Nothing To See Here: Notes on a Current Flash Fiction Project

Nothing To See Here: Notes on a Current Flash Fiction Project

The Call of the Wendig has sounded, and I must follow.

Here we all are, doing what needs to be done. Some of us in the midst of taking care of some business that has been needing to be taken care of for the longest time. Suddenly, and without warning, another school shooting happened on Valentines Day 2018. As of that day, the number of school shootings stands at 17. That’s two away from meeting the record from last year.

Chuck Wendig’s felt it. I’ve felt it. Anyone with a pulse and a conscious has felt it. It’s really hard to concentrate on doing anything creative when another unexplained act of extreme violence takes the lives of 17 children. It’s also rather chilling to think that in 2018 we have to use the modifier another when speaking about an atrocity like a school shooting. Like we regard it as a casual inconvenience along the lines of Five o’clock Traffic. Chuck has posed to us a challenge because there are things to be said. There are more voices that need to be heard. There needs to be a healing.

The theme of this latest challenge, to the surprise of absolutely no one is “A World Without Guns”. I have spent a few days with this going through my head. I don’t think I’m any closer to visualizing it than I was the week before. Maybe this is why he made this challenge. Maybe this is why I need to accept it.

How Did We Get Here?

Okay, let’s clear the deck and start rearranging the furniture. There’s a lot of stuff to unpack, and it would help if I kinda knew where I was going. First of all, what type of world are we talking about? Second, there is a consideration of story length. Third, what is the theme? What is the message I’m trying to convey? Once again, I’m treating the smaller things with great importance. I’m doing it again because it matters. This one effing matters.

1. What Is The Shade of the Sky in Your World?

There is probably no way to get through this without blatantly committing the worst examples of Impostor Syndrome. I’ve researched all the examples I can think of, all the classics, all the new voices. Sooner or later, they all start sounding familiar. Bradbury leaps to mind. Vonnegut could probably do this in his sleep. For this, I think I want to go a little darker, and this means I have to ask myself one thing before I jump in with both feet: What Would Stephen King Do?

First, is this a world where guns have been outlawed? Well, if that’s the case, then it kinda isn’t necessarily a world without guns. If you ban something, anything, make that thing even more desirable because it is forbidden, they just don’t go away. They go underground. You would have the deepest and darkest of black markets where the world’s weapons would still be for sale, but only to the people who will go through great lengths to get there. I think this world would exist without stretching the imagination too much, and so I think I’ll stick in this one.

The other possibility is that they were never invented to begin with. We could live in a world where we never evolved passed the Dark Ages. This could mean literally, where dragons exist along side of WiFi technology. Or it could mean figuratively where our attitudes haven’t changed much since then; we still fear the unknown, witchcraft is very much a thing and surgery is still done with leeches. The former seems like a decent idea for another time, but the latter would be better suited, if only for a spice, an accent, for this scenario. It’s modern day, but people are still completely, willfully, dangerously ignorant. Flat Earthers and Anti-vaxxers come to mind.

2. That’s A Rather Personal Question, Isn’t It Sir?

How long is it? This is a very real issue that needs to be addressed. The challenge is for 1500 words, no one is going to fault for going a smidge over. The point is that it needs to stay short. The basis of writing Flash Fiction is to tell the story, sell the story, get to the point as quickly as possible in the space that you have. 1500 words is pretty much max capacity for Flash Fiction. The answer to this question should be exactly that, and it should be something that I stick to, but is there another way around it?

As of this point, I’m well over my daily session target of 500 words. Not bragging, but I knocked them out within an hour, and I’m not slowing down either. I feel this play needs to be performed in 4 acts. Realistically, I could smoosh everything down to Flash Fiction size, but my compulsion to go big is speaking louder, so how do I curb this?

 

  • Keep it short: Limit to one scene. Limit to two characters AT THE MOST. Begin close to the end.
  • Use one theme ONLY
  • Use one plot line ONLY
  • Keep it tight: save only the essential items of a back story. Get rid of fluff words, and unnecessary dialog.

Keep in mind that Flash Fiction is essential if for nothing else than practice. It’s something that tightens the spring for a longer story. That’s why this is a challenge, it’s going against everything that I want to do.

3. What Are You Saying?

The premise of this story is a world without guns. But does that necessarily correlate to a world without violence? From an outsider’s perspective, gun culture, particularly an American brand of gun culture, seems to be not too far away from a sort of Feudalism. Maybe the term “living in the dark ages” as a little more apropos these days. Within the framework of what I need to write, there is now a world completely devoid of guns, but evil still remains. Nobody shoots up a school anymore, but people still fear the unknown. People still segregate, diminish, hate. It’s the notion of accepting a Utopian society were it not for the people who still feel the “need for a gun”. They need some magic weapon to make all the things they consider bad to disappear. Take away the guns, but leave the fear and ignorance. What happens then?

I envision a world in the final throes of a democracy. A world where enlightenment has been going on so long that it feels like it’s been tarnished by it’s own brilliance. How would this story be told? How would I write it? What am I trying to say? Throw all the guns away, if it will make you happy. You still won’t erase ignorance and greed. You still won’t save people from themselves. It is 2018, and we have learned, and will learn, nothing.

But, let’s put all that on the back burner and focus on something in particular. I have yet to establish a theme, and instead I’m focusing on a broader picture.

What am I trying to say?

Yes, violence is bad, life and liberty is good and all that is very useful if you’re teaching children. But this is a story, not a homily. Gun violence is out of control and they should all be banned and blahblahblah I’m putting myself to sleep on this.

No one will listen if I went down the Ban All Guns road. At the same time, the point wouldn’t be made if I glorified violence either. I’d be riding that fine line between preaching to the choir or screaming in the wind. Instead of coasting on a broad generalization and starting an argument that goes nowhere, maybe try and disassemble the whole morality of it, lay the whole issue out on a blanket as if I were taking apart a motor, and find one thing about this topic that is important enough to write a story about.

Let’s step away from the guns themselves for a moment. It’s window dressing and only represents a small part of the argument. Not to diminish their existence and the destruction that they bring, I get that part. What specifically about the gun culture that riles me? Is it the deaths? Sure. Is it that we are the only country in the “civilized” world that assassinates children on a regular basis without really doing anything about it? Absolutely. It’s all those things, but the biggest issue I have, the thing that makes my blood boil, has nothing to do with the actual weapons of war. It has to do with the hypocrisy around it.

A tragedy happens, and the normal thing to do, outside of the natural mourning period, would be to take steps to figure out what happened to make sure that it never happens again. Regulations are put in place. Media blitzes swamp the landscape. People talk about it. Seat belts. Drunk driving. Smoking is bad for you. Speed limits. The ineffective “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. All of these were the result of people taking action after a tragedy, and all of these are all commonplace now. We wear seat belts. Drunk driving is a no no. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable.

Someone shoots up a school, which *winces* happens on a fairly regular basis these days, and the people, the people we count on, the people we elected to hear us and understand us and do something when our lives are in danger, are strangely quiet about it. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, they’ve been seeing something and saying something for a while now. In fact, they’ve been quite active on this. The tragedy here is that no one bothered to listen or take them seriously because… pfft… kids… amiryte?

It’s not just the weapons themselves, it’s the ignorance and the arrogance and the hypocrisy and the twisted logic surrounding it that I find the most horrifying.

This is where my story lies. This is where I’ll start.

 

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The Road to eBooking Part 1: Where To Begin?

The Road to eBooking Part 1: Where To Begin?

You know how it goes…

It’s late summer, and you’re holding court at some corporate Tiki Bar in the middle of the banker district. There’s a beautiful sunset overhead, but you ignore it because at the moment, one hand is feverishly flipping through your news feed on your phone, while the other is wrapped around your third Suffering Bastard. Right now, all you can think about is where your next gig is coming from.

