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Flash fiction

Six Steps from Hell

1

            To begin, less where you would think, but more where it needs to be. The action. The confrontation. The great conflagration of tumult and lethargy appeared through the gauze of drug induced sleep. Narcotics. Dope. Anti-seizure drugs. It could have been any form of cocktail that grayed the edges of his vision. The fact remained that a thick haze filmed over everything and the air felt like a ten-pound weight on his head. But it was his penis that hurt the most.

People moved in the periphery. Someone whispered death. Another hinted at dying. The cloud over his eyes swatted words out of the air, smashed the buzzing creatures before they reached his ears. He’s lucky, flatlined, car, ambulance almost hit, bad, hurt, happened to be going by, bike, lucky, bad, smashed, bad, death, lucky, dead,

2

            The elves kept him safe. He knew that. The only thing he was sure of. The elves placed him on the hood of the cop car. No sharks could reach him here. The splashing water cooled his skin, but the sharks only frothed in the brine. He was safe. Not even his dad could throw him in, no matter how hard he tried. The elves kept the boy safe. And people continued to walk around the bed, cop car, and look sadly at him. The wires and hoses tethered him here. The sharks would not get him no matter how many times his father threw him in the ocean. The elves always carried him back to the cop car. They even tied his hands to the rails so he didn’t accidently slip out. He was safe here. For now.

3

            Somebody fed him. But his dick still hurt. Every fog covered consciousness began with the throbbing between his legs. As hard as a rock, he couldn’t understand how it hurt. What was it they said in the movie, “a cat couldn’t scratch it.” But here he was in pain. From the inside out. As if a cat had drilled through the lonely eye into the shaft and tried to claw its way out. Every throb of his teenage half-awake excitement reminded him what pain was.

The rest of his body floated there in the bed. Detached. Not his. Strange weights pinned to one leg. Wires hid beneath the fabric on his chest. Tubes dripped things into his bandaged arm. Was this what death was? This confusion. This numbness. This piercing pain in his penis. Relief and punishment. The anguish of living over. The torment of death begun.

But they said he was lucky.

Someone whispered, “Survived.”

How could it be lucky when he wanted to die?

All the pain and anguish that held the knife to his wrist over and over again flooded through every limb. His heart broke over and over with every beat. He wanted to die. He had begged to die. So he did. Then he awoke in this sterilized hell. The elves could not protect him from himself. He reached out with his mind and tore at his insides. He searched for the death that he knew was still there. Waiting and mocking him. Hidden inside the broken shell he inhabited.

Lucky.

4

            God why’d his penis have to hurt so much? Was this his punishment for failing to die? Was this the whimper at the end of the world?

The sounds of a TV show echoed in the room. His morning wood throbbed. The fuzzy color sitting by the bed didn’t notice. One if his arms could move. The elves forgot to retie one of the straps. Slowly. The limb not yet aware of the body that commanded it, slugged toward the edge of the blanket. The air pressed his head against the pillow. He lifted the cover just enough to see. There in all its hormonal glory swelled his penis, as big and as hard as ever. And impaled in the tip stuck out a small rubber hose. Yellow liquid rolled back and forth as the hose bobbed up and down with each erectile throb.

5

            The world burned. The sharks retreated and the elves flew the cop car away. The captain said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” The hospital bed and fuzzy shapes in the distance remained. “How are you?” Not him. “I’m fine. He’s doing better today. Not whimpering as much and no seizures.” The colors collide. “Go home and get some rest.”

6

            For all the years that lead up to this moment, he wanted to die. After the first funeral he attended and became aware of this miraculous escape called death, he wanted it. As the years grew more and more heavy, as the small joys he knew faded away, he wished more and more for such escape. During the long summer breaks when the hell of school was far away and unable to offer any sanctuary from his home, he sat suicide on the edge of his bed wondering how big of a mess it would make, if his knife was sharp enough.

Everything he longed for, he now had. Death. Numbness. Escape. Yet here he lay, still alive. And with every surge of teenage hormones, pain. The clouded world sat just at the edges of his vision, burning, waiting for him. He closed his eyes, for everything he ever knew was over.

