Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jeanne Gulbranson, Jim Steinberg & Bridget McNeill ~ Winter 2011 Community Feedback

Our Stories asked three writers about their experience participating in and working with us during our Winter 2011 Richard Bausch Emerging Writer Contest.

Here are Our questions, and below you can find each writer's answers ...

1) At Our Stories, we consider anyone we've ever workshopped a member of Our writing community, and in a productive workshop environment, writers need to feel that readers are really trying to understand what a story is trying to do. Just sometimes, a good reader might help the writer discover just what the story had been trying to tell. Can you give everyone a few words about your contest submission experience and the feedback you got from your Our Stories reader?

2) How did you get into writing, and what's next for you and your work? 



Jeanne Gulbranson lives in Las Vegas and recently "retired" from the corporate world to become a full-time writer. She has authored two award-winning books on leadership development and a third just-released book about the first nude showgirl in Vegas. Jeanne's stories have been published in TreasureBoxTales (Fall 2010 First Place Winner), and Praxis, with stories forthcoming in Cantaraville and Lucid Hills Publications.  She has written many other stories which have been rejected by multiple publications.  


1) This was the ONLY contest I've entered that really gave me something back, and I didn't even win—and I didn't even care!  I received my prize by getting the critique.  The critique was more extensive than I anticipated and more beneficial than I could have hoped for.  After my experience, I could hardly wait to sign up for a Workshop, and I did!  I feel like I've started an MFA Program with Our Stories, except that it's faster, cheaper, and just about MY work.  It just doesn't get any better than that!  


2) I've been writing non-fiction and incredibly tedious corporate papers for far too long. Six months ago, I decided I'd like to be the next O. Henry, and started writing short stories.  I'm not there yet.  Hopefully after I finish my Our Stories Workshop (or two, or…), I'll be closer


Jim Steinberg is a writer, mediator, blacksmith, and rose gardener.  His ten published  stories have appeared in Clapboard House, The Greensboro Review, the new renaissance, Sensations Magazine, Cities and Roads, The Lone Wolf Review, The Bishop's House Review, and Voices From Home - A North Carolina Prose Anthology.  Another will appear this year in the new renaissance.  He is working on a final draft of his first novel, Boundaries, the story of a lawyer and a client in an unusual interstate custody case.  He would love to find it a good home as he would for a collection of his published short stories and his new project: Chance Encounters, a fictional memoir of loosely connected stories.

Jim is a Fellow of the Redwood Writers Project of Humboldt State University in Arcata, California and has been a staff member of the Lost Coast Writers Retreat, a five-day gathering of writers, teachers, and presenters on the lovely Mattole River near Petrolia, California.  He has been a lawyer, middle school teacher of English and Social Studies, legal instructor and program director in two community colleges, and, always, a wonderer. 

Jim works as a mediator for couples seeking to dissolve their marriages peacefully in a small private practice and under contract with a local Indian tribe.  He lives close to his children, grandchildren and good friends in Humboldt County, a real community on California's remote Northcoast, Behind The Redwood Curtain.

1)  In two of my recent submissions, Our Stories corroborated a concern of mine: that I tend to overwrite, making it a bit difficult for a reader to climb into the scene.  Though I rather like my tendency to glide into a story, starting at a distance and gradually bringing the reader closer, Our Stories has helped me understand that in a short story I will lose some readers if I don't give them a bit more basic information at the outset.  I like to parse out this information rather slowly in order to increase curiosity and tension, but Our Stories pointed out my need to temper this tendency in order to avoid losing readers before they have a chance to discover a really good story.

2)  I began writing stories when challenged to write a "crystal memory" in a National Writing Project summer institute for teachers teaching writing.  I much preferred it to the other challenge: to write an analytical piece about an issue in writing instruction.  Soon the memory began to morph into fiction.  I realized the magic and discovery that happens when I allow the story to find itself.  So much more than "the facts" finds its way into the story than when I try to confine it to what actually happened.  Characters grow their own identities.  Other characters appear.  Imagination grabs other experiences or makes them up and finds ways to use them to enrich the story.  It's a delightful alchemy that has changed my way of looking at the world and making sense of it.

I have three other writing projects going: Boundaries, a novel about an unusual relationship between a lawyer and a client during litigation over the custody of a child; Chance Encounters, a fictional memoir of loosely related  stories;  and other stories that arise from within me like itches that need to be scratched, impulses wishing for my attention, in search of repose.


Bridget McNeill


1) Our Stories allowed me to see my writing stripped down to its most vulnerable state:  as stories read by readers objectively (God forbid). Family and friends do not read objectively. The line-by-line feedback posed questions, remarked positively on places where things were really tight and precise, and told me what I already knew but wasn't willing to tackle:  that my stories were being held too close to my chest.  They left other readers wanting more, more backstory, more movement, and a broader scope.  I have already revised three of the four stories I submitted, and they are remarkably better.  I liken it to hooking an IV up to a dehydrated patient.  Watching the lips of the story plump with color and the skin under the eyes of the story lose its sickly sag is a beautiful thing.  The thing that I appreciate even more than the shove into the rewriting process that I so desperately needed, is the open line of communication I have had with Our Stories.  I feel that I have been accepted as a member of their writing community, and that everyone at Our Stories is ready to help me succeed in writing the best stories I can and in publishing them in the right places.  I am infinitely grateful for the existence of Our Stories.

2) I don't have the expected writerly story-my parents didn't have to plead with me to put down my pencil and come to the dinner table.  I didn't launch my high school's first lit mag, and I didn't major in Fiction Writing.  I majored in English, and after a stint with Teach for America, I came back to Chicago to teach college Composition classes.  I wrote my first story out of the blue one day at work.  I said to myself, "if you were on your death bed, what would you like to have accomplished?" (cheesy I know, but asking myself that question always keeps me motivated to keep going).  My answer was: "I want to be able to call myself a writer.  I want to be published."  I was always obsessed with the short story form, and I knew I had a "colorful" enough life to fuel some interesting stories.  But I was never disciplined in my twenties, as so many other people are.  I partied, and moved around, and changed jobs, and didn't get serious about anything including writing.  It was only after I got married and had children, that I felt a sense of calm come into my life that I needed in order to develop the discipline necessary for this craft.  And so here I am, 37 years old, at the beginnings of the submission process, hoping, and reading, and writing, and still teaching too.  What's next for my work remains to be seen.  I am rewriting four stories and developing two new ones, and trying to believe that they are worth something to someone other than me.  And it helps to have Our Stories on my side.  I know that my one-on-one workshop this Spring will be an essential part of my growth as a writer.  Thanks, Our Stories!

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