My Story, “Hunger Pangs,” is Now Online at Under the Fable!

maggot cheese

I promised a link to my short story, “Hunger Pangs.  Read it here.

(My story begins on page 29.)

Hunger Pangs is the quirky story of a lonely young woman who meets a group of food enthusiasts. Claire is quickly fascinated by her education and initiation.

Let me answer a frequently asked question: To my knowledge, no such club exists. But maybe it will after people read my story. :-) Not that I would join…writing about such things means I don’t have to live them!

Part (debatably) titillating, part grotesque, the story comes from who knows where. I’m just the midwife and, just for the record, while I do have an apron, I am properly attired beneath it at all times when I cook. Okay, most times.

I can tell you where I was when inspiration struck.

My writing location of choice is a local café, a cute place with fresh, local food and friendly baristas who treat me almost like family. One day I was writing there with no assignments for once and no interest in working on my novel. I overheard some slightly naughty conversation as the baker (this was probably three years ago) brought out bread from the kitchen. The purloined tidbit was NOTHING like what’s in the story, but it made me start wondering: what if. That’s the writer’s best, most imaginative tool: what if.

My story, then, is my answer to that “what if.”

During the residency in which I had the piece workshopped I often heard people who were in the workshop discussing it with those who were not. Though technically that wasn’t allowed, I took it as a compliment.

Note: I have unintentionally amassed a collection of what I call my “weird food stories.” This is the latest to be published. I also had one published last year about a young man who dumpster dives for food. Again, I have no clue where these come from, though I am obsessed with food and I feel guilty about that obsession. I’m guessing that has something to do with it.

While you’re over at Under the Fable, please don’t read just my story, though. Take a moment or two to look at the other fine poems and stories in this premier issue! I applaud any and all literary efforts and this new UK-based literary magazine is another fine one.

Maybe reading the other material over there will make you shake the image of a certain cheese in my story…after you read it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Warning: not for the faint of heart…or stomach! (If you look very closely at the above photo after reading the story, the cheese will look much different to you.)

Publication News: Under the Fable, Grief Eating, and Other Tidbits

NYC and DC April 2015 252

I’m delighted to announce that my story, “Hunger Pangs,” will be published in the premier issue of Under the Fable, a UK-based literary journal. It will come out in four days! (I’ll link to it then.)

Since I’ve been concentrating so much on my novel(s) this year, I haven’t been publishing as much fiction. I kinda forgot how good it feels. (Note: it feels great!)

I’ll talk more about the story when it comes out. Until then, some housekeeping:

— I decided to keep my blog, and to rename it. While I feel in some ways  as if I am a self-centered beastie to use my name as the blog’s name, for now it just makes sense. I don’t want to have to choose between all of my interests. And since those interests are housed in me, well, maybe my name is most fitting for the blog’s name.

— That said, I will be mixing up what I talk about. I LOVE writing, adore it, but I think I’d like to include some of my other interests as well. (Such as cooking!)

— I will be updating and overhauling my blog, too.  More on that later.

Though we are five months into this year, in some ways it feels to me as if it has just begun. The end of last year was a blur — I lost my dad and submerged myself in a months’ long grief eating fest from which I am just now beginning to emerge. Two days after we buried my dad was our first Christmas without him, followed in February by his birthday. I’m holding my breath for next month  — Father’s Day. I know he would want — does want — me to get back to all of those things I love most and to take care of myself. Part of that is getting back to my blog, back to plotting out my writing course.

Getting this story published seems a good place to start. Happy New Year to me!

Creative or Rule Follower?

My first conscious act of creating was in response to my elementary school principal’s command. She gave us a sheet of paper covered in circles and told us to come up with ONLY things that did not exist.

I was in the fifth grade. This principal was the strongest woman I knew — she was probably close to six feet tall, a large, craggy woman with a deep voice and half a dozen children if I remember correctly. She had only to look sideways at a student for that student obey. I both feared and adored her.

Now, here’s the thing: when she gave me that paper, I knew I HAD to do what she asked, because she was the principal. Because I was afraid her eyes could melt me. And because I had already incurred her ire two years before by wearing shorts and a strappy top to school, not having ever been told it was against the rules until she announced over the intercom that such attire was inappropriate. (I was not the only offender). I was mortified and spent the rest of the (very) hot day wearing my jacket, though my teacher begged me to take my jacket off. I refused, preferring to at least cover up my arms.

