Tag Archives: Writing

[Matthew] Wade Avenue

The characters in this story are not based on real life people. Any similarity to a person living or dead is purely coincidental.

“It’s your fault, really,” Matthew’s doctor assured him.

Matthew stared from the one eye that wasn’t covered in bandages. He couldn’t see very far. The hospital was clear. Dr. Jonquil’s lab coat had a smudge on the collar, which was rumpled. Outside the window was just a blur.

“Do you have a headache?” Asked the doctor.

“Why is it my fault?” Matthew tried to get the words through the gauze on his face.

“What’s that?” asked the doctor.

“Why is it my fault?” Matthew repeated with all the volume he could muster.

“Oh, well, what did you think would happen when you bicycled into Wade Avenue when the light was red? You teenagers always think your immortal. I try to make a point of teaching you that that’s not true.”

A chill passed over Matthew. He tried to think of a clever way to confirm that Dr. Jonquil was not going to murder him, but as he tried to think, his head ached until he gave up. He said nothing.

“That didn’t come out right,” apologized the doctor.

“I do have a headache,” said Matthew.

“Come again?”

“I do have a headache,” Matthew shouted.

“Oh, that’s right. Good. You’ll just have to avoid concentrating on anything. Focus is the issue. You said you’re captain of the chess team?”

Matthew tried a stiff nod, the bandages keeping him from moving very far. The effort strained his neck.

“Yes. Don’t do any more chess until you’re recovered.”

“When will I be recovered?” Matthew shouted.

“You play the trumpet? Three year award winner in marching band?” The doctor moved between Matthew and the window to the blurry outdoors. The move made him a silhouette. Matthew nudged his head down. It didn’t hurt too much and seemed to get the point across.

“You shouldn’t do that anymore either.”

Matthew moaned.

“Are you focusing again? That’s not good. You need to heal.”

“When will I be healed?” Matthew shouted again. The doctor shrugged.

“Let’s see.” The silhouetted Jonquil had a clipboard in front of him, “You are second place statewide in wrestling and your coach credited you personally with carrying the team to victory in a regional lacrosse match. Voted most likely to win a tennis scholarship.”

Matthew groaned.

“What did I say? Just stop focusing. Let your mind wander. You’ll have to stop all those things of course. You’re lucky you even have legs after what you did. Take good care of them.”

Matthew couldn’t help himself, “When will they be healed?”

“Oh, I just can’t understand you at all” whined Jonquil, “you don’t really need all this over your mouth.” He reached for Matthew and yanked down the bandages.

“When will my legs be healed?” asked Matthew, grateful for the ability to be heard without shouting.

“Oh, who can say?” Jonquil answered, “maybe never.”

Matthew jerked up in his bed and cried out in pain at the sudden motion.

“Oh, don’t do that,” chided Jonquil, “probably not never.”

Matthew forced himself to relax and lay down again.

“eh, maybe not never.” Jonquil corrected.

Matthew brooded in silence. His head started to ache, but he resisted the urge to complain, lest Dr. Jonquil censure him again. “What can I do?”

“Just rest.”

“No, not to heal, what can I do at all? There doesn’t seem to be much.”

“Well, you can look out windows. Play games – simple games. Maybe after a few rounds of candy land you can try moving up to chutes and ladders. Read, but not anything too challenging,” he looked down at his clipboard, “I know you got a letter of thanks from the Goethe Society of North America for your Senior English class essay on Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, but have you heard of this lovely series ‘Amelia Bedelia?'”

“Doctor,” Matthew was losing his patience, “This isn’t ok. There are expectations of me. I’m about to go to college, and you can’t even tell me if I’m ever going to be able to concentrate again?”

“I wouldn’t recommend college at this point.”

Matthew ground his teeth together. Jonquil stepped closer.

“Matthew, sometimes we need to learn to accept who we are. We need to accept the limitations placed on us sometimes through no fault of our own, although in this case it is entirely your fault.”

Matthew said nothing and glared.

“Did you know when I was your age, no one thought I would ever be a good doctor?”

Matthew kept silent.

“I accepted my limitations, and now look where I am! Oh, hold on, did I give you the wrong IV solution?” Jonquil inspected the drip bag hanging above Matthew, “False alarm. It’s the right one. Ha ha!”

