Monthly Archives: February 2017

Reworking an Old Story, or the Blob That Ate the Bully

Wow, February just flew by. Like, zoom! Once again, it’s time for the IWSG question o’ the month. IWSG is a great resource for writers. and hosts a monthly blog hop. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Why, yes I have! There were a few months when I was deep into edits for my second novel and had no new material for my twice-monthly critique group, so I unearthed a few old short stories lurking in my hard drive. Their style and content was quite different from my usual MO: instead of women’s fiction and cozy mysteries, these were Twilight Zone-esque speculative fiction.

How did that work out? I got enthusiastic feedback from my group members, most of whom write sci-fi and fantasy. The experience was a good reminder that I am capable of writing in a variety of styles and genres, and that doing so is good exercise for my writing muscles. Here’s a sample from the middle of The Vengeance, the tale of a little girl whose fear and anger at a bully manifests in a surprising way.

Miss Craft kept her promise. She stood at the school yard gate and watched as Katie quick-stepped toward the bushes, a thick patch of scratchy junipers where generations of kids had burrowed tunnels and hidden from teachers. Kids talked about the ‘cave’ inside there, but Katie had never worked up the nerve to peer inside.

As she passed, she heard scrabbling and whispers.

“Katie!” a voice hissed from inside the thicket.

Katie jumped, then looked back over her shoulder. Mr. Cricks, the principal, was talking to Miss Craft. The teacher glanced at Katie and waved her on, then turned to her boss.

A strong hand clamped onto Katie’s arm, yanking her inside the bushes. Another hand, cold and clammy, pressed over her mouth. Sharp twigs scratched her face and bare legs, and her backpack caught fast on a branch. For a moment, there was a tug-of-war between the backpack and the hand, but eventually Big Joyce won, and Katie was pulled into the “cave.”

Deep-green junipers arched overhead, leaving just enough room for the shorter kids to stand. Big Joyce had to hunch over, which only made her look more menacing. Katie whimpered and wrapped her arms around her shivering little body. Snarky Kelly and the other toadies grinned at her like hungry dogs waiting for a treat.

Big Joyce glowered. “Thought you could just walk on by, huh? Told you I’d be waiting for you, bitch.”

Katie could only stammer. She’d never heard a third grader say the B word. But that didn’t matter now, because she was going to die here, in the bushes.

Big Joyce yanked off Katie’s pink headband. “Nice bandage,” she sneered. “Want another one?”

“Naw, she wants more. Lots more bandages,” Snarky Kelly yapped.

“Yeah, cover up her ugly face,” Skinny Wanda crowed.

“Stupid little …Katie,” Dumb Laura chimed in.

The pack of toadies and their queen encircled Katie, blocking any chance of escape. Everything seemed to slow down, and Katie’s vision became watery as she swayed on rubbery knees. The cave smelt cool, and damp, and earthy–and a little bit rotten…

Joyce twirled Katie’s pink headband around her thick finger. “Think I could choke her with this?”

The toadies snorted and cackled.

Just behind Joyce, Katie saw a movement on the ground, as if water were flowing from the wall to pool around Joyce’s feet. Katie shivered, feeling colder and colder.

“Look at her shaking. She’s gonna pass out.”

“Hey,” Kelly asked the others, “can you really die of fright?”

“Let’s find out,” said Joyce, and lurched toward Katie. But her feet didn’t follow. They were stuck fast in the clear, thick goo oozing up her scabby legs.

“What the hell?” Joyce looked down, screamed, and toppled forward, taking Katie down with her. The toadies scattered, scrabbling out of the bushes like rats. Kicking hard, Katie managed to wriggle free.

The goo thickened as it expanded, sucking Joyce in. It reached her waist, then her chest, then her shoulders, making slurping sounds as it swallowed the squirming child. Joyce bucked and thrashed, her clawed hands scrabbling in the dirt, her eyes wild. The goo flowed up to her neck. Joyce gasped, her face purple, her mouth wide–but no sound emerged, for now the goo had filmed her face, stopping her screams.

Joyce fought a long time, her motions jerky, then sporadic, and then she was still, floating twisted inside the blob. The thing shivered, slid like a great slug back toward the wall, and then extended a thread of clear slime toward Katie. She scrabbled backward like a crab, “No! No please!”

The thing paused, then slowly extended its—what?—tentacle?—and gently brushed Katie’s leg. She braced herself for pain, but it felt cool, gentle. And though it made no noise, somehow she heard it say, “You’re welcome.”

It slithered back under the wall and was gone.

 

The Wisdom of Walt Whitman

Judging from the main portions of the history of the world, so far, justice is always in jeopardy.
–Walt Whitman

A brave soul brought a free-verse poem to today’s critique group. I’m seldom moved to write poetry, and I seldom seek it out, but I do enjoy reading it when it crosses my path. The purpose of poetry, after all, is to communicate a profound meaning in a compact package. Fiction tells a story, but poetry paints in colors of emotion. The poet slams you with a fist of truth, or slices into your heart with painful beauty, or distracts you with a charming image before ambushing you with a weighty understanding.

Some of today’s group members declared themselves uncomfortable critiquing poetry, or averse to poetry without a regular rhyme or meter. Of course, this made me think of my favorite poet, Walt Whitman.

We need you today, Mr. Whitman. Supremely democratic, proudly American, and a wonderful proto-hippie, you (mostly) eschewed the accepted poetic forms of your day to write sprawling, untamed poems that echoed the power and beauty of our (then) new nation. You celebrated the beauty and perfection of the common man—not as one looking down from his lofty tower, but as one who walked among them.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

I think both my red and blue friends would find echoes of their varied conceptions of America in Whitman’s poetry. The bigots, of course, would not. Whitman was very inclusive.

Whoever degrades another degrades me,
and whatever is done or said returns at last to me.

And Whitman would not shrink from today’s debate and contention, I think. Nor would he admonish anyone to shut up, calling them “snowflakes.”

Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?
Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?

Whitman would not discourage marchers, and would probably wear a pink hat.

There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country,
if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance.

So here’s to Papa Walt Whitman, a devoted American and wise poet who broke the accepted rules to create something wise and precious. In these contentious times, may we be inspired by his all-encompassing, inclusive love for America.

IWSG February 2107: Reading as a Writer, and Vice Versa

Can you believe how quickly another month has whizzed by? It’s time once again for our monthly question from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a great resource for all us scribblers, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting other writers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Our question for February: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

  1. Being a writer has reduced the amount of fiction I read, because I’m busy writing, or reading about writing. I’m working to change that, because reading widely makes me a better writer. It also teaches me about publishing trends, as well as changing tastes in fiction. And it’s fun. With all the dire news landing with juicy splats all around me, I find myself reaching for love stories, comedy, and other light-hearted literary diversions.
  2. Being a writer has made me a more critical reader. Having gobbled so many workshops, books, blogs, and magazines about the craft of writing fiction, I’m now much quicker to notice craft elements that, if mishandled, dampen a story’s impact. During my many years of teaching high school English classes, I looked at stories primarily from a reader’s point of view. If a story didn’t grab me, I just set it aside without much thought as to why it left me flat. But having studied the craft of writing from a writer’s point of view, I’m much more aware of issues like:
  • Characters who talk alike
  • Stories knitted together out of boring, predictable clichés
  • Protagonists I just can’t relate to, or whose actions don’t make sense
  • Lengthy flashbacks that don’t move the story forward
  • Long pauses in the narrative to insert info-dumps
  • Formulaic writing, such as ending every scene with a breath-taking cliffhanger
  • Purple prose and thesaurus abuse: writing that distracts me from the story rather than enhancing its impact

The good news is that because I notice these issues in others’ writing, I’m less likely to commit these crimes in my own work. So I hope, anyway.

So, what have you been reading lately, and has it helped your writing?