For your weekend, a witchy writing prompt:
Tell me the story of the August Corn Moon.
Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to explore the greatness that is Witches of the Craft.
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.
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:
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As a reader for two different magazines and an indie book publisher…I couldn’t agree more with Bartleby Snopes editor Nathaniel Tower. If you’re a writer and/or editor, definitely give this a read.
Guest post by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine managing editor Nathaniel Tower
An editor of a literary magazine has to put up with a fair amount. Among the struggles we must face on our daily quest for literary greatness is repetition. I’m not simply talking about the monotony of reading submissions. Rather, I’m referring to the fact that, at times, it feels like every submission is exactly the same.
When lit mag editors are asked what frustrates them the most about submissions, the responses are typically the same: submissions that don’t follow guidelines, submissions riddled with typos, submissions with a blatant disregard for the aesthetic (whatever the hell that means) of the lit mag in question.
As a lit mag editor, these aren’t the things that bother me the most. Writers who don’t follow guidelines are the easiest to reject. They waste the least amount of my time. What, you didn’t use the…
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“Literary fiction isn’t always dull, SFF can be poetic, and poetry doesn’t have to be impenetrable. There are so many cliques in literature, and each seems to make wildly inaccurate assumptions about the other. I want to run a different kind of literary magazine and open people’s eyes.”
–George Filipovic, Co-Editor of One Throne Magazine
Check out this terrific interview with One Throne editor, George Filipovic. There’s not only a lot of useful/enlightening information here about a young, strong (free!) literary magazine, but also some great arguments for reading beyond our regional biases and checking out authors we might not have considered before.
Great post, Geosi Reads, and thank you!
George Filipovic is the co-editor of One Throne Magazine, which he founded at Dawson City, Yukon in 2014. The magazine publishes all genres and writers from all nationalities. In its first year, two of One Throne’s stories were named “Notable” by two Best American anthologies (Best American Essays and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy). Another story was subsequently made the first chapter of a novel that was bought by HarperCollins India. The magazine has published short fiction written by a 2014 Caine Prize finalist, other short fiction by a 2014 Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and poems from each of the joint-winners of the 2015 Brunel African Poetry Prize. One Throne prides itself on probably being the most diverse literary magazine on the planet. Most issues carry writing from at least three continents, with women and minority groups equitably represented.
Geosi Gyasi: You practiced law in your hometown, Toronto, before leaving for the…
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As an author, one of my most favorite things to read are author interviews. Not only is it a terrific way to engage with the larger writing community, but it’s also a chance to learn about new reads to dig into, to discover new writing processes, and, of course, to fantasize about being interviewed myself. Here are five of my favorite, more recent author interviews (in no particular order):
I think that’s where a workshop can truly help—we can show the writer the work, in a way. We can say, “Look this is good, and that other part ain’t so good, even though it’s clear you think it’s brilliant.” I find that usually the parts I think are brilliant end up seeming strained to other people. Which is both humbling and liberating at the same time.
I’ve loved writing and reading all my life, but Aimee Bender’s is definitely the first voice I ever truly fell in love with — her stories are utterly transportive and I find myself reading them over and over again trying to figure out how she did it.
Above my desk, I have three framed photos, of Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and Kelly Link. Those three women make me want to write.
I definitely need a photo of Jancewicz to hang above my desk. If you haven’t checked her out yet…what are you still doing here? Her website: https://annajancewicz.com/
…it’s a lot of fun to write a story in which everybody in the story already feels at ease with the strangeness — I think there’s a kind of useful dissonance, reading a world in which the people in that world are used to that place. And that’s because that’s true of real life; you often come into situations where everybody already knows what’s going on, and you have to sort of piece it together.
The first time I ever read Link’s short story “Stone Animals” (from her collection Magic for Beginners) I threw the book down and wanted to rant and write and cry and hug her all at the same time. It drove me crazy knowing that someone so talented was out there in the world and that I didn’t know them, that I wasn’t them, that they were writing the stories I’d always wanted to write. Jealousy quickly abates; immense admiration endures.
At this point, yes, it bothers me that I haven’t been able to merge my ‘selves’ to the people that matter in my life. I’ve printed out select stories and given them to my mom to read and she loves them but it’s a small fraction of my work. She knows nothing about my books or the story award I received last year. Nobody does. I just feel like I’ve created work that I can be proud of and nobody in my life really knows about any of it. It’s stupid and I’m working on changing things.
I first discovered xTx’s work while reading H.L. Nelson and Joanne Merriam’s anthology, Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good, and it’s been a complete googly-eyed fan-love affair ever since. She’s creepy, tough, funny, tragic, sincere, delicious.
I do not outline. I find it very difficult to write when I know what’s going to happen. I feel a bit trapped. In one of my other novels, White Is for Witching, the story is basically circular, so it begins with a disappearance and ends with a disappearance. It was very difficult and sad for me to write, knowing exactly what was going to happen to the heroine. It felt like I was trapping her, and I wanted my character to go free.
Stuart Evers, writing for The Independent, says it best: “[Helen Oyeyemi] cares not a fig for convention or the whims of critics or readers, just for the pleasures of writing something unexpected and astonishing.”
Check out these authors and their works now! Seriously — now!
Happy Writing & Reading!
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).
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.
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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?“:
–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 article “Let Us Now Praise Famous Short Story Writers (And Demand They Write a Novel“:
“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. …
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!