AWP Note: Women Who Submit

13 Feb

The AWP Conference and a Maine blizzard scotches a proper Market Monday. Instead I’ll point you to a resource for building submissions energy and support.

womenwhosubmitlogoMy every-minute-packed trip to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington, D.C. was extended by a day on the front end so I could get out before a snow storm, and extended yesterday on the back end by nail-biting hours of travel home through a pre-blizzard snow storm. Today, blizzard. And unpacking, scrounging didn’t-prepare-for-the-blizzard meals from leftover crackers and chunks of cheese, a leak in the dining room. Tomorrow, digging out. In short: I am tired, lazy, and feeling irresponsible. So tonight I eschew the labor of putting together a proper Market Monday post, and instead introduce you to far more responsible folk.

Women Who Submit put on a lively and inspiring panel at AWP, where they introduced me to the idea of a “submissions party.” A group meets at a member’s house or a suitable public space, everyone brings food and drink to share, and Let the submissions begin! The more experienced members of the group show others the ropes, assisting with the language of cover letters, introducing markets, answering FAQs. They even line up speakers like journal editors and other members of the writing and publishing community. Sounds wonderful, and just the thing I needed when I first got started submitting my short stories.

The best part? They call it a submissions party because the bulk of the event is spent actually doing submissions. And every time someone hits “send” on an electronic submission or slaps a stamp on snail-mail, everyone applauds.

The group was founded in Los Angeles, but there are other groups around the country, and the panelists said they’re happy to hear from anyone interested in finding or starting a group—see their “About” page for e-mail addresses. Or, if you’re like me and you already have a submissions schedule that works for you, just surf their website and absorb the badass energy of these women. And think about connecting with one or more writing friends to develop your own support-and-celebrate routine to energize the work.

I’ll sign off with an anecdote shared by one of the ladies at the panel, founding member Dr. Ashaki M. Jackson. She said a writing friend who happens to be a submitting machine once told her she’d submitted to the same journal 15 times before they accepted a story. When asked about this tenacity, she replied with the astonishing, “Well, I knew they’d accept something eventually.” Astonishing because apparently she said it like “Duh” and because confidence like that among my writer friends is… well, not just rare, I don’t have any writer friends with that confidence. But I should, and I should have that confidence myself. So should you.

I’ve decided to stop being astonished by someone else’s faith in her own work, and use that energy to double my submissions efforts. As soon as it stops snowing. Join me?

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Mid-American Review’s Fineline Competition

6 Feb

On Market Monday I get to talk about my very first literary magazine crush.

When I first got serious about my writing—or to be more accurate, in the first phase of the very long process of getting serious about my writing—I’d often meet with my friend Kelly at a cafe-bakery in Durham, North Carolina, both of us toting a fat, Post-It-note-bedecked Writer’s Market and a handful of the latest literary magazines we’d sampled, to help each other figure out submissions. We’d talk favorite stories and essays, then move around some Post-Its, then eat salads scattered with candied pistachio nuts. Most distinctly I remember the slabs of fancy cake I’d bring home to share with the husband, and Mid-American Review.

I hugged an issue of Mid-American Review to my chest and declared it the first literary magazine I had read with rapture from cover-to-cover in one sitting. And as it happens, it’s the only literary magazine I have ever read that way. “If I could get published here,” I said then, tapping the cover…. Well, there was no reason to finish the sentence because this was the stuff of fantasy.

MARcover35_1.inddYou know where this is going, so I’ll spare you the details of how many years it took for me to feel confident enough to submit to MAR, then how many times I got a “this was so very close” rejection that made me soar then crash in the space of about 40 seconds… and just break for the finish line: In the fall of 2014, MAR published my micro “Three Things” as part of a special issue celebrating very short prose. I drafted it during my Daily Shorty year on March 18, and barely changed a word before I submitted it to MAR’s Fineline Competition. So I can’t say sweet writing-world-luck has never given me a kiss.

You can’t ask for a more respected magazine to be associated with, and you certainly can’t ask for kinder staff, who send friendly e-mails keeping you up on the publication process, and maintain a blog where they will do whatever they can to promote the authors in their pages. I listed the Fineline Competition on my micro and flash contest page, so a quick peek tells me the deadline is June 1. You’ve got plenty of time to polish three micros of 500 or fewer words. Good luck!

And now to check off the Market Monday boxes:

Do I like what MAR publishes? I’ve answered that, but here I’ll focus specifically on the Fineline micros they’ve published over the years. Unfortunately, MAR publishes very little work on their site, but they do have the 2013 Editors’ Choice micro, Anika L. Eide’s wonderful “Some Parents,”in their sample contents. And after spending far too much time playing Google, I’ve tracked down two other lovely Fineline pieces available online: Jennifer Cheng’s 2013 winning piece from her Letters to Mao; and Andrea Witzke Slot’s “Panoply,” which was published in the same issue as my “Three Things.” You will not find more impressive company for your own work.

Aesthetics? Up to now I’ve looked at markets that publish their work online, but MAR is a print journal. Like almost all print journals, they do a very nice job of presenting the published work. I love their blog, where they post bits and pieces to promote the writers they’ve published. Here’s an interview they did with me, for example. And do yourself a big favor and search their blog for “Pets with MAR.”

The last two are easy: Yes, they nominate their authors for awards; and the guidelines of a contest that lets me submit 3 pieces of micro fiction at once make me very happy indeed.

You just can’t do better than Mid-American Review. When I read any other literary magazine cover-to-cover in one sitting, I’ll be sure to let you know that you should submit there, too. In the meantime, if you’re a lucky Fineline winner or editors’ choice, let me know so I can congratulate you. Happy writing!

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An Embarrassment of Riches

3 Feb

My 3rd Fiction Friday and already I’m changing the rules. If you love model micros & fab flashes as much as I do, this post pays for my sins.

I love Daily Shorty. It’s my digital home and my digital voice, and the best way to share what I know with other writers and fans of very short fiction. But I need to reserve writing energy and time for my fiction. When I do that, I can count on delivering only one or two substantive posts per week. If I do both a Market Monday and a Fiction Friday every week, I’ve hit my max, leaving me no time, ever, to talk about anything else. So Fiction Friday will have to be a monthly, rather than weekly, feature.

best-small-fictions-2015-coverToday I’m making up for an undelivered Fiction Friday post by bringing your attention to two wonderful anthologies, The Best Small Fictions, 2015 and 2016 (well, and I see 2017 is coming soon). I was ecstatic when I discovered the 2015 collection, and it didn’t disappoint. I got 2016 for Christmas and haven’t yet read it—when I do, I’ll do a post about it. Tonight I get to talk about the 2015 inaugural edition of this series.

Robert Olen Butler is the guest editor of The Best Small Fictions 2015. His Google-able accolades are many and very shiny, but I’m a fan because his story “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” is one of my all-time favorites, and Severance, a collection of the final internal monologues of victims of decapitation (victims both imagined, such as Medusa, and real, such as Anne Boleyn) is a wonderful collection of micro fiction. Each micro is limited to 240 words, a number derived from the claims that (1) a severed head retains consciousness for 90 seconds, and (2) human beings think 160 words per minute when in a hyper-emotional state. Gruesome, yes, but I’ve yet to come across a more thrilling conceit.

