Category Archives: Misc

The Hybrid Writer’s Life (Post-MFA)

I love this article from Paige Sullivan with Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog!

There’s a lot of pressure and uncertainty for writers around the question of whether or not to go for an MFA, and then, what if you do? What if you go for that MFA, graduate, and then…what? Do you get to say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what you do for a living (even if your writing isn’t what pays the bills)? And what if being a writer isn’t your career dream, but you know that writing is an invaluable skill that you want to further hone and develop? Or what if it’s like Rae Pagliarulo says in her terrific follow-up article to Sullivan’s, where you have no intention of shucking off your non-writer job, but you know that pursuing an MFA will feed your soul regardless?

In other words, what does a writer look like, and how can we as writers (whether professional, self-proclaimed, or otherwise) come to grips with this wild identity?

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz headshot.jpg Photo by Chris Marley

By Paige Sullivan

A newly-enrolled MFA student, my job as an assistant editor at my program’s top-tier, in-house literary journal was what you’d expect: reading the slush pile. The journal accepted both paper and online submissions, meaning each week I’d work through a stack of submission packets colorfully paper clipped together in addition to sifting through the online queue.

While the work was sometimes dull, it was crucial to sharpening my reading skills, and it afforded me an invaluable understanding of the spectrum of talent and skill that exists out there. Truly, we got it all: exceptional work, promising work, and strange poems that tried to compare love to meatball marinara.

My favorite part of reading the paper submissions were the more personal touches of the printed and hand-signed cover letters, which were sometimes accompanied by a business card. For me, these submissions became fascinating character…

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8 Great Horror Movies for Writers, about Writers

I’m a woman deep in love with the horror genre—the films, the books, the art, the freaky mechanized sculptures crawling across the floor. For this Halloween, here are a few great horror movies (in no particular order) that star some unfortunate, powerful, tragic, bloodied-up writers.

  1. Hush (2016)

This movie is amazing. It takes a very classic, often problematic premise—lone woman in the woods, no cell service, a mysterious masked attacker—and makes it new again.

2. The Dark Half (1993)

A classic Stephen King story, classic movie, Timothy Hutton, yes, yes, yes. This one might not be “scary,” but it’s a horror film through-and-through, and a great watch for anyone looking to be thoroughly creeped out.

3. Secret Window (2004)

Another Stephen King story, this is one of my favorite film adaptations of his work. Writers haunted by their work … and more.

4. TWIXT (2011)

Francis Ford Coppola, Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Tom Waits, the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe for some reason … What more can I say? This is a (sort of?) comedy, (sort of?) horror movie, (sort of?) tragedy. Whatever it is, it’s awesome. An eerie surreal romp through some dark, dark woods.

5. Deathtrap (1982)

This movie may not be a “horror” movie per say, but it does have a good deal of murder, backstabbing, and writerly wickedness (not to mention some handsome young Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve).

6. A few other of Stephen King’s…Misery, Salem’s Lot, & The Shining (NOT the Kubrick version)

Because Stephen King is, first of all, amazing, and second of all, constantly writing about writers (I’m not complaining), I’ve decided to just throw in a good word for a bunch of his other adaptations. I’ll make a special note though about The Shining—forget Kubrick’s nonsense. Want an actually frightening film? Give the 1997 version a spin. It’s long—like, multiple disks long—but it’s absolutely worth it.

7. Sunset Blvd (1950)

There are few horror movies more classic or more unsettling than Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, a movie about actors, a movie about screenwriters, a movie about artists (aka wild-eyed, lonely, self-absorbed, control freaks).

8. Capote (2005)

An eerily beautiful, deeply unsettling look at Truman Capote’s work in writing and researching his genre-bending creative nonfiction book In Cold Blood.

 

Happy Binge Watching!

11 Exhausted SF Tropes You Should Avoid. Really.

Basically…YES. Read this post from Carrie Cuinn. Live by it. Write by it. Beginning of story.

