Filtering by Tag: ghosts

On Death and Workshopping

"That's okay. It's the end of the semester, after all."

I think I said the above phrase at least twenty times last week. It's one of those things you say to soothe the people around you - kind of like saying "I'm sorry" when someone dies.

The act of speaking these words means that you've already let your shoulders sag.

This is the end of the semester and we're moving steadily to its final breath.

Tug on your seat beat. Hold onto the safety bar.

A windy afternoon

On Thursday, my professor decided that we'd spend the entirety of our three-hour class workshopping in small groups. We all brought our tentative final projects in, printing enough copies for everyone in our respective groups. 

The class I'm taking is called Illness Narrative. As you might guess from the title, we learn about all things that fall under the loose term of "illness." I've read poetry, essays, and fiction on topics ranging from the common cold to cancer, ranging from tear-jerking sadness to snorting laughter. The nice part about the class is that all of us, regardless of genre, are able to experiment with different forms and topics - something that is, for the most part, rare to do at the graduate level since you always want to put forth your best. 

I've written some weird stuff for this class. A small piece about eyelashes that, amazingly, had been published in the same semester, and two essays where I wrote about my harrowing experience at Disney with sugar-free dessert and my lifelong, though recently ending, battle with my giant pores, haha. And lastly, the short story I workshopped on Thursday. 

It's a humorous story inspired by the unit we did on the five senses. I gave my main character a heightened sense of taste, a cape-wearing nemesis, and three hairless cats. But I didn't know how to end the story. 

"I don't care where we go," said one of my group mates, "just so long as we're outside. I'm done." 

That's the end-of-the-semester-weariness talking, but we all agreed that some fresh air would be a nice change from the arctic classroom we all usually sat in. The groups all split up and we found a table in the new park, right behind the campus library. 

The park is pretty nice (though, to be honest, the space would have made a better extra row of parking - we need more parking on campus. Gads). There's a fountain that sprayed us with mist whenever the wind picked up. A girl passed out on the only swing set and fell asleep to the music pounding through her ear buds and the gentle motion of the swing. The wind found every little hole in my knit sweater. 

For the first twenty minutes, I used my hands as paperweights as we talked about our other classes, funny teaching stories, and complaining about the usual writing stuff (like lack of sleep and abundance of rejections).

Our stories were riddled with fatigue. 

"Your characters need to talk more here. Add some good puns to stick with your theme."

"Okay," I said. A pause. "Wait. Can you give me an example?"

Maybe it was the wind, or the fresh air, that made my mind so slow. I gave my group mates a drowsy smile and scratched down a few notes.

The Grand Tour 

While taking this class, I'm constantly reminded of the Death and Dying class I took back in college. At the time, I thought it was a great class to take as one of my final electives. If I wanted to be a writer, I'd only benefit from facing death head on - or, at least, in the form of a few multiple choice tests throughout a semester. 

So I took Death and Dying.  

The class was full of all different majors, people with tragic lives and people, like me, who are relatively cheerful. There were tears in during certain lessons. Every Tuesday, our professor started class with by reading us Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. During our "Death and the Media" unit, I (unsuccessfully) tried to convince the class that The Hush Sound's "Medicine Man" music video had to do with death.... and I say unsuccessful, because, for some reason, the deep and complicated story line of the video somehow went over their heads. I don't know. You tell me.

Next came the field trips. 

There was the funeral home: the tissue boxes were beautifully designed (that's how you know they were probably expensive), eagles were a common decoration for the caskets and urns, and the building was furnished, yes, with dark-wood, vintage furniture.

On the day we visited the local cemetery, a downpour of thick, blinding Florida ran ruined the trip - but we drove over there anyway, finding our professor standing in the rain under an umbrella. He told us to drive through the cemetery instead - and the only way to do that was to take the funeral procession route. Yep. Awkward.

Lastly, we got lost looking for the giant church seen from the highway that was hosting a guest speaker, talking about the stages of grief. We arrived late and had to be escorted by stern, suited men to our seats. It was strange and I felt happy that I'd never been in a place like that before then (or ever since). Whew.

It was a strange semester, haha. And yet another semester is just about to end, another one that held the theme of another bittersweet topic.

