Flash Fiction Discussion Thread

Apologies for the cross-post, but I know there are a lot of writers who follow me here!

Over at my other site, I’m starting a discussion thread on flash fiction, that seemingly ubiquitous beast of  the modern age.

Flash fiction has been a weird thing for me to wrap my head around lately, and I really want to hear from more writers about their thoughts. So please, hop over there to share your thoughts!

 

This blog has spawned and spread out!

This blog has packed up and moved spawned and spread out!

Find me now at ashleighrajala.com, especially if you’re into writing tips and advice and progress reports. Please find me there and follow!

It’s something of a departure for me to leave behind this mess of irreverence in place of something clean and professional, but alas. (Picture me straightening my half-Windsor as I say that.)

I might still pop in occasionally, as circumstances permit, but, in truth, a lot of this was predicated on the fact that I haven’t really had all that much to blog about besides writing, so I thought making a proper writing blog made the most sense.

I used to blog a lot about family and work and travel, but now my family is kinda off-limits as they’ve sprouted a new generation; my work is much larger than me and difficult to speak about in a humourous / critical way; and we just haven’t been travelling as much because… well, mortgages and stuff. There is so little free time that most of my writing energy goes to actual, honest-to-god writing.

I guess this is what your thirties look like. I do have pictures to post of a Disneyland trip with the whole gang, so that might be fun. That was back in August so I might be able to mine a few posts from that nonsense.

It’s rather sad to leave behind a blog with 2000+ followers and realize that the new one currently has 2. Help me please. Once again: ashleighrajala.com

the shapes of stories

I noticed this post was sitting in my drafts folder with nothing more than a heading. It’s been sitting there nearly a year. Who knows what the hell I was thinking when I came up with that title.

If the past is a foreign country, one’s past self is a stranger. Or least someone you went to school with a long time ago and now no longer have anything in common with except for a lingering adolescent love of first gen punk rock.

I digress.

What was that post supposed to be about? The shapes of stories? What can that mean?

vonnegut_boymeetsgirl

It was Vonnegut. Of course. How could I forget.

Borrowing from this general idea, if mapped in two dimensions, there are five story shapes:

  • Up to Down – Tragedy
  • Up to Down to Up Again – Comedy
  • Down to Up – Boring Biopic
  • Down to Up to Down Again – Oscar-Award Winning Biopic
  • Flatline – Vonnegut says Hamlet, but I think a lot of us can generally agree that shit is pretty fucking tragic.

Why did I think this was worth blogging about a year ago? I can’t remember.

Why do I think it’s worth blogging about now?

So I can make a stupid joke at the expense of biopics. That’s about it.

kurt vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction

kurt_vonnegut__jr__by_siglarkEight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Source: Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

a post from someone who just finished a first draft then needed a cry…

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triangulating the text

So a while ago I started posting chapters of a novel online before I panicked and took them down after realizing that they (a) weren’t at the calibre I could achieve, and (b) were not going to be produced as expediently as I hoped.

I’ve since been working on it again.

The pitch for In What World is thus:

Willa and Liz are Brokers: thieves and smugglers for hire who hop realms, solving mysteries and having adventures along the way. Each realm is a genre – Urban Fantasy, Space Opera, Dystopia – and each realm has Rules. It’s time to see if those Rules can be broken.

I decided to shift the tone of book (first in a series maybe?) when I stepped back and started examining what sort of genre satires and parodies I enjoyed myself. And I realized that I preferred riffs on genre that don’t make fun of the genre in as much as they exemplify it.

Think The Naked Gun versus Hot Fuzz. I mean, we all love Leslie Neilsen, but Hot Fuzz is a masterpiece. And you don’t have to get all the jokes in order to enjoy it. You can take it as an action film. You can take it as a satire. Because of this intersection, you can take is as a deeper meditation on genre and storytelling.

I’m at the point where, to get to the heart of each genre/realm, I’ve had to establish a reference point. A generic (literally generic) fog in my head was just not cutting it anymore.

