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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.
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.
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.
The post Review of The Cabinet of Curiosities appeared first on The Horn Book.
13 macabre Twist in the Tale offerings, not for the faint hearted!
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By: Hannah Paget,
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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.
The post Short stories from the Danish capital appeared first on OUPblog.
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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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
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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.
Hilary Mantel’s newest book, a collection of short stories titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, has been getting quite a bit of press. It seems many people have decided to take offense at the titular story in which an IRA assassin tricks a woman into letting him into her apartment which has a perfect view, and perfect shot of the back of a hospital through which Thatcher will shortly be exiting. The woman at first is alarmed but ends up being sympathetic and helps the man by showing him an escape route through which he might be able to get away without capture. The story ends just before the gun is fired.
It’s a pretty good story. We are left wondering whether the assassination was successful. Well, we know it wasn’t, don’t we? Mantel isn’t out to rewrite history. So the shot was missed for some reason. We are left to wonder at the aftermath, left feeling sympathetic for the IRA man who fully expects to get caught but shows the utmost concern for the woman whose apartment he took over. And the woman? She’s middle-aged, single, tidy, reliable, caught in the habits of her daily life and not one to rock the boat. But this man gives her a chance to break free from the ordinary without much risk and she takes it. You can read the story yourself if you haven’t already.
Unfortunately all the talk about the one story has overshadowed the rest of the book. Most of these stories are complete stories with beginnings, middles and ends, no brief slice of life stuff that just goes for mood or effect, things happen in these stories. Whether it is an English woman living in Dubai with her husband for his job who inadvertently finds herself being courted by another man or a husband caught kissing a neighbor in the kitchen by his wife the shock of which actually causes his wife to die from an unknown heart defect, the stories feel complete.
Then there is the story “Comma” about two young girls, about twelve. The one who narrates, Kitty, lives in a solid, middle-class household. Her friend, Mary Joplin, who lives just across the street, is from a family of dubious status. But Kitty is friends with Mary and the pair slip away from the parental gaze to go wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. Mary discovers the house of a rich family across a field. At this house they have something that should be a baby but there is something wrong with it. Our narrator and Mary sneak over and spy to try and figure out what the adults refuse to talk about. And while we think the story is about this baby it is really about the relationship between our narrator and Mary and then finally on Mary’s low-class status and how that ultimately affects her life. We catch a glimpse of the two in middle age, Kitty recognizing Mary on the street one day:
It passed through my mind, you’d need to have known her well to have known her now, you’d need to have put in the hours with her, watching her sideways. Her skin seemed swagged, loose, and there was nothing much to read in Mary’s eyes. I expected, perhaps, a pause, a hyphen, a space where a question might follow . . . Is that you Kitty? She stooped over her buggy, settled her laundry with a pat, as if to reassure it. Then she turned back to me and gave me a bare acknowledgement: a single nod, a full stop.
Or the story “Winter Break” in which a husband and wife on a winter holiday, riding through the night in a taxi to their distant hotel are disturbed when the car hits something. The driver bundles it up in a tarp and puts it in the trunk. The couple think it is a goat which they have seen running around everywhere. But they discover something else when they reach their destination.
These stories are about normal people in their everyday lives. Husbands and wives, friends, coworkers, getting on as best they can, scared, alone, confused, making mistakes, trying to figure things out. The most exotic person is a writer in the story “How Shall I Know You?” who is invited by a book group to visit and give a talk. And while the story seems to be all about the writer, like “Comma” it ends up being about something else. Something bigger, that lifts it up from the ordinary to the extraordinary, if not for the characters in the story, at least for the reader who gets to see the big picture.
I’ve only ever read Mantel’s Cromwell books so I was expecting some interesting narrative stylings in the stories. But they are all pretty straightforward. I was not disappointed by that because I don’t need stylistic dazzling in my short stories; they aren’t long enough for me to get used to something unusual and by the time I’d get my bearings I’m afraid the story would be over and I’d be wondering what just happened. This is not to say that Mantel’s style is plain. She uses various structural elements that we are all familiar with: flash backs, foreshadowing, story breaks that indicate the passage of time. What I really liked about many of these stories is that often they were about something other than I initially thought they were about. And those moments in the story when I realized there was something else going on were very pleasurable.
So don’t be put off from this collection by all the press and all the controversy over the titular story. These stories are good reading.
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Hope you like this book trailer for my macabre Twist in the Tale compilation of short stories. Perfect to read at Halloween, and certainly NOT for children!!
I was surprised to come to the end of the book I was reading on my Kindle today. It’s a Project Gutenberg file of She and I always forget that those often end somewhere around the 95% to 98% mark. So when I finished I had a little panic because I hadn’t downloaded the gothic novels I had planned to read for RIP yet. I started paging through to see what I did have and discovered Famous Modern Ghost Stories.
Published in 1921, this is collection of ghost stories features the likes of Anatole France, Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, and Edgar Allan Poe. The collection is assembled by Dorothy Scarborough, Ph.D., lecturer in English at Columbia University. This book has a companion volume she also compiled, Humorous Ghost Stories.
I am in the midst of the first story, “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood is so far not impressing me. The narrator of the story is canoeing down the Danube with a friend. They have reached a swampy area and found a dry island to camp on for the night. Problem is, he has gone on at great length for pages about the history of the Danube and the sites he and his friend have seen so far on their trip. I so wanted to shout numerous times, Get on with it! But since I was in public I kept my mouth closed and firmly projected my impatience at the story. Which makes me wonder now if somehow my firm mental projections at books I have read on my now dead Kindle had anything to do with its demise? Hmmm.
The Blackwood story is not what I was keen to tell you about. It’s the introduction to the book by Dorothy Scarborough, Ph.D. (that’s how she has her name on the book!). She is a hoot! Her introduction had me laughing throughout, not sure whether she was serious or pulling my leg. First she mentions how there has been a huge increase in the population of the spirit world and then she says:
Life is so inconveniently complex nowadays, what with income taxes and other visitations of government, that it is hard for us to have the added risk of wraiths, but there’s no escaping.
Then she goes on to try to explain why there might be more ghosts now than formerly and why they might be so much more vigorous than they used to be:
Perhaps the war, or possibly an increase in class consciousness, or unionization of spirits, or whatever, has greatly energized the ghost in our day and given him both ambition and strength to do more things than ever. Maybe ‘pep tablets’ have been discovered on the other side as well!
Next, she explains how modern ghosts are different from those old-timey ghosts:
Modern ghosts are less simple and primitive than their ancestors, and are developing complexes of various kinds. They are more democratic than of old, and have more of a diversity of interests, so that mortals have scarcely the ghost of a chance with them. They employ all the agencies and mechanisms known to mortals, and have in addition their own methods of transit and communication. Whereas in the past a ghost had to stalk or glide to his haunts, now he limousines or airplanes, so that naturally he can get in more work than before. He uses the wireless to send his messages, and is expert in all manner of scientific lines.
And ends up sounding like a motivational speaker for ghosts:
Whatever a modern ghost wishes to do or to be, he is or does, with confidence and success.
Finally she gets around to talking a bit about the stories in the collection. One of the stories has a man being haunted by a severed arm. Scarborough writes:
Fiction shows us various ghosts with half faces, and at least one notable spook that comes in half. Such ability, it will be granted, must necessarily increase the haunting power, for if a ghost may send a foot or an arm or a leg to harry one person, he can dispatch his back-bone or his liver or his heart to upset other human beings simultaneously in a sectional haunting at once economically efficient and terrifying.
Are you laughing? I hope you are laughing.
The story I am most interested in reading falls second in the collection, “The Shadows on the Wall” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Scarborough says that “one prominent librarian considers [it] the best ghost story ever written.” I shall soon find out and let you know!
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The latest issue of the venerable British horror/dark fiction magazine Black Static
includes my latest story, "Patrimony", and is now available both in print
and as an e-book in various formats
. I'm thrilled with the accompanying illustration by Richard Wagner, and thankful to Andy Cox for buying the story and rushing it into print, because it's one of the strangest and most disturbing things I've ever written, and not the sort of thing that just any editor would get excited about.
For a preview, here's the first paragraph:
For most of my life, I worked in the gravel pit as an overseer. There had been gravel there for a long time, but there wasn’t much left. Mostly, we spent our days trying to decide where to set off dynamite. We didn’t have a lot of dynamite, so we wanted to be precise. We would go for weeks and even months without lighting a single stick. I spent my days – ten-, eleven-hour days – telling the workers to try over here, to look over there, to dig here, to prod there. We sought the best rock, the least sand.
Going through some of the secondary literature on John Cheever in preparation for a class in which I assigned the students to read his 1954 story "The Country Husband"
, I was surprised to find no discussion of the story within a queer context. My search was not comprehensive, but the connection seems so obvious to me, and so illuminating for the story, that I'm surprised it isn't mentioned by most people who write about Cheever's tale.
Paging through Blake Bailey's comprehensive biography
of Cheever makes the connection even more obvious than the story itself does, for Bailey notes
that Cheever's journal "in the early months of 1954 was filled with self-loathing on the subject" of homosexual desire. It's a running theme throughout the book, as Colm Tóibín points out in an insightful essay
on Cheever and Bailey's biography for the London Review of Books:
The problem was partly his intense inhabiting of the domestic sphere and the suburban landscape, as though this were a way of shutting out the wider world, and partly his refusal even to recognise his own homosexuality as anything other than a dark hidden area of the self which could not be explored. ‘For Cheever it would always be one thing to have sex with a man,’ Bailey writes, ‘another to spend the night with him. The latter was a taboo he would rarely if ever violate until a ripe old age.’ In his journals he wrote: ‘If I followed my instincts I would be strangled by some hairy sailor in a public urinal. Every comely man, every bank clerk and delivery boy, was aimed at my life like a loaded pistol.’ One of his best friends in his twenties was Malcolm Cowley, through whom he had briefly met Hart Crane. Cowley’s wife had been on the ship with Crane when he committed suicide in 1932. A homosexual lifestyle, Cowley had warned Cheever, ‘could only end with drunkenness and ghastly suicide’. As one of Cheever’s colleagues in the Signal Corps in World War Two remarked: ‘He wanted to be accepted as a New England gentleman and New England gentlemen aren’t gay. Back then you had no idea of the opprobrium. Even in the Signal Corps, even in the film and theatre world, you were a second-class citizen if you were gay, and Cheever did not want to be that.’
Of course, in 1954 Cheever could not write a short story about his desires and have it published by The New Yorker
, even if he had wanted to (Alan Gurganus's "Minor Heroism"
is reportedly the first openly gay story the magazine published, a story sent to the magazine by Cheever, who had been Gurganus's teacher and was, rather to Gurganus's chagrin, in love with him. It appeared 20 years — almost to the day — after "The Country Husband"). But the torment of the story's protagonist, Francis Weed, is one entirely familiar to anyone who has ever repressed socially unacceptable feelings.
On a general level, "The Country Husband" is a story about the struggle to keep chaos out of an ordered society: it is a story of repression and abjection. It opens with a fall: an airplane makes an emergency landing. Francis is on the plane, and once he makes his way back to New York, he first tries to tell a (male) friend about his experience, and then his wife and family, and none of them are particularly interested or able to hear him. The crash seems to them an absurdity or impossibility, something that can't be admitted into their consciousness. Francis lives in a world that seeks to keep the world itself at bay, a psychically gated community where everyone "seemed united in their tacit claim that there had been no past, no war — that there was no danger or trouble in the world."
Various forces threaten the perfect, memoryless, painless order of Shady Hill: the dog Jupiter, the little girl Gertrude, and, most insistently, memories of the war years. War imagery fills the story on nearly every page right from the beginning, where the pilot of the crashing plane sings a song popular with Allied soldiers. The most obvious insertion of the war into the story is the moment where Francis recognizes that the Farquarson's maid is a woman he'd see in France in 1944, a woman subjected to "public chastisement" for having "lived with the German commandant during the Occupation". The description of her torture is harrowing: the mayor of the village condemns her, her hair is cut off, she's stripped naked, jeered at, spat upon. We know nothing of why
she lived with the German commandant, or what that entailed exactly, or if she did it out of love or traitorous sympathies or simply the hope of gaining some extra rations — but her crime is clear and at least implicitly sexual. Francis remembers her, and the memory brings in the chaos of the war, but it also reminds him of what happens to anyone who transgresses the mores of a village.
(From a biographical standpoint, it's interesting that Cheever sets this scene in Normandy and, clearly, 1944. He was in the military that year himself, and missed
going over to D-Day by pure luck. Almost all of the men he knew in his regiment died in the attack on Utah Beach and afterward.)
The overt transgression of the story is that Francis falls in love with the babysitter. (I expect this was a cliché even in 1954, and the very predictable, banal nature of the transgression is, it seems, part of Cheever's point.) Francis behaves terribly, even assaults her and very briefly entertains the idea of raping her. His desire is a sprawl of chaos, a threat of destruction. It poisons his family life and his friendships. Finally, he goes to a psychiatrist (as Cheever did the year he wrote the story, though Cheever went to discuss "homosexual concerns"
, impotence, and alcohol abuse), where, because he was insistent that he must see the doctor that day, he is confronted by police who think he might be a man who has been sending death threats. The police are there as representatives of social authority — the enforcers of normality and punishers of deviance — and they further heighten the sense of peril for any transgressor. When the doctor asks Francis what his problem is, he says, "I'm in love." The doctor tells him to try woodworking, and Francis finds some happiness in this. Woodworking, Timothy Aubry notes
, "as a part of a 'do-it-yourself' movement was a constitutive aspect of a self-help culture that attempted to affirm the average white-collar worker’s belief in his power and masculinity."
That the ridiculous, impossible, yet dangerous and destructive love for the babysitter can be read as a placeholder for homosexual desire (and gay panic) seems to me to be become legitimate not only when we consider the plot and character relationships in the story, or Cheever's own biography, but also through an examination of three passages, and in particular three words.
The first two are relatively close together in the story: "The photograph of his four children laughing on the beach at Gay Head reproached him" and "The look Francis gave the little girl was ugly and queer, and it frightened her".
Of course, today, when the meanings of gay
denote homosexuality first and foremost, no writer or reader could ignore those meanings, but in 1954 the words meant differently. But they didn't not
mean what they do today.
George Chauncey's Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940
is a useful text here, particularly the introduction in which he outlines the evolution of such words as fairy, faggot, gay,
. He quotes a writer from 1941:
Supposing one met a stranger on a train from Boston to New York and wanted to find out whether he was "wise" or even homosexual. One might ask: "Are there any gay spots in Boston?" And by slight accent put on the word "gay" the stranger, if wise, would understand that homosexual resorts were meant. The uninitiated stranger would never suspect, inasmuch as "gay" is also a perfectly normal and natural word to apply to places where one has a good time.... The continued use of such double entendre terms will make it obvious to the initiated that he is speaking with another person acquainted with the homosexual argot.
Chauncey writes: "The term gay
began to catch on in the 1930s, and its primacy was consolidated during the war. By the late 1940s, younger gay men were chastising older men who still used queer
, which the younger men now regarded as demeaning."
Thus, while the reference to Gay Head beach (on Martha's Vineyard) primarily serves to evoke a particular location, to a reader "wise" to a particular double entendre
, it may have an added meaning. Similarly, Francis's "ugly and queer" glance. Both words are used in sentences about children, which evokes not only the common 1950s homophobic associations of queers with pedophiles, but also attaches a homosexual association to the products (offspring) of good, manly heterosex. The photograph reproaches Francis not only by reminding him of the happiness that is possible with his family when he doesn't transgress, but also by reminding him of the perverse, nonprocreative desires that torment him. His glance at Gertrude is ugly and frightening because it is queer.
Then we have the ending, which I can attest will cause many snickers when read aloud to adolescents today. A cat dressed up in a doll's dress and straw hat runs away from whoever put it into such an inappropriate, uncomfortable costume:
"Here pussy, pussy, pussy!" Julia calls.
"Here, pussy, here, poor pussy!" But the cat gives her a skeptical look and mumbles away in its skirts. The last to come is Jupiter. He prances through the tomato vines, holding in his generous mouth the remains of an evening slipper. Then it is dark; it is a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains.
While it is perfectly innocent in 1954 to call out "Here pussy!" to a cat, the more vulgar contemporary associations of that word were well established then. By the end of the 19th century, the word was used as slang for vulva or vagina, and its use as slang for someone timid, gentle, or effeminate goes back to the mid-19th century.
And so the story ends with a cat wearing a doll's dress, being chased with a word that has slang associations for both female genitalia and unmanliness, followed by a dog that clearly stands for joyful but also threatening chaos, and the whole story ends with a reference to Hannibal
, who, our textbook
helpfully notes, "attacked the Romans from the rear".
Francis's gay panic is also, and perhaps primarily, a panic of effeminacy. War is the most manly of activities, and it haunts him. The world of Shady Hill confines him and reduces him in a way war did not — the manly virtues of the military within what was in World War II a staunchly homosocial milieu. His illicit, inappropriate, absurd desires are the chaos that escapes his repression. The exact nature of those desires doesn't much matter; it's the excess that counts. Woodworking will let him be happy for a little while, but there is no reason to read the ending as a happy one.
