Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Forty Years" Wins, and Some Serious Backstory

It's been a couple weeks now, but I knew I needed to update you all on the outcome of the Mormon Lit Blitz this year. It was such a surreal experience for me, skimming through the post that shared the winners. Fourth place ... not me. Third, then second ... not me. I almost missed first place entirely, and then I saw my name. That was me!


It was such a thrill! And yet, I feel like there is more to the story that I should share.

I had been sitting on this story for years. I knew in my mind how it was supposed to feel, how it was supposed to end, but the several times I'd tried to put the structure together with the actual story were flat failures. So I'd set it aside again until it niggled at me and I picked it up.

Finally, one night, in one of those miraculous bursts of clarity that sometimes come, the words came out. I don't use the word "miraculous" lightly here. For me it was exactly that. I had prayed that if I was ever to write this story, I needed some help. There's a weird, fine line when it comes to talking about "inspiration" in writing, and I don't know where exactly that line is sometimes. I certainly don't want to blame God for having written this tale, but I will honestly say that the clarity of that brief time spent at the computer was a gift.

I still had to edit and polish the words now, but I had them on the screen. It was such a relief. I worked furiously and eventually had it where I wanted it to be (or at least as much as I could bring it to--I've already discovered things I would rewrite if I could, but such is life).

As I sat and stared at it on my screen, I realized I could not bring myself to let even my husband read it. I always let him read my stuff, even the horrible junk, but I just couldn't. It terrified me. It was somehow far more personal than a lot of the actually autobiographical pieces I had written.

To address a question that arose when I accidentally called it "loosely autobiographical," here are some of the actual facts:

It's more like "inspired by true events." Which is to say that a couple of the specific moments discussed in the story did actually happen to me, I did have a complicated relationship with my mom (who died four months before I married, not a year), and I have felt many of the sentiments involved. I did once overhear someone say that Mom had too many kids and it threw her hormones out of whack (as the seventh child of seven, I took that to mean it was my fault that she was a little broken). I do have fond, sweet, cherished memories of Mom helping me study for a spelling bee, as well as memories of her teaching me every craft under the sun and being a woman who loved to create beauty. I called my brother, whom she was living with at that point, the morning that she died--but I didn't think to talk to her.
 
And I do have moments where I worry that I am somehow irreparably broken, that I will pass on too much of my mother's soul's DNA.
 
On the other hand, my oldest child is only nine. There is time for us both to grow up, and I hope that when the day comes, I have a snappier, peppier sort of a pep talk. Also, Mom didn't miss my graduation or other important events. She was there. She was both, in some ways, a better mom and a worse mom than the one I imagined in "Forty Years."
 
That's fiction--it takes the real and bends it. The mother in my story is not at all my mother, even though in some ways she is. So for some inexplicable reason, the blend of fiction and autobiography was too tender--like prodding at a wound--for me to show my husband, Brice. 

And yet I submitted it to the contest. Because life is weird that way, and sometimes it's easier to share with complete strangers than with those closest to you. Plus, I didn't really think it would make it.

Then when it became a finalist, I was so excited! Until I realized that people I knew would be reading it. Worst of all, my siblings and my husband would read it! (It didn't occur to me until much later that actually the very worst of all would be that my nine-year-old would want to read it, as she wants to read everything.)

Still, I overcame that fear, and I advertised it among family and friends, and I tried not to think about how it would feel to have them read it, and I tried to pretend it was totally fine. I even encouraged them to vote--virtuously (and honestly!) asking them to vote how they really felt, even if it wasn't for me.

Which brings us to the moment that I discovered I took first place. Hooray! Callooh callay even! And then, with a sinking feeling, what if I didn't really deserve to win? What if I just got so many people to vote for me that I tipped the scales? I spent the rest of the morning feeling sick, wanting to celebrate but thinking I shouldn't. Because I probably didn't really earn it fair and square.
 
 And the thing is, I'll never know. No matter how many of my friends and family come out of the woodwork and tell me it was great, yada yada, I'll just never know. And even if I did know for sure, it wouldn't change that feeling. That's part of the story. It can't be changed by external adulation (which is still fun and nice, of course). It can only be changed on the inside. 
 
And there, I think, I will fall back to "Forty Years." I do think that sometimes we are just wandering in the wilderness, trying to figure things out, but I hope that idea is not bleak. The wilderness can be pretty gorgeous and amazing and full of wonder. But it's not the destination.

In the meantime, I'll keep writing and hopefully getting better and hopefully even occasionally feeling like I wrote something pretty wonderful. 
 
Plus, I'll spend my prize money on books. Which always helps.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Forty Years" on the Mormon Lit Blitz



So, today’s the day that my story is posted on the Mormon Lit Blitz. You can read the story here, and if you would like to participate in a discussion about it, go here. While the contest is obviously Mormon, I think many of the pieces (including mine) speak to an audience beyond Mormons (although some do not translate out very well). So if you like flash fiction, you might give these a try anyway.

I’ve loved reading the pieces this year. As always, not every story speaks to me, but so many of them do that it’s always worth reading and thinking. Plus, they’re really short, so what have you got to lose?

Voting will take place next week, June 12–14, and if you’re so inclined, it would be lovely of you to go read and vote. I don’t even care (mostly) if you don’t vote for me, just as long as you vote for what you loved the most.

In case you’re wondering, my favorites were (in chronological order):

“Celestial Accounting” by Katherine Cowley. I just loved this idea so much. Important truth contained in a funny story.

“Sonata in Three Movements” by Jeanine Bee. Beautiful imagery, sweet and musical. Intergenerational too, like mine.

“There Wrestled a Man in Parowan” by Wm Morris. Ha! A funny piece that made me smile.

“Daughters of Ishmael” by Annaliese Lemmon. This one definitely doesn’t translate out of Mormondom at all, but I loved imagining these sisters and their family ties.

 (Of course) “Forty Years” by me. It’s only very vaguely, very semi-semi-autobiographical, in case you were wondering. (Especially since, you know, I’m only thirty-six and don’t have any grown children.)

What were your favorites? (Better yet, don’t answer me here, but go and discuss them on the blog posts about them. You can get there through the second link above. Writers love to hear that something they wrote made you think or that you connected with it in some way.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Secret Cave

Well... I totally slacked off on posting (ahem, and also writing) the other assignments that I've been giving my teens in their writing class. In my defense, I've been working on a romance short story and grading papers and a piece for the class that just isn't right yet (blech). So I haven't been a complete slacker.

Moving on! The assignment this past week was to take a photo that I gave them and write an ultra-short story about it--only 5-10 sentences allowed. This assignment was inspired by Erin Morgenstern's Flax-Golden Tales, which are told in 10 sentences. 

And now, without further ado, here is my own response to this assignment. Enjoy!

Yes, I am aware this cave is on water and my story doesn't mention water at all. Too bad. :)



I am not expecting it when I round the outcropping of stone, but there it is, sharp and sudden and stark. It gapes before me, this sudden cave, and beckons me enter.

But I do not know what I will find within.

Perhaps it is filled with treasure, rubies and sapphires rising in mounds to the ceiling, wealth beyond imagination. But it might instead hold a dragon, slumbering, waiting to destroy the one who dares disturb it.

I think, perhaps, it might hold both.

And I stand at the entrance, squinting, hoping for a glimpse of my unknown future.

And I think I won’t go in just yet.  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Skillz

File:Brennnessel 1.JPG
Stinging nettles! (from wikipedia)
Being a writer is the best. So few jobs allow you to watch random Youtube videos and then call it research! I just watched some overview vids about how stinging nettle can be knitted into fabric, and let me tell you, it was nifty. I have a whole new level of respect for the sister in the tale "The Six Swans." Seriously, wow.*

In all the times I've imagined that story, though, it never occurred to me that she could knit the shirts instead of weaving them. Thank you, Youtube.**

* In case you're unfamiliar with the story, she has to sew a shirt for each of her six brothers, all by herself, from stinging nettle. Also, she's not allowed to speak that whole time. Also also, it takes her six years.
** In case you're wondering, I'm writing a short story based on the fairy tale. It's silly and snarky, and it may or may not take a major swan dive before I finish it.***
*** Ha. Swan dive.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Twitter Stories



This week’s assignment (which prompted one of my students to cry, “Do you hate us?!”)* was to write a story suitable for a single tweet. So 140 characters or fewer. To prove that it wasn’t too difficult, I worked up several rough drafts on the drive to and from co-op. I think you can see from my examples below that not all Twitter stories are created equal. (My favorite is the last.) Enjoy!


Tumbleweed rolled by. Shootout music played. Trigger fingers itched. Only one question remained: Who would catch the most Pokemon?

***

“My dog ate my homework,” you said.
I scoffed.
You showed me the remains.
My advice: Next time write on paper, not ham.

***

Pistols at dawn. Twenty paces and turn. Bang! Bang! Too bad I bribed his second last night. He’s shooting blanks. I ride into the sunrise.

***

We almost didn’t meet, ships passing in the night. I never thought to be glad for an iceberg.


* Mwa ha ha.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Mermaid's Tale

Image from morguefile.com

Note: For the teen writing class I’m teaching this year, the first assignment was a piece of flash fiction based on an assigned fairy tale. Since I’m trying to do the assignments along with the kids, I thought I’d share mine. This one is certainly shorter than usual, but I figured I could bend the rules for me. :) Enjoy!
 
I have been a daughter of the sea, my tail fin flashing as I slide through the water.

I have been a child of earth, dancing upon two feet though the steps felt like knives.

I have been, for mere moments out of eternity, almost nothing, just a bit of brine and sea foam.

And now I am a spirit of air, lithe upon the wind, tossed about on invisible currents. No body but a puff of air, no tail, no feet, no brine.

In the sea, I was innocent, naive, but free. On the earth I suffered, but oh the exquisite joy of that pain. In the wind I am witness to all the world at once, its beauty and its misery. I change lives, right wrongs, nudge people. It is amazing what a gust of wind can do. But for all that, I am only an observer, I experience nothing for myself.

Where do I belong, I wonder. It is the question that passes through me, rustling through my thoughts like the breeze through the grass. Where is my soul meant to be? For I have, I am told, finally earned that soul.

It is a question I cannot answer, though I have asked it often in my three hundred years of wind.

My time in the air is over. I can feel the change in me, but I do not know where it will lead. Perhaps I finally will disappear, from air to brine forever despite that promise of immortality. Perhaps I will return to earth or sea. Or perhaps, I think to myself, I will rise up from the wind into fire, one final element. Perhaps I will rage into storm, a bolt of lightning crashing down through the air, over the sea, striking at a ship made by men of the earth. Perhaps I will set the ship afire in a great burst of power, and the cycle will be complete.

Will there be, far below me, in the water, another child of the sea to rescue the human flotsam of my destruction? Would she look to me for wisdom if she knew my tale? And what would I tell her?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Our Life in Music


“Bohemian Rhapsody.” Kati, Anna, and I had wondered: How much of our weirdness would it take to scare you away? How crazy would we have to be before you said enough? But that night I began to realize maybe you would always match us crazy for crazy. Was I already falling for you then? Or was there magic in watching you stroll, suitcase in hand, across our makeshift music video stage to the line “carry on, carry on”?

The entire Best of Kansas CD. You mentioned, in passing, that you liked Kansas. I went home and bought the CD. I listened to it a lot that summer, in between the more typically me music: OMD, Erasure, Enya, the American Graffiti soundtrack (though I’ve never seen the show). It was a subtle form of stalking, and I convinced myself, for a few months at least, that I really loved Kansas.

“Green-Eyed Lady.” Sugarloaf. I’d never heard this one. You mentioned it via email after one of our late-night campus rambles. You said it reminded you of me. I looked it up, of course, in those days when it was still somewhat difficult to find lyrics online. Did it mean what it sounded like? Did you like me? From the lyrics, the implication seemed obvious, but I still couldn’t manage to believe it. It was still months before we admitted how we felt.

Bon Jovi. “Always.” We danced, and it felt like the first time, the most important time, and I sang the lyrics quietly and thought it might be true—that “I will love you . . . always.” Minus, of course, that poorly rhymed bit about (ironically) rhyming words. That moment changed us. It changed me. And yet, even then, as always when I hear this song, I couldn’t help but wish that they’d come up with a better rhyme.
 
“Breathe” by Faith Hill. “Amazed” by Lonestar. Our first kiss.

“Via Con Me.” Watching Mostly Martha (the German version, not the American remake) in our first apartment and dancing in the kitchen.

“Run” by Snow Patrol. It was playing in the car as you dropped me off at work that one time.

That mix of about seven songs for childbirth. I kept meaning to make a brilliant, perfect, relaxing mix of songs for labor with our third child, but then I kept not getting to it. For months. Finally, about ten hours into labor, I put the songs together on our computer. They played, over and over again, for the next six hours.

Anything by Radiohead. Our irreconcilable difference, that you think their sounds count as music.

“High and Dry.” Though I admit it sounds more like music when I listen to you practice it on your guitar.

“Daydream Believer.” “I’m a Believer.” Both the Monkees versions, of course. Sitting in the dining room, reminiscing about the music of our childhood. Playing YouTube videos for the kids. Occasionally in our lives, I just stare at you and remember. Where we’ve been. Who we’ve been. The fact that here we are, that you love me, that we’ve created this life together—it just takes my breath away. And I think I couldn’t possibly love you any more than I already do.
But then the music starts to play, and we both burst into song, and we smile, and the children laugh at the silly outfits in the music video, and we laugh along too, and I find I was wrong. I love you even more.

Happy anniversary to my fantastic husband.