IMG_2193So what I ended up doing was trying to figure out three texts for each realm/genre as I want to showcase it that I would use as three points of a triangle of the genre, with the intersection between then being what I was aiming for.

I’m not necessarily going for the most perfect representation of the genre, but rather what elements I want to pull from it. For instance, my three texts for a pirate realm are Treasure Island, On Stranger Tides and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Treasure Island skews classic ur-text; On Stranger Tides brings in the possible supernatural/myth-involved portion (it was the base text for the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie); and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle pulls towards a female protagonist, an outsider to this world, as well as wider historical context.

Is this a ridiculously formal and quantitative way to approach something as subjective as art? Oh hells yes. But, it really helped me find my focus so I could do more than just spout genre references, like, say, National Lampoon.

And I don’t want readers to have to have read Le Morte D’ArthurGrimm’s Fairy Tales, and The Lais of Marie de France into order to “get” the non-specific fantasy realm I’ve dropped my characters in. Rather, these texts contains the elements that have seeped into our implicit and subconscious understanding of this genre.

Anyway, all these texts (expect for the ones I’m still hunting bookstores for) are on my desk for easy reference. It’s a glorious thing.

 

the granny square approach

Momentum, like Mr. Darcy’s good opinion, once lost is lost forever.

Or so it seems.

Something like a particularly nasty cold that lasts a week (especially when it is followed by Husband spending the whole next week sick with said cold) can wreak havoc on my momentum.

Like coming back from vacation, or from an illness, or from a mental rabbit hole of writing on one project, returning to the status quo is difficult. You feel like the Campbellian hero, returning to find the world the same but himself drastically different.

Only  your arc was a helluva lot more pathetic than the hero’s. You find yourself wondering just how the hell you did this day-in, day-out, once upon a time. What was I? Superhuman?

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Losing your momentum is like losing a little bit of yourself. What is all this yarn and how the hell will I ever make it anything?

I kept telling myself there has to be some technique for dealing with this… something I could fall back on when I find yourself in this situation… some easy trick to convince myself it’s all not as difficult as I thought.

I realized when crocheting once, that the idea of holding in my hands the tiny fragment of what will be a finished product is too overwhelming. How can I have this brief string of stitches and imagine it an entire blanket?

It’s so much easier to just… not  do it. I accepted the lack of momentum and gave up.

But obviously, if I kept doing this, I’d never accomplish anything.

So I tried this. I wasn’t going to make an entire blanket, I was going to make one granny square. That was easy. It just took an hour.

And then, when that was done, I made another.

Before I knew it, I had a bag of granny squares. I had a whole fucking blanket!

And, funnily enough, I didn’t even want a blanket anymore. I made pillows instead.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 11.26.35 AM

 

My point is that everything can be broken down into manageable chunks. Don’t worry about writing that novel; write that chapter. Hell, write that one scene. Or even just two hundred words. Just focus on that.

Just that. And don’t worry about anything else until it’s time.

Before you know it, you’ll have a pillow that’s as sexy as hell.

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Or two. 

Aw, yeah.

state of the union

Since about 2010, I’ve been keeping writing notes in Blueline notebooks. I go through two or three a year. I’ve just started my fifteenth.

It’s remarkably arbitrary when I finish a notebook; I simply run out of pages. From there, I have to plan a trip to Staples, select a notebook. Sometimes they’re all out of my usual model, so I adapt.

blueline notebooks

About half-way through, say, 2013 or so, I realized I was carting around not just the current notebook, but also the previous one or two, just because they had notes I still needed to refer to.

So I force myself to take the time to sit down and go through the previous notebook and transcribe notes. Sometimes photocopies must do, stapled into place.

I add post-it flags, highlighting, all that Type A jazz.

And I also started doing a “state of the union” on the front page of every notebook. I list all the various projects and ideas that have been circling my mind like vultures, waiting to pick off some spare moment of creativity and actually be written.

I did all of this yesterday.

The last few months have been crazy. I had to go through the previous two notebooks to do this and I still have more to do.

In that craziness, I’ve had to sit on a few projects just to make room for new ones.

In my state of the unions, projects seem to shake down into two or three tiers.

Tier One includes on-going sagas and projects that have dominated my mental space. Basically, this is Pirates in Space and then anything else that momentarily takes over. It’s like these projects are my immediate family and Pirates in Space is my husband.

Tier Two is other projects that I am actually making decent headway on. They take up decent space in my creative life, but they will always be dropped if Tier One needs me. These are like my extended family and friends.

Tier Three includes brief ideas and things that are only ever half-baked. Maybe one day we’ll become good friends. Maybe one day I’ll even marry them. But right now, they’re just someone on the bus you talked to once, or that guy three cubicles down you know is also into Star Wars.

Let’s just say that Pirates in Space and I are in couples counselling because I’ve been spending a lot of time with other projects lately. A little too much time.

nothing in moderation

Perhaps you have noticed (or not noticed, I haven’t the wherewithal to keep tabs on these things, alas), but I’ve posted the full-text of “Working Title,” my short fiction piece that recently won the Quarter Castle Short Fiction context.

I think I’ve gone on about this before, but this is a piece I’d been sitting on for nearly five years. For me, sometimes I hit a wall with a project where I just don’t know what else to do on it, and so I set it aside. I think it still needs work, but I’ve lost perspective and can no longer look at it objectively. Other times, I finish something and know it’s perfect. I don’t want to change a thing. But then no one else will publish it.

David_Lloyd_George_-_Punch_cartoon_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17654This piece was a little bit of both. I thought I was finished. No one would publish it. I did some more work. Then I hit a wall, sat on it. Eventually, I read it over again and went, “hey, it’s perfect the way it is.” And still no one wanted to publish it. I sent out several submissions, got back a lot of rejections and a lot of nothing.

I decided to sit on it for a while again. After another chunk of time, I looked at it again, still really liked it, but it was just sitting in a drawer, unpublishable. Perhaps it was the length, I told myself. 4500 words is typically just too long for most publications, but too short for a host of others. Funny, how so many things in the art world come down to mere practicalities.

I began to eye it like a scrap metal dealer. What could I salvage out of this work? Could I take the spine, fashion it into something else? Could I take the framing conceit? Cut out a passage or two here and there and work them into a smaller, more concise story?

No matter what, it felt like butchery. The story was what it was and even if I changed anything, it was as if I was taking it further from its Platonic ideal. Like Michelangelo said about the statue of David, he just cut away the stone that wasn’t David. This story was what it was supposed to be; it just felt right. If you’re a writer or an artist, do you ever feel that way? That there is some true version of your work and you just get a gut feeling of whether you’re there or not?

Perhaps this was what always frustrated me about film. I could find sublime little moments and aspects of the finished work, but I just could never hit that true version. Either the lighting was always just off, or the framing wrong, or the line reading a slightly different take.

Anyway, I digress. With “Working Title,” I was at this point where I was ready to throw my hands up.

But then I found out it won a contest. And another publication wanted to print it too. And I had to write some tough emails.

Nothing in moderation.


Side note: It’s been a busy and ridiculous time for me lately. I will update soon with details on the absurdities of life. As soon as things settle down a bit.

Quarter Castle Chronicles… chronicled

I am extremely thrilled and humbled to share that Quarter Castle Chronicles, Volume One, is now available in print and e-book!

Quarter Castle Chronicles ~ Volume One showcases 13 short stories by 12 Canadian authors. They take place in settings across the country, both in the present and the past. From the rugged coast of Newfoundland to the streets of Vancouver, we are flung to far off places like Romania and Swaffham Prior. The authors spin tales of life, survival, death and the realm beyond.

The Chronicles include the winners and honourable mentions of the 2014 Quarter Castle Short Story contest. My piece, Working Title, was the winning story, which humbles me so greatly I’m sitting on the ground as I write.*

Please, check it out and be still my pride.


*That’s a lie. It’s an office chair. But I’m on the setting closest to the ground. You’ll just have to trust me on that.