If you are reading this post, you probably know where I disappeared to from May to August. Yes, it was that mythical book I’ve been working on for my retired neurosurgeon client. Well, the good news is that, after pumping out the last ten chapters in those three months, the manuscript flew off to the publisher ten days ago. Now I wait on the old tenterhooks for the verdict: Is it engaging? Is it good? Is it well written or screamingly pedestrian? Am I really done with the thing? We shall find out soon!
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog and on my old blog, Memoir Crafter, about my experience as a ghostwriter for the above mentioned surgeon. What an amazing journey it has been. I am not a religious person—I leave that to my twin sister, Sister Sara Marie Belisle—but I can’t help but marvel at my good fortune. Four years ago I wondered how I could ever leave my day job to write. Then, out of the blue, a completely unforeseen opportunity. Now, I have two complete 90,000–word manuscripts under my belt, the first a version of the book as life story, and the second a more commercial medical memoir.
I have missed my practice of flash fiction, however, and having had the pleasure of stopping in at Carrot Ranch again after months “on the trail,” I want to use this week’s challenge to flash a scene from the book. From the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge page:
August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you.
My first urge was to create a fresh flash about real fossils or petrified wood or bones, but then it occurred to me to lift a line I was particularly fond of from a draft of my client’s story.
Here’s the back story: My client is a world-renown spinal neurosurgeon recognized not only for his many contributions to spinal neurosurgery—including patents on wiring, plates and other instrumentation that he was “instrumental” in designing—but also for his leading role in the fight to have spinal neurosurgery recognized as a sub-specialty in its own right. That latter achievement, many people say, was his primary contribution. Because up until the 1980s, aside from cervical trauma cases, spinal surgery remained largely the domain of orthopedic surgeons, not neurosurgeons. In the late 1980s, however, with technical advances emerging, a turf war broke out between the two medical communities: the bone docs and the brain docs.
A confrontation between an orthopedic surgeon and my client, the pioneering neurosurgeon, became the impetus for a chapter in the new version of the book. I wish I could reproduce that scene here to show you how I whittled it down to a flash. (You can see it when the book comes out near the end of the year.) I think it well illustrates how flash can be used as an editing tool. Suffice it to say that this section was originally 438 words.
A Half-Excavated Fossil
The whine of the drill got the orthopedist’s attention. He was chiseling a shard of bone from the patient’s hip while I worked at the neck where the dislocation was.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I’m putting plates in.”
He stepped up, peered into the cavity where the spine rose from the tissue like a half-excavated fossil. “Why?” he said. “Wires work perfect for the fusion.”
“The plates will work better.”
He pivoted away, ripping off his gloves.
“Take me off the op note,” he said, striding towards the door. “I want nothing to do with this case.”