Category Archives: fiction

Coffee with Authors: Lessons from the WNBA panel at the Southern Festival of Books

These words of wisdom come from the Women’s National Book Association’s Coffee with Authors Panel in the Southern Festival of Books, October 13, 2012

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Courtesy of Humanities Tennessee, 2012

The Women’s National Book Association is insanely fabulous. And it isn’t just the free swag talking (though their swagbags are the best I’ve ever had- several free trade copies of novels I’ve been desperate to read and anxiously waiting on!). These women do a lot of great literacy-based stuff in their communities and always pick the most challenging and multi-faceted books to recommend. So when I had a chance to get in on their early morning panel at the Southern Festival of Books, I didn’t think twice before signing up.

Moderated by Nina Cardona, of Nashville’s “All Things Considered” on NPR, the panel of questions and answers was a whirlwind of fantastic writing insight. She grilled Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ecco/HarperCollins; 2012 National Book Award Finalist), Christopher Tilghman (The Right-Hand Shore, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2012 Great Group Reads selection), Gail Tsukiyama (A Hundred Flowers, St. Martin’s Press), and Karen Thompson Walker (The Age of Miracles, Random House) who were happy to give away their secrets.

Though these four authors write wildly different types of fiction, Nina Cardona’s questions revealed that they shared three main themes which shaped their decisions as writers: desire, research, and failure.

Ben Fountain was first to speak about desire. His insights into his character, Billy Lynn, are fueled by motivation and the young man’s desires:

“Billy is 19 years old, and I was 19 once,” Fountain said as the audience laughed.  Fountain asked himself,  “what do they want?” and found  “They want what all the rest of us want – to love and be loved. Even the most callow 19 year old boy/man wants that in his own way…Everyone wonders “who am i? what will become of me? What will I do with my life? What constitutes a decent life? How will I construct it?” These profound questions are at work in 19 year olds who are being whipsawed between the extremes of human nature and human experience. Billy has to act as a symbol of patriotism when he doesn’t know who he is. “As the story developed he became a kind of everyman. Maybe the kind of man I’d like to be.”  Fountain says he figured it out sentence by sentence.

 Everyone wonders “who am i? what will become of me? What will I do with my life? What constitutes a decent life? How will I construct it?”

Desire also played a large role in Gail Tsukiyama’s writing process. Tsukiyama said that in life, “what I can’t do I want to do…I was never smart enough to be a doctor, so I practice in the books.”  Your own desires find their way into your characters.

Research was also a central theme in the discussion.

Nina Cardona called Tsukiyama’s book “intense yet gentle” because of how the China’s revolution took a background to the familial fallout which was center stage. Tsukiyama said that so many books set in the Revolution were written by people who lived through it, so she wanted to write about people who were marginal. “This is a book about the one who isn’t in prison, but the one who stays at home.” She wanted to get the POV of those left behind in these vast historic moments, which required a combined approach of research and imagination.

Christopher Tilghman’s research all came down to place:  “My work has always started with a place… Placedness and landscape are important to me.”

Ben Fountain agreed that research is a tricky thing. “There’s a risk that when doing research you’ll over-determine the story… It will be so present and front that you’ll lose some other elements. So basically I do the research first, then give it time to marinade.”

Karen Thompson Walker’s research was challenging, as her novel is a what-if novel, set in a future world. That gave her some wiggle-room. In addition to the what-if science, a lot of the research for Walker’s book was for the young-adult protagonist. Walker had to remember how she was at that age, filled with curiosity. This curiosity translates over to the writing process: “Writing feels like reading. I have to feel the curiosity I would as a reader when I’m writing… The times I get nervous is when I don’t feel that curiosity. Then I have to stop writing and go back.”

 “I have to feel the curiosity I would as a reader when I’m writing.”

Nina Cardona pointed out that so much great writing often comes out of great failure. The authors agreed:

Tsukiyama: “I wrote 100 pages of wartimes in this book and could not get it right.”

Tilghman: “I’ve tried a couple of times and failed badly,” he said.  “All my novels have come from failed short stories…they couldn’t be done in 30 pages; they needed 300. It just grows.”

The Moral of the story?  Think about what your characters want more than anything and let that drive the plot. Do the background research but don’t let the research dictate the story. And fail a lot, and be comfortable with failing that much. Once you know how to not do it, how to do it becomes more obvious. All four of these authors pushed through the failure to land publishing contracts with big houses and win big prizes and the freedom to work on their next projects. It’s worth it.

Many thanks to Cardona and the authors, the WNBA, the Southern Festival of Books, the Nashville Public Library, the city of Nashville, and all of their sponsors.

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October 21, 2012 · 13:19

I get interviewed for Upper Rubber Boot Books’ Intermittent Visitors Blog Tour!

My interview with Joanne Merriam for the Upper Rubber Boot Books Intermittent Visitors Blog Tour is now live! Joanne  asked some great questions about my writing process and the best writing advice I’ve ever received.

Fans of my short story “For the Love of Ciderpunk,” (finalist for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose Prize and published in Best New Writing 2012) will be happy to know she got me to spill all about how I came up with the grotesque events and unforgetably colorful characters who really made that story. It has everything to do with  the things I learned and the people I met while communally squatting various places in the UK in my early 20s.  You can read all about it on her blog.

 

This interview was part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

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New on Zolder Writers: Gone, But Not Forgotten: Vintage Books For Hipsters and The Rest Of Us

Read Bride of Pendorich, a Victoria Holt Classic Gothic ThrillerThe good authors over at Zolder Writers, my former Critique Group in Amsterdam have allowed me to rant and rave about books near and dear to my heart: those old cheap vintage paperback Gothic romance/mystery/thriller/horror books from the mid-to-late 20th century you can get for under a dollar at most used book stores.

These books with their perfect endings, poetic justice, and supernatural insanity tell us so much about gender, colonialism, and how people my grandparents’ age viewed the world and their place within it.

Read the post here, for book recommendations and the wannabe-punchy hyperbole with which I deliver them, and some musings and links on antagonists/villains and how to write the perfect ending.

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Coming Soon: a Literary Fantasy Short Story “The Bridge of Organic Mortar” in Fantastique Unfettered

Fantastique Unfettered is a beautiful thing. They publish some of the best character-driven fantasy in all of its glorious sub-genres. They’ve got New Weird, Old Weird, Magic Realism, Slipstream, Alt Western, Planetary Romance, Surrealism, Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Literary Horror, Post Lovecraft, Aether Age, Interstitial, Steampunk and more. When I picked up my first issue from Barnes & Noble (Issue #2, bursting with short stories behind a cloud-shrouded Mayan temple on the cover), I knew I wanted more than anything for a story of mine to be good enough to be read alongside those the editors chose for FU.

Fantastique Unfettered Issue 2 (short stories, writing,readers)

Now that’s what I call a Mayan Temple! Fantastique Unfettered, Issue 2, bursting at the seams with fantastical short stories and other gems for writers and readers.

It took me a while before I had anything I could send off. I write all kinds of stories and can’t really choose what I write when. Like many writers, I sit down somewhere and I write, and what comes out is what comes out. I’m not sure it’s possible for me to determine something like “Today I am going to write a steampunk short story.” I’ve tried, and very rarely does the story come out steampunk, or whatever it was I intended to write. So with Fantastique Unfettered on the brain, I spent nearly a year writing very realistic short stories. Short stories about bad-ass protesters, train-pirates and West Africa  and murderous hobos, young tumultuous love, losing and re-gaining faith, eating disorders, and going through the fire, but realistic nonetheless.

Then when I finally wrote a bit of magical realism, I sent it off with fingers crossed. But it didn’t fit with what the editors of FU wanted to do with their next issue, and so it got rejected. (I won’t tell you which story it was, as it is now happily sitting in a journal collecting wonderful emails from fans who enjoyed it. It just goes to show that rejections are every bit as much about fit as they are about the quality of the story).

The second time was the charm, however, and my latest bit of fantasy, “The Bridge of Organic Mortar,” will make an appearance in Fantastique Unfettered, issue 5.

I’m not going to lie- I did a little dance. I may do a little  more dancing before this issue makes it to my hands. Making it into FU means that a few people who know a lot about writing think what I write is as good as what the people who get published in FU write. And these people who know a lot and who select some of the stories I love best think my short story is so good that I should be paid to put it there.  Anyone can tell you your story is good, but someone who gives you something valuable in exchange for your story really means it.

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The 7-minute short story, Rogue’s Coat, is here. Listen for free!

Click here to listen to Rogue’s Coat, my latest audio-story! It is the feature-piece in the current issue of Scissors & Spackle. Editor-in-chief Jenny Catlin had this to say about it:

What it means to be a reader may be shifting along with the methods of delivery but the passion is alive and coursing. I don’t think anything exemplifies this more than our featured piece for Issue Six. Avery Oslo has crafted a story that is beautiful standing alone but it only comes to fruition when read by Tobias Paramore; together they have created a masterpiece of storytelling.

My sincerest thanks to Jenny for her words, as well as to musician Tobias Paramore who did such a beautiful job reading and voice-acting, and songwriter/instrumentalist Robert Stapleton of Nashville, TN, for remastering the audio. Rogue’s Coat was a truly collaborative piece, and I hope you enjoy it!

Scissors & Spackle, Issue VI

Should you want a CD/MP3 of Rogue’s Coat for yourself or friends, you also have the option to purchase Issue VI of Scissors & Spackle directly from their website.

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Coming Soon – An Audio-Story by Avery Oslo

I haven’t forgotten about you, dear readers. Thank you so much for nudging me in my email and on twitter.

Amsterdam, Writing

Writing is a breeze when you're looking at this every day. (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

2012 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for me as a writer. I rang in the new year celebrating with my friends in the Netherlands. My Dutch critique group have started their own official blog about reading. Check out the Zolder Writers and what we are all reading for writing inspiration.  If it weren’t for their good tastes, I might still be reading drivel. 🙂

Now I’m back in Nashville, TN with some exciting news: Scissors & Spackle, a literary journal of the written world, have agreed to give my audio-story, Rogue’s Coat, a home. The story was written in the Netherlands about a character in Scotland who has been given a voice by the English-Australian musician (and voice-actor!)  Tobias Paramore. Toby’s beautiful voice and accent have made this story easy on the ears and a true joy to hear.

Stay tuned!

 

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2011 Southern Festival of Books

Thirsty Tree in Nashville's Centennial Park. Copyleft Avery Oslo, 2011

This year’s Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN promises to be the most action-packed one yet. In previous years, I divvied up my time attending FREE writing/publishing/media workshops, supporting the small Southern independent presses by snatching up riveting titles for myself, friends and family, and chatting with agents and their fledgling writers. It is one of the most egalitarian settings for this type of networking, and you’ll never know who you’ll bump into.

This year in addition to doing all of the above, I’ll also be manning one of the booths in order to help sell advance copies of Soundtrack Not Included, the 2012 Nashville Writer Meetup anthology. My story, “Komenda’s Children”, is somewhere within the volume, and I’m excited to help do my part. Come by and make some small talk, buy some presents, and enjoy the ambiance!

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