Tag Archives: creative writing

Manet’s Mania for Chokers

In Victorine, my historical novel coming out in the next few months, I write about the black choker Edouard Manet paints Victorine wearing. I imagine it as his bootlace, called into service on the spot.

Later, I give Victorine adoring fans who purchase and sport chokers with her as Olympia in lockets. It hardly offsets the cruelty she experiences in the streets after the “scandalous” nude painting was exhibited.

But Victorine is not the only one of Manet’s models to wear chokers. While I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand someone psychoanalyzing the painter and his predilection for encircling his model’s necks, I prefer to chalk it up to his respect and regard for fashion. Few paint fabric and fashion of the day the way he did.

When I stumbled upon this collage on Instagram, I knew I had to share it with you. Thanks, guzelonlu, for this lineup.

Four of the images pictured are Victorine. Can you tell which?

Bonus points if you can tell me the titles of those paintings. First one to comment gets a shoutout from me on Twitter.

#Manet #ArtHistory #Art #Impressionism

Honorable Mention in the WritersWeekly Fall, 2015, 24-Hour Contest!

I was so pleased to learn a few days ago that my story, “Quenched,” has been awarded Honorable Mention in the WritersWeekly Fall, 2015, 24-Hour Contest.

Contestants were given a paragraph that we only needed to “touch upon” in some way for our story to qualify, a maximum length, and yes, only 24 hours to craft the tale. I decided to take the challenge. I’m so glad I did.

Let me say, it did not start out a fortuitous 24 hours: I had just had a huge caramel macchiato at our favorite café (those of you who know me well know that much caffeine is so not gonna do me well) when I received a text: our son was in the hospital. The poor guy started texting me that he was thirsty but they wouldn’t give him anything to drink, etc. That would wreck any mother’s concentration.

I had to stop myself from packing up the car and heading to his bedside. We had just been to see him days before, one of our cars was in need of repair, and Barry had no more vacation time to spare. All is well with our son now, thankfully, but that day I was a mess and he, of course, much more so.

And oh yeah — when I get stressed my blood sugar falls. Fast. So even before I started writing my long-suffering husband had to put up with me having a tearfest. He fed me (not literally!)and told me all would be well; that no, our son did not require my immediate presence. (I suspect Barry felt just as torn up to not be there.)

Then I settled in to write, because what else does a worrying writer do? Between my still-swirling feelings and the  (you know you read it too in the aisle at B & N!) dystopic YA I’ve been reading, it’s no wonder I came up with what I did.

Want to read my entry? I just re-read it and asked myself what I was trying to say. I think I’ll leave the interpretation up to you. Comments welcome.

Again, I’m chuffed to have won! Thank you, Angela Hoy and the crew over at WritersWeekly. What fun.

Now for my story…forgive the formatting…it shows up right on my screen but when I preview it, the words clump. Hmm…

