Write what you love

Let me tell you a secret. I want to be Stephen King.

[Warning: This post is animated GIF-free.]

Okay, I don’t actually want to be Stephen King. I don’t want coke-bottle glasses and I don’t want to live in Maine, nice as it is in July. I’m also happy being a few decades younger than King is.

But I’d still like to write like the man writes.

Here’s the thing. I’m not Stephen King. (apologies for the rhyme — it’s not my fault his surname rhymes with ‘thing’)

I’m just me. Christina, Tine, that chick from Somewhere in the American South, or whatever I happen to call myself on Friday evenings.

Take-home message? Sure, I have one. It tastes like “write what you love,” not what you want to/pretend to/hope to love. Read more

Good News and Bad News

Sniff.

The good news first: I and some of my favourite flash fiction writers are now for sale on Amazon.com. Check out The Molotov Cocktail: Prize Winners Anthology for details. There’s some fantastic work in here by fellow writers Sylvia Heike, Aeryn Rudel, Fred Senese, and others.

Shiny-new dead-tree format!
Shiny-new dead-tree format!

The bad news second:

Saturday Night Reader, the magazine that published my humourous piece “Debt,” is closing its doors. It’s going to be a SAD-urday Night.

Sniff.
Sniff.

A Reader’s Rubric

I’m not much for rubrics, those pesky little university-endorsed things that supposedly make grading papers objective so that when Suzie the Freshman visits the Dean to complain about her under-inflated grade, you’ve got something to back you up.

[As always, those looking to be stimulated by seizure-inducing animated GIFs of random celebrities are encouraged to try a different website. I hear Sesame Street’s is quite colourful.]

I’ve never been much for grading writing, either. My favourite grad-school professor limited our syntax papers to two double-spaced pages because he said, and I quote, “Most people can’t get from the first to the last word in a sentence without losing their minds.” He didn’t want to read twenty pages of shit, and when I started teaching, I understood what he was talking about.

But I digress.

It turns out I do have a sort of rubric, even if it lives in my head. It’s a simple one, and starts with a single question:

Is this good?

Now we have talk about what “good” means.

When I’m reading flash fiction slush (which, by the way, I like a lot more than reading frosh comp five-paragraph essays on sleep-inducing topics like ‘The Dangers of Cell Phone Usage’ or ‘Why Carbonated Drinks are Bad for You’), I have a list of questions running in my head. Here are a few:

  1. Does this resonate with me?
  2. Is this memorable?
  3. Do I ‘get it?’
  4. Has this concept been played out before?
  5. How original is the form?

I’d like to expand on each of these. Ready? Let’s go. Read more

The gift of flash

Great things from tiny sparks

I had a few alternate titles in mind for this post:

  • How I got the flash bug and why I’m in no hurry to get over it (gag)
  • I write flash, and you should, too (even worse)
  • A flash a day keeps insanity at bay (true, but way too rhyme-y)

[Attention: This post contains no animated GIFs of celebrities freaking out. It does, however, include an awesome photograph by Morgan Sessions via Unsplash for those who appreciate the beauty of stillness.]

So I went with something shorter, sweeter, and all multiple-entendre-ish. Consider it my gift to you.

Great things from tiny sparks

I got all nostalgic the other day last month here on Le Blog and put up a few links and pics of the short stories I grew up with. You won’t find them on your ten-year-old’s school reading list, which is too bad. If more kids read Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, I think we’d live in a better world. Especially if all of Jackson’s and King’s work was in cursive.

But I digress.

Flash fiction is a gift. Read more

From Dissertation to Novel

Standard Disclaimer: This post contains no mind-numbing, seizure-inducing animated GIFs. It does, however, include profanity worthy of Stephen King.

Alternate titles:

Why Academics Make Great Novelists

If You Can Write 400 Pages About Consonant Weakening Processes in Florentine Italian, You Can Write Anything

What to Do when your Academic Reputation Goes South because You Took that Career-Smashing, (but Lucrative) Job in Another Country When You Should Have Stayed on Your Butt in Jolly Old England and Become the Queen of Phonetics

I particularly like that last one. It’s just too damned long.

Fellow academic-and-writer Fred Senese (who I “met” when his ultra-violent flash piece got picked over my wishy-washy flash piece in The Molotov Cocktail’s July Flash Fury Contest – note to self: be more furious) and I had a bit o’ Twitter banter the other day on the topic of how our doctoral studies helped us out on the road to becoming writers of fiction. Read more

Of dinner parties and dead people

IMG_3232I don’t have nearly as many dinner parties as I used to. This lull in culinary crowd-pleasing is an artifact of (1) having moved around the world six times in seven years and (2) gotten the writing bug.

