Sunday, November 01, 2015

Words in Place: Review of Flash Fiction International Anthology at...

More Flash Fiction Anthologies by the editors of Flash Fiction International.

Words in Place: Review of Flash Fiction International Anthology at...: I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the newest edition of Flash Fiction anthologies, Flash Fiction International, Ver...

Review of Flash Fiction International Anthology at Bartleby Snopes

I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the newest edition of Flash Fiction anthologies, Flash Fiction International, Very Short Stories from Around the World by Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and Christopher Merrill. You can find my article at  the Bartleby Snopes Blog.

Find out more about Christopher Merrill.

Other books by Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and others include:  

Mar 1, 2010
by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

Jan 17, 2007

by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

Aug 17, 2006
by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

Sudden Short Fiction: American Short-Short Stories
July 7, 1992
by Robert Shapard
by Tom Hazuka, Denise Thomas and James Thomas

Oct 17, 1989
by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

Dec 31, 1983
by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beyond the First Goal

When we are new at something, sometimes all we can think about is that first goal.  Learning to skate doesn’t look that hard.  If  we can stay upright, feet on the sidewalk (or ice), body vertical, we’ll soon be doing figure eights and sailing backwards. The same goes for writing.  When we sit down at the keyboard to write a story, we figure if  we can get enough words on the screen, we’ll have a tale worth telling. 
In some ways, we need this attitude to get started.  If we knew we’d fall on our asses for the first twelve times we skated over a twig, a crack, our sister’s Barbie doll, we probably wouldn’t try.  We need that initial belief in ourselves to put the skates on in the first place.  The same is true for writing.  We picture ourselves  clacking away at the computer keys with lines of type building and building.  It is the only way to deal with our initial fear.
However, how we handle the results of those first attempts can dictate success or failure.  For many, a bruised butt and bloodied knees spell defeat.  “I don’t want to do this!  This is too hard” and they head inside to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  Others wear their scabs like badges of honor and take a moment to reassess their goals.  They realize they can’t jump from standing upright on skates to skimming down Devil Hill, carving eights in the liqour store parking lot, floating backward to the awe of the younger kids without blood and guts.
The same is true with writing.  Although there are those who have a natural talent for the written word can sit down and write it without too much angst.  But these are rare cases.  Most of us may write a story that has many strong elements, but as a whole it doesn’t work.  Not yet.  And we need to reassess and learn the craft.
This is the make-or-break moment for most writers, the moment of looking at a piece of writing as it might be read by others, readers who do not live in the head of that writer.  The ability to look at one’s own work with a critical eye does not come easily.  It is a skill that is learned with practice, patience, and awareness of what works and what doesn’t.  An expertise that evolves over time. 
Just as a young roller skater learns the sidewalk is smoother than asphalt, a writer learns clarity is more important that an obscure turn of phrase, but to do this, both must be willing to see beyond their first goals.  They must accept the reality that becoming good at something requires the understanding that learning is a process, that the large goal must be broken down into smaller goals because everything is more complex than we first perceive. 
There is a difference in skating and writing.  We teach different muscles to work harmoniously together.  In skating we train our bodies and our brain too, but most it’s about legs and balance and reaction.  In writing we train our brains–and our hearts. 
How do we train our brains to write?  We set up mini-goals, lots of them, beyond our first goal.  Here are a few I believe in, though sometimes I find it hard to actually do them all!
Mini-Goals for Each Story
  • Create content by taking notes, brain-storming, writing a “shit” draft
  • Write a draft
  • Do research to understand the world you’ve created or the personalities
  • Think about story structure
  • Make certain everything in a story serves a purpose (especially in flash)
  • Be willing to delete that which doesn’t fit into the structure
  • Go through the story to improve the language
  • Make certain everything that needs to be clear is clear
  • Make certain that verbs are active, that nouns are specific
  • Proof-read carefully
  • Set it aside (this is one of the hardest mini-goals because usually at this stage we are sooooooo excited about what we’ve created, we can’t wait to send it out)
  • Reread and make changes after it’s been set aside
  • Ask a trusted reader to read it (trusted: gentle, supportive, yet honest, honest, honest)
  • Decide what notes you agree with and what you don’t and make edits
  • Set aside again, at least an hour or two so that when you proof-read for the final time, you have enough distance to find now what your eye skipped over before
  • Send out and cross fingers
Mini-Goals for Personal Growth
  • Read widely and deeply
  • Talk to others about writing
  • Be open-minded
  • Try new genres
  • Be a mentor
 None of this is necessary if a writer is writing only for himself.   Just as skating up and down the block might make one child happy, putting together a story for fun can work for the “Sunday author.”  But if your goal is roller-derby, you’d better to be willing to work.  And if you want to be published?  Guess what…

Republished here from an article by Gay Degani at Flash Fiction Chronicles, publisheNov 22, 2009 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Hint Fiction: Three

The Landing

Silhouettes sway under a hunter’s moon. Crouching in muck, Dad whispers, “Humans, returning after 40 years.” I ask, “What do they want?” He frowns. “Us.”

