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As a little addendum to my post
about the somewhat narrow aesthetics of Ben Marcus's New American Stories
anthology, let me point you to Nick Mamatas's "Anti-Fragile"
, a story that does pretty much everything I was hoping to find somewhere in New American Stories
On Twitter, I said:
And that about sums up my feelings.
Well, also: I may be partial, as I am an avowed and longstanding lover of long sentences
, and this story is a wonderfully skilled, thrillingly long sentence. It's well worth reading and thinking about.
Ben Marcus's 2004 anthology The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories
is a wonderfully rich collection for a book of its type. I remember first reading it with all the excitement of discovery — even the stories I didn't like seemed somehow invigorating in the way they made me dislike them. I've used the book with a couple of classes I've taught, and I've recommended it to many people.
I was overjoyed, then, when I heard that Marcus was doing a follow up, and I got it as soon as I could: New American Stories
. I started reading immediately.
Expectations can kill us. The primary emotion I felt while reading New American Stories
was disappointment. It's not that the stories are bad — they aren't — but that the book as a whole felt a bit narrow, a bit repetitive. I skipped around from story to story, dashing in search of surprise, but it was rare. I tried to isolate the source of my disappointment, of my lack of surprise: Was it the subject matter? No, this isn't quite Best American Rich White People
. Was it the structure of the stories? Maybe a little bit, generally, as even the handful of structurally adventurous stories here feel perfectly in line with the structurally adventurous stories of 50 years ago, and somewhat tame in comparison to the structurally adventurous stories of 80-100 years ago. But that wasn't really what was bothering me.
And then I realized: It was the style, the rhythm. The paragraphs and, especially, the sentences. It wasn't that each story had the same style as the one I'd just read, but that most (not all) of the stories felt like stylistic family members.
And then I thought: What this book really demonstrates is the deep, abiding, and highly dispersed influence of Gordon Lish
. Lish's shadow stretches across the majority of tales in Marcus's book, as it did the previous book, and understandably so: not only is Lish a good candidate for the title of the most influential editor of "literary" short fiction in the US in the second half of the twentieth century ... but Marcus was nurtured by him, with Lish publishing quite a bit of his early work in The Quarterly
and then publishing Marcus's first book, The Age of Wire and String
. (The title of both the Anchor Book
and New American Stories
is a bit of a give-away, too: the subtitle of Lish's The Quarterly
was "The Magazine of New American Writing".) The effect feels more repetitious in the new book, perhaps because I'm now a decade older and have all those more years of reading short stories behind me (including readings tons for the Best American Fantasy
anthologies); but also, I expect, because the new book is more than 200 pages longer, and so the opportunity for repetition is greater.
It's not that either the Anchor Book
or New American Stories
is an anthology of stuff from the School of Lish (as Sven Birkerts called it back in the '80s). Some of Lish's students are, indeed, in these books — in the new one, I know that Sam Lipsyte, Joy Williams, Christine Schutt, and Deb Olin Unferth all studied and/or were edited by him, and Don DeLillo is a good friend and admirer of him. Plenty of the writers in the book may never have even heard of Gordon Lish. The influence is easily picked up from the writers Lish not only guided or influenced directly, but venerated by publishing them or saying good things about them to the world. Lish didn't just teach people to write in a particular way; he taught them to value particular moves in texts.
The writers in New American Stories
are all different in their approaches and backgrounds, certainly, and at least a few of them are writers whose work Lish would not himself value, but there's a bit of an echo between them, the echo of the Lishian sentence (the best analysis of which is probably that of Jason Lucarelli in "The Consecution of Gordon Lish"
). These are stories that (overall) value straightforward diction, relatively simple sentence constructions, and conversational tones and syntax. They prefer the concrete and the active. Many are built with odd repetitions and quirky juxtapositions.
You can feel it in the first lines — Lish famously calls first sentences the "attack sentence" and reportedly tells
students, "Your attack sentence is a provoking sentence. You follow it with a series of provoking sentences."
Here are some opening sentences from New American Stories
(I'll identify the writers later):
1.) Davis called, told me he was dying.
2.) "What you got there, then?"
3.) "Just let me out of here, man," said Cora Booth. "I'm sick. I'm dying."
4.) Four of them were on one side of a dim room.
5.) Like in the old days, I came out of the dry creek behind the house and did my little tap on the kitchen window.
6.) "What are you doing?" a guy asked her.
7.) It was the day before his cousin's funeral and Del ended up at the Suds washing his black jeans at midnight.
8.) Once, for about a month or two, I decided I was going to be a different kind of guy.
9.) "I don't know why I committed us to any of those things," Otto said.
10.) The day I got my period, my mother and father took me to pick my madman.
11.) I know when people will die.
12.) Root canal is one fifty, give or take, depending on who's doing it to you.
The first six of those are the entire first paragraph of the story. All of the sentences are pretty short, with the longest being #5 at 24 words. (And #3 is actually 3 sentences.) The diction is simple, with most of the words being one or two syllables, and none more than three syllables. Four of the openings are direct dialogue, with implied dialogue in others (e.g. #1). All of the openings are about people. The word guy
appears more than once.
I chose these openings pretty much randomly by flipping through the book, and I only organized them to put the ones that are a paragraph unto themselves together. The 20 other stories that I have not sampled here would generally seem similar. From those 20 other stories, here are the opening sentences that, to my eyes and ears, seem most different from those above:
A.) Father comes home after many years of forgetting us, of not sending us money, of not loving us, not visiting us, not anything us, and parks in the shack, unable to move, unable to talk properly, unable to anything, vomiting and vomiting, Jesus, just vomiting and defecating on himself, and it smelling like something dead in there, dead and rotting, his body a black, terrible stick; I come in from playing Find bin Laden and he is there.
B.) Though alien to the world's ancient past, young blood runs similar circles.
C.) After they shot the body several times, they cut its throat with a scaling knife; after that, they pinched its nostrils and funneled sulfuric acid into its mouth; while some set to yanking the body's toenails out with a set of pliers, others fashioned a noose from a utility cord they had found in the trunk of their car.
A and C are longer than 1-12 (behold: semi-colons!), and B is not quite about a human being. Interestingly, they're all about bodies, bodily fluid, and, in the case of A and C, pain, death, suffering. A is notable for its lyricism, B for its weirdness, C for having the only 4-syllable word that I've noticed among any of these opening sentences ("utility"). These are, then, the most extreme and radical opening sentences in the book.
Most of the writers of all of these sentences, whether 1-12 or A-C, likely do not know Gordon Lish's commandments for writing attack sentences. But I suspect we see the influence of Lish in two ways here: first, in how Lish has influenced Marcus's taste, since the one thing we can say about all of these stories is that Ben Marcus valued them; second, in how Lish's protégés have gone on themselves to influence the perception of what is "good writing" in the lit world.
Let's look at who the writers are:
1.) Sam Lipsyte
2.) Zadie Smith
3.) Wells Tower
4.) Jesse Ball
5.) George Saunders
6.) Maureen McHugh
7.) Donald Ray Pollock
8.) Kelly Link
9.) Deborah Eisenberg
10.) Lucy Corin
11.) Deb Olin Unferth
12.) Charles Yu
A.) NoViolet Bulawayo
B.) Rachel B. Glaser
C.) Kyle Coma-Thompson
(It's amusing to note that the two writers whose opening sentences include the word "guy" are Maureen McHugh and Kelly Link — writers who admire each other, and Kelly Link's own Small Beer Press published McHugh's [excellent] story collections. There's nothing to say about this coincidence except that Ben Marcus apparently likes opening sentences that include the word guy
The only Lish students I know of among those writers are Lipsyte and Unferth. But sentences 1-12 seem to me more similar than different in their approach. To know how much of this is just Marcus's own taste selecting stories that have such sentences and how much is stylistic similarity between the writers generally, we would have to examine collections of each writers' stories and see if they tend to begin their stories in the same way. That work is more than I can do right now, but it would be an interesting research project.
Compared to most of the writers in New American Stories
, the writers of A-C have fewer books published by major publishers and fewer awards (though NoViolet Bulawayo won the Caine Prize and her book
, from which the story "Shhhh" is taken, has done very well — still, until recently she was not part of the big lit machine), and I think this matters. One of my disappointments with New American Stories
is how much it reprints writers who have been published by major publishers and won major prizes. I had had hopes that the book would be more eclectic and surprising than this. For all his attempts at variety, what Marcus has given us overall is a bunch of stories that are valued by the kinds of people who give out major literary awards. And they are good stories — I don't mean anything I say here to reflect badly on any of the individual stories, many of which are extraordinary and all of which are in some way or another interesting. But the range of stories in the book is more narrow than I had hoped for.
