Tag Archives: Poets

6 Great Essays on Craft: Talking Plot, Sex Scenes, & More

1. Claire Rudy Foster’s “Considering the Sex Lives of Your Characters” for The Review Review

Allowing sex to take its proper place in a story adds the third dimension, a dimension of flesh, and sets the reader’s animal self twitching. Even the deliberate omission of sex begs the question: where did it go? Who are these comic characters, gleefully reassuring one another of their button-eyed innocence? It is possible to leave sexuality as an implicit force in the text, but suppressing it entirely does a disservice to both the reader and the story.  …

2. Emily Barton’s “Literary or Genre, It’s the Plot That Counts” for Literary Hub

We writers like to talk about elements of craft. Character, theme, setting, voice, point of view, language. But I seldom hear fellow writers talking about plot. When I first taught a seminar on non-traditional plot construction at NYU’s Graduate Writing Program, some students signed up because they hadn’t previously given the topic any thought. …

3. Alison Mattison’s “How to Write Coincidence the Right Way” for Literary Hub

One way to use coincidence and make it work is to have nothing turn on it. Coincidences feel illegitimate when they solve problems. If the story doesn’t benefit from the coincidence, it’s simply pretty and suggestive. Another way to make a coincidence work is to begin a story with it. Make it the reason there’s a story to tell in the first place. …

4. Bartleby Snopes’s Dialogue Writing Tips

One tendency people have when writing dialogue is to try to write everything exactly how it “sounds.” This often results in dialogue that sounds too slangy or forced. While you may know someone who says “like” after every other word or drops twelve “f-bombs” per sentence, this doesn’t translate well on the page. …

5. Linnie Greene’s In the Mines: A Craft Essay on Creative Nonfiction for Cleaver Magazine

In her MFA vs. NYC essay “The Invisible Vocation,” Elif Batuman argues that the classic maxims “Write what you know” and “find your voice” are sometimes damning, convincing writers that if they don’t know some sort of spectacular, novelistic trauma or oppression, their stories aren’t worth telling. …

6. Steve Almond’s “How to Write a Sex Scene: The 12-Step Program” for Utne

Nipples are tricky. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and shades. They do not, as a rule, look like much of anything, aside from nipples. So resist making dumbshit comparisons. …

Happy Writing!

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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Lucky Reads for Your Spring

Let’s welcome in springtime and St. Patrick’s Day with a big Cleaver Magazine THWACK! Lucky Issue No. 13 is out—so let’s see what’s on the cutting board.

Lucky 13

***Full disclosure, I’m an Editor-at-Large with Cleaver, and am incredibly proud to be so given its talented staff, dedication to including emerging writers/artists in each issue, and its combination of traditional and nontraditional forms of storytelling. So, yeah, I’m a bit biased.***

I recommend giving the entire issue a read, but here are just a few of my personal favorites:

LAST WORDS
by Willie Davis

(short fiction)

For a long time, I kept myself awake by writing personalized suicide notes for each of my friends. I’d found a website that compiled every recorded suicide note of the last ten years, and, not to sound conceited, I could do better. …


COCKCROW
by Tyler Kline

(poetry)

 Moment: a mother inks the scythe
above her daughter’s breast …


A PRESENCE IN WOOD
Wood Sculpture
by Miriam Carpenter

(visual art)


BLUE: SMOKE: COTTON: TEETH: CAT: JELLY: BLOW
by Anne Panning

(flash fiction)

I rarely wear blue, but today there’s a striped dress the color of rain in my closet. …


EMU ON THE LOOSE
by Thaddeus Rutkowski

(flash fiction)

Not much was happening at the artists’ retreat (people were hiding in their studios; maybe they were working; maybe they were drinking) until the emu arrived. We didn’t know where it came from; no one came with it. Wherever it had been, it hadn’t been missed.. …


 

NIGHT OWL
by Carmella de los Angeles Guiol

(creative nonfiction)

I once loved a man who was a creature of the night. Like me, but more so. He slept through most of the daylight hours, his wily hair a halo on his satin pillowcase. Sometimes I stopped by his room between classes to curl up next to him and feel his dreaming body register mine. …


Great Reads from Great Magazines

Check out these great stories and essays! Then–why not?–go ahead and check out more from these truly wonderful publications.

