“Secret Identity”

Here’s another new poem that I finalized just recently and debuted at an open mic night this week. I’m calling it “Secret Identity.”

Question for discussion: do you prefer poems with a definite rhyme or rhythm (like this one will be), or ones written in free verse (like the last one I posted)? I feel like free verse is more “in vogue” these days, and so for a while most of what I wrote was free verse. But personally, I find that when I write for spoken word or specifically for performance (as I have been doing lately), I like to go back to consistent rhyme and rhythm if I can. Having a rhythm and a pattern or beat helps me to keep my pace when the audible sounds are the focus more than the written word.

Anyway, here’s “Secret Identity.” I hope you enjoy it.

——

Shirt & tie
Image taken from user jopperbok on Flickr Creative Commons.

My shirt and tie may cover me.

These glasses hide my eyes.

But still this outer man you see

is merely a disguise.

By day I speak on words and books.

Your minds I try to fill.

I may give disapproving looks

or tell you to sit still.

But underneath there’s so much more

than what you could dream of:

a soldier fighting holy war,

a heart that’s full of love

and far-too-idealistic hopes

in my heroic quest

to talk of more than tomes and tropes

but make your life feel blessed.

Behind the desk, behind the beard,

behind the endless puns

lies something more than first appeared:

deep care for broken ones.

I see you there, alone and lost

like sheep, a shepherd needing.

You don’t know I’d pay any cost

to simply stop the bleeding.

You’ll never know how much I care

or how I long to hold you

or how I wish I could be there

though outwardly I scold you.

Oh, how I longed to draw you near

like a hen unto her chicks,

to chase off every hurt and fear—

to shield, to heal, to fix.

Of burdens I would bear the brunt—

but alas, I am unable,

for I stand up here at the front

while you sit at your table.

For after all, I’m only one

flawed, finite, mortal creature,

and when it all is said and done,

I’m just a high school teacher.

But I’ll always be here on your side.

I’ll always be your fan.

I couldn’t save you if I tried,

but I’ll do what I can.

Clark changing
Image taken from user Porta-john on Flickr Creative Commons. Originally published by DC Comics.

The Wanderer’s Lament

I haven’t written much fiction lately, but I’ve been working on some poetry. And as our own Mr. Mastgrave reminded me this week, a poem can often be a form of telling a story. In my case, I certainly believe that that’s true. Some people are gifted enough that they can write beautiful poems about almost anything, but I can really only bring myself to write one when I have the right inspiration, usually when it has been influenced by something from my life—-a story, if you will.

Later in the week, I may write a post analyzing poems and storytelling a little more thoroughly. For now, I’d just like to share with you some of the latest ones I’ve written. The following is a work in progress born of an emotion inside me, but I didn’t really put it down in words until yesterday–so I reserve the right to edit and change it later on as I revisit it. (But I am planning to unveil it to the public at an open mic night tonight, so hopefully it’s ready enough for that at least!)

I have named this poem “The Wanderer’s Lament.”

———-

Home is not the mattress I sleep on

in a brick building far too uptight

to be anything more than a temporary dwelling.

Home is no longer the four walls

where I talked and laughed with two best friends

right up until everything changed.

Home is not even where my parents live, or my brothers,

or the simpler, more idealistic version of myself

I can still glimpse within my mind,

reading a book or doing homework

in that familiar house ten years ago.

Home is not a past that can never be repeated–

but neither is it the ever-fleeting present

or some hopeful future still in flux.

Home is not a grand adventure

6788260659_52e0a97b0d_n
Image taken from user Ciscolo on Flickr Creative Commons.

where I crossed the river to chase my dreams

and learn how to grow up a little more

and just maybe begin laying down some roots.

Home is not the winding halls

of the university I still love,

or the classroom where I spend so many hours

to earn a living and hopefully make a difference.

Home isn’t found under a steeple, in a pew,

or even a friendly living room full of smiling faces

with a Bible in my lap.

Home is not my friends,

the ones who have stood by me for years,

or the ones who so graciously welcomed me

into a strange new land.

Home is not any loving community that I’ve found,

or any that I’m likely to find in a week,

or a month,

or a year.

If one day I find love

and build up a family in a house,

if I hold a wife close to me

or cherish the sweet laugh of a child,

even then the home I long for

will still be far from me.

