Short Story Week

It’s Short Story Week for our Local NaNoWriMo group, and I’m working on a piece that I hope to submit for publication. It’s part of a larger universe that I’m also working on. I have a fun character and a rudimentary plot, but I think it’s not as exciting as it should be. I guess I should finish it before I start giving up on it. The character is very cute.

Iron Writer 2015 Spring Equinox Open – She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through

I did not win my bracket for the Iron Writer Challenge and won’t be advancing forward in the competition. But I did win the popular vote in my bracket. I just didn’t wow the judges. Below is my entry for the The Iron Writer Challenge 2015 Spring Equinox Open — The Kurt Vonnegut Bracket. Entitled “She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through” my entry is a continuation of the story I started with “Carried Away By a Moonlight Shadow” which was the winning story for the Iron Writer Challenge 102. You might recognize the titles of these stories as the lyrics of a song…I do plan to continue the story on from here; I have an outline that will eventually be a longer short story.

The Required Elements

  • Artemis
  • A Dilettante
  • Jello Wrestling
  • A Moon Rock


She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through

When the ghost that lurked in her home was eaten by shadows, she began to doubt she had ever seen him at all.

The quiet old house became alien. She couldn’t make the finish on the second floor bannister match and three posts had to be re-turned. She began to doubt herself; she was a dilettante. Her plaster work was uneven, and she couldn’t sand and smooth it properly. Maybe seeing him was mold-induced madness from this house. Weeks passed. In frustration she left off restoration and began cleaning out the attic. She daydreamed of a beach somewhere warm.

It was April when she saw him in the mirror above the fireplace, when the moonlight hit it from the plate glass window in the parlor. Her own reflection was missing. His pale face was pressed against the glass; his expression one of terror, body hidden behind the fireplace as though it were a wall. She touched his hand against the glass and felt it give. She could feel him for a moment, until the shadows in the room behind him came to life and dragged him away as they had that night in the kitchen. The next night the same thing happened, and every night until the moon waned. Her reflection reappeared.

In May she was ready. The jeweled pin he left behind had no reflection either. She pressed it through the wavering glass, and he took it, but he couldn’t use it to banish the shadows. They swallowed him up each night, until the moon waned.

In June she used mirrors to direct the moonlight and saw him for five days instead of three, but couldn’t save him. She found his trunk in the attic. An army uniform, a sword, a photo and papers. His name was Delias. His sword had a reflection; he could not grasp it.

In July, she discovered a marble statue of Artemis from the attic had no twin on the other side. She placed a lunar meteorite in the parlor and the statue glowed an unearthly blue in the amplified light. She touched the huntress and fell inside her, and the statue grew and molded to her like armor. The air around her was thick, like wrestling through jello, but she forced her way to the mirror. Her face was unseeing stone. Catching up his sword, she heaved herself over the mantle and through into the mirror room beyond.

The shadows leapt forth immediately in response to her arrival. She stepped in front of him, brandishing his sword. A voice in her head said the weapon was wrong; Diana preferred a bow. But she did her best, cutting through the dark like fire. She banished the shadows back to where they belonged.

Danger past, she turned to him. “My darling!” he said, and put his hand to her face, but it passed through her skin. On this side of the mirror, she was the ghost.

“I’m afraid you’re trapped,” he said in sorrow.

Judge’s Feedback

Here is the spreadsheet of rankings for my story (judges names are blacked out) and the written feedback I received.

2015 Spring Open Rankings

2015 Spring Open Feedback

I’ve posted several questions about the spelling/grammar scores, given that I had the piece professionally copy edited, but I haven’t received any response about why they marked down to 9 what should have been 15. Lots of vague answers, but nothing specific, and a lot of deflection of my questions.

The Iron Writer’s Challenge is a flash fiction writing competition where you construct a 500 word story using 4 assigned elements. Your story competes against 4 others and is judged by official judges and also voted on by the general public. Winners compete in a tournament and stories are gathered in a published anthology each year. It’s a fun challenge to get you to flex your writing fingers, learn how to make your writing as lean as possible, and work with some potential obstacles. I wrote about my planning for the challenge here

Iron Writer Challenge 102 – Carried Away by a Moonlight Shadow

I won the Iron Writer Challenge 102 with the piece of flash fiction below. Thank you everyone for voting for me and giving me feedback and encouragement.

The Elements

  • An event that changes a character’s personality.
  • A measuring tape
  • Tetherball
  • Haggis
Haunted House by AreYoU
Haunted House by AreYoU

Carried Away by a Moonlight Shadow

His soul had been trapped in the jeweled box for a century. The hundred-and-thirty-year difference in their ages left gaps in conversation.

“We played tetherball in the Army in 1895…” he said, after she explained the Super Bowl.
“That’s not even a sport, though,” she said.

“I’m sure you would like haggis, my dear…”
“No, I googled that. I know what’s in it.”

She showed him Wikipedia and how to work the mouse with his semi-corporeal hand, and he spent hours filling the holes in his knowledge.

He never thought he would call a woman steadfast, but her confidence in her ability to release him from his ghostly trap earned it. Nothing about his old house (now her house) frightened her, either; not the bloody puddle on the stairs every morning, the measuring tape that turned into a snake and bit her, the rocking chair that wouldn’t stop. Or him, the ghost. She painted, swept, dusted, repaired until the house looked as it had when he had walked and breathed there.

She loved his square shoulders, the way he set a formal table and read books. He was handsome in a way that men weren’t anymore. He wasn’t sloppy, wrinkled or slouching. If she could finish the house, he would be freed, she was sure. Whether he would fall fully into her world or float to another was unclear, but regardless she had to work harder.

“Do you like this color?” she said.
“How do you live on your own?” he wondered.
“It’s my money. What could my parents say?” she shrugged, and painted.

His protectiveness was charming but like a blanket on a warm day, unneeded. Or so she thought.

Tattered curtains hit the dustbin, and the city beyond the windows she cleaned had transformed itself since he walked those streets. She had a party. He lurked at the edges, unseen. Her friends were like her, irreverent, charming and smart. In his age such women were loose. These women were jewels, and she was their center.

He almost surrendered despair. He almost believed he was free.

The trap she finally sprung with all her endeavors unleashed not him, but a terrifying smog. It billowed up from fragments of an old letter in the ashes she cleaned in the cellar. She thought it was a hallucination, but the very real teeth wrapped around her arm finally dislodged her fear. She beat it back and fled upstairs. He recognized the black thing chasing her, and for the first time she saw his anger. He stepped between her and the demon and fought. It overwhelmed him until he rose up larger — filling the room, a monster, his face a horrible mask of rage. He took the jeweled pin from his chest and lashed at the demon, and it exploded and disappeared.

Relieved, she sought his face, but he was still terrified. The evening shadows came alive and swallowed him whole.

No more puddle, rocking chair, tape measure or him. The house remained, and the jeweled pin, but he was gone.

The Iron Writer’s Challenge is a flash fiction writing competition where you construct a 500 word story using 4 assigned elements. Your story competes against 4 others and is judged by official judges and also voted on by the general public. Winners compete in a tournament and stories are gathered in a published anthology each year. It’s a fun challenge to get you to flex your writing fingers, learn how to make your writing as lean as possible, and work with some potential obstacles. I wrote about my planning for the challenge here

My approach to the Iron Writer Challenge

This week I’m participating in The Iron Writer challenge, (I’m in challenge 102) a writing competition where you write a 500 word story using four elements that are provided to you – examples:

  • An empty ATM
  • A talking tree
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • A meteor


  • A Zombie Apocalypse
  • A 1936 Chevy Corvette
  • A Coyote
  • A Snow Plow

Once written, you submit your story and it competes against 4 others using those same elements for the prize. (The prize is esteem from your fellow writers and a chance to enter a tournament.)

The four elements can end up being setting, POV, actions, background details, or character elements. They can throw a monkey wrench into story ideas, set everyone up to write very similar stories or just cause a story to sound disjointed if it’s awkward to fit one of the elements in.

So of course I have to try to control the uncontrollable.

I decided I’d like to tell stories inside a framework that might allow elements to be swapped in without altering the overall storyline – flexible, but consistent so I could do more than one challenge set in the same universe. Also I can think up some story pieces ahead of time, like character and plot, so I’m not scrambling to do that in the four days I’m allotted when elements are assigned.

The framework I came up with is a ghost story about two lovers – she’s alive, and he’s dead. But they weren’t lovers before he died – she met him as a ghost, and the two fall in love with each other. Because he is dead, he can do all sorts of non-corporeal things – jump through planes of existence & back and forth in time, which I hope can account for some of the assigned elements. Because she’s alive, lots of action can take place around her real existence apart from him, and the conflict that creates with her maintaining a relationship with him. And of course, why is he haunting her? Is he haunting her, or is there some other reason why he’s here? Maybe he’s in purgatory and has to perform some action to move on, but because he’s fallen in love with her, he doesn’t want to move along. Maybe she’s there to help him get through something in purgatory that he has to accomplish, and she has to discover what that is. There are possibilities for moods that are funny (like the movie Topper) or sweet and wistful (the musical film Once) or mournful (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard), forboding (A Good Man is Hard to Find) or just really frightening (The Others).

Haunted House by AreYoU
Haunted House by AreYoU

Partway through sketching out what this framework might look like, I was listening to old music in my library and came across “Moonlight Shadow” the 1983 song by Mike Oldfield, sung by Maggie Reilly. The lyrics of the song tell the story of two lovers separated, and he is shot and killed. She is unable to “push through” to get to him. Lots of the description – moonlight shadow, “The trees that whisper in the evening” “vision forming” “silvery night” “The night was heavy and the air was alive” suggest something going on that is mystical and hard to see – maybe a vision she might see of what is going on in purgatory, where he is, but she can’t form a picture of what’s really happening, or how to reach out to him.

That imagery is lush and sets a wistful sort of mood, and could fit with the framework that I was pulling together for my story. So I’m using that song as inspiration.

Yes, I will write fan fiction ghost stories based on an obscure 1983 pop song.

The danger is if I seem like I’m throwing away elements casually or just really trying to wrench them into a format that they don’t go with. If the elements really just didn’t work together with this theme, I could pants it and write something else instead. But I have some basics in place if the elements fit together.

