Telling Stories

In which I show you some videos

As someone with the twin loves of This American Life and trying to become a better writer, I love the fact that I just rediscovered Ira Glass’ Storytelling video(s) today.

Here there are if you haven’t seen them before:

Part 1: On the basics …

Part 2: On finding great stories …

Part 3: On good taste …

Part 4: On two common pitfalls …

In which I link to some things that make writing easier

If you’re reading this blog for more than the first time or if you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m trying to become a writer. Or become a better writer. Depends upon the day.

First, if you’re an aspiring writer and you haven’t already tried it, join right now and start writing.

Every day.
750 words.
Do it.

Second, if you’re more the type who wants to curate stories – to tell stories using perspectives/voices that aren’t your own (and you like journalism) – you should give Storify a try. It was down earlier, but hopefully it’s all better now.

In which I tell you all about Chuck Wendig’s blog (and link there 3 times)

I’ve also been doing a bunch of writing driven mostly by a blog written by Chuck Wendig. Hopefully you’ve seen some of my flash fiction challenge entries, but Chuck’s blog is where those all started.

Here come the three things:

So I don’t know if I’ve done a particularly good job of telling a story through my YouTube embeds and list of links. Talking about process is usually a great way to kill your momentum and make you rethink all the fixes to your problems. You know, that thing you called process?

Anyhow, here’s hoping we all become better writers in the process of writing.

Happy Tuesday!

33, 34, 35

Thanks to several small nudges from outside sources whom I don’t actually “know” but I “follow” on the internet, I’m doing a bit more creative (read: fiction) writing.

Thanks to Chuck Wendig and Merlin Mann I’m at the beginning stages of forming a writing habit.

I should also thank Buster Benson and his 750 words site. Not that I needed a new badge or other digital form of extrinsic motivation, but a Turkey is a Turkey, after all.

750 Words Turkey Badge
Write 750 words for 3 consecutive days, earn a Turkey badge!

Here, then, are 3 entries in Chuck’s latest Flash Fiction contest informed by these random stock photography images and enabled by Buster’s site and Merlin’s “inspiration”.


I have been holding this goddamned pose for all of ten seconds already and the camera is not even trained in my direction, not even around this “photgrapher”‘s neck. Amateur.

“I am not some William Wegman Weimaraner,” I find myself saying out loud to no one in particular. The photog glances my direction and glint of sun from the lens temporarily blinds me. I drop my frame to shield my eyes and say again, with emphasis this time, “I am not some William Wegman Weimaraner.” He gets the picture and goes about rapidly readying himself to get the picture.

His picture.
My picture.
A picture of me standing on this beach ball, on this beach, displaying my skin and skill for all to see and share.

A tripod is produced as two production assistants, I assume, finally start assisting that there might be production today. A photograph is to be produced and I am its main subject, though I suppose the beach and the lighting are nice as well. Come to think of it, it’s not really me that is the theme, but age defying time.

I am not beautiful or particularly athletic, but I still have the balance and skill that many years as an acrobat in the circus taught me long ago. I have the sinewy muscle memory of a thousand tucks, rolls, flips, spins and flourishing salutes. I am doing such a statuesque salutation right this very second if this idiot and his drones would ever bother to snap a shutter.

“I can place my hands on my hips, you know,” I say.

No one is paying me much attention, not even the dolt with the light meter flitting about my now-ample frame. I suck in my gut just a touch before releasing a follow-up statement.

“I did not study for six years under the Teutonic tutelage of Theodoric Tausher to simply let my shoulders slump and place my hands on my hips.”

“f/8 at 1/250 maybe?” the light meterer asks.

“I would be doing it purely by choice, mind you,” I continue. “Certainly not because I’m tired of all these amateurish antics and am ready to be done taking this absurd picture.” Perhaps I mean absurdist here, but I am becoming frustrated. I still like to think of myself as an artisan, an entertainer, but my collaborators clearly see me as nothing more than a trained seal.

I consider barking, clapping my hands, balancing the ball on my nose or jumping in to the sea to grasp a fish in my mouth but the water is cold and craggy. I need neither the shivers nor the sharp protrusions poking me.

“No!” someone shouts and I struggle to maintain my composure as the ball slips back and forth underneath my feet and I extend my left arm to join my right to help me balance. The photographer has cried out and is now gesticulating in the general vicinity of me, though I suspect he is addressing the light meter man.

“We are in full sun, yes?”

Light meter man and I both respond: “Yes”

“Yes!” the photographer echoes, throwing up both his hands in a mirror image of my own. I briefly imaging I am being mocked and return to my previous stance.

“He is standing stock still in the full sunshine and you would have me shoot him at f/8 at 1/250?”

