Thursday, April 14, 2011

week fifty-three: story a week; the end

Story a Week, as a project, is over. It was during about the second month that I resolved to finish at least a year and I've done that. Last week, the fifty-second week was finished and that makes a year. With that said, this is the final post I'm going to make as far as the project itself is concerned. I am going to do my best to answer anyone's questions about Story a Week; past, present, and future. I am going to be as honest as possible.

Let's start with the future. Story a Week will always be here and I will continue to pay for the name Story a Week. I am going to keep this up as long as possible. It's something that I will mark as a point of personal pride. I am proud of what I did on Story a Week. It wasn't always top-notch quality or my best writing, but there is something of value in there. Enough about that though.

Will there be more posts? Yes, there will. If the mood ever strikes me to write up a short story, I will do so and the first place it will appear is Story a Week. It will not be a marked as “week __” because it won't be a part of the main continuity, but it will still be there.

I am going to do other projects. For instance, I want to devote more time to the many novel ideas I've had over the years. The one I've told you about is the one I'd like to focus on, Shatterer of Worlds. Besides that, I'm also going to be writing up a sequel to Zombie a Week, which ends next week. The first chapter of that will appear in June. It's going to have a few unique surprises. In fact, I'm going to talk about a few of the developments at the end of this post as a special treat.

I am also considering using Story a Week as a platform for writing advice for other writers. I've read a ton of writing columns and books; hated most of them. Stephen King once said that most of these books are “full of bullshit.” I agree with him. I want to help other aspiring writers be good writers, but I want to help them be free of the B.S. I don't see myself as a great writer, but I do believe I may have a thing or two to teach. Hopefully, someone will be willing to listen.

Now, let's move on to the past and then work our way to the present. Story a Week started in a very hard place in my life. I was deep in depression and it felt like life had simply said, “screw you, Wes” and left me in the dumps. I had nothing at all. Everything I was doing was failing. I felt socially inept, my girlfriend had left me (you've read about that, I assume), and my grades had taken a terrible beating. I had, on various occasions, considered suicide. The situation was nothing less than life or death. I had to find something to love, to care about, to do. Otherwise... what's the point?

All of my life, I had writing. I was always inventing something or another creatively. Whether the medium was with action figures, with film, on stage, or on paper, I was writing in some form or another. It took me too long to realize that. When I did, I took a chance with it. I went straight to my academic adviser, declared an English major, and started writing. But it wasn't enough to just go on with my novels. No, I needed something else.

In the back of mind, I had this idea for a blog where I would write a short story every week, much like ee cumming's devoted himself to writing a new poem every day. It's one of those ideas I had for a few years, but never got around to it. I remember thinking about doing it as far back as 10th grade, maybe even sooner; I can't say for sure. Soon, it hit me that this was the answer I was looking for. It was not long that I wrote up my first first, very poorly-written post. Soon after, on Friday, April 16, 2010, a year ago tomorrow, that “Time and Regret” was published.

The rest is history.

Now, I want to take a bit of time to talk about a few of the individual pieces. Not all of them, mind you, but some of them. We'll discuss my favorites and maybe a few of my least favorites.

“Time and Regret” is first. It's not the very first short story I ever wrote, but it's by far the first good short story I wrote. It's one of the ones I'm most proud of. The inspiration came from a video game called Braid, where the protagonist can rewind the time, much the same way that Nick can. It's something I wrote entirely at once one night in eleventh grade. The end brought me to tears when I finished it. I'll never forget that experience. “Time and Regret” was naturally the first story for Story a Week. Without “Time,” there would be no SaW.

The next important story is “The Monarch.” This was one of those stories that came together as I wrote it. The idea of the protagonist seeing herself (in the story, it's gender-neutral, but I saw her as female in my mind) as the butterfly sort of just came out. Now, I'm going to do something pretentious and call “The Monarch” genius. I'm willing to do this because I don't see it as my own genius, I see it as something beyond my control. Genius of the literary sort, I believe, is never planned. It just happens. Sure, you can be a master of the language and of the technical side of writing, but those things are unimportant if there is no inspiration. No great novel ever came without it. “The Monarch” is genius; I am not. I merely was given something and wrote it down. Perhaps I have a genius subconscious. I just wish he could come help me with my schoolwork.