This principal, all eyes, glasses on a chain, and moles, now wanted me to lie, as it were. So I learned to create on command.

It turned out that I was the only one who obeyed — everyone else came up with basketballs and such, things that already existed. I had no idea that my worksheet would land me in the principal’s office for further questioning. She was taking, she told me later, a class on child development and because of that she asked me more questions based on what I had drawn. Why had I made an electric soccer ball? Why had I come up with a cheesy rat tunnel?

I have no idea if my answers satisfied her, but they did make me realize I was different, and that was invaluable. And better yet, she let me leave her office alive.

Recently I asked my husband this, though: was I creative because I did what she asked or was I more rigid than the others  because I felt compelled to follow her directions? Perhaps she scared me into creativity. Barry’s opinion is that she inadvertently helped me free my creativity. I suppose either way it doesn’t matter, but I am grateful, and I kinda miss her.  Go figure.

The Yearly “What to do with the blog” Post, Reading Woolf, and More

Dear Readers,

Yup, it’s time for my yearly wrestling of what to do with my blog NOW. This happens every time WordPress tells me it’s time to renew my domain name. I must confess to being envious of those who just blog. They seem to blog about anything that interests them. They may blog about blogging one day, and about eating pizza the next. I considered doing that, and I might someday. But.

If you have been following me, you may notice that I have taken down some earlier posts. I decided to prune my posts for privacy’s sake. I’m not being mysterious (I’m pretty open, and certainly not that interesting), but I decided that if I write something that I wouldn’t want mentioned to me by a stranger in public, I should probably take it down. (I’ve pretty much had that happen, too. Yikes!)

Am I still really into writing about art? Oh yes. I can’t see that changing any time soon. The novel I am working on novel does involve art, although to a lesser degree. But I really do write about more than art. As a matter of fact, I spent most of February revising a MG novel, although I had to abandon it temporarily. I intend to finish it this summer. Or at least I hope to. So now I need to reconsider what this space is for.

I say all of this to say that what I’d really like this to become would be a corner for those who write to talk about writing and for those who read to talk about that. I especially enjoy conversations with writers who read and chat. (Maybe that should be my new blog title: Writers Who Read!) And I hope it doesn’t sound snobbish to say so but I particularly enjoy literary fiction, although I have been known to enjoy a YA novel now and again. Just as I like physical exercise that challenges me, that’s what I expect from a novel.

I’ll get us started.

As part of the writing process I make sure to read a really great book by an inspiring author. For me that author right now is Virginia Woolf. When I read her work, I aspire to meet her excellence. I’m not saying I will or that her modernist bent is even called for today, but her To the Lighthouse is a book I could read endlessly.

I don’t want to seem sacrilegious but with Lighthouse I have the same experience that I had when I read the Bible as a young person: I always see a fresh image, something I missed, a thought-provoking passage. It’s always new.

You likely have a book you feel the same about. While I figure out what (if anything) to do with my blog, care to share? Or feel free to talk about your writing, if you write.

Thoughts?

Writing and Little Women

little women

I’m reading Little Women with an online group, and in my excitement I went to dig out my copy only to discover — gasp — that I couldn’t find it.

The novel is one of the foundational books of my childhood, of my life. That I couldn’t find a single copy in our house shocked me. Why, just a few years ago I distinctly remember buying a couple of beautiful copies at a quaint local bookstore. I know I passed one along to my mother for her birthday, but I was convinced I had kept the second, until my search turned up nothing. (I may have inadvertently left the book at my former workplace where I taught. Which is fine if it’s getting some use.)

I started first searching the bookshelves in my and Barry’s bedroom. I was sure I knew just where that book was. Nope. The more I searched, the more frantic I became.  Finally I gave up and asked Barry if he minded if I bought another copy. So I did. Unfortunately, they shipped me a different edition than I ordered. Then they apologized and said they do not have the one I wanted, but they let me keep the one they sent and refunded my money, so I was satisfied, mostly, although I had hoped that the one I ordered would have extra essays and such in it. This one does have a nice introduction, but that’s it.

I can’t say how old I was when I first read it, but I was probably eight or so. The book captivated me! I read it more than once.

While I didn’t have any Barbies as a child, somehow I did have a fashion doll of some sort with dark hair. I decided she was Jo. Because I was so worried that my father, as hers had, would be called away to war (not that a war was going on at the time that I was aware of as a child, but still) I had her sacrifice her hair just as she does in the book. Yes, I cut into a sweet bob and was quite happy with it. I also made her a gray poncho out of a scrap of fabric and had her become the last woman in the world because a nuclear war had occurred. The poor young woman was left to take care of all of the children orphaned by the war on her own, which she did admirably (in Little Men and under the pine trees where I took “her” to tend her family), although I had no Professor Bhaer to give her.

Jo was my favorite character in the book, and I sometimes made life choices based on hers. I decided to become a writer. (That desire comes from several places, actually, but she is certainly one of the reasons.) In Little Men she opens an orphanage. Even as a child I picked out a huge, neglected green house in my hometown that I thought would make the perfect orphanage. (Alas, it was eventually torn down and I subsequently modified my ambition. But my husband and I did adopt two of the twelve children I had originally planned to.)

Perhaps the deepest print she left on me was her struggle to turn from writing “garbage” fiction for money versus writing from a deeper place: she wrote sensationalistic stories to send her dear, dying sister to the seashore. Who couldn’t understand that? And yet when Professor Bhaer gently redirects her, she quickly repents and vows to write only things that are worthy of her.

I’m pretty much a “live and let live” kind of person who truly believes we need to make our own choices, but I am with Professor Bhaer on this one. While perhaps his objections came from a place of moral concern for what she was writing, I do agree that we should only write those things that come from our souls. We should attempt to ignore what others expect or want us to write and create as if we never need a reader, an editor, or a publisher. There’s time to consider whether or not something needs tweaking later…craft is a different issue. But first write from your deepest depths.

Write on!

Life Hack: Of Podcasts and Procrastination — Both Can Be Your Friend

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Procrastinated, I mean. In the past I’ve felt bad about it. When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t usually procrastinate. I have so much to say that I could pretty much write nonstop. But there are times…

Today began with a fun talk with my husband before he went off to work. Then I took an invigorating run followed by a leisurely breakfast. I was happily on the endorphin express. But.

After breakfast this morning I discovered that didn’t want to get dressed because I didn’t want to pick out clothes because I wasn’t in the mood to make choices. (I did it anyway, of course.)

Then I didn’t want to load my too heavy backpack onto my coat and lug it to the café where I am working. Once there, I didn’t want to unbundle and set up all of my things: computer, books, paper, pens, plug the computer in by crawling in the floor in front of everyone, etc. Things that I do everyday without thought have been more difficult today.

And even though I own probably 50 scarves, I forgot to bring one, which bummed me out. Thankfully I am wearing double layers. (Note to self: tuck a neutral-colored one into your backpack for the future.)

Still, once I got here I made my daily “I will do/the universe will do” lists. Okay, I only wrote the “I will do” list. I know what I want the universe to do and most of it reads like a honey-do list: Shampoo the carpets, replace the caulk in the bathroom, put up the Christmas decorations. Things that don’t have to be done today, but it would be nice if they were done before our eagerly awaited holiday visitors arrive. (I have evolved to the point that I know those things will get finished, and I also realize that they have no deadlines attached, so we are good. In fact, some of those might even prove to be fun.)

And oh yeah, Universe: make my dad well.

So here I sit, proud that I have made as much progress as I have. Except I don’t want to do anything on that list I promptly hid after writing. After tunneling into my fiction for the weekend, I am finding it difficult to make the switch to nonfiction today.

My dad is in the hospital and I’m worried about him. I’ll get to see him tonight, but I wish I could ease his suffering and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. If you know me, you know I can’t handle feeling helpless. I suspect this is the cause of my unease.

Before you think I am just foisting my ho-hum attitude upon you, read on. Because I just discovered today that procrastination is my friend and it can be yours, too. (Minor bit of required diversionary backstory forthcoming.)

I am a podcast junkie. I listen to them when I run. I listen to them while I cook. I listen to them while I clean. Don’t ask me what kind because it depends on my current taste, which is always changing.

