Tag Archives: pass the prose

When You Know It’s Bad


Ira Glass from “This American Life” describes one of the biggest struggles any creative professional has to deal with. We know what makes an awesome work of art, but our beginning attempts can’t seem to reach the standards we hold ourselves to. We try and try, and we know it’s not good enough. So what do we do?

As a writer, it’s important to persevere, no matter how hard it seems. The strategies listed below are more like vital parts of a balanced writing life. When one area falls, the equilibrium of creativity falters and crumbles.

Write 

The most important thing to do as a writer is to write. That seems obvious, but many writers get lost in the editing loop, in which they limit their production by continuously editing what they have already written. Every novel you write requires time to create freely and brainstorm through prose without limitation. You might realize halfway along that you’re going to rewrite most of what you’re typing, but that’s the point. Every draft involves a rewrite in some way, big or small. Too many writers think every draft has to be a cohesive story, with everything covered from beginning to end.

Let me tell you now – that’s impossible on the first try.

Talented writing involves stacking layers of drafts and weaving threads together. The more you write, the more skill you acquire. Ira says to increase your volume of work, and I wholeheartedly agree. When I was younger, my dad told me to “practice, practice, practice.” While I always rolled my eyes, I knew he was right. Writing more, and writing often, will keep you in good shape. 

Read

Ira also talks about having taste. Most writers have a taste in prose because they have been reading for a long time. It’s essential to keep reading, to keep exploring new ideas and concepts to keep up with changing trends and standards. While increasing the volume of what you write, also increase the volume of what you read. A delicate balance between the two will keep your creative soul well fed.

Relax 

It’s important to read and write, but creating stories is mentally taxing. Take time to breathe and enjoy life. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that while you’re relaxing, ideas start flowing in. Sometimes just letting go is all you need to work through a plot hole, character crisis or query letter. 

Create

Being creative in other ways, whether it’s painting, dancing, singing or Jazzercising, can help keep your mind in shape. Writers need to express themselves in some way, and break the barrier between thought and expression. Freeing yourself, and opening yourself up to ideas, makes it much easier to work through a draft. 

Socialize

Most people think writing is a solitary profession, but it really isn’t. After all, writers do what they do so they can connect with readers. Writers work for their audience. Writing groups and conferences are essential to professional growth and craft knowledge. As terrifying as it is to expose your craptastic first drafts to someone, conversing, critiquing and empathizing can greatly help you in your journey.

I hope you are as encouraged by Ira’s video as I was. It’s a hard journey, but it’s a worthy one. And remember, no one can write your story better than you.

– Dani Nicole

How to Reach Level FANGIRL PRO

scarfI had a Harry Potter themed Christmas. Yeah, you read that right. My mancrush categorized his gifts to me due to the obscene amount that I fangirl over Harry Potter. Such treasures of love have inspired this instructional post on how to appropriately fangirl.

  • Read the book. Don’t watch the movie until you’ve read the book. Otherwise you’re not a genuine fangirl, and societies of fangirls everywhere will cast you aside, leaving you to knit your Gryffindor scarf in solitude.
  • Write a review of the book. Log on to Goodreads and gush about how much you like this character and how much of a douche bag the villain is, and how you will never know how ___ could make a choice between those two dreamy guys.
  • Start discussions on Goodreads, conversations in elevators, and downright debates, always defending the honor of your beloved characters. Always prove that what you’re fangirling over far surpasses what everyone else is fangirling over.
  • Find your people. Casually drop your favorite book title in conversation and gauge the reaction on a scale of 1 to 10. If the reaction is 1, “What the hell is that?” then don’t befriend that person. If you get a 5 “I saw the trailer for the movie,” then you might have an ally. But it takes a true 10, “Girl where have you been all my life?” to tightly knit your new friendship.
  • Make your favorite fictional world your actual world. Fill your life with mementos of your favorite places, worlds and characters. Perhaps if you get that Harry Potter wand remote control, you’ll start to feel like you’re actually at Hogwarts. Or if you put enough Cheshire Cats on your walls, you’ll feel like you’ve fallen into Wonderland.
  • Fill your closet with obscure shirts that only true fangirls would understand.
  • Get everyone who wants to remain in your life addicted to the books you’re addicted to.

After those seven easy steps, you will officially level up to FANGIRL PRO. It’s not a journey for everyone, but for those who are called to book geekery, it’s an important task.

How do you fangirl? Or boy?

-Dani Nicole

Dani and the Mid-Draft Crisis

writing-520x359Last December Dani had a crisis. She didn’t buy a new car or get her cartilage pierced. She simply stared at her second draft, halfway complete, and panicked. Was the voice too modern? Did it fit her story world? Dani didn’t know, and she began to doubt her writing powers.

She fretted over coffee with friends, the steam of the java doing nothing to clear her writer’s sinuses. She played with ideas of rewriting the whole thing, of ditching the manifestation of many nights of insomnia, too much caffeine and bursts of creative inspiration. Though she poured her heart into her manuscript, for a weak moment she thought of throwing it all away.

That’s what doubt can do.

It destroys writers, trapping them in a constant cycle of rewriting. They have to make their manuscripts perfect. Have to. They can’t move on, or sleep, or enjoy life until their creation is absolutely flawless.

