Flash Fiction Love Goes On


 

In a flash: Brush fire on I-10 and the lightening storm that started it.

In a flash: Brush fire on I-10 and the lightning storm that started it.

What a wonderful week of talking to people about flash fiction. While I percolate various–varied–expressive feedback in praise, love, ambivalence, or contempt for the form, I thought it would be nice to offer up a beautiful Russell Banks quote. Of short-short fiction, Banks once said:

It’s its own self, and it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way. The source, the need, for the form seems to me to be the same need that created Norse kennings, Zen koans, Sufi tales, where language and metaphysics grapple for holds like Greek wrestlers, and not the need that created the novel or the short story, even, where language and the social sciences sleep peacefully inside one another like bourgeois spoons.

I write both short stories and ultra shorts. These are their own selves, two different forms requiring two different muscles in the mind to make, two different mouths in the heart to take.

I have been asked, “Don’t you think the proliferation of flash fiction has something to do with media and short attention spans?”

Basho–father of brevity–said, “Seek not to follow in the old footsteps; seek what was sought.”

It’s not the length of the arrow, but its precision in showing the way, right? (please don’t try to apply Freud to that–it might work on some level, but it’s just not relevant)

I don’t write or read flash fiction or nonfiction because I’m in a hurry or because I’m feeling restless. I read flash because sometimes I like a good, swift punch to the meta-physique. I write it because sometimes I feel like making a fist.

Who are your favorite writers of short-shorts? High on my list would be Lydia Davis, whose works may only be a few words or sentences, and Donald Barthelme, whose shortest pieces tend to be around 1500 words. Check them out and let me know what you think.

 flash

Posted in Basho, creative writing, Donald Barthelme, fiction, flash fiction, Lydia Davis, opinions, Russell Banks, short stories, Uncategorized, writers, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Meto-news and Online Journal Love


theNewerYork pairs gorgeous art with each piece.

theNewerYork pairs gorgeous art with each piece.

Spoke too soon! Another of my stories, “The Hummingbird Murder”, is currently live at theNewerYork. For the longest time I had been hanging around their venue, enjoying their unusual format and the way work is presented there. Only recently did it occur to me I could submit there. Why the lag between admiration and participation? I have no idea.

I love online journals and frequent many. The options available in terms of formatting and presentation, the risks online journals can take to interact with readers, to link visual and written forms of expression, to make connections between artists and audiences are all wish list asterisks best met—best embodied as methodology and substance —by online journals, at least in potential. I edit fiction for a fantastic online journal, rawboned. I know how hard we (Trisha Winn (beloved Boss), Ginna Luck, myself, and the magic that is bevin) work to turn out a product that is consistent with a demand for quality and a kinship with readers and writers (and artists and filmmakers).

And I am in love, as well, with the short form. I spend so much freaking time on small pieces—it’s an investment requiring just as much time per thematic thread, per line, per word, as any other piece, maybe more per jot because you cannot get away with a stray phrase in an ultra-short form. Flash and Micro are the naked selfies of writing. But writers like to poo on themselves, I’ve noticed. I hear us belittling our efforts as often as inflating our merits. “It’s just a short-short.” What does that mean? You could ask Lydia Davis, but that would just make you look silly.

I know some people object to the not infrequent submission fees of online journals, especially the smaller ones (theNewerYork does not charge, rawboned must). I don’t mind a fee under ten dollars, or higher if I have it, because I realize how much it costs to maintain a dedicated website and submission portal. Submitting my work is worth it, so that’s not an issue. Online is on. Why, for the price of a pint—not even a craft pint—would a writer turn down a blazing hot mic?

Go on over and take a look at my story, and please, comment, share, and compliment the artist whose work the editors have paired with my story, Lori Nelson. Wow. I am an instant fan. And then take a look around theNewerYork—it’s a fascinating place. Once you’ve done that, hop over to rawboned and check out another of the fresh faces in literary opportunities.

Then, come on back and tell me what you think of the last line of “Hummingbird”…interesting story, that line. That is actually not my line, as in, I didn’t write it, so I am somewhat curious about its impression and have some editorially complicated thoughts…but that’s another post.

