Contest Win on Blog of Fantasy Writer, Jennifer Deese!

I have some exciting news to share!  I entered the photo-prompted fantasy flash fiction contest on author Jennifer Deese’s website, “To Write is Right!”, and I won!  My story, “Play Date,” is currently posted on her blog, along with Karen Mossman’s “I Am Alive,” which took second.  Karen’s story is very creepy and hints at a difficult backstory for the narrator!  I hope you’ll check out both stories and share your thoughts!  Here is the photo prompt used for the contest:

IMG_52669112475450 (Jennifer Deese, “To Write is Right!!!!”)

As a prize, I have the opportunity to read Jennifer Deese’s new novelette, The Orchid Keeper.  I’m away for a few days right now and borrowing a computer to write this, but I’ll get reading when I return and will let you know what I think.  Here is the description from Amazon.com: “Buried in addiction and digging in even deeper with denial Cora’s life is a mess. Until one day her reality takes a turn that lands her in an unfamiliar world. With the otherworldly assistance of Sol she will begin to realize how close she has brought her soul to fading away completely. Is it too late? Or can Cora face down her demons and save her soul?”  Very intriguing!

You can follow Jennifer Deese on Twitter: @d_eese

These are her blogs: jennjenn388.wordpress.com and jenniferdeese.wordpress.com

Happy reading and happy new year!  Thank you Jennifer Deese!  I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated in your contest, for your blog post, and for your book!  A great way to transition into 2015.  : )  I’m also grateful for my good friend, author Lisa Pais’s kind words on her blog, The Enchanted Notebook.  Lisa is a very talented writer as well, producing fantasy, science fiction, humor, songs, and just about anything she sets her mind to!

If you are new to my blog and enjoy reading “Play Date,” I hope you’ll read some of my other flash fiction:

The Cocktail Party

The Toad

The Spider and the Fly-Man

Just in Case

The Arrangement

The Song in the Night

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Poem for Cleaning My Dog’s Ears

“Thrashing beast, don’t you

know that we are trying to

help you?  Hold still!  Stop!”

*

“No!  I close my ears

against that foul liquid and

I don’t hear you!  No!

*

Rebel!  Rebel!  Flee!

I will scratch the problem out,

if you’ll just let me!

*

Oh, it’s fine now.  Yes–

I don’t much mind the rubbing–

Finished?  OK.  Thanks!”

*

“Next time, will you be

good, sit still, submit, help us?

We do this for you!”

*

“I’d like a treat now.

I’ll go get my ball.  Wait here.

Here it is!  Here….What?”

humphrey

Another Flash Fiction Story: “The Arrangement”

I had a lot of fun with the challenge of the 150-word flash fiction story last week, and I wanted to try again.  There’s something really rewarding about whittling down the story to its core.  What do you think?

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: ladder, witness, prefer, alarm, kissed, clutches, seldom, orchard, excavated, arrangement, shrinking, heart, scythe, surrounding, tendency, mischief, misgivings, satisfy, drops, faithful

All words are taken from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem

Fall

The Arrangement

The wooden ladder lay abandoned in the orchard, soaking in the dew.   No sign of Lucy.  Peter fought his alarm.

Often, they had kissed and shared tender clutches under the apple trees, but when Peter spoke of marriage, Lucy shook her head.  Still, Peter was faithful.  

She was supposed to meet him here.

Heart full of misgivings, Peter approached Lucy’s home.  Her father was just exiting.

“Morning.”

He turned.  “Peter?  Bit early to call.”

“Is Lucy inside?”

“Haven’t seen her.  Must’ve risen early to pick apples.”

“Yes, sir.  Only, I came through the orchard—she’s not there.”

A shadow crossed his face.

They searched.  When Lucy’s father saw a ribbon speared on a branch, he sank to his knees.

“It’s my fault, Peter.  I made an arrangement.  I signed his book, in drops of blood—he gave me money for the farm.  Said in eighteen years, he’d take his payment.”

* * *

If you liked this story, check out my first attempt, “The Song in the Night.”  If anyone would like to try this experiment with these words or some others, I’d love to see your results in the comments section!

