So there’s this app called Desk that I am using for writing and posting these very words and when I went to its support site to ask a question I discovered a community — not a metaphorical one, but an actual community of people talking about things that weren’t all support-related. I am sure this happens in other support communities but this was the first time I had run across one so … open? I felt right at home and I started reading some threads.
One thread was about starting a digital book-club to read and discuss Steven Pressfield’s book “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” (Open Library), which I had been curious about but never read. My writing partner Matt gave me a copy of Pressfield’s “The War of Art” years ago and I absolutely loved it. I decided to give the digital book-club a shot.
Day 1 we read the introduction through the “My Shadow Career” chapter (if you can call it that, as the sections are very brief in this book). My favourite quotes from this section:
“The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.”
This reminded me of a conversation that I keep having with the people I know who are professional writers. I’m quick to draw a line between us and say that they’re better writers, and often their rejoinder is that it isn’t about better. There is a fundamental commitment that these people have made to themselves, and I haven’t done it. Yet. Another quote:
“Are you pursuing a shadow career? Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you're afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?”
It’s hard to even formulate a response to this because the metaphor is so unbelievably cutting: I mean, I became a librarian. I do love library work, and I deeply believe in libraries, but there it is. I spend my days in rooms filled with books that other people have written, never believing that I, too, could write a book. This book-club is going to be a doozy for me.
Stevenson Unbound is this afternoon! Here are 11 Reasons why you should go to Stevenson Unbound, courtesy of writer, musician, spoken-word performer and event mastermind Andrew C. Ferguson. (I’m reason #7, fancy that!)
More on Facebook.
I meant to post this on The Morning After but got waylaid by my workweek, and then everything seemed saturated with the rawness of reaction so I put it off. Is it safe now? I hope so. Or maybe I don’t …
This is Andrew C. Ferguson reading his poem “Scotland As an Xbox Game” with a teeny contribution from me. Tell us what you think in the comments.
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Thank you to everyone who attended my Story Shop reading today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was an unforgettable experience. Once again I was reminded of how wonderfully supportive the Edinburgh literary community is, and I was especially grateful for everyone who took a moment out of your day to let me tell you a story.
I hope to tell you many more!
The full text and audio excerpt of my story “Leftovers” are available on the City of Literature Trust’s website.
My publications and other appearances are listed on my “Fiction” page.
I am thrilled to announce that I will be reading my story “Leftovers” for Story Shop 2014, hosted by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Story Shop is a series of daily 10-minute flash fiction and short story readings by local emerging writers.
My reading is on Wednesday the 13th of August at 4pm in the Guardian Spiegeltent. Drop by for a free story!
My story “Paper Turtles” has been published in Innsmouth Magazine: 15. An earlier version of this story was written for performance at my first Writers’ Bloc show for Halloween 2012. I am so pleased that my weird little tale about animal ghosts found a home in the last-ever issue of Innsmouth Magazine.
Innsmouth Magazine: 15 is also available in digital formats. The ePub can be purchased through Smashwords for 50% off through the 31st of July with the code SSW50. The Mobi version is in the Kindle UK and Kindle US stores.
I will be reading my story “Leftovers” as part of the Planet Scotland event this Sunday from 20:00-22:00 in Castle 1.
Hope to see you there.
Writers’ Bloc returns to the Edinburgh International Science Festival for The Culture Collider, an exploration of weird science and stranger arts. The show starts at 8pm on Sunday the 13th of April in the Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall.
I will be reading a new story. Hope to see you there.
So I’m drifting on a sea of sadness and the only way I know how to get out of it is to shove this “too busy for [thing I like to do]” stupidity off the raft.
Last year I didn’t read many books or see many films, so this year I’m aiming to consume 50 of each. Throw your favourites at me in the comments.
And today I decided to add another goal onto that: I want 50 rejection letters for my writing. I’d rather get 50 acceptances, of course, but rejection means I’m submitting stories which means I’m writing stories which means I’m doing what I love. I’ll be tallying it up on my fiction page if you want to follow along.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of my story for Bloc’s show in the Edinburgh International Science Festival. As per usual, my first idea completely morphed into something else. It’s become a pattern: the first idea is the cocoon that turns into the butterfly. Or, in my case, the slipstream moth.
My Bloc pal Bram a/k/a Texture is always creating interesting, evocative stuff. He announced his new poetry video a few weeks ago but I just made the mental space to sit down and appreciate it. I was mesmerised. Tell me what you think. And please share it if you enjoy it.
