The Rules According to Aristotle (From Poetics)	3
Elements of Story Structure	4
Story Mapping for Personal Narrative	5
On Building Suspense	7
Writing Descriptively	9
Critiquing for Workshop	13
Crime Scene Photo By Bob Cowser Jr.	17
Orbit By Rebecca McClanahan	19
Circling	20
Teaching Errors By Jillian Schedneck	22
First Draft “Time” By Sondra Meek	23
Final Draft “Time” by Sondra Meek, MCWS 4	25
Sally’s Response to David’s “Numbers”	30
First Draft “Numbers” by David Charles	31
Final Draft “Numbers” by David Charles	36

The Rules According to Aristotle (From Poetics)

1.	Do not try to make an epic into an essay or short memoir.
2.	Every story must necessarily fall into two parts—complication and unraveling or dénouement.
3.	The writer must avoid the two essential faults of creative writing—those that touch its essence and those that are accidental.
4.	The plot should have a beginning, middle, and end, and thus resemble a living organism in all its unity.
5.	The beginning and end of the story must be capable of being brought within a single view or theme.
6.	Plot should be arranged on the complex plan, one in which change of fortune takes place through reversal of situation, recognition, or both and includes scenes of suffering.
7.	The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but from good to bad.
8.	Plot can consist of either a single thread or double thread in which an opposite ending occurs for the good and bad characters.
9.	Characters and action should be the mimesis of a praxis, and therefore, must of necessity imitate one of three objects: things as they were or are, things as they are said or thought to be, or things as they ought to be.
10.	Plot should imitate actions that incite pity and fear—pity as aroused by unmerited misfortune, and fear by witnessing the misfortune of a character like ourselves.
11.	This character must be someone who brings misfortune on himself or herself, not through vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.
12.	First sketch a general outline, then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.
13.	The writer must focus on the action in the story and the part taken by the characters, and not drift off in several lines of action carried on at the same time.
14.	The writer should put the scene before his or her eyes, as if he or she is an actual eyewitness to an event happening while writing.
15.	The writer should act out his own story to the best of his power.
16.	The element of the wonderful is required in tragedy.
17.	Absurdity should be veiled with the wonderful.
18.	The writer should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities.
19.	Do not obscure character and thought by over-brilliant diction.
20.	Above all, the writer must remember that story is an imitation, not of people, but of action and life, of happiness and misery; without action there cannot be story, although there may be one without character.

Elements of Story Structure

1. What does the protagonist want?
2. Provide setting: where and when does story take place? 
3. Introduce conflict: What stands in the way of protagonist getting what he or she wants?

1.  Show sequence of obstacles protagonist must overcome. Obstacles can be a person, place, thing or power; not always an enemy)
2. Determine the point at which protagonist must make a decision in order to achieve goal (crisis).
3. What does protagonist decide to do to achieve goal?

1. What happens when protagonist carries out his or her decision? How is the conflict that was introduced in the beginning resolved (Climax)?
2. What does protagonist learn?

Step 1. Create a timeline of events in your story. Decide upon a theme – what do you want your reader to understand?   
Step 2. Identify your protagonist’s conflict. Identify protagonist’s obstacle(s).
Step 3. Allow yourself to free write a rough draft using your timeline. Don’t worry about errors, grammar, etc. Just write it down while trying to describe events as they unfold.
Step 4. Read what you have written. Do you need to do research to better describe anything in your story? If so, research those things. 
Step 5. Try to create an outline from what you have written. How does the outline compare to your timeline?
Step 6. Reorder events if necessary. 

Step 1. Revise your rough draft into first draft form.
Step 2. After Workshop 1, read the notes you have received. Then, revise your work based upon your understanding of those suggestions. 
Step 3. After Workshop 2, consider suggestions you have received. Revise your work.

Step 1. Consider word choices, sentence structure, and description. Is there a better way to get meaning across to readers? If so, make changes. Play with your work, experiment. Be as creative as you want to be.

Story Mapping for Personal Narrative

I 	Invention

Working Title:					

Narrator:					Obstacle:				



Crisis Summary:

Climax Summary:

What was Learned:

Topics for Research:

II 	Details




Chronological Timeline



Scene Sequence (Story Timeline):					














								 		On Building Suspense

Building Suspense = Building Tension; Plot & Story

1. Keeping the Ball in the Air
Suspense = Latin “to hang”
Narrative holds interest of reader by raising questions and delaying the answers.

2. Tension in language:  Connotation/figurative

3. Tension in Form:  Segmented essay; lyric essay, etc. How it looks on the page.

4. Tension in Theme:  Focus—always returning to theme. Theme helps to determine what to put in/what to leave out. Omission/Commission. Room to dance = leaving an empty space for reader to fill. Give everything the reader needs to know, but nothing else. 
5. Tension in Plot and Story
Story and plot coexist, support one another. Plot keeps the story moving. In essence, Who did it is story and what will happen next is plot.
Who did it?  + What will happen next?  	= Unity of Meaning
Mystery       +     Adventure                      	= Reader Interest

Hero or heroine faces jeopardy that incites in reader emotions of sympathetic fear and anxiety as to the outcome of the situation.

Suspense can be sustained by delaying answers to questions raised in readers’ minds.  

Suspense results from a play between characters’ anguish and efforts.
Anguish and Efforts = Story & Plot

Summary: Foreground & background information that paces plot revelations
Remember to keep the story moving. Fewer summaries; more scenes.
Scene: Action in story; motion that pushes the story along. Scenes show characters in action.

Quicken Pace 
Move from a static description of an object, place, or person to an active scene.
Use active rather than passive prose (Avoid pronouns - Name a thing. Use action verbs) 
Employ concrete, specific details and describe subjects in motion. Effective descriptions keep reader turning the page.
Avoid overusing “I.” Restructure sentence to show what “I” sees and does. 

Slow Pace
Summary can be used to suspend a scene just long enough to provide context.
Too much scene and not enough summary creates stagnation, too.
Do a close up shot.
Do a long shot.
Withhold Information: Feed the reader information, but just enough.
Delay climax of scene.
Change the verb tense.
Play with sentence structure.

Plant & Return:
Plant the idea or action early, then develop reader’s understanding by returning to idea or action later in story. Keep reader moving through a series of connected events. Scatter descriptive details by breaking large clumps of information into smaller bits and sprinkle throughout the story. Think of this as an unfolding of connections. Build surprise.
Surprise: unpredictable outcomes lead to discovery. A slow burning fuse ignites a quick succession of spectacular explosions. 

Clarity: Be Clear. Try telling it all in your first draft, then cut the fat.  

Motion: Verbs, Voice, and Transitions. The sense of going somewhere while we read. 
“A story moved me.”

Density: Characterization, scene building, setting, poetry. Meaning and word count. Avoid boiling down too far. How hard does reader have to work to get to the story. 

Rhythm: Variety of sentence length, word usage. Thesaurus. Throat clearing on the page – fragments. Repetition of important phrases. Character dog tags.

Precision:  Getting the nouns right, the descriptions right, and where and when to cut.

Texture:  Surprises given to the reader. Changes in Terrain. Shifts of speed. Layers of meaning.  Vivid images. Unexpected feelings. Startling choice of words. Expressing separate moods by use of segments.

Mystery:  What will happen next? Don’t give away the ending at the beginning. What readers love about mystery is the triumph of order over chaos at the end. Elusive ending, but steady stream of hints, clues, and puzzling data (The Da Vinci Code). 

Epiphany: A showing of understanding. External reality charged with transcendental significance for reader. Climax or resolution of story or episode. Moment of truth for characters and reader:  “That’s It!” moment.  

Coincidence: Life’s randomness, inconsequentiality, and openness. Plot Device. Symmetry revealed that reader doesn’t expect to find. Intriguing and instructive connections between events, characters, places. For instance, situations where wrongdoing is exposed at the end. Don’t overdo, but watch for opportunity. How much you can get away with relates directly to how believable your narrator is.     

