Auburn blogger struggles to keep it short
For a writer, Jason Sinclair Long is obsessed with numbers. Before he types a word, he rolls a pair of dice – one green, one gray – both eight-sided relics from pre-teen Dungeons and Dragons bouts.
Shake. Toss. Sigh. Write.
He tells the story of a murder in 31 words. A marriage in 87. A sci-fi ditty in 12. Or a travel adventure in 63. The lower the number, usually, the longer he spends in front of his laptop.
“I fear the elevens,” said Long, 37, of Auburn. “Sometimes a very, very short story takes an hour or two, in some cases more, because I labor over word choice and sentence structure.”
Long started his project, Flash Fiction 365, on Jan. 1 this year. He was inspired by the six-word story, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” and a schedule increasingly packed with teaching and raising his toddler son.
Long set out to write and post one very short story on his blog every day until Dec. 31. It could be any genre, between 11 and 88 words long. Titles don’t count toward the word total.
The results sometimes read like experimental poetry. Underneath each tale, Long has held himself to the rules of short-story composition: Each must contain an exposition, characters, plot and setting. There must be some kind of conflict that arcs into a climax, then resolves in denouement.
“I’m not always able to do it,” Long said. “That’s the thing about doing it every day. You miss, miss, miss, miss, and then you hit. Then you miss again.”
On Feb. 23, Long rolled an 88 and wrote a hit, called “Balancing Racks”:
Victor couldn’t remember the last time Stella wanted to play Scrabble period, let alone all night.
Next morning, dead even, they ignored their glassy-eyed stares and went one more.
Stella triple-worded her way to victory.
“Feeling superior?” V asked.
She hummed lightly, smiling in reply.
He boxed the game, shelved it, brewed Darjeeling.
She opened a window, let in the air.
“I cheated,” Stella said, at last.
“Not at Scrabble.”
They held their tea close, warming their hands against the worst of it.
Long had plenty of experience with long-form writing before he picked up his dice. He has a master’s degree in playwriting from UCLA. Ten of his plays have been produced at small theaters in New York and Los Angeles, he said, and he’s written most of a novel.
But since he’s been working as a drama teacher at Placerville High School – going on nine years now, with a four-year break as a performer in Blue Man Group – and since he and his wife have been raising their son, now 2 1/2 years old, Long became frustrated with the blinking cursor on his screen.
“It was increasingly difficult to get any writing done, let alone feel like I was getting anywhere,” he said. “I wanted to feel like I was achieving something.”
Now he seizes a couple hours a day during his son’s nap, or between classes at school. Whether on vacation or floored with a stomach flu, he maintained the daily ritual. When his faith in the whole thing waned, he turned it into a 12-word story, “Sisyphus and His Pal, Bruce.”
“This is getting ridiculous.”
“Will it ever cease?”
Long is undecided about what to do with the blog when the 365 days are up. After the New Year, he may choose his favorite 12 short, short stories, then develop each one into a regular short story every month. But his friends are urging him to try to get the 2009 collection published as a book.
While Long says the exercise ended up taking as long as it would have to write parts of a novel every day, saving no time in the long run – “none, none at all” – he did learn to savor the time he spent not writing.
“When I was doing my master’s, anytime I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing,” he said. “With this project, almost the reverse has come true. I do the project, devote silent time to it, but when it’s done, it’s done.”
And he can go on a hike with his wife or play with his son.
“Turning a 14-word sentence into an eight-word sentence has made me appreciate the minutiae in other parts of life,” he said. “Just putting that orange Lego on top of the brown and seeing my son’s face light up.
“It’s given me a bigger appreciation for the smaller things.”