 

If I Find in Myself a Desire
Image taken from QuotesVil.com. Quote from C.S. Lewis.

Home will finally quench my deep desire

which nothing in this world can satisfy,

because, most probably,

I was made for another.

I don’t know what home will look like,

but I’ll see it when I go.

 

 

Allegories: The Ups and Downs

Cruciblecover
Cover of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Image taken from Wikipedia. Fair use.

Lately I’ve been reading Arthur Miller‘s classic play The Crucible with my 11th grade Honors students, and I’m loving the experience. Reading it aloud in class with them has reminded me of when I first discovered the play as an 11th grade student myself, and its powerful characters with strong moral themes still resonate with me today. In fact, I tend to get so caught up in the action of the play, in the brilliant character dynamics and the almost otherworldly setting of early Puritan America, that I almost forget a few things. I forget that the play was written much later than it takes place—within the last century rather than in the 1600s—and that the author wrote it as an allegory for the social and political climate of his own time.

Now, why would I gloss over such an important historical detail, and one that is well established as the greatest influence for the writing of the play? Maybe it’s because allegories get a bad rap sometimes—and, sometimes, they deserve it. Oftentimes, when we think of allegories, what comes to mind is childish fairy tales with thinly veiled symbolism and much too didactic moral messages. I am reminded of stories like the Chronicles of Narnia—a series which, though I enjoy and respect it to a great degree, is understandably considered by some readers obvious and simplistic in its symbolism. Of course, I’m also reminded of some of my own science fiction and fantasy writings from five or more years ago that I kind of cringe to remember, because the Christian symbolism was similarly thinly veiled and rather unoriginal. (Heck, I know someone in a Christian writers’ community who even used the word “allegories” in the title of an independently published graphic novel. It’s like some authors aren’t even trying to hide it.)

The point is that allegories are sometimes looked down upon these days, because when they’re too obvious, they can come across as preachy and pretentious—a moral message disguised as a work of fiction rather than a genuine creative work itself. I saw an internet article once that, when poking fun at heavy-handed symbolism in a popular contemporary novel, jokingly called the author “C.S. Lewis.” And that got me thinking. First, my English major nature thought things like, “Well, if you think C.S. Lewis’ symbolism was so heavy-handed, then maybe you should go read ‘Young Goodman Brown‘ by Nathaniel Hawthorne and be glad for C.S. Lewis. And if you think that’s too much, then you should go read The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, in which pretty much every character’s name equates to some moral concept like ‘Charity’ or ‘Despair’ or ‘Faithless.’ But once I let my snarky English major side calm down a bit, I got to thinking, “well, aren’t there right and wrong ways to do symbolism and allegories in ways that today’s audiences will accept?”

And the answer is that, of course, there are. After all (though I personally haven’t seen it yet), wasn’t there recently a very popular movie in which the characters were just living embodiments of emotion? And aren’t some of the superheroes I like, the Green Lanterns and their multi-colored associates, based largely on the same thing, harnessing their powers from will or fear or hope and rage?

It’s not that symbolism—or direct thematic conveyances of emotion—are entirely shunned in today’s culture. It’s just that those elements have to be coupled with others, too—like good characters and a good story, which every compelling work of fiction should have anyway.

I remember writing a paper on the allegorical nature of The Faerie Queene, and how it (or at least the part we read in class, because the whole thing is super long) is pretty much just a Christian knight battling monsters who represent different sins, and using supernatural help to overcome them. My professor recommended a book called The Allegorical Temper, which I ended up citing in my paper. I don’t have exact quotes handy anymore, but the author’s consensus was that allegories only work if they’re stories as well. They shouldn’t be only moral messages, but they should be able to function on two levels, as messages conveyed through a good story. If a character represents an idea, then the character shouldn’t completely disappear into that idea; they should still be a well-developed, fleshed out character who is enjoyable and compelling to read about, like any other character should be. Then whatever underlying messages are present may still come through, but without overpowering the story for what it’s supposed to be.

Animal Farm
Copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell. Image taken from Flickr Creative Commons.