Irony:  Saying the opposite of what is meant. Revealing the unexpected or unbelievable as truth. Act of interpretation by reader. Figures of speech. When reader is made of aware of disparity/conflict between the facts of a situation and the character’s understanding of the situation. Insider knowledge. Author sharing privileged information with reader. 

Writing Descriptively

I. In General….
Three Legs of Story-telling Tripod
	a.  Narration:  Supplies the story line
	b.  Summary or Exposition: Supplies Foreground and Background Information
	c.  Description: Supplies Images

Description is the attempt to represent reality by using language to present as directly as possible the qualities of a person, place, object, or event.

What Makes Description Effective?
a.  Careful wording – naming a subject directly and precisely using the correct terms for a      person, place, event or object. 
	b.  Sensory Details – sight, sound, touch, scent, taste
	c.  Active – use of expressions that represent things as in a state of activity (moving pictures)
	d.  Use of both literal and figurative language

Language can be:
Literal: A thing as it exists. Means what it says. 
Figurative: A thing as it seems. Doesn’t always mean exactly what it says.

	c.  Remove filtering devices like: he noticed, she felt
	d.  Write energetic sentences by using active construction and active verbs
	e.  Keep it simple by saying what you mean.

II. Tools
Tool Number 1:  Know Your Subject
1.	Thing: The Actual—character, object, experience, knowledge, ideas, ways of life, interests or attitudes—the world as it is, as it was, as it is thought to be, or as it should be, literally. 
2.	Representation of Reality: The Possible—Imitation of, Image of, or Resemblance of Reality—the world of possibility, of imagination, metaphorically.

Tool Number 2: The Goal
1.	To represent things as they are or were.  
2.	To represent things as they are said or thought to be.  
3.	To represent things as they ought to be.  

Tool Number 3:  The Writer’s Eyes – (“I”) x (Measuring Devices) = Written Description 
 1.  In Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, Rebecca McClanahan describes several “eyes” writers can use to measure things as they are.
a.	The Naked Eye – Observes; sees things as sensory and concrete through the process of observation.
b.	The Imaginative Eye builds upon reality by using:
1)	The Eye of Insight sheds new light by examining inscape, viewing the interior, the shape within the shape of a thing.
2)	The All-Accepting Eye examines things that we might rather not see, discards the labels, and searches for the beauty in a flaw, beginning discovery with the thing and not its label.
3)	The Gliding Eye observes things in movement through time or space or both, picks up details of the passage, recording birth and decay of sensation at the center of a spinning mind.  
4)	The Child’s Eye observes a thing with the seriousness of a child at play, in a focused, highly concentrated way, without hurry—like watching an ant crawl across the ground or observing a dung beetle move a mass five times its size and weight.
5)	The Dream Eye fragments reality and reshapes it, perhaps using symbols to penetrate below surface appearances. 
6)	The Eye of Memory: collects and distills experience (Life as subject) acting as a hard drive filled with random events—“Memory is an act of meaning-making” (Rebecca McClanahan).

Tool Number 4:  Memory
1.	Voluntary Memory – Direct, Simple; linear & sequential; orderly process (The Corner Market, Hometown Streets).  
2.	Involuntary Memory – Indirect: Complex; non-linear, Looped & Flexible; chaotic process linking a complicated system of events, often linked by a strange attraction for which there is no immediate surface connection (Events in Childhood; Boot Camp; Birth of a Child).  

II. Execution
The Naked Eye merges with the Imaginative Eye to create effective description—The Big Picture—by making things from, not making things up.
Family: Representation of Reality
Genus: Figurative Language 
Species: Illusion, Allusion, Elusion

Two Basic Categories of Figurative Language

New idea built from comparison between two unlike things; tension between two actualities creates possibility, or new meaning.
Comparison is evident. 
Creates an Illusion of reality.

New idea emerges from an abstraction of meaning.
Comparison is subtle.
Creates an Allusion or an Elusion of Reality.

Figurative Language has Two Parts : 
                                 Tenor – The Thing Represented 
                                 Vehicle – The Thing representing the Tenor. 
An Illusion measures a thing against a reflection of itself. (Vehicle & Tenor) Types of Illusion
Simile (A is like B; or, A as {if} B)
Paradox (Creates a relationship between things that at first seems contradictory, but with thought makes sense)
Hyperbole (comparison is overstated)
Analogy (Comparison between two relationships
(A is to B as C is to D)

An Allusion measures a thing against a known cultural or memory tweak by referencing something the reader will know (Allegory, Conceit, direct or indirect reference to other texts (intertextuality), music, movies, etc. (Vehicle & Tenor) Types of Allusion
Allegory (Every element of the story relates to another story, tale, myth)
Conceit (Long, complex comparison between two things that are extremely unalike)
Icon (Culturally popular Symbol, Celebrity, Book, etc.)

An Elusion measures a thing against its absence. (Vehicle only). Types of Elusion
Metaphor - One thing represents another
Animism (life is attributed to a nonhuman thing, but human life is not implied)
Personification (Inanimate object, force, or an abstract term is spoken of as a human being) 
Metonymy (Refers to something not by its own name, but by something closely related to it) 
Synecdoche (A part of something stands for the whole, or the whole stands for a part)
Symbols (A visible sign that points to a world of meaning beyond surface) 

Shared Qualities of Effective Descriptive Writing: 
1. Clarity: Distilled image is clear and accessible; calls a thing what it is or captures its essence; uses concrete nouns and active verbs. Language energized with meaning.
2. Purposeful: Distilled image transports essence/meaning; qualities of the thing described, not flowery prose; imaginative, not fancy; organic, not contrived or far-fetched.
3. Coherent: Distilled image remains True to Life by reproducing the distinctive features of original. 
4. Consistent:  Distilled image links the intended meaning from beginning to middle to end creating Unity of Meaning, as in an extended metaphor or exemplification.
5. Tension: The terms of the distilled image taken in context create an extension of Unity of Meaning by controlled use of metaphor, vice uncontrolled distortion of image and meaning—the strategy is diffused into the unitary effect: conceptual blending.

Considerations in Using Figurative Language: 
1.  Method of Structure 
2.  Intent of Effect
a. Explicit 
b. Implicit
3. Requirements on the Reader  
a. Illusion, well done, is sometimes easiest for readers to understand.
b. Allusion requires an understood knowledge base between writer and reader and       recognition of a Cultural Memory Tweak by the reader in most cases.
c. Elusion is complex and mysterious and requires not just recognition, but discovery of what is absent. 
4. Design Principles:
True or possible (Connection actually exists between elements; not absurd or obscure)
Precise (Grounds reader in concrete detail; not grasping at The Actual)
Evocative (Sensory Details)
Useful  (Creates Tension—the terms in context create meaning by extension) 
Figurative  (Uses literary devices: metaphor, metonymy, analogy, allegory, etc.)

Rewards of Good Description
	Creates the illusion of reality
	Penetrates layers of consciousness
	Can establish characters and settings quickly and effectively
	As a framing device, establishes narrator’s and character’s point of view
	Moves the story along, shapes the narrative line, and unfolds the plot
	Can change the pace of the story
	Can act as a transitional device, a way of linking scenes
	Can orchestrate the dance between scene and summary
	Can serve as unifying thematic device by suggesting the idea or feeling beneath the story
	Can be used to show levels of mood and tone
	Establishes Rhythms and Sounds

One moves the reader only by clarity. In depicting the motions of the ‘human heart’ the durability of the writing depends on the exactitude. It is the thing that is true and stays true that keeps fresh for the reader. —Ezra Pound “How to Read” 

Aristotle. Poetics. On Man In The Universe. Roslyn, NY: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1943.
Auerbach, E. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Trans. Willard Trask.  New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957.
Foucault, M. The Order of Things. New York: Vintage Books, 1994
Lodge, D. The Art of Fiction. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
McClanahan, R. Word Painting. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1999.
Pound, E. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1968.
Tate, A. “Tension in Poetry.” 1938.

