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Exploring the art of prose

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Author: Jamila Minnicks Gleason


Author’s Note

“A Gravity of Jazz” came to me while I was steeped in era-inspired music for a current work-in-progress. When that sultry trumpet wailed “The Very Thought of You” through my headphones, the first line of the story demanded its own white space and my immediate attention. From there, I needed only to continue listening to figure out where the drink came from. And why.

To me, writing flash fiction is an opportunity for characters to put one foot in front of the other before there is a reason to tie shoes. An intimate, real-time journey through the narrator’s mind as they puzzle through their doings in a discreet life moment. Done right, this short-short form allows me to put to paper how my characters coexist with the air they breathe, the sounds they hear, the scents they smell, the sights they see. Slowing the time between their heart beats, although the world continues spinning on its axis.

Practicing flash enhances the richness in my writing. My first drafts tend to be a collection of ingredients included in the narrative before the honing begins. The challenging, but necessary, cutting, combining, and rearranging then brings everything together into the boiled-down stew. I know that I have finally reached the barest essence of a thought when I take a breath, nod my head, and smile at the words on the page.

My hope is that the reader recognizes an urgent, smoldering connection between the main character and Two-Name in this piece. Their never-lost love, reunited by something that caused her to wear that little black silk he likes and sit underneath a broken light. That same something causes him to utter her drink order and beg, with his horn into darkness where she hides, for her return. Something big. Like Zora Neale Hurston said in Tell My Horse, “A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.” That is the first reason that I titled this piece “A Gravity of Jazz.”

But the second reason is the weight of the setting upon the protagonist’s senses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are driven into confusion by the space she inhabits, and the reason she inhabits it. Words from Two-Name’s lips kiss the glass to the back of her hand. The server’s voice travels on licks of cigarette smoke. She drinks the notes he plays, drawing his music inside of her. There is intimacy without physicality.

I submitted this piece to CRAFT as a fan of their work, and only wish that every aspiring writer had access to such an extraordinary editorial staff. I wish to thank them personally for helping my characters shine. One of the most important things we can do as writers is to find the right home for our hearts. Katelyn, Kristin, and Tom’s edits demonstrated careful and thoughtful commitment to my voice and vision. Not only did their encouragement improve this story, but the novel-length work-in-progress that inspired “A Gravity of Jazz” is better for it. I believe that the craft of writing is not just about what we produce, but what we take away.

I hope that, once the reader finishes my piece, they, too, will take a breath, nod, and smile.

 


JAMILA MINNICKS GLEASON works as an attorney in Washington, DC, and writes stories about the beauty, complexity, and joy of the Black American experience. Two of her pieces currently appear under the pen name Amina Adele in The Write Launch, and she has also been published in The Silent World in Her Vase.