A pair of exercises: Wonky SF and a song given form

Writing exercises, that is.

The first is based on this premise: A pair of friends have just finished a lovely meal at a favorite restaurant, but things take a turn when one notices that the waiter has scribbled an unexpected—and startling—message on their bill.

The story I wrote for this comes in two flavors:

The End of the Meal (original)
A Slice of Life (more “sci-fi”)

The next exercise: Write a story or scene based on a song.

Laura (based on the song from Billy Joel’s album, The Nylon Curtain)

How to read this blog, Part 1

How to Read This Blog, Part 1
by Creole Ned

This site is divided into six categories:

  1. Dating
  2. Gaming
  3. General
  4. Health and Fitness
  5. Photos
  6. Writing

Every post has at least one category attached to it. The content of each category is as follows:

1. Dating There are no entries for this because I am writing about my dating experiences elsewhere, therefore this category should have been removed but I forgot. Oops.

2. Gaming In which I share my gaming experiences or write about games like roughly one billion other people on the web do. As I don’t game as much as before, these posts are becoming less frequent. If you are not a gamer there is probably only a 50% chance you will find my insights worth reading. I arrived at 50% by just making a number up, kind of like a review score!

3. General The inevitable catch-all category. Random nonsense about life, media and anything else that doesn’t fit into the other categories.

4. Health and Fitness Currently I lift dumbbells three times a week and jog three times a week and it is here where I chronicle my hi-jinks, ranging from pulled muscles to getting rocks thrown at me by ill-mannered children. I also chat a bit from time to time about diet and food choices. If these things don’t set your heart a-flutter, safely ignore!

5. Photos When I add images to my gallery I post about them under this heading. However, I am currently debating over how to add photos to the site and my current hodgepodge method means I’m not adding nearly as many as I could. On the one hand, entertainingly bad pictures from my youth are going unshared. On the other hand…well, the exact same thing.

6. Writing Here I talk occasionally about the process of writing and books I have read. Mainly I discuss my ongoing writing projects, whether they are exercises, short stories or one of my novels.

Now that you know more about each category you can better choose how to read through this rich tapestry I call my blog. Or just skip all this and skim for saucy words like “hooters” and “malfeasance”.

Short story reviews

I like short stories.

Among my many books, you’ll find a pile of short story collections and anthologies. I’ve just added two more today–Flights Volume 2 and 20th Century Ghosts, a collection from Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. Because I suck at recalling details of short stories later on (I’m good with the broad strokes but always amazed by people who can recall the most subtle of storytelling nuances years later) I thought I’d start offering mini-reviews of short stories as I read them.

The current collection I’m working through is called Dark Delicacies. It is modestly sub-titled “Original Tales of Terror and the Macabre by the World’s Greatest Horror Writers.”

Ray Bradbury, “The Reincarnate”. I actually read this story months ago and don’t recall the details (see what I mean?) but leafing through it quickly, it’s written in second person, so everything is about you. You talk to her, you go there, you do this. I have never liked the second person POV for fiction, it just rings wrong, as if the story is being dictated instead of simply unfolding for you. Sorry, Ray!

Lisa Morton, “Black Mill Cove”. A straightforward suspense tale in which a man and wife go camping and have an argument. The man heads off to the cove in the title to catch some abalone, hoping a full haul will help patch things over with his wife. As he threads his way into the difficult-to-reach tide pools, he comes across what he thinks are the remains of a shark attack. It turns out to be more sinister than that and he faces a life or death struggle before the twist ending. No spoilers here but suffice to say this is a nicely presented tale o’ terror.

Whitley Strieber, “Kaddash”. A heavy-handed satire that imagines an alternate America after “Obliteration Day” in which a nuclear attack strikes Washington, leading the country to a full conversion into a Christian theocracy. The main character is a warden at a Texas prison who oversees executions of secular humanists and other troublemakers. This is completely over-the-top stuff and is presented as such knowingly, contrasting the ultra-religious fervor of the populace against the banalities of everyday life–shopping at Walmart, rooting for the high school football team. It’s a serviceable piece but I felt it could have been funnier and still made its point. Still, it had Fox paying $11 million to broadcast executions, so there’s that.

Robert Steven Rhine, “The Seer”. This is a classic Twlight Zone tale, complete with twist ending in which a man can foresee the (inevitably) terrible ways people will die, including his own. The story is sad and funny and there is some suspense in seeing whether the protagonist can cheat his own fate.

D. Lynn Smith, “The Fall”. A story told in the present tense about a boy and his family who are apparently being attacked or hunted by demon-like creatures that can assume human form. This one felt a bit rote to me and features people behaving in ways that serve the plot but are not necessarily believable–a big pet peeve of mine. The ending is especially unsatisfying as the boy simply does not act in a way that has been credibly built up prior.

F. Paul Wilson, “Part of the Game”. An extremely racist cop threatens to bring down a horde of detectives on the illicit activites in Chinatown unless he gets a 50% cut of the illegal gambling revenue. “The Mandarin”, through the haltingly-spoken English of his representative, rejects the threat and the cop finds himself sleeping with a very poisonous–and pregnant–millipede. As the poison begins working through his system, the cop finds himself indeed “part of the game.” The ending is nicely satisfying, though I felt the racism was depicted in a cartoonish manner that was unnecessary.

Roberta Lannes, “The Bandit of Sanity”. I didn’t care for the title of the story, since the presumed “bandit” doesn’t really come off like one. A well-heeled psychiatrist begins to show symptoms of what he first thinks is some kind of mental disorder, possibly even multiple personalities, leading to a Jekyll and Hyde-like life. As he realizes an old case has literally come back to haunt him, the story works toward a reasonably predictable conclusion. This is not really a bad thing, as it works. My biggest complaint is how brand names are thrown around like excerpts from a James Patterson novel, as if we need them as reminders of how successful the guy is. Yes, he has Donghia chair. Oh, look, he’s sitting in his Donghia chair again and has Hugo Boss slacks. WE GET IT.

Brian Lumley, “My Thing Friday”. The lone survivor of a spaceship crash discovers he is on a planet inhabited by a group of interlinked and intelligent species he comes to call The Pinks. Some are winged, some are quadrapeds, some are biped and more humanoid. They have a great reverence toward the dead and the survivor’s journal chronicles his efforts to understand them, in particular, one that seems to follow him around as he ekes out a living on this strange world. Things turn stranger indeed as he better understands The Pinks. I quite liked this one. Told in the first person, Lumley captures a whimsical tone that remains believable, right to the disturbing finale.

Nancy Holder, “Out Twelve-Steppin’, Summer of AA”. A pair of middle-aged rock stars who happen to be cannibals try to “go straight” by attending AA. Despite the premise, it’s not quite as funny as it sounds and the ending is a bit left field. Still, a breezy read.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Nothing makes for a light read like an impending apocalypse. For Exercise #16 I wrote a story based on the image below. The tale is a companion piece to Superhero Go Home and is called Armageddon, Part 2. Enjoy!

Writing exercises #14 and #15

Two more writing exercises to add to ye olde pile:

Three Parts (scenes). I may spin one or two of these scenes into a full-fledged story some day. You get zombies, the search for love and space drama. Variety!

Follow the Tracks. This one is unprecedented for me. I took an unfinished story that was abandoned 17 (!) years ago and finished it.

They can also be found on the Writing exercises page.

Two more writing exercises — #12 and #13

Two more writing exercises. The first one is a scene told from two different perspectives and frankly, it’s kind of crappy. The second is a complete short story based on three items produced by a plot generator:

Your Fault
Superhero Go Home

Weirdsmith opening monologue

Here’s the opening monologue from an unfinished play I wrote back in June 1993. I ended up tossing the monologue entirely in favor for something else, but it was an interesting exercise for me to try to get into the mind of an obviously disturbed character. I can’t say it was exactly fun, which I suppose is a good thing.

WEIRDSMITH OPENING MONOLOGUE
REVISION #1

WEIRDSMITH: It was an accident. I know that sounds ridiculous. How do you accidentally stab a person thirty times? Actually, thirty six. I counted. I don’t know why, exactly, except that I have this thing for details. So I counted. But it was still an accident. When we met today, things were a little tense between us, but I wasn’t planning on stabbing him three dozen times. You don’t do that to a friend. An ex friend, maybe.

(He laughs, if hesitantly, at his feeble and ghoulish joke.)

