Tag Archives: fiction

Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

Finding a New Cozy Series

The gardener and I visited our local used bookstore and loaded up a box. I know, I know. I’ve said I have a shelf and a half of unread books. I have a lot of want-to-read books on my Goodreads list. I’ve promised people their books will be read in the next phase. But the gardener was out of his books to read. He reads hardcover-only historical fiction, preferably in Asian settings.  Nothing too specific hahaha. I didn’t happen to have any of those on my shelf, so off we went.

Can you imagine me waiting around in a bookstore with discounted and sale prices and twiddling my thumbs?

All of this is to say It’s Not My Fault.

I thought I’d check out mysteries and poetry. I don’t even bother to look for memoirs because our store rarely has any in stock. Maybe people don’t give up their memoir copies as quickly?

In the somewhat lame poetry section, I found a Billy Collins book, so I grabbed that. But most of the rest were obviously cast-off textbooks/the classics–and I already have those.

In mysteries I had better luck. I prefer cozies. And of cozies I most prefer theatre (those are hard to find) and cats (those are easy to find) and retail shops (antique, book, etc.). What I never thought I’d find would be dolls!

And here they were: 4 wonderful mysteries of the Dolls To Die For series by Deb Baker. The entire short series right in front of me. And guess where they take place? Phoenix! (aka home)

So I brought them home where they are right at home.

When I lined them up with the doll buggy, I was reminded of a poem in Doll God. “Vintage Doll Buggy” was originally published in The Antigonish Review, a Canadian literary journal. I wrote this poem about war and innocence, focusing on a green doll buggy I’d seen in an antique store. But I happen to have two versions of that buggy–one pink and blue; the other red and white. In the poem you will see why I used the green buggy instead of mine.

 

Vintage Doll Buggy

 

 

“Every Boy Wants a Pop Gun”

— the company’s slogan. And

not just guns, but air rifles,

clicker pistols, caps.

They specialized in the arms

industry for boys in striped Ts.

 

How this paean to fertility

flowered in that factory, it’s hard

to figure.  Pre-war, maybe 1930s.

Pressed from Ford plant

scrap metal, like the guns.

 

The inside cups like a clam shell.

Like an embrace.  A sheath.

With a satin pillow, it’s a rolling

coffin, a time capsule.

 

When the fighting began,

the government banned metal

for toys.  The war effort claimed

even the green paint.  At the factory

they pressed en bloc clips

for the M1 Garand rifle.

 

Now its wheels bow out,

the green paint

chipped and dulled.

The yellow canopy still reverses.

A calm lingers inside as when

one fingers past a peony’s petals.

 

castle promotional cover

Click through to Amazon

Nancy Ann Storybook doll with pre-war doll buggy

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Filed under Arizona, Books, Doll God, Dolls, Fiction, Literary Journals, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Writing

Where to Find a Parking Lot Superhero

Just realized that my flash fiction piece “Parking Lot Superhero” was published by Story Shack two weeks ago! Yikes, how did I lose track of time? Speaking of time, the magazine gives an estimate of five minutes to read it ;).

PARKING LOT SUPERHERO

The story was illustrated by artist Hannah Nolan.

Thanks so much to the editor Martin Hooijmans and to Hannah.

This is my first attempt at flash fiction.  I like how fiction gives me more freedom with structure than nonfiction does, and the flash length is fun to work with. It’s challenging to be concise but also rewarding to complete a story that is this short.

Do you read and/or write flash fiction that isn’t serialized? Where the whole story has to be read in five minutes? Do you prefer flash fiction or the traditional short story length and why?

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Pic of a vintage police car found just outside the Grand Canyon. With a character like Jack (in my story), the protagonist and her friend didn’t need the police.

 

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Filed under Fiction, Flash Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Need Some Writing Constraints?

Are you at a loss on choosing your next writing topic? Try this software program (for free)!

The Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator

Pretty darn cool.

P.S. If you’re like me, writing constraints make it easier to write. When you feel like EVERYTHING is fair game, the mind goes blank.

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Fiction, Literary Journals, Writing, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

Don’t Always Believe What You Read Online

When I started writing creative nonfiction/memoir, the issue of dialogue tags rose its nasty little head early on. I’d never given them much thought in fiction writing, and they don’t exist in poetry. For some reason, nonfiction made me think and rethink what works best. Maybe it’s that more expressive word choices conveyed more information than plain old “said,” but in nonfiction it seemed like overkill to write “stammered” or “giggled” about oneself.

These “more expressive” tags look something like this:

Eventually I took courses online and learned that all the creative and imaginative tags I’d debated were worthless. I think these teachers were right, so I’m sharing what I learned from them.

The idea is to stay as far from “tagging” as possible.

That means that if you can write dialogue where it’s clear who is speaking each line, you don’t need any tags at all. Sometimes you can start a conversation out by identifying the first speaker and then drop tags after that point. Here is a passage from Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty:

We stopped at the airport gift shop and I bought a scarf in a red tartan with the money I had left. “Write to me all the time,” she said as we walked to the gate, her head back on my shoulder.

“I always do.”

“Write to me more often now. I’m going to miss you more.”

The book is about the friendship of Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face). Lucy is leaving and wants Ann to write to her. In this passage, we know it’s Lucy who begins because she is the only other person in the scene and because with her head on Ann’s shoulder, she’s exhibiting her characteristic neediness. In the next line by Ann and the response from Lucy their personalities shine through. The only tag in this whole passage is “she said,” used once.

So why did Patchett use “said” and not a tag with more emotion or more information?

Because said is an invisible word. It’s so common that it exists just under the surface, much like articles (the, a, an) do. It doesn’t intrude on the scene. Instead the dialogue itself is allowed to pop with just a little help from scene setters: “as we walked to the gate, her head back on my shoulder.”

Another way you can avoid a tag is to pair the line of dialogue with an action that advances the plot. Here is a passage from Bernard Cooper’s The Bill from My Father:

“By the time they come, I’ll have proof.”

“So what? What if I was seeing a man?”

My father turned. His hands were shaking. “It’s too soon.”

In this case, the father’s hands shaking pair with his words and create more emotion than if Cooper had written, “It’s too soon,” he said with a shaky voice. What is more important is that by avoiding a tag, the action and the words are not watered down by unnecessary words that attract attention.

Different versions of this “Said is Dead” chart are being shared all over the internet, along with other questionable writing advice. Rather than listening to these sources, pick up a good writing book and follow the advice in there.  Two good ones for nonfiction are Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away and Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller & Suzanna Paola.

Have you seen advice online that you know to be wrong?

 

 

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

Another Book Inhabited by Dolls

 

Marie of 1WriteWay introduced me to the writer of another book with the word DOLL in the title.

Dolls Behaving Badly

When I started reading Cinthia Ritchie’s novel Dolls Behaving Badly I immediately thought, “Oh, my son’s fiancée will love this book.” Then I thought, “Mom will want to read this book.”

 

It starts off like fun chick lit. A single mom of a genius 8-year-old son needs to figure out how to pay her bills on her waitress salary and find love and happiness from a trailer in Alaska.

 

Luckily for me, before I sent a link to them, the dolls entered the book. Just in time, I stayed my hand (I know the phrase doesn’t belong outside the Bible or historical romances, but this is where it gets a little “Biblical”).  The protagonist, Carla Richards, is not just a server, but also an artist, and retired Barbie and Ken dolls serve her art. She hacks and appends to them, all for a very “upscale” erotic website.

 

Although I didn’t send out the link, I kept reading because the last thing this book is is porn. It’s a well-crafted story of how Carla and the “family” she builds around her grow and change with dignity.

 

Ritchie know how to tell a story that is both accessible and thought-provoking.  Sometimes the book stuns me with a lyrical phrase or brilliant notion.  She uses some contemporary stylistic experiments quite well. For instance, Carla is writing her diary in tandem with reading the philosophies of an inspirational speaker known as The Oprah Giant. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead Polish grandmother and is still friends with her ex, a chef. The recipes of both these characters are translated by Carla and the recipes supplied for the reader.

