Thursday, February 23, 2017

Another Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Contest I've Lost

copyright K.S. Brooks
Yep, lost another one . . . and I'm happy.

This contest provided a photo visual prompt, a grey ocean beach, which reminded me of a short story that I've worked on over the last few years, drafting different beginnings, different storylines, different points of view, but never feeling the story was moving in the right direction.

I think writing this 250-word story got me to the right place, allowed me to discover the right angle. So I celebrate my happy loss.

The short story has had several titles:
  • Lonely Is a Bitter Wind
  • Waves Like Dragon Wings
  • People of the Beach
  • Elemental
  • Ocean's Daughter
This flash fiction version of the story was written while traveling on Amtrak, so it was a real pleasure to sit in my roomette, watching the miles roll by, drafting offline on Google Docs. Receptivity comes and goes while on the train, so I worked offline after reading the Indies Unlimited writing prompt. And writing on my iPhone 6+ was easy--a little slower than on a laptop, but maybe that's not so bad. I also really like not having to pack around a lot of electronics!

I'm looking forward to expanding the story from this 250-word shorthand version.

The first line of "Ocean's Daughter" reads: Stone and driftwood and the bitter sea–all is grey, water-worn, salt-bleached and half-buried.

The story is posted in the comments section of the UI blog post, if you'd like to read it--250 words, a quick read! I've linked the title above to the blog page.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Writing About the Quince--Flash Fiction

I've just completed another draft of my flash fiction story "Perchance Beneath a Quince Tree." It was 1,028 words, and I needed it to be less than 1,000. It's now 857! Go, Tom! Way to tighten!

I've always enjoyed revising, oddly enough, and the strictures of writing flash fiction remind me of when I used to dabble writing sonnets, including "modern" sonnets. The boundaries of the form seem to open up possibilities that wouldn't have occurred to me if the form were wide open. Interesting idea about creativity, that boundaries don't limit creativity but channel it.

Here is the first paragraph of the story, as it stands now.
It was the longest dream, it was the best dream, the one I most wanted to believe, and when it faded to morning mists, willy-nilly, I entered, seeking a way home, quickening my pace along the fog-heavy trail, quiet with hope because the track was familiar, reminding me of when I had started out on an early morning, landmarks time-tattered, half-remembered--this shoulder of the slope with its scruff of trees, those early morning shadows.
I plan to submit the story to an online fiction magazine--and then I wait 60-90 days for a response. Sounds like I'll choose another story to work on to keep me busy and happy!

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Sane Environment for Writing

My wife recently said that I am most prolific in my writing when my outside environment is orderly and predictable. "If there's nothing outside that is distracting or disrupting, then you feel completely free to put your attention inside and create."

I hadn't thought about my writing in exactly that way, but I think there's a lot of truth in her observation. When I was teaching full time, I knew exactly when I was going to write, to the minute--usually early in the morning at home and for a few minutes each day during my prep period at school. My goal each week was to write a thousand words from Monday through Friday, and a thousand words over the weekend--2,000 words a week. Ten months at school would lead to 80,000 words.

Also, when I was caregiving my first wife who had cancer, I wrote very little. I was very, very busy, and very, very focused. Now I have focus on my mom (92 years old), and a few other family items, not as intense as with my first wife, but I still see the truth of my wife's insight. I'm slowly moving in the direction of finding my stride, my rhythm of life and writing. I'm turning sixty-five next month, so I'm working through insurance issues, and I'm still enjoying the freedom to be more physical and to enjoy outdoor activities such as bicycle camping and gardening. (Not too much of either during the winter here in SE Iowa, although some bundled up biking!)

I revising a flash fiction story right now to submit to an online magazine. Short story writing is enjoyable right now because the commitment is more short term. Writing within my Dragons of Blood and Stone universe allows my creative juices to flow. I can look at the map and ask myself, "Now what would be going on in that area?" I find the map I've developed a great source of inspiration.

Some writers can write no matter what is occurring in their lives. I can do that, I have just chosen not to. I've always felt that writing is not my total life, that my life includes other avenues of expression. I'm looking forward to writing, just as I'm looking forward to many other pursuits.

Perhaps some time in the future, someone will say, "How much could he have written if he'd really pushed himself?" I understand that, but if someone who really knows me were to hear that comment, I think the reply would be, "Tom is interested in his total life, not just his life as a writer."

There's a certain romance to the troubled, starving, suffering artist persona. There's also a certain anguish, which I'd just as soon avoid. Every life needs a little tomfoolery!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: Fire in a Nutshell, poems by Bill Graeser

At poetry readings, Bill Graeser doesn't read his poems, he recites them. His eyes with the audience, owning his words from memory, he speaks to his listeners, shares his experience with every syllable.

I find reading his book, Fire in a Nutshell, produces a similar effect. His cadences of language produce a viable buy-in of ownership, although "there is no shareholder, no overhead but the sky," to quote from Graeser's introductory poem, "These Are Mine."

These poems find the good and grand in the world, and proclaim quietly that the simple and the mundane are not lacking. It is our vision that is lacking, our attention. Many of his poems point out the celestial in the pedestrian--"Well, now, would you look at that!" He raises and uplifts our everyday lives, and I thank him for his work.

Take the poem "Socks," for instance. He gives a view of life, somewhat pungent, somewhat humorous, and richly insightful. Socks are "underwear for the feet" and "hiding places for holes and smell-bad." There are drawers full of socks--and then the poem turns, like a classic Petrarchan sonnet, to a deeper, more universal meaning, of those without socks and shoes, who dream of socks and cowboy boots; of peasants, with "cracked and calloused feet," dreaming the dreams of kings.

These poems take us beyond ourselves, as in the poem "Cleaning Fish," a task best done with "a knife in one hand, a cigarette in the other." But there is another perspective, how some find a way, like fish in water, to swim the world, to "enter with their whole body the sea. I have seen them--their eyes blazing, the hooks gone." This, too, is our world, our possibility.

Reading the poems instead of just hearing them recited also provides a chance to acknowledge Graeser's craftmanship as a poet. His line breaks and stanzas, his use of imagery and sound ground his ideas in the sensual world. As readers, we are able to meet "the earth with our palms," to have fallen down and to have "smudged the lipstick of mud on our knees."

This poet's vision is broad enough to praise Grandma's '59 Oldsmobile, to lullaby Godzilla to sleep, to praise small pencils and the Irish jig, and to worship in the church of cows. It is a perspective that does not throw stones at tanks but does "write a poem for those who do."

There's a lot of good in these poems, and Bill Graeser has found it in our weedy, wondrous world, where "sunlight anoints" us. It's a good world, and we are told "the clouds unload their rain cargo for you as for the rest." I take solace in that.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Three Days Left for This Fund Raiser
Every day Morgan stands outside the men's dome on MUM campus, selling cookies and seeking donations for her course fee to learn the TM-Sidhis program. She's been doing this for over a month.

Imagine Morgan standing at attention behind her stool, holding a pie plate of cookies, her hood up, the faux-fur ruff whipped by the wind. Or don't imagine but head out at dawn to see her on duty.

In the rain. Surrounded by a white hard frost. Wind-blown and red-nosed.

I call this perseverance, and I hope Morgan Potts can receive the funds she needs to achieve her goal. Anyone who wants to contribute to her goal can do so at her Go Fund Me site.

Here is the online link:

As of today, Monday, she has three days left!