Wednesday, October 31, 2012


So I decided to do Finslippy's "The Practice of Writing." The ninth prompt is about reading, reading a lot, to see how other writers solve problems. She suggests we transcribe writing we like whenever we’re feeling stuck. At the very least, it will get the hands moving.  Then "use the passage you've chosen to transcribe as inspiration…"
I’m transcribing part of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" from the collection of short stories by Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From.

“What about the old couple?” Laura said. “You didn’t finish that story you started.”
                Laura was having a hard time lighting her cigarette. Her matches kept going out.
                The sunshine inside the room was different now, changing, getting thinner. But the leaves outside the window were still shimmering, and I stared at the pattern they made on the panes and on the Formica counter. They weren’t the same patterns, of course.
                “What about the old couple?” I said.
                “Older but wiser,” Terri said.
                Mel stared at her.
                Terri said, “Go on with your story, hon. I was only kidding. Then what happened?”
                “Terri, sometimes,” Mel said.
                “Please, Mel,” Terri said. “Don’t always be so serious, sweetie. Can’t you take a joke?”
                “Where’s the joke?” Mel said.
                He held his glass and gazed steadily at his wife.
                “What happened?” Laura said.
                Mel fastened his eyes on Laura. He said, “Laura, if I didn’t have Terri and if I didn’t love her so much, and if Nick wasn’t my best friend, I’d fall in love with you. I’d carry you off, honey,” he said.
                “Tell your story,” Terri said. “Then we’ll go to that new place, okay?”
                “Okay,” Mel said. “Where was I?” he said. He stared at the table and then he began again.
                “I dropped in to see each of them every day, sometimes twice a day if I was up doing other calls anyway. Casts and bandages, head to foot, the both of them. You know, you’ve seen it in the movies. That’s just the way they looked, just like in the movies. Little eye-holes and nose-holes and mouth-holes. And she had to have her legs slung up on top of it. Well, the husband was very depressed for the longest while. Even after he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very depressed. Not about the accident, though. I mean, the accident was one thing, but it wasn’t everything. I’d get up to his mouth-hole, you know, and he’d say no, it wasn’t the accident exactly but it was because he couldn’t see her through his eye-holes. He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.”
                Mel looked around the table and shook his head at what he was going to say.
                “I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at the fucking woman.”
                We all looked at Mel.
                “Do you see what I’m saying?” he said.

Maybe we were a little drunk by then. I know it was hard keeping things in focus. The light was draining out of the room, going back through the window where it had come from. Yet nobody made a move to get up from the table to turn on the overhead light.
                “Listen,” Mel said. “Let’s finish this fucking gin. There’s about enough left here for one shooter all around. Then let’s go eat. Let’s go to the new place.”
”What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

I love that Carver doesn’t worry about his dialog attributions. Everybody “said”. Period. He’s so bold about it, he even repeats it in places where it’s not necessary, as in “He said, ‘Laura, if I didn’t have Terri and if I didn’t love her so much, and if Nick wasn’t my best friend, I’d fall in love with you. I’d carry you off, honey,’ he said.” I love his tiny, unimportant details that add so much to characterization, the little objects that people fidget with, how Laura’s having trouble with her matches. His characters, their dialog, the movements of their eyes and what they notice, are so real without much embellishment at all. He’s brilliant. So here’s my attempt at a Carverish scene:

                “I’m not saying he was right,” Joel said. He winced and shifted in his chair. “But with a woman like that…”
                “Woman like that, hell,” Doreen said.
                Joel said, “I’m just saying. With a woman like that, you have to wonder.”
                Doreen said, “You think she doesn’t have the same rights as anybody else?” She was sitting straight as a board. “You wouldn’t have done anything any different than him.” Her ash was getting long. The huge, plastic ashtray sat right in the middle of the table. It was the same color orange as her hair. She stared at him.
                “I’m not saying I know what I’d do in a situation like that,” Joel said. “I’m just saying I sure as hell wouldn’t have done that.” The ash from her cigarette finally fell into the laces of his shoe. Neither one of them looked at it.
                I looked out the window. I didn’t say anything. One of those charter buses went by, one of those  huge double-deckers. It could be going anywhere. It could be from anywhere. I couldn’t see inside.
                Doreen said, “Without the love of a good woman, you don’t know what you’d  do.” Too late, she tapped her cigarette. “You’d probably be in jail by now,” she said.
                Joel winced and shifted again, his leg straight out like a rifle barrel. He didn’t say anything. Doreen took another drag and blew it out noisily. She crushed out the butt.
                “Mexico,” I said. “I bet it was going to Mexico.”

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