A Writer’s Greatest Fear

After weeks, months, maybe even years of work, you’ve finally completed a writing project that you feel deserves an award. It’s your baby—you brought an idea to life, nurtured it, and helped it grow into what it is today. Congratulations! You’re a proud parent! You want to show off your accomplishment to the world, but you can’t yet. There’s one crucial aspect of the creative process that every writer needs to go through: peer review.

Don’t panic! I know it can be scary, especially for new writers. Who really wants a group of strangers to read, edit, and criticize your baby? You may feel that your project is pure and perfect; but it’s not, trust me. When I first started my creative writing courses I was on my high horse, and so proud of the works that I’d be submitting. The day my first short story was discussed in class was one of the most embarrassing and emotionally painful moments of my college career. I questioned why I even became a creative writing major in the first place.

But why are critiques good for you as a writer? For one, you gain perspective on aspects of your writing that you might have altogether missed: character, grammar, plot progression, structure, symbolism, dialogue, and more. In my own writing, I tend to struggle with plot progression—it’s connecting those dots that can get messy, and my scenes can get stagnant or become altogether unnecessary. You also see your strong points, and for me I’ve learned that it’s grammar and dialogue. With the seemingly negative feedback, you take note not only of your weaknesses, but your strengths. As you recognize where you need to grow as a writer, and actively practice to improve your skills, you’ll develop an even greater love for your projects.

It wasn’t until I took the time to look at edits made, and I started asking my peers and professor questions, that I made the connection that these critiques were helpful, not hurtful. I took the advice of others, no matter how agonizing it was initially, and began to make changes to my draft.

So don’t be afraid of peer review—embrace it! Take notes and listen to your classmates, professors, friends, or whoever you choose to edit your works. Find where you need improvement, and take pride in your strengths! Continue to strive for a strong and confident voice.

I Have an Ear for Comedy and an Eye for Tina Fey

Remember when you were a freshman? And so unbelievably dumb?

How many times have you changed your major? How many colleges have you been to? Me, personally, I’ve changed majors once and changed colleges once. After high school graduation, I went to a private Christian university (which shall remain nameless) with my career completely planned out. Here was the plan: I was going to get my Bachelors in Communication Studies, get multiple internships with Television News Stations to get my foot in the door, then get a REAL job as a reporter to ease my way into my ‘dream career’ as a News Anchor. Why News Anchor, you ask? Because of the hard hitting docu-drama about the journalism industry—yes you guessed it—Anchorman!

During my first semester at the aforementioned Christian university, I got involved with the on-campus television news station, which had a whoppin’ three audience members (if not three, then not far from it). During the show I was Camera Number One! Woot Woot! My job behind the camera was to zoom in on the anchors and move over to weather during the commercial break. Exciting stuff! During my one semester at News30, I realized how unbelievably boring the news was. Remember, this was back in 2015, before news changed forever. I was bored and sad watching the news and writing it. So, I started to analyze my life, and like any good freshman in college, I tried to find myself.

Why did I want this career? Why did I feel so committed to the news? Why did I want to sit behind that desk? Because I had idolized the comedy stylings of Ferrell, Rudd, and Applegate. I was determined to be a great comedy reporter. But I hate the news, okay, so take away ‘reporter’ and what do you have? Comedy. In the immortal words of Bo Burnham, “Comedy, let’s do comedy.”

Time to change. By spring of my freshman year, I started dividing my time between my dark dorm room watching sitcoms alone and the theatre department. I was a Theatre minor and I loved acting and playing those weird theatre games. By hanging out in the theatre department I made new friends and I learned that the university had an IMPROV TROUPE. What? Comedy? LET’S GOOO!

Through this amazing comedy improv troupe I made friends, found a new passion, and fully realized my REAL dream career: comedy writing. I wanted to write comedy for every outlet possible. I wanted to be the next Tina Fey. I tried to transfer to a university in Chicago where I could write while absorbing the city and all its glory, but money halted me. So I came to UCO, an affordable university nearby with a great Creative Writing department. Here I was confronted with many new genres of writing. I was scared but determined, because here I could write what I wanted, and what I wanted to write was anything BUT the news. I am so glad I changed majors and transferred colleges, because here I can get a degree I am proud of—a degree that gives me the tools I need to create an amazing portfolio.

Now I’m a Senior Creative Writing major who is still trying to find her voice, but at least now I know that I’m getting close. Improv is still a passion in my life, and I learn more and more about it every day. I’m now able to realize how helpful it is in writing and everyday life. Do you need to learn how to write authentic dialogue? Improv. Do you have anxiety? Improv. Do you want to create strong character connections quickly? Improv, my dude. I find myself writing away from the genre of comedy—I don’t feel married to it, but I still have a strong connection to it. I realize now, as a senior, I can write in many different genres and not have to feel like I’m cheating on my first love.

One of These Days

Twenty-two. Twenty-two. What about you? Probably around there, too, huh? In high school, I remember glorifying the image of the old man author. This can probably be blamed on reading mostly fantasy and science fiction, but the whole idea is a weird one. Quite simply, most of my favorite writers were old white men. As a young white man who could hardly focus and finish any of the rubbish I was writing at the time, the elder sage seemed to be an upper echelon of writing serenity that only comes with time and wisdom. If you’re reading this, you might like words, or art in general, just as I do. You might be in college, as well, or just young, busy, and in debt. Finding time to hone your craft into something you feel like could or should be shared with the world may seem out of reach—a dog on a treadmill forever chasing the dangling meat on the end of a fishing line.

Well. One of the many, many life lessons I’ve had to learn in the past few years is about goals and how to reach them. There is no echelon, no serene utopia that time and age delivers to you with gentle hands. It’s a process, writing, as are most things. The pyramids weren’t built in a day and Stephen King didn’t write The Stand in a single spectacular moment of genius. Well, maybe he did, to be honest. Guy was doing A LOT of drugs. But anyhow, don’t do drugs and don’t expect to be the writer of tomorrow today before noon. I can recall one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patrick Rothfuss, recounting the evolution of his hit series, The Kingkiller Chronicles. The idea, birthed early on, developed over a course of years, muddled with years of getting that bachelors and then masters. His writing went on a journey with him. That’s real life. The process doesn’t cut through a space-time rift and come out on the other side successful and rich. If only, huh?

So, yeah, we’re young and busy. Maybe you’re middle aged and busy! Or old and busy! Whether you’re still learning how to navigate blossoming and burdensome adulthood or have come a long way already, the process is right there for you. It hasn’t moved. Start somewhere. Months ago… no, goodness, it’s almost been a year now, I jotted down some ideas for a story on my phone while I waited for my car to come out of the shop. Gotta rotate those tires, people! Anywho, that story is maybe sitting at eight or so pages now. I want it to be a novella… so, yeah, still a ways to go. Sometimes I rip on that bad boy, sometimes I forget about it for months. But it’s a good idea that I won’t let die off. And I haven’t, as of yet. If you would have told me all those months ago that I’d only be about a third or so through the tale, I’d be frustrated. I’ve rewritten and revisited. But, you know what, I kept writing it and believing in it.

You make time for what you value. I shudder to think of where I could be now if I replaced all that time scrolling through my phone with writing, planning, and learning. Sure, I might verbally blame it on a busy work or school schedule, but I know the truth. I have to value that process and believe in it more. Get down and dirty with the process. Let it make a fool of me and call me mean names. Confront the process. Write and direct an anime battle scene with the process. Keep going until the process does a heel-turn and becomes a good pal. And so should you. Crack open that six month old Word document, I triple-dog dare you. I am getting older. Don’t quite like the idea of being the “one of these days I’ll…” guy at dinner parties. If it is inside you, don’t Tetris it around anymore. Start somewhere. Good luck.

Apfelbaum by Laura J. Braverman

LAURA J. BRAVERMAN is a writer and artist. Her poetry has appeared in Levure Litteraire, Live Encounters, The BeZINE, California Quarterly, and Mediterranean Poetry. Her first collection of poetry, In the Absence of Defense Against Loss, will be published in 2019 by Cosmographia Books. She lives in Lebanon and Austria with her family.


Apfelbaum

For a long time I believed Martin Luther said these words:
Even if I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.
We shared a birthday, though his was 500 years before mine.

