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An Update


Whether it’s because I’ve “gone fishin'” or am “out of office,” no, I’m not really here, but there is an update I want to share.  I finished something.  Of significance.  After a couple of years of having a completion problem, except for very short stories, flash fiction, and the odd piece of poetry here and there, I’ve not been able to complete any fiction of significance.  Until tonight.  A couple of minutes ago.

Clocking in at 16,065 words, Deviation is complete.  At least a first draft.  With an ending that 98% of the readers will absolutely hate.  🙂  Now, I need to decide what to do with it.  I know I’m publishing it on Kindle, maybe also via Smashwords or some other e-publisher that will distribute it more widely than Kindle (I think that’s actually what I’m going to do).  But, the dilemma is what I do with it before then.

I’d like a couple of readers to take a look at it, but I’m not sure who.  This is a very odd story, built entirely around dialogue, with characters who don’t always saw what you expect and a twisting plot that takes unexpected turns.  The two main characters are twenty-something brothers who talk the way a lot of twenty-somethings talk.  I’m pretty sure there are more f-bombs in this one story than the grand total in everything else I’ve ever written.

I’m not necessarily looking for volunteers from you, the readers of this blog, I’m just pondering this odd dilemma.  The story is so different from what I typically do, I’m not sure if I should work harder at it, get some edits and comments from others, or just throw it out there as is and see what happens.

But back to the original point.  I finally finished something of significance!!!!  First in my trilogy of longer short stories.  Now on to #2 and #3.

And, one more thing … to my loyal readers … when I’m ready to do it, I’ll be back with an explanation for the Gone Fishin’ and Out of Office images.

What I Learned This Weekend, Part Two

I’m working on Deviation, really working hard on it.  I’ve carried on with the fundamental rule with respect to how I write this story.  Every couple hundred words, I select a random word from the dictionary that I need to use in the next couple hundred words.  The story now exceeds 11,000 words and I’ve used somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 random words.   As I mentioned in my last post, this method brings along some surprises.  One of the words today was “tinkling.”  In my mind it evoked the sound of a piano.  At first it was going to be a recording played on the stereo.  Then it turned into a woman visiting the brother’s father in most unacceptable circumstances.  And, finally, the tinkling piano was being played by a barely dressed hooker, with three of her friends, there to serve the brother’s father while their mother is in jail.  Until I got that word I never knew their dad would have a visitor, let alone four hookers.

A Social Family

While I was at the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, participating in the Short Fiction Master Class, one of the other participants brought up the concept of a social family.  It was in the context of a story one of us had written and he was commenting on the group of individuals who made up the core of the story — none of them related, but providing to each other the love and comfort of a family.  Hence, a social family.  A couple of months before the workshop, I wrote a short story inspired by a prompt at We Drink Because We’re Poets.  Northville Five & Dime.  It was, at the time, nothing more than an effort to write a story that wasn’t the expected.  The prompt could lead very easily into a sexual romp.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I didn’t want the obvious.  So, I wrote about something different.  And I thought I was done.

Then I heard about MCWC and needed something to submit to be judged for the Master Class.  I submitted Northville and got in, which meant a dozen other people would be reading it and discussing it.

Then I started thinking about the story and realized there was much more to tell.  Actually, I knew that when I wrote the final line.  That wasn’t really the end.  There was story in Pete asking the girl to the dance.  There was story in the dance itself.  There was story in Pete’s parents.  There was story and more story.  One thing though was that I thought the young lady who worked at the Five & Dime would be making a graceful exit from the story and it would become about other characters.

Then the workshop participants, including Peter Orner, got ahold of it.  Peter was fascinated by that young lady.  He threw out the idea that there was the potential for a social family here.  The sisters and Pete — three wounded, scarred, troubled individuals who come together for the love and support they weren’t getting elsewhere.  He, along with others, was aghast at the idea that the Five & Dime employee would be disappearing.

So, she isn’t.  And I had an idea for how to continue with the story.  That first version was around 1,500 words.  I’m now approaching 6,000 words and I haven’t even got to the girl in the wheelchair.  Pete and Lily (the young lady has a name now) have a lot of damage to reveal.  I’m pretty sure this story will end up being 15,000-20,000 words and will be the first such story I publish on Kindle as a stand-alone short story/novella.

