Waking Sleeping Town

This idea came a few years ago and I love the idea (which is why I returned to this story a couple of times over the last year) but I do not like the story draft here. Parts, yes. Ideas, yes. But the idea deserves a better draft. Before posting I read through to think what I wanted to share about the process. Instead of front-loading my thoughts here, my responses are italicized. I recommend reading a third or half of the piece if you want, but don’t bother doing more than skim the rest. Friends, I promised drafts.


I am the only one awake now. Two days ago Mom said she was tired and that she was sorry. We were at the kitchen table. She was paying bills online and I was doing homework, physics. She closed her laptop and asked me to look at her. There was a tiny moment before I looked up from my notebook when I tried to guess what I was supposed to look like now, when I met her eye and said it’d be okay, I’d be okay. Really, I didn’t know what to feel when she said she was tired. I don’t know what my face looked like. Hers was crinkly and wet. This was harder for her. So we sat holding hands across the table and I absorbed what she had to say. I didn’t hear anything so I hope her words are hiding somewhere in my body, in a muscle or tooth, and I hope her words come to me when I need them because I will need them now that I’m the only one awake.

There are other families like ours, everyone but one sleeping. You’re supposed to report to county health or a hospital when you’re the last one awake but I haven’t done that yet. When I do, if I do, I’ll get a sticker to place on our front door or window so police and social services know to periodically knock, find out if the last one’s down too. I really don’t know what happens then. I think we get moved to a care facility. Our city won a state contract to build and staff a sleep center but it’s only a giant rectangular cut in land right now, ready for its concrete foundation pour.

I saw pictures in National Geographic of sleep centers around the country. Church basements, American legions, empty classrooms. One picture was of a triple stacked bunks, all you could see where the tops of heads resting on pillows and iv lines dropped from the ceiling. Another picture was of twin girls turned on their sides to face one another, their hands touching but maybe not feeling, feeding tubes running through their nostrils. I really don’t want to end up like that.

Mom went upstairs to wash her face and brush her teeth. She came back wearing a nightgown, carrying a sleep kit. She’d ordered one for each of us after Josh went to sleep. Mine is under my bed. I closed my physics text and notebook, slid both into my backpack. Mom opened the box. She found the catheter with its tiny accordion of instructions. I think it’s better if I do this now, she said, I don’t want you to have to do it later. I followed her to the living room where we surveyed the floor space and guessed what might work best. Dad, Josh and Bud were on the queen sized mattress Mom and I brought down from her room after Bud fell asleep too. Then Taylor went to sleep and we put her on the futon mattress. Mom could lay next to Taylor. She’d fit. Or she could lay next to Dad and we’d move Bud to share the futon. I guess the question is how you’d roll us, Mom said. She looked at me. You pick, she said.

I feel like you should be next to Dad, I said. So we moved Bud to the futon.

Looks good, Mom said. She unfolded the absorbent blue sheet from the sleep kit and laid it next to Dad. While she went to the bathroom with the catheter in hand, I sat on the couch and thought how I should check fluids or ports or turn everyone to the other side. I didn’t get up from the couch though. When people first started falling asleep, there were all these PSAs about staying awake. Exercise, eat healthy, get eight hours a night. It’s always that and it never quite works. Mom quit buying Cheetos after Josh fell asleep. She cooked again. We didn’t order pizza for three months until Bud knocked off and Taylor asked what was the point, really? Mom was running seven or eight miles a day, making Taylor and me bike to school while three bodies occupied a mattress between the couch and television. I was looking at that television when Mom came back downstairs.

Honey, you think you’re going to fall asleep, go to Mrs. Johnson, Mom said. Mrs. Johnson is a woman Mom knows from church. She’s a nurse. Mom laughed. She said, Don’t try this at home.

I smiled a little. Taylor and Mom would fight but Mom and I didn’t fight much. She opened her arms to me. I got up for the hug. We held on for a little while. She was warm. Tomorrow her body would feel cooler. She kissed my forehead, my cheeks. She touched her nose to mine. I love you, Chelsea, she said. I love you too, Mom, I said. She laid down in the space between Dad and Josh. She turned on her side to face Dad and sighed. This feels good in a funny way, she said, I’ve missed laying next to your father. She propped up on an elbow, leaned forward to kiss his dry, parted lips. He didn’t move.

Alright, she said, I guess this is it. They’ll figure it out, honey. Keep going to school.

