Saturday, December 3, 2016

HE MADE ME WANT TO BE A WRITER




THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
December 3, 2016



This week’s blog post is a retread, I confess. I originally wrote the piece for this blog, and I’ve published it more than once, in this blog and also in print. The reason I’m running it yet again is that I have just finished rereading, for the…  Hell, I don’t remember how many times I’ve read it and reread it. It’s a novel titled High Water, written by Richard Bissell and published by Atlantic Monthly Press/Little Brown in 1954. Having just finished the novel, I can’t think of a better example of joyful story-telling. By which I don’t mean light and fluffy feel-good prose, because the story contains a lot of danger and death. I mean you’ll find acres of joy in Bissell’s fine style. He loves the human voice, and his dialogue is straight out of the mouths of real working-class people.
Anyway, you may have seen this article before, in which case you’re excused from class, but I hope you’ll stick around and give it another read. Consider it an early Christmas present.

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HIS STRETCH ON THE RIVER
An Appreciation of Richard Bissell


I learned three-quarters of what I know about writing from reading Richard Bissell, God bless him. —Elmore Leonard


     Everyone who calls himself or herself a writer is asked from time to time, “Who is your favorite writer?” The writer may be prepared for this interview question and answer the same way every time, but the truth is more likely less monogamous. The position of favorite writer may change from year to year, from mood to mood, from book to book. Perhaps a more insightful question, with a more constant answer, would be: “Which writer first made you want to be a writer yourself?”
     I confess that like many teenage would-be writers of the 1950s, I imitated Salinger shamelessly. I also gobbled up Robert Nathan, laughed out loud at Patrick Dennis and Max Shulman, and was dazzled by Truman Capote. But from the moment I first read him, the writer who turned me on the most, the one who made writing seem not only worthwhile, but fun, was Richard Bissell.


     Bissell entered my life by accident. When I was thirteen my older brother gave me the Broadway cast recording of a musical called The Pajama Game for Christmas. It was a mistake. That was supposed to go to my Uncle Hob, who was a huge fan of musical theater. I was supposed to get an EP record of the Four Freshmen. By the time the mix-up got sorted out, I had listened to The Pajama Game a hundred or so times and had memorized all the songs, so they were going in my head nonstop whenever they weren’t filling the house at top volume from the hi-fi.
     The brilliant movie of The Pajama Game came out a couple of years later, and I saw it more than once. This is not a movie review, so I’ll skip to the point, which is that even at the age of fifteen, I knew I was hearing a crackerjack screenplay, by George Abbot and Richard Bissell. I was hooked on this story of blue-collar workers in small-town Iowa, and I resolved to read 7-1/2¢, the 1953 novel on which the stage play and movie were based. I bought a paperback copy (the title on that edition, for copyright or commercial reasons, had been changed to Pajama), and I read it—twice. Forget Salinger, this was a true-to-life story about genuine people, laced with important issues (labor relations), sex (Sid and Babe do it, and enjoy doing it), perfect-pitch dialogue, and laugh-out-loud humor.


     That began my devotion to a writer who influences and delights me to this day. I bought and read all his books. I still reread his novels every few years, refinding them as fresh, honest, funny, and original as they were the day they were printed, even though his “newest” novel is now forty-five years old. I made drive-by pilgrimages to his homes in Rowayton, Connecticut and Dubuque, Iowa, too shy to ring his doorbells. I sent him a fan letter after I graduated from college and had decided, largely thanks to him, to become a writer; but his reply chased me all over Europe until it got left behind in an American Express in Madrid when I decided to go to Greece instead, so my hoped-for literary correspondence died at birth. Over the years I bought multiple copies of his novels in used bookstores and gave them away to writers and readers I considered worthy of such gems. Those novels never show up in used bookstores anymore. Maybe because I bought them all.
     I wish I had met Richard Bissell. I wish I had bought him a drink at his favorite bar in Dubuque. I wish I could have thanked him. The best I could do was to dedicate my first published novel to him, by which time he was dead.

     Richard Pike Bissell was born June 27, 1913, in Dubuque, Iowa. He was the second son in a prominent, wealthy family. His grandfather had made a fortune in the garment business, manufacturing shirts and pajamas. Young Dick Bissell went to Phillips Exeter Academy, where he met his future wife, Marian (whom he calls “Frankie” in his books). He then went on to Harvard, where he majored in anthropology and took classes from sociologist Pitrim Sorokin (he named the hero of 7-1/2¢ Sid Sorokin, in honor of this favorite teacher).
     After college he became an ordinary seaman, then worked as a deck hand on riverboats on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Monongahela Rivers. Eventually he earned a pilot’s license on the Upper Mississippi, the first writer since Mark Twain to have that distinction. His novels A Stretch on the River (1950) and High Water (1954) draw from his experiences working on tugs and barges on the Mississippi.
     A Stretch on the River is the story of Bill Joyce, the second son in a wealthy family, who decides to forsake high society and sign on as a deckhand on a Diesel towboat called the Inland Coal. He finds himself keeping company with hard-working, hard-drinking, fast-talking, loud-laughing rowdies, not to mention lady friends in port towns up and down the river. Bissell’s ear for dialogue is brilliant, funny, and true. He does clearly like the work and the working life of the working class—this is his own experience he’s writing about, after all—but he doesn’t romanticize it or downplay the difficulty or the danger. One remarkable chapter is about the drowning death of a deckhand named Shorty, told almost entirely by Shorty himself in one long paragraph that goes on for six pages. That may sound gimmicky, but it’s not. Wallace Stegner included this chapter as a standalone story in his anthology Great American Short Stories.
     It was in this first novel that Bissell introduced his fascination for dark-haired, tough-talking women (or girls, as he was allowed to call them). The woman’s name is Merle in this novel. In High Water she’s Marie Chouteau, a flood victim who has lost everything in the disaster, including, literally, the shirt off her back. In Goodbye, Ava, she’s Jeri Valentine, a would-be country-western singer-songwriter. In Bissell’s dreams, the dark lady is Ava Gardner, who haunts his books. As he says in Say Darling, “I would never stand in line ten minutes, not even to see Ava Garner in the raw (P.S. I take that back).”
     Not all of Bissell’s work experience came from the river. He also worked in the family clothing business, which he called the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory in 7-1/2¢. That novel, his second (and his third book) brought him fame and fortune in the form of the Broadway musical The Pajama Game, for which Bissell co-wrote the script. The musical in turn formed the basis of his fourth novel, Say Darling (1957), an affectionate but stinging satire of the New York show business scene, as seen by a Midwestern hick brought in to convert a novel into a musical. Say Darling itself became a musical, and once again Bissell co-wrote the script.
     His next novel, and for my money his best, was Goodbye, Ava (1960), set back in Dubuque (called Blue Rock in the book) and back on the river, this time not on a tugboat but on a houseboat. By this time, Dick and Marian Bissell were living in a houseboat on the Mississippi, docked at the harbor of his home town. In Goodbye, Ava Bissell is at the top of his form, focusing more on the people than on the dangers of life on the river. Here is a quote thrown into the middle of the novel, spoken by a character who has no other role in the book than to deliver these choice words:
     “‘They is just a hell of a difference,’ old Captain Windy Taylor used to say, ‘between listening to that there so-called news all day long on the radio and reading it all written down nice in a newspaper. With a newspaper you can get right into them details. Them details is what counts. Now you take and suppose some onnery bastard takes and kills his old lady for example. Now that’s just exactly what they will tell you on the radio that he done. But god damn it less have some details. Now there’s where your newspaper comes in at. Old newspaper he will tell you just exactly how the old boy done it, and if he bashed her in with a shovel by God old newspaper he will tell you the brand name of the shovel. You can just give me a newspaper every time.’”