So the man knows his shit. In particular his short shit. He proves it immediately in his lovely introduction that defines a small fiction as “a lone wolf of a lie,” and then he proves it over and over in the subsequent pages. Anyone skeptical of what very short fiction can achieve needs to read this book. But don’t let me persuade you—the stories below will do the job for me. These are a few of my favorites from the book (the first is my very favorite) that also happen to be available online:

“A Notice from the Office of Reclamation,” by J. Duncan Wiley

“Happiest White Black Man Alive,” by Dan Gilmore

How To Disassemble Your Father’s Ghost (Winter), Jonathan Humphrey

Amazing what one little lone wolf of a lie can do, yes?

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600 Words for The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

30 Jan

Market Monday reminds me to focus, and then, when I resist, has the nerve to interfere with my angry stupor. Election Dejection, Take II.

More writing cure, that’s what I need. Maybe you need it, too?

On December 5, I marked my return to Daily Shorty with the declaration that in the face of undispelled election dejection, “I would prefer to be animated and productive while I shake with anger and fear, rather than depressed and dithering.” Let the record show that “depressed and dithering” didn’t rear their ugly heads until Sunday. I didn’t overreact—I just went dark as I quietly absorbed the awfulness in the news. But today depressed and dithering tried to take root.

matterMarket Monday, my weekly spotlight on a magazine worthy of your very short fiction, asserts itself. It’s our reminder of my one superpower and yours: Words. The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts would like to see no more than 600 of them. Randall Brown, founder and managing editor, will treat your words well, as he did mine.

Do I like what JCCA publishes? That site is a treasure trove. Just a few gold coins to get you started here, here, and here.

Aesthetics? I like JCCA’s minimalist presentation, and I love the way the site’s organized, with easy access to archives on its homepage.

Do they nominate authors for awards? Why yes, yes they do! Check out that righthand side of the homepage.

Do the guidelines speak to me? This is one of those rare times when guidelines that articulate a vision beyond “send us your best” resonate with me. A strict word limit of 600 demands the kind of focus writers of very short fiction learn to master, but it’s the call to compression in particular—short doesn’t necessarily mean compressed—that shapes the voice of this journal. And I love it.

Let’s change the world for the better by publishing more truth with our stories. If you grace JCCA with your work, please let me know so I can congratulate you.

In the meantime, if you’re fighting continued election dejection, too, here’s the smartest political piece I’ve read in a long time. And I’ll sign off with a quote from America Ferrera, from the Women’s March on Washington, that gives me hope:

If we—the millions of Americans who believe in common decency, in the greater good, in justice for all—if we fall into the trap by separating ourselves by our causes and our labels, then we will weaken our fight and we will lose. But if we commit to what aligns us, if we stand together steadfast and determined, then we stand a chance of saving the soul of our country.

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Testing Writing Rules: A Fab Flash

27 Jan

It’s Fiction Friday and I’m celebrating with a story that reminds me of one of my least favorite writing rules.

I’m all for breaking the rules of writingcraft. I love to engage in a furious bout of TELLING rather than showing, thank you very much, and I wonder sometimes if I’m capable of writing any other kind of story than the “zero-to-zero” Jerome Stern outlawed in Making Shapely Fiction. But the rule I most like to break? The one that makes me snarl? “Write what you know.”

I get it. The rule actually means “Use what you know.” And that’s good advice. But when you’re first starting out, and everywhere you turn someone’s advising you solemnly to write what you know, and then shoving Carver and Hemingway at you, not to mention Updike, not to mention Philip fucking Roth (notice a pattern?) you find yourself thinking, well, I don’t spend my evenings staring at a shot glass or swapping angry silence with a spouse or toting a gun or rushing off to dark corners to either masturbate or get it on with somebody else’s spouse, so I write about… what… Scrabble? Cats?? Wait, I know! My parents’ divorce or that time my brother almost lost a finger because there was suffering, people suffered.

Rule BookI’m just saying: If you limit your fiction to the things you know—things, then, you already understand—why on earth are you writing in the first place? Build a brick oven or make a suit of armour. Do something creepy with papier mâché. Writing is about discovery. The whole point is to write what you don’t know—what you can’t know, in fact, until you write it.

So that’s me, being right, and sharing my rightness with you. Except when I’m wrong! And today I’m wrong. A little. Because the fab flash I’m celebrating is built, I’m certain, on intimate knowledge. Of insomnia. And how do I know that? Because I used to suffer from insomnia. I know how it feels, what it looks and smells like, the particular ways in which it rubs away at your smarts and senses. And I recognize it in a beautiful flash fiction published at Hermeneutic Chaos Journal.

I’d bet money Tessa Yang wrote “Peripheral” from the experience of having suffered from insomnia, or she knows well an insomniac who told her all about it. And so, I would say, she used what she knows, which is why I’m only a little wrong. OR I’m even more right than ever (win-win!) because maybe she just did a little research and then imagined herself, like a champ, into it. Either way (1) Please break writing rules whenever you can, and (2) Read this terrific, quiet, shifty little story ostensibly about one thing but really about something else and then something else again….

Which is really all to say that the one true-blue writing rule you can forever depend on? Reading well leads to writing well. Enjoy.

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CHEAP POP Wants Your Micros!

23 Jan

It’s Market Monday! Grab your quirky, amped, oddball micros. You know, the ones that *POP*.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-6-31-01-pmI discovered CHEAP POP, home of the offbeat micro, when reading the excellent anthology The Best Small Fictions 2015. More on this little treasure and her 2016 sister in an upcoming post. For now I’ll thank the editors for bringing this terrific magazine to my attention just when I happened to be looking sideways at a handful of micro drafts I’d yanked from my Daily Shorty year. I liked them—I liked them a lot—but who would want them?

Do I like what CHEAP POP publishes? I read Leesa Cross-Smith’s “All That Smoke Howling Blue” in the anthology and thought, hmm. Is that story… finished? I read it again. Stopped to savor strange word-pairings that shot tension or was it joy? into the piece, thought hard about the sentence, “My name, a begging blue prayer,” so sad… or was it so eager? It’s a strange, jumpy or settled? little story, a slice-of-life piece if the lamplight’s flickering and the TV screen keeps going to static and you’re not sure if maybe you keep hearing that same ringing note, low, in your left ear, are you getting tinnitus or is that a memory??

After reading Cross-Smith’s piece, and then this one and this one and this one, I thought CHEAP POP might just appreciate my quirks, so I asked and they answered by publishing my micro “Just Asking,” originally drafted on April 26 during my Daily Shorty year. Many thanks to the editors.

They will like your quirks, too.

Does CHEAP POP nominate its authors for awards? Here’s their awards page.

Aesthetics? CHEAP POP does a great job of showing off an awful lot of pieces. If they didn’t have such a clean and balanced approach to page design, the collection of links would look too jumbled.

Do the guidelines speak to me? As someone committed to the craft of very short fiction, I love their devotion to micros—they take pieces 500 words or less, full stop. They couldn’t be more clear about how to put your submission together, which I very much appreciate. And this speaks to me for sure: “We don’t differentiate between Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Prose Poetry, nor do we have restrictions on genre—if it pops, it pops! What we want to see is good writing, your best writing, and that’s it.” Yes!

If you publish at CHEAP POP, please let me know so I can congratulate you! If CP doesn’t speak to you, just move on to the next. There are so many magazines worthy of your best work, I’m sure I’ll spotlight one you like soon enough. Good luck!

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Genre Blur: A Fab Flash

20 Jan

Introducing Fiction Friday! A weekly signpost to a stunning micro or flash, waiting, somewhere online, for your eager eyes.

Last month I posted about discovering a terrific micro while doing what, researching submissions, of course. Stopping in the middle of my own submissions slog to marvel at someone else’s work, hitting “Publish” with the belief that I was surely sending ONE grateful person to that delightful piece, made my writing day. Then I went back to my slog.

I post about submissions so much because as an apprentice writer, I spend far more time actually doing them. It’s a grueling part of my writing life, and the reward of publication comes too infrequently to properly support all that labor. Daily Shorty provides! I’ve created regular rewards I can deliver unto myself, now, something besides a latte or a chunk of chocolate, here in my digital home.

Tangible reward #1: Market Monday, introduced here, is my weekly spotlight on a magazine worthy of our best shorties, and ensures my hours of research amount to something other than my own efforts at publication.

Tangible reward #2: Fiction Friday, starting today! Each week* I’ll point the way to a shorty gem living out there in the vast online wilderness, a story and author known only to the lucky few, for the simple reason that this is the way of our literary world. Fiction Friday will promote a writer working in the usual writerly obscurity, delighted to have published a cherished piece but wishing that publication had changed her life. Let’s change it just a little, shall we? By giving our lonely writer-in-the-garret just a bit more reader-love. If we do that, I can thankfully say once again that my hours of submissions research matter to someone besides my-in-my-own-garret-self.

I am thrilled to highlight today a flash fiction that blurs genre lines, Shannon Peavey‘s “Millepora” at Flash Fiction Online.

I don’t tend to read science fiction. Given my adolescent crush on Mr. Spock (Mr. Nimoy, you are missed) and during those same years my attachment to Ray Bradbury’s short stories, I wonder why I don’t. In any case, excepting anything porny or gory, I haven’t met a fiction genre I can’t love. If what I’m reading is just damn good work, then I’m going to be happy. The sci-fi-like “Millepora” makes me very happy indeed.

I don’t know how the Smart Ones define “literary,” and I refuse to appeal to dictionary authority. I define it as beautifully written, fully imagined, and speaks to universal truths, and this story accomplishes all three in a flash. “Millepora” met my gold standard—I immediately read it to the husband. He loved it, too.

I don’t agree with the complaint I hear and read so often, that most work in literary magazines is bland and contains workshop DNA, that literary publishers only accept elegantly crafted stories about nothing. I see proof that this is wrong literally almost every day. But I will say that I wish there was more range of subject matter and style than I generally see in literary short fiction, more widespread willingness to be strange or outrageous or freaky. And I know this: If more readers celebrate stories like “Millepora,” more magazines will publish them.

 

*Feb 3 Update. Fiction Friday will be a monthly, not a weekly, feature.

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Micro & Flash: The Citron Review

16 Jan

Introducing Market Monday! Each week I’ll spotlight a magazine worthy of your micro & flash fiction submissions.

cropped-water-splash-on-lemon1829We apprentice writers have to keep the submissions going almost as much as the writing. Almost every day I’m thinking about submissions, researching markets for submissions, doing submissions. The process can be grueling, and it helps to have support.

I focused on contests for fiction chapbooks at the end of 2016, then contests for individual stories. Now I’m working on general submissions, and I’ll be very pleased if others can benefit from all this doing. So: Want to know where to submit your micros and flashes? Daily Shorty to the rescue!

As a thank you to the editors, I’ll be covering in my first Market Monday posts the magazines that have been kind enough to publish me. Today I’m spotlighting The Citron Review, which published two of my micros this past summer, “Waiting” and “Unwritten.”

You will have your own criteria for judging markets. I look for these things:

Do I like what the magazine publishes? Here’s a micro at TCR I really like, and oh look here’s another. And hey don’t miss this flash, and take a long moment to savor this one.

Is the website aesthetically pleasing? If the work is published online, does the magazine do a good job of highlighting it? I like the minimalism of TCR’s site, the eye-catching banner atop every page, the straightforward menu bar, and the overall clean but stylish look. Each piece is printed simply and clearly in a pleasing font against a soft background that doesn’t tax the eyes.

Does the magazine nominate its authors for awards? See here TCR’s nominations for the 2017 Pushcarts.

Do the guidelines speak to me? TCR’s guidelines are my favorite kind–plain, clear direction on how to submit–so this question doesn’t really apply. When applicable, I’ll note in these Market Monday posts the sort of work the editors are calling for, because when there is such a call, it can carry a lot of decision-making weight. If the editors say in their guidelines they strive to publish work that showcases the invitational splendor of generational micro-divisions, or they pine for stories that comment on the residual soul-mannerisms birthed by our primal makers… I’m outta there.

If you submit to The Citron Review and your work is accepted for publication, please let me know so I can congratulate you here. If TCR doesn’t move you, have faith–there are so many lovely places wanting your work, and I’ll be showcasing many of them.

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Maine Writers: Apply for this!

2 Jan

This writing award is definitely worth your time.

Just a reminder to Maine writers to apply for the Egen WEX award. The application is SO simple, just a form with contact info and a work sample. The reward is a trip to New York City to meet publishing bigwigs (among a couple of other treats), so that’s a huge win for very little effort. There’s just no excuse to ignore this one, so let’s go!

Click here for application details and the form you need.

Why We Write

1 Jan

Or: Why a pan of black beans is like burnt orange toile is like a poem. And why we need them all.

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Textile art by my friend Patty (using my Daily Shorty method).

Not too long ago, I spent an afternoon cooking a meal for friends struggling with a very painful loss. I was reeling from the news myself, which I’d received the evening before. The only thing I know to do for someone in pain, besides listen, is to feed them. So I went through my pantry, came up with a dish I could make, and started cooking.

As I tasted the black beans that were an element of the dish, as I added a little heat, some acid, a bit of floral sweet, my breathless anger—why should they have to endure this?—settled into a quiet, productive sadness. I could think past the awfulness. I could ask myself: What will feed them well?

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My friend Cheryl made this.*

Because I was making something, and because I had to call on what I know of flavor and texture to build it from scratch, I was, in those hours, more whole than I had been since receiving the news. Because I was being creative, I could shift my energy from the horror, and focus instead on what could be done. I could focus on their need and try to fill one small piece of it.

Around the same time, another friend was mourning the loss of her mother, a troubled woman who had lived more than her share of pains. They had a complicated relationship, and part of her grief has consisted of processing that relationship. As she does that, she reminds herself to focus on the things she admired about her mother, including her skill at sewing and making crafts. She told me about the fabrics her mother had stored in her basement sewing space, a staggering range of colors and designs, everything from plain white cotton to orange toile to extravagant prints.

