Category Archives: Other Writer’s Words

More Contest Entries

As promised, below are a few of the entries I received in the “First and Last” contest. If you haven’t yet read the winning entries, click here.

Also, this might be a good time to read one of my older, educational posts. Like this one on subjectivity, perhaps. Okay, you caught me. I’m trying to distract you from the fact that I’m not writing original posts this week. Guilty as charged. Except… the paragraph you’re reading now is All New Material. Plus, you haven’t seen the short stories anywhere else. So I think I’m off the hook. And anyway, I have to write a short story because I promised I would. (Maybe I’ll post that on Friday. Maybe.)

Righty, right then. On to the first batch of contest entries.

Here’s a contest entry from Andrea Crain:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Why? Well, Kyla is a very beautiful girl, and therefore Kris was always trying to impress her. I was eavesdropping Wednesday night. “I’ll bring you the moon and stars and forge them into a necklace for your beautiful throat! I’ll pull the sun from the sky and bottle the sunshine so you’ll never endure a gloomy day again!”

Big words. Of course, Kyla scoffed. But Kris had a few tricks up his sleeve. He pulled out a golden bottle and a silver hammer, and as Kyla watched with a little smirk on her face, he reached up and tapped down the moon with the hammer and started smithing. He set in a few stars as diamonds. It was a sight!

The necklace was gorgeous. But it was so dense that nothing could escape its gravity, not even the sunlight, not even Kyla. So the sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Kris sat on a distant planet, crying, the bottle at his feet. The bottle was empty.

Jana Nash entered this story:

Somewhere between roof and the pavement, Sam remembered where he’d left his wallet. He stopped and peered down the darkened alley, listening carefully. Then he turned, clambering back up the stairs, cringing at the metallic resonance of his steps.

Upon reaching the roof, he knelt down, breathlessly searching through the dark. There it was, perched precariously near the ledge. He grabbed it and ran back to the stairs, hastily shoving the wallet into the back pocket of his faded blue jeans.

Sam recklessly descended the steps, three at a time, but when his feet hit the ground, he didn’t run. Instead, he crept along the brick wall to the edge of the building. Hiding in the shadows, he peered around the corner, afraid that his pounding heart might give him away.

The street was deserted except for a small crowd forming about twenty feet away. He spotted something on the sidewalk between the crowd and himself. Making certain that nobody was looking, he darted out to get it and returned to the shadows before anyone could notice.

The sound of sirens blasted in the distance. He bolted through the alley, past the fire escape, pausing at the end to check for witnesses. He saw only a few people who seemed to be doing some late night window shopping. He nonchalantly stepped into the light, walking the short distance to his tan sedan. He breathed a sigh of relief after closing the door and starting the engine, thus blocking out the growing wail of the sirens.

Pulling out of the parking space, Sam wondered which way to go. He waited at a red light, watching as two police cars sped by with their blue lights flashing. He stole a glance at the broken camera in the passenger seat. He may not have gotten what he’d come for, but at least he’d escaped with his life. Now, if only he could get out of town.

The light turned green and Sam decided to go straight, heading toward the interstate. After pulling safely into the fast lane, he set the cruise control. Except for a few truckers and night owls, the road was his. Searching for comfort, he reached into the glove compartment and groaned. The bottle was empty.

Richard Fuller titled his entry, “Box”:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday.  Not because there wasn’t a sun.  It just seemed to be stuck.  Undoubtedly, it shone brightly somewhere.  After all, Dora’s night was someone else’s day.  Her stuck Thursday was someone else’s stuck Friday.

She was pretty sure it was her fault.

It began with that weird chemistry set she found at the Fantasy Convention.  Dora hadn’t planned to go.  She thought fantasy fans were stupid, but cute Josh was one and he’d talked her into going.  Soon bored, she’d left him happily browsing among the comic books.  Then she noticed a booth in a dark corner with a sign that read, “Demon Science.”  She didn’t believe in demons but she liked science, so she went over for a closer look.

