Literary fiction

Make It Easy on Yourself

Hey reader, I woke up thinking about you, about how we’ve been apart for too long. It’s not you; it’s me.

You see, I thought I had to have the perfect topic, the perfect, most thought out post, if I were going to write to you.

Let me back up.

My goal is to work out every day. I enjoy working out, and that’s the problem. Choices. I didn’t decide last night, so this morning (while I was thinking about writing this post — or not) I had to decide: the gym, outdoors, YouTube, Beachbody, video, or free form?

Beachbody. Because I have a subscription.

Fine. Hook computer to TV or do it in the dining room?

Dining room?

Okay, but move the laundry you did yesterday, move the chairs, start computer, restart router.

I was looking forward to it, because an exercise session boosts me for the next 3-4 hours.

But I could have made it easier on myself.

On my way to the back porch to find my workout shoes, I paused in the kitchen, ended up unloading and reloading the dishwasher, totally forgetting about my shoes.

Same goes with writing. Make it easy on yourself! Preplan that shit. Here are questions to ask yourself:

  1. When will you write?

  2. What will you work on?

  3. Where will you write?

  4. What do you need to successfully write?

  5. For how long will you write?

  6. When will you know you are finished for the day?

These are all important questions, ya’ll. Had I planned my exercise last night, down to laying out my workout clothes, I could have been finished at least half an hour earlier.

I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty good about organizing my writing. I wasn’t today. Ha, and you thought I was only slacking on the exercise prep front.

Here’s why I was hesitating: because I printed a draft of my novel last week and went through it, I had to decide whether to go back through the draft with another color ink (because I hate unnecessarily printing drafts: I’m a tree lover and it gets expensive). I still didn’t know which to do this morning.

I also have a couple of book reviews due, and wanted to start on an essay. But I knew the book review I most needed to work on would intimidate me. It did.

So what to do?

I decided to work on the book review for an hour. Then I wrote a list of essay topics. Lastly, I had to decide whether to type in my book corrections or not. I did corrections.

While I only finished half (so far) of the pages I’d hoped to type revisions in on, I got that much finished.

Next time, though, I will be more prepared. I will make those tough decisions, and make them early. I will plan so I don’t get bogged down in indecision or fear.

P.S. I do apologize for being gone so long, and I pledge to make you a priority from now on. It’s taken some time to learn what you want and need, and what I want to write up.

Do you have a writing schedule? Let’s hear about it!

Writing all the Things,


Beach Reading -- But Not Necessarily Beach Reads


Recently, Barry and I went to the beach for the first time this season. (Insert my muppet flail of joy and my digging into the sand with my toes.)

As two writers (which automatically makes us readers) do, after spending time picking up rocks and driftwood, watching the trucks haul in new sand and smooth it out, we pulled out our books of the moment.

Barry currently has a pile to read for school, so he’s reading literary fiction. I adore literary fiction, obviously, but I brought along what I will call a “beach read.” 

This isn’t the post to talk about how the term “beach read” could be considered a pejorative, and very possibly misogynistic. Forgive me but I need this term for the moment to differentiate between “fun, easy reading” and not so much.

So I was reading this novel which shall remain nameless because, sadly, it turned out grim and not at all the beach read I thought it, when Barry asked if he could read me a sentence.

I listened, gave my “professional” opinion on the sentence's construction and then returned to reading the novel that was, at the very least, beginning to challenge if not delight me because the author went from third person omniscient to first plural. I began to suspect that either I was in the hands of an unskillful writer, or a daring, perhaps literary, one, even if I wasn't digging the plot. (Does anyone say "digging" anymore?)  

Regardless, while I counted the five people referenced in the group that became one voice in this novel, and I could not tell who was talking if it wasn’t collective and hoped all would become clear, Hubby would periodically pull me from my musings with a purple prose passage to flinch at from the book he was reading. He knows I am so not a fan of flowery writing and I love the opportunity to complain privately about a book I will not criticize publicly. Because writing is not easy and tastes vary and I'm not going to be the one to publicly trash another writer without a compelling reason I can't imagine at this time. (I do write book reviews, but critiquing is not criticizing. We writers have to stick together.) 

But back at the beach, reading gave way to lunch eating, to wave watching, to chatting. To dreaming aloud. Let me say, these things pair well with discussing writing. 

The reader in me, so long a solitary soul, sometimes forgets what a luxury it is to have someone to discuss books with. It still seems foreign to be able to share the written word, to accept that it CAN be shared, even that my husband wants to talk about books with me. What a gift. 

