Guest Blogger Jesse Raven:  Who You Callin’ Short?

Guest Blogger Jesse Raven: Who You Callin’ Short?

Let’s see…when and how did I first meet Jesse Raven? Aah, I remember now. It was April 2014 and one of my current Twitter followers had RT’d a few of his tweets that day as he was celebrating his birthday. I learned a few things. He lived in Pittsburgh. Loved cigars and good beer (and wine, I later learned). And besides being a fellow Aprilean, he was the T-counterpart to my INFJ, in Myers-Briggs personality indicator speak. Yep, he was an INTJ, he willingly shared, so I knew precisely what kind of guy I was about to interact with out there — a less schmaltzy, touchie-feelie version of me! Heh. As I began to interact with him on Twitter, I quickly learned he was also funny, clever and very talented, once I popped out to his website to experience his signature style of storytelling.

 

I had not really explored the short story world all that much yet I found quite a payoff when I read Jesse’s tales. When I knew that I was reviving my guest blog series and wanted to bring to readers an eclectic bunch of storytellers, I knew that Jesse would be on that invitation wish list. So… I am proud to introduce my friend and fellow writer Jesse Raven as the caretaker of my site today as part of Summer Blog Takeover. Take it away, Jesse! ~ Chris 

 

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Who You Callin’ Short? by Jesse Raven

 

I was floored when Chris asked me to do this. I’m just some guy in Pittsburgh with a website and some stories. I think that might be part of the plan, though.  We’ll come back to that.

 

I enjoy love writing short stories. Why? They’re quick, intense, and focused. They’re over almost as soon as they begin yet they make an impact on the reader. While able to stand alone, they might be a glimpse into a larger story (mine generally are…but not always).

 

One is a short piece that stands alone and there really isn’t anything additional to tell. The reader is able to put it together with the information given. We don’t care what the secondary characters are doing outside of the story. We don’t really care what happened prior to the beginning or after the last line. It’s a peek at a man’s life from his perspective. This is a piece that told the whole story for me. I feel like I got it all out.

 

Predatory Looker is different. Set in a coffee shop (reminiscent of one I used to frequent in Buffalo), there are unanswered questions that leave the reader hanging a bit. Maybe the reader is curious about the friendly guy at the counter and what happens next. The back story of the two main characters isn’t alluded to in the least. Finally, what happens after the final scene? Does she ever figure it out? Does he ever tell her? This is a piece with a lot of meat left on the bone and it’s slated for an expanded version in a compilation I’m writing.

 

That leads me to a question I often get. “Why don’t you write the longer piece the first time? Why put the shorter version out there?”

 

Good question!

 

I started writing flash fiction as an outlet to pages upon pages of academic writing I cranked-out as part of a doctoral program. I needed something to keep different parts of my brain engaged and flash fiction worked. A story by Kerrie Salsac (@KerrieSalsac) led me to something called Sunday Photo Fiction ran by Al (@ Kattermonran). Quite simply, Al provides a picture each week and writers tell a story in 200 words or less. Stories are posted and a community of readers and writers post comments. I loved everything about it and it fueled my writing. You might think 200 words is an easy goal. Who couldn’t string 200 words together? After all, we’re sitting at about 400 words at this point in this article. Now…tell a complete thought, scene, story in half as much space. There are some tremendous writers playing every week on Sunday Photo Fiction. You should check them out.

 

From there, I jumped into writing prompt competition sites such as TipsyLit and YeahWrite. They’d provide a prompt (first line, last line, a song, a photo, a theme, or any combination of them),a word limit of 500-750 words, and a deadline. Voting ensued and the winner snagged bragging rights and publication on the site. The longer length gave me opportunities to write longer pieces and fill-in more blanks for the reader. A bigger plane needs a longer runway.

 

Consequently, nearly every piece on my site is 750 words or less.  There are a couple of longer pieces but those were the result of the story refusing to comply with the word-count! Whether you’re starting-out or established, writing prompt sites are fun and challenging. It’s interesting to see which direction writers take a prompt. Just because each story that week starts with the same first line or is based on the same photo, don’t think they’re going to be the same. The prompt is simply the jumping-off point.

