Tag Archives: Fiction

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.


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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!

 

Best of Friday Flash – Volume One

Great news!  The “Best of Friday Flash – Volume One,” an anthology that includes one of my flash fiction stories was released today in ebook format at smashwords.com.

Bottom of the Ninth,” my flash about a nervous preteen whose softball team championship rests in her pudgy little hands, is part of the first collection by Friday Flash writers, a group of writers who publish flash fiction on their blogs every Friday.

The anthology is available via smashwords.com in just about every ebook format for just $2.99.

WHAT A BARGAIN!

To see the book and download a sample (or BUY it!), click here: Best of Friday Flash: Volume One.  The printed version will be released shortly.  Stay tuned for details.

For a little info on the book release, visit Mad Utopia, the site of Friday Flash founder Jon Strother.

As you might imagine, I’m just beside myself with excitement! I feel like I should be passing out cigars and champagne.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Bukowski

The “Laureate of American Lowlife,”  Time magazine called him.  Charles Bukowski would have been 90 years old today.  He died of leukemia on March 9, 1994 at the age of 73.  Pretty remarkable for a man who was told in his 20s to give up drinking or die.  He never did give it up, but he did take it much more seriously.  In a 1987 LA Times article, he said,

The wine does most of my writing for me.

That wasn’t just bravado.  He meant it.

“Don’t Try” is engraved on his tombstone.  What he meant, I think, is the theme of his poem, “So You Want to be a Writer.”  If you’re a writer, it’s a must read.

Bukowski falls into one of three categories: Love him.  Hate him.  Don’t know him.  Which one are you?

Want more? Visit Bukowski.net.

Curiousity, Responsibility and “The Little Prince”

On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

From “The Little Prince”
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A few weeks ago on Twitter, the writer Susan Orlean started the topic #booksthatchangedmyworld.   The topic became hugely popular within seconds and is still active.  Mostly fiction titles were mentioned, although non-fiction books, such as, “Toxic Parents,” “The Joy of Cooking,” and “The Joy of Sex” were popular, too.

I added a few of my own, but the titles that came to my mind were children’s or young adult lit:  “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak and “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume.

I could fill a few pages with a list of the books I love or books that affected me in a deep way, but the books that changed my life are mostly books I read when I was  young.

Today, I thought of a book that bridges the gap.  “The Little Prince” by  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is a children’s book that I read as an adult and it changed my life.

It was written as a children’s book, but its ideas of open-mindedness, curiosity, and exploration have a lot to teach adults who might have grown up and away from those child-like traits that keep the world new and exciting.

There are two parts that changed my world and have stayed with me since reading the book for the first time 15 years ago.  One is about our responsibility toward others.  The fox tells the Little Prince, who has fallen in love with a rose:

“Men have forgotten this truth, but you must not forget it. You become responsible for what you have tamed.  You are responsible for your rose.”

The second lesson is the quote at the beginning of this post.  It’s  the fox speaking to the Little Prince again.  “What is essential is invisible to the eye.

Reading that in the simplistic terms, the fox is saying the eye doesn’t see what matters most, it only sees what’s on the surface, but it goes beyond that.  It taught me that it’s important to dig deeper.  By examining, exploring, and questioning, I could learn what is essential to me, what matters most.  That lesson is something that changed my world in incalculable ways.

Happy birthday to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born June 29, 1900. The link is to his official website, which is in French.  Use Google Translate to translate it into any language. Très facile!

June 16: It’s Bloomsday Yes it is Yes Enjoy Yes

Today is Bloomsday, June 16, the day all the events in James Joyce’s Ulysses take place.

Named for main character Leopold Bloom, Bloomsday is celebrated by Joyce fans around the world, with a huge celebration in Dublin, where the book is set.  Fans spend the day honoring Joyce, reenacting scenes from the novel, and generally having a wild time.

Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife is lusty and seductive, even crude in comparison to Leopold’s more cerebral nature.  Both Blooms have had affairs and at the end of the book they continue to question the value of their marriage.  Yet in Molly’s 24,000 word unpunctuated stream of consciousness soliloquy that ends the novel, it’s hard to deny the joy she finds at the hands of her husband.

In honor of Bloomsday, the final words of Molly’s soliloquy:

… Yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Happy Bloomsday, everyone.  Yes?

Friday Flash: OMG at Barnes & Noble

© Olivia Tejeda

“Oh my God,” Fredrika’s husband gasped as she approached the table where he sat reading “The Portable Jung” at the Barnes & Noble cafe.

