Thursday, June 22, 2017

The World Magazine "Missing Elements" Ad

As I began typing the first letters of this blog post, I was thinking about monarch butterflies, and I glanced up to see how many chrysalises I have on our bay window and saw a 5th instar larva that had been hanging in the J-form overnight had just split its skin and was transforming.  Now it is an elongated jade-green teardrop twisting and shrinking toward the compact gold-flecked pupa it will be for the next 10 days or so.

click to enlarge
The Missing Elements ad with a monarch butterfly on a zinnia flower is enigmatic, I think.  When writing fiction it’s usually more elegant to avoid hitting the plot points too much “on the nose” as some critiquers say.  How can I interest readers about a mystery, or a twist in the story ahead of time without revealing those things?

In the early months of 1976, I was working on the green chain of a lumber mill along the Columbia River.  The green chain was in a long shed open on the north side, toward the yard, but closed on the riverside, so I couldn’t see Mt. Hood towering in the east.  Pulling lumber, some of it 12”x 12” by 10 feet long was an eight-hour weight lifting marathon every day, so by evening I was exhausted.  I’d fall asleep in an easy chair while listening to classical music on the radio.  But one night on the news, I heard about flooding in Bangladesh and how people were starving, and I decided to go there and help.  I then studied Agriculture in college.

In short I never went to Bangladesh, but I ended up working in an area where the people are as needy, and maybe more so.  My idea was to go where the human need is greatest and the people trying to meet that need were the fewest.  Thirty years ago that place was in the realm of abortion, and it is now, I believe.  

My stories often follow the same principle that guided my life work.  You might say my stories, most of them, are agenda driven.  They begin with an idea.  But the story must be a story, that is, to appear as much as possible to represent real life, and not be a tract.  A breeze in the face, and not a hammer to the thumb.  Maybe even a stiff gust of wind that throws you off balance for a moment, or possibly changes the course of your life.

I’ll give one example of a buried agenda.  “The Tragedy of Bernie the Homeless” is not about animals or beekeepers.  It’s about transgenderism.  I’m sure you wouldn’t have guessed that if you just read the story.  I’m sure that the UK based, post-environmentalist Dark Mountain Project wouldn’t have published the story if they knew what my agenda was.  They certainly noted the agenda that I presented, one with which I am sympathetic.  The story works in many ways, I hope.  But it should raise the question, “If maleness and femaleness, which exists in every single cell of every single person, is fluid, then isn’t species also fluid?”

Some of my stories are breezy and fun, I hope.  One or two are horrific.  I’m tempted to tell you which is what so that you’ll want to read them, but I’ve said enough for now.  Except… “Spark” explores the idea of a finite universe.  It’s tale of scale.  A short, short, short story—even the title is short—about next-to-the-hugest concept we can imagine.

Go HERE to read brief blubs of the stories in When Earth Whispers & Other Mostly Speculative Tales.  You may find in one of these stories and elsewhere in my writing that monarch butterflies are an argument against abortion.

1 comment:

  1. I watched some of the Columbia Vista lumber mill videos on their website, and their processes look a lot more automated now then they were when I worked there. It was high-tech back then, and even more so today. It still looks loud and dangerous.

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