Updating, again

I am a lousy blogger. It was helpful when I had to regularly update this blog for one of my classes – there’s something about being held accountable! Now, nearly a year after graduation and close to seven months of teaching, I return to this blog, guilty of abandoning it. It’s been a rewarding, fruitful year: two publications, teaching again after a long hiatus to raise my kids, taking care of some projects around my home. Still, I love blogging and the sense of connection it brings. I look forward to my Monday morning emails from all the blogs I follow. And I apologize for not regularly updating mine.

Some good news, my short story “Balloons” has been accepted by The Black Fox Literary Magazine and will appear in the next issue. I’m honored and delighted.

I have one more story from grad school that’s still making the rounds. I spent this morning researching journals via Duotrope and The Review Review to find new places for submissions. I have a few ideas for some new short stories (or flash, depending on what happens during the first draft), and I have updated my novel with a POV change. It’s almost ready for querying! 

I’ve taken over another 1:1 history course at school, and I am teaching World History, WWII onward. I think that’s where my writing time has gone to – research. I’m going to take a course on EdX about China. I’m also drafting lesson plans and reading books (Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters and The Bomb) as I prepare for the fourth quarter. Eleven weeks, and it’s summer!

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New flash fiction story up!

My latest flash fiction piece “Dude” appeared on Every Day Fiction 9 November. I am excited and honored to be published by them again.

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A different point-of-view

First, I’m listening to The Narrative Breakdown podcast these days, and I love it! So much useful information on writing, craft, and storytelling.

I am again revising my novel, concentrating on the 150 pages or so written in my female protagonist’s POV. I wrote it in first-person; years ago, I wrote an entire novel focusing on this character’s experiences in Spain, and used first-person to tell her story. This second novel (and the one I revised and rewrote for my thesis) also has her narrating her parts of the story in first-person. I felt, however, that this voice contributed to an overall chick-lit-ish tone to the novel that I didn’t like or want. Nothing against the genre–it simply didn’t serve the story. I decided to try rewriting these parts in third-person, thinking it would lend a more serious tone to the story.

Wow, it has done more than that. Changing the novel’s POV from first- to third-person has revealed all sorts of flaws and weakness that I never noticed, even after a scrupulous review before submitting the thesis. So many odd tics. For example, her cheeks are constantly warming: “My cheeks warmed. My cheeks burned.” WTH?? Why didn’t I write “blushed”? Or, better yet, why did I choose such a cliche? How else can I show she’s flustered or embarrassed, excited or attracted to someone? There are other examples like this in these pages, and I feel silly that I overlooked them. About a year ago, I attempted to read one of the 50 Shades books, and I couldn’t get past all the lip biting. It drove me crazy. And here I am, guilty of writing the same repetitive action/condition.

Beyond discovering these flaws, I am appreciating how much better third-person POV serves the story. I like the distance that it puts between me, the author, and me taking on the voice of the character. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t notice these mistakes when writing in first-person: I was too close to my character. So that’s my writing tip for the day: if you’re stuck in a section–if something feels off–try rewriting it using a different POV. You may be surprised at what you discover.

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Fall Reading

My summer reading list was fairly somber, so for the fall, I’ve chosen some lighter reads (I hope). It’ll still feel like summer for a few more months in this part of the world, but I’m ready to curl up with a good book and something warm and pumpkin-y.

The List:

Paris Was the Place, Susan Conley (Paris, yes!)

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris (About halfway through my grim summer list, I put out a call to my reading friends on Facebook, asking them to recommend something funny. This book was one of them, and I’m finally getting around to reading it!)

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (I keep hearing amazing things about this novel. I hope it lives up to the hype.)

Until I Say Good-Bye, Susan Spencer-Wendel (I had to include a tear-jerker, of course. I’ve been reading Spencer-Wendel’s columns in the Palm Beach Post and am looking forward to reading her book.)

Burning Sky, Lori Benton (Years ago, I used to visit an online writers’ forum regularly, and Lori was one of the writers active on this site at that time. I read snippets of her novel, and I was delighted to see her now-published book in the New Books section of my local library. Congratulations, Lori!)

