THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
February 20, 2016
Greetings, writers and readers of stories! This week it’s my pleasure to introduce novelist and short-story craftsman David Mohrmann. Dave and I belong to the same writing group, The Great Intenders, and his contributions to critique sessions are thought-provoking and insightful, sometimes surprisingly so. So it comes as no surprise to me that his post this week is controversial and challenging. And I won’t be surprised if some readers take issue with some of his views on the purpose of storytelling. If that’s the case, I hope they’ll respond with comments. I happen to agree with Dave that our lives are full of unsolved mysteries, which give us a ready source for some of our best stories.
I’ll say no more, and turn the spotlight onto our guest.
MYSTERIES FROM LIFE
TRANSFORMED BY FICTION
by David Mohrmann
What if a stranger comes to town…a mysterious man who, rumor has it, possesses magical powers?
Sounds like a decent plotline, unless it turns out that this character is so amazing that the reader cannot in any way relate to him. Perhaps his story, while quite cleverly written, is so fantastic that we poor readers cannot imagine it ever happening in the real world?
In other words, if the intention of a writer is merely to entertain…I, for one, will soon be bored.
“What if” plotlines often suffer from that same base intention, as if the world were not already inundated with far too much entertainment.
My opinion is that good fiction is intent on only one thing: to uncover some unseen truth about life that the author believes is worth telling. This is a difficult paradox to explain, but I would like to spend my blog-spot trying.
For me, whenever a “What if” situation presents itself, the essential question is always What for? I certainly want to be entertained by the fiction I read, but there has to be more than that. What worthwhile question is being asked, or reality exposed, by the stories we write? I am not demanding that every bit of literature shake the world to its core, but it should, I think, express those personal events, those intimate stories, that shook each of us.
I doubt I am the only one with certain memories that are oddly resilient and perhaps a bit troubling. Why troubling? Because there was something about the experiences they represent that we never quite understood. I would suggest that these mysterious experiences somehow mark us. They dangle in our mind, sometimes like unpicked fruit, sometimes like barbed hooks. Some we would like to forget…and with enough time it must be possible.
As a writer, however, I try my best not to let that happen. These were the people, events, feelings, that affected me in ways I have not yet come to terms with. These are the little mysteries of my life, and must be solved!
One story of mine, for example, came from me wondering how I could possibly have allowed a man I did not trust to put my daughter’s life in danger. Another story tries to make sense of my unexpected affinity for a gypsy woman with her hand in my wallet.
These were things I did not understand at the time. I had to write about them later, had to re-create (that is, fictionalize) the scenes, the people, and the complex human dynamics at play.
It is no mystery that the mystery story has always been one of the most popular forms of fiction. For me, traditional whodunit stories never had much pull, probably because they have become such an established genre, and therefore often seem contrived. Besides, what’s the point of creating a convoluted plot when everyday life, if well examined, is equally mysterious?
I fear that “thrill-a-minute” stories make people regard their comparatively “simple lives” as boring.
I am not trying to dissuade mystery writers from doing their thing, but rather to encourage the rest of us to recognize our own inherently interesting existence. Soon as you, whoever you are, begin to examine one of your life’s mysteries, a story is ready to be written. It is called fiction only because you must tell it through your personal perspective, your own sense of what happened. You show the characters and what they do in your uniquely particular way. It is your story, no one else’s.
And there is always at least one worthwhile result of that effort. By identifying, and writing about, the mysteries of our own lives, we better understand the mysterious lives of others.
Xocomil: The Winds of Atitlán, David Mohrmann’s first novel, has just been published by LastWord Books and is available from Amazon. The novel spans what most historians term the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996). The story travels from traditional Mayan villages through the war-torn mountains of Guatemala; from cornfields in Kansas through the jungles of Vietnam; from pot-filled hills in Northern California through the psychedelic haunts of San Francisco to the ruins and magic mushrooms of Southern Mexico.
“Mohrmann takes us into the complex personal lives of two young men—one Kaqchikel/Mayan, indigenous to Guatemala, the other a USA Vietnam vet—whose lives intersect following Guatemala’s brutal civil war. The prose is fierce, the characters intriguing and dimensional, creating an important and timely window into the complex impact of a generation-long war.”
—Theresa May, author of Salmon Is Everything
David Mohrmann began his artistic career as a painter, and has had numerous exhibitions of his work. As a playwright, he produced ten plays, and taught for fifteen years in the theater department at Humboldt State University, where he specialized in “Theater of the Oppressed.”
After retiring in 2005, he began writing short stories, and has had five of the thirty published. His first novel, Xocomil, is informed by many travels throughout Guatemala, beginning in the 1970s.
He is now living in Arcata, California--with frequent trips to Guatemala--and working on a collection of his short stories.
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for next month’s 99-word story submissions is March 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for March 12 and the week following.
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: email@example.com
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY:
The title of this illustration is “It Hit Me Like a Tornado.” Write a 99-word story inspired by the illustration or the title, but don’t make it about the weather.
Thank you, as always, for stopping by. I hope you’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, I hope you'll find pleasure in reading and writing, and celebrate the joy of story.