Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Friday, June 17, 2011

Facing the Fear

On a warm spring day this year, my daughter opened a canvas camping chair and settled in to read a book in the shade of our small front porch. That evening, instead of hauling the chair back to the garage like she should have, she pulled up on the four corners of the chair back and seat front, collapsing the chair up into a vertical bundle. She stood it in the corner next to the front door and then went into the house.

A week later, we noticed the nest.

A mama Bewick's Sparrow had discovered the hammock-y nook that the seat bottom created, sheltered on all sides by folds of stiff canvas. She'd deemed it the perfect spot to nest, and before long we spied six speckled eggs atop a bed of woven twigs and straw.

Try as we did, remembering to use an alternate exit from the house proved difficult, and the regular traffic of neighborhood kids ringing the doorbell in search of playmates increased with the lengthening days. Each time someone drew near, Mama Sparrow took panicked, sputtering flight, several times smacking into the porch eaves in her haste to flee.

Then one day, she just never returned. Without her attention, the abandoned eggs succumbed to the elements, their precious contents surrendering to the chilly spring air.

As a novelist I am like that Mama Sparrow. I build a story nest. I outline on paper, weaving character sketches with plot points, constructing something tangible from the ideas floating in the quiet safety of my imagination. A new project excites me; it consumes my waking thoughts. As I wash the dishes, the characters speak. When I fold the laundry, scenes play out. Driving the car, I see setting landscapes rise on the horizon of my mind. All the eggs are laid. Nothing left to do but roost and write.

Something happens to me at this point in the project. I get spooked. I stare at the blank screen. I begin the first chapter, but wind up scratching the first scene. I start over with a different character, or put him in a different room, outdoors, three days before, one month later...

I give myself time off. Sometimes, I'm told, stepping back from the project gets the creative fires burning again. I try anew, and the same thing happens. I jump back again in panicked, sputtering flight.

And I've learned that when I flee often enough, the fragile ideas sense impeding abandonment. They cool off and perish, like unattended eggs in a nest.

For whatever reason, I don't struggle this way with my short fiction. And I question whether I'm just being stubborn in my desire to write a novel. Then I recognize, again, the fear lingering in-between the words in that sentence. The urge for flight is strong, but my love for writing and faith in the process must be stronger. 

And the moral of this story is this: Story ideas, like any artistic inspiration, must be acted upon in the heat of that initial, stimulating enthusiasm. How many times have you been driving down the road and a brilliant idea for a character comes to you? And how many times have you later gone to your computer to write about her, and her essence has evaporated from your mind like mist in morning sunlight? Writers can't put off inspiration. Not for a busy schedule, not for lack of sleep, and certainly not for fear.

[The above article was originally published on June 15, 2011 in my monthly newsletter at]

As I face my fears and embark on my second attempt at a full-length novel, I wish all of you the same inspiration and perseverance for your current writing endeavors that I'm beckoning for mine.  Write on, friends! 


Friday, May 6, 2011

Action Drives Reaction

As authors, we strive to draw readers alongside our POV character and into the action of the scene. The goal is to so thoroughly engross readers that they forget they're reading words on a page and begin to watch the compelling scene playing out on the movie screens of their minds.

Achieving this goal begins with an author's understanding of one simple concept: Action drives reactions.

Consider this: In real life, if you bring a hammer down on your finger (action), pain will explode in that digit (reaction). You may yelp (reaction), possibly unleash a string of curse words (reaction), maybe throw the hammer down and clutch the hurt finger (reactions).

Now, if this scenario were to play out on a movie screen, you wouldn't hear the actor yelp in pain before you saw the hammer hit his finger. Nor would you see him clutch his finger and then hear him yelp in pain. Actions and reactions must be in the right order for the scene to come across as realistic.

One of the most common mistakes in fiction writing is presenting the reaction before the action. How many times have you read something like the following?

Art Source
Pain exploded in Paul's jaw as Jason's powerful punch connected with his face.

Here, the reaction (pain exploded in Paul's jaw) happens before the action (Jason's powerful punch connected with Paul's face). The sequence of action and reaction is out of order.

