Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Pilgrimage" to appear in damselfly press

A new story, "Pilgrimage," will be published in the fourteenth issue of damselfly press on January 15.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thoughts on the Eve

En route: Tucson to Seattle. I've been afraid to put down my camera.

Photo by @3CatPhoto
After braving the floodwaters in LA, my mother, my husband and I plunge into the lush rolling hill country of central California. The rains actually accentuate the colors in this region. Verdant greens and translucent rainbows pepper field and sky, and for a few miles, I watch the asphalt flow with the wet reflection of a double bow touching down on either side of us through enbankments of gray-blue clouds.

In Sonoma persimmons ripen orange, red, and pale pink, and throughout Napa's post-harvest vinyards, these autumnal shades crown the tangled woody ropes of winter grape vines. A full moon rises behind a sheen of ghostly fog over the terraced hills.

And now the towering Mt. Shasta at 14K feet, the second tallest volcano in the US, protruding from the nearby Cascades and powdered white after the recent storm. And as we drop into the valley, the city of Weed is surrounded by dry grasses and blowing tumbleweeds.

Christmas Eve now and the radio's tinkling with sleighbells, humming with the throaty voices of Bing Crosby and Burl Ives. 60 miles to Portland and several more hours to our destination. "Why don't you put down the camera; getting dark anyway." Yes, I think. Enjoy these quiet moments after the rush and bustle. Enjoy the journey. The Between is often just as festooned with wonder as the End. Which, don't you know, is always also the Beginning.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Involved Bending" is live!


Check out a wonderfully eclectic selection of short stories published by The Cadaverine Magazine, writers from under the age of 25.

I hope you enjoy reading "Involved Bending" as much as I did writing it!

Find the story under Prose.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Audiobooks - Cheating or not?

I keep a "Read Book List," a sort of challenge against myself, listing all the books I've read each year, classified by genre and medium:
      Princess Academy by Shannon Hale - YA - Audiobook.

I reviewed my list preemptively this year and discovered I beat my total for 2009! Then I noticed that a great number of this year's books were audiobooks, and the question arose:
      Is reading audiobooks "cheating"?

I don't know why it would be any more than playing soccer for exercise is cheating when one might be running laps instead. It's working different muscles - ears vs. eyes - but the brain is still engaged, albeit somewhat differently. We're still soaking up stories, falling in love with characters, reveling in beautiful language and well turned phrases, and learning new words. Aren't we?

Yet it still seems my gut reaction is to think of listening to audiobooks as cheating. Perhaps I'm remembering high school English class when if you didn't read Romeo and Juliet for Friday's test, you'd simply pick up the video or DVD from Blockbuster the night before. That was cheating. Because you were SUPPOSED to read the text.

But is listening for pleasure cheating? Maybe, and maybe thinking that way is a bit of literary uppityness - only reading is reading. Even though Shakespeare's plays were originally performed. As were Homer's epics. Etc.

Maybe listening isn't a substitute for reading - i.e. If our literary diets consist mainly or only of audiobooks, it might be a good idea to add variety. We need to stretch and grow all our muscles. But cheating? Nah... I don't think so, anyway.

So, yay for 2010 - And may 2011 be an even more story-filled year!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Silhouettes and Shadows Nominated for Best of the Web 2010

Thanks to Two-Bit Editor Matt Williams for nominating "Silhouettes and Shadows" for this year's Best of the Web, which

“compiles the best fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that online literary journals have to offer in an eclectic collection in the manner of other broad-ranging anthologies such as Pushcart, and Best American Non-Required Reading."

 -- Guest Editor Kathy Fish.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vibram FiveFingers and Cactus

First: I apologize to everyone using CACTI for the plural of CACTUS. You're grammatically right, and I'm very wrong. But I just don't like the way the true plural sounds in conversation.

So... I recently bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs (all terrain), and being in a nice, hikeable part of Arizona, thought I'd try them out.

Result: Beware of cactus! If you live in a cactusy area and decide to "go barefoot," take extra care. Although the KSOs performed admirably against a few nasty cholla (aka "jumping cactus" according to Tucson natives), they were nonetheless pregnable between the toes, where a mesh fabric provides breathing and stretching room but not toe armor!

Still, it's pretty impressive to stomp on a cactus and come out mostly unscathed. So if you're like me and can't seem to hike without getting impaled a few times, KSOs might not be the best plan for desert (spiny) terrain. Unless you like the adrenaline rush.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Very Long Sentences

I've been trying to think this one over, and I'm not sure I've come to any satisfying conclusions about Very Long Sentences. Not in the way that I have about, say, dried banana chips, which I've decided I don't like. Or cats, which I like very much. Or trees, goldfish, fingernail polish, adverbs. (I like adverbs, personally.)

