Stories

Writing Stories & My Literary Crush

April 26, 2017

So in some ways this post scares me more than writing about death or cancer or chemo. At the same time, it is way more exciting than death or cancer or chemo.

I’m going to try to start something new on my blog, and I’m a little nervous about doing so. The majority of my posts have been about theology or books or autobiographical or just random musings, but I’m going to try writing something different. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. We’ll see. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should write about after finishing my Contemplating Chemotherapy series. I’ve realized how much I enjoy writing, and so a lot of people have given me feedback about what I should write more. One thing that came up several times from several people was stories. Which, to be honest, scares me a little because I’ve never written any stories and have no idea where to start. But stories have really been very impactful for me personally – both fiction and non-fiction. So if I want to write about what I care about, then maybe I should write about stories – or (and this is the part that scares me) maybe I should write stories.

So it’s been nearly two months since I’ve written anything on this blog, and the reason for that is that I randomly decided on a whim to take an online writing class that was 6 weeks long. It was a class entitled “Writing with Flannery O’Connor” – which pretty much had me hook, line, and sinker. Because if you know anything about me, Flannery O’Connor is my literary crush. She was the first author who taught me to love stories and fiction for themselves – not because they have any utilitarian use for me (like sermon illustrations or blog post material). I read her stories and loved every one of them, but I couldn’t always say why. They were just so beautiful and captivating and interesting – and I felt like she used words to create worlds that I inhabited when I read her.

The problem, though, was nobody wanted to read and discuss Flannery with me. She’s a bit, shall we say, “grotesque” and “gothic,” so every time I gave a book of hers to someone they returned it to me after reading only one story. Apparently, she’s not good material for a ladies book club at the church… So I jumped at the opportunity to read 6 of her stories and discuss them with other people who had to discuss her for the class. The part that scared me was that I had to do “writing assignments” each week – which meant fiction or creative non-fiction writing of stories.

But, I loved it! Even though I had no idea what I was doing, it was so fun to try to tell a story in a vivid and memorable way, and to try to do it like Flannery O’Connor. So I wrote a total of 5 short stories (very short, as in less than 500 words each) for the class, and I’m going to be very brave and share a few of them here on my blog. I think I am going to try and write some more on my own and post them here whenever I finish them – so I’ll have a new category of posts that will all just be stories (some fiction, some creative non-fiction).

Feedback

So, here’s what that means. I’d love your feedback on my stories (if you are interested in reading them at all) – comments, criticism, suggestions, thoughts, etc. I’ll still write my regular type blog posts, but I’m going to try out some stories every once and a while. If you don’t like reading stories and just want to read my other posts, then just skip over anything categorized as “Stories.”

But if you do read my stories, would you let me know what you think? I’m just starting to write, so I’m (hopefully) not too defensive about my story-writing. So let me know if the story was well told – if it captivated you, if you could picture the story I was telling, if there were lines that stuck out to you, etc. Also, tell me ways that I could improve, or tips you’ve learned from your own reading and/or writing. Or just what you liked or didn’t like about the story.

And finally, Flannery O’Connor says in one of her essays, “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” So if I’m not a very good story writer, I’d really appreciate some honest, hard feedback. Maybe I’m just not cut out for writing fiction or stories, so please “stifle” me if that’s the case. I’m new enough to this that my identity isn’t wrapped up in being a fiction writer – so I won’t be too hurt if you bust my balloon.

With that said, here is one of the stories I wrote for the class:


“Opening Day”

“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure you were the best fit for management initially, but these past few weeks have proven me wrong,” the GM told Rich. They were standing in the far end of the three-foot-wide hallway that constituted her office at the back of the restaurant. “I think we’ve got a great crew to open tomorrow.”

The next day, that same hallway was packed tight with boxes of concentrate for the coke machine, bags of white rice that looked (and weighed) more like concrete than tiny grains, and dozens of other crates of dry goods that barely left room for anyone to walk, much less work around. The GM had expected a big turnout opening day and ordered more food than they had space for. It turned out she didn’t order enough.

“We need more steak for the grill!” Angela, a short brunette girl still in high school, darted around the corner with a dozen dirty pans stacked above her head, her non-slip sneakers squeaking on the wet floor; Rich heard a loud crash as rigid metal dropped into the stainless steel sink and scraped the sides before hitting the bottom.

“Black beans to the line!” Jimmy stopped spraying the growing pile of dishes for a second to turn up the radio, poised perilously above the soapy water below; a screaming guitar solo echoed off the walls.

“I’m down to my last deep third of guac!” The walk-in door burst open as Jose backed out blindly with two hotel pans of red meat; he almost ran into Sara, who was half his size, methodically slicing green bell peppers at the table in the middle of the kitchen.

“Knife! Knife!” There was a steady din of customers clamoring over the noise out in the crowded dining room once they got their order.

“Would you like a drink with that, Ma’am?” Hiss. The coke machine sputtered as it ran out of Mr. Pibb.

“Top of the hour – wash your hands!” Chop, chop, chop. “Clean those shallows first, Jimmy!” Splash. “How’s that rice coming along?” Beep, beep. “I need you to wipe down tables four and five, Sara!” Slam.

“Wait… where’s Rich?”

The night air felt cool on his face as Rich pulled off his company-issued cap and tossed it in the dumpster out back. His eyes slowly adjusted to the low light outside and he walked quickly down the deserted alley to his car. He leaned back in the driver’s seat, took a deep breath, and let the stillness settle in – until his phone vibrated twice. He started the ignition and turned off the radio. The low hum of his four-cylinder engine filled the air and the steady motion of the car almost covered up four more vibrations in his right pocket. Staring straight ahead, he took his phone out and put it face down on the passenger seat beside him, then slowly pulled out of the parking lot onto the access road.


 

The assignment was to write about a time when someone did something unexpected, but believable. I was supposed to let the details explain what was unexpected, and also why it was believable – but I was not to editorialize or write anything abstract to explain this – just let the scene do its work.

So did I succeed? Could you tell what was unexpected? Was it believable?


 

Also, if anyone is interested in taking a writing class – the professor I took it from (Dr. Jonathan Rogers) is offering two more online writing classes (6 weeks each) starting either May 1st or May 15th. The one starting May 1st is called “Writing Close to the Earth,” which is about writing earthy stories using the concrete rather than the abstract. And the one starting May 15th is the one I took, called “Writing with Flannery O’Connor” – which I would highly recommend for anyone looking work on their writing skills (and as an added bonus they get to read and discuss an amazing author). Here is a link to both of the Online Writing Classes.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jo April 29, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    I like your story, and I’m curious about who Rich is and where he goes. Kind of like O’Connor’s stories, it made me laugh and laugh.
    On another note, it’s interesting to think about the ways O’Connor’s stories might be “unexpected but believable.” I’m going to think about that next time I read her.

    • Reply Jason Custer May 14, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks, Jo! I think O’Connor is definitely the master of the unexpected but believable, and I’ve really been enjoying re-reading her after trying to write some short stories of my own.

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