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Archive for the tag “literary fiction”

Summer Reading

summer-reading-006Summertime and the reading is good this year. We’ve selected our seasonal picks, and will surely be spotted toting them on vacation and to neighborhood parks. Here’s what we’ve chosen:

 From Karen:

My extremely well read sister has shamed me into reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Okay, there are a few holes in my education. This is one I’m going to fill.

Then I’m onto two new novels that I can’t want to get my hands on. They’re from two of my favorite contemporary authors.

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From Cathy:

My book group never fails to steer me toward books I certainly wouldn’t choose for myself, and usually end up glad to have read. The one I’m reading now is no exception. Even though I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, Missing Man, about a spy who disappeared in Iran, grabbed me from the start. I’ll pass it along to the hubby too.

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After that somber read, I’ll need a pick-me-up. And my all-time favorite, Anne Tyler, is just the ticket with her latest–a modern-day version of Taming of the Shrew, coming out on June 21:

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What are YOU reading on the deck, at the pool, by the ocean? We need more ideas. Please leave us a comment and share your summer reading picks! (By the way, no need to insert your name or email address when you comment. Just type and hit Post.)

 

 

 

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Commercial? Upmarket? Literary?

Of course we all know the differences, right?

Maybe.

Way, deep down.

But in case you’re curious to see them explained succinctly, in colorful little infographics with real-world examples no less, take a glance at these little gems.

Originally posted by Women Fiction Writers, who credit agent Carly Watters for their creation. God love them.

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Writing Conference Takeaways

conferenceFrom Cathy

I recently attended a great writing conference in Washington, DC and swore I’d go straight home and compile all the information for Write Despite and post it ASAP.

That was in April.

But hey, I’ve finally done it.

At the Conversations and Connections: Practical Advice on Writing conference, I took pages of notes, and I highly recommend you do this too if you attend a conference yourself. I can’t believe what great little gems were included in my notebook and in the handouts from the sessions, all of which I would have forgotten about if I hadn’t re-read them, and then re-keyed them for all of you. So thank you. And you’re welcome.

From the panel Cross Genre: Tricks Fiction Can Steal from Nonfiction (And Vice-Versa)

This was a panel discussion with writers Roy Kesey, Tom Bligh, Kathleen Wheaton, and Eric Boyd. I took down some cool, inspiring quotes. Sorry I didn’t also take down who said them.

  • “Use truth in your story, and something will happen.”
  • “Pretend you’re in a bar, and write like you’re talking to the person next to you.”
  • “Believe that you’re writing the news of the world. Whatever you’re writing is universally shared. Believe it, and your writing will be richer.”Just Believe
  • “You can’t spell authority without ‘author.’ The reader must believe what’s happening. Do your best; let life do the rest.”

From Publishing: The Editor’s Panel

Editors included Rae Bryant, TJ Eckleberg Review, Sarah Boyle, The Fourth River and Pank, Mark Drew, Gettsyburg Review, Nate Brown, American Short Fiction, and J.W. Wang, Juked and Potomac Review

The panel was asked to tell us a bit about the nuts and bolts of submissions.

Brown: American Short Fiction gets about 8,500 submissions a year, 250 a month. Three editors decide on the stories, and all must agree on what they choose to publish.

Boyle: Pank reads July 1 to September 1 and in December. If a story gets two likes from our student editors, it goes to the genre editors, and they decide.

Drew: At Gettysburg Review, two editors make all the decisions, but interns pass them along first.

Wang: Initial readers look at stories, but I choose all of them, and therefore the editorial focus is very tight and distinctive.

What exactly are you looking for?

Drew: Openings are important, but the writing must be sustained. Language is the most important thing. It can’t be clichéd, and no grammatical errors. Interesting characters and compelling motivation are also big factors.

Brown: The sentence matters most. String enough good ones together, and the story will be published. I can’t care more about the piece than the writer does.

Wang: Voice. Must be confident and assured, so I can trust it to take me somewhere.

All agreed they want authority of narrative.

What if things in a story put you off, say an unlikable character or upsetting event?

WarningDrew: If it’s authoritative, I’ll stay with it. But it must be earned. Things like animals being killed in stories has been way overused.

Wang: Like it or not, every story is political.

Brown: The higher the moral stake, the better the writer must be.

Boyle: I won’t publish certain stories, such as those that contain violence against women, animals, or children. But it’s selectivity, not censorship.