Coming back to Lish, what's interesting is how his taste has so defined what I think of as the establishment avant-garde. We should put "avant-garde" in quotes, though, because it's not really out in front, and it's not particularly innovative anymore — indeed, it's the establishment because its structures and rhythms are passed down through writing workshops, editorial decisions, and awards committees. You can see this in the case of somebody like Gary Lutz
, a Lishian who may not be well known to the general public, but who has had a significant influence on a lot of contemporary short story writers in the lit world, as well as on creative writing teachers, particularly through his essay/lecture "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place"
(which I've myself recommended to some advanced writing students because it demonstrates to an overwhelming degree the depth with which one can think about sentences).
The effect of all this is to create a relatively narrow range for what is recognizable as "quality" in a short story. The familiar replicates itself. What a discourse community can perceive as good and bad, effective and ineffective, quality and kitsch depends very much on what it has previously seen as good, bad, effective, ineffective, quality, kitsch. Sometimes, that can be liberatory — Charles Yu, Maureen McHugh, and Kelly Link might be dismissed as writers of genre fiction if their tone and style was not close enough to that of the other writers in the anthology to sound familiar and thus be recognizable as part of the family of quality. I love that they're part of this book, but to understand why they fit so well in it, we don't have to speculate about the growing acceptance of genre content in the lit world, but simply note the similarity of tone, syntax, and diction to what is also here.
There's a long history to the particular qualities celebrated by Marcus and most of the writers he likes, and it's a history that predates Lish — if these stories feel like they have a lot of family resemblances, then it may be because they are the stylistic grandchildren of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. (Or, to make a different comparison, the music they seem to favor is that of chamber concerts and small indie rock bands, not jazz clubs. Indeed, the echoes I couldn't hear at all in these stories are the echoes of jazzier writers like Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Maybe I'm tone deaf.)
So perhaps it is best to think of New American Stories
as a kind of family portrait, a reunion of the offspring (whether they know it or not) of Grandma Gertrude and Grandpapa Ernie by way of Daddy Gordon (and maybe Mama Amy Hempel
), along with a couple of kids who seem to have wandered in from the neighbor's house and who are nice to have around because they liven things up. New American Stories
is a good anthology, well worth reading, full of interesting stuff. It is not, though, a broad representation of what short stories can do or be, and for all its writers' concern with tone, resonance, and rhythm, the songs they play sound more alike than not.
The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War by by David Almond, John Boyne, Tracy Chevalier, Ursula Dubosarsky, Timothee de Fombelle, Adele Geras, et al. | Read by Nico Evers-Swindell, JD Jackson, Gerard Doyle, Richard Halverson, Sarah Coomes, Nick Podehl
(2015, Brilliance Audio) is a powerful collection of short stories that view World Ward I and its repercussions from many different points of view.
The link to my short review for AudioFile Magazine is below. An audio sample is available at the link as well. Publisher recommended for grades 5 and up.
I'm still working on a follow-up post to my trip to the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. It was a great experience.
Flying Free by Adrienne M. Frater (Atawhai Press)
When the author asked if I would review this book I have to confess I wasn't enthused with the idea of a self-published book with only one author's short stories including pages saying why she wrote those stories. I was very pleasantly surprised when the book arrived in the post, however. From the professionally designed cover with a child's drawing of a bird kite with blue-green water colour wash background, to the child-like fonts, good quality paper, and children's drawings scattered throughout, it's a beautiful book. The short stories are all entertaining and pitched exactly right for the intended audience. Most have been published before in anthologies and the School Journal, or read aloud on the Radio. And from a teacher's perspective I could see a lot of use for the introduction before each story where Adrienne explains where she got the idea for the story. Kids love to know a back story. See below for how I would use this section in the classroom.
Flying Free contains 25 short stories ranging from a technology cat, a drought, a dance rehearsal, a boy who hates the fuss at birthday parties, rescuing stranded whales, kite flying, and ghostly friends. They'll thoroughly enjoy reading this collection of stories. There's something for everyone ... funny stories, spooky stories, sporty stories, stories about friendship, and stories about succeeding in spite of problems etc. Recommended for home and school libraries!
Teachers could use this book when teaching how to write short stories. The students could be inspired to write a story with Adrienne's prompts. For example:
- a child who doesn't like birthdays
- a sailing trip
- a cat who's fascinated with technology
- helping rescued stranded whales float
- having to move to another town
- a vivid memory of an event
- things that make one person happy but make another feel the opposite
If you read Adrienne's stories before the students write you'd have to stress that you don't want them to write that story - you want them to write their own unique story using things that have happened to them as prompts but also changing it as much as their imagination wants to. Students could also look closely at the techniques Adrienne has used in the story and use some of those in their stories.
ISBN: 9780473319144 Published: April 2015Pages: 216 RRP $24.50Buy here.
I just told Ray Russell at Tartarus Press that I think the impending release of The Strangers by Robert Aickman
is the publishing event of the year. That's not hyperbole. Aickman's stories are among my favorite works of 20th century art, and I always thought the canon was complete. Indeed, I thought that once Tartarus had brought all of Aickman
back into print that I was done with being insanely grateful to Tartarus. But no!
The Strangers and Other Writings includes previously unpublished and uncollected short fiction, non-fiction and poetry by Robert Aickman. Dating from the 1930s to 1980, the contents show his development as a writer. Six unpublished short stories, augmented by one written for broadcast, follow his fiction from the whimsical through the experimental to the ghostly, with ‘The Strangers’ a fully-formed, Aickmanesque strange tale. The non-fiction samples Aickman’s wide-ranging interests and erudition: from the supernatural to Oscar Wilde; from 1940s films to Delius; from politics to the theatre; from Animal Farm to the canals.
Included with the book is a DVD of the documentary film Robert Aickman, Author of Strange Tales:
Featuring rare film, photographs and audio recordings, the film sheds new light on Aickman’s role in the development of the ghost story, his interest in restoring the British canal system and his wider involvement with the arts. Jean Richardson and Heather and Graham Smith share their memories of Aickman’s friendship, and writers Jeremy Dyson and Reggie Oliver evaluate Aickman’s literary legacy.
April Short Stories (original sign-up post
) (my list of 52
) (challenge hosted by Bibliophilopolis
- King Diamonds "The Child's Story" by Charles Dickens
- 2 Diamonds "Curious if True" by Elizabeth Gaskell from The Grey Woman and Other Stories
- Ace Clubs "Death Ship" by Richard Matheson from The Time Traveler's Almanac
- Ace Hearts "A Correspondence and A Climax" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
"The Child's Story" by Charles Dickens
- I loved reading "The Child's Story" by Charles Dickens. Here's how it begins, "Once upon a time, a good many years ago, there was a traveller, and he set out upon a journey. It was a magic journey, and was to seem very long when he began it, and very short when he got half way through." I thought it was beautiful in its imagery. It is about a "traveler" who first meets a young child, then a boy, then a young man, then a middle-aged gentleman with a family, then an old man. It was an incredible read.
"Curious if True" by Elizabeth Gaskell
- I persevered through it, and, it could have just been a case of bad timing, but, I couldn't make any sense out of this short story at all. Other than it was set in France. And the narrator was someone--a man? a woman? probably a man? doing genealogical research and hoping to find out how he was related--if he was related--to John Calvin. And half of it was probably a dream of sorts. Probably. It's not that I love first person narrative to begin with, but, in a short story it can be even more disorienting. I wasn't impressed with this one.
"Death Ship" by Richard Matheson (1953)
- Premise/Plot: "Death Ship" was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode in 1963. The story introduces three astronauts to readers. (Mason, Ross, and Carter). Their mission, I believe, is to scout out other planets to see if they are suitable for colonization. But their mission is fated to fail, in a way. It begins with them exploring a 'flash' or sorts. It ends up they're investigating the crash of what appears to be an earth spaceship very much like their own. What they find inside the ship, well, let's just say that they have a very hard time making sense of it. Will readers do a better job?! Perhaps, especially if they've seen the Twilight Zone episode a few times.
"A Correspondence and A Climax" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
- Premise/Plot: Readers meet Sidney a young woman who has been swept up into a fantasy world of her own creation. She writes a young man all about how wonderful and glorious and full her life is--a real social whirl. In reality, she's a poor, hardworking country girl. When she learns that he's on his way to visit her, she's in for quite a shock. As is he. But it's a pleasant one for the most part. He doesn't mind her lies. He loves her as is.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
March's Short Stories (original sign-up post
) (my list of 52
) (challenge hosted by Bibliophilopolis
- 9 Spades "The Story of the Bad Little Boy" by Mark Twain from Complete Short Stories
- 3 Diamonds "Six Weeks at Heppenheim" by Elizabeth Gaskell from The Grey Woman and Other Stories
- 8 Spades "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain from Complete Short Stories
- 2 Hearts "An Adventure on Island Rock" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
- 5 Clubs "Second Chance" by Orson Scott Card from Worthing Saga
"The Story of the Bad Little Boy" by Mark Twain from Complete Short Stories
- Premise/Plot: A Parody of 'religious fiction' of the day written to "motivate" children to behave. His character is bad and nothing horrible ever happens to him, he does what he wants no matter how wrong or bad, and he has a very good and long life.