In hindsight, I’m not sure I can say that The Faerie Queene meets that goal particularly well. Obviously, more than a few direct allegories have been good enough to make their way into the classic canon of literature, and yet they vary in how much they actually tell a story beyond just the allegory. I recently started rereading George Orwell‘s Animal Farm because I’ll be teaching it too later in the year. Of course, my memory may be flawed because I haven’t read it in a decade, but I seem to remember the symbolism in that book being fairly thinly-veiled as well. Different animals correspond directly to different people or social classes involved in the Russian revolution, and the plot is narration-heavy without a lot of room for extra character development. The anti-totalitarian theme—a political message if not necessarily a moral one—comes through very directly, and the entire story seems to be there to serve that theme.

But again, consider The Crucible. It’s well known that Arthur Miller wrote it as a caution against the militant McCarthyism sweeping through 1950s America. Thus, the judges conducting the Salem witch trials within the text of the play are analogous to the anti-Communist courts of Miller’s era, and the town of Salem can be seen as a warning against America following a similar path. But that’s about it. That’s where the allegories end. John Proctor, the main hero of the story, doesn’t directly represent goodness or sin or anything like that. He’s a well-developed, realistic character with both good and bad traits, who just acts in accordance with his personality based on the events of the story. Abigail Williams, the main antagonist, isn’t directly representative of any one person or philosophy in Miller’s time. She’s just the villain, acting on evil motives but not on the author’s determination to drive home a moral point. The characters have lives and stories of their own that stretch beyond the text of the page and can exist independently of the author’s anti-McCarthyist sentiment.

To summarize: if you’re ever trying to write an allegory, or any story with an above-average amount of symbolism, know how to do it well. Include your symbolism and the themes and meanings you want it to represent, but don’t lose sight of writing a good story beyond that. Develop your plot and characters first and foremost so that the deeper messages can really come through in an engaging, compelling, and powerful way.

Everyone’s an Antihero

Most of us have heard that the hero of a story can reflect or embody the values of the author or the culture. But sometimes we don’t give antiheroes–those ambiguous, mysterious characters who blur the lines between good and evil–enough credit to do the same.

I touched on antiheroes somewhat in my last post, talking about how even “heroes” and “good guys” in fiction can become antiheroes or villains if the writer invents a story or motivation that will change them enough. Today I’d like to talk more about the trend of antiheroes in fiction, and about what it means for us as writers–and as humans. And, as before, I’ll draw largely from one area of pop culture that I know a lot about: comic book superheroes.

PunisherWarZone1It seems like the ’80s and the ’90s were the era of the gritty antihero, in comics as well as perhaps in film and other areas of culture. Gruff, grim, leather-wearin’, gun-totin’ characters like Deadpool, Cable, and Lobo began to emerge. But, more than that, other characters who were previously either heroes or villains began to cross the line. Characters like Catwoman and Venom, villains up to that point, got their own titles where they were ambiguous protagonists. Batman was temporarily replaced by a more savage version of himself, and even Superman grew his hair out and wore black for a while to make him seem more dark and edgy.

But, in some ways, it seems like this trend has never really stopped. Because what got me thinking about antiheroes so much was a recent Marvel Comics event called Axis. In this story, several heroes and villains teamed up to try to stop the Red Skull, Captain America‘s Nazi nemesis. But, because of a magic plot device–er, magic spell–everyone’s personality was (temporarily) inverted on its moral axis. Thus, the good guys present suddenly had the desire to be bad–and the bad guys actually wanted to be good.

14904391768_66a2aeb0f8My reaction to this event was also mixed. Part of me wanted to complain. “Really? More antiheroes?” Maybe I read too much into this, but to me, so much blurring of the lines between good and evil seems like it might perpetuate more moral ambiguity. Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes I miss the days when good guys were good, bad guys were bad, and both held uncompromisingly to their values. With the trend I’ve mentioned of making more and more characters antiheroic, sometimes it seems that those clear lines of good and evil are shifting and fading faster and faster.

My last post mentioned several Marvel heroes who have acted as antiheroes or villains in the recent past. Also, even before Axis, a number of Marvel’s major villains were being portrayed as less “evil” and more “misunderstood,” including Magneto, Doctor Doom, Apocalypse, and Loki. For various complicated plot reasons, the latter two had both been reborn into young, teenage versions of themselves (yeah, I know, comics are weird–just roll with it) who want to do good but who may or may not be destined to return to villainy once more. Then, in Axis, the change got even more extreme. Villains like Sabertooth and Carnage, who previously were violent killers for the fun of it, suddenly valued life and made it their quest to do right. On some level I found it a little hard to believe.

