Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Friday Fictioneers: Red Berries

Hi readers and writers,
This week I am getting ready to go on an Inside Passage cruise next week, so I'm ahead of schedule. Next week I'll be away and I may not be able to post, but this week I want to participate in Madison Woods' Friday Fictioneers 100 word challenge.  If you'd like to try it, check out Madison's blog instructions here. 

Red Berries

"Don't touch those, they're poisonous," Donna hissed at me.
"Silly, they're raspberries," I replied, snickering.  I ate one while she stared at me wide-eyed.
We walked on, and I saw her sneaking a glance at me every so often, expecting me to keel over and drop dead.  Finally she asked, "How do you know they're raspberries?"
I enumerated on my fingers, "Shape, size, three leaflets per leaf, thorns, juicy when red (blackberries aren't you know.)"
"Show off," she said, flouncing off down the hill.
She asked for it, didn't she?  I will never understand girls.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Hi readers and writers, has a new photo prompt up for Friday Fictioneers today, with 100 word responses due Friday. Do join if you like to write flash fiction; go to her blog for more info. Since I'm flying out Friday, I am jumping the gun and posting early this time.  I had written three 100 word pieces for the three Fridays before, each seeming to fit into the same story of perfidy, spying, and conflict.  But this week, the prompt took me in a different direction.  Would you consider being in an insect's brain science fiction?  Here goes:

It feels tight under this rock. I’ve been here a long time.  I need to move around.  It’s hard.  I’ll rest a while.  Ahh.  Okay, now I can move more.  Yes!  The house is open, I feel the universe pulsing, smell flowers and rotting stems, fish, more.   If I wiggle really hard, I can explore. Now I’m outside.  I was in that broken box, how strange.  But look at this long green leaf above my rock.  If I let go, I can float up there and explore.  It’s so beautiful.  A suction, oops, it’s a huge mouth.  Good bye.

To Outline or Not to Outline

Dear readers and writers,

There's a never-ending argument among writers about outlining, with passionate advocates on both sides.  One of my writer friends posted recently about how important an outline can be to connections, to underlying themes, to making sure no balls are dropped.  My thought is this: If you can do it, yes, it can do all those things.  I'm in the no-outline camp for my own writing.  I have nothing against those who can do it.  But when I outline, my writing resembles a sixth grade essay, not the kind of subtle, interesting prose I would enjoy reading myself.  I need the element of surprise in drafting the fictional story to keep my interest high.  Once I've constrained the spirits with an outline, the life has drained out of it and I can't write it any more.
So does that mean my fiction is un-connected, without persistent themes, and full of disconnected dropped balls that beg for catches and resolutions?  Yes, in my SFD (refer to Anne Lamott for translation of first draft epithet).  But that's okay, because during revision (which is really re-visioning the whole for me) I can rearrange, cut, add, stream in thematic references, and find and fix the dropped balls.  That is a very different job for me than the writing itself.  I suppose it is a lot less important and intrusive for the outliners, but I love the way it feels like working a jigsaw puzzle.  I have all these pieces.  How am I going to optimally fit them together into a complete story?  Looking at the box is OK, but so is correcting the box.  Some of my no-outline friends refer to this method as post-outlining.  I must say it has things in common, but I do most of it in my head by reading and thinking, rather than making that outline on paper.
But whatever you do, the important thing is to connect the dots at some point during the process.  Your payoff with an outline is efficiency.  My payoff without is suspense (for me) and freshness (for readers).  I think I also probe deeply into my characters in places where the story might not finally have to go, but where the depths enrich the development of that character.  So while I cut out a lot, those pieces have contributed to the background in important ways.
Enjoy writing!
Cheers, Laura

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Friday Fictioneers--Woods of Danger

Hi readers and writers,

Madison Woods has given us a really idyllic photo of a path in the woods this week.  100 words about this might put me to sleep.  I don't know if it's good or bad, but I seem to have a group of characters in play for the fictioneers, and they want to have a military adventure in the quiet woods.  Okay.

                                         Woods of Danger 
Five Bendizi warriors stood on the path, then they disappeared.  Cosima and Alex darted left, Miriam, Hector, and Wulfram IV dashed right. Cosima and Alex took refuge in thick brush. The others clambered high among the branches.  Tramping feet thundered louder.  The path teemed with armed changlits, marching fast, looking neither right nor left.  After they passed, the Bendizis  saw Brin and Rouxlan’s close advisor, Sevrin, cruising along the trail in an all-terrain vehicle.  Cosima feared the outcome of their conflict, now that Brin was against them.  If only the balloon had landed closer to Bendiz.  