Your buddy’s Hawaiian shirt is so loud it could be heard over the soulless banter of the Mid-week Happy Hour crowd and whatever piped in audio sedative treacle they have playing at the time. It must be a Tuesday. His gait is wide as he clears a path back to your table. He removes his cheap, ill-fitting sunglasses from his pock marked face, and he reveals a very serious expression. He orders a Red Stripe, turns to you and says, “That was the main office. They want to know if you can write a novel.”

“A novel?” You ask with heavy indignance, “Can’t those bastards find anything else to do in this god forsaken time? They had plenty of time to unleash this task last month. Novel. Pfft. They must be getting desperate.”

“I dunno. It could be important,” says your buddy as he gives the glass back to the waitress and takes a mighty swig from the tiny bottle. “As your attorney, I advise you to consider this option. Pack up the car, leave town for at least 48 hours. It could be just the thing you need to get out of this rut.”

“Those barking jackasses won’t get a word from me,” you say as you adjust your amber tinted aviators and turn your attention back to your Twitter feed. “Don’t they realize this country is going to hell in handbasket? There’s more important things out there than just casual reading, dammit!”

Next thing you know, you wake up in some horribly painted unfurnished apartment out by the railroad tracks on the edge of town. You are surrounded by stacks of notecards, a mountain of hastily written drafts that seem to be propping up a tower of pizza boxes, a minefield of empty coffee cups underfoot, and huge goddamn WiFi bill that your buddy stuck you with.

You squint at the Dollar Store Adorable Kitten calendar affixed crudely against the kitchen wall with duct tape. You notice it’s November. You notice this not because of the fluffy baby tabby kitteh posed perfectly on a pumpkin in pilgrim attire, you notice this because the name of the month circled and underlined repeatedly in red marker with an equally urgent treatment given to the date of the 28th.

Today.

You look over at your laptop and you notice a jibberish laden manuscript flickering on the screen with a bold heading that simply says Chapter 3. You panic. At least, you think about panicking if it weren’t for the dull nausea in your gut that you get from too much coffee and not enough food. It has garnered your full attention, and is quickly amplifying the hell that you found yourself in.

Everywhere you look is chaos. Nothing is making sense. Seriously, where did this cat come from? Do I even own this much paper? These aren’t my pants. Did someone actually use a highlighter on my screen? You’d be more inclined to think that you’d been robbed, but nothing appears stolen. But then again, you don’t even know whose place this is.

You turn around, and come face to face with a wall sized cork board completely choked from corner to corner with more notecards, color coded and frenzied. A few are stitched together in some random network of colored yarn and thumb tacks. Confusion fills your head, because you can’t recall any conspiracy theories that you’re following at the moment. Then, it hits you. It’s NaNoWriMo, and you’re about to go down in flames.

I know, I know. We’ve all been there.

My experience wasn’t any different.

With a little restraint, I’ve managed to control the impulse to do something like this, and it has gone down a few notches since then.

Write Smaller, Not Harder

Before signing up, I honestly don’t think I had a cohesive idea for a novel at all. I had the beginnings of an idea. A spark. I had the willingness to elevate the way I use this craft, and the desire to see it through to the end, only to have the wind knocked out of my sails by the end of week two.

I was ill equipped, and perhaps just a little full of myself. I ramble, in case you haven’t noticed. And as such, I thought I would be able to make it to the finish line. Most of my blog posts average around 2000 words so it should be no problem. True, there are times where it takes me a few days, sometimes longer to finish. I accept this because time and privacy are both luxuries I do not possess. These are the things that I would need in order crank out more, if not better and more consistent posts. These things would facilitate a decent showing at the end of November.

At least I’d get a t-shirt out of it.

These are also the things I will probably never get by being a stay-at-home dad. So, in order to reach a compromise, it made more sense to set my sites a bit lower, and work smaller.

Writing prompts and Flash Fiction contests are great to make sure the imagination keeps moving, but these days, I tend to gravitate more towards static art. Building a story around a painting just makes sense because…well… they are worth a thousand words, after all. So, why not figure out what they are and write them down? You know… for kicks!

At Home Among A Gaggle of Geeks

When you post a work of art on your social medias, you’ll get your usual, obligatory likes, and random one or two word comments. You feel this fleeting moment of satisfaction where you think someone might have the same taste you do.

Post that same work onto a community space that is inhabited entirely by a nerd herd of people with similar likes, interests and experiences, and you’re bound to get something a little more fleshed out.

Examples of this can be found on Tumblr, Medium, Facebook (I’m presuming) and in this case, Charlie Hoover’s Geekscape of the Day.  There is no contest he constructs. He offers no direction. One would think that he would posit a challenge at the very least, but he doesn’t. He simply posts a work of art that he likes, something that can easily fit with the community’s namesake, along with the name of the artist who made it and a link to where they originally posted it. That’s it.

To the average person, this is just another post on just another social site.

To a person who is predisposed to letting their mind wander, it’s like catnip.

Sooner or later, the word nerds from the nerd herd would gather and start clicking away at their keyboards like little nerdy word birds. What ultimately ends up happening isn’t a competition or even a round-robin type thing. It’s more like an unofficial open mic night at some bar that only the locals know about. One person would leave their related micro fiction as a comment. Then another would leave their interpretation, then another, and so on.  This is what happens when you show something interesting to a group of smarter than average people who read a lot in their spare time. This is how I often thought an ideal social media interaction would take place.

This is also how I came to travel down the road to my first official publication. Fingers crossed.

I’m about 1200 words in, and I still haven’t provided anything actionable yet.

For some reason, I’m still thinking that the point of writing this post is to show what my thinking process was in writing a short story, or anything else for that matter. I’ve been fighting with this part for about a week now because there’s a big part of me who is convinced no one will care.

As I’ve stated before, do you really want advice from someone who isn’t a professional? Advice, good advice, should be dispensed by smarter people than me.

But then again, advice isn’t gospel.

The best I can do, is impart a tiny bit of wisdom through experience and hope that it might be beneficial to someone.

Where To Start?

The painting that I based my current story on, is found here. Take a look. Take a good long look at it. Absorb it. Spend a few minutes with it, then get back to me.

Welcome back. Now, answer me this. What did you see? Who talked to you? What was said? What did you smell? This way of doing things accounts for the majority of my present and future drafts. I’m not saying that it will work for you. It may, but it may not. Looking at the source material is the first step. This is what I normally do next.

1.) Remember The Basic Rule.

“Every play has to have a beginning, middle and an end. Jean-Luc Godard said, ‘Not necessarily in that order.’ And that’s why French movies are so effing boring.”
-David Mamet

I will acknowledge that liberties are ours for the taking. We as writers, professional and amatuer, will always have the freedom to do what we want with our own work.

Mix it up ‘Memento’ style?
Go ahead with your bad self!

Sticking with the ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘Happily Ever After’ formula?
Well, look at YOU in your Sunday Best!

Whatever route you follow, always remember that every story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Absorb the source material. Think about a beginning, you don’t have to get into too much detail. Then a middle; will there be conflict? Then the end; what would be the result?

If you can fill in these blanks, then you’re well on your way.

2.) Keep Asking Questions.

Imagine you aren’t a writer chained to your desk to finish your latest work of fiction. Imagine you’re a journalist who just arrived on scene of a botched robbery. You’re job is to get all the important details out of the way first. The rest will take care of itself.

  • Who was involved? Who was the victim? Was there a perpetrator?
  • What happened? What is the evidence? What are the facts?
  • Where did it happen? Home or business? City or suburbs?
  • Why did it happen? What was the motivation? Who stands to benefit?
  • How did it happen? What was used? Where was it acquired?

