Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing Sample: "As Free as the WInd"

 (cottonseed photo by blmurch)

The week before last, I entered this year's "String of Four" contest at Every Day Fiction's Flash Fiction Chronicles.  This is a yearly contest where ten prompt words are given and the writer creates a short piece of flash fiction using at least four of the prompt words.  Also, a quote is provided to give thematic inspiration for the piece, which has a 250-word limit.

This year, they received over 125 entries and have just narrowed it down to 11 finalists (just under 10%).  My submission was not one of the finalists.

Since the piece I wrote was pretty specific to this contest, I don't think it is something that I will resubmit anywhere else, so I thought it might make a good "Writing Sample" post.  I managed to use all ten of the prompt words, and tried to fit in an allusion to the 'freedom' theme  (although, according to the judges' comments in today's post at FFC, my interpretation was a very common one).

The ten prompt words for the contest were:


and the thematic quote was:

"Freedom is a possession of inestimable value." –Marcus Tullius Cicero

Using these prompt words and quote, the submission I created was "As Free as the Wind."  As always, I welcome your comments, feedback, and suggestions.  Thank you for reading!

"As Free as the Wind"

Mona watched her five-year-old son Hunter raise an empty pickle jar, his rail-thin arms wobbling as he strained to lift the small weight. She fought to maintain her smile but her heart clenched and her stomach tightened into a bitter knot. Hunter opened the jar in the gusty breeze for a moment before clasping the lid over the top. Then, his brief battle against gravity conceded, he let the jar collapse into his lap.
His smiling face carried no hint of defeat. "I got it, Mommy," he said as he tightened the lid. "I caught the wind!"
"Yes you did," Mona said.
She pulled his wheelchair back from the edge of the balcony and went to stand by the railing. Not wanting Hunter to see the tears that dribbled over her dam of resolve, she cast her gaze around the hospice grounds. Moss-covered willows swayed, surrounded by cottonwood seeds which flitted and darted in the sunlight, free to fly wherever the breeze carried them.
She wiped her cheeks with her sleeve then looked back at Hunter. His eyes were beginning to close; even a few minutes out of bed was enough to tire him. Soon he would no longer be able to wage war against the cancer that was eating his body one organ at a time. Soon he would be as free as the wind.
"C'mon, Sweetheart," she said, taking the wheelchair. "Let's go back inside."
Hunter nodded and held the jar tightly, a smile on his face.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Confess...

I have a confession to make:  Last night I did something I haven't done in years, something very much out of character, and something that is both a little embarrassing and yet incredibly liberating.

I gave up on a book I was reading and set it aside unfinished.

I love books and I have always been a voracious reader. I can usually make it through a book in a week or so, reading only before I go to sleep.  And even if I don't love a book, I finish it.  I normally don't think I can fully form an opinion unless I digest the whole thing, and being an optimist, I'm always hoping that a slow book will get better as I go along.

Plus as a developing writer, I think I can at least learn something from every book.  It's been published, so it's successful at some level, and so there HAS to be some merit in it, right? 

But last night, a little more than halfway through, I gave up on Vernor Vinge's "Children of the Sky" (CotS).

I'm a science fiction fan, especially hard sci-fi, and I really, really enjoyed Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" (FUtD), the award-winning 'Zones of Thought' novel that CotS was a direct sequel to.  That first book was sweeping in scope, had engrossing and innovative characters, a compelling plot, and I definitely enjoyed it.  I particularly liked the Tines, the dog-like race that only gains sentience when assembled into a cohesive pack of individual minds.

So I was really eager to read CotS because it's set in the same universe, has many of the same characters, and focuses on the Tines themselves.  But where FUtD pulled me along, CotS drags... and meanders...and wanders...and lacks any compelling plot at all that I was able to find.  The characters are wooden, the dialogue flat, the situations dull, and the book is severely overwritten.  Evidently Vinge and his publishers have decided that the best editing is no editing.  

I normally read every night and frequently have to be told by my loving and patient wife to put the book down, turn off the light, and go to sleep, but while reading CotS, I discovered that I was falling asleep after only a page or two, or not even bothering to pick it up many nights.  I realized I was actually starting to avoid the book because I knew it was going to be a chore to read and I was only keeping it on my nightstand because I didn't want to leave it unfinished.