Which leads to another point that occurred to me when I woke up this morning at the ungodly time of 5:45 and started thinking of some of the posts from other bloggers I read last night.

I have a social family here on WordPress.  These are the people I’m attracted to here.  The ones who write about their wounds and scars, their struggles for balance, their revelations and reactions as they journey through life.  There is something we find in sharing those things here with, for the most part, people who are actually complete strangers, but who have become a part of our personal circle.  The support and camaraderie, the sharing of our life details and life adventures, even if we never meet is a huge part of the social contract.  So, that’s it.  Welcome to the table, social family.  Keep the dialogue going.

One question I’ve wanted to ask for a long time, but I think it finally fits here.  For my blogging friends — if you have spouses or significant others, do they read your blog?  What about children or parents?  I’d be curious to know.  Mine don’t.  Except for my father and a sister.


My Seven Day Story Challenge — A little bit more Deviation

Over at We Drink Because We’re Poets I started a Seven Day Story Challenge for the followers there.  The only required rule was that participants had to write a story that utilized a word provided each day for seven days, without knowing each day’s word until I posted them on the website.  Other option rules included limiting the story to 200 words a day (or some other selected limit) and writing entirely in dialogue.  The objective, produce a short story in seven days in which each day you stop yourself and leave the story open to a change in direction that may be provided by the next day’s word.   The seven words this week were:  Proportion, exponential, donate, pugilism, beanbag, scantily, protocol.  Or any form of those words.

I took on the challenge, but rather than start a whole new story, I chose to continue with Deviation, a story I wrote last September under much the same conditions.  I wrote 200 words exactly each of the first six days of the week and today, I went to 236.  The story now is over 6,700 words and has much more to go.  I truthfully have no idea when and where it will end.

If you’d like to read the first 5,300 words, it’s here.  If you’d prefer a synopsis leading up to this week’s addition, it’s here:  Johnny and Mickey are brothers, having their every Friday meal at a local diner.  They do what twentysomething men generally do on Fridays — they talk about nothing and everything, they curse, they lust after the waitress, and generally are good-for-nothing.  Johnny cares about nothing much more than girls, food, and skating through life.  Mickey’s a little bit deeper.  In Deviation, they discuss the family secret they’ve never talked about before.  Dad physically abuses Mom.  Mickey and Johnny decide to do something about it, but first they have to rescue Mom from the jail, where she sits after getting arrested for assaulting a homeless man with her Bible.  What follows picks up the story as they leave the diner.

“Did dad bail her out yet?” Mickey asked.

“No.  He says he’s not going to either.”

“Why the hell not?”

“He said in his last text, and I quote, ‘I’m tired of her god shit.’”

Mickey started hitting his head against the head rest behind him.  “That is so fucked up.  It is entirely out of proportion.  He beats her up, keeps her hidden away for days while she heals and every once in a while she gets out and wants to share her love of Jesus with others and …

“You got to admit she’s a little overboard with it.”

“Really?  You think she’s overboard with her religion?”

“Yeah.  She gets a little crazy with it sometimes.”  They pulled up to a red light.  The car rumbled beneath them.  Johnny pulled his pack of cigarettes from the dashboard, tapped one out and lit it.

Mickey sighed and opened his window.  “If you’re gonna smoke, could you open your window, too?  You know I hate the smell.”

Johnny grumbled but complied.  “Don’t you think it’s weird that the Bible is the only book she reads?”

“Weird to you, maybe.  But maybe that’s where she finds solace in a life like hers.  Ever look at it that way?”  Mickey coughed, not because he needed to.  “Mom finds a little bit of piece in those words.  They comfort her.  Why does that have to be weird?”

Johnny looked at the cigarette he held in his fingertips, grimaced and flicked it out the car window.  “I’m done with these.”

“Thank you!”  Mickey exclaimed, slapping the dashboard with his hand.  “You can donate the money you spend on cigarettes to a women’s shelter.”

“What?  No way.  I’m gonna spend it on Ally.”

“Johnny, we had a deal.”

“Fuckin’ relax, Mickey.  I was just kidding.  It is so easy to get a rise out of you.”

They rode in silence for a moment before Johnny broke it.  “Where we headed?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know.  Go home and kick dad’s ass or head to the jail and try to get Mom out?”  They pulled to a stop in front of a red light.  Straight meant the jail.  Left meant home.  Right meant indecision.

