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.

A Surprise!

18 Mar

Lava Cake and Ice CreamUPDATE. “Three Things” was published by Mid-American Review, Volume XXXV, Number 1. Many thanks! Not online, but here’s an author interview.

The surprise is that I can do something this late in the challenge, when I’m this tired, that excites me. I produced a droopy, totally uninteresting version of this shorty when I was writing with my friend Patty. I told her that it would count as my day’s shorty if necessary, but I hoped I’d have the energy and inspiration to revise it into something halfway good before lights out. Much to my delight (and shock), I did get interested in the piece later and I reworked it into something I actually kind of love. Patty, many thanks for your encouragement! As for the picture, I had a version of this dessert once at Fore Street in Portland, Maine. The one I ate looked even better and it was, oh, in my top 3 dessert experiences. Congrats to me for completing Week 46!


Working Title: Three Things
1st Sentence: She left three things behind.
Favorite Sentence: Or is this simply a last, whimsical act as Conductor?
Word Length: 327


Photo by Jurema Oliveira 12/2004.

A Disturbing One on St. Pat’s

17 Mar

Green BeerI don’t think there’s a connection between St. Patrick’s Day and the ugly vibe I’ve got going in this story. I don’t know why I sometimes write about the violence men do to women. I guess because I’ll never figure out how so many of us can be so cruel.


Working Title: Sweet Libby
1st Sentence: What is it that makes her impossible to believe?
Favorite Sentence: No, truth never comes from lips like that.
Word Length: (309)


Photo of green beer by SpaceAgeSage, March 17, 2007.

More for the Hard Drive

16 Mar

KittensLook, my hard drive needs friends, too. I’ve produced work at every level during this challenge, including a nice collection of stories that can live peacefully in their hard drive community, never disturbed in any way. The day’s shorty is one of them.


Working Title: He Knew, She Knew
1st Sentence: He knew she was lying.
Favorite Sentence: But if he challenged her she would be forced to admit the deceit and then they would have to look at it, this truth, her need to be rid of him.
Word Length: 389


This is my current go-to picture for cheering up. Thanks to Sudias (7/2008).

Appreciating Desperation

15 Mar

AlphabetI’m discovering that desperation can be a useful tool. Again, I worked late into the night to get something. And this shorty so wants to be good but can’t quite pull it off. I wrote it from a child’s point of view, something I almost never do, so I can be proud that I strayed from my usual path.


Working Title: Her Book
1st Sentence: “No, no, Pearl,” said Miss Scott, “that is not a BEE. That is a…? A… ? What is it, Pearl?”
Favorite Sentence: She would much rather think about potatoes.
Word Length: 395


Photo credit here.

Struggling

14 Mar

Rural RoadLike I said in a previous post, when I bounce back these days it’s only for a day or so. Mostly I’m just really, really, really tired, and often, as with this one, the story refuses to come until I’m so DONE with the day that I have to force something. But… this shorty is actually pretty good. Maybe.


Working Title: Soft and White
1st Sentence: They’d left the highway long behind, snaking a curvy, up and down two-lane at forty miles an hour, aimed for home in their little slice of rural Virginia.
Favorite Sentence: Mr. suburbia, Mr. creased trousers, Mr. You don’t have a passport??
Word Length: 443


Photo by Censusdata 4/2007.

More Playing with Fairy Tales

13 Mar

Princess and the PeaThis one didn’t come out quite right but it has potential. I have no idea how I stumbled onto that first sentence after struggling all day to come up with something that would hold. I know I was falling asleep and feeling pretty desperate by the time it came to me.


Working Title: Pea and Princess
1st Sentence: Princess never said she could feel the pea.
Favorite Sentence: If history is written by the winners then Princess has to accept that a dewy, limpid-eyed maiden with rubies and pearls twined into her long, golden tresses, even she, Princess, can lose.
Word Length: 282


Image of illustration by Helen Stratton (1899) for the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Princess and the Pea.” Scanned by Nicole Deyo, obtained from http://www.archive.org/details/fairytalesofhans00ande.

Goodbye Week 45, Hello 46!

