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Some deep thoughts on the writing life…

… with “Monty”








Cirque Psychologique

Cirque Psychologique.


Nancy Stebbins has a story up at Cezanne’s Carrot!


“Be careful opening those things,” Erdly warns…. “You spill emotional baggage on yourself, it never comes off.”�

Similar book covers

The science of book jacket design is fascinating. Recently, while wandering a bookstore, my daughter found this book on the shelf:

Look familiar?

Holy cow!

We immediately ran over to the Twilight shelf to compare:

Publishing icon, instantly recognizable

They’re similar, but not identical, so they’re not based on the same stock photo–although they may well be part of the same stock photo set.

Nonetheless, the question remains: is HarperOne, publisher of the Lewis book, attempting to attract a Twilight market by using a similar image? It’s pretty blatant.  You’d have to have been living in a cave the past few years not to notice the similarity.

What do you think?


Several other collectors of similar covers: here and here.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

(Nancy’s Critical Introduction for her Pacific MFA thesis)

First though, I’d like to make sure you all know how much I appreciate you: my advisors, workshop leaders, and the other faculty I never got to work with directly, for the knowledge and wisdom you pour into your craft talks and workshops. Shelley, Colleen and Tenley for your dedication and patience. My fellow students. Thank you all so much.

I originally titled this talk “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch,” because I had been pondering transitions in my work, experimenting with making them less and less explicit, especially after doing Pam’s famous writing exercise involving the three memories. At one point I shared with Kellie that this felt foreign to me, as I’d always been a “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch” sort of writer. And while this has been an important element in the novel, I’d like to officially change the title of this talk to A Tilted World, because I think it has a more overarching meaning.

It has been difficult to narrow down the sort of writing that resonates most with me, because my favorite works seem to have little in common. I love magical realism, Southern Gothic, metafiction, and works that exhibit a wry humor. My favorite writers have included such diverse people as Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Peter Taylor, and Carson McCullers.

Kellie used a fascinating phrase early last semester, as we were talking about genres: she spoke of writing that “tilts toward” the magical. I began to think about how the works I love don’t rebuild the world, but instead tilt it just a little through magic or humor, or the odd juxtaposition, all of which cause a sudden shift in understanding, a reframing.

(Continued on Nancy’s Author Page)

What Is It with Writing?

Since I began this MFA, when I’ve been at my neighborhood pool, or at parties, or at the grocery, there’s a conversation that has occurred, again and again. Let me take you through it. Feel free to imagine the sounds of children splashing, a raucous bar, or the clink of silverware. I’m sure you’ll recognize parts of this, so feel free to pipe in with any exceptional comments you’ve gotten.

The conversation goes like this, with slight variations:

“What do you do?”

“Oh . . . I’m a writer.”

“A bike rider?”

This is said with a puzzled look, because where I live there are so many professional athletes. Usually, I have to say, “No, a writer. W―R―ite ―r.

“Oh! A writer!”

“Yes. A writer.”

There’s an awkward pause.

“Oh! What do you write?”

“Everything. Articles, essays, ad copy, internet sites.”

“Articles! Where would I find your articles?”

“Well . . . right now I’m in graduate school, so haven’t been doing so much of that. School, and the economy taking its toll on magazines’ abilities to pay free-lancers has made me take time off.”

“Graduate school! Well . . . that’s great! For what?”

People seem to love the idea of graduate school. It sounds so . . . scholarly. Hooray!

“I’m getting my MFA in Writing.”


W―R―ite ―ing.”

“What type of writing?”


“Oh! How―nice!” There’s an awkward pause. This time an assessment of my face, maybe my body. “What do you want to do with that?”

I’m willing to bet, if you’re getting a degree in accounting, nobody asks, “What do you want to do with that?” If you’re getting a law degree, nobody asks, “What do you want to do with that?”

W―R―ite,” I say, struggling to avoid a tone similar to that of my pre-teen daughter, and not always succeeding.

And they say, “Oh! How―nice! What type of fiction?”

“Short stories. Novels.”

“So you’re writing a novel?”

“Well . . . no. I’ve been focusing on short stories while I’m in school. They’ve been great vehicles to practice craft.”

“What would you do with those?”

“Well . . . I’d like to sell them to magazines. Well . . . literary journals, actually.”

“What are literary journals?”

“Well . . . they’re magazines that are published once, twice, three, four times a year, mostly by universities. They feature short stories, poetry, literary criticism, that kind of stuff.”

“Oh! How―nice! Who reads those?”

“Well . . . other writers, I guess. Maybe some ordinary folks, I hope. I aim to publish several of my stories from the program, and then sell them together as a collection.”