From Scene-by-Scene: Writing the Irresistible Story

Panel discussion with writers Laura Ellen Scott, Jen Michalski, Lauren Foss Goodman, and Catherine Belle

The most important person to have in a scene is the reader. Bring them there. You want them to experience it, not just read about it, by:

  • Using their physical senses
  • Giving them a position, a point of view
  • Giving them some attitude
  • Not telling them everything; leaving something out, and leaving it up to them, so they have to make an investment

Quick notes on scene building:

Consider the large structure and the relationship of the scenes within it. Use the “Scene plus Sequel” pattern, which is:

  • Each scene includes a goal, conflict, and disaster.
  • Each sequel includes reaction, dilemma, and decision.

The job of a scene is to:

  • Advance the story
  • Show conflict
  • Introduce or develop a character
  • Create suspense
  • Create atmosphere
  • Provide information
  • Develop theme

Remember that:

A scene should start with action. Use it to differentiate your characters. They should each move and speak differently.

If you’ve set a scene somewhere unusual, really describe what it’s like. But if you’re at McDonald’s, leave out lots of description, because it’s unnecessary.

A character wants something to happen. Your job is to never allow this to happen until the end. The story is the struggle to get there.

Go paragraph by paragraph through your work and ask, What work is this paragraph doing for the story? If nothing, toss it. If something, refine it or maybe move it, based on the task it’s completing.

Tips for organization:index cards

  • Write and write a shitty first draft, then go back and craft it into something. Get organized by using index cards. Not only do they force you to be succinct, but you can color code them by theme, time, and character. Use them for a “reverse outline” (where you start from something instead of nothing). Then turn them around and shuffle them up to mix up the plot.
  • Use a word processing program like Scrivener. This solves organization problems. It gives you a binder, chapters, bulletin board of notecards, pictures that inspire your work, an archive for your research, tutorials, a note taking tool, etc., all for $40. Or you can try WriteWay Pro, WriteItNow, or yWriter5 (which is free!).
  • Try flow charts: Draw the structure to re-see your work off the screen and think about it differently. Use Google drawings, or mind mapping apps like Scapple and Scrivener.
  • Use a spreadsheet to create a scene list, or a “God’s eye view” of a story. Color code it.
  • Get project management apps like Workflowy and Trello.
  • Or use content curation apps like Pinterest, Scoop It!, Flipboard, etc., and social bookmarking apps.
  • Google Apps Suite is cloud-based and free, and lets you work from anywhere.
  • Try the snowflake method for designing a novel.
  • Stuck? Bored? Come up with new ways of seeing your story: Print it. Draw it out. Change the font. Read it out loud. Record it. Carry it around and touch it. And don’t forget to share it when you’re ready.

Okay, this was fun

Karen’s official book launch was this Saturday–a quiet signing at Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut.

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And damn it, I just had to be there.

I decided not to tell her I was coming, for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be fun to surprise her, and 2) If I had to back out at the last minute, I didn’t want to screw up her plans.

God bless my crazy friend who offered to tag along and ended up driving nearly the whole six hours from DC (I get a tad nervous in that NYC snarl, but she drives like a machine).

Much zaniness along the way, including a stop at the Pez Visitor Center. Yes, that’s the candy that pops out of the heads. Did you ever wonder what the World’s Largest Pez dispenser would look like? Wonder no more.

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So anyway, we finally made it to Connecticut and headed for Breakwater Books. Now keep in mind that, although Karen and I talk via electronics frequently, we hadn’t seen each other in person in EIGHT years.

So I walked in, and this happened:

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IMG_7278    FullSizeRenderFun, right? I thought so.

Karen invited us back to her lovely home afterward, and we all had breakfast with her husband and son the next morning, then hit the road before the snow started. Here we are outside the cafe at Lyman’s Orchard (a way cool farmer’s market store):

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The whole trip was way cool, and I’m so glad I was able to do it. This Saturday Karen will be giving her first reading in Mystic, CT. If you’re local (or if you’re into crazy road trips), go get a book signed and hear her read from Homing Instincts. You won’t be disappointed.

Congratulations, Karen! Hope to see you again before another eight years passes!

-Cathy

 

A Goodreads page and everything? Oh my!

Well, my novel is up on Goodreads. You can order it, review it, “add” it, so this must really being happening, after all.

And as if that weren’t enough, I also have a couple of readings and book signings scheduled at Connecticut bookshops in mid-November:

Breakwater Books — November 15
81 Whitfield Street
Guilford, CT
2 pm reading/signing

Bank Square Books — November 22
53 West Main Street
Mystic, CT
1 pm reading/signing

Local folks, please come out! Non-local folks, please find me online. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support, and all the kind wishes I’ve received.

Hope to see or hear from you soon!

