Tag Archives: Fiction

Poets & Writers Say, “The Time Is Now”

Way back on December 31, 2010, (six days ago) I accepted the WordPress.com Post A Day challenge to post on my blog every day for a year.  WordPress helps out by posting a daily prompt on their Post A Day blog to keep participants inspired.  I’m on Day 5.  So far so good.

Now Poets and Writers, has kicked off The Time Is Now, a series of weekly prompts and exercises to inspire writers of poetry and prose to stay committed to their writing all year long.

“The most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline. Talent and luck always help, but having a consistent writing practice is often the difference
between aspiring writers and published writers.”
— PW.Org

Every Monday PW will post for poetry, and every Thursday for fiction.  The first installment for poetry is posted now.  The fiction prompt goes up tomorrow.  To have the prompts sent directly to your email, you can sign up at The Time is Now Signup.

If you’re a writer and you’re not familiar with PW, I urge you to GET familiar with them.   As the nation’s largest nonprofit literary organization, they are an incredible and reliable resource for information on competitions, workshops, techniques, agents, and publishers.  What I’ve found most through their site and their magazine is a sense of community and encouragement.  In the announcement introducing The Time is Now, PW.org says, “the most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline.”  That’s certainly true, but the camaraderie I’ve found at PW, goes a long way.

Resources: Poets & Writers, The Daily Post

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Opening Credits: The Intrigue of Book Dedications

When British author C.P. Snow received the American edition of his novel, “A Coat of Varnish,” he was surprised and confused by the dedication:

“For Kate Marsh.”

Lord Snow, author of more than 25 books of fiction and non-fiction, didn’t like to dedicate his books to anyone, and he didn’t know anyone named Kate Marsh.

It turns out that the British printers delivered a copy of Snow’s manuscript to his London literary agent with a cover note, “For Kate Marsh,” the agent’s assistant.  The note was not removed before the manuscript was shipped and the American printer assumed it was the dedication.  Once the mystery was solved, everyone involved had a good laugh, but Lord Snow and his wife didn’t find it very funny.

Book dedications always interest me.  If they are included at all, they are right after the title page, and that’s where I turn first when I pick up a new book.  If I don’t see that page, filled mostly with white space and just a line or two of text, I feel disappointed (1) that I don’t get to indulge my voyeuristic bent, and (2) that the author isn’t an appreciative type.  Surely there must be someone who helped, someone who inspired!  No?

I like reading the acknowledgments, too, but I find dedications so much more fascinating and heartfelt.  Acknowledgments can feel like an obligatory listing of thank yous and who’s who.   Of course, it’s important to give credit where it’s due, but book dedications give credit in a different way.

They are often like little mini-stories filled with intrigue or romance.  Sometimes they offer a glimpse into the author’s personality, such as Charles Bukowski’s dedication in his novel “Post Office.”

“This book is presented as a work of fiction and dedicated to nobody.”

That’s so Bukowski.

Other times they are cryptic and mysterious, like the dedication in “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious.

“To George—for all the reasons he knows so well.”

That inscription was so intriguing it prompted Marlene Wagman-Geller to do some research.  She found out that George was Matalious’ husband, and “the reasons”  were that he was endlessly supportive, not just of her writing, but of her rebellious, non-conformist nature.

After learning that, Wagman-Geller was hooked.  Her research led to “Once Again To Zelda:  The Stories Behind Literature’s Most Intriguing Dedications.

“Once Again To Zelda” isn’t a scholarly study; of the 50 books included, only 11 don’t list Wikipedia as a source.  It sometimes reads like a supermarket tabloid filled with gossip and hearsay, but if you’re a book nerd like me, it’s riveting.

As I work toward the completion of my novel, I’ve already spent time thinking about my dedication. I wonder, my writing friends, how many of you have your dedication written?

This post inspired by: The Daily Post

Henry Miller: The Confidence to Utter Profound Truths

Henry Miller 1940

Image via Wikipedia

Henry Miller’s writing has been an inspiration since the first time I read “Tropic of Cancer.”   I can’t say I always understand him, and there are times I shake my head and say, “Huh?”  But I keep reading because his writing is powerfully vivid, filled with energy and raucous life.

His work isn’t always happy; sometimes it’s gritty or gross, but it’s joyful in it’s passion, and I find the energy contagious.

In honor of Mr. Miller’s birthday today (December 26, 1891), I’m sharing this  quote from “Henry Miller On Writing.”   I find it so inspiring I want to tell all my writer friends … Print it out and post it on your computer, use it as a bookmark, frame it, sing it.  Do whatever you want with it, just don’t forget it.

