The Pinprick Man (poem)

Though I don’t write fiction nearly as much as I used to, inflluences on my fiction tend to crop up in my poems. In this case, Stephen King looms rather large.

The Pinprick Man

In the shadows,
the Pinprick Man gleams.

“I have a chest of drawers
filled with nightmares,” he says.
“Shall I show you?”

I take a deep breath
and exhale parchment
upon which I write my
last will and testament.

“Yes,” I say.

The Pinprick Man
smiles a thousand times
and opens a drawer.

Time to Read

One of the benefits of being a teacher is having summer break, and even though I have both my children home with me, I have more time to read than I do during the school year. After teaching all day, making supper, dealing with baths and breaking up fights, my wife and I make a little time to watch a show and then get in bed to read. I can usually devote thirty minutes to reading before I’m ready to sleep (while my wife, if she’s really into the book, can read until one or two in the morning).

This morning, I woke up and continued reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams. stephen kingI haven’t read Stephen King in quite a long, and it’s been even longer since I’ve read one of his short story collections. I bought this after reading a book I just couldn’t get into. And then I remembered seeing King’s story colletion, so I got it and jumped right in

I love King’s prose, but it can bog down the story in certain novels. He’s a master of the short story craft, even though in the book’s introduction, he says that he’s still an amateur at 62. It’s comforting to hear that, given how much I struggle with fiction.

I always write better fiction when I’m reading something good, and even though horror is not my genre, I used to write fairly good “speculative” fiction. I haven’t tried my hand at it in a long time…and I also haven’t bothered finishing a story. Poetry is easier for me because I can finish one in a relatively quickly. Fiction takes time, and I’m usually pressed for time. While I like flash fiction, it doesn’t call to me. I still believe a good short story should run about twenty-five to thirty pages, double-spaced (I’ve forgotten the word count I used to shoot for). I could do that before I had children. It’s a lot harder now.

But I have more time this summer, and I’m thinking of going back to some short stories I started. I’ve kept them in a file called “Stories Worth Finishing.” I’m not sure if they’re worth finishing or not, but I’m not going to learn anything more about fiction writing unless I actually finish a damn story once in a while.

So don’t hold your breath for some exciting, ground-breaking, awe-inspiriting story to appear on the site in the next day or two. Expect something messy with some decent dialogue and a rushed ending; that seems to be my speciality.

The (Tough) Art of Creating a Short Story

For some reason, I expect writing good short stories to be relatively easy. I don’t know why, at 41, I still think that since I’ve struggled with the short story form since I began cranking them out in my early teens. As I’ve said before, the entire process of poetry–the imagining, workshopping, revision–has been simple compared to writing short stories. Ideas pop into my head all the time, and those ideas usually find their way into my poems. Sometimes, though, characters and their voices show up, and I know to do them justice, I need to write prose.

Aside from my tendency to abandon stories after ten or so pages, I also acknowledge that my strength isn’t in description. I’m also not particularly good at pacing, either. I excel at dialogue, and I’ve heard as much from editors back when I was submitting stories for publication. I received personal rejection slips telling me that dialogue was spot on, but the rest of my writing was flabby. I took that as an encouraging sign, and I still do, despite the number of years that have passed between those rejection slips and now.

For help, I decided to buy the Gotham City Writer’s Workshop book on writing fiction. I like it so far, and while the first section seems geared more toward beginning writers, I still find it helpful. The exercises in the book have been useful thus far, too.

I’ve also returned to using Scrivener writing software, but not for a novel writing (though I’m also tempted to use Scrivener in conjunction with the beautiful word processing program Novlr), but for short stories. Scrivener helps me plan a story, much like I used it to plan my last novel. I realized over the weekend that I can’t continue treating short stories like poems. I need more time with stories, and some stories (like the one I’m currently working on) require research. Scrivener has a wonderful built-in feature to store research, and it allows you to visually plan scenes for a novel, story, or screenplay. Novlr is gorgeous and gets my fingers itchy to fill a blank page.

I can knock out at least one quality poem a day during my writing time, but the first draft of a story takes me at least a week if I tackle it every day. I have the time, and though it can be grueling, I’m willing to show up at the page and take the project on, even if I feel discouraged. Discouragment is just a feeling attached to a useless thought; it has nothing to do with my dedication to the craft or my ability as a writer. I think setting writing goals for myself is a good idea, too. One of many things that quitting drinking has taught me is that I’m a hell of a lot stronger and focused than I sometimes give myself credit for.

I’m also going to re-read Stephen King’s masterful On WritingIf you’re a writer and haven’t read it, I highly recommend you check it out. It transformed the way I wrote, and I’m sure I’ll glean more wisdom and encouragement this read-through.

For the curious, the story I’m working on came from a prompt in the Gotham City book. To paraphrase, it was something like: “Sam knew either it was a lucky sign or a sign of disaster when….” After some freewriting, that prompt led to a strange and touching story about a man who works with chimps, teaching them to sign, and in particular his relationship with a troubled chimp named Roscoe. I like where the story’s going…I just have to remind myself (several times a day) not to abandon it because the words aren’t lining up like obedient little children. They rarely do, anyway, and just because the writing is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Whew, this was a longer post than I intended. Thanks for taking time to read.