Friday, November 29, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge - Part 2

Ok - the last post was the first 200 words of start of a story I wrote.  NOW THEN - what's next are the first 200 words of a story someone else wrote, followed by my addition.  There are going to be five of these in total.  Enjoy:

Part 1 (original, not mine - but available here):

Lee’s seen a lot of terrible things in her day, but this is the worst.  She can’t exactly put a finger on why it’s the worst; she’s seen more gory, more brutal, more degrading.  But this one makes her knees weak and her gorge rise and the skin on her face crawl.  This one just about sends her vomiting in a corner like the rookie who just dashed outside. 

It’s the nails.  Long nails, their round, waffle-patterned heads out of balance with the length of their bodies.  A number of them are drowning in the pool of spilled blood like teeth knocked loose in a fight.  More tumble out of upended boxes near the corpse. And fifty-six of them are buried in the corpse itself.  Some deeper than others. Some are reduced to dark circles on his skin, weird birthmarks; others turn him into the world’s biggest voodoo doll.  No part of him has been spared.  Lee shudders.  There are signs of struggle, but mostly in the immediate area around the body.  Like someone sat on him and just started hammering.  Patiently, carefully, nail after nail. 


Lee’s almost glad to see that Charlie’s as pale as she is.

PART 2 (my addition):

The nail gun didn't make sense, 400 PSI concrete nailer to be exact.  Charlie found it in the plastic case, bloody tip, no prints, next to a belt-sander and an upended circular saw.  "Everybody," Charlie tells Lee, "knows nail guns are belt-fed, canister-fed, spring-loaded.  Automated is the word."  Lee looks puzzled.  "Or maybe girls don't know these things."  He tries not to look at the body as he tells her this.

"Whatever," she says.  And the boxes of nails?  Single-shot hatred.  Somebody really didn't like the guy.

The only good news was the deposit receipt from Karls' Rentals on Alpine.  Looked like Karl was out $135, minus the damage deposit.  Alpine's a borderline street.  On one side the houses are nicer and the lawns are mowed.  On the other side, graffiti crawls up alley walls like new ivy.

The shop has a bell on the door and bars on the windows.  A nuanced odor of oil, electrical tape, and old man lingers about the place.  A retiree with a white mustache sits behind the counter on a gunmetal colored stool.  He looks up from a suduko booklet and asks, "Help ya?"
Lee shows him the receipt and asks about the nail gun.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Delmer's Fiddle

This here is a start of a short-story experiment I'm doing as part of a challenge over at Terrribleminds (Terribleminds contains some cussin' so don't go there if that bothers you).

Little Delmar played his fiddle and the clean lonely sound of it filled the house.
Momma called him scrawny with his skinny arms like the frame of a homemade kite and his shoulders that tilted in impossible ways.  That’s what caught him and held him back that night.

After momma tucked him under the quilt, he snuck outside through the kitchen door to go to the pond and try to catch something.  What he sought on these excursions varied; sometimes frogs, sometimes fireflies.  Once, he snuck out to see the box of still blind kittens on the other side of the carport, near the brick pile.
But that last time, momma’d locked the door and Little Delmar, forever so named, stuck his head and twisted his spine just so to go through the doggie door.  He’d done it before.  But momma heard him.

She grabbed the claw hammer from under her mattress and ran down the hall, her nightgown flapping like a great and terrible angel.  Delmar tried backing out and got his neck caught on the heavy plastic flap.  In the dark, momma threw the hammer and knocked a nice chunk of the boys’ skull out of place.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Writing With Others - Probably Part 1

In 1978, ancient history I know, Robert Asprin began a series of books known as the Thieves’ World Series.  No, they were not about Washington D.C.  Rather, each book was a collection of short stories by different writers sharing a fantasy setting wherein the writers could utilize the characters the other writers created.  If memory serves, the only caveat to using another writer’s character was that the ‘borrowing’ writer couldn’t kill a character he or she hadn’t created.

Along similar lines is the duo of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (think end of the world, Lucifer’s Hammer, and elephant-faced space aliens, Footfall).  Neil Gaiman also comes to mind as someone who has worked with many other writers on lots and lots of projects.

In my less spectacularly-successful world, I drive students to the group writing project.  I save this towards the end of the semester when the chaff has drifted from the classroom.  Nothing is worse than the ‘superhero’ saving the group project while the knobs receive the shared grade.  Students know this.  They have a history of group-work slurry that has left a bad taste in their mouths.  This is mostly because they are thrown into the group project arena and no one offers to share, exactly, how do conduct a group project, let alone how to write a document with one or more human beings.  Nor have they been given the liberty to hold one another accountable.

A small, good thing about writing with others is this accountability.  There are deadlines and non-classroom bound writers tend to feel at least a teency bit guilty at letting their partner down; would that I could say the same for the students.  Plus, people who want to write also appreciate a good deadline.  It’s a goal, like writing 50,000 words in the month of November is a goal.  Deadlines are goodness.

Nor is this an academic exercise.  Meaning, it’s not just something for the classroom.  The world collaborates and that’s how stuff gets done.  Even Ted Kaczynski relied on the Postal Service to deliver his diatribes and nail-bombs, while it also seems like it’s the always the quiet neighbor who keeps to him-self that is involved in the mall-shooting.  Nor do I confine the lessons to typical classroom activities.  You see, I haven’t always been a writing instructor.  I have other irons in the fire, have pursued sales leads, managed software projects, hired & fired, conducted reviews, and played Dungeons & Dragons (a collaborative effort if ever there was).

That said, writing with other humans goes against the grain, does it not?  Consider the lonely writer; isolated at the screen, researching, and generally making up stuff.  Writing magic happens alone.  That’s one of the complaints.  Where is the feedback?  Where is the sounding board?  How can a writer find someone willing to read his or her material before it’s ready?

This is one of the bigger bonuses of writing with someone else.  There is immediate feedback. The audience is in place, and egos aside, they review one another’s efforts well before the material hits the grade-book or the submission-letter fan.

Yet, difficulties remain.  Many group-project documents I receive have a patchwork quilt feeling about them.  After thirteen plus weeks of reading each student’s writing, I can tell where one writer’s efforts end and another’s begins.  I’m talking about the writer’s voice, tone, vocabularies, sentence structures, and not about the self-editing that doesn’t always occur (and please, run spell-checker because it’s free).  We all know writing with others is more than a simple copy & paste.

One goal of writing with others is to prepare a document (short story, novel, cookbook, stupid Composition 1 paper, etc…) that is seamless.  The work of many should appear unified in both scope, purpose, and daresay, style?  That’s debatable, but there is probably a reason Faulkner never wrote a story with Hemingway.

True collaboration means both writers have something in mind prior to beginning and that they are willing to work towards those goals.  Enter the classroom thesis, the main idea, the point being proven, the mountaintop of the effort and that annoying thing I ask about before they continue.  For example, if student A wants to write about how text books cost too much and student B wants to write about how text books don’t have enough pictures and the words are too big, there’s a problem.  It’s time for them to refocus and someone is going to have to compromise.

And if neither student wants to compromise, this is a good clue that, perhaps, the effort won’t go so well.  The advice here is to make sure you and the person you are collaborating with are on the same page.  If not, why bother?  You’ll only aggravate one another and that’s not goodness.  Here’s a really funny link to illustrate.

In collaborative fiction, the scope and purpose is not so neat.  I mean, story writers don’t begin with an iron-clad thesis.  They have a plot and they have characters, maybe.  Sometimes they just have an idea or a situation.  I mean, there are almost always characters but sometimes the plot is not in place at the start.  That’s ok.  I’ve just about made up my mind that characters drive the plot and not the other way around.  Otherwise, the story is stilted and forced, and the only thing that should be stilted and forced is a national healthcare service – right?!

But, with only the bare bones of the idea in place, the writing team has to plan what they are trying to accomplish.  And planning is half the fun.  Think brainstorming, like what if there was this guy who fell into a portal to another world when he reached too far into his clothes drier?  Yeah, and what if a centaur found him and decided to take him to the centaur-stables to he could scoop poo for the rest of his days?  A situation like that needs to be fleshed out a bit and two brains are often more creative than one.

And, while this was never meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the collaborative writing adventure, even I know that when I start writing about centaur poo, it’s time to take a break.  Even so, there may be a part two to this.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Willful Suspension

Think 1817…Samuel Taylor Coleridge… Kublah Khan… romantic poets addicted to opium.Ok, don’t have to go that far.  But, one idea Mr. Coleridge had, that has stuck with us (when I say ‘us’ I refer only to myself and the guy in the mirror, isn't that right, my precious?) is the ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’

Here’s the full quote from that Coleridgerian best-seller, Biographica literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions: (Available at Amazon!!!)

"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."

Looking at the quote with as little context as possible, because I live in a post-modern world, Coleridge is saying he wrote some poems involving pretend subjects and, that in order to appreciate the poems, the reader has to get over the fact that such pretend subjects don’t exist.IOW – the reader has to willingly suspend their disbelief in order to get down with the ballads.
In order to appreciate the news and what the government says, a person has to willingly suspend their intelligence and lie-detectors; but I digress.
Like say, I write a book about three-legged goblins.Those stuck in literal gear and who cannot shift into pretend will not enjoy said book because three-legged goblins aren’t real.There might even be a segment of society that will read only about the two-legged variety because they are not willing to imagine the three-legged kind.

BUT - writers bank on the fact that a good deal of the genre-reading population will pretend there are three-legged goblins and will buy that book just so they can read about them.  I know a woman who doesn’t like goblins or superheroes or giant robots battling alien sea creatures because they aren’t real.  At the same time she consumes sensitive-bare-chested-stranger-man romance novels at about the same rate she fills the gas-tank on her Prius.  Would that she saw the irony.

Albert Einstein, who was seriously not addicted to opium, said this:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  That…that right there.  Thank you, Einstein, for the clarity.
If it’s good enough for Coleridge and Einstein, it’s good enough for the guy in the mirror.  Creativity is limited only by imagination.  Nor, let us open our scopes, is this limited to the artistes.  Consider that surgery and insurance sales and computer programming and, heck, just about any job out there, uses a good dose of imagination in order to make things better.