I watched Mom fall asleep. When Josh fell asleep we all thought he was just being lazy one morning. Then Dad took a nap in his recliner, watching the game, and didn’t get up. Bud said he felt weird at dinner one night. I think Mom knew what was going to happen because she gathered him in her arms and snuggled while reading the last four chapters of Mouse And The Motorcycle. Taylor asked for privacy while she fell asleep. But Mom doesn’t mind if I watch. She rolls her head to look at me, upside down. She looks like when I was little kid and she’d pull a face to make me laugh. I smile, she smiles. She shuts her eyes, relaxes her face and breathing. I watch her whole body go soft before I turn on the television.

I went to school the next day. At lunch, Ezra asked how the home fires burned. I shrugged and ate his potato chips. There are posters all over school that say Stay Awake! Find A Friend! A support group meets after school in the choir room. The bike rack is out front of the classroom. I unlocked my bike. I saw the kids arriving to the support group, taking places in a circle of chairs. I’d never gone but Taylor used to. She said it helped. It made a living room of sleeping family seem okay. A living room of sleeping family is not okay. A girl in the choir room saw me looking. She raised a hand. I got on my bike and pedaled away.

At the end of that first day, I sat cross legged on the couch watching television. On the futon, Taylor and Bud were still. I thought Taylor should be where I was now, she’d be better at this, she’d go to county health and get a stock of ivs and supplements, she’d check our temperatures and measure our waste and calculate just how much to adjust our fluid intake. She’d go to the support group and take tissues by twos and threes, lean on a friend’s shoulder while saying she missed tossing popcorn at Bud during family movie night.

For two weeks I only roll Dad, Mom, Josh, Taylor and Bud. I check the iv lines, swap empty bags for full, regulate the drips. I avoid checking the catheters, instead only unclipping the urine bags and taking them to the hall toilet for a flush. I know I’m supposed to check the catheters for irritation or infection. I know I’m supposed to wash the genitals but I don’t want to. I think about calling the number listed on all the Stay Awake! posters and asking county health to send someone to the house but I’m afraid that might result in everyone going to one of those quiet shelf spaces I saw in National Geographic.

Before Mom and Taylor fell asleep, they’d talk to Josh, Dad and Bud. Mom was on a lot of message boards. She’d forward articles to Taylor and me and Taylor would bring home pamphlets from the support group. Your voice and presence may have power to remind your sleeping loved one(s) that he or she is important to you. Talk to your sleeping loved one(s) as you would speak to him or her at the dinner table. You may want to pause as if waiting for an answer from your sleeping loved one(s). This may give your sleeping loved one(s) an opportunity to form a response in his or her brain. That sense of connection may be an important part of waking.

But no one was waking yet.

The longest sleepers were child refugees from Syria and Iraq. Three years ago BBC and CNN posted short articles, video links of kids temporarily resettled in Scandinavia who were running up and down sidewalks, eating unfamiliar food at a school cafeteria while their siblings were laid out on cots in small bedrooms. There was a photo of a mother sitting at the feet of her sleeping son, trimming his toenails. I don’t think anyone paid much attention until later, when people who hadn’t just barely escaped war fell asleep too. Then we all went to archives to read about these first sleepers who still hadn’t woken up, whose parents were learning Swedish or Norwegian now because how do you move a family who is half asleep? The mother clipping her sleeping son’s toenails, the entire time she was talking to him in Arabic. What are you saying, the reporter asked. She looked up, answered. The translation read, I am telling him about making his favorite food when he wakes. I am telling him about his sister learning to walk.

I tried talking to them. My voice sounded funny. A little too loud, bright. It has this shine on it like when Mom would wake us up early to load the car for a summer road trip and you could hear her tone trying to say this was going to be an adventure, a great fun day in the car, you could hear that in her voice. That’s how I am talking about eating lunch with Ezra. He shared chips! We studied for Spanish! After a month it’s easier to be quiet. How’s the ashram? Ezra asks at lunch one day. I glare at him but think it’s funny too. I can’t help but laugh. And after that, the name sticks. We call my house the ashram.

I like the story to this point. I like the idea of sleepers. I can picture the news coverage, the think pieces, the curated photo spreads. I can also imagine the panic, the screaming stupid. And I can imagine pretending this isn’t really happening.

I like Chelsea and I am glad Ezra is sticking around. I do not want to get bogged down in the medical stuff as the writer, so I let Chelsea skip over it too, for now.

Most afternoons, Ezra walks me home from school even though it’s out of his way. Sometimes he comes in to say hi to the family, make microwave popcorn, help me with physics. He asks if I want to go to the homecoming dance and I close the front door, turn the deadbolt, and watch him go back the way we came, hands in his pocket. I stand at the living room window and watch him walk down the block, halfway down the next until he’s out of the frame. He walks on the balls of his feet as if he might skip or run at the next step. When I can’t see him anymore, I cry. This is the first time I feel how alone I am, thinking that if I went to the homecoming dance I’d have to find a dress and do my own hair and take a selfie. Later that night the phone rings and I jump. It’s Ezra’s mom. Lisa.


Continue reading

Flash Fiction Serial: Less Flash, More Serial

One of my students read a quote from Stephen King’s On Writing. Paraphrasing, King says that he has to keep writing a story so it doesn’t grow cold. This week I’ll continue writing Tally and Carl and post as I draft.

Part 2

Carl picked me up at six the next Saturday morning, leaving his truck to idle while he came to the door and knocked. Mom offered him a cup of coffee which he drank black. He whispered, knowing Shane was in the other room. When he stood to leave, I stood too. Mom tilted her cheek up for me to kiss.

There was a package of mini powdered donuts on the seat and a bag of sodas on the floor. We drove north toward the dam. Dad had taken me fishing there a long time ago. I didn’t like the smell of the still water. I spent the day tossing Fruit Loops near the bank, watching them slowly bloat. On the drive out, I wondered if I should pretend with Carl, like I really liked fishing.

You like fishing? he asked, tires crunching in the gravel lot.

Kinda, I said.

It’s nice, he said, Gives you a chance to clear your head. I’m out here most weekends.

I hop down from the cab, taking the sodas and donuts. Carl gets the poles and tackle from the bed. He leads us down the earthen dam and tells me which side we’ll fish off, unless I want a competition. It’s the same grassy bank, wet with dew. There’s no breeze but I’m glad I wore a hoodie. Carl opens the bag of donuts and takes two, passes the bag to me. The donuts remind me of when we went to church with Charlene and had juice and donuts in the Fellowship Hall after the service. Carl opened a Pepsi and handed one to me.

Breakfast of champions, he said. He took a long drink and set the can in the grass. He bent over the tackle, opening a sour cream container filled with dirt and worms. He handed me a pole and pointed where I should aim. I came close and started reeling the slack. Carl told me how to fish even though there isn’t much to know when it’s the shallows and all you have is a light pole.

I might go out to Montana this summer and learn to fly fish, he said.

You could do that up north, I said.

Montana sounds cooler.

I make the bobber dance a little, reel it in and send it back out with the same worm. This time I feel a nibble all the way up the line, down the pole to my hands. I watch the bobber dip under and give a slight jerk on the line. There’s too much slack and I only startle the fish away, a little ripple. Enough of the worm is still on the hook, I send it out again. We do that side by side for a while, casting lines, eating donuts, drinking sodas. There are a hundred things I’d like to ask Carl about. He lives with his grandparents but I don’t know why. He quit baseball this season but I only heard rumors why. I want to know what he’d like to do after he graduates next year. I sneak looks at him. He’s seventeen, two years older than me. I like that. He’s got hair that glints gold in the sun. His clothes are as worn as mine. He’s lean like a farm worker. His nose could be on a profile stamped on coins.

I’m suddenly very conscious of his body near mine, of the way he clears his throat and cracks his neck to one side, of how his hands look working another worm on my hook. I remember to breathe.

Can I ask you something? I say and before he answers, I ask, How do you get it?

What?

The liquor.

Oh, he says and laughs a little. You looking for a side business? I can’t tell you just so you can undercut me. We both know I’m not asking for that. He squats down and fiddles with a new bobber on his line. When he straightens and casts again, he says, I really can’t tell you. I’m sorry. He sounds sorry. After a few minutes he says, Ask me another. I’ll answer this time.

I think about what I want to know. I’d like to know if this is a date, if my first date is here on the dam with my hair pulled in a ponytail and the smell of mud between us. I look at the water, as still as when Dad took me here years ago, and I wish I were here with him, not Carl. My throat goes thick so I can’t speak. Carl jokes he doesn’t know anything about the Kennedy assassination but the thought of Dad being here with me that many years ago, putting worms on my hook and not getting mad when I laid down to watch the clouds, it makes me want to cry and I can’t, not in front of Carl.

He puts a hand on my arm. He can tell something. He speaks like he’s coaxing me out from hiding. Tally, hey, you’re alright. What’s wrong? I pick up my Pepsi and take a drink, swallow the lump.

