Tag Archives: Stories

Writing Your First Sex Scene

So, basically, Delilah S. Dawson’s “25 Humpalicious Steps for Writing Your First Sex Scene” is now one of my new favorite On Writing articles — and I don’t even (usually) write erotica (*cough*thinking of you Tina!*cough*).

One of my great friends from my writing group first discovered this article while we were writing together at Red Emma’s here in Bmore — so we were already (unknowingly) breaking Dawson’s rules #1 & 2; I mean, #1 would come later (that’s what she said (OMG, why aren’t we friends, Dawson?)) — and right away my friend couldn’t keep herself from reading the entire article aloud to me, both of us giggling like grade-schoolers and looking self-consciously over our shoulders. Not only was this article a tremendous thing to share together, but it also sparked some great discussion about the hows/whys of writing sex scenes.

First, who could resist this intro?

I never set out to be a romance writer. When I was asked to turn a black-out scene into steamy hot sex, at first I panicked. Then I followed these 25 easy steps and panicked some more. And then I got a three-book deal for a paranormal romance series with Simon & Schuster, despite being a somewhat prudish Southern girl who’s been married to her college sweetheart since 2002 and has never actually seen a pair of assless chaps. And you can, too! Here’s how.

Dawson! Again: Why aren’t we friends??

But perhaps what I appreciate most about Dawson’s article, aside from her wonderful candor and sense of humor, is just how much of her advice had both my friend and me gushing, Oh my God, yes! Just take rule #7 for example:

7. Consider the lowly Jimmy hat.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a romance book neglects to take into account that most women (and men!) have very strong feelings about whether or not they wish to end up preggers after a sexual encounter. …

AMEN!

Anyway, if you’re still here reading this instead of at Terrible Minds reading Dawson … why are you?

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!

Interview with George Filipovic, Co-editor of “One Throne Magazine”

“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!

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Geosi Reads

Photo: George Filipovic Photo: George Filipovic

Brief Biography:

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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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!

 

 

 

Fresh Summer Reads

You guessed it! The latest issue of Cleaver Magazine is out in style. Issue 14 is one of my personal favorites so far with some very odd, off-the-wall pieces that leave me pumped full of energy.

Here are just a few highlights to get you warmed-up:

First, Judith Schaechter’s glass art (see featured image above for an example from this issue) is basically some of the coolest, creepiest, most painfully lovely work I’ve seen in a long, long time. Check out more of her art in “The Stigma of Beauty, The Stain of Glass.” LOVE! –Also, her essay discussing her work is just freaking awesome:

I am fairly certain that many people experience my pieces kind of like this: Judith Schaechter is an artist who makes images in stained glass of anguished women set against highly decorative backgrounds. People often see my works all at once as a group — presented in a show or reproduced in an article — but to me, each piece is vastly different and each one arose over long periods of time. But yeah, I get it: anguished women and lush, decorative backgrounds. …


BIRCH WATERS
by Meg Pendoley

(short story; emerging artist; the characters here just rock)

The three older women are buckled into the bench seat under a fleece blanket printed with howling wolves. Jess is in the driver’s seat, smoking out the window. Davi walks up next to Beth. Jess’s black hair is buzzed short and she’s got one heavy boot braced against the dashboard behind the steering wheel, her knee cocked halfway out the window. The truck is already covered in dirt, so it doesn’t really matter that she’s stamping mud all over the broken vent. Jess is wearing tan cut-off overalls and one nipple keeps nudging out. …


IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE END
by Evan Anderson

(flash fiction; love, love, love this author’s work–so glad we landed this piece!)

No one really expected the world to end like this. For one thing, it took too damn long. People want bad things to happen like a pulled-off Band-Aid rather than the slow pushing of a knife. Instead, this is how it happened …


THE WHOLE DAMN LOVELY THING
by Melissa Goode

(short story)

Hannah made a cherry pie, and it relaxed her. Only when she was carrying the pie from her house to the neighbor’s, still warm in its tin, did she think it might be inappropriate for a barbecue. She should have brought a six-pack of beer, or some cheese and crackers, because a barbecue probably did not even make it to dessert. In any case, it was too late. Amy had come to her front door to let in a couple of people and spotted Hannah walking up the drive. …


HOMMAGE À MACK SENNETT
by Kathleen Rooney

(flash fiction)

The nightgown in the painting crosses genres: detective and farce. It has a partial body—breasts—but not a face. You could say it’s peekaboo. You could say it’s diaphanous. Either way, it reminds Georgette of how her husband uses recurring motifs to create a story, or at least a semi-story, for a story full of holes is a story full of mystery, a mystery like lace. …


ANGELS HAVE CORDONED OFF SECTIONS OF MOUNT SINAI
by John Harvey

(poem; LOVE this piece!)

Say nothing of this to the doctors of Geneva,
to the folks who rock back and forth
on front porches down in Key West,
or the old woman dreaming of Palestine …

Happy Reading! Happy Writing!

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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