alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Ekphrasis

MD_2_4_cover_small

Ekfa-wha? It sounds like a skin condition, but stick with me for a moment. Ekphrasis is literary commentary on a piece of visual art. In this case, it refers to a short story that I wrote influenced by a sculpture.

A while back, I participated in Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s 2014 “Art & Words Show” held in Fort Worth, Texas. It was sort of a writer-artist exchange program. I submitted a flash fiction story and and an artist produced visual art inspired by the story–in this case, two paintings based upon my piece “Keith Crust’s Lucky Number.” In exchange, I selected a piece of visual art that appealed to me and wrote a story inspired by that art.

I chose–and I mean chose. When Bonnie released the artist selections to us writers, I was there on the second so I could get my first choice–I chose Pam Stern’s sculpture Tuscan Women. It was just so haunting I was sure I would have something to say about it. Pam’s work combines portrait busts of women with architecture. I know, right? So compelling.

tuscan_women_pam_stern

It took me a while to work out the story I wanted to tell about the women holding a Tuscan village on their heads, and about the much darker forces implied by the heavy black sketching at the base of the sculpture. Finally, I discovered that it was an origin story that I had to tell.

The result, “We Will Hold,” is now available to read online in Mythic Delirium 2.4


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What’s In a Name?

Mike Moist? Randy Sexworm? Nah....Keith Crust!

Mike Moist? Randy Sexworm? Nah….Keith Crust!

My story, “Keith Crust’s Lucky Number“* is up in the March issue of Flash Fiction Online.

Keith is a special kind of guy, and he needed a special name. I wanted something punk, but gross, but a little bit silly. For inspiration, I looked up lists of words that people think are the grossest in the English language. I also looked up lists of real, actual last names that nobody in their right mind would want to have. Names like:

Cocks, Willies, Bottoms. Nutters, Dafts, Jellys, Piggs, Baggot, Goggin, Gaggin, Gag, Grave, Stranger, Slow, Crankshaw, Onion, Willy, Poor, Hustler, Glasscock, Shufflebottom, Dungworth, Clutterbuck, Hardmeat, Bonefat, Turtle, Cornfoot, Hole, Drain.

I mean, come on. Clutterbuck? Say that three times fast. I dare you not to snigger like a seventh-grader drawing penises in his algebra book.

I had a great time coming up with Keith’s name. For once, I didn’t have to rein myself in: I could go all Dickens with my godlike powers** of writerly naming.

What do you think: are character names important to the story you want to tell? Sometimes? All of the time?
Is it fun coming up with character names? Or a pain in the neck?***

*See also: my earlier post about pawn shops.
**Writers don’t get a lot of power, which is probably for the best, since when we do, it goes to our heads.
***For me, always fun. Changing my imaginary name was practically my childhood hobby. I have been (in my head) variously: Tina, Angelique, Maureen, Constanza, & Trixie. And about one zillion others.


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NaNo Now What? — The Great Novel Revision of 2013

Very sad statue in Paris

Photo by Toni Birrer, via Flickr (CC-BY_SA)

In November, I wrote a novel novel-length THING.

On December 1st*, I felt immense relief and deep, personal satisfaction.
On December 2nd, I entered the 6 stages of grief PTSD (Post Draft Stress Disorder):

  1. Talking about how much I hate what I wrote
  2. While secretly fantasizing about how superb (imaginative, yet readable, yet funny, yet brave, yet unexpected, yet deep and touching, yet best-selling, yet critically-acclaimed) it is
  3. But knowing even more secretly how this is completely NOT TRUE
  4. Deciding it was a good experience and I learned a lot but I will never look at this particular lopsided story aberration ever again. It would be the kindest thing to do, truly. Best just to move on.
  5. Remembering that brilliant first draft of that *other* novel I wrote 3 years ago, which would totally TOTALLY be less work to revise–only two weeks, okay a month, tops–after which it would be a best-seller, yet critically-acclaimed, yet funny, yet heart-wrenching, yet…see #2.
  6. Talking it all over with Ashley Hope Perez on a freezing cold morning run, and deciding that the wisest course is to suck it up and REVISE** what I just wrote.***

This morning, I sat down to try to make a plan for THE GREAT NOVEL REVISION OF 2013. I got out my trusty notebook, wrote today’s date at the top of the page and the word, “Plans,” which I underlined 3 times to emphasize my sincerity and determination. And then…

<<< >>>

Yeah. Exactly that. Because you know what? I’ve never revised a novel before. I have no idea what happens, or how long any of it takes. But, you know, learn by doing and all that. Thanks to Nos. 1 & 3, above, I have some ideas about where my story is lacking. And I’ve identified some resources that I think might help:

Did you write a novel for NaNo? Did you write a thing? A half-thing?
Are you going to do anything with it?
What’s YOUR plan?

*Well, actually at about 11:52 am on November 30th
**You smart people saw this one coming, didn’t you? That was always going to be the answer. The shortest distance between two points is….well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be a writer, now would I?
***Though it’s possible I would have agreed to anything while my brain was popsicled. Seriously, it was colder than a polar bear’s breakfast out there.


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Tube Amps & Frankenstein Fashion: My history with pawn shops

I sometimes work as a photo researcher in order to earn money to buy ridiculous quantities of fresh fruit*, and I come across all kinds of fabulous, kooky, mysterious, sad, inspiring photos. I like to share my finds, and since I recently wrote a story that takes place in a pawn shop, that’s what you’re going to get.

Pawn shop, Beale Street, Memphis, TN. October 1939. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott.

In my teen years, I spent a lot of time rummaging through second-hand and thrift stores, usually looking for some appalling seventies hostess gown that I could dissect and, with my very rudimentary sewing skills, Frankenstein into my idea of fashion. I loved the lives and ideas and the *history*  that welled up in me when I walked into one of those places. The friction I felt was like walking into a library, all those second-hand and gently (and not-so-gently) used goods were just PACKED with stories. I could feel them. I swear. They were stories that I was going to gruesomely cut up and make into new stories, sure, but isn’t that what all good stories are? Little pieces of history and experience stitched together in a new way.

Cleveland, OH [1970s]

Once, I was shopping with a friend who liked to think he was all goth, and he said, “Eww, maybe the person who wore that is dead. Doesn’t that creep you out, to wear a dead person’s clothes?” But, I kind of liked the idea. They were dead, but their clothes were still here. And I was going to take them out of the closet and show them a good time.

Pawn shop [no date], Bain News Service

I thought I was good with the second-hand market until I had a boyfriend who dragged me into a pawn shop looking for old tube amps. Now, *that* was a creepy place. It might have been full of stories, but they weren’t good stories. Instead of the bored/dotty/nosy/grumpy old lady behind the counter there was some big guy in a sleeveless T-shirt and a handlebar moustache. At the time, I don’t think I understood that “pawn” meant a place cash-strapped people went to raise money. I just knew it was a place where I didn’t feel welcome.

*Peaches are the best fruit there is in the world ever, and Monkey** agrees.

**Relevant bit at 10:03

Photos courtesy the Library of Congress and the National Archive


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Right Mind

Broken House by cindy47452 on flickr. This picture makes me feel the same way as a house I drive by everyday.

Broken House by cindy47452 on flickr. This picture makes me feel the same way as a house I drive by everyday.

I’ve been trying to get my writer’s house in order lately, trying to organize the forces of the universe in my direction. It’s not that I think feng shui is going to make me the next Meg Cabot, but more like I’m trying to see my obligations beyond putting words on the page, and do the right thing.

This week, I finally sent that thank-you letter for the conference scholarship I received in June. I sent out two stories for submission, not because I think they’ll be accepted, but because sending out stories is the right path and I’ve neglected it.

Along those lines, Tayari Jones has a really nice post about what to do with feedback on your work. It starts and ends with gratitude to your readers, but in between there are practical suggestions like “listen to the vibe of the comment as much as the specifics” and “when you love something that one of your readers hates, just sit with it for a while.” I’m going through a couple of revisions right now, and it is not my favorite fun time. Reading her post makes me feel calm and serene, yet powerful, like I’ve just had a great yoga class.

And while that universe alignment may not be working for me, at least it’s working–a good friend is on the verge of selling her first novel. Glad to help.


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It’s Not About You + Trouble

Glimmer Train always has such good stuff.

Someone recently told me that they had decided not to take a writing class because of the inevitable presence of  folks who use the workshop to display their own critical smarty-pants, broadcast the tones of their mellifluous voices, and who aren’t willing to take seriously the work that’s in front of them. I admit that I have spent plenty of workshops fuming with impatience, head bent over my papers so no one can see my eyes rolling, but I evenutally realized, as Jeremiah Chamberlin says in this article, that Workshop Is Not About Me (or My Work). The point of a workshop is to become a better writer, and listening to a group of strangers tell you that they, personally, prefer a story with more post-apocalyptic biker fairies, isn’t how that happens.

When I’m working on one of those virtuous critiques of someone else’s story that seems to be all about helping them out, but instead is all about me making my own stories better, I’m always harping on trouble. Trouble is something I have trouble with, too. Most of us writer-types like peaceful lives — it’s why we stay locked up behind closed doors making things up on a keyboard when we could be out in the world lying, shooting, screwing, stealing, cooking meth and picking daisies. We tend to be fond of our characters, and, unconciously, at least, we want them to have peaceful lives too. But that’s why ‘happily ever after’ traditionally comes at the end of the story – now that everyone’s happy there’s nothing left to tell. Aaron Gwyn gives good advice for the hows and whys of getting some Trouble into your stories.


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Snapshot

It’s a gorgeous day.
I’ll be in my windowless office for the next 5 hours, but I got 20 minutes of driving here, and I’m thankful.

I started writing again this morning. It’s a good feeling.
It’s also a mixed feeling: hope, excitement, and fear are the main parts.
This time I’m going to try to remember to enjoy it more. More fun, less duty.

If you’re supposed to be writing, I hope you are.