Two more things to keep in mind:

1. If you do decide to incorporate alien languages, but translate them to some human language for your readers, do NOT translate them into broken English/Spanish/etc (à la Avatar). And why not? Because this makes absolutely no sense! The only possible reason for this is to make your foreigners sound more “foreign” and less intelligent. Why would any translator translate something into a broken version of their language? They wouldn’t. And why? Because that makes no sense!

2. Stop using violence against women as a plot device! Does violence happen?–sure. Does violence often happen in books and stories as a logical/tragic/critical part of an overall plot?–sure. But why does it so often have to be that a flat, undeveloped female character is raped/killed/beaten for the sole purpose of giving some male character a blank check to then wreak whatever violence he wants in the name of this tragedy? –This is tired, annoying, and offensive. I am utterly exhausted of seeing violence against women used as an excuse to justify yet more and more violence. Because female characters are so expendable? Because they exist for no other reason but to spur someone else to action? Because violence against women/girls is somehow worse than violence against men/boys? Because there’s no other possible reason for someone to start off on a journey/quest/rampage? C’mon, people. This trope is just lazy and, again, offensive. Let’s move forward already.

Carrie Cuinn

Some ideas have been done to death in science fiction. We all know there are no new ideas anymore, and what matters most is the execution of the idea you stole have, but there are a few things that are not only over-done, they’re either incredibly stupid or offensive, as well. Here’s a partial list of tropes I’d love to never see again:

Stupid/Lazy Writing

  1. Funky Alien Language: your aliens from across the galaxy speak perfect English, except for a few “untranslatable” slang phrases? Or the language is made entirely of clicks and apostrophes? Hey, I know! All of your proper names are made with the 5, 8, or 10 point letters from Scrabble. Worst yet is when all of the men have harsh, hard-sounding names, and all of  the women (or other effeminate species) have soft, vowel- and f/l/sh-heavy names. This is an instant clue that you’re dealing…

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Keep Reading Weird

A big thank you to Keep Reading Weird! for just plain existing.

I love these posts, reading lists, book clubs, and recommendations—the whole shebang, in other words. For everyone out there in love with the literary weird (like me!), this is absolutely a blog to follow, read, love, and send good vibes to (money, also? I’m sure they’d accept checks. Maybe also stories. Maybe also freshly killed mice if you happen to be of the alley cat-persuasion).

Read Weird

I may not want Meredith Alling to cook dinner for me anytime soon, but she can write me a story any day.

In “Ancient Ham,” a delectable morsel of flash fiction, Alling tells the story of a magic ham with predictive powers.  “Once a year,” we’re told, “the Ancient Ham crawls out of the sewer to sit on a curb and answer questions.”

People flock to the Ancient Ham to ask it yes or no questions.  How, you might ask, does a ham answer such questions?  Well, one simply pokes the Ancient Ham with sewing needles laden with offerings, and then the Ancient Ham bobs left for no, right for yes.

“Ancient Ham” is especially brilliant in the way the story’s heart emerges in the last few lines.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but just know that it has me bobbing to the right, just like the Ancient Ham.

Yes, you…

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Novelist, Poet, Short Story Writer?

First, the good news (because Fridays should always start with good news): My flash fiction piece “Zebra Skin” has just been accepted for publication with Fiction Southeast! I couldn’t be happier about this–both because I happen to especially love this story and because I’ve been hankering for a spot in Fiction Southeast for…forever? Definitely ever since I learned that Aimee Bender was among their ranks.

Now, on to the meat and potatoes (or, if you’re a veggie like me, the cabbage and potatoes):

This past May, I hired on the tremendous Seattle-based editor Tara Weaver to help me tackle the monster novel that I’ve been working on for a few years now, (working title) The Fire Eaters. Not only was Weaver basically incredible (professional, kind, straightforward, sincere, creative, timely, and many other equally wondrous things), but she also helped something crucial finally click into place for me: I am not a novelist. I am a short story writer.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll never write a novel — I’ve already written several rather dreadful ones, in fact — but it does mean that, at least for now, short story writing is where my heart lies. It’s where I boogie. And it’s all thanks to Weaver asking me a deceptively simple question: Katie, did you enjoy writing this novel?

