Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

The truth is, I feel a little bored today. The “Julie and Julia” book is rather boring. I suppose I’m just not there yet. She's funny but I'm not connecting. She’s lovable and goofy but I’m just not interested. I like Catherine Newman so much better- and Anne Lamott and Carolyn See. But this woman, Julie Powell just doesn’t grab me.

So I’m trying to think of what and who does grab me. I suppose who I love, really, are the poets who also write prose. It seems all the fiction writers and memoir writers that fascinate me the most are also poets. I wish I wrote more poetry. I think I just feel daunted. I did write it in college and I know how to do it but when I sit down to do it, I just feel out of steam. I feel all used up. All my vague ideas rollicking around in my head are all used. They’re not, of course but it seems like that. After I stopped writing poetry for a small creative writing class, a huge block moved into place.
So’s I have a plan. It’s been a back burner for awhile but I think I might pull it out. One of my most puzzling interesting authors is Frances Mayes. Not only is she a writer but also a poet and she did write a book on poetry. And I do have it. I need to pull it out and start reading it. It’s a good heavy solid book and I just need to spend time with it. I also want to spend time with Ted Kooser’s book on making poetry (which I also have), I just need to find it in my car. Ted is such an enjoyable writer that I tend to cruise over his mechanics of poetry just to read about his life stories. If you haven’t read his “Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps” you should because it’s a very precious little jewel. I need to re-read that too. It's funny, smart and everything is cut up into little fragments- just what I like. Complete thoughts and scenarios in about a thousand words or less.

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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.