Author Archives: Eleanor Ingbretson
CLUCKS, MEOWS, ARFS, TRUMPETINGS AND SOME CHITTERING
This afternoon I framed the invitation to my daughter’s wedding in one of those two sided plastic frames that stand on their own, the two sides opposite each other. On the facing side I placed a picture of her when she was about 8 or 9. In the picture she’s sitting on the kitchen floor, her three chickens vying for her attention and all three sitting in her lap, an overturned bowl of chicken food nearby. She was a chicken lover, and the funny thing is that given three chickens now she’d do the same thing. She had names for her chickens which I can’t remember, but she would. She’ll never forget them.
She’d like time to write someday and I bet that her stories will include chickens.
My novel. I like the sound of that. I even like the story though no one else seems to. Outside of my group anyway. My novel has a cat. We weren’t around chickens a lot, growing up in Queens, but we always had cats and I remember each and every one. Cats in stories always add coziness to a cozy, make a thriller more thrilling and a fantasy more bizarre. I don’t know why but a cat has all the potential of an extra character with paranormal abilities even if they are just being themselves.
My fictional cat, Woodrow, does nothing but eat and sleep. He does sniff out the antagonist in one scene but the humans are not perceptive enough to recognize his odd behavior as significant. They give him food which shuts him up. He’s ordinary. But, as a cat he has the potential to deliver ALL that cats are known for: sneakiness, faithfulness, ruthlessness, bravery, devotion and otherworldliness. Woodrow just doesn’t deliver any of that. Maybe (sardonic laughter) in the sequel.
Could a chicken add as much to a story? Can anyone remember a story they’ve read where the protagonist is bound up in a relationship with their chicken?
Dogs figure largely in novels and no denying they are fun, but they don’t have the cache of a cat. Try thinking of what dogs symbolize and they’ll fall flat and short of a cat. In fact they are usually the fall guy in a book with a cat AND a dog. They bite and growl. If your story needs that, throw in a dog or two.
Elephants. They’re like large cats. Mysterious. You never know what they’re thinking. I loved the ending of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. A cat would do that. Or get the elephant to do it for him. They have the same mindset. The trouble with elephants is their size; far too big for anything but a circus or the African veldt.
Parrots. They think like cats and elephants. And they add color. Suspense, too, if you’ve ever been around one. They’ll rip into you if you’re not careful. And they’ll talk and spill the beans if someone is killed in their presence. But only if they liked the victim. They can come in handy for that special story.
Monkeys are underused. They could deliver some intrigue as in, I wonder what the monkey over the mantelpiece is going to do, and when. Like the proverbial gun they’re way too obvious, however. They stand out like a sore thumb in a typical setting. Cats patrol the floors, just under the radar, always on the alert, as invisible as the old family retainer who waits. Monkeys are not subtle.
I’m waiting for the chicken story. And I’m looking forward to the big day.
Woke up this morning to temperatures that would not rise to see minus 1, Fahrenheit.
The bed was warm but I couldn’t stay in bed forever. My husband, after scanning the weather reports, informed me that it is warmer in Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and Antarctica. Granted, it is summer in Antarctica, but, really . . .
The furniture is cold till I sit for awhile and release some body heat into the cushions. Throws cover me from top to bottom. I need gloves to read.
Only the cat is warm. He sleeps on the heat register and blocks the heat from the wood stove in the basement from rising any farther than his fur. It’s his job and he takes it seriously.
It will be like this for at least a week.
Readers are prepared for this eventuality. It is the same eventuality as being laid up with a cold, as I am right now. And, following so closely on the heels of Christmas, we must certainly have gotten new stockpiles of books to keep us going. I received two gift certificates for my e-reader, a book of cat cartoons and cat short stories from the New Yorker, a Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter mystery in French, and, from the library, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. That should be enough for now, but if the weather cold and the viral cold continue then, by gum, I’ll have to dip into an older pile of books.
Perish the thought that I should write something while waiting for my brain to warm up. My blood has become sluggish, the synapses in my brain have gone on holiday. I’ve become like molasses in January before January. Dulled and stupefied by internal and external attacks on my well-being I have hunkered down to await warmer muses.
It is possible that a thought worthy of being written down will actually worm its way into my mind during this period of hunkering. I wouldn’t say nay if I had one, I wouldn’t resist it, but I haven’t much hope. Those mercurial Muses enjoy more temperate environments, not fevered minds in frozen bodies.
It is the practice in Iceland to give books on Christmas Eve and then spend Christmas day reading. It’s not a bad idea.
