Archive for October, 2012

Gay DeganiThis article was first published June 1, 2009

by Gay Degani

My favorite part of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is his theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert.  I feel validation for one of my long-held beliefs: writing–good writing–is all about the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair. Mrs. Hawkins, my creative writing teacher in high school, insisted this simple act was the golden ticket to quality. I believed her then; I believe her now.   I just didn’t manage to do it for a long, long time.

Ron Carlson’s book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, offers another piece of the puzzle: how process, the act of “ just doing,” eventually leads to product. Carlson shows us what he means by letting us sit on his shoulder as he puts together his story. He maintains that working through a story one sentence at a time, putting down what you know about the story rather than worrying about what you don’t, is a viable path.

When a friend shared with me that she’s decided the best way for her to work is to sit down and “let it  happen,”  it resonated. This is exactly what Carlson does. He says “process” is the key, finding your own way to get words on the page.   Here’s the way I do it.

1. I type or hand write everything I know about the idea that’s been growing in my head.  

I do whatever part of “getting it down” feels right as a first step, whether it’s a full-to-the-end draft, notes, outline, or brainstorm. This varies with the trigger, the dawning of an concept in my brain, what it is: a title, a plot, a character, an incident, a theme.

2. Whatever I end up with, plot, free-writing, or notes, I work from there.

If it’s mostly a plot, I make an informal outline, filling in the blanks, the who-what-when-where-how-why of each scene in the outline. I remind myself that scenes, scene-sequences, chapters, parts, the whole story, should have answers to first five questions somewhere in the text. I try to identify the possible theme, the “why,” but often I have no idea.If, instead of coming up with a loose sequence of events resembling an outline, I’ve sat down, told myself to “go,” and put together a draft based on what pops into my head, I search for what my subconscious is telling me, look for possible scenes-segments-acts, and ask myself what scenes have I missed, what might be the theme given what I have typed out in front of me, what the spine might be etc. I also consider the order I’ve placed these scenes in. Does it make sense?

If I’ve come up with notes and brainstorming, and this is my most common way of proceeding, I write a quick draft. Sometimes I do a little research about the “where” or the “what” before I write that first draft, but often I just go.

3. If the story’s got something compelling about it, all the above converges, in the first, second, or third draft, I find myself with a decent working draft. Then it’s time for me to do some kind of analysis. These are the things I look at:

Character
Are characters clear, defined, and have their own problems and attitudes? Are they in opposition with each other? Do they fulfill a purpose in the story? What is each one’s purpose?

Plot
Does the sequence of events set up an inevitable, yet unexpected ending? Are there set-ups and pay-offs throughout the story? Are the transitions from scene to scene clear? Does the plot support the emerging theme in the best way it can?

Time and place
Is the setting defined or purposefully undefined? Can the reader SEE what’s going on, like it’s up on the big screen? How do time and place contribute to theme?

Theme
Does this story have the ability to resonate with the reader on both a personal and universal level? Is it compelling? Have all the other elements been put into service to enhance and clarify the theme?

Language
Have all the clichés and borrowed images been purged to the best of my ability? Do the sentences act as real sentences? (Tell the reader something specific) Have I said things twice that don’t need to be said? Have I pared away all useless language? Changed most of the general words like “it” to meaningful, concrete nouns that clarify and enhance?

4. I rewrite.

At this point, I look for intelligent, kind, but honest readers to find flaws and re-enforce the story’s strong qualities. I want them to tell me what works and what doesn’t work.

I let the comments of others guide me in decisions, but I’ve learned to trust the little voice in my head. My purpose often trumps someone else’s take on the story.

I read the story aloud, have a friend proof-read it, and proofread it myself.

7. I submit it to, hopefully, the right markets.

8. Then I start a new story.

Whether I’ve become one of Malcolm’s experts is highly debatable, but this I can say for sure: 20+ years of writing practice has enriched my life beyond measure. Striving to be good at something is its own reward.

