Category Archives: Short Story

Four Somethings and A Sixpence by @RumerHaven!

Welp, it’s been a loooong time since I first OMGed my fool head off over this story winning a contest. The anthology it was to appear in never reached fruition, however, so when I was through holding my breath, I finally queried elsewhere and found this bride a nice home to hang her veil. ūüôā
*
Adult Contemporary Romance
Available February 3, 2015
from Vagabondage Romance

SUMMARY:
One wedding. Six participants. Be they sitting in the pews or standing at the altar, bearing witness in person or only in spirit, each of them knows something about the unsmiling bride.

Go ahead‚ÄĒoffer them a sixpence for their thoughts, and they’ll make you these vows:

  • One would love to declare this woman his ‚Äúawfully wedded wife.‚ÄĚ Verbatim
  • One fears what she already has and will have to hold‚ÄĒif not from this day forward, then soon.
  • One takes her to be richer, not poorer‚ÄĒand for that reason wants to scrub the toilet with her toothbrush.
  • One is better for what she told him this morning, worse for betraying a friend to get to this point.
  • One worries whether today finds her in sickness or in health.
  • And only one already knows‚ÄĒwith certainty‚ÄĒthat not even in death will they part.

Whether they speak now or forever hold their peace, they all give the bride a little something she didn‚Äôt register for. With romance, resentment, faith, fear, mystery, and the mystical, Four Somethings & A Sixpence is a loaded yet light read just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Add it to Goodreads.
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and batteredsuitcasepress.com.

RAFFLECOPTER:
In celebration, Rumer is giving away 4 free ebooks of this 9,000-word novelette, and a lucky 5th winner will receive the ebook PLUS an authentic silver sixpence coin struck by the Royal Mint in London! RSVP at the Rafflecopter for your chance to win (runs from 2/3 – 2/14):

Rafflecopter Giveaway

AUTHOR BIO:
Rumer Haven is probably the most social recluse you could ever meet. When she‚Äôs not babbling her fool head off among friends and family, she‚Äôs pacified with a good story that she‚Äôs reading, writing, or revising‚ÄĒor binge-watching something on Netflix. A former teacher hailing from Chicago, she presently lives in London with her husband. She made her authorial debut in 2014 with the novel Seven for a Secret, where historical fiction meets contemporary rom-com. Rumer has always had a penchant for the past and paranormal, which inspires her writing to explore dimensions of time, love, and the soul.

Author Links:
Website: http://www.rumerhaven.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8379833.Rumer_Haven 
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rumer-Haven/e/B00MU2NXXW/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RumerHaven (@RumerHaven)
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rumerhaven

 

 


The Lazy Way to Write a Blog Post…

…copy/paste something you’ve already written. ūüôā

Okay, so we’ve established by now I’m not the most reliable of bloggers, and now I’m not following through on my promise for this post to be about 1st-person narration. Fact is, I haven’t prioritized time for thoughtfully compiling thoughts/excerpts on that topic, but I will, I will…

What I have been prioritizing lately—FINALLY!—is my second manuscript. I’ve been close to the end for months now, but, just like with my first manuscript, the characters’ voices went quiet. I probably should have pushed through anyway, but I didn’t, and now I’ve got them all screaming in my ear. So, when I have free time (or blow off work to create pseudo-free time), I am writing the rest of my novel. And giving advice to friends to get them started writing theirs!

Which brings me to my lazy post today. The novel-esque email responses I just inundated my dear friend with this week as she prepares for NaNoWriMo as a first-time writer. Here goes:

Q: How do you narrow down an idea? I have a million…

A:¬†[First of all, I thought, “Lucky girl!” It took me ages to generate even one idea for my first manuscript.]

Evaluate each one for how easily you think you could run with one for an entire novel. Do some have nicer complexity than others? Are they more appealing for you to research and live with for a long, long amount of time whereas others you might tire of or not be able to develop very far? And is there just that one that really, really speaks to you from the inside…you can’t get it out of your head, it gets you excited because it’s so original/meaningful/interesting/etc., you can already see the setting and hear the characters, it is THE book you were meant to write?

You can also try writing little vignettes for each idea and see which one takes off, inspires the most possibilities. Foregoing an idea at one time doesn’t mean it can’t be revisited at another, either as another book or as a short story.

That’s always another avenue—write several short stories and compile them in an anthology. With short stories, you can also submit them individually to contests and publications (e.g., magazines, anthologies, e-zines, etc.), which builds a publication history you can cite in your novel’s query letter down the road. It’s a great way to earn credibility. I only wish I could be more prolific that way. ūüôā

One blog that I follow is www.milo-inmediares.com. The guy (Milo) is a maniac about writing/submitting stories based on Ray Bradbury’s early discipline of writing and submitting one story a week to get his start. Milo helped create the Write1Sub1 blog, too, to encourage others to write one story a week or month so that, at the end of the year, you have a large collection to work with, not only because getting published is such a numbers game but also to have that accomplishment for yourself. It’s a proper repertoire. Anyway, in either his April 2011 or April 2010 archives, he blogged every day about one new publication to submit stories to, in case you wanted to explore the short story option with all your different ideas.

Regardless of what length you write, just remember every story has an arc: exposition builds to rising action, which reaches climax and descends with falling action toward a resolution. The major climax occurs late in the story (and resolutions shouldn’t be too dragged out). There must be some sense of ongoing internal/external conflict that builds and builds before getting resolved in the end, but minor conflicts along the way help build tension, too—subplot helps add complexity/depth. I’m hoping to blog in the coming month about some stuff on story progression. Oh, and the NaNoWriMo organizers are so awesome—they provide so many great resources and pep talks along the way. It’s such a special experience, and I’m so happy you’re doing it!

Q: So much to take in, I feel far from prepared for this. The issue is I have no actual ideas, I have had no time to even think about them, develop them.

A: [Okay, so I obviously misunderstood her first question, thinking the exact opposite. And, yeesh, leave it to me to overdo it regardless…here was my attempt to backpedal.]

Oh no! I didn’t mean to flood you with info. There are just all sorts of options for wrestling down an idea. How to approach it varies for everyone. It’s really just a matter of what makes you tick.

When I first considered ideas, I didn’t have one to hold on to either. I started with what I loved to read—and that’s a top tip I’ve heard from authors since: write the book you want to read.

So I thought about how I love ghost stories of the Gothic variety, yet also liked the modern edge of supernatural stories like The Time Travelers Wife. I also thought about how whenever I read or watched a ghost story in a book or on film, the story always went a different way than my expectations had hoped for. So then I thought about what consistently caused my disappointment and jotted down in a journal all the elements I would love to see in a story, what, for ME, would be intriguing, atmospheric, and frightening. I just had pages and pages of all this related and random stuff, and then I started to research the topic from different angles and recorded my findings in the journal, too. Then, as slices of story started to occur to me based on what I’d brainstormed/researched and really wanted to feature in the story, slowly but surely the dots started to connect.

And a lot of it comes from just writing it. I told you about subplots before, but sometimes those just occur as you go along. Secondary characters appear out of nowhere because you start to see them or instinctively know that your main characters would meet them in a certain situation or whatever. I at first created this one gal simply to give my protagonist a friend at school as it seemed unnatural for her personality to not at least form an acquaintance. But then as I wrote this other person, suddenly she started behaving oddly and became a mystery unto herself. That was purely spontaneous writing, and then the strategy and planning came in afterwards when I had to determine why she was acting that way, what new role she could play in the overall scheme.

My point is, so much comes to you when you finally just start to write. That’s the spirit of NaNoWriMo—it doesn’t give you time to think about it much; you just have to write and keep going, keep pushing forward and forward and then sort out what you’ve got when you’re done. No one comes out of it with a polished and complete novel. And it might not even be a novel but a free association of ideas that spins off in tangents. The ideas could first come through THAT process, and it could serve as a way of finding your writer’s voice, too, so you can determine what tone to approach your book with.

You just don’t know until you write, so forget what I said for the time being about story arc and outlining and whatnot. Just take what time does come to you on a day to scribble out something. Practice describing your daughter as she plays with something. Write an entire paragraph about her disgusting boogers now that she’s sick! Pretend your house is the setting of a story and describe it for a reader to “see.” Maybe write about a funky dream you recently had. If you get in the habit of writing a little something creative every day, it really warms you up and gets you into a groove. It’s exactly the same thing as exercising, you know? The more you do it, the more energized you feel and the more you want to do it. And just like there’s a runner’s high after pushing past a certain distance, there’s a writer’s one—that’s why I keep harping on this one point: write! If you can tap into that weird mode where it’s almost like the story already exists independent of you and you’re being chosen to tell it (it’s a little haunting but so wild!), you’ll get it and so many inhibitions about the task will drop away.

So what do you think, have I steered her okay? Is it better for a first-time writer to go into it with more structure or less as they find their voice and creative footing? What other advice would you give?


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” on Writing – Part I

“It is not that things should be published. But I believe now that it is important that they exist.”

Ah, and that quotation wasn’t even Hemingway; it was his friend Evan Shipman. But I figured it made a good segue from my previous post about “When Not Being Published Doesn’t Feel Too ¬†Shabby,” no? Who was Evan Shipman? Alas, perhaps if he hadn’t held the views on publishing he did, his name would be as household as Ernest Hemingway’s by now.

Evan Shipman, who was a very fine poet and who truly did not care if his poems were ever published, felt that it should remain a mystery.

“We need more true mystery in our lives, Hem,” he once said to me. “The completely unambitious writer and the really good unpublished poem are the things we lack most at this time. There is, of course, the problem of sustenance.”
~ from “An Agent of Evil”

Ah, sustenance. Indeed. Well, it doesn’t seem ¬†even the published can necessarily count on that anymore. But this is how F. Scott Fitzgerald did:

He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoreing. He said it was whoreing but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best they could write without destroying their talent. He said he had learned to write the stories for the Post so that they did him no harm at all. He wrote the real story first, he said, and the destruction and changing did him no harm. I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it but I needed a novel to back up my faith and to show him and convince him, and I had not yet written any such novel.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

[After Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby:]

I was trying to get him to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he had explained that he did.

“You’ve written a fine novel now,” I told him. “And you mustn’t write slop.”

“The novel isn’t selling,” he said. “I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.”

