Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Saturday, September 11, 2010


In 2001, the population of the United States was 285,669,915, which sounds like a lot of people. But on September 11, 2001, we found out just how small our part of the world really is. Because everyone in America suddenly seemed to know someone who had died in one of those planes or in the Towers or in the Pentagon or in that field in Pennsylvania.

And if they didn't know someone personally, they knew someone who knew someon and it felt personal. My sister knew a college friend. My roommate knew a favorite teacher.

My brother knew Mohammad Atta--the man who became the face of hate. There were 19 hijackers but Atta always got top billing and today, his is the only name anyone really remembers.

My brother represented Atta on some sort of traffic matter. The case was dismissed. And my brother and the most notorious hijacker in the history of America went their separate ways. Until September 11th when Rob suddenly saw a face he knew flashing up on CNN.

Its' a big country but we're all family. In the words of the 17th century poet John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Less is More

I have been thinking about word count as I write the introduction to my short story collection (Just Another Day in Paradise, coming next month). I'm titling the essay "Long Story Short" and I have been thinking about how you only hear that phrase when it's way too late to make a long story short and the speaker has tried the patience of his or her listeners.

At Dark Valentine, we capped the word count at 5000 and promptly made several exceptions for stories we thought were exceptional. Beginning with the winter issue, though, we're going to be sticklers. I know, I know, I know. A story takes as long as it takes, but very, very few stories justify a word length of more than 5000 words. For example, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is only 3773 words. Frank Stockton's classic tale, "The Lady or the Tiger?" is 2747 words long. Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" comes in at 2811. Two of O. Henry's best-loved stories, "The Gift of the Magi" (2163) and "The Ransom of Red Chief" (4372) were comfortably under 5000 words.

Virginia Woolf's "A Haunted House" is only 710 words long. James Joyce's short story "Araby" is only 2399 words long. Come on, if James Joyce--the most wordstruck writer in English can write a short story that comes in at under 3000 words, there's no excuse to not write economically.

Of course, there are exceptions. Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" is worth every single word of its 8426 length. D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner" (6015) and Jack London's "To Build a Fire" (7176) are masterpieces.

If you're curious about the word count of the best short stories ever, there's a site that breaks it down for you: Classic Short Stories Bibliography. Worth spending a little time there because they have clickable links to the stories themselves.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not Another Self-Promotion Post

Not that I don't like talking about myself, but enough is enough. Today it's all about the food and the freelancing.

Artist Susan Burghart shared a link from Tuesday's post on Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog "Want to Be a Freelancer? Just Punch Yourself in the Face Instead."

It's both true and hilarious and was followed up by yesterday's "Why You Should Freelance Despite All that Face-punching Business."

All in all, he comes out pretty solidly on the idea of freelancing.

While I was looking for his link, I ran across another post in Freelance: UK that had a couple of rules for freelancers that included the advice: Don't Work With People You Don't Like. Amen to that one. I have, in the lean times, convinced myself that I could deal with certain people, despite their well-known tendencies to be (let's put it nicely) jerks. It never ends well, even if they do finally pay you after whining that your agreed-upon fee was outrageously high. (This from a man who drives a car that cost him what a three-bedroom house in San Antonio would go for.)

Meanwhile, a link from a CNN story took me to Kendra Bailey Morris' blog. She writes for the Richmond Times Dispatch, which is published in the heart of southern cooking territory, so there's none of this business about fusion food or fussy. One of her blogs is called Flapjacks and Foie Gras, which gives you an idea of her sense of humor. Imagine her as Paula Deen without all the butter.

I also stumbled across the Edgy Veggie, The author doesn't post that often, but when she does, you get a lot more than a recipe, you get a meditation on food and culture that leaves you feeling satisfied intellectually as well as wanting to go out and get the ingredients for whatever she's cooking. Currently the post is about "Harira," a traditional Moroccan soup that is served to break the Ramadan fast. It's one of those dishes that's endlessly customizable.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blatant Brother Promotion

I come from a family of artists and lawyers and my brother Robert is both. He's always "done art" but a few years ago he got a digital camera and now he sees the world through its lens. He carries the camera everywhere and gets some great shots.

I created a Red Bubble account for him because I really like his work and think others might like it too. There are only three pictures up right now--one of his best, a portrait of two owls from his backyard--is currently hiding somewhere in my files, but there will be more to come. Check him out here if you like pretty pictures...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion Saturday

If you haven't already heard about Nigel Bird's "Dancing With Myself" series of self-interviews with writers and publishers, head over to Sea Minor and take a look. The current subject is writer R. J. Ellory, my turn was on Thursday. (See my interview here.) The interviews are a blast to read and Nigel has got some really interesting people lined up for the future.

Speaking of Nigel, his story "Silver Street" is in the Autumn issue of Dark Valentine, which is available now on the site. The story was inspired by a photo prompt Cormac Brown put up over at Cormac Writes. And speaking of Cormac, congratulations to him for being included in the new flash fiction anthology from Untreed Reads.

Dark Valentine will be publishing one of Cormac's stories in our October Fiction Frenzy--31 days of dark tales to celebrate our favorite holiday, Halloween. (Well, okay, we actually like Christmas a lot too.)

DV is looking for more stories to fill out the frenzy, especially if they're ghost stories or Halloweenie tales. (And I would love, love, love to see some dark SF come our way.)

And speaking of Dark Valentine (and I seem to be doing that a lot today), on Monday (Labor Day), a serial story by writer Scott J Laurange will begin in 11 parts. (And by the way, the missing period after his initial is not a typo--he prefers it that way.) Called "A Knight's Tale," it is a modern take on Canterbury Tales.

Pamela Jaworska, the incredibly talented artist who has been contributing to DV (and before that, to Astonishing Adventures Magazine) has done original illustrations for each of the 11 chapters. It's a great story and I think you'll like it, so check it out, beginning Monday.

And speaking of incredibly talented artists, Jane Burson has created the cover for DV's Winter issue. It connects to a story by Christine Pope, a gorgeous, Russian-flavored take on The Snow Queen. You can see the cover here.

And speaking of Dark Valentine still--writer Jim Harrington has a creepy little tale, "Sharing a Rise on a Rainy Morning" in the Autumn issue. He invited me to participate in his "Six Questions" series. You can see that here. I highly recommend you check the series out because editors tell people EXACTLY what they want.

I think that's about it. Even I am sick of hearing about Dark Valentine Magazine.