 

 

Joe Kapitanby Joe Kapitan

Full disclosure time: I’ve written one or two advice pieces here on writing, as if I know what I’m talking about, which is a charade because I fumble around more than most when it comes to putting words on paper. I worry I’m tempting a karma strike. For my own well-being, I think I should at least balance out my previous advice with some admission of my own ongoing missteps.

Here are the things I’m terrible at when it comes to writing, My Top Three Writing Sins:

Premature Submission

You know that rush you get when you finish a new piece and you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written and you sort of feel drunk with it and you can’t wait to get it into the hands of editors so you can hear them say (or rather, email), “Damn, Little Writer, that’s the best thing you’ve ever written?”

STOP. DON’T DO IT. Those are the demons of pride talking. Premature submission is the writer’s equivalent of beer goggles. Do yourself a favor—take a deep breath and close the document and don’t come back to it for a while. Several days are best. Then take another look. See what I mean? 10 AM/sober/daylight is much more informative than 2 AM/drunk and lonely/neon-bathed. Because when you drunk-submit, it’s not you who has to wake up next to your work in the morning, it’s the editor.

Being a Perfect Parent

I treat the pieces I’ve written like they’re my kids. I want them all to be successful. I want them all to dress nicely and go out into the world and become published, at which point they are on their own and are only allowed to visit me at Christmastime. I don’t want to think that any of them might simply be genetically substandard. I don’t want to think that any of them might be boring, lazy, obtuse, narcissistic, stupid or aimless because what does that say about me? I fathered them, right?

So I never give up on them. I go back to them over and over and re-edit them and rehab them and shoot them out to a whole new set of markets and wait for the inevitable rejections. I’m slowly learning that some of my progeny just aren’t that good, and that’s so hard for a parent to do—to admit that young Jimmy Jr’s characters are two-dimensional and lifeless and the reader won’t care about them or that once-favorite-daughter Jane’s plot doesn’t generate sufficient tension.

Writing is Darwinian: not every combination of sentences deserves to live. Think: my better stuff will survive. My misfires will die and become digital fossils buried in file strata on a thumb drive. This is all good. This is the natural order of things.

Tinkering

There is a thin line between editing and tinkering, and I blow past it religiously. The difference, I think, comes down to mindfulness. As in: Change with purpose is editing; change without purpose is tinkering. For instance, there are at least a dozen synonyms for storm: gale, tempest, squall, etc. I can change words back and forth daily, as I’ve done in the past, or I can stop and actually think about which one is best. Is there a reason based on alliteration, rhythm or symbolism? Maybe one word picks up on a thread from earlier in the story or foreshadows something coming later? If it’s a part of direct or related dialogue, which word would the speaking character choose?

It’s the thought involved in the changing that moves a story forward. Tinkering takes a story sideways at best, so I’m trying to be more cognizant of my editorial process. When I’m done thinking about a story, that’s the signal that it’s time to stop editing and consider all that I’ve done—sober, in harsh sunlight, and with the knowledge that this latest child of mine could be destined to find gainful employment in some lit journal or spend the rest of his or her existence in my laptop’s basement playing HALO.

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Joe Kapitan lives just south of the third notch in the Rust Belt. His short fiction published in 2012 includes work appearing in The Cincinnati Review, A cappella Zoo, Bluestem, decomP, Wigleaf and Untoward. He blogs erratically at joekapitan.wordpress.com, and is threatening to start a novel in 2013. 

by Jim Harrington 

Contests

The Watercress Journal Flash Fiction Contest

The Watercress Journal is currently taking submissions for its first flash fiction competition.  Submissions should not exceed 1,000 words.  Every entry will be provided feedback from one of the four judges and be considered for publication in the journal.  The top three entrees will receive feedback from all judges.  First place will receive a $100 prize. There is a $5.00 submission fee..

http://www.watercressjournal.com/index.php/short-story-competions

MicorHorror 2012 Story Contest

This year’s theme is ART. What is art? That’s for you to know and me to find out. Contest deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4), October 31, 2012.

http://www.microhorror.com/microhorror/2012-story-contest-rules/

Narrative Fall 2012 Story Contest

OUR FALL CONTEST is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers. We’re looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. Entries must be previously unpublished, no longer than 15,000 words, and must not have been previously chosen as a winner, finalist, or honorable mention in another contest.

http://www.narrativemagazine.com/node/182044

Creative Writing Contests

This site contains information about creative writing contests, literary magazines theme issues, writing residencies, etc. Now accepting writing contest news and announcements!

http://writingcontests.wordpress.com/

Interview Added

 The Hellroaring Review (1,000, quarterly) open to all genre – visit site, view guidelines, read editor interview

View complete markets listing.

