Aine Greaney


Boston author and essayist from Ireland

Hey, Writers! Can You Come Out To Play?

I love when I find a class or presentation on a topic that's dear to my heart and that links my working and creative lives.

So, a few weeks ago, imagine my joy when I landed on a six-week course, "Medicine and The Arts,"  presented by the University of Cape Town.  

I'm far from a technical Luddite,  but I must admit that I'm not quite over the shock of being able to sit on my American couch while listening  to interdisciplinary faculty in a university half-way around the world. 

Still, brave-new-world technology aside, I can honestly say that I rush through my dinner each night so I can log in to learn and discuss with my fellow online learners. 

Last week's module was on creativity and play. 

Hmmm ... play. As a writer with a busy day job, I think there are times when I forget how to pronounce that word. I forget to be--or how to be--playful.

And, if you read some contemporary author interviews, it seems like I'm not alone here. 

One interview: "I started writing seriously when I ..."   Another:  "I got really serious about my writing after my first short story got published." Or, "I knew it was time to stop kidding around and get serious (about my writing)." 

Reading these (and some of my own past commentary), a non-writer could be forgiven for thinking that we writers regard the creative process as an acetic vocation--and a rather punishing one at that!  

 Now, what if,  instead of regarding each writing project as a mountain to be scaled, a race to be run, a set of creative boxes to be ticked, we took time out to let our minds and pens just wander?  In playing (posits one of last week's video lectures) we unleash our subconscious to go hunt and gather new ideas.  Also, in terms of reflective or wellness writing, play provides a  temporary reprieve from the current or past circumstances (such as an illness or trauma) and this, in turn, gives us ownership over our own stories. 

I know when I'm stuck in an essay or chapter, it helps to shut down the laptop and take out my writing journal to free-write or doodle or just make silly lists. I've also had great fun writing and recording audio essays.  

This morning, I listened to a radio interview with poet Mary Oliver in which she described her daily habit of going outdoors and waiting, pen poised, for whatever comes. By switching the genre and format, we give ourselves a recess with no rules or expectations or limits.

Of course, a long walk helps with this process, too. 

Can you incorporate play into your writing life?  How?

Writing: The Enemy Of Mindfulness?

I meditate, but only for 10-minute stints, and I don't do it every day.  I’m a very sporadic and inconsistent yogi. I've never been to an ashram and probably never will.

Yet, I claim to live a (sorta) mindful life.   I can sit in traffic or get horribly lost and turn these mishaps into a positive--something I could never have done when I was in my 30s or even in my 40s.  I can assure myself: “This (detour) is letting me see places I’d never have seen otherwise.”

Or, two weeks ago, I sat in gridlock on the way to meet writer friends on Cape Cod. Rather than yanking on my steering wheel to cut across three lanes of traffic to exit (as some of my fellow Boston drivers did), I sat back to enjoy the Sunday-morning radio programs on National Public Radio.

So to some degree mindfulness—the ability to just live in and enjoy the present moment—has made my middle aged life much richer and, I hope, healthier.

So has writing. 


So why, then,  do writing and mindfulness often play against each other?  Why does one (writing) undo what the other (mindfulness) achieves?  

For answers, maybe I need to look no further than my online calendar and all its reminders for future submission dates for maybe- or future publications or bylines.

So here's the biggie question about writing and mindfulness: How much does this future-ness, this possibility or promise of selling or placing our work influence or diminish the actual work itself?  

I'm not proud to admit this, but there are days when my writing life, my whole sense of my career and life success, is governed by that calendar and what might arrive in my email in-box.

To my credit, I often use Macfreedom to block my WiFi service and the  possibility of  digital distractions.  My household phone could ring off the hook before I’ll race to pick it up.  At home and at work, I am good at prioritizing, categorizing and scheduling my responses to non-urgent emails.

But hands up, now. How many of us have instantly stopped what we're doing—including writing—to open and read an email from an acquisitions or magazine editor? I know I have.  I've even been known to  pull my car into a roadside car park in the hope that this is an email that tells me that, at some future date, in some magazine's future issue or a publisher’s upcoming list,  my essay or manuscript will get published.  

Now, wouldn’t this kind of future-tense (or should that be 'tense future?') thinking get me permanently disbarred from the mindfulness club?  

But wait! There's more. 

I’ve urged my writing students to shut out their inner critics to just write, write, write.  I’ve begged them not to stop the creative flow to go trawling back through the story or essay to look for potential spots to edit or change. "Write onward!" I say. And, in that moment, I actually mean it.  

But wait! It gets worse. 

I’ve facilitated journal-ing and wellness writing workshops where I’ve assured the participants that, other than the scratch of pen on paper,  there should be nothing else in this precious writing moment. 

