Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saramago, Caín, The Evolution of Opinions, and The Perils of Rigidity

For a good and hefty chunk of my life, I hated Saramago. At some point I read something of his--no clue what, could've been in school, could've been in some stray book in my dad's library, could've even have been a snippet glimpsed over someone's shoulder--and, whatever it was, made enough of an impression to forge a rock-solid disdain of his work.

And (to my intense embarrassment today) I didn't hesitate to vociferate it to anyone who asked.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On a coolish autumn night in New York's Lower East Side...

A reading. In front of an audience--that, let it be said, contained only two friends of mine. Only two people I knew from before that night. Everyone else--and it was a pretty solid crowd--was a stranger or had been until an hour or so earlier.

The crowd.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The End: 2014 A Year In Stories

After twenty-one months, the 2014 A Year In Stories project has finally wrapped up. The last three volumes (October, November, and December) are available for purchase and/or download. All twelve volumes--a volume per month, a story a day, 31 novellas--are now out.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Meaning of Cuernavaca

The city of memory, the city of nostalgia, of everything that's been lost, and found, forgotten, remembered.

We--my father, my mother, and I--moved from Mexico City to Cuernavaca in December 1975, when I was two months shy of three years old. I have fragmented memories of that December. For instance, walking around the pool wearing corduroy pants and a woolen sweater (yes, winters in the central altiplano of México can be cold), but my parents were wearing swimming suits, and I remember remarking on that, briefly, internally.

View of the house I grew up in, from the carport. The deep end of the pool is just off-frame to the right.
In the back you can see half of the sandbox I played in for hours, the tree where I had my treehouse
(long gone, rotted or something, before this photo was made), and a corner of the tennis court
(you have to look hard).
My father made this photo five months before he died.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A brief intro to my life in #Mexico

Visitors to this blog might wonder why Derain's "Bathers" get place of honor on the header of this blog. What do three nude women have to do with Quiet Laughter? For those familiar with fauvism, the connection might seem even more bizarre--or, maybe, not.

Neither the nude women, or fauvism--or even Derain--is the connection. This is a photo of the living room in the house where I grew up in. I just took it today. That painting--a copy, obviously--has been hanging in that spot for as long as I can remember--and we moved into this house when I was three. That painting--not even the original, but the copy--symbolizes this house for me, and everything in it: the memories, the drama, the fun times, the losses, the safe haven, the letting go. That painting is, at a profoundly personal level, my history.

One day, it--like me--will have to leave Cuernavaca (Mexico) behind and move to Curaçao.

We'll have to build it a special wall, though.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The House of Six Doors (a novel about Curaçao)

For eleven years, ever since I came--by accident--to live in Curaçao, I've been looking for books about this island's rich history and people. And for eleven years I found nothing. There's plenty in Dutch or Papiamentu, neither of which I read, and even if I did, most of it is non-fiction, drab and clinical, that doesn't come close to doing this magical, surreal place justice.

And then I found Patricia Selbert's House of Six Doors. The book has flaws--it is, after all, a debut novel--but richness of setting isn't one of them. Neither is emotional charge, which comes across clear and sharp, without drama, without falling into maudlin o-woe-is-me. I teared up twice, the second time uncontrollably (yeah, near the end). But I laughed, too.

And I learned so much about this place I've called home for over a decade.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Tina Downey, of Life Is Good, passed away last night. I knew her briefly, intermittently, but I always enjoyed her posts. Her family have posted a goodbye of sorts on her blog; if you can, stop by and leave a verbal handful of rose petals.

Much light to you, Tina, wherever you are. And thank you. For everything.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not dead, just...

Well... working, I guess. Yes, there's that new job--which I love--*love*--to bits (more on that below). But also the end of the Pure Slush 2014 Year In Stories project. I finally delivered my December story earlier this month--story which, by the way, was due at the end of May. Yep. Two months late. And I wasn't even the last writer to wrap up the cycle.

It's official: Matt Potter, Pure Slush editor, is a saint.

It was hard, wrapping up. I didn't expect it to be that hard. Saying goodbye to characters is always sad; "The End" is a production achievement, sure, but it's also The End--of a creativity moment, of a period of our lives, of our shared story with these characters.

Perhaps if I wrote happy--happier--endings I'd have more feel-good afterwards. From a creative production standpoint I'm pleased when I achieve the perfect ending for a story. In terms of craft it gives me a boost of satisfaction to wrap things up, to bring the story to its crescendo, to let the notes crash and bang and make their statement, and then fade.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Did I mention I have a job?

My first article for the Amigoe Express (a Curaçao newspaper) was published today. Centerfold and everything. It's only available in print, but if you want to read it online, here's a link to the PDF.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Same Old Tired Emotions?

The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
~ Mark Twain

For your born writer, nothing is as healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.
~ Catherine Drinker Bowen

Fill your pages with details. Work hard to get the right word.
~ Robert Littell

How important is the right word to you? How much time do you spend trying to find it? Is there anything--plot, characters, tension, etc.--that trumps that right word for you in terms of value to your writing?

Go on, share. I'm curious.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A whole month off...

Where did May go?
(Image credit)
May flew by and--not a single post. Oops.

Yes, the A-to-Z took a lot out of me this year. Never again with more than one blog, never again in the middle of another project...

'S a matter of fact, maybe never again. Or maybe just not next year. It would be nice to just spectate for once. Get to visit blogs instead of stressing over my own posts or about not keeping up with the lovely comments y'all leave here. Which I love, and which I'll miss...

Well. We'll see. I love being a part of the A-to-Z, but I feel I miss out a lot. Yes, pre-writing is the key. (Why the hell is it so hard to follow one's own advice?) If I'm able to get at least half the post prewritten by January, when the sign-up list opens, maybe--maybe--I'll consider having another go. Right now I'm simply too exhausted to consider it.

What's been happening here over the last 30 days? Well, my laptop broke down mid-March. (The fact I did the A-to-Z on a borrowed computer might've contributed to the aforementioned exhaustion.) No, it's not fixed yet. It's a 2007 MacBook, and one of the fans is shot--but Apple doesn't manufacture it anymore, which means the pseudo Apple store here can't order it. They told me it's available on eBay or similars, but they've failed to give me (in spite of numerous calls to remind them) the specifications on what, exactly, I need to order.

Perhaps a new laptop is the solution. Sadly, seeing as I'm a starving artist (ahem) with a copious family of dogs who cannot starve, that solution isn't much of a solution at all.

Then the washing machine broke down. And then my car broke down.

This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

I'm done whining, though. I have this awesome borrowed laptop (borrowed from an even awesomer person--thank you, Cor!) to keep me connected to the world and--most importantly--to keep writing. The washing machine couldn't be fixed, so said Awesomer Person bought a new, supersonic and super quiet, one (thank you, Cor!)--and, as an added brushstroke of the Universe's goodwill, the delivery guys even took the old one away. And my car has been fixed. It was expensive, and it's not perfect (yet), but it drives. (Thank you again, Cor!)

It's possible the dogs might've missed the car more than I did. Which is saying a lot.

Awkword Paper Cut
Another marvelous thing that happened in May: I was featured all month on Awkword Paper Cut, in the Writers on Writing section, along with two other (pretty fantastic) writers to talk about Mexico and why we writers must (sometimes) leave our countries to find our writing. Awkword Paper Cut is a beautiful literary journal, and the Writers on Writing pieces provide powerful inspiration--as well as much-needed diversification--every month. Bookmark them, visit often, and enjoy.

2014 A Year In Stories
A 12-vol anthology
published by Pure Slush Books
And then there's the Pure Slush 2014 A Year In Stories project. Yesterday was the deadline to deliver all 12 stories in our cycles. I've delivered 9, have #10 in an almost-workable draft.

(Today, by the way, my June story is happening. Want to read it? You can, for free. It's part of the Amazon preview for the book. Just click on the Look Inside link and... enjoy. If you do like it, please remember I'm the ugly duckling among these swans of writers. Their stories are so worth your time. And money.)

As of last count, there's 315 stories (out of 365) delivered and approved for print. The July volume is now out, too, and volumes January through May have a 20% discount on

Aaaaaaand... The fantastic Susan Tepper, another of the magnificent 2014 authors, has snagged a reading date for the project at the KGB Bar in New York's East Village. Talk about illustrious venues! We'll be there on Wednesday November 5th--so if you're in the NYC area, it would be a super treat if you stopped by.

All right. You're all caught up. Now it's my turn to catch up with you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#atozchallenge: Zoology

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

I want to end on a light note. Some of the posts in this series got a little ponderous, a tad heavy on the wank--which is ironic, since Pure Slush's slogan is Flash... Without the Wank.

The 2014 project is a landmark happening, and all of us participating are honored to be a part of it, but that doesn't give us--me, at least--the right to take myself so seriously.

Writing is meant to be fun. Yes, it's hard work--especially if one wants to get good enough to play in the big leagues--but I hope life will always find ways to lighten me up.

And this is why I give you the Find your Inner Animal quiz!

Thank you, Hans Pleij
and CURious2Dive,  for the photo--
and for the amazing dives!
Some of the 2014 authors who were in the mood to play along with me and my--sophomoric-ness? sophomoricity?--took the test for themselves or their 2014 characters--or both.

