Thursday, January 31, 2013

Writing On

I've been thinking about writing something for the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge for about nine months, ever since I discovered Chuck's blog via a Big Idea on Whatever. In August, I got really motivated, decided the time was NOW. But that wasn't the time.

Two fiction writing workshop classes had bruised me at that point. It wasn't that the stories I wrote for them were bad, or that I didn't get a good grade or that the other students were mean. It was that I had discovered that no matter what I did in those classes, nothing seemed to be making a difference in how I approached writing. I didn't understand what I needed to do to improve. Everyone had suggestions, but no one was able to articulate in a way that made sense what the problems were. We all spoke in terms of things that we did or didn't like, that did or didn't 'work' for us.

I was discouraged. I didn't know what to do or where to turn if classes and teachers were not the answer. I had written and submitted several short stories before the classes, so I knew that I had some work to do before being publishable, but exactly how I was supposed to do that work, or even what that work was...? My dad had sent me a book on writing, but it was more for 'fixing' already completed works. It helped me figure out ways to critique my peers; it didn't really give me any insight on why what I was writing didn't work.

After a semester of a technical communication class, I found myself itching to write creatively again in December (aided always by keeping up with those addictive writer's blogs). I had come to the conclusion that although I know how to string words together into sentences and paragraphs with a modicum of skill, I lacked an ability to string those pieces into a coherent story. I turned, as I always do, to books.

I read with some eye to taking notes on interesting concepts, but mostly I read these books on how to write stories like I read fiction, quickly. I wanted to get an overview of the available advice before picking one or more 'bibles' that I would actually purchase rather than check out from the library. Some of the books didn't precisely agree, many had different terminology for the same basic concepts, but they all pointed me in a different direction than the paralyzed hopeless one I had been staring down.

I know that I have a lot to learn about creating story, a lot of work to do, but I felt that I should start the new year by actually going for those Flash Fiction Challenges. After all, there are these lovely guidelines to help point me down a path, and a deadline to make myself churn something out without agonizing over it for weeks before tossing it. So I started thinking about doing it, but not until this last week of January did I actually sit my ass down and get it done.

I generated my choices on Friday, and set to thinking about what story I might tell with a motif of mirrors, in the erotic fantasy subgenre, set on Route 66. The choices sat in the blogger draft and the concepts bounced around in my mind. Once I had an idea, I settled down to write it on Sunday night.

Nothing came. I stared at the screen, the little list of parameters jeering at me, and I decided to make an erratic tactical maneuver. I went back to the challenge post, back to and regenerated myself a whole new set of choices. I changed my little edit box listing to reflect the new story I was going to write. Then, I closed that post, opened a new one and proceeded to write the story I'd been thinking about all weekend from the original parameters.

Apparently my version of 'writer's block' is susceptible to reverse psychology.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Motif

More like have your motif chosen for you...

She'll Never Be Alyssa

Jana drove right past the hitchhiker, not registering the blur of humanity until the form ran into the road behind her and frantically waved in miniature in the rear view mirror. Jana knew there were risks to picking up hitchhikers, but the drive was wearing on her nerves, the road ahead reflecting the blue sky as if it would abruptly end in a cartoon cliff. And it might, if that witch Alyssa had managed to curse her as soundly as Jana knew she could. The passenger seat could use an new occupant. Maybe then it would stop missing Alyssa, who had kept or destroyed enough of Jana's things that the remainder barely spilled over from the trunk into the back seat. Besides, it looked like the tiny figure was wearing a skirt. It wouldn't hurt to turn back and get a closer look.

It was a girl. Dirty blonde dreadlocks framed a sunburned face. Layers of gypsy skirts concealed what figure she might have, but she didn't look exactly like she'd been living hard. Rough, but not broke, not starving. Not yet.

"Where're you headed?" Jana asked, yelling over the Rush cranking out of the stereo.

"West. As far west as you're going." she smiled. "I'm Rose. Are you going to turn that down?"

"No." She got in.


Jana prowled back from the bathroom. Neither of them had spoken while eating. Jana hadn't eaten since she'd driven off that morning from her old place, their old place. She couldn't blame Alyssa for the mess, not after the Bethany incident, but she wasn't going to stay.

Rose was sipping her third strawberry milkshake, the only food she'd ordered. Her peeling nose reflected in the window. It was a little too large for her face, but it suited her, something off kilter in her features advertising how different she felt she was inside. She'd be easy to seduce.

