Category Archives: On Writing

Falling in Love With Short Stories

Depending on whom you ask, short stories are either sweet morsels of brevity or pieces that are forgotten and overshadowed by the bigger, longer, and more familiar novel.

I am one of the former, and today I’d like to share with you how fabulous short stories really are.

While flash fiction pieces tend to run less than 1,000 words, short stories are traditionally described as 1,000 to 10,000 word tales (that’s 4 to 40 pages, if you’re working with the standard 250 words per page theory). Most markets set shorts in the 3,000 to 7,500 range, with some variance depending on the submission guidelines. No matter what the length, though, one thing remains the same: these magical little pieces manage to wrap the reader in an oft complex journey despite a surprisingly small number of words.

Though I wrote lots of smaller pieces growing up, I didn’t write what I considered my first true short story until a college Creative Fiction class. When I finished, I yanked my fingers off the keyboard with a gasp—I’d literally found myself in a trance for the course of 15 pages, my mind churning and my heart racing as this entire story unfolded in such a short amount of space. It felt magical and fantastic, and it occurred to me that writing shorts might be the path I wanted to take.

I didn’t, of course, but after years of toil over Kyresa and learning that I needed to write more often (from start to complete finish), I’ve spent a lot of my energy writing short stories lately. I’ve also been reading them incessantly, for which the purpose is three-fold. First, I’m looking for great short stories to share with my English students as we begin to study narrative writing, since they make excellent between-text reads to discuss. This in turn is good for my second reason: I’m often only able to accomplish short bursts of reading, and the joy of a short story is that I can finish it in that miniscule chunk of time.

The third reason I’ve been reading shorts, however, is the most important to me. Reading always makes one a better writer, and I’m finding that reading short stories that follow the entire narrative path in no more than 10,000 words is actually starting to strengthen my ability to write them. My first drafts are getting cleaner, and I’m finding myself in that same college trance—except now I’m knocking out 4,000 to 5,000 word stories in a two to three-hour sitting. It feels cohesive, empowering, and quite fun! It also makes it easier to not get so darn attached to one piece, and to circulate many pieces in the world while I work towards getting something published.

On the reading side of things, I wanted to share the list of short stories I’ve managed to tackle in the last two weeks. The list below is in no particular order, but most of these pieces are first person, since that was my initial focus for my students in our narrative unit. I’ve included a very brief description as well as a link to the anthology so that you may track them down. My advice? Read them all. 🙂

From The Essay Connection:
(The following are first person narrative essays.)
“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan — a first person account of Tan’s changed perception on her mother’s “broken” English.
“The Inheritance of Tools” by Scott Russell Sanders — a tale of father and son bonding through tools, and the pain of losing that connection. (Loved this one!)
“Learning to Drive” by Ann Upperco Dolman — a funny tale about the author’s experience learning to drive a standard transmission car alongside her extremely patient father.

From The Writer’s Presence:
(The following are first person narrative essays.)
“The Problem with T-Shirts” by Thomas Beller — a little ditty on the comfort (and eventual death) of t-shirts.
“Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self” by Alice Walker — Walker’s path toward acceptance of an obvious facial scar. (This was one of my favorites!)
“If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?” by Geeta Kothari — thoughts on the integration of Americanized foods in an Indian home, and the questions of cultural identity that follow.

From Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa:
(The following are first person speculative fiction stories by the fabulous Camille—I met her at the Cascade Writer’s Conference, and I’m absolutely loving her work!)
“The Italian” — a woman’s connection to a past incident through her Italian bicycle.
“The Taste of Snow” — a woman in a dystopian future adjusts to losing her aging family.

From The Best of Talebones, edited by Patrick Swenson
(The following pieces are all speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, and I also met the awesome Patrick Swenson at my conference. I really enjoyed each of these.)
“Cats, Dogs, and Other Creatures” by Steve Rasnic Tem — cats, dogs, and other creatures have more control than you might think.
“Snow on Snow” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman — a man hopes to draw his wife back to him from an unusual place.
“Seepage” by Caterine Macleod — an agoraphobic adjusts to her interesting house.

And others…
Okay, I admit it—nobody throw anything at me!—I somehow fell under a rock while everyone else read the work of speculative fiction author Neil Gaiman. But I’m hip to him now! I enjoyed the first piece I read in Fragile Things: “A Study in Emerald,” where a detective must solve an unusual royal murder (in a unique setting). Lastly, from a textbook our freshmen use that I particularly enjoyed, and have found on the internet for your reading enjoyment is “Marigolds.” It’s a contemporary piece by Eugenia Collier, where a girl has a tantrum—and a slight coming of age—in her neighbor’s beautifully symbolic marigold garden.

