On New Years Eve Paul and I were in New Orleans, preparing for the Burlesque Press Masquerade Ball by mask shopping and gloating to ourselves about how awesome our outfits were going to be, when I felt a familiar throbbing in my bottom lip. I knew what it meant: I was getting a cold sore, and now Paul couldn’t kiss me because he’s afraid of contracting my cold sore curse. So here it was, New Years Eve, and I was a girl who could not be kissed. I fell into a sullen mood that lasted for the next few hours and was exacerbated by the cold rain and lack of heat in the apartment where we were staying.
Earlier in the day, before the cold sore developed, I had been at the Burlesque Press conference, attending Moira Crone’s Master Class: Unreality for Beginners. We discussed the genres of slipstream and magical realism – fiction that has supernatural or “unreal” elements without being what traditional sci-fi or fantasy. Moira gave us an exercise: to write a story in which only one object or one character is “unreal.” She gave the example of a fire that could never be extinguished.
Being the ever-eager student, I began to brainstorm a list:
An apple with a glass eyeball inside.
A peach with no pit.
A cat that can never die.
A hunger that can never be sated.
A box that can never be opened.
A man who can never stop smiling.
A woman who can never sleep.
As you can see, I quickly fell into a pattern with my magical objects. I choose the apple and began writing about a hassled mother whose son bites into a Honey Crisp and chips his tooth on a glass eyeball. I like what I wrote in class, and I think I might finish the story when I get a chance. I also liked my list of magical objects, and I’m thinking about using it, or the idea at least, in a poem.
And, only a few short hours later, I become a part of the list myself: A girl who can never be kissed. Paul and I got dressed for the ball while creating a story: A girl has her first kiss, but only minutes later the boy drops dead and the cause of death is never determined. A few years later, she kisses someone again, and again he dies immediately and mysteriously. But it’s no longer a mystery to her. She realizes that any man who touches his lips to hers will drop dead the very next moment, and so she avoids men and romance in order to prevent any more tragedies. But, unfortunately, she finds herself falling deeply in love with a coworker. She knows she can’t have him without killing him, so she pretends to hate him, and their escalating conflict is all the more painful because of how much she secretly loves him.
The story is a masquerade plot, something else I learned about at the Burlesque Press conference. The panel discussion on plot with Lynne Barrett, Daniel Wallace, and Bill Loehfelm gave me some helpful notions about how to approach the plots of some of my novels and short stories.
So I left the conference with two story ideas, one poem idea, and a fresh outlook on plotting. Not to mention some great memories and new acquaintances. To me, writing conferences are mostly about meeting people and networking and not so much about the classes and panels. But, I find that at every conference I’ve gone to, I’ve always gotten a little something useful from at least one or two of the sessions. This time, it was the exercise from Moira’s class and the plotting ideas from Lynne and Daniel. This might not seem like much, but when it comes to writing, one little nugget can spawn a whole story, a whole novel, a whole new idea about how to approach your writing, or your writing career.
It was a great conference, a fabulous New Years ball, and here’s to hoping that the nuggets I picked up spawn great things in the year 2014!
A _______ who can never _________. How would you fill in the blanks?