Bonus episode today! Instead of sharing a new story, Susan is sharing her thoughts on the stories she told in episodes 46 to 49.
Check back for new stories every other 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!
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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.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 50 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 chat about the stories I wrote for episodes 46 through 49. You can avoid spoilers by listening to those episodes first.
Before getting to each episode, I want to share just a bit more about what I mean when I say the stories on Freely Written are “lightly edited.” As I’ve said in other commentary episodes, the freewriting approach in this podcast is very different that the organized approach I take when writing my novels.
For a novel, I have extensive planning with outlines, spreadsheets, character backstories, and so on. I also spend much more time editing than I do writing first drafts. I edit my novels continuously… after a new chapter is written, again every few chapters, several times after the whole book is written… And yet again after going through the formal editing process with outside feedback. It’s a lot.
That doesn’t happen here on Freely Written. In fact, I frequently finish typing and go straight to recording without reading through the finished story first. When I catch any typos or weird phrasing, I pause recording, make a quick fix, and get back to it.
That doesn’t mean there is no editing while I work. I give myself time to pause and consider where the story might go. Sometimes, I walk away to make a cup of tea or throw in a load of laundry, then get back to what I was writing. That slowing down may count as a kind of planning or editing, but it’s a mulling period I may need to pull the story together.
Other times, the stories just pour out as if someone else is typing and I’m just along for the ride. It’s really fun when it works out that way! Though if it’s going too smoothly, I have been known to throw in a twist or two just to keep from being too predictable. (See Episode 24, Muffin of the Month for an example!)
Enough of that… let’s get on to episodes 46 through 49.
Episode 46, The Spirit of Christmas, is a bit sad for a holiday story, but the holidays can be a bit sad for a lot of people. I had a vague idea that this story would be about a person with conflicting feelings about her Christmas plans, so I started it with her alone on a snowy mountain. From there, it made sense that she was fleeing a family that felt entirely too happy for her own sad memories. That’s when I began to think she should meet an actual “spirit” of Christmas who could help her find her way. The mystical house was an ideal setting, and the paintings seemed a good way to quickly fit her backstory into a 10-minute story (which stretched to nearly 13 minutes, oh well).
Though it’s bittersweet, and maybe a little sappy, I like Taylor’s story. When we’re feeling sad, it’s easy to think we’re alone with those feelings. Yet, missing loved ones or dealing with complicated families is a very common experience during the holidays. Sometimes, we just need to speak up and see how sharing can help with those tough emotions.
If I’m still podcasting next Christmas, I’ll try to remember to go with a happier theme!
To wrap up 2021, it seemed fitting to use A New Leaf as a prompt for episode 47. As I said in the intro of that episode, the expression likely comes from turning a page in a book (since a page is also called a leaf), but I tend to think of it as a leaf on a tree.
The phrase “new leaf” also makes me think of Animal Crossing, but that’s a different discussion!
Since I was thinking of leaves and trees, my mind went the fantasy route with a hunting party riding through a forest. The empress tracker starts the story simply because I don’t remember any other stories where an empress is an accomplished tracker and goes out with her own hunting parties. There probably have been, but when I hear Empress, I tend to think of a more elegant ruler who stays safe in her palace.
Anyway, I originally thought the Empress could be tracking some mystical plant. Maybe one that would give them a “new leaf” to use in an important spell. But then I pictured her finding the signs of a hidden campsite, which would mean tracking a person, and the story shifted from there.
This is one of those stories that flowed easily. I didn’t know where it was going exactly but introducing members of the hunting party brought the edges of the story into focus. I love when characters do that. It feels like I only have to bring them to life with a description, then listen to whatever they have to say.
Does that sound a bit batty? Maybe it is, but one of the things I love about writing is how fictional characters can seem like real people. I guess I let my imagination run away with me, but it’s a really fun ride!
I won’t say much about the end of this story. I wouldn’t say it’s a groundbreaking ending. Maybe you even saw it coming. But I like the way it wrapped up, because I didn’t see it coming until it was playing out from my keyboard, and it felt like a perfect ending.
I have a confession about Episode 48, The End of an Era: I accidentally posted it a week early. I’d switched to a biweekly format back in November and decided to stick with that into the new year. But then I was so discombobulated by that weird time-flux that is the week between Christmas and New Year, that I thought it had been 2 weeks since my last episode, when it was really just one.
Oy, vey. If I’d looked at my planner, I would have been on track, but instead, I had the panicked thought that a story was due and dove right in. Then days passed before I realized my mistake. Oh, well. Holiday weirdness.
This story was quick and easy to write, which isn’t always the case with dialogue-heavy stories. There have been plenty of times where I’ve started a dialogue between friends, thinking it’s an easy choice, only to have my imagination sputter out.
This time, the only thing that tripped me up was a switch in their names. And I didn’t notice that until the end. Since the dialogue was flowing, I guess I didn’t pay much attention to what I’d named these friends.
I sat down to record the story—without having read it back first—and soon noticed that their names were reversed in the first few lines. Originally, Caleb kicked off the conversation while Wendel scrolled through his phone. Two lines later, while Wendel (who should have been Caleb) was unpacking groceries, their names had switched. Oops.
By then, I firmly knew them as Wendel the grocery shopper/ramen chef and Caleb the phone scroller, so I fixed those first few lines and restarted my recording. But I got a good laugh out of it!
The inspiration for Episode 49, Duck à l’Orange, was partly shared in the intro for that episode. While considering possible writing prompts, I had the idea of using a French expression, which—for unknown reasons—brought up Duck à l’Orange. For even more unknown reasons, the thought came in the bizarre accent Blanche Devereaux uses while ordering dinner on her date with her young aerobics instructor. Or maybe, not completely unknown because I do watch The Golden Girls a lot!
Being home alone at the time, I then tried to copy Blanche’s over-the-top accent and thought it sounded like Duck Al Orange, as in a duck named Al Orange. Which made me giggle all over again. And I guess it was the duck-goose connection, but I instantly thought that our friends Ted and Sheryl—from all the way back in Episode 4, A Goose in the House—would definitely name a duck Al Orange.
That entire thought process happened in under a minute, so I didn’t take the time to evaluate if it was a good idea to revisit Ted and Sheryl. Is it? I don’t know. But I like them, and it was fun to get another glimpse into their lives. If you like them, too, remember they were also featured in Episode 19, Writer’s Block.
That’s it for me today. As always, thanks for listening, both to my stories and these commentary episodes. You can share your thoughts with me, too, through my Freely Written Facebook page. And please share your favorite stories with your friends!
You can also lend some support by buying a Freely Written t-shirt in my new merch shop. The shop also has designs based on reading and writing, and on some of my books. I’ll add a link to the shop in the show notes.
To learn more about me and my books, you can visit SusanQuilty.com. You can also get exclusive content, including updates on my projects, writer insights, and even some quick yoga and meditation videos, at 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]