Writing Process- Tag, I’m it!

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.

Mary and Ross

Mary and Ross

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.

And, I’m thrilled to have gotten the go ahead to mention another writer on this crazy muddy road, Robin MacArthur, at wordbird, where the liminal world lies at the core of her morning musings.

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?

IMG_6755I’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…Pastry

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.


Heart3. Why do you write what you do?

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 Mud girllot. 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.





Fictional Fat Cats


Painting by Betsy MacArthur

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.IMG_1928

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.

Jodi Paloni


Photo taken at Common Good Books, St Paul

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.

“From Inside” at Green Mountains Review

IMG_2722Thanks to Jacob White, fiction editor at Green Mountains Review for publishing my Halloween story, “From Inside.” I’m a big fan of this journal and proud to be part of it.

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.

Happy Halloween!

Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction

Saturday, September 28th

While I sat on my porch and listened to the sound of red maple leaves free fall and ping against leaves still green and gripping, a group of literary folks were down in Beaufort, South Carolina whooping it up in celebration of the short story form. I wanted to be there. I had become one of the finalist for the Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and the winner would be announced live on stage at the Saturday night events. Some time around 11 pm I got the call. Tim Johnston, who is the editor and driving force behind Short Story America, had just come out of a session to let me know that I won!

How did it feel? At first, I felt a bit confused while Tim and I exchanged pleasantries. I kept asking him questions about the conference and the after party that I knew would be taking place–I was babbling, I believe–while another part of me was thinking, “Well, Jodi, why don’t you stop talking and let him talk. He wouldn’t be calling you up at this hour of the night from the middle of a conference when you don’t even know him without a very special reason.” I finished my sentence and kept my mouth shut. He said, “I have good news. You won.” I cried. I told him over that phone that I felt like I could cry, but indeed, I was crying.

The title of the story that took the prize is called “Deep End.” It’s an aftermath story told from the point of view of a young girl who explores guilt and blame and contemplates the adults around her as they experience the grief she has yet to learn to express. I love this story.

I had had 7 different pieces in submission to over 30 journals and contests since last winter. All summer, the rejections poured in. I was feeling kind of blue. I wasn’t sure I garnered enough wind in my sails with the “but, please send us another story” letters to head into another winter of writing and shopping publications and getting answered with a big NO. Then a friend said, “Don’t give up. Just take your favorite story, do one quick edit, and send it out again.” I knew what my favorite current story was. I looked around to see what was opening up for submissions. In my Facebook Feed there was an announcement that the deadline for the SSA Contest would close at midnight that night. I went for it. Then I forgot about it.

A few weeks later, I got the first call from Tim announcing that I was a finalist. Some of the best moments of my writing life have been when an editor wants to talk about the story I’ve written. I was impressed by Tim’s in depth familiarity with my piece and the specifics he gave me about what worked. Tim is an editor who is passionate about short fiction and wants to see it thrive and shine in America. He works tirelessly to promote the form.

While the folks down in Beaufort were all reveling in short story readings and giving talks, I curled up on the sofa with my new edition of Carve Magazine to read an essay by Douglas Unger about Raymond Carver in the workshop. What I took away from the Unger piece was this: Don’t write crap in the first place. You have to like it yourself. And, once you’ve got something good on paper, you’re going to then need some luck.

I wrote a decent story. In fact, I thought it was my best story. I got lucky.

What I am about to say is nothing new, but I’m here to tell you: Keep writing. Write until you love what you’ve got on the page and send it out there.

Here’s a link. Ethan Rutherford at TSP on “Knowing When to Quit (and Not Quitting)” took some time to say this very well.


365 Short Stories: Catching Up!

IMG_3731It’s time to play catch-up on my short story daily project. While I seemed to be able to commit to reading every day, I find it difficult to find time to write a review post for each week. I’m way behind. Here’s a synopsis of what I’ve learned in the past 50 stories (plus or minus) since my last post. Please click here to find links to each of the stories mentioned below.

1. I enjoy listening to stories while I chop veggies for soup and salad. Especially, the following recordings: Tobias Wolf records Denis Johnson’s short story “Emergency” on day 56; Sebastian Berry records “Eveline” by James Joyce on day 74; Flannery O’Connor reads her own story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in front of a live audience on day 84; and Sophie Kipner reads her short accompanied by drawings in this video clip at Kugelmass.

2. Stories may be read in packages. Oprah featured 8 Micro-fictions by “provocative” writers. Five Chapters serializes a Kristopher Jansma’s short story in parts over 5 days of the week. Spartan published 5 stories under 2,000 words on April 1st. 3 stories were written as responses to photographic images used as writing prompts at Superstition Review. Stories 101 and 102 are paired back-to-back by a common theme: Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” is mentioned in Mima Simic’s “My Girlfriend.”

3. Vermont College of Fine Arts students are represented in Story 63 (Cynthia Newberry Martin), Story 96 (Claire Guyton), Story 104 (Angela K. Small), Story 105 (Kali VanBaale). Ross McMeekin VCFA alum is the editor of Spartan (Stories 91-95). Story 75 is written by one of our beloved teachers, Abby Frucht.

4. Coming of Age themes show up in “Our House is Open,” “Off the Revolution,” “Untitled,” and “Fort Apache.”

IMG_37325. Story favorites from print found on-line to share: “The Dead,” “Yurt,” “Roman Fever,” “The Drowning.”