Removing the “vs.” from Genre vs. Literary

Exploring the internet yesterday, I ended up on the Electric Lit website, reading Andy Hunter’s post, “Ursula K. Le Guin talks to Michael Cunningham about genres, gender, and broadening fiction.”  Anything with Michael Cunningham’s name in the title will get my attention, and though I haven’t read enough Ursula Le Guin, I did enjoy The Left Hand of Darkness, and reading this article got me interested in reading more.

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Michael Cunningham (The HoursThe Snow Queen) says of our current literary period, “I feel like the most prominent aspect of this period is what I call ‘broadening.'”  He goes on to explain that “broadening,” for him, means “the sense of a much larger collective conviction about who’s entitled to tell stories, what stories are worth telling, and who among the storytellers gets taken seriously.”   The post, Cunningham, and Le Guin discuss the line between “literary fiction” (Cunningham, Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee…) and “genre fiction” (science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror,…) and the effects of that line.

I think this is an interesting and important discussion.  I’m aware as I write this post, that even putting the parentheses above and including genre labels and authors plays into defining and supporting the line between literary and genre fiction.  I agree with Cunningham and Le Guin that this line is not always meaningful and can be harmful.  Cunningham asserts that ” some of the most innovative, deep, and beautiful fiction being written today is shelved in bookstores in the Science Fiction section.”  Many people, as this post points out, declare an aversion to science fiction and other forms of genre fiction, perhaps picturing people dressed up as Star Trek characters and imagining that aliens, ghosts, and romances offer little more than superficial fantasies.  However, literature in any genre can offer meaningful experiences to the reader, and there is a lot of variation within all of these genres.  (There’s also a lot that can be learned from studying Star Trek and the community that has evolved around it–work that I have not done, but I’m certain others have!)  Calling one part of fiction “literary” or “mainstream” tends to put other types of fiction to one side as less serious or important.  Le Guin calls this “the lingering problem: The maintenance of an arbitrary division between ‘literature’ and ‘genre,’ the refusal to admit that every piece of fiction belongs to a genre, or several genres.”

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This comment of Le Guin’s reminded me of Cunningham’s Specimen Days, which weaves together excerpts of Walt Whitman’s poetry with stories from different time periods, including a story set a future landscape with nonhuman characters.  While Cunningham is considered to be a solidly “literary” author, his work does cross these “arbitrary line[s]” and benefits from doing so.

I think Stephen King and Juliet Marillier are other authors who are often placed in genres (horror, fantasy), but whose work is character-driven and aware of the power of language.  Both of these authors explore, as Le Guin and Cunningham do, the way humanity functions under different circumstances.

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Le Guin is right that “genre” is often “used not as a useful descriptor, but as a negative judgment, a dismissal.”  Later in the same post, Le Guin says “But the walls I hammered at so long are down.  They’re rubble.”  I hope that this is true.  I think this post does acknowledge that the division between genre and literary does still exist, but I agree that there are moments of wonderful crossover.  Categories can be useful as lenses for looking at literature, but works can and do fit into multiple categories sometimes.

This is a great conversation, and I hope you’ll check it out!–though I quoted from it here, the conversation is much more in-depth on the Electric Literature website.

What do you think?  Is there a line between “literary” and “genre fiction”?  Should there be a distinction?  Are there authors whom you feel have been placed in a genre category whose work could be looked at with a “literary” lens?  Which genres would you put some of your favorite “literary” authors in?

 

 

 

Writer’s Digest Conference 2014 – What I Learned

I got overwhelmed thinking about how to write this post.  I knew I wanted to write about my experience of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, but I learned so much that I wasn’t sure where to start.  My friend, fellow writer, and critique partner, Lisa Pais, and I took the train down to New York on Friday night and were in time to join the conference Saturday morning.  We both had work obligations on Friday, preventing us from making the Friday afternoon workshops.

ROOSEVELT

(Looking at the mezzanine at the Roosevelt Hotel, where the conference took place)

I really liked Tim Grahl’s workshop, “How to Sell your First 1,000 Copies.”  Tim is the founder of Out:think.  On their “About” page, they say “We empower your brand, your tribe, your career.”  I felt like I got a lot of good advice on a good philosophy for building one’s author platform as well as some specific suggestions.  My favorite quote from Tim was “Be relentlessly helpful.”  I will try to do that with this blog–I’ll do what I can!  Let me know if anyone has questions, and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.  Tim has his own blog on the Out:think website–you can see a lot of the advice he gives, which made sense to me!

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I also enjoyed learning about how Goodreads works from an author’s perspective (thanks to Michael J. Sullivan and his wife, who gave that presentation).  I had used it as a reader, but didn’t really know how it functioned for authors.  I’ve now claimed my author page and have joined some discussion groups.

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I learned a lot from the panel including authors Joe Nelms, Sean Ellis, Jeffrey Somers, Kristopher Jansma, Julia Fierro, and Kelly Braffet (and have added a lot of books to my mental–“to read” list–just need to add them to my Goodreads “to read” list now!).  It was eye-opening to hear that some of them had not had their “break-out” until they had gone through multiple agents and written between four and ten manuscripts.  This is good and bad news, right?  Good news that if you haven’t made it in the first few years, or with the first agent, or with the first manuscript, you can still hold out hope that your writing will someday be read in a traditional published form.  Bad news if you’re thinking that finding an agent or writing a book means you’re all set.   I felt good about what I learned though.

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Both keynotes were wonderful–I loved hearing from Harlan Coben and Kimberly Lawson Roby.  Both were inspiring, entertaining, and spoke to a lot of the common experiences that writers have.  I may add some more later on some of the specifics they shared.   I don’t typically read books of the type Coben writes, but liked him so much I think I may have to try one!  I haven’t read Roby’s books before either, but I definitely plan on it.  She was wonderful and I loved how she spoke about her characters.

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I participated in the Pitch Slam, and was so nervous that I wanted to make sure I kept my hands in my lap during most of my first pitch in case the agent noticed me shaking.  After the first pitch, I realized that I could do this, and that all the time I had spent honing my pitch and practicing talking about my novel did help, and then I was less nervous with the rest of the agents.  They were incredibly nice!  In fact, I think everyone I met at the conference was warm and friendly.  I had been nervous because I was expecting this conference to be much more overwhelming compared with my only other writer’s conference experience, the New England Romance Writers of American conference, which I attended with members of my writer’s group.  By the way, that was also a great conference!  I’m not a romance writer, but learned A LOT–I would recommend going to any writer.  Why was I expecting to be overwhelmed?  I suppose because I was going all the way to the big apple, and felt like I was really ready to pitch my first novel, so I had upped the stakes for myself.

All in all, I certainly feel that the conference was a worthwhile experience.  I always cringe whenever I pay something like that and have a moment of panic, BUT I’m very glad I went.  I’ve also been traveling around for writing and for teacher training, and then went on a road trip with my husband to visit friends of ours out of state.  I’m glad to be home for a few days now and get back into my writing routine!  My writing buddy is tired, too.  He was at doggy daycare the last few days:

 

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The Six-Word Story

I was recently reminded of the existence of the six-word story.  One often attributed to Ernest Hemingway is:

“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The idea is to give the reader a sense of situation and emotion with extreme word economy.

 

Here are a few I came up with:

Grimly, she watched the wallet sink.  

“Careful!”  A horn blares.  Too late.  

Breathing fast, she jumped, arms outstretched.

They came home.  Debris was everywhere.

He leaned in.  She turned away.

 

What do these stories make you think of?  Do you have your own six-word story?  Post it here!

Blog Title: “Unmapped Country within Us”

“There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.”

– George Eliot (Quote courtesy of Goodreads)

I wanted to take this post to write about where the title for my blog comes from.  I’m a fan of George Eliot’s writing, in particular The Mill on the Floss, Scenes of Clerical Life and Middlemarch.  I like Eliot’s view on the world and like that she examined the rules and norms of the world around her and wrote about her own observations.  Eliot lived an unusual life.  She was born with the name Maryann Evans in 1819, but she wrote under a male pseudonym and lived with her lover (who was already married to someone else) for several years.  (Click here for a PBS biography)

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

She wrote insightful critiques about the literature (and so, the life) of her time.  (Check out some of her essays here) She also wrote beautiful, passionate novels.  The passion in Eliot’s novels is perhaps what most appeals to me.  I love that the quote above talks about human passion in the form of “gusts and storms” as coming from the “unmapped country within” all of “us.”  We all have a psychological landscape, parts of it known and parts of it unknown, and certainly this is the source of much of our emotions and behaviors.  I liked the idea of all people having mysterious “countries” inside of us.  I think this idea emphasizes how important our humanity can be.  People are complex, and can contain whole worlds inside them.  To understand each other in moments of passion, whether positive or negative, we need to remember that all of us have a complex world inside us.