Among the usual cheesy amulets and spell books was a black metal box with red lettering that said, “ChemMystery: When Stink Bombs Aren’t Enough.”  Because chemistry was Dora’s favorite subject, and because she agreed that stink bombs often weren’t enough, she asked the robed and hooded character behind the counter if she could look inside the box.  In a rasping voice, he/she replied, “You don’t look inside it.  It looks inside you to see if you are the One.”

Screw this fantasy nerd bullshit.  “You expect me to buy it without seeing what’s inside?

“If you are the One, you won’t need to buy it.  The box is yours.”

“Okay, Elf Wizard or whatever the hell you’re supposed to be, can I at least take a closer look at it?”

He/she handed Dora the box.  It vibrated in her hands and grew very hot.  The world blurred and then disappeared.  She dreamed of another life, another box.

She awoke in her room.  Outside, nothing moved, not the birds frozen in mid-flight, not the traffic on the street.  Next to her was the box.  She must have opened it, because a seething, red-tinged cloud of blackness was pouring out, howling through her window and into the still night.

When it was gone, Dora looked in her box and saw a clear container, a stopper, and a singed piece of parchment.  She examined each in turn.  The stopper smelled of sulfur and death.  The parchment bore sanguine script that read, “Thanks.  Good to see you again.”

The bottle was empty.

PJ entered two stories. Here’s the first:

It was the best of times… no, really, the very best of times.  But that was last week.  Now, as Samantha looked in the full-length mirror, holding the navy blue shirt-waist dress against her slim body, all she could see were the gray shadows under her eyes and her sagging shoulders.  Her chestnut hair was slicked back into a neat bun but several unruly locks poked out around her ears.  The gray sweat suit she wore was rumpled – she wasn’t sure how many days she had worn it.

“This navy blue one is too somber – I look like I’m going to a funeral,” she thought.  She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.  She felt like she was preparing for a funeral, actually – the funeral for her old, carefree life.  Opening her eyes, she put the navy blue dress down on the bed and shuffled to the closet.  She emerged with a sexy ruby-red dress – the one she had worn to her husband’s inauguration last month.  Everybody had said they looked like John and Jacquelyn Kennedy.

Now, holding the red dress up against her, she felt the full weight of what had happened and her knees started to buckle.  She sat on the floor and struggled to hold back the sobs.  Remembering how happy they were that day made her depression – it had set in since her husband’s arrest one week ago – that much deeper.  Harold, his lawyer, had of course taken care of arranging bail, but those few hours after she found out about the arrest were like a horror film on continuous play in her mind.  The tight knot in her stomach was beginning to convince her that she would never feel normal again.

Of course he had denied everything.  He came home from the courthouse and launched into explanations about how the FBI had made a mistake – he had been framed.  She wanted to believe him but wasn’t sure whether she could.  Spending the week barricaded in her house with protesters outside around the clock was not making his story any more believable.

So today’s press conference announcing his resignation would mark the official end of their charmed lives.  After today, all attention would be on the trial.  She just wasn’t sure she would have the strength for any of it.

“Samantha!  We need to leave in twenty minutes!” he shouted to her from downstairs.

“OK – I’ll be down soon,” she replied as she got up from the floor.  Samantha smoothed on her makeup, slipped into the dress, stepped into her pumps and made her way carefully down the stairs.  She chose the blue one after all.

See what I mean? Good stuff. More great writing tomorrow.

Until then…

Thursday

Just a reminder about tomorrow’s contest deadline. Yup. That’s all I’m giving you today. Well, that and this link to an MSNBC article on why we get lost in a good book. Feel free to use the comments section to tell me what you think.

Tomorrow I’ll have a typical Friday grab-bag of random tidbits. Then next week, it’s back to regular blogposts packed with clever wisdom and snarky humor.

Time Travel & Teleportation Aren’t Just for Science Fiction

The written word defies the laws of physics. Right now, as you read this, the author of these words could be parasailing in Grand Cayman, or tied to a chair in the belly of an abandoned oil tanker while being pistol-whipped by thugs (a case of mistaken identity, surely), or (gasp) even dead. Okay, that last one’s a bit morbid, but the only thing you can be relatively certain of is that on Sunday, when I wrote this, I was none of the above.

