This morning, I depart from my usual “diary” style post, wandering into fiction. I doubt I’ll continue working on this. But maybe…


Glisten Pace loved to write. She was not a bad writer, but needed a lot of improvement before she could even think about getting published. Every week, she and a group of several other of her small-town neighbors gathered at a group member’s home, where they read aloud what they had written during the preceding week. Yesterday, Glisten began by reading her short story:

Though you won’t find Darkwater, Arkansas on maps—the place exists. If it existed only in my mind, the events that happened there could not have taken place. But they did.

Todd and Sharon were happily married—to other people—and it was not uncommon to hear people comment about how the two of them and their respective spouses seemed to be the perfect couples. Sharon’s husband, Steven, was a retired locomotive engineer who fancied himself an all-around handyman, archer, shade-tree-mechanic, and paintball enthusiast. Todd’s wife, Wendy, had retired from a career as a contract forensic accountant, consulting with law enforcement and with companies who suspected senior financial officers of ineptitude or criminality or both. 

By now, you know more about Todd’s and Sharon’s spouses than you do about the main characters involved in the activities I am about to describe. Let me resolve that matter.

Todd had “retired” as a low-mid-level redundant executive with a universally despised life insurance company. He tried to find a similar role with a similar company after his separation from the insurance outfit, but gave up soon thereafter when he discovered the intrinsic appeal of retirement.

Sharon had been grant manager for a philanthropic organization that supported human services non-profits with grant funds. She had enjoyed her job, but when the opportunity to take early retirement presented itself, she jumped at the chance. Coincidentally, Sharon’s retirement and Todd’s retirement began at roughly the same time.

Sharon and Steven moved to Darkwater within weeks of Todd and Susan making the same move. Todd and Sharon became good friends not long after, thanks to their common interest in tai chi, literature, and music. Their respective relationships with the other’s spouses were friendly and cordial, but not especially close, nor were the relationships between their respective spouses. 

“Enough! Let’s stop here and discuss what you’ve done. Do not tell the story…show it!” Annalee Hale, who considered herself the grand dame of local writers, made a point of criticizing before praising. She seemed to want her students to feel afraid of her, first, before they felt respect.

“It’s backstory,” Glisten responded. “I want to set the stage so the reader knows something about them. I can’t very well have them mention in casual conversation their job histories, can I? And I disagree that you always have to show. I believe a good story emerges from good story-telling.

Annalee glared at Glisten, her demeanor suggesting contempt for someone who would dare question her.

“That’s just laziness!” Annalee bellowed. “You can supply the same information to the reader through carefully-crafted scenes…conversations, documents shared with the reader, a thousand other ways… Engage the reader! Make it easy on the reader, not the writer!”


Some stories are expressions of unresolved desires. Some are the detritus from a mental shipwreck. Still others are admonitions or warnings. I doubt it’s possible to know as much about a story simply by reading it as by first reading it, then thinking about it, exploring the author’s psyche (to the extent possible), and otherwise extracting motives from the writer.

I write a lot, but I cannot legitimately consider myself a writer. I repeat myself, for one thing. And I rarely finish what I start to write. Perhaps it’s fear that, if I finish it, I will discover that all the time and effort I’ve invested in it were wasted. Ach.

I like the idea of a place called Darkwater. I will visit the place one day. And I will visit other places I’ve manufactured in my skull; maybe one of them will come to life and tell the full story.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Darkwater

  1. Meg Koziar says:

    Jolly good! Perhaps your forte is literary criticism !

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