Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reflections from Prague: 2016

At the airport on the way home:
Prague Castle

“Would you like anything else? Beer?”
“How about a beer?”
“No thanks.”
Sighs. “200 CZK.” Looks to husband. “Beer?”
So ended our trip to Prague. I’ll miss the city so much it hurts, and I don’t even drink beer. Meanwhile, I now know more than I ever thought I would about the four-ingredient intoxicant that was once made of a mere three ingredients (yeast being the late-arriver). I know that those in the Czech Republic drink more beer per capita than anywhere else in the world (though this isn’t tinkered with craft brews made for potency alone). I know that most restaurants in Prague serve beer two ways: light or dark, and in two sizes: big or bigger. Again, I don’t drink beer, but I have a new appreciation for its rich history thanks to the beer museum.
Me at the John Lennon wall, post-goulash
If you're considering going to Prague and you happened upon this blog, do it! Do it now! Do it for the following reasons: the clothes, the odd fascination with Culture Club, the thirty-year old music videos constantly playing, the Powder Tower, the Roman bathhouse style of fitness clubs in the basements of hotels, the beer, the architecture, the artisans on the Charles Bridge, the view from the Astronomical Clock, Slav Island, the history, the food (no diets allowed, unless you're like seven feet tall), the chocolate museum, the black light theaters (I only made it to intermission, but the experience is burned into my brain), the puppets, Kafka everything, the goulash, the portions, the conversion rates, the conversations, the castles, the bridges, the views, the John Lennon Wall, and the walking. I clocked about 25K steps a day (the one part of my phone that worked in Prague was my pedometer app) and I willfully ignored the rest of the world as I drank this city in. I suggest you do the same if you can, if only for a few days.
Other suggestions, more on the practical side: bring good walking shoes; have your hotel call your car; try Airbnb (I have a specific recommendation if you'd like, just drop me a note); try to get off the beaten path a little; the best words to know are: ano, ne, prosím, and and děkuji (yes, no, please/check, and thank you); your money can go far, but the redundancy of the shops increases odds of impulsive purchases (and they can add up); eat goulash (have I mentioned this one already?); enjoy the other tourists as they're part of the scene; go to the top of the Astronomical Clock - it is worth it; and the tours are fine but you can also explore the city on your own. It's very easy to get around.

As a writer, my favorite part of the whole experience was just people watching. Prague attracts tourists from all over the world. In fact, there were very few Americans (a break from American politics!). Whether you can travel or not, other lands make for great settings for fiction, so...

Creativity Prompt: Research or travel to a place you've never been. Find an outdoor place to sit and people watch. People watch for at least twenty minutes before you even pick up a pen or open a computer. Then go at it. Write/draw/create for as long as you'd like.

Till next month, folks! Let us carry on with this craziness called life. In the meantime, please check out my new fiction in Sequestrum, "The Glass City."

Monday, April 11, 2016

A [Month] of Observations: Part 8

So here I am posting after a few extra weeks away. I realize how much I miss blogging! I miss you!!

I recently got back from Los Angeles, where I stayed with a good friend and commuted to AWP, a massive writing conference, to meet other Writers in Communities program directors as well as thirteen thousand or so writers who share my love of writing in one way or another.

I probably interacted with about sixty of those thirteen thousand, but it was enough to put my introverted brain on sensory overload. So, after a reading, a signing, and a few amazing panels, I returned to hike at Sherman Oaks then hang out with my friend and try to debrief as we ate Cheerios and listened to her pet pig snore (they can really snore).

At the Black Fox Literary Magazine Table. Thanks, Black Fox!!