The next one worth mentioning is “Comatose.” It's the worst damn thing I've ever written. I absolutely detest it. I wish it had never happened.

Then came “The Ghost of Passchendaele.” I see “Ghost” as one of my best. It's deep, existential, and I think it well-written. Its significance for me rests outside of Story a Week. After posting it, my father gave me a call and told me that he disapproved of the language and recommended I take it down. I told him no. It was the first time I had ever told my parents no. I remember that moment as a mark of independence; something that brought me a bit closer to adulthood. It was when I realized that, in this, I was on my own. I'm uncomfortable talking about this, to be honest. But I think you can understand.

“Angels Dancing on the Sea” is another of my favorites. I love the imagery and the message behind it. I am a Christian believer and every once in a while, I like to express that. My stories are almost always an expression of my dark side. I don't know why that is, but that's the way it is. “Angels” is a sad story, but ultimately with a good message. It was written in a dark time in my life; one where I struggled with my own faith. It's interesting to note that a lot of these stories reflect times in my life both good and bad.

“Grandmothers and Ghosts” is a special one. There isn't much to say about it that isn't said in the story itself, but I wanted to mention it. It was a story I had wanted to tell for a while, but it was far too boring to tell without the addition of something. So, I came up with Mrs. Dubois.

“What You Don't Know” isn't one of my favorites. I don't like my own poetry, but this one is important. Read that and I think you'll understand where I was at before Story a Week was written. It's about a painful break-up, which I know is petty, but... I don't like talking about this. Let's move on.

“Coward in the Rye” is another one of my favorites. For some reason, nobody every commented or much read it. It contains a lot of parallels to one of my favorite novels, Catcher in the Rye, and has a very invigorating story. I worked very hard on it, probably harder than any other story I've written. It's one of the few published that isn't a first draft. But since no one cared....

“Durchfall,” “Dolores,” and “Christmas with Mr. Cody” are all getting bunched into one. These are some of my favorites because of the characters. They are all part of the same continuity, called “The Adventures of Humphrey Holdsworth and Richard Aldwinkle.” I've had those two around since tenth grade and find myself thinking about them all the time. Now, what's interesting is that, as I've matured, I've found myself more interested in Dolores. She's a very interesting character to me. If there's anything guaranteed to last, it's “The Adventures of Humphrey Holdsworth and Richard Aldwinkle.” They will be back.

Lastly, there's “Omega.” I'm working on a special post to talk about all of the intricacies in that story, but I do want to say here that I believe it to be the best I've written. It's been long enough that I can say that. I kind of wish that “Omega” had been my very last story in the project, but such is not the case.

Now, here we are. Let's discuss right now. How I do feel about Story a Week now that it's over?

For one, I am proud. I did it. I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. Some great stories came out and so did some pretty terrible ones. I also learned a lot about writing. They say that it takes 10,000 hours, or ten years, to fully master something. Well, there's a year down. I learned a ton and, if you really look, you can see vast improvement from week one to week fifty one (I don't say fifty-two because that was written way back in October of last year.)

I am, however, disappointed. I'm not going to lie to you. I honestly expected there to be a bigger reaction to Story a Week. I, in my glorious egotism, expected more people to read and comment. Instead, I barely made a ripple. In the end, I don't feel like I accomplished much of anything. I mean, what's the point of having written fifty-two stories if hardly anyone reads them? The point of story telling is, well, telling. I wrote a while back that I wrote for myself, but I was wrong. Writing shouldn't be so selfish. I was selfish. Have I changed? Well, yes. Yes, I have.