Gay Degani, whose work you read in several of this series' posts, and who's not just part of the 2014 project but also editor at Every Day Fiction, and just had a novel published, is
an octopus

(Somehow I'm not surprised.)

Mandy Nicol, who's participated extensively in the A-to-Z series for the 2014 project, and who's a fellow animal lover with whom I hope I'm establishing the foundations for a good friendship (even though we live continents apart), is 
a Moose.

Mandy was also the only brave author to volunteer her 2014 protag for the test. Nadia--the seamstress that lives with her mom and gets badgered by her sister, and who'd have no problem at all with a one-night stand (if it happened out of town; otherwise there'd be talk)--is 
a Great White Shark.

(I wonder if she herself knows about her potential to, uh, bite.)

(Image credit)
Stephen V. Ramey, the other author who contributed more material and insight to this A-to-Z series than I could've ever asked for, who's given the project a huge boost by reviewing the day's story every day, and whose 2014 series has a suspiciously eponymous protagonist (although the author insists it's not, at least not completely, autobiographical), is 
a Lynx.


I'm trying hard not to take my own result personally. You'd be sensitive about it, too, if you'd been born in a country where the average height was three inches shorter than yours. I never learned to walk in high heels--in ballet slippers I was already taller than everyone around me (except my dad, who, we therefore assume, is to blame for the whole issue to begin with). The test says I'm...
Not funny.
(Image credit)
a Giraffe.

Luis Villalobos, my character from the 2014 project--the superstar tax attorney, soon-to-be Managing Director at a prime firm, who perceives himself as the prototype of an A personality, the lion of the herd, the Alpha male (and doesn't the fact he's sleeping with his boss--that's right, the MD he's going to replace next year--prove that?)--poor, delusional Luis came out as 
a Big Horn Sheep.

(The "big horn" part doesn't come even close to mitigating the shame of the "sheep" bit. Poor Luis. One wonders if he'll keep fighting to be a lion, or if he'll embrace his nature--and, perhaps, come to be happier. You can read Luis's progress stories for free in the Amazon previews of the January, February, March, April, and May books. The May one is happening tomorrow!)

I'm a lion in sheep's clothing. Hear me BAAAAAAAA!
(Image credit)

And you? If you have a minute to play, go take the test. Are you the animal you expected? Did the result reveal something surprising about yourself?

Most importantly, will you not-so-solemnly swear to do something every day to remind yourself that life shouldn't be taken so seriously?

~ * ~

Thank you for the company on this A-to-Z journey. I apologize for the late posts, the misposts, the long-windedness. I hope you enjoyed discovering these authors as much as I've enjoyed telling you about them, and if you do get a chance to read the books (all or some) in the 2014 series, please do come back and tell me what you think. 

Looking forward to returning all your blogger love during May!

#atozchallenge: The YOWL of a writer

There was Whitman's YAWP. And Ginsberg's HOWL. I give you now my very own

writer's YOWL

Whitman sounded his "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world" in joy, in celebration of himself and of the life he contained. Ginsberg's Howl is the euology of a generation--a lament and a call to arms all in one.

My yowl is neither. It's not meek, but its assertiveness is born of desperation rather than celebration or indignation.

Is this challenge over yet?

~ * ~


#atozchallenge: Xipe Totec, (my) God of Literature

You probably know the pre-hispanic cultures of America weren't shy about extensive pantheons: it must take an army, after all, to keep the universe going in all its complexity, all its diversity. These multiple gods--sometimes even, because it wasn't already complicated enough, multi-faceted gods--have one universal quality in common:


To make the sun rise? And you'll be wanting this every day? Right, then. A few bloody, still-beating hearts should do it, old chap. 

The Mexica (Meh-SHEE-kah, though you probably know them as the Aztec) are most famous for goriness. But like the Romans, they absorbed the religious practices of the peoples they conquered; most of the grisly rituals they shocked the Spanish with were in use long before the Mexica ever rose into the horizon of Mesoamerican power. Xipe Totec, for instance, has his origins in the Olmec civilization, the oldest one in México; so old, in fact, that by the time of Christ it had been gone for centuries.

Xipe Totec (SHEEP-eh TOH-tek). The god of Spring. Renewal. Seeding. The elemental force of rebirth. The shedding of the husk that frees life.

Xipe Totec himself. (Image credit)
Note the "extra" skin on his face and arms.
The "extra" hands.
Yep, they actually did this.
Also called "Our Lord the Flayed One." And always depicted as a man wearing the skin of another man. During the celebrations dedicated to him, prisoners--men, women, and children--were flayed, and others would wear their skins. Their "husks."

(Trust the Mesoamericans to goryfy the Easter bunny.)

I like to think that, among the diversity of blood in me, a bit of pre-hispanic DNA might have survived. (My great-grandmother was a Purépecha indian--I have hope.)

Perhaps this is why I find so fascinating this idea of Shedding The Husk. 

The 2014: A Year In Stories project embodies this in a very literal sense: a year in the lives of. Think of your own year: on January 1st, where were you? Who were you? It's the end of April; where are you now? Who are you now? Where will you be by December? What marvelous things might have happened in your life? What wonderful people will you have met? How much will you have changed, what will you have learned?

Who will you be?

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

Good literature is about this Shedding of The Husk. 

So is a good life.

~ * ~

Thank you for the visit, and for your patience with the delay in posting. 
Y and Z coming soon.
Happy last day of A-to-Z-ing!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

#atozchallenge: What Came Before (by @GayDegani)

"A literary suspense novel sparked by racial tensions and family history: Fed up with being tied down by twenty-five years of domestic bliss and everyone's expectations, Abbie Palmer is struggling to assert some independence from her husband Craig and find her creative self. When he tells her, "No man is an island," she flings back, "That's exactly what I want to be, an island. I'm sick of being a whole continent." But breaking away from her mainland isn't so easy, what with cops, Molotov cocktails and Hollywood starlets, lost memories--and maybe an unknown half-sister..."

There is a certain hallucinogenic quality to the writing that shuffles back and forth between Abbie’s adult reality, and the muffled memories and snapshots of a past she still carries. Author Gay Degani has taken this family saga a step further, into the realm of mystery, while managing to maintain a literary quality to the style and presentation of What Came Before. Racial tension, an unexplained sibling, a fire, and plenty more action make this a page-turner. For this particular reader, the heart of the story centered around Abbie’s intense desire for inner peace. Peace that she was robbed of at the tender age of four.  
Susan Tepper, author of The Merrill Diaries and From the Umberplatzen

What Came Before is being serialized at Every Day Novels (or you can buy a beautiful hard-cover edition at Amazon). I challenge you to read this teaser and not keep going.

Gay is one of the 2014 authors who's contributed substantially to my Year In Stories A-to-Z series. She's a fantastic writer, no stranger to publishing success, and this new novel is a brilliant addition to her credits. Find her at her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

All the best for Gay and What Came Before!

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

#atozchallenge: Voice

"Voice is the je ne sais quoi of spirited writing. It separates brochures and brilliance, memo and memoir, a ship's log and The Old Man and the Sea."
~ Constance Hale, Sin and Syntax

Voice. The je ne sais quoi of spirited writing. I love that. (This book, by the way, is the core of a writer's joie de vivre. If you haven't read it, get it now. Nothing will ever be the same.)

But what is voice? What is that je ne sais quoi? Is it just language and syntax, how a writer chooses to put sentences together? Does it have to do with subject matter? With characters? With the writer's vision of the world?

All of it? None of it?

Undefinable as it is, voice is the most visible quality in writing. And nowhere is that more apparent than in an anthology of short fiction.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

He thinks it's time now to find a cab or a hotel but the crush of bodies around him becomes greater, another throng of people swept up in religious fervor. This is what he wants: ecstasy and spectacle, animal sacrifice and widow-burning and fire-walking. This is why he has come to India, after all. Isn't it? 
~ Azure, by John Wentworth Chapin (2014 March Vol. 3)

BTW I was thinking, maybe you might want some assistance, just to speed the editing up a little, because it's taking a little longer than it would normally, probably because summer has hit you early and that red pen can get a little slippy and slidey all over the page.
~ Schöne Grüße aus Tirol, Sally-Anne Macomber (2014 March Vol. 3)

Jump out of bed. Shower. Blow-dry hair. Apply makeup. Put on mom costume. Walk down hall to kids' rooms. Wake them for school. Same thing, Monday through Friday, August through May. Rinse and repeat. This is your life on motherhood.  
~ Rinse and Repeat, by h. l. nelson (2014 March Vol. 3)

As Stevie reaches into his backpack he weighs what he dislikes about Rick, starting with the fact that he knows it was Rick--Rickie back then--who stole his Star Wars lunchbox in the seventh grade. It was not from the new series either; it was vintage, from the original ancient series from his parents' wonder years.
~ No. 2 Pencil, by Michelle Elvy (2014 April Vol. 4)

It isn't baseball weather. Grey and forbidding, with a misting rain falling out of low, angry clouds, it's soup and blanket weather for most, but just another early season day in another city for us. Nobody wants to play--not the sparse group of diehard fans huddled under cover; not the umpires, huddled inside until the last possible moment; not the ground crew warming their hands over the hot dog steam; and certainly not the players, conscious of the fragile bodies they are compensated so well for using. 
~ Fourth Inning, by Michael Webb (2014 April Vol. 4)

Do you have a favorite author? Could you recognize their work among others'? What do you think makes a writer's voice unique? Is it only writers who have it? What constitutes style? Is it something we're born with, like blue eyes or brown? Or is it something we can cultivate?