So I renege on my own mindfulness promises,  When I do, I know that I cheat myself and my writing.  

I've got to find a way to fix this.  Really. 

As a writer, how do you shut out the world—including the publishing world—to write, write, write and be mindful, mindful, mindful?

Irish Short Fiction Anthology: Michael P. Quinlin Showcases The Masters

Last week I received a copy of Tales from the Emerald Isle and Other Green Shores, a newly released anthology of short fiction from Globe Pequot Press, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.  

Compiled and edited by fellow Massachusetts author Michael P. Quinlin, this is a carefully curated collection of 20 short stories by Irish, Anglo-Irish and American authors such as George Moore, George A. Birmingham, Katharine Tynan, Liam O’Flaherty, Sarah Orne Jewett and Lady Gregory.

The opening story, Liam O’Flaherty’s “Spring Sowing” dates from 1924, while the collection’s closing story, Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A Little Captive Maid” was first published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1891.

At first glance, these publication dates--plus the stories' charming but old-timey themes and dialog--could appear to stand between a 21st century reader and the actual stories. 

But it's this antiquity that distinguishes Quinlin’s collection from other anthologies of Irish short fiction. You won’t find any post-European Union or post-Celtic Tiger Ireland in here. No avant garde. No meta-fiction.  

Here is the short story, Ireland's signature literary form, in its original and purest state. 

From the hills of Connemara to the streets of New York and the deserts of North Africa, these stories bring to light the odyssey of the intrepid Irish.

For anything purer, you’d have to time-travel yourself backward to a raucous American wake (the all-night goodbye party for departing emigrants) where every guest must sing a song or play a tune or tell a cracking good story.   

Or would you?  Read some of these stories aloud to hear and enjoy that oral storytelling (often lost in more contemporary works) and folkloric tradition at its melodic best.

In any collection of poetry or essays or stories, a reader has his or her own darlings, and this is certainly true for me here.  So here, then, in order of my preference, are my three favorites:

(1) I have always loved the cinematic barrenness and understated marital affection of Liam O’Flaherty’s “Spring Sowing.”

(2) Katharine Tynan’s “A Rich Woman” is a witty and accurate treatment of rural class wars and parish gossip.

(3) Finally, Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A Little Captive Maid” doubles as a female emigration saga and a happily-ever-after Cinderella tale.

Parish gossip. Colonial factions.  Transatlantic emigration.  This anthology's themes are as old and as Irish as they are universal and, in many cases, delightfully contemporary.     


Surviving Writers Rejection

I still remember that day when my then-publisher rejected my second book, which was to have been Book 2 in a two-book contract.  

In retrospect, I'm sure that editor was justified. The book was a 180-degree switch from the first book, it wasn't very plot driven, and it was, she said,  "very dark in places."  

Etcetera, etcetera. 

Now, over a decade later, it's not  the editorial rationales that I remember most, but my  own sorrow.

 I'm not proud to admit this, but I did actually take to my bed.  I did actually weep into my pillow. I did actually believe that I would never publish anything again. 

I was wrong about that last part.  A few editing rounds later, the novel got published and even garnered some awards and recognitions. 

I was also wrong to waste my tears, to let an editor's rejection reduce me to a level of grief that we should save for life's real traumas--like death or illness. 

And yet ...

Even the toughest writer feels the sting of rejection, especially for that piece of writing that we hold dear.  It double hurts for those pieces or books that we suspect or know are being rejected for marketability over thematic depth or literary quality.  

I've been writing for most of my life and writing for publication for over two decades.  Looking back, many rejections were and are warranted and helpful, while others hit and hurt deeply.

So this week, I was delighted to find  this article, "3 Eye-Opening Lessons for Rethinking Rejection"   at "World of Psychology."

This section rang especially true for me: 

Rejection doesn’t just sting. It makes us question or dismiss whatever we’ve created. It makes us question ourselves as individuals. It confirms our worst nightmares, our inner critic’s blistering beliefs. It shakes up our self-worth, and hurts us at our core

 "3 Eye-Opening Lessons For Rethinking Rejection" not only offers comfort, but also nudges us toward some self-analysis. Where does our fear of rejection come from? How much does that fear hold us back from new or true projects? Worse, is our fear of rejection making us hedge our bets by writing for the current (and always fickle) publishing market?

For a writer, these--not the editor's checklist of personal tastes or marketplace possibilities--are the big, big questions to ask. 

You probably have your own strategies or tips for bouncing back from rejection.  I try to use the 48-hour rule. Within 48 hours of receiving a rejected query or piece, I re-read, re-fix and re-submit to another editor. 

When it comes to rejection, we writers share the pain and should stand together. 

So give us your tips (below in the comments) for rejection resilience and recovery. 

