A Writer’s Notebook: Music and flash fiction

In the wake of last week’s Writer’s Notebook, my friend Ryan Werner sent me an e-mail with a challenge: Do it again. And this time, make it complete — in other words, write a piece of flash fiction.

The actual exercise was more complicated than that (as usual, I’ll explain it below), but it was a very interesting challenge and I decided to take him up on it. So first, a link to the song, and then a piece of flash fiction (still rough — this is an exercise, after all).

I’m using Feist’s “Honey, Honey,” from The Reminder. I’m going to link to the music video on YouTube, though I encourage you to pick up the deluxe two-disc edition of the album, which includes this video and three others, because it’s fantastic stuff.

Dream with Enough Conviction*

She often dreamed of him at night. She felt guilty when she did, because he was the man who’d killed her husband. But she’d never minded that her husband was dead, and she never blamed him for the killing. It was just one of those things. This dreaming, his face in her sleep, was another of those things, but this was her doing, and she felt something close to sorrow every time it happened. What made it worse was that she was sadder that he was in prison than that she’d dreamed of him at all.

If she could tell anyone about the man she loved, she would have told them he was a soldier, or a sailor, that he was away at sea or gone to war. She would stand in the window and watch the wind in the trees, longing for his return. She did so anyway, even when her son — her murdered husband’s son — was home in his room, his own teenage problems to deal with. She stood in the window and watched, and waited.

She visited him sometimes in prison, on his birthday, on hers. She used to take her son on holidays but it was getting harder. And she liked to visit him alone. She thought of it as shore leave. At night, alone in the dark, she imagined it anew, her the marooned lover, he the sailor back from a long journey on slow, calm seas, the two of them in throes. It always ended with her in tears. There would never be any conjugal visit—they were never in a conjugal way, and they never could be.

Sometimes, if she stood in the window long enough, she would suddenly burst into motion, the stillness too much. She would grab her keys, sometimes forget her purse, her license, and she would crash out the door and into the truck and down the road, gravel and dust spitting behind her. She would drive for hours, run the gas tank nearly dry. She never went anywhere. She just drove, eddying in the town or drifting down the highway like it was pulling her along it, an asphalt current and her powerless against it.

She was driving toward some future where he is free, where her son understands her need for this man. Or toward some alternate world where he’d never defended her from her husband, where she’d never married her husband, where she’d married this man instead. Surely, around the next curve, over the next hill, this world awaited her. If she could just drive fast enough, if she could just look hard enough. And she would close her eyes, screaming down the highway, waiting for the dream to come.

Ryan envisioned this exercise as a kind of collaboration, involving many writers, so that we would have the opportunity to write to songs we wouldn’t expect and might not have chosen ourselves. So he asked me to spread the word to some writer friends of mine and see what turned up.

The exercise as Ryan devised it is this: Each writer will submit a song to everyone, and then each of us (including the writer who submitted the song) will produce a piece of flash fiction from each song. We set a 500 word cap, and because I had this post in mind, I also imposed a personal deadline of yesterday (giving us all a little less than a week).

A lot of people expressed interest in the idea, but timing being what it is, many decided to wait until they could play along more fully. Still, among me, Ryan, and two other players, we wound up with four songs. I’ve posted my own song here, but to be fair, I’m also posting the other three stories I wrote, which you can read starting here.

Also, if you want to play along with this one yourself, Ryan has started a blog devoted entirely to this exercise. His goal: To produce a story a week for the next two years. You can check it out at Our Band Could Be Your Lit.


*UPDATE: A revision of this first story, “Dream with Enough Conviction,” has now been published by Red Fez. Click here to check it out online. (Click here to return to the rough draft above.)

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