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My friend Beth made this beautiful card.

When my friend’s mother was making things, she seemed to come into a self that wasn’t weighted by years of grief and disappointment. She wasn’t wracked with resentment and anger at a world that had not treated her well. When she was at her sewing machine, she was, simply, more whole. And by gifting the things she made to her daughters and grandchildren, to neighbors and friends, she made them more whole.

Writing, cooking, sewing. My brother tells me he loves to forge iron and fire cannons—WHAT?? Okay, add metalwork to my list, add a blast of smoke and fire, and note my sister’s needlework, a close friend’s beautiful handmade cards. We all need to make things, to be creative. Gardening, tinkering with an old car, reinventing old furniture (my mother-in-law’s latest specialty). Even crafting an e-mail has calmed my spirit, shown me a more glittering truth.

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My sister stitched this 20 years ago.

This is not news. To be creative is part of being human, we know this. But I’m not sure we always understand that to plant a new row of Queen of Night tulips adds to our wholeness, or to fire a cannon makes life feel that one instant less short. That to spend an hour making cards is an act of mental health. And generosity.

It sounds so lofty to say—as I have many times—that writers write to make ourselves more whole. Or maybe I mean it sounds pretentious. But I’m just saying what we all know already. To be whole we must make things. We confused, distracted humans need and love both attention and intention. So my wish for us all in 2017, writers and non-writers alike? Less worry, more action. Less news, more connection. Less spending, more making.

Dig in. Stop time while you cut a strip of pretty paper or hold a piece of metal over a fire, when you discover that exactly right line-break and groove on the white space. Make a story a poem a pair of mittens a birthday card a Christmas ornament a pan of lasagna. Make something. And then share it.

 

*You can pre-order Cheryl Wilder’s chapbook What Binds Us here.

Going Meta: A Model Micro

22 Dec

When reading for submissions morphs into panning for gold.

One of the joys of all the labor involved in submitting stories—okay, there are only two joys—is the inevitable discovery, while cruising magazine sites, of terrific work. Stories I immediately read to the husband even if he’s eating, watching hockey, walking away. Stories I wish I had written.

wigpegliveTypically I dislike stories about writers and writing. On the other hand, I groove on anything “meta” when it’s done well (and despise it when it’s not). Deb Olin Unferth’s meta micro “Draft,” at Wigleaf, first held me spellbound, then made me laugh, and in the end made me wistful for all my unrealized visions. Before I’d finished reading it to the husband, that wistfulness somehow shifted into excited hope for all the visions and the realizing to come. For a piece just over 150 words, that’s quite a feat.

And the second joy that comes of working on submissions? Oh! Realizing all those glorious visions sitting on my hard drive.

Working on submissions begets tinkering, and tinkering begets writing satisfaction. There’s nothing like figuring out, finally, why I’ve always given the side-eye to that last sentence of a shorty that’s very good, deserves a home, yet… something isn’t quite right…. AHA! Wrong verb, and it needs another beat. Ahh. Just look at it now.

A story about writing-dissatisfaction made me want to submit to Wigleaf. And that drive to find the right work for the submission made me tinker. Which ultimately led to writing-satisfaction. For a writer-geek like me, that’s irony gold that had to be shared. In writing.

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Maine Writers: Award Opportunity

13 Dec

Poets & Writers invites Maine writers to apply for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award.

“Each year, Poets & Writers considers applications for the award from writers in a selected state. This year, that state is Maine. The judges are Tania James for fiction and Cynthia Cruz for poetry.”

Deadline January 9. There’s no reason to not apply, folks. This award comes with a trip to New York to meet editors, agents, and publishers, as well as well-known writers. Your job is as simple as filling out a form and printing off a writing sample. Details here.

Good luck!

Micro & Flash Fiction Contests

12 Dec
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Making it to the final round often results in publication.

I go on and off contests. Sometimes I get upset about the fees and stop submitting to them for a while, but I always come back. The primary appeal is the guarantee that the submission will be read and fairly considered in a blind judging process within a reasonable, specified timeframe.

Ordinary submissions to literary magazines and presses, despite the best efforts and highest ethical standards of Those In Charge, may never get more than a glance at the first paragraph, if your submission is not passed along by an agent or you haven’t somehow caught the attention of the reader—say by publishing something widely read and admired, or sharing an appetizer with the right person a week ago last Saturday. You can’t even blame the readers for dismissing your work without due consideration, because everyone in literary publishing, including the volunteers, are over-assigned and under-rewarded. But it’s frustrating to be the writer on the other end.

As for timing, my first literary magazine acceptance took eight months. I’ve received rejections well after a year from submission date, including from magazines that don’t allow simultaneous submission. And these timeframes are not at all unusual. With a contest, you know when the decision will come, and it’s typically within a quarter of submission.

Favorites Diamonds

All your cut diamonds need a home!

And I’m happy to know that my contest fee will fund the usual cash reward that goes to the winner, who likely earns next to nothing from her writing.

I’ve had good luck with contests—I’ve published six stories by entering them—and I want to pass along that good luck. So I’m sharing the fruits of my own search for worthwhile contests where you can submit your micro and flash fiction, knowing at least one person will give it a careful read. My modest list is here. There are plenty more to try, if you’re especially eager, but this will get you started. If you have enough publishable micros and flashes to put together a fiction chapbook, you’ll find a list of chapbook contests here.

What are you waiting for? Go!

My Published Stories

11 Dec

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This image best represents the way I feel when a magazine accepts a story. The chance to share my work with people who would never otherwise see it… well. That’s a gift.

I’ve finally created a page here at Daily Shorty noting the title and first line or two of each published story, as well as the name of the publication that put me in print. When the full story is available online, I’ve linked to it.

Now back to the writing trenches….

Practice Grace AND Confidence

7 Dec

Writers! It only now occurs to me that practicing grace is an act of self-confidence. As writers who spend so much time alone with our words, we need a lot of both.

Fellow Maine writer Karen Maffeo Creamer blogs today about how to be graceful in response to one of the many small (and large) cuts we writers suffer.* Her story reminded me of a cut I once received—a very slight one, yet it felt like a shiv to the kidney.

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If I had the confidence my Willa finds between her toes, I’d be set for life.

Newly minted MFAers are told to expect a good two years before publication. I was ecstatic when nine months after graduation, a highly respected literary magazine accepted my story (but I would pay the rest of my time-dues and then some, before fate smiled again). I shrieked and threw my hands up when I saw the e-mail, then ran outside to my husband’s waiting car—by coincidence, he was on his way to pick me up for something when I got the acceptance—shouting as I bounded down the outside stairs of our apartment building, at first alarming the poor husband. That high lasted for weeks, and that publication was an extremely important piece of early validation. Which made the knife months later hurt that much more.

“Your piece came so close,” the gentle rejection read. “Unfortunately, it’s just not quite right for us.” They wished me luck with the story and invited me to submit again. And by “they” I mean the very same magazine, and by “the story” I mean the very same story that had in fact been published already and was living in its colorful, shiny, pristine package on one of my book shelves. Yep. The same story was both accepted and rejected, both published and gently pushed away, by editors at the same publication.

