Creative Writing

RUST REMOVAL: DAY 4

Continuing with the Writer’s Digest 12-Day Writing Plan.

A follower was kind enough to point out that WD also has weekly writing prompts as well. Based on the way I’m fighting, clawing, carving out writing time just for the 12-Day plan I definitely will focus on that next.  In the meantime…

A 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises

Day 4:  Write a letter to an agent telling her how wonderful you are.

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Dear Ms Clappingbotthom,

I strongly believe that what makes an enjoyable memoir or nonfiction essay is not that it’s so unique, but that it’s common enough that it resonates with someone.  Everyone has high and lows, up and downs, good and bad days, and so on.  It’s the story that connects that writer to that reader that’s important.  As the church folk say, “If I could just touch one” is good. This is in my mind as I share my stories.

I’m your classic people person. Never met a stranger. Yes, it has cost me a few times, but I refuse to let those few occasions trump all of the wonderful experiences in this great life I’ve lived.  Yes, my stories may contain sadness, but isn’t that life, and I would certainly be “unique” if I am the only writer who has never encountered grief in some form.

I can’t control misery happening, but I can control how much I talk about it.  Thus, my stories that  I share are not just “The Wonderful Life and Good Times of Dennis Young.”  They are “How I Lost My Wallet on Vacation and Still Had a Great Time.”

The enclosed story “One Night in Oz”, talks about my first visit to New York City as a young teenager, describing the sights and adventures my younger cousin and I lived during that night.

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Ok, that was quick and dirty.  I don’t know if that makes me “wonderful” or if I really got into the spirit of the exercise, but I enjoyed writing it nonetheless.

I’d appreciate any feedback, especially from  any agents or those of you who have done query letters before.

Next week’s exercise is going to be a bear: write a 20 line poem about an event in my life.  I think I’ve created, oh, about two poems, in my life!  ‘the hell I’m going to write a poem about my life?

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RUST REMOVAL: DAY 3

Slowly but surely, haltingly but patiently struggling forward, working with the Writer’s Digest’s writing plan:

A 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises

Day 3:  Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.

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I was never what you call a nature person. I like astronomy and space travel. Correct that: I love and I’m fascinated by it. The NASA channel is first one up on my cable’s Favorite list.

The physical things here on the ground were another story. I never went camping, grew up in a seaport city, so the beach was nothing special. My trips to the zoo were ok. Or as Dom De Luise as Caesar says, “Nice. Not thrilling, but nice.”

My attitude is changed now. Here we go…

It’s a rainy Friday night in Cupertino, and Ron is absolutely giddy about it. “That means it’s going to be snow over there.”

There is Yellowstone National Park. We’ve flown to San Francisco on a Friday to get in a weekend of sightseeing before our Hewlett-Packard training class begins Monday. It’s been a full day of riding all over the city as soon as we checked in, and with lots of things to do on our agenda (yea, we’re here for training, but come on, our first time in San Francisco?) Ron wants to move the Yellowstone visit up to tomorrow.

I’m not much of a nature person, but I love flying, especially to California. I spend the entire journey looking at the changing landscape, and the memory of seeing landmarks in real life will never be forgotten. The Mississippi is a big-ass river! The Rockies are awesome! Maybe that’s how I like nature – at 30,000 feet.

We’re joined by Linda, a flight attendant for Delta that I’m dating, and that Saturday the three of us make the journey. It’s a clear day, and as we go along I see what Ron was talking about. The amount of snow gradually increases, and soon it’s a winter wonderland. I’ve dealt with lots of snow before, so nothing dynamic happening here.

After we park the car and begin to walk the first thing that gets my attention is the sound, like a building collapsing. Ron notices the look on my face, and grinning he tells me “That was blocks of ice and snow falling.”

Suddenly I’m really paying attention to where I am. The snow and trees and the sounds are different. It’ s not just a park anymore, not just trees and snow. Now I’m putting them all together, looking at the whole picture. Now I’m not in the city, throwing snowballs in the yard. There’s a little bit of fun happening here.

Now I’m looking at a mountain that goes straight up, there’s no gradual slope. It’s a gray wall that goes up forever. Take a rectangular piece of rock, stick it in the ground vertically, and then enlarge it a million times. I’m staring, and it freaks me out when I realize that I’m standing here staring.

Nature ratchets it up on me – clouds start to roll over the edge of the top, like someone’s dumped dry ice up there, turned on a disco fog machine. Spilling over, the clear blue sky giving sharp edges to them, like someone coloring within the lines, the contrast making them seem so much whiter. I have my camera with me and I take a few shots before another rumble gets my attention again. I go back to staring.

