Monday, August 16, 2010

 Eros, eyesore, she writes on her mop.

In the great hall, where singletons toil in the night -- so marrods can't see them -- a thick-headed marrod wouldn't understand her palindrome poem. But the next singleton to use the mop would. Marrods, drunk on state-ordinanced coupling night after night, could hardly read left to right, let alone retain the information when they attempted to read backwards.

A marrod child cries in the night. They did that often. Ella has never seen a child up close, only heard them. Singleton sleep was  plagued by marrod child shrieks and thumps. She imagined that all marrods started out with disproportionately large heads and feet and grew into them. Marrod males stayed large and loud, while females grew hissing gaps and long, long claws.

Ella herself has never attended a marrod function, although some singletons were promoted as house singletons, allowed to stay up after sunrise, and dressed in fine clothes so that they could carry silver trays. She heard that the marrods move in clutches and dance in rotating lines as if attached to one gigantic puppeteer's pole. Clever singletons have theorized telepathy among them, since they are reported to dress and act alike.

Ella doubts this, or at least that their telepathy skills transverse their own race. It was true that marrod females never speak to their male counterparts, except in shouts. Perhaps marrod males simply never grow out of the hearing disability that seems to afflict all marrod children.

After completing her chores, Ella has whole hours of inactivity she can fill as she pleases. The villa is endless, reaching into the sky and under the ground, and also back in time. Generations of singletons have claimed garret rooms and under-stair cupboards to retreat to when they want to be alone. Books, entertainment disks, and jury-rigged music plug-ins are squirreled all over the main house and out buildings to be shared more or less communally; at the very least, Ella knows not to touch a collection that's clearly being enjoyed by someone else.

Singletons communicate in graffiti, left inside cupboards or the margins of computer files. "Does anyone have the third volume of Remembrance of Things Past in plug-in format?" is left plaintatively in the butter. A spikey, cocky reply: "Oho, who's getting her doctorate in godawful egotism?" as well as the code to the book. The respondent wouldn't have the code if s/he hadn't read the book. Singletons understand the words beneath the words. Ella smiled with remembrance of that pleasant week, practically a party, when the whole staff held a threaded conversation on the back of the shed door over their favorite friend Jane, the disappointing last line, and who truly deserved to be locked up mad in the attic. Well, probably the whole staff; even a clever singleton didn't really know -- or want to know ­-- who was writing on that shed door.

It was true, sometimes singletons fell through the cracks. Sometimes one didn't show up at his assignment for a week and would be found by the strange smell in the hay loft. But then, how many marrods had been assigned to poor partners and were discovered murdered in their beds. The only difference was the speed of detection.

It wasn't that singletons couldn't love. Ella played chess every Sunday with Susanna. They met at 3 pm, set up the board, and played silently until supper. There had been times they shared a garret room, or a book. As girls, there was a notebook they kept between they two, and even now passed notes between them that they didn't share with the rest of the household.

It was what they wanted. It was enough.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

tips: more prompts than you can gather under your hat

Sites to find a less traditional prompt (that aren't a pain to visit):

PostSecret - Every 5x4 piece of confessional artwork tells a story.

Overheard In New York - "So I says to Mabel, I says..." Go here to work on your dialogue and character. Google for other cities.

FOUND Magazine - Stuff. Letters, notes, drawings. The detritus of civilization. Where did it come from and who found it?

Not Always Right - Customer blunders. The worst part is, we've all been that dumbass at the front of the line. Go here for your small town color and big city ennui.

National Geographic Photography Archives - From landscapes to people, the beautiful to the bizarre, our world and far beyond the stars. If you can't find a picture of it here, maybe you should consider if your SF is too inaccessable.

Youtube - Most people use this go-to idiot box for vids, but youcan also find any song in the history of ever on the biggest multimedia site on the web. Music and writers have had a long history together. If you just have to hear "Thriller" or you'll never finish your big love scene, Youtube is the place to go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Prompt 10: just keep talking

Prompt 10: An all dialogue challenge: Someone has something to confess.

I've missed you all! Had to step away for a while, but I'm back. Here's what I've been working on.

PhotobucketAs always, I encourage you to respond to this prompt in the comments, your own journal (please link back!) or the wild open fields of your own imagination.

A swoosh of curtain.

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I've never been to confession."

Old wood creaked behind the dry screen. "Never?"

"No, sir, I'm not a Catholic."

"I understand. What compelled you to come here today?"

"I don't know, sir. I just. Um. . . . Your church is really pretty. . . . Big."

"My son, if this some sort of prank, there are many more people in line--"

"No! Sorry, sir, I just --"

"It's 'Father.' No one calls me 'sir.'"

"No one?

"No. And we haven't said the 'bless me, Father' part since at least the seventies."

"Oh. I watch a lot of television."

"Then we have somewhere to begin."


"You should confess your sin of idleness."

"But that's not what I have to confess."

A creek of the bench as a considerable weight leant against the wood paneling. "A sin is a sin."

"You want me to confess to watching too much TV?"

"When you're ready."

"I thought I just did."

"My son, there is a procedure: first you confess your sins to me, then I grant you absolution from God for them. But you must admit your sins and truly wish to atone for them."

"O . . . kay. I admit I watch too much television. But that's not the sin --"

"I forgive you for that sin. Three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers."

"Sure. Thanks. Right now?"

