Storytelling and Community
For much of my professional life, I’ve happily written to order, producing audiovisual or written materials to meet other people’s requirements. And, yet, it’s an approach that I’ve resisted in my literary writing, which has become a regular practice only in the past few years. The stories I invent tend to grow out of random observations or experiences. Spontaneous combustion! I see or hear something, I start to write it down and then veer off into an imaginary world which then allows me to explore ongoing issues. I thrive on this sense of being untethered. But never say never, right? In 2017, I ended up writing short stories that were triggered by specific suggestions, what we call prompts, from other writers. I got a taste of the process at a place called Hedgebrook, in a master class held by writer, editor and teacher Teresa Burns Gunther (stories in Alaska Quarterly Review, Dogwood, Zyzzyva and elsewhere). Later, I finished short-short stories prompted by other writers whose work I admire: Jude Higgins (“The Chemist’s House”), who runs the UK-based group responsible for several literary awards and that country's Flash Fiction Festival, and two award-winning masters of the flash fiction form, Meg Pokrass (“The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down”) and Nancy Stohlman (“The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories”). What I love about these experiences is that none of the prompts told me, specifically, who or what to write about. I still tend to avoid those. The prompts that worked for me were vague ideas that helped me to cast a net into the broad currents of my imagination and pull something up from the depths. They have reminded me that, much as I still prefer to sit down on my own and reflect on, or process, our complicated, often tragic, sometimes joyous, world, storytelling is, ultimately, is a form of community.