To better understand why it is crucial to write actions and reactions in sequential order, it helps to recognize that actions are external and objective, while reactions are internal and subjective responses to that action.

To illustrate this theory, let's hone in on the action from the example above:

Jason's powerful punch connected with Paul's face.

Notice that this action is external, as it occurs outside Paul, the POV character. It is also objective, because any character in the room could have seen it happen. This action is the catalyst for the chain of reactions it sets off, so it must come first. 

The reaction, however, is internal. The pain exploding in Paul's jaw is felt from the inside. None of the characters present except Paul, the POV knows what the punch feels like, in this moment. 

Reactions are also subjective because they are responses to what the POV character perceives, what comes through the filter of his or her awareness. Though his impressions may not match the perceptions of other characters in the scene, they are what motivate his reactions. And the POV character's reactions are the keys to drawing readers inside the POV character's heart and mind, and ultimately into the story, itself. 

It's also important to the authenticity and believability of an action scene that certain reactions happen before others. Instantaneous, knee-jerk reactions logically occur before conscious actions and speech. Continuing with our example, Jason has just punched Paul in the jaw:

The immediate, involuntary reaction is the pain shooting through Paul's jaw. A split second later and in response to that pain, Paul's reflexes fire. Very quickly, though, Paul recovers. His rational mind catches up, and he's ready for conscious action and speech. Here's a revised and expanded scene:

Jason's powerful punch connected with Paul's face.

Pain exploded in Paul's jaw. He shook his head in disbelief. As his vision cleared, he looked up through stringy brown hair and smirked. Raising his dukes, he circled Jason. "That it? That all you got, little man?"

Notice that the action is presented in its own paragraph, separated from the reactions in the new paragraph that follows it. This is also important to the logic and comprehension of the scene. The transient pause in narration at the end of the action paragraph allows the reader to absorb the implications of that action, before going on to experience the POV's reactions.

The sequence of actions and reactions is cyclical. When the POV has fully reacted, he will be spurred to further action (which will go in a new paragraph). This action will initiate reactions by the other characters, which in turn will cause them to act, triggering more reactions by the POV, and so on. The sequence of actions and reactions repeats, until the scene ends.

Writing compelling action scenes is a skill that sharpens over time with practice. Writers new to the craft, though, may find that concentrating too hard on theory hinders their creativity. This is a legitimate concern I once shared. I would suggest writing the first draft with unfettered, creative abandon. Then, use the revision phase to scrutinize drafted scenes, correcting wherever the sequences are out of order and the reaction comes before the action. Doing so will strengthen your current manuscript, while honing your writing skills for fiercer first drafts, in the future.

[This article originally appeared on March 30, 2011 in a newsletter I wrote for]

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Second Crusader Challenge Entry

The Challenge:

Write a flash fiction story (in any format) in 100 words or less, excluding the title. Begin the story with the words, “The goldfish bowl teetered” These four words will be included in the word count.

Inside a Fishbowl

The goldfish bowl teetered on the table’s edge.  Marilyn jerked back her finger, leaving another greasy fingerprint.  Inside, tiny swells crashed, sloshed backward.  Marilyn glared at the fish.  It hovered, serene, unaffected by the waves she caused or by her unwavering vigilance.  She scowled and jabbed the bowl again.  Too hard

The bowl plunged from its perch.  Shards of wet glass splattered across white, sterile tile.  The goldfish floundered, gills gaping and yawning, sucking useless air.  Marilyn’s mouth twitched.  Balancing, she stomped, ground her heel. Lab coat-clad men scribbled on clipboards on the other side of the plate glass windows.

(100 words)

Check out other challenge entries by Crusaders HERE!

Thanks for reading!              


Monday, March 21, 2011

Field Trip ~ Mortuary

Artwork by ~En-Gel

We rode together in Courtney's Yukon to the funeral home.  It was the first time I'd been in her car, even though we go back nine years.  Actually, in all that time, I'd never met her outside the hair salon.

With gas prices so high, it didn't make sense to drive separate cars the seventy miles, round trip.  But the real reason?  Neither of us wanted to be alone with our thoughts.

