Writing 101 – Day 13 – Editing with a Scalpel – or – Peppermint is the New Menthol

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe tips the ashtray. Stale butts roll out like coffin dowels. Funny, they smell so damn good, when first lit. Breaking the chains of that sweet, seductive addiction requires a resolute chisel, one forged by her newborn eyes. He plunders confections until foil fills the ashtray.

Peppermint is his menthol now.

Writing 101 – Day 10 – Trash Day

Trash Day

George is a terrible name for a Scotty. That’s why the man named his Edinburgh. Eddie for short. Eddie’s favorite day is garbage day, and so, today is his favorite day.

They stroll along the wet, windswept sidewalk, over pastel leaves pasted to the cracked cement by last night’s rain. Eddie’s feet chug like the side rods on a steam locomotive, then halt. They have arrived at the next garbage can. Sniff, sniff. His head, down at first, slowly rises, black eyes to the side, his nostrils flaring and clenching, flaring and clenching. And then, just as quickly as they stopped, it’s time to move on.

He knows that Eddie knows what’s inside every can, but the tales those contents ignite are his and his alone. A storyteller’s brew of fact, fiction and speculation is mixed into every brown tub introduced to the curb on trash day. One can is open, its lid unable to close over a large cardboard box, warping in the damp. Someone got a promotion, and therefore, a new big-screen. Another can harbors bottles, clinking with every gust as they roll around the bottom of an otherwise empty tub, rocking with the sweet acid stench of rum and loneliness. Yet another is clearly oversized, not even a third full. There was a time when its weekly burden overflowed, but not since the week the widow lost her husband. And yet another holds reams and reams of manuscripts, ink running through the paper-clipped bundles, transforming the fonts into lightning strikes of failure. One page lifts in a gust and lands at Eddie’s feet. He sniffs briefly and then trots on, adding a muddy paw print to the only words on the page, the end.

They make it back to their driveway just in time to see the garbage truck’s mechanical yellow arm squeeze, lift and dump their own can. A week of their life, tumbling into the bed of the truck like a lost phone number. Eddie rolls on his side and starts chewing on a cherished stick he discovered weeks before.

The man watches his dog gnawing the twig’s end and decides, we are defined as much by the things we discard as we are by the things we keep.

Writing 101 – Day 9 … Recharging

Writing and not writing, taking a break from typing, not from observing.

pa070343Our day nine assignment for Writing 101 is to create a post about what we do when we are not writing. I consider these “breaks” to be a separation from the keyboard, but not a complete divorce from the process of writing. All the inputs for written pieces are gathered as we live our lives.

Hemingway was very adamant about not writing when you were done for the day. Put it away. Recharge for the next go around. I agree with that sentiment. Hemingway likened this act to allowing a well to fill back up with water after being emptied. The image that works for me is a snow cornice hanging on an alpine cliff in a blizzard. It builds until the next time I’m typing, ice piling up, moaning, creaking, cracking, but holding on, until I re-open that document file, then crash! It all comes flowing out.

Putting writing aside serves two purposes. One is the aforementioned recharging of the creative batteries. But the other, observation, is just as important. Stepping away from the piece you are working on allows you to observe the world around you. When I’m involved in anthropocentric activities, I never miss the opportunity to people watch. I gather mannerisms, pick up dialogue, remember names.

Yes, I can be a real nosy bastard.

But even more enjoyable for me is getting away from people. My free time is often spent on the trail with my four-pawed friend and companion, Avalon. She loves water and so our adventures usually involve a lake or river. Time in the backcountry also presents unique opportunities for observation and gleaning new settings.

No matter how you spend it, time away from writing can be as important as the writing itself.

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Sometimes a rock is just a rock.

Writing 101’s assignment number 5 conjures Hemingway.

“The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Papa famously reacted to explanations about symbolism in his writing as evidence of someone who did not understand  his writing.

In the end, only the writer knows what their symbolism truly represents. But what others guess it to represent is also part of the effect of any written piece, intended or not. I often introduce weather in my stories. It’s generally not symbolic, but I could understand if someone inferred such intent because weather often effects the mood of a scene. It’s not a huge leap from mood to meaning. At the least, they intertwine in context and change each other. If a thread sewn into the pattern of a blossom is pulled from a quilt, is it still a flower, or just a thread without guidance?

Only Hemingway knew if his sharks represented anything more than sharks, and he took that secret to the grave, but “The Old Man and the Sea” wouldn’t have been a classic without them.

The Tease – October 2015

October’s excerpt.

I write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels, but the majority of my pieces are short fiction, the classic short story. This month’s Tease is from one such story.

The air steams with his breath. The odor of urine and burnt polymers greets him as he slips through a gash in the parking lot fence and shuffles down the riverbank to the first span. The belly of the bridge is tattooed with graffiti and swallow droppings. Every crack and defect is subverted by moss or weeds. A number of homeless people congregate on the lee side of the nearest pillars, some standing, others laying directly in the dirt, all faceless until they light a cigarette, illuminating their hollow, hollow eyes. His eyes adjust, detecting three people to his left, a large man, a smaller man and a woman, all sitting around a warped plywood remnant placed on a mound of rock. The lumber scrap is butted against the bridge’s craw, supported between the riverbank and the cement superstructure.

“Well, you gonna get up and say hi or something?” he asks the larger man. “You look like the goddam Fremont Troll sitting under there.” His words echo off the tarnished cement.

“I … err.” The large man clears his throat. “I suppose.” He rises and brushes off his trousers while ducking to avoid the granular surface of the arch. His shaved head shines, even in the dim light of the bridge’s underside. Each step he takes is solidly placed, as if the flesh of his foot is welded to the ground, not out of caution for the grade of the slope, but because Big Jake naturally tramps that way.

They meet a few feet from the makeshift table. Both falter for a moment in that odd, awkward space between a handshake and a hug. Big Jake finally extends his mammoth paw for their mutual rescue. “Heard you might be coming. How’d you find me kid?”

“Not hard. I just asked where the best game in town was. Oh, and where I could find a street goliath with a crack across his head like Valles Marineris.”

Look for next month’s excerpt on the 26th.

The Tease – A New Feature

Blogging 101 inspires a new monthly feature on Mjollnir.

One of the assignments outlined in my recent plunge into Blogging 101 was to develop and add a regular feature to my blog. I had considered this in the past, but never put the idea to code. Hearing the concept suggested by “experts” rekindled my thoughts on the matter. Since one of the central themes of EBM is writing, I have decided to create a feature that focuses on that subject.

The 26th of each month I will post an excerpt from one of my pieces. Fiction, non-fiction, published, work in progress, rough draft, polished copy, or any other passage that fits my mood. There will be no rules, other than choosing pieces I hope intrigue, inspire and edify readers, by whatever connection arises.

Why the 26th? Simple. It represents the number of letters in the alphabet, all the letters I need to write every bit of prose I’ll ever churn up.

Because this entire concept reawakened so suddenly, I haven’t had time to select an appropriate opening salvo. Instead, I will offer a guideline I have followed for years. I’m sure I wrote it down somewhere, so technically, it qualifies.

“I want my heroes to have a good heart and bad habits.”

Look for next month’s excerpt on the 26th.

The DNA of Prose

Are there enough words?

The unique form of every human and every living thing we know of is derived from the sequencing of four basic nucleobases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Just four. All the diversity on this planet is manufactured by varying patterns of these same four building blocks.

And what does that have to do with writing?

Everything.

I doubt myself at times. All writers do. Will I run out of ideas? Will I run out of words? And then I think about that double helix, DNA, that has existed in every human and every animal that has ever walked this Earth. No two have ever been exactly alike. Over eons, no two the same. And yet they all formed from a foundation built with these four nucleobases.

My alphabet has twenty-six nucleobases. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. My words are made from six-fold as many differing pieces as the number required to build every living creature on the planet. All I have to do is order them in unique, intriguing, meaningful combinations. It sounds simple. It should be simple, and yet, it is often a challenge.

But when the ugly cloud of writer’s block breaks thunder over my creative landscape, I need only think of the DNA of prose. Those twenty-six blocks that promise endless possibilities. Could I run out of words? Can the universe run out of stars?

Happy writing.