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No Extra Words

the flash fiction podcast

Mini-Blog #4: Reading

I realized this week that I don’t talk enough on this blog about reading.

The blog has become about writing, which as an emerging writer and someone who edits others’ writing, I appreciate and am passionate about. But two years ago I imagined that if I ever had a blog it would be a book blog, so as I wrap up this summer series of mini-blogs, I have to stop for a minute and talk about reading.

I learned to read when I was four. Literally less than two weeks after getting my first glasses. My mom felt guilty that I hadn’t gone to get my eyes checked sooner because I would have read sooner. I can remember my first time reading. I can remember the words just suddenly making sense.

I spent four years as the school librarian of a school serving kids with dyslexia and related reading and writing challenges, so I know everyone’s story isn’t that easy. Only about one in ten kids will magically learn to read like I did. Six in ten will need some formal instruction, and three in ten will need a lot of formal instruction and possibly academic interventions. For a lot of people, “reading for pleasure” is a difficult thing since reading at all took so much work in the first place.

For me, reading is a lifeline. A co-worker at a library once told me that when she started working in libraries she found herself almost physically hungry for reading, for stories, for books. It can be overwhelming to work in that giant room filled with books.

I am a fast reader, and as such, re-reading is a joy for me. I pick up on so much detail and nuance I missed the first time.

I am also a professional librarian, so I have training in readers’ advisory, which is the art of recommending books. It’s a delicate art, and I was also a youth services librarian, so my knowledge of adult books is really limited. If you want to learn more about readers’ advisory, I highly recommend the talented superstar librarian Nancy Pearl and her writing. Nancy is a celebrity librarian. She is literally an action figure.

Also if children’s books are your thing, I would be remiss in not recommending Esme Raji Codell, the self proclaimed readiologist and author of the totally delightful Diary of a Fairy Godmother. I want to be her groupie.

Favorite books? Oh, I knew you were going to ask me that. A Wrinkle in Time. Anne of Green Gables. Never in a Hurry by Naomi Shihab Nye (which my toddler pulled off my shelf and handed to me today, God love him.) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. Where the Wild Things Are. Betsy-Tacy and its sequels. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Should I just keep listing them?

Notice my list is not just fiction. Or nonfiction. Or grown-up books. Or chapter books. Or modern books. And some might even be books you hate.

So why do a short blog post on reading? As a reminder. Because sometimes we forget that we are in the business of entertaining people and getting them to like what we create. Because sometimes we forget to be consumers of good literature ourselves. Not just as research. Not just to support your author friend. Not just to read in your genre or category. Oh yes, for those reasons. But for many more reasons. And for the simple reason that there are good books.

That’s reason enough for me.

Happy reading,

Kris

Storytelling

Early literacy information was a big part of my librarian training. Story times for the under-6 set are central to the outreach part of the job, and those are about a whole lot more than entertaining children. They are building crucial pre-reading skills, and I am so grateful for the training and for all I know about early literacy, especially now that I am a mom. But everyone gets things wrong now and then.

She was very highly trained in her field, and I’m sure my library system was paying this woman a lot of money to be our guest trainer. She was speaking about print motivation, which is a fancy way of saying that one of the crucial building blocks of lifelong learning is getting kids excited about books. That’s a good thing! I’m all for it! But then she said this:

“We have to teach children that stories come from books.”

Stories come from WHERE? That was a spit-take moment for me. Teaching children that stories come from books is like teaching them that Grandma’s chicken soup comes from the pot in the corner cabinet. It misses the entire point.

Stories are everywhere. Stories crackle around us like electricity. Stories are happening right now. Stories are alive. We are in the capturing stories business, us writers. Yes, I’m talking to you nonfiction folks, too. You’re just writing stories that really happened rather than ones you made up. Both are stories.

It’s an easy thing to forget, the story. Seriously. I mean, the outline of what happens, we get pretty good at remember that as writers. I know what my main character wants. I know where this is going. But that’s plot. Story is the part that is alive. Story is the part that makes my readers care.

Podcasters tell stories, too. In fact, telling stories orally is a tradition that goes much further back than writing them down. We are all storytellers. Around the dinner table, at the BBQ (really anywhere there is food,) we spin our stories. The writers among us are the ones who try to elevate the art to new heights.

What makes a story great? That it is real. No, not like that. Real doesn’t mean “it happened.” Real means “I believe it.” Think Velveteen Rabbit real.

One of my favorite podcasts is a podcast about podcasting for women podcasters. Pretty meta, no? Sounds dry and boring? Well, if it were, I would have stopped listening long ago. What keeps me coming back? The ladies who host it. They are real. They are vulnerable. They let us in. I know about the daughter of one of them, fighting bipolar disorder and heroin addiction and headed for a new rehab facility.

