Thursday, August 23, 2012

Shout Her Lovely Name, by Natalie Serber

I recently wrote this up on my book review blog, but I think it should probably be here as well, as it a review of a very fine collection of short stories

Every once in awhile I see the complaint that writers and readers are now all part of one big mutual admiration society. Here's an example. For all I know this is true, although I certainly don't think you can blame the authors for any publicity schemes they might come up with, as, much more often than not, they are left high and dry by their publishers' marketing departments, who tend to be focussed, like everyone else in the publishing game, on the big fish and the big score.

Every once in awhile though, the opposite effect happens. You happen to know the author when they are still a struggling unpublished writer. Maybe they're your next door neighbor, or someone you work with or someone's spouse. You admire the gumption maybe, but you don't think it's going to take them very far. Or maybe that's just me, because I've worked in the book biz for a long time, and  I know a little bit about the odds.

I know a fair number of writers now, but so far only a couple have I known before their books came out. One was Laurie R. King, who chatted to me at my housemates' backyard barbecue about a mystery she was working on. I was polite and sympathetic, but I didn't think it would amount to much. That was before Grave Talent won the Edgar for Best First Novel in 1994, and much before her acclaimed Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series took off like gangbusters. So much for my predictive powers.

I should have known better, then, when Natalie Serber's stories began appearing around town. I believe she actually won first place in a short story contest that the bookstore I work in started hosting while she still lived here.I know Natalie a little, mainly because she is a close friend of one of my long time friends. We very briefly shared a book group. So  I must stress that I never thought she wasn't any good--I think I just thought her semi-autobiographical stories would hold more local interest than national.

Well, I sure don't mind admitting I was wrong. Shout Her Lovely Name is a terrific collection. I'd place it right up there with another favorite, Melissa Bank's The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, which also exploits what I assume is autobiographical content to lovely effect. Natalie's collection mainly tracks the ups and downs of Ruby and her daughter Nora, but there are a few unrelated stories thrown in as well. Although I suppose these are a bit disruptive to our more pure involvement with this picaresque pair, I sure wouldn't sacrifice the powerful title story for the sake of purity. The collection is held together by a more universal vision of the lives of mothers and daughters, and the  incidental vagaries of men.

All these stories but particularly the second person Ruby/Nora stories are beautifully observed, with a writerly eye for the telling detail. Although there is a clear gap between the generations, there is none of the" revenge on the parents!" feeling that plagues many writers' stories when they are first granted permission to unleash them. Ruby isn't perfect, but neither is Nora. Neither is anybody else.

I really enjoyed this collection and very much look forward to seeing what Natalie Serber, writer-at-large, will do next.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Flash Fiction advice from David Gaffney

Now that you know that Istories wants your work, here's a timely little bit of advice from Sawn-Off Tales author David Gaffney on how to really make these little tales deliver...

Come on, you know you want to.

Monday, August 6, 2012


No, not stories driven by excessive ego. Istories.  You know--the ones that work with your Iphone app.

I'm not a huge fan of Iphones, apps and all that world. but Narrative Magazine disagrees with me and they are asking for Istories to go with their free app. It's not as technology heavy as you might first think. An Istory is just a very short piece of fiction, up to 150 words long, and if they publish you, they'll pay you.

The catch is that there is an entry fee, and for a very short piece it seems a bit steep. But you get some perks from it even if you don't win. In any case, the rules are here. And if you'd like to see what a winning Istory looks like, go here. The selections are actually quite good.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

International Thriller Writers, Inc.

I just became a member of International Thriller Writers, Inc. a couple of days ago. Before I get on to some actual story content in my next post, I thought I'd tell you how this came about, because I think it's instructive.

Some while ago, I wrote a story for a story challenge. I've mentioned the story here before, but it was written in reponse to a blog challenge to write a contemporary crime story based on a classic fairytale. I had responded to one or two of these challenges before, and realized that it was an enjoyable way to write stories for me. A few years ago I had gotten pretty heavily into the more official submissions world, where you send a story out endless times and hope that someone will take it. I had some results, but frankly, it's a lot of effort, and not just writing effort, for a little return. Writing stories for fun and having them immediately featured somewhere seemed a lot more rewarding. But honestly, since it was just for a blog, I really didn't think about consequences, other than that a few more people would read it than might otherwise.

Well, the blog host, John Kenyon, somehow was in connection with the folks at Untreed Reads, and they thought it was a good idea for an ebook. All of us who participated in this challenge eventually became the authors of Grimm Tales, and the book was published just before Christmas of last year. It connected me to a good group of talented crime writers and has added to my life in that way.

There is an even longer term effect, though, in that Untreed Reads itself has just recently been granted the status of an ITW recognized publisher, which means in turn that all Untreed Reads writers are entitled to membership in the ITW. That's right...even someone with one, tiny, not particularly criminal story gains entrance. And that someone would be me.

Obviously, I hope, I'm not writing this post to brag, because let's face it, it's a pretty poor brag to say you managed to barely sneak in an open door. What I'm really trying to show is that luck is a big factor in the writing game, and you just never know where anything will lead. If you have a story for a story challenge or anything like that, for heavens sake, write it. Because you just never know what's going to happen next.