Words To Drive By

Barrington Smith

Short stories to accompany you on your commute -- wherever that may be.

All Episodes

Superman Falling lives near to my heart, first because it came from an emotional place, and second, because it I learned so much working on it.The emotional origin was years ago. I was recovering from a major abdominal surgery – the removal of a cancerous tumor that had been discovered as a result of my trying to get pregnant – which no doubt factored into a dream I had.In the dream, I was standing near a window on a high floor of a building, holding a baby. The baby slipped from my hands and fell out a window. After he fell, I started running as fast as I could down a stairwell, desperately hoping… for what? That all wasn’t lost – or that I would make it to the ground first and somehow catch him? But as I ran and ran, the realization sank in that there was no saving this. The sorrow and guilt was overwhelming.When I woke, I felt compelled to write the dream, which I did, making up some of the circumstances that weren't clear in the dream, but leaving its core – the child falling and someone running down flight after flight of stairs, hoping desperately, and at the same time knowing what waits at the bottom.A couple years later I had gone back to school for writing, and I took a version of the pages I'd written after the dream to a writing workshop. Where I learned something important. Just because you feel certain emotions when you’re writing, doesn’t mean readers will feel those emotions when they read what you've written. The folks in my writing workshop didn’t feel what I felt. Instead, they were confused. They floated different theories as to why the story “wasn’t working yet," and offered advice on how to possibly fix it. But the killing blow was the instructor’s note. He said, “The moment you've written about isn’t the real story, the real story is what happens after this moment.”Notes that are versions of "go write something completely different," are tough to swallow. I'm sad to say that I have entire projects sitting on aging hard drives after getting similar notes. So kudos to my past self -- determined and energetic and a little bit dumb -- because she went off and actually  wrote the  “after this moment” story.Which still didn’t work.My instructor read it, and gave me a new note: You want to have two stories, not just one. There’s a present-tense story, then there’s a chronic tension born of the past that puts pressure on what’s happening in the present.These weren't words I was ready to I understand completely, but something about them resonated. And when I went back to the page and bludgeoned my way through another draft—I began to experience a slow-motion epiphany: The past shapes the present and adds meaning to it—and there are different ways weaving this into a narrative. Later, I'd study screenwriting, and recognize this more clearly. Even today, I often find myself thinking about how what I'm watching or reading is a "two-story" story. In the final version of Superman Falling, the plot is entirely fictional, the protagonist is not me—his guilt has different roots, the situation is different – my own experience  mostly replaced. But somehow the act of replacing almost everything, and transplanting my sense of grief and guilt – made the story "work" more effectively—not perfectly at all, but the best I was capable of then!And the process of crafting  the story was part of a transformation in my life. Those flashes of understanding and fleeting moments of control I'd felt whet my appetite for learning more... and that hunger is something that has  given my life purpose and meaning for more than a decade."Superman Falling” was first published in Colorado Review.Cover art by Ted Giffin. Sound design by Greg Gordon Smith.

Dec 2019

31 min 42 sec

This story was first published in Chariton Review. While the characters and events are fictional, the layout of the home where Jean and her husband Bradley live in is based on the home I grew up in. I can see them moving around each other in that house of my memory. Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. He has a website. The cover art is by the talented and prolific Ted Giffin, who also has a website with new material posted almost daily.

Sep 2019

27 min 10 sec

I brought this story into a writing workshop early in my MFA experience, and the professor hated it, but enough people encouraged me that I polished it up and submitted it anyway and it found an enthusiastic home at Sycamore Review. It was a good lesson to learn — that everything is a matter of taste! One of the encouraging people was my classmate at the time, the multi-talented artist and writer Katie Burgess, who later made me some adorable cover art that you can see at this episode's landing page. If you like short fiction, you should download Katie’s recent award winning chapbook for free! Barrington Smith-Seetachitt (that’s me!) wrote and read this story. Greg-Gordon Smith composed and engineered, and https://tedgiffin.com/category/visual-art/ created our lovely show art.

Jul 2019

6 min 18 sec

This story is the third of three interrelated stories called After the Storms. As with "Room" this story originated with a prompt: Two characters part ways forever. We were asked also to think about the questions: "Who and when and where?" "Do they know it's forever?" "Do they have different feelings about it?" and "What causes the parting?" As with too many of my stories, I let years pass--literal years--before I came back and finished. As the third story in the trilogy, writing felt like writing a flashback episode of television. I enjoy flashback episodes, but they present their own set of challenges. Often a flashback episode needs to incorporate information the audience has already heard about in regular episodes and that can change the source of dramatic tension in the story. If this sotry stands alone, the main question that unifies the narrative is"can Jerry change Beth's mind and convince her to stay in the city with him?" But anyone who has heard the previous stories already knows the answer to that question, so for them the the question is no "what happened?" but "how and why did it happen?" And that tends to be a weaker tension... ... but hopefully still worthwhile! For me, the appeal of a flashback episode is the satisfaction of being able to travel back in time and see characters I already know as they once were--before I knew them. In this case, seeing Jerry in "Room" and Beth in "Tribe" each reminiscing about the other made me want to see them together for a little while, and to see the moment that sent them down their separate trajectories. Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. He has a website. composes and sound designs this and every episode. Ted Giffin did the show art. Barrington Smith-Seetachitt wrote and read the story, "Monster Leaves Dog."

Jul 2019

18 min 24 sec

This story was first published in an anthology, Turning Points: Stories About Choice and Change. The story is published on its own, but is the second of three interrelated stories called "After the Storms." Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. He has a website. The cover art is by the talented and prolific Ted Giffin.

Jul 2019

28 min 33 sec

This story was first published in Devilfish Review (sadly, now defunct, or I would link to them!). It stands alone, but is the first part of a trilogy of stories called "After the Storms." A few years back I took a class taught by the illustrious Richard Rayner. Each week we were tasked to write 400 words from a prompt provided by Richard. I loved his prompts and find I have saved them in a file! This one was: A sick man and his younger wife check into a hotel room. He tells her a story and orders drinks which are brought by room service. The man has something to drink, says something, and then he dies. Amazing prompt, right? I don't remember what I turned in for my 400-word assignment, but am sure my constant and pervasive anxiety about global warming was already seeded in. The hotel room setting is inspired by The Hollywood Athletic Club, where, like Jerry and Beth, my husband and I took a weekend "staycation one sweltering summer. Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs for this and every episode. You can see more of what he does on his Vimeo page. And the cover art is by the talented and prolific Ted Giffin.

Jul 2019

22 min 11 sec