Every day we slaughter our finest impulses.   That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.   Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths.   We all derive from the same source.   There is no mystery about the origin of things.   We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”

Flash Fiction: Christmas Past

© Olivia Tejeda

“My great-nephew over in Prescott invited me.”
“Say again?”
“MY GREAT-NEPHEW!”
“Criminy! Irene, what are ya hollerin’ at?”
“Turn up your hearing aid.”
“They’re up, they’re up …  Are you going?”
“Where?”
“To your damn nephew’s house.”
“Land sakes, Bea, your language!  Yes, I’m going.”
“Is he the one with the kids?”
“The screaming kids, the fat wife, and the drunk mother-in-law.”
“You gotta drive all that way for that kind of nonsense?”
“What else am I gonna do?”
“Stay home!”
“By myself?  No how, Mister!  Not on Christmas!”
“My sister-in-law is flying in from Utah.  We’ll have dinner.”
“Oh good, so you’re covered.”
“I’d rather be alone.”
“Oh heavens, Bea! It’s Christmas.  Why would you want to be alone?
“You never met my sister-in-law.”
“But being alone … on Christmas … what could be worse?”
“My sister-in-law.”

Writing this story, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs, Hello in There, performed here by Bette Midler.

Thank you for reading.  To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.


Favorite Novels of 2010

The presents aren’t wrapped yet, I have more shopping to do, and those flippin’ cookies will not be baking themselves, but I’d rather think about books.  In the spirit of the season and in no particular order, here is a list of the best novels I read this year.

“Girls in their Married Bliss” by Edna O’Brien.  A Dublin bookseller recommended this book after we chatted about Irish authors.  I started reading it on the walk back to the hotel and didn’t stop until I finished.  It was written in 1964, and there are some anachronisms, but Baba is so fresh, funny, and irreverent, I loved her immediately.  The novel is the third in a trilogy about Baba and Kate, who grew up together in the Irish countryside and now live in London, both unhappily married.   The two characters take turns as narrator, and despite Baba’s sauciness and all the laughs (and there are many), the story is dark, cynical, and heartbreaking.  This novel is available in the U.S. only as part of “The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue.” I haven’t read the other two stories, or anything else by Edna O’Brien, but her work is on my list for 2011.

“Nemesis” by Philip Roth.  If you know much about me, you probably know Philip Roth is my favorite writer.  Ever.  Period.  It’s not a blind love, though, and his last few books haven’t had the stunning impact on me as “The Human Stain” or “American Pastoral” did.  “Nemesis” is set in 1940s Newark during a polio epidemic.  It is the simple but tragic story of Bucky Cantor, director of the neighborhood playground and ordinary “nice guy.”  The seeming simplicity of the writing and the story put me off at first.  I thought maybe Mr. Roth was phoning it in.  Who could blame him?  This is his 32nd novel and boy, his hand must be tired!  By the end of the book, I knew I’d judged too quickly.  The story might be simple, but it is brilliantly so.  The raging epidemic, the death of neighborhood kids, the life-altering guilt, and where is God in all of this?  Bucky wants to know, so did I.  Weeks after finishing the book, the questions still linger.  That’s powerful writing.

“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen. It took a little self-debate, but I decided to include this book on my list.  It should be here; I did like it, but I don’t understand what all the big noise was (is) about.  Franzen is an excellent writer and this is a well-told story, but the preachiness was a turn-off, and so was its occasional self-importance/ self-awareness.  Enough has already been said by others about “Freedom,” but I just read this piece from the New Yorker Book Bench blog, and I thought I’d share.  It’s pretty funny, as is the author.  The Year in Reading: Tad Friend.   It’s a great light look at a novel that no one is looking at lightly.

“The Ice Age” by Kirsten Reed. This book cover jumped off the shelf to grab my attention, and the first few paragraphs were just as strong, maybe more so.  Think of a cross between “Lolita,” “Catcher in the Rye,” and “On The Road.”  It is the story of a 17 year old girl who starts hitching and is immediately picked up by Gunther, a mysterious, quirky, older man.  Together they vagabond around the country, staying in seedy hotels or crashing with an odd cast of Gunther’s friends and former girlfriends.  The narrator, as 17 year old girls sometimes do, imagines Gunther is a vampire, but she’s also smart enough to know what a silly fantasy it is.  That’s the thing about our narrator, she’s as cool, goofy, and naive as most teens, but she’s also incredibly astute, more so than most of the adults she meets, and her insights add to this book’s poignancy.   Unfortunately, this book is not available in the U.S.  (Why not?!? — would some smart American publisher please pick this up!), but used copies can be found on Amazon, and I still have my copy if anyone wants to borrow it.

