December 9, 2012

The Lion and the Aardvark

The Lion and the Aardvark is here! This beautiful hard cover anthology of modern fables includes my story "The Rats and the Cockroaches" as well as stories from writer pals Richard Scarsbrook and Dan Perry.

Illustrations by Rachel Kahn
I was contacted last February by Robin D. Laws, Creative Director at Stone Skin Press, who asked if I would like to participate in the project.

The anthology is available in bookshops across the UK and can be ordered through your local book store. Stone Skin Press will soon have their online shop up and running.

Read an excerpt from "The Wolf and Death" by Julia Bond Ellingboe from The Lion and the Aardvark.

Read my Fable Experience in an earlier post.

December 3, 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a literary game that is spreading across the internet. Writers tag one another and answer questions about their current work-in-progress. I was tagged by Dan Perry. Each writer then tags another five and so on... It's a great way to check out what other writers are working on.

What is the working title of your book?

Men and the Drink

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I didn't have a specific idea for the collection until it was halfway done. Then I  noticed themes and characters that repeated. When I wrote the title story, I knew that would be the book title as well. My mum says these are my areas of expertise. I'm not an expert on either, but I am fond of both.

What genre does your book fall under?
Short fiction. I did come up with the term lonely romanticism which might fit. Readers have described my stories as gritty, evocative, economical, and unsentimental. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
At 20 stories, I'll need a lot of actors. Here's a few ideas...

Matt Dillon - 20 Grit/Eddie in the trilogy "20 Grit", "Crappy Little Job" and "Separated" (right look, age, and voice).

Richard Dreyfuss - the professor in "Derry Daring Rides" (dark and funny).

Helena Bonham Carter - Minnie in "The Inkling" ( a mix of Marla from Fight Club and Margaret from Margaret's Museum).

Saul Rubinek - the crass gallery owner in "Summer Sublet" (think Lee Donowitz in True Romance.)

Friends would play extras in bar scenes.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Isolation, anxiety, and degradation infect lives that are served no easy baked solutions.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agent?
I don't have an agent. I'll be submitting my manuscript to publishers early next year. 

How long did it take to write your manuscript?
Five years of writing and revisions.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I can't compare to other books. I'm a fan of Bukowski's style of first person tell-it-like-it-is writing, and I think my work reflects this appreciation.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Life experiences as well as my family, cats, dreams, and the neighbourhoods of Parkdale and the Byward Market have inspired my stories.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
My writing is subtle and often leaves room for readers to interpret and imagine different aspects and endings. This does frustrate some, but it also sparks debate and discussion. For those who don't like to be left hanging, the collection includes two trilogies that track characters over a period of years. 

Check out what these great writers are up to:


Rules of the Next Big Thing:
Use this same format for your post
Answer the ten questions about your work in progress
Tag five writers and add their links

November 20, 2012

Ordering Short Story Collections

My short story collection is finished! Well, almost. A little more tweaking to do. About 3/4 of the way through my manuscript, I made a table of contents to see my stories as a whole and to think about ordering. Although my stories span five years of writing, there are reoccurring themes that run throughout. I want the order to reinforce these.

"The placement of a story in a collection can alter both its meaning and its affect." -David Jauss

This isn't to say an editor won't change what you, the writer comes up with, or ask you to cut a beloved story, or ask you to write new stories. Authors' and editors' opinions on ordering a short story collection differ, but there are commonalities.

First and Last Story
Place your best story first to grab the reader's attention (a previously published story or one that has garnered much praise). Some editor's say not to use a story that is too dark, that you want it to appeal to the largest demographic. The last story should also be strong and unifying. 

Title Story
If your title story (if you have one) is your best, it should go first or last. If it's merely the best title, it can be placed anywhere in the collection as long as what precedes and follows are cohesive.

Story Length
A novella should be the last story in a collection. Short shorts or flash fiction pieces can be sprinkled throughout to alter the rhythm and and flow.

Cluster stories with similar themes together.

Think what kind of ride you want to take your readers on. Is it a roller coaster, or do you want a slow build to a big finish? 

Arrange stories with overlapping characters side by side and in chronological order. You may want to group stories by the protagonists' age group.

Place can influence order. Keep stories that share a geographical location together or spread them out.

Consider how a reader might feel at the end of one story, and decide whether you want to maintain that mood or shake things up. A transition might be an image, key word, or title that relates to a previous story.

