Posts Tagged 'writing practice'

A spot of gothic romance

His eyes met hers. Her eyes met his. Their eyes met. Above their heads, black clouds formed, the winds began to howl and shake. Someone must die.

“In these terrible times, sir, I find it best to speak rarely and gently,” she said, looking back down at her needlework. Her voice was light and firm.

“Yes, indeed, m’lady, I understand that a raised voice would be improvident,” he said, reaching to take the needlepoint from her hands. She resisted only briefly. Pulling the white linen back, he revealed beneath it a letter, open and sitting in her lap. One eyebrow lifting slightly, he took the letter, folded it and slipped it into his cape.

“No need to worry about this, madam,” he said. “I will look after it until it is needed.”

“Yes, of course,” she responded, remaining seated, remaining composed, remaining convinced as ever that someone must die. Now quite certain which of them that might be.

 Outside were the sounds of preparation that had become common over these past few months. Horses and men, the smell of burning hooves as the animals were shod, the excited yells of small boys chasing soldiers and knights-in-training through the muddy streets. Enemies came in all forms in those days: enemies of state, illness, criminals and people made mad by poverty and dirt. The men in the castle held council after council, each beating the drum for his own reason. War. Glory, wealth, religion, property, power.

Who holds a woman’s letter over her head, leaving behind an unspoken threat? This young man has just taken a letter from the most dangerous woman of her place and time. Pity he did not recognize her; they’d met before, in other circumstances. If he had realized from whom he took the letter, the situation in which he eventually found himself might have been avoided altogether.

Local hero

Local hero falls in well; collie saves hero just in time for wedding.

Collie, calling “black hole, black hole” all over town to no avail, eventually leads the Korean police chief to the well, where local hero Fox Jagged had fallen in due to an excess of chocolate and walnut liqueur. Fox thanked Police Chief  Tang-O sincerely for the help in getting out of the hole; a community celebration was held, with band and tacos and kim chee and special occasion foods.  The band, “Contraband Cranberry”, played Argentinian polka until three the next morning, with an occasional breakout Mariachi piece, and a screeching migrainy music that turned out to be Bjork. The bride and groom will make their home in Korea Town; not far from family. The collie will live with the couple, who have named him Holly.

Belva Sparrow

(Prompts: taken from six books, chosen randomly. Write for 15 minutes.)

Grammar of justice, syntax of mutual aid. Drawing us from tree to tree toward the time and the unknown place where we shall know what it is to arrive. Not one by one, but in passionate clusters, we pressed the grapes to our lips. The room is small, the table plain.Later and older, now we had supper, a little. A grayish bird, the size, perhaps, of two plump sparrows.


Two plump sparrows sat on a limb on a tree on a cold winter day. The first sparrow, a philosopher, mumbled continuously about an unknown place.

An unknown place, he grumbled. An unknown place.

The other sparrow, whose name is Belva MacDonald, is given to homilies and humming.

“We shall know what it is to arrive,” says Belva. She sings a soaring and ratcheting song that tells all the songbirds where she is and what she is about.

In passionate clusters, the birds gather in the winter air, feathers inflated and steaming with fast, hot bird circulation. With an average resting heart rate of 500 beats per minute, the finch, the sparrow and the towhee compete for craving; which small bird wants the rose hip enough to take it out of the mouth of others?

Inside the small grey house, there is a window. In front of the window is a small table with two chairs, a salt shaker and a basket of walnuts. The walnuts smell musty. Belva pushes a walnut across the table with her beak, making a concentrating sound, click-click, ticketa-tick. The walnut falls to the ground and she lifts off and lands on the floor with a rustling of wings. The walnut, stubbornly remaining whole, rolls easily but does not give up its fruit. After a while, not very long, but long enough in sparrow time, Belva gives up on the walnut and returns to the table and from there to the window. She looks out the window, which has been closed for an eternity, or it may have been 15 minutes, in the life time of a small brown sparrow in a winter house with drafty corners. She sits, alone at first, but gradually, as the day warms, the other birds stir and join her, up there on the window sill, with the grey winter fields and the slash of mud where there’s been a frost and refreeze not three weeks ago.

First frost

 First frost, and I walk among the rose-fruit. My nose is red, like the red, red, rose. I am crying. I am not lost, but first frost means it will soon be impossible to leave. It is now or never.

 Evan packed her overnight bag that night and left through the unlocked back door. It was after 11; mamie and pap-pap were sleeping in front of the TV, with an ad for Ginzu knives blaring. The sight of rapid precision tomato slicing is the last thing she sees before she leaves home without a plan.

There’s no point in going back, she says at midnight, sitting in the bus station.

What exactly do you think would happen if you did? she says at 2 a.m., just outside of Cline’s Corners.

 I guess it’s too late now, she says as the sun comes up in Lubbock Texas and she is sitting at an IHOP, pretending she likes coffee.

It was a very little while later that a man on a motorcycle parked in front of the IHOP and came in, sitting down with Evan. He took her coffee away and took a sip of it, flagging down the waitress. He ordered milk for Evan, waffles, bacon and raspberry syrup. “Raspberry, right?” he said to Evan, who knodded.

“Kid, what do you think you are doing?” he said, when the waffles were half eaten and Evan not looking so much like a mangy cat in her skinny leg jeans and her anime lavender hair.

“Leaving, what do you think?” Evan said and picked at the safety pins on her short denim jacket.

“Okay, genius, I got that. Where do you think you’re going?” He lifted his coffee cup at the waitress, but kept looking at Evan.

“I don’t know. You know. Wherever I want.” Now Evan is crying again, her 12-year-old face looking more like eight with raspberry syrup and tears running down and off her chin.

John stopped talking again and lit a cigarette. Got the check and paid while Evan kept crying, wiping her face with the raggedy end of her extra long shirt sleeve.

“Well, come on over, stay with us for awhile, maybe we can figure something out.” She buried her head in her arms for a minute, then got up and went to the ladies room. He waited for her out on the curb, figuring she’d make up her mind based on whether there was a window in the bathroom or not.

Don’t take anything personally


Just because I didn’t return your phone calls, don’t take it personally. I know my call is important to you, so I will stay on the line and be served by the first available representative, and if I hang up before my important call is answered by you, dear first available, don’t take it personally.

Don’t take it personally. I’ve cancelled many appointments, returned many plates of pasta, rejected many offers of marriage, I’ve even discontinued my membership in more than one gym. Don’t take anything personally, it’s only natural that not all magazine subscriptions will be renewed in perpetuity. Like an eternal flame at a contract cemetery, there will come a time when eternity is cancelled, when the flame is snuffed, when remembrance fades in the gradual way of worn silk, disintegrating plastic, faded photos on cracked gray stone.

I know my call is important to you, and I will stay on the line until you answer; I will put you on redial for as long as it takes; I will renew my connection with you from here until the hereafter. Don’t take anything personally. It’s as natural as an invasive vine, creeping onto the headstones, the marble slabs, the infant’s crèche in the moss-bound north. It is the inevitability, the gradual erosion of stone, the reclamation of body and earth by heavy, wet green ferns.

Even here, don’t take anything personally. Even the high dry wind carries every ash away, in the four directions and more.


I was as good or better than I’ve ever been before. Even when, last August, I volunteered for Meals on Wheels and gave blood to the victims of that tsunami, that tsunami – I never can remember the names of tsunamis, seems like there’s one every month or so. It was in the newspaper, a feature piece by Jolene Kreuger Guttierez, that the tsunami victims that moved here – maybe it was the hurricane, that hurricane last year? Feature article by Jolene Kreuger Gutierrez, with a picture of me surrounded by – not refugees, you know, because refugees are like illegal aliens, but anyway, they were people displaced by disaster, with me in the middle of them, and we were all smiling. I had a French manicure and big chunky highlights done the day before the interview.

I have been taking care of people and disasters since I was a little girl. I remember saving a puppy who was running down the street, chasing after him in my big wheel. Mama says I was calling to him, Boo, come here puppy boy, come here and he kept running the other way ‘til I thought to go get an ice cream to share with him. I had to eat it fast; it was awfully hot that day, and then awhile later that puppy came up and licked the ice cream right off my face. I put the leash on him like Mama said and then we took him to the pound, where they take care of strays and keep them off the streets.

When I became a famous sexologist, it was something I was very good at, much better than I’d ever really expected or planned to be. Sometimes, expertise just falls into a person’s lap, so to speak, and I was thrilled to say that my interior life, my inner cupboard, you might say, is just full as can be of secret pleasures. Secret Pleasures is also the title of my first book, which might have won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction, had it not been for the poorly timed release of Tim Cook’s Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917 – 1918. I was happy for him, obviously,and spent some time with him at the awards ceremony that year. He does drink a bit, of course, and I had quite a headache the next day, although I didn’t let it interfere with the research for my interview with Rielle Hunter. 

“How’d you decide on your subjects, Dr. Luce?” She asked me. I was in good form, sexology is my long suit, you might say, and so I told her about my first interview long ago, with a Playboy Bunny whose name I can’t really give here for legal reasons.  Well, you know Dick Cavett was before my time, but not before this Bunny’s time. She was a bit past her prime, of course, and looking for some copy; a few inches in a tabloid goes a long way. Her secrets were relatively obvious, and at that time, you see, scandal wasn’t really scandal the way it is now.

(writing retreat activity: Using a collectively generated set of prompts, create an “unreliable narrator”.)


Using your fingers, mix the flour, sugar, water and vanilla into a light, pliable dough. Chill the dough for 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, get your grandfather’s portable Remington out of the closet, where it’s been sitting since 1986. Dust it off with a microfiber cloth and a toothbrush to loosen the keys. Put the Remington on the kitchen table and make a cup of coffee.

Put a sheet of paper into the Remington. Adjust the ribbon, winding it first one way and then another until you find a bit of ribbon still inked. Dust the breadboard with sifted flour. Roll out the dough into a thin sheet. Pull the arm to roll the paper firmly in place.

Cut the dough into 2-3 inch squares. Press firmly on the A key. Type a sentence about a dog jumping over a fence. Keep your chin up. Typing is hard. Turn to your friends for advice. Your mother says something about the ribbon and a bobbin, but her mind is wandering again.

As the keys begin to loosen up, you may discover an unexpected treasure. Turn the oven on to 350 and wait for it to warm.

While the oven is warming, type as quickly as you can with your fingers pounding like hammers or like nails on the railroad, which was built by hard-working Chinese and Mexican laborers 150 years ago, and whose fingerprints are on it still.

Type your sentences, your bromides, your homilies, your dichos, in as many languages as you can think of and have the accent marks for.

Cut the paper into strips. Lay one strip into each 2-3 inch square of dough. Fold on a diagonal, like a baby’s nappy, an empanada or a lumpia. Lay each baby on an ungreased cookie sheet and pop it in the oven.

Fortune smiles on those who wait. An old friend will give you advice this week. Enjoy what nature has to offer.

Using a hot pad for safety, remove the cookies from the oven. Let cool. Repeat three times a week.

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