Who Likes Short Shorts?

For better or for worse, I’ve decided to start up the 50 Story Project again. If you feel this is a bad idea, blame Charlotte Cuevas… not only did she encourage me to start up again, she is considering doing something similar when she’s finished with her project to write 365 poems in a year. I can’t quite let a fellow writer and friend do two things that I’ve always wanted to do, before I do them, so that became the final push I needed. It also helps that I’m in a awkward spot with my two long form writing projects… a novella series and a new longer novel… and according to WebMD, the best prescription for what they amazingly didn’t diagnose as a tumor is: More writing.

In preparation for this, I’ve been reading a lot of short-short stories. After the novella, I feel this may be my favourite form of fiction. An early, formative book for me was the Scholastic anthology Best Short Shorts, which taught me that even though I loved the complex worlds to be found in Terry Brooks’s and Tolkien’s books, it was entirely possible to create an entire world in a page or three. Add in later experiences with O. Henry and Isaac Asimov, and the well- crafted, near poetic short-short story was something that constantly bubbled up from the drain in the little room that my Muse writes in. 

Over the next few days, until I publish my first of 52 stories for this project, I will link to my favourite short- shorts that I can find online. If you have any favourites, send me a link. 

Up on deck today: the inimitable Donald Barthelme with his story “The School.” I can’t recommend enough his anthology Sixty Stories. He was definitely a master of this difficult yet entertaining form. 

Brainpickings Link: Why We Write

I’ve been a fan of the excellent Brain Pickings site for a couple of years, now. Between their always-interesting weekly e-mails that show up with my Sunday cup of tea (so much more of a better tradition than the long-established Sunday paper and morning talk shows, I think) and the similar site delanceyplace, source of daily excerpts from non-fiction books that often arrive between my first and second nightly bouts of insomnia, I am rarely ever hurting for new sources of things to read. While I could recommend the entirety of their archive, today I will just share one of their articles from last year about why we write.

I’m rearranging and modifying this blog this week into something a little more regular and coherent, including regular story posts, blog recommendations, and a return to the podcast. Thinking about why I write, let alone why we write, occupies perhaps even more of my time than thinking about what I’m reading, or what I should be reading, or where I should be hiking, or if anyone ever did figure out who, exactly, put the bomp in the bomp-sh-bomp-sh-bomp. Though, I’m honestly not sure if I should ever answer the question. I’m afraid that if I figure it out, I’ll no longer have that same drive to write., that the mystery will be gone from what I do.

Or perhaps (and this is what I hope) the late and incredibly great Douglas Adams already predicted what would happen:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

Write on, add your voice, and create. We are the ones who make something where nothing existed before.

Inspiration Tuesday

Today’s the day that I try to post things that inspired me and/ or are inspiring me. In the past, I’ve posted links, pictures, memes, and quotes. I had meant to do that this morning but my cat meowed me awake so she could go outside and I wound up sitting on my back porch with a hot mug of tea and a book or two and, of course, Señorita Mija Kittypants until just before I had to leave for work.

Originally when I wrote that last paragraph, I was going to say “I failed,” but I changed my mind. Today, you’ll just get a list of what inspires me. Or at least, that’s what I’m inspired to post today.

Trees — Yes, they’re the primary reason I hike. Sure, staring off the edge of a cliff and seeing for miles over the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains is nice, but any time I’m hiking through a grove of trees, I’m excited. (Maybe not so much during Atlanta’s pollen season.) And even though most of my publishing is done online these days, I have a deep personal relationship with paper. Anything I write has to be worth the trees that were pulped to print it. (Or the energy used to power the server that hosts it.) Many a time there had been when I realised that I didn’t want to explain to the ghost of a grove of trees that it died so I could print something I didn’t proofread, or edit properly, or didn’t work on hard enough.

Writers — My blog roll lists a few that I like. One in particular published my work when no one else would (you can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad) in addition to making sure my reading list is never boring, and one was inspired by me to embark in a blog project and in turn inspired me (read:  guilt-forced me) into sucking it up and bringing this blog back on line and up to date. But I’m not plugging them this time. This time, I want to say that seeing anyone writing anything inspires me (yup, I mean guilt-forces me, again) to pull out my notebook or laptop or tablet or bar napkins, or even just ask my pub companion to hold really still while I write on his or her back. Yes, even the ‘WRITERS’ who populate coffee shops (not often on the business side of the counter… that’s where you’ll find those writers and artists who actually write and, err, art) and proclaim to all unwilling to tune them out that they will rework the very definition of fiction… once they get past page 51, at least, or such petty bourgeois concerns like ‘plot’ and ‘character’ and ‘holding the reader’s interest… even they inspire me. Even if what they’re creating is less written fiction and more oral storytelling tradition about how they too will be a great writer someday, they are creating.

Food — Rather, the preparing of food. Sometimes when I’m blocked I will walk about with a notepad, bereft of words but begging me to be able to put something down. Sometimes I’ll play with the cat, or walk the dog. Or walk the cat, which leads to confusion all around. Sometimes I’ll chew on my pen, hoping that I can squeeze the words out of my head, down the ink barrel, and onto my paper. But few things are able to really push me past that point of being unable to write like not being able to write, even if it is for only twenty or thirty minutes while I chop the onions and garlic and broccoli and garlic (never is there ever too much garlic). Sometimes I’ll even eat what I cook. And yes, sometimes I just can’t keep the words in and I’ll run madly from the range top to my table and start scrawling my ideas down with a wooden spoon lately used to stir something that will definitely leave a stain before realizing that the pen the cat knocked off the table when she jumped up there to get away from the dog who ran into the kitchen because someone was making noise in there and that someone just possibly might be able to give her some of that food, or perhaps all of it… perhaps that pen will work better, and I grab it and write down whatever it was that hit me. Often it’s only slightly more lucid than the notes I jot down between dreams (last week I sent a text message to myself that says ‘Your mission is to rescue your Uncle from Computer Rehab…’ Any ideas what the hell that means?) but it doesn’t matter, because in the process of creating sustenance for my belly (and entertainment for the pets) I almost invariably create sustenance for my head. Or my Muse’s head, maybe.

Maybe when I get home I will post a few quotes and sound bites, but really, what good is Inspiration Tuesday if I don’t talk about inspiration?

Poetry Monday: The Modern Epic and its Possible Existence

One of my favourite forms of poetry is the Epic. And yes, while I do indeed like so-called ‘epic fantasy,’ they are, for the most part, not epics. Whenever I read that a new fantasy book is an epic, I have to fight back the tendency to roll my eyes or ask (in as snotty of a voice as I can muster) “Oh really? So, it’s a long poetic tale of a hero and a culture’s mythology, then?” I have since, rather begrudgingly, accepted that the modern meaning of ‘epic’ is no longer limited to simply long poetic retellings of a culture’s legends and lore. The language changes over time. As beautiful as the work of Chaucer* and Shakespeare is, I for one am glad our literature has moved beyond that. Epics can be long novels concerning a hero’s journey or the averting of a disaster or other, well, epic occurrences, but whatever they are, they are no longer poetic tales of heroes.

But could they?

I’ve had a thought recently of trying to resurrect the poetic epic. Why can’t our writers and poets weave together the folklore and legends of our culture? I don’t mean our religious beliefs… they have enough poetry already. (Though I would love to see a Hymnal of the Flying Spaghetti Monster… has anyone written that yet? Forever and ever Ramen.) I mean the stories that we tell each other, whether on the playground or the breakroom or in numerous Internet forwards. I mean gathering together our folklore into one spot and forging it into a form that people will remember.

And of course, that means the scholarly poetic style of Shelley or Keats or even Ezra Pound will have to be forgone for something that speaks to our current language. It would have to be told and memorised in short bursts. It would have to be open for widespread meme-ification. Perhaps sections will even be told in LOL-speak or whatever language Doge speaks.

I think there’s something out there, perhaps a thread that one talented poet can pull down and weave into a common, oral (or at least e-oral… God, that sounds like a horrible website, doesn’t it?) tradition, or one that several poets can build on.



* Yes, Chaucer’s poetry is beautiful. One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me (I think it was a writer at The A.V. Club) was to work through the Prologue and the first tale or so with a bilingual or annotated Middle English version. As you get used to his vocabulary and rhythm, it works into your thought and will forever colour (in a good way) the way you read poetry and indeed, the way you take in any kind of storytelling.

Poetry Monday: Second-Hand

It’s not that I didn’t like the shirt
It’s not something I would have bought for myself
But that wasn’t as important as
Knowing that you’d found it for me
that you were thinking of me
(though God only knows what you were thinking)
and I would wear it
with and without you
so you would know I was,
at least
thinking of you thinking of me

I could never get rid of it
and I hauled it from house to house
When we’d pull it out of the box, we’d think of it again
and of each other

But it hasn’t been worn for four years, now
Like everything else,
It’s time to find it a new home

And a new life
New thoughts to be thought about it
Until it’s too heavy to rest on one’s shoulders
Without dragging them to the dirt.