6. Stories that match a theme-of-the-day: “A Short Story About Academy Awards,” “Snowed-In,” “Let It Snow,” “A Country Woman.”

7. Two well-established writers (Pamela Painter and Lydia Davis) spin a different kind of tale on the experience of coming in for a shaky airplane landing.

8. Flash pieces read as I further my study on the form: “Snake Eyes,” “Monsters,” “The Common Cuckoo.”

9. “Runner” was the result of a writing prompt using photography. The story is meant to bridge the gap between two unrelated images by showing what happens in between.

10. I find both tension and an odd comfort in stories by women about women (who happen to be mothers of daughters), thanks to Alix Ohlin in “Casino” and Suzanne Jackson Rodgers in “I’ve Looked Everywhere.”

IMG_3734For the rest of April, I will be shining a light on the city of Boston and the writers (and literary magazines) who do their good work in the good city. See you next time.

365 Short Stories: Eight More Days, The Bay Area

IMG_3535My LOVE theme spilled over into another week and wrecked my tidy little plans to post a 7 day week-in-review for 365 Short Stories. Love will do this. Wreck plans. In the similar way, vacations will knock systems off-kilter.

If you’re just joining in, I review an on-line short story every day of the year in 2013. A few weeks ago, I traveled west to California with my family, a region rich in literary tradition both past and present. Instead of posting a week in review of Bay Area posts, I featured a story each day I was traveling which covered Short Stories 46-53/365.

There were bookstores, too, and bridges and beaches.

Here’s a list of the lit mags I explored and the stories I chose to feature.

Threepenny Review, “Drouth” by Wendell Berry

Threepenny resides in Berkeley, same town where we stayed the first half of the trip. Check out their Reading Room which houses an archive of selected poems, fictions, essays and reviews.

Storytapes features a story swap and the one I stumbled upon was #5, a sharing between Amber Sparks and Sarah Rose Etter who happen to also share a birthday. Both read and write beautifully, magically, heartfully (is that a made-up word?) and Storytapes does a bunch of cool things like swapping, reading, and chatting.

Eleven Eleven, “Down River” by Anna Fonte

This journal comes out of the California College of the Arts MFA Writing Program. This from their website…”The aim of our publication is to provide a forum for risk and experimentation and to serve as an exchange between writers and artists.”

Catamaran Literary Reader features California Regional Themes. Writers and Artists from Everywhere. I chose a series of linked short fictions with a circus theme by Ana Maria Shua translated by Steven J. Stewart. I loved these lines.

You’re always as young as your dreams, as your wishes, as your youngest lover, as your heart. And there will always be a place for us in the circus: it’s only a matter of putting on a little more makeup when the years turn us all into clowns.

Willow Springs takes us a bit up north to Spokane, Washington, but the author of this piece, “Sin-Tra-La” is by California writer Diane Lefer who I had to privilege to know at Vermont College of the Fine Arts. Great writer, excellent person, and Willow Springs is one of my favorite print journals.

Narrative Magazine is well-known, well-funded, and generally an easy go-to for good on-line fiction. Russell Banks (also well-known) has a novel excerpt/short story up in the Winter Issue. “Lost and Found” by Russell Banks

And to close, on my way home, at a layover in the Chicago airport, rain beating on the glass behind my seat, I could not help but think of Stuart Dybek. So I found this, “Voyeur of Rain” and borrowed my daughter’s ear-phones and was read to by the man himself. Sad, dark, lyrical and true. I can’t help but love the way his stories take me to his place, South Side of Chicago. Thanks, Indiana Review!


365 Short Stories: Week 6 (and a few days), Love

IMG_1970A few week ago, I fell in love again. For me, it only takes a small opening. I felt the zing in my chest, found 8 pm energy even as the sky fell grey with rain and sleet, and wanted to talk about my new beloved to everyone. I tend to fall in love easily and usually it isn’t with a person. This time, it was with an art installation project in our hometown, one that invited the community to come together in an abandoned store and write love letters, 1000 in two weeks, which we did. These kind of projects inspire me. You can read about 1000 Love Letters here.

Feeling the same giddy love for art of letter writing made me think about how love can feel a million trillion different ways and the objects of our desire may take a variety of form. So with my story project, which to date had been random in choice, became about love. From February 5-14, I looked for love in all of the short story places.

Here’s where I found it…

Unrequited in “Araby” by James Joyce at Fiction

Haunted in “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” by Robert Olen Butler at Web Del Sol

Made up as you go along in “Morton Bonsey” by Randall Brown at 3:AM Magazine

Any size in “Crushed Ice” by Gary Fincke at SmokeLong Quarterly

Between siblings in “Nobody” by Tom Kealey at Sunday Rumpus Fiction

Longed for in “Flotsam” by Diane Cook at Redivider

Sweet in “Zorba’s” by Mathieu Cailler at Scissors and Spackle

With an unexpected twist in “Scapegoat” by Michelle Coppola from Short Story America on Quiddity

Rendered fragile with time in “Immortalizing John Parker” by Robin Elizabeth Black at Freight Stories

Grown fonder with absence in “Lemons” by Frances Lefkowitz at 100 Word Story

Click any one of these shorts and feel your heart begin to stretch towards something you hadn’t yet found to fall in love with.