A Still Point ~ Lucricia Hall’s View From the Keyboard

One of the best things that happens when you attend the Interlochen College of Creative Arts Writers’ Retreat in Interlochen, Michigan, is that you meet a whole new circle of writers. Sure, there will be some you knew before, or at least have read and admired–Tony Ardizzone, Fleda Brown, Anne-Marie Oomen, Katey Schultz–but I am referring to the others here. Those writers who are in the early stages of their work, some having turned their backs on their creative life in order to raise families, start careers, follow more traditional paths. And those others who didn’t know they had writing in them, but who have discovered through their love of reading and sharing stories that maybe it is time to try this writing thing out themselves. I so enjoy these new (or newish, or returning) writers. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Their desire is great. Their talent is surfacing in ways they might never have imagined.

This past summer I met many of these writers, among them, Lucricia Hall. She and her husband Sam added so much to the retreat (including Sam’s considerable talent as an opera singer–he serenaded us one evening and brought many of us to tears.) They sat side-by-side at each event, faces turned upward, listening keenly, laughing, nodding, taking it all in. And since this retreat escape, Lucricia has made a commitment to her writing life, in spite of her busy other-life of being a mother, a nurse, a contributing partner. And now it brings me great joy to introduce Lucricia Hall to you all. Here she is:

Lucricia: When people ask me what I do, my knee-jerk reaction is to answer I’m a nurse. But what I “do” is write. I am not a published author; I don’t have an agent; I’m not making any money…but I write. I write because the stories whisper to me and I have the privilege of hearing them and bringing cohesion to the various bits. I write for the joy of creating something entirely my own. I share it on my blog in the hopes that people will enjoy my creation. And if they don’t enjoy it then maybe it will make them think, talk or write.

Yep, this is where it happens. One day I will have a space of my own but for now the dining table will do. I work full time so my writing happens in the evenings. I carry my journal with me everywhere because I never know when an idea will present itself. Painful past experience has taught me that I will NOT remember it later. From the journal to the blog. Repeat daily.

Here’s an excerpt from my blog The Still Point.

Didn’t I Already Do This?

I am exhausted! What have I been doing you ask? Training for a marathon? Saving puppies from burning buildings? Making sweet love to my husband?

NO! I am babysitting my niece, Lizzy, age 10 and my nephew, Kael, age 6. Now, my kids are 19 (the twins) and 15. I have not had to wipe a poopy butt, fix a lunch, get a drink of water, or “entertain” my kids in years. I am woefully out of practice!

First of all, you have to have the stamina of an Iron Man athlete to keep up with young kids. I think my stamina is that of a sloth or, on a good day, a koala. I have come to enjoy a life of leisure and it has been completely ripped from me this weekend.

Liz and Kael got here Saturday around noon. I needed a nap by 1:45 but plowed through the fatigue and sleepiness to blow bubbles, color, play soccer, make bracelets, get 7 glasses of water, make dinner and then reheat pizza because “I don’t like this” was sung in chorus, make beds in the living room, play with Legos, play Wii, watch Avatar (the cartoon), announce that it is bedtime, get 3 more glasses of water, make Kael go to the bathroom before laying down a third time, kisses on the head, I love you’s whispered, threats of death if you get up ONE MORE TIME and then the sweet oblivion of sleep!

Sunday: See Above.

Read the rest:
http://thestillpoint-lucriciahall.blogspot.com/2011/08/didnt-i-already-do-this.html

◊◊◊

Lucricia, thanks for finding the time to share your work space with us. Good luck with the blog and the babysitting, and with the writing life juggle. -PMc←

Ray Bradbury’s View From the Keyboard

You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.  ~ Ray Bradbury

Just a few days ago, Ray Bradbury celebrated his 91st birthday. Happy Birthday, sir!

For more on this literary icon, read Sam Weller‘s fabulous authorized biography, The Bradbury Chroniclesand his collection of interviews with Bradbury, Listen to the Echoes.

 

Image from the New York Times. Thanks for reading. -PMc

In Praise of the Short Story ~ A Conversation with Joe Melia

The Bristol Short Story Prize out of the United Kingdom is one of the few international awards that specifically celebrates the short story form. With generous guidelines that allow writers from anywhere in the world to submit more than one story–so long as the writer is over 16 years old–and prizes that include publication and cash (or gift certificate,) the Bristol Short Story Prize does more than its share to support short story writers in their endeavors.

At the heart of this operation is Joe Melia. A man who has spent a good part of his life surrounded by books and people who read (he worked for years in bookshops around Bristol,) Joe continues to make a difference in writers’ and readers’ lives by coordinating the Bristol Short Story Prize and the brand new ShortStoryVillejamboree.

Recently, Joe was kind enough to spend some time in conversation with me about reading and writing short stories, and about the prize and the jamboree. Here’s what I found out:

PMc: The Bristol Short Story Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for short story writers, has been around since 2007, yes? Have you been part of it since the beginning? 

JM: Thanks for calling it ‘prestigious’, Patty, really appreciate it! Yes, we’ve just completed our fourth competition and published our fourth anthology. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved from the start. I was working in a Bristol bookshop and had a meeting with three Bristol publishers who mentioned the idea along with lots of other stuff. As a short story fan it was a wonderful thing to hear.

PMc: Why did you choose to become so deeply involved in the honouring of the short story form? What are some of your favorite short stories? Why these?

JM: For the last decade or so I’ve read short stories more than anything else. I love the intense, all-consuming reading experience short stories provide. You have to surrender completely to a short story when you read it and that’s fairly unique, I think. There’s no cruising or drifting like there can be with a longer work. And that’s what makes short stories stand out for me. As a reader you are completely involved from the first word and that doesn’t change on second, third, or fourth readings. Reading a short story is a massive commitment, and also a joyful one.

As for favourite stories, there are thousands. Far, far too many to mention.  Other than the ones we’ve published, a few favourites that spring to mind are: ‘Bezhin Lea’ by Ivan Turgenev, ‘Barking’ by Emily Perkins, ‘The Chain’ by Tobias Wolff, Judy Budnitz’s  ‘Preparedness’, ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ by Eudora Welty, ‘Go Away’ by Tania Hershman, ‘My Oedipus Complex’ by Frank O’Connor, The Distances’  Julio Cortazar, ‘Sweet Memory Will Die’ by A.L.Kennedy, ‘The Brown Pint of Courage’ by James Meek, ‘Misery’ by Anton Chekhov, ‘The Other Mr Panossian’ by Nik Perring, ‘A Small Good Thing’ by Raymond Carver, ‘Brownies’ by Z.Z. Packer, ‘The Mark on the Wall’ by Virginia Woolf, ‘A Real Durwan’ by Jhumpa Lahiri, ‘The Lunch-Box’ by Italo Calvino, ‘One Hundred Rupees’ by Ivan Bunin, ‘Harriet Elliot’ by Robin Black and ‘King’ by Alan Beard. There are many, many, many more. Have, also, read loads of great stories recently by Seth Fried, Kirsty Logan, Danielle Evans, Stuart Evers, Amelia Gray, Tom Vowler, Patricia Engel, Laura van den Berg and plenty of other writers – it’s such an exciting time to be a short story reader right now.

PMc: An impressive list. Can you tell us some about ShortStoryVille and how it came to be? What is your role in that—its inception and its execution?

JM: We wanted to find different ways to share our enthusiasm for short stories and ShortStoryVille is the result. We, also, wanted to get local schools reading more short stories and thinking about them. Inviting students to work with writers we have published—to produce work in different genres based on stories we’ve published—seemed like a great way of getting lots of different people together and also introducing school students to really exciting stories. And then putting them on the same bill as really established writers and publishers was the obvious way to go. There has been an explosion in short story activity in the last few years and we want to be right in the thick of it all.

I helped to shape the idea, I suppose. Two big influences were seeing Dave Eggers at the Hay Festival a few years ago, there was a great atmosphere and not a furrowed brow in sight as there can be at festivals form time to time. He was introduced by Zadie Smith and it felt like a really special, unique occasion. Dave Eggers was humble, hilarious, witty, irresistible. He chatted for a bit then read a story narrated by a pizza-eating dog called Stephen. The place was filled with an amazing exuberance. If we can eventually get within touching distance of capturing a tiny molecule of that spirit with ShortStoryVille then that would be brilliant.

And reading John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? had a big effect. It’s an absolutely amazing, stimulating, provocative book – immensely quotable and wise, and inspired the idea of getting schools involved.

PMc: How do you make time to stay current with your reading with all of the work you must have to do to coordinate these events? Do you carry a book in your bag at all times? Can you tell us a little about your reading habits (where, when, how you choose your books, etc.)?

JM: I nearly always have several books on the go at the same time. Short stories are great for that—overlapping and mixing up. Tend to read at home and in the evenings more than during the day. Choosing what to read happens in a variety of ways. There’s nothing better than a browse in a bookshop, discovering new writers and taking a punt on something. The internet is such a fascinating place with so many enthusiasts sharing recommendations and that’s probably where I tend to get the majority of triggers for reading choices. Sites like the brilliant theshortreview.com and Scott Pack’s meandmyshortstories blog are great for making readers aware of just how much great stuff is out there. Twitter is also a great source; I’ve discovered loads of great writers from Twitter recommendations.

PMc: Do you consider reading to be an important part of a society, of a culture? Why or why not?

JM: Reading helps in loads of different ways. It encourages and inspires understanding, empathy, creativity, knowledge gathering and so much more. So the answer is yes.

PMc: What other reading do you make time to do besides the short story? Dirty pleasures?

JM: I read the occasional novel and some non-fiction every now and again and try to read a few pages of John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? most weeks (yes, it is that brilliant). I love reading reviews too – not just in newspapers and magazines but online blogs too. You often get the most sincere and committed comment from the latter. As for ‘Dirty Pleasures’ I’m not sure what would qualify. I’m a big cricket fan and there’s an ex-player who writes about the sport for the Guardian newspaper, Mike Selvey, and he’s a champ of a writer…wish he’d have a go at some short stories, actually. Does that qualify?

PMc: Sure. So Joe, what is the hardest part of the work you do for the prize and for the festival?

JM: I wouldn’t call any of it hard, really, it’s a such a pleasure. Perhaps having to let some stories go when we’re putting the longlist together can be tough in a sense but I wouldn’t call any of it hard.

PMc: And are you writing short stories, too?

JM:  Did a bit of dabbling many years ago, but that’s long gone. Much, much happier reading, promoting and championing.

PMc: Thank you Joe Melia, for your support of the short story. Always good to have a champion in the corner. Thanks, too, for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck with next year’s prize and jamboree.

◊◊◊

View From the Keyboard Guidelines

I invite you, my writerly friends, to submit to me a picture of your writing space. I’ll call this segment of the blog “View From the Keyboard,” but know that I am not limiting submissions to those of you who write on a keyboard. Whatever space you write in, whatever tools you use to write, whatever trinkets or photos or books or animals or libations, etc.,  you surround yourself with can be part of your photo. I’d also like to know what you are writing. And once I start to gather these submissions, I will begin to post them now and again, and share your spaces and your writing with others as well.

The How:

  1. Take a photo of your writing space (with or without you in it.)
  2. Write a brief description/explanation of this space. Say whatever you want about it. Some ideas–why this space? What little thing here inspires you? What can’t we see in the photo? How much time do you spend there? What time of day do you write? And so on. You get the idea.
  3. Submit–if you are willing–no more than 250 words of something you have written in this space.
  4. Self-promote anything you might want to here. Website? Publications? Etc.
  5. Make sure to let me know how to contact you in return.
  6. Send jpeg of photo. Cut and paste text into an email. Send to templeofair@gmail.com
  7. In your email, please put the words “I agree to let Patricia McNair edit this submission for publication on her website/blog.” And don’t submit if you don’t agree to this. I will respect your work and your words as best I can.

The What Next:

  1. Be patient. I will respond as soon as I can. I am hoping to use each submission I get, but may have to discriminate along the way depending on number of submissions and their appropriateness.
  2. I will contact you if I use your submission on my blog, but may post it before you receive and respond to the notification (see #7 above.)
  3. Check back regularly to see what others are posting. Share the site with friends. Expand this community of writers.

Finally;

  • Thanks in advance to everyone who participates in any way, either by submitting, reading, or sharing. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Labor of Love and Neurotoxins ~ The View From Sam Snow’s Keyboard

Sam Snow is a writer of many things, including the very impressive graphic story you will find an excerpt from below. On one of his project sites, Fair Weather Militia Comics, he is referred to as “Hunter S. Thompson reincarnate.” I don’t know; Sam Snow may even be cooler than that literary icon.

His comic STRAITS, Sam tells us, is “a weird labor of love.” In that spirit, his workspace is shown, as he says, “how it feels rather than how it actually looks.”

Sam: This spot is the spare bedroom in our apartment. Pretty much anything worth messing with in that room is on that desk. Behind the lens is a bookshelf, crates of breakbeat and house records, some boxes, and luggage that I never got around to shoving back in the closet. Since this is a garden apartment, and since I was raised Catholic and am thus cursed with some sense of guilt no matter whether or not I’m actually guilty, I leave the blinds closed.

The written submission is something that I’m working on right this minute. It’s an excerpt from STRAITS, a comic book I’m working on with Kevin Anderson. The website is: www.fwmcomics.com

There’ll be more art and whatnot soon. We’re just getting started, y’see.

STRAITS (an excerpt, pages two and three)

D: Al has been cut in half along his waist. His upper torso is on the ground as though he is sticking out of the floor. His legs, still standing, are right next to him. He is smiling at the camera. Bottom: “BISECTION!” with the checked box.

E: A scan image of Al under the ground, buried. He is giving a thumbs-up. Let the scan be part of a device that is set up in front of a dirt-filled, clear-walled enclosure, like a square aquarium. Bottom: “CRUSH ASPHYXIA!” with the checked box.

F: Al is wearing what is left of a mostly acid-dissolved suit of what is easily recognized as assault armor. The armor is still bubbling, smoking, and melting in parts like candlewax. Al’s head is exposed, and he is smiling at the camera. Bottom: “ACIDS!” with the checked box.

G: A gas that should clearly be killing him surrounds Al. Instead, he is smiling at the camera and giving a thumbs-up. Bottom: “NEUROTOXINS!” with the checked box.

H: Al is holding onto two electrical coils, but the current passes along the surface of his body. His hair does not stand on end at all. The light from the arcing current cuts sharp shadows. He is smiling at the camera, looking a bit creepy. Bottom: “ELECTROCUTION!” with the checked box.

 ◊◊◊

Readers, to get the full effect, do drop over at Fair Weather Militia Comics; some serious creating going on over there. Thanks, Sam, for inviting us into your space. -PMc←