When I do find myself in the head-of-the-table hostess seat, I skip the political chatter and gossip, and instead ask my guests questions that really matter. One of my favourites (particularly with Coast Guard / Navy types) is this gem:

It’s New Year’s Eve. The Poseidon has just capsized. Which one of you should I follow, and why?

I bloody guarantee you at least forty-five minutes of heated debate. (And you’ll learn something new about ships.)

But the all-time rock star on my list of conversational stimulants is:

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six dead people. Who are they?

The answers inevitably vary. I’ve heard everything from Vince Lombardi to Winston Churchill. Since I don’t do sports or politics, neither of these guests appeals to me — I simply don’t know what we’d talk about (unless it’s Churchill’s famous parrot). So who would make the cut for my Dead Person’s Dinner Party? Here’s the short list:

Roald Dahl, because he’d tell me a story

Alfred Hitchcock, because he’s the person most likely to bring me a prezzie of a tiny coffin with a Tippi Hedren doll inside it

Ayn Rand, because I want to argue the innateness of language theory with her

Carl Sagan, because he never stopped being full of wonder

Billy Wilder, because his movies and his smile are the best ever

Peter O’Toole, because if it’s a dead-person’s dinner party, my husband won’t be there and I want eye candy

Shirley Jackson, because I don’t need to stop at six and I love her

If I had two extra seats at the table, I’d add Nathaniel Branden (because I’d love to hear what he and his former lover Ayn have to say to one another and because I actually had dinner with Nathaniel when he was still walking among the living). I’d also invite Adolf Hitler — it would be fun to watch the other guests kick the living shit out of him. Since that would happen in relatively short order, there’s the added benefit of having a spare place for any late-comers who happened to drop dead in at the eleventh hour. I do hope one of them will be Shirley Jackson (if you don’t know who she is, I’m sad for you, but also happy because you’ll get to read “The Lottery” and “The Summer People” for the first time). Now that I think of it, Ms. Jackson really is worthy of her very own engraved invitation. See above.

So there you have it: the big guest list. I’d learn a good deal at that table. And in the meantime, you’ve learned a bit more about me.

Your turn.

The (Bitter)sweet smell of success

Struffoli

StruffoliActually, it’s very sweet. Dripping-with-honey-and-sprinkled-with-rainbow-coloured-non-pareils kind of sweet:

My flash fiction memoir “The Honey Clusters” won an honorable mention in the 2015 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award and will be featured in their Nov/Dec 2015 issue!

The bittersweet part is in the content of the story. I wrote it shortly after this past Christmas while I still had a small plate of the traditional Italian treat called struffoli (honey clusters) remaining on the kitchen counter.

They don’t last long. They never do. Read more

The Patience of a Writer

Things could be a lot effing worse...

Here’s a wee fact about me: I don’t have any. Patience, that is. And I expect I’m not alone. Chez moi, we’re working on a cure for PDS (Patience Deficiency Syndrome). Multiple steps are involved:

  1. Resist the urge to bang out a full-blown (or mini-blown) revision the minute your agent sends you an email with suggested changes.
  2. If (1) fails, which it inevitably will, resist the urge to send your agent the revision two days after he’s finished reading the most recent version. He needs his rest.
  3. Practice writing paragraphs with one space between sentences instead of two. Trust me, this will take up the better part of a day.
  4. Do not, I repeat – DO NOT, stalk agents, editors, and publishing houses on the Internet. It’s okay to peek once in a while.
  5. Plan your book’s gestation period like you would plan a pregnancy: write in the winter, aim for submission when the weather gets warm. That way you can plant little things in the garden and make believe they’re organic versions of your novels that will grow into great big things.
  6. Apologise in advance to your agent for any insanity your emails to him may manifest in the upcoming days, weeks, months. Consider sending him cookies. Or North Carolina barbecue.
  7. Tackle that mountain of ________ [ironing, paperwork, bills, sewing, refrigerator science experiments, dead houseplants] that’s been growing over the past several months.
  8. Create a mantra along the lines of “I will not become a pariah.” Repeat it early and often or wind up being the woman your neighbours eye warily before ducking back into their houses when you walk down the street with the pooch.
  9. Think hard about picking up that cross-stitch Monopoly board you began last year. You don’t have to work on it, just consider it.
  10. Write the next book. Hell, write two of them.

If none of these works for you, lie back and read a soothing horror book by Stephen KingMisery is a good choice–no matter how anxiety-ridden your days are awaiting responses to queries, revisions, submissions, etc., at least you can smile and say, “It could be worse. I could be Paul Sheldon.”

Things could be a lot effing worse...
Things could be a lot effing worse…