Bonus episode today! Instead of sharing a new story, Susan is sharing her thoughts on the stories she told in episodes 36 to 39.
Check back for new stories every Tuesday. Every fifth episode (like this one) will offer bonus commentary on the previous 4 stories. To avoid spoilers, listen to those story episodes before this one!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 40 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty. In this bonus episode, I’ll be talking about the stories I wrote for episodes 36 through 39.
These commentary shows come out every 5th episode, giving me a chance to share some thoughts about my previous stories. If you want to avoid spoilers, please listen to those episodes before this one.
I’ll start off by saying it seems really weird that I’m up to my 40th episode! If you take out the commentary, that’s 32 stories I’ve shared through this podcast.
Before I started this podcast, I would occasionally free-write very short stories like this, but I rarely shared them. It was more of a writing exercise for myself, because freewriting from a prompt is a very different process than the meticulous planning and outlining I use when I’m writing a novel.
Now, I’ve said before that I enjoy the freedom of the freewriting process—and I really do—but it can also be difficult to let go of any expectations for the finished stories. Without a plan, these free-written sessions tend to ramble around until I pull them into some kind of ending. Sometimes that works well. Other times, the result is a little iffy. To me, at least.
But sharing the results, whatever they are, has been a good experience, and made it easier to let go. Also, I’ve often been surprised to get positive responses on some of the stories that I wasn’t so sure about it. I do enjoy getting feedback and don’t always see reviews on various podcast apps, so please do connect with me on social media! You can find all my accounts listed on my website, SusanQuilty.com.
Moving on… let’s talk about episodes 36 through 39.
While I try to start with nothing but a writing prompt and a blank screen, sometimes ideas from real life seep into my stories. Episode 36, Life is Good, was one of those times. Not long before I sat down to write this episode, a friend had texted that she’d had a bad experience at a store where a stranger angrily questioned her about the message on her shirt. Which is clearly part of the story in this episode, though it is different than her experience.
I had already chosen Life is Good as a prompt and when I sat down to write, I remembered the text from my friend and decided to make up a similar story of my own.
Now, my friend’s shirt did not say “Life is good, then you die,” like it does in my story. Her shirt said, “But did you die?” which is vaguely similar but has a different meaning—more of a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” vibe. The made-up shirt in my story is closer to one of my own favorite shirts that happily reads, “Someday we’ll all be dead.”
(Side note: you can find that shirt at BoredwalkTshirts.com, that’s spelled b-o-r-e-d.)
For some people, like me, the idea that we all will die someday is a simple fact and a positive reminder to enjoy life while we can. Others don’t like that message… or anything that reminds them of death. That contradiction seemed like a good topic for a t-shirt confrontation with a stranger, and the story continued naturally from there.
I didn’t write the story with an agenda or to spark a particular conversation, but if it does give listeners something to think about that’s a nice bonus.
The story in episode 37, End of the World, seemed like such a cool idea in my head… but I think it was too big to fit into a story that’s meant to be about 10 minutes long. Trying to distill the idea lost a lot of it, and I still ended up feeling rushed to wrap it up.
As I said at the beginning of this episode, I chose the prompt because REM’s song It’s the End of the World was stuck in my head. After typing out the title/prompt, I immediately imagined some huge cosmic being watching our world, as if it were a civilization simulation game, and then deciding to let it end.
That concept of a cosmic being watching us is something I’ve thought about from time to time since I was a kid. I always likened it to a kid that would pop in to play with a dollhouse for a while, then get bored and not come back for months. Without any regard for how the dolls felt about it.
I was a little more generous with the intentions of the cosmic being in this story, but I also didn’t feel like I had the time to delve into it the way I might have liked.
The general idea is there, but the execution could have been better. But I guess that’s the letting go of expectations idea I mentioned earlier.
Episode 38, Rain or Shine, is a simple phone conversation and I like the way it came out. Looking back over my past episodes, some of my favorite stories have been phone conversations, likely because two-person dialogue works well in a very short story format.
Again, real life entered just a bit, in the fact that I had recently made a reservation for an outdoor gathering at a place with a pavilion, in case of rain. But that’s where the similarity ends. I didn’t even make a phone call for my real-life reservation since the winery I was visiting handles arrangements over text.
Rain or shine was a fitting prompt for the weather on the day I wrote this story. It was one of those gray days where you could feel the impending rain, but half the sky was clear enough that the storm might just pass by. Days like that always wear on me until the rain finally falls, so I was ready to write something a little awkward and melancholy.
By the end of the story, I had a soft spot for the insecure caller who was trying so hard to be pleasant despite her social anxiety and unresolved resentment for her perfectly obnoxious little sister. I kind of want to revisit this story… maybe recount what happened at this birthday luncheon… maybe from the perspective of one of the other guests or their server.
I’ll let that idea simmer and if the right prompt comes up, we’ll see what happens…
For episode 39, Pumpkin Spice, I decided to lean into autumn with this completely obvious, overdone fall prompt. And, I will say, I am really, really pleased with how this story turned out.
This is one of those stories where I had no idea where I was going, wandered freely with the writing, and had inspiration strike right when I was wondering how to pull the story together.
At first, I thought I’d subvert the prompt by barely mentioning pumpkin spice anything. So, I put a character in the woods looking at a crumbling leaf. The moment I had her drop the leaf, I decided she would be reflecting on a story and pumpkin spice lattes would make a very brief non-appearance, by being the drinks they didn’t order.
And then I changed gears, deciding that a shopping trip in the fall would absolutely include a bombardment of pumpkin spice themed merch and advertising. In October, in the US, you really can’t get away from the phrase pumpkin spice. It’s in commercials, it’s all over every kind of store, and it’s plastered all over social media.
Now, the shopping trip then takes a weird turn, because… why not? I didn’t know where I was going with that twist, which made it all the more fun. And I was all the way to the second-to-last paragraph when I realized how it had to end.
So, out of these four episodes, Pumpkin Spice is my favorite. If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, that’s the one I’d recommend most.
Do you have a favorite of these four stories? Or of any of the stories on Freely Written? Let me know on social media or send me a message. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
As always, thank you so much for listening, both to today’s commentary and to all of these free-written stories. If you want to learn more about me and my novels, do visit SusanQuilty.com. And if you want to support me even more—and get exclusive content—please check out Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]