retro, you know?”  Saturday, the day that I wished I was able to sleep in like most of America but instead I had to be here, at the zoo, helping local vendors set up or tear down their displays, price their valuables, and ship out their crap. The only way to manage the insanity was to drink unbelievable quantities of coffee and breathe deeply while my feet were stepped on, my ribs nudged, and my opinions asked about dishes I wouldn’t let my dog eat out of, much less give as a “unique” wedding gift.

Not that I should be complaining.  As a student I knew I was lucky to have even found a job in this town but things always sound better before you get involved.  I mean nine dollars an hour plus discounts seemed like a great deal before I realized the kind of people I would be dealing with…or the stuff that was being discounted.  I know, I know it’s an antique shop for goodness sake, what kind of stuff did I think they would be selling.  But the truth is I did it for the books.  I always do it for the books.  In my mind an antique shop is crowded with glassware, dishes, pottery, other random cast-off items, and shelves and shelves of books. Books that never give you a paper cut, that soothe your soul and make you forget that your professors hate you and you don’t have a boyfriend. I mean, what is wrong with me? I have a dog. I’m semi-athletic. I don’t sweat a lot, have a weird deformity, or even have very high standards. Why can’t someone find me attractive or give me a passing grade on a quiz? I was going to have to face the facts; my scholastic career, my job, and my life were pretty sucky and there wasn’t much that could help me escape; escape school, finances, reality and….

“Excuse me, miss?”

The tooth-sucker was back and, once again, I was threading my way through the crowds, heading for Enid’s table. She was one of the few vendors that rented space in our building that I actually liked.  She sold real antiques, not just yard-sale rejects that had been dropped a few too many times and were now being passed off as authentic objects.  Enid, like her merchandise, was the real deal.

(See Short Story link to read this story in full at The Peel Literary Magazine)