Empire & Great Jones 100-Word Challenge

Empire & Great Jones 100-Word Challenge.

 

Empire & Great Jones 100-Word Challenge

The challenge is simple:

  1. Post a 100-word story or poem
    Try to hit exactly 100 words!
    You can post your writing as a comment on the Spark page (link at the top), on social media, or on your own blog—doesn’t matter where you post it, just post it (and we’d love to hear about it when you do).

    ~ or ~

    Pledge 100 cents at SparkAnthology.org/support
    (That’s $1 a month.) It’s also okay to do both parts: write 100 words and pledge 100 cents.

  2. Nominate three others to take the 100-Word Challenge.
    Share the link to this page and tag three people—authors, poets, family, and friends—to take the callenge: SparkAnthology.org/100-word-challenge

So, why take the challenge?

The primary goal of this challenge is to have some fun and be creative! In the process, you’re also helping us spread the word about the Empire & Great Jones Creative Arts Foundation and our non-profit mission in support of writing and literacy.

When you pledge $1 or more at SparkAnthology.org/support, you enable us to sustain and expand our scholarship program, which currently funds a full-tuition scholarship to the Clarion West Writers Workshopand a full-tuition scholarship to the California State Summer School for the Arts:

You enable us to showcase great writing talent through multiple publications and reach our goal of paying professional rates to all contributors, regardless of their publication histories:

And you enable us to host a quarterly writing contest with no entry fee and a $500 grand prize:
Monsters and Marvels by Tyler Lamph

Because we’ve already passed our first goal of $100/month at SparkAnthology.org/support, when you become a patron you’ll always get early access to content (starting with Volume VII).

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Pearls Before Swine

It doesn’t mean you’re a total loser.

It doesn’t mean you’re a total loser.

Years ago, I applied to Rivoli, a four-star restaurant in Albany, California.  Of course, I had delivered my résumé to several restaurants, but I was very interested in this job, as I had eaten there several times, and it was genuinely deserving of its reputation as one of the finest Mediterranean restaurants in the East Bay.

The chef thanked me for my interest, but told me that she had decided not to offer me the job at the time.  Of course, I had to respond.

Dear Chef Wendy,

You’re an idiot.  If you can’t see the value I would bring to your third-rate eatery, maybe you should go back to cooking school.

At any rate, I was hired at Bucci’s, so obviously they know quality when they see it.

Good luck with your little Italian chuck wagon.

Sincerely,

George Wells

You are now horrified that I would do such a thing, aren’t you?  Why would I do that?  Why would I insult this chef, throw it in her face that I got another job, risk any chance of working with her in the future—indeed, anywhere in the East Bay, given how people in the same industry tend to run in the same circles and tell these stories?

The answer is I didn’t.  I wouldn’t.  Would you?  Have you?

I am Writer Liaison at Spark: A Creative Anthology, which means I’m usually the guy giving you the bad news if you submitted to us. The above letter is actually a rewording of several responses to our rejection letters to submitters.  Now, we’re not perfect, but we do offer personal feedback and do our best to make sure that it’s constructive and encouraging.  I’m sure that we’re closer to that now than when Spark started.  However, just as opinions on a story or poem are subjective, so are writers’ reactions to those opinions.

We’re not swine, and those pearls need a good polishing.

We’re not swine, and those pearls need a good polishing.

But here’s the thing: you are better off keeping those opinions to yourself.  Nothing good will come of telling the editorial staff of any publication that you disagree with their assessment of your writing.  Those notes are offered to help you make your writing better, to improve that piece and hopefully future efforts, or at least find another market more suited to your style and vision in your writing.  It is not an invitation to open a dialog.

That last statement sounds a bit harsh, I know, but please keep in mind that we are volunteers.  We don’t get paid for this, it takes time away from other activities, such as family obligations, hobbies, cleaning the house, scratching our bellies while we eat a jumbo bag of chips during a Twilight Zone marathon, whatever.