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She doesn’t exactly embody grace, but I can’t post a pic of Willa and NOT one of my Tillie.

A more confident me would have laughed, felt embarrassed for the magazine’s overworked staff, and notified them of the mistake in hopes they would discover what went wrong with their review process before doing something like this to another author. The me of the time signed into the magazine’s submissions log to stare at the title of my published story with a big fat “Declined” next to it.

I would like to say that this bothered me only for a couple of days. I would like to say I never signed into that database again to stare at “Declined.” I would like to be an accomplished pianist, a retired prima ballerina, and a singer known best for my a capella performances.

Fortunately, I am lately bored by my own reflections on why I take things on the chin when I don’t have to, why I can’t laugh at the Universe’s jokes—the same story, the same magazine, “just not quite right” while it sits on my shelf—so rather than spraying more words about this incident, I will instead appreciate Karen’s reminder that Grace is the writer’s friend, and Confidence is properly measured by the good work we do, not by the one person who said No to it… OR the one who said Yes.
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*Karen’s doing an author talk and book signing in York on Tuesday, December 13, so please drop by if you’re in the area, details here.

Election Dejection: Writing Cure

5 Dec

It’s been precisely four weeks, now, and I’m not over it. I don’t think anyone should get over it, but that’s a topic for another place.* No, I’m not over it, but I would prefer to be animated and productive while I shake with anger and fear, rather than depressed and dithering.

One day too soon, Reader, you and I might be fighting in the streets with sharpened spoons over a can of tuna we can’t open. Until that day, let’s put our heads down and do the work we were made for. And let’s do it together.

letterThis past week, I put together a chapbook of micros and flashes for Rose Metal Press’s annual chapbook contest. This weekend I found a few other such opportunites I might pursue in the coming weeks, and thought to share them here, in case you write very short as well, or have writer friends who do. Note that you must check websites very carefully for current information if you wish to submit—my list is merely your first road sign.

It has never been more important to work, and to build community. I have just one superpower: Words. And I have only one writing home to share. Come back anytime.
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*Next day update: Mary Lou Bagley pointed me to this article by Quaker Parker J. Palmer, which makes the only good case I know for getting over it: Get over it so you can get on with it. Well… yes.

Love from Mid-American Review

17 Jun

MARcover35_1.inddMany thanks to Mid-American Review, first for publishing in their beautiful anniversary issue my micro fiction “Three Things”–written during my Daily Shorty year and submitted to MAR’s 2014 Fineline competition–and second for giving me a shout-out from their website with an author interview. I used to do interviews like this with authors when I was an editor at Hunger Mountain, so it was fun to be on the other side. What a great, great magazine, and what an honor to be a part of it.

But enough about me! Enjoy from MAR’s archives this stunning micro by Anika L. Eide, 2013 Fineline editor’s choice, “Some Parents.” I love the surrealism of this piece, especially as delivered in what I would call a sort of deadpan tone of voice. Here’s the first sentence to get you hooked: We are granted only so many lies before we become liars. Ahh, yes. You just know this is going to be good….

Not writing? Take an ice bath.

27 May
A clip from Podio.com's infographic,

A clip from Podio.com’s infographic, “The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People.” *

Have you seen Podio.com’s infographic breaking down the daily routines of some much-admired creative people? I stared at it for at least ten minutes, trying to divine color-coded inspiration from all those rectangles. But all I see is a collage of the banal–John Milton spent a chunk of every day walking in his garden–with a bit of the bizarre for spice. Did I need to know that Victor Hugo’s daily breakfast consisted of 2 raw eggs and coffee? Is that going to inspire me to keyboard magnificence?

Books are always my go-to place for guidance, so when I started writing with serious attention, I read an armload of books about writing. And what I realized as I slogged through chapters on how to set up a creative space in my home, or how to access my dreamscape (my WHATscape??) was that of course I wasn’t reading about writing at all. I was reading about some of the things that some writers do. And the more I fretted over where my writing space should be and what inspirational quote I should tape to my bathroom mirror, the less I wrote.

It’s natural to want guidance from those who have succeeded in the same art you’re called to do. And even through all those boxes of color, that guidance comes through, it’s just both obvious and boring. We’d rather know that Kafka had trouble sleeping (big surprise) and Auden fueled his writing with Benzadrine. We can savor those little treats, we can pass them along in conversations about writing. But the real take-away from that graphic is something we know already. Just look at all that pink. That’s the color marking the time these lovely creative people were working on their art. If you want to be a productive writer, you need to make the time to do it. And you need to do that almost every day. Damn.

My year continues to slap me with unexpected challenges–medical concerns, domestic issues, and a host of good friends suffering terrible loss. I should have written through it all, but I haven’t. Do you think if I take an ice bath on the roof, that will help? Worked for old raw-egg Hugo.

I have written about this before and surely I will write about it again, because when a lesson is hard, when I don’t like it, I just have to keep re-learning it: There is no map. There is no checklist. No perfect routine, no ideal creative space. There is only me, my addled brain, and a keyboard or pen. And always–ALWAYS–yet another opportunity to start again.
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* Image here, full infographic here.

Give that lady an apple!

8 Mar

AppleWriter friends, I tried to care. A week ago, a former creative writing professor reignited the are-we-really-talking-about-this-again “debate” over MFAs–stifling or inspiring, valuable or a waste, dirty trick or transformative validation? I can only assume it’s been a year, more or less, since the last gleeful festival of Who Gives a Shit, so we were due.

Ex-prof wants to spread a little hard-earned truth about MFA programs and writing, in what some are calling his “screed” or “rant.” But a screed has a pulse; a rant careens. I sensed no passion in his same ol’ same ol’ opinions and insensitive remarks, which might be why he failed to light the fire of commentary in me, despite my disagreement with just about everything he said. I finished the piece unmoved and wondering why this guy didn’t take his own advice, and decline to write about something he doesn’t understand: teaching. Which brings me to what inspired this post.

I was writing about something else when I stumbled over a response to “Things I Can Say…” that did make me care. Not about the same, warmed-over insults to writing students, certainly not about the perennially stupid argument about the value of an MFA. But about the glaring subtext of Ex-prof’s piece, which is that a man so full of contempt for students and their apprentice work should never have been teaching in the first place.

I can’t and won’t try to write something thoughtful about teaching, because I don’t have the experience to do the subject justice. But Laura Valeri does. Her reply to Ex-prof, “Those Who Teach, Can,” reminded me forcefully of the extraordinary writing teachers I have studied with, all of whom treated me, my apprentice work, and my particular version of writing ambition with profound respect. In Valeri’s post, I felt passion–for teaching and for her students–in every line. Some of my favorites:

* …the true challenge of teaching is that we want to reach every student, not just students who already have success spelled on their foreheads and were already self-motivated to start early.

* I could never be satisfied taking a salary paid in large part from student tuitions and resign myself to “making them better readers.” This has been the standard, pass-the-buck response of too many privileged writers who were assigned their teaching positions based on the record of their publications with little to no scrutiny given to their teaching philosophy and approach to the classroom.

* If you fail, it’s on you. Don’t blame the students. They showed up. Did you?

