Tag Archives: writing prompts

Wednesday’s Word: Kleptocracy. Say that three times fast, and then write a story.

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking: about new routines, upcoming projects and books unfinished. Planning, but not so much creating. It seems right, then, to click over to Wordsmith.org and spend some time with the Wednesday’s word of the day* — and my muse.

(I hope she’s listening.)

Today’s word:

kleptocracy. Noun. A government by the corrupt in which rulers use their official positions for personal gain.

A word and definition applicable to many, I’d say.

*****

Head of Household

Under the muted glow of the nightlight, Nora pulled at her lip. In the mirror, she could see a growing line of blood trickle down the inside of her mouth.

“Damn,” she whispered.

“Guess I got a little crazy, huh?” Glen came up from behind her and put heavy hands on her shoulders.

“Crazy!” Nora said. “You bit me.” She wriggled out from under his grip.

“Yeah, just making sure you knew who was in charge.” He slapped her ass. Nora flipped him off and marched back to the bedroom. She heard Glen laugh, but he didn’t apologize.

Glen wasn’t always so rough and crass. It wasn’t until the day after they’d gotten married, when Nora woke to the sour smell of morning breath and Glen’s face staring down at hers, that he started declaring he was now “master of her domain.”

“Good morning?” she’d said, as she’d laughed and pushed him aside. She had thought he was kidding around.

The next week, though, he began claiming her time, telling her exactly how many nights a year she could go out with her girlfriends. No more Happy Hour meet-ups or impromptu coffee dates. And “Ladies night out” was a conspiracy, he said.

During dinners, he got greedy, taking much more than his share and leaving her with scraps some nights. She called him out on it, but he told her she’d just have to start cooking more.

“The King has a right to seconds,” he said on the night she served tenderloin. “And thirds.” He stabbed at the last piece on the platter.

And after the lights went out, he was like an animal in hiding most nights. He waited until she was almost asleep and too tired to fight back and he took her. Tonight, he’d been vicious.

“How’s the lip?” Glen asked as he crawled into bed.

“I can still taste blood…just so you know,” she said.

He patted her head and turned over without saying goodnight. Nora sat up on her elbow and studied the shape of his silhouette. When she heard his breathing slow to a shallow rhythm, she reached out and put her hand on his waist.

She squeezed.

He was growing fat.

*****

They Might Be Giants – Don’t Let’s Start from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

* Wednesday’s Word means write something – an essay, poem, or flash fiction – based on Wordsmith.org’s word of the day and post it by midnight. Past pieces from this fun writing exercise can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.

Flash Fiction: The Continental

Sometimes, Wednesday is all about using Wordsmith.org’s word of the day as a writing prompt and posting something by midnight. Past essays, poems, and flash fiction pieces can be found under the Wednesday’s Word category.

It’s Humpday, and it’s rainy, and I’m feeling kind of Flashy. I thought I might take on the word of the day – lancinate: to pierce or tear – but that sounded dangerous. Besides, the prompt I really wanted to tackle came from a listen to the radio a few weeks ago.

Through fortunate events, my husband and I wound up with free satellite radio for a whole month. Similar to satellite TV, there’s an overflow of options, most of which (like NASCAR radio) I could do without. One station, though, I quickly fell in love with: The Coffeehouse, a collection of acoustic songs that are really stories woven into musical threads. A writer’s dream. Well, this writer’s dream. Maybe you prefer the Liquid Metal station. Anyway….

The Coffeehouse is where I heard Suzanne Vega’s acapella version of “Tom’s Diner.” This song, like a good story, uses tempo to pull the listener along and incorporates pauses to allow the listener’s mind to wander. Just for a second. Just long enough.

Even if you don’t read the flash fiction piece below, listen to the song. I dare you not to write from it. You might even find a way to squeeze in the word of the day, too.

*****

The Continental

Nostalgia can be hazardous, Jenny thought, as she walked into The Continental. Just look at this place.

The original horseshoe counter had a tinge of antique color to it. The floor was sticky, probably caked in diner grease. A rotary phone hung next to the register. A rotary! And, the griddle sat off to the side, out in the open, where anyone could see the cook flip patties and wipe the spatula on his apron.

This place is neither efficient nor healthy, she figured, but it was the only place around. She grabbed the first open seat at the counter, a metal-rimmed stool with a vinyl cover that – of course – had a crack down its center. When she sat on it, the edges of the broken vinyl fell together and pinched her in a tender place on her thigh. She jumped and cried out. The waitress walked over.

“What can I get for you, honey?” The waitress cleaned the space in front of Jenny with a wet cloth and set a napkin down.

“Coffee,” Jenny said. She dried the counter with the napkin. “To go, please.”

“To go?” the waitress repeated.

“I’m waiting for a tow-truck,” Jenny said. “I won’t be long.”

The waitress shrugged and pulled out a white, ceramic cup. “Tastes better in a cup. And, I know that tow truck. He takes twice as long as he says.” She filled the cup to the very top and walked away. Jenny looked around, but no one else seemed unnerved by the waitress.

Jenny had blown a tire a few blocks down from the diner and ended up calling Information for a mechanic in town. She hated calling a mechanic, but while she knew how to change the tire, she didn’t have the strength. She dialed the number and was told forty-five minutes. She thought a slow walk to the diner and back would kill time. But, after hearing forty-five minutes would be more like an hour and a half, she regretted sitting down.

Next to Jenny, an old woman pulled up her purse and began rummaging. As she dug around, the aroma of Doublemint gum filled the air, and Jenny thought she smelled Aqua Net. She turned away, so she wouldn’t be tempted to peek at the contents of the old woman’s bag.

A bald man with a goatee sat at the end of the counter, next to the coffee burner. He refilled his own cup and worked a crossword puzzle with a gnawed pencil. “What it doesn’t hurt to do,” he said to the man next to him. “Fourteen down. Three letters. Should be easy, right?” The two men stared at each other for a minute.

“Ask,” said the woman with the purse. “A-S-K.” She turned to Jenny. “Men.” Then, she turned back to her rummaging.

Jenny snickered to herself and sipped her coffee, which was now cold. She waved at the waitress, who waved back. The waitress was busy, tapping her pen on her pad, while a young couple at the corner table giggled over the menu. The young man said something, Jenny couldn’t catch it, and held up two fingers. Then, he brushed a piece of hair behind the young girl’s ear.

Jenny’s body softened.

The woman next to her smiled.

The man with the goatee folded his paper and hit his pencil against it.

The phone rang, genuine, and the bus boy answered.

“More coffee?” the waitress asked. Jenny hadn’t noticed when she walked up.

“No. Well…yes. Thank you. I suppose you’re right. I should stay a while.” Jenny ordered a cup of clam chowder and a grilled turkey sandwich. The waitress winked, clicked her pen, and gave Jenny’s order to the cook.

 

Wednesday’s Word: Once I clicked, I committed.

I’ve got a long list of excuses as to why today was not a good day for writing a new piece of flash fiction (in fact, if this post gets out by midnight tonight, I’ll be lucky). The problem is, I clicked over to Wordsmith.org this morning and read the word of the day and, therefore, committed myself to write something – an essay or a poem or a very short short – based on today’s word:

phycology: noun. The branch of botany dealing with algae. Also known as algology.

Algae. Green, slimy, stinky snood. Wordsmith never makes it easy, but then who said writing was easy?

(Past pieces from Wednesday’s Word exercises can be found by mousing over to the sidebar on the right and clicking on the Wednesday’s Word category.)

*****

Solitude

Joanne’s canoe glided towards the far side of the lake and carried her into a space void of campers, unreachable by motor boat, and reminiscent of times when the electricity went out at home; the air surrounded her with a heavy quiet.

Relief, she thought.

Sometimes she tired of the constant buzzing or humming caused by electric or other what not noises that smothered her at home and at work, sounds that were noticed more so when they ceased. She thought a weekend retreat to her cabin would offer solace, but the Wisnewskis were up this weekend, too. They were a raucous bunch, even at breakfast, which is why Joanne pushed off in her canoe shortly after her second cup of coffee.

She relaxed her shoulders and relished her space and didn’t think twice about floating into a blanket of algae. The canoe cut through it like a wedge, splitting the muck and setting off spirals of green around her. She scooped up a handful of slime and rubbed her fingers together, searching for the substance. The algae held together only in mass.

Figures, she thought, just like the Wisnewskis. They thrive in clumps and encroach on the lake just the same.

