So pleased that my article was published as a Spotlight article at Women on Writing this week. I’ll also be teaching a themed online writing class in September (scroll to the end of the post for the link to the course and more details).
“Food Writing: Introducing the Quotable Yum Factor”
By Melanie Faith
I’ve been a quote collector from way back. I can’t help but relish words of wisdom on the topic of food that demonstrate not only eating but also sharing our love for nourishment through writing is just about the best thing since, well, sliced bread.
Why food writing? you ask. Let’s take a look at three quotes that explore just why food writing sustains and entertains writers and readers:
· “First we eat, then we do everything else.” -M.F.K. Fisher
Think back to some of your first memories; most of these remembrances likely involve food, food preparation, eating, snacking, or all of the above . Do these memories involve a birthday party? There was certainly cake with decadent, butter-rich icing or the waft of cocoa powder at the first slice. What about memories of a yearly special occasion shared around the table with family and friends, like the first savory bites of Grandma’s Thanksgiving stuffing with the pecans and what was that delicious spice she always winked and called her “secret ingredient”?
Food has an undeniable connection to place, culture, and time period that can inspire evocative writing. We often recall not just what we ate and how it tasted (which is a sensory feast enough) but who we were with (or not with), the location, and other events that were occurring while we noshed.
Food brings both comfort and spark points for poetic prose and narrative verse. Try this: set a timer for fifteen minutes and make a list of foods or dishes from your growing-up and teen years and your young adult days. Any of these foods could make great material for a free write, because they are connected to wider experiences and places in your past or present. Combine setting details with food details for a richer mixture.
· “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” -Ernestine Ulmer
Feel the push-pull in the above quote? That’s part of what makes it delicious, non? Tension and conflict, two hallmarks of literature, are perfect companions for writing about food as well.
As a creative-writing teacher and bookworm, I’ve read many scenes
in novels and nonfiction manuscripts where food served as a backdrop or symbolism for the deeper struggles in characters’ or speakers’ lives.
For example, you might combine a protagonist who is scared to tell his love interest something about his past with a breakfast scene in which he prepares his love’s favorite waffles. How does he avoid telling this truth, using the food as a go-between? How does he work himself up to sharing this secret? Dialogue as well as description of his actions and the food all work together to deepen the writing.
· “I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.” -Nora Ephron
Mistakes in life and/or love, who hasn’t made some? Ephron’s quote reminds us, as writers, to employ wry humor as we look back on our pasts. It also reminds that, as disappointing or frustrating as things became, there were silver linings that sustained us.
Cooking and writing, too, share the need for a healthy sense of humor and a silver-lining attitude. Ever made a cake, following the entire recipe, but the cake fell flat or never rose at all. [Instructor raises her hand.] Ever written a draft that seemed so promising and then either stalled mid-draft or just didn’t go in a direction you expected? [Instructor’s hand again goes up.]
Food writing has two great strengths: one, there is the opportunity for humor (perhaps something unexpected, non?). I’ve read hilarious blogs and essays where a writer takes a kitchen disaster or restaurant meal gone wrong and serves up a wider truth about how we rebound and try, try again.
Also, food writing encompasses many, many genres. Its versatility is part of the reason why I love writing food scenes and, for several years now, teaching a writing workshop to encourage others to do so.
· Like poetry? Try “Figs” by D.H. Lawrence, “Ode to the Onion” by Pablo Neruda, or “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost.
· Enjoy personal essays and food-journal articles? How about anthologies with both? Try the annual The Best American Food Writing books for inspiration.
· How about travel writing? Yep, food writing also falls under that category, such as blogs that detail the best bistros and taco trucks in your town or city.
· I haven’t forgotten the prose writers. Many novels include scenes or even whole chapters where food plays a significant part in the narrative. The examples and sub-genres of fiction that involve food are endless, such as: classics like the party scene in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to children’s books like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, YA like Stephanie Burgis’ The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Contemporary Fiction like Kirstin Chen’s Soy Sauce for Beginners, Romance like Yolanda Wallace’s Month of Sundays, Historical Fiction like Crystal King’s Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome and Philip Kazan’s Appetite, and many more.
Go ahead: do a little “food-writing research” today. Pick one of the above food-writing genre examples and research and/or read the piece(s). Then, give food-writing a go on your own. Whether in poetry, prose, or a combination of both, your writing is sure to be richly filling and enhanced with eating imagery.
I’ll be teaching an online writing class, beginning Friday, September 13th. Just four more openings left. Click for more details about this delicious course. Food Writing for Fun and Profit.