So last night, I finally gave up, set CotS aside, and picked up the next novel in my "to read" queue.

In my less-than-perfect memory, I can only recall ONE other book that I've ever thrown in the towel on, and it was also a sequel to an earlier novel that I had enjoyed:  "Brother Odd" by Dean Koontz.  I really liked the first "Odd Thomas" novel, thought the second one ("Forever Odd") was ok, but just completely bogged down in the third book and couldn't go on any further.

I'm sure both of the novels I've quit on have their admirers, but for me...  I tried.  Really, I tried, but... shrug.

So I humbly confess, and throw myself on the mercy of the court of bloggish opinion -- please forgive me.

What about you?  Any novels that you've given up on reading halfway through?


Oh, and I have another entry in the 'Pirate Week' fun over at Tim Sevenhuysen's Fifty Word Stories.  This one is another fun, pun-rific, tale called "Arrrgh.  Maybe I should Join the Union".  

I invite you to read, rate and comment, if you're so inclined...  I always appreciate it!!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pirate Week at 50-Word Stories!

It's Pirate Week over at Tim Sevenhuysen's 50-Word Stories site!

All week long, he'll be posting submitted 50-word stories with a pirate theme -- probably about six or so throughout each day.

I've sent in a few myself, and the first one, "I Could Still Win, Ye Scurvy Wench!"  is up this morning!

For those not familiar with the site, each story is exactly fifty words long.  Not 49, not 51.  It's a fun way to create a snippet of story-telling. This week, I expect a generous portion of humor.

Pop on over and enjoy the treasure chest full of salty tales!  Your ratings, comments, and feedback are welcome and encouraged.

Arrrggh, me Mateys!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing Journal: 2/16/2012 Update

Since this is a writing blog, I think I should give periodic updates of what I'm working on as a writer, just in case you're interested.

  • I currently have a few things out in submission -- a science fiction short story (about 2k words), a flash piece (just under 1k words), and a few 50-word stories.  I won't give many details now because if they're not accepted, then they'll probably get tweaked and resubmitted elsewhere, and --hopefully-- I'll eventually be able to point you to some actual published work of mine.

  • I'm making decent progress on a re-write of the first chapter of my novel.  It's going a little slowly because I am also creating a rough top-level outline for the book.  The whole "outline vs. just letting it happen" debate is a good topic for longer discussion some day, but for now, let me just say that I am somewhere in the middle -- I like the spontaneity of the seat-of-the-pants (SOTP) method, but have also run into several  problems using it on this novel, so now I'm trying to outline to at least sketch out the overall plot structure.  We'll see how this goes...

  • I'm finishing up the last version of a short flash (<250 words) piece I'm going to use as an entry for the current contest at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

  • I also have a few new short story ideas I'm mulling over and will be putting them onto paper soon.

  • I'm staying involved at the Creative Copy Challenge , frequently playing around with the 10x10 concept (10 sentences of 10 words each, using the CCC's 10 prompt words in order AND in position within the sentence according to the number of the word).

  • I'm also trying to be a little more social on fellow writers' blogs.  My buddy DL Hammond's blog (Cruising Altitue 2.0) is one I frequent (he's currently doing a fun "WRiTE CLUB" contest), and I've met several other people whose blogs I follow.  This is a lot of fun, and I'm getting to know many great fellow writers, but I also have to say that I am wary of getting too involved in this.  Not that I'm anti-social, but I don't want all my free time to be spent blogging and socializing.  As a full-time working engineer with a family, I only have so much free time, and I want to err on the side of writing more than blogging and socializing more.  So if you're someone I follow and you ever wonder why I don't comment more on your blog, please don't take it as a slight or a sign that I don't like you or what you post. 

  • I'm reading as much as I can.  I think being a writer requires a lot of reading.  I always have a novel in-progress, and you can stay up on that by following the books I post to the right.  But I also love reading the short-story and flash work of other authors.  Every Day Fiction, its sister site Ray Gun Revival, and Daily Science Fiction are some of may favorite places to visit.  I've discovered some really great writers at these sites (Milo James Fowler, Ruth Nestvold, K.C. Ball, and so many others).  I definitely encourage anyone interested in great flash, short stories, and just damn fine writing to check out EDF, RGR, and DSF.

