Flash Fiction Friday: Are You a Girl?

“Where’s my robot? I’m cold and I’m thirsty.”

“She’s coming, Grans,” said Carloni.

The small, pink and blue android strolled into the room with a blanket under one arm and a steaming mug in the other hand.

“Ah, thank you, Lazonea.”

“My pleasure, Grans.”

Grans smiled. She would take all the grandkids she could, and her android lived to please her, though one must ignore the fact that they were programmed to do so and simply enjoy.

“Lazonea, are you a girl?”

The android tilted her head and replied, “I’m not sure,” and tilting her head the other way, continued, “what that means.”

Carloni eyed Grans with a frown, “Grans, androids aren’t girls or boys. That was eons ago. Androids are androids.”

Grans’ face went slack. She turned to Carloni, “Are you a girl?”

Her grandchild came to her side, knelt by her chair, and spoke softly, “Grans, I told you, gender went out of fashion 50 years ago, before I was born. I’m not a gender. You’re one of the last females.”

“I’m so confused,” said Grans as tears welled in her eyes.

Carloni held her hands and placed their head on her lap.

John A. Benigno—Award-Winning Fine Art Photographer

I know John online through a Facebook friend, a fellow author who lives in New Mexico, where John has been working on a photography project. His work intrigues me, so I wanted to ask him more questions about his work, and here we are! Enjoy learning about this fantastic fine art photographer and his projects, outlook on his art, and his artistic process. I’m pleased to share him and his photographs. Please go to his website for a more extensive gallery and contact him for purchase. Links to website and social media follow the interview.

Describe your artistic process: choosing subject matter; determining projects; inspirations; and the nitty-gritty of taking photos—location, timing, angle, light, etc.

I am a Fine Art Photographer. This gives me the freedom to pursue projects that appeal to me without commercial pressures. The downside is that I have had to look elsewhere to make a living. This is not a complaint, but a choice. Over the years, I’ve worked in public relations, marketing, fund raising, and real estate – all of which I have enjoyed thoroughly.

I don’t really choose projects. They seem to choose me. In fact, I don’t really think there is any rhyme or reason as to why I take on a project. The only connecting theme that comes to mind is my curiosity with “place” and how “place” relates to culture.

Perhaps I’m best known for my Adobe Church Project. During my first visit to New Mexico some 15 years ago, I was taken by the absolute beauty of these simple structures, the history they represent, and the important role they play for the communities they serve. I’ve never looked back.

Tea staining these photographs, first in the darkroom, and later replicating this result in Photoshop, is my way of commenting on the connection between the buildings and the natural material from which they are constructed.

Riding the Rails

Riding the Rails is a project that came about by happenstance. Returning home on a commuter train from Philadelphia, I happened to make a photograph of a scene that caught my eye while looking out the window. The train was moving quite fast, and upon inspecting the resulting print, I was fascinated by the sense of motion—the way colors melted into one another. This inspired me to photograph this project in color, rather than my usual black-and-white.

Bicycling through the back roads of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country first inspired my Amish Country Landscape project.  The countryside is so quiet and open—the slow pace allows plenty of time to meet the people and to take in the landscape.  Later, I would return with my camera to make photographs. As many people know, the Amish shy away from being photographed.  In fact, their religion prohibits them from posing.  I’ve always done my best to respect their wishes.  Instead, I look to the landscape to tell their story and to celebrate their way of live.

Laurel Hill Cemetery

My Laurel Hill Cemetery project offers a unique window into the history of Philadelphia and its urbanization during the mid-1800s. The cemetery is a time capsule.  It is not just the remains of our ancestors that are buried there, but a way of life.  Designated as a National Historic Landmark, countless prominent people are buried there.  While names such as Rittenhouse, Widener, and Strawbridge pique local interest, Laurel Hill also appeals to a national audience.  General George Meade and 39 other Civil War generals reside there, as well six Titanic passengers.

Laurel Hill Cemetery is very much a product of the Victorian era.  The monuments and garden reflect the art and architecture of those times.  Who were the people who built them?  What life did they pursue?  I hope that my photographs conjure up these questions and make us wonder what traces we will leave behind.

