Terrytown's Library

Terrytown's Library
Raised in Terrytown, Louisiana

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I used my weekend write-a-thon to finish the second draft of Hoarder and I began brainstorming ideas for this novel that I want to write, which will probably be called Night Crawlers, set in college. I'm still working on my short story collection, which so far has two stories that I need to work with.

I did a lot of reading. I'm really enjoying Ann Cummings Red Ant house collections of stories. I've read Where I Work, Crazy Yellow, and Headhunter. Paule Marshall has a great story called Brooklyn in We Are the Stories We Tell.

Bobbie Ann Mason's story to read is Shiloh. The story makes you want to search for more of her stories to read.

I loved Ryan Harty's short story collection, Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona. The most memorable stories are the one where the characters went to a rock concert, the one where the protagonist traveled to clean out his deceased sister's condo. Every story was good, making you hope that he has another short story collection and that he's still writing short stories.

I recently read Ha Jin's latest collection of short stories A Good Fall.

I love stories that are visual, that allow you to see the characters and feel what's going in their story as they struggle to solve their problems.

J California Cooper has written great short story collections that should be on your reading list; A Piece of Mine, The Future Has A Past; Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime; to name a few of her short stories.

The hardest short story collection to get through is Say You're One Of Them.
Uwem Akpan tackles some hard subjects in these stories. It reminds me of the Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns byKhaled Hosseini
because he deals with hard subjects as well.

These authors are able to put us into their stories. I can't finish this entry without mentioning my favorite collection of short stories called I Hate To See That Evening Sun God Down by William Gay. Read narrativemagazine.com. It's free to subscribe and it's a great online magazine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Weekend Write-A-Thon

I watched The War of Art on Bravo this past Wednesday. One of the artist said that the inspiration for his junk-put-together art would come up with his reality-related exercises. "I have twenty-four hours and twelve cereal boxes." And he'd create art out of those twelve cereal boxes. It's something I can do with my writing. I was trying to imagine what I'd do with the electronic junk from decades ago. Maybe a fifties housewife based on the sculpture of the woman who was sent home. I thought it was pretty good, but I guess since she didn't sculpt it, didn't it wreck it and build it up, it wasn't art. She said, "I'm a painter," and I do wish she would have tried harder. It's fun to try different genres. I've been trying nonfiction; personal essays and memoirs. But, I'm doing better at fiction, sort of. All I can do is keep trying if I want to continue

This weekend is Father's day and I think I'm going to do a weekend write-a-thon in my dad's memory. He wanted to be a writer. I told my mom once that I'm writing for all of my family members who were passionate about writing.

I'm reading a collection of stories by Ann Cummins called Red Ant House. I liked Crazy Yellow, Head Hunter and Where I Work, which I read in an anthology. Where I Work is a story I'd like to write based on my job as a cashier. I'm probably having a hard time writing a full draft because the character doesn't want anything. There's nothing for her to fight for just yet.

Crazy Yellow is told in third person about a nine-year-old boy whose mother has gone back to the hospital for more tests. He's aunt is supposed to be with him but said that she said she had to leave. Instead of calling his aunt, like his mom requested, he proved that he isn't yet old enough to stay by himself. He gets into the paint that he's not supposed to and he gets it on his parents nice clothes, cashmere coats, etc. and he talks to a stranger who could possibly be homeless, even thought he told him that he rented the apartment below him, the apartment where a couple camped out in, build a fire.

Headhunter is told in third person and it's about a woman driving home to visit her elderly dad. She goes through the memories she has of her dad and briefly talks about her mom and then her step mom. She gets in trouble along the way. And the story picks up. It's unexpected is all I'm going to say because it's a really good read.

Where I Work is told in first person. The protagonist or main character lives with her brother and works in a factory sewing pockets. I like the first line, I love first lines. "It's piecework that brings in the money." First sentences bring about questions. What's piecework and how does it bring in the money and why is she doing this and what's going on? You want all of these questions answered and you want to see how she handles the problem she's struggling with.

These are great stories that inspire me to write my own stories. A writing magazine suggests that you read and write a lot of stories in order to learn to write stories. And of course read a few writing short stories writing reference books but don't get so bogged down in all of that advice that you forget your own voice or don't write.

Always write.

"Write, write, write, till your fingers break. Write a story at one go. Write on all sorts of subjects, funny and tearful, good and bad."
Use what you can to inspire your stories this weekend. Write a bunch of first drafts for a possible collection.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Free Write: A Fictional Expression


Clara went in the back of the house to see if her grandmother was still back there, still asleep. The music from the cars on the street vibrated the house like a tsunami was occurring. She often wondered if they could have one in America and wipe out California, where she had yet to visit and Louisiana, the only place she's known as home.