By the end of it, many of my consistent readers had simply stopped reading. New readers came and went. By the end of all things, my consistent readership had fallen. To be honest, it kind of feels empty. I don't feel like I failed, but I did expect a bit more. Look, don't feel bad if you one of the people who jumped ship at some point. I understand. I'm not trying to play some kind of guilt trip; I'm only trying to be completely transparent. Anything less than that is robbery.

Enough about me and my moping. Let's talk about you. Thank you. All of you reading this. You're the ones who made this worth it. There are fewer of you than I would like, but I am very proud of those who stuck with me. It means so much than you think. Writing, I've discovered, is a very lonely ordeal. But if there is someone out there who believes, even just one person, then that makes all the difference in the world*.

I wish I had something to give my you; some token of appreciation, but there isn't. I've said this before, but I hold you in the highest regards. You took time for me and that means a great deal, more than you know and more than I can say in words. Thank you.

This is it. This is the end. To the future we go....

Friday, April 8, 2011

week fifty-two: rain

Upon crawling from her egg, all she could do was stumble around. Spiders are said to have a certain grace about them, but not her... she could only bumble about trying to get from one place to the next. Her young body had yet to grow accustomed to itself and it therefore found no control. She scrampled from one side of the nest to the other, hoping to find some of the food mother had left behind. She must have left something. Perhaps a fly or even a mosquito. It mattered not at all. The world was new and there was so much more than this constraining web. But it was not yet time to leave.

Oh, no, little spider, you're much too small; much too weak. You wouldn't last a day out there in the cruel, cruel world. So stay; stay here and enjoy mother's company while she provides. And that is what she does. She finds a spot in the corner of the web and rests there. It does not take much to tire out the poor little spider and she has found her limit. She takes all eight of her dastardly legs and huddles them together for fear of the coolness of spring. Ah, it has found them. Spring is upon them all and it promises to take them to summer's life and then fall's death. As glum as the ending may be, it promises to be an eventful and exciting life for our fair spider.

She thinks on ahead about her coming days. What will her life entail? Will she find a mate? Where will she build her web? Will it be nice? What kind of things will stick into her traps? She could only wonder and soon things could only happen. This is what she wants.

A short few days pass before she has gained her strength and is ready to move on. She leaps from the web and onto the tree. With little more than a hobble, she finds herself racing down the tree's trunk. All ahead full! All head is life!

The first thing she must do is find a spot in which to make her nest; her web. It would have to be perfect. The perfect webs were usually between two trees where a lot of flying insects could be trapped. But our spider knew that she would have to find someplace away from her family; away from where they prospered. Where they prospered, the prey did not. Our spider knew she must find somewhere free from their nests and webs, and somewhere open and unique. Alas, it could not be too far because then she would never find a mate. Such are life's problems, are they not?

But this spider wants to live at the furthest possible place. She wants to live away. Away, away, away. The forest simply was not her place to be. So, she scampers across the forest floor, avoiding prey and predators alike. Both could seek to kill her, but she is such a harmless affair. Our spider is still a mere child in a desolate world of needful murder. One could die at any second from the countless things trying to kill you, yet living in the forest offers a certain tranquility; a certain safety. The trees above protect the ground from the sky's wrath and the trees around protect from the outside invader. The system inside is brutal anarchy, but it is a working system.

All flourishes in this forest. It is a beautiful thing. Peace and even love comes from the creatures who help one another. Such is found in the bumblebee, who brings life to the flowers, and honey to his home. Anger and wrath is found in the hunting and killing for life. When prey is killed, there always seems to be some sort of understanding that the prey had just died for a reason. It is, somehow, a peaceful kind of death. It is better to die feeding another than to die of starvation, old age, or an accident. It is better to die for someone else. This is the beauty of the forest.

This forest is the beauty our spider is leaving. Some watch as their routines crack and wish that she would not go, but why should they stop her? Maybe there is another beauty outside. Maybe the beauty of this place is not enough for our spider. The only way to learn is to go. So she does. Without grace or poise, she troddles on. She is only a young spider with nothing at her back and everything before her. Go, young spider, go. Go!

