This is not a treatise, but a tongue in cheek, discussion on how to write short stories. Suffice to say this is not the definitive way of doing it, just mine. It works for me – it might not work for you.
Everyone has one in them, possibly more, and me, well, it’s how I keep the wolves from the door.
Yes, I read my stories to them and they fall asleep.
Or maybe not, I’m never quite sure what effect anything I write has on anyone. And, reading a lot of the posts on how to handle bad reviews and rejection, such a recurrent theme, I don’t think I want to.
Ignorance is bliss, is it not?
Well, one day I’m sure something will happen. It’s probably in the seven stages of writing:
Search for the guilty
Distinction for the uninvolved
I guess you don’t fail if you don’t put it out there. Searching for the guilty, well, there’s only one person to blame, the editor, and distinction for the uninvolved, didn’t your friend, relation, confidente, significant other, say it wasn’t going to work?
But, despite everything, I like writing short stories and try to produce one in a single sitting. I try to keep the word count down, but the stories, somehow they just evolve in my head and don’t want to end the main character’s story.
In reality, there is no end to the story unless they die, and then, of course, the story branches off, just like a family tree,
Some stories are so intricate, they need another story to fill in the gaps, and then another because the plot is running through your head at a thousand miles an hour and your fingers won’t stop typing, because if you do, it will all dissipate into thin air like smoke.
Stories can, you know, dissipate like smoke, one minute your mining a rich vein the next, you’ve hit a ton of worthless quartz.
Then all the constraints come into play, nagging at the back of your mind, and you find yourself waking up in a bath of sweat crying out, I didn’t do it, the crime that is, not lose the best 2,000 words you’ve ever written.
But that’s all of those words you write, isn’t it?
But I digress, and I’ll write some more on the subject, what was it again?
50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.
They all start with –
A picture paints … well, as many words as you like. For instance:
And, the story:
Have you ever watched your hopes and dreams simply just fly away?
Everything I thought I wanted and needed had just left in an aeroplane, and although I said I was not going to, I came to the airport to see the plane leave. Not the person on it, that would have been far too difficult and emotional, but perhaps it was symbolic, the end of one life and the start of another.
But no matter what I thought or felt, we had both come to the right decision. She needed the opportunity to spread her wings. It was probably not the best idea for her to apply for the job without telling me, but I understood her reasons.
She was in a rut. Though her job was a very good one, it was not as demanding as she had expected, particularly after the last promotion, but with it came resentment from others on her level, that she, the youngest of the group would get the position.
It was something that had been weighing down on her for the last three months, and if noticed it, the late nights, the moodiness, and sometimes a flash of temper. I knew she had one, no one could have such red hair and not, but she had always kept it in check.
And, then there was us, together, and after seven years, it felt like we were going nowhere. Perhaps that was down to my lack of ambition, and though she never said it, lack of sophistication. It hadn’t been an issue, well, not until her last promotion, and the fact she had to entertain more, and frankly I felt like an embarrassment to her.
So, there it was, three days ago, the beginning of the weekend, and we had planned to go away for a few days and take stock. We both acknowledged we needed to talk, but it never seemed like the right time.
It was then she said she had quit her job and found a new one. Starting the following Monday.
Ok, that took me by surprise, not so much that it was something I sort of guessed might happen, but that she would just blurt it out.
I think that right then, at that moment, I could feel her frustration with everything around her.
What surprised her was my reaction. None.
I simply asked where who, and when.
A world-class newspaper, in New York, and she had to be there in a week.
It was all the time I had left with her.
I remember I just shrugged and asked if the planned weekend away was off.
She stood on the other side of the kitchen counter, hands around a cup of coffee she had just poured, and that one thing I remembered was the lone tear that ran down her cheek.
Is that all you want to know?
I did, yes, but we had lost that intimacy we used to have when she would have told me what was happening, and we would have brainstormed solutions. I might be a cabinet maker but I still had a brain, which was what I overheard her tell a friend once.
There’s not much to ask, I said. You’ve been desperately unhappy and haven’t been able to hide it all that well, you have been under a lot of pressure trying to deal with a group of troglodytes, and you’ve been leaning on Bentley’s shoulder instead of mine, and I get it, he’s got more experience in that place, and the politics that go with it, and is still an ally.
Her immediate superior and instrumental in her getting the position, but unlike some men in his position he had not taken advantage of a situation like some men would. And even if she had made a move, which I doubted, was not the sort of woman she was, he would have politely declined.