Super excited to share the scoop on my spring 2019 writing and creativity classes at WOW! Whether you love prose, poetry, or photography (or all three, like me), there’s a little something and some big inspiration for everyone.
I’d love to have you join us! Course synopsis and direct links below.
I also just got a batch of my new writing books, In a Flash! and Poetry Power, that are all set to be signed and sent to fellow writers to spark the Muse. I have both individual copies and a special, sale book bundle of both texts that are jam-packed with prompts, examples, and literary goodness.
To a fabulous, creative spring ahead!
beginning Friday, March 15, 2019
I have just a few spaces left in this fun workshop. Reserve your spot today. :)
COURSE DESCRIPTION: Flash is a dynamic, fun genre that more and more editors seek. Both flash fiction and flash nonfiction share many of the same qualities, from characterization and setting to conflict and dialog.
In this five-week workshop, we’ll explore this eclectic art form and everything you’ll need to have a lively flash-writing practice, from where to get ideas and drafting to editing and submitting your work. We’ll discuss practical tips and techniques along with inspiring exercises from our text, In a Flash!: Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose, by Melanie Faith. Students will submit drafts weekly for constructive and supportive instructor feedback. There will be a private group for students to discuss the literary life and for sharing of literary resources, such as markets and quotations about the writing process.
Imagery Power: Photography for Writers (back by popular demand!),
beginning Friday, April 5, 2019
COURSE DESCRIPTION: “Fiction, like dreams, exists in images... Fiction must exist in images, not abstractions,” wrote John Dufresne. Indeed, the ability to develop imagery is important in all forms of writing, from poetry to essays and all sorts of descriptive writing. The art of photography, an evocative visual art, frequently helps authors hone our image-seeking and development skills. There won’t be technical jargon of F-stops or aperture priority in this course and you are free to use any form of camera you already own and love—from camera phone to digital, DSLR to Lomo, instamatic, you name it; this class is about cracking open the everyday extraordinary, about the kind of seeing and focusing on detail that will enhance your writing and spark ideas for months to come.
In this four-week workshop, we’ll take a daily photo-taking prompt for a spin, post our response, and describe what inspired each photo at our class group. During the second week, you will begin a piece based on one of the photos you’ve taken that you will share (in part as an excerpt or in full, up to you) with the class during our fourth week. Handouts on topics covered will include: Truthiness: Adding Layers to Your Art with Art; The Genesis and Development of Imagery: Example Sheet of Published Work; Submitting Your Work to Literary Magazines & Other Venues Looking for Photos: Cover Letter Tips; Photographic Resources to Check Out!; Tips for Writing about [Our] Art; How to Match Your Photographic Style to your Writing Style; Ekphrasis and You: Writing in Tandem with the Visual Arts; and Tips for Writing Fabulous Writer/Artist Bios. There will be a private group for students to discuss our creative process and share daily responses to each prompt and for sharing of literary resources, such as markets and quotations about the image-making process.
starting Friday, May 3, 2019
COURSE DESCRIPTION: Ever wonder how to go from scratching drafts in a notebook to sending poems to literary magazines that will get chosen for publication? Ever pondered what editors look for in literary journal submissions? How should we keep track of poetry submissions, and should we do that odd thing: “simultaneously submit?” Ever started a manuscript only to find it all a bit daunting to know what poems to include and which to omit? Want to prepare a chapbook or full-length collection but not sure where to start? How do we get past stalled drafts or stalled manuscripts to persevere and find our writing and reading community? If you've wondered any of these questions, then this is your workshop! Learn real-world, first-hand advice and tips from a poet who has judged poetry contests, published chapbooks and a full-length collection, and regularly submits poetry to literary magazines. Just because it’s chockfull of practical information, doesn’t mean it won’t be fun.
In this four-week workshop, we’ll explore what literary magazines look for in submissions, how the instructor as well as several other poets put together chapbooks and/or larger collections of poems, and insider advice for editing work with an eye towards publication. Students will read Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems edited by Susan Grimm as well as excerpts from Poetry Power by Melanie Faith. There will be a private group for students to discuss the literary life, ask specific questions related to putting together a submission and/or manuscript, and for sharing of literary resources, such as markets and quotations about the poetry writing and submission process.
Topics covered will include: Best Foot Forward: Arranging a Poetry Manuscript; Journey without a Map; Finding, Unifying, and Revising the Body of Our Work; Throwing Poems at an Editor to See If They Stick; Keeping Company: Thoughts on Arranging Poems; Write Opportunity, Wrong Timing; Wild Cards: 8 Tips for Choosing Poems for Submission; The Art of Offering Feedback; The Plandid and Other Splendid Editing Options; Lavender Disappointment: on Adjustment of Expectation and Stalled Drafts; 76 Rabbits out of a Hat: or: The Quirky Tale of How One Poem became a Whole Book; 21-Century Publishing & Guidelines for Finding Your Ideal Audience; Spring out of a Writing Rut! 8 Tips for Getting back to Business, and more.
Thrilled to announce that my article, “3 Tips for a New-Year, New-You Journal at Any Time of Year,” was featured today at the createwritenow blog. Check it out for some writing inspiration.
While you’re there, please peruse Mari McCarthy’s motivating Journaling Power book (I’ve read it and found it super helpful on my own writing journey) along with her inspiring courses and authentic mentoring, guaranteed to kick-start your 2019 to new levels of awesomeness.
My craft article was published at Women on Writing today. Enjoy! :)
“3 Tips for Developing Theme within Poetry”
By: Melanie Faith
I started as a fiction writer before discovering the wonders of poetry at the grand age of 17. (Thank you, Mr. B!)
One quality shared by resonant poems I read in literary journals, anthologies, and from my students' pens is a strong theme.
How can we explore theme to deepen our own poetry?
1. Imagery is where it's at. As poets, we are all about compression. Can we say it in fewer words? Can those few chosen words be rich in the five senses? Can the chosen diction include a symbol for a bigger idea? All of these questions help lead us to imagery that razzle-dazzles our readers.
If I wanted to write a love poem about tentative love, it's unlikely my readers will be as stirred by my flat-out stating, "We were on-again, off-again," as they would with a simple mention of a flickering candle on the windowsill.
Imagery is economical and meaningful. It also creates vivid pictures in your readers’ minds that they’ll remember long after reading your work and, in many cases, invite them back for further reads.
2. Characterization and setting can get the job done. I hear a boatload of discussion in fiction and nonfiction classes about creating realistic characters, and for good reason. This same technique can be applied to poetry to create fantastic engagement from readers and underscore your theme without the dreaded (drumroll, please) telling instead of showing [shiver].
Writers can create poems from numerous characters’ POVs to underscore theme. Persona poems develop a narrative and can be read as individual works of art, such as Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” or paired together to develop a longer narrative, conflict, and/or setting. Great examples include Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 classic Spoon River Anthology, Traci Brimhall’s Saudade (2017 Copper Canyon Press), and poems in my most-recent collection, This Passing Fever (2017 FutureCycle Press).
Paired poems may move back and forth through time and setting (as they do in Brimhall’s work and my work) or remain in one town or place (as in Masters’ collection).
3. Subtlety is your friend.
Sometimes, once we have chosen a theme for our poem, we excitedly write lines that spell out our meaning with all the charm of a doornail. For instance, using the word “grieving” and “died” in a poem whose theme explores death, or stating “flowers always make me happy” in a poem about the therapeutic powers of gardening.
Many poems I see that run off the rails do so when poets begin to explain (or over-explain) rather than trusting readers to intuit the theme on their own.
How can we provide clues for our readers so that they will be sure to deduce the theme?
Glad you asked: figurative language aplenty. Figurative language is understated yet satisfying. Similes and metaphors are often great indicators of theme. As are usage of symbols and imagery. Incorporating sound effects, such as words with hard d sounds for dramatic or tense themes or words with soft m or n sounds for quieter or peaceable themes, can other excellent thematic indicators.
Try this prompt: Choose a poem where you have stated part or all of the theme directly in your poem. Make a list of three images, symbols, characters, or settings that could highlight your theme instead. Pick one detail from your list and, after omitting your theme-stating line, add in details related to your chosen image, symbol, characters, or settings. Compare drafts.
Looking for inspiration to jump-start your Muse in early 2019? Have I got a class for you! Vigorous and Vibrant Verse: an Online Poetry Workshop.
My craft article was published as a spotlight today at Women on Writing. If you’re interested in writing more flash, check out my online class that starts on November 2nd. :) In a Flash
“How Sweet it Is: Writing Resonant Flash Prose”
By: Melanie Faith
When I was a kid, my dad used to stop on the way home from work each night to get the newspaper for my mom and a candy treat for me and my sister. One of our favorite treats was wrapped in a long, thin piece of see-through cellophane. Inside, was a string of thick white floss that had elasticity, and strung along this floss were shiny, bright candies. These circular gems, in popping pastel shades of yellow, pink, orange, and blue, were vaguely-sweetened like fruit and floral flavors (the yellow was slightly tart yet banana-ish and the blue, I recall, tasted like a cross between raspberry and the way a rose smelled).
Each candy bead had the kind of brittle crunch that a child relishes—chomp-chomp!—but which would make my adult teeth weep. The hues of the candies melted with each chomp until the string was bare and vaguely pinkish-whitish-yellowish-blue-orange by the time the last candy was presto-change-oed. After just a few moments, the candy dye bled onto fingertips, tongue, and face, revealing opaque-white candies’ underbellies.
A vivid sense memory I repeat is the internal debate—holding the cellophane-wrapped treat, after a hug from my dad: should I rip into the cellophane immediately and wear the candy-pretty necklace (sometimes I doubled it around my wrist like a fancy lady’s bracelet)? Yet, there was the candy, so tantalizing, that who could resist just a tiny bite? On the other hand, once bitten into, the string was sticky and not really conducive to wearing—destroyed, in a sense, for displaying.
It was a catch-22, albeit one of the best kinds, and the tension between knowing when to hold onto something and when to begin was the kind of life lesson that doesn’t have a perfect answer and yet which gets repeated, unbeknownst to the child’s mind, again and again in life. Timing— whether strung on a string or not, whether involving choosing a major or a love interest or a house or a car or another job or having a child— is an infinite loop of weighing pros and cons and, eventually, just diving in. A lesson, as a Type A elder daughter, I struggled with endless times, weighing the sour against the sweet, second-guessing myself: Was it too soon? But could there be a too late? Even after the satisfying crunch, the soggy, lone string.
In the above flash nonfiction, I began with a simple note I’d jotted this morning in my writer’s notebook while still half-asleep and making my to-do list for the day. Idea: candy necklaces we ate as kids. Hours of student correspondence, errands, lunch, and dishes passed before I sat down again, opened my notebook on my desk and commenced to write the above passages.
Clocking in at just under 400 words, my creative process and this piece highlight some of the best facets of the flash genre. Let’s examine them:
· Flash begins with—well, a flash! Ever used a writing prompt? Sure, most of us have encountered them in writing classes, writing groups, and in books. The genius of a prompt is that it revolves around one idea. Good flash starts with a kernel of a topic which the reader then writes into in discovery. In the case of my candy-necklace flash, my random memory (which popped into my head after seeing a necklace online of white beads) became the prompt I explored.
· Flashes are focused. Notice above how I say “one idea?” In flash, there’s not room for asides or diversions. Any details about the rest of my childhood—the scented dolls I adored, the children’s jokes I loved to tell and invariably flubbed the punch lines of, have no place in this piece—they need to be moved to their own flashes. One is plenty in developing flash.
· Flashes are about what they are about, and they are also about something bigger than their subject, too. In other words: readers learn about you and your characters but they also learn something resonant about humanity. Sure, this is a flash centered on a personal memory, but it also has a theme that readers can connect with their own experiences: timing. How do we know when it is the right, or the wrong, time to do anything? The reader should walk away asking and connect to circumstances in their own past or present. Consider universal themes.
· It’s all about the imagery, baby! Without hitting readers over the head by spelling out theme, how can we explore themes and other literary language? One of the easiest ways is to develop imagery. Just like in poetry, another condensed form, flash nonfiction and flash fiction often employ plenty of sensory images to get the job done (as does this flash with taste, smell, auditory/sound, and visual imagery).
· Flashes include tension. Without the final paragraph of my flash, there wouldn’t be a lot of resonance or conflict in my piece. Most of the other paragraphs are a nice memory involving candy—perhaps interesting for my nieces to read or some other Gen Xer or Baby Boomer who remembers this type of candy, but not the stuff of literature per say. The final two paragraphs introduce the pressure of both leaning on one’s own internal judgment and the suggestion (without spelling it out) of external conflict/judgment over choosing something too soon or being too late to spoil the fun.
Try this exercise: Set a timer and write for fifteen minutes without stopping about a food associated with your own childhood. Incorporate at least three of the five elements of successful flash either as you write or when you return to edit your piece after writing.
Hurry, fall! Next month, my poetry craft book will be released.
Super excited to share this volume packed with prompts and real-world writing, editing, and publishing advice with poets, teachers, writing groups, classes, and more.
My book birthday: October 26, 2018. You know you want one for you and the writing friends in your life.