My father keeps sending me pictures of his garden. He's retired, and he finds great joy tending to his rocks and shrubs. Since he lives in a drought sensitive zone, he plants only drought-tolerant flora. He calls his garden a "moonscape". It's true. The variety of cacti and rocks create a lunaresque impression. My father takes great pride in his creations.
You should also know that my father is a real rocket scientist, so a lunar landscape in his own backyard means something more to him. It's his chance to sit within an environment that 50 years ago he could only imagine. At 78, he has created his own life on the moon.
The other day, after viewing another digital photo, I realized something about my father's garden. Not only was it actually quite beautiful, it was also simple. Simple beauty. There was space between plants, and there were plants placed together that didn't really seem to go. But they did, in an odd exquisite sort of way.
Like I said, my father's a rocket scientist, not a gardener. He called in experts, landscapers, professionals to share their advice. He played with their ideas and mixed in his own creative design. Through some kind of symbiotic pairing, my father created this lovely lunar landscape where he can sit and reflect and simply be.
So it got me thinking about my writing. What can I learn from my father's garden? How is tending a garden like writing a novel?
I came up with a list of words that represent his process and results:
Simple. Time. Love. Joy. Pride. Creativity. Advice. Experts. Sharing.
I realized that writing is like gardening. You begin with love. You infuse creativity. You seek advice from experts and share with others. In the end - or even during - you feel a sense of joy and pride. All of this takes time. But most importantly, writing - like gardening - thrives with less. Simplicity is key.
Why do you write? How is your time writing like tending a garden? Or does another life task serve as a metaphor for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share.
A few weeks ago, I had some fun with Lisa Reiter's flash fiction challenge, Bitesize Memoir. I found the task pretty challenging. It takes a lot of skill to scale down a piece of writing into such a small bite. Writers tend to want to add detail upon detail.. (Or is that just me?)
I did a little research and found everything and more one needs to know about this tightly trimmed task.
There are many names for it. Sophie Novak breaks it down on TheWritePractice.
There are How To's with detailed guidelines on being brief.
There are whole websites devoted to it. (Try flashfictiononline.)
There's even a National Flash Fiction Day in the UK!
TheReviewReview lists numerous places you can publish or read these tiny verbal installments.
Flash fiction carries a few simple rules: keep it brief (duh); make a story (beginning, middle, end); close with a surprise.
Sounds simple, yes? Uh, yeah, no. Not for me. I write novels because I'm like a starting pitcher. I need a few innings to warm up. Think of flash fiction as your closer who comes in an inning early. Flash needs to be tight AND pack a punch AND leave them wanting more. Not so easy.
However, this writing exercise has been great for me. The task of trimming unnecessary verbiage from a wordy piece of prose is like squeezing your 40-year-old self into your college jeans. Not impossible, but it may require a diet.
I'm on a flash fiction diet. Join me! It's always better with friends.
This week, I found another amazing writing resource, Charli Mills. And guess what? Yep, Charli likes to write flash fiction. She's tempting visitors with her own short challenges. I tried this week's: Flash Fiction with a Twist. Write a story of exactly 99 words; start with a twist. Post it in the comments section on Charli's site (carrotranch.com) by Tuesday, May 20, to be included in her round-up. Or just write it for fun. Please share your links here, too, so I can see what you've come up with.
Here's mine. I'm posting it with Charli, too.
Dan Fields leapt out of the coroner’s van and searched his pockets for a cigarette. He’d seen plenty of dead bodies in his time to know they weren’t supposed to breathe.
“This is a problem,” he told himself. He realized he had another problem: he’d quit smoking last week after Carol left. He shoved a stale stick of gum in his mouth and flicked the foil wrapper into the street.
He heard a thud against the van wall. No, a pounding. No, a thumping. The whole van shook. This wasn't good.
Dan worked alone.
Yep, this was a problem.
What draws you to a book? The title? Author? Genre? No matter how you answer, I don’t believe you. For most of us, we do judge a book by its cover.
The real question is: What draws you to a book cover?
Do you look for something you connect with – a person, image, color, shape?
A few years ago, writer Kate Hart compiled some disturbing statistics on covers in YA lit. She began with a response to a Wall Street Journal Article on the darkness of YA covers. What she uncovered bothered her more.
She found a disproportionate ratio of race gracing YA covers in 2011. Kate viewed hundreds of covers and found only a handful with nonwhite characters, none with visible disabilities, and one same-sex couple.
She thought exploring Indie covers would alter this scenario (simply because Indie authors have more say about their covers than those published by the big houses).
Not much to report there.
In the last 3 years how have things changed? I’d like to share my hard work with you on the topic, but I haven’t tempted this challenge. I will direct you to a GoodReads’ list. After viewing the first 100 of these popular 2013 YA books, I could not find a single character who was not white, was disabled or alluded to homosexuality. In fact, many covers showcased a symbol instead of a person.
So what’s it all mean? It may mean little to the avid reader, the young person who simply wants a good story and is not burdened with racial, gender or other equities.
My concern is that if we exclude whole classes of people, we deter a generation of readers, and we continue to support the myth that straight, capable white people are who matter in the world. I speak that phrase easily because I include myself in each of those categories.
However, as a mom, a teacher and an author, I feel it is my responsibility to share stories of all kinds of characters. Whether they are girls trying to exert their autonomy in a male-dominated home, or a boy figuring out how to come out to his best friends, we need diversity in literature. Every reader (and potential reader) needs to see herself on a cover, as a main character, as a hero. If writers are not diversifying these lists and bookshelves, who will? My next YA will feature a teen with a mental illness. How should I approach this on the cover?
Share below your favorite YA books that exemplify diversity.
If you want to continue this conversation, please join me Thursday, May 15, on Twitter at 6PM (PST) with Kate Tilton on #k8chat. We’ll be talking minorities in YA.
Lisa Reiter is an amazing and brave woman. (You’ll need to visit her website to learn why I believe this to be true.). She is also a creative writer who is generous enough to invite us into her world and share our memories.
Friday, May 2, Lisa initiated a weekly writing invite on her site called, BITE SIZE MEMOIRS. Lisa wants us to spend a few moments reflecting on the past and recording those thoughts to share with the world. Telling your story is soul-cleansing.
Northern California Author Anne Lamott has spent nearly her whole life writing about her family and self. Kind of like running a marathon on a treadmill – you race hard but never reach a finish line. It can be exhausting, but it can also be exhilarating.
In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne says: “Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.” (Lisa asks us to be kind and leave out last names; she doesn’t want to deal with libel at all).
I’ve taken up this week’s challenge: Using the theme SCHOOL AT SEVEN, write 10 lines of “I remember” or 150 words. Check the website for the official unofficial rules. Whether you choose to share with the Lisa and us or not, you will enjoy remembering your childhood and all the crazy nonsense that comes along with growing up.
“School at Seven” by Ellen Plotkin Mulholland, b. 1963, California, USA
I remember my long blue flowered dress with the gathered bodice.
I remember swinging higher than my best friend.
I remember hearing the f-word from ginger-haired Tommy Something.
I remember creating Barbie towns and using our shoes as cars.
I remember recess and the large expanse of black asphalt, the kickball zone, the sandpit.
I remember sitting in rows, alphabetically.
I remember the green chalkboard and waiting for my turn to clap dusty black erasers on the pavement outside after school.
I remember waiting for my big brother and little sister at the chain-link fence.
I remember walking home and not taking candy from strangers and worrying about strangers and slow moving cars.
And I remember wanting to be 8 because that would be better than being 7.