This is a short story that turns out how you least expect.
Everything ends up reflected on the waxed hood lying outside the tinted windshield. The deep green of the thing itself colors everything that it shows me, any small groove showing black in the pure white vista and the reflections of the trees slipping across, bending and distorting to every curve and contour. The white snow hangs on the drooping branches of evergreens, immobile in the gently blowing winds. The freshly fallen snow stretches out ahead waiting for the oncoming wheels of car. The edge of the road just melts into the landscape under the white covering of snows past.
The two of us, Claire and I, reside within the confines, our means of conveyance, safely away from the cold outside. The warmth of the air resonates with the materials in easy grasp of both of us. The dark, rich woods accompanied by a trim of honed steel does nothing more than feed our senses. My hands firmly in hold of the soft leather intricately woven into the round steering wheel. The car eases through every twist, not once losing traction, until reaching our destination, my mother’s house.
We stop in the circular drive amidst a collection of four other’s such vehicles set upon this house for the same reason. I withdraw the keys and our gift from within the confines of this now sleeping car. Entering into the cutting chill from beyond these doors, my wool jacket provides a suitable battlement against the undeniably cold winds. The onslaught targets any points of weakness, hitting my face and hands with the biting cold that dominates the winter season. I move around the car admiring its quality and the fact that my black and burgundy choices are just skin deep, as the car’s looks. The belt line slopes up adding an aggressive look that means nothing more than that.
I go to Claire’s door, just a few steps from the house, and hold it open for her. Claire wears a long coat with a white scarf that keeps the warmth in. The lightest of touches shut the car doors. We proceed hand in hand up to the grand double door of beech framed by plaster columns. Mother greets us with Father not far behind. I remember her wearing the same thing last Christmas, a maroon dress with a matching scarf. Dad is in a forest green sweater with brown slacks. They seem happy to see us, if not a little relieved.
Claire attended many other occasions here in the familial home hence the memories of other, more innocent times. I rid myself of the jacket, now turned burden by the sudden warmth of inside. Claire takes off her scarf and coat revealing the comfortable but beautiful dress for this evening meal, a close resemblance to something found outside, a lily. It features two shades of the color orange, one dark and one bright, each of the two constructed into elongated/stretched out petals, making up the entire thing. The embroidered center crease from a reflective, almost metallic, light orange. The petals wrap around her body from her knees up in such a way that it just works. The upper extreme of two petals transform into the straps that lunge over her shoulders. She hides her hands inside the pockets at either side. I proffer up my hand that she then accepts. We enter into the dining room stuffed with guests and a bloated table of ornaments. I recognize everyone there to some degree, from people I know well to others I just know. Everyone is dressed for it.
The two empty seats at the other end of the table remain the only in pristine quality. We pass by every chair, not by convenience or choice, but by necessity to meet up again on the other side.
Irena, Claire’s absurdly young aunt sits in the first seat, across from her husband Gary, and next to my mother. The head of the table needs to stay empty for some reason I can’t think of. Irena models a dress inspired by rain with the embossed velvet and tear shape cutouts. A striking midnight blue almost as black as night itself highlights the embossed sections of a rich blue as processed indigo leaves. She looks happy and animated with the group conversation. Gary is in a black suit covering up a shirt, aquamarine as the shallow waters of a warm tropical sea.
I’m surprised to see Morris, Claire mysterious cousin in somber black like from a funeral party celebrating the life of someone no longer with us. Jenna, Claire’s twin sister dresses up in something strapless that I don’t even glance at. Rachael, an aunt of mine ventured here in a white suit and black shirt. I pull a chair out for Claire, and seat myself next to Morris and across from Rachael. I look down the table at everything set up in all our names. A runner of leather lines the length of table and then some. The table dresses with candlesticks of silver holding nothing more than sand. Each place setting, a bowl housed over a silver charger.
We expatiate upon something incoherent but somehow understanding that it means something good. My mother leaves to get the meal out to all the visiting people and family. Her return is accompanied by a cessation, the complete body of idle conversation taking place. The green soup is passed around from person to person, each one scooping an amount into their bowls.
The meal is underway with the consumption of this blended concoction of leeks, potato, tomato, and pepper. The pleasing taste — reminding me of even better days — lulls me into a feeling of security besides the relatives I’m trying to impress. Everything around me lurches left then suddenly right. This turns into shifts in every direction that doesn’t make sense unless this is an earthquake table, which this house clearly isn’t. I feel myself lurching forward, commands to my body useless. I can’t stop myself with my arms or even my neck. I fall, headlong into the soup bowl. Luckily my head lands sideways, rendering just one eye and nostril useless. Someone comes up behind me. They lift up my head as if saving me from this loss of control, far from the aim of drowning me in soup. Soup drowning it is. My head is completely submerged in this heavenly soup despite my struggles against it. I can’t move anything except my face and breathing. I can’t get out, better to just accept it. I do.
I recently finished reading Swann’s Way, volume one of seven in Remembrances of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time. That volume is 600-something pages. I’m reading a guide at the same time. After each volume, I’m comparing my thoughts with the verdicts delivered by the reading guide. That isn’t exactly the best way to get the most from reading this but as the preparations for reading more literary work. I have my eyes on IQ83 by Haruki Murakami.