I don’t really have any theories about location, timing, angle, or light. I pretty much let the subject determine these qualities. I will often photograph a subject many times using different focal length lenses, from different angles, and at different times of day. One of the advantages of “project photography” is getting to know your subject. If the light isn’t right, I’ll return when it is. This does take patience, but the results are well worth it.

Summarize the chronology of your career and its highlights—when did you “feel” that you embodied the “title” of Photographer?

This is more difficult to answer than you might think. I’ve been involved with photography for some 60 years. So, as you can imagine, there are many, many fond memories.

There is the first camera my father bought for me when I was 10 years old. I came down with the whooping cough. My dad thought a camera would cheer me up. Oh, by the way, I still have that camera.

When I was in high school, I was the photographer and photo editor for the yearbook and newspaper. This might not sound like much, but every time I was excused from class to cover an event or game, I felt like a kid playing hooky.

However, on to more serious “art” stuff, as it pertains to my career as a fine art photographer. (See answer to next question for my beginnings as an actor.). It wasn’t until 1992 that I made an effort to take my work seriously and to search opportunities to show.

1992 marked the first time my work was accepted into a juried show, and it was the first time I was awarded a prize for my work.

In 1994, I was asked to show my work in a gallery for the first time. In addition, it was the year I sold my first photograph. And 1996 I have my first showing in a New York City gallery.

White Flowers “Trio”

1998 was the first time one of my photographs was published. “Trio” from my “White Flower” project was published in the “Antietam Review Journal of Creative Writing and Photography.”

1999 marked another first. The Woodmere Museum in Philadelphia accepted one of my photographs for its permanent collection.

The Lancaster Museum of Art invited me to participate in my first museum exhibit in 2001.

In 2002, a photograph was accepted for the annual “High and Dry” exhibition sponsored by Texas Tech University in Lubbock. This was the first time one of my photographs was accepted in a show beyond the local Philadelphia area.

2005 was the first time I received statewide recognition for my work. One of my photographs was accepted into Pennsylvania’s Annual Art of the State Exhibition. Also, 2005 was the first time I was invited to jury a photography exhibit.

Between 2006 and 2009 I participated in many shows, and I was fortunate to have my work awarded many prizes. Then, in 2010, my “San Francisco de Asís IX” photograph was awarded the Plastic Club Silver Medal. The Plastic Club is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most prestigious art organizations. Perhaps this is the beginning of the “feeling” that I could call myself a fine art photographer.

2012 was a very good year, and the “feeling” that my work was gaining acceptance continued to grow stronger. I had a retrospective show at the Keystone Art & Culture Center in Lancaster, PA. Also, in Lancaster, one of my photographs was selected for the “Permanent Collection on Exhibit” at the Lancaster Museum of Art. In addition, Lisa Hanover, then the Director of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum at Ursinus College, selected one of my photographs for the “Picture Making: Recent Acquisitions in Photography” exhibit.

Adobe Churches

In 2016, the Luminous Endowment for Photographers awarded my “Adobe Church Project” a grant enabling me to return to New Mexico to continue work on this project. This marks the first grant of my career. In 2017, I was a finalist for a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, but, unfortunately, I was not awarded a grant.

Then, in 2017, Rosemont College awarded me a solo show for my adobe church pictures. This was an amazing experience. I have worked on this project for almost 15 years, and to see the work come together in a single show was the highlight of my career to date.

For me, being a finalist for a Guggenheim Fellow and the solo show at Rosemont finally convinced me that I could truly call myself a fine art photographer.

Tell me about your support system, and explain who and what are involved in connecting you as a professional with those who would purchase your work.

I am going to combine my answer to the above question with my answer to your following question: Elaborate upon your life influencing your art/work and visa versa.

An artist cannot exist without a support system. And, hopefully, yours will begin at an early age, as did mine. Theatre and acting were my first interests. Fortunately, my parents, while hesitant, did support this early dream.

During my teen years, they introduced me to Broadway theatre, and made it possible for me to participate in local theatre productions and to study acting. From there I went on to study theatre and acting in college and graduate school.

My life has had many chapters. As a young actor, I had the support of both my parents and wife. I was fortunate to find work on stage, on TV and in films. However, there came a time to put this world aside.

The next chapter involved working with non-profit organizations. In this way, I did not completely leave the arts behind. I worked in public relations, marketing, fund raising, and special events. All of these positions made use of my photography skills.

(These business skills proved invaluable a few years down the line when I started promoting my work. No one is going to do this for you. I cannot stress enough: learn how to write a press release, learn how to put together a press kit, learn how to approach local newspaper editors, take note of who purchases your work, and learn how to be professional when approaching a gallery director.)

In this small way, I never put down my camera. And, eventually I began to show my personal work. Over the years, I developed associations with local visual arts organizations.

My advancement into the world of the visual arts would not have been possible without the support of these groups. They organized shows for members, provide opportunities to learn about other media, networking, and professional career counseling.

Amish Country Landscapes

Networking was especially important to me. For example, it led to a friendship with fellow artist, Don Patterson. Don introduced me to bicycling through Lancaster County, which lead to my first real photographic project—Amish Country Landscapes.

Over time, the exposure these groups provided led to recognition for and interest in my work.

Again, I must return to the importance of family—this can be blood relations, relations by marriage, or, even, a close-knit group of friends. All I can say is that without the support of my wife, I wouldn’t have lasted in the non-profit world as long as I did. Not only did her income far exceed mine during these years, but she has always been my biggest booster.

While I might hang back, she never did when it came to telling anyone who would listen about my work and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, the non-profit world did not provide the economic stability I needed to continue my personal work. So, I moved on to the next chapter.

This led me to a career in private sector public relations, and, eventually, to real estate sales. Real estate may seem an unlikely path for a fine art photographer, but the opposite proved to be true.

Southwest Landscapes

Real estate is not a nine-to-five desk job. You may have a breakfast appointment and another later in the evening. However, if you manage your time well, there is “free” time for the pursuit of personal projects—photography and volunteer work with arts organizations. And the income made it possible for me to travel to locations to work on projects and to purchase needed equipment.

Most important, the income gave me the freedom to concentrate on developing my career as a fine art photographer. It meant that I could work on projects important to me.

This was the key. My passion for my subject matter began to show in my work. Potential clients saw and appreciated my commitment, which, of course, translated into sales. But more important to me, my work gained greater acceptance within the fine art community, leading to several awards, and eventually a grant from the Luminous Endowment for Photographers.

Before moving on to the next question, I must comment on social media. It’s essential for today’s artist. Yes, it takes a lot of time, and I fully agree with everyone who dislikes the endless nonsense on Facebook. But, using sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, I have developed relations that lead to sales, exhibit opportunities, and, more important, good friendships with people such as yourself, Lael.

Research is another important component of social media. For example, I’ve development friendships with many artists from New Mexico. Living in Philadelphia, this has proved invaluable. I am most appreciative of their willingness to share information about adobe churches, and to suggest churches that I simply don’t know anything about. It would take me weeks of endless driving through unknown territory to find out a small portion of their local knowledge.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I think the most delightful part of being an artist is that it keeps you in touch with your inner child.

Details

Back many years ago when I was learning how to develop film, that magic moment when an image would appear on a blank piece of white paper never ceased to amaze me. Yes, it’s chemistry, but there is a charm and sense of accomplishment to it akin to what a child must feel when conquering a new experience.

Fortunately, I have never lost this excitement. Even in today’s digital world, there is a sense of youthful pride that comes from seeing the final image appear as you envisioned it. And, this sense of accomplishment grows exponentially from seeing my work exhibited and appreciated by others.

I don’t mean just people buying my art (of course, this is important), but their genuine appreciation puts a bounce to my step.

Travel is, perhaps, the second most important component of my life as an artist. It’s not simply visiting distant locations, but it’s the people you meet along the way.

