Come on over and see what’s new…here.
Come on over and see what’s new…here.
So honored to be a part of Bill Wolfe’s Read Her Like An Open Book and share some words about the import of books in my life.
A year ago, I moved from Vermont to Maine. The neighbor boy counted my boxes of books as he helped load them from the house to the moving van. Fifty-one. His father asked me, “Do you actually read all these books?” I answered, “I either do, or maybe I will.” I flew off to organize the people upstairs, who asked more simple questions. “Should we mop the floors?”
A visitor to my new house commented, “You have more books than a person could ever possibly read. No, I mean it. It’s not even possible to read all of these books, one person, in one lifetime.”
So I thought about it. If I read two or three books per week (which happens only some of the weeks) that’s approximately eight to twelve books per month, so let’s say ten, which averages 120 books per year. I began to count my books…
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Today, February 2, is Imbolc, a seasonal celebration marking the halfway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, led by Brigid, Bride of Spring, keeper of the flame that lights our way into the planting season.
When I was nine, I chose St. Brigid as my patron saint. Though I no longer practice in the Catholic tradition, I’m devoted to Brigid, to all she represents: home and hearth, alchemy and inspiration, poetry. It seems fitting that (although not consciously planned) my debut story collection, THEY COULD LIVE WITH THEMSELVES (Press 53) became available for pre-order on this auspicious day. Signed copies will be shipped in late March.
THEY COULD LIVE WITH THEMSELVES will be on sale at the Press 53 table at 2016 AWP Conference in LA on March 31-April 2, 2016, where I will be signing books.
The official PUB DATE is May 3rd, National Press 53 Day.
Throughout the rest of the year, we will be hosting readings, classes, and events in the Northeast and beyond.
As light returns to the northern hemisphere, my linked stories will be birthed into the world. Meanwhile I’m enjoying the thrill and the mystery!
They Could Live With Themselves, my linked short story collection set in the fictional town of Stark Run, Vermont is a runner up for the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction and will be published by Press 53, in March 2016 less than six months from now. A heartfelt thanks goes out to editor and publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson, as well as, all of the editors who encouraged my work to date. Hope to see all at the AWP Conference in LA in late March at the launch party followed by a spring into summer book tour in a hometown near you.
Last month, I attended the Short Story America conference in Beaufort, South Carolina and taught a workshop called: “Beyond Setting the Scene, The Role of Place in the Short Story.” Relying on some of the classic greats, Hemingway, Welty, McCullers, Carver, as well as, contemporary writers, Pinckney Benedict, Alistair MacLeod, Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Strout, Monica Wood, and Anthony Doerr, I used sample work to point out how place can establish tone, serve as character, and become crucial to the success of a story that might otherwise fail. There was a good turn-out and excellent engagement and I was reminded how much I love to talk and teach about writing. I also served on a panel and gave a late night reading of my story “Deep End” to a weary group of generous listeners.
Short Story American Volume IV Anthology is now available for purchase at Short Story America and features “Deep End” as the opening piece. “Deep End” won the Short Story American Prize for Short Fiction in 2013 and is the second story in my forthcoming collection.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. Last fall, I sold my house in Vermont, got married, and carted 51 boxes of books, 2 cats, and way too much junk to Maine where I’ve been stunned by the beauty of winter on this chilly rocky coast. I’ve trudged the snowy shoreline in muck boots and shivered in a house that could fit 2 of my other houses inside, drinking tea and longing for my woodstove, a heat like no other. I’ve unpacked boxes, stocked bookshelves, hung paintings. We are still finding our way around the mid-coast, the many gems here, and the vibrant and quite literary city of Portland. Popping into bookstores and joining Maine writing groups on Facebook has been my solace for leaving my literary and arts community (Brattleboro Literary Festival, Gateless Writers, River Gallery School) in Vermont behind.
On the writing front, I’ve been at it, slow and steady, as the saying goes. And there’s been more than a little good news recently.
