Where I Get My Ideas From

Jan. 31st 2012

I get this question a lot from readers and fellow writers. For me, ideas are everywhere: websites like Post Secret. Snippets of overheard conversations. Weird stories on the news. “What if” questions. Real-life situations, like the other day, a woman from my building came running up to me in the parking lot with her three kids, one in a stroller. She was begging me for a ride to work because her car wouldn’t start.

At first, I was going to drive her, but then I realized she wanted to take the kids, and my car didn’t have a car seat for the baby bucket. She told me she’d hold onto the baby carrier. I told her I couldn’t take the chance because what if we were in an accident? She pleaded. Instead, I gave her car a jump and we got it started (with the help of another neighbor). But the scenario launched a whole bunch of what-if scenarios in my head.

As you can see, I’m never at a loss for ideas.

I’m going to go through my existing titles and share where the idea came from:

  • What Happened in Granite Creek is based on the short story “Support Our Troops,” which is about a woman who has an affair with a quadruple amputee who lost his limbs while serving in Iraq. Back in 2007, I saw a clip on TV of a soldier returning home and how he was assimilating into his “new” life without arms. Don’t ask me why, but my mind went into a rather “odd” direction. I didn’t wonder about things like how he would brush his teeth or put on his pants. Nope, I wondered about more prurient things, if you catch my drift. The story evolved from that prurient thought into something that is (I hope) so much more.
  • My short story “Crush” is about a woman who is mourning the death of her son — a son who died tragically after falling into a hole on the beach. The hole collapsed and the sand crushed him. This is based on real stories I hear about every summer. Freak accidents that result in death have always fascinated me.
  • A Touch of Charlotte” — this is my story about a woman suffering from severe postpartum psychosis. I actually reveal the seed for this story within the story itself — it’s based on a secret that was sent to Post Secret. (Go ahead — read the story to find out what the secret was!) There’s also an unusual syndrome that I talk about in the story — it’s real, and I had heard about it and it always fascinated me and it got stuck in my memory. Came together in this story.
  • The Object” — I used to teach public speaking (same as the narrator in the story, and no, it’s not autobiographical). The core event that involves the “object” in question is based on a real story I’d heard about from a social worker friend of mine.  But trust me when I say that this little piece of flash fiction is just that…fiction.
  • Orange Pineapple” — we hear about inappropriate relationships between adults and teenagers…is it always black and white or are there ever shades of gray? That’s what this story explores.
  • Forgotten April — I think it’s been said that one in 10 Americans is adopted. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I began hearing about lots of people who were discovering half siblings they never knew existed. That’s fodder right there.

If you’re a writer, where do you get your stories from? As readers, do you ever think about the genesis of the story? Would you rather not know or do you like hearing about where the author draws her inspiration from? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 2 Comments »

I Write Even Though / I Write Because

Jun. 15th 2011

I write even though…

…there are no guarantees.

…some people hate my writing.

…sometimes all I can think in is cliches and mixed metaphors.

…brilliant books humble me as much as they inspire.

…I’ve racked up rejections and I don’t have an agent.

…self-publishing is still the bastard step child of the publishing industry.

…character voices fill my head and I talk to myself — a lot.

…others who are more talented than I am quit or slow down.

…every publishing statistic suggests the odds are against me.

…sometimes I’m the only one who believes.

But let’s turn it around.

I write because…

…it’s when I’m happiest. Even on tough days, I’m still happy.

…I love telling stories.

…I love sharing stories…and hearing back from readers who are moved by them.

…I love learning new things.

…there’s a sense of soulful satisfaction that occurs when I get a story “right.”

…there’s nothing I’ve ever done before in my life that feels as right as this, like I’m home and where I’m meant to be.

…stories reveal truths that too many of us have a hard time articulating until we see ’em in print.

…stories connect me to people and to the larger world.

…stories connect me to my Higher Self and that place where soul resides.

…it’s simply what I must do.

Why do you write?

