A real life story for Chuck

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Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week is to write not fiction but a story. A real one from my (your) own life. This one was hard.

Everything was off that day. And I found myself looking around, as though I could spot a clue or explanation for it — out there in the world around me. But everything looked normal.

I couldn’t make sense of that niggling burn in my stomach – the team of butterflies gnawing at my insides. The specter over my shoulder that made me cast backward glances.

And the foreboding stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I went to work. Everything went wrong. Customers complained. Food orders didn’t come out right. And the cooks were more surly than usual. But who could blame them? A quivering, red-eyed, sad-faced waitress just doesn’t say, “At your service,” does it?

Things went so badly that by the end of my shift the manager pulled me aside and asked if I was having emotional issues. She asked in mock sympathy if I needed medical leave. She inferred that if we had a repeat performance on the next shift I’d be looking for another job.

When I finally got out of there, it was an hour past the end of my shift and it was pouring. I ran across the street to my car, getting soaked to the skin. And as soon as I closed the door, I broke down and sobbed. Still utterly baffled by my feelings of dread and despair.

The drive home was surreal. The physical world mirrored my mood — dark, lonely with only a sliver of light to lead me home. The only thing that kept me driving was the promise of a large glass of red wine.

But when I walked inside my little house and saw the flashing message light on my answering machine I forgot about the wine. I stared at it. I knew that flashing light and whatever message it foretold would explain the day. The dread. The tears that started again.

I sat on the floor in front of the machine and listened to the rain tapping on the window, urging me to press PLAY. I couldn’t. I knew I didn’t want to know. I knew it was bad, so bad that if I pressed it, my life would never be the same.

I lit a cigarette and stared at the little flashing light some more. I ached for that glass of wine but couldn’t move from that spot.. And when I finally couldn’t stand the anticipation any more, I pressed PLAY.

It was my stepmother. “Hi Anita, it’s Leona. Well honey, your dad passed away today. I’m sorry.” Her voice cracked. “We love you.”

Note: Even though this happened over 20 years ago, I still can only write about it from a distance. As though it’s a hot stove I’m afraid to touch.

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Does Anyone Need a Book?

does anyone need a book?I’m a writer.  I’ve always been a writer.  I write because I need to write.  I write because I love to write.  I write because it’s who I am.

And writing, though it has its challenging moments is the fun part.  It’s the part where I get to go somewhere of my own creation.  Where I get to converse with people who were born in my imagination.  Where I can go on any kind of adventure I want.

But there is another part of writing.  The business side.  I don’t mean the freelance business side.  That’s a post for another day (or never).  I mean, the part where you sell your book.  I always feel a little funny about that whole idea.  Selling my book.  It kind of feels like selling my child.  Not that I don’t want people to read it, I definitely do – but the selling part…I don’t know, it makes me feel a bit cheap.

There is no logical explanation for this feeling.  All writers sell their books, or at least try to sell their books.  Some authors are incredibly good at doing it too.  Some authors have platforms and marketing plans and Facebook contests and millions of followers and merchandizing deals.  It’s impressive.

And I think, I need to do that.  I need to have a platform and followers, a marketing plan and I could really get down with some Scotti and Zelda  hats, tees and aprons.

But then I get hung up.  Then I have to delve into that whole marketing thing.  And marketing is a completely different animal than fiction.  I suppose there is some aspect of make-believe about it but mostly it’s about finding the people who need your book.

That’s where I get hung up.  Do you need my book?  It’s not food.  It’s not shelter.  It’s not health insurance.  It’s just a book, right?  People can live without books.  Some may not be happy about it – but it’s doable.  You could have a perfectly good life without ever reading fiction.

And even if you could make the case that somebody needs a fiction book – which clearly thousands of authors have done – the question that still remains for me is, do they need my book?

It started as a casual conversation over dinner

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend.  We drove out to a seafood place and had a proper dinner with appetisers, main courses, dessert and coffee.  It was lovely and something neither of us do that often.

Somehow we got on the topic of the book I am currently writing.  He asked me what it was about.  So I gave him the two sentence blurb.  Then he asked me to tell him the story.  I was shocked because usually my friends nod and smile, say ‘that’s nice’ and we move onto other conversation topics.  But he actually wanted me to tell him the story.

So I did.  I started out thinking I would just give him the highlights but instead I ended up telling him the story.  The entire story.  And the more I talked, the more I told the story, the more enraptured he became.  I can’t remember a time when anyone had so thoroughly hung on my every word.  The look on  his face was somewhere between joy and euphoria.  It was a-maz-ing!

I never knew that something I made up, something I imagined would bring someone joy.  Would entice another human being so much.  I wished I could bottle his reaction and the feeling I got in seeing his reaction.

We ended up staying at the restaurant until closing because he didn’t want me to stop the story.  And when I was finished he said, “I should really read. I need to read  your book when you’ve published it.”

This was even more touching because this particular friend is not a reader.  Which was one of the reasons that I was so gobsmacked that he wanted me to tell him the story.

So the point is?

I realized that people really do need books.  And that they don’t have to be informative books or books where you learn how to do something.  People need fiction.  It may not feed their bodies but it can feed their soul, or their imagination or their mind.  Or maybe just give them a very inexpensive ticket to a fun vacation where they aren’t required to leave home.

It’s so easy for writers to feel frustrated and that nobody cares about this little story they are writing.  But I think that if you could have been there and seen my friend’s face, you’d feel differently.

So people do need books.  They need your books and they need my books.  They need food for thought, for the soul, just for the fun of it.

I’m still not very good on this marketing thing and frankly it scares the hell out of me.  But at least I know that people do need books.  So that’s a start, right?

Do you need books?  What needs do books fill for you?

Copyright 2014