"Didn't you have something else you wished to talked about?"

"Yeah. Um. You're not going to believe it."

"Son, I've been in this business a long time."

Clicking noises -- fingernails picking apart vinyl cushion. "You can't tell anyone, right?"

"The confessional is sacred."

"That's a no?"

"That is a 'no.'"

"This is harder than I thought it was going to be."

"Is it something criminal?"

"No. Never."


"Depends on how you look at it."

"Is it an action you've taken against another, or words that you've spoken?"

"It's something I'm going to do."

"Then no sin has been committed."

"No, it has."

The wood paneling creaked again. "Is it a woman?"


"A man?"

"Not like that."

"Son, I can't spend all day playing 'animal, vegetable, or serial killer.' Perhaps you didn't notice the half hour line you stood in before this booth became available."

"Father, I'm supposed to give you a message, but I don't think I'm going to be able to do it."

"A mes-- excuse me?"

"A message. From the angel Jophiel. It's not something I know, it's not like I'm going to sit here saying 'I know something you don't know.' It's something I've got to show you. But I think when the time comes, I won't."

A leathery burp as a great weight shifted over vinyl cushioning. "Young man, you must listen to me. See the secretary in the hall, Sister Ann Michelle, she's a very kind woman. She can give you a number to a very competent service. There's people from St. Anthony's hospital who would be happy to talk to you about this angel, and you needn't pay if you cannot afford to --"

"Father, I appreciate that. But I don't need those kind of people. I just need to tell you what my sin is."

The air hung in the stale cubical. "All right."

"First of all, Father, I should apologize. I lied."

"You did? That -- It's a very big sin to waste a priest's time, there's so many people I must help in a day."

"I'm sorry."

"Well, to be honest, I'm relieved. Then you haven't seen the cherub Jophiel?"

"No, I meant that I lied about not being a Catholic. I had to be sure that you'd believe me even if I wasn't one of your kind."

"A priest doesn't . . . all men are . . ."

"I don't see the angel, I just know how he works. And he's been leaving me little clues all my life, like tests, you know? And I keep failing them. Little things, but also big things. Sometimes really big things."

"The Lord . . . His tests are meant to --"

"Anyone can fail a test, but I think if the angel picked me, then I should have passed them, you know? So I think that means I must be a really bad person, or maybe not a person at all. So I'm sorry, Father."

"Son, please listen to me, every human on earth is a sinner. We require the light of Jesus to restore our souls --"

"So I think I'm going to fail my final test. But don't worry, Father, you'll be there and you'll get it right. So, I guess that's my big sin. Can I have my penance now?"

"Can you --? My boy, I don't -- You say I will be there? Be where?"

"Don't worry, Father, it won't hurt." A small creek as a bench is relieved of its burden. "Well, I guess you don't have a penance for a demon. Don't worry, I fell a lot better. I guess I'll see you later. I'll do those Hail Marys and Our Fathers. You're right, I do watch too much television."

A swoosh of curtain.

Groan of wood as a tremendous weight springs from it.

"Wait! See Sister Michael, she has a pamphlet --!"


The thundering silence of a dozen staring, enqueued Catholics at a helpless, panting priest.

Photo credit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tips: get outa my head

Attention nonwriting public: we don't want to talk to you about our book.

Talking to non-writers about your project is like telling a stranger about the dirty dream you had last night, except not only did you have it, but you're so proud of it you want to charge people money to read about it. 

Why do non-writers care so much about a profession that has nothing to do with them?

1. They think writers are wizards. They want to see a trick.

2. Like all Americans, they believe they could be a writer, if they had enough time or took the right memoir writing class at the learning annex; talking to you is a servicable substitute.

3. They're bored and assume you can entertain them with your book idea, because all stories start out as brilliantly as the end-product they check out of the liberry on DVD.

4. They don't understand that creative people often don't talk about their process because to them, the creative process is exacly like baking a cake. From a box. Who doesn't love showing off their birthday cake? (Don't get me wrong, this is not about the cake. I am not dragging cake into this.)

So you tell them to be polite and you get that look: 'Oh. That doesn't sound anything like [insert favorite hack author].' 

So what do you say when a non-writer has put you on the hot spot?

1. Rattle off technical jargon like pacing, branding, genre, ouvre, feminist menstrual journey.

2. If you have an MFA, recite the plot of The Faerie Queene or Remembrance of Things Past, as you interpreted it from the Spark Notes.

3. Retell your latest office gossip as set in 1066 England, Mordor, or a space ship, as pertains to your genre.

4. After ten seconds of listening to you, they will be feeling jealous and wish to dominate the conversation again. So, claim the book is about crochet or scrapbooking so they can naturally segue the conversation back to their own creative efforts.

5. Ask them about their kids.

Photo credit.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ways to Grab An Editor

5 Ways Your MSS Can Grab an Editor
(And avoid the slush pile.)

Editors have literally piles of manuscripts lining their halls and no time to read them. They will only read the first three pages of your work, and if it grabs them, they'll try the next 20 pages. Maybe. 

Here's some tips to to keep them reading.

1) You should be spending weeks crafting your first sentence, first paragraph, and first chapter. Go back to it often as you write your book. It should be quick, show action, and have dialogue.

