Visiting a western North Carolina shooting range to learn safe gun-handling with my new Smith & Wesson semi-automatic prompted me to write a commentary on gun ownership, the NRA’s instruction programs, and local gun culture. This non-fiction essay, “Avoiding Failure,” appeared recently in Causeway Lit, the online journal published by graduate students of the Fairfield University (Connecticut) Master of Fine Arts program.
Very excited! My latest short story, “Playing Chess with Bulls,” was selected as one of five finalists for the 2021 Doris Betts Fiction Prize, which honors the late novelist and short story writer Doris Betts. The contest, which drew 126 entries, is sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network, the state’s oldest and largest literary arts organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. This year’s judge was Monique Truong, author of the highly acclaimed novels The Book of Salt, The Sweetest Fruits, and Bitter in the Mouth. For more information, visit www.ncwriters.org.
“Playing Chess with Bulls” also placed third in the writer-voted publication, Sixfold, and has just been published in the Winter 2021 issue.
I’d like to give a quick shout-out to the NC-writers.org, which—among many other valuable services—offers a critiquing and editing service for writers of all stripes (essayists, poets, fiction writers, screenwriters).
I’ve used this service a few times for short stories that felt a little “off.” When I’m having trouble with dialogue, or feel that I’m getting bogged down in heavy passages of description, or I’ve tangled my characters in too much back-story, or I need an authenticity check-up, I can ask for help from an experienced editor with a sharp pen.
The fall fiction-writing class was well received, so I’m teaching it again in spring 2022. In person (yay!) at the Reuter Center, for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program at UNC-Asheville. Write That Story! Elements of Short Fiction runs for eight weeks on Mondays from 2 to 4 pm, beginning March 21.
The course is designed for beginning to intermediate fiction writers, published or not, who are actively writing fiction, would like to sharpen their writing skills, and are ready to share drafts of their writing with peers in a workshop setting. Come prepared to write, share your work, and give thoughtful feedback about the work of others. Enrollment is capped at 10.
“June sits in half-lotus on the edge of the mattress and narrows her eyes against the volcanic glow. She finger-combs her short, dirty hair off her forehead and watches him load the gun, sliding a single shell into the chamber.”
When Kilauea volcano erupts in May 2018, back-to-the-land farmers June and Lani must decide whether to evacuate, or stay and protect their Big Island homestead against everyday threats like feral pigs and potential looters, or flee the dangers they cannot control. In the process, they learn where the fault lines are in their own relationship, and whether they can survive a disaster that may be immediate and cataclysmic.
“Rift Zone” is live on PenDust radio’s podcast! Narrator Rebekah Nemethy does a wonderful job of capturing the voices and the story of my fictional characters.
Lizzy Baby has received a five-star review from Readers’ Favorite.
“A somber coming-of-age novella…a gripping story that made my blood run cold in one chapter and made my blood boil in the next.” –5 stars, Trix Lee, Readers’ Favorite
“…an authentic look at the active childhood of a shy ten-year-old girl… [whose] parents have unwittingly allowed an abuser to gain their trust. …Lizzie, more perceptive than her parents, learns to trust her own voice. Her insurrection is both believable and triumphant.” –C.R. Hurst, author of the Jane Digby’s Diary series
“Well written with a sense of dread building underneath, Lizzy Baby tells the tale of young Liz, teetering on the precipice of early womanhood, accelerated by the harsh facts of a religious, rural farm life. Hard lessons in this one, but all too real. Recommended.” –D.W. Whitlock
She leaves the ice cream shop early and drives to the school at the designated time, with her white shirt and black jeans still reeking of sugar and cream. Picking up their son isn’t usually her job, but right now all the jobs are hers.
She speeds, just a little, on the empty straightaway past the hillside pasture where red cows graze behind a tumbled-down stone wall, topped with rusted barbed wire strung haphazardly from crooked posts. Calves, she thinks. He will want to see the babies.
She won’t arrive early but she won’t be late, either. She must be on time.
Their boy sits alone on a gray wooden bench outside the brick-faced primary wing, his battered red backpack next to him. For just a moment, she watches him swinging his feet and eyeing the other second-graders who swirl in bright clusters behind the schoolyard’s chain-link fence.
She angles the car into a space and steps out to open the curbside rear door. He runs to her, bumping his pack against her hip as he slings it into the back seat. He scrambles in and sits in the middle. When she climbs behind the wheel, their eyes connect in the rear-view mirror and she smiles…
“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.”
Ernest Hemingway uses these words to describe the writer Harry, the main character in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. As Harry lies dying, stranded in the remote African bush, he remembers many incidents from his life, good stories that he felt he should have written. Like many of Hemingway’s stories, this one explores what it means to be a human being, as well as a writer—and how tempting it is, when life is easy and secure, to let the great intentions and grand goals slide away. To procrastinate. To never quite get around to what you feel you should do, or could be doing. Harry rationalizes his failure to “write the good stories” by not knowing enough “to write them well.”
Waiting to “know enough” before you start writing means that you likely won’t write, or do much of anything else. Harry has lived through war, travel, hardship, and conflict on several continents, in precarious times and places, but his death comes from something small and simple: a scratch from a thorn that, left untreated, becomes infected. He dies alone, on a failed safari with a group of paid attendants and a wealthy wife he doesn’t love.
We will never “know enough” to begin telling the good stories. We simply have to begin from where we are, and put in the hard work to make the writing (or whatever) as good as we can.