Healing through story

Tag: Ernest Hemingway

Mannequin Monday: Reborn

shortfiction24

Only Dead Fish Swim with the Current

An apt quote from Ernest Hemingway. When I focused my blog on short fiction well over a year ago, I had thought the title “Mannequin Monday” was a clever takeoff on “Manic Monday.” Every week words would drape the bare mannequin, clothing it in story. I added quirky mannequin photos to supplement each post. I have certainly enjoyed posting to it weekly. But “Mannequin Monday” has evolved into an ill-fitting name.

I have re-designed my blog to reflect more accurately my writing interests, my author identity. I now term it shortfiction24

I’ve been a presence on the internet for 12 years. I started with my filmmaker site in late 2009, added a blog about storytelling (now merged into the filmmaker site), then developed my current blog, this one my author site. I’ve also written a handful of non-fiction and fiction books in that time.

In those 12 years I have seen many of my original internet interviewees and connections change their online identities, their site logos, their purposes. Some simply moved from one social media outlet to another. Others have changed careers or even disappeared from the internet. 

For a time I found it puzzling how they all changed, thinking it displayed inconsistency. But recently I am realizing how normal this is. Change is normal. Stuck in a time warp is not.

Maria Popova has re-titled her popular Brain Pickings newsletter, now calling it Marginalian. “Becoming the Marginalian: after 15 years, Brain Pickings reborn.” Popova says that many things in life are beyond our control. “But amid our slender repertoire of agency are the labels we choose for our labors of love — the works of thought and tenderness we make with the whole of who we are.”

an ill-fitting name

She further says, “As we evolve — as we add experiences, impressions, memories, deepening knowledge and self-knowledge to the combinatorial pool from which all creative work springs — what we make evolves accordingly; it must, if we are living widely and wisely enough.” Her realization: Brain Pickings had evolved into “an ill-fitting name.” Time for change, for growth.

I once interviewed a Dutch video journalist named Ruud Elmendorp, who has covered Africa for various news services for many years. Ruud is now beginning a new journey filming from a large ship as it roams the Mediterranean Sea searching for immigrants in need of rescue. He has been posting video and his personal thoughts as he begins this journey, seeking a new purpose.

book cover for Keep It Moving, by Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp, in her book Keep It Moving, talks of growing and changing as we age. Of not being stuck in the past. She says, “Your objective is to free yourself to be whatever and whoever you need to be right now.”

I am seeing changes in my own identity and purpose. For years I wrote non-fiction. The move to writing fiction was difficult. Still is. I have now further evolved (at least for the moment!) from writing full length novels to focusing on short fiction. Writing a novel, and then trying to market said novel, is quite difficult. And time-consuming.

I have come to enjoy writing short fiction. Hence the change in my blog from “Mannequin Monday” to shortfiction24. The 24 honors my wife Lynn, born on the 24th of one month, years ago, died on the 24th of another month, in 2020. The image of a cupcake is one of Lynn’s creations, drawn digitally to create a simple greeting card. The cupcake represents a small story bite.

Writing short fiction is, for me, perhaps an outgrowth of writing exercises for the writing courses I have taken in recent years. I’ve worked through three online MOOC courses with the International Writing Program (IWP) of the University of Iowa. Each course involved writing exercises. And I currently belong to a small writing group which is an offshoot of IWP alums. I have also taken a short course in journaling, again with short writing pieces as a daily requirement. 

just keep swimming…

I have evolved through many iterations in my lifetime, yet I believe I have remained rooted in who I am. None of my changes have been total disconnects. As Tharp says, “When making big choices in our lives, the best course is to recognize continuity in our intention. Thus we are neither repudiating nor repeating the past but, rather, respecting it as we move on.”

As Hemingway says, “Only dead fish swim with the current.” And as Disney’s Dory says, “Just keep swimming…swimming.” We keep moving. Always upstream, if we are alive.

My blog shortfiction24 will remain true to its core, storytelling. A new story will appear next week, and every week. And more discussion on storytelling.

I hope you continue to celebrate story with me. Thanks for loving story as I do. Storytelling makes the world go round.

***

Mannequin Monday – Half Pepperoni

This Monday our mannequin stops for pizza before catching a flight back to LA. Two surviving brothers share a moment after yet another family funeral.

What I’m Writing

Here’s a writing exercise I did for a course I’m taking with my writing group. The goal was to create a story around a memory shared by no more than three characters. Their voices should contribute to the reader’s sense of place.

Half Pepperoni

Bob Gillen

Andy and Peter drape their coats over an empty chair, sit down at a table in a deserted pizza place in Queens. The room looks out on a creek, quiet today, two p.m. on a January weekday. 

The owner steps up to the table, wiping his hands on a stained apron. 

“Hey guys. Ain’t seen you in a while.”

“Hey Pat,” Andy says.

“Hi Pat.”

“No one else coming?”

“Just us today.”

“Who died?”

Peter points to his brother Andy. “Andy’s sister-in-law. Michelle.”

“Hey, I’m sorry. Last time you was in here, it was a whole crowd.”

“Not anymore.”

“What’s your poison?”

“Large pizza,” Andy says.

“Half pepperoni,” adds Peter.

“You got it. For you, I’ll make it right away.”

Andy looks around at the empty room. “Pat, we’re the only ones here.”

“Hey, I get delivery orders too, you know.” He disappears behind the counter.

Andy fingers the faded red and white check cloth on their table.“I swear these are the same table clothes from the last time we were here.” 

Peter nods. Says, “So?”

“Yeah. Back again.”

“I know. Another in and out funeral for me.” Peter looks at his watch. “I got time to catch my flight, yeah?”

