Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Anthology Philly ImageHello fellow Philadelphians! WragsInk is preparing the next anthology in our Anthology, Philly series, and it could include a story from YOU!

If you live in the Philadelphia area (including nearby New Jersey and Delaware) we are looking for submissions to the next anthology. It will include everything from poetry to short stories to flash fiction. Do you want to be a part of it? Then you have to SUBMIT.

Send your best work to phillyfictioncontest[at]gmail[dot]com. The submissions will be open until filled, so it’s best you get us your work now. For more information on what we look for, feel free to order volume one and check it out.

Please only send us 3-5 poems or 1-2 short stories. We don’t want to be overwhelmed!

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By Kathryn Ombam

I was very fortunate to have a conversation with author Eric McKinley about his debut novel, Blessed Sons this week. Blessed Sons follows an ensemble of characters through the complicated scenario leading up to and following the shooting death of a star high school athlete. The characters seem simple enough: the boy and his family, the shopkeeper, and the lawyer who is assigned to the case. But the emotional relationships that McKinley creates for each character are fascinating and nuanced – and the characters are forced to examine some of the most difficult things that life holds – race, class, violence, death, and the consequences that go along with each. When I sat down with McKinley, I tried to ask him some meaningful questions. Often I was reduced to just gushing about my favorite parts of the book, but here are the highlights of the interview:

Mrs.O: In this book, the protagonist is a lawyer named Jon, you happen to be a lawyer, how often do people ask you about the lawyer component of this book?

McKinley: Sure, even people that don’t know I am a lawyer ask me about the detail of the trial
and want to know if I have personal experience with the plot line. But I don’t want people to get
bogged down in making comparisons. I don’t want people to think this is the only thing I write
about – or that I will write about in the future.

Mrs. O: You do convey a great bit of detail – like how the lawyers talk to the judge and how the
whole legal process goes, even down to the details of the rooms they are meeting in and how they
differ from one another.

McKinley: Yes, but being a lawyer is not a monolithic experience. Some judges are casual; some
lawyers are too, stylistically. Some are more talented than others. Not everyone will be the same.

Mrs. O: At the reading you did today, you spoke of intentionally making the city of Philadelphia a
character in the novel. You did so beautifully. Even though I live here, I felt that I was really getting
an insider’s view of the city – and was transported to each locale with you, in the same way that I
am in books that take place in far-away locales.

McKinley: First of all, thank you for the kind words. Yes, I was very intentional in making the
city part of the ensemble. Places like Bob and Barbara’s and Cookum’s are real places, although
Cookum’s has closed down now. I wanted to include the detail of the city because this story might
be different in a different city.

Mrs. O: You acknowledge that this story has an eerily similar context to the Trayvon Martin case, do
you think that would have been a different scenario, had that tragedy happened in Philadelphia?

McKinley: I think it might. Philly is different. We have an African American Mayor and an African
American Police Chief, and obviously a large population of African American residents, so I think
the reaction would have been different. George Zimmerman wasn’t even arrested until some of his
bizarre post-shooting behavior happened. And his bail was set rather low. I don’t know that that
would have happened here because our public leadership contains so many people of color.

Mrs. O: What about Music? You use music in a very theatrical way in this novel – I could so easily
see it translated into a screenplay – but did you intend for Music to be another character?

McKinley: Music is not meant to be a character in the same way that Philadelphia is an intentional
character, but I did imagine the scene and what kind of music would be playing, because that is part
of the experience of being in Philadelphia. Most places would have a jukebox or a band, so I did
think as I was writing about what would have been playing.

Mrs. O: Yes! I was so happy to see a mention of one of my favorite artists – Mos Def – in a
description of Jon. I immediately thought – oh now I can get an idea of this person – he is probably
my age, and is thinking about music in a way that is not necessarily following trends.

McKinley: He is not a trendy guy. And the song choices were very intentional. Part of my desire
for this novel to be an ensemble piece was to include things like music in that way. Food is another
component that was meant to augment the story.

