Tag Archives: humor

Confessions of a Cake Crumbler

Ccake.jpgOURT TRANSCRIPT: STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, RANDOLPH COUNTY. FILED 12 DEC 2018.

JUDGE: The defendant is charged with consuming half of a coconut vanilla pound cake within just two days of its baking. For the record, this charged has been reduced from a felony to a second-class misdemeanor. Ms. Memory, how do you plead?

ME (hangs head): Guilty.

JUDGE (bangs gavel): Duly recorded. I understand that you’ve conferred with your attorney and before sentencing, you wish to make a statement to the court.

ME: Thank you, your honor. I do. (Stands up and faces the judge.) While I’m certainly willing to take my share of the blame, at this time I would like to name my accomplice.

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Treat your writing like fine cheese….

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best Gruyère cheese–the one earning the lofty “AOP” designation in Switzerland–merges both morning and evening milk.

The poet in me likes to think this means both the cow’s morning cheerfulness and her late afternoon pensiveness swirl into the same vat. It’s more likely that mixing last night’s milk into the morning batch gives a head start to the culturing process. The cheese is then aged five months up to a year, another step which lends Gruyère its trademark complexity–sweet, salty, and nutty.

William Trevor, one of my literary idols, was famous for penning a short story and putting it away for as much as six months before re-reading and revising. Now that takes discipline! It’s also a testament to his productivity. I’m sure he had so many pieces in various stages of production that it never bothered him to shelve something for a time.

Jane Austen is another writer known for her reflection. Pride and Prejudice took many years to write. And this delightful novel started out with the title of “First Impressions.” It was only after months of revision and consideration did she settle on the final name of the book that we all know and love so much today.

Both Trevor and Austen, although very different writers, made a name for themselves through complex characters and subtle humor, two elements that can only flourish with adequate rumination and revision.

The next time you finish a story, poem, or essay, try putting it away for a little while. At least give it a good night’s sleep. Fan those first flames of enthusiasm (morning milk) with a healthy dose of maturation (evening milk). I bet you’ll end up with a final product as nuanced and delicious as Gruyère! Bon Appétit!

First cherries, first lines

cherriesOut of our four young cherry trees, we ended up with just a handful of tart cherries this year. Our Montmorency tree (left), the first one we planted three years ago, yielded the most fruit.

The first line of a story should be as memorable as the taste of a tart cherry–tangy, sweet, then tangy again. It’s almost lemony, but there’s something else–the flavor of early summer, morning breezes, balmy nights, the eerie song of the wood thrush in the hollow.

“One fine evening the no less fine office manager Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov was sitting in the second row of the stalls, watching The Bells of Corneville through opera glasses.” (Anton Chekhov, The Death of a Clerk)

“Miss Matt was at least partially conscious that she looked like the teacher everyone has had for English in first-year high school; she was small and pretty, in a rice-powder fashion, with a great mass of soft dark hair that tried to stay on top of her head and straggled instead down over her ears; her voice was low and turned pleading instead of sharp; any presentable fourteen-year-old bully could pass her course easily.” (Shirley Jackson, The Sorceror’s Apprentice)

“Hazel Morse was a large, fair woman of the type that incites some men when they use the word ‘blonde’ to click their tongues and wag their heads roguishly.” (Dorothy Parker, Big Blonde)

Does your first sentence sing with vivid language? Mystery and intrigue? Does it draw your reader deeper? As I revise the stories I drafted this past month, I’ll be cognizant of the work of the masters in the first sentences of their stories, as quoted above. There’s a trick here, and these authors do it. That first sentence must hint at the plot and the universal truth (or unique vision) that caused the author to write the story in the first place.

As we approach the end of my story-drafting blitz this month, (three more to go!) I was delighted to receive a note from the editors of  The Birds We Piled Loosely, a hip online literary magazine, that they accepted two of my short humor flashes: “Etymology in the Neighborhood” and “We Are So Very Sorry” for their July issue.

Come to think of it, submitting work for publication is also a bit like growing cherries in the south. It’s unpredictable, a little scary, (will a late frost hurt those flower buds?) but the scarcity makes the few cherries you do harvest that much more delicious. So keep it up…both the cherry growing and submitting!

 

The Passing of a Storyteller

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Yesterday I learned that the celebrated Irish author William Trevor passed away at the noble age of 88.  The world will undoubtedly mourn the passage of a veritable literary lion—the recipient of nearly every major literary prize except, regrettably, the Nobel—but it is a true personal loss for me. Not just as a writer, and his influence on my writing has been immeasurable but even having never met the man I owe him a tremendous debt as a person.

How many times have I retreated to his world of extraordinary “ordinary” characters? I still do. In fact, it was inside the pages of his hundreds of short stories that I began to truly accept my own flaws and embrace my quirkiness. In doing so, I found that my compassion for my fellow misfits in the world deepened. His words have made me cry and laugh  – the belly-aching kind – the best therapy of all. It is no exaggeration to say that this man saved me thousands of dollars in psychotherapy, I’m sure.

Although he wrote 14 novels, as masterful as they are, he is most revered for his short stories. “Raymond Bamber and Mrs. Fitch” and “A Complicated Nature” are two of my favorites, or at least they come to mind right now, for their Trevoresque blend of humor and pathos. “Access to the Children,” “Her Mother’s Daughter, and “A Wedding in the Garden” are three more poignant stories. And thanks to his inimitable variety, Trevor crafted unforgettable stories of quiet horror that resonate deeply, such as “Miss Smith,” “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” and “The Teddy-bears’ Picnic.” More recent collections yielded other small masterpieces such as “A Bit on the Side,” “Marrying Damian,” and “Sacred Statutes.” This last story earned him one of his four O’Henry Prizes, a nice little connection to North Carolina, since this award is named after a native son also famous for his short stories! The list goes on and on.

While I will mourn this man, as is his due, I will not descend into tearful blubbery. I will not. I cannot. His works have brought me such joy, consolation, and communion with my fellow humans that my overriding emotion is one of gratitude.

“My fiction may, now and again, illuminate aspects of the human condition, but I do not consciously set out to do so,” Trevor told one interviewer in a story posted by the Associated Press yesterday. “I am a storyteller.”

From one storyteller to another, I thank you, Mr. William Trevor, pardon me, Sir William Trevor, for all that you mean to me.