Sometimes you stumble across a literary landmine. Blown away. Can I be infused with this man’s sense of humor and word sense?
I’m trying to leave my novel alone for a few weeks so I can read it with “fresh” eyes and polish it. Again. This polishing will be the fourth draft on I Trespass. Since I’m not actively writing my novel, my schedule is different. Like: Who moved my cheese? Normally I pick up a thread where I left off the previous day, but in these waiting weeks I face a totally empty page each morning. Some days I even get writer’s block. For me that doesn’t mean the page stays empty; it’s just filled with pointless junk. Enter prompts. Oh, how I love thee, writing prompts! Today I found one here. It’s rules require me to slash my flash in half: 99 words to write a story involving riptides. (and prompted a bit of obnoxious rhyme)
Riptides: The idea of being pulled (or ripped) away from safety. Of losing control. Being abducted by water. The ocean has always filled me with a mixture of fear and wonder. You can’t stand next to that pounding, teeming, gargantuan force and think yourself important.
I finished my first attempt at 8:16AM with 145 words. Yikes. Time for the chain saw. Second draft: 117 words, 8:30AM. Third draft: 95 words, 8:37. You’d think I’d leave it alone. But no, I have four more words I can add back in. It’s on. Final, 8:49AM. 99 words, exactly. Bam. I hear Rocky music in my head. Ladies and gentleman, my story follows.
The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Life
Harper walked the beach. Her psychiatrist mandated daily exercise, and Harper’s mom considered it an encouraging sign. The shell basket always returned full of treasures. Mom didn’t notice the basket left with treasure as well: the contents of Harper’s bedroom. Her baby blanket, beloved stuffed animals, crayon drawings, trophies. Then medals, books, make-up. Finally, Harper tossed the contents of her dresser into the sea and reverently watched the riptide spirit her belongings away. The sea had just about everything. The next day Harper closed the door on her hollow room and went out.
“No basket today?” her mom asked.
Sherman Alexie is an American Indian. He’s also a writer. My Native American roots have given me an almost non-existent nose, high cheekbones, and a convenient dearth of body hair. Other than that, I don’t relate to his marginalized experience, except that it gripped me and made me fall in love with reading and writing all over again. Sometimes you read something so profoundly affecting, you want to grab your bull horn. Not having a cosmic bull horn, I satisfied myself by assigning it to my 5000 Words class.
In response to Alexie’s short story “Superman and Me,” I had my students write about their own reading journeys. I have to tell you, no aspect of the 5000 Words Class has been more enjoyable than these fine essays. They were a sort of education and a balm and an affirmation– all in one. There were recurring themes. When reading is made to be a warm, peaceful, safe, and lovely prospect, those feelings stick to us years later. Reading opens doors. Alexie explored that image brilliantly. So did my students.
My own story is similar to the ones I read. I was not an early reader. In fact I was in Title I, translated “not-getting-it.” We got to sit in a small semi-circle with an aide and get extra reading help while the other kids moved on? Read books? I don’t know. I remember my dad, my hero, reading Dick and Jane books with me, and I remember hating them with a white-hot hatred. They were so dumb. I basically languished in school until sixth grade when Mr. Stoisits devoted a portion of each week to “pleasure reading.” He’d stocked his room full of actually, no kidding, honest-to-goodness exciting books of every genre, and he let us choose.
It was the first time I enjoyed a book. I went through a door. And once I knew that door existed, I kept coming back. Sometimes the door was locked. Some books didn’t thrill me at first. Some, ok many confused me, but I wanted to rekindle that same delight of my first book-loving experience, so I kept at it. Eventually I met a book series I adored so much that I did not want it to end, ever. The words The end felt like a death. How could this author evoke such thick and horrible and wonderful and terrible emotion? How could words be more important than sleep?
I wrote a promise to myself. I vowed I would one day make people love characters the way I loved these. I remember writing it out like I was contracting with God. I may have written it on the inside cover. The book is lost, but my promise is not.
For his people, Sherman Alexie considers books as more than doors. They are life rafts and ramparts and square meals. They are the solution to everything. In a way I agree with him. The very best book, the Bible carried me to peace. Books are a way into minds we wouldn’t dare plumb, a way into minds we could care less about, but ought to. They are the only ancient boundary line of the human experience.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one. – George R.R. Martin
On this journey to publishing my novel I often take little tangents, usually in the form of writing competitions. I love the immediacy of the feedback and the stretching prompts. Zeroflash’s August competition garnered me an honorable mention from the talented Jan Kaneen. I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to have a writer whose work I admire, admire my work! The writing journey is often riddled with insecure moments, lonely moments; the whole thing is mostly me feeling misunderstood and reaching out, like a kid holding a scribbled drawing and asking Do you like it? But as the journey goes on, I don’t hold up my drawings anymore, though some days I long to– especially on days when I’m feeling Genesis 1:31 …and God saw all that He made and behold, it was very good. I know my insatiable need for affirmation is a beast that must be tamed. But can never be tamed. Robert Frost taught me: Success doesn’t tame it, not all the praise in the the world will tame an artist.
My writing style often provokes this response: I don’t get it. Four words I dread to hear, but need to hear. Am thankful to hear. But these four I love much better: to-die-for language, with specific examples. So I’m savoring this moment of hearing four different words.
I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. – Stephen King
I went shamelessly for the gross out. Read it and see if you agree.
Fedir and Art were sorely unprepared for chemistry– all the excuse they needed for a day trip to the exclusion zone. Their options were “F” in chemistry vs. possible radiation poisoning. One promised a thrill.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Fedir said, “How else do all those animals live there?”
The abandoned amusement park surpassed their imaginings: especially the bumper cars frozen in skewed arrangements, caught in verdant webs of nature’s somnolent devour. Hostile shrubs punched through pane-less windows, and towering above it all– the Ferris wheel, monument to stilled life in Pripyat. Art pulled out his copy of Roadside Picnic and read: “Intelligence is the ability… to perform pointless or unnatural acts– ”
From the tangled growth a sound: leaves being crushed. Art’s smile died on his face.
“Quick!” Fedir dived into the nearest Ferris wheel car. Art followed. Probably just moose, but it could be police. A guttural growl, more leaves stomped, the brisk snap of tree limbs. Some enormity was less than twenty feet away and advancing.
“Moose?” whispered Art. He swiveled and peaked over. A serrated tongue flashed, cracked whip-like, and the top of Art’s head disappeared. Cleanly. Bone sliced like melon rind. The piece of Art that held his eyes was tossed mercifully away. Fedir heard it strike the metal supports then come to rest on the asphalt. He sank lower into the footwell and noted with macabre interest, Art’s hands still gripped the rail though he’d slumped.
Fedir remained frozen while the cloying copper smell of Art bloomed, lingered, and long since evaporated. In a cathedral silence. One with the steel cage, the grooves in the footwell painfully embossed Fedir’s skin. Art’s bowels released. Fedir wept silently.
The sun set behind a barb wire copse. Shadows advanced, followed by smothering dark. Fedir heard stirrings from the wood.
When I read something amazing I think, wow, this author must be extraordinary to be able to create this world, these people, this conflict. The Bible says we can know God in this way too, that His invisible attributes are known by His workmanship: our world. On any given day I can be impressed with God’s creation. All I have to do is look at a sunset or a storm or cows grazing silently.
Likewise, when I enter a fictional world held together not by atoms and magnetic forces, but by words and sentences, I ascribe to that creator an amount of awe. I think: Only a beautiful mind could create such beautiful minds…
That’s why I wrote, initially. I was on a quest for a beautiful mind.
I still remember the first time I wrote fiction. The assignment was to create a scene from several different points of view. I created it, just a little junky park scene where two lovers passed by an old woman sitting on a bench.
I walked around the rest of the day like I had a secret, like I was a wizard or Captain America or just plain SPECIAL. I may look ordinary to you non-writers, but I just created a WORLD. Can Donald J. Trump do that? I think not.
I was hooked junky-style on world building and character creation. Still am. Some days I carry my chapter around in my head and smile to think of it. What began as a quest for me, a proof I’ve got something beautiful inside, became a passion in its own right.
Was there a specific moment you decided to become a writer? Please share! 🙂