Mrs. O: I find myself very drawn to the psychology of Jon – he is so apathetic in so many ways – and
particularly to the women in his life – in his relationships with his wife and his mother, he is so stuck.

McKinley: I think of him not so much as a protagonist but as an anti-hero. So much of what he is
doing is just trying to survive. He is not a white knight swooping in to save anything. In some ways
he is just a guy trying to keep his job, trying to keep his marriage together. But he does have a
baseline competitive streak and at a certain point he gets interested in winning; in winning his cases,
in trying to ‘win’ his marriage. He is trying to do the right thing. But, he has a definitive threshold
for how much he is willing to give a shit. At a certain point the effort becomes too much of a
struggle and turns into a blockage. He loves his people, but there is a limit to his emotional reserve.
He loves, but not unconditionally and not without limits. Jon’s relationship with his mother is the
best illustration of this.

Mrs. O: Tell me about the great bartender character – Cook – he seems to be such as great father-
figure character. Was he intended to be?

McKinley: That is an interesting question and a characterization that I had not thought of before.
He certainly represents a refuge for Jon. Cy (the best friend) and Cook (the bartender) both fulfill
that role of providing a safe place for him to go amidst the madness. Look, there is a lot of judgment
coming at him from all angles. Judgment of whether he is living up to his potential or not. Men
don’t get that kind of judgment from other men. The idea is, “Okay, fine, my boy is going to cheat
on his wife, or he drinks too much, but he is still my boy.”

Mrs. O: But the relationships with women are more judgmental?

McKinley: Yes, for Jon, the women in his life don’t need to do anything. They have been accepted
by him. They are already at the standard needed for his engagement. And of course this is vast
generalizing, but women have a more project-based attitude toward men. They want men to be
more, to be what they think is better. The men are fine – saying: “That’s it, this is my guy, whatever
happens.” Conversely, men become apathetic or compartmentalize because they have already
made the decision to commit to the relationship and they are in it for whatever it is.

For instance, there is a scene in the book where Jon is looking around his marital house and he is
seeing that the décor is fundamentally his wife’s. He accepts it and is comfortable within it, but it
would be different if it was just him. It is clearly her house. But he is okay with that. He knows he
will stay and try to make it work. She is going to have to be the one that leaves him – even though
it is obvious that they have evolved away from one another. He would stay forever. Just like he
would never leave his job until he reaches a true breaking point.

Mrs. O: I guess women have more rules than men do about their close relationships – a code of
conduct maybe? But I feel like there is such a strong male tone to the book. Even the narrator has a
male tone and an urban tone.

McKinley: Interesting, I meant for the narrator to be omniscient, but you might be right. Men –
and again I am generalizing – don’t have the same rules toward their close relationships. They can
have conflict without analysis – they just accept whatever happens – with or without explanation or
resolution. They just keep going.

This is true with Jon’s marriage – he’s in it. He is at a point where he doesn’t feel like he has a
choice, so then he honors his commitment. He is not intentionally trying to push Cheryl away. He
doesn’t want to be an island but he doesn’t want to be domesticated either.

Mrs. O: I want to be sure I’m not providing any major spoilers, but there is a moment when Jon
finally breaks down. Can you tell me more about what is going on to finally bring out this emotion
from a character that has been so stoic up to this point.

McKinley: He is not a guy that feels like his life belongs to him. It’s not his house, it’s his wife’s. It’s
not his marriage, it’s on her terms. It’s not his job; his colleagues take much more ownership of the
firm. It’s not even really his case, it’s Saul’s and Jerrel’s. So when something that he really owns and
loves is finally touched by this situation, he reacts. Because he has so little stake in the rest of his
life, this becomes an even greater violation.

And I think it important to note that there is a lot of pressure coming from his community. They
know him and they know the implications of him defending this person. He had been able to remain
detached, but then all of a sudden, it’s all there in his face. He’s there in the maelstrom of crap.