One of the very few happily married men in that organisation, so I heard.
So, she said, you’re not just a pretty face.
Par for the course for a cabinet maker whose university degree is in psychology. It doesn’t take rocket science to see what was happening to you. I just didn’t think it was my place to jump in unless you asked me, and when you didn’t, well, that told me everything I needed to know.
Yes, our relationship had a use-by date, and it was in the next few days.
I was thinking, she said, that you might come with me, you can make cabinets anywhere.
I could, but I think the real problem wasn’t just the job. It was everything around her and going with her, that would just be a constant reminder of what had been holding her back. I didn’t want that for her and said so.
Then the only question left was, what do we do now?
Go shopping for suitcases. Bags to pack, and places to go.
Getting on the roller coaster is easy. In the beginning, it’s a slow easy ride, followed by a slow climb to the top. It’s much like some relationships, they start out easy, but they require a little work to get to the next level, follows by the adrenaline rush when it all comes together.
What most people forget is that what comes down must go back up, and life is pretty much a roller coaster with highs and lows.
Our roller coaster had just come or of the final turn and we were braking so that it stops at the station.
There was no question of going with her to New York. Yes, I promised I’d come over and visit her, but that was a promise with crossed fingers behind my back. After a few months in the new job, the last thing she want was a reminder of what she left behind. New friends new life.
We packed her bags, threw out everything she didn’t want, a few trips to the op shop with stuff she knew others would like to have, and basically, by the time she was ready to go, there was nothing left of her in the apartment, or anywhere.
Her friends would be seeing her off at the airport, and that’s when I told her I was not coming, that moment the taxi arrived to take her away forever. I remember standing there, watching the taxi go. It was going to be, and was, as hard as it was to watch the plane leave.
So, there I was, finally staring at the blank sky, around me were a dozen other plane spotters, a rather motley crew of plane enthusiasts.
Already that morning there’s been 6 different types of planes departing, and I could hear another winding up its engines for take-off.
People coming, people going.
Maybe I would go to New York in a couple of months, not to see her, but just to see what the attraction was. Or maybe I would drop in, just to see how she was.
As one of my friends told me when I gave him the news, the future is never written in stone, and it’s about time you broadened your horizons.
Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.
I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.
But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.
Once again there’s a new instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.
Was she insinuating that Alex Benderby killed Jacob Stravinsky?
“Alex is a bully but he’s not a murderer,” I said, and wondering, at the same time, if he had finally graduated to a full-blown bad guy.
“He wouldn’t do it. Like his old man, they get others to do their dirty work. I’m sure the significance of Alex being out on his father’s boat was not lost on you. You asked the questions, and now that I’ve thought about it, it’s possible those divers could have planted the body on Rico’s boat.”
It’s one thing to come up with theories, but it was entirely another to suddenly realize they might be true. Until this point, I was happy to let Boggs have his dream that one day we might uncover a treasure trove, thinking that it was more fiction than the truth. It made a good story, one of hope for a person who had had very little of it in the past.
Now, it was becoming horribly true. What might amount to proof there might be treasure buried somewhere along this coast, an expert being interrogated and then killed, and a pair of what could only be described as gangsters about to start fighting over the spoils and not afraid of killing anyone who got in their way, these were omens, omens not to be ignored.
“Then don’t you think this is far too dangerous to get involved in? Look what happened to Boggs and I. We got off lightly if what you say is true. I’m surprised if this Stravinsky is dead, then why isn’t Boggs? He had the map, there’s no doubt Vice would assume he had made a copy. What to stop him from doing the same to Boggs and Benderby did for Stravinsky?”
“Vince is not a clever as Alex. Vince will never take over the Cossatino clan. Alex, on the other hand, is the next generation of Benderby thugs. But I suspect the older Benderby doesn’t know what’s going on. Not yet anyway.”
My bottle of beer was empty. Now I think I needed something stronger. A lot stronger.
There was a knock on the door, which caught us both by surprise.
Are you expecting anyone?” I asked, and in the next second suspected it might be Vince, and I’d been led down the garden path to a place where I really didn’t want to be.
“No.” She went over to the door and peered through the peephole.
“Damn,” she muttered.
Another, more demanding, knock.
She turned to look at me, “It’s Vince and my father. I didn’t ask them to come here, and no, I didn’t tell them anything, whatever you might be thinking.”
All I was thinking right then was the coincidence of their arrival and being very afraid.
She opened the door.