“Sure. JFK’s got security moving faster these days.”

The two turn to stare out at the creek, all the small boats covered for the winter, bobbing slightly in the chill breeze. Seagulls perch on several of the boats.

“See that white house across the creek? With the closed-in patio?” Peter points out the window. “The one with the floating dock?” 

“Yeah.”

“My eighth grade girlfriend’s house. We used to swim off the dock after school in the spring.” 

“Her name was Patricia?”

“Right. Good memory.” Peter smiles. “I never told mom I was swimming there. I would dry off as best I could, pull on my jeans over my bathing suit, and hope the wet didn’t soak through by the time I got home for supper. She never found out till Patricia’s mother met mom in the market and said it was so nice that we were all swimming every afternoon.”

“She must have been so pissed at you. Because someone knew something she didn’t.”

“Tell me about it. I had so much guilt laid on me over that. Why didn’t you trust me to tell me…”

“And have her say no, right?”

“Yeah. Trust me, but if it’s fun, no way.”

“I remember one day she was crying after she talked to you. Crying in the kitchen. She didn’t see me. Maybe that was the day.”

Peter shrugs.

“Man, that was a lot of years ago,” Andy says.

Peter gets up and walks over to a jukebox standing along the far wall. He drops a few coins in, punches a couple of buttons. As he sits, the first song comes up. For the good times.

“Shit,” Peter shakes his head as he sits. “The day after mom’s funeral, Michelle said to me, Well, Peter, with her gone, you and I are the oldest in the family now.

“I don’t remember her saying that.”

“Yeah, right here. Maybe this same table.”

“And now she’s gone.”

“You and me, man.”

Pat slides a large pizza pan down on the checkered tablecloth. “It’s hot.”

“I hope so,” Andy grins.

Pat tosses paper plates on the table. “Drinks?”

Andy asks for water. “Coke for me, Pat,” Peter says.

Peter reaches for a slice. Bubbling cheese, pepperoni crisp around the edges. Oil dripping onto the plate. “I miss this.”

Andy runs a hand through his hair. “First time we were here…right after dad’s burial. I couldn’t believe he lasted as long as he did.”

“Three years sober and the juice still got him.”

“I don’t think mom was upset at all.”

“What the hell. He used to get loaded, then throw rocks into Jack’s pool next door. She was mortified.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Sure, couple times a week. I’m surprised Jack didn’t slug him.”

Peter laughs. “For almost a year before she died, I’d call mom every week from LA and she’d say, if you can’t get in here to visit me, don’t bother coming to my funeral.”

“She said that?”

“Yup.”

“And you almost didn’t, right?”

“Yeah. It was a busy time. I think I did it just to spite her.”

“That was a big wake. Everyone showed up. In the middle of winter. Probably afraid she would haunt them otherwise.”

Peter laughs as he scarfs down a mouthful of pizza. “I was so annoyed. People kept coming up to me saying, do you remember me? Shit, I hadn’t seen those people in thirty years. One guy, Johnny, the cop from Staten Island, he says, Remember me? I say, “Sure, Richie, how are you?”

“He says, no, I’m Johnny.”

“People do that.”

“It pisses me off. Just say hello and give me your name. Come on…I do appreciate that they came for the wake, though.”

Andy and Peter chew silently for a few minutes.

Pat comes over to the table with their drinks. “You guys, I was just thinking, last time you were in, you had your wives with you.”

Andy looks at Pat over his cheese slice. “Both gone, Pat.”

“Oh shit. I didn’t know.” Pat crosses himself. He waves his hand at the pizza. “This one’s on me. You guys been through a lot of shit.”

“You got that right, man.”

“Hey Pat,” Andy says. “How you doin’? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, business is good. Little slow for the winter. Come summer this place is a gold mine.”

“Your family?”

Pat smiles. “Remember my daughter AnnMarie? Used to wait tables here?” He wipes his hands on his apron, pulls a phone out of his back pocket, thumbs through the pictures. “Here’s the whole family…at her wedding last June.”

Andy and Peter smile at the photo. “Good for you, Pat.”

“I been lucky.” He crosses himself again, walks away.

Peter hoists his Coke glass. “So, Andy, like Michelle said to me, you and me, we’re the oldest in the family now.”

“I still got some good years left in me. You?”

“The same.”

“From our lips…”

***

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Mannequin Monday – The Prison She Built For Herself

Mannequin Monday – The Prison She Built For Herself

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Advice from Ernest Hemingway. Looking this week for the hurt in our story. The hurt in our characters. The hurt masked by our mannequin’s facade.

I am reading Under a Gilded Moon, historical fiction set in North Carolina in the time of the Vanderbilts.

And I offer a character sketch for Tessa Warren from book two in my Film Crew series. Welcome to another Mannequin Monday!

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Mannequin Monday – Let His Characters Speak

Mannequin Monday – Let His Characters Speak

Two mannequins behind a store window
Credit: Sempere Mannequins

A defining characteristic of Ernest Hemingway’s writing style: “His decision to let his characters speak.” So says writer Justin Rice on Hemingway’s use of dialogue.

This week I also look at Elmore Leonard. He writes dialogue rich in action and light on description.

And I offer another sample of my own writing, my own attempt at writing decent dialogue.

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Mannequin Monday – Opening Lines

Mannequin hands

Hi. Mannequin Monday again. Dressing the blank page. Making art. Welcome back. I love a good opening line. Pulls you right into the story. One of my favorites is the first sentence of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” The entire story is set up in the one line. The old man will endure in spite of obstacles and pain. 

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