The forest very slowly begins to fade away. The trees are further and further apart until she gets to the field. It's just a barren patch of dead grass that overlays before her. It will be simple to cross, she knows, so she does. All the while, she wonders if maybe she could somehow make her home here. But no, this place is wrong. She must be high. She must be high so that the flying insects would land and be trapped. And then be eaten. Such is life.

And then, through her segmented spiderling eyes, she sees a great structure. It looks as if a great deal of trees had laid down atop the other and formed a massive box. The trees were structures in the forest, they were buildings, but this was if buildings that had been combined into one bigger. This was a superstructure. And it was not unlike a rabbit hole or a beehive. There were two very large creatures moving things from a great steel beetle. They took the things from the beetle and put them inside the hive.

The beetle growled off before the new creatures sealed themselves away. Our spider lay still watching them very briefly before continuing. She kept onward to the strange pile of trees.

You can talk to the spider. Go on, ask it this question, “Why do you keep moving onward towards the strange place despite the danger?”

“Best to be the moth, who burns in glee, than the cicada who sloths away until he simply disappears. If this place is the death of me, I will have died venturing. To die venturing is to die doing so much more than my kin has done in a very long time.”

Try another. Ask this, “Where are you going?”

“Wherever spontaneity will take me. It is either grave death, great life, or nothing. I want to take this chance. I want to live having ventured. I will climb up the wall on this artificial structure and build my web there. It shall be my home.”

She tells the truth. Our spider trolleys her way to this structure, which is in actuality a house, and finds her way to its edge. Such as it is a simple affair to a spider, she climbs the walls and searches for a place to start her web. It would have to be somewhere like in a corner, where it could be strung together. At last she found such a place. It was perfect. It was an inlay in the structure, roughly in the shape of a rectangle. From this place, she could see inside the structure and the creatures inside. But something transparent, like the wings of a fly, kept her from going in. Curious.

Our spider climbed her way to the top corner of the inlay, which is a window sill, and begins her web. She starts to spin the silk from her back and strings it across, forming a bridge. And then she criss-crosses it to make that familiar shape of a spider's lair. Within the hour, the web is complete. The spider is tired from all her day's work. She takes a spot at the top and rests herself. It has been a long and tiring day, but a worthy one. Perhaps her new life will offer goodness or perhaps it will offer despair. Who can say? It has only just begun.

The next dawn creeps over the sky. Our spider awakens, surprised to find herself in her new home. She is used to seeing the forest all around her, but instead she is on this strange structure in the clearing. It is comforting to her though. She somehow knows that there is little danger here; that anything wanting to kill a poor, young spider is deep in the forest. She is safe and at peace. But eventually she notices the emptiness in her stomach. She will need to be fed soon.

For some reason, fortune favors our spider. A lonely fly sees the window and mistakes it for an opening into the house. It streaks towards it and then fails to notice our spider's web. The body of the poor fly hits the web and it is stuck. Our spider sees him struggling and screaming. His wings and legs are caught; there is no escape. The spider rushes over to him and knows exactly what she must do. She comes to the fly and it is screaming.

It is screaming.

Screaming for freedom, screaming for life.

As our spider grabs his struggling body, he yelps and cries. She bites down into him and injects her deadly venom. His hollers are silenced and he dies; fades from his meager existence. The fly is no more.

The spider wraps him up to preserve his body; to make it last. After that, she sucks away his juices and replenishes her energy. She is fed and she is once again content. With her belly full, she tires again and decides to sit in her web and watch the day go by. At first, she looks out into nature and sees an animal or two by, not aware of the lonesome spider observing them. Our spider laughs at them in her mind as she ponders them. Other creatures are so strange to a spider.

She wonders why none of them settle down in webs or even hunt. The world is such a hostile place and it is so much better to stay put in safety. To leave one's web is face certain death. It cannot be worth it to venture. After all, one's life is worth more than one's experiences, since experience is nothing upon death.