“All right, so think about what I said,” said Jonquil, “but not too hard. I need to go help my other patients. Here’s a nice window for you to look out of.”

Jonquil left the room and Matthew returned to looking out the window. He thought there was a tree out there. A green blur on top with a brown blur below it. He tried to get his eye to focus, but his head started to hurt. It was a piercing ache behind his forehead.

“Just because the incompetent doctor thinks you’ll never walk or think again doesn’t mean that’s the case.” Matthew said to himself. “Now, the first step to getting well is to do exercises to restore lost function. So if I make a list…”

Matthew groaned and clutched his head. He went back to looking outside at the green and brown blur that might be a tree.

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Wandering

“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.”

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings, Second Edition.

I use my blog mainly for experimentation. It is an opportunity to have a deadline, which forces me to make peace with something I might otherwise fret over for days and eventually discard. My blog has never been a place for meticulous work. From my own perspective, it has at times been a place of beauty, but that beauty is always the kind stumbled upon. Rather than the diamond cut painstakingly from the stone, it is the stone itself, that reflects the light of the sunset in an unusual and captivating way after a long day of aimless wandering. Over the roughly ten years I have maintained this blog, this latter is the beauty I have been better able to achieve.

In the background, I am struggling to create the former sort of beauty. I have spent years now on and off attempting to extract the diamond from my installment series The Cleaners and transform it into a real novel. In the meantime, my blog continues to meander. Sometimes it follows me to an interesting locale, or more often into my kitchen. Other times, it has ventured into far off lands or taken the role of untrustworthy adviser. I sincerely hope that no one has followed any of the advice in my “Sam’s Guide” columns. Sometimes it follows me through literal wanderings through whatever forest in which I find myself.

Those of you who are still with me on this journey, I hope that you continue to enjoy my blog. Coming up, I hope to renew the spirit of adventure where this all began with “Sam’s Japan Blog” in 2007. I can’t say exactly what this will entail. It may be that my blog will become weirder and harder to understand, but so be it. I shall wander, and if you wish to wander with me, I shall welcome the company.

Cursed [Free Writing]

“Fie!” Linde sniffed, tearing the meat from his pork loin. “If you say we must live among the poor then we must, but we needn’t eat like them.” I couldn’t believe the audacity of him to have his servant bring him his usual dinner during a pilgrimage of humility.

“Yes, we need,” I admonished. “If you’re going to eat that, at least share with everyone.” I gestured at the men and women sitting up from their beds of rags to stare.

“Hmph,” he grunted, tossing a bone in their direction.

“A bone isn’t enough if you’re going to beat that curse.”

Linde scowled, sunk his teeth into another mouthful of meat and looked away.

“Agh.” I looked back at the onlookers, “I’m so sorry, it’s just his curse that makes him act this way. He’s really a good person.”

The few not distracted fighting over the bone seemed unconvinced. Linde seemed completely absorbed in his supper.

“Let me undastand,” said one with matted hair and a lazy eye, “‘the curse makes ‘im a scoundrel so ‘es gotta lift the curse by not bein’ a scoundrel.”

“Yes.”

“That don’t seem fair.”

“Not really, no.”

“How long ‘as he been cursed?” asked a little girl carrying an armless, legless stuffed bear.

“As long as I’ve known him.”

“How did he get cursed?” asked the man.

“No one knows except the King. He won’t say.”

“So he’s cursed to be a scoundrel and the only way to lift the curse is just to learn not to be one, and he’s always had the curse and no one will say where it came from.” confirmed the man, exchanging  a glance with the little girl.

I glanced back at Linde, who was running his fingers on the gold plate and licking them.

“Is ‘e cursed to be a slob, too?” asked the little girl. I couldn’t tell if she was being serious.

“Ah,” I said.

“Do you think ‘e might jus’ be a normal scoundrel?” asked the man.

“Ah,” I hesitated, then I bent in close, “don’t let the king hear you say that.”

 

Prompt Writing – Pill to grant the powers of a god

Since I received such a positive response to my last prompt entry, I thought I would make a series of entries based on my old prompt responses. Enjoy!

Prompt

Give a story about a character who discovers that there is a pill to grant the powers of a god.

