Saturday, February 4, 2012


Let me paraphrase a lesson I learned from one of my early teachers, novelist Herbert Gold. He said that all great stories are about love and death. He went on to say that if anyone contested that statement and wanted to suggest a great story that was not about love and death, he would patiently explain why the story wasn’t great, or why the story was, in fact, about love and death.

Certainly the stories I’ve read, the ones that matter most to me and the ones I reread for pleasure and wisdom, are about love and death. And as I look back over the stories I’ve written, I find that most of them, and nearly all of the best of them, are about love, or death, or both love and death. This is not to claim that my stories are great, but those of them that still hold water (and my pride) are stories with consequence.

That all great stories are about love and death does not mean they all are modeled on Romeo and Juliet. Love and death come in many forms, including the love of death and the death of love. Some great stories of love and death are funny, some are angry, some are uppers, some are downers. But if they’re great, they are important.

Writing should be important. It should be about what matters. Since I don’t know a lot about the cosmos, or about politics or economics or science or religion, I write about love and death. Why do I think I know so much about love and death? Because I’m a live, sentient human being, and love and death are basic ingredients of the human condition.

As are work and play, by the way. Love, death, work, and play.

These are the subjects that my short stories, my mysteries, my mainstream novels (whatever that means), and my memoir pieces have been about for most of my writing life. Perhaps I’m trying to express my love before it’s too late. I think (wrongly) that by leaving my stories behind me I will cheat death when the time comes.

I will close now with a few 55-word stories. I’ve selected stories that are about both love and death. Unlike a lot of my short-shorties, these ones are not meant to be funny. Sorry. I’m also including one of my two stories about breast cancer, since breast cancer awareness has been a huge issue over the past week, owing to Komen for the Cure’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood, and then Komen’s welcome reversal of that decision.

Life Goes On
When the doctor said my young husband had six months to live, I cried for six days. On the seventh day, I found him in the garden, planting perennials.
“Let’s take a cruise,” I offered.
He shook his head.
“I want to make you happy,” I cried.
Grinning, he replied, “Then throw away your diaphragm.”

Death is for the Living
“Martha, after you die I’m going to marry Alice.”
“My hospice nurse?”
“We want your blessing, Martha. Life’s for the living, y’know.”
Martha’s tears dropped from her cheeks to the pillow.
After Ralph left the house, Martha rose and spent the rest of her life swallowing Ralph’s medications and refilling his bottles with her own.

The Betrayal
“You’ll have to get rid of both, I’m afraid.”
“How can I?” I cried. “They’ve given me such pleasure, they’ve delighted my husband, they fed my children, they’ve always been close to my heart.…”
“And now they’ve turned against you,” the doctor replied. “They’re harboring a killer.”
I wept and made the appointment for surgery.


  1. Wow! John, you really do know how to get to the heart of the matter in very few words.


  2. I agree, John. I love your 55 word stories. Also agree about love and death. Covers a lot of territory, doesn't it.


  3. Great post, and your 3 best 55-word stories yet.

  4. Thank you Marilyn, Beth, and Jackie. I'm pleased that you approve of those stories.

  5. John,
    I agree with Jackie that these are your best 55-word stories yet! As Marilyn wrote, they really get to the heart of the matter with only a few words. Very moving!

  6. Great post. I'll have to remember,sometimes shorter is better.

  7. Hi John, I agree wholeheartedly with Marilyn, you certainly have a gift for getting to the heart of a matter. Well done!


  8. Thank you, Pat, Kat, and Madeline. I'm glad you were touched by these micro-stories. More to come...

  9. I also enjoy reading your blogs, John. I save them in a file called John Daniel (what else?). As you know, I even bring you (or your words) to my workshop classes sometimes. I suppose I will next have my students writing 55-word stories. Good in-house assignment maybe. BTW -- I love "The Betrayal" -- okay, all of these.

  10. As always John a wonderful post as well as the 55 word stories. My daughter went "what" when I read them out loud. Great pieces. Augie

  11. Thank you, Augie, and thank your daughter for me too. Eileen, I've found that my students work better and learn more from 99-word stories. 99-word stories that retell a familiar plot (a fairy tale, a greek myth, a bible story) but draw on their own life experience.