But Very Long Sentences, now.... Sometimes, as a reader and writer, when I'm in mood to be impressed with some author for having strung together in such an artful way so many various clauses and ideas -- and the em dash really is quite dexterous because absolutely anything can go inside its little brackets, like a magic pocket in which you can stash whole cities, whole universes even, all safely nested in your original and more or less relevant idea -- I feel exhilarated from the journey, from following the twisty passage of someone's mind, marked so generously by punctuation.

And sometimes Very Long Sentences just tire me out. Sometimes I find them pretentious and distasteful. And confusing! Or not confusing but obnoxious. Often I skip them.

And the worst thing is that the same sentence can have both effects at varying moments. Which leads me to wonder whether there's nothing inherently worthy or unworthy about Very Long Sentences. Whether it's not all in my head.

So, I fall back on statistics. I feel I need hard-ish numbers. People who like Very Long Sentences and people who don't. Tally them up and see who wins, and we'll go -- quite democratically -- with the majority.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's the best thing in the world--

--when you realize your high school education failed you and you're luckier for it.

In my case, I didn't "have to read for class" a great many classics: Slaughterhouse-Five, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Great Gatsby... What in the world did I read in high school?

But side-stepping that indicting question, I just finished Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, a marvelous little book about an intellectual kid growing up in 1940s-50s era New York searching for whatever it means to live a genuine life. Though I'm not sure old Holden Caulfield realizes it, even by the end.

There's a scene in which H is talking to his kid sister Phoebe. She's asked him does he like anything at all, and he can't concentrate on answering because he's thinking of a boy who committed suicide--jumped out a window to escape bullying, to keep from giving in to bullying, really. And the scene, coupled with a line from the next chapter, a quote from Wilhelm Stekel about living and dying... it got me thinking.

About bullies, for one, who've been around for ages and ages. And about kids, who've been around just as long. And about the fact that everybody out there is trying to find out what it means to live a genuine life. Especially in this age when everything's so excruciatingly temporary, finding an "identity" can get a little hairy. And it's hard to find out who you are and how you fit in when you're focused only on you. 'Cause then there's no context for you, and things get pretty ambiguous without context.

So it's only when H sets himself aside and watches P go round and round the carousel--when he stops thinking about those hard questions and just lets the world be--that he sort of settles in.

I guess it's harder when the world is so linked to us, all personalized and networked, that we can't really set ourselves aside even for a minute. But I wonder if living genuinely has to do with those moments when the world is too darn big and wonderful to think that we or even our biggest problems could be the center of it. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Something like the way a body moves…

I have envied those who seem at home in the movement of their bodies. Who walk into rooms and their minds and bodies are equally present, and they know unconsciously that they are powerful in their fullness.

After reading The English Patient I feel that same sense of slight envy turned suddenly to genuine hunger for more of Ondaatje’s rich and unconscious presence. Because there is a sinking that follows in watching Ondaatje move about a room—whether it is Italy or Naples, the desert of Libya or the gardens of a lover’s body. A sinking which is more akin to what I imagine melting might be like than falling into a river. In river-sinking there is too much flailing. And still, at the bottom of the river, I am discrete from it.

But sinking into prose like Ondaatje’s is transcendental, because I am suddenly not merely watching that powerful figure of story as it moves quietly through time but am part of it. Nor am I jostled out of it until the prose stops. And it doesn’t bring attention to itself, even in stopping. These are the best stories, I feel, that come in and go out and leave the mark of their presence in my mind like a bold streak of silent light.

And if I missed them when they walked in, I can always tell when they go because these fully present people leave their absence behind.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

His Dark Materials - by Philip Pullman

A beautifully written, imaginative, thought provoking, and emotionally compelling series I'm sad to have finished.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Seashell Radio

Lovely, talented, independent band from Tucson. Plus the cellist writes deeply engaging stories--I'm lucky to have taken a course or two with Esmé Schwall at the U.

Seashell Radio... Take a listen to "Plans" or "Black Dress," or really any of them.

What I learned walking

After stressing over a query letter for hours last night to the point I couldn't sleep, couldn't write, couldn't eat  (and I promise, that's extremely unusual), I took a walk. Walking's good for stress, and once in a while, some nugget of truth or enlightenment descends.

