It’s funny how things come about sometime. Case in point: I was minding my own business this time last year when a friend of mine announced that he had been attending a flash fiction group. I had no idea what flash fiction was at the time, but when he shared a piece he had written for the most recent group meeting, I was hooked. I found out the group challenged themselves every week to write a 500-word story, give or take a few words.
You know I’ve always loved a challenge, so I went for it. I joined the group soon thereafter, and I’ve written every week on topic. It’s been nearly a year since I joined, and I haven’t second-guessed myself. In fact, I’ve created whole worlds that probably wouldn’t have existed save for this weekly exercise. I am forever grateful. I’ve created offices where artificial lungs hang from the walls, lawyers who can’t quite shred all the documents when audited by the I.R.S., angels dealing with the death of god… the list is virtually endless.
But two characters I truly felt the closest to were “Me and Ricardo,” these boys who grew up in inner-city Philadelphia in the 1980’s. I’m not even sure how they materialized either. The word was “singing,” go figure, that a word so innocuous would produce characters so memorable in my world. In their world. It was just over a year ago when they were born from my mind, and it’s been a month since they were introduced to the wide world.
I’m proud of them.
Of course, their lives weren’t fully fleshed out on that initial foray into the South Philly hood, but the essential elements were. In time, “Me” got a name (Malik). He and Ricardo introduced me to a whole group of characters I’ve come to know quite well. They caught lightning bugs in old mayonnaise jars. They lived through the shame of addictions. They grew up through a series of stories with them as the stars.
Then November came.
I had no clue what I wanted to write for National Novel Writing Month, but I knew I was going to write something. I had done it six years in a row, and I wasn’t going to let that November ruin my streak. It wasn’t easy deciding, though, because I had so many projects that could have worked in that spot. But my wife suggested “Me and Ricardo,” expanding their world and getting down to the nitty gritty of their lives. It hit me like a slug to the chest (No, really).
So on November 1st, I began to reconstruct the world according to “Me and Ricardo.” I gave them backstories, loose gang affiliations, relationships, and a plethora of action. Sectioned off by years, starting in 1984, I took them through a troubling adolescence, which included some serious growing pains and some serious decisions. It struck me more than once how resilient they were, even when they weren’t, how strong they were when I felt they were initially weak. But the best thing I discovered was that their world exists so far outside of those 500-word constraints I had placed on it.
Now they’re no longer just mine. They exist in neutral space, in and out of the war zone, in and out of my imagination. I guess I can’t say that my babies are now free, because they were never babies. They came straight from the womb ready to survive in an inhospitable world. But they are free in a way they probably were never meant to be by either time or circumstance.
And you can purchase their story on Amazon. Just, if you do, let me know if you can identify. Because, while they aren’t my babies, they are my flesh and blood, my ink and paper, my latest creation. And I care how they interact with others.
Purchase Me and Ricardo now on Amazon.