Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy. 

One of my favorite writers has passed away.

Maeve Binchy made everyday life more fascinating than

Vampires, werewolves and zombies

Interstellar travel

Regency dukes

Lost civilizations

Ménages à trois

Secret societies

Aliens

Cannibalistic but intellectual mass murderers

Wizards, warriors and witches

Elves, dwarves and dragons.

That’s a lot for one writer to do

In a single lifetime.

Real is better.

Thanks.

By S.J. Driscoll

Wheelbarrows have no feet

This morning I mulched the vegetable garden again. That means I lugged four 5-gallon orange paint buckets out the gate, across the concrete path, over the foot-thick live oak limb, under the fig tree, over the stone wall (duck to avoid the branch in the eye), through the rocky gullies where the rain runs down to the creek, past the deer scat, over the limestone shaped like fingermarks dragged through wet clay, around the cactus, and past the twelve-foot spiderweb (which I did not walk into) built by the green and gray spider big as a Cadbury Creme Egg. Finally, I arrived at our waist-high pile of ground-up cedar trees.

After filling the buckets, I carried them back and heaped the cedar bits around the squash and tomatoes and blackberries and mulberries.

On my last trip, muscles taut, gut sucked in, Huck Finn straw hat damp with sweat, a neighbor driving to her retail job number two stopped her car and ran toward me. Continue reading

Emile Zola on the Destructive Power of Creative Work

French Naturalist Émile Zola (1840-1902) is one of my favorite authors. His most autobiographical novel, L’Oeuvre (The Masterpiece), one of the books in his Rougon-Macquart series, provides insight into Zola’s relationship with his childhood friend, Paul Cézanne. In this excerpt novelist Pierre Sandoz, representing Zola, speaks to his friend, obsessed painter Claude Lantier, representing Cézanne:

“I, whom you envy, perhaps–yes, I, who am beginning to get on in the world, as middle-class people say–I, who publish books and earn a little money–well, I am being killed by it all…. Listen; work has taken up the whole of my existence. Little by little, it has robbed me of my mother, of my wife, of everything I love. It is like a germ thrown into the cranium, which feeds on the brain, finds its way into the trunk and limbs, and gnaws up the whole of the body. The moment I jump out of bed of a morning, work clutches hold of me, rivets me to my desk without leaving me time to get a breath of fresh air; then it pursues me at luncheon–I audibly chew my sentences with my bread. Next it accompanies me when I go out, comes back with me and dines off the same plate as myself; lies down with me on my pillow, so utterly pitiless that I am never able to set the book in hand on one side; indeed, its growth continues even in the depth of my sleep. And nothing outside of it exists for me. True, I go upstairs to embrace my mother, but in so absent-minded a way, that ten minutes after leaving her I ask myself whether I have really been to wish her good-morning. My poor wife has no husband; I am not with her even when our hands touch. Sometimes I have an acute feeling that I am making their lives very sad, and I feel very remorseful, for happiness is solely composed of kindness, frankness and in one’s home; but how can I escape from the claws of the monster? I at once relapse into the somnambulism of my working hours, into the indifference and moroseness of my fixed idea. If the pages I have written during the morning have been worked off all right, so much the better; if one of them has remained in distress, so much the worse. The household will laugh or cry according to the whim of that all-devouring monster–Work. No, no! I have nothing that I can call my own. In my days of poverty I dreamt of rest in the country, of travel in distant lands; and now that I might make those dreams reality, the work that has been begun keeps me shut up. There is no chance of a walk in the morning’s sun, no chance of running round to a friend’s house, or of a mad bout of idleness! My strength of will has gone with the rest; all this has become a habit; I have locked the door of the world behind me, and thrown the key out of the window. There is no longer anything in my den but work and myself–and work will devour me, and then there will be nothing left, nothing at all!”

Are you obsessed with your creative work? Do you wish you could be satisfied, living day to day without creating? Do you manage to balance your creative work and your life better than Pierre Sandoz? How do you do it?

Excerpt from Zola, Emile (2007-10-22). Works of Emile Zola (20+ Works) Includes The Three Cities Trilogy (Les Trois Villes): Lourdes, Rome and Paris, The Fortune of the Rougons, Nana, The Fat and the Thin and more (mobi) (Kindle Locations 45022-45029) MobileReference. Kindle Edition.

