REFLECTIONS ON WRITING
OK, here are the details of the dream I had. I was going to a function put on by my local writers’ group. It was to be held at the city park, in a pavilion-style building, and having been to these sorts of things before, I was ready for a modest, informal gathering more about the camaraderie than the writing. At this dream world function, however, there were hundreds of people (all of them strangers), hors d’oeuvres, banquet tables and a bar. I mingled for a while, trying to find a familiar face to no avail.
Then, lo and behold, someone asked for a drink, and taking note of the lack of bartenders, I fell back on my hobbyist skills in mixology to throw together a martini. I found a chink in this bizarre, stranger-ridden social armor. I could break the ice, if you’ll excuse the weak pun. Another drink was ordered, but through the slight-of-hand of dreams, my martini shaker was replaced by some odd, flat apparatus with a snap-on lid. Still, I made another martini and passed it on, gaining notoriety as the go-to guy should a thirst need quenching. The third order came in and I combined my ingredients into the peculiar flat mixing gizmo once again, but when I opened it, to my horror, I found not a martini but a mushy puddle of crushed fruit, chips of ice and a drizzle of alcohol. The dream deteriorated with me attempting to scoop out smashed cherries and icy shards, and adding more liquor.
A bartender’s nightmare, you may ask. Possibly, but I’m no bartender by trade. For whatever reason, I dwelt on this dream for most of the morning, analyzing it, and although I may be forcing the relevance a bit, I have correlated this with writing the same thing over and over, and the hazards therein. The broad picture is this: the crowd of unknown people were writers, yes, but I believe they also represented editors and first readers, all those unknown entities out there wading through slush piles, scrambling to meet deadlines, people I mingle with in a figurative sense as I send my manuscripts out into the world for consideration. I would love to meet them, know the person behind the process, but there are so many, and they are already engaged busily in their cliques and partnerships, and choices seem dull when you’re aimlessly adrift with no anchor and no handholds.
A short story can be like a cocktail. To do it properly, you need the proper ingredients, proper tools (if not precise tools, at least improvised ones) and a venue for delivery that meets expected standards. One does not serve a margarita in a beer pilsner, for example, and one does not send hard copy manuscripts to a magazine that receives everything through Submittable. When I made my first in-dream drink, I got it right, passed it on, and was met with acceptance. The second drink required a change in method, but I managed to pull off another end product in the same vein as the first. By the third, however, my attempts at sameness became an unrecognizable mess which would not be welcomed by anyone. To restore it to sameness was going to be a huge waste of time and resources, and even had it achieved sameness, there would be an underlying tainted-ness about it. That is my guess; since I woke up before the drink was finished, I’ll never know for sure.
My point is this: that story you wrote about the haunted pillowcase that whispers promises of death to its sleeper every night right up until a strangler looms over the bed was accepted and printed and garnered some glowing commentary. Good for you. But don’t attempt to replicate that very same tale and hope for a repeat success. The haunted bath mat that taps Morse code death messages on its owner’s toes right up until the knife-wielding slasher springs out of the shower and the possessed recliner that ejects its occupant every time there is a death scene on television until the armed intruder confronts and dispatches them should be closeted, unless the angles for each story are radically different. Yes, each one is a combination of solid ingredients combined in a logical, acceptable order. But trying to force them together, and keep them fresh, can leave you with an incomprehensible mess.
It boils down to spontaneity. If you are squashing olives and cocktail onions in the mix while your writer’s sense is telling you there should be cherries, you’re going to inherit a mess, more than likely. If they didn’t ask for a martini, and there’s no shaker to be had anyway, haul out the lime and the tonic water and give them a Gin Rickey. And if at all possible, serve it up with a twist.