10/19/16

Butt in seat: 0358 (The dog woke me up early).

Word count: N/A

Focus: World-building and plotting; prep for NaNoWriMo

Comment: Despite waking early, thanks to the furry beast that wouldn’t settle back down, I had a hard time ramping up to work this morning.  I found myself floating around the internets instead of writing.  Perhaps this is because I did not have a specific writing goal for today.  Wing-it = surf’s up?  So, I decided that I needed to come up with a production schedule.  I started to sketch out the schedule but it isn’t settled quite yet (and hence won’t yet be posted here).  I also spent about an hour and half world-building and plotting.  Right now, the game isn’t about word production, it’s about prepping for maximum productivity during NaNoWriMo.

Flash Fiction Challenge – A Laughing Matter Part II

Chuck Wendig is doing something really cool with his Flash Fiction Challenges in October. Basically, it’s an experiment in collaborative writing.  One person starts a scary story by writing Act I (last week).  A second person picks it up and writes Act II (this week) and next week a third person will write Act III.  I picked up a frightening clown story started by Pavowski.  I’ve copied his text here for simplified reading, but make sure you check out his site–it’s pretty cool.  My new text starts immediately after his.  (He also extended the story that I started last week.  You can read that one here).


A Laughing Matter

(Part I–by Pavowski)

Scowling through the mirror at Earl is a face as twisted as the ones in his nightmares.

One hand tightens on the brown bottle, the other on the glass. The cubes swirl and clink as he pours a drink too many and tosses it back.

“You’re just not making them laugh like you used to, big guy.” Max had given him a sorry grin, like a dog who’s eaten your dinner but who knows you’re not going to do a damned thing about it. “Nothing personal.”

And just like that, here he is, cleaning his crap out of the dressing room for the last time. Over the monitor, Earl can hear the trite jokes from some new kid on the circuit — name of Zamir, of all things, riffing on his foreign parents — to what sounds like an ocean of raucous laughter.

A sound Earl’s only ever from backstage; never in person.

The glass flies from his hand and shatters the mirror, and now it’s not a single scowling mask that looks back at him, but a dozen. Earl stares himself down for a good, hard minute, then grabs his jacket, frayed elbows and all, and beats it.

There’s a storm rolling in. The first fat drops are just starting to fall, but the real action’s a long way off, yet. A couple of drunks are hanging out, grinning at each other in that half-lidded, glassy-eyed way that you only see at one in the morning outside a comedy club. One of them recognizes Earl, and it begins.

“Hey, it’s the comedian.”

Earl knows what’s coming. He pulls up his collar and tries to walk by, but the guy’s in front of him, a hand on his chest, fruity, watered-down vodka on his breath. “You weren’t funny.”

“Sorry you didn’t like it.” Earl sighs. Tries to be contrite. “Look, talk to Max. Tell him Earl said to give you a few free passes for next week.” Max will never give this guy anything, but vodka breath doesn’t know that.

“What, so we can hear more lame jokes about your mother-in-law?”

Vodka-breath’s buddy thinks this is really funny. He bursts out in a laugh that sounds like a choking horse. Again, the sound of laughter that isn’t for him burns away at Earl worse than the bourbon burning through his guts.

Everybody thinks they know what funny is, but they don’t, not really. They don’t laugh at Earl’s jokes. But they’ll laugh at their idiot friends making fun of Earl’s jokes, sure, no problem.

Earl stares at horse-laugh long enough for it to get real uncomfortable. “You think that’s funny? How about a knife in your spleen, think that’d be funny?”

A low rumble of thunder punctuates this, and the drunks back away real slow, watching Earl like he’s rabid.

“Thought not,” Earl mutters, and shoves his way past, making sure to give vodka-breath an elbow to the gut as he goes.

“Asshole.”

Then a bottle hits him in the back of the head, and everything goes dark to the sound of shattering glass.

#

Earl comes to — he’s not sure how much later — choking on the rainwater that’s puddling around him. His head hurts like hell; he rubs at it and his hand comes away hot and bloody. Lightning lights up the deluge that’s falling now, and the thunder rattles his skull.

The club is dark. Max. Probably saw Earl lying there when he left and didn’t do a damned thing to help him.

It’s the last straw.

#

Blue-lipped and shivering, Earl almost knocks the door to his cramped, moldy apartment off its hinges. He brushes past a sink full of dishes and a table covered with slowly decomposing takeout Chinese and makes for the bathroom.

It’s no mistake that his bathroom is set up like a green room; the apartment may be a shithole, but this is a shrine. His shaving kit, immaculately laid out by the sink. A couple of freshly-pressed towels hung on the rack. The bright lights overhead make him blink when he turns them on. Worn, curling pictures and newspaper clippings — over a dozen of each — are sandwiched between the frame and the mirror. Earl catches glimpses of himself in between as he looks back and forth. His father, his uncles, grandfathers and greats.

Down one side, he sees Samuel, the foppish Auguste in a frilled collar and big red nose. Randolph, a simple Whiteface in an oversized suit with white gloves. Freddy, the bumbling Tramp with a chewed-up derby and stippled-on stubble. All grinning in that carefree, gleeful way that clowns have, like even behind all the paint and the makeup and the oversized shoes, they find the whole world funny.

You could say it’s a family business. One that Earl’s tried to avoid. “Cheap laughs,” he always called it. But clowning is in his blood, he knows that, now, as he sees his eyes reflected in the pale masks.

But the other side of the mirror is in his blood, too. Tri-Cities Terror. Seaside Strangler. The Knife in the Night. They’re Earl’s family, too, and their mugshots stare back at him with the same clownish grin as the others, minus the makeup.

If psychology were a thing Earl’s family ever bothered with, they might have made something of the checkered legacy he has inherited. All Earl knows as the storm pounds on the windows is that he tried, he really did. He only wanted to kill them with laughter.

Now, he thinks as he reaches for the greasepaint, he’s just going to kill them.

(Part II–by me)

Dave slowly rose from the driver’s side and gingerly walked to the backseat.  Taking a deep breath, he used his right hand to steady himself on the roof of his Toyota as he leaned down to grab the briefcase with his left.  Why did he let Nick talk him into vodka?  Vodka always gave him the worst hangovers.  Even two days later, he was still caught in its grip.

One foot in front of the other.

At five minutes past eight, the elevator finally opened to the sea of cubicles on the twenty-sixth floor. How many deadbeats did his team have to call today before they could go home?  He hoped it would be less than 10,000—a light day.  There are a lot of deadbeats out there.

Nick, seemingly having made a full recovery, stood with Joe, Randal and Gene by the coffee maker.  Why weren’t they on the phones?  Ugh; its going to be a long day.

“Hey, champ!” Nick gave him his answer and they all laughed.  How can he be joking?  For all they knew, that guy died in the street.  The cops could come drag them both out of here at any second.

“Man Dave, I wish I would have stayed to see you lay out that loser,” said Joe.  “He was a drag, man.”

Dave opened his mouth to respond but Nick beat him to it: “Damn right you should have stayed.  But you had to be a pussy and go home early.”  Nick punched Joe’s arm as he spoke.

Dave’s brow furrowed and he wiped his forehead with his palm.  “Nah, man.  I shouldn’t have hit him like that.  He was wasted.  It was a shit move.”

The four of them stood silent for half a second before Nick broke in.  “Whatever, man.  He elbowed you first.”  Nick put his arm around Dave’s shoulder.  “All I know is that you’re going to be one hell of a father.  No one’s gonna be able to step to your family and get a away with it.”  They started walking across the room to Dave’s cube.  “Congrats again on kiddo number one.  When is Jeannie due again?”

“Not for five months,” Dave said, happy to be talking about anything else.

“To bad she can’t drink.  Anna and I wanted to see if you guys would go back to A Laughing Matter with us this Friday.  It’s going to be Zamir’s first headline and that dude is funny,” Nick said stopping in front of Dave’s cube.

“I don’t know man.  What if that guy is there again?  It could be trouble.”

“Yeah, trouble for him.  Besides, isn’t Jeannie like a special forces badass or something?” Nick asked.

“Something like that.  She wasn’t technically in special operations but she did all of the same training and missions.  Something about women not technically being part of combat units.  But, yeah, I’ll see what she says.”

 

###

 

“Cranberry juice and sprite?” the waiter said it too loud, announcing the non-drinker to everyone in the cozy venue.  Hesitantly, Jeannie raised her hand.

“You’re absolutely radiant,” Anna said as she reached for her own glass.  “I’m so happy for you both.”

“Thanks,” Jeannie answered as she clank her glass first against Anna’s and then Nick’s.  “And thanks for calling to invite us out.  This should be good.”

The lights dimmed as the MC stepped out onto the apron and into the spotlight.  “Hi, everyone. And welcome to A Laughing Matter.  I’m Max, the owner of this little dive.”

A commotion backstage, the banging of heavy equipment, briefly interrupted Max’s intro.  But he quickly recovered and continued with the warm-up, apparently unconcerned.  “And tonight I have the pleasure of introducing a first time headliner that is sure to get a laugh.  He promises it will be a completely new Halloween show like unlike anything you’ve seen before.  Without further ado, please put your hands together for Zany Zamir!”

Max quickly stepped back into the right wing as the main curtain began to open.  The audience gasped as it revealed Zamir slowly turning in the air, an orange cord connecting his neck to the lighting truss above.  His face was plump and purple, eyes bulging out, unblinking.

“Damn.  That’s one hell of a makeup job,” observed Nick as the audience shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.  A second or two later, Max came flying into view from stage right, similarly strung up to the truss.  Max was grabbing at the orange cord with both hands as his legs flailed wildly beneath him.  Nick chuckled when Max slammed into Zamir like some sort of morbid pendulum.

“This isn’t funny.  I’m out of here,” Jeannie said already making her way to the exit.

By the time they reached the back of the club, Max had stopped struggling and a loud comfortableness had spread throughout the crowd.  Jeannie pushed against the door but it didn’t budge.  She stepped into it and pushed harder.  Nothing.  Nick pushed her to the side and tried the door again.  Still nothing.

They turned back to the stage to see a terrifying clown—white face and red nose, wearing a prison jump suit—walking to the mic. One hand held a submachine gun while the other hand was raised to his face, index finger extended in front of a huge, fang-filled smile.

“Ehem. Mic check. One, two.” He slapped the mic with his free hand.  “Now, now.  Dont’ cry.  Please have a seat.  Zamir asked me to stand in for him tonight.  Evidently, he’s tied up.”

Nick and Dave looked at each other and simultaneously threw their shoulders into the door.  It still didn’t budge.

“What’s the hurry back there?  The show’s just getting started.”  The clown held his free hand up as a visor and looked across the audience to the exit door.  “Well, well.  This really is my lucky night.  If it isn’t vodka-breath and horse-laugh. Come on up here you two.  This routine calls for…audience participation.”

10/17/16

Butt in seat: 0446

Word count: 382

Focus: Plotting/world-building/research/experimental intros

Comment: This is probably the case with most novels, but I feel like the beginning is, by far, the hardest part of this story.  My goal is to create a world based on what we know about pre-colonial Native American society that could just as easily be a dystopian future.  I feel like I’m honing in that in terms of style and tone.  Getting closer to where I need to be for NaNoWriMo.

Flash Fiction Challenge

Below is a little thing I wrote for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge.  The assignment was to write the first act of a scary short story.  Hopefully, someone will pick it up and finish it (I assume as next week’s challenge).  Enjoy.


               Finally some real rain—a decisive, if not delinquent, increase in ferocity compared to the drizzle that had hung suspended, noncommittal in the air for days.  Water dripped from his longcoat as Josiah Leech lifted the last of the fancy trunks not yet aboard.  His jaw tightened as he turned to make his way back to the Trinity.  Whatever was locked in this particular trunk made it heavier than the others by far.

               “Mud. 

               “That’s what April showers bring.  

                “And so do March showers.  And May showers. And June showers.  

                “Mud.  Mud.  Fuckin’ mud,” he murmured as he trudged on, stubbornly wrenching his boots from the mire with each soggy step until, at last, he reached the docks. 

                Josiah’s stride narrowed to cross the thin, roughhewn board that connected the old galleon to the dock, but his pace never slowed.  Just short of his destination, Josiah’s muddy right boot lost grip of the wood and he staggered forward, hands forsaking the trunk in order to grab the railing and prevent the Thames from claiming him.  As he pulled himself back to his feet and onto the main deck, he watched the trunk hit slide to a stop next to the deckhouse.  At least he had propelled it forward.  Through rotten teeth, crows in the riggings laughed down at him.

                “You’ll be payin’ recompense for damages caused by your imbecility,” said Bernard Ambrose.  Without so much as a glance up from the manifest, the ship’s quartermaster addressed the nearest deck hand.  “Master Clement, after securing the gangplank, do help Mr. Leach locate that trunk within Mr. Lambert’s stateroom.  The grandiosity of it is clearly too much for but one man to bear.”

                “Aye.”  Francis Clement’s mouth spoke agreement as his eyes told Josiah something else.  He too would rather be hoisting the normal cargo of woolen cloth instead of these thirty five haughty aristocrats and their weighty accoutrements.  But in this rare moment of restraint, Francis held his tongue until they were below deck.  “Gents will be the end of us.  Had you slipped but one step further back, you’d been crushed between hull and wall.  They know naught of what the sea brings yet they talk of hunting beasts and savages in uncharted lands.  Worse, they’ve steered Captain Hore and Mr. Ambrose to folly. We’ve too many these trunks and too few stores.”

                Josiah gave a single nod in agreement as he wondered from which gossiper the lad had stolen the words.  They were too keen for Francis’ own mind, having been with him for only two voyages.   “Aye, Francis.  Let’s get this done and get to our stations.” 

                The pair carried the trunk through a narrow passageway formed by planks that had been hastily thrown up in the aft hold as a means to create apartments for their esteemed passengers.  They rounded the last corner and dropped the trunk just inside the door of Mr. Lambert’s room.  A heavy thud spread across the deck, shaking the makeshift walls. 

                “Reckon we should open it?” Francis asked.  “Just to see.”  Josiah paused, unsure if he saw inquisitiveness or fear lurking in Francis’ eyes.  “Not to steal nothing.  Christ, Josiah.  I ain’t no thief.”

                “That’ll be quite enough lads.”  The steady voice came from somewhere inside the dark room.  Francis was so overcome with fright that his clumsy escape made Josiah think of a rat thrown overboard, contorting its body frantically in search of land isn’t there.  “You may be excused,” the voice continued.  Josiah left with a nod, never having seen its owner.

                Josiah approached the aft hatch and found clogged with sailors looking onto the main deck.  “What delays?” he asked, pushing through.  “I’m due at the wheel.”

                “The passengers,” responded the originally named Mr. Cook.  “They’re lined up at the rails like a boarding party of pirates.  Yet instead of bearing muskets, they stand in the pouring rain, waving to all of London as if to the Queen herself.”

                “Who do they suppose will dry their clothes and fancy hats?” asked Josiah, continuing to elbow through.

                “We could hang ‘em from the foremast,” said the cook.

               “The linens or the gentlemen?” Josiah asked as a matter of practicality. 

 ***

                During the voyage, the voyagers encountered storms typical of the North Atlantic and a few near collisions with icebergs hidden by fog.  Nevertheless, most days were smooth and uneventful, even if the crew did keep below deck more so than usual.  They weren’t so instructed.  They preferred it to watching the highborns preen and puke.

                Francis, or whoever he had parroted, was right about the stores; the crew had been on reduced rations for weeks when they finally spotted the New World.  Strangely, the passengers didn’t seem nearly as distraught about this as the crew would have expected.    Especially when repeated forays into the wilderness yielded nothing but hard roots and poultry herbs.

 ***

                “Ho, landing party ahoy.” The announcement came from the crow’s nest.  Josiah turned and gripped the railing with anticipation.  The gentlemen cared little for the daily chores, yet they seemed to relish the opportunity to take landing parties ashore in pursuit of food.

               “Mr. Lambert, what good news gives those with you cause to smile?”  Captain Hore greeted the men with hope in his eyes.

                 Grins now absent, five of the six who left a day ago climbed back aboard as Mr. Lambert responded.  “Not by Christ’s mercy, Captain.  This is a terrible place.  An awful creature came in the night and snatched young Mr. Clement.  He wailed with terrible fright as it carried him into the wood.” 

                “Did you see the beast?  Could it sustain us, just for a little while, if we return and overtake it?” asked Captain Hore in desperation.

                “Nay, Captain.  To be true, none saw this demon outright.  The good Mr. Cook, for he was the one lying closest to poor Mr. Clement, did say that he felt a terrible shiver preceding the snatch.  I fear that no good can come of another sortie.  We must press on.”

 Update: Check out act two here.  Or feel free to write your own!

 

10/13/16

Butt in seat: 0506

Word count: 779

Focus: Rework intro beats to be more historically accurate.

Comment: Both yesterday and today, I rode the exercise bike for 10 minutes before sitting down to work.  It seems to get the blood, and ideas, flowing.  I also listed to music while writing (Amazon music, alternative channel) and rather liked it.  Seems like I’m honing in on a decent morning routine.

10/12/16

Butt in seat: 0505

Word count: N/A

Focus: Research

As I mentioned yesterday, it is painfully obvious that I need to do more research.  So, I spent most of today reading through various sites related to pre-colonial Pokanoket culture and history.  Not surprisingly, the events sketched out in the current draft need reworked to improve their historical accuracy.  As it now stands, I’ve put both Epenow and Pechmo in the wrong geographical locations!  Moreover, I could not find any historical equivalent to the pneise trials and winter relocation practices described in the current draft.  While those ideas may be consistent with a general (mis?)understanding of Native American culture, I should be more careful to avoid such generalities.  So, my intent is to tie the early events in this story to actual historical practices of the Pokanoket tribes on Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard).

My short term plan will be to continue researching while sketching out key dialogue and action scenes that occur after Epenow’s capture with an eye towards amassing the research and story skeleton necessary for a productive NaNoWriMo in November.