If you have any desire to teach writing, you should do yourself the favor of reading her thoroughly excellent post.

All hail good writing teachers. They are GOLD.

Writing Revelation

5 Mar
Cynthia's foot.

Cynthia’s summer foot.

In the spirit of my friend and former colleague Cynthia Newberry Martin’s current writing project, here’s one true thing about me: I detest baby showers.

Cynthia’s year-long writing challenge is such a terrific idea that I’m almost jealous I didn’t think of it for myself. Almost, but not quite, because I’m enjoying her work far too much to let it be tainted by anything negative. Her project is as simple as it is rich: She’s sharing one true thing about herself every day for a year at her blog Catching Days, where she also blogs about books, shares thoughts about the (mostly novel-) writing process, and posts an in-depth “a day in the writing life” piece about a different writer every month. Sometimes a “true things” post is just a line or two, other times she writes a mini-essay. All are good reads. Here’s the contents page for the project.

And here’s another revelation: I am incapable of telling the truth if you ask me about your new haircut and I don’t like it. You can say all you want that I should be honest and that you really want, even need, my opinion. I will nod and say of course and smile and lie my ass off. And you will believe me. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

You must and WILL submit!

4 Mar

Just in time for the big build-up to spring, I have declared Re-Orientation Time. To the writing life, that is. Join me?

Re-orienting to the writing life means getting submissions out. This is the perennially painful duty that I and all my writing friends complain about. Through the years I’ve experimented with various ways of making submissions less painful, and one that works well for nerdy me is to think of the whole complex of tasks we call “submitting” as a kind of game–a role-playing, problem-solving game with its own rewards entirely apart from the outcome of each submission.

WuerfelCharacter: 21st Century Writer.

Outfit: Your favorite sweater, comfy jeans, lucky socks.

Tools: A laptop / Notebook / iPad. A scruffy, spiral-bound, PAPER notebook with a blot-ey pen shoved into the spiral. A favorite book. Lumbar support. Snacks, both salty and sweet.

Primary Task: Find one good (and currently open) market for your finished story and submit to that market. Depending on the kind of submitter you are, you might need to create a chart in Word before you can choose that market, or make an inky list in your spiral notebook. If your eyes go blurry, rest them on that favorite book, the one that reminds you why you’re called, today, to ask an editor to consider your 2400-word story about the people passing through a flower garden, or 7500-word essay on the apron your grandmother passed to you, skipping your resentful mother. Remember that you don’t offer work to the world because PEOPLE NEED IT. You offer it because you are more whole when you write, and even more whole again when you share what you have written. That is ALWAYS enough reason to submit. ALWAYS. Plus: SOMEBODY NEEDS IT.

Secondary Task: School your brain to ignore the fact that you have always known the word “submission” to mean the act of bowing to someone else’s will. Your brain fixates on this meaning and makes you feel nervous and small, even pitiful, when you’re offering up that story or essay or poem. But the absurdly bold act of submitting your work makes you a pirate, a warrior, or maybe just a really nice person who wants to make meaning and then share it. In this context, “submission” means “gift.” Now give the brain a snack.

Rewards for Completing Tasks: Snacks, obviously, both salty and sweet. Also 3 points for Participation, 2 points for Confidence. Bonus reward: An entertaining and commiserating e-mail exchange (or Facebook status update parade) about your submission session with a writer friend or friends, initiated by newly participating and more confident you.

50 points gets you a meal at your favorite restaurant OR a new book OR an ice cream cone OR a new pair of socks OR [fill in the treat of your choice].

Good luck! Oh, and if you’re the kind of submitter who considers a magazine’s prestige as a factor when choosing a market–I am sometimes that kind of submitter, sometimes not–then you might want to use this list of ranked magazines, put together by writer Clifford Garstang, as one of your guides. (Hat tip to my friend Cheryl Wilder.)

*Picture (cropped) from Wikimedia Commons, here.

Back in with Both Feet

3 Mar

289px-Oscar_Wilde_portrait_by_Napoleon_Sarony_-_albumenWell THAT was a long break!

Oscar Wilde said, “One’s real life is so often the life that one doesn’t lead.” Because I didn’t write much in 2014, I could say it was a year in which I didn’t live my “real life.” But that would be claiming a kind of writerly angst I don’t feel. True, it wasn’t a banner year for productivity, and 2015, so far, has been so stuffed with other concerns that I hardly know what it feels like, just now, to settle into a sentence meant to be shared. Just give me a moment.

It feels great! The keyboard is warm, the keys silky smooth. Particularly the N, E, and D, so worn that when I look at them now I see starbursts of jagged silver-gray, rather than the tidy, type-written white letter on black. L, C, and M aren’t far behind. Oh, the joy of thinking on the virtual page, the sublime joining of silent words to faint tap-tapping of fingers to this pretty font on a pale background.

Writing, I am happy to say—whether meant for sharing or not—is the same as it ever was: My one small miracle.

And now to reorient to the writing life in 2015.

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*Photo from Wikimedia Commons, here.

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

9 Mar

Lately words are making me feel old. Soon enough “answering machine” will make no sense to people, “carbon copy” is probably all but lost, and “pencil it in” is likely cruising into oblivion very soon as well. With little effort anyone over the age of 30 can produce a dozen more recently retired expressions, then rattle off a series of new words that fall neatly into the gaps. My latest acquisitions: listicle, selfie, and blog tour. Yes, I know, I’m slow on the uptake. That makes me feel old, too, but I can moan about that with the husband. For now I should get on with the tour.

I’m honored to have been invited by my dear (and dearly gifted) friend Suzanne Farrell Smith to talk about my writing process as part of a tour of writers’ blogs (a trip to Google will fetch a slew of the tour’s wonderful posts). Suzanne’s post is so rich that I wasn’t sure why I should add my own thoughts to the tour, but then I remembered the reason I started this blog: To share. To share my enthusiasm for short stories, my energy for writing, and whatever advice or inspiration could be lifted from the documentation of my Daily Shorty year and ongoing writerly thoughts and obsessions. I’m just here to share. So off I go with a smallish splat of Q & A.

1)        What am I working on?

In recent weeks I’ve devoted most of my writerly energy to putting together my first short story collection. I’ve been amazed at how hard it is to select from my files the stories that truly go together, and then to discover the best arrangement of the selections.

I developed my current (tentative) manuscript using index cards, each bearing a story title and notes on voice, length, form, themes, and arresting images and phrases. As I arranged and rearranged and arranged again my stack of cards, I kept drifting, mentally, into the fetal position, marveling that the gift of wordskill can morph into manacled ankles before you can say, “A speculative flash piece in narrative form exploring mortality, confused identity, and ruptured familial ties, with metaphors and analogies using water and blood.”

I’ve conjured countless rationales and justifications in this life—I am the much youngest of three kids, so to make up for my relative lack of strength and stature, I mastered early the arts of argument and persuasion. Which is to say that I can stack the index cards any which way and then explain why the order is absolutely right, and by the third attempt (of many, many) I was overwhelmed by my own spin. The goal is to get behind the justifications to the truth, and that’s something I’ve always struggled with, regardless of context. In other words: I’m not done. And wish me luck.

