Ensembling A Story

Stanford Story Slam

Over the past week and a half, I’ve been participating in the Stanford Story Slam with several members of MUG, my writers’ group. You can check out what we’re working on here. The deadline is in three days, so after a few more edits, we’ll be submitting. Wish us luck!

The challenge is to write a story, collaboratively, of no more than 1,000 words using the prompt: There are over 15,000 bikes used by students, staff, and faculty to get around Stanford campus. Over 300 bikes are stolen each year. Where do they go?

First we brainstormed over email. Each of us came up with at least one idea. We all voted, first for our top two favorites, and then we narrowed it down. We didn’t use my idea for the contest but I entertained myself quite a bit writing it, so I thought I’d share:

**The bicycles are stolen by homeless people. Two sects of homeless people, who meet in two camps on opposite sides of town once each year. One group is an underground ring of vices – the homeless beg enough money to buy drugs and alcohol and trade up with each other. The other group is Shenanigans. They are homeless because they’re free, and they get together to make merry in their own form of cycling circus. There are relay races and wheelie popping tournaments and the Grand Sand Painting, in which cyclists trail swirls of colored sand behind them as they ride, building a collaborative picture. Usually these camps operate independently of each other, but this year… well, here’s the thing. The Cycling Vices are tired of stealing their own bikes, and they think it’d be much easier to just run over to the Shenanigans and steal theirs. Initially all hell breaks loose, especially since the circus crowd easily hops on their bikes and cycles away. But the Shenanigans have heard colored cocaine makes finer detailing than colored sand, so eventually they cut a deal. They give half their bikes to the Vices in exchange for a sturdy supply of coke, which they then dye and go on to use in creating the best Grand “Sand” Painting yet.**

Someone suggested breaking the synopsis into four parts, and we each picked the one we wanted to write. We’re a flexible crew, otherwise that might not have worked! I started writing and ended up with over 300 words – it probably took me twice as long to edit it down as to write it, and I was still slightly over my 250-word mark.

We video chatted twice, once before we started writing and once after we had each made comments on all the sections. We actually went through the story line by line, nitpicking cadence, streamlining themes, and jiggering our word count. Perhaps because we’ve been in a writing group for the past three years, we work really well together.

On that note, I am very much looking forward to my writers’ group Retreat next weekend! We will trade prompts, try out writing exercises, chat about writing, and feed off of each other’s creative energy. I have found a plethora of information on query letters via the internet, and must revise, revise, revise. I’ll pass out my query letter at the Retreat, facedown like they did tests in elementary school, have everyone flip the papers at the same time, and give them a short period to read. Like 30-60 seconds, because I’ve heard agents decide yay/nay in that time. I’ll ask for gut reaction feedback, and then I’ll ask them to take a bit longer to look it over and offer comments. I’m also submitting the first five pages for their perusal. And I’m furiously rewriting the ending, because with a new ending I may have a whole new query letter!

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The Space Between

The truth is, between the holidays, traveling to Yosemite for 5 days and Michigan for 10, and getting knocked out for a week and a half by the flu, I haven’t been writing. I don’t mean just not working on the novel, I mean not writing at all. Not even journaling.

I’ve written a ton of thank you notes, sure. This does not count.

thank you notes

For the first week it was nice. A well-deserved, much needed break. By week three I was starting to get the itch. And now I’m on the verge of despair. What’s happened to me? What am I doing? Why am I not doing this?

This morning, at the suggestion of a member of my writers’ group, I wrote a 100-word flash fiction entry for a website that features, you guessed it, 100-word stories. Oh, it felt good. The usual voices were there – This is crap! What are you doing? You call this writing? You call this fiction? You call this a story?? The voices are always loudest when I go back after not writing for a while. They’re loud, too, when I start something brand new.

But the loudest voice of all? That was the one that screamed, One hundred words? Good job, good start, but not enough! KEEP WRITING!

Flash Finalist

The Writer Unboxed Flash Fiction contest has completed. One of the members of my writers’ group (Andrea’s blog here) won second place! I have been kicking myself for not posting on my social networks, asking people to vote. While previous weeks’ winners were determined by votes and judges, the final round was votes only. My excuse is I was too busy finishing draft 3 of my book (and then reveling in having finished it). When I decided to become a writer, I thought I would sit by myself in my room at my computer all day. I discovered that writing, like many professions, is buoyed by community. As a fellow writer friend said, “You can’t write in a vacuum.” I did, however, place as a finalist in the contest! Big thank you to those who “liked” the story below, based on this image:

Wool reached out, like fingernails scritch-scratching, irritating the back of her neck. The long jacket served her purpose tonight. She made her face pretty, so they would choose her from among the wandering hookers, wearing little in the cold.

