Archive for November, 2009

walter1I’ll admit, my attention span is shortening.  Over the past 18 months, I’ve published eight flash stories, seven humor pieces under 500 words, and five short (2,000 word) stories and articles.  I’m afraid I’ll never write another novel or collection of short stories, but then, isn’t everyone limiting their online reading to the equivalent of cereal box text?

I’m afraid our future is going the way of Japanese keitai shousetsu—novels downloaded to cell phones with chapters of just 70 to 100 words.  I had a Eureka moment when I discovered Brian Huggett’s Short Humour Site  .  He offers 500-or-fewer-words shorts to meet today’s rush-hour needs “between stations on the metro, during lovemaking, during lovemaking between stations on the metro, during free-fall skydiving.”

E-zine editors are becoming as snippy as Elizabethan sonnet writers in limiting word counts.  Entirely new classes of writing are resulting.  Recently, I updated our writing group here into the differences among flash, drabble, nano, 55ers, single sentencers, and six worders.  This is what the situation looks like:

 Flash is generally 1,000 or fewer words, although some fudge the issue like a gourmand in a bake shop and take more words.  Popular sites include Flash Fiction Online, FlashQuake , Every Day Fiction  (which has carried several of my pieces), Everyday Weirdness  and K.C. Ball’s 10Flash .  365 Tomorrows   restricts sci fi writers to a skimpy 600 words; however, Micro Horror , with tongue firmly planted in cheek, limits the writer to 666 words.

 Drabble “centenarians” boil a story down to 100 words.  The Drabbler is a contest-laden, paying market.  The 100-Words style grew out of the original drabble site started by Jeff Koyen and Roy Batchelor.  Subscribers may post anything—in exactly 100 words—that opens “a tiny window into their lives.”  

Nano, or micro, fiction is longer than drabble and shorter than flash.  Interesting sites include Rumble Magazine  (500-word limit) and Nano Fiction (with 300-word max). 

 Like The Incredible Shrinking Woman, word counts continue downward with the 55erNew Times began competitions in 1986 to write a short story in 55 words.  Yes, only 55 words, with examples at http://55-fiction.org.

Finally (is there no end in sight?), we have One Sentence Stories, with insightful examples at http://onesentence.org.

 Six Words is a tough challenge.  Hemingway famously wrote his “best story” in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  My favorite is William Gibson’s “Bush told the truth.  Hell froze.”  You can find terrific one-liners by famous writers at Wired magazine.

Are these valuable new reading forms?  Possibly, if you’re jumping off a building and have only six floors in which to complete a story.  But I think it all started with Genesis and the shortest anagram in the Bible: “Madam, I’m Adam.”

 

Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, The Short Humour Site and Written WordTwo volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child (www.wildchildpublishing.com).  He also served for three decades as director of communications for Fortune 500 companies.

rumjhumIn his post “Make in Fun” (on Wednesday 11th November ’09) Alexander Burns wrote “To that end, I’ve determined that a writer has learned most of what they need to know about storytelling by the age of 10 or so. After that, all that’s left is to learn how to make it good.” I totally agree. What’s more it reminded me of something that I do from time to time – Eavesdrop! On my kids, and especially my daughter who will turn twelve this month!

I know it is a sneaky habit. I’m a bad mom. Sorry! But I can’t help it. The stuff they talk about, the books they read, the things they do, and more importantly write and so often the stories they tell themselves or to each other is so interesting. So inspiring too. For my writing I mean.

You see, kids have these absolutely wide open windows in their minds. Information, ideas, imaginary things keep flying in and out all the time. They have this absolutely fresh way of looking at everyday, mundane things. They keep “discovering” the world around them. If you sneak around the kids, your imagination is sure to get fired up.

