Amy G Coombs

author, reader, teacher

New Acceptances

While my novels make the rounds, I’ve recently had a few shorter pieces accepted.

Sculptor of Skin, a short story, will appear in Eric Nguyen’s e-anthology for teens, the Better Book Project. http://www.betterbookproject.blogspot.com

My Father and I, Talking and Something Happened, two memoir-based short works for adults, will be in a juried event, Women of Speak, part of Women of Appalachia. http://www.womenofappalachiaevents.com

Where I’ve Been

I began this blog last June with energy and enthusiasm. By August, I disappeared from Blogland.

Where have I been?

I went on a journey, not one of my choosing. My father’s sudden illness left him with a prognosis of four weeks to live, and left me to stay at his bedside, to grieve and to take over his position as caretaker for my mother. My good writing friend, Cathy, said, “When things calm down, you will do a lot of writing.” She’s right. For the past few months I’ve had an outburst of creativity. Not about my parents or this particular journey, no. That’s too private and raw. But I’m going gangbusters on my novel, formulating notes for a second novel, starting work on two short story collections, entering contests, sending out short stories, getting acceptances. All this while traveling to D.C. one week a month to be with my mother.

Am I back to blogging? I’m not sure. Life is more uncertain than usual at the moment, and I pour my heart into my fiction, not my blogging. Let’s say, here’s hoping I have at least one foot back in Blogland for now.

Writing Fun with Young People

I just finished a lovely 3-day writing workshop with fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the Athens Public Library. Three days in a row, rather than a stand-alone workshop or a weekly workshop, was a new format for me, and it’s fast become my favorite. Eight kids arrived every morning eager to begin, and we jumped right in without having to refresh or review.

We started by playing games to get the creative juices flowing. Magic Bag, which David Almond introduced to me (and several hundred others) during one of the SCBWI New York mid-year conferences is always popular. (My teen writers love it.) Some of the kids used what they’d written for the games to start a short story, some used fan fiction and began novels, others came up with their own short story ideas. On the last day, they found cozy spots throughout the library to keep writing. During check-ins, I offered challenges — specific spots and ways they could improve the story. Moments of peak action or emotion that could be enhanced with dialogue or description, slowed down and gone into more deeply. I kept it simple; they got it. Some, so much so, we wished we had a fourth day.

Risks of Writing

The other night two friends were discussing ABEL’S ISLAND by William Steig (no, I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to now). One was quite disdainful of and disappointed in the ending. She thought the main character reverted to his old callous and selfish personality. The other found Steig’s conclusion romantic and moving. Hmmm….

Isn’t it scary how writers put their heart on the page only to have readers react with a wide range of interpretations and feelings? No matter how talented we may be, or what emphatic choices we make, or how well-rounded our characters, we always run that risk.

I’m beginning work on two series of short stories which will particularly open me up to this danger. One, following a privileged white girl from the 1963 March on Washington to President Obama’s inauguration and her relation to the African-American woman who raised her, and race relations in general. The other, a series of stories about Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual teens (there may be a Transgender story inside me as well). My mentor says if I stay honest, I will pull it off. We’ll see.

AWAY by Amy Bloom

Just finished AWAY by Amy Bloom, about an immigrant Jew in the early 1900s. The author keeps a psychic distance, and often weaves out of the protagonist’s point of view to step back and observe the future of other characters, and yet I felt utterly moved by her dilemma and couldn’t put the book down. How does Amy Bloom do this?

Maine-ly Writers

Every June a group of my friends gather in a cottage on Penobscott Bay in Maine along with a teacher (this year, our mentor Louise Hawes, BLACK PEARLS, THE VANISHING POINT, ROSIE IN THE PRESENT TENSE) for a week of writing workshops. Our core group met at a workshop in North Carolina, where Shana Burg (A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS) said, “Let’s do this again.” And so we made our own arrangements. Over the last five years, as we figure out how to cobble together the finances, or discuss if we have enough food in the fridge for one last meal, the main focus of intense writing, learning, sharing and companionship has never faltered.

So, as I sit on our last day at the expansive wooden kitchen table with my morning coffee, looking out at the grey-blue waters, listening to two colleagues discuss the timing of next year’s workshop….I can’t help but know how lucky I am.