So, as I wrote a while ago, HerInteractive is sponsoring a story contest, and I decided to play along. This isn’t a story I’d submit (for one thing, it isn’t finished; for another, I broke the rules), but here’s what I’ve done so far with the instructions for the contest.
Isn’t it marvelous to be up and about when others are sound asleep? I find my brainwaves are at their most powerful during this time. The caffeine helps too, of course. I prefer that mix the college students drink, the one where you add a shot or two of espresso to your cup of coffee? They have different names for it. Headbanger. Redeye. Hammerhead, is the one I prefer. I like the idea of a shark swimming loose in my bloodstream, in my brain. You know, most sharks can’t ever stop swimming. They need their own motion to push water through their gills so they can breathe. They stop swimming, they die. I think my brain’s a lot like that, I need to keep thinking, need to always be in motion. Even when I’m asleep. So I stay up all night drinking coffee and thinking and writing, and when it finally comes time for me to pack it in, when everyone else is waking up and starting their days and threatening to clutter up my thinking with all their daytime problems, well, I just hit one last shot of coffee and head to bed. That way, with that caffeine still in me so soon before bed, I’m still thinking away even in my sleep. Always on the go.
That’s how I came across this situation I find myself in now. I was up working at, oh, I don’t know, maybe three or four in the morning—I don’t have much use for clocks, I wake whenever I wake and I sleep whenever everyone else wakes up, and in between it’s all write write write—and I heard this racket outside my house. Tin banging on tin, hell of a noise, and I knew right away it was the trashcans. Everyone I know has those big rubber bins, the ones on wheels that the city sells you, with the lid on a hinge. Ugly blue things. I can’t abide them. Besides, they’re too quiet. Someone goes to snoop in your garbage, those rubber bins make almost no noise at all. I myself have lifted the lids and rooted in the bags there, then all but dropped the lid back, didn’t really bother placing it down carefully, and sure enough, not much sound at all. I certainly never woke anyone up with it. But me, I like to know when someone’s in my trash. Can’t be too careful these days.
What I do is innocent enough, I assure you, just looking for ideas to write about. You can find all sorts of great stories in trash—I once came across a whole stash of pornographic cartoons, these little squares of paper with photocopied drawings of people doing things you could never imagine. Well, Gerald four doors down could certainly imagine, but you, I’m sure you would never in your life dream of the things drawn on these rumbled sheets of paper. That was where I got my story “Guzzling Viola,” the one that appeared in—well, you read it.
Where was I?
Oh, so I take great care with my own trash. I throw out plenty of ideas I have no use for, but they’re still my ideas, and it just wouldn’t do for someone to come along and take credit for some perfectly good story I’d pitched out. I’ve learned to be suspicious of everyone. It’s good for the brain, I think. Nothing like a good sneaking suspicion to keep you on your toes, I say. Hence, my metal trash cans. And this night, everything dark and quiet outside, suddenly there go my trash cans. You can imagine how quickly I ran to my side window. I made sure to turn out the lights before I peeked through the curtains, both so I could see better and so I couldn’t be seen. But whoever was in my trash was long gone.
I suspected my neighbor on that side at first, but that seemed too obvious to me. More likely, I figured, it was the kid across the street. Real brooder, that boy, all that black, his hair in his eyes. Plus, I know he’s a writer, too, or thinks he is anyway. I’ve seen him out some evenings, just sitting on the curb outside his house scribbling in this big, worn notebook he carries everywhere. All the other kids in the neighborhood are riding their bikes or their skateboards up and down the street, and he just sits there, writing and writing. They make fun of him a lot. I can hear them teasing him from across the street, drives me crazy—don’t they know I’m trying to think in here?—and sometimes I’ve seen them too, throwing things at him. He just sits there and takes it all, like he’s a teenage Jesus, still writing and writing and never looking up at his tormentors. That’s where I got the idea for my story “False Prophets Feel the Love.”
So I stayed awake well after sunrise, endured all those comings and goings in the neighborhood, folks forgetting their breakfast bars and briefcases and running back and forth between the cars and the houses, couples kissing each other good-bye and parents shouting at teenagers to hurry the hell up. I didn’t get one piece of good thinking done that whole morning, I can tell you, but I was determined. And sure enough, about a quarter to eight, here comes that boy trudging out his door. He was writing while he walked. I have to admire that, though, of course, he hasn’t published anything that I know of, which was why, I figured, he was in my trash, looking to steal a good idea that I’d deemed not quite good enough but that still was mine. That’s probably what he was writing this very morning—his version of my story. So I barged outdoors and confronted him, right there in the street. I said, “Hey, you boy, you were in my trash last night!”
“No ma’am,” he said.
“Yes you were, you were looking for story ideas. You read my story “Forget the Hypocritical Aura” and figured you’d steal it for yourself!”
“No, ma’am,” he said. “‘N it’d suit me just fine if I never saw it again.”
For the contest rules–and thereby, the writing exercise–check out the announcement on HerInteractive’s blog. But I’ve already broken the rules of the exercise: the maximum length is 1,000 words, and this is 1,045 and it isn’t even finished yet. It probably never will be, though I have to admit, I’ve had a lot of fun writing this, and I love this narrator. So, maybe I’ll play with it and develop this into something after all.
Incidentally, as a kind of bonus exercise, the narrator mentions something she does to get the ideas flowing: digging through trash. Please, for the sake of your neighbors’ sanity and your own health, don’t go rooting in trash bins. But you can indeed get a lot of good ideas from found objects, especially things that have been lost or discarded. To that end, take a walk and keep an eye in the ditches, or, better still, join a highway clean-up campaign and help reduce roadside litter, then pocket the most interesting trash while you work. Or, for a cleaner way to go about this, hit the rummage bins at garage sales or your local charity thrift store. Or for you shut-ins out there, check out the website Object Not Found.
Also, in case anyone’s curious, the titles the narrator mentions come from a file I keep of titles created with online random band-name generators. But that’s a whole other Writer’s Notebook entry….