Courtney had called me the night before.  Again, I'm usually the one calling her, to make my hair appointments.  But she'd remembered months ago I'd asked about her training, and about whether mortuary beauticians also learned their trade in regular beautician schools, or if there were specialized schools for that industry.  At the time, she told me there hadn't been anything in her curriculum about mortuary hair and make-up techniques.  But she had worked on deceased clients.

Our eyes had met in the mirror.  See, I was crafting a character at the time and was seeking avenues for research.  I picked Courtney's brains that day, the whole while she worked on my hair.

So she thought of me when her friend contacted her last week.  

Her friend's family was in the throes of tragedy.  Courtney's friend's brother-in-law, Carl had been going through a lot recently.  Work sucked.  He'd been fighting with his brother.  His girlfriend split with him.  But no one thought he'd take his own life.  He was just twenty-four.

On the phone, Courtney asked if I'd like to go with her in the morning to cut Carl's hair.  It's one thing to want direct experience when researching for fiction, but the reality of this situation took my breath away.  Still, I couldn't -- wouldn't -- pass up the opportunity.  I wanted to know too much.

Of course, I wanted to be able to describe the inner chambers of a funeral home.  What you see, smell, hear.  But I was more curious about the people who work there.  I'd read that mortuary staff view their work primarily as services they provide for the surviving family, to comfort them and minimize their grief, by laying their loved one to rest in a way that honors that life.  But the staff works, hands-on, with dead bodies.  How, I wondered, do they maintain a level of professionalism that weaves compassion with the detachment necessary for their line of work

We walked into the funeral home.  A faint smell of cut flowers hung in the air.  My heart was pounding.  I couldn't really feel my feet as I walked down the carpeted corridor to a glossy, wooden door with a plague that read 'Business Office.'

We were led by a young, round woman, whose red beaded necklace jingled as she walked, to the end of a back hallway.  She asked us to wait there and she'd "pulled him out."  Courtney and I exchanged a nervous glance as the woman disappeared behind a door.

My body was in a heightened state of awareness but my mind had gone into numb survival mode.  I felt like I'd accepted a dare and passed the point of no return, only now I questioned whether I wanted to -- could -- follow through.   Too late.  The door opened again and the woman ushered us in.

Carl lay on a gurney in the center of the small room.  He was dressed in a suit but covered from the chest down by a blue blanket that hung halfway to the floor.  I could tell that beneath the blanket his hands lay folded on his stomach, and his shoes lay flat so that his heels faced each other, toes pointing at the walls to the left and right.  The floral scent of the hallway was gone, replaced by what smelled like my fifth grade science classroom, the week we dissected fetal pigs.  Only stronger.

Courtney told the woman she'd brought a drape from the salon.  The woman thought it wasn't necessary, that normally they simply placed towels under and around the head to catch the hair clippings.  From a wall of cabinets to the right, the woman retrieved two white, bath-sized towels.  She plopped the short stack on Carl's chest.  Carefully, she slipped a hand under Carl's head and lifted, pulling the neck stand away.  His neck was surprisingly pliant.  With her free hand, she snapped open a towel and maneuvered it to cover the end of the gurney.  It started to slip, and Courtney grabbed the towel and held it until the woman had the neck stand back in place.

She tucked the edges of the bottom towel  under Carl's shoulders, then draped the second towel across his chest.  She pulled the center edge up under his chin and flattened the rest down the backs of his shoulders.  When she was satisfied, she asked Courtney if she needed anything, then left us alone.

By now, I'd been in the room about five minutes.  My heart rate had slowed, but when I walked closer to help Courtney get her hair dryer and clipper cords plugged in, I noticed my feet were still numb.

I've been to wakes and funerals.  This was not the first time I'd looked at a dead person.  But it was the first time I'd stood over one, close enough to see the wrinkles in his skin, the glisten of glue holding his lips closed, the stitches, barely visible, woven into his eyelashes.

Courtney misted Carl's hair with a water bottle, working the humidity in with her fingers.  "Feels like mannequin hair," she commented.  She worked the scissors at increasingly complicated angles, cutting as best she could considering her client was flat on his back.