The principle is the same regardless if you’re creating worlds for your next novel, or writing a fully detailed article for the Washington Post. Once you get all the important information down, ask yourself, “Is this all to the story, or is there something that I missed?”

3.) Stay Curious.

Right around this time, Imposter Syndrome kicks in, and I go back over everything to see if it’s slightly original, or just another worn out trope.

If it starts ringing familiar, then I try to steer the narrative into a new direction. If it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t make it any less challenging.

Can you work with it? Are you willing to work with it? Is it something you’re willing to put the hours into? If the answer to these is no, then it probably wasn’t meant to be, but that’s okay. There are plenty of other motes of inspiration out there waiting to fly into your nostril cavity at any time. All you have to do is to keep an open mind, and stay curious.

It’s been over a week on this post. I’ve spent long enough away from my draft, and I should return with a fresh set of eyes. Revisions will be the house in which I will be moving into soon, but for now, something else has my full attention. Something awful.

In the course of writing this post, an American radicalized by a White Supremacist Terrorist Group walked into a Florida high school, and murdered 17 children.

He walked in with an assault rifle. Passed metal detectors. Passed armed guards. 17 children, 3 adults, murdered. In school. On Valentine’s Day. It’s now two days later. No motive has been given.

I know it’s our job to stay on task and finish the article and stick to the program, but shit like this makes it hard to talk about anything else. Everything else seems small in comparison. I’m writing about some stupid book that I’m trying to publish, meanwhile 17 kids were slaughtered on Valentine’s Day. That’s 17 kids who will never have the opportunity to make the world a better place. 17 voices silenced. Hundreds in mourning. Thousands enraged. A country fed up.

Right now, there isn’t anything else.

Right now, there are more important things that need discussion.

 

Road to My First eBook (an introduction)

Road to My First eBook (an introduction)

I am finished.

After years of psyching myself up while at the same time learning to let go of doubt and fear and perfection, I fulfilled a promise made to myself from years ago. I finally finished something.

It’s taken me 5 months, and the length of it should reflect the time invested into it. But, no. Although, I’m not entirely sure that taking a long time on a project is a bad thing. Five months to write something should mean, according to most bloggers, that I have spawned a full length, 180,000 word, child booster seat usable, make War & Peace look like a diner menu type novel. Instead, it’s pocket-sized, and I’m okay with that.

“So, whatchoo been doin’, brah?”
Oh, I just completed a draft for a short story.
“Ah, that’s pretty righteous, Mr. Edgar Allen Bro. How long it take? A week or two?”
It took me five months.
“Oh…okay. Well, hey gotta go do my pecs. Catch ya later, Brotato Chip.”

For those of you who were wondering, yes. I did just equate people who win at NaNoWriMo every year to gym bros. And before you start crying foul about it, it’s a totally fair analogy, because in both scenarios, I think I’m making great progress at what I’m doing, until I see how far along other people are, then I just want to go home and bury myself in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

I’ve finished. And yes it has taken me an especially long time to do so, but I don’t care. One of these days, I’ll learn to set personal benchmarks and deadlines, but for now, I’m enjoying this achievement. This is big for me, realistically and spiritually. The race ended a long time ago, and everyone went home, but I’m crossing that finish line covered in sweat and puke stains come hell or high water.

The magic number was 10,000 words. That’s all. Just get to that level.

Hit 10,000 words so it could be trimmed back to 7,000 so it could be easily be digested in one sitting, and if I’m lucky, sold into anthologies and stuff. That was the intent.

September, 2017. The Beginning.

Kermit

I have this terrible habit of not finishing things. Call it Fear of Failure. Call it the pitfalls of being a Perfectionist. Say that I’m a chronic procrastinator. Throw all those things into a word salad, serve it with a steak, and I’d give my compliments to the chef. There is always that other thing. That story I need to at least get an opening scene happening for so I don’t forget why I wanted to pursue it to begin with. For me, this has meant a folder full of barely started manuscripts that are still miles away from their resolution.

This has been my go-to destructive habit for a bit too long, and so in September of last year, I decided to put my foot down, draw a line in the sand, find a hill to die on and… um… I dunno… choke a…yak with a… uh… banana-nut muffin? Anyway, I decided to make it a priority to find one last project and stick with it until completion.

Okay, yeah. Sure. I slipped a little Flash Fiction somewhere in there, so what? It wasn’t a complete distraction. If anything, it helped.

shortstoryresult3

So, five months later, I have finished my short story. Well, technically my first draft, but I still finished it. My goal was for 10,000 words. It ended up being  just south of 12,000. I added a little wiggle room on purpose to see what could be saved and what couldn’t.

What I have just completed is a first step into uncharted territory. I have read several blogs on what I should be doing as far as prepping for publication, and I will be taking them all into consideration. But, as with most advice I seek out, I’ll have to keep in mind that it’s all subjective and what works for one person may not work for me. My experience won’t exactly reflect their experience because YMMV.

My original intent for this post was to make a Top 5 list for Things You Need to do After Completing Your First Draft…ugh… Seriously, would you follow the advice of some unpublished noob? Of course not. I wouldn’t.

I’m just feeling my way around at the moment. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll admit it. I am going to make mistakes, and more importantly, I am going to own my mistakes. I’m not at that point where I can properly dispense wisdom, and something tells me that when I do, I probably won’t be as forthcoming then either. So, no advice from me. I promise. However, the SEO gods have to be appeased, and so I must document something on this here bloggeroonski in regards to my current endeavor.

I could do research on what would be the next steps to publish, and give you some worn out list that has been offered over and over again by a dozen different authors. But from me it would just sound ridiculous. I mean, more than it does now. It wouldn’t make much sense. What would make sense, I think, would be to blog about the current state of the project as I’m going through it. That way, it will keep me honest and motivated into seeing this through. Plus, it’s always satisfying to read an origin story. Maybe I’ll offer sneak previews and such here and there. You know, like what a real blogger does.

Consider this an introduction. The next few steps should be coming relatively quickly because I’m practically there.

I am going to publish my first work. This is new for me, and it’s very exciting. I could fall flat on my face, I could turn out okay. Who knows?

Stay tuned…

 

Inkwell-ness

Inkwell-ness

41LEkwL-FnL._SX355_At the beginning of the year, I think I may have caught the Hipster Flu. You know that type? The kind that enables the almost unreasonable want for skinny jeans, locally sourced floppy hats, ironic tattoos and analog technology. Case in point, I got it in my head that I needed to get a camera. Not wanted, needed. Not a digital, film. It had to be a discontinued film camera from the 80s or earlier, because the high definition digital camera on my Android phone wasn’t cutting it anymore (he says in a tone more closely resembling a question than a statement).

For about a week straight, I gave myself a crash course on exposure, aperture settings, lighting, film speed. I basically crammed a semester’s worth of Art School into a few days because it wasn’t the camera that I really needed. Oh nonono, see the camera wasn’t the end result. It was a means to which I will get to an end result.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing either. This wasn’t some random impulse buy. This wasn’t an urge to satisfy some irrational yearning for some random material object that I will most assuredly purchase but never use because reasons. I attribute this particular need to discovering Lomography back in 1999. Since then, I have desired to someday purchase a Holga or a Diana of my very own for the soul purpose of capturing a moment from the hip, and framing it.

But why stop there? Why just decorate my own walls? Makes no sense to be completely selfish. Why not sell my photos? I could start a little cottage industry on Etsy. I could build a website. I could I could I could…

Last week, it was something new that caught my attention. A video appeared on my YouTube channel’s “Recommended” list which featured how to carve an intricate design into a garden stone using a grinding tool.

Immediately, my mind jumped to Volusia County Rocks.  It’s like a community Easter Egg hunt that lasts all year long, but instead of eggs, you’re hiding and looking for…well…you know. The family is quite into this activity, and so we have a bunch of rocks laying around the house just waiting to be prettied up. I thought I could offer a little something unique into the mix, and maybe get a following happening in the process. And then, I could probably extend that craft into opening an Etsy shop. I could build a website. I could I could I could…

A few days ago, I started getting into woodworking videos…

…I could I could I could…

It’s not compulsion. It’s not ADD. It’s something that looks an awful lot like it, but isn’t as clinical or severe. As far as I can see, there is nothing that can come close to what I have. Every attention deficit test I take marks me up as below average. If I had to be quantified into a category, I guess I might be considered a textbook Compulsive. But, I have lived long enough to know when to say when. I was close to a thirty year, pack-a-day smoker who quit cold turkey, I think I can keep myself in check.

I guess what I have is desire in a vacuum. And I know that sounds like I might be a latent appliance fetishist or something, but it’s not, and shame on you for going there, ya perv. You could call it Compulsion with Intent; I don’t desire to acquire whatever I’m fixated on at that moment just to have it, I intend to invest in whatever that thing is now so that it may become useful later. The intent is harmless, but it’s deeply flawed. It doesn’t get me into trouble as it would want to do if left unchecked, but it does occupy my time when I should be concentrating on other things.

This is what happens when it’s January, I’m still unemployed, and I have copious amounts of time to devise a plan like Wile E. Coyote stocking up from the Acme catalog. Tragically hopeful that this will be the year that I’ll finally get that scrawny-ass Roadrunner. Completely oblivious that these new plans that I come up with have nothing to do with writing books. At least, not on the surface.

Compulsion with Intent. “Why yes,” I would say to myself. “I do need to nurture a very expensive hobby that I have no experience with because this is how I will bring in an income, and this is how I will fund my future writing projects.”

Need. Not want. And I know what you’re thinking, but honestly it wouldn’t be the first time I walked into a job not knowing what I’m doing.

Forget that I’m kind of late in the game for pretty much everything. If I were to do something like this, I should have started about twenty years ago.

Forget that I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m learning as I go. The first few months spent on a new project will mostly be taken up with nothing but filling the Giant Failure Bowl of Shame daily. This is time that could be better spent on something that I’ve already started.

Forget the up-front investment needed in order to start generating said income.

Forget that there is no guarantee that I will achieve immediate ROI.

Forget all of it, because I’m on that path already. Throwing words into the void is really no different than snapping ironically out-of-focus pictures or grinding stones for children to find. Switching paths is equal to starting over, and I don’t have time for that now. I have a singular goal to get to first. My goal is to not be a useless lump writing occasionally. My goal is to become a financially well off lump who contributes to society and tries to make the world a better place… who also writes occasionally.

This always happens in the month of January. I’m energized at the possibility of achieving something more, something better. Do something. Make something. Sell something. Work at what you love and the money will follow is the credo I will follow, but the work that I would love doing seems to involve crafting something … anything, other than stories.

So, why not make storycrafting the thing?

Imagine drowning.

The first thing you do when attempting to keep your head above water is flail because your arms are instinctively trying to grab a hold of something to float. It’s survival.

Photography, t-shirt design, woodworking, random eclectic art are all examples of me flailing. Writing is the thing I’m drowning in.

Up until recently, I haven’t yet mastered being in control of my own time so that I can devote at least a few hours to a manuscript. Distractions have placed me in front of the computer screen late at night when the rest of the house is asleep. Up until recently, I was okay with thinking that the best way to deal with crippling doubt, Imposter Syndrome, and writer’s block is to jump into a new task altogether. Projects, particularly first drafts, especially when I’m not established, feel like they take an unnecessarily long time to refine and publish. A long time, with no income. Things have got to happen much quicker at this point, and if writing’s not done, then it’s time for a plan B.

Just like it was last year.

And the year before that…

…and the year before that…

Always forgetting that this brand new shiny red ball of opportunity that I found has nothing to do with writing.

This is what drowning feels like.

“So, you seem to want to flee when things aren’t happening fast enough, is that what you’re saying?”
Yes, Voice In My Head. You would be correct in saying that.
“You also seem to gravitate towards making things with your hands or utilizing tools.”
Yeah, I suppose that’s true too.
“Why?”
Well, because I see people more at peace when they make things with their hands. They seem genuine and whole when they do something they love, and I so desperately want that. Because the end product they produce is more immediate than sitting around waiting for your characters to talk to you so you can finish a chapter, let alone the story. Because people make it look so easy. Because they are practicing in a more sought after skill. Because I’m a guy and guys like power tools, dammit!
“Well, if that’s the case, you have tools available to you too, ya know?”
…I do?
“Of course. Listen, if you believe that tools are your key to your salvation, then you’re in luck. You don’t have to seek out a new skill, you don’t have to go into debt purchasing tools you can’t afford for projects you’ll never finish, you don’t have to go chasing that shiny red ball. You can help yourself move forward by doing what you’re doing right now. It’s normal to want to try something else, and that you want to turn it into a marketable skill is admirable. But there is a way to improve and keep you focused without busting your bank or your knuckles. Turning away from something you started just because it’s taking a long time to finish isn’t how the song is supposed to go. You need to see it through. If it’s a tool you desire, then I know of a perfect one for you.”
Ooh! Is it the laptop that I’ve had my eye on for a while?
“Nope. Something much, much cooler.”
…cooler than a laptop? What is it?
“Have you ever written with a fountain pen?”
…I hate you sometimes, Voice In My Head.

It has been noted, and by more than a few people in this World Of Wordcraft, that a journal, an actual bound journal with paper and covers and stuff, an ancient arena where you are forced to slay the dreaded Demon Blankpage with the stroke of a pen, is kinda necessary to improve your craft. Writing something down in a journal, so I’m told, is good exercise. While not necessarily a cure for writer’s block, it could make those inevitable bouts seem less troublesome. Somewhere in the research process, it was suggested that if one were able, writing in a journal with a fountain pen would heighten the experience.

This was information I gathered during gift giving season. I hate gift giving season. It’s not that I don’t like getting things, I do. I really, really do. I find that these occasions where you’re expected to give and receive a little annoying. Because I have to guess what some people want and people have to guess what I want, and in the end, it’s… how should I put this?… It’s the thought that counts. Let’s put it that way.

In any case, I forged ahead in my research of writerly gifts on Amazon and found a moleskine, a fountain pen, and a jar of ink. Humble, inexpensive, and unexciting. In the end, I still wanted the power tools and the vintage camera. But, necessity won out. A Dremel tool isn’t going to help me finish my book. Bottom line.

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First day taking her out for a spin.

Happy birthday to me, my package arrived a few days later. The Pilot Metropolitan pen felt heavy in my hand as I removed it from the case. The replacement ink cartridge that came with it, I quickly found out, wasn’t that necessary (which is to say that the directions were a little unspecific on how to install it… which is to say, I had no idea what I was doing… I’m seeing a pattern here, how about you?), and so the obligatory splattering of ink got out of the way right off the bat. Noob status achieved, I filled the pen’s bladder by dipping the nib into the well, squeezing the bladder until filled, and reconstructed the pen.

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Dagnabbit!

I had no idea what to expect.

After filling a page in the barely cracked moleskin with fresh ink chicken scratch, words are lacking on how to describe the experience.

It was like sipping fine whiskey.

It flowed. So easily. So deftly. The nib was gentle and the inkflow graceful. It was as if the poetry wasn’t in the words, but in the wrist.

The world slowed down. That was the most important part. The world. Slowed. Down.

The last time I wrote anything in cursive was my senior year of high school. I was trained to write like this, as with the rest of my classmates, because good penmanship was the key to adulthood or something. I resorted to writing out everything in Roman letters by my Senior year because it was easier to read, and I found it better suited to writing notes faster. The ability to write elegantly was almost completely lost.

