In Love With Shorts on the Way to Middle Earth

Before I explain the title of this entry, I would like to share a couple benefits of living in a small town here in Somerset County. Last weekend, I decided to put up the bat house that has been languishing in my storage building since we moved here ten years ago. That was motivated by my having seen just one bat this year and I spend a fair amount of time in the back yard around twilight, prime bat time. After maneuvering the extension ladder so I could nail the house about 16 feet off the ground, I started climbing. When I reached the spot where I could nail said bat house safely to the poplar tree, I heard a series of high pitched squeaks. Right above where I planned to nail the house was a 2” hole and inside were baby woodpeckers. I descended as fast as I could and the bat house was installed on a nearby tree. Beth and I were worried that Momma woodpecker might have been scared off by my getting so close, but she continues to make frequent runs from the suet feeder to her nest.

Tonight, I was planting corn when I caught something moving across the lawn out of the corner of my eye. It was a bittern, a reclusive member of the heron family whose rusty pump-like ‘whoo-hunk’ was a favorite sound growing up on Sennebec Hill Farm. This one or a relative likes the little bog beside the garden (plenty of careless frogs, for one thing). We see him/her once or twice every spring. I went back to the house and told Beth to grab her camera. She was able to get within 15 feet while the bird was eating snails as fast as he/she could find them. Little glimpses of nature when we live 2 blocks from the post office and grocery store are perks of Pleasant Street in Hartland.

Years ago, my sister Kate convinced me to try my hand at short stories. That was around the time Level Best Books third anthology was soliciting entries. I remembered a very dark dream that recurred frequently in early sobriety, wherein I killed a woman and hid the body. Most of each dream was spent being scared to death that the body would be found. Take my word for it, this was by no means a fun dream. Anyhow, I turned that nightmare into a very dark story called “In Your Dreams” that was accepted for the anthology. As someone used to writing 300-400 page fantasy works, the seductiveness of being able (on some occasions, at least) to sit down in a silent house early Monday morning and have a reasonably decent finished product six or seven hours later, took some of the allure off writing books. Who doesn’t like instant gratification? Writing short stories was, in my mind wicked close.

Over the past ten years, I’ve had a few more accepted for publication by Level Best Books. Somewhere around 2004, I realized it might be fun to combine fantasy, short stories and the young adult angle in an anthology about Maine teens. I planned to call it Hardscrabble Kids: stories about Maine teens and magic. Several of my fellow librarians gave me story ideas, some from their imagination, others based on kids they knew who came into their libraries.

In the interim, about a dozen stories have been written and sit in a folder on my computer, whispering to me every so often, asking when will they see the light of publication. I haven’t been able to give them a good answer, more’s my shame.

Jump back to a story published in Level Best’s 2006 anthology Seasmoke, called “The Man in the Glass.” I shared part of the story idea with my friend and fellow sweepstaker, Judy McCurdy who lives in Broken Arrow, OK. She emailed me back and asked how I knew her brother because the plot described him to a T. We had never met, but after I wrote the story, I let him read it before submitting it to the contest. He opined as how the story, minus the crime, was pretty close to what happened with his ex-wife.

A year later, Judy sent me an email telling me about a story, based on a battle during the Civil War, that was rattling around in her head, but wasn’t something she felt she could write. Would I give it a shot? Why not, I thought and started researching the person whose ghost she felt couldn’t rest because he hadn’t been given any credit or respect for his role in turning the tide away from a confederate victory. Sure enough, her historical information was pretty factual.

Since I was working on the anthology, I needed a way to have a Maine connection since the story was going to take place in North Carolina. I created Peter Norris, a high school junior from Washington County whose dream from the time he saw a photo of Mt. McKinley in National Geographic was to go there on vacation and climb it. Peter has a tree fall the wrong way, driving a chainsaw into his leg, almost causing him to bleed to death. While the rest of his family goes to Alaska, Peter ends up in North Carolina with his aunt and Uncle, wallowing in a boatload of misery and self-pity while he recovers

I kept writing, and writing, and writing. The story was well past the short stage when I sounded out another Maine author, Toni Buzzeo. “Maybe, it was never intended to be a short story,” she said. Well, there was no way I could envision it as a full book, so off into uncharted waters Peter and I went. When it was finished, Statue Of Limitations ran 72 pages and I was introduced to the novella concept. When the time comes, the plan is to have this as the centerpiece for Hardscrabble Kids and include a sufficient number of the other stories to make it worth buying.

Two weeks ago, I began writing a story based on the last idea rattling about in my head for inclusion in the anthology. This one is about a girl partially paralyzed in a riding accident whose future seems all shot to hell because of her love of and skill in creating dance steps on the fly evaporated the moment her back slammed into an ash tree. When the story opens, Cece is living under a cloud of depression so black and intense, everyone else can almost see it. Enter Dios, an apprentice Greek under-god who’s fascinated by her. Dios has spent the last 2500 or so years managing various forms of dance and their practitioners so the more famous deities can continue to party hearty and not be bothered by the annoying trifles of mortals. As civilization has progressed, so has his particular dance responsibilities. There was a time when he was responsible for the Gavotte, something he certainly doesn’t miss these days. When he and Cece meet, he’s in charge of Dubstepping, hence the story’s title Dubstep and Wheelie: A love story.

This time around, I realized early on that these lovers had a story too good and too long to squish into 5-7,000 words. I’m having great fun writing it, but now I have to figure out whether it should be released as a stand-alone ebook or as the centerpiece for a second anthology. Stay tuned to find out.

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3 Responses to In Love With Shorts on the Way to Middle Earth

  1. Deanna says:

    Wow – talk about “previews of coming attractions”! I am looking forward to all these stories. Dee

  2. MCWriTers says:

    For baby woodpeckers to demigods in a few paragraphs. Sometimes you are just amazing, John.

    I hope that anthology sees the light of day. My motto, since I turned sixty (and when I remember) is: What are you waiting for?


  3. Lea Wait says:

    I’ll echo everyone else — the stories sound great; I want to read them; so … hie thee to a publisher, John!

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