14th Annual Dead of Winter Writing Contest

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The 14th Annual Dead of Winter Writing Contest is OPEN!

Dead of Winter is a horror fiction contest. This year’s theme is: TOYS IN THE ATTIC.

Stories submitted to the 14th Annual Dead of Winter contest (December 2014) must use the theme Toys In the Attic. A child’s plaything must feature prominently in your story and the story setting should be an attic, penthouse, or other “top floor.” Be creative with other setting elements, including time period and geographic location.

Be sure to read both the Dead of Winter contest rules and the general contest guidelines before submitting your entry.

Deadline for entries is December 21.

Questions? Feel free to ask them here or at the forums.

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Excerpts From My Commonplace Book: On Not Writing

Absolute BlankBy Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

By far the most popular article I’ve written for Toasted Cheese is “Keeping a Commonplace Book” (see Top Posts Today in the sidebar for evidence; it’s always there!). As I mentioned in that article, for several years now, I’ve been collecting quotes on my blog and many of those quotes are writing-related. So when casting about for a topic for this month’s article, it occurred to me that the same people who are interested in the how-tos of commonplacing might also be interested in some of the content I put in mine.

I decided to take a ‘quotes on a theme’ approach and pull quotes that relate to a specific topic. It turns out I’ve collected a lot of writing quotes, so there will likely be future articles on other themes, but for this month’s article, I chose the theme of “not writing”—a subject that seems to be of universal concern to writers. If you wrote fewer words in 2014 than you intended to—this one’s for you. Take heart. Not-writing is as much a part of the writing process as placing words on the page. If you’re in writing drought right now, remember the writing life is a cycle. One day the words will begin to flow again. Trust.

Background image: Mitchell Joyce/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Background image: Mitchell Joyce/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Writing is hard—writers say this all the time, and I think probably only other writers believe it. But it’s not nearly as hard, in my experience, as not writing. During my should-be-writing years, I thought about my novel all the time. Increasingly, these were not happy or satisfying thoughts. … I woke one night in the midst of a minor panic attack. It wasn’t unusual for me wake in the night, anxious and scared—and I always knew the source of the panic right away. But it was rare for my heavy-sleeping husband to wake at the same time. And instead of reassuring him and letting him get back to sleep, I told him the naked, humbling truth. I told him that if I didn’t finish my novel, I thought my future happiness might be at risk. He wiped his eyes and yawned and said, “OK. Let’s figure out how to make this happen.” It didn’t happen overnight, but the tide of my life shifted. —Susanna Daniel {+}

Studies on the nature of creativity have shown that people who consistently come up with more inventive and creative ideas are not necessarily innately gifted, nor are they necessarily more intelligent than other people. They are however capable of tolerating a certain level of mental discomfort. It works something like this: When our brains are presented with a problem—any problem—we feel slightly anxious. When we solve a problem, our brains release endorphins that make us feel good. So, we have a problem to solve, we often run with the first answer we come up with because it feels good (literally) to find a solution! But people who are willing to see that first solution, and then set it aside—delaying that endorphin high—while they continue to search for another answer, and another, and another… until they have compared all possible solutions and then chose the best option—and run with it—consistently come up with much more interesting, creative solutions.Molly Idle {+}

Not writing is important: it’s restorative. Taking a break from the work is also a part the work. Nobody really talks about that part of being a writer, and I know why they don’t. It’s scary. When I’m writing, I feel plugged in and energized and in sync. But when I’m not writing, I feel out of it. I have the very real fear that I’ll never be able to write anything ever again. When you look at the stiff, dark branches of trees in the winter, isn’t it hard to imagine those same trees all lush and full of leaves? But winter happens. Then spring comes. —Sarah Selecky {+}

Postal submissions taught writers that this vocation is not a sprint. Writing is a series of marathons separated by long respites, where we regain breath and build strength. It is time for writers to slow down again, so that our performance in the next race can be better, more meaningful, and if we are lucky, closer to the eternal, mysterious rewards of art. —Nick Ripatrazone {+}

Many of the successful published writers I hear talk on panels at conferences make it sound as if they are writing machines, as if they haven’t taken a day off from writing in years. Part of my success as a writer was not writing. If I hadn’t spent all those years teaching and reading and editing the work of other writers, I am certain I wouldn’t be the writer, and person, I am today. There are infinite ways to be a writer with a capital W, just as there are infinite ways to tell a story. —Julia Fierro {+}