It’s so easy to listen to the panic that constantly orbits below the surface. So how did Dani beat her mid-draft crisis? She started to understand that being a writer means trusting her own intuition. She discovered that writing groups are fantastic and absolutely necessary, but staying connected with the heart of her story was vital for her writing health.

Dani realized this was her story – her masterpiece. There were no hard and fast rules. She only had her creative mind and her knowledge of the writing craft to guide her. The answer she so desperately sought for those long days was always in her own heart. Finish the manuscript.

Just finish.

Flash Fiction Friday

In Polite Company, by Hannakin and Mr--Jack, deviantART

In Polite Company, by Hannakin and Mr–Jack, deviantART

Obsolete

by Paige Duke

“You know Mom and Dad are going to toss her out and get a new one, right? I mean, I won’t need her, but you will of course,” Tabi said in that new haughty tone she’d been trying out on her sister.

“Toss her out? What do you mean?” Evi squeaked, sounding shaky.

Lonnie stood at the door to the playroom, just out of sight where she’d stopped at the sound of her name.

“You’re so dumb, Evi. She’s old. She can barely do anything anymore without breaking. Her bug eyes are creepy. And she smells—she’s so rusty it’s all flaking off and stinking up the house.”

Blinking her big “bug eyes”, Lonnie looked down at her joints, where her once-shiny green paint was turning orange. She’d noticed her rusty bits, but she hadn’t thought they were that bad, and she wouldn’t know about it smelling, of course.

Evi’s sniffles drifted out from the playroom.

“Well, it’s nothing to cry about!” said Tabi. “A new one will be so much better. You’ve only ever had Lonnie, so you don’t know. The newest NannyBots have all kinds of built-in games, ones you’ve never heard of before, they do sports and music with you, you’ll see.”

Lonnie waited only long enough to be sure Tabi wasn’t picking a fight with her sister before she backed away. She went the long way around to the girls’ room so they wouldn’t know she’d heard.

Not that it matters.

Because she would get tossed out, she knew. She had a purpose, she’d served it, and soon they wouldn’t need her.

The girls’ room was tidy, just as she’d left it. Their beds on either side of the room were made—Evi’s draped in a pink, lace coverlet, Tabi’s in a new pale grey comforter. She was too old for all that baby stuff, she’d told her mother. The shelves were tidied and dusted. And now for the laundry.

Lonnie clunked to the dresser and dropped the basket. The girls’ mother would be pleased; she was always kind to say that Lonnie was doing good work, though she could see the woman was impatient—she had a taste for novelty. And Tabi was right about that. Lonnie was old. And she did break easily now. So she would be more careful.

Not that it matters.

It was only prolonging the inevitable.

Sometimes she thought of the days when she was new, when her programming was nimble and quick and self-correcting. She could fix anything then, solve the family’s problems before anyone even realized them, could impress the girls with her jokes and the tea parties she set for them and the stories she pulled from her internal library.

There was a feeling there. Her generation had such little capacity for feeling … she searched to identify it. I miss it, she thought. Yes, that was it. She couldn’t go back, only forward, and it saddened her. Now she understood why that phrase kept coming to her: Not that it matters. But then why did she still feel it did?

Lonnie grew comfortable in the motions of putting away the girls’ small folded things, trying to make sense of the words and feelings that came to her.

Then she heard one of the girls crying from across the house. She stopped to listen, decide if she should intervene. After so many years with those two, it was nearly instinctual. How she loved them.

Could she call it love?

Of all her feelings, it was the strongest, the most she could feel.

She decided she could call it love.

The cries grew louder, closer, and Lonnie was surprised when she realized it was Tabi crying, coming to find her. The child burst into the room, tears stained her face, and blood dripped down her outstretched finger.

“Lonnie!” she cried, coming close. “I stabbed my finger on my ruler, it’s bleeeeding,” she wailed.

Lonnie took the girl’s finger in her hand. She had always noticed how soft their skin was, how warm it felt against her own stiff and cold metal. Tabi looked up at her, she was still such a child.

Effortlessly, Lonnie flipped her med panel over and pressed the girl’s tiny injury to the glass. With a swipe of light, the wound was clean and sealed, as if it had never happened.

“Good as new,” she said.

But Tabi didn’t hear, she was already bounding back out the door.

The Trade-In

By Dani Nicole

It’s been a year since we got our Dadbot. It was Isabelle’s idea. She’s younger, going through that pre-teen phase where Dad just seemed like an annoying resident of our household, hell-bent on destroying her social life and fashion choices.

She saw a commercial for the new line of Dadbots and came running down the hallway, catapulting into my bed.

“Personal space,” I said, flipping the page of my Cosmo magazine.

“Kiera, look. Look.” She slapped a paper ad into my hands that she’d printed from the Internet. “The new Dadbots are on sale, and they have upgrades. Upgrades Kiera. Do you understand what this means?”

“Come on Izzy, dad’s not that bad.”

“Last week he set my crop tops on fire… in the kitchen. That’s not even legal.”

I roll my eyes. “Well what were you thinking showing off your skin? You knew he’d lose it.”