Mrs. O: Right, that is a great part of the story – this all hits very close to home for him on so many

McKinley: His role provides even greater scrutiny because he is from the same community where
the pivotal action occurs. He has considerable talent and good intentions, but he is in a difficult

Mrs.O: The book really has such interesting topics for discussion. Race, gender, class, mobility are
all strong themes. I see why you have offered to attend book group discussions because there is so
much fodder for discussion!

I have to thank Eric McKinley for indulging my many questions. You can find the book through
the author’s website http://ericmckinleyfiction.wordpress.com/, the publisher’s website: http://
wragsink.com/#/ericmckinley/, and on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Blessed-Sons-Eric-McKinley/

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By Dennis Finocchiaro

Hello authors! Ever wonder what famous author your work might resemble? I was on Facebook today and saw that someone posted a link to a website that does just that, I Write Like. So I went to my blog, copy/pasted my story Albert’s Arc, and got J.K. Rowling! I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books, so I was pretty happy.

So I decided to try another story, an excerpt from my new book Inheritance and got Gertrude Stein, another author I enjoy. Plus, I loved her in Midnight in Paris, wink wink.

Finally, I tried my short story Long Lost William from Coney Island and got James Fenimore Cooper. I’ve never read any of his work, but now I just might have to check it out.

What fun! Now you should try it.

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I really think, sometimes, a great way to break through writer’s block, besides just forcing yourself to write, is to read. But you can’t read just anything, can you? It has to be inspiring. Or at least fun.

In the past week, I have been lucky to read a pile of absolutely inspiring books, starting with Dave Eggers’ new one, A Hologram for the King. If I tried to tell you the plot of this story, you would just think to yourself Why would I want to read that? But it was an excellent read. Anything that guy writes is excellent; he has such a talent.

Neil Gaiman was next with Anansi Boys. Loved it. A few chapters in I was wondering when it would become more Gaiman-like (there was an odd lack of magi or fantasy) and then all of a sudden it appeared. It was nearly impossible to tear me from the book. Even on public transportation, I was glued to the novel.

Then I got to read a few sequels about my favorite characters, Odd Thomas (Dean Koontz) and Thursday Next (Jasper Fforde). I’m halfway through the latter.

I was surprised to find that as soon as I started reading Hologram, my writer’s block just disappeared. So maybe, for me, it’s all tied into what I’m reading.

So I guess what I’m wondering now is, what inspires other writers out there. Here is a poll to find out.

Dennis Finocchiaro is the author of such books as The Z Word, a collection of flash fiction that takes place during the zombie apocalypse, Capturing a Moment, a collection of his flash fiction typed onto vintage photographs using an antique typewriter, and Inheritance, a nonfiction memoir about his grandfather.

He also edited WragsInk‘s Anthology Philly, a collection of the best new short story authors in the Philadelphia Area.

Follow Dennis on Facebook or twitter.

Follow WragsInk Publishing on twitter.

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Inheritance, the new book by Dennis Finocchiaro, details the life of his grandfather, Rosario “Charlie” Finocchiaro, from 1920s Philadelphia to World War II, all the way up through his retirement in Havertown. I sat down with Dennis to ask him a few questions about the upcoming memoir to learn everything from his process to what his family thinks of the new project.

Many people hear the stories from their grandparents, but not many take the time to actually put the stories down on paper. What made you decide to do it?

Well, it all started out as a graduate school project. I’ve always been a fiction writer but had to take a nonfiction class, which meant stepping out of my comfort zone (something I think everyone should do from time to time). I was having trouble coming up with something to write about when we had a family party and my grandfather told one of his famous stories. When he finished everyone was laughing and that was when the idea hit me. So I brought a camera over one day and recorded our conversation.

How did he feel about having a camera recording what he was saying? 

I thought he would feel awkward, but he acted like it was an audience. He was VERY comfortable talking in front of a camera. I was surprised.