Remote

Or even worse, we can’t watch the Twilight Zone marathon due to circumstances beyond our control.

So what do you say to that rejection?  If you want, a thank you would be just fine. Most people don’t respond at all, but some reply with, “Thank you for the feedback.  While I was hoping for an acceptance, this is the next best thing.”  And we’re always happy to hear that.  We probably won’t respond, but it does bring a smile to our faces.

Because many of the writers who have had work accepted for publication in Spark have also had work rejected by Spark, yours truly included.

But nobody has been accepted after responding to us with anger and insults.

Food for thought.*

*Speaking of food, if you find yourself in the East Bay Area, Rivoli in Albany and Bucci’s in Emeryville really are amazing restaurants.  You should check them out.

 

In the spirit of the post, today’s song is You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Roky Erickson.

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Jump! Another Bloghop

Dude, where have you been?  Busy.  I’ve been busy.

Hey! Maybe a bloghop will light a fire under my ass. My friend Katie Stephens, made me do this.  It’s all her fault.

Q: What am I working on?

So many things that I’m getting nowhere on all of them.

First, there’s my dysfunctional family novel, which is taking a long time, since it’s multigenerational and I want to get all of the time frames right.  That means research, because I hate it when novels don’t get the details right.  Besides little things like knowing how long a car drive from point A to point B would be in California in the late ‘60s, for example, I’m learning a lot about mental illness, alcoholism, psychology, childbirth, etc.  So much work, but so fascinating.

Then, I’m working on a short story cycle around a small Mexican town called El Olvidado (The Forgotten).  It’s a terrible place and terrible things happen to its inhabitants, but I’m in love with those poor souls.  The first in that series, Patron Saint of the Lowlands, came out in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume II, another is looking for a home, five more are in the polishing stages, and the rest are still rattling around my noggin.

Finally, I’m venturing into poetry this year.  I hope to have good news on that front soon.

Q: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t honestly know.  This is a question that somebody else would have to answer, I think.  I actually hate comparing myself to other writers, since I’d like to think I’m the only one doing what I do.  There isn’t another George Wells.

Q: Why do I write what I do?

Although I do enjoy sci-fi, horror, even an occasional mystery, I’m more interested in real life people and their personal problems.  Life is rough and my characters go through hell—indeed, many of them die—but ultimately, I’m an upbeat person, and I see hope my words.  I don’t know if readers agree, though.  Since a story of mine just got rejected for an anthology with hope as its theme, perhaps not.  Maybe when I have a larger body of work that will be more obvious.

Q: How does your writing process work?

I mostly write in the evenings after dinner or at any time on the weekends.  I either have a coffee or a juice to sip on, music playing, and several other tasks working.  When it’s really time to get something written is when I get the most housework done.  I can’t stand silence and I can’t sit still.

I usually have the idea in my head and start writing once I have the first sentence.  I can write anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 in a sitting, but it’s usually on the lower side on the first draft.  Then, I read it once more for errors or minor changes and post it to Scribophile to get it workshopped.  I don’t trust myself, and need other eyes to help me find the rough spots.  Before sending it out, I ask one of my most trusted writer friends to take a last look.  Then, I send it out and hope for the best.

Q: Who will we meet next week?

TL Gray: Author, Agent, Writer, Editor, Reviewer, Blogger, Social Media Specialist, Web Site Manager, Speaker.

Which means that she gets more done before my morning coffee than I do in an entire day.  I’m okay with that.

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C. J. Jessop is an English writer, living in Colorado, USA with her husband and army of cat.

And she has a great sense of humor or endless patience, considering how many times I’ve ribbed her about being a Brit.

My Photo

JC Hemphill: With over thirty publications in the last few years, some of his work has appeared inBuzzy Mag, the Stoker nominated Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, S.T. Joshi’sWeird Fiction Review, Stupefying Stories, and Spark: A Creative Anthology. He is also the 2012 winner of The Washington Pastime literary award.

