Tag Archives: fiction

Engines of drama

I’m thinking of posting more fiction in here, vignettes, episodes, the like. I haven’t read or written much fiction since graduating from Columbia in 2001. There are a number of reasons for that, but one of the ones I came to grips with happened when I was home with family over March and April. When I was in high school, and angry with the world as high schoolers are, I chose to do things my way by writing things. Usually novel length things that may or may not have turned into anything publishable, which isn’t really the point, anyway.

The point is this: I read fiction to escape. It sounds obvious, yes, but that’s what it was. It was an escape, a way to bide time, a way to be in a place I preferred instead of the onerous real world with its minutiae and obligation.

I reverted to my 16 year old self for the length of April. Honest. Fortunately I was self-aware enough to watch it happen, and take the opportunity to understand it, because this turns out to be the sledge the rest of me rode when I really began writing.

Before Tom Waits married Kathleen Brennan, he was well on his way to becoming a drunken-sot stereotype who sang only one kind of song, regardless of how masterfully he wrote and rendered them. And the way he got there was by being that drunk, by doing some really unpleasant and horrible stuff. And he came to the conclusion that you don’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they feel.

Well. I didn’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they felt, or to write the damn things down with any semblance of versimilitude.

The problem with my 16-year-old methodology was that I went on the ride, completely and unreservedly. If I was reading something really devastating, I’d be devastated. No wish or desire to be in the real world at the dinner table having steak and potatoes. Same if I were in the middle of a hellacious scene. And I cracked that wide open while I was home, a world of sensation and hurt and awe that I hadn’t gotten near in decades because I couldn’t aford that kind of disconnection, not when rent and utilities were on the line.

The trick here, see is that these powerful feelings — they’re what make something real. They don’t have to be front and center (in fact, they’re less effective if they are), but they need to be there in the distance, casting a pallor or sepia wash over the scene they inform. A stage play scene is all emotion and the push-pull between two or more characters. A good scene, anyway. A compelling scene.

So what I’ve been learning, over the past few weeks, is how not to squelch that powerful emotionality. Instead I’m trying to find a way to harness it, or surf it, keep it from commanding me and still being able to let it do what it needs to and have it inform the work I create.

It’s friggin’ hard.

But these past weeks have been illuminating. I’ve had characters crop up that I really feel invested in, that I love no matter how rotten they are, and I find myself wanting to know just what they’re going to do next. This bodes well for the latter parts of my degree, but for now I need to be a bit more academic and things are getting a little out of hand.

Well, I can throw my arms up and drown, or I can learn from what’s happening. So off I go. And hence the little bits of fiction here and there. A safe outlet, small doses to relieve the pressure cooker without derailing the missions at hand.


Time to get things back up and running

So, the travel recaps may come trickling in every so often, but I want to do other things here as well. So instead of waiting to finish them off before moving on to something else, I’ll just do some parallel processing.

If you haven’t heard of Chuck Wendig, go educate yourselves a moment. Aside from providing a lot of sound writing advice, his actual fiction work is a hell of a lot of fun. I’ll be snagging Blackbirds when I get a chance, probably in the next month or so.

He also offers weekly flash fiction challenges. I’ve watched a number of them come and go and have never quite gotten around to doing one, until today. His challenge for this week is to visit this site and pick one of the five silly military operation names to use as the title for a 1000-word-or-less story. Mine, then, is:


Unproven Privet Bush

The war started over bad oranges, falling from a tree that reached just over the property line. The Framptons (sadly no musical relation) were fastidious about their yard, and about everything in and around their humble home.

The oranges were just foul.

Never mind that the Davies explained patiently that they were Seville oranges, that they were supposed to taste like battery acid, and that they were best suited to marmalade and you’re welcome for the free fruit.

The Framptons were having none of it.

The neighborhood association forbade fences. Too unsightly. Not in accordance with the enforced familial atmosphere demanded by this lovely housing development just twenty minutes from downtown. On a good day. On a very good day with most people out on vacation. No, a fence was simply not tolerable. And certainly not a fence that would reach high enough to stop wayward fruit from following Newton’s laws onto their hallowed lawn.

Ah, but there was a loophole. Gardening was encouraged, as it showed love and care by families for their homes. It was what all decent people did, wasn’t it?

Enter the privet bush. The Framptons were a family of action, but they were also a family of immeasurable patience. And a solid investment in powerful fertilizers. They planted the privet hedge late one spring, a little off season, but the idea had struck in the middle of the night after Mr. Frampton watched some lovely British period drama featuring Victorian gardens and other horticultural feats. And damned if he was going to wait a full year before putting his plan into effect.

The privet was touch and go that first year. The Davies originally encouraged the idea, saying it was a lovely way to bring songbirds and other animals into their yards, but the Framptons, a dour, sober, serious lot, said very little and watered very much.

Over the second year, the bush grew a foot in height. The Framptons were fiercely delighted. Mrs. Frampton even took a brief course on how to properly trim a privet bush, sculpting formidable 90 degree angles and sheer daunting faces. At least on their side of the bush. The third year was much the same, and the fourth required a stepladder to execute those precise corners.

Ah, but year five. The magic year, the year the privet bush started tickling the wayward boughs of the Davies’ Seville orange tree. It wasn’t clear, this early in the year, whether the privet bush would properly collide with the orange tree. And it wasn’t clear just how far along a branch those nasty oranges would flower. But this year would be the year that the unproven privet bush would finally come into its own. Bitter oranges and marmalade and neighborhood association rules be damned.


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