On May Day, I learned that my short story collection currently titled, They Could Live With Themselves, was one of three runners-up for the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction. It is quite an honor to have the recognition of my work, six years in the making, noted by editors of an independent press who work diligently to put forth quality books, artfully produced, and to support writers of short fiction and poetry, forms that tend to fly under the publishing radar. Thanks, Kevin M. Watson, for believing in the work I so cherish.
Also in May, I had a story from the collection published by Connotation Press, again, a wonderful group of editors here––Ken Robidoux, Meg Tuite, and Karen Stefano to name a few––and I share that space with some old friends from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Rich Farrell and Dorothy Bendel. Being part of the spirited work they do at Connotation Press is a treat: art for the sake of our souls, art for the sake of salvaging a slippery society.
“The Air of Joy”––what I like to call my “reverse-love” story was sparked by an actual conversation I had awhile back, an argument of sorts, with my now husband. Three lines of odd real-life dialog and I was off and running. It was quite fun to try and get into the head of a fifty-something man who is a doer, but more, a quiet thinker, who can’t always find the words to express himself, but who knows what he feels. Things worked out differently for Bob and I than for Addison and Ruby, but as long as everyone has said what they needed to say, I’m happy. And besides, fiction is not real life. Right?
If you have a half hour to read my story, I’d love to hear what you think.
Have a wonderful spring! Enjoy the flowers and the birds and store up some green memories for the ephemeral nature of this ever-changing land. And, be well, my friends!
They say the July full-moon was the Super Moon and, WOW, what a super month so far! I just got back from a week-long teacher training retreat on the lovely shores of the Long Island Sound in an old summer camp straight from the category––CHARMING––along the rocky coastline of Guilford, CT.
This was one of those “blow you away, gut you out and put you back together, then turn you around” weeks. The kind of weeks you know you were born for. The kind of week you never want to leave. But you do leave. And you start spreading the GATELESS high and the Suzanne Kingsbury love to the people you love and the people you’ve yet to meet: your family, your students, your clients.
Here’s what we did..
Listened, Laughed, Loved
Composed, Shared, Cried
Ate, Walked, Downward-Dogged
Got Thai-Yoga Massaged (Thank you, Karen Kenney; I’m still integrating and gratifying.)
Got GATELESS, which is to say, learned how to open up new ways to teach writing, kind ways, purely positive feedback ways, the “what’s working-so do more of that ways”.
While there, steeped in my writing bliss, cranking out the new stuff, soaking up the love, I caught wind that one of my fictions went live on-line. “Blue Moon” is a story that came out of some raw place when I was feeling scared for the safety of my own children and grandchildren and turned to fiction to help me sort it all out. Some kids make it and some kids don’t and if you’re lucky to have the kind that does, well, that’s not really easy, either. Blue Moon is published on-line in Contrary Magazine’s Summer 2014 issue. Contrary Magazine has a vision. It’s this…
“Turning words into art is unnatural. It begins with a contrary attitude. It says, I am unhappy with the way things are and desire to make things different. Rather than represent the world, I will make something wildly and savagely new. I will defy logic. I will invest in new perceptions. I will combine and recombine and fabricate and juggle until something that I have never experienced is experienced. The process is alchemical. The process is violent. It goes to the heart of creativity. It disrupts and shatters. It is splendid with provocation. It is an aggression against banality. It is sharp and loud like a janitor scraping frost from a window. The hectic bounce of steam on a street after a truck roars by. The anarchy of waters, the comedy of the face, dangerous feelings vented from a cage of skin.” ~ John Olson (From Contrary Magazine About Page)
Many thanks to editors, Frances Badgett and Jeff McMahon for believing in the work.
Thanks to the illustrious and talented Gateless Method teacher, Suzanne Kingsbury and the eight other beautiful writing women who graced the Super Moon retreat. Watch us here, thanks to Jeff Woodward, image magic maker and storyteller through the lens.
And may you all believe in your work and in the work of others. And may you all have a Super summer!
As part of a web-wide blog tour of writers, my dear friend and writing buddy asked me to participate by sharing thoughts on my writing process. Ross McMeekin is one of my favorite people. And his work, well, read for yourself, as he has many publications available on-line. His blog is Candle Fight. He posts breath-taking images of his surrounds, places that influence the interior and exterior landscapes of his characters.
I believe if you work your way back through the linked posts, you’ll find your way to the beginning of the tag thread. There are several threads out there from what I can tell from Facebook updates. What fun! I’m slowly making the rounds.
Next, I am tagging some writers friend of mine.
Mary Stein, new to the web-o-sphere, is certainly no rooky to producing some fine fictions. You can support Mary’s endeavor by checking out her little missives. She’s looking for blogs like yours to look into as well.
As well, I’m tagging my neighbor Kelly Salasin who shares personal essays and musings on a variety of topics from parenting to grieving to sex to living on a dirt road in Vermont, which in my mind are topics that have a ton in common. Click here to see what Kelly is up to.
On Monday, April 7th, their Writing Process blog posts will go live.
And now for some words on my process…
1. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a few projects at the same time. Over the past few years I have been writing and shopping short stories. I’m ready to pull together a linked story collection set in the fictional town of Stark Run, Vermont. Stories share place, themes, and characters that slip in and out each other’s narratives. At the moment, I have three possible ways of organizing the work. I’ve dedicated an index card, one for each story. I spread them out on a table and move them around, like in the game solitaire. I spend hours doing this. It’s a problem. I’m seeking help.
I’m also pleasantly engaged in the heart-of-my-heart project, my novel-in-progress, which takes place in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. I’ve just returned from what I call “a gathering retreat.” I didn’t have a plan or schedule any research appointments. I walked the coast and smelled the air. I slept and ate pastries from the French bakery. I collected artifacts from the beach, and took long drives to re-acquaint myself with the presence that got this thing started two years ago this May. That was also when I also discovered the French bakery. I wonder…
Third, I am writing a ghost story in shorts, told by a variety of narrators, in a sort of Our Town style, which may actually end up as a play. It’s my artsy project. And while I am quite fond of it, I keep that one fairly under wraps, although a piece or two from that one has shown up in print.
Finally, I submit, submit, submit. To the muse. To humility. To literary journals.
2. How does your work differ from others in the genre?
Hmmm. Since the projects aren’t completely finished, it’s difficult to say. I find that I tend to look more for similarities in others in the genre. I read something and think, Oh, I want to write something like that. And I write. I hope to emulate. Then I’ll mention to my reader friends, I’m going for something like this writer or that story and the friends will respond, But, it’s so different . So there’s a little reality check that I’ve failed, but maybe a little pride, too, knowing I’ve located something unique in me. I just don’t quite yet know what that something is.
One thing: I want my narrator to spark an interest in readers initially because of voice. That’s what grabs me as a reader. Also, since all writers are telling the basic stories over and over in different ways, I trust that the place, the characters, and the events that I’m drawn to write about will excite readers with similar sensibilities.
I’ll take a risk and say that the difference is in the details.
I wrote poetry for ten years. It’s what I made time for. I could write a few lines a day, or one piece during a quiet weekend. I’d feel satisfied. Nothing was held in limbo, or if it was, so much the better. After I retired from my full-time teaching job, I took an art class. While engaged in printmaking and collage, something in my brain was stimulated in a new way. When I sat down to write, fictional characters––the proverbial “voices”––started to speak.
Back then, I wrote on yellow paper tablets up in my tiny writing house. I wrote and wrote, scene upon scene. The narrative was all over the map––no cohesion, no arc, sloppy plots. Up to that point, I’d been reading a lot of fiction, but I never studied how it was made. My friend, Robin, told me about the MFA program at Vermont College and I applied to study poetry and fiction. In the end I chose one major, fiction. Fiction is where the energy was for me at the time and it stuck.
I still write poetry. I save poetry writing for just me. Some day soon, I may come out with it.
4. What is your writing process?
My writing process is all over the map, but I write in much the same way that I go on writing retreats. I gather. I generate. I walk, sleep, and eat. I edit. I look around. A lot. There are a hundred other things I do that involve grown kids and a granddaughter (love!), a fiancé, pets and friends, gardens and art, and the amazing Brattleboro Literary Festival. I try to work off the pastries at the gym or walking along this mushy road. I read. I wish I could say I had a writing process that could be helpful to someone reading this blog post. Somehow stuff gets done. Eventually.