Jana smiled. So few men knew how easy it really could be to seduce a woman. It's the little things really, listening attentively to what she says, angling the conversation to sex without being explicit, a certain tentativeness in your movements that invites them to be bold in the face of your shyness. Create the gap and let her think it's her own idea to fill it...

It was always easy for Jana to find a woman and seduce her. Too easy.


"You have potential, it needs to be trained!" Alyssa said. Another late night, another argument when Jana finally stumbled home.

"It's not a gift, I'm not like you, never will be."

"Right, because you don't even know the meaning of faithful and never will. Where have you been?"

"I've got to shower," Jana said, sidestepping Alyssa and the argument.

"You think I don't know what that means? You think I'm stupid? You are going to regret cheating on me!" Alyssa slammed the door on the way out. Jana figured she'd be back the next day. And she was, coming in while Jana was at work to destroy Jana's things and smear the walls with spell-forms and animal blood.


Jana slid into the cracked booth across from Rose.

"How long were you walking before I picked you up?" Jana raised her eyebrows and smiled, giving full eye contact. Hard to tell through the burn, but she might have been blushing already.

"So you've picked me up, have you?"

"Sure looks that way." Jana leaned back, and grinned inside when Rose leaned forward sliding the parfait glass to one side.

"Three hours, give or take."

"I favor giving, myself." This time she slid a hand across the plastic coated table to come within inches of caressing Rose's arm. "I'm about done driving for the night."

"Then we should get a room. It's not safe to drive when you're tired." Rose smiled as she reached out and took Jana's hand. Yes, dear Rose, it was all your idea.


Rose took her satchel into the motel room as Jana held the door. The air inside was warm and stuffy, smelling of dust and disinfectant. No TV, just a mirror, cracked in one corner, across from the room's only bed. Rose went directly to the closet of a bathroom and began to run the sink. Jana dropped her purse on the shallow dresser and stood watching Rose's bend over to wash her face. Wide hips. Nice.

Rose sat on the bed and looked at Jana. Hope, and a little fear of rejection were quenched when Jana began to take off her clothes, going down to underwear before stepping in between Rose's legs, cupping her head for a kiss with one hand as the other slid to discover what she was hiding under that shirt.


Jana woke from a restless sleep as the room grew light. She sat up in slow stages, not wanting to disturb Rose's satisfied snores. In the mirror, Rose looked like Nadezda, like Annie, like Kendra and Susan and Bethany and even a bit like James, that one time. The Jana in the mirror looked disappointed, a new feeling for her the morning after a fresh conquest. Neither of them looked like Alyssa, with her moonstone eyes and spiky black hair.

Bloody words came into focus in the mirror. You'll always want me. Just like the ones scrawled on the wall above the bed Jana had shared with Alyssa for a record thirteen months. Damn her.


Jana stared at the road unfolding before her, the sky swallowing up the asphalt in a glimmer of blue. She glanced at the empty passenger seat, still missing Alyssa's curves in its worn leather. It would never feel them again. Jana would never feel them again.

"And I don't want to. I don't."


Motif: Mirrors
Subgenre: Erotic Fantasy
Setting: Route 66

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dividing Line

There's a certain conservative radio talk show host who insists that the number of gay people in America is consistently inflated by the media and in the polls. While I personally think the classic Kinsey 10% number is a good guess for the number of people in America whose sexual preferences tend towards the homosexual side of the spectrum (whether they are open about it or chose to keep their private lives private), he believes it can be no more than 2%, and that that somehow justifies disallowing gay marriage. For the sake of argument, I'm going to run with that estimate.

According to, there are currently over 315 million Americans. That gives a conservative estimate of over 6 million gay Americans. Almost 4 times as many people as live in the entire state of Idaho. Is that the number at which we may begin to disenfranchise a minority? Only 30,000 Americans are afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis - does that mean we should stop trying to cure and treat it in favor of a bigger ticket disease?

Consider that although marriage began as a religious institution, it currently is sponsored, endorsed and ultimately controlled by the government. Religions are free to put whatever hurdles they wish in place to get to a marriage in their church - I don't think they can rightfully be denied their right to discriminate for their own ceremonies. However, by legislating that marriage, as sponsored by the government, must conform to religious standards, several states have blurred that line between government and religion, using government to enforce religious views.

Ah, but the majority voted to get those 'one man one woman' amendments into their state constitutions - mustn't we give the people what they want? Isn't the point of protecting minorities to prevent these kinds of laws from being enacted? In Idaho, it is still perfectly legal to discriminate against homosexual and transgender people in employment and housing. The majority has disinclined to include those words in the otherwise comprehensive anti-discrimination statutes - does that make it right?

