Sunday, December 21, 2014


I have been missing posts here, after such a good run. I have, however, been writing here and there. Here, at Fiction Southeast, I have a micro essay on why I believe we still read, despite claims of lowered attention spans and tech-assisted laziness. I also have a piece forthcoming about online personas and their value to the modern-day artist.

BUT I haven't been here. I suppose it's partially due to my busy schedule, school winding down for the term, the holidays, the freelance work I've picked up. Perhaps I have something I want to talk about but can't. Yet. Nevertheless, here I am with a prompt. For you.

Write a story with three characters. Character A is missing and Character B is looking for him/her. Character C finds Character A but doesn't tell Character B. Why? 

It's something of a mystery, and if you write to it, let me know how it goes.

I'm not with my family this year, so I will be having a quiet holiday with my husband and pup. It's strange how not being with family makes you appreciate them all the more.

I wish everyone reading this a very happy holiday season. Enjoy your families and friends, and if you are alone, do something good for yourself. Or for someone else. Enjoy, eat well, and don't feel as though you have to purchase needless things. Only give what matters.

San Antonio looks nothing like this, but this is how I still think of the holidays.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Prompt and story

The first full week back to work after a holiday is a long week indeed. I am currently wrapping up my fiction writing class and preparing for yet another break in January, and I'm psyched because I'm tired (see: fewer posts to blog).

I had a Rattle story come out this week, in Superstition Review XIV entitled West on N Road. I am particularly fond of SR because it is the journal that published the first story I wrote that I felt was complete and whole. It's available in issue IV. West on N Road is a longer piece, but I hope you'll read it. Another one, a sort of prequel, will be out in Per Contra soon.

For kicks, and because I begged him, Chris drew up an older Rattle for me, which I love. This piece captures a part of his final journey (it is not the end).
Rattle for West on N Road by Christopher J Shanahan

I find that images are very powerful ways to bring out stories, so in lieu of a textual prompt this week, try to write to the following image. Just examine in a while, set a timer for 20 minutes, and GO!

Have a great week, all! xo Jen

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gratitude and gumbo

I hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving if you celebrate the holiday and are reading this. My Thanksgiving was quiet. My husband and I didn't travel as planned, so we ended up going to the Riverwalk, and after a short walk I settled in for some gumbo at Luke. Check out that gumbo... man, good stuff. My husband had the more traditional Thanksgiving dinner shown below my beautiful bowl of gumbo. We had a fantastic time, though I missed my friends and family quite a lot. 

After dinner, for some reason, we decided we wanted to buy Christmas lights, and what was open? You got it. Walmart. Bad, bad, bad, bad idea. We walked in and walked out. Did I mention it was a bad idea? It was. 

I have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. I love the fact that we celebrate in the spirit of gratitude, but the association of binge eating then relaxing, Al Bundy-style, on the couch for hours afterward is enough to feed the global image of American gluttony. Nonetheless, food is fascinating. I watch the Food Network regularly and love to eat and totally understand why so many celebrations come together with food (massive amounts or no). The ritual aspect makes for a good prompt.

Sensory prompt: Write about a celebratory ritual through the preparation of food. The eating itself isn't nearly as important as the cooking - use the prep, the cutting, the baking, the aromas, the conversation, the roles in and outside of the kitchen as your way of progressing time, and portraying a group of people gathered for celebration. Anytime there's a group, family, work, yoga class, college... there is opportunity for conflict as well, so just allow that part to develop on its own. 

Have a wonderful holiday weekend! Relax and eat, if not too much, just enough. Savor the time and the people around you. xo

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