 

If it were a movie, the book would be called a comedy, maybe even a romantic comedy, but as written word it is much more than that. The book probes and examines our hopes and fears without letting us know that’s what it’s doing. Dolls Behaving Badly is not lightweight or superficial. It accesses the hidden areas of the mind and of the heart.

 

I still think my mother and future daughter-in-law would love this book, but I can hear the comments (“My mom gave you a book with WHAT kind of dolls?”). Maybe I could send it to them anonymously?

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Filed under Art and Music, Book Review, Books, Dolls, Fiction, Novel, Reading, Writing

Crack the Spine Interviews Luanne

Mid-September my story, “Small Solace,” was published in  Crack the Spine Issue 163. Some of you read it at that time and those of you who commented helped get me an interview with the journal, so thank you!

The interview was published today. You can find it here.

A big heartfelt thanks go to the editor, Kerri Farrell Foley!

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Fiction, Interview, Literary Journals, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Adding Fiction to My Poetry and Memoir Resume

You know how I’m always yammering about poetry and memoir? Well, darned if I didn’t get a short story (fiction!) published today in Crack the Spine. Called “Small Solace,” it’s a little bit weird. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please go to one of the magazine’s sites and post a comment of some sort about it. That’s because they use feedback to determine what pieces go into a print issue and which writers they do a Wordsmith interview on (they only choose one author each issue).

Here is the issue–look for page 27:  Crack the Spine Issue 163

I did warn you that it’s a little weird. Yes, the wallet image here is a clue as to the subject.

Here are some places to leave feedback:

Comment form below issue link

Facebook

Twitter

Crack the Spine website

Or email them at contact@crackthespine.com

Thanks so much, peeps!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Reading, Writing

My Fiction Reading During National Poetry Month

Although it’s poetry month, I’ve been reading fiction lately as a little break from poetry and memoir.

I chose well because I enjoyed all three books. These are the reviews I posted (pretty much word for word) at both Amazon and Goodreads.

My favorite of the three was It’s In His Kiss, written by Vickie Lester who blogs over at Beguiling Hollywood. This contemporary murder mystery is set in present-day Palm Springs and Los Angeles. I know the time period because the characters own cell phones, but the ambiance, shenanigans, and secrets come from a long-time Hollywood tradition that features real life mysteries such as the Black Dahlia murder, George Reeves (Superman), Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes), and maybe even Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe.

I was hooked very early on–in part because of the compelling story and in part because after a whirlwind romance (hook-up? you decide–I don’t want to give anything away) the reader is slammed with a shock. Lester keeps shaking the reader up as one Hollywood secret after another is divulged. She’s a master at creating believable southern California characters (main character Anne’s father Bob stepped off the page and into my kitchen), but even better at her precise and breathtaking descriptions of the city. She knows the roads, the landmarks, and how it all fits (and doesn’t fit) together better than anybody I’ve read in a long time.

Lester’s witty approach fits the subject and the culture well. I appreciated the occasional nod to pop culture. For instance, she calls a scary pseudo-religion “Clientology.” These touches give the book the feeling of a roman à clef which heightens the illusion of reality. And when it came time to reveal the mystery, I was shocked, but thrilled to discover a satisfying conclusion. If I were you, I would jump through the book image to Amazon to order It’s In His Kiss.

Next up is Ape House, written by Water for Elephants novelist Sara Gruen.  I have been captivated by nonfiction stories of animals learning to communicate on human terms since I was in high school. I used to teach Koko’s Kitten to future teachers because I hoped they would share the importance of interspecies communication with their own students one day.

This book takes the real story of Gruen’s experiences with bonobos who can sign and adds lots of excitement. It’s a fast-paced mystery, adventure, and love story. That’s a good thing because it ought to bring home to readers the story of primate communication with humans to readers who don’t know anything about it. It’s a quick read and even if your life is chaotic you can get “into” the book immediately. This was a 4 star book, although I can understand why some people would give it a 5. I think it tried to be a little more serious than it really was, which is why I give it a 4.