“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

“I”m going to.” he said.
~¬†from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Hm, and did he? Was Scott a sell-out? Or was he just doing what he needed to do to make a livelihood of his craft? It raises the question that hits me time and again—to what extent do writers need to write to the market¬†if they ever want to be published? Just at the start of their careers to get a foot in the door? Throughout their careers to keep earning a living? Is there a happy medium? And could writing to the market harm your writing if it’s any less than your best? Questions I don’t feel the need to answer at this time. (But see my post “To Market, To Market” if you want to further chew on it.)

Moving on, the bits that I’m quoting here are from one of my latest reads, Hemingway’s posthumously published book, A Moveable Feast. The title, though chosen by his wife after his death, bears Hemingway’s stamp, taking liberties as he did with spelling and punctuation out of an innate grammatical logic of his own—in this case, the “ea” in “Moveable.” In any case, I used to read so much Hemingway in my teens and twenties and had neglected him for a while until recently reading Paula McLain’s¬†The Paris Wife about his days in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife Hadley. This led to reading¬†A Moveable Feast, his own accounts of what transpired in those ol’ Paris days, and then re-reading¬†The Sun Also Rises, which is essentially autobiographical of a group trip at that time to Pamplona, Spain. It’s funny how we readers bring so much to a story’s meaning depending on our evolving frame of reference, because first reading that novel a decade or two ago was a different experience for me than reading it now as a fellow American expat in Europe—especially different after attending a bull fight in Madrid last year (and sobbing like an infant, I might add. I’m not going to run out and join PETA or anything, but I’ll say this: Never. Again.)

Anyway, that’s the side of literature I’ve been embracing again: being a reader. Nonetheless, as I won’t be entirely foregoing the trials and tribulations of being a¬†writer (as implied in my last post), I thought I’d share some insights on writing Hemingway gave throughout his Paris memoirs—Paris being where he was still cutting his teeth on his pencil. I’ll break it up into separate posts as this is already getting long, but before I close up shop today, I’ll share this from Se√°n Hemingway’s introduction to the book. Regarding how A Moveable Feast was originally going to be titled¬†The Early Eye and The Ear:

The eye, a term usually used in the connoisseurship of fine art, draws an interesting comparison between writing and painting […] Hemingway first developed his eye, his ability to discern the gold from the dross and turn his observations into prose, in Paris in the twenties. The ear, which we think of as more pertinent to musical composition, is clearly important to creative writing. Hemingway’s writing typically reads well when spoken aloud. When complete, his writing is so tight that every word is integral, like notes in a musical composition.

Hemingway’s writing isn’t for everyone. I, too, fluctuate in my response to it sometimes. But I’ll never question my overall love for his storytelling if only for¬†For Whom the Bell Tolls. He brought something different to the table, and even if it isn’t the style other writers or readers want to embrace, the discipline and the principles he abided by were universally sound. Until next time, when we’ll hear more of what Ernest has to say!

PART II

PART III


Write or Get off the Pot(tery), Monkey!


Greetings, all! I managed to fall out of my tree again, having traveled 4 out of 6 recent weekends and hosting a close friend all last week right after the excitement of the royal wedding, and now I’m prepping for a 2-week trip to the States (split between Chicago and New York) as of this coming Monday. On top of this, I’ve had both my editing assignments fall back in my lap, so have been trying to sort those simultaneously.

I did manage to revise and submit my manuscript¬†in time for a fiction contest in the midst of all this, but otherwise still feel the need to sit down with it properly and tend to its story arc¬†before more serious querying. I’ll have to share with you the feedback I’d received at the writing festival, but what remains now is my own personal criticism of my protagonist’s development. Once my days extend to 36 hours apiece, I just might get to revisit that at some point…

Anyway, today’s post is sponsored by Eda Pottery. ūüôā¬†I mentioned before that I was going to write vignettes for each pottery piece my sister-in-law Marlena creates for her new brand, as inspired by that particular item. Well, I’m pleased to announce that she’s already started displaying pieces for sale at her Eda Pottery¬†website and on¬†Etsy.com.¬†I’ve also started posting my vignettes here on the blog, which you can find at:

thefallenmonkey.com/human-persona/eda

I’ve written a dozen so far, just little bite-sized bits with the corresponding pottery photos and links to Etsy if anyone’s interested in purchasing!¬†My friend Joanna who was just visiting me is also a writer and good friends with Eda’s mastermind, so she may join me in writing for the brand as Marlena continues crafting her pretty pots.¬†

In any case, as you’ll see if you check out that link, I’ve added “Primate Portfolio” to my main menu¬†as another way of throwing my fictional poop around. If you hover your cursor over its categories, Eda and fanfic titles will appear; otherwise, they’re also linked to their applicable category pages. When I’m feeling confident enough, I’ll perhaps post a chapter of my manuscript…it has a little ways to go yet…

All right then. Off to edit someone’s else’s manuscript. Hope you’re all well and am looking forward to swinging back into your blog trees, too!


The Second Coming: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Write and Write Again

Image from etsy.com

I’ve got lots and lots of material to share and will do so in the coming days (or weeks, more realistically, given the bat-shit craziness of my sheh-jule these days…). And what I’m noticing right now is that my writing life is experiencing a rebirth of sorts that has me coming back for SECONDS…

To start, while the jury is still out on the POV issue plaguing my first editing project (see “POV for Vendetta“), I’ve been assigned my SECOND PROJECT, which is already presenting issues of its own. In this case, the author is safely applying 3rd person limited across different characters by only shifting POV in new sections and/or chapters. However, its story arc is sagging in the middle due to a repeating element that flattens it out through lack of variety. In future posts, I’ll speak to both my editorial comments on this specific manuscript as well as¬†pacing a story in general.

