behind the trees
beyond the fluttering
somewhere in the nondescript
in the sound
in the landscape undulating...
to miss and misinterpret
R L Raymond
From Half Myths & Quarter Legends
Photo shot from a hotel room years ago on this day. So many possible stories linked to this one. Maybe it could be a writing prompt.
droplets of condensation
down the cheap tin
of the cheap can
residual handprint bleeding water
the vacant chair
threadbare from years of lounging
a scratchy radio in the background
She still nags, chicken-pecking in the kitchen, about this, that, the other thing, almost drowning out the broken music. What she doesn’t realize is that
after all these years
up and left
beer still cold
chair still warm
no longer there to listen
no longer there to care
he walks down the driveway
smoking a Camel
his other hand twitching
the straw that broke the camel’s back
From Weakdays, Corrupt Press
After eighteen months of antisocial isolation, masked interactions, and all-round negativity, I found myself always looking for the dark, eschewing the light. This vicious circle isn’t good in any possible way. Personal relationships become strained, micro and macro outlooks tainted, and not of least import, writing suffers. Yes I contributed to a COVID Anthology (poem was successful); yes I was lucky enough to have a few darker pieces published (not that I am overly ‘light’ at the best of times); but I started feeling some dark repetitions creeping in everywhere. This darkness veiled how I looked at everything. So, this morning, I decided to try some positivity exercise. Immediately I noticed that this activity played directly into my writing.
A pickup truck was tailgating me (tailgating should be a cardinal sin), eventually passed on the wrong side, drifted back into my lane without a signal. Easy to get upset, but I tried to look at the scene from the ‘light’ side instead of the dark. Here’s how that went:
He is in a hurry.
Maybe he is a doctor, called for an emergency.
He can’t use his signal.
Maybe he is left-handed and resting his hand after a close call.
I wonder what kind of close call. Maybe it was…
And a story started blooming right then and there. So instead of brooding in the usual anger, I turned the situation on its head, shook it, and — lo and behold — little bits of story fell out. Not bad…
Will I be able to do this all the time? Highly doubtful. But, once in a while, I can a) keep the blood pressure down, and b) get a few ideas or images I can eventually use. Win / Win.
No matter where you look, always be thinking of things (ideas) you can be squirrelling away for future use. Bring a bag and a notebook and a camera.
Wherever your ideas comes from, be it image, fact, lie, it is interesting to have some type of documentation surrounding those ideas. Maybe there is a biographical link, a creative link, an environmental link, a detail that someone, somewhere, sometime will pick up about your piece. Because the original ideas are oftentimes NOT the core of a story or poem, they can add a certain depth for the serious reader. Having the ability to “uncover” these gems can be very rewarding to the parsers. To others, this type of backstory doesn’t matter. That’s great. Writing should be for different audiences. But giving the hardcore fans, the historical sleuths, the biographers of the future something to discover can be satisfying.
Writing can be a jigsaw puzzle. Although the endgame is a complete image/narrative, the process, the construction, the genesis is mostly lost to readers. Just imaging the exhilaration of finding a little piece of the puzzler inside the puzzle — a tidbit, a factoid, a revelation. This can elevate the serious reader to another level.
Biographical content is not necessarily the key. “Write what you know” can be the worst advice a writer could attempt to follow. This said, if there is a cool detail that lead to your piece, a detail that you can jot down somewhere in a journal, kept safe for future discovery, that is a priceless nugget. Even if it is totally unnecessary for the final fiction, that nugget can add so much to someone who had taken the time to discover it.
With practice, and by following your personal voice, style, aesthetic, these nuggets will start to manifest in the overarch of your oeuvre: links, parallels, juxtapositions that alone mean nothing; bits that taken together, maybe with the addition of extra-textual notes, become beacons of meaning.
That’s why it is important to save your notebooks, to have someone who knows about them, someone who will, eventually, help the world decipher the hidden stories within your stories.
The author is dead, maybe, but long live the author!
Keeping old books, stories, poems alive is important. Once something isn’t new or on the shelf anymore doesn’t mean it should fade into obscurity. Digital publications that go offline, presses that die, journals that shutter their doors, all contribute to this growing issue of slow word death. Make it a point to seek out and preserve these. Take a screen shot. Find an old, abandoned review and share it. Long live the old-ish stuff!
Here is a poem published 10 years ago in a now defunct magazine. Glad I have my contributor copies.
Why does fresh ground cinnamon taste better? Does it actually taste better? Either way, there is a difference.
To me, the act of rasping the cinnamon into coffee grounds, onto an apple, into a barbecue rub adds to the experience. There is an ownership of the spice, an effort in making the most of the ingredient that elevates it. Instead of just tapping a few shakes from a plastic jar, you actually make the flavour come alive through action.
How does this apply to writing? Simply. Don’t use canned ideas, expressions, clichés, styles, conventions. Make something new. Create something never done. Act on your writing. Go beyond the idea of stringing words together; go deeper, into sound, structure, meaning, history, foundations. Writing should be active and not a passive exercise in retelling. This is best exemplified in Hollywood these days. Reboots. Reruns. Retellings. All boring, adding nothing new… When a well written, original movie comes along, it truly stands out. In each case, there is a conscientious effort to make a masterpiece, outside and beyond what already exists.
Practice by reading different styles, from different sources, from different cultures. Soon, you’ll transcend the words, you’ll find the elemental spice that make the work unique, vibrant, original. Then find your own ingredients, break them down to the constituent parts, build your own, fresh literary recipe.
at a dinner party
holding the knife
in her left hand
fork in her right
she glares at him
french vinaigrette dripping
from the mesclun
on the tines pointing down
the wrong way
- Can’t you take anything seriously?
his lamb is rare
the plate red-rimmed
“Feel my cheek -
look at the tissue -
blood specked bulls-eye
on my neck…
then tell me I’m not taking this seriously.”
From Weakdays, Corrupt Press