12 Mar

Biscotti and CoffeeThis piece started as a 5-minute writing exercise with my friends Patty and Joani, so I feel like they gave it to me. Thanks Ladies! It’s small and humble but I like it. The piece of biscotti I just bought and ate with a cup of coffee was not small and humble. I neglected to take a picture of my snack, so this photo will do as my official celebration for finishing another week. And this time the celebration, for me, is not just virtual. Yum.


Working Title: Sunday Breakfast
1st Sentence: She delivers one of her especially long, dramatic sighs, the kind that says, Why don’t you understand me, after all these years, all this heartache, the kind that says, Why did you never become the man I wanted you to be, that says, You still here?
Favorite Sentence: Sitting in our dining room decades after wearing that strapless dress she’s got the same liquid brown eyes like cool scotch whiskey, the same tremble in her lips.
Word Length: 434


Photo by cyclonebill 6/2008.

Back to Pulling Teeth

11 Mar

LeavesOh, the heartache of finding this story. Finally pulled it out but left some gaps. I think it’ll be a keeper when I can get back to it, though. This marks my last day of a week of prompts using the Wikimedia Commons picture of the day. These images were very, very good to me.


Working Title: Now Is Too Late
1st Sentence: All these years his complaint has been that she is too orderly, too scheduled.
Favorite Sentence: These wide-eyed writers of such sincere prose seem to think that if we all did yoga a couple of hours a day, if we burnt our daylight meditating on a multisyllabic word of your trendy choice, if we ate nothing but oats, mortality itself could be slain.
Word Length: 480


Photo by Diego Delso 4/2012.

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).

Picture of the Day, Day 5

9 Mar

MacawThis one came to me very easily, which felt like such a gift in a very, very tired week. It’s odd and maybe a shorty only I can love, but love it I do. Love, too, this Wikimedia Commons picture of the day that inspired it.


Working Title: Bird Story
1st Sentence: Everyone has a wounded bird story.
Favorite Sentence: A ragged crow with a mangled leg, clinging to a branch of the tree behind the house, cawing, its red eyes blazing.
Word Length: 428


Photo by Luc Viatour / http://www.Lucnix.be 7/2009.

Picture of the Day, Day 4

8 Mar

Space ShuttleSo this is the fourth time I’ve traveled during the DS challenge. I left Wednesday first thing for Boston, where AWP is holding its annual conference. I’d forgotten how hard it is to be in a different place and keep up with my story-a-day promise. Ergh. Anyway, if I can figure out what this piece is missing, maybe I’ll make some progress on how to write good stories that are fewer than 250 words. The shorty is almost good but… isn’t. And I have absolutely no idea how I got from this Wikimedia Commons picture of the day to a short story that has nothing whatsoever to do with space, science, NASA…?


Working Title: Closet Habit
1st Sentence: When he was eleven, his mother found him in a coat closet, where he had retreated after a fight with his older brother.
Favorite Sentence: He didn’t mind being discovered sitting in a puddle of shoes in an armoire in his freshman dorm room because he got a few instant friends for being bizarre, and everyone else circled wide around him because they’d heard he was a nutjob.
Word Length: 207


Photo of a silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour by NASA/crew of Expedition 22 (2/2010).

Picture of the Day, Day 3

7 Mar

Lighthouse EstoniaI’m always hesitant to say that I’ve learned any particular thing with regard to writing because I never know how the ground will shift tomorrow. But I think I can say that I have taught myself how to write very short. Not teeny-tiny, mind you—I don’t know that I will ever be able to write good pieces that are, say, 250 words or fewer. That is a feat I can barely comprehend. But I have now written a fat handful of pieces under 500 words that I like a lot. Given that I couldn’t do that at all before this challenge, I feel pretty excited. The shorty this picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons inspired is one of these very short pieces I like.


Working Title: Mountains
1st Sentence: For almost a year I’d been teaching at a school built into a bowl of land between two mountains.
Favorite Sentence: On a day when I wasn’t just wincing but dizzy, if I caught myself wanting to fling my body at all that hardness, to beat my fists on it, then I would plan an escape.
Word Length: 360


Photo of a lighthouse on the islet of Keri in Estonia by Andrus Uuetalu 5/2008.

