Tag Archives: Guest Post

Blogs become books. Can a memoir become a sitcom?

Moving to the other side of the cash wrap…felt as disorienting to me as Alice might have felt when she slipped through the mirror into Wonderland, landing unawares in…a world populated by Mad Hatters, rushing rabbits, chatty chess pieces, and enormous mushrooms. ~ Caitlin Kelly in MALLED

Behind the scenes. That’s where Caitlin Kelly takes readers in her memoir Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail (out April 14, 2011 from Portfolio). Today, I’m hosting Caitlin here to talk about her journey from an essay in the New York Times, to a memoir, to contract talks with CBS.

From Caitlin’s bio:

The book combines her personal story of moving into low-wage customer service at 50; others, mid-career and mid-recession, taking these jobs and a detailed, national analysis of this $4 trillion industry.

A regular contributor to The New York Times since 1990, Kelly has written for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, More, and other publications in Canada and Europe. A former reporter for the New York Daily News, Toronto Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette, she is the winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor), and five journalism fellowships. Born and raised in Canada, she has lived in the U.S. since 1988, and has also lived in England, France and Mexico.

As a bonus, Caitlin is giving away a signed copy of her memoir. At the end of her guest post, leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Malled. Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, September 6th, at high noon.

 Welcome, Caitlin Kelly

If you’d told me that taking a low-wage job folding T-shirts in a suburban mall would lead to negotiating a contract with CBS on my birthday for a possible sitcom based on my life, I’d have laughed hysterically.

But that’s exactly what’s happened to me since Sept. 25, 2007 when I was hired to work as a part-time sales associate for The North Face at an upscale mall in White Plains, NY. I hadn’t worked a low-wage job since high school, was 50 and heading into a recession.

My own story quickly became just one of many in this ongoing recession. In February 2009, I published an essay in The New York Times business section explaining how moving from journalism – my only industry since graduating college in 1979 – to retail had turned out, then, to be a good choice for me. I liked the clarity of retail’s reported numbers: how much I sold per hour, my average daily sale, what percentage of my merchandise was later returned. In journalism, publishing and blogging, all judgments of value are totally subjective.

By June 2009, I had found an agent who felt confident we could find a publisher to take my memoir of working in the nation’s third-largest industry and single greatest source of new jobs. It wasn’t quite as quick and easy as we’d hoped, with 25 rejections before Portfolio, the business imprint of Penguin, bought it in September 2009.

I continued working in the store for another three months, taking many more notes than before, gathering as much detail, color, anecdote and dialogue as possible. No one at the company knew I was writing a book, and it felt strange to be writing things down while standing at the cash wrap.

I quit the job December 18, 2009 and began to write full-time. By June I was done, although revisions and some restructuring were necessary. Because retail is ever-changing, I read the business press every day, adding as necessary to keep the manuscript timely and up-to-date.

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published April 14, 2011 and received a terrific amount of national attention, with reviews and features in People, Marie-Claire, USA Today, The New York Times, Financial Times and Entertainment Weekly. I also appeared on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show (2 million listeners), Marketplace and The Brian Lehrer Show.

Emails soon started showing up from major entertainment companies expressing interest in it as a vehicle for film or television. I thought they were hoaxes! But by June 6, 2011, my birthday, we had an offer from CBS to option “Malled” as a possible sitcom. They have since commissioned a script. The next steps, I hope, are a pilot and a series; if so, I’m signed on as a story consultant for a few years.

This fairly quick journey from a Times essay to a book to a possible television show is a combination of factors: timing, luck, story, competition, voice and a tough agent. There have only been three other books I’m aware of now on the market that really describe in real time what it’s like to lose a good job, move down the economic ladder and tell the truth about how it feels. I was fortunate enough to find a good agent and an enthusiastic publisher. The book is written as a memoir, but it’s not just my story. I knew from the start that my story alone was insufficient, so it also includes dozens of original interviews with other sales associates nationwide, senior retail executives, Wall Street analysts and others.

