Tag Archives: flash fiction

Heads of the Line: Flash Fiction in Word Riot

My short-short “Heads of the Line” has been published in Word Riot. My commentary follows.

http://www.wordriot.org/archives/7084 (print version)

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/a/b/1/ab110a9430fb41a6/20140715-schafer.mp3?c_id=7388729&expiration=1405960069&hwt=c671a6151875883dbc45283362dbfd2d (Podcast with my commentary)

As it turned out, I was unable to attend college my first fall after high school. My status as an unemancipated minor made me ineligible for the financial aid I’d been expecting, which necessitated a quick – by which I mean long, arduous, and painful – change of plans. I did eventually land a minimum-wage job at a bakery, and being now a veritable miser with money, by the following spring I had three hundred dollars saved. I decided to invest this massive sum in a trip to Alaska, where I had been assured by all manner of people who had never been there that you could earn colossal columns of cash working in the canneries. “Big money!” and “Signing bonus!” and “Free room and board!” the newspaper ads all promised. What they didn’t tell you, of course, was that the people who earned the “signing bonuses” and “free room and board” were those who went to work on the boats themselves – and that the reason they made “big money” was because the living conditions were horrible, the job was tough and scary as hell, and they worked twenty hours a day whenever there was a catch. I opted for the more palatable version, which was not actually a cannery, but a fish packing plant –several notches further down on the dirty jobs scale.

It wasn’t a bad job, all things considered. Yes, you worked fourteen hour days whenever there was a delivery, but since that was when you made your overtime pay, nobody complained too much about that. And yes, your feet and hands were constantly cold and cramped – it was months before I could comfortably hold a hairbrush again, and it took more than a year for all of the feeling to finally come back into my fingertips. On the plus side, you got to camp for free on site, and my particular facility even had an indoor bathroom and hot showers – a true rarity in those parts. To help pass the time, they cranked up the radio on the plant’s loudspeakers and let us listen to it all day – the unfortunate part being that the only station that came in clearly only played Top 40. Can you even begin to guess how many times a day a Top 40 radio station plays the same songs? So many that eventually you adapt and learn to enjoy it. You have to. Otherwise you go crazy!

I never got my big money – in fact, shortly before I was due to come home, my station wagon died, and I ended up having to spend what seemed like an eternity of days riding a bus all the way back to California. I wound up with forty bucks in my pocket and the satisfaction of knowing that even if I never travelled again, at least I’d been to Alaska, which is so unbelievably worth seeing that I’m not even going to begin to talk about it now. And a good thing, too, because here we are, twenty years later, and I’ve yet to have the chance to go again. It’s the one place I want to make sure I revisit while I can still travel, which is why I’m making it the primary destination for my road trip this summer, during which I’ll be drafting my second memoir, The Long Road Home.

I don’t think I’m going to go searching for employment, though. Somehow I think I may be past the age for factory work, particularly when it involves fourteen-hour days, Top 40 radio, and thousands of pounds of bloody, frozen fish. But who knows – perhaps when I get up there I’ll be inspired to try it, for old time’s sake.

Just don’t put me on the header.

***

“Heads of the Line” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $2.99 Kindle, $6.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

Fish

 

“Fog Line” Or How I Became a Victim of Vehicular Profiling

My short-short “Fog Line” has been published on Every Writer’s Resource:

http://www.everywritersresource.com/shortstories/fog-line-lori-schafer/

“Fog Line” is one of my odder travel stories. I was actually somewhat surprised that I was able to get it published it as an individual piece, because the concept of vehicular profiling seemed to go straight over a lot of reader’s heads. In fact, the first editorial team that reviewed it responded with some rather biting criticism, including the comment “All that and he didn’t even ask for a date?? Where’s the story?!”

I loved that Dodge Van, I truly did, but, ancient and unusual as it was, it was a veritable magnet for attention from law enforcement. In my freshman year of college, I worked graveyard loading trucks for a shipping company, which meant driving home at four o’clock in the morning five days a week. I once got pulled over three nights in a row, with a new excuse from a different police officer every time. At least that sheriff in North Dakota was nice – and honest – about it. But then, he seemed to be motivated more by curiosity than suspicion.

