This story was written in celebration of a year of Monthly Short Story Writing Challenges held by our writing community at the EA Forums and coordinated by @Carewren123. This is my July 2016 entry. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
I shut down the computer.
I had a tedium of errands to run before meeting Dr. Jasmine for lunch.
All the while, as I rushed to tend to the minutiae of the mundane, my stories raced through my mind, offering another, more interesting life on a parallel track to this everyday one.
At the gym, I noticed a nose that would be perfect for Madeline Historica, the heroine of the short story I was currently drafting. I studied the profile in every detail.
The bridge was rather low–that’s what contributed to the face’s childlike, impish quality. And of course the tip was just snub enough to be cute, especially paired with those green eyes.
I memorized the angles and curves: I thought I could probably capture that with fair accuracy the next time I was in CAS.
Next stop: the library. I needed to return a few books, but when I glanced at the clock, I saw that I had forty minutes until my appointment at the diner. I grabbed Maldoon’s Mystery of the Forgotten Snow, which I’d been meaning to read for the past year.
Then, without warning, she left, more abruptly than she had arrived. Her sweater, tied around her waist, dangled one tattered corner along the damp forest floor. The fir needles and bracken it lifted would provide the only trace, hours hence, that she had passed this way.
Damn! Why can’t I write like that? How many more stories must I pound out on the keyboard before I learn to point out the significant and tease with the meaningless?
But I reminded myself of my resolve to banish envious comparisons, which only sap my energy for writing and lead to aborted manuscripts.
“Use the talent of others as inspiration!” I reminded myself, quoting the main snippet that stuck of Dr. Jasmine’s copious words of advice.
So I lost myself in the novel, and when I looked up, I was nearly late for lunch!
Dr. Jasmine sat waiting at our favorite table on the deck.
“One year of writing! Twelve stories! Congratulations,” she said.
It had been her idea, twelve months ago, that I commit to writing for a full year, agreeing to a minimum of a story a month, to be entered into a monthly competition. “At the end of the year, I’ll take you out for lunch to celebrate,” she’d promised.
I suppose she thought the project would offer some direction, an outlet for my creative energy, that up until then had mostly found its release in video gaming. The story contest provided a perfect medium, for I could tell the stories using my current gaming obsession: The Sims 3.
“So what did you learn?” Dr. Jasmine asked, in typical Dr. J. fashion.
“I learned I could do it,” I said. A year ago, writing a story each month seemed a daunting task.
I contemplated my stories. What had I learned?
I thought about “Zombie What? Dance, Sucker,” the story I’d written for October. “If you ever think you’ll have a run in with a horde of flaming zombies,” I said, “be sure to bring your boom box. That’s one thing I learned.”
Dr. Jasmine laughed. “Oh, I loved that story!”
“You were the only one,” I said. “That story didn’t even place. I learned that winning doesn’t matter.”
I’d had more fun writing the zombie story than any of other stories, even the winning entries. When it came down to it, the satisfaction earned by pressing the “Publish” button was the same, whether the story won or barely received a nod.
“I learned there are plenty of talented writers out there. Every participant’s story deserved to be written and read. Each one revealed a little secret glimpse into the writer. More than once, I’d wished I could vote for them all.”
“Do you think you got to understand people better?” Dr. Jasmine asked.
“Not hardly!” I replied. “I’m as clueless as ever. But you know what? I came to appreciate them better, and that’s almost as good, isn’t it?”
In January, I had written the story that, strangely, felt the most autobiographical to me, about an alien who landed on Earth, not to conquer, but to understand. He, perhaps, eventually became more socially adept than I ever will be, but writing through his alien eyes helped me feel a touch of compassion for my own awkwardness.
Ironically, I’d learned the most from the story that had given me the most grief, the December story. It was a murder mystery, with a tragic underpinning, about an old butler with dementia. The challenge was in capturing his voice and motivation.
During the month I was drafting it, on one of my regular trips to the library, I introduced myself to an older man. I listened to him talk, to try to grasp both his cadence and vocabulary. The stories he told! If I hadn’t already taken all the screenshots for “When Even the Butler Forgets,” I would have scrapped that story and written a new one, inspired by this man’s tales.
“I learned that everyone has a story,” I told Dr. J.
“Do you feel less lonely?” Dr. Jasmine asked as we looked at the desert menu.
“Ah, no,” I replied. “Not if I’m to be honest. But my loneliness doesn’t bother me so much anymore. It’s the writer’s lot, isn’t it? It offers that observer’s space we require.”
“So you learned you could do it, you learned to appreciate others, you learned that the satisfaction comes more from the act of creating than winning, and you learned that everyone has a story. That sounds like an amazing year!”
“I learned something else, too” I added with a snicker.
“And what is that?”
“I learned that I have a wicked, wild, rebellious side,” I said. “I’m not the meek, mild-mannered man you see before you. Oh, no! In every story, no matter how tame it seems on the outside, there is an inner rebel striving to be free!”
It was getting late. I hoped to squeeze in a few hours of game-play and a little writing before retiring for bed, and I needed to get up early for work tomorrow.
Walking home, I reviewed my mental schemata for Madeline Historica’s nose. Oh, there was a true rebel! All proper on the outside, “Yes, Mrs. Murona. No, Mrs. Murona.” But just wait! When the family heirloom turns up missing, does anyone think to examine the closet of the fair Madeline? And when she herself turns up missing, is it any wonder to discover that she’s roaming the shops of the antiquities dealers in Al Simhara?
I worked a bit on the draft, then I headed into CAS. The nose proved to be more challenging than I had expected, but then noses were like that.
With all the screenshots captured and waiting to be uploaded, I decided to give the draft another review before posting. It would wait. Tomorrow was only the 30th of the month, and if I needed, I could take a sick day on the 31st.
Tomorrow was another day, another draft. For a writer, who spins his time with words, there’s always a spare hour or two to crank out one more revision. Dreams, and my bed, awaited.
I shut down the computer.
AN: To all the writers who’ve contributed stories to the short story challenge this past year, congratulations! To @Carewren123, thank you so much for your dedication and care in coordinating this contest. It’s been so rewarding to participate in, and oh, the stories we’ve read!