Tangerine” by Amy Roher, Room Magazine

(short story)

I once kept a tangerine in my purse. I watched it turn leathery, sweet and puckered. Eventually, there was nothing to it at all, just a dried-up husk.

“Life is hard,” says my ex-roommate Jeena, who spells her name that way because that’s the way you say it. She likes to tell it like it is. That’s the drinker’s philosophy. …

Cheese Baby” by Anna North, Talking Writing***

(I love this flash fiction story — I wish I’d written it!)

When my period came again, a day ahead of schedule, I carved myself a baby out of cheese. …

Wild Flowers” by Chelsea Ruxer, Hermeneutic Chaos

(flash fiction)

It was four years ago she slipped on the flat stone steps by the strawberries. She always wanted to get the weeding done after a rain, while the ground was still soft enough to pull the roots from the soil. But she was ninety-two then …

Deep Intellect” by Sy Montgomery, Orion Magazine

(I’ve probably promoted/suggested this CNF essay before but…who cares? It’s good enough to warrant all the good press it gets — Montgomery is amazing!)

On an unseasonably warm day in the middle of March, I traveled from New Hampshire to the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium, hoping to touch an alternate reality. I came to meet Athena, the aquarium’s forty-pound, five-foot-long, two-and-a-half-year-old giant Pacific octopus. …

The Final Problem” by Scott Onak, SmokeLong Quarterly

(flash fiction)

The seven detectives lived together in a rented house. Two shared a bedroom, four had their own rooms, and one slept on the screened-in back porch, where it was darkest. …

One Lover. Two Lovers. Three Lovers. Four.
by Donna Hall, Muses & Visionaries 

(CNF essay)

I am a 60-something-year-old working, professional woman who has traveled the world, had some wild adventures, and then hunkered down to work and family, first as a mother, now as a (youthful!) grandmother, and always as a career woman. I thought there was little left to shock and upset me, but I was wrong. …

The Moon is a Wasteland” by Daniel DiFranco, SmokeLong Quarterly

(flash fiction)

At night, Thomas climbed up onto the roof of his house carrying a lasso. He threw it out, and it fell, limp and coiled. He tried again, and again, and on the seventh try, Goddamnit, he really did put that bastard right around the moon. …

***Also, for some truly breathtaking poetry, check out Acorn Journal.***

 

Happy Reading & Writing!

The Poetry Problem

For all the poets out there!

Editors' Blog!

magnetic fridge poetryHEY POETS, did you know that your spacing decisions can affect your chances of being published successfully in online literary magazines?
Most writers, poets included, create and distribute their work on word processing software such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. It’s what we’ve always done. These programs are great for viewing work on our computers and for making print-outs, but they don’t play well with online publishing platforms like WordPress (on which our site is built), Drupal, Joomla, and others.

This is a software and design problem that many poets are unaware of. And it could be the reason certain poems you submit to online publications are rejected or end up being published in a different-looking format from what you intended.

What’s this ‘white space a problem’? The word processing programs we writers use to create poems make it easy for us to spread text across a page, just as we used to do on a typewriter. Just tap the space…

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The Poet, the Spider, & God

As many of you know, I rarely post or re-blog anything with a religious theme or bent here on Writing Reconsidered, but this article I wrote for the Living Our Faith blog is one I’m particularly pleased with.

In the crazy rush of the first days of NaNoWriMo 2015 (not to mention the crazy rush that is November generally: projects coming due, Thanksgiving and family coming to call, the upcoming wilds of winter), this article captures a moment of poetry-inspired peacefulness that I wanted to share.

Happy Writing!

Living Our Faith: St. Paul's Episcopal Church

I have long been a dedicated reader of Wendell Berry, both his poetry and his essays, and often turn to his work whenever I feel a struggle in my soul for a moment of peace and wilderness.

His poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” especially, has always held tremendous power for me:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water …

Poetry in general holds a great deal of the stuff of God for me, reminding me to be mindful, present, and appreciative as I move through a world filled with the Creator’s wonder and mystery.

The Bible itself—like many sacred texts from around the world—is packed with poetry, from the psalms to…

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