Tag Archives: fiction

Grasshopper Wing

1000-word flash fiction, prompt from Terrible Minds.

“Wait here a minute,” Dad said, “and don’t go near the water yet.”  He then waded into the waist-high golden weeds that led away from the small, deep pool of water.

Kenny dropped the olive and tan tackle box he’d been tasked to carry, glad to put it down.  The box required both hands to carry, held out in front of him on account of its large size, which set it to bumping his shins with every step on the hike down the hill to the stream behind their campsite.

When they didn’t know he was listening, Kenny’d heard his mom and dad arguing about the trip.  She wanted to go to the beach.  He wanted to camp in the woods and go fishing.  “Kenny’s nine and has never been,” his dad had said.  This was important.  Somehow.

The stream was small and shallow, bordered by gray rocks the color of his schoolyard blacktop, capped here and there by crusty blue moss stuff Dad had said was “liken” (whatever that was).  On the bottom was a brown muck the color of some disgusting family dinners.

He didn’t know why Dad had wandered off into the weeds—surely he’d have a whole ton of stickers now, the kind that pierce your sock and wedge themselves up against your shoe, poke you every time you take a step, and make you take off your shoes and dig them out one at a time.

Nearby was the fishing pole his father had brought: dark maroon segments that could collapse into one another, bright silver rings that guided thin, white-clear fishing line, and a black reel with a crank and a complicated-looking metal guide for the spool of line.

A thrashing sound announced the return of Dad, white t-shirt and blue jeans and the grass-stained sneakers he wore to mow the lawn, hands cupped together in front of him, face split in a triumphant grin.

Dad went straight to the rod while Kenny leaned over the deep pool for a closer look.  Trees dropped orange leaves and dappled, golden light across the surface of the water.   There, down below a rock that jutted out over the sandy bottom about a foot down, were two fish, plain as day.

Kenny looked over just in time to see Dad shove a grasshopper onto the end of a hook.  It made a crunch sound.  One of the wings tore off and fluttered to the ground like a leaf.  Once, when the wing caught the light, Kenny saw rainbow colors instead of the clear.

“Oh,” Kenny said.  He looked away from where the wing landed on the ground.  The rainbow was gone.

“What’s that, son?”

“Nothing.  I just thought we were going to use the eggs.”  Before they’d left camp, Dad had opened the tackle box and shown him hooks, sinkers, spinners, and a jar of fake fish eggs: little red spheres that smelled nasty but apparently passed for fish snacks.

“Nah,” Dad said, and handled the pole across to Kenny.  “This here’s the real deal.  My dad did the same thing for me, my first time.  It’s like a fish Big Mac. They can’t refuse.”

Kenny took the pole and tried not to look at what dangled from the end of it.

“Okay, now hook your pointer finger down around the line to hold it,” Dad said.

Kenny fumbled with the pole, then did so.  “Like that?”  He wanted to do this right.

“Now flip open the catch.  Good. Now just give it a little toss, and let go with your finger.”

The grasshopper and hook landed on a rock on the other side of the pool.

“That’s okay,” Dad said.  “Reel it in nice and slow.”

Kenny gave the reel a timid crank.  The guide clunked into place, and the grasshopper slid into the pond, sending rings of ripples out across the calm surface of the pool, but didn’t sink.  The fish just watched from their little spot under the rock.

“Maybe they don’t like grasshoppers?” Kenny suggested.

“Do it again,” Dad said.

Kenny cast the bait again, praying for a direct hit and a dramatic fish-fighting scene, so that they could call this a success and just go.  Fishing’d sounded like fun, until they hiked out here, until Kenny got stickers in his socks even though he stayed in the clear areas behind his dad, until the bug went crunch on the hook and the sun beat down on them and made his back get all sweaty under his red Spiderman t-shirt.

The bug hit dead center of the pool this time.

Bullseye!

But no fish came up for a bite.

They stood for ten minutes in silence, watching the fish watch the grasshopper.

Dad was trying, Kenny knew.  He was trying, too.  Even though he decided he didn’t like fishing very much.

When they finally gave up, Kenny busied himself skipping rocks into the pool while Dad packed everything up.  At first splash, the watching fish disappeared deeper under the rock.

Take that, stupid fish.

Another grasshopper jumped and landed on a nearby weed.  Kenny paused, his rock-skipping arm half-drawn back, and squinted at its small, tan form.  Its wings were clear, but sometimes had colors, too.  On the ground, the other wing was dirty now, crushed into the sandy muck by Dad’s shoe.

With a rasping flutter, the grasshopper bounced off the weed.

Kenny nodded.  Clear.  But rainbow, too.

On the walk back to camp, he decided that the real color of a grasshopper wing was the happy freedom to bounce around in a field.  The color of a grasshopper wing was also sadness when you got shoved onto the end of a hook, which was doubly dumb when the fish didn’t even bite, so you were better off not getting caught and baited in the first place.

If someone asked, would he say it was clear?  Rainbow?

Both.

Connect the Dots

Sometimes I feel my job as a writer is best summed up by Pee-Wee Herman: “Connect the dots, la la la la.”

Oops: Discovering an old WIP and Thoughts On Novellas

stranded boat

Up until now, I’ve listed Code Name: Future on my Works In Progress page as the next place I’d be devoting my efforts.  I opened up my project file for Future a few weeks ago, intent on reading through my notes and figuring out where I was.  While doing so, however, I stumbled upon another story I began in late 2007 and never finished.

“Oh crap!” I said.

Seeing as Future is still in planning and world-building stages, I’ve decided to try and sneak in work on this in-progress story and see if I can finish the darn thing.

I’m calling it Code Name:  Stranded.

All I’ll say about it story-wise at the moment is that I’m trying very hard not to let it turn into a Good Omens wanna-be.  I’m neither Neil Gaiman nor Terry Pratchet, and they told that story better than I ever could anyways.

“Not Good Omens, not Good Omens” is almost a sort of litany that runs through my mind as I’m working on it.  Will I succeed in both avoiding imitation and writing something worth reading?  Only time will tell.  And until Time–that fickle, fickle guy–decides to talk, I’m just going to try my damn best to write more of the story.

I never thought that the Stranded story would be a novel or novel-length and I counted that as sort of a blessing.  In the writing of it, though, I’ve come 20,000-something words and I’m not close to done yet.  And that’s assuming I’ll know when I’m done and know where I’m going.  Which I don’t.  I’m sort of stuck on the story, which is why it’s sat unfinished for these past years.  I dust it off every now and then and try to write more, but I’m still missing major parts of the setup for it.

It looks like this thing’s shaping up to be a novella of sorts.  This is both good and bad.

It’s bad because novellas tend to get the short end of the stick: people like reading them but not necessarily publishing them.  They’re too long for short story markets and too short for novel markets.  And so on.

It’s good because I realized today that being a novella dictates certain expectations for the story and the writing due to the limited wordcount.  There simply isn’t enough “room” to do everything you do in a novel.  As such, I realized that the “rules for a novella” (so to speak) might help me overcome the difficulties I’m having in writing it.  These are things such as

  • a minimal cast
  • mostly one major sort of conflict
  • minimal amount of subplots (sorta related to the previous point)
  • should end in growth of a character (which checks with what I intended for the storyline)
  • usually lacks discrete chapters (Stranded seems too short to make each section stand individually as a chapter)

and so forth.  So I’m revisiting my notes and ideas for this story with the above guidelines in mind.  Even if there’s no “eureka!  I’ve found the story!” and subsequent deluge of daily word counts, the guidelines provide a target to aim for and relieve any sort of guilt that might creep in that the story isn’t novel-y enough.

I’m usually a firm believer in the “just keep getting words down” camp of What To Do When You’re Stuck On A Story.  But that hasn’t worked for this one.  Part of the reason is that I never had more than a tenuous idea of What Was Going On in the story in the first place.  And so I got 20,000-something words into it without more than a vague idea of the shape of things, trusting that more would come and things would solidify as I went.  But it didn’t.  And so those 20,000-something words were fueled mostly by character banter.  Which was a lot of fun to write, but it’s felt as if my characters were just amusing themselves on a smoke break until I figured out what the hell was going on.

And so I spent most of today going back to the basics: brainstorming story landmarks, thinking about character motivations, why are things like they are, and so forth.  I even skimmed through some of the books I have around on writing and used their questions as springboards for fleshing things out.  I’ve felt as if I’m waiting for another idea to come along, like some second chunk of story-grade uranium that I can ram into the first one to get some sort of word explosion that resembles a narrative.

At the end of the day, I think I had a few ideas on the overall setup that might get me back on track.  I’ll probably do a little more brainstorming and note-taking and whatnot before I try to take up the actual writing.  I’ve finished enough pieces to believe that this isn’t just a stalling tactic on my part.

Some Works In Progress

I’ve added a new page under “Writing” that lists some of my current works-in-progress (WIP), along with their code names (that I’ll also use in tags in subsequent entries).  Want to know what’s up-and-coming?  That’s the place to look.

Did some editing of a second rough draft of Nova this morning and am feeling very good about the story.  It came out strong in the first place, and that made me happy.  Once I can get some feedback from my advanced readers to test the water, this thing is ready to send out and get off my writing plate.

But It’s So Easy

One thing I can see already in the writing I’ve done is that it’s very, very easy to “cheat” and use death or death-related things as the subject of flash fiction.

And after all, why not?

It hits hard.  It hits fast.  It is serious and it is final.

I’ve looked through my queue and see that not all of the stories coming up involve death, but it’s something I very much need to watch out for.