“Tom and Maggie” (public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Here’s one of my favorite early passages from The Mill on the Floss:

“This attic was Maggie’s favorite retreat on a wet day, when the weather was not too cold; here she fretted out all her ill humors, and talked aloud to the worm-eaten floors and the worm-eaten shelves, and the dark rafters festooned with cobwebs; and here she kept a Fetish which she punished for all her misfortunes. This was the trunk of a large wooden doll, which once stared with the roundest of eyes above the reddest of cheeks; but was now entirely defaced by a long career of vicarious suffering. Three nails driven into the head commemorated as many crises in Maggie’s nine years of earthly struggle; that luxury of vengeance having been suggested to her by the picture of Jael destroying Sisera in the old Bible. The last nail had been driven in with a fiercer stroke than usual, for the Fetish on that occasion represented aunt Glegg. But immediately afterward Maggie had reflected that if she drove many nails in she would not be so well able to fancy that the head was hurt when she knocked it against the wall, nor to comfort it, and make believe to poultice it, when her fury was abated; for even aunt Glegg would be pitiable when she had been hurt very much, and thoroughly humiliated, so as to beg her niece’s pardon. Since then she had driven no more nails in, but had soothed herself by alternately grinding and beating the wooden head against the rough brick of the great chimneys that made two square pillars supporting the roof. That was what she did this morning on reaching the attic, sobbing all the while with a passion that expelled every other form of consciousness,–even the memory of the grievance that had caused it. As at last the sobs were getting quieter, and the grinding less fierce, a sudden beam of sunshine, falling through the wire lattice across the worm-eaten shelves, made her throw away the Fetish and run to the window. The sun was really breaking out; the sound of the mill seemed cheerful again; the granary doors were open; and there was Yap, the queer white-and-brown terrier, with one ear turned back, trotting about and sniffing vaguely, as if he were in search of a companion. It was irresistible. Maggie tossed her hair back and ran downstairs, seized her bonnet without putting it on, peeped, and then dashed along the passage lest she should encounter her mother, and was quickly out in the yard, whirling round like a Pythoness, and singing as she whirled, “Yap, Yap, Tom’s coming home!” while Yap danced and barked round her, as much as to say, if there was any noise wanted he was the dog for it.”

(Quote courtesy of Project Gutenberg – This is a link to the full text of the novel)

A little child who drives nails into a doll sh’s named the “Fetish” after being inspired by the “luxury of vengeance” she found in the Bible?  I’m in.  George Eliot makes fabulous characters.  Her books explore gender roles in fascinating ways as well.  I haven’t read them all, yet, but they’re on my mental to-read list!  Any other George Eliot fans out there?

Reading Adventures – Gone Girl, Dark Places

Don’t worry–no Gillian Flynn spoilers!  The only possible spoiler is about a long-gone episode of Nip/Tuck (see below).

After a day of recuperation after the fabulous Writer’s Digest Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, I’m reading to dive back into my blog.  Last week, I was away from home at a training, and met my friend and fellow writer, Lisa Pais on the train down to New York for the conference.  I’ll tell you more about the conference in my next post!

I wanted to share two of my latest reads.  I had heard a lot of buzz about Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl, so I started reading it last week.  While it didn’t grab me in the first few pages, I was soon hooked.  I loved the characters Flynn created and the way those characters surprised me.  I don’t tend to read psychological thrillers or mysteries, and it had been a long time since I’d read something with the flavor of Gone Girl.  I was impressed with Flynn’s level of detail and the way she tied everything together.  Wow.  I don’t think I could have managed to write that kind of novel!

Gone Girl

After Gone Girl, I was eager to add another Flynn novel to my Kindle for my train trip down to NYC.  I ended up deciding on Dark Places, about an adult who has grown up without her immediate family after they were brutally murdered when she was seven.  This novel hooked me immediately (although I was biased toward Flynn at this point!) and I had a hard time putting it down.  My stomach roiled in discomfort several times, but I loved the story and thought the plot and characters were again very well done.