Stories require us to be brave. Real doesn’t come unless you take the walls down.

I’m writing this late at night. I should be in bed. But I just had a productive evening of recording, and I took one of my walls down. I sat down at the mic and told a story I was afraid to tell even myself. And now I send it into the world. And let me tell you…it feels awesome. Terrifying. But awesome.

The No Extra Words Podcast is really proud to be hosting a virtual podcast storytelling festival this fall. If you are a podcaster head over here to find out how you can be part of it. And if you are ready to listen…well, stay tuned because the walls are coming down.

Happy telling,

Kris

Episode 56: Grandfather Told the Story

Copy of FLASH

What lives in your family history?

One family searches for the real home of “Opa and Oma.” By Robert Wexelblatt, copyright 2016, used with permission. Read Robert’s bio.

Second-time No Extra Words contributor Steven Mayoff tells us the story of “The Two Annes” of Prince Edward Island, Canada…and it isn’t the story you think. Copyright 2006, used with permission. Visit Steven’s website.

Happy listening,

Kris

Meet Episode 56 Contributor Steven Mayoff

Steven is making his second appearance here on the No Extra Words podcast. His short story “Danger in the Summer Moon Above” was featured on Episode 47 back in May.

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Steven Mayoff’s fiction and poetry have appeared in literary journals across Canada and the U.S. and in Ireland, Algeria and France. His story collection Fatted Calf Blues (Turnstone Press 2009) won the PEI Book Award for Fiction in 2010. His novel Our Lady Of Steerage was published in 2015 by Bunim & Bannigan Inc. His web site is www.stevenmayoff.ca or find him on facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or SoundCloud.

Happy listening,

Kris

Meet Episode 56 Contributor Robert Wexelblatt

Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published the story collections Life in the Temperate Zone, The Decline of Our Neighborhood, and The Artist Wears Rough Clothing, as well as Heiberg’s Twitch; a book of essays, Professors at Play; two short novels, Losses and The Derangement of Jules Torquemal, and essays, stories, and poems in a variety of scholarly and literary journals. His novel Zublinka Among Women won the Indie Book Awards first-place prize for fiction. A collection of essays, The Posthumous Papers of Sidney Fein, is forthcoming. Find him at https://www.bu.edu/cgs/faculty/humanities-faculty/wexelblatt/

Happy listening,

Kris

The Writing Gig I Almost Had (and why you should say yes to things)

Last month I was invited to write about podcasts. For a website that you’ve heard of. I won’t say who because it didn’t work out. No hard feelings, these things happen. But the important part of this story is I was offered the chance to do this. And it was a paying gig. The emerging writer’s unicorn.

Like a lot of opportunities, it came along disguised as a coincidence (my mom didn’t believe in coincidences, so every single time one comes along I think of her.) I happened to meet this person through some online networking, she happened to mention that the company she worked for was looking for a writer. By coincidence.

She was looking for a writer to write about podcasts. Awesome. She wanted someone who could create regular content and regularly listen to podcasts. No problem. Sounds just like me. They were focusing on podcasts for millennial women entrepreneurs. Um. Wait. What?

I’m not really a millennial. Depending on which demographics you read, millennials were born somewhere around 1980 to 2000. The years vary slightly, so sometimes I get included but at the age of…let’s just say I’m closer to 40 than 30…I’m not really who people who use the word “millennial” are talking about. I am also not an entrepreneur, although as you’re going to see I learned a few things about myself in this process. Long story short: I was so not the target audience for this. And while I knew I could get the podcasting part right, I was not at all sure about the millennial women entrepreneurs part. My instinct was to say no.

But they were offering me money to write! A paying gig with a website you and people I know have heard of! It was not in my writer DNA to turn it down. So I faked it. I said, well, I’m not a millennial but this sounds like a fascinating project and agreed to write a couple of sample pieces. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts aimed at millennial women entrepreneurs and pretended I knew what I was doing.

And you know what? It was awesome. The shows were fun. One of the first episodes I listened to was about becoming a freelance writer. Cue ta-da! noise here. Of course writing is a business, although we creative types don’t usually think that way. I found a couple of podcasts I plan on listening to again and a couple that I will definitely recommend to others. A few weren’t my thing. It happens. I was able to tie it all together and create some work I was proud of.

I made a conscious decision to sound like myself. I had been told I was chosen to try this out because they liked my writing as seen on this blog, and my writing as seen on this blog is not formal. I got the sense from them that they didn’t know exactly what they wanted, so I decided to make it personal because I felt that connection with readers is what they were looking for. I may have been wrong. I have no way of knowing. I was told I was a very talented writer and they had decided to go a different way.

