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The Shortest Best Story Ever

This post originally appeared in Old Road Apples’ very first week of existence. No one noticed it. No one even read it. So, I’m giving it a chance at new life, as I will be doing with other, carefully selected posts in the coming weeks.

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Among the students voted “best…” and “most likely to…” for the Senior Class Personalities in my kids’ yearbooks, I noted what has to be the most flattering and impressive designation, “Talks the least. Says the Most.”  I can’t think of a higher salute from one’s peers.

Now I’m thinking about the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was one of those “gateway writers” who collectively inspired me to study literature and read obsessively.  An early selection of my adolescence-generated prose stinks of derivation, but as I stumbled into my pretentious twenties I mocked him along with other, equally unsubtle critics.  He ate a sandwich.  It was a good, moist sandwich with meat and cheese. The cheese was yellow and good. He had eaten kind of sandwich Nick ate in Italy.  I fell in love with bombast, magical realism, what I jokingly called “maximumism.”  That passed, too, and I’ve come full circle to recognize the subtle  genius behind the man who writes the least  and says, or at least edits, the most.

My favorite story about Hemingway involves him sitting around a table, possibly at The Algonquin, with his friends, a few of whom were towering talents in their own right, and betting the house that he could write an entire story with just a few words.  His eager companions bade him put his money where he mouth (and pen) was.  Hemingway replied with a 6-word novel, hastily scribbled onto a napkin  It read:

“For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.”

His companions read the words, probably grumbled a little, and paid the man.

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Fiction Excerpt

Excerpt: Novel in Progress

Someone asked me about the novel in progress…here’s some:

It took both of them to drag me up from the hole, and from their grunts and curses  it wasn’t easy for them.  I had stopped struggling weeks before, and was paid for it with harder currency than when I’d fought back, but there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d walk docile, like a cow, to whatever was next.  Passive resistance was the better option,  although that brought the gnawing pleasure of my bare feet and ankles thumped against each concrete stair riser as they dragged me up, one thug under each arm.  My boots had been taken with my uniform—government property

At the stop of the steps they paused, waiting for the sentry outside, calling after her with additional profanity.  She wasn’t one of them—just one of those who stood by idly, day after day, doing what she was told, avoiding eye contact, complicit in their silence.  I can’t say that I blame her—or any of them—and had spent countless hours fixated on the question: would I do it again?  A better man than I certainly would.  A lesser man would lie and tell you he would.  I can’t say that I could. I’m not proud to admit it, but what’s pride but something someone stronger than you can take?

Tumblers spun inside the door, a bolt was thrown, and the armored entry swiveled open.  The goons and sentry exchanged more curses, and I was dragged to the right.  A turn to the left would have meant another visit with the Colonel, and another beating wrapped in a skin of interrogation.  The passage to the right led down a long hallway, through another armored door, and outside.  I could be headed for the stocks again, or the mudpit, the colonel’s preferred discipline—a pool of sopping mud into which a prisoner was tied spread-eagle and face up into the incessant rain. The mudpit was kept sodden, but not full, so a prisoner could relax as long as the rains were brief and widespread.  Prolonged showers filled the pool with slick mud, forcing the punished to crane his neck up and forward  in order to breath, for as long as it took for the rains to stop and the liquid to sink down into the sodden ground.

I much preferred the stocks, or the beatings for that matter.  Beatings lasted for minutes, then they left you alone.  It could rain here for a week straight.

“Hey there, Mikey’s awake,” Corporal Charkviani rumbled. Igor Charkvani, a perfect goddamn Igor if ever such a beast roamed.

Raul Cloutier laughed his exaggerated, hyena laugh. “We’re in trouble now, Private Space Command gonna is to get us.”

Charkviani, a leering, menacing coil of muscle and tendons, rumbled his amusement.  I imagined Cloutier, younger and smaller and ever ready to please, jumping up and down, clapping in satisfaction.

They had put the usual black bag over my head, bound tightly at the neck, ostensibly for safety—lest some maniac like me discover their true identities.  Of course, they insisted on tormenting and teasing me, with a regular selection of violence, all the while keeping a running dialogue in their distinctive, heavily accented voices. I held faith that the time would come that I could repay their hospitality.  In fact, I lived for the moment.

They wore rain hoods and goggles

The bag came off my face.  I squinted into the deep gray skies as specks of rain fell upon my cheeks.  Though afraid to look up—the guards responded intensely to eye contact—I recognized our location immediately.  We stood at the threshold of the main gate, far from the hewn wood scaffold the Colonel had erected behind the administration building.  A pair of sentries stood on either side of the gate, stone-faced  in their narrow shelters—Clarke and Modobo, decent soldiers not known to be the Colonel’s lackeys, but not the sort to take a stand against him, either.  Like most of the unit, their sin was in pretending not to see, and staying silent when what they saw was unavoidable.  Still, I doubted they’d let their compatriots execute me, at least not in the middle of the fort.

They had no problem with one last thrashing, however.  Charkvani and Cloutier wasted no time…

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Fiction Excerpt

Novella Excerpt: Sharp Del

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“Come on out of there, you motherless—.” Sharp Del’s voice died beneath a deeper, more malevolent rumble.

“My mother,” the hulking Brin stepped out from the shadows behind him, “was very young.”

Sharp Del whirled around with startled fury, swinging the heavy ball gun a bit further from his body than he ought to have, a matter of centimeters.  The Brin snatched it in one huge, four-fingered paw and twisted it away to the snap of human fingers.  Sharp Del wailed.

“My mother could not provide me with the privileges customary to a male of our line.  My acceptance to the Warrior’s Third Creche honors both her sacrifice and our shared blood.”

“Just—an—expression,” Sharp Del moaned, recoiling, clutching his broken hand close to his chest.  “Wasn’t even talking to—Gods!” He wailed, “—to you.”

“Ah,” Vanya glowered, jabbing the broken ball gun into Sharp Del’s chest.

“Sad for you that I heard.”  His left arm swung, catching the human in the jaw.  Bones snapped and gave way, teeth broke free from infection-ravaged gums, beneath the blow.  Sharp Del staggered backwards and nearly righted himself, then his knees gave and he crumpled to the ground in a heap.

Vanya stood there a moment, inspecting the seized weapon.  A human-scaled trigger guard rendered it unusable to him, and it’s generally poor condition made it worthless for trade.  He removed the cartridge, scooped up a handful of sand, and poured it into the loading channel, then worked the action several times, until it jammed.  He dropped the ruined weapon beside Sharp Del.

He turned back to the cabin and shouted.  “Get out here, you motherless serpent!” He bellowed.

Half a minute later the door swung open and Qualm emerged, dragging his damaged leg.  His left arm was tied close to his chest in a makeshift sling.  His right hand clutched a steel fireplace poker.

“Serpent?” He asked. “Warrior’s Third Creche?”

The Brin shrugged. “You people,” he sniffed, “you eat that shit up like pudding or raspberries.”

“Pudding?”

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The Meaning of NaNoWriMo Part 1 of 2

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Two days until NaNoWriMo, and I’m actually getting nervous–it’s good to feel nervous; the good kind of nervous.  It’s good to feel the good kind of nervous, I just wrote–going to go far with this writing gig.

If you’ve waded into the WordPress community–or Blogworld in general–you probably know at least a little about NaNoWriMo; if you don’t, look around. It’s in front of you, even if you didn’t notice. The scientific term is “abuzz.” NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and you can dig into the grimy details here:

http://nanowrimo.org/  

Basically, the idea is to write a short (50,000 word) novel in a single month.  They provide, via the web site, a tool to record and count your text–you can compose directly into the site or use your own processor and cut and paste–and a support community that continues throughout the year.  It’s really cool.  And it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Nor as difficult.*  I think.  It might just be.  I’ve come up short several times, but we’ll get to that.

You should try it.  If you ever wanted to write a novel, or if like me you’ve written crappy novels and 1400-page novels that really want to be six novels, and want to do it again, but better, it’s the perfect scenario.  We’re all doing it. 

I know, I know; if “everyone” was jumping off a bridge, would you jump off too?  I’m a little ashamed to admit that, long ago, when they were, I did, and it was terrifying.  I don’t have a sense of adrenalized dread over NaNoWriMo, not like I’m standing outside the railing of a bridge staring down at a trickle of water ambling over boulders–it’s more like disbelieving wonder, anticipation, and a little bit of chomping at the bit.  Christmas Eve, the night before the first day of a new school year (but without the new shirt–maybe I should buy a new shirt?), or before the first day of practice for a new sports season, the first day at a new job, or that moment when you’re young and you call a girl on the telephone–and she answers.

I’ve been down this road before.  I’ve failed NaNoWriMo before.  I’ve had legitimate reasons, but let’s be honest: Image

reasons are just excuses wrapped in petticoats and pretty bonnets, right. Right?  So, no excuses, no bonnets. (Part 2 is all about the bonnets.)

I’ve got a very simple, linear plot, a beginning, and end, a protagonist, an anti-hero, a moustache-twirling villain, and a darkhorse villain who may be the most villainous of all, or might be pretty reasonable, as villains go.  I haven’t plotted out the details, which makes things much more difficult given the time constraints, but there’s no point in dwelling on it–I’ll just be aiming my characters down the road, with a few harsh words and a smack on the ass, to see where they go.

 

*I reserve the right, when I’ve finished, to ramble on almost indefinitely about how hard it was, how far I’ve trudged, how sore my butt is from sitting in this chair all these hours, etc.