Writing After Summer Special Olympics

Dear readers and writers,

My daughter is an intern at Special Olympics and we went down to Long Beach last weekend to be "fans in the stands" to cheer on all those participating at the basketball venue.  During the event, several insights struck me.  First, while competition seems to be the essence of sport elsewhere, and while there are loud cheers for each team playing at the Special Olympics, after the game no one really focuses on being "winner" or "loser."  Instead, the person who made the 3 point shot and brought the scores closer gets a lot of love, and also the other team gets warm greetings.  I'm entering a bunch of contests for writing this summer, and I have readjusted my mind to be happy for whoever wins.  Feels good!  Second, I noticed that no matter how uncoordinated and slow a player was, everyone kept him or her in the game.  And, that person knew the best player to pass the ball to when he/ she did get it.  Often that pass set up a basket.  Each person contributes something.  So, now, I need to focus on what I can uniquely do and say in my writing.  No, I can't be Louise Erdrich.  But that doesn't mean I can't learn to write what I have to say with beauty and memorable language.  Third, the teams usually had a mixture of men and women.  I'm talking about teams of all ages, up to adults.  I was skeptical at first, but it worked well.  Teams seemed to know what each player could do and capitalize on that.  Who-eee, we saw a girl a foot shorter than most of her teammates dribble down the floor and shoot a no-rim basket. So in everyday life, maybe we should focus on how we differ in order to use everyone's best efforts, not to pigeonhole people and ignore some of them.  I write another blog for women in science, and sometimes I need to tell myself how helpful a lot of men are and have been to women in science.  This cooperation we saw was a good reminder of that.   It was a lovely day, and I only cried once.  I highly recommend, enjoyable, and helps the atmosphere for the athletes.  There's one every six months or so. Keep an eye open!  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Looking for Meaning in Fiction Today

Dear readers and writers,

This week, I read an essay in an old magazine about short stories today.  It came to the conclusion that writers are constructing their stories with intellectual dimensions that make it fascinating to read them, but without the heart and deep meaning that used to be found in stories. The author thought it a loss, and said that probably the stories won't prove as memorable to the readers.

 I thought about the novels and short stories that we read in my Theories of Fiction class last semester, and what I remembered best was--Tobias Wolfe.  Not exactly contemporary.  Somewhat minimalist but with loads of feeling buried just beneath the surface.  Two of the class members twisted the professor's arm to get permission to use stories by Wolfe.  He had wanted only very contemporary work at first, but he couldn't turn down these stories.  I'm glad.  Each of them made an indelible impression on me.  I chose to present a story by Amy Hempel called "The Afterlife."  It was highly minimalist, but there was a ton of feeling, buried a bit deeper than in the Wolfe stories but there, I thought.  Some agreed with me about the Hempel story, some did not.  But probably most of the class would view the two Wolfe stories as highlights of the course.  So meaning still means something important to the rising writers of the next generation, I'm pleased to find. What do you think?


Thanks to Mark Coggins and Creative Commons/Wikipedia for the photograph of Tobias Wolfe.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Robert Mezey Interview on Poetry International

Hi readers and writers,

Robert Mezey kindly took time out from his schedule to do an interview with me for my internship at Poetry International.  It has just been posted online and you can read it here (click or go to this address):

In addition to writing poetry and collecting the poems of major figures such as Thomas Hardy, Robert Mezey, along with his colleague in English and Comp Lit at Pomona College, Richard Barnes, translated Borges' poetry.  Some of the interview is about how he thinks about translation of poems.  It's very thought-provoking! It might be that the translator has to write a whole new poem.

Also, my friend Vicki selected some interesting quotations about Robert Mezey by famous authors.  Take a look, enjoy!


Mayborn Conference for Nonfiction Writers

Hi readers and writers,
I just got on the mailing list for an interesting conference on nonfiction writing.  One of the organizers sent this handy summary so I thought I'd post it here for those looking for a good conference this summer.  Cheers, Laura
George Getschow
Got an essay or book manuscript gathering dust in your dresser drawer? Are you looking to find a publisher? Then come to the nationally-acclaimed Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Now in its eighth year, the Mayborn Conference will explore the myriad ways in which storytellers crisscross the murky terrain between fiction, nonfiction and other genres. Speakers include Luis Alberto Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist who has been published extensively in all genres, including poetry; Richard Rhodes, the Pulitizer Prize-winning author and editor of 26 works of fiction, history, biography and memoir; Isabel Wilkerson, the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize; Debby Applegate, a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer; Tom Junod, Writer-At-Large for Esquire; Jeanne Marie Laskas, a bestselling nonfiction author and journalist whose narratives in GQ, Esquire and other magazines capture the voice of her subjects more adroitly than a ventriloquist; Alisa Valdes, a former staff writer for the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times, who has become a bestselling novelist; Mark Sundeen, one of America’s most innovative writers of literary nonfiction, and many more nationally acclaimed storytellers.

The conference, held July 20-22 (Friday through Sunday) in Grapevine, TX, sponsors a national writing competition that awards $15,000 in cash prizes and publication in its award winning literary journal, “Ten Spurs,” for the best essays and reported narratives submitted to the conference. It also offers major cash awards for the three best book manuscripts submitted to the conference. The top book manuscript selected by jurists earns a publishing contract.

Deadline for submitting your book manuscripts, reported narratives and essays is June 18. Twenty people are selected for the manuscript workshops and 50 people are selected for the essay and reported narrative workshops. All workshops are conducted on Thursday, July 19, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. before the offical start of the conference on Friday.

For more information and to register, go to:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Friday Fictioneers: Above the Clouds

Dear readers and writers:

I have caught the Friday Fictioneers bug.  Check out Madison Woods' blog and give it a try!  Today (Weds) she posted the picture below.  I've posted my 100 word response below the photo.  Cheers, Laura

“I don’t trust Brin.  Someone is after this list of our supporters,” said Miriam, scowling, oblivious to the cloudscape outside the blimp's windows.
“Calm yourself, enjoy the quiet up here,” growled Wulfram IV.  “We have enough problems without arguing. We need Brin with us, not with Rouxlan.” But he glanced uneasily at Cosima’s cast.  Gianni had been too badly burned destroying the first list to come along.
“She’s right, though,” said Alex, “Brin told someone.  It’s dangerous to try getting the list to him again.  I say, forget Brin.  He only has a small holding.”
There were nods all around, but everyone looked worried. There was a voice from the intercom.  "Pilot speaking.  Look down at 2 o'clock, armed troops on the march."   

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Fictioneers: Couriers in the High Peaks

Here's my 100 word response to the Friday Fictioneers photo of the week, Couriers in the High Peaks:

Into the icy wind, Gianna and I had to go.  We were almost out of food, and the snow had softened enough that we could pick our way through the scowling mountain peaks.  If we ran short of water we could melt snow, but so far it was no problem.  We bundled ourselves into our black hoodies, scoured the cave for tidbits, made sure we had the packet, started off when it was barely light.  Moving fast over the dark slopes warmed us up.  After we passed the dormant volcano, Gianna bent over a stream.  “Look, Cosima, fish!  We can eat!” she said. 

Check out Madison Woods' blog at the link above fmi.  Here is the photo we were responding to:

Small Writing vs. Big Writing

Hi readers and writers,

I need to work on a biography that is almost finished and a novel that is about 1/3 done, the latter being a requirement for my MFA program, due by next May in its entirety.  So why is it that my mind skips away to rewriting a travel essay so I can submit it to a contest, polishing up a story about a CO who worked in an insane asylum during WW II to submit to another contest, reformatting a third story to submit for a June 1 deadline?  These contests are fine, but they're just putting off what I really need to do.

Write these books.  Concentrate.  I put my tailbone to the chair and I open the computer and then, my mind plays hooky.  I am getting tired of it, but still, day after day, I don't get down to the jobs I really need to do.

Anyone out there faced this problem and found some great solutions you'd like to share?  I bet I'm not the only one who procrastinates by "pretending" to write, working on the non-urgent jobs and avoiding the important ones.  How can I point my errant brain to what I need it to work on?  My problem is, any time I get too logical, I can no longer write (or I go into science-writing-style, using passive, chronological, logical, simplified, direct, no dialog, no "i").  But this situation is very stressful.  I'd love to get some good, constructive suggestions!