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Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. He serves as the Flash Markets Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

Rumjhum Biswasby Rumjhum Biswas

Avis Hickman-Gibb is a new emerging writer living in rural England with her husband, one son, and two cats. Strangely, for one who gained an Environmental Chemistry degree more years ago than she cares to admit and who worked in the fledgling computer industry, she developed a fascination for the written word. Avis has had over fifty pieces published since she started in 2007. She’s had stories published in Every Day Fiction, Pygmy Giant, Twisted Tongue, Backhand Stories and Shine! Magazine with stories in Bewildering Stories, The Ranfurly Review and Boston Literary Magazine coming soon.

In her own words, Avis is “addicted to writing Flash Fiction–which is a stripped down, bare bones type of story.”  Currently she has several projects on the boil: a collection of short stories and a second novel as well as her regular flash creations.  Readers can follow these links to a list of her worksher website, and her blog.

Rumjhum Biswas: First of all tell us about your journey with A Plate of Bits.

Avis Hickman Gibb: A Plate of Bits is a collection of short and short-short stories from 2007 until mid 2011.  For as long as I can remember, I have been a teller of tales, but only for my own consumption.  Then in late 2006, I decided my New Year’s resolution for 2007 would be to do something about my writing – kind of put-up or shut-up, call my own bluff.  After all there’s only so long you can tell yourself  “I could have been a contender.”

I joined the online writers’ community WriteWords and joined a group there called Flash Fiction I.  I was hooked from the first week.  I found the concept so immediate, so accessible–take a prompt and write to a set word target–what could be simpler?  I added, as I think a lot of Flash writers do, a time limit to produce a piece.  I like to belt out the initial draft in about an hour.  But the tweaking–ah that can take days!  When I find myself deliberating for half an hour at a time, the merits of using that word there, or deleting that word, I realize the piece is “cooked!”

When I first started my writing was not disciplined.  The experience I gained from writing flash has taught me a lot about structure, about saying what I want to say in a direct and, I think clear, manner.  Of course with flash the reader may be called upon to work a little more than a reader of a novel, or a short story.  The more words in a piece, the more color and details of the story can be filled in for the reader.  Flash is stripped down fiction, and sometimes the story seems to start in mid action.  But a good flash will have the start and perhaps the end implied within it.  It will be up to each reader to decode and interpret.

RB:  You have a degree in environmental chemistry and have worked for the IT industry. That sounds like a very far place to be from writing or is it? Tell us how you switched lanes.

AHG:  I had a shaky start in my education.  With hindsight, I think I was mildly dyslexic.  So it was only as my brain matured around age 8 that I began to surprise people by showing signs of academic ability.  Then in the second year of senior school I discovered my first love –Chemistry.  It just all made sense, so I pursued the subject as far as I was able – hence the degree.  But after graduating I found women were only offered the boring analytical jobs –checking that a sample of soap taken twenty minutes after the last was a pure as it should be.  There were no research jobs on the cards.  I guess the firms offering them didn’t want to risk paying out to training me further, and then have me skip off to start a family and retire. They would lose their investment.

So I looked around for an industry with a more equal opportunities approach, and struck upon computers.  I joined the industry very early on and they were sucking up graduates from any discipline.   I worked with dentists and doctors of divinity, along with civil engineers and geographers.  All that was required was a good degree, the manufacturers were happy to train you from there.  I stayed in IT (as it developed into) for over 15 years, but I still kept on writing my stories.

Then I retired and concentrated on the stories in between raising my son.

RB: Did you write as a child?