In my past life, as a teacher, one of my most disliked tasks was marking. Not because I didn’t like reading my pupils’ work (though I often didn’t), but because having to assess a piece of writing against a set of increasingly arbitrary assessment objectives sometimes made me think it was all about jumping through hoops rather than the actual rules of good writing. When I sat down a few weeks ago to judge a short story competition, I delighted in the fact that this time I was setting my own objectives, and they were pretty simple. Does this story work? Does it draw me in and keep me hooked? Do I feel confident in this writer’s hands?
I’ve won quite a few short story competitions, and it was flattering to be asked to judge this one. It was a fairly small, but very professionally-run competition, organised by a magazine. The magazine is Northern-Ireland-based, as am I, but attracted entries from all over the UK. The stories had been pre-shortlisted and were judged anonymously. Not knowing anything about a writer really makes you focus on what’s important in the story.
I’ve often read judges’ reports on competitions which say that the winner announced itself in the first few sentences, and I know agents and publishers often say that they can tell almost at once if a book is going to impress. This wasn’t my experience. Instead, though I found it easy to choose the winning story, several stories promised a great deal in the first paragraph, only to disappoint as the story went on. Some writers had put so much emphasis on that all-important hooking of the reader that they forgot to reel her in, and she was left dangling.
Several of the stories contained fantastic writing – really imaginative use of language. Heart-stopping moments. Intense character identification. Yet none of these stories was placed. Why? Because great use of language isn’t enough – a story has a job to do, and if it doesn’t do that, if it doesn’t take a character from A to B, it doesn’t matter how delightful its metaphors are.
I write young adult fiction, and it’s normally a 70,000 word novel as opposed to a 2,000 word story. Yet I found the experience of assessing these stories really helped me to look dispassionately at my own work. Young adults, like short story judges, are hard to please. They aren’t fooled by metaphor-fur-coat and no story-knickers. They won’t keep going if a story doesn’t live up to early promise.
I enjoyed assessing these stories, and I’m looking forward to meeting the winners at the ceremony in November. But even more, I enjoyed being reminded of the nuts and bolts of good story-telling, and I hope my own readers stand to benefit from that.
Writing Instruction Video
As I have worked with various beginning picture book authors, a common problem that a lot of them run into is difficulty in conveying what their story is really about or going off in to many directions. Creative writing instructors in school may run into a similar problem when they assign students to write short stories. This writing instruction video on picture book plot addresses this issue.
If you enjoyed or found this writing instruction video useful, please share it with others. Thanks.
Writing a novel is the gold ring of publishing. But realistically speaking, you might want to start out by writing something more manageable, something for magazines. How do you get started writing for magazines? According to The Renegade Writer, you start writing for magazines by reading them.
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It’s no surprise I’m a huge Patrick Ness fan. In the past I’ve written about how inspiring his work is as well as the time when I was actually able to meet him in person. I’ve also reviewed quite a few of his books:
The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Ask and the Answer
Monsters of Men
A Monster Calls
I’ve also interviewed the narrator for the audiobooks, Nick Podehl, whom is a personal favorite of mine. The way that Nick narrates The Knife of Never Letting Go will turn any non-audiobook fan into a audiobook listener for life. He’s brilliant!
So when the publisher, Candlewick Press, reached out to me to offer a giveaway featuring the newly designed paperback covers for The Chaos Walking series I couldn’t resist. Not only do I love the redesign, but it also reminds me a bit of the UK edition that I love. Also, they’ve added additional content to each book! Each paperback includes a short story that was only previously available in eBook format. Candlewick has really done an excellent job with this new edition and I’m thrilled to have a full set to giveaway to one There’s A Book reader!
Thanks to the wonderful people at Candlewick Press I have ONE FULL SET of this new edition of The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness which also includes a bonus short story within each book! Be sure to enter using the rafflecopter form below and be aware that this one is for US and Canadian residents only.
Find the new paperback edition of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads | ISBN10/ISBN13: 0763676187 / 9780763676186
Thank you so much to the publisher, Candlewick Press, for providing a copy of this book for review! Connect with them on Twitter, Google+ and on Facebook!
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Final editing underway then ‘Unlucky For Some’ will be released on Kindle. Here you will find 13 short, macabre, Twist in the Tale stories better read with the light on, and not alone. You have been warned. This book is definitely NOT for children. Watch this space…
The Boy In The Leaves
from Short Stories and Other Imaginings for The Reading Spot
by J.D. Holiday
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2014 by J.D. Holiday
A small boy laid there, motionless. Unlike the leaves around him he lay undisturbed by the wind gust.
Max stepped away. It was just a little kid. He looked asleep, his dark skinwas a shade of blue and purple, almost translucent. Thin parchment spanning a fragile frame.
The boy wore black jeans and an orange T-shirt with a ‘Save The Oceans’ logo across his chest. A crusted gash was on his forehead. Any time now he’d move, open his eyes and jump up, laughing.
“He’s dead,” Tony said again, this time contemptuously, his eyes wells of tears.
Max’s chest felt crushed like the time he’d fallen on his back from the school yardjungle gym and he couldn’t pull air in. He managed to say, “Maybe he’s not.”
Tony shook his head. “The little piss head. Dumb shit! He didn’t do whathe should have and now he’s dead. Stupid kid!”
Max stared at the kid. For a moment he sawTonylying in the boy’s place.Max choked. “He’s sick or something.” He hedged closer and squatted down, hesitantly touching the boy’s face. The skin was unusually cold, and the cheek dented in easily, like clay. Max jumped back falling on his backside.
“He’s dead. Can’t you see that cut on his head? They smashed him with something.Hard!” Richie loudly told him, his hands clutched at his side.
“No. Maybe it was an accident. Or a car hit him.”
“Grow up, Max. It happens,”Tony said softly now, grabbing Max’s sleeveand jerking him to his feet. “We have to tell.”
On his feet again, Max let Tony continue pulling him toward his own house. At the front door Tony using his key, lead Max inside.
