Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Night Harbor

(More microfiction)


He's holding a lantern, with just a candle inside, and the wind makes the flame dance against the glass, blackening it with soot.

-- War is coming, he says.

I look at the stars and swirl the coffee in my mouth. He's full of it.

This year the dark came early. Down in the harbor a spattering of white light shows where Torvald's still welding.

Diesel and seawater. The stars turn.

He has to go, he says, touching my palm.

Cross my palm. Numb hands.

Damn this, damn him, damn the war. Damn all of it.

The candle gutters and goes out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Then one time

Microfiction: very very short stories. I think of it like a baseball player standing at the plate and fungoing quick shots to the infield. Low-stakes practice.

Then one time, I was at the beach with Mommy and it was SO hot. She thought it was going to rain later, but not thunder because I'm afraid of thunder, so I made a sand castle for the crabs.

Mommy had her book out but I don't think she was reading it. Sometimes I could see her looking at the ocean, so I looked too, but all I saw were big blue clouds like giants. They looked like thunder clouds but I didn't want her to feel bad so I pretended not to see them.

Sometimes she sniffed like she was going to sneeze but didn't. Sometimes that happens to me too.

"What about Daddy?" I said. Daddy always made us his special sweet potato fries. Special sweet potato fries, you always had to call them that.

She sniffed again and pulled her sunglasses down from her hair to cover her eyes. She didn't answer and I knew she didn't want to answer. So I just played with my castle and watched the giant clouds.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

City of Lights

Imagine that you are building a sand castle, but instead of raising it you are uncovering it, brick by sandy brick. When you have finally revealed it you discover that it's really not much of a castle after all, but more of a ... cruller. Do you get to work slapping and shaping the gritty monster into a castle? Do you make it a better cruller? Or some combination unseen by the world and which may turn out to be ghastly ... or brilliant?

You have been asked to make a meal for people you do not know, using ingredients whose faded labels you cannot read, using knives and a stove and pans you cannot hold right. Yet you are compelled to cook, and think only of the feast. This image sustains you through the mess, the rinds of oranges and gristle, spills, dirty dishes, and the grueling and unglamorous labor.

You are dreaming. You must be. Because all you feel is warm air, holding you up, up in the night and you realize you are flying above a moonlight landscape: tiny blots of trees, and winding streets, and the silver shine of the ocean far off. It's a town, spread out below you like a quilt, and in the warm-lit houses people have their own lives, their own fears and joys and quietnesses.

No, it's a city: a great and broad glittering city of lights. The wind rustles and you sail higher, high enough now to glimpse the distant glows of ships tracking across the horizon. Below you is a carpet of stars: the city lights and streetlights and cigarette lights and campfires and rain puddles in the moonlight and bits of mirror and everything shines.

Everything shines.

And you think: that spot needs a light. A tiny spark glows. And that spot. Another one.

One by one, far above the city, you point and sparks glow brighter or dimmer, until everything is just as it needs to be.

You sail higher. It's colder up here, but you need to be able to see the whole thing. Now the dark ocean dwarfs the small city, but the lights ... the lights are patterns. Strings like tiny pearl necklaces, threads of lights, cold blue and warm yellow sparks and silver drops like sugar against the night.

And now you rearrange the threads just a little: straightening this one, pulling that on into a more graceful arc, connecting this one to that one.

This is revision to me: arranging the all the glowing pieces to make sure the patterns I see are truly there. Sometimes it's exhausting but it is always rewarding.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Narrowing Gyre

Turning and turning....

Revisions continue well. Or at least, not face-punchingly terrible, which is pretty good. This is the third book I've revised and I have never scraped away quite so mercilessly. Sometimes I'll find a glittering little piece of prose and I'll take it out, hold it up to the light, and toss it aside or fit it in somewhere else.

There is a general sense of tightening. Not just tightening language, removing fatty words and making the prose more direct, but also a winding of tension, threads of plot spiraling closer and closer into a knot I can't quite see fully yet.

This has been the process so far. I had a list of, let's say, a dozen fairly significant changes I wanted to make. Things like character motivations, or deeper implications, or even arguments that needed to be expanded, or moved from one scene to another.

As I cogitated on these changes, they suggested others, and at this stage I followed every lead, indulged every conceit. Because I didn't want to discard any ideas until I was SURE they were no good.

So now, many bad ideas and a few good ideas later, I have a 16-page "notes" document filled with cryptic questions and answers, bulleted ideas, and the self-indulgent chatter of the overcaffeinated.

From those 16 pages there are maybe five new elements to weave into the story. At this stage those new additions are not huge: clarifying conversations, names, showing things that are important but perhaps not quite clear.

And the strange thing is that I feel like I'm excavating my own story. I don't know what it will look like or what I'll find when all the slobbery mud of the process gets cleaned off it. But I hope it's a little more appealing than what Saruman's minions dug out of the ground!