The idea occurred to me several times before, but I’d never had the courage. And honestly, this was the first time an opportunity presented itself when I was actually in a relationship, when any initials I carved wouldn’t have been and exercise in imagination. Cowardice disguised as confidence. One day, RSC hearts KEC or ABC or HIJ will mean something more than a long list of letters inferring a long list of never been lovers.
Which is exactly as pathetic as it sounds.
But she was different. Or I was different around her, which might be saying the same thing.
She liked winter rains, the sort that iced your eyebrows and lashes, made walking dangerous, filled with ankle twisting, bottom bruising obstacles. And she preferred silence when given the choice, her feet up on the sofa, across my lap while I read a book, no words shared for hours.
I also liked the rain, but preferred the October variety. As for silence, well, I didn’t believe it existed. There was always some little noise, a scratching in the back of my brain, which I trusted, if only because it helped me feel substantial, genuinely present.
One warm afternoon late in September, we hiked into the woods along a favorite trail for almost an hour (autumn leaves scattered across the ground, reds, browns, and my favorite yellows piling up, begging to be stomped or kicked about), rarely speaking, until we came upon a massive oak, somehow left unmarked among the aspens and elms lining the path, all etched with layer after layer of scribbles that stood out like scars on skin.
We stood in front of the tree, marveling at its unlikeliness.
“I can’t help but think,” she started, then paused. “No, you’ll think I’m being silly.”
I shook my head, somehow stopping myself from adding phrases which would only detract from the moment. I adore words, but I often say the wrong ones at the wrong times.
“I feel like this tree appeared out of nowhere, in this moment, in this place, just for us.”
I pulled my knife from its leather sheath, then walked forward, keeping my eyes on the tree, convinced she was right and if I looked away for even a moment it would disappear. With my free hand, I touched the bark. Deep, rough grooves touched back, and for an instant I thought the tree quivered beneath my fingers. I pulled away, looking up at the branches far above my head, swaying gently in the light breeze. A pale blue sky seemed impossibly far away. I tightened my grip on the handle of the knife, turned my attention back to the trunk, and selected the location to make my first cut.
In my head, I imagined the task already complete. I could see each letter already formed, rising out from the wood, tangible evidence of our connection, hers and mine, our shared adoration and affection. I wanted to say one word out loud, shout it, but it came as a whisper- love- because I did love her, and I believed she loved me.
I imagined other outings we’d take, coming back to this tree, staring up at the crudely carved initials somehow meant to represent us, hoping our love would last as long as the tree itself. Someday, we would bring our children, spread a blanket on the ground, share a picnic lunch and stories about the inevitability of our meeting, the permanence of our devotion. Our timeless love.
I wanted to cling to this image, but before I could lock it away in my head, store it like a memory my heart sunk and I knew.
What a ludicrous notion. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here, in front of the magnificent tree.
Before I could compose my thoughts, she stepped up beside me and put her hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t want you to do it either,” she whispered.
I slid the knife back into the sheath, put both hands upon the oak and wished it well.
Without looking back, we headed down the trail together, towards the parking lot where we’d left her car. A cooler in the back seat held cold water and some good chocolate.
Fifteen steps down the trail, she slid her hand into mine.
As I looked up, streaks of pale pink and yellow stared back at me me. For a moment, it seemed as if the sky were moving at an incredible rate of speed, stretching the clouds, and the earth lurched to keep pace. I stumbled, confused and dizzy, forgetting why I had come to the city, who I intended to meet. A passing stranger spoke to me, but his words were a jumble of incoherent sounds. I could only stare at the fading light, awestruck.
Three deep breaths, three rapid blinks, and I regained a recollection of my surroundings, who and where I was. She was waiting for me in the bar around the corner, a cold beer already placed on the table in front of the empty chair I would soon occupy. I was excited to see her again, share some conversation, one hundred laughs with someone I did not see enough of during the autumn months.
And in that moment, as I fumbled with my phone, framed a picture, instead of thinking how much she would appreciate the stunning sunset, the mountains dark silhouette like an oil painting, all I could think was how I wished you were right here to see this with me instead.
As if having a 12 week old, teething, biting, super curious, super sweet, quite devious puppy taking up most my time wasn’t hard enough, I decided it would also be super smart to enter a flash fiction contest run by NYC Midnight.
Writers are put into groups, given a genre, location, and item, all of which must be written into a story of no more than 1000 words. Oh, and that story must be completed and submitted 48 hours after receiving the assignment. Super easy, right? Even under normal circumstances, I’d struggle with something so structured. Add to that some severe sleep deprivation and I was in for a rough weekend.
Still, I was excited to get the email, find out what sort of story I was going to be writing. At 10:59 PM Friday night, my path was revealed-Romantic comedy, a tropical island, a brick.
What? People actually write romantic comedy flash fiction? Visions of Love Actually and a half dozen Adam Sandler, Drew Berrymore movies instantly came to my head. This genre was definitely not in my wheelhouse or toolbox. I would rather have had romance, a soviet era gulag, a french fry.
My first attempt on Saturday Morning was a disaster. I had a couple, a clever way for them to meet, but that moment itself took 400 words. Scratch that. Delete. Try again.
A second idea had more promise, but also took up too many valuable words without getting me anything resembling a story.
Then the tiredness took over. I couldn’t concentrate, spell, type, do much of anything but stare at the screen. Also, the puppy needed attention, and the puppy comes first right now.
A few hours later, I tried again, this time with some more success. I had several awkward encounters, silly moments, and the outline of a story. An ending still eluded. I had Sheryl read what I’d written so far and while she liked it, she agreed it wasn’t quite right.
Sunday could not have been a more awful day. I didn’t rest well, and a very intense wave of puppy depression hit me early that morning. I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. Writing was impossible. The contest was out of my mind completely.
I did some heavy soul searching that day, spent a lot of time talking with my amazing wife. I am so grateful for her advice, patience, love. She is my best friend and perfect companion.
With less than 3 hours until I had to submit the story, I had no draft, no ending, and very few ideas, but I was determined. I sat at the computer and hammered out three very sloppy endings, picking one to flush out and use. I read through, edited, read through again, edited, then asked Sheryl for her opinion.
“It’s okay, but the ending lacks pop. It’s too sweet. Something needs to happen that puts them at odds again.”
I was crushed, out of ideas, ready for defeat.
“Something like…” and she said it. The exact ending. And I loved it. With forty minutes to go, I rewrote the ending, not worrying about word count. When it was finished, I was at 1020 words, but the ending was just what this brief romantic comedy needed.
I spent the remaining time cutting words (easier than I thought) until I was at 997. One more read and edit, just to make sure, and it was time to submit. My first romantic comedy was complete. I’m not sure it will get me enough points to move out of the second round (two rounds are guaranteed each writer), but that is fine with me.
I’ll keep you posted.
Wish me good sleeps. I still need them.
And dogs are awesome.
I’ve had a really good week as far as writing goes. A short story idea has been rolling around in my head for months, and I finally sat my rear end in the chair and attacked it. The first few pages came quickly, and for a while I was convinced it would only take three writing days before a draft was complete. I should have known better.
As soon as I’ve nailed down one aspect of the story, something else decides to be a problem. The strange part is, I’m excited that it is being difficult. I want to be pushed and stretched. None of this effort means the story will be any good, but it will be rewarding to finish.
The only real distraction is another idea that popped into my head while I was reading a book called “Slow Boat”, by Hideo Furukawa. I’d written a story more than a decade ago that shared similar elements to one chapter of “Slow Boat”. As soon as I finished the book (it’s wicked short), I went to my computer and opened the file. The story was still in very rough condition, and I remembered I’d only loosely edited it after finishing the first draft. Reading through, I liked the flow of the story, and thought it would only need a few tweaks to be ready for sharing. Four hours later I’d rewritten most of it, changed the overall tone, and given the story an entirely different ending. It was the most fun I’d had with writing in more than a year.
Finding life in one old idea got me thinking about other abandoned work, paragraphs, pages, two or three lines that had promise, but I either lost interest in or wasn’t skilled enough to write at the time. I’m making a list of texts that need attention, and it is a good long one. I’m certain many of them won’t become anything more than they already are, but there are likely three or four that have some serious potential. The prospect is keeping me up at night, pondering.
What about you fine people? Have you ever gone back to an old idea and found it had new life? How did you approach the project? Were you successful?
One other note-
The shelf I was using to display my vinyl was near capacity, and I was not excited about the prospect of using crates or boxes to store things. I dislike clutter. Over the weekend, we picked up this fine shelf from IKEA.
I’ve triple the space now. You should all come over and we can have a listen party. You bring the drinks, I’ll provide the food and music.
I wrote my first novel in 2013. The first draft was just over 79,000 words. Edits, rewrites and subtractions have left the book hovering around 77,000 words. My second book (2014) came it at just over 120,000. After Edits, rewrites, subtractions it is still at 120,000.
For the third book, I made a conscious choice to keep myself to 50 thousand. I liked the idea of clear writing goals and a word restriction. The second book had a life of its own and refused to be limited. It still does, and while I enjoy the feeling of having written something so long, I wanted to see if I could limit myself, focus the content, make hard choices.
The first completed draft was 43,000 words. Three versions later, I now have a story of 37,501 words. I fear it is becoming too short, but each time I edit, I find more to cut, and have come up empty on ideas of where to expand. Maybe it doesn’t need anything more, and maybe it needs less. Is this really a short story; a novella? I don’t know. I am looking for some brave souls to volunteer as tribute, fearless warriors, willing to offer suggestions, direction. Two would be great, more would be better. There is no rush on feedback as I am not actively trying to sell this to any agent or publisher.
Reply here (or on Facebook or Twitter, for those who don’t like commenting here. Weirdos) and I will send you a lovely .rtf document.
I’ve another blog. It goes by the name Only One Shoe. The concept revolves around very short stories written about photographs I take of found items.
The rules for what gets photographed are simple-If I come across something that seems out of place or uniquely situated, I take photographs. I am not allowed to re-position the object or manipulate the surroundings in any way. I take several images, hoping to capture as much of the area around the object as possible, pick the best one, then write something (hopefully) clever about how the object ended up where I found it.
It has been suggested to me in the past that this would make a swell book. I rejected the idea at first, thinking that: My photography is far to amateurish for publishing- and I would need close to 150 to 200 images and stories to reach book length. It seemed daunting.
I’ve come to realize that I actually really like the idea and am gearing myself up to pursue it more aggressively. The blog has sort of languished over the last year, and I think part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to add to the collection is I want to save the ideas and images and include them in the book.
What I need is some feedback about the idea, the blog, the images, the stories. If you’re feeling up to the effort, take a look, then tell me what you think about what is already up there. If this is not something you as a reader would be interested in seeing in print, odds are others feel similarly. On the other hand, if you think this would be a stellar book, I could use the boost.
Thanks in advance, friends.
The kids are back in school. Sheryl’s too short vacation is over and she has returned to the office. The house has resumed its usual daytime stillness, settling back into routine.
Welcome to winter.
Oh, and welcome to the first Wednesday of the month, which is of course when the members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group gather to share our writing adventures, successes and failures. Check us out here-http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html
Every writer is an insecure one, so join in the fun.
I am roughly four weeks away from learning the fate of my poetry chapbook. The fine folks at http://www.blacklawrence.com/ are at this moment, selecting the finalists, which hopefully includes my work. I entered fairly early in the window, so the wait has been/felt extra long. I’d like to pretend there were days I didn’t worry, or wonder. Less time has been spent stressing about it all than in October (the sleepless nights I’ll never get back), and I’ve swallowed the nervousness that kept me from even looking at the poems (certain there would be a million typos, misspelled words). Still, I am more than ready for this process to come to a conclusion. I feel confident about the work, and if for some reason, I am not a finalist, I will be alright.
But dammit, I so want to win.
When I was sending out query letters for my first novel, I fully expected the rejection. I never felt I’d created a solid letter, and if I wasn’t sure about what I was submitting, it was unlikely any agent reading it would feel any differently.
In this contest (unless they are being completely dishonest about the process), it is a blind reading, and no one on the committee has any clue who wrote what until after the decisions have been made. My ability to write about my work is not being evaluated, but rather the writing itself. I’ve always thought that if I could get someone at some press somewhere to actually read my work, that would be all it took.
