Reader Response

Some authors are unhappy when readers see something in their story, novel, or poem that was not intended.

I subscribe to the theory of reader response. Our work is going to touch different people in different ways; readers are going to get out of it something related to what they bring to it, so if they don’t see what we originally intended, they are not wrong, nor did they read it wrong, they are merely giving the writer an insight.front-cover-small

I, personally, am thrilled when readers see something I hadn’t intended. For my novella, West End, one reader said the melancholy of the main character haunted her. Other readers believed some of the characters might have actually been spirits or ghosts. One of the characters, I left open. His questionable appearances deepened the story and the effects on the main character who is dealing with depression.

However, when another reader felt that the son might have been a ghost – it made me go back and reread my own work!

Once the story, novel, or poem is out there, readers are going to take away or put into it whatever is in their own toolbox and we can not control it. We may not like it – I had one person mistake me for one of my characters – but we do have to accept it. I usually thank the reader for their insights, regardless of what I feel about the response.

All readings are good readings!

If you’re interested in reading West End – it’ll be on sale Saturday and Sunday. And – then let me know what you think!

Writer Wednesday: Writer and Writing is a Relationship

heartI know people say writing is a commitment, but it’s more than that. Writing isn’t “like” a relationship, it IS a relationship. A writer must be involved with the whole process of writing, must love it, need it, want to continue to work to make it better. It takes commitment, time, dedication, and the desire to move forward in life with writing.

A few years ago, I was at a conference where the main speaker (don’t remember his relat 1name) said, “You have to be selfish. You must take the time for yourself, for your writing.” He went on to say he spent every Friday at a hotel with his writing. (are you picturing him checking into a seedy, no-tell motel with an old typewriter?;-)

My friend joked, “Noreen does this thing where she actually spends time writing.” My regular action became fodder for humor because he is a writer, but he falls under the category of non-writing writers like many others.

Life happens. We have families, pets, jobs, homes, tons of responsibilities. But notice that list – I put family first. People we love comes first. This is why a writer might consider writing as a relationship – so they give it priority.

I schedule things around my writing whenever possible. I will make doctor appointments, meetings, and everything I have power to plan secondary to my writing by scheduling them before or after my planned writing time.

Once a person considers themselves in a relationship with their writing, they may relat 3naturally form relationship goals! If writing were a romantic relationship, how would you handle it differently? Would you want to go to sleep with it or wake up with it or both? What would you want to give it? Would you spend more time with it, going over the details, working it out so it was just perfect, going over it and over it again to work it out nice and smooth? What do you do for your significant other? Take it out to dinner? On vacation?

Writing, like a lover, needs constant attention and nourishment. Placing it on the back burner means we may never get to it. It’ll be there, but not as warm and flush as we’d like. Being in a relationship with writing means the needs of both are fulfilled. Writing is fresh and flowing and continually improved and the writer is happier, more productive.

We do this because we love it, we are driven to do it. Treat writing like it’s important to you.

Think of writing before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night just to say one more thing.

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West End – the opening chapter

Hi, All.  I was feeling West End today. I wanted to share a little portion, but couldn’t decide, so I give you all the opening selection for West End.  Enjoy.

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BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand.  On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.

When the female squirrel stopped coming, my mother worried, but the baby squirrels continued to visit. Then, the cubs must have grown, left the nest, because one by one they disappeared until only a single squirrel came to the daily meeting.

That winter, mother’s heart sucked itself dry. Familiar faces appeared, distant relatives, long-ago friends, who talked our concerns away with assurances for tomorrow and beyond.

“Little honeys, it will be okay.”

“I brought the eggplant casserole, green dish.”

“She was a wonderful woman.”

“Call if you need anything.”

Sarah and I stood at the door where someone’s aunt told us to stand. We pointed people who carried in food to the kitchen, guided people with flowers to the dining room, pointed the rest to Daddy who sat on the couch, gaze glued to the floor. We didn’t have to say anything, and no one asked.

The familiar strangers came and went and with them, our mother, our hopeless youth, our language.

The house became quiet. I couldn’t remember the last complete sentence I spoke or heard, couldn’t remember the last partial sentence I’d said to my father or he to me. My sister and I exchanged words, hushed, sometimes soundless breaths only we knew the meanings for. We lived our lives in half-words, pale sounds that sunk into the silence, in ideas of what we had to do next: breakfast, school, homework, laundry, dinner, dishes, bed. This soundless process became our lives; a strange off-balance way to live, but we did it for some months content not to break that pattern.

One cold February morning, a descending snowstorm blocked the roads, locked us indoors, kept us from going to school, our father from his work. Our first full day alone together in the house. Sarah and I sat at the painted brown kitchen nook picking at our cold Raisin Bran; the milk just tangy enough for us to question the freshness. A tapping noise brought our eyes to each other’s. Then silence.

“Wind.” Sarah exhaled with barely enough voice to make a sound much beyond the breath itself.

“Yeah.” My voice not much stronger. We returned to the cereal.

Tap…Tap…Tap…

Her gaze followed the floor to the sink, the counter, the back door.

