Caring for Buddy in his current circumstances has pretty much obliterated any semblance structure in what has been a rather loosely defined existence to begin with. I’ve begun making adjustments to try and compensate. Since I hope to devote much of August to working on my fiction (I’d really like to get five or more solid short stories and maybe a selection of short-short “flash fiction” pieces together for an e-book), one of the things I am now committed to is starting out each day by reading a good short story from among the all too many unread collections I own over my first cup of cappuccino.
Currently I am reading the stories of Mareen F. McHugh in a collection entitled After the Apocalypse. I was unaware of the author or her work before–I must have purchased the book based on some review somewhere–and I have been duly impressed. The stories have a touch of science-fiction/fantasy to them–the previously unpublished opening tale, “The Naturalist,” involves zombies; another has as its background the explosion of a dirty bomb in Baltimore; others refer to but do not dwell on or explain in any detail catastrophes which changed the way we live–but they focus on individual people and their lives in the aftermath of whatever happened rather than on the event itself.
:Kingdom of the Blind,” which I read thins morning, is seen through the eyes of a young woman named Daphne, who is working as an assistant to a computer tech as they try to figure out some oddities in the performance of a vast network which services a group of medical facilities. Daphne is a bit amorphous in the early pages but then comes this, as she considers her co-worker, knowing he is one of those nerdish sorts who gets so involved in his work he forgets to eat sometimes…
Sydney had never forgotten to eat in her life. One of her secret fantasies had been that, as a girl who could code, she would work in the one place where a geeky fat girl could get dates. It had not been entirely untrue. But as someone had pointed out to her in school, although the odds are good, the goods are odd.
…and the reader, at least this reader, immediately knows who she is. I also like the last nine words, which are both amusing and memorable (I expect to quote then as often as the opportunity arises).
Getting the reader to know your characters, not necessarily like or dislike them, just be familiar enough with them to understand who they are, is one of the keys to making any story work.
This is the first draft of the opening paragraph of the story I am currently working on.
I was sitting out on the back porch with a cup of coffee and trying to convince myself that going back to bed wasn’t a viable option. As was the case on too many mornings, I found both solace and sadness in accepting that a day was coming all too soon when I’d wake up dead and not have to deal with figuring out what to do next. Chances are I’d lay there moldering for at least a couple of days before the world noticed I was missing. “I guess you’ll have no recourse but to start eating my sorry ass,” I said to the dog, who was lying on the grass just off the porch, basking in the sun. He raised his head and looked at me with that benign expression that his kind have mastered over the centuries in order to get us to keep ‘em, feed ‘em and pick up their shit, but I knew the big guy would do what he’d have to do. Dogs have no illusions, which is a pretty good way of dealing with the world.
So I’m curious. Does that tell you enough about the guy to make you want to know more? Does he sound/feel real?