Monday, November 26, 2012

A bit of drabble

On her hazel-wood broom, Nannog swooped though a pine forest following her sharp nose to the sweep of the Pacific Ocean.

She could see the curve of earth where water met sky and smell sweet brine in the freshening breeze. She fell in behind a formation of pelicans, dropping into an elegant lineup skirting the lip of a rearing wave.

One dipped a wing tip into the mirror surface of cresting water. Nannog did the same with her broom. But the ocean knew not the witch. It swallowed her whole then spit out her long, orange braid upon the shore.
Drabble: Flash fiction in precisely 100 words.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Make your stories sing, a guest post by Laurel Garver

Do you know Laurel Garver? She is a wonderful writer, blogger and editor. With the debut of her novel, NEVER GONE, she asked if I'd like a guest post about using poetic technique in fiction writing. As you know, I love poetry and lyrical writing of any kind so I'm really pleased to give you Laurel's guest post:

Make your stories sing: The benefits of poetry training for novelists by Laurel Garver, author of NEVER GONE

These days, poetry has been largely shifted to margins—the lofty ivory tower of academia and the mean streets of urban poetry slams and hip-hop. If you can’t make sense of John Ashbery or get nervous in the presence of bling and graffiti, you might encounter poetry only in its commercialized form, between the folds of a greeting card. But poetry is as diverse as fiction. Like fiction has genres, poetry has “schools”—ways of approaching content, form, tone.

Surprisingly, studying the wide, wild wonderland of poetry has helped me become a better fiction writer.

I fell hard for poetry while taking a contemporary poetry course as an undergrad. The prof began the class by lining us around the perimeter of the room and having us shout random portions of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” at one another. This was a universe away from the precious ponderings of Wordsworth and a game changer for me creatively. Many scenarios I would’ve previously thought unpoetical became grist for the mill—my janitorial work-study job, memories of Dad slaughtering chickens, a weedy patch in a slum—because truth is beautiful, no matter where you find it. That mental shift helped me think more broadly about what warrants description in fiction, and what evokes our deepest feelings.

Taking poetry courses also pushed me hard to develop my vocabulary, to delve deep into the world of words. A poet must look not only at a word's definition, but also its connotations and connections. A poet must hear the tones and feel the textures of words. For more on that topic, see my post Making Words Your Playground []

Studying poety has made me especially aware of the power of sound devices: assonance and consonance. Assonance is a repetition of vowel sounds; consonance, of consonants. Alliteration is sometimes used as a blanket term for both, though it is often applied only to repeated initial sounds. Assonance and consonance are repeated sounds anywhere in a word—beginning, middle or end. I believe these devices can make anyone’s writing more musical.

The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked. If you want to convey a sense of something sliding, for example, you'd choose hissing, sibilant words containing “s”, “sh” and “sw.” For example, “In her rush, she slipped sidelong, smearing grease along one sleeve.”

Have a character in pain? Choose words with lots of O sounds (both short and long) to make the passage seem to groan on the page. For example, “John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.”

I like to quietly work these devices into my writing during revision—there to be found by those who look for it, but I hope not so jarring that it draws attention to itself. Here’s an example from chapter 2 of my novel Never Gone:

Snippets of my life appear between arty shots of hydrant rainbows and sullen subway riders. A wide-eyed child watches a huge Snoopy balloon soar past in the Macy’s parade. A skinny kid with braids pokes puddles in Prospect Park. A so-serious teen perches on the Public Library steps and sketches lions.

I paired “child” with “wide-eyed” and “kid” with “skinny” rather than the reverse because of the shared vowel sounds. The Macy's parade balloon could have been any cartoon character. I chose “Snoopy” for the double blessing of the “oo” assonance to match “huge” and “balloon” and the “s” consonance to match “soar”, “past” and “Macy’s.” The last two sentences in my example pop with a plethora of “p” repetitions (as did that sentence. I can't stop myself!).

I’m not always so calculated about how I choose sounds to achieve a particular effect. It’s very easy to overdo it. But I do find that playing around with word choices can yield a more aurally pleasant experience.

Is writing like this crazy time-consuming? I suppose it could be if you aren’t attuned to the sounds of words. And if you push the technique too far, you can end up with incoherent sound experiments that seem like bad James Joyce parodies. (Does the world need another Finnegans Wake or Ulysses?)

