Writing Exercise – The Time Has Come

Time for another writing exercise from Fiction Writer’s Workshop. Chapter 2 of this book focuses on setting, and the different ways setting is used in fiction. I absolutely love the example given from Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, where a very stingy hoarder is described through how he keeps his living area. An exercise follows from this example – Exercise 12 on page 43:

Make a character visible through her surroundings. If she loves plants and cats and hates people, her house might assume certain traits. Sketch the house, listing the sights, smells, sounds.

Well, I won’t win any points for originality for my reaction to this prompt, but I just had to try this with an established character rather than one I made up. Here’s what I came up with:


card_tower

The Time Has Come

The mirror dominates the room. The frame may have once been an elaborate bronze, but its flowery pattern is now a hideous green from years of neglect. By contrast, the glass is pristine, reflecting myself and the room in perfect clarity. A house of cards sits in front, three tiers high. Faded, tattered cards lay about its base and at the foot of the plain wooden dresser upon which it stood. I nearly bang my shin on a low table, set with a delicate china tea set. Each of the table’s four sides hosts a tea cup on a saucer, with tiny silver spoons sitting nearby. The cup nearest me has long ago lost any distinguishing pattern on its bone white surface, and two stumps jut from it where its tiny handle should be.

I step over the carpet, my feet deftly avoiding several chess pieces. Stooping down, I pick up a queen. It is white, with flecks of red paint clinging to its surface. In my other hand, I take another white queen, this one noticeably shorter and a bit wider than the other.

I set the pieces before the mirror as I step to the rocking chair with its back to me. It rocks slowly, as though swayed by the evening breeze from the open window. Light snoring announces the presence of the lady I seek. I hesitate.

My eyes find another tea table next to the chair. This table looks even older than the previous, its varnish chipped away to show wounds of rotting wood. It is also decorated with ancient china – a plate, with a cake the size of my fist atop. The cake, to my pleasant surprise, was fresh, immaculately painted with chocolate frosting, and bearing the words “Eat Me” delicately spelled out in white icing. Next to it was a fine glass flask half-filled with a sparkling liquid. A square of paper was tied about its delicate neck by a tiny length of red ribbon. Predictably, I suppose, the blue ink on its surface read “Drink Me”. Unlike the table and the other dishes, this glass is spotless – I might think it freshly blown if I had seen it anywhere else.

I resolve to waken the lady. My business has to be done, no matter how regrettable I find it. I reach to the arm of her chair. My hand finds a glint of gold draped over its arm, and I am again distracted from my goal. I take up the gold, finding it to be chain for a fine pocket watch. I pop it open, revealing the hands working their way across a circle of Roman numerals. I nearly laughed, calming my breath as I see the drawing on paper placed carefully where a family portrait might be on other watches. The sketch was a detailed rendering of a rabbit, standing on its hind legs, dressed in overalls, and panicking as it stared down at a pocket watch.

“I’m late.”

My eyes snapped to the speaker of the soft words.

“I’ve gone and overslept, haven’t I, dear? You’re here to take me away.”

Snapping the watch closed, I nodded solemnly at the elderly lady.

“It is for the best, Ms. Liddell. Your family is worried, and I assure you, our home is like no other. You will be treated with respect and dignity.”

“Is there croquet? Oh, but not the kind with flamingos and hedgehogs.”

“There is croquet, of course. As well as many other pastimes – draughts and bingo, for instance. I’m certain I’ve never seen flamingos, and we do keep out any sort of pests.”

She stood up slowly, her wrinkled dress now revealed as it fell loosely over her bony frame. It might have been a bright blue, some ages ago, but the color had long worn away. She reached down, taking up the plate with the cake and offering it.

“Won’t you have some? You’ll get a little surprise, I think.”

“Perhaps another time. Our driver should be quite anxious by now.”

“The time has come, the walrus said.”

I shake my head, deciding not to answer her odd comment. I hold her bony hand gently, guiding the frail lady over the safe patches of the cluttered carpet. As we reach the door frame, she takes one last look at her strange room. She then gestures to the watch, and I realize that I still hold it. I give it to her, and she pops it open again before me. She points to the panicking rabbit.

“Have you seen him? Always late, always in a rush.”

“Can’t say that I have, Ms. Liddell. Come now; follow me to a far better world than this lonely life here.”

Her wrinkled face radiates a wide smile as she finds something amusing in my words. As she allows me to take her hand and lead down the staircase, she chuckles softly.

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

“She Never Left Her Coffee” Writing Exercise

I’m going to try to do more writing exercises right here on this blog in the following weeks.

Today’s attempt is taken from a prompt in Chapter 1 of Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. It’s on Page 22 in the Second Edition, Exercise 7: “Write ‘My mother never …’ at the top of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going.

