Work in Progress, Progress

It is the summer of 1969 and Janelle is a pink blur on her bicycle trailing a blonde ponytail as she crests the hill on Temple Avenue. Down the other side, she pedals faster and faster until she can’t keep up and gravity takes over. Just behind her are Joey and Benny, screaming like bicycle banshees, chasing Janelle’s bobbing blonde ponytail.

A bolt of electric thrill shoots through her as she tucks her chin to the handlebars and makes herself as small as possible to the wind. For a moment she feels like she’s falling and in that weightlessness moment the wind in ears takes on her father’s voice, the lilt of it filling her head, a sing-song jibe. Kind and familiar from her youth.

“You’ve done it now, Missy-pants! Look it. Look it, Missy-pants! You’ve gone and left too much to chance.”


Memories of Ligea, (excerpt 3a)

I just spent an hour knocking 200-some words out of this.



It is the summer of 1969 and Janelle is a pink blur on her bicycle, trailing a blonde ponytail, cresting the hill on Temple Avenue. Over the rise, she picks up speed, pedaling faster and faster. She tucks her chin to the handlebar as a bolt of electric thrill shoots through her. She makes herself as small as possible to the wind whipping tears from her eyes. She can’t keep up and stops pedaling as gravity takes over. It feels like falling. And in that small bubble of weightlessness, the wind in her ears has her father’s voice, the lilt of it fills her head, it’s sing-song jibe kind and familiar to her, “You’ve done it now, Missy-pants! Missy, Missy, Missy pants! Leaving far too much to chance.”

She smiles as she remembers him leaning in the doorway of her bedroom like he often did, right hand on hip, a thin smile on his face, a smile for his only and favorite daughter.

Out loud she finishes the taunt, “I’d turn around, on the double. Before you get in too much trouble! Missy, Missy, Missy pants!”

She continues, “They won’t catch me papa! They won’t!”

Janelle bites her tongue and the image of her father melts from her mind in the flash of the copper taste of blood. She arcs her bike to the left and streaks onto Forrest Circle, fully aware of the danger as a pedal strikes sparks against the curbing.


Here’s the original for comparison purposes:

Against My Better Judgment

[handwritten notes penned on or around 4-19-2010, transcribed here with minimal edits for your reading curiosity]


Crazy writer guy with a notebook in a sports bar. Outside was a clear blue sky, spring verdant and building momentum. Inside there were too many screens and nowhere to look. A paradox of technological intrusion.

Technology insists. It shouts and demands our attention like a spoiled child. It cannot be mute (or not for long). It cannot be hidden in the gentle thrush and delicious tendrils of Nature. Technology must be seen, heard, felt, in all its silicon insistence. That’s the nature of Technology.


Long tendrils of dark brown hair wash over his chest as she moved above him, plunging and gasping and shattering into a million sparkling shards, then collapsing on his chest, knitting herself back together, taking her time before releasing him, her eyes surrendered yet hidden from him through the veil of her hair. The two of them, together. And alone in this trembling moment.


A tiny tattoo, a crescent moon with a star impossibly between its points, just above the waist of her low-slung jeans, in the hollow of her hip, right where he ached to bite, to pinch, to startle. Then suckle and sooth until she pushed his head lower.


“A zoo bear,” she said, a sly grin creeping across her face. “Not a real one, so I wasn’t frightened. Though I was somewhat confused about its appearance in my kitchen.”

He never knew how to read her when she was like this.

Sage Advice

[how i generally react to even the sagest advice offered me about writing as craft]

Topic II – As Much as any Writer, Characters Need a Reason for Being

Lesson A: Waitresses

The sage says, “You can’t have a waitress simply walk into your story, take an order, then walk out. She has to be there for a reason. Otherwise, why bother writing her in?”



Kim fishes a Camel from Tim’s pack and lights it. “We’ve been waiting for hours. What’s so important we had to come to a diner? I could have cooked.”

“Just give it a minute more.” Tim smiles wanly and stares towards the door to the kitchen, fairly willing it to swing open at any moment. His head throbs. He rubs his temple but smiles at Kim.

“Look!” Kim crushes out her cigarette. “That pizza place across the street seems nice. See the people walking out? They look contented. Full. Some even have leftovers. Jesus! That’s it. I’m going across the street.”

Kim knifes her hand at Tim’s face and stands. “This is why,” she says, “this is why we never go out. This… this-right-fucking-here.” She lights another cigarette and blows smoke in his face as she passes. She  swings the front door open, and says (more to room than to Tim), “Leave it to you to pick the one goddamn place in the city without a single fucking waitress.”

The doors swings shut and Tim’s stomach growls miserably. He smiles in the empty diner and wishes for a waitress.


Just Ten Minutes

It’s just five minutes of writing, five minutes of editing, and I’m ready to present it to you. The smell of fresh bread drifts in the close air of my study, unmistakable, impossible to ignore. The secret is… Do you want to know? It’s not ten minutes.

More like twenty: First the front-end, creating the document, titling it, saving the file; then typing the words, writing the story, listening to the voices; then the back-end, editing the beast!

