I was thinking tonight about my nephew, Tod Goldberg. He is a brilliant author, as is his brother Lee, and his Uncle Burl. All three are shy, modest and ever-so-helpful to the surging sea of pre-published (unpublished) would-be-writers who continually (a) kindly ask for our insightful advice, or (b) tell us that because we are published authors, we are clueless fools.
The best safeguard against the "b" category is to charge for insightful advice, guidance, and homework assignments. This is called "teaching," or "instructing." All three of us have managed to fill anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes per class with sufficient anecdotes and re-phrased verities to suck up the alloted time while successfully sustaining our students’ voluntary consciousness. Tod, however, is the only one of us who pulls this off with profitable, respectable consistency at an accredited institution of higher learning. In celebration of the release of Tod’s new book of short stories, Simplify, I present this 500 word short story starring — Tod Goldberg.
Mr. Goldberg’s Class: Writing the 500 Word Short Story
“The essential problem with your story, David,” explained Mr. Goldberg politely, “is simply that you set your sights too high for a first effort.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
“You’re trying to run before you walk, pardon the cliché,” said the instructor. “Your title, `A Perfect Murder’ is a bit grandiose – in real life, a murderer can’t drag a dead body all over L.A in public without someone getting wind of it, so to speak. Write what you know, David. Perhaps something such as `How I Feed the Dog’ would be more appropriate.”
David stared at Goldberg quizzically. “I don’t have no dog.”
“What I mean, is that I want you to write something less complex. Keep it simple.”
“Well, yeah. I did write on both sides of the page,” admitted David. “So, I should just do one side? That would be more simpler?”
“Simpler, yes,” said Mr. Goldberg, smiling and sighing and glancing at his watch. “However, I do admire that you put so much effort into it. I recognize that you are a very dedicated student.”
David shifted his weight, cleared his throat and stammered out what was obviously an important question. “What do I do about the ending?”
“Well, the ending has to make sense in light of everything that came before it. As it is now, the story sort of…well…just stops.”
Perspiration dripped from David’s forehead, translucent drops plopped on crude pulp pages, puckering the author’s erratic Scripto scrawl.
“Here’s my best advice, David,” Goldberg said, offering a warm smile. ”Re-write the story at the end of the semester. By then, you’ll have mastered the basics. I know you’re eager, David. That’s good, really it is. You’re just a little impatient.”
“Thanks for your encouragement; Mr. Goldberg,” said David. “I really want to write good ‘cause it’s important to my mom. She had a book published once, you know. So, she’s always been on me to write good, .too.”
The student hurriedly gathered his things. “I almost forgot,’ he said nervously, “she’s waiting for me in the car. See you Monday.”
Goldberg responded with appropriate social echo; David quickly walked out of the classroom and down the stairs to the parking lot. On the way, he crumpled the story’s pages into a sweaty ball and tossed them in the trash can.
“I’m sorry for making you wait. Mom,” he said, splaying his denim clad posterior across the driver’s side cracked black plastic bucket seat. “I was talking to Mr. Goldberg, and guess what? He says I’m a good student. Really! I’m learning just fine, he said. I’m just impatient, that’s all. I need to be patient, you understand, right? So, you gotta be patient with me too, okay?”
Mother nodded as David fumbled the key into the ignition, started the engine, and forced the gear-shift into drive. “There’s just one problem Mom.” His tone was as cautiously casual as trepidation allowed. “It will be the end of the semester before I know what to do with your corpse.”
Copyright 2005 Burl Barer. All Rights Reserved