These stories stand out from the collection because of style, structure, or pov. Place these somewhere in the middle as you want to bookend with work that is most representational of your style. A story might not belong, instinctively you know this, but you're hoping to sneak it in. I say go for it - the editor will tell you if it's a no go.
Write each title on a separate index cards or strips of paper. Underneath, write the word count, theme, mood and a couple of key words. Spread the cards out on the floor and begin arranging . . . and rearranging. This will help you move from one possibility to the next with ease until you feel what's right. Some ordering is subconscious, similar to the writing process.

November 7, 2012

October 30, 2012

"The Inkling" in Echolocation

Vuk Dragojevic
Echolocation Issue 12 Launch 
Thursday, November 1, 2012
No One Writes to the Colonel
460 College St., Toronto, ON
Readings start at 8pm

My story "The Inkling" is featured in the new issue of Echolocationthe literary journal produced by the Graduate English students at the University of Toronto.

"The Inkling" is the tale of Jarls Jensen, a failed journalist, who seeks a fortune-telling fraud to influence his wife. This story was inpired by a dream, my cat Harold, Picton, my grandparent's Airstream in Dwyer Hill, and my brother's fondness for the name Jarls...Berg.
Reading "Summer Sublet"
At the launch, I'll be reading a different story from my almost finished collection, Men and the Drink, alongside fellow contributors Ben Ladouceur and Andrew Battershill. Drop by for a copy of the new issue, a reading or three, drinks, dancing, and conversation.
Super Fans R & D & G

October 24, 2012

Short Story Titles

What's in a title? A lot. It's the first thing a reader, editor, or judge responds to. A good title piques interest and raises questions before the reader knows what your story is about. A bad title may turn someone off from reading further.

Of course, you can't please everyone. Perhaps you've titled a story Brenda's Biscuits. Not bad. Now imagine a reader who as a child was bullied by a girl named Brenda, whose grandfather died from choking on a biscuit, and who was scorned by a teacher for using excessive alliteration. An extreme example, but you get the picture.

A strong title may suggest an emotion or create a mood. It should not only sound good but also look good. If a reader likes your story and wants to recommend it, would they remember the title, or is it too long and obscure sounding? Originality is a bonus. Titles can't be copyrighted, but if someone searches for your short story online, it would be a shame if there were four others titled the same.

Titles come to writers at different times. In my experience, the best titles appear early on when writing a short. I once changed a story's title after each revision - twelve times! Some writers are okay to wait until a work is completely finished before naming a piece, but I prefer to have a working title, even if it is the wrong one.

If a suitable title eludes you, don't wait for it to magically appear - ask other writers and mentors for suggestions. Objectivity can muddle up titling the same way it can revisions. You don't want to sit on a fantastic piece of fiction just because you're not convinced you have the best title. Submit your work, an editor may suggest something better.

On the flip side, don't get too attached. I once thought up a great title early on in drafts. By the time the story was done, the title didn't quite fit, but I kept it anyway because I thought it sounded cool. Just like characters, you sometimes need to kill titles or at least save them for different stories.

Good titles seem to come without much thought, but if you are struggling, consider these suggestions.
  • name of character
  • possessive and object/subject
  • name of setting
  • theme or symbol
  • conflicting moment or event
  • expression
  • line from story
Brenda's Biscuits was an extreme example of how a title can turn a reader off. A more likely scenario: a reader picks up an anthology of short stories, yours included. They only have time to read one. The reader will skim over the table of contents and choose a story whose title intrigues them the most. Will it be yours?

Any tips or anecdotes about short story titles?

October 9, 2012

Dreams for Writing Inspiration

Dreams can be a wonderful tool for fiction writing because the creative mind continues to spin its magic beyond our waking hours. If friends roll their eyes when you begin a sentence with, "I had this dream...", stop talking and start writing. What develops in our unconscious minds is unique and personal - characteristics of a good story.

Dreams can inspire at different stages of writing. You may write an entire piece of flash fiction or only use one aspect of a dream - a character, imagery, setting, or mood as a seed for a new story. Night visions can also help solve problems you're having during revisions. Try reading your piece right before bed. The story may work itself into a dream and provide you with a solution.

Of course, you have to remember your dreams. Keep a notebook and pencil beside your bed. When you wake, write everything down right away. Once in this habit, you'll find your dreams become clearer and that you remember more often. In the middle of the night, I reach for my cell phone (no need to turn on the light) and tweet basic themes.

Dreams are often fantastical and wouldn't make sense translated directly to the page unless you write magical realism or science fiction. But similar to using real life experiences for inspiration, anything can be altered for the sake of story. A giant hairy monster chasing you can be written as a 6 feet tall stalker with hairy knuckles. That said, don't forget the nightmares.

What is your connection between dreaming and writing?

Stephen King, an excerpt from Writers Dreaming
5 Famous Books Inspired by Dreams

September 18, 2012

"Rivals" in Joyland

"Rivals" is the story of hockey card collecting sisters who share more in common than sport. Read now at Joyland.

This story was primarly inspired by the 1998-99 NHL season. Other influences include Parkdale, the CNE, and the real life Wookie. 

Fact checking was a priority. Up until publication, I was still finding things to correct. The Yzerman card mentioned is a one-in-two-hundred, not a one-in-one-hundred print run, and I had Jarome Iginla's name and rookie year wrong! 

I also had the pleasure of meeting and working with Joyland Toronto editor Emily M. Keeler. 

Other online fiction:
"The Promise of Puppies" in Dragnet Magazine
"Hybrid Love" in Lies With Occasional Truth

September 6, 2012

Ditching Drafts

When I began writing, I'd come up with an idea, write a first draft, and revise until it was done. Repeat process. I'd heard of authors keeping folders full of abandoned drafts. The idea of unfinished stories reminded me of plants yearning for a drink.

In an early effort to avoid online draft hoarding, I sat down and wrote a list of story ideas with a few points around plot, character, etc. This would keep all my ideas in one tidy place. I was green, thinking I could control the writerly brain from doing what it wanted.

Alas, I have a bulging drafts folder, where first drafts, half-drafts, ideas, and story tidbits are kept. Nothing moves from here until it is submission worthy, then it graduates to the almighty folder: Julie's Stories. Let's just say the drafts folder is getting a lot bigger than that of the finished works.

I try to clean up my files every so often because redundant crap irritates me. Before computers, I hated keeping papers of most everything. If I got a bill, I paid it and then promptly threw it away. I've also been known to recycle newspapers before people have a chance to read them.

So what to do about this ever blossoming drafts folder? A part of me wants to take the whole thing and throw it in the trash. Why not, another one will grow in its place. A voice inside says NO, you can't get rid of anything, you never know when you might go back to an idea. I agree to a point, but clutter, whether it's on the computer or in my immediate environment gnaws away and infects my creative process.

I will be discerning and only let crazy nonsensical ramblings make their way to the bin.

Files labeled Fucking Idiot, Perverse Dialogue, Sneezing Attack, and Housewife have been deleted, and it feels great.

August 14, 2012

10 Freelance Editing Perks

1. Multi-tasking. New schools of thought label this as ineffective, that you don't get as much accomplished as you think. If I can have laundry going while combing a piece for inappropriate commas then hallelujah.

2. Chores don't feel like chores. I'm not a fan of sitting in front of the computer for hours so I chop the day into little pieces. A break is either a trip to the gym or an errand in the hood. I've never enjoyed grocery shopping so much.

3. No transit. Sure, I'd try to make the most of my time on buses, streetcars and subways - reading, sending emails, or revising. I could be in a fantastic mood after spending a day on the island with little friends, but after riding public transit an hour home, surrounded by grumps, I'd get off miserable and agitated. Now I only go downtown when necessary.

4. Pajamas. I do get dressed most days and walk to the office, a few steps from my bed. It's knowing I don't have to, and that I could stay in my underwear all day, that gives me an extraordinary amount of pleasure.

5. Take it, or leave it baby! I say this at the moment because I have a steady client for editing work, but I'd rather struggle a bit financially and have time to work on my fiction. No matter how bad it gets, I refuse to edit articles on subprime mortgage meltdowns (whatever those are?!)

6. Writing Improvement. At school we are taught editing as it pertains to textbooks, manuals, magazines, and non-fiction, but the skills do carry over to fiction. Grammar for Writers and Editors has been my favourite class so far. I thought I knew grammar - I knew nothing!

7. A Place for Perfectionism. It can infect all areas of one's life and becomes annoying not only to you but to those around you. Editing is a place to focus this defect. As with story revisions, you need to know when to stop.

8. Strange Learnings. My goal is to edit fiction, other than my own, but in the meantime I'm working on all sorts of subjects outside my realm. Recently I've learned about cuddle parties, SEO, and Corey Hart's upbringing.

9. Family Time. My kids, who just happen to have fur, like to have mum around. I never have to feel bad about leaving them alone for twelve hours a day anymore.

10. Introvert's Paradise. Alone time an introvert needs and craves after extended socialization is the day-to-day. The catch now is recognizing the opposite - when to go out and connect with humans. This coin flip also makes me appreciate my time with others more.

There are challenges working from home, but the good stuff outweighs them by far.

August 12, 2012

Extra Extra

A good week is having one story accepted for publication, a great week is having two. 

Joyland will publish "Rivals", the story of hockey card collecting sisters who share more than sport. Joyland is a literary magazine created by Emily Schultz and Brian Joseph Davis. Editors across North America select short fiction by authors from specific locales.

Echolocation will feature "The Inkling", the tale of Jarls Jensen, a failed journalist seeking a fortune-telling fraud to influence his wife. Echolocation is the literary journal produced by the Graduate English students at the University of Toronto. 

Stay tuned for release dates.

July 23, 2012

Twitter Explained

I live in The Land of Twits, and I like it. Well... most of the time. I haven't met ninety percent of the people I follow because my "real life" friends don't participate, but they are curious.

I created my first account two years ago during a bout of insomnia. I didn't tweet much in the beginning, not understanding the point of it all, so just lurked about, reading what famous people were saying.

Then one night, I convinced myself that Twitter was an extension of the Illuminati - I listen to Coast to Coast a lot! I deleted my account and vowed never to return. Six months passed, and another sleepless night had me back on.

Questions from those keen on joining the Land of Twits:

Who should use Twitter?
Anyone who wants to connect with a particular community, locally or internationally. I use it as a way to network with other writers. There's a niche on the site for everything. Or... anyone who has time to fart around, reading what celebrities are blathering on about.

What do you Tweet?
Most of my tweets are writing related - process, events, links to my blog, articles, other writer's sites, quotes, and yes, the odd cat photo. I generally dislike Facebook updates but, for some reason, don't mind sharing random thoughts and activities with people I've never met.

How often do you Tweet?
Sometimes a few times a day, sometimes not for days. My quantity is reliant on mood. I tweet more when I'm in a good head space.

Do you engage with people on Twitter?
I don't unless someone tweets something I can't resist replying to. You can communicate through the newsfeed which is visible to followers or direct message which is a private internal email system.

Do you follow someone if they follow you?
This is the polite thing to do. If someone follows me, I check out their account to see what they talk about. I need to be interested in what someone has to say to follow them.

How long does it take to build a following?
I don't focus on this aspect, mine has been gradual. You can increase your followers by following like crazy because most people are polite.

Is it a waste of time?
I was on it a lot more when I first joined and thought it was a bit addictive. Now it's more in my periphery. I do enjoy the connections I've made; it would be cool to meet some of these people in person.

What annoys you most about Twitter?
I think it's a great way to praise and promote others' work and passions, but I've seen a fine line between this and being a sychophant. As with most things, moderation is key.

Do you think Twitter will be replaced by something better?
Probably... either that or the Illuminati will gain control, and I'll be forced to quit again.

Why do you tweet? Or not tweet?

June 18, 2012

Writing Mentors and Meanies

How to Tell a Mentor from a Meanie
Mentors . . .
- are genuine
- discuss craft over drinks
- inspire and motivate
- laugh at themselves
- laud work of their peers
- teach more than what's in a curriculum
- encourage feedback on their teaching style
- share personal struggles and achievements
- teach without personal bias
- make themselves available outside the classroom
- never make you feel dumb, no matter how inane your question is

Meanies . . .
- read your work and say with a straight face, "To be honest, I thought you might be crazy."
- hand out lists of writers and then pass judgement on students who haven't read them
- ask students what kind of stories they write and then respond, "You won't be writing those in here."
- talk incessantly about their achievements that have nothing to do with writing
- say they are leaving a program to avoid class feedback forms, and then return the next semester
- expect you to know what you came to learn
- bring in their mentor who is really another meanie (this is when you have that Aha! moment)
- have no interest in your goals
- push their own style and interests on students

I have been lucky to find two mentors since I began studying writing and editing. Along the way I have also met meanies, whose wrath I have escaped or been forced to suck up. What can you add to these definitions?