2) Don't info dump in your first page. Do not open your book with a description of the scenery, the character's life, or anyone's relationship. Jump straight into the action. Use dialogue, props, clothing, the 5 senses, and other details to suggest information. Readers want to figure things out at the beginning, not be told.

3) Cut your introduction, prologue, preface, preamble, or whatever you're calling it. These chapters are the thing you write when you are new to the world. Later on, as you worldbuild, everything you've put in the preface comes out in the main story, making the preface an unnecesary info dump. So get rid of it. I'm looking at you, fantasy writers: You don't need it.

4) Edit judiciously. Do you really need three best friends, three villains, or three towns? Consider combining similar elements into one. Make the prose move faster by cutting out unnecesary words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters. How many times do you reiterate your theme, conflict, or point? Say less and it makes the telling more powerful. 

5) Read your first chapter aloud. Mark where you trip over the words or have to reread to make a sentence clear. If you can read it aloud clearly without a hitch, then a stranger will read the prose as smooth and elegant.
Photo credit: Old typewriter by Petr Kratochvil  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Prompt 9: round and round

Prompt 9: A child watches a black car pull up in front of her house.

So sorry it's been a while! I've been working on a larger project. This is a bit of it, as a prompt response (because I was stuck.)

As always, I encourage you to respond to this prompt in the comments, your own journal (please link back!) or the privacy of your own imaginations.

PhotobucketIt is so hot you breathe in mosquitoes and breathe out oven air.

Elyse was five and she had been sitting in the wine cellar for an hour watching her sister Beatrice "get a tan." Bette, as they called her (because "Grandma's name is 'Bea' and I'm not some old lady"), is turning pink and Elyse has predicted she will throw up like she did the last time they went fishing and sat on the lake for hours and hours and Bette was the only one who wouldn't cool off with the wet towel dipped in delicious lake water. ("We've got enough trout for a feast, Gary!" "If she's too stubborn to stick her head in perfectly clear lake water, then she'll learn what the consequences are.") Baby Wade bobbed along next to Ma in the innertube with a cloth baby seat stitched into it. He didn't throw up, but he did make a poopy. No one seemed to notice that Elyse hadn't needed any special cleaning crew.

Elyse felt prickles as her sweat evaporated in the slightly cooler cellar. Dust was sticking to all the little hairs on the exposed parts of her and now she was beginning to itch. The stone window sill felt sharp and dirty under her chin where she'd propped two big Mason jars of canned blueberries on either side of her head. She drew them hard against her skull. The liquid inside was endlessly cool and pulled the head from her face. She did a naughty thing today, though she hadn't meant to be bad. She ran up back into the woods after Gordon and Frankie Gellert. Ma told her it was too hot to run and the woods were dangerous and besides, she was too little for boys. But Frankie had built a treehouse with a real zipline.

But they were bigger than her and she had to run fast to keep up with their bikes on the dirt paths. But they never intended to take her to the zipline -- when they got up to the part of the woods with the big hills, they swooped ahead on their fast, heavy bikes, laughing as she fell hopelessly behind.

So Elyse ran home. She was afraid if Bette saw her sweaty, she'd know that Elyse had gone into the woods alone with big kids and Bette would tell Ma or worse, Daddy. Ma had the hairbrush but Daddy yelled louder and Elyse would rather take the smack and have it over with than Daddy's shouting. His "Irish temper," Ma said.

Presently, through the syrupy muck of the blueberries, Elyse was watching Bette do her handstands and cartwheels in the dusty side lawn. Bette was six-going-on-seven and had been deemed old enough to start first grade early last year. Ma sewed red stripes on her white shorts, and she wore her blue bathing suit with the white stars, so she looked like a real majorette. Bette was very seriously training to be a cheerleader in four years when she entered junior high -- if not sooner, because she might skip a grade, seeing as first grade had been so easy for her. Elyse thought Bette was going to get a smack if Ma noticed she'd gotten yellow dust all over the seat of her white shorts, doing tumbling on the dry grass like that. Maybe Ma would notice Bette before she noticed Elyse's red, sweaty face and loosened pigtails. Maybe Elyse would help her notice.

It was then that Elyse noticed a black car in the driveway. It was an old car, huge like Pop's, a monster with pretty silver trim. She blinked and it was just there, but now she felt like it had always been there. It was dusty and the white donut parts of the tires were dirty, and the wheels were half sunk into the gravel driveway even though the ground was hard packed. Bette didn't see it. She was cartwheeling closer and closer to it. She finished one cartwheel and then dove right into another one, over and over, like a runaway red wagon. Elyse gasped. If she called out, her hiding spot would be given away!

Someone was breathing in the basement. Elyse breathed slowly. She heard her own breath, in and out, echo against the cool wall. She held her breath. A long breath was let out behind her. Hairs prickled on the back of her neck. She wasn't afraid like she was afraid of getting caught by Ma or Daddy, or when the boys left her alone at the top of the hill or when Bette decided to be mean to her. This was the kind of fear she had at night when the floorboards creaked because there was a witch in the closet or a monster under her bed. This was the fear she felt when she didn't know what to expect.

Elyse squeezed her eyes shut and flattened herself against the bumpy wall. The old rocks scraped her knees but she didn't care. The breathing in the room grew quicker and more specific. She knew where he was -- knew that it was a boy, and a little boy. Someone her height or smaller. He was right behind her.