That’s a long way away or maybe sooner than I think. Anyway this is a summery/reaction to Swann’s Way and the reading guide the group’s using, Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide to Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. The book is divided into three parts. The Overture, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place-names: The Name.
The Overture is a real bore in my mind. There are a few interesting tidbits in there, but forty pages seems overkill for a waking up sequence. It’s long but effectively primes you for the writing style you’re likely to experience. Brevity is a tad more important later on. It never reaches the expectations of today’s rapid gratification.
Combray is the memories Marcel has of his childhood. It details his experiences of visiting his ailing Aunt Léonie in the summers. There’s a lot there about his childhood desires and experiences. The guide refers to Combray as one of best childhood experiences in a novel of this era. Reading through, I noticed a few things. Marcel is ailing from some mysterious condition which I suspect is just getting colds that are quite severe. That sickness reduces his activity considerably. Still, he’d much rather stick his head into books. Marcel attributes good qualities to people he likes and people he would like to be like down the line. These memories Marcel remembers were triggered by eating something he enjoyed in those summers, lime tea and madeleines.
I like to think Marcel and I would be kindred spirits if we ever met. That makes me feel good, and that’s reason enough, but there’s more. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and that enabled me to distance myself from peers. In addition, I loved reading. That love is what got me into writing. Then, I wanted to be like those charismatic people who can entertain an entire room without breaking out in sweat and make people like them. And I remember my past history to a similar extent. I think we’re pretty similar.
Swann in Love was my favorite part of Swann’s Way. According to the guide, it’s the closest that Proust gets to traditional story structure. I agree. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Swann meets Odette. He doesn’t commit right away. Then, he’s in love with Odette. Swann gets jealous. He asks too many questions and finds difficult answers. In lack of love, he tries with another woman. That’s the plot of Swann in Love.
The beginning of this part was the first time I loved reading this book. It makes me a little sad that the other sections won’t follow the basic plot structure. And a theme of this book is love leads to jealousy. That’s true. Love always comes with some unwelcome jealousy as a bedfellow. That’s especially true if you have abandonment and anxiety issues. Jealousy can make love sweeter by contrast. Working on your self-worth might reduce these issues. Surely possessiveness makes the jealousy worse. That’s a theme in this book that bugs me. Any number of themes bug me, so that’s basically a given with anything I read.
Place-names: The Names wraps up everything. It cross applies the lessons learned in the previous sections of Marcel’s young life in Paris. Then, it echoes the fact much more is going to change.
Each section is like a novel in its own write except the transition sections: Overture and Place-names: The Name. That’s not the way any book is organized these days except memoirs. Because In Search of Lost Time is the very first memoir as far as I know.
That method isn’t acceptable in fiction these days. I know it’s not fair to Marcel Proust, his many fans, and the English literature community to compare a book written something like 120 years ago to stories these days. That comparison is of paramount importance to current writers of fiction trying to learn from Proust. What elements of Remembrance of Things Past can be used to write fiction in the time we live in now? What elements won’t work? For example, putting two storylines in one piece of fiction. They need to smoothly merge from one to the other despite section breaks. Some things can end and be picked up later but never left hanging forever except at the end. Simultaneous story lines are permissible if they’re all pushed together.
I’m listening to Taylor Swift on repeat since the release of her sixth album reputation a few weeks ago. I have always looked up to her as role model of success and creativity. That seems a little ridiculous when I started writing at 23, a full six years after Taylor Swift made her debut. It seems impossible I’ll ever get anything published at this point, but I’m going to try. A lot of things motivate me. So far, I’ve never been able to get those reasons all fleshed out on the page. This is my attempt at doing just that with a few references to Taylor Swift’s musical journey as seen through the eyes of a fan.
reputation has a deeper theme that becomes clear after listening to Taylor Swift’s previous albums. There’s a big difference between the version of you that’s projected out to the crowd, and the real version people close to you see. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust discusses various identities you go through as you change and grow through life.
reputation then goes a step further by saying there are multiple ways to see that duality. The difference between the best version of you and the worst version, light and dark for the sake of brevity. Then the version you put on social media and the real you. That feels like a cheap attempt to tap into the current Zeitgeist. The songs aren’t about fabricating an identity on social media. I admit showing that with music is tricky. But Taylor Swift accomplished that in You Belong With Me (from Fearless). Turning that into a whole album is very difficult.
And the lighter parts are easier to share than the darker parts. That’s because of the social unacceptability, and the fear that indulging in darkness can make you into a horrible person. Of course fearing you’ll become evil is a sign of goodness right?
The struggle is finding the courage to be yourself with people spouting their ideas of who you’re supposed to be.
I could make this into a post supporting that conclusion. The cover booklet of reputation starts with a brief note explaining the meaning of the album. That storyline feels superfluous.
This is about my experience with that transformation. Starting overly concerned with what a few people thought to not caring what other people think about me.
