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Crossing Over

by William H. Coles

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Crossing Over  

My name is Agnes Swaggert and I work in this nursing home for next to nothing.  I do good things for old folks like Mr. Wiggins who has been with us for two months.  He lost his hair to radiation, his eyesight to Cadillacs, and his voice to a trach.  He moans non-stop, drools and spits, shits five times a day so the sheets got to be changed.  I don’t think he ever sleeps.

I go to sit for a moment at the nurses’ station, put my arms on the counter.  I got scars on my right arm, and I set to thinking, as I often do when I feel like this.  Them scars make me think about my kin – grandma mostly.  Mr. Wiggins moans but I pay him no mind.  Mr. Wiggins will be number fifty-nine. 

Funny how I can see every one of them.  I think goodly about each one, being as I knew them so well.  Like being down front in the movie theater and the lights go on and you turn around and there they are lined up row after row.  Sometimes I think I’m a mother duck, all of them waddling behind me, crossing over the road to the other side.  Mr. Wiggins is whining real good now, so I think about Grandma.  What the woman she was.  I’d be guessing I liked her more than momma or daddy. 

It was my granny who taught me, after momma had left for work and it was bed time.

“What is that grandma?” I said to her one night.

“You’re mother will never teach you.”

“No.  No. What’s in your hand?”  I had expected she had a peppermint stick hidden for me.  But it was only a cigarette.  She lit up, took out the cigarette from her lips, and picked a piece of tobacco from her tongue.

“When can I smoke?” I asked.

“When you’re old enough to know what’s right and wrong.”

“I know what’s right and wrong,” I said.

“You don’t no-how.  Your Momma ain’t teaching you the ways of Lord.”

“She told me, Grandma!  She told me how Jesus had this fish and when lots of people come, he kept cutting up the fish and he fed a whole crowd.  And then they wanted bread, and Jesus had this loaf that when you sliced it just kept coming until everyone weren’t hungry no more.”

“It’s the suffering, precious,” she said.  “That’s where the real learning is.  Jesus taught us to suffer unto me.  It’s the suffer part you’re mamma don’t know nothing about.  She’s Godless and I ain’t going to tell you about it so don’t ask.”

“You mean ‘cause Daddy left?’

“I don’t knows I blame your mother, what with her troubles and all.  You too young to understand.”

“She taught me, grandma.  She did!”

“We must know ourselves,” grandma said.  “Jesus went into the dark and it was hot and dry and he stayed there for a long time like none of us could.  And when they put them spikes through his hands and feet.  He never cried out once.  Never!”

“I know,” I said, but I really wasn’t sure. 

“You don’t know nothing,” she said.  “I can make you into a real woman.”

“I’d like that,” I said.

“Hold out your arm,” Grandma said.

I did as she commanded, putting out my arm, pulling back my nightie sleeve.

“Sit up on the edge of the bed,” she said.

I shifted my legs so they hung over the side.

“Don’t you flinch,” she said.  She took two strong draws on a cigarette till it was glowing and she put the tip on the white part of my arm and pressed down.  The pain went shooting up, not like lightning , but like when you get a finger shut in the door.   I sat there looking at grandma and never flinched, never cried.  Grandma counted.

“One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.”  Then she pulled the cigarette away.  “That was real good,” she said.  “Real good.  Now we do one more time tonight.” 

And over the next month I got to know how Jesus, our Savior, handled the pain, ’cause he was like God’s son and it made him special.  I got to where Grandma could count five or six times.  “Real good,” she said, “I’s proud of you. You is a good learner.” 

Well, old Mr. Wiggins is alone again now.  I wait till after the night shift comes on.  The only nurse is on the second floor.  I can hear when she moves; it’s so quiet at night except for Mr. Wiggins whiney moan.  Loud he is tonight bless his soul.  Past being able to suffer like a real Christian.  He moaning like a heathen now.

I don’t need my medicine syringe for this.  I just take away the breathing machine, hold my hand over his mouth, and pinch his nose.  I got sterile gloves on, of course.  He’s in restraints and at first he wiggles like a fish out of water on a dry dock.  Then, in three minutes it’s over.  I put the breathing machine back on. 

“God bless you,” I say to Mr. Wiggins as he is crossing over.  “God bless you.”

I go out and clean up Mrs. Sampson.  She’s got bladder problems.

“How you making it?” I say to her.

She tries to smile.  I like that.  Even though she’s suffering, it’s like she ain’t giving in.

“Could you get me some water, Agnes?” she says.

I look at her.  “Don’t you fret, dear.  I bring the water soon as I drop Mr. Wiggins dirty sheets by the laundry.” 