Even though I wasn’t looking for it, I found the ability again at the bottom of an inkwell. The way the pen moved over the page forced me to remember how to write a certain way, which I did. I was compelled to do so, or else I wasn’t pleasing the Cursive Gods, and so they would demand a sacrifice. Slowly, the lessons came back. The words were barely legible and adorably sloppy…

…but it felt good.

The world slowed down. And for someone who insists they might have some sort of Asperger’s, this is a really big deal. If the world spins really fast, then I must as well. Anything that roots me to the soil and draws my attention away from bright and shiny objects is to be respected. You can’t feel the spinning when your feet are on the ground.

Things came into focus. I was able to actually focus. Nothing else mattered. Not desires, not needs, not fear, nothing. I was in “The Zone”, but instead of intense music and explosions, it was that quiet room in a cabin in the middle of the woods I secretly desire. I was looking for catharsis in all the wrong places, and now, with a few strokes of a pen, everything is how it should be.

I have finally found the tool that I needed. This is the year that I’ll finally catch that Roadrunner. This ritual might not be for everyone. Some people might find it a bit boring. But if you had an opportunity, I would highly recommend giving it a try. Who knows? Maybe the world might slow down for you too.

Will this make me a better writer? Probably not, but hey, it doesn’t feel like I’m drowning anymore. To be sure, I have plenty of notebooks, and most of them are filled with notes related to other things. But none of them are a place where I can just talk to myself, and therein, I think, is the base of most of my problems.

The simple act of slowing down, taking the time to form the word, concentrating on making it legible, then making it beautiful, it is there where secrets are revealed. We live in a world that has become too convenient and quantified. Film photography, crafting your own items, these are all not just trends. There is a greater purpose. There is a greater need to create than there is to purchase. I recognize the craft, and by extension, I have allowed myself to be open. To listen. To feel. I am perfectly satisfied, and somewhat healed. I have found my own craft.

Also, this could lead to exploring different pens… or even building my own! Can you imagine?! I could learn calligraphy so I could make and sell my own typeset, you know the ones that are all swirly and hand drawn that seems to be everywhere you look these days. I could build a cottage industry on Creative Market. I could build a website…

…I could…

More to come.
Thanks for reading.

Author’s Note:

Helllllllo everyone. Thanks again for reading, it’s much appreciated. As you can tell from a couple of the links posted above, I am an Amazon Affiliate (aka Associate). I’m not really in the habit of folding products into blog posts, but if you click on the links it would help me out a little bit. You don’t have to purchase a fountain pen. Although if you did, you’d be pretty swanky and so much cooler than all of your friends. You could get laundry detergent, a new pair of shoes, the Exploding Kittens game. Everything that you get by shopping through these posted links helps me, helps this site, helps all future projects. This will probably change once I have my own items to sell, but until that time, every little bit helps. Thank you so much. Hugs and kisses.

The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

writingprompt9202016There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. She rests the tip of her nose on the brim of her cup, not necessarily to sniff, but to let the warm, honey sweetened plumes of steam defrost her rosy face. Her fingertips, pink and brittle and shyly poking through slowly unraveling knitted, fingerless gloves. They want so much to keep a firm grasp to the outside of this flimsy, disposable vessel, but the boiling tea inside deny them their full embrace.

There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. Her gaze is aiming for a target further than the window, further than the people walking by, further than the other side of the street. It was blocks away, on the other side of town, skimming across the ocean to the places only she knows.

I’m used to this, whenever she vanishes from right in front of me. She was never snobby. Not the Teddy Bear I remember. She prefered the company she kept.  She was never been ungrateful or aloof. She cherishes every person in her life, and has gone out of her way to help every person in need more times then I can remember. And yet, I can’t help thinking the same thing now as I did then. I always thought that such generosity might have come at great cost to her.

At first, she would disappear for a day. A few people would notice her absence, and were curious as to how long she’d been gone, but she’d always come back. It wasn’t too much later where she would disappear for days at a time. Then a week. Two. Until one day, we suddenly realized that nobody had seen her for months. She returned at the end of summer; A touch of bronze to her skin, freckles occupying the bridge of her nose, and several colorful ribbons wrapped as tight as Maypoles through strands of her hair. This latest trip? Gone for a little over five years. Heavy, woollen scarfs wrap around her neck. A journal bloated with ink and memories lay sleeping beside her.

I’m used to this. We all are. She would take center stage for brief moments of our lives. She would swoop in and fill our days with art and literature and things we’ve never seen before, and people we’ve never heard of, and music we’ve never danced to, and wisdom we’ve never thought of. She would paint our worlds in a wonderful and jubilant shade of chaos, and then vanish. Carried away on a multi-colored vapor trail of her own imagination.

She is back again. For a while, at least. I should be lucky enough to have at least a few moments of stillness with her before her muse finds her again. But, even though she is sitting across from me in our favorite booth, she is still miles away.

“Tina and I finally found a new place,” I say trying to coax her down from whatever cloud she’s on. Tina and I are irrelevant. Our quest for a better place is never-ending, and as far as that goes, nothing much has changed. Nothing that is happening in my life at this moment has anything to do with what’s going on inside her head right now. I could tell her that Tina’s been plotting my murder for months and I’ve only found out after a conversation with the cat. I could tell her that the place we found was a cave deep in the White Mountains that was previously occupied by a Bridge Troll and his pet unicorn. I could have strung together any combinations of words and scenarios, and it would have received the same response.

First, it’s the acknowledgement that someone may have been talking to her, “Oh?”
Next, comes the feeling that she should have kept up with a conversation, “Oh.”
Last, would come the recognition that she was lost in the great beyond again, “Ohhhh.”

Her eyes brighten. The apple of her cheeks shine. She has come back, body and soul. “I miss Tina,” she says recalling the years of almost sisterly companionship between them in the steam of her steeping tea.

“She misses you too. She speaks about you often. You should drop by sometime.”
“Really?”
“Of course you should. I insist. We’ll put on a spread, invite some of the old crew back, we’ll have a few laughs. It’ll be great.”

I offer every single time. It’s what one does, now that one has achieved adulthood. Should the occasion arise, you invite long lost friends over for dinner. Miss Manners told me so. Actually, that’s not true. I have never cared long enough to do any extensive research, but I’m fairly certain that there isn’t a social etiquette book in print that states that it’s expected of you to extend an invitation for an impromptu soirée for an old friend, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Then again, I used to be a pack-a-day smoker who spent most of his days blasting punk music from a beat up tape deck, and most of his nights stumbling home. And now these many years of kicking and screaming later, I have become a responsible adult. I have always been reluctant to bare this title, and she knows it. She knows my heart. I’ve never been much for social graces. Neither has she, and that is where we found each other so long ago.

I offer every single time, thinking this time she’ll change her mind. Her smirk tells me that I should know better. There is something in her eyes that won’t let me forget who I was.

“Alright,” I chuckle, changing the subject. “How was Europe? Was it as life changing as you thought it would be?”

“I guess you can say that,” she says as her fingertips have finally made peace with the scalding water swirling inside her paper cup. “I’d get reminded of just how far I’ve gone with every border crossing I had to make. It made me more homesick every time I was asked for my passport. But the people I met were pleasant, for the most part. A lot of people were quite helpful, even after they realized I was American. I met this circus troupe in Nice. We were all heading the same direction. For a while, it almost felt like they kinda adopted me as one of their own. Which would have been cool, I think. We barely spoke the same language, but we all got along. We all had the same spirit. Since my French was horrible, I had to act out my conversations in mime, and I made them laugh!” she exclaimed with genuine giddiness. “Can you believe it? I made professional clowns from Europe laugh! I taught them how to cuss like an American, they taught me how to juggle. It was a fair trade.

