Revisiting Mid-Century Classics
Best laid plans
I had great plans for May. Having plans should have been my first clue that life would throw me a curve ball or four. And it did. I have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition that means anything containing even microscopic amounts of gluten is off limits. That includes cross-contamination.
Unfortunately, this month, over a period of less than three weeks, I was "glutaminated" three times. When this happens, not only do I feel physically unwell, but I'm also wiped mentally. It can take weeks to fully feel like myself again, and in the meantime, everything seems to take longer. I also happened to have family in town, travel, and a few big deadlines during this same time.
Suffice it to say, my plans for May did not manifest as I'd hoped! Including my plans for what to share on the blog. Instead, I had to cut back and adjust my calendar, which means short story writing will continue into June for me! Yay!
Since being hit with gluten also affects my concentration, I decided to make things easier on my poor glutaminated brain and re-read some mid-century short stories. As I was thinking about a post for this week, I thought I'd share the stories I read plus a writing prompt based on one of these mid-century tales.
First, from the Southern Gothic master, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor. LOVE this captivating piece set in the rural South. When reading like a writer, I notice the way O'Connor blends the mundane and extraordinary, dark humor with profound insights. This unpredictable story is one I'm glad I revisited.
Next, I pulled out "The Swimmer" by John Cheever. This is a story that takes us on a metaphorical journey with the main character, Neddy, who makes a decision return back to his home by swimming the distance across the neighborhood pools. The swim becomes a journey of reflection, self-discovery, and life.
Finally, I pulled out one of my all-time favorite stories: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. I think I first read this story in 8th or 9th grade, and it captivated me as much this month as it did back then. The story is set in a seemingly ideal town where an annual lottery is held. As the tale progresses, we learn things aren't quite as idyllic as they seemed. This iconic story explores the darker sides of society and human nature, inviting us to look beneath the surface and question commonly held assumptions.
Two+ Prompts Using a Mid-Century Short
While I couldn't keep up with my usual writing routine (or other routines!) this month, I did write every day. One of my favorite things to do is pull from something I've read to generate my own material. I thought I'd share the prompts I created for myself here based on "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson:
Spend 15-30 minutes freewriting and brainstorming to create a small town that seems ordinary on the surface. Think about a deeply ingrained tradition (similar to the lottery in Jackson's story) this town holds. Write about it, including as many details as you can.
Then, think about a character who decides to break with tradition. Spend some time freewriting about their belief system and why it is at odds with the town's perspective.
Write a short story or scene showing how this character navigates the reactions and potential consequences they face when standing up for their belief, which is at odds with society's belief.
Use one of the following lines from "The Lottery" as the FIRST line in a new story. Pick the line. Spend 10-15 minutes brainstorming potential scenes or stories.
"In the midst of the ritualistic chants and nervous laughter, one person stood apart, their eyes filled with a mix of apprehension and defiance."
"As the black box, weathered and worn from years of use, was placed on the pedestal, a hush fell over the crowd."
"A sense of unease permeated the air as the villagers gathered in small groups, their conversations laced with whispers and stolen glances."
"As the sun set, casting long shadows over the village, the abandoned stones lay scattered across the ground, remnants of a ritual that had taken place."
The story you write can be in any genre, time period, etc., and needn't follow the style, themes, or mood of the original. Get as creative as possible!
Keep me posted!
Happy reading and writing!