Tag Archives: fiction

Don’t judge a cover by its book.

This morning I started reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s about to be released (is released?) as a movie, and it’s on my list to see. My roommate Meg came home with the book about a week ago and has been raving ever since. We have a little bit of different taste in books – which I realized during the Book Thief recommendation of 2010 – but this one seems to be down both our alleys. Stockett’s opening narrator, Aibilene, is lovable, funny, and complex. I look forward to meeting the other narrators and finishing this book as quickly as Meg did.

What are you reading these days?

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Fresh fiction Wednesdays.

A quick update (again), sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of reading that I can’t wait to reflect on and share, but for now I’ll just share a little bit of writing I did last night. It’s an excerpt and it’s very rough for now, but it feels so good to be creating again. If you like it, check me out there every Wednesday for more fiction bits. And check out the other four days/writers. Their (mostly) poetry pushes limits and always demands a reread.

What are you doing on this hump day?

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The Things They Wrote: New Contest Alert

By Melanie Yarbrough

One of my goals for 2011 was to complete five stories and submit them to literary magazines. With my writing group serving as motivation, I set out to do just that. At the moment, I have two stories in the hands of Redivider and Ploughshares, and another story in the works. Not bad for the pre-ides of March, I’d say.

If one of your goals is to write, submit, and get rejected/published this year, may I suggest supporting my alma mater’s literary publication: Ploughshares. Their fiction contest runs until March 15th, and the $20 submission fee includes a one-year subscription to the magazine. That’s pretty much a win-win if I ever heard one. Check them out, revise that story you’ve been meaning to share with the world, and submit. And may the best woman win.

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Nerd Out & Get the Word Out: Boston Book Festival 2010

By Melanie Yarbrough
They have Woodstock and Lillith Fair, Burning Man and even a Strawberry Picking Festival. And finally, last year, Boston started its annual book festival, for the rest of us.

This Saturday, October 16th, marks the second annual Boston Book Festival in Copley Square (which means a great view of the Boston Public Library!). They’ve posted the schedule and description of events here, and I thought I’d share what I’m most excited about. Ready, set, nerd out!

Continue reading

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Short Fiction Deadlines: List them before you miss them!

Sometimes I spend Friday nights sitting cross-legged in pajamas and a ski hat (because I’m too lazy to close the window), drinking my roommate’s whiskey and ginger, writing and reading. This past Friday, I did just that: Nabila is visiting so we holed up in my living room – she working on her website, and I working on a recent story that I wanted to enter into the Zoetrope: All-Story short fiction contest. Deadline: Friday night at midnight.

Though I have no illusions of grandeur that I’ll actually win, it felt good to hunker down, do some serious revision and send my baby out into the world. Rejection is just a reminder that you’re still trying.

That said, I want to start off the month of October with that attitude, and I thought I’d share some fiction contests coming up.

October 4: Opium Magazine’s 7-Line Story Contest. From About.com: “$1000 and publication in Opium9 for a story or prose poem of seven lines or fewer (8.5″ x 11″ paper with 1″ margins). The winning story along with runners-up will be featured in Opium11, slated for release in March. Submit stories online. $10 entry fee.”

Opium’s a pretty cool magazine. I attended a Literary Deathmatch that they hosted at the enormous room in Cambridge, and it was a great representation of how lively and interactive writing can be.

More contests after the jump… Continue reading

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I didn’t write.

