New Things for a New Year

You may have noticed two tabs missing from the Home page of the blog, replaced by two new ones.

My beloved Flash! Friday micro fiction weekly contest is no more. The moderator decided it was time to focus on her own writing. I’ll miss my weekly dragon queen’s offerings, but at least she stopped for a reason I can understand.

I hadn’t participated in Friday Fictioneers in quite some time. It’s still a lively and vibrant site and definitely a place to go if you want to practice writing short, short, short fiction, as in, 100-word fiction. I feel that between Flash! Friday and Friday Fictioneers, I learned a great deal about flash fiction, and I want to move onto something new.

To show I haven’t given up flash fiction, take a look at the new tab “RSC Mini Stories.” Journalist and author Jennie Coughlin has started posting a daily photo prompt using Rory’s Story Cubes on her Instagram account. She posts her own mini-story there, but I’m using the photo prompt to write some flash fiction on my blog. There have been seven prompts so far, so seven mini-stories for you to read.

The other new tab on my blog is “Haiku.” I’ve loved the Haiku form since I learned it in high school and college. I’ve recently learned, however, that the five-seven-five syllable set-up is bogus because of the differences between written English and Japanese. A modern, American haiku is still three lines (maybe) but is generally between ten and seventeen syllables. So, I’m going to give a haiku a day a try. Because 2016 is a leap year, that’ll be 366 haiku–if I’m up to it.

I’m going to use Rory’s Story Cubes for this as well. Each day, I’ll post a picture of three cubes, and I’ll write a haiku based on my interpretation of them. And that the fun thing about Rory’s Story Cubes: They can mean whatever you want them to mean, and your imagination can run away with itself.

I encourage you to join me in both endeavors and post your mini-stories and/or haiku in the comments on each of my posts. And let’s have fun.

A Not-So-Quiet Friday Fictioneers

I’ve done a lot of editing and revising this week–in between those domestic things that pop up: refrigerator repair, grocery shopping, reading a book for a book club, reading MSS for critique groups. Somehow, though, when you’re editing/revising, you feel as if you’re not accomplishing much. It’s not as if you have a word count which keeps increasing; though, in the case of my editing/revising I’m trying to reduce the word count.

Bottom line is you can’t tell how successful you’ve been by simply looking at what you’ve edited/revised. For me, the measure is how what I’ve written sounds. If you’re not employing reading your work aloud as an editing/revising technique, start now.

First and foremost, you can tell if your dialogue sounds authentic; i.e., as if two real people are speaking. I even do the accents. One of my protagonists is Russian but speaks excellent English with just a slight accent. The other protagonist has an upper crust British accent but has lived in America so long she’s quite adept with American slang and vernacular. Makes for interesting conversations and great fun in reading aloud. My neighbors might not agree.

Reading your work aloud is also a big help in spotting typos and most grammatical errors, the ones your eyes skip over when you do a silent read. I think it’s because you enunciate each word and your ear hears any discordance.

Of course, doing this in a coffee shop or a library is not the best of ideas–not that I’ve ever done that. Give it a try if you’ve never done it. I think you’ll like the result. Just pretend that your publisher is having you do the audio book version. Great fun and useful, too.

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt should have evoked something dark and supernatural for me, but I went completely in the opposite direction and ended up with pure schmaltz. Don’t let the title, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” fool you. It really is pretty sentimental. If you don’t see the link on the title in the line above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

A Sheepish Friday Fictioneers

All day yesterday I waited for The Email to arrive, the one from Sewanne Writers Conference telling me whether I got in or not. Family and writer friends kept messaging me all day long asking if I’d heard. I saw others posting on Facebook about their acceptance or rejection, and I wondered what the heck was going on. I hadn’t slept well the night before, so about mid-afternoon, I lay down for a nap.

During my nap someone in a dream said, “Did you check the spam folder?” I woke up and did just that. Sure enough, in the spam folder sat a message from SWC. I opened it and found out why it went to spam. The email itself didn’t provide my status; I had to click on a link to go to my SWC account–why the spambot thought it was spam.

Of course, once I clicked on the link, I realized I couldn’t remember the password I’d used to set up the account when I filled out the application. All right, now I had to undergo the “reset password” process. Finally, after about ten minutes, I could get the answer I’d been waiting for all day.

When the message starts with “I’m sorry…” you know there isn’t much reason to read on, but I did. No place for me, blah, blah. Many talented writers yadda yadda. Wish we had more space, etc. Try again another year.

I rarely take personal motivation from television shows, but the TV happened to be on a re-run of a Castle episode, the one where writer Richard Castle’s daughter doesn’t get accepted into the college she had her heart set on. As I logged out of the SWC website, I heard Castle say, “Rejection isn’t failure. Failure is giving up.”

So, Sewanee, you’re on notice: I’m applying again next year and will until I’m accepted because failure is giving up.

Then, true to its definition, serendipity made an appearance. I woke up this morning and while reaching for the milk for my cereal, I discovered my refrigerator wasn’t refrigerating. The freezer was fine, but everything in the refrigerator portion was warmer than room temperature. The money set aside for Sewanee tuition might have to go for a refrigerator instead. All things happen for a reason.

Friday Fictioneers LogoWhen I saw today’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt, I thought, “I’ve already written that story.” Of course, it was a couple thousand words long, but the photo prompt reflects a key scene in that story. I excised a couple of paragraphs and cut them down to 100 words, and you get the flash piece, “Escape.” You know the drill: If you don’t see the link on the title in the line above, scroll to the top of this page, select the Friday Fictioneers tab, and pick the title from the drop-down list.

A Merry Month of Friday Fictioneers

Writers don’t get to dance around the Maypole because we’re stuck inside our writing worlds, honing our craft. Maybe that’s a deficit we should address. I know for me when the weather gets warmer and there’s sun (Hoorah!), I gravitate to more outdoor things, which means writing goes by the wayside.

For example, up until right now as I’m writing this post, I’ve written not a single word of fiction since last Saturday when I wrote my contest story for the Short Story Challenge. (Yes, I’ve done two other blog posts this week for Unexpected Paths and Politics Wednesday, but neither of those is fiction.) Some of the distractions have been fun, outdoorsy things; others have been chores and errands, ranging from doctor appointments to having to have work done on both cars, and other things in between.

For somewhat of a compromise, I often move the laptop onto my screened-in porch. That way I can somewhat bask in the sunshine, listen to the birds, and take in my great view. As soon as I deal with household obligations (Kitchens do need to be cleaned on occasion, especially when both sinks get full of dirty dishes.), I’ll make that move.

Friday Fictioneers LogoSo, I put this post aside to look at the Friday Fictioneers photo prompt for this week, and, lo and behold, some fiction escaped my brain. The picture is idyllic and peaceful, so, of course, I went for the dark and deadly. It may take the entire summer to bake a winter’s worth of darkness from my brain. The title of my story, “Rising Tides Are What They Are,” comes from a Rachel Carson quote, and, as usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers link, and select the story from the drop-down list.

National Short Story Month + Friday Fictioneers = Great Reading

In case you didn’t know it, May is National Short Story Month, a celebration of that quintessential literary form, the short story. By the way, I have three collections of short stories published. What better way to acknowledge Short Story Month than to buy them? Should you feel so inclined, click here to go to my author website where you can link to their pages.

Okay, enough shameless promotion. Let’s talk about short stories. I love to read them, and I love to read them from a wide variety of authors. They are, however, some of the most frustrating to write, especially within a specific word limit, but doing so is a great exercise in making sure every word counts.

Short stories are an art form. Some writers, like Alice Munro, write them almost exclusively. Other writers are adept at both short stories and longer works. I can enjoy Ernest Hemingway’s short stories but rarely his novels. Stephen King, best known for his expansive novels, is also quite the short story writer, with several collections of his work and inclusion in many anthologies. A few years ago when he edited the Best American Short Stories 2007, he lamented in the New York Times that short stories were endangered. Walk into a book store and what do you see? Novels right up front and on the top shelves; collections of short stories get relegated to the lower shelves, the ones harder to peruse. Rather than sound the death knell for short stories, King said we need to remember “…how vital short stories can be when they are done with heart, mind and soul by people who care about them and think they still matter.”

Yes, they do, and I, for one, won’t stop trying to write good ones, ones that matter.

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday’s Friday Fictioneers prompt brought a current international incident to mind–I won’t say which; you can let it apply to whatever one you want. The title, “Hope in the Darkest of Days,” comes from a Dalai Lama quote: “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.” If you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.