"Grandma," Clara whispered, unsure if her whisper had even been uttered. Clara went in the room and stood by the open window. The music from passing cars was even louder here. She turned when she heard a muffled, strained voice. Her grandmother was staring at her.

"Alright," Clara nodded and moved towards the bed, slow, as if a stranger with a knife lay under the covers with her grandmother's narrow eyes.

"I like having you in my room, just to feel your presence. But, it would be nice if you would talk to me," Irene said.

"About what?" Clara was aware that the other grandchildren refused to come in the room. The most spiritual of her cousins said this was the death room, like entering a strange tomb. She couldn't understand their attitudes, but, Irene was the one that Clara had always gravitated towards.

"Your life." Irene turned her head to the door. "Speak to me like you're writing me a letter about the things that happen outside." Irene looked at her grandmother, the blanket pulled nearly to her nose.

"Okay," Clara said. She sat next to her grandmother's bed. She looked at the door, feeling her grandmother's eyes on her and then looked at the open window. She strained to identify the songs that were coming through the window before they faded when the light turned green.

I'm not sure where this free write came from. I original started with she, but she soon became Clara. Other than that, the only idea I had in mind was free writing or spontaneous writing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Simply Write

This morning I finished my first draft in a while for a story I've tentatively titled Hoarder, the first story in my short story collection. At work I came up with an idea for a possible novel. And, I'm excited about that. It was in writing and finishing this draft that I realized that I need to start writing in order to discover the story and what problem the character's struggling to solve or ignore.

I began with the word hoarder, inspired by the televisions how that comes on A&E and I thought of the reasons a person might become a hoarder.

It's a triumph to finish a first draft but I have to celebrate by getting back to writing. I either write the next draft or I start another story. Where do I start? I want this to be the next story in my collection. I want it to have a similar theme to Hoarder without it being the same story. Or the same character. I begin writing, perhaps from a word again or from a memory. I'm thinking of what my sister said yesterday, which was that boys today are more muscular than what boys had a right to be. She said it on the phone and I thought of the boys in my high school who went to Gold's Gym to work out. And one of them was my friend's cousin's boyfriend. Here's the beginning of a scene that I came up with based on that memory based on my sister's comment.

"He's at Gold's gym." Kristy continued to change channels. It was odd seeing her alone on the couch holding the remote control. Usually Bob sat next to her flipping through the sports channel. He looked like a saints player, or a wrestler, like it would be revealed that he should have graduated years and years ago.
"He said he's not big enough." Kristy shrugged and turned channels.
We continued to watch Kristy in hopes of a better explanation. But she didn't give us any.

Robert Olen Butler has an exercise in his book, From Where You Dream. Choose an event that evoked an emotion in you. Write it as if it was a scene in a fiction story.
"Can you help me make a baby," a man said. He was standing besides three blond boys who looked like their blond mother. He was darker, olive skin with black hair and dark brown eyes, black without the light penetrating them.
"Right here," the man said. He made a three sided box with his arms and body and pointed to the ground in front of me. I stared at the baby registry area to see if my co-worker who sat at the long, wave shaped desk heard anything he said. His mother, who was just as dark, stood behind a shopping cart containing a dark-haired girl who looked like the grandmother and father. His wife stood behind him on the phone.
I watched him and his family walk away and simply shook my head, and then went to tell my co-worker who sat at the desk. I wasn't sure what I wanted to accomplish, but I also didn't know how to react to what just happened.
I was pushing shopping carts towards the front and pushing them together when I saw him through the glass. He stood at the counter waiting for service.d.
"Do you have your reward card," I asked
"I think I left it in the car," he said. Behind him his three sons were choosing one Webkinz each for the new baby.
"Okay." I pressed a button getting me to the screen where I was able to look up their reward card. "Can I have your number?"
"Can I have yours," he said and then made growling, sexy noise. I looked at his daughter who was in the cart and the grandmother who stood behind the cart ready to push it. The grandmother didn't say anything.
"801-555-love, you can figure it out from there."
I let out a frustrated sigh and he gave me his correct phone and then, when I explained I was looking up his reward card, he gave the correct number. I pulled up his card and hit button to attach it to his purchases. The boys brought up the Webkinz they chose and put it on the counter.
"Remember that's for the new baby," the wife said.
"Are you going to teach the baby how to play with the Webkinz." I said that because I imagined the kids playing with their stuffed animals.
I was finishing the sales transaction when the grandmother said, "Have you seen a daughter who looked more like her father." By this time the mother took their three boys to the car or van. I looked at the husband and agreed with his mother. They left the store.