Maybe it didn’t make for the most relatable story, but if nothing else, at least I learned what a fog line was.

***

“Fog Line” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $2.99 Kindle, $6.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

Fog

 

“Funeral for Charlie” on Story Shack Magazine

My humorous short-short “Funeral for Charlie” is now up on Story Shack Magazine:

http://thestoryshack.com/short-stories/comedy/funeral-for-charlie/

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Story Shack Magazine, it’s a daily flash fiction site operating under a very cool premise. If they accept your story, they will team you up with an illustrator to do an original drawing for it!

This time I was fortunate enough to receive custom artwork by artist Daniele Murtas (http://dmurtas.blogspot.com/). Hope you enjoy it!

illustration-funeral-for-charlie-940x540

“I watched as the water swirled away, taking Charlie on one final miraculous journey to the home of his ancient ancestors, to the ocean the abrupt end of his short life had precluded him from ever going to see…”

***

“Funeral for Charlie” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $2.99 Kindle, $6.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

Out! in That’s Life Fast Fiction Quarterly

“Out!” appeared in the Summer 2014 (Australian summer) issue of That’s Life Fast Fiction Quarterly. Tell me what you think!

OUT!

“GET OUT!” a girlish voice shouted in exasperation, unbelievably audible even from across the house, possibly even from across the town. Squealing boyish laughter followed it; fed on it.

“Get out, I said!! Get out of my room!!”

Jake laughed again, louder, nearly giggling with gleeful abandon. “I am out!” he howled back at her triumphantly. “I’m way out here in the hall!”

I didn’t need to get up to look; I could visualize the scene from where I sat cringing at the desk in my office. Jake standing grinning in the hall, gawking at his year-older sister through her open door, the tips of his sneakers defiantly resting just over the edge of her lintel.

“Go away!” Katie yelled, her piercing cry prompting the neighbor’s hounds into a frenzy of agonized howling. “I don’t like you!”

Jake only cackled harder, his small fists slapping like drumsticks against the hollow-sounding sheetrock.

“I mean it!! I don’t like you!”

“I don’ wike you eiver!” he hurled back indistinctly, still chuckling. From the muffled sound of it, probably poking his tongue out at her.

You’re not supposed to interfere, I reminded myself forcibly, massaging my temples in a futile attempt to flatten the thick, bulging veins that had popped out palpably from the sides of my skull. That’s what the parenting books said; let them fight it out amongst themselves. Easy for them to say, I grumbled internally. They didn’t have to suffer through the screeching.

“JAKE!” Katie shrieked suddenly, her voice rising to a pitch that pained my ears and carved a new crack in my glasses. “I – don’t – want – you – in – my – room!” she erupted, nearly breathless with childish fury and indignation. “Get – out!!” Apparently he’d crossed the line in teasing her; trampled the border between her space and his.

“What?!” he yelled back with mock innocence. “I’m not doing anything!” I heard rigorous, rhythmic tapping noises and pictured him performing a slap-happy dance-routine in the hall by her door.

Suddenly there was a loud thunk and a louder cry, a boyish yell of astonishment and pain.

“Uh-oh, Katie!! You’re gonna be in so much trouble! I’m telling!”

“Good!” she retorted scathingly, ostensibly unperturbed by the formidable threat. “I’ll tell what you did, too.”

“I don’t care! Oh no, I don’t! Oh, Mom! Mo-om!”

I wondered what the parenting counselors would think if I pretended I didn’t hear it. I wasn’t sure if I cared.

“Mom!” Jake yelled, bursting into my office with all of the sound and fury of a string of firecrackers going off unexpectedly in the middle of May. “Katie threw a shoe at me! Hit me right here on the head!” He pointed cheerfully at the nasty wound, a small pinkish tint barely visible beneath my fluorescent lights.

“Looks more like a sandal,” I contended calmly, bending closer to examine the visible results of the near-fatal blow. “You don’t seem hurt.”

“But I am!” he expounded happily. “You should punish her; yes, you should!”

“He started it!” Katie yelled, exploding in turn through my doorway as if her catapult was parked right outside. She glared hatefully at her little brother, the hotness of her anger causing the freshly watered leaves of my poor defenseless office plant to wilt in dismay.

“No, I didn’t, you did!”

“Yes, you did, you know you did!”

“I know you are, but what am I?!”

“I’m rubber and you’re glue…”

“GET OUT!!” I shouted suddenly, snatching up my plant and clutching it to my chest as if it were my one true friend. “Get out of my room!!”

They stopped. Turned to glance thoughtfully at one other and hushed. Retreated silently from my office, sadly into the unknown depths of the rest of the house, while I scolded myself over my own childish temper tantrum.

I can’t lie. I enjoyed the quiet in spite of myself.

An hour later I tiptoed gingerly into the empty kitchen, still feeling a little guilty over my impatient outburst and considering whether I ought to compensate with everyone’s favorite dinner and maybe ice cream to boot. Through the wide doorway down the hall I could see them: my two kids lying serenely next to each other on the living room floor, companionably assembling a five-hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle I’d gotten them for Christmas. Their argument as long forgotten as Mom’s unusual fit of anger, their renewed friendship ensured as long as the delicate balance between sibling love and sibling rivalry was carefully maintained. A balance that might be upset by the smallest act, the tiniest sound, the most frivolous word, the most meager interruption to their peaceful co-existence. Maybe they had something there, after all, those parenting books with their recommendations of non-interference.

I ducked unnoticed back into my office; returned to the smooth stillness of my walls and my work, reassured that my children were safe, my family once again loving and intact. A short time later my husband came in from the garage, the blissfully quiet haven in which he’d passed his leisurely afternoon, his work-boots clunking hard against the laminate flooring as if entirely unconcerned about who heard or observed them. “We got a while until dinner?” he boomed, thrusting aside the door of my office with a bang and energetically brushing the dust from his big black mustache onto my still-quivering houseplant. “I was thinking of patching that hole in the living room wall,” he continued, staring at me curiously as I leapt from my rocking, rolling chair, waving my hands incomprehensibly in a frantic effort to shush him.

“Late dinner tonight,” I whispered, silencing his half-uttered response with a kiss while I wondered how many minutes or hours the newfound peace might reign in our little kingdom if only we left our children alone. “But stay out of their room.”

Out2

How Many Times Do I Have to Rewrite This %$^&# Thing?! The “Yellow Wagon” Saga

My flash fiction story “Yellow Wagon” has been published in Every Day Fiction:

http://www.everydayfiction.com/yellow-wagon-by-lori-schafer/

What a journey this story has taken! The final published version of this piece at the link above ended up being twice the length of the original (reproduced following this essay). The editors at Every Day Fiction were possibly interested in publishing it, except that they didn’t like the idea of “misleading” the reader about the wagon, which is precisely what the original version did. In fact, that was the essence of the story. In addition, they thought the premise itself was unbelievable because I had made Debra a first-grader and the argument was that no parent would permit a child that young to walk to school by herself.

Naturally, this threw me for a loop, because, of course, the child in the story was me, and I was not a first-grader but a kindergartner when it happened. Where I grew up in small-town New England, lots of kids walked to school by themselves. There was no such thing as blue-collar flex time so you could drive your kids to school – and many parents took the bus to work because they didn’t have a car, anyway. However, I was certainly willing to grant that we live in a different time, and that perhaps the premise would seem implausible to modern readers, so I re-wrote it to include details that would make it obvious that the story took place in an earlier era.

They still didn’t like it. The issue remained of Debra not appearing to recognize the wagon, which naturally made little sense in their interpretation of the story. I frankly had no idea what to do about this, because my intention for the piece was entirely at odds with their reading of it. I had been attempting to convey the thoughts and emotions of a little girl who has been given a great new responsibility and is trying very hard to behave herself as her mother would wish. It’s not that she doesn’t recognize the wagon – she merely pretends not to because she doesn’t want her mother to think she’s only being careful because she knows she’s being watched. The whole story development – where she keeps looking anxiously over her shoulder to see if the wagon is still following, how she exaggerates her caution in crossing the street, even her final sprint at the end when the pressure becomes too much for her – centers around this concept. What I thought was clever about it was not the fact that it draws the reader down a false path, but that if you reach the end and look back on it, it turns out that the story details were true and accurate all along. The tension was real – except its source was not the wagon, but the feelings of the little girl.

Anyway, they asked for another rewrite, and suggested that I make the story more about Debra and her mother. I’ll admit that this caused me considerable consternation. On the one hand, it was a challenge, and I’m certainly not one to run from a battle. On the other hand, I had no particular interest in writing the story that way. It just didn’t feel like me. It took me longer to transform this simple vignette into heartwarming family fiction than the original story took to write! I’m not disappointed in the way it turned out, although it is a bit on the sentimental side. But I do still believe the original version has its charms – although I’m willing to concede that I may be the only one who thinks so!

It was, however, an interesting lesson. First, because sometimes it’s easy to forget that what I think is obvious as a writer doesn’t necessarily come across to a reader the way I intended it. Editors are usually right, and if these ones weren’t getting it, chances are pretty good lots of other people would have misread my original story, too. And second, because it was my first real experience writing to someone else’s specifications. I mean, sure, I’ve had to write papers on topics that haven’t particularly interested me – but no one has ever told me how to write them. And ultimately, I feel that this is something I should be able to do, even if I don’t enjoy it very much. As wonderful as it is to exercise total control over my fiction, a writer who knows their craft should have the capacity to create work that someone else defines. So I suppose you might say that I, too, took a journey of transformation – and it’s to be hoped that I came out a better writer at the end of it.

YELLOW WAGON (Original Version)

“Right on Orange, left on Revere,” Debra repeated to herself for the dozenth time, kicking away the crisp dead leaves that snapped at her feet like so many untrained puppies. First grade wasn’t like kindergarten; the teachers got mad if you were late. Her mom would be mad, too, if she got lost along the way.

She reached the end of her street and hung a hard right, ignoring the noise of the engine she heard revving behind her. It was only a block more to the light, and when she reached it she stopped dead, waiting cautiously for the green, both feet planted firmly on the sidewalk, not even touching the curb. When her turn came she looked both ways, repeating and exaggerating the motion, and catching in consequence a glimpse of a yellow station wagon with wood paneling that had drawn to a seemingly casual halt on the side of the road behind her.

She crossed hurriedly, shifting the schoolbag in her left hand while gripping the lunchbox more tightly in her right, swinging both in steady rhythm as she walked. Halfway down the block she knelt suddenly and fiddled with her shoelaces. Peeking over her shoulder as she bent forward, she spotted it again, the yellow wagon, which had rounded the corner after her and was still following at a respectful distance.

With grim determination she pressed on, on towards the schoolyard, now only a few blocks away. She could hear the cries of the kids on the playground, see the bright orange sash of the crossing-guard directing traffic, smell the exhaust of the ancient school buses that brought the children who lived on the far side of town. And then suddenly she was on the last block and she was running, running towards the final intersection, the one guarded by the gentle white-haired man with the threatening crimson sign, and then she had flown across it and was vanishing safely into the thick crowd of students and teachers. She turned, breathless, and witnessed the yellow wagon retreating cautiously down the street, crawling silently away as if at last losing interest in the subject of its persistent pursuit.

She remained alert that afternoon; negotiated the crosswalks with care and kept watch for the stealthy wagon, but discerned no sign of it. She sighed with relief as she at last climbed the steps of the porch on which her mother stood happily waving her home.

“How was your day, sweetheart?” she inquired cheerfully. “Were you scared walking to school by yourself?”

“Nope,” Debra replied without hesitation.

“Did you remember to look both ways and cross with the light?”

“Yes, Mom,” she said, smiling, confident that her mother already knew the answer to that question.

“So you’ll be all right walking, then, if I take the car to my new job tomorrow?”

“Of course,” Debra answered. She glanced appreciatively at it, the familiar yellow station wagon with the wood paneling, parked, as always, comfortably in front of their house.

* * *

“Yellow Wagon” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past. To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

Autumn Leaves on Sidewalk