Critiquing for Workshop

Respond to each other’s work with respect, depth and thoughtfulness, in a manner that is civil and constructive. Submit line-edit suggestions, marginal comments, and an end comment (summary of your thoughts on the piece) addressed to the writer. Read each piece twice and offer comments grounded in your reactions to the text. Comments should express what works for you and should suggest ways to strengthen the work. 
1. Offer an end comment that notes what you believe the work to be about, how you see the work achieving this, and what opportunities you can see for further exploration in this work. 

2.  Offer marginal comments that note how you react as you progress through the work. What strikes you as engaging, distancing, confusing, or otherwise affects you as a reader? 
3.  Offer line-edits suggesting changes for consistency and clarity. 
4.  Remember that your readers are trying their best to communicate their responses. Be patient and accepting of all responses.
5.  Wait until all respondents have spoken before asking questions.
6.   Discussing the work of others outside workshop will influence your comments. Don’t do it.
7.  Your written comments are your response as a reader. Don’t try to rewrite the text. Respond to the text, and not to the text as you would have written it.
8.  The most helpful responses are descriptive rather than judgmental.
9.  During workshop, your oral response should be brief and focused. You may read from your notes.
10.  Sometimes an author’s experience will remind you of something in your own life. In most creative writing workshops, discussing personal experience is discouraged. Not in ours. If you have personal experience that pertains to the work under discussion, please do share.
11.  When reading nonfiction prose, it is often difficult to distinguish between the “I” on paper and the “I” in real life (the author in front of you, listening intently to your comments). The group must focus on the text itself. In workshop, we refer to “I” as “N” the narrator, even when N is your N.
12.  Deliver the news as you would want it delivered to you.  

Critiquing: Questions to Ask of the Work 

1.	Personal Presence: Is there one?

2.	Is the work essay or memoir? Is it exploratory, meditative, reflective, lyric, informative, historical, etc.?
3.	Flexibility of Form
-Does each scene advance plot?
-Memory Tweak

4.	Veracity/The Covenant
-Reader/Writer Relationship
-Literal truth
-Deeper truth
-Admitting Limits
-Bullshitting Reader

5.	Themes
Single or Multiple Themes?
What does this piece want to be?
What is its nature?
What is thought and felt?
What is missed?
Who is the Self on the page?
How real does the piece feel?
What are common denominators?
What is recreated?

6.	Structure
-Is there a beginning, middle and end, or is this a non-linear essay?

7.  Descriptive Phrases
Senses attracted and engaged:  smell, sight, sound, taste, touch/feeling
	Not just “What Happened”

8.  Balance
			Narrative intersects Movement through: 
9.  Proportion
	Head-to-Gut Ratio
	Who/What is important? Who/What isn’t?

10. Movement

11. Perception
	Private I vs. Public I
		Real vs. Artifice
12.  Mindscape – How do N’s thoughts appear on the page? Does create an inner life for the reader to explore? 

13.  Interiorscape – Where does the reader go on the journey into N’s inner life? 

14.  Exteriorscape – How does setting/character/plot connect with N’s inner life?

15.  Authority – Does the writer need to do research in any of these areas?

16.  Diction:
		Dead language.
		Elevated language.
		Repetitive Words
		Plain to elaborate word use
Over the Top – material is presented in such a way that reader has a hard time believing the story.
17.  Dialogue: 
	Does it have a purpose?
Does it show relationships?
	Does it show power relations?
	Vocal inflection appropriate?
	Dialect appropriate?
	Is speaker identifiable and easily distinguished from other speakers?
18.  Risk
	What’s at risk?
Human heart in conflict with itself.
	Same light shined on self as on others.

19.  Backstory: Story beyond ending
20.  Clarity

21.  Synthesis/Discovery/Turning Point

22.  What is missing? What do I need to know more about?

Crime Scene Photo By Bob Cowser Jr. 

Greenfield, Tennessee, a farm and factory town of twenty-two hundred in the state’s rural northwest corner, has never been more than a place between places, one in a long list of towns to be passed through along kudzu-choked U.S. Highway 45 on the way south to Jackson or Memphis. More than a century ago now a conductor on a southbound Illinois Central Gulf train offered the town its name, noting the fields of winter wheat still green late in the year. 
It was in fact the railroad, and not the nearby Mississippi River, which was the prime mover in the delta land where I grew up. My slightly larger hometown of Martin, ten miles north up Highway 45, took its name from tobacco plantation owner Colonel William Martin who donated land for the railroad bed. Engineer Casey Jones lived 50 miles south in Jackson, Tennessee at the time of his legendary 1903 wreck, his modest house there now a museum.  The mosquitoes blamed for 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic which felled 400 Martin residents and killed 52 (victims were quarantined post mortem in their own cemetery) arrived from New Orleans in Illinois Central boxcars. 
On September 2, 1979, two members of the Weakley County rescue squad found the raped and murdered body of eight year-old Cary Ann Medlin in one of the community’s namesake green fields, not far from the Illinois Central tracks. Cary had gone on a bike ride with her little brother twenty hours earlier, gotten into a stranger’s Grand Torino and disappeared. By the time they found her tiny body atop a trampled swath of soybean plants just off Bean Switch Road, a notorious Lover’s Lane, the corpse had begun to turn in the late summer heat. 
Cary Medlin had been in my first grade class at the Martin Elementary School. Her stepfather worked in those days on the assembly line at the Goodyear tire plant in Union City, her mother as a nurse at a Jackson hospital, and before moving to Greenfield in the summer of ‘79 the family had lived for a time in Martin. Another place between places. 
I remember hearing news of her murder and running to find my first grade yearbook, hoping to fix her school days photo in my mind so I wouldn’t lose it. But the abduction and murder did not interrupt my childhood in the way you might imagine. I was as sad as a nine year-old boy could be about the business I suppose, but Cary had violated that cardinal rule of childhood about talking to strangers, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had Robert Glen Coe in custody just three days later. 
It wasn’t until twenty-one years later, long after I’d left Tennessee, after Martin and Greenfield had became only places in my mind and that Lover’s Lane a Memory Lane that I began to consider the murder’s place in a childhood which I now see as violent in so many other ways. As the state of Tennessee prepared to execute Coe for the Medlin murder (its first execution in forty years), I began to understand Bean Switch Road as a rutted track in memory which might run between me and many people I loved and respected, separating me from them. It seems at times to run through the heart of me, cleaving it in two. 
That first grade photo of Cary appeared over and over in the news in the months leading up to the Coe execution, along with another I found printed years before in the Nashville Tennessean and now reprinted as the newspaper re-capped the story: a shot of those rescue workers bent over the soybean plants, long-haired and t-shirted, hunting the girl’s body. The latter photo didn’t chill me so much as fascinate me. I sensed with a kind of strange excitement how the photo was an emblem of my childhood—the unmistakable heat, those men, something awful hidden just out of sight. 
Of course, this story isn’t news anymore. Both Medlin and Coe are as dead as they could be—Coe for almost five years at this writing, Cary Ann for nearly a quarter century. But it’s not history either. After all, something has drawn you here, reader—you want to know what it is the searchers seek among the soybean plants. The tiny body, yes, but something more. And now these paragraphs lie before you like stands of trees, a deep forest of wonder and darkness whose mystery beckons. 
Bob Cowser, Jr.'s first book, Dream Season, was a New York Times Book Review “Editor's Choice” and “Paperback Row” selection and was listed among the Chronicle of Higher Education's best-ever college sports books. He is also the author of Scorekeeping, a collection of coming-of-age essays, and his essays and reviews have appeared widely in American literary magazines, including Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, American Literary Review, Sycamore Review, Brevity, Sonora Review, Fourth Genre, and Creative Nonfiction. He is Associate Professor of English at St. Lawrence University, where he teaches courses in nonfiction writing and later American literature, and an adjunct member of the faculty of Ashland University’s Low-Residency MFA program. He also serves as associate editor of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative.

