Welcome to October! Probably my favorite month of the year. Not too cold, not too hot, and it’s the start of leaf season. We get some lovely displays here in the river gorge. I haven’t been here quite three years yet, and I’ve fallen in love with leaf season. Then again, I love the idea of having four actual seasons. In Mississippi we only had two: summer and winterish. Not really winter, but not summer either. Had to call it something.
I belong to a local writer’s group (no segue for you), and we had an Assignment: write a 500 word flash fiction piece with the trigger word “ashes.” I thought about it and decided I didn’t want to write a piece of fiction keying off “ashes.” Instead I wrote a 500 word explanation for why I did not have a story about ashes. Here it is. Remember, this is not a story. This is an explanation:
Okay, time to write the flash fiction. Muse, what you got?
“Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down.”
t was the first thing that came to mind, so naturally I couldn’t use it. That’s the rule: the first thing that floats up is your muse being lazy. You want to get better at this? Make the mind/subconscious/muse work a little harder. I normally picture my muse as a no-nonsense biker chick but some of my writer friends see it more as a crusty old curmudgeon named Fred in a plaid work shirt and chinos. Now sometimes so do I, and apparently Fred is on duty. The idea is that Fred will throw up just any old thing when you’re trying to write a story. Fred doesn’t like to be bothered. I’m not having it so I hand Fred’s first impulse right back to him.
Not good enough.
The thing is you have to show Fred that you’re serious, only then maybe he’ll take his responsibilities seriously. Not always, but in general Fred wants to give you what you need. Sooner or later. Just not always sooner. So I go back to Fred.
Try again, Jackass.
Note: The “jackass” part is optional, as it can sometimes get Fred’s dander up. It’s a judgment call. Assuming Fred is still speaking to you, Fred will indeed try again.
“My Dominion is Ashes.”
Okay. Points, Fred, for seriousness. I mean, you can picture a story keying off this phrase, can’t you? It’s something dark and downbeat. Maybe an aging failed writer college professor whose most recent affair with an undergrad got him canned, and now he’s pouring out his angst in a poor me story where he’s the hero and only the names—and the epiphany he totally failed at grasping—changed. Again, not bad for one working in the wannabee Phillip Roth or John Updike mold. Not so much for someone else currently trying to write a flash piece. I just can’t get behind this one.
“The World is Ashes.”
Okay, Fred, now you’re just messing with me. We’re maybe one degree of separation from “My Dominion is Ashes.” Only now I’m picturing a more science fictional scenario. Maybe old-school Samuel Delaney or Roger Zelazny philosophical, though just as likely something pulpy and post-apocalyptic a la William F. Nolan. In either case it’s not something I’m willing to tackle in five hundred words. That’s not even long enough to describe what went wrong.
Once more with feeling, Fred.
“Phoenix From the Ashes.”
That’s a classic, Fred. It’s also pretty darn cliché. You seriously want me to riff off a phoenix theme without sounding like every other variation of the same thing I’ve heard a thousand times? Seriously?
Fred, I’m not kidding around. I want something I can use and I want it now.
“Scattering the Ashes.”
Hmmm. Okay, that’s not so bad. Elements of loss and grief, but the implication of closing one phase of life and…damn. Out of words.
P.S. For those wondering, I still believe it was the chipmunks who ate my ripe tomatoes. However, it was the deer who came by later and ate everything else.