Tag Archives: writing

The Phantom

This week, Colleen Chesebro‘s challenge was to write a poem in one of the formats she lists (haiku, senryu, haibun, etheree, etc.). It was time for me to try a haibun, which is a titled piece written in first person singular, present tense, minimal words, which combines prose and poetry. (To learn more about haibun, see the link to Colleen’s site above.) Also, this week’s writing had to include synonyms for the words “ghost” and “hollow.” I chose the words “phantom” and “empty.”

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The Phantom

Something’s rattling around downstairs. I can hear it from up here. I creep silently along the long, dark, empty hallway toward the open window. I’ll squeeze through it and onto the roof, drop to the ground, and run away. There’s no other way. I’m sweating as I reach the window. I feel a gust of wind behind me. I turn and see a phantom grinning in the shadows, as it moves swiftly toward me.

full moon
howling wind
shadows pointed
like batons
frenzied rhythm
then a hush
time’s up

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The Incredible Shrinking Story

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’m involved in a writing challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part I was to write a 297-word story about a mudslide. Part II was to edit it down to two 99-word versions, each with its own POV. Part III (this week’s challenge) is to choose one of the two 99-word versions, reduce it to 59 words, and include a “nugget” from the other version.

But my two Part II versions were virtually identical — except for the pronouns! There wasn’t a unique nugget to be found! The lesson I learned from attempting Part III is that two different POVs are going to react differently to the same situation on an emotional, sensual, and rational level. When I wrote the two versions, it would have been more interesting to get inside of each “mindset” to truly experience the POV.

And now, a confession. In order to complete the Part III challenge, I cheated, going back to my 257-word Part I version, stealing a nugget, and hauling it into Part III. I think cheating is allowed here. If not, my next installment will be sent from the principal’s office.

Part III Version, 59 words (nugget in bold):

Two-fifteen. Four nights of mudslide dreams since becoming Jake’s live-in. A warning? Jake slept. Rising, I phone-googled “mudslide dream.” Jake, awake, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped my buzzing phone, which Jake retrieved. It said, “SLIMDUDE.” “Who?” “My husband.” “Husband?!” I pondered my ex’s prison nickname. He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling the MUDSLIDE my life had just become.

My life had just become” was the nugget I selected from Part I, because prior to the dreaded phone call, Rachel’s life was hanging on by a thread. It is now going downhill fast. This nugget of insight from the omniscient third person POV is now being keenly felt by the first person POV of Rachel.

Thank you, Charli (at Carrot Ranch) for the lesson!

Stay tuned for Part IV, in which the story will be reduced to just NINE WORDS!

 

 

 

The Mudslide Continues

If you read my recent post, Mudslide, you’ll know that it was only Part I of a literary challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part II of the challenge is to reduce our original 297-word flash fiction story to 99 words. Not only that, but we have to write two versions, one in the original POV (point of view) and the other in a different POV.

I’d never done anything like this before. Cutting out 2/3 of my words taught me an important lesson: I use a lot of unnecessary words! Wait, let me rephrase that: I waste words!

But the even more important thing I learned was that POV matters, and of the following two versions, I have a favorite. Which do you prefer?

Third Person POV, 99 words:

Rachel sat upright. It was 2:15. She’d had that mudslide dream four consecutive nights since living with Jake.

She touched him; he slept. All she could do was consider her dream. Was it a warning? She rose and Googled “mudslide dream” with her phone.

Jake, up now, kissed her neck. Startled, she dropped the phone. Jake grabbed it; it buzzed. The caller’s ID: “SLIMDUDE.”

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” he asked.

“My husband,” Rachel answered.

“Husband?!” Jake sputtered.

No reply. Rachel pondered that prison nickname, his tattoo. He‘d never stop calling.

He’d always haunt her dreams, scrambling up her MUDSLIDE life.


First Person POV: 99 words:

I sat upright. It was 2:15. I’d had that mudslide dream four consecutive nights since living with Jake.

I touched him; he slept. All I could do was consider my dream. Was it a warning? I rose and Googled “mudslide dream” with my phone.