A car door slammed. Elyse squeaked. She clapped her hand over her mouth. If the ghost saw her, he'd eat her. If he moved any closer, she'd faint. If he did anything except breathe at her, she'd die.

Please, he said.

Elyse jumped. She opened her eyes. The black car was still in the driveway. Bette was still turning cartwheels, unaware or uninterested. Worse than everything except the talking ghost in the basement was this: a man stood next to the car now. She could only see the bottom parts of him, brown shoes with black pants. He was facing the house, not Bette and her majorette-ing still going on despite the stranger. He bent at the waist and Elyse could see his face. It was wrinkled and he wore a hat and his eyes were dark dark dark. He was looking at the house. He was looking at the basement window. He was looking at her.

Elyse whimpered. She jumped down off the crate and sat on it. She had no choice now but to look into the dark basement.

Please, the awful boy said again.

Elyse looked. She didn't want to, but she did want to, sort of. Like when the wolfman jumped on the screen and she covered her eyes but she looked through her fingers just a little, too.

She could see him even though he wasn't completely there. Looking at the ghost boy was like touching a cloud, which she thought would be like holding a cotton candy but Ma said was actually just air.

"What's wrong with you?" Elyse said. "Go away."

The boy showed her his back, except he didn't. Instead of telling, he showed it to her in her head. And she just knew that the man outside by the car had hit him with a stick when he was bad. That made her stomach hurt; Ma never punished her with a stick.

If you won't tell, the boy said, I won't tell.

He held his misty hand out before her. Elyse watched it hover, sort of a whole hand, sort of see-through, like the cloud she imagined when she pretended she was flying in an airplane. She put her hand out. Something cold dropped into it. She jumped.

For you, he said.

Elyse held her cupped hand in a ribbon of sunlight. The thing she held glittered very prettily. Fascinated, she held it up pinched between her two fingers. It was a little gold chain with a green diamond in it and three sharp holes that looked like flowers, sort of. The gold chain was decorated with little creamy beads that made her think of the man on the moon. It must have been a very expensive piece of jewelry, even if it didn't seem to have any way to put it on. (There was probably some grownup secret to wearing it.) She didn't have anything with this many pretty beads.

"Thank you," she whispered. "I'll keep it very safe and won't let my sister see it."

It's from there. The boy pointed.

Elyse looked. She saw, clearly in her mind: the center of the basement. A dirt floor that existed before Daddy laid cement. The boy's grave, where his body broke down like the dead animals on the sides of the road.

Elyse ran screaming up the stairs.

Later that night, after dinner, after being scolded for going to the woods alone, Elyse undressed for bed.

In the pocket of her cut-off jeans, she found the gold chain, just as real as it had been in the basement. She hid it in her hand before Bette saw it and jammed it under the satin lining of her jewelry box.

He was her ghost.

*Prompt source: The Writer's Book of Matches, by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2005.
Photo credit

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tips: Novel writing


In my writing program, we had writing partners each semester, whose work we shared and critiqued each month. It was always a learning experience to find out what we all had been doing all along was very annoying to the reader, or simply didn't make sense.

Here's some unconscious common habits a lot of writers have that put a wall up between their work and their readers -- or worse, a potential editor.

1) Type dot dot dot when your character's thoughts or speech go off into space. Type dashdash when he is interrupted. Type four dots when you want a long pause that follows a complete sentence. Read other common errors in English you don't know you're making.

2) You know how college taught you the high art of the semicolon? Forget all that. Semicolons in fiction are very expensive, don't use too many on a page. Also, remember that. Short sentencs. Equal. Action!

3) You might not be an outliner, but I don't know any novel writer who doesn't have to do some written down prewriting. Read books and websites about structure and plotting until you find the outlining/worldbuiling method that works for you, because nothing is worse than your plot going nowhere, or your villain's name or species changing every 50 pages. Some people use writer's software, some do an encyclopedia of their world in Word, some use Q&A format in Excel, some hang up poster boards using actors and magazine landscapes. You need something other than your mss to keep you on task.

4) Join a professional guild and consider attending conferences. It doesn't have to be exactly what you're into -- ie, your average romance writer's group will welcome fantasy and women's fiction writers. It's invaluable to know what's new in you genre and, perhaps more importantly, what's so old it's unsellable.

5) "Said" is fine as a dialogue tag.  "Blah blah," Beatrice said is fine to put down 50 times in a conversation. "Said" is one of those words that readers skip over, almost like a punctuation mark. Similarly, do not use 10 synonyms for "said" because repeating "said" feels repetitive to you. Of course it's repetitive - that's why readers skip over it and pay attention to the dialogue. Do you want your prose to be awkward and obvious?

6) More on dialogue: Character voice is the most important element of your book to lending personality to your characters, but unfortunately our TV culture has corrupted how we "see" conversation in the written format. Find other ways to convey your character's mood than using adjectives to describe their voice, because that way leads to talking heads; you are not writing a script, there will be no actors putting life into your scene, pages of dialogue and "-ly" lead to boring talking heads.

7) Consider every single bit of concrit you ever get. Humble yourself. Find other author friends and solicit their opinions.Take classes at adult education centers or libraries. Read books on writing and do the exercises. Write something every day.

7) Keep your first rejection letter. Frame it. Throw it a little party. It means you're a real writer. 

Photo credit: Old typewriter by Petr Kratochvil  

Monday, February 1, 2010

Prompt 8: where you go

So sorry, dears! Life interrupted my posting schedule; plus, I was working on this longer piece.

