Mothers and Other Creatures: A bioStories Anthology

As a writer, I strive for economy, precision and beauty. As a reader, I look for the same qualities; if I don’t find them, I’ll abandon the book.
I just read Mothers and Other Creatures: A bioStories Anthology, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Every story is genuine, moving and memorable, and the writing is first-rate, free of superfluity. Kudos to the talented contributors and many thanks to editor Mark Leichliter for culling such a fine collection. Please visit his website, bioStories, to read more excellent essays.

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The Writer’s High

I have finished writing another short story. The world is not waiting for this story, I do not anticipate payment (certainly nothing commensurate with the effort), and readership will likely be modest, assuming I find a publisher. Still, I am elated.

Why? If not for payment or acclaim, why do we write? What sustains us? What accounts for the gratification?

It is not hope. When we are fully engaged in our writing, what time is there for hope? What use is hope?

Nor is it pride. While we may be pleased with our stamina and resolve, we know that our talent will always fall short of our vision, and we accept this. We write anyway.

Spiritual leaders teach us that pleasure dependent on nothing is the only pleasure that lasts. I think our writerly thrill comes from this mysterious, inviolable place, beyond the reach of fame and fortune and everything else that comes and goes. This is the answer to our effort, this very private bliss. For as long as we live, for as long as we write, we have access to it.

I once attended an excellent reading by a famous author. Afterward, someone in the audience asked this woman if she had a blog. The author said no, explaining that she had made a promise to herself to never write anything for free. You have to admire that kind of integrity, but I wonder: How can she resist?

Q&A with Jennifer Hartsock

I am grateful to Jennifer Hartsock for posting this interview on the Ashland Creek Press blog. Please visit the ACP website to learn more about this extraordinary publisher.

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Ashland Creek Press is a small, independent publisher of books with a world view. Our mission is to publish a range of books that foster an appreciation for worlds outside our own, for nature and the animal kingdom, and for the ways in which we all connect.

To Alice Munro

Recently a friend commented on a story from my collection. She told me how much she despised one of the characters (an attractive, unscrupulous woman), and then she proposed alternate outcomes for her. Had I considered doing this with her instead of that? Was I going to write another story about her? Maybe next time she could be overweight, deep in debt—in trouble with the feds! In other words: What Happens Next?

I am often surprised by how invested people can be in the stories they read, how unwilling they are to let go of them. When I told my friend that I had no plans to continue this story line, that when I was done with a story, I was done with it, her face fell. “Maybe you will,” she said, “later.” I smiled and said, “You never know.”

Rousing this degree of interest is of course a good thing, indicating that I did my job as a writer. Still, I wish she had said something about the style of the story. Was it a smooth read? Did she have any favorite passages or images? Had I chosen the best point of view? Did she notice the alliteration? Was the dialogue convincing? Was the setting real?

As I writer I notice all these things when I read. I can tell right away if an author has labored hard, or if he has taken short cuts. If the sentences aren’t clean, if the images aren’t striking, if the writing does not make me pause, think and admire, I probably won’t be finishing the book. Life is short. I want to read the sort of stories that make me wish I had written them, like the carefully crafted work of Alice Munro.

Readers are travelers; books are vehicles. Unless they are writers themselves, most readers don’t seem to care much about how the vehicle works, the machinery behind the journey. Imperfections, even outright errors, are forgiven, if they are noticed at all, so long as pace is maintained. While they may enjoy the passing scenery, what readers want most is to get where they’re going. If the destination pleases them, they will want to go back, hang out with the same characters, see what new trouble they can get into, learn what happens next.

The Da Vinci Code. Harry Potter. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fifty Shades of Grey. These are wildly popular rides, and I respect the authors. A gift to the masses is no small thing.

Blockbusters like these are what makes the latest literary news such a nice surprise. It was Alice Munro who just received the Nobel Prize, and not for crowd-pleasing novels, but for her unstinting effort in the improbable short story genre. Cheers to you, Alice, for giving the world your very best again and again, for writing against the grain and from the heart. That’s showing them.

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