Archive for the 'Kristin Bair O’Keeffe' Category

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Where To Publish Your Work

By Kristin Bair O’KeeffeKristin Bair O'Keeffe
 
Congratulations, writers! You’ve had a great year of writing fiction. Your work has sprouted, blossomed, and is ready to be enjoyed by readers everywhere. To get you ready for 2010, I decided to wrap up this year with a list of markets for your fiction. I’ve included a little something for everyone, so get busy and get your work out there.*
 
Short Fiction – Print Literary Magazines
1.     The Indiana Review  Publishes two issues a year (May and November); publishes 6-10 stories per issue.
 
2.     Alaska Quarterly Review  Publishes two issues a year.
 
3.     Alimentum: the literature of food  The print journal publishes two issues a year (winter and summer); also features an online serving.
 
4.     THEMA  Publishes three issues a year.
 
5.     Tin House  Publishes four issues a year; also offers an online sampling.
 
 
Short Fiction – Online Literary Magazines
1.     Anderbo  Continuously updated.
 
2.     Narrative Magazine  Continuously updated; lots of contests.
 
3.     Flatmancrooked  Online with an annual “best of” print anthology.
 
4.     The Adirondack Review  Quarterly issues with an “evolving issue” on the website.
 
5.    Guernica A magazine of art and ideas.
 
 
Novels
 
1.     Narrative Magazine  Publishes book-length works for serialization; electronic submissions only.
 
2.     James Jones First Novel Fellowship Contest  Deadline will be around March 1, 2010 (date TBA); award of $10,000.
 
3.     The 2010 Autumn House Fiction Contest The winner will receive book publication, $1,000 advance against royalties, and a $1,500 travel grant to participate in the 2009 Autumn House Master Authors Series in Pittsburgh; deadline is June 30, 2010.
 
*Always read the submission guidelines of every publication to which you submit.
 
  
October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

 

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Don’t Forget the Reader

By Kristin Bair O’KeeffeKristin Bair O'Keeffe

A few weeks ago, I bought a secondhand copy of Mark Haddon‘s novel A Spot of Bother in an antique furniture shop in Shanghai. I liked his first novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and had high hopes for this one.
 
Though I’m only midway through the book, I’ve not been disappointed. The thing about Haddon is that he gets that there is an indispensable, dynamic relationship between the writer and the reader, and no matter how interested he may be in telling his story, he never forgets that there’s a reader out there on the receiving end.
 
How do I know this?
 
Because I can’t stop reading the book. Because every night I look forward to shutting down my computer, washing my face, and crawling into bed with it. Because I’m already counting how many pages I have left, calculating how many more nights I can read at the pace I’m going, and forcing myself to slow down so I can stretch it out.
 
How does Haddon keep my interest? How does he successfully maintain a relationship with me, the reader?
 
1.   The first sentence of each chapter drops us into the middle of something, for example, Chapter 7 begins, “There was a clatter of plates and Jean turned to find that George had vanished.”
 
2.   Haddon utilizes a third person narrator who jumps from character to character in an organized, interesting way. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, for example:
    a.  Chapter 1 is told from George’s perspective. (It’s in third person point of  view, but we’re getting details about what George feels, thinks, and sees. We’re very, VERY close to him.)
    b.  Chapter 2, George
    c.  Chapter 3, George’s wife Jean
    d.  Chapter 4, George
    e.  Chapter 5, George and Jean’s daughter Katie
     f.   and so on.
 
3.   The characters feel like family members, friends, or neighbors. Because of the point of view choices Haddon has made, we get very intimate with these folks. We understand their motivations, desires, and frustrations. And because we understand, we care.
 
4.   Tension. Haddon creates tension. Because we know the characters so well and because they have such conflicting motivations, desires, and frustrations, tension is a natural outcome.
 
5.   Because the tension is so high, we want to know what happens next.
 
All that said, I recommend you run out and buy Haddon’s A Spot of Bother. Read it, study it, set it aside for a while, and read it again. When you sit down to work on your own writing, keep his relationship with the reader in mind. Then create your own.

 
 
October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Point of View

By Kristin Bair O’KeeffeKristin Bair O'Keeffe

Confusion
When I ask a student, “In which point of view is this story written?” I often get a blank stare, a long “uuummmmm,” or a wrong answer with a question mark tacked onto the end (for example, “First person?”).
 