— Karen

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Rejections Revisited

C. Michael Curtis, a senior editor and longtime revered fiction editor at the Atlantic Monthly, published an essay called “Publishers and Publishing,” in On Writing Short Stories, a collection of essays, edited by Tom Bailey. It’s a pretty enlightening, amusing reflection on the fiction submissions he receives. Our fave part:

“Much of the writing that pours onto the desks of literary editors at both the serious-minded but commercial general magazines and the smallest, most fiercely independent quarterlies is inept, undeveloped, amateurish, crazed, obscene, unintelligible, or some combination of the above.”

Kinda makes you feel better about the stuff you submit, right?Syliva-Plath-on-Rejection

At least, that’s what we thought. I mean, we’ve received rejection letters with comments like “uninteresting” and “meandering” and “seems to have no larger point.”

But “crazed?” “Obscene?” Just what the hell are people doing out there?

Here are some other amusing rejections we ran across:

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” (Written about Joseph Heller’s Catch-22—believed to have been given this title because it was the 22nd publisher, Simon and Schuster, who agreed to take it on.)

“The American public is not interested in China.” (Seriously, what could be interesting about Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth?)

“This will set publishing back 25 years.” (Wonder why? Anyone read Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park?)

“Good God, I can’t publish this.” (Said about William Faulkner’s Sanctuary.)

“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.” (Gasp! Blasphemy uttered about F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.)

“Stick to teaching.” (Louisa May Alcott was urged to keep her day job after submitting Little Women.)

“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” (We get your point. But Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was still a masterpiece.)

“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” (Maybe depressing and gory and violent, but William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was dull?)

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” (Wonder what this visionary thinks of The Hunger Games. He rejected Carrie, by Stephen King)

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” (Give it up, Garth Stein. Even George Orwell’s Animal Farm can’t cut it.)

This is an awesome essay of Curtis’s by the way, and you can check it out here:

http://www.public.iastate.edu/~yikes/mag_editors_and_fiction.html

If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, let us recap a bit. He gives a great rundown of what editors are, and aren’t, looking for in submissions, including cover letters. He says only two things included in your letter might cause an editor to be more interested in your story than the average one:

  1. Citations of stories published elsewhere, particularly in periodicals of comparable size and reputation; and
  2. Mention of the fact that you’ve been enrolled in a reputable MFA program (or residence at Bread Loaf or Sewanee, etc.).

Other take-aways? Same as you’ve always heard:

  • Don’t recap your story—let it speak for itself.
  • Don’t talk about other magazines that have rejected it already.
  • Don’t single space.
  • Don’t send anything with typos or grammatical errors.
  • Don’t try to dazzle them with your wit or sound hostile or desperate.

In short, just make your writing as fab as possible, keep your cover letter simple and direct, and send it out.

Everywhere.submit button

Spray and pray, people. Spray and pray.

The Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend

Friends,

The countdown is on.

We need 15 more folks to sign up today in order to bring Fiction Attic Press, a fantastic platform for both emerging and established writers, to a broader audience.

Fiction Attic is publishing my novel in the fall, and there are plenty of opportunities for other writers to submit to story contests.

If you’re a writer, this could be the best $5 you’ve ever spent, and you can cancel at any time!

http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/fiction-of-wit-and-substance

Thanks,

Karen

The Long and Short of It

Taking a break from the book for a while because … well, because I’m stuck. Discouraged. Not feeling it . But you don’t want to hear my problems. Neither does Karen. She told me to shut up and quit whining and go write a short story. Okay, she was much nicer than that, but I got the message.

A short story!!??

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This may seem like no big deal to you, but I haven’t written a story in years. How sad is that? I’ve been so caught up in the novel thing that the idea of shorter fiction hasn’t even been on my radar. If you want to switch gears and get a new outlook and rev up the energy again, though, I guess you really should consider going back to the basics.

I plan to start by reading stories, of course. I used to read short fiction all the time. Best American Short Stories is always on my Christmas list (thank you in-laws for making sure this is under the tree each year), but I confess I haven’t read a whole one in years. I’ll look through them now, though, since I’m one of those people who pulls inspiration from others (okay steals, if you like—I’m not too proud to admit it).

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Any other suggestions for where to find great stories? Do you read literary journals? The New Yorker? Alice Munro anthologies?

Anyone want to write along with me?

When we’re done, here’s a GREAT listing of pubs to submit to:

http://www.newpages.com/literary-magazines/complete.htm

So switch it up, hunker down, carry on, write it short–or long. Whatever moves you. As always, just write.

Oh, and I saw an amazing quote the other day. I’m not much for such things, but this one stuck with me:

“Imagine what you would do if you knew you could not fail.”

I know, right?

—Cathy

A Matter of Perspective

So we’ve all got different tastes in fiction, but I want to share a new novel that I’ve just finished, The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. So many aspects of this story are moving, but I was particularly impressed with how skillfully and effectively Strout handles multiple perspectives through a third-person narrator. Take a look, if you’re struggling with the same.

