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I’ve taken the Indianola Review Workshop twice and both times it was a valuable experience as well as fun. If you have a short story that is done or close to done that you’d value feedback on, this could be the workshop for you.
Although the workshop format may vary as the method is refined, what happened in the first two workshops is probably a good indicator of what will happen in the next. Each participant uploaded a story to Submittable and we used that as the platform to read and peer review each others’ work. During the second iteration of the workshop, we moved from discussing the stories on the Submittable platform to discussing them in a private Facebook group. This worked much better, as the discussions were easier to follow. The workshop was lengthened to four weeks, the first two for reading and the next two to tackle the individual stories. As in an in person workshop, the Facebook comments usually generated discussion between the participants and eventually a response from the writer. Comments from a few of the staff readers and editors of the Indianola Review were also included.
In the FAQ section of the workshop announcement page, the question is posed about possibility of publication. One of my rewritten stories was published online and another participant’s story was picked for print publication. Another member of our class has since become an Assistant Editor, and numerous stories and participants have gone on to be published elsewhere.
How do I know that last? The Facebook group is ongoing and people do post some of their successes and endeavors. If nothing else, the workshop is a gate to new friendships with writers and potential critique partners. (I have been a critique partner of Joseph Walters, although I met him in another workshop. I also met Jan Elman Stout in a third online class.)
Overall I found this one of the less frustrating platforms and workshops I’ve taken.The behind the scene look at Submittable was helpful. It was a joy to get to read the work of people I otherwise would not have encountered and a humbling experience to see how accomplished many of the participants were. I would recommend the workshop and consider the price very fair for the feedback received.
Although the time and date for the next workshop has not yet been announced, it is worth looking out for this class. In the meantime, read Indianola Review online and think about submitting your work!
A little over a year ago, I was informed I was a finalist in the Dogwood Literary contest and they wanted to publish my story. I was gratified the story was to be published, but when they told me in April that the story was the fiction prize winner for 2016, I was even happier. Although I had other stories published, I’d long ago given up thinking I’d ever win anything for my writing. When I picked Dogwood to submit to, I had no intention of entering the contest, but since the contest fee was only $10, seven over their normal fee, I figured what the heck? I was hoping that entering might garner a closer read, not necessarily a win.
If this wasn’t the first contest I’ve entered, barring those attached to writing conferences, it was the first in a very long time. Ten years? I wasn’t sure that contests were the way to go. My ultimate goal is to have a book picked up for publication, and I’d read enough places that mentioning you’d won a prize wasn’t impressive to literary agents unless it was a major award.
The day before I was given the go-ahead to announce my win, I had a discussion with my neighbor about luck. She told me about her son’s girlfriend and how she came to know a number of important people who helped her land a prestigious scholarship and position as a summer intern. Later that same day, I spoke to a friend who told us his story of luck. He played football in high school. I asked if he’d been recruited many places. He said not really, only the local state school had showed interest. This was before the days of heavy recruiting, and he had also decided he wasn’t going to play in college. It just so happened that a recruiter for Dartmouth was in his area, and although this recruiter had ignored my friend’s high school in the past, this time he decided to check it out and asked the coach if he had any players with good enough grades who might make the team. The coach recommended my friend, but he needed to take the SATs—he was from the midwest and had only taken the ACTs. The day this recruiter spoke to him was the last day to have the application for the next SAT testing in the mail. He filled out the application and took it to the post office. When he got home, he realized he’d forgotten to stamp it.
He called the post office, which was closed, and spoke with an employee who agreed to dig through the mail, find the letter, and affix a stamp. How was that not luck? So many steps could have gone wrong, something as small as the phone not being answered, or the person who answered in a hurry to go home, or someone who did not care about a kid and his college career. His life might have been different, because he did go to Dartmouth and play football and later received an advanced degree from Harvard.
This win was luck for me as well. I might not have entered, or I might have entered a different story. But part of it is making your own luck, or more exactly, propelling your luck along. I’d read the judge’s books and many years ago I met an editor who had published him in a national magazine well known for its fiction. His story was about a pregnant woman and this editor was pregnant. He probably didn’t know that, and maybe she wasn’t pregnant at the time the story was accepted but was contemplating it. Could the editor’s pregnancy have influenced her reading of his story? And picking it to publish?
When I first started writing back in the eighties, I took a workshop with the writer/judge. I got a B. I saw him around town every once in awhile but then heard nothing about him. I knew he was of a certain age, and I thought possibly that would make the story I entered appeal to him. I’m quite sure he didn’t have the slightest idea who I was. I used a different name back when I was in his class, and the submissions for this contest were blind. There was no way he could have known I’d been a student. I did disclose that I’d taken his workshop to the contest officials. The rules stipulated you couldn’t have a “substantial relationship” with the judge, and other than rejecting a story or two of mine for the journal where he is currently the fiction editor, I had no relationship with him.
It is now more than a year since I was notified I was a finalist. Has it changed my life? Other than falling victim to the assumption that if you win one, you have a chance to win another, no. No offers to read my novel have come my way and mentioning the win in a cover letter for other submissions hasn’t seemed to sway many editors.
Overall, the win was a vote of confidence, and it is a nice addition to biographical notes, but I know I need to immerse myself in my writing if I’m to make more progress toward my goal of a published novel or publication in a “prestigious” journal.
And I know if I want to make my own luck again, I need to produce more pieces to circulate than the current three I have out.
Wish me luck.
WordPress has changed from when I blogged two years ago. And really, I’m not sure it is easier to use. I just now was trying to find a specific post so I could update it and had to scroll through every post I’d ever written, and I’ve had three blogs. One was very short lived, this one, and one on a totally different topic. I couldn’t find the post I wanted.
I was going through my posts to check to see if I had links to stories on the web since I just found another broken link and the journal has no archives. I found a second story that the link was broken and again, but this time I found the archives. It took me awhile to find the entry, and for awhile I was wondering if I’d made up that first internet publication, but finally I found it. Here is the corrected link. http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/2005/5-3/hazards-of-light-by-c-a-cole/
My next venture was into a class with a title something like Thirty Stories in Thirty Days. I figured this was to write flash. I hadn’t written much flash in the last year or two and my stockpile was very low. So it seemed like a good idea as well as a challenge. The leader for this class was friendly and enthusiastic but not very involved.
At the start of the week, he posted the assignments for that week with an introduction. Some of the ideas were truly fun, some odd, and a few things I just didn’t want to do. But no worries because you could reuse one of the prompts to keep up with your stories if you wanted. The most useful exercise involved writing from posted photos with a link to random photos of the day. This exercise worked well for me since I could check a large number of interesting and odd photos until one struck me. If I could remember the link to this page, I would go back to it and use it. Alas, it seems to be lost. Although I found others on the web, none of them featured photos as interesting.
Although the exercises for this class were interesting, I did not find the overall class very enjoyable and eventually quit. The enrollment was small. As for interaction in the form of comments on the mostly very short pieces posted, the only people who commented were two participants I already “knew” from the One Story classes. I did start out commenting on other people’s stuff, but when the favor is not returned, I feel like my comments are not welcome and my effort is wasted, so I stop.
A friend from my next foray into workshops reported that he signed up for a class through this site and had a similar experience. Most of the participants had quit before the class was finished. Because there was little back and forth between you and anyone else in the class, it is hard to rate the platform, but for a small class it appeared to be adequate. The group does offer many interesting sounding classes such as Create a Book Trailer and their prices are reasonable.
Sometimes I forget that I published a piece in a journal. Sometimes I wonder if I’m remembering wrong, especially when I search the archives of said journal and nothing shows up. When that happened today I googled away and after about six attempts, I finally got the piece to show up.
Now I’m posting the link to the story so I don’t lose it again.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend Central City Opera’s rendition of “The Marriage of Figaro.” As usual, their production was wonderful, the voices great, the energy level high. I knew I was going to like it as soon as I heard Michael Sumuel, bass-baritone, singing on the trailer, and he lived up to expectations. Another opera lover described his voice as sitting in a cup of Earl Grey tea!The other baritones in the opera were all enjoyable and Susanna, soprano Anna Christy, was also great. What I love about the Central City opera company is that they cannot only sing, but most are also credible actors, which makes the silly opera stories that much more enjoyable.
While listening to the singers, I started mussing about how story and music interact and how this relates to literature. Many operas have rather silly plots, with characters dressing up as someone else, or hiding in spots where no person could really hide. In the dramas, everyone seems to die. A lot of the plots are eerily the similar. Many of them are based on the same play(s)–The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville. A number of Shakespeare’s plays are represented. For instance, Verdi operas include Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff. Both Gounod’s Faust and Boito’s Mephistopheles are based on Goethe’s Faust.
Although not universally true, most composers did not write the librettos for their own work. Often the librettist was a well-known poet. I suspect that most people, like me, do not have the slightest idea who wrote the words for the operas they like. The score is what is usually well known and loved, although when examined, librettos often contain wonderfully evocative phrases.
My thought while listening yesterday afternoon was that the music of opera can often be like the prose in the most lyrical of literary fiction, often covering up the faults in the storyline. Or, like the best poetry, the music evokes a feeling and the listener is less concerned about the plot making sense.
I’ve mentioned my quest to figure out what women’s fiction is, most recently in a blog on book covers. I picked up I’d Know You Anywhere at a recent bookswap, thinking it was women’s fiction. The title sounded like one my WF writing friends had mentioned. Also, the paperback cover features two pictures of the backs of women in what appear to be raincoats. Not the dead giveaway of flowers or children, but hinting it might be for and about women. The book did receive accolades from the likes of Stephen King, as well as decent reviews.
A month or so prior to reading the above, the Board of the Friends of the Colorado State Library sponsored a talk by Elizabeth L. Silver. She spoke about her 2013 novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. At least two versions of the cover of this novel include a partial face of a woman. What I take to be the hardback edition features only text, with some of the words crossed out. This, too received good reviews, although I am not able to unearth a review on the NYTimes.
What do these novels have in common? Each has a female protagonist. Both have murderers on death row facing dwindling days to their execution. Laura Lippman’s story is told in alternating past and present chapters recounting the story of Eliza’s kidnapping, and what she’s doing now. A few other points of view are included. Occasional sections are about the mother of the young girl for whose murder Walter is to die. Sections of Noa P. include letters the mother of Noa’s victim wrote to her daughter.
How would I categorize these two novels? Are either women’s fiction? In a short article, Rebecca’s Rules: Defining Women’s Fiction (Booklist, March 15, 2013), Rebecca Vnuk suggests that women’s fiction deals with emotions and relationships of a female protagonist, and that “the main thrust of the story is that something happens in the life of that woman.” She then tries to set romance, women’s fiction, and literary fiction apart. One clue, Vnuk says between women’s fiction and literary is if you pay more attention to the beauty of the words than the story. She notes that the two can be confusing to distinguish and also says there is nothing wrong with filing a book under “general fiction.”
Although a large portion of IKYA is from the male antagonist’s point of view, the above definition allows both books to fall into the WF category. Somehow or other, I would never think to call Noa P. a work of women’s fiction. Probably IKYA was published as suspense or crime fiction, but to me, a non-expert on WF, it seemed very much like a novel that could be called women’s suspense fiction. What marked the difference between these two books and their classification?
Both deal with the aftermath of a murder on both the perpetrator, the families of the victim, others involved in the subsequent legal case, and the death penalty itself. Another clue Vnuk gives to distinguish between women’s fiction and literary or general fiction is if the main character can be substituted with a man. Probably this would not work, or would be a completely different story in the case of the Lippman book. In the case of Noa, it might be possible, although it would again make it a much more common story.