Joanne breathed a sigh of disgust and, at the same time, lurched forward; the canoe had slowed, almost stopped. She brushed the tip of a sunken log, and as it scraped against the underside of the canoe, it pierced the quiet with a sound that frightened a kingfisher out of the trees just feet in front of her. She about had a heart attack because of that damn bird, and now, with her hands clenched to the sides of the canoe, she watched her paddle bounce and slip right off into the water. Into the muck. Away from her canoe.

Now, she certainly was alone, and the algae was closing in behind her.

Flash Fiction on Wednesday: Cold

There’s a new website in my Google Reader: Fiction Writers Review. Writers can find a plethora of information, stories, and great blog posts there. Plus, they have a blog series by Celeste Ng called “Get Writing,” where she posts an exercise to get your muse off the couch and back to some serious calisthenics. This week, Celeste suggests writers turn to the tabloids.

Looking through the tabloids is a lot like waiting for Wordsmith.org’s Word of the Day – you never know what you’ll get – and, seeing as it’s Wednesday, the timing was perfect to use the tabloids as a spark for a little flash fiction.

*****

Cold
(Based on this post, called “Magnetic Boy,” from Weekly World News)

Standing outside, Nicholas Baker – even at ten years old – could see that his mother had lost it. She used to get mad if he ran outside without a jacket, when the air was just a little bit cool. But now, she was insisting that he stand in the front yard, naked from the waist up, in the middle of winter.

“She’s looney,” his older sister, Emily, had said about their mother just a few days before. “Mental.”

“You are what you say!” Nicholas yelled back at first, because he didn’t want to hear her call his mother crazy. Though, he figured she might be right.

“Mom, Nicholas is shivering,” Emily said now. “He’s freezing.”

His mother adjusted his arms up and out to his sides and then stood back to look at him.

“Mom!” Emily shouted.

“Shhh,” she said. “Hold still, Nicky,” his mother told him. “I have to get this picture just right, otherwise we won’t win.” Then, she wiggled her hand toward, Emily. “Hand me some tablespoons,” she said.

Emily rolled her eyes and bent down to grab a handful from the silverware tray that sat on the ground. The wind kicked up. Nicholas’s teeth started to chatter.

“At least let me get him a coat, Mom.”

“No. If his skin is warm, the metal won’t stick. You know that. Now just be quiet and let me work.” His mother’s hands moved in swift diagonals across his chest. She shifted spoons around into various shapes. Her eyes flashed and she was breathing hard.

This wasn’t the first time he stood out in the cold while she lined him with kitchen utensils. Ever since they found out he was attracted to metal, or that metal was attracted to him, his mother had glued herself to the internet in search of contests on sites like Ripley’s Believe It or Not. She took picture after picture and drove to the post office every weekend. Nothing ever came of the pictures, so Nicholas started to wonder if it was really such a big deal that a set of keys sitting on a  table would jump into his palm if he held his hand over them.

“You’re like  Jedi Knight!” His mother had told him. “Like Luke Skywalker living in Cleveland, Ohio,” she’d grinned.

“Worth money,” he’d overheard her tell his Aunt Judy on the phone.

His stomach felt sick, and his head was frozen like a giant ice cube. He told his mother that his fingers were numb. She cupped each of his hands and blew on them, promising that in two more minutes she’d make him the biggest cup of hot chocolate he’d ever seen.

He didn’t like being a Jedi so much anymore, and he wondered if Luke Skywalker ever felt this bad. But, he did his best to smile for the camera, thinking maybe this would be the last time.

Sweaters, Shoes, and Books: More on Letting Go

Last Sunday, I wrote about cleaning out and clearing out and making way for all things new. Part of that process includes a giveaway: gifts from my shelves to yours.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about, “hey, I just cleaned out my closet and wouldn’t you love a few of my pill-ridden, old sweaters….” And, no I won’t raffle off those doc martin wannabe shoes, the ones with monster heels and rounded toes that oozed “cool” ten years ago but now holler “red nose, balloon animals, and Lucky the Clown.” Those things, I will toss or burn, thank you.

What I am giving away is a book near and dear to my heart, On the Fly: Stories in Eight Minutes or Less.

This book represents my writing journey in many ways. Some of my early pieces appear on the pages and signify my willingness to put myself out there.

The book’s premise is based on writing prompts, which is a technique I depend on, often, to urge me forward into creating new pieces.

And, the book as a whole is the product of a collaborative effort between an amazing group of women writers. We called ourselves the Lit Star Collective.

We published this book not for profit, but in order to document our time together, to showcase the work we had done, and to spread the word about the kind of writing that can happen in a very short time — well-formed images and prose can emerge, like tiny treasures, from a flurry of words when you let go of inhibitions and dive into the work.

On the Fly is a book of flash fiction, flash narratives (a term coined by Lisa Rivero), and creative nonfiction. Each piece originated from a prompt (given by our instructor, Ariel Gore), was written in eight minutes of timed writing, and is presented in either its raw form or a peer-edited version. Sometimes the prompts were one word; sometimes they were a phrase. Always, they inspired great writing.

As a teaser, here’s an excerpt of a piece by Catherine Anderson, a devoted Mother and a prolific Writer. She blogs, at Mama C and the Boys, about raising multi racial families (by birth or adoption), single parenting, and the writing that evolves from those life experiences. In On the Fly, Catherine expands on the prompt, “Where I’m From.”

Inheritance

Where I’m from, is mapped out all over my nose. Bulbous, just like Pepe’s. Loved that man. As grandparents go, he mapped that out pretty well too; if I live to be old enough to see these boys have children of their own. The French-by way of Guadeloupe-sailor and storyteller with chocolates and exotic perfume samples hidden in his silk robe for me to find in his suitcase every other December when he came to visit. You have to forgive a few things, like how he espoused that black people were beneath him, and Jewish people were, too. It becomes tricky to understand how come his mistress of twenty-five years was half black and half Jewish. Look deeper inside my cells and you will see his wife, my Meme, curled up in a little ball in my abdomen abandoned over and over her entire life. First, by her mother who died of typhoid when she was three, then by her father who left her in a hotel room with a cousin he didn’t know so he could remarry. And then every day she waited for Pepe to come back to the marriage he had consummated on land….

…There’s more. Of this narrative and of other amazing short pieces.

On the Fly includes several other writing prompts, too, that will stir your muse. If you’re a writing prompt junkie, or if you’d like a peek into the works of sixteen women writers, leave a comment. On Sunday, May 1st, my pals at Random.org will choose three lucky winners who will each receive a copy.

To read more of Catherine’s work, you can visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.


A Chiropractor’s Dream

When someone throws out a writing prompt challenge, I generally accept.

Back in January, Susan Bearman kicked off her Annual Writing Contest on her blog, Two Kinds of People (2KoP). Susan is the master at writing about “the folly of arbitrary divisions,” as she says (case in point: this post on Fan vs. Fanatic). And, she makes it look easy. Her open prompt, “[p]ick your own favorite Two Kinds of People topic and write about it,” gave anyone interested all sorts of flexbility. But, what I learned in trying to tackle this prompt was that, well, Susan is a master.

My submission didn’t win – congrats to Deborah Carroll who did (you can read her essay here) – but it was a fun exercise. So, I’ll share: my two kinds of people.

*****

The Chiropractor’s Dream

A guy named Tim Ferriss wrote a blog post a while back describing how he can travel carrying 10 pounds or less. “The name of the game…,” he says, “is being ‘fashionably light.’” I’ve never been called “fashionable,” and, in my mind, “fashionably light” doesn’t even compute. Mr. Ferriss’ post on traveling contrasts with my own practices and solidifies my belief that people on the move fall into two separate camps: those who pack light and those who pack.

I don’t travel light — not on vacation, not when I go to work, not when I return home from the supermarket. I’ve never been a Den mother for any Boy Scout (the closest I’ve come to any Scout is paying seven dollars for two boxes of Thin Mints), but I pledge the Boy Scouts motto just the same – Be prepared – and therein lies my problem. I’m notorious for filling every pocket of a purse and occupying every inch of dead space in a bag. And, while I’m fully prepared for any and all emergencies on a given day, my inability to pack “fashionably light” sometimes leaves me looking and feeling like Igor in “Young Frankenstein” – humped over and eyes bulging.

I could blame my proclivity to over pack on being a mother. My kids are young, so I offer plenty of good reasons why I carry extra notebooks and pens, snacks, bottles of water, and one (or two) bags of tissue. But, “the kid excuse” does little to explain why my bag for work weighs almost as much as my four year old daughter. No, my days as a pack horse began long before I became a mother.

I was nine years old when I received my first invitation to a tea party. My best friend from down the block asked me over for the afternoon and suggested I bring a few of my stuffed animal friends. Like many kids, I possessed a whole slew of stuffed companions, all of them important. With a tender heart and a lot of patience, my mother helped me load each bear, bunny, and doll into several paper sacks (they wouldn’t fit into just one), and she asked if I was sure my friend meant for me to bring so many.

“Oh yes!” I said, emphatic, the word “few” being a relative term in my world even then.

We filled the back seat of her 1979 red and white Mercury with my bags of friends, and she drove from our house at the top of the hill to my friend’s house at the bottom. For all I know, she put the car in neutral and coasted down the hill, we lived that close. Then, she gave up five more minutes of her time to help me unload.

When I read a post like the one Tim Ferriss wrote, I dream of being a minimalist, of standing upright while I walk to work, of gliding through an airport with, say, a free hand to wave at a passerby. I stare longingly at small travel bags in stores like REI, and I run my hand across the face of a cute little clutch at the mall. And sometimes, like last week, I succumb to the dream. I buy a new bag with the sole purpose of downsizing, of lightening my load and correcting my posture.

But, my motto always gets the best of me.

Downsizing is a temporary fix.
Leather stretches.
And, that new bag I’m carrying is getting fatter by the day.

*****

What about you? Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a woman thing. Remember George Costanza and his wallet?….

* The above photo comes from www.moviemarket.com. Search under “Marty Feldman.”

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Flash Fiction: Somebody Needs Attention

Wordsmith.org and I are on a break.

Though I’ve enjoyed the freedom, I’ve missed the early morning wake up call in my inbox where the Word of the Day challenge awaited. I’ve forgotten the playful tease that comes in a real stinker of a word, felt lonely for the thrill in wrestling a word into submission, and longed for the surprise when a word lends itself to a poem.

I needed a flash fiction fix, but I’m not ready to recommit. So, I glommed onto one of Lisa Romeo’s writing prompts (from her Winter Writing Prompts Project). The word: bloated.

Nobody said re-entry would be pretty.

*****

Somebody Needs Attention

Rebecca held the curtain open with the back of her hand. The sunrise colored the sky with a fiery orange and shed light on the fact that nothing had changed. Bags of garbage still lined the sidewalks; they festered, split, and spilled out onto the street.

Mrs. Owen, from across the street, ate a lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken it seemed, and Bobby Cooper, at the end of the block, must not have any real dishes. Paper plates and red plastic cups littered his stretch of lawn.  Rebecca’s next door neighbor, Stan, had tried to keep things neat by piling his garbage into a well-formed mountain, but one of the bags had rolled off and exploded onto Rebecca’s driveway. A shadow moved across the concrete and slipped behind the trash — a rat.

It had only been three weeks since the Waste Management workers first refused to fire up their trucks and clear the neighborhood, but already they made national headlines. Workers weren’t allowed to collect any trash, but the mayor insisted they had hauled somebody’s garbage and dropped it on the front steps of his house. The mayor’s front door was blocked, he said, and he was being held hostage by refuse. Still, he didn’t budge on concessions. It was like the New York City garbage strike on a small town scale.

Rebecca turned on the news, which showed two police officers outside the mayor’s house wearing face masks. Then, the news cut to the mayor, who sat inside and conducted a news conference using his son’s videocam. He drank his coffee and bragged that, with the internet, he could run the city from the comfort of his own kitchen. “Bring it on,” he told the camera, meaning more garbage Rebecca guessed.

The mayor reminded Rebecca of Vince Watters in high school. Vince played the clarinet, he wore high-waisted jeans from Walmart, and he got pushed around during lunch. Vince landed in detention one week, for fighting back, and got chummy with Darrin and Hendricks, two beefy outcasts who happened to be seniors. Vince marched into the lunchroom that Friday, with Darrin and Hendricks at his side, pointing fingers at the jocks who shoved him around and yelling “Yeah! Bring it on, dickheads!”

If memory served Rebecca right, the mayor played clarinet at his inauguration that year, and, like Vince, he puffed his chest when he was flanked by guards.

Once during the broadcast, the cameras fell onto the mayor’s wife as she wiped off the counter and poured him another cup of coffee. She cleared his breakfast plate and dumped the leftovers into the trash can, which seemed mostly empty. Her shoulders sagged and her expression was flat when she turned back around, but Rebecca thought she saw a hint of disgust in her eyes.

The mayor, however, beamed.

*****

For fun, click on over to this video from They Might Be Giants, called “I’m All You Can Think About.” The song plays just at the beginning, and is well worth the click.

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