I have a new story featured on Luna Station Quarterly! It’s new because it was posted today and it has never been published until now, but I wrote it about three years ago. Maybe more, my memory is hazy. I was going on a camping trip with some friends and we had the idea to tell each other stories around the campfire, and I wrote the (preliminary) story for A Sea Without Oysters in about an hour based on my impressions of Scenic Beach and memorized its rhythms so I could Are You Afraid of the Dark freestyle it over the fire. Perhaps throw some sand in the flames. That never happened. We ended up talking about terrible movies all night. Nothing lost, I had a great time, and I had a story that I wrote in an hour that didn’t sound like I rushed it. It sounded like I pulled it from something else, like I was recounting some old fairy tale I read a long time ago. That almost never happens to me. I edit EVERYTHING.
I think everyone has in them at least one or two stories that happen automatically, they lay themselves out in the perfect format, all the right language, rhythm and strength, put down with such ease that they read like something that’s always been. I think that’s why in (the comic) Sandman when Dream takes you to the library that holds all the books that everyone ever meant to write, and there’s a book from everyone, that idea holds water. These are good stories, I like these kind of stories. But these lightning-in-bottle stories can hurt. They feel so good that they trick you into thinking every story ought to feel that way.
I can’t pinpoint another writer’s lightning stories. I only know my own. I read through it again this morning at LSQ because I like to see a story in its home and I still really love it but it is not my favorite story I’ve written. My favorite story took a week of muddling through a haze of an idea for the first draft and another two weeks of editing to pain over verb placement just to ensure the story moves in time with the skittering nightmares that plagued the first week. I am not saying that my favorite work is my hardest, I do try to avoid such simple cliche. I am saying that I can not wait for lightning to set off every story. Some fires take work to start, to maintain, but the results of lightning and of work are the same. Lightning is beautiful. To capture it is magic, but work is reliable. Always there when you need it.
It’s easy to read a beautiful story and attribute it to lightning and assume that everyone’s got a rod but you. I read Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver before I read its introduction (because I’m a dummo who’s all “introductions are fer chumps, yo.”) and fell completely in love with every bit of it, then fell completely into despair because how could anyone hope to keep writing after Jansson channeled lightning like that? Then I read the introduction; she struggled with the book, worked stubbornly, laboriously. And it is my favorite book. To know that it did not come about by chance is an endless comfort because I can not depend on chance for anything.
I didn’t cut my feet on the oysters at Scenic Beach. I sliced through the sole of my foot on a stick jutting out of a sand dune in Oregon about ten years before my husband and I went swimming at Scenic Beach. If I tell that story, if I remember to, it will take work to reconstruct that beach, the sword fights with sticks, the faces around the campfire. Or, perhaps, that scar on my foot will be hit with lightning some day and take on its own life outside my brain. But now, right now, I’m stuck with a novel that needs it’s continuity checked. It’s going to be a lot of work.
Oh, and uh… if anyone wants to freestyle some campfire tales, hit me up.