Write about a song that brings back a certain memory or memories.
Write about a habit you wish you could break.
I’m thrilled to have a story included in this new anthology from Press 53: Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, an anthology of 20 short stories by 20 authors set in 20 countries.
The collection, compiled and edited by award-winning author Clifford Garstang (What the Zhang Boys Know, In an Uncharted Country), has a a theme that goes beyond geography: It’s a Dangerous World. The stories take readers on journeys to all seven continents: to a portentous soccer game in the Congo, to a mysterious disappearance in Argentina, to post-Katrina New Orleans, to a murder in the Italian countryside, to a quarreling couple in Kazakhstan, to a visit with Chairman Mao in China, to a sketchy dentist in New Zealand…and in my story, “The Ecstatic Cry,” to a remote Antarctic island where a touring passenger overstays his welcome.
I was glad to have the chance to chat with Cliff about Everywhere Stories … as well as upcoming readings and events!
Q: What was the inspiration for Everywhere Stories?
A: I began traveling extensively right after college, when I joined the Peace Corps. I then went to law school, which led to an international career. When I began writing fiction, I was drawn to stories set abroad, and I like to read those stories, as well. It occurred to me that an anthology of short fiction set all over the world might have some appeal, so I approached my publisher, and he loved the idea.
Q: Tell us what’s in the book. Do you cover the whole world?
A: There are a lot of countries on our small planet, so we couldn’t include them all. We’ve hit each of the continents: four of the stories are set in Africa, five in Asia, five in the Americas, four in Europe, and one each in Antarctica and Oceania.
Q: Do you have any plans for a second edition, to include the many other countries on the planet?
A: I’m glad you asked! I’m in discussions with the publisher now about a second volume. My thinking is that we would again have about 20 stories, and the only country we would repeat would be the U.S. In fact, from the original submissions for the book, I’ve asked a number of writers if I could hold their stories for Volume 2, so I’m already well on the way. We’re looking at Fall 2016 for a release.
Q: The book opens with thought-provoking quotes on travel by T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, and Albert Einstein — what do you hope readers come away with after reading this anthology?
A: My own international education began when I joined the Peace Corps. Since then I’ve worked and traveled extensively overseas, but when I return to the U.S. I can’t help feeling that we are primarily xenophobes. We know very little about the rest of the world, even those parts of the world we’ve visited as tourists. So this book—this series—is an attempt to dig below the surface of the world, to find what a casual observer isn’t going to see. So what do I want readers to come away with? I want them to realize that there is a big world out there, and we all have a lot to learn about it.
Q: As a writer yourself, how does creating your own stories affect the way you work/read as an editor?
A: The impact is more the other way around, I think. As an editor, I often see writers doing things that don’t work—falling into long flashbacks that totally stop a story’s forward momentum, for example—and it helps me understand what not to do in my own work. It’s almost like being in a fiction workshop, where the real benefit for a writer is not having his or her own work critiqued but in investing the time and energy to offer constructive feedback to others. In doing that, the writer invariably learns from someone else’s mistakes.
Q: Are there any upcoming events readers should know about?
A: First up is the official launch party, which takes place in Staunton, Virginia, where I live. Four of the 20 contributors will be coming to that. Press 53 will also be celebrating the launch at their annual Gathering of Writers in Winston-Salem NC on October 18. And then throughout the fall, we’ll be posting information about other events on the book’s Facebook page, at: https://www.facebook.com/everywherestories.
And check out this radio interview with Cliff on Rudy Maxa’s World; Cliff comes on at 33:45.
Write about a time you were disappointed.
Last week on Whidbey Island, I stopped in to Moonraker Books in Langley — an absolutely lovely, welcoming bookstore, starting with is quaint exterior, a perfect fit for Langley’s shopping district.
The bookstore’s two stories are open and airy, with plenty of light and space for excellent browsing (when you stop in, be sure you have plenty of time!).
I chatted with owner Josh Hauser, who opened the bookstore in 1972 and was at the register the day I visited. Josh’s commitment to community is obvious in everything from the store’s selection of local-interest titles to its donation jars for the feral cat colony that lives in the neighborhood (along with a photo of the cats, whom many of the local seaside business owners look after).
