Category Archives: Writing

Fiction Friday>> Nine Lives

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for June 5th, 2009:

“Don’t sit there,” she commanded. “That’s the cat’s chair.”

“Let’s talk about this,” I said. “We’ll sit down, reason it out.” I backed slowly toward the living room, my eyes glued to hers, my hands away from my body to show I didn’t mean any harm. I could see her entire body trembling, in fear or anger I wasn’t sure. She’d bitten her lower lip so hard it was bleeding.

She followed me, the gun in her hand wobbling so hard there was no way could she shoot straight. I saw that as my only chance. In the living room, I made to sit down.

“Don’t sit there, she commanded, her voice tremulous. “That’s the cat’s chair.” She gestured at the fireplace with the gun. “Go stand there.”

I obeyed, still keeping my eyes on her. Something crinkled under my feet. I looked down. A large plastic sheet -industrial grade-lay on the floor. My head rose to her face so fast I nearly got whiplash.

Her eyes were clear, she had a slight smile on her face. Her hand was steady as she pointed the gun at my chest. “Vulnerability is such a nifty tool,” she murmured.

Oh, shit, I thought, just before she pulled the trigger.

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On critique partners

I was reading Write Anything Andrea Allison’s post about Beta Readers (the first person who reads your draft to seriously critique it) and it got me thinking about how lucky I am.

One of the most important criterion for a critiquer is trust. I’ve dropped from writing groups before because I didn’t trust the people who were critiquing my work. Let’s face it, as Annie Lamott funnily says, writers are basically envious of each other’s successes. Some are just meaner about it than others.

I have three readers I completely and utterly trust. They’re painfully honest and sometimes I want to tell them “you’re not my friend anymore” (that’s usually when they’re right; I hate that). The beauty of it? They are avid readers and much better writers than I am but they have decided not to put themselves through the publishing ringer. They leave that to me.

This means that I get the benefit of their great talent, abilities, insight, and honesty without the competition.

I have no idea why they still go through my manuscripts. We started out taking writing classes together and critiquing was part of the process. Fifteen years later, although I’m the only one who was fool enough to keep at it, they are still watching my back.  I find myself blessed.

So Peggy, Robyn, Jim (you know who you are), thanks. Again.

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Fiction Friday>> Unrequited Love

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for May 22, 2009: A high-priced prostitute suspects that one of her best customers is falling in love with her.

She looked at Daddy across the table and suppressed a smile. He had fallen for her, hook, line and sinker, she was almost sure. Why else the expensive restaurant, the champagne, the personal limo instead of the one usually provided by her escort firm? Why else was he looking at her with moony eyes, a silly grin on his face?

Arthur, who wanted to be called Daddy when she was with him, was the big fish she’d worked hard to land, and the work wasn’t over. She nearly grimaced thinking of the night ahead but, in the end, who cared? She’d better buck up because she’d have to live with it -with him-every night if her plan worked.

Oh, there he was, taking her hand, making his moony eyes at her again. She suppressed a shudder when he wet his thick, red lips, leaving a film of saliva that reminded her of the slime of a snail. He sniffled, a nervous tic that always made her want to give him a tissue. His hand was pudgy and its skin flaky from eczema, the nails bitten to the quick. It didn’t matter. The man was filthy rich, and that was all that mattered.

Sex was a great lure, an addiction she was able to feed. Nothing was taboo for her, although her ability to shut down her brain came handy most of the time. She’d had to do a brain dump often with Daddy Arthur. Now she would get the reward she deserved for all those nights… well. She’d rather not think about them.

Daddy leaned toward her across the table. She did the same. He whispered in her ear. Startled, she leaned back. Felt herself blanch. Oh, God, how could she have been so wrong?

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Fiction Friday >> Time Warp

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for May 8, 2009
A man is given the ability to go back in time and change one event in his life.

It was true. He was here, five years into the past. He could relive this day, change everything. Amazingly, he had been given a second chance at making things better, at undoing what he had set in motion, what had changed his life and the lives of so many around him. He had hurt so many by that single act, that single choice. He hadn’t realized the impact it would have. It was only in retrospect, looking back at the events that led to that day, that hour, that minute, that he had given himself the luxury of regret. How many times had he wished it could all be undone, rewound, reshot, like the takes of a movie, until he had got it right. And now it could happen, it could be done. He could reshape this moment and all the moments that would come after. He didn’t know if his life would be better for it but at least he would not have that one excruciating regret.

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How to create mood with words

I recently finished Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and was astonished and amazed at the flowery prose. At first I thought well, yeah, he wrote it in 1839 so that explains it. But I’ve read other Poe stories and none of it was so over the top. So I reread it and realized that Poe had used this type of prose to create the mood — and that was the only goal. There is no moral to the story, no position (social or political), simply words that, combined, create this feeling of horror that spreads throughout. Here is an example:

I looked upon the scene before me–upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain–upon the bleak walls–upon the vacant eye-like windows–upon a few rank sedges–and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees–with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium–the bitter lapse into everyday life–the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart–an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.

With this introduction to the House of Usher, Poe continues to heap words onto the mood:

The vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit for powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon its hinges.

There is no real point to this story, except for placing a protagonist in a surreal situation and make him experience terror. No writer could get away with this kind of “arabesque” today but there is something to say about studying the master of the mood.

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