I’ve seen mountains, seen snow, seen clouds. Been on a mountain in the midst and clouds, never giving a second thought to the world around me. Now, it’s all that I see. Ron and Linda are off somewhere, I’m still looking up, in my own world.

The moment in everyone’s life, the moment some place or person or event tells you right then and there that this is special, a good special, happens to me. The moment that’s seared into memory forever.

I feel… small.

For the first time in my life, I’m awestruck.

I don’t think about anything except what I’m seeing, and I recognize now how someone can describe nature as peaceful, beautiful, enjoyable, awesome… and the handiwork of God. The rumble is His voice, the clouds His breath.

“Yea, David. I can see where you’re coming from.”

SWAMP WATER, QUICKSAND, and NINJA MOVIES

Ahh, that time in a life when creativity is challenged. Calls to My Muse are sandwiched between calls to handle life issues. The transition from legal words to lyrical words is a challenge. Thoughts of creating things are replaced by thoughts of rebuilding things. I’m spitting out all of this fetid swamp water I swallow as I’m dog-paddling to ground I can stand on. I get there and It’s only a moment’s respite. Here come the mosquitos, going for the ears first. Why does the buzzing around in my ear bother me more than getting bit?

“Just bite my ass up and be on your way!”

Swatting at them, I take a step and sink knee-deep in quicksand! Oh great! What’s the saying, “the more you struggle the faster you sink”, or something like that? Everything in my being absolutely rejects that crap. Just stand there and sink? Nah, I’m going to pray (loud and long) but I’m
turning into one Indiana Jones-acting fool also. Just trust God to make that low-hanging branch strong enough to help me pull myself out!

The temple sits shrouded in fog. Dark green and black mold covers the doors and bricks, so thick and expansive I can barely see the mortar in some spots. Sections of carvings peek out through the mold – dragons and devils and snakes and scorpions and other unpleasant creatures. I wonder… How much can I charge them to pressure wash this place?

I enter. Sections of the ceiling have fallen ages ago, scattered over the stone floor of a vast, round hall. There are what appears to be doors every few feet, their entrances shrouded in darkness. Moonlight filters in through the remaining rafters, making a pattern of lines on the floor that resemble cell bars. Cobwebs are everywhere, and where the moonlight touches them they almost seem to glow. The only other object in the hall is a circular pile of loosely placed stones, forming a seat for a thin, bald, white-bearded man. He’s wrapped in white and green cloth, and sits with his legs crossed under him. He’s resting his elbows on his knees, hands propping his chin. Across his lap lays a very long samurai sword. I’m thinking, somehow, someway, I’ve stumbled into Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Part 3.

I’m just a few steps inside the temple, wondering what to do when he points a gnarly finger at me and shouts,

“Nǐ huì fàngqì ma?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat the question, please?” (Ever polite, am I, imitating the very proper British chap)

He takes a long, sorrowful sounding sigh.

“Nǐ huì fàngqì ma?”

“Come again?”

A third time, “Nǐ huì fàngqì ma?”

Now I’m getting pissed, the improper Carolina chap. “WHAT?”

Now he’s pissed off way past my being pissed! He grabs the sword and hops off the stone. As soon as his feet hits the floor I turn around to run, and I see the door I just came though…is no longer there.

A bony hand on my shoulder spins me around, a wrinkled face is thrust into mine!

“Will you give up?”

Sounding like a four-year old kid who sees his bedroom closet door opening by itself in the middle of the night I scream, “Oh Jesus!”

“HE sent me! WILL YOU GIVE UP?”

… to be continued?

Pop’s Stories

My thoughts are spurred  by a Tweet from Roger Ebert, referencing this blog post:

Raised in Fear: Horror Films as Schoolyard Lore | Press Play.

Grandfather Stories

Reading this blog post brings back pleasant memories of my Grandfather, who I call Pop. I remember him telling stories to my sister and me.  Not stories of ancestral heroes, no tales of  ancient tribal  battles and victories. Sadly, those stories faded during the Middle Passage.  Pop tells  us funny stories, scary stories, sometimes funny scary stories.  There are jokes, but mostly  stories that have us laughing and crying.