She undid the man’s belt buckle in an alley. She opened her coat so he could see her, bare, before he went. Humans. The looks on their faces when they could not understand. Rancid sores, oozing, trailed over her. Buboes, ruptured. When closed, the coat covered the stink.

A little nibble. Small bite? She sank thirteen rows of tiny, pointed teeth into his earlobe while he screamed. Soon his whole ear was gone. He bled out.

No matter. He would serve her just as well dead.

The sickness she left in him would spread. Corpses, souls, waiting for Him, yearning for Him. She would deliver this world to Him.

Death would be proud.

Perhaps He would take her in His arms, tell her that she was His favorite. Hunger, whose kills were slow but many, and Despair – the suicide rate arced ever up – would no longer satisfy Him.

But when she returned home, Love was in His bed.

“Darling,” He said, running thin bone fingers along her cheek, “Without Love to couple the humans, there would be no souls to take.”

She wept. He said, “Balance, my dear Pestilence.” He returned to bed Love.

The look on her face was much like that of the man, when she opened her coat.

Flash Fiction: Like

Ladies and Gentlemen, another honorable mention in the Writer Unboxed flash fiction contest! Thank you so much for all the support!  See my story from last week, and Debbie Ohi‘s prompt image, below. To help me in this week’s contest, go here, scroll to find my story (under Taylor Ross, begins “Wool reached out, like fingernails scritch-scratching…”) and hit the “like” button! Thanks!

 

“Why?” Amanda flung her hand out across the counter, swiping everything to the floor. Six beer bottles shattered.
Why was her husband in a coma? Or why did he drink and drive? Or why did he drink at all?
His daughter had married an alcoholic. Nathan blamed himself for that, as he did every hardship in his daughter’s life.
She put a hand out to steady herself on the tiles. The other went to her face. The short, wracking sobs were almost silent.
Nathan walked over, rested a calloused palm on her delicate sweater. He knew when he lifted his hand the fabric would cling to the rough edges of his skin. Her sobs quieted.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” Amanda said. Her voice was low, bitter. “Do you know my friends keep saying that?”
Nathan stood still, waiting. The man had only been in a coma for three days.
But good things did come out of bad, sometimes.
“When your mother…” Nathan cleared his throat. His Mirabelle. Amanda had never known her mother.
“It’s okay, Dad.” Amanda brushed her tears away before his could start. She knelt to pick up the broken glass. He felt her sweater tug at his skin.
Amanda put the biggest pieces in the garbage, fetched the dustpan, and began to sweep the smaller pieces. She brushed most of it into the bin. Nathan caught her hands as she turned back to get the rest.
“You wore a good disguise.”

 

Getting My Flash Fiction On

A good friend and member of my writers’ group, Andrea (her blog here) introduced me to an ongoing flash fiction contest at Writer Unboxed. Seven weeks of mini-contests, where writers have 72 hours to generate a 250-word (or less) story based on a visual prompt created by Debbie Ohi. Winners of each week will be entered in a final round, from which three finalists will be selected toward 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Last week, I received honorable mention! Big thanks to all those who “liked” my story. Visual prompt and my story below. To help me in this week’s contest, go here, scroll to find my story (under Taylor Ross, begins “‘Why?’ Amanda flung her hand out across the counter…”) and hit the “like” button!

When you are a little girl, you’re afraid of simple things. Spiders, the dark, monsters. You are afraid of your parents dying and your brother putting a snake in your bed. As you get older you are afraid of things that are more complex. Like what will happen if the girls at school decide you’re not popular, or if the boys decide not to like you. Or what will happen if they do decide to like you. All of your relationships are complicated. Your friendships, when you have to decide whether or not to tell your best friend what your other best friend did with her boyfriend. Your relationship with your mom, whose hugs you used to love, but who says, “Honey, are you putting on padding?” when she hugs you now. Your relationships with boys, which becomes your relationships with men, even though you think they will probably always be boys, when you go through break-ups and wonder if it will ever work out. When you are grown up you are afraid of being alone. Even when you find someone and he is not a boy but a man, the man of your dreams, and he loves you. You are afraid you will never love yourself enough. And you long for those times when you were a little girl, afraid of simple things, and you curled up and tried to fit yourself in the space where the floor met the wall.