During this time, there was a shift in my sub-conscious mind.  All remnants of fear dissipated.  I was at ease on a level that I couldn't have imagined fifteen minutes before.  It was surprising to realize.  It was very clear to me that Carl was not there.  His life-force, his soul, his energy had moved on, and we were attending to his human shell, left behind.  I can see people's auras.  I tried hard to see Carl's.  There wasn't anything to see, not a shimmer, not a color, not a thing.

Going around Carl's ear with the clippers, Courtney touched him.  She'd been trying hard not to come in contact with his skin, out of respect, I think.  But she looked at me after she nudged him.  "He's so cold," she said.  

I moved next to her, hovered my hand above his face.  Cold radiated from him.  With as much gentle reverence as I could muster, I grazed the tip of his ear with the the top side of my index finger.  It was stiff, velvety soft, and cold.  Sadness squeezed my heart.  Things could have been different for this beautiful human being.  So sad.

Within thirty minutes, Courtney was finished.  I asked her how she was feeling, as we packed up her gear.  She said she never feels sad in here, working on people she knew.  But she anticipated breaking down at the wake the following evening.  She said that's when it usually hits her.

The atmosphere in the car on the way home was more animated than the ride there.  We talked a lot about what we'd just experienced together.  I felt the exhilaration that follows a long period of fearful anticipation.  Or maybe it was because I'd just lived an hour wholly present, in the moment.  Either way, I felt good.

It took a few hours, though, before I didn't think I smelled formaldehyde everywhere.



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Accused of Being "Loose"

I've got my first draft in front of me, and I'm loosening up, I swear it...

I often wish I could read a slew of first drafts from published and unpublished authors. Intellectually, I understand first drafts are raw, messy, unrefined.  I've heard other writers describe theirs.  I've read countless articles and how-to books on the subject.  But to see a couple first drafts would be to truly believe, that every great novel began as a raw, unrefined mess.  

Guess I'll just have to keep the faith and plug away at mine, to capture my own Seeing-Is-Believing experience.  

Some tips I'm using to cheer myself on during this challenging plow-through-the-fear-and-self-doubt writing stage are:

² The first draft is the time to Free Write.  It's all about creating, letting loose a high energy flow of wild imagination.

² Concentrate on the characters, tell their stories.  Only look forward --> What comes next?  Don't look back and worry about what you've written.  If something important comes to mind, add a comment in the margin for later, but move forward!

² You are a Writer now, not an Editor.  Writers tell stories, so lose yourself in that task.  Leave the spelling, grammar and punctuation to the Editor you're allowed to be later, when you are in the revision phase

² Don't be afraid and have fun!

What other tips do you have for plowing through and getting that first draft finished?  


Saturday, February 5, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Christine Hardy @ The Writer's Hole had a fun idea for today's You've Come a Long Way, Baby Blogfest.  Since the craft of creative writing is a journey, she thought it'd be fun to share some of our earlier work, illustrating just how far we'd come since, you know, back then.  So, below is a piece of flash fiction I wrote in May of 2008.

It was for a daily contest, which asked me to produce in 24 hours a 300-word (maximum) short story, incorporating the prompt words:  Rainbow, Bicycle, and Backpack.  (psst!  This entry actually won the contest that day!)

When I read this back, I have to smile.  There are FOUR -ly adverbs in the first paragraph.  But they're hardly noticeable, forced to share a paragraph with such garish attempts at lush descriptions, calling attention to themselves.  It's as if all those fancy words and pretentious phrases had little arms, waving at me.  It screams amateur. LOL.  I'm happy to say I opt for more concise descriptions now, simple words that pack a mean punch, more bang for the buck. Okay, 'nuf said.  Here you are; enjoy :))


         A rapt spectator of uninhibited childhood bliss, Alan hovered on the porch as his young son played in the yard, tossing a rainbow colored ball high over his head. Eyes tightly shut against the dazzling sun, the boy giggled as he reached up to catch the ball. It ricocheted off miscalculating hands, and bounced down the slight incline toward the street. Alan’s smile faltered and his eyes grew steadily wider as he saw his son turn in the ball’s direction. With surging dread, his eyes followed as the boy scampered after it. Alan tried to run, but his suddenly cumbersome legs wouldn’t budge. He shouted, but no sound issued from his mouth. Rooted to the spot by unseen forces, he helplessly watched his son dash into the street as an electric blue car with tinted windows crested the hill. Never decelerating, the car barreled straight for him. Alan stretched out his arms, groping, pleading. “NNNnnooooooooo!”