You Thought You Could Crush Her

Day lifts its tattered curtain; wind rips through wheat. Arms in air, nightgown clinging, she’s a dervish in the field, her rubied ax held high.

Rest Stop on the I-10

I snatch the baby and sprint, asphalt burning my naked feet, into the willows. The mother wails. The father bellows. Too late. She’s mine now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Found in a virtual drawer: a poem from someone who doesn't poet

Raw Silk

We tromped in deep grass, bumping shoulders, walking dogs.
You had the Frisbee, I carried the plastic bag the onions came in.
From your pocket you drew a mustard sandwich, 
We drank from the fountain built into a stele of stones.

In fall the trees wore crimson bonnets, yellow too, and orange.
The terrier tormented leafy piles, the poodle gnawed on sticks.
You caught your scarf around my neck, and pulled me close.
I searched the field for a private place because the shack was locked.

Snow made the land a fleecy bed, quilted by the prints of deer. 
Dogs dashed from corner to corner, tearing through the sheet of white.
Your letter crumpled in my ungloved hand, I wept,
The pond stiff with polished diamonds in the frozen sun.

Now, the swath of brown stretches out like silk, beauty in monotony.
The poodle chases crows, trots back to me with soulful eyes.
Ducks seam the pond, shaking their wings, as if to wake the spring.
Me, I scuff along beneath the pale of cloud. Your scarf is all that’s left.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Fiction from the Archives: "SPOTTED & SOUGHT"

Fantasy written by Gay Degani, published in 10 Flash Quarterly, January 2010

Spotted & Sought

from The Chronicle Personals: 
SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Sunday, January 3
Friday night at the Mobil station.
You: hot guy in scruffy beard & flannel shirt caught my eye, a forty in one hand, a pack of Marlborough’s in the other. Me: pumping unleaded into my mama’s rusty Olds Cutlass.
You grinned and said someone with a chassis like mine deserved a better ride. Then you climbed into a 1969 VW bug. But STILL I liked your chassis just fine.
Wanna meet? When: Monday at 10 P.M. Where: Mobil station. You: Man. Me: Woman.

from The Chronicle Personals: 
SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Wednesday, January 6
You were a no show, mr. scruffy & flannel.
You: hot guy at Mobil station on Friday night. Me: girl with nice chassis in Oldsmobile.
I waited outside the gas station in the Cutlass for an hour. Two forties and a carton of cigs. WTF, BUG-MAN. I was hoping you’d show up and we could put on some Keith Urban and you could rock my world.
But maybe you don’t read the personals or maybe you didn’t read them on Sunday morning. Maybe you had one helluva hangover and couldn’t crawl out of bed. Or maybe you’d gotten sidetracked by some other woman with a nice chassis.
Irregardless, I’m willing to give you another chance because you gave me such a promising smile and your eyes have that little sparkle I like. When: Wednesday at 10 P.M. Where: Mobil station. You: Man. Me: Woman.

from The Chronicle Personals: 
SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Friday, January 8
How the hell was I supposed to know you have a girlfriend?
You: hot guy from the Mobil Station. Me: girl with 4 slit tires on her mom’s Olds.
You could’ve taken out a personal ad and told me you were spoken for. You didn’t have to send your Amazon girl friend after me. She is NOT an attractive woman, hot guy. Built like a fucking bear. And she’s strong.
There I was sitting up in the front seat, flipping through People Magazine, when suddenly I thought there was a giant earthquake going on.
I thought she’d roll my mom’s car right into the ditch. Thank goodness I locked my doors, because she pounded and smacked at the glass and I was so scared I peed my pants, thinking she’d pick up a rock and smash my windows.
Guess she isn’t that bright.
She eventually got tired of watching me panic and took off in your VW. I wanted to get the hell out of there, too, but that’s when I realized she’d slit my tires. I was not happy about spending the night out there, a Mobil station being devoid of magic of any kind, but I’m willing to forgive you.
I know you wouldn’t be with that awful woman if you weren’t scared to death, so here’s the plan. When: Saturday night at 12 A.M. Where: At the crossroads rest stop on I-13. You: Man who needs help. Me: Woman willing to give it.
Don’t let the bitch read this!