Mickey drummed his fingers on the arm rest.  “We gotta get Mom out of jail.”  He looked over at his brother.  “Don’t we?  We can kick the old man’s ass later.”  Johnny laughed, a sound barely audible above the rumble of the Torino’s engine.

“You got any money for bail?”

“Oh.  Yeah.  That could be a problem.  Do you remember how much it was last time?”

Johnny grimaced and thought about it as the cross traffic light switched to yellow.  “No.  Dad took care of it then.”  Their light flicked green.  “What do we do?”

Mickey looked at the traffic in the lane next to them begin to move past and looked back at the car behind, it’s headlights glaring, the right one brighter than the left.  He turned back as the driver tapped his horn.  “You know, my anger has grown exponentially, but I’m not ready for him yet.  Let’s get to the jail and find out about bail.”  The driver behind them leaned on his horn again.

Johnny began to inch the car out into the intersection.  “You sure?”

“Yeah.  Let’s get this mess over with.  First mom and then we take care of him.”  Mickey slapped his hand on the arm rest and bounced in his seat.  “I need my anger to coalesce a bit.  You know?”

Johnny laughed again.  “No.  I have absolutely no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.  Anger coalescing? Shit.”

“Never mind.”

Mickey looked out the window as they rode in silence.  In the jail’s parking lot, Johnny shook out another cigarette.  “What?” he whined, looking at Mickey before his brother could say anything.  “Just one more.  I’ll be quick.”

“Yeah,” Mickey sighed, settling back in his seat.  “You criticize me for not being able to deviate, but you got your habits, too, you know.”

“Smoking aint like only dating blond chicks.”

“Why not?”

“Smoking’s a disease.  It’s a fucking addiction.”

“Maybe I’m addicted to blondes.  You ever think of that?”  Mickey laughed.  “Maybe there’s an intoxicating scent that emanates from blonde hair that does something to my brain chemistry.”

“Shit.”  Johnny opened his door, dropping his cigarette to the ground and smudging it out with the heel of his shoe.  “Let’s go.”

Inside, Mickey asked about their mother.  The desk sergeant laughed.  “You mean the bible thumper who practiced her pugilistic arts on John Dempsey?”

“Hey, that’s our mother you’re talking about.”  Johnny’s voice raised a notch.

“Yeah?”  The sergeant’s face darkened.  “She gave a beat down to a bum.”

“What are you talking about?”  And it went up another notch.  “She just bumped on the head with her Bible.”

The sergeant chuckled and pulled a file out of the middle of the stack in front of him.  “Let’s see.  The perpetrator was one Emily Anne Santini.”  He looked over his granny glasses.  “That your mother?”

“Yes,” Mickey and Johnny replied in unison.

“According to the first officer on the scene, the aforementioned Ms. Santini was found to be standing over Mr. Dempsey, yelling at him, ‘you better find God, my son, or a whole more shit will be raining down upon your soul.’”  The sergeant began to close the file.  “And that’s when things got a bit more serious.”

“What?  What happened?”  Mickey asked.  “Wait a sec.  Our mother wouldn’t have said that.”

Ignoring him, the sergeant went on.  “A crowd had gathered, refusing to disperse at the officer’s request.  He had to call for reinforcements as they chanted to Ms. Santini for more.  The officer retreated to his car and pulled out a beanbag gun and fired it several times into the crowed.  Meanwhile Ms. Santini leaned over the unconscious Mr. Dempsey.   She thumbed through her Bible, finding a page she wanted and then turned it over and placed the open Bible to cover the man’s face.”

The sergeant leaned back.  “That about do it for you gentlemen?”  Before they could respond, he slapped his hand down on the desk and jerked upright again.  “Hold on a sec.  There was something else you might find interesting.”  He opened the file and thumbed through a few pages.  “Here it is.  The page she left the Bible open to had the following passage underlined.  Matthew 25:35.  ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me …’  What do you make of that?”

“Wow,” Johnny muttered.  “I’ve got no fuckin’ clue.”

“Of course, you don’t,” Mickey mumbled back.  “Your mind is so scantily clad with the shreds of intelligence, you can’t possibly understand.”

“Fuck you.”

“Yeah, fuck you, too.”

