The devil was in the fog that night.

stanleyThe devil was in the fog that night. You could feel it with every gust of wind and droplet of moisture against your face. You could hear it as the courthouse clock struck midnight. You could see it in the dim light of the corner lamppost and the blinking traffic signals. You could sense it in the sound of the garbage truck feeding itself with the contents of the dumpster behind the drug store. It was a bad night to be walking rounds. But he had sworn when he set out that nothing could make him not complete his hourly rounds. He needed this job to offset his meager early retirement from when the mill shut down.

As he walked the fog was getting so thick, you could not see your hand in front of your face. The temperature was continuing to drop. In his mustache and beard, the condensation from his breathing was freezing. No other night watchman, he thought, dared to brave walking the rounds. The other two on duty huddled around the coffee pot. Telling lies about what they did in the war, the evils of corporate buyouts and forced retirements, and what they did with certain widow ladies in town to help them not be so lonely occupied their time.

From the distance the whistle sound of the 12:05 train from New Orléans filled the air. The horns of the boats out on the Mississippi River belched their warnings as they fought their way upriver, against the current, pushing their barges northward. Their sounds became clearer as he worked his way from the courthouse square down to the waterfront.

As he turned the corner onto Vicksburg Avenue, he could see two shadowy figures struggling down at the entrance of the Union Mission. Thanks to the backlight of the open door he could tell this was a life or death struggle. Damn, he thought, looks like two drunks trying to kill each other. I better go get the real police. Somebody’s going to get killed. He stopped. He was looking, staring. The devil must have been looking, too.

Suddenly, from the river was a massive explosion. A ball of fire was not only shooting up into the sky, but burning cylinders were being spewed from the barge like a giant July 4th fireworks display. Some were going straight up. Some were going upriver. My God, one went straight into the pilot’s window on the tug completely obliterating the superstructure. And, oh no! One was rocketing straight toward him.

The two men stopped their fighting in front of the Union Mission. They both yelled inside for help and ran up to the corner where the last cylinder impacted.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air. His upper body was at least ten feet from his legs. His intestines were spread over the distance in-between.

“It cut him in two and barbecued him at the same time,” said the first drunk.

“Who, who is he?” asked the second drunk.

The preacher from the mission had run outside and up the sidewalk to the corner during the commotion. “That was the night watchman,” answered the out of breath parson.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler
2007

Why I Write

George_Orwell_in_Hampstead_-_geograph.org.uk_-_432863

In 1946, George Orwell (his real name was Eric Arthur Blair) wrote an essay titled “Why I Write”. It detailed his personal journey to becoming a writer. Orwell lists “four great motives for writing” which he feels exist in every writer. He explains that all are present, but in different proportions, and also that these proportions vary from time to time. They are as follows:

1. Sheer egoism

Orwell argues that many people write simply to feel clever, to “be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups in childhood, etc.” He says that this is a great motive, although most of humanity is not “acutely selfish”, and that this motive exists mainly in younger writers. He also says that it exists more in serious writers than journalists, though serious writers are “less interested in money”.

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm

Orwell explains that present in writing is the desire to make one’s writing look and sound good, having “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.” He says that this motive is “very feeble in a lot of writers” but still present in all works of writing.

3. Historical impulse

He sums this up by simply stating this motive is the “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”

4. Political purpose

Orwell writes, “No book is genuinely free from political bias”, and further explains that this motive is used very commonly in all forms of writing in the broadest sense, citing a “desire to push the world in a certain direction” in every person. He concludes by saying that “the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

After reading the essay, I came up with my list. They are as follows:

1. Ego/Hubris

I love to see my name listed as the author. I enjoy when my name appears on the cover of a magazine and in the table of comments of a magazine. I wish to see my name on the spine of a traditionally published book.

2. Educating People

I have loved when I have published a magazine article then get a telephone call, letter, or email asking for more information on the subject. Sometimes because of my writing, I have received job offers and speaking engagements. I enjoy informing people about historical events, writer’s lives, and the backgrounds of people and events.

3. Desire to influence others and be held in esteem by others

Maybe this goes with number one – Hubris. I recall the pride my oldest son had when he went to college and found several of my traditionally published magazine articles while doing research. He said it was somewhat cool to quote his father’s published work in a research paper. He said some of what I wrote for journals would be in the library forever.

4. Sharing my faith

I remember reading the late musician and former Beatles guitarist George Harrison’s memoir, “I, Me, Mine”. In the book, he says he purposefully wrote songs to share his beliefs and faith in Hare Krishna. I do the same to share my faith and belief in Jesus Christ. I try to do it in the normal flow of life as opposed to clobbering someone with the Bible. Am I a Christian writer or a writer who is a Christian? The answer is yes. It is who I am.

If you write, why do you write?

Photo credits: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. English: George Orwell in Hampstead On the corner of Pond Street and South End Road, opposite the Royal Free Hospital. The bookshop has long gone. Date: 11 May 2007. Source: From geograph.org.uk

One Great Way to Write a Short Story

ETBUI am a “second-rate” short story writer.

Why would I say that? “Exhibit A” shows the answer. It is a certificate documenting my second-place finish in the short story writing contest of the East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. I have never won a short story competition but have finished in second place.

I have written and even sold short stories. Over the years, I have entered short story contests. I am still seeking that elusive “first place” in a short story contest.

In my quest to win a contest, I have become a student of the short story form. Here is what I call “One Great Way to Write a Short Story.” It begins with planning.

PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL

I would never start writing a short story without at least a rough outline to tell me where I am going.  I recommend jotting down the answers to a few questions. The answers provide the framework for where the story is going.

The first step in writing a short story is a planning exercise. Plan your short story in advance by answering questions in three areas:

  • The subject – Who is the main character? What is the problem?
  • The story –What is the character’s motivation to solve the problem? What actions occur to solve the problem?
  • The resolution – What are results of the character’s acts to resolve the problem? What change does the character undertake because of that action?

HOW I DO IT – STEP BY STEP

  1. The Character

I decide about whom I am going to write. You have one central character in the story. It might a soldier returning home. It could be about an astronaut. It might be about a businessperson. The reader will identify with that person.

  1. The Problem

What is it that the main character struggles with that he or she may not have an instant need to resolve? It is a problem the character has had for a while, but has not had an immediate need to solve. An example would be if I were writing about a businesswoman who obtained an executive position using a falsified resume. She may not have an immediate need to deal with the issue.

  1. The Motivation

Why does the main character decide to solve the problem? I’ll use the businesswoman with the falsified resume as an example.

It could be that she has accepted a position on the board of directors for a prominent community organization like the United Way. The local media decides to do a feature story on her background. In this case, I need to put in the appropriate backstory – her claiming to have a prestigious Ivy League graduate degree when she had dropped out of college before obtaining her undergraduate degree. Now she is in a position that requires an accredited four-year college degree as well as MBA. She realizes she is about to be found out with embarrassment to herself, her employer, and maybe she could even have to resign.

  1. The Action

What does the main character do to solve the problem? What does she do to correct the situation? Maybe she confesses to her company’s president or she may try to resign quietly from board of directors for a prominent community organization for personal reasons trying to avoid being exposed and hoping it will just go away.

  1. The Result

What happens because of the character’s attempt to solve the problem? Maybe she tells the president and he fires her. The employer takes legal action against her demanding restitution from her for fraudulently obtained wages. He takes her to court and wins. She is required to make restitution of tens of thousands of dollars and has her reputation destroyed.

  1. The Change

Perhaps at this point the character struggles financially, loses her large home and country club lifestyle. Maybe her friends desert her. She is unable to get a job because of her lying on the resume. She could go back to school and complete the education she had claimed.  Maybe she becomes an advocate for ethical business practices.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

  • Remember the main character needs a good reason for what they are doing. They need to act consistent to who they are.
  • You need to set up every incident in the story. If the character obtained a high position using a falsified resume, make sure you set this up by doing a flashback or remembrance where she is sitting typing the resume and then clicks submit thinking no one ever checks a resume.
  • If you bring it up you must conclude it. This refers to conflict in the story. If you have any conflict, you need to resolve it prior to ending the story.

Once you have planned your short story you will be able to write it. My guess is by following these simple principles you too can write a short story. Moreover, just maybe it will be “second-rate” or even better.

The article is written by: Jimmie Aaron Kepler. I originally appeared in the September 17, 2014 “Author Culture” Blog at: http://authorculture.blogspot.com/2014/09/one-great-way-to-write-short-story.html