Friday, August 28, 2009

#fridayflash story: Jaime's Home

Earlier this week I heard about a great event each Friday. It's called #fridayflash, and the idea is to post a flash fiction story on your blog each week. I don't know if I'll participate every week, but I will try to as often as I can. So, without further ado, here is my first post for #fridayflash:


I swore I heard her voice yell to me, "I'm home," as I was in the shower. When I got out, she was nowhere to be seen. Then, ten minutes later, the hospital called and informed me she'd been in an accident. The paramedics had done their best, but she was gone before she reached the emergency room. I didn't bother to tell them that it was impossible; I'd heard her come in a few minutes before, and no, I didn't imagine it. Instead, I hung up the phone and folded into a ball. Jaime, my beautiful Jaime, was gone.

Only a few things caught my attention in those hours I lay there. One, our dog, Bickers, sat shaking, his tail between his legs, as he growled at nothing. Two, the kitchen light turned on and off a few times. Later I found the peanut butter jar on the counter, the lid unscrewed. I hadn't put it there, but Jaime loved peanut butter. Three, I heard the toilet flush two different times. Jaime never could go very long without having to use the bathroom.

I finally got up and did all the stuff I had to do regarding her death. I don't know how I made it through the next few weeks. I probably missed a bunch of signs. When my mind stopped spinning a few weeks later, I noticed Jaime all through the apartment. She had continued her life as if nothing had happened. That's the only way I could think to describe it. Her favorite chair always felt warm and used, though neither I nor anyone else sat there. The TV, whenever I wasn't watching, powered on and tuned to the Travel Channel, her favorite station. Plus a hundred other things I couldn't explain except that she was still there, living in death, just out of my reach.

What did she think? Could she think? Did I abandon her? Was I there in her unlife? I couldn't bear to think about it, and though neither of us was very religious, I called a priest. She needed to move on to wherever the dead went.

I don't really remember talking to anyone at the church. Like so many things after Jaime left, I ran on autopilot. When the priest showed up, I gave him a tour--a Jaime ghost tour, you might say. We watched as she made herself a sandwich, which was just the top twisting loose on the peanut butter jar and the knives vibrating in the silverware drawer. We witnessed the television turning itself on and the channels flipping through until it reached The Travel Channel. We noticed the indentation form in her chair.

I witnessed these things, anyway. The priest, for whatever reason, said none of that happened and refused to free Jaime. I got mad. It had all just happened as he stood there by my side. The only way he could calm me down was with an offer of some other kind of help. I tried to explain that the exorcism would do just that, but he said he had a better idea. He was a man of the cloth, so I believed him.

He went outside for a moment to talk on his cell phone, and when he got back, he was all smiles. In a few minutes, all my problems would be solved. I was so happy that I cried out to Jaime and asked if she had heard. She was going to be okay. Her chair creaked, and I knew she understood. She'd been alive the last time I'd felt this good.

Hours later I sat in a padded cell with a strait jacket wrapped tight around me. I had to admit it was rather comfortable. The help the padre had promised came in the form of an ambulance. He told the paramedics that I'd unscrewed a peanut butter cap, rattled the knives in the silverware drawer, turned on the television, flipped through the channels, and sat in a chair, all the while blaming it on her ghost. Ridiculous, of course. I'd been standing next to him the entire time. At least Jaime had come with me, though. Someone had stinky peanut butter breath.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

3 short stories

I thought I'd highlight 3 more short stories that I've enjoyed. You can get all 3 online for free.

The first comes from July 15, 2009 issue of The Absent Willow Review. It's a story entitled Within a Fictional Truth by Philip Roberts. It's a chilling tale about an entity born inside a slain teen. The entity seeks the answers to what it is and why it exists.

The next is a podcast story from Pseudopod, and is called Pattern Masters by Jeff Carlson. You can hear it from that link, or go to your iTunes store and search for Pseudopod. It is story #105. This is a story of an eccentric artist who must finish a strange piece while navigating his way through a relationship with an equally strange woman.

The last story for this week is also a podcast story, though this one is quite short. It comes from Escape Pod and is entitled Taco by Greg Van Eekhout. Like the last story, listen from that link, or go to the iTunes store and search for Escape Pod. You'll find it as Escape Pod Flash: Taco. This is a very short story about the face of Jesus in a tortilla chip.

I hope you enjoy those stories as much as I did. If you have some favorites of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments. Until next week, keep reading and/or writing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Writing Practice

I know you've heard it before: the comparison of the need to practice with athletes or musicians and writers. If you want to remain competitive, or even competent, you, as a writer, need to practice. That's not the issue here. We know it's true.

The thoughts I want to give about writing practice are more practical. What constitutes writing practice? Do you need to run though rote exercises like musicians practicing their scales? Not at all! Writing practice can be whatever you make of it.

If your idea of writing is fictional prose, why not use your writing practice time on poetry? You might never let anyone see what you create, but it may spark story ideas, character traits, interesting settings, or any number of things to help your fiction. Or why not take ten minutes and whip up a flash fiction story? It may not be salable after that one pass, but that doesn't mean that you can't take time later to revise it into shape. Or not. Maybe you'll simply be happy with having created it, and no one needs to see it. That's the beauty of writing practice; it only exists to help you grow as a writer.

If you're not sure what you want to do in your practice session, why not choose a writing prompt? Bookstores, both brick and mortar and the online versions, sell plenty of books that have a number of writing prompts in them. Magazines like Writer's Digest also usually have at least one prompt per issue, and their on-line content usually contains a number more. Or hit your favorite search engine and type in "writing prompts," and you'll have plenty of options to keep your practice schedule fresh for years to come.

One thing to remember about writing practice is that it should be fun. Everyday you write isn't going to be a picnic. Some days the words fight you and refuse to get down on your page. It doesn't matter whether you're a novelist, a poet, a journalist, a screenwriter, or whatever; if you write, you'll have tough days. So why not rekindle your love affair with the written word by taking ten or fifteen minutes a day to enjoy yourself? If you do this, your writing will do nothing but prosper. And to me, that's what writing practice is all about.

Until next time, keep reading and/or writing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Short Story Podcasts

Today I thought I'd let everyone know about some great podcasts on iTunes for free short stories. This is the perfect format for the short story in this age of on the go. I believe all of these podcasts have websites where you can download these stories, but since I subscribe to them in iTunes, that's the format I'm going to talk about today. Remember, if you don't have iTunes, it's free to download. Get it straight from Apple's website. You don't even need an iPod. You can listen to these or any podcasts on iTunes right from your computer.

It's easy to find these podcasts. Simply go to the iTunes store and put the title in the search bar, which is in the upper right corner. Click "subscribe," and you'll get plenty of great short stories for free! I'll list these in alphabetical order.

The first I listen to is called Clonepod. This highlights great fantasy and science fiction stories. Most of the stories run about 25-35 minutes, but there are a number of flash fiction stories that hover around 10 minutes.

The next one is The Drabblecast. This is a speculative fiction podcast that likes stories on the weird side. Most stories run about 15-25 minutes.

The next one is Escape Pod. This one focuses on science fiction short stories. Most run about 30 minutes, but there are quite a few flash fiction stories under 10 minutes.

The next one is The Mad Writer Fictioncast. This is a group of speculative flash fiction stories all written by author Warren Stallworth. Each story runs under 10 minutes.

The next one is PodCastle. This is a podcast that focuses on fantasy stories. As with most collections of fantasy stories, some are light and airy, while others dark and grimey. Most run about 30 minutes, but there are plenty under 10 minutes.

The next one is Psuedopod. This podcast focuses on horror fiction. Some are subtle tales, while others make no bones about the horror and violence of life. Most run from 20 to 35 minutes.

The final short fiction podcast I subscribe to is Well Told Tales. This one focuses on Pulp Fiction stories, and most run about 25 minutes or so. There are occasional flash fiction stories here, as well.

If you enjoy reading short stories, but rarely have the time to browse print and online magazines, these podcasts might just be for you. Just type the name in the search bar in your iTunes store, and enjoy hours of fun. If you have some short story podcasts that you subscribe to that I didn't mention, feel free to mention them in the comments. Until next time, keep reading and/or writing!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Novel writing process

I recently started working on a novel, and I'm happy with how I went about all of the pre-writing exercises to allow for an easier first draft experience. I got a book called Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, not because I wanted to pound out a book in thirty days, but because it looked to have a good structure. I honestly feel that I've had trouble in the past getting a novel written because I lack structure in my writing process. I've tried other methods, but nothing has ever really sung to me. This one looks like it has promise.

I'm using many of the exercises and worksheets provided (though I'm doing so in a separate notebook, not right in the book, because I'm cheap that way), and I'm tweaking others to fit me. The book is set up to use each of the 30 days, with reminders of things to be looking for and exercises on how to throw a creative curveball into the mix. I've decided, since I don't want to dash it out so quick, that I'd move on to the next page with every 7 or so that I write--that'll get me to a good word count for a middle-grade novel. I made scene cards on 3x5 cards, and those have become my outline for the story. I sketched out my main character with enough information--using the book's character guide--and I'll fill it out more as I write. This seems to be an excellent way to get going on a novel for me.

The tough part, of course, will be actually writing the thing. I've set myself a goal of two pages a day/6 days a week. I like to set my writing goals low so I have a hard time missing them. Often I write more than that, so it's a nice little confidence boost for myself when I do write more. I started in the middle of last week, and so far I've met my goal every day. I'm confident this system will serve me well not just through the first draft, but through the revision process as well. That's all I have for you this week. Until next time, keep reading and/or writing.