There are a number of mysteries in [Penelope Fitzgerald’s] life, areas of silence and obscurity. One of these has to do with “lateness”. How much of a late starter, really, was she? She always said in interviews that she started writing her first novel (The Golden Child) to entertain her husband, Desmond Fitzgerald, when he was ill. But, like many of the things she told interviewers, there is something a little too simple about this. … There is a poignant note inside the back cover of her teaching notebook for 1969, a long time before she started to publish: “I’ve come to see art as the most important thing but not to regret I haven’t spent my life on it.” Yet the conversations she was having with writers in her teaching books show that she was always thinking about art and writing: they show how the deep river was running on powerfully, preparing itself to burst out.Hermione Lee {+}

I think that there is a case for saying that you have a bit more to say as you go through life. I mean, obviously there are people who write wonderful books in their early 20s. … But I think those people are the exception. Most of the time, I think one should just let these things mature. It’s no bad thing to start a writing career after you’ve experienced a bit of life.Alexander McCall Smith {+}

I have a blog, but I don’t do it properly. Months go by, years even, without me writing. Then suddenly I write a lot. Other people … other people blog properly. … The reason I don’t blog every day is because I am slow. … [U]ntil I’ve figured things out, I’m lost. Life for me is leaves blowing backwards. If I try to blog about it, I’m just snatching from the air. I have to wait until I’m clear of the leaves. Then I can look back and see what pattern they’ve been making, and their colours, and the fineness of their outlines. Other people are not lost at all. The precision of people who can blog all the time. It startles me, that clarity of leaves. —Jaclyn Moriarty {+}

Vertical writing … values depth over breadth. Stories are written when they are ready to be written; they are not forced into existence by planning or excessive drafting. … vertical writing seeks to dig into the page, to value the building of character and authenticity over the telegraphing of plot. … Vertical writing is no less work, but it is better work, work at the right time. It requires patience in the willingness to wait for a story to feel ready to be written, as well as the attention and focus necessary to inhabit the story once gestated.Nick Ripatrazone {+}

By and large really great writing from all wars comes a good time afterwards, when a person has had the time to let material develop and form itself, so that it’s not rhetorical. So that it’s not so heavily autobiographical. … It’s a bit like writing about cancer; there needs to be time. You need to find a way to transcend the tendency to put in every little detail. Just because it felt so important, it may not be important to the reader. And time is needed for imagination to come into play and to work with the material, to shape a story that may not be wholly in the real world, but only partly. —Tim O’Brien {+}

Nancy Slonim Aronie writes “great work comes after good work which comes after lousy work which comes after no work. remember that order.” please do. —Irene Nam {+}

What I forget, though, and what I am trying here to remember, is that the work does get done. Not every day, like the writing teachers recommend. Not even every week. But invariably, wherever I go, I write, just as inevitably I forget about having written, and subsequently worry. —Alex Gallo-Brown {+}

The time we have alone, the time we have in walking, the time we have in riding a bicycle, is the most important time for a writer. Escaping from the typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give a subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level. —Ray Bradbury {+}

Some of our most creative work gets done in downtime–waking from a nap, taking a walk, daydreaming in the shower. (Writers are particularly clean.) Downtime is when breakthrough ideas are delivered to us, unsummoned, when yesterday’s blockages somehow come unblocked. That’s because we treated ourselves to a little boredom and cleared our brains of the sludge of information. Try it. —William Zinsser {+}

I used to think that I needed wide open days and uncluttered hours to get important creative work done. Sometimes that’s true. But I’ve also learned that perhaps more important than what happens when I’m staring at the page is what happens when I’m not. How I chew on the idea in my downtime. My subconscious must know about the deadline—needs it, even—and works feverishly to pull it all together. Perhaps it’s even a pipe dream to imagine having something done early enough to bask in its finished glory with a glass of wine. And maybe that’s not even the point—writing is work and the furious finish is part of the process. —S. Hope Mills {+}

So You’re in a Writing Drought

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

What to do until the words return? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Go for a walk (or something else that’ll get you outside). Writers spend far too much time indoors hunched over a keyboard. If you think about your writing, great. If not, that’s ok, too. The fresh air will be good for your brain regardless.
  2. Read! Instead of beating yourself up over not-writing frustration, put it aside and pick up a book. If it’s a good book, it’ll inspire you. If it’s a bad book, well, rage is a powerful motivator. ;) If you’re in a long-term writing drought, create a reading project (a book a week, an author from each letter of the alphabet, bestsellers from the year you were born…) to keep yourself occupied.
  3. Stop pinning ‘how to create a commonplace book’ articles on your Pinterest and start your own commonplace book already! It can be as simple as starting a fresh board and pinning a few writing quotes on it. Here’s a search to get you started.