I was reminded of the time period when my husband got me into watching Nip/Tuck.  Did anyone else watch this?  I loved and hated to watch it.  We were behind, so we were watching the seasons on itunes, episode after episode.  The characters were interesting, the plot was exciting, but during and after each episode, I usually felt like I was going to throw up.  After each episode ended, I would think to myself: Wow, I wish I hadn’t watched that.  I should stop watching this.  Then: Let’s click on the next one.  Maybe something good will happen to these characters in the next episode and no one else will get hurt or traumatized.  The arc which stuck with me the longest is probably the one with the crazy agent who had a penchant for making teddy bears…sometimes out of people…I’m shivering and cringing all over again just thinking about it.

Anyway, I liked Dark Places even better than Gone Girl.  For me, Dark Places led me into situations which were extremely enticing because they were bizarre; I had never imagined anything like many of the experiences Flynn’s protagonist, Libby has.

Dark Places

I was trying to talk my husband into fitting Flynn’s books into his schedule, and I was saying to him that I didn’t think I had such disturbing elements in my own writing, and then I realized…I actually do.  Maybe my writing isn’t as different from Flynn’s as I had at first imagined.  I have some sympathy for my own psychopaths and villains, and I know how they ended up the way that they did.  While my novels are not thrillers and don’t have the same feel as Flynn’s, there are some interesting parallels.

This reminded me that it’s important for me to read outside my usual genres and my comfort zone.  There is a lot that I can learn from top-notch writers in any genre.  Especially as a writer, it’s helpful to me to see how writers use the common elements of setting, characterization, plot, tension, etc. in telling very different stories.  In my writer’s critique group as well, though there are some connections that pop up in our writing, we are ultimately telling stories in several genres with different styles.  I love my writer’s group!

I’m also currently reading Omar Farhad’s Honor and Polygamy, which is even further from something I’d normally read.  I’m also in the middle of Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake, which is right in my comfort zone (and which I’m enjoying very much!).  Sometimes, I read books one at a time, but I do find that, especially in the summer, I have some time for reading multitasking, and my brain wants me to spread it a little thinner.

KeepsakeHonor and Polygamy

Anyone else had some recent experiences reading outside your typical genre?

(Images are linked to the sites where I got them)

Ambient Lighting and the Comforts of Home – In the mood…for writing

I’m currently away from home for a few days for my non-writer job, and I’m staying in a room with very bright lights.  They are not “soft white,” and though they can be turned on and off in many different combinations, the quality of the light is the same.  I’m pretty peaceful here, reading, writing, and editing in solitude, but I do miss the atmosphere of home.  My husband laughs at me when I come into the living room when he’s been sitting in there for a few hours and adjust the lighting.  Hey, I like my lighting, all right?  It sets a mood.  I love feeling like I’m in a calm, inviting environment, and lighting is one of the keys to that.

I also should have brought my sweatpants.  Mistake!  I mentioned in my last post how I hate to be cold…well, the AC in this place is not fully within my control, and it’s a little chilly.  I may or may not have slept in my jeans and a wool sweater each night.  I was warmer that way.

Still though, it hasn’t been a bad few days at all.  I’ve got some more writing work to do after I finish this blog post.  I’ve got the lights turned down as low as they can be while still functional.  (They are still too bright and too white.  They are saying, “What’s the problem?  What kind of fancy light do you want?  Aren’t we good enough for you?” and then they think about dimming, but don’t because they weren’t made to, and they want to speak to me in a softer tone, but they can’t.  Still, they feel sorry, so they add, “We have our good points.”  They don’t elaborate.)  I acknowledge that I can see everything very well.  There is no question of that.  (The lights appreciate the concession and show their appreciation by shining in exactly the same glaring way as before.)

When I’m home, I like to have the light right, and sometimes I listen to music with headphones, though other times I write in the relative silence that is not headphones but still life.  Often, I read something to transition into what I want to work on…even if I’m focused on editing.  I’m replicating as many conditions as I can here.  Home soon.

Any other writers have your own “getting in the mood” rituals?  Or anyone else have a preparation ritual for some other work?  

P.S. My short story, “Glass Eyes” is still free at Smashwords through tomorrow with the code SW100 at checkout through their summer sale.  Also available for purchase for Nook at Barnes & Noble and for Kindle at Amazon.

Links:

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” on Smashwords

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” at Barnes & Noble

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” at Amazon