Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sharing a Great Find

I found these thoughts on writing very useful for more than just flash fiction. It was one of those “I got it right” moments for me.    


How to write flash fiction

By David Gaffney, The Guardian, Monday 14 May 2012 

1. Start in the middle.
You don't have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don't use too many characters.
You won't have time to describe your characters when you're writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.

3. Make sure the ending isn't at the end.
In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you're not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or "pull back to reveal" endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.

4. Sweat your title.
Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell.
The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you've been run over by a lorry full of fridges.

6. Write long, then go short.

Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realize, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn't sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

An Alzheimer’s Journey

My book review on:

My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
by Martin J. Schreiber with Cathy Breitenbucher

This timely little book is filled with big messages. The first being: Caregivers must care for themselves. The second: Make use of all your resources. The third: Accept help from family and friends. The fourth: By entering the world of your Alzheimer's loved one, you can avoid the conflict of clashing realities and find a way to cherish the small moments of comfort and joy. There's much more to find in this frank and readable volume. Martin Schreiber was kind and brave to share so much of his personal story.

On a current note:

I’ve been going to classes presented by Jerry Schroeder at Eastern Library for the past two weeks. He is Senior Program Specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Iowa Chapter, and has a lot of knowledge and experience to share both with the slides he shows and the Q & A afterward.

There will be one more class titled “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going” next Tuesday, Jan. 30, from 3:30-5:00 PM, at the Eastern Library, Davenport, IA.

National Alzheimer's Hotline: 800.272.3900

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Writing Exercise 11

One of my writing rituals involves cleaning. Usually, it’s cleaning my house, my room, or in this case, tidying up my computer files. In doing so, I came across this writing exercise. It is of interest because I messed up yesterday’s writing challenge for the first meeting of COMMUNITY WRITE NIGHT. The prompt was “What have you done this week?” and I was too embarrassed to mention the cleaning I’d been doing. Like, how do you write about washing salty footprints off your wood floor and make it interesting? So, I didn’t even try.

BUT, during my computer cleaning binge, I came across this item and I will share it in its natural, unedited state since NaNoWriMo was mentioned last night.

Writing exercise 11/20/17  Thanksgiving Gone Wrong

The doorbell rang, and I opened the door to find my turkey waiting for me in a white carboard box. This year’s turkey was not frozen, not fresh, not soaked in brine. Something totally new for us … smoked.

I opened the box, as per the urgent instructions stamped on top of the box, and was hit by the overpowering aroma of smoke. Great, I thought, I’ll have a smoky fridge, and no doubt a smoky house for at least a week. It had better be worth it.

I really had no reason to grouse about my husband’s novel selection. I certainly had not contributed my part in the planning of T Day. Other than obtaining pumpkin pie fixin’s. I’ve been too busy with plumping up my NaNoWriMo word count. Lots of things have had to slide by the wayside. Important things yes. Things that will come back to bite me I’m sure. But that’s just the breaks for November novel writing for someone who procrastinates for the rest of the year.

Last year I went to Bettendorf for a writer’s group. I was there by myself some afternoons. This year I’ve stayed home, drank coffee, stared at my notes, and hoped that I could make some sense out of the bits and pieces of the story I was trying to imagine.

I don’t like playing by the rules anyway, so nothing new there. This month is for me and I’ll get by the best that I can.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Discussion Questions for Unbecoming by R. Scherm

The WEST END BOOK CLUB will be on its own, without a librarian to help guide the book discussions, for the next six months. (That’s how many books were ordered ahead of time and are still available.) Many books include discussion questions specific to the book. Sometimes, in a pinch, I’ve seen librarians come up with a set of generic questions to get readers talking about the books they’ve read. I was lucky and found two sets of questions provided by the publisher, Penguin, that will work for the next meeting: Tuesday, Jan. 16th, 6:30-7:30 PM, at Fairmount Library, Davenport.

Discussion Questions for Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Issued by the publisher.)