I remember how he acts out the stories, sitting in his chair and gesturing and moving and mimicking the action as he talks.  My favorite, really the only one I remember the most details about, is about this bad-ass brother who is either the devil or a zombie – I really wish I can remember the details.  Devil or dead, he is a Spook, and I do remember he shows up unexpectedly at a campsite.  Pop becomes the characters.  His eyes open  wiiiidddddeeee as he and his friends see this devil. Then Pop becomes The Spook. He grabs the frying pan off the fire and dumps  the food right into his mouth, hot grease and all.  He  grabs  the hot coffee and does the same.  He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and in a low, gravelly voice asks the frightened campers for “More!”  Then he reaches into the fire, grabbing a handful of hot coals.

And a little boy and a little girl can’t stop laughing with Pop.  I know now how much fun he has telling us these stories.  I see his face, and see how much he enjoys making us laugh.

I don’t remember when he stops, probably as I get into my teens.  At that time in my world twelve is  the cutoff for “childish” games and innocence.  As damn near every adult reminds me, it’s the age that Jesus assumes His ministry.  Thus, on my twelfth birthday my sins are now my own!  I have to stand before God and account for them, can’t blame it on being a kid anymore!  I’m pretty sure the stories ends well before then.

I do get a chance to be Pop as I become a substitute teacher after my first retirement.  I have an absolute ball reading “Two Bad Ants” to a first grade class.  It’s not on the lesson plan for that day, but once I see the title all bets are now off – I know I HAVE  to read it, for me a much as them.  I can’t act out like Pop, but I read with all of the fun and enthusiasm like him, hoping they are enjoying it as much as I am.

DOMINOES FALLING

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As any follower of my blog can tell by now, I tend to dwell on the GOOD THINGS in life.  I’m not untouched by BAD THINGS, I’m just uncomfortable talking about it.  What I keep hearing is that Bad Things, aka CONFLICT,  is considered  an integral part of writing.

Of course, you can’t have a novel without conflict.  Same for movies.   The hero has to struggle, overcome, or succumb, but there is conflict.  You set up the dominoes, giving each one a descriptive name,  and in Chapter One you knock over the first one.  Life is like that, and when Bad Things happen – the domino labeled “Conflict” falls –  I often wonder where and when the first one fell.  The worst dominoes are in the Deja Vu moment of  my life, the movie I’ve seen before and I know how it ends.  My  dog escapes and the one yard he choses to dig up happens to belong to the neighbor I  already have problems with. I hear the clacking sounds they make as they fall  and I think  the usual “oh, no, it can’t be happening again!”

Sometimes , if I’m smart enough, I can try to intercept one of them  before it falls.  More often than not, I sit in slack-jawed awe and watch them fall towards me, beat the crap out of me, and continue down the line.  I  look out the window and see the dog hauling ass to my neighbor’s yard.  “Sonofabitch DID happen again!”

So let me see, El Conflicto is a permanent travel partner, and if I’m writing  about life then it makes sense to at least recognize him in my writing.  Damn, that’s a hard pill to swallow.  Let’s see this example: I went to the park.  Met a movie star.  Had a nice conversation.  Told her I’m interested in writing screenplays.  She provided a contact, and  I live happily ever after. I’m not a starving screenwriter, I’m pretty content. Now I want to share that life changing experience.

And the conflict is…????????

Need to do some more thinking about this.    Discovery Moment here:  easier for me to write about conflict as a subject.

Maybe I need to get a better grip on what is conflict. Get beyond conflict = The Poseidon Adventure.  Try to determine in my example what  bad domino tumbled the one labeled “Chance Encounter Leads to Success”  ?

So what have I been writing?

Since I’ve devoted most of my writing to class assignments instead of the blog, I’ve been debating whether to post anything to the blog.  That was the mental debate I had in a previous post.  Thanks to some kind words from a couple of followers, I think I’m ok with at least putting samples out here, especially as I don’t plan to publish any of them later.What I’m writing right now is for class anyway, and it’s already been critiqued.  Note that I didn’t say it was perfected!!!!

So for your reading pleasure (!) here’s a little sample from one of my classes.  Critiques are welcomed, BTW.

KEOWEE CITY

 

Reveille

The recorded bugle startles me awakeThe cover flies up and I’m out of bed before it settles back down, just like in the cartoons. It’s time to get up, and I have to hustleThere’s shower, then my roommates and I have to clean up the room for inspectionBlankets folded and sheets tightRun a white handkerchief over everything before the CAB gorillas give our room the white glove inspectionMake sure my helmet is polishedThen get in formation for the march to breakfast, bracing myself for the firing of the cannon, the raising of the flag and pledge and the National Anthem, the morning scripture from the chaplain, the morning marches, then exercise, then assemblies, lunch, then more marching, more assemblies…

 

What I was, and what I was not…

It was the summer of 1970The dying days of Peace and Love but still a lot of social turmoil going onLegally, the Civil Rights Bill was only six years old; socially it was still a work in progress. Old habits and notions don’t disappear according to a calendar. I, along with many of my schoolmates was very involved in the local civil rights activitydespite my stepfather’s disapprovalWe attended the rallies and marched with the grownups. While my stepfather complained that I should be studying instead of marching, and told me that if I was arrested I was “on my own.” I was opposed to the Viet Nam war, and at just over 100 pounds with the eyesight of a bat, the possibility of seeing military action didn’t appear to be in the cards.  