About ten years ago, I became a zombie. I got better, of course, but it was a scary time for me. (Zombies can feel fear. It’s a revelation, I know.)
About ten years ago, I picked a scab and became a zombie. It was such an innocent, childish thing, that scab-picking, and as a result I contracted a massive staph infection that hung on for months and impacted every aspect of my life.
In fact, it might have been the trigger for my adult-onset celiac disease. It is impossible to know, but since my myriad problems surrounding gluten began shortly after the several courses of antibiotics I had to take to kill off the staph, it is a distinct possibility.
About ten years ago, when I became a zombie, I wrote a lot so I didn’t go insane. It’s one thing to have your body stolen and corrupted, and another entirely to lose your mind too. Something I wrote during that dark time was published this spring in Map Literary. It’s called “Your Hands” and here is an excerpt:
You know the dark continent on the outside of your left ankle. You know its terrain, terrain that must not be touched except with ointment and bandages, terrain that cannot stand to be covered by socks or shoes. You know what lives there, the unseen enemy you fight carefully, gingerly, engaging it in the shower with the high-pressure setting, holding the metal head in your better hand, aiming the boiling water and cringing as it hits.
If you enjoy it, please share it.
Writers’ Bloc returns to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for a special event with John Lemke and Poppy Ackroyd. The show starts at 9pm, Wednesday 14th August in the Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square.
I don’t remember what the next word was going to be. “Ever since you wrote ‘The Bridge’…”? “Ever since I moved to Edinburgh…”? I paused over the impropriety of using only his first name in the address.
I dithered. And now it is too late: I lost my chance to tell him how much his words meant to me.
In honour of Iain (M.) Banks, Illicit Ink will present a night of paradise-themed fiction at the Bongo Club on Sunday, 7 July at 20:00. The event is called “This Side of Paradise” and I feel lucky, grateful, and more than a little terrified to be a part of it.
It’s not quite a second chance. I’ll take it.
You genuflected outside the gothic cathedral the day after I got officially old. My nose was running and cold and I turned from the great grey edifice to see the only familiar face for miles. On that face, the expression I tried to capture: irreverent yet strangely penitent, maybe just tired from walking or overwhelmed by unfamiliar vowels or musing how new it feels to feel this old.
It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. Not an unkind word, but the way the letters like soldiers with pikes were ready to do damage and could wait to do it. She could wait. She was ready.
Sometimes it is enough to know without thinking where the milk is, or the bread, or how to sidestep with a ducked head, “sorry” under the breath to anyone, or to half-unpacked boxes. What a luxury it is to be thoughtless, to grow into the cracks of a place like a weed and not a wildflower.
I’m taking a short break from the end-of-semester craziness to participate in a fun writerly meme called The Next Big Thing. I have been tapped by my fascinating and talented Writers’ Bloc comrade Kirsti Wishart to share what I am working on now by answering this short questionnaire. So here goes …
1. What’s the title of your latest story? “Still Are the Thoughts to Memory Dear” – a gently-borrowed line from Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem Rockeby. The line has rolled around in my head for quite some time, and then when I started to write the story it happened to fit the subject and the appearance of the Scott Monument.
2. Where did the idea for the story come from? I dreamed it. Such a cliché! Usually dreams skitter out of my brain before I can grab their little legs and write them down. This one stuck around long enough for me to write a half-page of notes.
3. What genre does your story fall under? Slipstream, I think.
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie? This is a fun question! I normally don’t think about this. So here goes … click any of these to embiggen.
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Mara is supposed to look a bit older and careworn than the rest, so I tried to find a less flattering photo of Laura Fraser. Can I tell you how difficult that is? She’s gorgeous.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your story? Oof, I’m terrible at these. But here goes (confusion intentional): “Mara invited her best friends to her birthday party, and they showed up anyway.”
6. Will your story be self-published or represented by an agency? After one last revision, I will try to find it a good home.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft? The first draft was born on the 19th of April, but I am in grad school, so my time to spend revising it has been limited.
8. What other stories would you compare it to within your genre? I wish I could. Due to the aforementioned master’s degree, my memory is shot, and I haven’t been reading much for pleasure. I do know that parts of it have been influenced by Iain Banks’ The Bridge because it is one of my favourite books. During the story’s last crit, another Bloc comrade glimpsed a dash of “Last Year at Marienbad” in there too.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this story? I was in Cat Rambo’s fantasy and science fiction story workshop and figured I might as well try to make this idea work so I had a story for crit. Thank goodness I did, because it turned into a story I like.