He lives in Colorado with his wife and two dogs.

I recently had the pleasure of sharing space with JC in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume IV.  Dead Dog is wonderfully creepy.

Thanks for reading.  You can follow these awesome writers at any time on their blogs, and they will answer these questions for you.   I’ll be back soon with a fun rant.

Soon.  Yes, I mean it.  Shut up.  I’ll be back, you’ll see.

Thanks again for joining me on the hop, skip, and…

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It’s a Bit Drafty in Here.

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.—William Faulkner

…and dozens of authors who said something similar about rewriting being the name of the game.

Rewriting is my least favorite part of the process.  I love the initial burst of creativity, the ideas flowing just a bit faster than my typing ability, that feeling of accomplishment when I save the document at the end of a writing session.

It doesn’t end there, though.  I have to take it to workshop, where the story gets picked apart on every level: story as a whole, paragraph, sentence, down to a single word.  I take that advice to heart and consider all possibilities to make it the best it can possibly be.  That’s where Faulkner comes in.

The advice to “kill your darlings” is not about dead characters—although I’ve got plenty of those—but rather to not fall so in love with any part of your writing that you can’t objectively judge its role in the completed story.  That sentence may be great, it could be pure poetry, but does it really belong?

There was a discussion in workshop the other day about what people do with these excised bits.  Some think of them as being in a graveyard.  I call that place The Vault.

I save every draft of everything I write, no matter how bad it is, because there might be something I can use in the future somewhere.  A particular sentence, maybe the germ of an idea.  I’ve got tons of drafts and a few completed stories.

I’m a word hoarder, because “I’m totally going to use that someday.”

And my words won’t eat me if I die in my sleep.

Here are some scraps:

In 1978, when I was seven and a half and going into second grade, my parents joined the Urban Exodus, crudely known as “White Flight”, and left Sacramento, buying property in Galt, California.

We were the suburbanites running away from the rot of urban life, the violence that was growing towards us, the drugs that were thought of as nothing more than a hippy pastime only a few years before, we who would try to recreate that abandoned suburbia, but with more breathing room.

Now, these are actually from two different creative non-fiction pieces.  One I never finished, the other I submitted and had rejected.  Where I will use them, I don’t know, but they might be useful somewhere, someday.  Maybe not, but what if I throw them away and need them later?

I’d like to look at an example of how this works in the world of music, because I love music, as you probably know by now.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of reissues of classic albums with expanded editions, including demos of songs that were not released on the album or else were drastically changed.  I found something very interesting from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

We actually have to go back a bit, to before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the group.  They released an album in 1973, which featured this song, Lola (My Love).  Pay special attention to the intro. And enjoy a young Stevie Nicks showing you some sideboob.

Back to the Rumours demos.  This song from Christine McVie, Keep Me There, didn’t make the cut, and for some reason was never rerecorded for any Fleetwood Mac or solo McVie album, and I don’t know why.  It’s a great song.  (If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, jump to the 2:30 mark and listen for a few seconds.  You’ll get the idea.)

The next demo is an acoustic number by Stevie Nicks, called The Chain.  No, not that song.  Well, kind of. Listen through the chorus, which starts at about 1:20, for those of you who are in a hurry.

The final product is the song that we now know as The Chain.  The intro to Lola (My Love) was reworked and rerecorded, the original of The Chain was rewritten and recorded with added lyrics and different music, and the ending of Keep Me There was added by cutting the tape and tacking it onto the end of the newly recorded material.

Which goes to show that nobody craps out a masterpiece.

Those bits and pieces ended up as this, and if you haven’t heard it, welcome back from Siberia.

By the way, and going back to that earlier sampling of snippets of unused writing, I remember listening to this song in my mom’s car on 8-track around that time.  I especially loved that I could sing along to “Damn your love, damn your lies” and Mom didn’t object.  I guess song lyrics didn’t count as swearing.