Despite temptation, always start at the beginning. This seems a minor step, easy to miss, insignificant even. But essential, nonetheless. The experts say the secret is to just keep writing. Writing, writing, writing, writing, writing…

“And still the alarm never sounds, no matter the depth he sinks to, the depravity he indulges in. No matter, he never seems to hit bottom. On the surface, he seems stoic, but deep down he’s thinking of only himself. Another pathetic self-love junkie.”

The Dot

In her book “Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life,” writer, poet, and teacher Natalie Goldberg paints a wonderful metaphor of writing and overcoming the things that interfere with getting to the heart of the matter with your words.

She says to imagine being under a big sky where all around in every direction you see the horizon. She writes, “That big sky is wild mind. I’m going to climb up to that sky straight over our heads and put one dot on it with a Magic Marker. She that dot? That dot is what Zen calls monkey mind or what western psychology calls part of conscious mind. We give all our attention to that dot. So when it says we can’t write, that we’re no good, are failures, fools for even picking up a pen, we listen to it.”

It’s true from my experience as a writer that a million things distract. The buzz and static of our daily lives pulls us from our course as writers. The critical voice in our heads reinforces our perceived inadequacies and paralyzes us with self-doubt.

Goldberg continues, “This goes on endlessly. This is monkey mind. This is how we drift. We listen and get tossed away. We put all of our attention on that dot. Meanwhile, wild mind surrounds us. Western psychology calls wild mind the unconscious but I think unconscious is a limiting term. If it is true that we are all interpenetrated and interconnected, then wild mind includes mountains, rivers, Cadillacs, humidity, plains, emeralds, poverty, old streets in London, snow, and the moon. A river and a tree are not unconscious. They are part of wild mind. I do not consider even a dream unconscious. A dream is a being that travels up from wild mind into dot/monkey mind/conscious to wake us up.”

“So our job as writers is not to diddle around our whole lives in the dot but to take one big step out of it and sink into the big sky and write from there. Let everything run through us and grab as much of it as we can with pen and paper. Let yourself live in something that is already rightfully yours–your own wild mind.”

Sound advice, I think. So I would encourage you as you write, let your mind drift to the immense canopy of sky encircling you. Step out of the dot and plunge deep into the vast consciousness of everything. Let the words and ideas flow without reservation. Take your writing life back from obedience to the dot. Because, after all, it is only a dot.

Thanks to Jo’s Shelf Life for the inspiration!


A writer I once knew (a poet I believe) said something about Flash Fiction that’s stuck with me. She said that Flash Fiction was interesting to her as it “asymptotically approached poetry.” And I think I like that idea. It suggests a differentiation between Flash and Short Story that may lie more in the attitude of each towards language rather than in any technical details like word count, plot, or characterization.

But then I’ve never been good at taking things apart to find out what makes them what they are. Especially art.

I remember a Christmas when I was very young, my mother made these marvelous ornaments for the tree, a kind of origami in aluminum foil – stars, snowflakes, and angels blowing trumpets – that completely captured my youthful imagination. I begged her to show me how she made them. I wanted so desperately to create such things of beauty myself with a desire that I can only imagine now must have approached lust. For whatever reasons, she patiently refused to show me.

So early one morning I crept downstairs and snatched an angel off the Christmas tree and scurried back to my room where I carefully undid it fold-by-fold on top of my dresser. I gently smoothed the foil flat and began refolding it, trying carefully to follow its original creases. Soon I had a crinkled, folded, misshapen mess that look so unlike the beautiful ornament it had been that it made me cry.

Which is maybe why I don’t really like taking things apart much. Maybe “defining” Flash, or any kind of writing or art–taking it apart, examining it to see what makes it tick, putting it back together again– is an impossible task for me.

Maybe that’s why it seems more than enough for me to just write. To just enjoy the snowflakes as they fall.

Twiddling Prepositions

Notes on Craft – Part Whatever

Sometimes, in order to remind myself to work on a story, I’ll leave it open on my computer, leave the computer on, and just turn my monitor off. Then, each time I sit down to my keyboard (usually in the early morning while the kids are still asleep and the house is quiet), the story will come on with the monitor and remind me in its patient and high-contrast black and white way that I need to work on it.


If I’m feeling good (if I’ve been struck by some genius idea in the night, for instance) I may write a whole new section, but usually I just play with the handful of the sentences that appear in the frame of my monitor. I might flip one back-to-front, fiddle with the verb, change entered to entering, maybe reorganize a paragraph depending on how the words strike my ear as I read them aloud.


There’s almost an obsession with the flow of the words, the rhythm, the cadence of the writing. Sometimes the result is good. Sometimes other people agree. Sometimes it’s only me, my ear, that is satisfied. But it’s writing just the same and somehow it lets me feel I’m moving the story forward. If only glacially.

10 Minutes

Often I’ll set a timer to 10 minutes, but not start it, yet.

I’ll open a blank document, type the date, and save the document with the date as the file name in a folder. Somewhere.



(My file structure is a little on the wonky side. Where I put each of the files makes sense when I save them there, but later I can’t find anything.)



I’ll click the page,  start the timer, and begin typing.

Sometimes, I’ll get to here.

Sometimes,  I’ll only ge