Tuesday, April 26, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: How A Girl Became A Writer According To Nigel Watt’s “Eight-Point Story Arc”

by Audra Kerr Brown


There once was a girl born amongst stories.  Her mother read aloud while breastfeeding, cooed lullabies while hanging laundry.  The older sister whispered fairy tales into the girl’s velvety ears. Grandfather bounced her on his knee, telling gothic stories of doomed salesmen and naughty children eaten by wolves.

Before she could write for herself, the girl brought her mother a pad of paper and a pencil and dictated a story about a poor family and a can of beans.


She found a best friend who also liked stories. They read time-travel romance novels and emulated the heroines by swooning on cue, fashioning their hair into wind-tousled tendrils, and cursing in 19th century vernacular. Damnable rogue! Filthy clod!

The girl stared at the author photos on the back of book jackets and yearned to be one of them. She especially wanted to look like Jackie Collins.


For a class assignment on creative writing, the girl wrote a story about a bottomless pit and fuzzy creatures called Skupskins (this was soon after she’d discovered Stephen King). It had a better plot than the bean story of her youth, but her teachers thought it too strange. This negative feedback, however, did not deter the girl. She liked the feeling of creating stories, the pleasurable release that came with connecting words, so she continued.

Her parents bought her a desk and a word processor. The older sister offered constructive criticism. The girl’s stories improved.

Teachers eventually noticed. She was given awards, cash prizes. One teacher, who was especially encouraging to the girl, warned her not to let life get in the way of writing. The girl swore that it wouldn’t.  Not ever.

She borrowed her mother’s lipstick, looked in the mirror, practiced her book jacket pose.

The girl wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote.


During the county fair, the girl met a boy at a 4-H food stand. A string of drive-in movies, Pizza Hut dates, and proms followed. There was an exchange of class rings. Now, instead of stories, the girl’s thoughts were consumed with the boy. She filled a scrapbook with wedding ideas and honeymoon destinations. She hoped their children would have her curly hair, his cerulean eyes.

Three years later the girl and boy broke up.


In college the girl began to think about writing again. She had a different advisor every year, and they all advised her not to set her dreams on becoming a writer. Perhaps they – being writers themselves – had good intentions of steering her toward majors with higher post-graduation success, but she was determined. Despite their warnings, she majored in English and enrolled in every fiction writing course the school had to offer.

But the girl didn’t like her stories. She tried to please her teachers by writing in the style of Alice Munro and Ann Beattie. She wrote about failed relationships and epiphanies when she wanted to be writing gothic tales of doomed salesmen, of naughty children eaten by wolves.
The teachers didn’t appear to like her stories either.

She graduated with her undergraduate degree, yet she feared her advisors had been right.

Then the girl, now a young woman, married a wonderfully kind man who knew nothing about writing. They were happy together and soon had a baby girl of their own.


Ten years passed.

In her mid-thirties, the woman sometimes thought about writing, but the idea seemed frivolous. Sometimes she thought about her teacher’s warning about not letting life get in the way of writing. Sometimes this made her cry.

Then the woman’s wonderfully kind husband, who knew nothing about writing, bought her laptop and encouraged her to use it. She plunked out a few words about aging farm implements longing to recapture their youth. A familiar streak of pleasure shot through her.

The woman then joined a writing group.  She attended book readings and conferences. She plunked out a few more words.

She studied form, tone, and timbre. She dissected literary journals and short-story collections, performing line-by-line autopsies in attempt to discover the heart of a good story and what makes it tick. She sutured together paragraphs with threads of Neil Gaiman, Karen Russell, and Kevin Wilson until the heart of her stories began twitching with life of their own. She plunked out more words until stories emerged, mostly strange and tragic tales of pubescent girls, which she sealed in envelopes and sent out into the world.


After a few rejections and several edits, the story about aging farm implements was accepted. Then a story about a girl who longed for big boobs. Then another story, then another.

She wrote about the stories she overheard at family gatherings when she was a girl, tales of Civil War soldiers drinking soup out of shoes, of meandering children drowning in horse troughs. She wrote about how she traced the creases of her father’s calloused hand in church while listening about Abraham, Joseph, and Moses.

One day she finished a gothic tale about a girl and her ghost brother. She mailed the story with an application to a prestigious three-week summer program offered by her alma mater. The woman worried that the gothic tale would be passed over for stories about relationships and epiphanies, but a month later she received news of her acceptance. She had come full-circle.


Years passed.

The woman continued to receive both rejections and acceptances. Sometimes she thought she should have an MFA. Sometimes she still tried to write like Ann Beattie and Alice Munroe. Sometimes she looked at her writing and cried because it looked like a plotless jumble of ideas. But in the end, the pleasurable release that came with connecting words was always stronger than her insecurities. So, the woman wrote. She wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote.

Latest published story:  Royce is Not My Father at Fjords


Audra Kerr Brown lives betwixt the corn and soybean fields of southeast Iowa. Her fiction can be found or is forthcoming in Fiction SoutheastCheap PopFjords (online), People Holding, Maudlin House, Popshot Magazine, and Pithead Chapel, among others.