Let them have civil unions, claim some, and leave 'real' marriage for the proper Biblical pairing of one man and one woman. I've always wanted to know how the Bible can be pointed to as an example of one man and one woman- what about Jacob (one man, one woman, her sister and both their maidservants), or Abraham (one man, one woman and her maidservant)? How exactly does that get reconciled?

Civil unions are a compromise trying to stave off the inevitable opening of the governmental definition of marriage. They are a pale echo of the separate but equal doctrine, not as harsh, but not a fair solution. In a nation that has principles of equality and freedom built into its backbone, that has fought the same battles, over and over, majority versus minority, and ended up a more equal society again and again, why does such fear persist whenever a new challenge tries to push us forward?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I never thought of myself as a rebel growing up.

When I was in 8th grade, I wrote a short story for English class. It's something that I wish I still had a copy of, not because I think it would be any good, but because the teacher refused to grade it.

I went to a Catholic school, and the story was influenced by my taste in reading material, which trended to fantasy and science fiction. In the story, which I do remember was lovingly bound and illustrated with construction paper, a young girl, who is a witch, must make the choice of whether to sacrifice her younger brother or save her village. She cannot have it both ways. In the end she chooses the greater good and her brother seems to come back to her as a raven.

My teacher didn't even want to touch the story or hold onto it. I was called to her desk after class and informed that it would not be graded and I had one day to write and turn in another story. I remember being disgusted with her inability to separate content from form and give the story a grade. I had worked on it so hard, and I simply wanted a grade, some marking of how good the story was in itself. That wasn't to be.

I went home, still fuming and slammed out a story that was, in my mind, stupid, about a child getting lost in the big city and then finding his way home. It was drivel, printed out on a piece of shaggy notebook paper, in turn pasted on a hastily colored piece of construction paper (part of the assignment was to illustrate the story). That story got an A+ from my relieved teacher.

I recently told a friend about that incident, and she told me that I was indigo. I had only heard the term indigo child on television, in a CSI episode about a terrifyingly smart young girl. My immediate thought was, no, I'm not that smart, but when I looked up the term later, a different objection arose. According to Wikipedia, the term is used to describe children that don't fit in well with structured environments, and is often used to try to cover up behavioral problems such as ADD by glorifying the problems as being special. To that too, I thought, not me.

I did well in school, for the most part, excelling when given sound structural guidelines. I loved standardized testing days, and pop quizzes. In grade school math, we would often be given "mad minute" quizzes, sheets of math problems with a one minute time limit. I loved finishing them, and finishing them correctly, though I didn't always do either. It never seemed to me that the scholastic aspects of school bothered me, just the social ones.

Then I remembered almost failing a quarter of 5th grade English because I thought the project the teacher assigned was stupid and I refused to do most of it (and the part I did do showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm). I remembered cheering inside even as I was frightened when another student threw a tantrum and called our teacher names. I almost failed 6th grade vocabulary class because I refused to play by the teacher's rules, not because I lacked knowledge of the English language (the 'F' was literally whited out on my report card - I think the teacher feared to send me to summer school).

For me, structure was not a problem, as long as I liked it. But once it went from structure to idiocy (in my young opinion), I refused to go along with it, no matter the cost. I look back on that behavior now and wonder how I did that, and how I could fail to see the inherent strength in some of the choices that I made.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Schrodinger's Raffle Ticket

Like many other Idahoans, I bought an Idaho million dollar raffle ticket. The odds are decent - much better than the standard lottery, but I did not purchase with a true expectation to win. Like most of my lottery purchases, it is more with a wishful spirit and conscious donation to public schools and the permanent building fund that I buy these overpriced pieces of scrap paper.

The drawing for the raffle was held two days ago, and the winning numbers have been revealed, but I have not checked my ticket. It is sitting in a metal lunchbox featuring Invader Zim that I have never once used for actual food. No winner has been announced, although it has been revealed that the winning ticket was purchased in Ada county (the very county in which I, and I'm betting at least 100,000 others, purchased a ticket).

By not checking the ticket, and by whoever has won not checking theirs, I am able to preserve for a little while longer that sense of wishful hope and delight. What if I did win? What if that winning ticket is sitting in my box, waiting to be revealed? I imagine a picture of myself in the newspaper, holding a ridiculously huge check and grinning my face off. I imagine taking a cruise, buying a car, investing in some land... These are dreams that I already have, but a cool million would certainly help them along.

I haven't won, but I haven't yet lost either, and I find myself content to remain ignorant.