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening.  I’ll be back at the end of the month.  I’m going on a paycheck schedule, so you’ll see me in the middle and at the end of the month.  Lots of writing, lots of reading, and I do have a day job, you know.

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Happy New Year!

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New things coming soon.  Changes in my plans, changes in my blog, possibly even changes in my skivvies.

Thanks for following and stay tuned.  I’ll be in touch by the end of the week, if not sooner.

Enjoy the song with a cup o’ kindness.  Or champagne, whisky, whatever your poison is.

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NaNo…No…No…Okay. Why Not?

page-in-book-with-this-page-intentionally-left-blank-caption-is-really-blank

So, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year, because my optimism and reality really should finally meet up and have a cup of coffee.

The idea is to write at least 50,000 words in one month.  That’s 1666.66666667 words a day.

Here we are on day 2, and I’ve got 620.

And I’m stuck.  Just no words.  Blech.

What can I do about this?  This question isn’t just for fellow writers, but any of my artist friends.  If you have a story, a painting, a song to work on, what do you do to get out of the rut?  Is the pressure the problem?  Do you work better under pressure, or do you freeze up?

I’m keeping it south of the border on the radio today, with the classic ranchera “Una Página Mas,” by Ezequiel Peña.  One more page…

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I Talk Too Much

I’m back.  I think.  I hope.

But during my short sabbatical, I’ve managed to keep busy, writing, reading, and working like a mofo.

Also, I finally got around to recording some stories to post for those who want to hear them.  This project took forever, as I had to record on days that there was little activity in this noisy apartment building (you can hear a dog barking on Patron Saint), and then edit out all the mistakes and profanity.

Here they are, with notes on each story.  Enjoy, comment, and share!

This was the first story of mine to appear in Spark: A Creative Anthology, in Volume I.  The idea came from two conversations.  One was a discussion on Scribophile about writing prompts, and one was to write about your own death in the first person.  “I’ll write the hell out of that one,” I said.  When I was working on it, I remembered a conversation with Ernesto, my good friend and cybertherapist, about my fear of dying alone.  He told me, “If you are a man of faith, you must know that you won’t be alone when the time comes.”

Read it online at Spark.

This came out in Spark, Volume II.  The idea of the little plaster saint was inspired by a woman I saw on the bus one day, carrying a small St. Jude statue, which she was cradling as if it were an infant.  That image floated around in my head until the day that I had to visit a friend of mine who lives in a small town near here.  I had asked another friend to accompany me, but he declined, saying that it was a pit.

And it kind of is.  It’s a little town incorporated into the city some years back, but still very much separate.  It’s dirty, the streets are in bad repair, and there are people walking around who I probably wouldn’t want to run across after dark.  However, even the darkest corners of the Earth must have good people, people of faith and hope, doing their best in the circumstances.

After this was accepted for publication, I began work on another story that revealed itself to be taking place in this same town, so I’m working on a collection.  After I get those written, I’ll try to get them published in various places and then collect them in a book.  I also have a collection of short vignettes that will probably be part of that project, which I’ll record and post later.

To the River appeared in the inaugural edition of Shadow Road Quarterly in Summer, 2012, and was requested for reprint in the upcoming Volume III of Spark.  This is the first thing ever accepted for publication and the first I was ever paid for.  So this is a special one for me.

Before I wrote this, I was thinking about how many things in my childhood I don’t remember very well.  This isn’t due to any trauma, but rather that I’m so removed from it after so many years away from my childhood home that I honestly don’t know sometimes.  I remembered my friend Seth and the river we used to swim in, the one that went by Veronica’s house.  Then, I began to question my memory of that.  Was there really a river there?  I honestly could not be sure, and didn’t know the answer to that until after I wrote it.

Side note: As this was being prepared for Spark, Veronica’s mother passed, so this one’s for her.

See you next week!

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Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.

Hello again.  I realized today that I never told y’all about the fun interview with Paul Hamilton a few weeks back.