AHG: For as long as I can remember I told stories, which is a much older art and is at the heart of writing.  But there’s a subtle difference.  There are a lot of people who feel the need to burst into print.  You only have to look at the numbers, who are trying to publish their works.  The advent of the PC and word processing fed in to online magazines, and now with electronic publishing everyone and his or her dog thinks they can do it. “It” being the simple art of telling an engaging story; but it’s not as easy to capture and keep a reader’s interest as a lot of people think.

RB: Who were your favourite authors as a child and now? Anyone made a deep impact?

AHG: I read vociferously as a child, once the dyslexia shook loose.  Three particularly come to mind.  I enjoyed the adventures told by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the homey detail of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women series.  But far and away my favorite as a child was L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.  I was completely charmed from the very first page.  At a time when my contemporaries were still taking picture books out on the weekly library ticket in English class, I was riveted by Anne and her world.  The books were close written words, with no pictures – except the ones painted by Montgomery’s words.

In fact in A Plate of Bits I have included a small tribute to L.M.  It’s a short story called “Temptation” and I hope it captured the mischief of Anne Shirley from Green Gables.

RB: There is an underpinning of humor in everything that you communicate, your stories, your blog, even your Facebook posts. Am I right or wrong?  How far can humor go in a serious story?

AHG: I like humor, it makes me laugh!  No, really I think you can do a lot with humor.  Sometimes the humor is just for the sake of it, but sometimes points can be make humorously which would be… too stodgy without the leavening – you know?

And some tales, as in “CornBread and Candy Sauce” included in A Plate of Bits is just plain black humor–but funny (for me) nevertheless.  My husband says he gets worried when he reads stuff like “Cornbread.”  After all he sleeps next to me!

I think humor can be used to great effect in a serious story.  But the placing, type, and amount needs careful rationing.  It can be used to break tension, only to build tension back up to an even greater height.  But you have to know what you’re doing with it.  Maybe I don’t get it right 100% of the time–but I have fun trying!

RB: Give us a glimpse of your writing day.

AHG: My writing day recently has been filled with too much boring, technical stuff.  I have just finished (using a new venture a couple of tech-savvy friends and I set up called Hawkmoth Press) converting my word processed file of collected bits into the shiny new eBook A Plate of Bits. I am only just now looking at cleared schedule where I can plan to actually write each day.

So this will be settling down late morning to put in four hours before a late lunch.  The earlier morning is taken up with walking.  Then later in the day after a couple of hours off doing boring stuff like laundry, I’ll probably have another bash at the keyboard – but probably editing.   And that will hold true for five-ish days of the week.

I do have my own spot in our study, but at the moment I am camped out in the dining room as my desk has had to be shifted due to a damp patch making an appearance after a drainpipe overflowed thanks to a leaf blockage.  The joys of owning an old house!

RB: Tell us more about Hawkmoth Press.

AHG: Well, basically when I first decided I wanted to dip my toe into the electronic publishing sea. I thought–how hard can it be?  I am more than technically competent.  After all I worked all those years in, on, beside and with computers for heaven’s sake!

But the more I delved into the “what was involved”, the more befuddled I became.  And there I was one day with a friend, pouring my woes out over a cup of tea.  Long story short, we set up Hawkmoth Press to assist authors convert their word processed book into an eBook.  There is only one conversion process at the moment – to Kindle.  But as Amazon is the market leader, and as the Kindle Select Programme is a very good way to dip a toe in for a new author, this is no bad thing.

Now my book is converted I’m back to doing what I love–writing.  But I feel relieved that when I have another book to sell, Hawkmoth Press will be available to me for the conversion.  We’ll work with an author to produce the best version of a work that’s possible.  The author is involved at all stages, and is responsible for all copy editing choices.  But the great bonus they offer is a second bite at the conversion cherry.  They convert what an author sends and return a fully functioning MOBI compiled eBook for that author to check.

