One of my favorite short story authors is Amber Sparks. She posted today on social media her book was on this list from Bustle.
Normally, I scroll through and only click on one or two selections but there was something about this list that drew me in.
I put 5 of the collections on my holds list from the library. I already have read Amber’s book (which I HIGHLY recommend). Another one I have checked out from the library right now and am currently reading:
Another one of the collections is from Nicole Krauss who is a fantastic novel writer. Her sentences are beautiful. The overall description of the short story collection didn’t grab me but my knowledge of her writing style is enough for me to check it out.
Short stories are great if your time or attention is clipped since you can hold the whole story in your head at once.
They are great models if you are a writer for how to get a beginning, middle, and end in a short space.
Because the form requires words to not be wasted usually there are gems of lines to take out for quote lists and writing prompts.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have been continuing to participate in OCTPOWRIMO and writing poetry all week but only in my notebook.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I read a story on a Zoom gathering with the Sarah Selecky Writing School earlier in the week. I assumed there would be more people, but it ended up only being 12. This fact burst my idea to just listen and not read. The comments were positive and the other writers shared amazing work.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am pleased how the 100 writing prompt project is progressing. You can be part of the fun! Sign up at my Patreon here. Here is today’s prompt:
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I was asked a question about using Twitter as an author. I do not recommend any social media platform you do not like. Don’t use it because “it seemed like a good idea.” Your authentic person needs to shine through.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you, “Do you know I have a podcast?” A close friend of mine has jokingly accused me of hiding it so here is the link! It is now available on six different platforms, including Google Podcasts.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you, “Do you know it is November next weekend?” That seems crazy to me. It also means the time change which means the jet lag feeling. I am looking forward to reading In November with my class. It is a picture book I adore.
Do you need a warm up on your drink? Ice water perhaps?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I submitted two more stories this week. I am looking forward to hearing back from the editors!
If we were having coffee, I would ask you if you have ever read Turn of the Screw? This novella has come up several times over the last week for me. Nina Lacour used it as an inspiration for her wonderful book Watch Over Me. I downloaded it on a reader on my phone and started it last night.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have been participating in OCTPOWRIMO and writing poetry all week. It has been a nice change from my regular writing routine.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I did not walk every day this week. At school, we had to stay late both Tuesday and Thursday to do virtual parent conferences. I missed the feeling and the routine of the walks. The weather is quite windy this weekend so I have to bundle up! Winter is coming.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am excited how the 100 writing prompt project is moving along. The responses to the prompts are good and everyone is making them their own. You can be part of the fun! Sign up at my Patreon here.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you, “Do you know I have a podcast?” A close friend of mine has jokingly accused me of hiding it so here is the link!
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I adore Ray Bradbury and his influence. So many of his quotes have had an impact on my writing life. I came across a new one.
Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.
My friend Amy has convinced me to do the million words in a year challenge. We are starting November 1. It is more than 1,000 words a day but doable. I am excited that I am taking on challenges that have expanded past the 30 challenge boundary I usually participate in.
Do you need a warm up on your drink? Ice water perhaps?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I heard an exercise taken from screenwriting called “List of 20”. When you need anything for your story, make a list of 20. If your characters need to get out a situation make a list of 20 ways they can get out it. Your brain will make you write down the obvious ones first. After you get past number 10 then you may get to something more unique.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you my October workshop for my Patreon is impactful! I made it a self guided recording this month because the exercises are more personal. One participant, Jenna, said: The October Workshop was SO good! Thank you for sharing so many incredible insights and exercises. I’ve been feeling a little low and fuzzy-headed lately, and this workshop was really a breath of fresh air.You can have access to this workshop and the past ones by clicking here.
What are you most excited about from your week? I would love to hear in the comments. How are you getting ready for Halloween – if you do anything?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I ordered whiskey glasses that are created for Old Fashioneds because I saw this drink recipe. I cannot wait to make it!
I have a list of stories I return to that I use as models for writing. One I love is Amber Spark’s Thirteen Ways to Destroy a Painting from her collection The Unfinished World. You can listen to the story here.
Amber is one of the short story writers I follow closely. In interviews she talks about how she takes old fairy tales and puts a modern spin on them which I admire. Her most recent collection is magical and I highly recommend it.
One of the many aspects I love about this story is that the title draws me in because of the use of the number. There is something seductive about numbers, especially thirteen. There is much debate about the luck of thirteen. The structure of the story also follows a numbered sequence. The story is told with a time traveler attempting to destroy a painting that stubbornly keeps reappearing in her own time.
Another element that is a takeaway for my own writing is how she uses the repeated element of an object. In this case it is the painting. The painting is an anchor in the story and is referred to in each numbered section. Each iteration of the painting shows the title changes and the size depending on how the time travelers actions affected the painting. These are small details that contribute to the pacing of the story. You keep reading to find out what happens to the painting next.
As you read, you wonder if she will succeed and destroy the painting eventually. Your brain also knows there are thirteen iterations and then some conclusion will occur. There is also perseverance as a theme in this story. She doesn’t try to just destroy this painting three times (Magic 3 in fairy tales often) it is 13. There is a stubbornness there from the time traveler which we wonder about throughout the reading.
Time travel is always an element I am drawn to but I have seen it done well and done horribly in short stories and in novels. Satisfying time travel is hard to pull off. Time travel requires a relationship with magic for the author and the reader.
This story also reminds me of the connection between the writing practice we do and how that eventually emerges in a finished piece. Kathy Fish teaches an exercise in her flash fiction classes where you take a scene and write it three different ways. This story shows how an author can do this and make it a published story. This idea also reminds me of an earlier exercise in the course with the I don’t remember prompt and how a similar list shows up in Tobias Wolff’s Bullet to the Brain. I have learned to pick out some of these freewriting elements and how they show up in published pieces.
The characters are identified by their labels in this story, not by name. The names do not matter in this story and gives the reader a bit of distance. The painting itself falls into this category for me as well. The descriptions of the people are tight and pack a lot in a few sentences. For instance:
He is so young, the artist, a white smooth face in the dark of his walk-up. She supposes this will be easy-from the empty, hungry tilt of his face, to the stooped posture from painting under this sloped attic roof.
The artist looks at her aghast but defiant. The artist knows his way around this kind of truth.
Another pacing technique I noticed is shown in section seven through ten. As the reader is moving through the destruction attempts, this section is written in two sentence bursts with repeated phrasing. This reiterates that the painting still exists and you can feel the frustration of the time traveler’s efforts.
Seven: The time traveler sets fire to the unfinished painting. The painting is still there.
Eight: The time traveler pours acid on the unfinished painting. The painting is still there.
Sparks is a short story writer that achieves a satisfying ending sometimes with unanswered questions which is a reason I read this type of story in the first place. Kelly Link is another author that does the same. Link is more blatant in her “unfinished” endings and has been unapologetic about it.
Thirteen Ways is a story I feel is satisfying but also has sticking power. When I first read this story I kept coming back to it. I felt a connection to these characters and the frustration from both sides.
I appreciate the style Sparks writes in and underline many of her sentences.
Here is a sentence I love from section Thirteen:
She was more in love with life than with him-she’d never have believed how black and long the days could stretch over her, mean and empty, like shadows in the winter.
I would love to hear your impressions of this story and lines that popped out to you. This is a piece I have used to teach short story to my middle school students along with Neil Gaiman’s Click Clack Rattle Bag.
I hope you enjoyed it and found something in it for your own writing.
Need a writing prompt today?
I am sending out a writing prompt for the last 100 days of 2020!
I am so glad we can sit together and chat today. Thanks for joining me. What would you like to talk about today? What is really on your mind? What is important to you in this moment?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I took some action for something that was not working for me. I feel good about the response, but it is not quite resolved.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I went to Madison this week. It was early morning and beautiful on the lake. I sat in a waiting room for a little while which was nice to watch people.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I walked every day. Some days I had to start later since I had meetings that stretched after my normal leave time. The sun is setting earlier now. The time change is looming.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I shared my 100 random sentences story with my Patreon community. I like this story a lot. I have revised it quite a few times. I am not saying it won’t be revised again either. That is just how writing works!
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have been writing poems for my people! One of the bonuses for my community is to write each of them a poem inspired by a word they give me. It is an idea from Natalie Goldberg called the Spontaneous Poetry Booth.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I used a drift exercise with my kindergarteners. There is a list of words that are given. The writer’s job is to find a word that is illogical to make a couplet. One of the given words was SLEEP and one my little people said OCEAN. It was perfect!
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am rewatched I am Not Your Guru from Tony Robbins. I love this documentary. What is missing from your life? is one of the questions he asks. What are you willing to change?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I took a class yesterday from Nina Lacour that was amazing. It was about revision and critique partners. It was the most honest and transparent conversations I have ever heard about process and writing partners.
This week has been full of amazing life giving conversations and I am so grateful for the people in my life.
Looking forward, this week is going to be full of long days. I am honestly not pleased about the schedule, but I will put things in place so it will be more manageable.
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!
October 7 question – When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like? The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett,Beth Camp,Beverly Stowe McClure, and Gwen Gardner!
It is interesting to. me that this is the question posed for this month’s ISWG because it has been on mind.
I was doing an exercise examing the big negative energy depleters in my life and the idea of my “paycheck” work vs “fun” work came up. By day, I am a teacher and I love the aspects of the students and the actual teaching. The skills I have acquired through this career serves me well in all the other areas. I am a professonal writer.
I have been obsessed with the idea of an MFA for quite a while. I waver back and forth about how I feel about it in the vein of “do I need it”. I don’t and I know it. But what I do need is immersion in reading and writing and the community tied to those two things.
The shelter in place time allowed me to sustain a writers schedule. Now I have my schedule dictated to me and the transition has been tough.
A friend pointed out to me I have an MFA in experience and self guided study. I have created a community of trusted writers.
There is no choosing your cohort when you attend an MFA program. You have no idea if you are going to mesh creatively with these people.
I have attempted to find a place where all my writing needs are met and cannot seem to find the perfect fit. I think maybe that means I have to create my own!
I am modeling my working writer career after Nina LaCour right now and have been binge listening to all the podcasts she has been on and her own. She does a nice job of unpacking her own process. She also is an emotional writer which is an area I am currently working on.