The Confabulator Cafe is starting a new project. All our flash fiction this week focuses on a fictional house named Straeon Manor. Inside Straeon Manor, there are many rooms and the house has stood for a very, very long time. Each writer picks a room and a year, and then writes what happened there.
I picked The Game Room in the year 1970. The result is “Scratched,” a story of loss and billiards. Check it out.
I love looks at famous writers, especially those I admire or consider influences. This is a great, rare look at Hemingway’s workspace and a bit of his process.
I love articles like this because they humanize literary giants that sometimes seem larger than life. I particularly like the description of his workspace. Hemingway is a bit of a clutter victim who has an office he had built, but uses his bedroom instead.
This particular interview was conducted by George Plimpton, who is a legendary journalist. You probably know his work.
Writers get bombarded with no shortage of tips and advice. Writing is something that everyone does a little bit differently, yet countless books, classes, and workshops have been made in an attempt to isolate the working parts that build a better writer.
This week, The Confabulator Cafe asked us for the best and worst writing advice we had ever received. See my answer in “My Macabre Mentor” at http://www.confabulatorcafe.com/2012/07/my-macabre-mentor/#more-3852
The Fourth of July is a time of family, fireworks, a hot grill, and a scorching sun. For me, many of my Fourth of July memories revolve around the small Iowa town of Clearfield.
Clearfield is a rural town of only a couple hundred people. Broadway is a wide two block street flanked by crumbling brick buildings, most of which are empty these days, but back then the Fourth of July was our time.
It felt like every person in the county came to my home town for the Fourth of July. It seemed so big then. The two blocks of Broadway branched north and south for eternity. Blocked off at both ends, the street was filled with concessions, flea market booths, and carnival rides. I remember beach volleyball and basketball tournaments, and the central attraction a tractor pull behind the car wash. Not to be outdone, the kids pedal tractor pull took place smack dab in the middle of Broadway. After dark, the night sky would explode with fireworks.
I had lived in Clearfield my entire life. I knew every pothole in every gravel-covered street. I was a survivor of numerous bicycle wrecks as a result of them. Every house was old hat, every person as familiar as family.
But on the Fourth, Clearfield became exotic and dangerous, filled with people I had never seen. The flea market boots were mysterious places where you might find anything. Tables waited, full of pocket knives, ninja stars, snappers, and black snakes. Money exchanged hands over folding tables in a way that I imagined only occurred on foreign black markets.
I ran the two blocks from my parents’ house, usually along with cousins or my sister, and experienced the strange noises and smells of crowd and carnival. There, in the center of it all, one of my great fears was born.
I’m terrified of heights. I can work around them, but it means dealing with a constant sense of dread, a feeling of too-much gravity and not enough security. Every moment seems to cheat death and my bladder trembles, asking me exactly what the Hell I was thinking. It all started on one of those Clearfield Fourth of July Days, and a Ferris Wheel.
I sat in that Ferris Wheel with a cousin, my first time riding it. As we began our ascent in the claustrophobic buckets secured by not enough bolts, my cousin began rocking the bucket back and forth. I held on, terrified of falling, but even more terrified of admitting fear. The ride lasted for both an eternity and a moment. It was frightening, yet exhilarating. I have always remembered it.
One of the things I’ve learned about aging is that it damages our childhood perceptions. As I got older, it seemed like a different place: smaller, less mysterious. The booths were no longer the bazaars of the bizarre that I remembered. The street was no longer than it was on the Third. The magical expansion that happened once a year had ceased. The millions who filled the streets were probably only a couple of hundred.
I know now that the Farris Wheel that spawned my fear of heights is not that high at all. If I had somehow fallen, I would have walked away with nothing more seriously damaged than my courage. The figment of my fear was small enough be towed on the back of a pick-up truck.
Being around my son reminds me of that realization. The real tragedy is that we lose a child’s mystique about the ordinary. Our fears of imaginary things are replaced by real-life terrors of a much less sinister nature. We no longer fear what may lurk in the dark. We fear what we know awaits us in the real world.
But as we lose those fears, we lose the excitement we once had. Simple things excite my son. Parades are endless showcases of the amazing. Playgrounds contain unimagined possibilities. I experience his fascination vicariously, and mourn the loss of my own.
Broadway doesn’t seem as big anymore. It doesn’t contain the magic it once did. Clearfield is no longer familiar. We grew apart. Still, every Fourth of July, I see fireworks, and almost expect to find myself standing next to that terrifying Farris Wheel, surrounded by a million exotic strangers. It is a few moments of child-magic in an otherwise horrifically adult life.
I will always be thankful for my childhood in Clearfield and the influence it had on my dreams and nightmares, and my writing by extension. I hope my son finds a place that will fuel his. I hope it is a long time before the magic of his childhood slips away.
Writer’s Block is a controversial subject among writers. Some see it as about as real as the monster in your closet. Others swear they have seen the beast up close and personal. I don’t believe in writer’s block as anything more than a manifestation of stress. I do believe in training to overcome stress. Read about my feelings on the subject in “Punch the Boogeyman in the Throat” at http://www.confabulatorcafe.com/2012/07/punch-boogeyman-throat/.
In other news, Insomnia Press has accepted a short story I wrote titled “Perfect 10” for use in their first issue. I’ll keep you all updated when that becomes available, but they are anticipating a late July release. Check out their website. http://www.insomnia-press.com.
Also, “Whose Woods These Are” can now be found in my pages link. It appeared last week at The Confabulator Cafe and is free to read. If you are interested in a horror story written in homage to Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” it is the story for you.