One way I managed to get the book produced fairly quickly was – as I also did with my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” – by hiring researchers. They conducted some of my interviews and gathered statistics.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken as the closing keynote at a retail conference in Minneapolis, celebrated the sale of “Malled” to China, where it will be translated, and chatted with the veteran screenwriter who’s now creating his characters, one of them based on me.

It’s all a little surreal, kind of exciting and a lot more fun than folding T-shirts.

~

Entertainment Weekly calls [Malled] “an excellent memoir” and USA Today says “Malled is a bargain, even at full price. Kelly is a first-rate researcher and storyteller.” Original interviews include consultant Paco Underhill, retailer Jack Mitchell and Costco CFO Richard Galanti.

Read more on Caitlin Kelly by visiting her website and her blog, Also, check out another book by Kelly, Blown Away, on American women and guns. Don’t forget to leave a comment, as well, for a chance to win a copy of her memoir.

Writing Yourself Home….A Guest Post by Lise Saffran

I’m thrilled to welcome Lise Saffran here today. In her beautiful guest post, Lise talks about writing, with your hands in one place and your heart in another.

Her essay brings to mind my favorite bookmark, a bumper sticker that describes me in two words: Misplaced Texan. At twenty-two years old, I fell in love, uprooted myself, and moved north. While I’ve lived in Wisconsin long enough to have earned my stripes (surviving frigid temperatures and eating cheese curds, a strange phenomenon), in my heart, I am still from Texas. That fact often shows up in my speech and occasionally in my stories, and it has made me the writer I am today.

Lise’s essay shows us how strong sense of place is integral in a story, as well as in a writer’s life.

~

Writing Yourself Home:
A Mid-Western Novelist Yearns for the West Coast

by Lise Saffran

The cicadas were everywhere in Mid-Missouri this summer.  Crawling up from the ground, rattling the branches of the trees, dive-bombing bicyclists and looking for love in all the wrong places (the office where I write, for one). Our local ice cream parlor whipped up a batch of nationally famous cicada ice-cream.

At one point I realized I had even begun to measure my life by cicada hatchings.  Thirteen years ago, when the parents of the current crop were abandoning their husks in several-inch deep piles under the trees, I had an infant of my own and a brand new MFA from a Mid-western university.  While the baby slept I wrote stories about a former drug addict living in a converted school bus in Humboldt county who manicured pot for a living, a San Francisco girl preparing to leave the Bay Area for Sri Lanka and a home for troubled and homeless youth in wealthy Marin County.  The first of those stories to be published, Men and Fish, was about a woman who wrote a fishing column for a local paper.  And by local, I mean the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year, Cicada Brood XIX emerged to find me with two children and a first novel, Juno’s Daughters, on the shelves.  The novel concerns a single mother and her teenage daughters who participate in a summer production of The Tempest and it is set on San Juan Island, off the coast of Seattle in the Puget Sound.  The cast of characters–both onstage and off—features a collection of potters, weavers and musicians that would be instantly recognizable to the individuals who roamed through my earlier stories or indeed to most people who had found themselves hiking over Mt. Tamalpais in California or soaking in Oregon’s Cougar Hot Springs.

Driving my elder son to camp this weekend on interstate 70 we passed endless flat fields, many filled with the gold lamé of tassled corn.  A barn sported a painted advertisement for Meramec Caverns and multiple billboards urged us to visit Lake of the Ozarks. My son was born in Missouri and this is his countryside but to me, even after all these years, it feels exotic.  No matter how long I have been away, when I step off the plane in San Francisco, Portland or Seattle I feel that I’m home.  The air smells different when it is laced with pine and salt.  Shadows cast by mountains are distinct from the shade of a broad tree on a wide field.  If writers are often accused—rightly so—of writing the same story over and over again, that story, for me, has unfolded primarily in a western landscape.

