My Winter Journal Hoard

Journal Hoard

Much like a small rodent hoards nuts and seeds for the long winter, I tend to stash away lit journals for a rainy day. My unread journal hoard is starting to outgrow my bedside table, however, and winter is definitely here. I spent the last six years in the mild climes of Oregon and Texas. I left my Brooklyn apartment this afternoon to get groceries and I don’t think I will be leaving my apartment again until the sleet decides to stop doing whatever it is that it thinks it’s doing. Snow does not charm me. It just makes me want to huddle indoors. Good thing I have a bedside table full of lit journals and a cupboard full of tea. Here’s what I’ll be reading this week.

NANO Fiction Mars

I’ve moved three times in the last six months, so my contributor’s copy of NANO Fiction 6.1 only just reached me. This is the first time I’ve seen my fiction in print outside of college art and lit mags. I’m a feckless youth who cut my writing teeth in undergraduate workshops, and it’s always wonderful to get positive feedback from people who’ve never met me and aren’t socially required to be nice and encouraging. NANO has given this story a lot of support, including making it one of their weekly features. Thanks, NANites.

I got a copy of PEN’s journal when I visited their offices recently, and I’m looking forward to reading some great fiction, essays, and interviews this week.

I’ve been carting my copy of Hobart #13 around for a while, saving it for a special occasion. As Hobart #14 has been out since December, I think it’s time to finally crack it open so that I can order the next issue.

I also received my editor’s copy of Unstuck #2, and I am very excited to curl up with this weighty collection of short fiction and read a journal I’m proud to have helped produced.

What journals are you reading right now?

Microfiction? Microfiction.

Remember when I said that NANO Fiction was going to publish a story of mine? Luckily, they didn’t abruptly change their minds in the subsequent weeks.  NANO Fiction Volume 6, Number 1 will be shipping next month. “Mars” will be in it, as will other stories by other wonderful people. If you would like a copy, you can preorder it.

I’m looking forward to receiving my own copy. The cover is absurdly gorgeous, and I can’t wait to stretch out on my couch with a cup of tea and read many sharp bits of small fictions.

In other news, a fine fellow I know created a website that allows you to comfortably ogle at the red planet from the comfort of your favorite chair. It is called The Mars Ogler, and it is very much worth a look.

Mars and Mars

You may have heard that the Curiosity has landed on Mars. It is doing science and taking beautiful pictures for us. Pour one out for our intrepid rover, won’t you?

In a strangely topical turn of events, a piece of microfiction I’ve been sending out called “Mars” has just been selected for publication by NANO Fiction. This will be my first print publication. I’m looking forward to seeing bits of paper with my words on them.

“Mars”, as you might expect, is about Mars. It is also about other things. I’ll post a proper process post about it when it shows up in NANO. It is short, and easily spoiled if I talk too much about it.

I’ve spent much of the past year fretting about my textual voice. I often feel like my writing occupies an odd badlands. Too wordy for the genre publications, too weird for the lit journals. (Which may be why I like working for Unstuck  so much.) I’ve been pushing myself back and forth across the lines recently, trying to write literary realism and science fictional adventure yarns. Ultimately, though, the stories that get picked up are the ones that come straight from those liminal badlands. I write quiet fictions about unquiet things. I don’t think I’ll be stopping anytime soon.

Poetry

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the above Bukowski poem. I think I stumble over microfiction because I keep forgetting that it needs to have the precision, timing, and rhythm of poetry. I haven’t written poetry since I was 17. I keep trying to write microfiction, though, because one day I’d like to be able to tell a story as concisely and brutally as that poem does.

I am working on two pieces of microfiction right now. One is called “Paperback Romance” and the other is called “Mars”.  The first is somewhat satirical, the second is sincere, and both of them are steeped in my usual sort of genre melancholy.

Microfiction is a puzzle I am trying to figure out.  My brain is extending tender new dendrites in its direction.

What I Learned From Failing A Flash Fiction Challenge

So, you may have noticed that I got to about day 11 of the FFFTTD and then stopped entirely.  I could make excuses for myself.  I was recovering from a bout of tendonitis.  I was preparing for a giant benefit concert at work.  I was traveling for a week.

 But, truly, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.  I managed my time poorly, didn’t pace myself, and thus burned out halfway through.

Despite flunking out of FFFTTD, though, I still found it to be an entirely worthwhile experience.  Here’s some of what I learned.

 Writing Microfiction is Hard

It is very difficult to write a satisfying story in under 150 words.  One of my major challenges during FFFTTD was trying to keep things short.  I was often so excited about the concepts the prompts would pull out of my brain that I would just want to write and edit for two hours or more.  The trouble is, writing and editing for two hours a day isn’t really sustainable for me.  I need to go to work, and read submissions, and work on contracting projects, and cook food for myself, and call my friends back, and maybe go the gym.

I’ve been really attracted to microfiction as a form and as a challenge to myself, especially after reading great pieces on sites like Wigleaf.  Generally, though, I feel like I need to have a very sharp, compact idea lined up to write a tiny story that works.  I do get ideas like that sometime.  In the past, I used to pack those ideas away because they weren’t big enough to fill 5-20 pages.  Now, though, microfiction feels feels a valid options for those ideas that seem more like a stiletto than a broadsword.

In order to be able to find the right tool for the job, though, it helps to be familiar with all of the tools.  FFFTTD definitely gave me a crash course in the mechanics of microfiction.

Writing Daily Is Not My Thing, But Writing Regularly Is

Sometimes I’m just not feeling it.  My best stories tend to be written in intense, focused bursts.  I enter a state of flow, and before I know it it’s 3 hours later and I have the first draft of a story.  Forcing myself to slog through a piece of fiction makes that state of flow harder to find.

Having a deadline and a sense of urgency, however, was wonderful.  I spent a lot less time after work playing Xbox and a lot more time writing.  Blocking out regular times for writing means I actually get things done, especially the not-so-fun things like proofreading stories and researching markets.  I’m going to try to carry that forward into my future work habits.  I like the idea of committing to planned chunks of writing time that can be spent on research and notes as well as actual writing.

And while the FFFTTD may not have left me with many polished stories, but it did give me an awful lot of ideas to draw from later on.

Community is Awesome

Seriously.  It was wonderful to have a group of people holding me accountable, encouraging me to work, and sharing their own work with me.

Also, reading and giving feedback on the work of other writers gives me energy to work on my own writing.  It’s not a sense of competition, but more like being lifted up by a mutual wave of creative excitement.  The ideal writing community simultaneously encourages you to keep going and pushes you to do better than what you’re doing.  I definitely felt that from the FFFTTD group.

It was also, of course, fascinating to read different writers’ responses to the same prompts.  Even after I dropped out of the FFFTTD, I really enjoyed reading a whole month of stories from the other participants.

I recently joined a bi-weekly writing group down here in Austin, and that’s definitely lit a fire under my shoes.  I’m also hoping to start managing my time well enough to attend a session or two of Write By Night.

Today is both the last day of February and the last day of FFFTTD.  If you missed them before, now would be a good time to go catch up on the work of the other participants.

Tara

Christian

Pinky

Olivia

Doma

FFFTTD Day 11:  Something commonplace begins vanishing mysteriously, why? And what happens?

After he called me and told me that he had found someone better, I fell into a brief period of absolute despair.

My tiny studio apartment became a sty to wallow in.  The recycling bin overflowed with empty bottles of fancy beers I couldn’t really afford. The varnish of my coffee table was permanently be-ringed from the bottoms of cold glasses.  Soon even those vanished as the surface of the table was covered by weekly newspapers and books about other people who were suffering as much as or more so than I was.

It smelled.  It smelled like old food and unwashed clothes and me.  I stank of sad, my body emitting some kind of chemical trail that warned other humans to stay far away.

A week after I was dumped, I spent my Friday night drinking myself into a stupor in front of a Bogart movie.  I slurred the lines along with the film.  “Here’s looking at you, kid,” I said, swirling the dregs of warm beer at the bottom of my glass.  “HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID.”

I half woke up on the couch in the middle of the night.  I was in one of those dream states where your eyes are open, but you can’t move your arms or legs.  I felt like something was sitting on my chest.  It was covered in dark, wiry hair.  A tail lashed against my thighs.  It was about the size of a cat, but it was definitely not a cat.

The thing growled at me through its whiskery mouth.  There were guttural, foreign words in that growl, but I couldn’t decipher them.  I wanted to say that I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t speak.

The thing flicked me hard on the nose.

I woke up to Saturday morning sunlight streaming in through my single window and piercing my head like little spears.  As I stumbled up off the couch, I stepped on something sharp in my bare feet and cursed.  The floor of my apartment was littered with tiny screws.  I didn’t know where they came from.  Somewhere in my home, something was broken.

I sat back down on the couch.

“Get a grip,” I said to the empty air of my apartment.  “Get yourself together.”

I spent the day getting it together.  I showered, picked my dirty underwear off the floor, and did a load of laundry.  I cleared the surfaces of my table and my bed and carried bags of trash to the curb.  I turned on public radio and diligently rid myself of the pile of dirty dishes in the sink.  I brewed tea.  I threw out the moldering leftovers in my fridge and made a pot of brothy cabbage soup.

When my apartment was clean, I still couldn’t figure out where the screws had come from.  I looked suspiciously at the cheap bookshelves that lined my walls.  If they collapsed, I would probably be crushed to death by the resulting avalanche of hardcovers.  I put the pile of screws on my coffee table so that I wouldn’t lose them and read a book before bed.  I put it back on the shelf gingerly when I was done.

In the morning the screws were gone.  When I padded over to the couch, I found that I didn’t have to brush a film of dust off of the soles of my feet when I sat down.  The floors had been swept.  I never sweep.

That night I left a dish of milk and salted bread in front of the stove, like I remembered my great-grandmother doing when she was still alive.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “Stay with me.”

———-

Idea came largely from this Exploding Dog comic, which has been haunting me for weeks.  Also, domovoi, because I really love the concept of domestic spirits. The title is just the transliteration of “home”.  This story is more about mundane objects appearing instead of disappearing, but I’m going to say it counts because the screws did disappear from wherever they were supposed to be. 

Tara

Christian

Pinky

Olivia