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3rd Haystack Story: Rogue Art

27 Sep

I was fascinated at Haystack by the rows and rows of wooden steps leading from the main campus area and down past the dorms and to the water’s edge. This is one of my many photos of them at various angles.


Working Title: 365-Ten
1st Sentence: Beatrice called the project 365-Ten: Living the Stereotype.
Favorite Sentence: It had been a thoroughly exhausting year, mostly due to all the partying, and she had been relieved to transform herself into Mimi that next January 1st, a thirty-something granola gal who sold hand-crafted candles and all-natural dog treats from a cart in the city plaza, and lived in an old VW bus in the Walmart parking lot.
Word Length: 1,431


Photo of steps on the campus of Haystack 9/2012.

6th Pic of the Day: A Test!

23 Sep

This has been a very tough few days. Yet again I struggled to produce a complete story. Yet again I wrote a lot of words I had to toss. An easy one very soon, please?


Working Title: SAT Question
1st Sentence: Four friends and co-workers, Jenny, Elissa, Michael, and Fran, are due to attend an important conference, which takes place in a town that is roughly a three-hour distance from where they all live.
Favorite Sentence: She says absolutely not but this solution suits Fran and Jenny very well, so they agree with Michael and all three badger and badger Elissa, they just keep on badgering her, and maybe because she was the youngest of five children, she is used to capitulating to a slew of yammering voices, she is used to condescension, she is used to being told.
Word Length: 1,345


Photo: Portion of I-35W Mississippi River bridge after 8/1/2007 collapse, by Kevin Rofidal, U.S. Coast Guard, 8/2007, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 9/2/2011.

2nd Pic of the Day: Mute Fish

19 Sep

So frustrating! Yesterday I got the story like a whole gift dropped in my lap. Today I tried in the morning, then late morning, then early afternoon, then late afternoon, then early evening. I was so desperate from all the trying that when I got to early evening I wrote a half-page of material that I’d decided before wasn’t going to go anywhere but then I did something I occasionally do to kick-start myself: I hit return and wrote an absurd sentence. Then the husband took me to dinner. When we got back I went back to my absurd sentence and wrote the rest of the story in “make myself laugh” mode. The result is a very odd, very silly story that, yes, makes me laugh. Next!


Working Title: A Mother’s Work
1st Sentence: When Jess told me she’d named her fish Boxy, I said “Well that’s lovely, how did you pick that?”
Favorite Sentence: This was reminding me of the good old days, when we might sit in the living room and pluck a chicken together or set fire to cereal.
Word Length: 1,079


Photo: Clown anemonefish in sea anemone by Nick Hobgood, 5/2004 picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 8/29/2011.

Grab Bag Day 3: Trip Photo

13 Sep

Another personal photo as shorty prompt, this one of the outrageous bed in our room in an Ogunquit B&B. I laughed in glee when I saw that thing and snapped my first picture of the trip before de-pillowing. It took a good 20 minutes to find out-of-the-way places to store all the pillows on that bed. As for the shorty, good idea but poor execution, despite much, much time invested. Next.


Working Title: Meatloaf Night
1st Sentence: Saturday Glen was schmoozing clients all day—at least that’s what he’d said.
Favorite Sentence: He would feel the earring with his tongue, pull it from his mouth, and hold it out to her in shock, and she would say, “Oh, that’s Jessica’s,” like, whatever, of course her earring is in your dinner.
Word Length: 1,665


Photo Hartwell House, Ogunquit, Maine, Polly Reed room, 9/2012.

Grab Bag! Day 1: A Headline

11 Sep

I just completed four weeks of using various kinds of prompts to inspire stories, including personal photos, place, poems, songs. This week I’ll do a grab bag of prompts, using a different kind each day. Today I decided to use a headline, something I’ll try for a week soon. I went to my go-to news site, Salon.com, and read the article with the first headline I saw, “Ryan: The lyin’ king” by Jillian Rayfield and Salon Staff. Then I wrote the shorty immediately afterwards. My story, as it happens, has nothing to do with politics nor Paul Ryan.