2)        How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In one of my MFA semester evaluations, my mentor began his characterization of my work like this: “Claire does not write realist fiction.” I was taken aback, and at our end-of-semester meeting I asked—with some pique—why he’d said that. He gave me that “Oh dear, she’s slipped into her native Russian” look, and said, “Well, Claire, because… you don’t in fact write realist fiction??” Somehow I’d read his comment as saying that my stories don’t reflect the cares and worries of real people. Of course they do, dammit. Yes, he agreed, of course they do. But they do that using satire or a sprinkling of fairy tale or the form of a product label.

We’ve seen more experimentation and weirdness in short stories over the last decade+, thanks to writers like Aimee Bender, Etgar Keret, and George Saunders, but it’s still true that the vast majority of the stories I read in litmags are written in the realist tradition. My graduation manuscript didn’t include a single story that could be called realist, though many were written in narrative form. After writing a story every day for a year, I do now have some realist shorties under my belt. And when I get the word-alchemy right, I like these stories just as much as anything else I’ve written.

Realist or not, narrative form or not, I like dark, I like funny. I like weird. Every story I write hits one or more of those notes.

3)        Why do I write what I do?

When I won a literary fellowship from the State of Maine, one of the judges commented that I give life to characters who “live in the margins.” I hadn’t realized that before, but it’s true. I write about these people because no one will notice them if I don’t. I put them in short stories because I’m completely in love with the form, so much so that I have to remind myself to read novels.

I hate to sound over-serious nor too full of myself, but I am both of those things, so here it is: I write odd, dark, often darkly funny short stories because I want so badly to tell the truth, and pushing art beyond the boundaries of what feels “normal” gets me to that truth well and fast. I could write a hundred essays (and hopefully someday I will) but the whole lot of them couldn’t possibly tell as much truth as I can reveal in one small piece of fiction. Isn’t that just the sort of preposterous thing sniffy, pashmina-wearing writers say? But I truly believe it. At the very same time that I know it’s preposterous, I believe it. And now someone needs to give me a pashmina, because I’ll never buy one for myself.

4)        How does your writing process work?

I noticed long ago that I both love and despise routine. I crave order and feel comforted by rules and frames, but once I know the rules and frames, once I’ve had to bow to order, I begin to chafe. And I will rebel, it’s just a matter of time and style. So with regard to my writing practice, I establish order and then plan for the rebellion.

When I find myself unable to write immediately upon waking, I’ll shift my writing time to after lunch. When I begin to hate my post-lunch commitment, I’ll save writing time for after dinner. Deep into my Daily Shorty year, every month or so for about a week, I addressed my mental exhaustion by giving myself whole days to do everything but writing, which meant I didn’t start writing until 10:00 PM or even much later. I would sneak up on myself and then have to take a headlong rush at the story before I became too incoherent to write. So whatever the context, I just keep adapting to the new me, with ever-changing targets and ever-evolving strategies.

As for the writing itself, I am a vertical writer who has learned how to incorporate some horizontal habits. And I’ll mention one other element of my process because I’ve discovered that it surprises people when they hear it, yet I can’t understand why: I never consider a story finished (well, as finished as possible, anyway, which is more how I see a story that I think is ready for submission) until I have gone through that final draft for the purpose of examining every single individual word. Is this word necessary? Yes, I think it is. Can you justify that belief? Yes, I think I can. Okay, how about this word? You know, now that you ask me, I have to say that this word is unnecessary. There, it’s gone. Okay, how about this word? And so on.

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And so ends my part of this tour! Next week, my friend and fellow alum Stephanie Friedman will talk about her process. Stephanie writes short stories that start off quiet but then sneak up on you before you’re quite prepared, which makes the surprise revelation or action or image particularly satisfying. As I’ve told her a couple of times, her work reminds me of Grace Paley, and I don’t see how a writer can ever go wrong doing that. She’s also an astute reader, a generous teacher, a loving wife and mom, and just an all-around thoroughly fantastic person. Here’s a page devoted to the Daily Shorty week Stephanie did with me. Her bio:

Stephanie Friedman is the program director of the Writer’s Studio, a continuing education program in creative writing at the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Her work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, and online for Hunger MountainBlood Orange Review, and Literary Mama. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago.

Stephanie intends to post Saturday, March 15, here.

My friend Cheryl Wilder will do a post for this tour, as well, here. And I particularly enjoyed Diane Lefer’s and Laurie Cannady’s stops on the tour. Happy reading!

February’s Daily Shorty Week

28 Feb
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien is my all-time favorite suspense novel.

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien is my all-time favorite suspense novel.

I am so uninterested in writing a novel, and so annoyed at those who think of short stories as stepping stones to book-length fictions, that I based my graduation lecture in my MFA program on the declaration that short story writers need never even think of writing a novel. Which likely guaranteed, I thought at the time, that I would, one day, pine to write one. Would I tell anyone, I wondered, when that day came?

Writer friends: That day has not yet arrived. Thank you, World, for Pride and Prejudice and Song of the Lark and Mrs. Dalloway and Lolita and Wide Sargasso Sea. Keep up the good work! I’ll be over here, dancing with Chekhov, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Gina Berriault, Etgar Keret, Aimee Bender, the incomparable George Saunders. Oh, and gulping my latest mystery.

A mystery! Now there’s something I’d love to write. Something? Somethings. A series! One after another, galloping along with humor and only the coziest kind of gore, or maybe slithering in noir shadows dragging along empty whiskey bottles and dirty needles, possibly buttoned into the uniform of a police procedural and slinging a gun with the safety off. Oh, I could get behind a mystery series, hell yeah. Why I haven’t before “counted” mysteries as novels, I don’t know—some silly, delusional genre-posturing, I suppose. Yet how I would love to write something half as good as a favorite mystery.

Writer friends: Correction. The day, I fear, has arrived. I do not wish to write a book about coming of age on a motorcycle road trip or battling cancer in a remote fishing village or weathering a mid-life crisis in Italy. I don’t have a new perspective on the Holocaust or a tale of three mothers or a fascination with Wall Street. But I’ve got some mystery-love to pour on the page. And so was born in February a new approach to Daily Shorty.

I love Sara Gran’s fresh approach. This second Claire Dewitt is particularly good and I’m really looking forward to the next.

My assignment the first 7 days of February was to do a freewrite, each day, on a mystery idea that’s been sitting in the back of my mental filing cabinet for a few years. After I wrote one freewrite, I’d give myself a specific assignment to tackle in my freewrite the next day. The overall goal was to finish the week with a set of plot possibilities and character sketches to inspire some research I’ll have to do to pursue my rough idea for the mystery. So not my usual Daily Shorty week, and no Story Facts to share. Just my confession that I might yet lurk in the land of the novel. Packing heat, of course.

First Week of January 2014: Done!