Vince barged in almost pushing the door into his sister and stopped when he saw me. At a more sedate speed, Giuliano Cossatino, Nadia’s father came into the room, and also stopped when he saw me.
There was no mistaking the malice on Vince’s face. Nadia was right. He was all muscle and no brain.
The older Cossatino spoke first. “I see you have a new friend, though I would have thought you’d have better taste in men.”
“Your days of telling me what I can do and not do were over the moment you sent me away.”
“And yet you come back, slinking about like a thief in the night. Your mother was most upset when you didn’t tell her.”
“The fact I have to, as you call it, slink back, should tell you a lot.”
“That you’re still the idiotic child you were before you went away.”
OK, now I was in the middle of a domestic family standoff. I was waiting for the order for Vince to throw me out, quite possibly over the balcony for good measure.
“I should leave,” I said standing, “and let you two work it out.”
Vince took another step forward and was now only two paces away. I’d have to go through him to leave.
“Stay,” Cossatino said. “I have nothing against you. Yet.”
“If you’re thinking this is anything but reminiscing about the old days, Mr Cossatino, then you’d be wrong. There’s nothing between your daughter and I but air. And,” mustering more bravado than I felt, “call your attack dog off.”
“You don’t want to find out.” Where was this coming from? I was saying the words, but they were not my words.
“I hardly think…”
“That’s probably your biggest fault,” Nadia said, in a tone that suggested she was rapidly losing patience with her father.
It was clear to me now, she had a hard time of it as a child, not unlike the rest of us, but for different reasons. The bullying didn’t have to happen at school, but I could see why she had been like she was back then.
“You never gave me any attention except to treat e like garbage, no, worse than garbage. I can see nothing has changed.” Then she switched her attention to Vince. “And look at you, daddy’s little attack dog, as Sam says. I’d start worrying Vince, because one day someone’s going to beat the crap out of you, and then you’ll be nothing, just like me.”
Vince only had one expression, so it was difficult to tell if he was worried or not.
Back to her father, “Why are you here?”
I doubt anyone had spoken to him like Nadia just did, and he looked angry. If I hadn’t been there, I was not sure what would have happened to her.
“Your mother would like to see you.”
“You tell her to grow a backbone first, then when she does, I’ll think about it. Now get out of my room, or I’ll call the sheriff. At least he’s not in your back pocket.”
She picked up her phone and made ready to call.
A flick of his head got Vince to back up to the door and open it.
“You will regret this, young lady.”
“And don’t you forget I know where the skeletons are buried, so I’d leave now before some of them start rattling.”
A look of suffused anger flashed across his face, and he took a step forward. I was not sure what to expect, but Nadia did take a step back. She knew what he was capable of.
“We need to talk. Don’t make me wait too long or there’ll be consequences.”
A glare at me, another for his daughter along with a shake of his head, then he left closing the door quietly after him.
I sat down before I fell down. Nadia visibly wilted.
“I’m sorry about that. You might have thought twice about threatening Vince. You know he’ll come after you now.”
“Let him. I always thought you were close to your father.”
“Daddy’s girl I was not. Daddy’s biggest disappointment, maybe.”
“You didn’t ask him to come?”
“But he didn’t come here to ask you to visit your mother. It sounded like a last-minute invention.”
“It was. My real mother is dead, and my stepmother was the reason why I was sent away. Among other things. No. He was here to tell me to get closer to Alex. It means only one thing. This treasure hunt is about to get very, very ugly.”
The novel ‘Echoes from the past’ started out as a short story I wrote about 30 years ago, titled ‘The birthday’.
My idea was to take a normal person out of their comfort zone and led on a short but very frightening journey to a place where a surprise birthday party had been arranged.
Thus the very large man with a scar and a red tie was created.
So was the friend with the limousine who worked as a pilot.
So were the two women, Wendy and Angelina, who were Flight Attendants that the pilot friend asked to join the conspiracy.
I was going to rework the short story, then about ten pages long, into something a little more.
And like all re-writes, especially those I have anything to do with, it turned into a novel.
There was motivation. I had told some colleagues at the place where I worked at the time that I liked writing, and they wanted a sample. I was going to give them the re-worked short story. Instead, I gave them ‘Echoes from the past’
Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.
But when considering a location, I had, at the time, recently been to New York in December, and visited Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a lot of New York itself. We were there for New Years, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.
One evening we were out late, and finished up in Brooklyn Heights, near the waterfront, and there was rain and snow, it was cold and wet, and there were apartment buildings shimmering in the street light, and I thought, this is the place where my main character will live.
It had a very spooky atmosphere, the sort where ghosts would not be unexpected. I felt more than one shiver go up and down my spine in the few minutes I was there.
I had taken notes, as I always do, of everywhere we went so I had a ready supply of locations I could use, changing the names in some cases.
Fifth Avenue near the Rockefeller center is amazing at first light, and late at night with the Seasonal decorations and lights.
The original main character was a shy and man of few friends, hence not expecting the surprise party. I enhanced that shyness into purposely lonely because of an issue from his past that leaves him always looking over his shoulder and ready to move on at the slightest hint of trouble. No friends, no relationships, just a very low profile.
Then I thought, what if he breaks the cardinal rule, and begins a relationship?
But it is also as much an exploration of a damaged soul, as it is the search for a normal life, without having any idea what normal was, and how the understanding of one person can sometimes make all the difference in what we may think or feel.
I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.
The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.
But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.
Chasing leads, maybe
She had brought a file. It looked the same as the last one she brought with her, the one with my name on it.
This time it was thicker.
Intelligence gathering at its finest. There’d be stuff in there that even I didn’t know about me.
She didn’t open it, just looked at me.
“What have you been doing?”
“Nobbin, of course. I am now assigned to his section. Did you do that?”
“He did. He tells me you’re working on the O’Connell investigation.”
“Is that what it’s called. He never told me that. And I had to find out where I’d been assigned by logging onto a computer. An email or a letter would have made my life a little easier.”
“You’re just lucky you’re still working here. Now, tell me more about this Severin character.”
“I told you everything I knew the last time you spoke to me. Apparently, you seemed to know who it was. Perhaps you might tell me, too.”
“And,” I interrupted, “don’t tell me it’s above my pay grade. I was potentially working for traitors and could have finished up in jail for treason.”
“You might still get there.”
Then why hadn’t she had me arrested and thrown in a dungeon the last time we met? There was an easy answer to that question. She needed me out in the field. Nobbin needed me in the field. They presumably needed me to remain available to Severin for whatever reason.
“What do you want?”
She opened the file, turned a few pages, and stopped at a yellow sheet of paper. I wasn’t able to read it upside down, but it had very small spidery writing on it.
Then she looked at me again.
“Some secret documents appear to have gone missing. We believe that is to say Director Dobbin thinks these may have been on a USB drive that was in the possession of O’Connell at the time of his death. You were there at the time of his death. You can see where this is going…”
No matter which answers I gave it was the wrong one, which led to do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars, or pounds as the case may be.
“I haven’t got it, and he didn’t tell me where it was, and I saw him die.”
“If you say so.” She went back to the file and turned some more pagers.
“What do you mean?”
She looked up. “So far, there’s no body been recovered, or any evidence there was a shooting where you said it was.”
“Are you trying to tell me he’s alive, because if you are, then I must be a very poor judge of people who have no pulse. He was not about to get up and walk away.”
“Did you see the body removed?”
Now there’s an interesting point. I had done as I was told and left when told to. I assumed Severin would sort the problem out, in fact, hadn’t he called in the cleaners? I saw a white van.
Actually, when I thought about it, I had no idea what happened after I left. And, now that I remember, I didn’t see anyone get out of the white van.
Is love the metaphorical equivalent to ‘walking the plank’; a dive into uncharted waters?
For Henry the only romance he was interested in was a life at sea, and when away from it, he strived to find sanctuary from his family and perhaps life itself. It takes him to a small village by the sea, a place he never expected to find another just like him, Michelle, whom he soon discovers is as mysterious as she is beautiful.
Henry had long since given up the notion of finding romance, and Michelle couldn’t get involved for reasons she could never explain, but in the end both acknowledge that something happened the moment they first met.
Plans were made, plans were revised, and hopes were shattered.
A chance encounter causes Michelle’s past to catch up with her, and whatever hope she had of having a normal life with Henry, or anyone else, is gone. To keep him alive she has to destroy her blossoming relationship, an act that breaks her heart and shatters his.
But can love conquer all?
It takes a few words of encouragement from an unlikely source to send Henry and his friend Radly on an odyssey into the darkest corners of the red-light district in a race against time to find and rescue the woman he finally realizes is the love of his life.
Investigation of crimes doesn’t always go according to plan, nor does the perpetrator get either found or punished.
That was particularly true in my case. The murderer was incredibly careful in not leaving any evidence behind, to the extent that the police could not rule out whether it was a male or a female.
At one stage the police thought I had murdered my own wife though how I could be on a train at the time of the murder was beyond me. I had witnesses and a cast-iron alibi.
The officer in charge was Detective First Grade Gabrielle Walters. She came to me on the day after the murder seeking answers to the usual questions like, when was the last time you saw your wife, did you argue, the neighbors reckon there were heated discussions the day before.
Routine was the word she used.
Her fellow detective was a surly piece of work whose intention was to get answers or, more likely, a confession by any or all means possible. I could sense the raging violence within him. Fortunately, common sense prevailed.
Over the course of the next few weeks, once I’d been cleared of committing the crime, Gabrielle made a point of keeping me informed of the progress.
After three months the updates were more sporadic, and when, for lack of progress, it became a cold case, communication ceased.
But it was not the last I saw of Gabrielle.
The shock of finding Vanessa was more devastating than the fact she was now gone, and those images lived on in the same nightmare that came to visit me every night when I closed my eyes.
For months I was barely functioning, to the extent I had all but lost my job, and quite a few friends, particularly those who were more attached to Vanessa rather than me.
They didn’t understand how it could affect me so much, and since it had not happened to them, my tart replies of ‘you wouldn’t understand’ were met with equally short retorts. Some questioned my sanity, even, for a time, so did I.
No one, it seemed, could understand what it was like, no one except Gabrielle.
She was by her own admission, damaged goods, having been the victim of a similar incident, a boyfriend who turned out to be an awfully bad boy. Her story varied only in she had been made to witness his execution. Her nightmare, in reliving that moment in time, was how she was still alive and, to this day, had no idea why she’d been spared.
It was a story she told me one night, some months after the investigation had been scaled down. I was still looking for the bottom of a bottle and an emotional mess. Perhaps it struck a resonance with her; she’d been there and managed to come out the other side.
What happened become our secret, a once-only night together that meant a great deal to me, and by mutual agreement, it was not spoken of again. It was as if she knew exactly what was required to set me on the path to recovery.
And it had.
Since then, we saw each about once a month in a cafe. I had been surprised to hear from her again shortly after that eventful night when she called to set it up, ostensibly for her to provide me with any updates on the case, but perhaps we had, after that unspoken night, formed a closer bond than either of us wanted to admit.
We generally talked for hours over wine, then dinner and coffee. It took a while for me to realize that all she had was her work, personal relationships were nigh on impossible in a job that left little or no spare time for anything else.
She’d always said that if I had any questions or problems about the case, or if there was anything that might come to me that might be relevant, even after all this time, all I had to do was call her.
I wondered if this text message was in that category. I was certain it would interest the police and I had no doubt they could trace the message’s origin, but there was that tiny degree of doubt, about whether or not I could trust her to tell me what the message meant.
I reached for the phone then put it back down again. I’d think about it and decide tomorrow.
Today I decided to take some time out and read a few blogs, to see what the rest of the world is doing leading up to CampNaNoWriMo, and sometimes read some news that’s usually a few days old, not that I’m complaining.
And still working on the James Bondish piece that set my mind on fire. Last I heard, he has almost completed a successful, almost suicide, mission. There’s just a small matter of a rebel helicopter with air-to-air missiles trying to shoot down the escape plane.
I try to keep away from the news if it’s possible, but it comes at you from everywhere. My browser somehow decided to allow notifications and every few minutes a little popout slides out from the bottom right corner and tells me what’s gone wrong.
Never any good news by the way.
And yes, I have Windows 10, but I can’t be bothered reading the manual to find out how to stop them. Maybe, subconsciously, I don’t.
I never thought one man could generate so many headlines. We had one, given the nickname, the human headline, but Trump, he is in a class of his own.
I used to like watching him on The Apprentice, believe it or not.
But again I digress…
I saw the word selfish popup in a number of posts, and it reminded me that, at times writers have to be. There are only so many hours in a day, and after emails, blogs, reading, news, life, there’s very little time left to write.
So, we need to be selfish at those times. I am because when I sit down to write, there shouldn’t be any distractions. As a writer, I’m not seeking popularity, maybe one day that will come, but I’m in this writing thing because I have stories to tell and I want to get them down. Nobody may ever read them, I may never rise above mediocrity, but I am doing something I love, and very few of us out there can say that unequivocally.
Most of us have a day job or something else that consumes a great deal of our time.
Oh to be a successful author like James Patterson? But how does he do it? I guess it comes down to hard work, and a little bit of luck.
And maybe, one day, if I work hard enough, some of it might come my way.