Three Resources for Writers

interested face is interested For those of you interested in the world of creative writing, I have included links to three helpful online resources.

1.  Poets and Writers: http://www.pw.org/

This website features a helpful Tools for Writers page that includes a comprehensive list of literary magazines (both in print and online) for writers to submit there work.

2.The Association of Writers and Writing Programs of America: https://www.awpwriter.org/

AWP is the largest organization of creative writers in America. Among this websites many features is list of upcoming contests for writers to submit their work.

3 The Review Review: http://www.thereviewreview.net/

Here is how the editor of The Review Review, Becky Tuch, describes her website:”How could we expect lit mags to care about our work, when we don’t care about theirs? Why would anyone make time or pay money for our stories if we are unwilling to take a lit mag on our morning commute or shell out the twenty bucks a year for a subscription?

With over 2,000 print and online journals, however, it can be hard to know where to begin.

So I decided to make this website. Here, writers can get a deeper sense of the journals by reading reviews of the latest issues. This is not intended as a substitute for the actual journals, but merely a way to guide writers toward the journals that most interest them.”

If you are interested in publishing your work, entering a contest, or simply want to read the best work being produced in creative writing, these are three great places to begin your journey.

Bitter Taste of Home

Among the techniques we focus on in our creative writing exercises are character and setting. The piece below, excerpted from a longer story, makes strong use of both.

Bitter Taste of Home 

By Casandra Elder

The engine choked as Gabby sat in the warm, black sedan parked out in front of 123 Applepie Street. She sat there looking at the red brick that formed her childhood home. She hadn’t seen it in nearly four years and wasn’t shocked to see that the only difference was that the evergreen tree, on the corner of the lot, had grown ever so slightly. There was that and there seemed to be more moss roses growing along the side of the house creating a ground of bright flowers and dark green webs.

The rain had just begun to settle in. The front porch was still a light gray made of concrete compared to the sidewalk that led up to the house. Gabby knew that it would only take a strong wind from the north and her mother’s porch would become that ash gray color imitating the sidewalk and street below. It was still early morning. She knew that inside only one person would be awake. She glanced down the street and over to her left to see if her other siblings had made it home yet.

Gabby looked at the green clock that was shining brightly and knew that she had better make it inside before the rain continued to get worse and before anyone else from this shitty little town got a glance at her. She really couldn’t say it was that shitty, but it was nothing in comparison to New York. She had been gone for only two days and was missing the sound of a siren going off and her neighbor’s television blaring too loudly every night as the four small children gathered around it to watch a movie.

She reached behind her and grabbed her small carry-on bag, opened the door and felt the cold air push up against her exposed skin. Little goose bumps had begun to form and she couldn’t help the slight shake that ran down the spine of her back.

“It’s a little cold out this morning isn’t it?”

Dang! I have been caught. Wait, by who? It can’t be… Oh GOD it is. It’s really him. Why? Maybe he won’t recognize me. “It is a little.”

Roy had closed the gap between their two childhood homes in about six strides. He never missed a beat as he opened up the back door to her sedan and pulled out the remaining luggage. Standing and gaping with her mouth open, Gabby felt in her heart that she never should have come back. She should have just sent Ben a large enough check to get him through his first year of rent and hoped that he would have understood.

Roy was standing at the front door now and Gabby had just taken the first of five steps that lead onto the porch. Her black silk shirt was slightly damp and the bottom of her jeans were completely soaked.

“It’s not supposed to rain all weekend, is it?” She was really hoping this rain wouldn’t last her entire trip. She wanted to spend a day out in the pasture doing nothing but staring up at the sky and watching the clouds form into funny shapes, drift apart and form into a new shape.

She moved to New York four days before the wedding because she didn’t want to feel trapped in this town. She no longer yearned for the dream to become another rancher’s wife. She wanted the freedom to do what she liked when she liked. She couldn’t do that in Springs. No one did that in Springs.

