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There are a lot of bad story premises out there. Sometimes, we might have an idea and think, "I've never seen a story like that before." It would be great if that meant we were brilliant, original thinkers, but instead we've probably never seen that story before because it is a really bad idea.

 

The online speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons  has a fantastic list of "stories we've seen too often," and a second list just for horror stories, that I like to share with my students. Share it with your students too, especially since so many young writers want to write sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.

 

Here are some of the gems:

  • The characters' actions are described in a way meant to fool the reader into thinking they're humans, but in the end it turns out they're not humans, as would have been obvious to anyone looking at them.
  • In the future, an official government permit is required in order to do some particular ordinary thing, but the specific thing a permit is required for isn't (usually) revealed until the end of the story.
  • Someone calls technical support; wacky hijinx ensue. The title of the story is 1-800-SOMETHING-CUTE.
  • Brutal violence against women is depicted in loving detail, and the man has been forced by circumstances or magic to rape a woman even though he really doesn't want to, honest.**
  • In the future, white people are oppressed by people with other skin colors.
  • In the future, everyone in the society is gay or lesbian, and straight people are considered perverts.

**I was in a class where someone turned in a story exactly like this. It was awkward.


Sawdust, Grit, and Girls: A Novel

Case is the son of carnival workers who grew up on America’s highways and midways. By eighteen, he had visited all forty-eight states in the continental US and met countless young people who wanted to run away from home and join the circus. Case however, always loved the four months a year he spent each winter in Florida and dreamed of living there year round—of running away from the carnival world and finding a real home.

 

As a young man, he attempts to build a sedentary life in Gibsonton, the closest thing he has to a hometown. He races stock cars and lives with his best friend Wyatt, though neither of them is certain how to make a living outside a carnival and they struggle to fit into normal society. When a hurricane traps Case, Wyatt, and Wyatt’s sister, Afton, together in a house for a week, Case falls deeply in love with Afton. Case tries to hide his feelings for her, but when Wyatt finds out, he feels deeply betrayed. The two friends fight, and Case leaves Gibsonton, returning to a life on the road.

 

Years later, Wyatt dies in a car accident and Case returns to Gibsonton searching for Afton in a carny community undergoing rapid change. As the old generation of circus and carnival folk has died off, Spanish speaking migrant farm workers have moved into Gibsonton, changing the nature of the town. Both communities share the common experience of traveling the country in summer and wintering in Gibsonton, yet tensions run high between them. While searching for Afton, Case is thrust into a fractious working relationship with Yessica, a daughter of farm workers who wants to become a carny.

 

Case’ search is not only for his lost love, but also for the meaning of home and community in a transient world.

 

 Set in Gibsonton, Florida, which has been a carnival and circus wintering ground since the 1920s, this novel will appeal to fans of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, Kevin Baker’s Dreamland, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and Cathy Day’s The Circus in Winter.


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Friends' Websites

Doug Alderson

His articles and photographs have been featured in Wildlife Conservation, American Forests, Sea Kayaker, Sierra, and Florida Wildlife. He is the author of six books and is currently the Florida Paddling Trails Coordinator for Florida's Office of Greenways and Trails.

 

Hell's Ditch

This is not an up to date commentary on worldly affairs, nor is it a personal narrative of some kind. It is instead essays and ephemera, with no pretense towards any particular end. It may fail to enlighten or educate.

 

Alissa Nutting

Ecco/HarperCollins published her debut novel, Tampa in 2013. She is author of the short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, which won the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction.

 

Saw Palm

The one and only Florida-themed literary journal.

 

Karen Brown

She is the author of the novel The Longings of Wayward Girls and two short story collections, Pins & Needles and Little Sinners and Other Stories. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, The New York Times, and in many literary journals.

 

Ira Sukrungruang

Most of Ira's childhood was spent eating at McDonalds, playing Nintendo, watching kung fu movies, and writing horrendous unrequited love stories.

 

Rita Ciresi

Her first collection of short stories, Mother Rocket, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. She is the author of the novels, Blue Italian, Pink Slip and its sequel, Remind Me Again Why I Married You, Bring Back My Body to Me, and a volume of linked short stories, Sometimes I Dream in Italian.

 

John Henry Fleming

Author of the novels The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman, The Book I Will Write, a serial novel-in-emails, Fearsome Creatures of Florida, an eco-minded bestiary of legendary Florida creatures, and Songs for the Deaf, which gathers twenty years’ worth of stories published in McSweeney’s, The North American Review, Mississippi Review, Fourteen Hills, Atticus Review, Kugelmass, and Carve, among others.


Oakland, Maryland


Tornado At Midnight

this story first appeared in the online journal

Doornobs and Bodypaint, issue #69—the love issue

 

       The red Camaro pulled in, the glass door burst open, and the clerk raised his shotgun to the head of the man in the black ski mask. Here was his chance to be a hero and make up for his asswipe mom's abuse.

       "Freeze!"

       The man's eyes grew wide. The hot dog rollers churned. The man pulled off his mask. He was only a freckly kid.

       The clerk thought of himself and his mother. He lowered his gun.

       The Camaro killed them both.

 

 

The story behind the story: One night in class during my MFA, my professor, John Henry Fleming, put a disasterously bad flash fiction story on the board for the class to fix. He had done a great job of writing a truly awful story and there was no way to rescue it. The eight lines that appear above were the best we as a class could do. As a joke, Dr. Fleming sent it out, and somehow, against all odds and reason, it was published. The title was inspired by another bad story, which ended an otherwise reasonable teenage love story with a surprise tornado. I guess it was supposed to be a twist ending! Hahaha. Yes, that was bad, but the Crypt Keeper would have loved it!

 

Congratulations to everyone who collaborated on “Tornado at Midnight”: Robert Alderman, Ashley Annis, Ari Asendorf, Ryan Cheng, Phillippe Diederich, Christine Lasek, Cameron Hunt McNabb, Darrell Nicholson, Riley Passmore, Sharon Pinson, Brogan Sullivan, Robert Toye, and Michael Winter.


The Adventure Library

The Adventure Library
1886 Map of the Globe Showing the British Empire

I love reading and writing fiction, but when I read nonfiction I'm drawn to books about nature, the outdoors, and adventure. For example, as I prepared for my five-month kayak trip in 2008, I wanted to read accounts by kayakers who had undertaken similar long-distance paddles. This was not really part of my preparations—I simply wanted to read the stories of adventurers to see if I would experience the same trials and feel the same emotions as they had. In other words, it was a desire for communion with other adevnturers.

 

Because my experience creating the Florida Home Library was so rewarding, I decided to begin a new project with a similar idea. The Adventure Library is an attempt to create a online bibliography of nonfiction adventure/outdoor/nature books. For this project, I have mostly limited my scope to primary sources—works were written by explorers, adventure seekers, and survivors, telling their own stories in their own words.

 


Chassahowitzka River, Florida