As a teenager and until a few years ago, I would say I don’t care what other people think. I didn’t fit in with other kids. Those themed days we had in high school. Well, I didn’t participate. I didn’t stay in the corner assigned to disabled students. I wanted to go to regular classes with non-disabled students. I was in all Honors classes. I scored academically like a normal students. For all intents, I refused to be typecast. That seems like not caring what other people think, except that was what my parents expected from me.
My parents never put pressure on me to achieve academically. I was just trying to be like my parents to feel closer to them. That’s something I always wanted to feel, love. Pursuing the same aspirations made me feel closer to them.
I always craved affection in a tangible form.
In order to feel something from the reticent displays of affection provided by my parents, my unconscious amplified my emotions. That way I could feel close to them. That’s the biggest problem I face, extreme emotions. It’s even bigger than my physical condition of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I’m not trying to level charges against my parents. They tried the best they could and the best they knew. Without them I wouldn’t be alive today. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Those extreme emotions made me very clingy to friends and people in my life as a kid. That meant my friendships didn’t last very long. It was an intense friendship in my mind but really annoying to my friends. It was frequently like the friendship between Erika and Clementine in Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty which I happen to be reading at the time of writing this.
Then I went into the phase of just following approved behavior.
Being that strange was too painful. All my emotions became subdued and locked away. The resulting anger from suppressing everything turned inward. Wondering what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why am I messed up?
That’s what we train men to be in this society. To suppress emotions we don’t deem acceptable for men. Anger is allowed. Slight sadness. And happiness. Everything else should be suppressed away or bad things happen. Being alone. Insults and perhaps the insinuation you’re gay. That means everything has to be converted to anger and thus become acceptable. Slowly that’s starting to change. Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It leads to trouble expressing emotions, and difficulty explaining what’s going on inside. That leads to troubling things like suicide and loneliness.
Being socially acceptable is the goal of Taylor Swift’s eponymous first album. It’s about innocence, love, and anger that’s a little cute. That’s how this story starts. Fearless and Speak Now follow that same pattern and camouflages the rest.
A song like White Horse shows exactly what I mean. I wasn’t listening that close to the lyrics, but it didn’t sound sad to me. It sounded like it was saying I don’t want you anymore. The music video shows a sad messy breakup.
My isolation and social ineptitude continued through high school and three semesters of college. Then reality caught up to me. I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Around 18–24, people with my disease get into breathing issues. I got my first pneumonia. It was a few days in the hospital. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My dreams of going to college were dashed. I tried summer classes and online classes. My health requirements were too much, 8 hours sleep and breathing treatments.
That sent me into depression.
My extreme emotions make me highly susceptible to depression. If you’re feeling too much, it’s easier to just tune everything out than deal with it. That especially happens when an onslaught of bad emotions hit me. There was nothing except clearing my lungs and airways, sleeping, stuffing my stomach, and watching C-SPAN. I was steadily losing weight from expending too much energy breathing. And I was home alone with a PCA, all day.
Three years into my depression, I got a trach. That was freaky for the first two years. I couldn’t sleep overnight because a nurse was sitting in my room. An emergency situation happened in the first two months, I couldn’t breathe. I got sick every few months after. It was deadly not to care, the way depression made me. I needed to mediate to stay calm and not go crazy from breathing through a tube that could clog at any moment. It was a new experience, having a trach and a ventilator to breathe.
There was one good thing to those first years with a trach. I got a stomach tube. Slowly I got up to weight. From 63 to 117 pounds.
My back is really messed up. It’s curved like an S because my back muscles weakened too much before my back was fused to a stable state. After surgery, my curvature was 50 degrees. That surgery happened when I was 15.
That means getting a trach tube to fit my curvaceous airway is tricky. My brilliant ENT doc found a trach that worked for me. Unfortunately, that trach tube is really tricky to change. With my curvature, any correctly fitted trach is difficult to insert.
My brilliant ENT doc had trouble changing out my trach.
There are several layers of flesh between the outside of the throat and the airway the trach tube sits in. So the doc pulled the old trach. He tried putting in the new trach. It was a ton of force on my neck. The connections between my airway and chest were hurting probably at five out of ten, but let me tell you that was nothing. The trach tube didn’t go in.
When changing a trach, they always have a smaller trach if the correct size can’t be inserted. That smaller trach went in. At that point, I hadn’t breathed for about a minute.
My ventilator was hooked up. The breath didn’t come. I had intense pain in my neck.
The trach had gone between the layers of flesh in my neck. The trach wasn’t in my airway. I told them I couldn’t breathe. I was looking at this innocent ENT resident across the room from me.
The doctor pulled the trach. He called for a trach tray to re-establish my airway. Luckily, that wasn’t required. My brilliant ENT doc got the trach into my airway finally. Then, I was breathing again. I remember the events with a precision that happens when you almost stop breathing.
I also remember what was going through my head. I looked at that innocent resident. I wondered what would be the emotional fallout for him, that fellow Indian if I died in that room.
I’ll ruin you.
At least my life would have a lasting mark beyond the heartache my passing would cause. I was desperate for my life to mean something in those last moments. I no longer cared if it would be something good. Facing death strips everything away and leaves behind something you can’t guess.
Then an eerie calm took over my head.