 

That brings me to my second most-asked question, “Where do you get your story ideas?” Prompts aside, my ideas come from a combination of my surroundings and my own little head (it’s actually a big round German head). My writing tends to lean toward creepy, paranormal, semi-erotic, etc. For instance, I’m looking out my window at a garbage tote (Monday is garbage day). It’s full enough that the lid is lifted a few inches on one corner. My thoughts are, “What’s in there???” The immediate list of things for a story are: ripped bed sheets, body parts (cliché), Styrofoam heads without wigs, leg braces, clothes, or…a microcosm that started last Monday and is complete with prophets preaching the end is near. Monday’s garbage truck will be their demise. Each of those contents has any number of twists at its disposal. The twist is important. No, the twist is crucial. How would I make a twist with something as cliché as body parts? Easy! The homeowner IS a serial killer but he’s not sloppy enough to put his victims in his own garbage tote. These body parts were randomly deposited by a drifter (who is also a serial killer). The universe always finds a way to stick it to bad people.

 

Just like everything you read for novel writing, I need a character or two that the reader cares about (either loves or hates), some conflict, and a twist.

 

So if you have an interest in writing short pieces, I’d recommend you read and write at a prompt site or two. If you need help finding one, let me know. I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. Generally supportive, the feedback still calls attention to areas of improvement.

 

“Get tighter here.”

“Why did you include this?”

“You lost me here – what happened?”

 

All are helpful – REALLY helpful. The best is when someone says, “I know there’s more to this story. Please write the longer version.”

 

So…I think I might have some insight as to why some guy from Pittsburgh is telling you about his process of writing short pieces.  Let me see if I can wrap this up in a nice little package. We’ve all watched YouTube videos of interviews with authors, read interviews with them, or even purchased/borrowed their books on writing (On Writing…see what I did there). They all say essentially the same things, “I sit down and write the story”. No kidding?  Really?  Thanks for that mind-blowing insight into your creativity. The fact of the matter is…they’re correct.

 

When I get comments about the pieces on my site, I get a smile on my face that outweighs everything else. I’m not published (yet) but I have a compilation of short stories in the works and it’ll be ready soon. It will have longer versions of some existing stories and some new stories that have been rattling-around in my head. I’m telling you as a day-job working guy who writes when he can get some uninterrupted time with a pen or a keyboard, “Sit down and write the story.” Start off small. I think the small word count will keep you focused. Famous authors do it, small-time writers do it, you can do it.

 

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JesseRaven_revThose who follow Jesse Raven on social media and his website know that the talented scribe embraces all that is “the Burgh”— Pittsburgh, PA that is, but Jesse actually grew up in a small town in Indiana before moving to Chicago, Green Bay, and Buffalo on his way to his current hometown. Throughout his travels, he says he’s been collecting settings and character traits across the country. He is the oldest of three and is currently pursuing his PhD. Despite keeping busy with work and school, he dedicates time to compiling his first soon-to-be-published collection of short stories Raven Thoughts, Vol. 1. I’ll certainly update readers on an arrival date and where to purchase once it becomes available. In the meantime, you can connect with the writer on Twitter at @JesseRaven and keep up with his latest original work and book news at his site www.RavenThoughts.com.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Very interesting….love the fact that you have the small town quality to add to the Burgh. I have always found that German heritage lends itself to intelligence and creativity.

    • Thank you! I see stories everywhere…which is probably why I have such a hard time actually completing a project!

      Thanks for reading & commenting!
      J-

  2. I wrote some flash fiction–though it wasn’t called that–back when I was doing my doctorate. But I was also working on traditional length short fiction. I’ve always loved the sense of three-dimensionality with a short story, the way I can see it whole, unlike a novel or any other genre of book I’m working on that’s too large to see all the way around…..

    • Hi Lev!

      Novels seem like such a massive undertaking with so many moving parts that need to mesh properly or it’s a mess. Short stories and flash fiction are different animals altogether.

      I agree shorter pieces are easier to see in their entirety but can be difficult to support a full story or a scene with enough meat to stand on its own. I love them.

      PS – you’re on my “To read” short-list 😉

  3. The stories you write are ALWAYS worthy of a read. I am writing a book at the moment so don’t always get time to go round sites. Although I do read every story that is in the weekly prompt now that I am back at the helm again.

    It’s great to see an insight as to what makes your muse tick and that he (or she) is not afraid of getting the flappy appendages a bit mucky.

    Keep up the good work Jesse.

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