Short Story: “Crow Creek”

This is my final submission for NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge. The genre was left open, but the story had to involve a fisherman and jealousy. My fellow writers and I had 24 hours to turn around a story of approximately 1,500 words. Enjoy! Continue reading

Advertisements

Short Story: “Four Step”

For those of you close enough to me to follow me on social media, you probably know that I’ve entered NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge. I passed through the first heat unscathed, but the second really made me bite my nails. My prompt made me quite uncomfortable: a comedy about a butcher and learning how to drive. I wrote, scrapped, rewrote, submitted, and kissed my chance of the final goodbye.

But through the grace of the literary gods (hail Hydra), I scraped by fourth in my heat. The top five in each moved on to the final round, where the top ten (out of forty) will receive prizes. I’m not in love with this story, but hey, it served me well enough. Without further adieu, I give you “Four Step.” Continue reading

The bones of a first chapter.

As a “writer,” one of the biggest obstacles I encounter is motivation. I think loads of us have great ideas, but we can think and research them to death without ever writing a sentence. Last week, I shook off the dust and started to write something that I believe can reach novel (or at least novella) length. In the interest of momentum, and not burying a Word document behind so many windows that I will never look at it again, I’ve decided to share the first chapter, to prove to myself and others that I can do this.

Coming up with a decent working title, however, is a different story… Continue reading

The one rule of Kurt Vonnegut.

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

In some ways, Kurt Vonnegut was a lovely, grumpy old man, but he was also as insightful in a way that most of us will never even hope to accomplish. Vonnegut was (and is, let’s be honest) one of my favorite authors, but this quote has always lingered in my mind. I love the juxtaposition of “God damn it” with “you’ve got to be kind.” His frustration and urgency cannot be neglected. We live in a frustrating, frantic world, and greed is the name of the game in the Western world. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own feelings and curse those who stand in our way, particularly when they are powerless or faceless, someone you’ll never encounter again. It ems easier to vent those frustrations (and hopes) at infants who can’t understand rather than confront the adults who simply refuse to follow some damn good advice.

Part of my job involves answering phones. Most of the time people are polite, if a little confused. Occasionally, they’ll get condescending when they hear a woman answer the phone, because all we’re paid to do is file our nails and stand between the public and what they want, am I right, ladies? I happen to bite my nails, in no short part due to the stress caused by people like this, so I don’t even need a nail file, thank you very much. But there is one injustice so egregious, so deplorably uncalled for that I couldn’t resist ranting. That, my friends, is the indignant telemarketer.

I would estimate that my place of employment receives at least five sales calls a day. Of those, almost all involve someone saying, “Can I speak to the person who handles your phones?” No, no you cannot. Firstly, we are under contract for our phone services for years. Secondly, if your phone number comes up as “PRIVATE” on my caller ID, chances are that you are not contacting me from a reputable company. Third, unless you’re brand new, you generally don’t have to call people to solicit business. People don’t like that. They’re generally busy at work, or they’re worried that you could be pulling a scam. (At least three times a day, we get automated “THIS IS NOT A SALES CALL” messages that are, yes, fraudulent sales calls about cruises or Google listings.) I usually say sorry, we are not interested/are under contract, and I hang up. There is no need to prolong the conversation.

Only three have I had someone call me back. The first time, a telemarketer called me back just to hang up on me. Touche, brother, touche. The second time, a man was screaming that I didn’t know what I was fucking talking about because I’m not the fucking boss and he’ll fucking report me to the fucking Better Business Bureau, profanity profanity profanity, so I transferred him to my boss, who promptly put him in his place. And then there was today.

INT. OFFICE BUILDING

Casey settles in to sort out some issues after arriving to work twenty minutes late due to train delays. She is frazzled but preparing to make a cup of tea. The phone rings. Casey greets the caller with the firm’s name.

CALLER
Hi, how are you?

CASEY
I’m doing well. How can I help you?

CALLER
Could I speak to the person who handles your phones?

CASEY
I’m sorry, we’re not interested.

Casey hangs up the phone. A moment later, the phone rings again. She notes that the caller ID says “PRIVATE” and braces herself as she says the firm’s name.

CALLER
Can I speak to the person who handles your phones?

CASEY
I’m sorry, we’re not interested. We’re under a contract.

CALLER
You’re going to save money!

CASEY
Sorry.

Casey hangs up the phone again. When it rings, she dutifully repeats the firm’s name in her mind that it is the same person on the other end.

CALLER
You. Little. Bitch!

CASEY
Excuse me?

The caller does not respond. Casey hangs up. End scene.

