One Friday Thing

It’s been a long week. My brain is scrambled, my heart more than a little broken. But I didn’t want to leave this page blank, so here’s the “One Friday Thing” promised in the title:

All novels are love stories.

Discuss.

I’ll tell you why I think it’s true next week.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go tell your significant others “I love you” and have a good weekend.

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]

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(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.

The Winner

If I open this post by saying something like “all of you are winners” will you promise not to throw up? Okay, then I will. Here’s why that statement is absolutely appropriate and not merely a “line” to soothe the pain for all but The Chosen One: you took on a writing task…and completed it. That’s a big deal. Do you know one of the biggest differences between published authors and unpublished authors? The published authors actually completed their books. Okay, there’s a whole lot more that goes into getting published, but I can assure you you’ll never get published if you don’t finish your book. (This is a sentence I must read aloud to myself every day until mine is done.)

So congratulations on a small accomplishment. Now, just do that 400 more times and you have a novel.

Did you read Jenny’s comment about the first five finalists? She said the entries were “like the first paragraph of books I wouldn’t be able to put down.” That’s high praise for 200 words, and exactly the point of the exercise.

Some of you wrote great short stories for the contest, but since I was looking more for scenes that imply a larger story, I graded them a little lower than the rest. (I’ll show you a couple of them tomorrow anyway, because it’s not easy to tell a story in 200 words and you did a good job.)

So, about these top 10. I want to tell you why I liked each one. If you haven’t already read them, please do.

Melissa’s entry caught my attention because it presents a complex relationship between father and daughter and yet doesn’t pretend to resolve it in 200 words. Even though the writing itself is spare, the implication of the larger story – what precedes the excerpt and what follows it – makes it interesting to me.

I waffled a bit about selecting Terry’s entry for the top 10 – not because it wasn’t well-written, but because it feels a little bit like a short story rather than a scene. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see this as an opening to a unique novel with a quirky protagonist. It was Terry’s distinctive “voice” that lifted the entry into the top 10. (More on “voice” in a future post. Voice is important. Maybe the most important thing of all.)

Machelle’s entry caught my eye because of the conflict between the two characters and the interesting use of the watch. I’ll admit I have a minor issue with the POV shift (I think it would be even stronger just from the woman’s POV), but there was enough here to compel me to want more. The brief interplay between the characters told me something about their history and was a nice set-up for the last two lines. I like it that the story could go a lot of different directions from here.

I loved the emotional impact of Robin’s scene. (I admit it, I teared up.) Like Terry’s scene, I wondered at first if it was a bit too short story-ish, but the twist she writes into the last lines could easily be a springboard into a novel about a contentious relationship between father and daughter.

R. Alexander’s zombie scene may be a familiar idea, but it was well-paced and interesting and just did everything right. I can only presume that the battle rages on long after the character’s proclamation of doom, and that’s a story I want to read.

Because I’m all about honesty, I need to tell you that Mark is my brother. His entry was also a bit short story-ish, but I liked the way he used the watch to tell us about the protagonist and his nemesis – and I can imagine this being expanded into a story about those two people meeting later in life as neighbors or co-workers. Could be a rather funny story.

Wendy’s scene is intriguing to me not only because of the relationship between father and son, but because of the curious premise. It’s the stuff she doesn’t say that makes me want to know more. “This is the day…” she wrote. Well, was it? And if it wasn’t, would the day ever come? A good scene is bigger than the words used to write it.

Stance’s scene is packed with details that imply a much greater story, and after just 200 (plus a few) words, I want to know more about this character and what is prompting a visit to the grave. I also like the way Stance seems to be developing a unique voice, too.

Adam’s post-apocalyptic scene caught me off guard (in a good way). It took me a couple of reads to fully appreciate the contrasting textures, but this is just the sort of writing that grows on me. I like being stretched as a reader, and Adam’s entry does that. Plus, his protagonist has a unique and compelling voice. I want more of this.

And finally, Seth’s entry. Yes, this is my top choice. The vivid descriptions and the surprisingly rich characterizations are terrific, but it’s the voice Seth imbues in his words that gave his entry the edge over the other great scenes. So, congratulations Seth, you win the gift card and the Santa Yoda.

And once again, thanks to everyone who entered. I’ll have more good stuff from entries in tomorrow’s post. Don’t miss it. And keep reading, okay? As long as someone is out there, I’ll keep filling the blog with words. And contests.

The Finalists – Part Two

Yesterday I introduced five of the top 10 entries in my writing contest. Today, five more. If yours isn’t here, take heart, you’re still in the top 35. And I will have another contest, too. Lots of them if people keep reading my blog. I already have the prize picked out for the next one. Well, half of the prize, anyway. If you’ve been to the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, you’ll be familiar with it. Here’s a hint: Mold-a-rama. Google it and be entranced by injection molding technology for the zoo-going masses.

And now, on to the rest of the top 10.

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The last pillars of light were visible above the horizon. Yosef watched the seconds count down on the luminescent, digital face of his diving watch, the numbers at the far right speeding so fast he could barely make sense of them.

“This is the day, I can feel it,” he said to his son, Walter.

Walter scrunched his face but began the trudge across the packed sand. Their ritual seemed ancient when combined with the briny smell of the sea and the sound of waves meeting shore. When his feet reached the water, he began to stomp, sending arcs of water into the air. He stopped when he was submerged to just below his collar bone; he could hear the water slosh as Yosef began to tread water beside him. They faced out into the ocean. Two stars sparkled above them.

Yosef glanced at his watch one more time. “Now,” he shouted. Walter watched his father’s head go under and looked up, a third star appearing in the night.

With a sense of urgency weighing on him, Walter followed his father’s lead, even though he doubted he would find a miracle in the warm depths below.

[Wendy]

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I had been walking most of the day, anxious to revisit the place where it happened, ready to be close to her again. The unforgiving sun had finally given way to a cool evening breeze, its amber light slowly reclining beneath the forest’s tree line. I could have walked along the edge of the highway and saved myself some time, but I didn’t much care for the way the people in the cars stared at me. My tattered blue jeans and home spun shirt marked me as an outcast before they even knew my name. No sir, the back roads were where I belonged, here amongst all that was still right in the world. Papa had said the woods was where a man found himself when he became lost. He was gone now, struck down by the cancer, his face a road map of pain and regret. Damn mining company paid for his funeral and left me his gold watch.  I never wore it or had a need to. The sun told you the time in the day and at night, why, all you had to do was listen to the crickets. The heavy foliage and trees were becoming less dense as I walked. It wouldn’t be long before I got to her grave. I felt around for my pocket knife and the bottle of blood they had given me.

[Stance]

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“Honey, there’s someone at the door. Can you get it?”

It was probably the man from Sotheby’s, here to pick up my contribution to the auction. I’d only worn the watch once. I was 8 at the time and this was back in ’33. My grandfather gave me the watch for my birthday. I hardly slept that night, imagining what it would be like the next day at school, with everyone wanting to see it. A wristwatch was a great luxury in those days, especially for a boy. Only it didn’t turn out that way. Stevie Stover, the class bully, made fun of my silly Mickey Mouse watch, and I never wore it again. Tomorrow it would be sold for charity. What cost $3.25 all those years ago will probably fetch thousands now, especially since mine was in mint condition and one of the first ever made. I briefly wondered what I’d say to Stevie if I were to run into him at the store or the bank. Maybe I’d thank him for preventing me from “ruining” the collectible. More likely I’d punch him in the face for the shame I’d endured.

“I got it, dear.”

[Mark]

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“LAURA!”

Aggravated, he sighed.  Today of all days she chose to miss the bus.

He shifted from one foot to the other, checking his watch.

She appeared in the kitchen, raising her eyes briefly. If he hadn’t chosen that moment to check his watch again, he might’ve seen the haunted expression on her face, the dark shadows under her eyes.

“I don’t have all day, let’s GO.”

Muttering to himself, he headed towards the car. She slid in the passenger seat wordlessly, fidgeting with her book bag. He didn’t notice it had been emptied of all her books.

They drove in silence. Arriving at the school’s entrance, he waited for her to get out, fingers drumming on the steering wheel.

She hesitantly whispered,

“Dad?”

He sighed, glancing at his watch. “You’ve made me late enough.”

Her shoulders slumped as she got out. Pulling away, he glanced in his rearview mirror. She was standing where he’d left her, watching him drive away.

Finally seeing her expression, a warning signal sounded deep in his heart. Something wasn’t right.

But glancing at his watch, he continued to speed away.

[Melissa]

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I guess my wristwatch kept good time, but I never used it for that. Did you know that on a hot, sunny day a Timex and a carefully calculated trajectory from the sun can cause ants to spontaneously combust? Okay, maybe not combust, but I’m betting many of them have had to make a trip to their dermatologist to remedy the searing effects of global baking.

Have you ever tried to blind birds in flight with a twelve-jillion-lumen glare off a freshly buffed crystal? Good times.

Or, right when my wife falls asleep, poolside, on the chaise I flash her lids and put the kabosh on her REM.

Once I snapped the old Timex around the neck of our schnauzer, set the alarm for one minute, booted him out the door and said, “You’ve got exactly sixty seconds to pick a spot and shit. One second more—no dinner and you’re sleeping outside tonight.”

That was the last I’ve seen of that watch…and Schnubbles.

[Terry]

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Tune in tomorrow for the announcement of the winner. Which one would you choose? And don’t forget – on Thursday I’ll highlight some of the good stuff from the rest of the entries. And then next week, along with a few regular posts, I’ll show you how I would edit some of the top 10 entries to make them even sharper. Bye for now.


The Finalists – Part One

Before I explain how this works, let me say one more time how impressed I was by the quality of the submissions to the writing contest. They ranged from “needs work, but not a bad start” to “that’s amazing.” Even if you didn’t make the top 10, you can rest assured your entry wasn’t horrible. If that’s not reassuring enough for you, consider this: judging writing is a subjective thing. What I love may be very different from what another editor (or agent, or publisher) loves. Please don’t throw rocks at me if you disagree with my selections.

Here’s how I chose. First, I read each entry once through without grading them at all. Then I went through a second time and assigned each a rank from 1 to 5 (five meaning excellent and one meaning…well, it doesn’t matter what one means since no one received a one, thank goodness). I went through a third time to re-evaluate the rankings. During this pass, four of the entries were bumped down a half point or so, and one was bumped up. I made the arbitrary decision to present only the top 10 on the blog, and to get to that number, I had to make one more pass through the entries. It wasn’t until this final pass that I took into consideration whether or not you exceeded the word count (a number of you did and now must attend summer school to retake the math class you failed last semester). Still, if you were only off by just a few words, I let it slide. I’m generous that way.

So here are five of the top 10 entries, in random order, for you to enjoy. Five more will be posted tomorrow. On Wednesday I’ll let you know which of the top 10 is my choice for winner (at which point you can all congratulate the winner or gently explain to me how much more evil I am than Simon Cowell).

On Thursday, I’ll post some excerpts and entries that didn’t make the top 10, but deserve your attention for other reasons. Good reasons. I promise I won’t dissect your hard work in front of God’n’everyone. That said, I do want to mention that none of these entries is perfect. Even among the top 10 there are some things that make me want to reach for the red pen. If the writers of these will grant me permission, I’ll gladly show you what I mean in a future post.

(The following entries may have been formatted to fit your screen, but I did not change any of the wording or spelling. All typos you see are original. A typo, while regrettable, is not the ‘kiss of death’ for a writer. Great writing or notable promise can buy you a few typos. Still, this is one of my pet peeves so let this exercise be a lesson to you – write brilliant stories, then go back to make sure you aren’t leaving any blatant errors on the page. Okay? Thanks.)

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“They attack on a schedule? What the hell are these things!”

Three days ago the dead crawled out of their crypts, tombs, and plain pine boxes to wreak their revenge upon the living. Media said something about Twinkie preservatives, deep frying, and an little known arcane ritual performed by some drunk Scotsmen during the Highland Games. Either way, Mike rarely believed anything CNN said nowadays.

John slumped against the low wall edging the Walmart’s roof. His zombie plan worked and they’d been able to hold the store, but these things….

Over the edge, Mike saw the lines of undead swaying at attention. They didn’t make a sound or move far from where they stood. They just waited like soldiers for inspection.

He looked at the cheap Casio watch, ten seconds before the mill’s whistle blew.

“Ready for the next one?” asked John.

“Yeah, but with the ammo we’ve got left….”

The watch struck 10:00 and the deep throated trill of the whistle came. Time to work. The corpses were already in a blind run at the building.

Mike targeted one in his scope and fired a shot. It dropped but another ten took its place.

“We’re so screwed.”

[R. Alexander]

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“Gimme it.”

“Uh-uh.”

He tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead with his cutoff t-shirt, but there was not enough fabric left to do the job.

“Never understood why people cut off t-shirts. That’s the important part,” she mused, standing in the mud next to her man and the broken ATV.

“Just gimme your goddamn watch so I can rig this throttle and get us home!”

“No, Mama gave me this.”

“Your mama’s dead. Hand over your buttwipin’ watch!”

She looked at him. He had become foreign to her, like a word viewed so many times it’s strangely unfamiliar or looks misspelled.

He looked at her. That weird gleam in her eye behind the lanky bangs and the frosted eyeshadow implied something in her that he’d never seen before from his mama, or Loreen, whose bed he’d left this morning, or any other female.

So he grabbed her arm and unhooked the wristwatch as she squawked and struggled. He turned to the ATV and jerry-rigged the loose throttle, stretching the cheap leather to its limit.

She wondered how far she could get a knife through his gut before it stopped. She wondered how much a bus ticket to Atlanta costs.

[Machelle]

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If you never thought you’d end up in Konakwa County, much less “The last Irish pub in Konakwa County”…well, there’s a lot you never thought would happen. I’m sure the Irish, whoever they were, never believed their green three-blister road sign would outlast them. And I betcha never thought you’d live to see the end of days, or the day we stopped counting ‘em, neither. But a few red skies after that (I’ll wager a hundred), if you had been in Konakwa, you’d’ve witnessed the fanciest occurrence since the big flash.

Of all the strange blisters that’ve grown on walking things since, none compare to the scratches and bites plaguing the glass-faced man sporting the spotty-grey rubber suit.

–I don’t know where you wandered in from, stranger, but I ain’t seen your kind before.

–I don’t mean no trouble, bartender. Just here to add some grease to my dial.

–You keep shifting your expression. Can’t tell if you’re smirking at me.

–Ain’t no smirking ‘less you’re smug. Now hand me that moonshine ‘fore I regale you with my sorrowful self…

Imagine that—plenty witnesses; a walking, talking, daykeeping man; and no one to tell you what time it was.

[Adam]

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Shriveled in his chair like a grape destined for mediocre wine, he looked at his wrist for the 12th time; three minutes later than last time. The watch, a Timex, was a Father’s Day gift purchased with love and pride and six months of baby-sitting money. Black numbers on white face, the date feature required an additional month. Before cell phones were routinely attached to belts, ears and a teenager’s busy fingers, wristwatches weren’t so much fashion accessory, they were necessary for telling time.

I wasn’t sure if he was anxious or eager for his appointment, and it was then he noticed me and smiled.  He told me I was the prettiest girl in the room and I looked like his daughter. He extended his arm to show off the prized possession and explained how she had given it to him with “money she earned herself.” His previously vacant expression illuminated with pride.

I turned away to hide the tears now filling my eyes. He would be going nowhere today, though his broken mind told him otherwise.

For the 13th time he checked the watch I had given him decades ago; it was so well-worn, it now oddly resembled a hospital bracelet.

[Robin]

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Pink left Little Belle Plantation after it burned in 1935. He didn’t know nothin’ else, he’d told Mr. Perry. But Perry was kind and believed that a capable plantation hand could make do at just about anything, so he’d arranged a job for Pink at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Monroe. Perry had owed at least this to Pink. The man had all-but raised Perry’s son, teaching him to hunt and trap on Black Bayou.

Mouk remembered Pink’s big, brown knuckles, blackened by industrial grease. In them he passed a twine-tied grease rag to Mouk—wrapping for a parting gift. He’d bartered it off one of the syrup men on the line, he said. Pink smiled, showing his namesake gums as Mouk removed the contents.

Nazi’s and beavers both need trappin’, Pink said.

Mouk now repeated these words as he swayed left to right. There aren’t too many places for light to penetrate a forty-and-eight boxcar. Only one silver thread pierced a hole above Mouk’s left shoulder. He had been playing a rather childish game, keeping that light-thread from touching that trench watch Pink had managed.

It was the spring of 1945. They would be to Paris in an hour.

[Seth]

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More tomorrow…