Friday, August 31, 2007

T Minus...

Eight minutes and counting.

I am currently sitting in the kitchen, at the counter, but that will change before long. It smells like really nice coffee beans and buffalo chicken tenders. My wife is microwaving one of those things.

In 2004, I spent three days writing the worst thing I have ever put on paper. Seriously. The worst. It was called The Wednesday Night Movie Club and it was so terrible, fire wouldn't even catch on it because it would have been an insult to flames everywhere.

T Minus five minutes and counting.

This year, I am prepared.

This year, I will not stare at a blank screen for eight hours straight.

This year, I am not ready, because you never are, how can you be? How can one person sit down and wrie an entire novel in three days? It is, some would argue, patently impossible.

In T minus three minutes, I will begin to make the attempt to prove the impossible to be possible.

Let's Go.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kinda Late, I Know...

It is two thirty in the morning on this fine Tuesday, August 28th, 2007, and I have just finished my homework for the day. I still have four chapters of my photography book to read, plus whatever Erickson gives me to do before Thursday, and then I am done doing homework for this week and can start looking at the increasingly large mound of homework for next week (Webster 99, Elliot 7), but with the holiday next Monday my media reasearch Literature Review is not due for two weeks (Webster 99, Elliot 8, with a further ninety points awarded upon early completion of said Literature Review, wherein "early" is defined as being more than 48 hours prior to deadline).

I once again have a camera collection. I had lightened the load a bit, with the sale of the old Canon, and throwing out the busted Kodak digital, and for a little bit all we had in the house was the Canon digital, the Nikon N55, the busted Yashica TL Electro, and Kathy's point and shoot Olympus. Then I had to go and buy a Fuji digital, and before my Target discount ran out we bought Kathy a Digital Rebel, and with my photography class I am encourage, for the instructor's peace of mind, to not use my N55 but to find a camera that is fully manual, and with my TL Electro out of commission, I find myself beset with both my father's Yashica TL Electro (so there's a familiarity about it I like, plus a 180 mm lens to boot) and my sister's Nikon FE2. Add that to the video camera, and we once again have almost enough cameras for Kathy and all her siblings.

Now, even with this plethora of cameras, there is still uncertainty. It is possible that my father's TL Electro will not advance film, as his Yashica FR has stopped doing so (otherwise, I would have borrowed that one instead of the TL Electro). It is not advisable to use my Yashica, which will definitely advance the film, because the light seals do not do their job, so the film gets all ruined, even if it will advance. My sister's Nikon, also, might still have mirrors misaligned, as that was an issue a few years ago and nobody can remember if it has been corrected. My N55 is, as stated above, out of the question because it is all new-fangled and automatic. And if the N55 is out, at least it still takes film, which is more than can be said for the Digital Rebel. Nor can I use the Olympus because it's not an SLR. Bottom line is, Wednesday night I am going to be heading to class with a camera still to be determined to start taking pictures that I am not sure will come out. I guess I could run a couple rolls of film through the cameras, but that costs money and so forth. And it takes time. A whole lot of precious time. It's going to take patience and time. To do it right, child.

Wow, still no brevity to my posts. But, let's just make this clear (and if you catch the reference, you might win a prize): To me, he is El Duderino.

New features to the blog: a picture, an updated link list (sort of, I just rearranged them and retitled some) and a poll. Please answer by the end of the week. I figure, if I can't actually update as much as I used to, the least I can do is give you all something to do/look at every once in a while.

Three Day Novel coming up this weekend. Get Ready!

"Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I'm The Dude, man."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

School Week 1 Recap

Right folks, I was told to "brief it up" on my blog by one of my toughest blog critics out there. So, in the spirit of completely ignoring her (which is what I spent most of my teenage years doing so I have lots of practice), I am going to give you a play-by-play rundown of the first week of classes.

Monday started out fresh and bright at Well, no, not really, I mean, I got up, went to work, worked the day away, left work and bought all of my books, all $240 worth...pretty light when you consider all the textbooks a med student or a law student might have to buy, and actually considering I am an English major, shouldn't I relish in buying books? I suppose...anyway, bought them all, checked 'em down, and went to my Intro to Media Research class. Yikes.

My instructor started out by explaining that her background is in theatre. Yeah, no joke there. But, I thank her, because of the $240 I spent on books, not one penny was spent on a book for her class because she hasn't been able to find a book she likes. Yay! So, this class is basically an 8 week intensive pilot study on some sort of media of my choice...and I have no clue what to do or how to go about it. So far for the semester, College 1, Elliot 0.

Tuesday morning rolls around, I get a little bit of a lie-in, I guess. Class at 10, as opposed to the usual work at 9 (but it's still better than Target any day). We gather, it's a small class. It's my advanced playwriting class, and of all the people on the roster, there is only one with whom I have never had class, and only two that were not in my playwriting class last semester. John returned, Chelsea and Anne as well, plus Shannon, with whom I have had a class every semester since I started at Webster, and then the last person is Alan, who seems like a good fit with the group. Sadly, Pat didn't show up, so the score kinda evened out for the day, leaving College ahead, 2-1, but I still had work to go to, and after that...class with Sheila Hwang. Now, don't get me wrong, I actually really like her, so I didn't want that to sound like a terrible thing. It is not, not by a long shot. But it seems that once a semester, just like it is inevitable I will have a class with Shannon, it is inevitable I will be one of a very small number of men-if not the only man-in a class packed with women. Webster's English program is not very evenly distributed amongst men and women, and the men all pick lit classes like "Heroic Themes" and "Lit Into Film; Tinsel Town" and so forth. Not "Contemporary Multiethnic Literature of the United States." That just draws a crowd of women. Plus, the only other guy in this class is a guy who I worked on a project with last fall...a project that he got a worse grade on than our other group member and I (that other person happened to be Shannon...Ah! Small schools are so much better than the U of M (your experience may differ (especially if you were in a small program at the U of M (like design))), because he flaked out a lot. So...Webster 4, Elliot 1.

Wednesday was a mess...the third day in a row I am down at St. Louis City Hall trying to locate a deed to plug up a hole in this chain, plus I had to run to Madison Illinois first thing in the morning, about which the best thing I can say is that at 9:45, it is much easier to find a parking spot in downtown Edwardsville, but it's still fairly close to impossible to find a parking spot which should give you some indication of how my visits to Madison normally go. While that is not the game we are recapping, it's a good time to tell you that the score so far is Edwardsville 23,955,201, Elliot 17. So I took off from work finally, ran to my parents' house and grabbed a sammich for dinner, then over to campus, where the only parking spots I can find are way over by Pearson, and my photography class is all the way over in Sverdrup. Now, this is not a substantial hike, but in the heat, hauling a bag you're not quite sure what the contents thereof are, and you're cutting it close on the first night of class, it might as well be sixty miles uphill. Webster 5, Elliot 1. Get to the classroom, and it's ten degrees WARMER in this classroom. Webster 6, Elliot 1. But then...the teacher turns out to be a really cool French guy who talked about le tour with me a little bit. Nice, Webster 6, Elliot 2. Ah, but then the annoying freshman expert girl, as I will call her (reminiscent of "Poetry Award" girl from Fiction Writing at Meramec...) pipes up about how she loves photography and already knows everything and is only taking the intro class because they wouldn't let her sign up for the advanced Hm. It's looking like a runaway win for Webster, they're on the verge of their seventh point when all of a sudden...I know more about things like shutter speed, and how depth of field can be controlled by aperture, and most importantly, how to use the Nikons we were looking at. Webster 6, Elliot 3, then Elliot 4! Yeah! But then, after class, as I am walking back to my car is the ONLY CAR in the ENTIRE EAST PARKING LOT. Elliot 3, Webster 90.

You read that right, 90 points.

So, this morning I went back to my playwriting class, and still no sign of Pat. Fortunately, my monologue went over well, and John has not lost his touch over the summer, and it turns out Alan is a teriffic fit in the group, and Shannon's not doing too terrible herself. So, I left class for work with my head held had been a solid win for Webster, but it's only the first week, and I think I held myself in pretty good standing in the face of significant adversity.

Final score for Fall Semester 2007 Week 1:

Webster 91
Elliot 6

"We've seen photo-shopped pictures of French President Nicolas Sarkozy with big love handles, and we've seen massive abs placed on Barack Obama, so what is next?"

"Dennis Kucinich in a Speedo with fantastic abs and a great tan."

"There's only so much photoshop can do, you realize."

-An actual conversation between my photo instructor and I.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free Write...Wednesday?


Part Three.

Please Read Part One and Part Two first.


Ben used the awkward silence that followed to cover his exit. Sam stood in his unused bedroom, looking between the Eight Ball in his hand and the conglomeration of eight balls on his bookshelf. He didn't even notice that Ben had left, just formulated a test once and for all to prove that he was right, that this was something different.

He selected twenty eight balls at random from his shelf, none of them touching any of the others he selected, making sure to get a healthy mixture of balls still in their packages, out of the packages, and so forth. For good measure, he chose the first one he had ever recieved, which actually sat on the desk in his "office", which was really the second closet in his bedroom. He took all of them into the living room and laid them out on the table around the edge, and placed the new one in the center. He started at the corner of the table closest to the kitchen, where the oldest eight ball sat, and asked, "Should I go to work on Monday?"

The oldest eight ball failed to answer, as years had drained enough liquid so that the answers could not float all the way up to the window, but with a small amount of shaking, Sam satisfied himself that the eight ball told him "All Sings Point to Yes." He had numbered one to twenty-one down the left side of a piece of notebook paper, and it was to the right of number one that he made a note of this answer.

He consulted the next one to his left, asking the same question. This one answered "Outlook Not So Good." He logged this answer as well.

The next one said, "Yes."

He made his way through all twenty, before finally consulting the Eight Ball in the center. "You Should Try, Sam." He made a note of this and surveyed the results: eight said yes, nine said no, three were indesicive, and the last as enigmatic as he had expected.

He returned to the first one and asked it the same question again. This time, it took even more vigorous shaking before he fianlly gave up on finding out what it's conclusive answer was. He drew a line to indicate it had given no response the second time around, and proceeded down the line again. And again. No immediately obvious patterns emerged as he worked his way through the exercise again and again; almost always an even number of yes and no, a few odd responses, and no consistency from any given eight ball.

But his log of the Eight Ball in the center spoke a different story.

21) 1. You Should Try Sam. 2. Try, Though You Will Fail. Sorry. 3. We've Been Through This, Sam. 4. This Is Pointless. 5. There Are More Pertinent Questions. 6. Outlook Not So Good. 7. Aren't You Getting Bored Yet? 8. You SHOULD Go Through Your Routine Monday Morning.

At this last one, Sam stopped, convinced he had proven himself beyond a doubt. He siezed the Eight Ball and said, "Is something going to happen during my usual routine?"

The Eight Ball displayed, "...Yes. Wrong Question, Though, Really."

Sam thought quickly. "Is something unusual going to happen during my usual routine?"

"You Are Learning, Sam."

Sam asked again.

"Patience." And at that, the Eight Ball lapsed into what could be characterized as a stony silence regarding the matter at hand. Further inquiries were met with responses along the lines of "Magic Out Of Order," "This Unit Is Undergoing Routine Maintenance," "Your Call Is Important To Us, All Our Seers Are Busy At The Moment," and finally, "No More Questions, Sam, It's Close on Four in the Morning."