June 8, 2012

First Reading Experience

I did my first reading at the Dragnet Magazine 5 launch party. It was a journey getting there, not just the week leading up, but the years of dreaded public speaking.

I was extremely shy as a kid. In high school, I'd take a zero for papers rather than do class readings. When I did presentations in college, I turned beet-red, shook, and had trouble breathing.

In the first creative writing class I signed up for, the instructor told us we would be reading a page of our written dialogue in the second class. I dropped out immediately. Five years passed before I signed up for another.

After Dragnet accepted my story, an editor told me there would be a launch and asked if I would be interested in reading. I said I would definitely attend the launch but wasn't sure about the latter (my polite way of saying no).

When they sent me the details, the event listing printed my name as one of the readers. What? I hadn't agreed. How could they do that? I sat and stewed for a couple of days.

My friend Rob said, "When you have a book, you'll have to do readings." I knew he was right unless I wanted to piss off publishers. And my mum said, "You're not going to pull that anxiety crap, are you?" which really got me mad because I've never seen it as something I had control over.

I knew no matter how long I prolonged it, there was always going to be a first reading. If it was a horrible experience, I would never have to do it again. If I fainted, puked, or peed on stage then at least I would be memorable.

I had another motivation: Annabelle, my cat of eighteen years, recently passed. I could see her look of disapproval if I didn't do this. I would read for her.

I told Dragnet I'd give it a go. Now, it was on to the mental and physical training. I didn't drink for a week to clear my mind. I didn't talk about the anxiety - it had no voice. I went to the gym ("Eye of the Tiger" played in my mental tape player). And I practised reading my story twice a day.

The day of the launch, I had a few moments of nausea, but carried on, almost pretending it wasn't going to happen. I did stop at the liquor store following an afternoon stint at the gym. My motto has always been "It's better to have booze you don't want, than to want booze you don't have."

Nadia Ragbar, who has two short fictions in the issue, cabbed with me to the launch. I met Jeremy Hanson-Finger (publisher), Andrew Battershill  and Jena Karmali (editors) - all lovely.

I wasn't chugging beer or chain smoking. Friendly faces showed up, and there wasn't a stage with bright lights. No bigs, right? Dragnet played their intense Theme Song Video. Then I was called to the microphone. I had worn my blue hoodie security blanket but took it off.

Apart from massive shakes, I thought it went well. My voice felt strong and clear, and I read at a good pace. Before I knew it, the story was over. I said "That was for Bubs (Annabelle)," but no one heard because they were clapping.

Will I read again, given the chance. Yes.

June 1, 2012

Personal Obsessions

"It came as something of a shock . . . to discover that for over thirty years of writing my attention has turned again and again to the same unvarying gamut of sounds and images. I wish I hadn't noticed this. In fact, it became an embarrassment and I began to wonder if I should file A CATALOGUE OF PERSONAL OBSESSIONS. And my agent was once heard to moan aloud . . . "Oh God, Findley - not more rabbits!"
-introduction, Dinner Along The Amazon, Timothy Findley.

I could relate to the discovery of recurring themes, images, character traits, and worse - repeated phrasing I was finding in my stories (had I written this previous, or perhaps it was in a draft somewhere that never came to fruition.) I don't have thirty something years experience which makes it all the more worrisome. It got me thinking of other things that creep into my fiction over and over again.

Felines have a habit of wandering onto my pages, and yes, many of my human characters are named after cats that have passed.

Recently, I wrote the dialogue tag 'whispered loudly' and a bell sounded. I scoured previous stories to find it  and exclaimed,  "My characters shall whisper loudly no more!"

I thought 'the rolling waves of nausea' was rather clever when I first wrote it, but it resurfacing for a third time made me feel sick to my stomach.

Other recurring bits include bars and their regulars, basements and their stairs, meatloaf, and hockey.

". . . writers are never through with the world they see and hear . . . because it is a world inside their heads, which is the 'real' world they write about."

I suppose the familiar becomes a handle of sorts. There lies the honesty in fiction that is required to make it believable. Too many layers covering up truth kills a story.

May 13, 2012

Fable Experience

Months ago I was contacted by Robin D. Laws, Creative Director at Stone Skin Press. He asked if I would be interested in writing a fable for an anthology. Richard Scarsbrook had passed my name along.