He would have spoken the words in my mother tongue. I use
them as an incantation, as defense against helplessness—

I imagine
our globe as little as twenty years from now—septic seas,
garbage dunes, drought and flood. My husband soothes me,

says creation moves in cycles regardless of the reckless
doings of our tribe. He sides with Heraclitus: World ever was,
and is,
an ever-living fire,
kindling and extinguishing according to measure.

But surely our wild hunger has sped things up.

Does the earth care for us?
We scrub pots after dinner, pick up our children’s Lego bricks.
We better Narcissus—leap headlong into the reflections
our digital screens hold up. We save manatees stranded in mud,

compose cantatas, dry rose petals in the sun;
we beg at intersections with matted hair and little siblings, knock
on closed car windows.
We fear the swollen legs of our father,
scratch butterflies with our fingernails on stonewalls,
line up for death.

Does the universe care for us?
I’ve come across a theory: the cosmos expected life,
prepared for consciousness, for us, from its very cradle—

hoped for apple trees and their tart, pesky harvest.

Advice for Saying Hello by Ace Boggess

ACE BOGGESS is an author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His fourth poetry collection, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

 

Advice for Saying Hello

I’m the wrong person to ask—
heart in it, but not my voice.

If we haven’t met,
you’re the speck of a gnarled spider

dangling from a ceiling in the hall.
Legs atremble, I won’t approach,

might stare rudely or run away.
I’m paralyzed from the tongue up.

Should you encounter me,
please speak fast

before panic hides me in its cloak.
Tell me your name, your favorite film,

what songs play
on the soundtrack to your life.

Tell me how much you love
spaghetti & red wine,

the smell of frying eggs,
the color of anything

under a rain-gray sky.
I promise to listen, &

maybe then, I’ll have an answer
for the silence I wear

like a holiday sweater:
ugly, red, & pulled from a drawer

out of gratitude or duty
on yet another lonely, public eve.

Four Influential 20th century Female Horror Writers

When we think about modern horror, the great and disturbing Stephen King pops into most people’s minds. While King is  wonderfully spooky and influential to one of my favorite literary genres, there are also plenty of women who wrote many creepy tales that impacted the 20th century and the horror genre as a whole.

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier began her writing career in the early 1930s with one of her most successful works being the Gothic novel Rebecca (1938). In a similar way to traditional Gothic novels, Rebecca contains a heroine, who is never given a name, who is forced to deal with the oppressive and almost ghostly past of her new home. The real terror in this novel comes from the titular Rebecca’s grasp on the protagonist’s psyche, causing the heroine to feel a kind of inadequacy that many people experience when constantly compared to another, seemingly perfect, person. With discussions of identity, obsession, and even suicidal thoughts, Daphne du Maurier’s novel is an intricate modern Gothic novel with a dark and well-written twist ending.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson has written many creepy novels and short stories that have become classics in the Horror genre. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is often considered one of the best haunted house stories ever written. This novel contains creepy hauntings, shocking incidents that are never truly explained, explorations of mental illness, bisexuality, and a diverse small cast discovering the ominous character of the titular mansion. The Haunting of Hill House is a suspenseful horror novel that leaves readers with chilling images and thoughtful explorations of fear, paranoia, and isolation.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice first appeared during the horror boom of the 70s and 80s with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire (1976). This vampire novel has been cited as the beginning of the “romantic vampire” trend that took off in the 20th and 21st centuries. Despite writing about vampires who are human in many ways, Rice’s characters are complex and intriguing monsters who give the reader a striking and bleak look into the life of the monster that usually is just in the story to be defeated by the good guys. Interview with the Vampire is also revered for its positive depictions of sexuality between its vampire protagonists as well as discussing morality in a philosophical way.  With deep introspection, a disturbing and well written cast of characters, and a deep look into the monster’s point of view, Interview with the Vampire is an enchanting and horrifying look into the psyches of humans turned into monsters.

Angela Carter

Angela Carter is a great British author who has written many plays, short stories, children’s stories, and some novels during her lifetime. While Carter’s work usually falls under the umbrella of Magical Realism, her body of work also contains some horror novels too.  One of her most popular short story anthologies The Bloody Chamber (1979) is one such work. The Bloody Chamber is an atmospheric and mature reworking of different fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White with a dark and distinctly feminist edge. Dealing with women’s sexual identities, luscious and graphic prose, and a chilling harken back to the more adult Grimm’s fairytales, The Bloody Chamber is a startling collection of feminist fairy tale horror that is scary as it is thought provoking.

Dyslexia: Spell Check is for the Weak

As an editor, it can be hard to admit that my greatest passion is also the source of one of my biggest inhibitions. A big part of this stems from the fact that not many people are vocal about learning disorders, and those who are aren’t always the most constructive. I’ve known from an early age that I am dyslexic. Even though this isn’t anything world-ending, or even something that’s necessarily complicated, I’ve noticed that there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding learning disorders. Being a student of the Liberal Arts means that I am surrounded by bright and intelligent people on a daily basis, who not only analyze everything they read, but are obnoxiously good at it. Initially, this intensified a fear that I’ve harbored since the first grade, in which I feel that everyone around me understands something that I don’t, and that my cover will be blown at any moment. Of course, the only logical response to this was to double up on literature classes and enroll in a second language. Because that’s not overcompensation, right?

As unhealthy as it may sound, this has been my approach to tackling dyslexia for years. It’s almost like a vigorous hike; every time I start to get winded, I see that the peak is that much closer and I force myself to pick up the pace. When I first learned to read, this was how I kept myself going. If a book tripped me up, I would pick up another and read them back to back until they both made sense. Even today, I still read roughly five to six books at a time to keep myself engaged.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain what dyslexia means for me. Most people understand dyslexia as that thing where kids sometimes confuse the letter “b” with “d,” but dyslexia can go so much farther than that. In fact, once my parents had realized what was going on, mirrored consonants became the least of my concerns. My biggest challenge was, and still is, the struggle of being inconsistent. What is a reflex one day is foreign the next. Just the other day I tried spelling “optimist” as “optemest” and had to review Greek and Latin root words until I could understand where I went wrong. This word has never been a problem in the past, and I use it pretty frequently, but out the window it went.

I can see when my words come out wrong and I can recognize broken sentences and phrases, but this is because I had to develop an intuition that could save me when my brain short circuited. This is how I first developed an interest in editing. Suspicious, right? In a way, every error I catch and every student I tutor justifies the ridiculous amount of time and effort I’ve put in to learning the written English language.

Dyslexia may not be particularly interesting for those who are unfamiliar with it, but for me it’s like the ultimate challenge. It has forced me to think outside the box and learn things in unconventional ways. It’s popular advice that writers should read the works of their favorite authors so they can emulate their writing style. I took this a step further and turned to literature for lessons in grammar. Not only was I trying to capture the elegant sentences of Poe and the subtleties of Philip K. Dick, but I was also trying to figure out what the heck a dependant clause was and why my teacher kept circling mine but not my partner’s. In my case, dyslexia has driven me to better understand the written word, because I can’t handle the idea of being inherently bad at something. Of course, being dyslexic still has its issues, and it always will. The takeaway here is not that learning disabilities can be cured, but that they can be overcome, and every step I take as an editor is a massive victory.

“Where are you from?”

While easy enough to answer for most people, it exists to some of us as one of the most complicated questions in our lives. It’s an impossibly loaded interrogation that has been long embodied in the small-talk canon, not taking into account a large number of factors that may distort the reply, and not caring. It demands a simple answer, a recognizable place on the map. It doesn’t take into account those of us that just don’t know, whether it be lost to history, or left enigmatic by circumstance.

In my case, I can’t establish or trace back to home-base. I never lived anywhere long enough to really set up camp and lay claim to a cultural or regional piece of identity. I’ve also come to learn that identity is everything to a person, and knowing where you are from is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle, and when absent, can leave you feeling blank.

 

Where is home?


What is home?

 

What am I?

 

Who am I?

 

However, my passport tells me I have a home — Guanajuato, Mexico. And while I can show you beautiful, postcard-like pictures of my little birth-town, and maybe tell a tourist brochure’s slogans worth about it, claiming it as my own would be a fallacy. I was never able to own it; I simply never lived there. And when I’ve tried, the cut-throat nature of Mexican culture has prohibited me from laying claim to it, not having met enough of its criteria: I have printer paper white skin and speak none of the language.

The reality is that locations are often just stops to people—distant memories. Nomadic as that is, a lot of us yearn for a “home” of our own — an answer to the ever-present question that we can just yell out with excitement and dignity. A “home” is a place which we can embrace and say, “that’s me.” A place whose colors and histories you can stand by, good and bad; a place that fills in the missing piece.

Really, we draw too much validity from places. Like children trying to conform and make friends in the classroom, always worrying about being ostracized and ignored because we’re the most different face in the room; but also, that we are not different enough, concerned that we may be boring and lost in a sea of average.

I can’t help but feel like we’re misconstruing diversity, diversity always being heritage and appearance, but seldom this implicit thing that can’t be categorized in absolutes. We can’t always be expected to look the part, and part the look, and more often than not, most of diversity can’t be seen. Living a wandering life has made me realize that. We can’t expect people to be pigeon-holed, or to pigeon-hole themselves. I’ve always been “American,” not by my own creed but because I look the part, despite only living here for the last couple of years and way out of my formative period.

We, as people, are collages of experiences, and that should be reflected in our writing. We are seldom token characters, and it pays to reflect the reality of what really creates diversity among us. The real world is complex, and so are we; we should all be making an effort to portray mélange in both the characters we create, and the real people we talk about—humanizing those we know little about, and avoiding cheap attempts at emulating or portraying pseudo-authenticity.

So, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I blank on the thought, and a big enough part of me is tired of giving one line lies or convenient truths that codify my life into something appreciably short enough: “I’m American.” “I’m Mexican.” There’s no way in hell I’m accepting the grand total of my genetic lineage as what I am, or where I’m from.

But I’d love to tell you who I am, and ultimately, I think that’s what diversity actually comes down to. Not a blip on the map, and not my skin-tone.

 

Three Poems at 55 by Kelly King Walden

KELLY KING WALDEN blogs at kellylogos.net, which is also her Twitter handle (without the net:) She has raised children (4, one from Ethiopia) and mentors teens and college students. She created an ACT Prep business, which she runs, and writes on the side for various online magazines and a local magazine. She has only published one poem, at Plough Quarterly. She has a Master’s in English and has taught school and college in the past.

 

Padded Van
We were so packed into the van.
Every trip, just so many accouterments
needed, no matter where we were going.
My mother would bring a pillow and a full
size blanket because she was always cold
and wanted to be covered from head to toe.
Then there was a sweater or a big padded coat.
And her big computer with its fat padded case and
a big quilted bag to carry all the books and magazines
she thought she might read. And then there was the mini
back pillow for lumbar support. And she’d fill a little soft-sided
cooler with water and apples and nuts. And she insisted on an
extra blanket for anyone else who might get cold because it always
happened. We would complain about how crowded we all were, how
claustrophobic we felt with all this suffocating softness surrounding our
every move on every side. And on this trip, we were camping so my dad
had his pillow beside his seat, too, and I was sleeping on my pillow and my
sister had a big jacket hung up over her window because of the burning sun
darkening her already dark skin. And there wasn’t enough room in the back for
all the camping gear and food and bedding and suitcases so we had a couple of
rolled up sleeping bags on the floor between us in the back. And bulging out from
between the two middle seats were foam bed toppers and an extra, super-fat down comforter in case it got really cold one night AND two coats were stuck by our heads.
So when we had the wreck,
And went flying through the air and rolling over and over down the bank with the
blankets and coats and pillows and bags and comforters tumbling around us
like bedding in the heavy-duty dryer at the laundromat, it was a wild ride
and we were a little banged up, but we merely walked away
looking like pants and shirts that needed a little ironing.

