Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Flash Memoir

Some people have asked about the classes I teach. Even though I’ve published both novels and the short story (YA and for the general reader), I feel more qualified to offer instruction in memoir writing.

I think because there is always material for the writer/student to draw from. Basically I just have to help them connect to memories and get that down on paper. 

One way to do that is a class I’ve devised based upon the New York School of poets. I call the seminar Flash Memoir. Like flash fiction, we’re imposing narrow quidelines, namely anything from 500 to 1,500 words. But also flash in the sudden lightning that word implies. Most memories or connection comes to us in a flash. Ever read Proust? All it can take is a small cookie or a smell to conjure up in our minds something buried or relegated to the insignificant. 

I recently wrote a quick flash memoir titled Sense of Smell. It started with the scent of lilacs and ended up in my parent’s kitchen at the house where I grew up. It was basically one side of an 8/5 x 11 sheet of paper, but it was more than that. It contained fragments of a family and hints of dysfunctionality and a certain nostalgia. That’s sometimes hard to do.

So my class helps students 1) connect with memories by providing prompts, reading selections, etc 2) helps them structure the writing.

We all have memories. But what makes them worth writing about it that often, like metaphor, they stand for something else. Helping the student extract meaning or INSIGHT from something as simple as say an Easter egg hunt, or the buns at the local bakery, or a shade of lipstick. The memory is up to them, but following it to its end is what my seminar Flash Memoir is essentially about.

Often it is as easy as aiming for a target and intentionally missing—leaving the reader to hit the bull’s eye.

So if you or your school are interested in Flash Memoir, contact me through this website and we’ll see what we can do to set something up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Highlights Foundation Workshops

Highlights ( the magazine at dentist and doctor's offices) is good at a lot of stuff. One thing they've done in the past is have an annual conference where both publishing and unpublished writers come together for a week. I attended in 2010 and it was one of the best conferences I've ever been to. The ratio of staff to participant was excellent, but then they went overboard to make sure you got a chance to mingle.

Some conferences sort of have an unspoken hierarchy--you know--where the staff and real writers sit off by themselves and the people actually paying to attend the conference are treated like hobos, off to the corner or back of the diningroom with their tin plate.

Well at highlights events there is a rule. That staff and writers CANNOT sit with each other, they couldn't even stand next to each other in line. For every meal, outing, reading etc they had to sit next to participants. It was refreshing to meet Patricia Lee Gauch, a reknown writer of historical fiction for children as well as the Jerry and Eileen Spinelli--they acted like we were friends! I gave them MY autograph. (That last one is a lie), but you get my point.

So this summer Highlights is offering a slew of workshops at their new conference center "barn" in a beautiful rural setting in Pennsylvannia.

Here is a link:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Incremental Loss

So I was at my parent's house clearing stuff away. This was WAAAYY harder than I thought it would be. It's stuff. It's life. It's gone.

Pretty much all the furniture had been either divvied up or taken to storage. What was left was just a bunch of little stuff. You know what I mean, all that stuff you put away in closets, under the bathroom sink, etc that can take a whole other u-haul, twenty more boxes, we're always SHOCKED at how much of the small stuff there is. Well, this was no exception.

How many plastic space organizers can one woman have? The answer is innumerable. My mother had a capacity to save space by taking up space with plastic bins, drawers organizers, etc. After I emptied them half of the garage was space organizers. And plastic bags. My God! Did she never once throw one into the garbage?!

These were good for stuffing, for wrapping around glass and breakables, but it was again beyond me how much trash she kept. Of course both my parents were the product of a Great Depression childhood, which makes one wonder if today's Great Recession will make us all into hoarders. What do we have worth saving?

Packing up stuff is different than packing up the last remains of one's family. Suddenly even the oldest known cottonballs took on significance. These used to be ours. I looked at bobby pins and found myself reminiscing. The ordinary took on a veil of extra-ordinary. So did the plastic bags, the shoe horns (hundreds of them--who knew!), and other misc. small containers (all saved!)--but another thing became clear as I sorted: the number of small, independent stores that we once took for granted--all gone.

Recently I'd read Going, Going, Gone by Naomi Shihab Nye.
 It was about a young girl (YA) who fights to save the integrity of her community by trying to save small businesses. I know, I found the pretext a little hard to swallow. I know teens who fight for causes, but never one who cares if Gray's Drugstore goes out of business. More or less I thought it was Nye using her young protagonist as a mouthpiece for what she believes strongly in, but STILLLL I liked the message.

So as I was pouring over the mundane and literally countless items I noticed how many had been purchased at now obsolete shops. We had our film developed at Gray's Drug store, we bought our nails at P & K Hardware, I loved the chocolate bridge mix from Rike's Department Store, we bought our groceries at Dorothy Lane Market, on and on. It was like a walk down memory lane. I remember walking up there or riding my bike there to get candy. Then fast forward. I bet they aren't there any more. Like so much in my life.

Consumed by something much bigger and unstoppable. Going, going, gone.

And we are unable to stop this incremental loss.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Light Years

I was at the Art Institute yesterday.

I know--can there be anything more delicious than taking a day off work to go to the art museum, alone. Well, yes there can. It was free, for Illinois residents (that's me). And, on top of that! There was snow, piles of it, laying on top of fences post, pilings at the lake, park benches etc etc etc all like confectionery sugar, drifting, puffing a little with the wind, and sometimes--when the pigeons startled it, plopped down. All along the city sidewalks there were signs: Watch for Falling Ice!