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission. Downloaded from Brevity  on 29Sep06.

Orbit By Rebecca McClanahan 

Miss Ranney's stockings were always straight. I checked the seams each morning as we stood facing the chalkboard, my hand across a place I called a pocket but she called your heart, and I pledged allegiance to a flag no bigger than my brother's diaper flapping on the line. We sang of mountains and amber grain, our voices always a beat or two behind the warped '45 spinning on the phonograph beside the globe on Miss Ranney's desk. Our world was the Weekly Reader, hopscotch and jump rope, the only war the Cold One which America of course was winning. 

Above our heads, a banner of the earth’s children: an African boy with corduroy hair, a fur-muffled Eskimo, a golden girl from Holland. I fingered my Brownie badge and renewed my oath to help other people at all times, especially those at home. Oh lucky child, doubly loved, held by the centripetal force of Mother and Miss Ranney. They lived only for my welfare, wrote notes about my progress and pinned them to my shirt, exchanged report card signatures. They knew my height and weight and the date of my polio shots. Each morning Mother locked my thermos and only Miss Ranney could loosen it, leaning over me in her ivory crepe blouse until the cap sighed once, then was free. 

Six years later my first stockings were seamed and I thought of Miss Ranney while I sat on the edge of the bathtub shaving the pale brown hairs. It was 1963, before panty hose came to smooth the garter belt's bulge. Later that year, I was in Home Ec tracing my face shape with soap onto a mirror when the intercom crackled the news. School let out early. I came home to my mother watching in black and white. The rest of the orbit swirls out from there: King murdered the week of my senior prom, then Bobby in a hotel just miles from my school while I marched to Pomp and Circumstance, not knowing that within a year on a July night in the back seat of a Volkswagen, I would pledge what was left of my heart to a boy leaving for Vietnam while above us the tired moon finally gave in to a tiny man in gravity boots, planting an American flag. 

Rebecca McClanahan has published nine books, most recently Deep Light: New and Selected Poems 1987-2007 and The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings, which won the 2005 Glasgow prize in nonfiction. She has also authored four previous books of poetry and two books of writing instruction, including Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. McClanahan’s work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best American Essays, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, and numerous other publications. McClanahan, who lives in New York, has received the Wood Prize from POETRY, a Pushcart Prize in fiction, and (twice) the Carter prize for the essay from Shenendoah. Rebecca’s website is 

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission. Downloaded from Brevity  on 29Sep06.

Daffiama, Ghana

By Lisa Kahn Schnell

There was a woman who died while I was in Daffiama; she was young and eight months pregnant. I didn’t go to the funeral, but those who did said you could see the baby circling around inside of her, like a hand moving under a sheet. Later I felt bad that I hadn’t gone to the funeral, but I was never sure if my motivation was guilt or disappointment over missing such a spectacle. 

My own babies have died inside me twice now. The first one fell with the Twin Towers, and as the clots of blood dripped into the toilet, I said goodbye almost thankfully, glad not to bring a child into such a world. This one is taking its time, and I have nothing more than my intuition to tell me that it’s gone. 

I am haunted by this scene: the woman, the funeral, the baby circling around.  They cut the baby out in order to bury her, but only after it had stopped circling and had died. I didn’t go to the funeral—my fiancé was visiting, and I didn’t know the woman. But I should have gone. I should have gone not just to support the family, and not just because you never know when it’s going to be your turn to grieve or be grieved, but because knowing what I know now about my own life, I see that there are things I would have learned, maybe things I would have taken from that funeral if I had the courage. 

This time nothing is falling: no blood, no towers, I just know. Something is different, something has changed, and I search my body for signs that my baby is still there—check my breasts, my belly, the fluid in the toilet, and back again to the breasts, wondering if the life inside me has died. I’m still not completely sure, so I survey again, trying to find the feeling that was once there, that still comes back in little wisps, but seems mostly gone. There is something about the way the breasts suddenly deflate, the way the body stops gurgling and humming, that lets me know I will continue to chase after the symptoms of another life in my body without ever finding what I am looking for. 

I am the color brown. Not just any brown, but the kind you make with paint or too many layers of crayon when you’re a little kid. You mix all the colors together—the good colors and the bad colors too, just to see what will happen, and you come up with a muddy, greenish, sickly version of the color brown, a sort of chaos and confusion of life and lifelessness all blended into one, never to be separated into sky blue, tangerine, and sea foam again. This brown, this color I am, it sucks in the colors of crocuses, bananas, my husband’s eyes, and it holds them tight, keeping them for its own but never changing, never brightening to a rich mahogany or surrendering to black. That is what color I am right now. 

If I knew then what I know now, what would I have done? I would have gone to the funeral and made them cut the baby out while it was still alive, instead of after it had died. I would have taken the dead woman’s baby for my own, as a guard against the possibility that either of us would ever be alone, as a stone thrown in the face of death, as protection against this circling, this looking for something we both need desperately that is no longer there. 

Lisa Kahn Schnell served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, West Africa, from 1998-2000. Her essay “Circling,” which first appeared in Brevity, will be anthologized in Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years (Snowvigate Press, 2009). She lives in Kutztown, Pennsylvania with her husband and their two daughters.

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission. Downloaded from Brevity on 29Sep06.

Teaching Errors By Jillian Schedneck 

I lean over Todd’s desk. His head is down, eyes concentrating on the tangle of words he’s produced. I read silently along with him, parsing out scribble and scratches. As my bitten fingernail zigzags over his sentences, I realize that even my fingers don’t match my image of a            fourth grade teacher, who should be neat and composed, with a rosy complexion and trimmed, polished nails. She is not someone who must ask repeatedly for attention and good behavior, whose voice gets muffled in the chatter of children, who anxiously picks at her nails and tears at her cuticles until tiny red bumps appear. 
Todd has misspelled the word house. He has forgotten the e. I consider asking him what the correct spelling might be, imagine him looking up at me with big, brown eyes, searching the details of my face for the correct letter, but decide to just tell him what he needs instead. Alejandra is behind me. I can hear the clink and ping of her fiddling with the colored pencils. She’s probably doodling on the desk, her long, dark lashes cast down as she tries to escape the demands of the classroom and enter into the world of her drawing. I’m trying to ignore her insubordination—she should be writing a paragraph like the rest of the six students in my            after school reading class—but clearly another one of my tactics has failed. I turn around, ready to demand she sit back in her seat, prepared to be heard and heeded this time, but she is looking at me, wide eyed. 
“Ms. Jillian,” she whispers. “Are you wearing a thong?” 
I realize that my thong is peeking out of my pants. As she rifled through the box of  pencils, Alejandra must have also been watching my backside as I bent over Todd’s desk, pondering the thin line of flower-print elastic that clings to my waistline. I nod solemnly, mentally adding another dress code violation to my long list of teaching errors. But then she looks at me conspiratorially, as if this is a secret we share. Her head is cocked; her lovely brown complexion lifts into something close to a smile. She is no longer a manipulative ten year old who pouts when she wants permission to draw hearts on the chalkboard or be excused to the lavatory for the third time in an hour. In a moment, Alejandra has become a young woman learning how to manage the intimate details of our gender. 
I turn back to Todd. He has dutifully added the e, but his composition—five sentences describing his home—is riddled with errors. I ignore them, focus on the correct word, and smile. He grins back at me, but there is something about his expression, the penetrating, hooded brown eyes, that tells me he knows I’m overlooking his other mistakes. Guilt ripples through me, coils in my chest. He’s experienced this kind of neglect before and forgives me all the same. 

Jillian Schedneck taught Literature and Creative Writing at the American University in Dubai for the 2007-2008 academic year. In 2006 she was a professor at Abu Dhabi University. Jillian holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from West Virginia University. She is currently working on a travel memoir about her experiences in the United Arab Emirates titled “Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights.” Her creative work has been published in literary journals such as The Common Review, Brevity, and Fourth River. 

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission. Downloaded from Brevity on 29Sep06.

