It was a writing competition. A competition where the rules stated I had to write a story in less than 1500 words. At first I was baffled. Impossible. You can't possibly write an interesting story in less than 1500 words. Alas, I did – completing and submitting my story titled, The Closed Door. And then, I wrote about an insane chocolate Labrador retriever named Hershey that perpetually torments his owner by stealing hats, mitts, or anything else he can get his frothing, dog-bone smelling mouth on in, The Chase. (Nope, neither story placed in the competitions.)
From there, writing short stories became a great way to pass the time. I was hooked. (There are other great ways to pass the time – movies, reading, watching television, going for a long run - but I digress.) While my longer projects sat around and collected dust (don’t get me wrong, I will get back to those projects) I had this thought – why not write a collection of short stories all under 1500 words?
What I found is that writing a story under 1500 words wasn't a big commitment in time and I had the wonderful opportunity to stretch my imagination.
The other added benefit – it forces a person like me to get to the point. I'm legendary for rambling in conversation. This is demonstrated when I walk into any store and begin a rambling monologue to the nice sales clerk who is just trying to process my order. Here's one example:
Me: I've been here for two hours and just had a grande Earl Grey tea but I need another hit of caffeine because next on the list of things to do is grocery shopping. It's 2 pm, the day after New Year's Eve - it will be a zoo there! To make matters worse, I HATE grocery shopping! I mean, I don't limit it strictly to grocery shopping; it's shopping in general. I have one pair of black shoes that I wear all the time because I can't be bothered to buy any other shoes. I will wait until the heels are worn on the outside and I am officially walking like a penguin before I replace them.
Me (still): Well, clearly I walk like a penguin most of the time otherwise my shoes wouldn't get worn out like that. Although, I think it is only when I begin to get calf pain that I will ACTUALLY replace them. It's not like I analyze my shoes every day and think oooh…1/2 inch down on both sides. Better replace those shoes soon!
So, I need the caffeine to keep me awake and to help me deal politely with the other shoppers. I'm terrible to be around while shopping: short-tempered, stomping about, weaving in and out with my grocery cart, cutting people off. Think of the worst drivers out there - that's me in a store!
Clerk: Yeah, you just need something to keep you calm.
Me: Absolutely! So long as I have a cup of tea all is right with the world. We could be invaded by red, laser-eye beam killing aliens and I would be fine; running around dodging the lasers so long as I have Earl Grey tea. Course, if I spilled my tea or worse yet, dropped the cup – Martian Man better run! There will be hell to pay!
From behind me I hear, "Ma'am are you done?"
Me: "Huh? No, not really. Oh! But I guess you’re looking for a coffee! Ok. Well, I guess I better be on my way."
How rude of that person behind me. I wanted to finish my story.
So, I ramble in conversations and I suspect I do the same in writing. When my other book gets published and if you are willing to purchase it, you will see what I mean. That book is called Tales From The Cashier’s Line. Guess what it's about?
Ok - enough with the rambling.
Now, this book is a collection of short stories divided into two parts. The first section is called: 1) The Lighter Side and the second section is of course called: 2) The Dark Side.
Now reader, I have a question for you. It's a multiple choice and there are only two choices, thereby you have a 50% chance of randomly selecting the correct answer. If you are feeling a little bit down, blue, beaten by life or depressed do you read:
A) The Lighter Side
B) The Dark Side
Some of you probably selected the correct answer. Kudos to you! The rest of you, you know who you are, stay away from the Dark Side. How do I know some of you picked this section? I've been there.
When my father died five years ago I began my "recovery" by listening to songs, reading books and watching movies that with the 20/20 vision of hindsight now, I see were, well - depressing. In my rational mind I thought it would help. They didn't. I secretly believed I couldn't feel much worse. I certainly could and I did.
Finally, it occurred to me. Stay away from things that will add to my misery.My Sister's Keeper, written by Jodi Picoult, I haven't read and while the movie looked AMAZING! - I can't bring myself to watch it. There's one part in the trailer where a friend says to Cameron Diaz, and I am paraphrasing as I can't recall the specifics: "I know you feel like you need to know you never gave up but at some point you have to let go." (I don't know what Cameron Diaz's character's name is. I haven't read the book or watched the movie. Stay with me people.) That's all that's needed for me - just a clip from a trailer. I will dissolve into a puddle of tears. Lesson finally learned.
I realized you can read sad things on the days you're feeling strong. I'm seriously considering watching the movie UP again. Except - there's that one part in the movie (anyone who has seen it will know which part I am referring to) where I sobbed uncontrollably in the theatre while three and four year olds pointed at me and said, Mommy what's wrong with that woman?
Thank you, Disney. You are the masters of such subtle ways of killing off loved ones that little kids don't know what's happened. But grown-ups do.
For me, there's still a hesitation, more importantly of trepidation – will this cause me to come unravelled? I just put the pieces of my world back together. Am I ready to take the chance of my world being blown apart again for a day, days or months? Or can I skip along and it won't affect me the way it did five years ago?
What I do, is I consider my thoughts, feelings and emotions. The days that I'm glum and life feels unfair, I don't listen to Sarah McLaughlin's Will You Remember Me? I watch the Big Bang Theory. Those sad songs, books and movies will only push me further into the dungeon.
Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.
So there you have it. On bad days, read the collection of stories in the Lighter Side. On days you feel strong, read the collection of stories in the Dark Side or the Lighter Side. If things are grand in your life, you can do either. Life is good. But - when your life comes unravelled, as it most certainly will, make things easier for yourself. Watch the Big Bang Theory, listen to the Barenaked Ladies’ song If I had a Million Dollars and read The Lighter Side.
Readers, that's 1500 words or less. You can finish a story when you have only a few minutes before the bus comes, on your fifteen minute lunch break, or in the bath tub. Whatever you do though – please don’t read my book while driving. Two hands at ten and two o'clock and keep your eyes on the road. Wait until you get home and you can read the next story while waiting for your water to boil for your pasta. Of course, make sure you keep one eye on the water. I wouldn't want your house to burn down because you boiled the pot dry.
Are the stories true? Yes, some are. But, more than fifty percent of the stories are fabricated. That's the fun in writing: creating universes that seem impossible, with terrible and wonderful situations - and ABSOLUTELY AMAZING people.
One more thing: I never reveal which stories are real and which are not. I leave that for you to decide.
Here we go.
Penelope S. Hawtrey
P.S. I hope you enjoy this collection and so I don't break the rule right from the start, Microsoft Word says this little rambling letter from me to you is – 1,493 words.
Whoo! I barely made it.