Capture No Lightning

Some stories flash onto the screen through my fingers as though I am a conduit for their lightning.  These are not reliable stories.  It can be years in between lightning.  But I want to tell stories more than once every three years.  I get fidgety if I don’t.

Recently I took part in a competition (gentlemen’s agreement style, no prize but the works produced) to churn out fully written stories in the span of two days.  One came easy, like lightning.  Two were like dredging mud from the back of my brain.  And two were like constructing lightning from the inside of a bottle.

Those last two worked.  They had the spark of a lightning story, they read easy, but in the throws of writing I was a bit of a mess.  Each story was written to a prompt (both to aid in story writing, and to show that each story was written whole cloth over the two days), and in my notes I had dashed off so many false starts that I can’t even decipher what I was thinking two weeks later.

But as I scribbled all my false starts, I tapped into old memories.  When I was very small, the neighbor girl was the coolest person in the whole wide world, and she liked to play with Barbies.  I did not, because I didn’t understand the rules to playing Barbies, but I wanted to play with her, so I ended up playing Ken most the time.  Later on, I had a craft kit, and I made my own doll because I really wanted a figure from a Nintendo64 flight simulator that nobody else cared about, and there is no holding back a nine year old with a glue gun.

These memories collapsed into each other, and where I had nothing, memories bubbled into story.

It helped that I had been exercising the parts of my brain wired for story.  The lightning I had constructed found a natural path toward character.  Writing is one of those practices that from the outside looks the same at step one and at step 100, but oh man does that practice pay off.

And all this might seem common sense to anyone on step 101 of the never ending staircase to authorial perfection, but I am putting this here to remind myself that it is possible to conjure a story when it feels like there is nothing.  Find your blank page and a pen, and fill it with nonsense.  Somewhere, eventually, something will spark.


easy peasey

Scenic Beach, Washington.

Scenic Beach, Washington.

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.