— Karen

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Author Letitia Moffitt: “We want success in this thing we do” (And it just don’t come easy)

Letitia Moffitt knows a thing or two about endurance—the physical and the mental kind. Her first novel Sidewalk Dancing is scheduled for publication by Atticus Books in early November. After you read Letitia’s piece below, you’ll want to order a copy. Browse the other great Atticus titles while you’re at it. Small presses are publishing some of today’s best literary fiction, the stuff the big houses are afraid to take a chance on, for fear of angering their corporate overlords.

Right now, read on. Laugh, nod, and get over yourself. We ALL feel this way, at least sometimes. Community can be healing. So join ours and please welcome Letitia to Write Despite.

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I write novels and run marathons, and it’s not hard to see the similarities in these endeavors. Both take persistence, both can be agonizing, both will drive you to drink. Gatorade martini anyone? At this point I’m supposed to give you a bit of earnest, heart-felt, inspirational advice: to keep trying, to keep going, never to give up on your dreams or lose sight of your goal because you’ll get there, you’ll succeed, and it will all be worth it, all the frustration, all the setbacks, all the failure.

But I’m not going to tell you that. That’s what Facebook is for. Sooner or later somebody you’ve friended is going to post some motivational aphorism with a pretty picture in the background. A sunrise, perhaps, or some flowy water. Here’s the thing, though: writing and running are the things you do because you don’t need motivation. Success or failure is beside the point. You’re going to keep running until your toenails fall off and your forehead is crusted with salt. You’re going to keep writing until your brain is mush and your liver rots. You do it because, well, you got to do something right? It might as well be this. This is what we do, regardless of the outcome.

But who am I kidding. We still dream. We dream of a big book contract, of qualifying for Boston. We can’t really say success doesn’t matter, because that’s crap. Yes, there are some people who just run around their neighborhoods and never enter a race, writers who just create stories for the fun of it and never bother to check out the litmag scene to see where those stories might go. We don’t want to be like that. We think—we certainly hope—we must aspire to greater things.

I like to think I’ve had moderate success with each of these endeavors. On the running side, nine marathons, two ultramarathons, and any number of halfs, 10Ks, 5Ks, and miscellaneous distances. As for writing, a couple dozen short stories and essays in literary magazines and a novel, appearing next month, from a terrific indie publisher. None of this came easy. I was not a runner in high school—I wasn’t much of any anything in high school, come to think of it—so all this marathonning has only occurred in the most recent years of my life. In those years I’ve managed to injure myself in about sixteen different ways while training for races, and that includes some places you have to scratch your head and wonder how did that happen. When you say running, you usually mean, like, on your legs. How do forearms and teeth fit into that? Trust me, they do. I have the scars and the dental work to prove it.

As for writing, well, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, and I don’t need to tell you about how success in writing doesn’t come easy. Remember the days when rejection came in the form of little slips of paper and not little slips of email, and everyone used to make jokes about wallpapering their room with them? I kind of miss those days.

A running friend of mine told her mother the first time she planned to run a marathon. Her mother’s response: “Why are you doing that? You’re not going to win.” Ouch, Mom. When I was a kid and told my own mother I wanted to be a writer, she said, “Technical writing is very good.” No, Ma, a writer. “They always need people to do technical writing.” Decades, publications, a PhD in English and a book contract later, she still asks me if I’m doing any technical writing. I don’t even think she knows what that means; I suppose she thinks of “technical” as “lucrative” or “practical.” Or maybe just “not a waste of time unless you produce a bestseller that gets turned into a miniseries.”

Oh, I know: the fault lies not in our mothers but in ourselves. We want success in this thing we do, because nobody ever doesn’t want to succeed, and during those times when the effort may kill you, when the setbacks and failures threaten to break you, you have to believe you’re doing it for a reason. It’s too hard otherwise.

Besides, we see those people who really do run just for fun, the bucket-listers, beaming about how they finished their one-and-only marathon in just under 2 days, and we have to fight the urge to get away from them as quickly as possible so other people won’t see you with this loser and think you’re one too. We hear about friends who have “published” a “novel,” and we’re afraid to ask how much they paid the “publisher” to “print” it. Surely we’re the genuine article, not poseurs like those people. Aren’t we?

We run, we write. Sometimes we go into it with our eyes fixed on the prize. The Pulitzer, the National Book, maybe someday the Nobel. Sometimes we go into it absolutely dead certain we will never publish so much as a haiku ever again but we do it anyway, just to keep sane. Sometimes we just go into it. As with running, we just go. We keep on going.

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