Category Archives: Published

Sweaters, Shoes, and Books: More on Letting Go

Last Sunday, I wrote about cleaning out and clearing out and making way for all things new. Part of that process includes a giveaway: gifts from my shelves to yours.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about, “hey, I just cleaned out my closet and wouldn’t you love a few of my pill-ridden, old sweaters….” And, no I won’t raffle off those doc martin wannabe shoes, the ones with monster heels and rounded toes that oozed “cool” ten years ago but now holler “red nose, balloon animals, and Lucky the Clown.” Those things, I will toss or burn, thank you.

What I am giving away is a book near and dear to my heart, On the Fly: Stories in Eight Minutes or Less.

This book represents my writing journey in many ways. Some of my early pieces appear on the pages and signify my willingness to put myself out there.

The book’s premise is based on writing prompts, which is a technique I depend on, often, to urge me forward into creating new pieces.

And, the book as a whole is the product of a collaborative effort between an amazing group of women writers. We called ourselves the Lit Star Collective.

We published this book not for profit, but in order to document our time together, to showcase the work we had done, and to spread the word about the kind of writing that can happen in a very short time — well-formed images and prose can emerge, like tiny treasures, from a flurry of words when you let go of inhibitions and dive into the work.

On the Fly is a book of flash fiction, flash narratives (a term coined by Lisa Rivero), and creative nonfiction. Each piece originated from a prompt (given by our instructor, Ariel Gore), was written in eight minutes of timed writing, and is presented in either its raw form or a peer-edited version. Sometimes the prompts were one word; sometimes they were a phrase. Always, they inspired great writing.

As a teaser, here’s an excerpt of a piece by Catherine Anderson, a devoted Mother and a prolific Writer. She blogs, at Mama C and the Boys, about raising multi racial families (by birth or adoption), single parenting, and the writing that evolves from those life experiences. In On the Fly, Catherine expands on the prompt, “Where I’m From.”

Inheritance

Where I’m from, is mapped out all over my nose. Bulbous, just like Pepe’s. Loved that man. As grandparents go, he mapped that out pretty well too; if I live to be old enough to see these boys have children of their own. The French-by way of Guadeloupe-sailor and storyteller with chocolates and exotic perfume samples hidden in his silk robe for me to find in his suitcase every other December when he came to visit. You have to forgive a few things, like how he espoused that black people were beneath him, and Jewish people were, too. It becomes tricky to understand how come his mistress of twenty-five years was half black and half Jewish. Look deeper inside my cells and you will see his wife, my Meme, curled up in a little ball in my abdomen abandoned over and over her entire life. First, by her mother who died of typhoid when she was three, then by her father who left her in a hotel room with a cousin he didn’t know so he could remarry. And then every day she waited for Pepe to come back to the marriage he had consummated on land….

…There’s more. Of this narrative and of other amazing short pieces.

On the Fly includes several other writing prompts, too, that will stir your muse. If you’re a writing prompt junkie, or if you’d like a peek into the works of sixteen women writers, leave a comment. On Sunday, May 1st, my pals at Random.org will choose three lucky winners who will each receive a copy.

To read more of Catherine’s work, you can visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.


Wednesday’s Word: On Vacation and Thinking of Cake.

Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). You can find past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces under the Wednesday’s Word category on the sidebar to the right.

*****

This week, I’m out of town and mostly unplugged, so I’m taking a break from the usual Word of the Day challenge. But, I’m not ignoring my commitment to post a flash piece.

I dove head first into writing when I signed up for Ariel Gore’s online class over a year and a half ago. During her course, we began each week with a quick write assignment. We were given a prompt – a phrase, a photo, or just one word – and given a limit of seven minutes to free write.

Many of these quick writes, from myself as well as from other writers in class, ended up in an Anthology that we put together and published in July 2009: On the Fly: Stories in Eight Minutes of Less. It’s a great little book that illustrates the kind of powerful writing that can result from letting your mind go and your words fall onto paper.

Below is one of my pieces published in that anthology, one based on the word I pulled out from a word bag: cake. Enjoy, and at the end of this post, check out the links to other sites with word prompts or writing prompts.

*****

Cake. My Nemesis.

2003: Find out that my son has an egg allergy. Remember that chemistry was never my best subject, but realize the importance of eggs when it comes to making a birthday cake. Wonder how egg substitutes will work. Hold head high and promise to be the best mom ever and make the best birthday cakes of all time.

2004: First attempt at an egg-free birthday cake. Things fall apart. No worries – next year will be better.

2005: The dinosaur cake. Recipe calls for no eggs – perfect. Cake stands eight inches high. Okay, plenty of eats for everyone. Decorations, which play well with the overall monstrosity of cakeness, include small, plastic dinosaurs and palm trees. Dinosaurs are a big hit, but the cake is dry. Cut myself a huge piece and pretend it’s the best ever (then slam 8 ounces of water nonstop, to wash it down).