In the last couple weeks, I have also been mapping out a SECOND MANUSCRIPT¬†of my own! Idea remnants that got left behind as I finished my first manuscript have inspired another story line altogether, so I’m working to apply all I’ve learned from my many, many mistakes on manuscript #1 to what will hopefully be a better planned and executed #2. Outlining the plot from the get-go is a first for me, as I’d nearly written myself into a hole the first time around and didn’t know how to bring it all together (see “Fraying at the End“). So while ms #1 accordingly still needs a lot tender lovin’ care, ms #2 is providing my mind a healthy diversion for a while. Having a second project in the pipeline also keeps me from placing too much pressure on that first one navigating its path to publication. As presenters at my workshop said last weekend, hardly any new author’s “debut” novel is actually the first book they’d written.

Speaking of workshop, I got a SECOND WIND for tackling both¬†the manuscripts I’m writing and editing by attending the Festival of Writing in York this past Saturday and Sunday. In addition to two ten-minute one-to-one meetings with a literary agent and published author (the latter being Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter, no less), I attended several workshops on topics like plotting, pacing, and marketability. It gave me gobs of food for thought, so I’ll share what smattering of notes and resources I can with you.

Finally, while I admittedly didn’t churn any creativity out during the month of February for Write 1 Sub 1, I feel I’ve gotten a SECOND CHANCE¬†this month thanks to my sister-in-law, as fate would have it. This ridiculously talented lady is a graphic designer by day and painter, photographer, and potter by night. Her latest endeavor is to create a website for her lovely pottery, and instead of presenting each with an ordinary catalog-type description, she’s opted to pair them with short stories inspired by their design and function. So guess who’s the lucky gal who gets to write these?! I’ve written five short-short pieces so far with five to go (as far as I know), so hopefully these will be appearing online by mid-April. While I still aim to write stories for submission to literary publications in subsequent months, I’m hoping this gig at least covers me for March.

All right, time to shut my yapper. Just a preview of more posts to come after I take a SECOND to catch my breath… ūüėČ

What’s on your writing agenda these days? Any writing firsts or seconds to celebrate this month?


The Shotgun-Shack Story: Nowhere to Hide

The-Breakfast-Club-movies-21223076-1558-800

I’ve been sitting on a topic for a while that a recent blog post¬†on Lethal Inheritance¬† has spurred me to finally write.¬† In Tahlia’s post, “Is writing the second novel easier than the first?“, she discusses how she has started writing her second book while her first manuscript awaits publishing.¬† She mentions¬†ways in which¬†this second story line differs from the first:

“[I]t takes place almost entirely in one set of adjoining suites in a castle, whereas Lethal Inheritance‚Äôs scenery is always changing. Thirdly, it‚Äôs character, relationship and emotion driven, rather than action driven. For me, that‚Äôs a harder brief, and that‚Äôs why I‚Äôm not sure at this stage if I can make it work.”

To which I responded:

“What I‚Äôve been working on to date falls in that¬†[same] category; there are not dramatic changes in setting or adrenaline-rushing action as it‚Äôs very concentrated on the psychological/emotional variations in my protagonist as she questions identity and her perceptions of reality.”

I proceeded to say that, though this is the type of story I’m personally drawn to, I realize it doesn’t necessarily have the mass-market appeal that would get it snatched up for publication.¬† And that’s okay—I am definitely writing the story I want to write; I started rereading it from the beginning yesterday and am all the more convinced of that.

So, today I’m dedicating this post to those incredible stories out there that capture our attention without catering to the modern-day ADD bred by MTV-esque rapid editing and car chases and explosions.¬† I’m not saying I’m not likewise entertained by the action-packed tales, just that they are not the only ones capable of, in fact, entertaining.

I attended¬†a writing seminar last year in which a panel of agents, publishers, and authors spoke on the craft of writing in conjunction with getting published.¬† Someone in the audience had asked about commercial¬†versus literary fiction, and an author responded that “commercial” fiction is story-driven whereas “literary” fiction prioritizes language and ideas—it is read for the beauty of the words and provocation of thought.¬† She attested that many authors try to combine both.

This got me thinking, then, about the more character-driven stories that I enjoy.  Where films go, I noticed a trend in my collection of one-setting movies; indeed, some partake in just one room.  Think about that!  One room.  If a film or novel can captivate you all the way through by virtue of situation and dialogue without having to change settings, that is a brilliantly written manuscript, in my opinion.

Don’t believe me?¬† Try watching¬†Rear Window, 12 Angry Men, Rope, or, hey, even¬†The Breakfast Club—all¬†of which¬†take place¬†in a single¬†room (with the exception of maybe¬†a minute or two outside)—and tell me that you aren’t entertained.¬†¬†These are carried¬†by¬†characterization and dialogue, just like other favorites of mine:¬† Before Sunrise¬†and its sequel Before Sunset¬†(which both admittedly change settings, but the respective¬†cities of Vienna and Paris are just backdrops to the characters’¬†ongoing conversation), The Anniversary Party¬†(an ensemble cast¬†in a Hollywood¬†couple’s home), and Gosford Park (in the vein¬†of the Agatha Christie books I loved¬†as a kid that¬†transpire¬†in a single setting—a mansion in And Then There Were None and a train in Murder on the Orient Express).¬† And it doesn’t take dramatic, in-your-face¬†action and cutting from setting to setting to get the blood rushing, as not only evidenced by these mysteries and the two aforementioned Hitchcock films (Rear Window and Rope), but in haunting thrillers like Dead Calm and The Others as well…which coincidentally both star Nicole Kidman, the first taking place on a sailboat and the second in yet another old English mansion.

In speaking on setting, the visual examples of this most readily come to my mind through film, but the success in capturing¬†even a¬†viewer’s attention¬†in this case¬†comes down to¬†the writing.¬† The writer scripts the dialogue and envisions the setting and behavior of the characters—in film,¬†the director then¬†works to capture this audiovisually.¬† Yet in a novel, it is all on the writer to convey these elements entirely in words.

Stripping away the attractive actors, elaborate sets, and soundtracks does not render mere words dull, nor is a single/minimal-setting book a bore.¬† If that were the case, where would that leave the classic works of authors like Austen or Bronte, whose stories don’t deviate far from the character’s homes.¬† Think of the chill sent down the spine by novellas like¬†Henry¬†James’s The Turn of the Screw¬†or Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (houses), the adrenaline and fury¬†aboard Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (boat), or the intimate¬†existential conversation in Salinger’s Franny & Zoe (the entire second part moves only from the bathroom to the living room) or Boethius’s 6th-century The Consolation of Philosophy¬†(a prisoner speaks with Fortune in his cell).

What is it about the single-setting that so fascinates me?¬† I suppose it’s in part the appreciation I feel for the effectiveness of story-telling¬†that doesn’t¬†rely on bells and whistles.¬† And¬†it’s the great experiment of what happens when you isolate people in a room—throw in a dash of tension, stir, and bring to a boil.¬† It¬†becomes a¬†study of humanity when characters aren’t able to escape each other or even themselves:

There is much heart, soul-seeking, and thrill to be had within four walls.  A writer can most certainly pull it off, though the impact can only be as strong as the writing itself in bringing it from the corners of a room to the corners of the mind.

How about you, readers and writers—do you gravitate toward the story-driven or character-driven?¬† What are some examples that successfully combine both?


On the Borderline

Oh goodie, this is a fun one—a game of sorts for those days when you fear the tap to your creativity has run dry and you just can’t write. ¬†Well, you can. ¬†Given some direction—rules, if you will—you might be surprised when you spring a leak ūüôā

The Prompt:

Page 41 of Room to Write asks us to choose one of the following words:  fence, road, boil, or fall.  Then:

1. Write the first words that come to mind when you think of your chosen words. ¬†Write them in a list form until you hit the bottom of the page (or your computer screen…I decided to do 20).

2.  Keeping the list in the exact same order, develop a story in which every line uses one of these words.

Response:

He rode the fence on the issue.

Sure, he realized the importance of establishing boundaries,

but was this something to fall under such restriction?

He was already on the border of sanity as it was.

One thing he was never good about was choices,

options that left him speculating which path to take and leaping to cynical conclusions as to what menaced him ahead on each.

In this way, even the gift of choice wound barbed wire round his psyche

and threatened to strangle his pride with the chain-links of fear he entangled himself within.

He never was a man of conviction, willingly crossing picket lines to not rock the boat with authority

and practically tying their strings onto himself as if he were some wooden puppet,

his thoughts and actions the property of someone else, always.

Facing the crossroads that he was now, he tried to envision vast farmland

dotted with livestock and caressed by the open breezes.

In this vision was also a garden; yes, there must be a garden in the back,

serving as the division of pleasure and labor,

where his legal troubles could be checked at the gate and all he would know of the world was a blooming fortress.

He then frowned at the way even his fancies imposed a natural barrier around him,

and wondered if he wouldn’t constantly need something to hold him back—balancing on the precipice of order and chaos as he was—

yes, something that would keep him penned in for his own protection and the safety of the world below.

He struck a match against the brick ledge, the final demarcation he would draw.

Reflection:

Today is definitely one of my days of feeling groggy and uncreative—there’s so much to take care of on all levels of my life, so my preoccupation with it all is almost paralyzing me into doing none of it. ¬†In light of these kinds of days, I really appreciate an activity like this that confines me within a short set of rules; for as much as I think I’m a creative spirit, I’ve always functioned well within parameters. ¬†Maybe that’s why the word “fence” is the one that leapt out at me ūüôā

Anyways, if you ever find ¬†yourself in a writing funk, I can promise you this is a good way to shake up your stagnant creative juices; there’s no pressure to how this sort ¬†of piece will turn out, just that you follow the rules and keep on to the end. ¬†Maybe it’ll go straight to the rubbish bin, maybe you’ll actually pull something from it to recycle in another work. ¬†Who knows, but this took me less than 10 minutes, so surely you can afford that little bit of time to see what results. ¬†It also has potential as a good lesson in working with motifs/extended metaphors in following through on a theme.

So, obviously I use these writing prompts to get me going, but I’m curious about YOU. ¬†What is it that gets your brain-blood flowing and inspired to write again during periods of creative dormancy?


Here’s Mud in Yer Eye!

My first Nanoism is out:  #194


Friday Fan-Fiction

From the ages of about 7 to 27, I was pretty sure that John Hughes had ruined my life.  The depictions of idyllic love in his high school-romance classics left me forever pining for the day my Jake Ryan would come:

Ah, yes, Sam and Jake. ¬†Jake and Sam. ¬†The unattainable scenario I never got to realize when I myself was a 15-year-old bridesmaid at my older sister’s wedding. ¬†With a mouthful of braces and ankles teetering on high heels (perpetually negotiating their stability as I adjusted to a rapid growth spurt), when I stepped out of the church that day, alas, no heart-throb was to be seen leaning against his red sports car to whisk me away from my averageness.

But this isn’t about Sam and Jake. ¬†Let’s roll back that preview and focus on the peripheral character also riding that bus, a.k.a. “Geek Girl #1” as she’s named in the credits.

Played by Joan Cusack, this character¬†shows up but a handful of times in John Hughes’ 1984 film, Sixteen Candles. ¬†In the movie, this teenager has no dialogue, no name. ¬†So, in writing a “coming of age” story some time ago, I decided to give this girl an identity, a voice, and speculate on her plight‚ÄĒbasically, give her a story of her own to celebrate the¬†inadequacies that the film exploits for comic relief. ¬†I’ll share a preview of it here (the rest can be found at FanFiction.net).

If you’ve ever seen the movie, you may remember her as the girl at the water fountain…

Geek Girl #1

or,

From the Periphery of the Drinking Fountain

Just trying to get a little water‚Ķcrap, I’m thirsty. Yet my face is dripping wet. Soaking with fresh, otherwise drinkable water that is only going to evaporate and fall to earth again to quench other people’s thirst. But not mine.

I remember drawing a diagram of the rain cycle once‚Ķit was for a project in grade school, complete with arrows indicating the flow of the process‚Ķyou know, how the rain falls and replenishes lakes and rivers and helps flowers grow, then up it goes, back into the sky as vapor, and so on and so forth. I had drawn these huge downy clouds that had smiling faces. So did the flowers; they were daisies. Everything in my diagram smiled, actually, even the disproportionately gigantic bees buzzing around those god-forsakenly chipper daisies. The ‘A’ I got on that project had me grinning as big as a badly drawn bee for my entire journey out the classroom, down the hall, through the main entrance, and into the‚Ķrain. As if on cue, lightening sliced through very un-fluffy, scowling clouds just before one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-BOOM. Drenched. No umbrella‚Ķcold‚Ķface dripping‚Ķyet so thirsty‚Ķ

“Ya finished?”

I snap my head to the right with a “Huh?” only to wince over my brainless error. Have to control those reflexes.

“Jesus, use a sink to wash your face, people drink from that!”

Jolted from my meandering thoughts, I mutely step aside from the drinking fountain and weave my way back toward the gymnasium, guided by the amplified bass tones of the music, since a translucent film of fused hydrogen and oxygen atoms now obscures my vision. Dabbing my mouth with the printed fabric skirt of the lady embroidered on my sweatshirt‚ÄĒa sixteenth birthday gift from Grandma‚ÄĒI muse to myself, yeah, I suppose people do. No wonder I can’t. Just a few more minutes and I know my face and sweatshirt will be dry. Unfortunately, I know by then I will not have succeeded in evaporating with the water.

And I’m still so thirsty. Parched. I lament the futility of water fountains.

It’s because of the neckbrace, you see. Yeah, as if you could miss it. Three more weeks caged inside this contraption, three at the very least. I suppose I’m already used to my head’s considerably limited range of motion after having to wear headgear day and night for the entire two years I wore braces‚ÄĒmost people don’t have to wear it publicly like that, but my orthodontist declared my overbite to be uncommonly severe. Oddly enough, he still carries the plaster cast of my teeth around with him to assorted dental conventions. I would feel a trifle violated over that if having some sort of distinction didn’t feel kind of flattering. The whole thing has the essence of immortality, if you think about it‚ÄĒthat cast is a statue, like fossilized evidence of my very existence‚ĶI mean, dental records are the primary means of identification for decomposed bodies, so, in a way, teeth are our identity.

And such are my allotted 15 minutes of fame, all used up on an overbite I no longer have. At least my teeth can chalk one up for posterity.

It was when I was leaving the dentist office after having my braces taken off, actually, when I pulled out of the parking lot without looking in either direction (force of habit thanks to the headgear) and rear-ended a pickup truck stopped at the adjacent red-light. The damage to either vehicle was minimal, but I received a case of whiplash evidently bad enough to warrant this harness. Yet another ring of metal to invade my lower peripheral vision. That is what my English teacher would call “ironic.”

Uh oh. Cough resulting from dry throat ready to strike…must suppress spasm…

*cough* “Ow.”

I can’t help but vocalize my neck pain at times like these. The popular kids usually take a breather from their regularly-scheduled self-absorption to snort in mockery over my not-even-very-exclamatory exclamations, but that isn’t as embarrassing as when I do somehow manage to stifle my coughs, and the convulsion instead travels up my nasal passages to produce an unpredictable yet always audible sound that has them rolling every time. For someone so unnoticeable, I sure get noticed at more times than I would prefer.

Like now, for instance. The one time I really want to conceal myself, really want to pine in the privacy of this doorway, and here’s this at-the-cusp-of-pubescence freshman staring me down. Just gawking at me from one foot away through his darkened shades like some sorry Cory Hart poser. My face is pressed so close to this wall, with any luck I can just crawl inside of it right now and escape out the other side into an alternate universe where I’m like some Princess of Narnia who was born with a perfect bite‚Ķbut the repelling force of this dude’s gaze compels me toward the opposite direction. Whatever, time to pluck myself away from this weed defiling my wallflower garden and brave the dance-floor.

Huh, there’s Samantha characteristically sulking in my pathway. Naturally another superb hair day for her short red tresses. I guess my hair isn’t all that bad, but I always have to pull it back tight with a rubberband so it doesn’t get caught in the head apparatus du jour. Even so, its matte, muddy color has nothing on the vibrancy of Rubylocks over there. And just look at her dress‚Ķclassy and perfect as always, delicate as a daisy. Though I have to squint with that water still stinging my eyes, I can just make out the matching pumps.

Penny-loafers are the highest heeled shoes I own. My growth spurt seems to have occurred earlier than everyone else’s, so I’m way too tall, and tall isn’t cute‚ÄĒat most, it could be construed as exotic, maybe, but never cute ‚ÄĒso I compensate by avoiding heels and curling my shoulders inward. That seems to help. Besides, Dad refuses to let his little girl look like a “common prostitute,” so sometimes I think I’d be safer getting caught in possession of crack and firearms than nylons or makeup. So here I am, at my first high school dance (even though I’m a sophomore‚ÄĒagain, consult The Widower’s Handbook of Social Graces for the Budding Teenage Girl, the comprehensive, unabridged version) and stuck wearing this sweatshirt over a hand-me-down dress from my cousin, because God forbid that I bare my arms like Sam gets to with her angelically alabaster complexion.

And yet she pouts to her friend the same way she did at her locker earlier today, just before homeroom. Something about her family forgetting her sixteenth birthday and life just getting shittier‚Ķuh, yeah, Red. Then there was the bus ride home‚ÄĒhere she had the smartest guy in my physics club falling all over himself to impress her, saturating her ego with his deluge of compliments, but she gets all haughty and tense, as though struggling to ignore the persistent drip of Chinese water torture.

Girls like her just rinse and spit. They’ll spit out a mouthful and have the nerve to complain that they’re thirsty.

To think Ted had skipped our after-school physics club meeting today hoping to encounter Sam on the bus so he could ask her to the dance. I heard him say so to my brother, Bryce, a freshman like Ted who is also, incidentally, his best friend. I ended up bailing on the meeting myself to discover the outcome of this wooing. As pleased as I was to find that he’d still be going to the dance stag, as insanely thrilled that he chose to talk to me once Sam got off at her stop (even though I guess I was the only other person left on the vehicle), our entire one-on-one time was spent exalting her “vogue” style. He exalted, anyway; I just smiled and mentally nodded (since I can’t actually move my head up or down). My tongue is usually tied when I’m around guys anyway, but it was bitten hard this time to contain my slight difference of opinion in an agreeable “uh, yeah.” I’m sure he was awed by my eloquence, but the unwavering optimism in his eyes, that sparkle in his braces, was enough to scorch any hopes I had that maybe tonight he’d look in the general vicinity of some other girl‚Ķsomeone friendlier‚Ķmore intelligent‚Ķmore enigmatic in her quiet, less attractive, and somewhat physically handicapped way.

Someone thirstier.

[to be continued…]

So, if you got this far and are still “thirsty” for more, read the rest at FanFiction.net! Otherwise, I’m playing hostess with the mostess to out-of-town visitors, so will likely be out of commission on the blog for several days.


Only in My Dreams!

I think after yesterday‘s heaviness, we needs must uplift ourselves with some ’80s radness! ¬†Oh, as if you don’t want to…don’t resist the urge to Running-Man or Cabbage-Patch if need be…

Ah…okay, fan yourself off. ¬†The reason I pulled this little nugget from the cyber archives is to set the theme as I backtrack to the writing prompt about dreams.

The Prompt:

Four posts ago, I mentioned that page 22 of Room to Write asks us to recall a dream: ¬†“It can be a recurring dream, one from childhood, a daydream or a nightmare.” ¬†As we write about it, we should be noticing which portions of the dream sequence evade our memory and which become sharper. ¬†We can fill in any gaps, change, or expand on any of it that we wish. ¬†I’d like to relate a few…

Response:

The first dream that leaps to mind is a recurring one that I had as a little kid. ¬†I know exactly where it stemmed from: ¬†a TV ad for a television station that had something to do with the seasons (or “series,” as they say in the UK) of its television programs not yet coming to an end…I don’t know if it was approaching summer re-run time or what, but what I do recall is that my dream was this extended variation of the advert in which I was the woman involved. ¬†I was wearing a peasant dress and being chased by a hunchback all throughout a dark, cobwebby, grey stone castle. ¬†The corridors, evil perils, and my evasive techniques would vary night to night, but every time the dream ended the same way: ¬†the hunchback would corner me at a dead-end. ¬†With my back against the wall and arms outspread, I’d merely repeat the line the woman in the commercial would say (though in my dream, it was probably sheer nonsense coming out of my mouth), and the hunchback would grunt, turn around, and walk away.