So these were the elements I was given –

  • An event that changes a character’s personality.
  • A measuring tape
  • Tetherball
  • Haggis

I decided after a bit of tinkering that I could try to make those work in my pre-conceived framework, and I put my 500 words together and submitted my story today. When the challenge gets posted to the Iron Writer website in the next few days, I’ll link to it and ask that you read and vote for whatever story you think is best (which I hope is mine.)

It’s a Plot

Silent Movie Card

Larry Brooks at Storyfix has a good explanation of plot, and why stories need one [Novelists: Two Empowering Little Mind-Models That Just Might Change Everything For You]

Plot is the creation of character and dramatic dynamics that lead to, point toward, that call for, that require… resolution.

A story in any genre (other than literary) that asks the reader simply to observe a character or his/her life… a story that episodically tells the life story of a fictional character without it leading to something that must be resolved… a story that exists to show us eras of a character’s life, novels that read like a collection of shorter stories, moving from one period in that life to to the next… if they are in any genre other than “literary fiction,” the project is at risk.

One of those just crossed my desk, from a graduation of an MFA program, where the word “plot” is likely never to uttered aloud. It was a YA, and it was nothing other than “the adventures of” the hero. Unconnected “stuff that happened” to this protagonist, peppered with backstory and inner landscape.

There are magic words found at the bottom line of this issue: genre fiction needs to give readers something to root for… rather than just something to observe.

Ask your reader to care about where it is all headed. To root for someone and/or something, to fear something or someone that is antagonistic blocking your hero’s path along the core story spine. To engage them emotionally, not just because they sympathize with the hero, but because feel and relate to the stakes of the story.

Genre fiction is the antithesis of “slice of life” storytelling.

Plots are driven by stakes. Even in YA and romance, where any and all of the available sub-genres are available fodder.

Without plot, writing is little more than a literary exercise. That may be entertaining to the writer, and it may be impressive to literature professors, but if it doesn’t engage readers, then what’s the point?

Perils of Pauline still

Interesting read: Charts and Diagrams Drawn by Famous Authors

Flavorwire: Charts and Diagrams Drawn by Famous Authors
I have a stash of these types of images in my writing reference folder, but Flavorwire links to some I haven’t seen yet. Diving down into the individual [via] links to the original articles on each chart is a must – Without it I wouldn’t have landed on this cool page page of Faulkner’s maps of Yoknapatawpha County.

Mapping Yoknapatawpha

Pretty much everyone includes this chart of JK Rowling’s characters and stories, but I haven’t posted it on any of my own writing yet, so here you go:

J K Rowling's Chart

This Vonnegut video they include is nice, too:

Charles Dickens and Character Names in Bleak House

Bleak House 2005 Cast

Bleak House is a giant tome (it clocks in at 360,947 words!) and is regarded as one of Charles Dicken’s finest works.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about Charles Dickens’ books which struck me again while watching the 2005 BBC series of Bleak House was how evocative Dickens’ characters & places names are, and how they helps shape our perception of personalities and appearances:

  • Bleak House – as portrayed in the series, the seat of the Jardyce estate is bright and beautiful, but the inhabitants are living under strained circumstances and a looming sense of uncertain fate.
  • Chesney Wold – Home of the Sir Leicester Dedlock & Lady Dedlock. A wold is an ancient word for forest and not uncommon for a place name, but it also sounds like mold and decay.
  • Tom-All-Alone’s – The grim, dirty, disease-festering, terrible slum street where various characters seek refuge. I had the impression that it was an asylum for the homeless when viewing the BBC series, but despite the name, it wasn’t an organized shelter.
  • John Jarndyce – One of the claimants in the contested legal case, the name of which is repeated over and over – “Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce” evokes jaundice, a symptom of longstanding illness.
  • Esther Summerson – the bright spot of the story and the heroine.
  • Lady Dedlock (Honoria Barbary) – Her character is in a “deadlocked” situation, legally and emotionally. In the series, we don’t hear her first name until the final hour, when her character’s scandal is finally revealed – her honor having been lost in ruins when her illegitimate child is revealed. Not sure if that late reveal is true within the book.
  • Richard Carstone – one of the “wards in Jarndyce” – the claimants to the legal case who hope to inherit a fortune.
  • Ada Clare – the other “ward in Jarndyce” – a title frequently used in substitute for Ada & Richard’s names, and one that that makes the two young people sound like they are imprisoned in an asylum.
  • Harold Skimpole – a leech and hanger-on of John Jarndyce and a lesser villain, he skims money wherever he goes.
  • Lawrence Boythorn – the thorn in Leicester Dedlock’s side.
  • Sir Leicester Dedlock – like his wife, in a deadlocked situation
  • Mr. Tulkinghorn – the villain of the book; his name makes him sound like a maurauding beast
  • Mr. Snagsby – clerk who seems to be caught up against his will.
  • Miss Flite – keeper of numerous birds, and a flighty, eccentric woman
  • Mr. William Guppy – law clerk and an insignificant wet fish
  • Inspector Bucket – a blustering police officer
  • Mr. George (George Rouncewell) – military buddy of Hawdon, Mr. George drops his last name due to estrangement from his family.
  • Caddy Jellyby – named literally after a tea caddy, she is ordered about by her mother.
  • Krook – pretty straight-forward; his obsessive hoarding of papers essential steals everyones’ lives.
  • Jo – an orphan boy who has not much to his name, literally and figuratively.
  • Allan Woodcourt – an upright, kind many who is courting Ester Summerson
  • Grandfather Smallweed – a small, twisted man and noxious weed who complicated everyone’s lives
  • Mr. Vholes – a foraging rodent of a man.
  • Conversation Kenge – “His chief foible is his love of grand, portentous, and empty rhetoric” according to wikipedia, and I couldn’t have put that better.
  • Mr. Gridley – a victim of Chancery who dies without his legal circumstances resolved. Gridley reminds me of gridlock.
  • Mr. Nemo (Latin for “nobody”; alias of Captain James Hawdon) – a man who lost his name completely.
  • Prince Turveydrop – the dancing master whose name evokes a spinning top.
  • Mrs. Rouncewell – the housekeeper at Chesney Wold. “a fine old lady, handsome, stately, wonderfully neat” – she seems very well-rounded.
  • Phil Squod – Mr. George’s friend and an invalid with several disabilities due to working class labors.
  • Volumnia Dedlock – sixty-year old poor relation of Sir Leicester Dedlock “Lapsing then out of date, and being considered to bore mankind by her vocal performances”

And of course there are the names of Miss Flite’s caged birds who will be released “on the day of Judgement” which is meant to make us think “the day the Lord returns” but is actually when Jarndyce & Jarndyce will finally be settled. The bird’s names can be grouped into classes, according to J. Hillis Miller:

  • the victims of Chancery – Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life,
  • Chancery’s effects – Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death
  • Chancery’s qualities or tools – Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach (or Spinnage an earlier spelling of Spinach. Dickens uses the phrase “Gammon and spinnage” to mean “Gammon and nonsense” in David Copperfield as well.)
  • and finally, two new birds symbolic of Richard & Ada “the Wards in Jarndyce.”

We had a short discussion in my recent writing group about unusual Puritan Names when we discussed the character names in my own work-in-progress – Fidelia being one of the two main characters – a name I chose specifically because themes of the book circle around truth and secrets and when those secrets should be revealed and to whom. Puritans enjoyed giving their children names like “Preserved” or “Thankful” or “Faithful” or “Clemency” in hopes that the name would shape the character of the child to be virtuous and upright.

Many Puritan names are over the top, (“Humiliation”, “Abstinence” & “Sorry-for-sin” or “Job-rakt-out-of-the-asshes” are good examples) but names like Honoria or Grace or Fidelia are beautiful and wouldn’t be out of place for girls today. I’m not so certain that Increase or Stalwart or Anger or Conversation would be ideal for boys, but I could see enterprising hipster parents adopting something along those lines in the future.

It might be fairly heavy-handed and Dickensian to name all my characters this way, but I do enjoy the amount of thought and care that Dickens put into appellations. “Thought” and “Care” would be pretty cool character names, now that I think of it.

Other Reading
Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature
Miller, J. Hillis. “Interpretation in Dickens’s Bleak House” in Victorian Subjects (Durham: Durham University Press, 1991)
Naming and Violence in Bleak House
Curiosities of Puritan nomenclature (1888) by Charles W. Bardsley; 1888; Chatto and Windus, London
Ditching Dickensian

David Foster Wallace: This is Water

A condensed version of the commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005, set to video. You can read the whole of the commencement address here at the Economist’s Intelligent Life.

This Is Water

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

List of linguistic example sentences

Via wikipedia – List of linguistic example sentences

From the “grammar is fun” section of wikipedia, the page includes sentences that explain:

Lexical ambiguity:
Will Will will Will’s will to Will? (Will Will [a person] will [bequeath] Will’s [second person] will [a document] to Will [a third person]? Alternatively, “Will Will will Will’s will?” Also, why do all these guys name Will know each other and can’t someone go by Bill and someone by William? Or maybe Larry?)

Syntactic ambiguity:
I saw the man with the binoculars. (Who has the binoculars? Me, or the man?)

Syntactic ambiguity, incrementality, and Local Coherence:
The boat floated down the river sank. (As in – the boat which had been floated down the river sank.)

Scope ambiguity and anaphora resolution:
Somewhere in Britain, some woman has a child every thirty seconds. (Every thirty seconds, a woman somewhere in Britain has a child. But not the same woman over and over, because that would be really weird.)

The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped. (The cat the dog bit chased the rat that escaped. I think.)

Order of adjectives:
The red big balloon. (Yeah, why does big always go first?)

The Amazing, Possibly True Adventures of Catman Keeley and His Corporate Hoboes

Bo Keeley Hobo

From Mother Jones: The Amazing, Possibly True Adventures of Catman Keeley and His Corporate Hoboes.

A long article about a rich adventurer dude name Bo Keeley who leads corporate honchos on adventure travel like a goddamned hobo. This is what rich white guys do when they have too much money and free time – pretend to be the rest of us. The article is entertaining because the writer is, though, so it’s worth a read.