But the strangest thing that ever happened to Jim was the time he went boating on Sunday, and didn't get drowned, and that other time that he got caught out in the storm when he was fishing on Sunday, and didn't get struck by lighting. Why, you might look, and look, all through the Sunday-school books from now till next Christmas, and you would never come across anything like this. Oh no; you would find that all the bad boys who go boating on Sunday invariably get drowned; and all the bad boys who get caught out in storms when they are fishing on Sunday infallibly get struck by lightning. Boats with bad boys in them always upset on Sunday, and it always storms when bad boys go fishing on the Sabbath. How this Jim ever escaped is a mystery to me.
"Six Weeks at Heppenheim" by Elizabeth Gaskell from The Grey Woman and Other Stories
- Premise/Plot: A very entertaining and satisfying story. The hero is on a European tour of sorts, he gets sick, and is tended to/nursed at a local inn. During his stay, he gets to know the family and the servants. There is a romantic element to this one. (The narrator is not involved. He's a witness nothing more to this sweet story).
"The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain from Complete Short Stories
- Premise/Plot: A funny story about a man who gets "caught" by a man who talks WAY too much. Can he escape the man's acquaintance, or will he have to listen to this man go on and on and on forever?!
In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that, if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it certainly succeeded.
"An Adventure on Island Rock" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
- Premise/Plot: A dog, Laddie, saves a young boy, Ned, and is saved in the process from being sold by "mean" Uncle Richard. Ernest, the dog's best friend, is overjoyed.
"Second Chances" by Orson Scott Card (1979) Printed in Capital and Worthing Saga
- Premise/Plot: Abner Doon is in love, but, he won't be getting a happy ending. For the woman he loves is duty-bound to care for her parents. Both are in horrible health/condition. Conveniently, he convinces her for a few short hours, that she deserves a chance to be happy, to be with him. During these brief hours, he convinces her to get her mind taped (or bubbled?). (This is tied in with the drug, Somec, and preparing to go to sleep.) But she changes her mind. Decides that she couldn't possibly be happy with him if her parents were miserable and alone. This time the decision is final, or is it? What happens years later, when she's lost both her parents. Will they get a second chance?
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Istanbul Noir edited by Mustafa Ziyalan and Amy Spangler
Ok, do you all know about Akashic Books City Noir series? So far there are sixty-nine titles (I think I counted that correctly)-- each is an anthology of noir short stories, taking place in a specific location, with the stories written by authors who are from there or live there, or write about the city a lot. Many of the volumes are international--if I counted correctly, 24 of the currently-out titles are international, with locations ranging from Paris to Manila, Kingston to St. Petersburg, Tehran to Copenhagen. (There are also 3 titles coming out this summer-- Providence, Beirut, and Marseille-- and another 21 that have been announced. Of the 24 that aren't out yet, 16 are international.)
I love this series so hard. It's the best of armchair travel, because you're going into neighborhoods and situations you don't usually get (because, well, noir). As the authors are mostly local, or write like a local, the city is the setting, and it's a character that links the stories, but there's no expositional tour guide voice that can run through books that take place in a location the readership might not know very well. There's just the city and culture in the background and part of the story, which in a way is more enlightening. Between all the stories, you usually get a wide range of neighborhoods, people, and economic status--and not a lot of the touristy stuff we usually see. While the concept itself is diverse, there's also tremendous diversity within each volume. Also, with the international ones, you get to read a lot of authors that haven't published in English before, or that you might not otherwise have come across.
So, as much as I read and love this series, I haven't reviewed it yet because, well, Istanbul Noir is the only one I've actually finished. Not because the others aren't good, but they're short stories! So I tend to dip in and out of the collections, and then they're due back at the library, and so I'll return it and pick up a new city. I've found short stories are the best bus reading, because that's usually how long I have. I haven't really gotten into short stories before, but I think my friend and co-worker Megan put a finger on it when she explained why she doesn't like them--they're too short for her to really connect to and like a character. That's the best part about noir--you're not really supposed to like most of these people.
So! If you're looking for some great short stories by authors you may not know, or want a new look at a city you love, or a very different introduction to one you've never been to, this series is for you.
Also, what cities do you wish they covered? Personally, I'm crossing my fingers for Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong (and maybe a separate Kowloon volume, like they split up the boroughs of New York City?), Cape Town, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Karachi.
Book Provided by... my local library
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Last Friday in my weekly goals and objectives post, I wrote about planning to submit a manuscript to a journal that is only open for submissions for part of each month. It opens on the 1st and closes when it reaches 200 submissions. That's the number of submissions the staff feels it can deal with in a month.
As it turned out, yesterday was the 1st. So I planned to submit yesterday or today. I was on the road most of yesterday, worked on completing the revision of a chapter today, and when I went to submit the manuscript in question, maybe ten minutes ago, the journal was already closed to submissions. It reached it's 200 mark in less than 48 hours.
Clearly I should have rearranged my time and tried submitting this morning. Or last night after getting back from a day trip. Or yesterday morning before I got on the road at 8:30.
I did not schedule my time correctly. And, you know, I did have a feeling I wouldn't have more than a couple of days to do this.
February's Short Stories (original sign-up post
) (my list of 52
) (challenge hosted by Bibliophilopolis
- Ace Diamonds "The Grey Woman" by Elizabeth Gaskell from The Grey Woman and Other Stories
- 3 Hearts "At Five O'Clock in the Morning" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
- 10 Diamonds "Mr. Cosway and the Landlady" by Wilkie Collins from Little Novels
- Jack Spades "A Day At Niagara" by Mark Twain from Complete Short Stories
"The Grey Woman" by Elizabeth Gaskell from The Grey Woman and Other Stories
- Premise/Plot: Readers learn the story of Anna Scherer and how she became "The Grey Woman." It's a story revealed through Anna's own letter to her daughter, a letter that has been passed down through the generations. The narrators of the story take shelter during a rain storm, see a portrait, ask about it, and are given a letter. In this letter, she's confessing to her daughter--telling her the whole truth. The story has a very gothic feel to it. This is a great read!
"At Five O'Clock in the Morning" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
- Premise/Plot: Murray lacks tact but gets the girl--most likely--anyway. I can't say that this story wowed me. It's not one of L.M. Montgomery's better short stories--there are so many that are GREAT. It's a mistaken identity, miscommunication, courtship story.
"Mr. Cosway and the Landlady" by Wilkie Collins from Little Novels
THE guests would have enjoyed their visit to Sir Peter's country house—but for Mr. Cosway. And to make matters worse, it was not Mr. Cosway but the guests who were to blame. They repeated the old story of Adam and Eve, on a larger scale. The women were the first sinners; and the men were demoralized by the women.
- Premise/Plot: Readers learn of an unpleasant house party. The guests have not had a happy stay particularly. Soon EVERYONE just *has* to know the history of Mr. Cosway. What has happened in his past? There has to be some reason, some explanation for his strange-to-them behavior. The mystery is solved when a news story is shared. The story in the paper is about a boat accident: two women and a man have drowned. When Mr. Cosgrave learns the names, well, he gets REALLY excited: almost jubilant. Mr. Cosgrave's friend later tells the guests why. You see, Mr. Cosgrave as a younger man was TRICKED into marrying a landlady. The story is cleverly told. I enjoyed it.
"A Day At Niagra" by Mark Twain, from the Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, this particular story was published in 1903, I believe.
NIAGARA FALLS is a most enjoyable place of resort. The hotels are excellent, and the prices not at all exorbitant. The opportunities for fishing are not surpassed in the country; in fact, they are not even equaled elsewhere. Because, in other localities, certain places in the streams are much better than others; but at Niagara one place is just as good as another, for the reason that the fish do not bite anywhere, and so there is no use in your walking five miles to fish, when you can depend on being just as unsuccessful nearer home. The advantages of this state of things have never heretofore been properly placed before the public.
When you start out to "do" the Falls you first drive down about a mile, and pay a small sum for the privilege of looking down from a precipice into the narrowest part of the Niagara river. A rail- way "cut" through a hill would be as comely if it had the angry river tumbling and foaming through its bottom. You can descend a staircase here a hundred and fifty feet down, and stand at the edge of the water. After you have done it, you will wonder why you did it; but you will then be too late.