Quenched  

“Catch her – she’s the last one,” the Convincer yells.
The cornfields have housed me for days now. I run for the sanctuary of a lone tree in the distance, stopping up short when I spy a door in the trunk surrounded by odd etchings.
The rough-hewn entry opens as if expecting me. I scrape my fingers against the rough bark of its interior as I duck in. I sense the tree’s benevolent intent.
I place my fingers, my cheek, against the inside of the tree. For a moment I rest, breathing deeply.
The last of the ten, I won’t give in.
“It’s painless,” the Convincers cried at the beginning. “All you need to do is drink this; nanobots will take it from there.”
That was their mistake, they’d say later, telling us, giving us a choice, because none of us who were still us trusted them after they said that. Those who gave in did so for every reason except belief and trust.
Those of us who resisted began avoiding tap water, hoarding the sealed bottles, those dated before the request for compliance.
Eventually we took to drinking in the forest, from cupped leaves after storms, by squeezing moss. We attempted to filter the water, but suddenly all of the supplies were restricted. You had to have a license.
“It’s to benefit us, all of us, not just you. You’re being selfish,” they said.
Again and again we refused.  
We’d dream and wake to someone standing over us. They wouldn’t make us, they swore, but if we wanted to buy, sell out. If we wanted to eat, drink up.
“It won’t hurt,” they promised. “It will equalize us.”
So apps full of games, rewards, reminders appeared on our phones warning, threatening. “Apt” analogies were drawn; peer pressure was applied like a tourniquet.
First to cave in were the young, because they were offered comfy jobs and double portions. They were so young they trusted, eventually.
Then the elderly, because they were too frail to withstand, complied.
The Midwestern corn buckled just as my uncle, too weary to go on, did. He drank from the conveniently cold bottle that the Convincers carried right to his side.
“Oh, try it!” he urged us. His change was abrupt.
The nine of us hurried on, including my two sisters, my brother, who fell early. Various neighbors were picked off by thirst. As soon as they gave in they smiled at us but their change set us fleeing.
One by one they left my side and I understood the plea for forgiveness in their eyes as they raised the longed for liquid to their lips. I’d watch and imagine the fluid flowed into my own mouth and for a moment, I was saved.
My best friend caved on Day 38 when the hunger got to him and he was promised an Elephant Ear, an Indiana delicacy made with fried dough and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and his favorite, if only he would drink, just drink.
He was the last besides me. This time, I didn’t let go gracefully: “I hope you choke,” I cried as I watched the inside of him die as he became not-him.
“You’ll remain essentially yourself,” they claimed.
I was already me, so why should I want to change? I challenged.
They sighed. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t afford the expenditure of water.
The cornfield, our pretend sanctuary for the last week, was filled with the rustle of Convincers in thick shoes bearing backpacks full of food and, more importantly, water. Tainted water.
I ate the last of my jerky, and then the end of my mixed nuts.
Red leaves swirled, and they knew by the weather, soon they’d have me. Though why I alone filled them with fear, I can’t say. One cannot propagate alone.
The temperature dropped at night, and near my ear while I huddled beneath a sheaf of corn and shivered in my sleep I’d hear offers of a warm bed, thick quilts, if only I’d give in.
Sometimes it rained and I cried with my mouth open, cupping my hands, wondering how water, something I had taken so for granted was now the only thing I wanted. Clean water, that is. Uncontaminated by compromise, however good they promised it would be.
Fear of change? That wasn’t it. Rebellion? No. The spirit of the poet lives by its individuality, I argued behind tree stumps and over fences. Words were my bombs. Always they returned the volley. Always they had an explanation, an excuse.
Now I wander gratefully through this tree’s interior, past the toadstools (I didn’t know they could grow down here), past the holes plugged with nuts (do squirrels burrow so far in?).
Words are no longer mine, unable to be formed by my parched lips.
I am not a cheese but I stand very much alone.
Ahead, a pool of water reflects like a lake in a cave. Funny, I didn’t know trees could hold water. Don’t the roots take – I cease thinking and bend and drink. My mouth blesses me from the inside out until just like that, I’m one of them.
The tree halves and my fellow humans surround me. The water beneath my feet reflects my new features, indistinct now from any of them. We are all the same color. We are all the same sex. No wrinkles betray any differences in age.
Suddenly, I do understand. We are one, and finally, for the first time in my life, all of me is quenched.

misc summer 2012 060

Take it on the Chin? Only if Warranted…What to Do with Criticism

It’s going to happen. If you are a writer who ever shares your writing, it will happen. You will receive either solicited or unsolicited criticism. What you do with that can either improve your writing or make it worse. What to do?

Consider the source. Did you solicit this critique? If so, ask yourself why you asked this particular person and consider the remarks strictly within that context. For example, I have lit head friends I ask to read my work and I want them to Rip. It. Up. Sometimes they are too kind, but oh sometimes they bleed all over it, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am when they do.

I may not agree with their suggestions and conclusions and I revise with that in mind, but sometimes they are dead on and I want to worship at their feet for their keen observations.

Then there are those I ask to read who I just need to run the plot by for “uggy” points or inconsistencies. And to see if it’s a fun/emotional read. I listen just as carefully to those readers.

