I recently read Jess Walter’s book, Beautiful Ruins. There are many things I loved about this book: the way the author explores using the “I” who is present as the action is happening rather than the “I” who is looking back into the past and re-remembering what happened at the moment, the way the author reveals things to the reader using the above method, the idea of inserting a play a character wrote inside the narration, to name a few.

However, a minor thing that sticks in my mind is this idea a character said in the book. Americans talk around the issue instead of coming right out and saying the problem. I agree with this statement and I would go so far as to apply it to writing as well. There is this idea in writing that an author has to cleverly disguise what’s happening or not reveal the ending. But then, how do we account for Flannery O’Connor who tells the reader within the first paragraph the ending of all her short stories?

This is something I think writers need to get over. There is nothing wrong with telling the reader how things are going to end in the beginning because the story isn’t about what will happen to the character;  the story is about how the character got in that situation.

I also think writers need to stop writing around the issue. I DO THIS ALL THE TIME. If there is something I don’t feel like writing about, I gloss over it. But every time I do, someone calls me out on it and says, but you missed the point here.

For me, this writing around things comes from fear. I have this one flash fiction piece that can’t find a home. I took another look at it and realized I’m dancing around the story’s purpose. I revised the piece in a way that the first sentence tells the reader point blank how the character feels about the situation. Now the story unfolds for the reader why the character feels this way instead of the dancing around the issue of the character’s feelings.

I feel more confident in the story because it is now the one I really wanted to write all along but I was afraid of being honest with my reader. I won’t be there when a reader reads my story; I can’t open my brain and let the reader see what I was thinking. My story needs to tell the reader why and then explain how the why came to be for the character.

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Oscar Wilde once said bad poetry comes from real emotion. I have three journals of teen angst poetry that proves Wilde’s point. There were plenty of emotions raging through those words I set down on paper; however, those words and line breaks did not make a poem.

 

Today’s writing prompt looks at the world of emotion that lies within your drafts of poems.

Take something that has an emotional charge for you. It might be a letter, an email, a picture, or a song, but whatever it is, I want you to get it and look (or listen) to it.

For about ten minutes, just write everything that comes to mind about this object.

Now, go deeper. Take the next five minutes and write your reaction to the object.

What you will do next is take a word inventory from your free write. Look for categories you can name and put the actual word you used in the category. Now, look at the categories and look for the one you have the most words filled into the category. In this, what you are doing is finding the true emotion you have associated with this object.

Take the three words that stand out to you the most and weave them into a metaphor for the object. Use only one metaphor (anything else will clog up your poem).

Today’s interview is with author Carla Sarett. I “met” her through Facebook and enjoyed reading her collection Nine Romantic Stories

http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Romantic-Stories-ebook/dp/B00ANQT2LO. Below is our interview in which we discuss short stories and their place in contemporary fiction writing.

WITTLE There is a theory that an artist gets his or her talent bug at around age 12. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

SARETT When I was a girl, I wanted to be an actress, and writing was the last thing on my mind!  I got the “bug” to write short stories after my mother’s death a few years ago. (I had written screenplays earlier on, but that came from a different side of me.) I was given a journal as a gift, and tried to write memories and instead started writing short stories.  After that, writing became more than a bug—let’s call it a late-life love.

WITTLE What books most influence your writing?

SARETT Dickens for his endlessly varied characters; Kipling’s  stories for their ironic tone and masterful storytelling; P.G. Wodehouse for laugh out loud humor and inventive vocabulary; and the Yiddish writers with their blend of the mystical and the everyday.  I read lots of history, and the “voice” of history writers like Jan Morris is a big influence too.

As for the living writers, I try to avoid reading contemporary short story masters like Deborah Eisenberg when I am writing—but they’ve no doubt seeped into my brain!

WITTLE From your work, I get the impression you are mainly a short story writer. What appeals to you the most about this genre?

SARETT Well, I love the form, and if you don’t write what you love to read, you’re sunk.

Why do I love short stories?

First, I’m not psychological and I get bored when writers “explain” characters in terms of personal history.  It doesn’t appeal to me.  I’d rather know characters through their stories.  Second, I enjoy super-tight structure, and that’s easier to accomplish in short fiction.   And finally, I love hiding things, hinting, revealing the shapes but not their insides. That’s what short stories do best.

WITTLE Some say the short story is dead and only other writers read short stories. Do you think this is true?

SARETT Not at all!  Mobile devices make short stories ideal reading—and if you combine that with people’s ever-pressed schedules, I think that we’re ripe for a rebirth in short fiction.  After all, we do have over  4000+ literary magazines online—and some of them publish darned good fiction.

But yes, there’s been a trend toward what is best termed “writing school” stories, recognized by the constant use of the present tense.   I guess that writers like these stories, but regular readers, well, not so much.  So potential readers get a few too many such pieces, and think, oh, I don’t like short stories. But that’s a fad, and like other fads, is sure to change.

WITTLE What do you think is the key to a successful short story?

SARETT Ideally, a story has something to say that’s fresh, original and true.  So, the styles that express that vision can differ – no two writers could be more different than, say, Kipling and Salinger, and yet they’re both so wonderful.   The other key, in my mind is a great ending.  It’s like figure skating – the performance can be great, but if the ending isn’t clean, the story falls flat on its face.

WITTLE Who are some of your literary heroes and why?

SARETT I worship Muriel Spark because I think her writing approaches perfection, and her religious/mystical content is amazing.  Spark excelled in novellas, a form I love— she can  be funny and lyrical at the same time.

Willa Cather is the writer whose content I admire most.  I’m awestruck by the depth of feeling in the late novels and her non-standard use of plot.

My other constant star is Dickens, because of his humanity.   Every one of his characters is different, recognizable, and has a soul of his/her own.  He never discards a character.  It’s a world in which all people count – that’s the world I want to live in.

But I read voraciously so there are many other writers in my pantheon—lots of comic writers, like Dawn Powell  and Ring Lardner get neglected, but are fantastic.

WITTLE Could you briefly describe your drafting style? Are you a get the story out from beginning to end and then go in and start picking or do you go sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph?

SARETT I have a great time when I write.  I start with a story in my head and my first draft flows quickly (by my standards.)   But invariably, I’ll re-think the arc or change the voice until it comes to life. And I tinker around a lot with word choice until it “feels” right.  I let characters take me in different directions.  But I do spent lots of time working on the ending – that’s always the toughest part.

I also like to put a story aside, let it rest, and pick it up as a reader might and seeing how it flows.  Most of the stories in Nine Romantic Stories went through another edit on this basis.

WITTLE  How do you know your story is ready to be published?

SARETT I read it to others and I read it aloud to myself.  To me, if a story doesn’t “sound” right when it’s read aloud, something’s wrong.   I will hear it if it’s false or sounds imitative (which is another form of false.)   With comedy, if I’m not hearing laughs, guess what, it’s not funny.

I submit stories often.  If a story gets rejected more than once, I take a good hard look at it, and think, what’s missing?   (And yes, it’s usually the ending.)

WITTLE  When you are putting a collection of short stories together, how do you pick the order the stories will go in?

SARETT Hmm, that’s something I need to figure out.  I don’t pay much attention to the order of stories in the collections that I read because I flip around, and read the short ones first.  But in ebooks, I guess order does matter.

WITTLE What are you working on now?

SARETT I’m working on a short novel based on characters whom I introduced in the short stories “Career Girl” (in the anthology, Love Hurts!,) “Skinny Girl, “ and “Bonny Lass” (in Nine Romantic Stories.)  It’s a romantic coming-of-age/comedy.  I’m having a lot of fun with this character, and seeing where she takes me.  It also allows me to write funny scenes that I couldn’t fit into a short story.  With a longer form, you can have these comic detours as long as you can get back on the road.

Many thanks to Carla for taking time to answer my questions. Below is information to find her and her books.

Carla Sarett’s Bio:

Carla Sarett is a Ph.D. who has worked in academia, TV, film and market research.  Her short  stories have been published in over twenty literary magazines.

 

Carla Sarett’s Blog:

carlasarett.blogspot.com

Carla Sarett’s Books can be found at:

Nine Romantic Stories

http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Romantic-Stories-ebook/dp/B00ANQT2LO

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/304285

Crazy Lovebirds:  Five Super-Short Stories

http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Lovebirds-Super-Short-Stories-ebook/dp/B00CPBUY4Y/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1368117679&sr=8-3&keywords=Crazy+Lovebirds

 

I have been a great admirer of Curtis Smith’s writing style. Smith has a great Hemingway-ish sentence structure and Smith’s word choice always hits the right note leaving the reader chewing on the layers of details woven into his sentences.

In Smith’s latest flash fiction collection, Beasts & Men (published by Press 53 http://www.press53.com/biocurtissmith.html), readers are again treated to Smith’s ability to find the right word to set in motion a complete story told in under 1,000 words.

A good example of Smith’s layering technique is in the story, “The Twins” (first published by Wigleaf).  In this story, the first line tells the reader how the boy’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his sister. The third paragraph, a rope is mentioned in the story. Then, from the fifth paragraph to the end of the story, the rope is present. The last line ties the story again, but this time, the rope is the invisible bond these twins will have their whole lives. This detail of the rope never pulls the reader out of the piece and it continues to flow naturally within the story. It is only after the reader steps away from the story does the genius of the detail sink in.

