Snap and creak: somewhere in the house. Footfall or hingesqueak or bannistercreak—probably the kitchen. You strain to hear more: the throbbing around the sides of your head swells in volume and speed. You swallow, nothing there, and stop breathing, lifting your head from the pillow so both ears can hear nothing but the muffled business of circulating blood. Nothing. You lay your head back on the pillow.

Another noise, softer than the first: swish, thud. You are still. The house is very loud tonight.

Three sharp sounds. Rattled window stripping? Mice? Footsteps?

Houses settle, stairs creak, wind whistles through a screen door. You know this. The shadow outside the window has been nothing but a tree since you were a child. But there is a point at which you stop believing what your experience tells you. People are killed randomly in their beds all the time.

You do not want to speak or turn on the light; there’s nothing in the house. If you pull your arms out from under the bedsheets, it will get you. Annoyance at your own fear and increasing terror:

—Stop worrying.

—Call the police!

—Go to sleep.

—What was that?

—It’s just the refrigerator.

—What is the refrigerator doing on the stairs?

Every time this happens, you climb out bed: nothing. You slink back into bed, mollified and ashamed. You never learn, do you?

But there is something in the house. The house is very loud tonight, indeed.

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Best of 2013 writing advice

The Atlantic pulled together a fantastic list of bits of advice from writers published this year. Check it out!

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It’s that time of the month

I was recently asked to join in a very interesting publishing project for next year — 31 writers writing short stories. Each writer writes a story set the same day each month for a year. Mine is the 5th — so I am to write 12 stories set on January 5, 2014 and February 5, 2014 and so on. My characters will not appear in other writers’ stories. The January issue will be 31 stories, each taking place on one day of the month and written in the present tense. The February issue will revisit these characters a month later.

It’s a terrific concept; how it plays out will depend, of course, on what the writers do with the assignment.

It’s set me to thinking about what the hell I am doing.

  1. I have to have a character/characters that I want to write twelve stories about.
  2. Each story has to be self-contained but also work together as a daisy-chain of a dozen.
  3. Each story has to be interesting.
  4. Each story must relate thematically to the other stories without being repetitive overtime.
  5. Each story must have its own reason for existing.

So, I find myself wondering exactly how to go about writing a story. Usually when I have a story to write, I do it because I am driven by an idea. Usually, that idea is from incident or character. But these 12 stories together make for an entirely different project.

I am driven to write one big story which has 12 different snapshots over time. Trying to make a story where we see a window into the characters life on the fifth of each month as he tries to achieve X by going through ABCD and on to L, seems a little bit confusing and difficult….and challenging to say the least.

It is a good time to think about what the story is, however. I consider myself more of a longform writer – novel and screenplay. I also tend to write flash fiction. These are more traditional short stories, of the handful of pages variety.

It makes the most sense to write these as one piece with 12 scenes. Of course, I have to figure out how to make the window of each scene naturally occur on the fifth of each month. It made it clear to me that the heart of fiction is character, not incident — but good stories, to me, are incident-driven. So it’s a fine balancing act — something I already knew, but something worth being reminded of nevertheless.

My first submission is now in, and I await a breath of inspiration or a looming headline to get me started on month two.

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It’s funny ’cause it’s true

All the merlot belongs in the red part.

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Humans tweet, too

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced that an updated Twitter-centric “tweet” has finally worked its way into the dictionary. While the fussiness of the OED might induce some eye-rolling, there is an undeniable gold-stamp of approval with the inclusion of new words and new meanings of old words. It usually takes 10 years — if not decades — for language change, but Twitter is only just now turning 7, so “tweet”was fast-tracked.

Whether this is a sign of the times is up for debate. I’d certainly like to see dictionaries more readily reflect the language as it is being used. The prescriptivists will hand-wring, but if words are used, there should be a place to find their arbited meaning without having to sort through

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Don’t quit your day job

Interesting article about the economics of freelancing — and why it pays so poorly.

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Eggshell White Frigidaire

When he was seven, he and his four-year-old brother hunted raspberries in the ravine. They found an old abandoned refrigerator covered in brambles. He continued filling his coffee can with blood-red berries, maneuvering carefully around thorns, eating any over-ripe fruit. He called for Will but got no response; Will’s can was perched on the old off-white refrigerator. Will was inside: warm, not breathing, limp as a wet towel. He pulled Will out and their jeans and skin caught on the brambles. He tried to drag his brother, but it was too much. He ran for home, screaming for help in the silent ravine. A hollow space opened inside him.

His mother gaped as he blabbered incoherently, dripping his own blood and vomiting bloody red raspberries onto the linoleum. He couldn’t make her understand; he was hollow. He ran from the house with his mother on his heels screaming at him to stop and come inside.

When they got to the bottom of the ravine and she saw what had been Will, she ran to her boy, flaying herself on the brambles, shaking him and pounding his chest and kissing her baby. He threw up again. The hollow space engulfed from within, emptying him.

“What did you do to him?” she howled at him, at the brambles. But he was a blown egg now, fragile around nothing. He had no answer for his mother, then or decades later, long after she stopped asking.

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Be your own trickster figure

Tell yourself what to do tomorrow: this is a great strategy for longer-term writing projects like novels. It’s the first of Chuck Wendig’s stupid writer tricks, and I like ’em all.

The reason I like this is that it takes all the pent-up energy at the end of a writing session (I can’t stop! I need to keep going!) and translates it into a gentle shove for tomorrow.


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A Tale

“Hop in, Pierre! We must escape evil Uncle Adolf,” Bunny shouted.

“But you don’t know how to fly, Bunny! How ever will we survive?”

“Have faith, cherie! This is fiction,” she exclaimed, touching Pierre gingerly on the cheek with one hand while hoisting him into the cockpit with the other.

They sped down the runway, past the fist-shaking, purple-faced Uncle Adolf, and took flight, dodging a tornado and a flock of rare albino trumpeter swans. Two fighter planes shot into the air after them, but Bunny out-maneuvered and out-gunned them. Girl Scout training came in handy in gardens and dogfights.

When they later landed safely in a field of red poppies, the sun shone and Pierre gleed. “You are a hero. We will even be on time for the coronation!”

It was true. Never again would the evil Adolf mistreat the poor, starve pets, touch children inappropriately in bathing suit areas, or build nuclear weaponry from stolen plutonium. He was killed by one of his flunkies’ flaming fuselages.

It was over.

Bunny threw herself onto the soft, fragrant bed of poppies. She wept in great, tremendous, huge dismay, her tears intensifying the azure of her eyes. Imogene, a rare albino trumpeter swan of great sensitivity, nuzzled Bunny in comfort.

“Why do you cry, Bunny?” Pierre questioned.

She sobbed. “It was too easy!”

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Eat your vegetables

Some terrific thoughts about the whys and hows of research for your writing.


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