Picture of the Day, Day 2

6 Mar

Russian PalaceThis photo of a Russian palace, the picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons, inspired thoughts of Anastasia, the Romanov princess at one time rumored to have escaped the massacre of her family.


Working Title: Anastasia
1st Sentence: If she had not been the sort of princess who, as a child, liked to trip her servants, would she be here now?
Favorite Sentence: Do you imagine, broken bird, that you brought Mother Russia to her knees because once, in a princess temper, you put your foot out, caught a ratty shoe?
Word Length: 349


Photo of the Church of the Grand Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Aleks G (10/2011).

A Week of “Picture of the Day”!

5 Mar

ButterfliesMy first sustained period of mental fatigue hit hard in August. I beat it back by using various kinds of story prompts for a while. Then I fell into the habit of a week of prompts, a week of no prompts, followed by a period of anything goes. I was feeling so exhausted as March began (I’m writing this catch-up post on March 19) that I reached again for prompts as a solution. My DS weeks begin on Tuesdays, so on March 5 I started a week using the “picture of the day” at Wikimedia Commons as my prompt each day. I have unreasonable affection for the story I wrote in response to this photo, partly because I was able to keep it so short but mainly because I worked in a (well, rather obvious) homage to the Ray Bradbury classic, “A Sound of Thunder.” (The insect is identified in the photo credit as a moth but I saw it as a butterfly, which is why I thought of Bradbury’s story.)


Working Title: Thunder
1st Sentence: She’d felt something brushing her forearm and because it was July and a cascade of insects greeted her whenever she left the house, she was conditioned to think mosquito or bee or gnat.
Favorite Sentence: After another moment of staring, she snapped a leaf from one of the maples that lined the path, and scraped the ruined butterfly from her arm.
Word Length: 266


Photo of the Madagascan sunset moth, two views of the same specimen, by Didier Descouens (2/2013).

The Limitation of a Day

4 Mar

Apple FritterI’m celebrating the official completion of another week (it’s not official until I post about it!) with thoughts of the apple fritter I too often get at Starbucks. It looks a lot like the apple fritter pictured here. So here’s to finishing Week 44! The day’s shorty about a woman who discovers she’s an online romance-advice columnist’s invented girlfriend is a good example of a story that fails because I needed much longer than a day to get it right. In the old days, when I was rested, I could have banged out a decent draft. But nowadays it almost always takes my exhausted brain multiple (mostly unproductive) writing sessions over the course of the entire day for me to get something I can work with on the page, and by then I’ve only got a little gas left. If the vision can’t be thoroughly rendered in 1000 words or fewer, the draft will suffer and probably severely. Currently this shorty is a crammed, distilled story with notes for where to expand and it just barely meets my DS criteria for completion (see My Rules under my About page). But I’ll enjoy coming back to it, I think, when likely I will need to double or triple its length.


Working Title: Know Your Lady
1st Sentence: Leslie stared at the instant message at the bottom of her Facebook page.
Favorite Sentence: Dear Leslie, the only thing to come clean about is just how much you rock my world, Babe.
Word Length: 1,109


Photo of apple fritter by Aanidaani at en.wikipedia 1/2006.

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.

A Little Better

2 Mar

Human HeartI was in a better mood when I wrote this one and feeling more rested. I’ll enjoy coming back to it but I think in the end it will be a shorty only its mother can love.


Working Title: The Heart
1st Sentence: She looked at her hands and saw a stapler.
Favorite Sentence: The heart was ragged and limp, crouched in a sticky smudge of scarlet blood.
Word Length: 395


Photo of human heart by en:User:Stanwhit607.

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.

Goodbye February!

28 Feb

MariaAnd good riddance. January was brutal and February was worse, both because we had to euthanize our beautiful kitty—I’ve put up another of my favorite pictures of her, here—and because for the entire month I fought a kind of fatigue that just totally took over my mind. I used to be able to bounce back for weeks at a time. Now a good bounce lasts maybe a day. Well, I wanted to know what would happen to me if I wrote a story every day for a year, and now I’m finding out. The day’s shorty is a sad one about a grieving widow. Fitting.


