Some Short Stories, Explained

Songwriters are praised for their personal lyrics, yet I found that as a young writer, I was punished greatly for writing about what I knew best, turning my own life stories into fictional tales that highlighted different emotions I experienced. There were cases when I was dumped by a girlfriend or given a stare by a friend who thought I was recreating exact stories from my life – play by play. But what I was really doing was taking real life events and spinning them and the emotions of it into a fictional character, then dramatizing and substituting where appropriate. Hemingway did this very thing with The Sun Also Rises – widely considered a masterpiece – which allowed it to carry real feelings of his actual journey but to be elevated by liberties.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to get back into fictional mode of late. I’ve been busy working on new projects and travel writing, but I’m trying to make room for it again when I can. I’ve spent the last few weeks going over some of my old stuff. I’m hoping to make another collection in 2017. So at the risk of it being a little indulgent, I’ve spent some time writing out explanations of the older stories, hoping it would reconnect me with them. I have enjoyed going back over these stories, some of which were written close to a decade ago, and reliving what was going on in my life at the moment, what drew me to the story in the first place.

I thought the end product might be fun for others to see as well, since many of them are written in iceberg theory and are not linear. Perhaps they will shed some light into my thought process and allow you to relate further to the story.

I cannot say that I still like all of these stories but they were written very honestly and intentionally and to my former self I give tremendous props for seeing them through. The titles are links to the stories.

Into the Wild:

After writing most of it in one sitting, this story took me over two years to finish. I was having a hell of a time figuring out how to end it, until one day it suddenly came to me when I was trekking in Myanmar.

People romanticize country living, and enjoy it immensely in short doses. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of a simple lifestyle. But some people simply aren’t built for it, and it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. Here, we see a couple move from big-city Chicago to the country to give it a shot. One of them loves it, the other does not, and they end up going separate ways at the end. It’s sad and simple, and because of that, true.

The Beginning of Something:

This story was originally called “Via Text.” It was supposed to be my nod to modern day courtship, where people forgo real-life conversations for dating sites and electronic messaging. I decided to change the name once the story developed and I realized that it wasn’t an honest courtship, that the girl already had a boyfriend. We can see from their conversation that it is definitely the beginning of something, but exactly what remains to be seen. I was also quite fond of the title as a tribute to Hemingway’s The End of Something, one of my favorite Hemingway stories.

The Ring:

When I first started traveling for work, I went through periods of extreme loneliness and others of extreme desire. I guess the road does that to you, one way or the other, and I guess you could say I was a bit of a hopeless twenty-something romantic, experiencing a lot of things for the first time as my life completely changed, almost overnight, thanks to a new career path. I wanted to capture both sides of the extreme, the loneliness and the desire amidst a glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle. The Ring takes us into the mind of a depressed travel writer who becomes fixated on a woman who may or may not be engaged.

Till Death Do Us Part:

This story has less to do with my fascination with aliens and much more to do with a desire to boil down life to its core desires. The male character in the story says it best: Truly, all the things in life that bother me are now gone. Survival is finally enough. There’s a sense of relief in that. But the female character does not share his optimism, dwelling on the fact that they are supposed to get married tomorrow.

Fight or Flight:

When I first published this story online, my sister wrote me to say that she thought I was romanticizing suicide, and that I was wrong in doing that, that it wasn’t this glorious act, that it was just the opposite, in fact, a disgusting, selfish act. I don’t disagree with her, but the point of the story is to show suicide from the mind of someone who is about to commit it. Unfortunately, those people do romanticize it, and Fight or Flight is a look inside that mindset.

Let Me Off Here:

A young couple making love, each with headphones in, totally disconnected. But at the end we discover that one of them isn’t listening to music. When my first collection of short stories was reviewed, the ending of this story was described as revealing “Love in the 21st Century.”

The Bachelor:

Originally called “The Conversation,” this story, like many of mine do, positions two friends of differing beliefs/experiences against one another. Here, we see a dramatic encounter through which, via these two friends, I try to shed light on the extreme ends of the internal struggle we all endure as we march toward our future and make big decisions about life.

For What It’s Worth:

For What It’s Worth takes some of my favorite writing advice (“Anyone can go on and on and on”) and twists it to help a man relay to his girlfriend why he doesn’t want to get married. She, looking around her at the relationships of others, feels differently. Tight and revealing, I consider this to be one of my most complete examples of iceberg theory writing.

The Next Day:

Written in stream-of-thought style while staying true to iceberg theory principles, The Next Day is a love letter of sorts, an emotional snapshot of a man returning from a vacation in Mexico, leaving behind something he had with someone he met, wondering what “it” was in the first place, confident that he can find it again.

Table For One:

This story is pretty straightforward and features a remorseful man who finds himself alone on Valentine’s Day.

In Another Country:

A man on the road, bound for home, pines for a woman he courted the previous night. Although similar in principle, the character in In Another Country lacks the confidence of the character in The Next Day.  “I can always find a way to see the countryside.  The girl is another story.” The last line (desperately seeking a piece of gum) is my way to describe what kind of night he had with her, which you will understand only if you have gone through such a morning.

Self Help:

I experienced a lot of self-doubt during my younger years as it relates to my writing, and I wanted to write something that captured not only those feelings, but the process of trying to build myself back up. For me, that usually that involved a fair amount of drinking and self-reflection. I wanted to capture that, the process of believing in yourself. Because it is indeed a process.

A Thick Paper:

This story showcases two single men with a deep difference between them. One is still willing to give romance a shot, and one is discouraged to the point of cynicism. Ultimately they both agree though: The beginning is good, and from there it gets tricky. The story contains one of my favorite iceberg-theory, character-revealing one-liners: “You’re home a little early to be asking about it.”

Hair of the Dog:

Here you have a look at the lifestyles of two friends, one single and one in a relationship. One is out partying too much and sleeping around, the other is adversely comfortable in a long term relationship. In the end, it’s merely a fun look at two young men living two different realities. The title of the story quite literally describes what’s taking place: a drink in the morning to ward off the night before. For one, it’s a wild night. For the other, it’s the exact opposite.

A Whore’s Breakfast:

A girl who doesn’t want to give up, and a guy who doesn’t’ know how to say no. When he begins to regret a pact he made the night before to call out of work, he pretends to get called in. No, she is not the whore.

Here’s Your Receipt:

I consider this the sister story of “For What It’s Worth” because 1) I wrote them about the same time and 2) they are very similar in construction. Here, a young man hashes out the emotions of young love on an airplane, with a mature man who helps to set him straight.

A Night of the Green River:

I wanted to mess around with murder. At the time I wanted to make a mini-series out of it, so I wrote a second one.

 

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