News flash!

What a wonderful day! We woke to a dusting of beautiful white snow light enough I could almost blow it from the sidewalk. This afternoon I indulged my creativity with friends  at a local pottery store. Most exciting, however, was that an inbox message from a friend offered an important insight into the book I’m working on based on my great-aunt Hattie’s diaries.

photo of Hattie WhitcherA quick reminder: I’m transcribing diary entries from my great-aunt Hattie, who was born in 1881 in Dakota Territory and who wrote daily entries from 1920-1957 while she lived on the Rosebud Reservation. I’m also working on a book that tells her life in the form of loosely connected short stories (think of Olive Kitteridge meets Half Broke Horses), and I’ve been trying to think of how to share here small tastes of what I’m working on.

The answer came from yesterday’s post and this morning’s inbox message: flash fiction.

Much of what I’m writing for myself as I choose parts of the diaries to excerpt and narrate is in the form of flash fiction—except it’s not entirely fiction. It’s also not really memoir, although it reads as though Hattie is telling her own story at times (and I think of her as my co-author). Is there a name for what I’m writing? Flash Narrative? Does anyone know?

In any case, once a week or so beginning on Tuesday, I’ll be sharing here flash narratives (for want of a better term) of my work in progress. Below is an entry from this date, 77 years ago, to show you the kind of material with which I’m working (Will is Hattie’s husband, Maggie her live-in helper since Hattie broke her leg the year before, and Fritz and Ben farm help). How would you write a flash piece, fiction or otherwise, about cow chip heat?

February 26, 1934: Was real cold in the night, 24 below, after sunrise bright and ground was covered with snow. My throat hurt all night and yet today and I felt miserable all over, only played solitaire, read magazines, played pitch in forenoon with Maggie against Fritz and Ben. While Maggie got dinner, Will and I played rummy and again after supper with Fritz and Will. Maggie got the meals and did all the necessary work.

Fritz gave the stock hay from the east end of the big stack of alfalfa. Ben, Fritz and Will cut wood after dinner. Ben took a Red Cross quilt home, for he got so cold in bed last night that he had to get up at 4 a.m. and build a fire. He burns cow-chips, so not much heat at that. Noble Moore, Jr. went by to the store and back home again. The temperature never got more than 12 above, but the sun shone bright, was hard on the eyes.

13 thoughts on “News flash!

    • Siggi, thank you! Hattie has nested in my heart, and I know I must find a way to share her story with the world. Please feel free to share any ideas of what you find interesting or would like to learn more about.

  1. My immediate reaction (which would change a million times if I thought about it too much) is that you could write a flash piece from Hattie’s perspective while she played rummy with Will. The two of them could be silent, never saying a word, but reacting with their eyes and facial expressions about the other people around them as the characters went about the activities you described. You could embellish one or more of the characters’ histories, going off into back stories about them, and how one or more of them affected Will and Hattie in some way, or, some “secret” event that only the two of them know about, and I see the ending as some kind of wordless, triumphant and definitive card play by one of them that silently says what is never spoken.

    I’m submitting this comment without even going back and “correcting” it. I think you are so lucky to have such a treasure trove of ideas to create stories. Good for you!

    • Ellen Marie, wow!! What terrific ideas! I can see the scene in my mind exactly as you describe it. This is why I’m glad I took the risk to share my “Hattie book” idea here.

      I just read your blog post about making changes in our lives–very inspiring. You go, girl, indeed! As Elizabeth Gilbert would say, Ole to you. 😀

      • Thanks, Lisa. I don’t have the discipline (or time) to write on my blog as often as I should. But, it’s supposed to be fun, right? I don’t have an agenda or a focus. I just ramble about something or other when I have the time.

        I think you’re very fortunate to have a personal family history in “Hattie.” Lots of inspiration to draw from. Thanks for sharing.

        Elle Marie

    • Rebecca, your support means so much! I am definitely lucky to have so much recorded family history (the diaries are just the tip). Supposedly Hattie kept diaries when she was younger, too, but they were destroyed.

  2. This is the first I’ve heard of this project. I’m totaly intriqued. I like the ideas by Ellemariegray – to go beyond the scene set and get into possible character attributes/flaws, or to what effect/affect the people around the main character contribute. Now you have me wondering of my own family stories. Thanks

    • Keroome, I think the flash narrative idea is something a lot of people would enjoy, maybe just in response to an old family photo. It’s also a good way to strengthen family connections.

      It’s encouraging to know that others find Hattie’s diaries interesting, too. Thank you! 🙂

  3. I believe what you are writing “flash Narrative” is called Slice of Life. Fictional Autobiography is what you are creating.

    I find the Fictional Autobiography an intriguing genre, that I was first introduced to reading a NY Times Review of Jamaica Kincaid’s: Autobiography of My Mother, although I had difficulty with the explicit sexuality in her work, decade’s ago.

    How does one write about “cow-chips”, I believe the word stench would need to be included.

    • Aligaeta,thank you!! Fictional Autobiography. 🙂 I knew someone would have the answer.

      I agree about the cow-chips. I’ll have to ask my dad what they smell like when they burn. Eeewww.

  4. What a neat idea…a flash piece on a family photograph.
    Thanks for that idea…
    Also, I had been sometimes wondering about the snippets of information I have been saving…a quote, a sentence I like, things like that…interesting threads of conversation…and now this has encouraged me to continue doing it and using the information in flash pieces and encouraging my writing group to do the same.
    Thank you so much.

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