What if I’m completely wrong?
I know, I know, rejection is rarely about the person (right?), but that doesn’t make this any less frightening. And maybe rejecting me would actually be less disheartening than rejecting what I’ve created.
Four more weeks…
Maybe I need some company in my misery. Do any of you have some heartbreaking rejection stories you’d like to share?
Welcome to the November installment of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog hop. Once again we gather to discuss our writing successes and failures, our moments of joy and our deep dark fears. What a roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions!
If you want to find out more about us, or how to join, click this lovely link
For the second month in a row, I’m choosing to answer the suggested question. I’m starting to see a trend. I go to the dentist (cavities this time, what a world), then the next day, I’m all about rule following. My guess is there is something in the fluoride.
November question- What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?
Some things come to mind: Being able to create people, events, worlds which did not exist before I put them on the page (what a powerful feeling). Finding ways to make sense of the emotions, events, people that make up my daily life (It is so damn cathartic). Sharing stories or swell blog posts with like minded people (people with minds like mine? Shudder)
All those things are wonderful, but the thing I love best about being a writer is the intimate connection I have with words and language.
I feel fortunate to think, write, read, understand the word through the English language, which is among the most vast languages in the world (containing over 1 million words). Of course there are things one cannot express very well in any language which are unique to cultures and regions, but a visit to any English thesaurus will show the flexibility and diversity of my native tongue.
Having a multitude of ways to express concepts is a priceless treasure for a writer (a thinker, a human being in general). The more words at my disposal, the more complex and diverse ways I can understand a concept, theory, etc. Language liberates my mind, gives structure to my thoughts, creates order out of chaos, and most importantly, allows me to communicate with all of you.
I’m rambling, but you get the idea.
Next month, I should write about the ambiguity of language, the arbitrary nature of meaning and debunk this entire blog.
What about you clowns? What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Another option- write my language counter argument for me by defining the word meaning.
Layers and layers of analogy, people.
An aside- My October experiment was not successful. The story I chose fell apart after about ten thousand words. I’m letting it sit for a while, and am moving on to a different project. I may or may not do NaNo. This afternoon’s effort will decide my fate.
Down the rabbit hole we go…
Seriously, how did it become October? If one of you responds, “one day at a time…”
I’ll shake my fist. Yeah, shake it.
It is also the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is time once again for the monthly blog hop of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I say it every month, but people, if you write, you know you get insecure. Join us. Feel better about your writer self.
I’ve decided to break with tradition and actually write about the suggested question. Also, I gave the answer some actual thought. Frightening, I know. It is so not like me to prepare. The subversive in me isn’t ready for this sort of compliance.
The October question-
When do you know your story is ready?
Two things come to mind when I think on this. First, when do I know the text I’ve written is ready to be read by others. Second, when do I feel like the story idea is ready to be composed.
I know the story is ready to be read by others (non beta readers) when I’ve edited, and edited, and edited, and edited, and finally, feel like any errors or flaws are cosmetic. Trusting my beta readers is essential as well. If I have addressed their comments and suggestions, then I’m more confident. There is always part of me that argues the story is never ready, but that is either arrogance or foolishness (both?). No text will every be perfect. Instead, I strive for clean. If it reads/looks clean, and the story flows nicely, I’m more comfortable sharing it.
As for when I feel the story is ready to be written, that is a bit more complicated. I’ve just started writing my 4th novel, and had a few ideas/story lines brewing about in my head. Two were equally intriguing, and as October approached, I struggled to choose one over the other. I rarely outline. It gets in the way, takes me out of my creative space and (for me) makes my writing feel rigid. If something comes along that threatens to alter the outline, I resist it, which makes for bad writing. Instead, I prefer to have a general idea of where I want to end up, then let the story dictate its own path towards that conclusion.
With only two days until I was set to begin writing, I still had not decided. Both ideas, nebulous as they were, offered distinct and different challenges. They excited me equally. They both felt necessary. It was a comfort to have multiple ideas to choose between. For me, that is rare.
I sat down at the computer on Monday, still unsure what I would do. Finally, I took a deep breath and typed a first sentence. That was the moment. The name that appeared, the setting in which the just created *she* found herself, revealed the idea I had chosen.
The story rolls about in my head. It changes over and over, sometimes ending up discarded, or altered, but it is in there. As soon as the first sentence is on the page, that is when I know the story is ready.
Exciting stuff, right? Now, tell me when you know your story is ready.
Also, I went to the dentist today and my teeth feel weird.
I’m not sure if it is a memory or a dream. Odds are it is neither. If not for the particulars, I might believe it was a story I made up to sound cool, frighten friends, elicit a particular reaction: shock, awe, incredulous amazement.
In this tale/memory/dream, I am visiting my second cousin, the son of my mother’s nemesis, someone who made making others miserable her profession. We are the same age, this boy and I, roughly 11 years old. One summer, we played on the same baseball team. Other than that, we have little to nothing in common. I don’t like him and I’m sure he doesn’t like me, but it is a summer evening in August and our parents are pretending to get along. We mimic them.
It is early in the new decade, 1982. I am likely wearing too short shorts and a t shirt that does not match, probably stained with dirt or food. My cousin will be dressed better than I, cleaner, which he will point out in subtle ways, a look, voice inflection, to which I will be oblivious.
Across the street and down half the block, new construction is underway. The shiny wooden houses look out of place set among the textured brick ramblers and bungalows lining the eastern side of the road.
We are unsupervised beyond the occasional look out the window. It doesn’t take long or much convincing for us to make our way to the vacant houses (some only wooden frames, others missing windows and doors, a few ready to welcome families), bravely wandering through the least complete, then checking for unlocked doors among the others.
One opens and invites us in. Dark yellow carpet and bright white walls (the aroma of fresh paint and glue) shine like warnings, and the unfinished kitchen gives us pause. Workers may be about, or will soon arrive. We are silent, listening for a hint of another human being, ready to run, hearts in our throats.
My cousin laughs, breaking the spell.
We explore rooms. It is a not-dangerous situation that somehow feels compellingly dangerous. Part of me always feels broken, different, but it is a secret part, one that few will ever see or understand. More often than not, I am passive, overly careful, unwilling to risk. Being here in this empty house, I feel unlike myself. I am an invader. A sudden urge to plunder rises up. I want to break something, kick a wall, a door, just to prove to myself I am capable of casual destruction. Instead, I run my fingers on the walls, whisper in hushed tones as if the future occupants of this dwelling are already present. observing my behavior.
My cousin calls to me.
He is in a back bedroom, un-carpeted sub-flooring marked and labeled with cryptic words defying understanding; numbers and lines that should have meaning, but appear as hieroglyphics.
He is kneeling near the wall opposite the closet. A toolbox in front of him. I imagine removing a hammer, a few screwdrivers, my earlier inclination towards random destruction returning in heavy waves of fear and excitement. He winks at me, flicks the clasp with too clean fingers, lifts the lid.
There are two versions of what happens next. In the first, the gun is a snub nosed revolver, chrome, with a brown grip. We do the right thing and leave it alone, locking the door as we leave the house, agreeing never to tell our parents.
The second seems more honest. The weapon is black, something a cop would wear high on his hip. In this version, the gun takes on the persona of violence (if there is such a thing), an ominous presence that fills the room, chokes the air from my throat. I am suddenly timid, cowering. I do not hesitate. I run.
Or maybe I stand still, watch as my foolish cousin reaches into the toolbox and lifts the weapon out, cradled in his palm. He looks at me, the total brown of his eyes sizing me up again, just like he will years later when we attend the same Jr. high and he tries to figure out how in the hell we can be related, when he is so cool and I am such a hopeless dork. He rests his index finger on the trigger, aims just to the right of me, laughs like this is a game.
But I am already outside, right? I’m running down the street, back towards my parents and the relative safety of the front yard. I don’t stay in the bedroom of the almost finished house, waiting for the inevitable sound of gunpowder igniting, the thud of the bullet as it enters the wall behind me, narrowly missing my face and neck. I would never be that stupidly brave, even if it would make that one girl (with long legs and soft brown skin) who lives down the street look at me with new eyes.