Alabama Writers Conclave
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Karim Shamsi-Basha, Winner of the 2017 AWC Short Story Contest

As first prize winner of the short story contest, what inspired this story? Any particular images, sights, or sounds? Why?

“A Tale of First Love” is very autobiographical, the same thing actually happened to me. I just retold it.

Dad’s hand on my back while I laid on the bed is something I will never forget. I wrote this because I believe that human love should be honored at all stages of life.

Many fiction authors maintain the line between fiction and nonfiction is a permeable one. Is this true for you? How do you decide when a memory or essay has crossed the line from nonfiction to fiction?

For me, the line is ever so vague and blurry. I use a lot from my own life in my fiction, after all, no one knows me any better!

What short stories do you admire the most? Why? What have you learned from them?

I love Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain, to me he’s a brilliant writer. He goes past what we know and expect, without us even noticing.

Do you have any current projects we should know about? Explain.

I have a novel with agent Rena Rossner with the Deborah Harris Agency in Jerusalem, we just submitted it to publishers. it is about a fifteen-year-old Muslim boy in love with a Christian girl during the civil war in Syria. I want people to stop labeling each other and just love.

What Syrian writers do you admire and wish you could share or translate?

The Syrian writer I admire the most was my father, Kherridean Shamsi-Basha. he was a noted poet in Damascus. Unfortunately translating his work would not work. In Literature, you lose many language merits.

Learn more about Karim from his unique blog, Arab in Alabama, as well as his columns and photographs for various media outlets.

A few questions Larry Wilson, author AWC 2017’s Flash Fiction Contest

What inspired your prize-winning flash piece?

The Unopened Present was inspired by a lonely night during the Christmas season when I was sitting alone drinking. My only decoration was the little Christmas tree I had bought in Key West almost 25 years ago on a Christmas trip with my late wife. The trip’s primarily purpose was to try and patch up a marriage that was a very bad state of disrepair. I’m not sure where the idea for the unopened present came from, but I often think of my daughter who died some four years ago, during the holiday season. The story is very much rooted in my own life.

Did the piece start as a flash or did it morph from a short story or poetic form?

The original draft was something over 1000 words and I had written it for our writing group in Montgomery. I decided to see if I could cut it down to 500 words for the flash fiction category and it turned out, as things often do, that less is more.

What writers inspire you to write flash and how?

My primary writing interest has always been the short story and I find writing something that really affects people in a small number of words a challenge. I have always been a big fan of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and just recently I was introduced to Sonja Livingston at a Tennessee Mountain Writer’s convention. Sonja’s presentation and her book, Ghostbread inspired me to concentrate more on writing even shorter fiction. I recommend her book to anyone who is interested in flash fiction and creative nonfiction.

When did you begin writing fiction?

I started writing fiction casually in high school and college and then took a long hiatus during my working career. After retirement I joined the Montgomery creative writers group and rekindled my writing. I write because I truly enjoy it and have little interest in commercial success; however, winning a prize in the Alabama Writers Conclave competition is a wonderful ego boost. It is great to be recognized by your peers.

What two short stories or flash pieces do you think every aspiring fiction writer should read?

I highly recommend two of Hemingway’s short stories, Hills like White Elephants and A Clean Well Lighted Place, to all aspiring writers. Not only are they wonderful examples of brevity and show, don’t tell, but there are critical discussions of both stories online just a Google away.

A conversation with 2017 AWC Writing Contest winner, Chervis Isom.

1. What led you to write your first place winning nonfiction piece, “The Stray Cat?”

“I think a lot about memory, not because I have a lot of memory to think about but because my memory bank is so shallow, as shallow as a pond on the pavement after a spring shower. I was trying to remember my earliest memories, and I think my earliest memories were of my age four. This story is perhaps the only memory that stood out as something more than a moment, something that might support a story. So I wrote it recently and I liked it, I liked how I could tell the story and express what I learned from the story, how I grew from what I learned, and to me that is the beauty of the memoir as a form of writing art.”

2. Are you inspired by a particular nonfiction writers or essayists?

“I love the memoirs of Patricia Hampl. She wrote at least four memoirs, each following a different arc or theme of her life. She proved to me that a non-fiction writer could have an impact in creative writing even more than a writer of fiction, and could be just as effective.”

3. How do you balance the need to protect the privacy of loved ones against the passion for telling a good story?

“In my memoir, The Newspaper Boy, I put a note or disclaimer in the front of the book indicating that I had changed some names for obvious reasons. I think that’s all you can do if you want to write about those characters.”

4. What inspired you to write your beautiful first-place-winning poem (which is also, uniquely, a prose poem)? Is poetry a new medium for you? What do you like about it? Why?

“Maybe I’ve spent too many years focused on my work and never opened up my trunk of memories until now… When I lift the lid all I find are scraps of thread scattered here and there, the fabric of the memory having long before dissolved. I have only skeletal memories and I’ve tried to write about a few of those things. Poetry is an ideal medium for skeletal memories, particularly if there is a lesson to be learned or a question to be explored.”

5. What poets have freed or inspired you to write in earnest, or, borrowing Emily Dickinson’s expression, to “tell it slant”?

“My friend Barry Marks is a fine poet and his poems come in all forms and styles and cover a broad range of topics, both mundane and philosophical. I’ve learned a lot from him and his discipline in writing about every conceivable experience. As for a historical poet, I think Emily Dickinson is most impressive. She wrote for years with no publicity and, so far as I know, no encouragement or social contact with other poets for support. Yet her poetry is fresh and original and uniquely inspiring.”

6. Why does poetry matter in our modern commercial culture?

“Poetry is the medium for expressing the truth in a few well selected words designed to please the hearer’s ear, to seize the hearer’s heart, to squeeze tears from the hearer’s eyes. The truth, the emotional truth, that is what matters, and poetry is the medium to achieve it.”

Breathing Life Into Your Creation

A workshop with Kimberly Cross Teter.

You know those characters living in your head? You think you know them, but do you really? Maybe they have a few surprises for you! We’ll take a look at not only putting flesh on the bones of the characters in your work but also putting meaning and motivations in their hearts and minds. Interactive writing exercises will bring you to a deeper level of creating multi-dimensional characters who will come alive for your readers. Whether you have a work in progress or a brand new idea, this workshop will help you strengthen your character development.

KIMBERLY CROSS TETER, a proud Texas native, is a teacher and traveler by nature and a writer by happy choice. Kim completed her debut novel, Isabella’s Libretto, in the Middle Tennessee State University Write program (then known as The Writers’ Loft) in 2013. The next year this YA historical novel was published by longtime AWC member Linda Busby Parker and Excalibur Press of Mobile, AL. Since then, Kim has traveled from coast to coast to speak at literary festivals, conferences, and special events. Visiting schools, however, is her favorite gig!

Kim is an active member of the AWC, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a graduate of West Texas A&M University and now lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with a wonderful husband and two feisty canine kids. Three grown human kids have brought her immeasurable happiness — and two grandbabies!

Learn more about Kim at her website.

To attend this workshop — and many others — please register for the 2017 AWC Writer’s Conference. We look forward to seeing you there!