“Ummm.  Boys,” the sergeant intervened.

Mickey ignored him.  “Johnny, it’s a cry for help.  Don’t you get it?  She’s hungry and needs to be fed.  Your cards mean jack shit to her.  She’s thirsty in the middle of a desert.  Dad’s flowers and chocolates on his good days don’t carry over to the bad.  She is utterly lost and feels unwelcome in her own world.  God, I sometimes wonder if one of us was adopted.  You absolutely cannot be my brother.”

“I … I … I …,” Johnny stuttered, before turning to the sergeant, waving off his brother.  “What’s her bail?”

“She hasn’t been arraigned yet, son.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means,” Mickey answered before the sergeant could.  “Bail hasn’t been set.”


“Damn, don’t you watch cop shows?”

“Yeah.  I love Law and Order.”

“Learn anything from them?”  Mickey looked at the sergeant with sorrow-filled eyes.  “Standard protocol is bail isn’t set until the arraignment, am I right?”

“Yes you are.”

“Well, when the hell is that gonna happen?” Johnny demanded.

“Probably Monday.  That’s the problem with getting arrested on a Friday night.”

“Fuck that.  She’s stuck in here over the weekend and there’s nothing we can do?”

The sergeant suddenly could only focus on the file before him.  “Ummm.  Yeah.”  He looked back up at Johnny.  “Sorry.”

Johnny looked at Mickey and then back at the sergeant before returning his gaze to his brother again.  His eyes teared up.  “Mickey?  What are we gonna do?  We gotta get mom out of here.  This sucks.”

Mickey reached out to hug his brother.  “It does,” he whispered in Johnny’s ears.  “But let’s go take care of that other thing then.  We’ll get her out on Monday after they set bail and make sure he’s long gone before she gets home.”





Alpin Macrae

The great thing about writing prompts that other people provide is that they can force you out of your comfort zone.  I think of it as a genre-bending opportunity.  We Drink Because We’re Poets Short Story Prompt #6 is one of those chances.  Unlike previous efforts on these prompts, I think it’s important that you get the prompt before you read the story.  So, click on that link and listen to the music that serves as the prompt.  Or listen to it here …

I listened to this and all I hear is something that reminds me of Lord of the Rings.  My first words on this story started sounding like I was going to write something similar to the Riders of Rohan and I hated that idea.  The last thing I want to do is write fan fiction.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it for people who enjoy that.  It’s just not my cup o’ tea.

While I was on my bike ride, I got inspiration.  Which, by the way, it’s amazing how often that happens while I’m on that two wheel conveyance.  I fixed our broken air conditioner this morning while on my bicycle.  (Yes, really, I did.  It stopped working yesterday during our party for my son’s high school graduation.  When the temperature was 108 and we had 25-30 people in our house.  At one point, the thermostat in the house reached 90 degrees.  I was convinced the air conditioner was dead.  But, while riding this morning, I had a thought — maybe it had just overloaded the circuit and flipped the breaker.  Got home, checked the breaker and that’s what happened.  Whew.)  I wrote a blog post in my head — one that I haven’t actually put into written form yet.  And, I came up with the idea for this story.  So, here it is…

ALPIN MACRAE  (by the way, it needs a better title … got any ideas?)

Across the plain they stretched.  Horses and their riders.  Warriors encased in iron holding weapons forged by blacksmiths in villages scattered across the heartland.  Handed down from father to son for generations.  Weapons that had killed many men, good and bad.

The horses stomped and stamped and blew air warmed in their powerful bodies’ interiors.  The steam pouring out of their nostrils and rising from their withers blended with the low lying fog that shrouded the lines.

There was silence except for the clanking of metal on metal.  The whinnying and snuffling of the horses.  The fog muffled everything else.  The cold could not muffle the smell of sweat.  Of fear and of death.  It could not stop the darting of eyes of the men who waited.  Of the twitching of the horses’ ears.  There are horses that are bred for racing.  Horses bred for farming.  And horses bred for war.  Just as a thoroughbred knows what is to come in a race, a warrior horse knows as well what awaits.  Life and death.