Toasted Cheese 14:4

The December 2014 issue of Toasted Cheese features poetry by Karen Bayly, Nabin Kumar Chhetri, Dave DeWitt Fulton, Paul Hostovsky, Dario Jimenez, Greg Moglia, Sanchari Sur & Shari Winslow and fiction by Erin Charvet, Max Dunbar, Eileen Gonzalez, Kyle Manning, Laura Marie & Lisa Sagrati.

TC 14:4 also includes the Fall 2014 Three Cheers and a Tiger Writing Contest winning stories by Jill Spencer, Amelia Diamond & Alexander Pawlowski.

At Candle-Ends, Shelley Carpenter reviews Drops on the Water by Eric G. Müller & Matthew Zanoni Müller.

This issue’s Snark Zone is by Stephanie “Baker” Lenz.

The cover image is by Juliet Culver, with additional photos by photographers around the world, all of whom have generously made their work available for use under Creative Commons licenses. Please click through and check out their photostreams.

Congratulations to all. Happy reading!

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

November 2014
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. The aftermath of an inappropriate Halloween costume.
  2. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: reasons, escape, detached, quality, tick
    2. Use the phrase, “New habits are fragile.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “I don’t know how to _______ anymore.”
  3. A broken elevator.
  4. Hoping nothing will go wrong
  5. Your MC is quarantined.
  6. St. Nicholas’ Day
  7. Use these 5 words: royals, salute, terrorist, collision, ruling.
  8. Violate a grammatical rule for good cause.
  9. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: slights, white, shame, silence, saying.
    2. Write about doing something in a very awkward position.
    3. Write about sitting calmly, visualizing coming action.
  10. The land is silent, waiting for the storm.
  11. A secret relationship.
  12. Write about a prosthesis or medical device.
  13. Write about your MC’s favorite drink.
  14. “Who ordered that?”
  15. One of your characters auditions for a reality competition show.
  16. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: benefits, worst, blue, middle, single.
    2. “Just because it’s impossible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”
    3. Use the phrase, “for _______-related reasons.”
  17. Use these 5 words: improv, undersea, album, clinching, snowfall.
  18. “Why not the best?”
  19. A gourmet chef who secretly prefers junk food.
  20. Checking numbers
  21. Heavy rain at night.
  22. Answer ‘no’ to an either/or question.
  23. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: name, result, demanded, hollow, season.
    2. Fill in the blank: “it would have been very different if _____”
    3. Write about running out of time.
  24. Working at midnight
  25. Use these 5 words: peace, games, reports, policy, tour.
  26. Should hurry home, but…
  27. A mystery date.
  28. “I can listen for eight minutes.”
  29. A meme based on a photo of your MC.
  30. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

What We Were Reading in 2014: Recommended by the Editors

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker) & Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

The real writer is one who really writes (thanks Marge Piercy), but writers need to read, too. As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” But with so much to choose from sometimes it’s hard to decide what to read next. So we asked the editors what they read this year and what they’d recommend to TC readers and here is what they had to say.

What We Were Reading In 2014

Background Image: Paul Bence/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Baker recommends:

Carsick by John Waters. Equal parts fiction and memoir, even more fun with the author-read audio book. Not to everyone’s taste but if it’s to your taste, we should get together for lunch.

Captain Marvel (ongoing series). Sometimes the “as you know Bob” element of comics deters me from reading but I am absolutely captured by the new Captain Marvel. The visuals are lush; the story and dialogue are well ahead of standard comics. Captain Marvel will be looked back on as a turning point in what comics can be.

Closing Time by Joe Queenan. While reading on my Kindle, I wanted to reach through the screen. Sometimes to comfort Queenan and sometimes to fingerpoke him in the shoulder. Long in my “to read” pile, I finally got around to it and hated putting it down, even when Queenan frustrated me with his word choice or double standards.

Tina DuPuy (blog, columns, articles, Twitter). DuPuy’s voice is clear and unapologetic, with humor and more than an occasional dose of snark. She writes from a progressive viewpoint on topics that are always ahead of the mainstream. Reading her prepares me to talk about the next big thing when it turns up on everyone’s lips.

The Shame of Poor Teeth in a Rich World” by Sarah Smarsh (Aeon Magazine). I think that Americans don’t talk often enough or realistically enough about poverty and its effect on generation after generation, not just in big ways but in small. John Cheese has written on the topic for Cracked (+ and +), combining truth and dark humor. Smarsh’s piece came to my attention through social media. I shared it liberally but it didn’t catch on the way I think it should have. I can only imagine that it’s because of its specificity and that specificity is why this simple 3,500 word essay still crosses my mind often nearly a month after I read it. My husband and I discussed our personal experiences relevant to the article over dinner and in the car and while brushing our teeth before bed. Even if you don’t share the experience, Smarsh’s writing draws in the reader and paints an unpretty picture I think more Americans should see.

Recommendations from TC’s archives:

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Billiard recommends:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples. Saga is an ongoing comic series, but it’s one that I read when the collected volumes are published. It’s fantasy/SF, and the plot is…difficult to explain. It’s about war, and love, and literature, and it is one of the most compelling things I’ve read in quite some time. Volume 3 was published in March of this year, but you’ll probably want to start with Volume 1.

Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe. Like Saga, Rat Queens is an ongoing comic series. Volume 1 was published in April. This book has a female-led cast, and is a tremendous amount of fun. It’s also difficult to explain, so allow me to borrow from Amazon’s description: “…a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!” Reading Rat Queens is some of the most fun I’ve had this year.

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire. This is the eighth volume in Seanan’s October Daye series. Upon completing The Winter Long, I went back to the beginning and re-read the entire series. I never do this.

Seanan also has a blog, and while she mostly posts work and travel updates these days, sometimes she posts things like this. (Be aware that the linked post deals with depression and suicide.) Earlier this year, she published a collection of blog posts/essays called Letters to the Pumpkin King. Seanan’s nonfiction writing is witty, insightful, often hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking. I love it; I hope you do, too.

I first encountered Lindy West last year on an episode of (the sadly canceled) Totally Biased where she appeared opposite comedian Jim Norton to discuss rape jokes. I found her to be funny and eloquent and started following her immediately. She writes about pop culture and feminism and body acceptance, formerly for Jezebel, but she’s very recently moved to GQ. Here’s a post from this year about liking Chris Pratt before it was cool.

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Broker recommends:

Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking. What it says on the box.

Anne Lamott, who has a wonderful blog and is just out with a new book, Small Victories. She has a way of shucking right down to the cob, saying simple-sounding things that are also very profound.

What-If by Randall Munroe. His comic is always worth reading, and he has a weekly answering the mail questions thing that’s gathered in the book. The rollover text on the comics is part of the fun.

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the end of the Lane is seriously wonderful: magical realism and childhood nightmare all in one.

To round things out, this article from The Atlantic (not for the squeamish; it features parasites): How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy” by Kathleen McAuliffe on work by Jaroslav Flegr.

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Harpspeed recommends:

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. This mystery novel from an Icelandic writer is also part ghost story—Sigurdardóttir creates a fabulously atmospheric setting that make the word “creepy” obsolete.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I liked the juxtaposition of the two historical characters, deeply dimensional and rich.

This is a Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Pachett. I am curiously drawn to writers’ personal stories and liked reading Pachett’s memoir because she also fills her pages with good advice for writers.

The Last Walk: Reflections on our Pets at the End of Their Lives by Jessica Pierce. This story is part biography, memoir, ethical philosophy, and science journal in its examination of the author’s beloved dog’s descent into old age and the author, herself, who explores the many facets of the human-animal bond.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury by Amy Newmark and Carolyn Roy Bornstein. Disclosure: My friend, Carolyn, is one of the editors of this collection and recently gave me a signed copy knowing how interested I am in her work on the subject of writing and TBI, and that I enjoy reading personal essays; this collection is a great introduction to the power of the personal essay and the growing concern that is currently trending across America’s landscape.

Recommendations from TC’s archives:

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Beaver recommends:

Proof of Loss” by Emily Rapp (The Rumpus). Emily Rapp writes unsentimentally about continuing to live after the inevitable death of her son Ronan from Tay-Sachs disease: “In those final days of my son’s life, I thought I would die, but knew I would not, which made me want to die even more ardently. Still, I lived. How? Perhaps I didn’t live at all but existed, half-alive, half-dead, in some liminal space.”

Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women” by Rose Lichter-Marck (The New Yorker). I am fascinated by this story about creating and not-sharing and unasked-for posthumous fame. If you have a hard drive full of unpublished stories, you might be, too.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. An Untamed State grew out of a short story called “Things I Know About Fairy Tales.” The novel starts where happily ever after leaves off, playing off both the sunny Disney versions of fairy tales we’re all familiar with and the dark, twisted original stories that didn’t hesitate to make readers uncomfortable.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. You should read it because it’s on every* best nonfiction book list of 2014. You should also follow Roxane on Twitter because she’s smart and hilarious and gives a lesson on how to deal with haters on a daily basis. (*possibly a slight exaggeration but not much)

One Long Country Song: What Friday Night Lights Taught Me About Storytelling”  by Hannah Gerson (The Millions). Hannah Gerson, on writing about that small town background she’d been avoiding and how watching TV “to relax” got her there. (Writers are always writing. Even when they’re not.)

Recommendations from TC’s archives: