Experimenting With Stories

I’ve found myself experimenting with stories recently, which is a bit surprising since I’ve been writing on and off for most of my life and haven’t typically been too experimental. But lately I’ve concocted three different experiments.

First, I wrote a story in an unusual style. Rather than the narration and dialogue that typify most tales, “Testimony” is a science fiction tale told as a condemned prisoner’s appeal to a planetary governor. More unusual still, due to a nefarious form of espionage technology, the condemned has no memory of events and must rely upon the testimony given by others to construct his defense.

Second, by way of illustrating the writing process, I wrote two stories, revised them, and polished them “as readers watch.” Obviously readers weren’t really watching, but I annotated these works as I developed them, to show my thought processes. The first story, “Zoe,” is one of my recent favorites. I presented it in both first draft with annotations and final draft without annotations. The second story, “The Test,” was presented in three drafts, first, revised, and final, with annotations on the first and revised drafts. Taken together, these two experiments offer a number of insights into the writing process.

Finally, “The Stones on the Shore” was originally written as a flash fiction story, then expanded to a longer short story. This is an interesting creative exercise, because every story has its natural length. You can’t just lengthen a story. It changes in the process. In this case, a new character appeared in the longer version, and the ending differs significantly.

I hope you enjoy all of these experiments. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Image “purple outdoor light turned on” by mahda doglek on Unsplash

A Place for Readers and Writers

For the past few months, I’ve been a member of Medium.com and have been posting stories there, some fiction, some nonfiction.  The idea behind Medium is simple. Writers post stories, then readers read them and “clap” for the ones they like. (There’s a little hand icon you can click repeatedly to signal how much you like a story. That’s “clapping.”) Writers get paid based on how well their work is received, measured by story views, time spent reading a story, and claps.

How do writers get paid? Medium could have splashed ads all over the place, but they don’t do that. Instead, they charge a small subscription fee. You can read three stories per month for free, but to really use the service you’ll need to pay $5.00 per month, or $50 per year (which saves you $10 over the monthly rate). Do that and you’ll have access to everything Medium offers. The writers you engage with (by reading and clapping) earn a share of your subscription fee.

For readers, this isn’t a bad deal. What else can you get for $5.00 per month? Not even your morning coffee, or if you’re a coffee-hater like me, your morning tea. It’s really a very small price to pay, especially since there are a wide variety of stories to read, written by a wide variety of writers.

For writers, it’s also a great deal, because you can get paid for your work. Likely you won’t get rich off of it, but I and a number of other writers I know who have ventured into the world of Medium find it insanely easy to make back that investment of $50 per year plus a small profit. Initially I was making about $5 per week. By now, I’m earning nearly $30 per month, and I expect that to slowly rise as I gain more followers and publish more stories.

Of course, you want to publish good stories that people enjoy reading. It also helps if you can be accepted as a writer for a publication. Publications can be created by anyone and run the gamut from one-person shows to major productions like the one managed by the Washington Post. Generally, publications have much wider reach than most individuals can achieve. I’m currently writing for two publications, The Writing Cooperative, which is all about writing and the writing life, and Lit Up, which focuses on short fiction and poetry. I’ve also published material under my own account, mostly nonfiction as well as flash fiction I’ve written for the weekly Indies Unlimited contests.

I’d encourage you to check out Medium and consider joining. If you do, please follow me and read my stories. Here are a few to whet your appetite, but remember, you can only read three a month without joining:

Running Down the Track – a short story from Lit Up

How a Roadrunner Saved my Wife’s Sanity – a true story of parental genius

Moonlight Sonata – a flash fiction SF tale

Baha’i Houses of Worship – the growth of a religion illustrated in architecture

Plotting When you Hate Plotting – advice for writers like me from The Writing Cooperative

Enjoy, and see you there!

Christopher Walker: Dreamers, Seekers, and Malcontents

In The Amnesiac and Other Stories, Christopher Walker presents thirteen engaging, beautifully told short stories about a diverse collection of dreamers, seekers, and malcontents. Be it a photographer recalling a young woman he almost loved, a coffee shop owner unwittingly caught up in an assassination plot, or a group of young English writers in search of a legacy in Spain, Walker paints a delicious series of portraits alternately tinted with pathos, danger, and humor. It’s a diverse collection, too, mostly mainstream fiction but with a smattering of fantasy and science fiction, that romps all across Europe.

Walker’s storytelling is straightforward but thoughtful, punctuated by great imagery, as in this excerpt from “The Castle,” in which a young girl looks out on her climate-change altered world where nonstop rain and rising sea levels have reconfigured the land:

Sarah was peering out of the window again, her forehead pressed up against the cool glass. She imagined the feel of the rain on her skin, and she thought about how whenever they got out of the rain some of it always seemed to linger like a memory on her clothes. (p. 252)

I felt the editing might have been a bit inconsistent. Some parts of some stories don’t quite have the smooth texture that typifies the collection. However, that doesn’t distract much from the engrossing character of each story. You’re walking alongside these people as they traverse their world and their lives, sharing in their joys and sorrows. The Amnesiac and Other Stories earns five stars for both story and writing. Well done, sir!

 I recently asked Christopher Walker about the collection and his writing. Here’s what he said:

Are the stories in this collection appearing for the first time, or have they been published elsewhere?

​Most of the short stories I write are targeted either at writing competitions or calls for submissions from various literary journals. Quite often there are story requirements that help me to frame the tale I want to tell, but most of the time there’s a word limit and nothing else. Still, having somewhere to submit gives me a lot of motivation to get down to some serious writing, and when I’m successfully able to place a story I really appreciate the positive feedback that that brings. I love publishing my own books, but seeing my name on somebody else’s collection has a certain charm to it, and I’m fortunate to be able to credit two literary journals with printing stories of mine before I launched the collection. WOLVES magazine ran “Six Photos of a Girl I Nearly Loved,” and The Nabu Review took “The Castle.” I’m indebted to both for their editorial feedback, as well as for supporting me as an independent writer.

I enjoyed the lead-off story, “Six Photos of a Girl I Nearly Loved,” but the one that really hooked me was ​t​he second, “The Assassination of Norman Wisdom.” I had the eerie feeling that I was there in Albania, accompanying the group of angry young men determined to gun down the celebrity they despised. Where did that story come from, and were any fragments of real people sewn into it?

​The Albanian story had an interesting genesis. I found a short story competition in England — the Yeovil prize perhaps, or the Bath one, I can’t quite remember — and they had an open entry where anything goes. The judge was Tony Hawks, a name I recognised from his books and TV broadcasts. I thought that by targeting something directly connected with him I might stand a better chance of getting noticed (I was wrong). Back in the early 2000s he made a TV show — and later a book — called One Hit Wonderland, about taking the ageing comedy legend Norman Wisdom to Albania, where he was popular, in order to get a pop song into the charts. I think he’d wanted to win a bet or something like that — it was weird in a way that he’d be picking on the poor Albanians for this vanity project, and that feeling of weirdness gave birth to the idea of some local youths wanting to shoot Norman Wisdom. A lot of what happens in the story is true — Norman Wisdom did indeed give a short concert in the middle of a football match in Tirana, and Tony Hawks was there too. The rest of course is sheer fabrication.​

The ultimate story, “Seville: Or, Failure” follows a trio of young aspiring writers seeking the perfect place to become inspired and write. Yet their journey ultimately leads to their separation and very little real writing, although the failure of their experiment leads to victories of other sorts. Do you see this tale as an allegory for the writer’s journey?

​In a sense, yes. The germ of an idea for this story came from a friend of a few years back. She often went on about wanting to be a writer, but that she wouldn’t start actually writing until she’d found a classic typewriter to work on. That struck me as an unusual approach, and made me wonder if it was perhaps the allure or social cachet attached with being a writer that she was after, and not the long hours of hard work that the role really involved. Although I realise I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone else, I do honestly feel like there are too many would-be writers out there. It’s not for everyone. I’m often not sure if it’s for me; but when I go a short while without writing I start to get enormously frustrated. I need the catharsis. The characters in ‘Seville’ are looking for catharsis; it’s only that it takes them a while to figure out what form that should take. ​

What else have you published?

​I’ve been working at a feverish pace over the last few years, ever since I discovered how simple the world of self-publishing was to enter, and how rewarding it was to see your own name on the spine of a book on your bookcase. I started with a children’s book called The Man in the Mango Tree — the first draft was written in a single sitting, from beneath a tree in Nigeria as it happens, though not a mango tree sadly. From there I went on to write a more grown-up book called Hit the Bottom and Escape, based on my adventures in Ghana and Nigeria. Most recently I put together a collection of short stories set in my adopted home of Poland, called Sara the Writer.​

What are you working on now?

​That rarest of things happened to me a few weeks ago — a whole story presented itself, as if it was shown to me as a movie in my head. My job seems to be just to write it all down before the threads of the memory begin to fray. I’ve got a title for it, though: The Stars Too Can Die of Sadness. It’ll be a novella, and I’d like to have it finished by the end of the summer.​

What advice do you have for writers or readers?

​My advice for writers is to re-read. I think we all do a good job of reading — it’s probably what motivated us to get into writing in the first place. But the first time you read a book, you don’t tend to do a critical job (or at least that’s my experience). The second time around you start to pick the story apart, see how the sentences were put together, how the characters get their individual voices. It can take multiple re-readings. I’ve read By Night in Chile about four times now and I’m still finding new things to learn from Roberto Bolano. I’m sure that my own work will be infected by his voice and his style, but I can live with that. I don’t see it as a problem.

As for readers — well, they are the lifeblood of literature, aren’t they? All I can ask is for them to continue existing, for being who they are. It doesn’t much matter what most people end up reading — I’m happier living in a world full of people who read John Grisham than of people who don’t read at all. If there are enough readers, you get that wonderful “long tail” effect, and that means that somewhere out there, there must be a person who will find my book, read it, and enjoy it. I’m happy to lock myself away for weeks on end, struggling to get my story just right, as long as there are even a handful of readers who will appreciate the effort.

Where can readers find you?

At closelyobserved.com, which currently redirects to my Amazon author profile, and on Twitter.

The offiical website of author Dale E. Lehman