from  The Chronicle Personals: 
SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Sunday, January 10
I gave you plenty of chances, didn’t I?
You: scruffy guy from the Mobil Station. Me: girl with no regrets.
I suppose I should have been a little more up FRONT with you from the beginning, but sometimes I get a yearning to be like normal girls, who hang out at Curly’s on Saturday night, pick up hot guys, and hook up in the cabs of their trucks.
And that’s where I was going when you showed up on my radar with your scraggly beard and Bud Lights. I thought, there he is right there, that one.
After the incident at the Mobil station—the one with your gorilla girlfriend—I decided I needed to tap into a little bit of magic I have by way of my mom, she of the Oldsmobile Cutlass. And my father too. Between the two of them, it’s quite a gene pool, but only at the crossroads.
I was hoping none of it would matter. You would read my note and see what a forgiving heart I have and remembering my sweet little chassis, you’d come alone and we could shake things up. But you didn’t.
The two of you were like clowns climbing out of that VW after you parked at the rest stop. You both put your hands on your hips and glanced around until she spied me. Then the two of you came after me. Big mistake.
I stood exactly in the center where the two roads intersect, where my power is the greatest, but you didn’t have a clue and strode forward with purpose. You were not, I could see, a prisoner of this woman. You were her equal, her consort, her savage lover.
I realized I’d been wrong once again. You were not the one to rock my world. So with a few enchanted words from me, the black asphalt split open and only for a moment did you both look at me with anything other than anger and dismissal.
A horrified comprehension crossed your faces as you slithered into the earth. Sorry about that. You: Man gone to hell with Amazon bride. Me: Woman still looking.

from The Chronicle Personals: 
SPOTTED & SOUGHT / Wednesday January 13
Cute redhead jogging north in sweats.
You: spotted running at dusk on Monday in front of Curly’s Bar and Grill. You waved and said, “How you doing?” Me: climbing out of my mom’s Olds Cutlass, four brand new tires.

copyright January 2010 by Gay Degani

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Writers Chat with Bonnie ZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell and I were roommates in Minneapolis for AWP and I remembered I never published this interview we made with each other a while back.  What better time than now??

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Writer's Awakening: Andre Dubus III

I'm at the point in Andre Dubus III's memoir Townie when he describes that moment in his life when he had his first very vivid realization he wanted to write.  No, wait, that's not what he says.  He says, he didn't want to write, he had to write.

In this part of his remembering, he has this girlfriend - one of his father's writing students.  He is losing her to another man, but he's not all that certain he cares.  He stops by her dorm room.  She not there, but a story by the other man sits on her desk.  He reads it and is carried away by the power of the story.  He notices its precise language, specific details, as well as the emotion created by the text, the empathy he feels.

It is an awakening.  Partly because the character in this other man's story is similar to himself: the diner busboy-dishwasher, for example, Dubus had been one.  But it wasn't only that. It was that the story illustrated a moment of consciousness of conscience that Dubus had been encountering in his own  life.  Not just the awareness of the wrongs in the world which he'd been witnessing and going through since childhood, but the awareness that writing about these wrongs might carry weight and power.

Dubus describes a drive down the highway through a forest and how, after reading this story from his would-be rival, he finally sees trees as they really are: each one different and separate rather than an unrelenting mass of green. That same day, instead of meeting a friend for their usual workout, he sits down and writes a story.

What's interesting to me is that Dubus's father was Andre Dubus II, a man who wrote short stories and taught writing most of his life, a published, well-respected author.  Children often follow in the footsteps of the parents, doctors have children who become doctors, lawyers have children who go into law, teachers beget teachers and so on.  But Andre Three grew up learning to deal with his problems with his fist. Often picked on as a kid, his solution was to make himself as strong and formidable as he could through weight-lifting and boxing.  His world-view was one of danger, conflict, injustice, and literally beating an aggressor to the punch.   He didn't understand that words, too, could change how people think and behave and can do so on a much larger stage than what the towns along the Merrimac River represent.

I came to Andre Dubus III through his novel House of Sand and Fog. Since most of the reading I do these days must include CDs and earphones, this book just happened to be on the library's "What's New" shelf.  I found it a revelation, how Dubus could bring his two antagonists so close to recognizing each other as real human beings - and thereby bring them to an understanding - and then how he snatches that opportunity from them.  This novel illustrates how underneath we are all human with human needs, and how our anger and prejudice keep us from recognizing ourselves in others.

Dubus's memoir not only reveals  his first awareness of his need to write, but his source material.  As with most writers who draw from their own emotions, his stories are rooted in his own life, and reading Townie is like rereading and treasuring HOSAF all over again as well as The Garden of Last Days, and the stories in Dirty Love.

Reawakening to life and its many details, including the complex contradictions in our humanity, is what hooks so many writers.  To write is to see the world in high relief and to relive it through the lives of the people we create. This lesson is never more clear than it is in Townie.