I sat down to write last night, pulled my typewriter onto my bed, faced the window – vibrant with sirens and Bukowski tavern – and set out to write. Instead, I cleaned the dust from between the keys and the little rods that carry the lettered ends to the paper. Instead, I looked through my stationery for old birthday cards I bought for friends whose birthdays are approaching. Instead, I contemplated creating a Facebook event for my birthday coming up. I played Words with Friends on my phone, and sent out excuses about having too many vowels to my friend Keenan who will beat me each time no matter the number of vowels I have. I wrote some honest lines about my relationship with my stepmom, then exhausted, lay back and stared at the lights hanging from my ceiling. I thought about conversations I had that day, about conclusions I’d come to. I watched a 28-minute long video of David Foster Wallace reading some of his non-fiction that made me want to reattempt wading through his works. As I cleared the books off my bed in order to climb in, I was overwhelmed by a recent memory that brought up feelings I’ve assured my friends time and again have dissipated. I condensed the feeling into a text message and sent it to Louisiana. Relieved, I realized the emotion was tied more to the nostalgia for intimate moments rather than a particular person. I slept just fine, but still, I didn’t write.

Tonight, I’m at the library, barely pooping out 3/4s of a page of what I have the sneaking suspicion I will hate come morning. Still, it’s satisfying enough to have written. I requested two of David Foster Wallace’s books: Consider the Lobster and The Broom of the System (which I’m checking out in audiobook form until the hard copy comes in). I read this week’s fiction in The New Yorker, Wells Towers’ “The Landlord,” and was not disappointed. My favorite moment in the story made me cover my mouth and eyes with my hands; I love when fiction does that. I developed a crush on the guy sitting to my left, and now I’m going to read another chunk of Carol Sklenicka’s Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life. Reading never feels quite as good as writing, but it definitely relieves the guilt of not writing.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!

I’m celebrating my Cinco de Mayo by reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and if the number of followers of @1B1T2010 is accurate, so are 5,438 other people around the globe. I know the point of this is to read and comment on Twitter using the hashtag #1b1t (though there’s debate about dividing into chapters—e.g. #1b1t1c for chapter one), but this blog is a timeline of books and stories I’ve read (or they read, according to its title). What better to document than what people across the globe are actually reading at once?

Initial Thoughts

I never would have picked up this book if it wasn’t for this project. I’m excited for that alone. I already knew that Shadow’s wife would die before the story got underway—it’s on the back cover, calm down—so I spent the first chapter with a mental commentary on all of Shadow’s hopes for his release from prison. He plans to bathe and spend days in the bedroom with his wife, Laura. Oh no you won’t, I thought. Shadow is released from prison a couple days early, the same day he learns that Laura was killed in a car accident, but he doesn’t show any emotion until well into the third chapter. Is this supposed to paint him as emotionally inept or simply hardened by the “past” alluded to on the back cover (those things are worse than trailers, speaking of spoiler alerts)? Whatever this choice is supposed to elicit in the reader, I wasn’t as bothered by this as I might expect. Shadow’s flashbacks to their first date, filled with sensory description, and his resistance to commiserate with Audrey—the wife of his best friend, Robbie, with whom his wife had an affair while he was in prison—appease my need for some clue as to how he feels about the situation.

As I Read On

The book reads quickly, that is to say it moves fast; several major events happen, several locations are visited, and several characters are introduced. One particular section of the book, in chapter one, occurs “Somewhere In America” and includes a woman posing as a prostitute (and as a woman, for that matter) eating a client with her vagina. There is no context for the scene, and it reminded me of the moment from Men In Black II when the alien posing as a sexy female begins kissing a man before ingesting him. Like I said, I wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, but I’m glad I did, if only to see this scene come to fruition.

Interested in getting involved? Follow the #1b1t, @1B1T2010, and @Crowdsourcing on Twitter. Not on Twitter but still curious? You can follow the discussion using TweetGrid without having to create an account. Or leave your ideas, comments, fears or ridicules in the comments section.

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1 Book, 1 Twitter: International Book Club, Anyone?