Writers Who Market Too Much

So let’s all stop shouting in a crowd and start having the kind of smaller conversations that actually help us to connect as human beings.

This week, a grand idea was slushing around in my head and I thought, "I must write something about that." But then, another author beat me to it, and her piece is much more eloquent than I could have written. 

Read this blog post, "Please Shut Up: Why Self Promotion as an Author Doesn't Work." by Delilah S. Dawson.  Now, doesn't Ms. Dawson's work validate every red flag you've ever had about that author "friend" who suddenly disappeared the minute her book publicity rush was over?  

Note: I use "she" here for ease of pronoun usage only.  In this case, we actually have gender equality. Male writers do the hyper marketing, faux-friend shtick, too.  

I love the point Ms. Dawson makes about how good books generate good book sales--not pushy social media and not tacky networking tactics.   

In addition to the quote above, I especially like this line from her blog post: "If they're (fellow writers) smart enough to write a great book, they're smart enough to see through your ploy."   

Most of us have been the victim of these "ploys" in which a so-called writer "friend" gets a whiff of a book sale or a speaking gig or a new agent and that friend morphs into a frothing jackal.


It goes like this: You and Ms. Jackal are deep in a bookish conversation that's so meaningful it's positively orgasmic (though those glances over your shoulder make you  suspect she's faking a little).  Then, Ms. Jackal spots her prey: that literatus across the room whom she believes will advance her  career. Or she spots that potential buyer whose purchase will earn her a whopping $1 in book royalties.  So you're conspicuously abandoned, mid-sentence, while Ms. J. goes in the for the kill.  

Why? Because you and Ms. J's own dignity are worth less than a dollar. 

Then there's the sly but equally tacky ploy.  In this case,  Ms. Jackal doesn't actually race away from you.  Instead, she seems positively chummy.  Then, by the time you get home from the book event, there is a "Friend" request or a mandate to "Like" her author page or a cookie-cutter invitation to connect with her on LinkedIn. No problem there, because (you persuade yourself) there will surely be a nice follow-up note or email with a link to that article or publishing lead you chatted about. 

Nada. And then it dawns on you: You were always just a sales prospect. Fresh kill. Nothing more. 

 I'm not a very sensitive person. I can, in fact, be abandoned mid-conversation and not really mind or care or take umbrage--most of the time.

What really burns me is what these pushy writer- marketing stunts actually mean for all of us: That we have begun to favor the commerce of writing over the art, the process and the possibility or reality of genuine writer friendships.

I always thought that the reason to make art was to create something beautiful, not something ugly, gauche or mercenary. In a loud and crowded marketplace, in the rush toward platform building, our art shouldn't become a combat sport. It shouldn't turn us against or set us upon each other. 

 So here's my question: If we allow our book sales to matter more than the words on the page or the friends around the tea table, then can we really call ourselves an artist?  

Don't get me wrong. Of course we writers have to roll up our sleeves and support our own outreach and marketing.  If we're going to pitch our camp in Writer-ville, we better be good literary citizens, the kind of neighbors who offer, give and return every favor, every cup of literary sugar that we borrow.    




Saint Patrick's Day Giveaway of Irish ebook

Here's my latest ebook from Pixel Hall Press.

As an Irish expatriate, I don't usually like Saint Patrick's Day, and I bristle at the stereotypes associated with what should be a cultural celebration.

If they made me Irish queen for a day, I would like to see the holiday as a way to showcase the Irish achievements in the arts, business and worldwide volunteerism. 

In the spirit of showcasing the arts, I'm giving away a free copy of my ebook, "La Belle Femme."

Read more about the work and how the idea for this story dates all the way back to 1983. 

Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day With Literature

I am giving away a copy of "La Belle Femme" to the correct respondent of this simple quiz (below) on contemporary Irish women writers. 

To enter, simply write your correct response in the comments section below. If there's more than one correct answer (short fiction lovers tend to be really clever and well read), I will enter the names in 

Le Quiz: One of these 6 contemporary women authors is not Irish born. Who? Enter the correct name by 1 p.m.. March 15, 2015. 

Claire Keegan

Nuala Ni Chronchuir

Jennifer Johnston

Anne Enright

Maggie O'Farrell

Edna O'Brien

Enter the correct response in the comments below. We will choose and announce a winner by 1 p.m. on March 17 2015.




Teaching Creative Writing Workshops: 8 Ways To Prepare and Plan

This weekend I got to do one of my favorite things:  draft a set of curriculum for an eight-week creative writing class that I hope to facilitate this summer. 

There's nothing more thrilling than rummaging through my Evernote files and bookshelves to find just that right article or essay or video clip that will, I hope, inspire a group of writers.  

Leading a writing workshop is a delicate balance of pedagogy, grace, humanity, inclusion and authority. It also helps to have a sense of humor. 