The first thing you’ll discover about Bo Keeley is that his Wikipedia page reads like Indiana Jones. “Bo’s Wikipedia entry reads like Indiana Jones,” states the about-the-author page of one of his most recent books, which details his past as a veterinarian, a former national racquetball champion, and the most-requested substitute teacher ever to be fired during a playground war in Blythe, California. It’s not an entirely fair comparison—did Henry Jones Jr. ever claim to have guided “twenty Brazilian evangelists with a penlight from a jungle bus crash” or chased “rhinoceros horn smugglers after being deputized and armed with a pistol in Namibia”? Many of these claims are sourced to Keeley himself, making the page a matter of some controversy. But it’s that muddy trench between man and myth that makes it such an alluring document. As one Wikipedia editor put it, “Due to the uniqueness of the individual, some hyperbole is understandable.”

Flash Fiction: Blue Moon MacGuffin

A practice piece so I have some experience writing 525 words before I have to produce one for the Iron Writer’s Challenge.

I’m not gonna to admit to Maddie that the hotdog was a mistake. It was; it went right through me and I’m barely hangin’ on. But as soon as I head for the john she’s gonna know. If I can keep her from chit-chatting with this woman while we interview her about the missing… whachamacallit, we can get back to the office before… anything happens.

“Why are you so fidgety, David? You’re making me nervous.” She hits me with her purse when I open the door for her.

“Mrs. Mills! I’m Madelyn Hayes. You say you’ve lost your [thingamabob]?”

Didn’t introduce me, and for once I don’t mind. But I still don’t understand what they’re lookin’ for. What did she say?

“Ms. Hayes! Yes. Jerold and I were the only ones here, and the office door was locked. The [doohickey] was sealed in this box at 10 am to be shipped. But we opened it to add a packing slip at 3:30, it was empty.”

I pick the box up, turn it over, and start hunting around. Maddie walks over to talk to Jerold, and I feel sorry for the guy. Five-foot-seven of Chanel and determination coming ‘atcha is enough to make any guy… distracted from the current situation. She asks questions, but he mumbles what Mills said and stares at her chest. Frustrated, she turns to me and we put our heads together.

“Maddie, there are only a few solutions to a locked room mystery. #1 – Mills or Jerold stole the whachamacallit before the box got sealed…”
Her: “2: the thingamabob was stolen when it was opened…”
Me: “3: the doohickey is still there…”
Her: “4: the hoozy-whatzy never existed…”
Me: “5: the veeblefetzer was turned into something else…”
Her: “6: someone else was in the room and stole the thingamajig…”

Just when I think we’re on that back and forth where we work out the solution, I realize…

Me: “Wait. You don’t know what this thing is either?”
Her: “I thought you did! You took the first message!”
Me: “You called her back!”
Her: “She mumbled!”
Me: “We don’t know what we’re looking for.”
Her: “When do we ever, though?”

Wait, there was a stack of shipping boxes in the corner.

“Maddie, go look through those boxes. I’m going to… check out the hallway.”

She gives me that look-she knows. But I think better in the john. I’m there fixing my situation, when it hits me. No, literally it fell out of the ceiling tile and landed on my head. It’s a lacy doily thing. Whatever a ‘gehaakt cadeautje’ is – this is probably it. I head back into Mill’s office with it, holding it up in the air.

Jerold’s face lights up, but Mills makes a run for it. Maddie trips her and stands on her back until the police arrive. Jerold writes us a check for a cool $10,000. We’re driving home…

“Where did you find it?”
“Fell on my head.”
“Too bad it wasn’t an anvil.”
“At least I know how to say ‘anvil’.”
“Well, thank god for that hotdog.”

520 words. Tags: fan fiction, flash fiction, Moonlighting, David Addison, Maddie Hayes
Note: A ‘gehaakt cadeautje” is (in the Dutch language) a small crocheted gift that you make ahead and keep a stash of, then give to friends as a token of friendship at various non-birthday or non-Christmas times of year. A little thoughtful present that says “I appreciate you.” An Americanized version of the term came up on the radio show A Way With Words Crocheted Gidote, and after much investigation, people figured out it was this dutch custom.

Short fiction: Lincoln Dunwoody

Lincoln Dunwoody is a piece of short fiction I wrote in August of 2014 as an exercise for the class Scenes from a Book taught by Candace Denning at the Indiana Writer’s Center.

Lincoln Dunwoody is the guy who opens my cans for me. He likes to tell people he’s my owner, but that’s a bit of a delusion. Lincoln has trouble remembering his briefcase in the morning, and I’m building a weather machine in the spare room while he’s at work, so who owns who in this situation?

I know it seems contradictory that I’m building a weather machine and that I can’t open cans, but you’d be surprised how resourceful I am for a cat, despite the cursed lack of opposable thumbs. I can do a lot of things with my teeth, and I know how to apply basic physics – gravitational, electrical, and magnetic forces, friction, tension, air resistance, applied force, spring force. I’ve used them all in my science projects.