I made it to the museum in one piece, and there I found a delightful show. Now I know very little, less than little, about contemporary art, but there was a special exhibit entitled Conceptual Light, which was all about artists whose work requires light to be a. illuminated or b. to make sense. Some made no sense. Again, this is beside the point.
 I walked into a small room buzzing with projectors--that alone made the trip down worth it! Film whizzed through the reels. Standing there was an art experience, in the chaos and semi darkness with images flashing upon the 4 walls! Maybe like day 1 of creation.

Often my husband and I have shook our heads at deluded film students who think they'll make a Hollywood movie. Not that there is something wrong with that--someone has to do it, and doing it they are. But many of those students don't make it and rack up debt and are left either plying their talent making commercials or are working at video stores--WAIT! there are no video stores. Or are unemployed(able).

But a person who says I'm going to make a little film, not about anything, but as an experiment--well there is a brave brave person. To make a little film takes more risk than being a writer. Because we can work in our "off time", it takes little to no money to write words, but a film artist must be fully invested or else get all their friends to help. On top of that film is almost a dying art--in this age of digital. Someone on a budget has to work twice as hard if they want to make film vs digital. And then, here's the kicker, to say in the end, there is no plot or point (they have a statement, but only their art director or prof will care about that). Concept is what drives them. How the materials work or don't work. Why someone reacts or doesn't interact with the image. All for what!?

I loved it. It, to me, was art. Also I could tell the older African-American lady who was guarding that particular room with the whirling projectors liked the look on viewer's faces when they wandered in. She smiled at me.

So going on a brief hiatus to pack up Ann and Harold's house. Never thought I'd be writing that sentence.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Highlighting: Linguistic Erosion

Linguistic Erosion is flash fiction without limits. It's a place where stories and authors too good to go unpublished shine amongst their kindred like so many diamonds. It's boundless, horizonless, without deadlines, dates, queues, orders or delays.  Providing a platform for both new and established authors to reach readers based solely on the merit of each individual piece of writing, Linguistic Erosion endeavors to give unheard authors the voice they deserve, the readership they crave, and the respect they're owed.

Currently, Linguistic Erosion is edited by author E.S. Wynn

My short short, Before the World Changed ran recently. Check it out here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Just got back from a writer's retreat

and boy are my arms tired . . .

Sort of sounds like an old joke doesn't it, but, no, for real, my fingers are tired from typing. I got so so so much done that I'm actually looking forward to the rest of 2012. When projects tend to drag or the last 20 pages feel overwhelming, then we need to get away and concentrate. What I started last year (a mere seed) at the SCBWI New Year's Writer retreat at the Chicago Cenacle I was able to FINISH. Yay!

So for those of you who didn't sign up for the retreat or didn't think of it at the time, please consider taking a retreat, sign out a room at the Cenacle* and get started or push through to the other side.

*Rates are VERY reasonable and include meals.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Free Content

Much (okay almost all) of my writing has been fodder for on-line zines and digital media. Hey--there's nothing wrong with those outlets. In fact it is downright democratic. The Internet has allowed so many universities and literary journals to save time, money and trees that I'm all for it. Also space--one no longer has to worry about how many words. Your piece can be as long or as short as you think it needs to be because no longer does a typesetter, art director, or layout person have to worry about "fitting" it in.

Also, readers of this blog know I've discussed here the tensions of writing or producing art, commercialism vs pure, untarnished--and unpaid--work. How do I resolve this?

Well, mostly I have no control over it. If I see an outlet or venue for a certain piece and know it is a good match for the audience, etc I'll send it in. Now the fact that Agni or Blackbird or Wag's Revue haven't accepted my work (YET!) means that I either need to target it better or write something they are looking for. The bigger publications (even on-line) pay something per word. Of course just getting the pub cred for any of those I've mentioned above would be fabulous all by itself. So, in other words, I'm submitting my work knowing I'll not get paid for it (or receive very little) because I really enjoy seeing my work "out there."

Maybe it's grandiose or a sense of the exhibitionist, but I like knowing I'm being read.

Lately, though, I've run into a few problems with free content. Editors--maybe for the reasons I've mentioned, because it's free--have begun to mess with the text, revising my work without talking to me. I've even had editors go ahead and put my stuff up on-line without alerting me. (I keep a submission grid and once a piece is taken, I withdraw it from consideration elsewhere. This is what a professional writer does.) So I've found myself surprised.

And unhappy.

Listen I know about revision, I've had editors write and ask for changes, but TO EDIT WITHOUT PERMISSION is not where it's at. It makes this writer of free content feel like a tool.

So this year, 2012, my motto is: I'm not writing for your publication, I'm writing for myself. Thus, every thing I send out will also go with some kind of caveat that any changes must first be submitted to me before publication. And visa versa, I'd like a chance to make any necessary changes to the text before it goes "live."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Writer's Haven: Peace

Links to 2 new stories (flash fiction) that have just been published!!
Standing Stones, written by Jane Hertenstein has been chosen as the best story of this issue. Third Issue - Peace- http://original-writer.com/writershavenissue3page2.html

AND, for something completely different---and a bit more dark, another short short