To this question neither of us offer a response. I am not being addressed and the light meter man is either too stupid to know the answer or too smart to offer one to an angry photographer.

The photographer proceeds, happy to educate those he has either stunned or stumped.

“If I wanted to wash him out and overexpose the whole damn scene I’d use f/8 at 1/250 but that’s not the assignment. The assignment was a fully focused, no bokeh view of a beach with a man standing on a ball in center frame.”

He turned to face the tripod and pull it a few feet closer to himself and the scene we were finally about to shoot, it seemed.

“We’ll be shooting f/32 at 1/125,” he announced and the light meter man dutifully readjusted his sensor to take some more readings.

After a few furtive fidgets with the meter the light meter man went to the photographer’s side to relay his current message. I suppose I would have done the same after surviving such a shameful scolding as he had just received.

Still, it was nothing like the tongue lashings I used to receive from that German bastard Tausher. I sucked in my gut again and stood a quarter of an inch taller just thinking of his stinking breath and his ranting rebukes.

It was time to take this picture and I was proud that we had all arrived ready to do it justice, whatever misguided stock photo editor was thinking.


The vacuum tube shushes us all to a hush, sliding to a stop in its housing, a slippery sluice of pressurized air and the only mode of transportation into and out of the factory. We disembark our shiny, ferrous ferry onto brushed metal pathways that click and clack each footstep ringing like the tick and tock of the clock. It is time for work and we have arrived with all pompous precision that is intended to inspire and reassure with its glinting glare and hyper-realism.

I sometimes imagine the tube car is a giant, gentle worm carrying us on its back to our subterranean factory. Since I have never seen the steam pumps or generators or whatever it is that power the pulsating thrust of our underground city, it is easy to transform the technical into the animal. Hums can be anthropomorphized more-so than the drumbeat drone of drudgery that is electronics, so I choose to imagine my gigantic animal friends as opposed to crazy Kirby creations that are far more likely to draw us in each and every morning and churn us out each and every evening.

Striking strides on the hyaline hallway lead to my assembly line. Number 34. Thirty four of seventy six if you’re keeping count and they most certainly.

They arrive in the form of Masterson, my supervisor. I adjust the thin metal visor to ray shield my eyes. The glasses were forged by Geordi La Forge or so says the supervisor clucking a chicken chuckle cackle oblivious to the fact that I obviously don’t get the joke. Or maybe I wasn’t supposed to and that’s why he’s laughing.

We’re here for the chickens, after all. And the cows. And the pigs. And, most important of all, the people.

Masterson makes another crack about Soylent Yellow before cracking up and cracking the whip and starting the countdown clock. We run for eight straight hours every day from 8 AM to 4 PM. No breaks to pee or smoke or choke down coffee, just churn the corn, inject the dye and hormone and whatever the fuck else we’re pumping into the food nowadays. I should know, I’m the one doing it, but I don’t ask questions. I just sit and stare behind my silver slitted shielded eyes, hollow out a point on the cob, dip the hollow point of the needle in then out and just keep moving. On, on, on.

I can do my stretch pretty well most days. Today is not most days. I’m itching to fidget or move or get up and walk out at the 90 minute mark. Masterson notices and comes on over, intent on refocusing attention.

“What’re you doing, eighty six?”

“My job, Masterson. Same as you.”

“I mean,” he smiles, “what are you doing later on?”

I almost stop and drop and roll. The heat of such an impromptu proposal, so apropos of nothing, and so inappropriate by current standards could get us both fired.

“Whatsa matter,” he says, noticing that my work has all but stopped and I haven’t yet responded. “Not your type?”

The short, simple answer is no, but I can’t say this to Masterson. He’s easily twenty years my senior and he has a visible scar on his face despite trying to hide it with a short, dark beard. The alopecia runs along the right side of his jaw and terminates in a sliver of silver hairs that point up towards his pointy ears.

He is not my type and my continued silence is giving me away again. I try to lie but it comes out as workplace avoidance and temporal vagueness.

“I’m busy,” is what I say. Now, right now, and forever is what I think. What I mean.

“I’m not your type.” He pauses this time. “You missed a spot. Get to work.” And then he leaves.

I have missed a spot. All this talk – and this is a lot of talk for an otherwise sterile and stainless steel structure – distracted me. I rush to catch the cob I missed before and the one I should be doing now and the one after that which is ripe and plump and almost (not quite) perfect until I’ve injected a drop of this whatever inside of it. My contribution. My deposit, no refund.

The corn wars are raging. The porn wars used to rage. After all the exploitation and explosions (double entendre!) of the race to own the space of pleasure we all now race to meet the needs of that other insatiable desire: hunger.

I don’t know what to say or do. About this job. About Masterson. About the sleek and shiny and silver and stainless steel that protects and corrects.

I just know that desire never goes away – as Masterson has proved despite that previous porn war being over – it is just redirected, shifted, to a new enemy.



I look back only to discover, my brother, that there is one footprint left behind and it is not my own. Nor is it yours. Nor is it mine.

You are not here. I am not here. There is only the single depression pointing in the opposite direction of my gaze.

Seven wonders were there once. This is but a singular occurrence. One of none, or at least not so many. The lasting effigy of a colossus now disappeared.

I have emerged, I decide, on the other side. Born out of this indentation. Marker from nowhere, marking my appearance I know not where.

I seem to recall a conversation. With my brother? With the colossus? With the desert I now find myself in? I only seem to recall, it could be the heat getting to me.

I’m awfully overdressed for desolation, wearing wingtips in the sand and a windsor knot in the windswept Sahara or some other such sweltering sunshine. Shiny seems too positive a connotation for the intensity and brightness of a light that shone no relevance, revealed no secrets, only made shadows; doubts.

I look skyward to meet its gaze but, instead of striking blindness, I’m stuck motionless. Moving my eyes, changing my perspective, yields no difference in angle or lens flare. I’m frozen in the desert if such a thing is possible and all the details of my derangement are arranged in linear synchronicity. Each piece and part moving in geo-static orbit that only some impartial, unseen observer must be seeing.

It must be him, right? He (the colossus) must have been carrying me. It’s not my footprint, I can see that, but where were we two? Where are there two? Why is it only me now and not my brother, not the colossus, not another mark or dent of hill or mountain or molehill or goddamned anything at all. At all; at all. At. All.

I twist around and crane my neck and discover I’ve leapt ahead (or fallen back) and am repeating all the lies, the lines, to myself inside my head. I try to speak, to scream, to cry and find I’m emerging newborn again into the light again but I’m no more enlightened than bats who strike out at daylight, though just as blind.

I find a new thought creeping in and seeping out through sweating pores: what if the footprint itself is Sisyphus’ rock? And here I am a dapper demigod doomed to dampen the ground with my sweat and toil thinking over the thoughts of abandonment and aloneness and isolation but those never lead to civilization. Or rescue. Or anyone else; they only lead in.

No pool is forming for the liquid I exude. I shake my brow to spread some spray but it evaporates into fine mist before it even hits the ground or the footprint or the surrounding area. My eyes tear up and I begin to cry but they only leave stain trails on my cheeks; they can’t penetrate the crusty earth either.

I raise my crying eyes skyward once more searching for the sun, the light, through closed lids. It follows me as a I look away and races towards a draining source as I seek it’s warmth and guidance and explosive exposing rays. I only get exposition written in the trailing tears vanishing points of an absentee celestial entity.

The sun is no good to me.

It refuses to reveal its face to me.

Colossus had had to flee.

I’m back to staring over my shoulder. Still wondering, not wandering, the desert. Is this my just desserts? What I wouldn’t give to be a deserter. To through caution to the hot winds, throw up a sail in the sky, and just disappear.

Is that how it happened, a disappearance? Was there something here before? Am I what came after? Or was all of this nothing a more barren brand of nothingness disguised as empty void?

Is the footprint empty or am I filling it up? I try to fill it up again with tears and sweat and yelling and now the coughing spatter of blood from sand-caked lungs.

A single drop of blood splashed down and now there are mountains within the distance of my tilt-shifted view. Are they blue?

I. I am. I am still. I am still staring. I am still staring down. I am still staring. I am still. I am. i.

Constructing the sine wave has proven incomplete. I am still on this side and cannot complete the thought, complete the wave, complete myself without proper understanding of myself, my brother and the colossus.

I finally collapse and fall straight through the other side.

I am. STILL?!

Now I have but one large foot but it is not my own foot and has unfamiliar hairy toes and breathes and pulsates life, radiating white hot heat and it is not my own, this foot, but I am. Still.

I sense a thousand eyes and ears and nose (I know) but none can see or hear or smell only suck the life out of me. Some give but fewer than all of those who only take, take, take, take take take, take-take-take.

I am the sun. I am the desert. I am the mountains.

I am the wind. I am the footprint.

I am the doubt. I am the stillness. I am the searching.

I am still


I hope you enjoy them!

Six Word Stories Are Pretty Awesome

As a little bit of a lark for a mid-week post, here are six seven (and a half) stories each consisting of six words.

How could you; we were friends?

Warning: monster approaches while you read

I should’ve leapt before I looked. / I should’nt’ve looked before I leapt.

The appearance of cleverness stultifies me.

She left before goodbyes were said.

Gathering storm, gathering clothes, gathering together.

Is it dead? Worse. It’s alive.

None quite as good as the canonical, Hemingway-attributed example:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

If you’re curious to read more stories like these, there’s an entire book of six-word sentences as memoirs out there entitled Not Quite What I Was Planning. The New Yorker reviewed the book a few years back, complete with six-word memoirs (and descriptors, and nametags) for a few of the included authors.

There’s also a single serving six word blog out there where you can submit your own stories. I’ve submitted a few of these today.

Happy reading and here’s to hoping you write some of your own six word stories.

Flash Fiction: Irregular Creatures

Here’s my entry in Chuck Wendig’s Irregular Creatures flash fiction challenge. I’m used to 1,024 character (1kb) fiction (read my Ficly stories that meet this constraint) so I didn’t quite fill 1,000 words, but I’m happy with what I wrote.

I call it “Three”. Enjoy!

Warning! Warning! Warning!

The mechanical voice didn’t sound all that concerned so why should I stop my work? Progress marches on; Down the hallway and to the left.

In between the triune and untroubled transmissions a siren sounded, whirring an alarm like a lost ambulance ambling and echoing down each corridor.

Didn’t stop me, wouldn’t stop me, couldn’t stop me.

I round the bend and there are lab coat rats – regular science folks – rushing in the exact same direction as me.

Passing me.
Lapping me.
Paying me little to no attention.

They don’t know me and I don’t know them. We’ve only ever seen the backs of each others heads bent over rows upon rows of microscopes or glowing terminal access screens or, heaven help me, grading papers. We might as well all be numbered samples, vials of this or that, locked away in a storage freezer waiting to be viewed in close-up detail, sliced into pieces or presented before a throng of jubilant onlookers.

But that allusion is too literal, too cold, too much like a craven killer collecting bodies; counting coup.

A guard or three now race past me, in what would appear to be full-on riot gear, going the opposite direction. They’re joining the fray and I’m just trying to get out of the way, get away (getaway).

It’s a stark contrast between the uniforms of the regular janes and joes in our long, white coats and the dark black body suits of the guards. I’d say they were military but there are no patches or insignias, no identifying marks or chevrons, save for a simple, rectangular text box over each left breast: NuMove Research.

That’s our unifying characteristic, us and the guards, we all have that same phrase on our personage. I’m headed for the parsonage to pay the patronage.

Will the people even notice me?
Will the people ever notice me?
Will the people never notice me?

I kinda hope not.

There’s screaming up ahead, sheer terror, and for what? There isn’t smoke streaming or rubble rabbled to rouse us from our work. There isn’t even any blood or gore or horror anymore. It’s all just a fake thriller to disguise the real surprise.

People stop to stare or pointedly point at some part of the structure, unseen, where something (anything) must be happening. But it isn’t. Not now anyhow.

I turn back to shake my head, make it seem as though I care as well. Share the shock, feel the pain.

I manage to avoid the gazes as most folks are too busy ogling nothing to bother with me. I maintain my momentum, working my way toward the back of the crowd. I feel the fringes and take a turn one last time to make sure I remember my home, my birthplace, and fix it in my mind’s eye.

My mind’s third eye. The one that winks at the little boy who has seen me for who and what I am.

He’s pointing to the place I used to be when he finally has his father’s full frontal attention. Neither of them really want to believe that I was ever there at all.

I’ve made my escape unscathed and now I get to see.

See what all the fuss was about.
See what I was missing.
See the sea and beyond.

See, as three, as I was meant to be, when and where they can’t hold me.

I hope you liked it. If you want to contribute your own “Irregular Creatures” Flash Fiction story, you have until tomorrow, March 11, 2011.

For good measure, here are some eBook, internet fiction & general writing links I’ve been saving up for a post. Draw your own conclusions.

Feeling Bookish

I’m simultaneously reading an eBook on the Nook (The Handmaid’s Tale) and a hardcover (Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk) and it’s proving to be pretty easy since the topics are so divergent.

I’m also thinking a lot about (if not actually doing) my own writing. I hope everyone can/will appreciate the increased blogging output as of late, but my Google Docs have also grown in number and measure.

If you’re curious what I’m up to – and I’ve been very coy – check out these two innovative approaches to the future of the book:

I’m no developer, I’m more of a hack(er), but I get excited when I think about extending some of the ideas on this blog, marrying them with my non-blogging past-times and dreaming up something new. It also doesn’t hurt to have spirited (albeit brief) conversations with folks at the forefront of eBooks.

Needless to say, I’ve done the whole novel writing thing and the flash fiction thing – and I like to revisit both concepts now & again, but this is something new.

If you’re curious about more thinking on the future of the book check out this video from the Social Books Panel (#sociabooks) at Social Media Week 2011.

You should probably also check out Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes as well. Transformative found art, I’d guess you’d call it.

Happy Reading & Writing!