I came here with my dad a long time ago, I say. We both cast our lines again. Neither of us are getting bites, even though we can see the shadows swimming. Carl says, Me too.

Fiction Workhorse Recap

I give myself these projects because I’m not in an MFA program with actual assignments. And if I didn’t make up assignments (ex: sestina, Postsecret flash fiction, one more page in the notebook), I would probably just go on thinking maybe someday I’ll write that thing about a thing. And it’d be brilliant when I did. But I know better: between here and brilliant is a lot of workhorse.

In five weeks, I managed just over 18,000 typed words total, a thousand of which are wails and whines and a couple of thousand more of which are stutter starts. Some of those stutter starts might find their own finish, someday. Two of the starts are third or fourth goes at stories that are kicking around upstairs, looking for a way out, but unwilling to be rushed. One week isn’t enough time and five thousand words not enough space for either story.

Here is what I gleaned:

Knocking out a story without pretense is fun. I like to start stories with the idea that someday readers (like, hundreds or thousands) will read the piece and love it because in the turn of ten or twenty pages, they are transported / connected / entangled. Up front, I demand a lot from an itty bitty five hundred word start, putting immense pressure on everything that follows. Such an unfair and un-fun way to draft! Telling myself that all of these stories were only practice gave me no obligation to consider revision or submission.

Still, I like to practice revision too. One or two of my Fiction Workhorse drafts will give me that.

My 1000-5000 word parameter is on the low, low end of short fiction. During the first two weeks, I was reading a lot of published short fiction and noticing how long most of the pieces are. For one-a-week, 1000-5000 is easily done. I spent between three and five hours writing each draft, including light edits. More hours if you count headspace.

Working on a story in my mind before going to the page is a great strategy. The challenge from one week to the next was dropping the previous draft and its characters and finding a new story. I took a day or two after finishing a draft before starting the next, but that time wasn’t wasted. I was looking for what might turn into my next draft: BBC, news, podcasts, overheard conversations. When an idea came, I let it sit for a day. I’d go to my notebook and write a few notes, but not much more. Then, if I came to a turn while drafting, I took a break from typing and l played out a scene in my head. Try visualizing a scene a few different ways before choosing the better option to write. Take notes on the other possibilities if you want to revise later.

Fiction Workhorse was a good time. I almost missed writing another short fiction piece this week. Almost.

One of my next assignments: tell variations on a single story, after “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood or “The Breeze” by Joshua Ferris.

Writing It In My Head

For this week’s Fiction Workhorse, I am writing my one to five thousand story in my head. You’ll have to take my word for it, that’s it’s great. By the time it makes its way to the page, perhaps so-so.

This one-a-week is cracking the whip. While writing the last two stories, I stood in front of my laptop typing things like

This is pointless
Can’t think of anything. Anything anything

until something showed up. Five hundred words of that pep. I went to the page with a story in mind but no place to begin. I usually use my notebooks to write around possible starts for pieces, but I bypassed the slow writing for typed words. This week I haven’t opened my one-a-week file. Instead, I turn the radio off in the car and think about my characters. In my notebook, I jot names, places, possible plot. I am trying to write a story in my mind so that when I begin typing, I’m not at so many losses. There are chunks of the story I haven’t clarified yet. Big fat chunks. In a moment, I’ll return to my notebook and think through: the framing of the story, its scope.

This is a unique challenge, to let a story write itself in my mind, but only for so long because I’ve decided that I have to post it Thursday. The point is practice. Maybe something will come of a couple of these stories – or maybe these are just the laps I’m running.

 

Multiple Choice

When I was kid I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I didn’t fall in love with the books themselves but with the idea that I could go back to page 49 and decide to turn left instead of right. This may have completely screwed up my perspective on decision-making. Real life does not allow for so much page-flipping. But if Choose Your Own Adventure messed with my concept of linear living, the series also revealed a storytelling truth: You can go back and end it differently.

Isn’t “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood a kind of commentary on storytelling flexibility?

I’m not giving a complete analysis here. Not at all. I like the story though. The last time I read the piece I thought about Choose Your Own Adventure plus Multiple Choice. I want to try writing a multiple choice piece that tells a few stories, that opens characters to left and right at once. I want to write that because I can’t live it like that. I want the chance to go left and then the chance to go right, without left wrecking my chance at right.

Times like this, I see the appeal of reincarnation.

What I tried today is a baby practice of the kind of form I’d like to experiment with. I wrote a five questions multiple choice test. It goes nowhere, for all the directions it contains.

