Nanowrimo Is Making Me Delinquent

Just a little note to say: I know I’m viciously late on my most recent flash, but it’s for a good reason. I took last week off to start planning my novel for National Novel Writing Month, which began on Sunday along with the month of November. I’ll catch up with the aforementioned Superlative exercise as soon as I’ve written my 50,000 words.

So far, my tally is a mere  2,400 words, but hey, it’s a start. Archeological thriller, here I come.

To those of you who have pinged me with additions to the Massive LARP Calendar: I promise to update it this week.

Lizzie Flashes: Superlative Exercise

flash_ftThis week’s exercise is based on Chuck Rosenthal’s “The Nicest Kid in the Universe,” found on p. 152 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.

The Superlative Exercise

Analysis:

“The Nicest Kid in the Universe,” is a parable about Franky Gorky, the titular child, for although he is the “nicest” kid, “he wasn’t the smartest kid.” Because Gorky isn’t smart, he doesn’t realize that the moon waxes and wanes on its own; he believes that his wishes are responsible for this,  a fact which leads him to run across the street on Christmas morning as his grandmother is parking across the street, and get “rubbed out” by a drunk driver.  The story ends with the introduction of a first person narrator and a moral, as if it has been told to frighten a child into good behavior. The story ends with these lines:

That’s what happens, said my father, when people take other people’s parking places.

That’s what happens, said my mother, when you don’t look both ways

What happens is, if you’re the nicest kid in the whole universe, then you have to die.

This is what happens when you try to explain something.

Exercise:

Write a story of a few pages about someone who is the ___est ____ in the whole universe, someone with superlative qualities. Give your protagonist a flaw, like Franky Gorky, who is the nicest kid, but not the smartest. Some possible examples include a protagonist who is the prettiest but not the most coordinated (hello, every Hollywood chick flick), or who is the smartest but not the most socially apt (House, MD). As in Rosenthal’s story, the main character’s flaw should lead to his or her downfall, and the story should end with the introduction of a first person narrator and several potential morals that exist outside the world of the story.

Happy writing.

Lizzie Flashes: The Neighborhood

flash_ftMy response to last week’s “Restrained Impulse” exercise is below. I have to say, I’m not sure I hewed as close to the exercise as I could have. I wanted to present the story of a gang flunky who couldn’t keep from laughing as a way of replicating Robert Hill Long’s dynamic of a small girl who couldn’t keep from dancing. A flaw in the story, I think, is that my main character doesn’t have a strong relationship with a single person, as Long’s girl does with her father. He also feels a little generic to me. I’m hoping these are problems I can address through revision, but since it’s already Wednesday, and in the spirit of making my process transparent, here’s what I came up with:


The Neighborhood

Even when the boy was young, he knew that laughter meant survival. He lived in the projects with his mom and his little sister, and they used to laugh together in front of the television, or watching the neighbors out the window, mocking their outfits from nine floors above. They laughed about the broken elevators in their building, or poor Ms. Fernandez on the first floor, who came up to their apartment with her daughters when it rained because her place backed up with the building sewage whenever it rained.

At school, he laughed because it kept him alive. He laughed at the tough crowd, posturing in the hallways, hollering at the girls to come and get a taste. When a slender boy from the clique jammed a pen into the boy’s arm by way of retribution, the boy laughed again, laughed so hard that the tears streamed down his face. “You’re fucking crazy, man,” the slender boy said. The blood formed an oozing red blot on his coat. When a teacher asked him who had done this to him, he smiled. “I can’t tell you,” he said, “because snitches get stitches.” It struck him as funny that although he hadn’t tattled, his arm still got stitched up in the emergency room.

Years later, he’d hang on the street corners with his fellow souljas, laughing at the jokes cracked by their boss, a man with a limp and a revolver tucked into the back of his pants. His mother was long since dead then, his sister shacked up in the same apartment with her two children, desperate to feed them, the fathers long gone. He lived in a small apartment above a pizza shop with his girlfriend, but their laughter seemed forced, fake, no longer a buffer between their shabby apartment and the block of burnt-out buildings that surrounded them.

It is many jokes later now, many bosses later. His sister’s children, though not his own, come to visit him in the rec room and buy him candy bars from the vending machine. They tell him that things are different now. There aren’t so many burned buildings in the neighborhood, they say, although the Hispanics are beginning to move in. The boy says it with a twist to his lips, a peculiar, ironic joy. His jeans are low, his cap is slung to one side, and there are tracks on his arms that almost make the shape of a smile.

Lizzie Stark Flashes: The Restrained Impulse Exercise

flash_ftI can’t believe it’s Wednesday already. This week’s exercise is based on Robert Hill Long’s “The Restraints,” found on p. 131 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.

The Restrained Impulse Exercise

Analysis:

“The Restraints” is about a little girl with an uncontrollable urge to dance that begins as a hunger. Long begins, “Even when she was very little her hunger was worth something: hunger taught her to dance, and her father noticed.” The title refers to the fact that when she was a child her father “tied a rope from her ankle to his ankle at night” to protect his “livelihood” from running off.  Many years later, dying, she is tied to a hospital bed, even as her feet continue to knock against the footboard as she remembers the dances, which represent her moment of “having everything.” The piece ends with a more metaphorical notion of restraint, lying in her hospital bed, “when she closes her eyes now she knows who it is, tied to her on the narrow bed.”

Exercise:

Write a story of two or three pages in which the protagonist has an uncontrollable urge to perform a physical activity in order to survive (it is no mistake that Long’s protagonist’s obsession begins with her hunger). Concretely establish the obsession for this physical activity early in the piece, then introduce a physical or situational check on the narrator’s obsession. The end of the piece should add a metaphorical meaning to the notion of restraint by fast-forwarding through time by ten years or more.

Lizzie Flashes: Daphne

flash_ftHere’s my response to last week’s Meta Exercise. Since Julio Cortázar used a narrative piece of art, a novel, to construct his excellent short short. I thought I’d give myself a challenge and try to do the same thing with a less experiential sort of art, in this case, sculpture. Points to anyone who can identify the sculptor.


Daphne

Inside the museum, she allowed herself to be politely interested in the art, the pale statues he loved so much, David twisting back his arm, a grim set to his mouth, Poseidon’s hand against Persephone’s thigh, hands sunk into the cool marble as if it were a marshmallow. He had arranged for this private trip to the museum; he had paid for their first class plane tickets to Rome, but that was to be expected.daphne

At first, she’d found his attentions in the bar where she worked flattering but overwhelming. His lavish words and gifts masked a paucity of spirit, a blindness, an inability to admire things for anything more than the surface.

At his request, their guide left them in a small room at one corner of the museum. He had wanted to look at a particular sculpture, by themselves, in the quiet. Her boredom faded as she stood beside him, studying it. The sculptor caught two lovers in a moment of passion. He reached out, determined to hold her in his arms, cape blown back by the breeze. She, her hair flying, stood perched on a precipice, hands stretched up, fingers and toes already sprouting leaves, bark snaking up her waist.

In the museum, he stepped behind her, one hand slipping toward her waist, and she turned her head back toward him, open-mouthed, silent, lost.

Lizzie Stark Flashes: The Meta Exercise

flash_ftLast week I neglected the blog due to a family emergency, but this week I’m back with a short-short exercise based on Julio Cortázar’s “A Continuity of Parks,” found on p. 137 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.

The Meta Exercise

Analysis:

“A Continuity of Parks,” begins with a rich man who is allowing himself to become engrossed in a book. As the narrative progresses, the vivid dream of the novel becomes literal for the man, and he thinks himself into the story, circling the narrative back on itself. Cortázar’s protagonist imagines that he is sneaking into a mansion to kill his lover’s husband, when he arrives in the mansion, knife in hand, he sees himself in an armchair reading a book. Cortázar is essentially exploring literature’s power to literally take the reader outside of him- or herself, and the divisions between real life and fantasy life. Furthermore, the narrative suggests that the story inside the book is relevant to the protagonist’s life, that perhaps, he has a wife who is cheating on him, who wishes him dead.

Exercise:

Write a story in which the protagonist becomes engrossed in a film, painting, book or other piece of art that is relevant to his or her life. Describe the secondary narrative of that art object and allow your main character to become so engrossed in it that the secondary narrative takes over and becomes as real, inside the story, as the protagonist’s main narrative. The story should loop back on itself, ending as the protagonist confronts him or herself in a surprising and enlightening way.

Lizzie Stark Flashes: Soap

flash_ft

All right, I’m no Margaret Atwood, but here’s my (somewhat belated) stab at last week’s Cubist Exercise. It’s a start.

Soap

Imagine a bar of soap lying by the side of your sink. It’s a flat, creamy beige block no bigger than a deck of cards, with edges that aren’t quite plumb, smoothed by hand and water. You made it from skin-scarring lye and olive oil in the pot you use to make soup, carefully weighing the ingredients on a postal scale, and whirring them together with a hand blender, watching carefully for the signs of miraculous alchemy, the puddingy texture, the marks on the surface that stay turgid for a moment before vanishing. You poured the soap into a shoebox mold, and cured it in the open air for a month, to remove its green bite.