Soon, however, the spider turns inward to the window. She looks inside and sees a world she knows nothing about. Literally nothing inside is recognizable. It is all so alien. You can probably picture it in your mind. The window where the spider rests is the bedroom of a sixteen-year-old girl. The walls are pink and a bright, pale green; colors our eight-legged friend rarely sees. If the room's occupant is there, she is talking on her phone. The spider suspects she is making some sort of mating call, but to what?

In her mind, she makes notes about this strange thing. It has four legs, like a raccoon, but it has no tail. It moves about quickly and hordes things like a squirrel, but it is much larger. It is constantly making some kind of racket, like a cricket, but it sleeps only at night (and, of course, the spider could never hope to fit this creature into her web). It is large like a deer, but somehow doesn't seem to be quite as stupid (though she could be wrong). The creature molts multiple times a day, which is unlike any kind of insect or arachnid. The only fur on this strange thing is on its head. Put simply, our spider has found herself a mystery and a fascinating one at that.

The very next afternoon, after our spider had eaten a few gnats and repaired her web, something unexpected happened. The creature came to the window, saw, the spider, and made a very peculiar shriek, “Ew!”

The spider moved not at all; only watched. What was she to do?

But this alien creature moved in closer to the window with a curious eye and finally sighed, “You're gross, but I guess you can stay.” Naturally, the spider couldn't understand a word of this. It was all just mindless babble to her, yet at the same time, she understood that the girl was trying to communicate and made a reasonable guess that she was friendly. “How long have you been in my window?”

The spider twitched in her web, as if to say, “Go on; I am listening.”

“For a spider, I guess you're not so horrible,” the girl sat down at her desk, which faced the window. She leaned in to get a closer look at her arachnid find. “Well, if you're going to live there, I should give you a name. Do you have any ideas?”

The spider pondered what it heard.

“How about Katrina?”


“That's stupid,” she sighed. “I'll just call you spider. Is that okay?”

More than okay. It's a spider.

“You're so lucky, little spider. You get to sit out there and do whatever you want all day long. You don't have to worry about boys or make-up or your parents or anything. All you have to do is sit out there and eat stuff.”

If the spider understood this, she would object.

Nevertheless, “Life can be so hard in here. It's always about stuff you have to do. 'Clean your room,' 'wear this,' 'don't do this, but do that,' 'call him, don't call her...' ugh. Life would be nice if I was a spider like you. I mean, I'd be gross, but I'd be happy.”

The spider would only agree to half of this. She is certainly not gross, but definitely happy with her life. It was in these moments that the spider realized that this creature was not so much unlike her. The structure in which she lived was, in a way, like a web where she could be safe. At least something was there in which the spider could relate. Other than that, however, there was practically nothing. The spider, however, if it could speak, would tell you that it was in this moment that she considered this creature to be her friend.

“Well, I need to go. Nice to meet you, spider,” the girl opened the door and walked out. The spider cocked her head in fascination and then went back to her own life. Twilight crept onto the sky as the world darkened into the abyss of night. The spider pondered the day as she slipped into slumber.

The next day, at just past noon, the window opened. The girl peered out, startling the spider. She was obviously still disgusted with the eight-legged critter. In her hand was a cup, which whisked at the spider. From out of the cup flew a small grasshopper, which landed right in her web. The spider looked down at the desperate insect, who kicked for life, and then back at the girl. The mysterious creature closed the window and said, “There. Have lunch. On the house!”

The spider wasted no time and darting down to the grasshopper, killing it, and wrapping it for later. She looked back to the human and tried to find some way to thank her, but there was nothing.

“That's totally gross!” the girl exclaimed. “But at least you're happy, right?”

“At least,” the spider would say contently. She plunged her fangs into the grasshopper and had a taste of its succulent juices. The spider reasoned that such a meal is rare and that she should savor every bit of it.