I've been designing and leading writing workshops for over 20 years now.  I've taught at libraries, universities, arts centers, assisted living facilities, schools and writers conferences. Still, I would never call myself an old pro who knows it all--far from it.


Each opportunity and each group of participant writers holds the promise of learning new ways to engage and inspire.    As I put the finishing touches on this summer one, I sure hope that's true and that my preparation will pay off.  

New to teaching or presenting? Here are my 8 Steps To Prepare For A Creative Writing Workshop 

1. Narrow your topic:   "We want to offer a writing class." Sometimes, the host or events person calls with just this request. It's a great request, but it's up to you to ask and get specifics about the projected audience, its demographics, and, if possible, nudge him or her toward letting you come up with a more specific workshop topic or title.  

For example, a workshop on writing short fiction will appeal to an entirely different audience to a session on, say, travel writing. Equally, an active retirement group may want a different type of session from a group of teens--or not. But you must ask. 

2. Check out the venue:  I learned this once when I traveled overseas to teach a day-long workshop in a building that was (surprise!) still under reconstruction. The builders' jack hammers outside meant having to keep the windows closed. And the lack of drinking water and a working toilet eclipsed anything we had to share or say about creative writing.

Nothing kills student participation more than physical discomforts, including rooms that are cold, musty, lack windows, enough space or nearby bathrooms. Ask questions. Go on the organization's website. If needed, ask to visit the venue so you can check it out and actually visualize your workshop taking place in that room.  

3. Establish who's boss:   O.K., just one more war storyOnce, a woman hired me to facilitate a three-day summer conference retreat in a gorgeous mountain setting.  Fantastic, right?  Um ... Two hours into the event, I discovered that this woman couldn't quite decide who was actually leading--her or me. The students were confused and distracted and it was hard to get the writing karma back. Yes, writing workshops are very democratic and participatory, but someone needs to lead. 

If your potential host plans on attending the actual sessions, establish if it's going to be as a participant, a co-teacher, a pop-in observer or as a supervisor of your work.   Then, depending on the response, accept or decline this teaching opportunity.

4. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare:  Haven't we all plunked down our money for a  training or workshop in which the facilitator was just coasting or fudging? Participants deserve to get their money's worth and get the most out of these few hours or days. So it's important to really prepare the content, plan the pacing, the writing prompts, the break times, the handouts  and other details.  Always have an alternate set of prompts in case the group energy lags or dynamics change. 

5. Ask about the technology: If you're going to use  video clips, pod casts or presentation software (like PowerPoint or Prezi), establish your future venue's internet capabilities. As well as the resident laptop setup, bring your own and backup everything on a thumb drive.  If at all possible, request to do a test run--in the same room you will be  using for the actual workshop--and make sure the tech person will be onsite or on call on the day of the event. 

6. Talk money: Don't believe someone who tells you that facilitating this retreat or workshop will look great on your C.V.,  will land you a literary agent or give you a free lunch or dinner.  The potential event or conference may, indeed, yield one or all of these, but none of them is a valid reason to donate your talent and time.

Ask for a suitable fee. Ask for mileage or transportation support. As a writer, you should be a good literary citizen and donate your time. But only to organizations you actually choose.   

7. Learn how to teach: Many writers' events and conferences hire big-name authors as a way to fill the seats and balance the budget.  Often, these rock star authors turn out to also be a rock star teachers. But then, there are those who do not, who cannot teach. 

Before I was a writer, I was trained and educated as a teacher. But if you've never stood in front of a group before, get  online and learn the basics of training and group facilitation. Your students will thank you, and you may get invited back for a repeat gig. 

8. Ask about marketing--plus the minimum and maximum enrollment:  Depending on the topic and venue, there's a magic number for writing workshops. For a fully participatory workshop with lots of peer sharing and review, 9-12 works well. Fifteen is do-able. Anything beyond that switches the dynamics and begins to morph into a lecture style. Too few students, and it's hard to generate dialog and creative energy. Too many? Your participants can feel crunched for time and air space.  

Ask about the maximum numbers of attendees and how the venue plans to post  and advertise the workshop event to the public. Also make sure you view and approve how you are posted as the facilitator. 

As a workshop participant, what would you like to see from facilitators? Or as an instructor, share your tips with us. Write in the comments below. 



Valentines Day Essays

I've never been a big holiday person. There have been years when I wish Christmas would go away, when I wanted to keep my birthday secret, and when I spent Thanksgiving just walking on the beach. And please, don't get me started on Saint Patrick's Day.

Maybe I'm just rebelling against the fact that, in Retail Land, USA, we hardly get to clean up after one holiday when the next one is already out there, displayed in all its mercenary splendor. 

