Flash Fiction: A Million Times

You’ve heard this one a million times. A girl is standing on the corner in the East Village with her French bulldog, Lola. The girl is waiting for the light to turn so she can cross the street, but this guy comes along in Italian loafers and the bulldog piddles on the loafers. I know, it’s cliché.

As you’d expect, Italian loafers takes the girl to small claims court because the shoes are ruined. He doesn’t care that she apologizes umpteen times, or that Lola is old and having bladder problems. The small claims court judge rules in favor of Italian loafers because an owner should be able to control their animal.

But here’s where things get interesting.

Turns out, by some twist of fate, the girl runs into the judge in the courthouse hallway after the proceedings. I think he was on his way to the men’s room (speaking of bladders) and she walked up to ask him a question. She was attracted to the judge, which is odd since he ruled against her. Didn’t matter.

The judge considered whether or not he’d ask the girl on a date. He decided it was a bad idea. He imagined that one boomeranging on him. Not on the first or second dates, but later, after they’d slept together a few times. He knew she’d throw the Italian loafers ruling in his face. He didn’t want to take the chance, even though the girl was cute and he’d been divorced a few years. It wasn’t necessarily easy to keep doing the dating thing.

Meanwhile, the Italian loafers guy made out like a bandit, but the last laugh was on him because after he left the courthouse, he got hit by a bike messenger. Yep. He wound up in the hospital with a severe concussion. Clearly, the guy didn’t pay enough attention on the street. In Manhattan you need to be on your toes, not checking Facebook every five seconds; but this guy was looking at his phone and sustained a head trauma.

It’s just how it happened. What can you do?

All of this is rote. It’s a story we’ve been told so frequently we nod as we hear the part about the head trauma. It’s expected you’re not going to like Italian loafers guy. First, he’s walking around Manhattan in an expensive pair of shoes, then, on top of that, he takes the girl to court. And even though his shoes got ruined, and he did nothing but stand on a street corner, the reader expects the writer to exact retribution against the guy for not accepting the girl’s apology. Besides, everybody loves a French bulldog named Lola. Let’s face it, that’s not working in the guy’s favor.

But, the thing is, the writer never explained that those shoes were given to him by his girlfriend as a college graduation gift. A girl he later married. The guy was distracted by his phone because he’d been waiting for a text from his wife. She was going into labor any second with their first kid. He was checking the phone for incoming texts, just like he’d been doing every five minutes because he was a nervous father-to-be.

So, there’s an unresolvable conflict. Now the reader could like the guy, because he’s going to be a dad and it seems like he got the raw end of the deal with the ruined shoes. And he wound up in the hospital and missed the birth of his first, and what would turn out to be, his only child. The guy seems like a regular saint, right?

What’s a reader to do?

Really, all of this is proof you can’t trust writers. I’m not talking about me, because I’m the narrator. I’m reliable. I’ve been telling you nothing but the truth from the get go. But those writers, they’re a crafty bunch. They split the road, then split it again and take not just the path less traveled, they create a new road no one saw before. They like tricking the reader that way, and somehow, the reader likes it.

Jersey City Writers – An Inspiring MeetUp!

I want to give a shameless plug to the Jersey City Writers MeetUp, that I joined this evening for a “writing prompts” session. It was my first time sitting in with the group and it was a great experience.

The Thursday group meets at a cool space called IndieGrove on Newark Avenue. There is a Tuesday night group that meets at Tachair Bookshoppe, also on Newark Avenue, which I plan to visit in the future.

Tonight, fourteen writers got together for this session, which as far as I’m concerned, is phenomenal turn out. It was an eclectic mix of people with a variety of literary interests, which kept things lively and fun.

We cycled through three different writing prompts, with ten minutes to write on each prompt and then we went around the table and everyone read their work.

Jim, the host of the Thursday group, brought yummy snacks and a welcoming approach to me as a newcomer, for which I’m grateful. As it so happens, Rachel, the lovely hostess of the Tuesday group also attended this evening, so I got to meet both facilitators my first time out.

Clearly it was my lucky night.

Actually, tonight was the first time I’ve written something “new” from a short story perspective in many months.

I’m so excited to have a group of local writers I can rub shoulders with to push me to keep creating!