Now, this isn't new or genius, but neither is a deep breath of warm, evening Tucson air--down, down into starved lungs.

What I learned? In my query letter... just be myself. Yes, be professional and witty and beautiful--if I can--but at bottom, my book came from inside me and so should my query. What a freeing realization! Yay for walking (and being able to eat).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Writers, we "need to get out of our heads and into the world..."

 "Sometimes I feel that writers intentionally make an effort to fail as business people." --ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors)


From an interesting article on marketing your writing: interview of Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gluten, Kneading, and Writing

A few days ago I made sandwich bread from scratch under the careful, Nazi-like tutelage of my good friend and food buddy.

I learned a few things:

1. Bread takes a long time! Especially if you're no expert kneader, getting the gluten right so that it can pass the windowpane test (stretch the dough gently until it's translucent but unbreaking), is a monstrous task.
        --Well, I should add that it's most difficult for people who aren't "firm but gentle." Which brings me to my next point.
2. Bread takes a long time when you keep tearing the gluten. Rather than working the gluten, letting the mysterious world of chemistry have its way, I kneaded too hard and tore the stuff, which set me back more than a half hour.
3. This is because I'm rough with things!
       --When things don't work - or aren't working fast enough - I get rough... and I realized that this extends to my writing. I delete like crazy. Whole chunks, pages, chapters, stories, books. Write, delete, write, delete.

I wonder if I'm tearing the gluten....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dogs aren't children's predecessors . . . They're the replacements!

In most U.S. cities, the surest sign that a young married couple is harboring intentions to conceive is the sudden introduction of a pup among the humans, a new little furry member of the family. For about a year (with small dogs, which lose their puppyhoods in about that time) or two (with larger dogs, such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback), married couples learning the ropes at parenthood dote and fawn on their new babies. From expensive toys and bedding to all-day sitters and once-a-week doggy-daycares, proud parents of canine kids are unconsciously mimicking the next mutation on tap for their relationships--that of human parenthood.

Okay, so being a young married woman who's seen countless peers jump off this bridge--in droves, mind you--this is, indeed, anecdotal evidence, it's true.

But, all this to show why, being out here in San Francisco, something caught my eye: The dogs around here are trained! And not ostentatiously well-trained or well-bred, as you might see at a dog show, though there were a few of both... but casually trained. As if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Up on Nob Hill, enjoying a surprisingly crisp, sunny day in June at Huntington Park across from Grace Cathedral (the Notre Dame lookalike). And marveling at the swarms of dogs. Groomed, beautiful, charming animals, which--leash or no--sit proudly by their owners, or trot along beside them, or play fetch without getting distracted or running off, or sniff inquisitively in what can only be a predefined radius. No fear of the rapidly chugging traffic below.

And it's because in San Francisco, of the 855K residents, nearly 110K are dogs, reared and raised as meticulously as you'd raise a kid--more so even. And the stats--after a bit of Googling--also reveal that this city has the lowest child to adult ratio in the U.S. (Thanks to National Geographic for that.)

So, in effect, San Franciscans skip the new-furry-member step, and go straight to offspring. That happen to be four-legged and furry-tailed, of course.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Transaction Phenomenon

    The other day, one of my dear readers called me frantically to say that the first prologue I'd written perhaps a week ago and at his direction was much better than the revised one I'd just sent him and why why why did I make those changes?

    After discussing it for a while, we moved on to the bulk of the book--the reason he'd been reading the revised prologue: I'd gotten stumped. Overwhelmed. Paralyzed.

    (It happens that a plotted book is like woven fabric and that if you begin pulling out threads, or changing the positions of strands, or dis- or re-coloring them, the rest of the woven thing must change to accommodate. And the more you pull—say, in Chapter 1, two strands; in Chapter 2, three, etc.—the more tangle and unmanageable the thing becomes as you go deeper.

    Thus, I'd gotten stumped and so begged him to read a half-finished, ugly book.)

    In any case, one interesting result of note:

    A character we both loved dearly changed over the course of the rewrite due to the single word, sniffed. In the early draft, this word had been paired with the adverb derisively, but in the later draft, I had deleted that word out of loathing for that part of speech. The problem was that Abigail Hunter sniffed often. And she used to sniff derisively often. Now, though, without that word, she was simply sniffing, had lost all her round haughtiness and had become a silly, thirteen-year-old girl, sniffing whenever she was teased. She was a horrible character!

