Fate is Fatal

Photo Credit: Author

 

Toni Morrison once said that if you can’t find the book you want, write it.

I only discovered that quote two years ago, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been living it since I was twelve, when I wrote my first novel in a fit of rage.

Or arrogance. I prefer not to wax philosophical about it.

The reason for my rage was that one of my favorite book series at the time had not finished with the outcome I wanted. So, I decided to write my own version of it. I would like it noted that it wasn’t a very well written novel. For example, here’s a small passage: “We all have a purpose in this life, Creston, but this isin’t ours, to destroy everyone else with our greif this is not what our parents wanted from us and you know it!” That was page ninety-seven, in the middle of a very dramatic scene between two villains.

My misspelling of grief and isn’t was intentional. I not only misunderstood the point of contractions, but I had very strict rules about punctuation back then, (meaning I did not believe in the use of it) so the entire book is just one continuous sentence, consisting of about seventeen paragraphs. I thought it was the most ingenious piece of Literature since The Bible, and thus dubbed it Fate is Fatal. I passed it around to close friends and teachers, hungry for feedback.

That fact strikes horror into my soul, for the reasons mentioned above. Why didn’t anyone just force me to use a period? However, back then, I only felt terror at the prospect of other people seeing my work. Did that mean I was a writer? I spent every spare moment editing and adding to this story, compiling a folder of new ones. They loitered on the home screen of my parent’s old desktop computer, which glitched out every few moments. Yet still I wrote. Still I edited. Still, I handed out my improperly punctuated and grammatically incorrect novel.

I wanted more, but I was afraid of what that meant.

After all, DID WRITERS EVEN GET PAID?

As a child, I had always assumed that writing was a volunteer job, similar to working at a soup kitchen on Sundays or picking up diapers from the side of the road. You know, they’re all very noble endeavors, but not an actual job. It was philanthropy. Beautiful and useless. My fear festered years after that first novel, bled into my self-confidence.

Eventually, I stopped shoving my book into the hands of random strangers, I barely mentioned to anyone that I wrote. Yet I cradled the zebra-striped, broke-spine journal that held my first novel close to my chest.

Every day, I would sit at the croaking, stiff computer chair in my family’s living room. I endured the ten-minute long whir of an old desktop as it prepared itself. Those nights when insomnia crept along the shadows and crooks of my imagination, I would sneak into the living room and write. I filled hundreds of word documents with gibberish, which is to say, stories about flying people, knights, queens and shape-shifting wolves. I read ravenously and wrote reinterpretations of what I had read. It was as if I fancied myself a critic, or a fanfic writer, either one.

I dreaded what this meant, to be so in love with what I saw as “useless work.”

Now, I have added poetry (spoken and otherwise) to the files on a subsequently healthier laptop. I stash my old journals in the bottom drawer of my desk; and take them out only when old fears start to rear to the surface. It is the same terror that beleaguers most writers. I fully expect to stumble awake and realize punctuation is real and I live beneath a bridge. I wonder what ignorant mistakes I’ve hidden between paragraphs and sentences now, and if secretly my readers are laughing at my stupidity. In the spare moments when the world slows enough for me to hear my own breath, I contemplate if this passion that seemed so magical when I was thirteen is only a shadow of what the world truly needs. I wonder if I am only a shadow, gesturing desperately at the sunlight behind me.

Yet even as those fears remain, I understand now what useless work looks like. I have observed people who spent their lives doing absolutely nothing, but they did so for good reasons. Those who undertook hurtful actions with good intentions. I empathize with them, because they, too, fear waking up beneath bridges, the world having spun out of orbit.

Yet that empathy only spurs me to write more. Yes, writers don’t get paid the big bucks (or any bucks, commonly) but writing itself is not useless work. I attribute any and all of my successes to the fact that I love books. The skills I use daily, whether it be for a class project or contacting any number of people for fundraising, I have only because I started rage-writing a novel at the age of twelve.

As Toni Morrison said, I understood something was missing, and decided to fill it with myself. Maybe that was a stupid idea. Maybe I should relocate to the nearest bridge now, but I doubt it would help. I’d only keep filling the voids, gesturing desperately at the light, misspelling simple words, and tucked safely into my bottom drawer would be a broke-spine, zebra-printed journal.