The New Normal

Readers, this writer is prone to thinking too much. I spend a lot of time analyzing the world, myself, other people (those I know, and those I don’t …in overheard snippets on the subway, in diners and at the airport…) and today my laser sights are focused on what is “normal” behavior and how does that affect creative output?

At some point in the past I realized I was normal in some ways, and in others very much not “the norm.” As a kid in junior high school, I hung out with a strange bunch of friends and we played Dungeons and Dragons. (D&D is a fantasy role playing game.) We used our imaginations to escape our regular lives to become magicians, knights in armor, theives and monks for a few hours each week as we pillaged and fought our way through imaginary towns and dungeons. We were often required to come up with innovative solutions for puzzles and problems we’d encounter in our “travels” and learned to work well as a group (or our characters would suffer the consequences!)

Once I got to college, I was out of the “norm” again as I joined a select group of kids who met in a basement in the student center once a week to put together a poetry magazine called The Anthologist. We too used our imaginations to debate and decide which poems would make it into our esteemed publication and which would not. (We often played “guess the rhyme” with the worst submissions, for our amusement.)

Out of the original group of D&D kids, there were a disproportionate number of us who were artists. Some of us liked to draw, others of us liked to write, some composed music, and now as adults we’re still doing that. Out of the Anthologist group, every single one of (the four) of us have published novels, poetry, short stories or academic works. Two of the four are university professors of English Literature, another is an English teacher at the high school level, and then there’s me… living in the corporate world but a weekend-warrior writer.

If I look across my lifetime of romantic relationships, it’s chock-a-block full of artists. My first boyfriend (one of the D&D kids) was a fantasy artist, something he makes a living at to this day. In college, my most important boyfriend was a writer, who now has published two novels (with more on the way). I’ve also had very significant relationships with painters, who are of a moody sort that I can’t seem to shake myself loose of… but none of these people were or are normal.

And these days I have too many friends to count that are writers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers and others loosely or closely affiliated with creating artistic output as part of their daily lives.

I’m thankful for all these people who influenced (and keep influencing) me creatively and shared their out of the box thinking with me. Those that were the most “out of the norm” taught me the most about not conforming to standard ways of thinking or what society expects. Still others taught me about the philosophical underpinnings of creativity (and are still doing so.)

This, in turn, got me to thinking about how creative ideas manifest themselves. For those who are more constrained by “the normal” ways of living and thinking, does that mean they are hampered from coming up with the most innovative ideas for their fiction, paintings, or music? One of my good friends, an author, recently said to me that he thought I was too inhibited in my thinking and that it might prevent me from creating the most dramatic stories and situations. He may be right, maybe in that sense I’m still too normal?

In today’s shrill sensationalistic environment where people have the attention span of ten seconds perhaps being outside the norm is what it takes to attract attention to oneself and one’s art. I don’t know.

How about you, reader? Is your art outside the norm, and if it is, has that helped you? If it isn’t, do you think that is a disadvantage?

I’m going to continue to cultivate my abby-normal self in my creative life to push the boundaries of my stories, characters and imagination. I’m going to keep embracing the quirky, the odd and the unusual in friends and those close to me. Maybe, if I’m lucky, even more will rub off on me.

Blog Stats Update: A New Milestone!

Hi everyone in reader-land,

This week my blog hit the 100 reader milestone, and exceeded it! I now have 101 regular subscribed readers to my blog. There has been a slow and steady climb in readership since I began the blog in March 2011, and now after 16 months I’m excited to report readership is in the 3 digits.

Of course I’d like to welcome any new regular readers to the blog, and thank you for signing up for my writerly ramblings, it’s appreciated!

Who are these elusive 101 readers out there in the murky twilight of blog-land?

Most likely they are writers, but all are artistic creative types from what I know.

We have George, my very good friend, a novelist; and Wren my sister in arms who just signed a publishing contract.  There’s Patrick, a sports blogger; and Louise the budding poet from Australia who just had her work in the local newspaper.

Of course there is Hannah, who writes a great blog about breaking into publishing; and Doug, who posts flash fiction to his Hawaii based blog like clockwork (when he’s not sitting atop a mountain gazing at the stars)…and of course Court, a fellow short story writer and PANK staff member, and Harry who has published two novels and whose work I adore. When he’s around Mike Reverb adds his colorful commentary; and more rarely now Scribbla might show up from Namibia to say a word or two. But it’s also Munchow, the professional photographer from Europe, and Veeh, a writer from Africa who pops by now and again. And my new friend Sean who is a short story writer in California. Oh and my new pal Peter, a sometime writer currently living in Turkey, is coming to read the blog too.