What was the most fascinating thing you learned from this experience?

Probably some of the war stories. I never had any idea of what he’d been through. The most surprising was the story he told about an attack on a harbor and the huge explosions that took place when a tanker was hit. But I don’t want to give too much away.

Your story is written in less of a linear, chronological fashion, and more of a jump-around kind of way. Would you say this symbolizes the way we remember our own pasts? What was the inspiration behind writing in this way?

At first I tried doing it chronologically, but that ended up in the trash. It took a few tries before I figured out the best way to do it. I wrote it in the same way people tell stories. They jump around, and a story will sometimes trigger a totally unrelated story. And yes, it definitely is written in the way we remember our own histories.

Did you ever find it difficult to write so personally about someone so close to you?

Not at all. I guess as comfortable as he was in front of the camera, I was at the laptop. I asked permission on a few items that people said, of course, to make sure they didn’t mind.

I think the hard part was refraining from putting him up on a pedestal. I didn’t want him to sound like a saint, because he wasn’t. He had his negatives, just like anyone. As a matter of fact, in the first draft I turned in, the main comments were that it was too positive, too much of an “I love my grandfather” story. So I talked to a few people who would remember some of the negatives and added to it.

Has becoming so in depth with your grandfather’s past help you to understand your own life more? Have you discovered parallels?

Wow… that’s a tough question. His life was so different from what I’ve gone through. He was a contractor; I’m a professor and writer. He went to war, and we don’t really have wars that have that aura of importance like WWII, you know? But knowing his past really taught me a lot about him that I never would have known otherwise.

How do you think this story can inspire others?

I think it’s really important to sit down and get to know our elders. They are a major part of our history and everyone I talk to since the book came out says “I wish I’d done this with my grandparents.” And hell, I did it with one, and still regret not doing the same with all of them before it was too late. But if my dad and uncle learned things about him they didn’t know, then of course I think everyone should do something similar. Even if it isn’t with a camera, even if they just take them out for lunch, or tea, or whatever. Get to know them before it’s too late!

Finally, how has your family responded to the project?

They adore it. Part of the epilogue I wrote even has my uncle’s email that he wrote after reading it while he was writing my grandfather’s eulogy. As a matter of fact, the daughter of one of my grandfather’s cousins wrote my dad and said how amazing of an idea this was. Then she shared some of her own stories about her dad, so I guess it’s already inspiring some people.

Inheritance is a publication by WragsInk and is Dennis Finocchiaro’s third publication, following The Z Word and Capturing a Moment. The book can be purchased on Amazon. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, be sure to look for upcoming promotional appearances for this and other WragsInk publications.

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We at WragsThinks were curious. With so many writers out there, we can’t help but wonder how many people are like our author and editor Dennis Finocchiaro, and find that early morning writing is the easiest. So we created a poll:

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Writing Tip Dialogue

A Writing Tip

by Dennis Finocchiaro

Hello readers! As I sat down the other day to work on a zombie Christmas tale for an anthology, I started really thinking about the compound where the main character finds survivors. When it came time to do a description in the story, I had to really visualize what I would want it to look like. How big is it? How many buildings? And where are they on the compound?  When the main character was giving a tour, I started having a bit of trouble.
That’s when the art major in me took over. Or should I say, the one year of art school I attended. I grabbed a piece of paper, the tools I had for architecture, and got to work drawing what I thought it would look like. It’s not especially detailed, just a basic idea of the property.

And then the tour of the compound flowed quite easily.

What about you? Do you writers out there have any tips or tricks you’d care to share? We would love to hear.

Dennis Finocchiaro is author of The Z Word, a zombie anthology of short stories, Capturing a Moment, a collection of his flash fiction typed onto vintage photographs, and the upcoming nonfiction novella Inheritance. He is also editor of Anthology Philly, a collection of short stories by authors in the Philadelphia Area. Dennis writes children’s ebooks as well, available on Amazon.

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Yesterday, on the unseasonably warm April day in Philadelphia, I cleaned out my closets. Or, really, I cleaned the clothing racks that hold my wardrobe, since I don’t actually *have* closets (the downside of living in what used to be a warehouse). This is a relatively annual ritual, something I do around this time every year. Spring-cleaning, as they say. Out with the old and unworn (or worn too much), in with the new and fresh. As my past roommates can attest, I used to be terrible at this activity, clinging on to clothes well past their due date, ones that I hadn’t worn in months and wouldn’t wear for months, if ever again, just for the possibility that maybe (just maybe) there would be the off-chance that I’d wear it again. Someday. In the future. Assuming I’d still be the same size, that is. (Read: not happening.) In any case, I like to think in recent years I’ve gotten better. For instance, today I managed to rid myself of plenty of old clothes, being diligent and restrictive to what would constitute my new spring and summer wardrobe. It left me feeling freer, lighter, infinitely less cluttered. My bedroom itself looks like it just took a large breath, as if the life it once had was finally flowing through it again.

Of course, I’m not writing this to discuss my wardrobe. (A collective sigh of relief from the audience.) I’m writing because as I was de-cluttering and breathing new life into my apartment, I got to thinking about the current novel-length writing project that I’ve been working on since January and, it can be said, still have a ways to go on. It’s the one piece of writing that has consumed my thoughts for months. Sixty thousand words in, I’ve hit the proverbial wall. Though I’d say it’s a small one, small because I haven’t crashed into it headlong yet, small because it’s more of a turbulent bounce than a scrap-the-whole-project obstacle. It’s more of a mini hurdle. I won’t bore you with the specifics, as I assume if you’re reading this it means you’re taking a break from your own writing, or thinking about your own writing, or anxiously awaiting the time you can get back to your writing, etc. Suffice it to say, my issue has to do with chronology and timing and all that fun stuff that could, frustratingly enough, make or break the entire thing.

But as I was on my “out with the old” tirade, I had a thought. Perhaps what I’d needed all along with my wardrobe was a bit of perspective. A stronger voice to say, “No, Alisha, you won’t wear that green dress you’ve clung to since college. You know why? Because it no longer works for you. And it probably still has remnants of a 2009 keg party, for that matter.” A voice to argue down the notion to hold out hope for the day in which the green dress will finally “work” again. Because it won’t. It will just hang there, dying a slow death, unworn and fading, until I finally do give it away, frustrated that I hadn’t months before when I should have. 

Which brings me back to my story. I’ve written before about realizing when things no longer work and accepting the challenge of changing your story (small or drastically so). What I discovered today was that my piece needed was a bit of spring-cleaning. A slightly more awakened perspective. A change in my thought process. And with this new, revitalized sense of being, I answered my own question about what I should change in my story. It is, in the long run, a simple change, and one that will be easy to fix (thankfully), but is, as I realize it now, incredibly necessary.

So this is what I leave you with: like the clutter that we hang on to in our lives and in our apartments, such is the clutter that we keep with us in our writing. We may not realize it until the decision is made to rid of it, but afterwards we wonder why on earth we kept it for so long to begin with.

I propose a challenge. Take your story. Whatever isn’t working, whatever it is you’re fighting so hard to make right, instead of being witness to the words you’ve written slowly dying on the page, breathe a little life into your story by taking a chance. By this I mean, look at it differently and change what’s not working. With any luck, you’ll open up the doors to something completely new and exciting, something you wouldn’t have even considered a few weeks ago. As for the old stuff, unlike clothes (unless you have big closets, in which case I’m envious), you can always save it and come back to it some other time, though I think you’ll find you were right by cleaning it out in the first place.

As always, you can follow me @alishakathryn.

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Here’s a helpful video on writing tips.

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Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers. When I finished the last of his books, I never really got over his passing. He was a treasure and inspiration to me as a writer.

Here are a few tips he gave for writing a short story. Enjoy!


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