It is partly separation from the region in which I was raised that makes it such an attractive subject. Beginning writers often fail to include sensory details in their fiction because they figure that such shared experience is sure to be boring to their readers. Why describe an orange, they wonder, if everyone already knows what an orange is like?  Well, everyone knows what love is like and what loss is like and what it is like to want something desperately, too.  It is the writer’s job to make that longing—and when important to the story, the orange, too—present on the page.

Imagining yourself deeply into a story is an act of conjuring that relies on an unpredictable combination of memory and invention.  Longing can often work like a switch.  Describing the orange on your desk is one thing.  Describing the taste of an orange when you’re dying for one and haven’t had one in years is quite another.

Elements of landscape and the sensations they produce also work like trapdoors into wider memories that enrich my fiction.  The way that eucalyptus trees drop their pods like little missiles on the ground reminds me of camping out at Grateful Dead shows when I was a teenager reminds me of the feeling of freedom and possibility and danger of being a late adolescent. I have now lived most of my adult life away from eucalyptus trees (not to mention the Grateful Dead) and that, in itself, works to underscore the passage of time, another fertile topic for stories.

My current work-in-progress is a second novel set on the San Juan Islands, but lately I have begun taking some tentative steps to write about Missouri, as well. In a recent story, Water Witch, the body of water that figures prominently in the action is an Ozark stream rather than the Pacific Ocean.  I am eager to explore this new setting and there may even come a day when I will describe myself as a writer from the West Coast rather than of the West Coast.  However, I can no more picture a time when my fiction will be unbuckled from my geographic origins than imagine it free from lessons learned in childhood about family, betrayal, adventure and loss.

In thirteen years, when the sleeping children of Brood XIX emerge from the ground again and my own children are off living their lives, where will I be?  Chances are pretty good that I will still be in Columbia, MO where my husband is a philosophy professor and where we have dear friends and deep roots.  Chances are better than good that at least some of the time I will be sitting at my desk in Mid-Missouri surrounded by coastal fog and dry yellow hills, the sound of the waves crashing in my ears.

~

Lise Saffran is the author of the novel JUNO’S DAUGHTERS, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and Hedgebrook. Her work has appeared in literary journals, Poets and Writers and the Granta Anthology FAMILY WANTED.  Not only does she live full-time in Missouri, she is part-owner of 60 acres in an Ozark county where there are rumored to be more copperheads than people.

Read more about Lise and her novel on her website, follow Lise on Twitter, and friend her on Facebook.

Guest Post by Lisa Rivero: Down She Went

What would you do if you were given a stack of daily diaries written by a vibrant woman, who saw the importance of recording simple yet rich details about the world around her? You’d read them, sure. Not many can resist diving into the pages of first-hand experiences about the past. And, if you’re Lisa Rivero, you’d see the value of their imprint on history and turn those diaries into a story.

Every Tuesday, on her blog Writing Life, Lisa posts flash narratives — very short excerpts of the story that lies within the pages of her Great Aunt Hattie’s diaries. Lisa’s narratives are beautiful pieces that will draw you in and leave you hungry to know more about the life of Hattie Whitcher. Today, I’m honored to host Lisa here, where she shares the third installment of a series based on Hattie’s experience on Memorial Day in 1933. Click these links to read part one (“A Nice, Bright Day”) and part two (“Cracklings”).

Memorial Day Weekend, 1933:
“Down She Went”

She knows what will happen only a moment too late to stop it. Her foot slips on the rain-soaked bank of dirt the men had thrown onto the path, and down she goes into a newly dug, half-finished toilet hole, her left leg buckling beneath her in six inches of water.

At first, she feels nothing but surprise and wonders only how she will heft herself out of the four-foot deep hole, but when she tries to stand up, the pain in her left leg lashes through her body like a whip, causing her to collapse against the earth wall. She tries again to stand, this time on her good leg, and braces both arms on the ground at her chin level.

