Today I’m sharing a short story I wrote in 2007, about 3 years into my first novel. Like all new creative writers, I’d read a plethora of books on the writing process, attended writing conferences and tried my best to provide myself with the closest thing to a MFA that I could expect at 50-something.
Taking to heart all the advice offered by the “experts”, I tried to do it perfectly. Little-by-little the reality dawned on me that every writer has the freedom and the need to discover what works best for them. The theme of this story is part of my experience; the details are pure fiction.
Location, Location, Location
A Short, Short Story
Becca grasped the aquamarine notebook in her trembling hands, reached for pen with its padded surface and took in a deep breath. “I’m ready,” she announced to Nimble, her rough-coated Jack Russell Terrier. “Where’re we going?”
She’d prepared for this moment for days—no, years. The time had come to embark on her life’s quest. After all, she was about to turn fifty.
Longhand would flow through her fingertips, unfolding onto the paper. True, there’d be the drudgery of transcription, but writing is an art form and like the sculptor with clay, she longed to touch the medium of her creation.
After she hooked Nimble to his leash, Becca hopped in her Neon and headed off into her future. “You’re my lucky totem, boy, my muse.” The dog cocked his head, nipping at her words.
When she arrived at Rancho San Rafael, Becca spotted a picnic bench beneath the boughs of a spreading Oak. She stopped, unloaded and retrieved the virgin journal from her backpack and opened it.
Closing her eyes, Becca strained to conjure up the brilliant storyline that had visited her at two in the morning. Before she’d put her pen to paper, a pigeon in the tree above her delivered an enormous pea green dropping that splattered on the pristine page. Becca yelped and tore the first few sheets from her tablet, crumpled them and slam-dunked the wad into the waste receptacle nearby. She stomped back to her car, Nimble in tow, and didn’t write that day.
Nimble nudged Becca before seven the following morning. She awakened slowly. The story-line had reappeared and hovered just below the surface of her consciousness. She grabbed her pen and diary in a desperate move to recover her thoughts, but the canine whined to go outside and pee. Becca hauled herself from bed and opened the door for her dog. The tale scampered out with Nimble. She returned to bed and ensconced herself beneath the downy comforter. If I don’t stir too much, maybe it’ll come back. But nothing happened.
She grabbed her pen and paper, propped she up in bed and began to write, just for the sake of writing but Nimble’s whining pierced her concentration. Becca set aside her work and peeled back the covers to let the dog back in the house. A relentless cramping gripped her trapezius and she had to admit that writing in bed didn’t work either. Another day passed without a written word.
The following morning the phone jolted her from sleep. Becca croaked a drowsy Hello.
“It’s eight thirty, her mother’s voice informed her. “Tell me I didn’t wake you up–aren’t you writing? I’m not subsidizing extra sleep!”
Becca hesitated. “I’ve got a problem. I don’t know where to write. Monday, I tried the park and yesterday, in bed. I can’t find the right location and I refuse to be stuck in an office. Any ideas?”
“I’m paying bills for three months so you can jump-start your book, not a minute more. I expect results.”
“That’s only thing I want, Mom. Honest.”
“Then check out that little coffee shop down the street from you—the one with the easy chairs. Maybe that will inspire you—it’s a very artsy location.”
“I’ll go there today, great suggestion!”
Becca arrived at ten o’clock. The smell of coffee assaulted her. The crowd was sparse. She paid for her latte, sprinkled a dash of cinnamon on the froth and made her way to her nest in an overstuffed chair by the unlit hearth. She scrounged for her supplies, opened the notebook and poised to scrawl. The plot remained vague so she titled her work THE NOVEL, printing the letters in upper case.
The opening line’s got to grab their attention, she reminded herself. She wrote in cursive script that would’ve done the nuns proud: The morning started out calmly enough. Angela could not fathom the unfortunate turn of events that awaited her on that July afternoon.
A young couple meandered over and sunk into the love-seat opposite Becca. She watched as they ogled one another, oblivious of their surroundings. Sexual tension shimmered and invaded Becca’s space, dissipating her focus. Gathering her belongings, she relocated to a table toward the front where the sun’s glare bounced off the front window, causing her to fumble in her purse for sunglasses. Becca penned a second sentence.
Two women entered the café, choosing seats nearby.
“I don’t know how much longer I can stand William,” the younger one stated. “He doesn’t pull his load and nothing I do is good enough for him.” And on she rambled.
Becca attempted to ignore the tirade but couldn’t. She downed the tepid coffee, seized her gear and went home. That day she cleaned out the garage.
In the days that followed Becca continued her hunt. She drove to the library, but couldn’t settle in the lumpy chair. The daily story telling for children, now out of school, distracted her. The reader’s singsong voice and conspicuous pauses grated on her nerves.
Returning home, she arranged a low plastic mesh chair in a corner of her yard. Nimble tormented her with his ball and pull toy. Bees swarmed and mosquitoes buzzed. She spent most of the time swatting.
Then Becca rearranged a corner of her office and dragged an abandoned rocking chair from storage. She fetched a pail of soapy water and spent the afternoon scrubbing off the cobwebs. She caressed the ancient pinewood with lemon-scented polish. The cushions were beyond redemption so she shopped the next day to replace them. That night she added two paragraphs of description, but the plot remained fuzzy and she didn’t know where to go next.
“I’ll read a how-to book on novels,” she told her dog. “That ought to get me going.”
Five weeks passed. Baca’s Mom invited her for a stay. “Maybe you can work on the beach—it’s peaceful there.”
Becca booked her flight, packed her duffel bag and left Nimble at the canine hotel. On the plane she studied character development and point-of-view. “Angela’s a Pisces,” she said aloud, startling the overweight man in the middle seat. Point of view continued to confuse her.
Every morning Becca packed a PBJ and hauled her macramé bag to the shore. Ideas flowed like molasses. Her skin crisped and wind fought battle with the pages. Guilt forced her to observe this ritual with compulsion. At the end of a two-week labor she’d delivered three chapters and returned to Reno. The coast had left her dry.
Nimble greeted his mistress with frenzy. Separation guilt had dampened Becca’s creative energy and she succumbed to his need for walking and swimming in the river. Three weeks evaporated.
“How far have you gotten?” her Mother asked at the end of two months.”
Silence answered Becca, reinforcing her escalating panic.
I’ve got to do something. Becca tossed the wretched notebook on her desk, booted up the computer and began to copy the manuscript. As she transferred the written word onto the keyboard a miracle occurred. She typed the six chapters, accomplishing a first rewrite in the process, but couldn’t stop. Her fingers dashed across the letters of the alphabet, directed by a higher power. The next day she returned and the days after that. Nimble remained psychologically tethered to her side. Each afternoon, at precisely two o’clock, she’d take a break and reward him with a walk along the Truckee, then hurry back to her computer.
Becca shed her concern with location. She dragged her journal to a jazz concert and added pounding music to a passionate love scene. She drove to Tahoe and in her car transported serenity to a moment of intense communication. On a bus she described the blur of buildings as a backdrop to a clandestine encounter then tuned out conversation in a restaurant or Baskin Robbins. Or tuned it in and added it to her story.
“The place for writing is right inside me,” she announced to her Mother, towards the end of her sabbatical. “The first draft is finished. I’m letting it sit for a few weeks, and then I’ll do my rewrite. In the meantime I’m working on a short story that I started at a basketball game.”
My wish would be that this may help at least one reader setting out on the daunting task of writing creatively.
I’m spending my time grappling with the technological aspects of self-publishing my second novel. Sorry I haven’t been around to read much, but I still try to visit those who comment and to read some of the wonderful work you post. Have a good writing week. Live it to the fullest.