But then it is warmer in Iceland than it is here.
Warm wishes for a Happy New Year to all.
Happy reading and productive writing.
TERMINAL MEDIOCRITY OR CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE. What’s it to be?
There’s quite a distance between terminal mediocrity and conscious competence but there are also steps, conscious, and unconscious steps, to take from one end of this spectrum to the other. Or, you could continue to fly in a holding pattern over the spot you’ve called your comfort zone.
- Unconscious incompetence (also known as terminal mediocrity) lies at the beginning of everything. It’s a baby crying in the cradle. He can’t do a thing for himself and doesn’t know he can’t. Because he is unconscious of his state he could be doomed to terminal mediocrity as a human being. Because he is a human, however, his mind develops and he strives to grow, to achieve to whatever he is capable. Random crying becomes selective crying for example. The baby has moved on to:
- Conscious incompetence. Usually at this point he is not called a baby but a child, but that’s semantics at work. This stage could last forever. The child is still incompetent and he knows it. He can use his wiles but cannot control his functions. He becomes frustrated and carries on like a two year old, because that is what he is. Perish the thought he should remain in this state or his frustrations will consume him. Young men and women in their twenties are usually finished with this stage. Mid-twenties denotes the completion of the judgement functions of the brain.
- . . .
Okay, you say, we’ve been reading this drivel for some time now. What gives?
What gives is my fevered brain at work trying to generate a idea of when I will finally achieve my writing goals. At this point I seem to be hovering over the following step. So, if you will allow me to continue?
3. Unconscious competence. I’ve been in this holding pattern for some time; maybe eight years. Which is bad because I’ve been writing for eight years. I’m holding unto some of step two, the frustration. That combined with the knowledge that I can write (see step four) leaves me in some sort of a no-where land, like a teenager but worse since somehow I’ve gotten to elder-hood without watching where I was going. I know I want to write, and I write, but I’m not certain of the correctness of everything that appears on the page. Think teenage boy driving before his brain has fully developed. No, don’t think of that. Think practice can make perfect.
4. . . .
Yes, there’s one more. But I’ll leave out the follow-up commentary. How’s that?
4. Conscious Competence. This is the ultimate goal. The pinnacle, the apex. To know what you want to do, and how to do it. No faltering. A confidence backed up by knowledge. Getting out of the comfort zones of all the preceding stages and moving ahead. That’s where I want to be. Confident.
by Dave Pasquantonio
Congratulations—you finished your novel! You crafted nail-biting tension and perfect character arcs. You killed darlings and kept reader promises. And that ending? It sings. You’re done!
But wait—93,827 words? Uh-oh. You really wanted to come in under 90K. And that last editing pass was thorough. You killed off three secondary characters, consolidated scenes, and took out those boring pages where Wilhelm and Gene talked about that time they saw the moose. There’s nothing left to cut!
Or is there?
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E-PUBBING, NOT FOR THE TIMID
I experimented with e-pubbing a bunch of short stories. I happened to have seven short, short and flash fantasy stories hanging around with nothing to do and I put them to work.
Writing them was the easy part.
My group informed me that I was now the expert in case any of them wanted to e-pub. I have news: I have no idea how it’s done or how to do it.
I went through Smashwords since it sits on my dashboard looking interesting. No other site clamored for my stories and really, it must be five years since that icon of a hand smashing closed a book has tried to get me to notice it.
So, I sent Smashwords my collection of short, shorts. They immediately answered back that yes, they wanted me. I was thrilled. I had passed their initial look-see but now the stories needed to get formatted.
I read the instructions on formatting and wanted to weep. I had no clue to what they were talking about. No problem, they said, here’s a list of independent formatters who will fix it for you. It needed fixing? Why?
I chose a formatter at random from their list. He was very nice and formatted it the way they liked. I have no idea what he did. But one thing that gave me no end of joy was the fact that he hyperlinked my ToC (Table of Contents) to the correct pages. I had read the how to’s on hyperlinking and wanted to beat my head against a wall. But, to be hyperlinked? Oh joy.
You need to have a profile, they said. Okay, I can write a profile. I am supposed to be a writer. I wrote a profile and successfully sent it to them. I was a genius. I went up a couple of notches in my own estimation.
Now you need a picture of yourself. I had a photo that was enough years old to be flattering. It was a distance shot. I found it on file and tried to crop it and save it to send. Well, I saved the outside border that I thought I’d cropped off. No idea where the center of the picture went. My son sent them a different pic.
Cover picture. Well, something indicative of one of the stories, right? I tried to get a stock photo from the internet of a cute little goldfish. One that looked intelligent. Goldfish have attention spans of 3 seconds. It’s impossible for them not to have a ‘duh’ expression. I asked my husband to give me a hand. Paint me an intelligent looking goldfish, please. I was so reminded of the part in “The Little Prince” by Saint Exupery where the prince asks the pilot to draw him a sheep. And the pilot did, over and over. Well, we finally did get an intelligent, in that it’s inquisitive looking, goldfish. But it’s not enough just to paint it and photograph it and superimpose the lettering on it, there was something to do with pixels, for crying out loud. I wanted to forget the whole thing. Writers are not meant for this kind of work. My son fixed the pixels.
These different critical pieces of an e-pubbed book were sent to Smashwords over the course of a month. They never got impatient with me, oh no. They didn’t need my book, they have published in e-reader format almost a half million books.
Did I need them? I didn’t need the aggravation, but now that it’s done I look back at it as a different form of child-birth, one that I wasn’t quite ready for.
Will be available for purchase on November 7, 2017.
A BAKER’S HALF DOZEN is a new collection of flash and short, short fantasy tales for all ages. Seven stories, including three award winners, deal with life in the weird lane. Often humorous, sometimes poignant, but all odd. Something not quite right this way cometh.
Who doesn’t love a Woolly Mammoth? I’m so glad they’re coming back. Hope I live long enough to see one.
(What started me off on this? An article that visited my in-box this morning. Don’t they have a way of doing that, these off-the-wall emails that send your day into a curve you never dreamed of?)
Anyway, these lovable creatures roamed over all the world at one time. They stood up to 12 feet at the shoulder and ate lots. In frozen Siberia there are ice caves that have been transformed into laboratories to study mammoths dug from the permafrost. In not so nice times in the Russian past, inhabitants of gulags got to eat the frozen mammoths they unearthed. I wonder what they taste like?
In the first book of Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series, ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’, I learned that Neanderthals hunted mammoths and roasted their meat over open fires. Then they smoked quantities of left-overs to carry home to their families. What rollicking times they must have had back then. Jean M. Auel did extensive research for this book and for the whole series. She joined a survival class and learned to construct an ice cave, make a fire using primitive methods, tan leather and knap stones (flint) for knives. She was also a member of Mensa, that elite club for super smarties. You have to stand back for a moment and imagine putting a member of Mensa in a Neanderthal world. That is mind boggling.
But that, unfortunately, was the only book in the series that I’ve read. Next time I get a cold I’ll curl up with her next in the series. ‘The Valley of Horses’ I think it is. What fun.
Another mention of mammoths I’ve read and enjoyed is Thomas Pierce’s short story called ‘Shirley Temple Three’. It’s found in his collection of short stories called Hall of Small Animals. In the story, Mawmaw’s son Tommy; “works as the host of a popular show called ‘Back from Extinction’. On each episode they actually bring back long-dead, forgotten creatures – saber-toothed tigers, dodo birds, and all the rest. The show is a a little controversial, but people seem to enjoy it. Tommy always looks so handsome in his khaki safari vest”. So, guess what? In this story Tommy brings home a baby mammoth to Mawmaw in order to save it from certain death.
Which brings us full circle; bringing back the woolly Mammoth. Not as crazy as it sounds, apparently. Researchers are studying a frozen male mammoth from Northern Siberia hoping to either use his DNA, or sperm, to fertilize an Asian elephant’s egg. The Asian elephant has the closest DNA to the Mammoth’s, of all the elephants. Only a five percent difference.
All Europeans and Asians have maybe 3-4 percent Neanderthal genes in their DNA make-up. Makes you think; will we revert to our ancestor’s predilection for Mammoth meat in the future?
Jean M. Auel, you would get a kick out of this. Maybe you’re already on the team to bring back this luscious animal.
HAVE I GOT A CONTEST FOR YOU
Searching the internet for new and different venues for a short story I came across this gem:
Christopher Fielden’s Annual Short Story Competition
“To Hull And Back”
A Humorous Writing Contest
August 2017 sees the launch of the fifth To Hull And Back Short Story Competition, an annual short story contest with a humorous twist that celebrates the most imaginative and amazing short stories from writers all over the world.
Some highly prestigious writing contests offer huge cash prizes – the BBC award £15,000 and the Sunday Times give a whopping £30,000 to their winner. What can you win by entering this competition that contends with these short story prize giving heavyweights? THE most amazing, innovative and sought after writing prize on the planet. Forget the Pulitzer. THIS is the badger*.
If you’re selected as a winner:
You Will Win Cash
1st Prize: £1,000
2nd Prize: £500
3rd Prize: £250
3 x Highly Commended: £50
14 x Shortlisted: £25
But it doesn’t end there, my fine writing friends, oh no, not by a LONG shot.
You Will Be Published
All winners and short listed entries will be published in the To Hull And Back Short Story Anthology. This will be available as a professionally published, printed book and as a Kindle download. The book will have an ISBN number.
If you’re published in the book, a writer’s profile will appear alongside your story and on my website. This will consist of a delightful picture of you, a short bio telling readers all about how amazing you are and details of your website, if you have one.
In addition to this, an author interview with the winner will be published alongside their story.
And there’s more…
You Will Win the Most Awesomely Awesome in its Awesomeness Writing Prize in the Known Macrocosm
This is the bit that will send tingles down your spine. Joy will ravage your very being and you will feel compelled to dance naked for no reason, no matter where you might be. I guarantee it**.
The winner will be taken to Hell Hull and back.
Allow me to explain.
The winner’s face will appear on the front cover of the To Hull And Back Anthology. They will be depicted riding a flaming motorcycle and holding a quill of wrath. The covers from previous competitions can be seen below. Each year, the cover will be unique and created by a different artist.
That was my favorite contest for weirdness. Other contests of interest refused to be cut and pasted here, no matter how hard I tried. My fellow Thursday Night Writers know how I struggle with computer skills. Here’s a couple more:
THE SIXTH ANNUAL MOGFORD FOOD AND DRINK SHORT STORY COMPETITION
Any genre but food and drink must be at the heart of the winning tale.
Prize- 10,000 British pounds.
Limit of 2500 words
Due by Jan. 3, 2018
This is a fantastic website to visit. In fact you must visit it, it’s beautiful
THE SUNDAY TIMES
The British Sunday Times. Past winners have been Junot Diaz and Anthony Doerr.
Their first prize is $40,000 (American!). Highest purse for a short story in the world!
Do check this one out also.
I actually found one on Craigslist yesterday which offered a phenomenal people’s choice prize of something like $160,000. Of course, being Craigslist, it was gone today. Maybe someone bought it.
Keep slogging through the internet for just the right contest for your short story. As for me, I’m going to HULL AND BACK.
MAKING THINGS UP
It’s nice to know that there are judges out there who enjoy nonsense as well as I do. Who actually give prizes to writers of light fantasy. Writers who enjoy a little strangeness. Not a lot, mind you, just that wee bit of weird, that soupcon of screwiness, those bites of bizarre that flavor ordinary life with unordinary happenstances. Not talking creepy or spooky here, just a little quirky.
The Bethlehem Writers Group (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that is, not Bethlehem, New Hampshire, Israel, or any other place), honored me with a prize this year in their paranormal contest. I took third place, but I placed, and that’s all it takes to make me happy.
Here’s the link:
You’ll also be able to read the second place story but the first place winner will be published in their collection in 2018.
I wouldn’t have been able to wait until 2018 to see my story in print had I taken first place, third place gave me instant gratification. If I was an adept at the computer I’d be able to show you my certificate giving me even more gratification, but enough about me.
The September issue of WRITER’S DIGEST arrived last week and I’m enjoying the articles, as always, but not the fact that it’s the SEPTEMBER issue! I want more summer.
Anyway, I learned about the “the uninterrupted fictional dream,” a phrase coined by John Gardner. The following paragraph comes from Tess Callahan’s column, Train Your Eye for Better Writing in the Sept. issue.
“As readers, the most important thing to notice is often what we don’t notice – that is, how the writer keeps us immersed in what John Gardner in The Art of Fiction famously called “the uninterrupted fictional dream.” When we fall into that blissful dream as readers, it appears seamless on the part of the author. It’s not, of course.”
How I would love to have my readers fall into uninterrupted fictional dreams. It’s not only enjoyable for the reader but obviously fulfilling for the writer to know that not only do they have readers but these readers are falling into uninterrupted fictional dreams.
Here’s something else from Tess Callahan. She relates writing a story to a painter working on a canvas.
“Most visual artists don’t start on a big canvas without doing countless thumbnail sketches that help sharpen their skills and drive their vision. Writers can benefit from the same.
“What I’m suggesting here is not outlining, which comes from the rational brain and works for some writers, but rather quick, loose drafts that spring from the subconscious like dreams and proceed image by image.
To write this way means you must be working on the whole canvas at once, relating one image to another across distances. To get stuck in one corner of the canvas risks losing the thread that connects it to the whole living organism of the story.”
In another article, same issue, Taming the Inner Critic, by David Corbett, I found this bit of profundity:
“Simplicity is the true hallmark of elegance, and over complication is the refuge of the confused.”
That was a somewhat bothersome statement even though I happen to think it’s true. Bothersome because I think that the story I’m working on now is verging on the overcomplicated and if it is I suppose it will fall down in the uninterrupted fictional dream department. And I wouldn’t like that to happen at all.
I have zero tolerance for hot weather; one of the reasons I moved up to rural New Hampshire from balmy NYC and Boston.
This spring, after freezing my patootie off during a very unseasonably cold May, I now find myself, in June, melting like a slug on salt.
I wanted warm all through May. Now I want an Arctic cold front to push in. I want, I want , I want. Where will it end? Is there a permanent perfect temperature anywhere? How can I curl up with a good book in this sort of environment? Summer is for fun, but twenty degrees cooler would be a lot more fun.
Northerners sweat, Southerners wouldn’t even break a dew (genteel southern way of saying perspire) on these ninety degree days. It’s all in what you’re used to, I suppose.
Jane Austen – a brilliant woman who composed all her stories in pen on paper, no spell check, no cut and paste, no computer! – said this about summer days:
“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.”
Of course, any day in England with enough sunshine to create shade to sit in was a fine day. But to sit in the shade means to find a cool spot under a tree. Did Jane’s England have ticks? Mosquitoes? Black flies? It seems they didn’t. Or at least they were never complained about. Or did I just miss those magic moments when Elizabeth and Darcy, proclaiming their love one to another, ceased their proclamations to run screaming from a swarm of black flies to find shelter in Longbourn? Or when the Bennet women, intent upon embroidery in their cool sitting room, fell, one by one, to the sensation of ticks walking around under their copious underclothing? Had the ticks dropped from the majestic English oaks onto their coiffed hair as they sat in the shade looking upon verdure? It happens here all too often. Jane, possibly wanting to avoid unpleasant topics, alluded only to such things as baby sisters running off with scoundrels and bringing shame upon the family name. There she was comfortable.
I don’t mean to copycat the subject of ticks from Karen’s last post but it’s such an alluring subject and unavoidable when speaking of verdure on a fine day. And heat. They all seem to go hand in hand.
And, why do ticks seek out the most annoying parts of the body to engorge themselves on blood, leaving their calling cards behind in the form of cellulitis and Lyme disease? Jane, can you answer that little conundrum?
So, I stay holed up in the house until I can see that a wisp of wind is stirring the branches of the mighty oaks and maples. Then I’ll venture out onto the verdure. Perchance there will be a game of croquet on the lawn, perhaps the cold front will move in. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
AN APPROPRIATE TIME
1 To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
In Ecclesiastes we read that there is a time for this and a time for that. In the twentieth century Pete Seeger, The Byrds, and Simon and Garfunkel revisited these verses through their music. Writers constantly revisit the question: where and when (how, why, who, and by whom) should a murder be committed.
An agent I spoke with during a pitch session was adamant about when murders occur. She said, “One in the beginning (first page) one in the middle and one at the end. There had to be at least three”. I didn’t comment, after all, I was pitching, she was catching. But I disagreed. I have always disagreed with that formula.
Heidi, a fellow writer at Thursday Night Writes, agrees with me. This is what she wrote to me this morning:
“I just reached the first murder in my current reread of Ngaio Marsh: on page 111 of a 247-page book. So let’s have none of their nonsense about a murder on the first page.”
Exactly. With a first page murder where is the time for loving and hating, a build up to WHY.
Where is the time for being born, so we know WHO?
Where is the time to gather stones together so we can figure out BY WHOM?
And what about a time to plant in order to know WHERE or HOW.
Moby Dick didn’t kill Ahab till the very end of a very long book. And maybe Moby Dick isn’t the best example since it’s so long and drawn out, but in the course of the story the intentions of the two protagonists (Yes, two. I have always sided with the whale) are revealed to the reader. At the end of the book it was definitely time for Ahab to be plucked up. Definitely.
In a cozy we want to dwell on our characters and their emotions. By having a murder on the first page we lose a lot of opportunities for them, and especially for our protagonist, to weep and laugh and mourn and dance; to build them up and flesh them out. Flash forwards are the answer you say. Flashbacks. Sure, they can work, but I say there nothing like a straightforward build up of actions leading to straightforward consequences.
There’s a time for everything and everything in its time.