The Friday Fictioneers took Christmas off, and the break was obviously inspirational for our Flash Fiction guru, Madison Woods. She found an amazing photo to spark our 100-word flash fiction. Here it is:
“Final Statements” by A. J. O’Connell (Independent Ink Magazine, December 20, 2011, 2,286 words) is something of a psychological study. A late-thirties divorcee has moved back in with her mother–no surprise there–but the daughter, Roxanne, has a fascination with a Web site that lists the final words of executed criminals.
Roxanne has taken over her slovenly mother’s house and begun renovating it without her mother’s permission. The only off-limits place is the door to the basement, the site of her long-dead father’s workshop, which Roxanne’s mother still forbids her access.
At first, it’s easy to see Roxanne’s mother’s concern–her adult daughter makes a ritual of reading the words of executed murderers when the Web page gets updated every month. Roxanne curls up on the couch, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in hand, laptop open, and don’t you dare disturb her. She studies the executed man’s picture and rolls the last words over and over in her mind, noting that the ultimate words are usually, “I’m ready.” Her mother sits at the dining room table playing Solitaire the old fashioned way, with a deck of cards, and tosses barbs over her shoulder about her daughter’s odd obsession. By that point in the story, you begin to wonder just what Roxanne’s issue is with the dying words of the executed.
Then you find out, and I’ll never hear the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” the same way, ever again.
This is a short, tight story with a good twist at the end–very Hitchcock-esque–and I recommend it.
In the tiny townhouse in Northern Virginia where I lived before I retired, for years I was tethered to a single place to write–an upstairs “bedroom,” which I declared my office, with a chunky, Dell desktop. I think prisoners in SuperMax have a bigger cell than that 10′ x 10′ space, but, boy, was I productive there. With my stereo blasting whatever music I was into at the time, I wrote a trilogy and the somewhat fleshed-out skeletons of three more novels.
When I purchased a laptop, I became rather bohemian–at least what passed for that in the Yuppie Capital of the Free World–and could write in book-store cafes (loved Olssen’s in Old Town) and coffee shops, not to mention any room in the house, on the road for work, on vacation, etc. Re the latter: It helps to have a supportive partner, and I did. He got that I needed space to write and didn’t begrudge it.
I’m happy to say I can write almost anywhere, whether using a laptop, a Moleskine reporter’s notepad, or a spiral notebook. Sometimes a notebook is good, especially when you’re people-watching to get ideas for characters. You could be writing a grocery list and no one knows you’re jotting down what’s being said or how someone acts.
There comes a time, though, in any writer’s life where you need to focus on a particular writing project to the exclusion of all else. When that time comes for me, it can’t be in a coffee shop or working in the gift shop at the R. R. Smith Center in Staunton. I have to be in seclusion. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I’m a very high (as in off-the-scale) E, meaning I’m energized most and best by external stimulus. When I need to focus on a writing project, the latent I, meaning I prefer to do a Greta Garbo, emerges.
I’m lucky in the house I bought after retirement to have a primary and a secondary writing area, which I use alternately depending on how strong the “I” becomes.
The primary area is my home office, which you can see here (above):
It has a lot of advantages–actually, it has the most advantages. You see my bookcase of reference books (U.S. history, world history, writing), which are at hand. (And, yes, you see the odd juxtapositions in my life: my NASCAR collection next to my Star Trek collectibles.) It has my really powerful iMac and my comfy ergonomic chair. Just to the left, out of the picture, is my satellite radio, which can bring me a constant stream of inspirational music. That, too, can be an interesting and eclectic mix–from heavy metal (Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails) to Celtic (Irish Rovers and Tommy Makem) to opera.
As many advantages as this wonderful room has, it has a major distraction–this amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains (below). And, yes, I took the shot through the window for verisimilitude. I can be in the middle of something and glance out the window and get completely lost in the wonderful place where I chose to live.
Curtains, you suggest? Uh, why would I cover that up? The tiny office in the old townhouse looked out onto the parking area in the cul-de-sac, so that was rarely a distraction. The view above can figuratively or literally pull me out of my chair to go outside.
Which can be good for clearing the cobwebs with a nice walk, but it happens too often.
On many occasions, then, I retire to my secondary writing area, well away from any commanding views.
This area (above) is a nook in my bedroom, where I can’t be distracted by the outdoors. The view is the wall, or the nice artwork above, but that’s hardly as alluring as the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is a television in that room, but my back is to it, and it has a decent selection of music channels. I have to have some background noise–always have, much to the consternation of parents who couldn’t understand that homework could be done while singing along with the Beatles.
The disadvantage of this writing area is that if I need something from one of the reference books, that means a trek across the house (oh, horrors) to obtain it. Of course, there’s always The Google. (What toys were popular among pre-teens in 1989? Why, I’ll Google it.)
Wow, what a dilemma, you say, voice torqued by sarcasm. I know. But the secondary writing area, where I am, as I write this, is the least distracting. I often end up here, like a troglodyte in a dim cave, but the productivity is welcome.
Keeping track of versions of the same work on two computers? That’s a whole, other issue.
In the meantime, find your writing place, the one where you’re most productive, where the words come unbidden, and live there.
(Note: I used my two favorite words ever in this post. Can you find them?)
Last week I guest-posted on Madison Woods’ blog about reviewing books, as in, I would like to review more. Three people contacted me right away, and I’ve purchased their books to review.
As other writers follow me on Twitter, I’ve identified several of their works I’d like to read and review. Then, a high school friend of mine pops up on Facebook with a link to her series of books, and I decided I wanted to read and review that as well.
So, I’ve managed to commit myself to review seven books by mid-February. What was I thinking?
However, just the other day, I blogged about establishing a writing/reading schedule for myself in the new year, and I hope that structure will help me keep my promises.
And, in the order I’m supposed to read them, here are the seven books:
Weimar Vibes by Phil Rowan, a thriller (love the thrillers)
Linkage: The Narrows of Time Series, by Jay J. Falconer, sci-fi (love the sci-fi)
The Lucky Boy by Caroline Gerardo, literary fiction
Admissions by Michael Ribisi, a romance (not so into the romance genre, but this intrigued me because it’s a romance written by a man)
Loki and Sigyn: A Love Story, by J.L. Butler, fantasy (again, not a big fantasy fan, but if it’s unique, I’ll give it a try)
Red Mojo Mama by Kathy Lynn Hall (a mashed genre of romance, thriller, and paranormal)
Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch, a romance
Some of these–I’m not sure which yet–I’ll review and submit the review to eFiction Magazine, which publishes indie fiction and likes book reviews of indie-published books (or self-published books, if you prefer; to me, six of one, half dozen of another). Others I’ll review in my blog on a separate page.
Yes, I’ve always been an over-achiever, or, better put, a take-on-more-than-I-can-chew achiever.
Wish me luck.
Madison Woods, whose blog for me is a must-read, nominated my blog for the Versatile Blogger Award. This was delightful and surprising, and I’m grateful.
What’s the award, you ask? Well, the award is being nominated by a fellow blogger. Once you’re nominated, you pay it forward by nominating fifteen more bloggers–ones who entertain or support you. When you’re nominated, you do the following:
Nominate fifteen fellow bloggers.
Inform the bloggers of their nomination.
Share seven random things about yourself.
Thank the blogger who nominated you.
Add the Versatile Blogger Award logo to your blog post.
I think I’ll go from the bottom up.
Here’s the logo (above).
Thank you, Madison!
Seven random things about me–ack, I hate these, but here goes. 1. I’m a knee-jerk, bleeding-heart, foaming-mouth liberal. What? You didn’t know that? 2. Even six and a half years later, I still struggle with being single. 3. I’m hopelessly, ridiculously in love with Brandon, Ollie, and Emory, my grandkids. 4. I drive a Mercedes E320 with the license plate “SPYWRTR.” 5. I love airplanes. They’re the one thing that’ll stop me in my tracks to watch until I can’t see them anymore. It’s been that way since I was four. 6. I live in the best small city in Virginia. 7. If I couldn’t write, there’d just be no point to existence.
You’ll just have to trust me that I’ll notify everyone of their nominations.
And, last, but not least, here are the fifteen bloggers who entertain, inspire, and encourage me, in no particular order of preference–this is how they show up in my Bookmarks list:
1. Perpetual Folly
2. Welcome to Exeter
3. Lindsay’s List
4. Transition Voice
5. Addicting Info
6. Left Leaning Liberal Lady
7. Melissa’s Life–Answering to 42
8. Women’s Literary Cafe
9. Arthur Dobrin’s Weblog
10. Legal Lacuna
11. The Weird, the Wild, and the Wicked
12. Thoughts Over Coffee
13. Six Sentences
14. Michael Moore
15. Madison Woods
I hope you’ll take a look at each and follow them. You’ll be inspired, entertained, and encouraged.