So this is the last thing I’ll see.
My vision went yellow. It was like looking through amber at the world. Then everything started to look normal again. The resident was scared. Man was he scared.
That’s probably projected emotion. In difficult situations, you project your emotional states on other people or things, effectively removing them from your person.
I stayed the night and had to be put under to get my correct trach put in.
That made me question my life. Which is common after what I experienced. Is this what I want? Sitting around and just surviving day to day. What’s the point? Keep in mind I was depressed around that time. That’s when I thought about what I could do. I have a ton of time to think about stuff when people do medical things to me. That became meditation, at first. Then something that had been a desire from years ago resurfaced. That dream was to write science fiction.
That’s when my transformation starts.
Taylor Swift’s trajectory radically changed with Red. That album was happy at times, but it was usually sad. The end of a relationship, liking danger, sadness, and the fact of love love being elusive. Off hand, I remember just a few songs that were happy, Begin Again, State of Grace, and Everything Has Changed.
I wrote the most acceptable science fiction story possible and heavily obfuscated the darker elements. It was a crisp, clean, bright future. That doesn’t make a good story in itself. Then, I added memory and cryosleep elements to make a story. I thought I wasn’t good enough, so I wrote heavily wrought prose.
Some quirks were there because my parents have basically reversed gender roles. My father takes care of people better. My mom likes dealing with things instead. My father is more emotional than my mom. They even stand like the opposite gender. My mom stands on both feet. My dad favors one leg. That explains the strange gender roles I put in my first book.
I noticed a few other strange things. It could be argued that the supporting female character was actually the protagonist. In the length of the novel, she’s the hero. But in each individual scene, the main character, a man is the hero. Anyway, I enjoyed writing from a woman’s perspective more than I thought possible.
That’s based on me being hetero-normative. I can love women in a romantic sense. That extends to writing from a woman’s POV. I can’t have a romantic relationship with all the duties I need to complete for my survival. I even wrote a song that states my case. It will probably be really sad. I’m self-conscious putting it up here.
The Way I Remember You
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you,
The way I remember you.
Love escaped me in the dark.
Lost to the brightness of day.
Light wasn’t there for me then.
It never came my way without you.
I can never be without you
Not even for a day.
Everyone around us
Has only what we can dream.
We can only be onlookers
On what everyone else has seen.
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you
The way I remember you.
We never know when our time will come
It’ll not be in forever, but some day.
Until then, we try to experience what was lost
What we can never find again
The love of another we can’t be without.
The trouble we can’t live without.
There’s accusation in those eyes
Eyes I’ll never see again.
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you
The way I remember you.
That was fun, right?
If you love someone that’s out of your reach, than imitating them makes you feel closer to them. Like reading something, they like reading. Doing something they like doing. It’s like the fan wanting be like the star. And the closest you can get is falling in love. Which is what happened in Black Swan, this compelling psychological thriller movie that came out in 2008.
Nina wants to be a natural dancer like Lily. Nina dreams of sleeping with Lily.
In Taylor Swift’s 1989, she starts to own everything that has gone wrong. She might get hurt. People might not understand what’s going on. All that doesn’t matter, because she just wants to be herself. It doesn’t matter what that means to everybody else.
My second book, the Remember Sequel was an excursion into everything that Remember wasn’t. With Remember, I avoided sex. The characters from Remember were stumbling around in the dark while everything miraculously worked out for the best. In the sequel, they were self-aware enough to see the end and help it along.
I’d focused a ton on making Remember based in reality. That limited my science fiction. In the Sequel, I abandoned that constraint.
The first character I wrote in the Sequel was sexy in everything she did, like Tiffany in Truly Madly Guilty. And she was looking for something she couln’t have, durable love. She was a compelling character I enjoyed to write.
Taylor Swift’s reputation has more allusions to sex than her previous albums, in songs like Dress and So It Goes….
Wildest Dreams was the closest to that from 1989.
Then I started Book 2, The Trouble with Dreams. It has a deep thesis that a perfect life doesn’t exist. And involves more sex. Sex is one of those things that should be hidden away to make people comfortable, like religion, race, mental health, and sadness. I still didn’t have the guts to actually write erotica yet, but I had to read some not to accidentally write it. Labels mean a lot.
What’s in a name except meaning?
A few months ago I would have said nothing is in a name except a shared definition.
Then I finally wrote something pieces that looked professional. The first was kosher. Then second was PG-13. The fourth was erotica. It had to happen eventually, right? I have no firsthand experience, but it seems nice. And it’s a part of growing up. It’s the modern day’s rite of passage like hunting was long ago.
I can write whatever is required in service of a particular story.
The shedding of what other people think of me has been the biggest evolution of my writing in these five years I’ve been at it.
The mirror-like surface of the water stretches out a few feet below me. My tawny white wings glide across the steady gust produced from just above the surface. Miniscule adjustments steady my course. Wings trail each arm, outstretched to capture any available lift. The end of each crowned with solitary feathers sticking out as if fingers. I resume my mission to vanquish the mad blight on these lands.