I hope you have a chance to check out some of these fantastic pieces, and now I’m curious—what do you think of short stories? Writers, do you enjoy writing them? Readers, do you enjoy them as much as novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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Third Thursday Flash Edition Three: “Pages”

Welcome back! It’s time for the third edition of Third Thursday Flash!

Every three weeks, I craft a 500 to 1,000 word flash piece with a theme suggested by my fantastic blog readers. A theme submission call will come around again in about two weeks if you’d like to participate.

Today’s theme is brought to you by Nathan Payne over at The Writers Codex. Nathan suggested the phrase The pages fell open to start the piece, as well as the closing of a book at the end. Without further ado, thanks to Nathan for inspiring…

Pages

The pages fell open and Becca clapped her hand over her mouth. Beatrice told her it would do this, but she hadn’t imagined it would have so much power, as if the book had a will of its own.

“Woah,” she whispered.

A steady breeze filled the room and Becca swept her gaze over the closed window.

Did that come from the book?

She laid her hand on the pages. The crisp linen bond felt hot against her palm, warmer than any book should ever be—and right as she touched it, a beam of light shot across her ceiling. Becca tilted her head up, watching the light change from red, to teal, to orange, then into the brightest of yellows. It flickered across the ceiling like a rainbow mobile for a child.

Except this is for me!

Immediately the voices started, small chants of excitement as the creatures began to unstick themselves from the pages. Becca yanked back her hand, uncovering the squirming Princess character. She peeled herself off, her flat, colored body rolling up like an untacked sticker—first her head of long hair, her pink ‘o’ shaped mouth, and her shoulders, arms, and waist.

“Oh my,” Becca said.

“What are you doing up there, Becca?” her father called.

She straightened in her chair, her back in the rigid pose they’d practiced with her through her home-schooling years. It was the same posture they emphasized with Beatrice and her at the New School for Girls.

Thank goodness I met Beatrice!

“Nothing, dad!” She traced her finger over the meadow in the picture while the Princess released a soft huff and tugged her legs and skirt from the field. Becca couldn’t believe her eyes. “I’ll be down soon!”

“Ten minutes.”

“Okay…” She faced the pages, biting her tongue to suppress her squeal. The Princess ran her hands over her skirt and gave a wiggle, her paper-doll body tapering out into the miniature form of a real being.

“Who are you?” she said. Becca strained hard to hear her.

“I’m—”

Before she could answer, the pages flipped to another story. Several fairies and dwarves pushed and pulled against the crisscrossed fibers of the pages. They popped to the surface with grunts and whistles.

“Hey little lady! Thanks for the free pass!”

Only one scowled at her, shaking his cardboard body like a dog out of water until his flat self burst into a berry-shaped man of no more than an inch high.

“Yeah, thanks,” he muttered. He grabbed the hand of the embedded Queen by sinking his fingers into the paper—Becca’s jaw dropped open at that—and tugged her right off the page. When the Queen rounded out to a small human, she ran over to the Princess. They giggled before embracing one other.

“We’re free again!” they said.

“Well, for now!” Becca hoped they realized she had to go soon. The thumping in her chest echoed in her ears while the rest of the characters started coming to life. Princesses, princes, and creatures of all types unrolled from the pages and formed an army of characters on her bedspread. My own personal fairy tale! “Only until dinner time, guys…”

“That is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” the tiny centaur said. He threw his hands on his furry hindquarters, then pawed at the ground.

The lights on the ceiling started to shimmer and dance, mimicking the movements of the figures. They ran across the pages, high-fiving one another and squealing so loud that Becca’s dad called up to the room.

“What is going on up there, Becca?”

“Nothing, dad!”

Her mom chimed in. “We expect you in your dinner chair in two minutes!”

“Okay!” Becca looked around the room. No box, no chest, no drawer could contain the abundance of characters removing themselves from the pages. “Um, I have to go. I’ll come back later. I didn’t realize how many of you—“

“Becca! Right now!”

“Sorry!” Becca said. She scooped all the figures up as best she could, then shoved them into the crease of the open book.

“Wait, what about us?”

“Hey, we’re people too, you know.”

“Little miss, this isn’t very nice—“

She slammed the book shut. The lights disappeared from the ceiling and the noise of the figures fell quietly from their confinement within the pages. Becca leaned her mouth close to the binding.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” she said. “Can’t wait to see you all again!”

“Becca! Dinnertime.”

“I’m coming!” She shoved the book under her bedspread, pressing her hands to her cheeks in an attempt to calm the excitement that brightened her face. She ran to the door and cast one last glance at the lump under the covers. “I promise, you guys!” she said.

Then she left for dinner.

***

Thanks for reading the third edition of Third Thursday Flash. Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂


Destigmatizing the R Word

Rejection.

We’ve all felt the cold, hard sting of rejection.

