Feeling stifled by her household and her giant panda, a woman contemplates escape.
I brought this story into a writing workshop early in my MFA experience, and the professor hated it. However, other people encouraged me, and “I” liked it, so I polished and submitted it anyway, and it found a home at Sycamore Review with people who loved it. It was a good lesson to learn — that everything is a matter of taste! One of the encouraging people was my classmate at the time, the multi-talented artist and writer Katie Burgess, who later made me the cover art you see above.
EPISODE 3: “Monster Leaves Dog” (After the Storms, Part 3)
As a long-married couple prepares to part ways, the husband tries to convince his wife to change her mind.
This story is the third of three interrelated stories called After the Storms. As with “Room” this story originated with a prompt:
Two characters part ways forever.
We were asked also to think about the questions: “Who and when and where?” “Do they know it’s forever?” “Do they have different feelings about it?” and “What causes the parting?”
I let years pass — literal years! — before I came back and finished this one. As the third story in the trilogy, it felt like writing a flashback episode of television. I enjoy flashback episodes, but they present their own set of challenges to the writer. Often a flashback episode needs to incorporate information the audience has already knows from regular episodes and that can change the source of dramatic tension in the story. If this story stands alone, the main question that unifies the narrative is “can Jerry change Beth’s mind and convince her to stay in the city?” But someone who reads it with the context of the previous stories already knows the answer. So for them the the question is not “what happened?” but “how and why did it happen?” Which tends to be a “weaker” dramatic tension…
… but hopefully still worthwhile! For me, the appeal of a flashback episode is traveling back in time and seeing characters I already know as they once were — before I knew them. In this case, seeing Jerry in “Room” and Beth in “Tribe” each reminiscing about the other made me want to see them together for a little while, and witness the moment that sent them on their separate trajectories.
Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. Ted Giffin did the show art. And Barrington Smith-Seetachitt (that’s me!) wrote and read the story.
SUMMARY: In a near-future dystopia, two people check into a hotel room knowing only one will check out.
NOTES: This story was first published in Devilfish Review (sadly, now defunct). It stands alone, but is the first part of a trilogy of stories called “After the Storms.”
A few years back I took a class taught by one of my favorite teachers, Richard Rayner. Each week we were tasked to write 400 words from a prompt provided by Richard. This one was:
A sick man and his younger wife check into a hotel room. He tells her a story and orders drinks which are brought by room service. The man has something to drink, says something, and then he dies.
I don’t remember what I turned in for my 400-word assignment, but it’s safe to guess that my constant and pervasive anxiety about climate change was already seeded in. The hotel room setting is inspired by The Hollywood Athletic Club, where, like Jerry and Beth, my husband and I took a weekend “staycation” one sweltering summer.
Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs for this and every episode. You can see more of what he does on his Vimeo page.
The cover art is by the talented and prolific Ted Giffin.
In upcoming weeks, you’ll be seeing a new tab on this website. I’ve had the plan for awhile to make a landing page with some of my short stories and essays, but had been dragging my feet. Or maybe not dragging my feet, I was just running around in different directions — but it was on my mind.
Part of the delay was that I had to work through some trial and error: I had an okay microphone but my “sss”s were hissing so I needed to order a pop-screen; I had time allocated to record, but the neighbors decided to do construction right outside my office, etc. I got an Adobe subscription so I could do an edit, but my computer isn’t up-to-date enough to run it the latest version of Adobe…
But then because my brother announced he was moving back to Los Angeles. Lucky for me! He has the skills and equipment I lack. As soon as he finished painting the walls and be re-assembling his home studio, I jumped to the front of the line before he got too busy.
It’s been going well, but I’m discovering learning curves in new areas. This is the first time in a long time that I am “the performer.” I recently went back and re-recorded the first episode because when I listened to it, it felt a little lackluster and I realized it was because I wasn’t committing to doing different voices for everyone’s dialogue. I think it felt a little silly so I only half-committed — and half committed is half-assed. Listening to myself, I realized that there’s a reason it’s easy to get caught up in audio books and LeVar Burton Reads, and a reason it’s harder to get lost in the The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (although I listen to it still). For fiction, I like hearing actors who bring things to life, so I re-recorded to try to come closer to that bar, even though it’s out of my comfort zone.
The next hurdle is picking a “podcast host.” I can post episodes from this WordPress site for free, but they seem to be part of the blog post — and because I also blog about non-podcast things, that might be a little weird. I’d like to have a separate landing page, and, it turns out, my tastes aren’t as cheap as I’d like them to be. It costs not to run any ads, costs to have a pretty picture next your player (also, I need to design the picture for the player).
Too late to make a long story short, we’ve got three in the can now. I’m still figuring a few things out, but it’s coming soon!