I work my way up with effortless strokes of my mighty air movers. These wings move forward slicing through the smooth air for lift. My wings slide back through the air, facing the sky. The rhythmic motions prove efficient from years of traveling on the air. The fluid motions start at the base and move through its length each stroke. I retreat from the restrictive landscape to my home within the wide sky. Everything shrinks away showing me what there’s below. The fast flowing river nestled inside the river valley of its own creation. The V-shaped valley carved over many eons gave rise to valleys for the helper rivers. Each inset valley ends in a waterfall, continually working to deepen the efforts of erosion. I drift over to the black stone bank to catch an uplifting current. I glide in a spiral within this elevator shaft.
My constant vigil holds for the archenemy of the Doves. The Ravens, a vile race of winged carrion eater, will to devour anything that matches their vile nature. In the rare chance they are looking for a hunt, our food is the target. Anything between them and their hungry desire trampled as is the way of the Raven. These foul creatures run amok in their own lands, any encroachment into the border greeted with lethal force. It stays within my full rights to eradicate any Raven that crosses my path. I intend to reap revenge for all the wrongs committed by them. The consumption of our dead cannot go without consequence.
The “caw-caw-cawing” erupting from the throat of one such trespasser pierces the air. Those Ravens get bolder in their actions with each passing day of peace. I look out searching for the source of that latest vocal outburst. The lair of this enemy assumes a nature unmistakable in these river valleys, a tunnel at the back of a waterfall leading to a second exit. Any sign illusive but I see it now. The sight of black beak and feather, the blackness of an unscrupulous eye gazing at me verifies enough. I exit the upward spiral to meet these Ravens in their fortress.
The maneuver in this case, well rehearsed to deal the most damage, of such precision and speed it relegates defense to impossibility, at least. I increase the strokes to generate a fearsome wind at my back. The speed flattens my feathers against my flesh. The protective coverings shield my eyes from whatever awaits me. Just reaching the fall acts as my cue to begin the flightless roll. My arms, enshrouded in wings sealed against my sides. The tail feathers strapped across my legs leap into action controlling my spin. The water showers me in the cool refreshing wash, preparing me for the necessary action.
The start of combat slows every otherwise fast movement to snail’s pace. I look up to see eight of those hideous creatures dirtying the pristine white stone. A compliment of eight throwing knives and two cutlasses fit to dispatch these foes. I spin to see the first looming figure standing there. A flick to the wrist liberates the knife from its holster and sends it into the crow. I see the white of marbled stone. The next villain faces the knife as easily as the last. I wonder why they aren’t following their namesake of attack. They remain motionless prey to my predation. The next one takes another flick of the wrist, a reaction from within the solemn guard. They move in closer to my path, allowing me to pass. The sinister plan of defense starts to emerge. The next Raven quakes down with a hit to the throat. My perfect feathers take on stain of the deep red blood from my attacks to throat and heart. The sticky, sickly liquid forms a restrictive barrier upon mine own feathers, hindering movement. The next two impede, impossible to miss. The shells of dried blood encase me to greater and greater disability. The hesitation on my part allows the first defensive action, the blockage of my knives by wings. This measure is far from effective due the delayed response and the purely defensive maneuver. My doubts creep up that I’m the aggressor in this situation. My attack must continue for my people.
The crowning room of this base resides, the nesting room. The clutches of the eight males outside lives inside. One female stands vigil as all that’s left of this site, an oval room encrusted with countless dozens of multicolored eggs. The female waits for me at the rear exit. The cutlass from my side lands upon my breast, ready for action. My limited motions enable plunging a narrow blade into the breast of the final Raven. Her mass and bulk puts an end to my twirling and sends me into a summersault. I break through the glass barrier at the second exit and descend into the dark chasm in my entombed feathers. The hollow prison of my blood and theirs follows as penance.
I’ve been thinking about how to write a piece of flash fiction. How to fit the components of a story in 1,200 words? I accidentally write 250-500 word stories. I have no intention of writing a particular scene as a complete story. Those short story paragraphs are in the middle of a longer piece. That actually works really well. If each scene has all the parts of a story, then multiple scenes build a longer piece.
Learning about this length of a story, 1,200 words should help my story writing a ton. It’ll help me find the essential parts of a story. What can be left out, and what can’t. It’ll teach me more ways a story can go. And writing that word count should take me a day to type out. That’s how I learn best. I closely study things related to my primary goal. Flash fiction is so close to novel writing, we’re splitting hairs. Most writers practice with short stories before getting into longer things. I also want to get published somewhere. This new skill will help.
I was researching literary magazines for somewhere to send my future short stories. That means, for me opening tabs in my browser of potential magazines. I screen through for criteria the precludes a few things that aren’t feasible for me. I’m not happy ordering a print copy because that’s difficult for me to access. I’m not sure about ordering digital versions from providers with worrisome persistence. If a digital service shuts down, it’s possible you lose access to everything on there. That means publications with a few free examples. At first, I was going through the list at Writer’s & Poet’s. Then I found a list for new writer’s. All those tabs are open in my browser.