When I retired two-plus years ago, my main goal was to write full time—to produce more short stories, polish the novels I have in various stages of completion, blog more—and to get published. The good news is I can say, with accuracy, that all of that has happened. Just not with the consistency and frequency I expected. And that’s my fault.
I’m most happy when I’m writing, when I go into the world I’ve created in my novels, when I carve out little bits of reality (or fantasy) in a short story. I just don’t do that often enough. I have made a conscious effort to consider and call myself a writer, to get validation from my local writers group and critique group, and to be inspired by the circle of writer friends I’ve cultivated. Again, I can say that, too, has happened.
The problem is, I don’t write enough. I don’t focus myself as well as I should, mainly because I wanted a complete separation from the world of work. Writing is work, and it should be; otherwise, I’d just write cute little stories for my friends and family to read in the annual holiday letter.
A writer friend of mine, Cliff Garstang, has hit the mark for me with a recent blog post. Cliff periodically posts “Tips for Writers,” and his December 9, 2011, post, “Finding the Time to Write,” made me sit up and take notice of how I approach my writing. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.
About the only advice from that post I can’t take is “Get up earlier.” The “Work later” part is easy—I am often most inspired when the day is done. Why can’t I get up earlier? Too many years of rising at oh-dark-hundred for a variety of reasons, but I can work back into it. Gradually. Cliff makes the time to write, and his writing work ethic is inspiring—he shuts away all external distractions and just creates. Though Cliff often goes to writing retreats (something I need to try), he works to re-create that atmosphere at home, which he describes in his December 7, 2011, post, “Bring the Retreat Home.”
Another writer friend of mine, Jennie Coughlin, is in a writing frenzy right now, working on a series of novels about her fictional New England town, Exeter, and its denizens. (Take a look at her blog Welcome to Exeter and marvel at this ambitious schedule she’s set for herself.) She works a full-time job and a part-time job and gives up what free time she has to writing, including publishing the occasional short story as well as character sketches on her blog. Her word output is amazing, and she’s considering a challenge to write a half a million words next year. I’m sure she’ll make it.
You can see I have a lot to live up to. And the pressure on me is mine. I need to do what I said I was going to do when I retired. As Stephen King once said, writing is my job, and I need to stop being a part-timer.
So, I’ve done the dreaded thing, and set up a [shudder] work schedule for writing starting January 1, 2012. It’s a modest start to organizing my free time around what I’ve said is my profession. Right now, it needs to be flexible so I don’t rebel and to accommodate spending time with family and friends and my exercise regimen. It could be a colossal failure—wouldn’t be my first—but it could get me back on track.
Here we go:
Monday 0800 – 1000: Blog about writing or publish a book review on my blog
1400 – 1700: Edit/revise a novel WIP
Tuesday 0800 – 1100: Edit/revise a short story WIP or identify a publication to submit to
1400 – 1700: Edit/revise a novel WIP
Wednesday 0900 – 1100: Blog about politics
1400 – 1700: Edit/revise a novel WIP
Thursday 0800 – 1100: Edit/revise a short story WIP or identify a publication to submit to
1400 – 1700: Something new—a short story or a novel idea
Friday 0800 – 1000: Blog about writing, publish a book review on my blog, and/or 100-word
1300 – 1500: Submissions—the actual act of doing so—or developing a query letter
Saturday and Sunday: Two to three hours of reading and/or writing reviews
Your job, dear readers, is to point out that I’m not doing what I said I would do. Just think of the possibilities—getting to tell me to get my ass moving. 😉
Take a look at my post as a guest blogger on Madison Woods’ blog:
Leave a comment there or here.Thanks!
To coincide with my review of Thrown Out: Stories from Exeter by Indie author Jennie Coughlin, which appears in the December 2011 issue of eFiction Magazine, I interviewed Ms. Coughlin about her works, in print and in progress. To get a better understanding of the interview you might want to read the review. Better yet, buy the book. (Thrown Out is available to download at amazon.com and Smashwords and as a paperback, also from Amazon.)
I do think that for Indie publishing to become a long-term, viable part of the publishing ecosystem, something will have to arise through book bloggers and review sites to provide readers with a place they can go and trust that the books recommended there will, in fact, be quality publications. Not all will be something any given person would want to read, but all meet the standards of good writing and good storytelling.
If you don’t have skills in a particular area, be prepared to hire somebody to handle various elements of each project for you. And if you do have the skills, be prepared to spend the time. In the six months since I started production on Thrown Out (three pre-release, three post-release), probably fifty to sixty percent of my time has been spent on non-writing elements, and that’s including most of the revisions on Thrown Out and all the writing to date on All That Is Necessary.