My horror flash fiction story, A Séance for Ingrid, was published by Infective Ink! The prompt was, “The seance was a far greater success than any of us were prepared for.” Read it here.
My 100-word zombie drabble was published in the most recent episode of my favorite audio fiction podcast The Drabblecast: Strange Stories for Strange Listeners!
I was quite the bubbling ball of glee listening to Norm Sherman narrate my little story, “Curtain’s Up, Sir Richard.” You can listen to Episode 241 – The Dead by clicking the image below (the episode starts with my drabble and moves on to a delightfully unconventional zombie story):
I get a little lump in my throat every time I think about the Judy Blume panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. And I’m not the only one. A number of the Q&A participants teared up as they thanked her for bringing her work into the world.
What is it about Judy Blume’s books that makes such a deep impact? That the memory of reading them is etched into our minds long after the last page is turned?
We might never have had the chance to read Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great or the Fudge books if Blume hadn’t hearkened to that niggling sensation telling her something was missing. She decided to take a class on writing for children at New York University, she told the audience at the sold out panel.
And lucky for her future readers, she had a teacher who was encouraging and she kept submitting to publishers even after the rejections arrived in the mail.
“There’s no art without rejection,” Blume said. “It’s painful stuff and I can’t say I ever got over it.”
When an acceptance letter finally did come, Blume recounted how she and the mailman (who had delivered so many rejections) literally danced across the front lawn.
Blume discussed aspects of the writing process. “I hate first drafts. It’s torture; it’s painful,” she said.
On revising, Blume said she doesn’t allow herself to backtrack on revisions–she works from beginning to end without looking back. She went through twenty-three drafts before finishing Summer Sisters (which made me feel infinitely better about being on my fourth MS draft, knowing I have many more ahead before I can consider it ready for submission).
She also gave some advice to parents tempted to share books they loved as youths with their children. Rather than approaching the child, carrying on about how much you loved the book and think your child will love it too, shoving your beat-up copy into their little hands, Blume suggested investing in a new copy of the book with an updated cover, leaving it around the house and, when the child picks up the book, telling them, “you’re not ready for that.”
She also advised parents not to be judgmental about whatever their children want to read, and declared her distaste for the phrase, “That’s below your reading level.”
Blume has taken on topics that could be considered risqué. She wrote Forever for her daughter, Amanda. Her daughter had noticed that, in all of the books she read, terrible things happened to young women who gave in to sex. Blume felt that young adult books disallowed sexual gratification for women, so she wrote a story where sex didn’t spur a young girl’s downfall. Due to the content, her publisher marketed Forever as an adult novel, though it was not intended to be classified as one.
Taking on tricky topics doesn’t bother Blume. After admitting that many of Sheila’s fears were her own, she added, “The only place I wasn’t afraid of anything was when I was writing.”
From the start, Blume wanted to tell the truth from what she knew. And there were no books about family that made her feel like her own family was okay, she said.
And that’s what stuck with me and what was expressed by the thankful Q&A participants. Blume gave her readers a sense of understanding through her stories. We saw ourselves and our families and our own stories through an honest lens and we were told that it was okay to be who we were, with all of our flaws and eccentricities; we were told that our struggles and questions were normal and nothing to be ashamed of. We didn’t have to strive to be someone else–we could be the heroes of our own stories.
“Writing changed everything for me,” Blume said. I believe it changed everything for her readers as well.
My usual stick figure hates studying, so her friend Dani from Camila Song Project kindly stepped in.
Do you consciously stray from historical fiction because it often requires a great deal of research?
Not so much for novels–I haven’t hit upon any great historically-based novel ideas yet–but for short stories. I’ve come up with a few concepts for history-driven speculative fiction pieces, but the investment of time and energy ultimately puts me off.
I’m trying to finish a novel; I’m already pressed for time. Committing to the study of a historical event or period to write a short story that may end up in the rejection bin just isn’t encouraging. Because if I’m going to do a piece that calls for historical reference, I don’t want to be lazy about it and rely on the imaginative and mind-bending nature of my genre to clear me of any responsibility toward accuracy. I want it to be obvious that I put real work into researching the subject.
Well, a few days ago I wrote a short piece–a snapshot of a compelling moment brought on by a thematic prompt. I decided to develop a short story around this snapshot, with a full plot and main character. As I was writing, a historical event came to mind. It’s an event that has come to mind many times before, only to be promptly ignored. But it fit this particular snapshot so well, I couldn’t give it the brush-off. It kept coming back like a love-starved puppy.
