Sunday, July 17, 2016

stories and gems and cake

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I wrote something new.

That shouldn't be monumental news. I write every day. After all, I'm a professional writer.

But I don't write for myself enough. Don't write enough about the things that move me, that move you, that matter at a heart level.

I decided the only way to change that is to put myself in situations where I have no choice, commit myself to a deadline and either sink or swim.

Apparently passion and ability and the whooshing of time flying by are not great motivators for me. But embarrassment at not fulfilling a commitment? That will motivate me every time.

I had great success with the piece I wrote about my experience with postpartum depression. I read this at the Sottile Theater in May as part of Listen To Your Mother Charleston.

But I haven't written anything since. Not really.

So when I heard about a reading sponsored by Truth Is and set at a brilliant dessert place in West Ashley, I didn't even stop to think it through. I contacted fellow writer and organizer Karen Mae Black and said "count me in!"

Then I was like, "damn, now I need a story. Quick."

The theme is "Summer Stories."  I had a few stories I had already written about summer. I looked through them until I had an "a ha!" moment and thought, this story will do.

It was a good story, a story about my brother's birthday and the first moon landing. It was solid. But....

It wasn't new.

I knew I was being lazy. Still, I read it to my family and said, "hey, what do you think?!?"

I could tell from the looks and the sound of crickets that "it will do" wasn't compelling enough. It was fine for when I wrote it. But that was a few years ago. I've grown since then as a writer, a narrator, a woman. It didn't move me. So it wasn't going to move anyone else.

I went back to the drawing board. I ransacked the drawers in my brain. I combed through my idea folder. And then I found my story.

It was just a little kernel, an idea I flung down one day in a flurry, dashes and bits of a picture from my childhood, raw and unfiltered.

It was enough.

I started carving out the story, teasing details from my memory, patching them together until they started to take shape. After a week, I had the beginning. I had the middle. But I couldn't quite nail the landing. So I read it to my best editor - my husband.

As usual I had a few hints of something pure marred by trying to pack too much detail into one story. I had a hybrid of several stories and needed to make some amputations.

But the good news was in the middle. One line that I had thrown away.

"That is the most brilliant line you've ever written. It's so simple. But I SAW it. You're looking for an ending? THAT's your ending."

I was unstuck. For hours I cut and chiseled and polished the little story into what I now humbly think is a GEM!

Please don't fault me for thinking something that sounds so.... self promoting. I am like the least self-promoting person you'll ever meet. If I had to survive on creative writing and self-promotion, I'd starve.

But when I write something and it's solid and it's good and it's pure (even when I sound annoyingly like Hemingway), I know.

And this story is a gem. To me it is precious, like a Colombian emerald. To you it might be semi-precious, like amethyst or a chunk of turquoise. Or maybe it is more like the kind of stone you find at one of those family gem mining places in North Carolina and even though it's just pink quartz you think it's kind of neato. Maybe you don't like gems. It's ok.

This Tuesday (19 July 2016) I will share this new story in a reading at Gala Desserts on Savannah Highway. You can come and see for yourself, tell me if the story says something to you or if you think I'm full of beans.

And if you think it absolutely sucks, you are welcome to fill your mouth with good cake and keep it to yourself.

Here is a little teaser:

"After school was out and before summer boredom set in, Mama and Grandmama took us on early morning scouts for places where blackberries were abundant and unwanted. We would find them twined around fences, mounded on old growth beneath pine trees, and always along the edge of brown dirt roads whose dust had been gently prodded into submission by summer showers.

One summer we got permission to pick along Herndon Dairy Road. I went to school with one of the Herndon girls, the school in town where I lived, a few miles and one generation away from the cotton fields and buckboard roads and sandy soil my parents and grandparents had called home. In town, I was civilized, wearing dresses and burying my head in books, begging to stay inside as far away from the dirt as possible. I was better than dirt...."

Hope to see you Tuesday <3

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