Clarity
When making decisions about point of view, you must consider two important questions:

From whose perspective is this story going to be told? (In other words, whose story is it?)

Who is going to tell the story?

The Breakdown
First Person: an “I” (or sometimes a “we”) tells the story; everything in the story is filtered through that narrator
          Example: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
           1.   This is Holden Caulfield’s story. No doubt about it.
           2.   Holden is the first-person narrator. He is the “I” in the story.
 
Advantages: strong sense of intimacy; constant opportunity for characterization; a strong voice that draws readers into the story
 
Challenges: a first-person narrator walks a fine-line between interesting and self-indulgent; readers might doubt the narrator’s interpretation of events (thus creating an unreliable narrator); readers can only climb into the head of the narrator
 
Second Person: the protagonist (or another main character) is addressed by using “you” (This creates the sense that the reader is the “you.”)
          Example: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
          1.   This is the main character’s story. (Yes, he remains named throughout the book, but he is most definitely the “you.”)
          2.   The narrator is the main character talking to himself. (He’s a little screwed up so this direct address using “you” makes sense.)
 
Advantages: a sense of immediacy and urgency; fun to write and read; readers feel included
 
Challenges: if readers don’t like or don’t relate to your main character, you might lose them; some readers are uncomfortable if they feel they are being addressed directly; hard to sustain readers’ interest over many pages
 
Third Person: an outside narrator tells the story using “he,” “she,” and “they”
          Example: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
          1.   This is Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s story.
          2.   A third-person narrator tells the story but via Mamah’s perspective.(We see what other characters do, but don’t get into their heads.)
 
Advantages: more leeway to move around a story; opportunity to observe the protagonist from the outside; ability to get into the heads of your secondary characters (if you choose to); able to create a more complicated world; more objective than a first-person narrator
 
Challenges: less intimacy; temptation to include too many characters; a narrator who accesses the thoughts and feelings of too many characters
 
Caution: It’s Not Just About Pronouns
At first glance, it may seem that changing the point of view of your story is as simple as changing the pronouns, but it’s not. Deciding on a point of view requires you to consider many aspects of a story, including information to which the reader has access, voice, attitude, language, and which scenes to include (among others). Take your time here, and when in doubt ask yourself: Who matters most? 
 
 
October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

Please Mark Your Calendars For TOMORROW!

AMAZON SPIKE DAY FOR KRISTIN BAIR O’KEEFFE & CINDY HUDSON IS TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press on October 1, 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? To find out, buy Thirsty on September 15th as part of Kristin’s Amazon Spike Day!

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S first  book is nonfiction. Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming on October 1st from Seal Press. (Yes, that’s right, Kristin and Cindy’s books share the same publication date.)

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog. You can read the complete interview here.

Even if you don’t have a daughter yourself, Book By Book makes a great gift for a mom who does. I hope you will join me in supporting Kristin and Cindy’s Amazon Spike Day on Tuesday, September 15th!

I’ll send you a reminder just before the date. Thanks in advance for supporting our long-time columnists.

The Amazon Spike Day for Kristin Bair O’Keeffe & Cindy Hudson is Tuesday, September 15th

Please Mark Your Calendars!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press on October 1, 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? To find out, buy Thirsty on September 15th as part of Kristin’s Amazon Spike Day!

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S first  book is nonfiction. Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming on October 1st from Seal Press. (Yes, that’s right, Kristin and Cindy’s books share the same publication date.)

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog. You can read the complete interview here.

Even if you don’t have a daughter yourself, Book By Book makes a great gift for a mom who does. I hope you will join me in supporting Kristin and Cindy’s Amazon Spike Day on Tuesday, September 15th!

Fiction Writing Workshop: The Seven Shoulds of Subplots

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Real life doesn’t happen in a single straight, neat line; neither should life in a novel. If you want to create a realistic story that captures and keeps the attention of your readers, you’ve got to weave subplots into it that add depth and texture. Subplots are stories within the main story, and they can sprout from any aspect of a main character’s private or professional life. Once in place they can (and should) deepen the text in significant ways.

