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Only one more….

29 Apr

Rice Pudding FrittersAnd this completes week 52. GULP. Enjoy these rice pudding fritters with orange-honey sauce to celebrate! I have never heard of such but they look and sound DELICIOUS. As for the day’s work, I went meta again. I like the approach, the shape, the kind of ending I chose. But the story doesn’t have depth and that’s mostly the fault of an ending that doesn’t suit. It’s the right kind of ending but composed of the wrong words. Maybe I can make it better in revision. Anyway, it’s done, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I have only ONE MORE to write! Until tomorrow….

Working Title: Smokey
1st Sentence: When Smokey the Bear came to our third-grade classroom to teach us about fire safety, Jenny Hite leapt from her chair, shrieked “Ohmygod Ohmygod Ohmygod,” and then burst into tears while flailing her balled fists and running in place.
Favorite Sentence: Oh, the full, satisfying mouthfeel of drama and despair.
Word Length: 563

Photo by Recipetaster 5/2011.

Fun Again but Super-Tough

24 Apr

Sock PuppetsI lost count of how many times I started the day’s shorty. I just couldn’t find my way into anything until I remembered a character I created last month, I think—a sock puppet named Lemonade. So this is what you do at the tail end of a year-long commitment that has mostly eaten your brain: You write stories about sock puppets. Because it’s the only thing that makes you laugh. Lemonade, I thank you.

Working Title: Puppet Court
1st Sentence: What is the first rule of puppetry?
Favorite Sentence: While his person sang Little Rabbit Foo-Foo for the kindergarteners, Lemonade hung from his hand like a wet dishrag, too hung-over even to bob his sock-puppet head to the rhythm of such a simple melody.
Word Length: 589

Photo by Elke Wetzig 4/2006.


23 Apr

ChocolateIt’s quite a treat at this point when I have fun with a story. As I’ve already moaned about too much, April has been a pretty sad-sack month, all about gritting my teeth and keeping my head down. The day’s shorty took many tries and then once something stuck I had to work well into the night (morning) to complete it, but, dammit, it was fun to write! I see that it needs more meat on its bones but that just means more fun when I come back to it. Onward!

Working Title: Lent
1st Sentence: Always before she’d given up chocolate for Lent.
Favorite Sentence: But her high school boyfriend was a crisply seamed, closely cropped Episcopalian, and in solidarity she had traveled the brutal road of Lenten sacrifice with him.
Word Length: 901

Photo by Jules 8/2009.

Going Meta

21 Apr

WriterAfter a number of frustrated tries at story that didn’t take, I started chatting with my all-purpose main character, the one I pull like taffy into whatever personality suits the day’s shorty, and it turns out she’s as tired as I am (today she’s a she). More so, maybe. She asks that she be allowed to live on the margins for a while, pop up only once or twice in a piece, to deliver a crucial piece of information or highlight a flaw in someone else for a change. That is, of course, impossible, but I avoided saying so and let her vent.

Working Title: Dear Writer
1st Sentence: She was fine as long as the writer needed only minor character support from her.
Favorite Sentence: So if she wasn’t slamming a door or flopping onto a couch, she was trying to deliver word play as though it was realistic, she was tossing out metaphors that no human being would ever say, and it was exhausting.
Word Length: 520

Photo by Tasylda Putri, 6/2009.

A Patty Story

18 Apr

Woman with Heavy BurdenIn a recent post I mentioned that sometimes I look at my husband Pat and ask him what my story should be about and he tosses out some silly word or phrase that I sometimes use as my launching pad (or as a short writing exercise I then delete, mind warmed up, and head for story). I was at the office my friend Patty and I rent when I started the day’s shorty using the same trick. Patty, give me a word. She happened to be writing at the time and said she had just typed the word “overburdened.” Okay, then. Thanks Patty!

Working Title: Overburdened
1st Sentence: Overburdened.
Favorite Sentence: “Enthusiastic” could be read as too Bambi and chipper, but then again, a little stupidity and relentless good cheer is exactly what the world wants from women.
Word Length: 600

Photo by Frank Kovalcheck 6/2008.

