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.
“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?
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.
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!”
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.”
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.
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.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com.
Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.