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Month: October 2013

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A Last Moment of Intimacy

This is the last week of the rollout. Look back: the first story launched on June 26 (of this year, as my friend from writing group would clarify.) We sustained a hiatus when my daddy died, then resumed with vigor. When the current week is done, we will enter PHASE II. The collection will be made available in full on other host sites. The work will enter the wider world. So let’s enjoy this last moment of intimacy. When it’s just you and me and the stories, whispering in your ear: “Listen, I want to tell you a story.”

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

4 Simple Questions

Our mini-series, “Recording Your Fiction,” is a on-going conversation about audio as a self-publishing option. I’m a published author who recently recorded my short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love. The stories have been rolling out on-line one story per week; they’re available for free listening on this blog, iTunes, and YouTube. Based on my experience with both the publishing and recording option, here are a few questions I’d ask myself if I were to make this decision again:

* Is there a reason you want the stories available in audio?

This sounds so simple, but recording your fiction is not a way to avoid technical issues, time commitment, or money. The actual recording is easy and inexpensive; the tricky part is cleaning up your recorded product so people want to listen to it. I could not have tackled the technicals necessary to learn how to do this. Thankfully, I had a friend who was a professional sound engineer who did it for me, but because he was a professional, he was not free. Thus, just like with self-publishing an e-book, you will have some combination of time and money invested in your audio collection. So, again, the question is: do you have a particular reason for wanting to record, rather then print, your fiction?

* Is your fiction suited to audio?

Listening is harder than reading. Sentences must clear. Action easy to follow, dialogue quickly attributed. This means you need a product that’s well written and, I hate to say it, well edited. If it’s not, the audio amplifies the problems.

* Do you like your recorded voice?

if you don’t have any experience with radio, etc., you might want to ask friends to help with this one. The first time you hear your recorded voice, you might think, God-almighty, that’s awful. Others might disagree. Or vice-versa—you might need some polishing that you don’t hear. But the bottom line is you don’t want to spend a lot of time and money producing something that you can’t stand to listen to. 

* Are you ready to explain (over and over again) that you do not, in fact, have a book?

I have experienced a low-level of understanding about what I’m doing. I’m okay with that—I like doing new things—but the literary world isn’t really audio-friendly. Facebook, for example, has no page category for “audio book” so you check “book” and then—ha!—everyone thinks you have a book. If you want to fit easily into folks’ expectations, don’t record your fiction. 

All of these answers, of course, are based on my very own personal experience. Others might feel differently. Hence a “conversation.” Let me know what you think. 

 

Remembering Sonja

Her hair wound in a braid down her back, always. She was Indian, her dad a professor at Duke. Sonja was her name. We were in the 7th grade, she a part of the group of girls who had welcomed me, the new student, into their friendship. She wore tennis shoes to school and the long black braid.
One time, at a spend-the-night party, I saw her hair freed. It was beautiful, thick and lifting. It nestled around her neck, kissed the air like a black halo. I talked her into wearing it loose to school. She’d never done that before.
Monday, I saw her at the water cooler, her hand whipping around to braid her hair back into place. “No,” I said, when she told me they’d made fun of her, laughed at her hair. “It’s beautiful.”
“I listened to you,” she said, wiping away the tears with the back of her hand then taking a drink of water to hide her crying. “I won’t do it again.”
*
I had forgotten how much I hate giving advice to kids. Then yesterday I spoke to a roomful of 10th-12th graders about writing a speech for a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratory Contest. I was asked to speak because I believe in encouraging every writers’ voice. I believe in giving folks an opportunity to express what they want to express in their own particular, personal, creative way. I also believe in elbowing room at the table so others will listen to what they have to say. But until yesterday, my audience had always been adults.
In the middle of the night last night, I woke up in a cold sweat wondering what I had done. And I remembered Sonja.
*
I saw the clump of boys. They were down the hallway where Sonja had pointed. Her taunters weren’t other girls. They were boys. Our group was not the popular girls. We were the smartest girl in the class; the only Indian girl in the grade; the skinny Black girl in heavy glasses; the new girl who wore inappropriate clothes (my Lord, when I read this, I see an awful after-school special). The boys were the athletes, the cute boys. Boys who never paid one iota of attention to us. Now they are making fun of Sonja. And it was all my fault.
*
The topic for this years’ MLK speech was bullying. The facilitator asked me to use an example of a “good” speech as part of my talk. To comply, I had to do some research. I don’t remember reading anything about those who inadvertently put someone in a situation to be bullied, because it was only in the middle of the night that I remembered Sonja. When that happened, I lay there thinking, I told those kids to talk about what was interesting to them. I told them what they had to say was going to be what really mattered. I told them to put themselves out there, the very thing that could wind up leading someone to bully them.
*
What I can only hope is that Sonja grew up into a world that appreciated her beauty. I hope she did not spend her life with her hair tightly braided because releasing it had not worked well for her in the past. I hope she does not remember me as a rash girl who thoughtlessly stuck her nose into a place it didn’t belong, resulting in hurt. I hope that if one of those kids writes an amazing speech that reveals his or her heart in an extraordinarily odd way, their peers will clap and cheer, the sound of applause drowning out anyone who might jeer at a child’s willingness to be vulnerable.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Everyone’s talking about e-book or print, self-publishing or traditional. I want to talk about something different. Following the advice of my favorite fortune cookie ever—try a different way or new approach—today, I’m beginning a conversation about a different approach: audio. That is, recording your work and making it available to listeners on-line.
I do not speak from a point of authority; I speak from experience. I am a long-time writer, winner of numerous contests, holder of a Special Mention from Pushcart Prize for a short story, contributor to Sue Silverman’s memoir-writing instructional book Fearless Confessions, author of a traditionally published book, Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God. And I’ve just recorded a short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, which is now available to the public.
The conversation will include questions to ask in deciding if recording is right for you, tips on getting started, truths I learned along the way, my experience with the listening public, etc. But today we are going to take a look at the fears that I encountered when I first clicked on the microphone and began to read my words aloud.
Thanks for listening, join in the discussion, share this blog with anyone who likes to try something new—glad to have you along.

Recording Fears, or Why Your Heart Might Skip a Beat

  1. Your voice will sound stupid
  2. Your voice will sound old
  3. Your voice will sound JUST LIKE YOU
  4. You will use a phrase that unbeknownst to you is slang for a pornographic sex act
  5. You will mispronounce a word and not know it and your ignorance will be recorded for all the world to hear
  6. You will no longer be able to pretend this thing isn’t important to you
  7. Those who run the charities you’ve paired with the stories will be offended—now, we don’t want our name associated with that
  8. A friend will ask to listen to the story while you’re sitting there, mortifying you to death
  9. A really good writer will listen to the story and use it as the foundation of a blog entry on why we shouldn’t let amateurs have microphones
  10. People will feel like they know you
  11. You will have spent all this money for NOTHING
  12. Someone will complain about your using Robb Pate’s music without compensating him even though he’s dead
  13. Those who know you from your cross book will be shocked—I thought she was a religious person . . .
  14. You will offend Black folk or gay folk or poor folk or Indian folk—what the hell were you thinking?!?
  15. Your mother will hear you say a very bad word, out loud
  16. People will give your upstanding husband the stink-eye just because his wife is strange
  17. No one will donate to the charities
  18. You are trying to market an approach (online, iTunes, YouTube, blog) to an audience too old (i.e. your age) to be interested, and the audience who gets the approach are too young to care about your work
  19. Listeners won’t think the stories are funny, they won’t get it, they will find it just plain offensive
  20. They won’t think anything at all because no one is listening, your voice echoing into nothingness

Stay Tuned for Part II: How to Overcome Your Fears and Forge Ahead

 

Why Abandon the Book?

I am a child of the book. No more than five books from the children’s section of the library—what’s to be done? Not enough money to buy more than one book from the Book Mobile, thank God for Little Bear gifts from loving aunts. Summers spent in air-conditioned rooms lazing on beds, reading one Faulkner after another Welty after another, all in diamond-patterned or green-backed or crackly plastic covers. I grew up to discover paperbacks— The Bluest Eye and the Right Stuff: all right!—and when I got money practicing law, hardbacks.
So why record?
I loved the brown-edged pages, the stiff spines, the thick square paperbacks. I picked which Austin I wanted by which cover I liked. I opened the books and sniffed. I wanted to own that which I loved and I made shelves to hold them in my house.
So why record?
Why turn traitor?
Why abandon the book?
What’s fun is fun and what’s done is done. The stories are fun; the recording is done. The stories had been in print—literary journals, I know, right?—so take a Mulligan. Try something new, you’ve got nothing to lose.
But, seriously. I want the work OUT THERE. Even if that means no book.
Would I be sad if the world continues to change and by the time I finally get a novel ready to launch, the written book is gone, poof! Hell, yes.
Until then, you can go on-line. Hear me read, hear me roar.
And who knows—if the stories get popular enough, maybe I’ll put out the collection in a book.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love . . .

An Audacious Proclamation

I had a friend. His name was Brandon. He died. He was in his early 80s, so he was supposed to die, right? But Brandon had a goal. He wanted to be the oldest ever first-time-published author. I loved Brandon for this goal, and I thought he would meet it, because he was a damn fine writer.
Then he died.
One of the things I am thankful for in my life is that Brandon’s son called me and let me know Brandon had died. Brandon and I were writing group friends. We swapped work. We emailed back and forth. I got zapped back to me printed copies of my stories scrawled with red ink, the hell edited out of them. I knew Brandon, he knew me. But our interaction was in a limited loop. It did not include his family. Thus my thankfulness.
Now I’m picking up Brandon’s banner. I want to be the oldest ever first-time-published-Southern-phenom author. I am not talking about literary acclaim. I’m talking about accessibility. A FUNNY Southern writer. Okay, okay. I’m not gonna be the next Kathryn Stockett. I have limits to my aspirations. But I want my place in the pantheon. And, in Brandon’s name, I’m going after it.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

“Full Moon Walk”

When her girls were young, my older sister led them on full moon walks. Once a month, when the moon was full, the family would set out, walking into the nighttime. Sometimes the walk was around the block. Sometimes it occurred on hikes through the wilderness. Always, the walks happened when and where the moon happened.

Once, when the family was visiting me in Memphis, the moon rose full. We did not walk along the Mississippi River, marveling at the strong flowing water. We did not tromp through the cottonwood groves of Mud Island, necks craned at the magnificent trees. We went on a full moon walk down Beale Street: brick-paved, honky-tonk lined, birthplace of the blues Beale Street. Thus was birthed this week’s story.

The story is dedicated to my sister. The “moral” of the story is hers; the lesson learned mine. My nieces in their younger lives did do Scottish dancing; I can still see them in my mind’s eye, arms raised, legs bent. My sister’s husband did not run off with his physical therapist; I did have a grandmother whose hair was cut only once in her life. The rest of the story—reality, fiction—well, lines blur, don’t they?

I hope you enjoy the story. If you do, please thank my sister.

“Full Moon Walk”. Listen to the story here:

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

“Full Moon Walk” 

First appeared in print in Southern Women’s Review.

To contribute to The Nature Conservancy, a worldwide charity preserving the lands and waters on which all life depends, please follow the link here or visit www.nature.org.

Listen to the story here:

You’re Loser, Baby

My fiction is for those who like Flight of the Conchords … even though the show’s no longer on TV. Or “Trailer Park Boys” … even though it’s from Canada … and no longer on TV. Or Beck’s “Loser” … even though its real name is (Get Crazy with the Cheeze-Whiz). Or anyone whose favorite character on “My Name is Earl” was Crabman … even though it’s no longer on TV (ahhhh – I see a theme, and possibly why your fiction doesn’t sell.)

In Medias Res

On the sidewalk, we pass a busker clutching a tuba telling his friend he wanted a machete. My gait causes me to lag behind Tom, and a man on a weaving bicycle calls, “Hey, darling. Out for a morning stroll?”
I twist my head, thinking I know him—who would I know in the Bywater in New Orleans?—because it’s been so long since it’s happened I’d forgotten: strangers will hit on you. When the grinning man realizes I’m with Tom, he limps on by. “I have a flat tire,” he says over the shoulder of his wobbly departure.
We cross the street and, using her own indiscernible standards, Evangeline yaps at some dogs, leaves others alone. It’s supposed to be fall, but it’s hot as hell, and she wants some water. I seem to remember the Healing Center used to have water bowls for dogs, but it does no more. Tom disappears—I forget where he goes—and reappears to unbridled enthusiasm. Whether it’s been five minutes or five hours, the dog loves to see him return. Me, too.
The trip back home, I lead Evangeline. We divide our duties that way: Tom led on the way to, I lead on the return from. When we get back to the apartment, the dog’s hair is full of burrs, small buff-colored razor balls that embed themselves and hold on for dear life. Beggar lice, too, fellow travelers on this road of life. She watches me pluck them from her hair, then looks up and licks my nose, grateful. Tomorrow, we will return from an afternoon on Magazine Street and I will have such bad give-downs I’ll get in the bed and sleep until 11:00 the next morning. But, today, I walk to the Healing Center and back, in love with life.

here’s to Creative Synthesis . . .

The stories are free, because so many of them have already been published in literary journals. To the extent I would be paid for them, I have been. So you get them for free.
But.
There’s always a but, right?
It’s a little but, I promise.
Each story is paired with a charity, non-profit, or community organization. After you listen to the story, you have the option to donate to the paired organization.
$1. $2. $50. Whatever you feel you want to give.
Or give nothing. Just enjoy the stories.
Many of you have told me you’re listening.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Some of you have told me you’ve donated.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
If you’ve done neither, now’s your chance.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

“Pocketbook Syndrome” 

First appeared in print in New Madrid.

To contribute to the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, a charity working to build safer places within ourselves and in our community, please follow the link here or visit mglcc.org

Listen to the story here: 

Realistic Writing, Take Two

What is it with this story? Second reader asks, “Did it really happen? I never know with you—you write so realistically.”

That’s at least two folks believing that, possibly, when I was showing clothes I’d gotten into fisticuffs with a member of the audience. Do I look like a women ready to throw a roundhouse punch?

hat

But that’s also two folks believing I write “realistically.”

This story is turning out to be more interesting than I ‘d ever imagined.

Remember: you cain’t do nothing with love . . .

 

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