This is a few days late, and that is indicative of my week, really. But still there was many joyful moments to be had despite some sorrowful news later in the week. Here are photo representations of seven of those many happy moments.
Happy (belated) Friday!
There is an interesting project that caught my eye last week. It challenges you to notice what makes you happy every day for 100 days in a row and document it in picture form each day. The biggest challenge it would seem would be actually taking the time to upload your picture with the appropriate hashtag every day. I like the idea of this project a lot. Being aware of what makes us happy can only lead to more happiness. However, I know my schedule and sometimes I barely have time to look at my email, let alone upload a picture every day, so I am not going to sign up for their project. But I thought I'd do my own version of the project by making sure I snap a picture every day and then creating a slide show to post here every Friday so I have a record of what made me happy over the past week. I feel I can commit to one happy blog post every week and taking my phone out to get a picture of something everyday seems doable. The biggest challenge I ran into was that sometimes the thing that made me happy wasn't really tangible enough to take a picture of, so I had to come up with something to represent my happy moment, but I am committed to having a visual representation each day. . . So here's seven things that made me happy from March 28-April 3, but certainly not everything that made me happy. :)
After one week of tracking things that made me happy, I observed a few changes.
1. I was generally pretty happy this week. Maybe I would have been anyway, but because I was looking for things to be happy about, I think it helped me focus on the positive things that were happening every day.
2. I began to anticipate what would make me happy the next day and the next, so I was always looking forward to something and making sure there was guaranteed to be a happy moment each day.
3. I really appreciated the little things all week that I think I sometimes tend to take for granted.
4. I had few instances of feeling down this week and was generally fairly productive compared to the previous few weeks. Again, maybe this would have happened anyway, but focusing on happy things definitely didn't hurt.
So what made you happy this week?
One of my very short pieces called Cherry Pit can be found in the latest issue of East Coast Literary Review. This is my first publication after a bit of a grad school induced dry spell and it looks lovely! I haven't even gotten my copy yet, but I can't wait to read all the poetry and stories they selected for this issues. If you'd also like to read it, it is available for Kindle or you can order a print copy here. Happy Reading!
So. . . wow. Yes, it has been such an extremely long time since I've updated my website. In some ways, that was a conscious choice. As I mentioned not long before I went all silent around here, in 2012, I made the decision to go back to school to become a teacher. I applied to, and made into, a very demanding but excellent graduate program that works to truly prepare its teacher candidates for the challenges teachers face in urban schools. Part of that preparation was looking at our own identities and what it means for me as an educated white woman with working class roots to be teaching in a Chicago classroom. I found that constantly analyzing my teacher identity meant that I had to push my writer identity to the side for a while. This was not easy to do. Writing is such an integral part of me that before starting my teacher training program (or "teacher school" as my third graders like to call it), when asked who I am, I would always immediately respond that I am a writer. It was the beginning, middle, and end of my identity in a lot of ways. But no one is just one thing and I needed to face the aspects of my identity and figure out what it means to be a woman or white or straight, etc, etc, etc, the privileges and challenges that come with each label, so that I can be real with my students, so that I can build trust with them and let them know who I really am and where I come from, so they in turn can let me know who they really are. Yes, being a writer is such an important part of who I am, but so is being a teacher. I have been comfortable in my writer identity my whole life, so it was an easy place to retreat to and that is why I needed to set it aside for a time, so I could get comfortable in other aspects of myself.
But lately, the writer has become restless. I've neglected that part of myself for too long and it has become time to merge the two and become not just a writer and not just a teacher but a Writer/Teacher. My identity reflections are far from over as figuring out who I am and what that means will be (and should be) a lifelong journey. But I am comfortable slipping my writer identity back on now because I see all the others I wear along with it and I see how those identities shape not just how I teach, but also how I write.
Last night, I attended a job fair put on by my school. We are just about three months away from finishing our program and we are turning our attention toward where we will be working as full-fledged teachers this fall. I spoke with several schools that I was interested in and had positions I could see myself potentially filling. But there was one school in particular who was not just interested in who I was as a teacher, but also as a writer. As I was talking about how my writer identity fit with my teacher identity, I felt something click. I was so excited about the prospect of teaching writing and literature to middle schoolers. I could hear that little voice inside saying, "Yessssssssssss. . . this is who I am." Without writing, I don't feel complete. It feels good to be back.