The worst person to ask to read your work? Someone whose approval you seek who maybe doesn’t have the chops to edit your work. Don’t do. Just don’t. Because A. It’s pathetic. And B. If they do love your work (and you’re brilliant so of course they will, right?) they may steer you in the wrong direction if they don’t have the skill level to truly help you.

You may well find your vision being subverted. Not. Good. The world needs YOUR voice, YOUR vision. (Skillfully edited by qualified, loving hands.)This nearly always means do not let anyone related to you critique your work. Unless you’re related to me; (delusion warning ahead) I attempt to be a competent, impartial reader. 😉

Consider carefully the suggestion itself. Some things are truly a matter of style and it doesn’t matter a tinker’s dam(n) (it is spelled both ways in multiple places) which way you write it. But if it’s a matter of using nonstandard English and you’ve done it for effect, keep it in unless your critic makes a great argument against.

I was truly pleased with one of my early published stories, and I still re-read it in its published form occasionally for inspiration. Every beat feels right – almost. Those few lines that were edited that I didn’t quibble over, though, stop me every time. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against editing, but those areas were not, in my opinion, improved by this person who doesn’t quite have my esthetic. In this case I should have fought for my words.

This surely doesn’t need saying, but if you receive unsolicited criticism, feel free to ignore it. But if you’re a good writer who wants to get better, still study it. It may be a gift from the Universe.

If you make a mistake and it’s pointed out (either publicly or privately), take it on the chin. You screwed up. Deal with it. I’ve learned from my mistakes. Often that sort of feedback comes too late to spare us present embarrassment, but thank goodness for short memories, yes? And for future opportunities to get it right.

Most importantly, know what you are trying to accomplish, know your style, and never stray from those two things and you will always be able to disentangle yourself from the chains of depression criticism can wind about you if you allow it. (And I do not!)

You are the only one who knows what you are trying to say. You are the only one who knows if writing ten miles out of the way and then coming back in and loping that off is the way to go. If it’s not a finished product (and is it ever, really?), feel free to accept or reject anything. Even if a salient point is made, what’s most important is your artistic goal. Don’t allow someone else to guide you off course. YOU are the final authority.

For your amusement: me as a little chunk muffin. Probably age 5.
For your amusement: me as a little chunk muffin. Probably age 5. Who put that outfit together? Looking at the colors, I’m guessing me.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Published, but not in a “flash”!

When I first became a student with the Spalding MFA in Creative Writing program, I quickly became enamored of flash fiction. It seemed to fit my terse, plain style, and I liked that there was no room in it for over explaining.

About my writing: I had never really written a short story until I took a creative writing course during my second round of college. Before then I had plunged right in and written two pretty bad novels. What made me think I could write a novel, I don’t know. I like to call those early efforts starter novels.

Once I discovered flash fiction I wrote maybe three stories. One of them turned into a novel which shrank to a novella. One of them was accused of being poetry(!) during a Spalding workshop. The third is a piece called “Drinking Ghosts.” I read it at our local university’s poetry reading a few years ago. (It’s not poetry. It’s not! It was just the shortest piece I had available.)

I have spent maybe three years sending “Drinking Ghosts” out to various publications. I have, alas, expanded it at the request of readers who thought I didn’t say enough. I have mentioned that darn fork three times, and yes, specified that it was plastic, lol. (I personally liked the ambiguity of the piece as it was, but maybe that’s just me.) One editor asked me just what that woman was doing alone in the office. Uh, has she never been asked to “hold down the fort”?

While in Italy with Spalding’s program I spent some early morning hours before a computer in a darkened room sending that blessed story out, sure at core there was something in it to be heard.

So when I was notified today that Yahoo accepted this story for publication, I was elated. It’s not a perfect flash fiction piece (re-reading it makes me wish I had tightened it back up), but it’s mine, and, thanks be, it has finally been published. Check one more thing off my writing goals list.

What’s that, you’d like to read it? Please do, here: http://voices.yahoo.com/drinking-ghosts-flash-fiction-12490386.html

Feel free to comment, either here or at Yahoo. Or both!:-) halloween2011_crop