Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest Writer - Stephen Parrish

Our second gracious author to join us is Stephen Parrish.

It's hard for me to describe, but Stephen is a kind of anchor to an entire sphere of the writing community. But in a quiet, unassuming way. I think it has something to do with his very grounded and honest nature. That mixed a vulnerability that he's not afraid to show.

I invited Stephen to co-host my last contest to celebrate the release of his debut novel, The Tavernier Stones. Again, if you haven't read it, get to it! One of the most striking things about it is that it doesn't pander to the superficial conventions of thrillers. Although it's packed with action, it really wrestles with important questions of the human spirit. It has a rich depth and intelligence to it.

I now give the floor to Stephen himself. I think he shows why he's the anchor that he is.


My Better Half

I want to thank Jason for giving me yet another opportunity to quake with fear as I expose my writing skills before such a talented group. Flash fiction is indeed the vehicle for exposing them---or for revealing their absence. It's uncanny how a 250 word limit can make a writer feel so naked.

But as he and others like to remind us, writing a piece for the contest is only half the experience. The other half, arguably the more valuable half, is participating in the Clarity of Night community: the sharing, the networking, the support. My writing friends, some of whom I met here, help me at every stage, from conceiving an idea to landing a review. Some locate my book in the stores and either turn it face-out or surreptitiously ferry it to a spotlight table. Some even buy it. They take care of me.

They're my community. Without them I'm only half a writer.

It means, though, that I must spend a significant part of my time helping them in return, and often in advance. You know the old saying, "Ask not what your critique partner can do for you . . ."

To the newcomers here, to any aspiring writers who feel isolated, the rule of thumb---that you get out of your community what you put into it---isn't really true. In writing communities such as this one, you get a lot more.


Seven Stories
by Stephen Parrish

It wasn't the man's choice to jump that struck Stephanie as odd. It was the way he did it; that he seemed to be trying to swim. She watched from across the street as he stepped onto the ledge of a seventh story hotel window, raised his arms, pressed his palms together. And leapt. He flailed and kicked fruitlessly in a calm but unmerciful sea of air.

For an instant it looked as if his strokes might support him. Then he plunged, dog-paddling, to the deck of the pool below. He broke the wooden planks of the deck and one or two pieces of outdoor furniture and most of the bones in his body, which would never leap or swim or plunge or do anything, ever, again.

The next day Stephanie climbed to the seventh floor of the hotel, found the room, ducked under the crime scene tape, and went to the window, where the screen, pushed out to make room for a hasty exit, still jutted foolishly into indifferent space. She looked down.

The soft cobalt blue of the swimming pool swirled into a cadmium vortex, an alluring crucible, a womb. It was what the man had seen, what they all saw when they willingly climbed seven stories.

"Don't wait for me," she said to no one in particular. No one heard her. Not the crucible, nor the dandelions she'd picked as a little girl, nor the lightning bugs she'd captured in jars. "I never learned to swim."

(One of the contestants has graciously acknowledged me for critiquing her entry, and I'd like to continue---and encourage---the tradition: Thank you Aerin Bender-Stone and Wendy Russ.)


Katherine Tomlinson said...

For me, the best part of taking part in these contests is reading the other responses to the prompt--one picture, a thousand stories. Your story is a gut-punch in a good way. The give and take is wonderful too. (And who knows, you and I might be related--Parrish is my middle name, thanks to my grandmother's maiden name.)
Very much enjoyed the story.

Precie said...

1) That's masterful use of adjectives.
2) The depth of your work in such a small space is impressive.
3) to everyone else--Stephen's TAVERNIER STONES is among the ebooks for sale at Amazon's Kindle store. $0.99. Hurry!!

Wendy said...

Ooh, Precie, good job mentioning Stephen's book! It's great and everyone should have at least one copy, maybe two. :)

Steve, wonderful sentiment about the writer community.

The imagery in your story is very strong, and like Precie (again!) states -- great depth. Lots of imaginative possibilities, too. Good stuff.

And... also, since Aerin and Stephen are starting a new tradition, thank you Stephen for critting mine before I turned it loose into the wild.

strugglingwriter said...

This is really good, maybe my favorite take. So much story in a little amount of words.


Lisa Gail Green said...

I was really impressed with the way this felt like a complete story in such a small space.

Stephen Parrish said...

Katherine: thank you. And since I come from a long line of trailer trash, let's hope we're not related.

Precie: thanks. And thanks for mentioning the sale. Amazon is being very good to me. (And nice seeing you again after so long. Seems like a lot of reunions are taking place during this contest.)

Wendy: thanks for fixing what was broke.

Paul: I'm flattered, thank you.

Lisa: thank you. I might as well admit now that it was a suicide I happened upon, hence the use of the name "Stephanie."

Aimee Laine said...

Ouch in so many, many words ... present for one, past for two and future for one. Then again, maybe there is no more pain. Quite haunting. :)

Anonymous said...

Blowing you a kiss, Fritz ~

Sandra Cormier said...

It's like the pool was haunted and drove people to explore its deep mystery.

You really witnessed something like that, Stephen? How horrifying!

Sarah Hina said...

Dream-like, but cut with the clarity of reality. It made my stomach drop, reading this.

