Three Hundred Seventy Two Words, and Not a Sequitur in Sight

[For our holiday party this year, my writing group engaged in a collaborative story exercise. In a scene reminiscent of The Lottery save for the ritual execution, all nine of us drew numbers from a box, and added a paragraph to our effort, which is reprinted in its entirety below. We reserve all North American publication rights; anyone interested in film rights can contact our agent, when we find one.]

As the sun broke through the clouds on this fall day, Katherine rode her bike to school. She met her friends in the hallway before the bell rang.

But as she looked up she saw the disapproving look of Susan. Susan never liked Katherine after the girl came between Susan and Katherine’s father, Fred. Susan had been Fred’s love for the past 3 years.

Susan apparently had never heard the rumors surrounding Fred, or she would never had become involved. Fred was also dating Joyce, a hottie he’d met at the zoo.

But Fred’s main rival for Joyce was Mark — a villainous beast of a man who loved to stalk older librarians, like Susan — who had no idea that Mark was stalking both her and her rival, Joyce.

Meanwhile, Tim had been quietly observing all this debauchery and thought to himself, “This is it… this is the material I need to to finally write my best-selling speculative fiction paranormal romance novel!” Tim locked himself in his closet with his laptop and a two liter of Diet Coke and didn’t come out until he had written 250,000 words — a target word count given to him by his writing critique group friend, Ken. Then he called Ken and asked, “Hey, what’s your best advice on writing a sex scene?”

Ken, who was somewhat of an expert on the subject, knew just what to tell him. First, he advised, don’t rush the scene; take plenty of time; give good descriptions; lots of emotion, tons of emotion, refer to your personal experiences and when in doubt check with your writing group friend Lisa who Joyce had confided in and had told her all about Fred and his best friend Mark.

Lisa came into the room and said, This is all so disgusting, you guys are in elementary school! She then pulled Tim out of his closet, and when Ken came to help him, she shot them both. Katherine then rode her bike to the house where she found the bodies.

Meanwhile, Marlene who is Lisa’s mother called Mark to meet and enjoy each other’s genitalia.

Shaking his head, Aaron put down the manuscript. “There’s two words I never wanted to see in the same sentence — Mark, and genitalia.”

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What, Where, and When

Been a while since I’ve posted an update, and I didn’t want anyone to think I’ve disappeared:

  • The update to chapter 8 of Gray Metal Faces should be completed by the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo on Friday. This project has been largely successful, and my progress has inspired me to update the ninth and final chapter in December and January.
  • For the past several months, I’ve been teaching at a community college. Once the semester ends a few weeks from now, I’ll post about my experience there, and explain why I’ve yet to comment on teaching in this blog.
  • My non-fiction writing has been stagnant for far too long, primarily because I’ve been so focused on teaching. I’ll have more to say on that as well in the coming weeks.

Since deciding to trust my instincts, life has been predictably unpredictable. I’m still learning how to make this new life work for me, but I’ve never been more certain about my decision.

Review: All the Missing Girls

In literature, there’s a distinction between concept and gimmick. A concept is an overarching idea or structure that makes a novel unique and memorable, while a gimmick is a cheap hook designed to get the reader’s attention.

Megan Miranda’s 2016 novel has an intriguing structure — after the opening chapters sets the scene, introduces the characters, and presents the complication, the plot then progresses two weeks in reverse, each chapter devoted to the day before its previous. It’s a concept rooted in the philosophical belief, introduced in the novel by a quote from Kierkegaard: life must be understood backwards.

This concept only works if details are presented fairly — in other words, if a character uncovers information in day eight, that character should know that information three chapters earlier in day eleven. Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t work in the novel; too many times, I couldn’t help thinking if a character knew what we later learned she already knew, her later actions would be different. In other words, the structure of “All the Missing Girls” is more a gimmick than concept.

Which is unfortunate, because it is an engaging mystery, with characters who are likable because of their flaws. Nicolette, the first-person narrator, struggles to discover the fate of two missing friends while also coming to terms with her own past. The men in her life — her current boyfriend (Everett), former lover (Tyler), and brother (Daniel) — offer their assistance, yet also provide significant obstacles to her search. The author’s metaphors can be memorable at times (“People were like Russian nesting dolls — versions stacked inside the latest edition.”), and her suspenseful scenes are true page-turners. Miranda is a talented author, and I would definitely consider reading her subsequent novels.

I just wish “All the Missing Girls” had been told in a conventional format. Unfortunately, its gimmicky structure is a distraction.

Good and Tired

Made myself get up early on a Sunday and work on my revision of chapter 8. Completed the first of four new scenes that will appear in the middle of that chapter. After I’m done with those, then it’s on to minor revisions of the chapter’s beginning, then major revisions, including one more new scene, to its conclusion.

Yeah, it was hard to drag my ass out of bed this morning, and there’s something to be said for getting adequate rest. But I can’t be afraid of being tired. The image of the leisurely writer, composing at ease while sipping a cool drink, is a dangerous myth that I’ve too easily fallen for. If the only way to make this career work is to be good and tired, then fire up the coffee maker.

NaNoWriMo 2018

For a number of reasons I may (or not) explain at some point, I haven’t been blogging lately. I’m hoping that, with this new fiction project I’m announcing today, I’ll be posting here more often.

For NaNoWriMo 2018, I’ll be updating the eighth chapter of my fencing novel, Gray Metal Faces. Those updates will be made on a separate, private blog, and I’ll be posting updates on my progress here.

Been a while since I’ve committed to a project of this size, and with my other obligations (in other words, all the things that have kept me from blogging) I’m not sure how I’m going to pull this off. But today isn’t about worrying. It’s enough to state my intention, and let this announcement serve as inspiration to find a way to get this job done.

Natural Conversation

When is she coming?

“As soon as she arrives,” I tell the seashells.

Will we control her again?

“Don’t be silly — we cannot control anything,” I remind the sponges.

Then how can we be sure she’ll do as we wish?

“Do you look at her as she manicures us?” I ask the driftwood. “There is joy in her face.”

But what makes her work so hard on our behalf?

I sigh at their lack of understanding. “Because it’s in her nature.”

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest that’s a whole mess of fun

One Man’s Garbage

Gabfrab writes an irregularly recurring series of first-person tales about a homeless hedonist in Austin Texas. His latest story is about a racoonish search for food that, shall we say, doesn’t come out right. The ending reminded me of my youthful days assembling models of rocket ships in my family’s basement; took me years to realize why working with rubber cement made me feel so content.

Recharging the future

As the number of electric vehicles and other battery-operated machines increases, one significant question remains largely unanswered — what will happen to these batteries after they are no longer usable?

There’s general agreement that batteries, with their efficient yet toxic mix of minerals and chemicals, are not good candidates for landfills. Ideas are being pursued to re-use car batteries as stationary energy sources for charging stations and low-power devices such as street lights, but even optimistic estimates grant another decade or two of use for the batteries. Harvesting the battery components is certainly possible, although there is debate over the cost effectiveness of this process. In other words, by around 2030 there could be an enormous amount of batteries that will be neither usable nor disposal.

Or perhaps not. Industrialists, who tend to look at the profitability rather than environmental impacts of issues, see the income potential in the battery disposal/recycling market, if for no other reason than having plenty of material on hand. And while national governments in recent years have backed away from alternative energy investment, voters remain committed to the technology. My gut feeling is that within four or five years, innovative solutions will be developed to lessen, although not eliminate, the impact these dying batteries will have on the environment and the economy. This is one of the more significant technological challenges of our time, but I’m optimistic a solution will be found.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Call it the Principle of Uncommon Cognomen. If a book or movie (or in this case, both) has an unusual name, there can be no middle ground — it will either be as embarrassing as its title, or cool enough to justify its unique appellation.

Fortunately, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a solid film. Based on a 2008 historical novel, the movie takes place during the 1940s on the island of Guernsey, located in the English Channel and occupied by Germany in the second world war. Juliet Ashton, a writer who achieved fame during the war, visits the island and its oddly named literary society in 1946 after being contacted by one of its members. Ashton learns the society served as a resistance to the Germans, and discovers a secret the society would rather not have her reveal.

The film works on a number of levels. As historical fiction, it sheds light on an obscure theater of World War II, and creates empathy for the island residents who chose not to evacuate in advance of the Germans. Ashton, adroitly played by Lily Adams, is an engaging character who functions well as the audience’s guide to Guernsey and its mysteries. She also struggles with her recent engagement, and while the audience can see the resolution to this storyline early in the second act, Adams is a strong enough actress to make this part of the film seem genuine.

The film was released in theaters in Great Britain, but evidently believing American audiences were adverse to characters speaking in British accents, it is only available on Netflix in the United States. That’s a shame, because the wide shots of the Guernsey coastline are best appreciated on a large silver screen. But even when restricted to the narrower width of your home television screen, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” demonstrates that a film with the most unusual of titles can still be unusually good.

Peril

A recent story from Derek Alan Wilkerson demonstrates the peril of writing from a child’s perspective. The narrator attempts to convey thoughts from just before his fourth birthday, but instead of that kid’s voice, we hear the opinions of a cynical and not terribly insightful adult. A third-person narrative might have worked better.