It could be of that awesome suggestion you made at work. It may even be over your excessively conversational dating style. Heck, it could be over your choice of hair color.

Regardless, rejection is something we often face in life, and it’s something we could all learn to take more lightly.

In the writing world, rejection happens every step of the way. When you were inexperienced and new, you may have convinced yourself that you weren’t any good and that there was no point in taking yourself seriously. Later, when you overcame that and started to share your work, you might have heard someone throw out a negative thing or two that stunted your progress. Then when you deemed yourself ready to start submitting things anyway, you found rejection happening even more—except now it came from everywhere: a journal, a publisher, an agent, an editor, or even a critique partner. It didn’t really matter where it came from, though, because the truth remains the same. Rejection is part of the process.

I have long suspected that we as a society could handle rejection better (both personally and professionally) if everyone would start being more honest and direct. I will use a dating analogy to explain, because it’s something with which most of us can identify.

Take Billy. Billy didn’t think you were the one. Billy might have thought your ideas (and maybe even your hairdo) were quaint and unusually intriguing. You and Billy went out a few times, and as much as he liked that you could rock a pair of orange high heels with checkered socks and a neon lime skirt, he also knew in the long run it couldn’t work out. He, after all, really liked plaid, and the two of you together looked like a violent mess of color chaos. So Billy said, “Look, I dig that you express yourself in insanely bright colors, but it’s not for me.”

What would it be like in a world where each of us was okay with Billy saying, “Hey look, sorry, you’re not for me”? A world where instead of getting upset about such a thing and bemoaning one more bad date (I mean, seriously, did you see his color scheme?), we smiled and said, “Hey Billy, it’s all good. I have Billy Bob next up on the list to meet. And honestly I agree we weren’t a good fit anyway, since none of my colors would really work alongside that plaid number you’re wearing.” [Author’s note: I am in no way endorsing nor condemning the wearing of plaid. Rock your plaid if it’s your thing, peeps.]

I further this example with our tendency to say “I’ll call you” when really we mean “I will leave your phone number in my jeans pocket so that I accidentally wash it in the laundry this weekend because I really have no interest in you at all whatsoever.” Think of how much easier it would be if we just said, “Thank you for your time, but I’m not interested.” After a few of those, any mention of “Hey, I’m not interested” would suddenly be no big deal. We’d realize that each of these incidents were indicative of something that wasn’t meant to be in the first place.

In much the same way, a rejection of our writing is not a statement on our character. Rejection doesn’t mean that we are terrible human beings, or even bad writers—it simply means that for whatever reason, the timing was off and that particular person or venue was not a good fit. Plus, if we all fit together, no relationship (with a publisher or a person) would ever be interesting at all!

So let’s focus on the rejection letter. Sometimes they contain great tips: “We’re sorry we can’t use your work, but if you did x, y, and z it would be a strong piece for us.” Other times, they’re of the standard mass-rejection variety: “Thanks for letting us consider [name of piece here], but it isn’t a good fit for our journal at this time.”

Either way, we writers are going to see them. And though we can let them sting the first time, after that we have to find a way to chin up and recognize the mismatch that wasn’t meant to be.

Stephen King pegged his rejection letters to the wall. I’ve heard of other writers burning and deleting theirs. Some even print them out and put them in scrap books. I have a folder in my inbox called “Rejection Love Notes.” Maybe I’ve taken the writing-is-like-dating analogy too far, but if I look at them as love notes gone sour, then instead of frowning about them, I smile.

Right now, I am querying one novel and three short stories, and I’m about to send out three to four other shorts in the near future, and a few more not long after that. The more I have out, the more I’m going to hear back—and odds are with that much out there, the majority of the responses will be rejection. It’s just math.

To that I say “Bring on the rejections!” They’re part of the deal. Each rejection will lead me away from places where my writing won’t work and instead to places it will. Sometimes, I might even gain handy improvement tips from these rejections, and others only another love note for the folder. But no matter what, eventually these letters are going to teach me something. They will teach me how to market my work appropriately, where I need revision, what markets are “hot,” and most importantly, how to handle rejection even better.

The first time sucked. The times after—they just meant it was time to jump right back in.

I mean, there are other fish in the sea, right? 🙂

So what about you? What do you do with your rejection letters? Please share below—I’d love to hear!


Blogging is Like a Love Affair

In my last post, I wrote about why I started blogging and what it is that my blog is about. I guess I’ve been thinking about my blog a lot this week, because this morning it occurred to me that I consider it a bit of a love affair.

To be fair, I think this idea formed as a small kernel a few months back, when my blogger pal Vanessi Grassi mentioned she thought of her blog as her boyfriend. It probably sounds weird out of context, but as soon as I read the sentence, I found myself nodding along. Over the months since, though, I’ve discovered that blogging may be more of an affair than I originally suspected.