I may or may not be able to use it, but I think there are some story ideas in there, making work a great source for material, whatever your job is.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I've been reading a lot of short fiction, mainly individual stories from various sources. One source is narrativemagazine.com. I love the stories I've read in the magazine. The stories here are visual, putting the reader in the story, each tidal wave and calming moment the character feels and witnesses.

The collections I've read that I've been allowed to fall in love with the characters are Laura Van Den Berg's What The World Will Look Like when All The Water Leaves Us and Holly Goddard Jones' Girl Trouble. The author takes you into each of these characters lives, seeing their troubles and how they deal with them.

When you read a collection of short stories, particularly an anthology written by various fiction writers, you get swept into different lives, perhaps of people you'll never meet or ever get to know, but you recognize the characters enough to feel their experiences and even wish them happy endings.

I love those stories that take us into the moment of character's lives and it's the way that I try to write.

The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American short fiction, an anthology edited by Joyce Carol Oates is a great read. I read some of these stories in a fiction writing class I took at Georgia State University and I loved reading the stories. I read stories that I would have stopped reading if I hadn't had to write about them. It has opened up my mind.

Reading not only opens your mind to new authors and new experiences, but it allows you to see the subjects you can write about and the stories about these subjects you can tell. Reading takes you further into your imagination and your experiences.

Suggested readings besides narrative magazine .com Glimmer Train is a literary magazine that you can find at any bookstore, just about. The best new anthologies...Best New American Short Stories, New Stories From The South, O Henry Prize Stories and the one I mentioned earlier that Joyce Carol Oates edited.

Fodder and other Source Material

It feels good to be writing a draft, especially after a long bout of writer's block. I completed one draft on the eighth and I can't wait to write the second draft and I'm on the first draft of another story, all in the attempts to write a short story collection. I also want to write a novel based on my recent experiences. I'm working on title chapters. I'm excited about writing fiction again and that's a great place to be, the ability to see what could be there and put it on page and work it until it's this world that readers want to enter and learn how these characters solve their problems.

My step-niece was here providing lots of fodder for future stories. I do believe that the hardest part of using your life experiences is imagining it into fiction. You tend to stick with what really happened rather what could have happened, which is what I'm doing with this latest story that I'm writing. It's the first draft and I do believe that when you're writing the first draft you have to write the story, writing whatever comes to you and then rewrite. Hopefully I'll be able to re-see this story in my second draft.

The great thing about being in that place where writing fiction is all you want to do is that you're open to meeting characters and situations. And you remember things you missed when you weren't paying attention. I wonder why the waitress who served us at an Italian restaurant had to give her tables to another waiter. What was the personal crisis?

My favorite books on the subject of writing stories based on personal experiences are: Robin Hemly's Turning Life Into Ficton and, John Dufresne's The Lie That Tells A Truth and
Rick DeMarinis' The Art and Craft of the Short Story.

Everything begins with that first sentence and you wanting to answer the questions the first sentence suggests to you.

The car wash was empty when we pulled into a stall. I began digging around her car for quarters and immediately thought of the woman that was kidnapped from a car wash not to long ago, maybe last week or last month. Exams kept me from remembering things that weren't covered in class. Was she a college student.

"Dawn," my friend said, and I looked at her as if wanting her to remember what we were doing and where we were.

I think writing first drafts is about trusting yourself and your instincts. Writing a first draft is all about discovering the story, learning what your characters are struggling to accomplish. The further into your story you write, the more you narrow it down to a specific experience for your narrative to reveal or share or tell.

Writing Prompt: Fictionalize one of your college experiences or high school experiences if you didn't go to college.

"Where are you," my friend asked.
I was thought of as the morbid friend so I chose to continue looking for quarters rather than answer her question. D.J. Jubilee was on the radio singing 'My hot girl and your hot girl sitting by the bayou.

This scene reminds me of going out of Louisiana with the club I was a part of. There was a dance they had and we were waiting for them to play New Orleans bounce songs until one of us realized that we weren't home anymore. We probably weren't in the south either, but I can't remember. This and the scene or possible story ideas that I might want to explore and see what I can do with them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How Do I Create A Character

The neighborhood she lived in was surrounded by woods with a bar in the next town that her husband frequented.

Walter Mosley suggests to simply start writing if you're the intuitive type and I agree with him. This is a first sentence taken from the three years I lived in West Haven Connecticut. I love Walter Mosley's advice. Just start writing and continue writing so you'll pull the story and character out of the first sentence.

She learned from listening to NPR that kids who lived in New York were anxious to spend the summer in a non-urban setting. She went online to find out how to sign up to invite a child to the country.

It was so quiet as she stood near her house and stared at the space between each house.

I do believe that story ideas come from simple things like first sentences, situations, words and usually they come when you're not staring at a blank page in your journal.