I went home after workshop, watched some Food Network shows, and dreamed about banana cream pies and bacon.  

Publication News:

There's a tiny bit of death in this piece. It's more than wonderful to start the new month off with a publication. Luna Station Quarterly released their annual drabble issue today and my drabble, "Octopus Girls," can be found inside!

For those of you who don't know, a drabble is an extremely small work of fiction, usually ranging in the 100-150 word area. I guess you could say it's like reading little pieces of candy. Whether it's bitter, sour, spicy, or comfortably sweet, the story stays on your tongue for only a moment before evaporating.

You might like this story if you:

  • Only have a few seconds to read something
  • Have unruly hair
  • Daydream about a love affair with a handsome sailor 

By the way, for the Figgies out there: Linna Lee also had her drabble "Hold Fast" published here. It's a brilliant little piece!

As winter gets darker and colder (yay!), what are you feeling nostalgic about? If you're still in school, how are you preparing to finish out the semester? And if you have crazy hair like me and those octopus girls, whatever do you do to tame it? :)

On Writing: Jelly, Nail Clippings, and Sad Endings

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten some more questions from you all on Formspring. *Puts on hard hat* I think it's about time I answer them. 

How do you find your inspiration? And how do you come up with such creative plots?

Like a freak lightning strike, inspiration hits me at the most random moments. Perhaps too often – sometimes I have to check my head to make sure my hair hasn't burnt to a crisp! But when I go hunting for a story, as deadlines make you do, I become a scavenger.

I cast my net as wide as it can go.

Anything weird or quirky gets caught in my net; a broken music box, an abandoned baloney sandwich, the boy in the corner who wears too many keychains, the little bottle in the bathroom with beach sand and seashells inside. My taste in music is all over the place, I read tons of YA and children’s lit, and I still have a child’s heart. Which is why I still think that Mickey Mouse is still da bomb.

When I find these ideas, they are usually fragments. Strange thoughts. Adding up to nothing. I like to combine ideas in a way that makes sense – turning the mundane magical. Making impossible ideas believable is a fun challenge.

Also, how do you continue writing? How do you finish something and move on to the next?

I’m not perfect as far as this goes; there are a few projects I started that I’ve put on hold for one reason or another. Continuing, I think, is difficult for anyone. 

My advice for sticking with a story usually involves a few strategies:

1) Find a few readers you trust (Figment is great for that, haha). When you feel stuck or confused, it’s their cheerful, encouraging voices that will keep you going. Writing is, at its core, a solitary job. But it doesn’t have to be. A little support goes a long way. 

2) Take a breather. Kick your feet up and watch a favorite movie. Play golf. Order pizza. Clip your toenails. Do your laundry. Giving yourself a break will help you feel refreshed and ready to write another chapter.

3) Know your roots. Remember why you’re writing this story in the first place. Find its pulse. 

4) Do some research! If you’re writing about pirates, raid your library for books, documentaries, and movies – and go for the historic accounts (you’ll be more inspired by reality sometimes, than, for instance, Captain Jack Sparrow). If you have access to college-level databases and journals, read those too. It’s amazing what kind of interesting perspectives and ideas you can find buried within stuffy, academic articles. Immerse yourself in your idea. The more you know, the more tools you have to continue your story. 

In regards to finishing a story and moving on… 

Finishing a story is incredibly rewarding – and also gut-wrenching. When I finished Birdcage Girl, I literally had to cool off my brain. And I felt like crying a few days afterwards. It was an unexplainable sadness wrapped around the jolly pride of having finished. I think it has to do with finally reaching the goal. For most of the journey, you keep looking ahead and, chapter by chapter, the big finale keeps getting closer. But you always think, in the back of your head, that you’ll never get there.

Until you do. You’ve just written The End. 

That odd melancholy arises, I think, out of that finish line goal. When you finally reach it, it seems almost unreal. I’ve spoken with some of my writer-friends about the finishing blues and a lot of them had experienced it too. Glad I’m not the only one. I don’t cry much. Unless I’m watching an oddly touching commercial. Weird, right? 

Being able to move on to another project may be hard at first, especially if you feel like beginning revisions on your finished story (and you should, if you feel up to it). Concentrate on feeling refreshed and energized before jumping onto the front seat of another writing project. You will be able to write another – it’s just a matter of shucking off that sadness and beginning the journey again. 

What's your writing process like? (for B&B or any other novels)

Because each project has its own personality, my process tends to vary. However, every story usually starts for me with one particular image or idea. 

For Boys and Bees, I started out with the concept of love letters. Having written a love letter or two in my own time, I know how it feels when those carefully-crafted letters are ignored. But what excuse does the receiver of the letters have for not answering back? Those were the thoughts that started Boys and Bees; Hedda came first, the girl with the love letters, and Lorabeth quickly followed after with her bramble-like hair. 

The bees came about because, well, I’ve always been fascinated by them. A few years back, I saw a television special while at Disney (on the hotel’s Japanese channel) that featured beekeepers. I loved the cozy, delicate world I saw – quite unlike the scare-tactics that American shows use when featuring a beekeeper’s job. I wanted to create, alongside Lorabeth and Hedda, a bee world that wasn’t one to be feared. Love and bees seem to be going well together so far, I think, haha. 

Another question - how do you first develop and plan out your stories?

For me, developing and planning have a lot to do with tinkering. It’s about the only kind of tinkering I can do, especially since I lack the skills needed to put together IKEA furniture (despite the idiot-proof directions). 

I like to mash ideas and concepts together. Use glue to make them stick – or make sense. Say I start with a boy who has an obsession with grape jelly. So much so, that he’s sculpted a living dog out of jelly. Well, I’ll string another idea – fish don’t like cats – and another – Tuesdays are blue – and then fill in the gaps between them to make them work. And sometimes they don’t. But when they do, it makes for an exciting story to write. 

Each idea, in other words, is connected to another. Plots and subplots intertwine like threads. 

I try not to plan too much in advance because sometimes the planning itself gets overwhelming. You get bored when you have every scene, every piece of dialogue perfectly laid out. There’s no room for change or innovation. I use Microsoft OneNote for what planning I do; I have pages for each character where I put pictures and bits of information as it comes to be. And I do basic outlines, usually for the beginning of the stories – though I have a pretty concrete idea of how each story ends. 

Hi Kim! So, I am one of your ghost readers--I've only made one comment on your various brilliant stories. I'm considering coming to Figment to post my own fairy-tale-esque things. Anywho, the question: Where did you get the inspiration for writing your fa

Hello, ghost reader! I’m glad you decided to take off your bed sheet skin to send me such a nice comment. I always know a ghost reader is nearby when my laptop screen goes suddenly cold. Shhh, my new chapter is being read. 

Oh, you should! And please let me know what your username is so I can take a look at your stories. Gads, the question got cut off on Formspring. I wonder what you meant to ask. Well, since you were talking about fairy tales, did you mean to ask where I got my inspiration for my fairy tale stories? I’m going out on a limb here, haha. A phantom limb. 

Fairy tales are very much a part of me. Their stories race through my blood (or something equally poetic). Ever since I was a child, I soaked up any kind of fairy tale. Mythology too. With each retelling – whether picture book or film – the stories only got better. I felt like I was a part of one big secret: after all, fairy tales have a lot of human truth to them. I guess I sensed it. 

My mom says she used to play Disney’s The Little Mermaid for me every day – and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve suffered no delusions. It didn't take long to get my grubby little hands on the Anderson version, but it wasn't a smooth transition. My parents rented me an anime version and sat me down in the basement to watch it by myself. It was - and is - a beautiful adaptation. But I didn't see the tragic ending coming. When the little mermaid burst into sea foam (with, I might add, an eerie, warbling backtrack), I burst into violent tears. I cried so loud that my parents rushed downstairs. They couldn't quite comfort me. I had to get over the sad ending on my own. I had connected the mermaid's death with the passing of a dear family member... and I think, to this day, the whole event reflects how real these tales are. How there's always a way to relate. On a lighter note, it was probably at this point that I developed a taste for happy endings. Yeah. 

So I'm not sure how to answer how fairy tales influence and inspire what I write. They kind of go together. The enchanted bears, wise women, poison apples, mirrors, dresses of sun and moon, a tinderbox with saucer-eyed dogs. After reading so many fairy tales and myths, the oddness of life isn't so surprising.