Thu 16 Apr 2015
by J. Chris Lawrence
Denise Beck-Clark, no longer having to earn a living as a psychotherapist, is a full time writer, Raphael’s mother, and not-frequent-enough traveler. She lives in metro New York. Her blog and info about two published books can be seen atwww.denisebeck-clark.com.
by Denise Beck-Clark
My dearest friend Peter left New York for the West Coast, saying that if he didn’t accumulate a new set of esthetics he was bound for Gehenna.
“New York is too European,” he explained. “Too old. I can’t handle the emotional intensity here.”
I tried convincing him that you take yourself and your emotions wherever you go, but his mind was set. He was determined to follow this imagined route to serenity.
So he went. I missed our talks; I missed sharing books. Though we still communicated by mail and phone, it wasn’t the same as co-existing in the same neighborhood.
As the years went by, we corresponded less. Then one day I learned that Peter’s body was found in the home of a well-known drag queen in San Francisco, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. Shortly after, I received a letter on scented paper in an unfamiliar hand. The message was succinct: “Peter saved this for you.”
It was a handkerchief. Pale, egg-shell, with delicate flowered embroidery. A little tag said, “Czechoslovakia, 1921.” Also, a note in Peter’s writing: “For Sarah, from a time before everything went south, and I went west.”
I had seen the handkerchief before; it belonged to his grandmother who was murdered in 1944. That this little square of cloth continued to exist while Peter did not was a sad, unbearable irony. I used it to dab at my eyes, then put it away so safely I would never find it again.
J. Chris Lawrence: I love the theme of pursuing a false sense of serenity. It’s the classic “grass is greener” adage that so many of us can relate to that really brings Peter to life, and it is Sarah’s struggle to show him this that not only clutches the heart, but earns this excellent piece our PMMP award. How much did the aphorism influence your work before writing? Did you expect Peter’s fate to end as it did from the beginning?
Denise Beck-Clark: I’ve come to understand that a lot of my writing happens below the level of consciousness. In preparation to write this story I looked over the prompt words and read the aphorism a few times, then just started writing. I think this particular quote fit well into my thinking because I’m a former psychotherapist and, as you might imagine, a lot of what I did was help people to discover within themselves the truths they needed to know, about themselves and in general.
JCL: Speaking of themes, many authors tend to explore and revisit specific themes that may speak to them in some personal way. Are there any themes or genres that you find yourself returning to with your work?
DB-C: Definitely. My work tends to be psychological and/or philosophical, and character-driven. I tend to present emotions and behaviors that most of us grapple with to varying degrees, such as ambivalence, indecision, self-image, self-esteem, etc.
JCL: Despite the limitations of the contest, your story manages to capture a depth of history and a sense of a living world. What were some of your biggest challenges while attempting to do so much with so few words?
DB-C: To be honest, this story came rather easily to me, perhaps because of, rather than despite, having to use specific words. But in writing flash fiction in general, the biggest challenge is presenting everything about the characters and what happens to them with a limited number of words. You have to think of the shortest and most vivid way of saying things. In a way I think that’s why incorporating prompt words into a story helped because the story evolved around them rather than the other way around.
JCL: How did the prompt words affect your process? Did you choose them prior to beginning the story, or did they evolve as part of the process?
DB-C: As I’m realizing now the prompt words had a large effect on the writing process. I zeroed in on the words that I liked or was drawn to and constructed a story around them. I had thought of doing a memorial to an old friend of mine who did move to San Francisco, live in the LGBT community, and die there, though of course, other details are fiction. The story evolved as a process of semi-consciously combining the prompt words, the theme, and thoughts of my friend.
JCL: What is it about flash fiction that you find appealing? What drives you to create short shorts like this?
DB-C: What I love about flash fiction, both as a writer and as a reader, is that it’s one form of instant gratification I don’t have to give up because it’s not good for me! I love being able to read a complete story in a few minutes’ time. Likewise, I love being able to write and complete something without spending months or years on it. I also enjoy the specific challenges of writing flash fiction, as indicated above.
JCL: Now that you’ve won our PMMP award, what’s next for Denise Beck-Clark?
DB-C: Well, before I win the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes :), I’ll need to finish several works-in-progress and then have many of my already written works published. This includes many poems, short stories, and novels, one completed and several in the works. And, I will keep writing flash, because it’s an enjoyable treat that’s proven to be possible.
JCL: Finally, what advice can you give for the aspiring authors out there?
DB-C: Well, Chris, besides the old saying “practice, practice, practice,” I’d say stick with it. Find whatever in yourself that is stubborn and tenacious and don’t give up. It’s also good to learn craft, both by reading a lot and in more formal ways such as classes or workshops. In the end, if you’re meant to be a good or great, and/or published writer, you will be.
Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, J. Chris Lawrence spent much of his youth traveling and exploring the various cultural facets of American life. He currently lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, two sons, and two cats. You can find more of Chris’s work online at jchrislawrence.com, or follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/JChrisLawrence) and Facebook (facebook.com/JCLFiction).