As the minutes stretched, the horses quieted and stilled.  The men steadied their pikes, gripped their swords harder.  They held their shields closer and looked out upon the battlefield as the fog began to slowly lift.  Where the bodies of men and horses killed the day before still lay.  Lifeless eyes stared back at them in silent accusation.  Several hundred yards distant stood the enemy, a line of horseflesh and warrior equally as proud and powerful.  Equally resolute in their desire to protect their homeland, as they had been told was the purpose for this latest incursion.

To get to this place, the warriors had ridden across dying plains.  Through villages still smoldering from the ruins of war, passing trails of survivors trudging in the opposite direction.  Their belongings wrapped in packs strapped to their backs or piled in wheelbarrows pushed by the sons too young yet to fight.

The men rode because they were told this was the way.  To fight and to die for their country.  For their King.  With enemies gathering, the warriors were told it was their only choice.  To fight.  To fight.  To never stop fighting.  Only their final breath could take the fight out of them.  This is what they had been told.

With a thrust of his sword, the King called his men to action.  “Men.  It is time!!  Now.  Fight.  Fight for your family!  Fight for your land!  Fight to the death!”  The King whirled his horse around once.  He peered at the enemy and whirled around again.  He faced his men.  “To me!!  For our lives.”

Across the dying plain, riddled with bodies of their comrades, the last warriors gathered themselves and burst forth, sweeping past the King and towards the death that surely awaited them.  “Fight on!!  Fight on!!” The King shouted to them as they rode past and his vanguard circled him.

As the horses and their riders surged, one held back.  Alpin Macrae quieted his horse, whispering to him, “Easy Felder.  Steady.”  He stood in his stirrups and then began to ride forward.  Gathering speed, he cast his shield aside.  Trusting faithful Felder to follow the path and keep him steady, he released the reins and gripped his sword with both hands, holding it to his side ready to swipe his foes aside.

Straight to the center of the line Alpin charged.  As he approached the King’s rear guard, Felder seemed to grow in height and in girth.  From a great height, Alpin began to sweep the sword from side to side.  Blindly, he struck aside the King’s men, while Felder barreled on towards the King.  The sword his father had handed to him from his death bed, which first killed a man many decades prior, in the hands of Alpin’s great-grandfather, cleaved a path.

Breathless, Alpin brought Felder to a stop before the King, who had turned at the chaos behind him.

“This … must … stop,” Alpin screamed.

“Who are you?”  The King spit the question out.

Alpin rose up and thrust his chest out.  “Alpin Macrae, my Lord.  My father rode in your father’s guard for many years.”

The King’s face lightened at that.  “What must stop, my son?”

“This war.  The fighting.  The slaughter of good men.  On both sides.”

The light left the King’s face and he grimaced.  “You know what you are doing?”

“Yes.  Begging you to see that this little patch of land is not worth the death of so many men.  Of leaving more families without their fathers, brothers, sons.”

“You are a foolish one.”  The King smiled patiently.  “If we lose here, it will only be a matter of time before they advance to the river and then take the river.  And when they take the river, they will have the freedom to roam our lands.  Pillaging and plundering and raping your mother, your sisters.  Your daughters.”

“My Lord.  How many battles have been fought over this field?  How many men have died?”  Alpin stopped and guided Felder a pace or two closer to the King.  He lowered his voice.  “How many times have we lost this field and they have not advanced any further?”

The King’s face darkened further.  In the distance, the sounds of renewed fighting could be heard.  Men screaming, horses whinnying in fright.  Metal on metal, only louder and more violent then when the men were at rest before their charge.

“I would have one of my guard dispose of you now,” the King sneered.  “But you are a traitor and I reserve the pleasure of disemboweling traitors to myself.”

They raised their swords in unison.  The King growled.  Alpin did not shrink.  As they brought their legendary weapons down in an attempt to smite the other, an errant arrow from the battle whistled through the air and buried itself into the soft part of the King’s armor under the shoulder of his upraised arm.

The King fell to the ground and in the frenzy that followed was trampled by his own horse.

Alpin looked down at the King.  A deep silence filled his head blocking out the sounds of the battle.  Until he returned his gaze to the warriors and saw that they had stopped their mutual assault.  Instead, they all, ally and enemy, had paused and turned to the fallen King.

There was no more war that day.  Nor for many days afterwards.  Months and years, in fact, passed before arms were taken up in anger.  The patch of ground that so many men had died for was left untouched.


And, I really don’t like the final paragraph.  There’s got to be a better way to end this thing.


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