  If you’d like to try incorporating sound devices in your prose, here’s what I recommend: ~Study the greats (Plath and Ginsberg are two who come to mind).
~Go lightly.
~Choose lingo that’s natural to your character.
~Find ideas in a rhyming dictionary (especially for assonance).
~Play. See if some word choice changes can make a plodding passage begin to sing.

Do you read poetry? Why or why not? Have you ever used poetic techniques in your fiction?

Laurel Garver is a magazine editor and author of Never Gone, the story of a grieving teen who believes her father has come back as a ghost the help her reconcile with her estranged mother. Her poetry has appeared in Ancient Paths, Poetry Pact Volume 1, Rubber Lemon, Daily Love, Drown in My Own Fears, About Such Things, and is forthcoming in Everyday Poets. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. You can find her on Facebook at and on Twitter at She blogs at View the trailer:
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Two shadows

After I took this shot of an egret, I noticed it was casting two shadows. What does that mean?

My best guess, since the sun is the light source, is that one of these shadows is reflected light. But it's also fun to think one is a ghost or the spirit of the bird aside from its body. Which is the real bird?

As a writer I like to think what that could mean in creating characters. The most complex characters have layers, which might reflect differently, be perceived in alternate ways by other characters and the reader.

I just read an interview, which tied in to this in a way.

From Shelf Awareness interview with Herman Koch, the Dutch author of THE DINNER, a tale told by an unreliable narrator.

"Instead of a character who reveals himself in the course of a narrative, I was thinking of Paul as a man who has something to hide. In the beginning we think that he is just protecting his privacy, and the privacy of his family, but in the end we find out that he has been hiding his "real self" from the reader--like most of us do, I think."

That's pretty interesting to consider when crafting a novel. Do we all have shadow selves? What do you think?

P.S. I've got a guest post Monday, Nov. 19, from author Laurel Garver about using poetry techniques in fiction writing. Please drop in!

Another P.S. This is amazing! Agent Sara Megibow is offering a 50-page critique just for commenting on Natalie Bahm's blog (random winner to be picked). The offer is meant to promote sales of THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, an MG novel whose proceeds benefit the family of a sick little boy. It is such a worthy cause and such an opportunity. Please check it out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The thing about sunsets and something important

We all love a good sunset.
Everybody with a camera or cell phone tries to catch that ephemeral moment.
And I thought I'd share some of mine right now, because things have been sooooooo intense for all of us lately, what with contentious elections and superstorms. So here's to joy and beauty and that sense of wonder a sunset can give.

The sun will come up tomorrow. We can count on that. Unless, of course, you're writing dystopian and have decided to scare the bejeebers out of us. Love you all! We're good here.
And for those of you who write or are teachers or librarians there is an amazing online auction to raise money to benefit the Red Cross relief effort for people devastated by Sandy. The project is hosted by Kate Messner and the Twitter hashtag is #KidLitCares. Some of the authors, agents, editors putting up critiques, Skype visits, phone chats, books and more are Laurie Halse Anderson, Veronica Roth, Cheryl Klein, Ellen Hopkins, Linda Sue Park, Mo Willems, Jennifer Laughran. Oh, there are so many more. Check it out, put in a bid. Such a good cause.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You owe it to yourself: Vote

I am humbled by this right made possible by the founders of the United States of America, by the women who suffered ridicule, abuse and even incarceration to ensure the 19th Amendment, by soldiers who fought to defend our country, and by fighters for civil rights.

And, so, today I voted. Early and with conviction. To my friends in other countries, I hope you are able to exercise the same right.

I knew which man had my vote for President (when will it be a woman, I wonder?), but I spent hours studying the pros and cons of propositions and measures on my ballot. I hope I chose wisely, but I did, at least, make considered decisions.

It is my duty. It is my right.

I hope you made it yours, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day of the Dead

Fern O'Brien as painted by Mary Guggenheim. This Day of the Dead post is simply in loving memory of two extraordinary women who made a huge impact on my life and many other people's, as well. They were smart, creative, outspoken, always curious and fiercely in love with what the world had to offer. My life was greatly enriched by knowing them.

 In fact, their influence in literature, art, theater, travel and good food is with me still. What a legacy, is it not, to bring wonder into some one's life, to spark new ideas, to open doors to places of discovery?

So this post is made with gratitude and love.