I loved it when my daughter and son too, were younger and talked to themselves when they either drew pictures or played with their toys. The stories they told themselves were entertaining, though not always, actually almost never, logical. Probably that’s why they were so entertaining in the first place. I did not plagiarize their stories (it seriously didn’t occur to me at that time, and now I wonder if I did miss an opportunity, since my kids wouldn’t sue me for that, would they? :D). I wish I had recorded some of that prattle, though. Sigh. Nevertheless, eavesdropping on their imaginary voyages and adventures did inspire me and often liberated me from my adult constraints of fact and form.

Anything is possible in a child’s inner world. Nothing is improbable!

Not even lemon yellow polka dotted purple ice cream
Served in a jelly belly bowl with a slice of moon beam!

Some of the stuff they think of and say actually provide fodder for us adult writers. Like the time I found my daughter, then around nine years old, looking thoughtfully at the artificially created turquoise waters of a swimming pool. After sometime she muttered, “Rapture of the deep is what happens to sailors when they are drowning; they don’t want to come up.” I stood still. She had connected something ordinary with something extra-ordinary and seemingly unrelated to the present. She skipped away to do something else and I found myself seeing a vast stretch of turquoise water all around me and feeling an immense sense of ecstasy wash over me. My daughter had just opened up a new dimension, another portal before me. The first draft of my poem “Rapture of the Deep” was born then and there; the poem was later published in A Little Poetry. Another time, on a rainy evening, I heard her advise a frog that was staring at her from its perch on a low railing, almost eye level with her, that “he was better off as a frog!” She was around six then and far more fond of birds and animals than Barbie dolls and princesses. My Story “Return of the Frog Prince” almost hopped off my head and was published a couple of years later in the Lily Literary Review!

It’s not always that a poem or a story takes shape every time I eavesdrop on my kids, or any kids for that matter. But their artless words and wide open hearts are not merely joyous to behold, like a rainbow seen in the crystal light after a shower, with the scent of renewed life all around you, they have a potent magic in them. I think the magic is really the cleansing quality that they have, something that makes you shed, at least want to shed, your inhibitions and adult complexes. The effect is wonderfully refreshing. And I think that is good for writers.

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Rumjhum Biswas has been writing poetry almost since she learned to read and write. It was her way of getting back at the world. Now a plump, bespectacled and hopefully respectable mom of two and wife of one she continues to write poetry and also fiction, because while poets remain poor some fiction writers do get rich and that gives her hope. Her publications and mutterings are here: http://rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com/ She also jabbers from time to time at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

gayforwow“Writers write.”  Who said that? Flannery O’Connor or Stephen King? I can’t remember, but the veracity of the statement cannot be challenged. No words on paper: no tome.

The better question might be, “How do writers manage to write in REAL LIFE?” How do they come up with a steady stream of sentences, paragraphs, story beats? Maybe some are born with enough talent and drive to block out the temptations of the Friday morning Sudoku, but for most of us, the world is full of enticements, obligations, distractions, and bicyclists smashing into trashcans, pounding on doors to harass owners about city-dictated trashcan placement. These intrusions challenge our ability to meet writing goals, but retaining focus, an outlined plan to commit to writing, helps us remain in office chairs, fingers flitting over keys, heads hunched toward screens.

But how can I ignore husband, kids, friends? Don’t I need to exercise, shop for healthy food? Stay up on the election news?  Do I have to skip Project Runway, American Idol, Without A Trace?

It’s a balance, and focusing on that balance leads to symbiotic interplay between the two. In other words, pay off.

Family? Friends? We have to have them. Can’t really live–or write–without them and all those obnoxious, needy, freeway-jamming, gum-chewing, rude and crude other people too. They are our characters, and the subsequent drama of their–and our–tangled relationships provide us with themes and plots. So letting people muddy up our lives? Gotta happen.

Then there’s the issue of health, exercise, brushing teeth, and that no sugar rule. And the need to refill Julia Cameron’s proverbial well with sunny days of rebelling against routine and late nights devoted to deep substantial reading. Plots build themselves on early morning walks, scene by scene, block by block. “To Build a Fire” gave birth to my story “Richie’s Last Shot” and The Red Tent to “Honeymoon at the Oasis Hotel.” Are these distractions or assets? Both.