“The door?”

I shook my head. “Nah.” Not today, at mid-day, in this storm. “Wind.”

I slipped from the nook; she followed. We stood, somewhat unnerved when the tapping came again. We could see through the glass in the door; no one stood there. I moved to the windows to get another view of the patio, leaned over, heard shuffling, then rattling against the window. We jumped. A squirrel clattered against the window, caused us both a momentary and laughable fright. Sarah touched my arm. We each took a deep breath. Our first that winter. The squirrel, the female or one of the children, we didn’t know and could never tell anyway, gave us a quizzical look, stretched up against the window; her little paws stretched against the glass. Tears welled. Quiet, unmoving, we held our breath, each other, tried not to let out the flow of emotions the winter built up.

Father’s footsteps, heavy on the linoleum, came toward us. We straightened.

“What’s going–”

“Shhh,” we both hushed him; his rough, dry voice might drive the squirrel away.

“It’s the squirrel,” Sarah said.

He looked puzzled.

She motioned toward the window. “The squirrels Mom used to feed. She used to give them nuts.”

“Well, give it some.” He waved his hands at us.

“Where are they?” Sarah pulled open random cabinet doors.

“I don’t know.” I opened the opposite cabinet doors.

“Well, look, look. They have to be here.” Father took to the drawers.

The three of us searched for a bag of peanuts Mother bought for the squirrels, hid from us to deter our snacking.

“He must be hungry.” Father gazed out the window at the back yard covered in snow. The porch railings, the powerlines, all draped in sheets of white; the squirrel, nervous, waited at the end of the banister. “Peanut butter. Get the peanut butter.”

“Will he eat that?” Sarah reached for the jar.

“Certainly,” Father assured us. “It’s peanuts, isn’t it?”

I grabbed for the bread.

“Just spread it on,” he said, more animated than I’d ever seen him.

We did.

“Wait, he can’t eat it like that Break it up.” He put his hands in the mess with ours.

Of course, we knew, but at the moment, that strange, unsettling, yet somehow comforting moment, we all needed to take part.

Sarah set the plate on the patio just outside the backdoor. The squirrel chattered, juddered its head from her to the door, the windows, its tail jerking back and forth as if with nervous jitters, then approached the plate, took a piece, and skittered back to the railing to eat it.

Dad ordered us away from the window. The little squirrel tittered, danced delicately, tail flitting, to take more food. We backed out of the kitchen.

Something shifted inside the house. The rooms warmed. The silence faded. The house took on old noises; the refrigerator hummed; the kitchen light buzzed; switches flicked with their old sticky clicks.

Our voices returned. We spoke more than mere sounds. We’d broached full sentences. But I don’t know if we ever surpassed that. We’d never been a family of paragraphs or stories. Laughter rarely rose to the ceiling. Now, with one of the speakers forever hushed, we were destined to be something less than complete.

Winter dissolved into spring; the strawberries mother planted last summer grew green, red, wild. We left nuts out all the time. Sometimes squirrels ate them; sometimes they’d sit until the birds got them or the ants swarmed them.

Sunrise reopened in summer, but never again did we hear our names called from the front patio as we walked up the street, never again did the light intonation of words follow us through the night, “not too late,” never again, upon our return, would we be met with a drunk asleep on the table with just enough consciousness to whisper “too late” when we passed through the kitchen to go to bed.

 

*West End is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible.

Coffee and your Character – Writer Wednesday

I’ve been thinking of coffee shops. And it’s not only because I’m a caffeine addict. Coffee and coffee shops are a part of our everyday lives and, therefore, our characters’ lives. What type of coffee shop and what they order will inform our readers of who they are in ways we won’t need to spell it out.

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I, personally, savor that first sip of morning tea. For a few moments, it’s the perfect temperature and I hold it close to my face, ready for the next sip as the first drips of bitter black tea warm my throat and my body, the caffeine going to work immediately to bring me to full wakefulness in anticipation of a busy day.

A friend described a man in her carpool who stopped every day at Starbucks for a large quadruple espresso latte on their way to work and on their drive back from work. But, she added, he also complained constantly about his budget. This told me a lot about the person in just a few sentences.

Does your character rush into Starbucks and curse the line? Probably orders ahead for pick up, but what if it’s not there? Or is your character the kind that seeks out the independent coffee shop because it may be less busy or just because it’s independent.

There used to be a coffee shop on Ventura Blvd between Hazeltine and Woodman. I don’t pinkremember the name, but I do remember the walls were pink. I liked it for it’s small town charm. Local home made jams lined the shelves behind me while local artists’ paintings adorned their walls. They only had a few wooden tables, a few more outside, and a few bar-type seats at the counter. Instead of the iced black or green tea choices at you-know-where, I opted for their daily choices, which might icled iced peach or raspberry-ginger. They offered an array of vegan or gluten free cookies as well. Who could resist?

I used this coffee shop in my story “Harvey Levin Can’t Die” (originally published in Pilcrow and Dagger Sept 2016). The story really is about change. How society reflects the harveylevincan't dieindividual and how the individual internalizes society. One of the characters worked there, but felt out of place. This also represented her life, she felt out of place and hadn’t really begun to make real decisions about who she was or what she wanted. But, of course, that changed and so did her involvement in the coffee shop and the guests as she becomes more proactive in her life. The reader is left to decide the interaction between her and society and whether the influence is good or bad.

It would have implied something different about my character if she’d worked at a chain coffee shop. The chain itself would have had an influence and been a foil. She wouldn’t have been able to grow and and the readers couldn’t see the change within the coffee shop itself; therefore, the setting was important in that instance.

Each place, each chain, is different. The people who go to the local Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company are different than those who go to Pete’s or even Starbucks. As writers, I imagine we’ve all spent time in these places. And our jobs as writers are to observe. Beyond the color scheme and coffee served, there’s a different atmosphere garnered by and at these places, and the people are different or act different.

I rarely see the impatient phone-bearing customers from the Monday morning Starbucks run at Pete’s. Nor do I see the more relaxed culture of the Pete’s “give me the multi-grain scone and flipped macchiato” at Coffee Bean.

1dollarstorysmashwordsI used another independent coffee shop for “$1.00 Stories” (originally published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal April – 2016). A mixture of independent coffee shops, one of which still squeaks by in the recesses of North Hollywood. I wanted a friendly owner and regulars my character would recognize. Not that he cared about them; it was more important for the story that they were familiar with Cris, and they accepted with good-natured-humor his occasional weirdness. I didn’t want to make him completely unlikable. I wanted him to come across as a little more complex, so he went to this coffee shop where he knew the owner and sneered at the community table while the regulars chuckled.

The joy I get from using independent coffee shops (or even invented coffee shops) is that I get to describe them, which will also tell us something about the character. In “Harvey Levin”, the character hated the pink walls. But using a chain also tells us something about the character.

Our characters are going to need caffeine at some point in the story. Giving the reader their choice of coffee shops, even in one line, gives the reader an insight into the person we’re creating.

Now my tea’s cold. But I don’t own a microwave and that never tastes good anyway.

 

Harvey Levin Can’t Die is available on Kindle and at Smashwords.

$1.00 Stories is available at Kindle and at Smashwords.

 

 

Existential Crisis or not?

After the farmer’s market, some mornings, I drive around, usually down Ventura Blvd. It’s been conducive to considering life, writing. 21741308_1794773787218606_5919141729243852808_o

I find that I usually stop somewhere for a coffee and write.
Even though I’m widely published in literary journals and other, my own work doesn’t sell much. I’m probably not that great at marketing; however, it may also be due to the fact that I don’t write genre fiction and few people know what to expect when I say literary fiction.

Obviously, it’s up to me if I want to change what I write. But, this afternoon, sifting through donations of people’s old clothes to go to different centers, places, and people who need them, I thought – I’m here to do more than write the next big romance or homelessaction/adventure story. I’m here to tell stories of real people and real lives, hard lived. ($1.00 Stories was inspired by a true story of a homeless man who wrote stories and felt he earned enough to live on)
The novel I spent the spring writing (and is currently making the rounds to publishers) is about a young man who is a recovering drug addict and a woman who spent her life allowing others to make choices for her.

I’ve allowed my heart and my life to be touched by a great many different people. Hearing and interpreting other’s stories, trying to understand and learning to empathize with individuals makes life worth living. Writing stories that people can connect with because they have a sister, brother, aunt who has experienced something similar is important to me.

My purpose is to tell the stories that are hard to write, hard to hear, and give real life meaning. This might mean I don’t make the homelessbest seller’s list, but it also might mean my work touched someone, taught someone, helped another human being experience empathy for a friend or stranger’s life.

My last few stories “Deception” is about how we lie to ourselves and each other,“The Gold Tooth” deals with a sibling who will never be what we hoped for them.  My poems, “H” and “Hunger”, both of

which will appear in Wild Woman Medicine Circle next month, explore hardships people must endure because of others’ expectations.

This is what I choose to write, I was born to write. It has meaning to me. I hope others finding it meaningful to them.

Delphinium – with care, blooms twice

Sticking to their word, Delphinium blooms again. The lovely editors at REaDLips have promised to give some of the proceeds of Delphinium’s Summer Issue 2017 (and going into the future) to literacy programs.  I’m beginning to appreciate Delphinium and those at REaDLips more than ever. They are showing themselves to have a heart, to care about our society. I am more than proud to be affiliated with this journal, proud to be published a long side amazing award winning authors as well as my own students. That’s right! Lynn Johnson was a student in my African – American Literature class. Her poem, published in Delphinium, was one she wrote in response to one of our readings and shared in class as part of her creative project.

I hope you’ll give Delphinium a read, and not because I’m published in it (well, not JUST because), the journal features authors and artists of diverse cultures and it will benefit art and literacy programs.

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Enter to win

Ladies and gentlemen,

To celebrate my summer release of as-of-yet-unnamed book of short stories, I’m giving away books for the next few months. Enter to win a copy of West End on GoodReads!

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