Any regrets? Not a one! I am so glad I didn’t say no right way when I found out the topic. I learned about new things, practiced new writing skills, and emerged with different experiences. Is my ego bruised they didn’t want me in the end? Maybe a little but it won’t crush me. If getting rejected by one publication was enough to crush me, I am in the wrong business. Their rejection was very kind. I try not to read too much into it. I’m reading through a pile of submissions tonight and I’ll be sending some rejections myself. Probably to some talented writers when I decide to go a different way. I write that letter all the time. (No, I don’t. I have a template.)

Where does my fledgling career a a freelance writer go from here? I’m not sure, to be honest. But I know I will have my eye out for coincidences.

Happy writing,

Kris

 

Mini-Blog #3: Flash Fiction

I was writing it before I knew what it was.

In college I took a writing course not for credit, just to get a break and do some fun writing in the middle of all the academic stuff that college entails. When given “permission” to write whatever came out, what I ended up creating was a series of what the instructor called “vingettes,” but what I would call now “flash nonfiction.”

When I started doing Nanowrimo in April of 2015 in what would eventually lead to this podcast, it happened again. I created four main characters and just started writing stories about them. Almost all of those came out under 2,000 words, and most were somewhere between 450 and 750. This is when I really started researching what flash fiction is.

I quickly learned that flash fiction is in the eye of the beholder…how it gets defined depends in large part on who is defining it. I love this piece from The Review Review where they talk to flash fiction editors about it. You can see that while they are all definitely talking about the same thing, they all see it differently and they all look for different things in it.

Flash Fiction Online is a great journal to check out for examples of the form. I particularly like their Classic Flash section that reveals how not new this form is. Hemingway did it. Kafka did it. We always think we are new, but really nothing is.

It’s also important not to forget flash nonfiction. Brevity does that probably as well as anyone, and my prediction is this form will grow.

The great news about flash is that it fits really nicely into our digital world. When you look carefully, it’s everywhere. People put it on their blogs, on Twitter, on facebook…of course there are duds out there, but there are also brilliant pieces of tiny fiction just waiting to be discovered. I hope you find some today!

Happy reading,

Kris

I Was on a Podcast! And I’m Not Afraid to Share It!

The things you forget to promote when you take a vacation…I was on a podcast episode last month! It was my honor to chat with Hadas of The Common Room Podcast during her Potterweek specials.

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I love being a podcast guest. Podcasters often appear on one another’s shows, which is difficult for us here at No Extra Words because of our format, however Susan Vollenweider of the History Chicks was a previous contributor and I am looking at a way to add more podcaster voices to No Extra Words this fall, so stay tuned for that. But it was so much fun to talk with Hadas about the Dursleys and how they fit into the world of Harry Potter. So many layers.

It’s funny how self conscious we can get when our voices are out there. I think I have worked through all my hangups about how my voice sounds after a year of podcasting, but when I was listening to myself on the Common Room my focus became all the tiny mistakes I made about my Potter knowledge and the danger of losing my children’s book cred (shoot, I got that stuff about the letters wrong, and how on earth did I forget the name of Matilda?!) I was a children’s librarian for 10 years and am surrounded constantly by friends who love children’s books, so I found myself being extremely critical.

And then I remembered that it’s not a Master’s class or a trivia competition. It is a conversation. It is a chance to nerd out about something I love, and no one’s grading it.

We get into podcasting, both as listeners and producers, because we want to geek out on something. Hadas told me when she interviewed me that Harry Potter is how she came to podcasts in the first place: she liked the ones she found on Harry Potter. The ones that allowed her to dig deeper, and, better yet, connect with other Potterheads. Isn’t it ridiculously awesome that stuff like that exists, that whatever you’re into you can find someone else, a whole bunch even, who geek out on it too?

It’s scary to put your voice out there. It’s scary to appear on a podcast, or to launch one, or to write, or however you dip your toe into the conversation. But remember, you aren’t trying to reach an audience of everyone, or impress your co-workers and amaze your friends. You’re trying to reach the audience of one, the person in this moment who most needs to hear what you have to say.

So thanks to Hadas from The Common Room for allowing me to be part of what she’s creating, and here’s a challenge to all of you: don’t be afraid to speak your truths and step out of your comfort zone. Oh, yeah, and go catch all of Hadas’s Potterweek episodes, because if you’re a fan of Harry & Co., they are not to be missed.

Happy listening,

Kris

Episode 55: Careful, Loving Preparation

Copy of FLASH

Be wary of those who prepare the food.

In “Pencils at the Ready,” the school is ready to meet the new headmaster, although perhaps not in the way he expected. By Sarah Bigham, copyright 2015, used with permission. Read Sarah’s bio.

In “Just a Microwave Dinner?” those who are behind the food finally speak. By J. Paul Cooper, copyright 2015, used with permission. Read J. Paul’s bio.

Happy listening,

Kris

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