A Little Fiction: All Fall Down

Shelly and Hank had planned this camping trip as an attempt at getting back together. It wasn’t working. He was late picking her up, the drive took five hours instead of their usual three, and when they finally found a space to camp, they argued over where to set up the tent.

She dropped the side of the tent she was holding and walked away. “All right, fine. You deal with it.” She headed for the river bluff. She thought Hank would come after her, but he didn’t.

riverview
the Mississippi / Gerry Wilson

The bluff dropped steeply away to the river, maybe thirty, forty feet. Willows clung to the banks and leaned out into the sky like filmy, green parachutes. Shelly walked as near the edge as she dared and considered climbing down. She had always wanted to do it; why not now?

She looked for a place that wasn’t a sheer drop, where there was brush, or outcroppings of stone. She eased over the edge and grabbed a sapling, then another, her breath coming hard, thought I can do this, until a branch bent and snapped, rocks skittered and fell, and she slipped, clutching at mud and stone and brush. She slid all the way down, landed on the narrow bank, rolled towards the rushing water, clawed at the mud to drag herself back. She lay still and assessed what hurt: her head, her right shoulder, her right ankle.

She sat up. The knees of her jeans were torn and stained with blood, her hands scraped and bloody, too, and caked with mud. She unlaced her hiking shoe and took off her sock. The throbbing ankle was already swelling and turning blue. Jesus. She pulled the sock back on and forced her foot back into the shoe. Pain jolted from her ankle to her thigh.

“Hello?” she yelled. “Hank? Anybody?”

Nearly five o’clock. The bluff cast deep shadows on her and on the river. Maybe  twenty yards away, a sandbar extended out into the water. She’d be more visible from there. She tried to stand, but she couldn’t bear weight on the ankle. She crawled far enough out onto the sandbar to see the top of the bluff. She called out again, “Hello? Hello! Down here! Help me!” But the day picnickers and hikers would have gone home by now. The overnight campers, like Hank, would be settling in. On the river, no vessels—an old-fashioned word her father, a retired Navy man, would have used—this time of day, no kayaks or canoes, no pleasure boats.

The sky was a clear, deepening blue. The wind out on the sandbar went suddenly chilly. The rising moon had a corona of light. That was supposed to mean something: a sign of rain? Bad luck?

Shelly washed her stinging hands and splashed her face with the cold river water. She struggled to her feet and tried her weight again on the throbbing ankle. She had to get off the sandbar. She hobbled the length of it before she dropped to her knees and crawled back to the shelter of the bluff.

No way she could climb. She’d be fine right there, a little banged up and wet. Hank would come looking for her. All she had to do was wait.

###

This piece of flash fiction is headed over to Yeah Write, where writing events abound. Writer friends, be sure to check them out!

Great Expectations: Ten Things to Expect When You Launch Your Book

Welcome to the new world of this first-time author!

It’s a grand place to be, full of surprises and rare moments. The learning curve has been steep at times, but it’s oh-so-much fun.

Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS
Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS

After months of preparation and anticipation and, finally, these last two weeks of launching Crosscurrents and Other Stories, I want to share some observations about kicking your precious baby, your book, out into the world:

  • Expect to learn about marketing. Unless you publish with a major house, you’ll need to do much of your marketing and promotion on your own. (Yes, even with a terrific small press like mine–I say that word, mine, with great pride, Press 53.) You’ll research bookstores and review possibilities, make those contacts and introduce (sell) yourself and your book, set dates, send promo material, follow up, follow up, follow up. (Did I say follow up?)
  • Expect to get comfortable with self-promotion. If you don’t believe in your book, who else will?
  • Expect to choose what you’ll read at a signing (a real signing; imagine it) ahead of time, but have a backup plan so that, when you size up your audience (and realize the adultery story Just Won’t Do), you’ll have another option. Read your selections aloud and time them. Better to be too short than too long. Read scenes, not an entire chapter. If your book is a short story collection like mine, read scenes from two or three stories and stop each time at a powerful moment; leave your audience hanging so they’ll want more.
  • IMG_3973
    TurnRow Books, Greenwood, MS

    Expect the unexpected: The hem comes out of your pants. Your hair goes limp. Your ex shows up. Your best friend from childhood, whom you haven’t seen in ages, shows up, too. She’s the first person you see when you get out of the car in front of the bookstore and you fold into each others’ arms and hug and cry like the girls you used to be.