First Draft “Time” By Sondra Meek

“Thieves!” As the overburdened stretch of I-95 extends before me, with cars packed in every lane as we creep toward our destinations, I cannot stop the seething anger and indignation that boils within me. Calculating the hours, I am certain the Virginia state legislature steals an hour and a half from me five days a week. Often, the weekend offers no reprieve. To my left, I glare at the waste of space known as the HOV lane. Even the lure of minimal traffic isn’t enough to get many strangers to ride together. The sometimes northbound, sometimes southbound lane is never used to full capacity. Adding lanes in both directions just wouldn’t have been right – all that grass dividing the highway looks so much better! I finally allow myself to smile as I imagine the opportunity to place a full handed slap across the face of the Neanderthal that came up with that brilliant idea. 
“Jerk!” Look at this guy. Some people are so rude. Traffic is finally moving, and this idiot thinks the left lane is for pacing instead of passing. No one goes the speed limit in the fast lane! Wonderful - the two cars in the left lanes are riding beside each other. What is wrong with people? There is no driving etiquette around here. If you’re not in a hurry, then get the hell out of my way – ‘cause I am!  I mean, gee, that’s what I do when I get a fast mover up my ass. 
“For the love of God!” I’m finally off that cursed highway, and now I’m stopped at a Green Light! I hate the beltway! When are they going to realize they need more ROAD around here? 
I’m sorry I’m late. We have a meeting in Woodbridge? At least we’ll be riding together. Score one up for the HOV lane. We’ll arrive in no time.

**This meeting is interrupted with breaking news. The towers have been hit – and now the Pentagon. You must return to base immediately. We are in Threatcon Delta.**
	Yesterday, the great eagle screamed and the clock stopped. I didn’t know it could – but it did. The hands are moving again, but now I hear the slow, steady tick tock of each moment. 
	I heard my children sleeping. I listened to them for several minutes before I woke them. On the way to work, I listened to the news, but sometimes I turned it off and just listened to the sound of my breathing. I saw the burnt orange, yellow, and red leaves in the trees. I saw the way the sun shimmered through them as the wind gently whispered. I thought of the fire, the people falling from the sky. I tasted the salt of my tears. I rolled down the windows and listened to the birds. With red eyes, I tried to smile at the driver next to me. She tried too.
Traffic was stopped for two miles off base. It took more than an hour to get to the gate. I really don’t care. 
I’m not sure how much, but I do have some time.

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission

Final Draft “Time” by Sondra Meek, MCWS 4

By Sondra Meek

Mornings Before

“Let’s get a move on!”
	Sitting on the edge of her bed, with legs dangling and shoulders slumped, my six-year-old stares at the wall in a trance. She does not share my sense of urgency to tackle the day ahead. She does not understand the importance of every minute. I look at the clock and shake my head. I have lost all sense of pity for her. 
	“Amanda! You’re wasting time. Go brush your teeth, brush your hair, and get dressed – now. I don’t have time for this!”
	She moves to the beat of her own drum, but once in the car, I settle into the morning routine. Amanda’s before and after school care is local to our neighborhood, and my year old baby attends the day care on base. Looking at my watch, I realize that the few minutes that I have been delayed will cost me many more. 
	Dropping Amanda off, I am sure to remind her that she has stolen from me. Now I don’t even have time for the drive through.
As the overburdened stretch of I-95 south of the Capitol extends before me, with cars packed in every lane as we creep toward our northbound destinations, I cannot stop the seething anger and indignation that boils within me. Calculating the hours, I am certain the Virginia state legislature steals an hour and a half from me every workday. With my simple math skills, I conclude that including weekends, they rob me of at least ten hours a week. 
To my left, I glare at the waste of space known as the HOV lane. Even the lure of minimal traffic isn’t enough to get many strangers to ride together. The sometimes northbound, sometimes southbound lane is never used to full capacity. Adding lanes in both directions just wouldn’t have been right – all that grass dividing the highway looks so much better! I finally allow myself to smile as I imagine the opportunity to place a full handed slap across the face of the Neanderthal that came up with that brilliant idea. 
Look at this guy. Some people are so rude. Traffic is finally moving, and this idiot thinks the left lane is for pacing instead of passing. No one goes the speed limit in the fast lane! Wonderful - the two cars in the left lanes are riding beside each other. What is wrong with people? There is no driving etiquette around here. If you’re not in a hurry, then get the hell out of my way – ‘cause I am! I’m a Marine on a mission, and I have a job to do! 
“For heavens sake!” 
I’m finally off that cursed highway, and now I’m stopped at a Green Light! I hate the beltway! When are they going to realize they need more ROAD around here? 
“I’m sorry I’m late. Traffic was hell this morning.”

Moments During
My boss reminds us of our 0900 meeting in Woodbridge. At least the three of us will be riding there together. Score one up for the HOV lane. We’ll only be a little bit late.
This is an important meeting. We are working with the Marine Corps program manager to set the timeline and milestones for the new Department of Defense messaging software. We have obstacles to overcome, mandates to meet, and policies to publish.   We are not happy that the secretary has interrupted this meeting.
“I’m sorry, but this is important.” 
She says this as she turns on the TV mounted on the wall of the briefing room. The pictures of the burning towers come into full view as she says, “…and also the Pentagon.”
We are silent. I am stunned. 
My thoughts are racing… Pentagon… military… war. My husband – My baby is on base. She is not safe. I realize I’m no longer at the table. I am pacing.
My boss calls her boss.
“We are in ThreatCon Delta. You must return to base immediately.”
Our passage onto the base is slowed at the gate by the forklift placing barriers in front of the gate shack. 
The Marine that I am returns to the forefront of my being. I am in autopilot. My thoughts are focused on security, contingency operations, alternate network operations, and the myriad of requirements to overcome the obstacles presented by this occurrence.  
I am numb. I am a robot doing what must be done. 
I realize the time. I must pick up my children – I’m late. 
The beeping answering machine is the only ‘welcome home’ we receive. My husband has been activated, and will not be returning home for a few days. I will take him fresh clothes in the morning.
Beep. “Guys, it’s mom. I know you’re probably busy, but please call me when you can.”
Beep. “Hey, it’s Nito. You guys ok? Call me.”
Beep…. Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep… I’m grateful we are so loved.
I must watch the TV now. I hold Breanna as Amanda sits next to me. She knows something terrible has happened today and I don’t know how to explain it to her. 
“Is that why you were so late, momma?”
I look at her, and though I answer “yes,” I realize that I was late because I forgot to leave. I was doing “important” things; I want to explain. Being a Marine is not something I do; it is who I am, who I have been, and who I will always be. I want to tell her that I had to be there, because they needed me.
“Yes.” I say again while watching the sadness unfold before me. Thousands are dead. They just went to work. And the Pentagon – I am a target even at home now. I look at her again. My children are not safe.
“Why did they do that?” 
I tell her that I don’t really know why; there are just some bad people in the world.
“I love you momma.” As she hugs me, I find emotions I sometimes forget I possess. As the cleansing begins, understanding comes slowly. 
Being a mother is not just something I do; it is who I am, who I should have been, and who I always want to be. They need me.

Mornings After

	Yesterday, the great eagle screamed and the clock stopped. I didn’t know it could – but it did. The hands of time are moving again, but now I hear the slow, steady tick tock of each moment. 	
	I hear my children sleeping. I listen to them for several minutes before I wake them. I see them through changed eyes in the morning light. Where are my children in “God, Country, Corps?” 
On the way to work, I listen to the news, but then I turn it off and just listen to the sound of my breathing. I see the burnt orange, yellow, and red leaves in the trees. I see the way the sun shimmers through them. I think of the fire, the people falling from the sky. I taste the salt of my tears. I roll down the windows and listen to the birds. With red eyes, I try to smile at the driver next to me. I think she’s trying too.
I look in the rear view mirror. New eyes stare back at me. 
Traffic is stopped for two miles off base. It will take more than an hour to get to the gate. I really don’t care. 
I have time. 

Sondra Meek was born and raised in Lakeland, Fl. She joined the Marine Corps in 1990 and is currently a Master Sergeant serving with III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa Japan. She is also married to a Marine and has two daughters, ages 13 and 8. She has served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and her husband has served in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission

First Draft “Numbers” by David Charles

During my first sixth months of recruiting duty, workdays lasted from 0700 to 2300 Monday thru Friday, and from 0800 to 1800 on Sunday.  It (What is it, day or week?) contained “goals” of two hundred telephone calls (a day?), ten canvassing contacts, and three home visits (a week?).  Most of my contacts were cold contacts (what does this mean?).  From those numbers (which ones?), I was to initially screen and produce as many appointments as possible, including three for the next day or that very day that showed up.  I was not allowed to secure to my home until those goals were met (Mention Marty here?).
The next step in the process was to have the appointments actually show up.  If they showed up, my numbers said I needed at least two of them to survive the thorough screening.  My screening often sent two or even three of them packing per day; my career job was as a criminal investigator, recruiting was _______.  I knew trash when I smelled it!
Once a successful screening was done, I conducted the interview.  While the criminal investigator in me “hurt” the screening odds, it helped in the interview (show this by creating a scene).  I had a one to three ratio in positive interviews.  I could find out what their perceived needs were (Inductive Logic) and explain how the Corps could meet that need (show this in a scene).  Once they said “yes”, they were called applicants.
The statistics demanded I get five applicants each month to get three contracts.  That was due to parents, buyer’s remorse and MEPS.  Parents are often pro Marine Corps until their young Johnny or Molly want to join.  Sometimes Molly or Johnny had second thoughts about whether or not they could handle the Corps; after all, I was honest with them about what it was like, good and bad.  Finally the MEPS would occasionally find health problems even the applicant didn’t know about. A month that did not result in three contracts caused the numbers to go up.
Making all those “numbers” was occasionally impossible, especially the “three appointments for the next day.”  The recruiter had to contact the staff non-commissioned officer in charge and report his numbers before securing.  My SNCOIC was a forty-something year old master gunnery sergeant taskmaster who liked pushing people’s buttons.  He seemed to genuinely enjoy it.  (Everything above is summary/introduction.  The story begins below.  Try condensing the information above, the facts, numbers and routine of a day into a scene with a prospect.  Show Narrator’s daily routine in this scene; calling the numbers, thinking to himself how many calls he has to make, the MgySgt taskmasker drifting around in the shadows or looming over the desk.  Show him barking out the command to go to the bar.  Show narrator thinking about what Marty will say.  Did Narrator call Marty and say he would be home late?  Or did he just decide to gut it out when he made it home?)
Create Scene(Initiating event—what sets N out on his journey/the Beginning): One night 2300 wasn’t good enough for him.  He refused to let me secure and told me to canvass the bars until I had all the prerequisite appointments.
 Create Scene in Bar
Create Scene, driving home, reflecting on the hours spent on the road as a recruiter and the nastiness of the bars carried on N’s clothing into the car—describe car: At the end of that night, I went home exhausted, sweaty, and smelling like the smoke from the bars, an odor I despise.  
Create Scene:  Pulling into the driveway at 0200 all I could think of was getting a shower and going to sleep.  As I pulled into the drive, about 0200, I could not wait to get a shower and then get some sleep.  (Don’t tell reader the end, show the scene: going into the house, undressing along the hall, wondering when Marty will speak, what she will say, N cursing the MgySgt and the Corps for getting him into this vise.  Does he wonder if it’s worth the sacrifice?) It was not to work out that way.  I was undressing as I went into the bedroom and master bath.  
Recreate Dialogue: Marty.  N.  Marty.  N.  All the way until the paragraph that begins, “as I climbed into bed.”  Use actions in the paragraphs between here and there as tags on dialogue, i.e.: “Honey…where’ve you been?” Marty mumbled, groggy but awake.  (then recreate what was said—that is the difference between scene/action and the summary that followsShe did not appreciate my being out to such hours and was making it painfully clear.  I could not fully enjoy the shower because I had heard the hurt in Marty’s voice.  I had called her earlier but she still didn’t understand why a thirty-year-old staff sergeant in the Marine Corps couldn’t come home at a reasonable hour.  The explanation that the old master gunnery sergeant was allowed to order me to keep canvassing until I had three appointments for the next day didn’t make any more sense to her than it had me.  Any able bodied prospect for the Marine Corps in a bar after twenty-three hundred hours would be in no shape to commit to a next day appointment with me.  Further, after such a long night I would be in no shape to conduct a decent interview anyway!
(This is good summary: Water rained down on my body; it brought no relief.  My denials of doing nothing wrong were making matters worse. (Then it moves straight back to scene…
“You always take your shower in the morning.  What smell did you need to hide tonight?”  
Deodorant soap replaced the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke from my body, but the taste in my mouth was getting worse.  I stepped out of the steamy shower and picked up my toothbrush knowing that no toothpaste could erase the taste in my mouth.
I climbed into bed, the silence roaring in my ears.  Marty’s accusations stung.  Master Guns’ demands were wrecking my life.  The Corps was beating me down.  With her back to me, Marty’s muffled crying was worse than silence. I placed a hand on her shoulder but the shrug hurt like a slap.  I lay there with nothing to say.  (I want you to look at how you measure the odds here—It is fascinating and has something important to do with the theme running through your work) The clock said it was a short night before I had to get back up and start over.  In my mind it was a long night because I did not rest.  
(My wife could not understand why I just didn’t lie to the SNCOIC and come home.)  Have Marty say this earlier in the new dialogue/scene you created.  You are staying true to the story if you recreate dialogue based on the essence of what you took away from the exchange.  Otherwise, as in the sent above, you are only guessing what someone is thinking.  This is one of the very hard parts, ethically, about writing creative nonfiction.  My personal rule is to never put thoughts I can’t know coming out of someone else’s mouth, and if I know what they think about something, they must have told me.  So I reconstitute conversations based on that criteria, and I always shine the same light on myself as I shine on others.)  
(Move this section, a description of Master Guns and his intentions up in the story to where you introduce him.  Trying showing the reader all this in his actions in a scene.)  I think that was what the old sergeant was trying to make me do.  If I gave up my integrity, he could get more contracts out of me.  I was technically a very good recruiter and we both new it.  Technically proficient was not good enough.  A prospector can do everything right and end up with no gold in his pan at the end of the day.   Similarly, if a recruiter does everything right he can still end up empty-handed.  Disqualified prospects were no good to anybody.  Those that aren’t DQ and bailed out weren’t worth any more!  
A recruiting SNCOIC doesn’t want his recruiters getting caught with their integrity down but he is willing to risk it to make mission.  Like a grunt in a battle, an “injury” to a recruiter in any one-month battle is an acceptable casualty of war.  (Is this important to the theme of this particular story, or is the theme you are trying to get at in this section?)
(Use what you can from here in earlier description, cut the rest.)  The old man had over sixteen years in the recruiting business.  He likely couldn’t even remember the real Marine Corps; only the recruiting poster Corps existed for him.  He tried to claim going to Bible-studies several times a week but he salty recruiters explained he was busy with women on the side.  What about complaining to the chain of command about the seven days a week press and abusive brow beatings and beratings he liked to pass out?  That would read as weakness and we knew it.  
This is a separate story inside this story—N is avoiding the real story by ending with this: Anyway, rumor had it the old man had assaulted a recruiter in Georgia and the Colonel just moved him to a new duty-station, in Daytona Beach, Florida.  If that was the punishment for punching a recruiter, headquarters may give him a bonus for working me one hundred and six hours per week.
(This ending is not really what the narrator realized from his experience that night.  Visualize, dig, look at every detail.  What do are you trying to get this story to say?  Working out the timeline, theme and thematic conflict will help you realize the right ending.  You can do it.  I know you can.)
Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission

Sally’s Response to David’s “Numbers”

Like I said before, you have real talent, so don’t think badly of your writing when you see my comments.  I really like this piece.  For me, it was story about a marine who must play the odds every day in his recruiting job—and all the odds against his success seem stacked against him.  Corps’ values, his wife’s values, his boss’s values—all are forced on him as he tries to manage a way to please them while staying true to himself, to his own values.  This is truly a story of “the human heart in conflict with itself” as Faulkner said in his Nobel acceptance speech.  