This soap is anti-corporate. All its glycerine is intact, compared to the stuff so easy to buy at the store. In a stroke of marketing genius, companies sell you soap that robs skin of its moisture, then offer the the glycerin back to your dry hands in various lotions and creams.

Imagine the industrial soap used to clean up after suicides, the blood from a gunshot wound sprayed over a sheaf of fresh white pages, the chemicals burning into the desk as someone – his wife, perhaps, or an unfortunate maid – tries to obliterate all traces of his DNA, all traces of the grisly incident, making the room again fresh and impeccable.

Imagine the erstwhile surgeon who forgets to wash under his fingernails, the pustules his patient gets under the neat abdominal scar he stitches up.

Imagine that you have not seen your aunt, the increasingly rotund one who took you to the zoo as a child, the one who taught you macramé and knitted charming but unfashionable sweaters for you each Christmas. On a lark, you decide to go see the old bat out at the family farm, and you drive an hour or two out of town before turning down the gravel driveway. You walk up to the house and ring the bell. No one answers, although her rusty old pick-up is pulled up on the lawn, so you crunch through snow around the back of the house to her potting shed. The door is locked, but when you peer through the window, you see her, dead on the ground, potshards scattered around her where she must have dropped them as she fell

When the authorities arrive you are crying, begging to look at the corpse, and before they bag her, they turn her over onto her back. She looks like a statue, a horrible wax statue; her cheeks are covered in grayish wax, a natural soap, the undertaker informs you, that formed because she’d been shut up in the cool shed for quite some time, probably months, waiting for you to visit.

There is a legend about a cloister on an island, where a woman, some say Sappho herself, led burning sacrifices to the goddess of fertility in a temple on top of Mt. Sapo. The fat from slain goats, the legend says, would be wrapped and burnt at the top of the mountain as part of the sacrificial rites, and rain would sluice the remainder, white-burnt wood ashes and fat, down into the river at the mountain’s base. The ashes and soft water formed lye, that, when mixed with the fat, produced a rudimentary form of soap. People who worshipped Aphrodite would bathe in her water, and wash their clothes in it, benefiting from the soap with greater health. The story, an apocryphal one, is meant to explain why the process of soap making is called saponifcation, named for Mr. Sapo, or for the ancient poet.

In your bathroom, remove the bar from its aluminum dish and turn on the faucet, rubbing up a thin lather from bar and water. Can you feel the invisible subway grit leaving in a stream of water? The Mt. Sapo story is apocryphal, you’ve never seen grave wax, and you stay far away from the industrial stuff. But standing here in your bathroom, rinsing your sudsy hands in water, you feel suddenly clean.

Lizzie Stark Flashes, Cubist Exercise

flash_ftI’m embarking on an ambitious project to write 24 short shorts.

For those of you who don’t know, a short short, also called flash fiction or micro-fiction is a short story of as few as 200 words or as many as 2,000. It’s bite-sized fiction or nonfiction. Fringe publishes them, as do many journals, but Quick Fiction is famous for publishing excellent flash fiction of 500 words or less exclusively.

My idea is this: on Tuesdays, I’ll read a short short and post an exercise intended to mimic that story. The following Tuesday I’ll publish my version. I should be writing a new short short every two weeks, and I invite you, dear reader, to read and write with me.

The exercises will be done Pam-Painter style. In the first graf I’ll explain how I think the story at hand works, and in the second graf, I’ll break down the assignment.

Here’s this week’s exercise, based on the Margaret Atwood story “Bread,” found on p. 198 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.

The Cubist Exercise

Analysis:

In “Bread,” Margaret Atwood takes a concrete object, bread, and views it through multiple lenses. The story has five different sections, each that asks the reader to think about bread in a different way. In the first section, Atwood conjures actual bread before the reader by undermining her own directions — first she asks the reader to “imagine a piece of bread” then she says, “you don’t have to imagine it, it’s right here in the kitchen,” and describes it. Atwoods descriptions and the second person narrator drop the reader into the story’s reality. With the concept of bread feeling concrete, Atwood moves on to the metaphorical meanings of bread in three short sections that present the privation of bread and its moral, psychological, and symbolic repercussions. The final section returns to the first and addresses the complications that the interior sections set up.

Exercise:

Write a story of two or three pages that follows the five-section structure of “Bread” and deals with an elementary physical need. Portray the object of that need, present it to the reader it its most obvious sense using concrete description. Then explore the connotations of the privation of this object in three interior sections, which should not be narratively continuous, using a second-person narrator. The final section should link back to the first and demonstrate how you’ve rounded out the reader’s conception of the object you chose.