Excerpt from “Dancing in the Middle,” A Short Story by Jansen Schmidt

Welcome to an excerpt from a short story by Jansen Schmidt, “Dancing in the Middle,” which won an Honorable Mention in the Writing on Walls III contest and publication in Storyteller Magazine.

***

Dancing in the Middle

Rosa Gonzales, a ballerina with a secret, is unwittingly involved in a Mexican drug smuggling ring. DEA Agent Damon Whiteside discovers her secret while trying to extricate her from danger. 

“Did you see the new guy in Amy’s class?” Audra adjusted her long lean body to get a better view into the opposite studio.

“Yeah,” I shifted slightly to see across the hall. Smiling, I turned away, embarrassed to be caught checking him out. Taller than usual, with coal black hair and sapphire eyes, Damon was a looker, no doubt about that. “He’s a hunk, that’s for sure.” I moved to the ballet barre and began a series of plies and stretches, all the while covertly watching him in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

Audra finished her yogurt and dropped the empty container into the trash. “Well, I’ll let you admire the view while you warm up.” She strolled to the door, pausing briefly in the hallway to observe the ballroom class in Amy’s studio. “Amy’s so lucky,” she said to no one in particular.

After my morning classes, I clocked out for lunch and left for the bus station to pick up the box I knew would be waiting there for me, a routine that Lupe and I had established almost two years ago. I retrieved the box, replaced the lock on the familiar blue locker, and headed back to my car. I only had a few minutes left to grab a bite to eat before my next class. As I neared my car I saw Damon standing near the driver’s side door.

Surprised, I said, “Well, hello there.”

Damon winced. “Rosa Gonzales,” his voice cracked, “you’re under arrest.” He held out his badge and a set of handcuffs. “I’ll need that box as evidence.”

I laughed. “What? You’re arresting me?’ But when his expression remained grim, I realized he wasn’t joking. “Who are you?”

“I’m an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency.” He paused, watching me intently.

“We’re working with an international agency to find a drug smuggling operation out of Mexico. Know anything about that?”

“What?” I asked, taking a step backwards to put some space between us. Another person had approached me from behind, blocking my retreat. I turned around and a behemoth of a man with a shaved head and numerous tattoos took the package out of my hands. At the same time Damon grabbed my arms and brought them behind my back, clicking the handcuffs shut. “This way,” he said, tugging me gently toward a waiting car.

“What are you doing? I can’t go with you.” I whirled around to face him but his grip remained firm. Panic set in as I realized I was in a great deal of trouble.

Damon said with calm authority, “You’re under arrest for possession of illegal drugs, intent to sell drugs, drug trafficking and–”

“Drug trafficking? Are you crazy? This is a mistake!” I shrieked. “Look, I have a class in about fifteen minutes. People will wonder where I’m at. I can’t just not show up.”

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen, Princess.” The giant tattooed man was tearing into the box of homemade toys from my sister.

Damon recited my Miranda rights as he helped me into the back seat. He sat next to me and the behemoth got behind the wheel. I looked at Damon. “What have I done? I don’t understand what’s going on?”

“Like Detective Whiteside said, Princess, possession of drugs, drug trafficking, intent to sell illegal drugs, etc. etc.” The behemoth obviously possessed no mercy.

“I don’t have any drugs. You’ve got the wrong person.”

“Rosa,” Damon said softly, “how much do you know about your sister and her husband?”

“What’s my sister got to do with this?” I asked.

“What’s my sister got to do with this,” the driver mimicked. “Always the same ole spiel.”

“Cool it, Stone,” Damon warned. He looked directly at me. “We know what’s in the box, Rosa, and we know it’s from your sister. What we don’t know is where it’s going. You can make this easier on yourself if you cooperate.”

“Cooperate with what?” I asked.

Damon reached into the front seat and pulled one of my sister’s cloth dolls from the box.

Ripping the head off, he pulled out a plastic baggie filled with a milky powdery substance.

“Like I said,” he paused, showing me the evidence, “We know what’s in the box.”

I gasped. “I had no idea that was in there. I . . . I don’t know what’s going on. Aren’t I entitled to a phone call?”