“Have a good day, spider,” the girl moved to her bed and opened up a copy of Seventeen, something the spider thought dumb. Why would anyone watch such a flat thing for so long? So many things were peculiar about the girl. The spider actually came to the conclusion that, despite her kindness, the girl was gross. She was so squishy and soft.

But the spider was happy to have found a friend however great their differences.

The next day brought something dastardly. Clouds crept up across the sky and obscured the sun. They came darker and darker, warning of coming rain. The spider clutched her web, fearing what was to come. Suddenly, lightning flashed across the sky and crashing thunder followed soon. This was her first storm; she didn't know what to think of it all. All she knew was terror.

The wind blasted on her web. She swayed and whipped around, but her web held still. How long would it last? The worst was yet to come....

They came at first only very slowly. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter came the falling rain. One drop struck the web and then another, but it held strong. With patience, the rainstorm met a crescendo. It went from gentle droppings to forceful gallops. The spider, in futility, scurried about its web, trying to hold it together. It was to no avail. One by one, the strands snapped. She didn't what to do! All the spider could do was watch as her home crumbled in the falling rain.

At last, it snapped and came tumbling down. Her body slammed against the rain-soaked window sill, covered in the strands of her shambled home. With a fury, she brushed it off. The rain drops hit against her body. It was cold, so very cold. She shook. What to do?

She scurried about the window sill, hopelessly looking for shelter. She looked out into the forest and realized what a fool she had been. If she were out in the forest amongst her kin, she would be protected by the mighty trees or could at least find somewhere to hide. What a fool, oh what a fool. She sat there, soaked and weary. But she wouldn't give up. She stumbled about, looking for somewhere to go. Somewhere, anywhere.

And then she saw it. The window was open just a crack; a small one, but a sufficient one nonetheless. The spider made a mad dash for it and scuttled her way inside. She squeezed her way through, her rather large abdomen being a particularly tight fit, but she made it. In the dryness of the house, she shook herself to clear the water. With her tiny lungs, she gasped for air. She was relieved to be free of outside's hell.

The spider looked about in the room. Sitting at the desk was the girl, who looked up to see the spider. She cocked her head in curiosity. The spider raised her arm, as if to make a greeting, but the two only stared at one another. The spider was glad to be in the company and comfort of a friend. She would have smiled, but spiders can't do such a thing. Instead, she resigned to simply enjoy it.

It was then that spider remembered the storm outside. Now that she was safe, she realized she could enjoy the spectacle of the falling chaos. So she turned around to look out the window. It was so fascinating seeing the water fall and then the sky blazing with lightning. The thunder echoed all around.

Windows can also be a fascinating thing. On one hand, you can see out them and see the world beyond. Yet on the other, curiously, you can look into it and see a reflection of what is behind. The spider caught a glimpse of its reflection and what was behind her. She saw the girl, whose arm was raised in the air. In her hand, was her magazine rolled into a tube. Time stood still.

All the spider could do was watch as the Seventeen magazine screamed through the air. Down, down, down it came. The spider would have cried, if she could. It is fortunate, then, that the sky poured down enough tears for a thousand like her.

The spider's body crumbled under the strike of the magazine. Even with her toughened exoskeleton, she was far too frail to handle it. When the magazine came back up, a smattering of life held on. She looked into the reflection to see the girl's expressionless face. What a cold, cold world. Outside was suffering, rain, and death; the betrayal of nature. Inside was deception, alienation, and, also, death; the betrayal of friendship.

The girl scooped the body onto the back of the magazine and carried it over to the trash. She looked one last time at what she had just killed and remembered talking to it, and even feeding it that grasshopper she had found. For a moment, the girl wondered why she did those things. It was so cool having a spider outside the window, but inside scampering on the desk? Gross. She tossed the dead arachnid aside and went back to what she was doing.

The spider died not understanding the world in which she lived. Her death, ever since her birth, was certain. All that she loved, nature and that girl inside, would kill her given the chance. What a pitiful life for a poor, desperate spider.

And should we lament? Of course not. It's only a spider, for crying out loud.