For example, most of the adobe churches in New Mexico are in extremely remote locations. Even so, inevitably, someone will appear out of nowhere and want to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Sometimes they will chase you away, but I’ve always found that if you are genuine with them, they will listen, and, then tell you their story—and, in most cases, it’s much more interesting than anything I have to say.

They will tell of their childhood memories attending the church, of their friends, their parents, and even suggest churches that I might want to photograph.

Yes, when you come right down to it, fine art is a “belly to belly” business.

By the Sea

Links:

John Benigno website
John Benigno Flickr
John Benigno Instagram
Application to Luminous Endowment
Final report to Luminous Endowment
John Benigno Facebook

House of Rougeax by Jenny Jaeckel

After a glimpse into her future as a leader of her people, this family saga opens with the childhood of the great Obeah, Meme Abeje, who lives to see the official end of slavery in her homeland of Martinque, and her niece Hetty’s migration to Canada, where she becomes an abolitionist with husband Dax Rougeaux. After a quick (and confusing) foray into the future of the Rougeaux family in the mid-1940s, Hetty’s granddaughter Eleanor brings the story full circle, when she visits Martinique to honor her Obeah great-great aunt at the end of the 19th century.

Jaeckel explores the far-reaching tentacles of slavery affecting the progeny of a slave under a softer yoke of oppression: blame placed on a woman raped, children given away in their best interest, and lack of freedom as free blacks. With a strong sense of family, the Rougeaux are tested with secrets against social mores and pass, as sexual orientation is accepted, as a child is accepted, as his mother is accepted. All are loved, a testament to family ties and sense of self that goes back to Abeje’s mother Iya, who kept her children’s African names even as French masters christened them with western ones that meant nothing to her. Abeje and Eleanor’s stories bookend the novel and stand out from the others in their similarities, a free black just as enslaved by society as her ancestor.

I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book through a Goodreads giveaway.

Flash Fiction Friday: Nothing Much

Sam slung his backpack over his left shoulder, hearing his mom’s voice in his head to carry it properly, but he didn’t worry about shoulder problems—he was young. Waving goodbye to Paolo, he flung open the school door and bounced down the stairs to freedom and grabbed his phone out of his backpocket. He texted Paolo about their plans later on, and what did his best friend think of Lili, the new girl—should he ask her out? Sam loved those girl next door types. As he walked down the sidewalk, a car lurched off the street and into the front steps of the school, knocking down seven students, the driver barely conscious from a stroke. Turning left onto Baker, Sam received a text from his cousin about the weekend family cookout, if he wanted to do something afterward. They passed ideas back and forth by thumbs while Sam waited at 4th Avenue for the light to change. With the little bird signal for the blind announcing it was safe, Sam continued on without looking up. He walked past a cop arguing with an old lady about the pothole in front of her house. She was giving him the evil eye gesture and speaking in a foreign language. Just before making a left turn onto Seburn Street, his mother’s text made him stop. A millisecond later, a skateboarder whooshed in front of him, causing his hair to lift in the skater’s direction. His dad had broken his leg at work and was laid up on the couch. Sam had to stop at the convenience store on 4th Avenue to get his dad some ibuprofen. He kept walking—a horn blared at him. In the store, he walked through water to pick up the medicine and put money on the counter without looking around. The cashier apologized for the water line break and could he just leave the store already, whilst waiting on the phone to the owner. Sam snatched up the medicine and walked back to Seburn, a right turn now to head home. He dropped his backpack on his dad, who hollered at him to put it away, walked past the kitchen, where he greeted his mom, and answered her question about his day, “Nope, nothing much happened today.”

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris—pub date June 19, 2018

Finn told police the half-truth about Layla disappearing from a rest stop on their vacation in Fonches, France. More than a dozen years later, strange happenings at home in England make Finn believe that Layla is alive and upset that he is about to marry her sister. Paris leads the reader on a wild adventure, implicating culprits right and left, with Finn alternately dismissing suspicions and accusing friends aggressively. Hints of Layla show up in objects significant to her life and emails with information only she would know, causing Finn dreadful hope. The author brilliantly traverses through the landscape of a troubled mind, then reverts to a trope of spelling out the resolution in a lengthy letter, a bit disappointing after such magnificent writing. The resolution itself may astonish the most clever reader in its unique take on the concept. It’s a definite must read. I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.