~ * ~ 

Yes, I realize V day was yesterday for the rest of the A-to-Z world. Seeing as I haven't behaved this week, I'm giving up my day off tomorrow and posting W then. Sorry :(

Thanks for the visit!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

#atozchallenge: Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, or Union Square?

Exotic (to a Westerner like me), alien, hard to get to. A challenge.

The seat of current conflict, a long and bloody history; the sort of place a wanna-be journalist might dream of visiting.

New Zealand in South America. A quasi-mythical place or a tax haven (depending on how you found out of its existence). 

Union Square
Familiar and safe, even to those who've never been to San Francisco (or even the U.S.).

So. Which of these places would your 2014 character most likely be found?

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

Uruguay! Because it is the hardest to say. Trudy would probably end up on a cattle farm that's going broke so she has to supplement her income with rodeo shows--but in pidgin Spanish.
Or something like that.

Union Square.
Mandy Nicol

Luis Villalobos thinks he'd choose Uganda. In truth, and given his career in international tax, chances are small he'd be anywhere but Union Square. Or Uruguay. But highly unlikely he'd cross paths with Trudy in her failing farm; he'd stick to the financial center in Montevideo.

Under fences, bushes, shrubs--wherever Pedersen can watch but not be seen.
Susan Tepper

Sally-Anne, Mandy, and Guilie: Eww!
Susan: Yes, well. He's a creep.

And you? Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, or Union Square? 

~ * ~ 

Thanks for the visit, and happy last full week of A-to-Z-ing!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

#atozchallenge: Thievery! (And Tawdry Excuses)

I had a post for T. No, really. I did. A most magnificent, witty, and non-verbose gem of a post. And it's gone!

Thievery is what it is. Those trolls--they've graduated into stalking sumptuous posts and stealing them. Yes! Right from my drafts. Just--whoosh, gone.

Whaddaya mean it's not possible?

It's not?

Hmm. Well, then.

Blogger ate my homework T post!

Sincere apologies. The 2014: A Year In Stories series will be back with U.
In the meantime, visit the other A-to-Z-ers--some outstanding blogs and bloggers
just waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#atozchallenge: Setting by @GayDegani

Awarded the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize for her flash piece, “Something about L.A,” Gay Degani has had other stories nominated for Pushcart consideration. Pomegranate Stories, eight short pieces about mothers and daughters, is available at Amazon, her novel What Came Before is currently serialized online, and her linked stories are being published monthly in Pure Slush's print anthology, 2014-A Year in Stories.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

Image by Gay Degani
I have always loved reading stories with a strong sense of place, so when I started writing myself, it didn’t surprise me that place came first to mind.

Where is this going to happen? What does it look like? What time of day? What month? For me, it feels like a natural beginning because place is visual and writing takes place in the mind before it takes place on the computer screen. I need that grounding before I can move forward with the action of the story.

With the "linked stories" project I'm working on for the Pure Slush 2014: A Year in Stories project, the time frame immediately focused me on setting. The stories needed to be told in present tense on a specific day of every month during the year 2014. Weather had to conform to the time of year and the events of each story had to be separated by roughly thirty days. With these parameters in play, the place evolved almost unconsciously as I began considering what I wanted to do.

Things in my own surroundings began suggesting themselves to me. Place came out of my late afternoon walks in my neighborhood. I noticed how several houses along one street didn't seem to belong in the same neighborhood, yet stood side by side.

I live in a community that began developing in the 1890s. The architecture is dictated by past purposes of the streets I walk by: small wooden bungalows that must once have been vacation cabins, mansions hidden behind condominiums, Victorians, Mediterraneans, Craftmans, all lining the same street.

Seeing these homes in the growing gloom of my walks began to stir up scenarios I could incorporate in this series of stories. I followed that impulse and my characters began to take shape.

Like with everything in writing, tapping into that deep, inner part of ourselves and then trusting it will take us where we want to go, pays off.

Has a place ever inspired a story for you? What role does setting play in your writing?