Something New

17 Apr

WingsLove the idea for this story, which I woke up with and then thought about all day. I’ll describe it as a guardian angel tale gone awry. But the execution is sloppy and rushed, with some gaps I’ll need to fill when I come back. Still, I’m happy to see something fresh from my fevered mind. I had completely forgotten it, of course (I’m writing this story post 5 days later). Well, it’s good to leave something I’ll need to chew hard for later.

Working Title: Wings
1st Sentence: I have not been to mass for, oh, almost ten years.
Favorite Sentence: Jesus, just because a woman happens to have wings.
Word Length: 753

Photo of Victorian funerary art in a church cemetery in the U.K. by Alan Murray-Rust 3/2009.

Pat’s Fault

11 Apr

ForkSometimes before a writing session I turn to my husband Pat and say, “Okay, tell me what today’s story is going to be about.” He says something silly like “Monkeys on the moon!” and I laugh and then find inspiration another way. Occasionally whatever he spits out does actually inspire the story I write, as in this case. He said, “The mighty fork!”

Working Title: Table Manners
1st Sentence: She ate less and less and the weight was dropping off.
Favorite Sentence: You barely have to be conscious to ingest a milkshake.
Word Length: 589

Photo by Arnold Reinhold 8/2005.

Friendly Prompts, Day 2: Gwen

3 Apr

Sagrada FamiliaMy friend Gwen Mullins took the Daily Shorty Challenge with me last summer. She sent me this story prompt: “Gaudi’s most famous church, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, has been under construction for a hundred years. In some photos of the church, the cranes and scaffolding are digitally removed.” I’ll just say right now that I didn’t do this prompt justice, maybe because I was too charmed by it. In any case, the shorty I began to write reminded me of an old story I had begun several years ago, so I went back to that material and used several sentences from it as my foundation. I don’t think it works yet—probably needs to be longer, maybe much longer. But it’s a nice start. Many thanks to Gwen!

Working Title: Revelation
1st Sentence: Ammi and Rebekah were wed under the Holy Babe’s blue eye in the Foundation Church of Sweetwater County.
Favorite Sentence: Again in Papa Barnard’s office in the back of Foundation Church they prayed for understanding, and then Papa leaned forward, elbows digging into his desktop, and asked if there was anything either of them felt the need to confess.
Word Length: 542

Photo by Bernard Gagnon 9/2009. (A note appended to this photo says that cranes were digitally removed.)

Friendly Prompts, Day 1: Paul

2 Apr

TrunkA very nice man named Paul has twice e-mailed me during this journey to encourage me to stay on the path. He’s suggested some story ideas, too, which inspired me to do a week of prompts from friends. I used one of Paul’s ideas for the day’s shorty. Six writer friends have done a Daily Shorty week with me, so for the rest of this week I’ll use prompts offered by each of them. For this shorty, I chose Paul’s suggestion to incorporate some notion of time travel into a story. I played on the idea by having a woman open a trunk her 20-year-old self had packed for her own 60th birthday. I was intrigued by the potential clash of what we consider important at 20 versus 60. I don’t think I did enough with this first draft, but maybe I can make something good of it in revision. Many thanks to Paul!

Working Title: To What End
1st Sentence: Dear Dumbass 20-year-old Me… oh, how to put it?
Favorite Sentence: The second envelope contained an embarrassing, flowery, “What I hope for you” poem-thing that she could only bear to skim after the first few lines.
Word Length: 625

Photo by Lianki 10/2006.

Just Playing

26 Mar

Dripping FaucetSo here’s the thing about writing a story every day for 329 days. On the 330th day, you ask yourself: What have I not done yet? A gazillion things, of course, but the brain that has written a story every day for 329 days doesn’t FEEL like there are a gazillion ideas and approaches out there. That brain says, are you shitting me? But then Rude Brain does actually think of something she hasn’t done yet. With the help of a prompt, of course. This week (my DS weeks begin on Tuesdays), I’ve decided to focus on a different sense each day, adding the “sixth sense” for fun, and re-doing one of the senses for the seventh day. I drew randomly to determine the order and today I had to focus on sound. So I wrote a story that was framed around a “sound” word. That made me want to blend text, so I found a way to mix in quotes from a Shakespeare play. I don’t think the resultant shorty-stew works so well but it was fun to just be a goof.

Working Title: Drip Drip Drip
1st Sentence: Oh, of course, why not, the classic drip drip drip of the bathroom faucet drip drip drip.
Favorite Sentence: It’s just like those frogs in Atlanta drip drip drip that time when you wore those purple-ey pants, do you remember drip drip drip??
Word Length: 866

Photo by Nicole-Koehler.

Again Childhood Strikes

22 Mar

FriesI think I said recently that again and again I’ve gone to the childhood well to save myself in times of extreme desperation? Sometimes that works out and I write something I really like. Most of the time it goes the way it went today. That’s two stories in a row destined to live only on my hard drive.

Working Title: French Fries
1st Sentence: I feared it but also looked forward to it, any anticipated alone-time with my older brother.
Favorite Sentence: And because the appointments were painful and upsetting they would take her to McDonald’s afterwards for an enormous serving of soft, fragrant French fries, her favorite treat.
Word Length: 524

Photo by Biso 6/2009.


21 Mar

Gift BoxSometimes if I spin out from one simple sentence, I can make something I really enjoy. Other times… I just keep spinning.

Working Title: The Box
1st Sentence: She’d wrapped a box about the size of a loaf of bread in textured purple paper, ribboned the box with white organza, and left it on the coffee table in the living room.
Favorite Sentence: Right smack in the middle of the table this peacock of a box—for an entire week!—and he never said one word about it.
Word Length: 619

Photo by XFONG 7/2011.

More Fun

20 Mar

DaffodilsIn Maine we’re getting our usual heavy doses of March snow when my bones are used to daffodils, so I’m posting a photo here to combat the chill. As for my shorties, I continue to have trouble, most days, coming up with an idea that will hold. Over and over I wind up settling into a story around midnight and then staying up another hour or two to complete it. This one, framed as a list of the most important facts of a person’s life, was fun, despite my falling asleep over it. I’ll enjoy coming back to it.

Working Title: Just the Facts
1st Sentence: Fact 1. She didn’t cry the day she was born.
Favorite Sentence: We don’t know when she started doing it or why but she got steadily better and better at sitting there like a puffed up toad, her face going purple.
Word Length: 613

Photo by Rosendahl.

Fevered Brain

19 Mar

Celebration BouquetWell, I’ve started Week 47 with a bang. Or something. This story is… frantic, feverish, and not a little silly. It makes me laugh but also puzzles me. This is not my best work—I think it could use a bit more depth and punch. But I can’t think of another time when I’ve written something that both tickles and pokes me this much. If it takes, what, 323 straight days of writing a story every new day to accomplish that, then I’ll just go ahead and declare this whole challenge a success, even if I wind up not making it to the end. So a bouquet of flowers goes to me for this version of success. But I do really want to make it to the end….

Working Title: Ecstatic
1st Sentence: True, life has occasionally knocked her on her ass but always before in ordinary, “I should have seen that coming” ways.
Favorite Sentence: The nun is posted on the porch, a yard stick resting on her lap, keeping the reporters and the old boyfriend at bay.
Word Length: 721

Photo by Vimukthi 2/2011.

Picture of the Day, Day 6

10 Mar

Lisbon BridgeIt took a long time for this one to arrive but once it did, it wrote itself. So, another gift in a tough week. I can’t tell how good this shorty is but I like it because I played with allusions to the old fairy tales about trolls guarding bridges. Inspired, of course, by the Wikimedia Commons picture of the day posted here.

Working Title: On the Other Side
1st Sentence: All of it, all of it—the years of crunching numbers and running out of staples and replacing toner and unjamming the copier.
Favorite Sentence: He stands before me, his legs in a wide, martial stance, his white face smooth as river stone, that slender red smile twitching at the corner.
Word Length: 526

Photo of Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal, by F Mira (1/2009).

