Tuesday, October 27, 2015


It's been nearly two weeks since I've written any fiction for my Fiction Writer's Workshop project. Frankly, I've been too busy writing projects for which I get paid to devote time to this "labor of love."

There's another reason I've gone silent, though. Chapter Two in the book is about Settings. In reading the various exercises for the chapter, I really don't find any of them interesting let alone inspiring. I don't remember much about places where I grew up or for the most part, even care about them.

Last Sunday, I was telling a friend of mine about his project, and expressing some frustration at not getting very far. He told me that everything he's read about writing says it has more to do with persistence and developing the habit of writing every day than it does with sudden inspiration or having an idea that "magically" unfolds into a perfect story.

I was reminded of a line from the 1987 film Throw Momma From the Train, "Remember, a writer writes, always." I felt kind of guilty of wanting to "just write" the way some kid who buys a used six-string guitar expects to "just play" the minute he opens his beginner's chord book.

But while I believe setting is important, and a created "world" of one kind or another can take on a life of its own, I'm not sure I can make a setting the main "character" in even a very short story. 

That said, one thing comes to mind. This is the best I can remember of the "incident". It was probably around 1962.

The German soldiers were hiding in a plastic house. It crudely simulated a one room stone structure, but it was clearly plastic. It had been set on fire before, because the roof was partially blackened and melted, with gaping holes showing in several spots.

But that's OK. The soldiers were plastic, too.

Six-year-old Jimmy visited his Grandpa's house a lot now that he and his parents moved back home to Omaha from Spain. Dad was in the Air Force and they moved around every couple of years or so. Jimmy barely remembered living here before they moved to Spain when he was three.  He'd be going into the first grade next month. It would be the first time he was in a school where all the kids didn't have Dads in the service.

He didn't know his older cousin Donny much, but being kids, they played together whenever Jimmy and his folks were visiting Grandpa. Donny played "World War Two" better than anyone.

The plastic house with the toy German soldiers inside was sitting on the cracked, granular sidewalk just in front of Grandpa's house. The sidewalk wasn't smooth like the ones in front of Jimmy's house across the river in Council Bluffs. It was like little rocks had been mixed in with the cement so that it was rough feeling when Jimmy ran his fingers across it.

Tree roots pushed, shoved, and pulled at different places in the sidewalk, so it was cracked and broken, higher in some places, and lower in others. Jimmy's knee still hurt a little because he tripped on a raised part of the sidewalk a little earlier. Mommy put a band-aid on the torn skin, and he proudly wore the rip in his pants as proof he could get hurt and not cry.

Jimmy looked up from the sidewalk as Donny pulled the forbidden model airplane glue and matches out of his back pocket. The two boys whispered like foreign conspirators planning a coup.
"Are we gonna get in trouble," Jimmy whined. "Shut up," Donny commanded. "It'll be fine."

Donny applied a layer of glue from the tube, releasing a nasty chemical stench into Jimmy's nostrils, but he was too scared to complain again. Every warning his Dad sternly delivered about not playing with matches was marshaling his guilt and fear of being spanked. Only the promise of adventure, of playing Americans against Germans with a real burning house kept him from going back inside Grandpa's.

Well, that, and he didn't want Donny to think he was a baby.

Donny smeared the glue with his fingers around the edges of the holes in the dark, gray roof of the toy house. The plastic walls were a lighter gray, almost the same color as the sidewalk, and these bland tones were violently offset by the deep green of the grass on either side of the cement walk.

Donny put the cap back on the tube and wiped the glue left over on his fingers around in the grass. Then he pulled one of the matches out of the match book and scraped the head against the striker. It didn't light, so he did it again, and when it burst into flame, Jimmy involuntarily pulled back a little.

Scene from the TV show "Combat"
Donny's eyes were as bright as the flame as he lowered the match toward the moist airplane model glue glistening on the roof. "Get your soldiers ready to attack," Donny reminded Jimmy.

Jimmy quickly positioned his plastic green "American" toy soldiers in the grass at the edge of the sidewalk facing the front of the toy house, as if they were hiding in a large field.

Each U.S. soldier had a grim and unmoving look in his face. They were posed to attack, but then, they could never change their faces or pose, anymore than they could move their feet from the flat pieces of plastic that let them stand up. Each blade of grass was like an enormous stalk of emerald corn or wheat, offering cover from the enemy who have taken shelter in the abandoned French farm house.

It was like Jimmy was watching his favorite TV show Combat.

The American artillery was firing at the German position. A shell hit the house right on top! Donny lit the glue on fire and quickly dropped the match through one of the holes in the plastic roof. The house was on fire. This was war!

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