Showcased Writer: Ellen Winter

EW pic

 

Interviewed by: Krystal Kahele

“Summerhouse” Published in Silk Road No. 12

Fiction

Ellen Winter’s short stories have appeared in a number of magazines including Fiction, New Letters, The Antioch Review, and Cosmopolitan. Her first collection, The Price You Pay: Stories, was published by Southern Methodist University Press. A second collection is nearing completion, and a novel is in the works. Awards include fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Bread Loaf. She lives with her husband and three children in Livingston, MT.

You created such a visceral reaction to the plot and ending of this piece. What was your thought process while writing to create that?

I don’t know if I’d call it a thought process—for me, it’s more like an invocation. I get up very early in the morning—before the sun rises—so I’m as close to the dream state as I can get. I drink some coffee, I listen to music that I hope will set the mood, and I wait for the next scene in the story I’m working on to “occur.” It has to just come to me. If I’m thinking too much, the writing takes on a logical aspect that feels false to me. Of course there are times when a story’s next move arrives when I’m not at my computer. I end up with lots of scribbled notes in my pockets.

I try not to worry too much about what readers’ reactions might be while I’m writing. There would be too many people in the room if I did that.

How did you develop the form/style of the piece to showcase the speaker’s perspective of what may or may not be an actual memory?

Again, I don’t know if there’s anything conscious about it—at least not while I’m drafting a story. I write in an exploratory way. Later, in revision, I pay attention to things like structure, point of view, the balance between flashback and current action, verb tense, etc.

There is a strong dynamic between Paul and Annabel on a personal level. How did you go about creating their respective characters and the connection between them?

This story started when spring came along and I found myself filled with a familiar, giddy hope. On a glorious spring day, just about anything seems possible to me. I know better than to trust that feeling. That odd combination of hope and distrust brought to mind another now-you-see-it now-you-don’t trickster: desire. Desire convinces us that what we want is one another—right here, right now. But sometimes, lurking in the wings, is what Kahlil Gibran calls “life’s longing for itself.” So, I had a beautiful spring day, I had desire, I had hope and distrust and inchoate longing. I needed some characters to throw these things at. Paul is based on an actual person—someone I see often around town (always with camera in hand) but have never been introduced to. I created Annabel from scratch, but many of her thoughts and feelings are—or at some point have been—mine. I put the two of them in a vehicle together, and they did the rest.

The setting of Summerhouse is exquisite. Does the summerhouse, in addition to Annabel’s house in the beginning of the story, exist somewhere in reality?

The summerhouse is a creation. I did a fair amount of research on building with stone, and I worked really hard to see that little structure in my mind’s eye. When I’m not writing, I work as a housekeeper for some extraordinarily wealthy folks. A couple of the houses I clean are summer places. For me, there’s something sad about a house that seldom has its lights on at night. All of the beds are made up: waiting. These houses are painstakingly built but used very little. It seemed to me that a property like that could shed light on Paul and Annabel’s relationship.

The other house, which at the end of the story belongs to Annabel and her son, is one that I visited during a realtor’s open house. It’s pretty cool: a vintage log cabin surrounded by trees right at the edge of the city limits. Though it’s very private, the sounds of civilization come sneaking in. I love open houses; they allow me to sneak a peek at the way other people live. I go to them so often that some of the local realtors recognize me.

Where did your inspiration come from to write a piece packed with action while doing everyday tasks such as driving, reflecting, and making decisions?

Experience has taught me that life-changing moments tend to come when you’re in the middle of something mundane. I met my husband while I was walking the dog. And my own children, much as I love them, were not especially well-planned. It seems that they just showed up one day—without suitcases, of course.  As you can probably tell by my comments on the writing process, I don’t put a lot of stock in planning. Life seems intent on startling me. And the biggest surprise of all has been motherhood. I’d been adamantly and contentedly single for a very long time. Becoming a mother altered my life’s course more abruptly than anything that’s happened to me so far. Like an object that ricochets: one minute I was headed a particular way, and the next I was going off in another. I wanted to distill that transition, which is both wonderful and daunting. I hope that Summerhouse does that.

SR Review’s FLASH fiction contest

Publication in Silk Road’s summer print issue
and featured on our website.

Length: 1200 words or less.

No submission fee.

All pieces considered for publication.

Please submit through out online submission manager.
http://silkroad.pacificu.edu/Submit.html

Put “FLASH FICTION CONTEST” for your submission name.

No more than two entries per writer. Thanks!

DEADLINE: MAY 6th, 2011

Judged by SILK ROAD REVIEW editors.