Category Archives: story

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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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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Kieron Connolly’s Newspaper Novel-Plotting Game

Kieron Connolly is a typical Dublin writer: self-effacing and soft-spoken with a warm small-town quality about him that rivals the size of his dreams. Enlisted to teach a noveling workshop at the American Book Center in The Hague, he confesses that he’s worried that he won’t have anything relevant to tell a group of writers. We chit-chat about the football, and the Nobel prize winner until the dutiful Dutch workers at the ABC put out carafes of coffee and tea and call our workshop to order.

 

 

Kieron Connolly with the October 9 edition of the NRC Handelsblad Newspaper (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

 

And just like that, Kieron Connolly stands and his slight frame commands the attention of everyone in the room. His books are about staring into the abyss and what happens when the abyss stares back—they deal with addiction, spirituality, religion, and love.

His advice is startlingly straightforward. In addition to the “write every day” and “create a routine” stuff by which so many other writers swear, Connolly stresses the need for flexibility. “There are many ways to get from start to finish,” he says. The key is to allow each project to be its own thing and deal with it in the way it ought to be dealt instead of tackling a uniform approach.

Connolly uses his book, Harold as an example. While his other books took roughly one year to write, Harold took three. Connolly set himself the goal of writing about universal humanity. After two years of dead ends and frustration, it occurred to him that it was a futile task. “I’d be in a home for the bewildered if I did that,” he says with a laugh. He had to compromise on Harold, and graft humanity onto people in a limited situation. Rather than explore all of humanity, Connolly went deeply into one aspect and created a book he feels is stronger than his others.

On editing, Connolly says the most important thing is to let everything sit. Never edit right away, but edit before you begin writing the next few pages of your novel. “70% of the finished product is in the first draft,” he says. “I do write the first draft as if it’s the final draft. I give it my all in the first, but knowing that there will be a second.”

Connolly’s biggest edits usually concern his characters. He finds his characters need a bit of personality/humanity added on because you know them better at the end of the novel than you did when you started writing it.

In order to give everyone in the room a chance to plot a novel together with others (this really takes the pressure off), Connolly shows us an idea-generating game:

The Newspaper Novel-Plotting Game

 

To play, Pick a newspaper, any newspaper.  (Even one in Dutch, as long as you have someone to translate it for you! ) Pick out an article at random and read. When you are done, ask some more questions of it. Who are the characters? What is not being said? What are the motivations of everyone involved? Where would you start a novel if you had to write a novel based on this article?

 


De Posthoorn, a local newspaper of The Hague (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

 

The group read an article about John Lennon’s fingerprints.  According to the paper, John Lennon applied for a green card to America ages ago, and the FBI started a file on him. This file included a letter that contained the musician’s fingerprints. This file was stolen, and 20 years later it showed up in an auction house. It never made it to the hands of collectors,  however:  as it was being auctioned off the FBI confiscated it to put it back into their files.

At this point, you can ask yourself where the real story begins. Of course there are many answers:

*Start with the disgruntled FBI agent that stole the file 20 years ago to get a nest egg

*Or write about the current FBI agents whose job it was to travel to the auction, shut it down, and safely bring back the letter despite the many people determined to get their hands on it

*Start with upset auctioneer with ties to the memorabilia black market in Moscow who lost out on a lot of money after the letter was confiscated and the auction withdrawn

*Start with the die-hard fan named Lennon who inherited the love of this Beatle from his dead father and mortgaged everything to travel to the auction house and bid on the  letter with the  fingerprints

*Start with the independently wealthy yet slightly unhinged scientist with a lab in Cambodia who dreams of cloning Lennon from the possible DNA remains on the fingerprints

Which one you pick will influence the type of novel you will write. If you choose to tell the story of the FBI agent, you may likely end up with a thriller, while if you write from the POV of the fan, it lends itself more to a literary story about obsession and redemption. Writing about the scientist could bring your novel into the realm of sci-fi, while a focus on the auctioneer could turn out to be a fascinating crime novel or mystery.

From there, start fleshing out your characters.  What do each of the other characters want? How will the desires of the main character you’ve chosen interact with the motivators of the other characters? Imagine how the encounters would play out, for example, as the unhinged scientist brushes shoulders with the FBI agents. Allow the newspaper story to guide you, but don’t feel constrained by it. And don’t be afraid to imagine as many scenarios as you can before deciding on the one you want to write.

Last and most importantly of all, Connolly doesn’t want you to take yourself too seriously. But don’t get him wrong: “it’s bloody serious business; we’re putting our hearts and souls into it.”

 

 

Check out this awesome sky I snapped from the balcony of my apartment when I got home this evening. If that's not noveling inspiration, I don't know what is! (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

 

I wrote the above from notes taken at Kieron Connolly’s novel-writing workshop at the  American Book Center in The Hague, October 9, 2010. He is the author of the play Tuesday and the novels  Water Sign, There is A House, and his latest (published this year), Harold.