    All because I'd deleted a word. Abigail hadn't changed a bit, other than that word. But the transactional experience for my reader had changed. He hadn't gotten the association between the sniff and her characterization, and so had no access to her. He wasn't very happy about it, either.

    And so I put it back, that useless part of speech.

    Abigail sniffed derisively.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"The Road Not Taken"

This is a predicament, Mr. Frost, and I'm not happy about predicaments. Because I have a story--well, about seven hundred words of one, which isn't really a story at all--and I don't know which way I should go. And we all know "how way leads on to way." But I don't want to take the wrong way for just that reason! But, I also don't want to get stuck in this yellow wood.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NSAL Contest!

My two stories "Involved Bending" and "At Five" (from my half-finished novel Bits of Glass) have won second place in the Clearwater-Tampa Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters!

Being a military dependent, I miss my hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, and I am extremely greatful to the Clearwater-Tampa Chapter for allowing me to compete in their contest, even though I'm now stationed with my husband in Tucson, Arizona. Can't wait to get a call from him--he's overseas at present--to tell him the good news!

I'll be traveling on April 10th to attend the lunch and reception, where I'm honored to be reading one of the two winning stories.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Publications!

Up on Two-Bit Magazine "Silhouettes and Shadows."
At Antique Children "A Childhood Sestina."

I hope you love S&S as much as I do. It's just one of those stories that makes me feel a lot, that has a rhythm and a world that's surprisingly like our own, yet still wholly "crafted," i.e. fiction.

The sestina (found if you scroll down, under "Poetry") came out of a class exercise, actually. I'm not used to writing poetry, so I think the rigid sestina formula helped me get my words on paper.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Stories, Stories, and Deadlines

It's bad when you realize you have it in you--when the muse is sitting nearby and not fidgety or flighty or simply unavailable--to knock out a near-finished short story in four hours.

Not bad when you can do it. Bad when you realize you can do it.

Because then you feel like you can procrastinate. And your creative muse is off getting her nails done somewhere. Or building sandcastles. Or making omelets with spinach and tomatoes and fresh thyme.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Whew!

About five hours of crappy writing later, I'm free of three weeks of writer's block. Thank God.
Hopefully, it lasts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Story Online

Hello all! Just a note to let you know that my short story "After Toast and Cake" is up and running at Amarillo Bay, a literary e-zine for fiction, nonficiton, and poetry. Check out their extensive 12-year Works List!

Monday, January 25, 2010

This thing was delicious...

Served over whole wheat penne pasta....

Sauté garlic, onion, and center cut bacon in nonstick pan with a little olive oil on med-high for about ten minutes, or until bacon crisps up. Add oregano and basil. Lots. For kicks, add crushed red pepper. Add a few handfuls of fresh chopped spinach. Cook down with a dusting of black pepper.

In another pan, boil chopped mushrooms in a little white wine with some fresh chopped parsley. Add diced tomatoes and a splash of lemon juice. Simmer until tomatoes are soft.

Combine dishes, heat through, and enjoy!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Starfall 1st Draft Complete:
The Writerly Rush


Do you get this same rush after finishing a novel? I've just completed the first draft of Starfall, my YA contemp (71K words) about the relationship between a sexually abused mother and daughter—and about wishing on falling stars.

And I got this rush.... It's the tingle you get when you see something you can't quite describe (even though you've been doing just that for the last 220 pages), a tingle that spreads inward and then outward again so that you feel like you might explode. Really, you just might.

For me, it turns into a lip-biting smile. There's history to that, of course. I used to engage in moderate sibling abuse—i.e. I'd haul off and slap my little brother when he said something I didn't like. I know, very bad, Lora. I knew it then, too, because I developed this habit of biting my lip "as hard as" I was about to hit him.

So now, any time I experience intense emotion, I bite my bottom lip.

But the rush. How I love it. Wish I could bottle it up and market it. I bet writers would buy. We need that rush from time to time. Even if the manuscript isn't perfect--When is it ever?--because it means we've trusted ourselves for long enough, stuck with a project to its end, were brave enough to hold onto rough and sometimes flat characters until they blossomed out, onto fragile plotlines until they untangled and found their way home. It means, published or no, we really are writers.

P.S. "Writerly" is a word I picked up from my undergraduate creative writing professor. Means "of or pertaining to a writer," or some such. It sounds writerly, though, so I use it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Note To Self:

Next time you decide to practice multitasking techniques by reading submissions on your new smart phone while going for a 4 mile walk... check to make sure it's not going to rain halfway through.