         He woke with a start. His heart was racing and beads of perspiration clung to his upper lip. Sitting up on the couch, he ran a hand through his hair, impatient for the dream to dissipate. He wanted -- needed -- to be with his son. 

         Standing, he called out, “Honey? Where’s Jimmy?”

         His wife’s muffled voice answered, “Outside!”

         Nudging shoes and a discarded backpack out of the way, he pried open the front door. Jimmy was riding his bicycle along the sidewalk. “Son,” he called, “wanna shoot some hoops?”

         “Sure, Dad!” Jimmy answered, hopping off his bike and letting it topple to the ground with a crash. A moment later, as Alan draped an arm around the boy’s shoulders, the tranquil air was disrupted by the swell of a rumbling engine. Looking up, Alan’s pulse quickened as an electric blue car with tinted windows came barreling into view.


Thanks for reading!  Please visit the other participants' blogs over the weekend.  The Mr. Linky list can be found HERE on Christine's blog.

Have a fantastic weekend!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

High on Plot Pot (*waves to Jessica*)

One drop at a time, I'm filling the 'plot pot' for my revitalized WiP.  Formerly known as Overcome, the story has changed on many levels.  It feels like a brand new project.  The inciting incident and the character who instigates it are virtually all that remain of the original storyline.  And that character, once the antagonist, is now the story's hero.

The new working title is Safe in Captivity, which hints at a major theme that will weave throughout the story.  I'm very excited about it, because the theme manifests itself both as physical and psychological elements that will play parts in every major character's motivations and inner conflicts.

I have twenty-five  scenes sketched so far that take me from the opening, across major turning points, to the ending.  As I ponder individual scenes, connecting points blossom in my head.  It's amazing how the process allows you to capture details, shows you more about the characters, more about the settings, more about the story.  My notebook is filling up.

Today, I'm working on a loose timeline, to organize the scenes in chronological order.  I have some online research to do, too.

Amazon Info HERE
Nothing happens by chance. I happen to be reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and I'm completely inspired by it.  The organizational decisions Flynn makes to tell Libby Day's story are brilliant.  Her scene choices cut right the heart of the story, and her ability to weave exposition into a moment so that the pace actually increases has been, for me, an education in itself.  And the descriptive quality of her voice?  Nothing short of brilliant.  I'm still 50 pages from the end, and already I give it a five-star rating.

I'm not going to make the same mistakes with Safe in Captivity that I did with Overcome.  This plotting stage will be brief.  And while the energy is high, I'm going to write the draft.  Straight through, resisting the temptations to revise or backtrack.  I'll add notes to myself as I go, when I realize something from an earlier chapter needs an addition or subtraction.  My minimum goal is 8,000 to 10,000 words a month.  Feel free to hold me accountable :D

And don't forget to sign up for the February 16 Bernard Pivot Blogfest!
It's going to be quick to post and easy to read everyone else's posts, so join in the fun!

Have a fantastic day,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Me...

The following is a letter I wrote to myself, outlining my writing goals for 2011. I do this every January to kick off the new year, and to hold myself accountable as the months tick by.  If you have never written a motivational letter to yourself, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't share it with anyone, it is a wonderful tool for self-organizing and prioritizing what's important to you.

It came yesterday in the mail.

Your heart banged a bongo beat and you broke a fingernail, tearing apart the cardboard box. You barely noticed. Within seconds the packaging and your nail tip lay abandoned on the kitchen table, and in your hands you held your latest book.

Okay, it wasn’t only your book. It was an anthology. But you are a proud contributing author to it, and the thrill of seeing your short story flow across the printed pages of a bound book left you momentarily speechless.