This morning I was listening to one while I was stretching, and I was thrilled to hear someone say that when you procrastinate, what you’re actually doing is keeping yourself from taking action before you should. That is, your mind is not in a place where it’s time to do anything, so don’t make a move until it is. I LOVED hearing that. It was just what I needed today.

Maybe I needed to think about my dad a little today after I called my mom and got the not-great prognosis. Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t jump right into my usual routine and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not.

Maybe that hesitation I feel is because the right people aren’t available to interview today anyway, and if I just wait until tomorrow they will be.

Maybe by writing this today, I am not procrastinating at all, but I am writing it for someone who needs it as much as I do.

For some reason, though, I suddenly feel ready to look at that list again. Perhaps this time I will see friendly letters looking back at me that inspire me instead of an enemy with a whip (which the list sometimes feels like, no matter how slim I make it). Here’s hoping.

Easy Steps to a “Quick Write.” (Borrowed from Mary Allen.)

As the title of this post reveals, I am sharing a technique that I have borrowed from memoir writer Mary Allen: the “Quick Write”.

I alluded to this technique in my last post, and it’s both simple and effective. Instead of an old fashioned writers group (I have experienced a couple go sour, for various reasons) she suggests finding a writing partner.

This method is useful when you want a writing accountability partner, when you feel stuck, or when you just want to have a writing jag.

Some commonsense tips for before you write: Get something to drink. Turn off your phone. Eat if you haven’t. Be sure you have everything you usually need when you write.

Here are the quite easy steps:

1. You and your writing partner contact one another via email, phone, or ideally, face to face and agree on how long you will write. While writing beside one another is perhaps the best method, it can also be done at your respective desks and you report back to one another.

2. Set the timer for the allotted amount of time and start writing. NO TALKING!

3. Write until the timer sounds.

4. Contact one another again to (this is the scary part for me) read your work aloud.

Caveats: NO criticism is allowed. These words are newly hatched and fragile; treat them with respect. Praise one another for having made the time and effort to write.

That’s pretty much it. I think she says you can tell one another ahead of time what you want to write about — a scene, an idea, whatever. And that’s usually what I do, just to clear it up in my mind a bit before I write. But otherwise, there are no rules.

As I said in my last post, Barry is my writing partner. We have amended the rules a bit: because we are both on deadlines, we will sometimes ask questions after we read our work: “Is this too long?” “What do you think of the POV?” As long as we are respectful and kind, we allow ourselves to ask and answer these questions.

I’ve used this technique when I have thought I have nothing further to say on a subject, only to discover I have plenty more to say. I enjoy that I can just hit “delete” if I don’t like a scene, though oddly enough I haven’t done that yet.

Writers produce at very different speeds, of course. I find that an hour’s write (and for us, an hour seems right: less is too short, more and I get antsy and want a snack or a stroll) usually yields between eight and nine pages for me. Which is something, because on my MOST productive days I have only ever written 24 pages before.

Maybe I should mention that those quick write scenes tend to be ones long on dialogue, which, of course, means tons of white space, so please don’t get upset if one only gives you two or three pages. Even if there’s a nugget in them that you can use, it’s totally worth the time.

And how precious to have someone write alongside you, and listen when you are finished, knowing you will be praised, even if you have just written drivel. Equally lovely to be able to hear someone’s brand new thoughts.

Should I admit that I don’t spend the whole time writing? I occasionally sneak a look at my partner to enjoyed how engrossed he is or, if we’re writing outdoors to admire how the sun lights his eyes. That’s part of the fun of the writing process.

Inspired? I hope so. I know I am.

P.S.: Since I don’t have a photo of us writing, here’s one of us goofing around at home:
140704-172753

Honor Your Process: Know When to Write and When Not to!

Saturday Barry and I spent a luxurious two hours eating breakfast…unheard of for us! We drank two pots of tea, sitting and chatting, and finally we decided it was time to get on with our day.

A wonderful benefit to me of Barry becoming a Spalding MFA in Writing student is that he has writing deadlines. Which, of course, encourages me to write when he is writing.

Better yet, I have discovered a writing method called “Quick Write” that I will write a post about later. We have been indulging in them, and we had promised ourselves one this weekend. But.

