by Aliza Greenblatt
J.C. Towler, the second place winner in our String-of-10 contest, is in the market for a gently used Time-Turner or Transmorgifier. He has been an editor at Every Day Fiction since 2010, but wears more hats than you could possibly be interested in knowing about.
by John Towler
Orderlies barged through the entrance of triage, dropping their litter on the table with an unceremonious bump. The wounded soldier reeked of the battlefield, burnt gunpowder and mud. Her left arm dangled like a pendulum in decline, blood running down fingers traced chaotic patterns on the once white floor.
I performed a rapid assessment of her injuries, as Costas snipped away uniform remnants.
“You safe now…” He paused over her name tag. “Private Gomez. Estás seguro.”
He hooked her to a cardiac monitor then brushed a few strands of hair from of her staring, unresponsive eyes.
Dr. Kerns marched in, razor creases and polished shoes rivaling any rear echelon four-star. A stateside doctor on voluntary rotation, he’d tried to join every branch of the service but kept getting four-f-ed over because of mole-like eyesight.
“Two thoracic GSW’s, through and through. Bilateral pneumothorax. BP’s dropping.”
Kerns peered down at chest of the dying soldier through Coke-bottle glasses. His nose crinkled in disdain.
“Those are exit wounds.”
“Running from the fight, no doubt.” He poked at the injuries. “She’s done. Save the effort for someone deserving.”
“Sir, this soldier has a rhythm.”
He grabbed her chart began writing.
“Injuries incompatible with life,” he said.
Orderlies returning with another wounded soldier interrupted my possibly career-ending reply. A platoon sergeant followed behind.
“Gomez in here?” he asked. I nodded.
“Do your best for her,” he said. He jerked a thumb at the wounded man. “She was carrying him.”
Aliza Greenblatt: Congratulations on placing in the String-of-Ten Contest! Can you tell us a little about how this story evolved? What were some of the challenges of writing a 250 word story?
JC Towler: My brother, Blake, just retired from a military career (24 years in the Navy and Army). One of his assignments had him flying medevac choppers on a tour in Iraq 2.0 and he’s a real hero. So the military was on my mind. I work with several women in my primary job (law enforcement) and while things have come a long way, there are still a few social Neanderthals – like Dr. Kerns in the story – who have some reservations about women in “men’s jobs”. It all coalesced into the theme and plot of Private Lessons.
Flash is a challenge because you’ve got to incorporate all those elements common to any sort of creative writing that make a reader want to spend time with your words. A 250 word story is just four times more challenging to write than a 1000 word story.
AG: You’ve been an editor for EDF for several years as well as a dedicated fiction writer. What do you think is the key to writing an effective flash piece?
JCT: Be interesting. Your title must be interesting. Your opening sentence must be interesting. Your characters must be interesting. As long as the reader is interested, they’ll stick with your story short of an unexpected natural disaster in their immediate vicinity. But even if their reading is interrupted by a natural disaster, your story should be so interesting that, as soon as they pull themselves from the rubble or find high ground to escape the rising flood waters, they should get back to turning pages.
AG: What I find interesting about this story is there’s a pivotal moment where several characters’ life courses are going to be decided. One is obviously Private Gomez and the others are the doctor and the narrator whose decisions could be career shattering. Being that you didn’t have a lot of time (in terms of word count) to build the story, was it a challenge to find the correct balance of tension and information to bring that moment to life?
JCT: Yes. First draft: 517 words.
The narrator wound up losing the most time in the story, but in some ways the loss became a gain. Less defined (to the point where even the gender is a bit ambiguous) the narrator is more of a shell that the reader fills in with their own personality. It’s like telling a story in the 2nd person without the force-fed “you” point of view. It’d be hard to do with a longer piece, but with flash it worked okay.
AG: There is the theme in this story of the people who seem to have honor and the people who actually do. The doctor should – and appears to have it – but it’s the nameless narrator and the private who make the honorable choices. Do you think the doctor will change from this experience? Will the narrator?
JCT: For the doctor, probably not. There are a certain people in this world whose egos will not allow them to accept personal error or admit to bad judgement and a large percentage of that group are represented by politicians, Fox News Personalities, and surgeons.
I hope the narrator would be more assertive the next time something like this happens, but as a subordinate to the doctor in both military rank and in the operating room hierarchy, it would be tough. Laws protecting whistleblowers are completely inadequate and in reality when somebody is faced with “doing the right thing” the “right thing” takes a back seat to career, family, and reputation.
AG: I’m always curious what drives writers to become writers. Why do you tell stories? What keeps you writing? What type of stories do you prefer to write?
JCT: I’m principally a fantasy and science fiction guy (which is odd in that both times I’ve placed in the String-of-Ten contest, neither piece has been in that genre). Honestly, my writing has taken a back seat to work, family and my second job as a videographer. I’m very visually and sound-oriented, to the point that when I write I have to remind myself “Don’t forget the other three senses” and video work appeals to me because those are the primary mediums of expression. (My latest effort is about the rescue and rehabilitation of a hummingbird. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jTyU_P0n4o)
AG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
JCT: Thanks for the questions.
Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt.