Friday, May 6, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: The Daily Flash

Sometimes we have to write in a flash--because it's Friday, because there isn't always a lot of time, because the kettle on the stove will soon blow and you have to clean up and get the kids off to school.

Sometimes there is only enough time to flash. The Daily Dash to Flash.

Last week (Fridays is my submit day)(which you would learn about if you purchased my eBook 365 Affirmations for the Writer that carries with it tips, prompts, and other handy ways to be encouraged, get organized, and WRITE). Anyway, I was submitting last week and saw a call for The Daily Flash and sent in two 50-word flashes I'd composed for another journal but which weren't taken. 

And, in a flash! these were accepted. 

All this to say: today is the day to flash. Ready, set, go.

And, if you haven't ordered 365 Affirmations for the Writer--here is a snippet to tease you.

May 1
A Lonely Business
On the other hand, I mean, that is what writers have always been supposed to do, was to rely on their own devices and to—I mean, writing is a lonely business.
― Donna Tartt, her third novel, The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize

Find a mentor. There are those who view mentors as saviors who will rescue them, make the right calls and find you a publisher. Others take a cannibalistic approach and view a mentor as someone they can harvest recommendations and letters of introduction. It is a two-way street; it is about building a relationship. Attend the reading of local writers working in your genre or whose work you respect. Like or follow an author at Facebook. Eventually opportunities will arise where you maybe able to join a conversation or comment or see that they’ll be in town or at a conference you plan to attend. Never rush to hand them your manuscript to read, but let them know you appreciate their work by telling them how it impacted or influenced your own writing. Stay open for ways to connect!

May 2
A Lonely Business
Writers, particularly poets, always feel exiled in some way—people who don’t exactly feel at home, so they try to find a home in language.
― Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate

May 3
Write From Experience
I was such a sullen, angry, sad kid. I’m sure there are writers who have had happy childhoods, but what are you going to write about? No ghosts, no fear. I’m very happy that I had an unhappy and uncomfortable childhood.
― Isabel Allende, whose own childhood included exile and having to flee repressive regimes. When her grandfather was dying, Allende sat down to write him a letter which later evolved into The House of the Spirits (1982)

May 4
Write From Experience
Writers do draw inspiration from their own lives, which, quite frankly, might be more interesting than fiction.
― Monica Johnson, American screenwriter known for writing strong woman characters

Start with a moment, spread out from there, from that one true thing. Feel free to conflate events and make composite characters of your family. Or try writing about your family from an outsider’s point of view.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Firefly Magazine

Check out Firefly Magazine (a Journal of Luminous Writing), issue 6
Where I have a new story out: Marathoner 
It was the fall he was running 50 miles a week. In the morning he would get up in the pre-dawn dark and step into his shorts. Those nylon shorts felt like the hand of the devil on his ass, so cold and so clammy, but he always wore them, knowing that after the first mile he’d warm up. He pulled his grey Northwestern sweatshirt on over the T-shirt he’d slept in. Katie would still be asleep on her side of the bed. Before slipping out the front door, he laced up a pair of Adidas, the goosepimples on his hard thighs standing out like Braille. The sun still not up yet.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hippocampus Hypotheticals

As a child I was anxious, prone to a wild imagination. Upon hearing news of some catastrophe half-way around the world, I would immediately assume it was happening here, happening now, going to happen to me. Impending doom.

Maybe this is the result of too many fairy tales where girls were always the victim. Or perhaps this was the actual fallout from the Cold War—to be ready for any eventuality.

I remember one night hearing on the radio about a volcano erupting. I could imagine liquid fire pouring out of the mouth and down the sides of the volcano like icing on a cake, pulsing and ebbing ever closer. I could hardly sleep. In fact I was so terrified I sprung from my bed and opened the door and ran outside into the night. It took both of my parents to convince me that this eruption, this volcano was thousands of miles away.

I soon learned to brace myself for earthquakes. I practiced ducking and covering, diving under a wobbly card table. My classroom at school would often conduct tornado drills where we kindergarteners were herded into hallways and taught to crouch against a southwestern wall. At least a tornado could happen in Ohio.

Then there was the tidal wave. How does one escape a wall of water? There were no hills to climb in Washington Township. I devised a plan where I’d run to our neighbor’s house, the Bingosheas(spelling?). Somehow the old lady who sometimes looked after me when my mother was sick would keep me safe.

It took a number of these incidents to teach me that I wasn’t in danger. But, I never got over the fear—that my parents weren’t able to protect me.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Sinclair Dinosaur

Remember back in the day when certain detergents included benefits for the housewife—like a glass. Really you might be thinking—glass? Somehow they didn’t break and cut off the tips of fingers. There used to be all kinds of incentives or bonuses to purchases, that had nothing to do with each other. Wash your clothes and drink a glass of wine!? It wasn’t always Cracker Jacks that came with a prize inside, but also boxes of cereal. Not sure how big these boxes were but there would be books, airplanes to build, fannypacks, towels!!?? You used to be able to “collect” a whole set of tableware just by filling up at the gas station.

My parents were too chintzy to buy any of the stuff for us kids. There were four of us. And of course you couldn’t get for one without getting something for all. So it was out of the question.

That’s why when Aunt Mart and Uncle Mike took me for a week or two in the summer it was so GREATTTT. I would be the only kid. After picking me up in Dayton to take me to Akron we’d stop for gas. At a Sinclair station they weren’t giving away, but I think selling a Sinclair toy dinosaur, the kind you inflate. I knew better than to ask for one, but always coveted it when I saw them advertised on the signs. Uncle Mike came out of the station carrying one under his arm for me.