Jake, up now, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped the phone. Jake grabbed it; it buzzed. The caller’s ID: “SLIMDUDE.”

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” he asked.

“My husband,” I answered.

“Husband?!” Jake sputtered.

I couldn’t respond. I pondered that prison nickname, his tattoo. He‘d never stop calling.

He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling my MUDSLIDE life.


In my opinion, first person makes the story much more immediate and threatening. Jake startles me, I drop the phone, I’m terrified of SLIMDUDE haunting me forever. Yeah. Looking forward to the next challenge. Or should I simply say: Excited!

 

 

Mudslide

The following “flash fiction” is my response to Charli’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community.  The challenge was to write a 297-word story about a mudslide. I let my imagination run wild with this one, and it weighs in at 297 words.

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

Rachel sat bolt upright in bed. The clock on the wall said 2:15. She’d just had that dream again, the one about the mudslide.

She’d had it four nights in a row now, ever since she’d moved in with Jake. What would her shrink say about that?

Rachel looked down at Jake, softly snoring beside her. She touched his arm; he didn’t stir. What was he dreaming about? She closed her eyes and tried to get back to sleep, but all she could think about was the mudslide in her dream.

What was her subconscious trying to tell her? What could a mudslide possibly symbolize? Was it some kind of a warning?

She got up, stumbled out of the room, fished her phone out of her purse, and Googled “mudslide dream.” But before the search was completed, Jake came up behind her and kissed her neck, startling her. She screamed and dropped the phone.

They both moved to retrieve it. Jake got to it first, and it started buzzing as soon as he’d picked it up.

He looked at it and held it out so Rachel could see the screen. Caller ID said it was somebody named “Slim Dude.”

Jake stared at the phone, letting it buzz ten times, and then continuing to stare at it after the buzzing stopped.

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” Jake wanted to know.

“My husband,” Rachel answered, turning away so Jake couldn’t see her face.

“You have a HUSBAND?!” Jake sputtered.

Rachel didn’t answer. She was thinking about her husband’s nickname, the one he’d gotten in prison, the eight letters in SLIM DUDE tattooed on his fingers. SLIM DUDE would never stop calling her. And he’d always haunt her dreams, even scrambled up as the horrible MUDSLIDE that her life had just become.

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Do you have any recurring dreams? Care to share?

Heartburn

I’ve written a “senryu” in response to Colleen’s “Weekly Tanka Tuesday Poetry Challenge.” From Colleen, I’ve learned that a senryu is a poem including elements of love, a personal event, and irony, with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. The tone of a senryu is humorous or sarcastic.

See below* for more about Colleen’s weekly challenge.

And now for my senryu, “Heartburn.”

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

my heart is on fire

I wish I were in love but

it’s indigestion

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

*Colleen’s challenge for this week was to write a tanka, haiku, senryu, haibun, or cinquain poem using any words we choose, rather than the two words she usually prompts us with. Not having word prompts made my task more of a challenge!

Writer’s Conference Revelations

Yesterday, I attended the 2018 Arizona SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference.

I learned a ton of information about writing everything from picture books to YA, both fiction and non-fiction, and I came away with so many fresh ideas that I think my brain is going to explode very soon. But wait — that just gave me an idea for a picture book called, “My Brain Feels Like It’s Exploding.”

The book sample that I had submitted to the conference was not one of the few chosen for a face-to-face critique by an agent, but I did receive a constructive and thoughtfully-written critique from a knowledgeable and experienced children’s book editor. For that I am forever grateful. So maybe I should write the definitive YA self-help book on “How to Handle Criticism.”

My First Page submission was not one of the 15 or so selected to be discussed by the faculty panel, but I gleaned important insights from the panel’s comments about others’ writing. Now that I have those insights, I’m actually glad mine wasn’t chosen to be showcased. I probably would have jumped up, knocked over my coffee, and tipped everyone off that the anonymous, flawed first draft up on the two gigantic screens was mine. How embarrassing that would have been! And now I have an idea for a Middle Grade science book: “Why People Blush.”

I was not sought out by agents wanting to sell my books, as I had secretly dreamed. One agent did ask me for my “elevator pitch” (after I’d delicately broached the subject), but I stumbled through it, and I don’t think I impressed her. Besides, she specializes in a totally different genre.