So I'm not quite sure why I've written and published four pieces about Valentine's Day.

Before our hearts-and-flowers holiday is over for 2015, I have collected them here in one spot--if for no other reason than it's fun to see how our writing voices change from year to year and from genre to genre. 

The Boston Globe Magazine: "Forget The Hearts and Flowers: It's The Un-glamorous Gestures That Count." 

Books by Women: "10 Ways To Love A Writer: On Valentine's Day and Forever"

Books by Women: "Writing: A Love Letter"

The Manifest-Station (today!) "Valentine's Day: My Teachable, Preachable Holiday"

Feel free to  post links (below) to your favorite holiday-themed  writing. Or pick your favorite from among the above. 

When The Writing Life Turns Scary (Plus Some Fixes)

Vampires?  Witches?  Ghouls? Yes, they're Halloween scary (maybe), but they've got nothing on our spookiest writer moments.    

What scares you as a writer?

What scares you as a writer?

Here are the three aspects of the writing life that can send us screeching and cowering under our bed covers.  I'm also including some suggested fixes. 

1.  Eeeek! The Blank Screen, aka, Writers Block 

You wake up with this idea that's so clever that you skip breakfast and grab a quick coffee on your way to your writing desk. Then you type furiously while visions of that Pulitzer dance in your head. You stop. You re-read.  You want to puke.  You delete it all and now you're plain stumped for what--if anything--to write. 

Or you’re under a big, hairy deadline, but then, 12 hours before submission time,  your brain circuits all fizzle and blow. Now you can't speak, let alone write. Oh. Hell.

Fixes:  Get outside and take a walk or a run. Don't worry. The writer's pity party will still be in full swing when you return.  When you get back, pick up your hand-writing journal to tease out what’s stalling you in this project. Or, if you’re not under deadline, take a break from this freakish project to work on a different one—preferably in a different genre.   

 2.       Bwaaa! Haa! Haaa! The Rejection Letter

 You drafted, re-drafted, edited, polished (and polished). Then, you submitted that short story or essay to that well researched and apparently perfect market.  You followed their submission guidelines. Your piece is within the required word count.    And now, here in your email in-box is one of those, “This-didn’t-work-for-us” notes. Or worse, there's a confusing or snarky missive that reveals that your work never got read in the first place. 

Fixes: First, exorcise (as in, “cast out thy demons”) all self-blame or -flagellation. If you truly worked hard on your submitted piece, then remember that all writing and reading is subjective. I mean, how many New York Times bestsellers have you read that you honestly, truly loved (in my case, not many)?  This rejection may have little or nothing to do with the quality of this piece. It certainly is not an indictment of you as a writer. If the editor was kind enough to offer suggestions, use them. The best cure for writer’s rejection? Review your piece, fix any boo-boos and, within 24 hours, submit it to a new market.  

3.    Help! "I’m About To Turn (insert milestone birthday), And Now It's Too Late!" Today’s workplaces demand more and more of us, and our 24/7, hyper-connected lifestyle doesn't help. In or beyond the workplace, it seems like there’s always someone who needs you. You’re facing down a milestone birthday and here's that inner voice telling you that  life has whizzed by, and so has your dream of being a writer. 

 Fixes:  Switch your own way of thinking.   Taking time out to write does not mean that you are reneging on your work or family responsibilities. Writing means taking care of your own wellness to make you a better employee, a better parent, a better caregiver. Look at your entire week. Find some spots in there for quick, incidental writing opportunities.  Insert those days and times into your appointment calendar. Early mornings?  Lunch hours? Café on the way home from work?  Turn off the T.V. at night. If it really matters to you, make a plan and start tomorrow.   

What are the scariest parts of writing for you? Write them in the comments below. 

Page to Stage: Reading A Memoir Out Loud

Before I submitted it to my literary agent, I re-drafted and edited the pages of my memoir, WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE: LEAVING MY OWN COUNTRY TO FIND MY OWN LIFE at least 20 times. 

Last March, I toted my printed manuscript--plus a bunch of sticky notes--to a Florida beach where I lounged under the tropical rays while giving the book its final copy edit and spit polish.

Then, two weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a literary panel at "The Irish in Massachusetts"  conference co-hosted by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Queen University, Belfast. 

 UMassLowell is one of the campuses within our state university system, and Lowell is a former mill city that's often credited as the cradle of the American industrial revolution.

What a treat to read and discuss Irish American literature in a city that's a hotbed of multicultural immigrant stories--old and new, told and untold, sad and happy.  

Thematic fit aside, I decided to read an excerpt from the memoir because I believed that there would be few or no surprises, that I could predict the audience reaction.  

Click on the photo to hear an excerpt from the reading. 

Click on the photo to hear an excerpt from the reading. 

Well ... Duh. That writer control-freak thing only goes so far.  Collectively or individually, a listening audience will decide for themselves the parts of our writing that they deem funny, sad or controversial.  

As I stood there at the lectern at Lowell, my own story sounded different to me. 

Dang it. Despite all my love and attention, that cheeky little manuscript had gone and taken on a life of its own.  

Reminder to self: Long before they got shelved in mega bookstores or downloaded to Kindles, our stories were and are an oral art.  

From one teller to the next, from page to stage, a story always mutates.

That's how stories breathe. And live.





A Conversation With Nancy Christie, Author, "Traveling Left of Center"

Today I'm delighted to welcome fellow author and short-story writer, Nancy Christie.

Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories (Pixel Hall Press, 2014)

Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories (Pixel Hall Press, 2014)

Nancy's collection of short stories, "Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories" has recently been released from Pixel Hall Press

Individually and collectively, Nancy's stories speak to our flawed humanity and delightful individuality.

Great writing--and stories that feature dreaming and dream wisdom--makes this collection all the more readable and memorable. 

You can learn more about Nancy at her website, blog, Google+ or on Twitter

Q. Nancy, the characters in the stories all seem a little (in some case, a lot!) wounded or vulnerable. What draws you to write about these types of characters?

I’m not entirely sure. It’s not like I set out to write stories about odd, eccentric or unstable people. It’s just, for some reason, I am drawn to those types of people—perhaps it’s one of those “There, but for the grace of God” things.

My fiction—or at least, my short fiction—tends to be about people who are damaged in some way: by what they have done to themselves or by what was done to them, by what they have received, what they gave up, or what was taken from them. They are, for the most part, struggling to navigate through dangerous waters. Some survive and move forward toward land, some are just treading water, and some don’t even know that they have lost the battle and are, even now, drowning.

I feel sorry for those people, wish I could do something for them, and perhaps, in the writing of their stories, that is what I am doing. Because somewhere out there, there is a real person who is held in thrall by his or her obsessions, who is controlled by past or present circumstances, who wants to live a happy, normal, balanced life but finds that the tightrope of life vibrates too much and maintaining equilibrium is but a dream.

“Dream”—and there it is again. The idea of what we want and what we have. For some of us—perhaps for most of us—the former is the dream and the latter is the reality and never the twain shall meet.

Q. Dreams and dreaming figure into several of your stories—“Misconnections” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” to name two. Did you “dream” these stories? And what kind of dream history do you have?

Actually, ever since I was little, I have been an active dreamer. The description of her children’s nocturnal activities in “Misconnections” is taken from my own life. I was (and, when I am very tired or stressed, still am) a sleepwalker and sleep-talker, and prone to dreams that are so real that, when I wake up, I’m not entirely sure if it was a dream or not! And sometimes, the images in the dreams do end up being part of a story. As a matter of fact, the dream image the character has of the little child in “Misconnections” came from one of my own dreams! Unfortunately, I am unable to dream on command—if I could, I would have lots more stories!

Q. Where did the idea of the cover art for TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER come from?

From the very beginning—even before I knew it would be a book!—I had an image in mind for the book cover. The cover is a literal interpretation of each character’s metaphorical journey on the road of life. Some of them zig-zag across the center line only to pull back to the right side at the last moment, while others cross once and never make it back in time. And then, there are the few who are merrily driving right down the center, every now and then drifting first to the left and then to the right, blissfully unaware that they are courting disaster. When I shared the concept with my publisher, it took only a few tweaks before we had the “ah hah!” moment and said “This is it!” and after a few revisions, we successfully “birthed” this book cover!

Q. What was your “writer dream”—your goal— when you began to write? Has it changed over the years?

I don’t think I had a dream. Certainly, I never pictured myself holding a book with my name on it. Writing is such a natural part of me that I never thought about it as an occupation or a goal, any more than I would think about breathing as a profession. It was just something I did.

Of course now, with two books—TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER and my non-fiction book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE— in print and two short stories as e-books plus others that have been published in literary journals, I do have a dream or two. Great reviews in The Times. Accolades from well-known literary fiction writers. An award or two to stick somewhere on my bookshelf—next to about a dozen foreign translations of my collection!

Or maybe my accountant telling me that my royalties have pushed me into a different income bracket!

Q. What does writing fiction bring into your life?

It is less a question of writing fiction as recounting what my characters choose to tell me. I am their conduit, their confidante; I wait for their stories and then do my best to put them in written form so others can understand what they have done, what they have experienced and why they are the way they are.

Writing fiction gives me the freedom to imagine certain circumstances and scenarios, and then watch my characters cope with them. Of course, that freedom comes at a price—the cost being an inability to let go of the characters, to close the book on them, so to speak. They become real to me and so, years after I have written about them, I grieve for lonely, lost Annabelle, for Connie who gives to the children as a way of coping with her empty life, for Sara’s mother, who longs to turn back the clock and hold her daughter once again.

In a sense, fiction is also my coping strategy. Like most people, I have had my share of pain and loss, disappointment and heartbreak. Many times, I will use fiction as a way to heal. The stories, while not necessarily mirroring my own experiences, do explore the attendant emotions. I watch from a distance, as my characters deal with their own private anguish, and little by little come closer, until eventually, I can allow myself to face my own. Their grief and pain becomes mine—we share, and in that sharing, I can move on.

Q. What stimulates your creativity or serves as a writing inspiration?

I wish I knew what triggers my writing! Then I would make sure I had more of it! Probably dialogue—most of my stories start with conversations—between two people or internal ones—so probably a good round of eavesdropping can really start the mind running.

Do you have a theme you return to time and again?

Probably change. I mean, that is the constant we all face, isn’t it? We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can control everything that happens to us. So, that being the case, what do we do? How do we handle change—happy change, sad change, confusing change? That’s the predicament my characters find themselves in.

Conversely, what creates a major writer’s block for you?

Thinking about what other writers—writers younger than me!—have accomplished. Worrying that some reviewer will consider my fiction amateurish or boring. Even getting good reviews scares me a bit—they are so complimentary that I start wondering if they were talking about some other Nancy Christie who wrote some other really great book!

Q. Based on your own experience, what tips do you have for authors who are preparing for their “maiden voyage” on the sea of publication?

Know how to market, how to promote yourself. Get your website ready. Be available and accessible to the media and to bloggers who want to interview you. Know the writing business—which is not the same as being able to write.

Q. How do you define success as a writer? What makes you feel successful as a writer?

When someone reads a story I wrote and finds something in it that I hadn’t even realized I put there. It’s as though they uncovered some hidden piece of gold, some shiny jewel and told me about it. It becomes an interactive experience.

Q. Conversely, what makes you feel like a failure, and how do you combat that?

When I can’t write. I start to write and get stuck or can’t even get started. Then I am convinced that the last thing I wrote will be the last thing I write. It’s an ugly black hole and I have to crawl out of it.

Q. What is your idea of a perfect writing day?

No phone calls, No interruptions. The sound of the waves outside my window. Lots of coffee. And lots and lots of words pouring out of my head and onto the paper—the majority of which are half-way decent.

Q. What do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?

Just two words: “Fiction Writer”


Labor Day, Writing and Stephen King

Seven years ago, a student of mine recommended Stephen King's book, "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft."

I had never read a King novel, but I decided to give his book on writing a try.

When I got to that part about writing making you happy, I rolled my  eyes and muttered, "Yeah. Easy for him to say." 

I don't recall what incited that day's snark attack, but it's safe to say that I was either (a) wrestling with some piece of writing that wouldn't obey or (b) smarting from an editor's rejection or (c) so busy with work that I had limited or no time to write--hence, the grumpies.

I snapped out of it, and now, King's "get happy" line is one that I often use as a benediction before my creative writing workshops. It's one of those lines that I wish I had written first, or at minimum, I wish that King had used me as Exhibit A, as his writing-makes-you-happy poster child. 

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.

Mind you, the work-happiness equation is easier to define in its absence--when we know that it's our job that's making us frantic or factious or just plain sad. 

So hands up now, who among us has not  had one of those toxic jobs, those cubicle-bound incarcerations where Friday couldn't come fast enough? Oh, yes. You know the gigs--the stuff of "Dilbert" cartoons and T.V. sitcoms ("The Office") and those night dreams in which you're the perpetrator and your boss is the victim and ... well ... let's just say that Mr. King could never craft anything as gory or gratifying as your work-revenge dream. 

Now and again, when I'm rummaging through the basement for old snow boots or a lost kitchen gadget, I come across a box of my old journals. I can't resist. I open a random notebook and flick to a random page. For that set of journals dating from the early to the mid-`90s,  I'm  struck by how sad I was back then.  Beneath my handwritten words is a low-grade (and often overt) depression.  Other journal pages bristle with an anger that now, almost two decades later, makes me stop reading my own writing. 

Yes, there were parts of my then life--including genetics--that could have disposed me toward melancholia.   But it's hard to miss that one, glaring factor: A suffocating and very meaningless job. The second factor: Except for the odd scribble on my lunch hour, I wasn't writing. 

Compared to back then, my current life is pretty damn good. It's pretty darn happy. I have a fulfilling day job with smart and decent colleagues. Weekends and early mornings, I get out of bed to do what I love best: writing. 

So this Labor Day,  if your work makes you happy, raise your coffee cup in a toast to good work and colleagues who deserve you. 

But if you suspect that work is a contributing--or the--factor in your sadness or, worse, depression, then use this Labor Day to list some steps to  (a) Find new and different work or (b) Make your current job better, more tolerable, happier. 

Because Stephen King said so. 

What was your most miserable job? Or, what are your thoughts on writing and its contribution to personal happiness? Write in the comments below. 

Is Teaching Writing Better Than Actual Writing?

A few days ago, I would have had a very quick and definite response to the question above: Writing is my happier and better place.

Truth be told, I was on a bit of a reclusive kick, and ... well ... you know how that goes. The less you socialize, the less you want to get out there and socialize.

Then, this weekend, I traveled to New York City for a three-day conference by Writers Digest. I was in good company. Other presenters included Harlan Coben, Jacqueline Mitchard and Dani Shapiro. The event also included panels and presentations by agents, editors, and lots of fellow writers. 

At the Writers Digest Conference 2014 in New York

At the Writers Digest Conference 2014 in New York

We had about 600+ attendees, and the event was a nice mix of large-group keynotes, discussion panels and breakout sessions. Of course, we managed to get some socializing in there, too. 

My two breakout sessions were on editing your work for publication (all genres) and how to write scenes for fiction (novels, short stories, micro fiction) and non-fiction (memoir, personal essay) pieces. 

Today, after a long train journey and two high-energy sessions, I find myself back in Massachusetts and already missing the energy and buzz of the conference and mid-town Manhattan. It's not an exaggeration to say that I had wonderful participants who, though each room was large and full, managed to engage with the topic and with each other in a way I've rarely seen before.

We all know that writing is a solitary kind of gig. We all know--or should--that we writers spend a little too much time inside our own heads. So the opportunity to get out there to present and talk writing with other authors is always a thrill.  

Thank you to all who participated.  I enjoyed meeting every one of you, and especially enjoyed hearing your quick writing pieces from our (imaginary) beach scenes. 

As a convenience for the participants, I have posted the session slides at Slideshare (see the links below). You will notice that each set of slides includes the sublinks (3 in all) to the short movie clips we viewed during the sessions. 

I hope you enjoy.

And remember what Stephen King told us: Writing is about getting happy. 

So whether you're out there discussing writing or hiding out in your writing room, be happy.


"A Smooth, Clean Finish: Editing Your Work for Publication" slides are here

"Darling, You're Making a Scene" slides are here.

A list of my other workshop topics are at my website

Short Stories: A Secret Per Day

My Irish convent school wasn't like anything you'd read about in a Dickens novel, and it was certainly more humane than James Joyce's depictions of his own school in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." 

Still, at  least by today's standards, our school could hardly be called progressive. And, in terms of our curricular offerings and world-view, it was as limited and sexist as most small-town girls' schools were in the 1970s. 

Except for my English and French classes. 

Oh, the English and French classes were rigid, too. They had to be.   In Ireland, we study for and take three weeks' worth of grueling school-exit examinations (all in extended response essays) that determine whether or not we get into university.  

So we had Dickens and Twain and Shakespeare.  We had Simeon and Maupassant and lots of grammar rules.

We also read and critiqued an anthology of literary short stories by British and Irish authors like HG Wells and Frank O'Connor.  And this is where things got interesting.  This is where, at age 13, I fell madly in love. 

Even back then, I think I sensed that short stories were the literary counterpart of an old-masters painting. The stories had color, symmetry and texture. And, like fine paintings, each short story held its own linguistic and dramatic secrets. The only way to unearth those secrets was to read one story at a time, and then, months later, read the story again. 

Since my school days, I've read many short story collections and anthologies, many of which still sit on my American bookshelves. Some collections hail from a particular place or phase of my own life. When I sit down to re-read a beloved story, it reveals a new set of secrets. 

I'm a one-story-a-day woman.  Why? Because when we indulge in something so rich and textured, when we're excavating a set of beautiful secrets, we want to savor only that one story.  We want to let that particular tale settle before turning the page for the next one. 

This Friday, June 20, my short story, "Snow," set in a small town in Ireland, will be released by Pixel Hall Press as a single e-story, down-loadable via all e-readers, including Kindle. 

"Snow," my new e-short story from Pixel Hall Press

"Snow," my new e-short story from Pixel Hall Press

Every writer is glad to be published. I am especially thrilled that my story is being released by a publisher who "gets" the perennial appeal of short fiction and who feels, as I do, that some stories are best enjoyed as a standalone treat. 

If you would like to have me visit your book club to discuss "Snow" and its many secrets (in person or by Skype), feel free to email me. I promise: This lush, provocative story will get your group talking. 

What short stories do you read and re-read? 

Copyright 2011-2014 Aine Greaney