I thought it was the greatest thing ever. It stood about 2 feet high (or maybe that’s the way I imagine it). Just like now I wonder if perhaps I might have stayed with them all summer.

So for any of you out there old enough to remember premiums or give-aways—write a flash. There’s got to be something there, something hidden inside.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


In The History of Great Things Elizabeth Crane has done the miraculous. She has brought her deceased mother back to have a conversation. Together they tell a story. Is it fiction or memoir?

Well, they even argue about this.

As mothers and daughters often do, they have intersectional “talks” about what may or may not have happened. Things get especially heated when Betsy is planning her wedding to Ben. Mom wants to know why Betsy selects to include some details and leave others out—a question many memoirists struggle with—how do I keep it real without hurting others or bringing up something better left unsaid/unwritten. Not everything is grist for the mill.

Where upon the mother reminds her daughter: YOU SAID THIS WASN’T A MEMOIR.

It is a kind of memoir. One with all those souls looking over your shoulder, some with their own questions, and their own perspectives on how it all went down. A kind of Spoon River Anthology memoir-ish book.

My own contribution to this non-memoir is that I met Ben, supposedly. At least that’s what Betsy said when I met her at AWP in Chicago. She said, My husband went to your church.

And I tried to think: There are lots of people who come and go and stand in the back. I rarely meet them all. And, that’s okay.

Church, like life, should be about participating as much as you’re comfortable. Sometimes I take breaks. Ben was probably looking for something and was trying us out. (I can’t remember Betsy saying how long he tried us out for. I can’t remember if I asked her). I can imagine feeling nervous talking with her, trying to imagine how I should feel.

You see at every AWP I’ve been to I’ve snuck into the Exhibition Hall. It was all pre-meditated. I have several colored lanyards I’ve saved and some wide scarves I wear on such occasions. So I put on a lanyard to approximate the ones required for admission and a scarf to camouflage, and a tote bag, and pretended to walk confidently past security.

I did this because:
1. I have no credentials
2. I am not a member
3. I cannot afford to even be a student
4. I shouldn’t be there
5. I don’t belong

But Betsy speaks to me in a friendly way and puts me at ease. Almost to the point where I point out I have trespassed. But I do not. almost to the point where I pretend she is my friend and I ask her if she might be a reader on my novel manuscript. But I don’t.

So in this non-memoir memoir flash . . . she and I keep a healthy distance and in future message each other via Facebook.

But what about Ben?

I swear I cannot think if we've ever met. I’ll save that for another non-memoir flash.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Meta Memoir Fash

There was this one time when I was eight or nine years old that I applied to be a go-go dancer. Maybe it was the boots. The go-go dancers on TV got to wear shiny patent leather knee-high boots, their long hair swaying as they moved. I called clubs that advertised in the newspaper classifieds. Girls! Girls! Girls! One man asked me if I had experience.

My mother put a stop to my plans when strangers called the house asking for me. At the time it seemed so unfair. I could see myself in one of those cages.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Meta Me

Meta is an odd word; it is all about me. Self-referential. And, we do it in the subtlest of ways. Right when I’m enjoying a work of fiction I get a glimmer, a suggestion, that this book is all about the author. It is likely their story.

At this blog I’ve reviewed Aleksandar Hemon’s short stories, Love and Obstacles and Lily Tuck’s Liliane—all supposedly fiction, but both hovering on the edge of autobiography.

With Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and The History of Great Things by Elizabeth (Betsy!) Crane we are easily clued in. The author actually references themselves. In Our Souls at Night the main characters talk over the morning newspaper while at breakfast and mention that that one writer, his latest novel is being made into a play. She’d enjoyed the last production the playhouse did of his work and now it looks like they are launching another.

“He could write a book about us. How would you like that?”—she asks.
Louis replies to her,  “I don’t want to be in any book.”

The joke is on them—and a bit on us. It is all imaginary, it is all so real. Holt the imaginary county and imaginary county town were all spun over 25 years ago from Haruf’s head. He was blessed before he passed away last November to see several of his novels transformed for the stage. It must have pleased him immensely because he brings it up in the course of conversation between his characters. Louis says:

“But it’s his imagination. He took the physical details from Holt, the place name of the streets and what the country looks like and the location of things, but it’s not this town. .. It’s all made up.”

I like to imagine Kent Haruf writing those lines with the flicker of a smirk on his lips. I loved Plainsong and his follow up novel Eventide and also Benediction. Our Souls at Night is his last. Unless one of his characters cares to recreate a novel about Haruf; that would be interesting.

The History of Great Things is about Betsy and Ben her husband and her mother and father. In fact it is her mother talking to her, telling her story. Except it is not. It is a fictional retelling. How many of us have had the good intention of one day sitting down with a tape recorder and asking old granny some questions. Or asking Dad about what it was like to play basketball in college. There is always that one story they tell and you think: I should write that down. Very few of us get around to doing this.

Elizabeth Crane has done the impossible, she has gone back to get her mother’s story. Both Betsy and her deceased mother get a chance to tell their personal history. It’s how I imagine the circle, unbroken, sitting around a table in gloryland. Truly an inventive book, meta, but not sentimental. It’s the truth, just not one Crane can claim to be hers alone.

May the Circle Be Unbroken (1907)
There are loved ones in the glory[1]
Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?