While Barry and I haven't recently been able to read the same books because of his schooling and, let's face it, varied interests at times, even reading and sharing short passages with one another is invigorating. 

Never take for granted your version of beach reading — whether it’s with a loved one or a book club. If you don't have it, it is worthwhile to create it. There are Facebook groups and online forums for just about any reading tastes. All it takes is a little exploring. 

While the beauty of reading is that it is perfectly lovely as a world all its own and doesn't require others to enjoy it, sharing literature only expands it. I find I often appreciate books more after I discuss them, or I understand them more fully. Well, what talking about books does for readers and writers deserves its own post, and I'm sure that will come along soon enough. 

Do you find that talking about what you're reading opens the book further for you? 

As always, feel free to comment below, or subscribe. We're here for you. 

P.S. You can expect us to add a variety of photos from our travels in our posts. The above was from our trip to Scotland last year. I admire visually appealing images whether they "go" with the text or not. Just because. 

Writing All the Things, 



Literary Losses:

Best-selling novelist Anita Shreve lost her battle to cancer on March 29, 2018 at the age of 71, according to her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. She was the author of The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, and more. Her readers will miss her engrossing novels.  

Another recent loss to the literary community was that of Philip F. Deaver, a professor of English and permanent writer-in-residence at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, and teacher on the fiction faculty in the Spalding University brief residency MFA program in Louisville, Kentucky. The author was a Flannery O’Connor Award winner. His poetry collection, How Men Pray, was published by Anhinga Press, and his short fiction appeared in numerous prestigious publications. The multitude of Facebook tributes lauding the mentor says as much as his publishing record to how he contributed to the literary community. Deaver passed away at the age of 71.

Drema had the pleasure of hearing Deaver lecture in Buenos Aires in 2010 and was deeply affected by his observation that strangers know more about writers sometimes than the writer feels comfortable with them knowing because of the honest writer's bravery on the page. His vulnerability and openness in his writing challenged Drema to do the same.

Arrivals and Departures:

The Paris Review welcomes new editor Emily Nemens after the allegation-clouded departure of former editor Lorin Stein. Nemens has been The Southern Review’s coeditor for five years. The multi-talented Nemens is also a well-known illustrator on Tumblr. Her relative youth and self-proclaimed “meritocratic editorial agenda” (she rescued two award-winning stories from the slush pile, according to The Paris Review) promise to bring new energy into a literary staple’s offices. The literary world can’t wait to see what happens!

Upon the recent retirement of beloved author and co-founder and program director of Spalding MFA in Creative Writing’s Sena Jeter Naslund, Spalding welcomes Kathleen Driskell as she moves from the position of associate program director to program director. Brava, Ms. Driskell! 

New to Spalding’s MFA program but not to Spalding University is Lynnell Edwards who comes to the university as associate program director and poetry faculty. Edwards is the author of three full-length poetry collections and a chapbook. She was formerly the associate professor of English at Spalding, where she taught both creative writing and literature courses. Welcome, Ms. Edwards!

Closing Shop: Glimmer Train announced in Bulletin #136 that after having been in the business of changing literary lives since 1990, they will cease publication in October of 2019. There’s still time to submit, if you’ve long dreamed of being published in the prestigious, well-paying journal. This will leave a major hole in the literary landscape. Journal editors, prepare to take up the slack!

Available Positions:

As a result of Emily Nemens’s appointment, as you can imagine, The Southern Review is now hiring a Prose Editor and Co-editor.  If interested, pop on over to:

Rutgers University is looking to fill the position of Lecturer. Contact the Department of English at @RutgersU. They request applicants
have an MFA and at least 3 years of teaching experience. For more information,
go to: . But apply soon! 

Submit your literature news or positions available to:

What literary news would you like us to cover? Interested in market listings? Let us know what would help you most as we figure out what this newsletter will be when it grows up.

In turn, please help us out by scrolling to the bottom of the page and subscribe, if you haven’t already. Thanks!

Writing All the Things,

Drema and Barry


(Sentence) Length Matters

When it comes to news and most internet content, short sentences are preferred. White space is queen. When you read both today’s writers of literary fiction and authors of yore (did I just write yore?), however, you’ll find they’re not afraid to command your attention for longer swaths of time. And they do it well. A great writer mesmerizes us repeatedly, word by word. That's seldom accomplished with itty bitty sentences, although writers know when we need a breath and throw in a short one just when we need it most. Like this. 

