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And a Glenlivet To Go

A rainy night in San Francisco, the kind of persisting rain that paints the streets even blacker. Puddles everywhere along Clement Street, the “New Chinatown” as the San Francisco Chronicle called it. Although Chinese lived and worked on the street, there were plenty of places a round eye could go to feel at home. San Francisco’s best thrift store was on Clement, along with a two-story used bookstore called Green Apple that was ripe with reading. See’s Candy was a must stop because they gave out free chocolate samples every day. The Yin Xing Food Company welcomed everybody. They had things you never knew people could eat.

If you braved Saturday night crowds you could be in and out of bars and clubs of all descriptions. The music from Nine Inch Nails poured out of one club, Reznor’s downbeat lyrics not realizing that we had met Y2K and gotten through it. But you could find Depeche Mode records at another club if you wanted the 8o’s. Depeche Mode. What was the song? “I’m taking a ride with my best friend. . .”

Anyone who saw the pair might think them a couple. Perhaps. They were laughing, pointing at people, wandering in circles, going nowhere and having a wonderful time doing so. They just got off a noisy bus from North Beach. She had bought him a lap dance at the O’Farrell. He bought her a lap dance. Now, they talked about the attractive college volleyball player they wanted to stalk. They tippled on several miniatures, not bothering to hide their drinking in public. Theirs was a relation built on indulgence. Permission. And single malt Scotch.

Tracy spotted the pair the same time her friend did. A man and woman getting out of a white Volkswagen Cabriolet, with the woman exiting the driver’s side. Obviously, her car. She, driving the boyfriend around. These two passed a flower shop, still open, and walked into the restaurant next door. Tracy’s friend pointed out the problem. The man walked by a flower shop and didn’t buy his date anything. Tracy’s eyes narrowed. Years ago, Tracy was a Revlon Cover Girl and had been to New York City more times than she could count. She had been emboldened by the City. But San Francisco was different. San Francisco demands a particular panache.

She bolted into the florist and bought a big bouquet. Armed with a dozen carnations and roses, she walked into the restaurant and confronted the couple, now sitting at their table. Her friend waited nervously, peering through the window as Tracy shook the flowers at the man, all the while lecturing him. His date was a picture of smiles and delight. After giving the girl the flowers, Tracy marched out.

“I told him he was good looking. But not that good looking. That he’d needed to try harder.” And then they laughed and walked down Clement Street, hand in hand, just to hold hands, with the rain coming down and the music pouring out. Thinking of Scotch.

I wrote this quick quip for the fourth assignment in the Writers Studio fiction and poetry workshop I am taking.  Criticisms below. This is the kind of good feedback you’ll get if you take one of their courses. I’m having difficulty understanding each assignment’s goals, however, although I am working quite hard to adhere to them; the fault is mine.

Assignment goals:

Using third person narration, describe a place, describe people, and describe a main character. Refer to a particular era in time.



What a great moment when Tracy (drunk, carefree, bold) buys the bouquet, marches into the restaurant and gives the guy a good talking to! And what an efficient bit of storytelling to have Tracy sum up the scene to her friend with three simple lines of dialogue – very cinematic.

You’re definitely enlisting aspects of the Strout here, giving us an overview of the place, using a conversational narrator who knows the place but has a broader perspective than the inhabitants, viewing the inhabitants of the place through the eyes of others, and gradually zooming in on a particular set of characters in a particular time period (love the mention of Y2K, which seems so quaint now!).

But, as another commenter noted, a lot of Huntington slipped in to the narrative – my sense is that each week you start your assignment still heavily influenced by the previous one. I’m thrilled to see you internalizing all these styles and narrative methods, but I do think that sometimes you make your task harder by not studying the week’s excerpt really closely and trying out its approach. What I mean is that Strout begins by creating a little intrigue and a time frame (that summer Mr. Robinson left), which focuses the story and sets up readers to expect a mystery of sorts. I do get some mood from the start, a strong sense that San Francisco is a kind of feast for the tourists – the book store is “ripe,” the chocolate is free, and there are exotic offerings for the adventurous.

I also wanted to point out the fact that the material you choose tends not to be the most natural fit for the techniques the assignments ask you to try out, and I’m not sure if you do this on purpose or if it happens somewhere along the way as you feel out each story. That is, last week the assignment asked you to tell a story via a series of “snapshots” of people in a certain state of mind, with absolutely no back story. Instead you wrote a story about an unfolding relationship that required a fair amount of back story and required a fair amount of time spent in the thoughts of one of the characters. This week the task was to work with a single place (which you did beautifully) and to zoom in gradually to one locale and then to one character in that locale, which is quite different from what you did. I think maybe you ran with the idea of showing us one set of characters through the eyes of another set, and this you did like a pro (but note that with your focus on so many different things at once, I don’t learn anything at all about Tracy’s friend).

Keep in mind that I don’t want to stifle your imagination! It’s doing its job very well, as you keep coming up with these unusual scenarios. But I think it might be a worthwhile task for you to work even more closely from the excerpt, even going line by line to see how the author set up the story or poem.

Image of a rainy Clement in the Outer Richmond from:

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