Writing Advice From Jack London: A Fictional Account
The following is one of my fictional short stories.
NOTE: **Some of the information I shared is from one of my favorite authors, Dennis Hensley, which I placed an asterick after. I am unable to locate the article I read with this information. However, it is my wish to give him full credit.**
I sincerely hope you enjoy this:
Each New Year's Day I reflect on my life.
Where have I been, and where am I going? I am thankful for knowledge I have obtained over the years from an education, my job, as well as, lessons learned from multitudes of trials interwoven with numerous blessings. However, one question surfaces over and over again: What is it that I wish for?
I recall two desires that have been a part of me forever. I write them on a piece of paper:
1. I wish to write like Jack London
2. I wish to see angels
Four months later, the day before Easter, I decide to visit the Book Nook on the corner of Main and Maple Streets. I will make a stop along the way. There is a small church that needs clothing for their annual sale. I will donate some blouses and sweaters.
Next door to the chapel is a home where the nuns reside. Further to the right of their house is a fenced in area. Directly behind the fence is a small greenhouse.
I see one of the nuns inside the greenhouse. I have forgotten they have a rescued pet nanny goat. The gate at the front of the area where the goat is kept has been left open, and the nun is unaware.
As I walk up the path to the front of the building, she waves a friendly "hello." All at once the nanny goat stampedes through the opening, and she charges at me. I don't want to see what is happening. I close my eyes.
The animal knocks me over, causing me to flip my basket of laundry upside down. All my clothes fall out onto the lawn. I land on top of the garments on my back. I open my eyes, and I scream. The goat is standing next to me, and she is looking straight into my eyes.
With the sound of my shriek, the nanny retreats, but not before pulling one of my blouses out from under my feet. She then runs behind the greenhouse, and she begins to eat it.
The nun drops her flowers, and she runs over to me.
"Are you all right? Are you hurt?"
"I'm more embarrassed than anything!" I reply. She helps me get up, and I brush dirt off my black jeans and my white "Touched By An Angel" tee shirt.
The nun introduces herself. "I'm Sister Penelope. Thanks for the clothes. We sure need them for our sale!"
We both glance at the nanny goat chewing on my white blouse.
Sister Penelope puts her hands on her hips and shakes her head. "I hope she gets indigestion!"
She removes a small pad and pencil from her apron pocket and hands them to me. "Can I please have your telephone number? I will need to contact you later. We like contributors to be told the results of the sale."
I write down my name and cell number.
She waves to me as I drive away.
I arrive at the Book Nook just in time to order lunch with a cup of tea. One small round table is empty. "Perfect," I say to myself.
I love relaxing in this bookstore cafe', eating a chicken salad sandwich, lavished with lettuce and mayonnaise, with a dill pickle on the side. This is one of my ultimate enjoyments. I have my writing tablet and pen handy. I hear Yanni music on their CD player.
I take a deep breath, close my eyes and pray for an inspirational "zap."
I open my eyes. A gentleman, probably forty, wearing an out-of-date brown suit and navy blue necktie, stares at me with serious eyes.
"Can I sit here? I won't bother you. I just want to drink a cup of coffee and read my book. All the tables are full."
I smile at him, and I answer, "Sit down."
The stranger seats himself, and he immediately opens his book. A waitress brings him coffee. He is no trouble.
I begin to doodle on my pad. I draw a sketch of an angel.
He takes a sip of coffee, and his eyes glance at my picture.
"You like angels?"
"I love angels."
"Ever seen one?"
"Nope. It's one of two wishes in my life," I reply.
"Two wishes?" The man is curious. Should I tell him my other wish? Why not? I will never see this person again.
"I wrote down two wishes around the beginning of this year, just for fun. My other wish is to be able to write like Jack London."
"I happen to be reading his book right now," he remarks.
"Which one?" I respond with a surprise.
"A short story called "White Silence. It's about the vast wastes of the arctic."*
He then inquires, "Why do you want to write like Jack London?"
"Because I have read how good he is with description.* I want his gift."
"He IS good," the man agrees.
"What do you think his secret was?" I ask.
I put down my pen. "Eyes?"
"Jack London had the ability to see what other people miss."*
"How do you know that?" I question.
"Well," he states, signaling the waitress for a second cup of coffee, "have you read his book, "Martin Eden?"
"I have it at home."
"Did you kow it is mostly about HIM? It's an autobiographical novel. He mentions Martin Eden's eyes 107 times. In each instance, his reference to eyes emphasizes Eden's ability to see things that other people do not. Also, the initials for Martin Eden are M.E."*
He takes a sip of coffee.
"The problem with many people who want to be writers is that they look, but they do not see."
"Do you have a job?" He answers my question with a question.
"Yes, I've been a secretary for over fifteen years."
"What color are the walls in the area outside your office? Also, can you describe the colors of the houses in your immediate neighborhood?"
There is a moment of silence. "I have not paid attention. I cannot give you an accurate response to any of those questions."
"Do you know someone who has a flower garden?"
"Yes, I do. Mr. Avery has had a floral paradise behind his home for years."
"Okay, he challenges, "What kind of flowers does he grow?"
"I don't know, I just glance at his garden when I visit my friend who lives next door..."
"Glance?" he interrupts me.
"I get it!" I exclaim. "I look, I glance, but I don't SEE!" I pick up my pen. I want to take notes.
"How can I see?" I ask.
"You can," my acquaintance states. He is sincere. He appears to have total faith in my ability.
He removes a silver money clip from the inside of his coat. "I have to leave now. I have an appointment."
He empties the money clip of the three dollars that it holds. He hands two dollars to the waitress. He then removes a quarter from his pocket, and he places a generous one dollar and twenty-five cent tip on the table. Is he going to ignore my question and just walk out?
Suddenly he stares directly into my eyes.
"You want to see angels?" He taps his right forefinger on the sketch I have drawn of an angel.
"Yes." I am confused. Are we talking about writing, or are we talking about angels?
"How do you know you don't encounter them each day? Don't you know that angels appear in all shapes, forms and sizes?"
"Yes, but," I begin to argue.
He stands up. "Take that pen and write down exactly whom you have seen and talked with today before you came here."
"Really?" I begin. "All that happened was I got knocked down by a nanny goat and..."
"DESCRIPTION." His tone is firm. Write down who and what you saw, each in five words. Then STUDY what you wrote."
He turns around, and he walks away. I see his silhouette exit through the front door.
My cell phone rings. I answer, "Hello?"
"Hi, this is Sister Penelope from..."
It is the nun with whom I left my clothing donation a few hours ago.
She continues, "I just wanted to tell you that I figured out why our pet goat knocked you down. A beehive had fallen from the building onto the path where you were walking. If she hadn't pushed you and knocked you down, you would have stepped on that hive, and would have been attacked by bees. I consider the whole incident a miracle."
I sigh with relief. "Thank you for letting me know." I am filled with gratitude.
"You're more than welcome. I have to put my Easter lilies at the front of the church for tomorrow. Have a good day."
I say "good-bye," and I hang up the phone. I pick up my pen. How can I condense what and whom I have seen and write each in five descriptive words?
The nun has given me a clue. She said she had lilies, to celebrate the Easter season. I realize, after talking with the stranger, that I hadn't noticed what flowers she was carrying.
Again, the eyes. Seeing, rather than, looking or glancing. I have to become more aware of what is going on around me.
I think. I think HARD. All I have encountered today is the goat and the nun.
I write down five words of what I saw:
A nanny goat eating laundry, and...
A nun gathering Easter Lilies.
I remember the words of the stranger, "Study what you wrote."
I look, but I see nothing.
I look, again and again. I begin to doodle with the words.
Suddenly I begin to SEE. I take each sentence, and I write them straight up and down. I capitalize the first letter of each word.
I discover the first letter of each word spells "Angel." How did he know?
I close my tablet, and I stand up to leave. When I reach for my bill, I see a silver money clip on the table. The stranger has left it there. The initials on the clip are "JL."
I pick up his quarter tip. It is a standing Liberty quarter dated 1916, the year Jack London died.
I keep the money clip. I know he will not return to claim it. I am certain he has left if here for me.
It is a day of enlightenment. I have learned angels are everywhere. I cannot write like Jack London, because I am not him. However, I can follow his lead. I can practice seeing rather than looking. It is then that I may, perhaps, grow into the writer within myself.
Most of all, I have learned life is a mysterious journey full of important lessons. Each day is a miracle march, and I love being in the parade.