“They’re in style Kiera. Don’t you ever get out?” She slaps the ad back into my hand. “Think about it.”

After months of Izzy’s persisting, I finally gave in. After all, my friends were all upgrading to Dadbots and they got away with all kinds of stuff. Sneaking out at night. Riding in cars with guys who were a lot older. Maybe having a Dadbot wouldn’t be so bad. Though I couldn’t think of a single guy who’d want to ride in a car with me.

When they delivered our Dadbot, they took our real dad to a vacation home in Hawaii. They sent us pictures of him sipping from an umbrella straw on some sunny beach. He’d be okay. And when we booted up our Dadbot and he gave us each $50, I decided Izzy and I would be okay too.

Dadbot was great. We didn’t have a curfew. Izzy wore whatever she wanted. She could be hormonal and yell and scream and the only person who had a problem with it was me. I’m sure she wished they’d developed Sisterbots.

Things were looking up. I enjoyed my freedom as well, mostly using it to stay at the library all night, which worked out in my favor. There was a hot librarian assistant who took to me and showed me around the library I had so long ago already memorized.

He offered to drive me home one night so I wouldn’t have to take the bus. We hesitated in the driveway as the moon shone down on us. Wes, the hot librarian assistant, reached for my hand, and when I gave it to him he grabbed my knee instead.

“Whoa,” I said, thinly hiding my nervousness.

He slid his hand further up my thigh and I reached out to stop it.

“What are you doing?”

“Just showing you a good time,” he said, smiling.

I heard the front door open, and Dadbot wheeled out to the driveway, pausing near our open window.

“Is everything okay Kiera?” he asked in his robotic voice.

“It’s okay Dadbot.”

That should have shooed him away, but he stood still. Wes smiled and kissed my bare knee.

“I think something is the matter,” Dadbot said.

“We’re fine,” Wes said. “Go reboot somewhere.”

“I cannot do that.”

We both looked up. Dadbots always did what we told them.

“You can go reboot,” I said, thinking he needed it to hear it from me.

“I must protect Kiera.”

“Get lost Short Circuit.” Wes’ kisses rose higher up my leg. I squirmed.

“Get the hell off her, dirtbag,” Dadbot said.

Before I could register what was happening, a fist punched through the open window and wrapped around Wes’ throat. The bare fist was coming from beneath Dadbot’s exterior, which was now ripped.

“What the heck?” I asked.

Dadbot released Wes’ throat, and Wes scrambled out of the car and ran away. Dadbot returned his fist to his broken exterior, and began to pull it away. There underneath the façade of a robot, was my actual dad.

“You okay, Kerbear?”

Tears escaped and I couldn’t slow my racing heart. I was furious, furious that they’d given us our real dad instead of our Dadbot. But I was also kind of grateful that he’d saved me from Wes’ wondering lips.

“I’m okay, Dad.”

He opened the door and helped me out of the car. We lingered on the doorstep.

“Izzy is going to be so pissed,” I said.

“Should I keep hiding out as Dadbot?”

“Just for a day or so, then scare the crap out of her at the right moment. She’s getting annoying these days with all that freedom.”

Dad chuckled.

“It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Sorry about trading you in.”

“Then I would have missed the look on that guy’s face when I started choking him.”

We laughed together as he wrapped his arms around me. And in that moment I realized a real dad hug was so much better than a Dadbot hug.

Flash Fiction Friday

Happy Halloween!

Theme: Creepy, Scary, Eerie

The Mystic’s Price

By Paige Duke

I hope to God nobody sees me here, I keep thinking while The Mystic takes her sweet time. She’s been in that back room for ages, all to get me the little magic pill. I mean really, how hard can it be? Unless she’s like, back there making it from scratch. But that would be some weird, creepy voodoo, right? Joan didn’t say anything about that—“Just go and see The Mystic, you know that tiny shop on the strip. I thought it was all just nonsense before, but I swear that happy pill she made me is working like a charm! I’m down twenty pounds and I just won my Mary Kay Cadillac!”

Ok, this is stupid, I’m leaving. I’ve got my hand on the doorknob when three of my students walk by outside. I twirl out of sight, praying they weren’t looking.

Light splinters on the far wall, there’s a cabinet of weird little glass figurines I didn’t notice when I came in. I duck beneath the windows, and move to get a better look. They’re all human, incredibly detailed, like someone froze time and shrunk ordinary people. Some of them are beautiful and serene, but some look just positively tortured. This one woman is crouched and burying her face in her hands, I want to put my arm around her and tell her I know what she’s feeling, promise her that things can get better. I’d tell her I know what it feels like to try anything to be happy again.

I hear The Mystic shuffling in the back room, so I return to my chair. What is wrong with me? Having imaginary psych sessions in my head. A second later, The Mystic to comes through the beaded curtain. She’s looking right into me with her mascara-caked eyes, she knows something.

“Okay, Julie, darling,” she hands me a tiny green velvet bag, “take this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with orange juice—has to be fresh squeezed, do not skimp on that detail, it makes all the difference.”

Inside the bag I spy a perfectly rounded shiny pill, more like a marble, and a slip of folded paper. “Um, ok. Thanks, fresh orange juice, I’ll make sure. What do I owe you?”

She settles a hand on her generous hip, “Joan didn’t tell you?”

“No . . .”

“I see. Well, dearie, you won’t like it—you pay me in blood.”

Uhm, okay this is sounding more like the creepy voodoo shit. “In blood? Did you say in blood?”

“Mhm, just a tiny drop, no more than a pinprick, right here.” She holds out her copy of my receipt, indicating a blank white box.
Now I’m seriously thinking of backing out, but I hate the way she’s looking at me, like the deal’s already done . . . and I really really want this, I think of that glass woman.

It’s just a pinprick, I can do that, right? “Okay then, let’s get it over with.”

I stick out my finger, there’s a quick sting, I swipe my blood, and I’m ready to get out. But The Mystic stops me with a hand at my elbow,

“Your blood signifies a binding contract. Do not break the terms.” She holds on for a silent moment, her eyes blazing, then lets go and nods to the bag in my hand, “It’s all in there.”

***

“Fifty percent of profits my ass!” I whisper to myself for the third time today. The Mystic’s terms didn’t mean anything to me when I was just swallowing some gypsy pill, but now that my new CEO husband’s bonus is rolling in and I’ve won my school a national scholarship, I’ve got a bill from The Mystic. And I do not want to pay up. There must be some kind of loophole. I mean, all she did was sell me the pill, she’s not responsible for my success.

Except when I went to see her about it, the shop was boarded up and I can’t exactly ask Joan . . . I miss Joan. I wish I knew where she went. It still feels wrong, the way she just up and left. But no one seems to know anything or care. I keep hoping she bought a private island and just went off the grid or something, all that money. Except that now I need her here to help me with the damn terms of this blood oath.

Ugh. No. No. I’m not paying that woman a penny. That’s all there is to it. Plus, how do I even know that pill worked? True, I’m happier than ever. But she had nothing to do with finding the love of my life or growing my career. I’m the one who did all the work. Yep, nothing to worry about, I decide as I crumple up The Mystic’s terms and chuck them in the trash.

***

We’re moving again, I can always tell when it’s about to happen. Things get loud and frenzied. My vision is limited, a glass figurine can’t move its head, you know. But I can see movement, I can still hear the noise. I can’t believe what a fool I was, thinking I could buy myself a new life. I didn’t know happiness was a thing inside a person. That seems obvious now. I’ve learned loads since defying those terms. Acceptance is another one—to see and accept what is. Like that blood oath, God, that oath was binding, yes sir. Amazing how many people try to get around it, they’re my companions now, The Mystic’s little trinkets. Immortalized in colored glass. That’s one thing I try to be grateful for. That I’m not alone. And Joan, dear Joan. She’s here with me. I can see her just from the corner of my eye, standing as tall and graceful as ever. And happy, she looks happy.

Nightmare Queen

by Dani Nicole

The memory still permeated her mind, and Rae shook, curling herself into a ball and pulling the sheets over her head. Just a dream. Just a dream.

But even the words her therapist told her to repeat to herself did not alleviate her terror. For it was at night when all the dreams came to her. When she shouldered the nightmares of the world and took them all in herself, so that others could sleep peacefully.

And she was left alone to put herself back together.

A great chill rolled down her spine as she remembered the suited man from her dream. The man with the auburn eyes. He’d wanted something from her, but Rae couldn’t remember it. She only remembered the man’s eyes and the surety of her terror.

She willed it all away, squeezing her eyes shut, but a memory resurfaced of her very first nightmare when she was just two years old. She sorted through hazy details, her mind reaching to grab for something she should remember. And then she did remember. Her first nightmare had been of a man with eyes the color of dried blood.

She swallowed. Surely she was overreacting. It couldn’t possibly be the same dream. With so many nightmares in the world, she never had to repeat one. That was her only solace. But this one… it had seemed so familiar.

She pulled the blankets from her body and stepped out of bed. When she stood she shook her shoulders and exhaled. She could do this. She was the Nightmare Queen, after all, and it was only a curse if she let the nightmares win.

She stepped toward her bedroom door, which she kept shut so as not to wake her parents with screaming. Turning the doorknob, her heart raced, but she didn’t know why. She was only going to the kitchen to pour a glass of milk, as she did when the dreams were too much. When she needed comfort and didn’t want to wake anyone.

She placed one foot across her bedroom threshold, and the hardwood floor creaked. As she trekked down the long hallway to the kitchen, a thought distracted her.

She should check on her parents.

She was sure of it, but again, she did not know why. She tiptoed to their room, not trusting the creaky floor to be quiet enough. And when she reached their bedroom door, she cracked it slightly.

Her parents’ bed was empty and perfectly made.

What the hell? She kicked the door open and turned on the lights. They flickered on slowly, revealing a certainly deserted room.

Rae walked to the bed and ran her fingers over the smooth comforter. Where are they? Why did they leave? She pressed her nose to her mother’s pillow and could still smell the perfume she sprayed after her bath.

They had been there last night. They had slept in that bed. And now? Now they were gone. Rae couldn’t help the tears streaming down her cheeks. The dream had been too real, too familiar. She couldn’t distance herself from it. She needed her parents. She needed her mother to stroke her hair and her father to hum her a song.

She turned back to the hallway, wanting to get her phone from her bedroom and call the police. But when she turned into the hallway, she froze.

For there at the end of the rows of doors, at the end of the creeky floor, stood a suited man with auburn eyes.

 

Flash Fiction Friday

br, deviantART by DelilahWoolf

br, deviantART by DelilahWoolf

Counting

by Paige Duke

Ten cherry red fingernails.
Two bruised knees.
Twelve succulents in a crate.

My finger halts its counting, resting above the prickly bunch . . . succulent. That’s a word used somewhere else, isn’t it? A succulent roast, maybe. The two ideas stand together in my mind, totally incongruous. So absurd—the roast and tiny cactus sprouting stick-figure arms and clasping hands in my mind—that I can’t stop giggling.
I bury my face in my elbows until it passes, I don’t want anyone to find me and spoil the whole thing, my five minutes of privacy, this glorious and rare distraction.

Four pristine white walls (painted last week).
Six tall windows.
Eight zigzag boot prints (Mom’s rain boots) across the slat wood floor.
Mom . . . in my mind I see her out in the rain yesterday, drenched, but still insisting on the boots. She can’t have kept an inch dry, the way it was coming down. I count to cope; Mom plants. Despite the fact that everything she puts in the ground dies shortly thereafter. It’s something of a joke—has to be, I suppose, otherwise it’s just too sad. Too ironic.

Three orphaned shoes no one ever bothers to toss out.
Two towering stacks of books, Dad’s overflow.
I squeeze back tears—for the first time today, that has to be a record. It’s just that overflow . . . it’s so opposite of everything DAD right now. I count; Mom plants; Dad stares. Sits and stares, where he used to sit and read. Where can a mind go for so many hours? Nowhere good. To blame or darkness or self-loathing, surely. Wherever it is, it’s not here.

Two identical frog umbrellas for two identical boys.
The twins, a godsend of noise and busyness, the forgivable interruption to our collective grief. They force us to be normal again in a million everyday ways. And break our hearts in the same breath because they can’t understand, will never know who they’ve lost.

I search the room—this mudroom, the time capsule of our house—for anything else. But I’ve counted everything already, everything but one.

One growth chart, its six penciled names glaring, conspicuous for the truth that we are now only five without Michael.
Michael. Our light, our miracle. The boy who was supposed to die but who lived seven years, seven years of borrowed time.

But death forgives no debts.

Flash Fiction Friday

Charles Bukowski, theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com

Charles Bukowski, theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com

“Find what you love and let it kill you.”

Charles Bukowski, Los Angeles, 1982

Note: We tried something new for this edition of Flash Fiction Friday, we asked someone else to pick our prompt. Thanks to Jeremy Duke for the inspiration for our stories this week! We want to make this a regular thing, so if you’d like to pick our prompt for a future Flash Fiction Friday, leave a comment. We’ll feature you on the post and link back to your blog or website! Now, on to the stories.

Loud Man

by Paige Duke

Loud Man stood in line, silently waiting his turn. This was the only moment all week he was silent. They called him Loud Man for a reason. At the bars. They called him this at the bars, for where else would anyone call him anything? He was the kind of man a bar was made for, the kind of man the Elephant was made for, which was why he was waiting in line. Waiting silently for his turn, restless hands in pockets to keep the rest of him still. Silent so that he could think how best to speak to the Elephant. You’d think coming every week to the Elephant would accustom a man to how to speak to it, but then you’d be the wrong kind of person.

The Elephant. Loud Man had laughed loudest when he’d first heard of the ridiculous notion, of standing in line to speak to an elephant—a rusted, faded, cutout discarded by some passing circus maybe. But that was before he’d tried it. Before he’d stood silent long enough to gather the words together that rattled around inside him. Constantly. Louder than a rumbling train. Meticulously, silently gathered the words, lovingly calmed them like some shaking rabbit, tentatively offered the right ones like a prayer. Before he’d seen the Elephant’s kind eye watching him as he spoke his carefully, silently crafted thoughts.
The line shortened one transgressor at a time, bent beneath the woes or hopes or fears they’d been collecting all week; no one knew what another said to the Elephant. That was the point, wasn’t it? Loud Man was nearly there, his words lined up in a neat row, his now-silent tongue occupied with their repetition. Whispered, a fledgling in the mouth of this man with the busy jaw. And there now, he felt the calming that grew with every shuffled step.

His turn came at last. He stepped forward, realizing suddenly why he came. He brought the Elephant his words, as he brought the bartender his coin. Payment all the same, but the difference is in their eyes, he thought. The Elephant’s eyes were kind. Oh, and the mouth of rusted tin, it said nothing back to Loud Man.

He leaned in and whispered his confession to the Elephant’s wide, welcoming ear.

A Concise List of Things That Don’t Kill Me

by Dani Nicole

There’s a rule, you know, that if you find something you love it will kill you. Because that’s the only way to be in love. To die a little, in some way.

Sounds poetic right?

Bullshit. I hate rules. I love ice cream, but it doesn’t kill me. At least not immediately. I love my dog Chauncy but he hasn’t tried to attack me in my sleep like a Nylabone.

I’m not exactly counting the seconds until he plots his revenge for being locked in a kennel. In fact, I’m so fired up against this rule, I made a list.

1)   The stars. What kind of motives do the stars have to kill a seventeen-year-old dude? I mean I let them exist, I ogle at them when they come out, say poetic shit to impress my girlfriend. I draw maps of constellations and sometimes make up my own. One time I found a penis in the sky. Seriously, a penis. I dubbed it the Great Penisarium. I’m a genius, really. But I’ve been looking at the stars and planets and cool space shit since I was like three. And at three you don’t really get to pick what you love.

It just kind of picks you.

I stare at the sky everyday waiting for it to kill me, but it doesn’t and it probably thinks I’m an idiot kid who suspects the Great Penisarium is somehow phallically lethal.

2)   Naked women. As much as my health teacher wants me to think touching a bare breast will lead me to my imminent death, I’m not buying it. I’ve touched Rose’s breasts before, and if that’s dying, I’d do it a million times over. They are like natural pillows. No, like travel pillows. Always there to lean your head against when you’ve had a hard day or your pet snake died or you had to flush your cigarettes in front of the principal. Whatever. Boobs are worth dying for.

3)    Freaking Harpists. I’m not sissy enough to actually play the harp, but I swear to the God that might be up there it’s an instrument of the angels. Just do me a favor, have a girl play the harp for you and try not to look at the way her fingers pluck the chords and wonder what it would feel like if they traveled elsewhere.

Listen to those notes and try not to fall into a trance where you think the world is made of pizza and you can only play football as a profession. Rose plays the harp, but mostly she just plays me. I’m like putty in her hands, as malleable as harp strings. I have this fantasy of walking up to her while she’s playing and leaning her back in her little stool and… I digress. Harps are the shit.

So take that messed up, screwed up society in which we’re all brainwashed to think that love is like Liam Neeson, that it will find you and that it will kill you, because I’m here to tell you I love many things. I love stars, breasts, harpists. Hell, I might even love Rose. What can I say? I’m complex. Maybe even the exception to the love rule. I guess you could say in some way, invincible.

 

 

How a Victorian Engineer Inspired My Protagonist

I should have known by his name that this man would be the larger-than-life figure I needed as inspiration for my protagonist. Isambard Kingdom Brunel. You’re destined for greatness with a name like that. And I needed some real-world greatness to help me lay a foundation for my protagonist. In my previous post, “Research: An Antidote for Writers Block,” I wrote about using research to solve some of the structural problems in the world of my fantasy novel. I scoured the Internet for notable figures from the Victorian Era and stumbled onto Brunel. I had found my man: an influential engineer whose name, work, and character lived far beyond the reach of his natural lifetime. Not only did he create some of the most innovative and memorable structures of the Victorian Industrial Age, but he stood out among his contemporaries as a person of tireless vision and ambition, even from a young age.

Twenty-one years old. I was still in college . . . changing my major, how about you? What were you doing at twenty-one? This man, I.K. Brunel, was already working as resident engineer on the construction of the Thames Tunnel. Can you imagine?

Thames Tunnel, Lithograph by Taulman after Bonisch (public domain)

Thames Tunnel, Lithograph by Taulman after Bonisch (public domain)

He was working alongside his father, Marc Brunel, a prominent engineer of the time, who had invented a tunneling shield that made building the underwater tunnel possible. It was the first of its kind and, at its opening in 1843, it was named the Eighth Wonder of the World. But the road to success wasn’t always glorious—the tunnel flooded during the third year of construction, and six of the crew were killed; Brunel barely survived when his assistant pulled his unconscious body from the water. It wouldn’t be the last time Brunel found himself in a tough spot.

From there, he worked on the Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge. Like the Thames Tunnel, it was a record breaker—the longest bridge in the world at the time it was built. Brunel, then twenty-three years old, submitted one design after another and found himself battling the design put up by Thomas Telford, a well-known engineer in his seventies and the chair of the Clifton committee. But in the end Brunel won the commission. As if that David-and-Goliath-scale victory weren’t enough, he gained more notoriety with his next stunt. During construction, someone had the brilliant idea to string up a 1,000-foot iron bar that would carry a basket back and forth to bring supplies across the chasm. And guess who volunteered to test it? Yep, Brunel—he climbed into the basket and set off across the gorge, and it was going well . . . until the rope snagged. So he climbed out and freed it so he could get across. He was stranded, what else could he do, right? Needless to say, people took notice.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, illustration (public domain)

Clifton Suspension Bridge, illustration (public domain)

So you can imagine by now what kind of man we’re talking about. Now think bigger, much bigger. As in Titanic. Before the infamous steamship was a twinkle in Thomas Andrews’ eye, I.K. Brunel was dreaming of The Great Western. He was convinced he could carry a passenger across the Atlantic by steam power—not so remarkable to a twenty-first century mind, but at the time it had never been done and . . . Brunel had never before designed a ship. Though he was opposed, ridiculed, and badly burned during construction, he saw the ship completed and arriving in New York from London in 1838. Oh and, by the way, it was the longest ship in the world.

SS Great Western (public domain)

SS Great Western (public domain)

The rest of Brunel’s life followed a similar trajectory of one innovative project after another. And it was this more than anything that drew me to him as a character of history: he was a man with astounding imagination, who broke through the boundaries of the known world, and the challenges of his own life, to pioneer a way into the future as we know it. I relied on details from Brunel’s life—engineering competitions, the setup of a drafting office, techniques of shipbuilding—to help construct my protagonist’s life and work, though the challenges he faces are of a more fantastical nature. Still, he has the heartbeat of men like Brunel: ambitious, visionary, groundbreaking. After all, it’s what makes us love them and root for them no matter where we find them.

Brunel with the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern, his later and most famous ship (public domain)

Brunel with the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern, his later and most famous ship (public domain)

How about you? Where did the ideas for your characters or other narrative elements come from? Did you look into history to find inspiration or another place entirely?

 

– Paige Duke

Flash Fiction Friday

magical lamp, deviantART by MaithaNeyadi

magical lamp, deviantART by MaithaNeyadi

The Perfect Gift

by Paige Duke

Under cover of darkness, a girl ran to the dumpster behind the beat-up Shell station. She looked around to be sure she was alone, but she needn’t have worried. There was no one out yet at 3 a.m., and the gas station clerk was snoozing. No one watching to see her bruises, the tear in her hoodie, or the curious thing she pulled from her bag to toss in with the other garbage. And after she was free of the thing, still no one to see her sprinting away, away, away.


 

Today was the day, Ted could feel it. Today he would find the perfect Christmas gift for Alison. As he walked down toward the strip of boutiques on Main Street, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his puff coat against the November chill, he saw how it would be. Christmas morning, she’d wake beside him, after a night at his place of course—she’d be staying over by then, definitely—and pester him about her present, the twelfth one, the perfect one. He had the other eleven picked out and wrapped already, sitting in a cheery pile beneath his Charlie Brown Christmas tree they’d put up together after Thanksgiving. So Christmas morning, wearing her vintage kimono robe (Day Four’s present), Alison would lean into him and beg him for her perfect gift with that way she pouted at him.

Ooh, he shivered just thinking about it. That’s where the vision stopped, though, because of course he didn’t have the perfect present yet. But he would. Today was the day; he could feel it. Something about his hair. It was the first good hair day he’d had in more than a month. The static electricity just messed with it at this time of the winter. He’d brush it, not brush it, wash it, not wash it; nothing he tried made a difference—not even his Brooklyn pomade—it would stick straight up like he’d rubbed a balloon over it. But not today. Today when he’d put the brush to it, it lay down perfectly and stayed that way.

So, his unshakable optimism led him through one store after another. He first tried the boutiques, because he’d heard Alison and her girlfriends talking about them over their long lunches. He hated how those things just dragged on, but there was usually a pretty intense make-out session at her place after, so he just powered through. But what the girls failed to mention was how damn expensive everything was in those shops. He couldn’t afford more than a comb or a nail file after all the other eleven presents. No, that was not perfect present material.

Ted tried the antique shops next, his spirits still holding. Alison loved antiques. Nothing in her apartment was from Target, except maybe a basket or something. She had a thing about baskets—organizing in general. He’d tried to start picking up his own place more, hoping that might encourage her to come over more. To stay over.

But the antique places were a bust too. They weren’t as expensive, but everything was just . . . old. Right, but not the right kind of old. Like cracked plates and dusty magazines and shit. No. That wasn’t right for the perfect present. So Ted kept walking and looking in windows, feeling his hopes draining with every step. Then it was sleeting and he felt his hair frizzing and he was about to call it quits. He must have misread the perfect-hair-day sign.

He was headed back to the car when he saw it—the old Shell station. He couldn’t believe the place was still open, it looked in such bad shape. Back in his freegan days, Ted and his buddies from the Meetup.com group would dumpster dive there for the overflow from the vegan place next door. They’d come across some good stuff there sometimes, Huck had even found an old Lomo camera once that was in perfect condition. People didn’t know what they had, just chunked that stuff. Plus, he’d met Alison at the Shell. He’d stood in line behind her, overheard her trying to buy a pack of American Spirits, but she’d left her card at home. He saw again how he’d stepped up beside her and said to the clerk, “I’ll take two packs,” as he laid a bill on the counter. She’d smiled up at him, blonde, pretty, and those full lips.

Ted found himself walking toward the dumpster. He felt stupid, sure. Dumpster diving for the perfect gift? But this was the day and he’d tried every place else, after all. He looked around to be sure no one was watching him, slipped inside the rickety fence, and peered in at the trash heap. There were boxes turning soft with the sleet, mounds of takeout wrappers, food scraps. He stretched on tiptoe to see if he could catch sight of anything else. And he did see something. A glint of metallic light, glistening with a sheen of wetness. As he strained to see further, he saw its curved shape. It looked promising. He reached in and hooked a finger around the thing, it had a kind of loop.

Ted pulled it out, feeling by its weight that it was right. The thing lying in his hand made his chest grow warm. It looked like an antique! Like a gravy boat, only fancier and with a spout on it. Its copper-colored lid had scrollwork-type decorations and foreign script on the sides. He tried to pry the top off, but it was stuck. Even when he brushed the sleet off with his flannel shirt, he couldn’t make it budge. But that didn’t matter. He felt it. He grinned and turned to go home, clutching the thing in the crook of his arm, oblivious to the unnatural heat of it against his puff coat.

It was perfect. Alison was going to love it.

Genie Not Included

by Dani Nicole

Ten years and the lamp hasn’t moved. I watch it, polish it, and leave it just like I’m supposed to. Just like the king told me to.

I still look at the entrance to the cave like some gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking woman is going to walk through it. I would ask her on a date, but she would probably say no considering I don’t really shower anymore. The lake water in the cave is all I can use. But after I asked her on a date and she said no, I might ask her if she could watch the damn lamp and give me a break. Maybe she would feel sorry for me and say yes.

This is what my mind resorts to in the dark hours of the dark cave of the dark life of being the dark lamp watcher.

All the king’s orders are because of some stupid myth that one day, maybe, just possibly, there is a slight chance that the lamp will shiver and a big ass-genie will come popping out of it.

Holy hell, I would love to see that. I kind of wish he’d wait until the hot girl shows up and surprise the crap out of both of us, just before we were about to kiss. Then when he asked me what my three wishes were, the first one would be just another damn minute so I could finish the job. It’d be pretty awesome to show off my wooing of the ladies in front of an all-powerful genie.

But I have a feeling genies aren’t the type to cater to your every need. After all, they only give you three wishes. They’re not going to sit around until you make up your mind. So I’d have to have all three wishes ready. But I’ve only thought of one wish so far.

Ah, to hell with it. It’s not real anyways. And I’m just some stupid kid sitting on the floor of a cave covered in mold. I’m not sure if I smell like mold, or if I’ve been here so long the mold smells like me.

What I need to focus on is dinner. A rat skitters across my feet and I stab it with my blade. I used to flinch at the sight of blood, at the sound of bones crushing. Now it’s an everyday feat, and a necessity to staying alive in a cave full of rodents and fish.

I reach in my sack for the box of matches. When I pick it up I know I’m in trouble. It’s entirely too light. I slide the box open. Yep. Empty. Fantastic. Now I’ll just have to wait for the king’s lackeys to deliver more supplies in the morning.

Maybe Archibald will come. I like that guy. He always sticks around to chat. Kind of gets that whole isolation thing and how it makes you batshit crazy and whatnot.

I inhale, holding the rat carcass in my hands, letting the blood run to the ground. I really don’t like rat sushi. But I really don’t have a choice. I inhale, bring the rat to my lips, and swallow bile. I hold my breath and bite down.

Disgusting.

Revolting.

I never–

What was that?

I suspend the rat carcass in mid air. It hangs in limbo as I stare at the small golden lamp, sitting beneath the light on its stone sanctuary. Nothing about the lamp looks different. It hasn’t moved. Pivoted. Broken. That means that my ass is still covered, and also that I’m seeing things.

Great just more proof that I’m batshit cra–

There it is again.

I throw the rat on the ground. Stand up. Walk to the lamp. After ten years I’ve never touched it. I’ve never dared to break the king’s rules. But suddenly I am filled with an overwhelming urge to pick up the lamp. I want to hold it. I want to trace the intricate scrolling with my fingertips.

I stop inches from it, squatting so I’m at eye level.

“Hello,” I say to it, because when you’ve been in a cave for ten years, sometimes you talk to inanimate objects.

The lamp sits there mockingly, glimmering under the light.

“To hell with this,” I say.

But just as I turn to walk away, the ancient lamp starts to shake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of Them

Image from myselfaswritten.blogspot.com

Image from myselfaswritten.blogspot.com

When I was a little girl I used to write stories and give them to my parents as presents. I’m not sure how they felt about getting paper instead of ties or necklaces, but parents usually like that sort of thing.

I guess it was pretty evident from an early age that I was a writer. It’s not really something you can just not be, when you are one. There’s a certain way you think and imagine things. Anyone can learn to write, and anyone can learn language, but I believe that some of us are simply called to it, as if it’s an irresistible force.

I was always meant to write.

And while my career goals shifted as I grew up it eventually came down to the truth that writing is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. I have enough interests to hold a career while I write, but in the end that’s what my existence boils down to: I have to tell my stories.

Having a dream like that isn’t easy, especially when you graduate from school and stop having people that tell you to write. When you don’t have to turn anything in for a grade or read materials that are selected for you. You’re on your own.

Over the past three years I’ve been working my way into the professional writing world. My first step was to start writing and seek out writing buddies like my life depended on it. I befriended a published coworker (shout out to Jennifer August), and found myself constantly lost in conversation with her.

When I found my primary writing group, things started to become more serious. I started growing as a writer and as a person. I started soul searching and observing and constantly staying in contact with my dreams and ambitions.

But for the past few years I have rested in the safety of trusted friends.

Until last week.

I attended two new writing groups last week, making my first true effort at networking with professional writers. I brought my work and had it critiqued. And to my delight, my fellow writers acknowledged my talent and supported me. They offered me constructive feedback, and they inspired me.

What I found is that I was one of them.

I was no longer the little girl who dreamed of being a writer, but the woman who was consciously making an effort to take action toward achieving a lifetime goal.

And that was incredibly rewarding.

 

-Dani Nicole