Something I have found during converting A Plate of Bits is the very small screen of an eReader sometimes does funny things to line layouts.  And sometimes you want to rearrange the prose so it sits better on the reader’s screen.  Hawkmoth’s second bite allows an author to check through this first stage book and change all these little niggles, and a mass of others–like hanging full-stops, premature line wraparounds, and other stuff –and then they will for no extra cost produce the final fully uploaded Kindle book. If you’re good enough, there’s also the possibility of an author page home at Hawkmoth Press, if you have no web-site of your own.  I’m there, along with a kernel of other authors.  Go check me out!  @ Hawkmothpress.wordpress.com

RB: Did you take writing lessons or attend workshops? Any mentors you’d like to mention?

 AHG: I am sorry to admit I am completely self-taught!  Or am I sorry?  Well, except for the help and guidance (which has been A LOT) given by my WriteWords friends and although that’s a good advert for WW, it sound SO conceited!  I do mean to get around taking a class or so–it seems very fashionable for a writer at my stage to take a creative writing degree –but there are only so many hours in a day.  And I comfort myself with the fact that Jane Austen didn’t do workshops… ;-)

RB:  You are also writing a novel? How do you relate to this longer form? Do you approach it like a series of flash pieces?

AHG: I have written three novels to date–and there are three half-finished ones in an electronic drawer somewhere! I intend to take these, one by one, and work on them and publish them on Kindle too.  The first one should be ready later on this year, and is about a thirty-year-old who decides she wants what her twin has –a family & children.  While her twin decides she’s had enough of that and wants a career.  It’s been done, I hear you say?  Well I’m told there are only seven basic stories anyway.  So I guess it’s how you tell them that makes it interesting.  You’ll have to tell me how I did when it comes out!

RB: Can you share with us your Kindle experience? What form of fiction or creative writing is best supported by Kindle in your opinion? What do the reading trends reveal?

AHG: I am a complete Kindle convert!  I resisted buying one of the readers–I like paper books, I said.  I like to hold them in my hands and feel the rustle of the pages, I said.  Then I figured if I was going to sell on Kindle I should see what the fuss was about.  I now have over 160 books on my Kindle.  I carry it around in my handbag, I can read at the drop of a hat and it doesn’t weigh anymore with all those books in it!

Forms of fiction best for Kindle?  I can see, as for with any eReader, that if the book had lots of pictures in it that might not… sit well on the small screens of the eReaders.  But in my humble opinion just about any form of fiction or creative writing will be just as well represented on an eReader screen as on a dead-wood book! (Dead-wood–paper, get it?)

And the trends?  Phew!  That’s a trickier one than I think you realize! The access Amazon, and all the eBook seller sites, allows to a reader is tremendous.  I think this is the real revolution that is talked about.  No longer are the books and stories available to the reading public only those that a literary agent, publishing house editor or retail shop decide are the ones that will be sold this year.  The choice of e-Reader reading matter is truly astonishing–trawling through just Amazon’s lists to see the choice will show you that.

Okay, right some, perhaps a lot, of these are rubbish; but those eBooks that are badly written, have too many errors in them, are badly formatted, or just plain boring will fall to the bottom of the heap – thus allowing the good stuff to float.  But it’s definitely not a case of publish and leave your little masterpiece to get on to the legendary Amazon lists all by itself.  As the author, you have to do stuff to help.

Only look at the Fifty Shades phenomena and you should appreciate the power of the common readership.  How, if enough people hear about–and buy–a book, it will be a success.  Without the assistance of agents, publishers, editors and all.

RB: What does your family feel about your addiction? Having this writer in their midst, every day?

AHG: My family, bless them, are very supportive, if extremely puzzled by the strange creature in their midst! After all, I am supposed to be the scientist in the family!  The addiction has grown into writing all fiction.  It’s not just flash now.  But my husband and son good-naturedly put up with me tapping away telling them I’ll get dinner soon.  After all, that’s what take-aways are for ;-)

RB: What’s your poison for added energy at your writing desk. Do you have a writing desk/den/cubby hole? Who cleans it? J

AHG: I prefer a variety of beverages and cycle through them during a day–peppermint tea, Rooibos tea, lemon water or lime and honey water.  Even in summer I prefer a hot drink when I’m working.