Trying New Things

Recently I was diagnosed with mild brain damage. Apparently it is this condition which causes some of my idiosyncrasies and different ways of thinking. This condition combines with emotional issues to inform my writing in execution as much as style. Due to this, I’ve been instructed to attempt new things in order to get what I see in my brain properly translated to the page.

I have never been one to outline. In fact, I was known in English class as the one-drafter, meaning that I wrote one draft and merely polished it up prior to turning it in. My teacher complained to me about how I should put more effort into my work, but I always came back with the excuse that mine was the highest grade so obviously no more work was necessary.

When I transitioned into writing fiction, I considered the idea of an outline again. Having no experience with such a creature, I chose to write by the seat of my pants instead. It is an exhilarating experience. One that allows me to follow the story and not try to force it into a framework it doesn’t wish to go in. My characters are also freer to develop themselves fully, with minimum prodding by me. I feel this lends more credibility to my stories and makes them a more enjoyable tale for the reader.

Sadly, due to my shattered thought process the stories are often jumbled too. Even after two or twenty passes in rewrite, flaws of logic, tone, or clarity still abound. The stories just simply never translate from my brain onto paper.

That is where the ‘new method’ comes in. Now, I still write by the seat of my pants and merely follow the idea into whatever story is dyeing to be told. The difference is, once I have completed that march I set it aside. This is my outline. Then I read through it and look for flaws in the story. Not to rewrite them right there, but to correct the linear flow.

Once that is complete, I start my story paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph is mulled over and over to be sure it says exactly what it needs to say the way it needs to say it. Only then do I move on to the next paragraph, scene, or section. Following this meticulous method keeps me on track and in tone to tell the story I know is truly there.

You see, even after doing something for years sometimes it is merely trying something new that equals that one breakthrough the artist truly needs to create their dream.

PS … This was a one-drafter.

The power of my name

Yes, I am powerful.

Treat it Like a Job

One of the hardest things about the writer’s life is sitting down and writing. Some authors enjoy it more than anything and most authors agree that it is hard work. All the editing and planning and outlining and submitting …

I love to write, to disappear into another world. the editing and submitting suck a bit, but they are worth it for the chance to create. I love reading stories by other people and it helps me become better. Even going to conventions for self-promotion is kinda fun even with my social anxiety. The only part of writing I don’t actually like is the figuring out when I can write.

Life is such a hectic and unpredictable thing. The day job takes up so much time. The chores at home take up so much time. Family takes up so much time. There seems to not be enough hours in the day to fit it all as it is. Then again, one of the things they press on me at my day job where I make my own hours is to “treat it like a job”. Working out in the field last week trying to keep myself working and not slack off, it suddenly hit me. This is just like the writing life. I can cut off work when I want to. I can put in as many or as few hours as I want to. And what that means is I am in charge of my input, thus also my output.

Lately, my writing output has taken a back seat to adjusting my life to fit more in tune around the new job. My commitments have stretched my time so thin that I’m not inputting any energy to my writing. The end result is no writing output.

When they tell us to “treat it like a job” what they mean is to act like I am punching a time clock even though I don’t. If we don’t hold to the same requirements that someone standing on an assembly line or behind a counter. Just like the day job where if I don’t put any hours into the field I sell nothing and get no paycheck, if I don’t put any hours into writing I don’t get better or create any stories to sell.  It only makes sense.

So, in order to increase production and to enjoy more of the writing life is to not treat it like a hobby, but to treat it like a job. I’ve had several jobs all at once before and balanced it. So that is what I need to do with writing now. I need to schedule a part of my day and week to “work” on my writing. If I have to punch in and produce, then I’ll actually get something done more than dreaming about it.

Bordering on the End

Well, Borders has finally succumbed to the inevitable and is now headed toward liquidation. Pundits of every kind are now chiming in on how this is a sign of the demise of books and the book industry. All authors are supposed to be scared and ready to give up the dream of publishing a best-selling novel. Well, I disagree.

Barnes & Noble seems to still be doing fine. Amazon is still considered a great seller of books. Even used bookstores still thrive. What that says to me is the demise of Borders has more to do with their poor business model and inability to adapt to the changing environment of how books are marketed and sold. For example, they helped in the squashing of many independent booksellers by offering more titles at an equal or better price in a “cool new environment” to buy books. Then they backed away from mimicking small bookstores and focused their attention on only shelving best sellers and well-known names. The audience that enjoys that unique voice in the publishing industry, the one that isn’t a best seller yet still had a home at small stores, was pushed to online orders only. So basically, Borders helped eliminate competition and then stopped filling the niche their competition was known for. Stupid, stupid move.

Then to top it off, they failed to have a positive online image to compete with Amazon or their other big box store competition of Barnes & Noble. So, by failing to compete with their main competition online, with digital books, or even compete with the small stores they helped to almost eliminate, Borders sealed their own fate. As I writer am I concerned?

No.

People still read books. Whether it be in digital or print format, society still craves the written word to take them away to a new land. Most movies made today that are not remakes are based off of books. So, even if people prefer movies, they still need books to base those movies off of–which then usually boosts sales of those books. (the most successful movie franchise in history is based on a series of books–Harry Potter)

The demise of Borders only means that more people will now join the oversized ranks of the unemployed in America. And it may mean the chance for the independent and personal bookstore to rise again. Oh, and I may also be able to pick up a few bestsellers at a discount during the liquidation sale.

Learning to Stretch

One of the assignments for my writers group was to write a story in a way that was outside of our comfort zone. For the historical fantasy writer that meant writing a story about glittery vampires. Our southern Gothic writer chose to delve into the fantasy genre, penning a story containing an old Greek character in modern times. For myself, it was hard to decide what was outside of my comfort zone, after all I already tend to write cross genre. After much consideration the obvious answer hit me. Our assignment had a 700 word limit and the more I considered that humongous limiter, the more I realized that it was that very limiter which was outside of my comfort zone.

Much of my work tends to be verbose and contain many ten-dollar words. H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe are my favorite authors to read if that tells you anything of the way I enjoy manipulating vocabulary. This style pushes most of my stories past the 5,000 word mark. So, to keep a cohesive story under 700 words is not only outside of my comfort zone it is also a great exercise in brevity.

Today, I managed to create a story from beginning to end with a complete plot arch and everything, all under 700 words. During the entire process I had to remind myself of the word count limit. This prevented me from going off on purple prose or extravagant description. All dead weight had to be cut and many of the flourishes that I tend to include though they don’t always strengthen the story, were also trimmed off.

The end result was a much tighter story than I am used to writing. I learned about my weaknesses in the creation of prose and also some of my strengths. From now on I will take what I’ve learned and apply it to my future writings. As all exercises should, this one has made me a better writer and it is because of that I plan on doing this again.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The brain is like any other muscle and the more you use it the better it works. The act of writing is similar to exercise, in that it works your muscle and tones it. This then draws one to the conclusion that if they practice writing then their brain will be in better shape, thus enabling them to complete the task with less effort.

Think of it like cross training. You run five miles a day to tone your legs and lungs. Then you work on machines to pinpoint other groups of muscles and increase stamina. All of this to train for a marathon or some other physical event. So why not cross train your mind?

By this I mean, instead of writing in your style and in your vain all of the time–only running the five miles–one should also incorporate other exercises into their routine. Try writing in other genres. Do a nonfiction piece on occasion, such as a blog or technical writing. My writer’s group has begun to incorporate such thinking into our bi-weekly meetings. We now have voluntary assignments we can perform prior to each meeting. These assignments are decided upon by the group and help push us as writers. Our first assignment was to write something in seven hundred words or less that was outside of our comfort zone. For example, the historical fantasy writer chose to author a story about glittery vampires. Our next assignment was to pick an everyday form such as an obituary, recipe, ad-copy etc … etc … etc… and write a story in that form. Now how is that for straining your creative muscle?

