THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
January 9, 2016
Greetings! This week, beginning on the second Saturday of the month of January, I’m pleased to present seven stories, each 99 words long, with the theme “This time I really mean it.” These stories were written and submitted by occasional and regular readers of this blog. Some of the regulars are writers who have taken writing classes from Eileen Obser, who suggested to her students that they participate in the 99-word game. Eileen tells me that for some of them this is their first experience of seeing their words go public (printed or online). I’m happy to offer this important experience, because I think every writer should seek and find an audience.
The following essay is written mainly for new writers, but it concerns a subject that matters to all writers. I hope some experienced (published) writers will read it, and will feel free to leave comments to amplify or refute what I have to say about finding an audience.
I think it’s important to find a community of fellow writers, for honest but supportive feedback, for new ways of thinking about the craft of writing, and for the joy of friendship based on common interest. It’s important to find an audience. Many of us write, and some of us find our words published in print or on line; but all writers, published or not, are reaching out to readers. We write because we want to communicate. For some of us that means we want to put forth our ideas about how to understand and improve our world. For others, we write to entertain. Some writers do both. In any case, we write because we must. We’re given the talent and the task, and we’re not rewarded for our hard work until we know we’ve been read.
Let’s face it: writing is a solitary business. At least the writing part of it is. We sit in a room alone by ourselves—even when we’re tapping our laptops in a crowded Starbucks. Other artists have more instant reward: musicians and actors work together, and their work earns applause; even when they’re just jamming or rehearsing, the energy bounces back and forth from artist to artist, and that’s a reward in itself. Painters and sculptors can show their work to friends or strangers and get immediate feedback just by observing the looks on the faces of the viewers. But for most writers, the reward is a delayed response. If we’re lucky enough to be published or showcased, the response usually comes long after the creative process ends, and it often doesn’t get back to the creator at all.
How to find an audience? There are a number of easy ways. Take writing classes, especially classes where you’re encouraged to share your work with your classmates. I taught creative writing classes through adult education and university extension programs for twenty years. It was a thrilling experience for me, and judging from the number of people who took my classes over and over, the classroom and my classes gave both new and experienced writers the audience they were seeking.
Or, find and join a writing group. For the past twelve years I have belonged to a writing group known as The Great Intenders. We meet once a week, Wednesday afternoons from one to five. Being in this group has been enjoyable and most helpful to me as a writer. During my years as a member of the group, I’ve finished eleven novels, an output I never could have achieved all on my own. I am grateful for all the encouragement and feedback I received from my fellow Intenders, and I’m also grateful for the fellowship and lively conversation that have added to the fun of our weekly meetings. I know the other Great Intenders feel the same way.
Third, seek out a mentor to correspond with. Find a writer more experienced than yourself, who will promise to give you a careful reading of your work and an honest response. This could be a cousin, or a former school chum, or somebody you’ve come to know and “like” on Facebook. Or your ideal mentor might be a writer you admire, and the relationship might start with a fan letter you write. My mentor when I was trying to find my voice was a science fiction writer named Ray Russell, who had been the first fiction editor at Playboy magazine. I don’t write science fiction, and although I can’t claim I’ve never opened an issue of Playboy, I don’t think I read any fiction in that magazine. How I met Ray Russell is a long story I’ll tell another time. (I met him in person only once.) The point I’m making is that having Ray’s encouragement helped me tremendously. We swapped letters once a week or more, and I showed him every story I wrote during those years. In time Ray died, and I still miss his letters. Since then I’ve gone on to be a mentor to a number of good and emerging writers, some of whom I got to know through my career as a freelance writer.
In the end, though, the goal is to find publication. Get your stories into print. Seeking publication is a long and sometimes frustrating quest, but it’s part of your job as a writer. I’ll expand on that subject in another post.
Meanwhile, for your entertainment…
“THIS TIME I REALLY MEAN IT”
Seven stories, 99 words each
A CHANGE OF ITINERARY
by Kenny Stevens
Our Uber driver weaved through the sea of yellow cabs, bringing his pimped-out Prius to a stop at Terminal 2 — the first destination in our annual guilt trip.
In the trunk: one 49.5-pound rolling suitcase.
One duffle full of cheesy last-minute gifts.
One carry-on with fully loaded Kindle to help cope.
My wife’s phone rings. “It’s my mom,” she says.
We look at each other for four rings.
She picks up on the fifth and final ring.
“Sorry mom, we’re not coming this year. This time I really mean it.”
“Amir, back to the apartment please.”
by James Hawkins
My birthday fell on Thanksgiving. “I’m thankful this is my last cigarette,” I announced.