Gabby glanced around and began to wonder if everyone in Springs would be able to forgive her and her past actions. She glanced around and figured she would start with the one person that would take the longest to forgive her. She entered the house and went into the kitchen and found two black coffee cups. She poured the hot liquid, added vanilla flavoring into one and stirred it so the color of the coffee was no longer a welcoming black but a soft brown color. She grabbed both cups and walked into the master bathroom. She heard the water click off and saw a delicate hand with a few wrinkles in it grab the towel that hung just outside of the shower. A few moments passed by.

The next words that came out of Gabby’s mouth began to choke her and tears started to pour over her eyelids. She felt that she was the one just getting out of the shower and wished that someone would open up another door or window so the steam wouldn’t feel like it was suffocating her.

“Hi, Mom.” She finally got the words to come out barely above a whisper and felt the cold air rush over her. Both doors were still closed and the master bathroom didn’t have a window in it. Wherever the cold air came from, Gabby was thankful for it.

Her mother took the cup that Gabby was extending out to her and drank a sip before walking into the master bedroom, shutting the door between them. It was a start of forgiveness. A very small start. Gabby took a sip of the dark liquid that filled her cup. It tasted like she remembered. Bitter. Bitter was what this vocation was going to be like.

GRAPE TOOTSIE POPS

In my Creative Writing: Fiction class we often talk about how syntax (the way we form our sentences) can help create voice. The story below–written by one of the students in this class–is a good illustration of what can be accomplished with syntax.

GRAPE TOOTSIE POPS

by Jessica Thiele

Kneeling at the dark casket and folding my hands.  St. Theresa’s, eerie with the lights dimmed and glinting through the stained glass windows, the ghostly silhouette of the Virgin Mary casting a foreboding presence over all of us with outstretched hands and wide, haunted-yet-innocent, all-knowing eyes.  Mama tickling my ear with a soft whisper–“You can say a little prayer, if you want to.”

Touching the cold, clammy hands.  Not wanting to, but being curious and mortified all at the same time.  Daddy standing over the body with his head bowed, thinking I saw a tear fall as he deeply sighed.  I’d only seen my daddy cry once, ever.  I didn’t want to see him cry again.  It twisted me somewhere deep inside.  Don’t cry, Daddy.  Please don’t cry.

Great-Uncle Paul had been the one lying motionless in the casket.  Daddy’s uncle, Grandpa Louis’s little brother.  He had been in the old person’s home in Tilden for some years.  After he’d suffered what Mama and Daddy called a stroke, he had never been quite right in the head again.  I hadn’t understood why I felt sad, because I’d never really known Great-Uncle Paul all that well.  It was just that he had been a real person, and I remembered him talking to me when I was little.  He had lived on Grandpa’s farm in Clearwater, in a little trailer house north of Grandma and Grandpa’s house before he’d had to move to Tilden.

Cousin Katelyn and sister Shaely.  Holding Katelyn’s hand.  Great-Uncle Paul sitting on his blue Honda four-wheeler by the garage.  Him talking, in such a strange way I didn’t know what he was saying, but he always had that little grin on his kind face.  Him reaching out his chapped, knobby, work worn hands and plopping Oreos, rock hard and cold from Grandma’s freezer, in our outstretched hands, or ceremoniously handing us white-sticked tootsie pops–all flavors, but the ones I remember most were grape–wrapped in the same blue as his four-wheeler.

Grandma’s house the day of the funeral.  A girl I’d never seen being there to babysit all us kids.  Playing on Grandma’s front lawn, framed by the brick house and an overcast sky.  Sweet Williams along the lane blushing purple with little flecks of yellow in the centers.  Sitting in a circle on the lawn.  Holding a little cousin.  And then, the cars!  Oh, the cars going by on their way to the cemetery north of town!  So many, many cars!  All the cousins and me waving to all those cars.  A fun endeavor.  Then…the maroon Buick Lesabre slowing and coming to a stop.  Right in the middle of the highway.  Right in the middle of the procession of cars.  Realizing it was Grandma and Grandpa’s car. The back door flying opening.  Uncle Danny yelling at us to go inside.  Trailing the babysitter back into the house, a feeling of ashamedness inside us all, without knowing of what to be ashamed.

To this day, the memory boils inside me and makes me flush with anger.  We were only little kids, ten and eleven years old.  Why couldn’t we wave at the cars?  Some of the people waved back.  It probably cheered them up and made them stop crying.  I don’t understand why Uncle Danny got so angry, only maybe he was so sad he couldn’t help it.

Today, as I walk the well-worn dirt paths around Grandma and Grandpa’s farm tramped down by tractors, four-wheelers, and Chevy pickups, I look toward the chute where so many cattle have been loaded and unloaded.  I remember.  Playing mailman with Grandma.  Sister Shaely and I inside.  Rap, rap, rap at the little door.  Who could it be?  We open the door with a little creeeeaaak.  Grandma!  The mailman.  Bringing bills, milk, whatever we needed.

I pause in my tracks.  Would Grandma go away like great-uncle Paul had?  Would Grandma be lying in a dark casket?  Would I reach out and touch Grandma’s cold, clammy hands?  I shudder.  I suppose Grandma will go away, someday, but she once told me, “Don’t cry when I die; I’ll be with Jesus.”

Maybe then I’ll have my own daughter.  Maybe then she’ll kneel at the dark casket and fold her hands.  Maybe then I’ll tickle her ear with a soft whisper–“You can say a little prayer, if you want to.”

Having a Coke

Having a Coke with You

by Frank O’Hara

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

Family Values

Here is a story by Maryah Harding written in our fiction writing class. The technique under focus was the use of setting in story. The assignment asked students to put a character in conflict with their surroundings and for that character to respond in an expected way.

Family Values

By Maryah Harding

            Light mist sprinkled across Adelaide’s porcelain skin, making it glisten with the icy drops. Her limp, midnight hair clung to her flushed cheeks.  The air was heavy around her as she walked down the abandoned road, the soft glow of the flame colored streetlights barely breaking through the harsh gray of the night.  Adelaide’s shoes made a gentle thud with each step as she bounded along the street.

“One pill, two pill, red pill, blue pill!” Adelaide sang out loudly, her lyrical voice sifting through the air like a bluebird’s song, the sound of cracking branches acting as a drum beat to her whimsical song.  Adelaide removed the bottle of pills from the pocket of her tattered coat and shook them, the rattle of the medication inside matching her angelic voice.

Adelaide stopped in front of the Clarence house.  The wind howled through the air and caressed her lightly soaked skin, the light mist turning in a drizzle of frozen kisses.  She opened the pill bottle and shook out the multicolored pills, letting them fill her palm.  She held them lovingly, like one would hold a fragile bird, frightened and alone. Throwing them into her mouth she swallowed them down, her tongue reaching for the droplets of water as the tightening in her chest began to fade and sweet ecstasy coursed through her small frame.  The looming house reached for her with open arms, shifting in the darkness.  Adelaide leapt through the dangling fence, the wood slowly rotting away from the abandoned house.

Adelaide’s girlish laughter tinkled through the roaring wind to the rotten front door and broken windows, the glass strewn across the damp floor boards.  The branches of the ancient trees scraped against the panes and drew black shadows across the ruined house, raking down the already scratched lumber.

“Mummy, Daddy, Cattie, I’m home!” Adelaide’s voice rang through the empty house, her creaking footsteps echoing through the house.  She gave a small twirl as she danced through her home, her fingers tracing the walls softly, like a man traces his lover’s delicate mouth with his rough fingers.  Adelaide entered the kitchen, her mother lounging in the antique chair, resting her head against the uneven table.  Adelaide skipped to her mother, wrapping her fragile arms around the older woman.  Adelaide gently kissed her mother’s crying eyes, the tears streams of red liquid on her wrinkled face.  She let go, watching her mother slump back into the position, her dress ripped and dried with dark stains, splashed in intricate designs across her body.