I didn’t even win a door prize.

But I LOVED the conference. It was stimulating, informative, inspiring, and friendly. I met some really nice writers, agents, editors, and illustrators, and I’m eagerly looking forward to being in touch with them and seeing them at the next writing conferences and events.

Within hours of the conference closing, I was back at it, revising not one but two books that I’m currently working on. And I plan to keep writing and revising and attending writer’s conferences forever. And thinking up goofy book ideas.

 

Haiku with a Little Help (from my Friends)

The word “BLOG” was written (just like that, in all caps) on my to-do list for last Sunday. How confident of me! I should have known better.

As usual, I ignored the word “BLOG” that day, but, unfortunately, I noticed it again on Monday. (Maybe I shouldn’t have written it in all caps.) On Tuesday, I avoided looking at my list altogether and just read my email instead.

That’s when I saw a post by Ritu (“But I Smile Anyway…”), who shared a lovely haiku she’d written in response to a poetry prompt by Colleen (“Colleen Chesebro – The Fairy Whisperer”).

Colleen’s prompt was to write a haiku, tanka, or other specific type of poem using SYNONYMS for “fall” and “try.”

I like prompts. They give me ideas. So thanks to Colleen and Ritu — what would I ever accomplish without my wordpress friends?

Here’s my haiku using synonyms for “fall” (descend) and “try” (strive).

a chill in the air

I strive to reverse the clock

but leaves will descend.

 

tanka-tuesday-fall

 

 

 

Pasta Dreams

My post for today is in response to a Flash Fiction challenge by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Literary Community (see the challenge here). The idea is to write a complete story in exactly 99 words, no more, no less. This week’s challenge was to write a story about PASTA. The following is my first attempt at Flash Fiction. It’s a lot harder than I thought! Thanks, Charli, for the challenge!

“Mary? I’m Dr. Cavat. Please have a seat.”

Mary considered the couch, then chose the stuffed chair.

“What brings you here, Mary?”

Mary burst into tears.

“I see you’re upset.”

“Sorry. It’s just that … I’ve been dreaming about PASTA!”

“Well, sometimes pasta is just pasta.”

Instantly, Mary felt better. After paying, she asked, “By the way, are you related to Dick Cavat?”

“No. That’s Cavett, with an e and two t’s. My real name’s Cavatelli … like the pasta!”

After Mary left, Dr. Cavat lay down on the couch and started dictating:

“I’ve been dreaming about a woman named Mary.”


Have you ever written Flash Fiction? Or would you like to add more to Pasta Dreams? Maybe we can write a sitcom about it!

Zen and the Art of Muscle Spasm Maintenance

It’s been three days now.

Three long, tedious, mind-numbing days of lying in ungainly positions with multiple pillows arranged under, behind, and beside the various and sundry (as in unmentionable) parts of my body. My back is my Achilles heel, and three days ago it decided to kick me in its own ass when I tried to lift a heavy box.

If you’re surprised to hear me talking about my very own back that way, consider this: I’m on the maximum dose of ibuprofen washed down with half a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I’m lying flat on my back with an ice pack tied around myself using one of my favorite, now probably ruined, scarves. My hands keep falling asleep from holding my iPhone up in the air while I type this. My back does, indeed, feel exactly as if it twisted itself around and planted its heel squarely in the middle of its own ass. But things could be worse.

About an hour ago, I made an important scientific discovery: Pleasure cancels out pain.

How did I stumble upon this amazing fact? Well, as we all know, great scientific discoveries are often borne of necessity, and this one is no exception. Earlier, I had been a bit hungry, and my empty stomach needed something in it to keep the ibuprofen company. I’d tried to walk to the kitchen to grab a cracker, but my back rebelled, driving me back to bed in a hunched up fog of pain.

It was too early to gulp down any more painkillers, so I lay there for about twenty minutes until Chuck came home with groceries, and then I asked him to fix me up a little lunch. Even though it meant having to sit up in bed in an even more painful position, I decided to try and force myself to eat something.