“Bill! Help!” Her voice is shaky. She hopes he is not asleep in his chair, as usual.

Her arms keep slipping on the mud, and she clutches at wet clods of earth, trying to prop herself up so as to project her voice. “Bill!”

She sees him then, rushing from the house.

“Goodness, Hattie! What did you do? Give me your hand.”

He tries to pull her up first by taking her hands, then by grabbing her under her arms. She bites her bottom lip when her leg hits the side of the hole. After three more attempts, she manages to get out. She sits on the ground to catch her breath.

“I’m going to carry you into the house,” Bill says.

“No, I’m too heavy.” The image of her brother’s hauling her across the yard is more than she can bear. “I’ll crawl.”

Using her arms and her right leg, she crawls to the house, issuing small cries of pain with each labored movement. Her dress grows heavy with mud, slowing her down even more.

“Hattie, be reasonable,” Bill pleads, walking beside her, his hands helpless at his sides. She just shakes her head.

Once on the porch, she allows Bill to help her into a standing position. She leans on his right shoulder and, step by step, makes her way to the first floor bedroom. The thought of what her dress will do to the quilt makes her cringe, but she cannot imagine removing her clothes, so she tells Bill to lower her to the bed. The relief of finally being off her feet combined with the pain in her leg brings tears to her eyes. Bill gets her some aspirins and a glass of water, then disappears.

Hattie spills water on her chin and wipes it with the sleeve of her everyday dress, smearing mud on her face. “Bill?” she calls.

He brings a hot pan of water he poured from the kettle on the cook stove that she had been keeping warm for cleaning the kitchen and places it on the floor. After removing Hattie’s shoe and stocking and gently moving her leg off the side of the bed so that her foot soaks in the hot water, he says, “Stay here. I’m going for help.”

“But–”

“No buts, Hattie!” She rarely hears this sharp tone from her gentle brother. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to Tom’s to get a car.” Over his shoulder, as he leaves the room, he adds, “Don’t move.”

Bill runs west to their brother Tom’s house. On the way back, at the bridge, they meet LeRoy Kropp and his wife, Jerome Jamison and his wife and their two children, all coming from Winner in their car, and they follow Bill and Tom back to the house.

Just as the cars pull into the yard, Will and Narvin return. They prepare Hattie for the trip to Rosebud Ashurst Hospital, their only stop being for Hattie to use the slop jar at a neighbor’s place. Because of the Memorial Day weekend, there are no workers and no power at the hospital to take an X-ray until the next evening, when it is found that the long bone above her ankle is broken.

From her hospital bed the next day, she is keen to learn from Will of the holiday’s events, which she writes in her diary:

May 30, 1933: Will and Thomas went to O’Kreek this morning to the Legion Program, then George O’Conners took Will in his car to Mission to help decorate graves and then back to O’Kreek to dinner. Will then went on to see me at hospital. It was my wish that he do all he could, also the boys. William and Narvin did fine with lunch. Will said that all the meat is put in the basement and the kitchen is cleaned and mopped. All the pork is cooked and in jars, covered with fryings and lard, so the men can batch awhile.

 *****

"Although a windy afternoon, I managed to walk to the Car, first time on crutches. W. J. has his pipe in vest pocket, was told to put it in his mouth, but he covered it with his hand. Maggie and Will took me to Winner, and I enjoyed the trip."

Hattie stays in the hospital for two weeks, and for several weeks afterward she remains on a sanitary cot at home, leaving it only “when they take me out to sit sideways at the table to eat.” She has a live-in helper, Maggie—“the best helper we could have”—for one and one-half years, at which time she can walk with one crutch and a cane.