I’m not talking about the kind of love affair that only lasts for one night—clearly I talk too much for this blog to have ended then, and that wouldn’t make for much content anyway. I’m thinking more of the long-term love affair, one following the ebbs and flows of a relationship that will last for many, many years.

Blogging begins with that initial rush of excitement one might feel at the start of a relationship. That oh-so-sweet captivation when you think, Oh my goodness, he is so amazing! Except here, it’s Oh my goodness, I’m running a blog! Everything you see stirs the thoughts up in your head that you want to share. Ooh, we can talk about this, and that, and oh that over there—won’t he think that’s so interesting? There seems an endless supply of things to talk about over wine and perhaps the occasional dinner.

Next there comes a period of adjustment—no two people ever fall into step perfectly, you know. It’s the same with blogging. You set a schedule, and then maybe you change it up a bit, blogging four days a week instead of two, but then maybe five days a week instead of three. It’s much like those first few months of dating. Should we see each other this much? you may ask. Should I leave my toothbrush…er…all my personal thoughts in the sidebar? Hard to say.

How sick of each other might you become?

And BAM. You overdo it. All this mushy lovey dovey business is getting out of hand, and all of a sudden it’s time for a blog break. (All the big name couples are doing it, by the way.) There may have been a misunderstanding. Or he got a little smothering. Who knows. Regardless, we’re on a break!

But over time, you realize how much you liked blogging. Sure, it’s hard to cram it all in. Life is busy. There’s work, and the home life, and maybe kids, or 8,000 hobbies, and all of it is taking up your every breathing moment, but still, that blog was great. That blog understood me. That loyal and faithful sweetheart—it brought out the best in you, giving you leeway to explore on those days you weren’t blogging…so you come running back. (Plus, he even takes out the trash with his nifty spam sifter!)

The two of you grow together. You compromise and create a new schedule, one where both of you can have your personal time. You also decide that there are things you can do to strengthen the foundation of your relationship—whoops, I mean your blog. You don’t need to take Tango or cooking classes to do this, you two are so amazing together. Heck no! Instead, you work on improving what you are. You may even come up with a new blog feature that allows both of you to flex your creative muscles at the same time!

You discover you’re in it for real now, and when you’re a real blogger, you’re not only running one yourself but reading up on others. But you and your blog are a team; you want to share this experience as one. (It’s called polybloggery, folks, and it’s 2012. Don’t be so close-minded!) You and your blog hold hands and check out other blogs. You click on all the tempting links over at that one flashy site. You read all the words together, a sexy new game to kickstart your relationship. You comment on how hot their thoughts are, and both of you feel like a better match because you’re able to hear each other’s inner fantasies.

Maybe you even start “the list”—the infamous list of people everyone has for the day they’re trapped in an elevator and cheating just naturally happens. Listen, if for some reason I can’t write with you, it’s because so-and-so caught me alone [by email] and asked if I wanted to do it [guest blog] and of course I had to say yes because she [awesome blogger!] is on the LIST! 

Which of course leads to the day when you have to come home to your blog and confess that you’ve been cheating. In fact, every single day, you’ve been cheating, because you’ve been writing on the side—but it’s the way you were before you started this blog, dammit, and your blog has to understand. Baby, I’m a writer! I can’t be trapped in just this blog! I have to be appreciated for all that I am, for every word coursing through my skull!

And while it’s hard for your blog to adjust, it gets it. It gets you. Because this blog, folks—it’s the real deal. It loves you no matter what you are, who you are, or where you’ve been. Sure, you have some flaws (I mean, really, you’re following what other blog about nail polish and shoes?), but overall you are still the same loving person you were. Your blog can take it. It’s true love. It’s the kind of love affair that will last a lifetime.

That is why, on mornings like today—when I woke up and thought Oh my god! I have to blog tonight! I have 80,000,000 things to do and my blog wants me to rub his feet again?—I eventually crawled out of bed with a smile. There may be a lot to do, but I sure do love blogging. We keep growing and exploring together, and most importantly, writing together.

So for being that great of a companion, this blog is worth every darn character on the page to me.

🙂


What is This Blog Thing About, Anyway?

Happy Labor Day, everyone.

My writer friend is getting ready to start his blog. He shared with me that his current holdup is picking a focused theme, which then started a great conversation about different blogs and what they’re all about. There are a variety of blog themes authors use—some focus on the craft or writerly tips; others focus on book reviews, movies, and the craft pieces contained within (point of view, setting, characterization, etc.); and still others follow the author’s journey as he or she progresses from the birth of an idea into the crafting of a full-length piece.

So while we threw around ideas, he asked what my blog was about. It got me thinking about why each of us starts a blog, and though I had an answer in my mind of what my blog was about, I wondered if my purpose or theme was as clear to others as it was to me.

I found my way to this blog because I wanted to finally publicly live my dream of being a writer. No longer would I just talk about it, or write on the occasion I had nothing else to do—it was time to take my writing seriously. I wanted to meet my goals and live my fantasy, and share that journey with those who cared to follow.

To me, living this fantasy is a mix of topics. It’s exploring the fantasy genre, since it’s the one I tend to write in most. It’s discussing the writing process, both successes and roadblocks. It’s examining writing techniques, skills, and strategies. It’s reviewing other great books in order to discover what makes those books so amazing to us as readers.

And sometimes it’s just about sharing life—a place full of passion and dreams waiting to be lived.

When I wrote my tagline, Live your fantasy…, I wanted to keep it broad so that my imagination could soar as widely as my hopes and dreams on this writing expedition of mine. Hopefully, I’ve conveyed that to you too, dear readers!

Writing is a journey. Some writers are further along on the path than others, and some of us are still bumbling our way through, discovering what it feels like to live the passion of putting thoughts to page. No matter what stage we’re at, all of us hold a wonderful connection that truly is a fantasy to live.

So on that note, thanks for sharing it with me. 🙂


Third Thursday Flash Edition Two: “Beneath the Waves”

Welcome back! It’s time for the second edition of Third Thursday Flash!

Every three weeks, I am crafting a 500 to 1,000 word flash piece with a theme suggested by you, my fantastic blog readers. If you’d like to participate, keep an eye out for a theme submission call in about two weeks.

Today’s theme is brought to you by Sue W., a wonderful woman I know not only as a blog reader, but also as a friend and colleague. Sue watched a Discovery Channel show on the potential reality of mermaids, and the effects of naval sonar on their existence. I thought the idea sounded great! I’m also a little bummed I missed the show!

But without further ado, thanks to Sue for inspiring…

 

Beneath the Waves

Annie swept her hair aside, letting it float around her shoulders. The strands followed her like a gentle mist, waves of color that drifted within the lull of the ocean’s whisper. The only break in its sweet hum was the echo of sonar in the distance.

“Will he find us, mama?”

Annie ceased her strokes. She kicked her fins just enough to roll onto her back, then floated in the cloudy depths while Kata took her hand. Her daughter had started to form in the subtle ways of a young woman, her torso growing shapely and her cheekbones more defined. Kata’s lips puckered as she watched the whale pod swimming nearby, their small grey eyes pained by the sonar vibrations that increased each passing day. It would not be long before the noise grew close, driving them from the water as it had the creatures of the past.

Annie tugged Kata’s hand, then used her tail to drive them forward and up. They broke the surface beside the ridge, where the waves crested against the algaed rocks in a white roll of foam. This spot was safe, a place that only she and Kata knew.

And of course Davad.

Day-vad, he’d told her then. His name, like his story, was a mystery that swayed her whenever he reappeared.

Kata folded her arms over the rocks. She laid her chin on her forearms, her eyes bluer than the ocean as she gazed across the endless water surface. “He will, right, mama?”

Annie trailed her hand along Kata’s shoulder. The girl’s chest heaved slightly until her gills tucked themselves closed, allowing her to breathe the salty sky air.

“I hope so,” she said. She remembered the day Davad’s giant ship arrived. The moonlight had shined high above them while they anchored, and when he peeked over the edge, she’d known that he was hers to hold.

Once his mates fell to sleep, he’d crawled down to the surface of the reef. There he swung his feet in the ripples of the water, singing a tune so foreign and sweet that Annie had been compelled to surface alongside him.

“You are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,” he’d said.

Under the moonlight, they told each other stories of their lands—or in her case, of the deep waters, the others of her kind, and the torturous sounds of the sonar that ripped through their ears, threatening to send them to the surface.

Where we would not survive.

Davad swore he would find a way. He had promised it every time he came to her, meeting her in the moonlight until her belly swelled high and slowed her strokes in the water. She’d been vulnerable at the depths, but she had survived, as had their beautiful daughter, Kata.

They returned when Kata was old enough to swim the distance and found a bottle caught in the rocky ridge. The note within bore five simple words that she could read.

“I will find a way.

“We’ve come here every week for years. How many weeks until he comes?” Kata tilted back her head and stared into the sun. “What if he never comes? We will need to find a better place, away from the—”

“He will come,” Annie said. She peered at her daughter. The girl deserved to know the human who had stolen her heart from the warm watery depths.

She flicked her tail repeatedly, sending a spray over their heads until Kata’s stern frown broke into laughter. The sound came out a lovely melody, the same pitch that Annie once used to draw Davad into her arms.

Kata ceased her laughter and pressed her hand to Annie’s cheek. Her eyes reflected the sun setting far away on the horizon. Nothing floated around them save for the driftwood that bobbed as quiet as the looming night sky.

“We will wait as long as you like, mama. But if I have you, I could live beneath the water forever without him.”

Annie squeezed her daughter’s hand.

Together, they waited for the ship that never came.

 

***

Thanks for reading the second edition of Third Thursday Flash. The next edition will be in three weeks, so start thinking of your suggestions. In the meantime, have a great Labor Day weekend! 🙂


Where Do Ideas Come From?

To write a story, you must first have an idea—a kernel of imagination that blooms from something simple into a whole tale. The real work, of course, comes after the idea, because ideas are abundant in most writers’ minds.

But where do they come from?

I’ve always found it fascinating to hear how other writers form ideas for their stories. Like learning styles, ideas are unique to their bearer; they can come from a visual source, a written source, or even an auditory one. Some will find them in the natural scenes around them, whether it be during a leisurely stroll or standing in the grocery store checkout lane. Others will discover them in the speech of friends, family, or children. A few will lock themselves in a room, letting the quiet that surrounds them swarm their thoughts until nothing becomes something and they’re typing away on the computer. I’ve known some to do random associations, picking words off a page and stringing them together in a theme for their next work. Still others are veritable idea machines, as if a running scroll of them simply churns through their minds.

Sometimes, ideas are past experiences, tweaked just enough to add some creative flair. Others are tales of what could have been instead of what really was. No matter what, though, each writer has his or her own way to light that clever spark and create a story from it.

While my ideas come to me in a variety of ways, I’ve noticed two methods are the most prevalent. The first is through dreams. I’ve been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with extremely vivid dreams for the majority of my life; often they are fantastical in nature and come to me in full color, and fortunately I am able to remember them upon waking. If they aren’t nightmares (that would be the cursed part), they usually provide me with images of creatures or scenes that I am inclined to jot down and save for a later piece.

More common, however, is the method I refer to as the “one liner.” It sparks from something I see or hear around me, a line that forms in my head that will not, for the life of me, go away. Each time it is one single line, whether it be a reaction to what I see, a sentence that will later serve as dialogue, or a clause of imagery. I’ll carry this line with me wherever I’m at—even if it means repeating it to myself the entirety of a gym workout—until I can get in front of a piece of paper or computer. There, I’ll write that one line and run wild with it. This method is the one that’s been the most effective, for me, something that comes blindly out of the air and smacks me with a whole run of a tale.

We all have ideas that we like to use in our writing, and usually we’ve been carrying around a bounty of them over the years. I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for how people form them, but I’m curious—where do your ideas come from? Please share! 🙂


New Blog Feature

I learned a lot at the Cascade Writers Workshop last weekend, but one of the most important things I picked up was the necessity of writing more. This is helpful for the obvious reasons, of course—but perhaps the reason that hit me hardest was that to be a successful writer, you must learn to write enough that no one piece becomes your heart and soul. Sure, you can love a piece, but in reality you have a next piece, and a next piece, and then that very next piece, all of which are equally worthy of your attention and love until you write the next one.

I love my first book, Kyresa. I spent many years on it, a fact due largely to a series of breaks that lasted for years at a time. Because of this, the novel became my “baby” of sorts, and sending her off to college (aka sending her out to agents) was a huge deal. But here’s the truth: I am certain that none of my next books will take that long, and I’m delighted for the experience. Will they be just as important to me? Absolutely! Will I pour my heart and soul into them? Yes! But do I need to get so attached that I spend years and years (and years and more years) on them?

That would be a big fat no.

The reason is that writing more will make me a stronger writer, eventually making it easier and faster. This is why I’ve decided that for the next six months, I’d like to devote most of my writing time to crafting short stories. In this way, I will have the experience of starting and finishing, repeatedly, at a quicker pace, before I start my next novel. Will every one of these shorts be amazing? Certainly not. Will they all be good practice in improving my art? Totally, and for that I’m quite excited about this plan.

That said, I’m introducing a new blog feature called THIRD THURSDAY FLASH. Every third Thursday, I will post a flash fiction piece—but there’s a catch.

YOU, dear readers, will be suggesting the themes!

It can simply be an idea, a couple of words you’d like mentioned within the piece, or a prompt, but every time, one of you will suggest it! I think it’s a fun twist on writing flash, and I do hope you’ll participate. 🙂 The person whose theme is selected will also get a shout out to celebrate his or her awesome theme (unless you prefer otherwise). I will put out a call for theme submissions the Thursday before each flash week and will select one from the bunch for the Thursday that follows. The ideas can be zany, cute, fun, wild, intelligent, or whatever you wish, and I’m going to try to put a fantasy or sci-fi spin on them in 500 to 1,000 words.

For the first edition of Third Thursday Flash, I opened the theme up only to my newsletter subscribers. (Not receiving the newsletter yet? You can do so by sending a blank email to EvaRieder-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.) Only one person was brave enough to submit a theme, but it was a goodie. So, let’s get on to business!
 
Thanks to Mari Naomi for the theme of Maliciousness and Road Rage (and what an interesting theme it is!). Here’s what I put together for the first edition of Third Thursday Flash. I hope you enjoy it!
 

DADDY’S BOY

 
Clara popped the bottle back into Max’s tiny mouth, his long-eyelashed blues blinking in forgiveness and his cries quieting to long slurps on the nipple.

She turned forward, the crawl of traffic slow enough to justify her movement. Max had a pair of lungs that could blow an eardrum, and with the toll plaza approaching, she couldn’t handle more than five seconds of it. The sound was a gift from his father, and she shuddered every time Max wailed with the same sentiment of burning rage.

Clara turned the radio dial until she found some music, then took a quick glance in her rearview at the child’s shifting eyes. They’d changed from blue to red and back again in an instant, and she only calmed when he soothed himself on the bottle. She’d made a deal with his daddy, true, but she hadn’t anticipated Max would inherit the same temper.

A sharp sequence of tones broke into the song before a newsflash.

“Traffic alert! Three left lanes of the eastbound Rainen Bridge closed due to an injury accident…”

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” Clara muttered. She glanced at the traffic ahead—all three lanes appeared to be blocked about a mile in front of them, leaving only one lane for every car to funnel into.

She was already late for Max’s daycare drop-off. Late for work, late for her meeting, and now she’d have to explain it all over again. She’d only gone back to work four months ago after a rough first year—how else could she explain the experience with a child like Max—and her boss definitely wasn’t thrilled. This single parent thing meant nothing to him except that she was late all the time.

Late and covered in spit-up and mashed sweet potatoes. And of course paranoid about when Max is going to—

Max let out a wail and Clara spun her head to catch him dropping the bottle on the floor. It rolled under the passenger seat.

“Crap,” she said.

When she spun forward she nearly collided with the blue Dodge in front of her. She shrieked and slammed both feet on the brake, the man in the truck throwing a middle finger out the window.

“Eff you, lady! Don’t you see the traffic? Watch where you’re going!”

“I know, I know!” Yelling probably wasn’t the best option with her window open, but the man kept waving his finger in the air. Max began to howl.

Clara peered into the mirror again, her precious little boy shaking his fists and beginning to remind her even more of the man who’d fathered him. Max’s eyes flashed red and wrinkles formed around his rippling lips. For the millionth time she wished she’d had the sense to say no to his father.

But how could she have? A lifetime of happiness if she’d do him this one little screaming favor….

“Shh, honey, it’s okay.” The traffic continued to merge into the single lane, a ruckus of honks spreading across the freeway. A small crack opened up in the lane beside her and Clara managed to move alongside the Dodge. The man waggled his finger at her and the hairs on the back of her neck prickled.

Didn’t these people know better than to throw their rage around at other drivers? It wasn’t a good idea, especially with Max able to see it all.

But they don’t know that, Clara.

“Shh, baby, come on,” she said, eyeing him. Max’s eyes widened as he cried, his sniffles turning into huffs and snorts. If she couldn’t calm him down, this wouldn’t end well.

A bolt of lightning zipped across the sky. It dipped close to the merging traffic, and when she sucked in a breath, another snapped above the blue Dodge. “Max,” she said, refusing to face her son. “I know you understand me. Don’t you do it. You keep yourself calm, sweetheart.”

She looked over at the Dodge driver and yanked her cheeks up in a bright smile, hoping a little flirtation would work its charm and calm him down.

That’s how I won Max’s father over.

Another bolt ripped inches above the Dodge, and the man threw his head out the window. “What the heck?”

“Hey, look sir, I’m sorry about earlier!” She hated apologizing, but if Max didn’t notice him calm down or hear him apologize…. Clara leaned toward the window. “Really sir, I’m so sorry!”

The man waved her off, distracted by the lightning. He spoke loud enough for her to hear him but kept his focus on the plume of black fog that rolled in over the water. “It’s all good, lady, I’m over it. What’s with this sky? Really, it’s no biggie. Just pay attention, you hear?”

“Of course!” She smiled in the mirror and Max’s cries stilled. “See, honey, he said he was sorry. Take a deep breath. No need to protect mama today.”

Max coughed one last gasp of anger before sticking his finger in his mouth. He suckled it all the way down to his knuckle and the sky turned right back into the sunny skies they’d had five minutes prior.

The radio crackled back to life. “All lanes opening on the Bridge! Great work to the fast clean up crew.”

Clara breathed a sigh as she eyed her child.

***

Thanks for reading the first edition of Third Thursday Flash. The next edition will be in three weeks, and I’ll put a call out for themes a week in advance. Start thinking of your suggestions now! 🙂


Stephen King’s ON WRITING

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. —Stephen King

About a month ago, my friend loaned me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. The friend, Mari Naomi, is a brilliant San Francisco based graphic memoirist and cartoonist, whom I look to as a mentor. The book—well, it is a genius piece of insight that I think every writer should look to as a mentor of sorts.

In my younger years, I read a lot of Stephen King (fun fact: I originally wanted to write YA horror). I tore through his tales because I found his work riveting for content, but also because he used blatant and perfectly concise language. Cut to many years later, and Mr. King completed a book about the craft! It took me a long time to stumble upon it, but thank goodness I did.

Besides a compelling section on the path that led to the King of Horror becoming such, the book contains a thoughtful and articulate take on the writing craft. King shares his views on the “writer’s toolbox,” as well as clarity on things all writers should avoid (for example, excessive use of adverbs or passive voice). His is a lesson in get to the point, and one warranting of every writer’s attention.

Personally, I’m delighted I found the book just before I tore my own apart for its final edit a couple of weeks ago. The advice is invaluable, and it would be a shame to not have checked it out.

I think non-writers can also enjoy the book, both because it reveals some of the work and secrets behind the craft, and because King’s distinctive voice is present throughout—the same clever master of horror we all know and treasure, but this time talking about something personal and craft-based instead of purely fictional.

So, in summary, if you have not yet read this book, I suggest you rush right out to grab it and start. 🙂

Happy reading!


One Amazing Conference!

The Cascade Writers Conference was fantastic! It’s taken me a few days to recover and gather my thoughts—something I’m noticing around the web as a commonality between other attendees of this adventure—but now I’m excited to share how much fun I had!

I found the Cascade Writers workshop by random googling of “fantasy writing conference + summer,” and I can’t be happier at the twist of fate that landed me in Vancouver, Washington this last weekend. I don’t know if I would have had the same experience at any other workshop, but I’m so grateful that this was my first. I met oodles of fantastic people, beautiful minds, and lovely souls, and I came home like a kid bemoaning the end of summer camp!

Critique workshopping was the main focus of the Cascade Conference. Each attendee submitted a 3,750 word story or chapter about six weeks in advance, and was assigned to a group of six to eight people under the guidance of a skilled group leader. We were expected to critique the piece before the conference, where we used the Milford style to share our thoughts. Initially, the task seemed daunting—peers and a leader critiquing our words, and then being expected to professionally, kindly, and thoughtfully do the same for those around us. But the groups were generally warm and friendly, and in my group in particular, quite fun! Ken Scholes, a speculative fiction author, led our group, and we all left feeling as though we’d gained an incredible mentor and friend. After the critiquing, each member had a one-on-one session with mentors to discuss anything about the craft. I’m not sure if this personalized guidance component happens at other conferences, but it certainly helped me!

The event also boasted workshops and seminars on all sorts of pieces to the craft: a playful segment on “Revision and Editing” with Jay Lake, a tremendously helpful piece to “Outline Your Story in 90 Minutes” by Mark Teppo, a creative journey to find “Stories on the Fly” by Ken Scholes, and an informative “Query Letter Workshop” with Michael Carr (the agent with whom I had the opportunity to informally practice chatting about my book). Several other segments filled the time, but these were my favorites for their usefulness and approaches to the topic at hand.

The instructional component through seminars and critique workshops was grand, but one aspect of the conference remained the best experience of them all: that of talking and getting to know other authors. The world is a competitive place, but the writing world is not. There’s no reason for it! Each of us brings something unique to the table, and writers stand out as a tribe of people opening their arms and sharing their craft with one another. I learned so much this weekend, but my favorite part was the chance to get to know these people on a personal level and just hang out. I came home with over two dozen new contacts and friends that I’m delighted to have in my circle. In some cases the connection focused on the craft itself, and in others, it was just about making amazing friends—going to lunch with fifteen-people groups, sharing flash fiction in a hotel room with three great gals in my group, or even closing down the nearby bar talking “life” with the brilliant and fun minds of Patrick Swenson (author, publisher, and editor of speculative fiction) and Mark Teppo (speculative fiction author and conference speaker). I hardly slept, I ate and drank a tad too much, and I came home still feeling warm and fuzzy at the warm mental hugs we all shared.

All in all, would I do it again? Yes. Absolutely.

Can any conference compare to the awesomeness of the Cascade Writers Workshop? I’ve no idea, but I’m looking forward to trying more.

And what were the best things I learned? Write, write, write, and write more, and of course, make lots of new friends. 🙂

A big thank you to Karen Junker, who did a spectacular job of organizing the event. (And also a thank you to the very nice bar server who let us stay well-past closing. 😉 )

Keep writing, everyone!


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