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Category Archives: Writing

Dammit, Jim, I’m a Doctor not a Writing Prompt follower!

If you don’t remember the origin of this series (or, more likely, you’ve just stumbled upon this posting in your quest for pictures of naive boy scouts and have no idea what I’m on about), you can catch up here with Part I, here with Part II, and here with Part III. Just don’t expect reading those entries to help any of this make sense and you’ll be fine. The rules are simple: include the ten provided words (underlined in the text) in a story using the given title. Failure to do so results in a slow, agonizing death (or equivalently, parenthood).

In my last “Write The Story” writing prompt post, I closed by promising the next entry would be out of this world. Given that a significant portion of the Earth’s orbit has been traversed since that post, the description is even more apt now.

Chasing the Enemy

Captain Kirk stared at the viewscreen, his escaped quarry but a blur far ahead of them.

“Scotty, I need more power!” Kirk shouted. The demon carnival cult nurse, possibly from the future, possibly from the past, but definitely not from this time, would not elude him again. The memory of the singing lute saleswoman, an innocent bystander phasered into ash in front of the Church of the Empty Void cathedral, hit him like a hammer. Kirk would not return to 55 Cancri B and the elder high priests without that nurse in his custody and ready to be turned over to the Church and its harsh justice.

Kirk remembered the solemn oath he’d made to the Church’s Popess, her ceremonial parakeet flitting back and forth across the cavernous audience room as he spoke: “I will not rest, your Holiness, I will not pause or deviate from my task, until I have captured that freakish time-travelling medic and placed her in your custody.”

Popess Hildegard Penelope Fiona Fabberblast III nodded. “We hear your oath, Federation Captain James T. Kirk, echoing majestically in this Empty Void, and we are pleased.” The parakeet, Father Commander Toby Hashtag McFizzBin IV, alighted on the Popess’ shoulder and pooped his approval. “Ah yeah,” he warbled.

The Popess smiled. “It is destiny, Federation Captain James T. Kirk. See the poop of approval the Empty Void has bestowed upon your words.” She gestured to the greenish brown blob slowly spreading across her ceremonial tank top, settling in among the older, fainter stains already present. “Go in Peace. Go in Justice.”

The Popess sat down on the Holy Folding Chair of Receiving and lifted both gilded loafers high. Kirk, following Church custom, knelt and kissed both heels to seal his commitment to the task. Then he rose, smiled rakishly, and said, “You’ve gotten something on your tank top. Do you need any help taking it off?”

Now, three days and four dead red shirts later, the diabolic nurse was within his grasp. Once he had her, he could return to 55 Cancri B, return to his Most Holy of lovers, and deliver sweet, downy justice.

“More power, Scotty! She’s getting away!”

The lights flickered, the engines rumbled, then all fell silent as the ship came to a stop. The devil nurse moved out of sensor range.

“Tha’s done it, Captain,” came Scotty’s response. “We’ve cracked a dilithium crystal!”

Kirk pounded the arm of his chair, hissing in frustration.

 

 

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Posted by on 6 October 2018 in Writing, writing prompts

 

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If H. P. Lovecraft had written for the New Yorker

Bit of a break from my writing prompt series, but don’t worry, I’ve got three more entries written and that fiendish carnival cult nurse is eager to return.

Instead, I want to write about something new: an entirely different writing prompt exercise!

After you’ve finished rolling your eyes, but before you click off to another site, let me explain. Not too long ago, a friend of mine posted a blog entry about a creative writing book written by Jeff VanderMeer called Wonderbook. She made it sound intriguing enough that I went out and bought it.

The book is about the creative process, has a lot of pictures and essays and, well, read my friend’s blog post. It’s late and I don’t feel like describing it when someone else already has. I will say that while I find the book interesting, it does require…focus, and because of that and my current circumstances¹, I have struggled a bit with it. Not to say I don’t like it, because I do, but it feels, to me at least, like a well-written textbook on an interesting subject rather than a light read that you tear through in one sitting.

Oh no, definitely not one sitting.

In keeping with this textbook feel, it has exercises. I just finished Chapter 1 and got to my first writing prompt, which I will reproduce below. This prompt is different from the WRITE THE STORY prompts in my other posts, in that WRITE THE STORY is a writing journal where each page gives me a bunch of words to integrate into a story. This exercise from Wonderbook just presents me with a picture and says go.

So, without further ado, the writing that resulted from the first prompt! Temper your expectations – this is no carnival cult nurse escapade…

I don't know. There's something fishy about this whole thing...

Insert New Yorker caption contest entry here. Mine? I’m pretty sure that isn’t the book I’m looking for.

 

Adolfus stared with no small amount of irritation at the apparition rising before him. The Emperor would be displeased with his fallen angel if Adolfus’ failures continued along these lines. An explosion or a smaller, more colorful conflagration, while still failures, were at least entertaining. But a giant, winged singing fish, conjured from a painter’s palette? That had been done before.

The owl on Adolfus’ right shoulder clicked with consternation, while the cockatoo on his left issued forth a stream of obscenities. “That last variation should have worked,” Octavius, the owl, finally sputtered. Tersius just continued to swear until Adolfus flicked her beak sharply and she fell silent.

“If you can’t be helpful, be quiet,” Adolfus scolded. Both familiars lowered their heads, in thought, submission, and shame as Adolfus stroked his chin, going over the incantation silently, trying to see the source of the error.

The winged fish, oblivious to the trouble it had caused, burped and then broke out in a wet, throaty rendition of Fidelio.

“I’m sure it sounds better under water,” observed Octavius.

¹ Life has been a little more…chaotic and uncooperative of late, and I’ve been using these writing prompts to break out of the funk I keep finding myself in. That, along with an improv class I’m taking, have been surprisingly effective, so I will continue to use this tool until such time I either feel better or the head honcho at Simon and Schuster stumbles across these vignettes, offers me a huge, multi-million dollar contract, and I find myself catapulted into literary fame. Or once I’ve gotten through the two books I’m currently using. Whichever comes first. I’m kinda hoping for the multi-million dollar contract option, but I don’t think Simon and Schuster can really afford me these days…
 
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Posted by on 22 July 2018 in Art!, Life, Story, Writing, writing prompts

 

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I had a fever for cowbell and all I got was a blood sample drawn

It’s that time again. I’m behind schedule, utterly bereft of ideas, and have a few writing prompt pages, not so freshly inked, waiting for their shot at the big time. If you don’t remember the origin of this series (or, more likely, you’ve just stumbled upon this posting in your quest for pictures of naive boy scouts and have no idea what I’m on about), you can catch up here with Part I and here with Part II. Just don’t expect reading those entries to help any of this make sense and you’ll be fine.

Drama In and Out Of the Lab

The carnival cult nurse had taken my blood samples back to her lab. Beginning to suspect there was more to her than met the eye, I picked up the telephone, called my wife to let her know I’d be late getting home, and followed my uncanny medical companion.

The shoe was on the other foot, I quickly discovered, and had to stop to swap them.Walking was far more comfortable after that, but more than one bystander had looked askance at me during the switch. I rushed to catch up with my quarry and in my hurry I tripped, despite the re-shoeing, and fell inside a roadside trench being dug as part of the More Canals for Gondolas initiative that was recently passed by the city council after a team of international boating enthusiasts, led by the world-famous microbiologist and amateur mountain climber, Gloria Pffitz, lobbied heavily for the ordinance.

The carnival cult nurse at this point revealed the hitherto unknown hidden heights of her diabolical genius. Somehow, while I’d been scrabbling my way out of the precursor canal, she managed to persuade multiple pedestrians, bicyclists, and other innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders to obstruct my forward progress.

Soon the nurse was but a distant blip on the horizon, the location of her secret lab still a mystery to me. Discouraged, I headed home where a suspicious wife and kids were chatting with my wife and kids, filling their heads with preposterous innuendo about infidelity. I assured my wife, to no avail, that my interest in the cultist was purely scientific, and passed the night on the sofa, where even the dog deigned not to keep me company.

If only I knew where that lab was, I could have spent a comfortable night there on a cushy lab bench rather than this lumpy sofa.

I promise you, the next entry in this series will be out of this world!

 
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Posted by on 10 July 2018 in Writing, writing prompts

 

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I not only forgot I’m lazy, but the solution to the family mystery as well!

Back in February of 2017, I posted the first result of a writing prompt found in a book I’d received as an Xmas gift. It was Part One of an epic series of blog posts I was planning.

The epic series did not fare well, given that this is Part Two.

The book is called Write The Story and like my planned series, it has not fared well either.

In my household and on Amazon.

A used copy (not mine!) is now available on Amazon for less than a buck and a half, though why you’d want a used writing prompt journal is beyond me…unless you’re even more lazy than I am!

Reader: I can’t believe you finished that entire writing prompt book in one day! You’re normally so lazy.
Writer: Hey baby, never doubt me. It was a piece of cake. It practically wrote itself.
Reader: Why are you giggling?

My intention at the time had been to regularly use the prompts to write and then share the inanity here.

Easy content!

Except being lazy is even easier, and until recently I had written only one additional prompt.

And I’m also forgetful, because I completely forgot to post the second entry. Which I only discovered just now, as I was getting ready to post the third entry, written a mere one year and three months after the second entry.

(I’m nothing if not prolific…by sloth literary standards.)

So instead of the most recent entry, today I am posting the second entry. As before, since the prompt book itself is copyrighted, I am not reproducing the instructions, just underlining the words I was told to include.

A Family Mystery Uncovered

It all started on Sunday, when my sister showed up with a notebook. My notebook. My secret notebook, chronicling my adventures when I was marooned on that island with the carnival cult nurse.

Without preamble, I issued my sister a demand to return the journal which, thankfully, was written in cipher. However, she refused.

“I have to admit to feeling a great deal of curiosity when I found this,” she said. “So much so that I scanned each page, used OCR to convert it to a text file, and then hired someone to decode it. After a marathon hacking session over the weekend, they succeeded. And revealed to me the…interesting…story of those months you spent stranded on that uncharted isle.”

“Really?!” exclaimed my kids, eavesdropping and now excited. “What happened? Daddy never talks about it!”

“Yes,” said my wife, ice in her voice. “What does his journal say?”

“Perhaps we can arrange a mutually beneficial swap,” I suggested, a clammy cold sweat setting in. “I give you something in exchange for the journal.”

Which is why I’m at my sister’s house today, putting up wallpaper while my wife and kids are visiting my mother-in-law for an extended period. My arms, neck, and shoulders are aching with the exertion.

Fortunately, there’s a nurse waiting at home for me, and she knows how to make me feel better. So it was with a light heart that I returned home, crossed the threshold, and…found my wife and kids had returned.

Awkward!

 
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Posted by on 4 June 2018 in Mystery, Story, Writing

 

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For Whom Does the Doorbell Toll? It Tolls For Thee, Fool Using a Vintage Word Processor

My next sign will read

This is the nice warning sign. Before the cops made me take it down, I had a rig that dumped concentrated skunk venom on you. It wasn’t the dumping on salespeople the cops objected to, it was the unavoidably omnipresent smell.

“Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a vintage-aholic. My last purchase of vintage electronics was three days ago. But on the positive side, it was an old Brother word processor with a working built-in CRT and printer!”

Now if you’re anything like my wife, you’re rolling your eyes and snickering about my tendency to lust after (and occasionally buy) electronics from the 80s and 90s. But when the apocalypse comes and the only thing that will save you is a 1987 Compaq Portable III connected via null modem to a 1989 IBM PS/2 P70 running an old DOS program that controls a weather satellite, well, we’ll see who’s laughing then.

(And enjoying the blistering hot sun, jerk. You won’t be getting rain any time soon once I control the weather!)

It also comes with a built-in printer, only adding 10 pounds to the weight!

All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up. See this? This is my WORDSTICK! It’s a 5″ x 9″ amber CRT with a built-in spelling and grammar checker, Brother’s top-of-the-line.

But until such time, I have to prove to myself (and, to a (much) larger extent, the Missus) that the cash outlay for said type of machines is worth it. Which means, in the case of my Brother WP-95 word processor, I need to use it.

At least once.

My sponsor has asked for photographic evidence of its use. I think this is because she wants proof it works before she steals it from me. (Yes, vintage-aholic sponsors are quite cutthroat when they fall off the wagon. If it wasn’t for eBay, the streets would be awash in blood. Awash!)

So sure, modern computers can do a lot more than a single-function device like this word processor.

And yes, modern displays are brighter, crisper, and larger.

To be sure, a modern laptop weighs only a fraction of the 22 pounds this thing weighs. And can run on a battery. And can save files, do fancy formatting, get you on the internet, and allow you to email yourself a backup of your file.

But where’s the fun in that? When you lug a 22 pound dedicated word processor like this to a coffee shop, plug the electric cord into an extension cord so you can reach the wall outlet, and then write something, you feel a sense of accomplishment!

When’s the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment writing something on a mamby-pamby modern computer using software that practically writes the story for you?

(I’m looking at you, Scrivener users!)

Trenchcoats are surprisingly comfortable when worn en masse

What kind of fashion statement is this?

But not only do you get a cardio workout along with that satisfaction, you also get the added bonus of irritating all those bloody hipsters sipping espressos when you hit the PRINT button. Because when this thing prints out, you are magically transported back to a news room with a teletype in a time that predates decibel-levels-in-the-workplace regulations.

Fireworks freak out your dog? Nothing compared to this printer.

So I recommend getting your butt to the coffee shop, plugging this thing in, and if the line for coffee is too long, fire off a page to the printer. Those beatniks in line will flee in terror, convinced North Korea has finally made good on its threats, and you won’t have to wait in line for coffee.

It’s a win-win.

(If you need a vintage word processor, the Missus informs me that I would be happy to sell you mine…)

Here’s my justification for spending $40. Was it worth it? Let me know in the comments.

This was going to be an actual episode of Murder: She Wrote, but then the producers served me with a cease and desist letter regarding unsolicited manuscripts.

If you think this is tt;dr (too tiny, didn’t read), you should know I modified the word processor to print for microfiche.

 
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Posted by on 20 August 2017 in Art!, Life, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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Best Pet at Home

Being as I’m so precise when it comes to homework, I’ve been trying to find ways to make homework time more fun and less drudgery-ish for the kiddos.

So when one kiddo started getting writing assignments, I decided to sit and write with him. And not just my own thing. Oh no. We read the directions together and we follow them together.

That’s correct. I’m doing my kiddo’s homework assignment as well.

First, the instructions introduce the topic and then call for the student to state their opinion clearly. Secondly, the writer must justify that opinion with reasons. Finally, we are also reminded (admonished?) that we must include an introduction and a conclusion, all while using linking words, whatever those are.

The first time we did this was a bit rough, because I made him re-write his composition due to poor planning and profound illegibility issues. I made him re-do the assignment on a fresh piece of paper, my thinking being he’d re-write it, get his thoughts in order, and then transfer the effort neatly onto the homework sheet. Make him write it enough times and maybe, just maybe, he’d be incentivized to do it right the first time.

(Ha!)

My son is a bit lazy, and as we all know, lazy is the father of ingenuity and invention. He decided we should just tape the paper with the writing onto the homework sheet and forgo an additional round of writing.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In fact, it’s resting against the trunk, putting off a lot of body heat and making me uncomfortably warm. Which is to say, I’m lazy too, and not wanting to endure the nuclear hissy fit of wailing and gnashing of teeth that would ensue if I refused, I rolled with his suggestion.

And once done, we read our creations to each other, followed, of course, by a standing ovation (from the dog, who looked a little confused to be standing on its hind legs while I forced its front legs together and apart over and over all the while bellowing, “Bravo! Bravo!”).

No nasty note from the teacher was sent home, so we’ve decided that our approach is OK. Or at least acceptable.

(Though this is the same kiddo who forgets to bring homework, report cards, library books, backpacks, his sibling home from school on a regular basis, so I might be setting myself up for a truly horrific parent/teacher conference in the near future.)

The dog, however, may be sending a different message, as it now hides from us whenever a backpack crosses its line of vision.

Tonight’s session started on the fresh piece of paper. The kiddo entirely skipped the part where he artfully applied vaguely letter-shaped scribbles to the homework sheet. Instead he demanded a clean piece of lined paper and wrote about the Best Pet at Home. And added a drawing of his preferred pet at the bottom for extra credit.

First of all, turtles are eseay to watch.

In my opinion we should have a turtle.

