Renaming a mysterious Arkansas town ‘Garth, Texas’

In the summer of 1980, if I remember right, we traveled from Kansas to northern Arkansas to visit my Dad’s older brother, Uncle Don. He, my Aunt Mary and my cousins lived in Harrison, near Dogpatch. I also remember something about getting some Cavender seasoning, since it’s made in Harrison. (I still use it today, although I prefer the salt-free form).

As we traveled to Harrison, my seven-year-old mind seemed to record us being on some sort of mountainous hill. One road went to Harrison while another road seemed to lead to another town down in a distant valley. A look at a map reveals it might’ve been Omaha, Arkansas.

To this day, 32 years later, I still wonder about that town. What was its name? What secrets did it hold? What stories did it tell? Or, did it exist solely in my imagination?

I have resurrected and transported the town approximately 800 miles southwest into West Texas in a short story I am working on, titled Garth, Texas. In this lengthy, in-progress short story, a road goes up a hill, reaching a zenith; what lies on the road beyond the zenith is completely unknown to anyone seeing the road from the main road it bisects.

But to those who travel to the top of the road, they will see a sharp, gradual decline as the road slopes downard for about five miles. And in the distance is a tiny speck of a town.

Garth, Texas.

Stay tuned.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

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The agony of writer’s block

Forget defeat, headaches, past-due bills, the death of your favorite pet duck, the election of a woefully-inexperienced president, a traffic jam when you’re already late, finding out the man/woman of your dreams is already married, running out of iced tea and a check-engine light on your car’s dashboard. Nothing is more agonizing than writer’s block.

Let me take stock. I have a novel and several short stories in the production stage. Currently, I’m about two-thirds done on my rough draft of The Game Show and am about a third into my short story whose name I’d rather not divulge. Both are suspenseful thrillers with characters that seem alive and well.

My problem? I am not sure what to write next.

In my short story, for instance, a man stumbles upon a town that’s not on the map in West Texas and learns, much to his dismay, the locals already know who he is and want to punish him for past deeds. What happens next is something I can’t quite figure out.

Same for the book about a game show where more meets the eye. And, of course, same for the short story about the astronomer who discovers a strange planet and a long short story about a man who buys a gorgeous house at way below its appraised price.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I think I may need to google “Lois Duncan” and “writer’s block” and see what she wrote about it in The Writer magazine. We’ll see if that helps.

Richard Zowie’s first short story was a very forgettable one, written on a single sheet of notebook paper when he was eight. Scorpions in a lake. Blech. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Thoughts on the ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ chapter ‘The Joy of Writing’

Please keep in mind that this is not a critique of Mr. Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing. This blog posting is simply what I’ve gathered from the book and how I think I can apply it to my own fiction writing career. It’s also my motivation to finish this book and to move onto others.

I’ve often wondered how to best describe Bradbury as a writer to those unfamiliar with his work (my two favorite Bradbury books are The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451). Perhaps Stephen King said it best: with Mr. Bradbury, everything’s green and wondrous and seen through a lens of nostalgia.

“The Joy of Writing” chapter

Mr. Bradbury believes it’s imperative to write with zest and gusto. Writing should be pleasurable, so have fun with it. This type of mentality helps a person put out 2,000 or so words a day. If you find it a burden, then you may have a problem. The same rings true for other professions. To be a successful chef, Gordon Ramsay has said you must a passion for cooking. Actors have told me that getting in front of a camera or on stage requires a love for performing; if your motivation is fame or fortune, forget it.

What should a person write about? Things that you love or hate. One example Mr. Bradbury references is seeing a photo in Harper’s Bazaar that used Puerto Ricans in the background as “props”. Upset by this, Mr. Bradbury wrote a short story where a Puerto Rican man taunts such a photographer by always appearing in his photographs and making some type of gesture that ruins the picture. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King recounts working at a mill and hearing a crazy story about how giant rats lived in the cellar of a decrepit building. Wheels spun and soon King wrote the creepy short story Graveyard Shift.

Sometimes we write about our fears. One short story I’m working on focuses on one of my worst fears: having an automobile breakdown in the summer heat in the middle of nowhere. The main character is on the run from the police but has his car break down in one of the more rural areas of the country: West Texas.

Sometimes, Mr. Bradbury feels writing a story can be as simple as finding a character who wants or doesn’t want something with all their heart. Give them orders, let them go and follow them and write what you see happening. Darn the outlines and character profiles, full speed ahead!

Writing also requires a person to read voraciously and diversely. Books, magazines, anything you can get your hands on. Myself, I suspect much can be learned even by reading bad prose. You learn how not to write and what doesn’t work. For me, what comes to mind is one particular sci-fi novel written by a scientist who simply wasn’t a good writer. Another involves a curious delve into trasy western paperbacks where the methaphors are so bad they’re comical. Obviously, this is best kept at a minimum while energies should be focused on good writing and what does work.

Finally in this chapter, Mr. Bradbury reminds us that life is indeed very short. Write. A writer writes now. Procrastination is the death of writing. This is indeed something I can relate to: my twenties flew by and now, at 37, I’m beginning to wonder what happened to my thirties. If only we lived on a planet like Pluto, where the days are six days long instead of a measly 24 hours.

Up next, the chapter “Run Fast, Stand Still”.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer. He’s worked as a journalist and columnist and also blogs and writes fiction. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.