All writers, whether in a committed group or not, should consider such practices. Working the muscle in different ways can only improve one’s ability to use it. So why not try something different, break from the routine, and write outside of your box?

apologies

I apologize for the silence. There are a lot of things changing around here and not much time left in the day for anything. If you will please bear with me, I plan on returning to the blog soon and will offer things for you to read then. Until that time, continue in your endeavours and good luck with your efforts.

The Critic

Last night was another wonderful Writer’s Group. We critiqued some well written stories and laughed at each other. Sadly, I missed the comment that turned Stephen’s face red and had his breath crippled with laughter. Still, watching Stewart’s reaction to the whole thing was worth it.

The camaraderie that comes with a Writer’s Group is essential to a craft that wiles away in the silence of isolation. It is also a needed tool for one to see the forest in the trees when it comes to the stories they are too close to for self-editing. The real benefit though is how it helps one better see those small things that add up to so much. I don’t catch everything the other authors can do to improve their story. Hearing the other writers in the group point out the mistakes or possible alternative routes in stories really opens my eyes to possibilities in my own.

Another aspect which we as a group are just beginning to breach upon, is the prospect of group assignments. Now I’m sure the genesis of such an idea comes partly from having a teacher amongst our ranks, but it is still interesting. For our next meeting all who choose to participate are going to write a 500-700 word story outside of their comfort zone–in  a genre or style that is not their own. A few weeks back it was suggested to me in particular and also as a good idea for others to practice writing scenes by composing a three page scene without narrative. These are wonderful exercises and something I would fare to guess many writers never try. It’s as if once we are out of school we feel there are no more practices, no more lessons, and no more learning except directly on the job. Well, in art as in many other things, if you do not continue to grow then you die.

I’m sure we all share that fantasy about the great published author who never writes anything bad and hardly needs to edit what they do. Everything the published author creates is wonderful and a best seller. Well, from my limited experience with meeting New York Times bestselling authors, I’ve discovered they still write crap, they still have to practice the basics, and they are still learning. That is what the exercises will do, they will help us aspiring writers to practice the basics.

More and more, it just makes me happy I finally came out of my rock and joined a group.

More of an Artistic Mind

Danny Kaye

Image via Wikipedia

Working in my cognitive therapy book I came across a “form of twisted thinking” that reminded me of something I read in a Danny Kaye biography. To paraphrase, Kaye said that an artist is always scared because they come by what they do so naturally that they can’t believe the adulation given to them. That they actually wait in fear of being discovered for the fraud they really are. The form of “twisted thinking” I came across is called Discounting the Positive. That is when you reject positive experiences by insisting they don’t count. For example, if you do a good job, you tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the Positive takes joy out of life and makes one feel inadequate or unrewarded.

Discounting the Positive made me think of the Danny Kaye quote because in many ways that is how an artist feels. I know I come by my ability to write so naturally that it amazes me to hear others tell me they can’t do it. Now I know I’m no Pulitzer prize novelist, but I can still sling a series of words together to make a cohesive if not entertaining read. That is something I’ve always thought everyone could do and the only reason everyone wasn’t a novelist was out of choice and lack of desire. After all, not everyone likes to read, so why would everyone enjoy writing.

It wasn’t until I ventured into the world of writers and began sharing my work with others that I realized not everyone can do what I do, and many others can do it so much better than me. I have a lot to learn as an author, about my craft and myself in the face of my art. Still, there remains my motivation and the things which hamper my production. All of these affect my art in some way, yet none are as detrimental as my inability to accept that I can do what it is I set out to in words. If I don’t believe in myself, if I don’t feel that what I do is special and intrinsically mine, then I risk walking away from my dream.

 I know this cognitive therapy can help me overcome my fears of inadequacy and failure in everyday life. But I also believe that it will help me quell the beast that has eaten so many artists in the past. As much as it would be great to attain the ranks of Poe and Hemingway, I do not want to be slayed by the same beast that took them before they were too old to write.