This story has potential.  You are just starting out.  Don’t get hard on yourself.  I’ve been doing this for a few years now, but when I started I was amazed by how big a difference learning just a little about craft can make.   

One of the most important things you can do, is to take this piece and determine what is summary and what is scene.  Once you figure that out, the writing of both will come easy.  Keep summaries short, use them as places for background information or for jumps and leaps in time (flashbacks and flashforwards).  Scenes should be used for the actions and descriptions hiding in disguise as summary.  I’ve pointed some of these places out in the attached sort-of-edited draft.  I did this with everyone’s work—it just seemed the fastest way to teach what I know all who are left in the seminar can quickly learn.  You will be surprised to find that writing in scenes is far easier than writing summary.  

When you create your timeline, start with placing the major events in this piece on the line first.  Then add in all the little ticks between the major moments/scenes.  Determine what is the initiating event—what sets this narrator off on this particular journey.  Determine what is the turning point, the place where N must make a choice or change.  This is the crisis point.  The climax scene should contain the event that leads directly to N’s new realization or awareness of his situation or self.  Revealing this new awareness in a scene or summary is the end.  Often the end does not feel like the end.  For instance, in this piece, the moment N steps out of the shower and realizes nothing is going to take the bad taste leftover from the evening away could be the crisis point or the climax point, it could be the turning point or the revealed realization.  

Anyway, these are all craft things that you are learning.  I will looking forward to reading your revision.  I will especially be looking forward to reading what everyone has written six weeks from now!


Final Draft “Numbers” by David Charles

Always Faithful
By David Charles
I stepped into the recruiting office at 5 p.m. and was greeted by “What’cha got?” belched out by the Master Gunnery Sergeant in charge of the station.  I disrespectfully thought of him as “the old sergeant” or “the boss salesman”.  I didn’t like what he brought to the Marine Corps uniform that we wore daily.
“Not much success yet.  I’m working on it though.” I replied, trying to stay positive.  The day’s nearly fruitless efforts flashed through my mind.  Like most days of the past several months, seven days a week, I arrived at work about 7:30 a.m. knowing I could look forward to working until after 10 p.m.  
“Working?  Only one of your appointments showed up and you disqualified him like it was cool!” said the old sergeant.  Cutting off my reply, he continued, “If you didn’t make appointments with disqualified people, you wouldn’t have to work so hard and maybe you could put your three bodies in the Marine Corps this month!”  
“You know I screen them right before making appointments.” I protested. “I can’t help it if they turn out to be druggies, criminals, stupid or just plain broken when they sit down for a complete screening and I get them talking.  But wouldn’t you rather I screened them out during the initial interview than to have them disqualified after we’ve spent days or weeks on them?”
“Don’t tell me you’re working when you know it’s results that count!” The old sergeant bellowed like he had an itch in a bad place today. “What I would prefer is that you got your three appointments, you had them show up, you gave them a good interview, you made them want to join the Corps, and you got ‘em processed and in the Corps!  Use your investigator stuff to convince them to say yes, not to say they are disqualified!  Maybe then you could get home to that family of yours at a reasonable hour!” He about-faced and marched back into his office.  
I walked to my desk.  Shake it off and make these phone calls count, I thought to myself as I got the marketing lists back out.  But my mind wandered.
Being assigned to recruiting from my usual job as a criminal investigator was both good and bad.  As an investigator, I wasn’t afraid to talk to people and ask them questions but as a recruiter, I seemed twice as likely to find out the prospect was disqualified. Once a successful screening was done, I smoothly conducted the interview because I had interviewed so many people as an investigator. Still, I felt I had to be honest.  As an investigator, I had success reading people and getting them to tell the truth.  As a recruiter, I had success getting them to tell me what they thought they needed and then explaining to them how the Corps could meet that need.  One out of two interviews ended with the qualified prospects saying they wanted to join the Corps.  As an investigator, I had been awarded two Navy Achievement Medals.  As a recruiter, those and other awards pinned over my heart on my starched, staff sergeant’s uniform only helped with the public Marine image.  Despite the advantages that being an investigator brought me, the biggest effect on recruiting duty was to leave a wide path of disqualified prospects in my wake. 
A recruiter’s tasks are based on statistics.  Mine went something like this:  To get three new people with signed contracts each month, I needed five people to pass my thorough screening and say they wanted to be Marines. You may wonder why the stats demanded I get five prospects to become applicants each month.  Two of them would not make it into the Corps.  The reasons for that were:  Parents are often pro Marine Corps until their young Johnny or Molly say they want to join.  Molly and Johnny themselves sometimes have second thoughts of their own and they wonder if they can actually handle being a Marine; after all, I am honest with them about what it is like.   Finally the MEPS (that’s the military entrance processing station) would occasionally find health problems even the applicant didn’t know about.  
Getting back to those tasks based on statistics, stay with me now as I get through how the numbers worked out.  To get the five applicants to say they want to be Marines, I needed to interview ten prospects who passed through that tough screening.  To get those ten, I needed twenty to show up for an appointment and allow the screening.  To get those twenty, I needed appointments with about fifty people who I had initially screened.  That’s because so many of them chickened out and never even showed up for their appointments.  To get those fifty appointments, I had to approach and talk to a lot of people.
I talked to those people either on the telephone or in person, what we called daily activities. Those activities included about 200 telephone calls and, getting back to this day at a little after 5 p.m. now, I’d made about seventy-five (not counting the disconnected or wrong numbers); about ten area canvasses, which actually meant obtaining contact information of qualified prospects at high schools, businesses, restaurants and various other locations.  I’d made six contacts (not counting those immediately disqualified or who refused to give “follow-up” information); and three “home visits”, knocking on doors at homes where someone had shown some interest in the Marines in the past.  I’d made all three home visits that day with the usual lack of success; they no longer lived there.  Those activities were supposed to result in three appointments for the next day, every day. Making all those “numbers” was occasionally impossible, especially the “three appointments for the next day.”    
I looked back at the lists and decided to make a head call before a telephone call.  Cause sometimes, that old sergeant just made me want to shit!
“Slacking off again? Get busy and sell someone on the Corps!” bellowed the old sergeant. He didn’t even know what the real Marine Corps was like anymore.  He had been on recruiting duty for sixteen years and, judging by the half-truths I heard him spouting to prospects, he was out of touch with reality:  Boot camp isn’t as hard as people think it is; You only work eight hours a day on average, once you get to the fleet; and, You’ll get a promotion every two years on average, and every six months at first.  He was not familiar with the truth.
“You know you’re not going home until you have an interview and three appointments for tomorrow!” the old sergeant regurgitated. 
When I returned to my desk from the bathroom, the old sergeant was heading out the door with his Bible.  According to the recruiters who had been there longer than I, that was no Bible study he was going to!  He was off to another affair.  It seemed prospects weren’t the only people he enjoyed lying to.  Scuttlebutt was he had a former mistress at home for a wife and a new mistress on the side.  I was just glad he was leaving.  Excuse me but my career job was as a criminal investigator.  I know trash when I smell it!  Integrity was very important to me as a husband, father, investigator, and Marine.  This grungy, old fart of a salesman wouldn’t know integrity if it poked him in the eye.
This was the guy I had to call every night and get approval to secure, to leave work and go home at night.  I had to call the boss, the old sergeant, and report my numbers every evening.  During each call I could expect to receive a lecture about how sorry I had performed, unless I had someone actually join the Corps that day.  The old sergeant was a taskmaster who genuinely enjoyed pushing my buttons.   
After almost five hours of talking to people on the phone and going out and talking to people at malls, stores and various other public places, I felt done for the day.  I made the required 10 p.m. phone call to the boss without three appointments for the next day, expecting another demoralizing lecture.  
“What’cha got?” 
“Four appointments, two for tomorrow.”
“Keep looking,” he huffed, “go out and find a good appointment for tomorrow. Call me at eleven.”
The next call was to my wife, Marty, the third call that day.  “I don’t know why you don’t just come home,” she said.  “It would be better if you were sent overseas again.  At least then I didn’t expect you home.”  Until recruiting duty, we had thought my time overseas without the family was the worst thing we were going to face besides combat.
Dragging ass, I continued to approach people around 7-eleven stores and such, acting like I just happened to be stopping by on my way home from work.
At 11 p.m., I made the next required call to the old sergeant.  
“What’cha got?”
“I talked to some more people to call back over the next couple days but all the legitimate businesses are closing up.”
“You are going to stay out there and canvass the bars until you make that appointment with a qualified applicant!  And don’t secure until you’ve got one!” he ordered. 
I called home for the fourth time. 
“I still don’t understand why a thirty-year-old staff sergeant in the Marine Corps can’t come home at a reasonable hour.” Marty moaned. “This is stupid.  Just come home!”
I canvassed about three or four rank, stale bars.  Each reeking with odors that reminded me of my alcoholic, chain-smoking, family-abandoning father.  I avoided the mumbling, stumbling drunks who called out, “Marine, come join me for a drink.”  I watched men in their early twenties turn their backs when they saw me approaching their pool tables.  Some of them saw me as a shark in their swimming hole and dove for cover.  I was more like a lifeguard, offering to lift them out of their fetid water, only they couldn’t see me underneath the pressed uniform with expert shooting badges, personal decorations and the famous dress-blue trousers with scarlet “blood-stripe” down the seams.  The blood-stripe had been earned by enlisted Marines shedding their blood at the Battle of Chapultapec.  I felt the only blood a recruiter feared shedding was that of his career if he strayed from honesty and was caught fraudulently enlisting someone who was disqualified.  Over the next two hours, I managed conversations with about five prospects who seemed to recognize me for what I was without the fear of being caught.  
Finally, a little after 1 a.m., I struck up a conversation with a prospect destined to become the required appointment.  He was a healthy-looking man in his early twenties.  He appeared only slightly under the influence of the untold drinks he had consumed.  
“Yes,” the prospect said, “I would like to find out more about the Marine Corps.”
 I waded in further, “… but not everyone can be a Marine.” I listed the things that I had seen keep men out of the Corps: drugs, health problems, lack of education, inability to pass written and physical tests, and on and on. 
The prospect replied positively each time with things like: I wouldn’t want to be in the Corps with people on drugs either; I don’t have a problem with that; and, I’m good there. Answering each disqualifier as I covered it.  
As I discussed the importance of Marines, the prospect interjected, “I’ve always thought of joining the Marines.”  
I paused.
“What are you doing when you get up tomorrow?” I asked.
“Not much, why?”  
“Well I’m about to get out of here but why don’t we get together around two o’clock so I can tell you more about the Corps,” I suggested. 
“Sounds good,” He said.  
After ironing out the details and writing down his contact information, I finally left the musty tavern and drove home, exhausted and sweaty.  The smoke and stale booze clung to my uniform and drifted through the car evoking memories of winter car rides with my smoking father, Canadian Mist on his breath, and my three brothers and I squeezed in the back seat with the windows rolled all the way up.  
I opened my window to let in a breeze.  I could not wait to get a shower and then get some sleep.  Unfortunately my home was a half hour away.  It seemed like a good idea when Marty and I chose it but it was too far from the office. While no castle, it was far more appealing than the rusted, modified, mobile home of my childhood, where the addition made of scrap wood was better than the original trailer. The modest, three-bedroom house was a block away from the beach to make it as nice as possible for my family.  