Prompt 8: Due to the ___ that follows ___ wherever s/he goes, a ____ is convinced that something terrible is about to happen.

As always, I invite you to respond to this prompt in the comments, your journal (please link back!), or the privacy of your own imagination.

PhotobucketRed saw the wolf before she set out. He crouched high on her father's rampart, etched in stone, hunkering beside the little watchtower in which Father passed the nights before battle. It was tradition in this township for a bridal bed to be sanctified with wolf teeth or laid with a pelt, but Red's mother had given her king the whole animal in permanent form. Grandmother lived in the hunting chateau a day's walk away. No one was left to go fetch her at the little, abandoned cottage and she was needed because God would not release Stepmother's baby from inside her.

Red's basket of provisions from Cook slapped her hip as her feet slapped and clopped through the mud of the newly cleared path. The air was cool on her nose but too weak to penetrate her warm woolen underclothes. She had all day.

A shadow fell across the path. Red looked up, squinting, at the suddenly grey sky. A dark cloud had covered the sun. Piercing light shone like eye-dots and just below, a triangular maw hung open, lighter clouds surrounding a dark gullet. Red reached into her basket and found the hard, cold, rough stone she had placed there as she had passed the castle wall. She pressed it into her palm and squeezed, hard. The wind whistled far away over the mouth of some unseen cave in the hills beyond. A spiky line of ducks passed at the jaw.

Father was an old man, his son would need a proxy, and a full blooded mother had more claim than a half-sister.

Grandmother could fix things.

Red knew when she stepped on the edges of Grandmother's property by dint of the elegant, manicured trees. Grandmother kept a tree surgeon who knew the ways of maple and pine, oak and dogwood, and could coax a lilac and a holly to bloom in the same month. Red delicately stepped through the tree branch gate in the woven fence of dense pine trees and a stepped into the kitchen garden marred by neither boar nor gopher.

The sky was pinking as Red left her boots at the door and entered Grandmother's cottage. There was no servant to announce her because Grandmother did not like being made a fuss of, so the scullery took Red's basket and overthings and made herself invisible.

After Red had freshened up in her room, she came down the front staircase to the only room she knew would be lighted, the hunter's parlor Grandmother had made into her little den. A wolf's pelt lay in front of the enormous hearth, and Grandmother sat in her enormous chair. Grandmother's hand beckoned and Red sat on the soft, thick fur and laid her head on her knee like a child, while Grandmother worked out the snarls the wind had blown into her hair.

"What shall we do, Grandmother?" Red closed her eyes and breathed in the damp wool and woodsmoke from Grandmother's serge skirt.

Grandmother reached into her knitted vest and handed Red a vial. Red shook it and the contents mixed up green.

"For whom?" Red asked.

It was then she looked up at her Grandmother, and reeled across the wolf's pelt in horror. The dear woman's face was criss-crossed in deep gashes. Of her eyes were two dark wells made. Her grandmother's head bobbed low so that what remained of her chin pressed to her chest. The whole front of her dress glistened brick-red.

"Grandmother, what has happened to you!"

Beneath her, the fox pelt rumbled and roiled and took on the form of a man. Horrified, Red pressed herself against the wall. Before her, nude, stood a tall and handsome man with that same smile she'd seen in the rainclouds as she'd walked from the castle. The smile of one who had caught his quarry.

"Have you eaten my grandmother?" Red found her voice at last.

"Do not fear him," said a voice from the chair.

"Grandmother!" Red gasped. "I thought you were dead for sure."

"Not completely." Grandmother's head lolled so that her empty sockets pointed in the direction of Red and the strange wolf-pelt man.

"What is this creature?" Red asked.

"Take the foxglove," Grandmother said, "and this bit of poppy seed. A bit in very sweet chamomile tea will not be detected. The young man is my tree surgeon, and my living room rug. He has served me well and has earned his reward. I told him many years ago that when my life was over, he would be king."

"I grew impatient," the man said sheepishly.

Red reeled on him in shock -- to find the man arraigned in vestments to befit a prince.

"I will not have this!" Red said. "It is my turn, my time. Who served my father for sixteen years? Who advised him, who learned the languages of all the local chieftains in this patchwork country? Who sat at your table and learned composure and debate? A woman cannot not rule when a man is there to usurp her!"

Grandmother's leathery skull bobbed. "Don't you bark at the wolf, missy. He's been a good tree surgeon and my rheumatism hasn't felt so good in decades."

"That's because you're missing your hands," Red said to the embers.

"You will have your kingdom, Red," Grandmother said. "The werewolf can turn himself into any creature it wishes, from dragon to the smallest of unborn babes. You will return home and soon a foreign suitor will come to claim you. Your father will agree if you press the poppy into his pipe first, especially in his grief over the sudden death of his second wife and only son."

Red stared at the way the shreds of tongue in Grandmother's tongue ululated as guttural words burbled up from her slashed throat.

"Soon after the wedding, your father will die similarly, and then your husband will go on a hunting trip and never return. But a peddler will come to sell you a vial which you much take with you to bed. And then -- ah! You will be with child."

Red slumped onto the coal scuttle, thinking. "I will have my kingdom . . ."

"And when you are ready to give it up, your son will have his."

"Mind you don't wait too long," the wolfman said.

*Prompt source: The Writer's Book of Matches, by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2005.
Photo: Gargoyles at Notre Dame, Paris, by Viollet-le-Duc and Eugene Emmanuel (1814-79). 
More on "to see the wolf": French folklore and virginity.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New prompts

PhotobucketSome prompts for you. I encourage you to respond to these in the comments, your own journal (please link back!), or the privacy of your own imagination.

  1. "She's not a vampire, or a wolfperson, she's a _____"
  2. Print out one of your stories that didn't work. Cut it up into strips. Rearrange until it's something you can work with.
  3. See this proverb. Write something in which the events build upon one another and one small slip can/does cause the whole thing to tumble.
  4. At your next party of writers, play Exquisite Corpse. For stories, each player can write a line or paragraph; for novels, each player can write a chapter. 
  5. "Children rule the world these days."
  6. All that stands between us and total devastation is an old man and three paperclips.
  7. "Is that a bleedin' rainbow comin' out of your shoe?"
  8. "Scarlett O'Hara never had to deal with this."

Photo credit: Old typewriter by Petr Kratochvil

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prompt 7: all fall down

Prompt 7: Write about a chore you must perform during an apocalypse.

PhotobucketMy father wasn't dead when we abandoned the house, but my brother and I thought of him as such. Dad wanted to be buried with Mother, so Toby and I took him to the basement, dug him a grave beside Mother's, and laid our father beside it. We told Dad that when he was ready, he'd have enough strength to flip himself into the hole, and he believed us, and we believed ourselves, because what else can you do?

Before we left, Toby and I protected him in a canvas tarpaulin and tied off his feet so the rats wouldn't get to him, or the cat, if the rats died of plague too. We gave him a long rubber tube to breathe through and the rest of grandfather's dandelion wine. We locked the cellar door against looters or . . . whatever. And we left.

Photo credit.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

tips: writer's block

When I was in grad school, we had to write a novel in 2 years and about 30 pages a month. There was no time for writer's block. So these are ideas we passed around to keep from flunking out.

- Retype your last page

- Create a playlist or Pandora channel of music that's suited to your story, genre, or character. Create several for different points in your story or book.

- Write anything for ten minutes. Don't edit. Just type. Look back over what you're written and find something to go with.

- Warm up each writing session with a fifteen minute freewriting session - something not related to your project. Prompts are good for this. It takes the pressure off and gets you in the writing mindframe.

- Have a work area and work there every day.

- Leave your work area and go somewhere else: outside, a coffee shop, the library, a diner. Bring headphones. 

- Use story mapping software like Freemind to see your ideas in one place.

- Think about why you're having a hard time writing something. Do you really want to write this? Does it not fit the story? If writing a certain character or scene is a chore, it may be a chore for your readers, too. (Did we really need all that Quidditch, JK?)

BTW: Did someone tell you that writing was about artistry and being inspired all the time? It's not. Ideas are easy, anyone can have ideas. Writing is the work of making something out of those ideas. If you're not working like it's 4 am and your paper is due at 9, you're not writing.

Prompt 6: uncanny valley

Prompt 6: Think about an inexplicable event in your life. Write an explanation.

My response to today's prompt was going to be about this time when I lost a pair of earrings -- one at a time -- and over a week I found one, two, and then three of the earrings. I was about seven and I truly believed that a ghost or gnome had taken my earrings into the netherworld and screwed up when bringing them back.

But I just can't bring it on home.  This happens sometimes: you get an opening and an ending but you don't know how to connect them. (See: all my novels.) Sometimes it helps to see your story in another context, so I'm posting the beginning. Maybe a little time and perspective will help.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to respond to this prompt in the comments, your own journal (please link back!), or the privacy of your own imagination.

Gravlax and Graeloor were arguing over the proper shelving configuration for disfigured Civil War mortar shells when a very familiar, very tiresome Collector cracked into their hall.

"Hallo, old son," the noisy blob with one leg said. He tipped his hat at the two ghoul archivists. Peruvian, mid-century, most likely stolen.

"We are not 'fellas,'" Gravlax said, taking it upon himself to be the speaker for this century.

Graeloor stamped the date on a stack of cards, grunting. It was an enormous stamp, bigger than his head; it contained the date of accession to the geologic nanosecond.

"Look," said Collector #3592304 -- Gravlax recognized him by the bit of clumpy hair behind his ear. "I wasn't here, right?"

"But you are here."

Graeloor grunted.

"But I won't be in thirty seconds," the disreputable creature said.

"How will we know that?"

Collector #3592304 slapped a filthy handkerchief onto the desk. Gravlax recoiled, in case it moved or attacked or spilled something on the books. Graeloor sniffed it; he hadn't had his lunch break this century.

"You don't know where you got this," Collector #3592304 said," and you can't catalogue it."

"Certainly not," Gravlax said, "until you fill out an accession card --"

The terrible Collector disappeared with a crack of energy, leaving a hazy cloud of ozone and the odor alcohol.

"Well," said Gravlax. "That was fetid."

Thump went the stamp.

Photo credit.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prompt 5: radio gaga

Prompt 5: gifts of love
PhotobucketSometimes finding a prompt is as convenient as flipping on the radio and staring out into the middle distance. This story came to me while staring cross-eyed at the wall and listening to not this song, but it's from the same play, and I can't find "Gifts of Love."

