“Tell Me About It. Maybe I’ll Give You a Book”
by Elizabeth Sweetman
J.B. Kohl invited me to write a 500 word story about a flawed character on the Second Wind Publishing group on goodreads. An invitation I just couldn’t resist. The contest was about my two favorite things: reading and writing.
I’ve been reading and writing for most of my life. The wonder of words on a page which take the reader to places never imagined was incredible to me as a four year old and it’s a marvel that continues today. As a kid I decided I loved stories so much that I should write my own. Aside from plagiarizing “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (a gift to my second-grade teacher; I adored both the story and Miss Maguire equally), I’ve been writing my own stories, essays, journals and observations ever since.
This invitation from Ms. Kohl galvanized and worked the story “Lying in State” into a 500 word piece of exactly what I wanted to write about a funeral home getting struck by lightening because it really happened in the summer of 2008.
There was no warning on that humid day and I had never experienced a supercell of weather. When lightening struck less than a block away from our house, it felt like a bomb exploded. It intrigued me that the chimney of a funeral home was hit. The fire department was there within less than five minutes and from what I could see, only the chimney was blasted apart, although they were hosing down the roof and the lawn. The newspaper carried the story the next day, just a small piece which was more about the weather. It did mention that the inside of the funeral home was coated in ashes. I wondered who, if anyone could have been lying in there to elicit such a strong message from the powers that be? There was my story.
Unfortunately my story went nowhere when I started writing it. I was getting bogged down in details of why the flawed character, Royal Hellmann Dorset III was such a creep and his saga was barely limping into what was supposed to be an explosion that reveals this bad guy in his final resting place. The more I added, the less flawed and more boring my character.
The invitation to write in 500 words or less was a challenge to be certain. My first attempt at shortening it resulted in a far better tale but it was over 1.500 words. She wants the impossible! I thought of Ms. Kohl but started I whittling away at it and discovered that less was more with this story. I am delighted it came in second.
I had an art teacher in high school, a gifted artist who once said she would die if she couldn’t paint. That statement had a profound impact on me. Was there anything I do that would cause me to die if I couldn’t do it any longer? It was her passion and conviction that struck me more than her actually dying if she couldn’t paint. As a high school kid, I was certain I would die without music, running, my friends, my LL Bean boots…and I wrote all about it in my journal. I love to write, I need to write.
I am not a writer by profession, I work as a registered nurse to help buy the things we like around us: a house, cars, food, heat and clothes. It’s a good job. It’s difficult and demanding but always interesting. I wasn’t called to it, I didn’t want to be a nurse from the age of four. I became a nurse when I was thirty after realizing that while picture framing was the best job I ever had, it was a tough way to make a living.
There have been stretches of time, years even that I’ve done very little writing except keeping a journal. Life rears it’s beautiful or ugly head and takes my concentration and time. Creativity must be directed to more concrete things, mostly family and work, then beekeeping, baseball and bicycles although not always in that progression. We have two dogs that keep me pretty busy too.
I’ve had more time and inspiration lately as well as a desire to write much more. Most of the writing I think is worthwhile goes on my blog: https://lizybee.wordpress.com. I have a second blog on wordpress for finished writing which is http://sweetmanon.wordpress.com. I’ve been posting on an incredibly fun blog, http://storieswithoutwords.wordpress.com which challenges one to put a story to a picture. It’s not just that I write a story to these fantastic pictures, I’ve read some extraordinary poetry and stories from other writers as well, it’s very enlightening.
The importance of writing well has come from what I read. My influences are Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, W. Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Henry James and E.B. White. In this amazing modern age we live in, I am still trying to figure out how to manage putting my work in the right place.
In closing, I have this to say: J.B Kohl is as a remarkable woman. She’s a gifted writer, I’m reading One Too Many Blows To The Head, co-written with Eric Beetner (congratulations on that successful joint venture–I’d never successfully co-write, I’m tyrannical in writing). I am struck by her reaching out to other writers for the contest of the 500 word short story. I imagine the response must have been great, like any general call for authors. I can’t imagine going through all those entries and I had a good laugh at her 2nd rule: “Prose should be lighthearted and humorous. It’s the holiday season and I don’t want to get all suicidal”. The guidelines made “Lying in State” good but nothing beat the thrill of being recognized by a published author. Sweetman, 1/13/2010