- Premise/Plot: This is a comic piece. The narrator is relating to the reader his experiences at Niagra Falls. One thing after another after another leads him to regret his visit
Here I followed instructions, and divested myself of all my clothing, and put on a waterproof jacket and overalls. This costume is picturesque, but not beautiful. A guide, similarly dressed, led the way down a flight of winding stairs, which wound and wound, and still kept on winding long after the thing ceased to be a novelty, and then terminated long before it had begun to be a pleasure. We were then well down under the precipice, but still considerably above the level of the river. We now began to creep along flimsy bridges of a single plank, our persons shielded from destruction by a crazy wooden railing, to which I clung with both hands-- not because I was afraid, but because I wanted to. Presently the descent became steeper, and the bridge flimsier, and sprays from the American Fall began to rain down on us in fast increasing sheets that soon became blinding, and after that our progress was mostly in the nature of groping.
- But the worst he brings upon himself in a way. He starts jabbering complete nonsense to three different "Native Americans" in the gift shop, I believe. The people dressed up as Indians, readers learn, are not the real deal. (They are all Irish.) And they don't appreciate his ridiculousness. You can't really blame them for their response, perhaps.
"Is the Wawhoo-Wang-Wang of the Whack-a-Whack happy? Does the great Speckled Thunder sigh for the warpath, or is his heart contented with dreaming of the dusky maiden, the Pride of the Forest? Does the mighty Sachem yearn to drink the blood of his enemies, or is he satisfied to make bead reticules for the pappooses of the paleface? Speak, sublime relic of bygone grandeur-- venerable ruin, speak!'
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
My name is Matthew and I am a Norton Critical Edition
Hardly a term has gone by without my assigning students at least one NCE, both when I was a high school teacher and especially now that I'm teaching college students. (This term, it's The Red Badge of Courage
.) I have been known to change syllabi each term just to try out new NCEs with students. I have bought NCEs for myself even of books that I already owned in multiple other editions. I have all four editions of the NCE of Heart of Darkness
because the changes between them fascinate me. (I've been meaning to write a blog post or essay of some sort about those changes. I'll get to it one day.)
Anton Chekhov is my favorite writer, a writer whose work I've been reading and thinking about for all of my adult life. The Norton Critical Editions of Chekhov's stories and plays published in the late 1970s remained unchanged until Laurence Senelick's Selected Plays
came out in 2004, and then, finally, last year Cathy Popkin's Selected Stories
. Senelick's collection is good, and probably all that the average reader needs, though I'm more partial to Senelick's true masterpiece, the Complete Plays
, which is awe-inspiring.
Popkin's Selected Stories
is something more again, and easily the best single-volume collection of Chekhov in English. This is the place to start if you've never read Chekhov, and it's a great resource even for seasoned Chekhovians. I'll go further than that, actually: Because of the critical apparatus, this is a great resource for anyone interested in fiction, translation, and/or writing; and it is one of the most interesting Norton Critical Editions I know, almost as impressive as my favorite NCEs, Things Fall Apart
and The English Bible
Popkin made the interesting and valuable choice to not only include stories from multiple translators (including new commissions), but to foreground the act of translation by including helpful descriptions of each translator's approach and methodology, as well as short passages from multiple stories in numerous translations for comparison:
|sample of the Comparison Passages section|
Further, Popkin frequently offers a perspective on the translation of an individual story in the first footnote for it, and sometimes in subsequent footnotes that point out particular choices the translator made.
The foregrounding of translation allows Popkin to bring in essays in the critical section that focus on Chekhov as a stylist, something Ralph Matlaw, editor of the previous edition, specifically avoided because he thought it made no sense to talk about "since the subtleties of Chekhov's style are lost in translation." Popkin's contention is that this no longer needs to be true, if it ever was.
What we have here, then, is not only a book of Chekhov stories plus some biographical and critical material, but a book about aesthetics and writing. One of the critical disputes that Popkin highlights, both in her introduction and in her selection of essays, is a longstanding one between critics who believe every detail in the stories has a particular purpose and function, and critics who believe that Chekhov's art (and philosophy) resides in the very extraneousness and randomness of some of his details. There is, as Popkin notes, no solution to this question, and plenty of readers (I'm one of them) believe that in a certain way both
interpretations can be correct — but the value here is that Popkin is able to make the critical dispute one that is not only about Chekhov, but about writing, realism, and the reader's experience of the text. Attentive readers of this Selected Stories
will thus not only gain knowledge of Chekhov's work, but will also participate in the exploration of aesthetics: the aesthetics of the stories as well as the aesthetics of translation.
Inevitably, I have one complaint and a few quibbles. The complaint is that the physical book is terribly bound — the binding of my copy broke when I opened it, and continued to break whenever I opened to anything in the middle of the book. No pages have yet fallen out, but they could soon. This is unusual for a Norton book — The English Bible
is huge and only one year older than Selected Stories
and its bindings (2 big volumes) are very strong; my copy of the 1979 NCE of Chekhov's stories, purchased at the earliest 15 years ago, seems unbreakable. I hope the problem with this new book is an anomaly.
My quibbles are purely those of anyone who has their own particular favorites among Chekhoviana. I detest Ronald Hingley's imperialist atrocities of translations, and though I know they're necessary for this volume because they offer such stark contrast to other translations, why why why did Popkin have to include Hingley's translation of perhaps my favorite Chekhov story, "Gusev"?! At least she could have included somebody — anybody! — else's translation alongside it. (Indeed, I think it would have been helpful for the book to choose one complete story to offer in multiple translations. "Gusev" is probably too long, but Chekhov wrote a number of quite short stories that have been translated numerous times.)
The selection of stories in this edition is almost completely superior to Matlaw's, but it's unfortunate to lose the 1886 story "Dreams", which seems to me a perfect encapsulation of Chekhov's style between his early humorous sketches and his later, longer stories ... but it's easily available elsewhere
One significant improvement Popkin makes over Matlaw's previous edition is the inclusion of some of Chekhov's longer stories, most significantly "Ward No. 6" and "In the Ravine", two of his most important works. The book is already almost 700 pages, so obviously novellas such as "My Life" and "The Steppe" — hugely important, original, difficult, complex, breathtaking works — wouldn't fit without bumping out a lot of other worthwhile material, but still I pine. Perhaps Selected Stories
will be successful enough that Norton will consider a Critical Edition called Chekhov's Novellas
Finally, it might have been nice to include something on the adaptation of Chekhov's stories to theatre, film, and television — though of course his plays are more frequently adapted, some of the better adaptations are of the short stories, and there's been at least a little bit of critical attention to that. Adaptation is another form of translation, and it would have been interesting to consider that further within the frame that Popkin set up.
But really, these are the inevitable, unimportant quibbles of the sort that any anthology causes in a reader familiar with the territory. Popkin's edition of the Selected Stories
is a book to celebrate and savor, and it gets so many things right that it is churlish to complain about any of it. Even the cover is a smart, appropriate choice: a painting by Chekhov's friend Isaac Levitan
This book is clearly the result of lots of love for Chekhov, and as such I can only love it back.
January's Short Stories (original sign-up post
) (my list of 52
) (challenge hosted by Bibliophilopolis
- 6 Spades "The Spot of Art" by P.G. Wodehouse from Very Good, Jeeves
- Queen Clubs "Face Value" by Karen Joy Fowler from Alien Contact
- Queen Diamonds "Mr. Lismore and the Widow" by Wilkie Collins from Little Novels
- 4 Hearts "Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
"Spot of Art" by P.G. Wodehouse (1929, from Very Good, Jeeves 1930)
- Premise/Plot: Bertram Wooster cancels his scheduled yachting trip with Aunt Dahlia so that he can stay close-to-home and woo the oh-so-lovely Gwladys who is an artist. Aunt Dahlia predicts that by the time the trip occurs, Bertie will have lost his lady love, and be more than ready to vacation. Was Aunt Dahlia's prediction spot on?! Yes and no! Does he lose Gwladys?! Yes. To his rival, another artist. But not just ANY artist. Gwladys invited Mr. Pim to view the portrait of Wooster which she'd just finished. (Jeeves HATES the "spot of art" hanging on the wall). But on his way to the flat, Mr. Pim gets run over. But not just run over by anyone, but by Gwladys herself. Mr. Pim will spend WEEKS living at Wooster's flat while he recuperates. Mr. Pim not wanting his own family to know that Gwladys, the woman he's in love with, is the one who run him down, tells his family that Bertie did it! Mr. Pim's brother-in-law, who owns a soup shop, comes to beat him up and/or sue him. But during their confrontation, he slips on a golf ball. So now Bertie has TWO unwanted invalid guests. He flees to the continent--to Paris--with strict instructions to Jeeves. When he returns weeks later--before he even sees Jeeves or learns the latest--he sees his face, his portrait, ADVERTISING SOUP. This poster is EVERYWHERE. He then learns that Gwladys is engaged to Mr. Pim, and that the copyright to the portrait has been given to this soup-shop-owner to appease him. Wooster is horribly upset!!! And he needs a vacation!!! Turns out, the yachting trip is JUST what he needs...and it's been conveniently postponed because of illness. So Aunt Dahlia was right, for the most part!!!