Ordering sweet potato fries with my new friend
Sara Fitzpatrick Comito and my long-time (mid/long-time) friend, Isie.
It was fabulous. I enjoyed LA a lot. As such, I came back with some new observations about life. So, alas, here's Part 8:
  • Tarot card readers will not always tell you what you want to hear.
  • Food is fantastic in LA.
  • Reading can be more dramatic when you need to make a quick exit after.
  • Uber works in a pinch.
  • Writing when overwhelmed is not a good idea (journaling for personal use only is).
  • Chicago has great taste in short stories (see: recent acceptances in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Quarterly Review).
  • I am not (you are not) who I know (who you know), but it's good to know good people nonetheless.
  • I need to revisit the memory palace - I'm horrible with names. And faces. Geesh.
  • Walking is medicine.
  • Comparisons are usually destructive. Then again, they also motivate. Use with care.
  • Cheerios are really great with banana and a pinch of sugar.
  • Starbucks employees are far nicer in LA than they are in San Antonio.
  • Acting is a fabulous ambition. Odds smodds. Go for it!
  • Writing: Same!
  • If you tell someone they're not going to like a thing, there's a good chance they won't like the thing. Contrarians are rare, precious creatures.
  • This list is getting too long.

Three new story links this go-round:
"Help Wanted in the Midwest: On the Bus Line" at Cosmonauts Ave. Basically my memoir in 500 words
"War Muse" at Cheap Pop - a dystopic presidential story
"Gather the Ingredients" at Chicago Tribune's Printers Row (ask me for a link)

Monthly prompt:
Use yourself as a character. Only reverse everything. If you're shy, make your character gregarious and assertive; if you're skinny, give your character more volume; if you're afraid of spiders, give your character a pet spider. Just write like that for 20 minutes. It'll be fun.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Living Museum

I'm thrilled to debut "The Living Museum" in Cleaver Magazine. The piece is odd. Fair warning. I wrote this story as part of a compilation I'm putting together on natural and unnatural disasters. I've done a lot of research, then thrown all research out the window to delve into a totally fictional world. Fun stuff.

Image credit: amira_a on Flickr
Story link:

If you're a writer or artist, I recommend that as a prompt. Do a lot of research on something, then write something from the center of knowledge that is 100% fiction, that breaks all the rules and blends the absurd, the fun, the crazy, with what you choose to include from what you've learned. It can be a lot of fun.

Have a beautiful week! xo Jen

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Complete creative work

One of my writing coach students sent me a note today that he got his first publication. I'm so excited for him, and I wanted to piggyback on this success by posting a lecture. Some writing coach notes.... at Fiction Southeast. Read up!

Writing Prompt: Finish that draft!

xo Jen

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Story Link

"The Shape of Loss" is up at Change Seven Magazine. Gratitude to Sheryl Monks and Antonios Maltezos.
Click to Read

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Week of Observations: Part 7

I am focused on my fiction like never before. This is the primary reason I haven't had much of a chance to blog here between our fantastic interviews. I realized that these lists are like a lazy person's diary, however, which I consider therapeutic. So here's my weekly therapy. A few observations from the last week:
  • Chocolate placed in a common area that isn't heavily monitored will disappear at the speed of sound (this is an approximate calculation).
  • Political debates are about as enlightening as old episodes of Flavor of Love.
  • I think the reason many people like to be told what to do and think is because they are exhausted.
  • Novels are lethal.
  • Writer and reader can connect through story, but it doesn't happen just because the book is entertaining.
  • Coming to the end of a good book, or series, is like losing a friend. Or having that friend move away to, say, Texas - if you don't live in Texas - where you will probably never visit her.
  • All medications have side effects, even if they're not immediately evident.
  • Unexpected and unsolicited praise is likely the only genuine praise.
  • You can add $30 to each plate of food if your restaurant spins and you have a decent happy hour.
My book recommendation: My Brilliant Friend (and then the rest of the Neapolitan trilogy) by Elena Ferrante.

Prompt: I stole this one from one of our WIC notebook assignments, but it's great. Write about a cactus that wants to live inside of a balloon. Interpret this literally or figuratively (probably figuratively would work better - but I'd love to read what you come up with if you actually write about the cactus).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Writers in the Spotlight: Susan Tepper

Welcome, Susan Tepper! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I am eager to discuss your new flash collection, dear Petrov, launching February 2 by Pure Slush Books. Congratulations on the new release!  I can’t shake these stories. They’re haunting and masterfully written.

The narrator in your book often writes to Petrov in a manner that depicts her reverence for the natural world and all its strange magnificence. Were there specific places that inspired these vivid descriptions?

