Tag Archives: stories

8 Goals for 2016 (Because I Don’t Believe in Resolutions)

I don’t do resolutions. To me, resolutions are failed attempts to get in shape, eat better, and swear less. I could probably set all those goals. I could become a gym queen with killer biceps.

Ehh.

I own a treadmill. I use it. I eat ok. Salads for lunch a lot, probably too many nachos for dinner. Swearing, well, I like swearing, and I know when swearing is not appropriate.

I do, however, set goals. I know it is basically the same thing, but I like the sound of goals better.

So in order to fully commit myself, I am sharing my 2016 goals here for ALL THE WORLD to see. I assume everyone on the planet reads this blog, but you know, somehow in secret so I don’t know about it.

  1. Keep writing a blog a week until May 29th. On May 29th, I will have written a post every week for one year. Continuing this seems attainable. I have this one in the bag.
  1. Complete seven stories this year, and submit these stories. Starting a story is not hard. Finishing and editing a story until I am satisfied is a much longer process. I submitted one so far.
  1. Stop apologizing for things that don’t require an apology. I say sorry for things I have no reason to be sorry about. Not sure if it is a Midwest thing or a woman thing or more likely both. I worry too much about hurting people’s feelings, especially people that don’t seem to hold my feelings in such high regard.
  1. Spend time with people that value you and make an effort. I am picky about the people I spend time with, but I tend to give people too many chances. If someone makes no effort, then I need to learn to let it go.
  1. Get my finances locked down. I pay all my bills on time, and I have a 401K. But I was having a conversation with a friend about how good she is at saving money, and I thought, damn girl, you could do that too. You should be doing that too. Why aren’t you doing that too?! Call it my emergency furnace fund which even typing that makes me TERRIFIED the furnace is going to blow. (Send good vibes to my furnace.)
  1. Do some home improvements that improve resale, not just make it look kick ass. I have a tendency to buy things like furniture, rugs, and trilobites. You know, the essentials. These things look kick ass, but don’t really add value to your house. So I’m making more permanent changes. I had an over-the-range microwave installed this week, and another guy came over to talk dishwasher installation. I have a few more kitchen tweaks in mind. I would also like my laundry room to appear to be a place other than where you might find someone’s severed torso. So that’s maybe next on the list.
  1. Get a new job. This one has been on my to-do list for quite some time. I have taken steps toward this. Working on a master’s degree, writing this blog, internships, and various other writing projects. I want this to be the year, guys.
  1. Continue destroying the fear. This goes along with many of those goals, like quit apologizing for who you are. Submit more writing. Use more power tools. Change, change, change. Basically, be a better version of yourself. This is a perpetual goal. I think whenever you can let go of your fears, you find yourself a happier person. And that, my friends, is always the goal, be happier.

This week’s video is “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac.

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Like Stories about Collapsing Lungs and Crocodiles?

I consider myself an optimistic pessimist. Meaning, I hope for the best, even if my thoughts don’t naturally go in that direction.

But lately, I’ve been complaining A LOT.

Sleep is a big part of keeping me on an even keel. If I am short on sleep, I act like a bad version of myself. Reading a good story also turns my mood around.

I try to read every night, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Or sometimes, I start a new book, and the story hasn’t captured my interest yet. And sometimes, I just forget to do the things that are good for me.

I have a favorite design blog, Design*Sponge. The site showcases people’s beautiful homes, but also explores art, traveling, recipes, and artists. It has also started to focus more on writing.

I ran across a post about writer Rahawa Haile yesterday. She created a site called Short Story of the Day. Her idea was to post a short story from a minority writer every day in 2015.

I enjoyed the freshness of these stories, the ability to startle. Sure there was a breakup story, but the main character also had a collapsing lung. There was another story about a girl whose mom brings home a crocodile.

These stories forced the reader to suspend belief for a moment. To live outside the realm of the every day. Reading these stories allowed me to escape myself and all my petty gripes.

Sometimes, disappearing into a world of crocodiles and collapsing lungs is just what you need.

Last night, I also attended that Dave Eggers and Marlon James book event which benefited the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute. As I mentioned last week, MOI is an after school program that helps students aged 6-18 work on their homework, focusing particularly on creative writing.

Along with Eggers and James discussing their work, three students from the program read stories. The stories were written in letter format. One was addressed to an alien, one to a dragon, and one to the sun. Each was funny and charming.

Eggers and James were fantastic, but I think everyone who attended would agree the kids stole the show.

It was another reminder of the power of a good story. A good story allows you to lose yourself in the moment, to try to absorb all the joy and possibility in the weird, little world of that story.

This week’s video is “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage.

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Burning Down the Page with Plath

“My night sweats grease his breakfast plate.”

The line caught me, stopped me from flipping the page.

I whispered it to myself. Rolled it around on my tongue. Tasted it.

This line is from the poem “The Jailor” which appears in the poetry collection, Ariel. Ariel was the manuscript Sylvia Plath left behind when she killed herself in 1963. Her husband, poet Ted Hughes, published the book after her death.

I first read Plath in junior high, after a teacher recommended her work. Her language was dark and beautiful. Her voice was strong. Her words burned down every page. She was the first writer I really fell in love with.

I have Ariel The Restored Edition. It includes Hughes’ original version of the book, Plath’s version of the manuscript, and her notes throughout the writing process. It also includes a foreword from Frieda, Plath and Hughes’ daughter.

Plath and Hughes’ relationship was tumultuous, to say the least. Some people think having Hughes edit Ariel was a disservice to her work. He was, after all, a subject of scorn in many of her poems.

You see the tension in their relationship in the first line. Plath is angry, and she is angry at Hughes.

“My night sweats grease his breakfast plate.” Try saying it out loud.

That is part of what I love about Plath. Her poems aren’t filled with flowers and sunshine, but that doesn’t make her words any less stunning. Her phrases have a musicality, a flowing of sound.

Two stanzas later:

“Something is gone.
My sleeping capsule, my red and blue zeppelin
Drops me from a terrible altitude
Carapace smashed,
I spread to the beaks of birds.”

My favorite sound here is the “Carapace smashed” line. The phrase is musical, even if the image described isn’t conventionally beautiful. But that is one of Plath’s best tricks. She turned ugly images into beautiful sounds. This juxtaposition is part of what makes her poetry so arresting.

The poem ends with this stanza:

“That being free. What would the dark
Do without fevers to eat?
What would the light
Do without eyes to knife, what would he
Do, do, do without me.”

The language is simple, but no less stunning. What a clever way to describe light, as something that knifes your eyes.

But it is the ending that grabs me.

“What would he/Do, do, do without me,” she writes. The repetition of do, do, do sounds almost like a pop song. But in this context, it is a fiery question aimed at Hughes. A question that suggests he needs her as much as she needs him.

Reading Plath at a relatively young age shaped the way I write. Her style helped me develop an my ear for language. My stories inevitably have a few sentences that sound like lines from a poem. I strive for the musicality of Plath’s language.

A year or so ago, I was working on a story, and I wrote, “A man is a man is a jet plane is a rusted fire escape.” I knew what I meant, but maybe the reader wouldn’t have known. But more than anything, I liked the way it sounded. This line contained some of the mystery and beauty of poetry. It has since hit the cutting room floor, but I still love the sound it, the way it rolls off my tongue.

Plath also helped me learn how to channel my ferocity in my writing. I want my words to burn down the page like her’s.

In the foreword to Ariel The Restored Edition, Frieda writes, “Her own words describe her best, her ever-changing moods defining the way she viewed her world and the manner in which she pinned down her subjects with a merciless eye.”

Ariel contains Plath’s final words. Here we see her at her most fierce. Her eye most merciless. Her language most stunning.

What would he do, do, do indeed.

This week’s video is “Husbands” by Savages. They are an all female London-based rock band. And they rock hard, my friends.

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Finding Peace in a Room Full of Stories

When I lived in NYC, I worked as a visual stylist at Saks Fifth Avenue. My days were spent up and down ladders, applying graphics, dressing and re-dressing mannequins, painting, moving furniture around the floor, and putting together chandeliers. You name it; we pretty much did it.

It was inspiring. It was thrilling. It was chaotic.

I usually left bone-tired. Some days, it was more than that. I was frustrated. I was annoyed. I had hit my bullshit limit. Those days, I needed an out, some sane, a little peace and quiet.

Anthropologie was across the street in the Rockefeller Center shopping area. I know. There are so many beautiful places around this area. But for me, Anthropologie was the peaceful space I needed.

The smell hit me first. The store always burned its signature candles, which smelled like autumn air and musk and spice. The space was huge, airy. All the clothing, accessories, and home goods were perfectly placed. Everything looked like it came from your most stylish friend’s house.

I would walk in and breathe the peace and quiet. Let it settle on my skin. Sometimes I would buy something, usually something small, like a candleholder. Anthropologie is not inexpensive.

After I felt restored, I would grab the train home.

Spaces affect your mood. There are some rooms and places that just breathe peace. For me, Anthopologie is one of the places.

But I can’t really afford to spend every day at Anthropologie, nor do I want to revisit my life in retail.

This brings me back to my writing room/library. I wrote about it a few weeks ago.

I have made progress since then. I painted the walls (and some of the carpet) grey. I bought a rug to hide the (some of the carpet) grey. My friend helped me move a bookshelf in. I found a great Craigslist wingback chair. We moved the desk in.

I broke my writing room/library in on Wednesday.

Bookshelf

Bookshelf porn.

A space full of stories is a lovely space to be in, my friends. And it is working already. I started a new story on Wednesday.

This week’s video is actually a shout-out for my partner-in-crime, James Wilson. His band, The Paisley Fields, has a record out today. If listening to country music music is your idea of peaceful, check out my favorite song “Brooklyn Rodeo.” Support his awesome band, and buy the EP! https://itun.es/us/PYOd-

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I Wrote a Story + Editors Liked It = Story Published

So. It. Happened. One of my stories was accepted for publication. You can read my flash fiction story “Everything They Said About You” at The Electronic Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature. Here it is: https://theeeel.com/everything-they-said-about-you-pamela-dewey/.

Queue corks popping, dancing in the streets, general debauchery, etc.

When I received the email stating the story was accepted, I read it a least ten times before I thought, yes, I’m pretty sure that is what it says.

It’s not that I don’t think I can write. I know I can write. It’s just when you hear “No” so many times, doubt creeps in.

So this week, here is a video essay following the range of my emotions.

First stage: Disbelief, minor terror. Song, “Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett.

After I read the words enough times to believe my story was accepted, the joy hit. Now for real, queue the popping of corks, or at least the dancing to Michael Jackson.

Second Stage: Joy. Song, “Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson. This song always stretches a smile across my face.

Then I waited for the story to appear. The editors gave me a time frame, but I wasn’t sure of the exact day. I was enjoying a glorious Sunday, and I made a joke that I hadn’t checked the site in a couple days. I clicked, and my story had magically appeared.

Third Stage: Joy, disbelief, minor terror. Song, “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce. I think this song/video fits exceptionally well with my story, and those emotions as well.  Hope you like my story. I can’t wait to share more!

 

 

 

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Writing starts with an idea. Simple enough. Until you’re on deadline, cursor blinking faster than you can form a sentence, heart thumping in your chest, doubts erasing all thoughts of your writing ability.

What is the story about? Who are the characters? What is climax? How will it end?

To begin a story, you just need a place to start. You don’t need to have all the minutiae mapped out. You certainly don’t need to know how it’s going to end.

I sometimes do, but more often, I have no idea. A story starts to unfold in my head from a snippet of conversation or an interesting thing I have seen or experienced. It is a beautiful song. It is a funny thing my friend said. It is the crush of heartbreak.

I love people watching. It’s fascinating to see people interact and listen to what they say.

You should avoid getting caught eavesdropping, but believe me, everybody listens to other people’s conversations. Whether they want to or not. (I’m looking at you, lady cursing her boyfriend out on her cellphone.)

Most writers eavesdrop. I have a friend who takes notes when he overhears anything interesting. He adds it to a list of potential dialogue on his phone.

“I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.”
–Stephen King from http://stephenking.com/faq.html#t1

A good piece of dialogue gets you only so far. You must take your inspiration and build a story around it.

Ask “What if?” Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Write about the thing you’ve always wanted to write about, but been too scared to. Shock people. Shock yourself.

Then remember to build your story arc. A beginning, middle, and some sort of end.

It doesn’t matter how short or long your story is; you just need to make your reader feel something. You need a climax to your story, a point of conflict that makes your reader want to turn the page.

The end doesn’t have to be tidy. No need for happily ever after. Or even an after.

One of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous stories is six words long.
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

This story is neither tidy nor happily ever after. But it manages to stir the reader’s emotions in just six words.

So, where do you get your ideas?

This week’s video is an acoustic version of “What Have I Done?” by Cursive. It’s a darker take on the writing process, but a beautiful song. The lead singer of Cursive, Tim Kasher, is a great writer.

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