~ * ~

Thank you, Gay, for this fantastic insight into the importance of giving setting its place in storytelling. Thank you, readers, for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Monday, April 21, 2014

#atozchallenge: Raging Racism (& Other Multi-Dimensionalities)

He turns to go, is already halfway down the stairs when she calls out, "Stay."
He falters a little but keeps going. "Why?"
Desperation chokes her voice. "I love you. Please."
"You don't love me." But he's stopped now.
"I've loved you from the first moment I saw you."
He looks back at her, and in the moonlight she catches the glint of moisture on his lashes. "Do you mean that?"
"I've never meant anything more."
With a smile that lights up his face he runs back up the stairs and, in a whirlwind that takes her breath away, pulls her to him. Just before his lips land on hers, he whispers, "If you only knew how long I've waited to hear you say it."


This is the reason I stopped reading romance--oh, sometime during high school. The characters are flat. Same guy in different costume. Kind of like Tom Cruise movies. (Sorry, Tom. And, in all fairness, no one can play Tom Cruise like you.)

The point being that a large chunk of popular fiction comes with predictable characters (and predictable plots, but that's a subject for another post). I'm not judging; two-dimensional is easier. Maybe even, in some circles, more satisfying. Predictable people in a world that functions the way we want it to: the ultimate escapist fantasy.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books
For those of us compelled to portray humanity in all its messiness, life isn't so simple. A "real" character is by definition complex, and complexity means flaws. Not small, cute blemishes; big whoppers of flaws. Prejudices. Dishonesty. Lack of morals. Unconventional values. Mental illness. Obsessions.

All of these enrich our characters--but they also make them unsympathetic to the reader. It's a fine line, and it takes a masterful storyteller to walk it successfully. Why, then, do we do it?

Stephen V. Ramey, Author
As with so many things, Stephen V. Ramey has an answer I loved.
Empathy is built through practice, I believe. Reading encourages us to view the world through another perspective. The more different that perspective, the more clearly we begin to see the world we share with others. That said, it can be quite a feat to tempt a reader into identifying with a negative character. I think this is where the idea of sympathetic flaw comes in. If we can identify with core values of a character even though they behave badly, we can begin to see the wisdom of the saying, "there but for the grace of God, go I." And once we see that differences often spring from a common seed, we can begin to look past We-They and embrace the ethos of us. 

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

P.S. -- I'm over at Vidya Sury's marvelous blog today sharing a
Disney-ending, tear-jerker dog rescue story.
Would love to see you there :)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

#atozchallenge: Quandary

Nothing like a difficult situation to reveal character in fiction (and in real life). A really really difficult situation.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

Q: Your character is trapped in a dark alley late at night with three men that don't seem to have honorable intentions. What does s/he do? Fight? Flight? Panic and go into hysterics? Sprout a pair of wings and fly away? 
(No, don't laugh--there's a 2014 character that flies. Sans wings, even.)

STEPHEN V. RAMEY: "As my story cycle opens, Stephen would be nonchalant about such an encounter. He has no money, nothing much of worth, and yet he's not going to let these men intimidate him into giving up what little he does have. He might try to reason. Failing that he would defend himself if necessary, even if it meant a beat down. Once the cancer diagnosis is in, he might actually confront these men, and egg them on. On some level he's looking for a way to prove (to whom?) that he deserves to survive. He's trying to turn his life into a story, with purpose and a resolution."
(More on Stephen's 2014 stories.)

SUSAN TEPPER: "What would Pedersen do? He would probably piss his pants. He is mistrustful of grown men. His father beat the crap out of him. In Bellevue, he came out of shock therapy to an orderly fondling his genitals. He likes the small boys so he can always be in control."
(More on Susan's 2014 stories.)

MANDY NICOL: "As long as Nadia has her sensible shoes on, she’ll make a run for it."
(More on Mandy's 2014 stories.)

GUILIE: Luis Villalobos would probably try to talk his way out of it. (He's a lawyer.) He'd be too busy evaluating possible escape routes, gauging the attackers' level of distraction, keeping his facial expressions in check, to feel fear. But once it was over, assuming he got away safe and sound, he'd probably curl up somewhere where no one could see or hear him and bawl his eyes out.
(More on my 2014 stories? An interview and an audio version of the first story.)

~ * ~

What would your character do? What about favorite characters--say, Atticus Finch, or Odysseus? Walter White? Florentino Ariza (from Love In The Time of Cholera)? Oh, and his beloved Fermina Daza? Of the two, I'm pretty sure she'd be the kick-ass. 

And you? What would you do? What does that say about you?

~ * ~

Thank you for visiting on this beautiful April Saturday, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Friday, April 18, 2014

#atozchallenge: Pinterest (or The Discovery of A Digital Bulletin Board To Share With Readers)

Today you're in for a treat--via fellow 2014 author, the extraordinary Gay Degani.

Awarded the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize for her flash piece, “Something about L.A,” Gay Degani has had other stories nominated for Pushcart consideration. Pomegranate Stories, eight short pieces about mothers and daughters, is available at Amazon, her novel What Came Before is currently serialized online, and her linked stories are being published monthly in Pure Slush's print anthology, 2014-A Year in Stories.

I never understood Pinterest, at least not as a place for me to actually join. I never surf the net looking for shoes or stainless steel appliances. I'm not planning a wedding anytime in the near future.

Then someone—I can’t remember who—blurted out the words “digital bulletin board” and something clicked.
Above my writing desk I have a bulletin board with pictures of 1920’s houses and the gates to Indian Wells private communities as well as movie stars from the past and the present, both white and African-Americans. This is my inspiration board for my suspense novel, What Came Before, released earlier this month.

[more about Gay's novel for W day.]
Two thoughts collided: What if I could share my REAL-LIFE bulletin board with my future readers—digitally! So I signed up, put together not only a board for the novel, but for another project I’ve been involved in, Pure Slush's 2014: A Year in Stories.

Sybil's bungalow
Because the task of 2014 is for me (and the other thirty writers) to create twelve linked stories, one for each month of the year, in present tense, as if happens on that exact day in 2014, it meant juggling many characters, settings, and story-lines, and researching details so that my Old Road stories would have authenticity.
The Riolito canyon floor
Sybil, my landlady, showed up on the page in a silk robe and I kind of knew what it would be like, but I typed “silk robes” into Google and came up with dozens to look at. I did this for many of the details I needed. The board is open to readers to see how their imagination lines up with mine.

Visit The Old Road board at Pinterest to see what’s inspired me in writing these stories, and check out the What Came Before’s board too.
~ * ~

Want to know more about Gay's 2014 story cycle? The next installment is happening tomorrow, April 19th. I, personally, can't wait. 

Thank you, Gay, for sharing your Pinterest experience. I was also a late-comer to it, and I'm not sure I've got the hang of it yet, but one thing's for sure--it's addictive.

Gay isn't the only 2014 author with a Pinterest board to illustrate and inspire the story cycle; Mandy Nicol has one, and Sally-Anne Macomber. And me. If you have time to check them out, we'd love to hear how you feel about seeing the images that inspired the 2014 stories. Do they enhance the experience--or do they clash with your own visualizations?

~ * ~ 

Thanks for the visit, and happy (Easter) A-to-Z-ing!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

#atozchallenge: One Night Only

I've nothing against having sex for the sake of sex; it might even be (speaking purely hypothetically here) a healthy pursuit. How do you feel about one-night stands? Have you ever had one? Would you? (And if you did, would you admit it?)

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

But are one-nighters really about just sex? Or is that another gender-biased subject--men being allowed (or perceived to be allowed) more sexual freedom than women, as Barb commented on yesterday's post)?

Want a taste of January?
In Carmine, by John Wentworth Chapin (2014 January, Vol. 1), Charles picks up Tony (or, rather, Maybe-Tony) at a bar, and they go back to his place. Instead of sex, however, they end up talking all night.

In Michael Webb's 2014 story cycle, Mark Hamilton tries to have a one night stand once, and considers it one other time. Athlete families are notorious for infidelity, and it is not uncommon to hear about "understandings" between couples that allow for dalliances, as long as no unwanted consequences, either paternal or microbial, taint the family unit. Mark is of two minds about it--he loves his wife, but it is hard to be away from her for so long, and especially when their phone calls are concerned with family business and not anything intimate. He feels entitled, sometimes, as the breadwinner, to get what he wants when he wants, but he almost always feels too guilty to follow through with it.

Stephen, from Stephen V. Ramey's cycle, grew up believing in free love and disconnection between sex and emotion. Only he was too insecure to ever initiate or even participate in such things. He was one of those guys who goes to a strip bar and tries to meet the stripper's eyes. He would never join a club that would have him as a member. Since marrying Anne, he has not even considered an outside affair. Whatever else you say about Stephen, he is loyal. Even as his marriage is dissolving beneath his feet, he turns a blind eye to outside opportunities for love and sex. Which is why Rose is such a surprise to him, mainly because he's never considered the possibility that Anne might be jealous of another woman. In his thinking, Anne has been putting up with him out of pity for the last several years. He can't imagine that she sees anything in him worth her love.

And of her character Nadia, Mandy Nicol says, "One night stand? Given the opportunity and a few strong drinks Nadia would certainly be up for one, or two. A bit of fun with no commitment or responsibility? Sounds perfect for her. But she'd better do it out of town or there will be talk."

Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes
There's that gender thing again. Why does the girl worry about "talk" when the guys don't?

