Thursday, November 13, 2014

All I want for Christmas is a Wiki page

Well, actually, I'd also like a bunch of material things, such as some new clothes and teas and coffees and maybe a gift certificate or two to a decent restaurant so that I can entertain my fantasy of being a real-life "foodie" and not just live vicariously as I watch the Food Network.

I'm caught up in my wants today for some reason. I blame early Christmas commercials, the music, the wreaths... all of this makes me think of presents. Not just receiving, mind you, but giving as well. I love giving gifts. I enjoy watching someone unwrap whatever material thing I have injected with good intentions and love, especially when the present hits the mark and earns a genuine smile.

As I make my list this year, I can't help but think lists are an excellent device for creative writing. In nonfiction, Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl uses this device expertly. Leonard Michaels' "In the Fifties" is a good example as well, a listing that becomes a sketch of a narrator's experience of an era. 

I think it would make a good prompt for fiction. Each list item can help the progression and smooth out an otherwise more erratic delivery. I'm going to do this prompt with you, that is, if you do it...

Write a short list of presents, for Christmas or whatever holiday/birthday that best suits your purpose:
John, socks - silly-themed socks
Candie, self-help books
George, flavored hot chocolates
Mark, a wallet with a foreign coin in it
Terra, crystals and books on crystals, a candle
Then, beneath each character and present designation, write out the narrator's reasoning--a short sketch that introduces both the person and this person's relationship to the narrator. The challenge is to see if you can tie it all together at the end (a neat little bow, if you will).

Let me know if it's successful. Let me know if it's a disaster. Whatever, I think it will be fun.

I haven't reported much writing news lately, but you know how nothing happens for a while, then bam! There it all is? Well, something like that is going down, so I'll post updates soon. Work is forthcoming in Superstition Review, Sleet Magazine, Room Magazine, and there may be a fiction collection in the near future. Stay tuned...

xo Jen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Halloween prompt

I hope your week was fantastic. Mine was eventful. My husband arrived home after approximately five weeks of travel. He had visited various places in Europe, came back to the states briefly for a trade show in Vegas, then went to Australia and New Zealand. Being alone in our new place was quite nice the first few weeks, then it started getting old and, as you can see from my previous entry, with boredom comes ill-conceived landscaping. (Helpful tip: If you just keep adding mulch, eventually things work out.)

My new fiction writing class began this week. I have 28 students this term, and I am excited to see what they can do. I am also excited to return to my Rattle novel. I have a lot of opportunities in the works concerning completed work, so I am also awaiting many answers... This place of unknowing is both fun and torturous. I know this is all vague, but hopefully good news to come.

You know, I don't usually know what I'm going to suggest as a writing prompt until I get to this point in my blog, but this makes the challenge fun. I usually just draw from whatever I'm thinking about or recently did. Yesterday, I went to a Halloween party and had to improvise my outfit (see right) because my original (a Mona Lisa get-up) hadn't arrived in time. Thanks to a few YouTube videos, Tim Burton, and a lot of experimenting, I put together a costume. My husband bought a mask, and we were set. There were quite a few people at this party, and the costumes were so good that we didn't recognize the folks we knew. Not recognizing who you're speaking with could lead to conflict in the right situation. Bingo! We have a prompt.

Write a story about two characters who know each other. One begins confiding in the other, not realizing who the other is. Go!

Since next weekend is Halloween proper, if you write to this and you'd like me to post your story  (or part of it as a teaser), let me know. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014


"If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere.”
-Vincent van Gogh

It has been an interesting week. While my husband is away, now in New Zealand and his time away adding up to about five weeks, I have been getting a little stir crazy. This is partly because I had an outpatient surgery on my ear to remove an ill-placed and "suspicious" mole (redhead problems and, yes, partly why I was drawn to the van Gogh quote). I have been rather irritated by nagging (but not horrible) pain and an inability to wear my hair up comfortably while it heals. 

Meanwhile, I was thrilled to find one of my most personal and intimate pieces of fiction (originally an essay that I decided to get a little more experimental with) was accepted into a notable magazine. More on that soon. And it looks like my first column will be coming out in Fiction Southeast in November (first and second, as it stands now). So the good with the bad. 

To occupy my mind and keep myself busy to distract myself from my ear, I've been doing some yard work. Some pretty shoddy yard work, so much so I don't want to post pics. Okay, here are some pics. I mean... even the one bundle of San Antonio-appropriate flowers I bought is dying after a matter of weeks. I started pouring mulch over dead grass and hoping for the best, and that hasn't worked out so well yet either. 

Perhaps, like most of my artistic ventures, it will eventually morph into something tolerable looking, or I'll just have to tinker forever and the phases will come and go. No matter, I love my backyard.  

Much as I continue to tinker in that wonderful mess you see above, so goes the same for the writing. Writers have to start and restart again. It's the nature of our art, and the trick (as I see it) is just getting started.

Instead of giving you a scenario for a writing prompt today, I thought I'd pick a line and say, "Go!" A friend of mine from undergrad, playwright Jennifer Roberts, suggested this practice one day a long time ago, wherein we would grab a favorite book, open to a random passage, point, write a sentence and say, "Go!" Then, we'd start the timers and write. Clear stories or nonsensical ramblings, it didn't matter. Sometimes we'd share our work, other times not. No pressure, just creation. So, here we go...  

It is hardly surprising that so many people lose their tempers with so many other people. 

-Shirley Jackson, "About Two Nice People"

Write this sentence down, then set the timer for 20 minutes and Go!

*If you have any ideas for the backyard, I'll all ears (well... kind of)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Loosen up

Massage should be covered under everyone's preventative care plans. I truly believe this. That said, when I get a massage, which I try to do as often as finances allow to offset the time I'm hunched over a computer, the therapist always tells me I should come back more often or come back for a longer session next time or try cupping or try hot stones... This is probably part of the routine, the up-sell. But what's not part of the routine is the crunchy, stuck, tight muscles around my shoulders, which don't seem to loosen up, no matter who I go to. I breathe into the muscles deeply, take baths with salts and relaxing bubbles, meditate... nothing helps. More than a few times, I've heard, "Your muscles are the tightest I've seen on a person your size." I've also heard, "You're almost as bad as the bodybuilders that come in." Seeing as how I lift weights once a month, maybe, if I can get on the floor long enough to do a few 5 lb raises to strengthen my triceps before the dog starts walking on my face, the comparison isn't complimentary as much as worrisome. 

On the occasion I am able to get a massage, I always ask the therapist the same thing to divert attention from my stubborn muscles. "I bet you have stories, eh? What's your craziest?" Inevitably, there's an affirmative, and often a story. Herein is this week's prompt:

A massage therapist, male or female, is working on a client who doesn't follow protocol. What does the client do or say? How does the therapist react? Is there awkward small talk? Confrontation? Take it where it goes, and end with the client getting dressed, the therapist outside the door, waiting with a plastic cup of water.    

I'm going to work on my ergonomics and stretching routine this week. I wish you comfort. 
xo Jen

Monday, September 29, 2014

The air is delicious

My new townhouse is located directly behind both an Italian restaurant and a trendy cafe that, together, make my the air smell like a delicious mix of bread-y comfort foods, sugars and spices. My mouth waters every time I go outside. When I was a kid, our house was near a Wonder Bread factory, and every morning as I sat at the bus stop, I closed my eyes and inhaled the rich, soft air. No matter what I went through when I was younger, that smell was like a hug.

This brings me to a new prompt, inspired by the olfactory effect on our memories and sense of self. Have fun with it:

Character X is in an argument with Character Y. Character X is just about to take the argument too far when a smell overcomes both characters. It can be a horrible smell, the burning of plastic or fresh spray of a skunk. Or, it can be a comforting smell, someone barbecuing or a perfume that calls to mind someone now gone. The two characters assign different memories and emotions to the same smell. In the time it takes for them to pause, their worlds are shaken. They return to the argument, but everything has changed.

Have a great week! I'll be posting again soon. In the meantime, I think I'll get something to eat.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

In a hundred years

I'm enamored with Margaret Atwood and always have been. One of my favorite books, Robber Bride, makes my ultra-short list of regular rereads. It is not her most popular book, but the complex story she delivers in a digestible and often-humorous form strikes a cord with this reader. Her work appeals to a sense of living, both in life and beyond it, so it warmed my heart to hear of her participation in the Future Library Project. If you haven't read about it, check it out here. Atwood's future-thinking work is the perfect addition to a library of content that will be unavailable until 2114. To me, this is what writing is about--it's about transcending our experience and exploring it.

As for my own work, here's a new short story. It's on transference and what it means to let go of those you look to for definition, especially when those people are family. Read it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Kobo. I'm moving this weekend, so I'll keep it short (Take my advice: Never move. Never, never!).

Here's your new writing prompt. I came up with this one after a strange incident in my old neighborhood. Have fun with it.

Write a story about a character who is doing something routine (e.g., taking a walk, taking out the trash) when a dog begins to chase him/her. The character runs off-course and continues to run until s/he is in an area of town never before explored. It could be as surreal or normal a place as you'd like, but tell the story of running into something new after running away... Go!

Enjoy your week!

xo Jen

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Solitude in a crowded space

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  —Mark Twain
The right word makes all the difference because there is always a right word, even though there may be many synonyms. I believe this to be true, and I know a lot of words (that happens to us readers), but sometimes that perfect word doesn't come readily. Sometimes lately, however, I have to go back to a piece dozens of times before that right word comes. I noticed this more in recent years, and it could be just that I am a more conscientious writer. But I can't help but wonder if this is, in fact, a result of knowing more than I used to. 
I first heard about the Internet of Things a year ago, but I didn't really care to understand it. Recently,  however, it seems to come up a lot, and now that I know what I do, I can't stop thinking about it. This concept is basically that any device can be connected to any other device, assuming both are connected to an internet source. This means the amount of connected data is so vast that its value is diluted, creating a problem for those looking to answer specific questions from unique connected devices. This is probably not the best definition. Wiki may do it better, but the basic concept is that if we have access to too much at one time, we become overwhelmed and have trouble assigning value to a thing.
I feel like much of our lives - being on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram, while also streaming TV and chatting via work computer systems that have completely different rules and protocol than home systems, and playing games, even worrying about identity theft as we enter our credit card numbers into an online service while knowing that hackers are capable of pretty much watching our every move - is a balance between wanting to be heard and wanting to be left alone. It seems very few people don't want at least a little of both, and the way to accomplish that is to streamline what we do. Cut the social media to the bare bones and set time/day limits to use so as to, I don't know, live a little.
This is a topic I plan to explore more in a forthcoming blog post, possibly a blog post for Fiction Southeast, but I can't help but think about it as I pack my stuff, preparing for a move, as I realize how many physical objects are being replaced by fewer but more connected objects.
This is my prompt for the week (it's connected and a little more abstract than usual):
Write about a person who is lonely for whatever reason and reaches out online. Eventually, said person is so connected that he or she loses track of his/her individuality. But write about this person from either another character's POV or from a third-person POV. Write about this person's life as her/his identity fades and fragments, and decide if there is a solution that eventually brings solidification. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not.   

I think this will be a particularly challenging one. I think I'll pack another box before I try it. :)

Have a beautiful weekend, all! And if you're in the states, enjoy the extra day.

xo Jen