Tag Archives: Edior-in-Chief: Clayton Bye

Stuff It by Stuart Carruthers

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The light streamed through the large window and cast dark shadows around the otherwise white room. Sara opened her eyes. She didn’t know where she was, it looked like a hotel room, the white linen was soft to the touch and the duvet that covered her was full and voluptuous. It was expensive. But there was something wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on it. There was something subtly out of place. She got out of bed and walked over to the window and looked down, where she could see cars and people scurrying around like mice.

Behind her she heard the door open. She wanted to turn around, but either through fear or bloody-mindedness, she kept looking out through the glass.

“Sara, I’m Doctor Smith.”

“A doctor,” she said to the window, “am I sick?

“Please sit down, Miss Jones.”

“Miss Jones? Why the change of address?”

“Miss Jones, I really must insist that you come and sit down.” The tone was firm and one of a person who was used to getting his own way. Sara complied.

“So Doctor, what’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing that a short stay here won’t cure. But before we get into that let’s talk about you.

“You’re Sara Jones and you live at this address?” He showed her his clipboard. She nodded in confirmation. “Excellent, excellent. You have a good income Miss Jones, one that many would envy, especially for a single person. Lots of disposable income.”

“I’ve worked hard and had a degree of luck,” she answered defensively.

“Of course, of course. Nobody resents you, please don’t take offense. I’m just checking a few facts.”

The questions went on for a while and the doctor eventually left, without telling her why she was there or how she got there. When she tried the door, she was pleasantly surprised to find it unlocked. Having dressed in her own clothes that were neatly folded in the white chest of drawers, she walked along the corridor until she found a lift. It arrived after she pressed the down button, but nothing happened.

A voice came from a speaker. “Miss Jones you can only go to the roof, where you will find the canteen and the garden. The other buttons won’t work for you at this time.”

She pressed “R”.

When the elevator stopped, the doors opened on a Japanese garden covered by glass panels to keep the elements out. Around her she heard the sound of flowing water and the splashing of orange and white koi leaping in excitement at being fed.

Sara sat on one the benches that bordered the area. She was alone and she disappeared into her thoughts, trying to make sense of the situation.

“Miss  Jones.”

Startled, Sara’s almost jumped, but she controlled the impulse. Her job relied on not showing emotions, and she was well rewarded for this ability.

“Doctor Smith. Do you have any more questions?”

“No, but I may have some answers. This is a recovery home; you’re here to help us determine how we can help you recover from an illness. You will be released when we deem you are well enough to return to society. Your salary is still being paid and you’ll actually be able to work from here for the duration of your stay. There are full office facilities on the floor below and your laptop has been put in your secure locker. Here’s the key. Just return it when you return to your room. There are a few rules whilst you’re here, but you’ll be advised of those if you come across them.”

“What am I recovering from exactly?”

“Your spending habits.”

“But, but I buy very little!”

“And that is the problem. You don’t have enough stuff. Your credit cards are hardly used; your store cards have only the essentials registered. We’ve inventoried your home and quite frankly it’s very disappointing. You have one TV, one computer—a laptop—and a cell phone that quite frankly should be in a museum. You don’t even have a car; your bike is 15 years old. Your bank accounts show that you’re not living beyond your means or even close to it. You do, to your credit, have a bit of an alcohol problem and you eat out quite a lot, and a personal trainer helps you keep trim. Sorry, we can’t have him here, but there is a gym and pool two floors down.

“The thing is you’re supposed to want more.  A person in your position should have two televisions, a good selection of never used kitchen gadgets hiding in cupboards, many electronic gadgets that have long ceased to be useful, and of course lots of clothes that you hardly ever wear. Are you aware that interest rates are kept deliberately low to encourage you not to save and to spend more on credit?”

“Are you saying that not being a shopaholic is a crime?”

“Not technically, but it is an anomaly and as such is reason enough to have you detained here.”

“So, what do I have to do to get out of here? Promise that I’ll buy more junk? Max out my credit cards on Amazon? What do you want?”

“Well that would help, but it would only be a short term fix and you’d soon slip back into your old habits. What you’re here for is a long-term resolution, not just for you but so we can learn how to help all those who suffer in the same way. Thanks to MRI scanners, we know how to target most people’s sweet spots and we can target advertising in such a way as to get 62 percent of the population to buy anything we sell them. But there are a few of you on whom these methods just don’t work. We need to know why. You’ll be allowed to leave once we’ve found the reason.”

 ***

The days and weeks dragged by as Sara worked, exercised, and was tested, prodded, and interviewed over and over. Eventually she was let go. One day she stepped into the lift to go to the office. She pushed the button, but instead of going up the elevator automatically went down to the basement. There she was met by a driver and shown to a black car with tinted windows. In the back was an open bottle of champagne with a note around the neck.

“Thank you for your patience Miss Jones.”

Sara poured herself a glass of wine, relaxed back into the embracing seats and watched the television. It was a new sitcom sitcom. Sara chuckled at some of the jokes. She didn’t notice any advertising. But she had this feeling, a strange urge to buy a new bicycle and, yes, she really did need to upgrade her cell phone.

***

Stuart Carruthers writes speculative fiction and childrens stories and can be found on Amazon. He lives in Taiwan with his wife and two young kids.

WRITERS MUST BE SELF-DISCIPLINED

Sal at Computer.1998

Defined as “the training of oneself for the sake of improvement,“ self-discipline must be in the repertoire of all serious writers. To approach the writing craft without it is analogous to planning a road trip across the country on an empty tank of gas. You may entertain imaginative thoughts of sunny days in California, but the reality is you are not leaving frigid Maine without gas.

How do writers become self-disciplined? The same way champion boxers or ballplayers or dancers or any crafts people do: they practice until they are as near perfect as they can possibly be. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen immediately. It’s an ongoing process that eventually separates those who truly want to be excellent at what they do from those who enjoy dallying from one activity to another. It has been said that we all have a book inside us, but without self-discipline that book remains unwritten, an empty boast, a snippet of party conversation.

As do all writers, I have some suggestions that might help develop self-discipline.

  1. Become a reader.

It is true that many writers read so avidly they claim to have little time to write. Learn to balance reading and writing so that neither becomes an excuse to avoid the other. In the biographies of writers we discover without surprise their love of reading. Most began writing at an early age, inspired by the literature they were reading at the time. The excitement of a Poe mystery, a Stevenson adventure on the high seas, a Dumas intrigue, a Chandler crime noir –– Why wouldn’t these books encourage young readers to write? Reading can do that. And while we all read, our brains infuse us with the ability to develop plots, effectively utilize dialogue, and vary the components of sentence and paragraph lengths, types of writing, and placement of foreshadowing and suspense.

  1. Write every day.

Carry a small pocket pad and pen. Jot down ideas as they come to you. Refer to them later in your writing session. I have found this effective all of my writing life. I jot down an interesting line of dialogue, a scene of slow-moving traffic in a heavy snowfall, a sentence that might become an arresting hook in a story, a dream sequence. The pad allows us to capture the moment; otherwise, like most night dreams they fade away.

Sharon and I used to take walks in the local graveyard where I would jot down tombstone names to use later in stories.

The daily habit of writing facilitates the act of writing just as the daily habit of shooting basketballs into hoops leads to hardly any misses. Don’t write only when the spirit moves you. Awaiting the arrival of the muse is not amusing to me. How often does she visit? Why does she appear in my head at my busiest time, compelling me to send her away? If writers apply their craft on a daily basis, they can dismiss the idea of a muse who delivers from her goody basket poems and stories. To be once-in-awhile writers is to be dabblers and nothing more.

There is a story about Ernest Hemingway coming to his typewriter every single day and banging away at the keys when ideas were dancing or bar-fighting in his head. One time he sat there dry as a bone. He typed the word “the” to get started, but nothing followed so he typed “the” again…and again…and again, until the page was filled with that repetitive article “the.” Then all at once the second word came…and the third…and on and on, page after page. Hemingway was not one to toss perseverance to the winds. He stuck to it because he was highly self-disciplined which led him to being highly and successfully productive. We ought best to follow his lead.

  1. Learn the writing craft.

What upsets me is the erroneous conception that word usage matters little if the story is worth telling. Who told them that? I have seen writers submit stories with blatant mistakes in grammar and then wonder why they were rejected. As an editor for several years, I would read sentences like the following: “She laid down in bed.” She laid what down in bed? “The minister had rang the bell.” Really? “Please come with Jack and I.”

Is it the editor’s job to correct submitted work? “She lay down in bed.” “The minister had rung the bell.” “Please come with Jack and me.”

Writers need to have handy at their elbows an English handbook, a dictionary, and for occasional reference, a thesaurus. They need to seriously school themselves in the language in which they are writing or incur the reader’s doubt as to how proficient they are in telling their stories.

  1. Create a writing challenge.

There is nothing like a word puzzle to keep the creative juices flowing. One way might be to open your dictionary and blindly point to a word or two and use them in your opening sentence.

Another example would be to write a flash without the use of a particular letter. In the following I did not include the vowel a. I call this “No A, José.”

“If I could I’d get out of this town,” Gus expressed without uttering even one letter a.

“How come?” Tessie inquired. “Why is it the word police treat us so cruel, coldly depriving us of one stinking letter? We’re left with twenty-five. How odd.”

“It’s not even odd,” spoke Gus.

“Which? Even or odd?”

Gus lifted his upper lip.  “It’s preposterously evil to rob us of completely free expression, even or odd. How will they punish us next? Forbid the world to use y or c or f?

“Drink your coffee, Gus. Things could be worse.”

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I welcome you to add your own suggestions in an attempt to help writers improve their craft.

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Sal Buttaci retired from teaching in 2007 and now lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia. He writes everyday in an attempt to improve his craft. Sal is the author of two flash collections published by All Things That Matter Press and available at Amazon.com: Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts.

In Search of Amazing Grace By D. M. Pirrone

 

BDay Cake

I turned fifty last September. A mere half-century. A spring chicken. They say the first sixty years are the hardest. Or is that the first seventy? What with advances in medical technology (for those who can afford it), is eighty the new forty? I should ask my mother. She’s eighty-three and recovering beautifully from surgery for an arthritic knee. Tough old bird, my mom. I should be that robust when I’m her age.

Age hasn’t been a fun subject for me recently. I had no problem turning forty. Forty didn’t feel old. Actually, it was kind of fun. I finally qualified as a “middle-aged crank”—old enough to demand that mannerless, random strangers pick up their litter or put their grocery carts away properly instead of leaving them any old where in the parking lot. “The rules don’t apply to you, do they? Your mother is not here to pick up after you. What, were you born in a barn?” Not that I ever did any of this, but it was amusing to think about. In my real life, I’d been married a decade, just had my second kid, published my first novel and finished my second, and felt like I was hitting my stride. Forty gave me gravitas without making it a synonym for decline.

Fifty is different. Fifty is weird. I bless my friends in their latter fifties or sixties who scoff gently at me when I talk of feeling old. They are dynamos, these women and men. As energetic as any youngster of thirty-something, but with a lot more grit because of the life lessons under their belts. I want to be where they are, aware of their years but not letting it matter a damn. I want it not to matter that, barring extremely good luck in the genetics department, I now have less time remaining to me than I’ve already lived. I’m on the downslope, and all of a sudden it seems there aren’t many years left to accomplish things. Write all those novels, see all those foreign places, learn to speak Gaelic or read Hebrew or play the Celtic harp. Where did the time go? How do I carve out enough of what’s left between writing, earning a living, running the house, being a mom, and everything else on my daily to-do list?

I know why fifty is weird. Our family lost my mother-in-law and my dad, in late 2011 and 2012 respectively. Mama Sylvia right before Thanksgiving, my father two days before Christmas. We’re down by half in our vanguard generation—the parents who stand in the gap between us and death, with our children coming up on the road of life behind us. We still have my mother, and my father-in-law, but I can see myself moving toward the vanguard spot, and I’m not ready. Is anyone, ever?

Part of life is that it moves on. Usually, though, we’re not so aware of how relentless that process is. We bury that knowledge under ordinary joys and concerns, taking each day for granted. Until something happens—a loss, a life-change, a birthday with a certain number attached—and awareness bursts through like light through clouds. “I was blind, but now I see.” Amazing Grace.

Maybe it is an amazing grace, to see that downslope and not be afraid of it. Or to be something else as well. Inspired, energized, courageous. Determined not to drift, to make what we can of our moments and treasure them as they pass. Even the ordinary ones. Maybe especially those.

Okay, fifty. I see your gauntlet now, thrown down at my feet. Time to step forward and pick it up. I hope… oh, I hope I’m ready.

D. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, is a writer, audiobook narrator and editor. This is her first personal essay for The Write Room blog. Feel free to check out her author website at www.dmpirrone.net and her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes, at www.wordnrd.wordpress.com.

God Hates a Coward by R.L. Cherry

 

R Cherry 1

As an avid game player, I have oft enjoyed the board game Risk.  It is aptly named, for to win you must eliminate all of your opponents to become the ruler of the world.  Often there is a point where you must decide to risk either wiping out another player (thereby gaining your opponent’s countries and any men-replacement cards) or weakening yourself so much that another player will be able to easily destroy you.  If you act too soon and without enough men, you will fail and lose.  If you hesitate too long, you might lose any advantage you have and again lose the game.  It is a matter of wisely assessing the options and then taking an educated gamble.  However, even if you have correctly evaluated the best course of action, you might fail.  As in life, there are no sure things.  In Risk, you use dice to determine the outcome.  In life, depending on your world view, there is the will of God, fate, luck, or some combination of these factors that affect the outcome.  When I played Risk with friends I have had since high school and there came that point of stepping off the edge, trusting your wisdom and the dice, we had a saying.  “God hates a coward.”  Then you rolled the dice and took your chances.

 

Just like “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” don’t look for that quote in the Bible.  I won’t attest to its theological soundness, but there is an element of truth.  If you never risk anything, you won’t win the game and will miss out on much of life.  Now don’t take this as an endorsement of gambling everything on a roll of the dice.  Las Vegas has built huge, glitzy casinos from gamblers with that philosophy.  Try to be logical rather than rash in decisions.  However, there are times in life when to take that “leap of faith.”  A person’s religious path is, of course, the obvious one.  It is not provable by any accepted test, yet we cast our lots (and possible afterlife) with the ones we choose.  But what about all the other ones in life, like what we do with money, love and what we do with our lives?   If we never risk, we will never win.  But always logically evaluate the risk of failure against the potential return.

 

First, consider money.  Putting your bankroll on “Hard 6” on the crap table will most likely help MGM Mirage’s City Center casino pay off its mortgage rather than make you rich.  It’s risk versus return.  Huge risks may have the potential for high return, but seldom pay off.  While fortune, as Latin proverb says, may favor the bold, it rarely favors the stupid.  Not being one to trust my financial fate to cards or dice, I may be a little prejudiced, but gambling in markets where I can make an educated evaluation rather than a gut one has been my policy.  While God might hate a coward, He does not love a sucker.  I do not advocate stuffing all your money in a mattress or, not much better, putting it all in the bank.  With interest rates what they are, after taxes and inflation, banks are a losing proposition.  Personally, I go for a balanced portfolio of stocks, real estate and secure bonds.  However, this is not an investment seminar, so I will just say don’t bet all your money in Vegas or stuff it in your Serta.  Take wise risks.  No charge for this advice.
My next example is love.  Being a guy, I think it’s more difficult for a guy in the dating world.  Well, at least it was in my day when we rode our dinosaurs on weekend cruises.  Asking a girl out had the risk of refusal or, worse yet, acceptance only because no one else had asked.  I might add that I have a very attractive older sister who used to use guys like a tube of toothpaste (squeeze all you could get out of them, then toss them aside), so I was cautious.   Yet if I had not risked asking the woman who is my wife of forty-one years on a date, my life would have been rather empty.  Paul Simon wrote, “If I never loved, I never would have cried.”  Yet, who wants to be a rock, an island?  The risk of pain is worth the return of love.

 

I could go on, but I am sure everyone reading this understands the concept.  There are many pundits who give advice on the money aspect and columns in the newspaper that give advice on love, yet there is a common thread.  Don’t rush into things, but be willing to take a risk.  To quote the Bard, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” So, when you have a decision to make, even if it requires a bit of risk, remember my motto, “God hates a coward.”

 

A native Californian, R.L. Cherry has a penchant for living in places that inspire him. That has included five years on the Isle of Man in the British Isles and now his residence in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, Gold Rush Country. A classic car and hot rod enthusiast, Ron loves to share his his insights and plots. Get to know him at http://www.rlcherry.com/

 

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