Working Title: The Empty Half
1st Sentence: Without him I can’t speak, not coherently.
Favorite Sentence: Half of everything I want to say went ashes to ashes and now when I open my mouth to let words drop I find that I am part cluttered noise, part yawning empty, all confused garble.
Word Length: 334


My husband took this photo of our sweetie not too long ago.

Good Potential!

27 Feb

Froot LoopsI write a lot about people who seem to be losing it. Recently a friend recommended that I not submit a story about a patient in a mental institution to a contest because she thinks editors are leary of stories “about the disturbed.” My experience in publishing says she’s probably right about that, yet pretty often my characters mentally deconstruct on the page. What’s a girl to do? Anyway, I like this one. It’ll be fun to come back to it and better shape it, fill in the gaps.


Working Title: Message
1st Sentence: I’m seeing it everywhere, now.
Favorite Sentence: She was upset about the latest memo on comp-time specifying exactly what is meant by “comp-time” (hint: there is no such thing as comp-time).
Word Length: 1,025


Photo of Froot Loops by Zanastardust 10/2007.

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.

More Recent Memory

23 Feb

Bird NestWhen I’m severely stuck, which is a state I’m living in far too often these days, I follow the advice to look for my material in my obsessions, gripes, fears. A huge gripe is the condescending things some mothers say to me when they discover I chose not to have children.


Working Title: Mommifying
1st Sentence: “You will never know real love,” she warned me.
Favorite Sentence: If “good” is condescending, if “good” is thinking you know what’s best for a woman you barely know, if “good” means you learned how to apply makeup in and oil-painting class, then, yes, you’re good, you’re very, very good.
Word Length: 426


Photo of empty bird’s nest here.

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.

Taste Memory

21 Feb

CrabapplesThis shorty is based on a taste memory I’ve been chasing, and it’s a great example of a piece that is very well done for what it is, but there’s kind of no there there. If I were more of a poet perhaps I could write a compelling shorty based only on taste. Next time!


Working Title: Crabapples
1st Sentence: Over the years in odd moments, when she’s thinking of nothing in particular, she remembers the look and taste of small, preserved, bright red apples.
Favorite Sentence: She savors thick, spicy, syrup-sweet skin and dense yellow flesh.
Word Length: 298


Photo from thekitchen.com, where there’s a recipe for wine-poached crabapples that looks DELICIOUS.

Giving Up

20 Feb

Raspberry PieThere are bad shorties and then there are shorties that revel in their badness, mocking me with a smoker’s choked laughter, inviting me to question this project, my calling. Go ahead and laugh. No one else will ever hear you. Laugh while I move on to the next.


Working Title: Raspberry Pie
1st Sentence: Just-picked Maine raspberries, check.
Favorite Sentence: She was a task-master, that woman—no, not cuddly at all—but pie is pie and life is short.
Word Length: 352


Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/rexroof/ 2/2013.

Childhood Again

19 Feb

Lit MatchOne of the ways I rescue a totally arid brain is to go back to childhood. This story about my mother using gasoline to light our wood stove fits nicely into a small package. Oh, the horror on my father’s face when he discovered she’d been doing that—maybe I’ll write that story sometime.


Working Title: Morning Fire
1st Sentence: We were cold, we had been so cold all morning, and she couldn’t get the fire going.
Favorite Sentence: Goddess of Flame, Keeper of the Sun and Moon, Juno throwing her bolt of lightning.
Word Length: 441


Photo by Sebastian Ritter 1/2006.

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.

A good one!

17 Feb

FedoraAll the notes I took for this week of stories said things like “I’m tired” and “Still sad about [my cat] Maria” and “Not in the flow.” So it’s not surprising that this is the first story this week that feels right and whole.


Working Title: Rapture
1st Sentence: She saw a hat in the middle of the street, an old fedora, and the first thing she thought was, Daddy wore a hat like that.
Favorite Sentence: If she didn’t keep smiling into the radiance of the sun, if she didn’t bear the twitching muscles, the tight shoulders, she might be overlooked.
Word Length: 431


Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat 11/2012.