And yet, even when I get a little tired of the antihero craze, I have to admit a few things to myself. The first is that antiheroes show us our own values and that of our culture–just as much as heroes do, if not more so. Like, sure, you’ll root for Captain America for being all good and noble and patriotic. But will you also root for the Punisher for bringing violent vigilante vengeance to the scum of the streets? And, if you do, then what does that say about your  values? How far can a good guy go and still be considered a “good guy”? How bad does a bad guy have to be for us to think they’re truly irredeemable? Antiheroes ask us to think through questions like these.

One interesting thing to note in the Axis event is that the Red Skull (although briefly shown to be affected by the spell) was never really featured as a hero or as having heroic intentions, even temporarily. Personally, I think that also says a lot about our culture. We can believe that most villains, even a psychopath like Carnage, can turn over a new leaf. But not the Red Skull, a Nazi who embodies absolute hatred, racism, and intolerance. Even with a magic spell in place, we can never bring ourselves to root for him as a hero. What this says to me is that such hatred and bigotry are the worst of evils in the eyes of our culture, utterly irredeemable beyond even senseless murder for fun. The levels of moral ambiguity that we will–and won’t–tolerate say a lot about who we are and what we value.

The other thing I’ve had to admit to myself is this: antiheroes are realistic. Even if they sometimes seem overdone and contrived, they do make for much more complex characters, and often more interesting ones, which is how ordinary human beings really are. None of us is completely good and nice and noble all the time. And neither is any of us completely cruel, heartless, and evil. As Nathaniel Hawthorne strove to show us in stories like The Scarlet Letter and “Young Goodman Brown,” we are ambiguous, imperfect beings with a capacity to do either right or wrong. No matter how good we might think we are, we’re all antiheroes too in a very real sense, with conflicting desires, motives, and morals constantly shifting around within us. And maybe that’s why we can so often still relate to and root for those characters who seem to straddle the moral line.

As writers, I’d like to issue you a challenge. Take a hero or a villain you’ve previously written into a story. Now write a short scene, episode, alternate universe, or whatever in which this character’s morality has changed drastically. Your hero is now more villainous, and your villain must be more heroic. What cataclysmic circumstances could have motivated such a shift in behavior? How much influence does morality have on your character’s personality, and what will that personality be like when it’s divorced from the values it had previously held to? What will happen if your hero-turned-villain has a sudden confrontation with your villain-turned-hero?

Happy writing, my fellow antiheroes.

Staying in Practice with Short(er) Prose

“You’re doing NaNoWriMo, right?” people keep asking me.

“Uh, no,” I reply. “Not this time. Sorry. I’ve got too much else going on right now.”

“Come on! You should do it!”

“I mean, maybe I’ll try a little bit. But, realistically, I just don’t see it happening this time.”

“Lame!” they chide me.

And I almost wonder if they’re right. NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar) is designed to help you actually write something even in the midst of your busy schedule by setting reasonable goals for each day and having many people all writing at once to help keep each other accountable. And I know I’ve been the one on the other side of the spectrum at times, encouraging and/or pressuring my friends to be as gung ho about creative writing as I am. So what does it say about me that I’m not willing or able to put forth the effort this time around?

I did participate in and successfully complete NaNoWriMo three years in a row, but that was back when I was still an undergrad. Now that I’ve moved up in my education and taken on more commitments, this is my third year in a row not doing NaNo, and I do kind of miss it. I even have a plot outline in my brain that I’ve been wanting to get out on paper for some time now. But it’s looking again like this November is not going to be that time.

The good thing, though, is that even though I’m too busy to do NaNoWriMo, it doesn’t mean that I’m not writing. It doesn’t even mean that I’m not writing for fun. As I touched on in another post, while it’s been a while since I’ve tackled any larger works of fiction, I’ve shifted my attention in recent years toward shorter prose of various different styles. In addition to writing for this blog, I write articles for an ezine, I’ve dabbled or tried my hand at other online magazines and forums, I recently put out a few posts full of lighthearted anecdotes on my personal blog, and have of course been writing academic papers for my grad classes too. While part of me looks forward to the day when I can work on my novel(s) again, I dare say that I’m not exactly being slack in my writing right now.

