Unavoidable

The black coils of an Eastern Rat snake shine under a light

In my latest story, what happens when a person whose default setting is avoidance has to deal with the highly unpleasant, immediately, and all by themselves?

In Solo Shift, my new short story in The Petigru Review, Tanya, the owner of a small cafe and mercantile, finds herself face-to-face with a snake just before the Sunday-morning rush. As the story unfolds and she addresses the urgent at-hand, the long-put-off becomes clear.

Interestingly, this story first came together in September 2020 (the year of prompt stories) – and here we are, two years later, seeing it published just as September ends.

Thanks to the editorial staff at The Petigru Review, especially Sue Cryer and Maria Picone for such a fruitful collaboration, and my constant readers – the unparalleled SWIG workshop and Andrew Wagner.

Read Solo Shift in The Petigru Review

Photo courtesy David Clode via Unsplash

Work/Life

Two swimmers in side by side lanes swim the backstroke

Early in my career, work and life were separate. It was considered unprofessional to be vulnerable or personal at the office. Relationship drama? Family problems? Health issues? Check them all at the office door, focus on the bottom line, and bring maximum value to your employer, no distractions.

But as I’ve switched roles and companies over the years, I’ve noticed a shifting ethos in corporate culture, especially when I’ve taken jobs at startups. Employees are increasingly encouraged to “bring their whole selves to work,” but this got me thinking: What does that mean, exactly? Who defines “whole self”? And what type of an employee might prefer to keep things separate and private?

That’s the setup for my newest short story, Backstroke, published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Under Review.

Thank you to Meghan Maloney-Vinz and The Under Review editors for publishing my work, and to my SWIG workshop readers and Andrew Wagner for always-thoughtful feedback.

Read Backstroke in The Under Review >

Photo courtesy Ryan Fleischer via Unsplash

Tie Goes to the Writer (and Editor)

A view of a prison hallway seen through steel bars

In On Writing, Stephen King says the following about getting initial feedback from close, trusted readers:

If you give out six or eight copies … you get back six or eight highly subjective opinions about what’s good and bad in it. If all your readers think you did a pretty good job, you probably did. This sort of unanimity does happen, but it’s rare, even with friends. More likely, they’ll think that some parts are good and some parts are, well, not so good. Some will feel that Character A works but Character B is far-fetched. If others feel that Character B is believable but Character A is overdrawn, it’s a wash. You can safely relax and leave things the way they are (in baseball, tie goes to the runner; for novelists, it goes to the writer). If some people love your ending and others hate it, same deal – it’s a wash, and tie goes to the writer.” (pp. 216-17)

I recently used this advice with my new flash fiction story, The Sleepwalker, published this month in Every Day Fiction. When I workshopped this story with my writing group, it got mixed feedback: Some thought it worked fine, others thought it needed an overhaul, getting more in depth with the character and the actions that created their circumstances.

Potential wash, I thought.

Then, fellow workshop member – and award-winning flash fiction writer – Kat Gonso not only championed it, but also suggested a drastic revision. She recommended leaning in to the flash and distilling even further.

In her notes, she included a ~350-word version (cut from my original draft around 500), and suggested I pare it down even further. I sat with it a bit, tweaked a few sections based on her suggestions and additional workshop feedback, and sent it out to a few journals.

Every Day Fiction expressed interest, and then also shared their team’s notes. Their reader found it problematic. The fiction editor liked it and wanted to publish it.

Tie goes to the editor, and by extension, me.

Read The Sleepwalker in Every Day Fiction >

Photo courtesy Matthew Ansley via Unsplash

Unilateral

A neon-red anatomical heart wall hanging sits behind a steel grid

When I was growing up, my mother had a paper wall hanging, a scroll unfurled between two wooden sticks, featuring a dusky rose against a yellow-and-gold striped sunset. On the top, in thick dark letters, it read, “If you love somebody, tell them.”

In my newest short story, Structures of a Heart, Jonah can’t quite follow these simple instructions. For those who know him best, though, his reticence may not matter.

Thanks to the women of SWIG and Andrew Wagner for reading multiple drafts and always offering helpful feedback, as well as to the editors at Chestnut Review, and especially D.E. Hardy, for their care with this story. Read – or listen to – it now in the Autumn 2021 issue.

Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Stuck in the Mud

A man stands on a beach in front of a beached whale that has washed up on the shore

Going into 2019, I was a bit depleted creatively. I struggled with a long-form fiction project and was out of ideas. While I did not want to take any time off, I also did not feel inspired.

I remembered I had purchased a prompt book, Judy Davis’ A Writer’s Book of Days, while on vacation in Asheville, North Carolina, a few years earlier. It had sat on my shelf, unopened. I retrieved it and skimmed the intro and its basic premise: a prompt a day.

That could be a good New Year’s resolution, I thought. Daily prompt, no pressure, no editing, no time limit or word count, just the practice.

I kept at it and didn’t miss a day. I wrote longhand. By the end of the year, I had a stack of notebooks filled with potential stories.

In 2020, I used the notebooks as starting points, with a new resolution: 12 short stories from the prompts, one per month.

Time and Tide, newly published in MudRoom magazine, is April’s story, although the process was much longer than that:

  • April 2019: Original prompt
  • April 2020: First draft of the full story
  • April – December 2020: Two workshops with the SWIG writers’ group, plus additional helpful feedback from Robert Scott and Andrew Wagner
  • January 2021: Pitches, final revisions
  • February 2021: Publication

For more details, MudRoom editor Maiasia Grimes generously invited me to discuss the writing process in the magazine’s newest interview.

Thanks for reading!

Photo courtesy Sue & Danny Yee via Flickr Creative Commons

Short, to the Point

A waitress in a diner stands in profile silhouette in black and white

Thank you to the team at Levee Magazine for publishing my newest short fiction, Embolus.

A bit of process notes on this one: Embolus went through multiple revisions over the years and received mixed feedback, both from my writing workshops and editors at literary journals. It certainly mystified me as I worked on it. I knew I wanted a mood piece that spoke to something the main character considers unspeakable, something she knows but prefers as mystery. Something intimate and also foreign.

I’ll say little more, just that the timing of Embolus’ publication in Levee’s fifth issue, in the throes of the novel coronavirus, and the rash of high-profile diagnoses this week, seems a little too timely. Can we ever really acknowledge our vulnerabilities?

Photo courtesy Tyler B Dvorak via Flickr Creative Commons

Book of Days

cranes_overhead

In 2019, my New Year’s Resolution was to work on a writing prompt every day, using A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves as my guide. Whether I had five minutes or five hours, the goal was simply to make it a daily practice. I wrote longhand each day, sometimes in plain notebooks, other times in fancier leather-bound journals. I alternated between drugstore ballpoint pens and bold purple inks. I made it the whole year.

In 2020, my resolution has been to work through those prompt exercises like a miner, extracting useful nuggets, in an attempt to produce a polished short story each month. Nearly five months in, I’ve been keeping at it, although “polished” may be a relative term.

A bit of validation, though: I’m pleased to announce the first of my prompt stories has found a home. Check out my newest published fiction, Serotiny, in issue 6.1 of The Maine Review. (Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, nearly nothing from the original prompt exercise made it into the final draft.)

Thanks to editor Rosanna Gargiulo for her thoughtful edits, as well as the incredible readers of SWIG and Andrew Wagner for their invaluable feedback.

As always, thanks for reading!

Photo courtesy Matthew Macy via Flickr Creative Commons

My Favorite

Like parents and children, writers aren’t supposed to have favorite works, right? Each piece holds its own special place, the result of a unique hybrid of ideas, experience, workshops, feedback, revisions, more revisions, pitches, and (hopefully) acceptance and publication. Each work is a snapshot of the writer at a particular moment in time, and reflects the writer’s state of mind up to and at that point. Writing is too subjective a process to rank what’s produced. How can one piece stand apart from the rest?

Yet having said that… my short story, Acquaintance, is my all-time favorite piece I’ve written. Originally part of a larger novel, it was able to be coaxed out and morphed into a smaller work. Sometimes you work on something big, only to find that distillation is what’s needed. In that case, while the effort and result may not be matched in volume or size, the alignment between labor and product lies (hopefully) in resonance and meaning.

Thanks, ink&coda journal, for publishing my favorite.

Read the full story here.

Photo courtesy Jonas Boni via Flickr Creative Commons