Posted in artist, creative writing, fiction, flash fiction, online journals, Publications, rawboned, short stories, stories, submitting, theNewerYork, writers, writing, writing community | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Meto-news


Front-Cover My short story, “My Grandmother, Lily, Says a Few Words About Brooding”, appears in the current edition of Clockhouse. I’ve gone a bit fan-girl realizing that my favorite American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, also appears in this edition. I was in San Antonio recently, Nye’s town, to visit my sister. We talked about trying to organize a literary drive-about, cruising the houses of writers like Nye, like Sandra Cisneros, Rick Riordan (yes, I have a ten year old) … and then we decided that might be a tad sycophantic and went to Mustang Island instead. But we talked about writers, and drank Bloody Marys, while a Sargassum bloom stank up the beaches. It was good.

Now I’m all excited to get my mitts on this edition of Clockhouse. Here is a link (and another) to get you to a place where you can purchase copies.

Posted in Clockhouse, creative process, creative writing, creativity, Fandom, fiction, Literary Journals, Naomi Shihab Nye, Publications, San Antonio, short stories, stories, submitting, Texas, writers, writing, writing community | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ceremony


A work in progress

A work in progress

Consider this conversation I had with my nine year old today:

“I need some stuff so I can write a letter to my cousins.”

“That’s a great idea. What do you need?”

“Pajamas, purple ink pens, lined paper, a cup of yogurt—no—a carrot so it won’t melt under the blanket, ice water in a bottle, one of the red blankets—the small ones, not the short ones because those won’t cover my whole body, and a fan right over me so I don’t get hot under the blanket, and the flashlight so I can see.”

“Why not leave the blanket off? So you have light and air.”

“No.”

“But if you’re too hot?”

“I have to be under the blanket to write what I’m thinking about.”

“Can you share with me what you’re thinking about?”

“Whatever I come up with while I’m writing.”

A peek at creative necessity

A peek at creative necessity

All of this speaks to her reason for writing, her motivation and purpose, rather than some dramatic flair to be indulged or discouraged (how patronizing, in either event). There is a connection between the significance of the content of her writing and her level of elaborateness: when I ask her to write about the weather, the length of time it takes a bean to sprout in a peat pot, or the way to express decimals in a multiplication problem, she does not discourage daylight or moan for purple ink. In the construction and observance of her (important, personal) writing ritual, she has absolute possession of the idea that her intentions, her emotional investment, and the sanctity and ceremony of her writing are one.

The dailies

The dailies

Pragmatism and hard experience have the tendency to rob creative endeavor, and life in general, of its ceremony, treating any requirement as a sign of something less than seriousness. Hobbyists buy fountain pens, serious writers write in the thirty seconds it takes to microwave cold coffee, bleary eyed because real writing means getting up before everyone in the house, staying up long after they are all in bed again at night, real writers never bellyache, remembering that they are not owed any particular privilege, but they are blessed to be self- denying enough to endure criticism and rejection and bad nutrition and sleep deprivation, not to mention the embarrassing fallout of neglectful hygiene, in order to craft entire novels, two or three sentences at a time while coffee reheats.

So says a barrage of advice aimed from blogs and magazine articles at all those pokey, whiney, self-indulgent writers who complain they are too busy to write. Being me, I don’t respond blossomingly to grouchiness, although I understand the desire to promote realism.

A friend I completely love just sent out this Pema Chödrön quote: “At some point we need to stop identifying with our weaknesses and shift our allegiance to our basic goodness. It’s highly beneficial to understand that our limitations are not absolute and monolithic, but relative and removable.”

It’s a balm, really, to be reminded that I don’t always have to be hard on myself. That I don’t have to feel lazy because I believe that successful writing, or whatever the nature of the endeavor, is better if viewed less as a problem of self-discipline and more as the center of a worthwhile purpose for which I am willing to make whatever room I need in life. I may be thinking about a story I’m working on while the kettle boils, but I am more likely to be sweet talking the dog out of knocking over the garbage can, tying up the tomato vines, answering the phone, finding blankets and purple pens, or a hundred other things that are proportional snugged into stray minutes.

Writing, my core creative purpose, is not proportional to bits of pieces of moments. Writing a story, as I unwind a thread of an idea from the center, is not proportional to reheating coffee.

That’s not to say a story, unwinding, doesn’t find its way into the corners of every act, every thought and dream, but this image seems the other way around to me. The essence permeates, infiltrates the air, the earth, so it cannot be lived around—this is the way I prefer to see writing rather than as the product of insistent multi-tasking. The call is not an imposition, though I’d never claim it’s always comfortable or easily managed.

Like my nine year old, I find I would like to reinstate requirements—time, space, tea—the ceremonial aspects of deep concentration. I don’t always have to squeeze a story in (or out) between lane changes in heavy traffic to prove I’m tough or serious or whatever the emotionally rugged equivalent of serious might be.

I believe that successful writing, or whatever the nature of the endeavor, is better if viewed less as frowning, preaching self-discipline and more as the center of a worthwhile purpose for which I am willing to make whatever time and space I need. Maybe this is only an attitude shift, but it’s one that involves gentling, focusing, opening up—all good indicators, in my opinion.

*   *   * Please feel free to share your own writing or creative ceremonies. What nurtures your process?

Do you have a fort?

Do you have a fort?

Posted in Advice, art, artist, bad advice, ceremony, creative process, creative writing, creativity, inspiration, motherhood, parenting, Pema Chodron, Uncategorized, writers, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Permission


Have you ever heard sage warnings about how hard it is to make it in the arts, about how many dues you have to pay and how unlikely it is that you have the goods (read: talent) to pay them without let down, humiliation, and ultimate disillusionment? Sickeningly, this isn’t bad advice—it’s fairly realistic, and realism makes its own case. But wait: I want to offer you, blogger, poet, dancer, painter, actor, musician, cobbler, whatever it is you do to get your art on, the right to reject wisdom when it is offered as a thoughtful reproof of eagerness in relation to your work.

I just said you should reject wisdom, which probably sounds like I’m in a terrible, depressed place. Actually, I’ve had a good couple of weeks, despite a strange sounding rejection that involved some manner of personalized (nice) though glib (not so nice) regret (okay, but still…it’s a rejection, so not nice, ever). I found out another story was picked up for print, and that a journal in which I currently have a story just won a lovely, shiny award for the excellence of this edition. I’ve learned to cherish these successes and bits of good news because any time you take risks, it stands to reason there will be a trail of failures behind every forward motion. Thankfully, I can always count on the writers I know to put it all in perspective and offer support.

 

robynsusanandme

Find your creative family and love them back.

That’s not unusual, either. Writers—artists in general—can be competitive, cliquish, even snooty. But it’s also true that, on the whole, so far as I’ve seen it, there is room in writing and the creative community at large for happiness, warmth, and connection. I never expected a social dividend from a solitary pursuit, but this is one truth about the arts that no one really tells you—there is freedom in pursuing something you love, and freedom, as a wave of enthusiasm, as the momentum of engagement, as a conceptual permission slip, swamps failure. You can be a worried, insecure, neurotic writer, but you’ll never be the only worried, insecure, neurotic writer, and ultimately we tend to like each other. A lot. And we support the people we like, and their work, with incredible generosity of spirit.

Of course there will be puddles of bullshit on the way to feeling connected and productive. And here is where I begin to fill out your get-out-of-advice-free slip.

I have had, notable among other small clusters of such, two distinct, sharply unpleasant, and weirdly dystopian (personally and purposefully speaking) conversations with conscientious people-I-know trying their damnedest to convince me that writers should-not-must-not submit their writing for the scrutiny of others until some distant point at which said writer (but they always mean you, whoever they are talking to) achieves real writing, real, not false, not all upstarty and raw, not lame or unworthy, but real, in the same sense the velveteen rabbit woke up and realized he wasn’t stuffed anymore after little Timmy died of scarlet fever, or whatever happened in the version you self-edit so you can justify reading that awful story to your own children.

And recently, I’ve heard second hand about a few similar conversations, related with confessional angst by friends or acquaintances after well-meaning advice from people-they-know bloomed into emotional canker.

You may have heard this advice, too, often phrased as food for thought or provided as a quote of some critically lauded writer or artist who happens to hold dear the same concerns: “Are you sure you want to put yourself out there? What if an editor gets a fixed opinion of you before you’ve done all you can to develop your work? What if you are published and you regret what you’ve sent out to represent you? Are you really ready?”

So, though carefully worded and practically tinted, the questions under these questions are, Do you deserve to be a writer? Do you really think it’s prudent to do what you want to do? What if you stink? Wouldn’t that be humiliating for you? Isn’t that scary? Isn’t that silly? Isn’t that vain?

When someone tries to make me doubt the veracity of my own claim to exist and operate with autonomy, I always wonder from where they get their voice of trepidation, their upside down medicine bag of condescending truisms and rhetorical questions. I can only debunk this kind of sidling attack—because that’s what it is, it attacks you at the intersection between your public and private minds, a vulnerable spot because, as conduit, it is open on one end to the state of your ego and on the other to the state of your heart as you grapple at each depth with expression and desire—by asking a rhetorical question in return: Why can’t you sod off faster?

That sounds harsh? Yes, well, I’ve been there, loaded with doubt dropped on me by sage counsel. Here is what I have figured out in that laden state:  Camaraderie, not superiority, is the mark of an adult relationship. The need to parent or school or temper another’s desires or the actions someone takes from the temple of her or his desires is all about the ego of the one giving the advice.

You can grow old, drop dead, and rot with commendable amounts of caution buttoning your words—or whatever form your expression takes—respectfully inside your skin. But that’s a shabby legacy and no fun to live at all. While any work, even done in silence, unobserved, is worth your time by virtue of the benefit of process, if you stick it all under your bed, the effect of all that work is arrested. Art stops. Chilling.

I’m not suggesting you submit first drafts. No slippery slopes, please. You do what you need to do to get yourself and your art ready for daylight. I trust you. I trust myself, too, shockingly.

So there it was, and here it is, the bottom line: I trust you to do your work, to live in discernment of the merit of your work, to create from a place of ambition—not for recognition, but for doing good, solid, meaningful work. And if ambition for recognition happens to be your thing, then I trust you to wear your ardor for glory with style. You do not have to apologize for needing money, for wanting to make money with your writing or art or acting or directing. The only dues you need to pay is the work itself and—if you want to be really above and beyond about it all—the promise to listen to your fellows with empathy and support when it is their turn to talk about their work.

Someone who otherwise loves or likes or knows you but who continually cautions you to hold back, to hold off, may be offering you the best of their wisdom—or they may just be horrible at communicating—but you don’t have to assimilate cautionary tales (except for the one about not texting while driving—don’t do that). You just have to get on with it.

livy's drawing

My daughter, born to art, will be looking for the trail…I have to cut it wide and clear.

Posted in Advice, art, artist, bad advice, creative process, creative writing, creativity, Encouragement, process, submitting, writers, writing, writing community | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Meto-News


Redivider 11.1Pick up a copy of the new Redivider, issue 11.1 in which you will find my Beacon Street Fiction Prize winning story, “House of Broken Dishes”. I was incredibly freaked out in all the right ways to get this award, only a day after graduation (but also on the same day I took a terrible flu, so there was an element of balance…) because the contest was judged by one of my favorite authors, Amy Hempel.

In this issue you will also find the Beacon Street Poetry Prize winner, “Ode to a Bat” by Kelly Michels, as chosen by the esteemed Heather McHugh.

Shelly and REED at AWPIn May, another of my short stories, “The Problems of Odessa”, will appear in REED Magazine’s issue 67, as the 2014 John Steinbeck Fiction Award winner. I’m planning to make the trip to San Jose to turn up at the Blackbird Inn for the REED 67 launch party, thanks to the generosity of friends who are aiding with travel plans and accommodations while I’m there. I’ve never been to California other than to change planes. I’m crazy excited.

It’s been a great year—graduation, the Beacon Street, Amy Hempel (holy wow), Redivider, The John Steinbeck Prize, REED, AWP, Seattle, Port Townsend, Portland, San Jose… and still four full months left in this first post-MFA year. Now, if I could only find a job…

Posted in Amy Hempel, Awards, AWP, MFA, Prizes, Publications, Redivider, REED Magazine, Seattle, writers, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Confessional List of an AWP Virgin


1

Dear AWP,

You are a beautiful behemoth. I will ride dozens of your millions of corpuscles and arrive somewhere vital, fixated.

XO,
Overwhelmed Conference Virgin

AWP color ceiling

2

Notes Taken During a Panel

In a central circle, middle of the page: What is the purpose and effect of writing? Ego push vs. call to service

At the end of a branch to the left: What are the talismans of grief, of love, of trauma, of hope? Personal and universal—intimate and archetypal. Dogs/dead dogs/a dog.

In a box under this branch, arrowed further left: Isn’t archetype as personal as it gets? Isn’t the ego more isolating that deep levels of consciousness, interconnected? So…what are the implications for repetition of meaningful image in many works? Doesn’t symbol move across levels of meaning, or is a symbol most effective as it hops from one meaning to another, laterally, within a single, contained layer of consciousness? Onions vs. the knife, again. Yes, through layers. Contained consciousness? (underlined)

Floating in the left margin: Physical artifact calls consciousness—how can you determine what you are calling?

At the end of a branch above the central circle: Metaphor as conveyance—(e.g., cab) denotation to meaning.

In a box above this branch: Back to archetype vs. individual—if it’s truly mine, will it transport you?

On a slanted line branched out from the curve of the central circle on its right: I know this but it helps does it help you? (Yes! she has written.)

Under this, a remark, unattached: “Part of the writing of true experience, grief, love, loss, is tracing the path created to hide the truth from self and others.”

Below the central circle, another circle: Writers are wizards.

Under this: Can we

Upper right margin, in a semi-circle: Brain crush, in love.

On the next page: Why is stability such an issue? Like a credit report for buy-in.

On the page after that: Sex & Love everything is always really about time

3

My legs are sore.

I wish I lived in Seattle

I wish I lived in Seattle

4

Overheard

On the phone at the foot of the second floor escalator in the main hall: It wasn’t declined, it just stopped working. You can’t assume that. Call the bank. Don’t fuck with the website, just call them. I can’t, I have a panel.

At the food court in the Western New England Annex: One woman—Plastic, plastic! Another woman, reassuringly—I think it’s just the lettuce.

On the stairs of the sub-floors of the Western Annex: I was so surprised at how inarticulate he was in front of a crowd. I always thought people who were good at writing were naturally good at speaking.

Leaving Annie Proulx’s keynote: If she was a god, I’d so go to her church.

5

Consensus

“This is like Disneyland if Disneyland sold crack and had crack rides and crack was words.”

Then, from behind him, “That’s so offensive. There are people here who struggle with addiction.”

Low blood sugar view

Low blood sugar view

6

Schooled on the first day. On the second day, glad we had eaten breakfast. We were so glad we stopped to eat lunch. On the third day, nothing helped.

7

Surprise

I like to meet people who know me first by what I’ve written. I like being a story person first and a physical person second. It’s agreeable skin.

8

Dear AWP,

I want you every day. But I cannot leave here fast enough. My best friend and I are both leaving you now, before you’re finished with us, and then we are going to talk about you. It will not be all complimentary. We’ll probably cry. Or sing. Or get drunk, a good combination of potentialities.

Kissless at this point,
Done with your love but still in love

Skybridge full of books: fun!

Skybridge full of books: fun!

9

Upon Reflection: A Set of Proposed Regulations

Presenters might refrain from refuting the purpose of the panel with opening remarks.
Presenters might refrain from insulting other genres.
Presenters might want to use notes.
Presenters might choose to use a stopwatch or any watch, avoiding the need to ask what time it is every few minutes or seconds.

Audience members might refrain from attending a panel in a tightly packed room where close contact is inevitable if they are visibly, contagiously ill.
Tall audience members might remember that personal space is not an entitlement doled out according to gender or knee length. Sit on the aisle if you need extra space. I did. And then if someone comes in with a limp, a cast, a clear need, for goodness sake, get up and let them have your aisle seat without having to be asked in the middle of a presentation. I want to hear every word Kim Stafford says. Even the prepositions.
Audience members might refrain from whispering questions to the presenters that have to be repeated five or six times in an awkward, forward motion, room-sized game of telephone.
Audience members should not argue with presenters or angrily refute their suppositions after the fact. It’s just embarrassing for everybody.

Everyone needs to take turns and be nice. Everyone needs to use deodorant, just for three days. Everyone needs to enjoy everything, even the crappy stuff, because it’s more fun, more enlightening, more inspiring, and more joyful than our day jobs. It is. Come on. It is. It is.

10

AWP, 2015: How Cold is Minneapolis in February?

Snow likes writers

Snow likes writers

Posted in AWP, conference, creative process, creative writing, creativity, fiction, Seattle, writers, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments