Posts Tagged Fiction

Molding a short story – an example

With a sigh, Josephine dropped her head on the chest, hoping to catch a little of the jasmine scent Grandmother Rose used to wear, and feel again her grandmother’s kindness and love. She imagined burying herself in the old woman’s arms. If she could only bring her back to life, she would stop being so lonely and upset. But that, of course, was impossible.

The lid lifted easily, its leather hinges still intact. Velvet skirts covered in beads and mirrors filled the top tray. Again, she was a child. Her mother walked in the front door at Grandmother Rose’s in one of these outfits, her arms loaded with presents. Josephine ran to her, and she swung her around and around. Then Josephine ripped the paper off one of the presents to reveal a baby doll in a pink dress with a matching hair bow, exactly liked she’d wanted. She squealed and hugged her mother.

Her mother hadn’t stayed long, maybe a few days. After her mother left, Grandmother Rose held her while she cried herself to sleep. How many times had that happened before she’d learned not to get excited when her mother visited? The last time, the day of Rose’s funeral, she’d seen her mother park in front of the house, and she’d gone into her room and closed the door.

 

That’s an excerpt from my short story, Heritage. The full story can be read by downloading Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing, by the Cartel Collaborative. The book is free, and you can get it on Amazon by clicking the link below. Or go here to find other formats.

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If you’re curious about the story behind the story, here’s a little bit about how I wrote Heritage.

This story was born out of a writing prompt in my local writing group. I no longer remember what the prompt was, but I remember what I free-wrote in our twenty minutes; Josephine took a necklace she’d found in her mother’s home to her aunt. I opened with Josephine driving up to her aunt’s home in a downpour.

With this, I had two themes: cleaning out the home of a mother from whom she had been estranged; and a beautiful old necklace found there, which belonged to her aunt.

The rewriting started immediately. At first, I attempted a very short story, which I took to my writing group. They found it too complex for something that short. It must be a novel, they urged. I went home and tried expanding it, adding a father, two brothers, and a host of relatives. It grew into a childhood of gypsy wanderings, with all kinds of complexities, but I couldn’t make it work. I researched old necklaces, trying to build a story around the one Josephine finds. Eventually, I abandoned the enterprise, but my subconscious kept the ideas alive, and the files stayed on my computer.

Along came James Lee Schmidt, with his suggestion to compile a book of stories. With a short deadline, I scanned back through my computer and found my abandoned novella. Why not pare it back to its origins? Goodbye brothers. Goodbye wandering childhood, and so many other unnecessary bits and pieces. Josephine, though, needed expansion. She was a cardboard character in my original story; she had to come to life. With more years of writing experience since the initial version, I knew this was key. Who was she – not just what she looked like, and what she did for a living, but what was her character like? What made her that way? I don’t want to give too much away, but I made her a high school physics/math teacher. To match that, she’s introverted, a bit intimidating, a bitter loner who takes refuge in numbers, yet she’s sweet underneath the hard crust.

This may sound like an awful lot of modification, but I think of a story as a wad of wet clay. So long as you keep it wet, you can create a bunny rabbit, wad it back into an amorphous form, make a horse, add a saddle, then change it into a donkey. Until it’s dried, it can become anything, and that’s half the fun.

Once I liked my story, I sent it my co-authors for critiquing. There were a few comments which were along the lines of “what are you talking about?” If a reader says that, I know something needs fixing, even if it isn’t the spot they marked, so I made a few more significant modifications — adding cousins, for one—and sent it back to them. There were far fewer instances of “huh?” this time. After that, it went to a professional editor. By now, I was pretty tired of this wad of clay, and it was getting dry, at least in my mind. Mirel Abeles, my wonderful editor, suggested brown eyes, longer ears, and a larger saddle. I saw the wisdom of most of her words, so I dug in hard one last time. Finally, came the day when she gave me a thumbs up and it seemed I had a nice tale, free of extraneous commas and other bloopers.

Now comes the hard part, at least for me, which is asking for your feedback. Please read it and leave a review on your favorite retailer (or all of them). Reviews are the only way we, as independent authors, get found. Thank you so much!

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Mosaic is coming!

Mosaic #1

Sometimes it seems like I have nothing to talk about. But now I have big news. Mosaic, a Compilation of  Creative Writing by the Cartel Collaborative will be released next Wednesday, March 25th. Less than a week to go! I’m excited, because this book of short stories and poems is the result of many months of hard work by the eight authors featured here.

A little history: we ‘met’ on the internet via Joe Bunting’s The Story Cartel Course, which emphasizes the importance of writers helping other writers. James Lee Schmidt came up with the idea of putting a book together – we’d shared and critiqued stories, so he figured we had the talent. Soon, Mosaic was birthed!

Each day for the next five days, I’ll tell you a little more about our process, and feature a couple of the authors.

Margie Deeb

Margie Deeb

 

Today (drum roll please) – Margie Deeb.

I don’t know what we would have done without Margie, who designed the book. We were incredibly lucky to have this talented visual artist, who has published five books about bead work and won an award for The Beader’s Color Pallet. Because of her, we ended up with a visually beautiful product. Even more, she wrote two short shorts, Leonardo, and Connecting Flight, which are humorous and sweet. It’s fantastic the way they add variety and contrast with some of the longer, heavier, stories.

This is a piece by Margie. See what I mean about talented visual artist?

Margiebead

To learn more about Margie, and see more of her incredible artwork, go to MargieDeeb.com. I think you’ll be amazed.

And, no, this is not our cover. Ours is amazing and I’m not revealing it yet. This is a photo by Ayla87 at freeimages.com.

 

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Short Story – Robotics

working girl on ballThe few months have been busy with writing projects. First of all, there’s ShortFictionBreak.com, where you can read my latest short story, Robotics, in two parts, or catch up on the four other stories I’ve posted there. And then, there’s a new project, Mosaic, which should be published in January. I can’t provide a link yet, because we’re still putting together our WEB site, but I can tell you a little bit about it.

Mosaic is a spin-off of Joe Bunting’s wonderful Story Cartel Course, which he offers every once in a while. One of the lovely things about this course is that, once you’ve taken it, you can keep taking it for free, which I’ve done since I always seem to punt once the course gets to the nitty-gritty part of using Twitter and social media to connect with people. I keep thinking that I’ll actually do the exercises in those parts, but, well, I hate Twitter. Or perhaps I should say that I haven’t yet been able to manage the onslaught of information constantly flowing at me via that mad medium. Either I tune it all out, or I chase down every interesting link, and, well, there goes the day. Or … RABBIT!

Damn, it got away.

Oh, was I writing something? So, that’s all neither here nor there. What has come out of this course has been lovely connections with other writers, and by lovely connection, I mean critique partners. Really good ones. I have learned so much from them! I continue to connect with many of them, sharing writing, and writing tips. That’s how I connected with Jeff Elkins, who started shortfictionbreak.com. It’s also how I ended up in the Facebook group, Skywriters, which has turned into a bi-weekly critique group par excellence. And now, there’s Mosaic, a book of short stories, short shorts, and poems by the most recent graduates of the story cartel course, where two of my short stories will appear. And, no, you haven’t already read them on this site or anywhere else.

Mosaic is professionally edited, professionally designed and, best of all, Mosaic will be completely free. I’m really excited about it. It’s been a lot of work getting to this point, and a big growth opportunity for me, not just working with an editor to create great stories, but also helping the other writers, and coordinating it all. I’m not done, yet, either, as I promised to take the final product, replicate it as a .doc file, and put it on Smashwords (which I understand isn’t easy!), but at least I’m not the one doing the WEB site, or the book design.

I’ll tell you more about this exciting project as we get closer to publication. In the meantime, why not jump over to shortfictionbreak.com and enjoy a short story or two?

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Book Review: In The Time of Butterflies

This novel by Julia Alvarez was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection. From the book blurb:

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their death as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—the Butterflies.

This novel is based upon a real incident which happened four months after Alvarez’s family escaped to New York. The Mirabel sisters, known as Las Mariposas, were members of the underground resistance, along with Alvarez’s father. In her notes at the back of the novel, Alvarez says: “When as a young girl I heard about the “accident, I could not get the Mirabels out of my mind. On my frequent trips back to the Dominican Republic, I sought out whatever information I could about these brave sisters who had done what few men and only a handful of women—had been Julia-Alvarezwilling to do.” She took what she found and began to invent the characters which fill these pages.

Alvarez tells the story from the point of view of each of the four sisters, devoting alternating chapters to each. We start in 1994, with the surviving sister, Dedé, meeting a journalist who wishes to interview her about her sisters. Then we drop into the past. Dedé is a little girl living on a farm with her family. We meet the fierce middle sister, Minerva, who wants to be a lawyer, the religious oldest sister, Patria, and the shy youngest, María Teresa. Their lives seem peaceful, their father becoming prosperous. Like many girls, Minerva and Patria are sent to Catholic boarding school, where Minerva pushes the boundaries along with her girlfriends and Patria becomes ever more religious. Dedé stays home to help her papa with his store.

However, the brutal Trujillo’s dictatorship soon changes everything. Minerva and her friends, chosen to perform a skit for Trujillo, change it to make a political statement in front of him. Trujillo, known for taking pretty teenagers as mistresses, sets his sights on the beautiful Minerva. Inviting her family to a ball, he tries to claim her, but she manages to escape. From then on, the intrigue builds, yet in between the political, the sisters grow up, falling in love, having their children, and interacting with their aging parents. Their marriages have their very real ups and down.

I loved this novel. The language is rich, the descriptions beautiful, and the four sisters’ voices come across clear and distinct. I felt as if I was right there. I loved the way Alvarez combined the intimate with the political, reminding us that all warriors have parents, many have spouses and children, and every choice they make has to be weighed against the risk to those they love. I give it five stars out of five.

Note: A Wikipedia page about the Mirabel sisters states that the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is November 25 in honor of the three brave sisters who were assassinated Nov 25, 1960.

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Rain and cold

The past couple of weeks we’ve had snow, rain, fog, freezing fog, and sun. High temperatures have ranged from 30°F to nearly 60°F. This is Central Oregon, after all. It’s high desert, where the weather seems to vary with the direction of the wind, especially this time of year.  Still, I’m not used to this damp cold, with the high and low temps almost identical at 28-32 °F for days on end. It’s almost worse than the cold spell we had in November that froze a lot of people’s pipes, the way it eats into my blood and leaves me shivering.rainy day window

Golden Threads is set in North Yorkshire. I have never been there, but I’ve been to England several times and Scotland once, and it’s usually been damp and rainy (Edinburgh wasn’t, but it sure rained on the tour bus up to Loch Lomand).

I spent a month in London many years ago and felt chilled and slightly damp almost the entire time. The skies only cleared two or three days (I remember that well, because I managed to sunburn badly). Otherwise, the weather varied between overcast with drizzle, overcast with hard rain, and overcast without rain, all hovering around 50°F. I huddled in my rented cottage with the heat on, drinking tea when I wasn’t out exploring (I was on a business trip, but my ‘host’ hardly made time to meet with me the entire month).

So I imagine England this way: damp and chilly but extremely green.

The next chapter of Golden Threads awaits your reading pleasure. It’s called Rainy Days. Earlier chapters are linked on the Golden Threads page. I love comments.

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Fantasy

When I was a kid, I read a fair amount of fantasy, including every book from the original Oz series that I could get at our library, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But then I stopped, and switched over to more serious stuff, partly because I’m such a book worm that I can’t put down anything that’s full of adventure, with plot twists and turns. I have to know what’s happening next. I would never have graduated from college or gotten any work done if I’d continued reading fantasy. bookwormEvery once in a while, when I know I have a clear schedule the next day, I indulge. Take Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld series. I remember almost peeing my pants I laughed so hard when I read the first four or five of those. I loved their creativity. How about a suitcase which takes your dirty clothes and delivers clean ones, unless you’re in trouble, in which case it helps defeat your enemy (perhaps by eating him or her), or a world which rides on the back of a giant turtle?

Lately I’ve indulged in fantasy more than normal. First there was Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches and its sequel, Shadow of Night. Then I was hooked on historical time travel and read the Outlander series. These novels piqued my interest in time travel and witches. I started writing Golden Threads. In the interest of doing some research on this sort of writing, I had to read the Harry Potter series and, most recently, the Wicked series (more Oz, yeah! although I remember the originals as being more fun, maybe because I was in elementary school?). And, once again, I have to make sure that I don’t have anything on my schedule until noon or so the next day. I simply can’t put these books down until they’re finished. Which means that I have to turn to more serious novels for a while…. 😦  (no, I’m not sad. I love those as much or more).

This is all the prelude to telling you that I finally wrote another chapter of Golden Threads. It’s called Asking for Advice. Let me know what you think. If you want to read the whole novel, which I’m writing as I go, click the Golden Threads link.

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Book review: Life After Life

life after lifeKate Atkinson’s 2013 novel Life After Life has received much praise. It sits near the top of several lists of the best books of the year (#6 in Goodreads). The basic idea is this:

Ursula Todd is born over and over again, in England, on a snowy night in 1910. She then dies over and over again, each time in a different manner. She gradually grows more and more aware of her previous lifetimes. In her first few repetitions, she merely feels fear when the event which caused her death is imminent and manages to avoid it, but eventually she begins to have actual memories of her lifetimes and learn more consciously from them. This causes her life to take a different path, and a different death to overtake her. With each life, Atkinson fills in some of the details of Ursula’s family and the world she inhabits. Thus Ursula gets the ultimate do-over, until she creates an opportunity to kill Hitler, which is actually where the novel opens.

This novel reminded me a lot of the movie Groundhog Day. Like that movie, it attempts to satisfy the ultimate fantasy, the idea that we could have an opportunity to go back and redo our lives, armed with what we now know. If only, we think to ourselves, I hadn’t said that, hurt that person’s feelings, or taken that walk, then my life would be wonderful. If only I’d never met so and so. If only I’d finished that college degree. Well, you get the picture.

Since this novel takes place in England and, in at least some of her lives, Ursula moves to London, where she spends World War II, we are treated to a slowly filled-in portrait of both the English countryside and then London itself as the Germans bomb it to pieces. We learn about the awful older brother, the wonderful sister and younger brother, and the eccentric Aunt. At the same time, we explore philosophical questions, such as: are we all repeating our lives over and over (apparently yes, since it isn’t only Ursula who does things differently each time around, although the others seem unaware that they are repeating). It also looks a little at women’s role in the workplace and home in upper class England at the time.

Each life begins with Ursula’s birth on a snowy day, and each time something a little different either occurs or gets explored, to keep the event interesting and provide the perspectives of the mother, doctor, housekeeper, etc. Luckily for the reader, that’s about the only thing which repeats (unlike in Groundhog Day), because Atkinson assumes we can recall the events she leaves out. It would be tedious otherwise. The fun comes in reading about the device which allows Ursula to avoid the death event of her previous life.

This is a wonderful concept. It’s clever, and the number of different ways Ursula dies is great (none of the deaths are made to seem particularly gruesome or painful). I found myself reading onward just to find out how she would die next. I liked it enough to give it three and a half stars, but I really wondered why it’s gotten as much praise as it has. It often drags. Ursula is not a particularly interesting person, nor does she come across as very engaged in her life. Atkinson’s prose floats about the drama, reading like a ledger of actions, dispassionate for the most part. Turning to a random page, I read:

The office was a tedious, rather irritable place these days – fatigue, probably, due to the cold and the lack of good, nourishing food. And the work was tedious, an endless compilation and permutation of statistics to file away in the archives somewhere—or to be pored over by the historians of the future, she supposed. They were still “clearing up and putting their house in order,” as Maurice would have it, as if the casualties of war were clutter to be put away and forgotten.

There’s more, but I got bored just typing this. It isn’t all this dull, of course. My real problem with the novel is the way the very first scene with Hitler comes about. In most of the novel, Ursula goes through similar lives each time, tweaking events to arrive at different ends. However, she has only three lives in which she goes to Europe, and only one in which meeting Hitler is described (a life in which she doesn’t kill him). Since she recalls each of her lives only a little, how did she recall enough of that one to know how to get close enough to kill him? Why doesn’t she live that life over and over again, not quite succeeding until the final one? That would seem more consistent with the whole re-lived life concept as carried out in the rest of the book. Of course, Hitler gets do-overs too, so she would have to kill him over and over again, in life after life, I suppose, though we are spared this detail.

Someone should do a sequel, portraying what happened in Europe after Hitler’s murder. With no Hitler, would there be no World War II, no concentration camps, and no nuclear weapons? Or would it all have occurred anyway? Anyone up to the task?

related posts:

NYTimes: Subject to Revision

Goodreads reviews

Not the Booker prize 2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (oh, and read the comments, which pretty well agree with me)

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