“Lost” by Alice Lichtenstein.  Susan, Jeff, and Corey, three very different and distinctive characters come together after Susan’s husband, 12-years her senior and suffering with Alzheimer’s, wanders off on a frigid New England morning. Alzheimer’s stories can get mired in the sentimental, but this novel does not; it’s beautifully and cleanly written.   Jeff, the search and rescue expert, first judges Susan to be a stoic.  As a biology professor she has a scientist’s mind for facts, but she’s more than that.  She’s also deeply caring and in love with her husband.  Jeff deals with his own trauma as his wife, a woman lost in her own way, repeatedly betrays and humiliates him.  Corey, a 12-year-old rendered mute after a family tragedy, has a secret that binds all three of them.  Each character is lost and in need of redemption, but by connecting with each other, the novel ends on a hopeful note.  Ms. Lichtenstein’s writing is spare and poetic, a perfect complement to the story.

“Bastard Out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison.  This book has been on my list forever, and I’m so glad I finally read it.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s an unforgettable one.  Knowing that most of the trauma is autobiographical made it even more difficult to take in, and I had to put the book down a few times because it was just too disturbing.  The title refers to Ruth Anne, the main character, nicknamed Bone.  Not only does she bear the labels “illegitimate” and “poor white trash,” she must also endure the physical and sexual abuse of her stepfather.  Her large extended family is an assortment of drunks, fighters,  womanizers, and the women who put up with them.  As screwed up as they are, they are fiercely protective of one another and provide Bone with a sense of belonging and home.   Throughout the book I wondered how someone survives this kind of devastation, and I’ve since heard Ms. Allison say in interviews that writing saved her.  Lucky for us, because she tells this story with honesty, resilience, and grace.

“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Oh, to write like Kazuo Ishiguro, with that much precision, clarity, and meaning.  Stevens, the main character and narrator, is the butler in charge at an English estate.  He is completely devoted to his employer, Lord Darlington, and blindly accepts Darlington’s words and actions, when they are clearly misguided.  In his loyalty, Stevens’ only concern is the mechanics of running a proper English household.  As the novel progresses, we learn there’s more to him than that, but his commitment to propriety prevents him from sharing that part of himself.  This is a quiet and subtle novel about missed opportunities, suppressed emotions, and a life lived in devotion to the wrong master.  Stevens is a remarkable character and this novel is a pristine example of writing that transports you seamlessly into a different time and place.

Now I need some reading recommendations for 2011.  Any suggestions?

Silly Housewife’s 10-Year Effort Produces Pulitzer Prize Winning Classic

Margaret Mitchell started writing “Gone with the Wind” while stuck in bed with a broken ankle.  The story goes that she balanced a typewriter on her knees and got to work.  She wrote on and off for ten years, creating scenes as they came to her.   Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and Tara came to life in this novel about the Civil War and Reconstruction.

When she was done, the 1,000 page manuscript was typed, handwritten, and scrawled on the back of assorted household lists.  She had it hidden in envelopes scattered throughout the house.

Mitchell wrote for her own amusement and didn’t intended to publish until a friend’s off-hand comment that Mitchell was “too silly” to write a book incensed her enough to give the manuscript to Harold Latham from Macmillan Publishing, who was in town scouting Southern authors.  Insecure about her writing abilities and afraid of public ridicule, she changed her mind a few times, but just before Latham returned to New York, Mitchell gathered up as much of the manuscript as she could find, and stuffed them into a suitcase. She handed the overloaded suitcase to Latham, saying, “Take it before I change my mind.”

By time she got home, she panicked and telegrammed  Latham, “Have changed my mind. Send manuscript back.”  But it was too late, Latham read enough to know it would be a bestseller.

“Gone With the Wind” was published on June 30, 1936, and sold half a million copies in the first six months.   It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, and the blockbuster movie premiered on today’s date, December 15 in 1939, at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta.  It is one of the most beloved novels of all time, selling more than 30 million copies in 25 languages.  The film became the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history and received a record-breaking ten Academy Awards.

Pretty good for a “silly” housewife.


Now in Print: Best of Friday Flash – Volume One

There aren’t many shopping days until Christmas, so save yourself some trouble and give a gift that will please everyone on your list.

“Best of Friday Flash – Volume One”

What could be better?  This collection gathers sixty-seven of the very best flash fiction from writers around the world.  Mystery, intrigue, romance, sci-fi, horror, slice of life, humor.   Just about every genre is represented and each story comes in a quick hit, flash fiction format — one thousand words or fewer.

Don’t let the short format fool you.  There are some powerful stories here, including mine, “Bottom of the Ninth,” about a nervous preteen whose softball team championship rests in her pudgy little hands.

The flashes were written by members of the Friday Flash community, an online writer’s group that posts stories on their blogs and announces them via the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter or Facebook.  The variety of styles and the amount of  talent included in this anthology will keep you turning the pages, and wishing for more when you’re done.

“Best of Friday Flash – Volume One” is available in paperback for $7.99, and  ebook for just $2.99.

Don’t wait!  Act now!