Hattie will eventually be diagnosed with diabetes. Her left foot and leg will heal slowly. We can only imagine the damage done by her crawling to the house and the jostling car ride to Rosebud before the leg could be set. She will battle infection and poor circulation, and her leg will never again be pain free. This is her last entry, from June 2, 1957:

South wind was quite strong. I feel bad with pains in my left foot. Will put my bedding from the front-room chair back on my bed and elevated my left leg, but it pained more than ever, so Will brought the bedding back to the front room chair. I gave an insulin shot to myself and ate oatmeal toast and apricot sauce and had hot water to drink.

She never writes in her diary again, and, four days later, part of her foot will be amputated. The next Memorial Day in 1958, twenty-five years after having broken her leg, Will—her husband, friend, companion and helpmate—takes Hattie to the hospital, where she will stay until her death.

~

Lisa Rivero

Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she is a writer, teacher, indexer, and speaker. Her professional and writing interests include gifted education, home education, creativity, literature and the humanities, and the challenges faced by all families in this fast-paced and often perplexing 21st-century life. Her published books include Creative Home Schooling (Great Potential Press, 2002), The Homeschooling Option (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Great Potential Press, 2010), and The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (Great Potential Press, 2010). She is currently writing a novel based on the Great Plains diaries of her great-aunt Harriet E. Whitcher.

From Here to There: Writing Under Pressure at Write It Sideways

Timing is everything.

It’s the weekend, I’m playing Single Parent for the next few days, and my guest post, a Finalist in the Write It Sideways Blogging contest, is up. The topic is one that I grapple with on a daily basis: life as Mother and a Writer.

“I love it when my kids get hold of my camera. Really.

Their photos serve as a study of daily life, and, for a brief moment in time, I see the world through their eyes.”

“The Dilemma of the Mother Writer.”

Click on over, take a peek, leave a comment.

And, Happy Writing to all you Mamas out there!

Ride the internet waves.

Today, I’m guest posting at Lisa Rivero’s blog, Writing Life.

Lisa and I live within easy driving distance of each other, but it was the ever-expansive internet that brought us together. I won’t bore you with details on when and where we connected, or how long we “chatted” before we finally met in person (writers’ forums and social networking sounds a lot like online dating, don’t you think? Only we exchange website domains instead of phone numbers).

How Lisa and I met isn’t half as important as why I value her as a writing friend: her blog continues to inspire me, and she’s a constant bouy of support. So, jump on the broadband and slide on over to Lisa’s blog, where I write about how one genre of writing informs another:

On Stanley Kunitz, Memoir, and Fiction.

If you’re like me, you’re always in search of the perfect How-To book when it comes to the craft of writing, but sometimes the lessons are found in other books. You just have to pay attention.

Browse around Lisa’s blog, too, while you’re there. She publishes some great posts on writing and some amazing flash narratives.

Welcome Rebecca Rasmussen, Author of The Bird Sisters

“Milly placed her hand on the girl’s curls. Their softness and the scattering of freckles at the girl’s neckline, the sudden camaraderie she felt with the mother, opened up something inside her that hadn’t been opened in a long time.”
~ from The Bird Sisters

***

We all experience those moments in life, when a simple gesture, or a glimpse of something familiar, stirs up memories, emotions, and reminders of a time when we sat at the crossroads, when choices made and actions taken determined who we became.

The Bird Sisters, Rebecca Rasmussen’s newly released debut novel, is a story about such a time for two sisters, Milly and Twiss. Set in Spring Green, Wisconsin, The Bird Sisters opens with a visit from a stranger and unfolds into a recollection of the summer of 1947, when Milly and Twiss discovered truths about their priest, their parents, and their cousin Bett. In her novel, Rebecca transports readers back and forth in time with ease, closing each chapter with an image that leaves the reader thinking and wanting more.

The Bird Sisters is a beautiful story that will connect with readers on so many levels. I’m honored to host Rebecca here, where she shares about the inspiration for her novel and talks about writing. At the end of the interview, leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of her novel (complete with an autographed book plate!). I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday, April 19th. Also, read more of Rebecca’s writing here and here. She’s an author to follow!