ST:  To my mind the natural world is a spectacle that is unsurpassed.  I feel it in the everyday, and also when I see it in the great art of the museums. I’ve travelled extensively since I was a kid and I think the natural world, the varying countries, invaded me.  There was no particular place for this writing.  Other than what my mind perceives as old Russia.
In many ways, your narrator is as mysterious as Petrov himself; the complexity of their relationship steers the line toward larger, philosophical questions and examines the complexities of love and longing in a delicate but powerful way. I wonder how the concept of this book originated. Did you begin writing these stories with the narrator in mind, or with Petrov in mind? 

ST:  One day I sat down blank at the screen and Petrov emerged.  Or, should I say the narrator who loves Petrov emerged first.  The stories began after one of the worst personal times of my life.  My mother who is elderly had an apartment fire.  I moved in there, and lived with her under those conditions, putting the place back together and helping my mother get well.  It was grueling.  I never stopped working unless it was meal time or bed time.  I went about the tasks without any conscious awareness of my own personal suffering.  In a sense I became a soldier with a job to do.  I had no help, no doors opened from adjoining apartments to lend a hand.  Then a few days before I was to return home, I was assaulted in a Post Office by a deranged woman.  Again, people heard my screams and no one came to my aid.  Petrov, I believe, sprang from this feeling of intense aloneness.  After those experiences, my unconscious mind decided to set the story in war time.
The individual stories in dear Petrov, as well as the collection as a whole, allow the reader a certain amount of freedom to attach meaning or expand on the narrator’s exploration. As a teacher, this struck me as the sort of text that would be good to teach because I imagine it evoking lively discussions in the classroom. Was this intentional?

ST:  This is good to hear.  But nothing was intentional.  Each piece was written from the place in my brain that writes poetry.  In fact, the collection has been termed cross-genre by some people, since segments have been published as both poetry and fiction.
Which piece was written first, and how did the larger story collection evolve?

ST:  Dear Petrov was the very first story, and published by Cheryl Anne Gardner in her zine Apocrypha and Abstractions.  Then I wrote Floods which Richard Peabody took for Gargoyle.  The work seemed to flow out of me, nearly every day.  It was an outpouring of the pain and emotions I kept hidden from my mother during the fire.  I had to get her back on her feet so I couldn’t indulge myself.  I often write things that have no basis in reality, but come from an emotional stem in my brain that holds things.  (I wish I could release easier, it would make my life better!). 

Thank you so much for indulging me, Susan. Now for the writing practice questions… What attracts you to the flash fiction form?

ST:  Actually I’m attracted to all forms of writing.  I love the long flow of novel, and have written several which are not yet published.  Flash fiction is fun because you can get it all done in bite-sized pieces and it’s challenging.  I love a good challenge.

Who and what inspires you to write?

ST:  Jen, nobody inspires me to do anything.  I’ve always been intensely stubborn and self-motivated.  Plus I have a high interest level, a curiosity that doesn’t quit.

Do you ever get blocked creatively?

ST:  Nope.  I like to talk to people.  I like hearing their stories.  I like telling mine to them.  Writing is an extension of that.
Do you ever use prompts?

ST:  Only if someone presents them in a journal challenge that could lead to publication.  But on my own, never.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received (writing related or no)?

ST:  A brilliant man once said the following to me:  “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose as long as you don’t quit.”

Thank you so much for taking the time to swing by. I would love to know what you’re working on currently, and where readers can find your work.

ST:  I’ve written some short stories that have been picked up for the spring.  One is coming out in Thrice Fiction Magazine, it’s pretty wild and entirely different from ‘dear Petrov’. I’m also going to start a revision on a novel that’s been pending for a few years.  That should be fun, I’m really looking forward to re-working that one.

Susan Tepper is the author of five books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry.  Awards include Second Place Winner in story/South Million Writers for 2014, and 7th place winner in the Zoetrope Contest for the Novel, 2006.  She has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize, and once for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her novel ‘What May Have Been’ (co-authored with Gary Percesepe).  Tepper writes the column ‘Let’s Talk’ at Black Heart Magazine where she also conducts author/book interviews.  FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, is ongoing these past eight years.