Gabriel García Márquez left this world today, and left it--unlike 99.99% of the population--a much better place than he found it. In honor of that, and of the sheer marvelousness of him, we'll give him the last word:

Sex is the consolation when love ends.” 

Why is it that we so often confuse the two?

~ * ~ 

Thank you for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#atozchallenge: Nagging Wives (& Foolish Husbands)

“Lady Middleton resigned herself... Contenting herself with merely giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject, five or six times every day.” 
“You have got a sharp tongue, haven't you honey? You'll have to watch it or you'll go to a lonely spinster's grave.” 

Why is it that nagging has a feminine connotation? And not the most positive of females, either: a "lonely spinster," a shrew. Do men never nag?

“It requires the feminine temperament to repeat the same thing three times with unabated zest.” 
Well, yeah, but... He was a man.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

So is nagging how men define "the repetition of unpalatable truths" (Edith Clara Summerskill)? Or is that just feminist wishful thinking? Is there such a thing as objective, non-gender-slandering nagging?

Michael Webb doesn't think so.
Mark Hamilton would probably characterize his wife as nagging, but I don't think he is correct. I don't like the word across the board. It is far and away applied to women instead of men, which makes me suspicious right off the bat. And in my experience, it is a slur a man applies when he is being asked to engage in so called "women's work", the drudgery of running a household that is critical to make any family work properly.
This is deeply unfair. 
In any grouping of people, certain tasks have to be performed- laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, shopping, home repair, etc. To remind another member of the household to do one of these things isn't fun, but it's not fair to call it "nagging".

On the other hand, Stephen (Stephen V. Ramey's fictional pseudo-alter ego--ambivalent enough, yes?) says:

Some people see Anne as a nagging wife because she confronts Stephen about his shortcomings in a direct manner. From Stephen's point of view this is certainly correct. He knows what he's supposed to have done, that he's supposed to contribute to the marriage. Telling him again won't do anything but aggravate. Anne must realize how ineffective nagging is, yet she persists. Why? I suspect Dr. Phil is right and she must get something out of the process or she would stop.
For Anne, I think it's a matter of relieving her own tension. As a goal-driven person it must be frustrating to have to rely on someone else in order to achieve goals that are important to her. Rather than feel powerless and possibly sink into depression, she keeps pushing, and lashes out from time to time. The routine also reinforces the household pecking order, with Anne as the dominant force who achieves goals and Stephen as the beta male. Nothing would get done around here without Anne. That it's true, does not make it any easier on Stephen. No one wants to be treated like a child.
("Then stop acting like one," Anne would say.)

And then there's Nate Tower, whose 2014 story cycle is keeping us all in morbid, if horrified, hilarity. (Listen to Nate's reading of his January, February, and March stories and find out why.)

His short story collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands, released last month by Martian Lit, should have some answers about this nag-or-no-nag. One would think.

Okay, I would think.

Which is why I was immensely frustrated to find this post on his blog: 24 Reasons That Don't Explain Why I Titled My Short Story Collection 'Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands'. Frustration which lasted all of five sentences, when I read this:

Originally accepted almost two years ago, [the collection] was later retroactively rejected because the publisher feared it might be taken as misogynistic.

That sounded promising. But then I got to this part:

First, I need to confess that I am mostly not an idiot when it comes to being a husband. Yes, I have some flaws.  But I don’t leave the toilet seat up, I put the dishes away, and I don’t sit on the couch and order my woman to fetch me a beer while I watch the big game with my buddies. Not that there is anything wrong with men who do. Well, maybe there’s a little wrong.

And then--then--I find out his wife is anything but a Nagging Wife.

1. She was okay with the fact that I titled my collection of weird short fiction Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. She’s also very supportive of my writing career, unlike Mark Nipple’s wife who won’t support his desire to be in a Sex Pistols knockoff band. Not only is she supportive, but she doesn’t nag at all.

By the end of the list (there's 24 points; read them all here) I was wondering, along with everyone else:

“Well, if your wife is so perfect, what exactly inspired you to write these stories and put them together in a collection to call extra attention to the fact that wives nag and husbands are idiots?”

You--and I--will have to read the collection to find out.

What constitutes nagging in your world? Is it a predominantly feminine thing? Can--do--men nag? What about other instances of nagging that don't involve wives/husbands? Do you agree with Stephen that there's something in it for the nagger? Or are you with Michael in that nagging is in the eye of the naggee?

And, for extra credit, do you nag? Under what (extraordinary) circumstances?

~ * ~

Thanks for visiting (and sorry for the late post--it's been a crazy week. Month.)
Happy A-to-Z-ing!
(Love you all. No, really.)

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