Working Title: One Man’s Guide
1st Sentence: This is how you end up spending your fifteen minutes of fame as a national joke.
Favorite Sentence: Deb is a limited person who found a niche in accounting and thank goodness because she might otherwise be in a halfway house somewhere, playing Hearts in baggy pink sweatpants.
Word Length: 1,065


Photo credit.

Songs Day 7: Goodbye Week 19!

10 Sep

Another week of shorties under my belt! New York style cheesecake is one of my all-time favorite treats and this piece is a BEAUTY, yes? Mmm, congrats to me. Today’s story prompt was the song “Anyway You Want It,” by Journey. Now THAT was a blast from the past. I love the idea for the shorty the song inspired but the promising start wound down to a disappointing finish. Maybe a strong revision will save it.


Working Title: Stick a Fork in It
1st Sentence: She used to have the same trouble in tennis.
Favorite Sentence: She pulled the fork out of her leather bustier and he shivered in anticipation.
Word Length: 1,077


Photo by FASTILY (TALK), July 2010.

Songs Day 5: Gutting It Out

8 Sep

The day’s shorty was inspired by “Stuck with You” by Huey Lewis & The News. Not one of my favorites from this band (there was a time in my youth when I had a very strong affection for Huey’s chin dimple) but I have a nostalgic appreciation for the melody and easy lyrics. But I had to push hard to come up with a story for this one. Still, with a strong revision, what I finally got might be a keeper.


Working Title: Rubber Band Test
1st Sentence: One last trust-building exercise and we could all go home.
Favorite Sentence: Brenda, on the other hand, had encased her ample, hour-glass figure in a shiny skirt suit, but one that was more Mother of the Bride than Lipsticked Mover and Shaker: puffy shoulders, a frilled peplum around her hips, and that godawful candy pink—she looked like a wedding gift on stilettos.
Word Length: 1,182


Photo by Bill Ebbesen, July 2010.

Poem Series Day 5: Maria’s back!

1 Sep

Ahh, another excuse to post a picture of my darling Maria. Bad lighting and apologies for the husband’s foot, but you can see that she is ridiculously adorable. Today’s shorty was inspired by my current favorite of the terrific poems I’ve been pulling from Poetry Daily as prompts for my writing, “6220 Camp Street” by Amanda Auchter, from The Wishing Tomb, Perugia Press. First stanza as teaser: “The morning of the strange wind, / I opened tin cans, / scooped chicken livers into pie plates. The city”


Working Title: Operation Rescue
1st Sentence: She ran it through her head while she was showering, watching TV, making a grilled cheese, pedaling to nowhere on an exercise bike: UP in one smooth motion, sneakers on, shake pillow from its case, fetch cat carrier from laundry room, stuff pillow case into carrier, grab Spinnet and put him into carrier, car keys, purse, OUT.
Favorite Sentence: We rehearse the mother-living-fuck out of the fastest decamp this side of a panty-raid and all is right with the world.
Word Length: 1,264


Photo taken this summer by Pat, who forgot to move his foot.

Poem Series Day 4: So long August!

31 Aug

I could fill this whole box with complaints about the day’s shorty, which I worked very hard on and yet it refused to be anything but a pretty, preening piece of crap. Instead I will congratulate myself for finishing my 4th month of the Daily Shorty challenge! That’s a THIRD of my year, folks! Have a red velvet cupcake on me to celebrate. The wonderful poem that inspired today’s shorty is “The Meantime” by Craig Morgan Teicher, from To Keep Love Blurry, BOA Editions. The first four lines as a teaser: “It’s easy to overjoy a window with brilliant flowers / but what if long-longed-for time suddenly bubbled / over the lip of the clock, as if each day doubled / due to a lost job or loved one slaughtered, leaving hours”


Working Title: Noon
1st Sentence: Tuesday.
Favorite Sentence: She watched the sand sift, tiny breaths of particles at a time, falling through the hour glass from possibility to past.
Word Length: 1,736


Thanks to my friend Mark and sister Amy for taking this picture.