Poorly Executed

3 Mar

Statue MarsI remember loving the idea for this shorty about a man who for no reason starts hearing the thoughts of people who are speaking to him. A bad movie cliché, I know, but I like the way I’d envisioned the story unfolding. But the execution is terrible, and not just because I had to leave some gaps. Maybe I’ll come back to it, maybe I won’t.

Working Title: Truth Echo
1st Sentence: The first time it happened he was on the phone with his landlord and he thought there was a break in the line, that someone else’s conversation was leaking through.
Favorite Sentence: “It’s not right you should be cold like that,” he said, and then Lanny heard, Freeze your balls off for all I care.
Word Length: 713

Photo (10/2008) of Schadow’s sculpture of the Roman god Mars, source of “March” as the name of our third month.

Starting with a Peep

1 Mar

March HareJanuary was brutal, February was worse, and March is hardest yet (I’m writing this catch-up post 3/19). The wall is coming. This first March shorty will enjoy a long life on my hard drive.

Working Title: Getting Real
1st Sentence: It’s true, I had an anger problem, though I would call it more of a realism problem.
Favorite Sentence: I think the key is to stop noticing things.
Word Length: 658

Photo of March hare by norman hyett 3/2008.

A Funny One

26 Feb

WestieThis process continues to amaze me. Toward the end of a totally brutal month (I’m writing this catch-up post in March), I write a joke-story that makes me laugh. Thank goodness for the muse’s sense of humor.

Working Title: Bad Boy
1st Sentence: Here’s what people don’t understand about my dog Angus McPaw: He has the world’s most irresisitible sad face.
Favorite Sentence: If Mr. McPaw harbored malice he would have done far more damage to my boyfriend’s head with that skillet.
Word Length: 521

Photo by Oliver Watts 5/2011.

Goodbye Week 43!

25 Feb

CheeseburgerEasy ones are increasingly rare so I’m grateful for this shorty that wrote itself, a strange piece about a poet that came from who knows where. And I’m so happy to officially mark another week! I’m celebrating with my memory of the fabulous burgers I ate at B Good when I was in Boston last week for the AWP conference. Proud to say they buy their ground beef from farmers here in Maine!

Working Title: Telling the Truth
1st Sentence: She composed her poetry on cotton bed sheets with toothpicks dipped in ink because she felt that the physical act of writing should be as painstaking as the mental act.
Favorite Sentence: She said that time and detergent were perfecting her poetry, erasing words she had been too cowardly to say no to.
Word Length: 543

I neglected to take a photo of the burgers I ate in Boston but they looked a lot like this one. Thanks to cyclonebill 6/2005.

A Very Strange One

24 Feb

Lauren BacallWhen I catch up on story posts—I’m writing this one about 3 weeks later—I use notes describing the writing session that I leave in the Word file created for the shorty. This file had no notes and I had no memory of the piece even as I read it just now. It’s refreshing, though, because it’s really strange and total fiction, unlike so many autobiographical pieces I wrote in February. The ending is a speed-written plunge with gaps (it’s obvious I was nodding off as I wrote it) and the ending scenario is very likely to change, but at least this one is well worth coming back to.

Working Title: My Savior
1st Sentence: There she was, my savior, standing at my door, wearing a pearl gray trench coat, a black fedora, and stilletto heels.
Favorite Sentence: Do not get between my savior and spicy peanut sauce.
Word Length: 997

Photo is a detail of a pin-up of Lauren Bacall for the November 24/26, 1944 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly.

And back to the truth….

22 Feb

Bill BixbyMore and more, as I crawl through this challenge, childhood memory provides. This turned out to be a cnf piece about my mother’s strange predilection for noting the proper titles and occupations of anyone in the public eye.

Working Title: R.I.P. Bill Bixby
1st Sentence: I have nothing against the late Bill Bixby.
Favorite Sentence: Yet my small, sad roster of “I remember when’s” includes Bixby’s death because when I got home from school that day, my mother turned from the kitchen sink and said, “Actor-Director Bill Bixby died, today.”
Word Length: 827

Photo of Bill Bixby as Tony Blake from the NBC television program The Magician.

Another Week. Whew.

18 Feb

Banana Coconut PieWell, I ended the week on a high note. I’m not sure this story is in its final form but it’s got a lot of energy and promise and it’s one I’ll enjoy coming back to. To mark the accomplishment of finishing Week 42, a piece of banana coconut cream pie with a cashew graham crust and chocolate and caramel sauce.

Working Title: The Manifest
1st Sentence: Judith had just emerged from the swimsuit section—where she had stared at and occasionally handled various suits but had been unable to summon the will to actually try one on—when a young, ponytailed woman in jeans and a plain teeshirt walked over to her, holding out a piece of paper.
Favorite Sentence: But right now, in this small, sun-warm pause in years of icy clutch, she forced herself to meditate on the answer to Senior’s question.
Word Length: 986

Photo by Katherine Lynch 1/2009.


15 Feb

MeteoriteMy husband’s family likes to tease his younger brother about his greatest fear when he was a child, which was that a meteor might fall on him. I wonder if he felt vindicated when he heard about the meteor that fell in Russia and saw the amazing video. My shorty doesn’t measure up yet but it might in revision.

Working Title: Meteor Stories
1st Sentence: She was in the hallway upstairs—the only spot in the house where she wouldn’t be near a window—half-awake after a late night of grading papers, plodding from bedroom to bathroom, her mind on the leftover chocolate cake she’d brought home from a birthday party last night.
Favorite Sentence: Whatever just hit, whatever has been destroyed and set aflame, he knows how to tame it.
Word Length: 717

Photo of a Campo del Cielo meteorite by Beatrice Murch 4/2007.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

Heart BoxWhen I was a kid, one of every year’s major concerns was whether my father would please my mother with an appropriate gesture on Valentine’s Day. We kids teetered on the line between dread and excitement as we waited for Dad to come home and prove himself to be worthy or unworthy. It was always a close-run thing. I didn’t quite get it right in this shorty but it’s a strong start.

Working Title: Love Test
1st Sentence: Mom couldn’t give my father’s alleged devotion the once-over on Valentine’s Day, because paying full price for a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a card as big as a bed sheet is just dumb.
Favorite Sentence: Box as big as a platter, check.
Word Length: 607

Photo from The Scrapping Cottage, where there instructions for how to make this lovely box!

Too Sad To Care

10 Feb

I wrote this shorty on the day we had to euthanize our sweet kitty. We took her to the animal hospital early and then spent the day crying over her. Late that night I couldn’t summon any desire to write but I had to, so I produced a story by grabbing at various stray thoughts. And I have to say that when I read this one, I remember that I did become interested in it, despite myself. I remember, too, that I was soothed by the writing that night. And I’m surprised to find that the story has a lot of promise. Again, no heart for a photo.

Working Title: Unverified
1st Sentence: Scar. She has a vertical quarter-inch scar just above the left side of her upper lip.
Favorite Sentence: The dream is beginning to feel more reliable than her memory.
Word Length: 735

No Heart

9 Feb

The night I wrote this shorty (I’m typing this post on February 21) I was watching our kitty Maria very closely because she appeared to be going into a severe decline. That can happen very quickly for an elderly cat who has been slowing down more noticeably over the months, as she’d been doing. Most of that day she seemed much her usual self. Anyway, I was excited about this story when I started it—and I think it might one day be a keeper—but by the time I was writing the ending, which definitely needs work, I was almost certain we’d be saying goodbye to Maria the next day, and I didn’t much care about what I was putting on the page. No heart for a photo on this one because I associate so much sadness with this shorty.

Working Title: Little Lady Lucy
1st Sentence: New day, new e-dating site, new profile.
Favorite Sentence: Because HE is probably ugly, a pimply slob with a comb-over and a girl-butt!
Word Length: 954

Another Scrap!

7 Feb

LionessAgain, a whole day of effort, but I got there. And the story is pretty good, maybe a keeper. The idea file is really coming in handy these days.

Working Title: Bitch-Beast
1st Sentence: The goal of the court-ordered therapy, they had agreed in the first session (though she had agreed less), was to bring Susan to a clear understanding and full acknowledgment of the behavior that had brought her here.
Favorite Sentence: How, when she gets angry now, she hardly notices because it’s a faint echo of that day, a plaintive cry to the bitch-beast who never comes.
Word Length: 804

Photo by Brocken Inaglory, 2006.


5 Feb

Heart ArtI was so directed yesterday, using contest guidelines to frame my composition. Today I didn’t count the number of starts I threw out. In the end I grabbed a paragraph from my idea file as a start and forced myself to build a narrative sentence-by-sentence. And an odd, creepy little narrative it is.

Working Title: Having the Heart
1st Sentence: That afternoon he had noticed one of his better students, Pauline, sharing her paper with that crap-kid Justin—the kind of kid he could imagine setting fire to stray cats—during a pop quiz.
Favorite Sentence: His ears were buzzing, his stomach too full, and he felt, just now, a bit weepy, a bit sad that his little girl had inherited his mother’s sharp nose, the nose that had sniffed every secret he’d ever tried to keep from her.
Word Length: 783

Image by Logan A. Williams 2/2006.

An easy one!

2 Feb

HawkOh thank goodness. I can’t remember the last time I got a gift shorty. I did have to spend some time thinking about the prompt poem I got from Poetry Daily, “Hawk” by Nick Norwood, from Gravel and Hawk at Ohio University Press, but then my mind started associating this to this to this until I stumbled on something that took hold and it was a joy to write. First four lines of the poem as a teaser: Lost in the woods with an air rifle, / a boy supposed to be after birds, / amazed by vines and wintering trees, / resigned, I fired my chambered pellet

Working Title: Last Night
1st Sentence: Last night I grieved for you.
Favorite Sentence: Last night I held your heart in my hand while I killed you, over and over, all the while rubbing my cheek against the bark of the redwood trees we will not see together, hearing the rush of Italian or French I will puzzle through without you, brushing from my hair the Maui sand that you will never feel.
Word Length: 716

Photo by Dori 1/2008.

Poetry Day 2

30 Jan

The Iowa Review CoverThat’s more like it. Another shorty that doesn’t sing but it’s got potential, it’s about something real. After days of lackluster word-pushing, that’s what I need right now, a few pieces that remind me of why I write. Today’s piece was inspired by “Rapprochement” by Geoffrey Nutter, published by The Iowa Review, Winter 2012/13 (pictured here). I found the poem at Poetry Daily. Your teaser in four lines: I awoke as from a dream. And I rose / near dawn, boiled and drank the blood-colored tea / sweetened with berries and wild honey, / and started to compose a lengthy list

Working Title: Fantasy Dining
1st Sentence: Scott said that he would love to do pizza and beer with Benjamin Franklin and find out once and for all if the electricity stunt with the key was made up.
Favorite Sentence: I want to have a meal with the sixteen-year-old you, when you had that teenage mix of stupid and whip-smart, when you weren’t scared, yet, of putting your hands out to feel the shapes of things, to blurt anything on your mind.
Word Length: 605

The Iowa Review (Winter 2102/13) cover photo from

Goodbye Week 39!

28 Jan

SkittlesAnd… um… good riddance. Thanks to my flu, definitely the worst week of the challenge. I wrote today’s shorty as a meditation on place that I hoped would help with another, long, unfinished story I’ve been revisiting. It helped in that now I know the longer story doesn’t need it. As for the photo, now that I’m recovering an appetite, I’m craving every food I’ve ever eaten and enjoyed, including junk food. For some reason today I am plagued by thoughts of Skittles.

Working Title: A Carpenter
1st Sentence: Mr. Fitz cleared his throat again and looked around the green-gray, windowless room at the bored faces of his General Math students.
Favorite Sentence: She passed a heavy woman wearing a light jacket and no gloves or hat plodding along the sidewalk, singing an old righteous song about Jesus being a carpenter, something about washing feet with hair.
Word Length: 700

Photo by PiccoloNamek 2003.