Think about Homer’s The Odyssey. The main plot is: against crazy odds, man struggles to get home. But there’s a heck of a lot more going on in this story, thanks to the subplots. Remember Penelope, who is at home waiting, weaving, and fending off suitors? Telemachus, who is trying to grow up and do the right thing by his long-absent father? The gods who are conspiring against Odysseus? The gods who are trying to help him out?

Without these subplots, even The Odyssey would be a little boring and flat. Instead it reads like a modern-day soap opera (with a few Cyclops here and there).

Now apply this to your own work.

If your story is about a woman who loses her job and has to redefine herself in the professional community, you can add a subplot in which she secretly takes a night job to learn new skills and develops a crush on Hank, her new, sexy, younger boss. Suddenly you’ve got a little romance and an interesting secondary character.

As you take another look at your novel with subplots in mind, remember that they should:

  1. connect back to the main plot (and intersect with it along the way)
  2. happen for a reason and make sense in the story
  3. occur simultaneously with the main plot
  4. introduce secondary characters
  5. reveal characteristics about the main characters that readers wouldn’t otherwise get to see
  6. be fully developed (Subplots will not be as in-depth as the main plot, but you don’t want to skimp either. They should have a beginning, a middle, and a resolution all their own.)
  7. affect the resolution of the main plot

It’s important to remember that you don’t want to overload your story with subplots. Your goal is to enhance and create a three-dimensional story that feels realistic and balanced.

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

Columnist’s News!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKRISTIN BAIR O’KEEFFE has launched a new website and blog. Here’s a sneak peek at her forthcoming novel’s cover.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? Look for Thirsty in Fall 2009 to find out!

ABIGAIL GREEN’S essay, “Taking Care,” appears in the new anthology A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers: Stories that celebrate the miracle of life  (Adams Media, March 2009). Stay abreast of her success over at Diary of a New Mom.

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming this fall from Seal Press.

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog.

You can read the complete interview here.

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Plot (Keep Your Eye on the Ball)

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
Growing up, our family played a lot of backyard baseball. My mom was usually the pitcher. “Keep your eye on the Kristin Bair O'Keeffeball,” she’d say before unleashing a pitch. When I followed her instruction, I usually hit a line drive or on a good day, a homerun (sending my sisters into a wild scramble in the outfield); when I didn’t, I either missed the ball completely or hit an embarrassingly lame foul tip.
 
Throughout the years, I’ve discovered that in this particular way, writing fiction is not so different from hitting a baseball. If I follow my mom’s instruction when writing-keep your eye on the ball-I am able to create a compelling plot in a story.
 
Take, for example, Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. In it, the plot (the ball on which you must keep your eye) is “time-traveling man falls in love and wants to stay put in the present with his woman.”
 
In the book, all action and events speak to this plot in some way. As the story moves forward, Niffenegger keeps her eye on the ball. If she didn’t, the story would wander, and readers would get frustrated, give up, and move on to another book.
 
As you can see, plot is not a list of events in a story. Plot is the purest description of a story.
 
Another good example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons. Here the plot (ball) is “rabid dog bites girl; girl may have rabies.”
 
And again, throughout the book, Marquez keeps his eye on the ball. Never do you, the reader, lose sight of “rabid dog bites girl; girl may have rabies.”
 
When broken down this way, plot is a pretty simple concept, but, of course, writers love to complicate it. When someone asks, “What is your story about?” a writer will take a deep breath, say “Weeelll,” then launch into a play-by-play account of the entire tale. “It’s about a woman who buys a dog for her son even though he doesn’t like dogs, and when the dog runs away on a Sunday with the neighbor’s favorite dress…”
 
Whoa! Hold on! Remember, the purest description…
 
“Oh, yeah. Got it. Man gets dog; man learns to love.”
 
See? Simple.
 
When I was little, it took a while (and many strikeouts) to figure out that when my mom said “Keep your eye on the ball” she meant just that-”Kristin, look at the ball. Don’t look at my eyes, my hands, the outfielders, the squawking bird on the fence.”
 
In the same way, it took me a while (and many, many stories) to understand that when I’m writing, I have to do the same thing. Now it’s your turn. This month, pretend your book just got published and you’re being interviewed. The interviewer asks, “What is your novel about?” What do you say?
 
