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.
 

#FlashFriday – Accident

Photo Source: Me!
My pride took much more damage, and was more difficult to repair.

I wave back at Josh, pulling away slowly. The window zips up as I turn, cutting off the saltwater breeze from the ocean obscured by countless sprawling towers surrounding the side street. Once Josh’s smile has left my mirror, I hastily plug my smartphone into the audio deck, my ears eager to devour more of Pi Patel’s ocean odyssey. I smile as the narrator’s soothing take fills my ears, my hands handling the growing traffic evenly. Even long waits at red lights fail to bother me – some part of my mind savors each wait and the extra minutes of story granted. A green light, and a green arrow under it now shine ahead. I accept the arrow’s invitation, guiding the car left across the wide intersection.

A loud bang jars my rear right side. The steering wheel tears at my grip. For a fevered, breathless second, the back of the car inches into the oncoming lane. A klaxon sounds from a transport truck, slowing sharply as it grows to fill the frame of my windshield. My hands, knuckles white, fight the wheel, wrenching the car back into the proper lane just as the transport barrels past.

Shivering, I guide the car to the curb, berthing it next to a looming sign, forbidding any parking in angry red letters. A mad imagining passes my mind – a cop, face hidden under huge sunglasses, scrawling a ticket just to add further insult to my injured pride. I shake off the vision, and tear out the cable connecting the still-playing smartphone. Silence, followed by many shallow, shaky breaths of composure.

I’m out of the car, legs wobbling. A blue van is behind my car – it passed through my vision before, framed in my mirror in a mad instant as the car spun, but now I grasp its reality. The left headlight is caved in, it’s bulb shattered in small fragments still held in the empty cavity.

Then I turn to my rear bumper. It dangles, with one corner barely attached to the car. A black foam insert lies on the ground under it. Dazed, I circle my wounded car. A ragged concave gash consumes the rear left door, along with a few inches of space above the wheel. The taillight is gone, its glass scattered across the pavement in a trail of red fragments.

Something vibrates in my hand. I realize I’ve got my phone gripped tightly. I look, and my wife’s smiling picture looks back at me from the screen. The beefy driver of the blue van prowls toward me, anger stretched over his large face.Another vibration, and my fingers swipe and take the call, before my mind realizes it. My wife’s voice, in lyric Korean, asking where I am. The big man, a full head higher than me, stares down at her voice. A sigh escapes him, his frown softens. He pinches the phone between two sausage fingers, and I let him take it. He answers.

I follow the dialogue intently, mind working overtime as I decipher the rapid fire Korean. The man’s calm belies his momentary anger. Surprise dawns in me as I realize the man is claiming fault. He insists that his insurance will take on all damage to both vehicles.

A curt smile plays across his face as he presses the phone back to me. My wife’s voice is even and calm as she begins to repeat much of what I’ve heard in English. I assure her, in my ever-shaky Korean, that I understand the fine details.

A tow truck appears from around the corner, just as I hang up. I quickly turn my phone in my fingers, aiming its camera at the wounds to my car. I open the trunk, relief beginning to seep through my nerves as I see no damage within its confines. The big man helps as I rescue a backpack and my laptop’s shoulder bag from the trunk. My most needed items in hand, I’m left to watch as my car is pulled off to join other wounded vehicles in a repair shop.

A few awkward minutes of conversation leave me with the big man’s business card, insurance numbers, and license plate number. He points to an oncoming car as it pulls to the curb. My rental, a temporary car provided by his insurance.

We shake hands, and he climbs in to his van. I watch him pull away, moving with careful grace as he rejoins traffic.

A handsome young man is climbing out of the rental car. His English is flawless, but I only barely listen as I imagine myself at the wheel of this spotless vehicle worth twice as much as the one I’ve abandoned. Another call comes from my wife. My fingers answer again, pressing the ‘Speaker’ button as they do. My wife’s confident English assures me that I’ll be fine driving the rental. The young man smiles as he hefts my bags into the car, and then passes a key into my hand.

Behind the unfamiliar steering wheel, I glance at my smartphone. Pi Patel’s voyage might calm my jangled nerves, I think. I sigh, heart still slowing to its usual cadence, still recovering from that second after impact. No, that story will have to wait. I have my own voyage to finish.


At the start of this blog, I shared prompts from other sites, along with my responses to them. I’ll keep doing this on occasion, but I’m also planning to share revisions suggested by reader feedback – I hope that seeing my revisions can help readers as they improve their own writing.

This story is a response to the prompt on One Minute Writer for February 2, “Accident”. What I wrote was a fictional account of an accident I had in downtown Busan. I put up the #FlashFriday tag so I could join the fun of the FlashFriday.org community (and it’s still Friday by GMT, even though my own clock says differently). I’d love to hear what regular #FlashFriday participants have to say about this quick piece.

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.

Flash Fiction – Between the Cages

More short fiction this week, yay!

This piece is inspired by two posts from One Minute Writer: Dragons & Unicorns and Attack. I read both ideas on the same day – “What if there were dragons and unicorns wandering about?” and “Have you ever been attacked by an animal?” That crazy analysis and synthesis process that authors know too well happened and out came this piece:

Between the Cages

Sarah quickly hid the object in her hands, wiping away tears self-consciously as Brian approached. He smiled as warmly as he could manage, shaking slightly with anxiety.

“I brought you a little something.” He held his cupped hands before her. “Careful not to breathe on it.”

She turned up a skeptical eyebrow. Curiosity won her over, though, and she held out her hands. He moved to place the contents of his hands into hers, but switched tactics as her bare wrists poked through her light sweater. He carefully opened his hands, revealing the delicate thread within. He wrapped it around her left wrist, deftly tying it with a confident knot.

“I can’t take this! It’s … you’re giving me …”

“Unicorn hair,” Brian nodded, “You didn’t get to see her, so I thought I’d give you this.”

“Oh Brian I can’t – you’ll never get another. I couldn’t …”

“Hey, now, let’s not get all emotional,” Brian said, redness burning through his acne-spotted face, “It’s a trade. I want you to get me something from the other cage.”

“From the dragon?”

“Oh, it’ll be a cinch. He sheds his scales all the time – I just want one of those.”

Brian nodded up at a TV screen mounted on the wall above the large waiting room. Public service ads were running on loop, endlessly reminding patrons of the rules for visiting the cages at either exit. 

A grainy CCTV recording showed the dragon’s pen, littered with discarded scales the size of hubcaps. A lanky teen crept into view, carefully picking up one of the scales, and then turning to run away. Flame scorched across the pen as a football-sized fireball slammed into the poor boy’s back. He screamed, dropping to the ground and writhing. A large lizard darted across the screen, and the scene cut to black just as the thing clamped down on the teen’s head with its toothy mouth. Large text dominated the blackness – THE DRAGON KNOWS. DON’T TEMPT FATE.

“He’d smell my purity and have me faster than I could blink. But you’re not … well, you know.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” Sarah rolled her eyes.

A gaggle of frat boys then strode through the thick curtain covering the exit to the dragon pen. The tallest and bulkiest guy was instantly recognizable – Simon, the star quarterback.

“Let’s see your scales, folks!” He proclaimed loudly. Various people sitting on the soft benches or admiring the colourful portraits of previous dragon and unicorn occupants of the zoo turned to glare at him.

The jocks proudly held up hard, dark green scales of various sizes – incontrovertible evidence that they had achieved that coveted naked contact for which every young man quested.

“Hey, I wonder who had to settle for the unicorn?” He made a show of looking around the room, shading his eyes in a pantomime of searching about. The students waiting among other park patrons laughed uncomfortablely. Sarah shifted, but before she could move away, Simon found her with a beaming glare.

“Well I know you didn’t.” He winked lecherously, getting a smattering of ooohhhs from his group.

“Yeah, it was a great time,” Sarah said, “All two minutes of it.”

Brian joined the light laughter at the quip, catching himself only after Simon turned on him.

“I bet the unicorn just loved you, Brian,” he said mockingly, “Hoping she’ll help you see the dragon?”

Brian’s face reddened as he stammered. He felt the weight of glares from all corners of the room.

“What are you talking about?” Sarah asked loudly. Brian felt a thick weight pressed into his palm as she secretly passed him the thing still hidden in her hand. “Why don’t you show them, Brian?”

Brian ran his thumb over the object’s smooth surface and rough round edge, quickly realizing what it was. Slowly, with an improvised flourish, he produced the small scale for all to see.

When?” Simon asked in mock astonishment, “Who with? Sarah?”

“Maybe,” Sarah said with a small smile. She then held up the wrist with the unicorn hair, drawing wide-eyed stares from any close enough to see it. “Or maybe I fixed him up with someone. We’ll never tell.”

Playing off her casualness, Brian mimed a zipper across his sealed lips.

“He … he actually …” Simon stammered, his face an even deeper red than Brian’s had been.

With the eyes of his group on him, Simon quickly shook his head. Ever the showman, he snapped out of his embarrassment, leading a comical slow clap among those watching.

“Come on then, let’s go find some other unicorn-lovers,” Simon announced to his group. Laughing away the awkwardness of the previous moment, they followed him out of the center exit into the main plaza of the zoo.

“Why him?” Brian asked when they were alone and free from the eyes of the surrounding patrons.