Lately, I’m in a hurry to write everything all at once. Maybe it’s the snowmelt, the rushing brook outside my house, the wind, the mud. So I jump out of bed early, grab some black tea with a drop of raw honey in a mug I bought at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. It is written all over with famous first lines. I try to get in there, into that fictional place, before reality can beat me to it.
When I hear barred owls in the hemlocks, watch a flock of turkeys in the field, or come upon a couple of frogs hooking up in the ditch, they seem to say, keep going, keep going, we’re listening. It’s the ineffable that I rely on in those particular moments. Without that, I think there would be no process.
Thanks for listening.
Last winter, at the AWP conference in Boston, I was a guest reader at the first annual AWP Heat Reading in an Irish pub a few blocks from the convention center. I sat, short legs on a high stool, a tall drink of something in front of me, too nervous to behave as graciously as I would have liked to the strangers at my table, but I tried. It was loud, difficult to make connections between readings and clapping. At one point, a woman at the far end of the table slid a business card to each of the three writers thrown together by a mutual passion for story. She was T.L. Sherwood, Fiction Editor, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal.
Everyone says the AWP is the place to meet important people, the “fat cats” of literary writing. It’s a frenzy of networking. Pay attention. Take advantage of the conversation around you. It makes me nervous.
At the bar, T.L. Sherwood listened to readers. She smiled and encouraged and clapped. I slipped her card into the pocket of my sweater instead of taking the time to tuck it in with the other cards and bookmarks and slips of papers I’d been collecting in my purse. That was the extent of the connection. Simple. Understated. She did not make me nervous.
Flash back 6 months earlier. I am on a writing retreat at The Wellspring House in Ashfield, Mass. where I had decided to limit the books I brought along to Amy Hempel, Lorrie Morre, and Flannery O’Connor. I don’t know why. They’re good. They’re sharp. I wanted my head to be in my own stories and I wanted to read others’ stories, too, ones that had stood the test of time. I admire how these three authors write about everyday life and relationships, often lonely women, often slightly oddball situations, always deep in their simplicity.
After a particularly long and rainy morning of reading Hempel by the lake, avoiding my own revision work, I went back to my room and fell asleep. I love morning naps, so rare; they’re like birthdays. When I woke, I opened my computer and began to write a story as if from a dream, about a woman who adopts an obese cat from the humane society. Yes, a cat story. A story about a lonely woman and her new fat cat.
Flash forward, two months after the AWP Conference, a business card recovered from the pocket of a sweater on my desk, and a completed draft involving “recovery”. I networked.
Dear Ms. Sherwood,
We met briefly at the AWP Heat Reading in Boston. I was trying to remember where I had heard of r.kv.r.y as I shook your hand, but it was a noisy, busy place. Later, I figured out that I’d explored your journal because of a link to Dylan Landis whose work I greatly admire. I featured her story published in r.kv.r.y at my forum where I read and review 365 Short Stories in 2013.
Today, I am pleased to be submitting a short story titled ‘Attachments.’ Thank you for your time and consideration in reading.
I will include a bio below.
Thank you indeed for you time and consideration and also to Mary Akers, Editor-in-Chief, whose work I also greatly admire. Thank you for finding merit in my story.
It’s a story about a fat cat, not the kind who’s a big wig perched on some hierarchical pedestal, but the kind that lulls on the floor, and his kindly foster lady who bears her own load, heart heavy, with the hope of finding a little loving from a old friend.
You can read my story, “Attachments” along with many fine pieces in the current issue of r.kv.r.y, The Art of Recovery, here.
She strained to hear footsteps shuffle the leaves, her heart a toy drum. She felt the muscles in her legs contract, ready to spring. Was he coming? Was he? The man was late. The ache in the hollow of Claudia’s gut spread and rose and lodged, an apple in her chest.