Saturday, 12 May 2012

The story and the book.

My little girl asked me the other day: "Are a story and a book the same thing?"

Good question, kid.

We talked about Snow White and the many versions we've seen and read, from Mirror Mirror and The Fairest of Them All to the Brothers Grimm version and the older folktales. I told her, "you hold a book in your hands but you hold a story inside you, and if it's a really good one it will stay there forever."

Stop rolling your eyes. It's the truth.

Every couple of days I do the rounds of flash fiction websites -->. There are some wickedly talented editors and curators out there (oh yeah, writers too) and you never know when you will find something compelling and original and crazy, crazy good.

A handful of short stories have lingered within me over the past nine or so months, tossing and turning long after page and browser and Kindle screen were history. I'm still pretty nervous about formally 'reviewing' (I don't feel possessed of any authority to criticise others' fiction writing, especially not when I'm jammed up like a twenty dollar printer) but I would really like to mention three exceptionally sticky tales.

The first is William Dylan Powell's 'Road Kill'. I read this on The Flash Fiction Offensive last year and then over summer I lost track of it, couldn't recall where I had found it or what it was called or who wrote it... but I tell ya, I didn't forget one character, one mood shift, one feeling. I searched everywhere for it, Googled it, read back through bloggers' flash fiction reviews, no luck. Finally a couple of weeks ago I leapt upon the Spinetingler Award nominee list and there it was, it was called 'Road Kill', of course it was.

I read it again, it got me again. Please go read this story if you haven't already, it's a knockout.

Another story that snagged on my heart like a fish-hook is the first story in Heath Lowrance's eBook collection, Dig Ten Graves. It's a sad little stunner called 'It Will All Be Carried Away'. I think of it as 'The Charon Whitfield story' and this is a good sign for me; my test for a well written, well performed screen character has always been whether I can remember the character's name (as opposed to the actor's) for a long time after the film or TV show finishes. Well, Charon Whitfield is as real as my best friend and the protagonist's voice is still ringing. I can't forget his shameful, spiteful, remorseful reminiscences, and that's not a bad thing at all.

The third story I want to mention is a Joe R. Lansdale tale I found in Stories: All New Tales, an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Mr. Lansdale's piece is called 'The Stars are Falling' and it's a beauty. It's the story of Deel Arrowsmith, a World War One soldier who returns home to East Texas so shell-shocked he's not sure if he's really dead or alive. He arrives back at his cabin to find his young wife and son, counting him dead, living it up with a handsome young neighbour. All the good stuff follows: jealousy, revenge, love, longing, secrets, war, brutality and death. I felt for Deel and I really wanted him to triumph, I think I still do.

Every time I cruise the websites and publications, anthologies and blogs, I'm looking for that connection. I want to be moved and torn up and tormented. I have to wonder, though, what it is that makes a particular story to stick to us as individuals:

Is it a narrative voice that strikes a harmonic chord?

Perfectly timed ideas that help us make sense of where we're at?

Themes that connect to our own?

Characters who remind us of our loved--and hated--ones, of ourselves?

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