Form Matters

There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written — it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.

-Mark Twain

MFA Update: Submission 3 Progress


I’ve finished drafting the fiction portion of my submission. I feel pretty good about it, but I expect I’ll have plenty of tweaking to do next week. I’m going to let it sit over the weekend and just rest so I can come back to it with somewhat fresh eyes on Tuesday (going to try not to touch it Monday after I get home from TA work).

I’m woefully behind on my craft essay progress, but I still think I might be able to bang one out by Sunday night, which leaves one more for next week. My submission isn’t due until 5/1/18, but I’m going to try to have it done early as always, just in case. One never knows when it will be beneficial to finish work early.

With the third submission drawing to a close soon, it’s time to start thinking of mentors to request for next term. My current mentor made some great suggestions that I might just run with, but I need to read some more of the work by two of the mentors first. That might be a good project for after this submission while I wait to hear back from my current mentor, especially as my last two craft essays should be fairly easy to complete–I’ve already read one of the required books in my MA program.

In teaching news, my second TA semester is almost over. I have three more trips to make to campus and then that’s it–then it’s prep time for working as an adjunct next semester. I sent in my transcripts today at the school’s request. My syllabus needs a few edits, and then I have to finish developing my course calendar, selecting readings, and creating assignments. I’m sure other adjuncts face this challenge too–but I have so many ideas that it will be impossible to fit them all into one semester.

From the Archives: “Crying Over Spilt Milk” – June 2009

What I like about it: There are vivid, sensory descriptions.

What I would change about it, these nine years later:

  • The ending sentences don’t make sense to me anymore. I’m not sure what I was going for with the bad grades comment–there’s nothing before that to support it.
  • I’d nix the whole “wake from a dream” ending, in fact. It’s cliché, but I didn’t know that back in 2009, I guess.
  • There are too many adverbs.
  • Jake is obviously a sadist. He keeps zombies locked up to feed on unsuspecting students he kidnaps. Of course, he doesn’t actually exist, so maybe Ryan is the sadist since he imagined Jake–but there’s not a lot here to tell the reader about who Ryan really is.
  • Ryan needs a more emotional response; he doesn’t even cry, which makes the title nonsense. I’m guessing he was trying to hitchhike to run away from a poor performance in school–maybe that’s where the bad grades comment came from–but if that’s the case, I would flesh out his motivation(s) more.

Warning: The text below contains some gory details.

Jake Hanley glanced toward the passenger seat of his 1984 Toyota Camry, where a gallon of reduced-fat milk was sweating against the worn leather.  Jake was sweating too.  Though his window was open, his face was red and his shoulder-length hair stuck to his neck.  A seatbelt stretched through the jug’s plastic handle, to the fastening clip, holding the milk in place.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he told the milk drawlingly, nodding with widened eyes and an even wider smile.  Jake’s hands tightened on the steering wheel, his right foot pressing down on the accelerator until the car’s odometer read eighty-seven miles per hour.  The steering wheel shook in Jake’s white-knuckled hands, and even the windshield wipers seemed to bounce in protest.

Jake, the milk and his Camry were only twenty feet from the stop line beneath the red light when Jake pushed both of his feet against the brake pedal.  The brakes squealed and the car seized, leaving rubbery trails along the asphalt.

“There, now is time, my lil’ one.”  He unbuckled the seatbelt around the gallon of milk, hoisting it toward him.  Jake’s tongue traced the outline of his parched lips as he peeled the plastic cap off and raised the jug, taking long gulps.  Some of the milk never made its way past Jake’s lips; instead it trailed along his neck, soaking into his uneven beard, to be stopped only by the plaid collar of his flannel shirt.

Without bothering to replace its cap, Jake tossed the half-emptied gallon behind his seat.  The small glub-bubble sound of the leaking milk was audible only until Ryan Thomas woke as the cold milk flooded around his ankles, his muffled screams filling the modest cabin.

“Hitchhikin’s illegal in these parts, didn’t you know, boy?”  Jake peered in the rear view mirror.  “Ah well, you’ll do I s’pose, a bit on the skinny side but you’ll do.  Shouldn’t be too much longer.” 

Ryan screamed again, tears mixing with the blood that stained the right side of his clean-shaven face.  His body rested against the back of the seats as Jake continued driving.  Ryan glanced toward the milk, his nose crinkling at the smell and sight of the turning curds.  He’d been seat-belted in, just like the milk had been, except it took both seatbelts to hold him across the breadth of the backseat.

A frantic glance revealed to Ryan that the door handles in the backseat had been removed, leaving nothing behind.  He lifted his milk-soaked legs to kick at the opposite door, but it wouldn’t budge.

“No use fightin’, boy.  Not gonna save you from ‘em, and mind you, they’re hungry!”  Jake’s laugh was coarse and cacophonous, overpowering Ryan’s muffled screams.  Jake turned the car left, not bothering to break or signal his turn onto the unpaved, single-lane road.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he repeated, continuing straight along the road until he pulled over in front of a lopsided garage beside a rusty trailer.  Jake unbuckled his own seat belt and turned around to face Ryan.  “Hitchhikin’s illegal in these parts,” he reiterated before offering Ryan a smirk as he turned and slipped out of the front seat.  The car bonged like a steady heartbeat; the keys were still in the ignition.

Jake hummed as he opened the other doors of the car, leaving Ryan in the backseat, seatbelts still fastened.  Jake gathered Ryan’s belongings out of the trunk and started toward the trailer.  Ryan thrashed inside the backseat, throwing himself as close to the door as possible.  He tried to scream again, but his cries barely reached Jake’s ears as soon as Jake had entered his trailer and locked the door. 