“What’s wrong with this?” she asked holding out the copy of Oprah she brought back with her.

Her husband looked up, eyes only, over the top of his glasses.  He said nothing and went back to reading.

She leaned in and said through tight lips and a clenched jaw, “I asked you if there’s something wrong with this.”

No response.

“Edward!” Louder this time.

Edward closed the book and slid his glasses down.  He pondered the pinched looking woman standing in front of him as he stroked his short salt and pepper beard.

“Can I … help you?” he said.

“Why did you say ‘Oh my God?’ ”

“You are truly pathetic.”

“Wrong again, Edward,” she said, pointing a sharp finger at him.  “You are an impotent troll.”

Fredrika sat down and noticed the woman at the next table, caught mid-sip and still staring, surprised and embarrassed by their candid contempt.  Fredrika smiled and began flipping the pages of the magazine.

Flip.  Flip, flip.  Flip.

“Did I do something?” she said.  “Is that why you said ‘Oh my God?’ ”

Edward sighed. “Really, Fredrika? Really?”

“Just tell me.”

“I’m reading.”

Flip, flip, flip.

“Want pizza for dinner?” she asked.

Edward grunted.

“Chinese? You want Chinese?”

Silence.

She flipped more pages.

“We can have dinner with the Crandalls.  You like the Crandalls.”

“Fredrika,” Edward said.

“Hmm?”

“Fredrika,” he said

“Edward,” she said.

“Fredrika,” he said.

“What?” she hissed.

“Can I tell you what I want?”

She sat mute.

“I want you to shut up,” he said.  “For one minute of one day in the entirety of your life, I want you to shut your mouth and be silent.”   Then he went back to reading.

Fredrika huffed and straightened her posture.

Flip.  Flip, flip.

After flipping the last of the pages, she took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead.

Edward looked up.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

“My contacts are bothering me.”

“Do you want to leave?”

“I hate to disturb your book, but yes, yes, I think so.”

He closed the book and stood up.

“Here,” he said reaching out.  “Give me your magazine.  I’ll put it away for you.”

When he returned, he took her hand and they walked together to the exit.

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

When it Comes to Writer’s Block, Sleep On It

For writers it is like a mantra.  In order to write, you must to take the time, sit down, and do it.

BIC HOK TAM, right?

Well, it’s true.  There are no short cuts. Magic formulas are available for purchase, but on the whole, they don’t really work.  Call me a cynic.

Writing takes an enormous amount of time and dedication.  Most writers will tell you that struggle ranks high in the job description, or as sportswriter Red Smith said:

There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

But what happens when you’ve opened a vein (or 3 or 4) and you’ve still got nothing?  What do you do when even those special prompts saved for desperate moments like this fail you?

My solution?  Take a nap.  Read a book.  Make Rice Krispie treats.  Do anything but write, because your creatively clogged brain is trying to telling you that it needs some time for itself.

When I need to get away from writing, my favorite diversion is napping, and I’m happy to say I’ve got science on my side.

A study by researchers at UCSD found that REM sleep was 40% more effective than the simple passing of time or quiet rest to enhance creativity, in particular for new problems. (1)

During a time when I wasn’t writing anything more than memos at work, my current WIP, a novel now titled For Purple Mountains, came to me in a dream.  It was far from complete, but it intrigued me enough to get me writing again.  Two years later, I’m still at it … happily … most of the time.

Other sleep-induced inspirations include:

  • The tune for Yesterday, which came to Paul McCartney in his sleep.  (If you watch that video, let me know if you agree that Paul is so adorable!)
  • Golfer Jack Nicklaus’ whose career was crumbling.  In a dream he saw himself holding the club differently.  When he tried the new grip later, his game improved dramatically and he was back on top again.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde, which was plotted in a dream by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Mary Shelley, who is said to have been inspired by a dream to create Frankenstein.

Of course, these are big, definitive examples, but how many of us have woken up with a solution to a problem that at one time seemed unsolvable?

Sleep or otherwise walking away from your writing, isn’t always the solution because if you’ve committed any serious time to writing, you know it doesn’t always flow, and sometimes you just have to give it time.  But for those excruciating moments, when you know you’re completely stuck, walk away.  Then, when you’re rested, go back to your writing and open up another vein.

Join The Silent Writers Collective on Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern and/or 9 PM Pacific (US) for the next Silent Write-In.

For a basic Rice Krispie Treat recipe, try Cooking for Engineers, one of my favorite recipe sites.  It’s quirky, with a touch of OCD and every recipe I’ve used from the site comes out perfectly.