Does that mean you should attempt labyrinthian sentences, forests of words? Not without a reason. Not without a skillful hand and a mean revising eye. Which probably means you’ll end up with more compact sentences than not. That’s okay.

But for those occasions when you have the luxury of creating leisurely sentences, when you’re finished, allow your eye to follow the path of a sentence and retrace it, paying attention to its flow and how it accomplishes (without flab) what it does. If you can write them, patient, sensuous readers will adore you.

We’ve all heard tales of writers who earned by the word, or writers who wrote serials where readers would have felt cheated to have had fewer words. Especially in pre-TV days. That is often given as the reason for longer sentences in older books. There is some truth to that, though not as much as you may think. (I once wrote a news column that paid by the word and yes, I did pad as much as I could get by with. Hey, I was in college and those packages of ramen didn't pay for themselves.) 

The best writers have an internal metronome. I once had an S.O.B. of a professor who taught me about sentence patterns; that one valuable lesson alone kept me from loathing him at the time, but not by much. (We've reconciled since or I wouldn’t mention it.) I won’t cover sentence patterns today, because they’re a whole thing, but sentence rhythm comes in part from them. And sentence rhythm is irrevocably tied to sentence length.

What do I mean by sentence rhythm? Let’s study these lush sentences from Chapter Two of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

Daylight began to forsake the red-room; it was past four o’clock, and the beclouded afternoon was tending to drear twilight. I heard the rain still beating continuously on the staircase window, and the wind howling in the grove behind the hall; I grew by degrees cold as a stone, and then my courage sank. 

Not only are the sentences eerie and descriptive, but their rhythm beats out the tempo of honest, insightful Jane’s personality. We hear her as she processes her situation locked in the room by paying attention to what’s happening outside.

Note the combination of trance-inducing, background creating languid sentences interspersed with shorter, catch-your-breath moments? Read the paragraph aloud. A good paragraph has an innate musicality. When you're writing, pay attention to the flow.

How is that flow accomplished? The syllables in the words themselves, of course are part of the magic. Short words speed things up. Multisyllabic words slow the pace due to how long they take to read.

Then there are those longer units of meaning, such as phrases. How does Bronte control those? With punctuation!

She starts us off with a semicolon. Know about semicolons. Use them. Well. She follows that with a comma, and ends the sentence with a period, of course. Did she think “and now I’ll use a semicolon”? Doubtful. But her ear, accustomed to writing sentences, knew when the time had come. (Punctuation is its own beast. We’ll cover that in an in-depth way too, eventually.)

The length of the sentence is affected, finally, obviously, by the amount of words she allows herself. A longer sentence asks us to commit to the thought for more time. A short sentence indicates movement, perhaps a transition to another thought.

Of course, if we’re discussing brevity and sentence length, we must cover Hemmingway, or at least a story (flash fiction?) attributed to him. When you want to paint quick images, when you want to tell the tale as fast as you can, consider writing telegraph style:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Not only do short sentences speed us along, when well placed they give us a break when we most need it. They're great for speeding plot along; they're the friend of genre fiction in particular. They're the enemy of unhurried literary fiction which relies on longer sentences for developing a sense of place or character. For the inherent beauty that potentially resides in longer sentences in a way that doesn't seem as possible with short, louder sentences.  

While you seldom hear mention of medium length sentences (because who’s measuring, anyway?) what might their function be?

They’re the unremarkable members of the sentence family. Long ones come to our attention because we’re wondering when we can breathe. Short ones because wow, that was fast. (Unless we’re caught up in the story, and then let’s hope we don’t notice. But if we do…)

Medium length sentences are the workaday ones that hook the other two together! They do the same job but act more as a link than as an engine, to mix metaphors hopelessly. (I suppose the classification is based on opinion – who is to say if sentences are short, medium, and long? I don’t think I’ll try to make that determination here, though I am now imagining someone sorting them on a factory line…anyone want to draw a graphic of that and share below?)

Notice sentence length when you read and ask yourself what it accomplishes.  Then give varying sentence lengths a try and share them in the comments. 😊

Want more information on sentence length with detailed instructions and exercises on how to create your own? What a coincidence – we have more to say AND we’re creating a downloadable for our store. I’ll add a link when it’s finished. 

What’s your favorite sentence length to work with when writing? Have you ever paid attention to sentence length? Thoughts on sentence length?

Writing All the Things,