"Face Value" by Karen Joy Fowler from Alien Contact
- Premise/Plot: Taki and Hesper are a xenologist and a poet on an alien planet studying the menes. Hesper is not coping well to say the least. Though she wanted to go with him at first, though she was at first eager to learn firsthand about the menes, she is now miserable and depressed. She's lost herself... Taki has never really understood Hesper. He's wanted to. He's tried. He's hoped. Hoped that Hesper at one time really did love him. Hoped that Hesper would love him again. But. He's clueless in many ways. Taki is unable to communicate effectively with Hesper and the menes. There is a strangeness to this story. I'm not sure I "liked" it overall. But it is very science fiction-y.
"Mr. Lismore and the Widow" by Wilkie Collins from Little Novels
- Premise/Plot: Mr. Lismore is struggling financially. He is facing ruin in a month or two if his ship doesn't come in. An elderly widow whom he rescued from a fire a handful of years before wants to help him out. If his ship doesn't come in before his debts are due, the two will marry. She is quite rich. He is hesitant but willing. The two will leave England after the marriage and live abroad. She wants him to be completely honest with her and let her know if he should find himself falling in love with another woman. He tells her one day that there was a beautiful young woman at an art gallery that caught his eye. She makes him promise to bring her home the next time he sees her. She wants to meet her, talk with her. He is puzzled but agrees... I won't spoil the twist. This is an unusual story, but, then again it is Wilkie Collins!
"Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration" by L.M. Montgomery from Short Stories 1905-1906
- Premise/Plot Aunt Susanna is chatting with someone--Nora May. The story uses "you" throughout, so it is easy to feel that Aunt Susanna is talking directly to you. She's got a story to tell you about Anne Douglas, a teacher, and her lover, Gilbert Martin. Anne and Gilbert were "both pretty proud and sperrited and high-strung." The two quarreled and put off their marriage. Both left town. Anne still loves Gilbert. Gilbert still loves Anne. Both confide in Susannah. The letters arrive on her birthday--or near her birthday--and she's inspired to meddle. She sends Gilbert's letter to Anne. It's a letter confessing how much he still loves Anne. And she sends Anne's letter to Gilbert. Again, it's a letter professing how much she still loves Gilbert. The two are reunited and very grateful for "Aunt Susannah." It concludes:
Those two young creatures have learned their lesson. You'd better take it to heart too, Nora May. It's less trouble to learn it at second hand. Don't you ever quarrel with your real beau--it don't matter about the sham ones, of course. Don't take offence at trifles or listen to what other people tell you about him--outsiders, that is, that want to make mischief. What you think about him is of more importance than what they do. To be sure, you're too young yet to be thinking of such things at all. But just mind what old Aunt Susanna told you when your time comes.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories: 1905-1906. Dodo Press. 260 pages. [Source: Bought]
There are thirty-one short stories in this L.M. Montgomery collection. There are some great stories within this collection. There are some not-so-great stories within this collection. The quality definitely varies story to story. But if you already love L.M. Montgomery, it's well worth reading. If you're never read her, however, this may not be the best introduction. True, you'd probably find something to like, to enjoy, maybe even love. But would it persuade you to seek out EVERYTHING she's ever written because she's oh-so-amazing?! Probably not. It's good to keep in mind that these short stories were published several years before her novels. (Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908).
There are two stories that are tied for being my favorite-favorite in this collection: "Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration
" and "The Understanding of Sister Sara
." Both stories are about lovers' quarrels being resolved with a little outside help.
Previous short story collections I've reviewed:
- L.M. Montgomery Short Stories, 1896-1901. L.M. Montgomery. 142 pages.
- Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1902-1903. L.M. Montgomery. 216 pages.
- L.M. Montgomery Short Stories, 1904. L.M. Montgomery. Dodo Press. 144 pages.
These stories are included in Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories: 1905-1906
- A Correspondence and a Climax
- An Adventure On Island Rock
- At Five O'Clock in the Morning
- Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration
- Bertie's New Year
- Between the Hill and the Valley
- Clorinda's Gifts
- Cyrilla's Inspiration
- Dorinda's Desperate Deed
- Her Own People
- Ida's New Year Cake
- In the Old Valley
- Jane Lavinia
- Mackereling Out in the Gulf
- Millicent's Double
- The Blue North Room
- The Christmas Surprise at Enderly Road
- The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby
- The Falsoms' Christmas Dinner
- The Fraser Scholarship
- The Girl at the Gate
- The Light on the Big Dipper
- The Prodigal Brother
- The Redemption of John Churchill
- The Schoolmaster's Letters
- The Understanding of Sister Sara
- The Unforgotten One
- The Wooing of Bessy
- Their Girl Josie
- When Jack and Jill Took a Hand
If you're looking for a good short story to perhaps read on its own, I'd recommend:
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Blog: Perpetually Adolescent
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This is George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer. The title piece is the longest of the collection but Pelecanos saves it for last. The preceding stories are a blend of what makes Pelecanos great. Stories about the street, […]
By: Roger Sutton
Blog: Read Roger - The Horn Book editor's rants and raves
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My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories
edited by Stephanie Perkins
High School St. Martin’s Griffin 323 pp.
10/14 978-1-250-05930-7 $18.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4668-6389-7 $9.99
Holiday romance is the connecting link for the twelve tales included in this highly enjoyable anthology by a dozen well-known young adult authors, including Rainbow Rowell, Matt de la Peña, David Levithan, Gayle Forman, Laini Taylor, and Stephanie Perkins.
The short stories feature teen protagonists of different races, sexual identities, and ethnicities confronting various obstacles and insecurities in their pursuit of new love amidst celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and even Krampuslauf. And in keeping with the spirit of the season, the eclectic collection of stories — some fantastical, some realistic — all end with hopeful, if not always happy, endings.
From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
The post Review of My True Love Gave to Me appeared first on The Horn Book.
Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
by Oliver Jeffers
Philomel Books, 2014Brain Pickings' Best Children's Books of 2014
strikes again. An ABC book like no other. Had to own it.
We are going to be studying narrative after the winter break, and I'm thinking that these very very short stories for each of the letter of the alphabet might make marvelous mentor texts. Character, setting, problem, solution...all in under 100 words!
Whether or not we could create our own alphabet that, like Jeffers', has stories that stand alone AND cross-reference each other might be a bit tricky.
Who am I kidding? Make that more than a bit
The Astronomer Who Met The North Wind by Kate Hall. Book Smugglers Publishing, 2014. Review copy from publisher. Short story.The Plot: The Astronomer Who Met the North Wind
, a short story, is part of the Fairytale Retellings series being published by Book Smugglers Publishing
. As you've probably guessed from the title, it's a retelling of The Princess Who Met the North Wind
An astronomer and his wife have a daughter, Minka. Minka's parents go on scientific expeditions; during one, when Minka is six, her mother gets ill and dies.
Afterwords, her father is very protective of her, including his insistence that Minka not become an astronomer.
When Minka turns twelve, her father gets her the types of gifts he thinks a girl would want and should want.
Needless to say, they are not the types of things one girl -- his girl -- his daughter, Minka -- wants.
Minka decides to prove him wrong, and gets some help from the North Wind.The Good:
All the good things! First, I adore the Book Smugglers so was eager to read one of the short stories they were publishing. Second, I adore fairytale retellings and reinventions. Third, I love short stories in part because it's so nice to be able to sit down and finish a story in one seating.
Of course, none of those things are what makes this particular short story a terrific story. What makes The Astronomer Who Met the North Wind
fabulous is the writing. Here is Minka, following the disappointing birthday gifts: "Minka leaned on her windowsill and wiped her eyes. Her stomach churned, bitter, and even when she heard her father call her name softly through the door, she let her angry silence answer for her
The North Wind comes along, and both tempts and encourages Minka to leave her home, alone, at night, into the dark and the cold, in order to find a mystery comet before her father does.
Even for a short story that is a retelling, I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say, that the North Wind is not what he appears to be. And that Minka has to find her own strength and courage to move forward.
