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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

True Stories, "True Superstition"

"True Superstition" is an example of what a terrible lack of talent I have for titling my work. This poor story traveled in my computers' hard drives for years with the name "True Story." I'm not sure the current title is much better! A wonderful fiction workshop I found online and will certainly post about later taught me that titles are most attractive when they include specific and unusual elements. How much more vague and unspecified can you get than "True Story"?

To give myself a little credit, I came up with that title because of the emphasis the original teller placed on truth. The incomparable Héctor Medina was teaching a class on Latin American magic realism and used the story he'd heard from a friend of a friend to demonstrate that Latin American reality is actually more magical than the reality we can experience in the USA, or as American Anglos—I'm no longer sure what the defining factor was. Suffice to say, that day served as my formal introduction to the idea that there could be different sets of realities, whether in different places, inside different people's perceptions, or even in different stories.

I wrote "True Superstition" based on some version of what my esteemed professor said in class that day, adding and subtracting as the story demanded. It was my first foray into the paranormal. I was so comfortable with writing a different reality as it expressed itself to me through raw inspiration that I have never looked back. The weirder, the better! I discovered this when my life was pretty pedestrian, and it opened a channel between my writing and some other world. Although there are a lot of pressing issues in the world to observe minutely and then write about, they're usually enhanced by some fantastic element...

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Creative Project For All!

Now is your chance to join a highly creative project. All you really need is a Facebook account! 

An intrepid artist who calls himself Johnny Socko has decided to test how welcoming Facebook actually is. Although he cannot actively seek out new connections, he accepts all friend requests. How many people can he add? Johnny actively posts and contributes to the community in other ways, but the rule is to be completely passive with making connections. Additionally, Johnny is accepting submissions for a project stemming from this Facebook experience. On his blog, he imagines a beautiful, poignant exchange of creativity: 

Imagine walking in to fictional train station that served the whole world and every couple of hours you changed the message that was on your tee shirt. Some people are going to ask about it, some are going to comment about it, some are going to want to befriend you. Now imagine asking for some creative input from all of these people who were interested enough to establish some type of communication with you. Should be amazing right? 

Get more information at, and of course, at Facebook!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Third Elevator

I am not alone in loving the work of Aimee Bender. I'm a little disappointed about that, because her voice is so unique, I secretly hoped it would appeal only to me. But no, rejoice! Other people find the magic in these ideas! Other readers savor the indescribable enchantment of these word combinations! There's hope for the world after all!

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender's latest and longest, absorbed me for a couple of days. I walked around with the world of that book as a translucent film over my eyes. The real world seemed much less important. It was achingly beautiful, but most of all, it helped me make psychological sense of some of the people in my life.

Less well known, and much shorter, is the also-recent The Third Elevator. This tiny gem comes to us with illustrations by the author. It is a fable about the choices we can make with what we are given, and the notion that there might be something else out there. The swan looks like a cloud, but has heavy moods. He loves a bluebird. Of course these lovers have amazing elemental children, whom they can't control no matter how they try. They live in a land with three elevators, which can take you into the sky, far below the ground, or keep you right here on this level. In this way, the people of the land can visit other levels of living they would not have found otherwise. Each person must make a choice with this new information, and every different choice is the right one for that person. Though these sound like imposingly important themes, this book is very gentle. It's partially the book as object that creates this sense: the cream-colored paper, the small size, the elegant font that invites one to read... now, or later. But it's also the lovely liquid language.

The Third Elevator is published by the small press I mentioned in my Tree/House post on August 22. Its name is Madras Press, and whether my work finds a home there or not, I hope this publisher continues bringing joy to the world of words for a very long and successful time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Short: Haiku and Microfiction

Joseph Quintela is certifiably the nicest editor out there, always getting back to submissions within a day and giving solid reasons why if he decides to pass on them. Additionally, his 'zine, Short, Fast, and Deadly, is the finest thing you can read in five minutes or less. Joseph is also a writer, so check out his admirably terse work. But mostly, check out the interview they posted with him last Saturday at High Coup Journal. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Call Numbers of the Wild" Read by the Author

"Call Numbers of the Wild" was first published in Haggard & Halloo August 17, 2010. (You can still find it there and comment! See my publications, below.) The link is to my amazing YouTube performance of it. Enjoy!

I wrote this poem in response to the dizzying sense of vertigo I would feel when assigned to reshelving on my library shift at my alma mater, Wheaton College (Massachusetts, people, not Illinois). If you look around on the site a little, I'm sure you can find a picture of the pond in the poem. (It's much smaller than its psychological impact would have one believe.) Most of the stacks at the main library are underground, some underneath the science building, some abutting it, leaving tantalizing locked doorways in the farthest reaches. Sometimes the librarians would actually take book trucks outside and through the science building in order to get to an elevator that was closer to that far back area, and magically unlock the doors to gain access to where they really needed to be. While not circular, that library was dark and made of concrete and easily lent itself to interpretations of infinity a la "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges. So I dedicate this poem to the spirit of librarians everywhere. Order in the chaos!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I cut this picture out of a magazine in search of Justine's beauty.
The first story I published in this recent effort to be a real writer was "Justine." It appeared in (Short) Fiction Collective June 9, 2010 (find a direct link to the story below in my publications list). (Short) Fiction Collective is an exciting up-and-coming journal that publishes a wide variety of fictions, and I'm proud to associate with it!
Of course, I never expected "Justine" to be the one that got picked up first. The story and I have been through a lot together: editing at home and by my then-boyfriend, multiple workshops to cover lack of new inspiration, too much geography to list here. Maybe that's why I see her/it as a little bit tattered. I wrote the story over the course of an intensely creative week or so after having a dream. I don't remember how much is the dream and how much is story anymore, but the somnambulant inspiration explains some of the more strange details. I invite my readers to guess which parts were dream, which real life, and which pure story. I would love to have your ideas on it, because then I might remember myself!
Looking over it now, I like the light and humorous feel of this piece. I feel very weird that it's so unabashedly male-bashing. I was more than a decade away from formally making my peace with the opposite sex when I wrote this story. Maybe the reader can see the story as anti one man, i.e., the Scott character, who was never real and never did any of those things, instead of anti all males. Because, come on, he really made a mess of everything, didn't he? Right? Hmm...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Speaking of microfiction...

I'm biased with my background in Hispanic Literature, but I agree with the editors of Sudden Fiction Latino that best short fiction comes out of Latin America and US Latinos. There is a huge variety of stories here, a very strong point of the book. Sometimes, a story has to be read a couple of times for it to have any resonance for me, and of course different readers will prefer different stories, but with so much material, you're sure to find something that you like! I love the short-short format and feel that it can create powerful, lasting images, raise questions, and inspire more writing. I was slogging through 2666 when I got this, so I really appreciated the chance to see that Roberto Bolaño can write a complete story in less than five gazillion words! I may also be biased because the Julio Ortega who closes the collection was my Borges professor! The worst thing about this book is the cover. The flaming newspaper probably contains a statement about the media or the act of writing or reading, but it first of all suggests the barbaric practice of ear candling (to remove excess wax) and would be very off-putting in a bookstore. I received this book through a special program in the wonderful site Librarything, and I'm so glad. It is a very worthy addition to the dialog on short fiction.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Distractions? What Distractions?

When I had taken care of all the urgent business, there were only 45 minutes before my darling husband's shift ended! How would I ever get a half hour of production out of that? I turned on my writing laptop (it's not connected to the internet, so as to avoid distractions!) and clicked off all the updates and greetings and toolbars and booby trap detectors that keep popping up (it's a Window's 7 machine, and they are just ever so helpful at interrupting one's screen with advice unrelated to what you're doing!) (Moi, je suis PC et Windows 7, c'est mon idee...mais oui!). Okay, where is that story? Aha! 42 minutes left... I started reading through the 743 words I had so far, and ever so naturally, a scene came to me and I inserted it with total concentration for 25 minutes. Then I was freezing, and had to go down and turn off the air conditioner fan. We seem to be easing right into autumn here, already. The trees started turning color during the second week of August! It's like they said, "We've had enough of this stupid heat, we're going to bed and you all can work on getting the temperature down!" Then, of course, I realized that I had no life-giving water at my laptop, so I had to go back down for that. I reentered the story by fiddling with word choices, then started in on that scene at the end of the manuscript, which means that it is the way into the plot development and necessary if I'm ever to finish the story. At some really important juncture, my husband called to say that he had finished his shift, ten minutes late. Aha! That meant that, even with the physical environment so mercilessly pressing in on me with its demands, I had exceeded my goal of one straight half hour of work on that story. So it was at that moment that I realized I was very sleepy and so hungry. The laptop went to sleep for another day, because, as they say, "Empty bag can't stand up."

Overall, I'm pretty thrilled with the results of my goal-setting. A scene I had never been considering came to me, and it helps with character development and the basic interest level of the story. It's probably a matter of just sitting down with serious intent.

If I have time, that is. My husband only works four hours today!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Distractions (and Ode to True Love)

As a writer, very few distractions plague me. I don't have children and I don't have any transportation (or anywhere to go) when my husband is at work. My husband does all the cleaning and most of the cooking. I don't even have a job other than writing. (Hire me! I'm dedicated and motivated and distraction-free!) I have a natural aversion to keeping the TV turned on, so it never beckons me unduly. Other media are very sexy, and can hold a certain fascination over me for a few hours a day if I'm not careful. I also have to take care of some huge organization projects (toss, sell, keep, store) because a move is looking more and more imminent.
"That's all?" you say indignantly. "In that case, why don't you have stacks of epic novels spread all around the house?"
I share your concern when I see that the exciting story I started a month ago... was last accessed a month ago.
The answer is that I love my husband more than anything. When we're together, there's complete sympathy and focus. If pleasure were the only motivator, I would choose my husband's company over any other option, and I think he would choose me, too. He works very hard to keep us in the precarious financial state we're in, and his hours are never the same from one day to the next anymore, so I would never want to begrudge him my full attention when he is with me.
Good writing requires good attention, and when my husband is at work, some part of my mind is always telling me I don't have enough time to accomplish anything before he gets back. If that kind of self-sabotage isn't a serious distraction, I don't know what is!
It could also explain why I've recently taken such a shine to microfiction. Most of the writing process of such pieces, for me, is the editing to make sure they are as laser-exact as they should be, and I can do that for a few minutes here, a few minutes there. And then, when they're published, the reader can enjoy them even more quickly. If they're good enough, they can be enjoyed again and again.
But as you can see, my distractions are all in the mind. If it's in the mind, it's not real. So today I pledge to work on that exciting story for at least one half hour. If I happen to get into the "zone," there are many more hours available until my handsome prince comes back to the castle. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Tree/House is my darling underweight baby. By "underweight" I mean that it is a novella - only 26,000 words - and as such, it is very difficult to publish. I have it at a really great small press that specializes in shorter works (Tree/House is something of a behemoth over there). If nothing comes of that, my imprint (more on that later) will put out a second edition, with a fresher cover, some judicious editing, and one or two appropriately symbolic short stories of women's empowerment as a bonus.
The story has a lot going for it, other than the obvious advantage of being a fast read.
• A strong message. As one of my reviewers put it, "This book reminded me that I once was a free spirit and the time is now to get back to who I really am!"
• A beautiful friendship between women. The women are not perfect, but they help and complement each other with their strengths and their neuroses.
• Good writing. Another reviewer says, "wonderful descriptive language."
• Great rhythm. An astute review calls it a "page-turner"!
• A villain you can never be completely sure about. Guaranteed to leave you with that pleasantly icky feeling, this Bluebeard will haunt your imagination.
• Just the right degree of weirdness. Although the women sleep in trees and suffer unreal isolation, the psychological realism keeps you believing in them as real people. As a final reviewer put it, "An interesting look at human behavior and what many people do to try to find happiness by looking outside themselves."
Anyone who's read this book is invited to contribute to this list of good qualities!
The full reviews can be seen at the Amazon site.
I also invite you to check out the reading I did on You Tube (in two parts):
Part 1    Part 2 (Yes, that's me, about two years ago!)
Sometimes I think I should just try to turn it into a proper novel, but that fact is that I've said all I wanted to say, and I've never been one to go on and on. Enjoy!

Check out the ongoing conversation on it here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Short Stories That Stay with You

I read St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell while staying in Texas with my husband on a business trip. I couldn't really get anywhere while he was at work, so this book helped me feel not so trapped. It opens up a wide world of fantasy. 
All of the stories in this collection are memorable. The evocative writing matches the crazily imaginative premises and events perfectly, fleshing out characters I think will haunt me for some time. Russell uses children characters as a vehicle for issues and unresolved feelings we still experience as adults, as well evidenced in "Out to Sea," in which the main character is a retired man instead of the inscrutable girl he's matched up with in a public service program. I very much appreciate the Russell's imagination. 
The single disappointment is the way the stories ended. Each time, it seemed, just as things were coming to a real head, the narration suddenly dropped off. This is a useful technique when describing uncertain and unresolved experiences, but it became too predictable when it appeared in story after story. A writer as talented as Russell shouldn't have to resort to the same kind of ending absolutely every time. That said, I hope to read more by her even if the endings aren't different! 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Famous Writer?

I was recently going through a box of papers from grade school. For me, that means stacks of illustrated storybooks, chapter books in longhand, story sketches, humorous vignettes, poems, picture series, etc., etc., for days and days. Among the detritus of a vehemently creative mind clearly not occupied enough at school, I found a pair of sheets of pink construction paper, stapled at the sides in order to make a cover or folder. I must have made it in the third or fourth grade, as datable by the cursive writing style. It was meant to hold ideas and outlines of stories yet to be told. At the bottom, it reads, "This is the Propordy of Jessica Knauss, famous writer." (Teachers and parents were always telling me to "sound it out" when I asked how to spell something, which to this day I do not believe to be an effective way to work out the intricacies of English orthography.)

My husband, who believes a little bit in reincarnation, says that such conviction at an early age means that I was an author in my last life. "You carried a lot over!" he says. It is also likely I was projecting a career path for myself. Or that I was convinced that I was already famous, since everyone in my circumscribed social circle knew that I wrote "books." Whether one or all of those ideas are true, that happy piece of construction paper gave a name to this blog. Thank you for joining me on this journey!