Wednesday, May 30, 2018
by A. LaFaye
As most of my creative writing students and they will probably tell you that (besides wild tangents on any number of topics), my trademark literary is "Double Duty Details." And what are those? Well, to explore the subject, check out my most recent Tight Write Bite:
For a more elaborate exploration of the subject in writing, here's a blog post on the subject:
Monday, May 28, 2018
Greenville University Storytelling Festival Winners
Best in Show
& Best Short Film
Daisy by Joey Clinton
Best Short Story
“The Girl of Blue Bell Hill”
by Rachel Terry
Nathaniel kept seeing her face. Her splash of red hair framing her features as she stared back at him with an unnerving blank expression, her eyes somehow appearing already dead, lifeless. And then the front of his motorcar had struck her and she disappeared from view.
Had there been an impact, a thud as her body connected with the vehicle? Oh, God, he couldn’t remember, but there must have been.
Only a few moments before, he had been driving down a winding road in the countryside of Kent as the light faded from the evening sky. Fog had coalesced, so thick his headlamps barely pierced it.
Nathaniel would have sworn, under oath if necessary, with his right hand upon a Bible, that the young flame-haired woman had not been there. But a mere moment later, she seemed to melt out of the mist, in the middle of his lane.
There was no time to swerve. Nathaniel slammed on the brake, but it was too late. Hands gripping the wheel with white knuckles, he watched as her body vanished beneath his car.
When the vehicle skid to a halt, Nathaniel remained where he was in the driver’s seat, too shocked to move. Too afraid to step out, frightened of what his eyes would see.
At last, he could bear it no longer. Moving mechanically, numb, Nathaniel put the car in park and stepped out, shutting the door behind him. He turned, glancing behind, a frigid wind blowing his coat open. Nausea slid around his gut, cinching tight. The young woman’s body lay motionless in the road.
Forcing himself to move, Nathaniel approached her, apprehension gnawing at him. She appeared surprisingly unscathed, her red hair fanning out around her head and her white dress spread behind her like a broken wing. No bones were visibly broken—though that didn’t mean there weren’t any—and there was no blood to speak of.
Nathaniel looked around at his surroundings. The silent woods of the country stared back, melding with the mist, alien and unfamiliar. He had no idea where he was, but he couldn’t simply leave this poor woman lying in the middle of the road. Nathaniel was afraid of moving her, but there was nothing for it. Gingerly, he picked up her limp body, hesitating. She wouldn’t fit in the back of his car and the roads were so poor, littered with holes, that the jolting ride might do more harm than good.
He carried her to the side of the road and set her down. She still did not stir. Fetching a blanket from the boot of the car, he draped it over her to shield her from the chill, vowing to return with help, and drove on until he reached the local village.
“You all right?” a voice inquired, snapping Nathaniel out of his flashback. “You look a bit pale.”
He glanced over at the constable beside him, clenching the wheel harder. “I hit someone,” he replied, his voice sounding strangely monotonous. “I may have killed her.”
The policeman shared a glance with the local doctor in the back seat. The two men seemed irritatingly calm for what had happened. When Nathaniel had reached the village and explained what happened, the constables had huddled together in a small group and muttered amongst themselves as though gossiping.
Their behavior was ridiculous, not to mention odd! Nathaniel had just admitted to striking someone with his vehicle. Why weren’t they frantic to rush out to help?
By the time the doctor had been summoned and the three of them set out, Nathaniel’s mood had worsened, becoming increasingly agitated and worried. He clenched his jaw, focusing on the road. The fog had let up a bit, but it was still too thick for comfort. For the life of him, why weren’t the two men concerned, even just a little bit? He supposed it was unrealistic to expect them to be as panicked as he was, but their unnatural calm only made him all the more edgy.
“You’re not from around these parts, are you?” the doctor inquired.
“No,” Nathaniel answered, glad the silence had been broken. “I’m from London.”
“What brings you to Kent?” asked the constable, his tone casual.
“I was visiting my sister.”
“So you’re not familiar with the Blue Bell Hill area of Kent, then?”
“No. I’m afraid I must have gotten myself lost after leaving my sister’s house.”
The two men shared another knowing look. Nathaniel slowed as he reached the turn near where he had seen and struck the young woman. He brought the car to a stop and opened his door. “It was near here.” He had already informed the men of what he had done with the body, afraid to move her more than necessary.
The men climbed out and followed him to the side of the road. Nathaniel had tried to use the drive to prepare himself for the sight of seeing her motionless body again, but nothing prepared him for the sight he was met with.
The blanket he had draped over her still lay upon the damp grass at the side of the road, out of harm’s way. But the girl was no where to be found.
Nathaniel glanced around in bewilderment. The constable had brought a torch with him and clicked it on, shining the beam about. The light fell upon the blue-gray blanket and scanned the bushes beside the road and the thick forest beyond. There was no sign of her.
“I-I don’t understand!” Nathaniel sputtered. “She was right here! S-surely she couldn’t have wandered off on her own.”
The doctor picked up the blanket. There was nothing underneath. No blood or even crushed grass to suggest where she’d lain. The constable switched off his torch with a decisive click that was dreadfully final.
Nathaniel turned to him, stricken by guilt. “You have to form a search for her, immediately. She could be wandering about in the woods, alone and injured.” It was a fight to keep his voice from becoming hysterical. If the girl ended up dead because of this, her blood would be on his hands.
“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” the constable said, with a hint of weariness in his voice. “I think you met one of the infamous ghosts of Blue Bell Hill.”
“Ghost?” Nathaniel choked out. “What do you mean, ghost? I saw her; I hit her with my car. I picked her up, for heaven’s sake! She was as solid and real as you or me!”
He shuddered at the memory. She had been solid and heavy, like a real, living person should weigh. Had she been warm, like a living person? He couldn’t remember; in his panic that detail must have slipped his mind. But even if she weren’t warm, it was a chilly night, with the threat of rain hanging heavy over them. He wrapped his long coat more closely around his body and shivered—though whether from the cold or horror, he dared not guess.
“And many a traveler have told the same tale as you,” the constable replied. “Many have seen a young woman throw herself under their wheels. It’s not an uncommon occurrence around these parts.”
“They’re rumored to be the victims of a car accident in this area,” the doctor added. “Every one of them. A bride-to-be and her bridesmaids.”
“A-and you?” Nathaniel said to the policeman. “Have you ever encountered one of these girls?”
“I have not,” came the reply. “But if I should ever have that misfortune, at least I would recognize them for what they are.”
The doctor patted Nathaniel on the shoulder. “I’m afraid the ghosts had some fun at your expense, mate. Giving you quite a fright, but no harm done.” He handed Nathaniel the blanket.
The two men sauntered back to Nathaniel’s waiting motorcar and he knew they expected him to follow and return to the village. But he lingered for a few moments more before following and placing the blanket back in the boot.
He moved around to briefly inspect the front of his vehicle. There was no dent, blood, or any evidence at all to suggest he had ever hit anything. He ran a hand over it, but he was met with a smooth surface.
Nathaniel rose, sighing softly, and turned to look at the place where the girl had lain on the side of the road, but that
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
If you want to create characters who stand out from the crowd of literary characters, then I recommend that you allow them to act up. To look further into how you can do this, let’s look at a quick video and an archived blog on the subject.
Here’s the video
When Your Characters Act Up!
For more on how to let your Characters Act Up, check out this rebellious little blog post that wouldn’t stay archived:
Let Your Character’s Rebel
Would love to hear about your character creation process. How do you do it? What questions do you have for me?
Monday, April 30, 2018
Philosophy of Revision:What's Yours?
Your invited to watch this video exploration on developing an empowering philosophy of revision I'd love to know your thoughts on revision. Feel free to chime in to the comments below:
Monday, April 16, 2018
Finding the Right Voice
Let's Your Writing Sing
Here's a Tight Write Bite (aka a video tutorial) on finding your voice:
Here are a few exercises to apply what you learned in this tutorial:
1. Think of a story you're just itching to tell in a poem, short story, essay, or novel, tell the story outloud. Now tell it again and record yourself. Listen to the recording. Don't judge, just listen. Now let another person within the "story" tell it. Record it. Listen. What do you notice about the differences?
2. Write a story in the genre of your choice in 1000 words or less (that's 4 pages), then rewrite it from the perspective of another character. What did you learn?
3. Read three poems/essays/stories on the same subject by different authors. What do you notice about the differences in the way they use voice? What can you use within their technique to develop your own voice?
If you've tried any of these exercises, please comment below to hsare what you learned.
Let your writing sing!
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Revision as Re-Invisioning
It Can Be Freeing, It Really Can
Revision--bane or boundary bender? Sounds about right to me. When you embark upon revision whether it's a reread and polish of the paragraph you've just written or a revamp of the full draft of a novel, you approach it with trepidation and frustration--right? Well, most people do. If you dive in eager to see what new things take shape, then you're probably in the minority. And since I've never been one to fit into the "in-crowd," let me take this opportunity to invite you all to go on a bender. No, not the Hemingway route to inspiration (Sorry, Ernie!), but the boundary testing bender that allows you to treat revision as an opportunity to discover what might be dwelling in the cracks of your unconscious and waiting to come out.
Attitude is Everything!
we've heard this adage applied to sales pitches, athletic performance, and nearly every other human endeavor, why should revision be any different? The way you see revision directly effects how you will experience the process. If you treat revision as an artistic re-envisioning of your work that allows you to explore new territory and expand on what you've already written and/or learned, then it came be a much more fulfilling and exhilarating experience. If you look at the process as drudgery or the correction of mistakes, then it will be just that-- a bit like the writer's version of self-flagellation ((Need a definition for that implied metaphor? click here).
I know of a writer who worked for years on a novel, then rewrote it a short story and got it published. Another writer and friend of mine writes a first draft, puts it in a drawer, then starts over. Most of my writer friends labor over revision, fervently trying to get it right. I love Janet Wong's response to that idea. I'm paraphrasing her here, but she says, "Revision isn't about getting it right. It's about finding other ways to do it." Want to know more about Janet? Check out her website.
Revision as an Archeological DigFor me, I like to think of revision as the mental equivalent of doing an archaeological dig in your subconscious. When an archeologist sifts through a dig, s/he is uncovering the story of a former life/culture one artifact at a time. Over time, the dig will reveal new pieces of evidence that completely changes the way we interpret the culture/people who lived there. It's these discoveries in fiction that can really cause us to see our own work in new ways.
Let me offer a few examples from my own work. When I wrote The Keening, a supernatural historical novel set in Maine during the influenza pandemic, I created a loner protagonist who discovers that she shares a secret ability with her father that she learns about after her mother dies and her uncles try to have her eccentric father committed to an asylum so they can sell their family home and buy another fishing boat to add to the family business. (How's that for a run-on sentence? Perhaps I should revise it? Nah.). In the original version, Lyza (the loner) had no friends because she was shunned by people who misjudged her dad and she meets a boy on the road at the end of the story who is a part of the big reveal. The responses I kept getting from editors about the story was that it was too moody and remote-- it needed more immediacy. I figured a friendship would make Lyza's situation more immediate and accessible to readers by offering a foil for Lyza, so I went back into the story and made that young boy on the side of the road into her best friend. In so doing, I had to weave him into the story in a way that made him seem as if he was there from the very beginning. As I moved through the novel chapter by chapter, I found places for him to just walk right in. In fact, until the conclusion of the novel, I didn't have to restructure the plot to bring him in-- it was as if he was meant to be there all along. In fact, he seemed to fill voids I'd seen, but didn't know how to address until he came along. I call these "expansion joints"-- places in a story that appear like Diagon Alley. You think to yourself--where did that come from? But once you enter them, they feel as natural as if they've always been there.
Finding and Exploring Expansion Joints
Expansion joints are just one of the many possibilities for discovery. Exploring these areas of a manuscript can also lead you to discover new things about your work that turns you in a whole new direction. In addition to being an outsider in her own community, Lyza fears travel and never wants to leave her family home on the ocean. Originally, the novel ended with her embracing the idea of venturing beyond her home, but the exploration of this new friendship and his fascination with urban life leads Lyza to venture to "the big city." This change made her a far more active part of the resolution of the story. As a result, revising the story to include this friendship lead to a whole new ending organically. I was as surprised by the turn of events as I hope my readers were. It's this type of experimentation and discovery that can make revision quite a bit of fun.
Revision as a Learning ExperienceIt can also be a learning experience. For longer than I'd care to admit, I worked on been tyring a retelling of the myth of Cassandra in a coal mining community in Virginia in 1911. It wasn't until an inspiring conversation with a poet friend about the boundaries between a novel-in-verse and a thematic collection of narrative poetry that I fully embraced the idea that I could write this story in verse. Once I started it, I realized the story fit the medium and it came alive on the page. It was later published as a chapbook by Anchor and Plume Press as Pretty Omens. You can also get an audio version here.
You never know what you might learn about revision from other writers, here's a look at revision from Mirka Breen "The 3 H of Revision."
Now, I'm chapters deep into a revision on a novel called Secrets Under My Skin. I can't say where the revision process will take me with this story because I just started the process--a literary journey that I'm personally looking forward to. While I'm off revising-- feel free to share your insights and ideas about revising. I'd love to hear your ideas!
Here's to the new places revision takes us!
Share your revision experiences in a comment!
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
And Now For a Dash of Vlogging...
As Ursula LeGuin says, our imagination "needs exercise. It needs practice." Creative Calisthenics can be a great way to get the exercise your imagination needs. Give it a try. Here is one for getting into the mindset or standing a moment in the socks of your characters: