Short circuit

My every-other-Saturday writer’s group is compiling an anthology of short stories written by our members. At this week’s meeting, a colleague stated emphatically that short stories are about character not plot. As an opinionated recovering control freak, and perhaps, as someone whose contribution has a major plot and a half-dozen plotlets, I took exception to the pronouncement and spent the rest of the weekend hunting down ammunition for my side of the argument reading articles about crafting short stories as well as actual published short stories.

My brief (though intense) research revealed it’s true that short stories (3,000-5,000 words) are most often focused on how a specific time or event affects the life or lives of one or two major characters. However, each of our anthology writers is allowed a luxurious number of words (up to 10,000), pushing our stories into the “novelette” range, offering more latitude in balancing the character/plot proportions.

So there, Your Royal Highness of All-Knowingness.

Ahem.

I find that what I want most is to avoid heavy-handed or proscriptive focus on process and immerse myself in the joy of telling a good story. Don’t get me wrong–I know that structure and all the Strunk and White stuff matters. I also know that if one wishes commercial success, one must be aware of rules, guidelines, and standards. In short though, nothing trumps story.

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Write down the road

As part of my “get serious about writing” plan, I decided to check out a writing group that meets every two weeks at the local library. I’d known about the group for a while, but was hesitant about going because, well, I’m a bourgey snob. (In my defense, arrogance is my unconscious go-to state when my social anxiety and other insecurities kick in.) It’s a 3-hour daytime meeting, so I had visions of the chronically unemployed and the inebriated proffering poorly formatted screeds about 9/11 conspiracy theories or factually impossible westerns; or perhaps persons of a certain age writing in exhaustive detail about the history of fishing lures.

I was thoroughly surprised to find a group of four interesting and active writers who’ve been meeting for nearly a decade. Each writer brought 8-10 double-spaced pages to read aloud followed by a lightning round of direct and supportive critique from the other members. They welcomed me without hesitation and included me in the reading and critique despite the fact that I came empty-handed. Their writing was delicious–full of description, good dialogue, and depth. Very inspiring, and right here in my own West Virginian backyard.

All gone

I almost canceled my evening plans–the wedding after-party–because I feared a repeat performance by whichever woodland creature took down two of our chickens last night. I ended up going and came home to an empty coop…all six girls gone. A white streak of feathers bisects the driveway, evidence at least one birdie girl put up a fight to the death.

I noticed this morning that the garbage can had been ransacked, likely by a raccoon. A quick Google search turned up dozens of heartbreaking stories about raccoons decimating flocks. In some cases, the masked bandits actually pried the boards off closed coops, or maneuvered through impossibly small gaps in chicken yard fencing before ravaging the captive birds.

I made the girls a batch of organic whole wheat couscous studded with blueberries today. My last vision of them as I drove off to socialize was their happy and enthusiastic scratching and pecking at what would be their final meal.

Empty nests

My small flock of chickens was savaged in their formerly safe coop last night, as I quaffed pomegranate martinis and mangled the Charlie Brown dance at the wedding of a friend’s son I’ve known from the time he rode shotgun in utero. We started with 25 day-old ‘rare and ornamental’ peeps just a year ago, and are down to a half-dozen thanks to the hawks, fox, coyotes, and other unseen predators that share this slice of mountain.

I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought a .22 rifle the day my daughter stood by helplessly as a fox made a daylight raid on our free-ranging flock killing and dragging three hens into the woods. We consider our chickens pets and feel it’s imperative to protect them. I once heard the girls squawking an alarm and went out to see a mammoth groundhog with a choke hold on Bertha, our Aracuna. This was pre-rifle, so all I could do was shake my fist and shout. The groundhog glanced over at me with a Robert Di Niro Taxi Driver “are you talkin’ to me?” look, and held my girl a beat longer before releasing her. Post-rifle, I saw the wrestling rodent saunter across the yard so I grabbed the .22 and sighted down the scope my son gave me for Christmas. I fumbled with the safety and fired a round. The groundhog put it into four-wheel drive and zoomed 20 feet up into a tree. I took aim, winged him, and had to shoot again because I couldn’t stand to see him wounded.

I was shaking and crying and horrified at what I’d done. It’s hard to reconcile taking one life to save another…and in this case, the groundhog wasn’t threatening the chickens; I wasn’t sure it was even the same groundhog.

My daughter is lobbying hard for us to get another batch of chickens, but I’m not sure I can handle the drama and trauma of raising and losing more girls.

Work in progress

I’m employment-challenged, so I spend a fair bit of time scouring Craigs List for a gig that doesn’t require Fred Astaire-like moves with an “Open House” sign on a street corner, or a willingness to sling espressos for minimum wage and minimal tips, or a CDL and my own semi. I made the short list for a position as a wine tasting room staffperson, but once I learned that cleaning the bathrooms was a non-negotiable part of the job description, I took myself out of the running. I didn’t feel I was above the task, rather it was the oog factor. I worked for years in my mother’s bar in South Bend, Indiana, and there was no refusing Delphine Cooper when she ordered you to swab out the restrooms at 3 am. Donning double rubber gloves and a surgical mask, I’d wade into the men’s room first; it was a urinal cakewalk compared to the range of effluvia and female disgustingness spewed and splattered in the women’s bathroom. *shudder*

I applied today for a cashier position at the local Borders bookstore–inspirational, aspirational, and benefits; who could argue? It was an online application and I figured it would take 10-15 minutes tops, and it might have had they not administered the Myers-Briggs and asked other assorted psychological questions–“If you came upon a group of fellow associates gossiping would you: A) Join in to make sure they weren’t talking about you; B) Join in and steer the conversation to another topic (especially if they were talking about you); C) Go and tell a supervisor they were gossiping (which will ensure they will talk about you); or D) Walk away and get your gossip from trustworthy sources such as Us Weekly.” Wisely on the part of Borders they don’t let you know how far along you are in the application process, so an applicant has no idea how long the ludicrous interrogation will continue. Uh, two hours. That’s right, 120 minutes of “People who talk too much make me angry–Strongly Agree; Agree; Disagree; Strongly Disagree”; and “If you noticed a spill on the floor and a customer came over to you to ask for help would you: A) Ignore the spill and help the customer; B) Tell the customer to wait while you clean up the spill; C) Tell the customer to wait while you find someone else to clean up the spill; D) Blame the customer for the spill and have them drop down and give you 20.” Sheesh–all for what I’m sure will be $8/hour and a 10 percent discount, if they haven’t already met their quota of middle-aged INTJs that is…

 

 

Write of Passage

I have started–and abandoned–about as many blogs as diets. I even abandoned a blog about dieting. BUT, hope springs eternal. If mothers with small children, a full-time job, Etsy storefront, and a troubling addiction to scrapbooking can find the time and fortitude to blog, well then I think I’ll work on my psychotherapy degree right now because those kids are going to need serious couch time in a couple of years.

Ahem.

I’m finally serious about writing. I’ve said that before, but now I feel it. So I view starting and keeping this blog as a way to honor that feeling. I also see it as writing practice…building up muscle hoisting nouns and verbs…crunching unnecessary adverbs…training for word marathons!!

Uh, you can see I need pah-len-tee of practice, yes?