As for the news, election or not, jury duty, the media, the Lakers, pop culture, and the biggest distraction: TV? Acts of living can shatter anyone’s focus, but while they confuse us, they provide us with insights, while they frustrate us, they bring us understanding, while they subject us to banality and routine, they teach us the rhythm of patterns. These lessons, in turn, gift us with material from which we pull universal truths, the heart of good writing.

Awareness of how REAL LIFE devours both our time and our passion is all-important. The solution is deciding to do something about it–Plan. Follow through. Rejoice. And accept the idea that spending time in the act of writing is a blessing.

I used to believe that “having talent” meant writers were born, not made, and were compelled to write day and night. With no effort on their part, they could separate themselves from what other people wanted them to do and instead, blissfully compose epic novels. That certainly wasn’t me. I had tasks to do at home, sometimes a job, demands of family, obligations to others. Since I was overwhelmed by RL, I wrote sporadically, fitfully, so I couldn’t have been “born to write.” I took this logic another step: “Not born to write” must mean I have no talent. I let this idea defeat me. Since I struggled to overcome distractions to writing, I must not have been born to write. If I was, I would let nothing stand in my way.

I don’t believe this anymore. People who want to write eventually figure out some way to navigate the obstacles. They will find a balance. Writing is a choice. And choice demand action–and focus.  After all, writers write.

 

Post originally published at Gay Degani’s Words in Place blog on Wednesday, March 05, 2008. Gay is the editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles. She has stories forthcoming in Paradigm, Every Day FictionThe Battered Suitcase, and 10Flash.

kcshawI sold my first piece of fiction in 2007 to a small magazine that has since folded. After I’d done a happy dance around the house and called to order a celebratory pizza, I reread the editor’s note and started to panic.

She really liked the story and wanted to publish it. But she also asked if I could rewrite the ending to make the story a little more speculative in nature. Since I thought the story was perfect in every way already, I emailed a friend to complain that the editor was an idiot, an idiot! and that she wanted me to ruin my story for a token payment. But once I’d finished venting, I opened up the file and rewrote the ending.

The editor loved the new version–and so did I. Since that first sale, I’ve had a few dozen stories published, and a number of editors have asked for rewrites. In every single case, the rewrite has made the story stronger. The same goes for edits.

A lot of writers are so focused on the process of getting accepted that they have no idea what to expect afterwards. I know I didn’t. The rewrite and editing process for that first story confused me. If the story wasn’t perfect in the first place, why did the editor accept it? Why did she want to change it?

Nearly three years later, I now know that there is no such thing as a perfect story. Of course, I try to make each story as near-perfect as I can, but I’m not insulted or worried if an editor asks for a rewrite or extensive edits. Sometimes an editor sees an underdeveloped theme in a story that I never noticed, and wants me to emphasize it. Sometimes an editor finds a plot hole or pinpoints a problem with motivation. Sometimes, alas, my writing is unclear.

There are all sorts of reasons why an editor wants changes. I may complain (to myself or a friend, never the editor), but I always make the changes and I always end up happy with them. After all, the editor and I are both aiming for the same result: to make my story as good as possible so that readers will like it. That’s worth a little extra work.

 

Look for K. C. Shaw’s story, Fall or Fly tomorrow November 24th at Every Day Fiction.

K.C. Shaw’s fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Space Squid, Fictitious Force, and many other fine magazines. Her first novel, Jack of All Trades, was published in September 2009. Visit her website at http://kcshaw.net and her blog at http://kcshaw.blogspot.com/.

gayforwowWhen we are new at something, sometimes all we can think about is that first goal.  Learning to skate doesn’t look that hard.  If  we can stay upright, feet on the sidewalk, body vertical, we’ll soon be doing figure eights and sailing backwards. The same goes for writing.  When we sit down at the keyboard to write a story, we figure if  we can get enough words on the screen, we’ll have a tale worth telling. 