Someone always hears--just too late to change anything.

Precie said...

Nice to see (you) and be seen. (I'm lucky to get out of my beloved but busy Ivory Tower once in a while.) Now what's a gal gotta do to get commentary from ya? (Or do I not want to know?)

MG Ainsworth said...

I loved the imagery. It was poignant and crisp. I echo the sentiment it felt like a much longer story. I'll be looking for your book on Amazon.

Cath Barton said...

A very satisfying story. A brilliant take on the prompt.

Erratic Thoughts said...

Such Innovative use of elements...cobalt,cadmium...and superb wordplay...I loved it! :)

SzélsőFa said...

i agree with Stephen about these contests, as i have learned a lot, too, from them: useful words and expressions, and some, very important techniques to polish my writing, but much more to that: listening and giving.
his entry pulled me in, too: the description of the pool from above made the reader feel what Stephanie was experiencing, the irresistable pull, and oh, what a great ending!

Stephen Parrish said...

Thanks everybody! Precie: I rehabilitated.

Margaret said...

"No one heard her. Not the crucible, nor the dandelions she'd picked as a little girl, nor the lightning bugs she'd captured in jars."

These last lines got to me, made me feel that nobody ever listened to or understood Stephanie. She must have been a very lonely person all her life.

I've just ordered your book on Amazon. Looking forward to it!

Aniket Thakkar said...

Yes, this is my favorite one of the one's I've read so far of the contest. (Sorry, Sarah. You'll always top my charts, though. Always.) How glad am I, that you guys are guest authors. Gives us mortals a fighting chance. :)

I agree with Jason about the anchor part too. Though I met you quite late as compared to the other folks, I'm glad that I did.

This was brilliant.

Charles Gramlich said...

The community is definitely a plus online. the only problem is that it's really 'too' big to embrace entirely. I guess that is both good and bad.

Stephen Parrish said...

Margaret: thanks for your support.

Aniket: I'm glad I met you too.

Charles: too big to embrace, but big enough to find the right crit partners and friends.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Maybe we're related. I come from a long line of trailer trash, too.

Very haunting, very complete and satisfying. Witnessing death is life altering and it does create that curiosity about why. So many unanswered questions, but she found the answer.

I've only been able to read a few entries here and there. It's the main reason I'm not entering the contest myself this year. If I don't have time to read, comment and vote, I don't think it's fair to enter. It is about the community and how much we support each other.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This one breaks the heart slowly, matter-of-factly, and completely. It is as if it says, of her jump, "of course," but also implores us to go back, to the dandelions and lightning bugs, and listen.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi Stephen

It's a very haunting tale, the seventh floor with the pool inviting guest to take the dive, literally and figuratively. Most excellent.

Dottie :)

Anonymous said...

I feel an inexorable draw when I read this piece. Something about the motion of it, and the immense weight of the past pushing her to the ledge. I think I'd jump too.

Michelle H. said...

"A cadmium vortex" is so very descriptive, as I found with the whole story. Amazing imagery.

Anonymous said...

I love when characters take those steps we all wonder about--go to tje floor, slip under the police tape, actually see what he saw--but are all somehow unable to do. And what she sees and feels. I like this a lot. It's reeking of raw truth.

Catherine Vibert said...

I too am drawn in by the cadmium vortex...visually appalled by the dog paddling leap, heart broken at the long distant road from wonder to apathy and the allure of the drop to the write so good Steve.

Stephen Parrish said...

Thanks everybody. And thanks Jason for another great contest. You have some wonderful entries to choose from.

Michael Morse said...

Being one who frequents spaces occupied by the recently deceased, involuntary chills enveloped me as I read, remembering my own experience and hoping the character wasn't possessed to join the man who jumped. You captured the emotion well, it's not easy being among the ghosts of the recently departed. Harder still to write about it.

Michele Zugnoni said...

What a great way to end such a tragic piece! Your character's emotions rippled from the page, pulling me into her world and forcing me to watch the horrific scene unfold. Wonderful job.

Thank you for your inspirational words, and for sharing your gift.

Old Kitty said...

What a way to go! Back to the womb where all things start and end. Lovely! Take care

jrthumbprints said...

Very surreal ... especially on the way down. Not easy to do with such few words.

Richard Levangie said...

I find something so horrifying about this story, and yet it happens every day. The conductor of the Nova Scotia Symphony killed himself in such way not 100 meters from where I was living. Had a left my home for an errand just 25 minutes later. I might have seen it.

Raw emotion in just 250 words. We live in such a sad world.

Unknown said...

Unbelievable writing in 250 words. The power of this story is making the reader think they've felt it too, and some of us have, indeed.

I agree about the sense of community at Clarity of Night. It is my first time here, and already I feel as if I know so many people through their writing.

Loren Eaton said...

Is it just me or does this piece remind anyone else a little of Stephen King's "1408"? I get a super-creepy-lurking-evil vibe.

Great last paragraph, by the way.

Unknown said...

Hi Stephen,

Nice to 'meet' you. Loved the smooth ebb and flow of the story, and your meticulously chosen words.
I did wonder where the cop guarding the scene was (maybe he popped out for a coffee 'n' a doughnut), but this didn't detract from the haunting images that will linger.

Well done with the novel.