Please fill in the corresponding answer bubble completely.

  1. When your wife tells you she’s pregnant
    a. Cry because she’s crying and it will mask your panic
    b. Openly panic because the economy is shit
    c. Rejoice for children are blessings and your quiver is three shy of full
    d. Secretly hope it’s a boy this time
  2. Offered a promotion at work, in exchange for your sleep
    a. Take it knowing the raise will cover requisite gallons of Starbucks
    b. Do the math on minimum hours sleep necessary
    c. Realize your sleep is well in the red anyway
    d. Ask if refusing means you’re magically given eight hours a night
  3. The vacation you plan for your family is
    a. A road trip to your birthplace, calling it family history
    b. Two weeks of camping, mosquito bites and burned wieners
    c. One barely affordable trip to Disneyland because they’ll love you more later
    d. Staycation!
  4. After you leave your in-laws you
    a. Are silent the entire two-hour drive home
    b. Realize you drank too much to drive and hand the keys to your spouse
    c. Pray thanksgiving at marrying into such a lovely bunch
    d. Hope the kids appreciate your sacrifice
  5. On Saturday morning you have two early morning hours to yourself. You
    a. Get on the bike you’ve been meaning to ride all summer
    b. Spend thirty minutes thinking how the kids never sleep this late
    c. Make coffee and drink it while it’s still hot
    d. Go online to read the Times but get lost googling coworkers

Go write your own multiple choice test about anything. Have fun making things up.


 

P.S. Massive pain to format multiple choice on WordPress. Any ideas?

 

April Revision: Fiction

Three revised fiction pieces. This post features references to two BBC news stories. But the real selling point is that I’ll tell you about one of the worst stories I’ve written in the past year. That’s up first:

Two Girls Stolen: Working title, not working hard enough. And terrible piece, really. In the middle of writing this I thought there was a bit of brilliance to the characters and situations. I thought the story was fantastic! It isn’t. I know, because I just trudged through a chop chop chop kind of revision and still ended up with a Jodi Picoult* wannabe. You tell me if it’s something Jodi Picoult would write, if she were sitting at a stoplight, listening to a BBC news bulletin about two kids found in the Roma community, guessed to be missing British children:

That’s it. Really. Except I made the two girls from Wisconsin, gave them to a child trafficking ring before they were brought home by foster parents who realized their foster kids were actually missing children; and then I stayed with the families for another decade, sussing the emotional wringing of reuniting with family but missing foster parents and and and. It is a really bad piece.

But when I wrote it, oh, I thought I was on to something. Give points to waiting a month or two or three before revising: you see the junk. I revised to see if I could salvage anything. I can think of only one way this piece might be salvageable. I’ll let you know when I play around.

Jake: I like not naming my fiction. This piece is a shout-out to another BBC interview I heard. The reporter was speaking with a man who’d helped rescue people during the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi; the reporter asked this man if he thought of himself as a hero. Of course, the man answered no.

What else could he have said? I put a note in my phone: Can a hero admit they are a hero? And then I stumbled my way around, finding a character named Jake, his time and place. Jake is a muralist who comes to Kuwait to paint, gets caught in an attack, helps rescue, admits he is a hero, and gets slammed. This was as far as I’d gotten when I began revising the piece. I revised, hoping an ending would come to me. It did: I took a creative George Saunders-ish leap and then made my husband read the whole thing. He liked it.

David: I need some new boy names. Seriously. I wrote this piece nearly three years ago. David is a young soldier serving in Iraq. Near the end of his first tour, he knows he will die during his second. I remember sitting at my in-laws’ kitchen table typing my way to an end. When I was done, the whole thing was forty single-spaced pages. Because I dream about publishing a book, I was vain enough to reformat the piece into two-column landscape and got around seventy book pages. Ish.

But a third of the way to novel length or not, most of David had to go.

I avoided the piece for a long time. I’d open the file or remember a couple promising scenes, but not until this month did I make myself revise. I read through first, without touching. Then I thought I might die at the amount of work ahead. I swept my cursor down the entire first two pages and deleted. Felt better. I cut entire subplots. I tightened sentences. I changed the direction of one relationship. I changed the ending.

The piece is now nineteen pages.

Both Jake and David will get another go. I think both pieces work but I’ll wait another month or so before I revisit.


 

*Oh, I loved me some Jodi Picoult at one time. But after reading a dozen, you get the sense she rocks on wrenching twists. Of course, you read what I’ve got so far and you’ll get the sense I rock on traditional boys’ names and BBC stories.

