Tag Archives: Minnesota

Leave No Character Behind

You know that thing about not putting characters by themselves too often because then it’s harder to have an antag in that protag v. antag equation?

Yeah, that’s not what this is really about, but I was thinking about how people always say that. Don’t put that character in that room by themself unless there’s a Bengal tiger in there for them to tame. That would be cool, having a friend who’s a Bengal tiger, but in the wild, where it could run free and maybe bring you a present of a fish now and then since there probably isn’t a Safeway.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThen there’s that thing about wanting to know more about the mother, or knowing too much about the mother. If it’s my mother, then god love her, you would have a dilemma, or I would have the dilemma, not to project this onto you. The point is that you could talk to her for a while and you’d know a lot about her but you wouldn’t really know anything about her. Interesting to try to capture that on the page. That’s also not really what this is about.

MeOr that one about how good fiction should read like it’s true. That’s always been a harder one for me to get my head around. I can be gullible, but I knew that Lilliput was a made-up place. And Tom and Becky in the cave? Come on! But there are those stories where we think, yeah, that could be true. I never related that question of the reader wondering about true-ness or lie-ness to my own work so much until I recited part of a story I wrote at an open mic. The story’s about this kid who’s trying to earn money to visit her dead mother’s grave site. She’s afraid of this mysterious guy in town, and she can bake. I know, good luck with that.

Anyway, at this open mic, my recitation went well, and despite being slightly older than my character, I successfully projected eleven-ish and people were touched. Afterward, this woman said how much she liked the story, and that she was from Minnesota and familiar with the setting. Cool. Then she asked if the story was true.

“Oh, no,” I said. “It’s made up.”

Her face fell. If I was writing this into a story, I’d write it that way without embellishment: Her face fell. She looked seriously disappointed, like she wanted to take back everything good she said about the story. Continue reading

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Dogfight: “Dearest” by Laurel Leigh

10__Red_River_of_the_NorthHello from the Dogpatch, and welcome to the dogfight! Based on a childhood experience, Laurel Leigh wrote an early version of this story as a pre-MFA student taking creative writing classes at U.C. Berkeley Extension in 1999. That first version was one of few student stories selected for an SF Bay Area reading night. Being the type of writer who can let stories sit for a very long while, it’s been through numerous revisions over the years and the plot now continues where the actual events ended. A previous version titled “The Raffle” was selected for both the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and Tin House Writers Workshops. Laurel plans to include this story in her collection in process, Gracie and Them, and meanwhile may submit it separately.

The photo above is of the rumbling north-flowing Red River, seen where it divides Moorhead MN and Fargo ND, a key location in the story now called “Dearest.” This newest title was suggested by Wes during our meeting, and we think it will remain the title. Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts these excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and we’d love to know what you think about the excerpt or what we had to say about it. (photo credit: The Red River: Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Excerpt from “Dearest” (formerly “The Raffle”)

When I’m even with Snee’s front door he walks out of it. I stare at him and forget to pedal. Maybe it’s a rock or that old pothole again, but something bounces into my worn-out chain and it snaps. I go over the handlebars in a kind of somersault, shut my eyes, bounce into the street. When I look again, Snee is staring down at me.
 
He’s the blondest man I’ve ever seen. When he reaches toward me his thin wrist sticks out from his striped shirt. I’ve only seen cufflinks in the Sears-Roebuck catalog, never anyone wearing them. The ones on Snee’s shirt look like clock faces. I’m wishing so hard I’d talked my daddy into letting me keep a dog and that dog was biting Snee on the leg. Then he’s so close, his hand on my shoulder, and I know he’s going to kill me and I should pray. The only prayer I can think of isn’t a prayer. It’s the recipe for butternut pie.
 

jill-hoffman-e1331589180324From Jilanne:
Well Laurel, You’ve got yourself quite a lovely, devastating story here! It has evolved so much since the group first read it. I love how you’ve eliminated an unnecessary character and dialogue, both distractions from the critical components of the story. The result is a much more concentrated or condensed, however you want to view it, version, one that’s driven by voice and tension. The voice of the little girl reminds me of the young female narrator in Ellen Foster, a slim novel written by Kaye Gibbons, a southern writer. She’s both funny and heartbreaking.

I have three suggestions for WWMIBFM (what would make it better for me).

1) I need just one more brush stroke to anchor me in time. I want to know how much time is passing between the loss of the money and the festival, and the confrontation with Snee and his being “dealt with” by the town. Otherwise, I find myself distracted from the story by having to guess. Continue reading

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