Have you written a short short lately?

Writing a short short can make a writer very picky. Take, for example, creating a story with only 500 words. A real challenge. That means within those 500 words there will be a beginning, middle, and end. Obviously, the writer has to pick what goes into the story very carefully.

UnknownA short short is another name for the genre called flash fiction. Flash fiction pieces can be any length depending on the contest or journal editor, usually up to 1000 words. A story can have as few as six words, such as this one attributed to Hemingway:  

“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

I like this description of flash fiction found in an article by Pamelyn Casto called Flashes On the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction:

Other names for it include short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction. In France such works are called nouvelles. In China this type of writing has several interesting names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story, and my personal favorite, the smoke-long story (just long enough to read while smoking a cigarette).

Writers’ groups sometimes run incentives for their members to try the genre and hone their writing skills. The Palm Springs Writers Guild offers a Monthly Writing Challenge to create a 500 word story based on a monthly online prompt.

Members place their completed stories in envelopes along with $5.00 and submit them. The authors’ names appear on the envelopes only. Through the contest coordinator, the stories are sent to a panel of three judges. The winner is awarded “the pot” at the next meeting, plus the story is read to the membership.

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Flash fiction contests can be found online and flash fiction magazines offer publication opportunities as do some traditional journals. I googled “flash fiction contests,” discovered several that were interesting, and decided to try my hand.

I dug into existing stories in my files to find a section or chapter that could be shaped into a 500 word story. I found three pieces to work on, and I kept Kurt Vonnegut’s famous line in mind:

Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

It was amazing how many unnecessary words I found, how the three stories could  be tightened. The old “less is more.” Two of the segments I worked on became completely new stories.

Titles become important ways to help the short short along. One contest editor discouraged the use of one-word titles. The titles I chose for my pieces: Jillie’s Last Slice; A Little French Pastry; and Nell, Rupert, and the Baptists.

I’m thinking about placing these stories into the hands of judges, editors, and fate. I like the feel of Gulf Coast, Gemini Magazine, Vestal Review, and Nano Fiction 14. 

If you want to challenge yourself, try creating a piece of flash fiction either from scratch or from an existing piece. It strengthens your skill of placing the exact word in the exact order, much as poets must do. Action can be implied (see the Hemingway story) or it can be explicit. The big plus is you’ll make important discoveries about your writing.

I found the whole process like working a puzzle. Like problem solving. It was fun. It was creative. What do you think?

Night thoughts …

Night thoughts are what I call them. They’re those trips of the mind that come when you’d like to sit for an evening’s quiet moment or go to sleep or are middle-of-the-night sleepless. Mine of late have led me down an unsettling path of questioning a world that’s exploding with divergent beliefs, values, motives … making me ponder what I know, what I don’t know.

I don’t know how to live in a society that accepts death by stoning. I don’t know how to live in a society that limits a woman’s value as a human. Or limits anyone’s value. I don’t know how to live in a society that teaches annihilation of a religious or ethnic group.

images-2I’ve never had my life threatened. Or lived in a war zone. I don’t know that kind of fear, for which I say thank you to all who serve and protect. I’m having trouble understanding societies, groups, and leaders who direct their people to these ends. I ache for those who endure it.

I’m a product of a democratic society, a culture which is young in terms of the world’s cultures, that practices, through laws and education, equality under the law and believes in the value of human dignity. A process exists for grievances, for making law, and for changing it. Yes, we have our in-house villains. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, we have injustices. And out in the world, we don’t and can’t go grandly about, wagging our innocent tails. America tries to lead by example and negotiation, but has to act when attacked, when Americans are harmed, when groups want to annihilate us.

Perhaps the key to what we have is that we’re a young society. Our forefathers wanted a better way which involved change and great risk. Today we have the ability to evolve or change. The citizens have time to progress in education, art, science, technology, literature because they are relatively free from want and fear, and have a sense of security. They have food and shelter. There’s something to be said about an older society learning from a younger one, about not being bogged down by centuries of old ways.