As much as I’d like to say this is my blog and I’m the one who writes it, I know that’s not really true. Not entirely, anyway. My blog would be severely diminished as a place to discuss writing and creating without all the people I just mentioned and many, many more.

Who are YOU dear reader? Come and make comment here, all are welcome… storytellers and writers, readers and artists, photographers and creative types of all walks of life.

Identify yourself and say hello to everyone else here in this collaborative circle.

As always, I thank all of my readers for their ongoing support and commentary, their thoughts and their participation.

I truly look forward to entertaining you, but more importantly getting to know you and interacting with you here, and in blog-land.

What is a Writing Vacation?

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all to clear your mind so you could write?

I have.  I haven’t ever had a long stretch of time available to just write everyday and I thought it might be interesting to go on a “Writing Vacation“.

Here are a few rules of thumb that might apply to a writing vacation:

  1. Get out of the usual surroundings

Don’t stay in the house, don’t stay in town and don’t do all the things you normally do .

      2.  Don’t go someplace too remote OR too interesting

A cabin in the woods is probably too remote for me.  I’ve done this before and I went bat-shit crazy for three days without anyone to interact with and no one but myself to bounce off the walls. 

Similarly, a big city like San Francisco, Chicago or Washington, D.C. has too much going on and would be over-stimulating.  A big city says “come explore me” which could take all day, every day for your entire time away which is not what you want when on a writing vacation.

    3.   Ideal places for a writing vacation (on the East Coast)

While this would be a matter of opinion and preference, in my many East Coast travels I’ve come across some cities which I think could be ideal for a writing vacation. I wish I had more experience with the West Coast but I don’t know any places there that I’d choose for a writing vacation.

(If you are reading this and you are from CA, OR, WA or coastal British Columbia – please leave a comment if you have suggestions!)

  • Asheville, NC – a 2 hour drive from Charlotte, Asheville is tucked away in the mountains of N.C.  It is home to a few colleges, a museum, art galleries, some nice restaurants and is charming and down home.  Downtown has just enough stuff to do without being over-stimulating, in my opinion.
  • Annapolis, MD – centrally located on the eastern seaboard, Annapolis is a mostly sleepy town that is the home of the Naval Academy. Again, numerous B&B’s and plenty of charm, good seafood and restaurants, a few mom and pop ice cream parlors and a lot of quiet during the day
  • Burlington, VT – this is an amazing village or small town really almost in the middle of nowhere in the northern part of Vermont. I wouldn’t recommend this as a winter writing destination but the other seasons are a good bet. As with the other locations, this is a walkable downtown, charming boutique stores and good restaurants but not a lot of nightlife or distractions.
  • Lambertville, NJ – this town boasts tons of antique and art galleries and has an artistic vibe to it. There aren’t that many good restaurants in town though. Right across the Delaware River (walkable since there is a bridge with “sidewalk” space on both sides) is New Hope, PA. New Hope has a funkier vibe and hosts a few good bookstores, more art galleries and more restaurant choices.
  • Woodstock or New Paltz, NY – both of these towns are small Catskills locations. In the case of Woodstock it’s got a few art galleries, some funky boutiques, a great bookstore and it’s very quiet. (Some would find Woodstock too quiet.) New Paltz is a college town and has a little more energy, especially when the kids are back to school. There’s an art store, record store, funky clothes and cheap eats, along with some mid-range restaurants. The best bet in both these places are B&B’s.