“The Wolf” (appeared in The Florida Review) pulls off the ever difficult second person narration. In the hands of some writers, this point of view can come off as too soap boxy and too opinionated. However, in Smith’s hands, the point of view succeeds in telling the reader a story about a father taking his son to the family cabin on vacation. Smith creates a great sense of longing and respect within his narrator by pointing out the subtle things the narrator noticed as a child and what the narrator sees now as he watches his son take his place at the cabin.

The story, “The Hunter” appeals to me for many reasons. The story opens as a little boy is reading a book purchased at the library book sale under the covers with a flashlight. I remember many times in my life hiding under a blanket with a library book reading just one more chapter before going to bed. The boy and his father shared hunting; however, with the recent death of his father, the boy needs to hunt alone. There are two things that really pulled this story into my heart. The first is again, Smith’s cleverness. Smith starts and ends the story with the boy drawing on a sketch pad. The second is this idea that when a parent dies prematurely, a child may feel obligated to take on the career or hobby of the deceased parent. This is what happens in the story, but the twist comes when the boy takes the hobby to the next level.

I truly appreciate Curtis Smith and his writing. I feel his newest collection, Beasts & Men, is for all audiences. In Smith’s stories there is something every person can relate to and take away from. For those just starting to explore flash fiction, Smith will be a great teacher of story craft. For those who are a master at writing, Smith will still give you new insight to telling a great story.

Below is my Interview with Nicole Monaghan. We discuss her new book, “Want, Wound”, talk craft and discuss how being an editor plays into being a writer.

WITTLE How do you approach writing a flash fiction piece? Do you think of a character or a situation or a theme? Or all of the above?

MONAGHAN Most often a phrase or sentence pops into my head, or I overhear one, and I feel compelled to build a story around it. Occasionally I will create a story around a situation or theme that I feel the need to write about.

WITTLE When it came time to select the stories for your collection, how did you go about that process?

MONAGHAN When I looked at the body of work I’d published, two major themes emerged, the ones where stories center around a character’s desires and the ones where the central character has suffered an emotional wound. Hence, “Want, Wound.” The ones I felt didn’t quite fit into those two categories were excluded.

WITTLE I’ve heard some think the last story in the collection of books is the way in which an author puts the stories in order. How did you pick the order for your collection and what would be the final message of your final story?

MONAGHAN I think I tended toward putting the ones I felt were strongest at the beginnings and ends of the two sections. The beginning to hook the reader and keep them reading, and the end to leave off with a bang. Interesting about the last story theory. I’ve never heard that.

The final story, “It Hits Me” is about a mother realizing that her young son’s antics are something she should enjoy rather than fret over, as she remembers the pain of a mother who lost her son and who’d give anything to have him back and experience anything with him again at all. I think the message there is just to learn from wounds, whether they be yours or someone else’s.

WITTLE In your literary magazine, Nailpolish Stories, the main hook is using a nail polish color title to inspire a story. What other ways or objects do you feel inspire your stories?

MONAGHAN I think it’s possible for any object to inspire a story because any object has the potential to hold significance for a character. Often that unusual thing, given meaning by a character’s experience of it, can be the crux of a story.

WITTLE In the collection the section on Want comes before Wound. Do you feel in life our wants can lead to our wounds?

MONAGHAN Yes! I think in most cases, our desires are what lead us to become wounded. We want something, and we either get it (eventually) or we don’t. Usually, either way, we experience pain.

WITTLE In the story, “One Could Do Worse” you explore the want of the narrator to have a passionate first kiss with a girl. The story ends with things not going as planned. Could you explain the many ways the title reflects the story besides the obvious one about the kiss?

MONAGHAN The title was a given writing prompt! I also wanted to write a story from a teenage boy’s perspective and to figure out what it would be like for him to finally have that kiss with the girl he’d lusted after throughout high school just as that chapter of his life was ending. He was feeling the pressures of college upon him and dealing with bigot parents. I wrote the story around imagining what he might respond to his parents if they asked him why he’d want to be with a girl who they’d think was below him.

WITTLE In the story, “Spell” the reader meets a spelling bee champ who uses words to drown out the world around her. Could you briefly discuss how this story came to form in your mind?

MONAGHAN The kids were watching a movie about a girl in a spelling bee, and immediately I used that as a setting to flesh out this young girl who always won, was always successful and yet never felt celebrated by her parents.

WITTLE If you had to pick your favorite story from the collection, which one would it be and why?

MONAGHAN I really like “What Madison Sees,” the first one, as I think the fact that it’s “an outsider’s” piece makes it relatable. I also really like “These Babies I’m Not Having.” This one happens to be mostly autobiographical, and I think it’s one of my better written pieces in terms of the simplicity of the language. I love simple language.

WITTLE How does being an editor play into your own writing process?

MONAGHAN It makes me remember why I love writing. Reading submissions from people all over the world and from all walks of life refreshes my memory about how writing can connect people who are different. Everyone understands longing, love, and loss.

WITTLE What are you working on next?

MONAGHAN I haven’t written any new fiction in a long time. My most recent writing has been nonfiction, which I always post at my blog, http://www.writenic.wordpress.com. I recently wrote about watching my son play sports. Some day, I’d like to publish a collection of nonfiction pieces.

I’d like to thank Nicole Monaghan for taking time out to answer my questions. To get your copy of “Want, Wound” please go to http://burningriver.info/?page_id=1879.

Sometimes life can be boiled down to the things we want and the things that wound us. In Nicole Monaghan’s new collection, Want, Wound, published by Burning River Press(http://burningriver.info/?page_id=1879), Monaghan uses the flash and micro flash form of storytelling to cut deep into the heart of the things people want in life and the things that can deeply wound a person’s soul.

In the section, Want, the first micro flash piece, “Blanc” sets the stage for the one thing we all wish we could have –a clean slate. However, Monaghan does not allow her character to be washed clean and unblemished. The last line ends with a comma and says, “scars like colors”(Monaghan 9). For a lot of artists, this idea of looking at the human body and regarding the scars as precious commodities is not new. However, in Monaghan’s hands, these scars become shades of colors instead of deep rooted lessons. It is like Monaghan is allowing her character to create a new canvas and start over with different paint, yet the character cannot gloss over or forget the scars that made the character who she is in the piece.

Also in Want, the story, “My Life as a Rose” introduces the reader to a rose as the story’s narrator. The rose looks at the age old Shakespearian questions, is it better to have loved and lost than never to have been loved at all? The rose sides with being loved for a small time instead of withering away in a garden. The rose, like all of us, wants to be loved and appreciated for what we are rather than being admired from a distance.

The shift in the book comes in with the section called, Wound. In this section, there is a lot of talk of miscarriages. In the story, “New Age” the mother looks at her pregnant 16 year old daughter’s face as the daughter gets up in the morning. One moment the mother sees the child her daughter was and in the next instant the daughter turns into “a woman with old wounds” (43). When the story unfolds, the reader finds out the old wound is her daughter losing her baby.

In the flash sequence, “Give Me License” Monaghan takes the reader through a whole relationship from start, miscarriage, fear, and lastly, break up. What is interesting about this sequence is the titles of the pieces are glamor license plates.

Another wonderful flash piece called, “I’m Writing My Own Eulogy” looks at the fall of a once honored chef. The brilliance of this piece comes in the lines, “those of you holding tissues on your black pants, here’s the thing-knock the act” (38). With so few words, Monaghan’s character punches all the mourners in the face for pretending to care now that the character is gone.

Nicole Monaghan’s (http://writenic.wordpress.com/) small book, “Want, Wound” is much like the story, “I’m Writing My Own Eulogy” because it is small but packs a powerful punch. It is a book readers will read and reread and each time something new and wonderful will be revealed.

Don’t let the name fool you, the stories in Carla Sarett’s collection called, Nine Romantic Stories are not so much the ripping bodice off by Fabio love stories, but more of a look at what really constitutes a romantic story.

In the first story, “A String Theory Valentine” can remind a reader of the last act of the play “Rabbit Hole” in which the boy who killed the couple’s son discusses how there are a bunch of different universes happening all at once. For Sarett’s story, a third person narrator looks at the relationship of Anna and Jonah who meet and date when they are in high school. As the couple gets older, they break up and move on to other relationships. Anna spends the last paragraph envisioning a universe in which she and Jonah are back in their teen relationship with each other. This story is very relatable because every reader can recall his or her first love and some may even want to visit the other universe where the relationship never died.

As the collection continues, readers are treated to the story “Mandolinata.” In this first person narration, the story unfolds as a new twist on the Catfish epidemic. Lucia has developed an on-line relationship with Henry Oliver. He calls it quits right before the couple is about to take their relationship off-line. Instead of licking her wounds and always wondering what she did wrong, Lucia creates another profile online looking to rehook Henry. It succeeds and Lucia gets to do what most people wish they could do when a relationship disappears for no known reason.

“Victor’s Proposal” can remind some readers of a person with a very practical mind trying to propose marriage to a woman. While the ending is ambiguous, watching the characters try to enjoy their dinner as this man bares what he thinks is his soul is very funny and also a bit sad.

In the last story, “In Rittenhouse Square” Sarett does a great job capturing the small world surrounding the park. The characters put the reader in the mood of sitting on a park bench in the park and watching life unfold around them.

In the collection, Nine Romantic Stories, Carla Sarett looks at what really makes a story romantic. This small collection moves fast but stays with a reader long after the last sentence is read.

To purchase this collection, please go to: http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Romantic-Stories-ebook/dp/B00ANQT2LO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361333511&sr=8-1&keywords=carla+sarett