Here’s what I came up with:

—-

My mother never left her cup of coffee unfinished. Steam still rolls up from it as I pace around the coffee table. The moment replays countless times – I try to get Dad to let me ride with him, and he makes me stay home with Steve. Despite all the worlds my mind makes for my toys and daydreams, it won’t create one where I stay with her. Dad closes the ambulance door every time, leaving me to care for my brother.

Steve is just sitting there, though. Not even really watching the cartoons endlessly fight on the TV screen. Where else will he go? He’s not causing trouble now! I should be with Mom.

I pace. I replay. I wait.

A ring breaks the silence. I run to the stand next to the sofa and snatch the phone from the receiver before the first ring finishes.

Dad’s voice is calm. He says he won’t be home for a long time. He tells me to get Steve to bed. He doesn’t even tell me about Mom. He doesn’t have to. I remember when Grandma was in the hospital, and how he talked then. Grandma didn’t come back.

I hang up the phone. I look back to the steaming cup, and Mom is there. I jump, but she smiles at us, and I feel calm. Steve turns off the TV, and we both watch her silently.

“Thank you,” she says, “I know you wanted to come, but really – it’s quite boring. A lot of people asking questions, papers to sign – nothing you kids would be interested in.”

She takes up the cup of coffee, taking a long sip.

“Mom,” I ask, “You won’t come home?”

“No, dear. I’m going away. Dad will be alone – don’t let him cry too much.”

“Will we… will we see you again?”

Mom takes another long sip. She holds the cup low – one more sip left.

“I think so. Not for a long, long time, though.”

Steve and I both watch her. I see for the first time that Steve is crying, then I realize that I am, too. 

Just then, a headlight shines in through the living room window. The car stops, and Dad walks up to the door.

Mom takes the last sip, and then she’s gone. The door opens, and Dad walks in to see us before the empty TV screen, crying in our dazed stupor. 

“I’ll have to go back out,” Dad says, “I had to check – had to see how you were.”

He hugs Steve first, but stops as he reaches me. He points to the empty cup clasped in my shaking fingers. I notice that my lips and throat are burning with dull pain.

“Mom finished it. She always does. Right Steve?”

Steve nods silently. He turns his lip in the faintest smile, and I know he really did see her too.

Dad’s eyes narrow. Slowly, carefully, he nods. Steve takes the empty mug, and I hug Dad tightly.
 

Happy 2014 – Time for resolutions!

Time for Resolutions!

(Also posted as a response to the One-Minute Writer’s post for December 31)

Yup, time to use a completely arbitrary denotation of time to state vows that could be made any freaking time. Okay, so what the heck – here are my goals for 2014.

First and foremost is to publish the material I’ve been holding back from this blog. These are works of fiction that I want to see in the likes of Daily Science Fiction, but I doubt I’ll wait to see if they pass slush anywhere else – I want to try them on Smashwords, Amazon, and anywhere else I can self-publish.

One of these is currently in slush with Every Day Fiction, another is with Flash Fiction Online. I’ll see what each venue says. I’ve got 4 others at the same level of completion now – I’ll send them in to Daily Science Fiction first. DSF has a nice quick turn-around, and a nicely-worded automated rejection letter that doesn’t hurt my poor ego too much. Any that don’t get accepted there get revised and put into an e-book anthology that I’ll make nice and cheap.

Beyond that? Keep writing, but also start running my own prompts and writing exercises here on this blog. I had intended from the start for this blog to have resources as well as samples of my growth as a writer – time to get those resources out to the public!

Further ahead? I have to finish a novel. I’ve got two (very) rough drafts from NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2012 – I need to either revise one, or embark on a new one and get it DONE.

Can’t say much about any further than that – I think those resolutions will be hard enough!

One-Minute Writer – Ancient Life

This prompt over at One-Minute Writer asks about the job you see yourself having if you had lived hundreds of years ago.

My answer:

I could see myself as a travelling merchant. Wandering into shoddy inns and taverns, seeking the local gossip and learning which wares are most needed or popular.

At the same time, I’d take in so much of common folks’ lives. I’d have tales to share, which might even get me in good with the managers of the taverns I patronize. If I could read and write, I’d be writing up my tales on the side of all my work. If I couldn’t, I’d seek out the scribes of all the cities I visit – perhaps they’d find some interested eyes for my tales.

Today’s Author – Write Now Prompt for November 12

Today’s Author, todaysauthor.wordpress.com, has been featured on “Freshly Pressed”, and I really like the layout. They have a pretty big team of writiers, and they’ve gathered quite a following. Along with prompts, they’ve been giving out a lot of useful information, especially now, during NaNoWriMo season. I certainly be reading up on that, as I will indeed attempt NaNoWriMo a 3rd time (probably next year). Since I’m choosing to focus on flash & short fiction this year, it’s their prompts that I’m most interested in.

