Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Risk (05/17/12)
TITLE: Risky Fiction-Business
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Four mismatched ladder-backed chairs surround grandmother’s old table, inviting me to sit. A stream of sunlight pours through a smudgy picture window nearby, striking the golden oak and illuminating it with fiery warmth. I hesitate, frozen between reality and potential fantasy.
Once I sit down I’ll become oblivious to my surroundings and immersed in that place where time stops and only the creative process matters. In my mind’s eye, I imagine grandmother, who passed away a decade ago, seated at the table. Her hands are folded neatly. Her businesslike face with serious grey eyes urge me to get busy. Come. Do your work. No excuses.
I tentatively pull out the stiff chair next to my laptop, slip onto the hard seat, stare at the silvery apple icon with its missing bite, and gingerly open the lid. Grandmother’s presence lingers on the other side of the table as my fingers rest on the keyboard, awaiting inspiration. Will the words come? The right words? The best, the necessary ones?
Creative writing is risky business.
I remind myself that writing is like turning on a faucet. Water should emerge, but will it trickle or gush? Will it be laced with chlorine? Rust? Deep well minerals or farm chemicals? What undertones or attitudes will similarly infuse my writing? Will it flow, or will I wait for dribbles? What simple or complex plot might emerge if I dare begin the process?
To put off the inevitable, I sit in the chair across from the one holding grandmother’s imagined form, and together we watch the squirrels chase each other in the oak tree outside. Somehow her envisioned presence is critical to the forthcoming creative process.
Eventually I dare to type a few words, then a sentence. Others dance across the screen, shaping a paragraph. A fictional character begins brewing in my mind, one qualified to tell me the rest of the story. My immediate job is to get to know HER.
Grandmother’s shadowy pseudo-eyes seem to twinkle. Perhaps she knew this woman – is her name Greta? - or someone like her, in Germany after the war. Or maybe Greta lived next door to my grandparents during the Great Depression and shared a garden plot with them. In any case, I must break into Greta’s heart and understand her from the inside-out. Listen to her, and listen well, as she tells me the story.
What, exactly, will Greta disclose? Some soul-chilling memory? Will she call upon me to share my own heart? Will she encourage me, or require me to take a stand or back down from one? I honestly don’t know.
All I can do is record whatever emerges through Greta’s grid. Such writing, when my own heart is reshaped on paper through a fictional character’s voice, is nothing less than transforming. It is gloriously edifying, although inherently risky and vulnerable, business.
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