Second Intention

A story of mine has recently been published by a journal called the Scarlet Leaf Review. The story is called “Second Intention,” and you can read it here. There’s no pay wall, but you’ll have to click past some annoying ads along the way. There’s also some NSFW language in the story, but nothing you probably haven’t seen before.

After close to 80 rejections, it’s a relief to have something accepted. And yes, there will be more acceptances among the many more rejections in the future.

Liftoff

PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

The mission was already four months behind schedule, further delays inevitable. Still, enthusiasm among the project team remained high. A successful launch would ensure the mission would receive a full chapter in history books for a century.

Alonso’s role was small, a calibration of a stabilization gyroscope. His advanced degrees weren’t needed ; a graduate student could’ve performed the task as easily and reliably. Yet his position wouldn’t be identified on the project team, and if he exaggerated his role for the liftoff among his family nobody would correct him.

Yes, his job was boring. No, he didn’t care.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

The Dollhouse

This is my fifth and final analysis of novels with multiple storylines. The works I’ve examined so far featured a gestalt timeline structure, dual narrative structure, linked novella structure, and dual timeline structure. Fiona Davis’ 2016 novel has a combination dual narrative/dual timeline structure, with two different protagonists in two different timelines. 

In 2016, Rose Lewin is forced out of her companion’s condo in New York’s historic Barbizon building when he decides to reunite with his ex-wife. In 1952, Darby McLaughlin moves from rural Ohio to New York and rents a room in the Barbizon, which at the time was a hotel for professional women. Both timelines progress linearly, with occasional brief flashbacks, in alternating short chapters, making it very easy for the reader to pick up a storyline from where it last paused.

Three elements make the dual storyline structure work. The first is the linear structure of both stories, a common theme I’ve identified in my analysis of these five works; if you’re going to ask your reader to keep track of more than one narrative, make sure those narratives don’t jump around in time. Second, the Barbizon serves the common setting for both storylines, and the building functions almost like a character in the novel. Lastly, both protagonists struggle with independence and recognition, and this common arc provides the dual narrative/dual timeline structure with a satisfying storytelling logic.

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The principal lesson I’ve learned from analyzing these five novels is that unconventional narrative structures need to be combined with more traditional storytelling techniques. Use linear timelines to ground the reader; maintain consistent foci on the protagonists; short chapters are a huge benefit when switching between two protagonists or timelines, but longer chapters are more effective after making a large leap in a timeline; identify the time and central characters at the outset of each chapter; establish clear connections between the protagonists/timelines/narratives. These are techniques I’ll keep in mind when I resume work on my own book-length works.

Carry-out

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

“Mind if I sit, Dad?”

The old man nodded without looking up from his lemonade. By sending his son rather than either daughter, the family was sending a message. “I’m not ready,” he muttered.

The son sat at the other end of the small rectangular diner table. Condiments were arranged at that end as if the son were about to have a meal of ketchup, salt, and pepper. “Time to come home,” he said.

“I just ordered dinner.”

“We’ll do carry-out.”

“I’ll never sign.” The old man looked up. “Never.”

“No documents tonight, Dad. But we need you home.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

The Ticket

PHOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

The public square was cordoned Monday, the carousel erected the following day, operational by mid-week. On Thursday, Audrey decided to visit the impromptu amusement.

She’d witnessed the carousel’s construction while riding the metro every morning to her well-paying but draining job. Leaving for an early lunch break, she walked the block towards the square.

Audrey heard music as she passed the concrete barriers for the metro. Funiculì, Funiculà. Her favorite childhood song.

“Greetings.” Audrey hadn’t seen the speaker, yet somehow knew she was being addressed. She turned and saw a man in a motely suit, smiling and bearing a ticket.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

The Girls

Emma Cline’s 2016 novel is the fourth in my series of reviews for novels with multiple storylines. So far I’ve analyzed novels with a gestalt timeline structure, dual narrative structure, and linked novella structure. Cline’s novel features a dual timeline structure, with one protagonist in two different eras separated by almost half a century.

Given what happened to the the protagonist, Evie, when she was 14, it’s hardly surprising it would take her several decades to reflect on it. In 1969, months before entering a boarding school which she wants no part of, Evie joins a cult that is evidently based on the Charles Manson family. It’s an interesting study of how an otherwise level-headed person could become involved in a community so twisted and eventually murderous. Decades later she works as a caretaker for an absent homeowner and befriends a young woman, Sasha, who reminds Evie of her younger self. Sasha asks Evie about her involvement with the cult (she had narrowly missed taking part in its homicidal rampage). Evie reflects on that time as she attempts to guide Sasha away from a disastrous relationship.

Unlike the dual narratives in “All the Light We Cannot See,” the two timelines here are not evenly distributed. The novel is divided into four parts, with Evie and Sasha’s timeline serving as the brief introduction to each part. After the introduction, the novel progresses with numbered chapters that span the four parts. This structure, combined with the fact that both timelines are linear progressions, makes timeline confusion nearly impossible. While the 1969 storyline is the bulk of the novel, the latter storyline is needed to show the lasting impact of those years on Evie.

What I found most interesting is that the outcome of the 1969 timeline — the violent murders committed by the cult — is known from almost the beginning. Given the close parallels to the Manson family, it also seems horrifyingly logical. The reader also knows early on that Evie wasn’t involved in the killings. The suspense lies in finding out how close Evie comes to taking part, and how she was able to avoid it. When those revelations come towards the end of the novel, both are satisfying.

Of the four novels I’ve read for this series, this was the most enjoyable. Cline has a gift for metaphors, many of which are spectacular and only a few misfiring. A sample from page 26: “I’d always liked her in a way I never had to think about, like the fact of my own hands.” The novel has been in development for a Hulu miniseries, but with little progress for several years. I hope the project does get completed, because I think that with a talented director and cast this could be a compelling show.