Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why writing fiction is harder than it looks

I was going through some old notebooks the other day when I came across this story fragment. I was living in France when I wrote it, and it kind of all came to me at once as I was laying in bed, not sleeping one night. This is my attempt at a short story. I hope you like it.

The Story of My Life

I was born in the circus at the age of three. Some people think they live with a bunch of clowns, but I really do. Sunshine, Moonbeam, Jim Bean, Billie Jean, Knockwurst, Slug and Ringo; these were my earliest friends, teachers, and confidantes. It was the clowns who raised me, taught me right from wrong, and how to twist a balloon into a giraffe. When I was bad I took a water-filled flower to the eye. Sometimes as a joke they would fill it with lemon juice instead. They saved the pie in the face for when I was really bad, like the time I forgot to feed the lion and then let him out during the clowns' act as a joke. I was wearing whipped cream all over my face after that one.

Some people may think that there are happy clowns and sad clowns. The truth is, at the end of the day they're all sad clowns. After a full day of degrading themselves for people who only want to see a man swallow fire or put his head in a lion's mouth, then they have to come back and endure the constant taunting of the other circus folk. "Hey clowns, why don't you get some pants that fit!" the tightrope walker jeers, prancing by in his tights. "Hey Bozo, what's that on your nose? I can pop that for you!" the trapeze artist sneers. This is especially painful, since to a clown using the name Bozo as a slur is like taking the Lord's name in vain. It's sacrilege. I try to tell them to stand up for themselves, to fight back, but they never do. They just drip big, greasy, makeup-stained tears into their Jack & Cokes. In the ladder of the circus, the clowns are on the bottom rung.

My mother is the 300-pound lady and my father is a midget. Since I was left by the stork on a rainy night in Chattanooga, I don't look like either of them. My job is to ride the elephant. I stand on its back in sequins and spangles, looking just the right amount of scared. Too scared and the audience loses respect for you; too confident and they lose interest. Around and around old Millie plods, while I shake things up by first standing on two feet, then on one. For the finale, I turn around and ride standing backwards. Ringmaster Mike wants me to work on some new material for the routine, he thinks it's getting "stale." I told him to bring it up with my union, the United Federation of Elephant Walkers. Our motto is "We will not be trampled." Unfortunately last year someone was trampled after a failed attempt at an intricate sit-and-stand move. It was at that point that we decided it would be best to keep the routines simple, and that's what I do.

When you live in the circus it's important to be flexible. Flexible about meals, sleeping quarters, and enough to put your leg behind your head. I used to practice all the time, for hours a day, standing on one leg with the other pointed gracefully up towards the sky. I did this so much that one day I couldn't get it back down! It seemed permanently stuck in its new position, and nothing I did seemed to help. I had to walk around on one leg for a while after that. My parents made the best of it and put me in the corner as a hat stand. I thought I should go to the doctor, but they said, just give it some time, and it'll come down by itself when it's good and ready. And boy, it did just that.

Eddie Shitshoes called himself a salesman. What he did was muck out the elephant's trailer and sell the dung to garden stores and nurseries, who in turn sold it to rich people for $12 a bag. I never will understand what people want with bags full of elephant shit. Sometimes I imagine Goliath-sized gardens, tomatoes big enough to kill a man, corn with kernels as big as your ear. Eddie found that his product sold better when he marketed it under the name Zippity Doo Doo than under some of the other names he had experimented with: Fantasti-Crap and I Can't Believe It's Elephant Dung!

Eddie had been trying for quite a while to stick his pitchfork in my haystack, and given my current predicament, I wasn't at all surprised when he showed up to take advantage of the situation. I heard the trailer door open. "Hello Eddie," I said without turning around. You always knew when Eddie Shitshoes entered a room. Seeing for himself the compromising position I was in, Eddie grinned with pleasure. Just as Eddie was getting a little too friendly for my taste, my leg decided to come down. And did it ever. It snapped closed like it was spring-loaded, taking poor Eddie down with it. He suffered a concussion and a rather awkward sprain. He was so scared, I don't think his pole will ever stand up under the Big Top again.

And that's where it ends. I have no idea how to finish this story, so here's where you come in, my faithful (and beautiful!) readers. Write the next sentence of the story in the comments. It could be anything. No, really, anything! Bring back one of the old characters. Create a new character! Write, "This is the worst thing you've ever written and I can't believe you're degrading yourself this way, and also, I don't get it." I don't care! No, really, I can take it. Just write something about anything and we'll call it a day. Deal?


  1. It's not even 7.00am, so my brain is not in "create" mode, but with the huge popularity of "Water for Elephants" now is the time to finish this and get it published.

  2. Well, I have to say that I'm drawn in, but I feel like the story is going to turn depressing in the end. Maybe it's like a prequel to Elephant Man. You know, "then I got pregnant and got stepped on by an elephant." Cue William Hurt and Anthony Hopkins.