Oh! And there was also,” she paused. “…Jean…” Her eyes rolled back, her chest heaved. The universal symbol for, this boy was damn fine. I always thought it was charming how she regarded me as another one of her girlfriends, or often times, her brother, and not just another one of the guys. “This kid,” she continues delicately placing her fingertips to her chest. The universal symbol for, I do declare spoken with a swooning, aristocratic, Southern accent as if Rhett Butler walked into the room.”I could have eaten him all up with a spoon. He had these eyes that…when…I…”

Uh-oh…Houston, we have a problem.

The muse had her by the tail, and then it flew away. Somewhere across the ocean. Somewhere nestled in the lean, sinewy arms, and disarmingly hazel eyes of Jean. Her smile that she managed to drag out of storage for few minutes was quickly packed up again on account of looming storm clouds forming in her frontal lobe. She has vanished again.

One of the greatest lessons she has ever taught me, was that sometimes it’s not what people say, it’s what people don’t say that speaks volumes. There is nothing I can do when she disappears like this. Nothing. There is nothing I could say to bring her back into the world. Nothing I could do to bring her comfort. The best thing I could do is sit patiently, quietly. Hoping that she’d come back with her spirit intact, and if I’m very lucky, maybe she won’t rabbit so quickly.

“Yeah,” she mutters, packing the rest of the thought into a nutshell. “Europe was a good experience.” And that was the cue to drop it. Europe is thousands of miles away, but she’s home now. Back on familiar soil. Talking with familiar people, about familiar things.

Clouds churn and darken to pencil gray outside the coffee shop. It will snow again soon. Her fingers tell her that the tea has calmed down to just the right drinking temperature, and she takes a cautious sip. She scrunches her brow as she swallows. “Mmng. I need more honey, I’ll be right back.” She plops her bag on the table, thereby anchoring her to this place in time. This time, she means it.

I acknowledge the storm that’s coming, and sip my already tepid coffee. I get tired of looking at gray things, and turn my attention to her Andean patchwork satchel which has spilled out in front of me.

For a moment, the faint memory of her tutelage in the sport of people watching returned. I remember she once told me that you can “tell a lot about a person by the way they stir their coffee”, and through this, gain a wealth of knowledge.

Random hair ties and brightly colored scrunchies. Scores of cheap, ballpoint pens with various levels of ink, all with chewed pen caps. A fountain pen. Probably stolen. Probably a trophy. Two disposable lighters, both empty. She has never smoked, so… probably more trophies. A package of convenience store cupcakes. The kind that come two to a pack. This one was missing its twin. An impressive collection of hard candy, chewing gum, and cough drop wrappers. The companion issue of her other journal, equally as loved up. Her essential “desert island” books that she never goes anywhere without; Khalil Gibran’s, The Prophet, Selected Poems and Letters of Arthur Rimbaud, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, and one completely dog-eared, busted spine, water stained copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t have to look at the whole cover to know what it was.

I know what it was, because I was the one who gave it to her.

It was Christmastime. Everyone else on my list was easily taken care of that year. A six-pack of local brew for Eddy. An abalone bracelet for Tina. But for our dear Maddie Bear, finding the perfect gift for our introverted, bookish friend who has a flare for madness and wanderlust, was proving near impossible. There was nothing that seemed to fit the bill at the mall. Then again, nothing ever did. It’s where inspiration goes to die (another lesson taught). Nothing hurling themselves at me in the Hallmark Store. There was no other option. I was fighting the urge to be completely obvious, but there was no way I could win that battle. I should have went to the bookstore to begin with. It was on the way home anyway.

I had no idea what I was looking for. The most exotic thing I’ve read up to that point was a few Kerouac poems, and that was for an elective class that I barely passed. How was I going to compete with a woman who once disappeared for five days because she heard about someone halfway across the country who had a first edition, signed copy of a Lawrence Ferlinghetti book that she just had to have? I punted. The guy that worked there was helpful, and I didn’t want to think about it too long this close to closing time on Christmas Eve. He rang me up, and I was on my way.

This copy was in it’s 12th reprint or so. The pristine, glossy cover reflected every haphazardly strung Christmas light in my living room as she unwrapped it. The look on her face was priceless. I was half expecting a, “Oh, I already have this, dear. But thank you,” or at the very least for her to crinkle up her brow, look at me and proclaim, “what the hell is this?” Neither of which happened.

Of all of her endearing qualities, the one I hold most dear, is the fact that she is a terrible card player. Insincerity was never her strong suit, she could never hide what she was thinking. Except for this time. She held the unwrapped book in her hand. Her expression wasn’t joy, or surprise. It wasn’t even the gross, apathetic facsimile of it; The expression you’re forced to wear around the holidays like an ugly sweater that was knitted by your estranged aunt that always smells like cat pee. Nowhere near it. It was the look of lightning striking you when a famous person waves in your direction. The look you make when your best friend admits that he’s been in love with you for years, and you’re just now knowing about it. It wasn’t shock. It was more like shock’s cousin.

The wrapping paper fell to the floor. Her eyes darted around the cover art, studying every stroke and nuance. “Thank you, Peanut,” was all she said, followed by a customary hug.

The rest of the evening was food, drink and laughter by the rest of us. For the better part of the evening, I was convinced that she hated her gift, until I was proven wrong. I stole a glance when I could. Me in full host mode, her holding court on an ottoman. Her Peruvian satchel at her feet, Dollar Store Santa hat on her head, brand new book in her lap, hands gripping it as if it were the last ticket for the greatest merry-go-round on Earth. She threw me her full-cheeked smile. It appeared that she was caught in that wonderful dilemma of deciding whether to crack the spine now, or wait for a more cozier environment that involved down comforters, warm wool socks, hot chocolate, and a couch. She liked it. Christmas was saved. Hallelujah.

The grayish light from outside that has been washing the coffee shop in a shade of meh, seems to have enhanced  how sun-bleached and worn her once vibrant bag was, making every flaw obvious. Every repair jumped out; a newer stitch with different thread here, a patch of cloth with a rubber duck pattern placed in the middle of what was once blue and violet there. A book that was given as a gift many years ago that barely had a fingerprint on the cover, now creased and mangled from years of being stuffed into a bag. The dog eared corners of every page bent into a permanent curve and stained in a subtle tone of Chamomile. Much time has past. And while I bemoan the loss of my own glory days, seeing this ragged book in her ragged bag, this last minute gift for a friend who would go out of her way to paint our worlds in a different color, seeing it loved and appreciated and lived in, warms my heart against the coming snowfall.

The midday crowd shuffles through while the notes from some long, forgotten pop song weave themselves through the pressurized steam of a fully functional espresso machine. She returns and throws a fistful of sugar packets and a stack of napkins into her bag. Old habits die hard. The wooden stick slowly comes to a rest after dancing in the mini tornado in her cup. “Ah,” she says sipping her sweeter tea. “Much better.”

“It’s so good to see you again,” I smile. “Are there any more treks into the unknown for you?”

“To where, the condiment stand?” she winks. “Kidding. No, I don’t think I have anything left in me. It was fun while it lasted. I wrote down a bunch of names so I can keep in touch with the people that I met, and I have more snapshots and trinkets and memories than I know what to do with. But,” she pauses to take a look around her.  “I miss the states. I miss home.”

“Well, I for one am happy that you can still call this town home,”  I say. “Most people we knew left in the middle of the night and didn’t come back. I lost track of how many times Tina and I thought about packing up a U-Haul and heading south.”

Well traveled eyes find mine. “Don’t go south,” she whispered. “I’ve known too many snowbirds who melt too easily in June, and curse the day they moved anywhere south of Boston when they do. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you couldn’t make at least one snowball a year. I believe someone told me that a long time ago.”

“It was that winter where it didn’t snow until February. I remember.” Small talk and fond memories over warm drinks. Creature comforts that hold a person still long enough to sprout the tiniest promises of roots. But her distant, hunter’s gaze through the window tells me all I’ve already known about her.

“So, this really is the end of the road for you?”
“Yep. I’m officially retiring from globetrotting. I’ve been looking for a place for a few days now. You wouldn’t happen to know if your old place is rented yet, would you?”
“I’m not sure. I think the landlord was going condo, last time I checked.”
“Bummer.”
“I could look, if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah, I never liked where it was anyway. Too far away from everything.”
“It’d be nice to have you back.”
“It’s nice to be back.”
“And you’re headed to Central America…when?”
“Next year. As soon as I get enough…” I wrangled her mind from roaming too far. We have found each other again. “I could never get anything past you huh, Peanut.”
“Not today, Teddy Bear.” I laugh.

The kid behind the counter replaces stale, old coffee urns for fresh ones. Two schoolgirls squeal at the text one of them received a few tables over. An old man shakes his newspaper to shoo away the world. At this moment, all is well.

 

©2016 AA Payson

With All My Heart, Loretta-June (Flash Fiction)

With All My Heart, Loretta-June (Flash Fiction)

I love the Noir.high trousers

I love the stories of the hard-nosed, double-chinned gumshoes who have a proclivity for cheap booze, snub nosed .38s, and sweet, whiskey-throated dames with access to lots of
cash obtained through questionable means. The women are all viewed through a glistening, Vaseline coated lens, and the men all have their trousers belted just south of their armpits. Everyone speaks like they have a need to project to the back row after mainlining a couple of Red Bulls. There’s always a Mcguffin involved, and someone is going to get shot. I love this stuff.

The thing is, what I think is Noir is actually regarded as Film Noir, which is almost completely disassociated from Noir fiction. In Film Noir, it’s all about the stark lighting, the fisticuffs, the Private Detective set forth to save the day, but he almost dies at the end. In Film Noir, justice is always served, though most of the time it isn’t wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow. That means that even though the case is solved, but the hero could be dying in a ditch somewhere outside of town. Technically, since the good guys still won in the end, that counts as a happy ending.

In Noir Fiction, there are no happy endings. Hell, there doesn’t have to be a detective character at all.

These are the facts I learned while researching this next Flash Fiction piece. This was my submission for a short story contest that I alluded to earlier this year. I think a sufficient amount of time has passed where I can feel free to post my stuff… on my site.

What I learned is that Noir Fiction, in its truest sense is the antithesis of what would be considered drama, because it is what it says it is; Noir. Black. Hopeless. Dark. Abandon all hope and break out the blended whiskey because you’re in the middle of nowhere with a bullet in the gut. Someone is going to die, and it’s probably not going to be the bad guy. Someone is going to come out on top, and it’s probably not going to be the good guy.

Noir is hard stuff, which is probably why you don’t see too much of it these days. In print, you’ll see it pop up here and there, mostly in anthologies. In movies, great examples would be Chinatown or more recently, Brick. Noir is also hard to sell to a mass audience as in television viewers. The closest I’ve seen recently to a decent Noir, as in Film Noir, is Jessica Jones on Netflix. All the tropes are there, all the characters are there, that they’ve flipped the gender roles that were traditionally set in stone (in this case, the detective is a young woman. The love interest and the crux of the story is a guy) is a welcome and refreshing change.

As with the First Lines Challenge, I had to create a 1500 word story based on a picture. Everything about it said Noir to me. I’m not that experienced in writing in this genre, so I wanted to get it right. It didn’t win, place or show, but I’m still happy with it.

Thank you for reading.

LorettaJune

With All My Heart, Loretta-June

As the smoke spun in lazy circles from the end of a lit Winston which dangled from her heavily painted lips, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t how far she could hold the ash before it falls to the floor like the Hindenberg. Nor was it the gaping wound in her side, or how quickly she was bleeding out as she reclined nude and resplendent in an empty claw-footed tub. No, the first thing that came to mind as she snapped back into consciousness was her pearl-handled Derringer, and that it had one bullet left in the chamber. Soon, he’ll come home to a bloody mess. Soon, the bathroom door will be ripped from its hinges and shredded to matchsticks by thick, meat hook fingers. Soon, there will be more blood. She pulled on her cigarette, let the smoke fill her lungs, and as the nicotine gently swaddled her pain in a gentle narcotic haze, she dipped her index finger into the pool of blood, she scrawled a message into the bleached white marble wall and sighed…

“Well, Geraldine, you really fucked up this time, haven’t you?”

When she came to again, she heard a car door shut, then another. It was his car. Edgar was home. She memorized every sound of that damned thing every day for five years while she was kept like a pet. It was a Cadillac V12. Out of his entire stable of Detroit’s finest, he took a shine to this one. She was his favorite. It was his faithful steed that he would show off down on 12th St. every Tuesday night.  

Edgar’s primary occupation was separating hard earned pensions from little old ladies, shaking down local business owners for protection money, paying off cops, and greasing the palms of elected officials. He owned the cops, the mayor, the press. Edgar owned this town, it was no secret. What was secret, was his penchant for certain indulgences.

There were rumors of three day orgies at his mansion involving members of government, Hollywood Fat Cats and young boys flown in from Southeast Asia. Depending on his mood, there were times when he asked for the company of a young, Midwestern girl to engage in a menage a troi with a six foot tall Haitian. Sometimes, all three would tangle. Other times, he’d let her watch. His palate for the carnal was legendary. Being born of privilege has its perks. He took what he desired. He always did. And since tonight was a Tuesday, he wanted Geraldine. Out of the entire stable of 12th St. ladies, he took a shine to Geraldine. She was his favorite.

Geraldine was not born of privilege. She was a mistake. By the time she reached eighteen, her chances at a better life shrank like the burning end of a cigarette hanging from the lips of a dying woman. It was no surprise that she would end up on the street. It was also no surprise that she would live a life of ill repute, given the lack of options. And it was no secret that she was his Tuesday Night Fling.

Edgar, as twisted as he is, has always been a respected member of the community. Geraldine knew that to speak of his double life would be the end of her life as well as his. His secrets were his under penalty of death. Although he paid well, and was great in the sack, he will never have her heart. All her secrets were hers to keep.

Again, she snaps back into consciousness. She has no idea how much blood she’s lost, but she’s fairly certain that she is not long for this wretched world. She can barely keep her eyes open, let alone be bothered to flick the cigarette sized ash from her lips that has since burned down to the filter. She must save her strength, just enough to stand up to her captor, point the gun, and pull the trigger.

Any minute now, Edgar and his meat-headed right hand man, Francis, will discover the failed hitman bleeding and broken at the base of his elegant marble staircase. Any second now, chaos will ensue when they have to use Plan B.

As the footsteps get closer, Geraldine stiffens herself, and spits the filter of her spent Winston into the nearby toilet. Whatever happens, she’s ready.

First comes the courtesy knock, as if there were proper etiquette to murder. Then comes the jiggling knob. Before they came busting in, guns blazing, Geraldine found the strength to fill her lungs. “Occupied,” was her battle cry, followed by a one finger salute.

“The boss wants to have a word with you, street rat,” growled Francis from behind the door.

“Francis?” Geraldine asked propping herself up. “Is that you? I almost didn’t recognize you. When did you start speaking in complete sentences?” It was her half-mocking tone that would always send him into a rage. He was never the brightest, and Geraldine often took great delight in exploiting that fact. She knows she should mind her tongue, but she was so tired of this life. The sooner it ended, the better.

“There you go again,” Francis said. “Runnin’ off at that pretty little mouth again when it could be used for somethin’ better.”

“Like I said before, you walking hamhock,” Geraldine said, adrenaline pumping. “When you find that little thing between your legs, let your mama know so she can wash it for you.”

The bathroom door buckled from the force of a giant’s shoulder being driven into it. “That does it, you little slag! When I get a hold of you, I’m gonna rip your tits off and shove ‘em…”

“That’s enough, Francis,” Edgar said over his shoulder, his voice was calm and soothing. “Thank you for finding her, now be a good boy, and get Dr. Werner here on the double please. I’m sure she’s been through enough today.” It wasn’t unusual for Edgar to be the steadiest one in the room in stressful situations. Geraldine knew better. It was the calm before the storm. “Geraldine, my love,” Edgar said. “Why don’t you come out of there so we can talk.”

“That’s cheap even from you, Eddie,” Geraldine’s said. “Did your goon that shot me wanna talk too?”

“I see you used the Derringer I gave you for Christmas. Didn’t I tell you that it would come in handy, my dear?” Edgar’s voice was a slick, greasy grin. His fingers busy themselves with the lock.

“You’re always so thoughtful, Eddy.” Geraldine found her feet, and stood tall in the tub. “I take it you heard from my lawyer?”

“Indeed I did, my dear. I know the man, and I’m surprised that you could afford his services, but then again, I should have given you a smaller allowance years ago. Live and learn, as my mother used to say.” Edgar’s voice was steady as the lock yielded to his advances. 

“Oh, I couldn’t afford him. You’re right about that, you’re right about a lot of things. But you’re an idiot to think that I didn’t have a life before you walked into it, Edgar. He was a good customer of mine. He owed me a favor, and he’s not the only one.”

“That’s right. The agreement.”

“It’s what we agreed, Edgar.”

“Yes, yes. Not to ask about passed lives, live in the present, it’s all so neatly packaged. And while it could be argued that you stuck to your end of the deal,” the door slowly creaked open. “your definition of present time is slightly different than mine at the moment.”

Come on. Get it over with, you pompous ass,” Geraldine thought. “Enough of the bullshit, Eddy. Just let it out.” Behind her back, the Christmas Derringer is gripped a little tighter.

“When were you going to tell me, Geraldine?”

“About what? That I had enough of being your plaything?”

“You stole from me, Geraldine.”

“I’m not a bank, Eddy. You gave me that money, did you honestly think I’d give it back to you.”

“I didn’t think you’d funnel it to somewhere else. Where is she, Geraldine?”

Terror and resolve changed her expression,“Go to hell, Edgar.”

“Where is the child that is taking half my empire?”

Geraldine leveled the barrel her Derringer, right between his eyes, stopping his approach. “She is safe,” she said. ” Just out of your reach, where she should be.” And with that, she raised the pistol, stuck the barrel in her mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Dr. Werner declared her death a suicide. The cops started their process of getting their stories straight and clearing him of any wrong-doing. The press did their Dog and Pony show for legitimacy sake. Edgar was secure in the knowledge that this will all become a memory in a couple of days. No one is going to miss a dead hooker.

What he never saw coming was another one of her favors being cashed in. Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps he wasn’t vetted properly, but the crime photographer on the scene, was her Wednesday night.

The following morning, when he received the paper with his breakfast, he nearly choked on his coffee when the front page of his own paper had the crime scene splattered all over it. The message that she scrawled out in blood, was barely legible and made worse by flash photography. That was hardly an issue, as the photographer took notes. He knew her handwriting, and in turn deciphered her epitaph for the entire world to see…

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© 2016 AA Payson

Earth Mission: Caruso (A First Lines Project)

Earth Mission: Caruso (A First Lines Project)

The axiom of every creative is to make something out of nothing. Right? But sometimes, that nothing just happens to be pretty darn cool to begin with.

  • A sunrise from a lake at just the right time at just the right angle.
  • A first kiss.
  • Witnessing the birth of your first child.

In this case, for the latest First Lines Project, iAuthor challenged me to write the first lines based on this image:

Space Shuttle launches one last time

In 2001, I moved from New Hampshire to the “Space Coast” of Florida. Since that time, I’ve seen more than a few shuttle launches. Most of them from just outside of my apartment. Something happened whenever one of those birds took flight. It didn’t matter what you were doing, if you were outside and you heard the booster rockets, you stopped what you were doing and looked toward the coast.

Every launch were always held in high regard, and they were a decent social equalizer too. You could be in the middle of a hostile discussion about politics, seconds away from a fisticuffs. Everything forgotten, and camera phones come out when you hear the low and thunderous rumble to witness this spectacular and awe-inspiring moment.

To base the first lines of a story based on this, had its own set of challenges. Everything seemed fairly obvious: perspective of the tourists/mission control/astronauts. Rocket Man. Major Tom. All well and good. But for me, it had to go somewhere else.

Thank you very much for reading.

Caruso

Earth Mission: Caruso

“Shuttle Discovery, this is contol.” Connor would always marvel at the disembodied voices that would echo across the launch pad. They weren’t like the cold and sterile computer voices he grew up with. To him, it always felt like there was a hint of ambivalence, of fear, doubt, humanity. “H-two tank pressurization OK. You are go for launch, over.” Connor’s eyes widened. This was his favorite part.

“You’re standing a bit closer than usual, Connor,”  a female voice from behind him crooned.

“I know, mother. I shouldn’t be on the grass. But this part is so exciting!” Connor could barely contain his glee. “I keep forgetting, how much gasoline did they use to go to space?”

Shyla, his mother, was ever patient with her son. He is extremely bright for his age, but he still has his moments where his youth shines. “They never used gasoline, Connor. They used something called liquid oxygen. It was far more abundant and far more powerful than any fuel known to man.”

“Oh. Is that what they kept in those ‘H-two’ tanks?”
“Well, no. Not exactly. They kept hydrogen in the H tanks. They kept the oxygen in another. They kept the gases separate and very cold so when they got together, they would explode. And that explosion was strong enough to launch the astronauts into space.”

The man’s voice barked from every loudspeaker, “10, 9, 8,…” Connor and his mother at the edge of the marsh. Dangerously close to the launch pad.

“Oh, I see.” Connor’s voice trailing as the anticipation builds. “Mother?”
“Yes, child?”
“If they didn’t use gasoline in the tanks, and used something that was even more precious to get to space…”

“3, 2, 1…Lift off of Space Shuttle Discovery!”

“Is that how the Earthlings died?”

A thunderous explosion and fiery walls of spent fuel came rolling towards them faster than a Martian dust storm. Shyla’s expression wilted because as much as she was well versed in Ancient Earth culture, she had no real answers for him.

“Computer?” She sighed. “End simulation.” The walls of exhaust stopped advancing, gulls and sparrows froze in their mid air escape. The cameras of a few dozen tourists ended in mid-frame. An ancient spacecraft hangs silently above a ball of fire. And then, all at once, everything vanishes in a mist of ones and zeroes. “Simulation terminated” said the cold and sterile computer voice.

“My child,” she said gently rubbing the top of his head. “I’m afraid nobody knows for sure how it all ended. Some say there was a great war. Others claim it was ancient religion. Still others are convinced there was a great draught, and it eventually drove everyone to cannibalism.”
“Awful,” Connor winced.
“I know!” his mother agreed. “But whatever the reason, I’m sure the Earthlings, your ancestors, as flawed and primitive as they were, had the glorious foresight to colonize Mars because they had hope for mankind. The lives of you and me and everyone we know depended on it.”

Connor cast a miles long stare through glass roof of the Martian bio dome, to a tiny blue dot in the sky. “I wish I could see it, mother. I wish I could breathe the air and feel what the sun feels like on a closer planet. And taste rain, oh I would really like that.”

“Oh my child,” Shyla laughed. “Someday you will. Someday.”

A random comet streaks across the night sky.

“Can we load the ‘Old West’ Simulation?”

“Not tonight, cowboy. It’s getting late.”

©2016 AA Payson