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Gratitude & Shout Outs

Apr. 13th 2011

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the wonderful, talented people who are helping to bring my little book to life. I highly recommend these folks. Here they are, in no particular order:

1106 Design: I’ve mentioned them before, but they did the cover art for Forgotten April (as well as all of my other books). They’re based out of Arizona, and they’re incredibly nice, pleasant, helpful, and prompt — all those things you dream about in a vendor but wonder if it’s possible to find anymore.

Laura Matthews at thinkStory.biz: copy editor and story editor extraordinaire. Get her while you can, folks. Laura has a novel she’s releasing this summer, and it’s good. DAMN good. I think great things are in store for her — and that she won’t be doing copy editing of others’ work for too much longer. (But, Laura, if you’re reading this, you’re still committed to editing my book #2 in August, ok? :))

Jennessa Durrani at Celebrate: Jennessa is one of the most creative people I know…and she’s also one of the nicest. Seriously, I’ve never seen her get annoyed or irked…and we work together on some of my copywriting clients’ stuff, which ain’t always easy. I’ve been using Jennessa for a bunch of things, including banner ads that I’m running on various sites.

And she’s created a cool bookmark, which I’m stuffing into about 500 gift bags for The Exceptional Women Awards, an event Magic 106.7 in Boston hosts. I worked for Magic for a long time, so I’m exploiting leveraging this connection.  You may be wondering why a bookmark for eBooks…well…I’m releasing a print version as well. And it *should* be ready and live by the time these hit the goodie bags.

Cold Spring Design. These are my fabulous web dudes. They designed and built the site (including the CMS [content management system] so that I can have total control over updates. Me likes to be in control…muahahahahahah). They also are my go-to resource for when files need to be crunched to a certain size or when I have other questions.

eBook Architects. I can’t stress this enough to self-pubbed writers. Unless you’re a total tech geek, you should outsource your eBook conversions. Formatting is critical (many of us indie writers receive flack for poor formatting, and there’s really no excuse for having it). Take pride in the appearance of your words as much as you do in the words themselves. I know it might seem easy to do the conversion yourself, but it’s so, so, SO easy to miss something or screw up a couple of pages or whatever.

I just contracted a designer who specializes in interior book design (for print books), spines, and back covers. She was recommended on Joe Konrath’s blog. She seems great so far; I’ll report back with her info and will include images of her work when it’s done.Enhanced by Zemanta

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What is Flash Fiction?

Jan. 17th 2011

Definitions abound. I’m going to give you mine. Flash fiction (or micro fiction) is ultra-short fiction, usually under 1000 words. Some publications that specialize in flash might require even fewer words than that (I’ve seen 750 and even 500 words).

To me, successful flash has a clear beginning, middle, and end. But keep this in mind: a clear end doesn’t always mean a resolved ending. The short stories I love the most are ones that are satisfying as is, but also leave me wondering about what happens next. No easy feat for a writer.

It’s a fun form to experiment with, and it’s an informative form to experiment with, simply because it forces the writer to consider every. Single. Word. Which he or she should be doing anyway, right? But it’s easier to let some of those flights of fancy and purple prose slip by when you’re working on a longer short story or a novel. Flash is all about the economy of words and packing the most emotional punch with the fewest words.

It’s also fun to read when it’s done well.

So what’s your definition of flash fiction? Do you enjoy reading it? Do you have any favorite flash “finds” that you want to share or, even better, link to? Please leave ’em in the comments (note: as of the writing of this post, I moderate comments, only to ensure the mortgage-credit-help-viagra-cash-for-gold spammers don’t get through).

Here’s the trailer for my flash fiction, “The Object.”


Check out the story and let me know what you think. It’s only 99 cents ($1 in some places, depending on where you buy it), and you can download it to your Kindle, Nook, and more…or you can read it on your PC…or print it out.

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Why Sell My Short Stories Online?

Sep. 26th 2010

How long have I known I wanted to be a writer? I can trace it back to Mrs. Shea’s fourth grade class when she gave us a short story assignment. As I sat at my desk drafting the piece, first in pencil and then rewriting it in ink (no computers back then), I knew. As I read it aloud to my fellow fourth graders, I knew. As I proudly beamed at the three red stars Mrs. Shea put at the top, I knew.

