Declaring My Ignorance in the New Year

“You know, you talk a lot about writing for someone who doesn’t know much about it.”

That thought comes to me at least once a year; sometimes more, and here in the New Year the thought came early, and why not?  It’s always true. Yes, I talk about it a lot. No, I don’t know much about it. You’d think perhaps I would by now, but no. I don’t know if it’s simple Zen as in “It’s always the first time” or an even more simple inability to learn. Maybe some of both. But then, I wasn’t the first to notice that “No one knows how to write a novel. They only know how to write the last one.” Well, maybe Stephen King.  Isaac Asimov probably did, and Andre Norton is likely. There have to be exceptions. I’m definitely not one of them. In general, you learn to write the one you’re doing—if you’re lucky—and hope for the same on the next one.

There. Everything I know about writing a novel. Not much, is it? Short stories are about the same, just shorter and there are usually more of them. Which explains why I have so many false starts and almosts and not quites littering my hard disk. Some stories I haven’t yet learned how to write. Some I likely won’t live long enough to finish, and that’s just the way it is.

Sorry about the introspection; I get that way sometimes, and in the turning of the year doubly so. I think this was triggered by an incident at the last Flash Writer’s meeting, where someone, feeling a little less than confident, referred to a few of us present as “natural writers.”  I have to beg to differ. For a start, I’m not a “natural” anything. I’ve only been writing thirty years in order to pass for one, and a polished story says nothing about how it got there, or that in order to complete a 500 word assignment I had to write 750 words and then cut out the ones that didn’t fit. Sort of like growing the birch tree before you attempt a canoe.

On that “natural” thing, I will admit to one exception: I can recognize a plot when I see one. Not as in “The Gunpowder” plot, but a narrative plot. At about age ten or so I had my grandmother convinced that I was psychic, all because I could watch a television show I’d never seen before and tell her what was going to happen before it did. It wasn’t paranormal, I just recognized the story plot, and most of the ones used on TV at the time weren’t that complicated. I was surprised that everyone couldn’t do it. Which does not mean I can necessarily plot well or easily, only that, after the fact, I’m reasonably sure that a piece has one.

So, on the first day of 2018, here’s me explaining, mostly to myself, what little I understand of the process. Clearly, I have a lot to learn. I hope to learn some of it in this New Year. I hope your New Year’s wishes fare better than mine are likely to do.

Let it Snow

We’re having our first snow of the season as I write this. Technically we got a “dusting” about three days ago, but I’m not counting that. It was more of a seasonal equipment check than an actual snow. Today, it’s snowing. I will grant you, it is a tentative, gentle sort of snow. Falling straight down, steady but not aggressive, starting to fill up the hillside behind our house but politely melting off the driveways and road so as not to be too much of a bother.

This will not last.

I mean, the snowfall itself may or may not stick around for long, but this attitude? Very transient. Winter will soon be feeling its oats and this “tentative, gentle sort of snow” will be gone, replaced by the sort more typical of the winters here. It will fall hard and heavy. It will pile up. It will swirl and rise into drifts, millions of snowflakes gathered in one place to talk smack about me and my wimpy shovel. In collusion with the wind, it will snow sideways just to show us it can. It will not melt of its own free will unless certain very specific conditions are met. I will have to shovel down to bare asphalt to give the sun a chance to work, on the days when there is sun. You’ll see it occasionally, but most of the time? Out of here. On vacation. Not my season bub, you’re on your own.

Which is perfectly all right. I’ve come to appreciate winters here in a way I never did when I was down South. Down there, they were simply the pause between heats. Here, winters are decidedly their own thing. Here, I remember that spring and summer and fall exist, too, and have their own stories to tell. Until then, winter and I understand each other—think snow tires—and will get along just fine.

In other news, I’ve joined a local writer’s group, or at least we’re trying each other out for now. They specialize in flash fiction, which is new to me, or rather not new in that I’ve done it before, but new in the sense of concentrating on it within group. Frankly, I’d always regarded flash fiction as something between a sonnet and a parlor trick. Here’s it’s everything from thinly-veiled personal experience to vast sagas told in 500 word scenes. I’m going to stick to my own understanding for now, which means I have to tell a complete story in 500 words. Which makes it more like a sonnet and a good parlor trick—both rather hard to pull off successfully. We’ll see how it goes.


Quick Story Time Reminder: “Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl” goes away on Wednesday. I haven’t yet decided what replaces it.

Writing Exercise #5

I think writing exercise #5 was meant to be a bit surreal–write a story from the viewpoint of a freshly scrubbed floor, 15 minute time limit. Heh. You’re not going to throw an old animist with that one.


I’ve heard of something called “planking,” but I don’t think that’s what it meant when my tree went to the sawmill. It meant planks. Literally. They turned my graceful, beautiful old alder into planks, and since I was of the tree and in the tree, I went along. It’s not as if I had much choice.

I’m not sure what I was being punished for. I bet it was Zeus. “King of the Gods” and all, sure, but he never handled rejection well. I mean, I could have said yes, it’s not that I would have minded so much, but then there was Hera to contend with. Believe me, being sawn into lumber isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person.

So I thought, fine, I’m a spirit that inhabits a stack of planks now. No more wind rustling my leaves. No more dodging the satyrs in the sacred grove…well, now that I think about it, the situation wasn’t all bad. And most of my planks stayed in the same bundle, which kept my spirit more or less intact and not very much changed. I was hoping to be made into a nice boat, perhaps. I hadn’t seen much of the world, there in the forest, but the nymphs talked about it all the time, and sometimes the nereids visited. I thought I should like to sail on the ocean, if I couldn’t live quietly in my grove, but no. Apparently, Zeus held a grudge.

Now my tree is a floor, and in a sense, so am I. In something called an “apartment.” A man’s apartment. it’s a lively place, I’ll grant you. He has friends, and I like the parties, even though people drop things and he’s not much for cleaning. I could overlook that. After all, he’s kind of cute, for a mortal. It’s taken some adjustment, but I’m learning to work my spirit free again so I can roam as in the old days, but I can’t meet him like this. Not yet, anyway. I’m filthy…

His mother is coming. There’s a sense of urgency, but I’m not complaining. He’s straightening the place up, and wonder of wonders–he’s actually mopping. Not a professional job, but not too bad. I’ve got a bit of a shine. Much better. I can do this.

Maybe he’ll think I’m a ghost. I sort of am, in a way, but I am also his floor. And I am, yes, very much real, and alive, and perhaps I will show him. Once his mother leaves, of course.