Once you’ve got that answered, look at your story. Do all actions and events speak to this plot? Is your eye on the ball?
 
If not, time to get back to work.

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

The Fiction-Writing Workshop: Creating Three-Dimensional Characters

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

You know a well-developed character when you read one, don’t you? It’s the one that you chatter on about to your friends as if she were a living, breathing human being. The one about whom you find yourself saying things like, “Oh my, is she nuts? I can’t believe ______ did that. What’s going to happen to her now?” The one you obsess about at the office, longing for the workday to end so you can curl up on a subway seat and get back to the book. A character like Liesel in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, who haunts you so much that in the middle of the night you pull out the book, click on your Itty Bitty Book light, and read until dawn.

How do you create a character that sticks with readers and makes them want to keep coming back for more?

1.    Start with who you know (but good gracious, don’t get stuck there), Lots of writers base characters on people they know, and why not? We’re surrounded by quirky, lovely, interesting people whose personalities and habits are ripe for the picking. So, yes, use the folks in your life to get started on characters, but allow yourself to veer away from the real-life models when it feels right to do so. (For example, if you base a character on Uncle Ted with the kooky hair and the tendency to scratch his chin when he senses trouble, endow your character with those qualities and move on. As your mother would say, one Uncle Ted is enough.)

2.    Wreak havoc and see how your characters react. Yup, havoc. Let it roar. A flood? Great. A job loss? Terrific. The death of a secret lover? Oooh, tantalizing. There’s no better way to find out what your characters are made of than by throwing them into a stressful situation in which something dear is at risk and seeing how they react. (Take a look at Trudy Liang’s responses when the Japanese invade Hong Kong in Janice Y. K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher.)

3.    Create human beings (not robots). I don’t know about you, but all the human beings I know are complicated, emotional, multi-faceted, and somewhat flawed in both charming and not-so-charming ways, and when I read a character in a book that is as complex as one of these living, breathing human beings, I feel deeply connected to the story. David Crouse, author of two short story collections-Copy Cats and The Man Back There-is a master of creating three-dimensional characters so real you feel like you met them at a party last Friday. Check out Anthony in “Kopy Cats” (the title story in Copy Cats); you’ll see what I mean.

With all this information about creating lively characters fresh in your brain, set to work on your own characters. Are they well rounded? Will they make readers feel something? Will they make readers come back for more?

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Let Your Characters Speak

Kristin Bair O'KeeffeBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

“Kristin?”

“Yes?”

“Do characters have to talk?”

“Yes, unless, of course, your character is a true mute or her mouth is bound shut with duct tape.”

Silence. And then the sound of nails drumming on a wooden desk.

“Kristin?”

“Mmmmm?”

“Why?”

“For a lot of reasons, but three pretty important ones.”

“Such as?”

“Well, first, dialogue helps readers get to know your characters. Look how much you learn about the narrator’s dad in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Penguin Books, 2006) when on page five he gives his opinion about people writing their life stories:

‘Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, Che Guevara or Bond-James Bond-you best spend your free time finger painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and a mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began-with a wheeze.’

“Ooh, that guy’s got some attitude, huh?”

“Exactly. And you know it both from what he says AND how he says it.”

“Okay, I get that. But why else should I use dialogue?”

“Ever get stalled in the forward motion of a story?”

“Oh, yeah. All the time.”

“Well, dialogue helps you figure out what happens next.”

“It does?”

“Yep, on page fifteen of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Vintage, 2003), the first-person narrator says to a girl he meets, ‘I’m looking for my cat…’ Simple sentence. Simple introduction of a problem via dialogue. And so begins a relationship and a journey that takes you places you never thought you’d go.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

“Told ya.”

“But you said there were three reasons, didn’t you?”

“I did, and the last one is the simplest. Dialogue is interesting to read. Readers love it. In fact, I had a friend in college who only read the dialogue in books. She skipped all the narrative. She said dialogue was all she needed to get a full story. A little extreme, but telling.”

“Any examples of dialogue readers love?”

“Actually that’s a great assignment for you. Grab your favorite book. Study the dialogue. Look at it for characterization, story movement, and entertainment value. Then write your own.”

“Hhhmm, me and my big mouth.”


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