Finally, I wanted a light historical mystery, so I chose The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber. This book turned out to also be a romance, in a Gothic sense. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series. Lady Darby is an artist which makes her very appealing. A few times I felt annoyed at the contemporary perspective on women’s issues taking me out of the scene and setting. Lady Darby has enough clothing for a much wealthier woman, too, but the dress descriptions make for delicious reading. One gripe I had was that the frequent mention of the green cloak was belied by the red one on the woman on the cover of the book. Why can’t a cover truly represent what lies within? I gave the book a 4 star rating based on the quality for its genre. I don’t expect it to be something that it isn’t. But if you judge it against the two books above, it’s a 3 star.

I’ve ordered more books to add to my to-be-read stack, not because I have a lot of spare time ahead, but because it’s very comforting to have plenty of books to read.

How about you? Does a stack of unread books comfort you or stress you out?

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, Novel, Publishing

Journaling Grief: A Novel Review

Some (ahem) years ago, I applied to our local university’s MFA program. Imagine my surprise when I was accepted. The only downside was that my undergraduate majors were marketing and history, and I didn’t have the fundamentals of literature I needed to study writing. Actually, I had more “fundamentals” than appeared because as an undergrad I’d blown off too many classes to count, spending my time at the library reading the contemporary masters like Philip Roth, Chaim Potok, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. I probably could have gotten a degree in Jewish literature by taking a test ;). But I was sorely lacking in a lot of other areas. Shakespeare? Who?

A few years had passed since I’d graduated college, so when I went back as a grad student, I not only was going to study something I was passionate about, but my study habits had vastly improved. The department decided that to make up for not having an undergraduate major in English, I would need to take two undergrad courses in English, an American literature course and a poetry survey course. With a great deal of luck and a little “research” (OK, gossiping about which were the best professors with other students) I took the poetry course with a dynamic poetry expert, Dr. Russell Goldfarb, and the American literature course with Dr. Clare Goldfarb, who happened to be his wife. My friends and I came to call them Mr. Dr. G. and Mrs. Dr. G. Maybe not as a form of address, but when we talked about them. They were two of my best teachers.

The Goldfarbs retired not long after I moved to California and started my new California-then-Arizona life. Imagine my delight when I recently learned that Clare Goldfarb had written and published a book that is available on Amazon. The book is available only on Kindle, and you know me–I refuse to fire up a Kindle because I love paper books and because I don’t want to add yet another screen to the lot of my migrainatious eyesight. I’m resourceful, though, I will say. I asked the author if I could read a .pdf version of her novel. I’m so glad I did!

In She Blinked, the reader is caught up in the tide of Ruth Burrows’ life as she learns that her mother has had another stroke–possibly a fatal one this time. She must fly to New York City to see her mother in the hospital and to stay with her father, a difficult man and ex-physician. As Ruth re-enters the remnants of the world she grew up in and navigates hospital culture and the death watch on her mother, she first begins to examine the face of mortality. When she returns home to her husband and children and the life she has created in Michigan, she finds herself blindsided by grief. Her usual over-achieving approach to life is threatened by the emotions she wants to analyze but doesn’t know how to handle.

The story doesn’t end with an easy resolution or a one year work-through of mourning. Instead, Ruth must continue on with her life. Her grief threads through the following years and rears up again when events trigger it. She also comes to face her own mortality through the events she lives through. Grief, mortality, illness (physical and mental), and memory are all a part of Ruth’s life. An important way that Ruth learns to deal with grief and mortality is through journaling, writing entries to her therapist. I wouldn’t call Ruth’s journey one of acceptance of these aspects of life so much as her recognition that they are part of the fabric of life, that all these experiences are intertwined, universal to us all.

Ruth Burrows has written a book about Henry James, a writer characterized by his psychological insights and complex prose. In She Blinked, the psychological insights are as astute as in James, but Goldfarb’s elegant, sparse prose never calls attention to itself and, instead, the reader is welcomed into Ruth’s experience.

Head on over to Amazon: She Blinked is available for Kindle at only $.99!!!

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