“Hurry,” she said.

I can tell you this, I heard the first sound of whine in her voice, the first sign of her not taking her suffering like the good Christian woman she used to be.

 

 

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Story in Literary Fiction added 4 new photos.

Would you like to write memorable fiction stories? Stories that are imagined and created as an art form of lasting value? Of course it's possible. First seek the basics of great literary stories you like that have enchanted readers for centuries. Then read and learn, study and write, and find the best mentor available.

Usually every fiction-writer takes one or more "workshops" in creative writing. For eighteen years, I took over 100 workshops and courses . . . and attended hundreds of lectures and readings. I was left with these impressions. The quality of teaching is highly variable. Academic settings do not guarantee educational value. And wrong, or at least useless, information may be presented that thwarts learning and career development.

So here are a few suggestions for making a right choice of a workshop for learning LITERARY FICTION.

1. Look for workshops that attract serious students who are passionate about literary fictional stories. With no disapproval intended, too many attendees of workshops are hobbyists without the drive needed for writing great fiction and a fuzzy vision of what they want to achieve. And there are also many dedicated readers with dreams of being a writer (but little burning desire) who take workshops as a pleasant time to experiment with writing but are unable to contribute to a learning experience for others.

2. Do not take courses that claim to teach multiple disciplines: memoir, creative non-fiction, essay, genre fiction, and fiction. Each discipline has unique essentials that give vigor to stories; take a workshop dedicated specifically to what you want to accomplish.

3. Avoid workshops where majority of learning is dependent on students critiquing each-others' manuscripts. Student critiquing is rarely valuable to a serious, dedicated student, and often disseminates wrong concepts and revision corrections, and at times, gives hurtful and unnecessary personal-comments that can ruin a students learning experience.

4. Accept only instructors who have proven abilities to write and teach in literary fiction, which has unique skills to be mastered. Fiction is imagined and then created, fiction is not just describing remembered friends, acquaintances, and events. Learn to create and revise with imagination; try not to fiddle endlessly with minor stylistic or grammatical changes when structural changes need to be fixed: characterization, plot progression, motivation, emotion, engagement, logic, and purpose for story.

5. Attend workshops devoted to learning. Do not accept "free time" for writing instead of lectures, workshop time, reviewing great literature examples, personal conferences, or readings. Social events should be minimal and not a raison d'etre for workshop attendance.

6. If student readings are offered, there should be instruction on how to present well, guidance on choosing material that will work best for a given audience, attendance required by all faculty and teaching assistants, supervised practice sessions, and post-reading one-on-one critiques. Do not allow course organizers to schedule student readings--where students are usually reading only to each other--to provide free time for faculty.

7. If prompts are used, investigate the quality of prompts and the abilities of teachers to analyze student responses to prompts. Prompts need to be created to teach basics in writing fiction that are then critiqued, not on the "this-works-for-me" premise (subjective), but on principles to improve writing and storytelling that are valuable to the entire class, not directed to just one individual. Instructors with these qualities may be hard to find.

Of course, workshops provide different results and different effects on different students. The above suggestions are generally applicable to most writers at any stage, but are, admittedly, offered for the student with goals to writing great literature to the best of their abilities and with dedication to lifelong learning. Advantages of any workshop are networking, making friends, learning, and new ideas about what you want to achieve with writing, and receiving comments on your work. So no matter what your choice of workshop or discipline, there is a good chance you'll have a good time.

HAVE YOU HAD A WORKSHOP EXPERIENCE THAT COULD HELP OTHERS? DO YOU AGREE WITH THE SUGGESTIONS ABOVE? I would be grateful for your comments.

SAMPLE SHORT STORIES of LITERARY FICTION
As an example of skills that bring clarity of purpose to a student of literary fiction, here are stories emphasizing fiction writing prioritizing certain essentials specific for story. (Seven useful essentials are: Prose, Characterization, Plot, Narration, Setting, Imagery, Meaning/purpose.) http://fictioneditorsopinions.com/2016/06/…

Story with strong emphasis on CHARACTERIZATION: "Crossing Over" (read: 977 words, or listen 6:11 minutes) http://storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories…

Story with strong emphasis on IMAGERY and PLOT: "War of the Flies" (read: 2025 words, or listen 12:49 minutes) http://storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories…

Illustrations, commissioned for stories, by Peter Healy.
... Read MoreShow Less

Posted 3 weeks ago

Would you like to write memorable fiction stories?  Stories that are imagined and created as an art form of lasting value?  Of course its possible. First seek the basics of great literary stories you like that have enchanted readers for centuries.  Then read and learn, study and write, and find the best mentor available.   

