In April, CP and I will attend the Texas Mountain Trail Writers’ Spring Retreat near Alpine. We’ll stay in a cabin, go to a reception and a cowboy breakfast, hear authors and historians, hike, take photographs, write haiku, breathe clean mountain air…
I can hardly wait.
The catch is that each of us has to write a 500-word story about the Old West.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a 500-word anything. I need 500 words just to get started.
I know, I know. Revise, revise, revise.
I decided to use an amusing anecdote my uncle told about my great-grandmother, who lived in West Texas when she was first married. It begins in first person, with the Ranch Wife talking about learning to make biscuits when she was six years old. Then I have her describe the heat and the absence of shade and the patch of grass she slaves over and the wind that turns soil into dirt. And how her husband promised to take her back to Central Texas to live. And bathing children on the porch.
I’ve read it aloud several times. It sounds pretty good. It bears no resemblance to anything Grandmama would have said, at least in that tone of voice. But that’s not a problem. This is fiction.
The problem is that by the time I’m ready to insert the story my uncle told, the Ranch Wife sounds so depressed I can’t figure out how to work it in. Nothing I can say is going to cheer that woman up.
And it’s already over 500 words. After cutting.
I know what’s wrong. I’m using Grandmama’s persona but I’m channeling myself. Heat. Dirt. Wood stoves. Hauling water. Bathing on the porch. Grandmama was a pioneer. I’m a hothouse plant.
So I have a choice. I can start over in a lighter vein. Or I can come up with an ending to match the Ranch Wife’s misery.
Or I can take the easy way out: scrap the Ranch Wife and go with an account of West Texas life as told by the Ranch Dog.