It’s just that damned twisting motion of the can opener that defies mastery. I tried meowing loudly near the television when the commercial for cat food that comes in pouches comes on, but Lincoln just pets my head and coos silly stuff at me like “I’m sorry, Truesdale. That is a pretty lady cat, but she’s just on TV. Someday we’ll both meet nice ladies to go out with.” I don’t need a lady, I need food I can fix myself.

Truesdale is the name Lincoln calls me. My actual name is Jake Mortlock, but it’s probably better that Lincoln doesn’t know that, in case I have to go on the lam.

Honestly, Lincoln is a bit of a lily pickle most of the time. He’s sort of round and squishy, and he hasn’t got much hair, except for a bristle of a mustache that he needs to trim more often because it ends up in his mouth when he talks. And he talks to me a lot. He likes to narrate what he’s doing, as if I can’t see it for myself as he fusses around the apartment.

Last night was really odd, though. Lincoln didn’t talk at all when he got home after work. Usually he seems resigned and drops his briefcase obliviously just inside the door, but last night he swung it merrily round in the air and flipped it on the table, did a couple of half-steps like he was dancing, and tried a little whistling. It came out odd, so he switched to humming, which sounded better, although I still couldn’t figure out if there was a tune. He dance-hummed his way into the bedroom and started undressing. I went in to watch, because it was 6 o’clock and not time for bed at all. In his underpants and t-shirt, he pulled a bag from the closet and zipped it open to lay out a black suit I’d never seen on the bed. Then he retrieved a shoebox from the closet shelf, and a square brush, and he dusted off a pair of shiny (stylish!) black shoes that I’d also never laid eyes on before. He foxtrotted into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, combed the few hairs he still had on his head, and to my shock, actually trimmed that silly mustache. He hummed his way into the spiffy duds and even tied a bright red tie, straightening it in the dressing room mirror, brushing off wrinkles and fastening cufflinks. With neatly folded pocket square tucked in, Lincoln Dunwoody looked downright dashing. Of course, then he spritzed on some cologne that made me sneeze, but nobody’s perfect.

He checked the time – 6:50 p.m. – and danced to the front door, turning to me as he left. “You hold down the fort, Truesdale. I have a date tonight.”

Will wonders never cease? I didn’t want to miss any additional action, so I decided to put my weather machine work on hold and add to my Minions Project in the kitchen instead so I’d be near the door when Lincoln came home. The Minions Project is where I gather up all my cat hairs into a ball under the refrigerator. When I get enough of it together, I’m going to chew through the lamp cord and apply some electricity to the hairball, animating it into a tiny baby cat that I can control with my mind. Eventually I will build a small army and we will take over the world.

I was still absorbed in my cat bath at 9:45 when I heard Lincoln’s heavy tread on the stairs. He was not dancing when he came in the door. He was not humming. Lincoln was sad. His head was down and his shoulders drooped. He didn’t even seem to see me; he just dropped his keys on the table, loosened his tie, and proceeded to the bedroom. He slowly put his happy suit of clothes back into the garment bag and zipped it up as though he was putting it away forever. Back into the closet went the shiny shoes and bright red tie, and Lincoln Dunwoody sat down heavily on the edge of the bed in his underwear, looking much older and more battered than the 45 years that he was.

Even smaller-than-average tuxedo cats with nefarious plans to rule the world have compassion. Who could look at this scene and not feel some sympathy? I don’t have a white heart shape on my chest for nothing. I curled myself around Lincoln’s ankles and purred, swishing my tail back and forth to pet him. Happily, he brightened up and leaned over to pet me. “At least I’ll always have you, won’t I, Truesdale?” Of course you will, you big silly billy. I need you to open my cans. And when I finish that Longevity Mechanism, we’ll both be immortal and I’ll need you to carry my sacks of money to the bank.

But for now I needed to work on a different plan.

The next morning when Lincoln opened the door to head out to work, I squeezed past his ankles and zipped down the hall. Lincoln came running after me, because he also suffers under the delusion that I never leave the apartment (I have a strategic hole in the bathroom screen) and would get lost if I were out (I have personally mapped half of Prospect Park). At the end of the hall, Apartment 5G belonged to Alice Coddington, owner of Eagle Magnetics, a company that does sheet metal fabrication for magnetic shielding. She inherited the company from her father, and she’s a looker, let me tell you. I heard about Alice from the Gerrold the Beagle in 5B, who said that Alice also inherited a fluffy white cat I should get to know. I heard her door opening at about this same time every morning, so I took a chance. Normally I like to think things through, but sometimes you have to roll the dice, and that morning I was in luck.

Alice came into the hall at precisely the right time. I immediately rubbed my head against her pretty ankles and then flopped on the floor at her feet, purring loudly. She bent over to pet me, and Gerrold was right, she was really pretty. I shamelessly curled up on her toes just as Lincoln arrived to fetch me. “I’m sorry. He never tries to get out; I don’t know what got into him.”

Normally I’d correct that nonsense, but I was pouring on the charm. “What’s his name?” Alice asked.


“That’s so sweet. Aren’t you a sweet kitty, Truesy?” Alice cooed at me, and I made a mental note to steal some extra treats from Lincoln later. I deserved them for this performance.

“I’m sorry; I’ve got to get to work.” Lincoln said, scooping me up.