WEIRDSMITH: We got into a fight, and I was twiddling the butcher knife in my hands and…we were in the kitchen. I should point that out. I do not normally go around twiddling butcher knives. I was getting ready to carve the roast. It’s cold now, of course. Uh, we got in a fight. I made like the menacing figure, and he really started freaking out. Told me to drop the knife. Told me to, “Drop that fuckin’ knife! Are you fucking crazy?!” He had a pretty dirty mouth. Anyway, I guess there’s something about being really mad – well, maybe I don’t mean mad. Maybe I mean angry. There’s something about being angry and waving a knife around, and then someone calls you crazy and tells you to drop it. That’s like telling a kid the paint on the fence is wet and he better not touch it. It’s like telling the kid, “You can’t have that toy.” Of course, the only thing he wants now is that toy. He wants to do just the opposite of what you’ve told him. Just plain old childish rebellion. No one ever completely outgrows it, I don’t think. But the accident. Yes. He tells me to drop the knife, so, being the idiot, being the child I am, I say no and wave it around in his face. He starts backing away, really scared. I hate to admit this, but I got off on it. Him being scared like that. I don’t usually scare people. I’m kind of skinny and quiet. Not psycho type quiet, like I might one day decide to take a shotgun to the mall and start hunting people, but just regular quiet. So he was backing away, practically crapping his drawers. And then he backed against the counter, the roast is right behind him. I see it poking around him and for a second I thought that it must be getting cold. I was going to say that, actually. I think if I had, I would have dropped the knife and we would have laughed and then had dinner and that’d be that. Argument over. But I didn’t say anything. I think I may have been laughing, but I’m not sure. Inside I was definitely laughing, it was all so stupid. So I continue waving the knife. Oh, I was saying something, something like, “You scared?” Pretty original, huh? And he said, “Yeah, I’m scared. Put down the fucking knife!” And then I actually got kind of mad, and this time that’s the right word. He was telling me what to do and I had the knife. It didn’t click. You know, I was the dominant one here. That was obvious. But I think it was the way he said it. He was scared, but he was, as he would say, really pissed off, too. So I just kept moving forward and I started darting the knife at him and he actually put out his hand and tried to bat it away. That was pretty stupid. He could have cut himself, the idiot. Well, not that it matters now, I guess.

(He pauses.)

WEIRDSMITH: Then he suddenly flies into the living room, past me just like a rocket. I take off after him and he wheels around, facing me. I keep walking forward and he’s telling me to stop, but I’m having none of it. Then he backed into the coat rack. He just backed right into it and his feet got tangled and he slipped, and I reached out to grab him, but…this sounds so stupid. I hear it now and it sounds stupid. Yes, that’s right: he slipped and I went to help him and the knife just accidentally plunged clear into his chest, right between two ribs, just clean as can be. But that was it. I was holding the knife so tight that by the time I realized it was going into him, he was probably already dead. And he just screamed like I’ve never heard before. Not like on TV. It was like when you’re lying awake in bed at three in the morning and you hear this horrible scream outside, and you don’t know if someone’s being killed or just screwing around. He screamed like that and I think I screamed, too. Or I said, “Oh, shoot” or something like that. I was gonna help him even though it was probably too late, but he just kept screaming, so when I pulled the knife out, I stabbed him again. I wasn’t thinking, of course. I just wanted him to shut up, because I was right there and I was going to help him, but he didn’t need to alert the whole neighborhood and get us in really serious trouble. So I stabbed him again and that was going to be it, but he still kept screaming and I thought, “Am I gonna have to kill this guy to shut him up?” Well, I don’t know if I really thought that or not. By that time I think I was on auto pilot. He dropped, well, slid onto the floor and I went down with him, and started to stab him like a…machine. And I counted. I started at one, even though I’d already stabbed him twice. And I kept stabbing, and I almost stopped because the blood was spraying into my face, but I had my glasses on, so it didn’t get into my eyes. I moved the knife all over, like it was important to spread the holes around. Like I said, I’m kind of fixed on little details like that. And when I reached thirty four, I couldn’t see anymore white on his shirt, so I stopped and sat down for a while. Then I figured out two plus the thirty four, and I had stabbed him thirty six times. But the first time probably killed him, and that was an accident. So I don’t really think I deliberately killed him. Like anyone in the world will believe that. It’s not as if I have a spotless past. But it’s funny, when I met him, it was the start of things going good for me again. And they did. Things were good again, and for a while, I could forget about everything that had already happened. You know, in the business world, they say don’t think about how much money you’ve spent on something, cause that money’s gone. Think about how much more you have to spend and whether it’s worth it. He told me that not too long after we met. He said to think of my life like that. Don’t think about the past, cause it’s already gone. Think about the future instead, and see if it’s worth it. Actually, at the time, I thought it was pretty stupid. I mean, making philosophy out of something from a first year economics class. But even if I thought it was stupid, I did let go of things. I tried to start over. He helped me a lot.

(He kneels next to the body.)

WEIRDSMITH: I know this is pretty silly, since you’re not just dead, but very dead, but I want to thank you for helping me. Jeez, this is dumb.

(He stands.)

WEIRDSMITH: Thank you for sticking with me just long enough for my entire life to go to hell again, thank you for sticking around just long enough for me to end up stabbing you thirty six times!

(He drops the knife and again kneels next to the body.)

WEIRDSMITH: I’m going to treat your words with respect. It’s not too late. Well, it is too late, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m doing it because I agree with what you said. Everything’s in the past now and I think the future’s worth it, so I hope you don’t mind if I find somewhere to just kind of dispose of you.

(He begins to drag the body to the back of the stage.)

WEIRDSMITH: Like maybe in a bog or something. Death is crazy, my friend, but life is crazier than hell.

New exercise stories

Which is not to say these are stories about exercising but rather stories written as exercises. These are the latest I have written, numbers 7-11 (not to be confused with the convenience store of the same name).

7. The Downside — Second draft (this will be cleaned up and eventually relinked without being a “second draft”)
8. The Dogfish (unfinished and sadly will likely remain unfinished)
9. The Invisible Weekend
10. Lily Tries to Go Shopping
11. Hello?

ROACH (a mystery story)

Looking through my (digital) collection of stories, story ideas and fragments, I found something called ROACH, probably a scrap I wrote when I had my Atari ST (circa 1987-90) that was later converted to a DOS text format. In any case, dragging it into the latest version of Word provided me with this:

The Boogum in the Closet

I was getting ready for class, much as I do on the other four days of the week.  It was a Tuesday, perfectly normal.  I had already brushed my teeth, washed my hair, inspected by body for small, potentially cancerous tumours and was now opening the closet to get my jacket.  As I said, all perfectly normal.

For the last two years I had gone through this same routine.  Not a single detail had changed.  I’m not much of a morning person, liable to sleep in till noon if you let me.  I had devised this nearly sacred morning ritual to keep me awake, to allow my mind the time it needed to realize that my body was staying up and it had better come around, too.

As nearly sacred rituals go, I had followed this one with appropriate religious zeal.  The only thing that had changed was the specific location.  Being the quintessential starving college student, I was forced to move from abode to abode, constantly seeking the cheapest rent and the lowest number of cockroaches.  The optimal balance was ever-elusive.  It seemed to exist in my current apartment, though.

Of course, I had only lived in it for a little over twenty-four hours.  Give the little nippers time.

I opened the closet and observed, with disgust,

And yes, it ends with the comma after “disgust”. It’s like I ended it there just to jerk around anyone coming across it years later — including myself because I have no freaking clue what was in that closet. Proof that writers are weird. All of them.

Deadline: a play with words

Deadline is a one-act play I wrote and co-directed in the 1989 Vancouver Fringe Festival. It was the second (and last) time I worked on the Fringe, having acted in a friend’s play, The Peanut Shell, a year earlier. You can find Deadline in 1980s fiction.

This is the third and final draft that was used in production. Below is the playbill a graphic designer friend made for the show. I think we made the tiniest profit after expenses. I recall a 10 day stretch during rehearsals where I developed a mystery cough. It came out of nowhere and was so maddeningly persistent that I often had to excuse myself so the actors could actually speak their lines. Just as I was about to go to a doctor, the coughing abruptly vanished, never to return.

The actors were all decent enough that we didn’t have any calamities, though one actor backed up a little more than he should have one night, nearly falling off the stage. Breaking the fourth wall, as it were. Reaction to the play was mixed at best (the written text got eviscerated when the director submitted it to another writer for assessment). It’s a nice concept and while it has its moments, the final result was less than satisfying to me. Love the playbill, though!

wmt-logo

The Famous Polka

The Famous Polka is an unfinished play I wrote back in 1996 and takes its title from the They Might Be Giants’ song of the same name. While I like the characters and the breezy dialogue, there’s a slim chance I’ll ever finish the play so I figured I may as well put it on the site for perusal. I’ll be adding more unfinished (and finished) works soon. You can find The Famous Polka in the 1990s fiction section.

Here’s a sample from the play:

CHRISTINE: So who do you think in the theater department would be a good match for Eric?

KEVIN: There’s Mark.

CHRISTINE: Mark? Hmm…

ERIC: Is he the one with the blond hair, the bowl cut?

CHRISTINE: Yes.

ERIC: Fag!

CHRISTINE: You’re a fag.

ERIC: No, forget it. He’s too gay.

CHRISTINE: Too gay?

KEVIN: The gradations are fascinating.

Of Lovecraft, graffiti and churches in the fog

I’ve added a trio of short stories that were written as exercises for WRITE! And yes, it is correct to shout the title of the site, preferably around others to see if it inspires and/or frightens them.

The stories can be found on the new 2000s fiction page. They are:

I’ve also re-organized the way stories are grouped, removing the individual pages and instead dividing them up by decades, resulting in less bloat but the same delicious and nutritious content. Enjoy!