 

When You Walked In
I was getting ready to leave
when you walked in the door.
I need to be somewhere soon,
but your unexpected arrival
halted my plans.
I rethink my agenda.
I can’t leave when I have the
unexpected gift of your presence
suddenly. I manufacture reasons
for hanging out in the same room
with you. Let’s see, what’s on my
list to do today? Oh, yes, clean
the kitchen windows, haha. I can
do a couple of them right now,
and just casually throw out some
conversation starters while I’m
hanging out. You are so focused
on what you are focused on. I try
to be focused on something else too.
But converse a little, too, at the
same time, you know, just casually.
About something maybe interesting.
Or just something.
Like tell you what I did this morning.
But that was nothing. Nothing
that you would find interesting.
But there was that one thing
I can mention. I can show you that one
thing.
But you’re so busy, so focused.
I don’t want to annoy you.
Can I at least
have a bridge sometimes? It can be
retractable. Or throw me a rope, maybe.
I just want to be one of the
islands in your archipelago.
I just want to be able
to cross over
sometimes
and see your eyes.

 

If Emily Had Children
The bustle in the house
the day the kids come home
Is the brightest tidying up,
the lightest of urgent work
in a stolid empty nest.
Irrational love precipitates
irrational effort
as tedious tasks stir energy.
I’m expecting life again –
the heart opens up
and the light comes in
illuminating soon filled rooms.
The stillness in the house
the day the kids leave
is a snaky place.
Trails of their presence creep
like vines through the house.
Mired in memories at every turn,
my heavy feet move from room to room.
The quicksand of sadness sucks me down.
The overgrowth of activity has left a fertility of memory
. . . A futility of memory.
If I strip their bed I strip their scent.
A grayness pervades the air and my soul
as I sweep up my Heart and put my Love away.

 

Parenting is Editing

Editing and parenting are essentially the same craft. As in editing, I spend hours “correcting” mistakes, problems, and critical thinking errors only to have my work ignored or disregarded. As in editing, all my modifications are considered mere suggestions up for negotiation.

Consider this argument I had with my daughter:

She wanted to play outside in the nude. Social convention requires me, as a parent, to discourage public nudity; however, bargaining with a three-year-old is not as easy as employing logic or reason. A toddler simply does not accept the answer: “You have to wear clothes because nakedness makes people uncomfortable. Also it’s an actual law—public indecency.” Instead, there’s always a follow-up action. Sometimes it’s a verbal outcry of displeasure in the form of a whiney, “But, why?” And sometimes it’s a physical reaction like the limp-noodle-flop-to-the-floor-in-anguish maneuver. How you choose to handle the rebuttal defines your parenting/editing style.   

Most times, I find the refutation entertaining, funny even. But sometimes, my patience is thin and I take offense to objection. Nevertheless, I’ve found the most success with compromise—my measure of success being whether I’m capable of coaxing my child to cooperate or not.

Compromise is all about collaboration. Editing is not a solitary activity; I work with authors, co- and managing editors, typesetters, etc. Therefore, wielding authority when I am only but one part of the writing process is not the best approach. My editing style is the same as parenting. My role is more “guide” than “enforcer.”  

My daughter and I eventually reached an “agreement.” After I shamelessly reminded her about our extremely modest and grumpy neighbor, she retorted with, “Fine. I’ll wear underwear.” I countered, and asked her to wear a full outfit, she said, “No,” put on a bathing suit and ran out the front door.

I can tell her what to do or how to do it, but not both. I use the same premise when working with a difficult author. Ultimately, the work belongs to the author, just like a child’s life is its own. Each can be influenced, but not controlled.

It is also important to adjust for the “maturity-factor” of the author/child. My daughter is three, aso I considered the bathing suit compromise age-appropriate. If she were nine, I would deem this solution unacceptable. I use a similar evaluation method when I have disagreements with authors. It’s more valuable to choose battles that matter, because engaging in a verbal spar with a three-year-old is never a good idea.

In editing, there are so many things that must be judged on an individual, situational, case-by-case basis. There is no complete manual, nor universal style guide, nor dogmatic grammar/punctuation rules. There is no one “correct” way to format a document.

It is not an editor’s job to rewrite a story.

It is not a parent’s job to mold a perfect, law-abiding citizen.

Instead, editing and parenting are gifts meant to enhance, not change. Like parenting, editing is merely giving advice, care, and attention when needed.