2006: Block out all memory of cake, too painful to report.

2007: The Transformer cake. Recipe from a box, which calls for three eggs. Proceed with caution. Find a bubbling concoction of baking powder, vinegar, and milk to substitute. Looks good out of the oven, crumbles during icing. Decorations include small Decepticon figure climbing up the corner of the cake that fell apart. No one seems to notice. Disaster averted, this year.

2008: Wave the white flag cake. Recipe from a box, three eggs. Whatever. Find a pre-made substitute that looks like a fine white powder and smells funny, but works better than bubbling concoction from past years. Decide to bake and keep cake in metal 9×13 pan (to make sure the sides hold together). Decorations include a variety of sugary goodness: icing, sprinkles, more icing, and interesting candles. Tape wrapping paper around the outside of the pan in hopes no one will think I’m lazy.

2009: Hear a remake of that old song, Someone left the cake out in the rain. Empathize with woman in song who can’t bear to do it again. Wonder why cake is such a big deal anyway.

*****

If you love writing prompts, here are a few sites to inspire your best ten minutes of writing:

Wordnik.com: This site offers a “word of the day” and a “random word” option. With “random word,” you can gamble for your word of choice: if you don’t like the first word, click “random” again. And, again. And, then twenty more times (I did when I tried it). But, eventually you’ll have to stop clicking and start writing.

Wordsmith.org: My usual favorite. There’s always a weekly theme and never a dull moment in word choice. Plus, there’s no “random” option. As my son says – in a mocking way at dinner sometimes – “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”

A recent post from Lisa Rivero, where she lists a host of links to writing prompts and writing exercises.

Take a peek at those sites and punch out your own flash fiction or quick write. Happy Writing!



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If I Get Lost, the Story Falls Flat

There’s been a lot of talk online* recently about craft and voice and when to know if your work is publishable or best kept in a drawer.

Linda Cassidy Lewis posted about the fact that everyone can write a story, but a writer hopes to craft one.

Jennifer Stanley and Donald Maass posted separately on voice. If you stay true to your voice, the work, according to Maass, will read “authentic and passionate.” The story, Stanley believes, will “outshine” all the others.

Rachelle Gardner said that rejection after rejection may imply a writer needs more than just good grammar skills. That writer should sign up for a class on the craft of writing with a good teacher who isn’t afraid to say, “This doesn’t work. At all.”

I wrote a story a while back that was a good story. I remember sitting in a diner watching a scene unfold across the restaurant in a way that I thought, “somebody should write about that. That’s crazy!” So I did. I made up a story that paralleled the scene I witnessed, but I didn’t tell the story well. I wrote it with a particular literary magazine in mind. And, I wrote it in a way I imagined a particular famous author would write it. My voice was lost, along with the passion. The story read flat, no matter how hard I infused it with vivid details or realistic dialogue.

I know better now, but I still have much to learn. I do recognize when a story is becoming my own – when it’s a story that I enjoy reading myself. That sounds narcissistic, but when I read my own story and think, well, I might pick it up, but I hope they will pick it up, then I need to go back, rework it, and find the place where I got lost.

There’s still no guarantee my well-crafted story will get published. But, I can lean on the belief that if it’s authentic to me, it will at least stand out next to another writer’s tale.

___________________________________

* If you’re on Twitter, consider following Debbie Ridpath Ohi @inkyelbows. She rolls out tweet after tweet of great links, resources, and retweets.

What’s in a Name, Really?

Kate Harding’s compelling article, “Write Like a Man,” on Salon.com reveals how gender affects a writer’s success and psyche.

She writes about James Chartrand’s first hand experience that proves a male writer succeeds faster than a female writer, even in the 21st century (you can read James’s account here). For James Chartrand, changing the she to he, on paper, skyrocketed her writing career. The same writer – sitting at the same laptop, crafting articles with the same style – became a quick success under the guise of male anatomy.

Kate Harding also mentions Kathy Sierra’s story about a barrage of death threats, via internet, aimed at her simply because she’s a female blogger. Kathy Sierra put her gender on the table and still managed success. However, she also attracted a hostile reader who threatened her with physical and sexual violence. Not because she wrote provoking blog entries, but because she was a woman who dared to write about “cognition and computers,” which apparently is man’s domain.

There are days when equality seems accessible, tangible. Then, I read about the experience of these writers, and I wonder, what’s a woman supposed to do to get ahead, or just plain even? In ten days, we will enter another new decade, one that seems lightyears away from the Seneca Falls Convention and the  birth of a seventy year struggle to ensure a woman has a voice. Still, women stand two rungs down on the ladder to success. Not only that, but we are susceptible to bodily harm when we dare to succeed in a man’s world.

