This Writing Life Belongs To Me

Editing this story collection, I was reminded of when I started writing short fiction again quite a few years ago now, 2006 to 2008, it was, and how I was trying my hand at writing different kinds of stories just to see what I could do. I remember being afraid of trying to write Noir, unsure of whether or not a I could do it. Then I tried to write what I was calling “regular”stories, where there isn’t necessarily a UFO or a ghost or even a crime occurring, just people and life happening. The first stories I ever wrote, as a kid, were Sci-Fi and ghost/mystery stories, because then it seemed to me to be incredibly difficult not to write about the fantastical. So I started writing short fiction again, having written primarily poetry and prose for more than a decade, and I remember that it was the beginning of entertaining the thought, I wonder if I could write a novel, and finish it. I’d made a few attempts at novel writing when I was in my late teens and I’d either realize that I was ripping off “The Stand” again, or I’d get just so far and it was like the story would simply dry up or I’d lose interest in it. So, I was thinking about it, could I really write a novel? I thought, Well, why don’t you see if you can write some short stories first. My thinking being that it had taken me all my life writing poems to become adept, to get to where I can write them, poems, because I want to, so, I thought, I probably should take the same approach to novel writing, work my way up to it.

I was watching all of these movies, I had re-watched “The Fog,” and the film “FM,” both of which I like, “The Fog” is a favorite. I watched the film “Gilda,” because I’d never seen it. I was trying to watch Noir films that were new to me, so-called classics. I didn’t care for it, which surprised me after all of the hype.”Gilda” is horrible, an unlikable wretch, of a character, one that I couldn’t relate to. I admit that if a film is built around a female lead that I don’t appreciate in some way, I probably won’t like the film. It isn’t a happy film. I thought it terrible, the performances were good, but the story isn’t. Though I understand it was scandalous in its day. And of course what they did to Rita Hayworth, the actress herself, not “Gilda,” in order to transform her from Margarita Cansino into “Rita Hayworth,” was tragic. But, I was never a Rita Hayworth, or a Glenn Ford, fan, it did, however, at the time, lead me to re-read Ava Gardner’s autobiography, though I don’t recall why, and which I remember not much of except that it was good. She wasn’t a simpering ninny. You know? There were those Hollywood dames who politely demurred, and there were the ones who would tell you to go f – yourself, Ava Gardner was of the later classification. I was trying to watch Noir films, classic films, that I hadn’t seen because I’d mostly stuck to Bogart films, Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart. I realized that there was a lot more out there. I stayed up all one night watching “The Grapes of Wrath.” It ended just after four in the morning, the world seemed so quiet, and I thought, “How did I not see this film sooner?” I started looking for seemingly more obscure things, a film called “Detour,” and in the process of that, I found a copy of Vincent Price in “The Last Man on Earth.” I started watching horror films again, and The Rockford Files. I’m so glad for that. I may watch “The Howling,” and “Halloween,” back to back at some point today. I remember looking up old soap operas, trying to find other things that were culturally iconic for me. We were re-watching episodes of “I love the 70’s,” and “I love the 80’s,” at the time too, a lot of VH-1’s “Behind the Music,” just taking in a lot of stuff, not really understanding or knowing what my writing process was yet, but I thought that I did, perhaps not really having a process for story writing yet. Maybe that was what it all was, the beginning of the developmental stages of what has now finally begun to become my new way of going about story writing. There were a lot of failed, discarded, attempts at story writing.

There was one, I don’t know what I even did with it, about a woman who was separated from her husband of many years, she was having a torrid affair with a man whom she was afraid to admit to herself that she was in love with because the sex was that good, and she wasn’t sure that he was good for her. The man was single, worldly, and could do whatever he wanted, with or without her, which added to her insecurity. She was “friends” with her soon to be ex and that was complicating things, he was still in love with her. Her college age son was visiting, moving back home into an apartment over the garage, she had another son whom was just starting high school and she was trying to keep the affair a secret from him because she wasn’t sure if the man was marriage/father material. She was drinking too much, hating herself over it because the affair ended her marriage, and then I decided that her super cool job was that she was the midnight to four a.m. disc jockey at the coolest radio station ever. Just as I was deciding to turn it into some kind of intrigue with a crime mystery or some such thing involved with her job, or a ghost story, because I’d just been reminded of an old creepy “true” ghost story about a haunted plane, “The Ghost of Flight 401,” and having made one of her male co-workers into her best friend, deciding he had some issues to be determined later, possibly criminal, I realized that I was writing some suped-up version of everything that I’d been watching, with not a little bit of “Frasier,” “News Radio,” and “WKRP in Cincinnati,” thrown in. I looked at it and thought, Really, Teri? Are the pirates going to emerge from the murky depths encrusted in seaweed too? Is the Gorton’s Fisherman coming ashore in The Fog?

In retrospect, I realize that what kept me from finishing the story was that when I started thinking about how to weave a ghost story into it, I started trying to figure out how that would make sense, instead of just writing it. In other words, I tried to write the story before I’d written the story. Instead of just putting a ghost in the reflection in the glass in the radio station, ( in “The Ghost of Flight 401” film it’s Ernest Borgnine reflected in a door), and figuring it out as I went, I tried to figure it out before it happened. I realize now that I was trying to rationalize a ghost story, I was trying to logic it out, when that isn’t how ghost stories happen. Ghost stories happen in the middle of everything being “normal” and then, “WHAT?!” When I asked myself, “What is the ghost doing there?” I didn’t have an answer. That, along with my various other realizations as to the general overall theme, stopped me from finishing writing it, at that time.

Every writer has their own way of going about the writing. For me, I had to learn to let go, let the story go where it’s going. I’ve also learned that sometimes I do get a complete idea of a story, but that when writing longer fiction, I generally have a good idea and it evolves out from there. That’s the excitement of it, I’m writing it, but I’m also wanting to know what happens next. Now, I wouldn’t ask what the ghost was doing in the story, I’d write the ghost in and then figure out how to deal with it, as the characters are figuring it out.

When I started writing stories again, I didn’t know what I was doing, in technical terms, the same way a person new to ice skating would have to learn not only how to ice skate, if they wanted to, but how do they ice skate? ( How do you ice skate? As seldom as possible.) The same way it takes practice to get to where you’re putting your make-up on right, if you wear it. It all takes practice. It has all looked however it has all looked, perhaps like throwing things into the flux capacitor, or trying to perform ballet in clown shoes, and well, okay then. Because it isn’t just about figuring out what works, as in the correct way or the how to, it’s figuring out what works for me. That has sometimes meant that I’ve had to repeatedly cover ground. But at the end of the day if that’s what I’ve needed to do, then it is. It’s important to understand that every one of those seemingly failed attempts, brought me closer to success, to being able to write stories of any length, in addition to writing poetry. I didn’t want to write only one thing or to be able to write only one kind of story, I wanted to be able to write anything and everything. Now I can. Now, sometimes I dare to dream that I want to be great at it, though so few writers get to be truly great, are truly great.

Editing this collection of stories, looking at the work that I know that I’ve already done, knowing now what I want to do. I know that I’ve spent most of the last ten years figuring out how to do it, what my way of really being a writer is. It hasn’t been easy. A lot of it was going on during one of the worst times of my life. What I held onto is the writing, when everything else was coming unglued, I could put some words on the paper, keep pushing through, learning something every step of the way. What I didn’t realize at the beginning of that was that it was going to lead to rebuilding myself, and thus my life. Coming out the other side of that, I’m so glad that I didn’t quit. I’m so glad that I didn’t hesitate to try to write so many different things. I’m so glad that I said to myself, I wonder if I can…?

I wonder if I can…?

I’m excited. I can’t wait to get to it all.

Teri