Local writer finds meaning through brevity

NOTHING LIKE THE DRABBLE: After discovering the literary form later in her life, local resident and author Arlene Duane Hemingway says she is hooked on the drabble. Photo by Michelle Citrin Studios

Before relocating to Fletcher in 2011, Arlene Duane Hemingway made her career as a musician and teacher in the Long Island, N.Y., public school system. Near the end of her professional tenure, she discovered the art of the drabble.

For those unfamiliar with the form, a drabble is a work of microfiction written in exactly 100 words. The concept is simple, but Hemingway says the process itself is demanding.

“You have to pay attention to every word,” she explains. “Repetition is not good, and your descriptions have to be rich and detailed to the max.”

After more than a decade of crafting drabbles, Hemingway (no relation to author Ernest Hemingway) published her debut collection, A Twist of Lemon: 100 Curious Stories in Exactly 100 Words, earlier this year.

The stories, which are not intended for younger readers, range in topic and tone. Some involve introspective tales of heartbreak, while others feature loud and violent acts. In between is ample humor, suspense, irony, love and hope — and all hitting that prescribed drabble mark of 100 words.

Craft, cut, repeat

Not surprisingly, there is often plenty of material left over once Hemingway wraps up a drabble. “But that’s part of the joy in writing them,” she says. “I can literally sit for hours at the computer — I don’t need music or anything. I just craft and cut and craft and cut until I’ve got it.”

But the writing itself, Hemingway continues, is never immediate. Story concepts come to her from a variety of sources. Some are through overheard conversations, others arrive by way of the news, and a few appear as random thoughts in her head. However they land, Hemingway typically notes the impression down on a sheet of paper and places it in an envelope with the rest of her ideas.

“When I feel I have the time to write, I’ll go through that envelope and throw them all out on the table and something will speak to me,” she says. “It’s almost as if it says, ‘I’ve been in here for a while — it’s time to come forth.’”

Beyond the page

Along with sharing her stories with readers, Hemingway hopes her collection functions as an avenue for change and self-improvement. Less intimidating than a novel or even a short story, she sees the drabble as an ideal introduction to leisure reading — or, in some cases, adult literacy.

In a similar vein, Hemingway believes the form could encourage others to write. She notes that one former student now uses the model as a way to document her family history. The short, 100-word limit makes an otherwise heavy task far more manageable.

“Drabbles are not as formidable as writing a book,” Hemingway says. “Of course, if you write enough of them, you can combine them together and create a family chronology.”

But above all, Hemingway hopes A Twist of Lemon introduces more people to the drabble itself.

“It’s almost as if I’m supposed to reenergize the form itself and make it popular,” she says. “I don’t know if that’s part of my life plan. But I just think there is nothing like the drabble, and I’m hooked.” arleneduanehemingway.com

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, comes out on March 23, 2021.

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