But it was more than just knowing that I wanted to be a writer. I knew I had to be a writer. See, there was something magical about the connection — pen to paper, me to my audience, my audience to me. I wanted “it” — I wanted to write stories and to share them with readers. It was quite simple. Or so I thought at ten years old.

The Early Years of The Dream

How to become a writer? I was clueless on that part. I figured, for a long time, it would just happen. At some point in my early twenties, it became my dream to land an agent and a book deal. For some reason, I had it in my head that that would validate me; I’d be a writer.

But then life happened, and I took a ten-year detour in radio at Boston’s Magic 106.7. I learned a lot about writing while I was there and spent those years devouring everything there was to read on publishing. After I left radio, I did some freelancing for my hometown daily, started my own copywriting business, and wrote and wrote and wrote. A lot. Two novels. Lots of short stories. A thesis (yep — I went back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University). I got published a few times in mostly small, mostly respectable places you’ve probably never heard of. I even won a short story contest. (Maybe 50 people read that winning piece.) I received very encouraging rejection letters, personalized and welcoming from agents and editors alike. And so I plowed on, the dream still there, but growing a little dimmer with each passing year.

“No one makes a living writing short fiction, that’s for sure. And unless you’re one of the big-name heavy hitter novelists, you won’t make a living writing novels, either,” I’d remind myself, because I’d heard it since forever from every corner of the publishing and literary world. But never before had I questioned it.

Until very recently.

Validation & Eyeballs

First, some background. I subscribe to many writing-related blogs, listservs, news aggregators, etc. And one in particular keeps posting stories about e-readers — how they’re booming and are only going to continue to do so. How brick-and-mortar stores are going to be a thing of the past (not all of them, but many of them).

I have friends with Kindles, Nooks, etc., and they love them. I’d been resistant to the whole e-reader concept, but then I stopped and asked myself why. I read because I love stories, because I want to be transported, because I want to learn and feel. The smell of books, the feel of ‘em…it all adds to the experience, sure. But I don’t read because I like the feel of paper or because of the smell. I read because I love stories. And I want to be read because I feel I have stories inside me that need an audience, that want an audience. The audience doesn’t have to be J.K.-Rowling huge — but it needs to be my own passionate little tribe that enjoys reading my work.

All this got me thinking. As luck would have it, I was re-reading one of my all-time favorite books on writing called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She has a section on publishing, including all that it is, and all that it isn’t. She borrows a quote from the movie Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsled team where the coach says, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.”

In essence, Lamott explained, “being enough” has to start from within. I’d lost sight of that, thinking instant validation would come with the call from an agent and a deal from a publishing house. And the truth is, it wouldn’t. Validation needs to start with me. I work hard at my craft and I do believe my stories will resonate with a certain readership. I want those eyeballs. I’d lost sight of the fact that THIS had been the dream of the fourth grader from so many years ago. Back then, it wasn’t about agents and publishing contracts and advances and book tours. It was about writing something that mattered to people, to my readers.

Validation Comes from Within. And e-Readers = Eyeballs.

See, unless you publish something in a widely circulated publication like The New Yorker (and fewer and fewer of those publish short stories anyway), you’re not going to get in front of a ton of eyeballs. Don’t get me wrong: if you get published in lit journals, it helps with the validation issue (somewhat), and the lit journal’s name is often worth its weight in gold when you’re querying agents.

Of course, there’s a whole lot of B.S. that goes into getting your story published in a lit journal: the endless waiting (sometimes as long as nine months), the rejections letters, the radio silence, the occasional acceptance and then the long wait to publication. To wit, last November, one of my short stories was accepted by a print pub for its spring 2010 issue. That piece came out ten months later in September 2010. When I was accepted, I felt validated for about 30 seconds, even though I knew the eyeball “reach” would be small. Today, that validation is long gone. But the desire to be read persists. I want readers. I want eyeballs. And I want them now.

And this brings me back to the epiphany I had over the summer: the beauty of e-readers and the self-publishing platforms that places like Amazon have set up is that it’s easier than ever to GET in front of those eyeballs and even make some dough while you’re at it.

Sounds presumptuous, doesn’t it? I agree. I mean, c’mon. Who the hell am I to say my writing is good enough and that people will not only want to read it, but will also be willing to pay for it, even if it is on the cheap (only 99 cents!)?

And here’s my answer: you decide whether my writing is good enough. In essence, I’m an indie artist. This website and blog? This is where I jam. All of the e-reader devices out there? Those are my venues, and the cover charge is reasonable. As for the “music”? The music might be good. Damned good. But I don’t decide that. YOU do.

I’m simply one writer returning the power of discovery over to you. But I’m not the only writer doing this. There are lots of us out there. Amazon has a “short stories” category in its Kindle Store, and if you scroll past the obvious names and titles, you’ll find other indie artists like me. So even if you don’t end up liking my work, you’re bound to find someone you do like. (As of the writing of this post, B&N does not have a short stories category, but I’ve made the request via Twitter.) And if you do like my writing, I welcome you and your eyeballs. For me, that’s what it’s all about.

e-Reader Short Stories – The Great Comeback

On a larger scale, I think e-readers could transform the Art of the American Short Story. Fewer and fewer print publications issue short fiction. When was the last time you could read one short story, without buying a whole anthology or a whole magazine? With e-readers, you can, in theory, buy one and only one short story (which is why I think all e-reader stores should include a short story category…and writers out there would be smart to issue their short stories one by one at low cost).

Short stories are immensely satisfying. You can read them in one sitting, which is perfect on so many different levels. You can experience so much in such compact space, and all the while marvel at how the author accomplished this enormous feat. They’re great learning tools — for kids, for adults, for students, for everyone, really. I think the right short story can actually help reluctant readers discover the joy of reading. A reluctant reader is liable to take one look at the size of a novel like Great Expectations and his or her stomach will turn. But a 10-page short story? Okay, the person might say. I can give that a try.

e-Readers, Agents, and Publishing

By the way, I still believe (quite strongly, in fact) that agents still play (and will continue to play) an important role in publishing (both print and digital). Your smart ones — people like Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner and Janet Reid — these are folks who are embracing the digital age and who understand that it’s changing the business, not dooming it. Agents like these guys are the ones who are going to help writers navigate an increasingly difficult world of digital rights, print rights, film rights, foreign rights, etc.

Publishers need to embrace the fact that digital is changing the game. Many are. Some are stubborn. At the drafting of this post (9/26/10), the writer Jodi Picoult still has a note on the home page of her website. The note reads in part: “Due to a conflict in business practices with Amazon, my publisher – Simon and Schuster – recently made a policy decision to delay e-books by many bestselling authors for 6 months, including me. I AM 100% OPPOSED TO THIS POLICY.”

Writing is not going away. Reading is not going away. Readers aren’t going away. A study that was widely circulated over the summer shows that people who own e-readers read more. On a personal, anecdotal level, I can attest to this truth. It’s weird, and I don’t understand the why, but I’m reading more and longer, and not simply because of the novelty of my Nook (I’ll expound on my thoughts in another post). There’s still plenty of money to go around for everyone. But publishers need to yield and adjust their models.

Let the Eyeball Search Begin

So if you end up buying one of my short stories (thanks in advance!) and liking it, here’s how you can help this indie artist and her (possibly crazy) venture:

  1. Sign up for my Story Alert newsletter. I plan on releasing a piece of writing once a month. I’ll be starting with short stories, but I plan to release my first novel sometime in 2011.
  2. Become a fan of my Facebook page.
  3. Subscribe to this blog.
  4. If you have an e-reader, buy this month’s short story for only .99 cents or $1.00 (price varies slightly, depending on where you buy it from).
  5. Tell others: re-post to FB, re-tweet, etc.

Oh, and let me know what you think. I love comments and will respond — promise!

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