I had no idea of how to respond. Of course! I wanted to say. Of course I enjoyed it–I love my job, don’t I? This is what I do!

And yet there was that little voice in my head: But did you, Katie? Did you actually enjoy writing this novel?

I ask, she told me, because it was clear to me as a reader when you stopped enjoying the writing of this book. In your short stories, though, there’s never a moment where I feel as though you stopped enjoying the process or the project.

It took a while for me to really know what to do with this information. I’m a writer. Of course I write short stories–I have no skill for poetry, and how else would I build up a resume to finally write and sell a novel one day? (Right?)

But then I had to ask myself: Well, would it be so bad if you were a short story writer instead of a novelist?

Novels sell. Short stories don’t. –This is the mantra I grew up hearing, reading, encountering again and again. But on the other hand, it’s not like my novels are anything worth selling at this point, unlike my short fiction.

So, next question: Well, what kinds of books do you most enjoy reading?

Short story collections. Hands down. Always. Whenever I have an author recommended to me, I always seek out their short fiction first and, if I can’t find any, more often than not, I’ll usually ignore the recommendation and move on to someone else.

This is a habit that I know not many readers share with me, but it’s one that’s served me well time and again. If you don’t have a short story for me, there’s little chance that I’m going to trust you with the amount of time that a novel demands of its consumers. Also, short stories are those blissful dives into the moment, into the now, whereas novels so often seek to drag me into the past with flashbacks, backstory, stock characters, and on and on. Or, as Katey Schultz so beautifully says in her article “What is Flash Fiction?“:

In an era of bombardment … we’re hungry for precise details and a widening of the moment. We’re anxious for an excuse to hold time and look closely.

–And this is an urgent, pivotal job of the short story, of flash fiction, of prose poetry.

Of course, this isn’t to say that short stories are somehow better than novels, but simply that they are different (albeit closely related) artforms, and thus demand different skills and serve different purposes.

So why this hesitation on my part? Why all this pressure to write a novel when they aren’t even my preferred go-to as a reader?

Well, here’s one reason–as Amber Sparks so tragically points out in her articleLet Us Now Praise Famous Short Story Writers (And Demand They Write a Novel“:

Most people really don’t like short stories. And that includes lots of critics, who often seem to regard short story collections as a warm-up for the real thing.

“The real thing” — aye, there’s the rub. In today’s world, short stories are still often looked down on as somehow lesser, somehow not as professional, not as artistic, not as meaningful, not as powerful, not as important as the grand Novel. And I played right into their hands by letting this slop infect my perspective.

I know I also often fall into a similar trap when discussing my writing career in general. As a full-time creative writer, I’m often made to feel badly about my career. As if writing was nothing more than glorified unemployment. When people learn that I’m a writer, their follow-up questions usually tend toward these paths:

But do you also edit? Are you planning to be a teacher? What’s your day job? Have you ever considered self-publishing?

To dodge these kinds of well-meant yet soul-chewing questions, I often simply avoid telling people I’m a writer at all. –But this cannot be the answer. We writers must stand up for ourselves. We cannot allow the misconceptions of others to define who we are or what our work-lives mean, just like I must also now proudly stand up for the short story as an artform that’s every bit as vital and meaningful as the novel.

As Kara Cochran says in her (tremendous!) article “A ‘Real’ Job: The Legitimacy of Creative Writing“:

Unfortunately, writers often perpetuate the stereotypes they fight against. … We often fail (or refuse) to define what it is that we do …. Maybe we feel guilty for our gifts, for having the means to pursue something for love over money, for having found something that makes us happy. …

The problem is this: all of this is self-perpetuating. Because convention tells us to accompany writing with a ‘real job,’ writers struggle to make writing a real job.

C’mon, fellow writers, let’s make this a real job.

I’m a short story writer. I love what I do and I’m proud of it. Whether you’re a novelist, short story writer, poet, a triple threat–own it. Love what you do and be proud of it. Own it–for art’s sake!

 

 

 

Writing Groups

First, the good news: My short story “Girls with Blood in Their Veins” has just been accepted for publication with Bartleby Snopes. Look for it this July!

Second: I’m staying up all night tonight for an early Memorial Day flight to Whidbey Island where my beloved writing group, The Roving Writers, will be waiting for me! Here’s hoping that the acceptance letter is a good omen for the journey.

Now, onward to the meat and potatoes of this post: Because I know a lot of writers out there are hungry for groups, connection, and colleagues, I thought I’d take a moment to share some details about The Roving Writers and what works for us.

The Roving Writers is a small collection of writers scattered all across The United States, and though we meet monthly via phone, about twice a year we manage to get together in-person and there’s just no beating the greatness of that. We first met rather serendipitously at a Master Class event at Hedgebrook, and from there we quickly realized that we would be together for many years to come.

What Works for Us:

  • The first keynote we’ve discovered to a strong working relationship is one that may seem obvious but that is notoriously difficult to achieve: Trust. –Trust requires honesty, openness, confidence, and humility. It requires constant work and an ability to clearly communicate one’s thoughts and feelings to others. Without trust, how could we share our work with one another?–work that is often intensely intimate and deeply connected to our innermost beliefs and desires? Without trust, how could we ever give sincere, useful feedback on each other’s work? Without trust, how could we ever have faith in the comments and critiques we receive from each other?
  • The next major component to a successful writing group is a set of Shared Goals. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the group needs to be working on a novel. This doesn’t even necessarily mean that everyone in the group needs to have the shared goal of eventually being published (though this kind of professional synchronicity can be very useful***). What this really means is that everyone in the group should A) want to become a stronger writer and B) want to receive and provide effective, meaningful feedback on their writing. Sometimes it helps if everyone is also similar in other respects as well (i.e. working in the same genre, working toward a particular publishing goal, etc.). Of course, not all writing groups are going to share the goal of critique/feedback since many writing groups have other purposes all together, such as simply gathering together to write in a shared space. –This latter kind of writing group is especially useful, I’ve found, for those writers looking to meet other artists in their area.
  • And tip number three: Managing Group Size & Meeting Regularity. It is absolutely essential to the health of writing groups that you have a manageably small group (I wouldn’t recommend having more than six or seven people to a group max) that meets at least once a month. Many groups meet weekly, but once a month should probably be the bare minimum. –Without these elements, the group can lack intimacy and the tight bonds necessary to breed trust and understanding. Moreover, having a regular meeting time is vital so that group members can plan their daily writing schedules accordingly.

 

Have any tips from your writing group? All advice is welcome and appreciated!

Happy Writing!

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Spotlight on Melville House

First, I’ve loved Melville House for a long time. Second, I’ll be reviewing Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief for Cleaver Magazine this month! Dig this review — thanks for sharing, Book People!

BookPeople's Blog

mirror thiefWe post here about book after book, but rarely do we talk about the publishers behind the books. We are gearing up for a great event next week with Martin Seay (Monday, May 16th at 7pm) and his new book, Mirror Thief, which is the new hot release from independent publisher Melville House.


Melville House is a small publisher, relatively speaking, putting out 50-60 books a year, but those books range from timely, topical nonfiction to poetry in translation. There is something on their list for every reader once you start looking.

Mirror Thief is already a favorite at independent bookstores like BookPeople, and you’ll want to check out this graphic to read what booksellers everywhere are saying.

Martin Seay will be here to speak in conversation with Kirk Lynn, whose book Rules for Werewolves was also published by Melville House. Lithub called it, “A unique, engaging way…

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