***

Jansen SchmidtJansen Schmidt started writing theater reviews for local community playhouses about twelve years ago. A previous theater owner, she spent many years involved in all aspects of community theater but her most enjoyable aspect of the theater was and remains being on stage.  An amateur thespian, pianist, singer and dancer, she has performed in many productions in the last twenty years, including A Few Good Men, Much Ado About Nothing, Annie Get Your Gun, Nunsense and Nunsense II, and her first production, a musical melodrama entitled Tumbleweeds.

To purchase Writing on Walls III, go to The Storyteller online store or send a check or money order for $12.95 plus $3.00 shipping/handling to Writing on Walls III, The Storyteller Magazine, 2441 Washington Rd., Maynard, AR 72444. For each additional 1 to 2 books, please add $2.50 for shipping/handling. For international orders the cost is 14.95 per book plus $5.00 for shipping/handling. All international payments must be in U.S. funds.

Thanks, Jansen!

World enough and time

A casual acquaintance once explained how she managed to have the time and resources to paint.

“Painting was my passion,” she said. “I was pretty good, too. Then I had kids, and with my family, my husband, my job, I didn’t paint for years. The kids are grown, I’m retired and my husband encourages me. He even built me a studio. So I paint.”

She shrugged and turned away. “But it’s all gone now.”

That was years ago. As I write this, I feel the same shudder as when she told me.

Yesterday I spent hours looking for contracts for a couple of old published stories. Instead, I found boxes—the kind that holds ten reams of paper—boxes full of my words. Finished and unfinished stories and novels, notes on stories and novels, notes on writing classes and techniques, charts, lists… As I came across each item, I remembered clearly how and when I worked on it. I remembered each idea.

Only a few ideas grew into completed stories and only a few of those stories were published. Why?

Here are a couple of possibilities:

My job’s one deadline after another and I resent carrying that over to my writing.

During my window of opportunity when my kids were little and I wasn’t working full time, my stories began to get published. Then life happened: family member’s serious illness, divorce, demanding new job, bought/lost house, two cross-country moves and more.

These feel more like excuses than reasons, though. Some people overcome much greater difficulties and succeed.

At least I haven’t given up. I’m close. Work and study have improved my writing tremendously.

I’m doing something wrong.

What are you doing right—or wrong?

By S.J. Driscoll

And then what happened?

I just reread Guy de Maupassant’s story, The Necklace.

Since I was eight years old, I’ve read that story many times, but only today did I question my original childhood reaction of open-mouthed delight. What a terrible ending! How ironic! How delicious!

Today, I saw that the story as written ends at the beginning of the real story.

Here’s how the story goes:

Mathilde Loisel and her husband destroy their youth and health in their effort to pay for the diamond necklace they bought to replace one that was loaned to her, but which she lost. After the debt is paid, Mathilde meets the friend she borrowed it from, only to find out the borrowed necklace had been fake, not diamond at all.

The end.

Umm… ‘scuse me? Then what happens?

Does Mathilde punch her friend in the nose? Is she arrested while screaming that she wasted her life?

Does the friend say, “Thanks, Mattie! I gave the necklace to my daughter. She can sell it and buy that little house on the lake”?

Does the friend offer to repay them? This is the most poignant possibility.

Mathilde and her husband got into this fix because she was poor and beautiful, and wanted to experience one night of luxury at a ball. The gratification of this innocent desire cost them both ten years of drudgery and extreme poverty as they expended every effort to pay off the loans they needed to buy the diamonds.

If the friend repaid them, Mathilde could live an easier life with a few of the luxuries she’d once longed for. But the last ten years turned her into a coarse, rough woman used to a coarse, rough life. All her youthful elegance was destroyed by their struggle.

The most vital story would be this:

How do Mathilde and her husband face the kind of life they could live, now that they’re no longer the kind of people who could live that life?

I understand that the reader is supposed to realize this dilemma, and the realization is supposed to effectively substitute for the writer’s exploration of the dilemma. But why shouldn’t the writer explore it?

It’s pretty much taken for granted that stories should have a conventional ending, like marriage or death. The girl/guy gets the guy/girl. The criminals are caught. The adventurers return home. The youth reaches the epiphany that indicates the beginning of maturity. But are these the best endings?

Aren’t most stories really just the setup for the more complex, difficult, fascinating story that starts after The End?

By S.J. Driscoll