The main difference between the two books, and where I would classify them, is in the writing, but not necessarily because I spent more time “admiring the use of language” in Noa than enjoying the story. I didn’t much like the character of Noa. I didn’t like Eliza, either, but for different reasons. Noa was unpleasant but, as someone with at least psychopathic tendencies, interesting. Eliza was plain dull, a wife, a mother, with few interests or thoughts outside of that role. If Lippman’s purpose was to show how being the victim of a crime dulls the senses and impacts the personality, she may have done an excellent job, but it seems to me if that was the intent, there should have been some way to show us that that was what she was doing. Every once in awhile Eliza would know something or show interest in something that seemed to me, as a critical reader, more to advance the story of make a more interesting observation than as something this character would actually say or do or know.
The other characters in the Lippman book–with the exception of Walter whom I felt was well portrayed–were right out of central casting. So many books have a best friend/older sister who feels like every other best friend or sister in every other book in the world. In Eliza’s case, the older sister might be described as “lovingly bullying,” but possessing all the expected traits: the Golden Girl to Eliza’s housewife, the smart one to Eliza’s dropping out of her masters program, the single career woman to Eliza’s long marriage with the “perfect” children. Noa’s only friend, who died in childhood, did not seem like her traits had been purchased in the stock store of characters, although her early demise did not flesh her out.
Eliza’s parents were both oh-so-perfect psychiatrists; again, more a role than real characters. Noa’s mother is quite awful. Her father is a reformed convict and not much like fathers in other books. Both are believable, but not particularly likeable. Eliza’s husband is too good/smart/understanding to be true. I kept expecting him to fail her, to in some way make her perfect life a lie. That would have made the story more complex and interesting, but in the end, he’s left home so that the sister can finish out the novel with Eliza.
Noa P. was told in the first person while Eliza’s story was all third. Eliza’s thoughts and feelings were explained and then explained again, while Noa held back information and lied, making you have to work to figure out what was going on in the dialogue as well as the rest of the story. This telling of emotions very well might be what I most objected to in the Lippman book. This over-explaining with dialogue that seldom rang true was for me what made this a less interesting read. I wonder if this problem might have been fixed if Eliza had told her part of the story in the first person.
I have to continue my search for “real” women’s fiction. I hope that some of what, for me, are deficits in the style of writing do not define the “genre.”
This is going to be my 50th published post. Even though this is close to a post a week for a full year, it appears my first effort launched in September. I received notice of an automatic payment for my URL due in July, so I must have had the blog in mind for awhile before I actually wrote anything.
One of the reasons I started the blog was that I attended the Writing and Yoga Retreat and Linda Epstein, the agent who was one of the two people running the retreat mentioned she checks online presence while she waits for requested material. This made me think, “Oh, maybe I really do need some sort of web page.” So I bought a URL and then set about learning a bit about setting up a blog site.
Because the manuscript I was hoping to sell at the time had at least a secondary theme of friendship, and because friendship theory has always been of great interest to me, I wanted to concentrate on writing about that. In college I did numerous papers on the subject, including my own theory, which I explicated briefly in my novel. I liked the idea of writing about something other than writing,because it seemed presumptuous to think I had something more to say about writing than one of the other 678,9452* other blogs out there addressing writing.
Besides, I’ve always been a bit contrary and wanted to write about something else. Something the rest of the world wasn’t addressing. I googled friendship and found a few websites but nothing that appeared active or addressed the aspects I was interest,ed in. So I thought I’d be okay.
But like most of my other blog ideas, this one was harder to write about than I thought. I have things to say; the question is, do I want to say them in a potentially public forum where I might be talking about someone who might read the post? It’s in the (remote) realm of possibility.
For awhile, it seemed that everything was saying, “If you write, you need a blog to attract readers.” I took a social media course through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and it stressed you needed a place for your fans to find out about you. My thought was, “But I want readers, not fans.” I wasn’t looking for (unlikely) adoration, nor was I looking to become friends via my blog. I mean, I wouldn’t mind meeting people or even becoming friends, but that wasn’t the main purpose of the blog.
Now I’m seeing more and more articles/blog posts saying that you don’t really need to have a blog, or maybe you don’t need to spend that much time on one. (Here is one about blogging.) I enjoy coming up with topics, especially linking activities and objects that seem to have little to do with writing to writing. I find blog posting satisfying, if time consuming, and the time it consumes is that in which I should be working on my latest manuscript.
That last is a reason I should stop, but last week I finally had cards made up to hand out to people I meet at conferences and I put this web address on them.
I did manage to write enough columns to have bypassed my previous “record” of four posts, and I do have a second blog which I plan to keep going. The second is a quick weekly challenge that involves eating pancakes, so it has its own reward.
Maybe what I’ll change is the title of this blog. Probably what I should adjust is the focus. Since I am time-limited due to my work schedule, I will have to post this as it is right now and worry about those other changes later–or leave it for Post 51!
Why do you keep blogging? What keeps you from giving up?
*for my very literal readers, this is a made up number and, I hope, an obvious exaggeration.
At first glance this post about The Denver Museum of Nature and Science didn’t seem to have much to do with writing, reading, or friendship, but as I wrote it, I naturally found a way to tie in three of the topics of this blog.
In 2012, I attended the first Colorado State University Alumni Beer Tasting at which we not only sampled innovative small plates concocted with various beers, but also sipped selections from a number of breweries. The participants were treated to a talk on the history and science of brewing by Dr. Nicole Garneau, the chair and curator for human health in the DMNS Department of Health Science. She mentioned an experiment that was being conducted with volunteer visitors to the museum. As I am someone who loves many bitter foods but doesn’t like bitter beers (sours are another matter), I was greatly interested in this research into the genetics of “supertasters.” This was nicknamed the blue tongue project. Three thousand visitors participated in the study, and the results have been published in Frontiers of Integrative Neuroscience. Participating was fun, interesting, and exciting. What more do you need to be inspired? You could come with ideas for stories set in a lab, or with a character as a study participant.
Having my curiosity piqued energizes me and gives me the inspiration to work on my own writing even if it isn’t a science fiction tale of experiments gone wrong. Currently, the Genetics of Taste Lab is conducting a study on the ability to taste fatty acids. Pretty much all you have to do to take part is show up.
One of my favorite exhibits at the DMNS is hidden away on the third floor. I’m always afraid it is either gone, or I’m lost, when I walk through rooms of stuffed animals to find it. The delight Konovalenko: Gem Carvings of Russian Folk Life sets off in me is well worth the search.
The first time I encountered this room full of carvings and dioramas, I was one of the few visitors. Lately, it has become more crowded, limiting the time I can stand in front of each tableau and marvel at the use of the different stones and the expressions on the sculptures’ faces. I expect these miniature people to stand up and sing bawdy beer songs. It isn’t hard imagining them coming to life after-hours.
There is plenty of other inspiration to be found, especially in the rotating exhibits. Currently on display is MAYA: Hidden Worlds Revealed. This exhibit would be a must for anyone writing about that culture. The recently completed exhibit, Pompeii: The Exhibition, might have inspired those writing about that event, whether fiction or nonfiction. The overwhelming emotions the replicas of the dead brought up might provide inspiration for a natural disaster story or even pure horror. Remembering the exhibit made descriptions in Rising Fire by John Calderazzo come to life.
Many more opportunities exist at the museum, especially for members. The IMAX Theater is featuring three 3d films this summer. Topics include D-Day, lemurs, and pandas. The museum offers classes, bird walks, and programs for families, including sleepovers. During the summer, the museum is open some Friday nights during which you can enjoy their cash bar. Why not join and enjoy some new inspiration for your writing? You might even build on a friendship you already possess–or possibly make a new one!