Josh and I talked about the changing world of books and publishing, and the importance of such local bookstores as Moonraker; it was heartening to see that Josh’s enthusiasm for books and readers hasn’t waned a bit, which is likely why Moonraker is still thriving after 40+ years. Don’t miss this treasure ext time you’re on Whidbey Island!
I’ve just returned from Port Townsend, where I taught an afternoon workshop on Everyday Book Marketing at the fabulous Writers’ Workshoppe, during which we spent quite a lot of time talking about the essentials of author websites. I’m glad to see this article in Publishers Weekly covering the same territory, and very happy to have been a contributor.
An author website is important for so many reasons — and yet so many essentials get overlooked quite easily. Alison Schiff does a great job here of covering all the basics.
Check out the article here…and for those of you in Southern California, visit Adventures by the Book for information on an entire series of book marketing events (covering author websites and much more!) from the SoCal Author Academy, beginning with internationally bestselling author Lisa See in October.
Write about a noise that drives you mad. Be as detailed as possible; write a whole scene or poem about it.
Write about the last time you told a lie for love.
What word would you create and incorporate into the language if you could?
As a writer, I’m big on creating a sense of place — using all the five senses, of course — and there is no better way to do that than to experience a place firsthand. Photos offer a great visual substitute if you can’t travel … but capturing the sounds of a place is far more challenging. So, if you can’t get to Stonehenge or Mexico or Arctic Norway, you just might be able to get a feel for the sounds of a place you’re writing about through Sound Transit.
On Sound Transit, you can search by sound and country (dozens are featured) to get a feel for what a Vietnamese market sounds like, or typhoon in Taipei, or a whale encounter in Greenland. It’s fascinating, addictive, and wonderful for capturing sounds that help evoke a sense of place. And even if you don’t have a place in mind, you might try hanging out on the site, listening to some of the soundtracks, and writing about what you hear — it’s a very cool experience to listen to the sounds of different parts of the world.
For Shakespeare’s Juliet, “that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” — but for a writer creating characters, a name can be a wonderful opportunity for enhancing character development.
Some writers must have a good character name before writing a the first word of a fictional story; for others, names are a bit of an afterthought. (Or, if you’re like my writer husband, you use the same three character names for every piece until your editor reminds you that some recycling isn’t actually for the best.)
Character names are more important than you might think…for one, having just the right name can offer a sense of context, history, culture, and personality — whereas having an ill-fitting or too-strange name can distract readers.
Here are a few tips for choosing the perfect names for your fictional characters…
- look for names that aren’t too simple or too weird, unless this is for a very good reason
- research the origin of the name; give it meaning
- think about how it sounds in your ear and how it looks on the page
- consider how the character feels about his/her name
- use names consistently throughout (first name, or last name) to avoid distracting or confusing readers
- if you’re writing about someone resembling a real-life person, change the name (as well as other identifying characteristics) to something really, really different
For inspiration and a plethora of name ideas, check out baby-name books, visit the Social Security Web site (where you can search name popularity by year), and search baby-name websites. You could also research the old-fashioned way: Dorothy Parker got her characters’ names from the telephone book and from the obituary columns.
Here are a few writing prompts to get you in the naming mood …
- Write for 10 minutes about how you feel about your own name. Do you like it? Have you always liked it? Why/why not? What would you prefer your name to be if not the one you have? Has your name changed over the years due to losing or acquiring nicknames, marriage, etc.?
- Write a list of your favorite names, both male and female. Next, write down characteristics you associate with these names, physical and otherwise.
- Write down the names of all of your family members and/or close friends. How do their names help define who they are (or not)?
Write about the last time you cheated, whether it was on a partner, in a game, etc.
Take a scene from something you’re working on, and put on a film-school hat. As director, screenwriter, cinematographer, musical producer, whatever — rewrite the scene as it would appear in a film, paying close attention to (you guessed it) the actions of the characters, the dialogue, the setting, the sounds. Then take note of what you’ve discovered about this new scene, and incorporate these elements into your project.
Imagine passing a logging truck on the road. What does the image bring to mind: a new home, an empty forest? Write a scene that captures the image and your emotional reaction with as much detail as possible.
Write about fog, whether it’s a marine layer at the coast or a cloud hovering between mountain peaks or a mist you’re driving through at night. Describe all the sensations and emotions that fog brings to mind.