Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: craft of writing

My friend Jim died yesterday

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Jim McCormick had too darn much talent. 

As an artist, he worked in a variety of media: print making, collage, drawing and ingenious constructions for which I can’t find a name.  He taught art at the University of Nevada – Reno from 1960 until he retired in 1992.  His students are among the renown artists in my part of the country.

McCormick continued to create art for many years after retirement, and he curated numerous exhibits large and small.  Throughout his life he encouraged and promoted northern Nevada artists, all of whom will be grieving along with me. 

As an artist and art professor he earned innumerable awards and his work was displayed at galleries and exhibits from Nevada to North Carolina to Maine.  He served on the Nevada State Council on the Arts from 1963 to 1970 and from 1980 to 1989. He directed the Nevada Art Research Project at the Nevada Historical Society, and in 1990 he received the Nevada Governor’s Art Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Jim McCormick

I knew Jim as the artist but also as a fellow writer.  He had neuropathy, a condition of the nervous system that caused him to gradually lose feeling in his hands, arms and legs.  When he could no longer create the art works that had been his life, he turned to writing.  Not that he wasn’t already a writer.  Over the years he authored many art essays and exhibition books for individual shows.  But now he dabbled in something new: flash fiction.

I had discovered flash fiction at the time too, so Jim and I started exchanging stories.  Sometimes we’d send them in email, other times at lunch we’d reach into our pockets, pull out whatever we’d written recently and critique each other’s work.

For the uninitiated, flash fiction is a story of exactly 100 words.  Technically, flash fiction stories can be longer, or shorter, but Jim and I both liked the discipline of writing a complete story in precisely 100 words.

We weren’t competing, just poking each other’s minds with new ideas, new approaches.  Once, we even taught a seminar in flash fiction writing at our church.

I have a journalism background and thus tend to put related elements together and in chronological order. I think my stories “work” in some sense, but I often remind myself to mix things up, try something different.  Jim’s stories, like  his art, are not all  representational.  And he had a great sense of humor that came through in his writing.  Often I would look forward to his puns and other word plays to see if he would make me laugh.

Occasionally, he’d mix the macabre with his whimsy.   The following two stories are great examples. (The one title covers both stories.)  I published these on this site several years ago and offer them again as a tribute to my multi-talented friend.

Stone Motor

By Jim McCormick

Stone Motor played a gig in the music room of a moss shrouded, antebellum mansion near the Mississippi. Its audience included the usual bland tourists and a blue-haired guide named Maude, who disclaimed the South’s loss in the War between the States. Lately, she’d been trying to poison visitors from up north with complementary mint juleps. Melvin Carnahan of Boston accepted one and he expired as he drove off the plantation. The band’s lead singer was arrested; seems he had a likeness of Jeff Davis tattooed over his heart. Soon after, Maude seized the mike and the rest was history.

Shortly after joining the band, lead singer and murderess Maude Dossage changed her name; she wanted a stand-alone nom de guerre. Slightly bent in her 80th year, red hair exchanged for blue, she told the Stone Motor boys her name was now Mudd. Sympathy with the Confederate cause persisted; she hatched a plot to do in Brooklyn born drummer, Grant Getty. Mint julep concoction again? No! Too good for Getty. He got it one cool evening when Mudd laced his doobie with strychnine; he never even made it to the bandstand. Thereafter, the smug Miss Mudd doubled on percussion.

Mystery flash fiction: 100-word crime story

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Called flash fiction, quick fiction or nano fiction, literature in miniature has been around for decades.  Depending on the author or the editor, flash fiction can be 100 words, 250 words, 55 words, or even six words. Hemingway wrote flash fiction. Although she’s well known as a novelist, Margaret Atwood is also a flash fiction writer. I like the discipline of creating a complete story and finishing with precisely 100 words.

badge-and-gun

Here again is a crime drama in exactly 100 words.  Continue Reading →

Parting the gauzy curtain of misdirection

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Murder mysteries

What is a mystery novel without a puzzle? Guest writer Daniella Bernett explores some of the elements that make up the puzzle.  Bernett’s second mystery in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon series, Deadly Legacy, debuts tomorrow, Sept.24, from Black Opal Books. 

Why is the question that my mind whispers when I dip into a deliciously intriguing mystery. For me, it’s always been about the puzzle. A desire to find out how and why a crime was conceived and executed. To figure out who the murderer is before the sleuth.

deadly-legacy-daniella-beDoes it sound cold-blooded and calculating? Perhaps it is. But I rather like to view it as a diverting challenge. I have to be sharp because the author has deliberately set me off on the wrong path. The only way to uncover the right clues that will reveal the truth is to part the gauzy curtain of misdirection. The author is not completely cruel, though. He or she always leaves a strand or two dangling in the wind. It is the reader’s job to grasp it quickly before it drifts away.

Another thing that helps the reader tremendously on this quest for answers is understanding human nature and all its foibles. In my opinion, Agatha Christie was the master at peeling back the layers of the psyche to reveal greed, jealousy and pure, naked evil. Knowledge is power. With knowledge, the reader can navigate the twists and turns of the tale to see justice prevail, as it always must. Continue Reading →

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