The next day being Saturday, Sam saw no reason to set an alarm, but as he crawled into bed on his couch, he knew what had to be done. He contemplated a course of action and decided, after several minutes deliberation, that the best course was to get out of bed and put on a strong pot of coffee. He chekced the clock on the VCR, and saw that it was 4:15; he had an hour and a little bit longer to steel himself for what he thought he must do; he started the coffee brewing and went into his bedroom to dig through his closet full of clothes; somewhere in there, he was sure, he had a pair of running shorts, tennis shoes and a plain white tee shirt. As he searched, he tried to remember where Ed said he ran in the mornings.

An hour and a half later, Sam was pulling his car up in front of one of those so-called luxury condominium villages that are really not all that luxurious for their proximity to the train tracks to the north and the lingering smell from the nearby cat food factory.

It was exactly the place for Ed, who was desperate to climb his way up as high as possible, as quickly as possible. It befitted him, this slice of property that would have cost him four times as much in a decent neighborhood, and his rusted white 1986 BMW 513. Half the trappings of the successful, for the guy at the office that wanted everything but would never get there. Even his early morning jogs seemed like something he had adopted because he thought that's what a corporate man should do; a glance at his physique would tell you just how serious he was about his jogging. This suited Sam just fine, as he hadn't run for more than thirty seconds since he was seventeen. He stepped out of his car, wearing a pair of gym shorts and a YoungBlood Brass Band t-shirt he had bought at a concert he went to in high school, and a pair of beat up tennis shoes. He was holding a travel mug full of coffee. He wasn't sure if he should wait or knock on Ed's door, but at that moment Ed stepped out of the house across the street, and Sam felt both relieved and also slightly foolish for getting the house wrong. He hadn't consulted the Eight Ball, which was sitting on the passenger seat of his car, as to which was the right house.

Ed looked around, not seeing Sam, and started stretching. Sam decided to walk across the street and say good morning, so he set the travel mug on top of his car and stepped into the road. "Good morning, Ed!" he shouted, which seemed to frighten Ed a great deal.

Ed gasped, looked around, fear in his eyes, before realizing where the voice had come from. He squinted through his obviously fake Oakley sunglasses and took them off, as if to be sure of what he was seeing. "Sammy, is that you?"

"Yeah, Ed, but it's just Sam."

"What are you doing here?" Something about the tone made Sam stop in the middle of the street. It wasn't accusatory, just, bewildered.

"I thought you had a standing invitation for anybody who wanted to join you for a run in the mornings?" Sam glanced back at the clover-leaf travel mug he left on top of his car. His all-nighter tugged at his eyelids, trying to draw them down, and he needed more caffeine to shore them up enough to last an hour at least.

Ed seemed to relax slightly. "Oh. Yeah. Only..."

Sam waited, but Ed just shook his head and started stretching again. "So that's okay, right? I can take a run with you?"

Ed looked up, pausing in mid-stretch. "Absolutely. Be ready in a couple minutes."

Sam stood still in the middle of the street, watching Ed stretch, Ed whom he realized he had spoken more words to in the last three minutes than he had in the entire three months he had been working at Vanderheyden Financial. Ed, who was a talker but had been suddenly struck dumb. "Okay," Sam called. "I'm going to finish my coffee and stretch, then I'll let you take the lead." He stood still again, waiting for an answer from Ed, but none came. He turned back to his car, and reaching it grabbed his mug and slurped some more coffee. He thought about abandoning his plan, but he had already told Ed he would run with him, and a thought struck him. He took the lid off his travel mug and quicly gulped the rest of his coffee in one swig, then opened his car door. He dropped the mug into place in the cupholder, then picked up the Eight Ball. "Am I the first person from the office to ever go running with Ed?"

"You're Not Running Yet, Sam," The Eight Ball displayed for a moment, before replacing it with, "...But You're The Only One Who's Ever Even Showed Up."

"So should I go for this run then?"


Sam looked back at Ed, who had finished stretching and stared uncomfortably across the street. "Where to, Ed?" Sam called. A dog barked.

Ed shrugged his shoulders. "There's a park about three blocks away, it's got a jogging path." And Ed started clumsily jogging along. Sam fell into step behind him, taking notice of Ed's shoes.

"New shoes?" Sam asked.

"No," Ed called back. "Just...haven't taken them out yet." Ed was already breathing somewhat heavier than Sam would have assumed a person who jogs every morning would, and Ed slowed to a walk after only one block. Sam caught up and matched his pace.

"One of those days, huh?" Ed merely grunted. "Tell you the truth, Ed, that's the farthest I've run since my last high school gym class." Ed remained silent. Sam wished he could ask the Eight Ball if he should persist, or wait for Ed to talk. He closed his eyes and in his mind's eye he saw, clear as if he were holding it in his hand, the Eight Ball. He thought, should I wait for Ed to talk? and in his mind's eye, he saw the display read, I Would if I Were You.

They walked halfway down the next block, and Ed turned to cross the street. Sam turned as well, and at the same moment they broke into half-hearted runs, barely faster than they had been walking. When they reached the other side of the street, a city bus drove past, and Ed turned to look at Sam.

"It's the farthest I've run since I started working at Vanderheyden."

"I'm sorry?" said Sam, suddenly brought back to the world. He had been trying to come up with more questions to ask the Eight Ball in his mind, but was having trouble getting the clear picture he had had moments before.

"I hate running alone, and my wife..." he trailed off. "Well, she never went running with me anyway, that's why I always asked around, had the standing offer."

"And I'm the first one to show up?" Sam asked.

"In three years. Can you believe that?" Ed turned his wide eyes on Sam at his side, and though Sam could believe it, he also believed that to be the wrong response.

"That's...I'm sorry," Sam said. On a whim, he lied, something he had not done in years because he knew the bad luck that always followed lying. "I've been meaning to come do this for a while, but just haven't got around to it." They walked in silence until they reached the park.

The park was of a good size, with a running path that would be well shaded in the summer but now, at the peak of autumn, was nearly lost under the cover of red and gold leaves upon the ground. Spaced periodically at intervals along the path were the kind of work-out stations municipalities put up in spite of the fact that Sam had never seen anyone use them in his entire life. "Let's try and make it around once," Sam suggested. Ed grimaced, but nodded. Together they set off at a slow pace, running in silence but for their breathing. They were not the only ones using the path, and Sam was very conscious of this fact when they were lapped the second time by a man more than twice his age.

Yet they continued running, each of them silently pushing the other, neither willing to give up while the other one could still run. When they reached the chin-up bar, which was where they had been when they started running, they came to a halt in unison. Ed looked at Sam, and Sam back at Ed, each gasping for air. Sam's muscles ached, and his rabbit's foot key chain had shifted in his shorts pocket, poking into his upper thigh with each stride he had taken for the last twenty minutes. Finally, Ed swallowed hard and said, "What made you come here?"

"I need to know," panted Sam, who paused and took a few deep breaths before starting again. "I need to know where you got the Eight Ball I got for my birthday."

"Really?" Ed looked skeptical. "That's it?"

"I promise you," Sam said, heading off any punishment for lying with this preemptive pennance, "that I will come running with you every Saturday morning if you tell me where you bought it."

Ed looked bewildered, and sat down on the ground. Sam sat next to him, eager to hear what Ed had to say but also very grateful for getting off of his feet. He had been thinking about how painful it would be to go all the way back to his car when Ed derailed his train of thought.

"I bought one for myself, because...I'm in this tough spot. And I'm desperate, and maybe a little off kilter, which would explain an awful lot about what's happened to me in the last day or so, but...I bought two of them. I just happened to be walking by this shop, I was looking for somewhere to get your present because it had just occured to me that I was supposed to get it. I am sorry, by the way, but you're lucky I remembered, I don't even know why they make me get the gifts sometimes because I almost always forget. Anyway, I was having trouble even deciding where to go, and there was this sign in the window of this shop over on Nebraska Street. The sign said, something like 'Have A Tough Decision To Make? Try Our Magic Eight Ball!' So I thought, that's fitting, okay, I'll take it. And I went in, and picked up the one they had on display, and asked it if I should buy one for you."

He paused, and Sam found that he was leaning forward, listening to Ed's story. Finally, Ed spoke again. "The display didn't say what I figured it would say at all. You know, I've seen these things before, they have standard responses, and I've seen them with gimmicky responses but nothing like this one. It said, 'Don't You Think You Need The Help More, Edward?' Now what are the chances of it knowing my name?"

Ed stood up and paced. "That's why I got up to go for the run. Yesterday morning, when I woke up, the first thing I did was ask my Eight Ball if I should go for the run, and it said, 'Ask Me Again Later. Like, Tomorrow Later.' So then I asked it if I should go to work, and it said, 'For the Sake of a Co Worker, Yes.' I still don't know what that meant.

Sam thought he knew. "It meant for my sake. If you hadn't come in, I wouldn't have gotten my gift, and I wouldn't have found out that I won't make it to the big meeting on Monday morning."

Ed cocked his head at Sam. "What do you mean?"

Sam told Ed the story of his Eight Ball, the tests he put it through the previous night, how it told him he should go jogging.

"Mine said I should go jogging, too. That's why I did," Ed admitted, as they walked back towards Ed's condo. Sam noticed something missing from Ed's left hand.

"Ed, did you get a divorce or do you just not wear your wedding ring when you run?"

Ed frowned. "She left. Three years with minimum salary increases, no bonuses, and no prospect of future advancement...I guess the glamor got to be too much. But it's for the best."

"You checked the Eight Ball?"

"No, I just know that it is. She deserves so much more than I can actually give her. She needs a man with a heart and a soul already installed." They had reached Sam's car, and Ed asked Sam to wait a moment while he ran back inside. He came out momentarily with his Eight Ball and a piece of paper. "I just have a test I want to run," Ed said, handing his Eight Ball to Sam. Sam understood, had been eager to perform the same test himself, and so he had his at the ready, and surrendered it to Ed.

Sam turned Ed's Eight Ball over and asked it, "Do you know who I am?" When he looked, he was surprised enough to laugh at the response.

"Not Really, But You're Sure as Hell Not Edward."

His test completed, he looked to Ed, who was staring at the Eight Ball in confusion. He noticed Sam looking at him and he smiled weakly. "I'm just not sure what to ask it."

"Ask it if knows your name," Sam suggested.

Ed closed his eyes, turned the Eight Ball over and looked. He laughed as well, before showing it to Sam. It read, "No, We Haven't Been Properly Introduced Yet, Friend."

"Either we're not crazy," Ed said, "or we're getting the same brand of crazy. Here, directions to the shop, I can't remember what it's called, but trust me, you'll know it."

They exchanged Eight Balls and thanks, and Sam got into his car. He asked the Eight Ball if he should go home and sleep. "Only If You Don't Want To Crash Your Car On The Interstate," it answered.


Okay okay okay, I know, it is NOT finished, but I AM for now. I have spent three weeks + on this one story, and I like where it is going and how it is getting there, but I need to put it to momentary rest. You will see it later, excerpted, polished, done, because I am going to use this for something, if not for the Three Day Contest then something else. A great idea and a BIG THANKS to Becca for the original suggestion, Kathy for the second, and all who made suggestions. Some of them may even add to the final outcome. As it stands, he will go to the shop and find...his destiny? His soul mate? Certain death? The cocktail napkins that match his dessert plates, even though he was sure they had been discontinued? What?

I leave you today with a quote from my very own wife, whom I love dearly.

"Man, I wish I had this cartoon character's legs. Look at those!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Reason...

...I find that I am actually getting a little creatively burnt out, which is no good as the school year starts in a week and I have the three day novel contest looming on the horizon. But, I do apologize for leaving everybody hanging, and in suspense. That was not my intention, these things just happen. There will be no Tuesday excerpt, and tomorrow I will finish last week's free write. Tomorrow, after I finish the free write, I will solicit suggestions for one last Free Write Friday...because I do not foresee myself having enough time to blog consistently during the school year. Rest assured you will get excerpts from works in progress, and updates on school. Also, the three day contest will be a live blog feature, in that I will periodically post during the contest. More details on that later.

Again, look for completion tomorrow. Promise.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Free Write Friday

Two weeks now...ok.

Winning suggestion comes from the wife.

"Sam is late because the 8 ball doesn't give him an answer as to what to do next- he spends most of the days (hours or whatever) before the meeting asking tons of questions and getting answers from the 8 ball that tell him what to do and he is faced with a critical decision directly before going to the meeting and the 8 ball does nothing so he is frozen like a bomb pop in an ice cream truck and decides on his own to..."


Ben was frowning at Sam that night, as Sam sat on the floor, legs straight out in front of him under the coffee table, the Eight Ball resting on the table like it was his dinner. Ben continued to frown at Sam, but Sam just sat resolutely staring at the Eight Ball, so Ben flipped his frown around the apartment. He frowned at the rabbit foot dangling from a hook just inside the door, the only adornment on the walls. He frowned at the impossibly white ceiling and the impossibly off white carpet. He frowned at the closed door to what he presumed to be the bedroom. He frowned at the entrance to the kitchen, frowned at the half-glimpsed refrigerator humming tunelessly, the neat stack of dirty dishes next to the sink. He frowned at his friend again.

"Maybe you should call off on Monday, Sam."

"No, I already asked. It said there would be no need to."

"Sam, nobody really lets those things govern their lives, you's just like rolling a dice, it's controlled by chance."

"No, it's not just like rolling a dice. It's exactly like rolling a dice. Only this isn't your usual Magic Eight Ball, this is the real deal."

Ben bent down and snatched the object from in front of Sam, who looked up with a mixture of anger and fear.

Ben turned it over and shook it, asking, "Is my friend Sam losing his mind?"

Sam shot up and looked as Ben turned it over. "I hadn't thought to ask it that yet," Sam confessed.

The eight ball read, "All signs point to no." Sam sighed in relief and Ben laughed.

"See?" Ben guffawed. "Totally useless. Doesn't know a thing. Couldn't predict the sunset."

"But no, I keep telling you, it's telling me things."

"That's what it's designed to do. It's designed to be a novelty, but there are a select few in the world who take these things too seriously...and if I had known how serious you would take these things, I probably wouldn't have recommended you for the job. Mr. Vanderheyden himself considered you to be kind of squirrely."

Sam set the Eight Ball back down on the table. "Have you ever seen me with one of these before?"

Ben considered for a moment. "No."

"Follow me," Sam said, walking past Ben to the closed bedroom door.

When the door opened, Ben was overwhelmed; piles of books, what looked to be thousands of them, covered six very immense bookshelves. There was no bed in the room. Sam turned the light on and Ben saw even more to surprise him on a seventh bookshelf; plastic bins lined the bottom shelf of one case, each bin full of a different color Rabbit's Foot. The next shelf up contained shoeboxes, stacked three high running six accross, each witha different label. Ben could read only a few, but they said things like Ouija Board Keychains, Worry Stones and Four Leaf Clover Buttons. A Notre Dame Fighting Irish display seemed to occupy the next shelf up, and on the fourth, a row of Magic Eight Balls, many still in their boxes.

"Jesus, don't you ever throw anything away?" Ben looked at Sam, who was making the sign of the cross.

"You shouldn't use the Lord's name in vain, it's bad luck. And it's also bad luck to throw out a present somebody gives you. So I keep them all. But I know what's real and what's not." He pointed to the shelf full of Eight Balls. "Those are toys, useless for making decisions." He pointed towards the living room. "That thing is real. It knows things. It says things no other Eight Ball has ever said. It knows my name."

Ben had asked the Eight Ball a dozen questions already that evening, and each time he had recieved a standard response; it had never once displayed Sam's name, or Ben's name. Ben was still wondering what was wrong with his friend when Sam ran back out into the living room. He returned, to Ben's disappointment, with the Eight Ball he was obsessing over.

"You said you couldn't see it? Fine, we'll try again. Eight Ball, can Ben see the same answers I do?"

The Eight Ball said, "No."

"That doesn't prove anything," Ben said.

"Can anyone else see the answers I can?" Sam asked, not paying attention to Ben.


"So there are others!" Sam exclaimed, but the Eight Ball seemed to think it had been a question. As Ben turned away, the "Yes" display changed.

"This Is Getting Tedious, Sam."

"There!" Sam shouted, reaching for Ben and jostling the Eight Ball in his enthusiasm.

"What?" Ben said skeptically, looking around.

"There!" Sam shouted again, pointing at the Eight Ball. But as he looked, his face fell.

Where a second ago the display had read, "This Is Getting Tedious, Sam," it now read, "Can Not Predict Now."


I apologize, readers. I am not yet finished, but it is dinner time, and time to go out for my Friday evening. I promise you I will finish this in the next twenty four hours. Promise.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Book Review: The Ministry of Special Cases

The problem many would-be writers encounter is in telling the tale about the right person in the right circumstances: it's easy enough to come by if the situation is ordinary. It is easy to come by if the character is ordinary. But when you start introducing the extraordinary, it is very easy to fall into cliche. Think Superman fighting supervillians; it may be exciting, but what is more wondrous is Joe Shmo taking on a large corporation and winning. Think The Rain Maker; that's a better movie than any Superman flick.

Not everybody knows the details of Argentina's Dirty War, but the tales of The Desaparecidos, the thousands of citizens who were neither officially missing or dead, haunt the country still. And it is into the midst of this extraordinary national nightmare that Nathan Englander drops Kaddish Poznan, his extraordinary character.

Kaddish Poznan makes his money by erasing the past; the only Jewish man in all of Buenos Aires to admit to being the son of a whore and pimp, he is an outcast, but a useful one. The other remaining Jews in the community pay him to remove their parents' names from the gravestones and records, so no trace of their disreputable past remains. But one day, Kaddish's son Pato is taken from their home, and Kaddish discovers that he is not the only one in the business of erasing a person's existence.

The story takes us from the silent graveyard to halls of power, and everywhere in between, and eventually to the halls of the Ministry of Special Cases, a bureaucratic monstrosity. Kaddish's hopelessness clashes with his wife's determination to bring their son home alive.

But this is more than just a story of one family's struggle to reunite (or not); it is a story about oppression, the frustration felt by those who are oppressed, and the desperation that comes along.

If you know about the Dirty War, or if you don't, this book is for you. It opens your eyes with the same immediate intensity as a U2 song, but it holds onto you the way Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings can. It is both terrible and beautiful, and exactly as it should be. And it speaks to the permanence of the past; the names are gone but the headstones remain. Pato may never walk into their home again, but Lillian and Kaddish remember him. There is a moment when Kaddish removes a name woven in gold thread from a velvet curtain, and when he steps away the name is yet more legible, as time has tarnished the curtain except where the gold thread covered it. This image stands out foremost in my mind, and that is the mark of a good story, and a good writer. No superheroes and no cliches.

Nathan Englander spoke on Fresh Air on NPR May 7th, 2007, which is where I first heard of it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Advice From Todd Zuniga

A year and a half ago, I took a Fiction Writing class at St. Louis Community College. My teacher was Angela Hamilton, a person to who I owe a great many thanks for advice and guidance. But, she wasn't the only person I got advice from that semester. A friend of hers, Todd Zuniga (who is the editor of Opium Magazine) sent the class a little advice for writers, and I would like to share that with you because it helped me a very great deal with a particularly difficult piece of flash fiction I wrote that semester.

"To answer your first question [How did you come up with the concept for “A Children’s Book Without Pictures for Adults About Space”]:

I was falling in love with a girl in Vancouver who wanted to move to Toronto or Montreal. We were, maybe, one month into the relationship, but I had very strong feelings for her--in part because in Vancouver no one is interesting, and she was a poet. I knew, from past experience, that a long-distance relationship wouldn't work. I cobbled together all of these ideas in my brain, from the multiple failings of long distance relationships, and inspected those. But a long-distance relationship, as an entity, wasn't very interesting to me. So I do what I do with all of my stories: I throw the idea up in the air like pizza dough, and wait for it to land in a way that's interesting. Ultimately, what I had created was a long-distance relationship with an unbridgeable gap: space to earth.

Also, while living in Vancouver, a great guy (San Shepherd) told me a story about his budgerigar, and how they're insanely intelligent. That parrot served as a way out. Plus, there was a story in Best American Short Stories way back when called, "Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot"--I think that's it. I didn't "get" that story then, but now it breaks my heart.

To answer your second question: My advice is the same as every other writer’s: read (specifically Aimee Bender's "A Girl in the Flammable Skirt" and George Saunders' "Pastoralia"). But beyond that, I'd say take as many chances as you can in the first draft. You're going to scale back if you're worth your salt, but dump a truckload of stuff into what you're doing. Let the story be like a huge clump of rock. Chisel away and create Michelangelo's David.

Also, if you write something long, say a 20 page story, aim to make your next story 3 or 4 pages. And vice versa. If you're going to write something that surprises, you need to surprise yourself.

Don't write about suicide. Don't write about cancer. Don't write about drugs. Unless you're going to undress every expectation possible. Also, don't masturbate before writing. It'll make you sleepy and take your brain out of the equation, and not in a good way. The same goes for alcohol. Don't drink and write."

So there you go. Keep giving me suggestions for Free Write Friday. Look for a book review tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tuesday Excerpts

This week's excerpt comes from yet another playwriting exercise. This one was supposed to be a seduction, but it didn't have to be a sexual one. I am not going to post the whole thing, as it is definitely not PG, but you should get a good sense of what's going on in the bit I give you. A little set up: It's a dormitory cafeteria, lunch time, and Chris, Derek and Kathy are alternately discussing their plans for drinking that night and Derek's failed attempts to get Meghan into bed the previous night, when Derek gets a brilliant idea. Enjoy!


from Seduction Exercise, April 2007

What did she say?

Oh, you know, I had Dirty Dancing playing on the TV, and we were on the futon getting all cuddly, and I had turned the heat off and opened the window so she’d be compelled to cuddle, and the next thing you know...she’s telling me Jennifer Grey is the world’s worst actress.

The audacity!

I know!

Whatever did you do?

What was I supposed to do? I told her that by way of apology, she had to go back to her room, dress like Jennifer Gray in the training sequence, and tango with me.
On the bed.
Without any clothes-

Derek! Enough!
(looks at Meghan as she heads offstage right)
Does she ever eat anything but salad?

Well, she is part of the track team. She’s got to stay in shape. She has to offset all those wine coolers with something, and salad is cheaper than diet pills or heroine.

Though slightly less effective.
I’ll be right back.
(gets up, exits stage left)

Where is he going?

You can bet it’s something we’ll enjoy. Now, about tonight; I’m skipping my stupid playwriting class to head to the store. But I’ll need a car.
(smiles hopefully at Kathy)

(disgusted sigh)
You know I’m going to say yes. But, if we get caught, seriously...I’m not taking the hit for you. You are driving the car. You are going in. If we get caught, I was only along

We’ll stop and get some ice cream or something.

...for the ice cream. All on you.

We won’t get caught. We’ll be fine.
(Derek returns, with a plastic straw)
That’s what you went for? A straw?

Wait and see, my friend...wait and see...

Derek, not another one of your stupid pranks. I’ll tell you what, after the incident with the flying tampons...

Relax, Kathy. Chill. This is not one of my stupid pranks. This is one of my brilliant ones.

No offense, mate, but I haven’t come across one of those yet.

This one will make me legendary. At least, amongst the likes of the three of us.
Now, watch: I stick the straw into the cake, like so.
(sticks straw into cake)
I suck with all my might.

Sometimes, you do.
(Derek sucks through the straw, then removes it from the cake)

I get the cake out of the straw like so.
(blows cake out of straw, onto his tray)
Now, somebody hand me the Tabasco sauce.
(hesitation from Kathy and Chris)
Quick! Before Meghan gets here. Trust me.
(Kathy hands him the Tobasco bottle)
Thank you. Now, you just take the top off,
(takes top off)
and insert the straw,
(inserts straw, etc)
put your finger on top of the straw and pull it out and you’ve got yourself a nice bit of hot sauce in your straw. Genius enough, I know. But wait, it gets better.

Here she comes...wait, heading to the fruit stand. Hurry.

Put the straw back into the cake, and release your finger, and voila! Hot cake.
(Derek plunges the straw back into the bottle and repeats his tampering of the cake)

Great. Amazing. Except the girl doesn’t eat cake.

That’s where I need you two to come in. Take the cake.
(he passes them each a piece of untainted cake, taking the last of these clean pieces for himself)
Now, when she walks by, invite her to sit, be nice, be cordial...and be interested in your cake. And let me do all the verbal persuasion. You do all the mental and culinary type.
(enter Meghan)
Meghan! Come sit with us!
(Meghan, carrying a tray with a large salad and an apple, timidly approaches their table)

Um...hi. Really, I can sit here?
(all nod, she sits)
Because frankly, Derek, after last night...

Ignore it. All my fault. If I skip a meal, my blood sugar gets low and I do all kinds of crazy things.

I didn’t know you had low blood sugar that why you have two pieces of cake?

(exchanging looks with Chris and Kathy)
No, actually...I noticed they were running low so I grabbed an extra one in case you showed up. Would you like it?

(she looks longingly at the cake, then looks dejectedly at her salad)
...I shouldn’t. I mean, I know one piece of cake isn’t going to hurt me, but then I’ll just want more and more.

(taking a large bite of his cake)
(mouth full)
This is fantastic.

(distracted by Chris’ reaction)
And...I mean, with the team heading to Springfield this weekend, you know, I should really wait until after the races to start-

(mouth full)
Oh God. Oh, my God.

(taking a bite of his cake)
Mm hm.
(mouth full)
You said it, Kathy.




Mm mm mm mm mm!


Mmmmmmm hm.

(looking with intense desire at the piece of tainted cake)
It’s just that...sugars like these can sit in the system for days and-

(almost obscenely loud)
(Derek shoots her a look which plainly says “Don’t overdo it!”)
Sorry, it’s just that...I haven’t had cake like this since grade school.

Are you sure you don’t want some, Meghan?
(he pushes the cake towards her)

(staring at the cake)
(pushes it away)
(takes it back)
(pushes it away)

Suit yourself!
(finishes the last bite of his cake, takes the cake he offered Meghan in his hand)
(offers Chris the cake)

I couldn’t possibly...I mean, it’s good, but it’s also rich, so one piece is more than enough for me.


Okay. Kathy?
(offers cake to Kathy)

Well, as you can see, I’ve still got some left...
(indicates her half eaten cake)
...but if nobody else wants it, I mean...

Chocolate does release all the same hormones in women as sex does, I can’t see how you’d pass it up. I mean, even if you are gettin’ some every night, it comes at a price, right?
(indicates Chris)

Who says he puts out every night? “Kathy, I’m too tired. Kathy I have a play to read for class. Kathy, I got tired of waiting for you to come back from class so I just downloaded some porn and jerked myself off, maybe tomorrow night.” Gimme that cake!

Hey! I...well...that did happen, once...

My sex hormones are gonna feel all overloaded after this sweet piece of cake!
(she starts to move her fork toward it, but...)

(all freeze, look at her)
Actually, um...I have all this pent up...well...
...and it’s been...well...
(blushes again)
...just...could I have the cake, please?

(suddenly defensive)
What about your track meet?

Yeah, what about the sugars sitting in your system for days?

Yeah, what about my girlfriend violently molesting me in the middle of the night because one piece of cake got her all riled up and you took the one that would have calmed her back down?

Well...please? It’s just that, you all made it sound so good...

...and all the cool kids are doing it.

That’s how I lost my virginity.

That’s how I got my hip tattooed.

That’s why I went to college.

Those are all good things.

This could be good for her, I suppose.

You’re sure you want it?

(after a pause)

(takes cake from Kathy, hands the cake to Meghan)
Bon Apetite!

(as she sinks her fork into the cake and lifts the cake to her mouth, the lights fade)



Based on actual events...the cake part, not the Derek/Meghan part. That was sheer invention. Well, not really. But the two events were unrelated in real life.

"It's not plagiarism - I'm recycling words, as any good environmentally conscious writer would do." -Uniek Swain

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Your Questions Answered, Volume 2...and A Question From Me

Alright, my format for my last answer session was a We'll try it again.

From the post Your Questions Answered, Volume 1 on Sunday, July 15th:

Becca asked:

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps I was posing some rhetorical questions?

That did not occur to me.

So you will essentially answer any phrase, statement or other assemblage of words that just happen to be followed by a question mark (or two)??

Pretty much.

A dog cat farm tractor makes hey ya weed poke?

Forty seven people are left on the train when it gets to Los Angeles.

You'd answer that?



I think I already said yes.

And Marty/Bridget asked:

is becca a blog post hog?

No, it just looks that way because some days, she's the only one that posts.

From the post Dissidents on Thursday, July 26th:

mGk asked:

What else am I supposed to do at the office?

Eat free pastries or "inventory" the Thin Mints.


No thanks, I already do that for a living.

From the post Free Write Friday on Friday, July 27th:

Gerald asked:

Is this some sort of joke?

No, it's a free write. I thought I made that clear.

What happens to Sam?

That's sort of up to my readers...if you would all just make some suggestions. Come ON!

From the post Last Monday on Monday, July 30th:

heartcooksbrain asked:

So it was your last Monday working at Target as in you aren't available Mondays anymore or it was your last Monday working at Target as in you aren't working at Target anymore (after your subsequent last Tuesday-Sunday)?

I'm thinking I would have had less trouble wrapping my head around this question without the parenthesis. It was my last Monday working at Target ever, which would sort of imply that I had come up with some scheme that would guarantee I would never be available to work there on a Monday again. The only way to do that I can think of is to quit completely. Does that answer your question?

Jak Attack asked:

So whatcha gonna do now?

Title research, court filing, finish school, get a job working at a newspaper or magazine while working to get some stories/novels written and published or a play produced. But first, I should get together with you and Jerry for a beer.

I asked:

Could this be the Jak I think it is?

It would appear so.

Has air conditioning hit Egypt?

Wow. I can't believe I would ask this question. Unless it were as a joke. Which it was.

Molly asked:

What's up with that?

Just life I guess.

When are you having me over for dinner?

Well, I am running a just come on over, we'll seat you and ask if you need a room, get you some food and scare you with the local wildlife. It's fun! But really, soon. Sometime in the next month.

From the post Thoughts on Thursday, August 2nd:

Becca asked:


Stop yelling! I assume you should probably get your copy of my published work in the mail shortly after I get around to mailing it...I am a bad friend sometimes when it comes to snail mail.

That concludes this question and answer session. Now...What's the deal, people? I need suggestions. Please give me suggestions. Unfortunately, I did not do a Free Write Friday because I didn't have enough suggestions! So, okay...I will give you another week to come up with more suggestions...go ahead and suggest them as they come to you, and this Friday I will pick one (maybe two). Remember, this week there is a theme. I want you to read the last Free Write Friday and give me suggestions as to what makes Sam miss the meeting on Monday.

Here Is The Link To The Last Free Write Friday. Read it before you give me a suggestion.

Thanks! I'll give you a brief post tomorrow, and Wednesday I'll be giving you a book review on Nathan Englander's The Ministry of Special Cases.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I was originally going to blog about theatre ettiquette, and how even if it's summer stock and free and outdoors (like, say, you go sit in the back rows at The Muny or you go to the Shakespeare in the Park festival here in the StL), you should still behave as though it were real professional theatre because-guess what?-it IS real professional theatre. So don't get up and leave right as Joseph is reunited with his father and brothers, because there's a whole other song or two afterwards and even though you may think that they can't see you leaving, the actors certainly can see you leaving, and they can also hear you leaving. And those of us who are good patrons have trouble seeing around you as you stumble down the row in front of us.

As you can see, I still got the rant in, albeit the abridged version. No, I have decided to scrap the lengthy tirade in order to share some thoughts.

To my friends, family and readers in Minnesota: I am glad to have already heard from so many of you, and I hope to hear from the rest of you soon. Let me know you're okay. For the rest of you, I want you to know that I do have ties in the Twin Cities area, and I've heard from the majority of them, and as they're all either related to each other or very close friends, I am not too worried about those I have not heard from yet.

Think of how many bridges you drive over a day. I myself have driven over the 1-35W bridge many times. I have friends whom I am sure drive over it at least once a week if not every day.

This is the kind of thing that could scare some people away from bridges. Like 9/11 scared people from flying or going into tall buildings. But that kind of fear could paralyze you...especially because sometimes the only way to get where you need to go is to cross a bridge.

Life is full of risks, and there are some that we just can't avoid. The idea is to minimize the risks while maximizing their benefits; taking the I-35W bridge over the river is a lot quicker than heading north of the river's source and coming down the other side.

My thoughts are with everybody affected by this tragedy. In perspective, it could have been much much worse I am sure, but then so could a lot of things have been that shouldn't have been as bad as they were. And this is one of them, but there's nothing can be done about it now except to find out what went wrong so it can be prevented from happening to somebody else, somewhere else. Because we have to remember that to somebody else somwhere else, you and I are somebody else.

It seems trite to ask for suggestions for my Free Write Friday in light of this tragedy, but we must forage on. So, look back to last week's Free Write Friday and then I pose you this question as your jumping off point for your suggestions for starting point for this week's Free Write Friday. Let me read that last sentence to make sure it makes sense. No, it doesn't good. Okay, here's the question:

What happens to Sam to keep him from showing up to his meeting on time?

And GO!