 

When reveille played that morning, I was entering my senior year in high schoolI was not in a real military unit, I was in a unit named “Keowee City,” and we always formed up right next to that damn cannonThis was not on a base somewhere in Viet Nam; I was at The Citadel, just down the street from my home in Charleston, South CarolinaI was one of the first African American students in the state to attend the weeklong Palmetto Boys State summer camp, sponsored in each state by the American Legion.

 

I was NOT even thinking of “pioneering” anything, although I knew that I’d be among one of the “firsts” that seemed to be a part of every news report during that timeThe first Black person to do thisThe first woman named to a board.  You had no problem picking out our faces in large group picturesThings were definitely opening upI never thought (and still don’t think) of putting myself in the same class as those little elementary school kids who braved the angry crowds to become the firsts at their schoolsThey were the heroesMe, I just heard the words “summer camp.”  

 

According to the American Legion’s web site

The program was designed for “young men to learn about the American system of government and politics by participating in a mock governmental system.”   Everyone would have theopportunity to run for elected offices, from city council to governor“Citizens” were nominated by their high school teachers and guidance counselors, then interviewed and selected by the local American Legion chapters to represent them.

 

According to Mr. Wineglass…

… the Vice Principal, and the letter my parents received, that’s how it was in 1970. It was Mr.Wineglass who recommended me to the African American chapter serving the Charleston area, and his word was good enough for them to waive the interviewIt was not going to be the last time he played a positive role in my school life, stepping up where my stepfather fell shortI was one of the students you see all over the yearbookMost Likely to SucceedMost Certain to Get Beaten Up by Drunks. Clubs, writer for the school paper, student council, one of the founders of SBC – the Students for Black Culture  (approved only after we convinced our principal we were not planning to be the junior varsity team of the Black Panther partyHad my ass handed to me when I tried out for the football team, thinking I could transfer my success as a superstar receiver in touch football over to the real thingThis American Legion thing was right in my wheelhouse. Air-conditioned civics lessons, the only sweat coming from playing games, and for the first time a whole week away from home by myself, at the Citadel no lessWe were not talking vacation Bible school at the church’s educational annexI could handle a week of this.

 

Since it was free, my stepfather grudgingly gave his approvalMy mother signed the approval formMy grandmother cried and praised GodMy friends promised to come see me sometime during that week. Mom, Mr. Wineglass, and Miss Harrison, the French teacher and our SBC advisor, each gave me the “representing us” talk.  

 

As far as I knew every Black adult who was the first knew this, and every young Black kid who was the first was told thisEyes were upon you, and stereotypes, even the ones you have aboutothers, would be reinforced or die based on what happenedI think it’s timeless and reachesacross all cultures – you represent our family, our tribe, our village, our city, our people, our state, our nation…make us proud.

 

This was not like in sportswhere a team could be the first to accomplish things such as winningback to back to championshipsEvery team has an equal chanceHere, we’re talking inequalities.These were firsts accomplished against forced limitations, against forced separations, imposed upon others based on class, caste, color, anything that makes one group different than another.With that, separation comes expectationsYou can’t be as smart as, as good asand as tough as  any other groupI was to remember this, and at least be aware that some people would be sure to remind me of that. The words from the adults to me were the exact opposite – I was to remember that I was good enough and smart enough to be there.  

...to be continued

LOOKING FOR THE PROPHET

It’s been fun but exhausting doing research for my class paper! Attempting to profile street preachers, or as one web site calls it, “open air ministries.”

After three weeks of staking out a spot at the downtown Hooters and then walking from there to the Five Point MARTA station and also to Centennial Olympic Park I’ve only been able to get three sightings (two of the same guy in one day) and three street preachers in action. All I’m the midst of the HOTTEST days so far this summer. I did manage to get some reactions, but not a lot of dialog, and sadly NO interview. So much for my introduction to observing the profile subject. If it was a professional task (i.e. a writing assignment) I think I’d spend longer days looking around.

Since this is a work in progress I’m going to turn in something with what I have, and still pursue getting an interview. Wish me luck!