Yesterday was only the second time you’ve relished that thrill. You want to feel it again!

So, your goal for 2011 is to get more of your work in print. Published, rather: in print or online. (E-publishing is the future; embrace it. Don’t make that face.] Tech savvy though you are, you still prefer paper books. Therefore, your efforts will be most concentrated on seeking out print publication. And as long as we’re fleshing out the specifics of your goal, here’s another point: You want to SELL a story. That’s right, a paying gig. Even a Token Payment of up to 1¢ per word would do the trick, but isn't the whole point of this letter to set the bar higher? Therefore, you’ll seek out markets that offer Semi-Pro Payment (1¢-4.9¢/word) and Professional Payment (5¢+/word).

In addition to this goal, there's that little matter of your unfinished novel. You're going to finish it in 2011.

To reach these goals, let’s turn to the basics: The Three R’s.

ReadingWriting, and Arithmetic (*shudder*) will be the keystones of your success this year. Here’s how:

         A good writer is one who reads -- a lot. When you read a good book, you perch on the edge of the creative pool, skirt hiked up over your knees, swishing your feet through its invigorating waters. And when you read a bad book, (they’re out there!), you feel equally inspired. Two thoughts swim through your mind: I could write this better! ~and~ If someone published this nonsense, maybe my nonsense has a shot!

         Last year you set the lofty goal of reading 50 books in 52 weeks. Your attempt was valiant, though sometimes you resorted to speed reading just to get to the book’s end. Not altogether suprisingly, you fell short of your goal. You did complete 32 books, documented HERE   You definitely deserve an 'A' for effort!

         This year, to have more time to enjoy the reading experience, you pledge to read 25 books. At that pace, one book every two weeks, you’ll have time to savor every story, get your feet properly wet. Also, there is simply no better way to research the literary magazine market than reading the types of stories each magazine publishes. So you’ll purchase and read one, different literary magazine per month. This will cost you between $7 and $16 each month, so budget accordingly. 

         This is what it’s all about. It’s no secret: The more you write, the stronger a writer you become. You reached your 2010 goal of establishing a daily writing schedule. Now, you need to prioritize that schedule.

         You really ² want to finish your first novel. You worked on it all last year. You’d get on a roll and then hit a wall. Retrace your steps; start again; hit a wall. You went back to the outline; revamped. Started again; hit a wall. Then you fired your main character (a gutsy, but most appropriate deed). You replaced her with a more vibrant, engaging, interesting character. You started again… (…which brings us to today.)

         With every ounce of determination you can muster, you pledge to finish your first draft of WiP #1. To call yourself a novelist, you have to write a novel. And to write a novel, you have to let go of your fears. It’s okay if the first draft lacks polished perfection. All first drafts do! And so, with fearless resolve and with your door shut, your Google Chrome tabs closed, and your cell phone silenced, you will sit down, open your imagination and write that draft.

         Many authors declare it’s best to complete the entire novel’s first draft before beginning the revision process, or you may well never finish it. As a student of that school of thought, you agree. But that means months of raw, sometimes lackluster writing, and that scares you. You’re afraid this will confirm what your insecurity incessantly whispers: that you have no real talent, after all. So you will need to produce some short fiction this year, if only to affirm to yourself that you ARE capable of polished perfection. You pledge to write a minimum of eight new short stories, with the intention of submitting them for publication.

         You’re right-brained. You hate math. Number-crunching is your idea of cruel and unusual punishment. However, numbers (and lists and tracking charts) are important to your creative goals, so get over your aversion right now. Think of it this way: numbers equal word counts plus deadlines.

         Of your first draft, you have penned just over 30,000 words out of 80,000. That leaves approximately 50,000 to go. To complete the draft in six months, you pledge to produce 8,300 new words before every end-of-the-month deadline. By mid-summer, you will begin revising.