First Sentences, Second Sentences

Here are two more fiction exercises from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Make a list of ten first sentences. Then choose one first sentence and write a few second sentences for it. Experiment with the direction a story might go, at the very start!

Here are three of my ten first sentences:

Josie’s mom was the first to file a restraining order on behalf of her daughter.

The photo Tim showed me was creased, a line from hair to chin.

I knew before he said no.

And here are my second sentences:

Josie’s mom was the first to file a restraining order on behalf of her daughter. Angela’s parents followed and then the rest of the varsity volleyball team. Within a week, Ashley spent her school days in the high school office.

Josie’s mom was the first to file a restraining order on behalf of her daughter. “Her counselor, for God’s sakes,” she said, “He wrote Josie’s college reference letters. Of course she’s traumatized. She applied to Yale. God knows what he wrote.”

Josie’s mom was the first to file a restraining order on behalf of her daughter. The family attorney was confused until Mrs. Roby pulled a stack of photocopied letters from her bag. “She has Josie’s locker combo,” Mrs. Roby said, “Josie gets one of these nearly every day.”

The photo Tim showed me was creased, a line from hair to chin. Tim pointed to the  man’s cupid lips and then to his own. “I think this is my dad,” he said.

The photo Tim showed me was creased, a line from hair to chin. I shook my head no. I only caught a glimpse, faraway. Tim sighed, put a hand on mine. He said, “Maybe you should report it.”

The photo Tim showed me was creased, a line from hair to chin. “She’s so symmetrical,” I said, “I mean, really gorgeous.” I took the photo from him and thought how he was always this lucky.

I knew before he said no. His face was fire blush. I shouldn’t have said anything. I had to get out of there.

I knew before he said no. He laughed. I shoved away from him, sat at the other end of the sofa. He sobered. “Hey,” he said, “I thought you were joking.”
“Why would I joke about a baby?”
“Because you know me.”

I knew before he said no. He tried to be nice about it. He said he’d like to give me the time off, but if he made an exception for me. I quit listening. The Hobart was steaming the air between us. “It’s my mom,” I said and he clasped his hands in front like a schoolgirl. I saw a busboy looking at us. I untied my apron and held it out.

Reading for Writing: Short Fiction

A year ago I signed up for a Stanford Continuing Studies online short fiction workshop. I loved it. I started a lot pieces and worked my way through a couple revisions. I decided to keep writing short fiction, and to more purposefully read short fiction. Just as the post I re-blogged explains, when you read for your writing, your reading is a little different. I still immerse myself in a story, but I am also aware of the craft.

Since that workshop, I returned to reading contemporary short fiction. I am already familiar with authors featured in recycled high school anthologies. I wanted to find authors new to me, known or not. Here are a few collections I’ve read recently:

The Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders. I read this collection after seeing an article in the NY Times about Saunders. I finished reading the book, downloaded his previous collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and overdosed on the man. In a good way. Even though some individual pieces disturbed me, the whole body of work reminded me of the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut: I didn’t know you could write like that.

The Best American Short Stories 2012 edited by Tom Perrota. This collection was great for my writing. I was writing these long wandering pieces with fifty characters too many. I’d received feedback about unnecessary characters in my drafts but was afraid to cut. This collection showed me the value of keeping a small cast.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr. Years ago in college, I read his first collection, The Shell Collector and it remains one of my favorite short fiction collections. I like his style. What I really like is that he writes pieces set around the world, speaking from wildly varying perspectives. The first time I read Doerr’s fiction, I sensed an almost reckless boldness, to write fiction from all over. I was stuck writing from my own experience. So when I read and reread The Shell Collector or Memory Wall, I think: why not write from places I’ve never been, physically, emotionally or spiritually?

I Want to Show You More: Stories by Jamie Quatro. An editor I work with recommended this collection after reading a couple of my fiction pieces. When I finally started reading Quatro, I felt two things. First, I was so glad I’d already written the particular pieces that prompted my editor to suggest the book.I was pleased to realize I’d managed difficult truth-telling on my own, in my own style. Second, as with Saunders, I read Quatro and thought: you can do that? Which I why I am now experimenting, taking what I’ve seen Saunders and Quatro do in their writing and seeing how it may fit into some of my own pieces.

If you have favorite short fiction authors or collections, please post in the comments. Next up on my short fiction reading is The Best American Short Fiction 2013. I am also reading pieces from The Story and Its Writer.