Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Yesterday, being in a grumpy mood from a sprained knee, I limped over to the library and picked up a copy of Harold Bloom’s Critical Edition of Mary Shelley. I really don’t have much to say on Bloom except whenever I read him, I snooze but this Edition gathers the stuff people said about her and her work, Frankenstein. Frankenstein doesn’t interest me but what they had to say about her did.

Particularly what her husband says. I haven’t read Shelley in a long time but I was struck by his…his usage of words. I’ve been studying scansion off and on and just his sheer way with the stuff made me all dewy-eyed, etc, etc.  I’ll just share the last stanza but the whole thing is worth reading, The Revolt of Islam, The Dedication.

“Truth’s deathless voice pauses among mankind!
If there must be no response to my cry—
If men must rise and stamp with fury blind
On his pure name who loves them,—thou and I,
Sweet friend! can look from our tranquillity
Like lamps into the world’s tempestuous night,—
Two tranquil stars, while clouds are passing by
Which wrap them from the foundering seaman’s sight,
That burn from year to year with unextinguished light.”

As purdy as it is…what strikes me is the shame of it. Imagine writing Frankenstein when You’re nineteen and then…and then…more or less everyone dies around you (two children, your half sister, your husband, his dear friend and yours, Byron) and you’re left pretty much destitute with one small child and a society that shuns you. She commented that at 29, everyone she knew and loved had nearly all passed on. Not surprising  another masterpiece never flowed from her pen. There was no support structure left and masterpieces do not come out of the emotionally (or physically) destitute , no matter what a certain reading crowd would like to think.

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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.