So I pushed past my apprehensions and am now entrenched in research. Not just entrenched but absorbed. I never thought I’d enjoy studying history, but here I am, taking to this expedition like Indiana Jones. Who knows? I may get an idea for a future novel out of the research I’m putting into this short story.
The more I actively write and try to get published, the more risks I seem to be taking. In the competitive world of writing, you can’t always be certain that hard work will pay off in the end. But I’m coming to find (rather than simply pretending to believe) that the act of trying promotes opportunity, progress and education.
Do you play the game of avoidance with certain writing challenges? What are they and how did you triumph over them (if you did)?
I’m sure your cranium is flooded with advice about avoiding common metaphor and simile, using active voice, thoughtful word usage and phrasing. It can be easy to blithely ignore these tips when we’re struggling with our craft, when we’re exhausted and we just want to be done with our manuscripts. But in the end the care one takes in writing can make the difference between some words on a page and a mind-altering experience.
The good Doctor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein tagged me in a Facebook post about an article published by the New York Times discussing “Your Brain on Fiction,” by Annie Murphy Paul and I had to post it here for all of the wonderful writers who stop by, who have ever had doubts about the value of their work.
Murphy Paul’s article shares research supporting the idea that fiction makes a real impact on its reader’s brain. From a writer’s point of view, the brain’s reaction to fiction provides real insight into the science behind some of the advice with which we’re barraged. For instance, we’re advised to be mindful about metaphor, most importantly to avoid clichés. A research team in Spain published the results of their study on the brain’s reaction to metaphor.
…some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.
Utilizing the different senses in original ways drills our words beyond the eye into parts of the brain IRL smells, textures, tastes activate. Mindful and original metaphor is a boon and one of the most useful literary devices we have to turn our words into experiences.
In another study, scientists found that the motor cortex was stimulated by sentences relating actions.
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.
Writers strive to pull readers into their stories and take them on the adventure. When reading becomes an experience, a book becomes unforgettable–it lodges itself into our memories in the same way that that unexpected and exciting journey to a new country, that first encounter with a friend or lover, that illuminating therapy session implants itself into our minds.
Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
As writers, we’re doing more than just trying to get published, make a buck, and get famous (perhaps MOST writers). We’re trying to make an impact and to share something about the human experience. Personally, writing is my therapy and a novel is a place where I can be heard, where I can relieve myself of the sad stories weighing down my heart, or comfort myself with a happy ending. Channeling the contents of my mind and heart through the written word provides a sort of closure and makes the telling meaningful. It’s shared understanding through shared experience.
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely keeping this article in mind the next time I’m wallowing in lazy, ready to settle for weak and common content. I’ll remember that I’m not just writing; I’m lighting up cortices.
I have so much going on right now, I can barely put together a cohesive blog.
Some plans have come unhinged while others are sprouting fresh, green and promising. The Advanced Novel Writing Workshop I applied to was cancelled due to the professor’s health issues. That really stung because it took so much to convince myself to apply. But I can’t be upset when someone’s health is compromised. I just have to come up with a Plan B.
In any case, I’m late on completing the second-draft edits for my young adult fantasy manuscript. I have one last chapter left. But guess what? It still needs a lot of work. I made the terrible error of getting too wrapped up in style and language during the first-draft edits and ended up practically ignoring those edits during the second round. I need to get the story together before worrying about the language. Wasted time. Lesson learned.
I’m also working on a new project that will take me beyond my traditional medium. I’m excited about this project because it’s given me a chance to resurrect a story I loved but couldn’t find the right platform for. It’s also incredibly refreshing and inspiring amidst the tedium of editing. I’ll let you in on it once things are fleshed out a little more.
Thirdly, I’ve been submitting short stories and flash fiction. Working on the craft and putting my stuff out there. There have been form rejections there has been interest. I’m waiting to hear back on two submissions. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Right now I’m at my office in Downtown Los Angeles. This is where I go on the weekends when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the work ahead and need to get down to business. I guess it’s the no-nonsense atmosphere and the white noise of construction and city life that works for me. I got a ton of writing done in the last three hours.
Now it’s time to get back home to my corgi and the sandwich and beer waiting for me in the fridge. I deserve it.