7 Jan

800px-Mmm..._fish_sammich_(4620256228)Celebrate my final story of the week with me by feasting on this gorgeous fish sandwich and onion rings. Mmm. Today I learned from my mistake the last two days and prioritized writing, and because I did I was reminded, once again, of how much joy it brings me to sit and compose, compose, compose. I do a lot of staring and re-reading, editing heavily as I go. I think hard, distract myself, think hard again. I re-imagine that turn, try something new, discard it, try something else, and so on and on, at a fat, sleepy snail’s pace. Sure, occasionally a story comes raging out, words tumbling to the page faster than I can type them almost, but typically drafting for me is just that slow and meticulous, and it is never, ever tedious. Anyway, I’ll save my reflections on the week for my next post and finish here with a note on the day’s shorty: For some unfathomable reason, I went wandering into sci-fi territory today, of all things into post-apocalyptic land. I had a pretty full picture of the world I was in and I was determined to write a piece that rendered that world in as few words as possible. I don’t know that I was successful—the piece is strange and maybe confusing. But I loved writing it and I hope I’ll come back to it, see how I can make it better. For now, big congrats to me for another glorious week of writing a story every day! It was a lovely way to say hello to 2014.


Working Title: “Deliverance”
1st Sentence: A woman stood at the front of the room, wearing a floor-length, plush, glittering scarlet robe, its train as long as she was tall and snaking behind and then around to curl at her feet.
Favorite Sentence: The almost-thought that had been born in her an instant ago, wordless, unacknowledged, the… impression that had already transmuted into mental vapor, it had at first the shape and texture of “why.”
Word Length: 405


Scrumptious picture found here.

Hint Fiction!

6 Jan

I have heard of “hint fiction” but have never dared to hope that I could write a successful story in fewer than 100 words. I can’t say this little bitty shorty works—it doesn’t. The material is flat. But I do like the way I played with language to merely hint at a situation. Sadly, the imagined situation is just not that interesting. But I like pushing for as short as possible, so I’m happy with this bit of practice. I wrote the shorty by starting with an image that came to me with attendant words, then writing from that to a natural end, which is the most common way I generate stories. I probably should have done a better job of imagining what might lie behind that image if I wanted to capture emotional truth, something compelling. Next time! Oh, and it couldn’t have helped that I woke up with the husband’s announcement that the toilet wouldn’t flush. Another day packed with other concerns and story coming up only at the end of it….


Working Title: “Odds”
1st Sentence: That tight-lipped smile, the one with her chin up, her arms crossed over her chest, the one that sat on her rigid face for a long, slow count to ten, easy, probably longer.
Favorite Sentence: Same as above.
Word Length: 52


Art + Story?

5 Jan

In keeping with my practice during my year of story, I haven’t always blogged a shorty this week on the same day I wrote it, but once I write the post that goes with the shorty, I date it to match the date I composed the draft. I’m writing this post now late evening January 7, after having written my final story for this Daily Shorty week, so my reflections here are influenced by a few days of hindsight. In any case, one question that came up for me this week is whether doing arts and crafts feeds my writing—a friend recently asked me that question and I was surprised to find that I had no answer. On Sunday January 5, I had an appointment first thing in the morning (when I usually take my first crack at the day’s story), then spent the vast majority of the day working on a craft project, something like 8 or 9 hours. Then I wrote the day’s shorty just before bed. My answer, for that day, is no, my other creative work didn’t feed my writing. I was tired and drained from focusing on my project for so many hours and I’m sure that didn’t help me with story-brain. But in general I have to believe that doing anything creative feeds not only other creative pursuits but our spirit otherwise. Do I have to believe it because I sense that it’s true or just because it suits me to believe so? Not sure. Anyway, I’m surprised to find that although I struggled to come up with the day’s shorty, definitely regretted all those hours spent on something else, and felt no great love for the writing that night, I’m pleased with it now. It’s very short and has a nice little punch at the end. A submittable keeper maybe not, but I have some affection for it. Success!


Working Title: “Tearless”
1st Sentence: He’s seen her cry over a fallen cake, a broken shoelace, the first birdsong of the season.
Favorite Sentence: She once teared up over a fortune cookie and she has been brought to shuddering sobs, twice in his presence, by a nature show.
Word Length: 123


Already a tough one!

4 Jan

I didn’t expect to have to push hard for a story when doing only one week of shorties, but I’m crossing a lot of other things off my list, too, this first week of January, so my energy level is not so high. I stayed up later than I wanted to with absolutely no ideas, then finally wrote something in a rush. It’s not a keeper but I do like the idea, so maybe I’ll come up with a better version one day. Still, easy ones or tough ones, nothing compares to the high of producing a story every day for any stretch of time. It’s just lovely to be making things.


Working Title: Being Tammi
1st Sentence: Since regression therapy she had insisted on being called Princess Mariponi.
Favorite Sentence: Still it was Prima this, Prima that. And so Princess Mariponi did what any self-respecting princess would do, she put a princess foot on the back of the old lady’s chair and gave it a princess push.
Word Length: 405


More Brutal Cold, More Disconnect

3 Jan

Winter Campus AveI think for writers all personal experience inevitably lends itself in some way to our stories but I wonder about things that feel so abstract as landscape and weather. It’s been TOO COLD here in Maine these first few days of the year, so I have been spending all my time in the house, cut off even from my beloved snow-shoveling–despite quality snow boots and socks, my crummy toes can stay out in sub-zero weather for only about 45 minutes before I’m in danger of the first stage of frostbite. And as it happens, the shorty I wrote each day starred a deeply disconnected person. Coincidence?


Working Title: “Basically Poison”
1st Sentence: She had declared her love for the Russian novelists and he had stuttered something about Conrad and she blinked, tensed.
Favorite Sentence: Did he know that tomatoes were in the nightshade family and would he eat the second cousin of hemlock, no he would not, so why do we eat tomatoes and eggplant when they’re basically poison?
Word Length: 256


This is one of my favorite snow pictures, taken by my husband on a street very near our house, in a far less brutal winter.

A Day To Bundle Up and Write!

2 Jan

imageSerious sub-zero weather, today. I had to come back in from shoveling snow after only 45 minutes of fun because I realized that my toes had moved from ordinary uncomfortably cold to really hurting. That kind of cold is sneaky. Most of the day I was fortunate to be inside, peering at the falling snow and windblown branches while I wordsmithed this little shorty. I hope I always remember to be grateful to be a writer.


Working Title: “Just So”
1st Sentence: If here and inclined to comment, Saul would agree.
Favorite Sentence: The William Tell Overture was “too full of itself,” even if that was the point, still, just… too.
Word Length: 195


Here’s a recent picture of our house. I was trying to get a good photo of that tree covered in ice to the right, the sun sneaking through… anyway. That was just a few days ago and already we have twice the snow. I have no idea where we’re going to put it all.

A Week of Story for 2014

1 Jan

Laptop peek sized iiI couldn’t resist. I’m doing a Daily Shorty week these first 7 days of January. I’ve taken a really long break and it’s time to jump back into my writing world. What better way to do it than to write 7 stories in 7 days?


Working Title: “Ancient Greek for Doom”
1st Sentence: This last year in particular she had looked for it, the thing that would finally lay her flat.
Favorite Sentence: “Marketing Coordinator” in black and white but really administrative assistant, those lunch-and-learns on ancient Greek thus entirely wasted.
Word Length: 341


Ahh. Typing out those story facts was almost as satisfying as writing the story. Thank you, 2014! I love you already.