But, when Barry asked if I was ready to write on Saturday, I said no. Yes, his face looks just the way yours does if you know how much I love to write. We were both afraid we were coming down with colds, and I just didn’t feel well all the way around. Writing was not appealing just then.

Also, the night before we had begun watching a documentary on Vermeer. Those of you who know that one of my life’s goals is to see all of Vermeer’s work will not be surprised that I really wanted to finish watching the documentary that I had fallen asleep trying to watch the night before.

Before we turned the program back on, I asked my dear husband if he minded if I applied my hair treatment so I could let it work its magic while we relaxed. Of course we became so fascinated by the video that my hair “marinated” for probably an hour longer than it was meant to! It took two days to get my hair normal again. Thankfully I am not a priss about my hair. :-)

Watching the Vermeer segment meant we rolled into the next one (hence the prolonged hair marinating), which featured the work not of the artist I am writing my novel about, but that of one of his influences. We were only a few minutes in when my eyes widened. Though I had known of the connection between the painters, it wasn’t until I saw the highlighted painting that I realized my painter HAD to have seen that painting.

In fact, I have been writing extensively about a painting that I now know I haven’t been seeing correctly at all because I didn’t know this new-to-me painting.

NOW I was ready, to write, or so I thought. While Barry did a Spalding assignment to free himself for a Quick Write, I wrote a brief outline of what the painting meant to me, what it meant to the artist’s work, and how I could prove it, if I could.

I should have been ready to write at that point, right? Except I wasn’t. This is where you have to dig down and ask yourself if you really shouldn’t be writing, or if you should press on.

When Barry set the timer I put my fingers to the keys and tried to write. About five minutes in I was fiddling with my phone, trying to pull up a photo of the painting. “Research,” I mumbled while he valiantly wrote on.

I wrote one scene, and then I felt as if I had finished what I had to say. I consulted my outline. I wrote a bit more. It was an effort. But finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling it, what I was writing was important. It expressed some things about the artist that I hadn’t been able to articulate in the over two years I have been writing this novel.

I still wrote slowly, leisurely, compared to my usually feverish style.

The result wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t polished, but when Barry called “Time,” I wasn’t totally embarrassed.

Honoring my process, allowing myself NOT to write when I didn’t want to, and yet pressing through when I really felt I should, opened a new door in my novel. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

As I always say, creative writing is not widget making. There are not definite steps to take to get out what you want to say. Please, honor your process. Whatever it is.

Care to share what your creative process is? I’d love to hear about it!
Ireland 2013 220

Guilty Secret: I Like Editing!

the skull

Some people hate editing. I don’t. Now I’m not talking about that prissy brand of “You really need a comma here” editing. That’s important, and it can certainly be useful, but people who like that sort of editing tend to be those who are less involved in creative writing and more all about the rules. That’s the sort of person who makes me more than a little cranky to be around.

While there’s nothing like writing twenty-four pages in one fevered sitting (my wrists ached, but I did it), there’s something even better about slowing down and reading and tweaking what you wrote.

With a rough draft, you have to get intimate. You stare at each sentence. You make every word explain itself, sometimes repeatedly. You ask it how it has earned its place. If it hasn’t, out it goes. There’s nowhere for a word to hide, no fig leaf you won’t pull away from it.

Oh and that’s just each word. Now what about POV? If you are using multiple points of view, you have to demand to know why the narrative is shifting. What’s gained? What’s lost? If your text can handle that, move on to:

Scenes. Is every scene necessary? Are any gratuitous? Have you mentioned your pet pig collection just because you like pigs or is the collection integral to the story?

Will summary tell more with less belaboring? Then summarize away!

What about half scenes? If you have half scenes, do you have good reasons that they aren’t full-blown affairs? Why are they hybrids? What’s gained? What’s lost?

Those are the two questions, actually, that you must ask yourself all along the way, no matter what you do to your pages. What’s gained by this choice? What’s lost?

I just finished (another) read through of my manuscript with a pen. Trust me, it is quite marked up. Next up will be to put in the changes and to write the missing scenes…or locate them in a previous draft and reinstate them! (The nice thing about changes are that they don’t have to be permanent. You’re allowed to change your mind.)