So that's where I am as a writer these days.  I guess the most important thing is this:  I'm still writing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing Journal: Origins

Today is the ORIGINS blogfest -- where everyone who has signed up gives the story of their origin as a writer.  This is mine...

In preparation for this blog post, I spent a huge chunk of time Saturday and Sunday looking for something that I wanted to scan in and include in this post.  However, after searching all the likely locations, and many of the unlikely ones, I did not find it.  It was frustrating too, because I had just run across it not that long ago.

It was an old wrinkled two-page story, typed on a manual typewriter in early 1972, with the less-than-entirely-original title, "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms."   It was the first real "story" I ever wrote, and I thought showing it -- with the misspellings and x'd out sections and misunderstanding of geography (the deepest point in the oceans is the Marianas Trench at actually just under 6,000 fathoms) of the 11-year-old boy who wrote it -- would be a great way to present my writing origin.

Instead -- because I could not find it -- you just get me telling you about it.  Not quite as fun, but the point is the same:  

 My writing "origin" goes back a long way.

I've always loved reading, and as an only child, I developed an imagination and the ability to make up my own fun, and so story-telling became a natural outlet.  There is no clear point where I suddenly turned into someone who wanted to write, but the process started a long time ago, and I think culminated in that first typewritten "real" story. 

Probably my biggest regret is that I didn't stick with writing more as I grew older.  In my early teens, I started drawing, and that took away from my writing  Then I started playing guitar, and that pretty much swallowed everything else and became my major creative outlet.  I played for hours and hours a day -- hunkered in my room, practicing scales, studying books, and playing along with records.  Then I joined some bands and spent most of my early twenties playing my guitar.  I still read, and I still imagined stories I might like to create, but playing music was the focus.

I took some creative writing courses during my early college years and really enjoyed them -- and I did the writing needed for that.  But again -- music and guitar pretty much swallowed up everything else.

Then in my later twenties I went back to school and got my engineering degree, and worked, and got swept up in life and relationships and career. 

It wasn't until 2008 that life settled down enough for an idea to pop up:  "I want to write a novel."  And since that time, I've on-and-off been developing as a writer.  I shelved my first early novel attempt and have been working on another since 2010, and it's gone through several revisions. But since 2008, "being a writer" has been a central goal.  So, in many ways, my Origin story really begins just a few short years ago.

But truthfully, it began in 1972, with an eleven-year-old boy clinking away on the old typewriter his grandfather had given him, creating a story of how a deep-sea monster destroyed a town.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Writing Sample: "Midnight Munchies"

I do understand that this is my fourth "Writing Sample" post in a row, but I wanted to put this up, simply because, well -- I like it, and it's my blog, and I wanna.

I do enjoy creating these 10x10 stories, and this time I even tried... (dramatic pause)... rhyming!  The "ABAB CDCD EE" rhyme scheme worked out okay, but the meter is all messed up.  It's hard enough squeezing the prompt words into the right place and holding the rhyme -- structuring the syllables to keep a smooth beat was darn near impossible.

As a reminder, the 10x10 concept is borrowed from Angel Zapata's 5x5 Fiction website, but expanded to use the ten prompt words from the Creative Copy Challenge.  These words are used in order, one per sentence, with the first prompt word the first word of the first 10-word sentence, the second prompt word the second word of the second sentence, and so forth.

The ten prompt words for TODAY were:

  1. Score
  2. Puck
  3. Goalie
  4. Winger 
  5. Referee
  6. Stick 
  7. Helmet
  8. Defense
  9. Hooking
  10. Brawl

The main thing I wanted to do, given these prompt words, was NOT write about hockey -- where would the challenge be in that?  So take a read below and see what you think.  Comments and feedback are always welcome.

Finally, I do promise that Monday will be a very different post -- it will be ORIGINS day!


"Midnight Munchies"

"Score me some fries," Maggie said outside the Burger Store.

Like Puck in 'A Mid-Summer Night's Dream', I flitted inside,

eluding a goalie -- a shaggy teen slowly mopping the floor.

I considered "The Winger," their barbequed chicken sandwich (deep fried),

but didn't need a referee to decide my final selection:

"The Bessie," coated with a stick of butter, then kissed

with mountains of cheese; a golden helmet of dairy confection.

Against this behemoth, my hunger had little defense to resist!

