Tag Archives: inspiring authors

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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A Brief Review of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, By Jay Asher

***Before I begin—a quick reminder that I am still taking suggestions for Third Thursday Flash topics up to 8 p.m. PST tonight. Be sure to email me at evariederauthor@gmail.com with your suggestions, or head on over to my contact page to send it in!***

I’ve been a maniacal reader lately, doing my best to devour as many good reads despite having far less time with the start of the school year. I tend to alternate between short stories, novels, and a handful of young adult books to keep it interesting, and there was one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is now one I’d like to share with you.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a gripping young adult novel about the death of a high school girl named Hannah Baker. Hannah died of a suicide, and while everyone dismissed her death as that of a lost and selfish teenager, the narrator, Clay Jensen, is about to discover that there was a lot more to Hannah’s death than everyone suspected. There were thirteen reasons, as it turns out—thirteen people who affected her life in the worst of ways when she cried out for help, and thirteen people to whom she’s addressed a box of cassette tapes as a pseudo-suicide note to be passed around after her death.

Hannah’s voice plays through the entire book, taking us on the haunting journey of a misunderstood teenaged girl, whose life was worth far more than anyone gave her credit for and for whom the impact of rumors, gossip, and bullying teens drove her to a tragic and terrible choice. In listening to her tapes, Clay leads us through all thirteen people who brought Hannah down. He changes his perspective about how we as humans treat one another on his path to understand her, and the result changes his life forever.

The book was a New York Times and International Bestseller, and it’s really no surprise why. Moving, heartfelt, and devastating, the book makes you rethink how you interact with those around you, each moment creating tiny cracks in the surface of our being that together have the potential to form one gaping hole. Most of us adults have learned how to get past this sensation—but for our teenagers, it’s a heavy stress that they may not yet be ready to handle.

I think this book is one that everyone should read, particularly teenagers. I also wish it was on our district’s reading list, but alas, I don’t know how most parents would react to such a moral lesson told in the pained, distant voice of a lost little girl. Instead, I’ll just recommend it here—over and over again.

Great book, friends. Be sure to check it out.


Juliet Dark’s THE DEMON LOVER

Oh my goodness, am I excited to tell you about this book!

For years I’ve loved Carol Goodman‘s work. You’ll even find her book, The Lake of Dead Languages, listed as one of my favorites on my Links page. Ms. Goodman’s stories usually fall into the genre of contemporary/mainstream literature, and her style is quite gothic and eloquent. So, suffice it to say I was delighted to discover she’d made a crossover, writing a gothic paranormal romance under the pseudonym of Juliet Dark.

And what a read it was! Goodman/Dark’s prose is enchanting, and her imagery is mind-boggling and rich. Every time I read her work, I find passages to read over and over for their lush beauty.

The same held true in The Demon Lover, in which a college professor with a background in the supernatural—vampires, fairies, incubi, and the like—found her way to an unusual college in the remote town of Fairwick, New York. Callie McFay has spent her life sharing her knowledge of supernatural creatures in literature, and something about the town draws her in. She is also captivated by an old Victorian home in the area, but soon finds there is something more to her love of the house than she realized. Callie has a demon lover, a man made of shadow who comes to her in her dreams and sucks her life breath in exchange for the love they share, and while she realizes the danger of their affair, she must find a way to separate her heart.

What I found delightful about this book—besides breathtaking love scenes and settings filled with beautiful detail—was the collection of other mythical creatures Callie finds in Fairwick. Callie learns a lot about herself as well as her supernatural studies through these people, and the relationships between the characters are natural and well-portrayed. In truth, when I finished the book and realized it was the start of a series, I decided I might very well have found my next Sookie Stackhouse collection. The difference between Charlaine Harris and Juliet Dark, however, is tremendous. Callie’s tale sits closer to the dark, gothic world of Thornfield Hall in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (another favorite!) than that of Sookie’s Louisiana world, and her story is far more serious.

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. I am a slow reader, but I found myself reading it everywhere—on the cardio machines at the gym, at stoplights, standing in lines, and for an hour or two every night—because the world Goodman/Dark creates is so detailed. She is an author able to make characters out of setting, breathing life into things as simple as snow, wind, and plant life, and thus it is no wonder I found myself as seduced by the shadowed incubus as poor Callie.

I highly recommend this one, folks. For now, I’m off to pre-order the second book.

Happy reading! 🙂


Metamorphosis of a Reader

Or perhaps I should say Rieder (yes, it’s pronounced Reader 🙂 ).

I’ve decided that my To Be Read (TBR) stack has grown up to a height mighty enough to rival Jack’s beanstalk. At first, this alarmed me—but then I found myself ordering more books, so I figure the momentary fright was more akin to temporary insanity. 😉

My reading has transformed quite immensely over time, but one thing has remained the same: I love to read. In my preteen years, I devoured books by V.C. Andrews, Christopher Pike, Susan Cooper, and Andre Norton. These authors took up the majority of my focus, though I did pick up various others along the way. No matter what occurred in the surrounding world, my nose remained firmly in a book because reading was my passion. I still remember a plethora of camping trips with my dad and sister, where I shooed them away while I stayed back in the camper, quietly reading until dinner.

In my teens, my interests changed and I fell in love with books by Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Margaret Atwood. I also found myself delighted with almost anything assigned in my English classes, simply because each book was something new that I might not have found on my own.

In college I discovered works of a more literary style, something fostered by a slew of contemporary literature courses. I loved the anthologies we covered in these classes, and had I not donated all my texts, I would still read from them today. Short stories became a new favorite, both for their brevity and for the craft involved in telling so much in such a small space.

After college I opted for lighter reads, switching into the type of books I referred to as “those smutty-looking crime books you see in the checkout aisle at the grocery store.” This style came mainly through the work of Erica Spindler, stories where clever heroines played detectives hunting serial killers, yet the killers often ended up playing their boyfriends (yikes!). I loved these books because they took me on a wild journey with murderers, strong women, and plot lines that could, in theory, be real (they also made for a long run of really bizarre dreams). The first book I picked up by Spindler was Shocking Pink, and I still have not forgotten how its plot sucked me right in.

Later I started reading more contemporary and mainstream novels, many of which were by Carol Goodman. She stands out as an incredibly talented literary writer—her novel The Lake of Dead Languages remains one of my most favorite books of all time. I recently learned Ms. Goodman had slipped into the paranormal romance genre under the pen name of Juliet Dark, and The Demon Lover is what I’m thrilled to be reading now (beautifully written and a paranormal romance!).

image

Just a small portion of the full TBR stack decorating most of my side tables…

These days I find my favorite books are a mix of genres, either contemporary works, or fantasy works, or even a few from the YA shelves. I read slowly but thoroughly; rarely do I not finish a book, even if I don’t like it much. There are few books I’ve read more than once, but they stand out: Jane Eyre, anything by Christopher Pike, and I’m sure, in time, Anne Bishop’s entire collection.

Clearly, I have some reading to do—but what about you? What are your favorite genres and authors? What are the books you love to return to, or even books you’ve read recently and can’t stop talking about? I’d love to know. Please share!

And of course, happy reading. 🙂


Clean Space, Fresh Perspective

It’s been one full week since I last posted, and it turns out, this time away is incredibly helpful! For those of you just tuning in, I called a Blog Time-Out last Sunday. It’s not entirely a hiatus—me not talking is about as likely as pigs flying while it’s raining cats and dogs on a very cold day in hell—but it is a temporary blogging slow-down while I focus on finally turning Kyresa, my “work in progress,” into a “completed work” instead.

So far, so good! I managed to edit for over 30 hours this week, and I’ve virtually reached my next step: entering all 8,000,000* of my changes into the computer for a final reread. I’ve always been partial to editing on paper, both because staring at a computer screen gives me a headache, and because I prefer being as hands-on as literally possible, but I’ll admit it does tend to lengthen the process. Still, I am far closer to “completed” than before. Hurray!

Last night, when I set my binder beside the keyboard to start entering said 8,000,000* changes, I realized that my desk had gotten completely out of control. I’ve always been a pretty neat person, but after spending seven weeks in a cast a couple years ago, I learned to loosen the reins a bit. This was a wonderful thing to learn because (1) I generally find I need to relax far more than I allow myself to do, and (2) writing is just plain more important than the dishes. While I still clean pretty regularly, I’ve definitely fallen into an old habit: in any given room, and on my desk, there are various piles of things I need to reference. Though I know exactly what is in each pile, I have nowhere to put the items in these piles. I’m sure several of you have this little habit; short of causing a tripping hazard in the middle of the night, it doesn’t seem like such a bad one to have.

But add to this that Anna Meade over at Yearning for Wonderland has been showcasing various author and bloggers’ writing spaces, as well as the glass of wine that was in my hand, and I pretty much lost it over the state of my desk. It didn’t matter that the desk—actually table, there are no drawers on this sad piece of furniture—also served as bill station, supply house, project table, bookshelf, computer hub, and writing place anymore…it had to be cleaned!

So naturally I swooped all my paperwork to the floor (just like in the movies) and started reorganizing. I’m not finished yet, but already, seeing the surface of the table without all the clutter is making me feel better. It has also inspired me to continue into the next stage of Kyresa‘s  final edit! Clean space, fresh perspective, finished project, and very soon, a return to my more regular blog schedule.

In the meantime, I’m going to need to figure out what to do with all the papers I dramatically knocked to the floor. My cat—usually a cuddly sweetheart who thinks she’s a dog—made clear in her extraordinarily devilish look that she has her own plan for them:

Sienna the Troublemaker. Sure…she doesn’t have any plans to mess with this paper stack. At all.

Oh dear…

I’ll be back probably next weekend, folks. Thanks for your patience as I finish this edit, and for reading!

(*Special note: I like to exaggerate. Often with the number 8.)


Professing My Love for Anne Bishop’s THE BLACK JEWELS TRILOGY

About two years ago, it occurred to me that I’d been writing a fantasy novel for a long while, and yet I’d somehow forgotten how to read fantasy. Sure, it was there in the back of my mind—a very young Eva devoured sci-fi and fantasy books, while the adult Eva had developed an addiction to urban fantasy vampire novels. Still, I’d ventured somewhat from the roots of the genre.

So, a friend of mine—a gal I often refer to as the Fantasy Queen—shared a few recommendations. I spent that summer reading many good books she’d pointed out, but none of them were as sensational as Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels Trilogy.

Published yearly from 1998 to 2000, the trilogy follows the powerful young Jaenelle Angelline as she learns to wield her magic and eventually rule as Queen. The story travels through three worlds—essentially dimensions—introducing us to characters both living, dead, and in between. Across the levels is a definitive caste system, based on specific jewels that each character holds as his or her birthright power. While there is some ability to increase one’s strength, those born into the darker jewels hold the highest ranking in power and usually in society.

There are some conflicts in the jewel system of course, many of which have led a group of upper-level women to retaliate for the horrors wrought upon young girls of power—but to explain this further would give away far too much. Here’s what you really need to know: the trilogy contains a brilliant storyline rich with masterful themes of greed, love, power, domination, and a general hope to save humanity.

Perhaps the most beloved aspect of the series is the love story between Jaenelle and Daemon and the father-daughter relationship between Jaenelle and Saetan. While the former share a gripping, addictive chemistry, the latter display a charming familial bond; both of these relationships tend to carry you rapidly and enthusiastically through the books. However, for many fans—myself included—the end of the trilogy left several questions about the complexities of Daemon and Jaenelle’s relationship, as well as the entire jeweled family. In response to this, Bishop ended up crafting a more conclusive story that she published in a collection of trilogy-based short stories. It is clear through perusing the many fan blogs and reviews about the story that this last addition delighted most everyone.  (I myself read it on vacation, likely driving my friend insane as I stopped every other page to gush about the series, and about how amazing I found Bishop to be in writing it!)

If you’re aching for more thorough summaries, I would recommend those at the Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatales, and Fantasy blog. They devoted the entire month of March to Ms. Bishop, starting with the first book of the series, Daughter of the Blood. You can also find numerous websites focused on the trilogy thanks to a plethora of enamored fans, so a quick Google search will find you most anything you want to know…short of the awesomeness of reading the trilogy, of course. 🙂

After reading the series, I realized that not only was I thrilled to be writing fantasy, I was exhilarated to be writing in a genre with someone as gifted as Anne Bishop. Her talent is extraordinary, and I haven’t found myself so inspired in a while. If you haven’t already checked out The Black Jewels Trilogy, I highly recommend that you do—and I hope that you find the series as truly phenomenal as I did. I’m certain I will read it again myself…if not once, than two or three more times!

Happy reading, everyone!


Quoth The Raven

After a particularly long and stressful week, I decided there was exactly one thing I wanted to do last night: go see The Raven.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Edgar Allan Poe. The 19th century dark poet and author was one whose work I treasured in high school because I tended to favor the romantic lyricism of his work, as well as his gory imagination. I admit that my previously shared flair for the dramatic didn’t hurt my fascination with the man, either.

So, walking into the theatre, this deep adoration had me hoping James McTeigue’s direction of The Raven would delight me as much as Roland Emmerich’s did in Anonymous last year (great movie, if you haven’t checked it out yet). Though I think the cinematography of The Raven was lovely—the period thriller is set in 1849 Baltimore, a time of colorful and decadent wardrobes, quaint horse-drawn carriages, and bleakly dark cobblestone streets—and the concept was clever, the movie did not quite meet my expectations. The admirable John Cusack seemed believable as a goateed Poe at first, but I soon found myself put off by some of his attempts to speak in the style of his character. In all honesty, I think most of the actors came across that way—their acting seemed fine, but something about their dialogue didn’t click. In Anonymous, I never felt uncomfortable with or aware of the actors’ Shakespearean dialects; here, I felt everyone struggled, spending more of their focus on attempting to command the romantic language than acting their parts. Blood spewing violence aside, I felt the movie had a unique idea that could have been a little bit clearer, and perhaps needed more depth.

Fortunately, I have a knack for enjoying most movies, even those that leave a bad taste in my mouth. Despite my criticism of The Raven, I did find some prettiness embedded in it—namely, the frequent quoting of Poe’s stories as he connected the serial killer to his artistry. If for no other reason, I enjoyed the movie for bringing Poe’s language to the screen and into the ears of a new audience.

Now for some fun: mesh a flair for the dramatic with a love of Poe and a 14-year-old girl, and what do you get? Some really over-the-top poetry. When I arrived home last night, I remembered Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven” once inspired an intensely mad work of my own. Since it’s always good to poke some fun at oneself, and for your amusement, I thought I’d share a piece that a 14-year-old me wrote for a high school English class—and which my teacher found so dramatic, he actually read it aloud to the class, complete with wild hand gestures…Oh boy. Hold on tight, folks, there’s some real teen angst in this one:

Madness

Alas!

What brought it on?

Was it the anguish inside or

Was it the torture on the outside?

Did the cold nights of loneliness

With the terrible insomnia

Of the pain for tomorrow

Bring it about?

Was it rejection, and the feelings

You threw harshly at me?

Maybe it was blackness

That burnt through my window,

Burning until nothing was left

But a shriveled, diminutive

Shell of what I had once been,

Forcing me into eternal insanity.

You laugh at the torture

I must withstand,

But oh!

How you bring it on, let it continue.

Stop this pain you cause me!

Don’t laugh!  No!

Hold me!  Love me!

Be as you once were.

Halt your squalid words,

Your painful ideas.

Don’t grin at me;

So insolent and deluding.

Deceiving and conniving,

Stop it!  Please!

You’re calloused and shrewd.

What caused it?

And in your insinuating actions,

Your insubordinate ways,

Do you realize a

Part of me tears away?

I’m going mad.

You caused it.

You’ve torn my heart to shreds, but

You keep laughing

With your gimlet eyes

Shooting impetuous hatred

My way.

Why?

The pain is

Causing me great

Indignation.

So stop!

You’ve pinioned me against

A wall of thorns

And you won’t release me

Until…

You won’t tell me either!

Stop it, please!

My will to live is gone!

I don’t exist.

I’m just not here.

Stop!

It won’t be long.

You’ve killed my heart,

You’ve killed my soul.

You keep on killing

And you won’t let go.

Your passion to

Hurt me

Is driving me mad;

I’m declining

In more ways than one.

I’m nautious

With your treatment;

Steadily vomiting your putrid

Love out of my system.

But it won’t all leave.

No, it’s still there,

But covered with your madness.

Your madness

My madness,

You’ve given it to me

Like a plague, a disease.

I’m crying out,

Unplug your ears

I love you, please!

I’ve lost my will

I can’t hold on

Save me from this death

You’ve left me mad and insane.

And now…

I’m gone.

***

Wow. There’s probably a reason I switched to fantasy and contemporary fiction instead of poetry… 🙂

If you would like to read more about Edgar Allan Poe, please check out the Edgar Allan Poe Museum or PoeStories.com. You can also read more of Poe’s work at PoetryLovers.com.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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