Here’s their prompt for November 12. I played loose with it, and this came out:

Joe, being who and what he is, sipped at ice cold milk while I heated up my heart with sweet caffeine.

“Storm’s a coming.” It wasn’t any question, but Joe nodded anyways.

“Should start Monday, right before dawn.”

“Won’t be all bad as the ice of ’97 or the snap in ’05, will it?”

He sighed. Edna popped over, topped up my cuppa, and I tossled her sweet grey curls, in that way only I can get away with.

“It’ll be a big one. I’ll need your help spreading the word.”

“I can get out all the old generators too, make sure all the big houses got one.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah. We’ll have to make sure Ol’ Saint Mary’s has at least three working. Going to need lots of beds too.”

“Sounds like ’97 all over again. Well, thanks to your warning, I reckon we got outta that a lot better than most.”

“Wish I could stop it. It’s all part of Mother’s cycle, you know that Miles?”

“You are what you are. I’ve known ya long enough to see that.”

“A very Old Man,” he said, getting up from his empty glass. Edna came over, and Joe put a fair wad of bills in her wrinkly old hand.

“Oh, Joe Snow!” She smiled, bless her heart, but she couldn’t hide the shiver that came with touching Joe. Joe looked at her sheepishly.

“It’s enough for all you’ll need to get through. Least I can do.”

Joe and I left Edna’s little place in town square behind, walking out in the middle of the street. This time of day, in our little old town, there ain’t no one who’s going to run you over or even complain.

We stood in the street, our grey hairs blowing about in the breeze building up. We looked out toward the low sun, away from the wind.

“I’d offer you a place to stay for the storm, but I reckon you don’t need it.”

“My home’s coming here. You’d best get to yours, Miles, and give your wonderful Delilah a good kiss. There’s time yet afterwards to get ready.”

“You do your best to tone down the winter, Old Man. Give my regards to your Mother – hell, give Her all of our regards.”

“I’ll shorten it, soften it as much as She’ll let me. Least I can do.”

More One-Minute Writing, and a Friday Flash Fiction contest entry

Over at One-Minute Writer, a Friday Flash Fiction Contest came up, along with prompts for Saturday and Sunday.

I e-mailed in my entry for the Contest – I won’t share that just yet. I liked the prompt, “Conversation Piece”, and I think I got a nice 800(ish) word piece out of it. With a bit of polishing, I think I could get it published on one of my other favorite Flash Fiction sites if it doesn’t win this contest.

Saturday’s prompt was simply “I don’t know” – and since I tackled it just after waking up, you get this response:

Where do dreams come from? Those ephemeral visions that play out through my mind in the hours of subconsciousness. Often pieces of stories jumbled into nonsense, but sometimes with narrative strands complete with climaxes and resolutions.

If I can remember long enough, I can understand what waking events led to some elements. Most parts are a complete mystery, pieced together by some deeply hidden facet of my sleeping mind.

Alas, as the dreams fade with the creeping in of sunlight, “I don’t know” is all that remains.

Sunday’s prompt was “Book”, and challenged the writer to describe a favorite childhood book. I wrote:

A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me. What a great name for a book, and what wonderful flights of nonsense it bore for my childhood. I read that book far more than any other, almost from the moment I could read. I can still remember two bits from it.

The title poem, about some poor bloke minding his own business and poof, he’s a post for some brute’s horse. The other was a bit about the Slithergadee, a sea monster terrorizing a beach full of cartoon animals. One confident rabbit says, “No you won’t catch me, old Slithergadee. You may catch all the others but you wo-” Great way to end a poem for kids!

Shortly after writing this, I discovered that the above poem was from none other than Shel Silverstein! The book A Great Big Ugly Man … is no longer in print, sadly. Old copies of it circulate, and they are not cheap – especially not if I order from here in Korea. Still, I may break down and splurge on it for my kids. It is a really funny and memorable book!

Sunday Scribblings – Prompt #394, “Poem”

Sunday Scribblings looks like another place I’ll get prompts. Sleep isn’t finding me tonight, so here I go with another writing prompt today.

The latest prompt as of this post is Poem, “The word that strikes fear into the heart of many a writer.”

Here’s the bit of nonsense that came out of my fingers:

A poem to me is a strange thing
I’ve heard many but never wrote mine
If I wrote one, would it break the rules?
Would it rhyme, would it have any reason?
Not only rhyme, but poems have meter
Numbers, patterns of syllables, right?

I only know what high school taught me
Poems were things we studied in depth
My mind never saw on that level
Metaphor, simile, subtext? Ha!
My writing is subtle like a brick!

Anywho, check out Sunday Scribblings. Their prompts are simple, but quite effective judging by the community involvement.