I paid with my card, my signature a hooking scrawl,

and forgot Maggie's fries, which led to a tearful brawl.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing Sample: "Mr. Cleo"

I normally wouldn't do three posts in a row with samples of my writing, but I thought this story deserved to be posted on my blog.  Like most of my writing samples, this came out of a 10-word prompt at the Creative Copy Challenge -- today's.  These are pieces I put together as improvised as possible, just to keep my creative juices flowing  (my more 'serious' and refined pieces I send out for consideration of publication -- should any ever get published, I'll of course link you to them so you may read them at the publisher's site).

But the CC challenge prompts are fun to do, even when they turn out a little...  different, like today's.

The words from today were:

  1. Fidget
  2. Carnal
  3. Floodgates
  4. Ensconced – To settle (oneself) securely or comfortably; To place or conceal in a secure place
  5. Gaseous
  6. Alacrity – Cheerful willingness; eagerness
  7. Callipygian – pertaining to or having finely developed buttocks
  8. Taco 
  9. Grouch
  10. Foreskin

 I'm not sure how these words led to today's story.  It's edgy and dark at first but evolves into a bit of a dog story...   For 1,100 words that came up off-the-cuff and spur-of-the-moment, I think it has some promise.

Feel free to tell me what do you think -- comments and feedback are always welcome.


Jonas stood on the cracked concrete of the patio slab, watching his young son and daughter play with a scampering dog that had wandered into the yard.  The sun was bright and a gentle breeze came from the west, blowing away the stench of the tire factory up the road -- a vile, gaseous haze that normally blanketed the run-down trailer park that Jonas now called home. 
He shut his eyes and looked up, breathing deeply. The giddy laughter of the kids, the playful yip of the lab-mix stray, the fresh breeze, and the sun's warmth on his face made Jonas smile.  It was almost enough to make him forget the dark hatred and rage which dominated him, festering and simmering, deeply ensconced in his heart.
Almost.  But not quite.
He opened his eyes and looked at the kids, watching them run, and thought of their mother, making the familiar floodgates open up, blurring his vision and bringing a deluge of disgusting images and vile emotions.
The bitch.  He knew what she was up to.
While the kids were here with him on one of the few visitations Karen had actually allowed to take place, she was probably off on a carnal escapade with her worthless loser, riding him so often she might as well be his second foreskin.
It wasn't enough that she'd taken everything Jonas had in the divorce.  He just knew she was going to leave too; run off with her new bastard in a fit of slutty alacrity, taking the kids as she happily followed the jerk from one dead-end job to the next.
Jonas clenched his fists and swore it would never happen.
Jonas looked down and saw seven-year-old Stephanie smiling up at him, her younger brother Jeffrey behind her, and the dog lying in the grass, panting in the shade next to the rusty trailer.
"Are we going to eat lunch soon?" Stephanie said.
"We're hung-gery," Jeffery added in his toddler diction.
"Sure," Jonas said.  "I've got the stuff in the fridge.  How about we have an all-you-can-eat family taco-fest?"
Stephanie smiled and nodded.  Jeffery clapped his hands and yelled, "Yay, I love tat-cos!"
"Well, go on in and get washed up and we'll get busy cooking."
"What about Cleo?" Stephanie said. 
"Cleo?" Jonas said. 
Stephanie pointed to the dog.  Jonas didn't think it looked like a Cleo.  For one thing it was male, but it was also scruffy and distinctly non-regal as it licked itself noisily.  
"Can we keep him?" Stephanie asked, her eyes pleading.
"Please?" Jeffery added.  "Keep him?"
Jonas could feel himself start to fidget -- his right foot shuffled a loose piece of concrete while he avoided the gaze of the kids. It was going to be hard enough to do what needed to be done without including some innocent dog.  Karen wouldn't care about the damn dog, and all that mattered was paying her back, making her hurt as much as he'd been hurt.
But he had to tell the kids something and he didn't want to be a grouch about it.  He needed to keep them calm and everything light and happy.
"We'll see," he lied.  "He may belong to someone in the park and will go on home, but if he's still here after lunch then we'll think about it.  Now get inside and wash up."
The kids ran over to pet the dog one last time, then climbed the cinderblock steps and went into the trailer.  Jonas exhaled heavily and leaned over, putting hands on his knees as his heart raced.  He was losing his resolve.
Then another image of Karen popped into his head.  Jonas pictured her callipygian figure swaying as she wiggled on her knees, her head bouncing up and down in the loser's lap.  The blood surged into Jonas's head, blinding his vision and steeling his heart.
Damn her, it had to be done.
He stood up and walked towards the metal shed that leaned, bent and dented, at the back of the lot.  Inside was the gasoline.
"You shouldn't do it."
Startled, Jonas whirled, looking to see where the voice had come from.  It was male, deep, and firm, but calm, and seemed to come from every direction.  No-one was in sight.  The trailer door was shut and the kids were inside, and Jonas couldn't see another person in any of the lots around him.
The only living thing in sight was the dirty black dog which sat at his feet, looking up at him.
"Don't do it," the voice said again.  The dog licked his chops and looked intently at Jonas.
"Who said that?" Jonas said, looking to his sides and then gazing down at the dog. "You?"
The dog whined lightly and stood up, wagging its tail slowly.
"It's not right," the voice said.  "You don't want to hurt them -- you're not that kind of a guy.  You're just messed up with grief and anger."
The dog's mouth didn't move, but his eyes never left Jonas.
"What?" Jonas said.  His chest felt constricted; it was hard to pull breath into his lungs. 
"Forget what you were thinking," the voice said. "Let go of the anger.  This is no way to deal with it.  Things will get better -- trust me."  The dog stood up on his hind legs and put his front paws on Jonas's chest.  "Put it behind you.  Let it go." 
Jonas's vision narrowed and his head throbbed.  He felt like the wind had picked up and was swirling in around him, but the grass and the dog's fur did not move.  Then there was a flash of light and Jonas collapsed to the ground, blackness sweeping in to swallow him.
He came to with the dog licking his face.  He heard the door on the trailer slam.
"Dad!" Stephanie called.  "Are you alright?"  She and Jeffery ran up to him as he pushed himself up to a sitting position.  The dog yipped and wagged its tail briskly.
Jonas looked at the faces of his two children, then at the panting dog.  It seemed to be smiling.  For some reason, Jonas found himself smiling too.  He couldn't remember the last time he felt so at ease.
"Yes," he said, "I'm fine.  I think I must have blacked out for a while."  He paused.  "For a long while..."  Then he reached out and grabbed the kids and pulled them close in a tight hug.  "But I'm back now."  He let them go and looked at their smiling faces.  "C'mon, let's go have those tacos."
He stood up. The kids giggled and the dog yipped again.
"Yeah, you too," Jonas said, looking down at the black dog, its mouth open and tongue flopping out sideways. "Looks like you've found yourself a home, Mr. Cleo."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Sample: "The Hit"