“Ha!” Sarah snorted, “I’ve asked myself enough times. When I saw the unicorn, there were too many others in her cage – we each got a quick pet before the keeper forced us out. Simon promised to give me his unicorn hair, one night after he’d won a game and I had too much beer in me.”

“And he never paid up,” Brian concluded with a nod.

“When you just … gave me yours … I couldn’t believe it.”

Brian simply shrugged. “Couldn’t stand to see a good-looking girl cry.”

Sarah’s smile stretched wide. “You’re not trying to … you know.”

Brian shook his head. “I might like to see the unicorn a few more times.”

She reached over, clasping the hand that still held the green scale. “I might just wait.”

 

Flashy Fiction Prompt for November 19 – Here Comes the Sun

I’ve been checking out the Flashy Fiction blog for a while now, and one of their prompts struck a chord with me yesterday.

The post Here Comes the Sun asks readers to post about commuting on a sunny morning. Inspiration hit me, and I ended up with 800+ words about driving on 2 different mornings, with a 3rd one entering the narrative at the very end. It’s just slice-of-life, really, and an experiment in jumping between different threads in a story.

Here’s what I came up with:

Monday

I clench my eyes shut, trading the glare for an angry green blotch on my retina. My eyes slowly open, focus returns. Green LCD proclaims 7:15 from the dashboard. So much for getting out before 7.

Tuesday

The light flicks off with the slam of the door. My teeth chatter as the engine fires into life. A small smile finds me as a ray pokes through the grey horizon ahead. I check the clock. 6:40. I ought to get a good parking space today.

Monday

A convoy of cement mixers and dump trucks crawls ahead of me. The turn signal clicks away as my eyes scan the left lane and the unbroken stream of cars in the mirror. I drum my fingers on the wheel, curse under my breath, turn up the radio. Something heavy and fast drives through the speakers, electric guitar blaring. Good music for racing. Too bad I’m moving slower than I jog.

Tuesday

I’m singing with the raucous chorus of metal blaring through my speakers. I even have the singer’s slight southern twang as I mimic his rough voice. I veer to the right just as the tunnel opens, avoiding the truck crawling in the left of the darkness. I quickly pass through the dark, and sunlight greets the corner of my eye. I take the downward twist of the off ramp, speedometer hovering just upward of the recommended limit. I grin stupidly at the tug of centripetal force. Or is it centrifugal? Damn science classes. I let out an audible giggle as the car rights itself. Only a couple of blocks now. I smile into the sun’s light, absentmindedly pulling down the blind above my forehead.

Monday

Morning sun bathes asphalt at the end of the tunnel ahead. My knuckles whiten around the steering wheel. I just had to get into the left lane, didn’t I? The brightness grows, resolving the greys and blacks of the cars consuming the right lane. I emerge into light, slowing even as the freight truck behind me eats the inches between us. No space opens in the tight crawl to my right. A klaxon cuts across the morning as the truck brakes, a hairsbreadth short of plowing into my car. More angry horns blare as I stifle the morning’s flow. I glare over at the right lane exit. If I leapt from the car, I could cross that space in a few strides, run cackling with the sun at my back, and reach the office in a few short minutes.

Tuesday

The end spot, the closest to the door, is open before me. My car glides in, halting at last with a ratcheting of the handbrake. I’m still singing softly as I pull the keys out, grab my bag, and close the door.

In the wide, empty foyer, the elevator opens quickly. My reflection greets me in the mirror on its back wall, and I sing under my breath as I’m whisked upward.

Monday

I drag my car down into the depths. Passing by cars packed into tiny spaces, I come at last to two consecutive empty spaces. I back in sharply, the car shaking as the rear wheel hits the parking block.

I tear my keys from the ignition and snap up my bag. The slam of the door rebounds from concrete walls. I storm through the cold, sunless confines of the basement. I jab at the button next to the bare metal doors of the elevator. When it finally opens, I stand with the mirror to my back, glancing away from the miserable face I see there.

The office bustles. Blinds are drawn, allowing busy workers to clearly see everything on their monitors without competition from the sun. I nod in polite return to any who bother to greet me. I find my desk, and sit at last. I drag the laptop out, opening it. I turn a wistful glance to the light poking around the screen in front of the large window.

Tuesday

Sun pours in through the large window of the shared office. I bask in its warmth as my laptop faithfully wakes from its slumber. I sigh as the sound of the elevator door opens, signaling the impending end of this moment of serenity. A small group of co-workers filters in through the door, and I turn my relaxed smile in greeting.

Wednesday

I adjust the mirror, removing the glare of the sun behind my car. The clock reads 6:55. Good enough. Should be some spaces left above ground. I start the engine, and click on the radio. Here Comes the Sun. Thanks for that one, Mr. Harrison. A turn brings the sun’s light to the corner of my eye. Calm seeps through me as I softly sing along.