An Ocean Orange: The Short Story That Set Everything in Motion

OceanIt’s weird, but I remember a nightmare I had when I was twelve.

I’d had a fever, so that night when I went to bed I was already in an off kind of place. I remember the dream because I’d never been more frightened in my life: there was a tube of paint, and a tiny man standing on it. I was trying to make him hold still, but the more I tried, the more he’d jump up and down, and the paint would ooze out, filling up my vision.

Everything turned orange.

I don’t know why this frightened me so; perhaps it was the complete lack of control this orange seemed to signify.

But years later, when I was a sophomore at the University of Miami, I used this dream in a short story I wrote for my fiction class. I don’t remember the specifics anymore, just that I gave my main character, who lived in a beach house, this same nightmare, on the same day she finds an old picture of herself as a baby with a mysterious inscription on the back. Throughout the story, she begins to uncover the story behind the picture, and her nightmares begin to intensify.

I titled it “An Ocean Orange.”

Looking back, it wasn’t a very good story. But after I turned in “An Ocean Orange,” my creative writing teacher called me over and told me she thought it showed promise. So much so, that she offered to be my advisor for my senior thesis project.

By the time I was a junior and ready to begin working on my thesis, I’d moved on to other story ideas (like the novella that would eventually become Chasing the Sun). But my professor’s enthusiasm for this orange-inspired short story was a huge catalyst; it made me realize I wasn’t the only crazy one who thought I might be able to write fiction.

Have you ever had a teacher who helped you realize your dreams? What’s the one moment you remember them by?


Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at

7 Replies to “An Ocean Orange: The Short Story That Set Everything in Motion”

  1. My whole life, my mother continually told me that I should get a good job at Merrill Lynch. Working in an office, in the financial district no less, was the antithesis of everything about me. No one encouraged me. Teachers didn’t pay any attention to me. Except one. Mrs. Marley, my eighth grade English teacher. She wrote on the top of one of my compositions, “Debi, you will make a fine writer someday!” I never forgot it and I brag about it to this day.


  2. Oh that bright color has so much meaning after all! 🙂 I remember some nightmares from childhood, too. It’s strange how they can stick with us for so long, but oh, look how yours evolved!

  3. I’m with Susan — the orange filling up your vision is creepy! I love the image of it. I remember one of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Salem–she liked a sonnet I wrote for Shakespeare class so much that she copied it off and handed it out to the class–and to teachers! What a wonderful feeling.

  4. I think the biggest help I got in that area was from my parents. Not even so much from their encouragement, though there was that, too, but from their example.

    My mother was often sketching or painting, and my father was usually working on a screenplay. This made it seem to me that creating art was something people did, a regular human activity, not just the province of famous people and professionals. You did it because it was enjoyable to do, not because it might possibly lead to something else in the future.

    That’s what I’ve been doing pretty much ever since.

  5. English teachers my entire life, but especially Mrs. Dingman from seventh grade and Mrs. Beck from my freshman and sophomore courses. I’m Facebook friends with them both now. Still can’t call them by their first names.

  6. My ninth grade English teacher gave us a short story assignment – mine turned into a novel. Not many teachers would actually READ 50,000 words (in first draft…ugg) written by a hopeful novelist. Mine did. She took time outside of class, and school, to read and give me line edits and substantive edits on that entire manuscript. She encouraged my dream. Without that? I might never have ended up published — with a much better story, and in a totally different genre, but the seeds were there and she definitely helped them grow.

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