Paul is doing several interviews in an Aspiring Author Series, and I had the pleasure to be at the top of the list, because he asked for volunteers and I said, “Oh, me! Me! Pick me!”

Anyway, he asked some interesting questions and I tried to keep up.  Check it out here.

There’s a lot of great stuff on his blog, so if you’ve already read the interview, go over anyway and read about a few of the other writers he  talked to, or check out some of his insights and stories.

I’ll be back next week to talk to you all about drugs and the arts. BYOB.

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More Short Shorts.

Okay, just one.  I’m quite fluish today, and need to get to sleep and get up tomorrow and find just the right balance of coffee and cough syrup to get through a long day at work.

Please enjoy another installment in my series, Adventures in Mexican Regional Transit, which is tentatively called “Things I Want to Say, but Don’t, Part I,” because I have a thing for really long titles.

See you next week.  Feel free to comment, as always.

****

I step off the bus in front of the taxi stand.  Four drivers sit on the bench in the shade, giggling and slapping each other on the back.  One signals to me and calls out, “Taxi?”  I hold the back of my hand up to him to answer thanks but no thanks, and turn to my right.  The sight of you makes me stop for a moment, and I swing my head back to the drivers, who begin laughing harder, one almost falling off the bench.

I walk to a spot behind you, trying not to look until you can’t see me.  I find a space where there is enough space between me and the others to light a cigarette and take you in.  Knee high boots with low heels.  Cut off shorts, cut up high enough to show a hint of buttock, so close in the crotch that we can almost see it all.  The cropped vest, showing off your midriff, and yes, I can see that you take care, your stomach flat and tight.

An old man walks behind you, looks you up and down, shakes his head in disbelief.  A pickup, three workers in the cab and another six in the bed passes by, slows down, the men whistling, kissing the air, calling out, “Mamacita!”

You look down the road, focused on the numbers of the buses as they approach, trying to ignore them, but your mouth purses in irritation and you flip your head away from them.

I want to say, “Well, you should have thought about before you left the house dressed like that, young man.”  But I don’t.

****

My song choice for this week is, well, obvious.

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Selling Art or Selling Out?

I can’t see the downside to this.

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well I have others.” – Groucho Marx

Let’s face it: creative types rarely get to write their own ticket. Once you’re finished with that novel, that sculpture, that album, the people footing the bill get final say if you expect to get paid.

An example: in the late 1990s, 10,000 Maniacs was recording again after the departure of their original lead singer, Natalie Merchant.  Geffen Records listened to the recordings for their first album with Mary Ramsey, Love Among the Ruins, and said, “We’re going to do a remix, you need to record one cover, and give us another song, because we don’t hear a hit here.”

So, the album was remixed, giving it a dancier feel than their usual rock and roll fare, they covered Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” and they wrote “Rainy Day” on the fly.  Of course, they could have said no, but breach of contract, all that money to pay back, and no album, so…

Now, the album still works, somehow, at least for me and other fans, but the band was bitter over the whole ordeal for a long time.

Geffen dropped them after that, and later they recorded another album on Bar/None.  After the death of their lead guitarist, Robert Buck, they took a long time to get to their latest effort, Music from the Motion Picture.  This time, they funded it through Kickstarter, and are doing it their way.  They are much happier these days, they say.

So, was the label wrong?  They were paying for the studio time, the promotion, and the distribution.  Don’t they have every right to give an opinion on the final product?  What is reasonable, and how far is too far?

Blogger’s note: I know most of you are writers, but I used this example for a few reasons.  First, 10,000 Maniacs are still one of the best bands in the world.  Yes, they are.  Shut up, Jim.  You’re wrong.  Second, I’m a frustrated musician.  I just never had the discipline to be any good at it.  Plus, I’m a terrible singer.  Third, it’s nice to mix things up, no?

Anyway, my Youtube offering is the latest single from the Maniacs, “I Don’t Love You, Too.”  Great title, great song.

See you next week.

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