My Brother, My Son, by Alvah Bessie

by RS on July 3, 2010

Alvah Bessie is Spain, 1937

Alvah Bessie Testifying before HUAC, 1947.

I thought I would share what I’m learning from the online writing course. The first lesson is about story ideas. Where do we get them. Anita offers some very good suggestions like taking classic stories and tweaking them. Changing the sex of the main character or changing his or her age. Maybe change the locale and weave in local customs. Other ideas can come from from proverbs or sayings. Or, the most obvious one write what you know best.

For each suggestion, Anita gives good examples then she provides two exercise questions. The first one asks what do I do to generate story ideas? I basically get a lot of my ideas from a lot of the non-fiction I read, and from past travel or living experiences. Although Julius is not a short story, the plot was based on several personal experiences: living on the lower east side and my own fascination with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, my family’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, and, of course, my admiration for Alvah Bessie.

The second question Anita asks is to choose a short story and analyze it.  This was a bit difficult because I rarely read short stories (I know, it’s ridiculous that I want to write one, but I don’t read them. It’s because they intimidate me, and that’s why I’m taking this course: to write one and overcome this feeling of intimidation.)  In any event, I finally settled on Alvah Bessie’s My Brother. My Son.

For this story, Bessie took what he knew best: His personal experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War and his relationship with his Company Commander Aaron Lopoff. Bessie was ten years senior to the Brooklyn-born Lopoff, and they became friends, but the friendship was short-lived. Lopoff was mortally wounded in Spain, and his death affected Bessie for most of his life.  “My Brother, My Son” deals with grief, incomprehension, and anger over the death of a idealistic young man.

I may not have selected the best story to read or analyze, but it since it was written by one of my heroes and it deals with the Spanish Civil War I thought it was an appropriate choice for this first lesson.

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