No Electronic Submissions, Please. We’re Luddites

Pushcart PrizeThe Pushcart Prize XXXVI: Best of the Small Presses (2012 Edition) is out, and once again promises all kinds of special treats for readers, particularly fiction readers. Fine work they would possibly never encounter were they to rely solely on The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the few other major outlets for short stories.

On Amazon the listing has a small box containing this: “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on a Kindle.” I had to laugh, ironically, when I saw that. In fact, nothing from Pushcart will ever be seen on a Kindle if the publisher––whose name, by coincidence, is the same as mine, “Bill Henderson”––has his way.

What’s up with that? [click to continue…]

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A good story doesn't mean what it meansThat’s right, Grasshopper. A good story doesn’t mean what it *means.* Nothing illustrates the difference between writing fiction and writing nonfiction more clearly than this simple, but hard to verbalize, fact of life.

Paradox? Yes, but when you think about it, what is fiction but paradox upon paradox upon paradox? Consider:

• Readers must know enough to get what’s happening, yet if you interpret, in narrative, what they’ve just seen in action, the scene falls flat.

• Readers demand the unpredictable, the surprising, yet if you strain their credulity only slightly, you’ve lost them.

• Readers want dialogue that’s meaningful, but they shy away from “on-the-money” speeches: “I’m in love with you, Jennifer. But I’m no different from most men. We cluster around the security of marriage and home. Might as well face it, sweetheart, I’m never going to leave Barbara.” Ugh.

Indeed, the entire enterprise of fiction is based on a single stupendous paradox: [click to continue…]

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This video caught my eye, because it put into perspective a reality fiction writers experience all the time: failure. If you’re going to write fiction, get ready; your work will ba rejected again and again. More often than not, to those you know and love, you will look like a failure.

An essential part of the maturing process for any writer is learning to soldier through the “failures.” You must. Otherwise, you might not be around for the succcesses when they finally arrive.

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The House in Flames

...I got a full dose of it before I left. You wouldn’t think a rickety old Victorian could burn like that, but it was throwing up fireballs like a dying planet.

The past few posts have been about how “Driving Shades” grew from 100 words to 9,000, in a few easy steps. Except, of course, they’re more than a few, and none of them were easy.

The fact is, very little in fiction is achieved without a struggle, since, once you’ve told it, the struggle is only beginning. Telling is not what fiction is primarily about. It’s only your ground floor. Now you have to show. Contrast this with writing a newspaper report––or a blog post like this, for that matter. Once you’ve told it, your job is done.

Would I recommend this a way to begin a new story? Not really. I would’ve had more to work with if I’d pulled something from the local section of my daily paper. Still, I’m glad I did it, and if I could go back in time, I would do it again.

Originally, I posted “Driving Shades” in 4 parts, to accompany the “Microfiction to Fiction” posts, of which this is the last. You can now read a much more advanced draft of the complete story here.

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Scary House

...it had the look of a crack house. At night there was an unreal darkness behind its windows. You could tell nobody lived in it.

I like to write characters who are introspective, observant, and articulate. These qualities presuppose a fluency of style well adapted for making fiction.

But the language of “Driving Shades” is tightly limited to simple, everyday words and phrases.

It’s a character narration, so the level of expression must mirror the language of the character-narrator, an ordinary guy from an ordinary home in an ordinary small town. The problem is, the events he lives in this story are beyond ordinary, and well beyond the capabilities of his normal language. I had to make do with a smaller vocabulary, not only of words, but of phrases, expressions, references.

If you enjoy doing beautiful things with language, this kind of challenge might go across your grain. But I find it fun to work with less––kind of like playing golf using only a couple of irons and a putter. Eloquence of effect doesn’t necessarily call for scintillating turns of phrase. Even Shakespeare’s writing, when the action becomes gut-level intense, drops down to words of mostly a single syllable. (Scintillating, by the way, is a word I’d never use in “Driving Shades.”)

Read the whole story. Click here.

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Microfiction to Short Story – Harder than It Looks, Part 2

November 1, 2011

We know her only as Sis. In “Driving Shades” she is the narrator’s dead sister: a “shade.” Sis, who doesn’t exist in the original version, becomes the central focus of a plot that also didn’t exist. I needed her and the other characters I’ve created, just as I needed a central conflict or “problem” that […]

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Microfiction to Short Story – Harder Than it Looks

October 31, 2011

I don’t normally post my work here. But because “Driving Shades” began as a 100 word microfiction––and because it’s Halloween––I decided to make an exception, and post it anyway. It’s a good example of how to begin with the merest fragment and build a full length short story. It also illustrates a challenge that comes […]

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Be Like Steve

October 7, 2011

For those of us who speculate endlessly about why we can’t find the time to write or can’t get that novel finished (and frankly, I have to include myself), the message of Steve Jobs’ amazingly productive life is starkly simple: just shut up and get busy.

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Fitzgerald’s Long Winding Road

October 6, 2011

Rarely is a novel written in the heat of one long sustained passion. More typically, there are starts and stops along the way, sometimes lasting years. A real novelist, like a pit bull, never lets go.

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Finishing a Novel – It’s So Easy

September 29, 2011

Finishing a novel is never a clean victory. It’s more like making a truce that’s broken over and over until finally, a general armistice is declared.

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