“Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

It Came From The Archives
Wed 2008-09-24 21:07:14 (single post)

There are, admittedly, worse ways a writer can put off finishing and submitting a work in progress than by creating new works in progress. I mean, it's not like I totally wasted the day. Still, it is another day that I haven't resubmitted "Surfeit" anywhere. Ah, well.

But! New fiction!

It came out of a homework prompt from my writing group: Find something unfinished in your writing archives, something that you started long ago that never went anywhere, and rework it into a finished piece. (Or something that could feasibly become a finished piece.) I'm already doing that with the demonic sweater story. But that story's not finished, and I wanted to share with the class something that was. So I started going through my daily writing scraps from 2001 and lit upon three brief vignettes that caught my eye:

The conversation wound down to a full stop, words replaced with dinner-time noises in an otherwise-silence awkward and shamed. There was nothing left to say. Fifteen mouths, fifteen sets of silverware strove to fill the space with sounds, but the sounds were still a quality of silence.
She began to keep track of when they came and went. "I knew I could look up the schedules easily, in the books, on the Internet, but somehow keeping track myself (keeping track of the tracks) made the trains more mine.

"One day, I left the house at midnight, walked to the tracks, and leapt for the next open car.

"I nearly didn't make it. I would have died under the wheels had someone not grabbed my hand and pulled me into the car. A superhuman effort. I felt so stupid -- who did I think I was, Xena? Lara Croft? I'm just a dumb woman who didn't even go to college and couldn't even have babies properly. I crochet afghans in front of the TV all day, then I make dinner at 5 to be ready for my husband when he comes home at 6. On Sundays I make us both breakfast. Why did I think I could vault onto a speeding train?

"We talked a long time, that man and I. I'm not even sure he really exists, to tell you the truth. Not here. He says he's a tourist."

What came out of ransacking my archives was a short-short about a terribly OCD housewife who finds her perfectly controlled life unfulfilling, who longs for unexpected and unfamiliar experiences that she can't control. Who sits through a dinner date in which nothing said means anything. And who may or may not hop a boxcar at the end of the story.

But she's not the same woman as actually gets on the train in the 2001 scrap. That scrap has more stories hiding in it. It was suggested, among my writing group, that there is a series of interrelated stories about train travel and train-hopping implied by this old piece of nothing much. "I'm not even sure he exists... He says he's a tourist" is a phrase that won't get out of my head now.

And there was a third, unrelated (for now) piece of story sitting in that old file:

Below, the lights of the city going down like candles into water. Ffft. One by twos by hundreds sinking into a pond of darkness. Two meals later, all hell would certainly break loose.
I'm more intrigued there by the imagery of candles overtaken by flood than I am by the nod toward the old adage about civilization being only about two meals away from anarchy. I can see the image now, visible from the window on a train as the train takes a character out of her doomed old world and into a new one.

Oh, and, hey - new freelance deadline warning! Don't worry, this one's not 'til October 31 and I've already got a jump on it, as you can see. 500 words down, 19,500 words and a whole lot more research to go...

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