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In West Africa, I Learn Stories Belong to Everyone

Beauty and Poverty go hand in hand in West Africa (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

By the date, you can tell I haven’t written in a while. This is because I’ve been trekking through West Africa doing field research for my book (for my non-fiction writing job).

I can say one thing: it’s humbling as hell to see so much natural beauty juxtaposed with evidence of such an incredible level of poverty.  It makes the fiction I write seem like a load of self-indulgent wank. How could anyone care about stories when there are toddlers without clothes drinking untreated water from the river everyone bathes in?

Unfortunately, when I feel bad I write to cheer myself up. Amid a few bouts of self-loathing I’ve been doing a lot of scribbling. The words come easy while I’m  sitting on dusty bricks and writing next to burning trash heaps with the village’s young children crowded around me, fascinated by my foreign appearance and daring one another to poke me or pull out a hair.

Finally, the eldest of the children worked up the courage to ask me what I was writing. As I was explaining the characters and their main conflicts, the crowd of children drew closer, elder ones shushing the young. I slowed down and used smaller words, explaining the conflicts with body language so that the children whose English wasn’t so good could still understand.

When I had finished, the children shrieked with delight and asked for another story. Instead of telling them another one of mine, I asked for one of their stories. The children spoke among themselves and I caught a few stray words, and they took my hand and pulled me toward the center of the village. “Come, come. We show you.”

They took me to what looked like a swimming pool that had seen better days. Along its rim, three women were doing laundry, agitating big basins of soapy water with hands hardened through a lifetime of washing. They laughed when they saw me sheepishly pulled through a herd of goats to the pool’s edge by a group of exuberant children.

“One day there was dragon here,” one of the barefooted girls began.

“This big!” said a smaller girl with her hair in many neat Nigerian-style braids, holding her hands apart as far as they would go.

“That sounds scary!” I said.

And so the children told me the story of the twin villages, separated by a creek, and how the men of one village were very cowardly and would not slay the dragon, while the men of their village were brave and smart and figured out a way to best it.

The misty pool where the dragon was defeated (copyleft Avery Oslo)

It grew dark soon after, and despite the protests of the children I had to go. When I got back to my room at the guesthouse and the electricity was down, I sat in the dark and realized that while I hadn’t got any work done,  I had just had one of the best days since embarking on this trip. And I think the children enjoyed it a lot, as well.

That’s when it dawned on me that exactly here, exactly now while poverty is epidemic, do people need stories. Stories provide hope, and a way to process experiences, feelings, and thoughts. They are a vital outlet, and they are free. Stories belong to everyone, rich or poor, in Africa or in the US.

I am still devastated about the poverty in West Africa, but am incredibly humbled that among the poorest of the poor I learned to not be ashamed of my writing. Not every story can be deep, and not every story can get to the heart of universal truths; but every story can get me closer. Time spent writing is never time wasted.

I write now more than I ever have, and I thank West Africa for this.

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The Most Important Sentence You Will Ever Write

One of the many waterfalls on the grounds of Dunvegan Castle, Skye, Scotland. (Copyleft Avery Oslo, 2010)

One of the many waterfalls on the grounds of Dunvegan Castle, Skye, Scotland. (Copyleft Avery Oslo, 2010)

When it comes to selling books, Agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd. has got the right idea– write a one sentence pitch (OSP), and then construct the rest of your queries and marketing around that.

Bransford underscores the importance of the one sentence pitch as “the core of all the summarizing you’re going to do in the future. It’s the heart of your book, whittled down to one sentence. It’s what you build around when crafting longer pitches. And there’s an art to it.”

I’ve found it to be an immensely helpful exercise, not just for learning how to grab attention and be concise, but because it helps you focus on what is important about your work, instead of what you think is important about it.

Allow me to explain. In trying to write my own one-sentence pitch for my latest novel, it occurred to me that my OSP didn’t accurately reflect the story as I imagined it.  Try as I might, I couldn’t condense the essence of my novel in a way that did it justice.

And that’s because I’m a rookie, and I make rookie mistakes. Like many writers,  I had an idea for a novel and I ran with it. But as always, the story told itself and diverted from the path I created for it. It’s a stronger story than the one I originally intended, but my heart hadn’t made the connection yet.  I found that in my first attempt at writing my OSP, I was working with what I had previously intended my story to be, instead of what my story turned out to be.

The OSP was a great way for me to reconcile head and heart, and  to realize that I had to understand the story through its own terms instead of the terms I once tried to impose on it.

And once I had, beautiful phrases jumped out, vying for my attention and begging to be included in what felt like the OSP to end all OSPs.

Moral of the story: Go to Bransford’s blog. Learn how to write an OSP, and create the best OSP out there. You’ll be glad you did.

And then let me know how it went and what you discovered along the way in the comments!

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