Poem Series Day 2

29 Aug

Two shorties inspired by poems, five to go. I was very happy with this story and worked hard to find the right ending, but it never came. Right now I’m thinking the last third of this one is likely to be replaced in revision. The poem that inspired this shorty is “Heroic Sentences,” by Kimberly Grey, published by the Colorado Review, Summer 2012. First four lines as a teaser: “Little crumbs and tree and bone / and all that’s left of time inside / our bodies and I am insatiable / when it comes to saving you,”


Working Title: What Say You?
1st Sentence: My friend Lorna and her soon to be ex-husband Bill held a funeral for their marriage.
Favorite Sentence: Lorna had called from Italy at 3:00 in the morning—what, three years ago, now—drunk on limoncello and bawling about how Bill hated cheese and said she should grow her hair long.
Word Length: 1,142


Photo by Jgromine1, May 2012.

Day 4 of Photo Series

17 Aug

Had to fight hard for this one but wound up with something I really enjoy.


Working Title: Lobster Dinner
1st Sentence: The word “spectacular” kept coming up.
Favorite Sentence: Jim had special-ordered fish and chips because he was horrified by the look of a lobster and refused to try it, which was just like Jim and just like our marriage.
Word Length: 1,575


Photo taken in Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, July 2012.

Airport Writing

11 Aug

Worked on this one a few times during the day, then saved the heavy hitting for late, when I knew I’d be sitting in an airport for a few hours, waiting for the husband’s always delayed plane. Might as well make being stuck in limbo work for me, right? A disappointing shorty, as it happens, but an efficient Claire. Next!


Working Title: Breast Duty
1st Sentence: “You don’t need to tell me what to do.”
Favorite Sentence: She draped the thing around her shoulders, snapped it at the top, and sat there like a depressed superhero with a very bad costume designer.
Word Length: 1,042


Photo by National Cancer Institute.

What the hell?

7 Aug

Um… wow. This shorty includes the two most unlikable characters I’ve ever created. And I’ve created quite a few. But these two ladies are just…awful without being interesting. Nothing whatsoever to recommend them. Why? Why would I do that? Who wants to read about people like this? One very interesting thing about this challenge—I’ve written a lot of stories that are so different from my norm that I actually feel incapable of judging them. That’s never happened to me before. For now I trust it’s just the labor and intensity of the challenge and my Inner Critic will be just as full of herself as ever when it comes time for revision. No, Inner Critic, that was not an invitation, go back to your seat.


Working Title: Ladies Who Lunch
1st Sentence: What makes a waiter in his twenties think it’s okay—and actually not just okay but somehow flattering—to refer to two women in their forties as “girls”?
Favorite Sentence: More lime more lime, Romeo, more lime!
Word Length: 1,353


Photo here.

Goodbye Week 14!

6 Aug

Ahh, a lovely pecan nougat roll to reward a tough week. I have felt that my stories lack vitality this week but I just looked back at them all and actually I really like a couple of them. And two others have a lot of potential. So a typical week, I guess. On to the next!


Working Title: Dear Congresswoman Brugge
1st Sentence: I write to explain why I am declining your request for a contribution to your campaign for the Senate.
Favorite Sentence: You looked right at Grace, put your hands on your hips, and cranked up your I’m-too-smart-for-your-mother voice.
Word Length: 1,256


I bought this treat at a candy shop in Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove. I remember it with love and gratitude.

Still Wobbly

3 Aug

Again, had to work hard to get the story on the page and then I had to press like crazy to finish it. Really liked the vision for this one but had to settle for a mediocre delivery. Hope it comes together in revision. I really miss the days of this challenge when I had time to look at older stories and re-work them. Maybe soon I will find a better rhythm and add revision to my days again. Not until the Olympics are over, that’s for sure.


