Brevity, the Soul of Wit

I just found out one of my flash fiction pieces has been accepted for publication. Mind you, it’s probably going to be a really long time before it shows up, like a year and a half or so. Still, as they say, any publicity is good publicity. The publisher is Vine Leaves Press. They electronically publish a story every day–they call them 50 Give or Take, and the stories are, you guessed it, 50 words more or less.  In Novembers they publish an anthology of the stories from the past year or so. Mine apparently will show up in the 2024 anthology, but maybe not. It’s story number 1436. As of this morning they hadn’t broken 1100. I don’t mind, really. Getting published is a waiting game, decidedly not for the impatient.

I sometimes wonder why I like writing short stories and flash fiction. I suspect it’s because I’m lazy. Still, writing a good story of whatever length takes work. My novels, Beloved Lives and The Ginger Bread House (the latter currently being reviewed by a publisher), aren’t epic 100,000 word tomes. Wasting Water wasn’t even a novel.  I’m suspecting Wickham’s Daughter is going to be a lot longer just because there is so much story to tell, but it’s not my usual modus operandi. The other novels still in the doodling phase of development may or may not be longish. It’s hard to tell at this stage.

The cool thing about writing short stories and flash fiction is that you are creating a little jewel, self contained and concise. The characters don’t take a lot of side streets and get lost. They go where they need to and do what they need to do. You tell their whole story in a snapshot.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a flash piece, usually less than a thousand words, shows a moment in time, a significant event contained within a careful word count where each word matters.

During this National Write a Novel in a Month November, I’ve taken a little detour from writing my current novel to jot down a flash piece that has been stirring around in my mind for more than a year. Just because flash pieces are short doesn’t mean you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, developing them, writing, rewriting, and visiting them again and again.  I am pretty lazy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work at writing when my muse pokes me. And she can be a real pain.

Now, back to the novel.

Image: Small things. By Marilyn Evans

Autumn Rituals

Two big days happen at the beginning of my autumn (yes, officially autumn began September 22, but humor me). The first big day is Halloween, the second is November 1.

Halloween, Samhain, the Day of the Dead, whatever you may call it, is the time of year to celebrate and honor those who have passed on to the next world or to otherwise acknowledge Death, the other side of being born. It’s also a time to watch a plethora of terrible horror films and the Simpson’s Tree House of Horror, visit a haunted house, drink and feast (possibly in costume) with friends, decorate–sometimes extravagantly–but above all, it is the time to give away candy.

My love of all things holiday can be directly traced to my father. Passing out candy was one of the all time highlights of the year. I know there are those who say the Trick or Treaters have to be children in costumes, but I’m of the school that anyone who shows up at my house on October 31 gets candy or in some cases, if they are of a certain age and so inclined, a tasty adult beverage.

I was deeply disappointed this year when I only had four costumed children (and a mom also suitably dressed). Even in the midst of last year’s raging pandemic we had a better turn out. I fear “Trunk or Treat” events or other incursions into tradition may be eroding my pleasure. I pray next year will be back to my preferred normal.

The second big event is the start of National Write a Novel in a Month month. This is day two and I’m hitting my word count. I woke up this morning excited to write. This is a happy thing after the long dry summer with a few short stories and not much else including blog posts. I’m back in full swing and having a great time. I always promise myself that after November, I’ll write another novel in December and another in January…. You already can guess how that will work out, but leave me my optimism. I have ideas, plot lines, rough drafts, and a big bowl of leftover Halloween candy. What could possibly go wrong?

Image: Halloween Party Food 2002. By Jonathan Hutchins.


Using All My Brain

Two movies I really like and have watched way too many times are Lucy and Limitless. They have a similar premise: humans use only about 10% of their brains, and if, by way of some miracle drug, we could access more of our brains, we could do amazing things. The film Phenomenon and the book Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson, had similar ideas about what we could accomplish if only we were smarter or had better access to full use of our brains.

Who hasn’t struggled to access information we knew that we had but couldn’t pull up, like the name of that song or that actor, until it finally comes to us in the middle of the night or, perhaps, days later? If only we could have a snappy comeback for that insult, but we don’t come up with it until hours later. If only we could learn those Spanish verb declensions or that Kreb’s cycle in an hour.

The problem is, the 10% thing is a myth. We actually use most of our brains most of the time. The second problem is, there are no such drugs–so far–and no short cuts, although there are techniques and methods for improving learning, retention, and recall. The thing is, doing most of the things in these stories I like so much, if they can be done at all, takes time. We can learn amazing things, we can recall what we have learned, we can create, we can do amazing things, but it takes time. That is the way to fully use a brain: to use it every day and for many days on end.

November is National Novel Writing Month. Writing a novel is an amazing accomplishment, and I think everyone should do it. In November, anyone who writes 1667 words a day for 30 days will end up with a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. It only takes time and using an existing brain that is full of ideas and experiences and a language that we already know.

My first NaNoWriMo book is still unfinished because I realized it was too good a book to continue to work on until I became a better writer. I think I have the skills to work on it again and have been doing so since my most recent book went off to a publisher. But I’ll be putting it aside once again during November to work on a different book–one that has been haunting me for a couple of years. When I have the 50,000 words, I’ll put it away and go back to the first one until I think it’s worthy of submission. Maybe by next November, one book will be done and another will be ready to set aside while I do another NaNoWriMo.

I don’t think I could write at the rate some authors do, several books a year. I take too long to polish and ponder and worry and rework. But I can write the bones of a book in a month, if only I will. It doesn’t take more brain than I currently use. It only takes commitment. And time.

Image: A pile of cogs. By Jonathan Hutchins.