Behind the Scenes: “A New Nuclear”

The lovely folks at Great Lakes Review published my story, “A New Nuclear,” about my favorite fictional dental hygienist Patty’s struggle to find herself during the last summer before her child leaves for college. It is a most Rust Belt-y story, and I’m grateful to editor Mitch James for giving it a fine home along my favorite Great Lake.

One of the questions writers hear most–even about fictional works–is: “Is this story inspired by your life? Is this you?” Yes and no. Do I understand Patty’s situation? Do I feel a sense of my nest emptying out? Sure, my boys are 13 now, and every day becoming more independent. But also no. Patty is not me, and is definitely not my mom (read on). But I thought I’d give a little backstory in case my followers want a peek into the real-life influences and (really weird) brain of a fiction writer.

Family might recognize Patty’s stint with the No Nukes! environmental chapter. My mom–who would have been proud to be called a tree hugger, if we used that term then–did a stint with the group that protested the local nuclear power plant. (The plant’s still in operation, btw. Planned to be deactivated in 2021, it’s now licensed to operate until 2037.) I remember my mom’s bright yellow No Nukes! shirt. She might have participated in one protest but was much more often spotted at the church basement food co-op she helped run. Also, note the spiderwort plants in my story–plants that are able to detect small amounts of radiation. My mom would have loved that fact. Maybe she knew it? I wish I could ask her.

A writer friend–hi, Jessica!–who is more perceptive than I noted that I have teeth on the creative brain as of late. She also read a prose poem of mine, recently published in the print journal, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry,” titled “Jesus, My Son’s Buckteeth.” What do they say about teeth dreams? Spurred on by anxiety, right? Should I be worried if teeth are taking over my creative mind? (Don’t tell me.)

And a note on the craft of writing and the novel process: Writer friends who’ve read my WIP–a novel set over one Ohio summer, bridging two lakeshores and three generations–will recognize Patty. Early drafts of the novel included Patty’s perspective and more time for her on the page. In later revisions, Patty’s POV–but not Patty’s character–was cut. Still, I couldn’t leave the protest scene (or the dental chair scene!) on the cutting room floor. “Kill your darlings,” they say. But, also, sometimes those darlings can make for a good story.

I hope you like it: “A New Nuclear”

What are you reading and writing this week, this weekend? Want more stories from me, or author interviews, book reviews, guest posts, more? Follow me here:

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*free header image from Pexels

What I did this totally unlazy Rust Belt summer…

I take umbrage with whomever coined the phrase “lazy days of summer.” And I might demand a refund. Except, while my summer has been anything but lazy, it has been fun.

After a little hiatus I return to you loveliest of followers with Rust Belt pics and books–and news of a reading in one of my favorite port cities (and rollercoaster capital), Sandusky, Ohio.

Off to OHio

The fam and I headed to Port Clinton, Ohio, walleye capital of the world–don’t fight me on this, MN friends–in June. Sailing for my little guys, boating for the rest of us, swimming, sisters-lunching, friends reuniting, and plenty of hammock-ing and back porch-sitting were the highlights. Of course, no visit to Northern Ohio is complete without a trip to Cleveland and a visit to the West Side Market. And who could forget Rufus, who lived his best Lake Erie Shores & Islands life for a week. Boat aficionados, make sure to check out my dad’s antique Lyman boat above, his fourth child basically. Boat name? Hoptoad, named for Pippi Longstocking’s father’s ship in the favorite book series. (Who woulda thunk I’d become a writer?)

While in the area, I had the honor of serving as the featured reader for the Firelands Writing Center’s monthly reading series in Sandusky. Thank you again to fearless leader Larry Smith and his Bottom Dog Press for sponsoring the event (and putting me on a flyer–that doesn’t happen often). I read some older work and some newer pieces from my WIP, a coming of age novel partly set in Ohio that explores the power of song. And thanks to those who came out (or in) on a beautiful afternoon to share their own work with the group. It felt very much like home. (Flyer photo credit: @melanieraebuonavolonta)

Reading the Rust Belt…

Of course, I’ve fit in some Rust Belt reading. And who said summer reads can’t be deep? Poolside poetry is just my speed, and here are a few I’ve enjoyed immensely: Cleveland native Teri Ellen Cross DavisA More Perfect Union; Columbus, Ohio, poet Paula J. Lambert’s The Ghost of Every Feathered Thing, and Erie, Pennsylvania, poet Sean Thomas Dougherty’s The Dead are Everywhere Telling Us Things. Btw, if we’re not connected on Goodreads, where I recently reviewed another poetry collection, let’s do!

And Beyond

There’s an old, writerly adage that says if you’re talking about it you’re not writing it. So, let’s just keep all our fingers and toes crossed for my WIP as I begin to query literary agents for it this fall.

Unfortunately, there’s no adage I know of that says if you’re talking about your editing you’re not working on it. But what would be the fun in that? You may know I’m the associate editor of Parhelion Literary Magazine, in charge of the features department. How I love my craft essays, book reviews, and author interviews! But you might not know that I got that gig because the magazine’s editor-in-chief saw what I was doing right here on Rust Belt Girl and wanted some for her Richmond, Virginia-based online publication.

In addition to editing features for Parhelion, I’m a reader for fiction. (If you aspire to write literary fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, there is no better way to become better at it than to read literary journal submissions, imho.) Parhelion’s summer issue (our journal’s 14th–not too shabby) launched this week. If you like fresh and bold fiction, CNF, and poetry I hope you’ll check it out.

Parhelion Literary Magazine

Summer 2022 Issue

Looking Toward Fall

Must we? OK, I suppose the pool days will come to a close. My small guys (who are quickly catching up to me) will head back to school. And I will start packing for the literary highlight of the season, Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival. If by some strange occurrence you live within driving distance of the festival and I haven’t hit you up, my apologies. This is the best literary conference of the year–if you like a supportive community, generative workshops, eye-opening and ear-bending panel discussions, inspiring readings, and affordability. Oh, and this year’s book fair promises to be the best yet. Also, there will be bowling and films. So, what are you waiting for? The Rust Belt calls.

And that, most patient of readers, is what I’ve been up to. But, as blogging is a two-way street, let’s keep the convo going. What has your summer looked like–or whatever season it is where you hang your hat? Where are you visiting. What are you writing, reading, and discovering? Do tell!

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Art Works

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This post’s photos taken by me of Donald Stoltenberg paintings on display (and for sale) at Annapolis Marine Art Gallery, Annapolis, Maryland.

Give me a painting of a shipyard over a regatta, a work boat over a pleasure cruiser. Give me the smell of diesel, sweat, and fish. Might not be pretty, but it works.

For me, art that works–that shows scenes of toil and industry, of creating and crafting–appeals more than art that features placid scenes. Sorry Manet, Monet, and pretty much anything on a rou de someplace.

Why? Well, there’s the Rust Belt influence, the legacy and lore of waterways that sustained the heavy industry that built places like my native Cleveland, Ohio, along Lake Erie, and like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with its three rivers.

And, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the late artist, Donald Stoltenberg, was born in 1927. Stoltenberg was new to me, until a recent visit to nearby Annapolis.

While I gravitate to industry and toil in art, I look for the same in the literature I read–and write. To me, a character is never more him- or herself than when working. Why? Simple. Work breeds conflict and conflict drives story.

Some of the best advice I received as a writing student was to introduce characters to¬† readers by showing them at work. This gets the characters out in the world, acting and reacting–and soon (as we all do) facing big problems, problems that will need to be, ya know, worked out.

So, as I think about the characters of my current WIP*, I’m putting them to work, testing their mettle, and seeing what they’re made of. Works for me, and I bet it’ll work for you.

What are you working on right now? A blog post? A story? A piece of art? What works for your characters? For you?

 

*Speaking of my WIP, I’ll be taking much of the month of November off from actively blogging to focus my attention on research and work for my WIP, as well as submitting to journals and agents before the end of the year. But I will be back! In the meantime, please see my categories above for writing advice, author interviews, publishing journey woes and successes–and keep on reading and writing (the Rust Belt and everywhere else).

 

Revising is the opposite of cake

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Editing is veritable cake.

Editing ourselves might mean a trip to the hairdresser; editing our lifestyle might mean getting to bed on time; editing our house might take a can of paint. Editing a WIP means re-tooling, re-telling, and finding and following the right style guide.

But revising–really re-seeing–ourselves, our places and lifestyles, and, by extension, the stories we tell, takes much more time, energy, and lobotomy-level introspection.

Revising is the opposite of cake: not at all light and fluffy. Maybe something more like swamp muck, quicksand, or even asphalt.

Revising a WIP? My condolences. You’re in the muck of re-seeing and re-forming, struggling, hopefully, to once again resurface. Only then can you can catch your breath¬† to dig in again.

Me, I’m in the last, surface-y editing stage of one project and the first-draft stage of another–the former like frosting, the latter all discovery and flashes of light. (And here’s where the pastry analogy has worn thin, become too tough–ha.)

OK, back to the poor, unfortunate revising soul: to revise a WIP is an act of soul-searching, on the part of the author and the author’s characters. To revise a memoir must be a frightening process of destroying and remaking again and again one’s own image on paper. Bless you, memoirists; you are a brave lot.

I’ll lump the late Jefferson Davis in here–with memoirists, but not with the blessing. If you missed my recent post, I was reading Varina by author Charles Frazier of Cold Mountain fame. (Varina was Mrs. Jefferson Davis, first lady of the false country of the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.) In this historical novel, which explores the lives of real historical figures, there is a wonderful description of what it means to write and revise, provided by the character of Sara Dorsey.

Dorsey had been something of a writer, herself, and it’s at her home where Jefferson Davis is writing his memoirs (which, after his death, his wife ultimately revised). Dorsey describes the arduous task of writing memoirs this way:

…sitting still at a table draining memory dry to fill blank pages with strong words.

Tough enough. But then she describes revising–on the page but also on the page of history that found Jefferson Davis clearly on the side of the wrong:

…the joy of revising…which unlike life allows you to go back and rethink and make yourself better than you really are. … Even if the work comes to nothing, he will have these days to shape the past, make sense of how the runes fell against him.

Runes or no, what’s your favorite part of revising? Least favorite?

*above photo of a house seen and re-seen all at once, provided by Bill Moon of Port Clinton, Ohio–thanks, Dad!

 

 

The imagination in revision

 

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To revise.

If there are two words that stir dread in this writer, it’s these. I know, I know, I’m supposed to love to revise. (And I do, in the same way I “love” other things that are good for me, like yogurt and kale.) To revise is to make new–and hopefully better. Back to the drawing board. A new lease, blah, blah, blah.

Here’s the thing: revision requires imagination (Daily Prompt).

Revision demands that we unplug from everything but our WIP and allow the mind–and the plot and character and theme, etc.–to change. A WIP off course! Yes, this can–and even should–happen when we revise. Call it giving over control to the muse or your writer’s instinct or your better judgement, but it does require a loss of control.

Oh, we’ll be in control of our WIPs again. We just have to wait for the editing phase. Can’t rush these phases, though (so says my chapter three I’m currently re-seeing). The late, great Donald M. Murray tells us so, too:

We confuse revision, which is re-seeing, re-thinking, re-saying with editing which is making sure the facts are accurate, the words are spelled correctly, the rules of grammar and punctuation are followed.

–from Donald M. Murray‘s classic, The Craft of Revision

A tribute to Murray from a former writing student

*Photo taken from my village’s community pier. (Credit: Bill Moon. Thanks, Dad!) This foggy scene seemed right for this post, since working through a revision often feels like charting a course through thick fog!

Are you revising at the moment? Does it require a leap of the imagination for you? Weigh in here.