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Change takes time. Vast differences in core values are difficult to overcome. In emerging countries, clean water, food, medicine, shelter, security, and a way to earn income help. But greed, power, and zealousness in those in positions of power are strong forces to counteract. They use fear, old ways and beliefs, superstition, desire for revenge, a worldview of hate toward certain groups to keep the status quo.

As has been said many times, education  and exposure are a way to new thought, to new values. The biggest asset anyone has is the mind, and the education and training that empowers that mind. Getting to that mind is another thing. In America we have those unique traits of individualism and independence, not tribalism. We value education and progress. We question injustices. We’re part of a team.

The internet is an interesting phenomenon. Yes, opposing and threatening points of view are published on it daily. But so also are ideas, different ways of thinking, of living, and of treating each other. Of spreading ideas and publicizing injustices. We’ve seen it happen. It may be up to the young.

Unknown-1Inclusiveness is a concept not all societies practice. Embracing diversity is an important key to coexistence and it enriches a culture. You have your beliefs. I have mine. One isn’t better than the other. They are simply different. I don’t try to impose mine on you or try to take yours away. We also realize we experience much in common … family, love, a sense of safety. There’s a belief in the processes that protect the greater good.

I attended a speaker series in which actor Richard Dreyfus spoke. I thought I would hear about his acting career. But that wasn’t the case. He spoke about the need for civility in our society. He spoke about the need to teach history and civics in our schools. We need to know whose shoulders we stand on and what events have shaped us. It’s up to us to learn from and take care of that heritage. I don’t disagree.

At the mall recently,  I saw a blue tee shirt on a young boy. On the front were the words “Too Cool to be Cruel.” On the back were the words “#Bully Free.” Perhaps the world needs an anti-bully campaign.

Sometimes I feel sad for the world and saturated by the media. That said, I’ll keep hope. I’ll keep faith in our leaders to be focused at home and abroad. I’ll keep faith in our values. I’ll look for heroes, whether wise statesmen or emerging young men and women. I’ll keep involved, vote, donate. I’ll try to understand. I’ll wander about in my night thoughts.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.                                         Desmond Tutu  

candle-in-the-darkness 

(Photos courtesy of public domain collections.) 

Keeping the Blogosphere a Beautiful Place

Have you ever had one of those mornings when, for some reason, you wake up in a bad mood? Or you wake up in a good mood, but things soon go downhill faster than a kid on a water slide? And you find yourself able to get into an argument simply by looking in the mirror?

I was having one of those days as I clomped down the hall to the office, plopped in the chair, and turned on the computer. Maybe Facebook friends could cheer me up. They helped. Then I checked my blog and found this. Well, hell-o. Where did you come from? Was I being punked? I investigated. No, I wasn’t.

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Well, talk about a mood changer. The blogger who sent this award my way can be found at viktoryarch.wordpress.com. And I send a Thank you back. It’s nice to know your words are being found and enjoyed by others.

Although we can’t be blind to some ugly stuff posted by individuals and groups if we go looking, I like the award’s fine print: Keeping the Blogosphere a Beautiful Place. It is a beautiful place to learn, share, explore, and write. And today, I’m paying the award forward.

In a previous post, I mentioned several blogs I like because they inspire me. I’m adding to that list, reposting those six, and sending a nomination their way:

www.charlotte-hoather.com  –  An aspiring singer shares her experiences and voice. I find her journey fascinating and motivating.

jimmisko.com  –  Jim is a novelist based in Alaska and a super storyteller.

anyshinything.com  –  A down-to-earth, informative, and well-researched blog about midlife crisis.

dawnrenolangley.wordpress.com – Living with Izzy. Any past or present dog owner will relate.

bucketlistpublications.org  –  This blogger is pursuing her bucket list and taking the reader with her.

dianereedwriter.wordpress.com – The One Thing I Know for Sure.  Poetry and thoughts are shared with great heart and warmth.

thebloggess.com  –  Here is an energetic, humorous,, witty, and contemporary look at issues.

nhwn.wordpress.com  –  Posted here you’ll find good information for writers.

Confessions of a Book Addict  –  This blogger is an avid reader. A few months ago I won a book on her site: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed set in 1980’s Somalia. Excellent.

infinitefreetime.com  –  This is a place to enjoy a saucy and irreverent look at life.

fredcolton.com  –  With tongue-in-cheek style, this blogger describes his expat adventures abroad.

bottledworder.com  –  I find the content thought-provoking.

headinmyhands.com  – These posts are written with heart and compassion.

cyndymuscatel.wordpress.com  –  A Corner of My Mind. Here is a look at life, sometimes quirky, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes philosophical.

gwenniesgarden  –  Just plain refreshing!

I thank these bloggers for their inspiration, their unique styles and voices, and their contributions.

I’m also thankful for civility and the act of appreciating others, especially in today’s world.

I’ll tuck this random act of kindness from viktoryarch into a place in my head where I store good things, knowing goodness and kindness are alive, and the path they inspire is built one brick at a time.

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If you want to send your appreciation to bloggers whose work inspires you, visit Inspiring Blogger Award at viktoryarch.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/very-inspiring-blogger-award/ 

Rory, Golf, and Writing …

I liked what golfer Rory McIlroy had to say immediately after his recent win at the British Open. An interviewer asked what he was thinking as he walked down the 18th fairway, as fans and spectators cheered him on. McIlroy replied, “Two words. Process and spot.” Say what?

How sweet it is ...

How sweet it is …

What did he mean? I came up with this. Process meant he concentrated on playing his game, not on the excitement, the crowd or the win. And spot meant that magic place on the green where he needed to aim his ball to make the putt. Interesting.

I found those two words sneaking into my head as I sat at my desk reworking a short story. And they talked to me.

What did the word process say? It reminded me to focus on my own writing process, apply what I know about my craft, and be open to what I can discover as I write. In other words, play my game and push away any distractors.

And spot? Just as a golfer assesses the unpredictable curve of the green, I need to assess the elusive arc of the story or the character arc of the protagonist. To know when my words have hit that sweet spot and the story is working.

At 25, Rory McIlroy is on his way to hitting the big sweet spot. Will he become only the sixth golfer to complete the grand slam of golf? He’s won the US Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. What’s left is the upcoming 2015 Masters. I’m pulling for him.

And from here beneath the palms, I like the way he thinks.

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The Blogosphere … A Great Place!

As writers, we’re works in progress, always writing as much as we can. Books about writing fill our book shelves. We’re also always reading as much as we can. Novels and anthologies crowd those same book shelves. We’re always learning, trying to create characters and a story our readers will care about.

The blogosphere is another great place we can go to learn about writing. I’m not talking here about doing internet research on the craft of writing or doing research for a writing project. I am talking about the rich selection of writing on blogs that we just plain enjoy.

It’s the varied voices, tones, and styles. It’s the blogger’s approach, from fun to serious to outrageous to gentle. And as I read, I’m asking myself … what’s attracting me, what’s making the experience so enjoyable?

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Definition by Merriam-Webster of blogosphere: all the blogs on the Internet as a collective whole … Wow!

Some sites I enjoy:

http://infinitefreetime.com This blogger gives a saucy and irreverent look at life, teaching, and writing.

http://fredcolton.com  I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek style as he describes the adventures of an expat living in Asia who teaches and writes.

http://bottledworder.com  This blogger always leaves me thinking. I find the content thought-provoking.

http://headinmyhands.com  These posts are written with such heart and compassion, I feel touched by the humanity of them.

http://cyndymuscatel.wordpress.com    On the blog called “A Corner of My Mind,” this blogger takes a look at life, sometimes quirky, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes philosophical.

And finally I like http://gwenniesgarden.wordpress.com   On a feature called Wordless Wednesdays, the writer posts a great picture from her garden. No words. Just a chance to pause, breathe, and enjoy.

While I’m reading these blogs, I’m noting the entire experience. The whole visual and ease of use. The layout. The graphics. The photography. But mostly, the individuality and uniqueness of the writing and of the voice.

