Summer Time-a Short Story

I wrote this short story during the week. I wanted an example of what I have been sharing at Wilby’s Writers Diner. Telling a story in the actors words is far more entertaining than long paragraphs of description that end up as background fodder.

Please read this story and I would appreciate any comments here on my blog of what you felt, what you learned. Examples would be what year would this have taken place? Where might these actors live? How old are they? Did I leave you just enough that you need to find out more about them? What about their home life and the ending? Or is it the ending?

Summer Time

“I can do it.  I know I can.  If you watch what I do, you won’t have to be scared and you can follow right after me.”

Oliver shook his head back and forth.  “Gracie, there is no way either of us should try this.  We could get really hurt.  I promise I won’t tell anyone.  Let’s get off this tree limb before something happens like this branch breaks.”

Gracie chuckled, “You are just a big chicken belly.  It’s not that bad and the branch won’t break either.”

“It’s not the swinging on the rope that makes me nervous it is the dark water and I cannot see the bottom,”  Oliver said.

“Come on I’ll go first and you can see it’s safe and then you can do it.” Gracie said looking back over her shoulder her hands firmly gripping the rope.

“No, I am not doing it,” Oliver said again shaking his head back and forth.

“So you would rather sit on this tree limb when it’s this hot and not go swimming?”

“I’ll go swimming, but I’m not too keen on swinging out on the rope and falling that far into the water when I don’t know how deep it is.”

With that, Gracie turned her attention back to the rope.  She re-gripped the rope as tightly has she could, “here goes nothin’” and she stepped off the tree branch.  For just a second she felt weightless.  There was nothing to do now but at that right moment let go.

The rope and the weight of her body reached the limit of the swing.  Gracie let go.  She looked down at the water, her arms spread wide from her body.  She hit the water and never touched the bottom.  Her eyes were closed and she held her breath.  Tilting her head up and with her arms and legs kicking she popped up to the surface.

Gracie spit out a little water and while treading she turned and looked at Oliver.  She spotted him as he reached the edge of the river.

“Are you all right Graice?”

“I’m okay.  I told you it would fun and it was.”

Oliver inched his way into the water until he was knee deep. He wrapped his hands around his bone white chest.  He felt a little embarrassed with his shirt off and standing there in the water wearing only his underpants.

“Come on silly, jump in the water it’s perfect.”

Oliver stepped in a little deeper, squatted and pushed off the muddy bank and swam out to where Gracie tread water.

They dunked and swam for what Gracie figured was about a half-hour.  “I suppose we should get out and head for home,”  She said.

“Yeah, you are probably right.  I don’t want to get into any trouble.”  Oliver added.

“We do not need to give daddy any excuse to be mad at us.”  Gracie pulled herself out of the sticky mud and stood on the shore as Oliver followed her.  Drip drying in the warm sun she bent over and twisted the edges of her slip to ring out the water.

Oliver pulled his shirt over his head, “What was that?”

Gracie turned to the direction Oliver was looking.  He ducked slightly and surveyed the wall of foliage surrounding them. “There I heard it again.  Someone or something is in there Gracie.”

“Let’s get out of here Oliver.” Gracie pulled her cotton dress over her shoulders and bending over she twisted her hair allowing the drops of water to fall at her feet.  Both of them held hands and walked fast following the trail along the edge of the river.

The brush impeded the lurking dark eyes.  There was not a clear view only flashes as the two kids walked along the river bank.  A hand with ancient weathered fingers pulled a handful of brush back for a better look. Watching, following without saying a word.

I Build And Then I Tear Down

I attended a writer’s conference four years ago.  I did pitch my novel-“The Van Gogh Agenda” to three agents.  I sent it for advanced reading.  All three reviewed the first fifty pages and then interviewed me.  They asked a few questions and then slapped in the face with reality.   Publishing agents read hundreds of manuscripts, they can tell in a few pages whether a story has potential or not.  The take away was I was close to being published.  One of the New York Agents told me I need a more powerful beginning.  She said I needed to move the story from the back to the front, it would catch the reader’s attention and make them turn page after page.

That is no small undertaking to rebuild an 85,000-word story.  I re-examined the story and finally decided part of an ending chapter should be the first chapter.  To non-writers, this would be like looking at a six-foot block wall in your yard and deciding that three blocks at the bottom should be pulled out and reset and cemented at the top.  I know that is a cheesy example, but it is true.

When writing a story, some threads have roots in one chapter that surface in a later chapter.  I call them story hooks.  I like to end a chapter with a question, or statement that makes the reader wonder what is coming next.  Simple concept as I write this blog.  Not so simple when you have the block wall built.  Knocking blocks out of the bottom of the wall and moving them to the top still leaves a hole in the wall.  Now I have to fill it in.  Picking up story strings with hooks that land in different chapters and making sure to have them all move appropriately is challenging.

One of the main ways I keep track of my “rows of blocks,” and where the hooks in the story begin and resurface is to use a storyboard.  I have each chapter laid out with the main storyline that forms that chapter.   This way I can keep track of which chapter introduced an actor or a detail that is explained in more detail later on.

I have people asking me when is my second novel coming out.  I want to get it published but at this point, I still am moving blocks around.  My second story, “The Five Hundred” is finished, but I am in re-write mode.  For me, this is a lot of fun.  I can flesh out the story; get rid of paragraphs I thought initially were good.  I read my most awesome creative writing and I cannot believe how bad it is.  I would relate it to eating pizza at 11 o’clock at night.  Just give it some time to stew and by 3 a.m. it will bubble up and not be as wonderful as when you took your first bite a few hours before.

