“Lady and gentleman of the literary press, it is my great pleasure to announce I’ve finally agreed to write my memoirs.”
(I beam while waiting for the opulent applause to die down).
“Heaven knows it wasn’t my idea to do this. No sir. Not by a very long shot. Truth is, I simply feel duty bound to placate my dozen of adoring fans—and the entire literati gang down at Dooley’s Suds and Laundorama—who have been hounding me to write my life story lo these many years. “Shut up with your endless stories, yutz,” they kid, “go someplace else and write ‘em down.” Yutz being the Algonquin word for big noble wind. Well, lady and gentleman, I’ve finally taken the hint and I’m . . .
“Hey, windy boy, don’t bother puttin’ me in your memo-ire—unless you’re plannin’ to put Edie in, too. A story without sweet Edie is sure to tank titanic, so I won’t want to be in it. It’s all right if you want to throw scruffy ol’ Yellow Man in, though. I don’t care if he tanks. I’m getting low on cat food anyhow.”
Excuse me for a moment, lady and gentle . . .hey, where’d the gentleman go? Never mind. It seems Sherwood, one of my fictional characters doesn’t quite understand the personal nature of a ‘memo-ire’.
“Sherwood, you go away this instant. I’m working here! A memoir is the author’s own personal story, you see? No characters required . . . nor tolerated.”
“You mean Mickey Mouse doesn’t appear in Walt Disney’s memo-ire?”
“Every rule has its one or two exceptions, Sher. I, on the other hand, have led a full and productive life completely devoid of character . . . uh, characters . . . I mean, apartfrom my meddlesome creations. My real life is ten times more interesting than my lies . . . fictions.”
“A book with no characters, huh? Does the United Union of Characters know about this?”
“There is no characters’ union, Sherwood. You must have made that up.”
“Yeah, but you made me up, ergo, you must of made it up, too. You gonna put in your memoir how you were the first to champion characters’ rights by founding our union?”
“I told you, figment, there is no union. But if I had founded such an organization, that’s precisely the kind of thing I would discuss in my book.”
“No union? Then how come Edie an’ me send you union dues every month?”
“Not now, Sherwood, I’m making a very important announcement.”
So sorry for the interruption, folk. Now then, as I was saying, the time has come for me to step out from behind my fictions and finally reveal the real life adventures that inspired me to create such beloved characters as, Private Detective W.W. Peel, legendary black bluesman Bumpus McCoy, and baseball All-Stars Ryan and the Sea Lion. I promise you gritty, gripping, backstage stories ripped right from the pages of journals I have so painstakingly unadulterated since . . .
“Hold on, Sam Spade.”
“Crap! Peel, what are you doing here?”
“Protecting my reputation. You were never a private dick, just a civilian. Without my help, cupcake, you couldn’t solve a twist-off cap.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Peel. I’ve assisted law enforcement authorities on dozens of investigations.”
“Sure, by confessing.”
“Assistance is assistance, Peel!”
“An’ what you know ‘bout de black blues, whitebread? I ain’t whisper in y’all ear, you soun’ like Peter, Paul and Scary, chump.”
“Et tu, Bumpus?”
“No, I et t’ree. And dey was good, too.”
“And what’s hard cheese, writer man?”
“Aha! I know this one! Hard cheese is a nasty fastball paintin’ the corner, Ryan.”
“And how do you know that, All-Star?”
“Because you told me, Ryan.”
“Damn straight. Did you ever hit one?”
Lady and missing gentleman, rumors concerning my impending memoirs, have been greatly exaggerated. Just like everybody else’s.
This is what I get for giving my conscious names like Bumpus, and Peel, and Sea Lyon.
Author’s Note: Truth is, I’ve played the delta blues with delta bluesmen, I’ve hit Major-League hard cheese, and I’ve confessed to the authorities more than once. But I’ll take modified fiction over embellished memoir eight days a week. I’ve got a feisty conscience, you know? A bunch of them.
♦ Lee Allen Hill is just a leftover hippie with a penchant for word-slinging.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.
My grandmother was a spell-binding story-teller. I could sit for hours listening as she spun her tales, lacing her wisdom and lessons beneath the façade of characters. I never knew where truth disappeared and pure fiction began.
When I discovered that Grandma stretched the truth, I was angry. I felt duped, vulnerable and foolish. I could only imagine my slack-jawed expression as I bit into the bait she threw before me. She let it drift across my peripheral cognizance, knowing that accepting the lure was far more pleasurable than ignoring the temptation.
What enabled her to fool me was creating a scene that allowed me to walk into her fantasy. Granny gave me reference points that I was familiar with, and as she pulled along, she’d begin describing the character. By this point, my imagination allowed me to visualize the place and person. If it was spring, she’d often mention the scent of lilacs or the sound of an owl hooting from the depth of a forest, using my senses to accept what came next. I was hooked.
“What happened?” I’d beg to know. But before she raced ahead to the crises, the big event, she’d set up the conflict or the tone. It seems that Jack and Jill were not allowed to wander in the forest without a parent. She got me nervous. I knew full well that if my mother caught me breaking the rules there’d be hell to pay. The conflict was relatable, something I completely understood.
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met a real witch, but by the time Grandma’s story revealed a gingerbread house in the middle of a forest and an old crone with a cauldron, I could believe anything she told me. I was face-to-face with the crises in the story, primed, pumped and totally enthralled.
If she’d allowed those children to be stewed for supper, it would have been a horrible story, but she gave me resolution. The kids were saved.