     While Bissell was writing fiction, he also contributed travel articles to Holiday and Venture, many of which were compiled into a humorous nonfiction book called How Many Miles to Galena (1968), about travels, mainly with his family (he and Marian had four children: Thomas, Anastasia, Nathaniel, and Samuel) around the U.S.A. Travel was also at the center of his final novel, Still Circling Moosejaw (1965), a take-off on big business and international relations, with a caper that takes off running from New York to Castro’s Cuba to the Upper Amazon.
     In addition to How Many Miles to Galena, Bissell also wrote four other nonfiction books: The Monongahela (1952) which he wrote for the Rivers of America Series; You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man (1962), a light-hearted history of his alma mater; Julia Harrington (1969), a visual hodgepodge scrapbook of Midwestern Victoriana; My Life on the Mississippi, Or Why I Am Not Mark Twain (1973), a memoir of growing up on the river; and New Light on 1776 and All That (1975), a comic revisionist history of the American Revolution.

     Richard Bissell holds up well as a travel writer and a writer of comedic nonfiction, but his best work is his fiction. And his best fiction is found in his four Midwestern novels, be they on the Mississippi River or in the town he calls Junction City in 7-1/2¢ and Blue Rock in Goodbye, Ava. Both towns are thinly disguised versions of Dubuque, where Richard Bissell was born, where he lived most of his life, and where he died on May 4, 1977. His tombstone, which he shares with Marian, is a giant granite slab with a map of the Upper Mississippi carved into it from top to bottom.
     No grander epitaph is necessary, but if there were room, it would be good to see, etched into the granite, this passage from The Monongahela:
     “To have a river in your blood, you have to work on her for wages.…Oh, they’re not all bold and reckless adventurers. A heap of them are as dumb and drab and spiritless as can be, but in the main they want to go places and do big things out under the sky. And when the whistle blows and they have to get out and make a lock they cuss and moan and claim they’re gonna quit. But mostly they stay. That’s the way it always was on the river, and the way it always will be, until the Monongahela and the Youghiogheny and the Tygart and the West Branch run dry, and the last steamboat whistle has echoed back off the hills, filling the valleys with that mournful music that haunts you wherever you go.”


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Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for January’s 99-word story submissions is January 1, 2017. The stories will appear on my blog post for January  14, and will stay posted for a week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: jmd@danielpublishing.com

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: I took a trip on a train.

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Calling all published authors—

I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at jmd@danielpublishing.com.

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Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.







Saturday, November 26, 2016

Elegy for Dick Henry: A Bookstore Memory



THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
November 26, 2016




Sometime in the mid-nineteen-seventies, while I was working at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California, I received a letter from a writer named Ray Russell. I barely knew Ray Russell; I had never met him in person but had swapped a couple of letters with him in the mid-sixties. At that time I was working for the Stanford Bookstore, having recently finished writing my first novel, titled Oil All Over Your Address. The novel was even worse than the title, and I’m grateful that it never got published.
But back when I was working at the Stanford Bookstore I thought it was pretty good. I showed it to my supervisor, a man named Dick Henry, who had been a sales rep for the University of Chicago Press before becoming the manager of the Paperback Department of the Stanford Bookstore. Dick was a witty, cheerful, and well-read man, perhaps forty years old. He read my manuscript and said he liked it. Perhaps he was just being kind to me, but he offered to send it to a friend of his in Los Angeles, a man named Ray Russell, who had been the first fiction editor for Playboy magazine. I gratefully gave Dick permission to do so.
Mr. Russell wrote to me saying a novel made up of stitched-together short stories was terribly difficult to sell, and he wished me luck. However there was one of the stories he particularly liked, and he offered to send it to Robie Macauley, who was then the fiction editor of Playboy. Mr. Macauley wrote me a polite rejection note, and that was the end of  that. I never expected to hear from Robie Macauley again, and I didn’t. I never expected to hear from Ray Russell again, but I did.
Fortunately, I still paid rent on the P.O. box I’d rented on the Stanford campus, so Ray was able to reach me. He wrote to inquire if I knew how he could get in touch with Dick Henry. For some reason he’d lost touch with his old friend. Dick seemed to have vanished.
Unfortunately I did know what had happened to Dick.

I worked for the Stanford Bookstore for two years, as a clerk in the General Books Department and then as assistant manager of the Textbook Department. When I left the store in the fall of 1967, Dick Henry was still manager of the Paperback Department, but was nervous about his future. There were rumors that the store was going to be bought by a company that owned a number of college bookstores, and the new owners planned to keep some of the existing staff, but not all. Dick was already hunting for another bookstore job. It seemed the new owners were connected to the Mormon Church in some way I never understood.
Dick feared for his job.
Why? Well, he never told me exactly why, but he did tell me that when he interviewed at a nearby junior college bookstore for an available managerial job, he was given a tough interview. “They asked me why I wasn’t married,” he said with a quivering mouth.
That was the first time it dawned on me that my friend—because by that time my wife and I were both good friends with Dick—was homosexual. It’s not that he hid his sexual orientation exactly, but in those days most gay men weren’t “out,” and I had no knack for or interest in spotting homosexuals. Karen and I had noticed a few eccentric quirks, such as Dick’s love of Siamese cats and his sorrow that he wasn’t allowed to have pets in his tony bachelor apartment, the fine art prints and elegant furniture in his apartment, a sly chuckle at slightly risqué jokes, a fascination with antique Japanese ivory figurines called netsukes, and a girlfriend in San Francisco who turned out to be a rich elderly lady who collected netsukes. But we just considered Dick Henry nutty and nice. He was outrageously open about his politics: he was a royalist, and he believed the epitome of human social order occurred in France during the reign of Louis XIV. He once gave me a favorite rock from his garden, the size of a lumpy tennis ball, a treasure I’ve kept near me in all the places I’ve lived. Here it is, right now, next to my computer.
The only reason for mentioning Dick’s homosexuality is to speculate why he was not kept on the staff of the Stanford Bookstore when the Mormons took over, and why he had a hard time finding another job. I can’t imagine why a gay man couldn’t find work in retail books; perhaps he had no references from his former employers, who had as much as fired him.
Or perhaps the booksellers he interviewed smelled alcohol on his breath. Dick did like to drink. He was always sober at work, when I worked with him, but when we had him over for dinner, he always brought wine and always drank most of it. And now that he wasn’t working, his cocktail hour possibly started early in the afternoon, or earlier.
As time went by he could no longer afford his apartment, and he moved into a cheesy motel, where he earned free rent by managing the place at night. In the daylight, he hunted for work.

Time passed and things changed in my life, too. I split up with Karen, learned to write a little better, and started living with Autumn. I began working as a part-time clerk in Kepler’s Bookstore, where over the course of seven years I got to know the book business well, and I knew a lot of the personnel at other local bookstores. I saw Dick Henry occasionally, at a cheap Chinese restaurant, or at a lunch counter, but mostly when he’d come call on me at Kepler’s. He was still looking for work, and always hoping I’d be able to get him a job at Kepler’s, or  I’d know of an opening at one of the other stores around Palo Alto.
He looked terrible. His face trembled, his hands shook, his eyes wouldn’t hold still, and his attempt at merry laughter was enough to haunt me for the rest of the day.
Twice he borrowed five bucks from me. I assume he paid me back. If not, I don’t remember and don’t care; I would have given him five bucks, but that might have been more than what was left of his pride could handle.
I finally found Dick a job as a store snoop at B. Dalton’s, where he was supposed to prowl the aisles and spot shoplifters and take them back to the office to meet the manager. He didn’t last at that job. He told me it hurt him too much to work in a bookstore and not be allowed to handle the merchandise. My guess is that he was fired.
That was the last I saw of Dick Henry. A few months later I was notified by the Stanford Hospital that he had died in their rehab building. Apparently he had given them my name as the person to contact in case of emergency. The message came to me care of Kepler’s Books.

So I did have something to tell his old friend from their Chicago days, when I wrote back to him. I told Ray Russell approximately what I’ve just related in this article, and Ray responded that he wasn’t surprised. Dick, dear Dick Henry, had always been fragile.
Ray went on to ask if I knew whether or not Dick had committed suicide. It didn’t matter to Ray himself, but his wife, Ada, was a devout Catholic and needed to know how to pray for Dick Henry’s immortal soul.
Unaccustomed as I was with praying, and unacquainted as I was with God, I supposed and still expect God would welcome Dick to heaven and find him a job in retail book sales, a job that required him to handle the merchandise.

Note: This tribute was first published in Black Lamb.


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Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for December’s 99-word story submissions is December 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for December 10, and will stay posted for a week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: jmd@danielpublishing.com

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: A fine romance this turned out to be.


§§§


Calling all published authors—

I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at jmd@danielpublishing.com.

§§§

Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.






Saturday, November 19, 2016

A PICTURE OR A THOUSAND WORDS?


THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
November 19, 2016


  
One of the reasons we writers write is to teach, or even preach, in order to sell a point we want our readers to learn and agree with. But how do we get readers to sit still and pay attention to a lecture or a sermon? Especially in the modern age of sensory overload, the last thing we want to inspire is a snore. We want our readers to ask for more, or at least to pay attention. How do we do that?
We entertain. We illustrate the points we want to make. An illustration can come in the form of a visual image, or it can be made with a story full of enchanting language and attention-grabbing hooks. We once again slide into home plate by showing, not telling.
It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t know who did the math on that one, but it stands to reason, then, that a picture plus a thousand-word story is a bargain, a two-fer. There’s no reason one form of illustration has to be “worth” more than the other, especially when we can have both.
That’s a point I want to sell to you. So far, I’ve done a pretty lame job by my own standards, because I haven’t illustrated my point with an entertaining story.
Please welcome John McKinney, a.k.a. The Trailmaster, who comes to my rescue, bringing a delightful story of how graphic art and a well-told tale work together. And play together. John is the author of more than thirty books on hiking—where to find the best trails, and how best to enjoy them—and he was for years the hiking columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He’s a spellbinding tale-teller, who also is inspired by graphic art. I’m not going to tell you about that. I’ll let John McKinney show you.


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EVERY ICON TELLS A STORY
by John McKinney

“Every icon tells a story.…”
So begins my new book, Hiking the Holy Mountain: Tales of Monks and Miracles on the Trails of Mount Athos, Greece. Icons play a major role in the true story of an accidental pilgrimage I made back in time and faith to monasteries perched on a remote peninsula in Greece where no woman has set foot in a thousand years.



My story begins at the annual St. Barbara Day (December 4) ceremony at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Barbara California. After an hour or so of a special liturgy, with prayers and chanting as old as Byzantium, all of a sudden—and unaccountably—light shines through the east window of the church and illuminates the icon of St. Barbara. Only on St. Barbara Day, and only for a few moments, does the icon of St. Barbara receive such light.
As the story goes, bright and beautiful Barbara was locked in a tower by her father Dioscorus, who demanded she renounce her faith. When Barbara refused, he beheaded his daughter on the fourth day of December, 280 a.d. Not long thereafter Dioscorus was struck by lightning; his body ignited like a Roman candle and he was engulfed in flames.

When my son Daniel was a little guy, I explained that icons are paintings that tell the story of Christian faith through events that really happened and people who really lived. At the same time, icons are not painted in a realistic style—the people have flat faces, and the backgrounds are two-dimensional, shadowless. But this symbolic, unrealistic style appeals to kids, and my son liked looking at pictures of icons while I told him tales of the holy men and women they depicted.
Because the stilted accounts of the holy men and women available to me had scant biographical detail, I confess I embellished the stories of the saints and took certain artistic liberties to be sure they captured my child’s attention. Like many parents, I’ve found I can be more effective at enlightening kids if I’m at least a little entertaining.

These days when we think of icons we nearly always think of those little colored symbols on our digital devices. The most recognizable icons of our ages? Perhaps the iTunes icon or Facebook icon. Surely, nearly everyone, even the most devout Christians among us, think of icons in terms of apps, not apostles.
I didn’t spend much time thinking about icons of the ancient kind either, until my friend Spiro joined me on an odyssey to Mt. Athos. Truly we were the hiking odd couple: Spiro was a tenderfoot, and I the expert hiker. Spiro was devout and fluent in Greek, while my faith was shaky and my Greek was terrible. Spiro believed in the wonder-working powers of the saint and icons, while I was a skeptic who doubted all miracles.
That is until I encountered an icon, a monk, and a miracle that led to the adoption of my son. Quite a story.
One monk I met on the Holy Mountain was a leading iconographer, who explained that he and his fellow iconographers did not paint icons, they wrote them. In Greek, an ikonographos is an icon writer. When the wise monk learned I was writer, he suggested: “Perhaps you’ll write a story of the icons some day.”

He was right. That’s exactly what I have done.



John McKinney is the author of The Hiker’s Way and Hiking on the Edge, and a passionate advocate for hiking and our need to reconnect with nature. He lives and writes in Santa Barbara, California. http://www.thetrailmaster.com

Buy links for Hiking the Holy Mountain:

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Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for December’s 99-word story submissions is December 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for December 10, and will stay posted for a week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: jmd@danielpublishing.com

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: A fine romance this turned out to be.


§§§


Calling all published authors—

I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at jmd@danielpublishing.com.

§§§

Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.






Saturday, November 12, 2016

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION



THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
November 12, 2016


In every course I taught or workshop I led about writing short fiction, I began by quoting Rust Hills’s minimal definition of the short story: “A short story tells of something that happened to somebody.” At least half the time when I turned back from the blackboard, where I had written “Something happens to somebody,” I’d see at least one hand in the air, sometimes more than one.
“Yes?”
“What about setting? Scene? Shouldn’t it be ‘Something happens to somebody somewhere’ ?”
Good point. Because although a tale doesn’t have to mention or describe the scenery to be a valid short story, setting is nearly always a plus, and a good opportunity to incorporate sights and smells and sounds, which always enrich the fiction. It’s called a sense of place, and is highly esteemed.
The nine 99-word stories submitted during the month of October all deal with place. We read here about a getaway car, a New York shopping mall, a Las Vegas casino, a Wall Street office at night, a jail holding cell, wheat fields and a seacoast, a gay leather bar, a family living room at Christmas, and the entire world as seen in a utopian fantasy and then in its depressing reality.
It doesn’t take much to describe the scenery; and given the restrictions of a full story in 99 words, it’s sometimes best to keep the details to a minimum: a gangster’s gun, the sound of slot machines, a smelly spittoon.…
In any case, it’s good to know the territory. Location is important. Think about it: if we weren’t located somewhere, where would we be?


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NO LONGER IN KANSAS
9 short short stories about here and there

PRETTY BOY FLOYD
by Tom Donovan

A car parked in front of Union station in Kansas City.
Four lawmen killed by Pretty Boy Floyd?
A postcard to the law stating “I want it known that I did not participate in the massacre of officers at Kansas City,” signed Charles Floyd.
Another bank knocked over; no one hurt; the hostages freed to go home.
A doll in the speeding car, a pile of dough, cigars all around, and Pretty Boy Floyd waving a gun.
The doll asks, “Where the hell are we?”
 Pretty Boy Floyd says, “Not to worry. I don’t think we're in Kansas anymore.”

•••

THREE UPSTATE HICKS IN THE BIG CITY
by June Kosier

I recently went to New York City with friends, and it got hot so we decided to get some ice cream. We were told to go to the food court in Brookfield Place.
Brookfield Place was not like any mall I had ever seen. The “Winter Garden Atrium” had sunken marble floors, palm trees, and a choir whose singing made me feel like I was entering heaven. The upscale stores included Hermes, Ferragamo, and Diane von Furstenberg. Stores I had never heard of. No Yankee Candle or Claire’s here.
One friend exclaimed “Ladies, we are not in Kansas anymore!”

•••

MGM GRAND
by Hannah Neil

Dorothy did as she was directed: she held the dog, made a wish, and clicked her ruby heels.
She woke up fifty-five years later in the emerald lobby of the largest hotel in the world, her ears ringing with the sound of money machines, her eyes assaulted by cigarette smoke and a simulated cyclone.
She was told “We don’t allow pets” and shown out the door.
On the baking pavement between a traffic jam and the deadly desert, she sighed. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Hollywood anymore. I wonder what kind of pills they gave us this time?”



•••

THE SCORE OF A LIFETIME
by Jerry Giammatteo

They had come a long way from the petty heists of their teenage years in Topeka, Kansas. As Louie fingered the safe and Bones fidgeted, time seemed to fly, yet stand still at the same time.
Now, thirty-nine floors above Wall Street, the anxiety was obvious and the haul tantalizing.
“Damn, what’s taking you, Louie?” said Bones.
“Shut the hell up. It’s almost done.”
There was a sudden click. “Got it,” said Louie.
Bones held his breath as Louie swung open the door. They peered in and gasped at the contents.
“Bones, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

•••

BILDUNGSROMAN
by T. J. Thomas

 Cuffed, I sat on a bench near a young black prisoner who turned to me and asked, “What you in for?”
 Right away, a big, burly, white CO intervened. Wielding a black billy-club, he ordered “Quiet there, you two. Y’ll have lots of time to chat later when you get t’where you goin’. You hear?”
 Rapping his billy on the back of the bench, he leaned forward and spat thick black chaw drool into a tarnished old copper spittoon on the floor, near the door to a hallway that led to the courthouse garage, and a waiting prison van.

•••

RAPID TRANSIT
by Madelyn Lorber

Toto and I were taking a walk, my legally required plastic pick-up-poop bag in one hand, leash in the other. Suddenly the sky, known hereabouts as sunflower blue, had darkened. The warning siren pierced our usual wheat field quietude. I knew a conical cloud of fury and destruction was racing our way.
What I didn’t know: was the distance to our underground cellar negotiable in time? I kicked off my new red rhinestone shoes and ran.
Minutes later, palm trees swayed, mountains loomed amid cool ocean breezes. I whispered to Toto, “I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.”

•••

NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
by Ryan Matthews

I walked alongside parked motorcycles and bougainvillea, the dichotomy of a gay leather bar, flowers and hogs.
Inside patrons clad in chaps, bare chests, and nipple rings. The bartender was wearing a spandex onesie and construction boots.
“I’ll have vodka on the rocks.”
I watched the go-go boy dancing above me gyrate his buttocks like liquid muscle. Men stuffed his G-string with cash. Perched in a dark corner a hand grabbed my thigh, my body stiffened, I’d been groped on my first visit to the club Ram Rod. I had found the leather side of Oz.
I would return!

•••

THE UNDOING OF DO-IT-YOURSELF
By Diane Morelli

One of my brother’s many talents is buying gifts. He always finds the best presents. Edgy yet practical. Christmas 2004 was no exception. He placed the Roomba under my parent’s tree.
“What the heck are we supposed to do with this thing?” Mom asked.
“Say goodbye to aches and pains from pushing your heavy vacuum.” My brother turned the whirling robot on. It devoured the stray garland and pine needles lodged in the carpet.
After the demonstration, Dad scoffed, “What’s next? Cars that drive themselves?”
“In a decade or two,” I said.
We’re not in Kansas anymore,” Mom said.

•••

OUT OF OZ
by Christine Viscuso

Woke up to my radio blasting that ISIS was defeated; the last homeless person was re-homed; food banks overflowed.
Hillary and Donald shook hands and announced that, no matter who won, both parties would work together for the good of the nation.
Stepped outside with my Lab-X, Dudley. The sky was azure; the birds were tweeting; the temperature was balmy. A cat walked up to Dudley. Dudley kissed it!
The next morning I woke up to two beheadings; more people out of work; Donald calling Hillary “crooked.”
I patted Dudley. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, old man.”


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Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for December’s 99-word story submissions is December 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for December 10, and will stay posted for a week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: jmd@danielpublishing.com

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: A fine romance this turned out to be.


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Calling all published authors—

I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at jmd@danielpublishing.com.

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Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.