10. What else about your story might pique a reader’s interest? The trams make an appearance. As actual functioning trams. That alone makes it a speculative fiction story, right?
I did not have much time to solicit
victims participants who weren’t dreadfully busy and who I thought wouldn’t mind the chain-lettery nature of this. And some were already tapped, like Tracey S. Rosenberg, whose next big thing is signed and on my to-read pile. But I am very happy to pass this along to:
gratitude: all the encouragement and kind words · my theatre background for helping me turn nervousness into energy · submitting my final portfolio for my master’s degree mere hours before going onstage
Writers are thirsty folk.
gratitude: mid-shower writing inspiration, once again · a solid rehearsal · lots of nervous excitement for Halloween
I have something to tell you.
Soon after I arrived in Edinburgh last year, I attended the spoken-word performance “Better Read Than Dead” by Writers’ Bloc. Seeing the show confirmed everything that FunkyPlaid had been telling me about Writers’ Bloc for many years: they were amazing, and someday I wanted to perform with them.
Next week, I get my someday. (It is, I hope, the first of many somedays.)
gratitude: words · timing · YES
Tonight, in the bed we insist
we must replace,
I wake from a dream of high school, all
high-tops and jean shorts and hairspray.
You are still storming the beach
or shopping for Harris tweed
or grasping an old lover's hand.
A shift, eyes open, a sigh: we meet
grinning lopsidedly at each other
as we shrug into new costumes.
Today's photo is a bit of a cheat, since it was taken a little after midnight, but I didn't have the wherewithal to take a photo during Underword. So instead you have a self-portrait of me being so happy to be a part of such a great National Flash Fiction Day event, in the company of such accomplished writers and performers.
For my part, I read "The Kettle and I", which was a difficult story to read because of its stilted rhythm and ridiculously depressing ending. Next time I will choose a different type of piece. But I got lots of great feedback from friends new and old, so I am not sad about it one bit, and looking forward to participating in future events.
At every reading I've ever done, there is a beautiful moment right after the nerve-wracking walk to the stage and adjustment of the mic, and right before I get lost in telling the story. During this moment, I am reminded of how much I love sharing what I write with other people. I wish I could bottle this moment so I could uncap it and shake a little out on myself every time I feel crappy about writing.
I am also honoured to receive their Order of Merit for the most highly-rated flash fiction story in this review.
We enter the three-story Victorian and stand at the wooden counter. A thick pane of bulletproof glass separates us from the innkeeper. My not-mother holds her palm up to the glass and the innkeeper scans the chip inside. He shows her down a long hallway, waving me off to the waiting room. Dust films the windows and fogs the carpet. A pad bolted to the wall plays clips of smiling goodbyes read by actors in age makeup.
If you enjoy it, please share it.
Links to this story and more are now at the newly-redesigned halstedmbernard.com.
This photo does double-duty today as story illustration and Project 365 submission. What a hard-working kettle!
My friend Adam told this amusing and true story recently for the Lifeline Theatre Storytelling Project in Chicago. An excerpt:
Now, I was 14, and I’d smoked some pot, but I hadn’t really found it to be all that interesting. But I had friends that were into it, and I was suddenly filled with what I would later realize was the desire to be the “playmaker.” The guy who gets the assist. So that when I was hanging out with friends and someone asked, “Does anybody have any weed?” I could casually say, “Oh, uh, hey, I’ve got some.” And everybody would remember me as the guy who, that one time, had some pot.
And I had money. And it was just burning a hole in my pocket.
While you're reading the rest of "The Trooper" on Adam's website, check out his NaNoWriMo excerpts. They are less true but no less amusing.
I would like to give a shout-out to The Paperie for their excellent customer service and speedy, free delivery. My new Rhodia dot-grid A6 notebook arrived today, and I am happy to announce that it is even lovelier than I anticipated. The paper is creamy 90g/m² Clairefontaine, and takes fountain pen ink perfectly. And The Paperie gave me a 10% discount!
My dad sent a link the other day that contained a remarkable quote I wanted to share with you:
Poetry does not, with its meanings and messages, defeat trauma; it does not argue it away with its countervailing sense of purpose. Nothing so simple: Poetry works on a deeper level. Because it mobilizes such a concentration of devices, such an intensification of language via rhythm, syntax, image and metaphor, reading it, the best of it, can create another, very different kind of perpetual present, an awareness that can be as ongoing in the soul as the stop-time of trauma.
Now I am off to write in my new journal. It probably won't be poetry, at least not today.