All I can say is, Thank you to all the many bloggers out there. You set a bountiful table. I know I’ll continue discovering blogs I enjoy reading. And I’ll continue appreciating the work of the blogger.

Think about it. Do you have a favorite blog(s) you like to visit simply because it gives you pleasure and you enjoy the writing?

Writing, Celebrating, and Cake

What’s not to like about a celebration? Take birthdays, for example. Remember your milestone sixteenth? Your 21st? The Big 4-0 wrapped in black?  Birthdays are big, from the birth of a child to the birth of a nation.

But our love of a celebration doesn’t stop with birthdays. We celebrate when our favorite team wins, when we’re given a promotion. When we marry. When we divorce. Celebrations are held for first communions, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, graduations. At memorial services, we celebrate lives well-lived. What is it about celebrations?

Obviously, they make us feel good, keep us smiling and invigorated. But celebrations do more than that. They reflect our cultural values. Our spiritual beliefs. They help us reach out to friends and into ourselves. They help us affirm life or cope or fill us with pride.

Cake just goes with a celebration!

And what’s a celebration without cake?

Recently, we were invited to celebrate the birth of a family when an adoption became final. An event worthy of champagne and … cake. It was a beautiful afternoon, celebrating a beautiful child.

Celebrations touch something inside us as writers. They nudge our emotions and our words. This piece was written for the adoption party, for the happy mother and her new baby daughter  …

In My Arms

Emma, my sweet little girl, how your
Every breath fills me with joy, with hope.

My heart overflows. I whisper softly,
“May your life ever sing of choices, of dreams.”

“Mama,” you answer, with a clap of your hands.
Many times blessed, I hug you close.

Always I’ll remember the first time I saw you,
A family we became, mother and daughter.

Think of a recent celebration you’ve attended. The events that occurred. The people. The emotion. There may be a story there.  Or a poem. Or a lyric.

“In My Arms” csm©2013

Writing that lights your marquee …

884809The house is quiet. I’m reading a really good book. In fact, I’m buried in it. As I read, I come upon a sentence that sends an Oh! to a little niche in my brain. There the sentence lights up like a Broadway marquee. Boom! It’s worthy of having the page corner folded down. I may want to read that sentence again. Later. You never know.

Within a book’s pages, skillfully chosen words blend into sentences designed to create an image, shed light on a character, hone an idea or heighten meaning. As I read Eleanor Morse’s moving story, White Dog Fell from the Sky, I turned down the corner on several pages.

By way of background, the novel is set in Botswana in 1976 near the South African border. Apartheid is law in South Africa. Not in Botswana. You feel the land, learn of the people, experience the upheaval of beliefs as three characters – Isaac Muthethe, Alice Mendelssohn, and Ian Henry – live the times.  (You can read more about the novel by clicking on my Books Page above.)

On page 8, the author  creates this image after Isaac has been smuggled across the border from South Africa into Botswana. The words seem to refer to a truck but enhance the bigger backdrop of dangerous times in both countries; of wounds and beasts in Isaac’s background:

Isaac heard a rumble in the distance, and as he emerged from the bush he was enveloped in the dust of a three-ton truck traveling south in the direction of Lobatse, sliding through the sand like a wounded beast.

Instead of writing that Ian Henry sleeps badly and looks like hell the next morning, Morse writes on page 163:

So he left it and went to his room and thrashed under mosquito netting until the night was used up and its scraps had smudged into dark shadows under his eyes.

As he and Alice begin an affair, Ian Henry thinks about his wife and her problems. On page 242 is this description of depression. It made me ache:

He knew nothing about depression, had never felt that hopeless, subbasement mildew of spirit.

Throughout the book, Morse uses word-paint such as this on page 244:

The sun went down. Deep purple swept over blue, followed by purple charcoal, then black. The night grew cold.

I like and appreciate sentences in a story that resonate and deepen the experience. How about you, in your current reading? Are there any sentences that really light up?