Tag Archives: short stories

Excerpt from “Dancing in the Middle,” A Short Story by Jansen Schmidt

Welcome to an excerpt from a short story by Jansen Schmidt, “Dancing in the Middle,” which won an Honorable Mention in the Writing on Walls III contest and publication in Storyteller Magazine.

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Dancing in the Middle

Rosa Gonzales, a ballerina with a secret, is unwittingly involved in a Mexican drug smuggling ring. DEA Agent Damon Whiteside discovers her secret while trying to extricate her from danger. 

“Did you see the new guy in Amy’s class?” Audra adjusted her long lean body to get a better view into the opposite studio.

“Yeah,” I shifted slightly to see across the hall. Smiling, I turned away, embarrassed to be caught checking him out. Taller than usual, with coal black hair and sapphire eyes, Damon was a looker, no doubt about that. “He’s a hunk, that’s for sure.” I moved to the ballet barre and began a series of plies and stretches, all the while covertly watching him in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

Audra finished her yogurt and dropped the empty container into the trash. “Well, I’ll let you admire the view while you warm up.” She strolled to the door, pausing briefly in the hallway to observe the ballroom class in Amy’s studio. “Amy’s so lucky,” she said to no one in particular.

After my morning classes, I clocked out for lunch and left for the bus station to pick up the box I knew would be waiting there for me, a routine that Lupe and I had established almost two years ago. I retrieved the box, replaced the lock on the familiar blue locker, and headed back to my car. I only had a few minutes left to grab a bite to eat before my next class. As I neared my car I saw Damon standing near the driver’s side door.

Surprised, I said, “Well, hello there.”

Damon winced. “Rosa Gonzales,” his voice cracked, “you’re under arrest.” He held out his badge and a set of handcuffs. “I’ll need that box as evidence.”

I laughed. “What? You’re arresting me?’ But when his expression remained grim, I realized he wasn’t joking. “Who are you?”

“I’m an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency.” He paused, watching me intently.

“We’re working with an international agency to find a drug smuggling operation out of Mexico. Know anything about that?”

“What?” I asked, taking a step backwards to put some space between us. Another person had approached me from behind, blocking my retreat. I turned around and a behemoth of a man with a shaved head and numerous tattoos took the package out of my hands. At the same time Damon grabbed my arms and brought them behind my back, clicking the handcuffs shut. “This way,” he said, tugging me gently toward a waiting car.

“What are you doing? I can’t go with you.” I whirled around to face him but his grip remained firm. Panic set in as I realized I was in a great deal of trouble.

Damon said with calm authority, “You’re under arrest for possession of illegal drugs, intent to sell drugs, drug trafficking and–”

“Drug trafficking? Are you crazy? This is a mistake!” I shrieked. “Look, I have a class in about fifteen minutes. People will wonder where I’m at. I can’t just not show up.”

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen, Princess.” The giant tattooed man was tearing into the box of homemade toys from my sister.

Damon recited my Miranda rights as he helped me into the back seat. He sat next to me and the behemoth got behind the wheel. I looked at Damon. “What have I done? I don’t understand what’s going on?”

“Like Detective Whiteside said, Princess, possession of drugs, drug trafficking, intent to sell illegal drugs, etc. etc.” The behemoth obviously possessed no mercy.

“I don’t have any drugs. You’ve got the wrong person.”

“Rosa,” Damon said softly, “how much do you know about your sister and her husband?”

“What’s my sister got to do with this?” I asked.

“What’s my sister got to do with this,” the driver mimicked. “Always the same ole spiel.”

“Cool it, Stone,” Damon warned. He looked directly at me. “We know what’s in the box, Rosa, and we know it’s from your sister. What we don’t know is where it’s going. You can make this easier on yourself if you cooperate.”

“Cooperate with what?” I asked.

Damon reached into the front seat and pulled one of my sister’s cloth dolls from the box.

Ripping the head off, he pulled out a plastic baggie filled with a milky powdery substance.

“Like I said,” he paused, showing me the evidence, “We know what’s in the box.”

I gasped. “I had no idea that was in there. I . . . I don’t know what’s going on. Aren’t I entitled to a phone call?”

***

Jansen SchmidtJansen Schmidt started writing theater reviews for local community playhouses about twelve years ago. A previous theater owner, she spent many years involved in all aspects of community theater but her most enjoyable aspect of the theater was and remains being on stage.  An amateur thespian, pianist, singer and dancer, she has performed in many productions in the last twenty years, including A Few Good Men, Much Ado About Nothing, Annie Get Your Gun, Nunsense and Nunsense II, and her first production, a musical melodrama entitled Tumbleweeds.

To purchase Writing on Walls III, go to The Storyteller online store or send a check or money order for $12.95 plus $3.00 shipping/handling to Writing on Walls III, The Storyteller Magazine, 2441 Washington Rd., Maynard, AR 72444. For each additional 1 to 2 books, please add $2.50 for shipping/handling. For international orders the cost is 14.95 per book plus $5.00 for shipping/handling. All international payments must be in U.S. funds.

Thanks, Jansen!

One picture is worth a thousand drafts

You’ll see that these notes for a short story aren’t notes at all. Not in the usual sense:

As a first draft, recently I started making schematics of stories instead of writing pages of words that might or might not be changed later.

Using a schematic lets me think about the story without falling in love with or worrying about how it’s going to be written. It frees me from the words, structures, cadences the story will be communicated by, and lets me concentrate on the story itself.

You see a beginning at the left top, the story progression along the middle and the end at the top right. The piece of paper torn from a small spiral notebook shows the first ideas about the story captured in a sketch.

Those sixteen cartoons along the bottom represent possible endings, of which fifteen have been rejected. The ending I’m still considering is represented by the little car, which isn’t crossed out yet. There’s still room in the middle to add other possible endings or sketch some significant details.

The theme of the story is shown by that sequence starting with the word, “why.”

Doesn’t look like much to you, does it? But it doesn’t have to. Preverbal, I guess it’s called? This isn’t communication yet because it doesn’t have to be. This picture shows the state of the story in my mind. The communication–the writing–will come after the story has a form.

Once I get used to this new method for short stories, I’ll probably try it at novel length. Already that sounds like a great relief to me–not to be bogged down in all those words just to plan a story. And the words will be fresh since they’ll come later.

Do you think this technique might be useful to you?

Maybe we could start NaNoSkeMo–National Novel Sketching Month!

By S.J. Driscoll

And then what happened?

I just reread Guy de Maupassant’s story, The Necklace.

Since I was eight years old, I’ve read that story many times, but only today did I question my original childhood reaction of open-mouthed delight. What a terrible ending! How ironic! How delicious!

Today, I saw that the story as written ends at the beginning of the real story.

Here’s how the story goes:

Mathilde Loisel and her husband destroy their youth and health in their effort to pay for the diamond necklace they bought to replace one that was loaned to her, but which she lost. After the debt is paid, Mathilde meets the friend she borrowed it from, only to find out the borrowed necklace had been fake, not diamond at all.

The end.

Umm… ‘scuse me? Then what happens?

Does Mathilde punch her friend in the nose? Is she arrested while screaming that she wasted her life?

Does the friend say, “Thanks, Mattie! I gave the necklace to my daughter. She can sell it and buy that little house on the lake”?

Does the friend offer to repay them? This is the most poignant possibility.

Mathilde and her husband got into this fix because she was poor and beautiful, and wanted to experience one night of luxury at a ball. The gratification of this innocent desire cost them both ten years of drudgery and extreme poverty as they expended every effort to pay off the loans they needed to buy the diamonds.

If the friend repaid them, Mathilde could live an easier life with a few of the luxuries she’d once longed for. But the last ten years turned her into a coarse, rough woman used to a coarse, rough life. All her youthful elegance was destroyed by their struggle.

The most vital story would be this:

How do Mathilde and her husband face the kind of life they could live, now that they’re no longer the kind of people who could live that life?

I understand that the reader is supposed to realize this dilemma, and the realization is supposed to effectively substitute for the writer’s exploration of the dilemma. But why shouldn’t the writer explore it?

It’s pretty much taken for granted that stories should have a conventional ending, like marriage or death. The girl/guy gets the guy/girl. The criminals are caught. The adventurers return home. The youth reaches the epiphany that indicates the beginning of maturity. But are these the best endings?

Aren’t most stories really just the setup for the more complex, difficult, fascinating story that starts after The End?

By S.J. Driscoll