I moaned and groaned and finally had positioned myself for minimal food spillage. The food was arranged on a cutting board and balanced precariously on my outstretched legs. I grimaced and resolved to get this over with as quickly as possible so I could go back to painfully lying down instead of painfully sitting up. But at the moment that I tasted my first mouthful of the delicious food Chuck had prepared, my taste buds exploded, and so did the pleasure receptors in my brain.

It was only a microwaveable meal from Trader Joe’s, the kind that looks like an upscale TV dinner. I must have been really hungry, because that Chicken Marsala with Mashed Potatoes (emphasis on the mashed potatoes) tasted like Thanksgiving dinner. And, for that first fleeting second or two while I savored the surprisingly delicious flavors (emphasis on the Marsala), my pain disappeared! It seemed I was incapable of feeling pain simultaneously with pleasure.

Unfortunately, the second that I paused to consider this, the pleasure receded and the pain came rushing in to fill the void. But all it took to send the pain away was another forkful of food.

I then took two sips of wine that I’d had the forethought to ask Chuck to place next to me on the bedside table, and this helped matters even more. Then I went ahead and took two, or maybe six, more sips. There. Much better.

I also started thinking about how I really should try to meditate in order to relax my back — and no sooner had I thought this, than again I felt a slight easing of the pain.

And occasionally, instead of thinking about meditation, I just took another sip of wine.

I continued this cycle of “eat-sip-think about meditation-or-sip” (TM) until my Trader Joe’s meal-in-a-tray was gone, and then I was feeling so much better that I decided to write this post about it.

I am now a firm believer in the “eat-sip-think about meditation-or-sip” (TM — or maybe © ) method. And I’m shortening it to ESTAMOS, Spanish for “we are.” It makes a great hashtag.

But, unless you’re determined to get a stomach ulcer, please don’t mix ibuprofen with alcohol. The label says there can be some nasty results.

I hope to be fully recovered from my back problems in time to accept the Nobel Prize for Home Remedies next year. And just to increase my odds of winning, I’m going to try some actual meditation now. If it works, I may change the name of my method to MEATS (meditate-eat-and-take-sips), but I’m afraid PETA (People Enraged by Trite Acronyms) might not like it.

The Writer’s Brush

Have you ever been immersed in a book and suddenly been struck by the knowledge that the writing isn’t just good, it’s great?

Of course you have. But what exactly is it about the writing that gets to you? What hits you over the head and makes you say, “Wow”? Is it what the writer has to say, or how they say it?

To my mind, great writing requires both. It not only has to impart something worth saying, but it has to say it in a particularly artful way. I came across an example of this today while reading “One-Eyed Cat,” by Paula Fox.

This book is an example of how characters, setting, mood, plot, and theme all come together delicately yet quite powerfully. The author has something to say to young adult readers, and she says it with finesse. I couldn’t help but think “Wow” to myself several times while reading. Here’s an example of what I mean:

 “The stillness was deep as though the earth itself had drawn in its breath. The only thing moving was a wasp near the roof of the outhouse. Ned watched it as its circles grew smaller and smaller until, all at once, it disappeared. Probably its nest was there just under the roof. Maybe there were snakes in back of the outhouse where the tangled grass grew thick. He suddenly recalled how Janet had flung her whole self against Billy, how the snake had flown out of his hands. A thought was buzzing and circling inside his head, a thought that stung like a wasp could sting.”

With those few sentences, the author creates a silence, then fills it with small terrors. She has not only created a mood, she’s put us right inside of Ned’s head and made us feel the sting of the painful thought that Ned can’t just swat away. That sting is the tangible representation of the book’s central theme.

After that paragraph, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I was in Ned’s head and I wanted to know how things would turn out. The theme was what hooked me, and the writing style made me a very willing catch.

cat-1460882_1280

And here’s another analogy: great writing is like great painting. The subject is important, but so is the execution. A splash of blue color on canvas is just that, unless it happens to be as majestically painted as Starry Night. A face could be quite boring unless it’s captured the mystery of the Mona Lisa or the terror of The Scream.

Great writing requires a solid subject and an artistic brush.

What examples of great writing have you read lately?