A loud buzzing overtook the car’s bonging and Ryan’s screams as the garage door opened, lifting up to reveal seven people.  With broken limbs and hanging skin they slowly moved out of the garage.  One of them turned milky white eyes toward Ryan and released a pitiful moan that caught the attention of the others.

The ghouls approached the car with uncommon speed, and Ryan clenched his eyelids shut.  The last thing he felt before he opened them again was a sharp pain in his left ankle.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” a gentle voice chimed nearby.  Ryan looked toward his ankle where two people crouched over him, a man and a woman, both with shining dark hair.  The woman’s deep brown eyes locked onto Ryan, who was coated in a fine sheen.  “You alright, kid?  Did you pass out?”

Ryan shrugged and pulled back from them both.  “Who are you?”

“You were trying to hitch a ride, and you fell just as we were driving by.  You twisted your ankle but we had an ace bandage on board, so you’ll be fine.”

Ryan looked toward the road where their Ford Explorer was pulled over, all four blinkers flashing.  Cars passed by at breakneck speeds along the double-lane highway.

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” the man asked, frowning as Ryan backed away even further.

Ryan shook his head fervently.  “No,” he answered quickly, “Hitchhiking is illegal here.” 

Ryan pushed himself to his feet and ran toward the woods, back onto the trail that led toward home.  Bad grades weren’t worth becoming zombie food…but then again, maybe his mother was right…maybe he did watch too many horror movies.

Fun fact: I remember driving up next to someone at an intersection and glancing at their car only to see them guzzle from a gallon of milk on a hot summer day. Now, all I can think about is this:



Behind the Scenes: The Rings of Rings of Saturn

Originally, the “rings” in this story were a trio of bracelets. They were bronze, silver, and gold. One bracelet could send you back in time. Having two bracelets could send you forward–possessing all three granted the ability to travel to any time period.

This presented some logistical issues because it made it too easy for the protagonist to get back to her own time. To see what I changed the “rings” to, you’ll have to keep up with the story on WattPad!

July Fourth

The room was full of sign-painters. The signs weren’t elegant, but rather they were slapped together last minute before curfew. Cheryl stood next to Steve, who splashed red paint on white poster board. A blank sign sat on the table before her, and her own paint brush—a conglomeration of uneven horse hairs dripping globules of red craft paint onto her white sneaker—hung limp in one hand. “I just don’t know what to write on mine,” she said.

“What? What do you mean you don’t know what to—look, you can just copy mine. We don’t have a lot of time here.”

Cheryl looked at Steve’s sign again. It read: You say curfew, I say screw you!She chewed her lip. “I don’t know. I don’t think that line is really me, you know?”

“Then make something else up. Or don’t carry a sign. You’re the one who said you wanted a sign.”

Cheryl looked around the room again. They were in Sarah’s and Peter’s basement. Half-windows illuminated the three-dozen people in the room, but by the time the sun went down, it’d be empty. Some were painting signs. Others counted out canisters of mace. “Maybe we should just go home. What if we’re the only ones?”

“We won’t be. Peter heard that everyone is preparing for tomorrow. Everyone’s going to march.”

“But what if they don’t? I mean, if we’re the only ones, they’ll arrest us. They’ll—well, you know what they do to dissidents.”

Steve wiped his hand on his shirt, leaving a red streak across his stomach. Cheryl stared at it. Steve was sweating; they all were. Air conditioning was a thing of the past, but Cheryl could remember the cool dry air even in the middle of summer. Between global warming and the recent shut down of electricity service providers, they all had to learn to sweat again.

“Look, Cheryl, if you’re going to freak out about tomorrow, then maybe you shouldn’t come.”

“I’m just starting to wonder if we can even fight this. There are just so many of them. Don’t you remember the news reports? Tear gas, Steve. They’re going to throw tear gas at us.”

“We can’t cower to tyranny because of tear gas.”

Cheryl scoffed. “Why not?”

“Because. If we bow down to them because of that, then they win. Curfews. Reduced resources. I can’t remember the last time I saw kids on the street going to school. I know they’d be on summer break right now, but that’s not really the point. It’s messed up, Cheryl, but that’s why we have to do something.”

“This might not even accomplish anything.”

“I know. But we’ve got to try.”

She sighed. “Okay.” Five minutes later, five minutes before sundown, Cheryl dragged her brush over her poster board. Say “no” to tear gas. Say “no” to tyranny.That night, after curfew, Cheryl didn’t bother cleaning the red paint off of her sneaker or Steve’s shirt.

This is in response to Sunday’s writing prompt about emotional wounds. In looking back at my last couple of flash fiction pieces, I’m noticing a theme…granted, the random number generator picked the page with civil unrest for this prompt, but I think the #WriteBackToFightBack spirit is coming through in these stories.

Guitar String

Only moments seemed to pass

since I was torn from plastic home.

You stretched me out, tied me down

pulled me thin, until I sang.

My moments were your weeks

I practiced just like you.

Though I tried

flexibility became elusive—

—I snapped.

Breaking free of my binding

I lashed out.

Now coiled in the trash

five fellows and I buried

with broken song.

I see you

rip apart

fresh plastic

pull from naive safety

your next victim.

Writing Prompt: Emotional Wound Thesaurus

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One of my favorite book series for writers is the thesauri written and published by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I have several of these thesauri, and the authors make a portion of their work available for free on Writers Helping Writers.

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This week, I decided to use this book to come up with a book prompt. I used a random number generator to choose a page number, and from that, here is this week’s prompt:

Write a 500-word story about a protagonist who is living through civil unrest.