David Gibbs—Award-Winning Author and Editor

I met David through Storyteller Magazine, for which he was Editor and I was a mere peon volunteer curator, both of us contributors of short stories. David’s tales live in the darkness—we won’t ask where David lives (his website says Cincinnati; seems dubious)…..

but his writing snatches you and drags you, wide-eyed and speechless, into the stories.

He, however, is a super friendly guy, so I wasn’t nervous about asking him for an interview. Links to connect with David come after the interview; check out his uber-user-friendly, gorgeous website, where anthology after anthology showcase David’s talent. The first book of his YA series “Mad Maggie Dupree” comes out June 26!

Tell me about your writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations. I love your blog post about the muse being a romantic notion. If you would, explain as well how you transitioned from this magical mythology to your prosaic philosophy of writing.

Well, as with most writers, my process has evolved over time. I used to like plotting and outlining everything before I even began writing my first word. When I’d get stuck plotting or writing, I’d blame my muse, the fickle little minx that she was. I honestly just thought that’s the way the writing process went. I’d have to wait for this mystical thing to whisper the next line or the key point I’d missed in my work.

That all changed a few years ago. I read about “pantsers” or those writers who didn’t plan anything and just wrote from the hip, so to speak. Honestly, I thought it was ridiculous. How could anyone write without planning, without plotting, without doing the leg work first?

Curious, I decided to give it a try and haven’t looked back. My output increased ten-fold and I enjoyed being surprised by the twists and turns the characters gave me. It’s made the process much more fulfilling.

Thought it may sound daunting to writers who are plotters and planners, I fully understand it. The thing is, now that I’m a “pantser” I don’t need a muse. I write. Period. I don’t have to wait for her to whisper to me. I trust myself as a storyteller and know I will come up with what needs to happen next as I’m writing the story. I no longer have writer’s block, because I merely write myself out of it. It helps me average over 2,000 words a day. Last year alone, I had my biggest output as a writer, finishing with 690,000 thousand words. That equated to eight novels and a dozen short stories.

Writers have to find what works for them, but they also need to be willing to try new things. Whether it’s a new spot in the house, writing at a coffee shop, or changing from pen and paper to a laptop or vice versa. Sometimes just making a small change can spark the most wonderful things.

Remember, writing is a superpower. Take a chance. Write some words. Make some magic.

My husband theorizes that people who suffered challenging childhoods prefer reading / writing horror. It happens to be true in my case. Although writing my debut novel was highly cathartic in healing some of that damage, I still love horror, so perhaps his theory is debatable. What draws you to the darkness?

I’m honestly not sure what’s drawn me to it. I’ve written in many different styles and different genres, but there’s always a touch of creepiness to everything I write.

 

While growing up, I enjoyed reading everything and anything I could my hands on. When we went to the library, in school, I always checked out books on UFO’s, Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Area 51, vampires, and werewolves. But when I read The Shining in middle school it was over. Horror hooked me.

Talk up your support system, from beta readers to reviewers, anyone and everyone who is your cheerleader, online and IRL.

My family and friends have been incredibly supportive of my writing. But I have to say one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer and an editor is the community of friends and colleagues I’ve met along the way. I talk daily with my writing group, made up of fellow writers from the ashes of Storyteller Magazine. I also talk with quite a few writers on Twitter as well. It’s always great to share experiences with other writers and editors.

Describe your publishing process from final draft to final product, from perspectives of self-publishing, and all that entails, and traditional publishing, including your publishing team.

I’ve enjoyed both self-publishing and traditional publishing. They have both been fulfilling and challenging at the same time. Both require a lot of work, but in the end the onus is definitely on the author to make them both as successful as possible.

I’ve found a wonderful home with Clean Reads Publishing, formerly Astraea Publishing. The owner, Stephanie Griffith, has been great. She has an impressive group of editors she works with who are thoughtful and thorough working through both Mad Maggie Dupree manuscripts they’ve accepted. This is my first foray into the middle grade arena and it’s been an awesome experience so far. They have their own art department which has done outstanding work bringing Mad Maggie Dupree to life.