~

CC: Under “Behind the Story” on your website, you mention details from your family history that served as inspiration for The Bird Sisters. How much of that history informed your novel, and at what point in your writing process did your main characters, Twiss and Milly, take over?

Rebecca Rasmussen

RR: For several years after my grandmother passed away, I kept trying to figure out how to create a story that honored her based on the journals she kept over a forty-year period. There was a lot of unhappiness in her journals—to be frank—and a lot of wishing her childhood had been different. Both of her parents passed away within a year of each other when she was a teenager and she was constantly torn between making martyrs out of them and seeing them as real people capable of the very grave mistakes that each of them made. Once I took the pressure off of myself and let Milly and Twiss take their own breaths (mostly by putting away my grandmother’s journals), the story came to me very quickly, and I fell in love with the sisters; Twiss for her adventurous spirit, and Milly for her family-bound one.

The two sisters in the novel are different from my grandmother and her sister in that they cling to each other when the going gets rough, whereas my grandmother and sister invested in their new families and children. They invested in moving on. If there is a reckoning in the novel, it’s that while familial love can harm you, it can also save you. The older I get, the more I am tuned in to the sacrifices—large and small—that people make daily for the good of their husbands and wives, their children and grandchildren, and even the animals they love. I am drawn to the idea of sacrifice because it often goes against our instincts, and because it can be one of the most beautiful things in the world, and yet its consequences can be devastating to have to survive. The sacrifices Milly and Twiss make in the novel are part of why they have my love and always will.

CC: You are one of those authors who create a wonderful sense of place in a novel, sometimes shown in brief but powerful descriptions. Set in the real town of Spring Green, Wisconsin, I imagine many of the specifics in the story are real. So, I wonder, does the “enchanted purple meadow” truly exist? If it does, I want to go there and bask in the sun.

RR: I am deeply attached to Spring Green, Wisconsin, which is where my father has lived since I was a girl. My brother and I would go back and forth between his house and my mother’s, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was magical. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. I’ve always preferred rural landscapes to urban ones. Wild over tame. It’s like the old bumper stickers from the 80s used to say: “Escape to Wisconsin.” As for the enchanted purple meadow, it exists in my imagination—it’s a place of love and magic, where life can change after opening one’s self up to those internal possibilities we alternately hope for and are afraid of throughout our lives. For me, without places like that purple meadow, story simply doesn’t exist.

CC: In your novel, which section was your favorite to write?

RR: I really loved writing about the priest who renounces his priesthood early on in the novel: Father Rice. Although his story isn’t rooted in fact, there is a little country chapel in the hills outside of Spring Green that I went to a few times as a girl. Instead of the incendiary language used by priests in other churches I had been to, this priest talked about fishing the river and farming the land in order to convey messages from the Bible. I remember one day he ended mass early because it was still cool and the fish were biting. He was the first priest I ever met whom I wasn’t afraid of and whom I understood had hopes and dreams like the rest of us. I loved writing about faith in an untraditional way, through a priest who questions his faith and almost loses everything. Almost.

CC: What are you reading these days?

RR: I have been reading wonderful books lately. The first one I want to mention is Susan Henderson’s novel, Up From the Blue, which is a wonderful synthesis of what’s it’s like to be child in a highly dysfunctional family. It’s sad and beautiful and wonderfully written. I’ve also been reading Alan Heathcock’s story collection Volt, which does indeed electrify me somehow. Alan and I navigate on different ends of the spectrum: his stories are tough, gritty, and very Cormac McCarthy-esque. I love this collection because it breathes life into my imagination, and I only hope it gets the attention it deserves. Other wonderful books I’m reading are Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men Are Gone, Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, Kate Ledger’s Remedies, and Therese Fowler’s forthcoming novel Exposure. All are major nightly treats for me.

CC: Do you have any advice for writers on the rise?