My choice? 1984, Orwell

I won’t bore you with why it’s been a while since my last post, instead I’ll just share my excitement with a new global book club happening right now. Jeff Howe is contributing editor to Wired Magazine, owner of Crowdsourcing.com, and author of a book on the subject. He is also a man after my own heart, literarily speaking, of course. His latest “scheme” is to get everyone on Twitter to read one book, the same book, and talk about it or tweet about it (but at this point, what’s the difference?). His idea, influenced by the one city, one book program, is not an attempt at creating a book club where everyone chooses a list of books to get through and meets at specific times to discuss. Instead he wants to create a sort of moment in time, where people across the globe are reading the same book, albeit in different languages, and talking about it all of the time. From Wired.com:

The aim with One Book, One Twitter is…to get a zillion people all reading and talking about a single book. It is not, for instance, an attempt to gather a more selective crew of book lovers to read a series of books and meet at established times to discuss. The point of this (to the extent it has a point beyond good fun with a good book) is to create community across geographical, cultural, ethnic, economic and social boundaries.

At best we start an annual summer Twitter tradition, and bring a bunch of people from all over the world to read together. At worst a handful of us pick a book in an ad hoc fashion and we’ll simply have started another Twitter book club.

If you’re a word nerd, how bad could that be?

Aside from getting to read something you’ve always wanted to but just haven’t gotten around to yet, you get to hear the insights of people you’d never get to join a book club with. The list is diverse and each book meets the requirement of being widely available and translated in many languages; these are often the books that people don’t get around to reading. Here’s our chance! So, word nerds, you in?

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Being Inspired By Now: Letters to a Fiction Writer

Alas, I’m in love with a book again. Granted, I’m only 22 pages in, but like so many young married kids say on their Facebook pages,”When you know, you know.”

Frederick Busch’s collection of letters from established fiction writers to their apprentices promises to change my life. Encouragement is vital to success. As of late, I’ve been feeling uninspired, untalented, and underwhelmed in my writing life, often writing more on Twitter and text message than on my typewriter. But I’m making an effort to stifle my own insecurities by just shutting the hell up and writing.
In Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Endless Inspiration (No. 2), she lists the “Top Three Tips for Staving Off Writerly Despair”:
1. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
2. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
3. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.

But what do you do when you’ve managed to surround yourself with people who care about and support you and insist on reading your senior BFA thesis despite how bad you now recognize it to be? Who do you avoid with no parents trying to convince you to go to law or med school, instead leaving you sweet notes saying how proud they are to be your father? Well, you just doubt yourself, of course. It’s the loudest and quietest voice—no one but yourself charged with arguing and disproving it. It’s never your own stupid voice that ignites your competitive spirit and hastens you to prove it wrong. Oh, what a difficult, tortured, blessed life.

But before this turns into some hack self-help session, enter Letters to a Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Bush. Himself a fiction writer, he addresses his introduction to an agent who rejected his novel years before, sending him this note:
Dear Mr. Busch,
Ah, if only you wrote fiction as well as you write letters of inquiry.

According to my sense of humor, it’s a funny note. But Busch uses the sarcastic and dismissive note to illustrate the purpose of this compilation: to encourage. He celebrates the community found among writers and highlights letters not solely from the recognized “greats” but from those who actively took (and are taking) part in mentoring and nurturing the younger of their breed.
He purposely leaves out letters from Joyce, Dickens, Hemingway, and Flaubert because of the characteristic self focus and promotion found in their letters. They do not advance his purpose: to create a “book… of counsel and sustenance.” (10)
The letters are authored by “writers [who] offer their language to members of the eccentric extended family of fiction writers…” (10) Busch promises me that I am “about to receive the wisdom of those who know, from the inside of the process, what a writer might need, from time to time, to hear.” (11)
The first letter, from Lee K. Abott to his son Kelly, recounts a defining moment between him and his own father: “In 1963, my father, drunk on Ron Rico and history, was taking seriously, in a way I hadn’t or couldn’t yet, what it means to be a writer—that ours is an obligation, maybe like that the saints have, to make sense of what, singly or as a tribe, has befallen us; that we, those with the language and the imagination and the memory, must bring shape and order to all that’s locked away; that we, yeah, must write it all goddam down—all that bedevils and beleaguers, all that mystifies and frightens, all that’s revealed, literally and figuratively, when the ‘past’ is sprung open before us.” (16) I teared up.
He closes, instructing Kelly, and all of us (thanks to Freddy), one last time: Write it all goddam down.
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Reading Now: “Assorted Fire Events” by David Means