What are you reading this fall?



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The (Obligatory) “On Rejection” Post

When I started submitting stories, I thought rejection was going to be much worse than it has been. I opened my first rejection email in the Costco parking lot. It was from a fairly prestigious print literary journal; I sat for a moment in my warm car and read the email. Read it again. Felt an odd hollow in my stomach. Thought about drinking a glass of wine. I took a deep breath and continued with my day. I still needed to buy chicken thighs and Capri Suns, three pounds of flank steak and some Kerrygold butter. Life went on. That first rejection didn’t kill me.

That was about four or five months ago. Since then, I’ve had one acceptance, one rewrite request, some no-replies, and plenty of rejections. Lots of rejections. And it’s okay. I’m okay. I received a rejection two days ago and felt the quick sting of disappointment before filing the email in my ‘writing submissions’ folder. Today, I was elated to receive a rewrite request. There is no guarantee that this story will be published when I resubmit, but I’m excited to approach it with fresh eyes and with editorial feedback.

I have been teaching and tutoring language arts (reading, writing, vocabulary, and the like) for several months now, and when I teach my students the writing process (brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, publish), I always chuckle when I come to that final step. Publish. What does that mean, exactly? For my students, it means producing a clean draft that we will read out loud together, and one that they will feel proud to show their parents. It’s that moment when they complete an assignment that confused and concerned them. (“I can’t write poetry,” said a student who wrote a clever and charming poem in response to a prompt.) I would never diminish that sense of accomplishment in my students, so why should I diminish my own achievements, no matter how small they are?

Rejection. Deal with it and move on. And never forget the love and joy found in the process, the thrill of a blank page, or the excitement of revision.

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On Making Writing a Priority (Again!)

Yesterday, I worked on my novel for the first time in over three months. I edited around 20 pages: light editing on the first ten, and a complete rewrite of a crucial scene for the latter pages. Following that task, I spent a couple hours reviewing submissions guidelines for several literary journals and submitting a story to those accepting stories at the moment (most are closed until September). It felt good to be concentrating on writing again. I shouldn’t have neglected it as long as I had.

It’s funny how life gets in the way of what is so important and valuable. When I finished my novel/thesis in April, I intended to let it rest until mid-June, at the latest. There was a family wedding in May, and we had vacation plans at the beginning of June. Then, I promised myself, I will revisit the novel, after taking some time away from it. After detaching from it. Life happened, however. We scheduled another trip, this one to New Hampshire for ten days to visit my family. I found a job, and while I’ve only been tutoring a few hours each week, I’ve been preparing a curriculum for the language arts class I’ll be teaching daily this fall. The kids are at home for the summer—playdates, doctors’ appointments, camps, library trips, etc. It’s been so easy to neglect writing.

I’ve fallen in this trap before, letting life distract me from what truly nurtures me, what I value (not to mention the fact that I just invested $$$ into a writing program). Family and work are important, but I have to make room for writing, make it a triumvirate of priorities. Family, work, writing, and not always in that order. That’s today’s pep talk, a re-resolution, and one I hope to adhere to.

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Revisiting My Favorites

A few nights ago, while sipping red wine, a friend and I discussed rereading books from our childhood and how our opinions and perceptions have changed since we first read them. She brought up reading The Good Earth with her teenage daughter and, as they read the first chapters together, wondering if this fictional portrayal of marriage was the best thing for her impressionable daughter to read. “I never realized what a misogynist the main character was,” she said. I confessed rereading Jane Eyre this past winter and thinking (horror of horrors!) that my beloved Mr. Rochester was kind of an ass. We laughed about how we never noticed these things as young teenagers, and how we brought our adult baggage and opinions to stories we had loved as children, thereby diluting the magic somewhat.

This conversation made me think of the magic I have encountered in books and some films, and I wonder if that magic still exists. As an occasional series of posts, I’d like to explore re-encountering some of my favorite stories to see if that magic holds up. Does the romance still exist?

Recently, in anticipation of viewing “Before Midnight,” I saw “Before Sunrise.” I hadn’t seen it since 1995, when I watched it in the movie theater underneath my college dining hall. Would Jessie and Celine’s story hold up, or would I no longer find it as sweet and romantic as I did when I was 20? Thankfully, it was just as beautiful the second time around, perhaps even more so because I watched it: a.) knowing that the two characters eventually end up together, and b.) with a certain nostalgia for that innocent, more romantic time in my life. Less than a year after watching “Before Sunrise” the first time, I, too, had a Eurrail pass and was traveling through Western Europe during the many Spanish university holidays. I went by “Kat” then, and it was a time in my life when I felt plucky and independent, when I was certain that romance and magic were just around the corner.

So, “Before Sunrise” holds up, and now I gaze at my bookshelf, wondering which novel to choose. So many—the classics I read for high school and college, a Victoria Holt novel, the Dragonriders of Pern series. So many. All these stories that nourished me, that brought magic during the hours I spent reading them—I’m curious if the magic holds.

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The Next Project

I spent most of this afternoon reading my journals in preparation for a new writing project, one that is intimate and personal and scary. With a few exceptions, I write fiction, and while my personal experiences influence my stories, I have not written directly about them—I have not told my own truth, unfiltered.

One of my cohorts, a non-fiction writer, advised another classmate to give herself time before writing about her own experiences, that in order to write the truth—to shape a story—the writer needs to have some sort of distance from the events and emotions. I thought of my cohort’s advice today as I pored through sloppily written pages and reflected upon those experiences from several years ago.

I still think I need more time and distance in order to shape a narrative arc, to form these incidents into a clear “story.” But, as I have learned from writing a novel, I’m a slow writer; I needed years to complete Be With Me (working title, and I’m experimenting with more evocative phrases), and I have no doubt that this new project will need just as many years, if not more.

For the moment, I revel in the newness of the story, in the first spark of creativity. Another beginning. I believe in the promise it holds.

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My story is posted!

My flash piece “Bonefever” appears on Every Day Fiction today. I’m excited!

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Summer Reading Kickoff

My kids are out of school; we have a couple upcoming trips scheduled. It’s time to read! Here are the books in my to-be-read pile:

Stoner by John Williams. A couple months ago, the interwebs were buzzing with news of the New York Review Books’ reissue of this “forgotten classic.” I was intrigued. I love quiet, slow fiction (that’s what I tend to write); I’m entranced by character-driven stories. Indeed, I’ve begun Stoner and am drawn into this character’s life. A farmer’s son turned professor, a man who chooses love of literature over familial duty. The back cover blurb promises a novel of “essential solitude”; sure, why not kickoff the summer with beautiful melancholy?

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I found this title on NPR, in an article recommending memoirs that are “written with heart.” Wave tells the story of the loss of Deraniyagala’s entire family in the 2004 tsunami – spouse, sons, and parents, all lost to the fierce wave. I hope for some form of redemption, some relief, in these pages, and I wonder what I will find. As a mother, wife, and daughter, I cannot imagine enduring this sort of tragedy. But I am eager, in a dreadful sort of way, to read Deraniyagala’s story.

Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun. I heard an interview with Lasdun on NPR this past spring, and I was intrigued by the premise of his memoir: being stalked by a former writing student. Creepy, dreadful, harrowing – what can one write about this situation? Listening to Lasdun speak to the interviewer, I was fascinated and terrified by his story and by how the Internet has made this sort of crime easier.

(This isn’t your typical beach-reading list, is it??)

The Tell by Hester Kaplan. A novel focusing on the challenges within a marriage. Addiction, dysfunction, a mysterious neighbor – I’m hooked!

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy. I wish I had come up with that title. It’s lovely. Even if I dislike the novel, I will always adore that title. I have a feeling it will be my favorite this summer, however. It’s set in Athens, Greece. Young, intelligent characters explore love and life in a way that makes “their lives brighter and clearer than ever, as they fall headlong into a summer that will forever define them in the decades to come.” Sounds lovely and amazing!

What’s on your summer list?

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