Working Title: Me, Too
1st Sentence: Juror #3 complained about the bottled water.
Favorite Sentence: They were arguing about the war, about the last thirty years of trickle-down economics, about gun control and racism and gay marriage, and whether public school students should be forced to observe a moment of silence before lunch because some Baptist kid had been taught to believe the whole world should stand still while he thanks Jesus for a bologna sandwich and a bag of Fritos.
Word Length: 1,071


Photo here.

Slow as molasses in January.

2 Aug

Too many things to do and I can’t seem to just set my feet, scowl, and knock down each pin. I think it might be time to admit that having to complete a story every day is extremely mentally taxing. What to do? I can’t stop.


Working Title: Tango Tangle
1st Sentence: Sure, they could learn a couple of others, too, but it was the Tango she wanted in her feet.
Favorite Sentence: In the end she sank to the ground in a kind of slow motion twirl, landing in a bunched up slump with Cliff leaning over her, his face red as a split tomato.
Word Length: 1,959


Photo by Jenny Mealing, October 2005.

A Happy Surprise

21 Jul

Slow in coming this morning. But then it came to me all at once and I trusted it so completely that I spent the entire day working on other things, coming back to the shorty for a more complete drafting only just before bed. So far this challenge has given me faith that I will always have another good story in me—maybe not today or tomorrow but soon. I decided to commit to a year because I really want to know if such a rigorous and disciplined practice will ultimately deplete or feed me. I suspect and hope that each story seeds another. That we can never run out in any case but that we are most full when we spend. Spoken like a woman high on a great writing session. Time will tell.


Working Title: In Tune
1st Sentence: She’d always loved to watch him tune his violin just before a performance.
Favorite Sentence: But she told him she had a feeling, a ripe, purple feeling, like the glistening center of a split plum torn from the pit.
Word Length: 1,040


Photo by Frinck51, May 2004

Back to 7!

20 Jul

I don’t know. Nothing was coming to me and the minutes were ticking away. I thought again about Michael Martone’s Four for a Quarter and how we should try arbitrary forms for stories and so again the number 7 comes flying at me and then… I’m off and running.
.


Working Title: 7 Confusions
1st Sentence: Confusion #1. The big one.
Favorite Sentence: We may never know if a Neanderthal could say, “I had pierced the mastodon with an arrow when I realized that I did not have my hacksaw.”
Word Length: 1,101


Photo by Ökologix, 2007.

Writing Practice

16 Jul

First things first: A pecan cinnamon roll for me as a congrats for completing Week 11! Yahoo! And now a word to friends who have been asking how I manage my daily writing practice: It’s ideal if I can hit my story 3 times each day. When I first wake up (I write while I’m still in bed), after lunch, and before I go to sleep (again, writing in bed). Often I get only two of those and if I can only have two, I want first thing in the morning and then just before I go to bed. I get ideas best when I first wake up, and I need the distance of a good 14 or 15 hours, if I can have it, to find the entire story. Of course my daily practice would look different if I didn’t have to complete a story each day. But should it? I couldn’t establish a consistent practice before, so how would I know what works?


Working Title: Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Innkeepers
1st Sentence: When she was nine, Nita married Mr. and Miss Potato Head, then made them a house.
Favorite Sentence: The Potato Heads met occasionally in the kitchen, by accident—Mr. standing over the sink as he shoveled a bowl of shredded wheat into his mouth, staring out the kitchen window; Mrs. pushing eggs around in a pan, letting them get hard and crumbly while she slipped into a couple of minutes of relative peace that felt something like sleep.
Word Length: 1,578


Photo by Flickr user Lara, March 2009.

An ancient, oft-told tale… told once again.

12 Jul

Working Title: Wishcraft
1st Sentence: Just like in all the stories, I wasted the first wish.
Favorite Sentence: Weeks and weeks of that best-boy shit, plus all the extra hours I can take and old Hank couldn’t hump it right now if it crawled right up under him and wrapped its legs around his waist.
Word Length: 1,285

Photo by Vicki Nunn, November 2010.

Hello Week 11!

10 Jul

I can’t believe I forgot to congratulate myself for completing week 10 yesterday! No wonder I was cranky today. No virtual treat. So a luscious brownie for me now. Anyway, today I drafted three-quarters of something that didn’t interest me but I put it aside in hopes of getting something better. I kept coming back to the page after taking care of other life-things, but nothing would budge. Then I went searching through unfinished stories (the kind you know you’ll almost certainly never finish) and found a sentence that had good spark. Two one-hour sessions (mostly consisting of staring but eventually producing a couple of paragraphs) and one two-hour session of heavy-duty writing late tonight and I have a new shorty that, again, probably only a mother can love. Actually I’m beginning to think I’m losing my ability to judge whether my stories work. And I can’t decide if that’s good or bad. Likely both.


Working Title: Menu Math
1st Sentence: If you love tuna sandwiches, you’re high-strung and needy.
Favorite Sentence: It’s not that they genuinely expect the world to spasm and then re-shape itself into their image every time they let out one of these farts, it’s just that they’re shameless and cheap.
Word Length: 1,046


Photo by Neumüller Ferdinand.

Another Treasure Hunt

28 Jun

Again, I wrote this one line by line with no idea what would happen nor how the story would end. It’s a quirky piece that I actually like a lot but I have a feeling it’s a shorty only a mother could love….


Working Title: Bucket List
1st Sentence: They were at a dinner party last night when the conversation turned to bucket lists.
Favorite Sentence: The piglet suited for Wimbledon has one of those old-style wooden racquets, and he’s wearing tennis shorts that are so long on his chubby little legs, they look like Capri pants.
Word Length: 1,271


Photo by 4028mdk09, October 2009.

I’m back!

26 Jun

I almost always realize the ending to a story right away (but then I have to figure out how to get there by writing the story). Very rarely I have absolutely no idea how the story will end, and in that case I just figure it out on the page line by line. Today I wrote my shorty like that and I really enjoyed both the process and the result.


Working Title: In the Cookie Jar of Life
1st Sentence: In the margins Melissa wrote things like, “I sense that you know your characters well”—the narrator had told us that the wife would develop diverticulitis in twenty years and the husband had a flare of freckles on the back of each upper thigh, details that had no bearing on the story, and “That you loved your grandmother very much comes across clearly”—the young man had written four times, “I loved my grandma a lot.”
Favorite Sentence: What if it’s a really bad metaphor, like ‘his mousey bellow’ or ‘her runny lips’?
Word Length: 1,135


Photo by Matt Turner, December 2006.

A haunted house in June….

22 Jun

Where did this one come from? In October, when I should be thinking “Halloween,” maybe I’ll write a story about strawberry picking. Anyway, when I needed a title for a story about a cursed house, I remembered the old movie The Amityville Horror. Such horrendous punning shouldn’t be allowed, I know, but I can’t help myself.


Working Title: Comityville Terror
1st Sentence: Marlena believed the neighbors stopped liking her when she slaughtered the steer.
Favorite Sentence: She held a notebook to her chest and repeated, over and over, part history, part horror, part social criticism, part immersion memoir.
Word Length: 1,883


Image from Open Clip Art Library, by Netalloy.

Being Stubborn Pays Off

21 Jun

Trying to find the balance between i. keeping expectations reasonable and encouraging, so letting go when meeting my Daily Shorty challenge is all that needs to happen in a day, and ii. raising expectations when pushing hard will take me to a new place in a story, transforming a trifle into a keeper. Today I was stubborn and it paid off. When the Inner Critic can keep her voice down, she is a welcome visitor. Today she kept whispering, here, right here, that’s where you need to introduce tension….