At this point, a glaze frequently settles over the other person’s eyes, and I think, Don’t― do―it! But I say, “I’ve sold two stories.”


The word sold brings them right back. Hooray!

“Well . . . not sold, actually,” I say. “They didn’t pay anything, and I had to buy my own extra copies, so it’s cost me twelve―dol―lars. But they’re really reputable journals.”

At this point I see the person wonder if I’m on medication. See true sorrow for my husband in her eyes. But I think, At least I didn’t say I wanted to be a po―et!

Read more here

Pen names

A writer friend, poised on the brink of publication stardom, polled us on the subject of pen names. She has an uneasy relationship with her in-laws, so doesn’t necessarily wish to carry her married name into posterity. Likewise, she has no compelling attachment to her maiden name.

“I want my writing,” she says, “attached to a timeless name that is significant to me.”

Several women we know have kept their first married names (and publish under them) to avoid confusion for their children, and for professional reasons.

I decided to publish under my married name because my maiden name–Babic–coupled with my already unusual first name–Loranne–was just too much. Readers would never spell both correctly in an amazon search, I figured. (“Brown” at least they might get right, although you’d be amazed how many people try to add an “e” to Brown.  What’s with that? “Browne” is ever so much less common.)

As for the six people who might remember me from school–well, I hoped they’d be drawn by “Loranne,” check out my bio and photo, and realize–hey, that’s the kid from kindergarten we always called “Lorraine.”

We all agreed our friend should choose a name she’d like to carry with her into the future, something she’d be proud to have engraved on that Pulitzer or Nobel Prize.

Nonetheless, when choosing a pen name, you have to weigh the anonymity against the potential for recognition by the network you already have. Some things to think about:

  • If  you’ve been through an MFA program and developed a community, how will the 100+ fine writers who already know you recognize you behind a new name?
  • How many old friends who know you as YourNameHere will pick up a magazine article, story, or book and buy it because you wrote it, even if they never read it?
  • How will you explain the pen name to interviewers on the book tour? Pen names are rarely secret identities unless you’re also a super hero.

Your nom-de-plume: maiden, married, invented?

To me, pen names make the most sense when you’re writing and publishing in two genres.  You don’t want to compete with yourself or cause confusion in the marketplace. I publish my literary fiction under my married name.  My line of steamy romances (yet to be written, I hasten to assure you–but you never know when you’ll need a potboiler or 10 to pay off the student loans) will be published under the name Lauren Mitchell: nods to various members of my family.

Have you used a pen name or intend to publish under one?  How’s that working out for you and your career?
Lauren Mitchell

Meeting with thesis advisor

Flash Factory Event

For the two hundredth week of Flash Factory contests, Richard Osgood has put out the word to all Factory members far and wide: we are aiming for two hundred stories this week. There are three prompts–a picture prompt, a five-word prompt, and an open prompt (which isn’t really a prompt at all). My goal is to submit three flashes this week. So let’s get to writing!

That Certain Tilt

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Kellie Wells for my final MFA semester. She’s a pretty amazing writer, and brilliant. Earlier in the semester, she used an expression that made a big impact on me: she was speaking of stories that had a magical “tilt.” It dawned on me that this “tilt” summarizes the writing I’m drawn to–and the works I hope to produce. The sorts of works that give the reader a surprising glimpse of the world at a different angle. This might happen through the employment of magic, the fantastic, humor, surprising juxtaposition or word choices., to name a few of the possibilities.

I was thinking about that while reading Kellie’s story, “Gathal Dethloff, Mother of Murder,” in this month’s issue of The Collagist. To me, her choice of words delivers sly little suprises. For example, at one point, when meeting an woman who is described to be as large as a grand piano, the narrator says, “’Hello?’ I said to Gaythal Dethloff, insufficiently.” That surprising adverb delivers.

I suggest you read it for yourself!

“Gathal Dethloff, Mother of Murder,”

Combinatorial Play, Part II

This week’s prompt at the Flash Factory is “twilight.” Sometimes a story comes right away for the prompt, but that’s unusual. More often, the prompt has to roll around for a while and see what other ideas are attracted to it. Memories and other things are “filtered” through the lens of the prompt. In a way, it’s sort of like the process of clustering, only not on paper.

So far, the ideas presenting themselves are:

1. A nudist wedding my husband arrived at, not knowing it would be a nudist wedding.
2. Insect repellent
3. Bagpipe music (it actually was a hand fasting).
4. A framed T-shirt, which reminded me of the “in case of emergency, break glass” type of alarms.

That’s the fun thing about flash: a few ideas like this, and it almost seems to write itself. We’ll see…