Writing is exactly like the pizza example it tastes good eating it.  My writing is a stroke of greatness but later it reads horribly.  Well, there goes my masterpiece once again.  Rewrite brings me to the realization that I am not a genius.  I will say, though, Tony Woods’ childhood nightmare defines him throughout, “The Van Gogh Agenda” as well as in “The Five Hundred.”   The hot tub scene in the “Van Gogh Agenda” is some of my best writing.  It shows vulnerability as well as strength in my actors.  It says a lot about who these people really are when the national spotlight is not on them. Maybe it was a small stroke of writing genius.  Hmm, just maybe.

Hey It Is All About Me. Well Maybe Not.

Writing a blog is a new experience and I am still feeling my way through it.  I never actually paid attention to blogs before.  With all the writing circles and writer’s information I typically read on a regular basis I find a common denominator, a blog is close by.

Starting my blog was easy I am one of those people that just jumps in.  I do not always understand how deep the water is but I do jump.  I am beginning to see what a blog is about. It is a themed diary.  Yeap, that’s it, a motif of useful and useless information. In my case, I envisioned a place where I can spill my guts about writing, in general, build a base of people that read it and interact with them through creative writing.

I also realize since I “own” Wilby’s Writer’s Diner. I can write about anything I want. Sometimes I write about what I’ve learned about writing or ramble on like this weekly report seems to be about. But other times I can share more serious thoughts about my life. I have a colorful past and millions of stories.

I have a lot of issues I still deal with in my life from my childhood.  I have self-analyzed through most of them.  I understand how some of those horrible and empty times in my younger youth still linger.  I can see why I am insecure and why I sometimes get depressed.  Those times have made me who I am and I can live with that. I am comfortable in my own skin more so now than thirty years ago.

“Life has been good,” as Joe Walsh sings one of my favorite songs.  I have not walked in his footsteps, but I have traveled a road that helps me relate to that song. Now that I am getting older, I reflect back on my life and I find myself remembering bits and pieces that make me sometimes smile and sometimes cry.  I remember when I was much younger listening to old people tell the same old damn stories over and over. In my head, I would roll my eyes and dispassionately wait for them to get to the end of the story for the hundredth time.  You know what.  I now understand since I’m turning into an old person myself.

As Joe Walsh sings,
“Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through
Everybody says I’m cool (He’s cool)
I can’t complain but sometimes I still do
Life’s been good to me so far.”

Until next writing, have a good week.

Reflections Part Two

For those of you that read Reflections Part One from my blog last week, this is the second part.  We were huddled in the Yurt and the teapot began to whistle.  In the kitchen area, Adam built a counter top with a sink in the middle.  The drain for the sink went through the floor and presumably into a simple septic system. The bathroom, well that was outside more commonly known as an outhouse.  The Yurt electrical system since Adam and Eve lived off the grid consisted of kerosene lanterns.  The wicks in the lamps trimmed properly for maximum flame reflects maximum light.

Eve filled our cups with tea.  I remember it felt good wrapping my hands around the cup. We talked about all kinds of different subjects. The conversation was interesting. I started to look around at the craftsmanship that Adam and Eve put into building their home.

Remember the Yurt is a circular building.  One of the impressive things I noticed and most recently talking, with my wife, where the wooden bookshelves built around the edge of the Yurt.  There were hundreds of books, rows, and rows of them. Now I figured living off the grid, no electricity, no television or electronic devices, Adam and Eve spent their evenings reading around the stove by their kerosene lights.  I looked closer at some of the titles on the books.  Oh no, these weren’t novels or Hemingway classics.  What I was seeing were mathematics and physics books, lots of them.  I am sure there were several authors for pleasure reading but what was astounding to me, no one reads those kinds of books for pleasure.

During our conversation, Adam had asked where we were from.  We explained that four of us originally were from California while the other two friends were true blue Canadians.  Adam then shared what surprised me the most.  He and Eve were from Chicago.  Adam had received his Ph.D. in Math or Physics, to be honest, I cannot remember.  He is a professor and had been teaching at a University in or around Chicago.

When that sunk into my elementary brain, I am sure my mouth might have dropped open.  I remember wondering how in the world did these two people with that kind of education end up in the wilderness of McBride, British Columbia.  Adam explained they were working like any other married couple. They were making a good living but deep inside they were restless, they were not internally happy at the educational peak that they stood upon.  They decided to quit their jobs and follow their hearts.  They ended up in McBride.  They desired a quieter and simpler lifestyle. I listened to them as they shared their story.  I closed my eyes, I really was jealous.  The thing I remember now looking back on our life choices at the time.  We did not understand the path we had set ourselves upon.

Epilog: We did go back to visit I am guessing a year or so later.  We found Adam and Eve still living there on their property.  There were some changes.  Adam and Eve had built a second Yurt and connected the two.  You see Eve was nursing a baby when we got to their place.  We never heard or saw Adam and Eve again. I have often wondered where they ended up.  Did they stay there? Are they still there? They would be much older now.  Regardless this story did have a profound influence on the rest of my life.

This story would not be complete unless you really understood the lifestyle choice Adam and Eve made from university professor to literally building a new life together using the Alaska Mill.  I have included a picture here so you can see how an Alaska Mill actually works.  Hand labor requires a pioneer spirit filled with patience.  Building a life together one board at a time.

Alaska Mill