I eased into the dark, quiet house about 2 a.m., trying not to disturb our children.  
“Where have you been?” Marty asked, sounding half asleep.   
I was undressing as I went through the bedroom and into the master bath. My dress shoes landed just inside the bedroom door.  My dress-blue trousers landed on top of a dresser.  My sweaty, uniform shirt hit the floor by the bathroom door.  “You know where I’ve been, out looking for an appointment as ordered.” I said as my underwear hit the bathroom floor.
“I hate you being out so late!  Who in their right mind is going to try to make appointments all night?  You always take your shower in the morning.  What’s really going on?”  She sounded angry and hurt. 
I couldn’t hide behind orders tonight.  I didn’t say a word though.  My day was all talk, too much talk with too many people, Marines at work, students and staff at school, workers at businesses, any people wherever I found them, ultimately, even malcontents in the bars.  My job as a recruiter was to become known, to build a positive reputation with everybody I came in contact with, whether in person or over the telephone, and put the eligible ones in the Corps.  The only people that didn’t seem to matter to the Corps were in my family.  I wanted it to end but it wouldn’t for over two more years.  
This doesn’t make any more sense to me than it does to Marty, I thought in the shower.  No one in a bar after 11 is in any shape to really commit to a next day appointment.  Hell, after tonight I’m not going to be in any shape to conduct an interview anyway! The water I had dreamed of rained down on my body but it brought no relief.  
 “You always take your shower in the morning; what smell did you need to hide tonight?”  Marty called out as I dried off.  The fragrance of soap replaced the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke on my body but I still felt dirty, and the acid taste in my mouth was getting worse.
I climbed into bed.  Marty was silent but her almost imperceptible movements told me she was crying. I thought she wanted to know if I have some honey on the side like the old sergeant but I didn’t want to have to deny it.  If I were enough like the old sergeant to be unfaithful, I would have just lied about it like he did.  Her back was to me.  I placed a hand on her shoulder but she immediately shrugged away from my touch.  It was only a slight movement and yet, it hurt like a slap.  I just lay there with nothing right to say.  
The glowing numbers on the clock said it was a short night before I had to get back up and start another recruiting day.  Instead, the night dragged on forever.  I did not rest.  My mind buzzed with the numbers and conversations from the day, recruiting numbers I may not be able to reach, and swarms of disappointment.  The old sergeant wanting to make quota, prospects wanting to be a Marine without any sacrifice, Marty wanting me to give more time to the family like I always had before recruiting duty, everyone wanting me to live up to their image of a Marine and the disappointment I would feel if I allowed such pressures to grind me down like my father or the old sergeant. My wife could not understand why I just didn’t lie to the old sergeant and come home.  That’s when it struck me.  That was what the old salesman wanted too.  
The old sergeant wanted me to lie. If I gave up my integrity, he could get more contracts out of me.  I was technically a very good recruiter and we both new it but technically proficient was not good enough.  A prospector can do everything right and end up with no gold in his pan at the end of the day.   Similarly, I had done everything right and still ended up empty-handed.  Disqualified prospects were no good to anybody.  A recruiting boss may not want his recruiters to get caught frauding people into the Corps but he is willing to risk it to make his station’s mission.  Like a grunt in a battle, one blown-up, caught-cheatin’ recruiter in the battle is an acceptable casualty of war.  
I was not going to be an integrity casualty of this war.  Recruiting was just a job I was ordered to do but I still had a family to provide for and a career to get back to after the recruiting war ended. I am not my father.  I am not the old sergeant.  I am still the man of my house, a husband, a father, a Marine, and an investigator as well as a recruiter.  I was resolved.  I don’t know how, but I won’t give that up.

Born and raised in a small town in the South, David Charles joined the US Marine Corps as a teenager during the Cold War period. Having joined for law enforcement training, his first Marine job after “recruit” and “student” was as a military policeman. Once he cut his teeth guarding gates and on patrol, David became a Marine criminal investigator. Most of his career was in military law enforcement minus some out of specialty assignments, including three years on recruiting duty.

Included in MCWS Handbook with Author’s Permission