Sure, there are plenty of women writers at the top of their game, selling books left and right, sporting a fat, healthy readership. Yet, Kate Harding’s article cannot be ignored. She says it well when she expresses the same sentiment I feel when faced with these odds:

“I get furious when people insist that western women have achieved full equality, feminism is no longer necessary, the wage gap is imaginary or the lack of women in positions of power is unrelated to sexism.”

Check out Kate Harding’s article for yourself. Though your perspective may differ from mine, we’ll at least be on the same footing about the facts.

Back Online and Dreaming

I’ve had little time to write lately, and that disconnect is beginning to wear on me.

Today, I stared at a blank screen.
The blink
Of the cursor,
A taunt.

“Write something. Anything.” I told myself.

I searched through my files for an old writing prompt to stir me into new material, and I found this one from an online course I took with Ariel Gore:

Allow a beautiful vision of your life to come to mind.

As cliché as it sounds, this is a great time of year for me to reflect on the past and envision the future — especially when I sit in front of a screen and wonder, what do I, little writer that I am, have to offer?

Reflecting on the past year, I see that I passed more benchmarks in writing this year than in the past:

  • I saw my work in print on the pages of a few different publications.
  • I “met” several writers online who offer encouragement, support, and excellent feedback on my work.
  • I wrote almost every single day, in the form of a post or a rewrite or morning pages.
  • I signed on to Twitter and found an even greater pool of resources and authors online.

Small successes, I tell myself, are as important as signing with an agent for a three book deal (though maybe not quite as exciting).

This year, I dream:

  • I find time to write every day — not just minutes pieced together here and there but good, solid, time.
  • I see myself opening my email to a message from a literary magazine, saying “yes.”
  • I watch my hand reach into an envelope and pull out a check for a story published.
  • I envision holding a finished manuscript, passed through the virtual hands of beta readers, reworked, and queried.

Then, I imagine I put down my manuscript and turn away. Let the story go, I tell myself, and let it land where it may.

I step outside into the brisk air of early summer. The wind raises goosebumps on my arms, but the sun warms my back. With bare hands and a spade, I dig in the ground for a while. I turn the soil. I wake the earthworms. I plan a plot of fresh herbs, tomatoes, maybe some wildflowers.

What do you envision this year?

What are you hiding under your pillow this week?

This week (September 26th-Oct 3rd) marks  the 28th annual celebration of Banned Books Week.

bannedbooks_readout.lg_horizInterested in knowing what books have been challenged this year? Check out Robert P. Doyle’s Books Challenged & Banned in 2008-2009: Speak Read Know. Doyle compiled the list based on reports from the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, and you might be surprised at what some parents and schools are willing to consider unfit for adolescent eyes.

Among the list are classics, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other titles are new to me, but surprising just the same. Take Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, a book about a young boy who leaves his Indian reservation to attend an all-white school. A host of awards supports the book as credible and critical for young adults (2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the National Parenting Publication Gold Winner 2007 to name just two), but the book was challenged because it mentions masturbation.

Okay, fine. But I’m curious if those same parents who challenged many of the award winning books on Doyle’s list are the same parents who dropped their 12 or 13 year old off at the cinema to watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (PG-13 for sexual material) or rented Step Up 2 for their 14 year old’s slumber party (PG-13 for “suggestive material” and really skimpy outfits)?

Then, there are the books I wish I’d read when I was young, like Esther Drill’s Deal With It!: A Whole New Approach
to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a gURL
.
This book reveals everything every girl wants to know, and needs to know, about her body’s evolution into womanhood. At sixteen years old, my high school friend innocently misinformed me (and embarrassed me) about the natural workings of my own body. She had no idea what she was talking about. I doubted her information, but I felt too ashamed to ask anyone else, until I was well into my thirties.  Esther Drill’s book was challenged at a Community Library close to my home. The book was thought to be “worse than an R-rated movie,” as if educating young girls about their own biology is obscene.

I don’t want my daughter to grow up in the dark.

Read the list. Find out what books have been challenged in your area, and why. If the library won’t let you borrow it, then buy it. The book they ban is most likely the best book on the shelf.

Soon to be out.

Alltopia Antholozine will release their Summer/Harvest issue soon. Very soon.

I’m thrilled.

Thrilled my work will be included in this issue.

Thrilled to be invited to the peer group reading and press release.

But Portland is more than a day’s drive from my house. And my favorite airline only goes as far as Seattle, for a pretty penny these days.

So, come the end of August, I’ll be at the press release in spirit only (unless I come into some money real quick). I think I’ll still get dressed up that night. Maybe force my husband to sit down and listen to me read my piece out loud. Give him an autographed copy, for fun.