Harry married her, sure. But is that any reason to stay with her?

Imagine him, a fifty-six year old man, running away to join the circus that he's watching on tv. The gays are getting liberated, so Walter Kronkite says. There's old dogs in that group in the crowd in front of the nightclub in California, it's not just for the young fellows. Harry could go. . . .

They'd laugh at him down at the bank. Old Slaughter gone sissy, let's get him a dress to go with his favorite pair of nylons. He'd seen that goddamn bank over thirty years from a booth in Nell's Grocery to a fifty-branch, tri-state conglom.

Imogene would laugh at him. Harry's stomach rolled the beer and popcorn over. Where would she go if he left her? Her sister's, maybe; it could be good for her, to get away from a miserable alcoholic who stayed up watching the late night news with a bottle in his fist. Why not?

They had no children, he'd never made much of his career. He was the office fool, not one who brought in accounts but who was always good for a laugh; he never really fit in with the boys. Imogene had always said she didn't need furs or diamonds, but a woman ought to have a pretty thing to dress up her life. She preferred to paint and decorate and be-curtain their little bungalow to death, to fill it with things he sorter liked to look at, come to think.

Imogene liked listening to him talk, or at least she let on like she did. He liked to talk, but not many people seemed to want to hear him. Did Imogene really like to listen? He never asked.

It just didn't make any sense.

Photo credit.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writing prompt responses is useful because -

- Writing something every day keeps your momentum; if you're stuck on your main project, a short prompt response is better than nothing.

- A prompt can encourage you to explore a new voice, genre, character, or style.

- Prompts can help you build confidence as a writer.

- Prompts encourage experimentation, which can help you find what you really want to do with your writing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Prompt 4: where'd that go?

Sometimes your story starts in one place, such as:

Photobucket Prompt 4: While on a camping trip, a little boy strays from his family and happens upon a carnival in the middle of nowhere.*

And then it ends up somewhere totally different:

After the war, Frankie returned to the States with useful life skills, like how to pitch a tent in the wilderness, how to cook squirrel over an open fire, and how to shoplift books and small bottles from the druggist. Frankie was a homeless vet.

He started in New York, because it was the place to be, but one frozen day in October and he turned tail west because long-haired people were going that way and he'd heard you could find a place to stay if you were willing to work on a farm. Frankie wanted work. He longed for mindless hard labor that produced something worthwhile in the end.

It wasn't the bodies that bothered him on those long drives in trucker's cabs, though he saw them in the trees beyond the highway. He knew those ghouls would follow him for the rest of his life and he deserved every watchful gaze from the beyond. The thrum of the highway lulled him, he enjoyed having no responsibilities, no end of the journey to anticipate. Particularly pleasant was the hum of the diesel engine, though in the dreamy half-sleep of highway hypnosis, he felt the bumpy, shocks-deprived seat of a transport convoy beneath him. Sometimes he startled awake, but he hid that well beneath his cap and parka.

He weighed about a hundred and ten pounds in that voluminous polyester by the time he reached Colorado.

In a café outside Denver, an angel stood over Frankie's table and asked if he had found Jesus.

'I didn't know I was supposed to be looking.'

The girl sat beside him, all long, curly hair and jangly optimism.

'Are you a lost soul too?' she asked.

Frankie didn't know what she considered a "lost soul" to be, nor did he particularly want to be included in any group that she considered herself a part of. But he was lost, cold, and hungry, and this girl seemed to be offering something. When he signed up for the Army, the sent him to hell; wherever this little girl was driving him to down the dark country road, he would survive one more day until something better came along.

*Prompt source: The Writer's Book of Matches, by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2005.
Photo credit

a few new prompts

PhotobucketI finally got the fire going, so I can write up some Prompts For You All.*

*I come by this term through marriage, as it were - my SIL is from Texas. Words are lovely and useful things and it's perfectly serviceable to adopt words from wherever one finds them. Voice, after all, is an acquired skill.

I encourage you to respond one or more of these prompts in the comments, on your own journal (but please leave a link in the comments!), or the privacy of your imagination.

1. "Your baking is always so . . . interesting."

2. The things you overhear in a mad scientist's lab.

3. An old woman dies and leaves a generous fortune to her cat. Everyone wants a piece, except one person.

4. You never noticed a particular detail in a family heirloom before.

5. What does the apprentice (or familiar) do when the witch or wizard says "oops"?

Photo credit: Old typewriter by Petr Kratochvil

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Prompt 3: oh by the way...

Prompt 3: Two friends meet after 20 years apart. One admits to having killed someone.* 

As always, I encourage you to respond to the prompt in the comments, your own journal
(but please link back so we can share in your genius!), or the privacy of your imagination.
PhotobucketTo see Frankie again in her class, of all places, shook Martha to the core. He was just Frank now, with a longer face; he'd grown himself a hooked nose and broad shoulders. She missed his long hair and silently counted all the hidden tattoos under his collared shirt and black jeans.

Oakdale stretched out behind her like a forest path long grown over, though Martha still spent one or two Christmases in her lonely apartment at two am, feeling grit under her fingernails and hearing Daddy's bootfalls in the hall. The smell of alcohol made her nauseous. If, standing at the lectern, she were foolish enough to call up that state of mind, Frankie would feel like an oasis, a safe island in a sea of indifferent freshman faces. Even now, a hundred years later.

