Monday, May 25, 2009

Distractions 5/26/09

With WriteCamp coming up in two weeks, things have been a bit hectic. However, I managed to polish off an old short story, titled "Terminal." I think that it's a bit stronger now, and I will begin to do my bit of research to figure out where would be best to send it.

My next goal will be to finish off a story that I started at an MWW workshop about a month ago. I've been listening to a lot of Snow Patrol lately, and I keep getting better and better ideas for how this story will go. Essentially it's a tale about a reporter who visits a town that's been hit by a meteor (which I might possibly change) only to discover that it's the town where an old flame from college - some 30 years previous - is living and dying of cancer. It's to be a story with a bit of nostalgia for the two, some obvious undertones of romance, and perhaps a bit of reconciliation after years of regretting a break up in college. I know, it's romantic :-)

Anyway, I'm very excited for WriteCamp, and I keep getting a lot of good compliments and comments about it, so I'm very hopeful about it. I sent out for some new JB Dryden Co business cards, which should be good, and I'll be getting some MWW cards, too. Yay!

Until next time. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fresh Ideas

I've been very pleased lately with my writing.  Or, rather, the fact that I've been writing.  I polished a story I had not even looked at in quite some time and began a new story that I'd had in my head for a while.  I suppose distractions were my biggest reason for not writing but more importantly I think it was a mental block.

I get that way sometimes - as I'm sure plenty of other folks do, too.  I find it hard to break the cycle of "oh, well, I'll get to it tomorrow" when I'm so busy dealing with other things.  I have been bad about practicing what I preach (regarding writing on a regular basis), and I feel badly about it.  I feel like I've been abandoning my own craft for other things.  But I'm glad to be back on track.

I think that we, as writers, get pulled aside so often to do other things that we forget our passion at times.  Or maybe it's just me.

In other news, WriteCamp is just two weeks away, and I'm getting a little annoyingly excited about it.  Already we have a good collection of sessions, our keynotes, and a fair amount of registered folks.  I think it's going to be a wonderful event, and it will be a great establishing of the community for future events.  As with everything else I'm doing this year, I'm being very positive and considering this part of me "Year of Boone."  If nothing else, I will have learned a great deal about event planning by the end of things.

That is all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Make It Mean Something

I was speaking with one of my students the other day, and she asked, "What is it about short stories that make them stand out?" I asked her if she meant stand out from other stories or stand out as a medium for fiction. She wanted both answers.

So . . . what makes certain short stories stand out from other short stories?

For me, it's stories that mean something. Not in the truly metaphorical way but more in the metaphysical one. They have to speak to me in some way - make me connect with the story, the characters, the concept, something. I want to walk away from a short story with having gained some sense of the author's truth about the world.

Perhaps it's the literary mind in me. Perhaps it's the theorist as well. For a long time, I thought that there was a slight sense of arrogance to my preference (and I'll admit that might be part of it) - a hold-over from my academic days where criticism meant the world. Honestly, though, I think that it comes from a continually-growing love of short fiction. I try and read as much as I can when I can afford it and go to the library when I can't. So I've digested a lot of fiction in the last three years. To me, the stories that resonate the most are the ones that I respond to in some way. Whether it's "Wow, that was great" or "What the hell did I just read?"

And . . . what makes short stories stand out from other fiction media?

I will give you my thoughts, and then I will give you the thoughts of two individuals that I highly agree with.

First, I think that it takes a distinct desire to create something concise when one is writing a short story. And with that in mind the author gives himself a challenge to put together one grand thought into a short amount of space. I think it's a challenge because we have want to say what others have said before, but we want to say it our way, and we want it to resonate with someone in a way that it hasn't done before.

Second, I think that short stories are wonderful and diverse and offer a way to be creative, artistic, experimental, and out of the ordinary. Novels are hard to sell and harder still to make "out of the box." Poetry is, by its nature, out of the ordinary. It speaks to the soul in a way that the short story speaks to the mind. And fiction on stage and screen is dramatic and visual; it's hard to compare that to fiction most times.

I think it's best summed up by these two quotes:

Martha Foley, one of the first editors of the Best American series said, "A good short story is a story which is not too long and which gives the reader the feeling she has undergone a memorable experience." I think that Barbara Kingslover - the author - expands upon that nicely: "A good short story cannot simply be Lit Lite; it is the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts: 5/12/09

It's a quiet night in Milwaukee, and I'm up later than I ought to be after a long day and very little sleep last night. I'm listening to the new Better Than Ezra album and feeling hopeful. WriteCamp is coming up in little less than a month, and I'm very excited about it.

I wrote a steampunk flash fiction piece the other day that I'm fairly happy with. I had my wife read over it, and she said that there's little to draw you in to it, so I'm looking to retool it with a different point-of-view, perhaps, or something a bit more compelling. Perhaps it's a longer story than I'm making it: the character of Doctor Luscowicz is a good one; maybe I need to give him more attention than I have already.

I've also been jotting notes for a few essay ideas regarding creative education, literary theory, and something related to mentorship. I seem to have been doing a lot of "here's my thoughts on writing" rants/discussions/speeches lately, and I might as well see if I can capitalize on them. I might not be original (read, I'm probably reiterating much of what Ken Robinson has said - it's a video, fyi), but I feel that there are a lot of people locally who might not have the same venues that I have and so have not heard what he's got to say about those topics.

I think it's too late to really continue. Just some thoughts for the day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sad Songs Say So Much

I'm sitting in the library of the local university, and I'm listening to sad music. Why? It just strikes me sometimes that I need to listen to other peoples' sad stories; it helps me recognize the pain in the world and put it into my own writing. Some songs are so brilliantly written and poignant that they make me truly sad inside. It is my sincere hope that my own fiction will one day elicit that response from at least one reader. I believe that all writers should have a similar hope: to elicit an appropriate response from their readers in such a way that it completes their work - and not because their work was incomplete before - but because a reader, in my opinion, makes a work what it is for them.

I've been working on two pieces lately.

One is about a society forced into quiet acceptance and obedience made possible by forceful removal of dissenting voices. It is about a young man whose father is taken away, and he begins a revolution that is eventually - and sadly - quelled and forgotten, as is often the case in such societies.

The other is about a woman who feels that her life has come unraveled to a point that she feels her only course of action is to leave her husband - a man whose only true joy in life is his job. It takes place over the course of an evening as she waits for him to return home, so she can tell him why she is leaving, giving him some semblance of dignity, only to wake up in the morning to find that he's not come home. So she leaves regardless.

I don't know why it is that sad stories move me - they always have.

Friday, May 1, 2009

WriteCamp Ahoy!

June 6th seemed so far away not too long ago. Now, here it is only a month away. The inaugural WriteCamp here in Milwaukee is about to be unleashed upon the world. I'm very excited about the progress the planning board has made over the course of the last three months. As it stands now, we have about 40-50 people signed up officially, at least a dozen or so more than that unofficially, and we have folks coming all the way from Chicago to join us. I think it's going to be a great event.

So that's what I've been working on. I've had a lot of opportunity to speak a lot about WriteCamp and what it is and what it's meant to function as, and I've come to realize that people don't understand it. The literary community is so engrained with academia that the thought of a free exchange of knowledge is baffling to most of them. So often I've heard the phrase "Well, people don't like to do things for free," and it disappoints me. Offering things for free shows to the community that we're here to support the community - without having that feeling of "obligatory compensation."

I hope the community here in Milwaukee shortly sees that we're here to help. Not only is the Milwaukee Writers Workshop here as a support group, but groups like Robinson Writers and individuals like Liam Callahan are here to be a part of the community.

If you haven't heard of it - btw - please visit for more information.