As I said before, my desk is askew at the moment and I find it too unsettling to work in the middle of the floor, so I am camped out in the dining room.  Or I take Pinkie my PC and she’s pink (really!) to bed with me for an early night.  I have a bed-tray I rest her on and I tap away into the wee-hours when it’s quiet.

RB: What are you working on now? What are your future projects?

AHG: I am working on my next production; the first novel I feel is ready to see the light of day.  I hope this will be ready by late 2012, so I am steeling myself into editing mode.  The story is about twins – one’s the “career” twin, the other the “babies” twin–up until now.  The interesting story, for me, is in the margins of their lives, how both want the other’s life and at the end of the book, how they each achieve a balance in their own life.

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Rumjhum Biswas is a writer currently living in Chennai. She has been published all over the world, and her work has won prizes and commendations in India and abroad, including first prize in the Anam Cara Short Story Competition June 2012.

by Jim Harrington 

I’m sure some writers wonder why they should bother with flash fiction. After all, how many times has someone, after you tell them you’re a writer, asked, “Oh. Do you write flash?” Right. That’s what I thought. Flash isn’t . . . well . . . flashy (yet). Still, writers might consider attempting flash fiction for a number of reasons. Here are a few–in no particular order.

Practice different voices and genre: Writing a novel is a long process, one that leaves little room for experimentation or practice. Flash offers the opportunity for both. Want to try a new voice or a different genre? Writing a short-short story provides that opportunity.

Get a morale boost: Write flash for (almost) instant gratification. You can complete a story in a brief period of time and feel that rush when you write “The End” and mean it.

Take a break from a longer project: Stuck on your novel? Consider writing a piece of flash (or two, or three), instead of waiting for the next scene of your novel to expose itself. Perhaps by the time you return to your novel, the words will flow with renewed urgency.

Develop a character: Need to develop a character? Use flash to create a new situation. Perhaps your space traveler, Cathy, reveals she’s not much of a homemaker but then changes the subject as the novel’s plot moves her in a different direction. Maybe there’s something about this revelation that could be important to the novel, but you don’t want to wander off in that direction. It’s flash to the rescue! Put Cathy (before she ever thought of becoming an alien hunter) in a kitchen back on planet Earth and see if she reveals why it’s uncomfortable for her to be there. Maybe she looks out the window and notices something that triggers a memory–or maybe it’s something that’s not there that used to be. One caveat: take the character far, far away from the novel she appears in. Otherwise, you may learn nothing more about her than you already know.

Short on time: You’re writing a novel but you’re traveling for work or working long hours, and you don’t feel you have enough time or energy to do the next section of your novel justice. Write something short that fits the time you have available. This way you shouldn’t feel bad about not writing.

Create a publication history: One aspect of writing that many new authors are unaware of is the importance of a publication history. Many publishers want to represent authors with a track record, authors who already have a following. How do you do this when you’ve just begun writing? Some writers will find representation without previous publications, but most won’t. So what does one do, give up? Maybe you plan to self publish you novel or your collection of short stories. Okay. Who’s going to buy them? I have a large extended family. Even if a majority of them purchased a copy of my new collection, I’d still only sell around 85-90 copies. I need a lot more than that to make a living.

Whether you’re writing a novel or hope to publish a collection of stories, there are several options available to improve your prospects. One is to publish a few stories in respected publications in your genre. Now you can show your potential publishers and readers that you are a serious writer with a solid track record. Another avenue to explore is contests. Being able to say that three of the stories in your collection are contest winners will help grow your potential market and impress publishers since other editors and judges thought the stories worthy. Of course, it’s best if the contests are run by reputable journals or the selection is by a respected guest judge.

So, if you haven’t, give flash a try. Write it to help you with other writing. Write it to get yourself known. Write it to build a market for your longer works. Write it to boost confidence in yourself as a writer. Or write it just for the heck of it.

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Jim Harrington discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His Six Questions For. . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” He’s also the Markets Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles’ Flash Markets Page. You can read his stories on his blog. He can be contacted at jpharrin [at] gmail [dot] com.