The night before last I woke just barely in time to attend the Las Vegas Writer’s Group meeting, which as at 7 pm. Being about 5:40, it wasn’t too late to make it there on time, really, except one must take into account that somebody might choose to demonstrate the world-renowned Vegas sober intelligence by losing a box in the middle of the freeway (again..yes, seriously) or decide that his/her car loves another car and help it kiss the other car’s bumper or fender. I don’t feel like going into detail about my atrocious sense of direction, which often leads me to turn left when common sense should say to turn right, or vice/versa. For those reasons, a twenty-minute drive can easily turn into an hour. That left no time to cook dinner. So, I went Del Taco, figuring that meal would be less expensive than eating at the Tap House (the web address is supposed to be http://taphouselv.com/, but that’s not working.)
So, when I arrived at the Tap House, of course, I ordered more food, which was clearly not my fault since they left a menu at the table and made selections entirely too tempting. Since we live in an age of avoiding any personal responsibility, when I’m done with this post, I’ll be writing my Congressperson as well as Governor Sandoval and possibly the mayor with that complaint. But I digress. After the waitress too my order, she pointed out that my nametag was upside down. Luckily, a fellow attendee came to my defense, saying, “He’s only a writer…”
Our host began the meeting and encouraged everyone to join the critique group as well. He explained that we would never, ever humiliate a new member; merely abuse and embarrass him/her. OK, my sense of responsibility does lead me to point out that was said tongue firmly planted in his cheek, since some folks these days are entirely too sensitive.
Our speaker for the night was Maile Chapman. Instead of spamming up this post with info about her, I’ll provide this link. She was very good. She explained the history of American short story and explained that the early stories were often very didactic, touching on very serious social issues. While well written, those stories were often emotionally difficult to read. For example, she told us about a story about a young woman on a slave ship. The woman was left alone to give birth to her child, but was given no assistance. The slave traders were kind enough to undo her shackles so she could do this, but apparently forgot to reattach them after she gave birth. So she kissed her baby and then jumped overboard, baby in her arms to save the child from a life of slavery. Ouch. Not exactly light reading for a warm, sunny spring morning, is it? Such stories with abolitionist messages were often published anonymously for the author’s safety. Maile also explained that what makes short stories such a uniquely American art form is that they can more easily be published quickly to deal with such issues/ideas that are topical, such as slavery.
Now for my ideas on didactic stories. They’re fine, as long they’re not preachy. Also for the love of God, make them unique. For example, there seems to be millions of LGBT themed coming of age stories where the young gay guy gets kicked out of home and school, etc and all those stories wind up being the same, not only in plot but also the characters can easily be transported from one story to another without the reader being able to tell the difference. The same applies for other stories of these types. If one is inspired to write about about a domestic violence, go for it. I’ll agree with the theme, no real man beats his wife and he deserves his retribution. I’ll go so as say the Wiccan idea of the Third Fold Law can and should apply; the harm he causes by his cowardly and abusive behavior should come back on him three fold, at least. However, at least make the woman unique and do so by more than just having her have an unusual hobby (unless the hobby is relevant to the outcome.) Moving on, this was never meant to be a “how to write” blog and there are plenty of those, but I had to throw my two cents in.
Going back to Maile, she explained out writing became art for art’s sake. Poe was the first (or at least first famous person) to do this in short stories. (I’m not entirely sure this is correct, even though many, if not most of Poe’s contemporaries were still writing didactics.) Anyway, reading and writing for pleasure of it was a novel idea at the time. From Poe, the modern short story really took off. Of course, he was the one that wrote the famous essay Philosophy of Composition . In this post, I actually violated his Unity of Effect rule, though by starting light-hearted and then talking about very dark stories.
There is one piece of writing advice that Mailed gave, which I’d like to share. Make the resolution and outcome meaningful. She complained about what she calls the “MFA Ending” (Master of Fine Arts.) That’s the type of ending that goes something along the lines of “The lovers sat under the tree, pondering their decision.” In a way, I understand such an ending. It allows the readers to come up with their own ending, what they want the lovers to do. On the other end, it makes me say “Really? You took me through all the lovers’ ups and downs, had me experience their emotional and other conflict without a satisfactory conclusion?” Please don’t do that. Going back to our host’s comments, you’ll leave me no recourse but to abuse and humiliate you if you do that.