But then came Christmas parties, with friends offering smokes. Then New Year’s Eve. I resolved to quit. For real, this time. Next day I drove all over town, looking for a store open where I could buy a pack of Marlboros. Smoked one, then threw the rest away.
A week later I got the news. My brother had lung cancer. I bought a pack the day he died, and smoked my last cigarette.
This time I didn’t throw away the rest. That would be wasteful.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
by Joyce Ann Brown
“I mean it. Stop the tantrums or no more ice cream, ever,” Zach said to his son.
The boy wailed.
Zach’s wife patted her bulging belly. Oh, for a quiet baby.
Baby Sister was born tear-free, even when in pain. At first a relief, the syndrome became dangerous.
“Cry or else. I mean it,” Zach said to his daughter.
He read his son a fairytale about how a princess was cured of tearlessness invoked by a fairy. Would it work?
Onions peeled under the baby’s nose made her shed tears. Cured.
“What bliss! This time I really mean it.”
THE BIG MAN AND HIS TUNA
By Jerry Giammatteo
Kurt was a champion wrestler in college but shy and stoic, rarely speaking at work. We played little jokes on him to get a reaction. He’d feign outrage but enjoyed the horseplay.
He loved tuna salad sandwiches. One day, I took a huge bite when he left it unattended. When Kurt saw it, he simply dropped it into the trash without expression.
That Friday, he shook my hand.
“Have a nice weekend,” he said. His grip was a vise and he was breaking my fingers.
“Don’t ever do that again. This time, I really mean it,” he whispered gravely.
HE PUT HIS FOOT DOWN
by Cathy Mayrides
“This time I really mean it,” said my father. He threatened to put our shoes out with the garbage if we didn’t collect them and put them away properly. However, we never thought he would really do it…until the day we walked into the house and didn’t see the usual pile of shoes by the front door.
The sanitation truck was approaching, ready to stop by our house. My sister and I never ran so fast. We found the shoes in the nick of time.
Never underestimate the wrath of a Greek father on a mission.
He meant it.
by Christine Viscuso
“This time I mean it!” I slammed bowl on the counter. “You guys have been just awful! All this fighting. And you, Mocha. Ripping apart the stuffed Moose you got for Christmas. Now you don’t have anything to snuggle with at night. And Dudley, you have to come in when I call you. Honestly, you are a couple of miscreants.”
I prepared dinner with two sets of eyes watching me. “Why, I have a mind not to give you any more treats.” After gazing into the soulful eyes of my two dogs, I knew I couldn’t refuse them anything.
LET IT SNOW
by Pat Shevlin
The chatter was predictable: at the market, at the gas station, on the street, “snow” was fueling conversation, making friends out of strangers. The puffin-like passenger waiting with me for the bus shared, “I’m purchasing snow tires tomorrow!” While pumping gas, a muffler-clad man shouted, “I’m purchasing a plane ticket to anywhere warm; this time I really mean it!”
As I slipped through the slush to Starbucks, my childhood love of winter returned. Anticipation of the snow angel I would cut into the canvas after school returned as I stared into the frothy canvas of my Grande skim latte.
And now a word from our sponsor…
John M. Daniel Literary Services
Assistant Editor and Chief Paperweight
As I indicated in my essay above, I believe every writer needs some help, some support, a community, an audience. I believe this strongly, and that’s why I have made it my business to offer this support. I’m also in business as a writer and a publisher, but I am proud to provide fellow writers with assistance in various ways.
Please visit my home page: http://www.danielpublishing.com/litserv.htm
Then I hope you’ll be interested in reading more about what I can offer writers, including:
Manuscript evaluation: http://www.danielpublishing.com/ms_evaluation.html
Call for Submissions: 99-Word Stories wanted!
The deadline for February’s 99-word story submissions is February First. The stories will appear on my blog post for February 13, 2016.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
This month’s prompt for next month’s 99-word story:
You’ll note that the stories will appear on The Joy of Story February 13. That’s Valentine’s Day Eve, folks. To celebrate this coincidence, I challenge you to try your hand at romance writing (sincerely or as a spoof). Use this sentence, or something like this sentence, somewhere in the story: “It was one of those kisses that murmur, ‘Let’s get lost’…”
Reread Rule 3, above; this must be a story, not just an essay. If I receive your story by February 1, and if you follow the rules, your story will appear on this blog February 13 and the week following.
As always, I thank you for stopping by. Please come again next week, when I hope to have a guest blogger, novelist Cora Ramos. Till then, stay well, write well, and make the most of the Joy in the stories you write and the stories you read.