Story Out: To Love a Forest Fire

My short story, ‘To Love a Forest Fire‘, is now up on Issue 88 of Crack the Spine. The story explores the friendship of Tobias Berry and Rebecca as Tobias stops over for a visit while on leave from the Air Force and asks the question of just how much you need to know someone in order to love them.

The title comes from a Good Omens quote about the avatar of War- “She was beautiful in the way that a forest fire was beautiful: something to be admired from a distance, not up close”.

Don’t forget to comment on the story if you like it- Crack the Spine publishes several ‘Best of’ print anthologies, and my chances of being included go up if people comment on the story saying that they like it!

Becoming a Better Writer: Guest Speaking

As I approach a couple of milestones (defending my thesis in November, graduating in December, third story story publication coming up soon, etc.) I’ve been lucky enough to be able to chance my pace a bit and play hooky in the name of speaking to local high school classes about short story writing. A couple of 10th grade English classes at Pomona High School in Arvada, Colorado, read my first published short story, Wanakufaand then had be come in during their class so they could ask me questions before I led them in a creative writing exercise for their own short story writing unit in class.

Beginning the writer's workshop

Beginning the writer’s workshop

These kids were asking me some questions I had prepared for, and some I hadn’t even really thought about. These surprise questions ranged from ‘what’s the tone of this story, do you think’? to ‘why would you risk your life in a foreign country’ and ‘were you scared to die?’. Some of those I really had thought myself prepared to answer (I mean the whole story is about being afraid to die,  for pete’s sake). I’ve learned in this past week, however, that it’s one thing to answer these kinds of questions in your head or to your mirror- and an entirely different thing to answer these questions to a room full of teenagers, a third-of whom are staring at you with relentless interest, another third who are beginning to fall asleep, and a mixture of both in the rest. Part of me wanted them to love everything I said. Another part of me wanted to sneak out the window somehow and forget the whole presentation. But I soldiered through, and I really think that I’m better for it.

Guest speaking on your own writing is a whole different experience. For one, it really made me examine (in a short, pressured amount of time) my own motivations for writing. Again, its one thing to have ‘motivations’ in your own head. It’s another thing to have to articulate that to a group of people who have not yet learned how to be pretentious about writing and are notorious for questioning and challenging authority.  I found that I wasn’t just justifying my writing career to them, but to myself- and I couldn’t just cop out halfway through and give up. I was forced to justify my own choices in authorship in a way that was entirely convincing- which, far from being depressing or overly difficult, towards the end, was extremely uplifting and personally affirming.

Which with this group, I think, had the added difficulty of speaking to an age group that I did not go into this specifically writing for. My writing, both my novels and my short stories, were all written with more of a young adult (twenties and up) to adult audience. I didn’t realize how much I had taken that for granted until I heard some of the questions that these kids were asking me about Wanakufa. Which is not to say that I was sudden inspired to write new Teen and YA genre stories. I still believe that, at least for now, I’m sticking with my chosen audience. It just made me more aware of the real differences between those audiences- as much as I would like to think that there are none. And again, the differences are not huge and it doesn’t mean that I don’t think people can age-level jump like crazy between them. But that difference has to be addressed, at least by me as an author. Which is,  again, fun to have to think about as a twenty-one year old speaking to fifteen year olds. Only six years difference, and look where we are! I wouldn’t have believed it myself only two years ago, to be honest.

Explaining some more of the background information on Wanakufa

Explaining some more of the background information on Wanakufa

The writing workshop was super fun. I really enjoyed hearing some of the things that the kids were saying that they wanted to write about- ranging from the deaths of siblings to twisted ankles and family trips to Vegas that they were turning into comedy, horror and romance short stories. I was really impressed by the range of creativity in these classes, which gave me, in turn, a couple of ideas for my own short-story planning coming up.

Suffice to say, I was very thankful for this experience. At the end of it, I was solicited by another teacher at that school to come back and speak to his classes in a couple of weeks as well. This time, I will be much better prepared, but no less excited. I really do appreciate all of these opportunities to give back to my local community in little ways- and to become a better writer in the process!

He Who Wrestles With God: Now Available!

My newest short story, He Who Wrestles with Godis now live on the hiRSCHworTH magazine website!

hewhowrestlescover

   This short story is another one of my crisis of faith pieces, again inspired by real-life events. This story is part of an online zine and is free to read, so if you’ve ever wanted to try out the style of my writing, here’s your chance!

Why I Write: About Kenya & Typhoid

I’ve gotten a handful of questions about my recent short story release, Wanakufa, and I feel like that makes it the prime subject of my next installment of ‘Why I Write’.  I promise this one won’t be quite so heavy as the last. In fact, the story that Wanakufa is based off of is one of my personal favorites to tell people when I am getting to know them. I mean, who else can say that they’ve not only gotten to go to Kenya, but got a deadly disease and still made it out alive? I’ve been surprised at the amount of people who automatically assume from the story’s subject that Wanakufa is a period piece, as if typhoid is something people can’t possibly get anymore.  If nothing else, it tends to be a good conversation starter.

But if I’m being honest, it is something else. Something much more than just a ‘conversation starter’. It was a moment in time  that changed my life in so many ways. Not that I didn’t expect that- 17 years old, bright eyed and bushy tailed on my first mission trip overseas with a small group of young people similarly on fire to change the world in the name of Christ (yes, I am unapologetically Roman Catholic). We were tasked with helping to build a well for a small village in Kakamega. Our guide, at the time a professor of African History in Colorado, had been born in our host village- we’d be building a second well several hours away. Our trip to that village was the first time he’d seen his hometown since the death of his beloved mother. We entered that community to the sounds of a stirring memorial.

reception

It was that kind of reception that hit me the hardest, and would stick with me for the duration of our stay. Here I was, expecting some sort of wild joy to receive us. Some kind of acknowledgement that we, the Americans, were there to make their lives better. And yet, that didn’t matter to them until after the memorial was finished. More important was the welcoming home of their prodigal son. More important was the completion of a mourning that had been missing an integral piece for too many years. I am ashamed to admit now, years after the fact, that I felt upstaged for the briefest of moments. Uncomfortable, even. Ever since, I have pinpointed that moment of my own awakening to the awareness of my own privilege and the ways that it hurt people down to the bone. Of my own colonialist attitude, of the racist society I had been raised in and the self-absorbed way in which I had been dreaming of conducting my own skewed sense of social justice.

 

Which is not to say that I was all of a sudden enlightened, no. I still have so much more to learn. It has only been through years of fever dreams and obsessive remembrance of my time in Kakamega that have even brought me to this point- the point of attempting to write down my own process of growth in order to continue the dialogue through storytelling. I don’t want to ruin too much of the story, but I can safely admit that the story does closely mirror my own experience of contracting typhoid during my stay. (I couldn’t stand not shaving my legs because it was part of my routine and so I did, nicked myself, and let tainted water directly into my bloodstream, stupidly enough). The story was born from that experience, though the details and the ending might be a little different.

So why write it? Why not just leave it to talk about at gatherings for shock value? Because I felt like there was something in that experience that I needed to work out- namely, my own guilt over the attitude I had taken going into the mission trip. The arrogance that I had had to assume that I a) had any strength to offer our host village that they did not already have and b) that I could bring Christ to them any better than they could already feel Him. I also wanted to admit to both myself and the world how othering I had been from the outset, and how it had taken nearly dying to make myself truly, and not just cosmetically, accept my host village as family. And how sad it is for the world as a whole that white colonialism, and the attitudes born from it still alive and well today, continue to hurt a people who have their own rich cultures and voices. It’s a story that wants to say “I was wrong to be so arrogant, and I had no right. I came here, guns blazing, into someone elses’ family, thinking I was stronger than all of this, and now I’m about to die of a sickness most of our host family have had multiple times since they were children though the rest of the world considers it ‘ancient’, and I might never get to see my family again. And I might deserve that.” The story is fixated on longing and human closeness, and an insecurity in the face of death that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake.

I thank God every day for that humbling experience, and for the further humbling experience of having to learn even more about it through writing it down in fictional memoir style. It is one of my hopes that this story, this ‘confession’ of mine, if you will, will lead to learning even more about how I can put aside old ways of seeing the world, and be able to truly work towards a better way of being. This is all I am capable of saying- admitting my past shortcomings- and now, I must prepare myself to listen.