I’ve just finished reading a wonderful poetry book written by David Woods. He’s a black author and the book is titled “Native Song”. This was his first collection of poetry. It is an intense and passionate collection that reveals his determined and unrelenting fervour to right the wrongs that were done to the Blacks.
David Woods has also written plays and is an accomplished artist. Here are a few samples of his poems.
“It is never good to agree
to hands choking you to death.”
David Woods, ARTIFACT (For Rose)
“Each fragment lying outside
The structure of love
Turns to monster in the late night,
Each society that discards people
Sharpens hands for killing.”
David Woods, MACHUKIO (The Terror)
You see, I’ve submitted a few short stories to a competition or two. And, I’m proud to say, I’ve never won any. Yeah, blow the horns and bang the drums.
However, I’ve come close. One story got an honourable mention and one made it to the long list on a CBC short story competition.
The thing is, I labour over the stories I submit. Rewrite and rewrite. Change the plot. Discard the plot. Start a new story. Totally change that plot. Get out my notes and check the story against lists of short story musts and maybes. On and on and on and then one day I mail the story out. Usually on the deadline day.
Once it’s in the mailbox I try to forget about it. Put it out of my mind, but still, there’s always a tiny flitting bug memory that buzzes around in the back of my consciousness. Which periodically bites me on the brain stem and makes me think, “I wonder how I’ll do in the competition?” “When will I hear from those short story writing gods?”
I also wonder who is judging my story. Is the judge a woman or a man? How old is the judge? Are they watching television and eating a peanut butter sandwich while they are reading my precious baby? Are they drinking? Oh god, no. While they were looking at my story? My story!!
Is he or she in a bad mood? What kind of life philosophy do they have? Will my story yank their chain the wrong way? Are they sophisticated, snobby readers?
So, when I was reading the stories that I was supposed to judge, I kept all those thoughts in my head. I really, really tried to read the stories carefully. And I didn’t eat anything while I was carefully reading them. Although, I did drink a cup of hot tea. And I only had quiet music on while I sat in my office with my door shut as tight as a honey jar.
Not only that, but Sue also had a read of the stories and made her own notes. Oh yes, we made notes, but I didn’t read her notes until I finished reading the stories. I didn’t want to be pre-prejudiced. (Is that a word?) Neither did she read mine.
She was as serious about the job as I was and then afterwards we sat over a cup of tea and talked about the stories and argued a bit and then came to a conclusion.
Of course, it was a subjective exercise and in the overall picture that is probably a good thing. Because writing and art are subjective by nature. As are so many of the dictates we are exposed to which tell us how to behave or not to behave, eat or talk. Much subjectivity must rule if our lives are to expand, and if we and our race are to venture out into the creative unknowns.
Here are a few points to remember if you are writing a short story for a contest.
1: Begin with a bang.
2: Try to introduce an element of uncertainty or suspense at the beginning.
3: Make your characters alive and real.
4: Make your story different.
5: If you have no length restrictions then try to keep your story reasonably short. Say between 1,500 and 3,000 words.
6: Have an ending that is positive, meaning one with a different turn to it. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending. It can be sad, but it should say something important.
7: Make sure you have one clear central theme or plot running through the story.
8: Try for a story that goes against the grain. Don’t always stick to the politically correct issues of the day.
9: Follow the contest rules.
10: Watch out for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. No matter how many times you reread your work, you will miss some errors. Most writers ask at least one other person to proofread their stories.
We recently spent a week at a cottage. It was a large cottage. It had to be because ten of us were going to be rattling around inside its walls. And it was a beautiful cottage. Alas, it did have some problems.
For example, the well went dry. Which meant the toilets didn’t work for a time. Therefore a gigantic truck had to squeeze down the cottage road and pump thirty thousand litres of water into the parched well.
However, we still didn’t have the downstairs toilet or washing machine operating because there was a pain-in-the-ass leak down there. So the plumber had to shut the water off to the downstairs washroom until it was fixed.
This problem affected the family members who had to sleep in the basement or, to use a more genteel label, the downstairs. The downstairs was damp and probably not so comfortable for those family members and some nights the pump was running almost continuously.
There were other problems too. One family had a sick cat which had to go to the hospital and another family had a child who was bitten by a tick and she had to go to the hospital.
So you might think that I would think the week at the cottage was near to being a disaster. But in my mind it wasn’t even close. And it also proved that having lived a life that was a bit or a lot off the grid can be an advantage.
You see, even though there wasn’t plumbing for a day, there was an outhouse. And that’s what I used anyway. Even before the plumbing went up shit creek. Because I was used to using a shit-house or, if you want to be more genteel about describing it, a privy.
I remember when Sue and I moved to our trailer with the indoor toilet that we missed the outhouse. Missed sitting inside, with the door open, looking at the ants, listening to the wind, watching the clouds, smelling the flowers, feeling the snowflakes tickle our face, listening to the ice on the lake speak. Those kinds of natural earth- bound events.
So, when the two dumpers shut down, it was no big deal for us. And when the plastic toilet bowl pail in the outhouse was full, again there was no big problem. Sue and I simply went outside and dumped it in the designated place so the various family members would have a tidy place to attend to their personal needs and requirements. And she and her daughter hauled buckets of water from the ocean for washing purposes.
The privy had a Dutch door so we could sit in there, secure from onlookers, while admiring the ocean and watching the blue heron who spent time on the beach.
I found a hiking trail; we played games with each other; I met up with a dog named “Luka” who was kind enough to jump up on me and show me his teeth.
Of course, we all went into the cottage with a bunch of expectations. And, the cottage was reasonably expensive, so of course we wanted everything to work out. But instead there were the problems. Things broke, didn’t work the way we wanted them to and it rained one day, just like life. Lots and lots of things happen in life. And, in my mind, it’s the things in life that surprise us and disrupt our plans, or don’t follow the rules as laid down by those who have the power to lay them down, that play a large part in what moves the human world forward in a creative Wabi Sabi way. (Wabi Sabi is the Japanese art of appreciating the beauty in the naturally imperfect world.)
One interesting thing, though. If you look at the picture it looks like one section had one less coat of paint applied to it. However, it didn’t. They all received the same amount. Maybe it was the rain that caused one section to look more faded. Maybe I mixed one batch better than another. Who knows, but DOESN'T IT LOOK CREATIVE?
There is a remedy, or there’s none;
If there is one, try and find it;
If there is none, never mind it.”
“The woods were dark, and the night was black,
And only an owl could see the track;
But the cheery driver made his way
Through the great pine woods as if it were day.
I asked him, ‘How do you manage to see?
The road and the forest are one to me.’
‘To me as well,’ he replied, ‘And I
Can only drive by the path in the sky.’
Amos R. Wells, The Path in the Sky