- I’m happy to see that one of my favorite authors, Patricia Damery (Snakes, Goatsong) has a new book out, Fruits of Eden, about her ranch in Napa Valley and her fight against overdevelopment and bad stewardship of land and water. This richly illustrated book comes with color photographs, but it is also available in a money-saving black and white version here.
- My wife and I have discovered an important truth about health. (You might want to write this down.) When two people live in a house, the sick one will start getting well at the same moment the well one starts getting sick. This provides a time when both people are out of it.
- Since I enjoyed Donna Everhart’s The Saints of Swallow Hill, I’m trying another of her novels The Moonshiner’s Daughter. Plenty of grit in this one, too. It’s a little like “Thunder Road” without Robert Mitchum. (Don’t write that down.)
- As a writer, I often wonder how other writers kill people–er, in their novels. Sometimes a busload of nuns blows up and if any of them have names at all in the narrative it’s unusual since they are often presented to readers as a group and mourned together. It’s more difficult when a major character dies. I finally know how it’s going to happen in the work in progress, but I’m avoiding writing the words. Until I write down what happens, it hasn’t happened.
- Well, now that he was attacked by a coward, Salman Rushie’s name is showing up in op-ed pieces about getting a Nobel Prize. I think it should have happened already. One writer said Rushdie deserves the prize because he’s been a long-time proponent of our freedom to write. I applaud his stance–and his involvement with PEN America–but believe the prize should be based on the quality of his books, especially when his work is looked at over time.
- I like this story in the Christian Science Monitor: “Speaking whale? Scientists are working on it.” Our lack of better communication with other animals always makes me sad because I think we are missing out on a rich body of knowledge and the opportunity for more loving and productive interactions. I think it’s probable that the voices of the creatures of the deep are saying more than “So long and thanks for all the fish.”
“Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination, and of the heart.” – Salman Rushdie
When I was a child, my grandfather told me my mother walked in her sleep when she was a child. He put a stop to this by scattering peanut shells outside her bedroom door.
My mother remembered the peanut shells only because she had heard the story. All she knew for sure was that she hadn’t sleepwalked since she was a child, reasoning that she simply grew out of it.
Were there ever any shells on the floor?
Within the story, the shells were real. In reality, they may not have been real. It doesn’t matter. The peanut shells exist simply because the story was told, and re-told, and told again. Many of our “realities” seem to originate in this way.
The storyteller knows this. In his bad of tricks, he has an infinite supply of once-upon-a times, ready made like rare medications, dangerous drugs, curses, and miracles to unleash upon your life when you’re ready for his cure to what ails you.
As Gordon Lightfoot sang in “Minstrel of the Dawn,” released in 1970, “And if you meet him you must be the victim of his minstrelsy.” We are our stories, true or not, and they sustain us for better and/or for worse.
Most people I know asked their parents and grandparents to tell them stories and to be read a story before bedtime. These stories morphed into dreams and ways of seeing the world.
These days, people try to kill the storyteller by claiming to be offended. All they have to do is stop listening or stop reading if the story isn’t to their liking. There’s not much opportunity for growth in that approach, but we can approach truths that way. After all, ignorance is the last bastion against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
One day, we might wake up when we step on a peanut shell we didn’t believe was there.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy and magical realism novels, including the upcoming novel “Lena” schedule for release August 1 from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.
Some novels end with a bone-crushing final line that drives the story home. Other novels’ final lines seem to be a simple slice of life, reminding me of Woody Allen movies where the screen goes black and he rolls the credits. Huh? Did we lose a reel? How is the show over? While I don’t think novels need to end with anything akin to the punch line of a joke that–were it missing–the rest of the thing would fall away, I do like something memorable.
When I did first lines several posts ago, I made it a quiz. Well, heck, it’s the weekend, so I’ll just tell you straight out where these gems came from. I think that’s more than fair.
- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- He loved Big Brother. –George Orwell, 1984
- Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. –Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years
- Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four
hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as,
in all good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will
not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until
a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand
and one children have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s
children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be
sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or
die in peace. –Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
- The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from
pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. –George
Orwell, Animal Farm
- But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that
enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be
playing. –A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
- Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.” –Russell Banks, Continental Drift
- But that is another tale, and as I said in the beginning, this is just a story meant to be read in bed in an old house on a rainy night. –John Cheever, Oh What a Paradise It Seems
- Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day. –Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
- . . . and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses
I’m ending with the last line of Ulysses because Joyce is my favorite author and I especially like the way this line brings the story to a very suitable conclusion. We all know the last line of Gone With the Wind. And, even if we don’t remember reading Animal Farm, that ending will make us cringe. Márquez and Rushdie are a bit long-winded, but in both cases, by the time you get to the ends of their stories, you see that these lines are fitting.
If you were writing this post, what last lines would you have included?
Journalists are taught that basic news stories focus on the 5Ws and the H, that is, who, what, when, there, why, and sometimes how. Consider this lead to a news story:
City council members Roger Daniels and Steve Tanner were killed when their sports utility vehicles collided at the corner of 5th and Main during the morning rush hour here today.
- Who: Roger Daniels and Steve Tanner
- What: Two Deaths
- When: This Morning
- Where: 5th and Main
- Why: Automobile collision
If the story was written soon after the wreck, the how isn’t known? Since those involved were city council members, there may be a follow-up story explaining how it happened even before a police investigation is completed. In terms of the 5Ws, there aren’t many variations of automobile crashes at intersections.
Some gurus suggest that there aren’t many plot variations available to novelists either. They say the number is finite and/or that–in terms of the basic who-what-when-where-why series of events–all of the universe’s stories have already been told. So why, then, are writer still writing?
Because of the how.
In an interview in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers, Salman Rushdie says that James Joyce’s novel Ulysses doesn’t have much of a plot, that is to say, the who, what, when, where and why are very spartan. As he puts it, “Man works around Dublin for a day.” A lot of people do that, if not in Dublin, in some other city.
“But the how,” he adds, “is what makes this a gigantic work of literature.” A story, he believes, “works” or “doesn’t work” based on the how. He suggests writers should take an organized approach when they contemplate writing a new story, asking themselves what are they writing about, what’s the story there, whose story are you telling, and why are you telling it?
But the important questions are how are are doing it? and why are you doing it like that?
Whether you take an organized approach via such questions, outlines, and other pre-planning or begin with a notion and simply start writing to see where the story goes, the how is the real story. A Dylan Thomas fan, I’ve always liked his poem “The Force That Through The Green Fuse” that begins: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees/Is my destroyer.” That force is energy.
I see that force in stories as roughly defined by the “how of it all.”
If you were to develop a short story using the events in the accident story above as the plot, it’s likely that the story wouldn’t become a gigantic work of literature if how it happened turned out to be that one of the drivers was texting and ran a red light.
But what if it was a murder/suicide? What if criminals jimmied the brakes in both cars? What if one or both men were being controlled by a witch? Okay, now we might be going somewhere readers can’t help but read about.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” People are kidnapped everyday, but how Eulalie stops this from happening is the true energy behind the story.