I clearly still haven't had much time for blogging, but I've been pretty active over at Goodreads lately (probably because it fills that blogging void) and have done some reviews. I thought I'd share them over here, just in case you're looking for something to read.
I've been quiet here for almost two months now, but those two months have been packed with change and new beginnings. I've wanted to post here, but part of me kept holding back. I think I needed to withdraw in order to take some time to figure out my new routine, my new goals, my new life, and how it all fits together, but from here on out, I hope to make weekly posts here again. After all, I don't want to lose sight of my writing goals.
My biggest announcement is that in August, I found out I'd been accepted into a graduate program at the University of Chicago. I am so incredibly excited about this. It is a really unique program that prepares its students for teaching in urban environments like Chicago. The program is two years long and at the end of it, I will have a Masters in the Art of Teaching and be certified to teach K-9. I started the program in September and it is just as wonderful and amazing as I had hoped. I plan to write much more about this later, but for now, know that this is what has been keeping me too busy for words.
During my hiatus from blogging, I also had two new stories published. You can find my story Thin White Line in Issue #2 of Adanna. And my shortest publication to date appeared in a recent issue of Safety Pin Review. Happy Reading!
Now I am off to do some homework, but I'll be back soon!
Today's stories came from Alice Adams' final collection of short stories The Last Lovely City. I picked this book up at a used bookstore because the title and the cover caught my attention and this particular bookstore had an enormous selection of Alice Adams' books. I've never read any of her novels or short stories before, but thought Short Story Month would be a great time to introduce myself to her work. I selected two stories pretty much at random from this collection. I read A Very Nice Dog and The Visit. Both were very simple stories and at first, I was a bit disappointed, even thinking that A Very Nice Dog lacked plot. But what I realized as the stories marinated and followed me around throughout my day, is that Adams was a master of the subtle story. A Very Nice Dog was not at all about the dog, but the narrator's own loneliness and longing to connect with an acquaintance. She denies any kind of romantic interest in this man, but the whole story is her plotting to find ways to spend time with this man, even going so far as to arrange for him to adopt the very nice dog of the title. This story does not follow a traditional story arc, but instead follows the narrator through her denial. It is the type of story I strive for in my flash fiction. Subtle and capturing a mere moment important for the main character.
As for my own writing, I continued work on my bagpipes story and my word count is up to 1125, putting my on track for meeting my monthly goal. Now I'm going to go watch some more Olympics. Check back in tomorrow for more short story g
Day 1 of Short Story Month is off to a good start. My first reading selections came from the The Best American Short Stories (2011). I read Ricardo Nuila's Dog Bites (originally published in McSweeney's) and Elizabeth McCracken's Property (originally published in Granta). I felt both stories were strong, but McCracken's story spoke to me as both a reader and a writer.
As a reader, this story appealed to me because it is a story about grief and how we perceive the world around us differently when we grieve. Grief has always been a fascinating process for me, possibly because I've lost many loved ones, and maybe I don't quite understand how I manage to continue moving through it and beyond it and how everyone around me has their own unique way of dealing with their own grief. The first story I ever got published was about grief. It is hard for me to put down a story about loss and the healing process, especially if it is well-written, and well-written feels like an understatement to describe Property.
As a writer, I was drawn into McCracken's beautiful language and unique descriptions. She piqued my interest by opening her story with how an ad for a rental property should have been written, had it been accurate. But she hooked me in the paragraph that followed with her description of her characters. One character she described as looking like, ". . . a plump-cheeked naughty heroine of a German children's book having just sawed off her own braids with a knife. Her expression dared you to teach her a lesson" (193). I struggle with character descriptions in my own writing and tend to just leave them out because they fail to stand out and fail to serve the story, preferring to hint at a few surface details and letting the reader use their imagination. McCracken has no such problems. Without giving a humdrum list of physical features, she manages to create a vivid image of her character while still leaving the details to my own imagination. This is something want to strive for in my own short stories. There was much more about this story worth loving, and the exquisite descriptions certainly aren't limited to the first page. Her characters were quirky and real, and while the story was about grief and healing, it was not bogged down in the weight of heavy emotions. She somehow makes this a light read without being flippant about death and loss. This is a story definitely worth reading, especially if you are interested in studying well-crafted stories to help improve your own short story writing. If you don't care to pick up a copy of the above book, you can also read it via the Granta website if you care to subscribe. Or at the very least, you can get a free sneak preview.
As for my own writing, I am working on a new short piece tentatively titled "Bagpipes". I am handwriting it at the moment (less chance of ending up on the internet or play solitaire for three straight hours that way) so I don't have a word count, but I am keeping Elizabeth McCracken's way of describing her characters in mind and may try my hand at accomplishing the same thing. I'll post an updated word count with tomorrow's post.
And just a little teaser, I've selected two of my favorite short story collections for giveaways and a fun little tool for writing inspiration. There may be more. First giveaway starts on Friday, so keep checking back!
So who are your favorite short story authors? Leave me recommendations in the comments because I have 60 more stories to read this month!
Happy Writing! (And Reading!)
I have short stories inside me again. They boil and bubble over at the most inconvenient of times, when it is impossible for me to write them down. The flame burns itself out whenever I finally put pen to paper, so that all I accomplish is to jot down a quick summary of the ideas, so it is all captured at least and will continue to simmer. I can only hope that the story boils again the next time I sit down to write.
The spark for this long-lost flame has been my copy of Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2010. While looking for some fresh reading material without taking a trip to the bookstore this weekend, I found it sitting on my shelf, brand new, corners unbent, spine uncreased. This monster of a volume scolded me for buying it months ago, only to almost immediately forget its existence. Shamed, I shoved it in my bag and declared it my day's reading. Within its pages, I discovered short gems of contemporary literary fiction. Writers I've heard of in magazines I've been rejected by. Writers I've never heard of in literary journals with unfamiliar names. Some spoke to me, others were forgettable. Some I could even finish, others I devoured. But through reading them, I was reminded of a fact that I should be painfully aware of, but choose to ignore for the most part: I don't read nearly enough short stories. For someone who wants to write (and does) literary short stories, my reading tastes tend to run in the opposite direction.
So in an effort to rectify this and to celebrate my rekindled spark, I am declaring August "Short Story Month" here in Happy Writing Land! What this means for me is threefold:
So to recap that means I will be reading a minimum of 62 stories, writing 31 new blog posts, and writing approximately 15,500 words dedicated exclusively to short stories. Aside from this new project, I do intend to continue editing my novel, so don't think I am going to use the month of August for slacking off in that department.
Now, I don't want to keep all the fun to myself, so I plan to do at least 3 giveaways throughout the month -- maybe more! So stick around and join me on my short story journey!
Happy Short Story Month!
So I am officially in the process of keying in my hand-edits, and naturally adding more edits as I go, to my first draft of my YA novel, which, when I am done, will mean I have the second draft officially done. This is something I have danced around doing for quite some time. Part of that is just good old fashioned procrastination. (What? I'm not the only writer guilty of this?) But a good chunk of it has been rooted in a deep, dark, emotional place for me. I finished my first draft of my novel last August. It was a high like no other. I was walking on air for a solid week and ready to dive back into to draft two, sooner rather than later. But then, like with so many of life's unexpected twists, my phone rang and priorities shifted. I lost my brother a week after I finished my novel. And going back to that happy place just didn't seem like a valid option for a long time.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Dawn Turner Trice, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and a YA author herself, speak for the second time at a workshop. Last year during the same workshop, I submitted a page of my novel for her feedback, and she was amazingly supportive and encouraged me to finish it. A month later I did. This year, I was able to tell her how much her words of encouragement meant to me and shared with her that I was now working on the second draft. Because she had shared her own novel-writing process with us the year before, and she spoke of the loss of her sister during the writing of her novel, I shared my own loss with her, and she said that I would be seeing my novel in a whole new light now. Losing someone you love changes everything.
She was right, of course.
Now when I wrote my novel, I believed it had little to do with my life. It was just a good story burning inside me, nothing more. Something I thought that tweens and teens might enjoy reading. Certainly something I enjoyed writing. But as I crept back towards my novel -- editing it in bursts and fits then going back to ignoring it, I began to suspect that there was more of me, more of my family, and more of my brother buried deep in those pages, than I realized during the writing process. I now know that my novel is for him, and that knowledge carries me through the deep, dark, emotional place that I avoided for so long.
I introduced you all to my main character here for the first time, so today I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce you to her sister, since really, today's post is largely about siblings.
So how are all of you doing? I hope you are all writing brilliant things!