         As for the eight new short stories you will write in 2011, you’ll utilize several lists and charts to plot your submission progress. Use your free account at to create market lists. You’ve already started, with your literary magazine A-List that includes, among others, Glimmer TrainCrazyhorseTin HouseWriter’s Digest (Your Story), and The Paris Review. With an average acceptance rate of only .46%, Duotrope classifies these as Extremely Challenging Fiction Markets. The magazines on this list are your brass rings. Stretch! You CAN grab one, but you have to work hard for it.

         You’ll need tiers of B-List and C-List markets. When you receive rejections from one tier, submit the story to the next tier down. Use these lists to systematically submit your work until it’s published.
’s Submission Tracker is a great site feature. You’ve used it every time you submitted your short fiction, and you’ll continue this year. The tracking chart shows you at a glance where your work is being considered, what date you submitted, when the market expects to contact you with a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’, and the eventual outcome. (Ah, no shudder? You see? It doesn’t even feel like math!)

         All right, NickiD89, you have your work cut out for you in 2011. It’s going to be an exciting, productive and creative year. You’ve pushed your bar clear through the stratosphere, where rough weather in the past had your muse hunkered down and sheltered. Now it’s set beyond, somewhere in the mesosphere. You may encounter the occasional meteor, but by now you know how to handle yourself.

Your place with the stars is waiting for you. Go on. Soar!

How do you organize your creative goals for the new year?


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Off-the-Cuff Contest Entry #1

This isn't the exact photo prompt from yesterday's 15 For 15 Contest (read contest explanation here), but it's close enough.  In the original, the trees have no leaves, taken in wintertime.  The following is my entry, written (per the contest rules) in only 15 minutes.  The goal is not to have a polished, typo-free piece.  There are plenty of places I would have liked to tighten up, but didn't have the time.  So, here it is, raw, by-the-seat-of-my-pants writing. :D

Marcus dragged on the cigarette pinched between his index finger and thumb. Numbing cold seeped through his britches from the park bench, despite its position in full sun, but he didn't mind. He'd rather sit here all day than return to work. When you rinse four star restaurant slop off fine China all day, you face your 'have-not' reality every minute of every hour. It wore him down. His fifteen minute break was more valuable to him than the restaurant's finest bottle of wine.

He blew a plume of smoke downwind and his eyes fell on the man making his way up the path. Marcus narrowed his eyes. The man's utilitarian clothing appeared too big for his frame and hung on his body like a sack. His bald head was dropped back and he stared straight up at the sky as he walked. As he neared Marcus's bench, the toe of his black rubber shoe hit a rock and he stumbled.

"Eh. Watch where you're going, dumb ass," Marcus said.

The man leveled his gaze. He was younger than Marcus had first thought. His drawn skin and stubbled chin suggested mid-forties, but now Marcus decided he couldn't be older than thirty.

"Yeah. Thanks," the man said. "It's just the sky is so blue. And those trees, well, they're things of beauty."

Marcus looked up. The trees looked dead to him. Leafless. Cold. "Whatever, man," he said, looking across the park to the restaurant. By his watch, he had five more minutes before he had to get back.

"Mind if I sit down?"

Marcus saw the man still stood there. He motioned his indifference.

"I just got out of the slammer," the man said, sitting.

An eyebrow shot up. He had Marcus's attention. "You were in prison?"

"Yeah, ten years, man."

"What'd you do?"

"I was convicted of attempted murder. But it was bullshit. Someone tried to whack my wife. They pinned it on me."

Marcus raised his chin. "No kidding. That sucks, man."

The man chuckled, but there was no humor in the sound. "Shit. Ten years is a long time to not see trees. I can't stop looking at them."

"You served your whole sentence?"

"Nope. Turns out my wife's boyfriend did it. Thank God for all that fancy DNA testing they can do now. Found out a week ago, and today I'm free. Just like that."

"Your wife's boyfriend...?" Marcus asked while checking his watch. He had to get back. "That's some story. Glad you're out. I gotta get back to work." He offered his hand as he stood to leave.

The man shook it. Marcus took a few steps then turned to look over his shoulder.

"What's the first thing you're going to do, now that you're a free man?" Marcus asked.

The man smiled a churlish grin, cold as the trees. "First thing I'm gonna do is kill my wife."