There has been so much to digest this week. The news cycle nearly forgot COVID-19, as the death toll topped 100,000 Americans, and swung to nationwide protests in the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd.
On Monday evening, I, along with the rest of the nation, watched the president use military force to clear a path through protesters so he could have his picture taken in front of a church. He was holding a Bible as the armed military stood at the ready.
As a privileged white man, I don’t pretend to understand the emotions my Black friends and colleagues feel this week. I am not teaching right now, so I’m not working to help students process images seen on TV or the words they hear coming from home. My work at present is primarily as a father: in conversations about systemic racism, about the anger spilling into the streets in nonviolent and violent protests borne in the deep and dark waters of slavery, about the ways we, as a white family in this particular nation, have benefitted from a financial system built on oppression and designed to allow us, above others, to own property, and about how owning property alone creates opportunities for things like college loans. Admittedly, this effort on the homefront is not much, certainly not enough.
When scenes like the one I saw on CNN Monday evening elevate my blood pressure and these next five months loom large, I, like probably many who turn to this blog do, I turn to the blank screen –– and write.
I have a manuscript I just completed that several advance readers are combing through. I appreciate their time immensely. Meanwhile, I’m writing a short story with the idea of using it as the frame for the sequel to the novel I'm proofing. I got the idea by reading Ed McBain’s story “Sadie When She Died” and then the novel by the same title. The story is wonderful. McBain liked it so much he turned it into a novel. I did this with the first Peyton Cote novel, Bitter Crossing.
Using the short story form allows one to take a plot and try it out. To see where it falls flat, see where, if you had another 90,000 words, you could expand it with additional storylines, characters, suspects, and complications.
Writing a story is good practice. I’m keeping a careful eye on my word count. There are no extraneou
s scenes. No fluff. Hemingway said fiction writing was architecture, not interior design. Nowhere in fiction writing is that more true.
It hasn’t been a good week, but I am hopeful that change is coming.