Story: The Insult

This was originally published years ago at Six Sentences.  I have slightly revised it since then, but I think the revision makes it more of story and less of a prose poem. 

The Insult

There are no bakeries outside San Marco in 1968, no fish markets or butchers, only tobacco fields and salted meats between Carmine’s and the piazza.  Dirt roads spread like long brown leaves from my cousin’s to the church-square and we ride to town on ox carts and warping wooden wheels.
      I give my aunt a big roast in the cool dirt kitchen where summer meats are hanging. At dinner there’s a small cut roasted and I ask about the rest. Three quarters of my trophy, cured, turns above the table. Flies land on the slivers Zizi portions, oblivious and greedy.  Li mericani! she says, forgiving my abuse.

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All rights Chris Cocca, but do feel free to share, and, please, do comment.

100 Words at a Time

I have always loved to write.  I first started writing creatively as an adult sometime during Divinity School, in my early 20s.  I wrote stories and poems in high school of course, but most of what I wrote in college was more academic. 

Between finishing my Master of Divinity and starting my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I wrote many small pieces of fiction and prose poems.  I grew fond of writing things that were exactly 100 words.  It was a good practice in rhythm, word choice, and brevity.

This piece, which I rewrote yesterday from an older draft that didn’t go where I had hoped, is 98 words:

There’s nothing to say now to Eugene Victor Debs or William Jennings Bryan.  No spring under iron wheels and no thaw in the concrete borders of compassion.  No dispersing from the lock-step forms of ill-formed fear, fear of self, of other, fear of washing rain, revealing living oneness, fear of drowning in it.  There’s no green in our window-boxes, no stray cats in alleys and nothing left to feed them. Only fat birds always eating and the statues of our past, the ideal likeness of forgotten shapes and forms, fat birds always eating, bleaching white our skin-toned stories.

I have also found that I inevitably tend to write paragraphs of about 100 words in my fiction, especially why I’m attempting a birds-eye view seeking to balance external and internal settings, or when I’m doing an extremely close third-person read. 

After quite of bit of struggle with one story yesterday, I read and took a break.  Later, I revised the poem above.  Then I went about the other things I had to do. Later still, I wrote a post about DH Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson (both very good at the external/internal balance and the shift from mundane to sublime) and Ernest Hemingway (ever a muse for brevity).  Then I returned to another story, one I had been avoiding for personal reasons, and wrote this, which is, not surprisingly, about a hundred words:

On his ten-speed, the new present from his father, Riley arced and waved, his course unfettered and unhinged, free from the attraction of large bodies, the fundamental laws of physics. The nurses crossed the Fairgrounds. Birds roosted in the trees. The Sisters of St. Catherine were called to daily office, everywhere the brides of Christ were moving to the music of the set-in-motion world. In the Market lot, where the families sold their wares, where the men had trained to serve in war, where the Milltown Fair lit August sky with fireworks and neon, on that swath of pavement bordered by the hospital and graveyard, a boy, still small, still boyish, rode his brand-new bike.

I’m sure I’ll revise and refine that, but for now I rather like it.  In the context of the story, it’s a sort of capstone.

For whatever reason, I tend to write more or less 100 words at a time.  There are days when these bursts add up, 1000 or 2000 words.  There are days like yesterday, where I revised 98 and wrote 120 more.

Dialogue is like the 12-point Courier New of daily word goals.  Even in the piece I struggled with yesterday, I managed 300 words of decent dialogue in service of the story. 

Some days net a ton of words you cut down later.  Some days net a ton of words you keep.  Some days are more about the planting, some days about the harvest.

If you’re writing and/or reading today (and I hope you are), happy sewing, watering, reaping.







John Scalzi on the Redshirt Trope and the Economy of Fiction

“Being eight years old and aware that either way, Ensign Jones is going to be doomed is something that sticks with you. We become aware of metafictional tropes, and it’s specifically because of the nature of storytelling itself: Storytelling is economical, right? It’s the Chekov’s gun thing – don’t put a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act if it’s not going to go off in the third. Everything that’s dragged onstage is dragged on for a reason, and because we know that, eventually, subconsciously we’re aware of the economy of fiction. So when we have the occasional random person who suddenly becomes Very Important, something’s going on with that guy.”

 – John Scalzi, author of Redshirts.