The power of the short story.
Funny how things run at times!
Back on the 20th, just six days ago, I published a post under the title of Oregon wolves, and book writing! Frankly, it was a bit of a hotch-potch of a post but it did include a reference to Melinda Roth’s book Mestengo, that Jean adored and I was finding delightful before ‘circumstances’ caused me to put the book to one side. For ‘circumstances’ read an email from the said Melinda. That, in turn, was the result of a comment that Melinda left on that post, namely:
Just read and re-read your draft of Chapter 23. Extraordinary. I hope you’re not going to leave us hanging… (sending you a private email to further make my point).The draft of Chapter 23 is good, good stuff. I found myself totally caught up without even knowing what came before.
It would be wrong for me to share the whole of that email without Melinda’s prior permission but I am comfortable in revealing this:
Another book you might consider (not that you have time if you’re going to get this book finished) is “Writing for Story” by Jon Franklin:
This a a very quick read, and I highly recommend it. There are a million books out there about writing, but this one gets straight to the point in a business-like manner and gives THE best advice about how to structure a non-fiction (or fiction) book. The author has won two Pulitzer prizes and uses his two winning pieces as examples – line by line – of how he structures a story.
This book is my bible. One day I was a ho-hum journalist writing mediocre stories. Then I read this book and the first story I wrote afterwards – following his guidelines – became a finalist for the Penn/Faulkner award. I don’t credit myself for this: I credit Jon Franklin and his book.
Jon Franklin’s book arrived last Monday and I’m already half-way through reading it. Wow, what a fantastic book. Because it sets out the power of the art of the short story, or more accurately, the power of the narrative non-fiction story. From page 23:
Then, in the ’60s, Truman Capote, a novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, performed a literary experiment that opened the way for a new kind of literature. Capote recognized and accepted the public’s growing interest in nonfiction but objected to the genre’s traditional dry style. What would happen, he asked, if a true story were told in the form of a novel.
If you go to Jon’s website, there’s a link to one of his short stories, Mrs. Kelly’s Monster, that is in the book. Do read it. Trust me, you will be impressed, enthralled and inspired.
So the logic and power of Jon’s argument slammed me full in the face. And, if you will forgive me, offered some comfort to this tyro author struggling with his first book; a nonfictional book. Because this approach of nonfiction drama resonated with me. For way back in the late 60s I had worked as a freelance journalist for a Finnish magazine, KotiPosti, writing about Finns all across Australia (long story in itself!) and much more by luck than anything else, had written stories in the style of a ‘true story told in the form of a novel.’
Moving on over 40 years, to when Jean and I were living in Payson, Arizona, we both attended a creative writing class held at the local college. One of my stories that came out of that class was published not so long ago on Learning from Dogs: Messages from the Night.
Which is all a long preamble to say that one of the many, many things that Jean and I share includes ‘putting pen to paper’ – story writing.
The following short story was also written by Jean when we were attending that writing course in Payson. Enjoy. I know you will.
She sat at the end of the bar. Her misery was palpable. An invisible shroud that hunched her shoulders and bent her head over the glass of wine. She peered into the pale liquid like it were a pool to drown in.
She was pretty in a faded way. Trying hard; skirt a little too short, blouse a little too low and blood red lipstick. Dark for a pinched mouth. A slim body the way I liked it! All around were drunken revellers whilst she remained in a bubble. I wanted to take her in my arms and crush her to my body and burst that bubble.
Hoisting my beer, I ambled to the stool beside her. She didn’t stir. Seemed unaware of my presence. I looked at our reflections in the mirror opposite. Then at Rose the barmaid. Rose of the buzzcut and tattoos. The tattoo on her neck. Then a small voice, “Why would anyone have lips tattooed on their neck?”
“Guess that’s where Rose likes to be kissed,” I said, taking a gulp of my beer and casting a glance in her direction.
“Yeah, that is a nice place for a kiss.”
She turned and a small smile twitched her lips. “I shouldn’t have come here. I’m not used to this scene,” she said.
“How long have you been divorced?” I asked.
“How can you tell I’m divorced?” she replied.
“Your ring finger has a wide indent.”
She fanned her fingers and looked. “Dead giveaway, isn’t it,” she wanely replied.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He came home one night and said he’d found someone else!”
“Younger woman?” I asked.
“No worse, a younger man!”
“Oops!” I said.
She swivelled in the stool and faced the crowd. The shroud was slipping perceptively. I finished my beer and beckoned for Rose to bring us another round. The divorcee was prettier that I thought at first. Her hand pushed a lock of hair behind an ear and trailed down her neck, then smoothing her skirt rested on a rounded knee. A fluid sensuous motion. I wanted to touch that hand.
“Oh God, no,” she gasped. Eyes large and face suddenly flushed. “It’s him with the boyfriend. They’ve just come in.”
“Don’t worry, Babe. Let’s just walk right past and get out of here.”
I took her hand and as we strolled past the two men I gently leaned over and kissed her on the neck. On the same place as Rose’s tattoo.
My lips lingered and with my arm around her waist, we drifted out into the night.
“That felt so good, what’s your name?” I asked.
“Elizabeth. What’s yours?” she asked.
Copyright © 2012, 2014 Jean Susan Handover