    4.   Must-Haves for the Vacationing Writer

  • Writing time – you should be writing every day on your vacation if it is to be a writing vacation. But it is up to you how much of your day or evening will be spent that way. I’d suggest at least 3-4 hours a day should be spent writing, and the rest would be spent relaxing and exploring the limited surroundings.
  • Internet connection – some B&B’s are charming, quaint and provide a great breakfast but they have no internet connection. You need to ask and make sure you will be able to do research or look something up, check your email, or work on your submissions (this may apply more to short story writers, freelancers, etc.)
  • Comfort – don’t skimp when it comes to your comfort. It’s better to have a small kitchenette area where you can store some items in a refrigerator so you don’t have to run out every time you want a cold drink or a snack.  Now that you’re on vacation, let someone else clean up too. That’s why you are staying somewhere so you don’t have to worry about that.  Of course, if you like to write in your pajamas, by all means bring them with you.  If you need your bunny slippers, then pack them too.  Finally, make sure that you are going to get a great night’s sleep.   A Note about B&B’s – Don’t stay at the B&B downtown if there is too much noise.  Also, if you aren’t planning to get up early for the provided breakfast, you may want to skip the B&B entirely. This is a personal choice because you will be left alone most of the time in a B&B, but you will also have some social interaction at breakfast.
  • Books – bring a few books with you to read that will help spur you on your writing vacation.  If you are writing short stories, bring some well-worn dog-eared story collections you’ve read and enjoyed.

Do you have a place you like to go that you think would be great for a writing vacation? Please share – I’d like to hear about it!

Why should you keep writing?

I have no good reason to offer you to explain why you should keep writing. In fact, if you can stop writing, you should do so immediately.Being a writer means a life of solitary grappling with the blank page. It means driving yourself mad at 1, 2 or 3am when the story “isn’t going well.” It means countless hours of re-writes, edits, and wrestling with the same questions – too much? not enough? done before?

There are so many other things to do with your time, the chances of large scale success so small, the costs of mental anguish so high, that to proceed down this path is folly. Madness.

You’re still here?

Let me remind you that incomprehensible amounts of rejection await you. Every item you will ever write will be rejected numerous times, sometimes for years on end. You will have some pieces that can never get placed, regardless of the amount of time and sweat equity you put into them.

You are still reading.

Now I have to point out that, as a short story writer, you will never, ever, ever make a living from doing this. The vast majority of your works, even if accepted and published, will be done on a gratis non-paid basis.

I’m unclear as to why you continue reading this post. I’ve pointed out all the things you will face – anguish, hardship, rejection, lack of monetary compensation, pain, and dejection. I have given you no upside, and yet you persist. Do you think I’m going to end this item with some uplifting banter about how it’s not really all that bad?

I’m not.

But I am going to tell you that if you got this far, you are still filled with the hope that your compulsive obsession of jotting words down on a page and assembling and reassembling those words for hours, days and weeks is meaningful. And for you, writer, it is.

Your need to write defies all that is logical and sane. You stand in the face of repeated rejection and stare into the dark abyss of knowing people may not be reading your stories and you do it anyway. You can’t pay all your bills and you have a job (two jobs?) on the side, but you aren’t going to stop no matter what people tell you.

And there it is. You can’t stop. Writing is your drug of choice. It creates satisfaction within you; it’s an act that you do for its own sake. No one needs to tell you to keep going or to stop. It’s not an optional activity – it never was for you and never will be.

So please, for the sake of your well being, don’t ask yourself or others to validate your need, your obsession, your inexplicable compulsion to be a writer. You will never find an answer to that question because there is no answer. It’s just how it is.

Why Twitter is an awesome tool for writers

Are you interested in what editors at small press magazines are thinking about right now? You do?! Well, Twitter is a fantastic place to go to rub virtual elbows with folks that represent this community. In fact, every aspect of the publishing industry is fully represented on Twitter.

Let’s say you were looking for a list of the Best Literary Agents on Twitter. Media Bistro has put one together, along with lists of Best Editors too.

By “Following” these people and reading their tweets, you can discover links to others you might want to follow, or link to interesting blog posts with tips, advice, and a good read on what is happening right now.

But let’s say you don’t have enough time to find all of these people and link to each one of them – then what? You could look at subscribing to a Twitter List.

Lists are created by people who want to pull together a lot of Twitter accounts on a similar topic and publish it for others to use.  Listorious is one site for that purpose, but there are others too – just Google and go.

From my Twitter account I have a list I’ve named The Write Stuff.  I’ve put it together so I can read the tweets of over a 125+ accounts of writers, editors, agents, publishers, small press mags, etc.

If you follow my list – the work is already done for you. What’s more, you don’t have to “clog” your own Twitter-stream with all of those accounts, you look at what people are tweeting when you look at the list, when you feel like it.

Writers need to stay on top of what is happening in the world of small press magazines. Things are evolving so rapidly these days it is hard to keep up, but even spending 15 minutes on Twitter a few times a week will give you a chance to stay in touch by leveraging the knowledge of people you meet, lists you read and connections you make.