What I can say, without spoiling, is that I liked Minka's desire to be an astronomer and that it was shown to be complicated. Even before her mother's death, she's described as a girl who loves geometry and solving puzzles; a gift of a telescope from her father helps her in the days after her mother's death. Her father's not wanting her to be an astronomer is based, in part, in not believing a child really knows what she wants to do with her life, and also in that it's not appropriate for a young girl, but also, just as importantly, in not wanting to lose his daughter. That all these things are shown, so that the father is never portrayed as a villain, and are shown in so few words, is one reason why I love short stories.
Kate Hall knows how to use words, and more importantly, knows how to make them count.
One last word, one last confession: the North Wind was scary.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Sometimes, as a writer, it’s difficult to think about large, overarching goals when you’re working on a project or planning to start on something new. Thinking, “I’m going to write a novel and have it completed by XX date,” is ambitious. And maybe it’s too much of a reach.
Instead, develop a plan. Write in chunks. Write sections of your novel or story that you find more interesting than others. Challenge yourself, but make your goals and expectations reasonable and attainable, because it will make the payoff satisfying.
Below is an excerpt from our go-to guide, Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction. The selected portion will help you develop a plan to start writing immediately and turn writing into a habit, rather than a chore or an exercise. The entire book will assist you with whatever you’re currently writing: flash fiction, a short story, a novel, or an epic trilogy. It features advice and instruction from best-selling authors and writing experts like Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Sims, Hallie Ephron, N.M. Kelby, Heather Sellers, and Donald Maass, plus a foreword by James Scott Bell.
Are you writing or putting the finishing touches on a short story? Consider entering it into Writer’s Digest’s Short Short Story Competition, where the winner will receive $3,000 in cash and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference! This year, all entrants will also receive a special pass to attend a live webinar conducted by award-winning author Jacob Appel. Hurry, though: The deadline is December 15!
“So, what do you do?” asks the fellow dad at the soccer match, glancing over at you while he keeps an eye on his daughter, the star forward.
“I’m a writer,” you announce proudly.
“That’s fascinating! Anything I would recognize?” he asks, while you both cheer a save by your team’s goalie.
“Not yet,” you admit. “I haven’t had much luck yet in getting published.” There is a pause while he makes a sympathetic-sounding cluck. “Actually, I haven’t been writing much lately at all,” you continue. “Being home with the kids takes so much of my energy that by the time they’re in bed at the end of the day all I want to do is watch television. Plus, writing is so discouraging when you can’t get someone to even look at your work.”
There is a beat while he processes this. “But, you’re a writer, right? How can you be a writer without actually writing?”
This scene may cause you to chuckle with recognition or possibly to hang your head in shame. Real writers write. Successful writers find the time every day to hone their craft and meet their writing obligations—whether those obligations are external (from editors) or internal (from an incontestable desire to write). What usually separates good writers from bad ones (and often, published writers from unpublished ones) is a strong work habit. That’s it. That’s the big secret. Real writers work hard. In fact, most work ridiculously hard.
Professional writers know there’s nothing like a looming deadline to make them focus on their work. In fact, the real problem for beginning writers is usually not scrambling to meet a deadline, but simply organizing their time efficiently enough to find time to write at a productive pace. All writers feel this way from time to time. As other commitments encroach on our days, writing is often pushed aside like an unpleasant chore.
Accomplishing your writing goals requires making a writing plan, which is a time schedule that lists what you need to do and when.
Choose to Write
Everybody on the planet has the same amount of time every day. How we choose to use that time makes some of us writers and others of us short-order cooks. If you are a short-order cook who wants to write, however, you should probably take a bit of time to think about how you use your time.
Sandra Felton, who has written more than a dozen books on how to get organized, including Neat Mom, Messie Kids, and The New Messies Manual, points to prioritizing and dedication as helpful organizational tools for writers. “I think the whole answer is focus,” she says. “I think what focus means is you have to decide what you want to do and lob off other stuff that you also want to do. Because you want to write more.”
Note that the choice is not between writing and doing something else that you don’t want to do. The choice is among a nearly overwhelming array of things that seem appealing: checking in with your friends on Facebook, reading for pleasure, or having people over for dinner. Then there’s going to movies and the theater and the opera and family get-togethers and on trips and watching way too much television. Sometimes people would even rather do laundry and dishes than write. (All writers have days like that, but if that’s your constant M.O., you may wish to rethink a literary vocation.) Faced with so many options, people tend to choose too many and feel like they’re short of time.
Some people actually can use stray snippets of free time to write, penning novels on the back of envelopes while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. If they have ten minutes between helping a child with homework and driving her to flute lessons, they use those ten precious minutes to write or polish a small chunk of prose. Such people are the envy of the rest of us. For the rest of us, writing for publication requires larger pieces of time to research, ponder, draft, rewrite, and polish.
Make Writing a Habit
Finding writing time requires a modicum of organization, but using it productively demands dedication. The theme of virtually every article about getting organized to write is straightforward: Just do it. Wanting to write and writing itself are cousins, not identical twins. Psychological research indicates that writing every day, whether your muse is whispering in your ear or has deserted you, produces not only more writing but also more ideas for future writing.
The writing habit, like the exercise habit, is its own reward. When you don’t do it, you feel as if you’re cheating yourself. Real writers don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike before they put fingers to keyboard; they put fingers to keyboard and know that somewhere during those hours they will discover small nuggets of inspiration. The fingers-to-keyboard, butt-in-the-chair pose is like exercise for the writer. In a way, this is just like real runners who pound the pavement or the treadmill in all weather, whether they are busy with work or on vacation. Like physical exercise, writing is often not enjoyable while you’re doing it, though occasionally an endorphin or two will spark and the serotonin does its thing. Most of the time, though, writing is just a matter of discipline, plain and simple. Discipline comes more easily to some people than to others, but it is certainly a skill that can be cultivated.
“The only thing I can tell you I do that’s inviolate is when I have to write, I get up in the morning and literally go straight to the typewriter,” says Stephanie Culp, who has written books on organization and time management. “Any little distraction that takes me away from my desk kills it. When I’m writing something large, it takes about three fitful days, and then I’m in the rhythm of it, and I write it. I can still write a book in three weeks.”
Here are some tips for getting into a writing habit.
- Start by setting aside an hour or a half hour every day to write.
- Or make a goal to write a set number of words each day.
- Try to write at the same time every day so it will feel peculiar to do something else at that time.
- Write even if you feel uninspired, even if you don’t feel ready to write. If you want to be a writer, you must write.
Your Writing Plan
Often, getting started on a writing project is the hardest part. Most writing jobs, however, can be viewed as a sequence of doable tasks that follow the same general path from beginning to end. If you accomplish each task in order, you can follow the plan to a finished piece. The more you write, the more you will be able to anticipate how much time a particular project will take you.
The planning guidelines below help you break your book project into smaller tasks. Start with individual chapters, and break down the chapters into component parts. Schedule your writing project into your day at specific times, and, with a little luck but more hard work, you’ll finish your pieces on time.
If you’re a person who resents and resists scheduling, remember that creating a writing plan is intended to help you, not restrict you. The goal is to relieve some stress, organize your life, and make your writing process more efficient. Meeting even mini deadlines can lift your spirits and bolster your confidence. Simply crossing items off to-do lists feels so good that the act in itself becomes a reward and keeps you writing.
Take a look at the following guidelines, which will help you better organize your writing time and, in turn, finish your projects.
- Set reasonable, measurable goals. Even if you’re not writing to someone else’s external deadline, give yourself your own deadline and treat it seriously. Because you understand the power of the written word, write down a specific goal, with a due date: “Finish chapter by [whatever date].” Some people even establish a punishment and/or reward if they meet or don’t meet their self-imposed deadlines: “If I complete chapter five by Friday, I can go to see a movie; if I don’t finish on time, I will force myself to scrub the toilets as penance.” Well, you don’t have to clean the toilets, but a little self-flagellation is probably good for you.
- Divide and conquer. View your writing project not as an overwhelming monolith, but a compilation of many smaller items. The reason hard jobs get bypassed is that they often seem too daunting if they’re written as one entry on your list of goals. For example, “Write a book in the next year” can be overwhelming. The scope of the project is so big, and the deadline so far away, that achieving the goal seems impossible. Instead, focus on smaller tasks to do today, tomorrow, this week, and this month to help you reach that goal. You’re likelier to accomplish smaller tasks in the near future than a vague goal in the abstract faraway. The tasks help you reach that distant goal step-by-step.
- Create a plan of ordered tasks. Writing down tasks in the order in which they should be done keeps you focused, as well as frees your mind to concentrate on the important things—rather than wasting mental energy trying to remember all the niggling details that must be done each day. Break the task down into manageable steps.