They softly moved through the silent house to the kitchen in back, bright light from the many windows illuminating their way. Nothing was ever out of place there. Alwaysa bleachy smell in the air as if someone wiped off everything to disinfect and kill all the germs before they contaminated the inhabitants of the house. This house gave Max the creeps. There was something missing from it. What it was Max knew well, though things have changed since his stepfather now sucks it all up in their family. There was no love and what was there, felt like old toast taste; brittle, crackly and harsh. Most times Max could get Tony to come over to his house and hang out.When Max was here though, at Tony‘s, he felt it. Something always spooked him, only worse this time. Finding the boy did it, never having seen someone dead before.
He could almost see Tony getting beaten up here. Marus broke Tony‘s leg with thebaseball bat Tony usually kept leaning inside the garage door. Tony said he was batted to short stop, the patio doors calling him out. His parents told people he’d fallen from a backyard tree. Afterwards, Tony put the bat through the lattice work decorating the front porch, out of sight under the stairs so Maris couldn’t use it again.
Copyright by J.D. Holiday 2014
I have a secret other career.
Though I’m most known – insofar as I’m known at all – as a writer of contemporary YA, I have since 2006 (four years before my first novel was published) been writing, and publishing, short stories for adults, mostly historical, almost all about World War One or its aftermath. Now I’m having the chance to combine my two great writing passions – realistic YA and historical fiction – as I have a story included in Walker’s forthcoming anthology The Great War (pub. 3 July 2014). All the stories are inspired by actual artefacts, and my story, ‘Each Slow Dusk’, is inspired by a collection of 1914-19 school magazines, from the school where I taught for nineteen years. I curated an exhibition based on these magazines in 2004, so in a way this story has been ten years in the making.
|school magazines from WW1 | I fictionalised details of the school’s war effort, foregrounding the experience (often overlooked in war literature) of a schoolgirl, sixteen-year-old Edith, whose dreams of higher education are shattered when she has to leave school to care for her older brother, invalided out of the army with rheumatism. It’s very like the rest of my World War 1 stories, apart from the fact that the main character and the intended readership are younger. Historical fiction always produces tension between wanting to evoke the period so that it comes alive for the reader, but not recreating it so systematically that it lapses into pastiche. The story must work as modern fiction, so it has to feel fresh, especially to a teen reader, who is likely to baulk at anything that feels worthy or schooly. This was a big challenge for me: there are no battles, no gore; the story takes place in a single day in a Belfast suburb. How could I make duty and quiet desperation interesting to a modern teenager?
|music from the period|Unlike the intended readership, who are likely to have a prolonged period of young adulthood, the teenage characters in ‘Each Slow Dusk’ are children at school one minute and adults the next – not only leading men into battle, but, in Edith’s case, taking an adult caring role. Notions of duty are much more pronounced than they would be today, and Edith seems both older and younger than a modern sixteen year old. How could I make her voice and choices accessible to a modern teen reader without compromising the sensibilities of the 1917 narrator? In trying to evoke the Zeitgeist of 1917 I was scrupulous, but not heavy-handed, about period detail, and about ensuring these details are used only when it is natural to do so – when it would be equally natural to mention them in a story set in modern times, rather than have them come blazing signs shouting Period Detail. Being a geek, getting every detail exactly right matters to me, but accuracy isn’t always enough. In ‘Each Slow Dusk’ Edith and her friend Maud pass notes in class, and in one note they use the @ symbol – Meet you @ break. I spent some time checking that this sign was in common usage in 1917, and was pleased to find that it was. I liked the fact that it looks so modern, and hoped it would be one of the many small details to help bring 1917 alive for my reader. My editor agreed – but in the end the @ sign had to go. Why? Because, although I and my editor knew it was correct, it was flagged up at the copy-editing and proofing stages as looking anachronistic. And it only takes one little detail to break the reader’s trust in you. On the night before we went to print, @ was replaced by at. I once started to read a novel set in the thirties, where the characters’ sexual attitudes were anachronistically modern. When they gathered round a television to watch the coronation of George VI, I flung the book away in disgust, saying ‘Wrong coronation! Can’t even get that right!’ Later I discovered that it was technically possible, if highly unusual, to have watched the 1937 coronation on television, but by getting the tone wrong in other areas, the writer had compromised my trust. Once that compact between writer and reader is broken, all the accurate period detail in the world will not restore it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about historical fiction recently. I’ve just finished Bring Up the Bodies, where Mantel established that trust so confidently that she could have told me anything about the 1530s and I’d have believed her. Last month I blogged about temporarily abandoning an academic paper in favour of a week’s uninterrupted first-draft scribbling: that paper was a chapter about Jacqueline Wilson’s Victorian novels for a forthcoming Casebook study of Wilson. It’s now finished and submitted, and the whole process was invaluable to me, even though it kept me away from my real work for weeks on end. I loved the Hetty Feather books, and thought Wilson dealt deftly with all the tensions I’ve noted above. This week I’m coming back to the present, for a big edit of my next novel. Set in 2014. I hope I get the details right.
|the first in Wilson's excellent Victorian series |
Elmore Leonard is known for his fantastic crime novels and his cool, crisp dialogue but he started out writing westerns way back in the 1950s. This collections showcases his western short stories and his immense talent as a writer.
I think it is easy to pass Elmore Leonard off as a writer of crime novels that have been turned into countless films and television adaptations but you would only do that at your own peril. Yes Elmore Leonard has become known for a few of his own tropes; brilliant dialogue, idiotic crooks, plots involving schemes that unravel and precise prose but these tropes fit the crime genre perfectly. Reading Leonard in another genre shows a completely different side to his writing and I think in many ways it is even better.
The Western genre is of course the precursor to the modern American crime novel. The lines between right and wrong are blurred by lawlessness and greed but there are still heroes and villains, both of which are not easily decipherable which makes for very interesting characters. The landscape has more significance and there is a minefield of politics to explore; post-Civil War, race, slavery, Native Americans, immigration, government, Mexico. Issues still alive and kicking today.
In many ways Elmore Leonard’s crime novels are more Westerns than mysteries. His favourite hero/protagonist is often a US Marshall and that is directly born from his western stories. What I found most interesting about Leonard’s western writing was that he explored more themes. His western stories are much more political than his crime novels. Dialogue also takes a back seat, or more correctly his dialogue becomes more prominent in his later writing. This maybe because he was still learning his craft but I suspect it is more reflective of the understated nature of the western genre. Leonard is also much more descriptive in his western writing and again I think this is because there is more significance on the landscape in the genre. Which only proves, even in his early days, Leonard was a master writer who knew his craft like few other writers.
Buy the book here…
By: Shelley Workinger,
Blog: But What Are They Eating?
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, Kelley Armstrong
, Margaret Stohl
, Melissa Marr
, Shards and Ashes
, Short Stories
, Veronica Roth
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Asking me as a writer to choose one short story from an anthology to blog about it almost as difficult as asking me as a parent to name my favorite child! So let me begin by saying that since this collection brings together the work of pretty much every big writer in YA today, every piece is terrific.
That being said, I chose to focus on Corpse Eaters by Melissa Marr, not so much for the obvious reasons (her name headlining the cover plus the “eat” right there in the title), but because I haven’t yet read her Wicked Lovely series.*
Now, since the stories from authors whose books I’ve read previously – Margaret Stohl, Veronica Roth, Kelley Armstrong – were written in their recognizable styles, I do feel like I have a good idea now of how Marr writes as well. And it’s gruesome. Or might I say gruesomely good. Because the detail is so fine that it will both put you right into the middle of the scene, as well as reclaim your senses hours later.
Here, let me show you:
In Eaters, there’s a vat for storing bodies that “[looks] remarkably like a cross between an aquarium and one of the coffee dispensers at every church dinner [Harmony] remembered.” Can you see it? Horrific, right? But that’s not what I found to be the most disturb/gusting thing in the story.
No, I awarded that honor when I read how Harmony and Chris came to be partners in the war against the Nidos (devotees of the new god on Earth, Nidhogg), and I got a glimpse into Chris’s back-story:
The fourth [bottle] had a good inch of liquid – hopefully gin – in it. Unfortunately, it also had a cigarette butt floating in it. He paused, shrugged, and lifted the bottle to his lips.
Blech! That moment is so clear on so many sensory levels – sight, touch, taste – that there is no doubt that this character was devastated by the loss of his first partner. Yup, if we were playing Meta-Me and the prompt was “rock bottom,” Marr would absolutely be the uncontested winner.
Of course, there are many other facets to the story – action, love, family dysfunction, dystopia – told with equal detail, but none resonated more strongly with me than that foul taste. I mean, even the dead corpses floating in giant serving vessels I could get past – maybe because they were unreal to get to me. But I can too easily feel exactly what an old soggy Marlboro stub sloshing around in a mouthful of gin would feel like. And I. Just. Can’t. Sooo awful…ly well-written. ;)
*I read awhile back that Wicked Lovely had been optioned for film and, whenever that happens, I try to hold off on the book until close to the movie premiere to best compare them. However, in this case, I’m still not seeing production schedule or predicted release date, so I may have to just start reading. ;)
Lo que trae la marea What the Tide Brings
Xánath Caraza. Lo que trae la marea / What the tide brings. Translated by Sandra Kingery, Stephen Holland-Wempe, and Xánath Caraza. El Paso, Texas : Mouthfeel Press, 2013.
ISBN: 0984426884 9780984426881
I reshelved the paperback, The World’s Great Short Stories, satisfied that this 1960s era collection, from my English major years in a pre-homicidal Isla Vista, still had moxie. I love old gems like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Big Blonde,” de Maupassant in translation. In fact, nostalgic pangs rose for Bocaccio, Chaucer, the whole shebang of Euro-United Statesian belles lettres, until I shook off looking back. Instead, I picked up a copy of Xánath Caraza’s bilingual collection Lo que trae la marea What the Tide Brings. Welcome to the future.
makes important contribution to understanding America’s contemporary literary environment. Written in Spanish and translated by a team including the author, the collection of Spanish-then-English stories doesn’t carve out readership so much as it opens markets on both sides of the nation’s and continent’s language frontera.
The publisher’s location in Spanglish-speaking El Paso positions Mouthfeel Press to ride the swell of a rising tide of books that take in the two dominant American readerships in a single volume. Such are few, but with publishers challenged to find new markets, chicana writers like Caraza-- a Mexicana who lives in Missouri—offer rich possibilities. Simultaneous translation welcomes monolinguals of either idiom while enriching a bilingual’s literary choices.
The quality of Caraza’s 17 stories--34 in all, counting both languages--already has bloguera Caraza on numerous “best of” prize rosters. Xánath Caraza is the Monday La Bloga columnist, alternating with Daniel Olivas. Watch Xánath’s columns for updates on myriad nominations and honors coming to rest on Caraza’s mantle.Lo que trae la marea What the Tide Brings
features its Spanish-language version, followed by English. Language learners will appreciate an opportunity to flip from page to page to catch nuances in ways language works across meaning. Examples of these enrich the experience of each language’s expressive resources. The collection is rich in small triumphs of translation that add texture to one’s enjoyment.
A vivid example occurs in “After the Bridges.” A busy office slows down. Occupants notice the absence of noise. In English, silence intrudes on the natural order of the world of work:
“She knew that the end of the day was approaching because the pace was gradually slowing down. As the minutes went by, silence encroached upon them until almost no one,” 116
In Spanish, silence offers a return to normal:
“Supo que el final del día se estaba acercando porque poco a poco el ritmo se fue haciendo más lento. Por cada minuto que pasaba el silencio fue acrecentándose hasta que casí nadie,” 110
The difference between crecer and encroach elicits cultural approaches to workplaces. In Spanish,
silence enlarges naturally, evoking Boyle’s law that silence expands to fill the space where it belongs. In English, silence kicks down the door and takes over.
Among the highlights of the collection are Caraza’s masterful synaesthesia skills, exhibited in story after story. In “After the Bridges” the worker enjoys a cup of coffee accompanied by taste, smell, touch, color, vision, hearing:
“The next morning, as she took the first sip of coffee, she closed her eyes and inhaled the aroma of coffee with cardamom from her ceramic cup. With the first sip, she heard the sound of marimbas in the distance. With the second sip, the turquoise sky over the town square of La Antigua and its lush green trees materialized in her mind. Another sip of coffee and the candy vendors in the town square offered her white milk candy and shredded coconut sweets dyed pink.”117
In Lo que trae la marea / What the tide brings, Xánath Caraza puts together a fast-moving collection, varying the pace spacing one- and two-page pieces between more extended 5- or ten page stories. Each comes self-contained, no need to look for links from story to story. Each reads quickly, allowing the writer to sneak up on readers, leaving a reader leafing back a few paragraphs to confirm a detail, or to savor the synaesthesia of a moment, and especially to savor the magic that permeates nearly every story.
Among the most interesting of the puro magic stories is the sensual, “Café On Huanjue Xiang Street.” A woman wanders into a basement coffee den, the solitary customer. She drinks in the ambiente and passes out. When she comes to, the place is filled with stolid gente ignoring her. This key scene illustrates the skill Caraza weaves her magic pluma:
“She remained very attentive to the small blue flame that contrasted with the red, airy atmosphere of the place. She waited until the blue flame was extinguished while the coffee aroma penetrated her nose. She introduced the spoon into the black fluid, and as the sugar touched the coffee, a spirit emerged from the cup. The spirit wrapped around her in a smoky spiral. It traversed her, lightly touched her nipples and sex until she lost consciousness.” 128
Writers will take a lot of pleasure from the magic when a writer meets a mysterious stranger who hands her a book. Inside, the writer finds the finished story she has only drafted in her notebook. She reads it to find out how it comes out. Then there’s the teacher’s lament about the copier, how it transfers the teacher’s identity to the page and when the student answers the question the teacher feels each pen stroke on each of the hundred copies she ran through the copy machine. Caraza even gets in an hommage to Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” in her “Flower in the Mist.”Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings
is not to be missed. A woman’s point of view, in the two dominant American languages, this book is the future of United States literature. It’s not a secret, it’s demographics. Salvation for American publishing means make the books American, like Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings.Stanford Book Club Choice: Give It To Me
Southern California Stanford Latina Latino Alumni Book Club meets regularly for company, food, and excellent discussions of a book by a Chicana Chicano Latina Latino writer.
The August 24, 2014 selection is Ana Castillo's Give It To Me.
The group meets at 1:00 p.m. in Monrovia, California. Click here
for information.Mail BagComadres and Compadres Writers Conference Discount EndsEarly bird discount deadline 6/1:
La Bloga friend Marcela Landrés reminds writers of the Fall conference on the East Coast. Marcela sends datos:The 3rd Annual Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference will provide Latino writers with access to published Latino authors as well as agents and editors who have a proven track record of publishing Latino books. We invite you to join us this year as a sponsor, advertiser, and/or attendee.
WHEN: Saturday, September 27, 2014
WHERE: Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY
WHO: Esmeralda Santiago, author of the New York Times best-seller Conquistadora, will serve as keynote speaker. Panelists include: Meg Medina, author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass; Johanna Castillo, Vice President & Senior Editor, Atria/Simon & Schuster; and Jeff Ourvan, Literary Agent, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. For more details regarding the conference program, visit http://lascomadres.com/latinolit/latino-writers-conference/ Mail BagTroncoso Updates Truth
La Bloga friend Sergio Troncoso wants gente to know about the recent edition of his novel. Here's Sergio's email:
I am delighted to let you know that a revised and updated edition of my novel, The Nature of Truth, is now available in paperback for the first time (Arte Publico Press, 2014). I hope you will consider reading it. I wrote the novel because I loved that mix of philosophy and literature in writers like Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Camus, and Kafka, and also because I wanted to expand the literary terrain of Latino writers. I made some important changes in the plot and tightened the language, which I think makes this edition a better experience for readers.
Helmut Sanchez, a research assistant at Yale, discovers that his boss, a renowned professor, hides a Nazi past. By chance Helmut discovers an old letter written decades ago, which absolves Germany and Austria of any guilt for the Holocaust. As he digs into the origins of who wrote the letter, Helmut discovers it could be his boss, Werner Hopfgartner. Helmut travels to Austria and Italy with his girlfriend, Ariane Sassolini, in his quest to find the truth about Hopfgartner's past. Meanwhile, Professor Regina Neumann is determined to make Hopfgartner pay for his many sexual liaisons with undergraduate and graduate students. What will Helmut do with the awful truth he discovers? Will Werner Hopfgartner ever face justice for his past or present transgressions? Ultimately, what is the nature of truth?
Here is an interview I did with Maria Hinojosa on National Public Radio's Latino USA:http://sergiotroncoso.podomatic.com/entry/2014-04-22T04_40_46-07_00
By: Maggie Belnap,
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, Oxford World's Classics
, Quizzes & Polls
, Complete Short Stories of Oscar Wilde
, Maggie Belnap
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, Oxford Book of American Short Stories
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By Maggie Belnap
Short stories populate many childhoods, with the aim to instill morals and virtues in undeveloped and wandering minds. Whether it’s the tale of Rumpelstiltskin or the Boy Who Cried Wolf, these tales make a powerful impression. Take our short stories quiz, based off of Oscar Wilde’s The Complete Short Stories and The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, 2nd ed, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, and see if you really know your short stories.
Maggie Belnap is a Social Media Intern at Oxford University Press. She attends Amherst College.
The Complete Short Stories by Oscar Wilde is edited by John Sloan. He is Fellow and Tutor in English, Harris Manchester College, Oxford. The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, 2nd ed, is edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates is the National Book Award-winning author of over fifty novels, including bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, and The Gravedigger’s Daughter. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University.
Oscar Wilde is the author of “The Happy Prince,” “The Fisherman and His Soul,” “The Nightengale and the Rose,” “The Star Child,” and “The Young King.” Washington Irving is the author of “Rip Van Winkle.” James Baldwin is the author of “Sonny’s Blues.”
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Vikram Chandra's collection of interconnected stories, Love and Longing in Bombay
, is a book I had thought of writing about in some detail, but I'm afraid time is not on my side with that, and a number of other writing projects need attention. One story I managed to make some notes on is "Artha", and here are those notes, in case some thoughts on the story are useful to someone else...
In thinking about Love and Longing in Bombay,
I’m going to start by grasping some tiny pieces within the wholes, and see what I can do with them.
First, a single story, and a single page of that story, and not the words but the blank space.
The story: “Artha”. The page: 165 of the 1998 Back Bay Books paperback edition.
The two blank spaces between narrators and their narratives.
The first narrative is the introduction common to all of the stories, a frame that remains mysterious until “Shanti”, the final story. If we assume, as I think we can, that the narrator of the introductions is the same in each of the stories, then his name is Ranjit Sharma.
The second narrative is that spoken by Subramaniam, who has been the putative narrator (storyteller) of the previous tales within the frame.
But “Artha” becomes distinctive with the next blank space, for here we are ushered into yet another story, that told by “the young man” to Subramaniam. The young man’s name is Iqbal. He will be the narrator for the remainder of the tale.
Another item of distinction: after each blank space, the speaker is identified within parentheses. Previously, there has been no need for this. Now, though, there must be no mistake. Is the reason that there is a story-within-the-story? Possibly, but I’m not convinced of that, because the transitions into the tales are no more confusing than those in previous parts of the book, and the multiple embedded stories in the only remaining tale, “Shanti”, are, arguably, more confusing and do not have such clear, interrupting markers.
Let’s return to the idea of the blank space for a moment. Printers, or so I’ve been told, call these spaces “slugs”. I like the positive sense of that, rather than the negative of blank space.
Slugs are an insertion, a something. Slugs disrupt the text from within — they give it order and shape by signaling some unspoken drift, thus taming what would otherwise be a jarring slip, an incoherence, by making it visible. The slug is a sign: Mind the gap.
Once we’ve minded that gap, though, we get a stutter in the story: “(Subramaniam said)”, “(the young man said)”. I shall now indulge in a moment of paranoid reading: Are these stutters a distancing technique inspired by the über-narrator’s fear of being mistaken for a homosexual? The parenthetical speech tags are unnecessary; they are excessive intrusions, and, unless my memory and notes are failing me, the only such intrusions into embedded narratives anywhere in a book comprised of embedded narratives. (The most complex such embeddings are achieved in “Shanti” via typographical changes — separated visually from the main text, but without their own text interrupted.)
We should note, though, that even if we assume that the parenthetical speech tags are motivated by the über-narrator’s fear-laden desire to distance himself from any perception of being a/the homosexual man, the insertion of “(the young man said)” puts those words within the homosexual text. Ranjit’s words enter Subramaniam’s story, and then Subramaniam’s words enter Iqbal’s. All of these words are part of one text, “Artha”, that is part of a larger text, Love and Longing in Bombay
. The attempt to create distance from the homosexual narration has, paradoxically, done exactly the opposite. It is not the homosexual narration that desires separation, but the heterosexist; the heterosexist narration’s effort to separate and distance itself has placed it within the homosexual narration.
(Now would be the time — this would be the space — to discuss mimicry and postcolonialism. I am not going to do so. Instead, consider this paragraph a slug.)
Walter Benjamin wants to get into the conversation. Here he is, via Mark Jackson
The arcade [says Jackson] acted as a spectacular landscape that opened up the city as an illusory, sleepy, standstill world of the phantasmagoria, while at the same time, in the form of the more intimate and decided ambiguous, street-but-not-street of the arcade, it closed around the modern subject as if a room, reassuring with “felt knowledge” (Benjamin, 1999, p. 880) intuitive semblances of domestic wish fulfillment. (39)
The idea of the arcade as street-but-not-street could be extended to the idea of Love and Longing in Bombay
as an arcade, a book of x-but-not-x. How do we solve for that x? Can we locate an “illusory, sleepy, standstill world of the phantasmagoria” within the book? For Jackson-via-Benjamin, commodities are phantasmagoric, and “phantasmagoria” is a quality of mystification and even misrecognition: “Desired and consumable things, they embodied and thus represented, dreamt wish images of futurity, and, at the same time, the imminent (and immanent) undoing of that indwelling mythic aspiration” (38)
Must phantasmagoria always be mystifying? Is mystification itself always undesirable?
I would like to keep open the question of phantasmagoria’s usefulness, for as a mode of fantasy it should (shouldn’t it?) possess some of the power of fantasy to reveal structures and discourses of desire otherwise inaccessible.
Is it meaningful to suggest that the insertions of speech tags into the narrations of “Artha” are traces of phantasmagoric desire? That the otherness of Iqbal — located not only in his sexual identity, but his name, which indicates religion — is itself desired. But desired how? To what end? Perhaps the cosmopolitanism of the post-colonial/post-modern city, the place where identities can flow into each other, where mimicry and fantasy themselves create identities (for, after all, isn’t identity without any trace of mimicry and fantasy illegible?). Iqbal as we receive him is not Iqbal, but rather the voice of Iqbal mediated through the voice of Subramaniam mediated through the voice of Ranjit, and all of which is constructed by Chandra.
The arcade of voices, the phantasmagoria of identification.
For Iqbal, religious difference can be dismissed “in one smile” (198) if desire is present. Perhaps that is what the inserted speech tags, and their paradoxes, suggest. The simultanous desire not to be mistaken for a homosexual and to be part of the narrative of the homosexual.
To walk the arcade.
To be present without losing identity.