Since I’m not willing to make my child suffer something I am not willing to suffer myself, I cranked out a short paragraph of my own. So here, for your reading pleasure, is my virtuoso effort to describe the best pet at home.

I did not include a picture with mine. I did enlarge the font to more accurately portray my use of large letters to make my treatise look longer. Old school habits die-hard…

Snails are fascinating creatures and well worth consideration as a family pet. First of all, their spiral shells are an excellent hypnosis aid (handy if you have rowdy kids). Secondly, they are very slow, so if they run away, they won’t get far before you find them. Finally, they don’t eat much and so are inexpensive to keep. In conclusion, snails are the perfect pet for a family of limited resources.

Suck it, Herman Melville. Whales make terrible pets, you idiot!

 

 
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Posted by on 8 March 2017 in Art!, Life, Parenting, Writing

 

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Strange Request in a Writing Prompt book

This past Xmas, the Missus got me a writing prompt book as a gift.

Given that we had agreed not to exchange Xmas gifts, this resulted in me

A) noticing an extra package for me under the tree and
B) making a mad dash to the store on Xmas Eve to pick up something for her.

This is how the Missus ruins my Xmas every year.

But as the end of February approaches, I have finally overcome the trauma of last-minute Xmas shopping on Xmas Eve and reached a point where I can start using the book. And I’ve decided, unless I have something better to blog here, I will start posting these entries rather than letting this space lie ‘fallow’ for months at a time.

You have been warned.

Since the first page of this book clearly states that no part of the book can be reproduced without permission (I’m paraphrasing here, not flat-out reproducing!), I’m a little reluctant to spell out the prompts. Instead, I will underline the words I’m supposed to use in my narrative…in my narrative. Without further ado, my first exercise!

I went to the carnival to have fun. Instead I sprained my wrist fending off a pickpocket wearing a mask. Hardly inconspicuous. The pickpocket or the sprain.

There were some uncomfortable moments at the first aid station as I flirted with the attractive nurse while my wife and kids looked on, becoming less and less sympathetic towards my predicament.

Things only got worse when the police showed up. The pickpocket was a juvenile, and I’d sprained my wrist while grabbing him, causing the twerp to twirl sideways, fall down against a bike rack, and break his arm.

Apparently this had stirred up a bit of a controversy: a forty-something man breaking a thirteen year old’s bones. The only reason I wasn’t immediately arrested is because the kid fled when the cops showed up. Still, the arrival of the police and the departure of my wife (and kids) left me a little shaken.

However, the nurse was both sympathetic to my plight and receptive to my overtures, so the day wasn’t a total loss. She gave me an apple and instructed me to return in an hour when her shift ended.

I found a bench, had a bite of the apple, and then watched the white flesh turn brown due to oxidation as I waited for the hour to pass. That long, endless hour.

The nurse and I spent a pleasant afternoon walking and talking in the shade of the sassafras trees that ringed the carnival site. But in the end, as I leaned in for a kiss, she pulled away and invited me to join her cult.

Awkward! So I found a piano bar and requested “Particle Man”.*

* I feel I need to address that last sentence, which is itself more than a little awkward. You see, I got so focused on making sure I used all of the prompt words that I forgot that the story was supposed to be about a strange request made at a piano bar. In fact, when I went back to make sure I’d used all the words and discovered this oversight, I wrote underneath the subject the comment “Tots forgot about this!” and then went back and added that last line. You see, I had no choice. I’d literally used every available line on the page, and having written using ink, I could not erase the work to try again.

Strangely enough, the out-of-focus pictures properly show the paper as white, but the in-focus ones cast them as a yellowish pallor.

You see? When I say I left myself a comment in a writing prompt book, I Do. Not. Lie.

We've reached the end, my friend...

And when I say that I ran out of room and had to mash in an awkward last sentence to tie the whole mess together, I Do. Not. Lie. Again.

If you’re interested in the book I’m using, it’s called WRITE THE STORY. I make no endorsement, as I’ve hardly scratched the surface. Though I must admit, the title on Amazon is Write The Story Art Teaching School Kids Adults Class Project Leaning, which is not only awkward but appears to have a typo in it. But the two exercises I’ve done thus far are…writer prompty and have been fun.

 
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Posted by on 27 February 2017 in Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Life, Story, Writing

 

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