In some ways, we need this attitude to get started.  If we knew we’d fall on our asses for the first twelve times we skated over a twig, a crack, our sister’s Barbie doll, we probably wouldn’t try.  We need that initial belief in ourselves to put the skates on in the first place.  The same is true for writing.  We picture ourselves  clacking away at the computer keys with lines of type building and building.  It is the only way to deal with our initial fear.

However, how we handle the results of those first attempts can dictate success or failure.  For many, a bruised butt and bloodied knees spell defeat.  “I don’t want to do this!  This is too hard” and they head inside to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  Others wear their scabs like badges of honor and take a moment to reassess their goals.  They realize they can’t jump from standing upright on skates to skimming down Devil Hill, carving eights in the liqour store parking lot, floating backward to the awe of the younger kids without blood and guts.

The same is true with writing.  Although there are those who have a natural talent for the written word can sit down and write it without too much angst.  But these are rare cases.  Most of us may write a story that has many strong elements, but as a whole it doesn’t work.  Not yet.  And we need to reassess and learn the craft.

This is the make-or-break moment for most writers, the moment of looking at a piece of writing as it might be read by others, readers who do not live in the head of that writer.  The ability to look at one’s own work with a critical eye does not come easily.  It is a skill that is learned with practice, patience, and awareness of what works and what doesn’t.  An expertise that evolves over time. 

Just as a young roller skater learns the sidewalk is smoother than asphalt, a writer learns clarity is more important that an obscure turn of phrase, but to do this, both must be willing to see beyond their first goals.  They must accept the reality that becoming good at something requires the understanding that learning is a process, that the large goal must be broken down into smaller goals because everything is more complex than we first perceive. 

There is a difference in skating and writing.  We teach different muscles to work harmoniously together.  In skating we train our bodies and our brain too, but most it’s about legs and balance and reaction.  In writing we train our brains–and our hearts. 

How do we train our brains to write?  We set up mini-goals, lots of them, beyond our first goal.  Here are a few I believe in, though sometimes I find it hard to actually do them all!

Mini-Goals for Each Story

  • Create content by taking notes, brain-storming, writing a “shit” draft
  • Write a draft
  • Do research to understand the world you’ve created or the personalities
  • Think about story structure
  • Make certain everything in a story serves a purpose (especially in flash)
  • Be willing to delete that which doesn’t fit into the structure
  • Go through the story to improve the language
  • Make certain everything that needs to be clear is clear
  • Make certain that verbs are active, that nouns are specific
  • Proof-read carefully
  • Set it aside (this is one of the hardest mini-goals because usually at this stage we are sooooooo excited about what we’ve created, we can’t wait to send it out)
  • Reread and make changes after it’s been set aside
  • Ask a trusted reader to read it (trusted: gentle, supportive, yet honest, honest, honest)
  • Decide what notes you agree with and what you don’t and make edits
  • Set aside again, at least an hour or two so that when you proof-read for the final time, you have enough distance to find now what your eye skipped over before
  • Send out and cross fingers

Mini-Goals for Personal Growth

  • Read widely and deeply
  • Talk to others about writing
  • Be open-minded
  • Try new genres
  • Be a mentor

 None of this is necessary if a writer is writing only for himself.   Just as skating up and down the block might make one child happy, putting together a story for fun can work for the “Sunday author.”  But if your goal is roller-derby, you’d better to be willing to work.  And if you want to be published?  Guess what…

 

Gay Degani  is the editor of Flash Fiction ChroniclesShe has been published in print and on-line, her work appearing in or forthcoming at Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and Best of Every Day Fiction Two, Night Train, 3 A.M. Magazine, Tattoo Highway, 10Flash, The Battered Suitcase, and Salt River Review.