Since my last writing sample post was so short, I thought I'd give you another sample of the same "10x10" story concept.

This idea essentially comes from Angel Zapata's 5x5 Fiction site, but expanded to 10x10 using the 10 prompt words from the Creative Copy Challenge.  I create 10 sentences of 10 words each, with the first prompt word used as the first word in the first sentence, the second prompt word the second word in the second sentence, and so forth.  I also consider hyphenated words as just a single word in the ten word sentence.  Maybe this is cheating a little, but what the heck -- it's my rules, so I hereby decree it as copacetic if a word has a single hyphen in it.

The prompt words at the CC today were:

  1. Badass
  2. Fear
  3. Uncertainty
  4. Excuses
  5. Linchpin
  6. Limitations
  7. Resistance
  8. Defy
  9. Bullshit
  10. Huge-ass latte

OK, the last "word" is really two, including one that's hyphenated.  So I'm calling it two words out of the ten in the last sentence... Anyway, using this list, I came up with:

 "The Hit"

"Bad-Ass!" Tony voiced his awe at the sprawling high-rise apartment.

No fear in the kid, thought Vic. Just blatant cockiness.

No cautious uncertainty; nothing but bluster and bravado. Vic sighed.

He'd make no excuses -- the boss wanted Tony brought along.

A once trusted inner linchpin had turned, betraying the family.

Vic's mission was clear: No limitations in silencing the traitor.

So whatever it took, whatever the resistance, Vic would succeed,

and Tony could watch and learn:  Don't defy the boss.

They found the traitor in the shower. The bullshit done,

Vic sighed when Tony said, "Let's get a huge-ass latte!"

So what do you think?