James Thomas (Pictures, Moving [Dragon Gate. 1985]), is the editor of three volumes of work in the sudden fiction genre, along with Robert Shapard: Sudden Fiction , Sudden Fiction International, and Sudden Fiction (Continued). I recommend these books, the first published by Gibbs Smith, the next two by Norton. They include work by such authors as John Updike, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel García Márquez, Alice Walker, and Pam Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness [Norton. 1992]).
Aside from sudden fiction works, all my work here is a risk of one sort or another, as all writing should be, I think. If I'm not a little worried about people reading what I'm writing, I haven't gotten to it yet. With these works, the mere fact that they are sudden fiction is a big risk. Many readers are unresponsive, some are down right revolted -- see the notes for "Three Seconds..." for the quintessential example.
My work is probably, in the end, much more conventional than I
want to think it is. But, I am striving to not be conventional, at least
not all the time. This is the real big risk, because I'm going to fall on
my ass as a writer on a regular basis. Some of you visiting here will
think that is the case with most or all of what is here. So be it. I am
happy (enough) with this work to put it on the web -- but, there is still
an element of risk in such, and that tells me it's a good thing to do.
One final note: this document essentially serves as an example for the authors' notes for those of you who submit your work to the WriteGallery. The notes for "Three Seconds...," however, are a bad example, because they are just a tad too long. I pull site author's privilege here. It probably isn't fair, but, nevertheless....
Your author's notes, by the way, are not required, but, they are
most certainly welcome.
"Three Seconds In the Lives of Two Young People Who Haven't Met"
"The Falcon-Dream Mind of Gladys Davis-Parker"
"Down For Me"
"Haikus of Taimbee"
"What Pulls From Me A Cry Still Pained and Haunted"
"The Voices Said"
In the Molly Youngkin article this is referred to as "Two Seconds In the Life...." Ms. Youngkin is not responsible for that mistake. I Got it wrong. It wasn't a case of a revised title, I just simply got it wrong. Got the word length wrong, too. I said 800 words in the interview. 501 is accurate.
That said, this finished second in the 1996 Dayton Voice Summer Fiction and Poetry contest, to become my first published work. It was immediately criticized by a contestant who did not finish in the contest. In a letter to the editor in the very next issue of The Dayton Voice, Mr. Roderick Sentor, Jr. said, in part, of my piece: "...I might suggest trying to resolve [what is] the actual difference between a short story and a poem...." Mr. Sentor apparently has a more staid, conventional approach to fiction than I sometimes do. He needed a sense of conventional structure. But, he even went so far as to suggest that I and some of the other winners had no talent:
Tragically, it seems abundantly evident that none of the criteria by which a story deserves to be judged -- namely talent -- seem very important anymore. Instead we have "short stories" that are really nothing more than excerpts from people's lives, and rather unremarkable lives at that.... And saddest of all, we have literary judges who seem to like the stuff....
My good critic is correct in asserting that "Three Seconds..." is not a short story. That is quite technically true. However, Mr. Sentor missed the point that the contest is not a short story contest, it is a Fiction and Poetry Contest. My work meets this criteria -- and most especially the "talent" criteria (thank you, Mr. Roderick Sentor, Jr.!).
Sentor gets credit for recognizing the poetry of the prose, also. That was very deliberate on my part. If I were willing to profess in a belief in the existence of prose-poems, I would probably label this as such. I choose to believe in poetic prose work, which is what I see this piece as. As most of my very short fiction is, this is impressionistic, and approaching it with the rhythm, lyric, and language of poetry felt like the way to go. There's no doubt that I could break this up differently on the page and present it as a poem. There are times I think that maybe the only distinction between some prose and some poetry is just that: presentation on the page. Nevertheless, this piece is very certainly a fiction about three seconds in the lives of two young people who haven't met. I meant it as an examination, or, perhaps a celebration of all the hopes, dreams, feelings, impressions that we as humans can know we are having, but which become almost histories in our experience before our minds can form the words to express them. It's a fiction, written in the language of poetry, but, it is not a poem.
One of the most satisfying things about this one has been the
response from women. I've had feed back from about a dozen women who all
have told me they find the young lady in the story very valid.
The full text of Roderick Sentor, Jr.'s letter to the editor,
"Poems should rhyme," was published in the Dayton Voice, July 17-23, 1996 (v.4:29).
The newspaper has since had a title change and is now the Impact Weekly.
This one took first place in the 1997 Sinclair College Creative Writing contest. I was actually a bit surprised that it finished so. I like the piece, I just felt it was a not quite done yet. Of course, at any given moment, I can think this of anything I've ever written. I hear I'm not the only writer who feels so about his or her work.
Like many works by many writers, it took me a while to get this one out. The idea came to me about 1990. About a year after that, I got a few paragraphs scribbled into a note pad, and then, that was left, as author Natalie Goldberg would say, in the compost heap to germinate.
I did occasionally think upon it when I sat down to come up with a new piece of work. But, I never so much as attempted to put a word down again. I didn't know how to get from it what I wanted, or what I felt I wanted. I could feel what I wanted even if I could not have told you, or myself (for that matter), what it was.
In the summer of 1996, it poked itself out of the compost heap and this time I was ready for it. Those first few scribbles had been present tense but in first person. I was wanting to risk a second person piece again. I had tried several times before with rather crappy results. The stuff always read like badly written travel brochures. My gut told me that this idea was perfect for that difficult perspective. I picked the name Shiloh because I've always wanted to name my child that: "boy or girl."
This did not even get an honorable mention in the 1997 Dayton Daily News Creative Writing contest. Another big risk at a couple levels, the first being subject matter. Frank Dobson, my instructor at the 1996 Wright State University Experience of Writing work shop, assigned all us writers, there with him, to write something outside of our experience. So, I, middle- aged white guy, from a lower middle class family, settled upon an elderly African American stroke victim, who is a woman, was a child actor in the depression era, and later in life earned a Ph.D. And, also, has a middle- aged son who is a Pulitzer prize winning author. The second risk, was to make it all dialogue. This has been done before, but, rarely with success. Despite the lack of showing in the literary contest, and, it's lack of publication since, I believe I was successful here. One friend told me he found the whole life of the woman to be very unlikely. I haven't yet come to see how this is a problem.
The piece was originally called, "The Dream-Eagle Mind of Gladys Davis-Parker." Poet Irene McKinney, upon critiquing the poem, which is Gladys's lucid voice, suggested that eagles conjure up too many images of American heritage, especially Native American folk lore. So, I changed it to Falcon-Dream. Though, Dream-Eagle still has a nice assonance I miss.
Another very impressionistic piece. When the 1997 Dayton Voice Fiction and Poetry contest rolled around I had nothing ready that was short enough. Anything I could have finished would have been severely compromised if cut down to the mandatory 2,000 words or fewer. So, I wrote "Hanna's Trespass." To get started I played an alphabet game. I randomly wrote all the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper. "D" was the first on the page, so I opened a big dictionary to the D section, arbitrarily picked a column and counted up an arbitrary number from the bottom of that column. I came upon the word "dewdrop," and thus got the first word of the story. This one is a story, if an opaque one.
I went back to the game whenever I got hung up. The only rule I had was that during the first draft, I could not reject the word that resulted from the game, I had to make it work. In revision I was free to do whatever I wanted.
I had no preconception of what this story was. I let it bring me in to it. I didn't know that Hanna and Charlie were siblings at first. I knew they weren't lovers, and I teased a suggestion that they were out of an impulse that such a suggestion would help introduce the intensity and intimacy of their relationship. I did know early that they had a deep connection. Looking back at how bad their plan seemed to be I had at a point thought about a serious revision to make her strategy smarter. But it just seems to me that her plan should be bad -- I don't think it was ever her intent to succeed, anyway. I think the whole production is the exorcism of her guilt. She may not know it, but, isn't there a sense that Charlie does, and that he's play-acting a role, not to humor her, but to assist her in her ritual?
The judges did not honor this piece at all, by the way.
I and my photographer friend, David Sims, have been painfully slow at marrying his photos and my words -- usually poems. As of late July, 1997, this is the only finished product of what was a grand plan for a book's worth of material. Though there are at least a dozen more photos I'm hot to pen to. I have a couple poems that are well started, and some good ideas for others. Stay tuned. They may end up here.
The photo is of David's wife, Justin, during a vacation in Florida, circa 1991.
As much as I am prone to free verse, like the majority of writers of poetry for the last century, I still find structured poetry compelling. Haiku offers a most interesting invitation to me. Creating a longer work from the compartmentalized stanzas of haiku is an exercise I recommend. I chose to use the incorrect pluralization of haiku in the title, because, as the sub-title tells you: it's all really one unit, and not plural at all.
Dayton poet Gary Pacernick (Something Is Happening [Mellon Poetry Press. 1991]) insisted in an undergraduate poetry class I took from him that all we students write some poems in forms that perhaps we don't particularly care for. I put sonnets in that category. So, attempting open- mindedness, I wrote an English sonnet, called "John's Sonnet," dedicated to John Lennon. If I ever get a good revision, I'll send it up somewhere, here maybe.
The experience helped me to appreciate structured poetry, which I'm sure was Dr. Pacernick's goal, and I even came to like sonnets. This is the only sonnet I've written that I think much of. I've had problems with the couplet, and in fact, completely re-wrote it when I worked up the html code here. And, check back, as the couplet may still be revised. That's virtual publishing for you....
The earliest work presented here, "The Voices Said," is stolen from an actual incident I was made privy to. Obviously, it's very embellished upon. "He stared at his paint chip on the ceiling," is my favorite line. It was originally "a paint chip," but, a peer in a writing seminar misread it as "his," and then commented that he liked it better that way. I took the point and changed it.