A recurring dream I started having later in life involved water.  The situations and story lines were always different, but the water would be there in some form or another.  Sometimes I was on a sinking ship a la Titanic, sometimes I was standing on shore watching a massive tsunami (of Deep Impact proportions) rolling in at me , or water levels for whatever reason would rise gradually inside my home.  In all of them, I had time to stare down my ultimate death and prepare the air to be swept from my lungs.

Adding to the list, I get that typical one in which I lose my teeth. ¬†Whereas the last two dreams recurred within the span of probably one or two years, this particular one with the teeth has resurfaced my entire life. ¬†I don’t always lose my teeth entirely; sometimes they are loose to the point of my knowing it’s only a matter of time. ¬†Again, the story lines of those dreams will vary, but within them my dream-self burns in mortification, as it’s a total blow to my vanity. ¬†I always feel entirely helpless and unable to hold them in place (not to mention terrified what the dental bill is going to come to).

And to conclude the list, yes, when I was a student I would have the dream about having to take an exam I didn’t study for or showing up to class wearing something ridiculous, but the curse of becoming a teacher is that you keep having those dreams!!! ¬†This time, though, it’s that I show up to class without having my lessons planned, or I show up at the wrong classroom on the first day of school, and the students are never very helpful to me in this dilemma. ¬†Since I’m on hiatus from teaching at present, I don’t get these anymore, except that just a few nights ago I actually had one of the more freakishly normal dreams I’ve ever had—nothing bizarre, really…same classroom and students as I really used to have…except that at the end, I broke down sobbing over how much I missed teaching. ¬†(Um, no need to call Freud in to psychoanalyze me on this one…I think Dr. Obvious can take it from here).

Okay, so what would happen if all my recurring dreams decided to recur on me at once?

I’m running through the corridors of the high school…it’s a centuries-old one in the vein of Hogwarts, and I’m late to teach my lesson on Beowulf…today, we are to debate to what degree Grendel’s mother is a sympathetic character, but I haven’t crafted my specific discussion points nor procured enough copies of the text to distribute nor written up or copied the handout nor strategized how to best divide my students up (Individually? ¬†Pairs? ¬†Collaborative learning groups?), and have I differentiated for their multiple intelligences?

I walk into the copy room only to see the photocopier spraying out sheets of study guides as a cluster of frantic teachers scramble to claim and collate their own; there is no solution nor sanctuary here. ¬†Panicked, I pivot on my heel and chase down the hall to an unfamiliar stairwell where I feel and hear the grumbling of a predator: ¬†Grendel! ¬†I trip up on the low hem of my skirts as I jog down the steps, my sweaty palms on the railing exceeding the pace of my slippered feet. ¬†I duck into the dank blackness of a janitor’s closet as I hold my breath to hear ever louder the rattling huffing of another; I will be trapped here if I stay, surely given away by the scent of my perspiration (or dry-erase markers), so my only hope is to dash and pray I do so in enough haste.

With my heart ricocheting off my breastbone like a racquetball in my alarm, I automatically navigate the twists and turns of the school halls, unsure of where to find my classroom and lamenting this loss in last-minute time to prep my lesson—when I arrive at my class, if I live to arrive at my class, alas, I shall have to wing it. ¬†I grind my teeth in anxiety, debating which is the lesser of two evils to occupy my mind away from the putrid, humid breath at my neck, only to find that my top front teeth begin to sway against the bottom ones. ¬†One slips out wetly, grazing my lower lip as it falls and trails bloody saliva down my chin; another tooth three teeth over then gets crunched between my molars before I suck it onto the bed of my tongue to better projectile spit it back at my foe in defense. ¬†By twos and threes, my remaining teeth ease out of my soupy gums, and I try to organize them with my tongue against the roof of my mouth as ready artillery; in rapid-fire, I spray them out, their pale ivory now bloodied pink, and they pelt my pursuer like quail shot.

I’ve bought myself some time.

Up a winding staircase I go, clacking against the polished stone surface, slipping to my knee before recovering quickly and charging onwards toward an upper level corridor open to the air. ¬†Heaving sharply cooler gusts of air through great gasps, I run headlong into the painted cinderblocks of a dead-end. ¬†Hearing the bell sound off, I realize it’s over…First Period has already started, and I’m not there to take attendance in time to send it off to the Main Office. ¬†Truancy slips will be issued, and it will be all my fault. ¬†I press my forehead against the icy surface of the wall and slowly roll my skull around on its pockmarked surface to spin and face my adversary.

And there he is, slightly worser for the tooth-bullets, but still formidable.  He growls in low rumblings with a taloned claw upraised, and I start to tell him something about television reruns when a surge of foaming saltwater blasts through the open windows.  I swallow it along with my words as my body flails for orientation and gives one last spasm in its urgency for oxygen.

As it all bleeds over into black, I think a forever-silenced prayer…that my substitute teacher will not let any of those students side with anyone who would have spawned Grendel.

Reflection:

Um, yup, just as demented as any of my dreams would be. ¬†The spin I’ve taken on this exercise was stupidly fun. ¬†After focusing for as long as I have been on one main, continuous story line for my project, it was rejuvenating to take a random tangent that is not too serious or personal. ¬†I think I’ve dragged this post on long enough, so will bid you good night and crazy, distorted dreams ūüôā


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