Adelaide left her mother to rest in the kitchen, humming one of the nursery rhymes her mother used to sing to her, “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, and here comes a chopper to chop off your head! Chip, chop, chip, chop the last one is dead!” Adelaide giggled softly as she waltzed into the living room, drops of water hitting the floor, leaking onto the moth ridden couch.

“Hi, daddy.  I’m home.  Guess what I learned today?” Adelaide prattled on as she curled up next to her father on the couch.  She leaned over and picked up her father’s ashen head and planted a kiss on his mouth, like little girls always do.

“I learned how to tie my shoes!  I did a good job! Teacher said so.” Adelaide returned her father’s head to his lap, his skin sagging against his brittle bones.  Her lips a darker shade of wine now as she ran her fingers through her father’s nearly bald head.

Adelaide left her aging father on the couch, making sure his head wouldn’t roll away like it had the tendency to do when she left him for too long.  She scurried up the steps to little Cattie’s room, making sure to skip the missing step.  Adelaide opened the door covered in ripped pictures drawn by careless hands, the absence of light hiding the content of the pictures from her smoky eyes.

“Cattie, are you sleeping?” Adelaide called out softly into the hushed room, the patter of raindrops hitting the window in a ceaseless pattern.  She crept softly into the room, stepping over the decaying stuffed animals, picking up Peter Rabbit Adelaide continued to her sister’s sleeping form.  Pulling the covers back slowly as to not disturb her resting form, Adelaide snuggled in next to her.  Lovingly she ran her fingers through Cattie’s matted hair, Cattie’s blue lips parted slightly as if about to say something.

As sleep enveloped Adelaide’s girlish limbs, she murmured against her sister’s deathly cold skin, “Don’t be sad anymore, Cattie.  Sissy will be able to play with you again tomorrow. And Mummy and Daddy will be there too.  I promise.”

The Curious Canine of Humbaker Street

I truly believe the best way to learn to write is to write and write and write, and then write some more. Gerald Brenan, activist and historian, agrees: “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” So, in each creative writing course I teach, students produce weekly exercises that utilize writing techniques we’re discussing in class. In the story below Holly Atterbury focuses on the technique of imagery. The assignment prompt was to use concrete, significant detail (imagery) to create a reality that is convincing—and yet literally impossible.

The Curious Canine of Humbaker Street

By Holly Atterbury

             In the town of Milforde, Pennsylvania, Bartleby’s Deli and Sandwich Shoppe sits just south of the intersection of 5th and Humbaker Street. The block is composed of brick-red buildings identical but for the furnishings and the color of awning. To the left, under the bright blue awning, is Pearl’s Salon and Spa; “spa” being a loose term for the cucumber-eyed, avocado facial Pearl will give you for the discounted price of ten dollars, if you spend twenty dollars for a haircut first. Nearly a year ago, the competition for avocadoes (of which Milforde already had a limited supply) led to the dissolution of anything that could be considered a friendship between Bartleby and Pearl. The shortage might have been bearable, harmless even, if the start of Pearl’s facials hadn’t coincided with Bartleby’s first and final Avocado Festival. Henry Davis, who used to deliver fresh vegetables to Bartleby’s Deli and Shoppe recalls the fiasco in occasional nightmares and describes it “like two people trapped on a desert island who suddenly realize that there isn’t food enough for the both of them. Or something like that.” To the right of Bartleby’s, underneath the weather-stained red awning with a small hole in it, is Free Expressions, a tattoo parlor, where owner Ralph Luftraedo’s style of tattoos stagger across customers’ skin like the drunken, first attempts of abstract drawings. Ralph and Bartleby have yet to find a reason to irreparably harm their relationship; although, if Ralph’s son keeps looking at Bartleby’s daughter like that (and she keeps looking back), people will begin covering their tattoos upon entering the Sandwich Shoppe, just as everyone knows you don’t grab lunch next door directly after getting a haircut.

As the citizens of Milforde watch the conflict escalate by degrees, mimicking the slow, upward crawl of the thermometer as the days lengthen into the summer months, they wish Nikola was still capable of negotiating a truce.

Nikola was formerly known as the short, jovial Italian man who owned and ran the Italian bakery directly across the street from Bartleby’s. Nickola was a generally agreeable person, who devoted much of his free time to tending the purple regal geraniums he planted in large, rectangular stone planters on the sidewalk in front of his bakery, smiling and waving to passerbys with the hand that was not occupied with his bright yellow watering can. He was the mediating force between Pearl, Bartleby, and Ralph, most famous for settling the Chalkboard Sign Crisis of 2012. Each shop owner had simultaneously, unbeknownst the others, purchased a standing chalkboard sign for the sidewalk in front of their shop. Each sign would, in turn, be vandalized by what each owner believed to be his or her neighbor; from Nikola’s vantage point, however, it was eventually discovered that the culprits were Sierra Hult and Calvin Resden, who found the feud between the three hilarious, saw an opportunity, and took it.

Indeed, it was agreed that if Nikola still possessed his proper form, the current tensions on Humbaker Street would have faded back into that of the normal levels of annoyance commonly experienced by neighbors in close proximity to one another. But Nikola is of little help nowadays. The Bergamasco pads around town, coat swaying with every step, looking like a dirty mop that grew four legs, a slimy pink tongue, wet nose, and a wagging tail.

One might wonder how a human man could transform into an Italian sheep dog known for its naturally matting fur that dangles down from its body like thick strands of yarn and believe such a thing to be impossible, but the citizens of Milforde, Pennsylvania, have no doubts that the canine is Nikola.

“That’s Nikola, alright,” says Jolene Spitz, who can often be seen sitting on the lone bench in Attwood Park reading mystery novels. “Nice guy. Even nicer as a dog, but he seems kinda sad. I miss his baking.”

Several residents were witness to the clear afternoon of August 22nd, 2013, when Nikola made the transition from man to dog. “He was outside, watering those flowers, and he just sort of…stopped,” Philip Gurth says. “He stopped what he was doing, just froze. Like a statue, almost. Or like when you see a big wasp.”

Evelyn Hult (Sierra’s mother) continues, “I thought he was going to throw up. He had that look on his face, you know? He twitched, like he was trying to move forward, and then in a blink he was gone.” She snaps. “Just like that. And in his place was the weirdest-looking dog I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Bewildered witnesses slowly approached the dog, who appeared to be staring forlornly through his thick, dark bangs at the toppled yellow watering can. Humans and canine alike watched the water twinkle across the dull gray of the sidewalk and over the curb, until the stream slowed to a halt, leaving a darkened line on the concrete. According to the reports, Nikola the dog had then given a great sigh, looked at the people gathered around, picked up the watering can between his teeth, and walked back into his bakery. Now he roams around town, patrolling Humbaker Street in particular, trying to keep the peace and tend his geraniums as best he can given his current situation.

“It’s a real shame,” Bartleby says as his cleans the front windows to his Shoppe. “Only decent guy on this street turns into dog. That shouldn’t happen to nice folks. If it’s going to happen to anyone, it should happen to awful people. Like Pearl or that lazy son of Ralph’s.” Pearl comments that, “If Bartleby were to turn into a dog, he’d be the ugliest dog in the world.” Ralph, who doesn’t say much, just shrugs and says, “Yeah, Nikola was a good guy.”

No one knows who, if anyone, turned Nikola into a dog over a year ago, or if he’ll ever turn back.

Required Reading for Young Writers

Below is the speech William Faulkner gave when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. His words remain true for anyone who wants to be a writer. Click on the link to hear him read it.

http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=1397

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.