At the end of session, Frankie waited until the cloud of students waiting to talk to her dissipated, until it was just she and him, Frankie and Martha, transposed from the Qwikstop parking lot to the university lecture hall.

"'Ello, Professor Turner."

"Frank Gellert." She didn't know what else to say. "You got taller."

"You cut your hair." He looked her over. She pulled in her stomach.

"I guess I did. . . . Did you have a question about the lecture?"

"I wanted to thank you, Martha. You saved my life. If it wasn't for you, I would have gone to prison. The army was good for me, it straightened me out. Thank you."

Martha turned her gaze to her sheaf of folders and papers. She wasn't that girl anymore, she wasn't working on roller skates at the In-N-Out, she didn't live in a town where the worst men at home rose to the most powerful level of town government.

"It wasn't your fault Trina Addams was in the car that night of the big snowstorm, Frankie. You're lucky Councilmen Addams' heart gave out before it went to trial."

Martha wasn't a candy striper any longer, and hospitals locked up their digitalis. Sometimes when she caught a late night movie, the detective still mentions that the sweet drug is undetectable in soda pop.

Frankie ducked his head. "Yeah. Sure am. You take care now."

Frankie didn't show up to another lecture, though Martha saw him around campus. When it came time to defend his thesis, she sat on his defense committee approved him without question. There's just some things you do for the people who really, really know you.

Prompt credit: Summarized from The Writer's Book of Matches, by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2005. Photo credit.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

a missile from your librarian...

Dear romance novel swappers - if your book is cracked to the 'heaving bosoms' part, you can keep it. Really. We know you really really. Really. love that book. (long time.)

To the kids who stole the backpack from the homeless man who sits and studies every day and doesn't cause any problems - fuck you. I hope when you're sixty you have to spend the winter in the woods behind the convenience store too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I liked the 'in another place' prompt because I could place someone where I thought they really belonged. Elyse is my cousin, who's a latter day hippie, a counselor struggling to find a paying position, and a Dead head. I just feel like she'd be happier in another decade, when a bachelor's degree in psychology actually meant something, and crusty 20 year olds could follow the Dead in ripped jeans for a year. When it was still safe to hitchhike to a campground with your boyfriend in some dude's VW bus. I think she'd have freedom to have a lot more experiences if she wasn't tied to some crap job and $50,000 in student loans, and then she'd use those experiences to do something really wonderful, like start a women's shelter. 

Anyway. What is freewriting? It's just what it sounds like - put fingers to keys and make words come out. I'm doing this blog for a lot of reasons, but what I get out of it is a reason to write something new every week. I'm working on a novel and I have a job, but that's just *work*. It gets stifling, boring. I'm hoping you people will give me more to want to write for.

Prompt 2: in another place...

Prompt 2: Put someone you know in another time and/or place.

"Pick up your shoes," Mother said, "don't you care about your appearance?" The house was clapboard, the town runny in spring. Elyse entered America in 1956 and half of Honeysuckledale, Pennsylvania didn't have a radio. To visit a friend's, it was faster to walk across a field than to drive. Prom dresses came from Sears & Roebuck. By the grace of a too clever mind in between the two braids that ran down her head and over her ears, Elyse was granted the privilege of college.

Elyse returned to Muhlenberg College her senior year newly anointed with peace, love, music, and mud on all her favorite flares. She asked her grandma to teach her how to crochet and macramé and made herself an autumn-colored wardrobe. She ironed her hair. She met Michael. And then Anna, Raquel, Georges, Sacha, Professor DeLeo ("Call me Tim"), and the magic mushroom.

At 56, Elyse still lunches with Anna, she's still married to Michael, she heard some poor girl finally pressed charges against Professor DeLeo, she's taught someone to macramé, and has landed in a cabin in California to hide out until the Republicans go away. She's not done taking on the world, but prefers to take it one small chunk at a time.

I welcome you to respond to this prompt in the comments, your own journal, or the privacy of your imagination.

*Prompt source: Uni English prof. Photo credit here

Prompt 1: that time you fucked up

Prompt the first: Write about a time when you were in a bit of trouble, a time when you found yourself in the midst of a royally fucked up situation.*

I left the office; the alcoholic was called in. And soon turned out.

Drink exposed her pain and evaporated her awareness.

Her gin-vile, breathy plea: "What did I do to you?"

I encourage you to answer the prompt in the comments. If you respond on your own blog, please post a link here.

*Prompt source.


Welcome to the blog. If you're here, you're participating. I commit to write at least one prompt response a week. You, the reader, are welcome to respond in the comments, your own blog, your personal ink-and-paper journals, or in your own head. I want no layabouts here! If you're reading, you're thinking. I'm not a trained monkey, after all, but I do take requests. Email them to or post them in the comments.

What's a scrivener? "Bartleby the Scrivener" is the only accessible short story Melville ever wrote. Go read it. It's subversive.

What's a collider?
We write, we collide. We talk about our writing and ideas crash together and creativity happens. It's like chemistry that way. Also it's a technicy thing Homer Simpson could blow up.

Who are you?
I'm Your Scrivener and a librarian living with my parents outside a major East Coast city. I'm constantly looking for a better job. I'm a nightcrawler, I'm gay, I crochet, I read anything halfway amusing, I watch a lot of movies from Netflix. My driving motivation is to escape boredom.