First Drafts

I sporadically submitted stories to literary magazines. It takes courage to write a story and even more courage to rewrite many drafts and submit the story to a literary magazine. Whatever you write about, whatever genre you write it in--literary, science fiction, horror, etc..., you are being vulnerable to yourself and the page. And then to submit the story and have other people read it. I also know, or am learning that not writing is miserable and that if I don't submit, I can't get any closer to that fiction writing career that I want. First I need courage to write that first sentence, which comes from a first sentence or a writing exercise or you simply write a first sentence. And then you need the courage to go on. When I'm not staring at my journal, that's when all of the ideas come to me and I remember that I have lots to write about and lots of places to set stories in.

I grew up in Terrytown, Louisiana, left Harvey, Louisiana because of Hurricane Katrina and I've slowly begun the healing process, which is still going on. I'm not sure when I'll be able to write my Hurricane Katrina story. It's nearly five years later and you'd think I would have submitted several Hurricane Katrina based stories by, especially since I've read a short story in a literary magazine called Story and I saw at least two novels featuring Hurricane Katrina. I need to get my story down in a hurry.

I've lived in Connecticut where I was a substitute teacher and a paraprofessional. I worked in a library. And now I live in Atlanta, trying to get myself together in this recession. I've given up and I've gotten back out in the job market and I've given up, over and over and I'm only writing pieces of first drafts. All of this has to change.

A writer came up with this writing exercise. She suggested writing a piece according to the guidelines of literary magazines or fiction contests, or an agents or publishing companies. Since short stories are my passion, I'm trying to write stories according to the guidelines of literary magazines and short story contests, but I would like to write a novel. Perhaps I'll write about my dad who drove a taxi cab after the welding business dried up in Louisiana or I'll write about being an aunt to my younger sister's first child. I'll take courage and write the first sentence and I won't worry about anything until I write the first draft and the second draft and then I'll begin to edit and figure out what I'm really writing about. I love improvisational writing, suggested by Robert Wolf in his book Jump Start, How To Write From Everyday Life.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

First Day of Writing

You stare at a blank piece of paper and usually nothing happens but your mind begins to wonder. You think you're not getting any writing done, but actually, all of the writing is going on in your head. You just need to somehow get it down on paper. This blog is to inspire people who want to write fiction about their everyday lives. And it's to foster a passion for short fiction. My favorite quote is Raymond Carver. He said, "There are significant moments in everyone's day that make literature. That's what you ought to write about." His stories are about ordinary people living their ordinary lives. These are the kinds of stories I love to read and aspire to write. I also think it's important to start off with a goal because then you'll have something to work hard towards, something to aspire to.

I begin with something that I think will inspire me. Perhaps it's a word, a memory, an observation or character or place or anything at all. I want you to step into my story from the first sentence. Cherry blew a pink gum-bubble as she looked down from the tree branch she sat on. It's a sentence I might use to inspire a story. There are questions in first sentences that make you want to read on or write on to find the answers to those questions. The more you write, the further you narrow to a specific plot and characters.

Writing fiction, especially short stories, is fun and challenging and rewarding, especially because it shouldn't take you longer than a week to write that first draft. And, if you trust your instincts and let yourself and your imagination go, it won't take you more than a day to finish the first draft of your story. This is a Stephen King idea; one day to write the first draft of a short story and one season or three months to write the first draft of a novel.

What happened to you yesterday that you can turn into fiction? Start writing down your day, but make a few changes because this is fiction we're writing.

I heard the baby's hungry wailing when I walked in the door with my mom. She was in her swing set and my sister kept saying, from somewhere in the kitchen, "Mommy's coming, just let me finish cutting the apples," and let me finish cutting the apples became let me finish stirring.

What is going on in this scene that I can turn into a story? Anything is possible. Perhaps she wants a different life and doesn't know how to get one.

I will try to make this a weekly blog in which I talk about stories I've read, stories I am writing, life as it's lived and turning the pieces of life into fiction. It doesn't always have to be your life. For instance, every Sunday morning I see men and women, usually black, selling the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper on the side of the street or on the divider. I wonder about them. Sometimes I'll observe someone calling the salesperson to their car to hand them a dollar in exchange for the paper. What are they doing between sales? What are they thinking about? I'm curious.

The goal of this blog is to bring short stories back into fashion. I like reading novels but there's something wonderful about reading a short story. Anthologies give you a variety of stories to read. narrative magazine is my favorite. It's an online literary magazine that publishing excellent literature by emerging and established writers. Find it and read it. In the meantime, try this fiction writing exercise, He put his arms around his wife and daughter, who sat on either side of him in the pew. Vague, maybe, but that's the best place to start a story. "You start from nothing and learn as you go." I'm certain that E.L. Doctorow said that.