The rational part of me says not to be offended. That woman probably has people hang up on her all day long, and some of them probably say particularly caustic things to her, just because of her job. On the other hand, what happened to self control? What happened to kindness? It’s easy to spew profanities at someone over the internet or on the phone. There’s no accountability when your only tag is “PRIVATE.” The fact is, we could all consider others more. We could all do better. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind!

I’m an emotional person, and I cannot always make myself feel less just because I know it’s silly to respond to senseless cruelty. I can’t undo the weight in my chest or that dread of what might be looming around the corner today. But I can be kind. I can make sure that the asshole behavior directed at me does not make being an asshole contagious. I will be a better person, not better than that woman on the phone, but better than who I was this morning. I challenge everyone to do the same.

Unless you weren’t a little bitch before, in which case carry on.

Short Story: Guessing Games

First, a little background. I decided to enter a short story contest that my friend discovered. It consisted of three rounds in which you receive a three-part prompt: a genre, a subject, and a character. After each round, the word length and time to complete the story shrink as only the top five entries in each heat progress.

Well, the results are in for the first round, and I’ve moved on! I managed to nab third place in my heat, which asked me to write a romantic comedy involving anger and a limo driver. Those who know me know how funny this is since I am not a romcom fan. My writing M.O. tends to be “if I’m stuck, just kill someone off.” That’s not very romantic or comedic, unless your humor is black, which mine does tend to be. Anyway, since I have to write my ass off this weekend for the second round, I thought I’d share this shocking feat of romantic comedy I’ve supposedly accomplished. Read on if you fancy.

Continue reading

Pauline.

She didn’t know she had grown up poor. How could she? In her neighborhood, everyone was the same. Sometimes the land was generous and allowed you to make a little extra money, which was meant to be hidden in the house, not trusted to the banks that had harmed so many so recently. She worked her husband’s farm, and when land and animal were generous, they were able to sell what little excess they had to buy what they could not grow. She had not been married long before she came across the plight of two young boys. They were in grade school. One was her cousin. Neither child’s family had the means to care for yet another child, so she and her husband decided to take the boys in for a short while. They stayed for more than a half a year.

I won’t pretend to know her full story or even more than a small fraction of it. She’s just a few years away from making it to a century on this earth, and though her body is slowing, subject to a thousand tiny mutinies, she still lives in her own house, though years have passed since she has become a widow. To me, she is the woman who hosted nearly every holiday, including the Thanksgiving I passed out behind a sofa and no one could find me. She is the woman who once irritated my grandfather when he discovered that she was still hiding money around her house, stashed in books and other clever spaces. She is the woman who refuses to let a conversation pass without offering to feed you, even though you’ve just arrived from lunch and no, please, chicken isn’t vegetarian, yes, it is meat. Today is my great-grandmother Pauline’s birthday, and she is 96.

I find it significant that today is International Women’s Day because we so often get caught up in the big stories, the headlines, the impersonal. Sometimes we forget that women can do extraordinary things by just surviving in this world. Heroism can be waving a flag, working toward a cure, refusing to be denied services for your gender, but it can also be taking care of two little boys because they don’t have a home. I interviewed my great-grandmother when I worked for The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. It was the beginning of our economic downturn, so the idea was for me to speak with people who lived through The Great Depression to get their views on what was happening. She was reticent to talk, not because her life was immune to the impacts of the Depression but because you made the sacrifices necessary for survival. People helped one another. “Everyone was the same,” she said. A simple sentence, but it stuck with me.

So on this day when we honor the struggle of women around the world, think about the women in your own life and the sacrifices they will never boast. And give someone a hug, because you have no idea how long they’ll be in your life.

423277_4151839683225_2093457049_n

I Have Opinions: Oscars Edition.

Let us acknowledge one universal truth rarely cast into the light: awards shows are boring. Unless you have company and/or alcohol (preferably both), making it to the end of the telecast is the equivalent of walking barefoot over hot coals just to receive a vial of your own tears to wash your heels. It’s basically torture. One of the few ways to get through the needless musical numbers, the bad jokes, and the endless cutoff music is by having an opinion. A tenacious, dogmatic, self-righteous stake in the game.

Do I, personally, care that much? Not really. But I’ve seen a lot of the nominees, and I have feelings. Therefore here are my predictions (and my wishful thinkings) in the major categories.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Look, I love Jennifer Lawrence. She’s my imaginary best friend too, okay? She’s probably going to get the Oscar, and that is quite frankly bullshit. Was she fun in American Hustle? Absolutely. Her weirdo hair dance to “Live and Let Die” actually inspired me to go home and listen to Wings. But she didn’t really have to do much. Plus her accent fluctuated between “I don’t give a fuck” and Howard’s reviled mother (“mutha”) on “The Big Bang Theory.” Lupita Nyong’o? She brought it. Her grief, her despair was palpable. She made me feel. I’ve seen people argue that she shouldn’t win because her character Patsey was always going to garner sympathy, to which I say bullshit. This was her first film role, and she was incredible. To go with the safe choice of the white girl with the smelly nails over a woman throwing herself into the horrors of slavery…well, you get where I’m going with this.

Actor in a Supporting Role

I’ll confess that I haven’t seen Captain Phillips or Wolf of Wall Street, so Barkhad Abdi may be a revelation. I’m not entertained by stories of greed that make a corrupt man richer in the end, so sorry to Jonah Hill’s fake teeth. Michael Fassbender was downright terrifying in 12 Years a Slave, and I believe he hasn’t gotten nearly enough recognition for his efforts, probably because people are too afraid to watch a movie that’s a downer. Still, we all know Jared Leto has this in the bag. I haven’t been a fan of his except in Urban Legend (yeah whatever, haters) and Fight Club, but I saw Dallas Buyers Club twice and cried at different points each time. His portrayal of the doomed Rayon brings light and darkness, and I think this will be the Academy’s token “we acknowledged a trans character, so we don’t have to deal with that slavery thing!” vote.

Actress in a Leading Role

This is tough. I’ve only seen two of these films. Some people have told me that Blue Jasmine is incredible, and others have told me that it’s the most boring thing they’ve gone through in ages. I am not a fan of Sandra Bullock (I’m convinced that she looks like one incarnation of Michael Jackson’s face), but I enjoyed Gravity and could suspend my disbelief. She went through a lot to make that movie, and kudos to her. Bless Amy Adams and her dodgy British accent in American Hustle. I feel like Cate Blanchett will probably win, but if anyone upsets her, it’ll probably be Amy Adams. American Hustle is the safe bet that just keeps on winning.

Actor in a Leading Role

I wish there were an award for Best Accent in a Leading Role, because I would hand that to Christian Bale in a heartbeat for his sleazy New York stylings. He pulled it off better than everyone else in that movie. If there were any justice in this world, Chiwetel Ejiofor would take this home for 12 Years a Slave. I read the book before I saw the movie so I could be emotionally prepared for the violence, which I assure you is not as present as the shitty, white guilt reviews make it out to be. It’s isolated, shocking, and effective. Still, I wept through the last ten minutes of this movie. Not cried, wept. And I’m tearing up a little just typing this. Having said that, if Ejiofor loses, I’m pretty sure it will be to Matthew McConaughey. I have a theory that for the last decade, he was deeply method as a stoner so everyone would underestimate him. That’s how good he is in Dallas Buyers Club. Everyone who saw A Time to Kill knew he was capable of this pedigree of acting, and for the past few years, he’s been playing such diverse, nuanced roles that you can’t deny his talent. I am a believer in the McConaissance, “True Detective” is the best thing on TV right now, and if Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets an Osar for flopping around on drugs over the perils of slavery and AIDS, I will punch a hole through my face.

Directing

I always find it funny that the best director didn’t necessarily direct the best picture, which is why I’m including this category. I feel like this is going to be the token award to a film that doesn’t get much love elsewhere. It’ll probably go to Alfonso Cuarón because in spite of all of its flaws, Gravity is a directorial achievement. That long take at the beginning? Breathtaking. The visuals are far better than the script, which can get a bit hokey. Still, Steve McQueen is an auteur of devastation, and if 12 Years a Slave doesn’t get best picture, they may just give him this as the consolation prize.

Best Picture

Let’s get out of the way what it’s not since ten nominees is too much, okay? Captain Phillips, Her, Nebraska, and Philomena can all start drinking the free champagne already. It’s nothing personal. The Wolf of Wall Street will not win this because the Academy doesn’t want to look it’s made of assholes, plus comedies never do well here. American Hustle has won far more awards than I ever thought possible, but again, comedy. This award should go to 12 Years a Slave, but I don’t know if voters will be brave enough to go that route. (Remember when Crash won over Brokeback Mountain and then we didn’t need movies about racism anymore because everyone stopped being racist?) Dallas Buyers Club is also worthy, but with two torturous true stories going up for this, the votes might split in such a way that Gravity could take it.

So, those are my picks. Stay strong, friends, and everyone remember to DVR “True Detective” for some actual entertainment after the ceremony.