In multiple spots I noted “you’ve already said this.” Apparently I wanted to get those points across! I am merciless with myself. I will make fun of myself in the margins while editing. I just today wrote “Zzz…” at a particularly “talky” part. Nothing is allowed to escape the heavily wielded pen. That’s as it should be.

While I may be proud in many areas (just ask my husband), when it comes to my writing, I am egoless. Anyone may say anything about my writing, and I can remain objective. If there is a grain of truth to the criticism, I will know it. I will grasp onto it and not make that mistake again.

This is, of course, because I have confidence in my writing abilities. If you don’t have that, keep writing, keep reading, until you do have it. I’m not sure editing tips are going to help you if you don’t believe in yourself. (See Anne Lamott’s “Sh*tty First Drafts” in Bird by Bird if you need permission to not write perfectly. Then come back over here.)

When it comes to writing, you’re going to have to be totally convinced that you know how to write to edit as harshly, as lovingly, as you need to. Perhaps “harshly” is the wrong word. Be solidly sure that you know how to write, if not perfectly. Demand of yourself that you keep going until the words say exactly what you want them to say. Don’t allow less.

Here’s what I do: I read through the passage I’m editing until I catch a “ding.” I stole that from someone. My apologies because I don’t remember who said it first, but it’s true. Keep reading until you hit upon a word, a phrase, or an idea that just doesn’t sit right. Then see if you can get rid of what doesn’t work. Unkink the syntax. “Verbify” a draggy sentence.

You do know to use vivid verbs, don’t you? If you have not read Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale, please stop reading and go order it. Now. (Unless you are my husband who is one of the most vivid “verbers” I know. In everyday speech, no less.) Seek and destroy passive sentences.

By the way, I will not be able to come even close to saying in one post everything there is to know about editing. There are editing checklists out there, some good ones. I’ll let you find the one that speaks most to you.

Editing shouldn’t take place until the bones of the piece are there: the basic plot has been settled and you likely have a pretty complete rough draft. If not, you might as well get your beginning, middle and end finished first. That’s another reason I don’t like those schoolmarmish editing types: they always want to edit your work too soon. Don’t do it. Don’t let them, either. Many a fine story or novel has died due to early, undue criticism. A flower just emerging from the ground does not yet bloom. Don’t expect more of your work. Not yet.

Beware plot/logic jumps. Sometimes you mention something in chapter one and contradict yourself in chapter eight. Yeah, I’ve been known to do that. Honestly, I’m not so great at catching that stuff. Perhaps you can guess that I’m a pantser, not an outliner. Although after my tortured reworking of this novel I keep saying I’m going to become an outliner in the future. Uh-huh. And I may also shave my head.

For me, those issues are easiest fixed by asking others to read it for me. Another way to do it is for me to read the work all the way through a couple of times. The problem with that is that I become self conscious and only half pay attention as I read because I feel shy of my own work. It feels immodest to enjoy it. I do note high points, but anything that wobbles at all makes me despair. Just for a moment, but enough so that I honestly can’t keep the whole flow in my head at once. I suspect that is a singular failing of mine.

Don’t confuse quantity with quality. I recently lopped over fifty pages off my WIP. I don’t mind that at all. It’s a stronger story for it. Now, that said, I will likely continue to warp and weave another block of pages back in because I got rid of a character who wasn’t working. She just couldn’t convince me that she lent anything to the party, so O-U-T and out goes she.

When you can read through the book more than once and nothing sticks out, nothing stops you, chances are any changes that you make at that point will be nervous tics. Stop. Hit “print.” And consider your work edited.

I will be a happy camper when I can do so with this novel. But I am also enjoying the journey, every syllable of it. Because to me, editing is when you get to sit back and enjoy your work, knowing you can still change things that don’t please you. Once your work is in print, it’s no longer just yours. That’s the beauty and the sorrow of it.

Shh…I am reading! Lisette’s List

After waiting ALL DAY, while I was on my walk my husband texted to let me know that UPS had been. So I am happy to report that I am now blissfully reading Susan Vreeland’s newest book, Lisette’s List.

LisettesList1_22cover

Shhh…you may not hear anything from me for quite some time.

Ah, writing about art. Is there anything like it? Reading about art.