What do you love most about your creativity?

That I can use it to escape at moment’s notice. No matter how good or how bad the day, writing is the gravy that makes it all worthwhile.

Author Extra: Write a flash fiction piece right now! 50 words, mister!

He heard the sound again, sharp and flinty, a bone poking his heart. He stared into the darkness, waiting for the knobby knuckled hand to clutch at his clothes, the chill bone deep. Then grandma appeared, withered and stooped, giving him a goodnight kiss, hands icy, breath from a crypt.

Connect with David:

David J. Gibbs website

David J. Gibbs Twitter

David J. Gibbs Amazon author page

Discovering reader preferences, habits and attitudes – Announcing the 2018 Reader Survey … by M.K. Tod, Heather Burch and Patricia Sands

Readers and writers – a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought to interpret those stories, deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. A story is incomplete without both reader and writer.

What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? How do readers share their book experiences?

ANNOUNCING A 2018 READER SURVEY designed to solicit input on these topics and others.

Please take the survey and share the link https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/68HL6F2 

with friends and family via email or your favourite social media. Robust participation across age groups, genders, and countries will make this year’s survey – the 4th – even more significant.

Participate by clicking this link. Those who take the survey will be able to sign up to receive a summary report when it becomes available.

M.K. (Mary) Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, Time and Regret was published by Lake Union. Fellow authors Patricia Sands and Heather Burch helped design and plan the survey. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her blog A Writer of History.

Hurricane Season by Laura K. Denton

Jenna, a single mom, asks her older sister Betsy to watch her children while she attends an artist retreat to reconnect with photography. Despite her infertility issues and resulting melancholy (unbeknownst to Jenna), Betsy agrees, as she’s always been a mother figure to her unpredictable sibling. Both sisters find themselves outside their comfort zones and in turn, find their way back to each other, all this while waiting for a hurricane to hit.

Denton portrays a complex sister relationship of unspoken jealousies, fears, and parental love, and how a challenging economy affects marriage and livelihood, as Betsy supplements her husband’s dairy farm with educational tours. There’s a subtle lesson in this novel to follow your heart and take responsibility for your talent, to be true to yourself. The only taint is the author’s apparent expectation of her readership all being Christian, so that the story sometimes feels preachy and insular. It doesn’t seem credible for an infertility specialist to advise a couple to pray for a natural pregnancy after a failed treatment. This is a small blemish on a wonderful story of sisterhood and authenticity. I was fortunate to receive this lovely novel through NetGalley.

Maps are Lines We Draw by Allison Coffelt

As a blans—not just white, but an outsider—Coffelt does her best to balance her ability to give to a population “there” with an awareness of Haiti’s historical perspective of her “here.” At the risk of symbolizing “the great white hope,” she spends three weeks following Dr. Jean Gardy Marius, founder of OSAPO, Organizasyon Sante Popile (Public Health Organization), plucking gently at the web of (in-)humanity that has created the Haiti of today.

Respectful and enlightening, perhaps filling in details of what the average Westerner knows of Haiti, Coffelt intersperses history and cultural influences with her travels and philosophical insight, even as she refuses to give her watch to a random Haitian woman who demands it. It’s a vivid scene indicative of the distance between “here” and “there.” However, with nary a transitional segue, the disparate parts of this memoir feel cut and pasted instead of interweaving Coffelt’s experience into the story of a country she fell in love with before she visited. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting read and worth it if only for her effort to shine her light upon Haiti. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this book through NetGalley.

Flash Fiction Friday photo prompt

“Get off my car!”

She pressed her big-eyed face against my windshield, the girl in the faded Victorian dress. Upside down, hair swirling, she looked demonic. A wedding veil clung as if by magic, whipping her moon face with her faded hair.

“The sign warns drivers about you!” I screamed at the woeful apparition. Finally, she dissipated just before the sign proclaiming, “End of Vengeful Ghost Area.”

Writing Bad Facebook Group writing prompt photo