My first thought was—fable, what’s a fable? I knew there were animals in these tales and usually a lesson of some kind. Off to the library I went to investigate.

Commonalities I found included talking animals, the appearance of humans although rarely referred to by name (the boy, the farmer, the vet), lots of dialogue (often the last line), descriptive verbs and adverbs, the occasional God (Aphrodite, Zeus) as character, an omniscient pov, and an amusing tone. The morals often related to a deadly sin with a single action ending the story. Stories ran 100-400 words and their titles were often simple (The Neighbouring Frogs.)

A project brief explained the boundaries. The fable was to be original, not a retelling of an existing one; word count to be 300-1500; the tone a mix of “pedagogical seriousness with 2,500 year old whimsy”; and the message could be expressed as a last line of dialogue or left implicit. I would have two months to finish the fable. Surprisingly, I was very calm about having a deadline, it helped me focus. 

Robin had received a first wave of fables and said he had enough featuring cats, mice, and fish, as well as stories in which the main character gets eaten by a predator at the end. Of course cats were to figure in my story, but that would have been too easy.

I wanted to choose animals I understood and my first choice was racoons (my mum raised orphans), but I settled on rats (wonderful pets) to be the main characters. I added an army of cockroaches as I'd had the unfortunate experience of living with these. I sent Robin my synopsis: “Domesticated husband and wife rats share flat above sandwich shop with band of cockroaches.”

I knew my story and thought the moral would clarify itself as I went through—not exactly. A friend suggested I choose the moral first and then write from there, but I was already set on the storyline. I was lucky enough to workshop “The Rats and the Cockroaches” with Richard Scarsbrook and Dan Perry (both in the anthology), and F&G Writers. It’s reassuring when the concerns you have are reflected in other’s feedback. This happened again when I sent Robin my final script. He pointed out something, which I thought I might be getting away with. A few more tweaks and zoop—out to the universe.

Super excited to read the anthology. Keep you posted.

April 7, 2012

Life Before Writing

“I am distracted; I am weary to the bottom of my soul; sorrow lies heavy on my heart; and yet I am expected to sit down and write! And this is called ‘living!’” – Anton Chekhov, “Hush”

Writing is a disease—a never ending dissatisfaction. Of course, there is joy when you discover the perfect phrase, piece of dialogue, or when to kill a character for story’s sake. And news of accepted work is great, but all these woohoos! are fleeting—one quickly turns back to ideas and unfinished work. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, I think about writing, that I should be writing—more.
Writers share that moment when they knew their destiny. They mention the first zine they stapled together in grade two or the poem they carved into a desk in junior high.

I didn’t write fiction much of my adult life. I was free, and I didn’t even know it. After my first creative writing class, I was hooked. I became obsessed, but I thought (as with many safe addictions)that it would peter out in six months. Had I known this wasn’t the case, I would have enjoyed my guilt-free existence a little more.

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” – Lawrence Kasdan
What if I quit right now? Writing keeps me out of trouble (for the most part). The disease is spreading. I study editing now so I can link my day job to my writing.

March 26, 2012

"The Promise of Puppies" in Dragnet Magazine

Dragnet Magazine, an online publicatation,  will feature my short story "The Promise of Puppies" in its next issue. Fellow F&G writer, Nadia Ragbar will also have two fictions, "The Fair" and "Wolves Using the Patio Furniture" appear in the issue.

March 18, 2012

Writing Workshop Success

F&G Writers began as an idea over beers at Betty's two years ago. Fellow students and I had just finished Short Stories II, a creative writing class taught by Emily Schultz, and thought it would be cool to start a writing group. After a few pints, I volunteered to organize. The next morning, I woke not only with a hangover but also with fear and dread. What did I know about starting a workshop? 

Weeks later, two of the kids from school sent me emails. Was I still on board? Crap, they were serious. My comfort zone would need serious renovations. I had taken three classes with Emily who ran super fluid productive workshops; I used her as a model. I also talked to writer friends, and yes, there were discouraging tales of woe, but after sixteen workshops, F&G is still going strong.

Tips and Strategies for Organizing and Moderating a Workshop:

1. Personalities. This can be tricky because writers are a strange lot. Invite writers you've met in classes and friends whose work you've read. Diversity of life experience, style, voice, and the ability to give constructive feedback are all important factors. No hotheads or crybabies.

2. Commitment. Crucial for longevity. You want members who are focused on their writing despite other interests and day jobs. The group can't be a drop-in.

3. Size. It matters. I thought eight was the magic number, but it took careful time management and lots of reading and critiquing. Two writers left in the first year and then six seemed perfect. We lost one more and five works fine although new blood is about to be injected.

4. Consistency. We meet on a Friday night, every six weeks for three hours. Do not deviate from your plan as juggling dates around individual schedules is a nightmare. We meet at my home. You want a place that is comfortable, quiet, and accessible.

5. The Work. Anything goes fiction. We write short stories, flash fiction, excerpts, beginnings, and the occasional genre piece. Encourage submissions that are under twelve pages. Give occasional prompts to challenge one another (e.g., write 2nd person POV, use the word murder on the first page, write an urban legend).

6. Format. Ask members to email their fiction one week prior to meeting. At the workshop each writer reads a passage before the group gives feedback. Encourage everyone to comment before the member explains and/or asks questions. Written feedback is optional. Give equal time to each story (varies with story length).

7. Chill. Writing is serious work but workshopping doesn't have to be. As time passes and trust is built the group will become more laid back and open. We take each other's work seriously, but there's a lot of laughing and joking too.

8. Extra Curricular. Plan dinners out between workshops. This gives you a chance to talk shop (processsubmissions, books, rejections and successes), and of course, to have fun. Add literary field trips to book launches and readings.

Running F&G is about process, much like writing. I didn't know how it would work or if it would work before it began, but it has definitely been worth the effort.

February 2, 2012

"Girl in Dryer" in Broken Pencil

My short fiction "Girl in Dryer" appears in Broken Pencil 54. The story revolves around Alice, a twelve-year-old who lives with unrelieved suspense. She gains temporary relief when she befriends a man and his pig.

This story, inspired by a dream, has four firsts:

Wilbur and Alice
First story to be accompanied by illustrations. Beautiful work by Lisa Vanin.

First story I workshopped with F&G Writers, my amazing writing group that will celebrate its two-year anniversary this May.

First time I was invited to participate in the editorial process, a back-and-forth dialogue with BP founder and fiction editor Hal Niedzviecki.

First time I have been paid for any piece of writing. Have to think of something special to do with it.

Girl in Dryer

January 24, 2012

Apartment Hunting Curiosities

'appliances included' (generous)

'sought after neighbourhood' (not listed)

'well-mannered cats permitted' (subjective)

'soundproofed and fireproofed' (loud pyros lived there?)

'serious applicants only' (I look for fun?!)

' much to offer, within one block are Dollarama, The Beer Store, a liquor store...' (important)

'windows are above ground' (very important)

'lower level' (basement apartment)

'deck with BBQ machine' (haha)

'a bit messy' (not the same as filthy and dilapitated)

'basement bachelor $1350' (I don't think so)

'renovated' pictures don't count if taken 5+ years ago

One bedroom apts. are now considered a bedroom and a combined kitchen (row of appliances)/living room

Gorgeous, dazzling, amazing, and luxurious are not words to describe basements (stunning, used to describe my new 2nd floor apt. was overreaching)

Why would you paint a basement chocolate brown?

No one wants pets anymore (losers!)

January 3, 2012

1st Cell Phone Musings

Diggie bought me an iPhone - my first cell phone ever. Before I get savvy, I thought I'd record questions and discoveries that no doubt will later embarrass.

How do people do this one-handed?

Now I get why kids use all these short forms when texting.

My giant hands don't work so well.

What if I lose it? to which Diggie replied, "You don't"

Ringtones are fun. I can't decide on Sherwood Forest or Spell for mail alerts. It's going to take a long time to give each friend an individial text and ring tone.

I haven't transferred music from my computer yet because I'm afraid it will disappear.

Where do I get a cool Ramones cover case?

I've only made one live call in the privacy of someone else's home. I feel like a jerk using it in public.

How do I appear natural with this thing? Practice?

My best friend doesn't have a cell phone. That's no fun.

Will the cell phone hold-outs think I'm a traitor?

I feel like a grown up.

Apps for 99 cents seems extravagant. I want the free ones but that means I will need my first credit card ever.

Excited for NFL/NHL apps. Will these cause spamarama?

People write books on these things, but do they read them? Sore eyes.

I don't think I should bring it to the bar.

Someone might grab it out of my hands and run off. They are expensive.

Diggie is going to get annoyed with all my questions.

Louis CK on cellphones