Sunday Scribblings--How to...

The prompt for this week's Sunday Scribblings is "Instructions." Up first, the beginning of a story by George Singleton. Up last, the beginning of an in-progress story by me. (Singleton is hardly the warm-up act; I'm putting myself up last in case you only want to read the real professional here).

"How to Collect Fishing Lures"

by George Singleton, from The Half-Mammals of Dixie

Move off the family farm, go to a state university that offers a degree in textile management, get a job at a cotton mill that will eventually fail during the Reagan years, marry a woman who will go back to college later on in life then leave you for three states south, have one son named with only initials--like V.O.--and try to get him to understand the importance of moving out of the textile town, get fired so that the company no longer has to pay a pension, and spend too many days sending out résumés to other failing cotton mills that have no need for a forty-seven-year-old midlevel executive. Send your son off to college and wonder what he sees in literature, history, philosophy, art, and Eastern religions.

"How to Teach Beginning Fiction Writing, or Remember the Badger"

Tell the story of how your father-in-law accidentally trapped a badger early in the semester, as an introduction to the use of sensory details. Note the badger’s pinky-length claws, rasping against the cage’s steel. The animal’s black gums and bared, pointed teeth. How his fur spiked, and his skin emitted a fear-laced scent. Talk about how the cage was in the back end of your father-in-law’s pickup, and how your nine-year-old nephew and his friend climbed into the bed of the truck and poked at the badger with sticks. Note how the badger hissed like a cat, and released an even muskier scent, one that smelled about exactly like you-don’t-want-to-fuck-with-me. Tell your students, as a side note, that badgers, though beloved in England, are known to blind their enemies—especially dogs—by removing the animals’ eyes. Pause for a moment, let them conjure their first pets, Fluffy and Rags and Snowball, bloody and eyeless.

Then step away from the badger; provide some setting, some causality. Tell them this didn’t happen in Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin Badgers, but in Illinois, just outside a town called Rio. Pronounce it the right way—Rye-oh. Tell them it’s spelled like the Spanish word for river but that there isn’t a river in sight, just Pope Creek. Pronounce creek the right way—crick, like lick or trick. It will give you country cred, render you down-home and wise. Explain to them that badgers are not a regular occurrence around your father-in-law’s homestead, that he puts out his handmade traps for raccoons, to keep them out of the garbage cans in the garage, but follow this up with something about the past summer’s drought. Usually, badgers feed on the grubs nestled in the earth along the banks of Pope Creek. This past summer, though, Pope Creek dried up, leaving the bones of dead fish poking up out of its dried bottom, and the drought sent the grubs burrowing deeper into the soil. The badgers traveled toward the house in search of better soil, more bugs. And then one of those badgers ended up in the trap your father-in-law had set with an open-faced peanut butter sandwich on its trip-board.


Southern Writer said...

Fun read. Nicely done on both counts.

Verity said...

I really enjoyed reading both excerpts, and would gladly read more of your work in progress.