Sometimes It Happens in a Flash

Spry Cookbook 1950s

Circa 1950s recipe booklet

Sometimes stories come together almost instantly. I would say “easy as pie,” except I make pies. I know how much time it takes to get them right!

Sometimes stories take a long time to simmer. An idea might get started, put away, re-started, put away again, and then reappear in a different form. And sometimes, even when a piece feels finished, it can take a long time to find it the right home.

Two examples. My erasure poem, “50 Shades of Spry,” and a flash fiction piece, “The Day Before,” were just published in the Evansville Review.

“50 Shades” grew out of an erasure exercise my writing group did, using old texts about “femininity”–cookbooks, recipe pamphlets, advertisements–and subverting the original messages through erasures. My piece was originally accepted for an anthology that didn’t end up being published, but now it’s published, beautifully, in Volume XXVII of The Evansville Review, a print journal.

“The Day Before,” published in the same journal, started out as two different exercises I assigned in a teen writing workshop a few years ago. One was to start a story with the first line of a song, and one was to describe a particular moment in time. The original image of a “girl in a harbor town,” riding the bus just as the sun was setting, remained constant through all the many forms and titles the story took before finding its way to Evansville.

Meanwhile, back in Rhode Island: I’m teaching a summer flash fiction workshop at the Barrington Public Library. We have a dry-erase whiteboard, and I often ask students to throw out prompt words, characters, settings, or situations. In our first class, we wrote 10-sentence stories, starting with a sentence of 10 words and working our way down to a one-word sentence. One of the prompt words (not shown in the photo, sorry) was “wheelbarrow.”

Story brainstorming board

That word took me to the old song about Molly Malone, and I went with it, giving Molly her own voice. And quite the pissed-off voice it was, because who’d want to be stuck wheeling a wheelbarrow of smelly shellfish throughout eternity?

I liked the voice that came through in that 10-sentence story, so I worked on it a bit more, and several drafts later, sent it out to Bending Genres. Two (!) days later, I found out it’s going to be published in their August issue.

Sometimes it takes two days. Sometimes it takes two years, or longer. A few things I’ve learned:

  1. Always be open to inspiration, however odd or random the source.
  2. Never be afraid to start a new story, even if you have multiple unfinished ones going.
  3. If something’s not working right away, put it a drawer for a while and let it ferment. There will always be new ideas (see #1).

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