Response

“Hypothetically we therefore could postulate the existence of a pill that would grant such powers of said deity.” Professor Werner’s hair stood out from his forehead like a thin, grey halo. My eyelids were getting so heavy I had to hold my whole head up by propping it on my palm. Cryptopharmaceuticals was turning out to be even more dull and pointless than I had imagined, not that I had put much effort into imagining it when I had marked it as my second choice for freshman seminar. Chocolate factory studies had filled up, so I was here learning about hypothetical drugs.

Serene Peace’s hand shot up. She was one of those modern children whose parents had named her an adjective they hoped would describe her. It didn’t. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail so tight that I thought if someone bumped it the wrong way, it would all be torn out. She always looked like her mind was racing at roughly 100 meters per second, which in imperial units means she was crazy. Serene never waited to be called on before speaking. “Professor, do you mean that it already exists, or that it exists conceptually and could one day be manufactured?”

Professor Werner snorted at this. “Hphuf!” He then resumed his lecture. Serene’s eye twitched. Despite painstakingly cataloguing Professor Werner’s broad array of snorts, grunts, and huffs, she had only managed to conclude that not one of them was ever meant to answer her question. Serene shot her hand up again. Again she asked her question without being called on, although I don’t suspect she would be called if she did wait, so I couldn’t blame her. “Professor Werner, has anyone ever succeeded in making a deidryl tablet, or any of the medicines you’ve described in this course?”

“Fffuf!” Professor Werner admonished, “You, Miss Peace, might find you’re better suited to,” and he added an extra harrumph, “Hhhh-applied CccHemistry!”

I happened to know that chemistry was already Serene Peace’s planned major. That was twenty years ago. Now we all live under the benevolent hand of Serene Peace. It’s hard to say precisely what has changed about the world since she developed and consumed the first and only successful deidryl tablet, but its clear that it’s better. I wonder if she’s just changed all of us to have more positive perspectives. Sort of lame to have my free will so roundly and effortlessly disproven. I feel like I would have been grumpy about that once. Deidryl’s one heck of a drug.

 

Worst prompt night

Once upon a time I organized a writing night based around bad prompts. Each participant was expected to bring the worst prompt he or she could think of on an index card, then we would trade index cards and write to the prompts. Today I’ll share my prompt, the prompts I wrote to, and what I wrote.

My prompt

You are an accountant managing the finances of a small chain of delicatessens in the southeastern United States. A shipment of roast beef is on a southbound train starting at one hundred meters per second and accelerating fifteen meters per second squared. One hundred miles to the south is a northbound train accelerating from 50 meters per second at a rate of 10 meters per second squared. When the trains collide and 150,000 lbs of roast beef valued at $5 per pound before North Carolina’s 7.5% tax is lost. If your manager charges you 10% of the losses, how much money do you lose?

This prompt received some consternation, but I was fortunate in that no one actually tried to solve the problem, which I myself had not troubled to solve. Mostly, they just wrote stories about grumpy deli accountants.

Ethan’s prompt

Ethan offered three prompts and exhorted us to pick one. I wrote a prompt incorporating all three.

Pick a card

You’re wearing a great hat, but can’t describe it.

You’re having lunch with your favorite author – describe the bread

My response

I have the loveliest hat. I cannot describe it because I am under a non-disclosure agreement. I can tell you that I am wearing it because it is so gosh darn lovely. “Good morning, sir!” I say to a fellow hat-wearer. I can describe his hat, but I will not. It is less lovely by a substantial margin. Later in the day, I find a three of hearts stuck between the branches of a tree. It is a good sign. A sign that my meeting with George R. R. Martin will go well.

While meeting with George, a stellar fellow, I can’t help but notice the bread. It’s a thick, sour rye so flavorful it does not even need butter. I apply butter anyway, as does George, although I wish he would take better care of himself at least until he’s finished with his books. The bread is sweet ambrosia on my tongue. What majesty! What stellar, divine triumph! Luckier than the three of hearts, more lovely than my – well, let’s not get carried away.

In any case, when all the bread is gone, I open my mouth to tell George how much I appreciate his stark yet compelling portrayal of violent conflict, ha ha, no pun intended, when a waiter comes by with another dish of bread. What is this restaurant!? A spectacular complete loaf of LaFarm signature sourdough easily covers our entire small table. Out of concern for poor George’s health, I snatch it away and begin to, carefully, slowly, eat it all myself.