The scene or setting is the backdrop of a writer’s masterpiece, the canvas where he will begin to build a piece of art by layering elements that will create a complete picture. But this isn’t a paint-by-numbers kit. The writer that organizes his writing by separating the basic elements and attacking each story requirement as a stand-alone challenge, will wind up with a story that sounds like a shopping list, something like this:
Paragraph one—description of setting
Paragraph two—introduce character
Paragraph three—introduce the conflict
Paragraph four—show crises
Paragraph five—give reader resolution
Using this formula, a story should never be longer than five paragraphs long, wouldn’t you think? That would be tragically predictable. Instead, it is important that the writer weaves the elements together, feeding the reader and encouraging him to go deeper into his world.
Some writers seem to go into a trance, becoming so hypnotized by a single element that they smother a story. Ninety percent of the time it’s scene setting. In the last week, I have read three stories, each written by a talented writer--all of them involved taking a walk. The first was through a post-Apocalypse city, the second, a subway ride and the last, a dessert island. In all three cases nothing happened. The writers got carried away, forgetting this was not a travel guide, but a story that required a conflict, crises and resolution.
Opinions on what constitutes a crisis may vary, but the final test to determine the quality of the story is always the satisfaction of the reader. As an editor, did I sigh? If I set a story down and my only comments are to commend the author’s creative use of adjectives, it won’t be published.
♦ Essayist, commercial copywriter and published short story writer Jade regularly demonstrates her ability to accurately assess writing talent as Page & Spine's Senior Story Editor. Her compassion for new writers is counterbalanced by her direct, often cryptic responses to submissions she does not favor.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.
First. From a phonetic point of view, I don’t like the word. It’s harsh. I prefer the gentle wave of the letter ‘W’ or the endless possibilities of ‘S.’
For this flash fiction contest, though, I would like to offer a chance for writers to respond to ‘First.’ Was it your first grade or your first kiss? The only rule is that you have to tell your story in flash fiction form:
Flash Fiction—maximum 500 words
Like all short stories, your entry should include a strong character(s), a setting or mood, a conflict/crises, climax and resolution. What separates Flash Fiction from a good short story is a twist, a surprise ending.
Two excellent examples were posted last week on P&S. Both written by Lee Allen Hill, the first story, ‘A Desperate Raid’, through words more often associated with the military, leads readers to believe soldiers are moving through the jungle. The twist is revealed at the end, when we discover the characters are actually monkeys.The second story, ‘The Viejo’, is about two soldiers preparing to attend an execution. Their intimate conversation reveals their individual thoughts about a firing squad and how each accepts the responsibility, wondering whose bullet will kill the accused. It is only within the last sentences that the reveal or twist allows the reader to understand that it is the prisoner and one of the executioners having the conversation.
Your story should be no longer than 500 words and e-mailed to P&S as per submission guidelines. Please mark your subject line 'First' and include the name of the author. It is a blind contest, meaning that N. K. will forward me your entry without author identification. The winner—or winners, I’d really appreciate you making my life difficult in choosing a single winner--will be published and the standard publication fee of $20 will be paid to the author. Please mark your subject line 'First' and include the name of the author.
Good luck. Our submission deadline is midnight, May 15th.
Standing stark naked in front of my closet this morning, I had to make a choice. How did I opt to present myself to the world today? I pushed back hangers looking at my wardrobe, stopping occasionally to speculate what was going on in my mind when I traded hard earned currency for a piece of cloth no bigger than a handkerchief. Front and centre was my ‘exclusive’ hoody and sweat pant collection. Heavily laundered and stretched to unidentifiable form, this was my usual dress code. Comfort. For a brief moment I fondled the velvet and lace gown and recalled the night, the dance and the arms that held me when I last wore the dress. It was silly of me to keep this relic in the closet. It made far more sense to pack it up and donate it to Goodwill. Perhaps another woman could do the tango and wrap herself in romance…
In the far corner was my jean jacket, still decorated with the pass that allowed me back stage at the Springsteen concert. Man that was my fiftieth birthday, for God’s sakes! Am I really that old that I continue to store memories and use real estate to harbour old clothes?
I stopped taking pictures just about the time that the digital age broke into a trot. There was a time when I carried a disposable camera (yes, once upon a time that too was inventive) around in my purse, but overnight, or so it seemed, pictures began to arrive via e-mail instead of envelopes. It was no longer necessary for me to capture the moment on film. Everybody was a photographer.
It was this reliance on outside ‘help’ that pictures became unnecessary. My Kodak moments were stored in my heart and my brain. I could conjure up the feelings by simply pausing to reflect.
I was gorgeous—coifed, perfumed, primped and primed, I was the woman who wore that gown. I was the aging philosopher who ate ballads for breakfast and trifled with poetry for dessert.
I threw on a track suit—to hell with the bra—and sat down to write. Translating the emotion, allowing readers to tap into their own memories, identifying with the emotion through words--remains the challenge. Every writer, expecting an audience, or a kindred spirit, must stand naked in front of their closet.
I could remember the candles, the scent of lavender from the bubbles in my bath as I prepared for an evening a very long time ago. Every aspect of the night is etched in my psyche. If someone presented me with a picture, a catalogued presentation of the way I looked that day, likely as not, my reaction might have been as imaginative as the grey track suit I’m wearing. The touch of velvet changed my perspective.
A writer must evoke the senses. In doing so, they will harvest the passion.