Wednesday, December 31, 2008
What else do I resolve? Well, I can't quite see how 2009 could beat 2008: a 30-year dream was realised, my book was published. How does it get better than that? My next resolution is to stop worrying about how to proceed, stop trying to define life-post-book, and just go with the flow. I will write what I write, and if it is "just" flash fiction, that's fine. And if it turns out to be longer stories, that's good too. And maybe it will turn out to be something I haven't imagined yet.
I already have quite a few plans for next year, which isn't like me: book promotion in London in Feb during Jewish Book Week, some exciting and inspiring trips in June and possibly in August. It's hard for me to see that far ahead. Take it one day at a time.
I also want to say thank you: thank you to all of you who celebrated, and continue to celebrate my book with me. Your delight has really made this the most magical experience, sharing it is far greater than keeping it to myself. Thank you to everyone who bought a copy, thank you to those of you who reviewed it, who blogged about it, who hosted me on your blogs. Thank you to all my new friends made through my writing, our writing. Next year, I look forward to giving as much as I have received, which will be a hard task indeed!
I wish all my blog readers a wonderful New Year, a year full of great books and creativity and inspiration, peace and connections, openness and serendipity. See you on the other side!
Monday, December 29, 2008
Describe your writing process. Do you wait for your muse to pitch up or do you do the 9-5?Head on over there for the rest of the interview, including my 25-word "flash" ad designed to persuade anyone who hasn't already to buy my book! Did it work? You tell me!
Ah, well! Neither, actually. I tried the 9-5 for a few days and then discovered that it doesn't work for a short story writer. Novelists need to put in the time, they have a lot of words to get down, and many redrafts to go through. But it doesn't help me to structure my writing like that. But - I also don't wait for any muse. I try to make the headspace for writing and writing-related matters. To just show up, as someone said...............
I’ve had discussions with other writers about using new technologies to up the popularity of short stories and, especially, flash fiction (i.e. podcasts, SMS, etc.) . Do you use any of this technology? If so can you explain how you used it and if it was effective?
I have had two short stories broadcast on podcasts, I didn't read them myself, and I did love how they sounded, but I don't think this works for any short story. I am a great lover of the radio, but not all stories are intended to be read out. The way they look on the page, the layout, and the ability to read them at your own pace and hear the voice in your head as you imagine it not as the actor performs it, that for me is an essential part of the reading experience.........
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Here is a short excerpt from the interview:
What’s the worst thing about being a short story writer?
Having people ask me whether they are for children - and then they ask when I am going to write something proper (a novel). I hate that!
Your stories are filled with emblems. They lend your stories a surreal quality. When did you first start realizing the power of the image, and what kind of freedom does it give you, to write stories clustered around images?
To be honest, I hadn’t thought about this until you mentioned it. I don’t plot my stories, I hear a voice in my head, a first line, and I just follow it and see where it goes. I don’t sit and think, well, this is my central image and I will weave a story around this. If this has happened in several of the stories, it is entirely unconscious! That said, while I am writing I will sometimes see a powerful image emerging and that will end up driving the story, such as the cake in the shape of the Sun in Self Raising or the man braiding the woman’s hair in Plaits. But it is not a conscious process.
For the rest of the interview, click here. Also, take the time to read some of Marianne's other blog posts, she is a wonderful writer with a very interesting take on life, which is why her blog is anthropologist.wordpress.com!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
It's reading my own writing. That makes me so happy. Maybe because it shows me I can. Maybe because I write mostly for myself, I write the sorts of things I want to read, and so my writing is tailor-made for me and I love it, love all my "children", even if they are a little bent and squished.
I haven't written anything for a while (see earlier Distraction post), and have been very reluctant to even visit my works-in-progress. A real physical reluctance, stemming from a "What if they are really actually awful?" But I just managed to fight all procrastination and take a look at the one work-in-progress that I am the most excited about, a piece of writing that is undefined, a novelty for me. I have been trying to write a film script, I have a great idea for a beginning, but no more. So instead of plotting it out etc.., I thought I would get to know my protagonist a bit better, follow her around. This is what this "piece of writing" is, me "riffing". And because I hadn't defined it with any weighty titles like "short story" or "plot synopsis", I let myself go, I wrote loosely, I had fun.
I just read what I've written, 2880 words, which (as those of you who know me will appreciate) is very very long! And I have just got to, in screenplay terms, the "inciting incident". And I love it. The voice is different from anything I've done before, it's not my protagonist's voice, it's a fairly sarky omniscient narrator who is hopping around into various people's heads. It's fun. But it's also got what I was trying to get at, a kind of darkly comic aspect. To me, anyway. This makes me very happy. And I didn't put any pressure on myself to write. Just read it.
Lovely. I feel all warm and fuzzy now. Why don't I do this more often? (ahhh, the nagging voice....)
"You wouldn't expect to learn to ski by practicing a few minutes every month,"he says.
Good advice. Not easy. Listen to him talk about it.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I am actually very grateful to whoever mis-categorized the Sony ICFC318S Clock Radio as a Japanese short story collection because it has meant that I just laugh at the whole thing and can not take seriously whatever this bestselling stuff means. Because otherwise, I might start thinking things about me and about my writing. And I'd rather not. So that's good.
On the subject of laughing and of distraction, I giggled out loud at the comment made by Annie Clarkson, (whose beautiful collection, Winter Hands, I reviewed here) on my previous post that "distraction is the new black". And then I remembered: I had pretty much said this myself, in my post a few months ago entitled "Focus, Insight and Creativity, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Scrabulous". My thesis, backed up by the New Yorker, was something to do with not focussing on what you're trying to do. My blog post ended with a quote:
"If you want to encourage insight, they you've also got to encourage people to relax."Thanks, Annie, for reminding me about what I, apparently, already knew!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I am going to fully and utterly: BE DISTRACTED
From now on I am officially: distracted.
Not one foot in distraction and one foot swinging wildly around trying to find a place to land. Both feet in. I have committed.
It takes a year, they tell me, after your book comes out, before you can get down to work again - what with the constant thoughts of "How do I sell? How do I persuade people to buy it?", the reviews - whether they be positive, balanced or negative - the updating of the websites, the checking of Sitemeter to see who has visited the website, the answering of the questions on Virtual Book Tours, the complaining on my blog.... Time-consuming!
It feels good to have given in to it instead of fighting it. Maybe I will write something. But that will be a bonus. I have plenty to do - The Short Review is always there, and now I have 12 students who will shortly be sending work for critique, which is a wonderful new challenge, both of those being short-story related without involving me writing stories. I am in the field I want to be in, with the most exciting things happening on a daily basis. I just received a card from a friend with wishes for a great and successful 2009, and I thought, well, 2009 is going to have to try very hard to beat 2008!
Officially Distracted Writer Signs Off.
It changes every hour. So this might be my one hour of Amazon Bestsellerness!
Author Tania Hershman stopped by Eco-Libris on the blog tour for her collection, "The White Road and Other Stories." A British-born former science journalist, Hershman now uses science as a jumping off point for her fiction and makes her home in Israel. She writes, "after London, Jerusalem feels like a village to me, it's a manageable size, I can go places on foot, friends live in walking distance, I have my favourite cafes, the food here is fantastic." She cites Etgar Keret as a "huge inspiration."Musn't get hung up on the fact that I was waffling on about the food instead of literature!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Side effects. By-products.For the full "interview", visit KellySpitzer.com.
Are often more interesting. Get rid of the main attraction, take a peek to the side, what’s happening in the margins, out of the spotlight. Distract your mind, put your attention somewhere and let your brain whirr away in the background. By-products can be toxic, altering; side-effects can include twitches, upsets, asymmetry, imbalance. Much more interesting than whole, healthy, walking the straight line. Veer off the main drag, take a detour, walk the darker paths, the roads less taken.
Need gift ideas for the holidays? Look no further, everything you need is in The Short Review's December issue: we have ten short story collections and anthologies to recommend, which wend their way from Cyprus to New York to North Dakota, from the past to the future, from music to magic, fantasy to erotica, monkeys, with much flash fiction and a helping of humour.
Ledra Street by Nora Nadjarian
The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert Heinlein
New York Echoes by Warren Adler
Dirty Girls edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Dial M for Monkey by Adam Maxwell
Space Magic by David D. Levine
Months and Seasons by Christopher Meeks
As in Music by Kathy Page
Night Train by Lise Erdrich
And seven author interviews, with
David D. Levine
It's all here.
Happy New Year, may 2009 be filled with great reading (and many short stories!)
Monday, December 15, 2008
But... it was great. Really great. I didn't freeze or say anything too inappropriate, and Evan and I introduced the course and the location, and said what we needed to say. The part of the evening I had been concerned with was the Flash writing session in the second half. I had already heard that some people weren't keen on "writing exercises". Well, to be honest, neither am I. I either want to write or not write. Exercises, for me, such as "describe your character's childhood" or "write about a scene where two people have an argument" don't work for me. But writing to a set of flash prompts, that really does because it taps into that part of my brain that is activated when I am in the "zone".
So I told them all this. I said that this wasn't a writing exercise, but actual writing. I said how I had over 100 flash stories from such flash sessions, several of whom have been published. And they seemed to be happy to try.
Then someone said, Yes but what do we do with what we've written? And this was the part I hadn't wanted to mention til afterwards: the reading out of everyone's rough 1st drafts. I had to reveal that, and say that it would be wonderful if everyone read, but if someone really didn't want to...
Let me say: they all read! And they were all fabulous! Everyone had written a story, or the beginning of one. And each one was different, unique. I got such a thrill out of it, and I hope the others did too - seeing everyone take it seriously, and reading out their work with no hesitation, no disclaimers. It was a joy.
Sadly, I won't be seeing them again for 5 weeks - it is a 12-session course over 6 months, and Evan and I are alternating classes. I am really looking forward to it. A milestone, definitely. Paying me to talk about short stories? How crazy is that?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
THE title story in this book is everything fiction should be: inspiring, moving, comical, provocative and heartbreaking - and all that in just seven and a half pages. The rest of the stories in this collection are similarly remarkable. Some are also remarkably short: Go Away is, essentially, a well-told joke (and laugh-out-loud funny). Hershman's economy with words cloaks her subtlety and power, though: a second reading uncovers hidden moments in each story. Inspired by scientific progress and science journalism, including articles in New Scientist, and driven by an author dripping with talent, this is as good as modern reading gets.Those are my italics at the end. I won't rant on here, but this is for me the dream upon the dream coming true. First the book is published, then New Scientist, whose articles inspired half the stories, likes it and decides to reprint the title story. And now... they include it in their Best of 2008! And the reviewer, Michael Brooks, says crazy things like this is as good as modern reading gets.
I don't know what to say.
It is hard to accept that he is talking about my stories. But I will try hard to accept it. Or maybe I shouldn't. As a wise reviewer said to me, read the review, smile, let it go. Because otherwise I might just go wobbly. And how can I hold my (metaphoric) pen and write if I am wobbling??
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I like their ethos, it speaks to me:
"We believe in providing people with easy and affordable ways to take responsibility for their actions and go green. We don’t believe in preaching doom and gloom. It’s not our style. We do believe in taking action and in the power of small changes to make a big impact."To this end, they aim to balance out (Eco-Libris doesn't like the term "offset") half a million books by the end of 2009. As well as collaborating with authors and publishers, any reader can go to the website and pay Eco-Libris to balance out their own books.
Well, I was happy enough to be collaborating with Eco-Libris, but I didn't know how much effort they would also put in to publicise my book, which they have written about on all sorts of green websites, for which I am very grateful! And now, I am appearing on the Eco-Libris blog as part of my 11-stop Virtual Book Tour. We're talking about green issues, as well as other topics like living in Israel. A taster:
Q: One eco-friendly option for book lovers is going to the public library. Do you do that? if so, how often?Read the rest of the blog interview here and if you leave a comment you can win a free book!
A: I loved libraries as a child in London, my weekly trip with my Dad, the hushed atmosphere, the miles of free books, so much to read, a seemingly endless supply. Here in Jerusalem, things are a little different. I don't read for pleasure in Hebrew.We used to live a few doors from the British Council and they had a great English-language library, but budget cuts forced them to close, and I haven't found a replacement. But when we spent a year in the UK for me to do my MA in Creative Writing, we lived in Bristol and I spent a lot of time in all the city's libraries, and even set a story there. I wish there was somewhere here I could go to. But I must confess that I like to buy books and I like to own the books I love. It's a constant struggle.
Authors - think about doing this yourselves. It doesn't cost a fortune, and, as someone recently said on their blog, if your book becomes a bestseller and it does end up costing more, then you'll be so rich and famous it won't matter! My book is only a teeny drop in that "half a million books" ocean, but every little helps.
"Here are Canongate we’re big fans of the short story..... though [The Short Review] may only just be celebrating it’s first anniversary, [Tania's] love and passion for the short story have already brought The Short Review Internet acclaim....In short (pardon the pun), with interviews, reviews and features in abundance this is definitely the place to go if you want to keep your finger on the short story pulse.""Thank you, Canongate - publishers of story collections by Miranda July and Nam Le - so glad to meet fellow short story lovers.
Check out the full article and don't forget to vote, leave a comment and have a look around Meet At The Gate.
Monday, December 08, 2008
This blazingly fast and funny semi-autobiographical novel follows a Russian man's comically earnest pursuit of the American dream. As a child, Alex, living in 1950s Siberia with his parents and grandparents, sees a picture of his American-born second cousin, Annie, and he believes he has found his destiny. Throughout his formative sexual experiences, he fantasizes about Annie, who embodies the exoticness of Western culture and the wholesomeness of the American dream. By the late 1970s, when Alex's parents decide to decamp for the U.S., Alex packs up his wife and their young daughter, too, and after the trio land in upstate New York, Alex goes to work at the IBM-like HAL Corporation while his wife, Lyuba, an internist, takes longer to settle in. At first, Alex is content with his new freedom-loving democratic identity, but as his children grow and Lyuba becomes more independent the dream begins to lose its sheen. The novel is hilarious, eye-opening and, by the end, a little depressing. It's tough not to have Alex's buoyant energy rub off on the reader.
I talked to Mark over email about the novel:
Tania: How long did it take you to write this book and what was the first section you wrote?
Mark: Well, it took me all my life to write it, but it took me two years to actually put it on paper. I wrote chapter 1 first.
T: What a neat answer, to have started with chapter 1. It took you all your life because it is, more or less, your life story? What made you start two years ago?
M: Original, too. Yes, it's my life story, however I fictionalize it to protect the innocent (I am guilty myself, so I need no protection). My younger daughter urged me to put the book on paper.
T: Was it a story you used to tell your daughters at bedtime? Did they already know a lot of it? Or did she urge you to write it down because she wanted to know?
M: No, I actually kept it mostly to myself. She wanted to know.
T: How was it, exploring something you had kept to yourself for so long? What did it bring up for you? Was it cathartic? Are there parts of Alex that are definitely not you and did this make the process of writing the book easier?
M:It was like quenching thirst. I should have written the book earlier, but I was ashamed to expose myself to the readers. So, yes, it was cathartic, physiologically speaking. As for Alex, he is more adventurous than I am and less inhibited. That's why I made him my spokesman.
T: Quenching a thirst, that's a great way to describe writing a novel! Perhaps you couldn't have written it earlier, I believe things come out when they come out - maybe you weren't thirsty enough before? You have described the book as "a novel in flash stories". You are the editor of the wonderful flash fiction magazine Vestal Review, which publishes stories under 500 words in print and online. What do you love about flash? And was this a conscious choice to write your novel this way?
M: I like the economy and the energy of flash. The ability to say a lot with a few words. As for your question if it was a conscious choice, writing is part art and part science. So you can plan but you need to improvise. Yes, I wanted the chapters to be short, but sometimes they spilled beyond my intended boundaries.
M: When you are a sole author rather than a co-editor, it's like driving your own sports car rather than a rented minivan. Unfortunately, my publisher does very little promotion except for sending a copy to book reviewers. I do most of the work myself through my website and blog, contacting reviewers, blogs and publications. I find reviews of the books that are similar to mine and send a reviewer an e-mail asking if they would be interested in my book.
T: Ok, last question: What's your next project?
M: I have several. A new anthology I co-edit will come come next year from Persea. We still need to add more stories to it. My agent is looking for a home for my next completed novel about two immigrants in search of a diamond.
And I am writing a novel about Lenin.
Busy man! Thanks so much to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions, I wish him much success with My Life at First Try. You can find out more about Mark on his website.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
A few interesting things: Melissa said that having always written on computer, she now writes first drafts by hand, to get rid of that urge that comes to instantly revise when you are typing on screen because it's so easy to cut-and-paste, shift things around. She says of her second book the Wonder Spot, that because she "knew this would be published" she didn't have any sense when it was finished and "had to have it ripped from my hands". She often, she says, has to rely on other people to tell her when to stop revising.
She also said something that I just encountered in my writing group's flash writing session this week: I felt that what I was writing wasn't flowing, that I was pushing it, and when I read it out, no-one understood the story, least of all me... and I knew exactly why! Melissa likens it to a ouija board, saying: "If I am pressing down to hard it will just stop." I like that sense that it is something mystical, this business of writing, something otherworldly, and you know, you just know, if you are doing it instead of it doing you.
Also - just listening to an older Writers on Writing podcast interview with poet Billy Collins, who talks about how he feels like a novel is a houseguest, who can be with you for weeks, even longer, where a poem just appears, says something and leaves. I guess a short story is somewhere in between, someone who pops in for tea. He also says that he has no work schedule, he writes as quickly as possible to get it all over with!
I am trying to avoid the difficulty!....There is very little pre-thought about it, lines will come and will form a little rhythm in your head... I am always looking for initiating line, the one that triggers, gets the poem going. ... Some lines have some forward roll to them and they create instant momentum and they drive you into the guts of the poem. And then the problem is how to get out.... The most difficult part of a poem is getting rid of it, getting out and getting back to the rest of your life.... All poems are about one thing, to the poet anyway. They are not about love or death or separation. They are about their own completion... how to drive the poem to some satisfactory, not conclusion or resolution, but some satisfactory line that will bring the poem home and leave the reader with a sense of fulfilment.He says he knows a poem is working when it does something to him, when
"it wakes you up. When the writer starts paying attention and wondering where is this all getting us and you feel yourself being carried into a new dimension. If the end of a poem arrives at a place that did not exist, was not conceivable before this particular poem began, then I think the poem is exciting, creates an impossible destination."This really speaks to me, I think it applies to short stories as well as poems, especially flash fiction. Go listen to this podcast too.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Missing by Marcia Aldrich, Vestal Review
You Should Know This by Meg Pokrass, Dogzplot
The Meaning of Life by Tom Robbins, Conjunctions
Her Ennead by Matt Bell, Storyglossia
The Dynamics of Windows by Kuzhali Manickavel, Subtropics
Allegory by Kiki Petrosino, Contrary magazine
My Life at First Try by Mark Budman
Have a wonderful weekend.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Send up to 3 of your saddest poems or stories (250 words or less)
We accept simultaneous submissions and reprints, suicide notes and bomb threats.
I am delighted I managed to sufficiently depress them. Always the aim of my writing.
Go read the issue, it's killer stuff.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
As well as their regular discounts, with their exclusive Christmas offer, all books are now a further 13% off, so the total discount is 33%. It's an offer you can't beat, and there really is something for everyone. Buy a few for the readers in your life - there is no greater gift for a reader, in my opinion, than being introduced to a new writer.
And - join Salt's Poetry Bank or the Story Bank: an annual subscription gets you four luxury, first edition hardbacks that Salt picks for you, as well as discounts on other Salt titles, and a free copy of either David Gaffney's wonderful flash fiction collection, Sawn-Off Tales (Story Bank) or Chris Hamilton Emery's own Poets in View (Poetry Bank).
Here are a few book covers to whet your appetite. Click on the images to visit the Salt page:
and yes...some of you might have heard me mention this one:
Happy holiday reading!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I was Highly Commended in last year's comp for my stage adaptation of the title story of my book, The White Road, so this is wonderful news, and also, it seems, a push in the direction of the theatre. I love theatre, did a lot of acting. So... must think about this some more. Perhaps "flash plays" adapated from flash fiction? There are One-Minute play competitions too!
Monday, December 01, 2008
"Ali Smith and Lorrie Moore are enormous influences; their short stories show me the possibilities of the form, that stories don’t have to be mini-novels, that they can be magical and otherworldly, can play with language. Alice Munro’s stories always inspire me, her language is unfussy, not pretty, not frilly, yet her stories slam into you and leave you reeling."Read the rest of the interview here.