Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

mixing and plotting and…things

The new year moves nicely. I have more energy, I read more (I'd like to think the two are connected. As I read more, I have more energy) and I am, of course, much happier.

The old themes are coming out again. Land. The Potawatomi. Living. I read “Q Road” by Bonnie Jo Campbell a few weeks back. I remember telling Jeff about it and he made a comment about the characters being “dysfunctional”. That took me back. Obviously what I just related about these characters was messed up but I never saw it in that way.
How can an author speak of horrible things but in such a way that grace bursts from the pages? A mother shoots a molester, her daughter buries him in a barn (did he molest the daughter? did she want to be molested? the book asks). This is a bright and brittle thing. There is no way to get around it. And yet…instead of me turning away tired and discontent, I grew thoughtful and kept reading. Kept deeply reading. But why? How did she keep me reading instead of growing tired?

I know that Campbell wanted her characters to be more than just characters but archetypes. They are still fully human. I can't say she succeeded with making them archetyes- but she has begun to know. At times, she overdrew them but I could forgive her because…because? she wrote beautifully and she was trying to write truthfully. Not truthfully where everything is beautiful or everything is ugly. Not truthfully where we talk about some things and then not others. But truthfully. This writer has a big heart and I think if she continues, she will become one of the best (and probably least known) writers of our generation.

The struggle of suburbia has always been on my mind. It hurts to see fields turned into layouts for track housing. I know people need a place to live but must there be so much greed? So much goneness? In town, it's easier. There's no ripped up fields, no weird mounds where they rip the topsoil up and then just layer it up before it gets carted away. No compressions in the earth left. No flat sinking table for pre-fab houses and their owners. “Q Road” ponders this. and it ponders that. What is the solution to this tearing? It gives none. And yet…underneath…there is some answer. Rachel (the main character- it's really her book. she is the land in a zillion ways) is growing up and will grow up. That is something within itself, something I don't really understand yet. To grow up. To let go. and yet not to let go. Ever. It's hard to say. This is a writer to watch. I'm fascinated to see how she views these problems in her further books.

on the other hand, Jeff is spiffy! and everyone in my life needs to meet him. I realize this means treking around and I'm determined it will happen! I believe in a very short time, this blog will receive some big news.

More till later
-Cat

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.