Hooligans and Friday Fictioneers

I usually watch my grandkids, whom I fondly call The Hooligans, one day a week, but schedules change. This week I had them Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday was nice and sunny. Today was rainy, which meant all day inside with a five-year-old and a three-year-old (aka The Threenager, which is a three-year-old with the piss-poor attitude of a thirteen-year-old). The five-year-old knows that “Mamo writes books,” but today we had an interesting discussion about telling the truth (meaning I caught him in a small fib), which went something like this:

Me: I’m a writer. I can make things up.
Him: But, Mamo, when you make up things, that’s lying.
Me: Not when you’re a writer. You get to make things up.
Him: And it’s not lying?
Me: No, it’s telling stories, like the books we read.
Him: (very thoughtful) So, it’s like lying, but it’s okay to lie when you’re a writer.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Of course, he’s asked me to read him one of my stories, but that has to wait until he’s a little old. No, a lot older.

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt is a little dark, as in underexposed, but my story, “Lift Every Voice,” is dark on purpose. As usual, if you don’t see the link in the title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list. And if I’ve offended anyone religious, no apology offered: I’m an atheist who just got through all the Easter to-do without being unduly offended.

The Play’s The Thing–

This week I went to two performances of my one-act play, “Yo’ Momma,” which was one of six winners of Ampersand Arts “Bar Hopping” contest. The production was awesome, the actors were fantastic, and the director captured the essence of my story perfectly. I did a little drama in high school (over and above the usual adolescent angst), and this was a great reminder of how a good actor can find nuance in your words you never knew was there.

Here’s an example. The main thrust of the play is a conversation in a bar between an upwardly mobile white woman and a jive black dude. The way I wrote it was simple: Woman enters bar, sits at bar, man begins to speak. Here’s the way the actors portrayed it: Woman enters bar, sits at bar, man moves his stool closer, woman shifts purse to the arm opposite the man, woman turns so that mostly her back is to the man. Nuances, but they brought out the racial tension in the conversation far better than a thousand words could. I was blown away.

There were even subtle difference between their performance on Tuesday night and on Wednesday night, but I was excited about and proud of both. If you’re interested in seeing it, I was allowed to video it; click here to go to my Facebook Author Page. Look for the April 16 post.

Friday Fictioneers LogoThis week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt was challenging, but I decided to go for the nuances and not be literal. First Contact stories are some of my favorite science fiction tropes, and, unlike Star Trek’s interpretation (a peaceful encounter with Vulcans), most first contacts end badly. “One Small Step” is my interpretation. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.


The Prodigal Returns – 2

Friday Fictioneers LogoAs some of you have noticed, I took a long break from Friday Fictioneers, not because I’d grown tired of it or uninspired, but because I needed to re-focus on other aspects of my writing. Every week, though, the photo prompt would show up in my Facebook feed, and I’d look away because I knew if I saw the picture, I’d get distracted from what I had set myself to do.

I’ve written here before about the toll that winter takes on me–not enough light, joints which are creakier every year in the cold–and I knew I could concentrate on only one writing thing at a time; I knew I couldn’t juggle the several flash fiction events I do every week with the need to do a massive rewrite of a manuscript. So, the manuscript won out. Sorry.

But I can’t stop to think about the Friday Fictioneers stories that might have been. I’m back, and I missed you guys.

And, of course, for my first story after my hiatus, I chose dystopia and speculative fiction. I mean, what else would I write? “Memento Mori,” I hope, will make you think about all those roadside and street-side impromptu memorials which crop up after a tragedy. As usual, if you can see the link in the title a couple of lines above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab; then select the story from the drop-down list.

Friday Fictioneers Fluff

Not that I think Friday Fictioneers is fluff. No, no. I’m talking about the sixteen or so inches of snow which fell in my area on Thursday. Digging out doesn’t have the appeal for me it used to, when in my old neighborhood, we got together and shoveled everyone out. We started out with hot chocolate in the morning and progressed to mulled wine in the afternoons. Great times. Here, it’s every house for itself, and, frankly, I’m well-stocked with food and drink. If my driveway doesn’t get shoveled for a couple of days, I’ll just stay in and write.

And it’s Valentine’s Day, which is my bah-humbug holiday, and that’s not just because I’ve been single for almost nine years. I wasn’t too thrilled with it before. Too much pressure. My ex (before he was my ex) and I agreed that birthdays and Christmas were sufficient opportunities for significant gifts. A nice dinner out was fine for anniversaries, so I never got caught up in the Valentine’s Day hype.

Friday Fictioneers LogoSo, when today’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt showed up, I was in a quandary. Do I go for the schmaltz or give into my personal bitterness? I posed that question to my online writers group, Shenandoah Valley Writers, and got the advice, “Schmaltzy, with a twist.” Now, we all know my twists can go toward the bizarre, and I hope “Sweets to the Sweet, Farewell!” doesn’t disappoint. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

And if you’re snowed in somewhere, take it easy and enjoy the scenery.