I Made It All Up

Writing nonfiction as a journalist, technical and business writer since 1981 proved to be my bread and butter – a woman being paid to think. Looking back, I should have specified how much to be paid. Still, what feeds my soul is writing fiction.

  • In the 1990’s, I completed a four-part, 446-page satirical work of near-future fiction, its existence noted at the United States Copyright Office in the Library of Congress.
  • By 1997, I had completed a collection of short stories called Working Stiffs, also registered in the Library of Congress
  • In 2010, I followed with a collection called Shades of Coffee Pot Bayou.
  • Through 2014, other short stories came to mind, about 24 stories in all.
  • From 2015 to 2017, the manuscript The Monks of Malibu took shape.
  • In 2018, I began another novel called Flights of Fancy that popped into mind on a flight from Paris.
  • In 2020, during the pandemic, its sequel Gossamer Wings beckoned me to the doings on an estate in the Hudson Valley.

I made up so many characters I’m inclined to stop the presses and host a party for them, acknowledging, as writer Anne Lamott observed, they are, “Characters that have selected you to be their typist.”

They reflect Jungian archetypes of every ilk, submerged in my psyche. They will come when invited.

The Party of Characters to Whom I Am Speaking

I picture a crowd at the entrance of a banquet hall, picking up place cards with table assignments, drink tickets and a schema of food stations. Once everyone is seated around their tables, the tuxedo-clad MC directs them to gather before a wall map of my fictional locations. It is, I think, a huge map, beautifully illustrated by my nonfiction artist-husband, Vincent Mancuso.

The fictional folks zero in on their storied locations where they each affix a little flag, indicating, “I am here.”

Once the map is brimming with flags, folks are free to wander off to the buffet stations or beverage bars, as is their want. Certain characters are partial to either barbecue, soul food or Caribbean fare; others New York deli. The make-your-own tortillas station is big among the guests, as is the curry bar. Many head for an Asian street vendor station of delicacies from China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Korea. Others lay bare the vegetarian platters and salad bowls.

A number of women prefer French cuisine; but that is surpassed by my pasta lovers. Two Kenyan brothers seem hurt about the absence of a station for them, as is an Iranian. I blame the omissions on my budget. There are a dozen coeds of my future world, for years relegated to swallowing three meals of nutrient drinks a day, who will eat anything. Favored party beverages range from flavored seltzer to smoothies to craft beer to wine to Tequila shots to Cosmopolitans.

The kids attack the ice cream bar and dessert station. Separate feeding areas, cordoned off for my fictional dogs, cats, rabbits, an owl, a mountain lion and horses, are soon swept clean. When the grazing ebbs, the M.C. asks the whole gang to again gather before the map, where a few short-story characters grumble about the number of flags flown at novel locations. Fred Smeal, a nasty big wig from the future who insists on fixing flags to three of four Swan Song locations, commandeers the front row, blocking the coeds’ view. They move off en masse to check their lip gloss in the Ladies Room.

I envision a ceremony with words of thanks all around, like what one might hear at a corporate year-end party.

“Thanks for coming to mind,” I say.

“Thanks for all the typing,” politer characters reply. 

All this time, a pack of kids races around the banquet hall, playing tag. One little girl leans against a wall, eating M&Ms and reading. Next to her, a five-year old boy stands on a chair, flicking the hall lights on and off. Old folks huddle and mutter, “She has to stop with the stories, or we’ll be forgotten.” The little girl looks up, alarmed.

They have nothing to fear. Every character, no matter how obscure, is recorded in my brain.

They Show Their Archetypes  

“What about prizes?” Smeal booms. “Shouldn’t the best character win a prize?”

“Um, I hadn’t a … I could never pick one of you,” I mumble, then brighten.  “Your very existence is the prize!”

"Except when you knocked us off," he snaps back. 

“Well, I'm glad I made the cut,”  says Maitland Smith, a sweet guy who always intends to strike out on his own, no matter what string his controlling mother tugs.

Trey Hargrove, a tipsy and wildly confident Tampa carpet man, ignores the prize hubbub, sets down his shot glass and approaches Sage Anthony, author of murder mysteries set in medieval nunneries, who flies between Paris and New York in a frenzy of misplaced lust.

“Where you from?” he slurs, towering over her, his Buccaneer baseball cap turned backward. 

Obsessed with making up a story that does not center on a pool of blood in a candle-lit chapel, Sage spurns Trey’s advances and, hardly looking up from her scribbling, shoos him away.

Meanwhile, the wheelchair-bound Miss Mattie, who arranges purple barrettes in her flowing gray hair and each day boards a bus in St. Petersburg to do her shopping, is bold enough to engage the imperious young Hollywood movie director Stacey Fine. Frustrated as the wonder-kid is by her dwindling film budget and her lover’s possessive wife, Stacey would just as soon push Miss Mattie off the cliff at Point Dume Beach in Malibu than respond to the lady’s karmic positivity.

Zoe Mitchell, the well-off birdwatcher and divorcee who lives half the year in a mansion on Coffee Pot Bayou and half in a pied-as-terre in Manhattan, scans the crowd for a nice young woman who needs a mother; this to replace a daughter who never calls. Zoe is drawn to a Nancy Drew-type named Mira Monteban, who is located only in the future during the Second Timely Reformation, content with her doting parents on Satellite Noah II and working as a cub reporter on A.N.S.W.E.R. (All News Service Within Earth’s Range). Zoe is sidetracked by an English lord in smoking jacket who regales her with stories of the hunt.

And, that’s just what’s happening with a handful of the hundreds who popped into my head!

What’s up With This?

You can’t imagine how much fun I have, almost listening to the characters go on about their lives. At times I’m skeptical. “And then what happened?” Other times, we’re so mutually shocked or grief stricken by unfolding events, I must wait for them to spill it out. Still other times, I awaken with clues stored in my subconscious from the night before. 

Harmless, right? You might ask who I’m hurting with this mental exercise going back 35 years. Well, the dark vision of my 1990 future fiction of Earth crumbling under environmental abuse so disturbed me, I wondered if it was right to put in out into the world. Time spent in unreal worlds may permit me to carry on calmly in the real one, and I do carry on happily. My aim as a writer is more perfectionist than escapist.

Like perfecting a bowling game. Just takes balls.

Note: You are welcome to visit the Short Stories page.

Event poster made up by my brother, Ed Morrisey

Posted in Uncategorized.