on writing

Flash Fiction Contest! Blind Judge TBA

Credit: Gustavo Centurion

There’s nothing like a contest to draw out great stories. Blogging friends, here’s the challenge. You have until Friday, October 12th at the stroke of midnight to craft an amazing piece of flash fiction. My middle & high school students are being forced to enter assigned this contest, so consider it the literary version of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. Don’t be fooled into thinking my peeps are easy prey. Many of them have been with me for years and are quite masterful.

More entrants make for a better contest and will foster an appreciation for flash. So please, give my blind judge an afternoon’s worth of fabulous reading. Join the fun and post an entry in the comment section. The only rules are to keep it under 300 words and keep it clean. I’ll announce the winners on Wednesday, October 17th in a post showcasing the winning entries.

Prompts for the idea-challenged:

  • 1st line: X [insert name] was known for stealing Y [insert thing].
  • Picture (write a flash about these two lovebirds):
Credit: Jean-Philippe Delberghe
  • Character/genre/setting. Pick three and go! Or do these: sailor/memoir/water treatment plant
  • Anything you want

Pssst. Students who follow my blog… You have quite the heads up for our assignment next week. I hope you’ll not tell, but use the extra time to make a flash of epic greatness.

 

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on writing, Personal Journey

A Letter to Gigi*

Dear Gigi,

I chose you after giving it about thirty seconds’ thought. You’re right up there with Hitler and Jesus and the young me, which is a rather strange party, I admit. Can you imagine the four of us playing Peanut? I just played that game for the first time, by the way. Never played solitaire before, never played cards really. Apparently I don’t hold them right. Apparently, I’m mentally challenged when it comes to numbers and shapes and slamming cards down in ascending or descending order, black then white, all one suit, not all one suit.

I know, let’s play Scrabble instead. Or how about Chess?

I digress. I picked you, Gigi, because you’re often on my mind when “big” things happen and you’re not here to share them over coffee. I miss you when I see pictures of your sisters with their nieces and children and grand-babies, and I tell myself you’re having coffee with Jesus which is far better. That you’re having coffee on Mount Everest and breathing isn’t a problem and the view is spectacular.

When I thought I might die from a brain tumor I thought of you, having walked that road to its completion. Mine veered back into health, and I find I’m so grateful but also sad when I think of you. I want you to see Bob especially, see the amazing man you helped form. I’d love to tell you how happy he makes me, what a servant’s heart he has, how he learned how to take care of his wife by being sweet to his mom all those years ago. I know, I know…he went through a rough patch. Teenage years. We have some of our own now. My own mom used to say through clenched teeth and with all the vitriol of sulfuric acid, “I hope you get a daughter just like you someday.”

What a fantastic curse.

If you were here, Gigi, I’d ask your advice. I’d tell you how impactful Carol Ann was in shaping our family’s journey toward Jesus, how we love to spend time with Harry and Carol Ann, how we wish we could see John and Kim more often. I’d tell you I did get daughters like me, but better. Sons like Bob, but better as well. Not perfect. We struggle. Those I’d share with you. I’d tell you I have entirely too much stock placed in excellence and not enough in faith, that I handle emergencies with the calm of Florence Nightengale and then for days after am egg-thin and weepy, my own version of PTSD.

I could tell you so many things about our family, but I know you know. Someday I’ll get that cup of coffee with you. All my uptown problems will be over. My mom-worries will be done. My dreams, either accomplished or deserted. When I finally get to see you, I imagine we’ll laugh about the days when you were a young mom trying to figure out a teenage boy, and I was all of eleven, trying to figure out your teenage boy. I no longer zip my jeans with a can opener. I don’t even wear those awful, scratchy things. I’d tell you about yoga pants and long tunics that hide all sorts of imperfections. We’d laugh. I’d hug you.

Harry, Kim, Gigi, John, Bob

*This is the first of the creative writing assignments I’m giving to my 5000 Words Class. I’ve committed to writing and posting each assignment I give them because I’m crazy and/or stupid and I like writing so much, and with all the reading that goes along with teaching, my own writing can fall by the wayside, and in my convalescence from brain surgery I’ve lapsed in the creative field…and gotten wordy and pukey with my ideas. I’m sure it’s hardly noticeable.

The assignment was to write a letter to someone from the past, anyone at all. It just has to be a real person. (That’s where the Hitler reference came from…and a letter I found from Gandhi to him while both were very much alive.) Tell the person 1. why you chose them and 2. what you hope they’ll take to heart.

on writing, Personal Journey

This Happens to be an Excuse

…as to why I’d temporarily abandon my blog. Something happens when you don’t write regularly: you get stiff-brain. You believe you don’t have anything worthy to say, even though your friends are posting about their new moisture-repelling socks and how potty training’s going with the puppy (with pictures). Things, big things, happen, but you neglect to write them down. Poof. What was that thing I was soooo keen to write about?

I now have an idea how my students feel when they walk into my living room, clutching their 3-ring binders to their chests, telling me they have absolutely NOTHING to write, that no words exist in the folds of grey matter, snug inside their still-growing skulls. (Incidentally, a skull continues growing as long as a person ages. It’s the only bone that does that, say the folks at Duke University, and it accounts for elderly droop-face too.)

Big as my brain is getting, the space left by my recently-removed brain tumor has proven to be a bit of a chasm for my synapses or whatever things jump around in there, keeping me on track. I can write a post, but sometimes I forget simple things, like my schedule or the sentence just spoken. Eh? What was that again?

The unsettledness of moving got me out of the habit of writing, and I’m just now getting back into it. My soul itches to create something, but so far all I’ve been able to do is tweak my WIP and query a few more agents. I’m still bereft of a rejection letter, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been rejected. Many agents don’t even bother with a rejection email. I just have to wait until so much time elapses, then assume I’m rejected.

Confession: I have an agent I really want. He was the first person to whom I sent my manuscript because he represents authors I adore. He always replies, and I should hear from him soon. I’ve been Twitter-stalking him and am ready to be devastated if he rejects my manuscript. All I want is a request for more. Then, if he doesn’t take me on after that, I can lick my wounds and keep going. What am I saying? I’ll lick my wounds and keep going no matter what. Because that’s what writers do. Just today, I re-fell in love with my novel while editing it for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some neat acceptances on my shorter works. One, an edgy and controversial piece, will be coming out in October. It’s a science fiction story influenced by C.S. Lewis and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If nothing else, you should read it to find out how that mix of inspiration is possible.

Wishing you well until the next woefully overdue post.

on writing, Personal Journey

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Some bloggers reel me in—usually with a strong literary voice and brutal honesty. I’m a sucker for poetic confession. We all struggle inside ourselves, and I appreciate a writer who can fly that flag and call it fiction or essay or Dear Diary…

MrHushHush is one such blogger, so when I saw he was looking for beta readers, I jumped at the chance to swap books with someone whose work I admire. So glad I did!  

Thanks for the nomination, Jordan!

What is this Sunshine Blogger Award?

This award is given by bloggers to fellow bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

Why did you start blogging? Until blogs, the only thing I could self-publish was the yearly Christmas card. I love putting my mind on a blank page. Or is it my blank mind on a page? It’s not that I think my mind is any more interesting than the next one, but I think we can, by writing, capture our minds at various stages of life, stages we won’t ever get back again. My blog is a history, for what it’s worth.

Who is your favorite blogger? No way. Can’t choose just one.

What keeps you going and motivated? Sheer love of craft, and when that doesn’t work, YouTube videos like this one:

PS – I listen to these while peddling away on my recumbent bike. Nothing beats getting yelled at by Sylvester Stallone while you’re sweating enough to hydrate a Willow tree.

What is your weirdest habit? See above. No. I’m even weirder than that. My weirdest habit is so weird I’m going to give you my second weirdest one, which is that I allow my dog to lick the sweat off my arms and legs when I return from a long run or get off the recumbent bike.

What is your favorite cuisine? My humble beginnings don’t allow for cuisine, but I have an addiction to Mitchell’s salted caramel ice cream.

What is a personality trait you would like to change in yourself? I’d like to silence the little voice that tells me I suck.

What are the first three things you always notice in a person? How firm the handshake, how steady the eye contact, and whether they’d be a protagonist or an antagonist.

Which is the best book you have read to date? Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. A coming-of-age story about a cadet at the Citadel. Pat Conroy builds the most beautiful mind I’ve ever read. If I live to be a hundred years old, I don’t think I’ll be able to write like him. But I’ll give it a go.

How do you deal with negative comments or hurtful feedback? I curl into the fetal position for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the hit. Then I transition onto my couch, where I type out swaths of rage until my fingers and mind are numb. Then, click select all/delete. I pray and ask God to remind me of how little I am and how big He is and I do the next right thing, whatever that is. Usually, it’s laundry.

What is your goal in life? To write fiction that pulls people out of this world and provides a temporary refuge in another. But also, to write books that not only mirror the human condition but underscore how we can be the best version of ourselves.

To my nominations, I hope you’ll play along because I look forward to hearing your answers to these questions!

My Nominations:

Nancy

Nthato

Kelvin

Magarisa

Wezlo 

Keith

Russel

Peggy

Brian

Cyndi

Michael

 

 

on writing

A Writing Exercise on Mood Creation

Two canoes.

With a rope I drag one behind me and return to the place. The empty canoe yaws and straggles and hampers so I have to relearn my paddle. Last time the water was serrated, chopped into spades by homeless and invisible gusts. The sudden rain made the most fragile bubbles when it struck the lake. Last time out we weren’t concerned about a squall or fragility. All our bubbles till then were blown from soap and sticks and had iridescent rivers on their hardy surfaces.

I row. I decide that today, if it strikes me, the rain will run right off in jagged rivulets. I row harder. My hitching breaths throw their own quick ghosts that die off like unspoken words. An ache develops in my shoulders. I row until they are screaming.

Today the water has no pulse. Even the jostling canoes don’t mar the reflection. Clouds rise like saints in white robes, their unhurried legions make a serpentine ascent to the treetops, to the colorless sky.

From tall, parlous grasses red-winged blackbirds shriek complaints to one another. Then in a black conflagration, they launch into space. They glide, unhinged from gravity. Fish too, wend unconcerned through a watery, leaden passage that hungers in silent patience.

My fat canoe sits next to your sleek canoe and I cannot help but think how unfair that is. Both are grey steel.

They say it’s low lying clouds, not ghosts rising up all over the water like a rapture.

I don’t believe them.

This is an assignment I gave to my 5000 Words class: write a 500+ word description of a lake. The key was that someone they knew had drowned in that lake. They were to describe the lake, the emotion coming through in the description alone, not the story of what happened to the victim. As I began to do this assignment, I found it difficult to make the word count without dipping into plot. So I allowed my students to tell a story in addition to describing the lake.  

on writing, Personal Journey

My Muse Experience

Anne Lamott calls it her broccoli. Stephen King calls it his beast.

My beast was asleep. I tried prodding him, kicking him, calling him bad names. No roars. No lightning bolts of creativity. Just me, slapping words on a page with the precision of a toddler, becoming more and more certain I was wasting my time.

Writers have a chronic god-complex: the need to create something amazing. Luckily the god-complex comes with a handy counterbalance: rejection. One moment you’re in rags talking to mice and the next you’re wearing the grandest gown of all, dancing with the prince. Then the clock strikes twelve, and you’re in rags again. This is the rejection-acceptance wheel, and—from what I can tell—it never ends.

So I’m writing, and there’s this nagging feeling that it’s garbage, what I’m putting on the page. The urge to do something practical like dishes starts to rise to the top of my consciousness like sweet cream. I’m cobbling together this little flash, hating it with a Frankensteinian passion, and hating myself for the time I could never get back (the dishes weren’t cleaning themselves). Several times I threw up my hands in frustration. I said mean things to the screen. When I think how close I came to shutting off my laptop and forging ahead with my day, story unfinished, I cringe.

Because now, I love that little flash. It’s one of my favorites.

At some point in the process, the story began to have a pulse. I don’t know when, exactly. But it was as if skin was grafted to some dead thing. Beautiful skin. And I thought: I like that arm. Then, I like that leg, that face, and so on. Until I thought, where did you come from, oh great and glorious creation? 

Well I’ll be. You came from me.

I love a happy ending.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

The Most Dangerous Thing We Do

Once this kid—my passenger—grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard over while I was driving. Not just a little tug, mind you, but a full-on we-gonna-die! yank. The kind that elicited a blood-curdling scream and a shouted sermon. A 19-year old preaching car safety to a 15-year-old. This kid was all charm and immortality and sass. The car fetched and yawed but it didn’t crash into a telephone pole. He thought my fear was funny.

At age nineteen I hadn’t become comfortable yelling at people. That’s why the moment sticks. Now I yell at people for a living. Pro bono. Homeschool mom.

It wasn’t a year after the steering wheel incident I found myself looking at a car, at a half-unwrapped McDonald’s egg McMuffin. The driver’s seat was crushed, crenulated like those paper fans we made in elementary school. The sandwich was in the foot well. He must have had it in his hand when he threw the wheel too hard over. Must’ve dropped between his feet as the car began its flip.

An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force.

This kid, he lay in a hospital bed on life support, monumentally acted upon. His hands were warm from the machines pumping his blood around. All the damage was on the inside where we couldn’t see. This is true for us, too.

Apparently, his brain was dead. I didn’t buy it. Too warm. Too much like sleep. Were I his mother, you’d have to pare me from that beautiful boy with a hacksaw. I’d cling like apple peel. I still do.

I still hold to him. Still yell at him. See him in my own 17-year-old son who drives like telephone poles don’t exist. He thinks my fear is funny too.

My friend began telling this post as if it really happened before remembering it was an entry for a flash fiction contest. I remember her waving it away and saying “…it didn’t really happen.” But it did. Not exactly as I told it, but it did happen, and it happens every day. For most people, getting in our cars is the most dangerous thing we do.