But do you see what’s going on here? I’m talking to you from the past. Yup. We’re time traveling. I don’t know what “voice” you imagine when you read my words (I hope it’s a resonant, clever & sexy voice and not Steve Buscemi’s nasally weasel-whine), but the thing is… I’m not really speaking them, am I. It’s all in your head.

And that, my writing friends, is the magic of the written word. It takes on a life of its own the moment it lands on the page for someone else to read. And while all writing does this little trick to some degree, the best writing does more than simply speak from the author’s yesterday – it takes you to places you otherwise might never go, introduces you to people you otherwise would never meet.

Have you taken a train to Hogwarts? Stared in awe at Mt. Doom? Have you listened to Reuben Land’s asthmatic wheezing? Fought cold and fear with father and son as they walked Cormac’s Road? Felt the ache and uncertainty of Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting’s honeymoon night on Chesil Beach?

The mark of a truly excellent story is its ability to grant you the impossible gift of living someone else’s life – to feel his or her pain, fear, wonder, joy. When you read a great novel, the words on the page dissolve into adopted memories nearly as real as the once-lived ones.

Does your novel do this? Or is it just a bunch of words on the page? Here’s an easy way to find out. Give your story to someone who doesn’t have to sleep with you at the end of the day. Ask him or her to read it, then… forget you asked. In a month or two, go back and ask what they thought. If their eyes light up and they recall a character or a story element in great detail, that’s probably a good sign (at least of that particular story element). If they say, “It was good” and that’s all? I think you have some work to do. (If they say “it was pure crap,” then surely they don’t know good literature – or maybe it was pure crap.)

Okay. That’s all. Nothing really earth shattering today. I mean, it’s Sunday after all, right? What’s that? It’s not?

I know.

Pretty cool trick, don’t you think?

Don’t forget about the “First and Last” writing contest. Still plenty of time to enter.

7 Random Distractions to Keep You From Noticing There’s No Real Content In This Post

seven-box1All indications are that it’s Friday. And apparently, it’s a holiday weekend, too, though I didn’t realize this until my fictional next door neighbor started setting off fireworks in his driveway. I think it’s some sort of holiday to celebrate man’s dominion over dogs. I didn’t verify this in the “current holiday we just made up” section at the Hallmark store, but previous experience and the ain’t-that-cute tweets of complete strangers on Twitter give me reason to believe July 4th is known as “Make Your Dog Cower Under Your Desk” Day. I could be wrong about that.

I don’t have a dog.

So, in honor of this fine holiday, I’m going to fill this space with words so you have something to read after you’ve enjoyed six pieces of corn on the cob, five slices of watermelon and four hot dogs (hot dogs, eh? I see what you’re going for here, but don’t you think the sudden loud noises and subsequent cowering are enough to make your point?).

Anyway, the things below are typical Friday fare. In other words, they’re random and potentially meaningless. Enjoy.

  1. A friend just sent me a copy of Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading. Yes, this is the Nabokov of Lolita fame. My friend says it’s a surprisingly modern read. This, despite having been published in the year of my birth. Go ahead, look it up. Shed a tear for me if you want, I’m a thirtysomething on the inside and that’s what matters. But back to the book – don’t you love that title? I’ll let you know what I think.
  2. I’m falling in love…with the TV series Mad Men. Yes, I am slow to the party, but thanks to Comcast’s On Demand feature, I’m making my way through the first season four episodes at a time. I can see why it’s an award-winning show. Much thanks to a different anonymous friend (not the unnamed one above) for the recommendation. You were right.
  3. One of the projects I’m wrestling with in my “free time” is a movie screenplay. Well, I’m actually not that far along yet, I’m still arranging the scenes into a detailed treatment. I’ve been working on this for two years now and it has changed dramatically during that time. What began as a dark, edgy story about a mysterious character who brings redemption to a corrupt town has morphed into a lighter, quirky story about a mysterious character who brings meaning to the lives of a few people in a small town. (Reason for most of the changes? Anticipating a low budget to work with.) I’ll keep you posted.
  4. Want a fix of beautifully poetic narrative writing? Go to Amber’s website and read her posts. The My Love Songs thread is particularly amazing. I told her she has to write a book someday. You can tell her that, too.
  5. Thus far, my limited experience with Twitter has granted me a brief conversation with Augusten Burroughs, a re-tweeting by uber-nerd and former Star Trek: TNG whipping boy Wil Wheaton, and a kind three-word response from the American God himself, Neil Gaiman. Oh, and a rather significant number of my tweets are going to appear in the book The World According to Twitter, by NYT columnist and techno-geek David Pogue. Twitter is fun. Especially when used to stalk famous people. You should follow me. Sometimes I actually tweet something witty.
  6. Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups = Happiness.
  7. For some strange reason every time I hear the Indiana Jones theme I feel compelled to salute. In a related story, every time I hear the soundtrack to Legends of the Fall I want to marry Julia Ormond.

There. That’s seven things. If you’re still reading the dog has had way too much time to plot his revenge.

Step carefully.

More Good Words from Contest Entries

As promised, here are a few more entries and excerpts to illustrate just how talented all of you are. I had a great time hosting this contest and loved reading all of your entries. I am well aware you have a limited time to spend reading blogs and I’m grateful you have taken the time to read this one. Please let me know in comments or via email what I can to to improve the blog (I mean, apart from promising you first place in all subsequent writing contests).

Okay, now the good stuff.

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(Here’s one I really liked, but it’s almost double the word count so I didn’t feel comfortable bending the rules that much to include it in the top 10.)

“He’s doing it again,” she told me.

“Doing what?”

“It.”

I looked out the window of our bedroom.  Our neighbor was outside on his watch.  The light for our floor was directly above our window.  It was five in the morning, and our neighbor was up for his run.  He pressed the buttons setting the pedometer or stopwatch or whatever the hell else that thing did that made it beep so loudly.

“Tell him to stop,” she said.

The beeping persisted.

“You first,” I said.

We both lay there, the beeping continuing.

“Jesus,” she said after a while.  “I need higher standards in men.”

I took the pillow she’d stolen from me in the middle of the night (like she always did) and placed it under my head.  Turning in the bed, I heard our neighbor the runner stretch.  The silhoutte of him was was visible.  He had on a shirt, but straggling strands of hair jutted out from his shirt and shorts.

“Go away,” she shouted.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I said.  I’d fallen asleep for a moment, but now I was awake again and remembering she probably wasn’t shouting at me, unless I’d farted in the bed again.

“Go away,” she shouted again.

The man stood up.  For a moment, I thought he’d become aware after weeks of her intermittent commands at him to program his watch elsewhere.  Then he sent one leg back and stretched out in a lunge while the beeping started again.

“If he doesn’t have a heart condition and if that isn’t some kind of lifesaving monitor, so help me God,” she said.

“You’re as noisy as he is.”

“I live here.  I can be as noisy as I damn well please.”

I rolled over and felt the pillow sink away, my head plopping down onto the single, thin pillow left.  Sighing, I got up, pillow in hand, and went into the living room and lay down on the couch.  I drew the thin blanket lying on the couch over me.

“What are you doing?” she called from the bedroom.

“The Jitterbug.”

She was quiet a moment.  The runner was not.  It was so unreasonable an amount of beeps that the watchmaker seemed culpable.

[Brad]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(This one is a clever short story with a cute twist.)

I hate the cold and dark. One or the other isn’t so bad, but both? Torture.

He’s forgotten me again…Oh, don’t worry, it happens.

Richard is getting older and, unfortunately, more forgetful. We’ve been together nearly 20 years now. I came along right after he retired. Even after all this time he still fondly calls me a “gift”. I suppose it’s just his way, Richard is a soft touch for anything even remotely sentimental I’m sure that’s why I’m still around.

Such a sweet man, it’s so sad his wife died suddenly like that, just days before he retired.  I know Richard is still missing her. Sometimes he talks out loud like she’s right there in the room with us. I try not to let it bother me, but it worries me sometimes.  I’m afraid one of his kids will walk in here without him knowing, hear him talking like that, find me in here next to the car keys and frozen peas then bustle him off to a home!

And then where would I be?

Why I’d most likely stolen by some disgruntled orderly or crazy lady with a penchant for wristwatches.

Now that would be a shame.

[Rachel]

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(Here’s another clever entry that works as a fun short story.)

I ran into the bedroom for another watch with a stopwatch function. I sat down, closed my eyes and hit “start”. Then I tried to distract myself with something that couldn’t help me keep track of the time by normal means. But what? I attempted to remember the presidents in order, but got stuck around Polk.

I lay back, frustrated. What could I say to Brigitte to make up for being late again? Or was getting to bean me with my own wristwatch enough? Good thing she’s so freakin’ cute, with those green eyes and the spiky red hair…

OK, that was probably enough. I hit the stop button and declared to the empty room, “Two minutes and 3 seconds,” opened my eyes and looked at the display: 00:02:03.000.

I felt the lump on my head again. Slightly raised, perfectly circular, about one inch in diameter. In the mirror, it looked bruised purple, but no open wound. The sick feeling intensified, and I barely made it to the bathroom before losing my lunch.

Okay, I thought. Okay, calm down. So this is either a very realistic hallucination, or I’m now the proud owner of the world’s most boring superpower.

[Andrea]

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(And here are some excerpts from a few of the other entries.)

He was sure his heart tocked to each tick of the beast on his wrist, and he wished he wouldn’t glance at it every few beats as he quick-walked through the summer heat of city sidewalks. But the incense of anticipation rocked him, and he inhaled it like oxygen. [Nicole]

***

My heart raced and I started to pace nervously as the noise became deafening. Music, laughter, splashing water – even girls screaming in delight couldn’t pry my mind off the thought of her being alone with such a Casanova. [Stefne]

***

I wasn’t entirely alone in the bedroom, though I’d wished to be.  Instead a constant pounding of Tom’s images flooded my mind, penetrating me with the rough-stubbles along his jaw-line, his course sandy tresses, and even the coldness of his gold-rimmed wrist watch. [Marcie]

***

Fascinated, the man reached out to nudge the object, half expecting it to be hot. He smiled as he held it in his hand, caressing its smooth cool surface, captivated by each intricate detail. He stepped closer to the fire when he noticed unfamiliar markings on the circular centerpiece. As he scrutinized it, he noticed movement within. He tapped it sharply to determine if it was alive. [Jana]

***

He had ceased to wear it as a timepiece, instead, it was a memorial. [Malia]

***

I had to squint in order to read the tiny numbers that were clearly meant to be legible only to children. And gnomes. How could I be so stupid? I scolded myself. It had happened to me once before, but twice? I closed my eyes and put my head down on the table.  It was going to be a long wait. [Holly]

***

With each painful, methodical step he obsessively checked his watch.  He had been walking for seven hours and twenty-one minutes.  He figured he had another hour of daylight.  The expanse of the lava field in front of him seemed endless but he had already come too far – going back was not an option. [Patricia]

***

“It’s a beautiful watch. I’ll give you $200,” she heard. The pawn shop owner’s voice interrupted her foggy stream of thoughts. “Done,” she replied without hesitation and picking up what was left of her pride, she left. [Tara]

***

Yes, of course, I have my fair share of sleepless nights where I’m tossing in a too-warm bed and flinging sloppy pillows back and forth — one side of my ribs to the other — all because the only thing worth doing more than sleeping is thinking about how much time I still have to fall asleep before the morning alarm. [Liz]

***

Anna wasn’t sure exactly when she realized the world was synchronized, but she was sure it had all started when her alarm went off.  The persistent machine woke her gradually, and above her head the upstairs neighbor seemed to be stomping in time to the rhythm of her alarm. [TTC]

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One final thing – If you would like me to offer a few editorial thoughts on your entry, email me and ask. And tell me if it’s okay to offer my thoughts on the blog or if you’d prefer them in a private response. Since it’s my busy season, it might take a while for me to respond, but I’ll make every effort to offer at least a couple of thoughts to help you on your way.