Working Title: Steering Leslie Right
1st Sentence: Elton was just driving her in circles.
Favorite Sentence: She pulled into a gas station and fiddled with the GPS, the way she fiddled with that old TV when she was a girl—in those days a good slap could get you back to an episode of T.J. Hooker in time for the stand-off.
Word Length: 1,728


I’m suffering but the shorties aren’t.

16 Jun

Really enjoyed yesterday’s and today’s shorties. But this cold is awful and I’m hardly sleeping. Makes no sense.


Working Title: What’s a Little Water?
1st Sentence: Her mother is strapped to a chair suspended from the iron swing-arm that sticks out straight from the cement wall.
Favorite Sentence: The woman hovering in a puffy cloud of pastel knits, her white hair piled into an old-fashioned grandma bun, her stout legs bottoming out to sensible, thick-soled shoes, takes Jessica’s hand in both of hers, her palms warm and soft as dinner rolls.
Word Length: 1,554


Mining More Childhood Memories

12 Jun

The quality of my daily shorties seems to go up and down in small cycles—I’ll write 2 or 3 in a row that I really enjoy (even if they’re not destined to be publishable) then 2 or 3 that bore me and make me nervous about continuing this project. Then something good will pop up again. I spent a lot of time on today’s shorty, which emerged from a childhood memory, hoping to push it into something good. Didn’t happen. I think I need to keep faith that I will always write another story I love. Just maybe not today.


Working Title: Looking Sharp
1st Sentence: The sweater vest was the showpiece—four broad stripes of fuzzed yarn plush as a cat—pale blue, then orange, then yellow, then dark blue.
Favorite Sentence: Our teacher, a certified nutjob who sometimes liked to punish us by choosing to remain silent for an entire class period (yeah, that really hurts) and other times berated us nonstop for things our parents and grandparents had done—voting for Nixon, inventing plastic, bombing anyone small and dark—agreed, saying, “I know, so awful.”
Word Length: 1,517


And now for a keeper!

9 Jun

Working Title: Made You Miss
1st Sentence: When they’d played tennis he couldn’t get it through his thick head that the point—the whole reason they were out there in the first place—was to get a good workout.
Favorite Sentence: The tennis ball bounced lightly to her right, slow and high, hanging in the air like a neon green face begging to be slapped.
Word Length: 1,674
Photo by nao2g June 2008.

Inspired by a Game I Never Play

6 Jun

Pushed hard to make something of the first lines and images that came to me. Getting stubborn about wanting something I like to happen on the page. This is good and bad. Bad if I forget how to let go when I need to, bad if I let the Inner Critic get too loud, again—she was overbearing before I started this project. Good because I should always push.


Working Title: Scrabble Night
1st Sentence: We were falling behind, Jane and I.
Favorite Sentence: The stuff looked like a big, fat urine sample on ice.
Word Length: 1,245


Photo: I will never admit to how long that took.

Kicking off Week 6!

5 Jun

I didn’t reward myself with a virtual treat yesterday for completing Week 5 because I wanted to illustrate that post with a picture of Anne Boleyn. So delayed (virtual) gratification delayed no more: An ice cream cone for putting another week in the bag.


Working Title: To the Skeptics
1st Sentence: This is how I know Madame Talantua is for real: She never once told me what I wanted to hear.
Favorite Sentence: She gasped, kind of, and her eyes popped open to look at me so hard it felt like she was pinning something to my face, and I thought, goddamn, now she’s seeing right into me, like I’ll never be able to see myself, this is the best twenty bucks of my life.
Word Length: 1,246


Photo by ElinorD July 2007.

Inspired by My Reading

4 Jun

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies surely brought this shorty to me today. I highly recommend both novels. On another note, big congrats to me for finishing Week 5!


Working Title: God Save Our Queen
1st Sentence: What if Anne Boleyn knew all along?
Favorite Sentence: When Nurse tries to show her how to fold the kerchief back, like a blanket, so dollie can breathe, Anne shakes her head no, pulls the fabric back over the head, presses it to the doll’s face with a flat palm.
Word Length: 1,039


Photo at Wikimedia Commons here.