Joyce, Wallace, Woolf and More Wrote in Fractals

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For writers who never did well in math, you might be surprised to learn that literature contains fractals.

Fractals are geometric figures made of small components that have statistical characteristics identical to the whole. If you zoom in on a fractal, you see the same shapes again and again no matter how far you zoom in.

In the world of math, fractals are used to analyze and describe snowflakes, crystal growth, galaxies and coastlines.

It seems they can describe language as well. Continue reading

The Year of Reading Women

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There’s an important essay going around that, if you haven’t read it yet, you should read now before finishing this post. It’s called On Pandering by Claire Vaye Watkins, who is known to me by her fantastic 2013 debut collection of short stories, Battleborn, which won five literary awards.

The essay is actually a speech Watkins gave as a lecture during the 2015 Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop. Either way, the content rattled me.

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Test Driving Literary Journals

This year I began with gusto reading literary journals. I paid for subscriptions to a couple, including Glimmertrain and McSweeney’s, to get a feel for what they had to offer. And then I sent a short story in to a contest at Redivider — the $15 fee giving me a subscription. But I also purchased a subscription through Journal of the Month, which sends you, based on the amount you pay, anywhere between 6 and 24 random journals a year. By joining, I’ve been able to sample literary mags that I might not otherwise have known about.  Continue reading

Shiva and the Art of Revision

I’ve had a pretty good year so far with writing. Some of the pieces I’m churning out, I’m proud of, other stuff, well….not so much. The time has come for me to review several rough, first drafts I wrote earlier this year and turn them into polished stories. But how? Continue reading

A Moment In An Hour

I’m a spare writer. I tend to write in scenes, moving the character forward through the action. But that kind of writing can go flat pretty quickly because I move too quickly past the details. Recently, I’ve come to love and admire Steven Milhauser’s writing. He has a gift for detail. In his short story, “The Room in the Attic,” I felt awe with his ability to capture the big and small of the world around his characters. Here’s just a snippet of the narrator, a high school boy, arriving at a house of one of his new friends. Continue reading

The Right Word

I’m always so impressed with writers who construct amazing sentences comprised of exactly the right words. I try to do this with my own writing, but know it’s a talent that needs much developed. I recently asked my writing friend Kim Davis, who writes beautiful poetry, for advice on polishing my word-choice skills. She had some simple advice.

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The Exploratory Draft

I’ve started doing something completely different. Instead of trying to write a story. I’ve begun simply to write. The writing is more like riffing or freewriting. I focus on the characters, or the situation, or the setting, or the emotions, or the back story and just go. My goal each time I sit down to riff like this is 1,000 words. I’m capturing some nice phrases and images in the process. I’m also capturing snippets of scenes. When I have sentences that I like, I copy and paste them into a separate document — the story. Continue reading

What’s the Situation?

I have a couple of short stories stories I’m working on that don’t seem to be going anywhere. I took a break from spinning my wheels the other day and came across a little section titled “Situation” in the book Creating Short Fiction, by Damon Knight. He writes, “A dramatic situation is unstable—you know it can’t stay this way forever—and it has at least two possible outcomes, one very desirable and one not.” At the end of this short section, he provides an exercise. It is this: Choose three published plotted stories that you like, and for each one write a one-sentence description of the situation (a) at the beginning of the story and (b) at the end. Continue reading

Dialogue That Multitasks

While at the library last night, I glanced at a copy of the July 2012 issue of The Writer and a quote from ZZ Packer on the cover caught my eye. It was about dialogue and prompted me to open to the article and read the interview. I thought I’d share what she said about dialogue, because I found it incredibly useful. The interviewer, Gabriel Packard, asked Packer: “Something many critics have admired is the way your dialogue vividly evokes character. How do you go about crafting dialogue to make it so effective?
Packer says: Continue reading

An Emotion ‘Tasting’ Chart

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about emotion in fiction — how to convey it, how to evoke it. I have a lot to say about it and am sure that my comments will evolve and grow over time. For today, I simply want to point you to a very interesting chart that breaks emotions down from the primary feelings of love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear (there’s some debate on what the primary feelings are, by the way) to the secondary and tertiary emotions that those primary feelings embody. Continue reading