Usually every fiction-writer takes one or more workshops in creative writing. For eighteen years, I took over 100 workshops and courses . . . and attended hundreds of lectures and readings.  I was left with these impressions.  The quality of teaching is highly variable.  Academic settings do not guarantee educational value.  And wrong, or at least useless, information may be presented that thwarts learning and career development. 

So here are a few suggestions for making a right choice of a workshop for learning LITERARY FICTION.

1. Look for workshops that attract serious students who are passionate about literary fictional stories. With no disapproval intended, too many attendees of workshops are hobbyists without the drive needed for writing great fiction and a fuzzy vision of what they want to achieve.  And there are also many dedicated readers with dreams of being a writer (but little burning desire) who take workshops as a pleasant time to experiment with writing but are unable to contribute to a learning experience for others.

2. Do not take courses that claim to teach multiple disciplines: memoir, creative non-fiction, essay, genre fiction, and fiction.  Each discipline has unique essentials that give vigor to stories; take a workshop dedicated specifically to what you want to accomplish.    

3. Avoid workshops where majority of learning is dependent on students critiquing each-others manuscripts.  Student critiquing is rarely valuable to a serious, dedicated student, and often disseminates wrong concepts and revision corrections, and at times, gives hurtful and unnecessary personal-comments that can ruin a students learning experience.

4. Accept only instructors who have proven abilities to write and teach in literary fiction, which has unique skills to be mastered.  Fiction is imagined and then created, fiction is not just describing remembered friends, acquaintances, and events. Learn to create and revise with imagination; try not to fiddle endlessly with minor stylistic or grammatical changes when structural changes need to be fixed: characterization, plot progression, motivation, emotion, engagement, logic, and purpose for story.    

5. Attend workshops devoted to learning.  Do not accept free time for writing instead of lectures, workshop time, reviewing great literature examples, personal conferences, or readings.  Social events should be minimal and not a raison detre for workshop attendance.  

6. If student readings are offered, there should be instruction on how to present well, guidance on choosing material that will work best for a given audience, attendance required by all faculty and teaching assistants, supervised practice sessions, and post-reading one-on-one critiques.  Do not allow course organizers to schedule student readings--where students are usually reading only to each other--to provide free time for faculty.

7. If prompts are used, investigate the quality of prompts and the abilities of teachers to analyze student responses to prompts.  Prompts need to be created to teach basics in writing fiction that are then critiqued, not on the this-works-for-me premise (subjective), but on principles to improve writing and storytelling that are valuable to the entire class, not directed to just one individual.  Instructors with these qualities may be hard to find.

Of course, workshops provide different results and different effects on different students.  The above suggestions are generally applicable to most writers at any stage, but are, admittedly, offered for the student with goals to writing great literature to the best of their abilities and with dedication to lifelong learning.  Advantages of any workshop are networking, making friends, learning, and new ideas about what you want to achieve with writing, and receiving comments on your work.  So no matter what your choice of workshop or discipline, there is a good chance youll have a good time.    

HAVE YOU HAD A WORKSHOP EXPERIENCE THAT COULD HELP OTHERS?  DO YOU AGREE WITH THE SUGGESTIONS ABOVE?  I would be grateful for your comments.

SAMPLE SHORT STORIES of LITERARY FICTION
As an example of skills that bring clarity of purpose to a student of literary fiction, here are stories emphasizing fiction writing prioritizing certain essentials specific for story.  (Seven useful essentials are: Prose, Characterization, Plot, Narration, Setting, Imagery, Meaning/purpose.)  http://fictioneditorsopinions.com/2016/06/seven-elements-for-writing-fiction-stories/

Story with strong emphasis on CHARACTERIZATION: Crossing Over (read: 977 words, or listen 6:11 minutes) http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/crossing-over/

Story with strong emphasis on IMAGERY and PLOT: War of the Flies (read: 2025 words, or listen 12:49 minutes) http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/crossing-over/

Illustrations, commissioned for stories, by Peter Healy.

Don Shaw, Gerson Villa Lopez and 23 others like this

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Jo Anne Du BoseI totally agree with your suggestions! I look forward to reading your posts...

2 weeks ago   ·  2

Sharon Kearney KendallCarole Danielson, how does this sound?

2 weeks ago   ·  1

Debbie Toscano GiannoneFollowing

2 weeks ago   ·  1

Maria Tatin SedaLook forward

2 weeks ago

Elisa Salinas TurinoOh very interesting

2 weeks ago   ·  1

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