I add each to this spreadsheet I keep. That includes the description of what they want and submission guidelines. I read through two pieces and a lot more if they’re shorter. I started researching The Zodiac Review. It’s just flash fiction. I’ve come across a lot of magazines that accept flash fiction. Given the fact that the majority of the short stories featured on Radical GK are less than 1,000 words, it should be pretty easy, right?
Well, it’s not. Those stories aren’t exactly complete. Those were designed with emotional impact in mind. They weren’t supposed to be stories in themselves. And they bear that out. The writing is lyrical but too difficult to understand. Look at The Sum of an Empty Life. About 13% in, C decides to wait for Brian Whalen. That’s the first plot point which is supposed to happen 20-25% in. The second plot point is C walking away with Brian’s briefcase. That happens 44% through the story. That’s nearly right. The part where C figures out the combo is the third plot point. That’s 79% in. The fact I wrote that story two years into my writing journey is amazing to me. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The story structure is nearly spot on.
I didn’t come prepared to write this post. That simply means I’ll discover something in the process. The last paragraph planted an idea. Maybe I should just forget about everything I learned in Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and return to the way I used to do things. Just maybe.
Anyway in my research, I found a few ways to tell a story in 1,200 words. There’s this much longer piece (The Watchers). It feels like that method could be brought over to this. You list the scenes with a break between each scene. That could work, right?
Some story lines are better for that method. If the story is done so much that the reader knows the sequence of scenes. If it isn’t scene after scene in rapid succession. Some time can pass between each scene. For example the development of PTSD in soldiers. It usually isn’t one event (scene), but a long series of stressful events. If the sequence of scenes isn’t all that important, or the sequence of scenes doesn’t matter. For example the story of going from place to place, a travel story. Establishing the connections between scenes is tricky. And the reader is always searching for how much time passed between each scene.
There’s this other story (The Game) that uses another technique to tell flash fiction. I call it the slow reveal. It combines story with exposition. That works well when one event exemplifies a continuing pattern. I’ll provide an example of my own below. As the indicative event takes place, exposition adds the missing plot points on their time cues. The plot points can come from the exemplifying event or the flashbacks to the continuing pattern. In the piece I linked to, the first plot point is the generalization of what usually happens (20% in). The second plot point is how they act towards each other, the protagonist and his competition who is also his friend (53% in) Then the argument about who won (77% in). That matches the established structure nearly to a tee. That’s the structure from Story Engineering. I have another shorter example from this blog I follow.
The last technique is the obvious one, writing it like a regular story except having the transformation happen in one scene. Like when a battle turns into a win. What happens is the enemy heavily bombards you. A new enemy weakness is discovered, and you defeat them. That isn’t too difficult.
1,200 word stories need a plot that works with the length. Too complicated, hard to explain plots are much harder to get across in the limited space. More nuance can be achieved with the second technique, the slow reveal. That’s using one event to establish a pattern of behavior. That kind of feels like cheating to me.
A story needs to do a number of jobs in sequence as Story Engineering taught me in definable terms. Here’s the list from memory. Gain sympathy for the character from something bad happening. Establish the character or stakes. Basically the before state. Then the character decides to take the quest which is the first plot point. The character responds to what the choice brings. The character finds something internally or externally that allows them to face the conflict, second plot point. They fight against the conflicting force and lose. The character finds the missing piece to success and the will to do anything to prevail, third plot point. The events play out, enemy defeat or character dying in the process. That story I divided into plot points above shows there are many ways to fill those requirements. Accept the challenge, get permission to engage, and proof they will do anything to remain friends. You can combine those requirements anyway that works into different scenes as long as the sequence doesn’t change. That means anywhere from one scene on up.
This is an example plot. Abuse story: woman is abused, entering relationship flashback, hiding bruises at work, buying a gun flashback, trying to talk about it with support person, returning home hoping he isn’t there, pushed to the ground changes her mind to kill him, murder then admitting to self-defense. You could easily replace any of those scenes with anything the fills the same purpose.
Hiding from abuser, has to return for belongings, friend doesn’t show up so leave, buying gun/pepper spray, return to get stuff and defend, stalking causes restraining order, face him with gun, run away/disappear.
Fear with partner, abuse cause visible symptoms, run away, abuser follows and finds, ran away after facing enemy, finds new partner, kill abuser together, live free from suspicion.
All of those work. A different method perhaps, but it’s doable. Those are my explorations of 1,200 word stories. The plot has to specifically engineered to fit the constriants of the length. With novels, any story can fit. A focused story is required for shorter formats. That’s everything I have to say. Feel free to add more in the comments below.
I finished reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frev. It gave me things to learn I frequently ignore. A few tips redefined a few things like what to explain and what to leave out. The book is about writing dramatic stories, not the literary I frequently write. My literary pieces have a strong dramatic storyline and a deep internal conflict. The lessons learned are invaluable in improving my writing.
The character must be fathomable. Explain their motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process. My writing process directly opposes this requirement. I establish a new thought pattern in my head to match the character I’m writing. That’s only possible because I’ve spent nearly a decade and a half mediating. Acting out physical traits isn’t something my diseased body is capable of. That mental model is as close as I can get. Thinking like your character makes the motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process apparent and self-explanatory. It should be second nature. Stuff that doesn’t feel wrong as that character. Everything except that particular action feels wrong. Putting that on paper isn’t tricky at all, except I never know how much to put down. This book helped a lot. Include everything required to understand the characters.
Each scene should be a story in its own right. The scenes should have all the pieces of a story. A beginning setting up the conflict. A middle of rising tension. Finally a build up to the conclusion. When a book has that it’s difficult to stop reading. A perfect example is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It followed that pattern. Each scene was a story in its own right.
There needs to be a connection of causality between scenes. Watch this, the best discussion on causality that appears in a feature film in my opinion. The events must require the events prior to lead up to them. A connects to B, then C. The web of causality must connect from one to the next. Again this is exemplified in Dark Matter. Of course, literary novels frequently forgo that rules. But getting things in line helps to justify those tangents literary is famous for.
Dialogue should also follow the structure of a story. No conflict in dialogue means it can be rewritten or scrapped. Standard conversations we have every day can easily be reduced to one summarizing sentence. We talk about this or that.
Sometimes things go down. You come away reeling and need to spew everything to someone you trust. Those are the sorts of conversations dialogue should be. I noticed that in my first novel. The lunchroom conversations were boring to read but the arguments were impactful. Leaving out the daily dribble of conversation helped my story beyond measure.
Reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel and Dark Matter in a basic requirement for any writer. The theory expressed in the book about writing is exemplified in Dark Matter. Read both and get back to me. Kidding.
Boss as overseer and employee as peon are all in this together, mutual benefit for shared work. Whether one does the work and the other does none, the cycle continues in perpetuity. Hamsters peddle away at infinity wheels, like all of us. The one reprieve remains time away discussing the futility of work for naught. Work grows to a necessary evil for all dreaming to the goddess of the American dream. I and my would-be lover in better times, now puerile crush talked over plans. The joke of a thought to me Nick, but in truth my secret love’s, lost desire come true. Some connections gift everything we need to dismantle our corporate overlords. With the plan devised, Irena became mine to take. Together we do this and forever be as one. Irena in truth drags me where I daren’t go, and I become the destroyer.
I swiftly move around my floor of the Stephens Institute, using the ability to see through the darkness all around. Cam footage verifies my comprehension of the situation as a black cloudy streak, nothing else indicating my presence through space. After roaming without a set goal, I dart towards the heart of the building and the way down or up. The door opens in anticipation of my entrance, responding to my thoughts and B3 awaits, my destination on this little undercover jaunt.
I wait complacently for my arrival within this cloak of darkness, enshrouding the entire space housed within this vertical moving chamber. Once there, I duck into a nearby room to complete the mission. My black suit bristling with explosives prepped for commencing the destruction I initiated by my very acts. Unloading my arsenal upon the walls of this hollow predicates a hasty retreat to the research department — pursuant of escape unscathed and suspicion free.
The elevator meets my needs as before, facilitating an unremarkable trip to the sixth floor. Moving with purpose through the hallways, the central space of the research division, delivers the induction lab, my final refuge prior to retreat with flames. I run into the open doorway, jump into a roll, and land comfortably in the patient’s empty bed. The room (indoctrinated by shadow cloak) is the place I wait, twiddling my thumbs to pass the seconds/minutes.
A white tendril of light enters the sanctity of my lair, harboring a sleeve-collared hand inside the ever-expanding white light. I grab it with satisfaction and relief as we take off running to the escape route, our ally, soon to be betrayed. The moving room fills with a mixture of white and black form our respective dust suits celebrating the final, end all trip for this building. I look at her, and she looks back with trigger in hand ready for this. We nod together, signaling accomplishment of parts in a two-pronged attack scheme, albeit from clandestine. The carefree, jubilant race through the lobby ends haltingly at the getaway car. Pounding arteries, epinephrine filled, arc with electricity through reluctant parting hands with no other recourse to board the getaway.
The agreement to trigger our preparations unleashes brilliant fireballs from the lobby and roof. The fiery plumes stark in the diminishing light of late evening, punctuate our time together at work.
The two of us move out of the city to the northern mountainous region, the furrowed terrain surpassed with no hesitation. We near the end of our journey, the upper outcrop of canyon overlooking a lake at sunset. We are jubilant with our victory and ourselves, planning our next move, the future, and all that. The dust suits presenting a plague in these conditions, necessitates removal of our masks. It is me and Irena, in her black, asymmetric hairstyle, the last guardians of data destroyed in flames. We embrace each other in warm affection, our dust clouds swirling together.
I just watched Black Swan. It’s a movie that came out way back in 2010. I wasn’t ready to watch it at that time. But anyway, I liked watching it. The story is about a ballerina named Nina learning how to be the lead in Swan Lake, White Swam/Black Swan.
I didn’t know the story of Swan Lake before hearing it in the movie. It’s about a girl that’s turned into a swan, the White Swan. Finding love to escape the curse. She finds a Prince to love. Before he can turn her back, he is seduced by her evil doppelganger, the Black Swan. The White Swan is heartbroken. Instead of living as a swan without her love, she commits suicide.
According to the movie, the White Sawn requires perfect ballet. Nina is very good at precision and the perfect ballet required for that role. The Black Swan requires a more natural style. Nina can’t allow ballet to happen. She can’t let herself go and simply respond to the music. She can’t be out of control. That’s the part she can’t do.
The movie is about learning to let go and batting her self-injuring tendencies. Nina unconsciously harms herself and imagines perfecting herself by throwing away unacceptable parts of herself. I think that stems from her desire to be loved by her mother. If Nina isn’t perfect, she doesn’t get affection, just a strong hand controlling her. Anyway, Nina’s symptoms get worse with the pressure on her.
Nina is jealous of the new ballerina in the company, Lily. I liked Lily’s character much more than the troubled Nina. Lily is a natural. She let’s herself go in the movement of the dance. I enjoyed the unself-conscious way she moves through the world. I hoped a little of Lily would rub off on Nina.
I wanted a different storyline than what was presented to us. I wished Nina and Lily built a relationship, so Nina would learn what she needed to. That sadly didn’t happen. Events evolved in a different way that I didn’t like much.
Black Swan was a great movie. It made me think, and I love movies like that. Isn’t it startling how deeply our parents can influence our future self’s. It even more fascinating that we can’t remember the formative time before the age of two and a half years. Those few years greatly determine our personalities.
Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.
This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.
Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.
All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.
Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.
Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.
I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.
You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.
A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.
When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.
This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.
Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.
Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?
Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.
Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.
Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.
Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.
A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.
There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.
What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.
For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.
I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.
Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.
That’s still a little confusing.
The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.
Another over-complicated dream sequence for you guys to read. I edited this one down more than the others so far.
I entered a room engulfed in white tile. Dark gray streams of concrete stood still, solidified within the field, ripples and all. Four pictures adorned the entirety of four walls. One profiled a fjord in its depth and security. Another depicted a temperate rainforest abundant in tall trees. Yet another of a glacial lake framed with mountains caught my eye. The blue water of it entered the spider-webbed fissures and crevasses inherent to a glacier. The remaining wall presented a steep mountain top, the sheer cliffs allowing a tenuous foothold for the resident snows.
In the center of the space, a reflective, metal, human-esque sculpture floated up. I went to it. Upon a touch, it transformed into a gray padded body suit. The intricate stitching had a zipper that moved down the side of the neck, ran over the shoulder, across the torso, and down one leg. Both sides were identical.
I slipped the suit on, zipped up the sleeves. It fit perfectly.
My hand now became a contorted reflection through to the floor below. The entire room felt alien with a somber metallic sheen, and the pictures morphed to perfect mirrors. I tried to look at myself, just to see the opposite wall. Moving closer and closer changed nothing. I reached out and saw a ripple in the reflection. The truth of my invisibility dawned on me.
I knew exactly what to do, merely walk out of the room. The insane ability — yet untapped — rushed the environs into a blurred frenzy. The scenery went beyond any mortal feats of perception, somehow forcing a long forgotten sense to reinitiate. I intuited going out the door, turning right, walking up a flight of stairs, and stopping on the edge of the roof. We flew into a high jump off the roof, keeping our body narrow and straight, pleasing a new urge. The invisibility failing at downward speed necessitated swift accomplishment. I prepared to land kneeling, compressing as broaching ground impact. Rolling over face up, pounding the ground, threw me into standing. My quick reaction to every minutia occurred without thought. Circling a group of soldiers — all marked as friendly. Following the line in the sand, so to speak marking the path, avoiding any and all incognizant, running at an incredible speed into a two-story fence harboring spikes! Instinctively jumping right up, rolling tucked over the fence, I stood ready for anything.
Noticing a group in the distance, I sprinted there. My arrival went unnoticed by everyone there, marked as targets. That received a message to touch each target, depositing a piece of invisibility behind. The pearlescent mirrors shone in the near ubiquitous gray. A countdown sounded… one… two … three…the targets crumpled into neat mounds all around.
At the epicenter of the carnage, there swirled a black cloud dropped out of the heavens. Shortly, stabbing me by throwing a sword. Engaging the new target, my suit became a prickly defense and attack arsenal of spines. I entered the ominous black gas quagmire to perpetrate my continuing attack. My defense articles tossed away a hastily thrown enemy sword, the first of an unrelenting black bolt barrage and other metal armament, with glimpses of a humanoid dripping in black ooze. One bolt penetrated my defenses. A surge of adrenaline jumped me away a 100 yards, the black mysterious weapons system stayed immobile at enemy camp. I withdrew my attack/defense scheme, my most powerful option requiring a high degree of precision jump onto the target. The jump was ready. Jumping as high as possible, everything grew small. The suit changed shape, directing me over the target. The invisibility flensed off to near my feet, the gray underlayment remained for my protection. I plunged into the high reaches of the dark cloud, then impacted with the force of a small earthquake. The cloud dispersed with the disintegration of the enemy.
Secured behind the invisibility barrier, a high pitch whine signaled intruder alert. A cold embrace ran up along with an associated numbing climbing through me. A black film tarnished the lustrous finish. I yelled for help. No one was there to hear my cries. Everything that was mine, my body, my thoughts, my feelings, ceased to exist. I gasped my last breath.