Image taken from studentleadercollective.org
Image taken from studentleadercollective.org

Maybe you’re like me, and you want to stay in practice with your writing, but the thought of a huge, lofty project seems daunting or unrealistic right now. If that’s the case, then you may benefit from hearing what I’ve been doing to try to stay in practice even in the busy times of life:

  • Be disciplined. We’ve probably all heard before that good writing requires discipline and dedication. I don’t really have anything new or profound to add to that conversation, except that I’ve been finding that it really is true. While it’s not a novel, working on short prose and academic writing like I’ve been can be plenty daunting on its own, especially if you’ve taken on several different projects like I have. This week I put out two posts on my personal blog, because they had been in my head for a while and I wanted to get them out into the world, but I also had this blog post due and the next article for the ezine, along with at least five pages of a rough draft for a grad paper. How do I do it all in the same week? The only answer I can really give is discipline and making writing a priority. Lately, after all my other homework and reading is done, I’ve usually been using the last hour or so (sometimes more) of my day before bedtime to write, instead of to watch TV or whatever. It’s a good time for me to get a lot of thoughts out in a relaxed manner (as long as I go back and edit later when I’m less tired). Of course, each person’s schedules and habits are different, but I’m willing to bet that you have time to write in your day if you just work a little bit and prioritize to find it.
  • Be flexible. Being flexible can incorporate a few different things. For me, working on several short pieces at once, it means that I have to be able to go back and forth easily; sometimes I’ll work on two or three or four different pieces in the same day or night, and I have to be able to focus on each one without letting the mental shift feel too jarring. But flexibility also means writing what you can when you can. If you’re not sure what to write in the absence of one grand, overarching project, then just take whatever smaller opportunities come your way, or start a journal or blog about your own personal experiences. If you don’t have a huge block of free time in your day that you can devote to writing, then use the smaller times you do have, and cram it into five or ten minute slots wherever you can. Since there’s no one definite formula for good or consistent writing, you need to find whatever works for you and be willing to do it, even if what works for you is drastically different from one day to the next.

    Image taken from busywriting.net
    Image taken from busywriting.net
  • Be creative. If you’re used to writing creative fiction, then the idea of shorter prose may not appeal to you as much at first. But writing blogs, articles, and other short works doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative and let your own unique voice shine through. There’s not room in this post to delve thoroughly into what constitutes the genre of creative nonfiction, but it’s basically telling a story the same way you would in fiction–except that the story just happens to be true. You can still give things your own interpretation and your own personal spin and narration. Just because you’re writing something short and (arguably) more serious doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself and have fun with it, too.

I realize I haven’t said anything particularly profound and new here, but this is what has been working for me recently. Still, if anyone has any good tips on how to balance writing short projects with everything else in life and also work on a novel somewhere in there too, I’d be glad to hear them! 😛 But whatever you’re writing this month, keep at it and be consistent! You never know how it might help you stay “in shape” as a writer and improve your craft for the future.

What’s in a Name?

Today’s topic is about an aspect of fiction writing that seems relatively minor, but can actually be fairly important. It’s something that (in my experience, at least) isn’t usually the first big idea that pops into the mind of the writer, but often, when well-chosen, ends up being an important aspect that sticks in the mind of the readers. What I’m talking about is naming characters.

NametagPersonally, I’m not very good at coming up with names. That can apply to titles of a work, or, more along the lines of what I’m talking about here, to character names. I usually can figure out easily what I want my characters to be like–their personalities, backstories, driving motivations, manners of speaking, and more. But not their names. This results in me having a well-developed person in my mind who I feel like I know very well, and yet it’s a bit awkward because I don’t know what to call them. Sometimes, when writing an early draft, I’ll just refer to the characters with titles such as “Male Lead” or “Female Lead” or “Villain” or whatever until I think of something more permanent–and I’ve heard of some fellow writers doing this too.

On the contrary, I’ve heard some writers say that, once they know a character well enough, the right name just comes to them, and it feels like the only one that fits that character. If you’re one of those writers, then that’s great! However, as I somewhat touched on in my last post, I personally am not the type of writer who can just churn out something on a whim and have it be good. I need to put thought, time, and good reasoning into my writing before I’m satisfied with it–and that applies to character names as well.

So, if character names don’t just come to you in random bursts of inspiration, then what’s the best way to think of them? I’m afraid I don’t know. But I’ll tell you a few methods that I’ve used in the past.

  • Just pick whatever sounds good.
    • There’s not a whole lot I can say about this one because it’s fairly subjective and imprecise–just a matter of personal preference, really. Go through the baby name book (is that still a thing?) or search for online name generators, because there are a lot of them out there–some for ordinary, everyday names, and some for more unique fields such as fantasy and science fiction. Just pick a name that you like and that seems to fit with your conception of the character.
  • Pick (or avoid) names with personal significance.
    • Some writers like to pick names based on people they know, such as if a certain character is based on or reminds them of a real-life friend or acquaintance. Personally, I used to do the opposite. I would try to avoid using names of people I knew, because I didn’t want my perceptions of those people to influence my perceptions of the characters. Of course, the more people I knew, the more difficult it became to find names that weren’t attached to anyone in particular for me, so I usually don’t make this my primary criterion anymore. Still, names of people you know, and their personal connotations for you as the author, can sometimes be a good way to decide whether or not to use a certain name.
  • Put in some secret or special significance.
    • This is one that I, personally, like to do whenever I can. If you want your character’s name to mean something, but you don’t want it to be super obvious or directly connected to real people, then find some distant connection that’s not so easily recognized, such as a rearrangement of letters or a reference to another character.
    • For example: About five years ago, for my first-ever NaNoWriMo, I wrote a story about aliens, with a heartfelt but painfully obvious Christian allegory underneath. I named the Christ-figure Ussej Thrisc, and I’m sure I thought at the time that I was being incredibly clever by rearranging the letters of “Jesus Christ,” and calling the villain who betrayed him Usdaj Troicasi. Some of my friends who read the story told me that they enjoyed figuring out the name puzzles of those characters and others, but I have to acknowledge in hindsight that in this case, once the names and their significance are figured out, the cleverness is thinly veiled from that point on.
    • These days, I don’t do as many anagrams, but I still like the names to have some significance, even if it’s one that only I know about and others might not recognize as readily. Sometimes, if a character is loosely based on a previously established character, or if I see a connection in my mind to another work, I’ll try to “borrow” parts of the other character’s name in order to pay homage. For example, in my superhero story, the dark vigilante’s secret identity is Wayne Murphy, and I fully admit that I took the first name “Wayne” from the last name of anotherWayne dark vigilante’s secret identity. (The other names in that story have similar significances, but that’s the only one I’m giving away, so if you ever read it, then you’ll have to guess.) Similarly, in my dystopian story about the dangers of forced or unhealthy romantic relationships, I’ve tried to appropriate the names of various literary and historical figures who were known for their bad relationships, such as Romeo, Juliet, Lancelot, Bathsheba, and Delilah (and I slightly alter them for the purposes of subtlety, resulting in characters named Lance, Sheba, and Lilah). The readers may or may not get all the connections, but the names at least mean something to me, and I still get to feel like I’m being clever and sophisticated by putting subtle literary and historical allusions into my novel that the common man probably won’t get right away. So if you want your characters’ names to mean something, try taking the name of a person or character who already means something to you, and rearrange or alter it a bit. Be creative and see what you can come up with!
  • Remember to pick something that works with the setting. This is more of a side issue and may not help you actually generate the names themselves, but you want to make sure that you pick names that are appropriate with the time, place, and tone of your work. For example, if you’re writing an epic high-fantasy adventure far removed from Earth, then you probably don’t want your main hero to be “Bob.” The name is casual and sounds silly in the context of the serious world around it (unless you’re writing a tongue-in-cheek satire, in which case it’s perfectly appropriate to feature an android named Marvin). Similarly, if it’s a real-world drama of ordinary people, then don’t pick anything too eccentric just for its own sake. But sometimes a good balance of the familiar and the exotic can be helpful. For example, futuristic stories like the one mentioned above will sometimes go with names that are less common, but not entirely unheard of. I like to think that names like Lance, Sheba, and Lilah help to give the setting some distance from our own culture, but also enough familiarity that the story still feels tangible and possible on some level.

Those are some of my best suggestions for coming up with character names. What methods or techniques do you use? Sound off below!

A Letter

God bless our troops.

A few weeks ago, I showed you a piece of my poetry, so this time, I decided that I’d share a piece of my “flash fiction” with y’all. I grew up in a military family, and my dad was frequently deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other various dangerous places around the world. That’s what inspired me to write this short story (Tobias did an excellent post about writing from experience, you can find it here) and I thought I’d let you all have a look at it and experience some of my creative brainstormings. Enjoy.

*************************

October 1, 2011

My dearest William,

             Can you believe it’s been three months? Three long months since I kissed you goodbye as you shouldered your duffel bag and prepared to board the plane that would take you away from me. It feels like longer, sometimes. But you’ll be home soon. Your tour’s up in a month and half, and then you can come home to me. I’m counting down the days. I know you’re probably laughing at me, but you know how I am. And you love me anyway.

 Your last letter came three weeks ago, and I think this is my fourth letter to you in that time. Not that I’m counting or anything. I know you can’t write as much as I do. It just helps me feel like you’re closer to me, like you’re not so far away. I miss you, you know. I’m proud of you, you know that…I just can’t help but wishing you didn’t have to go overseas for so long. Ok, I’m rambling again. Sorry about that! My brain just jumps around so fast I can’t keep track of one topic. I’m working on it, honestly. No promises, though.

Anyway, life’s been really slow around here. I’m still working on my thesis. I’m not sure I’m going to finish in time to graduate in December, but I’m trying. You should be home for that, or at least your letter gave me that idea. You’ll be proud of me, I know. Once I get my Master’s, I can start teaching, and then maybe these deployments won’t be as bad. More to do means I have less time to think, less time to be lonely. Other than classes and my thesis, I’ve not been doing much this week. I worked in the nursery at church on Sunday…Mrs. Gale was sick, so I filled in for her. I’m thinking of signing up to work in the nursery once a month, since I love working with the kids. As I mentioned in my last letter, I had a doctor’s appointment this week. It went well, nothing to worry about. I’ll tell you a little more in a minute. You know how much I like keeping secrets.

I decorated the bedroom this week, finally. I kept meaning to, but never got around to it until yesterday. The walls haven’t been painted yet of course…we’ll have to do that when you get home. That Thomas Kinkade picture you bought me is up above the bed, and the furniture’s finally where I want it. I think. I might change it again later…I don’t know. Oh, and our wedding photo is on my desk. You know, my favorite one. The one where I said something random and we both started laughing just as the photographer snapped the picture. I love candid shots like that. Anyway, I have the picture on my desk, so I can relive that moment every time I sit down to work on my writing.

Oh, and I have to get the plumber in tomorrow. The sink in the kitchen broke again. I told you we should have gotten someone in to fix it last time. I love you Will, but you’re a soldier, not a handyman. Mr. Jenkins from church is coming in to take care of it, so don’t worry. It’ll get taken care of.

Ok, are you ready for the news I mentioned earlier? You have no idea how hard it’s been to not just burst it out at the opening of this letter. It’s so wonderful and exciting, and I know you’ll be excited, too…hold on. Someone’s at the door. I’ll be right back.

A yellow ribbon represents the family of a member of the US Military.

…………………………

  Will, II don’t know where to begin….The man who answered the door told me that you’re coming home, Will. You’re coming home, but you won’t be able to paint the walls of our bedroom, sweetheart. You’ll never kiss me or tell me that you love me again.  You won’t take me to church, or try and fix the house problems on your own anymore. Will…you’ll never get to hold our baby! You’re coming home, but you’re coming home in a box. You’re dead, Will. You’re gone…gone forever. What am I going to do without you? How can I raise our child without her father? Will, I don’t want to do this without you. I love you, Will….but you’ll never hear me say that again. You won’t even get to read this letter now. I don’t want to have to say goodbye. I won’t, I refuse to. I love you, Will. Even though you’re not here, even though you’re gone…I love you. I’ll always love you. Oh, Will….