Tag Archives: short story

New Publication in Short Story America!

Short Story America Fiction Anthology Volume III

Short Story America Fiction Anthology Volume III

One of my readers’ favorite stories, “Komenda’s Children,” has just been reprinted in Short Story America, volume III. Get your copy here, in time for the holidays. All the stories in this volume are high-quality, gutsy, and mean something. I can’t think of a better gift to give.

“Komenda’s Children,” a story about a Southern woman who travels to a slave trading fortress in West Africa while investigating her unsettling family legacy, was read at the second annual Short Story America Festival and Conference in South Carolina. It has previously been published in the Soundtrack Not Included anthology, which you can purchase here.

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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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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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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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Finding Titles: The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Ridiculous

Finding  titles for your fiction is hard, right?

I mean, finding crap titles isn’t hard. I have a huge long list of crap titles I once considered, and not all of them are jokes.

But finding the perfect one for my work is another matter entirely.

A.G. Pasquella's "The Strange Saga of Why Not A Spider Monkey Jesus?"

A.G. Pasquella's "The Strange Saga of Why Not A Spider Monkey Jesus?" where Pasquella illustrates, literally, the difficulties of finding the perfect title for his book. (Click on the pic to find out more about the talking chimpanzee with televangelist aspirations. You know you want to.)

Teresa Coltrin discusses the process of creating the perfect title. It’s a great post that links to the latest blog entries by writers and agents alike about what goes into a great title, and how you can find yours.

Before I clicked through all of the links, however, I tried to figure out why my titles can sometimes be downright ridiculous. After all, avoiding the downright ridiculous has to be one of the first steps towards finding the perfect title.

For me, a bad title occurs when I’m desperate to slap a name on my current WIP. I used to not even be able to contemplate a good title; I would just name my pieces “The Southern One,” or “The Moroccan One With The Whores.” It’s okay though. They were working titles that nobody had to ever see aside from close friends and my crit group.

While I am no expert in the good title, most of my best have come once I’ve spent a lot of time really getting to know my WIP. And I mean getting to know the work itself, and not what I thought the work was going to be when I started writing it. There’s a big difference there, and the two are never ever the same. Bad titles come from my wanting to name the works while I’m still thinking about how I want them to be, and the best titles come from naming the works once I’ve figured out (and accepted) how they turned out.

So I guess the moral is to trust yourself. I’ve found many times that my crit group and editors enjoy a piece much more the way it turns out in the end rather than the way I had planned for it to go. It’s more fulfilling for me when I allow my subconscious to take over and for my writing to deviate from the plan. Usually, as long as I can let go of what I wanted it to be and accept it as is, the result is a stronger piece. And with a stronger piece comes a stronger title.

And once I had several stronger titles, I went back to the links on Teresa’s page and used the tips she collated to really help them shine. In particular, I found Rachelle Gardner’s how-to a lifesaver.

What’s your relationship with your titles?

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The Bell Witch: A Writer’s BFF

Have you ever heard of the Bell Witch? The Bell Witch Haunting came out in 2004, Bell Witch: The Movie came out in 2005, and An American Haunting was released in May of 2006.  It is  “based on the true events of the only case in US History where a spirit caused the death of a man.” All just an hour from my house!

Ghostliness @ The Bell Witch Cave? (Copyleft Avery Oslo 2010)

How could I *not* go and check it out for myself? A friend and I gabbed over her Beach Boys CD (Shut it. They’re good) on the ride out to the country, hoping that we’d take pictures and find scary two-headed snakes wrapped around our torsos when we later examined them on our computer screens.

For those that don’t know the story, here’s a brief recap:

In 1817, John Bell of Adams, TN, shot at a dog-like creature with a rabbit’s head sitting in his corn field. This marked the beginning of his family’s torment- they heard rats gnawing at their beds, had covers snatched off of them, and were disturbed by disembodied voices, among a load of other poltergeisty goodness. The draw of a story like this is irresistible to a writer, and apparently to a president, too.

Legend has it that the haunting persisted and news of it spread to then-General Andrew Jackson who went to visit the farm. On the way, the witch lashed out at General Jackson’s self-proclaimed “witch tamer.” It was his own fault for being all blustery, if you ask me. Who waves a gun with a silver bullet at a witch-like ghost and claims that all witches were scared of it? It’s like you are begging for a ghostly ass-kicking. So, an ass-kicking ensued.

Then of course the Bell witch kept plaguing the family. Betsy, the little Bell girl grew up and wanted to marry, but alas, the witch wasn’t supportive of her choice in men. The beatings, torment, etc. continued until Betsy Bell broke off the engagement, and the witch returned to haunting the young woman’s father full-force.

To make a long story short, everyone dies (especially Mr. Bell–his death was grisly), and the witch lives on. She even comes back every now and then to make predictions, and the cave and cabin are supposedly haunted to high heaven.

Troy Taylor, one of the Bell Witch historians said that he has “received a number of accounts from people who claim to have taken away stones from the Bell Witch Cave, only to then experience not only bad luck, but strange happenings in their previous un-haunted homes! Chris Kirby has assured me that she has received a number of packages in the mail over the years that have contained rocks and stones that were removed from the cave.”

The Bell Witch Pebble (Copyleft Avery Oslo 2010)

The Bell Witch Pebble (Copyleft Avery Oslo 2010)

So naturally I had to make myself a part of the story. The minute the tour guide told me that the witch can haunt many places at once and will haunt those that take away “souvenirs” from the cave, I had to take the first pebble I could reach. Had to. Heritage preservation be damned.

I didn’t take it because I don’t believe. I took it because I do, I truly do.

I figure that the witch is angry at having to haunt a place like Adams for so long. Don’t get me wrong—Adams is lovely—very green and peaceful with the smell of clover in the air—but for centuries? The poor witch is bound to be bored out of her ectoplasmic skull.

So I took the pebble in order to take the witch on my travels across the Atlantic. Currently, I’m still in Nashville, preparing to leave at the end of the month. She’s settling into my house nicely. It’s been two days, and so far, she has not seen fit to beat me, stick pins into me, rip my covers off, or sing horrible songs at me. I’ve introduced the pebble to the cat, and she sniffed it. I put it on her head and she balanced it for a second before shaking it off and darting after one of the hundreds of lizards in our backyard. No hissing, nothing.

Kitty's not impressed by the Bell Witch (Copyleft AveryOslo 2010)

Kitty's not impressed by the Bell Witch (Copyleft AveryOslo 2010)

I think the witch is excited. She wants to go to Scotland, to West Africa, to the Netherlands, and to Germany with me. She’ll have so many people and places to haunt that she may never want to come back to Adams! I love the idea of a portable witch-ghost and can’t wait to show her my own favorite haunts in Scotland.

Let’s hope the Bell Witch has a few hidden talents. I will certainly find out if she’s any good at inspiring the traveling writer to keep my ass firmly glued to the chair. Stay tuned for ghostly news!

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