The Giant Ear

This morning, I continued working on a story I’ve been working on for several weeks. Eventually, I will submit it to Court Merrigan for consideration in his guest-edited Noir issue of PANK. I’ve got no clue if he’ll like the story, or if it will measure up to the other stories being written by deft noir-hands, but I’m giving it my best shot.

One of the things I’m finding really difficult with this story is how to depict a crack addict. I’ve been doing all kinds of research (Google must be confused by my searches these past few weeks… Mr. Google, “what does a vial of crack look like?” “what are the effects of crack on the body?”) And although I know there are alcoholics and drug addicts of a variety of kinds in my neighborhood, it’s so hard to make an addict come to life in a particular way.


Sometimes, I feel like a giant ear.

File:1871 Descent F937.1 fig03.jpg

I’m a huge antenna and there are so many things coming into my brain at once, it’s painful to sort out all the ideas. I was in my car yesterday driving down the road, and a song came on the radio. I don’t even remember what song it was, but it implanted an idea – something about alchemy – and now I can’t get it out of my head.
NO, I tell my brain, I have to finish the story about the crack addict, stop thinking about alchemy… but my brain (and my ear, who are clearly in collusion,) just laugh at me and keep on sending me ideas to distract me from the addict.
What about that other story you haven’t finished yet, my brain whispers seductively into my ear, who’s more than happy to participate in these antics. Yes, I’ll get to that later, I tell my brain, but it doesn’t believe me. It wants me to do everything at once.
Maybe this is one of the reasons I don’t write very long stories. By the time I have 500 words (or less) on a page, and I’ve told what I think is a completely assembled story, my brain and my giant ear are dragging me on to the next thing.
This crack addict story is already over 2000 words. Yes, it may not sound like a long story to most of you, but to me, it’s like I’ve signed on to write a Dickens novel. This story has to end soon, and my goal is to bring it home in about 2500-3000 words.
But my ear keeps offering up helpful suggestions about new stories. I’m not sure how much longer I can fend it off…

22 Responses

  1. I swear, our mental ears must be distant cousins. I have the same exact problem.

    Something will trigger inspiration, and I need to drop whatever I’m doing and start working on it immediately. I did that the other day when I was supposed to be working on my novel, but I got hit over the head with inspiration to write something else, so I wrote about 2,000 words of a novel that I may not even publish.

    Let me know if you find an earplug big enough to help us! 🙂

    And, of course, I can’t wait to read your story.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Mike, it’s good to know I’m not the only one with this issue. I swear, it’s counter-productive at times to listen to those singing story sirens….

      Meanwhile, the crack addict story will take a while to get out there. IF Court does like it (I stress the IF) the story might be published by late summer when his PANK issue comes out. If he does not accept it, then I’ll be looking for another market, and who knows how long that’ll take…

      Meanwhile, I need to just finish this darned thing. And then go back and re-edit it about a gazillion more times. Le sigh.

  2. Ah, happens to me all the time. I was supposed to be working on my novel, but then I got this idea for a short story and wrote 4,000 words in one day into it. Then I got ANOTHER idea for a novel and have abandoned both projects…sigh. I don’t know if I’ll get ANY of them finished.

  3. I don’t know if this will help Belle, but I do one of two things when I get a very VERY highly distracting thought:

    1. I jot something down BRIEFLY (think less than 5 sentences) to indicate the thought, save it in a file, and go back to what I was working on, or…

    2. Ignore the thought. In the second case, if something really needs to emerge, it will (and has) come back later and I can deal with it when I’m ready.

    Of course no system is perfect, I have scraps of uncreated short story ideas strewn about in my “stories” file folder. I really need to clean them up and arrange them so I can go back to them in a more orderly way.

    But I am happy to report that now, (about 8 hours after writing this post this morning) I have the DRAFT version of my story completed. Right now it’s about 2700 words, which is great and what I’d been targetting. Who knows what the final version word count will be, but I’m glad to at least have the draft done.

    Finally…I can’t imagine myself in a position to write 4000 words in one day. That’s not who I am as a writer today. You have an advantage of being prolific Belle, which is excellent.

    When I woke up this morning, I’d already had about 2100 words written, so essentially it took me 8 hours to write 600 words. That’s pretty good because it can sometimes take me that long to write a 250 word story – or MORE!

  4. You need to get some wax in those ears 🙂

  5. I used to write epically long short stories–clocking in at an average of 9,000 words–which made them difficult to edit and difficult to place when it was time to submit them somewhere. Now a days, it’s excruciating to write anything above 2,000 because I’m so excited by the next idea. Sometimes I’m afraid that my stories aren’t done, aren’t fleshed out enough, but simply ended because I am tempted by another story.

    • I’m curious Hannah, were you able to place the longer stories? It’s very rare now to find online journals supporting story lengths of greater than 5000 words.

      I’d guess printed journals have the option to accept longer stories, it’s just a better format.

      I’m probably a typical reader and I don’t read really long stories online. There is something about the glare of the computer screen that makes it a less than ideal reading platform for very long stories, but nearly perfect for flash fiction.

      • The two particular stories of that length that I really edited both won creative writing awards at my university and were published in the undergraduate literary magazine. I tried submitting both of them elsewhere for awhile and got rejections (though a few very encouraging personal rejections). I only send them to places that said they accepted work that long and there were probably at least ten journals, and probably half of them were online journals. Online publications don’t have the limit of space which print journals do; print journals have to balance a certain number of stories per issue, and for cost purposes can’t go over a certain number of pages per issue either. So even though readers might not want to read long stories online, it’s easy for journals to publish longer stories online.

        I’ve since reread those stories and they seem so quaint in that my writing has improved drastically since then. If I decide to submit them again, I’m going to need to do some serious rewriting, but I don’t think I’ll cut down the length to find them homes.

        • I think it’s fantastic your writing was recognized at your university and won awards. At a minimum it means you were seen as someone with talent worth encouraging. This is despite the fact that you look back on those stories as “quaint” now, they represent an important beginning for you.

          Yes, I agree printed journals have space limitations and online journals not so much so…but I have to wonder how many people will sit down and read a 5K (about 20 page) or 10K (40 page) story online?

          This makes me think about two of my favorite collections of short stories – Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, where most stories are 30 pages but they are brilliantly written and worth every minute. The other collection is called Blithe Tomato, 50 two-page stories from an independent press out of Berkeley, California written by a Harvard graduate farmer about his farm market experiences. Both are a joy to read and both are at opposite ends of the spectrum…

        • With Blithe Tomato, it’s probably like reading a 100 page story, because you don’t want to stop reading!

          Personally, I’m willing to read long stories online, but only if I’m expecting it. Sometimes, randomly, I’ll go to a flash fiction journal to enjoy a flavoring of a few stories. Longer stories are reading experiences I plan; I sit down on my couch with some free time and read the new issues of some of my favorite online publications.

        • Blithe Tomato is such a wonderful collection, I highly recommend it. It’s not like a 100 page story, but it’s more like vignettes of the author’s life and his experiences. Some of the vignettes will make you laugh, others will make you cry, but they are each self-contained.

          Sidenote: You know, I never would have found Blithe Tomato had it not been for a wonderful indie book store operator in San Francisco’s pier area (which also has a farmer’s market outside) who recommended it. I’m not sure any search engine could have done what he did based on a conversation we had about my interests and his knowledge of his curated collection.

          And finally…you lobbed the softball, so I’ll catch it and ask the question: what are your favorite online publications for short/flash fiction vs. longer stories?


  6. I love getting recommendations from enthusiastic booksellers!

    My favorite flash online publications are Brevity (which is brief memoir pieces of super high quality) and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts which offers such a delightful variety and they also have a super quick turnaround for submission responses.

    For longer story publications I check in with Literary Laundry, Sucker Literary Magazine, Palooka (offers some content online), and I really liked Zahir, but apparently they’re not going to be publishing new online content for the foreseeable future (just anthologies).

    • Hannah, I’m SO glad I asked you the question because I have never read any of the journals you just mentioned, and most I’d never heard of. This is why it’s so important to network, because I’m sure there are tons of fantastic journals I’m not familiar with yet – thank you so much for the information!

  7. I think you maybe should appreciate the big antenna of yours. It sounds fantastic to have all this input make your brain go crazy, besides the fact that it distracts you from writing whatever you are writing at the moment. But all that creativity it must result in! If you can only sort it out then. Sometimes we just have to let go of control (and sometimes there is no way around).

    On a different note, I looked up your photographs on your Shutterfly site (since you pointed to it on my blog – thanks for visiting by the way). Your creative minds shines through there, too. And I particularly think you do well when photographing people. I wasn’t able to find a way to comment the pictures directly on Shutterfly that’s the reason for this more general feedback on this blog.

    • Munchow, thank you so much for your comments, I really appreciate them. Yes, you’re right, the constant barrage of ideas is a blessing and a curse, and it’s something I’ve lived with my whole life. When I can focus my mind I feel the power of my focus and pour as much as I have into the story I’m creating. When I’m not as focused, or if I get distracted by any number of things – especially stress – then it feels like I’m trying to run a marathon on a treadmill under water.

      Separately the whole losing control thing is something I’ve been working on since last year, especially from a story content perspective.

      I can’t tell you how much your comments about my photos mean to me, thank you. Mexico was such an amazing experience, most especially because of the incredible people I saw there. It was the very first time I’ve gone to a place and captured people in a way that felt so natural and I was thrilled with the shots I was able to get.

      I did more candid photos of people in New Orleans too, but I wasn’t as successful at capturing people there as I was in Mexico. There was something very honest about people’s faces in Mexico that seemed so available and accessible to me, but in New Orleans people were more guarded so it was more difficult to get those kinds of shots. To give you an example, I loved the shot I got of an older man sitting and reading something by Tracey’s – a New Orleans bar in the Irish Channel neighborhood. I shoot on the spot, without a tripod, and just try to capture people who don’t observe me photographing them. When the man looked up and saw he was in my shot, he looked annoyed, got up and walked away…

      In any case, I look forward to whatever my next trip may be and I will certainly attempt to get more shots of the people who live there doing what they do everyday…

  8. It’s wild, isn’t it? Sometimes I spend so much time with IDEAS, I never actually get to STORY. Grrrr….

  9. An idea came to my mind, an editor who undertook a long project she had the check available to cash out but in the meantime she was doing other projects on the side, initially with the excuse that the project was too heavy, or because she was dragging the project long out of greed to make extra bucks and no respect for the author of the long-project. In the long run, when we listen to the seductiove words of our mind that takes us away from our goal we are not only lose focus but this is a leadership deficiency. People of high achievements have a unique ability to focus for prolonged period on a specific task. Exercise can make achieve undistructed focus.

    • Your comment reminds me of Mark Rothko. Rothko treated painting like a bank job. He went into “the office” everyday at 9am, stayed in his studio until 5pm, then went home. Rothko was tremendously successful, maybe his banker’s hours were the key, along with his talent.

      Stephen King has also does something similar. He goes to “the office” everyday, and spends (I think?) eight hours a day writing. He does what the work, and at the end of the day, he finishes up and stops. No one would doubt King’s tremendous success either.

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