“The Biggest Mistake Writers Make” on The Short Story Blog

Nancy Stohlman on the Biggest Mistake Writers Make

In the 37th in a series of posts from authors of 2018 books entered for The Story Prize, Nancy Stohlman, author of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (Big Table Publishing), lays out the stages of writing.

It’s not what you think.

The biggest mistake writers make? Not knowing which stage of the writing process they’re in.

We confuse writing with editing, we confuse editing with publication, we show work to others before it’s ready, we hoard work that is ready, afraid of rejection. Realizing which stage of the process you’re in—and more importantly what your work needs at that phase—is crucial.

Stage One: Creative Play

Regardless of genre, true creativity always begins as play. It’s that time of pure inspiration, when your ideas are new and fragile, where risks are taken, mistakes are made and become discoveries. This creative honeymoon is a time of sweetness and acceptance, a private time between you and your work and also when it needs the most protection—it’s raw, vulnerable, full of potential, beautiful to us but the wings aren’t dry yet.

So it’s the worst time to get feedback. The work isn’t ready for scrutiny and neither is the author. But we’ll do it anyway: We throw the baby into the pool thinking it can swim; we invite the paparazzi in before we’re even dressed. We show the world before we’re ready for their reaction, and like a negative exposed to light, all those budding ideas can fade away in front of our eyes.

And then the writer gives up or gets blocked and doesn’t know why.

Advertisements

Writing Wild retreat in Costa Rica starts tomorrow!

We are Costa Rica bound! Our Writing Wild in Costa Rica flash fiction retreat is kicking off tomorrow. We are looking forward to flash fiction camaraderie on the black sand beaches of Playa Negra. Stay tuned! Pictures coming!

aec8c152-d80d-4e3c-bdf7-9facc0e2f6ef.hw1_

Want to know more or join us for one of our two other retreats in 2019?

Springtime in Italy (1 spot left)

Summer Camp in Grand Lake Colorado

Happy writing, everyone!

 

“The Sperm Bank” in Cliterature’s 50th edition anthology

Read original on Cliterature HERE

The Sperm Bank

by Nancy Stohlman

We have a wide variety of sperm here the receptionist said, and all our donors are on a strict vegetarian diet and workout regimen. They consume no sugar, white flour, dairy, meat, fermented foods of any kind and of course no drugs or alcohol. No porn and 8 hours sleep per night. They are all working towards advanced degrees and involved in a minimum of 10 hours per week with a charitable organization—here’s a list she said, handing me a piece of paper. They’re also required to learn another language.

StohlmanI think you’ll find our rates competitive. We’ve been a family owned business for the last 40 years and we have a 5-star rating on Yelp.

I glanced down the list of options.

Are you ready to take a look?

Outside the sun was shining, the September day warm with just a hint of what was to come. Just beyond the front desk was the yard where men were playing basketball, jogging, lifting weights with their shirts off. We walked by the tennis courts, the sand volleyball game in progress. The men looked at me with curiosity and then quickly looked away. I chose one.

Excellent choice. And a great value. He volunteers at the Center for the Blind, speaks 3 languages, and loves cats. He also writes poetry and he’s putting together a chapbook. Here, you can read some of his poetry. Can I get you anything while you wait she asks?

No, I’m fine I say.

The Sperm Bank waiting room walls are decorated with construction paper hearts and Playgirl-style pictures of shirtless men next to haystacks and classic cars.

She returns. I can check you out now she says to me, placing the cup into a fashionable insulated bag.

Will this be cash or charge?

Charge I say as he walks down a hallway and re-emerges into the bright sunshine.

So You Wrote a Book? Paul Beckman

Paul Beckman has a new collection of flash fiction, Kiss, Kiss!  Aren’t familiar with Beckman’s work? Here’s a taste: drunk mothers at weddings, grandmas who play strip poker, “Too Many Uncles”, a man whose body parts are falling off, a man whose right hand is battling his left, and “Goodbye, Already”, where dead family members are still showing up to family functions. These and so many more make up the delightful, dark smorgasbord that is Kiss Kiss.

pb & kiss

 

Nancy Stohlman: Paul, can you tell us what the book is about in exactly six words?

Paul Beckman: These are not your mother’s shorts-stories.

Nancy: This is not your first book. You have also published other collections of flash fiction including Peek and Come! Meet My Family and Other Stories.  How is Kiss Kiss different from your other books?

Paul: The stories are darker in substance and in humor.

While many of your stories are tongue-in-cheek humor, you also have these intensely serious ones, like “Daddy’s Way” (a micro about a beating) or” Father Panik Village” (one of several stories set in the projects). To me it seems like the perfect balance—just when we think we have you figured out, you surprise us with something completely different.  Does that happen automatically or do you have to craft that balance?

For a collection without connected stories I go through my published and unpublished stories and lay out the ones, that while not connected, still seem to have a thread of feeling while reading, that flow together by my voice.

You go back and forth between realism and surrealism almost seamlessly. And even your realism can have a touch of the absurd, from a strip poker-playing grandma all the way to a story like “TSA: Here to Serve” where the narrator finds himself in some sort of reality show after being pulled aside and waterboarded by the TSA at the airport. Many writers do one but not both well. Do you prefer realism or surrealism? 

Okay, this may sound surreal but my writing is based in realism and while I’m writing I don’t consciously make a turn to surrealism–it’s only after the story is written do I realize the surrealism aspects to it. Take the TSA story: The real TSA people are constantly in the news for abusing their power and punishing people by making them miss their flights or suffer the indignities of being felt up and groped with the other passengers watching. How’s that so different from being on a TV reality show with a live audience?

Family–and all the ways family is functional/dysfunctional and unique—is a regular theme. In your books we meet wives and husbands and grandmothers and stepfathers and cousins and children and siblings and family dinners on the holidays. So…how does your real family react to all these stories of family?

Most of my family is gone now but their memories and mischegas live on. At one point when my first book was published (Come! Meet My Family) I invited cousins and an uncle to a reading and I read a story about a conflict between two aunts and a cup of black coffee. After the reading the cousins surrounded my Uncle wanting to know which of his seven sisters drank their coffee black. He said, “All of them.” which dashed their hopes of figuring out whose mother I was writing about. I can’t talk about my stories with my brother because he thinks I constantly do a hatchet job on our mother when, in reality, our memories and feelings being separated by four years in age allow me to write from a different vantage point about the mothers in my stories. We fiction writers steal behaviors, bits of dialogue, punishment, and praise overheard and incorporate these thing into our stories that are not as we’ve seen them. We adapt and get to play God. And it’s not only family–sometimes it’s friends who are sure they know other mutual friends or themselves who I’m writing about. I believe there are only dysfunctional families in the world only sometimes their dysfunctionality is out in the open and often it’s behind closed doors. What a great source of material–whether it’s my family or strangers.

Mirsky and his wife, Elaine, are two of your signature, reoccurring characters. Talk about the evolution of Mirsky and Elaine as characters in your work.

An early story that’s also in Come! Meet My Family, introduced Mirsky not knowing he would hang around me and feed me stories for all these years. In that story I think it was the only time I used his first name and later on I wanted to write a story about a character who was only known by his last name. I knew I wanted a strong two-syllable name so I drove to the cemetery where my relatives are buried and drove around looking at the headstones until I came upon a group of Mirsky headstones and that’s how Mirsky was born (or re-born). From there he and Elaine populated many of my stories through marriage, divorce, infidelities, and all things couples go through. He may or may not be my doppelganger, my foil, or my muse.

Okay, here’s the tough question: What is your favorite story in this collection and why?

“The Only Hope of the Jews” for a number of reasons: It may be the first story about growing up in the projects as a young Jewish kid, fighting the anti-Semite name-calling from kids who were only repeating words they heard from their parents or friends. The conflict between Mirsky and his mother over her not understanding what he had to endure so often and then have her blaming him for defending himself, the Jews of the world, and his family. My brother wouldn’t like this story either.

I’ve been your editor for many years so I get to see how you work behind the scenes. You always have a deluge of ideas and you’re always willing to take risks and try something new. You’re even willing to abandon ship and try again if necessary, which is sometimes how the best revisions happen. Can you talk about your process from idea to draft to revision. How does it happen for you?

Almost every story I write stars with a prompt or a word I saw or heard (I guess that’s a prompt also). Then I just start writing. I don’t know the story I’m writing and certainly not the ending. I put myself in the MC’s mind and let it rip. Sometimes it works (often times) and sometimes not and I start again. At times I know a sentence or three ahead of where I’m writing, but now always.  I feel fortunate that my writing over the years has morphed into this position from when I first started and felt I had to know the whole story before I could write.

From there I wait a few days and then go back and try to tighten it up.

I’d like to say I read every story aloud to myself but there are times I don’t. When I do I catch more mistakes and that’s the best avenue for me for rewrites next to the following:

Nancy Stohlman edits the bulk of my stories. She’s smart, knows her subject, and knows me and my stories. There are times we don’t agree and she never pressures me to do it her way but she does explain her thinking. Often, the conflicts come with what and how I write a scene which Nancy picks up on and I clarify it. Neither of us want to spell everything out–the reader gets more out of a flash or micro story if they have to mentally fill in some white space.

This is your first book published by Truth Serum Press. Talk about your journey with Truth Serum and the road to publication for Kiss, Kiss.

I’d been submitting stories to Matt Potter’s Pure Slush Magazine for years and he wrote me about a story and knowing I was close to a new collection I told him he needed a book from someone like me to publish. He got right on board and between Nancy and me we came up with the stories that I put in the order I thought they should go, sent it to Nancy, reconfigured a couple and dropped a couple and she’d suggest a few I’d written that I should consider adding and then sent it to Matt.  He sent me a contract and had some questions and suggestions on a couple of stories and we were off. He designed a cover and I sent him a photo I was considering for the cover and he left it up to me.

Looking at your list of acknowledgements is almost like reading a “list of places you should submit your work.” I love that you submit to a variety of journals, big and small and everything in between. What is your philosophy around publication? How do you decide where to submit? What would you tell another writer if they asked you where they should submit?

 This is one of the toughest questions. I love Duotrope. It’s the best $50 a writer can spend to find markets, read editor’s reviews, and the all-important submission guidelines. If you read a story on line (and you should read as many as possible) and like the author’s writing check out the mag that published them and send them a story. I’ve gotten some of my best stories published that way–tracking other writers and in talking to them many have told me they do the same thing.

There are times I have trouble knowing where to submit certain stories and I ask fellow writers or take a shot at a new publication if I like their website and their requirements are reasonable. There are also many mags I love so I submit on a regular basis. Then there’s my “wish list” group of mags that I’m determined to get in and I keep trying. I’ve been fortunate enough to whittle down the list a bit.

Finally: What advice do you have for someone writing their first book?

Write, Read, support other writers who have written books in the same genre as you. And don’t be shy about submitting your work. A manuscript with a list of publications for stories in it is a factor in getting a good publisher.

Anything else you want to add?

Take some classes in the genre you write in or want to write in to expand your reach, I’ve taken a number of classes with Nancy Stohlman and classes with Kathy Fish, Robert Vaughan, Meg Tuite, and Meg Pokrass. I’ve gotten something out of every class both in my writing and in meeting kindred souls.

Links to buy the book: Kiss Kiss–You can be reading it tonight!

http://bit.ly/pbKiss paperback

http://bit.ly/KisseP e book

paul@paulbeckman.com

Paul Beckman’ new flash collection is Kiss Kiss, (Truth Serum Press). Paul had a micro story selected for the 2018 Norton Anthology New Micro Exceptionally Short Fiction. He was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his story “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016  Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. He’s widely published in the following magazines among others: Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Matter Press, Pure Slush, Thrice Fiction, and Literary Orphans. Paul had a story nominated for the 2019 Best of Small Fiction and he hosts the monthly FBomb flash fiction series in NY at KGB’s Red Room.

25 Books by Friends (just in time for Jólabókaflóð)

icelandI’m not Icelandic, but if there is one reason why I wish I was it would be to celebrate Jólabókaflóð, the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood where books–yes, books!–are exchanged on Christmas Eve. Then everyone goes home and reads. Doesn’t that sound amazing? And did you know that Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world?

Regardless of whether you are Icelandic or not, giving books–especially signed books–during the holidays is a super thoughtful gift. It says “I care about your intellectual and creative health” so much more than that bottle of wine–and lasts longer too! Plus you’re supporting artists and that’s always a good thing.

So what books will you give and receive this Winter’s Eve (and beyond)? I have some suggestions! For several years I have done an end of the year “Top 10 Books By Friends List”, and since I was a slacker last year you get double the pleasure, double the fun!

25 Books by Friends 2018

(in no particular order: most published in 2017/2018)

books

The Realty Traveler by Jonathan Montgomery
Read my interview with Jonathan here:
“Jonathan “Bluebird” Montgomery has just released his new book, The Reality Traveler, a pop culture allegorical/philosophical tale with Jonny “Bluebird” as its picaresque narrator and Reality Traveling tour guide! Think Don Quixote meets the Alchemist meets the Guardians of the Galaxy.” Read more

Water and Power by Steven Dunn
Read my interview with Steven here
“Steven Dunn has just released his new book, Water and Power! This book is a literary mosaic, collaging the two contradictory faces of the military: the official face of the recruiting posters and the real faces of the people, including Steven’s.” Read more

Meet My Haze by Meg Tuite
Interview coming!

Kiss, Kiss by Paul Beckman
Read Kathy Fish’s review on the Flash Fiction Retreats website here

New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro
My stories “Death Row Hugger” and “I Found Your Voodoo Doll on the Dance Floor After Last Call” appear in this amazing anthology
Read a review from the Los Angeles Review of Books here

Alligators at Night by Meg Pokrass
Interview coming!

Gather the Night: Poems by Katherine DiBella Seluja
Read my interview with Katherine here
“Katherine DiBella Seluja has just released her new book, Gather the Night, which is largely an investigation into the complex emotions around mental illness and addiction, particularly as it affects the narrator’s brother, Lou. While much literature has been devoted to the stories of people suffering with these and other illnesses, there are fewer stories that speak to the experience of the bystander, those caught in the orbit of the illnesses and getting the midnight ER phone calls. Read more

Funhouse by Robert Vaughan
Interview coming!

Other Household Toxins by Christopher Allen
Interview coming!

Flash Fiction Festival Two edited by Bath Flash Fiction Award
My story “Loch Ness” appears in this great compilation of writers who gathered in the UK in 2018.

On the Bitch by Matt Potter
Interview coming!

One of These Days by Trent Hudley
From my book blurb:
“Trent Hudley is unafraid to look at the underbelly of despair, taking us on an existential unraveling through the landscapes of loneliness, deftly weaving the crisis of humanity between the real and the surreal like a strange premonition. “This is a story without hope” says one of his characters, but One of These Days is a book striving for redemption.”

Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep by David S. Atkinson
From my book blurb:
“David S. Atkinson’s imagination is a beast unleashed! The stories in Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep are bizarre and hilarious, taking us into a highly peculiar landscape with scenarios that leave me wondering: Where does he come up with this stuff? Narrated with his signature intellectual deadpan (think “straight man”) and featuring labyrinthian titles that unroll all the way to near slapstick, Atkinson leads us from one outlandish situation to the next without flinching, apologizing, or justifying.”

Ripening: 2018 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology edited by Santino Prinzi and Allison Powell
My story “The Pilgrimage” appears in this tasty anthology!

Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics by Selah Saterstrom
Selah is awesome!

Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from One Hundred Word Story edited by Grant Faulkner, Lynn Mundell and Beret Olsen
My story “Naked” appears in this great collection of tiny stories!

I’m Not Supposed to Be Here and Neither are You by Len Kuntz
Interview coming!

Glimmerglass Girl by Holly Lyn Walrath
“Bold yet delicate, sharp, intricate, and woven with fragile strength, there are many things to like in Glimmerglass Girl. The first a reader might notice is the interplay of words and images, something many writers attempt but not always with such success. Glimmerglass Girl uses classic and vintage fairy tale images to give the book an aura of innocence and nostalgia…”
Read more here

Rattle of Want by Gay Degani
Read Kathy Fish’s interview with Gay Degani here

The Plankton Collector: A Novella by Cath Barton
Read Kathy Fish’s blurb about Cath’s book here

Bad Motel: 100 Word Stories by Robert Scotellaro
From my book blurb:
“Like perfectly crafted dioramas, Robert Scotellaro’s micro stores are tiny keyholes, tableau glimpses into fully formed worlds, entire lives implied with the barest swipe of words said, and more importantly, not said.”

How to Make a Window Snake: Three Novellas in Flash by Charmaine Wilkerson, Joanna Campbell and Ingrid Jendrzejewski 
Three great writers for the price of one!

Musalaheen: A War Memoir by Jason Arment
Veteran Jason Arment’s debut book!

The Crazed Wind by Nod Ghosh
This collection began in my Flash Books class in February–Nod is awesome!

The Boneyard, The Birth Manual, A Burial: Investigations into the Heartland by Julia Madsen
Julia is also a great multi-media artist!

Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief edited by Peter Blair and Ash Chantler
My story “Clown Car” from Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities was first published in this collection of humorous flashes
Profits go to Comic Relief, a major charity based in the UK, with a vision of a just world, free from poverty.

Nothing to Worry About by Vanessa Gebbie
This is a weird little book that speaks to my weird heart!

PS: Okay, I know that was more than 25. I can’t stop!
PSS: My goal is to interview all the authors listed here in my So You Wrote a Book Series in 2019, so stay tuned!

Regardless of what you celebrate, and whether you celebrate anything at all, I celebrate the many ways that we support one another on this crazy creative life journey.
Wishing you love, rest, and inspiration this winter season.
See you in 2019!
xoxo

mad V performance.jpg

Editing Your Work: 4 Easy Tips for Creating Distance from Your Text

optimized-shutterstock_595738937-1080x680

Creating Distance from Your Text

So you’ve been writing lots of cool new stuff and now it’s time to think about revision. When you’re in the editing phase, you must find a way to create distance from your text, to see it with fresh eyes. And it’s not always easy to see your work with fresh eyes—it can feel like looking for your sunglasses when they’re on your head! The best way to create distance, of course, is actual distance. There’s nothing more revealing than a month away from your work. But there are other ways to create distance if you don’t have the luxury of time.

Read it out loud. When you use your ear rather than your eye you can “hear” when the rhythm is off. If you stumble over a word in your spoken delivery, chances are that word is awkwardly placed. If you cut or add words in the spoken delivery, cut or add them on the page. If you find yourself amending the text as you read it, pay attention. Your subconscious is giving you clues.

Change the font Sometimes something as simple as a font change can change how we “see” our work. I change the font several times in the process of revision–it’s fun and keeps it fresh. The more distance I need to create, the wilder the font.

Print it out. In our electronic world printing your work out might seem like a waste of paper. Print it out anyway. Just as changing the font allowed you to “see” your words differently, printing it out and holding it in your hand will change the dynamic for you completely and make it a “tangible” thing.

Read it backwards. Not word for word backwards but go backwards in chunks. This is especially good when you are editing at the sentence level. Notice what happens when you read it backwards—and notice how alternate endings start jumping out at you. Pretend that the perfect ending for your story is already in there, buried in the middle somewhere. Watch your sentences come unglued in a good way.

Join me for my Editing Flash Fiction Masterclass
Dec 28–Jan 17
Regular price $149–only $125 until Dec 8–ends TOMORROW!

OR

Writing Flash Fiction Self-Paced Class (DIY)
for $89 in the month of December!
(Regular price $97)

To your success!
xoxo
Nancy

On Bending Genres: “You Might Want to Get a Handjob from Rick Moranis”: A Review of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities by Jonathan Cardew

Read original on Bending Genres here

Here’s an excerpt:

“Nothing’s beyond the conceivable, especially when Stohlman’s in the car. When she’s driving it, and it’s a clown car, and one of the clown’s in the upside down position “because Marty needs a break,” anything becomes possible (like fantasy handjobs from Karl Marx or Bette Midler or Moses…or Moranis!).mad v

Also, driving along with/ reading Stohlman you’ll learn some fun facts!!

[Fun Facts Section]

—Most spoons balanced on face: 31

—A week before his death two men broke into Houdini’s dressing room, yelling “Do you believe in the miracles of the Bible?” while repeatedly punching him in the gut

—Coulrophobia, or Clownophobia, is the fear of clowns

[End Fun Facts Section]

In essence, Oddities is just that—a carnival ride through fame, misfortune, and more misfortune. Usually all three at once, with a cheap bottle of absinthe thrown in. True, there are the freaks (the Human Skeleton, the Ape Lady, the Electric Lady, Boy with Breasts, etc. etc.) but Stohlman holds a mirror to our own vanities and insecurities like we’re wobbling through our own peculiar halls of mirrors.”

Continue reading here: