Monthly Archives: March 2015

Confessions of a failed…sandwich board person who stands on the street corner bothering people

Alas. All is lost. I sit here with shoulders slumped and off-brand tissue in hand to confess to you, with sincere regret, my failings as a…sandwich board person who stands on the corner bothering people.

1) I rarely put the sandwich board on the proper way, if at all. Often, it’s backwards so the only advertising that is going on is toward my stomach and back. Neither can read.

2) The times I forget to wear the sandwich board, I don’t realize until my 16 hour shift is over. I often get tickets for loitering as I am simply walking back and along the same stretch of street.

3) Sometimes people like to have fun with me and so they throw things like eggs and tomatoes and poo at the board. One day, I walked around thinking I had messed myself because someone pooped (that’s my term for it) my back board and I didn’t even feel it.

4) I’ve learned how to sleep standing up and also how to sleep while walking. I consider it a failure if I don’t spend at least 3 to 4 hours of my shift asleep.

5) One shift I didn’t keep a constant smile. I was scolded, however, the whip only hit my calloused shoulders so it didn’t hurt.

6) One time I was early and worked late and I wore the sandwich board the correct way and no one egged or pooped me, but the board was for the wrong store. It was a particularly bad scolding that day.

Thank you for listening.

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Weekly Writing Prompts vol. 17; March 30th – April 5th 2015

1) Given that some things are given, what are things that are not? Why?

2) A character has a special ability that only manifests when he or she is asleep. Write his or her story.

3) Politics can divide but also unite. Write a conversation between characters where it does both.

4) A character survives solely on condiments. How? Why?

5) In the world of espionage, olives are the great equalizer. Write a scene where this might actually be true.

6) A character has always asked for advice for the simple reason of doing the exact opposite of what has been advised. Write this character’s background.

dbc9683dbb14d97f1_b8e5bece7b-300x3807) Considered the picture and answer: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?


Short Story Sundays vol. 1; “The Photo at 99 Sudbury”

Photo (c) Paige Stewart

Photo (c) Paige Stewart

The picture hung unadorned and frameless. Twigs and leaves in the focused foreground and then more strewn at the foot of the sloped, wood-slat bridge that carried the eye up and deeper into the blurred future. It intrigued Megan and at first she had no clue as to why. The concrete pillars caught her eye and she stopped and decided to have a better look. She did this with every piece at every gallery she ever visited. Megan felt that it was the least she could do to honour the time the artist had put into the work. Even one or two seconds for something that confused her was enough. This photo though had depth beyond its two dimensions. The focus and the blur and the blur and the focus. Its center just a millimeter off, but perfect for what she felt the picture represented.

“It’s life, isn’t it?”

At first she didn’t notice the voice belonged neither to her head nor her lips and she answered in the former. It is life, she thought. At first it is clear and focused and then you must take a single step up and place your hands on the pillars for support. Below your feet lie various forgotten memories, left where they naturally fell in the past. The future rises before you and you can see what’s there but it’s not as clear as the past and the present. Even the forgotten wonders of years before are more clear. The future is unfocused and while you can see aspects of what you need and want those aspects will only come into focus when you make the choice to take a step toward them. Then she felt the presence of the person who posed the question she had answered in silence and turned toward him with a start.

“Did you just ask me that question?”

He smiled. “The life question?”

“Yes. I think I’m going crazy,” she said.

“I think I did, unless we are both living inside our heads today,” he said with a smirk. He reached his hand out. “I’m Tom by the way.”

She felt her body relax and she reached her hand to his. “I’m Martha. And sorry about that, I guess I’m intrigued by this one.” They broke their greeting and Megan fell back into her head.

Martha? Who the fuck is Martha? What is wrong with you Megan?

“I’d say that’s fair. It has this depth to it. When I saw you standing here for as long as you were I had to come over and chat. It’s my favourite piece here,” he said.

Why the hell did I introduce myself as Tom? What is wrong with you Ben?

“It really is about life though. You got it right. The focus of the present will lead you somewhere but no matter what, even with only one path ahead, the future is still a bit blurry,” she said.

So this kinda cute nerdy guy comes up and talks to me in my favourite setting, in front of one of my new favourite photos and I make up a fake name? Awesome!

“Agreed. It really is great on many levels,” he said.

They both take a step back and admire the photo, the only truth they have shared in the very short tenure of their relationship.

“Can I be honest with you?” he said.

“Yes, please.” She hoped this would open the door for her to tell him that for reasons unknown she had made up a name and no, she couldn’t say that.

For the rest of the time I know this Tom guy I will have to be known as Martha. Great. And he likes art. Double great. GREAT!

“I’m not really an art guy. I came with a couple friends who love this stuff, but I’m completely lost beyond photos like this,” he said.

Why the fuck didn’t you just tell her your real name? When you eventually do she’ll think you’re a freak and then whatever great things you two would have shared will now go by the wayside because you decided to be Tom and not Ben. Fuck!

“That’s totally fair. I love all things like this but I’m actually on my way out now,” she said.

Where the hell are you going? Home? Out by yourself? Get it together Martha! Damnit! Get it together Megan!

“Ah, fair enough. Can I entice you to stay for just one more drink? My friends gave me extra tickets.” He pulled a couple of the complimentary drink tickets out of his pocket and raised an eyebrow as a smirk crossed his lips.

Did you just say ‘entice’? Entice? You sound like a kidnapper! Can I entice you with a chocolate bar and some skittles? Ben, you are an idiot! And possibly a kidnapper!

Megan looked down at the last sip in her champagne glass.

“That sounds perfect,” she said.

They walked in silence across the dimly lit center of the room to the bar. Ben ordered them two glasses of champagne and as he handed her the glass she knew that if the truth about her lie were to come out, he would be more receptive to it if he was a bit tipsy. They each took a sip and settled into a couch against the wall opposite the front doors.

“So what do you do when not following your friends to art shows?” she said.

“Mostly eat and sleep, but for rent I run a used book store that my grandfather started years ago.”

What the fuck Ben? You’ve read three books in your life!

“Oh that’s cool! I love books. Where abouts is it?”

“On Bloor in the Annex. It used to be called “Seekers” but I changed the name to Ben’s books after my grandfather.”

“I remember Seekers. I used to go in there all the time. Can’t say I’ve ever seen you there though.”

Well Megan, that’s because you’ve never been there.

“I just recently took it over so I’m there now pretty much every day,” he said and nodded his head far too many times as though this would will his lie into becoming truth. “What do you do?”

“I’m a vet at a clinic on Queen near Spadina. It was what I’ve wanted to do since I was young,” she said.

Wow Megan, was that in between playing Stock Ticker and Monopoly, and reading the Business section of the paper? What the hell is wrong with you?

“Oh cool. Ya, I love animals too. I’ve always wanted a dog but my apartment is too small for one,” he said and looked down at his champagne willing it into his system.

“But you could bring it to the store and you could have one of those places that has a cute dog in it. And I know a great vet,” she said, knocking his elbow with hers.

Um, Megan, no you don’t. You don’t even know how to spell or even pronounce the whole word, that’s why you keep saying the short form, vet. Get out of this you crazy person!

“So, I do have to go unfortunately, but it was nice to meet you Tom,” she said before she stood up.

He stood just after and reached his hand out for another shake. “Martha, I do hope we will meet again.”

They shook hands and both took note of the other’s clammy nature. Ben raised his half full glass of champagne and Megan did the same with hers, two-thirds full. With one motion they both downed their drinks and Megan handed hers to him after a quick swallow.

“Thanks again Tom, see you around!” Before she had finished the words she had turned quickly and almost two-stepped  through the doors and into the night. She wanted to turn and see if he was watching her but she held back and turned toward home.

Her walk was filled with thoughts. What if he goes to the clinic to look for you? Should you just make a deal with them and pay them to lie for you? Maybe give them your card and say if a cute, nerdy guy comes in asking for Martha to give him this number? What kind of a person lies about who they are and then makes up a completely bullshit persona? You met at an art gallery, not on death row for hell’s sake! Okay, worse comes worse, he goes there and he finds out that Martha was a liar. Which means that you just have to live the rest of your life in the hope you don’t see him ever again and if you do, you will feign not knowing who he is and move on. Or you could just go to the bookstore and explain yourself. Fuck.

 

“No one named Tom works here,” said the scruffy man behind the book laden desk. Megan was pretty sure this guy had never had a stressful day in his life, or at least he wasn’t aware of the stress if it was there.

“He said the name is changing to ‘Ben’s Books’ and that his grandfather used to own it. Are you sure?” She looked in at the store as if Tom was going to pop out behind a bookshelf.

“As sure as I’ve never known a Tom in my life and my granddaughter hates books. If I left her the store she would sell it, contents and all.”

“Okay, well, thank you then,” she said.

Outside, she sat on the bench facing the store and wondered what to do next.

 

“I’m Martha,” the woman said, but this was not the Martha Ben had met at the gallery two nights previous.

“Ah, hi Martha, I’m Ben. Is there perhaps another Martha that works here?” How was he to go about describing her? She’s got your name but she has longer darker hair and greener eyes and she’s taller with fewer years on her frame. No. Just, no.

“Nope, I’m the one and only,” she said and let out a quick burst of laughter.

“I guess I must have been mistaken.”

Later at a café, after spending a half an hour staring at a cup of coffee missing the one sip he almost enjoyed earlier, Ben had a thought.

…life is supposed to be clear now and blurred in the future, Megan thought. In the two hours she had spent on the bench, this had been the one thought to which she would return, typically followed by Damnit Tom! Damnit Martha! Damnit Megan! Damnit books! Damnit photos! Damnit the future! Damnit the past! Damn Damning it!

 

He wasn’t lovesick, nor lovelorn, nor hopeless, but he did have a vision of the future and though blurry, it was of Martha standing at the top of that bridge waiting for him to take the step towards her. She liked that photo. She had to return to it at some point. If there was going to be a place to see her again it’s at that photo, he thought, and I will wait at the photo until she returns and if she doesn’t return then the future I saw with her will remain unfinished. And that would sucks a lot of balls. He envisioned her face when he broke the news of his inexplicable deceit and if that was the deal breaker – being a bit of a weirdo – at least he got the chance to tell the truth. It was better than never seeing her again.

Ben entered the gallery with blinders on. Nothing would break his focus. He would wait by the photo and if he got tired he would sit on the couch and wait some more. When he stopped and saw the empty wall where the picture had hung, he froze. He had never considered it could be gone. The picture was for him and Martha. What in the sweet fuck is this bullshit? he thought and turned toward the sound of rustling paper.

Behind the sales counter that had housed the bar the night of the opening, an attendant was wrapping up what looked like a piece the size of their photo. Half the counter was obscured so he couldn’t tell if this was for an absent or present guest. His vision blurred a tad and he began to rush the counter but stopped just short when he saw that familiar shade of hair. His eyes cleared as his body filled with nervous glee. He squeezed his hands into fists, a tactic he used to calm himself, and walked the remaining steps as casual as possible. Ben caught the attendant’s eye before Martha turned to face him and his heart sank as what he thought was dread crossed her face.

Do I tell her the truth? What if I don’t? What if I do? What the fuck is she going to say? What the fuck am I going to say? Who am I anymore? Did she buy the photo? Was it because of meeting me or just because she liked it?

“Hi,” he said. He stood stone still next to her now.

“Um, hi,” she said. A smile finally crossing her face.

Holy shit he’s here! What does this mean? I bought the picture first you can’t have it! Why is he standing like a statue? What a weirdo. Wait, Megan, you’re the weirdo you weirdo!

“I, ah, so I’m Ben,” he said reaching his hand out in hopes she would shake it like she had twice before, however, he was anticipating being hit with force in any of his most vulnerable places.

Okay sweet awesome amazing girl, please don’t aim for the junk. Just not the junk.

“Ben, eh?” she said and she took his hand. “I’m Megan, it’s nice to meet you.”

Dear Ben, Thank you for being as equally weird as me, at least for a little while! Love, Megan!

“Megan. Yes, it is nice to meet you,” he said with a smile.

“Just let me finish up here and then I would say we have a lot to talk about,” she said.

“I would say that’s true,” he said.


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 12; “L” is for Love

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Love, much like religion, is a bullshit pursuit that leaves those that believe in it and strive for it feeling worse off than if they had never heard of the word or concept. That is why it is perfect for stories. Love is simply just another way of saying the word conflict and conflict is the life blood of any and all stories, fiction or otherwise. Love and love stories are meant to have us feeling good and full of hope but really they are the bill of goods that drives conflict around the world, and at home as well. Let’s think about that for a second or sixty. People love too much? Conflict. People aren’t loved enough? Conflict. Love triangles? Triple the conflict! Forbidden love? Stories that involve people with names like Montague and Capulet and possibly illicit conflict! Unrequited love and all the pathetic adoration that comes with it? Conflict with lots of masturbation!

I could go on for a while about the stupidity of love, so let’s focus on the writing aspect with a bit more depth, specifically with respect to unorthodox and/or unique love stories. Yes, traditional “boy meets girl, they love, they fight, they fall apart and get back together” stories will never fail but at the same time they are as stale as the PG under-the-covers-bra-still-on-missionary-guy-must-have-a-really-long-penis-to-be-in-that-position sex that occurs between their pages or credit scenes. What about adding a LGBTQ element? Or a sexual fetish? What about an age difference? Or a non-sexual fetish? Using fetish twice in the same post is enough I think, so what about adding or subtracting something to or from the story. Adding something more than one person’s unwillingness to commit or a character’s need for maturity can only enhance the love story and, by extension, the story overall. A romantic (love) subplot with a non-traditional or unorthodox element can be a brilliant move for a story because it fleshes things out while keeping things fetish, I mean, fresh.

In the last 5-7 years, I have noticed more films being made with the non-traditional love twist. Food, cars, running, addiction, tattoos, height, weight, multiple partners, open relationships, pegging, voyeurism, and BDSM are all becoming more a part of the mainstream with respect to sex and love in non-pornographic film. At first I was reluctant to watch some of them because I need to relate to characters in the media I consume. In books, because there is more internal thought taking place, I can relate to a character that lives in Barcelona and grew up the son of a bookseller. In film, because everything is much more visual with less time for intense introspection, I find it harder to relate to characters with more unique tendencies. Regardless of how I relate – because remember, who the fuck am I? – adding what used to be called “spice” to your characters’ lives, relationships, and sexual antics will only enhance the story because it adds depth and will speak to more people than you think.

Love is bullshit. No, wait, love is conflict and conflict is awesome so I guess love is awesome then as well. There has to be some faulty logic there. Before I search for the logic gap, I’m off to read Savage Love – an amazing column coordinated by Dan Savage – for inspiration but also provides great insight into what really goes on in people’s hearts, minds, and bedrooms. Thank you Dan!


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 11; “K” is for “Kill Your Babies”

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Before the ruckus starts, notice the quotations around “kill your babies” in the title. It’s an editing phrase, not a suggestion for murder. Okay, well, yes, the murdering of words, but not of people, babies or otherwise. I’m going to stop talking about murder now.

Picture this! You sit down at your desk and have nothing coming from your brain hole. Nothing. You stare out the window behind you because you didn’t have the foresight to place your desk in front of said window. Instead, you placed your desk facing the wall because you felt the faltering stucco would be more of an inspiration. Questionable furniture placement aside, you turn from the window and stare back at the blank page and occasionally glancing at the worst stucco job ever that lives behind. You feel like all of those times you railed against writer’s block have now come back to haunt you, because when you railed you railed hard. Harder than you’ve ever railed against anything in your life. Harder than when you railed against the people that were prostesting water. (Sidenote: I am a time traveler and in the future people will protest water. I’m still hazy on this because it happened the day I left as I couldn’t deal with the water haters anymore.) Anyway, you sit and stare. Even when you close your eyes after rubbing them as though you had a raging case of pink eye, you are staring. Staring at the blank, dead canvas that used to hold all of your great ideas. Then. THEN! Then you feel it. You actually feel it in every cavity before you see it and before it floods your brain with its amazingness. It’s an idea. It’s THE idea. The greatest idea you have ever had. The greatest idea anyone with a pulse has ever had. The best damn thing since sliced bread. (In the future pre-sliced bread is still one of the best we’ve come up with.) And you start typing. The first twenty words are spelled so poorly that when you stop to read them and make sure you aren’t dreaming you re-write them and then keep the momentum up because this idea just keeps coming. And then, you finish. You thought it would have been more than just a scene with a few lines of dialogue and some awesome conflict, but you read it for what feels like thirty different times. Each time it has you laughing, crying, peeing and filled with love and then you realize this might be THE GREATEST CREATION SINCE YOU WERE CONCEIVED!

Here’s where things go to shit and the killing has to begin. “Kill your babies” is a literary and editing term and it refers to a piece of writing that the writer so adores they would never consider cutting it to make the overall work better. To the writer, these pages or paragraphs are the best they have ever and will ever write. But they don’t work for the overall project. They might be great, but they just don’t work. Take the advice of your trusted beta-readers and editors. Cut the words. “Kill your babies.” You don’t have to erase them altogether. Maybe this “baby” will work in another project. But for the love of great writing everywhere, cease and desist! Cut (and paste elsewhere)! “Kill!” Edit!

To be more precise – which goes against my own advice in the previous paragraphs of this column – keeping the part you love in the piece is the difference between the work being known as a shitface and being known as a face, and isn’t a face better without shit on it?


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 10; “J” is for Jerkstore

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Do we all remember the Seinfeld episode where George gets slammed by a co-worker for eating too many shrimp and George being George can’t think of a good comeback so George being George again spends way too much time trying to think of a witty comeback to shoot down this co-worker but then fails again when his comeback, while funny, shits the bed because his co-worker has a better comeback? I need to take a breath before continuing. Okay. We can say two things about this in terms of writing.

The first is that this is brilliant writing for character. Only George Costanza would be so riled up by something such as this to spend an umpteenth amount of time dissecting words, society, and culture and the dynamics of the “comeback line”. Can you picture Jerry, Elaine, or Kramer doing the same thing? Definitely not. Jerry would have a great comeback, Elaine would probably stare at the person with a classic Elaine look of disdain, and Kramer would just keep eating the shrimp because who cares who called, these shrimp are great! The writers for this show knew their characters well and that is why it succeeded as it did because the audience was never drawn away from the story by questioning the characters behaviour. And it was just ridiculous and funny.

The second is about second looks with respect to the initial stages of telling a story. Early drafts are and should be crap, and sometimes incomplete. The suckage level of an early draft of any piece of writing should directly relate to the greatness level of the final product. I have zero statistics on this “fact” beyond the big assumption that if a writer starts out with a terrible first draft they will put in the hard work necessary to make it better in every way conceivable. They will seek any means to make it the best it can be. Unless they quit. But quitting is for quitters. Anyway, second looks. Every piece of writing needs a second (third, fourth…twentieth) look, because as writers we read, and experience things every day that inform our work and have the ability to enhance it. Detraction is also a possibility but I’m stubborn and I choose to focus on enhancing. Anyway, maybe it’s best you didn’t come up with everything all at once because you needed to live and experience to get more perspective to write the scene, story, or article.

How does that relate to George Costanza? George’s first draft of his comeback was non-existent. He didn’t have one. So he went and used his brain power and worked hard at crafting the greatest retort in human history. One that would be recorded in the Annals of Being an Asshole. He worked hard and it paid off, except George being George, his co-worker did better and the whole thing fell flat. But he did work hard and came up with something that was better than the nothing he originally had. He was outduelled by a quicker wit. That happens. Some writers need thirty drafts and some only need ten, but every writer needs a second look, draft, beer, or helping of shrimp. All I know is, “(T)hese pretzels are making me thirsty.”


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 9; “I” is for Interconnection

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This column is more of a web as opposed to a list because interconnection is like that. Every letter is connected to every other letter because everything I write about here is all connected to writing. And everything in writing is all connected as well. Characters, settings, time periods, yup all are, or should be connected. Why a story happens during a certain year matters for the characters you have created for that story, and the places they interact also should play a huge role. Otherwise why the hell did you choose that person in that place at that time?

One of my favourite aspects of interconnection occurs when an author with some cache interconnects characters or places from one story to another. Christopher Moore does this with brilliance in his novels You Suck and A Dirty Job. To elaborate would ruin it. Read the trilogy that includes You Suck and then read A Dirty Job and you’ll get what I’m saying. Or read them the other way around as I did, it doesn’t matter, just read the friggin’ awesome books. Another example is Castle Rock, Maine, a fictional town that is the setting for many of Stephen King’s stories.

Interconnection at its most basic is necessary because it helps clearly define the “why” behind your story. At its most glamourous it’s a nice “easter egg” for readers that won’t drag them away from the page for too long. Even if it does it will be because they are thinking about another piece of your writing as opposed to whispering “what the fuck?” to themselves before they heave your hard work against the wall and pick up another book by someone who gave a damn about interconnection.


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