Slow Going

I’ve gotten slow.

Normally it shouldn’t take more than two weeks for a novelette. Here I am at a solid week and I still haven’t finished a short story. It’s not because I don’t know how the story goes, I do. It’s not because I’m not working on it, I am. Not really sure about the because, actually, but I’ve got my suspicions.

To begin at the beginning, I’m a member of a flash fiction writer’s group. I’ve been in writer’s groups before. Back in Mississippi we had a very successful writer’s group that produced several published stories and even one Nebula nomination (not me, alas). I hesitated about joining the local group simply because it was flash fiction, which I’ve never been a fan of, but I was curious about the local scene, so I finally put my misgivings aside and very glad I did. It’s a talented bunch and flash has its own challenges. When I think of flash, I think of anything under about 1500 words. Nuh-uh. Here we have 500. Max. Some groups go even shorter.

Start with a challenge word. We write whatever we want, but it has to include the challenge word for the week. Three of those week’s words resulted in new Yamada stories. In 500 words. Still wrapping my head around that one myself. Naturally enough, for each of those I had to leave a lot out and imply a lot more…which meant I naturally wanted to expand them. The first one sold to BCS last spring. Working on the second one now and have plans for the third, but here’s the thing–I am writing very slowly. Yes, now we’re back to the subject of this digression. Which there wouldn’t be room for in flash, but there you go.

I think flash has me in the habit of drafting more carefully. Fine in a rewrite, but it tends to hamper things on a first draft. First draft should be more like careening down a hillside on a bike with no brakes. Even so, I usually end up with a 6-7 hundred word draft that has to be cut to 500. So when I do the same thing on a story that would normally run in the 3000+ word range, that doesn’t work as well. It slows you down.

Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can make a conscious effort to fix it. But of course first I had to become conscious that there was a problem. Which I should have realized when it took me six months to write a novella when I’ve finished full novels in three. Or an entire week to only get two thousand words of what I think will be a 3500 word story, once I’ve put in all the stuff I had to leave out the first time.

Wisdom is uncertain. Learning is optional, but better than not.

Life, Intervening

I spent most of the day in the repair shop, getting the Yeti’s snow tires swapped for summer tires and having the alignment corrected, which required new tie-rods, and etc. The point being I didn’t have time to do a proper blog post. So in an attempt to make up for that, I’m putting up a piece of flash done for this week’s meeting. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Professional

I’m one of those people who do what they’re born to do. Sounds ideal, right?

“’Follow your bliss” was the way mythologist Joseph Campbell put it. Yes, I thought so too, once, before time and experience kicked that notion in the ass. I learned bliss has sod all to do with it; the reality goes a lot deeper.

We’ve all heard stories of the four year old sitting at a piano for the first time and playing a complete song by ear.  That’s what it was like. Something inside me was dormant until that moment, a day I will never forget. One of my friends, Jack Thompson, came back to school after missing a week due to the death of his mother. He was still in a very bad way, and everyone was being extra nice to him, which in junior high probably made things worse. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just put a hand on his shoulder.

Just like that, he wasn’t sad anymore. His grief drained out of him like a sink when you pull the plug. It didn’t go away, though. Whatever he was feeling, I felt, and then he didn’t feel it anymore. As simple and profound as that. That very afternoon he was playing ball with the rest of us like nothing happened. I don’t claim to be the quickest mule on the track, but by the third incident I figured out what happened to the ones I touch, and to me.

It’s what I do, now. People find me. I’m not sure how, but when it’s too much for them, they come to me. Lisa was the most recent. She appeared at my door one day, unannounced, as they almost always do. Appointments are optional.

“I’m told you can help me,” she said.

I invited her in, got her a cup of tea, looked her up and down. Pretty, twenty-something, with the eyes of a whipped dog.

“It’s because—“

I stopped her. “It doesn’t matter,” I said, though I knew. That was part of my gift. Fear was holding her in a relationship she didn’t want to be in. Fear was in her posture, in her speech. We agreed on a price and I took her fear away and swallowed it.

When I was done, her face was like all the rest. Not bliss. Not joy. Not even happiness, only relief. Someone else bore the burden they could not or would not.  I want to hate them all for that, only I know two things they don’t—the fear, the grief, would always return, born anew, whatever the circumstances. I can ease their troubles but I can’t cure them, only they can do that.

Something else I learned, that first time. It was right before lunch. I was hungry when I touched Jack’s shoulder. Afterwards, I wasn’t. Maybe there’s always capacity for trouble, and I don’t really solve anything, even though I’d like to.

At least I never go hungry.

-The End-

©2019 By Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Muse and Writer Dialogues #13

Just so you know. This is the kind of thing that happens when I’ve got a piece of flash fiction due and the trigger word isn’t triggering anything:

 

 

 

Muse (Dressed as Biker Chick. No flowy robes or any of that crap):  Not Happy.

Writer: Are you ever? So where’s my inspiration for this story?

Muse (making obscene gesture): I got your inspiration right here. Step closer and I’ll emphasize it for ya.

Writer: See? That’s the problem. You’re supposed to be my Muse, and all you do is snap at me!

Muse: I do what helps you the most. This is helping.

Writer: No, it isn’t! I got nothing.

Muse: This is my fault…why?

Writer: What part of “Muse” do you not understand?

Muse: I should ask you that. Apparently, the answer would be “all of it.” Listen, chump—I’m not real. I’m a metaphorical device. I know it and you know it. I only exist as some whimsy in that twisted noggin of yours. I can’t give you what you don’t already have, m’kay? I may help you recognize the fact you already have…whatever it is you think you need. I may even help you focus on one specific over another. Past that, you’re on your own. Now, what was the word again?

Writer (sighing deeply): Yield.

Muse: In your dreams.

Writer (sighing even deeper): No, that’s the word.

Muse: And that’s a problem…why?

Writer: Haven’t you been listening to me? I got nothing.

Muse: You can’t lie to me, because I know better. You’re just afraid you’re going to put words down and everyone who reads it will think it’s terrible. The truth is, you could put down something random and then build on it.

Writer: You mean like, “Yield, varlet!” and then try to justify it?

Muse: Well, let’s not get crazy. You can do better than that. Word of warning, though: You start typing the lyrics to “Men of Harlech” and I’ll pound you.

Writer: Fine, but in my defense, it does have the word “yield” in it. As in never do it.

Muse: Stop stalling. You’re always like this, and frankly, you’re working my nerves. I’ve got other aspects, you know, beside “Biker Chick.” Should I introduce you?”

Writer: Ah…no, thanks. I’ve met a few already. I’ll be good.

Muse: Good is for second and third drafts. Just get started.

Writer: How about, “The last of the Ships of the Line was taking on water, its sails shredded. “

Muse: Who are you, Horatio Hornblower? Get serious.

Writer: I’m always serious. Especially when I’m not.

Muse: Don’t pull that zen crap on me now. Your bullshit doesn’t work.

Writer: Okay, fine, you win. You always win.

Muse: Sure, but it would be nice if you’d just realize that up front and save us both, meaning you, the aggravation. Now, get to work!

Writer: How about this: “Contrary to the myth, banshees have been known to laugh.”

Muse: I’m listening.

Writer: “However, they only laugh in very specific circumstances. This is what happens to someone who makes a banshee laugh.”

Muse: And?

Writer: And that’s 500 words.

Muse: You’re a bastard. You know that?

Story Time: Beauty, Wide Awake

Again I have to apologize for being late with this. I spent most of the morning and early afternoon cutting a hole in a wall and a good bit of time after that finishing a story for a writers’ group deadline. But at least I’m getting this out today, so this week’s Story Time is an original piece of flash fiction, “Beauty, Wide Awake.”

As per usual, “Beauty, Wide Awake” will stay online until next Wednesday, July 25th. Unless something else happens. Life is like that.

Story Time: Legends of the Singing River

A day late, but here is this week’s Story Time, “Legends of the Singing River.”  Since this is going to be a short week, I chose a short work, an original piece of flash fiction, and here is its first publication.

Assuming I get back on schedule, “Legends of the Singing River” will stay online until next Wednesday, June 20th. After that, not.