Craft on Draft: Writing Fiction from Real Life

Craft on Draft April WinnerAt last month’s Craft on Draft event Michelle Hoover, Emily Ross, and Dawn Tripp shared how truth inspired their fiction. In addition to reading excerpts from their novels and revealing what was influenced by fact, the authors selected the event’s contest winner, Rashmi Tiwari, for the best one-page example of fiction set in the real world.

Rashmi’s piece is an excerpt from a short story about an Irish-Bostonian ex-MBTA driver from Dorchester and his relationship with a black Gillette factory worker from Roxbury.

Here is the award-winning piece:

I break off and take a swallow of whiskey. Steve pours two more neat fingers into my almost empty glass. “You know I used to drive for the MBTA. I drove the 1 bus for 30 years. All the way from Dudley to Harvard. Eight hour shifts driving back and forth up Mass Ave. I wish you could have seen it then. I was 20 when I started on that route. 1965. My friend’s father had gotten me a job working at the Cabot Garage in Dorchester. I used to drive the buses out to the drivers because they weren’t allowed to do it for themselves. Then one day, four drivers called in sick and my manager sent me out to do the 1 route out of Dudley.”

I tell them about the old Dudley Station. It was beautiful and decrepit and loud and dark. The old El line ran above it all down Washington Street and the train cars would make the entire steel-girded building shake as they rumbled south to Forest Hills and north to Everett.

The bus depot under the tracks looked like a cathedral, with arched beams reaching up to touch the sky and old gas lanterns that did little to provide light in the evenings. The depot smelled fetid and slightly sweetly rotten, like old food that hasn’t been taken out. I pulled the bus into the bay marked “1” at Dudley and watched as a long line of black people got on.

I was nervous when I pulled out of the station. The route was straightforward: up Washington Street to Mass Ave and up to Harvard Square where I’d turn down Dunster Street and come back up Mt. Auburn. I wasn’t nervous because I thought I’d get lost but because I didn’t like being around all those black people. They were too loud. They weren’t quietly reading their books or the newspaper. They were yelling and talking and laughing and I felt like, no I knew, I just knew that they were laughing at me.

Here’s what April’s Craft on Draft authors had to say about her piece:

Michelle Hoover: “The first person voice forces the reader to be empathetic with this biased voice. The challenge for any writer tackling this is getting the balance of author vs. character.
Emily Ross: “You’ve got an excellent description of Dudley station. I like the way you’ve used the place details to tackle the complexity of how the main character is drawn to the very same thing that repels him.”
Dawn Tripp: “The voice feels so true in this work. The arc of the character is already there, even in this short segment, with the way it turns at the end.”

Rashmi lived in Cambridge for 11 years before crossing the river to Roxbury. She is working on a set of interlocking stories of characters who live somewhere on the No 1 bus route. For this and other pieces she turned to the Boston Street Railway Association, for a deeper understanding of how the route had changed over time.

Think you have what it takes to win a pint with your writing? Sign up to learn more about the next Craft on Draft event in October.

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