“Oh, me too. Maybe you could bring Truesdale over this evening and he could meet my Sasha? She’s a sweetheart, too. I’ll bet they’d get along.”

Even from my perch in his arms I could see Lincoln’s face light up like a Christmas tree. I just kept purring like a jet engine.

Nobody puts a plan together like Jake Mortlock.

1,342 words.


Parataxis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Parataxis is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, with the use of coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions.

Perhaps the best-known use of parataxis is Julius Caesar’s famous quote, “Veni, vidi, vici” or, “I came, I saw, I conquered”. An extreme example is the immortal Mr. Jingle’s speech in Chapter 2 of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

‘Come along, then,’ said he of the green coat, lugging Mr. Pickwick after him by main force, and talking the whole way. ‘Here, No. 924, take your fare, and take yourself off—respectable gentleman—know him well—none of your nonsense—this way, sir—where’s your friends?—all a mistake, I see—never mind—accidents will happen—best regulated families—never say die—down upon your luck—Pull him UP—Put that in his pipe—like the flavour—damned rascals.’ And with a lengthened string of similar broken sentences, delivered with extraordinary volubility, the stranger led the way to the traveller’s waiting-room, whither he was closely followed by Mr. Pickwick and his disciples.

Perhaps an even more extreme proponent of the form was Samuel Beckett. The opening to his monologue “Not I” is a classic example:

” . out . . . into this world . . . this world . . . tiny little thing . . . before its time . . . in a godfor– . . . what? . . girl? . . yes . . . tiny little girl . . . into this . . . out into this . . . before her time . . . godforsaken hole called . . . called . . . no matter . . . parents unknown . . . unheard of . . . he having vanished . . . thin air . . . no sooner buttoned up his breeches . . . she similarly . . . eight months later . . . almost to the tick . . . so no love . . . spared that . . . no love such as normally vented on the . . . speechless infant . . . in the home . . . no . . . nor indeed for that matter any of any kind . . . no love of any kind . . . at any subsequent stage” and so on.

Although the use of ellipses here arguably prevents it from being seen as a classic example of parataxis, as a spoken text it operates in precisely that way. Other examples by Beckett would include large chunks of Lucky’s famous speech in Waiting for Godot.

Iron Writer Challenge: Accepted

I signed up for the Iron Writer Challenge, and will be competing on February 12th. How it works – 5 authors each write a 500 word flash fiction story in a 4 day span of time including 4 required elements (example: 1968 Elvis Presley Comeback Special, Someone mowing/cutting grass, A note left on a car, Argyle socks) then compete against each other for the most votes & judges approval.

I’m hoping to brush up on my short fiction writing skills and have some content to add to my short fiction page as well.


Quotes: no one loves chili dogs that much

Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

Quotes: Distant Fog

Lemony Snicket:

I will love you as a thief loves a gallery and as a crow loves a murder, as a cloud loves bats and as a range loves braes. I will love you as misfortune loves orphans, as fire loves innocence and as justice loves to sit and watch while everything goes wrong. I will love you as a battlefield loves young men and as peppermints love your allergies, and I will love you as the banana peel loves the shoe of a man who was just struck by a shingle falling off a house. I will love you as a volunteer fire department loves rushing into burning buildings and as burning buildings love to chase them back out, and as a parachute loves to leave a blimp and as a blimp operator loves to chase after it.

I will love you as a dagger loves a certain person’s back, and as a certain person loves to wear dagger proof tunics, and as a dagger proof tunic loves to go to a certain dry cleaning facility, and how a certain employee of a dry cleaning facility loves to stay up late with a pair of binoculars, watching a dagger factory for hours in the hopes of catching a burglar, and as a burglar loves sneaking up behind people with binoculars, suddenly realizing that she has left her dagger at home. I will love you as a drawer loves a secret compartment, and as a secret compartment loves a secret, and as a secret loves to make a person gasp, and as a gasping person loves a glass of brandy to calm their nerves, and as a glass of brandy loves to shatter on the floor, and as the noise of glass shattering loves to make someone else gasp, and as someone else gasping loves a nearby desk to lean against, even if leaning against it presses a lever that loves to open a drawer and reveal a secret compartment. I will love you until all such compartments are discovered and opened, and until all the secrets have gone gasping into the world. I will love you until all the codes and hearts have been broken and until every anagram and egg has been unscrambled.

I will love you until every fire is extinguised and until every home is rebuilt from the handsomest and most susceptible of woods, and until every criminal is handcuffed by the laziest of policemen. I will love until M. hates snakes and J. hates grammar, and I will love you until C. realizes S. is not worthy of his love and N. realizes he is not worthy of the V. I will love you until the bird hates a nest and the worm hates an apple, and until the apple hates a tree and the tree hates a nest, and until a bird hates a tree and an apple hates a nest, although honestly I cannot imagine that last occurrence no matter how hard I try. I will love you as we grow older, which has just happened, and has happened again, and happened several days ago, continuously, and then several years before that, and will continue to happen as the spinning hands of every clock and the flipping pages of every calendar mark the passage of time, except for the clocks that people have forgotten to wind and the calendars that people have forgotten to place in a highly visible area. I will love you as we find ourselves farther and farther from one another, where we once we were so close that we could slip the curved straw, and the long, slender spoon, between our lips and fingers respectively.

I will love you until the chances of us running into one another slip from slim to zero, and until your face is fogged by distant memory, and your memory faced by distant fog, and your fog memorized by a distant face, and your distance distanced by the memorized memory of a foggy fog. I will love you no matter where you go and who you see, no matter where you avoid and who you don’t see, and no matter who sees you avoiding where you go. I will love you no matter what happens to you, and no matter how I discover what happens to you, and no matter what happens to me as I discover this, and now matter how I am discovered after what happens to me as I am discovering this.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Winner

NaNoWriMo Winner 2014

This is my fourth consecutive win. It sort of feels a little less-satisfying that the others. For one thing, I’m writing something that’s intensely personal, so I kind of felt pretty drained by it. Also, there was a lot of research involved because it’s historical fiction, so even when I wasn’t writing, the topic was all-consuming of my time. I have a bibliography with 20+ titles on it, and links to hundreds of websites. I have a web folder full of images, maps, and two different pinterest pages, one for the novel and one for one of the main characters.

Another reason I feel drained is because it isn’t done – and I have two other unfinished novels that I haven’t been able to get past the 75% mark. This novel I plotted out far more than the others, and I feel like it has a better chance of having some resonance, but the last two days of writing were excruciating and involved me basically throwing junk on the page. I’m so far off my outline it isn’t even funny, and I definitely need to regroup.

NaNoWriMo is great for getting a ton written in a short amount of time and staying motivated. It’s terrible for causing burnout. And all my efforts to pick up the threads and try to finish at a less punishing pace in the months that follow NaNoWriMo have fallen into failure in the past.

I’m committed to changing that scenario this year and getting the book to something readable to others. But I also need to take the month to do some reading as well.

So basically, I’m optimistic, but dazed. Which is probably normal for me, right?

The running tally of my word count this year. Compared to last year, I was far behind most of the time, rather than ahead. I didn’t plan my resources properly and I let a lot of distractions in the door this year, which didn’t help.

1. 1,667 - 4218 (4218, +2551)
2. 3,334 - 1691 (5909, +2575)
3. 5,001 - 1060 (6969, +1968)
4. 6,668 - 1701 (8670, +2002)
5. 8,335 - 1051 (9721, +1386)
6. 10,002 - 126 (9847, -155)
7. 11,669 - 1031 (10878, -791)
8. 13,336 - 3922 (14800, +1464)
9. 15,003 - 1817 (16617, +1614)
10. 16,670 - 1762 (18358, +1688)
11. 18,337 - 0 (18358, +21)
12. 20,004 - 0 (18358, -1646)
13. 21,672 - 0 (18358, -3313)
14. 23,338 - 0 (18358, -4980)
15. 25,005 - 4720 (23078, -1927)
16. 26,672 - 3747 (26825, +153)
17. 28,339 - 1837 (28662, +323)
18. 30,006 - 638 (29300, -706)
19. 31,673 - 0 (29300, -2373)
20. 33,340 - 161 (29461, -3879)
21. 35,007 - 366 (29827, -5180)
22. 36,674 - 4782 (34586, -2088)
23. 38,341 - 2268 (36854, -1487)
24. 40,008 - 440 (37294, -2714)
25. 41,675 - 4656 (41950, +275)
26. 43,342 - 1734 (43684, +342)
27. 45,009 - 813 (44497, -512)
28. 46,676 - 23 (44520, -2156)
29. 48,343 - 2733 (47253, -1090)
30. 50,010 - 2747 (50179, +179)

Publisher’s Weekly: The Top 10 Essays Since 1950

From Publisher’s Weekly: The Top 10 Essays Since 1950.

Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, picks the 10 best essays of the postwar period. Links to the essays are provided when available.

Fortunately, when I worked with Joyce Carol Oates on The Best American Essays of the Century (that’s the last century, by the way), we weren’t restricted to ten selections. So to make my list of the top ten essays since 1950 less impossible, I decided to exclude all the great examples of New Journalism–Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr, and many others can be reserved for another list. I also decided to include only American writers, so such outstanding English-language essayists as Chris Arthur and Tim Robinson are missing, though they have appeared in The Best American Essays series. And I selected essays, not essayists. A list of the top ten essayists since 1950 would feature some different writers.

To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.

James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son” (originally appeared in Harper’s, 1955)

Norman Mailer, “The White Negro” (originally appeared in Dissent, 1957)

Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’” (originally appeared in Partisan Review, 1964)

John McPhee, “The Search for Marvin Gardens” (originally appeared in The New Yorker, 1972) (subscription required).

Joan Didion, “The White Album” (originally appeared in New West, 1979)

Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse” (originally appeared in Antaeus, 1982)

Phillip Lopate, “Against Joie de Vivre” (originally appeared in Ploughshares, 1986)

Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature” (originally appeared in Harper’s, 1988)

Jo Ann Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter” (originally appeared in The New Yorker, 1996)

David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster” (originally appeared in Gourmet, 2004) (Note: the electronic version from Gourmet magazine’s archives differs from the essay that appears in The Best American Essays and in his book, Consider the Lobster.)