The author doing her best Jackie Collins pose

Photo of cornfield provided by By Nyttend (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: My Road to Becoming a Flasher

by Paul Beckman

My late older brother (by one year) was always considered the writer in the family. He wrote stories in grammar school and in high school. I spent my time being the kind of kid people write about.

After high school I joined the Air Force and volunteered for Southeast Asia. I finally got an assignment to Thailand but due to a disciplinary action they wouldn’t let me go get shot at and kept me in California. Go figure. Too bad more GIs didn’t know about Catch 23.

I’d always been a reader and in my very young days it was mostly biographies and then as I got older it was mysteries, best sellers and short stories—lots of short stories and every collection I could get my hands on. The first flash story I remember reading was a micro-fiction story by Leonard Michaels in an anthology He was a favorite novelist who became a favorite short story writer. I sent him a copy of my first book and he wrote back that he usually only laughs at his own work but in my case was making an exception. I wish I knew where I put the letter.

When Sudden Fiction came out I was hooked and told everyone about it.

In my 30’s I began thinking about writing and started writing story ideas and putting them in a cigar box and one day I tossed a new piece of writing in and the box was topped off. I decided I’m either a writer or a collector of scraps so I borrowed a beach house for a weekend and made up my mind that I would either write a story or toss the ideas in the drink. I went out on the pier with a yellow pad, red wine and my box of story ideas. I finished my first story in a little over an hour.

I bought one of those very thick books on places to have your writing published and a box of manila envelopes, stamps and sent off my story while I worked on others. Two weeks later I got an acceptance with a caveat. “Leave out the first paragraph and we’ll take your story.” No way was I going to let some guy tell me what to do with my story, so five years later it was finally published without the first paragraph.

I sent my brother some stories and asked for his opinion and I got it. “Unless you clean up your language no one’s going to publish you.” I didn’t clean up my language but started to have success with small litmags. Every year I bought a new volume of where to sell your stories and made a card system for submissions and took it very serious.

My son was in college writing poetry, a passion from his high school days, and putting out pamphlets and litmags and he offered to publish a book for me if we could agree on the stories and if I gave him final say. (I did say he was my son). He did a fine job and my first collection, Come! Meet My Family and other stories came out and I did readings and sold all of the three hundred press run. A publisher has read it and wants to publish it this year as a twenty year anniversary printing. My son, Joshua, has gone on to be a highly successful poet, translator and editor of the Wave Poetry Press.

There was a monthly reading series going on in New Haven that I started to attend and each time I went I brought a few of my stories to read at the open mic after the regulars. The problem was I couldn’t speak in front of people—I was too nervous. After months of listening to work that I thought was not as good as mine I signed up for an open mic. My hands shook, my voice quavered but I loved the applause. It took several more months of open mics before they offered me a feature spot and I lost my fear of talking in front of a group of people. It’s a good thing this took place a year before my book came out.

Also, I found that if I couldn’t get a story to work or stared at a blank paper too long if I grabbed a book and randomly looked at pages until a word struck me I could use that word and write a story. I was surprised in later years to find that other people did similar things and called them prompts.
I heard about a writer’s group in New Haven—The Anderson Street Workshop run by Alice Mattison. I had to wait for an opening but any success I’ve had stemmed from my working with Alice. She’s bright, insightful and has always been an advocate for my writing. She alternates novels and short story collections and shortly has a new book on writing coming out. I recommend everything she’s written including her New Yorker stories and various essays.

Alice ended the workshop after many years and began teaching at Bennington’s low res MFA program and convinced me it would be a good thing for my writing. It was great. I still have friends from my time there and I was thrilled to be asked back to be the alumni speaker at graduation several years after I graduated. Two of my teachers had the same agent and they sent my senior thesis (a collection of stories) to her and she called me and asked to represent me. She placed one story in Playboy within a month and then got a handful of no thanks and we parted company.

I wake up in the morning anxious to start writing and go to sleep thinking about stories written that need work. I’m in a writer’s group composed of myself and ten talented, supportive and interesting women and it’s been a lucky thing for me that I found this newly formed group and they let me in. My FB page, originally set up to see me grandchildren is now almost all writers and editors and is a big help in so many ways.

I’ve been fortunate enough to teach creative writing at a couple of high schools and at our local library. I travel to New York to read and go to readings because, except for one exceptional bookstore in my town of Madison, there’s a dearth of places to read in Connecticut.

I’m basically all Flash, all the time now in my writing and I have a published story website www.paulbeckmanstories.com. I’ve set it up so if you find a story you’d like to share you can email it with the click of a link. I’m also in the process of starting a blog to showcase my thoughts and books but also those of the many writers I’ve come to admire and enjoy.

Here’s a short-short story published in Boston Literary Magazine:

I Know A Guy Who Knows A Guy
who knows a guy who can take care of problems.
What kind of problems?
What kind do you have?
Boss problems. Wife problems. Neighbor problems.
Which one first?
It doesn’t matter. They’re all connected. Take care of one you take care of all. My neighbor boss is humping my wife.


Paul Beckman’s 200+ stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Boston Literary Magazine, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His work has been in a number of anthologies and a dozen countries. Paul was one of the winners in the Queen’s Ferry 2016 Best of the Small Fictions. His latest collection, Peek, weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. His website  www.paulbeckmanstories.com & email paul@paulbeckman.com . Paul is also a published and shown photographer who takes pictures above and beneath the water in his world travels.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Insecurities in a Sentence or How I Became a Writer

by Eleanor Levine

When I was twelve years old, there was only one street, or “block,” as we called it, which separated our town, Lakewood, NJ, from our rival town, Jackson, NJ.

An insipid hatred existed between the neighborhoods. When you entered a backyard not part of your terrain, a nasty comment evolved into several fistfights. And we were all, equally, boys and girls, ready to pounce on one another.

One day, on May 11, 1975, before a dentist appointment, I witnessed my middle brother—we’ll call him Q—pummelled by a girl from Jackson. This was unprecedented. How could this ignoramus, I felt, from this “redneck” part of the planet, dare to touch my brother?

It was OK for me to hit him or people in my hood, but when the insurrectionists were next door, when they punched the well-educated, royal Lakewoodites, this was completely unacceptable. Thus, I grabbed the girl and punched her until, within seconds, her Abominable Snow Monster of the North sister, came strolling through the screen door, grabbed me by the hair, and swung me around. My hair was a veritable bird’s nest, which is what the dentist described it when the “twirl” by the “girl” was followed by his teeth cleaning.

How might this hair-wrenching journey, you ask, account for my evolution as a writer and the culmination of my recently published poetry book, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria (Unsolicited Press, Davis, California)?

Well, it is symbolic of the numerous humiliations I have suffered from having too much hubris.

For the longest time, I did not want to define “hubris.” I wanted to let it go unknown like some unfettered cloud. I wanted to circumvent any responsibility for pomposity.

The teenager who turned my hair into a bird bush, well, she was among the first to see me, a wild 12-year-old, act as if the world owed me something.

I still act as if the world owes me something, and then I am left on my own, without much of the world, and it’s just me and the computer.

I would like to have more lovers and friends, in theory, but after alienating much of the planet, it is the screen and Kindle (formerly the typewriter and paperback)—the only beings that tolerate my superciliousness.

Imagine if you will, the vision of a 12-year-old New Jersey byatch—moi—getting twirled for all the kids to laugh at, after I assault a lion’s cub. You do not injure a lion cub and hope to go unscathed to the dentist.

But of course, the deluded writer shall forever believe that all things and beings, including the meandering sushi chef who survived Hiroshima, are worth assaulting. This is why Kafka said it is better to release the toxins, if you are a writer, than to let them grow unattended in your garden of apprehension and despair. His exact quote was, “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.

It has always been poetry that has allowed me to release the anger, hubris, obnoxiousness, insecurity and “toxins.” I would be a colossal nut, locked away in a mental institution, if it were not for Mr. Kafka’s advice and the notion that one must expel the brain waves and mood swings that harass and mortify us.

For more than 30 years, when I found myself alone, betwixt the world and the pen, I wrote poetry.

What you find, when you read Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, is the culmination of many misadventures in my brain, much joy and love and even some displeasure at being a Jewish lesbian on the frontiers of New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

My poem, “Insecurities in a Sentence,” shows the distempered release of angst and apprehension:

I like my insecurities
they float around me
like goldfish crooning
or poets snapping like piranhas
in a Dewey Decimal System of juxtaposition
metaphors strung out on anxieties

The contaminants are caught and their terrain is the English language:

insecurity in a sentence
without a spinal tap of reality,
or a scissor tap dancing toward metaphors
the flux and influx in a flood in a bathtub
like a string in a tampon
or the boy on the platform with the muted sensibility
the playwright disdaining his ideas
or a cockroach taking ambidextrous steps toward his food
Allen Ginsberg snapping photos from his verses
Walt Whitman dancing naked on a tree stump
a stroke of light fanning its way to me at an opera

Words are energized with our thoughts and feelings as in the poem, “Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria,” which is also the book’s title:

My green texts were longer than your grays
You felt smothered like a senior citizen in a hand-knitted Terracotta afghan

Insanity, like hair, is not meant to be a bird’s nest, and is best transformed into poetry, if you happen to write that. It keeps us saner than if we were receiving a lashing from Jackson, NJ’s Abominable Snow Monster of the North or our own mind.

I hope you’ll read my new poetry book, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, which is available at Unsolicited Press or Amazon.


Eleanor Levine's poetry collection, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, was recently released by Unsolicited Press (Davis, California). Her work has appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and anthologies, including Fiction, The Denver Quarterly, Litro Magazine, IthacaLit, The Toronto Quarterly, The Kentucky Review, Fiction Southeast, The Evergreen Review, The Literateur and The Stockholm Review of LiteratureShe is currently a copy editor and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her dog Morgan.