About "Dry Spell"

"Dry Spell" was inspired by a story that someone else submitted to the writers' group that I attended, for a while, in Eugene, Oregon. One of the attendees brought in what I call a "so-what" story. A "so-what" story is one that you read, and you don't like it, you don't hate it, you just say "So what?" We weren't supposed to say "so what?", we were supposed to give constructive criticism.

The story submitted to the group started with a bunch of people standing in a bank in the Midwest on a hot day, then in comes the bank president's son, who proceeds to hold up the place. Eventually they open the vault, and a monster in the vault eats the bank robber.

And that's it.

Now, that would have been fine for a 5-page story in a horror comic; Uncle Creepy makes some stupid pun and go on to the next story. But for an actual story, I was left wondering:

Why is the bank president's son robbing the bank?

Why didn't the bank president's son know about the monster?

Where did the monster come from, and how do they do business with it in the vault?

Who are these people, anyway, and why are they keeping a monster?

In my critique, I pointed out these weaknesses, then suggested how the story might be improved. Make the bank robber necessary for the prosperity of the town, I said. The monster gives the land fertility in return for sacrifices, which makes the town more prosperous than the rest of the state, which draws bank robbers when times are hard, who provide the sacrifice. Positive feedback. Then the monster's in the vault for a reason, which is more interesting than "Ooh, there's a Thing in the bank vault." Instead of coincidence, we have cause and effect!

Of course, we have to explain all this, so we'll need an outsider to explain it to. And what better outsider than a reporter who's investigating why they do better than anyone else during droughts? That way the reporter's also there for a reason, not just by coincidence.

Needless to say, the guy who submitted the idea wasn't interested in my suggestions, though I was honestly trying to help him make his story better. I guess he was too attached to his little story to see how shallow it was. No one else in the group liked my ideas either. Eventually I stopped attending their meetings. When I created my web site, maybe seven years later, I wrote "Feedback", which had nothing in common with the other guy's story except the notion that There's A Thing In The Bank Vault. I wrote it in longhand on 3/20/2003, and made changes on 4/8/2005, 5/5/2005, and 7/19 through 7/24/2005. I put it on the web site with the name "Dry Spell", because I decided "Feedback" was too big a clue to what was going on.

There's still the coincidence that the reporter and the robbers are there at the same time, but that's necessary for a short story. If I were writing a romance novel with a science-fiction twist, the reporter would show up to find out what's going on, start interviewing people and seeing how much they're hurting from the drought (even if everyone else in the state is hurting worse), get interested in Charley, and then, in the middle of her umpteenth visit, the bank robbers would show up. No big coincidence, with her there all the time. Then she learns about the monster, gets the explanation from Charley, and has to go away to decide if she really loves him after all, and whether she's still interested in the editor's job that Ole Torvald has been pushing at her. See, a whole novel.

Maybe someday. Meanwhile, this version had some small improvements, including some typos corrected, when I added it to my new web site on 1/24/2018.—LDO