Friday, October 04, 2013

Happy endings?

Do you have to be happy to write happy endings? Robert Smith of The Cure once said he writes his best stuff when he's depressed, but plenty of people have still enjoyed lightweight happy poppy songs like "Mint Car" and "Friday I'm in Love" as well as such darkly beautiful songs as "Just Like Heaven," "Lovesong," and "A Letter to Elise."

I've worked more on "Sunset and Shadow" than on any other story I've ever written. It's been through eight official revisions, plus a ninth on paper (consisting of some quick changes to a printed copy) and a tenth that I've made to my performance copy.

I've presented it three times now - at The Vintage in Scranton during the "24 Hours of Art" weekend immediately after I had made the "present tense" revision, at the Third Friday Open Mic at Arts Seen in Wilkes-Barre on September 20, and at The Living Room Open Mic in Stroudsburg on September 22. The crowd in Wilkes-Barre was slightly smaller (about twenty people), somewhat older (evenly distributed from early twenties to late sixties, with a possible outlier on each end), and mostly made up of people active in the local literary scene (poets, writers, actors, and a few painters and at least one sculptor thrown in.) The Stroudsburg open mic (which is held every Sunday) attracted about thirty people, also with a wide range of ages but definitely skewed to the younger end, mostly musicians - including one who had been driving through Pennsylvania from Ohio to Massachusetts, noticed on the site that there was an open mic up ahead, and decided to stop in.

Stroudsburg tends to be a, shall we say, energetic group. I had presented some poems to them on August 18, so some of them might have remembered me, but I wasn't sure how they'd respond to my prose. I read "One Friday Evening in a Supermarket Parking Lot" (the "psychic cat" story) and "Sunset and Shadow." I have some beats in two points in "Sunset and Shadow" where you don't know if the story is about to take a left turn into horror, or at least murder (it is, after all, a love story). When I paused at one of these points I noticed - nothing. No sounds in the room around me. I looked up, over the top of my glasses, and saw the room filled with people - all looking at me, and listening to me. It was...unnerving. And in a moment I felt transformed into a tribal storyteller, holding the tribe together through my tales. Afterwards, when I took my seat, someone paid me the biggest compliment: "I was there, on the bridge."

"Sunset and Shadow" ends on a down beat. I won't ruin the ending if you haven't read it yet. But I thought of a way of giving it a happy ending. Yes, maybe it's a Hollywood ending, or at least a happy indie production ending, but it's happy. It doesn't require much in the way of a change, and it doesn't require me to twist the characters out of line from where they are now - not by much, anyway.

Am I happy? I think I might be. I don't have much reason to be, not yet. But I think I'm getting there. Maybe, maybe, maybe, things will swing the way I'm working to make them swing. And maybe the happy ending will be justified.

Maybe I'm writing my own happy ending. We can all allow ourselves those once in a while, right?

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