It was in a pile outside Harvard Bookstore in the Remainders section. Several things go into the purchasing of an unknown title by an unknown author (to me, of course):

1. The cover. Listen, we all know the rule, but who are we kidding?

2. The types of praise and types of givers-of-praise on the book. For this one, the praise came from Esquire and New York Times Book Review. Additionally, the praise didn’t sound farfetched or cliche; instead, Esquire described Means as, “One of the most original writers of short fiction working today,” while NYT assured me,”There’s not a cheap emotion or a predictable conclusion to be found…. Humane [and] unaccountably lovely.”
3. Places the author’s been published. (This isn’t some snobby weeding out of unpublished authors like myself, but rather a way to gauge what sort of reading I’m getting myself into.) He’s been published in the New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Short Stories. I read two of those on a regular basis, and one of them has been a source for many of my favorite short story discoveries.

4. A sample of the writing. I really only read the title for the first story, “Railroad Incident, 1995,” before deciding to buy it. Usually it takes more convincing, but this one was only $2. I’m a sucker for a bargain and a good title.

That long-windedly said, this collection has not let me down, though the first story left a little to be desired. There were moments throughout that kept me reading, but overall, it didn’t knock me over. As I read on, though, into the second and third stories, I started to see the proof for the quotes listed on the back of the book.
The second story, “Coitus,” (I know, right?) was an astute account of distraction, of the splitscreen capabilities of our minds and bodies. Usually we can recognize our distance from a certain experience in hindsight, a feat that is all well and good, but here it is, spelled out for us in play-by-play form by Means. On the surface: an intimate moment between two people, Bob and Ellen. Just a bit deeper than surface-level, the lack of intimacy is revealed, representing the common tendency to mistake moments as meaningful simply because we need them to mean something. Bob recognizes his taking advantage of Ellen’s need for meaning, but does not revel. There is a stripe of self-criticism, of self-hatred, that is made even darker by the tone of the memories that distract him: his brother’s death, hearing the gunshot that killed a utility worker who committed suicide.
The only thing that snaps him from his flashbacks is noticing Ellen’s attempt at intimacy and recoiling: “Ellen, six years younger, still taut around the jaw but not clear-skinned, her own eyes hickory brown and small and close to his, maybe too close because he began the waves again to get her away, to move her back to get her to shut those eyes white and pink, that white-pink behind-the-eyelid thing.” (22)
It’s actually a terrifying story if you’ve ever felt you were on a different page than someone else. It forces you to admit the undue forgiveness you might’ve provided. But really, Ellen is guilty of a similar deceit: she is not there to create an equal union or provide love for Bob. She is taking something from Bob that has nothing to do with Bob and never will. The climax of this story doesn’t come with Bob or Ellen’s climax; it comes right before, when Bob is holding back from climaxing without knowing why. It’s when Ellen asks him if he’s okay, if he’s just resting, and we see the extent of their communication happens in one word responses that reveal nothing. Mean nothing.
What I Wish I’d Written:
“Am I wrong, Bob? As if he’d know; as if any of us know; and there is that working feeling now he should have been lost in it, to it, just taking her for all she was worth, but he’s suddenly acutely aware of the wrinkles in the sheets–which he’ll smooth out, tuck tight, sniff and test, maybe have the cleaning lady replace (this is Wednesday, isn’t it?); there was a moment in Barcelona with Cindy when he’d felt this exact sensation–that the sheets had been slept on before–and when he went down to speak to the man at the desk he found it was true. They were in the wrong room.”(27-28)
Buy the book on Amazon or, better yet, at your local bookseller. Image courtesy of img.flipkart.com
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