Terrytown's Library

Terrytown's Library
Raised in Terrytown, Louisiana

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Have My Own Voice, My Own Stories

Pearl Cleage said, "I have my own voice, my own stories," in reference to her stories not being serious like Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. I need to recognize and accept my own stories and my voice. And it's not going to be a Pearl Cleage type voice or story no matter how much I want it to be. It's going to be a coming of age story about a girl experiencing death by attending so many funerals of great aunts and great uncles and grandparents. It's going to be a girl who falls in love with the New Kids On The Block because they are the safest guys she knows to love. Or she tries to see The Guys Next Door with her friend but somehow fails. My voice and my stories are my own and no one else's and I don't know why I can't accept them.

In 2010, my voice would be a woman telling her story of working retail. What experiences does she meet? Does she do anything to correct her struggles. My sister told me once that not making a choice or not deciding something is making a choice. You're still doing something when you're not being active or you decide to do nothing. This could be something that my character is doing. What is she doing to get a better job or to put her college degree to use? According to her sister, nothing but pretending or not doing enough. What could she be doing to change her situation or rather what more could she do to better her situation? You find out in the course of writing her story.

My favorite quote is something that Raymond Carver said. "There are significant moments in everyone's day that can make literature. That's what you ought to write about." It doesn't have to be the day before. It can be days or years before. I think by using this quote, you'll always be able to write everyday. Just chose that moment and begin writing. Don't forget to ask, what if.

This is your assignment if you choose to accept it. Choose a significant moment in your day and write about it. I will do this for next blog and probably continue to write fictional what ifs about my day to day life here. A fiction version of my journal. Have a great day and happy writing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


John Updike's story, 'A&P' shows me that stories are in everything we do and every place that we gather or simply are for whatever reason. In this particular story, a teenage boy hates his job at A&P. He's disgusted when he's manager ridicules three young girls who are wearing bathing suits, despite the pool or beach being miles away. He reminds the manager that these girls are paying customers to. He's fascinated with them. I work in retail and I've gotten some customers that I can turn into characters. Sometimes they tell me about their moments, which I think is what inspires short stories. It's not whole stories like going to Memphis TN with Circle K or Athens GA. It's seeing a little boy flip on the cobbled street known as Beale. It's seeing a woman sit next to a drunk guy at night. I still get the feeling she didn't know him, but I could be wrong. I get customers that will jokingly hit on you and it's gets a little annoying, as well as old.

I take a moment from a memory, a dream or my imagination and I write the first sentence. The idea is working customer service. The moment is looking for something to keep me busy when a customer comes in and says, "Help us make another baby." I've never had a customer ask me that. It made me wonder about him.

Two black girls walked in the store. They looked young. Neither was pregnant. They reminded me of going to Sears with my friend in junior high and looking at appliances we might have in our apartment. That could be a look back fiction story. It could be part of a novel. Who knows what I can do with it. Right now I'm more interested in writing short fiction. I haven't seen her since Hurricane Katrina. I had this idea of dedicating fiction stories to lost friends and them seeing it and remembering me. The stories would be based on a shared memory. Of course it's hard to know what people remember or don't remember. We all have different things that we hold on to either purposely or unconsciously.

I like that Updike's story took place in the store. Could I write my version of A&P. I want to write a short story set on Black Friday. I'm trying to write a combination of working Black Friday and the character comparing it to waiting in line for Red Cross money for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. It's the moments that you're writing. You have an idea for a bar story. What's the moment in the bar story that you want to write about? Being hit on by the bartender, the song they played that reminds you of a past moment. What's the moment of your idea? And then you start with a story.

They were lined up outside the store, bundled in sweaters and blankets as they sat in lawn chairs or on the curb or simply stood. The store had an hour before it opened. It was still only Thursday.

I think I'm going to try to write this story. And then I'm going to send it out.

It feels so good to be working on a draft and even better when I send out that draft. And then I begin another story.

The kitchen smelled of Indian spices, very different from the kitchen of our childhood.

Call the story kitchens? I've been in a few.

Write a moment from an idea or memory and use it to inspire a fiction story. Happy writing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I started off writing poetry and then transitioned into short fiction when I was in high school. A friend had to tell me that I was writing short stories and novels. Since then, I go back and forth, as if I can't do both. I have so many files of short fiction, just as I have so many files of poetry; some of them bulging. I write my poems the same way that I write my short fiction; one line at a time. Sometimes I start with a word or subject or something that's part of my environment. Other times I'll simply start with a line and see where it leads.

I like to have fun with my writing, see what I can do with lines and sentences and words. When I was in college, dilapidated became my favorite word because I saw it in just about every online poem that I encountered, particular one where I used to submit my poetry every day.

I think short stories and poetry have a lot in common. You only have so much space to say what you want to say. And you're trying to be personal, no matter what perspective you use; first, second, or third. You're creating characters that you can get to know, characters that you hope you're reader will take to. One thing I've learned that writing and submitting are risks. You're risking being vulnerable on the page, and then to your reader. This is a mirror of your soul. It's a risk I'm now willing to take.

After writing two drafts of a story by hand, I'm typing it up on my computer. This time I know that I have to edit the story, the characters. Does this sentence or word make sense? Is this really something that a person would say or do based on the situation they are in. I can't just blindly rewrite and rewrite. I have to edit and edit as I rewrite. I have to actually read and reread what I've written.

I have to write and submit, write and submit and I have to do this over and over because I actually want a career writing fiction stories and poetry. I want a career taking risks.

I know you're inside.
I hear your quiet scratchings.
You're walking through
Arteries and veins.
And your whispering
My diary pages, but
No one can hear them.
At least not yet.

As for your next poem or short story or even short memoir or personal essay. Write about or based on something new that happened to you. I feel like I'm getting back my confidence. In order to write, you have to risk and in order to be published, you have to submit.

Enjoy and happy writing

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Niece

My niece is four months old and I think of writing down her history for her. I'll call it letters to Amira. I consider my fiction stories for adults and maybe for young adults but all of a sudden I want to write stories for my niece. Stories that we'll read to her and stories that she'll read later. She's four months of preciousness.

At first I thought of writing personal essays for her, but I'm more fiction. A fiction story based on things she does now and one about things she'll do later. But I think I still want to write a collection called Letters to Amira. And I definitely want to write stories about being an aunt because this is a new experience for me. I have two nieces thanks to my older brother, but this is the first time I get to watch my niece grow. I'm here day to day to see her experiences. She used to ghost fight or rather punch at the air. She doesn't do that anymore. When she's hungry, she scratches you.

I'm getting back into my poetry. That's great.

I've written the first draft of a fiction story to become part of the collection I'm working on. I'm also going to start work on my novel, now that I know exactly what it's about. I can't wait to tackle that. And I can't wait to finish my collection of stories.

It's so great to use your writing to honor a loved one or even or to celebrate an event, experience, or loved one.

I have lots of writing projects to tackle.

Happy writing and today begin a story you'd dedicate to a loved one.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I realized, thanks to a conversation with my sister, that I wasn't writing stories about my life experiences. I needed to change that. Ironically, I want to write stories based on my life experiences. I'll start with a memory and try to do something with it. It can be public or private.
  • September 11, 2001 I was on my way to school
  • December 2001 I was surprised that people seemed to be using the the tragedy to sell their products
I still have to write my Hurricane Katrina stories, especially after seeing so many published stories inspired by this tragedy. I do believe that it's okay to write a story based on an experience that isn't yours. You still have to somehow make it yours, make the character almost you.

I'm fascinated by the immigration issues. I'd create a character similar to me and give her a situation to deal with. And, I would do whatever research was needed to make the story believable.

To use my own experience to inspire a fiction story is something that everyone has told me. I'm doing that with this next story I've started writing. A story about driving to a funeral after mom picks me up. It's the memory I have of that experience and I'm sure family members remember it differently.

I move on to a first sentence so that I can gather some use-able material to write a first draft.

I turned the TV on to catch the last of a reunion of Parenthood and instead saw a billow coming out of the twin towers as if they had exploded.

Happy writing and don't forget to make the story yours and make the character you.