Behind the story: “Learning to Sail”

“Learning to Sail” is the second of three short stories in my short story collection A Little Bit of Love. The impetus for this story came out of an assignment I did in Dean Wesley Smith’s Character Voice and Setting workshop in Lincoln City, Oregon.

This workshop was the best writing workshop I’ve ever taken. It’s now being offered online, which is a lot cheaper than flying to Portland, renting a car, and staying in a hotel for a week. I might even take it again myself sometime, it was that good.

One of our assignments involved experimenting with paragraph and sentence length. For that assignment I wrote a few hundred words about a guy who was in a relationship with a mermaid. I really liked this concept, and have even thought about turning it into a novel, but I don’t have enough of a story worked out yet. In poking at the idea I caught myself wondering how the guy and the mermaid met in the first place…and voilĂ ! A short story!

The protagonist in this story isn’t the mermaid, but John, a guy on a trip to the Virgin Islands who awakes from a nap to find his tiny rented sailboat has drifted out to sea. Writing from John’s point of view was fun because it allowed me to focus on how he sees Eirene, the mermaid, and I had such fun with that.

Writing about a mermaid brings up some interesting questions. Do mermaids smell like fish? I decided they don’t, since that seemed likely to complicate the romantic part of the story. Close up, what does her body look like where her fishy part meets her human part? If you touched a mermaid’s bottom half, would it feel like running your hand across a fish’s body? And so on.

This is my favorite of the three stories in this short collection. I’m hoping I’ll come up with something more to this story because it would be really fun to use these characters in a novel. Spending some time by the ocean might help give me ideas – as you can see, we are definitely in a dry area…

2013-11-26 Dakota Ridge

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