Lest my chance to speak to my hero be lost, I endeavor to speak between bites. “What is your inspiration?” I ask as I reach the one-quarter mark on my LaFarm loaf. George raises a finger to explain his secret to success when an olive-herb loaf, a pane caesarica, and a french loaf you could pole vault with are all wheeled out. Once again I strive to protect my mentor from early cardiac failure.

George R. R. Martin left that restaurant alive. For that, I am grateful. We shall see if some day I will get to leave, too. Just me, endless bread, and the most beautiful hat never described.

Ilya’s prompt

You discover that your identity was stolen by underpants gnomes

My response

I am underpants. I must be underpants, or else how could my identity have been stolen by underpants gnomes? Yet, how could I still know that I am underpants if my identity is lost to me? What is the nature of the undergarment persona? I call my bank to try and cancel my credit card. Our conversation is brief, exchanging tough security questions and responses like a pair of duelling boxers. Soon a new one is in the mail. I take one last look at my old card, the little picture of me, or is it me? Perhaps it is some person wearing white woolen long-johns who are me. I take it to the shredder.

It wreaks havoc on your life, to have your identity stolen and to be underpants. Those goddamn gnomes. I am locked out of my Amazon account. Even my laundry card is maxed out. Pairs upon pairs of me begin to pile up. With no way to clean them, they are dirty. I am dirty. I am underpants. I travel to the coin laundromat. People are staring at the walking underclothes. I feel exposed. Ashamed. What am I doing wandering the streets!? I should be covered!

I get a letter from the gnomes. They are not cruel. They will return my identity if I wire them twenty thousand dollars. Underpants cannot wire money. I drape myself carelessly over the couch. Maybe someone will find me, and with a curled lip of distaste, toss me into the hamper where I belong. Without my identity I am worthless. I have nothing. I am underpants.

 

Opening Lines

The opening line for my novel, the one based on my blog serial of the same name is probably not yet what it should be.

My memory of that day becomes clearer as the events become stranger.

It’s not a bad hook, but I think it’s too vague to serve for the whole novel, which is meant to do more than simply hold a reader’s interest. This line tells the reader (a)  the narrator is remembering things and that her memory is sometimes fuzzy, and (b) the events in the book are strange. (b) is true and worth communicating in an opening line, but probably not sufficient. (a) is utterly worthless, perhaps even misleading. Placing it in the first line suggests that fuzzy memories are a key element of the novel, which they are not.

What is the main theme, though? Robots are becoming as smart as humans, and their motives are as difficult to understand as they are counterintuitively mundane. The protagonist Diane has a dead husband Benjamin of whom she often thinks and whose death is mysteriously intertwined with the world in which Diane now lives.

I should not reveal too much, though. An opening line should not be a spoiler.

How about this?

Despite what people might think to look at me, I personally wasn’t around to see the plains of North Carolina and Kentucky rise into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the wintry glaciers retreat from modern day Wisconsin, the once prolific Montana bison driven to near extinction by a foe it would never understand. It’s the sort of change no one expects to live long enough to witness firsthand.

It all started with a change I may rather have died than live to see. One involving the little library off Old Fayetteville Road.

It’s certainly more epic. It clearly tells the reader “this is about the United States of America,” and I can work in references to the events in this line throughout the book as Diane visits these locations in her journey. It also says “the protagonist is old” and “something big is going to change in the universe of this book.” Also, there’s a library. It is a little odd, though, just how epic it is. I intend my book to describe a historic paradigm shift, but are the behavior of ice sheets, tectonic plates, and large mammals an appropriate allegory?

Despite what people might think to look at me, I personally wasn’t around to see the mule give way to the tractor. I didn’t witness the horse and buggy be replaced by the car, nor did I watch John Henry kill himself in a desperate bid to prove he was better than a drilling machine. A drilling machine that has certainly become ten times more powerful, cheap and efficient since. What I did see starts at a place that I thought would be the end of my story.

This probably has the opposite problem. It may be too on the nose, so to speak. It says “Machines are replacing people.” I don’t want to bash anyone over the head. Let them get into the story, then I can work them towards the more important points.

Probably the best thing to do will be to revisit this several times, especially after I have a first draft written of the whole book. Then I’ll have a clearer sense of how my theme comes together, which will help me craft the opening couple sentences. I also should keep paying attention to opening lines of other books.