I’ve finished my second short story. It’s odd, because this story came about in an entirely different way than the first one, and I’ve spent much less time on the writing, so I almost feel like I can’t say I’m as proud of it as the other one. But I am pleased with it, and in fact I feel like it is a truer story. I feel so weird saying that when I know this one was written last-minute during several very drowsy late nights. But really… I don’t know, I kind of like it better.
When I was writing Thali’s story, it really got into my head, and I would walk around and go places and do things with Thali sitting in my mind giving me insights about her character. That was fun, and I learned a million billion things from that process that I would never have discovered otherwise. She taught me things I didn’t know about my own character, and even led me to change some of my most ingrained habits and most flawed behavior. That was incredible and I enjoyed every minute of it.
This time, I had writer’s block for ages, or more like writing block, where I’d have all these exciting ideas and I just never wanted to sit down and write. Writing seemed very intimidating, where it had been such a source of pleasure just a few weeks ago. So I dutifully noted down ideas as they came to me, but that’s as far as it went. And then I was there with two weeks left to finish my second story, and I hadn’t even started. I really don’t know why that is, but I’m hoping it’s not a precedent. I just couldn’t get fired up about it. So I had this basic idea about two sisters, and a history between them, and I had it all planned out what would happen, and I wrote down four paragraphs and then I just left it for about a week. Then last Thursday I was sitting on the bus coming back from writing class, and I just absorbed myself in my thoughts and tried to work out what was going to happen between these two sisters. I sort of propped them up in front of me and mentally talked to them and asked them, what is it that you want to do? And Gwenith, the younger sister, said to me, “I want to learn capoeira.” I tried to tell her no, because my last story was about dance and one of the things my classmates had liked best was my descriptions of the physical body and movement, and I didn’t want them to think the only thing I can write about is movement. But she insisted and said piano or art or whatever just wouldn’t do, so I had to give in to her. And then things started falling into place.
I was reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird before I wrote this story, which is a lovely and hilarious book about writing that Erik gave me a few years ago, and she said to let your characters tell you where your story is going to go. So I tried to do that, this time, and I think that’s why I believe this story is more true. But I have to say that as the writer who puts their lives down on paper, it is a much more frustrating way to work. I miss the sense of control and artistry I had while I was writing Thali. I felt like I was inside her head and it all made sense to me what she would do. And this time I had two characters whose heads I couldn’t get inside of, so I had to listen very carefully to find out what they were telling me. It was a lot harder.
Now I’m not going to give you this story yet, because my first reader (Erik) has not yet looked at it and I want to hear what he has to say before I open it up to the rest of you. But if you are interested in reading it and you ask me nicely, I will probably send it to you. It goes out on Monday to my classmates and I’ll hear what they have to say about it on Thursday, unless Prof Louie’s wife has her baby and he has to be gone from class (crossing fingers that that won’t happen!). I wasn’t stressed about what people would say last time, but I’m even less concerned this time, so I’m willing to post the story before I hear back from my class. So look for the story on my art page sometime in the next couple of days. I’ll write an update, too, when I post it, so you’ll know it’s up.
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com. I’ve pasted an excerpt from the story, below.]
I knock on Gwennie’s door, lightly, and open it a crack. There’s Gwennie, hunched over her desk, doing her homework. The blinds are still up but daylight has long gone. The room is all shadows except Gwennie at her desk, the desk lamp surrounding her in brightness. That lamp used to be mine, before I got a new one for computer work. I remember the bulb got really hot after it had been on for a while, and there would be just the faintest burning smell. It’s weird to think of stuff like this being handed down, but I guess that hot smell is now a part of Gwennie’s life. I push the door open a little wider and lean in to flip the light switch. Suddenly everything is bright. She looks up.
“Hey, Gwennie,” I say. “How are you doing?”
She gives a kind of half-smile, which I realize when I see it is just the kind of smile I used to give Dad when he came back from work in the evenings and opened my door to check up on me. I’d have my head in my homework, and saying hi to Dad was like coming out of sleep; once you go back, you forget you woke up in the first place. I remember all this as Gwennie says Fine, and I smile at her and close the door so she can lose herself again.
Walking down the hall, it really does feel like being twelve again, upstairs all dark and quiet, the light that smells like burning. But as I descend the stairs I am reminded again that things are different now. Because it’s dark downstairs, too. There used to be this magic moment when I hit the middle of the stairs, when upstairs faded away and it started to feel like downstairs. There would be lights on in the entry and there’d be brightness and warmth and good smells coming from the kitchen. Maybe it’d be roast chicken, with carrots and onions baked soft and sweet in the juices, or there’d be the rich aroma of “lion’s head” meatballs and Napa cabbage, simmered all afternoon in rice wine and soy sauce, juices just waiting to be poured over and savored with rice. The kitchen fan would be on and there would be the sounds of pot lids lifting and slippered feet making their way around the kitchen, and when I came through the doorway there would be Mama.