- Select dates and stick to them. “Someday, I’m going to write a book.” How many times have we all thought this? Turn your lofty dream into an actual accomplishment by adopting a workable schedule. For example, choose a date on your calendar for beginning your writing project. Make it today. You’ll be surprised by how much more quickly you’ll work with deadlines, especially if they come with positive and negative consequences. For example, if you miss your deadline at a major magazine, you may never be hired again and may in fact not see your piece in print, which are both negative consequences. But if you make your deadline, determine that you will give yourself a real day off, a massage, an entire chocolate cake, or what have you. Enlist other people to hold you accountable.
- Work backward. The most important step in planning the time for your writing project is this one: On your calendar, mark the story’s final due date. (If you don’t have a deadline from a publisher, give yourself a reasonable one.) Then figure out when each of the specific items, in reverse order, must be completed if you are to meet that deadline. Allow a little wiggle room in your calendar for the delays that inevitably happen: an interviewee gets the flu and has to postpone by a few days, the computer crashes, etc.
Next to each item on your list, write the time you think it will take to accomplish it and the deadline for completing it. People commonly put far too many items on their to-do list and, as a result, feel defeated when they have to copy uncompleted items from day to day. As William James once wrote, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” So jot down what you can reasonably expect to accomplish in a day. Some people have success using online organizational websites to help them stay on track. For example, on www.Toodledo.com, users can create goals for themselves, color code them, assign themselves deadlines, prioritize the tasks in a “hotlist,” and keep track of the time spent on each project. There are other similar sites as well, including many that are compatible with PDAs and smart phones. (Of course, the old-fashioned system of a pen and a sticky note works fine, too.)
‘Tis the season … of short stories! Contests and journals are currently calling for submissions; to be selected, your story must stand out. By building strongly defined characters, a rich backstory, and the perfect pace and momentum, you can ensure your work makes the cut. Write & Sell Superior Short Stories is a kit that guides you through every phase of writing your short story, from gathering ideas to publishing your completed work. With creative writing prompts, advice from writing experts, and step-by-step guides to constructing scenes, choosing the right narrative and more, this kit will help you compose short stories that readers love and publishers can’t resist. Includes: Crafting Novels & Short Stories, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?, Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict, 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, and much more!
Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer’s Digest Books.
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We’re getting ready for Halloween this month by reading the classic horror stories that set the stage for the creepy movies and books we love today. Check in every Friday this October as we tell Fitz-James O’Brien’s tale of an unusual entity in What Was It?, a story from the spine-tingling collection of works in Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffmann to Hodgson, edited by Darryl Jones. Last we left off the narrator was headed to bed after a night of opium and philosophical conversation with Dr. Hammond, a friend and fellow boarded at the supposed haunted house where they are staying.
We parted, and each sought his respective chamber. I undressed quickly and got into bed, taking with me, according to my usual custom, a book, over which I generally read myself to sleep. I opened the volume as soon as I had laid my head upon the pillow, and instantly flung it to the other side of the room. It was Goudon’s ‘History of Monsters,’—a curious French work, which I had lately imported from Paris, but which, in the state of mind I had then reached, was anything but an agreeable companion. I resolved to go to sleep at once; so, turning down my gas until nothing but a little blue point of light glimmered on the top of the tube, I composed myself to rest.
The room was in total darkness. The atom of gas that still remained alight did not illuminate a distance of three inches round the burner. I desperately drew my arm across my eyes, as if to shut out even the darkness, and tried to think of nothing. It was in vain. The confounded themes touched on by Hammond in the garden kept obtruding themselves on my brain. I battled against them. I erected ramparts of would-be blankness of intellect to keep them out. They still crowded upon me. While I was lying still as a corpse, hoping that by a perfect physical inaction I should hasten mental repose, an awful incident occurred. A Something dropped, as it seemed, from the ceiling, plumb upon my chest, and the next instant I felt two bony hands encircling my throat, endeavoring to choke me.
I am no coward, and am possessed of considerable physical strength. The suddenness of the attack, instead of stunning me, strung every nerve to its highest tension. My body acted from instinct, before my brain had time to realize the terrors of my position. In an instant I wound two muscular arms around the creature, and squeezed it, with all the strength of despair, against my chest. In a few seconds the bony hands that had fastened on my throat loosened their hold, and I was free to breathe once more. Then commenced a struggle of awful intensity. Immersed in the most profound darkness, totally ignorant of the nature of the Thing by which I was so suddenly attacked, finding my grasp slipping every moment, by reason, it seemed to me, of the entire nakedness of my assailant, bitten with sharp teeth in the shoulder, neck, and chest, having every moment to protect my throat against a pair of sinewy, agile hands, which my utmost efforts could not confine,—these were a combination of circumstances to combat which required all the strength, skill, and courage that I possessed.
At last, after a silent, deadly, exhausting struggle, I got my assailant under by a series of incredible efforts of strength. Once pinned, with my knee on what I made out to be its chest, I knew that I was victor. I rested for a moment to breathe. I heard the creature beneath me panting in the darkness, and felt the violent throbbing of a heart. It was apparently as exhausted as I was; that was one comfort. At this moment I remembered that I usually placed under my pillow, before going to bed, a large yellow silk pocket-handkerchief. I felt for it instantly; it was there. In a few seconds more I had, after a fashion, pinioned the creature’s arms.
I now felt tolerably secure. There was nothing more to be done but to turn on the gas, and, having first seen what my midnight assailant was like, arouse the household. I will confess to being actuated by a certain pride in not giving the alarm before; I wished to make the capture alone and unaided.
Never losing my hold for an instant, I slipped from the bed to the floor, dragging my captive with me. I had but a few steps to make to reach the gas-burner; these I made with the greatest caution, holding the creature in a grip like a vice. At last I got within arm’s-length of the tiny speck of blue light which told me where the gas-burner lay. Quick as lightning I released my grasp with one hand and let on the full flood of light. Then I turned to look at my captive.
I cannot even attempt to give any definition of my sensations the instant after I turned on the gas. I suppose I must have shrieked with terror, for in less than a minute afterward my room was crowded with the inmates of the house. I shudder now as I think of that awful moment. I saw nothing! Yes; I had one arm firmly clasped round a breathing, panting, corporeal shape, my other hand gripped with all its strength a throat as warm, and apparently fleshly, as my own; and yet, with this living substance in my grasp, with its body pressed against my own, and all in the bright glare of a large jet of gas, I absolutely beheld nothing! Not even an outline,—a vapor!
I do not, even at this hour, realize the situation in which I found myself. I cannot recall the astounding incident thoroughly. Imagination in vain tries to compass the awful paradox.
It breathed. I felt its warm breath upon my cheek. It struggled fiercely. It had hands. They clutched me. Its skin was smooth, like my own. There it lay, pressed close up against me, solid as stone,—and yet utterly invisible!
I wonder that I did not faint or go mad on the instant. Some wonderful instinct must have sustained me; for, absolutely, in place of loosening my hold on the terrible Enigma, I seemed to gain an additional strength in my moment of horror, and tightened my grasp with such wonderful force that I felt the creature shivering with agony.
Just then Hammond entered my room at the head of the household. As soon as he beheld my face—which, I suppose, must have been an awful sight to look at—he hastened forward, crying, ‘Great heaven, Harry! what has happened?’
‘Hammond! Hammond!’ I cried, ‘come here. O, this is awful!
I have been attacked in bed by something or other, which I have hold of; but I can’t see it,—I can’t see it!’
Hammond, doubtless struck by the unfeigned horror expressed in my countenance, made one or two steps forward with an anxious yet puzzled expression. A very audible titter burst from the remainder of my visitors. This suppressed laughter made me furious. To laugh at a human being in my position! It was the worst species of cruelty. Now, I can understand why the appearance of a man struggling violently, as it would seem, with an airy nothing, and calling for assistance against a vision, should have appeared ludicrous. Then, so great was my rage against the mocking crowd that had I the power I would have stricken them dead where they stood.
‘Hammond! Hammond!’ I cried again, despairingly, ‘for God’s sake come to me. I can hold the—the thing but a short while longer. It is overpowering me. Help me! Help me!’
‘Harry,’ whispered Hammond, approaching me, ‘you have been smoking too much opium.’
‘I swear to you, Hammond, that this is no vision,’ I answered, in the same low tone. ‘Don’t you see how it shakes my whole frame with its struggles? If you don’t believe me, convince yourself. Feel it,— touch it.’
Hammond advanced and laid his hand in the spot I indicated. A wild cry of horror burst from him. He had felt it! In a moment he had discovered somewhere in my room a long piece of cord, and was the next instant winding it and knotting it about the body of the unseen being that I clasped in my arms.
‘Harry,’ he said, in a hoarse, agitated voice, for, though he preserved his presence of mind, he was deeply moved, ‘Harry, it’s all safe now. You may let go, old fellow, if you’re tired. The Thing can’t move.’
I was utterly exhausted, and I gladly loosed my hold.
Check back next Friday, 24 October to find out what happens next. Missed a part of the story? Catch up with part 1 and part 2.
Headline image credit: Green Scream by Matt Coughlin, CC 2.0 via Flickr.
The post A Halloween horror story : What was it? Part 3 appeared first on OUPblog.
By: Robin Brande
Blog: Robin Brande
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Remember how I said cleaning leads to writing? Yep, I’ve been busy. And I’m still busy, because I’m not exactly done. But I thought you’d be interested in an update and some recent releases, along with the coming attractions …
First, you can get these now:
LOVE PROOF is now out in audio! I love the narration Maria Hunter Welles did for it. And I didn’t announce it at the time (see above, been busy), but there are also audio editions of THE GOOD LIE, DOGGIRL, and REPLAY. I know. It’s a lot. Take your pick and listen away!
Also, I have a new short story collection out. It’s called A FEW STRANGE MATTERS, and it is. A little odd. But sometimes my mind needs a break from longer works like novels, and when I let my mind wander, it wanders. The collection has some contemporary, some science fiction, a little fantasy, some paranormal, and a couple of strange stories from the teen world. You might have read a few of them here and there, but I guarantee there are some you’ve never seen. Possibly because I wrote them under a pen name that none of you knew about. So take a look–I’ll be interested in hearing what you all think!
Now, for the coming attractions:
YES, PARALLELOGRAM 4 WILL BE OUT THIS FALL. That’s all I can say, because I have made the mistake before of giving you a pub date which turns out not to be true. But I promise you will feel satisfied and fulfilled when you read this final book in the series. I’m still working very hard to pull all the pieces together. Thank you for your questions (“When? WHEN??”) and your patience. I hate waiting, too. I get it. It’ll be along very soon.
And to make you even happier about all the time I’ve been hiding out, I’ll also have ANOTHER NEW BOOK for you by December, I believe. It’s fantasy, it’s epic, and it involves a girl warrior. Yessssss …
That’s my report for now. I have to go back to writing. I owe you all some books.
Happy Fall! ~Robin
When I first began reading Famous Modern Ghost Stories I mentioned how much fun Dorothy Scarborough’s introduction was. Turns out, the stories themselves are fun too.
There are fifteen stories in this collection. Some of them, like Poe’s “Ligeia,” I have read before. Some it really felt like I had read before but I couldn’t recall when or where, like “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood (I just love the name Algernon, it’s so, I’m not sure what, but it tickles my fancy so it is probably good I don’t have kids because I’d be tempted to call a boy Algernon and then you know he’d go by “Algie” for short and all the kids at school would make fun of him). Others were plain silly like “At the Gate” by Myla Jo Closser in which a recently deceased dog takes up his vigil outside the gates of Heaven with the other dogs waiting for their owners to arrive.
My favorite story in the collection was “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev. It is the story of Lazarus after he was raised from the dead. Did you ever see the Buffy the Vampire Slayer show where they bring Buffy back from the dead? She kind of wasn’t the same afterwards, or at least for a while. Well, Lazarus wasn’t the same either and while everyone was really glad to have him back, the haunting look in his eyes kind of freaked people out so no one wanted to be around him. Maybe if Lazarus had had a Scooby gang he would have eventually recovered.
Coming in second as my favorite story based only on the complete absurdity of it all, was “The Beast with Five Fingers” by W.F. Harvey. Bachelor uncle is ill and Eustace, while visiting, notices that uncle is unconsciously doing automatic writing. Eustace goofs around with this a bit until uncle dies. And then, in spite of uncle’s wishes to be cremated, he is not. Last minute instructions turn up and Eustace is bequeathed uncle’s well-preserved hand, the hand with which he did the automatic writing! The hand, of course, is alive but it isn’t uncle inhabiting it. At one point Eustace locks the hand in a desk drawer and the hand writes a note and slips it out through a crack in the desk. A servant finds a note bidding him to open the desk drawer and when the servant does so, the hand escapes! It is never clear why Eustace is being haunted by this hand or what the hand’s intent is, but the story comes very close to being a farce, right up to and including the hand eventually strangling Eustace and then the two of them ultimately perishing in a fire.
After reading so many ghost stories together it seems there is almost a requirement that at least one person experiencing the ghost or other phenomena has to be utterly and completely unbelieving. He, because it is usually a he in these stories, is then required to make up all sorts of logical explanations for what is happening. These explanations often approach the ridiculous. In the end, however, the unbeliever is convinced by the haunting and is either just in time to save himself or too late and dies. A few do believe right away and these have two responses. The smart ones figure out what the ghost wants. The not so smart ones go into battle. The smart ones generally come through unscathed and even satisfied about having helped a spirit move on. The not smart ones usually end up dead or psychologically traumatized for the rest of their lives.
These stories, even the bad ones, are all amusing in their own way. Of course I’m not supposed to be amused, I am supposed to get chills. But it seems that much of what haunts us is related to the times in which we live. Not that we can’t still feel a tingle down the spine when reading Poe, but it isn’t going to keep us up at night. Which makes me wonder whether in 100 years readers will think Stephen King is scary or will readers of the distant future read him and giggle and wonder why the twin girls in The Shining scare us so badly and make their way into other places like this IKEA commercial:
As a RIP Challenge read, Famous Modern Ghost Stories was quite fun. If you are looking for some older stories that don’t tend to show up in the anthologies, this would be a good choice.
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From the narrow twisting streets of the old town centre to the shady docklands, Copenhagen Tales captures the essence of Copenhagen and its many faces. Through seventeen tales by some of the very best of Denmark’s writers past and present, we travel the length and breadth of the Danish capital examining famous sights from unique perspectives. A guide book usefully informs a new visitor to Copenhagen but these stories allow the reader to experience the city and its history from the inside. Translator Lotte Shankland is a Copenhagener by birth who has lived many years in England. In the videos below she discusses the collection, decribing the richness of Danish literature, as well as the Scandinavian noir genre.
Lotte Shankland on the greater significance of short stories within Denmark:
Lotte Shankland discusses her favourite short story, ‘Nightingale’, by Meir Goldschmidt:
From Hans Christian Andersen to Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark has been home to some of the finest writers in Europe. In the National Museum in Copenhagen you will find stories from as early as 1500 BC, covering myth and magic. A walk through the city will most likely involve an encounter with the emblematic statue of the Little Mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale. The Danes continue to tell great stories, as evidenced by the hugely popular Danish TV series The Killing and the Sweedish co-production The Bridge. Copenhagen Tales offers a way to understand the heart and soul of this diverse city, through the literature and art it has generated.
Featured image credit: Copenhagen, Denmark. Public Domain via Pixabay.
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13 macabre Twist in the Tale offerings, not for the faint hearted!
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By: Roger Sutton
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The Cabinet of Curiosities:
36 Tales Brief & Sinister
by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand,
and Emma Trevayne;
illus. by Alexander Jansson
Middle School Greenwillow 488 pp.
6/14 978-0-06-233105-2 $16.99
Four “curators” — Bachmann, Catmull, Legrand, and Trevayne — travel to lands peregrine and outré to fill their Cabinet of Curiosities museum, sending back grotesqueries and objects of wonder as well as the tales behind them — tales that often bend to the tenebrous and unearthly. The table of contents lists the Cabinet’s “rooms” and “drawers,” each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. In “The Cake Made Out of Teeth” (“collected by” Legrand) a spoiled-rotten boy must finish an entire cake made in his image, despite the sensation of teeth chewing him up with every bite. “Lucky, Lucky Girl” (Catmull) stars a young woman whose good luck seems to depend on the very bad luck of the people around her. In “Plum Boy and the Dead Man” (Bachmann), a rich and opinionated lad has a conversation with a corpse hanging from a tree…and ends up unwillingly changing places with the victim. “The Book of Bones” (Trevayne) features Eleanor Entwhistle, a plucky girl whose courage halts the work of a grave-robbing sorcerer. The stories are remarkable both for their uniformly high quality and for their distinctness from one another; the abundant atmospherics, including occasional stark black-and-white illustrations, provide a unifying sense of dread. The framing device — the curators send letters from the field introducing their latest discoveries — adds depths of mystery, danger, and idiosyncrasy to a book already swimming in each.
From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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Today I'll be Medusa, hosting the annual preschool Halloween storytime and parade at the library, but on the way to work, I'll be enjoying Neil Gaiman's Halloween gift to the world, Click-Clack the Rattlebag.
Have a great day.