from Measuring Time: “Vocations”

There’s an adage that you should be careful what you say around a writer because he or she might incorporate something you say or do into a story. I’ll admit up front that my “writing senses” are always on; I really can’t switch them off. One perk of being an introvert is that I have “cover” for my observing and watching. I have sections in notebooks where I jot down what I’ve overheard and observed. Some of the those notes have been the basis of stories.

My story “Vocations” started from an overheard conversation: two people were recounting an early dating experience, and one specific line caught my ear. A variation of this line opens my story. And from that opening line, the rest of the story proceeds as the main character mishears and thus, misinterprets, the other character.

Because I wrote the first draft almost ten years ago, I have no recollection of the actual story the couple was recounting. My two characters do not resemble the the couple. The circumstances have been transformed, remade, and re-imagined.

At just over 1,000 words, “Vocations” is one of the shortest stories in Measuring Time & Other Stories (out this fall from Wiseblood Books). My “typical” stories hover around the 3,000-word range. One challenge with “Vocations” was establishing the early tension, sustaining it, and giving the story as much forward momentum as I could. I wanted to create the intensity regularly used in “flash” and “sudden fiction.”

Due to the story’s brevity, character development is more compressed, and with each successive draft, I had to do more with less (given the story’s length). It had begun short, and I knew that it would stay in that range. The brevity stretched me in interesting ways, forcing me to be more selective, an experience more akin to writing poetry, using the power of implication.

All of the stories in the book are special to me, but this one allows me the chance to do something a bit atypical. I’m excited to share the story in its final version in just a few months.

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