1. Discuss the meaning of the novel’s title. Who is unbecoming, how, why, in what ways?

2. Compare Grace’s relationship with Riley to that with Alls. Does she behave differently with them? What are the power dynamics?

3. Grace is a challenging narrator—unreliable and at times unlikeable. How did this affect the way you read the book?

4. Were you surprised by the book’s ending? What were your feelings about the way it ended?

5. Mystery and charisma are a crucial a part of Grace’s personality. Have you ever met someone like Grace?

6. What is the effect of the story being told from Grace’s point of view? How is that significant?

7. What did you take away from theme of the exploring?

1. What does Grace love about Riley and why is she drawn to him?
2. Riley paints buildings. What do his artistic choices say about his character?
3. Why is Grace’s time in New York important, and what does it teach her about herself and her relationship with Riley?
4. Grace is a self-professed liar but claims she gets no joy from it. Why, then, do you think she’s constantly avoiding telling the truth?
5. There are many thieves and liars in this book. Which acts are forgivable, and which are not?
6. What aspects of the heist and its aftermath unfold in the way Grace predicts? Which parts surprise her? 
7. In Alls, Grace finds something of a kindred spirit. What is it that they have in common? How is Alls like or unlike Riley?
8. Grace finally breaks down and tells her story—or most of it—to her coworker Hanna. What makes her choose Hanna as a confidante? What is Hanna’s response?
9. Alls comments that Grace shines a light that blinds others to who she really is. How can this quality be both a positive and a negative trait in a person?
10. Throughout the book, Grace has the sense that Riley is going to catch up with her and confront her. What did you expect would happen? 
11. The title of this book evokes multiple meanings. What does it mean to you? 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Traditions & Another Recipe

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over this past holiday season thinking about family traditions. My new daughter-in-law had asked me to tell her about my family’s traditions. She wanted to include them when we all got together.

My first reaction was, “What holiday traditions?” I honestly couldn’t think of one special family thing we did every year while I was growing up. We had Christmas trees. I imagine most were bought. Once, when my mom was older and living on the river, she and I went out searching the wild space between a field and a creek to find a likely specimen to cut down. Can’t get any fresher than that. But by that late date most of her fancy glass ornaments, the ones I remembered as a kid where gone, broken. Too many moves. Too much rough handling by a clumsy kid, who I’d rather not name. And some cats. Cats do love climbing trees and fragile glass objects don’t have much of a chance. Then there was the 1993 flood. Mom saved her photos and genealogy notebooks, but not much else. I guess I do have the last ornament, a glass ball with three faded stripes.

Then something clicked, and I went to my recipe box, a relic from my high school Home Economy class, and found a favorite card. Judging by the ink I used and the sad condition of the note card, it had to be one of the earliest recipes I collected—closing in on fifty years old. It came from my sister. At that time, she would have been a young farm wife who was out in the barn milking a cow every day. Scalding the whole milk would have been an important step. Her eggnog was wonderful and when I started my own family I began making a big batch every year. That tradition waned as the kids left home and, at some point, stopped all together. Store-bought eggnog filled in the gap until counting calories became more important.  

So, I had a recipe card that I hadn’t looked at for years and I tried making a big batch like I remembered doing—it was a total flop. Weak and wimpy, the only saving grace was using it steamed in a cappuccino.

I sat down to read the recipe card, really study it, because it didn’t make any sense. I remembered that I’d condensed the directions, so they would fit on the card. I didn’t remember all the mistakes, spelling and otherwise, I’d made. But there they were. I honestly don’t know how I managed working from this card all those years ago. I must have been good at improvising.

I passed on attempting any more Christmas eggnog, but I didn’t want to give up. There was New Year’s Eve to consider. I searched the internet, such a great thing to have, and found a recipe that had the essential spirit of my sister’s original recipe. I made a small batch and it was perfect.

My thanks to Alton Brown for a great recipe. It provided the last minute save for this one family tradition.

Find Alton Brown’s recipe here: