Short stories are the bread and butter of the writing industry. They are easy to pick up and read in one sitting, easy to teach in one semester, easy to edit and comment on in a reasonable amount of time. That’s doesn’t mean they’re easy to write. A lot of blood sweat and tears go into the best short stories. But, when considering word count, they are more digestible than novels. Still, the novel hangs over writers like a mountain that’s got to be conquered. If you feel like you have a good hold on short stories, the jump to a novel shouldn’t be intimidating. Many of the same elements apply.
In a novel, just as in a short story, character development is key. You need well rounded, well planned, realistic characters that entice your reader to follow them down the rabbit hole. The cool thing about a novel is that you have the space to develop more of them. You can explore the strange aunt who lives around the corner, the neighbor with the creepy house, the best friend who might not be “the best” after all. Many novels even contain more than one main character. But, for a first novel, it’s probably best to focus on one main character and use strong supporting characters to help move the story along.
Along with all those new players, you have the opportunity to expand your plot and explore subplots. Short stories can sometimes weave in one subplot. A novel can take the time to indulge in multiple subplots. Maybe the main character’s aunt is interested in going back to school while the focus of the story is actually on the main character finding love again. The best plots weave together and add to one another. The aunt could meet someone at school that she introduces to her nephew inspiring true love. But just like adding characters, you need to be careful about adding too many sub plots. Make sure your main plot is solid and your main character, fully-formed. Only add subplots that deepen and add to the original story. If another plot is calling out to you for more attention, maybe you have another novel on your hands.
Not everyone enjoys reading or writing pages and pages of scenery or exposition but a novel definitely gives you more space to explore physical descriptions and setting. Your reader is settled in for the long haul. Hopefully they are already in love with your characters, so you can lead them through the rooms and sights of your world at a slightly slower pace than you would in a short story. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in that freedom. We only need to know so much about what everyone is wearing and if you’re going to mention Chekhov’s gun, then you better shoot someone.
In short, all you have to do is think long. Spill more time, more imagination, more blood sweat and tears, and definitely a lot more words onto your pages. Eventually you’ll have it. Plan accordingly as you write. Find others who are writing novels and are willing to swap beta drafts with you. Asking someone to read an entire novel, especially a first novel or a rough draft, is a major request. Be respectful of other people’s time and be ready to give back when they need similar support. Explore different methods of plotting. The internet is full of different ways to organize all the information needed to create and maintain a coherent novel. Find one that works for you or try out several until the magic falls into place. Give yourself reasonable deadlines. Yes, it’s a lot of work, yes it’s hard, yes, it could take years, but if you write every day, and don’t let yourself get lost in an outlining maze, you’ll have a novel before you know it. After all, nothing that feels better than writing “The End” on 60,000+ words.
Gwen Holt was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer. She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, eight chickens, a fluffy dog, and two suspected serial killer cats. She has an MFA in Young Adult literature with Converse College and has served South 85 Journal as a Fiction Editor. She is the winner of the Southeast Review 2016 Narrative nonfiction prize for her short story, “The Ditch Bank and the Fence Line,” and will publish her fourth novel for young adults, Imani Unraveled, this fall with Owl Hollow Press.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Photo by Denys Nevozhai on UnsplashRead More »
Gabrielle Brant Freeman
I do not belong here! If my thoughts were on a t-shirt, this would have been emblazoned across my chest during my first AWP experience way back in 2008 in New York. I was about a month pregnant with my second child, I did not yet really consider myself to be a writer, and I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. The only thing I remember is hearing Galway Kinnell read his poem “Oatmeal,” which was fantastic. Everything else is a blur.
In about a week, I’ll be on a plane to Tampa on the way to my fourth AWP Conference. This time around, I’m much more excited than nervous, and I’m confident that I’m going to learn more than I can process and have a great time. If Tampa is your first AWP, let me help you out.
This conference is HUGE. It’s you went to Disneyworld during peak season huge. It’s you’re at the only Starbucks for 100 miles on a Monday at 9am huge. It’s the bread and milk aisles at the grocery store before a hurricane huge. You must prepare.
1. Use the AWP18 app to create your schedule.
You can read through descriptions of all the events going on, and you can sort by “time” or “tracks.” I use the “sort by tracks” feature to look through what’s being offered in pedagogy, readings, panel discussions, author signings, offsite events, etc. I don’t worry about putting multiple sessions in one time slot, and here’s why: You do not have to stay in a session the whole time. This is your time. If the panel you were stoked about isn’t living up to your expectations, go to the next one.
2. Plan out where you want to go at the Bookfair.
The Bookfair is a vast sea of amazingness and can be overwhelming. There are over 800 exhibitors. 800! Find out where the journals and presses you have submitted to/ want to submit to/ have work published in are and go meet them. (Bring business cards!) You can search for exhibitors by name or by category on the app and find where their table will be. There is a map of the Bookfair on the app. Use it!
3. Pack an empty bag for books.
Make sure you have a plan for getting all the books you’re going to buy at the Bookfair back home. (Bring cash!) Many people bring an extra, empty bag and check it on their return flight.
And speaking of packing, I have one word for you: layers. And comfortable shoes. Well that’s three words, but there you go.
4. Research the city.
Do a little research on the city, plan a short break between sessions, and go see something besides the inside of the convention center. Last year, my AWP buddy and I went to the National Air and Space Museum and saw the studio model of the starship Enterprise, the one they actually used in the original show. Yes, we’re geeks.
5. Plan to go to an offsite event. Or two!
Offsite events are terrific opportunities to meet up with interesting groups of writers. In 2015 in Minneapolis, I got to meet up with a bunch of other poets who had done the Found Poetry Review’s 30 day challenge at a repurposed mechanic’s garage full of art called House of Balls. So. Very. Cool.
While you’re at it, eat some local food! I don’t know about you, but I’m planning on getting some octopus and shrimp ceviche from the Taco Bus (about five blocks away from the hotel) and at least eight Cuban sandwiches. Mmmmmmm…
6. I lied! Here’s a final, bonus piece of advice: Make room in your schedule for the Dance Party.
Be there. Stay to the end. The DJ is AMAZING. Plus, you know you’re not going to make it to the hotel gym every morning. Dance Party = Exercise goals complete. Boom.
See you in Tampa!
Gabrielle Brant Freeman‘s poetry has been published in many journals, including Grist, One, Scoundrel Time, Shenandoah, and storySouth. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017, and she was a Best of the Net 2014 finalist. Gabrielle won the 2015 Randall Jarrell Competition. Press 53 published her book, When She Was Bad, in 2016. Read her poems and more at http://gabriellebrantfreeman.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on UnsplashRead More »
It’s noon and eggshells are scattered about
the sink. I haven’t cleaned a pan in days.
I can’t think of a good reason to sweep the floors.
I won’t see him until he is drunk and pleased.
I envy shared glee for gardenias, like finding
a missing earring in the wash.
I lie in bed smoking, watching
a finch go to and fro her nest.
I want to sleep in. But, I have the afternoon
to fill the ashtray.
Aaron Dargis grew up in Michigan and lives in the Piedmont area of South Carolina. He is currently an MFA student at Converse College and Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal. His most recent poem appearing Panoply Magazine, “Grey Partridge,” won editor’s choice. His primary focus is on identity of the self within a geographical location, isolation, and memory.
“Kitchen Sink” first appeared in Panoply Magazine: https://panoplyzine.com/kitchen-sink-aaron-dargis/.Read More »
Leigh Statham, a writer who has served on South 85 Journal‘s staff, is currently touring with her new YA book, Daughter4254, which will officially be released by Owl Hollow Press on November 7. We caught up with her for a few minutes for a sneak preview of the book and some insight into her motivation for writing it.
What was your inspiration for Daughter4254?
My inspiration came from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of classic dystopian literature (especially The Giver and Fahrenheit 451) and Chinese history. The Cultural Revolution, in particular, blows my mind. This was a period when the government, or more specifically, Mao Zedong, decided that all art should “serve the people” which quickly translated into “serve the state.” Many great artists were ridiculed and great works of art and literature were gathered and destroyed. It’s a crushing story and one that China openly regrets now. As a creative person, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have your life’s work be illegal. Fast forward to American culture today and the educational budget cuts that force public schools in the poorest areas to cut funding for the arts at all levels of childhood development, and we’ve got a much quieter, however equally nefarious situation on our hands. I think it’s important to express in any way we can how important the arts are not only to our children but to humans in general. I chose a futuristic novel.
How do you feel this book reflects socially prevalent opinions of art and artists?
I hope it reflects them closely. I tried to highlight the feeling I think every creative person gets in their gut, that desire to create and appreciate and be a part of something meaningful, even if you don’t know what that something is going to be. Although the “Leaders” in my book don’t allow anything that isn’t of use to the community (harkening back to the days of Mao) I don’t think that’s a far cry from the powers that be today, especially in the US. With more and more emphasis being placed on physical accomplishments and STEM, art, music, literature, and even quality cinema are suffering for lack of respect. I’m not against sports or science, of course. But I think a truly healthy society incorporates all aspects of learning. It doesn’t take much research to discover the benefits of an arts-rich education. The greatest scientists all had creative outlets as well as scientific pursuits. You have to be able to think creatively in order to problem solve, and that’s where all great STEM advancements come from. You can’t nurture those kinds of talents using only one side of a child’s brain.
Would you say your characters are symbolic or realized? What I mean by that is, do you formulate characters based on ideals and values you want them to represent or are they based on archetypes of human character?
When I sketch a character, I start with an archetype, then I add all the layers. For Daughter4254, I began with your basic misfit and then tried to add layers. I don’t ever think about a character representing any one ideal or value, per se. I try to make my characters as well-rounded as possible. They have ideals they aspire to, but a lot of times they are far from achieving those ideals. Sometimes they aren’t the people they think they are. Sometimes they just aren’t good at communicating what they want. In Daughter’s case, she doesn’t know what she wants, she doesn’t even know if it exists, she just knows she wants more and she feels like she needs to fight to find that something. Her story ultimately ends up being a sort of hero’s journey gone wrong.
How does this book differ from your previous book in terms of your writing process?
My previous books are historical fiction in a steampunk setting. I did a lot of research on French Canadian immigrant history and piracy for those books. It was a lot of fun to let my imagination run wild while framing the facts of those stories. I was writing specifically for a younger teen audience and mainly to entertain and inform. Not many people are aware of the true story of The Daughters of the King. Kids are always surprised to hear that the basic foundations of the novels are true. For Daughter4254, I was writing from the gut. Again, it’s a completely fantastic dystopian setting that I have complete control of, but it was more of a visceral experience. All of my books deal with death and loss and coming of age, in a way, but Daughter4254 is a much more serious study of what our world might become if we continue devaluing the arts at the rate we are now. As far as actual process goes, whereas the other books came together quickly. Daughter4254 has taken nearly a decade of writing, rewriting, and deciding on exactly how the story is best presented. I finally settled on an alternating flashback style as a nod to the fact that hindsight is 20/20. We won’t know what we’ve lost until it’s gone.
Daughter4254 delves into the intricacies of a mother-daughter relationship, can you talk about your inspiration for that theme; is there a personal narrative behind it?
Ahh… now we’ve come to the really hard question! Yes and no. I think every child feels the weight of their parents’ expectations most of their lives. My mother and I have a rocky relationship at best, but I still find myself wanting to please her. Daughter’s motivation for a lot of the choices she makes is to make her mother proud. There is something timeless about that. I know very few people who can honestly say they aren’t trying in some way to get their parents’ approval, even late in life, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when they are dead and buried.
Did you set out to explore this theme, or did it emerge as you were writing?
I try to let my themes emerge as I write. I concentrate primarily on character, plot, and setting. After all, my goal is to tell a good story. One of the last things I do before I send a book to my agent is to look for any themes that are emerging. If there is something there that is strong and begging to be pulled out, then I take it by the hand, spread it through the book, and dress it up a bit. I don’t think I could ever force a theme. It would probably come out feeling insincere and hollow. Themes have to be born naturally or for me, they ruin the story.
What do you read when you are working on a piece of fiction? Do you take the read everything or read nothing approach when it comes to influence and inspiration?
I’ve tried both methods, and for me, what works best is read everything, especially in the genre that I’m writing. I used to be afraid that I would accidentally rewrite what I was reading, or that my work wouldn’t be as original or might somehow be contaminated by someone else’s work. But I find exactly the opposite to be true. First of all, you can’t claim to be an artist if you never let yourself be inspired by other artists. Second, you need to know what’s being done in your field. What’s selling? What’s amazing? What’s not so great? Working under a rock is no way to work. Third, even if your plot matches that of a bestseller that you stumble across, chapter for chapter (true story, happened to me once) no one else is going to write it the way you write it. Your voice is uniquely your own, and it’s better to know that book is out there and to be familiar with it than to have your agent school you on it! Trust me on this one. Some of the greatest writers of our time base their novels on classic works or works they admire. The more you dig into your own creative dirt, the more of your own flavor will shine, and in time you will have a completely original piece.
What most excites you about Daughter4254? What should readers be anticipating?
In my wildest dreams, I’m hoping to start a creative revolution, complete with hashtags and bumper stickers and spontaneous works of sidewalk chalk art and impromptu public poetry readings. In reality, I’m extremely pleased with the work Owl Hollow Press did to make this book beautiful on the inside and out. There are all kinds of beautiful touches through the book, the chapter headings, the inside flap. I’m in love with the actual physical copy. I am also excited to share with readers my view of how bad it can get. That probably sounds crazy, but that’s what literature is for, right? To give you a glimpse of what’s possible, be it good or bad. Sometimes you have to look the bad in the face in order to appreciate the good. Make sure to plan a cultural outing as soon as you finish reading. Support your local artists, musicians, and writers. Go see indie films and make a little art yourself. God knows we need it now more than ever.
About the Author
Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer. She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, eight chickens, a fluffy dog, and two suspected serial killer cats. She is pursuing an MFA in Young Adult literature with Converse College and has served South 85 Journal as a Fiction Editor under the name Gwen Holt. She is also the winner of the Southeast Review 2016 Narrative nonfiction prize for her short story, “The Ditch Bank and theFence Line.”
About the Interviewer
Mel Sherrer is a performance poet and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She is the Managing Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal.
Featured Image Photo: A crop of the cover of Daughter4254Read More »
Katie Piccirillo Sherman
During this past Converse MFA summer residency, nonfiction mentor Jim Minick asked students to write a letter revealing a secret they’d never told anyone. Minick provided a number of samples, one of which was written by all-star nonfiction student Cinelle Barnes. Cinelle’s “Letter from an Undocumented” was relevant and timely. Thoughtful and heartfelt. Within it, she discussed her time as an undocumented resident and her battle for citizenship. In the interview below, Cinelle talks about that assignment and how it inevitable lead to her memoir, Monsoon Mansion, to be released in 2018.
S85: You’ve mentioned that your letter lead you down the path towards your memoir. How so?
CB: “Letter from an Undocumented” was nominated for the Journal Intro Award in 2013. It didn’t win and was never published, and so I explored what could be done to fix it. With the help of my MFA mentors, Jim Minick and Dan Wakefield, I found that my true writing voice and style were not coming through for “Letter” because there was still much to be hashed out from events preceding my years as a new immigrant. I remember Dan saying, “This isn’t done. It’s not ready to be written because there’s something else that needs to be written.”
At first I thought that writing “Letter” was such a waste of time and emotional energy, but now I understand that it had to happen. Some things you write because they’re meant to be shared publicly; other things you write to get around to the things that are meant for publishing. “Letter” was my jumping off point, and I think every creative nonfiction writer needs one. We’re all tip-toeing around THE story, and we need these little tippy-toes to inch us closer to the heart of memory and meaning.
S85: Surely you had other secrets to tell. It’s likely though that this was the most obvious and the most difficult. What made you take the leap to write about something so personal and impactful?
CB: I was in a safe space. Living as an undocumented makes you feel like you’re always being watched. But in Jim Minick’s nonfiction workshop, I met the kindest, most generous and loving people. I’ve been lucky to be a part of such amazing workshops, from my Converse College MFA group, to my Kundiman and VONA families.
S85: Was there a particular scene within the book that was more difficult than others to write?
CB: Everything was difficult to write. Every chapter involved an event that has led to my having PTSD. It was all also really difficult in that I was trying to push myself artistically in a way that I had never done before. I didn’t want to just write a trauma memoir for the heck of it, to glorify or exploit my most hurtful experiences or violence in general. I had this grand desire of creating art, of making beauty out of my ashes. For that, I had to train myself to think harder, to write descriptors with better precision, to use my training in dance and music to benefit my writing rhythm and cadence.
S85: What advice do you have for students who are also writing about a difficult subject matter?
You’ll be surprised at how many family members will cooperate and want to be interviewed. My father felt so much pride talking about all his experiences. My sister did, too. There were a few topics that were hard to talk about, but after my dad had his stroke, I remember him thanking me for having documented the good and the bad. He could’ve died or lost all his memories, but I had them recorded somewhere. Whenever it was time to get information from him again, I put on my journalist hat and forgot that he was family, that I knew the man. To me, whenever the voice recorder was on and the steno pad was out, I was no longer Cinelle, the daughter, but was Cinelle, the researcher.
S85: For fiction writers, it’s all about revealing a truth within a lie but within creative nonfiction, you’re recounting actual memories. What is the hardest thing about that?
CB: Memory can fail us. I had to do so much research to tell the story fairly and completely: vital records, photos, interviews, history books, newspapers, etc. The research itself was easy. It was in the discovery of what I didn’t already know that I cried the most. It was in the secondary trauma of reliving the darkness that I thought I would break. I had to go into intense therapy while writing the book, and I’m thankful that I did. If for anything, writing Monsoon Mansion has given me the chance to heal from memories I had repressed.
S85: Was there initially a layer of fear that held the writing back? If so, how did you overcome it?
CB: There was some fear but a lot more faith. I am also surrounded by people who never fail to pray for me, send me encouraging messages, and remind me of the power of the written word. Literature is a communal act. A writing mentor from VONA, Elmaz Abinader, once told me, “You can live a quiet life or you can do the work.” I definitely would rather do the work.
S85: You now have a very creative daughter. If you were writing a letter to her, what advice would you have for surviving a tumultuous (and somewhat anti-immigration) administration?
CB: The day Trump was elected, she ran to our bedroom saying, “Who won, Mama?” I remember telling her that he [Trump] did, in fact, win, and that I had cried about it through the night. She asked me what we would do and if we would be okay, and I told her that as long as we knew who we were, and as long as we could express ourselves, we were going to be alright. The day DACA was repealed, I explained to her what it meant for some friends and family members. She asked me what we could do to help them, and I said, “If we have to adopt every one of them, we will.”
I think raising her to have a generous, fearless spirit is the best I can do. To some degree and in a way that is not psychologically damaging, we keep her abreast of the country’s political state. It’s important to trust her intelligence and to ask her what she thinks. That way she’ll always know that her opinion matters. And the next best thing is for me to encourage her writing, drawing, and painting. It’s good for her own mental and emotional health.
About the Author
Cinelle Barnes is a creative non-fiction writer and educator from Manila, Philippines. She writes memoirs and personal essays on trauma, growing up in Southeast Asia, and on being a mother and immigrant in America.
In 2014, she was nominated for the AWP Journal Intro Award for Creative Non-Fiction, and in 2015 received an MFA from Converse College. She was part of the inaugural Kundiman Creative Non-Fiction Intensive in New York City and is an alum of the VONA/Voices workshop for political content writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Barnes was a presenter and panelist on Diversity in Literature at the Creative Writing Studies Organization Conference in 2016 (Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC).
Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Hub, South85, Skirt!, West Of, Your Life Is A Trip, the Piccolo Spoleto Fiction Series, Itinerant Literate’s StorySlam, and Hub City Press’s online anthology, Multicultural Spartanburg.
About the Interviewer
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her girls — Ella and Addie.