Snowbound Reading through the Decades

snowWhen the snow is up past your knees and you can’t open the door, then all you can do is stay in and read. That’s why I love the snow.

I’ve been wandering through the decades with a chronological short story collection and I’m stuck in the 1950s for now. The collection begins with a story published in 1915 and goes up to the end of the century. I’ve seen farming communities replaced by city life. Writing styles have become more rushed. Now I’m stuck in suburbia surrounded by themes of society’s expectations and restrictions. I’m looking forward to the 60s.

My favorite story from the 1930-50 era is “Resurrection of a Life” by William Saroyan, published in 1935. The character remembers being a newspaper boy in 1917, roaming the streets, shouting disastrous headlines. It beautifully shows what that might do to a young boy. Not only does he see the coldness of the city, but he repeats and sells stories of war.

“There he is suddenly in the street, running, and it is 1917, shouting the most recent crimes of man, extra, extra, ten thousand huns killed, himself alive, inhaling, exhaling, ten thousand, ten thousand, all the ugly buildings solid, all the streets solid, the city unmoved by the crime, ten thousand, windows opening, doors opening, and the people of the city smiling about it, good, good, ten thousand, ten thousand of them killed. Johnny, get your gun, and another trainload of boys in uniforms, going away, torn from home, from the roots of life, their tragic smiling, and the broken hearts, all things in the world broken.”

DSC01831_2We see and feel the city, the people bustling by, and the boy there in the middle of it all. While others think of war as abstract, he breaks it down to individuals. He sees their faces caught up in something large and monstrous. Toward the end, he still manages to find beauty in it all:

“And all that I know is that we are somehow alive, all of us, in the light, making shadows, the sun overhead, space all around us, inhaling, exhaling, the face and form of man everywhere, pleasure and pain, sanity and madness, over and over again, war and no war, and peace and no peace, the earth solid and unaware of us, unaware of our cities, our dreams, unaware of this love I have for life.”

Sometimes I take a break to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a great one so far.

Are you snowbound or enjoying the sunshine? What have you been reading lately?

A Century of Voices

bookI started the new year off with voices from the last century. I know, I’m weird.

The voices are contained within this volume of short stories. They’re in chronological order starting with the year 1915 so reading through them is like reading through history. Not the kind of history you read in textbooks, but the kind that’s filled with people’s thoughts and feelings. There have been stories about immigration and racial issues, farming communities and mobsters. Poverty. Cruelty. Injustice. And yes, hope.

Famous voices can be found through the pages, including the familiar ones of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the others, the ones I hadn’t heard until now.

One of my favorites so far, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, was published in 1917. It shows how often women were dismissed, even though they were always there farming, cooking, and cleaning. That attitude comes through as the normal way of things with passages like this:

“Oh well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend.

Reading through this volume has reminded me why I love short stories. They give the reader so much in only a few words. The best short stories could easily be novels. They’re packed full of emotion. In these times with so little time (really the way it’s always been), it’s surprising that more people don’t read short stories.

It’ll be interesting to see how writing styles have changed over the last century. I’ll keep reading through time and will let you know how it goes in future posts.

What do you think of short stories? Do you have a favorite short story writer?

The Great Escape

For Friday Fictioneers, everyone over at the Madison Woods site writes a 100-word story or poem inspired by a photograph. It sounds like fun and should be interesting to see how similar the stories or poems are once they’re posted each Friday. This week’s photo was taken by Jan Morrill. Even though it’s not Friday yet, it’s about time to start celebrating so here’s my first attempt.

He sprinted down the white-walled alley. A chill from the shadowed sand ran up his legs and settled in his gut. Each turn only led to more walls and more alleyways. The sky taunted him with openness.

If only he could fly like the birds he so loved to watch. He tried jumping but the walls proved too high. He scratched and scrambled and fell back down to the sand.

A sweet smell drifted from the door. Just as he took a step toward it, a hand gripped the back of his neck. Soon the dreaded leash was once again upon him.

What Do Bozo the Clown, the Ocean, and My Crazy Dog Have in Common?

Strangely enough, Bozo the Clown, the ocean, and my crazy dog all influenced me while writing a short story called “Wandering Universes.” I’m excited to announce that the story was recently published in Halfway Down the Stairs.

For any writers out there, this is a great publication to submit to. Each issue has a theme like “we all fall down,” “time” or “persuasion” and it’s fun coming up with a story or poem to fit each theme. This issue’s theme was “chaos,” which went along well with my crazy dog.

Bozo can also be pretty chaotic. I know this because I once appeared on the show and had to run around and catch as many balloons as possible. When the neighborhood kids saw me on television, they brought presents to the house and asked for my autograph. It was my one brush with fame. A lot of people think clowns are creepy these days, but the thought of Bozo still makes me smile.

The ocean, whether chaotic or calm, is always influencing me. In this short story, a couple continually walks a certain coastline, possibly too often, but doing so lets their minds wander. Until chaos arrives, that is.

In case you’d like to read it, here’s a link to my short story Wandering Universes.

On True Events and Fiction Or How I Was Bitten By a Monkey

I’ve been thinking about how true events mix and meld into fiction, forming something that’s both true and not true at the same time.

While nonfiction can be added to fiction, the reverse can’t be done. I was a reporter for a while and still freelance for feature articles. Fiction was my first love but I try not to let it sneak into any articles. As anyone who has ever seen the movie “Shattered Glass” knows, you can get into trouble that way. The movie also shows how fiction can make the facts a lot more interesting.

There is much more freedom in writing fiction. I love to get out and interview people for feature articles but whenever the time comes to sit down and write, the writing can feel constricted to facts and quotes. I’d rather let my imagination take over and drift into fiction.

Then just when I think I’m finally writing fiction, true events end up seeping in. In the short story that was recently posted here, the international incident on the beach did happen pretty much as described with maybe a few embellishments that hopefully helped to make it funnier. In real life, there was also a monkey on a leash that people liked to have their pictures taken with. That monkey bit me, which was also funny, but I couldn’t figure out a way to work the monkey bite into the story. It was just a little bite on the finger, but the lifeguard still gave me some antiseptic while calling monkeys, “little thieves who jump out of the trees to steal people’s sunglasses.”

Even as these things were happening, the idea to turn it all into a short story didn’t come up until I started thinking more about mixtures – from drinks to nationalities or cultures. There are lots of references to mixtures in the story, so I guess it makes sense that the story itself is a strange mixture of fact and fiction.

What have been your experiences with writing fiction? Is it always truly fiction or does the truth seep in somehow?

“View from Paradise” Short Story Published

I’m excited to announce that Independent Ink’s online journal just published my short story “View from Paradise.” This story was a Glimmer Train finalist and was rejected about 20 times (and revised many more times) before finding a home at Independent Ink. I’m grateful for the rejections because I think the story is better now, but I’m also very thankful that Independent Ink’s editors selected it for publication before the apocalypse.

Here’s the link to the story: View from Paradise

To celebrate, here are some pictures of the place that inspired the story, the Riviera Maya:

My characters aren’t me – really

A few months ago, the joy I felt after hearing a short story of mine would be published faded into what can only be called dread after realizing my family and friends might assume the character was actually me.

There were some similarities. The story opens with a sleepless night because of a snoring dog and husband (though the dog is really much more of a snorer than anyone else). Hopefully there aren’t too many other similarities, especially since I was trying to show how not to be.

In real life, I’m lucky enough to know a lot of characters. It might be tempting, but I wouldn’t turn a person I know into a character. I’d rather write character profiles, figure out the reasons why a character might do something, and watch that character come to life. Especially in a novel, characters need to live a more exciting life than most of us do. That’s why we like to read about them.

The fun of writing is in creating. It’s much more exciting to think up a character than it is to use everything from real life. I like to sprinkle a few real-life details in just for my own entertainment, but it’s still fiction. If some overall human truths are able to seep in, that can make the story better, but it’s still fiction.

Still, the more you say, “It’s fiction,” the more it sounds like maybe it’s not. So then writers have to learn not to care what anyone might think of their stories. Easier said than done, I know.