  • You’ll see people you haven’t seen in years. Expect not to remember the names of everybody you’ve ever met who might show up at a signing. It’s okay to ask. It’s also okay to say, “Now, you spell that with ie, not y, right?” Much better than getting it wrong. You’ll meet strangers. Treat them like friends.
  • At a moment when you least expect it, expect a lump in your throat when you’re reading, that rare moment when your own words move you and you know–you know–they’re good.
  • Expect the turnout, however small, to be great: these folks are your readers. Make them feel significant. Make their coming out to meet you feel worthwhile.
  • Expect to be disappointed: the turnout isn’t what you expected; the audience (if you’re lucky enough to have one) doesn’t laugh where you thought they would, or they laugh when you think they shouldn’t; you don’t sell many books. But you’re making contacts. You’re creating a network of bookstores, readers, and friends who’ll come back–next time.
  • IMG_3984
    Off Square Books, Oxford, MS

    Expect a remarkable level of generosity and hospitality on the part of independent book stores. They are gracious. book-loving folks; they want you to succeed.

  • Expect to be gracious back. Pass along the wealth of good will. Thank the bookstores for having you. Recommend them to others. Write notes or call or at least email your friends and thank them for coming. Go to other authors’ signings, like their Facebook posts and pages, and generally be a cheerleader for other authors’ voices whenever and wherever you can because now you know what it feels like to be a first-timer, which, I expect, is not so different after all from being a second-timer or a fourth or a  twenty-first. Because we are all after the same thing: we want our words to matter.

Other first-time authors out there: what was your most unexpected moment? Your proudest?

Writers Tell All—Blog Hop

Thanks to Jennifer Chow for tagging me in the Writers Tell All Blog Hop challenge, where writers talk about their process! Please visit Jennifer and the other writers I’ll tag below the post.

Question 1: What are you working on?

Does nail-biting over query responses count as work? It should. There’s a novel “out there,” being read.

I’m writing short stories right now; three drafts in various stages need to be finished and sent out. My most recently published story, “Book of Lies,” is here, in Prime Number Magazine.

There’s also that pesky novel start that won’t cooperate but won’t leave me alone, either.

I’m dreaming. A lot. When I wake and remember a dream, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with story.

Question 2: How does your writing process work?

Work in Progress / Gerry Wilson
Work in Progress / Gerry Wilson

So maybe what I said about dreaming should go here instead. But fiction ideas can come from anywhere; often, for me, they come from memory, but the memory has to be altered  to work as fiction. Sometimes it’s a remembered incident or a place or a person, or even one particular characteristic of that person. No “real” truth, but story. Stories also come from people-watching, accidental encounters (like a guy who came to our house the other day to do some work–what a story there!), images.

I’m a pantser, no doubt about it. I don’t outline, although I realize I could probably save myself a lot of work if I did. The closest I’ve come to outlining is a rubric Ann Hood shared in a workshop back in January; it’s not an outline, exactly, but I did have to address plot points, create a one-sentence summary/pitch, that sort of thing—helpful exercises for me. I’ve been known to use index cards to plot out story lines and character development, but only after I have a draft. Sometimes I know the end of the story; often, I don’t. I have to go there.

Once I have a decent draft of a story (or a chapter), I ask my husband to read it. He’s usually my first reader, and he’s a great one. I also send it to a few other writer-friends I trust. These readers are my lifeline to the reality of the work; they often provide the “aha” moments I need to revise and polish.

Then I rewrite, as many times as it takes. Sometimes, my readers read again. This goes for novel drafts as well as short pieces.

I send the manuscript out, wait, and hope. And once in a while, there’s that affirmation: “Yes, we love your story, and we’d like to publish it.”

Question 3: Who are the authors you most admire?

As far as classics go, I’m a fan of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, all great Southern writers on whose work I “cut my teeth.” As for contemporary writers–I’d have to say Ian McEwan, Marilynne Robinson, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Ann Patchett, Jane Hamilton . . . There are many others, of course. In addition to the pure pleasure of reading, I never fail to learn from what I read.

Now it’s my turn to tag three writers. Please visit their blogs and see what they say when Writers Tell All!

Jane Ann McLachlan

Jeannine Everett

Elissa Field