RR: Have faith in yourself and your work. If you don’t have it, no one else will. Also, be kind to yourself. When you face rejection, treat yourself to something small that you love. Send yourself flowers or chocolates or go find a little trinket. (My husband bought me a sweet little bird charm necklace.) Pick yourself up. Keep writing.

Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the novel The Bird Sisters, released from Crown Publishers on April 12th, 2011. She lives in St. Louis with her husband and daughter and loves to bake pies. Visit Rebecca at http://www.thebirdsisters.com for more information.

You can also find Rebecca on Twitter (@thebirdsisters) and Facebook.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway!

The Catalyst and Writing

Every story has a catalyst, some event that induces a permanent change in the protagonist, and every writer has their catalyst. I bet each of us can name that “one thing” that kick-started us into writing. Mine was a big, fat dose of jealousy.

A woman I knew was given a wonderful opportunity that any writer, especially a Mother Writer, would have given her third arm for: unadulterated time to write. When I heard the news, a hard ball of contempt formed in my gut. It loosened when I muttered “How come she gets to!” and festered as I pouted, “That’s not fair!” Then, a wise friend turned to me and said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Just start writing.

Oh.
I suppose.
And, so I did.

I wrote during those in between times and late at night and let that jealousy drive me until I forgot all about my obsession for uninterrupted time. I was writing, and that was all that mattered.

Today, Eric Kobb Miller reveals his catalyst in his story entitled “Flashing.” You can read it below.

Then, think about the “one thing” that urged you to take the leap and start writing (or that keeps you writing).

*****

FLASHING
By Eric Kobb Miller

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to write “the great American novel” and to be inducted into the pantheon of American writers alongside Melville, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Salinger. An invitation to the literary pantheon not forthcoming, I battled with the demons of low self-esteem. My wife, Rinnce, my dental assistant Saliva Godiva, and my dental hygienist Bidday O’Shea all suggested that I try my hand at “flashing.” I recoiled in revulsion at the thought of running stark naked through life, in very public places, flashing very private parts. They assured me that the flashing to which they referred was writing very short, short stories which could be entered in writing contests. Doing this would get me focused, disciplined, tournament tough, and hopefully published someday.

Alas, the acceptance letters never came, although the rejection slips inundated my mailbox. It disappointed me, to be sure, but the comments about my punctuation just outright enraged me. Editors constantly criticized how I used my colon, as if that were any of their concern. Moreover, they claimed that my semicolons were acting like squatters in places they didn’t belong. As for my commas, they described them as looking like insects randomly stuck between the teeth of a motorcyclist without a face shield — even going so far as to label me a “comma splicer.”

One especially unhappy editor, who thought she was Portia in The Merchant of Venice, told me that my quotation marks “droppeth not as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath, but as sleet wrapped irritatingly around the wrong words.” My penchant for not italicizing the French words I liked to sprinkle about in my text really drove some editors crazy, especially because I italicized my poems which were in English. But more than anything, the endless discussions about hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes felt like acupuncture with dull needles. To this day, I still try to crawl into the spaces which are not supposed to be surrounding my em dashes.

However, I kept tap, tap, tapping away at my keyboard to get even in my own personal and special way. Each time my middle finger, that ubiquitous devil, was to hit a key, I did it with just a tad more emphasis: a flourish which never failed to give me the faintest hint of a smile, even though it inserted more colons: semicolons; commas, and “quotation marks” in all the wrong places, as well as the wrong sized dashes — with inappropriate spaces — between the wrong words.

*****

Eric Kobb Miller

Eric Kobb Miller is a retired dentist who has laid down his drill for a quill. His stories and poems number more than several mouths full of teeth and have appeared in a score of publications.

You can read more of Eric Kobb Miller’s work on his website, Spit Toon’s Saloon, or in his book, Spit Toon’s Saloon: Rinnce and Spit Toon, Proprietors. Sad Songs and Funny Tales on Tap. You can also follow him on Twitter.